Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Et tu, Verizon?

Another day, another negative Italian-American stereotype.

This latest one comes from Verizon. The commercial featuring the "Collurio" Family depicts an open-shirted, heavily-accented blue-collar guy in full-on "fugeddaboudit" mode, hosting a barbecue for his extended family of trashy, overly-dolled-up women and greasy-haired men.

Imagine if this had been a barbecue filled with African-Americans wearing large gold chains, or Jewish-Americans eating matzoh balls, or Irish-Americans drinking alcohol. I'm sure there would be immediate outrage at a commercial that perpetuates these offensive stereotypes, and yet, a similarly offensive ad featuring Italian-Americans is aired without protest.

Commercials like these make me want to switch to Sprint.

I emailed Verizon to express my displeasure about the commercial, and will let you know if/when they reply.

**UPDATE as of Jan. 30th***

I heard back from Verizon today. The representative said that after seeing my emails, she viewed the commercial again, and saw it in a new light. As we talked, she recorded my specific issues with the commercial, and is forwarding a detailed report to the folks who handle the marketing/advertising for Verizon. She stressed that they use an outside marketing firm to create their advertisements, and that it was not Verizon's intention to offend anyone. However, "if even one person complains," that is enough for them to re-evaluate the ad.

She assured me she would follow up with me again soon, and let me know if and when they will be taking the ad out of rotation. I'll keep you posted.

Every child is a blessing, but...

...8 babies at once? Seriously??

Yesterday, a woman in Southern California gave birth to octuplets, only the second set to be born in the United States. (The first set of octuplets were born in 1998 in Texas, but one died within a week of its birth.) So far, all of the babies are alive and holding their own, and I'm praying that they continue to thrive and are completely healthy.

I was fortunate in that I did not experience any fertility issues, and I am blessed with three healthy children. I know how strong the desire to have children can be, and I don't begrudge any woman who chooses to take extreme measures in order to experience motherhood via biological means.

And yet, I do take issue with the doctors who allowed this woman to become pregnant with 8 babies at once. It is extremely dangerous for the woman, and for the children. I do not advocate "selective reduction", but with the advances in fertility treatments, that should not be necessary. Doctors should be able to control the number of eggs that are released (via the dosage of fertility drugs) or set strict limits on the number of embryos that are implanted (in the case of IVF). I think that, too often, doctors get caught up in what they CAN do, without regard as to what they SHOULD do. Fertility treatments aren't like a retail business, where "the customer is always right." Some women have gone so far as to lie about their age in order to qualify for IVF (like the 63-year-old in California a few years ago), and last year, a woman in India gave birth to twins at the age of 70.

To her credit, the mother in this case has refused to reveal her identity, or any details about how it is that she became pregnant with so many babies. In doing so, she is forgoing the usual "instant celebrity" that comes with an usual birth like this one, but she's also protecting herself and her children from the harsh spotlight and tough questions that are sure to come her way. I hope she continues to keep her children's best interests at heart, and that she gets the support she needs for the long road ahead.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book review: When Ghosts Speak

Although I do believe that there is life after death, I'm usually skeptical of folks who say they can "speak" with the dead--especially when they capitalize off of it with books and television shows. Nevertheless, I took a book out of the library recently that was really fascinating: When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits. It was written by Mary Ann Winkowski, the woman who was the inspiration for the main character on The Ghost Whisperer.

In the book, Winkowski explains that she has been able to see and speak with ghosts since she was a very small child, and that she got this hereditary ability from her grandmother, who was also psychic. Starting at age 4, her grandmother used to take young Mary Ann to neighborhood funerals, so that she could pass along messages to her grandmother's bereaved friends. So, if Winkowski is a fake, she's been planning this con for a LONG time.

The information she has provided has been so accurate, she works closely with law enforcement officials all over the country to help them solve murder cases. The examples she cites in the book are compelling and creepy.

I must confess, I had trouble getting through the entire book, because I started to have weird dreams, nightmares and odd occurrences after reading. (I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye that weren't there, for example.) It's strange, because I've read many other similar books by self-professed mediums (James van Praagh, John Edward, Suzane Northrup) and never suffered any ill effects. Could be the power of suggestion, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't relieved to return the book back to the library.

Winkowski claims that earthbound ghosts are all around us. She is not referring to ghosts who have passed into the "light", she only communicates with those ghosts who, for whatever reason, are still tied to the earthly realm and haven't moved on yet. She says that they can attach themselves to things, like cars, books (!) and jewelry, and that they can follow people around that they find interesting. Negative, angry ghosts feed off of angry energy, so if they attach to someone, they will follow them around and knock things over, mess with their car, break things in the house...all as a way to make the living person upset so that they can absorb the strong emotions that are evoked by the mishaps. Creepy!

The book has some interesting insight on the process of transition from life to death to what lies beyond, and her writing style is straightforward and friendly. She doesn't try to impress you with her ability, she just talks about her gift in the same matter-of-fact way you'd discuss a favorite TV show or gas prices with a good friend over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Overall, I found it a fascinating, unnerving read.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

--Barack H. Obama, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

March on Washington 8-28-1963

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" still gives me goosebumps, no matter how many times I hear it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lucky Seven: a brief movie review

My friend Cindy recently got me hooked on Netflix (thanks, CC!) and I've been discovering some really sweet movies that I'd never even heard of before.

Once such movie: Lucky Seven, starring Patrick Dempsey and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. It's definitely one of those fluff, romantic chick flicks that will send most men screaming from the room. However, if you've got a "girls night" planned and want something fun to pop into your DVD player for 90 minutes, this is the movie for you.

Williams-Paisley plays Amy Meyer, a young up-and-coming lawyer who has spent the years since her mother's untimely death obsessively living her life according to a timeline that her mother sketched out for her when Amy was 7 years old. The timeline was meant as a guideline for Amy, to encourage her to finish college, aspire to a great job, and enjoy some traveling and romantic flings before settling down. Her mother told her that she ought to have 6 serious relationships in her life, and that when meets guy #7, that'll be the one she marries.

Amy and Guy #5 break up, and the next man she meets is Daniel (actor Brad Rowe), a handsome venture capitalist with a bright future who says all the right things. Unfortunately, she is so wrapped up in the timeline, she decides to put him off until she can briefly hook up with a different guy who can fill the #6 spot, so that Daniel can be lucky #7 and they can get married. Sounds a little psycho, I know, but she's a likable character so you go with it.

Especially because the man she chooses for #6 is Peter, played by Patrick Dempsey. He clearly likes her but she's oblivious because she's smitten with Daniel. Peter owns the bagel shop where she gets her breakfast every morning, and when he asks her to accompany him to a friend's wedding--and pose as his girlfriend to make his ex jealous--she happily agrees because that will fulfill her warped timeline requirements for relationship #6, no matter how briefly it lasts.

Dempsey and Williams-Paisley have great onscreen chemistry, and although the rest of the movie is predictable, it's still a fun one to watch. It's also a bit heart-wrenching to see Amy's long-delayed struggle with the loss of her mother, realizing that she has to let go of the timeline if she wants to move forward with her life and find true happiness. So yes, it's a fluff romance, but it's also got a deeper moral that is touching and bittersweet.

And of course, it has a happy ending. Would I recommend it if it didn't?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coming up for air

Busy busy busy...blogging has taken a bit of a back seat, but the good news is, my writing off-line has been going well. Still plugging away on the book, and picked up a couple of paying article assignments along the way.

I'm also gearing up for another big cruise in February; we sail in less than a month!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


That's what I call when I take down the Christmas decorations at home: de-Christmisfying the house.

I'm almost done. Everything is packed up except the tree and the ornaments. Not sure why, but I got into the Christmas spirit early this year...and got out of it pretty quick, too.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jump-starting the novel

I've finally decided to give myself the kick-in-the-ass I needed, so I'm participating in a January Challenge at my online writer's group. This month, I'm going to do my edits and rewrites to the novel guerilla-style, setting a goal of 7 pages a day from now until January 31st. At that rate, by the end of this month, the book will be ready to send to my agent.

I've been struggling with the whole fiction genre--non-fiction has always been my comfort zone--but I love the story/plot that I've created, and it's about time I get it out there.

Wish me luck!

(illustration by John Jonik, The New Yorker, 8/15/88 -- one of my all-time favorites)