Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transgression Smackdown

Copyright © 2011, By C.L. Smith
Word count: 200

Your blue-jeaned legs were too long for your boy’s torso. You were hot to prove to everyone how high you could roundhouse to kick the top of Mrs. Johnston’s doorway.

“I take karate,” you puffed.

Your eyes were as pale as your skin, as still as your soul as you budged desk after desk aside with your hips. Occasionally a scrape skittered across the floor, a small stab of mouth pouching open, then a sudden shush.

The nearer you prowled, the more your mitts parted the folds of forgiveless air around a girl-shaped space.

Six, seven, eight times you tried. Target moving, gone; low center of gravity, your reptilian brain labored, and you susurrated as you tried connection from behind, in a gambited vise.

Then, as a balloon ooooking out oxygen, your breath is denied you. An arrow-end upends you below the sternum as the power hourglass flips in front of your ineffectual face.

While you’re bent over, your quarry glides tête-à-tête with you. After another vicious knee-kick--with compliments to your self-described sweet spot--her victory is iron-willed.

The breach that you intended to spread wide has held. And your lips forevermore trap the tale of your toothless puissance.

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Girls Run Wild

Copyright © 2011, By C.L. Smith
Word count: 200

As we stretched, I overheard Jason chiding another guy: “You run like a girl.”

That’s when the girl who was once so helpful as to be verbally savaged by a blind man surged into vigilante mode.

“Oh, yeah? That’s a compliment.”

In some cross-country events, both genders blast off simultaneously. This was one of those races. It was also one of those races that makes people outside running wonder “what the frack makes them do it?” That is to say, it was a hellaciously hilly course and a wet slurp of a day.

I sprung my trap as mile two bloomed nearly into mile three. Jason and his friends--hell, let’s just call them the Argonuts--were bunched together like sheep until the last hill. As I powered up, I knew he could feel somebody close. It was a quick, narrow-pathed hill, then we descended and the way flared. It got guttural as I sprinted him down—and gazelled past.

“You run just like a boy,” I taunted after he’d heaved himself across the line 21 seconds later.

Truth is, I never ran as fast as when I carried, proudly, on my shoulders what it means to be a woman.

This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Canvas Runneth Over

We heart art. We're daft for crafts. And we most definitely have a crush on the paintbrush. But if the kids receive one more coloring book--thankful though I am that you have given pause to consider the rug-art-rats--I just may be able to wallpaper the entire house in a pastiche of princesses, Potato Heads, and pandas. And, if driven hard enough toward the starry-nighted precipice (some might snicker that it's a short journey), I might even be compelled to do my own Salvador Dali "Persistence of Memory" impression. (Think melting clocks. Substitute coloring books [or my head, on a bad day] for clocks, et voilà!)

Just when you were thinking Edvard Munch might be more apt for my frame of mind, yes?

Parenting Epiphany #103

First, let’s make sure the kids’ bedroom doors are shut. You ready to roll yet?
Good. Now, I'll share an epiphany that’s little known in any hood besides the parent one.

Coloring books breed like Tribbles. If you’re not acquainted with Star Trek or close, personal friends with a geek . . . what the Spock are you waiting for?

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It all began about 2006 B.C. (before children, that is). Somehow I acquired a Mr. Potato Head coloring book. Then generous relatives and friends, bless their hearts, began to chip in as the babies dropped.

Flash forward to 2011. Now that Mr. Potato Head has sprouted eyelets of Sesame Street and Toy Story, Bambi has begat Fancy Cats and Chuggington the train, and the pandas of Animal Planet have lent a tear or two to the feel-good teddy bears of the Chicken Soup coloring book (complete with some inspiring aphorisms, to be truthful), I am ready to declare a moratorium on coloring books.

If you knew me in real life (aka, Facebook), you’d know I’m incredibly cheap thrifty. Yes, that was me in the story about the woman who saved her kids’ bottom-of-the-bowl, breakfast-cerealy milk and strained it into her morning coffee.

So it ain’t for nothin’ that frugality and green are intertwined. The more frugal you are, the greener you are (and vice versa), and this premise includes your purse or wallet.

Though I’m not certain that the charity to whom I intend to give the stack of unused coloring books will be able to make use of them, I certainly hope they will. That goes doubly for the kids who receive them. In my mind, I see them sitting with a favorite adult and imagining new worlds as they discuss colors, tones, shapes, numbers, or whatever’s on the page or caught up in their emotions.

For the holidays especially, I wish them all as large a gallery
as possible--even if ‘only’ a super-cool Louvre like we have.

Caption Credits: First photo falls under Fair Use, I believe. I used the small, unintrusive, and not-intended-for-profit, screen-grabbed image found at Wikipedia for this infamous original Star Trek episode. All other photos courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nationwide ground beef recall for Escherichia coli contamination hits Walmart, Sam's Club, Publix, Kroger, Winn Dixie stores

Where's the beef? For your health's sake, I hope it's not in your refrigerator--or, worse yet, in your or your child's gastrointestinal system--if it came from National Beef Packing Co. LLC, of Dodge City, Kansas.

In a news release from 12 August 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), noted that the aforementioned company is recalling approximately 60,424 pounds of ground beef products that may be adulterated with Escherichia coli strain O157:H7.

The ground beef products have been sold nationwide, but largely in the southern portion of the United States. So far, the only stores believed to have distributed the beef are Sam's Club, Publix, Winn Dixie, Kroger, and Walmart, but stay tuned to media for further updates. The Sam's Club stores affected, however, include the states of Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, and Michigan; for Walmart, the stores include Nebraska and Colorado. View the complete list of affected stores and their associated states on the USDA's pdf here.

Unfortunately, they also "may have been repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names."

So, how do you suss out the skinny on your beef products?

The scoop on the affected products

Following is the FSIS itemization of the affected products:

1. Ground beef chubs produced on July 23, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 12, 2011:
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 483.
• Boxes containing eight 5-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 684.
• Boxes containing twelve 3-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 782 or 785.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 787.

Each box and chub bears the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.

2. Ground beef chubs produced on July 25, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 14, 2011:

• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 81/19 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 431.
• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 90/10 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 471.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 86/14 Fine Ground Round.” These can be identified by the product code 494.

Now what the heck is E. coli, and why should I care about this recall?
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, you have no cause for alarm. But if you're like other Americans, you might eat beef either at home, during visits with friends or family, or while in a restaurant.

E. coli is found within the healthy intestines of all animals, humans included. Like a sort of bacterial weedeater, they keep harmful intestinal flora at bay.

As you will also remember from your basic biology classes, E. coli is a Gram-negative bacterium with a facultative anaerobic metabolism. The basic form of E. coli, which is implicated in urinary and intestinal tract infections and neonatal meningitis, is highly scrutinized in biology, yet strikingly little is known about its ecology--in particular, these questions relate to why it is so commonly associated with humans, its effects on its host, and so on (Todar's Online Textbook of Bacteriology: Bacterial Pathogens of Humans).

NOTE: This paragraph is not for the super-squeamish. The aptly named Bad Bug Book tips us off to the blood-based background of enterohemorrhagic infection such as that with E. coli serotype O157:H7, which is thankfully uncommon. It educates us that "E. coli serotype O157:H7 is a rare variety of E. coli that produces large quantities of one or more related, potent toxins that cause severe damage to the lining of the intestine. These toxins [verotoxin (VT), shiga-like toxin] are closely related or identical to the toxin produced by Shigella dysenteriae [essentially, dysentery]. ... The illness is characterized by severe cramping (abdominal pain) and diarrhea which is initially watery but becomes grossly bloody."

Needless to say, if you suspect E. coli contamination--or that of any other foodborne bacterium--get thee to a physician. Quickly.

Time is especially of the essence if you or the other afflicted person is elderly, immunocompromised (as with AIDS, cancer, and so on), or young.

That is to say, it's not for no reason that the FSIS has classified this as a Class I (high health risk) recall, meaning "This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."

Sadly, all in the name of and quest for a great burger.

Where can I get more information?
The FSIS tells us that shoppers and reporters with questions about the recall should contact the company’s Vice President of Marketing, Keith Welty, at (816) 713-8631.

A few final words on food-safety and preparation
In the meantime, please check your shopping carts and refrigerators for ground beef chubs. Note also that each box and chub is marked with the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.

The FSIS advice also includes the following (and more at the initial press release link):

"Color is NOT a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7.

The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high-enough temperature [a temperature of 160° F or above] to kill harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature."

In short, the food-safety mantra of "clean, separate, cook, and chill" should be on every home cook's lips (Partnership for Food Safety Education), for an ounce of prevention can easily be worth a pound of cure with regard to food storage and handling safety. After all, who wants to be so sickened by food mishandled at home, which is preventable, that they have to go to the hospital or, worse still, have to take their child?

Even given the high cost of beef to the struggling American middle-income and lesser-income families today, I wanted to share this story with you. I'd like to say that I hope you find it useful, but then that might mean that you or yours is sickened by this foodborne illness. So I'll instead wish that you find it intellectually fascinating but have no direct experience with it.

Additional Reading:

WebMD, Escherichia coli: Infection Overview

Walmart stores, press release on recall

Photo captions:
Ground beef photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Escherichia coli image is a scanning electron micrograph courtesy of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Children Dead So Far This Summer in the Gunited States of America

"A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense." (American Academy of Pediatrics)

I’ve got a bur under my saddle, and I aim to pry it out.

Amigos and compadres, we’re officially living in the Gunited States of America.
And in the G.S.A., the Summer of the Gun has started off with a bang. Several of them, unfortunately.

Keep in mind that, as of this writing, summer began just over a month and a half ago, on June 21, 2011.

And now, let me take you for a good, old-fashioned boot-scoot down the streets strewn with children’s dead or bloodied bodies.

Oh, and mind the brain matter and bone fragments, please.

July 28, 2011
Boy, 13, accidentally shoots self in chest with pistol and dies at grandparents' home (adults not present), Boulder/Whitehall, Montana. Story here and here.

July 28, 2011
Boy shoots self in head; bicycle helmet damaged but “teenager” (no age given) is okay, Avon, Conn. Story here and here.

July 24, 2011
3-year-old boy shoots self in face, Huntsville, Ala. Child in critical condition as of August 3, 2011. Story here.

July 22, 2011
Eight-year-old boy shot once in chest and left arm by 12-gauge shotgun and killed; two other children, including a younger one, were present. His twin brother is devastated. No charges will be filed, Ripley, Miss [story dateline misstates this as Tennessee; Tippah County is in Mississippi]. Video above. Story here.

July 21, 2011
4-year-old boy shoots self dead at liquor store (yes, a liquor store), Beecher, Ill. Story here.

July 20, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots, kills 5-year-old brother, Belleville, Ill.
Story here.

July 19, 2011
A sad aberration: Cop's son, 3, shoots, kills self with officer's firearm, Maryland Heights, Mo. Story here.

July 18, 2011
11-year-old boy in coma after being shot in head at neighbor’s house. Boy was playing with two others, Clinton, Ind. No updates as of Aug. 3, 2011
Story here and here.

July 15, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots 12-year-old boy in side. Kids were playing with older boy’s parents’ unsecured handgun, Rupert, Idaho. Boy said to have been treated and is recovering at home. Story here.

July 14, 2011
Four-year-old boy shot to death while adults in the home, Philadelphia, Penn. Investigation underway to find gun and determine who shot him (self-inflicted or not). Story here and here.

July 14, 2011
5-year-old boy shoots, kills 2-year-old brother, Connersville, Ind. Story here.

July 12, 2011
Girl, 3, fatally shoots self in head, St. Louis, Mo. Story here.

June 30, 2011
11-year-old boy shoots, kills brother, 6 years old, Martinsville, Ind. The 11-year-old allegedly had threatened siblings before. Story here. Update: Boy's mother and her boyfriend have been charged with multiple counts of child neglect; story here.

June 26, 2011
2-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills sister, 6, Fresno, Calif. Father reportedly in home at time of shooting, as were 3 of the 4 other children. Story here.

Death toll: At least 10 children, chiefly boys, lay gunned down in about a month and a half. And these are only the reports I could locate via a Google search that was not exhaustive. Goodness knows how many go unreported, underreported, falsely reported, or otherwise.

Gun Culture Etiquette: Lock Up Your Guns--and Your Sons?
How much higher does the child body count have to go? When will people begin to realize that this once-great country is headed straight down into the abyss? But, oh, thank goodness we’ll take our guns with us. You’ll have to pry them from the cold, dead hands of our children, yes?

You can blame the parents, grandparents, stepparents, babysitters, or guardians. Absolutely.

You would also be on firm ground faulting a society that allows rage to rule. Couple anger with lax to nonexistent gun laws and you have 65 accidental child deaths caused by firearms in the Gunited States (2007, the most recent year full data were available). These 2007 data even include one child under age 1 year (CDC report).

Gun Rights Don't Make it Right
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for children ages 1-4 and 5-14, the leading cause of death was accidents (unintentional injuries) in 2007. Of course, falls, drownings, and other terrible accidents figure into these data. But in the case of firearms, why not remove, or at least indict, the instrument whereby death is visited, accidentally or not, on those so young?

Here are a few ideas. Why not make guns more difficult to obtain for those with documented mental illness or antisocial behaviors, require locks and gun-safety classes for all gun buyers, counsel new parents about gun ownership in the hospital at the time of birth, empower pediatricians and other child care providers to ask parents and guardians about gun ownership, and have more transparency about who is buying these deadly weapons?

Oh, that's right. It's all about rights. My right to blow your friggin' head off at the drop of a Stetson trumps any darn rugrat's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Simply view the National Rifle Association's attempt to block disclosure of semi-automatic rifle sales along the U.S. border.

The Wild West isn't Best, Especially for Children
If we take these steps and others offered by those more learned than I, perhaps someday we can salvage our dignity and pride and once again become the United States of America, not the Wild West that we currently are.

And, just for the record, the Wild West was brutal, bloody, and miserable, not some romantic or wondrous ideal where spurs jingled in the purple-saged majesty and singing Caucasian cowboys sparkled astride perky Palominos. Scalps were hacked off; people died of toothaches, coughs, and cuts; men routinely had their heads blown clean off. Let’s not return to that crap, okay?

Parents, know where your children are, even if they’re at a relative’s house. Ask if guns are present and demand to know or see how they are stored. Is the ammo stored apart from the gun? Are gun locks used? When will the children be unattended, and where are the guns kept--in a safe, in a drawer? If the answer is under a bed or a pillow, on the wall, on a shelf, in the closet, or in the car, that doesn’t cut it.

While we're on this important topic, be sure to check out the article “How do you ask other parents if there are guns in their house?” by Jessica Ashley here.

Our sons and daughters, grandkids, step-kids, nieces, nephews, kids’ playmates, and family friends are counting on us to get this right. Let’s not ignorantly lead them into a second coming of the Wild West. I’ll gladly fight tooth and nail sans guns--sorry, cowards; you need not come forward waving your firearm angrily--with irrational “gun activists” for the promise of children’s lives.

Yes, children are that important. Take a look at the video and the dead children’s faces and I defy you to debate me on this. Please, show your anger and ignorance--and through your vehement defense of your gun "rights" (a Creator-given right to murder; ain’t that grand?), make the argument that children don't matter.

Additional (re)sources:
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
The Children’s Trust, Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Day

Gun Photo Caption: The image is of a third-generation 9-mm Glock 17 with a cable lock. It was provided, copyright- and royalty-free, by flickr user Kencf0618 here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wanderlust Wednesday

"An agreeable companion on a journey is as good as a carriage." -- Publius Syrus

An ode to the summer traveler. What was it Twain snarked so long ago about traveling?

Oh, yes. Here it is. "I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them."

Are you on the cusp of real-world travel? Perhaps you're a writer like Twain, even preparing to travel aloft the magic carpet of your own imagination.

Whatever the case, I wish you every success. Remember to take deep breaths if you're traveling with children or a spouse--that goes for my spouse in dealing with my temper flares, too!--and to always be prepared.

Yes, it does help to have a Boy Scout outlook to travel with children. Or with pets. Or with both, which I so happened to have done, through a heavily flooded zone, as it so happened. The dog was calmer than the kid, believe it or not!

If you're instead stuck in the work vehicle or office, at home or otherwise, my condolences. I know we're going stir-crazy with the heat keeping us lidded inside our little breadbox.

For those quicksanded in the office or with an interest in work-life balancing, I ran across a series of short excellent videos from author Juliet Schor, who wrote Plentitude: The New Economics Of True Wealth, which I'm now itching to pick up after viewing the videos.

The Globe and Mail of Canada provides several Schor videos, but I'll only mention one here. Get past the annoying commercial, and it's called "Why cutting back on working hours works." Unfortunately, it's not available for embedding, but you can find it and other videos by Schor (and other thought leaders like primatologist Jane Goodall, in fact) here. The start of Schor's videos currently occurs four videos down, with "Shorter hours pay for themselves."

She makes a great case for "time affluence," as seen in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. When work hours decline, guess who benefits? The planet and its people. (The average worker, anyway. CEOs and high-paid staff get enough perks already without reduced hours.) She notes a correlation between fewer work hours and "reduc[tions] in greenhouse gas emissions, lower unemployment, and higher quality of life."

In Germany and the Netherlands, the average person works more than 300 hours fewer than we do in North America.

And, so, please let overwork be a sort of inspiration for you this Wednesday. If you can bear to part the curtain of your particular kind of chaos, please go out and enjoy your lives and families.

Note & Caption: My posts will be irregular for the next two or so weeks, owing to my own family commitments and downtime. Meanwhile, enjoy our daughter's quizzical expression from a past excursion at Nauticus (a museum of naval history and seafaring), in Norfolk, Virginia.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do Good Fences Make for Good Writing?

"Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down."
-- American Poet Robert Frost

I suspect that if Robert Frost stopped by my words on a snowy evening--or a summer morn--he would squash them under his heel like they were the proverbial fat, white spider.

That said, I find that I work better in my writing life by having the "good fence" provided for me.

What do I mean by the good fence? I'll show you.

Writing Rules and Figuring out How You Work Best

Wherever you look, you'll find writing advice. In my writing about not giving writing advice, alas, I am dispensing nuggets of worth (at least I hope so), too.

But you really, truly need to find what works for you.

Some say you have to carve out an hour a day or at least set up a time slot that you always fill with the coin of your particular realm at the same time daily. Others enjoin the following: have an actual desk in an actual office even at home, hang a "do not disturb" sign on the door, dress up as if it were a workplace, or don't multitask.

All have their validity. Some may work for you. Some may not.

I find that I benefit by having rules established for me, as with writing contests and competitions or submission guidelines. The open page is so much more daunting than, say, that white space which has to be framed by the rules of a particular publication or contest.

If they say a thousand words tops, it behooves me to put my horse within those borders rather than letting her run amok, to crash through the fence at 1,001. Even if she knows the editor or has a cracking-good story, she is likely to be put back out to pasture if she can't follow the rules.

The Woods May be Lovely, But Keep Your Eyes on the ...

. . . Prize that is the hard-won task of writing and its bosom buddy, editing. Are you missing the forest and the trees if you scatter your talents around, desperate to latch onto some writing gig or inspiration? Any project will do, you might think. And there are definitely some writers who can write about anything and make the words work wonders for them.

I want to provide a for-instance here. But I will instead digress. I am going so far as to suggest that you diversify your writing to improve your main genre, niche, or focus.

If you don't normally write poetry, sit down and reel off a haiku before you get your writing started one day.

If you're a poet or playwright, instead pen an opinion piece or work on crafting a fiction story told from the perspective of a person lacking one or more of the five senses.

But remember to occasionally let yourself get outside the comfort zone of that fence, too.

With the good fence, all bets are off. You can stretch and roil and toss tempests around a bit, but keep it all corralled within the rules.

A Writing Prompt to Help You Negotiate the Fence

Instead of feeling like the captive in a pit-and-pendulum-type narrative, view the fence as a friend or, as Frost suggested, a good neighbor.

It will keep you honest. Keep you working, plugging, focused, and trained.

And, finally, I thought it might be good to suggest a fence-building outfit. You might have heard of The First Line. They sponsor quarterly writing contests wherein you take a supplied writing prompt--the first line of a story--and spin a world from within it.

Their latest fence, for Fall in this case, has been rolled out here, and your stories are due 1 August 2011. Please let me know if the fence framework frees you up, as it did for Frost, evidenced by his mastery of rhyme and meter, or feels more like a literary tether.

And, meanwhile, it's well worth your time to read or listen to the Frost poems I've only tidbitted here, in order of mention:

"Mending Wall"

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (audio)


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Beet or Not to Beet, That is the Legal Question

Think a moment of the American Dream, evolving though it may be in these turbulent times. What did you envision? It probably had something to do with home-ownership, yes?

So, let's say you're living out that dream. Oh, let's just pick a location. How about Oak Park, Michigan? That's about as "Americana" as it gets, don't you think?

Now, enter mom Julie Bass, who perpetrated a travesty by committing a horrific and heinous crime planting a vegetable garden, along with a little haven or herbs and a fringe of flowers, in her own front yard.

Say what?

A "Garden Renegade" is Born

I first became acquainted with Julie's story by reading the Raw Story short here.

Treehugger also provides a summation video of this issue from Michigan's WXYZ television station, and I've got that video here.

Self-dubbed a "garden renegade," Bass originally decided to plant a vegetable garden in May after a sewer project had obliterated her front yard. Rather than re-growing grass or adding shrubs or sod--the latter of which she has noted in interviews is quite expensive--she opted for peppers, tomatoes, and the like.

This rampant vegetablism on Bass' part has gotten her into hot water with the certain unnamed neighbors, who complained to the city, and thus with the city of Oak Park, Mich.

According to an ABC News interview, the city has charged her with growing a "vegetable garden in front yard space." If Bass is convicted of this "crime," she could spend up to 93 days in jail under these draconian and vaguely worded codes.

The ABC News interview, and others quoting Bass, point out that she said she sought and received approval from both neighbors and city officials in her Detroit suburb before she went ahead with the plantings of five decorative planter boxes in her family's front yard.

Nonetheless, head honcho in charge of beating back people wanting to grow modern-day victory gardens, a.k.a., Oak Park's Planning and Technology director Kevin Rulkowski, told WXYZ in the video you see above, "I told her don't do it, and she went ahead and did it anyway."

The nut of the argument, if you will, comes down to the wording of the city's code. Per ABC News, the Oak Park city screening and landscaping ordinance states, "All unpaved portions of the [screening and landscaping] site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material."

What's with the Vegetable Vendetta, Mr. Rulkowski?
If peppers, zucchini, and other edible plantings are not suitable, what is? Would Mr. Rulkowski have Bass grow pot plants instead? Or is it instead okay to persecute a family, with children I might add, for growing edible foods? Yes, let's strong-arm them into growing grass, nothing, or only ornamentals.

Bah, humbug. Humbug, I say! (And someone should stuff said humbug in Rulkowski's ear!)

Bass rightly has called for a jury trial, and her pretrial hearing is slated for July 26. Mark your calendars! Naturally, Julie's attorney Solomon Radner does not believe that a jury will convict his client of a crime. He aptly alludes to First Lady Michelle Obama's drive to get the nation's families to grow more fruits and vegetables, doing so herself on the White House's grounds, and to partake of them as steps toward better health.

As a mom who involves the kids whenever possible in her vegetable gardening--with not much luck growing tomatoes or peppers this year, darnit!--I am adding my voice, for what it's worth, to Julie's campaign. Her blog, Oak Park Hates Veggies, will carry continuing updates and is interesting to read besides.

I see this move on the part of the city of Oak Park, Mich., and Mr. Rulkowski, as a means to squash families and the folks of low to moderate means (though I'm not presuming to know the Bass family's financial details) like so many weeds under a corporatist or business-coddling boot. Down with the people; up with the well-to-do!

For goodness' sake, it's not like we've been hearing about or experiencing the skyrocketing costs of food worldwide, with food riots and the like--not just here in the States. Oh, wait. Yes, we have. Here and here and here and here for starters.

What's the big deal about vegetables? It's not a hazard to herself or her neighbors. It's not a blight on the neighborhood or an eyesore that brings down property values. Take a look at the photos and videos. It's one or two bad seeds--if that could ever be proven--who complained to the city and who, for whatever reason, are holding the reins attached to Mr. Rulkowski's muzzle.

VoN will actively follow this story and hereby issues a resounding boo, hiss to Oak Park, Michigan, and Kevin Rulkowski, for their adherence to draconian and poorly worded city codes. If we can find out further steps to take in support of Bass other than this column--even interviewing her if she has the time--we will cover it here.

What say you, readers? Are you in support of Bass' decision to grow a vegetable garden to supplement her family's food supplies? Please offer your thoughts below.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

If Social Security's on the Table, What's under it?

I was listening to NPR a week or two ago and Tavis Smiley was on promoting an American history exhibit at a local museum. Not surprisingly, he said something compelling that has stayed with me. I'll paraphrase from memory:

"First, we must respect him, which we do. Then we must protect him. But, finally, we must correct him."

Neither Tavis nor colleague Cornel West shies from the latter part, to be sure.

But who is Tavis addressing?

As you might have guessed, it's U.S. President Barack Obama.

On this tumultuous Thursday, as so many thoughts and tirades and trends tug at our attention, I'd like to ask that you bear that statement in mind.

Whether Medicare and Social Security are "on the table" in the D & D talks--and, no, I don't mean Dungeons & Dragons, fellow 1970s/1980s geeks--or not, the day is coming, I fear, when America will even more sharply divide into the have-it-alls and the have-it-nots.

What are your thoughts, dear reader? I know politics is not supposed to be discussed in polite company, but those are old mores, to my mind. We can be rational and thoughtful and still face issues that affect us all without devolving into fistfights or baseless ad-hominems.

And now, some pertinent reading for today and tomorrow as we await further economic and world news here at Views on News:

"In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts." Come on! Be the Commander in Chief, not the Caver in Chief!

Fox News' Rupert "Howling Mad" Murdoch [yes, I bestowed this nickname] is on the hot seat for hacking scandal involving potential cover-up of murdered woman's messages, breaking into dead soldiers' relatives communiques, and more heinous stuff. What did you expect from somebody who runs a so-called media company calling a rape accuser a "prostitute"? See "Grieving relatives of British soldiers may also have been hacked." Another view is available via Reuters.

"Six months of The Fact-Checker -- An accounting." Let's just say that Obama beat Romney in terms of having fewer Pinocchios, with 1.8 and 2.0 averages, respectively, and the wackiest of the wackjob Republican 2012 contenders will need nose jobs in the near future--and perhaps, someday, one might hope, "real" jobs like the rest of us [note: independently wealthy, old money or new doesn't necessarily qualify you as being employed].

"Ex-national security advisor warns [income] inequality could lead to unrest." A sad but familiar refrain.

Will it or won't it? What's the latest on the last historic mission of the United States' Space Shuttle program (aka let's get ready to hitch a ride with Russia, comrades). Da and perestroika! For Twitter updates, MSNBC science writer Alan Boyle is attending the NASA tweetup for Atlantis' launch and provides great science coverage overall. Follow him at @b0yle. As of 11 am CST, 7 July, Boyle was MT'ing via @SpaceflightNow, "Lightning warning at #shuttle pad. No firm estimate on when wether wil allow gantry roll," with a link to Stay tuned, for you might even seen kiddie celebs at and around the time of the tweetup and final launch, such as Sesame Street's Elmo. Tee-hee-hee, ha-ha-ha! Hashtag is #NASATweetup

And, finally, there's still time to sign Sen. Bernie Sanders' petition to President Obama, noting that we won't balance the budget on the backs of children, the sick, the elderly, and middle- and low-income families. Almost 123,000 signatures on it as of this writing. We can do better than that, c'mon Americans!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Women's World Cup Wednesday in Wolfsburg

Woo-hoo, it's whooping time. In the form of the Women's World Cup and, more specifically, for Team USA, which faces Sweden in Wolfsburg, Germany, today.

Currently ranked Number 1 in the world, Team USA looks to notch a win against familiar foe Sweden. But don't worry. We've got it in the bag.

Team USA's coach, Pia Sundhage, is Swedish. We enter the match, according to, having played Sweden 29 times over the years that women's professional-level football has flourished, including three World Cup matches. In all 3 WC matches, we bested the skillful Swedes, winning 3-2 in 1991, 3-1 in 2003, and 2-0 in 2007.

Team USA also enters the game having more or less trounced its previous WC 2011 opponents, with a workman-like 2-0 win over Korea DPR and a roasting of Colombia, 3-0.

Clash of the Football Titans in a Battle for the Top of Group C
Although we're still only in group stage, the USA women hope to edge out Sweden and roundly win Group C to get better positioning for the quarterfinal stage of the WC.

Powerhouse Sweden likely won't be a romp, but USA needs only a draw to secure "a quarterfinal match-up against what, theoretically, will be an easier opponent." (

Perhaps, continuing with the W theme today, we will even see a wallop by Wambach. Striker Abby Wambach is overdue for a cracking goal or header, as was painfully evident from the Colombia game.

As a (transplanted) Midwesterner who was a season-ticket-holder for WPS team the St. Louis Athletica, sadly now defunct, I am counting on keeper and Athletic alumna Hope Solo to kick some grass as usual.

And here's a Hope Solo-signed ball [she's the "No. 1" signature in front, in case you can't tell] we won to give Team USA some extra oomph from afar. Trust me, if we could, we'd be in Germany right now cheering them on!

Besides, the little ones love to scream and cheer, whether it's soccer or not!

Tune into ESPN and Galavision at 2:30 p.m. ET today to watch the match live.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Writing it Real and More Criticism of Online Writers

They come at you from every conceivable angle. From well-meaning "oh, I wish I could sit at home and do freelance writing" to "write what you know" or even "make it new," volleys of advice track every freelance writer.

Naturally, it hurts more when a fellow writer stages a smackdown or lobs that most dreaded of bêtes noires: hack. I won’t belabor this point here except to point you to last week’s version of The Hack Strikes Back, in which this writer takes on a NYT columnist.

Nobody Rides for Free, So Should Anybody Write for Free?
And yet, some criticisms of online writing are valid. Let’s look a moment at a column today by C. Hope Clark. Clark is founder of and is a clips-to-the-hilt writer with credits in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and many other publications.

In “Why Working for No Fee is SOOOO Tempting,” which I strongly implore you to read in its original state here, Ms. Clark rightly takes writing for free to task.

“Writing for free builds clips. Listen. If someone can't afford to pay you, how is that a reputable clip?”

I respect Ms. Clark. I’ve followed her blog; dined on, digested, and dissected her words and articles; and subscribed to her e-newsletters for years. She is a flesh-and-words testimonial to “write what you know,” having worked in grants and parlaying that knowledge into schooling authors on grant-writing or having put her botany grow-how via Clemson University into writing for niche gardening and landscaping markets like TURF Magazine.

You're sensing a “but” coming on about now, aren’t you? If you did, you’re spot-on. I think Ms. Clark partly misses the mark here.

I’ll explain how with a few brief excerpts from Clark’s article, which should at the least be on the edge of your writing radar.

“When someone pitches to me and says they have 47 articles on Associated Content, Suite101, et al, I consider them uneducated in their profession. . . . I want someone who either has a phenomenal idea that's pitched very well, or someone who has been vetted in publications that actually reject people.”

Again, I’ll use a real-world example. I’ve written for much-maligned content providers. Specifically, I’ve written for Demand Media, including such streams as eHow and LIVESTRONG.

I’m guessing that Demand would be included in the Ms. Clark’s pillorization. However, it, like a few other so-called content farms, stands apart from the criteria she mentions. For instance, Demand does the following, to which I can directly attest:

1. It has a stable of writers and copyeditors. A writer is given 7 days to perfect his article(s), fleshing it out with a number of valid sources and writing to the specs provided by the company.
2. Demand even has a style manual of prescriptives to follow, largely based on the journalism world’s tried-and-true Associated Press Manual of Style.
3. Articles are tweaked by editors, and, yes, articles are rejected by Demand copyeditors. So, that litmus test box can be checked for this content farm that—again, this is some presumption on my part, because Demand is not so named in her article—has raised Ms. Clark’s ire.

Freebie Writers Might Hurt Everyone, But What About Low-Paying Gigs?
Clark continues. If people continue to write for free for online sites, she affirms that this makes the world that much more difficult for other writers.

I won’t quibble with the main contention that free writing has no place in freelancing. In fact, I've long thought of calling myself a "fee-lance writer," not a "freelance writer," to avoid the incorrect connotation of my work being cheap or worthless. So, there again, we have the Demand model—and this applies to other online portals that do pay their writers such as Skyword, Suite 101, Helium, and so forth, too. Demand rejects articles from its bevy of writers, but it also pays writers for the articles that do earn its editorial merits. The money is, frankly, not great, but it does provide an income to those who are unable to achieve full-time or even robust part-time writing. And it is paid promptly, pretty much without fail.

Lofty Earnings Goals, Meet Cold Economic Reality
Here is the crux of my argument and my bone of contention with Clark’s article. There are those who will tell you, fellow writers, that you shouldn’t write for free. Okay. Fair enough. We’ve all got to eat. When you see a bottom-feeder who won't pay you, just move along to something better. I'd be happy to point you to some potential markets, as would other excellent sources that I'll delineate in a later post.

But let’s say you’re a quasi part-time writer. I’m in that boat. See me? I’m the one in the blue-striped shirt who’s waving. I’ve got two young, not-yet-pottytrained-or-school-aged children there with me for whom I’m the main caregiver. My spouse works full-time and goes to school for his master’s.

So, let’s say I earn $10 or $15 when I write an article for Demand. Just a half-year or year ago, it was sometimes $20 or even $25, but, hey, the economy’s bad, so I’ve had to adapt just like you. Why begrudge me my pittance for doing something I adore? (Namely, writing.) Why pillory that full-time dad, but part-time writer who takes care of his kids all day while his wife works just so that one can do the important job of foundationing a family but still earn a few extra dollars through writing?

Even the writing world is not black-and-white, though newsprint used to be. And we all see what is happening in that realm.

Hate the Greedy Company, Love the Hard-Working Writer
I would only ask, as I’ve said and written before, that those who chide me for doing a decent to damn-good job of writing with the time that I have, would support me. Lambast the greedy company that wants to pay the writer nothing or $10 or even $25 for a researched and factual article while those who are able to pound the payment for niche markets and trade publications write their hundreds-of-dollars articles and reap the rewards. Pip, pip and more power to 'em. But don't forget the little guy or gal earnestly plugging along.

In short, write a mile in my holey shoes or in those of the moms or dads or disabled people or caretakers for aging parents who are in the home and who cannot, in some writers' eyes, be “educated” about the writing market. These people still help their families and do something they enjoy and respect and many of them do so with distinction. Their articles provide evergreen, actionable content that a reader can use in her own life to craft a widget or clean a thingamajig.

Go ahead; I dare you to try writing in these shoes. You’ll quickly see how many interviews you lose when your child is screaming in the background, though you have locked yourself in a separate room of your small house, or when you have to cancel them because Sally refuses to wear a shirt with buttons and pitches a gargantuan wobbler that you, and you alone, have to deal with. Or because your mother with end-stage renal disease needs your extra love and attention that day, so writing will just have to wait. Because that’s your job.

So, in short, I want to urge writers to be more empathetic to one another. If you think that everyone has the opportunity to write for dollars-on-the-word, please GET REAL. Get nitty-gritty, get down in the writing trenches with those who do online writing before you make unfounded assumptions.

In one of the animal shelters where I worked and volunteered, there was a particularly apt sign that I’ll paraphrase: “Be kind, for you can never tell what road someone else is traveling.”

And, finally, dear reader, for your voyage, please take this short list of four paying markets that I’ve dug up in recent days. Take them with my compliments. Three are contests, and so, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve a win there, but you never know until you try. Good luck and best wishes in all your travels. In your head and outside. Writing-related and non.

Glamour magazine; “Have an Amazing Real-Life Story to Tell?”; prize: $5,000, publication, and meeting with a “top” literary agent. Due 15 August 2011. More information here.

Family Circle magazine; 2011 Fiction Contest; prize: $750 for top prize and Media
Bistro goodies. Due 9 Sept. 2011. More information here.

Real Simple magazine; Fourth Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest; theme: "When did you first understand the meaning of love?"; prize: $3,000, publication, and a trip to NYC to meet Real Simple editors. More information here.

On the Premises magazine; Current fiction contest: Myths & Legends; cash prizes include first through third and honorable mentions. Due 30 Sept. 2011. More information here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Critter Concerns Egg-revate JFK Travel Times; Terrapins Prompt Teachable Moment

Seeing dead wildlife on highways and byways distresses and deflates me. Just ask my husband. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

The scientist or researcher who someday figures out how to keep wildlife off roads—other than the obvious solution: fewer humans or cars or exterminating wildlife—or devises an underground or over-the-road bridge or effective deterrent will be getting a love letter from me, for whatever that’s worth.

And so, I was pleasantly pleased that Kennedy International Airport managers allowed time for an impromptu turtle “storming” on Runway 4L yesterday morning.

The Federal Aviation Administration, via ABC News, said flight times had slowed to something of a crawl, reaching 30 minutes on some flights.

An FAA spokeswoman reported that the terrapin trek (reportedly diamondback terrapins to be specific) started at 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, 29 June, and the runway was shut down at 9:30 a.m. when "the bulk of turtles started to go across."

Approximately between 100 and 200 eventually either made it across or were ushered to safety, as you’ll see from the companion video above.

JetBlue, tongue-in-cheek, admitted that they hoped for faster animals the next time.

The critters were crossing to lay eggs, and were summarily rounded up. Luckily, airport officials are used to dealing with this type of wildlife-abutting-development issue and have said that the turtle trek could continue for a while yet.

Enter a so-called teachable moment for our family.

In a nutshell, pun intended, I have something of a mini-penchant for getting said reptiles off rural and small-town roads. My personal turtle-roundup record--for the month of June 2011, anyway--is two. (Or maybe three. Time flies when you’re shepherding reptiles to safety!)

Yes, call me critter-crazy, but if it is safe to do so, I will move turtles off roadways, and when the kids get older I will impress on them a couple things about this type of scenario: (a) compassion should be a prime mover but (b) make sure it’s safe for you and other people to perform any rescue action. That is to say, the road to you-know-where is paved with such good intentions.

Like the time I inadvertently came upon the snapping turtle in the middle of the road next to a small lake. S/he didn’t snap me, but I got him/her out of road, by hook or by crook. (And s/he smelled terrible!)

In the end, I’ve always believed Gandhi’s well-known quote is important, and hope the kids will appreciate the example(s) set by my husband and me. I’ll paraphrase: “The progress of a nation can be measured by its treatment of animals.” Hear, hear--and, indeed, by its treatment of any variation upon the theme of species. Whether those weak, meek, or "slow" variants turn out to be outdoor ankle-biters or the indoor variety (aka children). The vulnerable in society, like the elderly, children, the sick, the poor and hungry, and, increasingly, the non-millionaire class ought to have their own shepherds and advocates, too, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Online Writers, NYT Scribe Virginia Heffernan Thinks Most of You are Hacks and Robots

First, have a few sips of the writer-to-writer vitriol:
"As a verbal artifact, farmed content exhibits neither style nor substance."
"The insultingly vacuous and frankly bizarre prose of the content farms — it seems ripped from Wikipedia and translated from the Romanian — cheapens all online information."
"These prose-widgets are not hammered out by robots, surprisingly. But they are written by writers who work like robots."

All taken from the op-ed by columnist Virginia Heffernan that ran 26 June 2011 in The New York Times here.

Because The New York Times is apparently no longer accepting nonabusive comments that are within their character-counting limits on this story, or moving so slowly on moderation so as to stifle dissent, I would like to offer my open letter to Ms. Heffernan here.

I invite other writers--moms, dads, single folks just starting out in writing, or seasoned professionals working in the business they love--to share their experiences with me here, on Twitter (@1WomanWordsmith), and with the NYT to counter this patently false idea, and one often proven incorrect when you bother to do actual speaking with sources, as Ms. Heffernan did not do, that everyone who's ever written for a much-maligned "content farm" is a hack, a cheat, and scarcely worthy of licking Ms. Hah-vahd PhD's Manolos.

Said another way and more succinctly: I know I can't be the only person who puts a lot of work into every online post, even for "content farms." Anybody else out there among the writing hoi polloi (in Heffernan's book, anyway) doing the same thing and being flogged for it?

Ms. Heffernan:
Although your opinion-editorial has some valid criticisms of so-called content farms, I believe that you do a disservice to some--and probably many--talented writers and copyeditors who perform the work to the specifications offered by their superiors, including the length, format, tone, and overall style of the article, for said content mills.

As the adage by way of Aristophanes goes, you should not decide until you have heard what both have to say. And so, I would like to offer the other side and be as brief as I can.

The Gold Standard of Online "Content Farm" Writing: Evergreen & Actionable
First, I believe that you misunderstand or misinterpret the purpose of many Demand and eHow articles, or others in that vein. But I will speak to these two models, if you will, because I have some experience with them. Assessing political, sports, deep investigative, entertainment, or breaking-news articles is outside the scope of this commentary. My understanding of the impetus of most "content mill" pieces is that the articles are meant to be evergreen, not frozen in time or serving as a cross-section of an issue as it unfolds in a discrete period of time as an investigative or "hard news" or breaking news journalism piece aims to be. Again diverging from a journalism piece in a newspaper, magazine, or online, an eHow,, or LIVESTRONG article, for instance, should offer actionable, yet timely, content to the user/reader.

Here are a few articles I found that, I believe, deliver this freight quite effectively (with them keeping in mind that "brevity is the soul of wit"):
1. "Clean and Care for a Butcher Block," (transcript & video) by Chef John Mitzewich:
2. "Homemade Baby Food: Cereal" (transcript & video) by Rachel Edelman:
3. "How to Write a Good Teen Novel," by Matt Waldram:
4. "What Causes Kidney Failure in Children?," by Dr. Tina Andrews:

Naturally, all looks infected that the infected spy, so it is easy to argue that you have not looked hard enough to find the quality writing, to separate the wheat from the chaff, at Demand, Patch, Examiner, eHow, or the other "farms."

Not Every "Content Farm" Writer Falls into the Black Hole of Vacuity
This is where personal mores, if you will, intrude. I personally claim only the articles with which I have direct experience--be it education, work, or avocation experience. Perhaps other writers like the Mr. Miller mentioned in your op-ed labor at full tilt as writer "jacks of all trades and masters of none," so I can't speak to their modi operandi, though I suspect economics override ethics for some writers. I don't write full time for content farms, nor would I if I could devote my entire time to it, because I have two small children for whom I am the sole daytime caregiver, so I'm not at liberty to pound the pavement like a journalist would in the old days or even to make professional telephone calls for interviews unless those can include the background din of children screaming and laughing, toy drums pounding, or feet slapping.

Another personal rule that I follow is that I spend at minimum of 1 hour on my article, including research, writing, self-editing, and formatting my references and resources. Is that cost-effective? Of course not, especially given that most of the articles pay only $10-$20. (Plato might have said it best: "Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty.") For this set-up, I fault greedy, personhood-claiming corporations, but that is a discussion for another day. As a journalist for The New York Times and other such media who has grown from a cub to a grizzly perhaps, you might still be expected to champion the "little guy," or gal, writer earnestly attempting to make it; by the same token, considering that one of your clients, the NYT, has just begun charging for online subscriptions, thereby shutting out low- and moderate-income persons, you are hardly in a defensible position to cast aspersions about bare-bones economic issues like paying the kids' medical bills or buying food versus paying for online content. (Or hadn't you noticed that healthier meats like turkey are usually well over $3/pound these days? Or that farmers are necessarily passing along escalating gas and operation prices to their customers? That's okay; your colleagues reporting on the G-20 summit are doing that important work.)

Fault the Greedy Content-Farm Owner, Not the Hard-Working Writer
And speaking of all things agrarian--yes, it would be beyond wunderbar if online mega-farms like, Demand Media, eHow, Examiner, Patch, Seed, and others you and additional commenters might have mentioned paid their stable of writers for quality of writing rather than quantity. Trust me, it's an internal battle that I have fought with many a channel manager and editor, losing every time but still I will buoy that argument, naive as it may be. In their defense, these managers and editors were mostly little guys and gals, too, beholden to the leviathan that is their company, where eyeballs (not knowledge) are equivalent to power. They were in no position to purge the Augean stables of make-a-buck-quick, quantity-over-quality, keyword-density and SEO maestros. Again, as a columnist whose publications sell ad copy, run advertorials, charge for services to the eyeballs, undoubtedly harvest some user information in stealthy grabs, and serve as businesses whose bottom line is dollars, you are not a person that I see, for what my 2 cents are worth, in an ivory-tower position, though you might make it seem so. I would wish that you would foresee some concrete actions to take that you might help, not disparage, hard-working and talented writers stuck, in some sense, working for content mills. Have you petitioned content mills on behalf of copyeditors or championed writers' rights, as it were, through writers' guilds or union membership? For myself, I am hoping by pouring time and research into my articles--most of which actually take me 3-6 hours to research, write, source, and self-edit--I serve as an example of quality-over-quantity writing. I also don't kid myself that I'm the only content mill writer in this, or a very similar, seaworthy vessel, where both style AND substance pilot the ship. And, thus, I hope I might effect change from within. Again, I'm only one person and a bit business-naive perhaps, but that's my mantra and I'm sticking with it.

Write a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes, or, All Names are Writ in Water
Do we always succeed in this endeavor that is writing? Of course not. Likewise, can you say that you always succeed with every piece you write, Ms. Heffernan?

Is one of my latest articles on how to find legitimate writing contests a ground-shaking or Gaia-quaking entry into the annals of writing, or does it serve as a vignette toward my writing of the GAN? Sadly, no. Does it advance human rights, safeguard the environment, champion workers' or children's or women's rights, embolden people to wield freedom of speech, cure a disease, or inoculate against illness? In general, no. However, it does provide salient sourced material (my articles all contain a minimum of 3-4 resources or references I've discovered in the books, magazines, and journals I have on hand or the newspapers and trustworthy sources I find online) to the discerning reader and, I hope, helps inoculate her against ignorance; the writing I do also serves the ancillary functions of providing me with a livelihood I enjoy, padding the pockets of my family with a wee bit of the green that our society unfortunately still requires to regulate itself smoothly, and functions well as one conduit for the use of my master's degree in English. In a way, not only am I serving the reader and my family through writing, but I hope I am seen as an advocate of language and the words themselves, though the thoughts may at times be battered by purply prose. As T.S. Eliot wrote, it's about the wrestle with words and meanings--and that, too, keeps me writing (and "momming," for that matter).

So, in sum, I hope you will consider the economic realities for those of us--perhaps we're the exception to your excoriation of content mill writers or maybe we're more common than you might have surmised in your ill-researched diatribe--who don't write full time but who nonetheless screw our writing courage to the sticking place on a regular basis, helping readers rather than flogging them with vapidity as you suggest. If you overlook us because of your overreliance on mobile apps and fly over we hoi polloi writing "hacks" on the "open Internet, " you might miss more than you'll ever know. The main problem with hitching your literary wagon to a star is that you miss the land's still-pleasing patchwork of trees, mounts, oceans, and the majority of your fellow human beings. In the end, Ms. Heffernan, even your highly self-esteemed name, like mine and those of every other "hack content writer," is writ in water.

Please stay tuned for my next regular post on Thursday, 30 June 2011.