Friday, December 19, 2008

Cynthia Parkhill is Competent Communicator

 Distinguished Toastmaster and Past District Governor Bob Robinson presents Cynthia Parkhill with a name badge displaying her new rank

LAKEPORT -- Cynthia Parkhill, a member of Toastmasters club No. 8731, Tenacious Talkers, has earned the rank of “Competent Communicator.”

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that provides its members with training in public speaking and leadership. New members work from two manuals, “Competent Communication” and “Competent Leadership.”

On Thursday, Dec. 18, Parkhill presented her 10th speech out of the “Competent Communication” manual. At the conclusion of her speech, Distinguished Toastmaster and Past District Governor Bob Robinson presented Parkhill with a name badge displaying her new rank.

Parkhill can now go on to several advanced manuals tha cover aspects of public speaking. She has set a goal to complete “Competent Leadership” manual by June 2009 and to earn bronze-level honors in either the leadership or communication tracks by January 2010. Parkhill is currently serving as the club's vice president public relations for 2008-2009.

Cynthia Parkhill
Vice president public relations
Toastmasters club No. 8731
Tenacious Talkers

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You get the media you deserve

Looking at past articles and columns that appeared in our local newspapers, I can’t help but wonder why readers didn’t weigh in on topics as important as Ramsay Clark’s effort to impeach President Bush. Or a revelation by Greg Palast that U.S. intelligence and facts were “fixed” to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pomo basketmakers ‘Weaving traditions’

An open house held Thursday showcased the creations by students in a Cultural-Wellness Basket Weaving Class at Lake County Tribal Health.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Toastmasters speech No. 9, ‘Persuade with Power’

I gave my ninth speech this week; the purpose was to “Persuade with Power.” I chose as my topic, “Vaccines do not cause autism.”

Ever since I learned, almost a year and a half ago, that I have Asperger syndrome, I have devoted much study to  Asperger syndrome and ASDs. I made use of much of this information when presenting my Toastmasters speeches.

One of the notions I encountered was that vaccines caused children to become autistic. So in the midst of my overall studying, I examined this argument as well.

I decided that increases in diagnosis between 1993 and 2003 could be more than adequately explained by expansion of criteria into an autism “spectrum,” elimination of diagnostic substitution and improved record-keeping. This, to me, is a cause for rejoicing because it means that more individuals will gain understanding and support.

I made use of much of this research for my seventh Toastmasters project, in which I argued against the notion that there is an autism “epidemic.”

In order to examine the vaccine controversy with greater in-depth detail, I decided to reserve it for my ninth speech, which was to “Persuade with Power.”

With the completion of my ninth speech, I have only one more to go and I will be a “Competent Communicator.”

Originally posted to

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Limited options for road trips out of county

Good luck turning left if you’re driving south on Calistoga Street through Middletown during the evening commute. You can wait an awfully long time for a break in the stream of northbound headlights — finally trying to beat the yellow when the stoplights change at Wardlaw or at State Route 175.

According to data from the U.S. Census 2000, there are 1,415 Lake County residents who commute to Sonoma County. An additional 762 commute to Napa County.

These statistics were arranged into a map by Current Economics Statistics Group, Labor Market Information Division, California Employment Development Department.

An accompanying map shows that additional commuters travel the other way: 323 residents from Sonoma County and 58 from Napa County. The document can be viewed online at

The main route of access is SR 29 over Mount St. Helena. For approximately nine miles between the Napa County line and the base of Mount St. Helena, the road is subject to tight turns.

Observant drivers may notice signs proclaiming the Earle W. Wrieden Memorial Highway on SR 29 between a point north of the Lake County line and SR 175 in downtown Middletown. Wrieden spearheaded the creation of passing lanes on SR 29 over Mount St. Helena.

During 24 years of service on the Lake County Board of Supervisors, Wrieden devoted his primary focus to Lake County’s roads and highways. He was responsible for widely-traveled county roads being adopted into the state highway system.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 18, authored by then-Senator Wes Chesbro, was officially chaptered July 10, 2001 by the California Secretary of State.

But even with its passing lanes that help streamline the commute, travel on SR 29 over Mount St. Helena is not without unique hazards.

Rainfall-dampened roadways always pose the risk that one or more drivers will hit a turn too fast and everyone’s commute will be delayed by a rollover or two.

Enormous charter buses and haulers of freight pose an especially significant hazard even when road surfaces are dry. I’ve heard from people who were traveling behind one of these oversized vehicles and I have been in this position myself. Frequently their trailers take turns too wide into oncoming lanes of traffic.

I’ve also heard from motorists who were in the other lane and were nearly struck head-on.

Jackknifed big rigs bring traffic to a halt on SR 29. One time my mother was driving down “the hill” and passed a jackknifed rig — she happened to make it through just before the road was shut down so that the jackknifed rig could be cleared.

Calistoga Water trucks are the only large vehicles that ought to be permitted on this nine-mile stretch. I’ve traveled behind enough of them to note that their drivers are familiar with the road; they take the tight turns safely without drifting into the opposite lane.

Just as haulers are advised not to travel Clear Lake’s north shore along SR 20, and to instead take SR 29 between SR 20 and SR 53, I think long-distance haulers of freight ought similarly to be advised to avoid SR 29 over Mount St. Helena. This still leaves two viable routes under safer roadway conditions: SR 20 east from Highway 101 or west from Interstate 5. Roadwork improvements to the “gooseneck” turns between Clearlake Oaks and Williams and at the SR 20/53 “Y” greatly enhance this highway’s safety as a main access to the County of Lake.

Published Nov. 5, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

‘Hattitude’: Inside scoop on favorite hats

I was reading some comments online, and apparently several readers are as interested in the hat I wear in my columnist’s mug as in my weekly commentary.

A co-worker, Denise Rockenstein, gave me that hat. It happens to be one of my favorites. The flower-and-lace arrangement in the front compliments everything, from salwar kameez to tank top and capris.

Cynthia Parkhill in a plastic tiara
I won this tiara at the
Rogue Valley Fun Center
My co-worker, Mandy Feder, suggested that I write about my hats. Since Halloween is almost here, it seemed an appropriate time to share some of my favorites:

• This time of year, the stocking cap is a recurring favorite -- as essential to my wardrobe as cardigan and gloves. The intricacies of patterned knitting are seemingly limitless in creating beautiful wearable art.

I read a book called “Knitting for Peace” that profiles charitable knitting groups. Recipients range from newborn babes to U.S. troops overseas.

One of the projects is something called “chemo caps,” stocking caps made out of soft materials for cancer patients who have lost their hair. First item of business once I learn how to knit, is to make some stocking caps and maybe even donate a few.

• A few years ago, while my husband and I were visiting Ashland, Ore., we drove a few miles north to the Rogue Valley Fun Center. We spent a few fun hours playing the arcade games and won coupons to redeem for prizes at the arcade concession stand.

I was looking at the prizes, debating which one to get, when Jonathan gave me a nudge and pointed to a plastic tiara with “pearls” and set-in “stones.” After selecting the tiara, I asked him how he knew and he said every little girl wants a tiara.

Cynthia Parkhill in Tudor flat cap
Hand-made Tudor flat cap
• Tudor English flat caps look like throwing discs and could double as discs, I suppose, if stiffened with interfacing. In portraits contemporary to the era, they display panache and flair.

Hang around with reenactors and you pick up all sorts of trivia germane to the shared pastime: so I had known for years that the era’s sumptuary laws required everyone to wear a cap.

A short while ago, however, I learned the reason for the law. I was reading “Shakespeare: The World as Stage” by Bill Bryson and he said sumptuary laws’ restrictions were nearly always directed at imported fabrics. “For much the same reasons, there was for a time, a Statute of Caps, aimed at helping domestic cap makers through a spell of depression, which required people to wear caps instead of hats.”

So there you have it! A historic “Shop local” ordinance!

• The timeless classic I keep coming back to is my brown Greek fisherman’s cap. It’s made of wool with the classic embroidered ribbon across the front and on the peak.

I really like this juxtaposition of a cap style that’s traditionally “male” embellished with a detail that is arguably feminine. It’s a reminder that people can choose to transcend the limitations imposed by stereotypes.

So, for me, the ongoing dilemma isn’t whether or not to wear a hat. In the case of my columnist mug, it’s why I have to settle for just one.

Published Oct. 28, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autism speech for Toastmasters, a transcript

Here is the transcript of a speech presented in October 2008 before Toastmasters Club 8731, the Tenacious Talkers in Lake County, Calif. The title of the speech asks, Is There an Autism Epidemic? In it, I argue that expansion of criteria and improved methods of detection account for the increased prevalence of people on the autism spectrum. “We are seeing more cases of autism because we are learning where and how to look.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

ACLU presents misleading picture of local schools

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) paints a misleading and stereotyped picture of Lake County in its latest members’ bulletin. This from an agency that is supposed to combat prejudice!

Its special campaign issue, which arrived in mailboxes this week, promotes its “Schools for All Campaign: Preventing Bias and Pushout.” Its laudable aim is to prevent disproportionate application of punishments by school administrators against certain groups, and to also prevent the targeting of these groups for bullying by their classmates.

The article is illustrated by recent real-life cases involving Northern California schools. But whereas the first case, involving racial profiling at Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, is specific as to the school and locality, the second incident is specified merely to have taken place in “Lake County.”

For the majority of ACLU’s membership throughout Northern California, this may have been the only account they’ve read of the local settlement. That means every one of our schools in every one of our districts, is tarnished with the reputation of having failed to protect a student from abuse. But this is simply not true.

I think in the interest of accuracy, the ACLU-NC ought to have specified that it reached a settlement with Upper Lake Union Elementary School District.

On nearly every day since he began third grade -- at ULES, not “Lake County” -- a student named Robby was the target of taunts, bullying and anti-gay name calling by his peers based on his gender identity and perceived sexual orientation. The verbal abuse escalated in middle school and Robby was physically attacked after gym class by a group of boys who knocked him to the ground, kicked him in the stomach and head while screaming anti-gay epithets at him.

The write-up continues, accusing “Lake County” school officials of being complacent year after year in allowing a climate of anti-gay harassment and intimidation to continue.

What this account fails to acknowledge is that there are multiple school districts in Lake County, with varying climates of advocacy for the victims of bullying and abuse.

At the very top of the list, I would have to rank Konocti Unified School District with its formal adoption of an anti-bullying policy. When Konocti schools scheduled anti-bullying assemblies, this was “Lake County” too. Or when the district contracted with Monty Roberts to assist in building school climates that are free from violence -- this was also “Lake County.”

What about when Konocti organized a countywide forum with Ruby Payne so that local stakeholders could better understand the challenges ofmgenerational poverty?

This is the “Lake County” that ACLU members will never hear about.

To be fair, I believe there are districts that are in need of improvement -- along with surrounding communities. Even in Konocti, a student was lost to violence in a conflict that took place off-campus.

I cannot vouch for every story I’ve heard about bullying at local schools. But I’ve heard enough that I believe each district ought to adopt formal policies that offer redress against bullying.

Since Konocti’s policy has already been reviewed by schools attorney John Drummond, it ought to be a routine matter to similarly introduce the policy in other local districts. The time is past overdue. We don’t need more misleading coverage -- by the ACLU or by anyone -- to tarnish our collective reputation.

Published Oct. 7, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Censorship can take many forms

Following a link from the Banned Books Week page on Facebook to a parody news story in "The Onion," I learned that "U.S. teens are reacting with disappointment" to many banned books:

"'Desensitized to sex and violence from an early age, today's teens simply expect more out of their banned books than previous generations,' said Naomi Gould, director of the D.C.-based National Education Consortium  'For the teens of yesteryear, access to novels like Tropic Of Cancer, Portnoy's Complaint, and Lady Chatterley's Lover was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime thrill. But for teens raised on Cinemax and Def Comedy Jam, it just doesn't cut it.'"

Censorship histories for many of the books that were challenged during previous decades have been compiled in "100 Banned Books -- Censorship Histories of World Literature" by Nicholas J, Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova (Checkmark Books, 1999). Having read these censorship histories, as well as several banned books, I believe "The Onion's" satire is right-on. Much of the material that routinely airs on television is much more violent than these books. Many of the romance novels sold today are as -- or even more -- explicit.

Each year, Banned Books Week draws attention to threats against free speech -- specifically the threat that is posed by attempts to remove books from library shelves.

I recently encountered two books, however, that broadened my understanding of what "censorship" can consist of.

"Moving Over the Edge: Artists with Disabilities Take the Leap" by Pamela Kay Walker (MH Media, 2005) explores the parallel development of the disability rights movement within U.S. society and the pioneering efforts of artists with disabilities to practice and thrive at their craft by tearing down barriers to doing so that existed at the time.

I got a small taste of physical barriers during two theater-going experiences, one in and one out-of-county. The theater lighting hurt my eyes to such a degree that it severely debilitated my ability to enjoy the two performances. I would like to appreciatively say that I felt validated by the fact that people associated with these performances took my discomfort very seriously.

These experiences helped me to appreciate the very real barriers that stood in the way of the artists who are profiled in Walker's book. In the cases depicted by Walker, there was an institutional censorship through limitation in design combined with social prejudice that prevented many people from taking their places onstage.

Finance or economics can also form the basis for another type of censorship: one of several identified in "Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression" (The New Press, 2006). The premise of this anthology of essays -- which is edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva -- is that censorship is not just a bureaucratic challenge to art that's considered offensive. Censorship is just as likely to be the result of market forces, bandwidth monopoly and can even manifest as a decision by the artist to censor him- or herself.

One of the essays, by Ruby Lerner, asks how many privately-donated dollars actually benefit the artists themselves -- particularly up-and-coming artists who are not already well established?

Reading about economic barriers made me appreciate anew our local "Art in Public Places," which is administered through the Lake County Arts Council. For only a $1 hanging fee plus a percentage-of-sale commission -- 20 percent for members and 30 percent for non-members -- you can bring your art, ready-to-hang, for display at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport. The LCAC recently accepted work for its current show and will next accept entries on Jan. 15, 2009.

I've also seen an "Art in Public Places" down at Clearlake City Hall.

Both venues have been the setting for some incredible works of art -- and think of how affordable it is to be able to show your work through "Art in Public Places."

One time I entered some macrame necklaces in an earlier show at the courthouse. Long-time arts council supporter Floyd Surber was encouraging and supportive in helping me set up my work. He was a steadfast presence who will be dearly missed by the Lake County Arts Council.

For more information about "Art in Public Places," you can call the Lake County Arts Council at 263-6658.

Published Sept. 30, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

‘Creative Expressions’ is ideal outlet

For about half a year now, the Lake County Record-Bee has published “Creative Expressions” in some of our Saturday editions. This is a project organized by local writers Mary McMillan, our Lake County poet laureate; Sandra Wade, our immediate past poet laureate; and local writer Lourdes Thuesen. They solicit original works of poetry and prose, they make the final selections and then send them to me to lay out on the page.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

‘Talk like a pirate’ at Toastmasters meeting

Cynthia Parkhill in pirate blouse and headscarf
Cynthia Parkhill raises a tankard to ‘Talk like a Pirate Day.’
LAKEPORT — “Arrrr!” Toastmasters club No. 8731, Tenacious Talkers, is holding a talk-like-a-pirate themed meeting at 6:15 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 18, at Sutton Associates Wealth Management, 290 N. Main St. in Lakeport.

Cynthia Parkhill, toastmaster for the evening, will be at the helm. She invites her fellow Toastmasters to try thinking, for fun, of how the staples of holding a meeting can be rendered in pirate or sea-faring terms.

An Internet search under “Pirate glossary” brings up several resources. Costumes are also encouraged. The public, as always, is welcome.

While crafting your pirate character for Thursday’s Toastmasters meeting, consider additionally marking your calendar for the Black Irish Band, appearing Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Soper-Reese Community Theatre.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that provides its members with training in public speaking and leadership. For more information about the local club, call 707-263-5350 or visit

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Library collections shouldn’t be based on political ideology

An e-mail campaign is circulating a list of books supposedly targeted for removal from the Wasilla public library by Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin during her tenure as mayor.

The list, as it turns out, is false -- no specific books were ever targeted -- and does an especially able job of dissecting the myth’s origin and logically defusing it (

Snopes points out that many of the books on the list had not even been published yet during the time in 1996 that Palin was supposed to have issued these challenges. But I believe the factual elements are cause for genuine concern: that although no specific titles were mentioned, Palin did initiate rhetorical discussions with the city’s librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, about the possibility of removing objectionable books from the city library.

As recounted by Anne Kilkenny, a frequent city council attendee, “Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?’ … Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the lines of ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.’”

Palin also tried to fire Emmons because Palin didn’t feel she had the librarian’s “full support.” Again quoted by Snopes, newspaper reports stated that Emmons was reinstated the next day after public outcry.

So even though the list of books appears merely to be a standard “hit parade for book burners,” I believe that book lovers could have legitimate cause for concern. As vice president, Palin could wield considerable influence upon federal funding for libraries.

In the same way that the Clinton Administration made federal funding contingent upon libraries installing filters on the Internet, Palin could advocate legislation that placed restrictions upon the selection of books. No more individual challenges against individual libraries -- barring any Supreme Court challenges, any library that accepted federal funding would have to accept the government’s book collection requirements.

But I believe that a library best serves our communities when materials in its collection are not subject to influence by any one person or faction that could rise to power and then lose it. Library collections under these conditions would be in constant states of flux during costly overhauls to reflect the prevailing ideology.

Emmons’ response to Palin cites national selection criteria -- and not individual preference -- as the governing factor behind building a collection.

And Emmons, of course, would be honor-bound to challenge all attempts at censorship under the Library Bill of Rights, adopted in 1948 by the American Library Association ( It affirms that libraries are forums for information and ideas and its accompanying “basic policies” state that libraries should provide materials presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Speaking as someone who has enjoyed access to a public library at nearly every stage in my life, I know from first-hand experience how vital this resource is. There is just no way that I could afford to purchase every single book that I want to read. Not to mention the access it gives me to newspapers, magazines, sound recordings and videos.

The library card in my wallet grants me access to collections in three Northern California counties -- Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake. Additional resources can be supplied through a cooperative exchange with library systems throughout the North Bay.

And so, regardless of how you plan to vote in the upcoming election, every single one of you who relies upon your local library needs to be ready to advocate that library collections continue to be guided not by personal ideologies but by objective national standards.

Published Sept. 16, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vineyard Run brings attention to literacy

The 19th annual Vineyard Run for Literacy takes place Sunday, Oct. 12, at Steele Wines near Finley. Flyers are now on display at the Lake County Library.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Newspaper values opinions that radio announcer scorns

Somebody named “Party Ben” resents the degree to which“the public” is permitted to waste precious public radio airtime in a “Mother Jones” online blog, “World, Shut Your Mouth: The Horror of Public Radio Call-In Shows.” It is one of very few circumstances in which I have been disappointed by “Mother Jones,” which is an otherwise excellent magazine.

Person screaming into telephone
Party Ben, who identifies himself as a late-night radio DJ, resents that public stations waste one-sixth of their programming on call-in radio shows. He dismisses every single caller, in every single case, as “yammering and paranoid.”

I wonder if it has occurred to Party Ben that one of those radio callers for whom he holds such disdain could be the next Larry the Cable Guy?

Our news editor, Mandy Feder recently talked with Dan Whitney, a.k.a. Larry the Cable Guy, during a telephone interview. Larry the Cable Guy appeared this weekend at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa. One of the things Whitney told her was that for 13 years, he called a local radio station as the character he had created. “He’s the relative or friend who will say or do anything, burp, fart and talk about his sister’s moles,” Whitney told my colleague.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Our dog Frankie interacts with a kitten

A kitten perches on its hind legs and raises front forepaws up toward the head of a dog that bends down toward it.
Lily and Frankie
Frankie stayed with us a couple of times during the kittens Gizmo and Lily's tenure in our home. He was super excited and fascinated. He kept following the kittens around, wagging his tail, sniffing and licking them.

Originally posted to Facebook

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Society often judges ‘invisible’ disabilities

A local wellness camp for girls next week includes a panel about “invisible” disabilities.

I heard about the panel but am unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict so my details about the panel are fuzzy. But in the days leading up to the camp, events have been taking place nationally that I believe have direct bearing upon the concept of “invisible” disabilities.

Talk radio host Michael Savage issued statements about the autism spectrum that made many people very angry.

Autism as it is understood today acknowledges varying degrees of severity among its qualifying traits.

But in a July 16 broadcast, Savage described autism as “a fraud, a racket…” and stated, “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out.”

Speaking from my own experience, this is typical Savage -- incendiary opinions with a complete disregard for facts.

A few years ago a coworker suggested I review a book by Savage; she apparently admired him. I knew nothing about Savage at the time and when I saw his book at a bookstore, I began reading the introduction. I quickly put it down because, barely a few pages in, I encountered a statement that was blatantly a lie. I didn’t see any point to reading further -- and I certainly didn’t see any point to validating his book with a review.

I didn’t hear his recent statements, but I read them posted online by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (

Within one week, a joint coalition of 13 groups had issued a statement denouncing Savage’s comments as “dangerous misinformation.”

I think this entire exchange dramatizes the notion of an “invisible” disability as it may soon be discussed among young girls in our own community.

People who wield powerful authority in the lives of boys and girls are typically other children -- who are all-too-likely to persecute people who are in any way “different” from them.

That makes it all the more crucial that we educate our children -- and our society at large -- about accepting “invisible” disabilities and it is particularly important to teach children who have “invisible” disabilities that their needs are completely valid -- even though an ignorant public may not always understand those needs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letters are part of history

The newspaper was always a part of our household while my sister and I grew up. I routinely read our local newspaper, the Weekly Calistogan, either through at-home subscription or during visits to the Calistoga library. Newspaper clippings about us girls were preserved in photo albums.

The larger, regional newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, also regularly came to our home. This paper offered little of relevance to my immediate hometown community but it took on greater interest to me when I lived and worked in the Santa Rosa area.

While I was going to school at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, I spent time upon the staff of each of these schools’ student newspapers. I also read the alternative press. I formerly looked forward each week to its investigative journalism but today the North Bay Bohemian mainly covers restaurants and wine.

So many papers, large and small, including our own local media: the Clear Lake Observer American and the Lake County Record-Bee.

What all of these papers have in common is that the very first page I turn to, in nearly every newspaper I read, is the opinion page. It offers an intimate, first-hand glimpse in real-time at the issues of importance that are being debated in a local community.

At the same time, these letters’ publication preserves them forever in history. They are personal impressions and experiences brought to life in the writer’s own words.

The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble ( created a play, “Letters to the Editor,” from actual letters that appeared in one town’s paper during a period of 200 years. I remember that when I first heard about the play, I speculated about the history that our own papers’ letters will reveal.

If another theater ensemble workshop were to examine our letters to the editor, what issues will they find of most importance? How many voices will be represented?

The most egalitarian part of writing a letter to the editor is that the letters that appear in print are almost entirely self-selected, as are the priorities and opinions they express. There may be some filters in place for space restrictions or community standards, but by and large the only barrier is one that is self-imposed by choosing not to write in the first place.

Adapted from a column that was published July 29, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tenacious Talkers installs new and returning officers

Toastmasters officers, 2008-2009: Tenacious Talkers in Lakeport
Left to right: Bob Robinson, Louis Rigod, Cynthia Parkhill,
Greg Scott, Laurie LaMonaco, Dean Gotham and Rick White.
LAKEPORT — At a pot-luck gathering held Sunday, July 13, at Library Park in Lakeport, the Toastmasters club No. 8731, the Tenacious Talkers, installed Laurie Lamonaco as president, Greg Scott as vice president of education, Cynthia Parkhill as vice president of public relations, Bob Robinson as vice president of membership, Louis Rigod as treasurer, Dean Gotham as sergeant at arms and Lillia Powers as secretary.

The club also honored Rick White as its immediate past president.

Brien Crothers was named the club’s Toastmaster of the Year for his work in creating a Web site for the club. Crothers served last year as the club’s vice president of PR.

Tenacious Talkers is part of Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that provides its members with training in public speaking and leadership. The local club meets at 6:15 p.m. each Thursday at Sutton Associates Wealth Management, 290 N. Main St. in Lakeport. For more information, call 263-5350 or visit

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Make ADA protection as broad as possible

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a civil rights bill that would restore broad protections to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. The U.S. Senate is also expected to pass a similar measure.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

All ‘needs’ are not equal

My husband and I spent this Sunday at a workshop on “Nonviolent Communication,” a technique that was developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

Friday, May 30, 2008

KPFZ has interesting history

I was a guest this week on a local show broadcasting on KPFZ 88.1 FM, our community radio station. Richard Martin, a co-host of the weekly show “Beat Café,” invited me to appear as a local author. It was an interesting experience to read aloud some poems, short fiction and a newspaper column over the local airwaves.

My husband and I have supported public broadcasting ever since we lived in Rohnert Park. I realize that PBS is not the same as community radio but it is similarly a non-profit alternative to commercial or network broadcasting.

When we lived in Sonoma Grove, which is a trailer park down the street from sonoma state university, the Rohnert Park PBS television station was the only station we could pull in. We faithfully tuned in every week to “Doctor Who” and “Masterpiece Theater.” Community radio in Lake County has an interesting history.

If you’ve ever read the Project Censored anthologies of underreported news, you may remember reading, in “Censored 1999,” about Radio Free Berkeley. It was a forerunner in the campaign to bring low-power radio into local communities. In an act of civil disobedience, Radio Free Berkeley broadcast without licensing by the FCC.

Lake County had its own equivalent that broadcast from the north shore on 88.1 FM — the exact same frequency that has been granted to KPFZ. During its brief stint, it provided radio programming that was entirely locally-produced.

The “micropower” radio station remained on the air until shut down in 1999 by the FCC.

Lake County’s community station is a beneficiary of those pioneering efforts that, in my opinion, helped establish connections among like-minded volunteers and helped to harness community involvement.

KPFZ was originally licensed for a low-power radio frequency and was on the air for three or four years at 104.5 FM. I would get out of work each day just in time to tune in to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy now!” I additionally listened in to a variety of music and talkradio programming whenever my car antenna had an unobstructed line-of-sight toward Clear Lake’s north shore.

The local station was eventually successful in obtaining a fullpower license. The process was fairly competitive, with two other applicants vying — but KPFZ had an advantage because it was the only local applicant. The other competitors eventually withdrew, leaving the field clear for Lake County Community Radio.

Obtaining a license was only one step on the road to going on air as a full-power radio station. The group of programmers who make up KPFZ also needed a studio and antenna. Many volunteers and contributors have assisted toward making this possible. Now, whenever I am able to, I try to pull in a signal.

I’ve found that there are still too many hills that interfere with radio signals when I drive on Lake County highways. In the future, I am hoping that I can download MP3 files of local shows or listen via high-speed Internet. no matter what the format, however, this is our community station in which we can all be proud of the time and effort invested.

Published May 30, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rotenberg Center makes the news again

The Rotenberg Center made news again and has been circulated online by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network ( Responding to this update, I've made the Rotenberg Center a focus in this week’s column for the Lake County Record-Bee.

Almost one year ago, the Rotenberg Center was the focus of an investigative story in “Mother Jones.” Schools and parents in New York and other states are sending "problem" children to this place for one-size-fits-all shock therapy.

The children lug around backpacks that have the chargers inside them and electrodes are fastened to their bodies.

There are no drugs and no psychology to find out what causes their behavior; just the use of what are referred to as “adversives.”

The situation described in this article is truly horrifying and the update this week concerned a seizure of documents by police. Apparently multiple agencies are involved in an investigation.

ASAN circulated word this week of another development that additionally drew my concern: a teacher in Port St. Lucie, Fla. who singled out a student in the class and had every one of his classmates say what they didn’t like about him and then vote him out of the class.

I address both of these appalling situations in my column this week, contrasting them to the advocacy that exists in our local district. The column ran May 27, 2008, in the Lake County Record-Bee and may addtionally run next week in the Clear Lake Observer American.

Originally posted to

Two stories bring focus to school bully incidents

Pomo Elementary School principal April Leiferman has loaned me a marvelous book called “Bully-proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Elementary Schools” (Sopris West, 2000).

The authors — Carla Garrity, Ph.D; Kathryn Jens, Ph.D; William Porter, Ph.D; Nancy Sager, M.A.; and Cam Short-Camilli, L.C.S.W. — note that victims are often driven to self-destructive or violent acts out of desperate retaliation against bullying. The purpose of their book is to prevent the school environment in which bullying is permitted to flourish.

The crux of their intervention is empowering what they refer to as the “caring majority,” the 85 percent of students who are neither bullies nor victims. The job of the caring majority is to make sure that everyone feels included and to report any bullying attempts.

Having been the victim of bullying, I can speak from personal experience that the absolute worst part was the isolation I felt. I can’t begin to tell you how validated I feel knowing that people in Konocti take bullying seriously. In addition to studying the book, I’ve attended special assemblies at Burns Valley and Pomo schools where the focus was anti-bullying.

Two stories broke this week that embody the complete antithesis of what Konocti schools are striving for. They come to me courtesy of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, to which I am a subscriber.

The first concerns the Rotenberg Center, a place of “last resort” where problem children are sent. Mother Jones published an investigative report almost one year ago.

There are no counselors and no drug therapy at the Rotenberg Center, just the use of “adversives” in the form of electrical shocks. The children lug around backpacks that have chargers inside and electrodes are fastened to their bodies.

The situation described in this article is truly horrifying and a story broke this week concerning the seizure of documents by police. Apparently an investigation involves multiple government agencies and is ambitious in its scope.

If something can be done about this, all the better, I say — because as it is, no one is watching out for these children. If this was Abu Ghraib or the School of the Americas there’d be a groundswell of activism demanding that the place be shut down — but the only groundswell is one of silence where these throwaway
kids are concerned.

Think about the message being sent through electrical shocks. It’s one of fear and intimidation. Contrast that message to the words of Monty Roberts, an ongoing district consultant: “No one has the right to say ‘You do what I tell you, or I’ll hurt you’” (

The second story concerned a teacher at Morningside Elementary School in Port St. Lucie, Fla, who singled out a young student and had everyone in the class say what they didn’t like about him and then led them to vote him out of class.

According to an online blogger, Asperger Square 8, the teacher’s apparent intention was to teach the students about bigotry and exclusion. If so, I would have to challenge the efficacy of her lesson plan. Far from teaching the students that bigotry and exclusion are wrong, the net result was apparently a hands-on lesson in how to practice it.

Let me be first to assure you that students do not need lessons in how to bully effectively; they come by it naturally. It would have been far more effective if the Morningside teacher and other district staff had tried to develop that “caring majority” that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Instead, her approach seems to have been teaching the students how to bully and conveniently directing their attention toward an all-too-vulnerable target.

The juxtaposition of these two articles prompts me, yet again, to express my appreciation that our own local schools care so strongly to prevent bullying. Yes, it still happens as reports indicate but when it does there are immediate reminders that bullying is not OK.

Published May 27, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How not to behave with the media

It’s a sadly pathetic sign of the times that people won’t buy a newspaper that has just publicized their group or event; they expect us to give them the paper for free.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Remembering the words of the creative Molly Ivins

There’s a game we like to play at the weekly Toastmasters meeting, 6:15 p.m. Thursdays at Sutton Associates Wealth Management across from Lakeport’s historic Courthouse Square. Somebody brings a vocabulary word and the rest of us try to use it during the course of the meeting. Imagine the flexible and creative thinking that this encourages in us!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vast numbers of cats and dogs are euthanized

I recently found a missing photo album that had a picture of my cat Elizabeth when she was just six weeks old. Each of Elizabeth’s ears was as big as her entire face. She was so comically adorable! She looked like a fluffy little bat.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lake County welcomes fifth Poet Laureate

Sandra Wade and Mary McMillan
Local writer Mary McMillan is Lake County’s new Poet Laureate. During a recent gathering at the Lake County Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, departing poet laureate Sandra Wade introduced her successor.

McMillan is the fifth poet to hold the office of poet laureate. The first poet laureate was Jim Lyle, who was followed in turn by James BlueWolf, Carolyn Wing Greenlee and Wade.

McMillan, who has lived in Lake County three years, is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Continuing a tradition begun by her predecessor Wade, she hosts a monthly writers’ group on the first Thursday of the month at the Main Street Gallery.

Our previous poets laureate were involved in judging among poetry submissions. BlueWolf and Greenlee shared during the reading that they were impressed by McMillan’s courage and imagery.

Part of the poet laureate’s responsibility is to raise the profile of poetry both in-county and within the surrounding area.

Two of McMillan’s local projects involve promotion through the local media. McMillan is working with Richard Martin on doing a radio show on local station KPFZ. McMillan also works with Wade and local writer Richard Schmidt to screen work for “Creative Expressions,” a publication of poems and “flash” fiction (700 words or less) that appear in the Lake County Record-Bee.

From the Spring 2008 ArtNotes,
quarterly members’ newsletter of the Lake County Arts Council

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

World Autism Day promotes awareness

A resolution by the United Nations in November 2007 established World Autism Day on April 2 of each year. The resolution was introduced by the nation of Qatar and World Autism Day was celebrated this week for the very first time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Class presentation for Read Across America Day

Book cover: All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome

The class presentation on Monday, March 3, went really good. It was for a group of kids ages 12 to 13 and I've been asked to pay another visit.

I'd originally suggested March 3 because it was "Read Across America Day." This is an observance organized every year by the members of a national teachers' group. One of the most prevalent ways in which our local teachers observe it is to read Dr. Seuss books since the date falls near or on Dr. Suess's birthday. "Read Across America Day" was technically March 2 but since that fell on a Sunday, March 3 was selected for the actual observance.

Another emphasis of "Read Across America Day" is promotion of diversity so I suggested that it would be a good time to read "All cats have Asperger syndrome." The teacher and I had been talking for months about my coming to her class but hadn't previously set a date.

So at the beginning of my presentation, I read "All cats have Asperger Syndrome" and I showed the students the book's darling photographs. The children really enjoyed the book and so did the teacher.

Afterward we did a Q&A about what it was like for me to learn as an adult that I had Asperger Syndrome and what were some of the coping strategies I'd adopted over the years on my own.

The kids asked some really good questions too, such as is AS contagious? So I explained that I couldn't give you AS by shaking hands but that doctors believed AS was passed on through the genes.

Other kids asked about various behaviors and whether or not they were associated with AS so I answered either from experience if I had one or from what I had read. I think it went very well.

Originally posted to

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Supporters of public broadcasting

Jonathan renewed our support for KQED! This is important to us. We don't have TV and radio signals are intermittant but I can go to the KQED Web site and that of National Public Radio and listen to recorded shows. I can also use iTunes to hear KQED in "real time."

Public broadcasting is a great source for news and analysis about health, books and the arts. We've supported it for years. Back in Sonoma Grove Trailer Park, we supported Channel 22, the public broadcasting station for Rohnert Park.

One evening, I got the Sonoma County chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism to man the phone banks during a KRCB pledge drive. The in-studio cameras broadcast images of us dressed in our "garb" of Medieval to early-Renaissance clothing.

Friday, February 22, 2008

'Icrebreaker' speech for Toastmasters

I gave my "icebreaker" speech last night for Toastmasters! It went very well! The group gave me good feedback about the strengths I already have and some areas for improvement. I'm looking forward to giving my next speech.

Last nght's speech was the first one in the workbook. The objective was to tell a story about yourself so I talked about my experience taking English tea at the local inn and how I was able to eat part of the sandwiches even though swallowing that type of food had been so very difficult in the past.

Originally posted to

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poets appear in multiple classrooms via satellite

Former Lake County Poets Laureate James BlueWolf and Carolyn Wing Greenlee were brought via video technology to classes at multiple Konocti sites.

In the Lower Lake Elementary School library on Friday, BlueWolf and Greenlee fielded questions moderated by JoAnn Saccato with the Native American Community Education Center. BlueWolf and Greenlee collaborated on "Speaking for Fire" (Earthen Vessel Productions), an illustrated children's book. The book tells a story in the oral tradition and is meant to be read aloud.

Animal peoples of the earth, frightened by the destructive power of Fire, take their case to the Grandfathers that sit in the clouds at the Four Directions of the World.

The Grandfathers ask if anyone will speak for Fire so that Fire will not be sent away. At first none of the animal nations are willing to speak for Fire but a small pinecone finally explains that when she was burned by Fire, it allowed her seeds to fall upon the earth.

BlueWolf explained that he chose Fire and Pinecone because of their close relationship and because each has multiple qualities. "Fire can be destructive and it can also create," he said, adding that a pinecone seems small but when it releases its seeds it produces big pines.

The story is accompanied by Greenlee's illustrations, tissue and construction paper collages, which have a textural quality that is a good match for the text. "Whenever you illustrate a children's book, you have to make sure that the words and pictures support each other," she said, adding that she chose tissue paper because it has a stark quality that is similar to the way trees look after they have burned.

Video-conferencing technology transmitted the presentation to other elementary school libraries East Lake, Pomo and Burns Valley where students were able to pose questions. Konocti's Director of Technology, Michael Schenck, oversaw video transmissions while Saccato moderated the order in which students asked their questions about the writing and illustration process. A couple of classes at Pomo and Lower Lake created some paper collages; BlueWolf and Greenlee signed several of the collages after the presentation at Lower Lake.

BlueWolf and Greenlee gave a second presentation at Oak Hill Middle School, which was also transmitted to Lower Lake High School students.

Originally published in the Clear Lake Observer American

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunglasses help with eyestrain

I've started attending services among a Unitarian Universalist community that meets at a local senior center. At the first two services I attended, I noticed that a couple of things seemed to be going on simultaneously: a) my eyes hurt or felt tired and b) the room is very bright. Not only was direct sunlight coming through the front windows but the interior lighting was on full-force overhead.

I know that light that would ordinarily not bother me can potentially cause me trouble when I am physically fatigued or when I am under emotional strain but this service was in the mid-morning and I'd had plenty of sleep and was feeling pretty good about life.

I've had problems for years with my eyes constantly feeling fatigued. I frequently rub my eyes and I've seen videos of me where I'm doing these weird long blinks. So when I learned about AS and about the sensory issues that can go with it, I started trying to pay attention to certain things -- potential causes and effects.

Last week during services, I put my sunglasses back on and this morning I left them on entirely. My eyes felt a lot better with the sunglasses on. So I plan to reserve as an option my wearing sunglasses indoors when light is too much for me.

People who accept me will accept this about me as well, and I continually remind myself that there ARE people in my life who accept me as I am -- that I am no longer back in grade school.

Some other sensory issues that I deal with include a fear response to a very specific sound. It is really very strange how strong my reaction can be and how pervasive these reactions.

My husband has suggested that I try to figure out the "why" and here are my observations so far. There may be a correlation between the presence of my fear response and unexpectedness of the sound. This will bear further observation.

My fear response also seems to be worse when the sound is louder and more intense. Somehow I just can't get "used" to this sound.

Like many with AS, I tend toward vigilant focus on nearly all out-of-the-ordinary sounds but the fear response I have to the one specific sound is a very different experience. I recently read an insightful book by Temple Grandin in which she said that the fear response (fight or flight) and the vigilant response with which an animal evaluates its surroundings come from two different areas of the brain. It was very interesting reading.

Taste/food texture is also an issue with me, one that my husband and I have been working on together for years and I think that I am so much better than when I was a child. There were certain foods that caused me to gag the moment I put them in my mouth and now, at least, I can manage a few bites before I have to set the food aside because the taste is unpleasant to me.

My husband recommends meditation, which I try to do a little each day -- even if it's just focused breathing wherever I happen to be. We have a room in our house that is devoted to spiritual practice but I don't necessarily use it every time. Maybe I should because then it would be part of an established daily routine. Besides, I love our meditation room but I also love the rest of the house.

Originally posted to

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Toastmasters member packet arrived

Cat on Toastmasters packet
Toastmasters member packet: tested and approved by Miss Elizabeth

My new member's packet came in the mail from Toastmasters International! Wouldn't you know it, very first thing the cat jumped up and stretched out on the folder.

Anyway, now that I have the first two manuals, I can work through the lessons. The first lesson in the "Competent Communicator" series is "Icebreaker," which is a five- to seven-minute speech that introduces me.

The other workbook is "Competent Leader," which deals with filling certain roles in the group. Should be interesting to work from.

At tonight's meeting I was the "ah counter," keeping track of repeated words and filler sounds. Next week I'll be the "grammarian" and will come up with a word that my fellow Toastmasters will have to use in a sentence.

Originally posted to

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cyber-bullying is not ‘free speech’

Should people who use e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging and the social networks to bully or harass others be allowed to do so as part of their constitutionally protected right to free speech?” This question was posed to more than 240,000 students in 450 middle and high schools as part of MyVote California, a student mock election, this past week.

MyVote California is a civic engagement project that coincides with state elections and gives students hands-on exposure to democracy.

“Some California high school students will cast their first ballots next week and many more students will become voters by the November general election,” said Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Carlé Continuation High School has participated in MyVote in the past; this time Middletown High School was among participating California schools.

Bowen reported last week that preliminary returns in the mock election showed that top presidential vote-getters in Democratic and Republican parties were Barack Obama and John McCain. The mock election also included three ballot initiatives, which included the question about cyber-bullying.

“I wanted to see how students would feel about issues that would directly affect their lives and their wallets,” explained Bowen, “which is why MyVote included three simulated ballot initiatives dealing with issues that legislators are actually grappling with today.”

Returns for the ballot measure showed 58.6 percent of students voting to indicate “No,” that cyber-bullying should not be treated as constitutionally-protected free speech.

As a supporter of the first amendment, I endorse public expression of constitutionally-guaranteed speech. However, I am also a staunch supporter of another constitutional protection, our implied right to privacy. I believe that cyber-bullying is less an exercise in speech than it is an invasion of privacy.

When you use e-mail, instant messaging and text messaging, you are not engaged in public expression; you are sending private correspondence. And as much as a sender may think he has the right to send me hate-filled messages, I am equally convinced of my right not to be bombarded with unwanted speech.

I can turn off the TV or radio if I don’t care for the values they promote. I can stay home from films that seem repellent.

I can pick and choose from books, magazines, newspapers and Web sites to read from. But short of screening telephone calls, enrolling in mass-market protection lists and imposing filters on unwanted senders, I have little control over which people send me personal communication or correspondence.

I’m not saying that unwanted correspondence is automatically a crime. If it was, I could single-handedly tie up our courts with every person who has ever been rude to me. I’d reserve special charges against people who try to bully me because they expect immediate publicity in the newspaper.

What I am saying, however, is that local students have a right not to be subjected to bullying. Konocti educators and administrators are working to protect this right.

It’s amazing to think how times have changed since more than 20 years ago, when I graduated from Calistoga Junior/Senior High School. Cyber bullying wasn’t an issue, only the face-to-face kind — but let me tell you, it hurt.

I believe that Internet-based, “cyber” bullying can have just as devastating an impact as the “traditional,” face-to-face kind.

I’m glad that a majority of California students are able to make a distinction between taking liberties with personal expression and being secure in one’s right to privacy.

Published Feb. 6, 2008 in the Clear Lake Observer American

Friday, January 25, 2008

Arts council’s ‘Artie’ award winner

Black-and-white image of Xian Yeagan holding 'Artie' star-shaped award statuette
The Lake County Arts Council’s Board of Directors has awarded its “Artie” award to Web master Xian Yeagan. At its annual members’ meeting, which was held Sunday, Nov. 18, Executive Director Shelby Posada presented Yeagan with the statuette.

Yeagan updates the Web site, and he regularly advocates the use of this online medium for promoting local arts. Yeagan can be seen taking pictures at many LCAC events, and has also previously served as LCAC’s executive director. Well done, Xian!

From the Winter 2008 ArtNotes,
quarterly members’ newsletter of the Lake County Arts Council

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feedback for Asperger syndrome articles

I got some good feedback today about raising awareness of Asperger Syndrome in the articles I've written in the newspaper. Someone whose younger relative had been diagnosed called the paper and she said she appreciated my drawing attention to the condition so parents might recognize similar situations in their children. I'm glad.

Originally posted to

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bullying prevention involves an entire school

Local school districts are definitely not created equal when it comes to outlining student rights and responsibilities and getting that information to the public.

Among our four unified districts, Konocti’s policy seems the most in-depth and has a link on the district home page, It has entire sections that address various offenses directed by students toward their peers.

I couldn’t find district policies on Lakeport and Middletown sites and while I found Kelseyville’s district policy, the section that most closely approximated a defense of student welfare consisted of a standard notice that prohibits discrimination.

I could not find references to recourse for victims of bullying or other abuse on the Kelseyville policy Web page. Specified offenses toward students included “profanity” and “threats” but bullying such as teasing or put-downs doesn’t necessarily fall within these categories.

Terrace School in Lakeport hosted assemblies with guest speaker Michael Pritchard on Friday, Jan. 11, to address building a caring and safe school community.

Konocti school assemblies regularly address the problem of bullying and district consultant Monty Roberts is working with Konocti schools to teach that violence is never the answer.

But in their day-to-day reality, how aware are our local students of the avenues that are available to confront a bullying attempt? At Pomo Elementary School, students sign a pledge agreeing to “stamp out bullying.” The school’s principal, April Leiferman, gave me a copy of the pledge, which holds onlookers just as guilty if they fail to report or stop the bullying.

Bullies choose victims for their weakness and inability to defend themselves, which makes it all the more important that entire school communities be willing to address this problem.

Think about it: a victim has already been demoralized by being the victim of a bully who has a network of friends to rely upon while the victim, too often, does not. Does the victim know where to turn to report this
harassment? Will the complaint be taken seriously if he or she (or a third party) comes forward?

Are policies in place to ensure that pursuing a recourse will protect the victim from further abuse or will it merely pile on further social stigma for the victim among his or her peers?

Under no circumstances should bullying escalate until a victim is forced to resort to desperate, inappropriate measures. When a situation has progressed to the point when a victim responds with violence, he or she should face the consequences — but events leading up to that incident should be given due consideration.

In my opinion, under these circumstances, the district bears the greater share of blame for having turned a blind eye and for having withheld interventions that could have resolved the situation earlier

School assemblies should encourage third parties to be involved in bullying prevention.

Our local schools might also consider adopting anti-bullying pledges the way that Pomo Elementary has.
Any adults who are employed by the district and who come into contact with its students should be required by district policy to make referrals for discipline when inappropriate behavior is observed. It should not fall solely upon the victim to defend him- or herself from abuse.

Here’s what Konocti’s policy has to say about recourses against sexual harassment. The procedure also applies toward bullying with the district’s recent adoption of a new policy:
“Any student who feels that he/she is being or has been subjected to sexual harassment shall immediately contact his/her teacher or any other employee. A school employee to whom a complaint is made shall, within 24 hours of receiving the complaint, report it to the principal or designee.
“Any school employee who observes any incident of sexual harassment involving a student shall report this observation to the principal or designee, whether or not the victim files a complaint.”
I hope that the rest of our local districts adopt similar board policies about student rights, responsibilities and available forms of recourse. If they have already done so, I ask that they please make this information available through as widespread means as possible within their school communities.

Published Jan. 16, 2008 in the Clear Lake Observer American

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Miss Elizabeth in ‘Mile-a-Minute’ afghan

The head of a brown-tabby-and-white cat emerges from folds of an afghan crocheted in a loose, open stitch from brown and two-toned greenish-blue yarn.

Elizabeth sinks into the newest afghan, a “mile-a-minute” afghan crocheted on a gigantic hook out of brown and two-toned greenish-blue yarn.

Originally posted to Facebook

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ivins’ book is legacy to Bill of Rights

Book cover: "Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights" by Molly Ivins and Lou DuboseWhat began as a book to honor ordinary Americans who defend our most precious liberties, instead paints a chilling picture of human rights abuses directed against ordinary citizens by the Bush Administration.

In her final book, Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch’s Assault on America’s Fundamental Rights, written with Lou Dubose, Molly Ivins explains that she has spoken for years — at least once a month free of charge — about the Bill of Rights because she promised John Henry Faulk she would “take care of the First Amendment, a fairly ludicrous case of overreach.”

While delivering these talks, Ivins started compiling a book that was intended to honor people who are defending U.S. liberties. “I meant for this to be a hopeful and a gladsome romp through some serious terrain, and I do think the book includes some right joyous tales,” she writes. “But since September 11, 2001, the story of those who stand up for American freedom has gotten darker. The extraordinary heroes are still out there, but now we find more victims of our failure to stand up for our own rights.”

The media routinely report upon encroachments against our liberties that are illegal in the bargain — secret police actions, wiretapping without a permit and indefinite suspension without being informed of the charges — as well as violations of international codes of conduct such as the Geneva Conventions but the Executive Branch’s abuses continue unabated and unchecked.

“As much as those victims kick back when their constitutional rights are trampled by their government, it keeps happening, stranger and stranger, creepier and creepier. But of course,” Ivins wryly observes, “we must not scare Americans with phantoms of lost liberty: that would be helping the terrorists.”

This book illustrates ways in which our federal government limits its citizens’ liberties that were guaranteed by the Bill of Rights — usually in the name of “security.” “Free-speech zones” are routinely imposed anytime the President makes an appearance. Dissenters are prohibited from approaching what are otherwise public events — and if they do show up, they are subject to arrest.

In distant so-called “freespeech zones,” dissenters might as well not exist — since, in the act of covering their messages, journalists will have to relinquish their own access to the president. That’s assuming the dissenters are visible at all.

But Ivins’ book also illustrates ways in which citizens have fought back and won. A caravan of demonstrators driving through Crawford, Texas, on their way to the president’s ranch were stopped by a police blockade — supposedly because the motorists were a “parade” without a permit. During the resulting court case, the chief of police was forced to admit that an annual homecoming drive-through also qualified as a “parade,” even though the chief had no intention of ever arresting those cruisers.

Other heroes include parents and school board members who refused to allow religious extremists to hijack their schools’ science curriculum to teach Biblical creationism in the guise of “intelligent design,” journalists who refused to relinquish notes and video when law enforcement agencies tried to make them de-facto “investigators,” a man in Portland, Ore. whose alleged connection to a suspected terrorist read like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and library officials who fought back when agents demanded access to online computer-use records.

Bill of Wrongs is co-written with Lou Dubose, Ivins’ longtime collaborator. In the book’s afterward, Dubose describes how Ivins stayed fully involved in the projectin the remaining days of her life. “This book was Molly’s project, the Bill of Rights her great love, writing her life’s mission.”

Ivins died Jan. 31, 2007, but her final book creates an enduring legacy for the cause that was nearest to her heart.

Published Jan. 10, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Monday, January 7, 2008

My first Toastmasters meeting

Well, went to my first Toastmasters meeting. It was very rewarding. I will definitely join the group. I think it has a lot to offer. Members take turns each meeting serving in different roles: "ah" counter, timekeeper, evaluator for the speeches.

Last night there were two members who had prepared speeches. As it turned out, they were working on the same project in the same workbook, which was having to give a toast. Each took a very different approach to his toast, which was very interesting.

After the prepared speeches we had "Table Talk," which is where the members are asked questions for which they have to give impromptu answers. It was definitely a good experience. I'm looking forward to joining the group; I'm bringing back my application next week.

Originally posted to