Thursday, October 14, 2010

Even small victories are sweet

Political sign I headed out to the store today, and on my way, I saw three signs for an area political candidate along the highway. I'd never seen signs like that along the main highway--on public land--so they really jumped out at me. I was pretty certain that you couldn't put political signs on public land, so when I got home, I posted on Facebook wondering if anyone knew more about it, and who they thought I should call. City? County? One person thought the city, and another thought either the city or county highway department. The latter sounded most right to me, so I gave the county highway department a call.

When I described the situation and the location of the signs, the woman I spoke to said that because it was along a state highway, US 31, I'd need to call the state. Okay. I could do that. I looked up the information in the phone book, and called the regional office in Plymouth, just a few miles south of here. Here was the conversation.

Me: I have a question about some political signs I saw along the highway this morning. I called my county highway department, and they told me that because it was on a state highway, I should call the state. I thought you couldn't put political signs on public land. Private is fine, I know, but I thought putting them on public land was against the law.

Her: Was it on the right-of-way?

Me: Well, it was just off of the highway, by the shoulder. [I described the exact location of the signs. And here is where it gets interesting.]

Her: Hm, okay. Who were the signs for?

Me: Jackie Walorski. [That is the teabagger candidate running against the incumbent, Joe Donnelly.]

Her: [a pause] Okay, I'll have my guys check it out, but if it's not obstructing the view, it's okay.

Me: Really? I thought they couldn't be on public land.

Her: As long as they're not obstructing the view, it's okay.

Me: Hmm. I really thought that wasn't allowed. I think I need to do some more investigating. Thanks for your time!

So guess what I did? That's right...I did some more investigating. First I looked on the INDOT website to see if I could find their policies about what was allowed on public land and what wasn't. I really couldn't make much sense of it, so I looked at their FAQs, and still couldn't find what I needed. So I sent them an email explaining what I saw and where I saw it (although I didn't include whose signs they were) and saying that I thought political signs weren't allowed on public land. I then wrote to one of my local TV stations, because they have a feature called "Good Question of the Day," where people write in about various topics concerning the area. I thought it was a legitimate question.

Much to my surprise, I heard very quickly back from the LaPorte office of INDOT:

Thank you for contacting the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT). We appreciate you taking the time to contact us. Below is the press release that was sent on September 21, 2010 regarding Political Signs on INDOT right-of-way. Please feel free to contact the Plymouth Sub-District and they will investigate and remove the signs should they be on state right-of-way.

Again, thank you for contacting INDOT.

And here is the text of the press release that they included:


September 21, 2010

Political Signs Removed From State And Federal Rights-Of-Way

Signs Will Be Taken To Nearest INDOT Subdistrict Office

LAPORTE, Ind. – The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) reminds all Hoosiers that campaign signs are prohibited from federal and state highway rights-of-way by Indiana Code 9-21-4-6. INDOT personnel are required by state law to remove all unauthorized signs within the state right-of-way. The right-of-way areas which must remain “sign free” for the safety of the motoring public include:

· All interstates and their interchanges;

· All intersections where at least one local, state or federal road intersects with a state or federal highway; and

· All rights-of-way paralleling federal or state highways (the right-of-way extends to the back of the ditch, to the fence line or up to utility poles). INDOT crews will not pull signs placed behind the ditch, fence line or beyond the public utility poles.

Removed signs will be saved at the nearest INDOT Subdistrict office. Candidates may reclaim signs between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for holidays.

As you can imagine, when I saw that, I pretty much crowed. I knew that couldn't be right! The broad at the Plymouth office had the nerve to tell me that it was okay! I honestly wonder if she said that because of whose signs they were? Was she a Walorski supporter? I have no way of knowing, but she definitely gave me false information.

I wondered if I should contact the Plymouth office again, or just wait to see what WSBT did. I couldn't contain myself, and I called the office. Here is that conversation:

Me: Hi, I called this office earlier about some political signs I saw along US 31, and--

Him: Yes ma'am, we checked them out and they've already been removed.

Me: Really? You're telling me they've been removed already?

Him: Yes, ma'am.

Ohhh, how sweet it is!

Donnelly for Congress Someone asked if the signs were those of a candidate I don't like. I said that I don't just dislike Jackie Walorski, I loathe her. (I've written about her before.) If it had been signs from Donnelly, would I have called about them? No, I would not have. That's up to those who oppose him. I don't like Walorski, her supporters were wrong to put signs up on public land, and I got 'em removed. End o' story.

Check it out—I’m putting up a sign for Donnelly on my own blog. Because I can, and because I’m not putting it up on public land. That’s how it works.

Even beyond getting the signs removed, what I'm happiest about is that I didn't accept that stupid bitch's "Yes, it's okay" as the truth. I was almost certain that she was lying to me, or at least just trying to get rid of a call that she didn't want to take (and possibly trying to keep the signs up for someone she supports). Don't accept such an explanation if you are pretty sure that it's bullshit. Don't let some low-level bureaucrat brush you off with a glib remark, when you know it's not right. Don't let them get away with it.

Question authority.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing about Writing

Writing I suppose that any of us who write a blog fancy ourselves as some sort of writer. I mean, the very act of writing makes us writers, no?

I hold no illusions, though. I occasionally get compliments, and I have been told that I'm a good writer. I appreciate it every time I hear it, it but I don't delude myself into thinking that I'm brilliant at it. (And please, please do not take this as my wanting or needing you to leave comments saying that I'm good. I always enjoy a nice compliment, but now is not one of those times. Compliments are much sweeter and more meaningful when unsolicited, spontaneous, and sincere.) I think that I'm a good "conversational" writer. I remember a friend telling me once, shortly after we got out of high school, that getting a letter from me was like talking to me. So I think that I do have a pretty decent ability when it comes to that. I also do pretty well with spelling and grammar, although I am by no means an expert.

All my tiny little feelings of accomplishment are blown out of the water when I read certain authors and essayists. You know the read something so good that you're left with a mixture of awe, admiration, and envy. "Wow. That is really good. Man, I wish I could write like that, you bastard!" Of course, the epithet is meant with affection, because you truly do admire the way they can evoke emotional responses and paint such a vivid picture.

I think of Christopher Hitchens and his remarkable piece for Vanity Fair in which he learns that he has esophageal cancer. He writes with humor, pragmatism, and courage, including such lines as "In whatever kind of a 'race' life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist," and "To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?"

Or consider San Francisco columnist Mark Morford, as he contemplates teabagger candidates and the difficulties they face on the campaign trail:

I sip my wine and sigh. What deeply unhappy lives these people must lead, no? So small and cloistered, panicky and scripted, entirely cut off from anything resembling the hot thrum of raw, sticky, swear-worded life as you and I know it, as they shuffle like chilled meatpacks from air conditioned SUV to stuffy Holiday Inn conference room, threadbare high school auditorium to sparsely attended right-wing nutball Midwestern church, retirement home, cotton-candy fairground.

There they are, lurching around the podium, stroking that baby, trying to rally the troops, working like 10 flavors of desperate hell to mean something to someone, somewhere, knowing full well what they're selling is a show, a sham, as they dance and swagger like a doll on a string.

Writing man Man, that's good. "Shuffle like chilled meatpacks." That makes me want to clap my hands with delight!

Third Eye Blind sang that "the four right chords can make me cry." So true. So, also, can an amazingly constructed sentence, a beautiful turn of phrase, and a perfect use of an obscure word. I love it when an author makes me look up a word; I might think I know the meaning of it, but I want to make sure. But just throwing a bizarre word in there for the hell of it is annoying and makes it seem like you're trying too hard. (I'm talking to you, Dean Koontz. Stop using the word 'ziggurat.' You don't have to put it in every freakin' book, okay?) There have been times when something is worded just so, and it honestly does bring tears to my eyes, or makes me smile with how well it was said. When that happens, I make a little note on the page, and put the page number on the inside of the back cover. I don't think Stephen King is a brilliant writer (a very enjoyable one, though), but he really does have a way with words sometimes, and here are a couple of my book notations I found.

I guess it gets cold everywhere. I bet it even snows in hell, although I doubt if it sticks. (from Duma Key)

...he walked to the wall where the safe was with big soft steps of cartoon caution. (from Under the Dome)

Isn't that wonderful? Can't you just picture it, and maybe even hear the cartoon boop boop boop sounds? Ha!

A lackadaisical little breeze cat's-pawed their cheeks. (also from Under the Dome)

I've found that reading some of the classic novels in my book club has shown me some unexpected and pleasantly surprising writing of outstanding caliber.

Sounds like the splash of a duck landing on the water...came across miles with a clarity that was at first incredible—and then mysterious because, like a cry in an empty house, it seemed to make the silence, the peace, more intense. Almost as if sounds were there to distinguish the silence, and not the reverse. (from The Magus, by John Fowles)

Writing rules That is very evocative for me, because that is my experience in living out in the country. The silence is often shattered by sounds of vehicles (including loud farm equipment) going by on the road, but there are times when I can hear the subtlest of sounds, including squirrels chattering from the trees, and a sudden sound of deer bounding through the woods.

Salt is added to dried rose petals with the perfume and spices, when we stored them away in covered jars, the summers of our past. (from Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner)

A wandering dog of a night wind came in off the sagebrush mesa carrying a bar of band music, and laid it on her doorstep like a bone. (also from Angle of Repose)

...her white summer handbag like a white kitten in her lap... (Angle of Repose again)

Can you tell that I enjoyed Angle of Repose?

Okay, I think that is enough quotes. You get the idea. I read things like that and I'm hit upside the head just how remarkable some writers are. THAT is something to aspire to. I don't write fiction very often (although I might have to work on that), but I can only hope that once in a while I find that turn of phrase that is just right. I think I come close on rare occasions, and I feel okay about being a tiny bit proud of that and I hope that I can improve on it. I don't know how true the "tips for writers" graphic is, but everything I've read from actual writers has included the advice to keep reading. "Writers read." I think that IS important, because it shows you different ways of constructing your writing, different styles, teaches you about flow and grammar and usage. It also makes you understand your shortcomings and feel the humility that follows. Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll manage to leave someone in awe!

To all my writer friends, those famous and those who are not—yet—I salute you. You have a remarkable ability, you have a rare talent, and you have the potential to hit those four right chords that can make me cry. Keep at it. I will, too.

Monday, October 11, 2010

No More Mr. Nice Guy

AliceL Maybe I'm just "in a mood" tonight, but I'm feeling rather fierce.

Not stabby or anything, not ready to rip someone's head off. I'm actually in a pretty good was a beautiful, sunny weekend, and my Irish and my Colts both won. A few hitches along the way, but all in all, it ended up being a good weekend. Got some stuff done, some things tidied up, and that always makes me feel good.

However, I read a few things tonight that have made me more than ready to rumble. New York Governor candidate Carl "Hair Trigger" Paladino made some remarks concerning homosexuals, saying that he didn't want children...

" be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option," compared to heterosexuality. "It isn't."

"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family." Paladino also slammed his Democratic opponent, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, for marching in New York's gay pride parade in June. "That's not the example that we should be showing the children and certainly not in our schools," he said.

More in a moment, but one quick thing about that. I've never had children. Does that mean that I am somehow "lesser" of a person? Does that make me any less of a citizen?

Then I read something from a family member:

Gays expecting special treatment pisses me off. They say they want equality, but what they really want is preferential treatment. Kind of like feminists. They want the same pay, same benefits, and all else, but they want to be treated better. I say, to BOTH feminists and homosexuals, if you want the pay and benefits on an equal basis with heterosexual men, you had better be willing to be treated the same way we do.

Yeah. There's a very good reason I'm not friends with some people on Facebook.

Okay. Let's get this straight. So to speak. Ha! Gays and feminists don't want to be treated "better." We want to be treated EQUALLY. Do you comprehend that term? EQUAL to others. Same pay for the same job done; the right to love whoever we happen to love and the right to marry them; the same rights guaranteed to everyone under OUR Constitution.

That family member's comment is also interesting in that it implies that heterosexual men are somehow treated badly...that any gays or feminists expecting equal rights should be willing to be treated the same as straight men. mean like...being treated well? Treated fairly? Treated as if gender or orientation doesn't matter?

I made a couple of disparaging remarks about Paladino on Facebook. I believe it involved something about how he can shove his homophobic views right up his ass. Someone called me out on it, said that was hateful, stooping to Paladino's level, and no better than the tactics that Paladino was using.

Rainbow cakeThat is where the "No More Mr. Nice Guy" thought came in. I'm a little tired of being nice. I'm tired of sitting back and letting these people say whatever they want, while the rest of us just sit back and say, "Ohhh, know...they're entitled to their own opinion." Of course, they are. And I am also entitled to stand up and say that they are a sack of shit with no compassion and no understanding of other human beings, someone blinded by their own narrow dogma, and someone who is setting themselves up as judge and jury of humanity. People like Paladino don't want a dialogue. They are not going to listen to our impassioned pleas to understand where we're coming from, or try to see things from our point of view. They are firmly implanted in the concrete of their own self-righteousness, and they don't believe that homersexticals are "normal." And apparently some people would add feminists to that.

I don't want to play nice anymore. Paladino went on to say that he believes in "live and let live." I guess as long as those dirty homos don't have the same rights as the rest of us do! I read several comments tonight about how homosexuality is a choice. Right. Because everyone wants to be bullied and picked on and treated as less than equal to others in their own country, even those who served as soldiers in defense of it. I honestly see no reason why we shouldn't stand up and call these people the bigots and hatemongers they are, and I have no problem with using strong language to do so. They certainly don't respond to reasonable discourse, so a "shove it up your ass" here and there seems warranted.

By no means do I advocate violence. Quite the opposite. But I'm also not going to sit quietly while hearing people like Paladino make such remarks against a number of our citizens, people that I love dearly and value highly. If I am violent, it is with my words. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed. I make no apologies for that. If anyone...ANYONE...ever fucks with my loved ones and friends who happen to be gay, I'm here to tell you that I will fuck your shit up. Please make a note of it.

I got no friends 'cause they read the papers

They can't be seen with me

And I'm feelin' real shot down

And I'm gettin' mean