Monday, February 27, 2012

Literary Monday - 2/27/2012

It's Monday, so time for a review of what I've been reading.  I finished two books last week.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - Isaacson's biography of the co-founder of Apple Computers is a LONG read, over 600 pages.  Isaacson does a good job of portraying Jobs fairly, as both a fantastic visionary who could motivate people to reach for and achieve higher goals, and a manipulative jerk who was extremely self-centered, lied to get what he wanted, and never hesitated to go for anyone's weak spot.  A former girlfriend believed he had borderline personality syndrome.  The negotiations and product launches are described in excruciating detail and I found myself skimming those parts.  Both compelling and repelling, it's a fascinating portrait of one of the visionaries of our age, who is gone too soon, partially due to his own arrogance.

Tumbling by Diane McKinney-Whetstone - it's African American History Month, and I always try to read a little in the genre that the library is featuring.  McKinney-Whetstone's story of a close-knit African-American community in south Philadelphia spans the decades from the 1930's to the late 1950's.  Noon and Herbie are a young married couple who find themselves with a ready-made family when first an infant is left on their doorstep, and then a few years later, an acquaintance leaves a little girl with them to raise.  It's a story of family and friends, growing apart and coming back together, loss and redemption, and the final realization that sometimes a community is greater than its parts.

Tomorrow:  Missing Tuesday

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Friday - Chicago is #1 - again

(Meant to get this posted on Friday during lunch, got busy and sort of forgot about lunch)

Last week, there was a news article that a recent study showed that Chicago was the most corrupt city in the nation.  This comes as no surprise to Chicago residents.  Chicago has been corrupt since the first white explorer stepped out of his canoe on the pristine shore of Lake Michigan.  Not only is Chicago the most corrupt city in the U.S., it is the most corrupt city in the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state in the country.

Chicago and the state of Illinois have been mis-managed for decades.  Money has found its way from the city and state treasuries into politicians pockets for years, creating a fiscal crisis of unbelieveable proportions.  Now both the mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois are trying to shore up their treasuries by blaming state and city employees for expecting to receive their pensions after paying in for a lifetime of work.

I work for the city of Chicago.  When I was hired a little over 20 years ago, I was told that a pension contribution would be deducted from every paycheck, and that the city would match my contribution.  When I retired from city employment after a minimum of 20 years employment and a minimum age of 55, I would receive a pension from the city.  I had no choice in this matter:  I was not offered a choice of a city pension, Social Security, an IRA or an annuity.  The city's pension plan was the only option.  So for the last 20+ years, I have been contributing to my pension fund every paycheck. I honored my part of the deal, just as all my fellow city and state employees have. About two years ago, both the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois admitted that they hadn't honored their pension obligations, and both the city and state pension funds were woefully under-funded.  They are attempting to go back on the promise they made to us all those years ago.  So far, their suggestions include giving us only our pension contribution with no matching contribution, and making us pay double in order to make up for their dishonesty.

You don't get rich working for the city or the state.  With careful planning, you'll be able to support your family and send your kids to college.  People who take government jobs are usually paid less than those in the private industry.  It's not because we're less qualified - I have two Master's degrees, and most of the people I work with have at least one Master's degree.  And we sure don't get anything for free - we pay through the nose for our medical benefits and are forced to pay union dues, whether we belong to the union or not.  But we take the jobs because we believe in helping other people, and we were told that as a reward for our service, when it came time to retire, there would be a decent pension waiting.

Some suburban friends of mine expressed the opinion that the state has to do something about their fiscal crisis, so the only logical thing to do was to eliminate pension funding.  I asked if they had a 401(k) where they worked.  They said of course they did.  I asked about profit sharing - yes, they had profit sharing as well.  I asked if THEIR employer paid a contribution to their 401(k) and/or profit sharing.  They looked at me like I was crazy and said OF COURSE THEIR EMPLOYER MADE A CONTRIBUTION TO BOTH PLANS FOR THEM.  EVERY YEAR.  So I asked how they would feel if their employers sudden decided not to make those matching contributions anymore.  My suburban friends bristled and said that wouldn't be right, that their employers had PROMISED to make those contributions.  I explained that the city and state had made the same agreement with city and state workers, and that while I had made MY contributions, the city hadn't kept their promise to me.  Also, that if the city and state could go back on their agreement, what would stop private industry from following suit?  My suburban friends got very quiet - suddenly, the thought of government not honoring their pension obligations didn't seem like such a great idea after all.

I have a little less than 10 years to work until I turn 65.  I do have money saved in my deferred compensation plan, also in an annuity from a previous pension plan when I worked at a bank.  But the money that I saved was supposed to supplement my city pension, not the other way around.  I can understand if the city and state change the rules for new hires, that anyone hired from now on or even with less than 10 years of service, will be offered a different type of retirement plan, such as an annuity that does not include a contribution from the city and state.  But it's not fair to change the rules for long-term employees.  Come on, Mayor Emmanuel and and the city council, for a change, get your hands out of the till and do the right thing for city employees!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conspiracy Thursday: a presidential mystery

President’s Day was Monday, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a presidential conspiracy: President Obama’s birth certificate!

In a nutshell, conspiracy theory enthusiasts claim that Barack Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, and therefore, ineligible to be president according the U.S. Constitution. In 2010, at least 25% of U.S. citizens questioned whether Obama was born in the U.S.

Despite having released copies of the birth certificate, the controversy continued to rear its annoying head. Theories include:

• he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii;

• his Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery;

• he is actually a citizen of Indonesia;

• his father held dual citizenship, which means the son is not a natural-born U.S. citizen.

In 2008, Obama released a copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate. Conspiracy supporters noted that it lacked the official seal, and that this type of birth certificate could easily have been produced with photo editing software (like Photoshop).  In 2011, Obama released a pdf copy of the “long-form” birth certificate. Conspiracy theorists immediately noticed there were layers created by scanning and deemed the certificate to be forged; also other inconsistencies, like errant X’s in the box that denotes single or multiple births, unexplained smudges, and the fact that the doctor who signed the form conveniently died eight years earlier. Also, the registrar’s name appears to be U. K. Ulele (ukulele???).

It has also been stated by conspiracy buffs that Hawaii will issue a “Certificate of Live Birth” to anyone who registers a birth, no matter where the child was born, and that it’s not the same as a birth certificate issued because a child’s birth is witnessed at home or in a hospital. The hospital where Obama’s certificate says he was born, claims that the law prevents them from confirming or denying he was born there.

Obama's parents did put birth notices in two Honolulu newspapers, but of course, the conspiracy fans note that those could have been Photoshopped, too.

One of the more damaging bits of evidence was when Obama’s paternal step-grandmother stated in one interview that that she was present at his birth in Kenya. She later retracted or clarified that what she MEANT was that SHE was at home in Kenya when she was notified of his birth in Hawaii. (Hey, she’s an old lady, cut her some slack if she got confused about what she meant.)

Another theory states that Obama was adopted by an Indonesian family and became a citizen of Indonesia when he lived there, so even if he had been born in the U.S., he had given up his U.S. citizenship to become an Indonesian citizen. They point to his visit to Pakistan as proof that he held a passport other than a U.S. passport, since U.S. citizens could not visit Pakistan at that time.

Many of these allegations have been checked and refuted by sites like and But many conspiracy theory buffs still believe it's all a plot.  It’s a free country, and among the rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are the pursuit of happiness and the right to free speech.  Even if the guy sitting in the White House isn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Tomorrow: Miscellaneous Friday

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Historical Wednesday - Wallis Simpson

Today's historical personage is Wallis Simpson, aka Wallis, Duchess of Windsor.  A king gave up his throne for her, so she is a subject worth exploring.

Wallis was born Bessie Wallis Warfield 6/19/1896, in Blue Ridge Summit, PA.  Her birth was not registered, so it is unknown if this is the exact date, but it is the date generally given. Her parents’ marriage was also not registered but the accepted wedding date was  November 19, 1895, which means little Wallis was already on the way when her parents married (Wallis herself insisted they were married in June 1895).

Wallis was an only child, since in November 1896, her father died of tuberculosis. For the next few years, her father’s brother supported Wallis and her mother, until her aunt Bessie was widowed in 1901, and Wallis and her mother moved in with her. Wallis’ mother remarried in 1908.  After her second husband's death, Wallis' mother would marry a third time (must run in the family).

Her uncle paid for Wallis to attend Oldfields School, a very expensive girls’ school in Maryland, where she associated with the daughters of wealthy and influential men. Wallis was remembered as being always well dressed and pushing herself to do well in school.

In 1916, Wallis met Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr., her first husband, and they were married in November of that year. Win (as he was known) was a U.S. Navy pilot and also an alcoholic, but that didn’t stop him from flying. He crashed his plane once when flying after drinking, but walked away almost unscathed.  When WWI started, they were posted to San Diego, where they lived until 1921. (Edward, Prince of Wales, visited San Diego in 1920, but he and Wallis did not meet.)

Win and Wallis separated and reunited several times over the next six years. When Win was posted to the Far East, Wallis stayed behind in Washington D.C. and had an affair with an Argentine diplomat. In 1924, she traveled to Paris and then to the Far East to rejoin Win. They were together briefly until Wallis became ill and returned to Hong Kong to recuperate. Later, she toured China on her own, and had an affair with an Italian count that is believed to have resulted in a pregnancy. She had an abortion which left her unable to conceive. Companions in China remember her as a brilliant conversationalist and all-around party girl. Rumors followed her about certain sexual skills that she had learned while in China.

The Spencers returned to the U.S. and continued to live apart until they divorced in 1927. By this time, Wallis had already met Ernest Simpson, a Brit who would become her second husband. Ernest and Wallis were married in London at the Chelsea registry office in July 1928.

Wallis was introduced to Edward, Prince of Wales, by his mistress, Thelma, Lady Furness in 1931. Between 1931 and 1934, Edward and Wallis met on a number of occasions, and she was presented at court. Ernest Simpson and Wallis encountered financial difficulties from the 1929 market crash and their own lifestyle, and by 1934, they were living beyond their means.  Sometime in 1934, Wallis became Edward’s mistress (although Edward denied this to his father the king), and by the end of 1934, Edward was in thrall to her. Wallis treated him like a domineering nanny (she thought he had a Peter Pan personality), and Edward soaked it up, showering her with gifts and jewelry. He was so enamored of Wallis that their relationship began to interfere with his official duties.

On January 20, 1936, George V died and Edward became king as Edward VIII. It soon became obvious that he meant to marry Wallis, even though she was divorced from one husband and still married to another. The Church of England prohibited the king from marrying a divorced person, and Wallis was considered to be completely unsuited to be a royal consort. Wallis filed for a divorce from Ernest, which was granted in October 1936. When the scandal of her relationship with Edward became common knowledge, she escaped England to the south of France where she remained for several months. She was pressured to renounce the king, but he was determined to marry her. Edward decided he would rather abdicate than live without Wallis. On December 10, 1936, Edward signed the decree of abdication as his three brothers watched. His brother the Duke of York became King George VI the following day.

Wallis and Edward were married on June 3, 1937, in France. No members of the British royal family attended the wedding. Edward was created Duke of Windsor by his brother, George VI. While Wallis became Duchess of Windsor, she was not addressed as Royal Highness as her husband was.  Edward and Wallis continued to live in France, and in 1937, visited Germany where they met Herr Hitler. After meeting her, Hitler said that Wallis would have made a good queen. Wallis was commonly believed to be a German agent; while this was probably not true, she was undoubtedly a German sympathizer.

Following the outbreak of WWII, the Duke of Windsor was given a military post and stationed in France. The Duchess continued to socialize with her fascist friends and supposedly leaked military secrets the Duke had told her to them. It seems unlikely that the Duke would have been privy to many secrets, since he was still persona non gratis to the royal family.  As German troops advanced, the Windsors fled south to Spain, and later to Portugal, finally taking ship for the Bahamas where the Duke was installed as Governor. Wallis hated Nassau and considered herself to be in exile. They remained in the Bahamas until the war ended, when they returned to France.

The Windsors lived in comfortable retirement just outside Paris for the remainder of their lives, making only occasional visits to London. Both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles visited them in Paris. The Duke died from cancer in 1972 and was buried in England. Following his death, Wallis lived in seclusion as she was becoming frail and suffering from dementia. She died 4/24/1986 at her Paris home. She was buried next to Edward near Windsor Castle in the Royal Burial Ground - she was treated as a royal in death, at least. Her estate was divided between the French government in gratitude for all the help that the French had given the Windsors over the years, and the Pasteur Institute.

Wallis summed up her own life in one sentence: “You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.”

Tomorrow:  Conspiracy Thursday

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Jason Jolkowski

I missed a few days blogging - I usually blog on my lunch hour at work, and this weekend I was off for four days.  So no blog since last Thursday.  It's Tuesday, when I spotlight a missing person.  There are so many thousands of missing persons in the U.S. and Canada, and some have been missing for decades.  Some cases receive more publicity, especially on programs like "Disappeared" and "Unsolved Mysteries."  My heart goes out to families who have missing loved ones.  While it is terrible to have a loved one die, it must be devastating not to know what happened to a family member.

Today's missing person is Jason Jolkowski.  Jason disappeared from his family’s home in Omaha, NE.  He has been missing since June 13, 2001, without any clues to his disappearance or current whereabouts.

Also known as JJ, Jason was a shy young man, very close to his family; one of their neighbors said he was trusting and not street smart.  He had some learning disabilities in the areas of speech and language.  The bullies at his school made fun of him, and some people thought he was retarded, while he was actually of above average intelligence.  He did not participate in many social activities, and divided his time between work, home, and school.  In addition to his restaurant job, Jason also had a part-time job as a radio announcer at a local college radio station. He was looking forward to starting a new job in a few days.  He loved to walk, was a big sports fan, and helped others whenever he could.

Jason attended community college part-time and worked at a local restaurant.  Even though it was supposed to be Jason’s day off, his boss called him that morning and asked him to fill in at work.  Jason’s car was in the shop, so his boss arranged for him to catch a ride with a co-worker.  He was to meet the co-worker at Benson High School, about a mile from his home.

He was last seen in front of his house by his 12 year old brother and at least one neighbor around 10:45 a.m., bringing in empty trash receptacles (it was trash pick-up day), and then walking off in the direction of Benson High School carrying his red work shirt.  Jason never arrived at the high school.  His co-worker called the Jolkowski house between 11:15-11:30 to see if Jason was still at home, since he hadn’t met her at the high school.

Jason's family suspects foul play was involved in Jason's disappearance.  Police say there is no evidence of foul play; there is also no evidence that Jason ran away.  They have absolutely no clues as to what happened to Jason.  He is a responsible young man, and his friends say he was not the kind of person to run away from problems.  His family is certain that he would have contacted them at some point.  He took no personal items with him; his cell phone and bank account have not been used since the day he disappeared.  His last paycheck was never cashed (he probably didn’t have more than $60 on him), and he never picked up his car at the repair shop.  His family and friends do not believe that Jason used drugs or alcohol.

Following his disappearance, Jason’s family founded Project Jason ( to assist the families of other missing persons by tracking missing persons and distributing flyers.  They lobbied the Nebraska state legislature to establish a statewide missing persons DB.  In 2010, Jason’s mother Kelly was named the Volunteer for Victims honoree by the U.S. Justice Department.

Jason disappeared without a trace, but someone must know something about what happened to him.  At the time of his disappearance, Jason was 19 years old - today, he would be 30 years old.  He is Caucasian, with brown hair and brown eyes.  He is 6’1” tall and has a slim build, weighing around 165 lbs. He was wearing black pants and black shoes, a blue Chicago Cubs cap, and a white Cubs or Sammy Sosa t-shirt. If you have any information about Jason, please call the Omaha PD, 1-402-444-5657.

Tomorrow:  Historical Wednesday

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Historical Wednesday - Mary Todd Lincoln

In honor of Lincoln’s birthday this week, today’s historical personage is Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln. Most people think of her as just a short fat crazy little lady. But was Mary truly mentally ill, or was she merely an eccentric ahead of her time?

It is impossible to deny that Mary had her problems from childhood on. Born on 12/13/1818 to Robert and Elizabeth Todd of Lexington, KY, she was raised in a wealthy household. After her mother’s death, Mary’s father remarried when Mary was 8. Almost from the onset, Mary had a difficult relationship with her stepmother Betsy. She was sent away to be educated at a girls’ finishing school where the curriculum focused on music, dance, and French. At around age 20, Mary moved from Lexington to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Springfield, IL and never returned to live at her family home again. Mary was a popular young lady when she first arrived in Springfield and was courted by both Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Mary stated publicly that she wanted to marry a man who would become president. She accepted Lincoln’s proposal, but Abraham had reservations about marrying Mary and called off their wedding once in January 1841. In the fall of 1842, they began courting again and were married the next day at Mary’s sister’s home in a private cemetery after a one-day engagement.

All four of Lincoln’s sons were born in Springfield (Robert, Edward, William, Thomas). Lincoln’s work required him to travel as much as six months out of every year, which Mary viewed as abandonment. By all appearances, theirs was a troubled marriage. Both suffered from depression and exhaustion. In addition, they were opposites in personality, temperament, and communication style. Lincoln’s law partner Herron hated Mary, which caused additional stress for Abraham.

When Abraham was elected president and they moved to Washington, he and Mary were considered to be rough Westerners and her manners in particular were criticized. She had difficulty adapting to her social responsibilities, and the protocol expected at the White House overwhelmed her. While Lincoln was president, the press treated Mary harshly since Mary’s family was from a slave state, accusing her of being a Confederate spy and meddling in her husband’s affairs of state. Even her bold fashion choices were publicly criticized

After Lincoln was assassinated, Mary insisted that he be buried in Springfield. Mary returned to Illinois to live. Her surviving son Robert was a lawyer living in Chicago and became alarmed at her increasingly erratic behavior. Mary traveled to Chicago to visit him and began spending huge sums of money on clothing and items she would never use. She was institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital in Batavia IL in 1875 after being publicly tried for insanity. She was so enraged over this that she planned to commit suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum before she could be taken to the hospital, but the chemist realized her plan and refused to sell her the drug. She was released after 3 months into her sister Elizabeth’s care, and in 1876, was once again deemed competent to manage her own affairs. She never reconciled with her son Robert. Despite failing eyesight due to cataracts, Mary spent the next four years in Europe, particularly in France. She returned to Springfield in 1880 and died there in 1882 at age 63.

So was Mary really crazy or just odd? Some of Mary’s troubles were unquestionably physical. She suffered from migraine headaches and protracted depression all her life. She also experienced a head injury from a carriage accident while living in the White House. Later in life, as her eyesight dimmed, she was subject to frequent falls.

But Mary undoubtedly suffered many psychic blows as well. She was sitting next to Lincoln when he was shot at Ford’s Theater on 4/14/1865, which would have traumatized a far more stable person than Mary was. Two of her sons died as children, and her third son Tad died as a young man, which caused Mary much grief. A contemporary said that following Tad’s death, grief became Mary’s chief occupation. She had a number of irrational fears, including dogs, lightning storms, and burglars. She was prone to public outbursts, religious fervor, disturbing mood swings, and excessive spending, which causes some researchers think she suffered from bi-polar disorder while others think it may have been narcissistic personality disorder.

Finally, some of Mary’s mental stress may have been caused by financial difficulties. Mary had an extreme fear of poverty. She spent the last 17 years of her life living in boardinghouses. While her government pension would have been sufficient for a more frugal widow, Mary was known for her extravagant purchases of multiple items – a dozen pairs of gloves, ten sets of curtains. The country was scandalized when she held a public sale of her used clothing in New York in 1867.

All of these factors add up to a troubled, very unlucky lady who contributed to her own problems through a series of poor choices and circumstances. While Mary undoubtedly suffered mental distress, exercising better judgment might have helped her find a mate more suited to her temperament, and a situation that would have placed less stress on her somewhat fragile reserves than the public life of First Lady. Her own family looked upon her as “Crazy Aunt Mary,” yet another victim of the strain of insanity that ran through the Todds.

Tomorrow:  Conspiracy Thursday

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Patti Adkins

Today I am featuring Patricia (Patti) Adkins, missing since June 29, 2001 from Marysville, OH.  Patti was last seen around midnight on June 29 at the Honda assembly plant where she worked second shift.  After clocking out, she walked out to the parking lot with some co-workers and was never seen again.  The plant where she worked was beginning a one-week shutdown, and Patti had told friends and family that she was leaving on vacation right after her shift ended, and that she would return a week later, on July 8, 2001.  Consequently, no one realized that Patti was missing until she had been gone for over a week.

Patti was a single mother of one daughter, aged 7 at the time of Patti's disappearance.  One of Patti's sisters was babysitting while Patti was on vacation.  When Patti did not return to pick up her daughter, her sister reported her missing.

Patti told friends and family that she was having an affair with a married co-worker who was planning on leaving his wife for her.  She had loaned him a large sum of money so that he could get his business out of debt.  According to her sister, Patti and the co-worker were going on a week-long camping vacation that the man had arranged in a remote area of Canada.  Patti asked a friend to drive her to work that last day.  The man allegedly told Patti not to pack anything and that they would buy what they needed when they arrived.  Patti said that they had arranged that after work, Patti would climb under the tonneau cover in the back of his pick-up and hide until he drove out of the parking lot, since he was married and did not want their co-workers to know about the affair since word might get back to his wife.

Patti's story really bothered me when I first saw it on Investigation Discovery, and at first I couldn't figure out why.  But then I realized that it was the kind of thing that I too would have done when I was in my 20's, thinking it was exciting and perfectly reasonable.  When I was that age, it wasn't that unusual for me to go off with boyfriends for several days without telling anyone where I was.  If I had gone missing, it might have been days before my family realized it.  When you are in your 20's, you don't believe in your own mortality.  It also takes a while for the human brain to develop the ability to work through a situation and realize what the consequences of one's actions might be.

At least one other report refutes Patti's version of her relationship with the man, saying that while the co-worker was a friend, he did not return Patti's infatuation with him, and that in fact, her infatuation had turned to obsession and she was beginning to stalk him.  In addition, the man's wife said he returned home around 2 a.m. after his work shift ended on June 29 and other family members confirmed that he was at home all week during the Honda plant shutdown.  Another co-worker stated that the married co-worker dropped him off at his home after work, and that they had stopped for something to eat on the way.  Odd behavior for a man going on a romantic getaway!  Patti's co-worker has been questioned a number of times by police.  Both his story and his wife's story appear to have changed from what they initially told the police (for example, at first the man said he was home all week, then later he said he had gone fishing over the weekend).  The man's name has not been released on any of the television coverage due to legal issues (although he has been identified online as Brian Flowers of Dola, OH).  He no longer works at the plant, reportedly because the other employees talking behind his back.  One of Patti's family members said that, looking back, there are a number of things that they can now see should have set off warning bells, but Patti was a grown woman capable of handling her own life.

There are also reports that Patti was deeply in debt, that her life was in disarry, and she decided to disappear to escape her mounting problems and left her daughter with her sister because she knew her sister would provide a good home for the girl.  This does not seem plausible, since Patti was devoted to her daughter and family, and to her pets, and had also made a hair appointment for the week following her scheduled vacation.  She owned a house in a quiet neighborhood, got along well with her ex-husband, and had a good job.  Her family describes her as big-hearted and trusting.

At the time of her disappearance, Patti Adkins was 29 years old - today she would be 40.  She is 5'8" tall, weighed about 120 lbs.  She has long light brown hair with blonde highlights and hazel eyes.  She has a tattoo of a flower in the middle of her back, pierced ears, and a pierced navel.  She was wearing a white Honda work uniform.  Extensive ground, air, and water searches of the Maryville area have not turned up any evidence, and there has been no activity on Patti's bank accounts.  As with all unsolved cases, there is undoubtedly information that her family and the police cannot discuss.

Maybe the co-worker did plan to kill Patti to avoid repaying the money he owed her or so his wife wouldn't find out; maybe they really did plan to go on vacation  but had a fight after leaving the plant, and Patti got out of the truck and walked off into the night; maybe Patti was stalking the man and climbed into the back of his truck intending to "surprise" him and instead was killed accidentally and the man panicked and disposed of her body; maybe Patti took the $90,000 from her retirement account and disappeared of her own accord.  Patti's family has accepted that she is deceased, and a court declared her dead in 2009.  Regardless of her actions or motives, Patti's family deserves answers to her disappearance, and to bring her home if possible.  If you have any information about Patti's disappearance, please contact the Marysville Police Department, 937/642-3900.

Literary Monday - 2/13/2012

Last week, I finished 3 books:

In a true light by John Harvey - I have to admit, I expected this to be better than it was.  It was recommended as a crime noir novel.  Sloane, the main character, has just been released from prison in England for art forgery.  He is contacted by an old lover who is dying and tells him that he was the father of her child.  She asks him to find the daughter (Connie), last known address is in New York.  Meanwhile, two New York detectives are piecing together a case about a murdered woman.  Their suspect happens to live with Sloane's daughter, and all the pieces come together in rather brutal fashion.  While it does have a dark side and the villain of the piece is totally evil, there is a lot of meandering about modern art and jazz music.  Not being a jazz fan, the references were lost on me.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See - This is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, Lisa See's novel about Pearl and May, two Shanghai sisters who work as models (known as "beautiful girls")for a well-known Shanghai painter.  He uses their images for posters, calendars and advertising.  After their father sells them into arranged marriages to cover his gambling debts, they go to America with their new husbands.  Dreams of Joy is set 20 years later, when Pearl's daughter Joy leaves Los Angeles to live in the "new China."  When she realizes where Joy has gone, Pearl goes after her to stop her or bring her home.

Stone's fall by Iain Pears - A length novel that begins in 1953, then moves back in time to 1909, then to 1890, and finally to 1863.  An English lord named John Stone falls from an upper story window at his London home.  Did he fall by accident or deliberately, or was he pushed?  There are three different narrators, and overall, the story is riveting.  It does drag somewhat in the second section, which is about international finance.  This section could have been much shorter/less complicated, but the other two parts make up for it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Miscellaneous Friday - New Year's resolutions

It's the middle of February, and of course we all have given up on our New Year's resolutions by now.  Or if you're like me, you haven't really started on them yet.  (My main resolution was to get back on Weight Watchers in a serious way.  I lost 16 lbs. last year, and about 15 lbs. the year before that, and kept the weight loss off both times.  I would like to keep the momentum going, but I've had a lot of stress going on, so for the moment, I've been happy to just be maintaining my weight loss.  But I need to start going to meetings again and staying on the plan, because it works.)

We all make the same resolutions every year, which look something like this:  lose weight/start eating healthy; start an exercise program/be more active; save money/get finances in order; get organized; clean out the clutter.  It's a lot to take on at one time, so it's not your fault if you haven't been able to stick to any of them or even get started.

But the good news is that there are 12 months in the year, and it's only the middle of the second month!  There is plenty of time to get back on track!  Instead of trying to do 5 or 6 big life-changing resolutions, why not choose one to work on?  You are not a failure - you are just setting your priorities in order, a very sensible thing to do.

Say you decide you really want to get your finances in order this year - make an action list and get started.  Your list might look something like this:

  • go to the library and get a couple of books on topics like how to set up a budget, how to start a savings plan, how to plan for the future (see, you're already saving money by going to the library instead of buying the books).
  • read the books and decide what will work for you - don't be afraid to start with small steps - you have a better chance of succeeding with small steps, and besides, not every idea will work for every person.
  • think about what your financial goals really are:  do you want to save toward a long-term goal like retirement, or are you trying to scrape together the down-payment on a house?  Do you need to save for your kids' college, or are your needs more short-term and urgent, like having enough money to pay your property taxes?
  • take a morning or afternoon when you can work undisturbed by your family, your job, etc.; get out your checkbook and go through every debit and find out exactly where your money is going.  If you pay everything with a credit card to rack up mileage points, go through your credit card statements.  Do you really know how much you spend on things like food, mobile phones, gas for the car, etc.?  Knowing where your money is going will help you understand where you need to budget more money or where you might need to economize.
Everyone needs a place to start.  Knowing what your ultimate goal is will help you formulate a plan to get there.  Don't be afraid to seek professional help.  You can often find free seminars on just about any subject at libraries, community centers, churches, local colleges, even businesses.

Maybe you need some better, more attainable resolutions - here are some suggestions:
  • leave 5 minutes earlier than you really need to - if you know that you HAVE to be out of the house by 8 a.m. or you'll be late for work, try leaving at 7:55 or even 7:50.  You would be surprised how big a stress reliever this is.  Even if something unforeseen arises, like heavier traffic than usual, you'll still get to work on time.  You'll be a better driver, too.
  • check in with all of your doctors this year - not all at once, you can spread the visits out over the next 10-1/2 months.  See your dentist, your eye doctor, and your GP - you'll be surprised how much better you feel.  And have that colonoscopy that you've been putting off!
  • take care of things while they're small - whether it's a tooth that's bothering you or a faucet that's dripping, it's usually easier and cheaper to take care of things when you first notice them.
  • deal with the mail as it comes in - don't leave it until there is a huge intimidating pile that needs to be gone through.
Are you starting to get the idea?  Good.  I'll stop sermonizing now.

Tomorrow:   Literary Monday

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conspiracy Thursday - the moon landings

Who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory?  Once a week, I will explore some of my favorites.  Today my topic is the moon landings:  real or faked?

Six manned moon landings occurred between 1969 and 1972, and almost immediately, some people suspected that the moon landings had been faked.  Even today, 10-20% of Americans believe the moon landings were a hoax, and the percentage is even higher overseas.  The first book came out in 1974, just two years after the Apollo missions ended and theories continue to flourish today.

Among the arguments for the landings being hoaxed:
  • the odd lighting in the photographs taken by the astronauts - shadows are cast in two different directions; also, although the sun is behind the astronaut in one photo, the front of the astonaut is clearly visible, when it should have been in complete blackness.
  • one of the rocks and the ground in front of it are both marked with a C - this is a common practice in Hollywood for positioning props and centering a picture.
  • the flag moving in the breeze - there is no atmosphere on the moon, hence no wind.
  • astronaut Gus Grissom was openly critical of NASA and the Apollo project - he was killed in the Apollo 1 capsule fire - was this a message to other NASA astronauts to keep their mouths shut?
  • there were already "moon rocks" all over the earth - the earth is regularly hit with meteorites, which are (guess what!) moon rocks.
  • other Apollo astronauts become evasive or even hostile when questioned about the moon landings.
  • at least one former NASA employee claims that NASA did not have the technology to send a man to the moon - very few people at NASA had access to the whole picture.  The majority of NASA staff knew only their small part of the project.
  • the Russians never attempted a moon landing, even though they beat the U.S. to put the first craft, animal, man, and space station into orbit.
I don't know if the moon landings were faked or not.  For me the most convincing evidence that there was never a successful moon landing is the fact that NO MORE LANDINGS HAVE BEEN MADE.  Since 1972.  We're supposed to believe that FORTY YEARS AGO, the U.S. had the technology to go to the moon.  NASA had spacecraft to send a manned mission safely to the moon and back to earth; a landing craft the could support life and safely return to the mother ship; and cameras and film to take spectacular pictures (in fact the pictures are too perfectly positioned and focused).  And then, after spending billions developing this technology, NASA just abandoned it and never used it again.

The moon landings were either a hoax of tremendous proportions, or an incredible waste of taxpayer money.

Tomorrow:  Miscellaneous Friday

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Historical Wednesday - Mary Boleyn

Like most people, I get my historical information from novels, television documentaries, and the Wikipedia. Novelists and TV producers will re-write history if it will make a more compelling story. Consequently, there is a certain amount of misinformation that is accepted as truth about many historical figures and events.

Today’s subject is Mary Boleyn. Mary was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, best known for breaking up Henry's first marriage and then being beheaded. Mary is the title character from Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl (which I loved). Now Alison Weir has written a definitive biography of Mary (Mary Boleyn), or as definitive as a biography of a minor historical figure who lived in the 16th century can be. Not many genuine facts are known about Mary, since women’s lives were not well-documented in the 16th century. Even the princesses Mary and Margaret Tudor, Henry’s two sisters, are known mainly for who they married and the children they bore. If not for Anne Boleyn, we almost certainly would never have heard of Mary.

Mary was probably Anne’s older sister, although several 16th century sources state that Anne was older. Neither Mary nor Anne’s dates of birth are known; not even the year is certain. Mary is often portrayed as stupid or illiterate. Mary was unquestionably literate, since letters in her handwriting survive. She was probably offered the same education as Anne received, but did not seem to be as interested in learning (even their brother George does not appear to be as intelligent or educated as Anne).

Like Anne, Mary was sent to France to serve at the French court to complete her education in proper court etiquette. Many European royal courts served as finishing schools for young ladies of noble birth. At a time when schools of higher education were mainly for those planning to enter the clergy, it was common practice for members of the nobility to send both their sons and daughters to live and train in other noble households.

Because she attracted the attention of not just one but TWO kings, Mary is frequently portrayed as a woman of loose morals. There is no contemporary evidence for this belief. It is more likely that Mary was a sweet, very beautiful young woman who was pleasant and entertaining company.

Many historians claim that Henry fathered two of Mary’s children, and that she and Henry were lovers for several years. But it is more likely that the affair probably began sometime in 1522 and ended in late summer/early autumn 1523. Mary married to William Carey in 1520, one of Henry’s Gentlemen of the Bedchamber (the male equivalent of a lady-in-waiting) and a close associate who knew Henry well. The king was known for exercising great discretion in his extra-marital affairs, so it is possible that William Carey did not know about the affair. Even Queen Katherine, Henry first wife, did not know of his affair with Mary, otherwise she would have certainly used that information to fight Henry’s attempt to divorce her. Mary’s affair with Henry did not become common knowledge until Henry was trying to get his marriage to Anne annulled, claiming incest because he and Mary had once been lovers.

Their affair must have ended when Mary discovered she was pregnant, since it was believed that sex during pregnancy was harmful to the fetus. Henry was reputed to be somewhat prudish about sex, so he would have abided by the restrictions of the day. Because of certain financial provisions made for her throughout her lifetime, it is very likely that Mary's daughter Katherine was really Henry’s child, while her son Henry is almost certainly her husband William’s child.

After being treated somewhat disdainfully by her family for most of her life, Mary had the best revenge. Her second marriage was for love: she married a man named William Stafford, who was at least 10 years younger than she was and genuinely adored her. Because they married without the king’s permission, they were exiled from court. As the king’s sister-in-law, Mary’s marriage prospects were excellent, but their father Sir Thomas Boleyn does not seem to have exerted himself in arranging marriages for either of his daughters, even when they were very young women. Mary’s second husband was a soldier. He was stationed in Calais from 1534 to at least 1536; Mary was undoubtedly living there with him at the time of Anne’s fall from favor. Thus, they were able to distance themselves from Mary’s siblings Anne and George when they were first arrested and then executed, and avoided the scandal.

Even when they returned to England, Mary and William never went back to live at Henry VIII’s court. They lived in retirement at one of the properties that Mary inherited after her parents’ deaths. They had two children, a daughter Anne and a son Edward. Mary died in 1543, in her forties. Her husband Williams mourned her deeply and did not remarry for 10 years after her death.

Tomorrow:  Conspiracy Thursday

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Missing Tuesday - Audrey Herron

Hundreds of people go missing in the U.S. and Canada every year.  If you don't believe this, visit the website  - there is page after page of missing persons, some of whom have been missing for decades.  There are a number of websites about missing persons, but the Charley Project is one of the best organized.  My heart goes out to all the family and friends looking for their lost loved ones, so I decided to dedicate one day a week to these vanished persons. 

A companion website is, a database of unidentified victims that law enforcement has not been able to identify.  Again, some of these victims date back decades.  No one wants to think that their loved one is no longer living, and the Doe Network is just one more tool in the search.  Information is occasionally incorrect, since physical remains may be skeletal or incomplete, so authorities have to estimate information like age, coloring, etc.  In at least one case, the date was inadvertently entered as the date that the record was created rather than the date the victim was found.  If the person seems to otherwise match your loved one's description, by all means pursue your investigation and make inquiries. 

The Investigation Discovery channel launched a program a few years ago called "Disappeared" which focuses the spotlight on several missing person cases every year.  It is a fascinating program, and they receive many more requests to showcase certain cases than they are able to fulfill.  Obviously the cases they choose depend on the cooperation of family, friends, and local law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers are often reluctant to investigate the disappearance of an adult, since it isn’t against the law for an adult to choose to go missing.  Who hasn’t thought about walking away from their life and starting over fresh someplace where no one knows them?   (I know I have.)  Some people DO vanish willingly, to escape criminal prosecution or crushing debt, to get out of an oppressive or abusive situation, or just to follow a crazy dream, to cite a few possibilities.  But women who are devoted mothers don’t leave their children on a whim; people who have been close to their families all their lives don’t just drop out of sight and never contact anyone again; and in the 21st century, it’s pretty hard to function without money or credit cards, identification, a cell phone, etc.

Today I would like to tell you about Audrey May Herron.  Audrey is the mother of 3 children, and she has been missing since 2002.  Audrey was last seen around 11 p.m. on August 29, 2002, in Catskill, NY, where she worked as a nurse at a health care facility.  She had telephoned home around 9:30 p.m., very pleased about a long-awaited pay raise.  A little after 11 p.m., she walked out to the parking lot with some co-workers, got into her black 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and headed west on State Route 23 toward her home in Freehold, NY, about 12 miles away.  Audrey never arrived home and neither she nor her Jeep were ever seen again.  Her credit cards and cell phone have not been used since her disappearance.

Audrey's husband Jeff called her workplace around 6 a.m. to find out if/when Audrey had left work, but it was her stepmother Jeanne who contacted police, at around 9 a.m. on August 30.  Multiple ground and air searches have been performed, without turning up any evidence.  Some (but not all) of her co-workers were interviewed.

Audrey's father Ray passed away in June 2011.  He never stopped hoping that he would find his daughter.

No clues to Audrey's disappearance have been found by FBI and other law enforcement officers, or by a private investigator.  Authorities say that Audrey's husband has not been cooperative, but he was cleared by a polygraph test and has allowed multiple searches of their home and property.  His father Ron Herron was also asked to take a polygraph test (I believe he refused).  This is not to say that either one is guilty of anything - law enforcement naturally looks at the people closest to the victim when a crime is committed.  One report stated that Audrey's purse, credit cards, and cigarettes were found in their house, which if true, is very odd - what woman goes to work without her purse?  Audrey's husband Jeff has withdrawn from the search in an effort to protect his children, which I can understand.  Friends and family say Audrey was devoted to her children and would never have abandoned her family, and that they cannot believe that her husband would have harmed her since he truly loved her.

So what happened to Audrey?  Was she car-jacked?  Was she followed by an acquaintance or co-worker, who maybe mistook Audrey's friendliness for something more?  Did she know her killer?  Her car has never been found - is it at the bottom of a lake or a quarry, or maybe in a storage unit?  Or did it go to a "chop shop" and get dismantled for parts?  There have been a few reported sightings of Audrey and one email hoax, but all have turned out to be false.  Audrey's family are still searching for answers.  Every year, they hold a fundraiser in an attempt to raise public awareness about Audrey's case (

Audrey is a petite white female, just 5' tall, weighing 105 lbs.  She has light brown hair and hazel eyes, and sometimes wears eyeglasses.  At the time of her disappearance, Audrey was 31 years old.  When last seen, she was wearing dark green medical scrubs.  If you know anything about Audrey's disappearance, please contact the New York State Police at 518/622-8600.

Tomorrow:  Historical Wednesday

Monday, February 6, 2012

Literary Monday, 2/6/2012

I am trying a new blog format here, where I have a specific topic for each day of the week.  So today is my first Literary Monday, where I will discuss what I am reading or have just finished reading.  Reading in a wide variety of genres helps me remember books better.  I find if I read a lot of one genre (such as literary fiction), the stories start to blend together, no matter how good a book is. 

Like most people, I get my history and facts from novels, television documentaries, and the Wikipedia.  This past week, I finished Alison Weir's Mary Boleyn, a biography about Mary Boleyn that dispels many of the fictions about Mary from novels like Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Gregory's book, just as I enjoy most historical fiction about romantic or doomed figures.  But as in most novels, the actual historical facts are manipulated to make a better story.  There is nothing wrong with this - that's why it's called fiction.  I plan on devoting another day of the week to facts about maligned or misunderstood historical figures.  The book starts off slow - you have to slog through about 50 pages of background about the Boleyn family, but stay with it. 

The second book that I finished this week was Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House, a historical novel about an Irish girl who grows up as an indentured servant (i.e., slave) at a Virginia plantation.  Great characters and description, if not a happy story.  I recommend both of these titles.

Tomorrow:  Missing Tuesday, with a focus on a missing person case