“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Elf on a Shelf to the Rescue



All I want for Christmas is a clean continuing Resolution into the New Year. It’s all fruitcake from here to First Base 2014.


Oh, yeh, and I want an Elf who, finished with Santa, shows up at dawn on December 26 to help me get all this Christmas mess put away.


Meanwhile I keep moving Joanna Leigh’s Elf on a Shelf from place to place every night after she goes to sleep or, if I forget, thinking up excuses for why he/she/it sits in the same spot several mornings. You know, the Elf on a Shelf. The one whom the kids name when he/she shows up sometime during November or December, the one who keeps an eye on behavior, flies back to the North Pole each night to report to Santa, and returns to a different spot each morning to continue the behavior vigil. That Elf.

Which, along with a lot of other Christmas stuff like fruitcake, I thought was pretty silly, until about a week ago. Her Elf on a Shelf, whose name I can’t remember, saved me as I wallowed in a terrible dilemma of what to do when Joanna Leigh really acted up at school, so much that the teacher called me. Yikes, I was so taken off guard by what she did.

The Elf

But first, the Elf on a Shelf: Some people think he/she/it is pretty creepy, with those wild blue eyes cocked toward something, I’m not sure what. And its slightly too warm grin in between those red, protruding cheeks strikes some as eerie. Some consider this Elf just part of the War on Christmas and a pagan idol that undermines the Reason for the Season. Some psychologists and behavioral experts say "It's the parents who want to be in charge as the authority in the house. Not the elf or Santa Claus." Harumph.



On the other hand, many judge the origins of the Elf on a Shelf as warm and fuzzy, perfect for Christmas. And look, can 6 million parents who have bought the Elf and book be wrong?


Whatever. I don’t really care one way or the other. Here’s the short version of what happened. After the teacher provided the details, I confronted Joanna Leigh with the incident. “Now,” I said, “I have talked to your teacher, and I expect you to explain to me exactly what happened.”


She was rightly upset and not eager to tell on herself. I pushed. She grabbed her biggest teddy bear, which is her size, and pulled him close. She took the bear’s leg and draped it over hers.


“When we were sitting on the carpet getting ready to leave, Owen was sitting too close and I told him to move and to move and to move. He wouldn’t.” She shoved at the bear, demonstrating that she was pushing him away. She looked down at the bed rather than at me.


“So I took his arm and twisted it backwards. Twice. He cried.”


My mind was spinning as I lectured her about not using violence when people wouldn’t do what she said. “You have choices of how to handle these situations (My mind: ‘what are you going to do? Spank her after you’ve explained violence?’). What can you do instead?” (Mind: ‘How am I supposed to punish her?’) “You are going to be punished for this, you know.” (Mind: ‘Yeh, but what?’)


Then it hit me: The Elf. “The first thing you are going to do is go downstairs and confess to your Elf what you did today and tell him you’re sorry and won’t do this again.”

She started bawling. “I don’t want to tell him. I’m scared to. He’ll tell Santa.”


“Yes, he will, so you’d better tell the truth and take the punishment.”


It took some time for her to gather the courage to get out of her bed, walk downstairs, walk to the den, and get up on the chair by the bookcase to get to him/her/it. She bawled the whole way. She stood there for some time hanging her head. Finally she began to whisper to her Elf, admitting what she had done, apologizing, and promising never to do such a thing again. Then she got down and went back upstairs to the comfort of her teddy bears, all 20+ of them.


Let me be clear. It worked. It’s all the punishment she needed to make a lasting impression on her.


He/she/it leaves tonight, not to return until next December. So what do I do for 11 months????


016d1fc2718a8cfa4b4fbb758d9122027416625add  I noticed that Joanna Leigh is bribing her Elf with candy before he leaves for the North Pole tonight.


I guess I’ll be contemplating how I will explain to her when she turns 15 that the rules have changed. “Sweetheart,” I’ll say, things have changed. From now on you don’t owe the Elf anything. You can break any guy’s arm who messes with you.”

A Fifty-Year Memory: The Day of JFK’s Assassination


I sat at my desk on November 23, 2013, listening to Johannes Brahms’s A German Requiem on satellite radio’s Symphony Hall, writing about something I could not the day before: the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.


Eugene Ormandy conducted this soulful piece on CBS television 50 years ago that evening in honor of President Kennedy, as most of the nation sat for the second day in what would be a span of four days, transformed and transfixed before their television sets.


Friday, November 22, 1963, began as a silly, reckless day for me and a group of my college friends. For whatever immature and fun reasons we gave ourselves, we gathered at the Tide bar in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at 8 a.m. for beer and competitive games on the bar’s bowling and pinball machines, which provided most of the light in the place. Well, you know, we were just starting the weekend early. Furthermore, the next week would be Thanksgiving week when a lot of students didn’t go to classes anyway. Some reasons, huh?


We shoved quarters – or maybe it was dimes – into the jukebox as fast as it would eat them: Louie Louie, He’s So Fine, It’s My Party, Surfin’ U.S.A., My Boyfriend’s Back, Heat Wave, Up on the Roof, Da Doo Ron Ron. The jukebox put out the rest of all the light the Tide needed at 8 a.m. on a school day.


You can hear and buy any of these tracks on lots of Web sites; they still make money. Even my granddaughter loves It’s My Party and Da Doo Ron Ron. Long live Rock ‘n Roll!


Faux Fifties

Those days of the early sixties in the South were socially and mentally still the Fifties for most of us. The Sixties wouldn’t start getting real until that day and the next four days mercifully ended.


For some unfathomable reason, some of us at the Tide – after drinking beer all morning – decided that we needed to make our 1 p.m. class. I started asking around if anyone was headed to campus. Winston Groom and his girlfriend, Baba Golden, who would later become his wife, said they were going to class and I could ride with them. In Winston’s Austin Healy. Or maybe it was an MG. Whatever. I didn’t really know it until we left the Tide about 12:45 central time that it was a sunny, warm, clear November day in Alabama.


We stuffed ourselves into the car, Winston fired up the engine, and Baba turned on the radio. I clung to the door handle to give Baba room. Off we zoomed.


About halfway to campus we realized in a kind of dazed, slow motion way what we were hearing on the radio. My memory says it was Walter Cronkite, even though it was radio and not TV, but I could not bet money on it. Memories are at least fallible and too often gauzy tricksters.


The President had been shot in Dallas. If Winston or Baba or I said anything, I simply cannot remember it. We got to campus just as classes were changing; those coming out into the sun knew nothing.


I got out at Morgan Hall. I don’t remember where Winston or Baba were going or what class I was trying to get to. I floated up the stairs in a kind of gaseous state of consciousness surrounded by this horrific knowledge. Suddenly a moment hit me that was like toxic dirt being thrown into your face and eyes.


I heard someone say out loud, “Kennedy’s been shot. He’s dead.” I looked over to see this blonde-headed co-ed respond, “It’s about time someone shot him.”


My memory has held this girl in my mind’s vision for 50 years, and this memory is dead-on. I almost believe I would recognize her on a street.


I’ve lived through 49 other of these, but this 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been the hardest so far. Fifty years is but a gazillionth of a neutrino in space and time, but a 50th anniversary of most events beyond your own birth date is a long time in human years. JFK never saw 50 years of anything.


After November 22, 1963, reality would throw the dead bones of the Fifties into the fire to smolder. All of us would watch the Civil Rights movement that JFK made a priority in his administration play out in our front yard and down the roads, in Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, and other southern locations. We would soon be watching the Viet Nam war in our living rooms.


Winston left for Viet Nam a year or two after the November 22 event, survived and came home, and eventually wrote his Viet Nam novel Better Times Than These. We stayed in touch for a while, until Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, entered the public’s collective memory. He and Baba divorced, but he told me she had a successful import business somewhere near Washington, D.C.


My brother would leave for Viet Nam and not come back. His name is etched on the Viet Nam Wall on the Mall in Washington D.C.

Mental Sewage

And a friend told me a day or so ago that on this anniversary some girl said to her in a low voice so others wouldn’t hear, “I wish someone would assassinate Obama.”


Repulsive unflushed mental wastewater unleashed through the mouth. It’s sickening.


Has the South progressed? That is really not a good question, since the progress so many would point to is forced progress. The claws of reactionary beliefs and policies are still embedded in the skin of the South, and the untreated wastewater of racism still poisons real progress.


If that girl were forced to sit and watch those awful four days in November -- of the blood from JFK’s head all down the front of Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit, of her standing glassy eyed next to Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One, of the black veil covering Mrs. Kennedy’s face as the caisson and black riderless horse passed by her, of little John John saluting as the body of his father rode by him; if she had to watch the hoses shoving children down on the street and dogs jumping for the throats of non-violent Civil Rights activists in Birmingham, of young people being beaten up in South Carolina, Anniston, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama; if she had to watch the horrors of the Viet Nam war play out in her own living room; if she had to watch a black body bag from Viet Nam being rolled down the ramp of a military airplane at her airport; if she had to live real, maybe this sewage would not so easily spew from her mouth.


Maybe next year, the anniversary will be easier.


Note: Winston Groom’s newest book, published by National Geographic press, is The Aviators. Critics are pointing to Winston’s inimitable story-telling skills to present biographies of Charles Lindberg, Eddie Rickenbacker, and James Doolittle, particularly their careers in World War II, rather than their better known exploits in World War I. A Mobile writer had a casual one-on-one with Winston in early summer.


Veterans Day 2013: Saluting Two Lt. Craveys

Lt. John T. Cravey: Facing the Storm
Sixty-nine years ago, an unknown pilot took this picture of my father, Lt. John T. Cravey, flying his P-51 Mustang. Look closely and you’ll see a second person behind him. This must have been autumn 1944, when he was a flight instructor at Key Field in Mississippi shortly before he boarded some ship somewhere that would take him across the Atlantic, likely to North Africa. From there he would probably fly to his home base destination, the U.S. airdrome in San Severo, Italy. He arrived in January 1944 at the height of the coldest winter in European history. What became known as The Battle of the Bulge was not yet finished in the Ardennes.

The mission of the fighter pilots at the airdrome was primarily to escort bombers to targets in Germany, where they were to bomb Nazi infrastructure. The fighters had their own targets as well, mostly in Bavaria around Munich, and those were often termed “freelancing.” In order to reach those rendezvous with the bombers and targets, the fighters flew over the southern Tyrol into Austria, near Innsbruck, and headed left toward Munich.
Historic Mission
On February 22, 1945, he took off on a mission into southern Germany to fly with the bombers and do as much damage to rail lines and other targets as possible. As it turned out, this was a historic turning point in the War. The headline and body copy in a United Press report from London printed in a newspaper I can’t identify, said:
9,000 Planes Pound Nazi Rail Lines: Greatest Air Fleet of War Deals Kayo Blow. In a massive coordinated attack, planned and mapped to the last detail, warplanes from all the air forces in the European theater blasted rail lines in western German and [other sites]. . . One Air Force spokesman said the unprecedented strike was aimed at ‘crippling German communications’. . . . Every kind of plane at the disposal of the Allied air chiefs was thrown into combat
The article notes that when the Russian Red Air Force planes over the Eastern Front were counted, the total in the air that day would be closer to 11,000 planes. After this air offensive, World War II was all but over.
Hitting the Silk
My dad’s first problem that February afternoon about 2 p.m. was that he took flak and had to turn back toward home base. The officer for whom he was wing man, Capt. R.H. Zierenberg, was accompanying him. He watched the whole thing. Dad’s second problem was that his P-51 engine conked out, and by now they were over the Tyrolean Alps. His third problem was that he had to bail out onto a 10,000-foot mountain peak. And his fourth problem, the most life-threatening, was the extreme cold.
In April, Capt. Zierenberg wrote my mother a long letter telling her everything he knew about dad’s bailout. At the end of the letter, he hand drew a map of the area where dad went down (pictured below). That was all he knew. And that was all mom knew. She spent the next few months relentlessly chasing information, much of which is preserved in the scrapbook she eventually put together.

His story is one of dedication, determination against all odds, and survival. How he survived his descent from Zukerheutl, the mountain he landed on, and the following few months in a forced march in the continuing cold to the German POW camp, Moosberg, remains as astonishing as it is unlikely. Nevertheless he survived.

My father’s POW picture
taken by the Nazis at a POW processing center

My sister’s and my story of discovering details of his survival and return to the United States and home in June 1945, which began only a year ago, is also as astonishing as it is unlikely.
Those are stories for another day. On this day I want to remember my father and my brother. Dad survived; my brother, Lt. John James Cravey, did not. His name is one of the 53,000 on the Viet Nam Memorial. I miss them deeply.

The Edge of a Web

Hunting for Elusive Webs in the Backyard 
The hummingbirds seemed to be fighting over spots at the feeder and dive-bombing each other earlier than usual. I sat there on the patio watching them and wondering if their combat was a sign that cooler air would come early.
Then a late-August leaf fell slowly earthward . Suddenly it stopped in mid-air. My mind blinked. Then, a glint caught my eye. In that flash my mind knew, but I couldn’t see it.
I left the bench to walk toward the spark, but something caught me: the sticky silk strand of a web. It caught in my hair and across my shoulders. I pulled at my hands as if sliding soft kid gloves off finger by finger. I brushed and pulled, but ungluing it from myself was futile. I couldn’t see it and could no longer feel it. That’s the way webs are -- coy, alluring, elusive. And mostly invisible, glimpsed only on the slant.
Bridge Web-2
The next morning I spotted a spider attached to mid-air, like some sea creature clinging to the glass of an aquarium, wanting to be let out. Yet again, I could not get a fix on the whole web that held her as she waited for the unsuspecting moth or bee or fly. Suddenly she sprang, quicker than my eye could follow, to a far edge of her web to pierce her victim and devour it from the inside out. Then she returned to the web’s center, again to wait.
The scene was hypnotizing, even though I couldn’t look into the eyes of it.
I walked to the edge of the patio to scan the trees and shrubs in the yard for webs or spiders or leaves hanging in mid-air. I caught flashes as strands of webs captured the light of the early morning sun. Sparks of long, silky threads of hair seemed everywhere, toying and taunting me to look and look and look.
One morning after walking Joanna Leigh to the bus stop I saw a web, in profile at first, a disk, looking like the Milky Way. It drew in the sun’s light just right.  Then I got to the front of the web just as it caught the pinkish rays of dawn. I watched the color change as the sun rose higher.
The Milky Way web
Only the sun’s light would reveal the web, as if it were some truth daring you to capture it and make it manifest.
The days grew shorter so that my wake-up time coincided with the sun rising. I sat outside drinking coffee before waking Joanna Leigh to walk to the bus, looking to see if a web would again catch the light just right.
Catching the sun’s early-morning rays
Yes. I got one in my sight and wouldn’t let go until the sun climbed and left it again invisible.
After this success, I looked for glints all over the back yard, when silks caught a piece of light. Then I tried to figure out when the sun would reveal it. Maybe then I could photograph it.
These hunts began to feel like searches or quests for some kind of sign, or maybe for answers, or maybe for how we capture truth if we really want it. Truth taunts, then leaves you standing alone, annoyed. It sticks to you, leaving a trace of itself from its edge. It makes you wait for just the right light to reveal it. It dares you to look further.
Some nights ago and by accident, since flood lights were on that shouldn’t have been, I saw the most magnificent of the backyard webs. It spanned about 15 feet, between two tall crepe myrtles. Breathtaking. Intricate. Huge. I was determined to capture it in a photo. The next night I turned on the flood lights, got up on a patio chair (a very bad idea), and switched the camera’s flash from automatic to on. I had to hold the camera way over my head, risking fuzziness, but that, as I saw in the photos, didn’t matter. There wasn’t enough light.
porchweb-1-edTrapeeze webThe trapeze web
Web revealed by raindrops (above left)
The next night I asked my husband to put a flashlight on it while I tried again. That didn’t work. The next day I remembered a small strobe that attaches to my video camera. I got it out, made sure it was working, went to the garage, got a ladder this time (a really bad idea), and propped it up to wait for dark.
As soon as the sun went down, I gathered my camera and strobe, turned on the flood lights, and went to set up the ladder. I couldn’t yet see the web. I got up on the ladder and first shined the flashlight in its direction.
It was not there. It was gone. I could not understand why it was gone; many of the others were still hanging, attached to shrubs, limbs, my car door, everywhere.
But it was gone.
I wonder if remnants of it, stray strands of silk, will remain stuck to branches, limbs, or leaves for returning hummingbirds to salvage for weaving their nests next spring. I hope that is an answer.
More photos below from my web hunt in the backyard:

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A Tale of Anesthesia

Anesthesia Land is somewhere outside of our known Universe. 
In an early morning mental fog I walked through the automatic double doors at 6 a.m. into the Outpatient Surgery unit. The officials got all the info I own into the computer and sent me back to my cubby to get out of my clothes into the bozo “gown,” have the R.N. put needles into my hand, answer the doctor’s questions, and wait.
I was then rolled through more automatic double doors into the cold-as-a-coffin surgical room that was lit up like the Jack Nicolson’s house in The Shining, asked to roll off the bed and onto my stomach on a platform the size of a surf board for the imminent pain block. I was instructed to put my arms in these plastic wings jutting off the surf board but I had to ask where my head went. They brought a pillow, I put my head onto it, and the lights went out. Like being in Carlsbad Caverns when the ranger makes everyone sit down and she turns out the lights. Eeeegads.
I got the block, which I have no memory of, was wheeled back out the swinging doors to my cubby, which I have no memory of, got my clothes back on, which I have no memory of (but I don’t think it was romantic like in the movies), and was plopped into a wheelchair to wait for my husband to pick me up, which I have no memory of.
On the cusp of consciousness, I heard a nurse say to the R.N. in charge of me, “You need to talk to this woman. I asked her if she had someone at home to look after her, and she told me ‘the cat.’ What if she falls?”
Then the lights faded again. I slept most of the day and didn’t remember hearing the nurse’s comment until the feeling in my right leg began returning.
So, I spent the evening remembering what she said I said, which I have no memory of, and snickering.
I invite you to watch our new black cat, Pumpkin Pie, attacking Gaspard and Lisa on Disney Jr.

Pumpkin Pie attacks Gaspard and Lisa

GrandParenting: The Case of the Pink Diarrhea


When I became the de facto parent to my then 18-month-old granddaughter and had intimations that it would be permanent, I dreaded, was scared of, one all-too-familiar, inevitable event: having to stay up all night long with a feverish, vomiting, diarrhea-o-rama sick child. I knew – and know now – I am simply too old to stay up all night changing sheets, toweling up the floor, and cloroxing the toilet every thirty minutes.

I would have to clorox the toilet for sure. Our lab Maggie drinks out of the toilets. Some things you can’t change; you pick your battles.

As most parents know, for infants and toddlers it’s all bugs all the time. Some kids, after many episodes, get enough used to the fever, vomiting, and diarrhea that it doesn’t much bother them. Parents never get used to it.

I became paranoid. Every time Joanna Leigh sneezed, I thought, “It’s tonight for sure. What am I going to do???”


A Long Day’s Journey into Diarrhea Night

It never happened. The worst things she ever got were these piddling runny noses, a few coughs here and there, but no fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. On the other hand, those piddling runny nose events turned into a near-pneumonia event or sinus meltdown events on me. I spent nearly two years sick with mega-colds until my aged immunities got a grip.

It just never happened.

So then I became paranoid over her off-the-charts good health. “Could something be wrong with nothing being wrong with her?” I would think.

So at her five-year check-up for shots, weight, height, and all the doo-dah details, I finally got up the nerve to talk with the doctor about her health, her off-the-charts great health.

Haltingly I said, “Doctor, I need to talk with you about something.” Naturally she, the pediatrician, shot her eyes toward me like I was about to tell her something really awful and scary.

“Joanna Leigh is never sick. She has never had a night of fever, vomiting, diarrhea. She’s only run fever, what, twice for about 15 minutes when she picked up strep throat. Do you think that’s normal, or do you think something might be wrong deep underneath all that good health?”

Her reaction to my telling her NOT about something awful and scary, but about some insane and stupid non-issue was to stand in front of me, speechless.

“Are you serious?” she finally said as she closed the door behind her.

A year later, after she turned six, a friend took her to the Birmingham Zoo. As they drove up the driveway when they got back, Joanna Leigh said, “I’m going to throw up.” The only reason she knew what “throw up” meant is because she once ate one of those boutique cupcakes piled high with pink icing, then came home and threw up the pink icing onto the carpet. She never asked for one of those cupcakes with the BIG icing again, to date.

They quickly got out of the car, and sure enough, she threw up in the driveway. I felt her. She was hot. It wasn’t long before she began having diarrhea. She really didn’t even know what she was having until I explained diarrhea to her.

She said, “I don’t like throwing up or having diarrhea.”

I said, “I don’t like it either,” remaining somewhat ambiguous: When I had it or when she had it? I’m not sure I can answer that even today.


The Mystery of the Pink Diarya


A few months later she went back to the Birmingham Zoo on a day-camp field trip. When I went to pick her up, she ran toward me shouting, “Look what I got! A diarrhea! A diarrhea!”

I thought, “Oh no! Not again! What’s in that zoo, anyway?”

She was waving it in the air. Pink. Like the cupcake vomit. It was a “diarya.” A pink diary. A pink diarya with keys and a pen. Diarya is the way she heard “diary.”

So she writes in it, even though she hasn’t really learned how to write. She shows me her diarya writings. I had a flash forward. “That’s what 13-year-olds’ musing are – diarya.”

I’ll bet she doesn’t show me when she’s 13, not that I would want to read it. And peeking into your child’s diary is a huge No-No.

So I won’t read her diarya when she’s 13. Maybe.





Grandparents Parenting: 7 Million and Growing


There’s an old joke, a favorite among grandparents: “We don’t know which is better -- the headlights as the grandchildren come up the driveway to visit, or the taillights as they drive away with mom and dad.” To grandparents, grandchildren are both wonderful and tiring, and it helps if you can send them home to mama or daddy while you take a rest before the next visit.




Traditionally, grandparenting is a love relationship that carries certain luxuries, like not having the responsibility of sculpting a well-adjusted, morally upright, educated, and competent human and citizen. Grandparents can give their grandchildren wide latitude in their behavior and demands, which the parents can erase later. There’s even a Grandparents Day, the first Sunday after Labor Day. This year, national Grandparents Day is September 8, thanks to President Jimmy Carter, who signed the bill into law in 1978. In his Proclamation he said:

Our grandparents bore the hardships and made the sacrifices that produced much of the progress and comfort we enjoy today [1978]. It is appropriate, therefore, that as individuals and as a nation, that we salute our grandparents for their contribution to our lives.

Being a parenting grandparent, however, is quite a different story. We don’t have a day set aside for us to rest in a hammock after enjoying the grandchildren’s visit.



Maybe a day should be set aside for the growing number of grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren. I would call it National Parenting Grandparent’s Day and nominate every day for that celebration, because parenting grandparents live in a kind of undefined, mysterious land in between being a parent and being a grandparent. In this strange state, headlights already came and we won’t see any taillights.

For us, the days of “cute misbehavior” are over; now the relationship demands consistent discipline. Discontent, temper tantrums, hunger, whining and throwing themselves to the floor now demand constant attention. The pleasure of reading a bedtime story instead of watching the evening news now becomes a long-term teaching tool. We will go through all the “been there, done that” activities like potty training, time out, staying up and waiting for them to get in on time, worrying about the company they keep, wondering if they are experimenting with risky behavior – “déjà vu all over again,” even at our ages.

Looking at Parenting Grandparents

We look and feel quite different from the other parents, and the other kids are aware of that strange difference. You look like a grandparent but don’t act like the grandparents they know. Pre-schoolers usually refer to their little friends’ parents as “Jack’s mom” or “Susie’s dad”; they will say “Hi, Jack’s mom” in the mornings. When my granddaughter was in pre-school, the other children intuited the difference and did not know what to call me.

If you are among this special group of people, the first thing to know about parenting grandchildren and/or being the grandchildren’s primary caregiver is that you are not alone. The numbers surge every year, but becoming aware of this new reality of American families was slow in coming. Academics, the media, policy makers, and the government barely began to notice these rising numbers as a trend until someone discovered in 1992 that 3.3 million kids under 18 were living in homes maintained by their grandparents. Today there may be as many as 7 million.


By 1997 the biggest demographic jump was the numbers of kids under 18 who lived with their grandparent(s) with no parent in the household.

Next, someone got the idea to include the proper questions in the 2000 Census that would reveal homes where children under 18 lived with grandparents who maintained the home or were the primary caregivers. The report distinguished between the number of households with grandparent(s) as primary caregiver(s) and the number of people who were grandparents as caregivers of kids under 18: households, 4.1 million; parenting grandparents, 5.8 million. In 59 percent of the households, there was only one caregiving grandparent. All those households with caregiving grandparents represented nearly 4 percent of ALL the households counted in the 2000 Census.

In 2007, there were 6.2 million grandparents whose grandchildren younger than 18 were living with them; almost half of those grandparents were solely responsible for the kids’ most basic needs. In 2011, the figure role to 7 million.

In 2008, 6.6 million children under 18 were living with a grandparent. In 2009, that figure rose to 7 million. In 2010, the figure advanced to 7.5, but dropped in 2011 to 5.5, for some reason, even though the number of co-resident grandparents rose.

The point is, we and the children we raise and care for represent a large and growing segment of the population; we know the difficulties and needs, even though we are too quiet about them. Maybe it is time for our voices to become louder to match the numbers we represent.


Note: This article will appear in Prime Lifestyle Magazine of Tuscaloosa, a local magazine for mature consumers: 3046 Dewberry Lane, Tuscaloosa, AL 35405; (205) 344-9258


Some resources:




http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10241.html (has a list of Internet resources)




The Criminalized War on Drugs: One Working Piece

Since Nixon criminalized the War on Drugs in 1971,

the U.S. has thrown our entire military arsenal,

short of the atom bomb,

at America’s drug problem and war.

The arsenal has included Captain America,

and most recently, drones.

See the previous post on Spittin’ Grits


One piece of the criminalized War on Drugs not only worked, it worked to the max. In 1980 there were 50,000 incarcerated people in the U.S.; by 1997 the figure had jumped to 400,000. Today, one in 100 adults is in jail or prison; that’s about 1.5 million people. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarcerations in the world.*

Of those 1.5 million people, most are in jails and prisons for drug-related crimes, not violent crimes, and many of those are low-level dealers and users.

So if the goal of the War on Drugs is to pass hard-nosed laws and throw the criminals in jails, it worked. And some of those low-level dealers and users are serving terms longer than some murderers and rapists.

But all that success caused one huge problem: The more it worked and the more criminals who were put into the system, the more that domestic law enforcement needed equipment and technology; the more they got and used, the more the court systems clogged up and the more overcrowded the jails and prisons became. The more crowded, the more some criminals were released early; the more criminals released, the higher the recidivism rate. The more involved in the War on Drugs that the U.S. military got, the more equipment it had to turn over to domestic law enforcement -- military-style weapons, uniforms, boots, vests, helmets, helicopters, SWAT supplies and trucks, technology, and gobs of other stuff. More equipment and technology, more success. Round and round and round, until it became clear that we had created a “militarized” War on Drugs.

That description has a bad ring to it, and public relations suffered. Criticism has mounted. The hue and cry for ending the Drug War is louder than it has been in 40-plus years.

So we fixed that PR problem. We renamed it. Now we call it “counternarcotics efforts,” being careful not to capitalize it.

Then the consequences of the War on Drugs began to grab attention, and the pie below (named, ironically enough, US Drug Control Spending FY2013) explains why. Three areas, Domestic Law Enforcement, Interdiction, and International gobbles up almost 75 percent of the pie. (Interdiction probably includes policies like standing at our borders with guns, sending armed boats and special teams out into the Caribbean to intercept traffickers, and flying special units into South America to burn crops.)


clip_image002See this chart and much more information at Drug War Facts.


Waking Up

A New York Times article last summer ran some wake-up numbers, including huge domestic costs for continuing this current War on Drugs: “Almost one in five inmates in state prisons and half of those in federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses.”

As the writer noted, locking up all these druggie criminals makes for a great stump speech, as long as the stumpers don’t tell the stumpees what the costs are.

Enter the PEW Charitable Trusts State and Consumer Initiatives research project, The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers.

Oooops. Suddenly all that success begins to look like insanity.

These circumstances [current fiscal realities] make it crucial for policy makers and the public to understand the full cost of prisons to taxpayers—something that is easier said than done. Although corrections departments pay the vast majority of costs for state prisons, other departments pay related expenses—some of which are substantial. Depending on the state, these can include employee benefits, capital costs, in-prison education services, or hospital care for inmates. Additionally, the cost of underfunded contributions for corrections employees’ pensions and retiree health care plans must be included in a comprehensive accounting of prison costs.

The report rightly warns readers not merely to compare states’ per-inmate costs, since states have various ways of balancing costs with the objectives of making prisons safe, secure, and humane. Rather, the report’s goal is to identify measures that can offer constructive solutions to reducing costs.

The Tax Man Cometh

Nevertheless, here it is: The average annual cost (in the 40 states that participated) for keeping an inmate in prison or jail is $31,286. That’s the average annual cost per inmate for keeping some 1.5 million criminals in jails and prisons.

We will all be considering these prices when we write our next check to the taxman.


*The total number of incarcerated people in the U.S. can vary at any given time, but 1.5 million seems to be a good working number.

For a thorough look at incarceration numbers, see http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Prisons_and_Drugs#sthash.bKIS7SAe.dpbs.

PEW: http://www.pewstates.org/research/reports/the-price-of-prisons-85899383045, for a complete report in PDF format


The Return of Scarface: Militarization of the Drug War

In the forty-two years of America’s Drug War, we’ve – you, me, all the taxpayers alive and dead in those years – have spent, are you ready, $1012.

Ten to the twelfth power; a one and twelve zeroes; $1 trillion. We’re at a number that when many of us were born, few had heard of it.

. . . .The July 18, 2013, post to Spittin’ Grits

Thanks to the artist at pagetutor.com, here is what $1 million looks like in $100 bills:



Next tax day, when you’ve got an amount you owe on taxes, why not sit and wonder how much you’ve paid since 1971 toward the Drug War’s $1 trillion tab. How much will you continue to pay on the nearly$52 billion a year?

And now, drumroll, he presents $1 trillion in $100 bills. See the guy in the red shirt above? Notice the same guy in the red shirt on the lower left at the red arrow below.





How did the American War on Drugs come to this?

When President Richard M. Nixon announced his “new, all-out offensive” in 1971 and pronounced it “public enemy number one,” he in essence criminalized this new version of drug use in America. By golly, drug fiends weren’t going to get away with it. We’d throw them all in jail.I don’t know what Nixon’s grades were in his history classes, but the irony was then and is now that we had already done this once and, boy, did that effort crash and burn. It was called Prohibition. About the only good thing to come of it, besides the “Roaring Twenties” response to outlawed booze, was the great movies and television shows about Eliot Ness and his efforts to enforce the laws prohibiting alcohol, fight with Al Capone, and save the U.S. from its devastating alcohol use. I doubt I ever missed an episode of The Untouchables with Robert Stack. What a hunk he was. The series started in 1959 and ran for four years and 119 episodes.

Then Brian De Palma directed the 1987 movie The Untouchables with a whole host of hunks – Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, and others.

Remedial History 101

Criminalization/militarization of an effort is EXPENSIVE, but history lessons be damned. First, in the initial 25 years of the Drug War, the U.S. in its desperation and devotion to the “tough on crime” ideology, passed and implemented hard-nosed anti-drug laws; in turn, state law enforcement offices and personnel had to be outfitted to handle the crime wave. Law enforcement became more and more “militarized.” If you think that must have been expensive, just wait.

Blast Furnace Down

Second, Nixon’s criminalization of drug use finally transformed into an all-out war, with other nations (some being homes to cartels of suppliers) getting involved. War requires the military. And military we got. The militarization of the Drug War began in 1986 with 160 American soldiers, each with an M-16 rifle, a big cargo transport plane filled with Black Hawk helicopters, another with troop planes, landing in Bolivia to carry out Operation Blast Furnace. The mission was to burn plants and cocaine labs and to seize a bunch of money and weapons belonging to drug smugglers, and blah, blah, blah. It fizzled. The drug kingpins knew the Dogs of War were coming and, poof, the bad guys were gone.


Since then, the U.S. has thrown at America’s drug problem and war our entire military arsenal short of the atom bomb. The arsenal has included Captain America, and most recently, drones.


Drugs on the Moon?

The rest of the story of the mega-militarization of the Drug War continues to be comic book material. Except that it is and has been such a pathetic attempt to stop the very War it feeds.

This past spring, the international edition of Spiegel Online presented a five-part series about the global Drug War, beginning with an interview with Pablo Escobar’s right-hand man, Popeye. Only a psychopath could love it; it’s scary and horrible.

Popeye explains to the writer about shooting people:

You can survive one shot, but never two. I cut up the bodies and threw them in the river. Or I just left them there. I often drove through Medellín, where I kidnapped and raped women. Then I shot them and threw them in the trash. . . . I've killed about 250 people, and I cut many of them into pieces. But I don't know exactly how many. Only psychopaths count their kills.

The writer calls the interview “opening the door to Hell.” But Popeye does explain why you can’t stop people like him:

People like me can't be stopped. It's a war. They lose men, and we lose men. They lose their scruples, and we never had any. In the end, you'll even blow up an aircraft because you believe the Colombian president is on board. I don't know what you have to do. Maybe sell cocaine in pharmacies. I've been in prison for 20 years, but you will never win this war when there is so much money to me made. Never.

In a later part of the series and after having researched and interviewed, the writers are told why not even the military can stop this War:

The best way to imagine the drug war is as a never-ending arms race. The customs agents are given psychological training. The drug cartels have schools for their smugglers. The coast guard is given speedboats that can travel at 50 knots. The dealers buy boats that can go 60 knots. The navy patrols in the Pacific. The dealers build submarines that can cover 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) without surfacing. The drug war expands with each new battle. If there were demand for drugs on the moon, the launch of the first cocaine rocket would probably be imminent.

Cold War II – Run Amuck

So what we have here is the philosophy of the Cold War with Russia, mutually assured destruction, with a twist: the joke this time will be on the U.S. The domestic and international militarization of law enforcement is the most expensive slice of the Drug War pie. And it’s all for naught.

A recent Associated Press story examined U.S. arms export authorizations, defense contracts, military aid, and exercises in the region.

In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade. U.S. Army troops, Air Force pilots and Navy ships outfitted with Coast Guard counter-narcotics teams are routinely deployed to chase, track and capture drug smugglers.

The story reported on:

l $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas going to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011

l defense contracts that jumped from $119 million to $629 million, “supporting everything from Kevlar helmets for the Mexican army to building airport runways in Aruba

l $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region, for countering narcotics

Scarface, Jr.

Whatever the total cost or annual cost for the domestic and international militarization of the Drug War – and maybe we can’t really know – continuing the same efforts is getting crazier. Two pieces of recent information, déjà vu all over again, would be crazy if they weren’t scary.

First, remember that the primary route for drugs into the U.S. from South America, particularly Columbia, used to be through Miami. That fact created a lot of stories for the entertainment industry, the worst/best of which was Bran De Palma’s Scarface, written by Oliver Stone and starring Al Pacino; no wonder it was one of the worst/best, with those names involved.

Next, remember (if you’re old enough) these 30-year-old names and words: Nicaragua, Sandinistas, President Ortega, and Russia. Well, they’re baaaaaack.

An April Time International on-line piece reported that the good news for Nicaraguans is that they’re renewing a relationship with Russia, which is supplying millions of dollars for military stuff targeted at drug traffickers.

Here’s what a high ranking state department official said about this development:

The truth is that we want collaboration, and if the collaboration comes from Russia in our hemisphere or if it’s the United States in Russia’s hemisphere, then I think that is positive,” Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, the Obama Administration’s point man on Central America’s drug war, said in response to Russian drug czar Victor Ivanov’s recent visit to Nicaragua.

Am I nuts or does this sound like something off The Colbert Report on Comedy Central?

As for the drug route: Brownfield says that as we put the squeeze on Central America, the cartels will feel the pressure and decide to route their goods to Europe.

WHAT??? And turn their backs on the U.S. market? What kind of business school did Brownfield attend?

Furthermore, he says, “last year about 9 percent of all illicit drugs that entered the United States came from the Caribbean, compared to about 4 or 5 percent in 2011,” and “logic suggests drug cartels will return to trafficking routes used during the 1980s and 1990s.”

Get ready, Hollywood.

So, let me get this straight: After spending $1 trillion toward America’s War on Drugs, most of which is spent to militarize domestic and international law enforcement, we will have come full circle in pressuring the cartels to move their drug route back to Florida. I think I’ll check my tax return from last year and figure out how much I paid to this insanity.



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