Monday, November 30, 2009

38. Afghanistan

Dear Followers,

Tomorrow will be a big day as I begin the process to see where I fit in the CCSVI puzzle as discovered by Dr. Paolo Zamboni, who has developed an exciting new (but simple) treatment for ms. I'll keep you posted...

Tomorrow is also the day when we will learn what President Obama plans to do about Afghanistan. Along those lines, I wanted to recommend a new book by Greg Mortenson, who wrote "Three Cups of Tea."

In his new work , "Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan," he writes about the value of educating girls who live in the heart of Taliban country. In that part of the world, Just one year of schooling "will dramatically raise a girl's later economic prospects, and where girls get to fifth grade, birth rates and infant mortality plunge."

Mortenson has founded an organization called The Central Asia Institute (CAI), which - in Pakistan - now has 91 schoolhouses that serve 19,000 students (three-quarters of which are girls). In 2004, CAI opened its first school in Afghanistan; today there are 39 (as well as tent schools in the refugee camps), and the organization now educates 39,000 Afghan children most of who are girls.

Back in 2000, when the Taliban was still in power, only 800,000 children in Afghanistan (which has a population of almost 33 million) attended school. And very few of the students were girls. Today, 8.5 million Afghan children go to school, including close to 2 million girls.

Mortenson's approach to education - and the importance of literacy for girls - has so affected the area that his book "Three Cups of Tea" is now required reading for all Special Forces soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, November 27, 2009

37. An Empowered Woman

Dear Followers,

Thanks to today's New York Times, I learned about a 70 year old woman who has lived in the Bronx for decades, and played an "unheralded" role in the Civil Rights movement.

Most of us think of Rosa Parks (who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus) as a trailblazer in the battle for desegregation back in the 1950s.

But thanks to writer Phillip Hoose, who won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his book "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice," we now know that 15 year old Colvin was the first black female bus passenger to be dragged off a bus, handcuffed, and arrested.

Colvin was arrested on March 2, 1955, while Rosa Parks didn't make her stand until nine months later, on December 1. According to Hoose, the NAACP felt that Ms. Colvin wasn't as likely to win support for the cause as Rosa Parks.

It took Hoose four years to persuade Ms. Colvin to meet with him and share her story. She had worked as a nurse's aide in a Manhattan nursing home for 35 years, and kept her role in the Civil Rights movement under wraps. Now, finally, countless readers will learn about the 15 year old girl who let the world honor someone else for an action she took before anyone else.

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

36. Louisa May Alcott

Dear Followers,

Happy Thanksgiving! Tony and I Will be enjoying the annual Fragiacomo feast with 40+ family members at Caroline and Terry Brown's house, and I hope your holiday will be every bit as festive as ours.

Today I thought I'd share with you a bit of information about Louisa May Alcott, who lived in the mid 1800s (1832 to 1888) and is best known as the author of "Little Women," which was published in 1868.

Next month on the PBS series American Masters a multi-dimensional look at Alcott's life will include an animated scrap book, introduced with historians, and dramatic portrayal of the writer who also happened to be a runner, feminist and abolitionist.

Did you know that Gloria Steinem, Gertrude Stein and Simone de Beauvoir were all influenced by her character Jo March? And even though Alcott wrote over two dozen other books, "Little Women" is the only one that has never been out of print for over 140 years.

Alcott lived in Concord, Massachusetts, was the second of four daughters, and as a "spinster," lived with her father who was close friends with David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne. Like many Self-Empowered Women, Alcott could not depend (financially) on her father, and the family struggled. The house they lived in was purchased with money with her mother's inheritance and monetary help from Emerson.

Louisa May Alcott - because of the family's money problems - had to go to work at an early age. Among her jobs were seamstress, governess, domestic helper, teacher and writer. Long after she had started writing books, she was still taking in sewing.

"Little Women" was loosely based on her childhood with her three sisters and was completed in only two and a half months. Alcott became an early advocate for women's suffrage and was the first female to register to vote for a school board election in Concord.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

35. Emma and Iraq

Dear Followers,

It's been a busy post-birthday pre-Thanksgiving week. Kravis Center concert, three different parties, and a book talk all kept me away from the blog, but I'm back with the story of yet another Self-Empowered Woman.

I was intrigued by a story on the front page of today's Palm Beach Post about rebuilding Iraq that bore the headline "$53 billion spent since 2003 - and little to show for it." So it seemed like the perfect time to introduce you to 41 year old Emma Sky, a British civilian who has become a chief advisor to the American Army commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

From ages seven to thirteen, Sky (an only child) attended a boys boarding school in England because her stepfather was on the faculty and her mother was a house mother. She later attended Oxford's Somerville College (one of the two previous all women's schools) where both Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher had studied.

Sky spent almost a decade in Israel and the West Bank working for peace between the Israelies and Palestinies. After she returned to England she worked for the British Council, which is an arm of the foreign office, but volunteered to work in Iraq as an advisor on Kurdish issues after the U.S. invasion. She lived in a home in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk until a mortar shell came through a bedroom wall and prompted her move to the army base.

General Odierno was the commanding general at that time, and the tiny anti-war English woman and the bear-like American learned to bounce ideas and strategies off each other. Sky moved back to the U.K. in 2004, but when Odierno was promoted in 2006, he asked her to return.

Sky - who speaks Arabic and Hebrew - has grown to admire the U.S. military even though she once described them "like a great crashing beast." And Odierno has come to rely upon her knowledge of the area and the factors that affect the war. Her job has been to second-guess him.

It's hard to imagine a British female Infantry Division Advisor in any other American war, but Sky's influence has had a profoundly positive impact on both the military and Iraqi civilians.

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, November 13, 2009

No.34 Bizjournals and SEW

Dear Followers,

Just thought I'd share the review of The Self-Empowered Woman that will run on the syndicated Bizjournals next week:

Book review: The Self-Empowered Woman

Connie Glaser

The New York Times ran an article recently about the love affair that Hollywood was having with "Famous Dead Women." Only one movie last year about a living woman made it into the Top 10 films, and that was the vampire teenage romance Twilight. What Hollywood has discovered does work are films about women who once led unusual lives, but are now deceased.

Recently, filmgoers watched Meryl Streep portray Julia Child and Marion Cotillard play Edith Piaf. Cate Blanchett won kudos for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, and Nicole Kidman was applauded for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf. Now talk is circulating that Hilary Swank will win her third Oscar for her portrayal of Amelia Earhart. As film critic Manohla Dargis noted, "For actresses, it is no longer enough to be young and beautiful onscreen, they have to be dead and famous, too."

Like many moviegoers, I have a fascination with successful women, though having passed over to the "other side" is not a prerequisite. So when I was asked to contribute a blurb for a book about high-achieving women on the scene today, I was interested in the subject matter. And I'm pleased to say that the "how to succeed" message within the pages of The Self-Empowered Woman: 17 Characteristics of High Achievers by Marilyn Murray Willison is instructive and gender neutral.

At first glance, the book appears to be an investigative analysis of which factors contribute to the formation of high-achievers. Seventeen characteristics, each of which helps create a successful way of life, are analyzed and dissected. In each of the 17 chapters, four women who have reached the top of their fields are profiled, and then the reader is given exercises designed to help him or her learn how to focus and think the way high achievers automatically approach life.

Although the individuals described in the book are female, there are plenty of valuable life lessons for all readers, regardless of career goals, age or sex. Some of the characteristics are apparent; others are less obvious. For example, Chapter 9 discusses the important role of music in the lives of high-achievers. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, was in first grade when she began to play the violin. In her autobiography she recounts, "Practicing was a joy, not a chore. I could close my bedroom door, shut out the rest of the family and transport myself into a self-created world of beautiful sound."

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, aspired to become a concert pianist. At age 15, she won a young artist competition and performed a Mozart concerto with the Denver Symphony. She has also performed on stage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Another characteristic of high achievers is risk-addiction. Insightful profiles of Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling and TV's Barbara Walters are included in this chapter. An unemployed single mother, Rowling turned down a secure teaching job for the uncertainty of writing. Her first editor told her that she needed to get a day job because she could never survive as a children's book author.

One of the most poignant chapters discusses the challenges of dreaming your own dream when loved ones or family members go out of their way to discourage your efforts. Anyone familiar with the history of entrepreneurial life in America knows that countless successful men and women chose to pay attention to their inner voices rather than the naysayers who told them what they were doing was crazy.

Other successful women profiled include heavy hitters such as Wall Street's Muriel Siebert, astronaut Shannon Lucid, cosmetics maven Mary Kay Ash, TV's Diane Sawyer and Ruth Simmons, the first female president of Brown University.

Through these pages, Willison leads the reader on a fascinating investigative journey along the path to success. The book provides an opportunity to pay tribute to those high-achieving women with us today who are making a difference.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

33. Iraq's Female Police Officer Corps

Dear Followers,

I'm happy to report that The Self-Empowered Woman is beginning to pick up steam. Did my first radio show last week and have another scheduled for the first week of December. Between now and then I have a "tea" for a dozen readers and then a Hadassah breakfast for about 40. And thanks to the women at Author Exposure, I'll be a "guest blogger" for a New Years Resolution post. Any ideas or suggestions you have for marketing or promotion are welcome because I've learned that writing a book is a lot easier than turning it into a bestseller...

Did you know that this week 50 women in Baghdad became the first female graduates of Iraq's Police Officer Training Academy? In the past, women could direct traffic or search female suspects, but until this year they were ineligible to become officers.

The nine-month course had the same standards as their male counterparts, but females trained and studied separately. During training the male students were able to sleep at the academy, but the women had to commute each day because there were no housing facilities for females.

Many of the new officers joined the academy after they finished law school and Col. Randy Twitchell, a member of the U.S. Army who has served as a consultant for the program, estimates that next year's female class will double in size to 100. This year's graduates call themselves "The Lioness Group."

As practically everyone knows already, the world of journalism (and print media, in general) simply isn't what it used to be. And this week my friend and Palm Beach Post Editor, Anne Rodgers, began the transition from journalist to author. Like most of her fans, I'm in mourning - partly because I'll miss opening the paper and finding columns that speak to readers like me, and partly because I've had close friends and colleagues who were staff members on various newspapers since I was 24 years old. For the first time in decades, there's no one left with printer's ink in their veins who I want to speed dial. Guess that officially makes me an old fogey.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

32. The Prix Goncourt

Dear Followers,

It's been a hectic and unusual week, brightened by good book sales and growing numbers of YouTube viewers. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Today I'd like to introduce you to Marie NDiaye, the 42 year old woman who just won the award for the best new work in French literature In true Self-Empowered Woman style, NDiaye didn't meet her father until she was 15 years old (Chapter One: No Paternal Safety Net). Currently the author of a dozen books, she began writing at age twelve (Chapter Two: An Early Sense of Direction).

She has also written a number of plays, one of which was only the second play by a female writer to ever be taken into the repertoire of the Comedie francaise. In 2001, she won France's Femina literary prize for her novel "Rosie Carpe." When she was only 21, she wrote a 200 page novel ("Comedie Classique") that was made up of a single sentence.

Her novel, "Trois femmes puissants" (Three Powerful Women) is the story of a French lawyer with roots in West Africa, a young Senegalese women who tries to immigrate to Europe illegally, and a Senegalese woman who lives in France. NDiaye grew up in Pithiviers, a town south of Paris, and has told reporters "I grew up in a world that was 100% French. My African roots don't mean much, except for that people knew of them because of the color of my skin and my name."

NDiaye's mother was French, her father, Senegalese, and today the writer lives in Berlin. She is the first black woman to ever win the Prix Goncourt; previous winners of the 105 year old award include Marguerite Duras, Marcelle Proust and Simone de Beauvoir.

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

31. New Surgeon General

Dear Followers,

Today's blog is about 53 year old Dr. Regina Benjamin, who was unanimously approved by the Senate and is the third African American as well as the third woman to hold the position of Surgeon General of the United States. For over two decades, Dr. Benjamin has been one of the few doctors working in the shrimping village of Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Her rural health clinic there serves 4,400 patients.

When her clinic was destroyed - first by hurricanes and then by a fire one day before it was scheduled to reopen - she used the "Genius Award" money from her John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellows Program Grant to rebuild.

The woman who has promised "to act as America's doctor" still makes house calls in a muddy Toyota pickup, and has been known to accept shrimp "payments" from patients unable to pay in cash.

Benjamin's father died of hypertension, her older brother died at 44 of HIV related illness, and her mother died of lung cancer. In her words, "...I can't change my family's past [but] I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's health care and our nation's health for the future."

Benjamin's honors and awards would take an additional page to list, but click here for more information about our latest Self-Empowered Woman.

Hope you've had a chance to check out the YouTube link. Looking forward to your comments...