Thursday, November 13, 2008

How About the Church of the Flaming Rainbow?

Now that Arizona, California, and Florida each have added an amendment to their constitutions banning marriage between people of the same sex, why not stir the pot? How about we get the gays in our communities to establish their own religion? It should really be rather easy. Take the precepts (or rather the lack thereof) of some religion like Unity and add the provision that members of this church believe firmly that all unions of love are sacred and therefore blessed by the sacrament of marriage. How do you like them onions, all you Jesus Camp followers?

If we Americans hold that freedom of religion is one of the basics, won't all those stupid new marriage amendments interfere with such a church? Let's take this thing to the Supreme Court! As far back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Christianity has been subject to scrutiny and schism. Some fought about communion; others about Latin versus the vernacular. Still others disputed the nature of the trinity. Hell, some religions in this country are founded on a belief in snake charming, and don't even get me started on the ones that seem to be founded on hiding obscene and questionable profits behind the mask of religion. It seems to me that a dispute about the nature of love and marriage is a very valid reason for starting a new church. Why not create a new religion where all people really are created in God's likeness and are free to commit themselves in marriage to any other person regardless of gender?

I have several gay friends and at least one gay relative. Their ability to commit to a loving relationship that would be a suitable environment in which to raise a family is just as valid as anyone else's. My friends Rick and Robin have been together for more than twenty years. My daughter's friends Tony and Doug have been together just as long and are dying to have a family. In fact, they are willing to take children no one else wants and keep siblings together. My friend Pat has been with his partner Lee for more than thirty years. Lee is fading into the oblivion of Alzheimer's, and Pat refuses to put Lee in a home. He is devoted to Lee's care. I know many heterosexuals who won't do that! Don't these loving relationships deserve the grace of a marriage blessing?

Instead of joining organizations that support gay family members and friends, why don't all of us heteros join our gay friends and family members in the new Church of the Loving Light of God, a church that believes that love is precious wherever and with whomever it is found? Then, let's go to the courts. Let's see if this country really does practice what it preaches to the rest of the world about democracy.

And Rush dear, (bless your cold, dried-up, hypocritical little heart) go suck an egg -- you and the horse you rode in on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Just the Beginning

Election night's announcement at 11:00 was such a relief after weeks of worrying that the polls were wrong or that votes would be stolen. While I still harbor some respect for John McCain, I am so relieved that Sarah Palin will not be second in line for the White House that I could shout it from the rooftops. Sarah Palin may be a smart woman capable of deep thinking, but I have yet to see any evidence of it. As for the ticket that won, now the work really begins.

First order of business, extend a genuine hand across the aisle to all Republicans, especially the moderates, who instead of gaining ground in their own party, have actually yielded more real estate to the whacko far right fringe. There will be more angry Sarah Palins who motivate the conservative base by innuendo and fear tactics, and the moderate Republicans need all the help they can get to combat them.

Second order of business, make sure the Democratic base does a reality check. This election is not a mandate to go hog wild with poorly constructed bills designed only to look like they accomplish something. This is a time for thoughtful discussion, careful and deliberate action, and deep honesty.

Bring the boys and girls home from Iraq as soon as soon as safely possible. Shore up the troops in Afghanistan to finish whatever is necessary and get the hell out of there, too.

Invest, invest, invest in energy research. Somewhere in the world, someone is on the edge of a breakthrough. Let's hope George W. Bush has not sabotaged the American efforts to such an extent that we have no hope of being the first to move into a new age of clean, cheap energy. If there is any bailout for the car makers, it should be tied to energy efficient cars and new sources of power.

Rebuild the rapidly crumbling infrastructures in this country. There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans out there, many of them engineers, who would be delighted to help rebuild our bridges, roads, dams, and schools. FDR did it in the 1930s; Obama needs to do it now before more bridges collapse or a dam breaks.

Bring back the railroads. What a fun way to travel. All the grandpas and grandmas who want to visit the grandkids can jump on a train and spend their travel time reading books and talking to strangers rather than clogging up the roads in gas guzzling cars that poison the air and terrify other drivers.

Start programs that stress excellence. Engage the best and the brightest in all new endeavors, and don't hide the fact that you are looking for big brains. Also emphasize talent in all fields. For too long we have measured only a couple of intelligences. Perhaps people doubt the whole intelligence thing because we use only IQ to measure. There are many different intelligences and we need to recognize them all and use the best and brightest in each to improve our country.

Preach tolerance, tolerance, tolerance, but don't let that be an excuse to let people get away with poor effort or shoddy work. In this economy, hard work should be rewarded and slackers should be shown the door until they learn how to work. A bit of manners would be nice also.

Let's try to get the far right into the fold. They are out there swinging in the breeze with their fearful predictions, blame games, insinuations, and mindless tactics. Anyone wgo has ever seen the documentary Jesus Camp knows how scary this rigid mindset is. Let's try to undermine this intolerant value system with some thoughtful strategies.

Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but shouldn't we really try to make this a whole new era of breakthroughs in our culture?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Advocate for Small Business?

For at least the fourth time, I saw an McCain campaign ad last night that really fries me. It's an attack ad accusing Barack Obama of knowing nothing about small businesses because he has never run a small business. And this is coming from John McCain? And since when has he run a small business? What does he know about the small businesses of the struggling middle class?

McCain, the son of an admiral, went from the bottom of the class at the Naval Academy, to a career as navy pilot. When he retired from the navy, he went directly into politics, supported very comfortably by his second wife's money. Cindy's tax return for 2006 indicates an income of more than six million dollars. This is not a list of her assets; this is her income from her assets. That's $500,000 per month, or $16,000 per day. The McCains own nine houses and a fleet of cars. I wouldn't call Cindy McCain the owner of a "small business," and John McCain was very specifically excluded from ownership of this "small business" by Cindy's father in his will. In fact, Cindy inherited a very lucrative beer distributing business from her father. She didn't build it, and McCain has had no part in running it. He has spent most of their married life commuting to Washington. Perhaps if you compare the Cindy McCain's business to MicroSoft, you might call it a small business; but try comparing it to the dry cleaners down the street. Small business indeed. What hogwash.

Certainly just because the McCains have money does not mean that everything in their life has been a bed of roses. He was a prisoner of war; she has battled drug addiction. None of us can look at another's life from the outside and know their troubles or lack of them, but don't tell me, John McCain, that you know what it's like to run a small business because you haven't a clue.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oh Glorious Weather

Having Celtic and Anglo Saxon genes has never been a drawback for me. In fact, I enjoy tracing my roots, studying the cultures, and recognizing the my links with the Irish and the English, but recently I have discovered (I think) one very significant disadvantage: I belong in a cold climate, not the subtropical one I have inhabited for the last thirty-four years.

Of course, I have known for a long time that my pale skin and green eyes would suffer in the hot South Florida sun. In fact, I've already had minor procedures to remove cancerous growths, and cataract surgery to replace my damaged lenses; but it has only recently dawned on me just how much the endless hot weather affects my energy levels.

My significant other thrives in the hot weather, playing golf and puttering in the yard all summer long, but I huddle under a ceiling fan in the air conditioned house and try to do my part for the environment by not lowering the thermostat below 78 degrees.

We have a cold snap in Florida this week, and I have been reborn! I feel an energy I haven't felt in months. Surely there is some genetic force at work here. Centuries of cold, damp climate cannot be overridden by a mere thirty four years of Florida sun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Most of us like to hide our true selves at least once in a while, and any excuse to put on a costume is a favorite diversion. While it's true that my honey and I groan when someone says "masquerade party," that's mostly because we have to struggle to come up with an idea for a costume. Once the costume is selected or devised, we are as excited as two kids doing their first Halloween outing. I love Halloween dress-up. I can hardly wait to see what appears at my door.

One of my favorite Halloween get-ups was the year my granddaughter Bekah was around four. She spent part of the evening as her favorite fairy princess, courtesy of her doting paternal grandma. Then she returned home to done her knight in shining armor costume in order to finish her candy route. She felt perfectly comfortable in both, and how lucky she is to have parents who are willing to let her try out any role she pleases.

Another favorite is Bekah's younger sister Raenah as a very prim and proper Minnie Mouse. Her picture at the time says it all -- how special she felt in her special polka dot dress, hairbow, gloves, purse, and shoes -- a fashion maven in the making.

Then there is grandson Logan's first Halloween picture. He's just five months old, so he can't protest his furry skunk costume. He sits in his father's lap, a bewildered look on his face, his little pink curled-up feet peeking out from the black furry legs.

Sometimes, however, the very best costumes are the ones we make ourselves. Now that the economy stinks, maybe kids will go back to coming up with their own. How it challenges a budding imagination to have to figure out how to create an effect with cardboard, tin foil, and grandma's old pie pans. What fun to create a mask out of mom's old make-up. You can draw your face again and again until you get it right.

I know that computers challenge our kids, but I don't know if there is anything quite like making a costume out of nothing but what's lying around the house.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So Somebody Asked What I Thought Was Important in Education Today.

Higher test scores, strong core values, cultural awareness, sensitivity to diversity, career focus, and job preparedness are all valuable goals in a modern public educational system. In fact, in no time in our history has a good education been so essential. In order to compete in the new world markets, our students must have, not just a solid foundation, but a world class education. We talk a lot about world class education in my school district these days. Nevertheless, for me as an English teacher, it all boils down to the ability to think.

At first glance, the ability to think may seem like "a no-brainer," as the students would say, but when we look at all of the influences that are bombarding our children today, the ability to think is at a premium. One of the chief saboteurs of the ability to think is the internet, with its easy access to quick answers and its lack of differentiation between good and poor sources of information. Ask a high school student about Langston Hughes, and he will quickly access the latest entries on Wikipedia, and much of the information he finds there will be accurate and informative. After all, today’s high school student likes to give his teachers the right answers – never mind the fact that he has not discovered Langston Hughes for himself by reading his poetry. There will be no real connection between Langston Hughes and Mr. 4.0 from the junior class unless Mr. 4.0 takes the next step and actually makes connections for himself. That kind of connecting takes time and deep thought. Today’s children often think that quick answers are all that is needed.

Even a casual examination of the online services ClassicNotes, CliffNotes, Sparknotes, and the multitude of term paper sites gives us some sense of the direction our students are taking. While many English teachers have no objection to students using study tools, students’ use of such aids is seldom about deeper learning. It is all too often about getting information as fast as possible in order to write the paper, and take the test, and get the A, and graduate with honors, to get into a good college and land in a good career. There is such a rush, with no time for thoughtful digestion of a multitude of viewpoints; however, careful consideration of a multitude of viewpoints is our most essential asset in this rapidly shrinking world.

A rather large percentage of high school students today will tell anyone interested that they prefer science and math to subjects such as English. To be sure, this is partly because science and math are the modern weapons. We assess our students’ test scores in science and math against those of the rest of the developed world with increasing concern. We must excel; we must compete. Yet there is another more subtle reason for students’ rejection of the study of literature: There is no certitude. Hamlet and Anna Karenina still puzzle us. In Literature, there is no one, "right" answer, and our children want "right" answers so they can fill in the next box on the answer key. It is the job of parents and educators to help children see and accept the fact that most of life’s questions have many right answers, each with its own set of good and bad consequences, and that practicing the art of deep thought will help them deal with the puzzles.

The kind of thinking that our children need most today is the kind that takes time and patience. It is the kind that forges new connections in the brain. It is the kind that allows for more than one answer and demands constant review for better and more complete solutions to our problems. It is innovative. It feeds the soul. If we do not slow down and nurture such thinking in our children, we will fail, no matter how high their SAT scores.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

After the Election

Counting chickens is something I struggle against, so when people tell me that Obama is going to win, I silently pray that all this confidence does not stir up the gods against us. I hope Obama/Biden is the winning ticket on November 4th, and I hope it is a clear victory so we have no repeats of the stolen 2000 election.

Having said that, I hope the winners reach out emphatically to those moderate Republicans who hate what has happened to their party and who struggle to maintain their integrity and their dignity. There are many of them; they've just been lost in the awful quagmire created by the presidency of George W. Bush. Under Bush, science is suspect, as is any criticism of American policy or law. Business, instead of being the backbone of a healthy economy, has become the evil genie that congress and the president let out of the bottle.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Barack Obama reached across the aisle to the best and the brightest of the Republicans and asked them to fill some cabinet positions and other positions in his new government? Wouldn't it be thrilling if those of the Democratic party saw the wisdom in this instead of pushing for exclusive ownership of all appointments? How about Colin Powell for Secretary of Defense? If ever a man served his country honorably, even as he was being sabotaged, circumvented, and lied to by the Bush administration, it is Colin Powell.

Listen all you Democrats out there, instead of seeking revenge for all past perceived slights, why not take the high road? Why not begin to put an end to this unproductive warfare between the parties? If the Democrats do not behave responsibly, they will find themselves right where the Republicans are in four years. People are tired of the bickering. Nothing gets done. Put your country first instead of your party. Be magnanimous. If you don't support moderate Republicans, the whacko Republican fringe will become more bitter and manage an even tighter stranglehold on the Republican Party. That will be a disaster, even for the Democrats.

And while we are speaking of Democrats: Hey, you guys, how about reining in your own lunatic element? We're all sick of it. We want people of calm, moderate temperament to work on our problems. The age of something for nothing is over, and we need to accept that.

I think Barack Obama is really a moderate man with moderate policies that will help the most people. I hope the Democrats who support him will let him lead in that direction.