Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kudos to the Boy Scouts....sort of...

So the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts to be scouts but not troop leaders.  Baby steps have not been uncommon for the scouts when it comes to social change.  It wasn’t until 1974 that the scouts became fully integrated.  Jewish, Asian and African Americans were often forced into their own troops.  In fact at one point when African American scouts were forming troops there was a move to ban them from wearing the uniform.  Separate but unequal or just plain discriminatory was common in the scouts.  My mother didn’t let me join because the recruiter at my school told me I had to have a haircut.  That didn’t sit well with my mom born in 1935 Germany.   But the scouts should be praised for taking what I am sure is a chance on this change.  Let’s be clear, there have always been gay scouts, and gay scout leaders.  There always will be.  When a young boy joins the scouts in 1st grade he may not know his sexual orientation.  Most kids don’t.  Moving up through the years he may not encounter attraction until well within the high school years and by then with most scouts I have known it is just part of who they are, and a big part.  I have helped scouts attain Religious Badges for Judaism and have been to several Eagle Scout ceremonies over the years.  The scouts I encountered in that time have scouting in their blood.  Being gay hardly enters into the mix for them.  Just like being gay doesn’t have a huge impact on being a football player or swimmer. 
What I find amazing is the backlash that can only be described as bigotry.  People are melting down their scout medals and burning patches in protest.  They are disassociating themselves from scouting and spreading lies about sexual abuses that have been a problem for scouting being the result of gay scouts and leaders.  The sheer hate being spewed blinds them from the very essence of what a scout is suppose to be.  But leaving that all behind, they call this the end of scouting, while participating in its demise by not continuing their support.  Basically what has happened is that Boy Scouts of America will allow troops to enroll gay members and not kick out scouts who identify as gay, while maintaining that individual troops can still discriminate.  It is a move that inches toward full inclusion but actually just ends what was a defacto Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. 

But probably the most ridiculous of the comments I see on this is that somehow allowing gay scouts is sexualizing scouts.  This is not a new argument.  The very act of acknowledging gay people is seen by some as sexualizing the situation.  Recently I went to buy perfume with Dianne.  This has been a chore because we don’t seem to like the same things and my favorite perfume never really seemed right on her.  So we sprayed a few on various spots to test, I would lean in to smell or take the wrist to my nose.  When we settled on one she hugged me tight and gave me a big kiss.  Right there in front of God and everybody.  The woman selling to us smiled and made a comment about love.  I described a similar scenario only with two married men I know to someone who then asked me why they have to show their sexuality in public.  When straight people hug, kiss and hold hands in public it is a sign of love.  When gay people do it there are many who see it as sex.  That is not only a double standard it is frightening as to what those people think love is. 
Love, sexual attraction and sexual acts are not the same thing and can be mutually exclusive.  From a purely biological perspective, love is the result of interpreting the arousal you feel due to sexual and emotional attraction to a particular person or persons.  It is somewhat hard wired.  We see someone who we think is attractive; it causes a series of autonomic responses in our body due to chemical releases in the brain and endocrine system.  We approach that person and if they return any interest, those physical feelings continue and get interpreted in that context.  A deep attraction finds one thinking about getting that feeling back and contact with the object of that feeling brings it on.  As this continues and the two people involved share more about themselves, both physically and in their minds (likes, dreams, desires for future) those feelings move to be what we call love.  While some see this as a blending of souls it has been studied and while we can’t explain all the whys and wherefores we know that the initial response is not under the control of the person.  Attraction is not something you can decide.  That goes for gay people and straight people. 

Physical sex is a different thing entirely.  Sex is more the product of physical desire for release and the stimulation that gets you there.  Without getting too graphic, what stimulates and how is not about attraction, desire or orientation.  Many times people have had a sexual encounter with someone they have not found attractive.  In fact people will have same sex encounters given the right set of circumstances.  Prisons are often mentioned in this context.  Prison same-sex encounters are highly complicated because while some are simply for release others are about power and control over another prisoner.  Those that aren’t usually involve straight people who want a partner and there are few female opportunities.  In fact in some of these encounters in men’s prisons the more dominate prisoner will find was to feed the fantasy that the other prisoner is a woman with makeup, lipstick and hair dos.    But a clearer example is the large number of gay individuals who grew up hearing how horrible being gay is trying to build a straight life.  This often includes marriage and children, only to run out of patience and announce the truth or worse carry on affairs that can be dangerous for many reasons. 

Defining a person by who they are sexual attracted to is not only unfair it is ignorant and bigoted.  Gay people are no more likely in most settings to be overly sexual.  While it is true that in certain contexts gay men tend to flaunt sexuality.  But this is more a protest to a culture that never saw them as appropriate for public viewing at all.  I would argue that when gay couples are more normative, men in chaps and tight shorts will be LESS likely to be walking down 5th Avenue in a parade and the Castro district will be just another funky neighbor.  Anti-gay culture drove gay men underground and when they came out, some wanted to be in your face about it.  Many, many, many more just want to be able to be listed with their partners in company directories and obituaries of their parents without losing their jobs, positions in their community organizations or getting kicked out of scouting.  What the people who are so dead set against gays being treated as full humans tend not to understand that their double standards are slowly being lost to history.  But in the mean time the pace is still not fast enough.    

I am both amused and frightened by the growing anger of people who are anti-gay.  I hope for dialogue.  But until that is possible I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for their thoughtful approach and while half a loaf, it is on par with how they have historically expressed change.  Now if the Supreme Court does the right thing in the coming weeks we might all move into an era where gay people are seen as people.  Where the old couple holding hands is cute regardless of whether they are two men, two women or a man and woman, and that the marriage of two people of the same sex is celebrated in every college newspaper as much as a straight couple.  I can hope.  Join me, it is more fun than holding onto anger.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When you Assume....

There is a story that I think is important to note this week  Wolf Blitzer interviewed a survivor of the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.  "We're happy you're here. You guys did a great job," Blitzer said to Rebecca Vitsmun, who escaped from her house with her 19-month-old son right before the twister tore through it. "You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?"  Vitsmun stops  for a moment and smiles. "I -- I'm actually an atheist," she said, laughing off the awkward moment.  "You are. All right. But you made the right call," Blitzer said.
"We are here, and I don't blame anyone for thanking the Lord," Vitsmun said.  
Why is this important?  Well where do I begin.  First and foremost this is a prime example what most non-Christians at times and non-believers encounter a lot more than you expect.  People's default position in this country is that people believe in God and then in the Christian vision of God.  Even though people are becoming less religious and people have become more comfortable being publicly stating their atheism.  Not everyone you pass on the street believes in God and if they do they are likely to be envisioning God differently from you.  That is a fact and has been for a long time but we have been hiding from it to remain comfortable.  One of the biggest areas we see this come out is when certain religious people try to use the government to push through their vision of religious law as policy.  Currently it is happening in the gay marriage debate.  It is stunning to me that with the diverse vision of gay people both in and out of the religious community we still have people who are in government or running for office who say, out loud, in front of people, that gays are perverted and it is against American values.  Here is the thing, American values are what Americans decide American values are, and they are ever changing.  
And that brings me to the second point.  This little tete-a-tete became an internet sensation, in part because Wolf looked so deliciously like a fool.  But many many people posted it for the same reason I chose to write about it.  This woman who taught Wolf not to make assumption is actually been seen finally in the tapestry that is our country.   Think about it, suburban Oklahoma City would be a lot of people's image of middle America, and yet here we have a woman who comfortably address a reporter who assumed she prayed to God and received a miracle.  I think this is a turning point as much as electing an atheist to Congress like Peter Stark, former California Congressman and current member of Congress Kyrsten Sinema who was elected in November from Arizona.  Perhaps atheists will slowly move from the angry people who scream on television and who are more antitheists than atheists.  Because in the end I find here final statement so wonderful.  As she said she doesn't blame anyone for thanking God, pulling Wolf's foot out of his mouth, but showing that for her faith is not a problem.  
You see most atheists do not care if you believe in a God or Gods, as long as you don't force it on others or use government to promote your faith.  But this story, while hardly likely to be remembered as a watershed moment by many, it does create a way for us to continue to fill in the lines of what it means to be an American.  I hope we will look back on it and see that Rebecca Vitsmun was a pioneer.  She made us think, and frankly that is the highest honor anyone could have.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Memories

Happy Mother's Day, my first without my mom.  It has been just over one month since she left us.  It is funny, I felt close to my mom but we hadn't lived in the same city since 1983.  We talked on the phone a lot and I liked to visit but she often reminded me how I never got her Mother's Day present to her on time.  But I do feel the empty space that exists.  I won't make the call tomorrow.  I won't tell my mom about the coming Confirmation service.  I won't hear about the doings in my home town, what the weather was like and who of my friends came home for their moms.

The one thing about my mom was that she was never not there.  I mean some times it took a few days to connect, if she didn't answer when I called she may call back when I couldn't answer.  We never left detailed messages because we always knew we would talk.  It was hard near the end when her memory started to fail, but we always had some great conversations.  We could speak about almost anything. and my mom only judged me when I needed to be judged.  She was the only person who could truly get away with it.  I really think I took that for granted.

As a kid I made all the cool things we would make for our parents at Mother's and Father's day. It was a big deal.   But the things I remember the most are coffee cups.  Not just regular coffee mugs, these were enormous and had funky sayings on them.  I can't remember how we bought them or if it was me and brother Bill or if we all did it..  But my dad and mom both had one, in fact I remember we replaced them a few years later when the original ones broke.  My mom drank coffee all day long.  She always had a cup ready and the pot was always on.  So everyday I got to see her using the gift. That always made me happy.  

It is funny, thinking back to the time as a child my mother was a majority of my life.  She made sure I had what I needed within her means, she made me feel proud of my accomplishments and pushed me when I got lazy.  One thing for sure is that she let me be  me growing up and I wish today I could give her something that she could use everyday.  I feel sad that I took her for granted many times in my life, but today I will think about all she did for me to make me who I am.

The Rabbis teach the hardest of the commandments in the Torah is to honor our parents.  One's personal interests often conflict with what our parents wish for us.  But we are still obligated to honor them and in the honoring we may learn to better understand what they did for us.  The main thing is giving us life.  How indebted would you feel if someone pulled you from a burning building saving your life, how much more so should you feel indebted to the parents who gave you that gift to be saved.

On this day, I will remember mom and it will be a blessing.  If you have a mom still living, enjoy the moments you will have.  If you lost your mom take a moment to tell a mom story.  Happy Mother's day to all the moms.  Birth moms, adopted moms, step-moms and all the moms that become moms through circumstances of marriage, work or friendship.

And to my friends who are celebrating their first mother's day I hope the day is special beyond special.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hate breeds hate.

Once again a terror attack has been visited upon our country.  We don't know everything about the people who did it but we do know that radical Islam was a factor in their decision to give up on the values of the United States in favor of the distortion of a great religion that led to homicide.  But what is remarkable, while much of country is fighting back with a sense of resilience, others are embracing their own form of hate and bigotry.

The usual Islamophobes were in form calling for deportation of Muslims, the destruction of mosques and if not that, one member of Congress suggested we should investigate all Muslims.  While I have almost given up on trying to explain the difference between the radical Islam and the vast majority of Muslims around the world.

I often wonder how it is so easy for so many people who's voice is amplified by position or money can be so thoughtless as to make clearly bigoted statements that inflame more hatred.  Ann Coulter suggested that the mother of the bomber should be arrested not for any crime, but simply for wearing Hijab as part of her religion.  Isn't this exactly what the propaganda of the Islamists is.  They portray the west as hostile toward the very nature of Islam.

We live in a country that from the very beginning started with a simple idea, that our diversity could be a strength.  We didn't always get it right.  But with each wave of immigration we had the fertile soil that would allow each group to add the best of them to what it meant to be an American.  Originally the concept of the American Melting Pot was that as more cultures brought their traditions and culture to the United States they would melt theirs into what it means to be an American.  But later the idea of a salad developed.  While each distinct culture will keep their own flavor but tossed together with the dressing of American freedom we all formed a more flavorful mix.  But in making the salad the bitterness of the culture needs to fade away.

But here is the thing, our culture has to find a way to welcome the good of other cultures.  When we stereotype, when we attack as enemy someone who has a real interest in adding to the greatness of the country then we will set ourselves up for failure.  Asking people to give up harmless cultural rituals or practices like hijab or circumcision because some people don't like it is not the American way.

Let me be clear, if someone wants to visit hate, terror or anything to undermine our country to our shores they should be stopped, sent away or prosecuted.  But here is the thing, when we decide to block the building of a mosque in a community because of a few terrorists' actions, when we bug houses of worship because some co-religionists preach hate or if we argue to criminalize harmless behavior because it "feels" unAmerican we aren't stopping hate of our freedom, we are contributing to it.

So be angry with the bombing, be angry at the distortion of Islam that would lead to it, but don't treat all Muslims the same way, hate is never a good defense.  Embrace the real American values, including freedom.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eulogy for my mom

I had the honor of doing the eulogy at my mother's funeral.  As many of you know I am a convert to Judaism and the rest of my family is Catholic or lapsed.  They allowed me to bring our tradition into the service for mom.  My mom and I spoke briefly about this once, and I am sure she would be happy.  At the burial I had planned to stay to help bury and say the burial prayers from the Jewish tradition.  At first it was to be me and Dianne.  I worked it out with the mortuary and the priest and suddenly my entire family, the priest and many of my mom's friends wanted to stay.  Her community helped bury her.  That, more than anything else, made me cry.  My mother's love and care of others seemed to inspire all of us to come together for each other.  A miracle if you knew my family.  My mom's memory was truly a blessing that day.

Here is what I wrote, I am not sure what all I said.  I am sure I went of script: 

Good morning, On behalf of our family I want to thank you all for being here today to honor Gertrud Kelley, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend and to some, simply MA. 
A woman of valor, who can find? Far beyond rubies is her value.  A woman of valor…that was our mom.  Dedicated to family and community, Gert, as she was called, was known for giving of herself and from her childhood she learned it was important to try to make a difference.    
Mom was born in 1935, into a Germany under the dark cloud of the Nazi regime and came of age in the post-war rebuilding. In her teens she worked to help support her family, sometimes at two jobs.  One of which put her in touch with allied soldiers at the nearby base.
It was at this time she met a man from Ogdensburg, NY, Francis Oscar Kelley, and through his deployment to Korea and his various posting they found time to fall in love.  They married in 1959 and while her peers were exploring the freedoms of the 1960s, our mom spent much of the decade pregnant (I told you they loved each other).  But after 2 wars and 25 years our father retired from the military and in 1966 our family, then 6 kids, two parents and my mother’s mother settled in our small city on the St. Lawrence and began building our lives.  It wasn’t always easy but we made due and through it all, our mom made sure that we tried to show pride in who we were. 
Our lives all changed when our dad died in 1978, and mom lost her partner and the love of her life.  Dad took care of so many things that mom had to quickly understand.   She learned to be a head of the household and did her best to give us the opportunity to have a better life.  It was then, in her 40s, she obtained her first driver’s license for the sake of the family.
As our mother’s recent illness developed I found myself thinking more about what she taught me, directly and indirectly. The one part that seems to have grown from her tutelage was my own challenging of the status quo.  Mom never seemed satisfied when she saw what she thought was injustice and pushed back.  She helped me develop a healthy skepticism of power, while also making sure I understood that I was responsible for making the world better.
That responsibility was seen in all she did for her community and those that worked on its behalf.  A simple example was her getting up in the middle of night to make coffee and donuts for fire fighters at the scene of a large fire.  She always felt an obligation to do things like this.  It seemed so natural growing up that she would be motivated to do such things.    
However, she also was a champion of those who needed special support.  She was a legend in the North Country for her more than 30 year commitment to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  Year in and year out she found a way to get people to give, and one of my favorite pictures I have of her is with a young boy who she helped obtain a new wheelchair he so desperately needed.  A picture that now sits on the desk of my own son who knows the story and that it is part of his legacy.  I never fully understood her commitment as none of us kids had the disorder but she really put her heart and soul into it.  It could have been an elaborate ploy to meet Danny Burgess, the Channel 7 weatherman, who I am sure our mom had a crush on. 
Later, after I had left for college,  mom called me one time and asked me if I could donate to a new program in the burg Heart-to-Heart was a program that collected  presents for impoverished families in the holiday season.  She took the time to volunteer because the holidays were so important to our mother.   Anyone who knew her when we were growing up is familiar with her cookies that she began baking in November with an output rate that rivaled Nabisco.
For her, making sure children had a Christmas was close to her heart.  With Heart-to-Heart she helped package and wrap toys she couldn’t herself afford for her grandchildren. But she also knew her own grandchildren would be fine, these other children needed the good memory and this was her way of making that happen. 
If that is all she did it would be a lot, but mom baked for local fund raisers, volunteered for the Bishop’s fund and at the old Notre Dame Bazaar.  She always made sure we brought food for the local food drives, and would help neighbors and friends who had no family in the area with the little things that just often get missed, and she would listen when her friends and when I needed an ear.  A skill often lost today in our technological world.  And since she is gone I realize that was one thing she did for me was listen when I needed it.  I took it for granted. And of course mom had a way of making me laugh.
Now some of you knew the Gert who learned American English from the GIs she served as a waitress in Germany. The sometimes bawdy and not often polite language that would flow from her mouth that I can still remember including some of her jokes with that rich German accent.  She rarely minced words and could be brutally honest and strong, but never hurtful to your face.  However, she let you know if you were acting the fool.  Trust me she let me know on more than one occasion.
It was all that complexity that made mom who she was to all of uc.  I took note that her death came within a day or two of two well known other women of the 20th century.  Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of Britain and Annette Funicello, arguably one of American’s sweethearts.  Our mom had a little of both in her. Tough as nails and sweet as sugar.  Sometimes depending on the day, but if you spent time with her you got both, in measured amounts.  For me there were times it was refreshing.   
So as we say goodbye to Gert, we should remember all that she was, from the Black Forest cakes donated for local raffles to the stories she told of growing up in wartime Germany, some not for young ears, to her last days when she told me she didn’t want to be a burden on Betty, who so lovingly and tirelessly took care of her for the last several years. 
Our mother’s faith gave her the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Almighty.  For her she knew when her last day came she would be reunited with loved ones who left the earth before her.  But we have a responsibility to give her perpetual life here.  Our memories will bring her a life eternal through the gifts she gave all of us that we pass on to our children and all those who we share Gert with.  Be sad today, but also take a moment to remember why you are here: What she did for you and how you can use her example to teach others.  Gertrud Kelley has left us in body, but she lives on in our hearts and memories.  I would like to conclude with a simple prayer.

Compassionate God, at this time of remembrance, I offer my prayers on behalf of our mother, Gertrud Kelley.  Keep her beloved soul in Your beneficent care. May her memory and the goodness which she brought into this world find continuity in our lives, and unto all eternity and may her soul be bound in the spirit of the Eternal and may she always be remembered for a blessing and May she Rest in Peace. 

Monday, April 15, 2013


This morning I buried my mother, surrounded by her friends and our family and Dianne who has been my strength since coming to Ogdensburg for this trip.  The day was tougher than I thought for many reasons including my siblings being so amazing as were able to all pull together to make the day about the memories of mom and not our petty and maybe not so petty disagreements over the years.  I have a lot pent up because of today.  After the service and burial, the family and friends gathered for a lunch, and Dianne and I drove to Syracuse for an early morning flight.  As we walked into the hotel a large television in the lobby flashed a special report.  It was a few minutes after 3pm.  I had forgotten it was Patriot's Day.  So as the clerk asked if she could help me I was transfixed on the film of an explosion on a street I once walked down regularly.  We got to the room and I watched the news trying to make sense of this.  I wanted to know my Bostonians friends were okay, I thought of who might be running today, and I thought this was an added surrealism to the day.  I can't seem to take my eyes off this.

It didn't take long for the crazies to come out.  Already there are conspiracy theories about why this occurred.  I have also seen partisan bitching about it and the news reporting unverified rumors to be first.

But the one thing I heard more than anything from last night through this morning about my mom was how much she helped people around her.  Even I didn't know some of the details of the little things she did.  So with that in mind my eyes are not as jaded as normal.  But we saw neighbors and strangers, runners and spectators, first responders and normal citizens all trying to find a way to help.  One woman who lives and works in Boston wrote it better than I could today.  Read what she wrote.  Think about it and focus on the good in life.

I will share what I said about my mother later in the week.  Tonight remember as a community, a country and a humanity we will always be more good than evil.  I truly believe that.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gay Marriage: Argue against it? How?

In the last two days the eyes of the country have focused on the Supreme Court as history was in the making.  In back-to-back court cases heard by the Court dealt with the issue of gay marriage.  One about a state’s right to define marriage as one man and one woman and the other was whether the Federal Government can do the same for the purpose of law and policy. 
There are legal issues of standing with the court on who is arguing the points.  Both California in the Prop 8 cases and the US Justice Department in the DOMA case have opted out of arguing it.  I will leave that for legal scholars to discuss, I want to talk about this on the issues and the real life implications. 
First the California case.  California is a state the often uses referenda to decide all kinds of policy.  When a law banning gay marriage was overturned the state turned to a state constitutional amendment to set it in law.  The 9th circuit called the amendment a violation of the US constitution and so the Supreme Court was the only other option for the anti-gay marriage crowd.  Basically the question facing the court is can California amend their constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman?  The court could decide with a narrow, a broad or no result.  No one knows how they are going rule.  But there are questions we can ask in dealing with this.  For example, there is a class of evangelical Christians who go on television and preach that sending money to hem will bring about God’s grace.  Often preaching not only from theological positions but political ones, they tend they get headlines and are seen as speaking for evangelical churches.  What if mainline evangelicals rallied others to outlaw broadcasts in a state?  When found to be unconstitutional under the state constitution there is an amendment to that state’s constitution that allow banning broadcasts of these churches.  The question could be seen as a 1st amendment issue, both free speech and religion.  So the US Supreme Court would be the only place to find resolution.  Thus we have the same situation with gay marriage.  This idea that states can make certain marriages second class is a constitutional issue.  Since marriage is attached to many many rights and privileges in this country that are defined by law there is a real equal protection issue at play.  I think we have to be careful when certain rights can be voted away by ballot initiatives.  I wish the court would put the hammer down here on such things.  Making the banning of gay marriage unconstitutional  will never force churches and other houses of worship or their clergy from performing weddings they deem inappropriate (just as today) since religious marriage is not at play here.  Clergy and faith communities today deny certain types of marriage all the time.  No one can sue a synagogue for not marrying non-members, non-Jews or insincere couples.  Or they could but they would lose bad.  The court has a chance to do big things, or they could let it be, but if they do that, in California Prop 8 would be considered unconstitutional by the 9th circuit’s ruling.  So at least the people of California will have the freedom they seek.
DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was a bad decision when it was enacted.  It was basically an attempt by the Federal Government to stop it from having to recognize gay marriages even though no state had been making them legal.  In real world application, the case looks at a legal married woman who lost her partner of 40 years had to pay more than $300,000 in taxes that would have not occurred if their marriage was recognized by the Federal government.  But this is just one example of what DOMA does to families and is worse today as 10 states with more to come will create legal marriage for gays and lesbians.  One group that weighed in was the US military.  Recently the lift of the ban of gays in the military (there have always been gay people in the military they can just serve openly now) means that married gay people are in war zones.  When a warrior dies there is a mechanism to help the family, starting with notification by the military.  Married gays do not get this benefit since the military has to follow this law that forbids them from recognizing gay people as married.  Seriously, everyone knows it but can’t formally recognize the marriage.  Think about that for one minute, your country has a law that stops a dead hero’s family from getting benefits including the simple formal notification.  How is that not as heartless as Westboro Baptist Church?  But what is more there are tax benefits to getting married that go unrecognized by the US for legally married couples, but on new year’s eve a man could meet a woman at Spearmint Rhino at 8pm, drive to a drive-through chapel off the strip where a man dressed like a Klingon officiates a ceremony without you leaving the car, (the organist a Ferengi) and be married by midnight.  Even if they divorce by January 2nd, they can file taxes jointly for the previous year.   How do two loving people being married destroy what some call traditional marriage (the argument that led to DOMA) and this kind of Vegas marriage doesn’t?  I don’t know.
We are living in interesting times.  I think by the time I have grandchildren gay marriage will be seen as normal.  But right now we have to have these silly arguments.  Thankfully we are seeing conservative leaders seeing this issue as one of rights for all.  We move forward slowly but we are moving forward.  The irony is not lost on me that this is the week of Passover.  This year we are still slaves, perhaps next year we will be free.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I think we need to take this one....

Recently I was listening to a pro-gun advocate and I thought of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when Arthur returns to the Knights of Nee with the shrubbery.   Having completed the task they then ask him to cut down the largest tree in the wood with a herring.  The absurdity of the request is that you can’t cut down a tree with a fish.  It isn’t the right tool.  What it reminded me of was the often repeated notion that the shooters in the recent mass shooting would get access to weapons or use something else to accomplish their task.  I don’t think that is true. 

For example, pro-gun advocates cite a series of 10 attacks in China over the last 3 years.  The attacks were done in schools with knives, hammers, and cleavers.  However over the course of 10 attacks the death toll, while tragic, was only 25 and injured only 115.  Meaning that in these 10 attacks the total victims were about that of only 2 Aurora shootings, if these were done with the weapons that are being used today by mass shooters here in the US the tolls could be more like 125 dead and close to 600 injured.  The tool of choice does play a role. 

How do I also know the tool plays a role?  Because pro-gun advocates have testified to that.  Speaking to Congress and even members of Congress have said that the need of a AR-15 style weapon for self-defense is necessary if the attackers coming into one’s home are well-armed.  This suggests that Vice-President Biden’s plea to get a shotgun would not be enough.  I find it odd that a particular gun is required by these advocates because it has more killing power, but they also say a gun is just a tool and won’t kill on its own. 

But we also know that isn’t true.  Within days of the Newtown attack stories about guns were everywhere.  One shooting that struck me was a husband and wife in a crowded restaurant just having dinner.  The man carried his handgun in his pocket and while fishing for his cell phone moved the gun which went off shooting and injuring his wife.  There was no intent to fire the weapon, but it went off.  Guns fall over, get caught in something, and many other scenarios where accidents happen.  Children find their parents, grandparents and neighbors guns and they wind up firing them killing and maiming others all the time.  It is a serious issue that is made worse by hysteria that leads to people carrying when they normally don’t.  Yes, human error in each case plays a role, but the gun as a tool is dangerous in the wrong hands or even in the simply distracted hands. 

We can allow guns but maybe work on the delivery of the bullets to the chamber, making it harder to shoot off dozens of rounds without reloading.  I think the idea of limiting magazine sizes is a good one.  Again some gun advocates say that changing a magazine is as easy as breathing, it takes less than a second or two.  I know we see that in the movies, but in real life we see things differently.  When, in 1993, the LIRR shooter killed 6 people there were many more potential victims.  However, what happened was he had to reload and was jumped during the process.  Stopping to reload gives potential victims a chance and law enforcement or security an opening.  I am not sure the people on that train that day would agree that limiting access to large clips didn’t save their lives.

I am not for banning guns.  I believe that the founders understood that then, as now, guns were a right and a necessity for many.  However, I agree with the court that restrictions on certain weapons are a Constitutional step we can take.  I won’t propose where to draw the line, but I will say that beginning with background checks and holding gun owners responsible for the carnage of the weapons they buy could be a good start.  Ending straw purchases with overwhelming penalties for gun shops or gun shows that make it easy to get hands in the guns of criminals also might curb the proliferation of weapons that only can be used to kill many at a single time. 

Now I know the argument, banning those weapons means that only criminals will have them.  But here is the thing, people who are criminals can get access to guns now, putting road blocks up might not stop them but slow them down but the mass shootings are not being committed by criminals.  Take every mass shooting in the last decade and virtually every gun started as a legal purchase; there was hardly a blip on anyone’s radar to stop the guns getting into the hands of the shooters.  Enforcing any all the gun laws we have would not have stopped Aurora, Wisconsin, or Newtown.  However a simple extra step or two in the purchase of weapons might have stopped two of them. 

Now I know the argument that if we would have stopped all sales of the AR-15 or other weapons used in the attacks the people involved would have bought them on a black market.  While again the Wisconsin shooter would have had access to illegal weapons through his white supremacy contacts that kid in Aurora, Newtown and other places likely could not have found who to turn to for such a weapon.  Would you know where to go in your town to buy a weapon you can’t buy at a gun store, outdoor store or even Wal-Mart?  Seriously, these guys weren’t hardened criminals or evil geniuses; they were angry kids with a vendetta against real or imagined slights in life.  Like Presidential assassins and guys like the Unabomber they are reacting to a world they feel has no place for them and want to leave a mark.  They are the least likely to prepare for and most likely to surprise us by their actions.  How many of you have dreamed of opening up on those that have hurt you in life?  Made fun of you for being different?  Took something you thought was meant for you?  When the fantasy crosses over is when we become dangerous.  How do we stop that?

I, again reiterate, don’t think gun ownership is the problem, nor do I think private ownership should be banned.  But I do feel that we as a country have the responsibility to do what we can to make sure guns of any kind do not find their way into the hands of the wrong people.  We have the legal authority, the 2nd amendment is not written to totally tie the hands of the government as the court has told us.  It is where we make the stand that is important.  Visions of a post-apocalyptic landscape as painted by some in the gun lobby do not help the conversation, nor do the lies on the right or the hysteria on the left.  We need a comprehensive approach to this.  But let’s start with the idea that guns are designed to kill and some are designed to kill a lot of people very quickly.   Let’s include in the discussion the reality of issues of self-defense and that for some a gun is a tool needed for protection or sustenance.  However if the argument from the pro-gun lobby is only more guns, if the argument is that the government is corrupt and coming to get us, if the argument is that guns are evil and should all be melted down to make statues of angels, then we are all lost and the arguments go nowhere.  Congress is debating this with testimony from interested parties.  From what I have seen of this I have very little hope.  But if we being either gun owners or anti-gun advocates come together and make a proposal that makes sense, if our conversations are real, honest and open, and if we listen, truly listen to the other side we can truly make a difference and teach our political leaders something.  I see shades of it.  I would like to see this done before the next special report happens. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Another week another series of observations.

I think this might become a bit of a trend for me, instead of ranting or raving about one thing I might just hit a few at a time.  You know like a Whitman’s Sampler of my random thoughts.  Who knows, should be a good thing.   Especially in the week that was.
We have lots to work with but I will start with the Pope.  Pope Benedict is stepping down.  Yes he is leaving the Papacy and going into retirement where he is said he will write.  It appears that while the Vatican said this was all a recent decision, it has been talked about since the leader of the church struck his head on a trip to Mexico City.  The Vatican has many secrets and I will give them a pass on keeping this one close to the vestments.  There were three things about the coverage and social media on this story that struck me.  Now here is a confession, I check my Twitter feed upon waking up.  My phone is my alarm and it is a simple flick of the thumb.  Usually it is just to get the latest headlines or such.  So before I left my bed I heard the Pope had stepped down so I quickly checked Google for the last time that happened.  Thought it was cool that it hadn’t and went downstairs to turn on Morning Joe to discover that the team at MSNBC was still struggling with the question of whether the pope’s resignation was possible.  Seriously, a news organization, owned by COMCAST, can’t get on the net and find this hours after the resignation so they do 10 minutes on TV about it.  Wow.  I guess they need a one-Ipad man as they are all blind.  Second were the questions of what happens next.  There have been 4 popes in my lifetime and a new one just seven years ago.  I think the process which is almost 2000 is easy to remember.  Reporting on it shouldn’t be a huge chore.  Yet there we were listening to what would be called banter about it on so-called news programs.  It seems journalists have forgotten what reporting means.  You gather the information, make it concise and tell the people.  Not get on air and ask questions like the answer will be a consensus of the people who Tweet.   I was hoping that one guy was going to wonder who Catholics would vote for.  And lastly was the social media taking a chance to kick the Pope on his way out the door.  The sheer vitriol vomited onto the net since Monday is stunning.  Now I know the Pope has a dicey past, he also is part of a movement in the Church that longs for old ways and of course has accomplished little to expand the Church in his tenure, but now is not the time for this.  I thought the attacks were mostly cheap and the legitimate questions should have come up when he was in the Chair of St. Peter.
For me, election night is my Superbowl, so Tuesday State of the Union was the All-Star Game.  The President headed to Congress and gave a progressive, assertive, and at times rehashed speech to a livelier but more polite body.  Though some new Tea Party members tried to make it a circus of fools inviting the likes of Ted Nugget, seriously, the draft dodging nut who has threatened the President and Hillary Clinton and was investigated by the Secret Service.   The most memorable moment of the President’s speech was the calling for a vote, just a vote, on gun legislation and highlighting a 102 year old woman who took 6 hours to get the point to vote.  With victims of gun violence in the room, including a hero police officer and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the President painted a picture of real Americans the importance that the Congress has on these two fundamental issues.  Voting rights and safety.  It didn’t take long for the right wing noise machine to mock both but they of course are on the wrong side of history and the President really pointed that out.  Oh and they had one other problem.  You see the party out of power always responds to the speech of the President as in recent years it has become a political dance.  The GOP, once again, couldn’t stay focused and that two responses.  One from the newest right wing messiah, Marco Rubio.  To call his speech a disaster is kind and not because he was parched throughout and leaned off to the side to get the tiniest bottle of water I have ever seen, but because the speech he delivered was a series of right wing talking points apparently written for the Romney campaign that was just laying around.  It was like he hadn’t even read or listened to the President’s speech or the last 4 years of anything.  More Invisible Obama stuff but while Fox News in its delicious way of being said the President’s speech was just another attempt to buy votes, the President is never ever running for anything else ever.  He doesn’t need to garner any more votes.  In fact his speech showed that.  But Marco Rubio was apparently running against him already.  It was sad and frankly I hate to see Rubio become the next Bobby Jindal, but he’s young and if the politics things don’t work out, Poland Springs will put him on their board.  Oh and one more thing.  He suggested he was not rich, yet he paid off $100,000 in student loans in a few years and bought a $750,000 house.  The only people I know who claim poverty in those situations are swindlers and members of the mob (allegedly).  So?
The media took a big hit this week with two stories, one everyone was into and the other was a CNN made for TV drama.  The first was the police officer who killed two people and maybe more in California and went on the run.  I am still trying to figure out why this was a national story and why there was wall-to-wall coverage of this man on all the networks up to 10 minutes before the State of the Union.  I imagine with all the murders in the country going on, this one had something but I just couldn’t follow the story.  I must be jaded to the idea that that this is too common to spark my interest.  But I have a question, how do you stop a good guy with a gun doing bad things with a gun who is now a bad guy with a gun.  Apparently it is fire because the cabin he was in burned and I got to watch it like a Yule log live, for an hour, flipping channels, trying to find anyone who would talk about the future of the country and not the future of a man looking to party with Charlie Sheen. 
The other story was horrible but again CNN made it their own.  A cruise ship broke down.  Now I have never been on a cruise but I use to watch the Love Boat so I think we can call me an expert right?  Well for CNN’s purposes.  Anyway we were given the graphic details of backed up toilets, lack of real food, the long journey back to the US and of course at one point someone on CNN compared the horrors on the boat to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  While I never want to walk down finely upholstered hallways through a sea of human excrement it wasn’t dead bodies in your livingroom.  The people on the boat weren’t abandoned they were without power.  It seemed excessive in the coverage and Jon Stewart pointed that out, but so did some of the passengers who basically acted like it was terrible for them but they were going back home.  The people of Katrina, not so much.  I have toyed with taking a cruise, I always imagine it is Vegas with the same people over and over again so you can’t laugh at them as much.   But I balk at it now thanks to CNN’s description, I am just glad I didn’t see a Voyage of the Damned reference though that would have made for good theatre on web.  (for those who need Google it, or ask someone at MSNBC). 
Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in the last couple of days an Asteroid passed remarkably close to Earth, inside the orbits of some of our own satellites.  A rock the size of the White House it was described as, gave us a few minutes of concern.  But I have to ask, how many people think about size in terms of the White House.  Anyway that was punctuated by two meteors actually hitting the earth, one in Russia and one in San Francisco.  I think that it was a perfect end to the week as it reminded us that on the grand scheme of things in the universe, we still are at the mercy of random rocks flying around the cosmos running into things.  That shouldn’t depress you, it should make you want to dance.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another note to my Mom

My mother is back in the hospital again and while she is better and getting out tomorrow it was another respiratory event.  So I am writing another letter to my mother.
Dear Mom,
Having 8 kids in the house meant we often vied for your attention.  I know that when I was really small you were either pregnant or taking care of a baby.  Dad was always the one to put us to bed, singing songs while lying on the bed.  Dad made his alone time with us, but you had to fight for it.  But there was one year where I remember your alone time with me.  It was the year I went to Kindergarten.  I don’t know if you remember but I went to afternoon Kindergarten.  So early in the morning the house woke up, the older kids went to school as dad went to work.  I don’t remember where Pat and Mary Jane were but they were small and you probably dealt with them as I watched Captain Kangaroo, a science show on CJOH, and Sesame Street.  But when Family Affair came on, with that Kaleidoscope at the start we spent the next half-hour together.  You would get me dressed as we watched the show, you would sing to me during commercials, including your re-write of the Georgie Girl song by The Seekers from the movie in the 60s.  You knew that for the first 5 years of my life I was Eddie at home, but when I went to school I had a choice and I chose to be called by my real name, George, not my nickname.  You started calling me George long before any of the other kids or even dad did.  I was happy for the new name and it made me feel grown up.  But those moments I remember, just us, chatting, you telling me about how important school, the singing, and of course our connection to Buffy and Jodie.  You let me have the TV for the morning and when your soap opera came on I knew it was time for me to go the corner and walk the one block to school.  Thank you for those moments that 40 years later still make me smile.  You made me feel special in the chaos that was our home.  I hope that those moments were special to you too.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Food is not toy

Walk into any preschool or elementary school in this country and chances are there is an art project on the wall using food as one of its media.  It is common for teachers of young children to take familiar foods and turn them into art materials.  I have done it and it has its uses.  For children under the age of two this makes sense, as children that age explore they will bring much of their world to their mouths.  Safety requires that the material be non-toxic and food products will do that.  However after that age I have a real moral question about it. 

You see this came into my mind over a discussion of a game for Purim where you roll a raw egg over a rough surface; the winner is the one whose egg doesn’t break.  I wondered if at a festival celebration in a synagogue that we should be so comfortable using food as a toy.  You see a lot of people see an egg as a good source of nutrition for the day.  If you went through only two dozen eggs it might be the equivalent of almost two weeks of breakfast for a child who has little or nothing.  To us it might seem cheap, around $4-5.  But to a child in poverty eggs can be treasures.   I learned this from one such child.

More years ago than I choose to acknowledge I was running an after-school program in inner-city Syracuse.  The goal was to enhance language skills in early elementary school kids, many of whom English was not the home vernacular.  I had the brilliant idea of using alphabet noodles to make placards for each with a slogan.  I found one child filling her pocket with the noodles, when I looked at her she simply said, “This is food.”    I was struck.  Here I was a taking what she saw as sustenance and rendering it inedible for a lesson.  On that day I modified how I used food in the classroom. 

It is always odd when confronted with a situation such as this.  I was a college student who saw an endless supply of food as part of my college experience.   While I even grew up at times in poverty, there was always food on the table.  My mother made sure that we had the ability to get three square meals a day.  I even had the luxury of not eating when it was something I didn’t like because I knew the morning would bring something else.   I wanted for things, especially after my dad died, but food was never really one of them.  So here I was a kid who thought he knew what it was like to be poor watching an 8 year old girl taking uncooked pasta in the pocket of her jeans home for to add to her families supply.  How could I ever look at food the same way?

Hunger is a world problem, but we have the resources to feed people if we applied them.  I have seen real hunger, in big cities in our country, in rural villages in Kenya and among populations like the elderly too proud to ask for help.  As someone who works for a synagogue and has close ties with organizations dedicated to ending hunger I see alarming statistics from my own country and worldwide.  I also see statistics that in the US we throw out about 40% of our food, due to rot, disinterest and just to clean up.  Imagine how much more food is produced that winds up glued to construction paper that is now under the back seat of a thousand minivans all over the country.  Where you see colourful counting tools I can’t but help to see calories that could help a child sleep better, do better at school or maybe even live another day.

Yes I know that it is dramatic.  But in the end the message we send when we turn food into a plaything is powerful.  As a culture we have become so far removed from the production of our food there are children’s books that say chickens come from megamarts and juice from a bottle.  We hate when someone tears down the curtain on what we actually are eating, be it genetically enhanced tomatoes or the use of what is referred to as meat glue in many products.  Recently a beef supplier was caught using horse meat in their raw product even selling to Burger King in England.  The irony is that horse, while horrific to some, is a delicacy in France and claims a big price.  But it was so easy for these things to quietly flow through our culture because most people do not connect to the production of their food. 

Food is abundant, easy to obtain, and plentiful if you have a middle class income.   Farmers are a quaint archetype that lends itself to a Superbowl commercial but in fact most food comes from factory farms owned by a few companies.  We don’t have to chase, raise, slaughter, and in some cases even prepare our food.  It is as ubiquitous for many as dust and though it has lost the reverence we once had for it.  One of the ways I battle against my own failings in this is by keeping Kosher.  For me Kashrut isn’t about a biblical imperative, but it makes every act of eating something I have to think about, something that I have to actually focus a thought on.   Even if I chose to eat something that is non-kosher I will have spent the time making that choice.  This is true for anyone on a diet counting points, carbs, calories, or sugar.  Even more so for those who see the alphabet noodles not as a toy but as a meal.

So here is my thought.  The next time you are using marshmallows to make a snow picture with texture, Cheerios to count the number of days you have been in school, or eggs to roll for kicks think about the last time you had a food drive and why.  Think about the message it is sending kids, and maybe wonder if one of the children in your class has wanted a marshmallow just once in the last few months but it is a luxury their parent can’t afford.  I can honestly tell you, you will see food differently.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Its Been One Week.

So this past week I found many things interesting in my world and I wanted to write about them all.  So instead of fretting about each I have decided to write briefly about many.  It has been a bit of a week. 

I often go after the right wing of our country and I won’t disappoint later in this rant but there is a group of people I encounter on occasion that really have more arrogance and live in a much deeper fantasy than any on the right:  Ignorant atheists.  These are the guys who read Hitchens and Dawkins and think they have all the answers.  Often this plays out in misquoting Bible passages, misunderstanding both Jewish and Christian law, and rewriting history to diminish the role or religion in the development of both Eastern and Western culture.  Most recently someone suggested that religion has done nothing for the betterment of the human condition and has solved no human problems.  I didn’t understand this as religions have helped organize culture, built cities, and were the inspiration for law so I asked for an example.  He replied the curing of small pox, citing how the church stood in the way of many scientific advances.  Now there is no doubt that the church stood in the way of many scientific advances but they also promoted them, and I know this because the university where Edward Jenner developed the vaccine was founded by the Catholic Church.  Later spoke of the Interfaith Hunger Initiative and the Global Interfaith Partnership in Indianapolis, both of which feed children.  The motivation for this, of course, is the religious imperative in virtually every faith to feed the hungry.   The response was that it was individuals not religion.  I weep for this kind of thinking.  Religion gets blamed for everything bad done in its name and yet atheists like this give no credit for the good religion has done.  I will be the first to be critical of how some use the Bible as a hammer to beat down others.  But some have used the teachings as an elevator for all, and frankly I think that helps the human condition.

The Pentagon, as it creeps toward the 21st century, is opening up combat to women.  This led to outrage on the right.  Somehow they thought inviting people to try out for something means that it will lower the standards for all.  Of course that is not true.  The most ridiculous thing was a 5’6” 40somthing said he should get a shot at the NBA.  If fact he can try out, he can show his skills, if they don’t match up then he doesn’t get the gig.  In the military women couldn’t even get the opportunity to show their skills, yet have served on the front lines. You see what is important about this is that while women already serve in forward units they do not get the same credit for combat duty.  That means pay, promotion, and ability to move up in the ranks.  It makes sense that you don’t want Colonels and Generals leading combat troops who have never been in combat.  This opens the door to qualified women who can both physically and intellectually prosecute a war and it allows them to add their talents to the cause.   Recently elected Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is a double amputee after her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.  When asked about it said something to the effect that women were already in combat saying “I didn’t get my wounds in a bar fight”.  But the sexist claptrap that comes out of the mouths of people, many who avoided service in the military, was loud and proud.  Funny the right wing war on women extends to not allowing them to develop as warriors, I wonder why?

In more doors opening news a trial balloon was sent up by the Boy Scouts to allow gay scouts and leaders to serve openly.  There have always been gay scouts and scout leaders.  But they had to hide the truth of who they were to participate in an organization that values honesty.   It appears that in the near future the Boy Scouts will be about continue to there slow but steady growth as they reflect the changing norms of society.  One thing the scouts have always prided themselves on is a strong moral code.  That code has always taken its lead from the culture.  While bigots have responded with loud and stunningly ignorant responses including the continued equating of homosexuality with pedophilia, the Boy Scouts have shown a willingness to grow as they have throughout their history, we can only hope that many others will follow suit. 

However the Indiana state legislature isn’t one of the groups that are changing.  They plan to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state Constitution.  Of course there will be a fight, as the United States Supreme Court will be taking up the issue this year with two cases it will hear.  I still can’t figure out how two people who love each other and say so publically will have any impact on me and my family.  I just can’t comprehend how there can be such a strong fight against gay people being able to openly enjoy the same rights as straight people.  I mean I don’t see how two people who share a life together can hurt me in any way.  However there are so many people willing to stand up for the rights of gun owners to be able to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time.  To me that is something we should be trying figure out, but there are those who would hate to even have the conversation. Case and point:  

The NRA continues its parade of lunacy, bringing it to Fox News on Sunday.  I won’t get into the debate much here, but if Fox News calls you on lies about the President it is time to reassess your position.  We also learned this week the Wayne LaPierre got a deferment from Vietnam for a “nervous condition”, isn’t that a mental illness that would require that we take the gun out of your hand sir?

Speaking briefly of guns the family of Chris Kyle, known to Iraqi insurgents as the Demon of Ramadi was murdered this weekend.  He was shot by a fellow veteran who he was trying to help get over Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Kyle, a Navy Seal and sniper with 150 kills in the Iraq war was considered by many an American hero.  He wrote a book about his experiences and gave some insight into the mind of a warrior.  However you feel about the war, Kyle saw his duty and did it.  If the civilian leadership screwed up and I believe they did, Kyle and his comrades where there cleaning up the mess.  Two narratives exploded in cyberspace.  One more disgusting than the other.  The first was that it was Karma that his killing led to his death.  The second was that the government did it to further promote gun control.  People, I beg you, stop.  It is hurtful, idiotic and frankly cowardly.  I hated the idea of the Iraq war, I thought it was a ginned up reason to go, I knew we would not be seen as liberators, I knew that we would be fighting insurgents and tribal in-fighting would put lives in danger and I knew that we would not find any of the weapons that Rumsfeld assured us he knew existed and where they were.  But to call this Karma or to say that government forces did this belittles the memory of a hero.  Rest in Peace sir, I am sorry your country let you down.

So it was quite a week and the new one has started.  Who knows what is next. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

I am again disgusted....

In the early days of the internet the two fastest growing segments were the porn industry and the hate groups. While porn was often purely a mercantile venture, hate was an attempt at giving voice to what had become impolite in our evolving society.  The anonymity of the medium allowed people to say whatever they had in mind and put it out there.   Finding like minded people became easy and entire virtual communities developed based on hate.  Message boards gave way to chat rooms then social media exploded with new ways for people to connect in real time with strangers.  While hate groups are near their saturation point their brand of nasty language and attack voices have become main stream for some.  For example on Twitter where small minded people, ginned up by members of the right wing noise machine elite,  attack anyone who dares challenge their warped view of the world. 

Sandra Fluke has become a favorite.  The woman who was originally banned from testifying to Congress on contraceptive drugs in health care plans in favor of an all male witness list has been the target of a nasty and orchestrated attack pattern by the minions of Rush Limbaugh.  Fluke was called a slut by Limbaugh on his radio show in an attempt to remain relevant.  The outcry, the loss of sponsors and the subsequent showing that America has for the most part left Limbaugh at the last rest stop has called out a backlash that is just short of pathetic.  Ignorance, when married to anonymity and hate leads to people calling her a prostitute and other unsavory things.  In fact they actively seek her out to do this.  A form of cyber-stalking.  The ignorance is fed by the noise machine that lies so blatantly about virtually everything that some fact-checkers have given up, concluding there is no point to fact check fiction.  But while there is no doubt that the right wing noise machine has started to sputter and shake, it still has a following and so as it gets nastier and more hate driven we will see more attacks.  Some beyond anything one would imagine in appropriate discourse. 

Sandra Fluke put herself out there and is a strong adult.  She need not worry about most of the things said about her.  While she has had death threats, most is just some person who has not lived up to their dreams of their own self-worth and striking out.  They appear to be jealous failures who hate the fact that a smart, active and attractive woman could do so much damage to their hero.  It is sad really.  But this week we were visited by a series of hateful and downright disgusting tweets that even surprised me. 

Gabby Giffords testified in front of Congress on gun legislation.  Giffords was the Arizona Congresswoman who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt.  A moderate Democrat and strongly pro-gun her story riveted the country for a few weeks as we saw her recover and watched the suffering of those families who lost loved ones, including a nine year old.  Giffords recovered since the 2011 shooting but resigned her seat in Congress.  Earlier this week she spoke to Congress.  Having not recovered from her injuries completely she read a statement, slowly and with difficulty announcing her interest in controlling access to certain types of weapons and accessories that are designed to simply kill people. 
Almost immediately the Twitter world exploded with statements like:  Retarded Democrat Gabrielle Giffords Exploiting her Shooting Tragedy to Force Americans to Accept Tougher Gun Control Laws!  Michelle Malkin, a woman who seems to think she is doing journalism, attacked Giffords and the press because there was a report that the hand written notes used by Giffords to testify were written by her when in fact they were written by her speech therapist.  Giffords brain does not function as well as it did before a man with a legally purchased weapon put a bullet through it, but that didn’t stop Malkin and her minions from saying such hateful things about her.  Malkin seemed to think it was a ploy for sympathy to post the notes.  I don’t know, I think there was plenty of sympathy for Giffords who spoke with conviction while reminded the panel that she and her husband are legal gun owners and have been long adocates of gun-rights.   But Malkin and others felt it was fine to attack a woman who was shot in an assassination attempt for the reason she disagrees with their view of the universe and does so by attacking her disability that was the result of her being shot.

This is not okay, spin on policy, questioning of certain people’s motives and  even negative rhetoric in a campaign all have a long history in our country’s political landscape.  But attacking a person who fought against all odds to find a solution to a growing problem and bring it to her former colleagues only to be attack as a “retard” or “dumb bitch” by small people is not okay.  The NRA and other gun advocates should denounce these pathetic and disgusting statements publically or I will just have to assume that they are part of what they believe.  In that case we should all pity them for their serious lack of compassion and manners and they have no place in our society.  Also I wonder if it isn’t a mental disorder driving this and well, should you really own a gun? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Disgusting conspiracy

When a young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary school and shot multiple bullets into small children in a 1st grade classroom I could not fully believe it.  I checked to see if it was a town where a friend lived and it wasn’t, I moved on.  Later a colleague said a bunch of kids were shot.  I clicked into it and found some of the story.  Again, I didn’t believe it.  I wanted to think this was the cable news trying to rush news to air quickly and not accurately.  But that night when I saw the news, when I read the reports, when I heard local officials speaking about it, I believed.  In the days that followed I saw the deconstruction of what was again bad reporting, the number of guns, which ones, how many shooters, where it happened, who were the players.  This has become common in a culture where the news is always on and crisis news is the bread and butter of what passes for journalism on the internet and television.  Many news sources reported wildly inaccurate information as fact, but those mistakes were explainable by the sloppiness of the journalists.  However others saw it as sign of something nefarious. 
To my surprise, horror and shock there is an entire segment of the internet dedicated to what are being called Sandy Hook truthers.  That is right, like 9-11, there are people that almost immediately started calling the events a hoax.  There are many different theories.  One says that no one was killed and the parents and others in the news are actors citing, among other things, the way the parents acted in private moments caught on camera, or before speaking of their children.  The extent of this is to suggest no one is actually dead, again citing a photo of one of the victim’s sisters on the President’s lap asking if this isn’t the girl who was murdered.   One says that it was a government action, that it was CIA operatives who did the killing.  The reason for these?  The President wants gun control.  Oh course so does a majority of the country and while the numbers have gone up since Sandy Hook, this was not an issue on the President’s agenda.  But there it is.  My favorite conspiracy is that it was Mossad agents, attacking the United States to hurt the President for a number of things, including the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.  The idea being that Israel was upset that Hagel has had a real vocal past that some perceive as anti-Israel. 
Like most conspiracy theories a hidden bad guy has been uncovered by a tireless person by linking together a variety of factoids, strange coincidences and outright falsehoods.  In these stories about Sandy Hook wild accusations are leveled based on the thinnest of evidence, but that is always true for a conspiracy yarn.  But there is something that I can only say is sinister about these people who are promoting these so-called theories.  The one about Israel is par for the course.  In the last 2000 years Jews have been blamed from everything from the fall of Rome to the plague to 9-11 to Hurricane Katrina.  I think the fact that a 6 year old Jewish kid was killed was the only thing that didn’t have a whole slew of people saying that the Jews were warned.   But that is not the worst of it.  The one thing about some of the conspiracy theorists is how comfortable they are attacking the people who lost children.  In many of the videos on the net there are claims that the families of the victims are paid actors and the evidence is the way they mourn, they way they talk and the fact they smile.  One person actually says that it is no way that a person who lost their child would act.  How would this guy know?  Seriously is there a book that could teach him that?  And if that was all there was it would be horrible but there is a weirder part of these theories.  In a video that has over 10 million hits one guy suggests that one of the children killed, Emilie Parker, isn’t dead and that her wake, funeral and grave are all a hoax.  In fact the evidence is a picture of the President meeting with the family.  A child on the lap of the President looks like Emile and is wearing the same dress from a photo pulled from the families online photo album.  Now it is clear to anyone the picture is of Emilie’s younger sister who also had the same style of dress, but for the conspiracy theories.  Their need for special knowledge does not allow for them to practice common decency and now if you Google Emile’s name the first several hits are questioning whether she is still alive.  So to be clear, the parents of a dead child are not only being questioned about their emotions on camera but the memory of their dead daughter will always be tainted by the fact that so many people will continue to believe she is still alive, hidden from view and being exploited for some kind of policy goal.  I can’t even imagine. 
There was a time when this kind of stuff was roundly rejected by ordinary people.  It wasn’t that long ago when these kinds of reactions were met with more skepticism especially when it involved the death of ordinary citizens.  But massive distrust of government, the news and of course each other has led to a rampant paranoia that finds a home on the internet and is perpetuated by massive ignorance coupled by the ability to distill massive information of into whatever we want it to say.   Conspiracy has become mainstream, be it Donald Trump’s birtherism, Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant zealotry, or even the members of Congress who repeat lies about things like the Affordable Care Act.  We must reject this, wherever it comes from.  Ten million people watched this disgusting video, if all who saw it for what it was told two friends to respond we could make it go away.  But even more so we must do the same when a member of a lobbying group, or political campaign or member of Congress lies.  As I finish this up I am watching Mr. LaPirerre lie about the President to the NRA.  I look forward to someone taking this clown apart, he is no better than the person to made the video and gun owners should feel ashamed. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Right Wing Noise Machine

The recent gun debate and re-election of the President has really empowered the right wing noise machine on radio and Fox News.  This new energy after the pathetic defeat of the ideals they hold dear in the last elections has sparked many posters on Facebook, Twitter and Internet message board clogging them with lies and some times with simple filth.  Attacks on anyone, even a fellow member of the right, who dares suggest that talking about gun restrictions, have polluted the airwaves pitting former friends against each other.  The stunning thing to me is the number of sheer ridiculous statements made about an incredibly important and dangerous issue facing our country.

Guns are part of the American culture and history.  Guns were important to the colonial survival and industry.  Guns helped to win the fight for independence and over power the British.  It was guns that allow explorers to have the confidence to move west.  While not all encounters driving by personally owned guns were ethical, moral and righteous, guns did help settle the west even beyond the mythology that we think happened.  Guns are not going away and no one who is serious wants all guns to go away.  But you see there is a place to discuss what guns can exist in private hands, how many rounds one should be able to shoot without reloading and how much the government and law enforcement should know about who is owning guns.

The National Rifle Association, that speaks for the gun industry (though the profess to speak for gun owners) came out a week after the shooting as Sandy Hook Elementary where 20 kids between 5-7 years old were murdered with 6 adults and concluded the guns were not the problem and we should put arm guards in schools.  Problem solved.  Thank you Mr. LaPierre.  Except we know armed guards can help and might be a good solution for part of it but it is not the only answer.  In fact a armed guard traded fire with Columbine shooter Eric Harris and weeks later then the NRA was meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden to discuss solutions, an armed student injured 2 people at a school with an armed guard.  At the very same moment.  The NRA would have you believe that we have no business talking about the weapons used and their minions both in Congress and on the radio repeated their words.

Now that the President has released his first volley in a series of executive orders and New York State has passed a series of laws there is more craziness.  The NRA has released an ad that has been universally called disgusting as it brings the President's children into the equation and of course the Tea Party members are calling for impeachment.  Ah, everything old is new again.  But there is some cracking in the Republican wall.  Many are saying that some regulations on clips and types of guns are necessary as are some high profile generals like some guy named Colin Powell and another Stanley McCrystal.  Of course the noise machine has attacked them.  Steve Doocey at Fox even seemed to forget he was Secretary of State at one time in an attack on him.

One guy however took the new energy of the right to a new level.  Alex Jones started a petition to deport Piers Morgan, a British National on CNN who is an outspoken advocate on gun control.  Jones is a special kind of crazy and the perfect foil for Morgan, who has the journalistic integrity of Rita Skeeter.  Jones, a conspiracy nut who loves to hear himself scream, has been know to hijack movements he agrees with if he isn't in the front of the line.  So he went on the show and deliciously lost his shit for the whole world to see.  We heard revolution, 9-11 was an inside job, the grassy knoll and all manner of ridiculous notions.  In the end I needed a shower and Morgan needed a Xanax.  It was funny, it was nuts and it was par for the course.

What was interesting is the next day a members of the right wing noise machine elite, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck weighed in on Jones trying to distance themselves from him.  Both suggested that the left was making Jones the story and Hannity even said on his show he had to "look him up".  But what is amazing is that for years Jones attacked Hannity regularly and was a bit of a regular on Hannity's former partner Alan Colmes' radio show often attacking Sean.  You would think that someone would have told him about it.  Also the incestuous nature of the noise machine means he would have to be so detached from his profession as to be exactly what some have thought, just a puppet of someone else.  Hannity and Beck both are trying to distance themselves from Jones and while I agree they are not cut from the same cloth they are all in the same section of JoAnn's.

Joe Scarborough, a conservative MSNBC host and a constant critic of the failures of the GOP and a lifetime A+ rated NRA guy lost it.  He came out in favor of some kind of gun reform that included restrictions on large clips and so-called assault weapons. (Yes I know that is a political term)  He was called all manner of things by others of his own party and conservative ideology.  In fact I think they had to change their handshake and not tell him.  It is amazing, here a voice of an attempt at reason and middle ground is attacked.  While Joe doesn't care, he makes money being himself and isn't running for office it is a bit crazy that his body of work, carrying right wing water and trying to help the party is ignored because he simply ask the GOP to consider restrictions.  

What is amazing is the clear lack of self-reflection on the part of the noise machine. Anyone who tears the curtain down and shows just how crazy the noise machine has become is savaged. Anyone who comes close to thinking for themselves and going off the reservation are savaged.    When outrageous statements are made by the NRA or elected officials there is constant justifying.

I believe in the right to bear arms, I believe that it is not only about hunting and target shooting, and I believe we must do more than just go after guns.  But we must have a serious discussion about certain types of weapons and clips and perhaps make them less ubiquitous.  But the bigger issue in this discussion and many discussions is that we have become a country driven by a noise machine and that I think is far more dangerous in the long run than any AR-15.

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