Friday, December 17, 2010

A Gift

A Holiday Gift for Those Against the Repeal of
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
For those who have ever parented a child, the absolute worst thing you can tell that child is, “No.”  Don’t do that, don’t touch that, and don’t go there. I don’t like him; I don’t want you to hang out with him. No-you can’t wear that. Whatever it was that you didn’t want that child to do is the exact thing he or she wants to do more than anything, and will do behind your back if they can find a way.
If, however, a parent can make a reasoned argument about something without making a negative ruling on it, the child may try it, but is more likely to lose interest. Try telling a kid that you really love his Mohawk haircut. I’ve done it with a nephew, and the next time I saw him, it was gone.
I have always wondered why gay people want to be in the military. Why would anyone want to risk his life for a country in which beating, killing in some cases, discrimination in housing and jobs, the source of tasteless jokes and derision, and institutionalized dishonesty is forced upon them. I have two theories about this. The first one comes from the stereotype of the very ripped, masculine gay man and the uber-athletic gay woman. Where better to show ones toughness and discipline than in the military? Think back to the disco era (as hard as that may be for some of us who really lived it) and the gorgeous men in uniform of The Village People. And American soldiers are very striking in uniform-I think even most peaceniks can agree on that. They look good-and the stereotype is that gay men like to look good. The stereotype is that gay women like to look strong-healthy, athletic and a touch rebellious. What better way to be all those things than going into a man’s world, and in some cases, besting the men. Think of all the female officers who have famously been asked to leave the service-they won in a man’s world.
Another theory is that gays may join the military because of a deep need to prove that they are just as “American” and patriotic as straights. They are willing to fight and die for this country because they love the country no matter what.
I don’t know if either reason is correct. Maybe both are correct for some. I am not gay, and though I have many gay friends, I have never known one who has served. Not to mention, neither my theories nor their reasons matter all that much. Why? Because once they are eligible to serve openly, the ones who are there will fulfill whatever their career goals, and the rest will not want it any more once it is not forbidden. Didn’t blacks stop joining the military once they were allowed to serve openly with whites?
And while we are at it, the same will likely be true of marriage. Once the right to marry whomever one wishes is afforded to same sex couples, they will realize just how outdated and oppressive marriage is, and they’ll not want that anymore either.
So, for those who are certain that the United States of America will fall once every American has equal protection under the law, as is outlined in our constitution, fear not. I bring you tidings of great joy: neither marriage nor military service is all it’s cracked up to be. And once the gays can do both without having to live a lie-they won’t want to do it anymore.
And I am so glad to have this realization-my husband works with a lot of police men, and I’m not sure that he doesn’t get a gleam in his eye when he is around those guys in uniform. In fact, there was an officer in uniform at our company Christmas party last week, and he and my spouse started talking only to each other, excluding everyone else in the circle, until I spoke up and asked if they planned to exclude the rest of us all evening. If gay marriage were legal, my husband might actually leave me. Bummer. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mass Transit in Fort Worth Sucks

Mass Transit in Fort Worth Sucks
My husband and I have been a one car family for nearly two years. Because of that, we moved into a smelly, high traffic city with no good places to walk our dog so that I could live on a bus route that would take me to work. My husband gets the car (or pick up-this is, after all, Texas) because I work in a doctor’s office which has two locations, both in the city hospital districts. Hospital districts are always placed in poorer areas of cities, and are, therefore, always on bus routes.
When I first started where I work, I had to leave the house to get to my job, about 8 miles from our apartment, nearly two hours before work started, and got there about 10 minutes before clock in time. That’s how sparse the buses are, even though I live on a major city street. I moved in April to our other location, which is 2.1 miles from my house. I leave the house at 6:30, and get to work at 6:50 for my 7:30 clock in because the buses run once per hour, and I would be late to work otherwise. The buses are rarely full, probably because of the silly schedules they run, and the drivers are often surly and condescending if a passenger asks a question. I am one with the ideal notion that using mass transit can be a way to both help the environment, save money and build community. When I tell coworkers that I ride the bus, they are horrified-Texans fall for the notion that only the underclass rides the bus because they can’t afford cars. (That may be a post for another time.)
But last week our local bus company did something that made me proud. They bought advertising from a coalition of local atheist groups to put stickers on the sides of some buses that say “Millions of people are Good without God.” I went to the website of the Fort Worth Star Telegram to see what sort of firestorm was caused by this move. The responses on the newspaper’s blog were reliably mixed, some commending the T, some calling on the people of the city to remember the First Amendment to our Constitution. Some were angry at being “attacked” by the hateful and godless. Within the city some ministers threatened boycotts of the buses, some other writers on the paper followed with articles commenting on the article, and many of the letters to the editor gave the usual comments about Christians being victims and the ongoing “War on Christmas.”
I put a response on the blog regarding the bumper stickers and store signs we’ve been inundated with for YEARS that say, “Jesus is the reason for the Season.” I couldn’t resist placing my tongue firmly in my cheek to remind folks that “the reason for the season” is the earth’s annual trip around the sun.  
But as I thought longer about that seasonal celebration, it occurred to me that the reason we celebrate really IS the trip around the sun. Ever since human beings have formed communities there have been celebrations of light during the long, dark days of winter. The Celts did it, the Jews do it, Muslims and Hindus do it. Even though Christian scholars take certain features of the stories in the New Testament and the myth around the birth of Jesus, and they themselves say he was probably not born in December, but more likely in early summer. But when Christians moved into Celtic Britain, and the winters there were long and bitter cold, they incorporated aspects of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) and added Christian elements. Why do Christians use an evergreen tree? According to legend, St. Boniface came upon a Celtic celebration of the revered oak, took an axe and chopped the holy oak in half. From the center sprang an evergreen tree, which, according to the saint, represented the fact that the love of the Christian god was evergreen.
There is a scientific/psychological reason for surrounding ourselves with light during these gray days. People tend to be depressed during this time of year and the physical reason is the lack of light. Many people theorize that the reason is the loss of loved ones during this festive season, or unreasonable expectations leading to feelings of sadness in subsequent years. All this may increase the likelihood of depression for some, but the lack of light has been proven scientifically to affect human moods-we need the sun. Like all creatures of earth, we use the sun for energy-though perhaps in a different way than plants. Therefore, when we get together during winter months we celebrate light. If we get down to the bare facts, not one of these feast days really has its root in any god one could choose. It is a basic human drive to fill ourselves with light.
I am not advocating removing Christ from Christmas for Christians. I am not advocating the removal of the Menorah from the Jewish celebration of the eight days of light from one day worth of oil. I guess what I would like to do is be allowed to celebrate the light without being attacked myself for not being a Christian. We are so busy most of the year that setting aside a “season” to remind ourselves of the importance of love and friendship, and light may be the only way to get it done. We’ve gone through our lives all year, and we need a time to break, rest and spend time with something besides our jobs.
This is NOT a “War on Christmas,” and I’m sick to death of that term. While the United States may be a hodge-podge nation, Christians are in the majority, and have most of the power. Those with the power cannot be real victims. But some Christians want so much to silence those who disagree with them that they have chosen to act in ways that are quite contrary to my readings of New Testament Christianity. So, let’s shed some light amongst ourselves this year, and stop calling for war on people who just want a little light in our lives. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To Ian, with Pride

I'm conflicted today. Enough that the first thing into my stomach this morning was Tums. I'm baking a blueberry pie today for a party to celebrate the graduation from college and Air Force commissioning of my nephew, Ian. From the day he was born he was special to me-all my nieces and nephews are. But he is the only one whose mother was at my house when she went into labor, so we were there with her from the first contraction, til her husband came out beaming after her emergency C-section and said, "It's a boy," and the whole waiting room, which was full of relatives, burst into cheers, tears and applause.  My sister had placenta previa, meaning that the placenta was blocking the baby's way, which can lead to great danger for the baby, hence the emergency C-section, so it was a dramatic, emotional night for us.

 Ian has been the kind of child that anyone would be proud to have as a family member. He is smart, witty, loving, hard-working and goal oriented. He graduated from the University of North Texas summa cum laude. In his entire college career he made only one "B" in a class. Last night we watched his parents pin on his lieutenant's bars, and his stepfather offer his first salute. I don't care how hippie or peacenik one might be, it was an emotional moment, filled with pride. Ian's major was international studies,  he is fluent in Russian, and this year began studying Arabic. He is leaving for training in military intelligence in October, after which he will begin active duty.

 There is a long tradition in my family of military service. Two of my sisters, one of my nieces, Ian's father, stepfather and stepbrother all served. All my uncles on my mother's side have served, my dad and his dad did also. One uncle is a retired colonel and West Point grad.

And we are still at war. When his mother told me he was going ROTC, the only thing I said was that I hoped we would be at peace by the time he graduates. Four years ago that didn't seem an unreasonable wish. We were, after all, going into our current theaters of occupation with "Shock and Awe," to be greeted as liberators, and we would make quick work of these two fronts. So now I'm not sure it is worth bothering to wish for peace. I thought we already fought the "War to End All Wars," but, if my count is anywhere near correct, we have seen at least ten conflicts since then.

 I came out of the Viet Nam era, and believed that war was a mistake. I never thought it was ok to blame the soldiers for the things they did-soldiers serve at the pleasure of the Commander in Chief, and they do their jobs. It is part of the oath they take when they are sworn in that they will obey the orders of the Commander in Chief without question. I recently watched a PBS special on the My Lai massacre, and all those raw feelings of seeing civilians-women, babies, elderly villagers, slaughtered when they were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers came rushing back. I also just saw a commercial for the HBO mini-series, "The Pacific," showing a young marine, just back from the Pacific, looking for a job. The young woman helping him says, "Didn't the Marines teach you anything that can help you in your civilian life?" He responds, teeth gritted into a sneering grin, "They taught me how to kill Japs. And I'm damned good at it." All these things coming at me just as my nephew is beginning his military career has discomfited me.

We do teach our soldiers how to kill, and be good at it. We teach them how to dehumanize 'the enemy' so they don't stop to think about that guy at the end of their gun being a son, father, husband, brother. This is why the nicknames for people of other countries are so important-what is a "gook?" It is not someone like me, with a loving family at home hoping he will come back from this war alive and unmaimed in body or spirit. The same is true of "krauts" or "camel jockeys." They are not human-they are our enemies. But when we dehumanize our fellow humans, we diminish our own humanity. How else could the soldiers of C Company not have seen the people of My Lai as non-combatants, and not as threats? Why else would that fictional Marine, looking for civilian work, not be able to put his soldier persona aside after the war? Why would there be stories of Viet Nam veterans, unable to readjust to civilian life, moving up to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska so that they could be away from populated areas and the memories that haunt them?

I was against the invasion of Iraq before it happened, and I said so. Yes, I know the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam-but that is not the reason for my opposition. I was for the invasion of Afghanistan then, but I am against continuing in that theater any more. Not because I don't wish that the funder of the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, could be caught. But because it is a silly war. It is hard to use a word like "silly" to describe an action in which our soldiers, and the innocent civilians of Afghanistan and Pakistan might be killed. But it is a wholly silly notion that shooting at those people, and bombing their cities and towns will fight terrorism. I don't choose the word "silly" casually, or to trivialize the suffering of all the people on both sides of any war. But the nature of terrorism is that they practice guerrilla warfare-sneak attacks that make people "terrified." You can't hit them by tossing bombs around indiscriminately. You can't just aim and shoot and hit a terrorist. Yes, we've hit some terrorist leaders and training camps, but like the character Mel Gibson played in "The Patriot," they move and hit again. By definition, Benjamin Martin/Francis Marion could have been described by the British as "terrorists," as that is the tactic they used for attacking conventional forces that out-manned and out-gunned them. Conventional warfare is designed to fight conventional soldiers. This makes it even harder for me to think that Ian will be going into the military as we enter the tenth year of a conflict that we only banter about seeing the end of.

College graduation is a time when we think of all the wishes we've held dear for our children. After twenty-two or so years of hopes and dreams have been invested, it is time to think of the return. Ian has more than fulfilled the dreams of his family. We hope our kids will do well-Ian has done far better than that. He is a good person, an excellent student, and he will be an excellent Air Force officer. While he will make mistakes in his life, and have trials and sorrow, I think he has developed the skills to get through them with grace.

So for Ian, and all the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters out there getting ready to head into war, I wish for peace. Peace that lasts. Peace in our time. War to end all wars.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Zieg Who???

I told some friends a story recently about how I was watching a news program as the anchor was telling a story about the "Octomom;" the California woman who has 14 children, 8 she gave birth to after fertility treatments. She became a short-term phenomenon on the news for months in 2009. This particular newscaster said, "I know you all say you don't want to hear about the Octomom, but I know that's not true because you are still watching." I nearly gave myself whiplash switching the channel. The media routinely twists the news, edits important details that change the meaning of the story, and just plain misreports facts. This has been covered in movies, and the media is regularly attacked by both politicians and comedians such as Jon Stewart. The media has a habit of picking our candidates for us by shining a light on those they like, and finding stories that mock politicians they dislike. The 2008 election gave evidence of this is the candidacies of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. How they are portrayed by the media is a frequent complaint of both failed and successful politicians, who, all the while use the media to invent and reinvent their personas. Some portray themselves as victims, some emphasize their points by suggesting how the media will play their actions. You know who you are! There was a time, according to my "History of News" course in college, that things were (yes, really) much worse. In the beginning, there were no big papers. News was spread by way of pamphlets that were published by merchants, always with the slant of helping to improve their business. Since there were no watchdog agencies such as Politifact or, there was no one to question the motives  or the veracity of ugly stories or false allegations against any particular candidate. The "papers" could say whatever they wanted to say about anyone. The mudslides in California would pale in comparison to the amount of mud that was splattered over candidates disliked by certain business men. Believe me, there would be a terrible outcry if the press were allowed to print the things today that it printed then.

I think it is a terrible shame when stories of terrible misdeeds are spread through the media, and they dominate a news cycle for months on end. I especially hate it when groups use the press to spread comparisons of politicians or political parties to Nazis or totalitarians of any stripe. It is unfair and unfounded to use such comparisons-they don't meet the most minimum requirements for truth, and people should not call anyone in politics Nazis, nor should the news media take those comments, make them public, and tar any group with that accusation. I loathed the presidency of Geroge W. Bush, but it bothered me when the term "Nazi" was thrown about in connection to him. It bothers me when it is used against our current president, or against anyone else. In no case does the glove fit.While I do believe that if we had not held elections in 2008, and the Bush/Cheney administration had stayed in power, many of our civil rights would have eroded even more, they had not taken actions that could (up to that point) be compared in any way, to any totalitarian regime that I know of. Whether Dick Cheney's political philosophy smacked of totalitarianism, and his responses, ("So?") to some opinions of the people support that theory of him is another question altogether.

Many of the people at rallies, who hold up signs with such accusations on them, don't have much of a sense of history. There seems to even be the suggestion that providing health care for all Americans is taking the first step toward Nazi-ism. Taking care of the health of the people is not a step that I have EVER heard of being used to cow the people into submission. My reading of history says that the first thing totalitarians do when they want to take over a country and suppress opposition, they limit the access of the people to information. They burn books; they take over newspapers, and radio and television stations. In more recent memory, they have blocked access to information sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In some cases, the internet has been shut down so that opposition can't get information out to the people, or so that an opposition can't even get started. This is the thing we need to fear. This is what happens when our freedoms are truly, truly threatened.

And so, with all the criticisms that can be cast at the media-and I think all of them are true to some extent, thankfully the media are still free. They are free to mess up, and the people are free to pick their news sources. We are free to peruse enough news sources to divine the truth for ourselves-which is really what the founding father thought we should do. They believed that an educated electorate could sift through the garbage and figure out the truth for themselves. And they tried to create a country in which it was our responsibility to do so.

So, if the news station you've been watching posts too many celebrity meltdown stories, write their producers. If the people let them know that we will not watch them until they fix this problem, they will change it. If your news anchors spend too much time bragging about their insider status with the pols, complain, and complain loudly. We don't need our information providers going to glamorous events with the president and congress-we need them reporting on the things that the government is trying to hide from the people.

I once had a professor who had worked for the Washington Post. I questioned him about the party life of Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, and I said it gave the appearance that one could not expect objective journalism from the Post. He insisted that there has never been a time when the partying together of the wealthy and famous Post power couple with the government changed the content of exposition in the paper. But I was talking about the appearance that it COULD happen causing readers to mistrust the paper's reporting. And that appearance can not be denied. In journalism school, students are taught that the press is to be the 'watchdog' of government. If they are partying together, and taking their kids to the same exclusive private schools, how can watch-dogging be going on? But it is the responsibility of the readers to decide how much a paper can be trusted. The only way to do that is to expose oneself to many news sources, sift through the garbage that is surely there, and decide what to believe based on a surfeit of information. As long as there is a free press in this country, we are free to do that. But there can be no free country without a free press-no matter how lame the "lame stream media" may be at times.

So, shame on the press for the bad things it does. And shame on the people for allowing it. But worst of all, shame on the people who get their news from only one source. You are responsible for the lies that are daily propogated by whichever news source you choose, whether it be Fox or MSNBC. Shame on you for not being the kind of American the enlightened founding fathers envisioned; the kind who can look through a wealth of bad information, sift it through the pan of your intelligence, and find the gems among the rocks.

And do not accuse anyone of being a Nazi, a socialist, a communist, or any other bad name just for shock value. It diminishes your valid concerns, and gives your critics material to use in dismissing you as a crank.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Blow Ill Wind

Blow, Ill Wind

I’m tired. I’m emotionally tired. Surrounded by negative energy, day in and day out, and utterly befuddled about where the anger is coming from in many cases. I work in a medical office, so some of the folks who are angry get a pass. If they were feeling well, they wouldn’t be here, and may not be their best when they come to my window. But the staff? The families of the patients? Management? People on the bus and on the street? Kids at school bullying other children to suicide, then smirking their way down the perp walk? Shouldn’t we have come further than this as a people and a society?

I’m guessing that every sociologist, psychologist, philosopher, police officer, politician, teacher, and any other theoretician would have different views on why this age of discontent has taken over. Some would blame it on the president; some would blame it on the economy. There would be others who would say that crooked politicians or giant corporations are to blame, but others might blame it on illegal immigration. Old people would blame it on young people. And vice-versa. Teachers will blame it on administrators and parents, parents will blame it on teachers. Management on labor; labor on management. I think it just may be a bit of “all of the above.” Blacks would likely blame it on whites, and the other way around…and around and around.

If I may throw my entirely un-expert theory into the mix, I have to say this is a multi-faceted, complex problem, for which a Proposition 12,579 on the ballot in May or November will not do. Nor will a people’s movement or a social networking site push do the trick. I think we need to go way more basic than that.

Back in the 1980s I was a big fan of the Miss Manners books. I enjoyed her writing as light and tongue in cheek; but she did make an excellent point in all of her books and it is this: the point of manners is not to be anal about which fork to use, or which honorarium to use for a duke or a cardinal. Miss Manners said more than once that the real purpose of all those seemingly silly rules was to make other people feel comfortable. There is the famous story of the queen of England drinking the water from her finger bowl because one of her dinner guests did not know what it was for, and he drank it. The eldest family member at a family gathering sits at the head of the table, and begins eating first as a sign of respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Find out what it means…not just to me, but what it means to treat other people with respect. Is that an answer, or a question?

Both. In order for us to begin to value each other as human beings, we must start at the cradle. Which means that prospective parents must be taught what it is they should teach their children. Which means that teachers must start in school. Which means that governments (I don’t want to argue here about whether I mean the federal government or the states) will need to fund educational programs in which these types of skills are taught. So you see how the solution is just as multifaceted as the problem and the blame?

But then, we’ve had etiquette books around for centuries, so why are we having this discussion now? Well, as much as I hate to say it, I have to blame it on my era-the 1960s and 70s. But the seeds were planted earlier, and only began to bear some fruit then. The development of psychotherapy-in which people stopped being held responsible for their behavior because they could blame their parents or society for ruining them as human beings. I do not doubt that there are bad parents out there-and lazy people who would rather blame someone else than take control of their own destiny and personal behavior-but psychological studies may have been the beginning of the downhill run regarding how we treat our fellow man.

Anyone who is a fan of old movies will remember all the movies that took place during the depression. There were wealthy people, dressing for dinner, going to nightclubs in formal gowns, attending the opera wearing pearls and fur stoles. After World War II, many of these formalities began to wear away. Folks began to wear more casual dresses to the theater. Women marched for the right to wear pants, and I’m glad they did, but it seems that since the 70s, no occasion is worth dressing up for apart from proms, weddings and funerals. And even for prom, the “dress” is questionable; boys consider wearing a tie with anything at all “dressing up.” Dressing up for formal events is not a “rule” to be disagreed with or rebelled against-it is a symbol of the importance of the event. If it is a school event or performance-dressing nicely is a sign of appreciation for the work.
More important than how we dress, is how we listen. It is rude to interrupt. I honestly cannot recall the last time I had a conversation in which I was able to complete a thought before the other person injected his or her response before it was known what my thought really was. I'm guilty of this too.  Why are we in such a hurry that we can't truly listen to someone else rather than planning our next comment before they finish theirs? It makes the other person feel that we do not believe that what they have to say is valuable.

Other people matter. The 1970s saw the rise of lots of books about how one should "look out for number one" and other such ideas. Women marched to be freed from subjugation to their husbands. The civil rights movement was finally seeing some success, so it is understandable that a period of time to think about oneself and ones one dreams and desires. Time to pull back now, and find some balance. Yes, what I want to do is important. But I am not the only one to be considered-there are consequences to every word and action, and considering how my actions and comments may affect someone else is a worthy thing. If I think about how my beliefs might affect someone else, and I moderate my comments-I'm not suggesting being dishonest, just diplomatic, it may prevent hurting someone else and rendering my opinions irrelevant. If I must state a political or religious belief to people who disagree with me, and I do it in a considerate way, they may actually be likely to see the other side as less evil.

And, by the way, those who disagree with us are not evil. They are just different. That's ok. Learning to respect our differences, learning to find joy in the ideas of the other side, is an education. Education is good.
Being civil is not being "phony" or fake. I work with some people from very different worlds, and some of them dislike one another. Some of them dislike me. That's ok-I'm not wild about them either. But I am polite. I greet them in the morning. With a smile. I ask about their weekends, or events in their lives that I knew were going to take place. I don't ask for their cell phone numbers. I don't ask them to be my Facebook friend; that would be fake. But we spend more of our waking hours with our coworkers than we do with the people we actually choose to have in our lives, and I refuse to spend that much of my life giving in to negative energy. I will, therefore, do all I can to make my workplace as pleasant as possible. I see this as a positive thing, not a phony thing. I don't like phonies either.

I remember the restaurant scene in the movie "Pretty Woman." Julia Roberts was not comfortable in a fancy restaurant, and had spent her morning taking a crash course in which fork to use. But during an embarrassing moment the gentleman with whom she and Richard Gere were having dinner made her feel as if the incident happened all the time, and she had no reason to be embarrassed. Much like the finger bowl incident with the queen-the important thing was making the guest feel comfortable, and not like a leper because he wasn't  familiar with the ritual.
I'm not suggesting that oneself is not important-quite the contrary. But I am not more important than you, and vice versa. This is where I think we've got lost, and we need to begin to teach our children this-of course how you feel matters, but so does the other person. Parents need to teach compassion to young children so that they wouldn't consider bullying a school mate to suicide, and might in fact, try to prevent that kind of bullying from happening to a fellow human being. I've complained before about how far off track the 'self esteem movement' has gone. Concentrating on how wonderful one person is misses the point, and detracts from our sense of human value. It is not that I am so great, but that I am equally as good as anyone. John Donne had it so right when he said, "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."  I once heard Deepak Chopra talking about how to teach children compassion, and he mentioned how early parents must ask their children how cruel or bullying behavior makes the victim feel, so that the child will learn empathy. Empathy makes cruelty impossible. Manners are a symbol of empathy. 

And, along with the ability to reason, empathy is what makes us human.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Shocking Darwin

My mom is very engaged in politics. Me too. But we live in entirely different universes, and sometimes this comes out in strange places, and at inopportune times. This week, I can't possibly recall how, we got into a political discussion at my nephew's high school baseball game. My brother also got in a little, but he is one who makes gentle jokes to make a point. The seating order was this: my husband was on my right, my dad on my left,  my brother to Dad's left. Mom was sitting one level above and behind us. How we got started talking about the health care bill, I can't remember now, but as I commented on Mom's comments on my comments on her comments, my husband kicked my ankle so many times to tell me to drop it that I finally just told him to "STOP IT!" He wasn't being as subtle as he thought, because when I said that my dad laughed. He doesn't get much into these discussions. I guess wisdom does sometimes come with age. Mom, in my opinion, has been sucked into the Fox vortex, and she insists that everything they say is true. She claims that, even though Glenn Beck's theatrics are sometimes uncalled for, his stats are always correct. I am further to the left. I'm actually left of President Obama, especially on health care. But to get to the part of the conversation that bothered me into the night, I had an "Aha!" that night as the conversation bothered me into the night.

My maternal grandmother died in 1998. She was 96, and the last six months of her life were only suffering. She had broken her hip in 1986, and became terribly arthritic after that. She also had a severely arthritic knee, but was told that replacement surgery for her would not be advisable because of her age. She was born the very same year as the Queen Mother of Britain. Who had a joint replacement surgery sometime in the 1990s. This made Mom angry-and she stated then that, "If you have money and status, you can get any kind of medical care you want." It bothered her then. But on this cool, windy evening in North Texas, she actually said to me that insurance companies SHOULD be allowed to drop patients for having preexisting conditions. Interspersed in this conversation was talk of beloved pets we've lost over the last few years. I commented that sometimes I wish someone would have the same mercy on me when I reach a point of suffering that is not bearable or curable. Mom said, "No. You never kill a human." Now, I know that Mom is anti-choice. This is a conversation we had at some other inopportune event several months ago. But there was a time when she believe it should be between a woman and her doctor. In fact, I know of four abortions that happened in our family during the 1980s, two for the health of the mother, and one for the viability of the fetus. In three of those four cases, she agreed with the choice.

This shocked me so much that I didn't think of all the ways I could have continued the discussion. And then my nephew's team tied up the score. But the thoughts of our family's preexisting conditions clouded my thoughts as I tried to drop off to sleep. I have type II diabetes, and inherited my grandmother's crippled left knee. My brother in law had thyroid cancer surgery last month, and will need medication and rechecks for the rest of his life. My dad is a heart patient. My niece was recently diagnosed with type II diabetes. My sister and another niece have bipolar disorder. Would my mother suggest that we should be dropped from our insurance because of our preexisting conditions? My dad has chronic pain-the treatment of which is very expensive. But Mom insisted that the government should not be allowed to force insurance companies to cover sick people because it is anti-competitive, and will cause them to go bankrupt. Did I mention that Mom is also a fundamentalist Baptist? But I guess now Beck and Sean Hannity, the Irish Catholic right wing hatriot trumps Jesus and his calls to love and compassion.

I remember being a Christian, and exhortations to love our neighbors and our enemies. Condemnation was reserved for those who didn't care for the widow and orphan. Jesus told people to sell all their worldly goods and give the money to the poor. But hating the poor is the clarion call of the right. The people who fund the tea party movement are extremely wealthy-Dick Armey springs to mind. If he didn't spend time earning money from insurance interests by fueling tea party sentiments, how WOULD he spend his time now that he's left congress?

The ironic thing is that polls trying to find who the tea partiers are seem to show that they are predominantly working class. So this is a self-hating movement? Perhaps it is a movement secretly calculated to lead the poor to advocate for their own deaths in order to save the government the money of caring for them? It was very confusing. But the thing that made me chuckle is knowing that my mother agrees with those who think that the earth is 6000 years old, and that evolution is a fantasy devised to draw people's faith away from God. If she knew that I'd come up with a theory that the whole anti-health care movement could have DARWIN'S name attached to it, she would be mortified. But this whole thing of social construction through denial of health care IS human devised evolution. But rather than shorten the time people must survive before they die of a preexisting condition, they should suffer the pain of their illness with no access to health care or medicine. Ending suffering is anti-competitive in a free market, capitalist society. We've all seen what humans do to animals when they try to create new breeds or breed to a standard, regardless of the cost to the animal. Millions of dogs suffer with congenital problems that cause pain and short lives. Several breeds are unable to procreate, and in order to breed them, artificial insemination is the only option. Some breeds have been bred down so small, to satisfy some human's desire for furry, living accessories that their skeletons are too fragile to survive the smallest injury. Miniature horses sometimes starve because they've been bred to be small, but their teeth don't breed down in size, and are too big for the horses' mouth. Humans are very bad at this whole creation thing, and so this social Darwinism of trying to rid ourselves of the poor and sick by denying them health care will probably backfire. At least I hope so.

I am an advocate of a single payer plan, such as what Canada has. Doctors I've heard interviewed (who were against President Obama's health care plan) and 85 % of Canadians think it is a good system. So here's hoping that this drive for a new social Darwinism fails. If I pray for Beck or Hannity to have a Pauline experience, and suddenly become enlightened...Nah.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off to the Mines

I love my water proof, Gore Tex lined hiking boots. They were an anniversary gift from my husband several years ago, and I don't get to wear them enough. If I am walking some place muddy, or walking after a snow or rain. Living in North Central Texas, there are long periods without precipitation, so the boots show little wear, even after about six years in service. I've wrote here in February about the regret I felt for not wearing them on a paved trail after a big snow, and when I wear them in the mud, they do get caked and amusingly heavy. But I am so glad to have them-and last Saturday was no exception.

My mom is originally from Arkansas-in the area around Hot Springs. All five of her children have good memories of trips there to visit her family. Nature is in control there, and in all her glory. We've taken surprise road trips there in the fall, where the colors of the trees and the hills were breathtaking. My youngest sister has wanted to visit the diamond crater there for a very long time. So last Saturday we took a little road trip. Along were Mom, Teresa, my middle sister, Tanya, and I. We left early-around 7, and took bags of healthy snack-nuts, water, granola bars, fruit. We got our omega 3 from almond M&M's-our only chocolate cheat. Mom and I slept in the back on the way out, but did wake up to chat from time to time. This little group of girls has a tendency to get very silly, and their were times that we were laughing so hard that Teresa had a hard time seeing to drive.

We stopped briefly at a road side rock shop that was owned by one of those colorful characters from a travelogue-a toothless old man, who loved talking so much that we felt he might not get many customers-particularly on a day that was gray, cold and windy, like this one.We each picked a pretty rock, with me having the hardest time choosing. I told the group that I wished I could have an affair with a geologist who would teach me how to identify the rocks. To me they are amazing things; the history of the world is told in the rocks. We then stopped for a short time to visit one of Mom's three surviving brothers. He is another one of those characters from another time, full of stories about horse trading and what it costs to sell and keep his cows. The we took off for Murfreesboro, which is not far from my uncle's farm.

We got the the diamond crater, which was formed by a volcanic eruption, and saw a surprising number of people out considering the weather. It was the first weekend of spring break for most schools, but still-it was not a pleasant day to be out in the weather on the outside-----WAY outside chance of finding a diamond worth selling. We went through the short course on how to find a diamond, and learned about some of the other types of rock that are common in the soil there. The crater itself is a circular area surrounded by the beautiful pines that are everywhere in Arkansas. There are trenches dug throughout, which I assume are dug out every morning to give people some loose dirt to dig in. There had apparently been some recent rain, because everything was very muddy. We found a spot and put down all of our stuff, and begun to dig.

There were lots of pretty rocks, many different colors and strata. We kept many of those to place in Teresa's rock garden at home. We had brought screens and colanders for "panning," and garden tools for digging. The park itself rented those things, but many people had fancy, two layered screens of their own. Those people must have been trying for a long time to find that one diamond they could retire on. There were postings of photos with stories of people who had found big diamonds, with the year in which they were found. There was some distance from one big diamond to the next, so I don't think we realistically thought we would find anything of great value. But we dug in. Tanya and I were struck by the strange, pinkish color of the chunks of mud we dug out to get to rock beneath. After digging for about an hour, Mom and Teresa took a bucket of dirt to the washing station to see what was in it, and came back telling us how dreadfully cold the water was. We just chuckled and kept digging. Mom and Teresa moved to a different spot to dig.

I was struck by the fact that I had been digging for some time, and had found no life. I'm sure if I'd had a microscope there would have been plenty of microbes, but I had not seen a single worm, or snail shell, or any higher life form. In fact, the digging area looked sort of like a moonscape. I commented to Tanya about this, and shortly afterward we each saw a spider. I looked around the trees that surrounded the digging area, and there were a few people up a bit higher. I told Tanya that perhaps we would have better luck if we trekked a bit higher up the hill, just below the trees. It is possible that rains would wash rocks down, and maybe up that little bit higher there would be something different. She agreed, so we moved. There were a couple of college students that I chatted with for a bit, and then sat down under a tree to see if my theory panned out (pardon the pun.) Nearer the trees, the lack of higher life was not a problem. Being left handed, I anchored myself with my right hand and dug with my left. In seconds after I planted myself, I felt an odd tingling on my right hand, which I looked down to see covered with ants. Only one managed to bite me before I got them brushed off, but I jumped up to be sure that I didn't have any more ants on me. Not long after that, Teresa came to my spot and said Mom was ready to leave. She had found something that might be a small diamond, and she wanted to have the people inside the park pavilion look at it. But with the cold, she wanted to leave after that. I looked down at my boots, and they were caked with mud. I laughed because when they get that way, they are very heavy. We went to the washing station and washed them off, but that fabulous Gore-Tex lining stayed dry, and my feet were warm and cozy. Mom's diamond was only a quartz, but we still had plenty of laughing to do on the way back to Texas. It was another good day in 'dem boots.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What Kind of Fool Am I?

What Kind of Fool Am I?
In 1963, a British pop singer named Anthony Newley asked that question, and this morning I asked it of myself. I decided last night that Abigail deserved a nice, long walk today. It had been awhile, and neither of us are getting the exercise we need. Because we had nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow this past Thursday, I thought I would go to an old childhood park/hangout, Foster Park. It has had a great deal of upgrading in the last forty years, and I figured a paved walkway might be a bit dryer than our other walking spots. Plus it was an easy 3 miles from one end to the other and back because it is such a pretty, scenic walk.

My first foolish decision was not to bring my good camera. The water has been running off the roof of our building for two days as if there is a major rain storm going on outside. But this snow was so sticky, and there was so much of it, that there was plenty of snow left all over the park. I knew that my cell phone camera wouldn't quite cut it when I saw a young girl doing cartwheels in the snow. I also knew that there has been a great glut of snow pictures taken in my neighborhood when I saw two more moms posing their children and taking pictures. But, to me, this is the perfect kind of snow-clinging to everything, and making Texas look like a Currier and Ives post card.

My second bad decision was not to wear my waterproof hiking boots. I figured the paved path would be dry since the temperatures were above freezing most of yesterday. HA!!! First of all, the park is hilly and the trail has lots of low points. Second, there is a creek that feeds into the Trinity River. The sound of the creek with all the melting snow causing it to rush was like the sound of Niagara Falls-at least on the nature programs I've watched that take place there. I don't personally know what Niagara sounds like, but the water was loud, and running deep across the path at those low points. The rest of the path was covered with mud.

I've been trying to work with Abigail not to jump on strangers, so when we saw other people coming I stepped off the trail with a treat in my hand to get her to sit until they passed, unless they wanted to say hi. Only one did, but telling her to sit on snow is a tough task. She doesn't mind sitting on carpet or grass, but on snow and mud-it takes convincing. It was even harder because at several spots along the way,some large limbs had been knocked down by the weight of the snow, and blocked the entire trail. So we had to step further off, into more watery mud.

But we walked on, and shortly after we got moving we crossed the first rushing section of the creek, and my walking shoes were soaked, as were my pants, halfway up my shin. The water was cold. Very cold. But we kept on. There were apparently thousands of collected smells that were not buried by snow or washed away by the melt off. There were also lots of birds on branches hanging low from the snow weight and brave squirrels looking for some acorns in the mud. Abigail loved that-the terrier psyche cannot be stopped! If there are rodents, she wants to chase and hunt them. She was having a ball! She isn't normally a dog that enjoys water, but there was one section of creek that contained a drain pipe clogged with leaves and debris. The debris created a bit of a gurgling whirlpool, which fascinated her. She got very close to the whirlpool, and I saw her nearly lose her footing in the rush of the creek water. She is, after all, only seventeen pounds, and that water was really moving. Needless to say, my squishy shoes and socks concerned Abigail not one whit. The sun was out, she got treats every time people walked by, there were squirrels and birds all over the place; she was having a ball.

We stopped about three yards short of Ranch View because of the largest branch we'd encountered up to then, and headed back to the beginning. For some reason, walking south on the trail, through those watery low spots on the trail, I could feel the water, which was higher now, pushing hard against me, so I understood how it really felt like a shove to Abigail. At one point we came on a chocolate lab whose mom didn't allow him to greet Abigail, so over the river we went again. Near the end of the trail there is a pipe going across the creek, and not far from the pipe is a bridge that has high sides. There were two teenage boys pretending to tightrope walk across the high sides of the bridge. I teased them that there was a narrower pipe ahead if they really wanted to improve their rope walking skills. They said they were just avoiding the watery snow. It seems they had not worn their waterproof hiking boots either.

When we got home, we were both happy and wet. It was a sunny day, with a little breeze-just gorgeous. I would love to take our three mile walks on days like this all the time...with a little less water! I'm not sure what Anthony Newley's final answer was, but what kind of fool am I? The kind of fool who can come home from a walk with soaking, squishy walking shoes and a smelly, wet dog, feeling as if it is the best walk I've had in quite a long time. That's what kind of dog-walking, snow loving fool I am.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

May I Have a Word?

I am an admitted liberal. But not the kind of liberal who thinks all guns should be picked up and melted to build housing for the poor. Not that that would be a bad idea, but what I mean is that I'm not anti-gun. I even enjoy the occasional venison.

I'm also a late bloomer. So when I was at the tender age of forty-four I decided to finish my bachelor's degree. I quite a few unfocused college hours, and it would have been silly not to get that sheepskin. I was working in the financial aid office at a university, so education was smiled upon. My husband was supportive, my boss was encouraging, so I jumped in and planned to study for a business degree. I signed up for a speech class, a Spanish class and an accounting class in the fall of 2001 at the local community college. In October I tearfully handed my accounting professor a blank exam and didn't go back to accounting. I knew that night that I was a words person, not a numbers person. And I do love words. My favorite writers are those who can use the language as playthings. A well constructed phrase, whether in a song, a poem, a political article or news source, can make a bad day good.

What, you may ask, do these disparate items have to do with each other? Well, the language I love is under assault. Today I would like to stop American men and women from calling what they do in the fall to get venison "hunting." They no longer traipse through the woods in search of  herbivorious ungulates. They build tall stands, usually on a friend's property where deer have been spotted rather than out in the wild. They wear camouflage clothing to blend in, and rub their bodies with stuff to prevent the deer from catching their smell. They spread feed around to tempt the deer into their sites, and then they shoot. This activity does not help these men connect with their ancestors. It is not a masculine foray into the woods to commune with nature. I don't think it should be called "hunting" anymore. I think it is time to take back our language, and call this fall male bonding exercise "luring."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Do Dreams Tell Us?

I don't think much about dreams. Mostly because after I have one, I can usually go through the previous few days and put together where the dream came from, even if the events or people in the dream don't match exactly what happened. Once in awhile I have one that makes me wonder where it came from, or why a particular person showed up in it, but not often. My mother always says that if you dream of a birth there will be a death, and vice versa. A few days ago, I was in the room as my husband watched a police procedural drama (his favorite TV genre) and one of the characters said that when a baby shows up in a dream it usually represents the dreamer. I don't know about that. I do remember many years ago, when I was newly married to my first husband, we went to one of those pizza places that has games and I played Whack-a-Mole for the first time. I laughed raucously at the game, and played it for way too long. We lived in such a terrible one room apartment that when we had a freeze the first year we were married, 1983, there was a sheet of ice on the inside of the front door. After that game of Whack-a-Mole, I dreamed that there was someone trying to break into the apartment, and I was whacking them with a hammer through the chained door as they tried to reach their arms in. I still remember the fear I felt in that dream, and how hard I tried to use that hammer to stop those bad guys.

That was nearly twenty-seven years ago. The dream came to me recently as I thought about the news stories of terror attacks and suicide bombings that have been reported on the news that last few weeks. I haven't done statistical research, but it seems that there have been more attacks, not less, since that fateful day in 2001 when terrorists killed over 3,000 Americans, including American Muslims. This week alone nearly 200 people were killed in suicide bombings, one in Afghanistan, one in Pakistan. There were two attempted attacks from Yemen. We have sent bombs to both Yemen and Pakistan, targeting only what our intelligence sources report to be hard Al Qaeda targets. We have escalated the eight year war in Afghanistan. Eight years! The only place we've ever fought longer is Viet Nam, and it won't be long until we catch up with that record. It seems that the "global war on terror" isn't working. It is said often, by those who don't believe that attacking another country will work, that terrorism is a tactic, not a target. The people who use this method of trying to bring down enemies will not stop-terrorism as a tactic works.

The first time I remember an act of terrorism was during the 1968 olympics. Then I remember airport attacks in Greece, and the Achille Lauro cruise ship attack in which Jewish passengers were targeted, and one Jewish man was murdered. Of course, there have been hundreds of terrorist bombings in Israel. There have been hits at schools, bus stops, restaurants-it doesn't seem to end. There have been similar attacks in Germany, Spain, Ireland, London, Bali, Kenya, and on and on. Every time this happens in an airport or on an airplane, there are new restrictions on airline passengers, which terrorists find new ways to get around each time. While I'm not an expert, it seems to me that the young man who attempted to blow up a flight landing in Detroit on Christmas day didn't fit any profile of suicide bombers that I've ever heard. He was not poor, desperate and hopeless, wanting only a giant reward in heaven after taking out some infidels. It seems he was a big whiner from a rich family, who'd had every possible privilege and just decided to be pissed off at Americans. So now we'll have even more restrictions on airline flights. And the terrorists will find another way to attack us. It is telling that after extremely long wars using terror as a tactic in Ireland and Israel, by the Bosque separatists in Spain; all of those countries are still standing. Terrorists have not brought Israel down, nor will they bring down the United States. But there will always be terrorists, despite the game of Whack-a-Mole we are playing with our bombs in the Middle East: Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, no Iraq, no Afghanistan, no Pakistan, no Afghanistan. The phrase "Al Qaeda" just means "the base" so Al Qaeda is wherever some guys who think that way get together. So I guess all the military and national security officers who are trying to shoot Al Qaeda really are just dreaming. I wonder what it means that my favorite dream is of peace?