Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Word Power and a Plea for Thoughtfulness

A while back the phrase of the day to describe something distasteful, weak, or out-of-style was "that's so gay." A movement started to stop people, especially kids, from saying this, asking them to think and realize that by saying such a thing, they were equating gay people to something worthless and distasteful, something gay people hardly needed more of in their ears and thoughts.

On Monday night, Ann Coulter tweeted the following: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." By calling the President of our United States a "retard," she quite understandably ticked some people off, most notably John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger who happens to have Down Syndrome.  His response to Ms. Coulter is respectful, brief, and profound and I strongly suggest you read it now.

In addition to using words like "retard(ed)" and "gay" to insult people, I have another personal pet peeve in the word "fit" to describe an epileptic seizure.  Yes, it's still described that way in the Merriam Webster dictionary.  But there is so much cultural context behind the cold, mathematical meaning we read when we look words up.  To me, a 'fit" is something a three-year-old might throw in the middle of Target's toy aisle when his weary parents refuse to buy him another toy.  It's an irrational, over-the-top, chosen pattern of behavior.  A seizure or paroxysm is not chosen.

We call people all sorts of unbelievable ugly names throughout our days, especially our bad days, or at least during bad traffic.  Do I really think that driver that pulled in front of me just a tiny bit too closely to me is an "idiot" or an "asshole?"  Or maybe if I take a breath I can analyze a bit more, like Mr. Stephens did, and think of other reasons why it might have happened.  For all I know that driver just got fired.  Or is on his way to a hospital for an emergency.

It's not easy and I'll never achieve perfection in this area, but I will be more responsible for the words that come out of my mouth - even - especially - the words their targets never hear.  It is better for my own attitude and helps other people's ugly words roll off my own back too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Is PBS Funding Really That Important?

A lot of jokes have come up since Wednesday's fist presidential debate in which Mitt Romney said that as much as he likes Big Bird, he would cut funding for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).  Facebook is full of pictures of angry Muppets, comedians are laughing about Sesame Street's revenge, etc.  To me it is no joke.

I learned how to read by watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company.  I was the target audience, an urban lower-class dweller whose parents couldn't afford preschool.  Sesame Street was designed to look like my neighborhood instead of Mayberry.  I felt comfortable there and on days when I didn't have anyone taking care of me, I didn't feel alone.  It was an important connection for me with real people, as well as imagination-concocted ones, because my parents were either working too much or too tired to read to me or spend quality time with me.  These days even the best-intended parents, and their kids, can identify with that.

Today I don't have television broadcasting in my house because I am in a rural area (a whole separate issue of government funding for public benefit), but when I am able to access and control a TV, I watch PBS frequently.  I know that programs I watch will have their funders clearly stated, that most programs will be scientifically accurate and educational, and that bias will be more limited than it is on other channels.

It's up to us what we spend our tax money on.  Such a budget change would have to be approved by Congress, but Romney is telling us what he will push for as president if he is elected. PBS is not a God-given right like some other issues in this election.  But I think people who agree with Romney think PBS is a luxury or some frivolous thing we don't need because we have the Internet now.  

PBS is educational access for people with no other options, no transportation to libraries and no expensive Internet access.  When you hear about iPhones and websites all over the media every day, it's easy to think everyone has them, but millions are still offline completely.  And who are the groups most at risk for not having access to information online?  Surprise!  Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities (

I don't know all of the political and funding issues of PBS.  I do know that current funding for PBS is about one-tenth or one percent of the current budget and thus would not make a dent in our economic crisis.  That's the entire PBS budget - not just the subsidies Romney wants to cut.  So it won't help boost the budget; it will only hurt education in this country.  Romney has also sworn to cut subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, etc. (, still a tiny fraction of our spending, but a big and painful cut to those Americans who need and benefit the most from them.

In my household, this would be like addressing my debt and spending problems by swearing off shoelaces.  Yes, it would reduce the amount of money I spend on shoelaces, but it would be an unnoticeable financial benefit.  The thing is, when you need shoelaces, you really need them.  There really is no substitute for them, unless you are wealthy enough to purchase fancy shoes with Velcro closures or the like.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"I'm Sick of Hearing About Cancer!"

Today I heard a woman exclaim to her friend, "I'm so sick of hearing about breast cancer!"  She was looking at an ad for a new charitable/advertising push meant to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, or meant to appear compassionate enough to sell more products - I'm not sure which.

My first reaction in my mind was rage and disgust.  How dare she be so cavalier about something others have to live with every day?  I judged her for being so judgmental.  And when you think about it, it really was a stupid thing to say.

I've been fortunate enough in my life not to have to watch a loved one go through cancer.  I can only imagine the hopelessness, the pain, the way it rearranges your whole life, from scheduling to emotional upheaval.  And having cancer oneself?  I can't even imagine the pain, fear, and pure aggravation of grueling treatment programs and terrible side effects.  To say that it's a bother to "hear about" cancer when others are painfully prodding through it seems callous and rude.

My second reaction was guilt, because I realized with shame that I have thought the very same thing at times.

I've gone so far as to avoid purchasing a product just because it had a pink ribbon on it, not because I support cancer, but because I've sometimes felt as though breast cancer gets more "attention" than many other worthy causes and yes, I do get sick of hearing about it.  Efforts to "raise awareness" are particularly silly to me at this point.  It's doubtful that many have not become aware of breast cancer at this point, and those who haven't, for example very poor women in inner cities, are unlikely to become aware of it via Facebook appeals to share a heartbreaking picture or tease men by posting one's bra color.

I might be more likely to support more local or practical charities that provide real, in-person services to those with breast cancer, such as transportation, errands, service animals, etc.  But I still hurt for the many other deserving charities who must feel like they are playing second fiddle to an already well-funded (I didn't say sufficiently funded) research effort.  It seems at times that supporting Komen or other breast cancer awareness or research has become more of a fashion trend than a serious endeavor.  Recent questionable political decisions by the Komen Foundation haven't helped my distaste for it.

If you have someone in your life (or yourself) with breast or other cancer, I think about you, I grieve for you, I wonder what I can do for you.  I want to do something.  I've just come to the conclusion that buying pink soup cans instead of red and white ones is unlikely to help you at all.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Ugly Politics Does to Kids

I don't have television reception where I live, and chose not to spend money on cable or dish.  I do miss it sometimes, because it's not all banality.  It's a good escape when I need laughter and it's often educational.  "Frasier" taught me lots of new words.  And one episode of "House" might have saved my cousin's life when she found what she thought was a wild carrot in her garden (which may have actually been the deadly plant hemlock).

But not until I was recently hospitalized in a room with cable TV did I realize the best gift I had received by not having network television access at home: freedom from negative political advertisements. Three months before a presidential and congressional election, I'm surprised they have any time for actual programming.

The percentage of political ads that are negative - that is, attacking the opponent rather than focusing on one's own accomplishments - varies depending on the part of the country in which you live.  According to the New York Times, during the last week before Florida's Republican primary election, 92 percent of political ads were negative...92 percent!  And it's getting worse from both major parties, with the Miami Herald reporting that 7 out of 10 ads this year have been negative, a huge leap from only about 9 percent negative ads in the 2008 presidential race.

I've been thinking about the large amount of time children are exposed to television, and how they must be taking in a lot of these ads. Can you imagine if children learned and practiced the behaviors they see in these ads?  Not only are we teaching our kids to hate their peers, colleagues, and opponents, but worse, we are teaching them to make excuses for their behavior, and to deflect responsibility by blaming others for their wrongdoings. 

"I know I cheated on this test, Ms. Johnson, but if you review the records of my classmate Robert, he has cheated nearly every week, for his own gain, while I only did it once...and that was to ensure our school would receive much-needed No Child Left Behind funding!"

"Four years ago my rival for head cheerleader botched a cartwheel during the most important football game of our school's season.  Is that the kind of "leader" we want, or would you rather have someone who has never botched a cartwheel in her life?"

"Yes, I did hit my sister, Mom, but if you are a patriotic American, don't you agree that a strong home defense is necessary for peace and unity?"

I was inadvertently taught to hate politicians before I really understood what politics even were.  I remember a January day when I was in the sixth grade. Living in a region predominantly populated with Democrats, we children had spent the past few months listening to negative ads and listening to our parents complain about President Ronald Reagan.  So when an aide came into our classroom to tell us that President Reagan had been shot, in our stupid 11-year-old naivete, we all started to cheer, celebrate, and high-five each other.  

Our otherwise kind and gentle teacher, Elaine Armendariz, slammed her hand down on the desk to shut us up, and proceeded to give us an almost minute-by-minute accounting of what it was like the day President John F. Kennedy was killed. It was a very healthy dose of shame I have never forgotten, no matter how badly I may dislike whomever holds a public office.

I will tell you whom I plan to vote for and why, and I may tell you why I disagree with my candidate's opponent, but never will you see me make a joke about killing a candidate, or a bumper sticker on my car alluding to a racial slur, or hear me say cheap shots about a candidate's family, looks, religion, or wardrobe.  They cheapen us all.

Whether it is through programs like debate clubs, public speaking training, morality education through religious institutions, strong parenting, or other means, we must teach our children to fight fair and fight civilly, even against people at the polar opposite of their own beliefs.  And perhaps more importantly, we shouldn't measure someone's goodness on the worse things that other people do.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Different Christian View of Abortion

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, "How Can You Be A Pro-Gay Christian?" because I wanted to answer the question that I knew many of my fellow Christians were asking me, either verbally or just in their own heads. I hope that I explained how my beliefs were formed and why they are in line with my view of the Bible and my love for Jesus Christ, though not all agreed with what I wrote.

This post is even scarier, because it's something I've not yet "admitted" to many of my Christian friends yet.  Everyone already knew I was a supporter of equal rights and equal treatment toward gay and lesbian people. But because of the often higher level of vitriol and moral outrage, I've not told many how I feel about the subject of abortion.  In many ways I wasn't even sure myself, until recently.

I always used to say that I thought abortion should be legal, but really difficult to get, with tons of restrictions, permissions, waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc. to deter women from getting an abortion. But I've read first-hand accounts online of women and families affected by these new restrictive laws that I used to believe in.  Recently I read an account of a couple who desperately wanted a baby but found out that it wasn't viable and would certainly die.  However, her doctor was not allowed to safely and humanely terminate the doomed pregnancy, forcing her into weeks of emotional torture, followed by the birth of the baby who gasped for air and suffered for several minutes before dying. Shaming, inconveniencing, or harassing women is not the answer.

A life begins at conception. This seems quite evident to me. Obviously a fetus is alive, if you define life as active biological processes or continued cell division.  I don't think it's just a blob of cells comparable to a tumor or a mole, as some have described it.  I think it's a person. What thoughts or feelings or sensations it has, I don't know, but it's a living human being. Killing a fetus without the mother's consent is murder.

So yes, I believe life begins at conception. And, I believe that abortion should remain legal and safe.

So how can I believe both of those things and still call myself a Christian?

Let's say you and I are acquainted, and you develop a life-threatening heart condition requiring a transplant. My heart happens to be a perfect match. Without my heart, you will certainly die. But in no state in the union can I be forced to donate my heart to you. It is not my legal or moral obligation to give up my life for you...even if I passed on the virus that infected your heart in the first place.  Even if we were talking about not a heart, but a kidney, something I could live without, it would still be wrong to force or coerce me to donate it to you.

Can you imagine if individuals could be legally forced to help others with an anatomical gift? It's the kind of thing that could be presented as positive, because it saves lives! But imagine if the police came knocking on your door to take you for the removal of your kidney for your cousin...or the president...or the boss who fired you...or a convicted murderer.

Heck, even if just a pint of my blood would save you, it still can't be taken by force of law. It is wrong. It would be wonderful if I could and would donate to you so that you could live, but making me do it is unthinkable...even if it means you would have to die. 

And I didn't come up with this law, nor did any government, nor any man. This is the law of God himself, known as Free Will.

God created all of his children and loves all of them.  I'm sure it would have been much easier for him to implant in them some switch, some absolute moral force that would kick in, make sure they never ever sinned, keep them from experiencing consequences, and ensure that they would all end up in heaven. But he gave us all free will instead, knowing that many would use that free will to break his heart or make terrible choices.  Free will is more valuable than even life itself, according to God himself. 

Love without choice is not love.

You cannot and should not be guilted, manipulated, threatened, jailed, fined, shamed, or forced by law to sacrifice your body or any part of your body, even temporarily, to another person if that is not what you choose to do. Yes, even if I think it's your fault that person exists to need your body.  It is clearly a violation of your individual liberty, and a violation of God's most fundamental law and most valuable gift, free will.  It would be wonderful if you choose to sacrifice your body to give birth to that other person, but if you don't want to, it is the most sacrilegious kind of wrong to force you to do so.

There is (always) more to say about the subject of abortion, but that is, in brief, why I assert that abortion can and must remain a legal, safe, and private matter between a woman and her doctor, and why I believe that this does not make me any less of a Christian.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Becoming a Foster Parent

On Tuesday I was officially approved to be a foster caretaker for the local animal shelter.  I'll be getting cats only - maybe, hopefully, a batch of tiny just-born kittens, now that "kitten season" is coming up.  

I was partially inspired by this hilarious article from the Cracked website (warning: a few swear words), and partially inspired by some events that had happened in my own life recently.  Whatever the reason, promoting growth and development to those not biologically related to me seems to run in my family, and I thought I'd give it a go.

My father was an "unofficial" foster parent for decades, hanging around with troubled boys in our neighborhood, running camps, YMCAs, etc., helping kids whose own families had given up on them.  Later in his life he became an "official" foster parent, and was planning to adopt his foster son when he (my father) unfortunately died too young.  I don't know that all my father's methods of care were exactly kosher, but I know he really did care, and I think I inherited that.  I just don't want to have to pay for anyone's college education, so I'm sticking with cats and not children.

Pebbles is finally happy in our new home, being the only animal for once, and no, I haven't broken the news to her yet.  I'm hoping that now that life is better for us and she feels safer, she will forgive me and maybe even do a little fostering herself.  At least I certainly hope so, because I'd rather her nurse the kittens and clean their gross regions than having to do it myself. 

Whether I get a brand new litter of bottle-fed babies or an old cranky shelter maven, I am looking forward to the adventure.  I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to them.  Last year, a kitten ran up to the door as I was walking in the house, crying for help.  I only took care of him for one night, and I still think about him a lot and wonder if I should have kept him (after a stay at the shelter and some foster care for socialization, he found a good home).

One thing that resounds in my ears is what the shelter representative told me to do in case one of the babies doesn't survive (it happens a lot): "Put it in a Ziplog baggie and stick it in the freezer until you can take it to the shelter."  Ugh.  But however they leave me, I'll be sad. If I get kittens, I'll be aggravated that they keep me up at night playing.  I'll complain about the smell of the litterbox. I'll probably claim to be happy they're leaving.  But I won't be.

It's a huge commitment to volunteer to care for and be responsible for a living creature.  It's an even bigger one to volunteer to do it only temporarily.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life in Romney's 'Safety Net'

You've probably heard about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement on Wednesday that he is "not concerned about the very poor" because "we have a safety net there." (For the CNN story, click here.) Pressed to clarify, Romney cited programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and housing vouchers as elements of this "safety net" which presumably rescues those in the most dire circumstances and prevents illness, homelessness, and deaths among the "very poor."

Continuing with his metaphor of the safety net, Romney stated, "If it needs repair, I'll fix it." I couldn't help but wonder what kind of repairs would be performed by a man whose party has consistently fought funding for badly needed social programs, programs that help pull people out of poverty and ultimately help the economy flourish, but are fought tooth and nail because they temporarily leave less money for politicians' pet projects and unnecessary wars.

I'm a Democrat, but I don't have a mouth-frothing, all-encompassing hatred for Romney like some people seem to harbor for their opposing party's candidates. At least he doesn't scare me as much as some others have. But as many have pointed out, his belief in this safety net highlights how out of touch he is with reality.

The arrogant belief that the poor have it easy because of welfare and food stamps and free medical care is not Romney's belief alone, however. It's something I've heard from many, many people who have never been there. I would like to sit down with Romney, and my friends who believe as he does that the poor are protected and safe, and describe in detail what life is like in his 'safety net.'

I'd like to tell Mitt Romney how many hours one has to sacrifice from the job hunt to sit in the Income Support Office waiting to apply for food stamps, and the very specific and prolific paperwork one has to produce to procure them. You have to prove income and residency and all sorts of other things that you might not have because you don't get mail when you're living in your car, you haven't had a pay stub in 18 months, or all your paperwork is 20 miles away in storage and you have no car, no bus fare, and no support system. And if you do receive food stamps, you will still have to find a way to buy toothpaste and toilet paper. Think those aren't necessities to stay alive? Try living without them for a week.

See how easy it is to get a housing voucher, especially if you are single, without children, able-bodied, and relatively young. Do you think there are dozens of empty apartments out there just waiting for one of the very poor to qualify for one and move in? No, there are hundreds, thousands in some cities, of people on a waiting list for just one place to live.

And if you are fortunate enough to be capable of producing the necessary documentation and passing the interviews and waiting period to obtain Medicaid, you can look forward to hours- or days-long waits in hospital emergency rooms, and months-long waits to see an actual primary care doctor. Need a specialist for your heart disease or schizophrenia? Sorry, the specialty clinics are so full they are no longer even accepting people on the waiting lists.

The insulated ignorant might feel better believing that everyone who is sleeping on the streets tonight is there by choice or a moral failing of some sort - mentally ill people who don't take their meds, drug addicts, drifters...but a large (and fastest growing) segment of the homeless population is families with children. Some can't get treatment for their mental illness. Far too many are veterans, American heroes going hungry, heroes people think they are helping by placing magnets on their cars.

And too often, the same people complaining about the proliferation of junkies and crazy criminals, are the same people shouting for Congress to cut funding for health care and treatment programs that could and would help those people, reduce their numbers, reduce nuisance panhandling and crime, and improve local tourism and economies.

Regardless of what many believe, no one plans or chooses to be very poor. You won't believe me about any of this until it happens to you, and you find that that safety net is more like one single thin thread that cuts into your hands as you hang on for dear life. If there were a working safety net for the very poor, no one in America would ever die cold and alone, curled up under newspapers in a park.