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Sunday, December 23, 2007

I Gave at the Mall

Save the world by buying a bottle of drinking water! That idea sums up the latest in the feel-good trend sweeping the country: spend money on something you want and would buy anyway, and get that warm feeling associated with helping your fellow man at the same time. Buy a $1.80 bottle of water and Ethos/Starbucks will send a whopping five cents to help children around the world get access to clean water. What could be better? Except that bottling of water in plastic, is, as we now know, a wildly irresponsible way to sell our drinking water.

What if Starbucks instead supplied access to tap water with some paper cups next to it? Every time a person took a cup, they could drop $1 into a can, which would then be sent to help children have access to clean drinking water? The customer would save 80 cents, the children would get 95 cents more, and we wouldn’t waste all that plastic and generate tons of non-biodegradable trash. Well, obviously, Starbucks isn’t going do that because then they’re out $1.75 on every bottle they didn’t sell.

The Ethos water charade is just one example of this trend towards incorporating a false sense of charity into an activity we engage in all the time anyway, namely shopping. We just go to the mall, not out of our way one bit, and we can buy things we were going to buy anyway so corporations will give a percentage of the profits to some charity. The Product Red campaign is a good example of this trend. We’re made to feel like we’re solving world hunger by buying a red iPod. A red iPod Nano costs $199. However, the blue one costs $199 also. Why should we feel so great about ourselves? We did nothing charitable; we simply bought something we wanted anyway and perhaps compromised on the color.

But hey, this is not to imply that it’s not good that corporations are committed to giving money towards causes like AIDS in Africa. And it’s not wrong that the corporations are only participating in these drives so that people will buy their products, either. They’re in the business of making money, so they’re just doing what they do. But let’s call it what it is, huh?

We’re being given the sense that every time we buy something, we just did our part to save the world. But if we really look, are we abdicating what is our responsibility--to truly help others?

I recently saw someone with four of those one-dollar rubber wrist bracelets at a coffee shop discussing the meaning of each colorful band. “This one is for poverty, this one is for cancer awareness…” He had spent a grand total of $4 to look like the second coming of Mother Teresa, all the while sipping a $4.95 mocha latte.

You see the signs everywhere — we can “feel good” about buying from this and that store. This one gives to charity, that one promotes fair trade, the other one is committed to being “green. “ What does that mean? A Connecticut car wash promotes itself as being “green” since it installed solar panels on its roof. While this will only meet a small fraction of the car wash’s electricity needs, we’re told to feel good going there to clean our SUV, even though hundreds of gallons of water mixed with phosphate pollutants from the soap go down the drain.

America is a generous nation, contributing a record $295 billion in 2006 to charity while corporate donations were $12.72 billion, a decline of 10 percent from the previous year. As much as it’s great that corporations are feeling that it’s necessary to look like good members of the world community, it’s obvious that we can’t leave it to them to do our giving for us. We need to think as much about our charity as we do about our other purchases. We can’t allow buying an overpriced bottle of water when we’re thirsty to replace well thought out contributions to deserving organizations. We need to continue doing what we’ve always done — volunteer and be generous, and not allow “I gave at the office” to become “I gave at the mall.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where Have All the Anti-War Songs Gone?

The movie theater lights came down 10 minutes before show time, but instead of coming attractions, or ads for popcorn in the lobby, a three and a half minute National Guard recruiting video began to play. Immediately, it became obvious that this was no ordinary schlocky military-produced film, but a slick rock video by the popular rock group “3 Doors Down.” The video, “Citizen Soldier,” chronicles the history of the National Guard; one of their own fired the shot that “started a nation,” and others “stormed the beaches of Normandy” and includes footage from 9/11 and Guardsmen rescuing a cute blond boy from what looks like the aftermath of a tornado.

The reality, of course, is that for the last several years, Guardsmen, more often than not, have been deployed to Iraq, not here rescuing Americans from disasters. 3 Doors Down, by appealing to its fan base, is helping to send young men and women to fight in Iraq. The new recruits will most likely not find cute blond kids to rescue, nor will they start a nation.

The times they are indeed a-changin’.. During the Vietnam war, the popular bands of the era were putting out seminal anti-war music, not recruitment songs. Where have all the Pete Seegers gone? Gone to commercials everywhere, it seems. Even the formerly anti-establishment hero of the farmers, John Mellencamp, has gone corporate, happily singing that this is our country in those repetitive Chevy commercials. He informs us that, “There’s room enough here for religion to forgive,” but this inane, banal piece of bad songwriting cannot be forgiven. Long ago, Mellencamp told us that he fought authority and authority always won. Maybe he just got tired of fighting and decided to just take the money and run.

Four and a half years into the Iraq conflict. and it’s hard to think of a single Iraq-era anti-war song. Yet, even young people born long after the Vietnam war can name a handful of that era’s best protest songs. “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “One Tin Soldier” come quickly to mind. Something has indeed gone haywire over the last 30 years if the most memorable anti-war musical moment (not even a song)came from the Dixie Chicks, a country group no less, when the lead singer announced a few years ago that she was ashamed that the president was from Texas.

Do today’s artists and listeners just have different political viewpoints? Or could it be the lack of a draft? Maybe self-preservation helped inspire the great anti-war song output of old. Or could the corporate ownership of radio simply be keeping these songs from us? In March of 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, The New York Times published an article about the state of anti-war music, saying, “One thing is certain: a war, as opposed to the prospect of war, would quickly generate more anti-war music.” Four plus years since then, it seems that certainty, like the music business, just ain’t what it used to be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


1-20-09. The day Bush leaves office. Never before have we been so keenly aware of the exact date when a president will step down. It’s on bumperstickers and keychains everywhere. Many have timers counting down the days, minutes, and seconds left to his term.

Amusing at first, these now seem vital to those who are terrified that Bush may still have time to start a war with Iran before his term ends and will leave it to the next president to mop up not from just one war, but from two. The reports differ, but there are indications that the hawks, especially Cheney, are lobbying heavily for an attack on Iran in the near future. They’re afraid that the next president will be “too wimpy,” and believe that this is their last chance to start another war before they lose power.

Bush recently said that he does not want to become “irrelevant.” It’s frightening to imagine that the war-mongers whispering in his ear may be saying there’s no better way to become relevant again than by provoking Iran into war. Think of the advantages – all the fun of dropping bombs, cowboy talk, and killing people without any of that messy clean-up to do. It’s like having a kids’ birthday party at a restaurant – the kids have fun, spill cake and soda all over the place, and then you pay and get to leave, while someone making minimum wage cleans the tables and floor. Iran is like a neocon’s Chuck E. Cheese, but better; the money they’ll spend will be the taxpayers’, not theirs.

It won’t be up to Bush to figure out how to increase the ranks of the armed services, who today are straining to keep up with the demands in Iraq alone. It’ll likely be up to a Democratic president who may not have even supported the Iraq war to begin with. If it’s Hillary, well, too bad, since she did support Iraq and has given tacit support so far to the saber rattling over Iran.
It will be the American people straining financially to pay for two wars and sacrificing more and more of their sons’ and daughters’ lives while Bush will be busy building his presidential library and maybe clearing some brush at his ranch.

The countdown now is about 15 months. That’s plenty of time to invent the necessary justifications for war. The administration has the experts who must believe that, having fooled us once into buying that invading Iraq was essential to our security, we will believe it once again about Iran.

Soon, we’ll begin to hear “9/11” and “Iran” in the same sentences, and frightening talk about WMDs. We’ll be told that we have to fight ‘em there so we don’t have to fight ‘em here. The U.S. will make ridiculous demands with deadlines that Iran cannot possibly meet. When they don’t meet the deadlines, the bombings will start.

Get your cameras ready: Bush may yet have time to don another flight jacket and pose beneath another “Mission Accomplished” sign before he walks off into the sunset on 1 20 09.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Glass Houses

Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Okay. Got it. Now, let's talk about his politics…Oh, if only it could be that way! Instead, we have to hear debate about whether the U.S. is ready to accept a Mormon as our president and about how Mormons don't drink alcohol, and a thousand other things that distinguish Mormons from other types of Christians. I'm no Romney fan, but I just don't think it’s important that he's a Mormon. When his father George ran for president 40 years ago, there was no hand wringing about his religion. Have we slipped backwards down the evolutionary (er, I mean intelligent design) chain so much in 40 years that we don't know if we could deal with our president having some not-so-average religious beliefs?

The media focuses on Romney’s "strange" Mormon beliefs. Yet Christians don't think it's strange that God masqueraded as burning vegetation in the Old Testament and many believe that a divine force causes the image of Christ to appear in odd places such as the side of a grilled cheese sandwich. Imagine a space alien on his first day on Earth learning that to live forever, he would need to be immersed in a body of plain old H2O, or have some sprinkled on him.

The only thing that renders us able to accept strange beliefs and rituals (such as baptism by water to get us eternal life) is that we’ve been indoctrinated since childhood to consider these strange things normal.

One of the particular rituals the Christian right has difficulty with is that Mormons sometimes convert the dead of other religions to theirs. I can’t fathom why this is so odious to other Christians. It actually strikes me as quite understandable and practical. When Romney was a young missionary, he spent 30 months in France, knocking on hundreds of doors a day, and converted only two people during his stint. It must have been tempting to saunter into a graveyard and inform the dead that if they had any objection to being converted to Mormonism, they should really speak up immediately. Is this really so different from Christian crusades to convert the Muslims of the Middle East? Actually, the fact that the crusaders killed so many of their would-be converts makes me think I would rather be converted when I’m dead than be killed while arguing the point.

All religions require some suspension of disbelief. To be truthful, even atheists have to swallow some things that are pretty hard to believe. They must buy into the belief that billions of years ago, nothing, of its own volition, suddenly became something. This is essentially the big bang theory. Maybe even harder to accept is the one where life on Earth began from non-life, aka spontaneous generation: not living one moment, then living the next. Is this so much more logical than believing that Jesus died one day and rose the next?

Romney has a lot of faults. He is a flip-flopper who has sudden epiphanies timed perfectly to his political ambitions. He believes that fixing the nation’s problems is just a matter of closely analyzing all the data and waiting for the answers to present themselves. But he should not be faulted for being a devoted religious man simply because the religion is different from the majority. As the hero of both the Christian right and the Mormons might have put it, let he who is without strange religious beliefs cast the first stone.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Hugo Problem

Hugo Chavez is trying to do away with presidential term limits. He is restricting freedom of the press and is friends with Fidel Castro and has close ties with Iran. He is building a Kalashnikov rifle factory in Venezuela.

All of these may be true about the controversial leader, but it seems that increasingly there is a perception within the US that he also poses a security threat to the United States and that average Americans should be afraid of him.

Chavez inspires polarized views. He is alternatively a despot, intent on attacking the US and threatening democracy throughout Latin America, and a heroic populist, bravely standing up to US hegemony.

But should we be afraid of him?

The fact that he is buying Kalashnikovs and building a rifle factory has rattled our government, but that particular rifle can fire about 330 feet. The closest American mainland between the shores of Venezuela and the US is about 1300 miles. Venezuela has no nuclear weapons or other weapons capable of reaching us. Most likely, he is not planning on marching up through Central America to invade Texas. Unless, as Chavez claims, the US plans to invade Venezuela, we have nothing to worry about from the Kalashnikovs.

But rifles aren’t the only thing our administration seems to be worried about. Venezuela also dropped out of participation in the World Bank and IMF after repaying all its loans early and has worked to establish the Bank of the South as a regional World Bank alternative. Chavez established ALBA, a trade agreement proposed as an alternative to the US’s FTAA. As part of it, Venezuela plans to supply 100 percent of the energy needs for ALBA member-nations, which include Haiti, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba. It’s a wildly generous offer, but he can afford to be. Not counting the Middle East, Venezuela has more proven oil reserves than any nation on earth except Canada. Chavez has also supplied oil to fund reduced-price oil programs for the poor in the United States, including Joe Kennedy’s Citizens Energy Corporation. Many New Englanders have had heat on cold winter nights, thanks to cheap Venezuelan oil, a la Chavez.

The US government’s fretting over Venezuela’s initiating the Bank of the South and the ALBA free trade agreement is simply a fear that Latin America will no longer turn to the United States for everything — from borrowing money with strings attached to being told what the price of corn will be that day.

Hugo Chavez may indeed be power-hungry and intent on ruling Venezuela to the end of his days. He may, like many with great power, turn corrupt and brutal and become the dictator he is already accused of being. Some fear he may become another Fidel Castro. We fail to remember that in the more than 40 years that Castro has been in power, Cuba has been a peaceful nation and has never once attacked us, even though they are only 90 miles away from our shores (but still out of Kalashnikov range). Only we have attacked them. Castro has governed over a poor populace that manages to feed and educate and provide medical care to all of its people; Chavez could do worse than follow in his footsteps.

Today, Chavez is a popular, democratically elected leader of a sovereign nation that has never in its history invaded, attacked, or otherwise hurt the United States. Chavez’s greatest crime is simply that he has the nerve to try to control his nation’s own wealth, its oil, and refuses to play by the rules the US has established for Latin America over the last 150 years. If that’s what our administration is afraid of, the self-determination of another democratic nation, we probably have bigger things to worry about, right here at home.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Green Pork

In the last days before the Congressional break, the Republican outcry was, “Green pork!” It wasn’t a long-lost Dr. Seuss sequel to Green Eggs and Ham, it’s how Republicans are describing a new energy bill passed by the House. Green for environmental and pork for excessive political spending.

It seems the Democrat-controlled House had the nerve to eliminate $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry. That’s pork? This is an industry in which a single company, Exxon Mobil, posted an annual profit of $39.6 billion. As Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit says, “They have so much profit, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They don’t know what to do with it.” Sounds like they can afford to do without the tax breaks.

Not only that, but part of the Republican argument is that if we take away oil companies’ tax breaks, they won’t have the money for new exploration. However, one of the reasons their profit has been so high is that they no longer reinvest as much in new exploration. Other than buying into foreign oil companies, they’re simply running out of places to look for oil domestically. So, instead, they have massive amounts of cash they don’t know what to do with, and no debt.

But that’s not how the Republicans see it: “There's a war going on against energy from fossil fuels," says Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas. "I can't understand the pure venom felt against the oil and gas industry." I can’t understand why Rep. Hall doesn’t understand what’s wrong with fossil fuels. First, we’re running out of them; second, they pollute the environment and contribute to global warming; and third, the oil companies are making enough money all by themselves ― throwing them more billions isn’t going to result in any solution to our energy crisis. Mr. Hall is trying to portray this as a vendetta against oil companies by implying that insanely rich companies like Exxon Mobil are victims. Congress is not the Grinch stealing the last crumb in Exxon Mobil’s house.

$16 billion certainly could help in the development of alternative fuels, which is exactly what this bill proposes. Additionally, the bill provides funds to increase efficiency of appliances and buildings. All good ideas.

However, according to the White House, the President may veto the bill because it makes “no serious attempts to increase our energy security or address high energy costs.” The White House and Republican leadership seem to think that the only “real” energy is fossil fuel energy. It seems renewable energy just doesn’t count. How can our energy security not eventually increase if our energy were increasingly coming from domestic renewable sources? No more ripping through the Arctic, tearing up everything in site to hunt for the last little drop of oil. Turn on the windmill or open up the solar panels and just let the energy flow. And how is investing in renewable energy not addressing energy costs? The more renewable energy we create, the less oil and coal we use, the less demand, the lower the cost.

We’ve been investing in fossil fuels for decades now, and it has given us an unstable Middle East, oil coated beaches, dirty air, and hotter climates. Why not, just this once, try something different? Believe in the power of American innovation and resourcefulness to come up with new forms of energy. Believe in it by investing in it. The creature in Green Eggs and Ham was reluctant to try anything new, and then, at the very end, he tried the colorful dish and loved it. “I do so like green eggs and ham!

Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am!”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

War Fatigue

A new study by the project for Excellence in Journalism reveals that not only is war hell, it’s downright uninteresting. Or at least, it is not nearly as newsworthy as it was even a few months ago. Depending on the media source, war coverage dropped by up to 40 percent in the second quarter of 2007. It seems that coverage fell off after Congress approved war funding without withdrawal time tables.

So, that’s it then? Congress approved the President’s request, and everyone fell into line? “Hey George, heck of a job. Let us know when Iraq is a peaceful functioning democracy and the troops are home.” We’re not interested in the details of an endeavor where we spend $200 million a day, a place where thousands of soldiers have died and continue to die and be injured.
What in the world could be so important that it has caused us to turn our attention away from Iraq?

For instance, during the week of August 12 to 17, 2007, the Utah mine disaster was the subject of 16 percent of the stories on cable TV news shows, while Iraq came in at six percent. As of August 17, there had already been 47 US combat deaths in Iraq. At the same time in the US, six miners were trapped in a collapsed coalmine. As sad and horrific as the mine disaster is, isn’t Iraq worth at least equal time? Aren’t the lives of 47 men and women bravely dying while they perform their duty to the nation as noteworthy as the poor miners trapped while performing their dangerous labor?

It is interesting that the two stories are in many ways about the same thing. They are about people, mostly poor people, who risk their lives to give the rest of us access to fossil fuels to power our lives. Whether it is by extracting coal from 1500 feet underground to power our air conditioners, or soldiers fighting in the Middle East in a misguided attempt to monopolize control of oil pipelines to power our Hummers, we are the recipients of the miners’ and soldiers’ sacrifices and labor. When miners are trapped underground, or soldiers die in helicopter crashes, we turn on our televisions, powered by electrical plants that likely are fed by coal. We watch for a while, then switch the channel to a sports or entertainment show when the news becomes too depressing or monotonous.

If suddenly the lights flickered and the television went off, we would be more disturbed by that then the news we had just seen. We would no more imagine for a second that the power plant had run out of coal than we would imagine showing up at the gas station to fill the tank, only to learn there was no more gasoline to be had.
Unfortunately, except for the people whose lives are directly affected by the war, our interest level will continue to wane, unless it somehow alters our daily life in some dramatic way.

We should have a day every month where all the electricity and all the gas pumps are shut off. Let’s sweat on a summer day with no air conditioning, like the soldiers do in Iraq. Let’s walk to work to help keep our wandering minds on the fact that our country is at war, our young men and women are getting maimed and dying, our national reputation is in tatters, and we’re spending millions a day while our economy, schools, infrastructure and society suffer. Maybe that will be worth a minute or two on the news that night.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mitt Wit

Mitt Romney seems to be following Bush’s no-apologies-under-any-circumstances lead. The former Massachusetts’ governor’s stubbornness was in full display recently, following the publication of photographs from a campaign stop in South Carolina. In the photographs, he was seen smiling from ear to ear, posing in front of a sign that read, “No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea’s Moma.”

"I don’t look at all the signs when I’m having pictures taken. I have a lot of pictures taken with people," Romney said. "I don’t really spend all that much time looking at the signs and the T-shirts and the buttons. I don’t have anything to say about a sign somebody else was holding."

Okay, but does he have to say anything about a sign he was holding? has obtained two photographs, one with Mitt simply posing behind the sign, but in the other, he is clearly holding the sign up. But who is holding the sign isn’t really the point; does he really expect people to believe he had no idea what the sign said? That he doesn’t have handlers telling him exactly where to stand, what photos to pose for? Can’t those people read? What if the sign said, “Mitt: Nitwit, Corporation Stock Split, Gay Marriage, Won’t Permit, Immigrants Thrown Under It”?

Are we really supposed to believe that Romney could just have easily made the mistake of posing in front of that sign? I don’t think so.

He is completely disingenuous when he says he never looked at the sign. Why can’t he just say, “Oh, that wasn’t a good decision to pose in front of that sign. Of course I don’t equate Obama and Hillary to Osama. Sorry.” Why is a sincere apology the politician’s equivalent of dropping his or her pants in public?

Romney has developed a reputation as a candidate who professes to change his mind on major issues in seemingly perfect synchronization with whatever office he’s running for. In campaigning for governor in Massachusetts, a very liberal state, he supported gay rights and abortion. Now, he’s against both as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination and needs to gain the support of the conservative base. He recently portrayed himself as a lifelong hunter, having gone, before deciding to run for president, on a hunting trip just once as a child.

As governor, he supported abstinence education and answered yes to this Planned Parenthood question, “Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, in public schools?” Yet, he recently ripped Obama for supporting age-appropriate sex education to make sure kindergarten children know what type of touching is appropriate, saying, “Instead of teaching about sex education in kindergarten to 5-year-olds, let’s clean up the ocean of filth, the cesspool in which our children our swimming.”

Now, he seems to have changed his mind again on when and how a politician should apologize for an inappropriate remark or incident. Romney was interviewed in late 2006 on Fox News about the controversy over the joke Kerry made that seemed to disparage the intelligence of US troops in Iraq. Kerry had just issued an apology that Romney felt was a disguised attack against those Kerry felt were using the joke for political gain. In the interview, Romney said:
“ I think everyone in public life makes a slip or two but generally, if they make a mistake, they recognize it, they apologize immediately, and move on. What was surprising here is that he didn’t recognize the mistake and immediately went on the attack...”

Mitt’s reaction to the criticism about the sign was to tell everyone to “lighten up slightly.” Imagine if Kerry had said that after his joke misfiring? Kerry took two days to apologize. Well, Mitt, we’re waiting…

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Update on School Segregation

Last week I blogged about the Supreme Court decision which disallows the use of race as a criteria for school assignment.
My fear was that it could cause schools to become segregated again, over time. Yesterday, an article appeared in the Boston Globe that indicates that this is exactly what does happen in schools where the race criteria is replaced by other criteria, in this case family income...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Supreme Court Jesters

In the last few weeks of their 2007 session, the Supreme Court seemed to have been on the legal version of a bender. Some of their decisions, and their comments on those decisions, have led me to wonder if they were hiding whiskey bottles under those long cloaks.

Exhibit A comes from none other than the chief justice himself, John Roberts. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided race could not be used as a factor in consideration for school placement. In siding with the majority, Roberts said:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”


So that must mean that if we make illegal one of the few constructive uses of discrimination by race, people will stop the already illegal and rampant practice of destructive discrimination by race? If a white man is less likely to hire a black woman because of her color, disallowing voluntary school integration programs will cause the man suddenly to reconsider?

Justice Roberts, sometimes we must act, through laws or by voluntary programs, to ensure that we provide equal education to all students.

Before the law required desegregation, we had segregated schools – good schools for the white kids and bad schools for the black kids. Around the time that desegregation was enforced, many voluntary programs were instituted to help address racial imbalances. Some of these programs, like the Metco program in Massachusetts, are now decades old and have helped thousands of kids receive a better education, get into better colleges, and hold better jobs. The graduates of these programs often return to their communities as leaders and set positive examples for inner city youth. The suburban schools profit by having the otherwise all-white school population exposed to diversity. Without these programs, we risk returning our children to the damaging racial isolation prevalent before the late 1960’s.

School desegregation wasn’t the only major ruling recently where it seemed the Supreme Court’s reasoning was shaky at best. Another threw out a taxpayer lawsuit questioning funding of the “faith-based initiatives.“ The normally sensible Justice Kennedy, in siding with the majority to disallow the lawsuit, wrote that such suits would lead to:

“intrusive and unremitting judicial management of the way the executive branch performs its duties.”

What? Was my 7th grade social studies teacher wrong? She told us that the three branches of government create a checks and balances system and that the judicial branch serves to ensure that the actions of the other branches are legal and constitutional. When the executive branch creates a faith-based program without legislative approval, who else then can question its legality except for the courts? Who should rule on whether or not this violates the separation of church and state? The Surgeon General? Oh, I forgot, he’s already part of the executive branch and isn’t even allowed to mention that second-hand smoke is unhealthy.

Maybe the problem is that I just don’t understand the law or judges. Judges were once students who went to law school. I thought that they learned a lot about the law, took bar exams that tested their knowledge of the law, and then became lawyers―becoming judges later. Apparently, though, the bar exam is actually a test where you answer the questions you like and leave blank the ones you don’t.

Stephen Dunne did this while taking the Massachusetts bar exam recently. He didn’t like a question about gay marriage, said it was a "morally repugnant and patently offensive" question that violated his religious beliefs. The question itself so offended him that he left it blank and narrowly failed his bar exam as a result. He is suing the exam administration agency for $9.75 million. A small price to pay for his being offended, I guess. I wonder if he would have sued had he passed the bar exam...

Mr. Dunne has decided to represent himself in the lawsuit. With his convoluted thinking and inability to distinguish law from personal opinion and religious belief, how can he lose? All he has to do is take it all the way to the Supreme Court. They’ll be sure to vote in his favor.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just Married

Last week, the Massachusetts legislature voted down an initiative that would have asked state residents to vote on whether or not gay men and women should be allowed to marry. The debate on both sides of the question was fierce, and on the day of the vote, both sides showed up in force at the State House.

I’m not at all surprised that there are those who choose to spend their days trying to take away people’s rights. Religious fanatics have always defended their hatred as the way they show their love of God. And then there are those whose fear drives them to believe that something granted to one group of folks will somehow mean less for them. I am always amazed and often amused by their logic.

Robin Brophy, quoted in The Boston Globe on the day of the vote, spends her spare time going to rallies because of her fear that gay marriage will make families headed by heterosexual couples “obsolete.” "They can't procreate," she said of gay men and lesbians. "Are they going to just adopt all the time? People are going to start selling their eggs. We're opening up a huge can of worms here."

So what she’s saying is that heterosexuals won’t get married if they find out they don’t have to have sex to have babies. And gay people are going to make all of this possible because they’ll create a huge market for eggs (and I assume sperm donors and surrogate uteruses). Can you see it? People will sell their eggs at street corners like lemonade, engaging in price wars, encouraging heterosexuals to join in the fun by buying eggs and sperm instead of marrying to have children. Hmmm… “Honey, I love you and I really wanted to marry you, but then I found out about the 3 for $99 egg sale at the corner of State and Main and, well, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than even my tux would be for the wedding…”

A less insane but definitely ignorant argument made during this debate was that the legislature was required to put this on the ballot and to let the voters decide whether gay folks should be allowed to marry. Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute was quoted in the Globe, saying, “I don't believe it's dead, because the people have not had the opportunity to have their vote.” In a republic, Mr. Mineau, the people don’t get to decide everything – the constitution puts the laws into place and protects people’s rights.

We didn’t get to vote on whether whites and blacks should get to marry. The Supreme Court decided this for us. Good thing.

Because we suck as voters. Half of us don’t vote, even when it’s for the President; and when we do, we pick the worst possible candidate (check out the last two elections). Who would show up to vote on the gay marriage thing? Gay people, religious zealots, and haters. That’s not exactly THE PEOPLE having their say.

Here are some other “reasons” they say homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry:
“Next, it’ll be people wanting to marry monkeys.” The same thing was said 40 years ago about blacks and whites marrying. I have yet to see King Kong picking out paint colors at Home Depot with his little blonde wife, so I’m not worried.

“Next, it’ll be people wanting to have four wives.” The Mormons did this for about 100 years before anyone stopped them (and some, I hear, are still doing it), and no one else has jumped on the bandwagon. Anyone who’s been married (except for Mormons) knows that one spouse is enough.

Last but not least, the craziest argument of them all: “It ruins the sanctity of marriage.” Until there’s a constitutional amendment passed that Britney Spears can no longer marry, don’t even go there with me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fear of Faxing

This is my first post to my first blog. I plan to post on a weekly or bi-weekly basis about politics, society and all the ways that I believe our nation is becoming untied. Although I'll cover mostly serious topics, I hope it will also be funny and a bit different. Please let me know what you think.

A recent incident in a suburb of Boston is just the latest in a wave of panic that highlights the alarmist climate gripping this country over the last few years. A local bank received a fax deemed to be suspicious – a possible bomb threat. It had a grade-school quality graphic of what looked like a hand holding a match to a bomb. In a now familiar scene, the bank and nearby businesses were evacuated for hours. Turns out the fax machine malfunctioned and the fax was just an internal promotion reminder. Since the fax was to the bank branch from another branch location, one would think that the recipients would’ve checked with the sender, but that would be assuming that something other than blind panic is ruling the masses these days.

This happened near Boston, the same metropolitan area where the where logic and rationality reign supreme at MIT and Harvard; it’s also the place where the sight of a board containing a few LEDs in the shape of an alien giving the middle finger stops an entire city for a day, as bomb squads and all manner of emergency personnel are called out en masse. Maybe the bomb personnel knew something we didn’t, that the middle finger not only means to go pleasure yourself, it’s also Al Qaeda code for “We’re going to blow up your city, you infidels!”

Is that really the way the terrorists cells are doing it these days? Faxing us first to let us know their plans? Maybe playing with their lite-brites and setting them up all over a city? Is this how they’ve operated in the past? Let’s see… September 11, 2001. Did we get a fax with a graphic of a plane flying into a building? A light-board display letting us know what would happen? No. They operated in complete secrecy until the first plane was hijacked.

Of course, our crackerjack security forces aren’t just looking for sinister faxes and light-boards, they know that true evil lurks in limited edition, Canadian quarters. Recently, the U.S. Department of Defense issued warnings that certain Canadian coins were being planted on American defense contractors with classified clearances, and that these coins were embedded with “nano-technology,” possibly radio transmitters to spy on and track the contractors. The suspicious coins turned out to be part of 30 MILLION 25-cent coins issued in 2004 with a red poppy flower in the middle of the coin—a tribute to Canada’s 117,000 war dead. What did the defense department think was going on? Did they think the Canadians were spying on the Americans? For what? To find out if Dunkin’ Donuts was launching a major assault on their beloved Tim Horton’s, which has been driving Dunkin’ Donuts back across the border ? Was it the Wicked Witch of the West, planting poppies on the good guys to make them fall asleep so they didn’t get to Emerald City?

Could the Defense Department really think it was a terrorist plot to spy on the Americans? Again, refer back to 2001. The terrorists brought down the planes with common, run-of-the mill BOX CUTTERS! And we’re spending time and money chasing our tail, imagining that all kinds of sophisticated gadgetry is being used against us. I’m sure for the people in the Defense Department, it’s a lot more interesting to invent these spy-vs-spy, James Bond-type weapons scenarios. Nano-technology the size of a pinhead, capable of spying on our innermost secrets! It sounds scary and intriguing. The only problem is, it’s not reality.

The Homeland Security threat levels, the talk of “terrorists in our midst,” all lead to a climate where we’re afraid of everyone and everything. And is it justified? Well, the chance of being a victim of terrorism is about the same as being struck by lightning or having an allergic reaction to peanuts. Yet, we don’t see the Department of Homeland Security issuing color-coded threat levels to correspond to the likelihood of getting hit by lightning, “ORANGE – High risk of a lightning attack exists. Significant likelihood of becoming burnt toast,” Nor do we see George Bush spending billions per day to flush out Mr. Peanut and destroy him. We do nothing comparable to try to cut down on the thousands per month who die on U.S. highways, even though this is a much greater threat to the average American. The last thing we are likely to see before we die is the grille of a Jeep Cherokee with bad tires, not the grin of a jihadist with bad teeth.

Worry and caution are not bad things, but we should focus on the things that are likely to kill us. We ignore the fact that there’s no seat belt in the taxi on the way to the airport, and yet, when we get there, obediently take off our shoes and socks and let people inspect our personal effects and toss out whatever shampoo looks dangerous, even though the only danger of any shampoo confiscated so far is that it may lead to the frizzies. Where does it end?

Maybe at some point we will get so tired of living in fear that we will go out on a limb and befriend a Muslim neighbor instead of agreeing with Mitt Romney that his place of worship be wiretapped. Until then, fear-mongers will continue to mislead and frighten us, and fear will continue to blind our judgment.

In the past, we practiced rushing into bomb shelters and lived in fear of the bad Russians. I would trade our current fear of everyday objects, from coins to faxes to neon signs of cursing aliens, for fear of good old-fashioned global nuclear annihilation any day.