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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the iconic lines from The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy first takes a gander at Oz after the twister transports her house into Munchkinland. Holding her dog in her arms, she gasps “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We use that line ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in a situation or place that is different, bizarre or unsettling. I think the statement is perfect for the American political landscape (although, from a political standpoint, Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore but more on that later). Our nation has become politically bipolar, fiercely divided upon party lines and completely paralyzed.

Does anybody besides me get the feeling that it has become more important to be right than to find solutions? Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re so sure that we’re right – our opinions buttressed by media pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity – that even entertaining compromise is like becoming a traitor to our cause.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is. It’s no secret that my political leanings bend to the left. It is also no secret that I have several friends who feel more comfortable on the conservative side of things. Some of them I am able to have intelligent conversations about our viewpoints with whereas others are basically all caps shouting matches on Facebook whenever one of us posts a political meme on our walls. I think that’s pretty much true for anybody these days. We all seem hell-bent on convincing others to the righteousness of our cause while at the same time being completely intractable for our own. It’s a recipe for disaster.

That disaster has come to pass. We now have a government that is completely dysfunctional. Both sides seem far more willing to score political points than to actually accomplish anything that might help the majority of the citizens who elected those running our government. Bills that benefit the very rich seem to get quickly and quietly passed.

Sure, there are a few politicians out there who I think are worth something – Elizabeth Warren, for one. Chris Christie for another (I’m willing to give props to anyone who will stand up to their own party in order to help citizens in need regardless of what party that is). Most of them however seem far too concerned with their own self-interest to devote any time or attention to the interests of their constituents.

There are times when I think both sides of the political spectrum are tails being wagged by the extremist whacko dogs on both sides of the aisle. While one side screams “Benghazi!” the other one yells “Racism!” We seem to be paying attention more to sound bites than to actual legislation. Whoever shouts the loudest must be right, I guess.

Remember when Kansas used to be sensible Midwesterners who could be counted upon for stability  (although some Missourians would argue that point) and common sense? Now they are rapidly becoming known for being the home of the Westboro Baptist Church as well as the State that essentially outlawed abortion literally citing the Bible as their legal source. Excuse me? I’ll bet these are the same yahoos screaming about Sharia law during the last election.

Back in the day the term “the Silent Majority” was coined to denote the millions of Americans who neither protested the War nor advocated it; they were if anything on the conservative side but mostly, they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace and really didn’t want their sons marching off to some Asian hellhole just so Bell Helicopters could keep their military contract humming.

Today the Silent Majority still exists but they have seen the advent of the Tea Party and the Christian right, both of whom claim to represent them. I’m here to tell you that they do not. Today’s Silent Majority is a bit more liberal than they were 50 years ago; they’re all for gay marriage and stricter background checks on gun sales but in no way shape or form do they want guns banned. They want the deficit reduced and the budget balanced but they don’t want their entitlements (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) touched.

The Silent Majority is what they’ve always been – moderate. Unfortunately, moderate politicians seem to be about as numerous as wheelchair hockey players and with a future as bright as that of the polar bear. We have gotten to a point in our history where in order to get noticed a political candidate must come off as extremist. Once again, it’s the person who shouts the loudest who gets our attention. I often wonder if someone like Dwight Eisenhower could have been elected president in 2012. I doubt he would have gotten past the first round of Republican debates.

We have entered the era of the whacko. Where wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and wild-mouthed Rick Perry can provide political satirists with plenty of material for their monologues but provide little in the way of legislation that creates desperately needed jobs, repairs a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure or helps improve our education system. The only education legislation that seems to be going through is that which allows banks to charge higher interest rates on student loans but who is going to pay those loans off when there are no jobs to go to after graduation?

This is our fault. We’ve become too lazy to care enough to actually listen. We’d rather have things boiled down into a six or seven word statement we can get behind and go back to surfing the Internet. How many of us have actually looked at a candidate’s platform? How many of us have listened to an entire speech, or read a piece of legislation? The last of these is understandable; most bills are so convoluted and poorly written that even a well-trained lawyer who understands the legal terminology within has a hard time following what’s being said.

I’m not sure what the solution is but this much I think is clear – things are going to be a lot worse if we don’t get our collective heads out of our collective derrieres. We need to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. Most importantly, we have to stop electing extremists on both sides and start getting moderates like Christie and Warren into office. We have to pay attention what the scoundrels in Washington and our own state capitals are doing. And we need to stop holding our politicians up as demagogues and understand that not everything promulgated by the right is evil, not everything that the left proposes is perfect and vice versa depending on your point of view. In other words, we need to start working together. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, we must all work together or fall separately.

Cats are Liberals, Dogs are Conservatives

In this season of political posturing and gamesmanship, of mudslinging and misdirecting, it’s hard not to get disillusioned. Romney said this, Obama did that, he’s a liar, he’s a jerk, he eats children, blah blah blah. It’s enough to make you want to change the channel.

It’s gotten so I see politics in everything now. From movies to television shows to reality television, I’m suspicious of hidden political agendas. As in “Survivor” has a conservative Darwinist agenda in which the strong are betrayed by the weak, but the strongest end up winning. As in The Lorax is an ultra-liberal anti-business pro-ecology diatribe aimed at our children.

I see it in our pets too. Dogs are actually conservative in their behavior; cats are liberals. Think about it. Dogs like the status quo. They get upset by change and if you make changes, they’re likely to pee on the carpet. Dogs are possessive. Give them a bone and they’ll go bury it. Give them enough bones and you’ll have a yard full of ’em.

Cats, on the other hand, do their own thing and don’t like to be told what to do. They roll with change; they encourage it. The like keeping you on your toes. Cats do nothing to earn their meals; they just expect someone is going to pay for it, but certainly not them. A cat may occasionally rub against you and purr like they adore you, but it’s an act. They don’t think you’re capable of taking care of them properly so they have to tell you how to do it.

Dogs need to be on a leash to get around. Cats run wherever they bloody well please. Dogs will crap anywhere but where they sleep. Cats need their own special place to crap – paid for at your expense. Dogs are loyal to their masters, even if they abuse them. Cats, well, they’re loyal to whoever feeds them.

Dogs like to earn their keep by watching out for burglars and illegal immigrants, at whom they’ll bark at until they’re hoarse. In fact, dogs are for building an 80 foot high electrified fence around the house with machine guard turrets with armed dogs manning them. Cats prefer a pampered existence in which nothing is required of them and they can get on the computer and watch videos of other cats, and occasionally play video slots.

Dogs believe in the sanctity of family and are welcoming to all guests; by way of welcoming you they’ll hump your leg. Cats are barely aware that you’ve taken a month’s vacation; as long as the water bowl was full and the food kept on coming they don’t care whether you come or go. Dogs believe in worship – after all, dog is god spelled backwards. Cats don’t believe in anything. Cat spelled backwards is tac and they think they got a raw deal because of it.

Dogs will eat anything, the worse for them it is the better. As a matter of fact, they prefer their chow to be manufactured in a third world country – it’s less expensive and tastier that way. Cats only eat homegrown organic cat food that has been prepared by migrant workers who are paid at a reasonable rate. Why shouldn’t they? You’re the one paying for it mister.

Dogs will yap all day and say absolutely nothing, kind of like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Cats will say nothing all day and leave you wondering if they’re as wise as they make themselves out to be, like Barack Obama.

Dogs like sex but only for procreation. Cats watch kitty porn on the Internet and masturbate while you’re not looking. Dogs prefer order and structure but little interference from the powers-that-be. Cats want the powers-that-be to provide them with an expensive kitty playground that they’ll sleep on once and never use again.

Dogs will lick your face with the same mouth they just ate their own poop with. You’ll have to chase down your cat and tackle it in order to get any sort of affection. A dog believes in traditional values. Cats think we should think for ourselves and develop our own values.

Dogs are territorial and will attack anyone who violates their borders. Cats are neutral and will glare at anyone who comes to rob the house but will do nothing about it. Dogs are like elderly people who make up so much of the conservative electorate; they sleep all the freaking time. Cats are like young people who make up so much of the liberal electorate; they go out until the wee hours of the morning and then they won’t tell you where they’ve been.

Dogs are into security; cats are into freedom. Dogs believe in fair trade (“go in the kennel for a Milk Bone? Sounds fair to me…”) while cats believe in shared wealth – as long as all the wealth belongs to them. Dogs like looking out at the world – from the safety of their living room. Cats prefer to go out and explore themselves, and might just defect to that excellent Brownstone on Elm Street if they feed him better.

Dogs believe in the American dream; cats are atheists. Sarah Palin is a dog – well, she’s a bitch. Bill Maher is a cat; doesn’t his hair look like someone licked it into place? A dog will walk into the room, yawn, stretch and then forget why he went in there in the first place. A cat will kill Osama bin Laden and then drag his carcass to the glass door in the back of the house so you can see his handiwork. Dogs are pro-business; cats are pro-regulation. Dogs do their duty; cats want to form a committee to discuss the nature of what their duty is before they’ll consider it.

So forget your elephants and donkeys; those are outdated symbols anyway. Cats and dogs are much more relatable to the general public anyway. I don’t know what it says about me that I’m a liberal who loves dogs but I suppose that means I can see the conservative point of view. Some of these examples might stretch credibility just a bit but one thing is certain; cats and dogs are more likely to work together to make things better for those around them than conservatives and liberals are these days.

Prevailing Winds

Recently, President Barack Obama made history as being the first sitting U.S. President to endorse same-sex marriage. This might not be a big deal for some – he’d always hinted that he was leaning in that direction and being as liberal as he is, it comes as no surprise that he would share this viewpoint.

However for those in the Gay and Lesbian community, it is a big deal. To have a political leader of this echelon supporting their cause in this arena is a big boost. Just a little bit of hope, after all, can inspire one to work harder and it seems to me the battle to allow same sex marriage is only beginning.

Of course, one has to look at the circumstances regarding the President’s announcement. This is also the first time in history that polls have shown that Americans in general support same-sex marriage, which gives the political impetus for someone running for re-election to use that as part of their platform. Only a few years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were against allowing same-sex marriage so the change in the prevailing winds of opinion have shifted significantly.

There is also the timing of the North Carolina state legislature’s bill not only denying same sex couples the right to marry but also the right to a civil union which most states have yet to do. One would hardly expect differently from the state that gave us Jesse Helms, after all.

My stance on the subject has already been dealt with in another blog and I’ll leave it at that for the most part, other than to say that I continue to assert that I don’t think it is the bailiwick of politicians to meddle in religious subjects any more than I think it is the right of the clergy to meddle in political subjects. The two are supposed to be kept separate in our society and yet we continue to see that line blurred, not only on the same-sex marriage topic but also on things like stem cell research and abortion.

I’m beginning to see two Americas; the religious right on one side growing more conservative, continuing to push their agenda based on Christian morality. Not that I have anything against Christian morals – I very much endorse Jesus’ admonition to love one another – but I do think my interpretation of what Christ had in mind is far different than the conservative Christian interpretation.

The other America is the secular left, who are pushing their own agenda based on their own precepts. I don’t feel it necessary to ridicule religion, as Bill Maher often does, but I do think it is important that there be a definition of the place of religion in American society.

That doesn’t mean that as Roman Catholic as I am, I  want the Catholic bishops making policy. After all, these are the same men who chose to cover up numerous instances of pedophilia within their own ranks and while the Southern Baptist Convention hasn’t quite the same sad record as the Catholics, I find them just as undesirable as policy-makers. I would much rather that they stick to religious matters than those that are secular. Render that to Caesar which is Caesar, after all.

It is pleasing to see that Americans finally seem to be leaning towards allowing same-sex marriage. I believe the high profile of gay people like Ellen deGeneres and Jane Lynch have given a face to gay couples to an American public who perhaps needed to see gays as people. For those in Mid-America and in the Bible belt where same-sex couples are less prevalent, I believe that it’s an eye-opener. Some see lesbians as primarily butch man-haters and gays as catty mincing queens, both images largely a product of movies and television. While both sorts exist, there are even more who are as ordinary and as normal as anyone else other than in their sexual orientation. Hopefully as Americans get to see gays and lesbians in that light, their innate compassion may yet override their fear and distrust.

I believe that discrimination is wrong, no matter how it’s gone about and who is its victim. Preventing two people who love each other the same privileges and rights that two different people who love each other enjoy is just plain wrong. If a church chooses not to marry people of the same sex on moral grounds, that is their right as a religious institution. If a state chooses to prevent people from the same sex from marrying by enacting laws to do so, it is discriminating against gays and lesbians and those laws are therefore unconstitutional. In many states, it used to be just as illegal for people of different races to marry and those laws were eventually taken off the books. I believe that years from now, we will look at these laws defining marriage in very much the same way.

For those who say that interracial marriage is a different basket of cats from same-sex marriage, let me give you this – interracial marriage was opposed for years on moral grounds and those who opposed it often used biblical sources as the reason for their opposition. Laws banning interracial marriage were supported by the clergy, who saw African-Americans as less than human and a marriage between an African-American and a white person to be an abomination. There are some in these parts who still do.

I hope these attitudes towards gay people are changing. I think it’s high time they did. Our national self-image is that we are an inclusive people – you know, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” It is easy to be inclusive when the person is just like you. It is when including someone who challenges your beliefs that that inclusion becomes more critical. Agreeing that gay people should be allowed to be married isn’t endorsing homosexuality – it’s endorsing humanity. It’s doing the right thing.

The institution of marriage won’t be destroyed by allowing gay people to share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage – I believe the institution is far stronger than that, and if it isn’t then it needs to be destroyed anyway. I think the institution of marriage is destroyed by preventing people from benefitting from it. It’s destroyed by turning it into a political matter rather than a romantic one.

The winds of change blow us from all directions and it can be difficult sometimes to know which way to turn; whether to face the wind and challenge it or turn our backs to it and let it blow us as it will. For my part, it gives me hope that even though there is so much wrong with this country that it sometimes seems like we’ll never be able to “fix” it, that there are indications that there is nothing wrong with the heart of Americans. Maybe that will be enough to carry us through any storm after all.

Common Threads

We are more like than unalike. We have so much in common that we actually take it for granted. We dwell instead on cultural differences, lifestyle differences, gender differences. We spend more time looking for the things that divide us than we do celebrating the things that unite us.

I suppose that’s only human. We have a need to feel unique and we look for ways that emphasize our uniqueness. Unfortunately, we tend to do that the lazy way – by asserting that those who are different than us are inferior, making us feel better about ourselves and our many faults.

Being unique doesn’t make us better. It just makes us ourselves. We’re not perfect – but we don’t have to be. Honestly, it’s okay to be flawed. You’re overweight? That’s okay – just try to eat better and exercise more. You’re a terrible housekeeper? No problem – hire somebody or just do the best you can. No time management skills? You can always take a class or find methods on the internet to help you organize your time better.

But even if you don’t ever correct your flaws that doesn’t make you a bad or even a weak person. It just makes you a human. And that’s one thing we all have in common – our humanity, both good and bad. We have a tremendous capacity to do horrible things to one another – and an equally tremendous capacity to transcend those base instincts and do the right thing, or even better.

The genocide in Rwanda is one such example. On the one hand, horrible atrocities were committed and thousands upon thousands of lives were brutally lost. On the other hand, the Rwandans are now trying to unite, reconcile and forgive one another. They are looking to live as one people rather than two artificially constructed tribes. They share a common language and a common heritage. More importantly, they share their basic human values – they love their families, hope for a better future and want to be loved.

We all share those values, even those we despise. The 1% share those things. Racists share those things. Homophobes share those things. Now, there are always exceptions; certain sociopaths lack the ability to love, the desire to be loved and have instead a desire to inflict pain. Those are not the rule, however and they are pretty rare.

Our humanity stretches across cultural lines. We all value our children and take great steps to protect them. That’s true in the most primitive circumstances as well as the most sophisticated urban environments. It doesn’t matter your skin tone or which plumbing you have, nor which religion you observe (if any) or what political party you belong to. Push comes to shove, nearly every human being alive will do about anything to protect their children, even lay down their lives if need be.

So why is it when we have so much in common that we spend so much time trying to tear each other apart? Not just in this country but everywhere? Why can Arabs and Jews find any common ground? Why not gays and straights? Baptists and Atheists? Why must we find reasons to ridicule, to fear, to hate? Why is accepting the differences of others so bloody hard?

Because we have it in our minds that accepting the differences of someone else makes us somehow less important, less special. That’s a mistaken concept however; accepting those differences makes us more special. It gives us more importance in the cosmic scheme of things. It brings us closer to perfection. If someone is a black lesbian Atheist pro-Choice from Senegal, I believe that in the heart of the creator I believe in they are no less loved than a pro-Life Baptist housewife from Texas. And vice versa. Those who disagree with me, are different than me, are even repugnant to me are still as human as me. As long as they do no harm, they deserve all the respect and dignity that I can afford them.

Delivering on that idea is often difficult and I’m no more adept at it than most of you. Sometimes, I gnash my teeth when I hear Sarah Palin talk about the need for drilling, or the President of Iran shouting about how America is Satanic. There are times I find it hard to hold to my heart those who discriminate against women, gays, African-Americans or Jews.

But if God loves these people no less, doesn’t following that example please Him? There are lots of people who say “Love the sinner, hate the sin” and while we might quibble whether homosexuality is a sin or not, the sentiment is at least understandable although it’s very difficult for me to hate the sin. Loving the person while not condoning their actions is easier for me to wrap my head and heart around and that’s where I tend to be more successful.

I may consider Rush Limbaugh to be a lot of things and I disagree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly but I don’t hate the man and I certainly don’t think he shouldn’t have the right to air his opinions. After all, you have the right to change the channel if you don’t like what he has to say and sooner or later if enough people do that he will have to find other means to communicate his message. I also consider Bill Maher to be a lot of things and I agree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly, but on a human level I give Rush Limbaugh the same consideration and respect I give Bill Maher, even if I think Maher is smarter and his politics more closely align with mine. That’s because at the end of the day Bill Maher is no better and no worse than Rush Limbaugh, the same as George W. Bush is no better and no worse than Barack Obama or my Uncle Jerry is no better and no worse than my Uncle Alex.

We are all made up of the same chemical components, the same physiological structure. We all travel through time in a linear fashion, from the beginning of lives to their ends and we all hope and dream of something better or at least different. We all reach out in some way for the things we need, be they other people or solitude. We all walk the Earth – some in wheelchairs, some in scooters but we all travel this land in some fashion. We all laugh, cry, despair and hope. We all have the capacity for love and for forgiveness as well as for hate and for vengeance. We all have the ability to choose the right thing, although we don’t always do it.

We all are one species, given one lifetime to figure things out. How much better would this world be if one of the things we figured out was just that? What could we accomplish as a people if we spent more time helping each other instead of finding reasons to hate? There is a dream worth aspiring to, one voiced by many of our most revered and beloved people, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi to Christ. A dream where we live together not in suspicion, fear and hatred but in acceptance, love and tolerance. Rodney King may not be the kind of thinker those men are but he may have put it the most articulately; can’t we all just get along? Well, can’t we?

Bully Market

 

First of all, let’s get one thing straight; bullying is the route of cowards. It is a function of ignorance and fright, the refuge of those who, deep down, are terrified that they don’t measure up, or that they are what they fear most. There is nothing good or positive about bullying and I fully support any reasonable effort to eradicate it.

 That said, I have to respectfully but emphatically disagree with Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper in how they’re going about it. For those who are unaware, they expressed their displeasure with the trailer (preview) for the movie The Dilemma. During the course of it, Vince Vaughn, one of the movie’s stars, is giving a business presentation of some sort during which he says “Electric cars are gay. Not homosexual gay, my parents chaperoning the dance gay.”

 Now, I’ve always been bothered by (mostly young males) referring to things as “gay” in a derogatory manner. I’ve always thought it ignorant, juvenile and insensitive in the same way that generally the same people refer to things as “retarded.” However, it is a free country that gives people the right to express themselves any way they wish to, and I took some comfort that the people who used such terms were, for the most part, idiots.

 However, on Ellen’s talk show, she and journalist Anderson Cooper, who are incidentally two people I respect very much, took the filmmakers and the studio to task for allowing that joke to appear in the trailer, particularly in light of recent events where several incidents of bullying of gays has led to tragedy. They both urged the studio to remove the joke from the trailer and expressed their displeasure. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have also urged the studio to remove the reference completely from the film.

 First of all, as anyone will tell you, I disagree strongly with “political correctness” in terms of limiting speech. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell you what you can and cannot say. The only limits should be situations where people can be hurt (such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater) or intentionally using falsehoods to ruin the reputation of another (as in defamation of character or libel). The constitution allows us to express ourselves freely; it does not protect us from being offended. Frankly I think that being offended from time to time is a good thing; it gives us pause (or at least it does me) to examine why we are feeling offended and gives us license to examine our beliefs and, occasionally, making some changes.

 Now, I’m not advocating that one should start making derogatory remarks about others just to offend them; there is such a thing as courtesy and it should be used properly. However, I have to wonder that in the case of the trailer for The Dilemma that perhaps some well-meaning people are sending the wrong message.

 I don’t believe for a moment that excising the offending dialogue is going to give a single person who regularly uses gay as a pejorative any motivation to discontinue that behavior. What I do believe is that Cooper, DeGeneres and GLAAD are sending a message that the filmmakers can’t use the reference, even though they are seeing the dialogue out of context; even if the Vince Vaughn character may be the sort that regularly refers to things as gay (as many people do). It is a way of scolding the individual without dealing with the underlying behavior. Maybe the character will have reason to regret his use of the word “gay” later on in the film – personally I hope so but even if he doesn’t, even though he’s merely a character in a film he should still have the right to express himself inappropriately. I often see women referred to as “bitches” in movies and that’s just as inappropriate but just because it’s an unpleasant way of referring to women doesn’t mean that it should be barred from all film dialogue, any more than the word “gay” should be.

 After all, let’s face it; it’s a bit ironic for the homosexual community to be complaining about the use of a word which they essentially usurped. We all know that “gay” meant something completely different forty or fifty years ago than it does now. These days, we all snigger when the Flintstone theme song is played and the chorus sings “We’ll have a gay old time!” Words sometimes evolve over time; who knows, fifty years from now the word may end up being a deadly insult and gay men may commonly refer to themselves as “stylish” instead.

 Maybe the proper way to deal with the kind of negative reference is instead of dealing with it in a negative way (i.e. deleting it from movie dialogue) is to deal with it in a positive manner instead. If someone tells me that electric cars are gay, I respond “If by gay you mean stylish, economical, environmentally friendly and in general a better choice than what came before it, then it’s RuPaul on wheels. It’s an episode of Project: Runway in a steel chassis. Color me Jeff Gordon in a Prius.” What I’m trying to say is that words only have the power you allow them to have.

 However, it would be downright foolish of me not to acknowledge that words can sometimes contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance that can lead to bullying. I’m thinking that the battlefield for that is in the hearts and minds of potential bullies, not in the latest Vince Vaughn comedy. As far as putting an end to bullying – not only of gay people but of all people – I am proud to march alongside Ellen, Anderson, GLAAD and any others who feel the same way.

 The function of comics is to say things that can be outrageous and insensitive. Sometimes, it makes a point about societal behavior and sometimes it points out things in ourselves that are ugly. I don’t believe in limiting how comics express themselves because that is a slippery slope. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Lisa Lampanelli, Bill Maher, Will Durst or even commentators like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly say and there are times they say things that may be hurtful to some, but that is part of how the world works. I would never EVER presume to abridge anyone’s right to say something wrong, even if it is hateful, obscene or inflammatory. That’s against everything I believe in. So, yes, sometimes people will say things that I disagree with. Sometimes people will make jokes about overweight people that I find offensive or even hurtful. That’s all right.

 You don’t beat bullies by becoming one, and by saying “You will express yourself the way that I think you should express yourself, now remove that offensive line of dialogue because you are NOT ALLOWED to say it” is in fact being a bully, even though the cause be just. Saying something is gay demeans the one who says it more than the thing they’re referring to; by reacting to it the way that it has been reacted to ascribes further power to those who use the word that way and will only create a more difficult pathway in changing the behavior in the long run.

 That’s the goal, I think; to change the behavior of those who create an environment of bullying. You don’t change an environment by dictating terms; you change it with dialogue. You change it with love. You change it with humor. You change it by demonstrating how alike we are, not by reinforcing that we are unalike. You can stop bullying by showing bullies that while it is easy to tear down, it is far more rewarding to build up. It’s a far more positive means of dealing with the situation than by being negative – by telling people what they can’t do.

 Bullying has existed for a very long time in human history and, I suspect, is going to exist for a long time to come. I don’t know that we can ever truly eradicate it but I wouldn’t mind it if we did. I know bullying first hand, having been bullied for my ethnicity from elementary school through high school. I know how badly it made me feel, how much pain that was inflicted and how frustrated I felt. I can empathize with those who are in similar situations, whether it be for their own ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or simply the way they dress. Society, particularly among young people, wants us to fit in and those who don’t often pay the price. That’s something that should be addressed, but not by lashing out at a movie. There are far more effective ways to deal with it, and I hope that in the days and months to come, we will all stand up with the bullied and show compassion for the bullies (who are often victims of abuse and bullying themselves). In the end, that is how we show the best part of ourselves, and that’s something we can all agree on – and strive for.

Bread and Circuses

As a species, humans tend to be easily distracted. This isn’t a new fact; even the ancient Romans knew that if you gave the people bread and circuses, they would pretty much be satisfied with anything, no matter how despotic.

We are in much the same boat today my friends, except we’re getting Big Macs and digital entertainment. Our lives have been made so easy with gadgets and devices mean to give us instant gratification that we have become complacent and lazy. In the meantime, we have abrogated our rights to special interests, corporate lobbyists and other unscrupulous sorts.

From time to time we’re aroused from our stupor, particularly when our pocketbooks are impacted. Taxes go up? We take notice. The economy takes a header? We demand change. Yet we sit idly by while the financial institutions that we entrust our money to act irresponsibly in the name of chasing profits, while our climate is done irreparable harm and while our rights are eroded with legislation that on the surface is meant to “protect us.”

Most of us probably couldn’t name our congresspersons or local representatives. Only a very few of us are probably more than peripherally aware of their voting records. Fewer still are aware of any legislation out there other than the most controversial bills. A surprising number of the people who live in the United States are more than generally aware of how their government works.

It’s understandable why we got to the place we are. We have to work harder and harder to make ends meet; it takes energy and commitment to keep up with politics and the things that affect us. Energy and commitment are largely limited to young people, which is why the vast majority of political activists are under 40. After all, you can’t feed your family on a volunteer’s salary.

At one time, the newspapers (and to a certain extent radio, newsreels and television) were watchdogs on Washington and our local state capitals (and Ottawa and our local provincial capitals – insert your nation here). As the media has largely become corporate-owned, the media began to swing more in the direction of protecting corporate interests. Today it’s very rare for the mainstream media to do any investigation into things that don’t sell advertising.

The Internet is, in many ways, the last great hope for keeping the citizenry informed but unfortunately it has devolved into something of a shouting match where people on both sides of the aisle promulgate dubious facts which eventually begin getting circulation as gospel truth. How many people actually believed that Obama’s Health Care Reform would include death panels whose only job was to weed out the elderly?

Our political knowledge tends to be informed by 60-second soundbites we see on CNN or in political ads. Conservatives worship at the altar of Sarah Palin and her teabagging cronies; Liberals get their marching orders from Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. It’s like nobody has a mind of their own anymore.

And yet we all have our own causes. Some of us are passionate about animal cruelty; others are pro-life to the core. Some people are big supporters of gay marriage while others think that our borders should be protected more vigorously. Left, right and center, we all have opinions on things that matter to us.

We rarely do anything about them however, beyond voting on bills that support or threaten those causes near and dear to us and even that only when we feel motivated to. Until 2008, more people voted for the American Idol than for the American President in any given election year. Somewhere along the line, our priorities went haywire.

That’s because it’s far easier on our psyches to spend our energy on things that don’t require much thought. Thinking is really hard work. It’s much easier to navigate the headwaters of celebrity gossip rather than the often conflicting arguments behind financial reform. It’s easier to have our opinions handed to us rather than to formulate one of our own; if your family has always voted for one political party, you’re going to tend to believe in the precepts that party espouses.

I was like that too. My father was a staunch Republican and so was I, for quite awhile. However, there was always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was fighting for the wrong team, and after my father passed away I did some soul searching and figured out that what I really felt strongly about were of a more liberal nature than the Republicans believed in. For the longest time, my political philosophy had been not to argue with my Dad, which was a shocker to someone who had always thought of himself as relatively intelligent. Like most human beings, I was prone to dancing to the tune that was being played for me.

At one point, it became obvious that following the herd was not as preferable as following my heart, so I broke with my dad’s beliefs and followed my own. We all do that to a certain extent – how many times have you said to yourself “I am not my parents”? – But we usually do that when we’re young. It’s much harder as we get older to change our way of thinking, particularly if it’s the way we’ve done things since we were young. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, changing it is a tall order.

But you can teach an old dog new tricks, contrary to belief. Change is a matter of will, and we all have at least a dollop of willpower. It comes down to how badly we want things to change, and how willing we are to make that change happen, for change often involves sacrifice.

Sacrifice is sorely missing from our lives, the willingness to give up something we want for the betterment of others. My parent’s generation had it. My grandparent’s generation had it. Even the Flower Power generation had it. Somewhere between Woodstock and Live-Aid we lost that crucial element of our make-up. We’re far too busy texting and playing Mafia Wars on Facebook to take a look at the things that truly affect our lives. We act as if we’re living in a hotel, and whatever mess we make will be cleaned up by the housekeeping service.

Except it is our children who will have to be housekeepers and the mess we’re making may soon become too much for anyone to clean up. We have a responsibility to our kids – even if we don’t have any yet – to be caretakers for our planet and our society. I’m very anxious that the freedoms that I have always taken for granted be passed on to my son and his children someday; there’s a very real possibility that he won’t have the same rights and privileges that his mom and I have now.

We have to get off of the couch and switch off the television. We need to step away from the laptop and turn off our cell phones. We need to open our eyes and look around us. We have been seduced by bread and circuses. The trouble with that is that it only worked for a short while in Rome, and then Rome fell. I don’t want my children or grandchildren to see our civilization fall as well.