Friday, March 21, 2008

Your FSM image for the weekend

I'm about to embark on a busy weekend, JelloHeads, and I probably won't be posting anything until Monday. So in the meantime, I thought I'd leave you with this sighting of the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

Because ... you just never know ....

Obama on racism in America: When words get in the way

I've been debating whether I should post this item. I don't want to come off as simply "attacking" Barack Obama for the sake of attacking him. But I do think it's important to point out that some of what he he says just doesn't match up. For example, he gave a speech on Tuesday which has been described variously as "epic," "groundbreaking," and "the most important political speech of his life." In that speech, Obama attempted to show us that he recognizes how wrong it is to make racial stereotypes, when he described his grandmother as:
a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
And I believed him. I believed that because of his biracial and international background that he was indeed above this kind of thinking. And then I read what he said on a Philadelphia radio station yesterday:
"The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity," he said. "But she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know. . .there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way."
And it kinda makes me cringe.

h/t to The Divine Dem

Separation of Church and State, no exceptions

Today marks the beginning of the second annual Blog Against Theocracy. This is my first time participating, as I was just taking little baby blogger steps back in July 2007 when the first round took off. But today, I'm happy to be a part of this important discussion.

First off, let me state for the record that I view myself as a religious and a spiritual person. Within my family I have a long religious tradition, including my grandparents' missionary work. My religious beliefs are a very important part of who I am. (And yes, I did just shamelessly promote my mother's book, again, with that link -- sales are a little slow, what can I say.)

However, my religious beliefs may very well be different from your religious beliefs. Or, you may not believe in organized religion at all. And according to the Constitution of the United States of America, that's o.k.! In fact, the Framers believed in it so strongly that in 1791 they amended the Constitution to ensure clarity of this most basic right. Indeed, it became the First Amendment of what is known as the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Being in the majority of Americans who follow the Christian faith, I must admit that I am rarely confronted with faith-based discrimination. Until I want to marry my partner. Then suddenly it's wrong, for no other reason than someone says "because the Bible tells me so." So, even though my particular church accepts same sex commitments, the majority's religious beliefs trumps mine?

In other words, I can't marry my partner because of established religious beliefs, even though the Constitution clearly states that there shall be "no law respecting an establishment of religion"?

My head hurts.

In Maryland, legislation is being introduced which is called the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act. The bill states:

(A) Only a marriage between TWO PEOPLE, NOT OTHERWISE PROHIBITED FROM MARRYING, is valid in this State.



In other words, if it's against your religion, don't do it. Kinda like when comedian Wanda Sykes says, "If you're against same sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bringing home the troops: If Congress won't do it, it's up to the states

The Vermont State Legislature is currently examining the legality of President Bush's order to maintain National Guard troops to Iraq. From In These Times:

On Jan. 30, state House members, soon followed by state senators, introduced legislation that called on Vermont’s Republican Gov. Jim Douglas to take “all necessary steps” to bring home, as quickly as possible, all members of the Vermont National Guard serving in Iraq.

Rather than arguing whether launching the war was legal or even just, supporters of the bill tacitly concede that Congress’ 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force gave Bush the authority to invade Iraq based on two—and only two—criteria: “(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

But today, Saddam Hussein and the specter of weapons of mass destruction are both dead; there is no national security threat; and the U.N. resolutions are no longer relevant, the bill’s supporters say.

“That very specific mission does not exist today,” says state Rep. Michael Fisher (D-Lincoln), who introduced the House bill. And when the mission expired, so too did any legal or constitutional basis for the war or the involvement of the Vermont National Guard, the bill states.

“The president no longer has the authorization to command our Vermont National Guard units,” says Fisher.

Because our congressional leaders are clearly not up to the task of standing up to the Bush Administration and its continued illegal war in Iraq, it may well be up to the states to take action.

Already, legislators in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are exploring ways to stoke the flame.

While both sides talk mainly about lives and national security, money circles the Vermont debate. State Rep. Patricia O’Donnell (R-Vernon) points out that if Vermont withdrew the Guards, Washington might withdraw the $3 million it contributes to maintaining Vermont’s units.

Democrats counter that states are already bearing much of the burden of budgets cuts necessitated by the pricey occupation. At a January press conference, House Speaker Gaye Symington (D-Jericho) said the war in Iraq has had a heavy impact on Vermont and has led to financial cuts in Medicaid and other areas.

The cost also comes in blood. Vermont has one of the highest per capita death rates in Iraq.

Shortest memoir, ever!

Thanks a LOT to Sara at Suburban Lesbian Housewife for tagging me with the following meme:

Write a memoir of six words.

You have no idea how difficult this is. One of my personal projects at the moment is to write a series of essays that are in fact a memoir, trying to explain and understand how exactly it is that I got to this place where I am today. It's not been direct from A to Z. In fact, when I interviewed for my current job -- which I love, by the way -- one of my interviewers looked over my resume and said with a smile, "Interesting journey!" It has been -- and I hope will continue to be. So, mid-forties, about to reach "late forties," my 6-word memoir is:
Oh! It all makes sense now!
And part deux of this meme: Describe your life in three words ....
Where's the dog?

Sex or Substance? The MSM makes its choice

Yesterday the The National Archives and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library released 11,000 pages of documents concerning Hillary Clinton's schedule as First Lady. The records of meetings and appointments show her substantive involvement in issues at a historic and unprecedented level for a First Lady.

ABC news, however, chose this morning to highlight the juicy tidbit that Sen. Clinton was in another part of the White House on the day President Clinton was playing "hide the cigar" with Monica Lewinsky in 1997.

Because, you know, that's relevant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Recommended read: If Obama can throw his pastor under the bus, what will he do to us?

If you're like me, you're still trying to get a handle on Barack Obama's speech yesterday. Was it a "profile in courage" or was it "politics as usual"? As you sort through it all, I encourage you to read this post over at Bilerico Project:
If Obama can throw his pastor under the bus, what will he do to us?
by Rev Irene Monroe

When the religious narrative you tell about your life to the American public is revealed to be vastly different than the one you actually lived, you have more than a credibility problem - you have a dilemma as Obama is finding out.

And the dilemma is not just that Obama's religious narrative is fictitious, but so too is the media spin on his pastor.

While the moral high ground to address the public's shock with Rev. Jeremiah Wright's condemnations on America's foreign and domestic polices appeared to be Obama's address on race, Obama actually ran aground with many African American Christians by anchoring the public's outrage and his fear of losing the presidential bid on the back of one of this nation's most revered African American ministers.

"He's used Jeremiah, and Trinity is his strongest base. He handled the media abysmally, and the uncle reference was demeaning. Many of us said we saw it coming," a member from Trinity told me in anonymity not to have the press come after him.

Rev. Wright was the man who brought Obama to Christ, presided over his nuptials baptized him and his daughters, and was the inspiration for his bestseller, The Audacity of Hope.

And while Obama has now denounced Rev. Wrights' incendiary remarks, after twenty years of hearing them, suspicion nonetheless still surfaces about his professed faith as a Christian.

As a central, powerful and revered institution within the African-American community, the Black Church captivated Obama's attention. He says he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change." However, how much Obama really covets the power of the Black Church for his own political aggrandizement, rather than for its religion, now raise questions in the minds of many black Christians since his address.

While MSNBC talk-show host Tucker Carlson was the first to publicly suggest Obama's faith is "suddenly conspicuous," suggesting that Obama has only recently begun addressing his religious background as part of "a very calculated plan on the part of the Democratic Party to win" religious voters in the 2008 presidential race, the suspicion is now looming even larger.

If Obama, however, is indeed using religion to win votes, he unfortunately placed himself in a difficult quagmire - not only with LGBTQ and liberal voters, but also by still being a member of Trinity. Why? Because he worships in a conservative black church within a liberal denomination. And Trinity is provisionally opened to the idea of same sex marriage.

In July 2005, the UCC General Synod overwhelmingly passed a Resolution of Marriage Equality. But in August 2005, Wright spoke against the Synod's position causing many LGBTQ parishioners to leave.

Read the rest of the story here.

So, while yesterday's speech was a glorious example of Sen. Obama's oratorical skills, I still don't know where he stands on issues of basic equality for all Americans. In stating that Rev. Wright provides him with spiritual guidance, Obama only undercuts his message of unity and hope for all Americans, and adds further murkiness to his positions.

The more I find out about Barack Obama, the less I know what he stands for.

Wednesday poetry break

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— John McCrae

5 Years in Iraq

Five years ago today, President Bush lied to the nation and sent our troops to invade Iraq on the basis of that lie. Five years later, and what do we have to show for it?
  • More than 1 million Iraqis dead
  • Nearly 4,000 U.S. service people killed
  • 2 million Iraqis living as refugees in other countries
  • 2.5 million displaced within Iraq
  • More than 1 trillion dollars spent
A new poll shows that seven out of ten Iraqis want foreign forces out of their country. Although some areas are indeed less violent since the surge in troop levels (certainly a larger number of troops has successfully overpowered the insurgents — but is this really a long-term solution?), the reality of life for most Iraqis is bleak, to say the least:
A quarter of those surveyed said they had lost a family member to murder. In Baghdad, that figure rose to nearly half (45 percent).

Some 81 percent had suffered power cuts and 43 percent had experienced drinking water shortages. In the last month, more than a quarter (28 percent) had been short of food.
You can make a difference. Call your Representatives and Senators, contact your candidate of choice for President — be it Clinton, Obama, McCain, or Cynthia McKinney and — insist that the Iraq War be addressed.

If ever there was a time for us to come together and unite behind one cause, folks, this is it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Education in America: May not be the sexiest topic, but it's crying out for your attention

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I used to teach middle school. After working for many years as a writer and editor, I enrolled in a sort of Boot Camp graduate program designed for career-changers like me, which helped me get certified to teach in a relatively short, but intense time. I ended up teaching for only 6 years before moving off into adult education, but those 6 six years were the most rewarding and challenging years of my life.

I went into teaching hoping, thinking, that I could make a change in some kids' lives, and I think I probably did. But it just drained the life out of me. It takes a certain type of person to be an effective teacher and maintain your sanity. Oh, there are plenty of people who can do one or the other, but keeping those two things in balance is a rare gift, I've found. You see, teaching can be the easiest job in the world — if you don't really care about it. But if you do care, it is the hardest job you'll ever do.

I felt an enormous amount of guilt when I decided to go into adult education: I felt I was abandoning a sinking ship. You see, the American education system is in big trouble. If you have any doubt about it, look at the level of debate in this primary season — there is none. Instead of exchanging ideas, the entire population is engaged in name calling and repeating unsubstantiated rumors as "facts." Instead of celebrating that we have different opinions, we harass and intimidate those who speak out with ideas different from our own. This has become obvious in the blogging world, but is just as true in our schools, where 15-year old Lawrence King was bullied and then finally shot because he was gay. As a teacher I always felt it was my duty to teach my students not only to accept our differences, but to value what we can learn from each other — but who has time?

The biggest reason why I left teaching when I did was the No Child Left Behind Act. I began teaching just before this legislation went into effect, and so I had a taste of what it's like to teach when you are respected as a professional and given some small amount of room to be creative to meet established standards. You see, I taught Special Education for 4 years, and that requires an enormous amount creativity. But once NCLB became law, we were expected to follow strict guidelines. Any sane person understands that teaching math to students with learning disabilities might require an extra day in, say, fractions. But our eyes were not on teaching the concepts. Our eyes were on the testing in March. We have to move on, Billy. Come after school and we'll work on it some more. Every day. Along with the rest of the class. Because we learn differently.

It wasn't any better my last 2 years when I taught computer technology to the entire middle school. You might think every student would take this class, as it seems like a basic skill they will need to be successful. But no. At my school, the administration decided that Computers, Health, and Family Studies classes would not be available to students who scored unsatisfactorily on the state assessments — those students would instead have an extra period of either reading or math. Yes, that's right. The students who were the lowest performing ones, the ones most in danger of dropping out, would not be getting the basic life skills of typing, cooking, or sex ed. But dammit they will pass that test!

The point of this rather long post is to ask you to really pay attention to the state of education of America and to call on our politicians to take a strong stand for change. One of the reasons why I support Hillary Clinton is that she is calling for a complete end to NCLB. Reforming it will not work, because the entire basis of it is misguided. We cannot have national standards unless we have national funding. And you cannot compare our national scores with other countries which do have one state-run education system. So please just stop doing that.

Education is the foundation of a strong society, and I think this election cycle is beginning to show the cracks in that foundation.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Erratic posting today ...

No, not erotic posting:

I DO love working in academia! I get two days off for spring break, and I don't even teach the students! How lucky is THAT?

Of course, I woke up today with a list a mile long of things to get done between today and tomorrow, and if I get HALF of them done, I'll be lucky. It's not that I haven't been busy today — I've walked the dog, dropped off the cat to get neutered (vet just called, he's fine, he's sleeping it off, and I can get him at 5:30), had breakfast with friends, filled out my basketball brackets — and it's barely noon!

At this rate, I might need a nap ....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Writer's Strike at Daily Kos

It is so tiring and stressful to read the Hillary Clinton-bashing that has been allowed to go on at so many if the big "progressive" liberal blogs, such as americablog, Huffington Post, and Daily Kos. I read the quotes taken out of context, the facts misrepresented, and rumors posted as fact, and I am torn between just clicking away and standing up for her. The problem is, if I post a comment that defends Hillary Clinton on any of those sites, I am assured of hateful, often disgusting replies. Sometimes directed at Clinton, sometimes at me. So I've pretty much just given up on those sites.

And that's why I was so pleased to read this post from Alegre, a regular writer at Daily Kos.
I’ve been posting at DailyKos for nearly 4 years now and started writing diaries in support of Hillary Clinton back in June of last year. Over the past few months I’ve noticed that things have become progressively more abusive toward my candidate and her supporters.

I’ve put up with the abuse and anger because I’ve always believed in what our on-line community has tried to accomplish in this world. No more. DailyKos is not the site it once was thanks to the abusive nature of certain members of our community.

I’ve decided to go on "strike" and will refrain from posting here as long as the administrators allow the more disruptive members of our community to trash Hillary Clinton and distort her record without any fear of consequence or retribution. I will not be posting at DailyKos effective immediately. I will not help drive up traffic or page-hits as long as my candidate – a good and fine DEMOCRAT - is attacked in such a horrid and sexist manner not only by other diarists, but by several of those posting to the front page.
I have been checking in on those sites every once in a while, just to see what people are saying. But I have to say I agree with Alegre: I don't want to have any part in driving up their traffic or giving them an audience.

So, in addition to her writer's strike, let's have a reader's strike, as well!