Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Giving Up My Last Vice

         Yep, this is what it's like!

Well, I'm going to give quitting smoking the old college try....again. It's not like I haven't done it before - with pills, patches, hypnosis (twice) and the ever popular cold turkey, none of which worked for even 24 hours.  I stood outside the VA hospital with my husband and smoked with him while he was waiting for his chemo treatment for lung cancer, for God's sake.

And the truth is that I love smoking. It is a solace and a comfort and a celebration. Whenever I hear bad news, my first instinct is to reach for the calming effect of a cigarette. Of course, when I hear good news, I instinctively light up too.

I'm 68 and I began smoking when I was 15 - almost 5 1/2 decades of making sure I had a pack of cigarettes with me whenever I left the house....or at least enough money to buy a pack. I smoked everywhere in the early years, everyone did. Restaurants and bars and cars and homes and hospitals. I expect maybe church and school were the only verboten areas back then. We smokers were pretty arrogant, expecting the non-smoking world to adapt to us.

I've had my consciousness raised since then. Before I retired, I no longer expected to be able to light up in my work place. I no longer pollute the homes and cars of non-smokers. I obediently move 8 feet away from the doors of public buildings. There aren't many restaurants in which you can light up any more and very few hotel rooms. (I despise those signs that say, "thank you for not smoking." I always want to say, "don't thank me, I'm not doing it voluntarily).

But in the sanctity of my own home and my own car, I smoke as I please and it is you, non-smoker, who has to conform to my desires.

So in light of all this, why am I even going to try it again? One reason. Smoking has been priced out of my market. Here in Indiana, where I live, a pack of cigarettes costs in the neighborhood of $5-$6. If you smoke a pack and a half a day, as I do, that's roughly $100 a week or $400 a month.

My income went down when I retired and it dropped again precipitously when my mother died. We shared money and expenses so the dollars coming in went down and the expenses that we used to share but that are now mine alone, went way up.  Simply put, it has come down to whether I want to smoke more than I want to be able to make my house payment.

I will say that I resent how we smokers have become the pariahs of society though. There has lately been a post going around Facebook. I don't remember exactly what it says but something about pedophiles. It shows a guy behind bars in an orange jail jumpsuit and he's smoking. It is as if simply being a pedophile wasn't horrible enough, he had to be shown as a smoker to give him a extra bit of scum-baggery.

Although, of course, he's way more likely to be in jail for drinking than for smoking. If he's there for domestic violence, the odds are that it was alcohol that made him do it, not cigarettes. If he's there for hurting or killing someone in a wreck or making himself a public nuisance or getting in a fight in a bar, it was probably booze that contributed, not tobacco. More divorces can be attributed to drinking than smoking, along with more child abuse and more lost jobs and more suspended licenses. And alcohol is associated with its own illnesses.

But yet, good old alcohol, is still accepted in all the best places. Drunken stupidity is funny, don'cha know? We see it in videos and on t.v. all the time. "Hey, hold my beer and watch this!"

Tobacco was forced to slink away from advertising with its tail between its legs but beer and whiskey producers sponsor racecars and football games and other athletic events. And the commercials on television about beer and tequila and bourbon and vodka are ubiquitous. No harm done here. Showing fun people and cool drinkers will never cause kids to want to try it.

When I worked at the Sheriff's Department, I once attended an autopsy. The pathologist was very educational. He showed me plaque in arteries and ovarian cysts. When he got to our lady's lungs, I asked, "was she a smoker, Doc?" He gave me a rueful smile and said, "you know you shouldn't smoke, Vic."  I looked at his expression and said in astonishment, "you can't tell, can you? It's all propaganda!" He said again, "you know you shouldn't smoke, Vic."

He went on to say that she was a smoker but then went on to point out some small dark spots on her lungs, admitting, "anyone who lives in our polluted modern society will have these."

My husband smoked his whole adult life from the time he went into the military. The Army began paying him an Agent Orange pension (he was in Vietnam) from the time he was diagnosed with lung caner. And he also worked in a factory that made brake shoes and clutch facings out of asbestos and lead. But what do you want to bet that his death was listed as a smoking statistic?

I had a woman once cry and tell me that smoking had killed her father. Turned out her dad was 86 when he died. We're all going to die of something eventually, even non-smokers. (Her father could have been like my grandmother, who died of lung cancer when she was 63, without ever having smoked a cigarette in her life.)

And geez, it's not like I have any other vices. I'm too poor and too old. I feel sorry for myself, having to give up this small comfort too. But I'm whining and no one cares.

So, I'm going to grit my teeth and try to kiss my old buddy tobacco good-bye. Unless I win the lottery....and then I'll probably just keep right on smoking.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I'm At The End Of My Rope!



And my all-time favorite -          

Most people who know me think I'm a fairly even-tempered person. I'm slow to anger and rarely hold a grudge. Oh, I love to dive into a good political debate and I don't mind if things get a little rough. I'm usually ready to shake hands when it is over though. My line in the sand is so far in the distance I can barely see it but it does exist. And I think the Republicans/conservatives have finally crossed it.

I lose all sense of self-preservation when I reach this point. I once voted to strike even though the company told us they'd close the plant if we did not approve their insulting contract. They'd played such devious, hateful games with us before that vote that there's nothing they could have done that would have made me put my check mark in front of the "yes". My attitude was - "then go ahead and shut the son-of-a-bitch down". Cooler heads prevailed and the contract was agreed to (although management later closed the factory anyway).

I was almost there when the Republican impeached Clinton. I thought that impeachment was nothing more than a vindictive, vengeful attempt to destroy a Democratic president just because they were pissed that they'd lost. So much for democracy.

And then there was the Bush V Gore fiasco in which the Supreme Court got to name the president who didn't get the most popular votes.

But still, even after all of that, I tried look beyond it to be a loyal American. I thought that election was so divisive, the country really needed us to pull together as a united people. I thought, however it happened, George Bush was my president and it was important to respect the process and the office.

In the next eight years, I disagreed with and disapproved of so many things Bush and the Neo-cons did. I wrote blogs and columns criticizing them. I expressed my opinion in all the ways that were open to me. But I did not want to impeach Bush. I did not want the Democrats to get caught up in an endless round of grandstanding bullshit hearings designed simply to punish him because he, not we, had gained the presidency. I think not want them to try to tank the economy just to make him look bad. I did not want them to refuse to confirm his nominees to important posts out of petty spite.

In my life, I've had a few bumper stickers on my car but as far as I can recall, they have always been for something or someone, not against them. In the eight, in my opinion, disastrous years of Bush/Cheney, I never put a bumper sticker on my car that accused my friends and neighbors who voted for Bush of being stupid.

So, finally, those long eight Bush years were over and we Democrats were back in the White House. Granted, we were still at war in two places (that we weren't paying for) and the bankers had almost destroyed the economy and the deficit was still growing and we were still losing jobs but the party of grown ups was back in control so things had to get better and they did. We began to create jobs, the deficit began to go down, the stock market began to go up, foreclosures began to slow, one war was over and another would be soon, It was a slow process but all signs pointed up.

And what have we had from the Republicans during this time? Millions of dollars spent on worthless hearings, most particularly their Benghazi Obsession. Millions of dollars spent on 63 hopeless votes to repeal Obamacare. Government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, threatened default, debt ceilings, sequester, a record-setting number of filibusters, a refusal to confirm even the most eminently qualified nominees, leaving us without ambassadors in critical countries like Guatemala, Syria and even RUSSIA, for God's sake! An unwillingness to cooperate on even such matters as freaking crucial as immigration, war and climate change.

And running counterpoint to all this congressional obstruction were the poisonous assertions about the president not being an American, not being a Christian, being a Muslim sympathizer, being a traitor and the implication that those of us who voted for him must be traitors and/or morons, ourselves. And impeachment, yes, impeachment again. Not having learned their lesson with Clinton, they seem bound to do it again with Obama and I believe they will impeach him if they win the Senate in 2014.

Always before, I've been of the belief that we couldn't let them drag us down to their level. We couldn't retaliate in kind. Jesus, what would happen to the country if both parties threw themselves on the floor in a tantrum and held their breath until they turned blue? No, we had to continue to be the people of commonsense and concern for the common good.

But I'm not really sure I can do that anymore. I may have passed my point of no return. The next time a Republican is elected president (and I assume they will eventually win another election), maybe I'll put vile bumper stickers on my car. Maybe I'll encourage my representatives to stonewall him (or her) at every step, even if I think the proposed policies might be positive ones. Maybe I'll post nasty cartoons on Facebook showing "their" president as a dog turd. Maybe I'll tell my friends and neighbors that they are imbeciles if they voted for the Republican, or even worse, traitors. Maybe I'll object to every nominee he puts forth, even the honorable ones who deserve to be confirmed.

I think they count on us to always be the level-headed ones but I don't feel very level-headed right now. I think I'm in the mood to strike even if that means shutting the son-of-a-bitch down.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

God Was On A Roll 'Til He Created Man



I don't see how anyone who pays any attention to the world around them could not be a manic-depressive.

I just watched the most incredible National Geographic video - beautifully illustrating some of the myriad wonders of this earth. How could human beings not consider themselves unbelievably fortunate to live on this awesome planet? How could they not work tirelessly to protect it and its creatures from harm? When I see things like this, I'm amazed and joyful.

But then I move on to the news of the day and I see how taking care of the earth is really the least of mankind's concerns. We are more caught up in war and hatred and killing as we have been since our arrival on this planet, whenever that was. And this is so even though we've seen that past wars and hatred and killing have solved nothing.

We are obsessed with profit and cheap energy even at the risk of destroying our own environment. Climate change? Pretend it isn't so despite 97 percent of scientists declaring, ever more urgently, that it is.  Giant pipelines of sludgy oil crossing under our lands and over our aquifers? Fine. Drilling in sensitive ecologies like the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic? Fine. Fracking despite earthquakes and despoiled water? Fine. Bulldozing down whole mountains to get at the resources they contain. Fine. Driving wolves and wild horses from their habitat because we want it? Fine.

It always seemed to me that our Creator, if there was a Creator, and the Earth and the solar system and all the solar systems argue with the perfection of their symbiosis that there must be intelligence behind them, was on a roll until he/she/it created man. That was one step too far.

Yes, there are the rescuers and the sacrificers and the caring but they are over-shadowed by their opposites. We who want to save the rain forests and the tigers and the whales and yes, the spotted owls and snail darters too (because who knows what purposes they serve in a Creator's eye?) are always fighting a rear guard action. We try to rescue a few dogs and cats out of the millions that are sent to shelters to be euthanized. The Rainbow Warrior is a feeble force defying entire governments owned by the rich who profit from killing whales. The Native Americans who are protesting the Keystone Pipeline coming through their lands don't stand a chance against the Koch Brothers and their ilk.

And meanwhile the wars go on unabated - Jew against Palestinian - Shia against Sunni - African tribes whose names I don't even know again other African tribes whose names I don't even know - bitter Russia against its former satellites. Conservatives against Liberals.

The world is filled with refugee camps, the human detritus of our loathing of one another. And speaking directly to America, the kindest and best country on earth, as we think of ourselves, what do WE do when faced with refugee children from gang and drug and war-torn countries? Many of us stand beside their buses with signs and screams saying, "go away, you're not welcome here!"

We humans cannot only not get along with our own kind, we cannot get along with our own families. (See: NFL for the most recent examples). Both governmentally and personally, as a country, our weapons are our most prized possessions, even above our children.

We think our religions, our morals, our ethics raise us above the animals and yet no other species comes close to being the monstrous plunderers, pillagers and predators that we are. Even many of us, who would never rape and maim and kill ourselves, stand silently by as others do it in our name. If our clothes are made by slave labor in China, well, hey, that shirt was a dollar cheaper at Walmart. If many of our farm products come from factory farms that keep livestock in horrendous conditions, as if they weren't living creatures of blood and bone and muscle that can feel pain, it's just the way it is, I can't do anything about it.

And that's the point. No, you can't but we can. United, we could stop it all if we cared enough. I'm 68 years old and I've always wanted to believe that man is on an ever evolving upward path. Progress might be slow but it exists. But looking around the world today, I think I might have been wrong.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Unpatriotic Assholes


Even now, with Russia invading Ukraine and ISIS beheading American journalists, the Republicans can't force themselves to present a united American front if it means standing with Barack Obama. While the president bombs and send air strikes and extends sanctions and meets with foreign leaders and NATO to try to devise the best possible strategy for coping with the increasingly violent goings on in Europe and the Middle East, Republican leaders, and I use that term very loosely, sit in their districts and twiddle their thumbs....unless, of course, they are on the Sunday shows complaining about what Obama is doing without offering any plausible ideas of their own.

Rand Paul now thinks (after much willy-wawing on this issue) that we must destroy ISIS: “If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress, I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

So far as I know, there is nothing to prevent the leadership of Congress from getting together and calling themselves into a joint (or extra) session if that's what they want to do. But do you sense them chaffing at the bit to take a vote on giving the President authorization to "destroy ISIS militarily"?

No, what they really want is for Obama to go ahead and do it, then they can scream that he made the decision extra-constitutionally and crucify him if it doesn't work out perfectly (which, of course, it wouldn't because war never does.)

John McCain and Lindsay Graham wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. Well, they would, wouldn't they? They've never not put their 2 cents (and that's about what their opinions are worth) in on any issue. They want to go to war in both Syria and Iraq but those are easy decisions to make when they are just words in a newspaper. And it's safe for them to say whatever they want because no one ever holds them accountable for all the wrong predictions they've made in the past. Has John McCain really thought out that he'd be going against some of the old buds he urged the president to arm in the not-too-distant past. Old buds like some now in ISIS.....like these guys?

Not to worry. I'm sure he'll remain the pet of the Sunday talk shows.

Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, recently said - “I am in support of going in and not sitting back, but creating a strategy of where we go, And if the president won’t act, I think we have to take some action to move forward.”

Good, Kevin, because I think Obama would love for you to do just that and give him some cover, just the way our laws state that it should work. You know, the Executive and Legislative branches being a partnership and all when matters of American security are involved.

Sen. Ted Cruz rallied the conservative faithful at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Dallas on Saturday, saying that the U.S. should bomb the Islamic State (ISIS) "back to the Stone Age" for beheading American journalist James Foley.

Come back to Washington, Ted, and put your money where your mouth is.

By the way, Ted also said at this same summit - "The Russian bear is encountering the Obama kitty cat. The reason Putin feels no fear to march into his neighbors, the reason our allies up and down Europe are terrified of what happens next, is because our president is leading from behind."

He illustrated Putin's influence another way at the start of his speech: "Back in Washington, there's a diet that is now very, very popular. It's called 'The Obama Diet.' It works very, very well. You simply let Putin eat your lunch every day."

You know when Republicans hear this kind of stuff, they love it. They roll in the floor laughing. They can't help letting their admiration of Putin show. "Sigh, if only we had such a manly president."

Way to stand with your president and your country, unpatriotic assholes. You make me sick.

Sunday, August 24, 2014



Wow, those of you who think the president takes too many vacation days must really be pissed at Congress. Obama has so far taken 141 days off since he's held office. Let's say he even takes 20 more yet this year which he probably won't but we'll say he does. That is 161 days or about 32 days a year and of course, you have to remember that all presidential vacations are working vacations. (He's come back to the White House from Martha's Vineyard twice on this latest vacation but I still counted them as vacation because, you know, maybe he played a round of golf or took a bike ride when he got back to Massachusetts.

By contrast, The Senate has taken 60 days off this year (I didn't count weekends, just weekdays). And the House has taken so much time off, it is actually easier to tally the days they worked which was 103 in 2014.

Normally, presidential and congressional vacations aren't a big issue with me but it does look as though we might be heading into a really serious situation with ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Obama made the decision to bomb the hell out of them in Iraq but they scurry back and forth between Syria and Iraq, not recognizing the border. That means to go after them hot and heavy, we might have to consider military operations in a whole other country. And perhaps we'll have to expand what we're doing beyond the air strikes we're conducting now. Are we about to get in another war? Is that what we have to do to eliminate the threat that ISIL poses?

Geez, you'd think Congress would be rushing back to Washington to put their two cents worth in, wouldn't you, especially the Republicans? I mean, they are freaking suing Obama what they say is taking too much responsibility upon himself when it involves kids crossing the border or poor people getting healthcare but now when we are talking WAR, they are "ho hum, don't bother us, we're at the beach."

Matters this grave beg for Senators and Representatives to get involved. Legally, they are supposed to be involved. It's not fair to the president to carry a burden this momentous on his own. They either need to give him the authorization to take military action or forbid him from doing it. Which do they want? We have no idea. They can't be bothered to tell us.

I think they are doing it purposely....making him the scapegoat. That way if it turns out badly, they can say it's all his fault. Of course, even if it turns positively, the Republicans will still piss and moan and declare everything is awful.

What a bunch of self-focused gutless wonders they are. I'm 68 years old and I honestly never thought I'd see the day that America's government couldn't even bring itself to come together over matters of war. It is absolutely sickening to watch.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

What Would Your Reaction Be?


I always try to imagine myself in controversial passion-filled situations to see how I would feel if I was actually part of the story.  On the occasion of Michael Brown's shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, for instance.....

I'll use my own small town of Wabash as an example. Wabash consists of Wabash proper and the south side, separated by a river. In this scenario, let's say, the south side is the poorer side of town and includes 67 percent of the population of Wabash. There are often hostile feelings between the two sides, with the northsiders feeling contempt for the southside and the southside feeling resentment toward the northside.

It really isn't difficult to see why the southsiders feel as they do. Everyone on the school board is a northsider; 50 of the 53 police officers on the Wabash force are northsiders; the mayor is a northsider; the prosecutor is a northsider.

Some (maybe even most) of those 50 northside police officers have a low opinion of the southsiders. Sometimes, it is announced right out in the open at roll call - "let's go out and have a southside night", which means let's go arrest a bunch of southsiders". And this prejudice shows itself statistically. Even though only 67 percent of the population is made up of southsiders, they make up 87 percent of the arrests. The vast majority of speeding tickets written are given to those from the southside.

These aren't just perceptions of a disgruntled community. They are facts as compiled by the state over the last 14 years. So we know for sure that profiling and targeting by police is rampant. And we also know that, despite clear evidence, absolutely nothing has been done to try to correct the situation. The officer who made the comment about having a "southside night", and well as many other racially charged statements, has now been terminated but that didn't happen until he was hit by a media spotlight. As long as no one but Wabashians were aware of his rank prejudice, it was ignored.

So, pretend you are a southsider. You see the people in your community getting citations for speeding and other minor infractions at a much higher rate than northsiders. You son comes home with a story about being hassled by the cops when he was doing nothing wrong. You are called ugly names. Your neighbors get stiffer sentences than northsiders for the same crimes. You get stopped by the cops because you have a tail light out, a tail light that magically comes back on by the end of the stop. You've heard and seen and experienced this happening your whole life. And, yet despite efforts to complain and sue and draw attention, it just goes on and on. The Northside power structure isn't interested in changing. They're fine with things the way they are.

And then a police officer shoots Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was due to leave for college. Shoots him down in the street. You're stunned but you wait to see what the reaction from authorities is going to be and what that reaction is, it seems to you, is stonewalling. They don't release the name of the shooter. No one is charged with a crime. They don't even interview Michael's friend, who was with him and saw it all. Nope, there is no car video, they tell you. And you believe, as a southsider whose been through this movie before, that once again, you are going to get screwed. Only this isn't about a speeding ticket or a joint, this is about a dead boy, one of your own! This is your last freakin' straw!

So you gather in protest and you're met, not by police trying to calm the situation, but tanks and Humvees and assault weapons and a freaking MRAP! It looks like they'd love nothing more than the slightest invitation to shoot you. And so you're pissed, yeah, really pissed. And yep, there is some looting and vandalism until Michael Smith parents beg for it to stop and it does. But still, there is no statement from the state apologizing and declaring a really serious investigation will be done because this kind of incident is flatly unacceptable and intolerable. The streets are still filled with police officers lobbing tear gas into your midst, spraying your children with mace, calling you "animals".

The chief of police warns that you may gather but you should be off the streets by dark. Why? The First Amendment is not only in affect in daylight. It is a 24/7 amendment. Because you are a southsider and southsiders have a particular experience with being told to leave town before dark, that order strikes a painful chord northsiders might not recognize.

All you know, is your're goddam sick, sick in both senses of the word - sick as in "sick and tired" and sick as in "sick at heart" - of seeing your husbands and fathers and sons being arrested and bullied and even shot down in the streets like dogs for doing nothing more than northsiders do every single day with no consequence. You could go back and compile a list of names and it would stretch on endlessly.

So what would you do if you saw yourself and your family and your community being subjected to injustice that went on for years with absolutely no response from the people in a position to change it? Do you think you're be angry? Do you think you'd be resentful? Do you think its possible you might act out?

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'd have as much self-restraint as most of the southsiders in situations such as this one and the Trayvon Martin shooting and....

It always amazes me that some northsiders' (not just in this little story but in all these similar cases) first reaction is to be judgmental about the behavior of the victims instead of the perpetrators.

What if someone smacked you in the face every day for 14 years (probably more but that's how long we have evidence for) when you'd done nothing wrong? And one day you smacked him back and people told you, "oh, no, you shouldn't do that....just be quiet and take it and someday, by magic, it will stop"?

No, things don't change by magic. They change when attention and outrage are brought to bear. You don't convince people who are treating you badly into doing a 180 by "niceness". They change when victims rise up and say, "no more". Does that sometimes mean physical violence. Yep, sometimes it does. You call people animals, don't be surprised if they throw it back in your face.

So, we'll see what happens next but if the powers-that-be think that they can whitewash it and then it's back to business as usual, I think they are wrong. If the response to cries for justice are Humvees and assault rifles and tear gas, then this certainly won't be the last of it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Paranoid Majority


I keep seeing posts like these on Facebook implying that it takes courage to stand up for the American flag and boldness to admit you believe in the Bible. Really? Are there hosts of Americans being attacked for their patriotism or their faith? Do you risk getting punched in the nose if you fly the flag or kicked in the groin if you profess your love of Jesus? Am I not watching enough news because if this is the case, I must have missed the reporting on it?

Honestly, the American right has such a defensive chip on its collective shoulder. Come on, People, you are in the majority by about a gazillion to one. There is no need to be afraid...really. The odds are big-time in your favor.

You appear to be trapped in the throes of a persecution complex fueled by paranoia. You see yourselves as perpetual victims as your enemies try to take away your Christmas. (You've probably noticed how Christmas ads and sales and television specials and shopping has dropped off to almost nothing. Oh, you haven't? You say it is all about semantics - Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas. Really, that's your big piss-off?)

And whites are being overpowered by minorities until we're barely even represented in our own government anymore.  Here, this picture of the House Committee chairmen might ease your mind a little.

And what do you want to bet that these white men are all Christians too?

And oh, my, God, the gays are coming out in droves and they actually expect to get married AND force you to bake their wedding cake too! And Obama is dictating that you must carry health insurance and if you're a business, you have to pay for your female employees' contraceptives.

Actually, you right-wingers really should be pro-contraceptive and pro-abortion. You're always excoriating liberals and wishing they would disappear off the face of the earth. Commonsense would seem to indicate that most women who have abortions probably lean liberal while more women who have babies lean conservative so if you just let us manage our own reproductive business, we might fulfill your wish for you and pretty soon most little babies will be raised in conservative homes!

Of course, some of the fetuses liberals terminate are being replaced by undocumented immigrants so that might turn out to be a wash. They are definitely threatening your lifestyle because damn, you wanted that dishwashing job at the Lowlife Cafe!

And poor people. The terrifying unwashed masses of them. They sort of remind you of zombies, don't they? Coming at you with open mouths and staring eyes, wanting to steal your stuff.

Although the fact is that most people on food stamps work. They just don't make enough to survive without assistance. (Thank you, Walmart and McDonald's and Papa John).  And the ones who don't work are children or the elderly or the disabled, including veterans. And most illegal immigrants work too and pay in to help subsidize your Social Security though they'll never collect themselves. (And, in addition, most of them are Christians.)

Despite your concerns about the flag, I watch NASCAR every week where they wave the flag and sing the Star-Spangled Banner (not to mention saying a Christian prayer). And flags hang from lots of homes in my town and flies in front of the Sheriff's Department and the Courthouse and City Hall and the city parks. And the cemeteries are a sea of red, white and blue on Veteran's Day. So far, I haven't heard of a single person being beaten up by anti-flag thugs or one Christian being mugged by a gang of atheists.

The reality is, of course, that it is still much more dangerous to be anything but a hyper-patriotic white straight Christian American. You're way, way more likely to be shot coming home from the store if your name is Trayvon Martin than if it's Mitt Romney, Junior. You're way more likely to be arrested and sent to prison if you're any color but white. You're way more likely to be discriminated against if you're gay. You're way more likely to suffer hunger and homelessness and illness if you're poor. And try running for any office in the next election after admitting you're an atheist and see how far you get.

So, sorry, but I don't think it takes any particular guts to fly the American flag or profess your Christianity because that simply makes you a member of the norm. It's coloring outside those lines that takes a certain amount of nerve.