Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conservative Debate: I'm 100 % Right, You're 100% Wrong

Facebook has been caught up in two issues for the last week or so, namely, gun control and Chik-Fil-A. I've debated gun control so many times in the last two decades that I left that one alone for the most part, only trying to make the point a time or two that - yes, "guns don't kill people, people kill people" but people with automatic weapons can kill a lot more people in a lot shorter period of time than people with, say, knives. The N.R.A. and it's followers always want to conflate gun control with taking all your guns but, of course, what most of us really want are simply some commonsense efforts that make it slightly less likely that crazies like the Aurora shooter can take out whole crowds of us at a time. And, no, I don't think it would have helped if theater-goers had all been armed. Probably even more people would have been shot.

But Chik-Fil-A, now that's a whole new controversy and it seems to have brought out the worst in fundamentalist conservatives. What I've learned about the right-wing crowd is that there is no such thing as a debate where you say, "yeah, but what about this?" and they give their best answer and they say, "yeah, but what about that?" and you give your best answer. Their starting position is - "I am 100 per cent right and you are 100 per cent wrong - end of story". We've seen that very same attitude from the Republicans in Congress these last few years (much to the detriment of our democratic form of government). They will not ever grant the possibility that you have a point or even tiny piece a point or that you might be even the merest bit right (or I should say, correct, as they have pre-empted the word right as their very own). They will not consider a compromise even if you do 99 per cent of the compromising. They demand the whole apple. They won't even let you chew on the core.

Because liberals, don't you know, are the source of the decaying of America. Obama (foreign, Muslim, traitor) and his supporters are out to destroy America

 and we have come close to getting the job done already. Therefore, conservatives must be hyper-vigilant. If they don't take their country back for the conservative God in the upcoming election, it may very well be too late (although if God is all-powerful isn't he going to determine what happens anyway?) I have a little difficulty seeing Mitt Romney as their Knight in Shining Armor and many of them do too but sometimes your Savior is anointed only because he's not your nemesis.

And the Kathy family, owners of the Chik-Fil-A chain are their new poster children for conservative principles. They are all going to rush out and gorge themselves on chicken sandwiches to prove a point (which will probably have the Kathys laughing all the way to the bank).

For those of you who may not know what this is all about. The elder Mr Kathy started the Chik-Fil-A chain of restaurants which has become hugely successful. Mr. Kathy's son is now the CEO of the company. The Kathys are devoutly Christian. They are not open on Sunday. They support groups that oppose gay marriage. They want the Defense of Marriage Act to remain the law of the land because their God tells them being gay is a sin. You assume, or at least I assume, that back in the day, the Kathys would have been donating their money to anti-mixed race marriage groups.

So far, so good. The Kathys certainly have the right to spend their money and run their business anyway they please. That's the American way. But it is also the American way that those who disagree with them - gays and their supporters - have the right to choose not to enrich people whose actions are meant to hurt them.

So, it's a good old American argument and may the best side win.

Except to the conservatives, it isn't a good old American argument. It is, instead, good against evil. They seem to believe that it is outrageously unfair for people who oppose the Kathy's point of view to "discriminate" against them by not patronizing their restaurants. Boycotting Chik-Fil-A is blatant discrimination but refusing gay Americans their full civil rights is not? I think the right-wingers have slipped behind the looking glass. (Haven't conservatives boycotted businesses with whom they disagree themselves? I seem to recall that they have.)

The reactionary right claim that gays see themselves as "entitled" and want more than they deserve and the Kathy's are doing God's work to try to stop that. It seems to me that gays only want the same civil rights the rest of us already have. I don't claim to know what God's expectations of us are but if I was guessing, I'd say He'd be on the other side....the side of tolerance and respect for our neighbors, gay or straight.

I brought this up on Facebook and found out fast that to the far right, tolerance is the four-letterest of four-letter words, worse than any that are banned on primetime television. Tolerance is just another way of saying lilly-livered, weak-kneed, limp-wristed, chicken-hearted. To tolerate is to condone.

"What do you care anyway?" I asked one of my conservative debaters. "How does it affect you if gays get married?"

Oh, but it does affect him! Because he is offended by the very idea of gayness and what is he supposed to say to his innocent children if they see two men kissing? "I don't know," I said, "that they love each other, maybe?" And don't I realize, he asked, "that if we're going to let gay people marry, the next step is to let people marry their dogs? Do I think his pit bull (I don't really know what kind of dog he has, I just think he'd be the type to have a mean pit bull - not that I think pit bulls are inherently mean but they attract owners who want to make them that way) deserves to receive his retirement and social security check?

Is this a deliberate ploy, do you think - that they drive off their opponents by indulging in such breath-taking ignorance that you realize it is hopeless and go away?

Monday, July 23, 2012

What The Heck Was That All About?

I watched the NASCAR race on television yesterday. As always, it began with a prayer. The minister thanked God for "this beautiful day you've given us".  He thanked Him for all the good things he provides to us and does for us. At the end, I was thinking, and half-expected him to say, "but what about that Aurora thing, God, what the hell was that all about?"

I know believers always insist that God has a reason for everything that happens but what is the reason for an Aurora (or Virginia Tech or Columbine)? I mean, what reason would make it acceptable in your mind?

The N.R.A., which is every bit as devout about Guns as it is about God, probably believes that God provided this lethal incident as an excuse to go on Facebook to insist that the answer is: more Guns! They have been out in force for the last two days with all their slogans and posters. 

But who else besides the gun aficionados could find a way to spin this horrific event into a positive in God's favor? If you were God's defense attorney, what argument would you use to convince the jury that He was justified in what he allowed to happen?


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Inalienable Right to Bear Children

Forget life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It strikes me that the most inalienable right of Americans is the right to have children. This right is not delineated by any Amendment to the Constitution. It doesn't need to be, for we accept that it is imbued with unquestioned sanctity.

In a time when more and more states are insisting on official government photo i.d. to exercise the most basic right in a democracy, the right to vote and help choose our country's leaders and policies, you need absolutely no identification to become a parent. When you can't drink in most states until you're 21, can't drive until you're 16, can't join the military until you're 18, you can make and have babies at any age depending only on when your own body allows it.

I just adopted a puppy from a Shelter. To do so, I had to fill out a three-page application and provide the names of three references who would vouch for me, as well as that of my veterinarian. The Shelter wanted to be assured that I would be a responsible pet owner. But to have a child, you need prove nothing at all. Can't provide a drug and alcohol-free body in which to nurture a healthy fetus? No problem. Don't have adequate shelter or income to care for a baby? That's okay. Too immature to remember to feed your hamster; to change the oil in your car, to pay your freaking rent? No big deal.

Brutalize your child and we might make you attend some Parenting Classes before sending the happy little family home to try again. Is your i.q. too low to allow you to be self-sufficient? Have you been diagnosed with one of the more severe conditions outlined in the DSM? Not to worry. None of that disqualifies you from becoming a parent. Have a hereditary illness that might be passed on to your child? It's yours to decide whether to take that risk.

And here's the fun part. There's absolutely no limit to this right. Most cities have restrictions on how many dogs you can keep. In my town, it is three. More than that and you have to apply for a kennel license but there's no such restriction on having children. Give birth to as many babies as you like. OctoMom has had eight without any visible means of support. That other family, I forget their names, can have, what is it now, 23 kids? And many of us admire them for it. As if a woman being in a constant state of pregnancy until her body finally breaks down so that she finally can't sustain a healthy infant is a good thing (sound familiar Santorums?)

We have such faith that giving birth at will is a holy right that you can be convicted of child abuse or neglect and when you get out of jail, you can just go right back to having more kids. You can be a father who has served time for non-payment of child support but your punishment will never include a ban on producing more offspring, from multiple partners, who you also have no intention of supporting.

Not only do we not try to dissuade people from having children they can't afford, either financially or emotionally, many of us, politicians and citizens alike, will go to the mat to insist every child be matter what. Disregard the physical and/or emotional well-being of the mother, the multiple handicaps of the fetus, the circumstances of conception (such as rape or incest), the desperate poverty of the parents, the extreme youth of the girl. Every baby must be born, they insist, end of story.

Of course, many of those same pro-lifers then get ouchy and walk away after the birth has actually taken place. On the one hand, they want to ban abortion altogether and to de-fund Planned Parenthood making it more difficult for poor women to avoid pregnancy but on the other hand, they resent the hell out of providing healthcare to poor families; they scorn those who rely on food stamps; they'd prefer to end subsidized housing. They're are rather like the dog owner who breeds his dog, then throws Mama and puppies onto the street because of the inconvenience and expense of keeping and feeding them.

If you ever want to know where our priorities lie, count the number of Small Claims courts versus the number of Children's Courts in the U.S. You'll soon see that helping landlords and merchants collect their bad debts is of far more importance than the welfare of children.

With many Americans, the inalienable right to have children is grounded in religious conviction. Evidently, we believe that God never changes his mind in response to changing conditions. He told us to go forth and multiply when there were two, count'em, people on this earth (I've never been quite sure how that happened - did Adam and Eve have children together? - was incest approved of then, so maybe God does change his mind sometimes). Now there are billions of us. Does the same edict still apply?

The only other issue that comes close to evoking as much passion among Americans as the right to bear children is the right to bear arms. But a majority of us do believe there should be at least some restrictions on gun ownership. And we do prevent felons from possessing firearms (at least, we try). But the morality of telling people can't have children until they can show proof of responsibility and maturity is a squeamish subject, one we don't want to face. 

So I'll say it. Having babies should be like having a driver's license - a privilege, not a right. You should be old enough to be deemed responsible; you should have to take a test to prove your competence and you should lose that privilege if you screw it up. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Facebook - net positive or net negative?

Ah, Facebook. I go there to scroll through the latest postings twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening. I can't quite decide if Facebook is, in total, for better or worse.

Things I hate about Facebook: how shockingly ugly our politics have become as illustrated by pictures of the president in a Hitler mustache or comparing his wife to a gorilla; animals who talk baby talk ("pweeze cum home cuz I wub yu" - ack!); totally false rumors presented as fact which then spread like wildfire; the proof Facebook provides provides on a daily basis as to the gullibility of many Americans (you are not going to help save a child from cancer no matter how many times you 'like' her pitiful photo and you're probably not going to win an Apple I-Pad either); how belligerent many Facebookers are via the computer screen when I doubt they'd be this in-your-face if you were face-to-face, especially the gun aficionados; posts that warn me to get the hell out if I don't love America in exactly the way they think I should.

Things about Facebook that aren't my cup of tea but, oh, well, I'll just scroll on by: religious posts (especially of the type that demand "if you love Jesus, 'like' this picture; if you prefer to burn in hell, scroll on by"); pictures of nearly naked women; any posts that have to do with games because I really don't care how many gangsters you've killed in Mafia Wars or how many sheep you still need to fill your Farmville pasture; salespeople who use Facebook to push products I'm not interested in buying.

Things I love about Facebook: staying in touch with friends or ex-co-workers you'd probably lose track of otherwise;, connecting with people with whom you have interests in common (many of my FB friends came by way of our passion for NASCAR); touching pictures of children and animals; inspiring stories of heroism; awesome scenery shots of places you've never been; dirty jokes; incredible videos of myriad subjects (child greeting home-coming soldier, boaters saving whale trapped in net, dog getting through to autistic child, banker saving ducklings from roof, flash mob, etc); YouTube shares of songs (especially ones that inspire an "oh, man, I love that song and I'd forgotten all about it" reaction); the occasional hard-bodied, almost naked man (especially cowboys!); instant local news bulletins (thanks to friends who seem to keep both Facebook and their police scanners running 24/7); salespeople who use Facebook to push products I might be interested in buying.

My mother-in-law was in a nursing home for nine years before she died. During that time, I developed a visceral dread of ever ending up there myself. Community Care Center was pleasant enough as nursing homes go but it seemed to me to be an island of lost and lonely souls. Most of the residents had a few visitors, as my mother-in-law had me. They had televisions (but televisions aren't interactive)  and telephones (but telephones aren't visual). For the most part, life was rolling on without them.

Now, I think to myself that maybe I could barely bear it if there was a nursing home with wifi (in each room, not just in the "social room") and I could take my laptop. I could stay hooked up to Facebook to keep up with friends and hear their gossip and see photos of their grandkid's weddings. I could stay up-to-date with what was going on in the world and continue to enter debates about politics. I could be stimulated by pictures and stories and songs. I could continue to discuss NASCAR races with other fans. My body might be trapped in an institution but my mind (assuming I was still in my right one) would be free to explore and delight and communicate and share.

Resolved: regarding Facebook, despite all its negatives, on balance the positives win out.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Saddest Thing of All

My mother is into full-blown dementia now. She often thinks I'm her sister or even her mother. She doesn't believe she lives in this house but harkens back to a previous address. Why her mind has chosen that particular place to call "home", I have no idea. There was nothing special about it. It was a double-wide mobile home in a very nice park and all my aunts were alive then so maybe it was the companionable things they did together that now makes that memory so appealing. She constantly begs me to take her there. I even drove the 60 miles to show her that the trailer court is a crumbling slum now with boarded up windows and weed-choked yards. The lot where she lived in empty. Half an hour after we got back, she'd forgotten what we saw there.

She sorts and packs, filling up sack after sack with shoes and clothes and dolls and dishes to take with her. She roots through cupboards and drawers and chooses things for her journey - several pairs of gloves, my small pair of binoculars, a pack of new ballpoint pens from my desk, the salt and pepper shakers off the kitchen table. She's filled purses with pictures stripped from the albums and sewing supplies and paperwork of all kinds - bills (that I have to reclaim in order to pay), receipts from long ago Walmart trips, filled out order forms for various magazines for which she already has subscriptions.

She used to nap a lot before this dementia took her over. Now, she has Attention Deficit Disorder. She's busy every minute, unable to sit still long enough to even eat her dinner. She forgets she had dinner, telling my friends - "I haven't had a bite of food for three days".

I follow behind her and try to unpack as quickly as she packs. She doesn't notice but simply fills the next bag with whatever grabs her attention at the moment. She doesn't bother with matching things. She might have 5 shoes, all without mates.

I try to tell her she lives here but she thinks I'm lying for my own nefarious purposes. When asked what those might be, she has no idea. She looks herself up in the phone book - and there is her name beside this address. I show her that this address is also what is on her checks and her address labels but it doesn't convince her. She goes behind my back and calls my friends to ask if they'll come and give her a ride home.

Or, she stands in the doorway with her purse over her arm announcing, "I'm ready to go whenever you're ready to take me." At first, I argued. I was so new to this condition, I thought if I was forceful enough, I could get through to her but now I know I can't, so I just tell her that I'll take her home "tomorrow". Usually, that satisfies her but sometimes, she heads for the door saying, "if you won't drive me, I'll walk". I have to forcibly prevent her from heading down the street with her purse and her sacks.

It is like having a two-year-old again. She can no longer be left alone anymore than a toddler could be left alone. The heart-breaking difference is that you know a two-year-old is going to grow up whereas there is no future for Mom but going down. She is 93 years old and she can only deteriorate.

The worst thing about all this is that she is no longer my mother. Everyone who knew her agreed that Mom was the most giving, loving person they'd ever met. She insisting on feeding every human or animal that came to her door. My friends all called her Mom. John's friends all called her Grandma.

This new person isn't like that. She is so completely focused on her own issues that she no longer has any compassion or concern for anyone else. Used to, if she thought she hurt anyone's feelings, she'd be horrified. Now, I can cry from the frustration of dealing with her and it leaves her untouched. I can plead with her to please just accept living here with me but she's unmoved.

My father died in his sleep of a massive heart attack. He was only 63. At the time, I thought that was the saddest thing. My husband died of lung cancer at 46 after almost 2 years of pain and illness and invasive treatments. At that time, I thought that was the saddest thing. But, watching Mom totally lose her Self is the very saddest thing of all.  Everyone in her world who died is now alive again. Is wanting to go "home" another way of simply saying she has been here long enough and she's ready to let go of life? 

I will care for her here as long as I can. I don't even want to think about putting her in a nursing home. But I have reached the point of hoping that some morning soon when I go into check on her, she will have gone "home".  


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How Far We've Moved From Mayberry

July 4, 2012  -  R.I.P Andy Griffith

In the ugly cynicism of the 21st century, many Americans yearn nostalgically for a time when our nation was epitomized by Mayberry, North Carolina. This small town in the rural south captured perfectly the values we like to believe are uniquely our own.

It isn't true though. Mayberry being what it was rested solely on the shoulders of a wise and strong and kind and tolerant leader. To be the Mayberry we loved, it required an Andy Taylor to make it so. The citizens of Mayberry contained all the same qualities we do ourselves. At times, they were ignorant or selfish or judgmental or greedy or short-sighted. It took the Sheriff to bring out the best in them.

Andy Taylor was not a man who bullied or badgered or sermonized to bring his people to reason. He was a master of leading by example, of gently nudging his folks to understanding while allowing them to believe they'd found the answers for themselves. The Sheriff was content to stand back so someone else could bask in the glory of a successful conclusion although, behind the scenes, he'd written the script for that success.

He suffered fools gladly and didn't mind being played for a fool himself if being underestimated meant the right outcome was reached in the end.

This is the part of Mayberry that is true. Leadership matters. It is the determining factor of the character of any entity - be it a school, a corporation, a city or a country.

Over the years, I watched my own county Sheriff's Department evolve or devolve, depending on who we elected to be its head.

For a while, we had a very authoritarian sheriff who encouraged his deputies to be the same. He had an "us versus them" mentality, with the cops on one side of the divide and the public on the other. Officers knew he'd always have their backs, blowing off citizen complaints about over-aggressive treatment, no matter how egregious. Inmates knew it was a waste of time to write a grievance about rough handling by jail officers. The reputation of the Department suffered as people talked among themselves about deputies who threw their weight around because they had the authority of a squad car, a badge and a gun.

When the Sheriff ran for re-election, he lost. But we over-reacted. Ah, America, this is always your downfall, isn't it. Your pendulum always swings too far.

Replacing the old sheriff, we hired ourselves a kinder, gentler version. He was so kind, he left the doors to the cell blocks open. He was so gentle, he said we needed to be "understanding" about the nature of child molesters. He ordered bitter jail officers to serve as character witnesses in court for some of our most low-life prisoners. He allowed some inmates to go home for conjugal visits with spouses, as resentful deputies cooled their heels, waiting outside in the car. In any dispute between a criminal and a cop, he sided with the criminal. He appeared to be confused about who the good guys and the bad guys were supposed to be.

Well, hell, that wasn't quite what we had in mind. So when his term was up, he wasn't re-elected.

Our next sheriff was as close to Andy Taylor as you can get. He supported his officers while making sure they understood that he wouldn't tolerate the mistreatment of either citizens or inmates. He added a GED course as well as drug and alcohol counseling in the jail. He pushed his deputies to become more educated, approving almost any class they wanted to take. We developed our own instructors so that other departments came to us for training. He added a Detective Division and a drug dog. His door was always his officers, to his inmates or to his constituents. If any of them had a valid complaint, he would act on it. He was a good old boy kind of sheriff (a little like Andy Taylor, in fact), only deigning to wear a uniform for photo ops.

He had a successful 8-year term and probably could have been re-elected indefinitely except that Indiana term-limits its sheriffs.

So, then we elected a former State Trooper - our heads were turned because he was young, handsome, charming, with a gleaming white smile in a deep tan face. He decided the previous sheriff had operated the Department in an highly unprofessional manner (professional, being his be-all-and-end-all word). He was horrified that we had a Department cat (although battered wives and their terrified children seemed to get great comfort from her loving attention). Cuffs was the first to go when he took over. He was horrified that the wallpaper border in our office featured duck decoys and had it quickly removed. He was horrified that deputies had been allowed not to wear their ties and hats and ordered a prompt change in the uniform policy. He was horrified by a lot of things and took immediate steps to polish our image. No question, the Department's looked sharper but over time, though ticket-writing went way up ("I want you out on the roads where people can see you"), crime-solving and arrests went way down. The day staff stopped going to lunch together. Camaraderie disappeared. This Sheriff thought professionalism meant appearance rather than competence.

The moral of the story is that leadership matters. Mayberry isn't Mayberry without Andy Taylor in charge.