Tuesday, June 21, 2016

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell on Gun Violence

Dear Mitch McConnell,

Imagine a health crisis hitting the United States.   Imagine being a parent during this health crisis and seeing your child swept up in that crisis.   Maybe the crisis kills them.   Or perhaps it simply weakens them in some way.   Imagine seeing your child in pain or suffering, fearing they might die, or that they may never lead a full and prosperous life because of the horrible events that have befallen them. 

I imagine that this is a familiar story to you, as you've discussed your own battle with polio often, even on the Senate floor.   Back in 2005, you said:
My mother was, of course, like many mothers of young polio victims, perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life.   
You went on to discuss your mother's own hard work to help you with the disease:
They told my mother she needed to keep me from walking. Now, imagine this. You are the mother of a 2-year-old boy. And we all know how anxious little boys are to get up and get around and get into trouble. So my mother convinced me that I could walk, but I couldn't walk--a pretty subtle concept to try to convey to a 2-year-old. In other words, she wanted me to think I could walk, but she wanted me to also understand I should not walk.  
Now, obviously, the only way to enforce that with a 2-year-old is to watch them like a hawk all the time. So I was under intense observation by my mother for 2 years. She administered this physical therapy regiment at least three times a day--all of this really before my recollection. But we now know the things that happened to us in the first 5 years of our lives have an enormous impact on us for the rest of our lives. 
 And you summed up the fear of the time like this:  
When I was a youngster, the fear of polio was enormous. Mothers, every summer, lived in fear that their children would come down with polio, and many did, many died. Many had much more serious aftereffects than I did, certainly. 
Well what if the United States had a public health epidemic and the government told you that there was nothing that could be done?  What if they said that these polio deaths were the price we paid for living in a free society?  What if they made these statements while taking money from an industry that profited off of continued polio sickness and death?

That's the way it feels being a parent in the age of mass shootings.  As parents we live knowing that when we send our kids to school in the morning, or college in the fall, or finally see them move into a happy and successful life as an adult, it can all be ended in seconds by one person with military style firepower and ammo.   When you were a child and young adult, I would imagine that schools, colleges, and movie theaters were places you trusted to be safe.   Today they are potentially mass killing grounds.

Mitch, reread that statement you made about mothers and the fear of polio.  If your mother were alive, what would she say when she watches you bow down to the NRA and actively working to block sensible gun laws to help reduce or eliminate gun violence against children?    Imagine if instead of getting polio as a young child, you were injured physically or emotionally by one of these shootings?  Do you think your mother would sit back and accept that nothing could be done? Would she be proud watching you ignore the pleas of parents scarred by gun violence, and those parents who fear it will happen to their own children?   Would she be happy to know you did nothing even as one of your own colleagues was almost killed in a similar shooting?    If it were my daughter doing the same, I wouldn't be proud.  I'd be deeply saddened and ashamed.   

But know that just as noble men and women decades ago banded together to eliminate the polio that threatened your health, you can take steps toward eliminating the health crisis of gun violence.  I beg you to break the stranglehold that the NRA has on your party.  Instead of being a barrier, you can help make sensible laws that protect children and adults from gun violence, advance research into gun violence and gun safety, and work toward addressing a gun culture that advances the idea that guns are the ultimate resolution to conflicts in our life.   I have to imagine it's what your mother would have wanted to see had you been a child in 2016.   

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Anti-abortion Forces Shouldn't Pretend They Support Women

In the wake of Donald Trump's latest outrageous comment that there "has to be some form" of punishment for women who have an abortion, a false narrative has arisen that anti-abortion forces are somehow aligned with pro-choice forces in saying that women should not be punished for having an abortion. For instance, March For Life tweeted:
In addition, Susan B Anthony List President said,

"We have never advocated, in any context, for the punishment of women who undergo abortion.  As a convert to the pro-life movement, Mr. Trump sees the reality of the horror of abortion — the destruction of an innocent human life, buy let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another."
To these groups and their statements that they don't believe in punishing women who have abortions, there is only one thing to be said.


Ask any woman who has sought an abortion, or any doctor, staff member, or volunteer who works at a clinic.  The "pro-life" movement is all about punishing women.  Punishing them for seeking any services at a women's clinic.  Punishing them for seeking counseling.  Punishing them for having sex.  Punishing them for getting pregnant.  Punishing them for seeking an abortion. 

Day after day protesters and politicians around the country work diligently to punish women, shaming them, passing laws that intrude on their rights to abortion and dignity, and physically, emotionally, and verbally attacking them in clinics around the country, as well as destroying property and violating court orders.  Just take a look at one the Twitter feed of LvilleClinicEscorts and see the compilation of stories from one city and around the country of people who stalk, intimidate, threaten, and even commit violence against the women seeking these services. 

So "pro-life" groups,  please spare me your rhetoric that you somehow care about a woman who is seeking an abortion.   Own your rhetoric, your members, and your actions.   You are not there to support the women who are getting an abortion.  You're there to do them further harm. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

From Fame to SpongeBob, Thanks David Bowie for Family Memories

I work up at 3 in the morning and checked the time on my phone.  And there it was.  David Bowie was dead.  My brain raced to the new album I'd just listened to, brought to my attention by music writers and musicians I'd met via social media.  The album, Blackstar, was pure Bowie, new and fresh, yet familiar.  The music and lyrics were eerie, otherworldly, and seemed to be ruminations on mortality.   I figured it was merely a commentary on being 69, not a farewell note.   But suddenly everything made sense.  

Truthfully, I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't aware of David Bowie.  I spun the heck out of Fame on 45 as a kid, which I imagine my dad purchased because he found Bowie's weirdness fascinating.   Other than that, my knowledge of Bowie was from magazines and music reviews, since most of the radio listening in our house at the time was AM pop radio.  All I really knew was that he was weird, possibly gay, and most certainly dangerous to good little girls and boys.

The first album I ever bought was Queen's The Game, which was followed by a Greatest Hits album that included their duet with Bowie, Under Pressure, which I also bought.   Fast forward to Let's Dance.  I remember my brother getting the cassette with Thriller and Police Synchronicity.  All three albums came out at an insanely good period for music, and I swiped and played them all as often as I could. Listening to it this morning, I forgot how much I'd listened to the non-hits.  Next  I bought Tonight, his follow up, which was nowhere near as good or successful, but I played the hell out of it, and came to know and love the Beach Boys' God Only Knows through it.  Then came Dancing in the Street, Bowie and Jagger's quickly tossed off fun duet with the insane video (so ridiculous it was shown in its entirety in an episode of Family Guy) that they released to benefit Live Aid.   The video was featured in an ad for a local radio station and I remember my dad (who found MTV ridiculous) walking around singing the snippet in the same exaggerated form as the video.   (see the clip attached)  One day he said something, and my sixth sense knew he was going to sing the little piece of the song, so I immediately got in his face just like Bowie does to Jagger and we both sang "EVERYWHERE AROUND THE WORLD" at the same time.  He reacted by collapsing with laughter, which sent me into hysterics.  

In college I lost track of the new Bowie, preferring to jump in the stuff I'd missed, buying the hits collection, ChangesBowie at Newbury Comics and Ziggy Stardust and Young Americans at Tower Records in Boston (I can't remember yesterday, but I remember these) in one of my many monthly trips to buy CDs. I loved the music, but, I'm sad to say I drifted away from following his career.  

While reflecting today, and wondering how I could help my daughter understand what Bowie meant, it dawned on me that Bowie was a guest star on my daughter's favorite cartoon, SpongeBob Squarepants.   I read today that his daughter (only a year or two older than my own) was a huge SpongeBob fan.  I told her when I got home that "one of SpongeBob's friends died today," and fumbling his character's name, she corrected me and said, "oh.... LRH (Lord Royal Highness).  I'm sorry."   I then said he was working on a SpongeBob Musical, which excited her and made her say "we have to go to Broadway."  

In reflecting today, I realized that what really made me admire Bowie was that he wasn't afraid to be weird, different, or true to himself, even to the very end.   And unlike so many of the musical geniuses I've loved over the year, there isn't a sense that he was a jerk or mean spirited.   And I realized that he connected three generations of my family in moments of sheer joy.  

Rest in peace, David Robert Jones, and thanks for the music.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Matt Bevin's Strange Way of Saying His Family Is Off Limits For Political Cartoons

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin has been aligned with other Republican governors in saying he will do what he can to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.  In both this election and his previous run for Senate, Matt Bevin played up his large family which includes four children he adopted from Ethiopia.

With that in mind, Lexington Herald-Leader cartoonist Joel Pett published the cartoon to the right.   It shows Bevin shaking, hiding under his desk with a map of Syria and news of Paris on the floor, and an aide holding up a picture of one of his kids saying "Sir, they're not terrorists..., they're your own adopted kids."  The cartoon's intent is, of course, an attack on Bevin's blanket fear of Syrian immigrants, who like his own adopted kids, are simply hoping for a better life in the United States.

Pett has been criticized, and I think rightfully so, for mentioning Bevin's kids in this manner in the cartoon.   Perhaps there were more tasteful ways he could have handled the family comparison, but this wasn't it.

Had I been Matt Bevin, I would have taken the high road and told Pett that it was tasteless to include mentions of his family in the cartoon, and that I hoped the Lexington Herald Leader would raise the bar in their political criticism and moved on.

So what did Bevin do?  He posted this on Facebook:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed, today, the Lexington Herald-Leader chose to articulate with great clarity the deplorably racist ideology of "cartoonist" Joel Pett. Shame on Mr. Pett for his deplorable attack on my children and shame on the editorial controls that approved this overt racism. 
Let me be crystal clear, the tone of racial intolerance being struck by the Herald-Leader has no place in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and will not be tolerated by our administration.
There are two ways to look at this statement.   The first is that Bevin decided to respond to the Herald-Leader using Bevin's family to score a cheap political point by using his family to score a cheap political point. The second is that Bevin is not bright enough to understand that the point of the cartoon was not the literal meaning of the words at the bottom of the cartoon.  

I suspect it's the first.   It's a classic GOP move to pivot from what actually is and instead create your own reality.  Where exactly is the "racist ideology", "overt racism", and "racial intolerance" of Joel Pett and the Herald-Leader in this cartoon?  Where is the "attack on (Bevin's) children?"   There isn't any.  But it's enough to simply suggest it.  Bevin's supporters aren't going to dig too deeply.  Indeed, the GOP's political echo chamber and media attack machine is already reshaping the reality of this story, with Red State's Eric Erickson misrepresenting the cartoon as comparing Matt Bevin's kids to terrorists, and a Washington Times headline reading, "Lexington, KY newspaper cartoonist hurls racist mockery at Gov.-elect Matt Bevin."  

So what about Bevin's accusations?  Is Joel Pett a racist?  A quick search of prior cartoons reveals the deep racism of his work as shown here:

Out of curiosity about the perception of the Bevin cartoon, I showed it to my teenage daughter. She was able to grasp that it was an attack on Bevin's hypocrisy at rejecting Syrians in need, and not a statement that the cartoonist views Bevin's children as terrorists. I would have to guess that Bevin's older kids probably get it too. And Bevin, his advisers, Erick Erickson, and the numerous pundits who will come out of the woodwork tonight and tomorrow certainly do as well  

With that in mind, what are we to make of a man who expresses his anger at his family being used in an editorial cartoon by falsely claiming its an attack on them? In trying to twist the reality of the cartoon to make his family (and by extension, Bevin) look like the intended target of the cartoon, it appears that Bevin is saying to the world that newspapers shouldn't be using his family as political pawns.  

That's his job.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gun Laws, Gun Nuts, and Gun Myths. Stop the Gunsanity.

Comic from chainsawsuit.com
I am tired of the paranoiacs who are convinced every conversation about gun violence is an indication that the government is going to beat down your doors to get the weapons that have become your security blanket. You are being sold a line of bullshit by the NRA because they want to sell you more guns and ammo. The NRA drives conversations on guns. They draft and create laws that absolve gun makers and dealers from responsibility, even the protections that you have under the Constitution for just about every industry but guns.
The gun lobby sells us the myth that in mass shootings, good guys with guns will come to the rescue, because occasionally it does happen. But in many of these tragedies, the end comes with the killer putting a bullet in himself, or someone WITHOUT A GUN tackling, disarming, and/or talking down the killer. It may be fun to pretend that you're some badass combination of Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and Liam Neeson if you were confronted with a situation like this, but think about it realistically. If you're out with family and friends and bullets start flying, is your first instinct going to be to reach for your weapon, find the shooter, and shoot him before he shoots you or anyone else, with the risk that there may be multiple shooters or law enforcement who think YOU are in on the shooting? Or are you going to get out yourself and your family out of harms way? And if you do shoot, do you think your nerves, adrenaline, and fear are going to suddenly combine so that you're an excellent shot able to hit only the person firing and not injure anyone else?
I'm tired of the paranoia, fear, and outright statistically nonsensical idea that the fact you own a gun and know who to use it well turns you into some sort of mythical movie Rambo "good guy with a gun", and that anyone proposing laws that make it harder to get a gun, certain guns, certain types of ammo, or simply just to give law enforcement more tools to track down those who use and sell guns illegally is the government coming to you like Hitler in the middle of the night.
If you like to target shoot, great. So do I. If you like to hunt, great. I couldn't do it, but I understand it. If you want a gun to protect yourself, awesome. I hope you're well trained and thoughtful enough not to have your ownership end in tragedy if confronted with a possibly threatening situation, and let me know before my child spends time there. 
Let's be clear.  I don't want your guns. Obama doesn't want your guns. What I want to see is common sense laws and law enforcement that helps reduce the amount of violence in this world. And I'd love to see the empty headed rhetoric and fear that surrounds gun ownership challenged with facts and common sense.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What's So Christian About Peace, Love, And Understanding

We keep hearing from GOP candidates about how the Christian faith is under attack in America.   I just have some questions.

  • What's Christian about attacking people for their place of birth?
  • What's Christian about not helping people who are less fortunate than you?
  • What's Christian about seeking unlimited wealth for yourself while not caring about the financial health of others?
  • What's Christian about editing Planned Parenthood videos to portray something different than reality? 
  • What's Christian about making up a completely fictional account of those videos?
  • What's Christian about misrepresenting the history of this country and our founding fathers?
  • What's Christian about misrepresenting the content of the Constitution or the principles it was actually founded on?  
  • What's Christian about continually attacking people of other religions, colors, or creed?
  • What's Christian about cherry picking bible verses to justify your hate?
  • What's Christian about judging other people while ignoring your own sins?   
  • What's Christian about mocking efforts for peace and working for war?
  • What's Christian about unbridled defense of gun lust and the Second Amendment?  
  • What's Christian about lying and misrepresenting many facets of sound science to justify destroying the planet or allowing children to get preventable disease?   
It seems quite clear that if Christianity is under attack, it's not by the culture or the people that evangelical conservatives are complaining about, but by their own hypocrisy.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Faith, Kim Davis, The VP, and Me

I woke up at 5:15 today with my head a mash of last night's lousy football game, too little sleep, and thoughts of the day ahead. A friend had said everyone should watch the Colbert interview with Biden, so I decided to pull up the show on the DVR and take a look.
Hearing Joe Biden talk of his son's strength and grace, even in dying, was heartbreaking and brought tears to my eyes, and made me think of my daughter who I'd be waking up in only a few minute for school. Then Colbert shifted the talk to faith and how it has helped him and switches started to turn on in my sleepy brain.
Biden talked about the Catholic Mass and how it made him feel "alone", and I instantly knew what he meant. The most moving moments for me when I went to mass were those in which the church was quiet and in a room of a few hundred people I felt present with my thoughts, worries, hopes, and concerns inside the church. I was alone in a good way.
As I wiped away tears and turned off the interview to go wake up my daughter, the final pieces began to fall into place about what truly bothered me about the fiasco involving Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis and her refusal to issue gay marriage licenses.
Joe Biden framed the incredible sorrow he's known in his life by pointing out that there are others suffering equally or greater than he has. "I feel self-conscious. The loss is serious and it's consequential, but there are so many other people going through this." It is clear that Joe Biden's faith is one in which he seeks solace and comfort for himself, but also one in which he looks for ways to be a better person and have true empathy for others.
Then I look at Kim Davis and her supporters, who include not just politicians, but alleged spiritual leaders like Franklin Graham. To them, the most important message of their faith seems to be the desire to diminish and demonize a population of people. Jesus' message of love, charity, and empathy for others is turned into an exclusive club in which a certain set of people are members for life, and others who are different are viewed as the enemy, who deserve no empathy, compassion, or thought beyond how their happiness can be denied.
From my own Catholic upbringing I came away with the following thoughts. I will not claim them to be right, or having sound theological basis, but they make sense to me.
Jesus was made man to show us how to be better people on this earth. His message included nothing about attacking gay people, or showing them "love" by calling out how much more full of sin they were than you. He never once discussed the issue of gay marriage or how it was a priority for Christians to focus on over charity, love, compassion, or empathy.
Sin is not a cherry picked list of infractions from the Bible, but rather the way in which we fail to be decent people. If we hurt ourselves or others, we have sinned. Claiming you are "saved" is not a license to judge or condemn others for their sins. Most everyone is suffering and failing themselves and each other in ways big and small everyday. Our goal should be to be kind and understand where they are coming from in THEIR eyes, not view them through our own narrow lens and find a few Bible passages that allow us to dismiss them because they are different.
Perhaps Jesus himself said it best in John 13:34-35. "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."