September 27

The Pro-Death Party

I am confused.

For years, my mother and other Republican friends have berated me for voting for Democratic candidates. “How can you do that?” they demand. “Those people think it’s okay to kill babies!”

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. No one in their right mind is pro-abortion. No sane person WANTS to kill infants. So let’s just take that off the table right now.

People who are pro-choice recognize that we live in an unpredictable, difficult and dangerous world, where women in bad circumstances sometimes become pregnant. Ideally, all babies would be conceived in women who have loving partners, steady incomes, safe homes and affordable healthcare. Sadly, that is just not the case. Adoption would seem a perfect alternative; however, many women would not survive the nine months of pregnancy. Maybe it’s a high risk due to health issues or addiction. Maybe the woman is in an abusive relationship where the man would beat her for being pregnant. Maybe she has no money or health insurance, no support, no…

The point is that life is complicated. Making abortion illegal may save a few pregnancies, but at what cost? Why is the life of the unborn worth so much more than the life of the mother? Or, even more bizarrely, worth more than the life of the child after it is born?

See, this is where I’m getting really confused.

The past several weeks have seen multiple Republican presidential debates. The pro-life, Christian party that railed against the removal of Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube and has cut Planned Parenthood funding is in the spotlight as their candidates spar on stages festooned with the Stars and Stripes. But it’s not the candidates’ words that are getting the most attention.

It’s the behavior of the crowds.

First, they cheered Rick Perry’s dubious record: He’s overseen more executions than any other governor in modern times.

They cheered. Executions.

Never mind that some of those executed may have been innocent. Never mind that the Bible says  “Avenge not yourselves.”

I pointed out this rather horrifying behavior in a Facebook post and was flabbergasted when I got a response from a very mild-mannered, avidly churchgoing mom I’ve known forever: I cheer for justice. Really? You know all 234 people were guilty? Were you there for all the murders for which they were executed? Because if not, you don’t know. And there is always a chance an innocent person could be murdered by the state. (Why is that very real possibility not horrifying to conservatives who are so freaking worried about big government? Isn’t being murdered by the state worse than having the state raise your taxes?!)
Now I’m not just confused; I’m scared.

It got worse in the next debate when Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical question about a terminally ill, uninsured young man. Should society “let him die?” Blitzer asked. Before the candidate could answer, there were shouts from the crowd: “YES!”

This from the Republicans? This from the people who cried and prayed over poor Terry Schiavo? This from the people who echoed Sarah Palin’s and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s fears that President Obama’s healthcare bill would allow the government “to pull the plug on Grandma?” What happened to those people?

The third debate brought another stunner. A video from an admittedly gay soldier was shown, and he asked the candidates if they would reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The soldier was booed by the audience.

From the yellow-ribbon-waving, “Support Our Troops” bumper-sticker crowd came the message, loud and clear: “We hate you, soldier. Go lay down your life for us on the field of battle, but expect no respect for your individual life.”

I am astonished that these people, those who cheer executions, advocate the death of the uninsured, boo self-sacrificing soldiers for who they are, brag about having enough deadly weapons to kill anyone who disagrees with their politics, these people have the reputation as “the Pro-Life party.”

For want of a better term: Bullshit.

Category: Purely Political | Comments Off
August 14

A Day in the Life

Today is August 14th, and it’s raining in Central Indiana. That in itself is a rather momentous occasion. We’ve had more rain in the past 24 hours than we’ve had in the past 8 weeks. So we’re grateful, but along with the rain, we received incredible winds last night which resulted in a tragic day for the state of Indiana.

Last night, at a concert at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the winds blew down the stage rigging and sent the whole structure into the audience which was waiting for a performance by Sugarland. Evidently, the public address announcer had just warned of an approaching storm, given directions for potential evacuation and explained that the concert might be postponed. The storm was still about fifteen minutes away, and it was not yet raining. Unfortunately the winds preceded the storm.

Out west in Hendricks County, the winds interrupted a dinner party I was hosting, temporarily knocking out the power and sending everyone scrambling for their cell phones to check on kids who were at various babysitters’ homes. That’s how we learned of the State Fair tragedy. People checking Facebook and Twitter got the news first.

I had several friends at the concert, including my sister’s best friend, who was there with her children and husband, an off-duty Indianapolis police officer. When the stage collapsed, he rushed to the stage along with hundreds of other concert-goers, to try to help. I saw him in a picture that was posted on CNN’s website this morning.

My dinner guests and I kept tabs on the news over the rest of the evening. It didn’t get any better. Four deaths, according to the official news, but my police officer friend made it clear that he expected more. He’d been up on the collapsed rigging and seen more than he would detail. By this morning, it was five dead, but it will likely increase. Indiana doesn’t receive much national news attention; today we’re all over the media for all the wrong reasons.

It’s against this backdrop that we are starting our week. I was driving my son to a friend’s house this afternoon, thinking about things and trying to make sense of it all, when it struck me what a quintessentially American week this is going to be. Much of what is going on in my life, my community and my state reflects what is happening in our country right now, what it is like to be an American right now, struggling and re-building and waiting every day for the other shoe to drop, but simultaneously enjoying some amazing 21st-century developments

For example, today is my father’s 71st birthday. That blows my mind. It’s ridiculous to think of such a number pertaining to him, rather as if I were to catch him wearing clothes that were four or five sizes too big. He does not look 71. He does not act 71. He is active and engaged and busy and healthy. My kids and I called him this morning on his cell phone to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. He’s in Yellowstone National Park, hiking around Yellowstone Falls. Everything about that phone conversation is miraculous if you think about it. It would not have happened fifty years ago. Not many 71-year-old Hoosiers would have been hiking around a canyon, and none of them would have had a cell phone so their grandchildren could sing to them from 2000 miles away.

Those grandchildren start school this week. My daughter will be in first grade, her first year of full-day school. Right now, she’s out riding bikes with one of her neighborhood friends. The friend is black, by the way. That also would have been a rare occurrence fifty years ago, when segregation was still the rule. I think my daughter knows her three good friends are black, but she wouldn’t phrase it that way. One day at the store, she saw a Princess Tiana doll. (That’s the heroine from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.) My daughter said, “She looks like Ashlee!” And I asked her how. She replied, “She has the brown skin.” I know that racism is still alive and thriving in some parts of our country, but coming from a little girl whose great-great-grandfather was a murderous racist, this her-skin’s-just-a-different-hue thinking encourages me.

My son, on the other hand, is starting fifth grade. He’ll be at a new school, and they anticipate class sizes between thirty and forty. See, our public school district, like so many others across the country, is bearing the brunt of the limping economy and a Republican governor who slashed its budget by $13 million while giving charter and private schools lovely windfalls. We had to lay off more than 30 teachers. I am desperately trying to hide my anxiety from my son, who is already nervous about moving up to the Intermediate School.

My anxiety is compounded by the fact that I’m starting a new full-time position. After ten years of being underemployed as a part-time instructor at IUPUI, I was finally offered a temporary, full-time instructor contract. Ten months. I’m thrilled, of course, despite the temporary nature of it. And I’m honored to have received not just one job offer this summer, but three. When you consider how scarce jobs have been for the last five years, to get three offers in one month is fantastic. I’m even happier to say I’m not the only one. Several friends who have been unemployed or underemployed for months or even years have recently reported getting jobs all of a sudden. It seems things are looking up.

Not that the stock market would notice. The traders are too busy being drama queens, randomly sending the Down Jones spiraling or skyrocketing every other day.  The media seems to expect average Americans to panic or rejoice, but I was on vacation when the Dow took its biggest nosedive in three years. And on the crowded streets of Gatlinburg, a Midwest tourist mecca, no one was talking about Wall Street. People were shopping. People were eating at restaurants. The Aquarium was packed. Ripley’s Believe It or Not was doing brisk business. Average Americans didn’t seem to notice. Whether that’s because we are ignorant or because we’ve all given up on Wall Street, I cannot say. Maybe we’ve all just become inoculated to its ridiculous antics. It’s a crap shoot, dominated by the high rollers.

Overall, my community seems to be recovering from the Great Recession, despite Wall Street and Governor Mitch Daniels. There are currently only a couple of foreclosures in my subdivision, down from dozens three years ago. And houses are selling. Not at the $150,000 mark we bought them for, but at $125,000. It’s not great, but let’s face it; the $150,000 was likely inflated in 2000.

Long-vacant strip malls all along the highway are starting to fill up. And the north-south corridor project that was halted, incomplete, about three years ago re-started construction and is nearing completion, thanks to federal stimulus money.

Are we outta the woods? Is the U.S.A. headed for another great boom? Probably not. Right now, my husband is working in our bedroom. He does not get paid any extra for working on Sunday. He’s salaried, and he’s making well less than he did two years ago when United Health Group outsourced his job to his current company, that not only expects him to work more for less money, but also expects him to do that work on his own computer that he paid for with his smaller paycheck. His employer, like so many others, is taking advantage of him because they can. So, no. The economy is not healthy. But it’s limping along in the right direction.

And here we are: my average-sized family, living the American Dream in the suburban Midwest with a 3-bedroom house in a diverse neighborhood. We’ve got the minivan and the Xbox. We’ve got a cat, two frogs and three goldfish. The school year will start in about 72 hours, and the football season will start shortly thereafter. Summer’s getting old, and we’ll be putting on sweaters, picking apples and prepping for Halloween before you know it.

And Americans like us will be bravely and stubbornly re-building. From tragedy and disaster like the State Fair and the Missouri tornadoes and the Southern floods. From Wall Street-induced financial recessions. From nasty political fights like the debt crisis in Washington.

Normal Americans are decent people. We are out here, doing “the working and paying and living and dying in this [country].” Maybe someday the media, Wall Street and Washington will notice not just the tragedies, the wild market swings and big elections. Maybe they’ll notice what’s happening right now in places like this to Americans like us.

Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Purely Political | Comments Off
March 30

Uprisings, Earthquakes, Homophobes, Weddings and DAWGS!

Seems like so much has been going on lately, I could do several blog entries a day. From natural disasters in Japan and Myanmar to rebellions in the Middle East to royal weddings in Britain and political antics here at home, the news is chock full of violence, grief, disaster and nonsense.

It’s all too much to try to tackle every topic individually; to be honest, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the volume of news, I haven’t been able to think through any one topic completely. For instance, I’m still not sure how I feel about U.S. military action in Libya. For now, I think I’ll toss everything out there at once. Maybe I’ll come back to one or two of them individually later, but I don’t know. The world seems even messier than usual.

·         ***We can start in Libya since I already mentioned it, and since it seems the messiest of all the topics at hand. Personally, I keep bouncing back and forth in my thinking on it. Having lived through Reagan’s first attack on Libya back in the 1980’s, I hate Gadhafi out of habit. For many years, though, I had happily relegated him to my long-term memory. In the present, he was little more than a figure of ridicule, sporting laughable costumes and a seemingly melting face. When he reacted to his people’s peaceful protests with gunfire, though, he instantly resumed his position as the villain of my childhood. And when his people started asking for military help from the West, I thought, well, yeah! We should totally do that. But then, if we go into Libya, will be go into Syria? Yemen? Bahrain? There are protests all over the Middle East and North Africa right now being met with government violence. Where will we draw the line? And what’s more, how can we possibly afford it? We keep hearing that we have no money; our military is already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can’t see any logical arguments; even the ever-logical Obama couldn’t quite answer some of these questions in his speech the other night. Nothing would make me happier than to see Gadhafi go down in flames, but I just can’t fully support the U.S. going in there to ensure it.

***Egypt confuses me too. I was so excited for the Egyptian people at first. Then I started hearing from some of my Egyptian students that this whole revolution could actually make things worse, depending on who takes power next. If the military imposes martial law or if a radical Muslim party takes control, the country could turn into dangerous enemy for the U.S., and certain sectors of Egyptian society could be horrifically victimized (women, Coptic Christians, secular non-Muslims).

·         ***Japan. What a nightmare. I have three friends currently in Japan; one is Japanese, the other two are Americans. I am so grateful they are all safe, but the stories coming out of there still make me anxious for them. And some of the comments I’m hearing from my fellow Americans make me sick: “It’s their problem; we don’t have money to help them. We should take care of our own first.” The best use of money is to help people in need – ANY people in need. I can absolutely support using whatever funds we can spare to help the Japanese. Japan offered aid to the U.S. after both Katrina and 9/11. (The U.S. always turns down such offers, though.) They deserve our help. As human beings, we should sympathize and help all we can. I am flabbergasted by some of my fellow “Christians” claiming we shouldn’t bother. It looks to me like racism disguised as pennypinching. Both make me nauseous.

***If you don’t live in Indiana, you may not have heard that an anti-gay marriage/anti-civil union amendment to our state constitution just passed in our Senate. This move depresses me to my very core. Indiana is homophobic and backwards enough without writing it into our constitution. It’s embarrassing. One of my friends, a lawyer for the state, consoled me with the fact that the Senate’s passage is just step 2 of 5. “There’s still plenty of time to kill it,” he assured me. And one of my amazing gay friends had this remarkably optimistic perspective: “It’s a sign of how much progress we’ve made that the haters feel the need to legislate to protect their homophobia.”  I’m clinging to that upbeat viewpoint.

·        *** The prospective Republican presidential candidates are quite entertaining at the moment. From Newt Gingrich’s blaming his infidelity on his patriotism to Sarah Palin’s characterization of the Libyan action as a “squirmish,” I’m really enjoying the G.O.P.’s offerings so far. Donald Trump 2012? Bring it on! He’s a laugh riot!

·         ***If you live under a rock, you may not have heard that England is having a royal wedding soon. Personally, I’m kind of nostalgically excited about it. I have vague, but unique, childhood memories of waking up ridiculously early with my mother to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. The monarchies are full of pomp and circumstances and centuries-old traditions that Americans just do not have. They have a continuity that is fascinating to me. Plus, I have a rather maternal feeling toward William. I remember the announcements of Diana’s pregnancy and his birth. Along with the rest of the world, I watched him grow up, watched him walking slowly behind his mother’s hearse at her funeral. I want him to be happy. He seems like a nice kid; he deserves that.

·        *** To end on an even lighter note, I’d like to address the NCAA Tournament. I got my Master’s Degree from Butler University. To say that I am proud of their basketball success would be an understatement. As a Hoosier and a rabid basketball fan, though, I love the VCU-Cinderella story too. The game on Saturday will be an emotional roller coaster, and if Butler loses, I will then have to root for VCU. For now, though, GO DAWGS!

As usual, the world presents us with all kinds of news – terrifying, tragic, bewildering, infuriating, amusing and fun. I’m actually going to take a few days off from the awful stuff to concentrate on the excitement of my Butler Bulldogs going to the Final Four. There will be plenty of time to wallow in sorrow later.

Category: Current Events, Popular Culture, Purely Political | Comments Off
March 7

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Education

I have started three drafts of a blog entry on the current political environment vis-a-vis education.

I gave up three times.

The conversation right now is too close to me. It is too disheartening. It is even shocking.

As the granddaughter, niece and daughter of teachers, as an educator myself who has always valued education and the myriad opportunities it brings, I guess I’ve been a little sheltered from the vitriol of the anti-school crowd. Not completely, of course.

My mother often brought home horror stories about angry parents, aloof administrators, and indifferent students. My aunt teaches second grade at a public school in Terre Haute, the methamphetamine capital of the world. She always talks about her 7-year-old students whose parents could care less if their kids come to school. Hell, my grandfather actually had Charles Manson in class for a brief spell before he got kicked out for ditching. Even before I went to college, I knew that many people had low opinions of a formal education.

And the further I went into my own academic career, the more first-hand experience I collected myself. The summer after I graduated with my bachelor degree, I went to a party with some old high school pals and made the mistake of enthusiastically admitting I was now a college grad. One of the guys I was talking to actually rolled his eyes, snorted and walked away. When I questioned his girlfriend about his behavior, she shrugged. “We’re not big on college snobs,” she replied. I was speechless.

By the time I got to grad school, I realized that, sadly, there were some circles in which I needed to keep my education to myself. When certain people asked me what I was up to, I would just talk about the two jobs I was working and leave out the classes I was taking.

Nowadays, when people ask me what I do, I try to gauge the situation, anticipate their reaction. If I’m not sure their reaction will be positive, I just say I’m a teacher. Sometimes, though, they’ll ask further, and I have to admit I teach English at a university. And then I get the “Ooooh, well, I’ll try to watch my grammar” comment. Like I’m going to correct their usage. I rarely correct even my own children; I don’t correct friends. Ever.

Despite all these experiences, the current discussions about education and teachers and their unions still leave me speechless. What can I say? Can I even be remotely objective?

Of course not.

Obviously, education is important to me. And it should be important to all Americans. It’s part of what makes the American dream possible. We must have a baseline of education to succeed in life. We have to learn how to read. We have to learn how to do basic math. We have to learn enough history to understand what’s come before, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. We have to learn the scientific method.

At a minimum, everyone should learn these things. The U.S. has to have a literate population to maintain its democracy. Thomas Jefferson understood that: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

We have to have a literate population to innovate and boost our economy. Even the most creative people will not get anywhere if they cannot articulate their great ideas.

We have to a have a literate population to protect our nation. Our military needs soldiers and officers who know their history, know multiple languages, know good communication skills.

Education is important to the success and stability of our nation.

So when people want to cut funding of our schools, when people want to bash public school teachers as lazy, glorified babysitters, when people want to privatize our schools because they’re not performing as they think they should, I am flabbergasted.

Our government needs to get its priorities straight. Get back to basics: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For me, “life” means “health” and “safety.” I want my government to provide a bottom-line, safety-net type of health system, and I want my government to keep us safe from our enemies within and without.

“Liberty” is more complicated, but for me, its about getting to choose our leaders and those leaders’ supporting the Bill of Rights.

And then there’s “pursuit of happiness.” Now, I know that education does not make everybody happy. My kindergartner told me just today that she hates school. I know that higher education is not for everyone. I certainly do not look down my nose at people who choose or cannot afford college. My husband left school at age 16; he’s one of the most brilliant people I know, and he also appreciates the value of a good education. You don’t need a degree to be educated, but not appreciating education makes you stupid.

Education allows us to succeed in business. It allows us to get better jobs and make more money. Education helps us to pursue property, which is, of course, the original source of the phrase from which Jefferson co-opted his famous Declaration (John Locke).

And the current education system, while certainly not perfect, its not in such bad shape that it needs to be completely abandoned. Are there bad schools? Oh yes. Do I know how to fix them? No, but taking away their money and marginalizing the teachers is definitely not the answer! Are there bad teachers? You bet. But I can count on one hand, the number of bad teachers I’ve had in seventeen years of education. In fact, I can think of just two. Two!

On the other hand, I can think of a hundred really good teachers I have had the privilege to know, either as their student or as a friend. My mom won student-voted awards almost every year of her 30-year career. Even today, people who had her as a teacher come up to me and sing her praises. She worked her tail off for three decades. All those “vacations” and “breaks” people complain about teachers’ enjoying. Yeah, my mom spent most of those “days off,” locked in her room, grading endless piles of essays. I remember Thanksgivings, Easter Sundays, and Mother’s Days, when we would visit family in Terre Haute, my mom spent the two hours in the car grading and doing lesson plans.

One of my favorite teachers of all time was a lady named Karen. She taught three preps – sophomore AP literature, junior composition, and an awesome class called humanities. I was fortunate to have her twice as a teacher. She was amazing in the classroom. But she was also one of my mom’s best friends, so I got to see behind the scenes. I saw her in tears my senior year, her first year teaching the brand-new humanities course. She was crying on my mom’s shoulder because she was working so hard, prepping all her classes, developing this new curriculum, grading and dealing with all the usual administrative crap. She felt like she was missing her sons’ childhoods. If I hadn’t walked into my mom’s classroom after school that day, I’d have had no idea she was under such stress. She was flawless in front of her students.

And then there were my band directors. The first two years I was in band, I didn’t give much thought to how much time these three men put into their music program. My senior year, though, I was a drum major, and I spent a lot of time with them. In the summer. On Monday evenings. On Thursday evenings. On Friday evenings when we had football games. Every Saturday from August to November when we had contests. They chose the marching drill, the musical selections, the uniforms, the flags, the staff. They coordinated 350 teenagers, teaching us music, marching routines and dealing with our teenage angst. They dealt with stage parents and vengeful judges. I cannot imagine how many hours they put into that program. And, oh, yeah, they also had to teach music classes, grade papers, and all that stuff too. They earned every dollar they got paid, and I know it wasn’t as much as it could’ve been if they’d taken their degrees and put all those hours into a private business. I know for a fact that band was the only reason many kids stayed in school at all.

Teachers are alright.

The cuts in funding, the swipes at teachers’ unions, the pushes for privatization (vouchers and charter schools) reveal some seriously screwed-up priorities in our country.

We’d better get our heads on straight and start investing in our future. Education is key. If we forget that, we sacrifice our future because part of our electorate has a chip on its shoulder and another part is senior voters who would rather protect their assets than educate our nation’s children.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you swing that way) is the bottom line. Education is the path.

February 8

Resources and Priorities

I had an argument with my mom the other day. It wasn’t a big deal, and I don’t want to bore you with the details, except that it was about going to the movies.

I have terrible luck at movie theaters.

You can ask my sister or my friend Glynda or my husband. Weird, annoying things happen to me in theaters – rude patrons (or even employees!) who talk during the movie, broken film reels, malfunctioning sound, out-of-focus projection. I just have a long history of bad experiences at the cinema. But I do love movies, so I watch a lot of videos, Netflix, AMC and TCM.

The argument with my mom was really about something else entirely, but in defending my position, I was forced to explain a philosophy by which I have always lived, but never articulated before:

Life is a struggle against limited resources.

We have a limited amount of time, energy and money. 24 hours in a day; 3 weeks of vacation; 4 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas; 14 hours of anticipated, productive energy in a day; a certain number of dollars’ worth of salary a month.

The limits on my resources are the reasons I make to-do lists, calendars, schedules, budgets and routines.  They are the reasons I say “no” to some things but “yes” to others. They guide pretty much every decision I make because I have priorities.

Personally, my priorities are fairly complicated, extensive and somewhat dynamic. My family, however, always comes first. Sometimes my job comes second, especially if there is an important deadline coming up. But if things are calm at work, my friends supersede my career. Health is more important than education. Entertainment is more important than material stuff, and so on.

I could probably go on for days spelling out all my various priorities and the ways in which I allocate my resources to satisfy them. In the past few days, though, I realized something more universal.

Priorities are how we label each other.

How we use our limited resources is how we put ourselves into groups, communities or even political parties. People who decide to use their resources on education become academics. People who use their resources on video games and computer equipment become geeks or gamers. People who decide to use their resources on GTL (Gym, Tan, Laundry) become “The Situation.” You get it.

Priorities and the use of limited resources are why we get so annoyed with lawmakers. To me, it is a waste of time and energy for Indiana lawmakers to be debating an amendment to the state Constitution to make gay marriage illegal. Our state is facing far more dire issues than whether or not two people, who are likely upstanding, contributing members of our society, can be married.  We have rampant unemployment, governmental and corporate corruption, gang violence and industry demise. I consider lawmakers’ using their time and MY tax money to discriminate against a small group of people who are not harming anyone else to be a WASTE of limited resources. It ticks me off. Obviously, other people have different priorities.

I see it as a waste of time and money and energy for the House of Representatives to be debating a bill to redefine rape so the federal government can protect citizens from paying for federally-funded abortions. Because only 191 abortions due to rape were paid for by federal funds last year, and that number won’t change under the new Health Care Law. So they are sitting in Washington, debating something that might cost taxpayers 2/10 of a cent next year. When we have so many other, bigger issues they should be dealing with.

Priorities are different for everyone, though. Some people buy designer clothes and pay $50 for a weekly manicure while they live in an apartment that should be condemned. Other people think that spending billions on a war with another nation is okay; spending a lesser amount to help maintain the health of our own citizens is a travesty. That’s why we argue. That’s why debate. That’s how we label one another.

In the end, my mom decided I had the right not to spend my time and money on going to the movie theater. My priorities are different from hers. Long story short – I’ll wait to see “The King’s Speech” on DVD.