August 20

No Donna Reed

I have a microwave, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, and an automatic ice maker in my kitchen. I have multiple PC’s wirelessly networked to store my to do lists, grocery lists, recipes and calendars. I have an automatic washer and dryer and a Kirby vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters. I have a van to help me cart my children around. When my grandmother was raising her three kids, she didn’t have any of these wonderful conveniences. So many wonders have been invented to make a homemaker’s life easier.

Why does it feel so much harder?

I look back at pictures, movies, TV shows from the 1950’s, and things look so rosy – even in black and white. Donna Reed’s house was so clean; June Cleaver’s kids were so polite and well-behaved. The families look so calm and content and healthy. Even when I talk to my parents and their friends, the memories they share with me are of spotless homes, delicious 3-course dinners every night, moms in starched dresses and pearls, dads working 40-hour weeks.

If I get the house dusted before a party, I feel pretty productive.

You’d think with all the time-saving inventions we have today, my house would be immaculate, I’d be dishing gourmet cuisine, dressed in evening gowns while my husband served up martinis at 4:30. What’s going on?

Well, for one thing, we’ve got so much more stuff to deal with. My grandparents had one small closet that held all their clothes for both of them. My husband and I have a walk-in closet bursting at the seams. It takes me days to get through all the laundry.

For another thing, the expectations are so much higher for parents these days. In the 50’s, parents could just toss the kids outside and let them play stickball in the vacant lot. Our kids are supposed to be reading, writing and doing math in kindergarten. We have to give them structure, get them in French lessons, hire tutors and read to them constantly. They have summer homework. Plus, we cannot just send our kids out to play without every other parent in the neighborhood wondering why on earth we’re not supervising our children and keeping them safe from the child molesters and myriad other dangers that lurk beyond the safety of our homes.

And you know what? I have a feeling that things weren’t quite as idyllic in the old days as many people try to make us think. When my parents, in-laws and their friends aren’t consciously trying to compare today’s world unfavorably to the world of the 50’s, they often remember things a little differently: mothers knocked around by drunken fathers, children belittled by chauvinistic fathers and demanding mothers. And so many of the people who grew up in the 50’s are now overweight and diabetic, I can’t help but think that all those 3-course meals finally caught up with them.

So I’ll try to give myself a break when I let my son watch two full hours of cartoons during my daughter’s nap so that I can get some laundry done. And if we have to order pizza for dinner because I’m too tired to cook after work, I’ll have to forgive myself. I’m just no Donna Reed. These days, who is?

August 19

What Goes Around Comes Around

Israel apologized for killing 52 women and children the other day. Yeah, I’m sure the parents who survived appreciated that.

The “civilized” democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States, have made a bad habit out of creating dictators, despots and terrorists. After all, the U.S. supported the Weimar Republic in Germany, a government so weak and unpopular that the German people turned to the ravings of Adolf Hitler to save them. America supported the illegal regime of Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista who alienated his own people so completely that they ousted him in favor of Fidel Castro. The U.S. also supported Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. There was another good idea, huh? The United States assassinated the Congo’s first democratically elected president to install instead Joseph Desire Mobutu, a more America-friendly despot who extorted an estimated $4 billion from his people and sent the nation into chaos. Even Osama bin Laden was “a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies” (Robin Cook, The Guardian, 2005). Armed and trained by the CIA and British Secret Service, bin Laden then turned on us after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

Like Israel, which is sorry for the civilian casualties it is causing, the United States is apologizing constantly for the innocent Iraqis and Afghans we kill. And all the sympathetic rhetoric and political justifications are necessary and commendable; hell, terrorists certainly donít apologize for killing innocent people. But put yourself in the shoes of one of these poor bystanders, and donít just read these words trying to think of a quick reply to prove me wrong. Really imagine that you are living, through absolutely no fault of your own, under an oppressive regime. Life is hard, but it is the only life you know. Then a foreign country comes to “liberate” you and your family. Now imagine if the liberating country “accidentally” killed your wife or your child or your entire family, wouldn’t you pledge your life to do everything you could to avenge their deaths? We are creating new Osama bin Ladens daily with our “liberation.”

And putting some weak, West-friendly governments into power in the nations we’ve invaded is not the solution. They will, like all the others before them, implode under their own instability or be toppled by their own citizens who will see them as reminders of their humiliating and tragic subjugation by a foreign power, “liberating” or not.

So the U.S. and Israel kill a few women and kids? At least they weren’t our kids, right? And hey, we apologize. Yeah, if we’re still around to see the consequences our grandchildren will have to deal with, I think we’ll be really sorry then.

References: Wikipedia entries on Fulgencio Batista and Ferdinand Marcos; “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild; The Guardian 2005; Associated Press article by Katherine Shrader and Kathy Gannon, July 2006

August 18

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Ten years ago, I was in grad school, living in an apartment, working two jobs, dating the man who would later become my husband. At the time, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the JonBenet Ramsey case. Sure, it was scary and weird and sad, but I didn’t have children of my own. I couldn’t relate. So like the rest of America, I figured the parents did it.

Patsy Ramsey died a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by the fact that I had no reaction at all to the news. I stood somewhere between “If she did it, good riddance to a murderous mother” and “If she didn’t do it, then I’m glad she gets to be with her daughter again.” When they arrested this new suspect on Wednesday, though, my feelings changed radically. Good heavens! What if everyone has been wrong all along?! What does it say about Americans? What does it say about our media? What does it say about our investigative forces and our justice system? Why were we so ready to convict the Ramseys?

Let’s start with little JonBenet. An absolutely gorgeous child, she looked like an angel. The idea that someone would kill such a lovely, innocent girl was almost too disturbing to face. Americans wanted to hold someone responsible. We needed a villain. The police couldn’t give us one, so the media did, and we were ready to believe JonBenet was her parents’ victim.
For many of us, JonBenet seemed like a victim of her parents even before she was killed. Her name was a combination of her father’s and mother’s: John Bennet Patricia=JonBenet Patricia. There was something pretentious about it that made many Americans wrinkle their noses.

And then there was that whole beauty pageant thing. You couldn’t (and still can’t) see a news story about JonBenet’s murder without at least one shot of her in a pageant. Now people who don’t put their children in these pageants really do not understand it. Painting your little girl up like a Singapore prostitute, dressing her in fussy costumes and parading her in front of a panel of judges seems cruel to a lot of parents. And if you ever saw that show on A&E that followed the beauty pageant stage moms, you can’t help but imagine Patsy Ramsey berating her daughter for smearing her mascara or failing to turn properly on the catwalk. JonBenet may have enjoyed it; it may have been her idea, but it ‘s hard to imagine a six-year-old being able to make that kind of decision on her own. So in the court of public opinion, the Ramseys were seen as pretentious parents who used their beautiful child to further their own social status.

Which brings us to John and Patsy themselves. Victims of a hideous crime that robbed them of their darling little girl. But these are not easy people to feel sorry for: a wealthy CEO and a former Miss West Virginia living in a “starter castle” in an affluent Denver suburb with a vacation home in Michigan. In my mind, John Ramsey is always in his gray suit with the sensible tie, perfectly shaven with his thinning hair neatly combed. Patsy is always in a smart-looking black dress, black designer sunglasses, flawless lipstick. Maybe they are just of a different social class, but to most of us, they looked too good to be grieving. It was kind of like trying to feel sorry for Barbie and Ken with their Dream House, Corvette and constant smiles.

But these people had lost their child! For anyone to lose a child is horrific, but to have her murdered in your own house while you are at home is a nightmare. At the same time, the circumstances made it that much harder for us to sympathize and believe they were innocent. How on earth could someone break into a huge house in a nice neighborhood, assault and kill a child without waking anyone, lay her body in the wine cellar and write a ransom note before anyone noticed? How could a dead child lay in her parents’ home for 8 hours before anyone found her? It seemed implausible to most people because most of us don’t live in a mansion with a wine cellar.
Then there’s the media which took this thing and ran with it. We blame the media for a lo t of things these days. It’s easier to blame them than to accept responsibility ourselves, but you have to admit, this case got a ridiculous amount of coverage. A beautiful little girl from an affluent neighborhood found dead in her own home had everything the news companies look for: pretty white victim, lots of money, bizarre circumstances. With no likely suspects to vilify during lots of cable airtime, the media went to the next best thing- the parents. It is difficult to separate our perceptions of John and Patsy Ramsey from the media’s depictions of them. Journalists and photographers made decisions about what to show us; we saw only what the media chose to let us see. For all we know, John and Patsy did get hysterical, messy, and overwraught. The media just did not show us that.

Americans as a whole are jaded. Most of us know that the large majority of murders are committed by family members. And of course, we had seen it before, and we’ve seen it since. When JonBenet was killed in 1996, Americans were only one year removed from the Susan Smith case. Remember Susan? The distraught mother who sobbed on TV that her children had been kidnapped during a carjacking? Just nine days later, we learned that there was no black carjacker. Susan herself had drowned her two children in a lake. And more recently, Scott Peterson, the handsome husband of pregnant Laci Peterson, feigned innocence and helped search parties look for his wife and child before authorities became suspicious and arrested him. Americans don’t trust anyone, least of all the those closest to a murder victim.

So now we have the arrest of someone other than John or Patsy Ramsey, and suddenly I have to question my own reaction to this case. Was I too eager to believe the media? Was I too anxious to identify a killer and tuck this nasty story safely away where I wouldn’t have to confront the horror anymore? Or was I, so ready to empathize with the poor, too ready to condemn the rich?

August 17

Jesus Was a Flaming Liberal

Okay, now I’ve ticked off a ton of people, right? And left? Hah. Sorry if I’ve upset you, but the title was an attention-getter. I learned the method from Ann Coulter.

As a Christian Democrat (yes, we really do exist!), I mean the title of this posting as a compliment. Jesus was a liberal. That phrase has become somewhat of a mantra to me in the past 6 years. It gives me hope. And it’s true. That’s not to say he was a Democrat. I really can’t imagine Jesus being involved in politics at all, but he was absolutely more left than right. Here’s my reasoning:

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, liberal means “not bound by authoritarianism or orthodoxy.” I can’t think of too many people who fit this criteria as well as Jesus does. He broke almost every rule of Jewish law, and he was executed by the Pharisees, one of the best examples of orthodox authority in history.

Jesus was no friend to big business. The only time in the Bible when we see Jesus get really angry is in the second chapter of John when he overturns the tables of the merchants and moneychangers. He told us to be on our “guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12.15.] He said, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Matthew 6:24.] But so many conservatives seem terrified of giving up any of their possessions. The Republican Party provides tax breaks to the rich and tries to protect the interests of big business. These actions directly contradict Christ’s teaching.

Jesus was not racist or homophobic or restrictive. He said, “Love thy neighbor.” [Matthew 19:19] Not “love thy straight neighbor” or “love thy neighbor as long as he’s not in the country illegally” or “love thy Christian neighbor.” Love everybody, no matter what God they worship or where they’re from, or whom they have sex with. He did condemn divorce, though. Isn’t it strange that so many Christians are up in arms about gay rights when Jesus never mentioned the word “homosexual” once? He talked about the evils of divorce a lot, though; most Christians prefer to overlook that because so many of them are divorced. (See Matthew, chapters 5 and 19; Mark, chapter 10; and Luke, chapter 16.)

Jesus did not condone war. He was a pacifist at a turbulent time in history. Israel was under Roman rule. It would have been easy to call for war. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] He also overturned the “eye for an eye” philosophy of the Old Testament, calling instead for his followers to “turn the other cheek” [Matthew 5:39].

Jesus supported separation of church and state. He told us to render “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21] Everywhere I go in Indiana, I see those “One Nation Under God” bumper stickers. They make me angry for two reasons. First, the “under God” phrase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950’s. Second, these people who want to include God in all our governmental slogans, currency and architecture accuse anyone opposing them of being an atheist. I’m opposed to mixing church and state because I cannot be sure that my faith will always be the faith in power! If the United States becomes a mostly Hindu nation sometime in the future and our government is intermingled with religion, I guess I’d be out of luck. Kinda like all the poor Americans today who aren’t Christian.

Jesus believed in taking care of others. He didn’t tell us to give the rich tax breaks in the hope that they’d give more to charity. In chapter 14 of Luke, he told us to invite the poor and disabled to our feasts because they cannot repay us: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” I wonder how often Pat Robertson invites homeless people to dinner at his house.

Finally, Jesus did not support the death penalty and reiterated the sixth commandment in Matthew 5:21: Thou shalt not kill. Personally, I have a tough time with this one. Emotionally, I feel that anyone who hurts a child should be wiped off the face of the earth. But that is not what Jesus said. His teachings are often hard to follow. Let’s face it: for such a sweet, compassionate man, Jesus was tough.

Over the past few years, I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the ease with which the Republican Party has monopolized Christianity in this nation. Most people just assume that, if you are a Christian, you are a conservative. I find this notion especially ironic since I am a Christian and a liberal while my husband is agnostic and usually votes Republican! Living according to true Christian principles is difficult, though, and most people would rather hear a diluted, dumbed-down version they can live with more easily; the Republican party has obligingly translated Christ’s teachings to allow for hate, violence, discrimination and greed. It is time for liberal Christians to stop letting the religious right drown out our voices. Pat Robertson does not speak for me. Ann Coulter does not speak for me. Jesus speaks for me, and it’s time to hand him the microphone.

August 16

Take Me for a Ride in Your Car, Car

I live in a car town – Indianapolis, home of the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 (or whatever stupid corporate name they have for it now), and the U.S. Grand Prix. My father worked for General Motors for over 30 years. My husband and son love cars. I know cars. And I can understand that, for some people, a car is a work of art or a source of enjoyment. The status symbol thing, though, I just don’t get.

For me, a car is basically a tool I use to get me, my family and my stuff from Point A to Point B. It needs to be functional, safe, and fuel-efficient. That’s really all I need from a vehicle. There are a few cars I think are very cool: I’ve always been a sucker for a Mercedes coupe, and James Bond’s Aston-Martins were fine. Those kinds of cars are way beyond our budget, though, and they wouldn’t do me much good for taking my kids to school or getting groceries.

What bugs me are these people who buy completely impractical vehicles pretty much for the “look at me” value. The other day at the grocery, I parked a couple spots down from an H2. My husband was with me, and he had a grand time watching the driver try to park the gigantic thing. Three tries, and it was still completely crooked. I made him a bet that the driver was either a short guy or a woman. Sure enough, it was a woman. After taking all that time to park, you’d think she’d be in a hurry to get inside. Nope. She took her sweet time getting out, checking her hair in the side mirror, so everyone around could see her with her great big gas-guzzling tribute to man’s ability to create useless vehicles.

H2s are probably the dumbest ideas on the roads. A military Humvee is an awesome thing, perfectly suited to the rugged terrains in which it works and to the tough jobs it must perform. Why on earth would you need a scaled-down version to go buy bananas and milk at a Meijer in the ‘burbs?

The next day, same parking lot (I forgot to buy bread). This time it’s a guy on a crotch rocket. Now, I love motorcycles. My uncle took me on a Harley when I was about 10, and I never forgot it. But these little things are just glorified mopeds with louder engines. I’ve had several guy friends who’ve bought them, and they all had one thing in common – a need for attention. This guy in the parking lot was standing next to his bike from the time I went in to the time I came out. He might’ve been waiting for someone, but he was talking to several different people as he stood there, looking like he was about ready to get on and drive off. But he didn’t. He just stayed there, messing with the seat and mirrors, glancing all around at anyone and everyone. He was still there when I left.

Now that gas costs almost as much as my mortgage payment, I just can’t understand why people want to spend all that money on a vehicle that serves very little purpose. If you really love a certain kind of car, I suppose you can justify it to yourself. But those people should buy the cars they admire, not the cars they want me to admire. Gas-guzzling SUVs, noisy motorcycles, and fiberglass sports cars don’t turn me green with envy.

Give me the guy in the gray hybrid coupe. Practicality. Now that’s sexy.