Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Humility in Blogging

I LOVE this quote:

"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
--Robert Wilensky

SSHaggis Truth Alerts! Just in Time for New Year's Eve

Okay, so I've been in an Andy Rooney mood for the past few days. I admit it. I've had lots of stuff to do, seemingly no time to do them, I've been under the gun at work, trying to get my house ready for upcoming events...and I've had a mad case of, how to say this delicately, "the aftereffects of perhaps some undercooked chicken at a lunchtime carryout requiring me to stay close to home near an appropriate facility at 30 minute intervals." Get the picture?

So I've been struggling. But with the coming of the greatest holiday in Scottish culture (Hogmanay, which is Scottish for New Years Eve), it was time for me to get off my pity pot and get in the game. I don't care where I am or who I'm with: Hogmanay must be celebrated with a hopeful heart. Which, obviously, precludes watching any program featuring Carson Daly--attempting to bury Dick Clark before he is dead--as the clock strikes midnight. More importantly, it also precludes me being in this misanthropic funk.

So--how does one get oneself out of a funk? Booze? Only if I'm drinking it with Dino, Sammy and Frank. Crack pipe? That seems like a sure fire way INTO a completely different kind of funk. Funny movies? Tried them; they didn't work.

There's only one thing left to do. Yep! Make fun of people. And where better to start than everyone's favorite Focker: Ms. Barbra Streisand.

I want to announce that I am taking a page out of Ms. Streisand's book. She is wise enough to provide, for the public's benefit, Truth Alerts regarding anything untrue written or said about her in the media. Here is the link so you can enjoy the view as much as I did: Barbra's Truth Alerts

Tell me. When was the last time you thought it necessary to pore over the tabloids and publish your retorts to their stories on your web site? Don't most people, like Tom Cruise, sue if it's a vicious lie and ignore it if it's a stupid lie? How into yourself do you have to be to monitor every last thing that the yellow press says about you? I mean, let's be honest: if it's in the Enquirer or on Fox News, no credible people really buy it anyway. So why feel compelled to rebut their nonsense on a specially-created page of your web site? Hmmm...could it be that we LIKE to see our name in print, even if it is connected to a lie?

So, to cheer myself up and to give myself some of the joy that having a Truth Alert page obviously gives Ms. Streisand, I am hereby launching the Star Spangled Haggis Truth Alerts. Should anyone in my local coffee shop or at the gym or in my office say anything that I consider to be untruthful or misstated, I will clear the air immediately for all of us in the blogosphere. That's right: within 7 days of an untrue statement being made, I will use my powers of rapid response to shove it back down their throats.

So let's get started, shall we?


LIE: Esther is not unwell and is in fact skipping work to prep for her New Years Eve party, as reported by Lloyd Grove in the NY Post's gossip section.

TRUTH: Esther is showing great kindness and mercy to her coworkers by averting anyone else needing to write a blog post about their office bathroom. She has been riding the porcelain bus and crossing her fingers that all will be well by Friday's party. Esther is a truly caring coworker and friend. As such, she has forgiven Lloyd Grove and has sent him a peace offering: some coupons to a local DC lunch carryout.

Sing it with me: "People...people who need people..."

Tsunami Shame

What the hell is wrong with us? Our government? Our media? Our people? We need look no further than our response to the devastating tsunamis in Indonesia and Africa to know that we have officially reached the status of a once-great nation.

Maybe I'm just in a post-holiday funk, but our reaction to potentially the worst natural disaster on record has depressed me incredibly. Take the government response: the President of the United States goes for a bike ride and clears brush at his ranch; he doesn't make a big statement because, according to his aides, he doesn't want to "just say something symbolic." Um. Why do you exist but to say something "symbolic" at such a terrible time for people? Do you think you can say something concrete and helpful? No one can! Your job as President is to make a statement that lets the people affected and the international community know that, diplomatically and humanitarianly, the United States of American feels compassion and loss at such a tragic time. Think of it this way: when 4,000 Americans were killed on 9/11, other countries of the world held candlelight vigils for us. Their leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with ours in making "symbolic" gestures that we were not alone. So compare our response to the death of almost 70,000 people (and rising), many of whom were Americans, many of whom have family in America. Our diplomatic response was lazy, ignorant and unbecoming of the richest nation in the world.

To be fair, the $35 million that has been pledged to relief efforts is just a beginning, but compare that to the ELEVEN BILLION DOLLARS sent to Florida alone after the hurricanes. Yeah, that was a "B." Billion. I bet Sri Lanka wishes they had some electoral votes, huh?

Our media response has been equally embarrassing: "68,998 people dead! But not to worry! The supermodel and Oprah's interior designer survived!" If I saw one more puff piece of Whatsername Nemcova and Nate Whatever, I was going to put my foot through the freakin' television. Why does our media continue to show its complete disregard for actual journalistic integrity by boiling down the sudden death of tens of thousands of human beings, many of them children, to the "brave survival stories" of two minor-pseudo-B-list celebrities? What is WRONG with us?! I hate when people play the race card after a disaster, but sometimes I do wonder if it is indeed because, as a people, we can't figure out how to empathize or identify with thousands of poor brown people. If 70,000 Americans from the suburbs were killed in the space of 15 minutes, we'd have no idea how to go on with our lives. And yet, when the same number of poor people "over there" are wiped out, we focus on a supermodel and a "famous" designer because who the hell can feel for a guy whose entire family has disappeared when he can't even speak English? If that doesn't convince you we have a problem, think about this: how many photos of dead Indonesian and Sri Lankan children, with their faces visible, lying in rows have you seen in the past few days? How many photos do you think would be allowed to be published of rows of American dead children? Wouldn't we assume they have identities and families and err on the side of not showing dead kids' faces? It's the same reason people in Britain saw photos of 9/11 jumpers that we have still never seen here. The American media made an editorial decision to not show such ghoulish images because of "the families." And yet, here we are showing ghoulish images of thousands of dead children. Why? Because, somewhere deep inside us, we don't register them as actual people with actual families, here or elsewhere in the world, who might see their cousin's child dead in a newspaper.

If we want to respond compassionately, now is not the time to clean out your garage of old clothes and send them off to Sri Lanka. It is time to open your wallet and make a cash donation to an international relief organization. Having worked for a disaster relief organization, I know all too well the incredible uselessness of tons of old clothes in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. I also know the snippy response you get when you politely decline such a donation and are accused of "just wanting money." Well, YEAH! Exactly! The logistical and financial nightmare of sorting, cleaning, transporting and doling out clothing from your basement would only detract from an organization's ability to feed, house, and protect survivors from malaria and cholera. Your cash gift allows these organizations to support the locally-devastated economy by buying relief supplies THERE. It allows them to save money on the transport of millions of pounds of supplies that can be bought THERE. It allows them to buy precious vaccinations and water-purifying materials that, I'm sorry to say, your old flannel shirts from the 90's grunge era just can't do. So, yeah, keep your yard sale stuff in the attic and write these groups a check. And pray for the people who have lost their families and their livelihoods; pray for their health too, because, as one international aid worker said, as many if not more people will die of disease in the weeks and months following the tsunami as died in the tsunami itself.

If you can't find it in your heart to give a moment to the thousands of victims of this disaster, at least pray for the supermodel.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Super Size Me!

Warning: potential movie spoilers below.

This year's Christmas Eve, post-near-mugging involved a delightful, if gross, movie called Super Size Me. I'm sure you've heard of it. It's a documentary by a healthy guy who wants to see what will happen if he eats McDonalds for three meals a day over 30 days. His purpose is to test McDonald's claim that it is indeed possible to eat their food as part of a healthy diet. He also bases the 30 day timeframe on surveys that show some Americans eat at McDonalds upwards of 3 and 4 times per WEEK. No kidding.

The catch is this: he can't exercise more than the average American (which is a maximum of about 2500 steps per day), he must eat every item on the McD's menu at least once over the 30 days, and he must say Yes if asked by the server if he would like to "supersize it" (to test their claim that they do not induce people to overeat their high fat foods).

He starts out with visits to three doctors and a nutritionist to get his benchmarks. By all accounts he has fantastic cholesterol, triglycerides, weight, liver function, you name it. He is the epitome of a healthy young man. I'll let you see the movie for the full, hilarious, scary, gross experience, but the gist goes like this: 21 days in, his doctors tell him that he is "pickling" his liver, his liver enzymes are off the charts with his fat intake in the same way they would be if he was an alcoholic, he has gained almost 25 pounds, and they are imploring him to stop the experiment as of that moment.

One of the best scenes involves McDonald's efforts to market themselves to children, even though they seem aghast at the accusation. He meets with a bunch of kids, maybe 3rd graders?, and shows them a series of photos: George Washington, Jesus and Ronald McDonald. Guess which photo is the ONLY one all of the kids can identify? One knew GWashington and none knew Jesus. His point: this is how deep into your 7 year-old's psyche McDonald's has burrowed in an effort to create very young consumer loyalty. Scary!

Another horrific scene is a description of how they make McNuggets, those "kid-friendly" chunks of chicken that so many people eat because they think they are healthier than burgers. Brace yourself darlings. It ain't pretty: The good people at MickeyD's take old chickens, grind them up whole, add in a bunch of preservatives and flavorings and binding ingredients, shape them into "nuggets," batter them and fry them and serve them to your kid with delicious corn syrup sauces. YUMMY! I laughed through my gag reflex as I watched that because I used to always joke for dramatic grotesque effect that the texture of McNuggets made me think they were made of chicken skin, gizzards, penises and beaks. I was laughingly horrified to learn that I was not far from the truth! Bleeaaaahhhh.

Anyway, I'll let you watch the movie for the ending, but you have to promise that you will go and rent it ASAP. It is hilarious and horrifying in equal measure, and it completely put me off fast food forever. If you eat fast food and want to drop a few pounds in the new year, Super Size Me is the movie for you!

No Haggises Were Harmed in the Making of the Previous Post

To remove the Freak Out Factor from my previous post here are a few of my major points:

1) I wasn't scared at all; that was my point: that I need to cultivate a healthy sense of fear next time rather than simply annoyance at Weird Parking Dudes.

2) No weapon was brandished at me; it just came to light that he had one when the cop patted him down and I was forced to then ponder all the different ways the night could have gone that didn't end with me standing next to my mom singing Lecha Dodi. Hence, Point #1.

3) A little statement of gratitude to cops who do that for a living whether on holidays or not.

And to offer further peace of mind I promise those of you who know me: as much as I love my blog, if anything truly earth-shattering happens in my life, you WILL NOT hear about it first on starspangledhaggis. If you are reading it here, you can assume it's all good and that no therapy or medical intervention has been required. :)

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Twas the Night Before Christmas and I Almost Got Mugged

Happy Freakin' Holidays.

Last night, in addition to being Christmas Eve, was also Shabbat. As such, we went to services at the new temple in a slightly funky area of DC. The parental units had been dropped off at the door, and I was parking in an empty parking lot right on the corner of a busy street. I got out of the car and a slightly weird looking guy comes up to me and says that it's "ten bucks to park here." As he says that, a strapping young African-American man walking by yells, "no it isn't. It's free to park there, Miss. Don't pay him." So I yell "thank you sir!" and start walking away from the fake parking guy.

Weird Fake Parking Guy didn't like that so he started walking toward me and said, "I told you it's ten bucks!" And I said, "that guys says it isn't," and kept walking away. So he followed me another few steps and said, "I said it's ten bucks!" And I said, "that guy says it isn't!" and kept walking, just trying to make it 4 more steps onto the sidewalk and a run across the crosswalk to safety. I kept moving, and he took a few more steps toward me when the strapping young African-American man who had just walked by came running back, got in between the weird guy and me and said, "What you are doing is illegal. Where's your work permit that says you work here?" As he said that, the weird guy started reaching into his jacket and the rest of the situation happened in a freaky blur:

Good Guy: "Hands out of your jacket, man. Hands out!"

Weird Guy: No response.

Good Guy: (seeing his hands in his jacket rifling around)--"Don't pull that out on me, man! Don't pull it! I said get your hands up! Up! Get 'em up!"

Weird Guy: No response, continuing to rifle around in his jacket (which we find out in a few seconds is for a concealed knife)

Good Guy: "I'm a police officer! Get your hands up!" He pats him down, pulls out the thing in his jacket, spins him around, handcuffs him, and walks him away to the substation, all in what seems like about 5 seconds.

Me: WTF just happened here!?!!! Holy Crap! So, in true urban style, I yell "thank you!" to the cop, cross the street, walk the one block to the temple, tell my family in between verses of Lecha Dodi (the song you sing to welcome shabbat) I almost got mugged, and enjoy the services like nothing happened.

Although, to be honest, I did pray harder than usual. I specifically prayed for the safety of those I love. I prayed for the cops who make it their business to put their bodies in between slightly belligerent white chicks and weird guys with knives. I prayed in thanks for this little warning to next time turn on my heels and run like hell rather than engage a weird dude in an argument over the finer points of parking fees...and I need to send a note of thanks to the DC policemen and women, who get so much crap for being racist or useless or shiftless, but who, when it counted, saved my butt.

That officer, whose career required him to miss Christmas Eve with his own family, put his own body between mine and a knife so that I could share an evening in safety with my family. How do you adequately say Thank You for that?

Because it was a holy night for both Jews and Christians, I thought I would thank him by praying for him with a prayer I always said when I used to travel 6 days a week for work and always seemed to be on planes, in cars in strange cities and in hotel rooms alone:

Tefilat HaDerekh (Traveler's Prayer)

May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, emplace our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer.

Ye-hi ra-tson mi-l'fa-ne-cha
A-do-nai e-lo-hei-nu vei-lo-hei a-vo-tei-nu
she-to-li-chei-nu l'sha-lom
v'ta-tsi-dei-nu l'sha-lom
v'tad-ri-chei-nu l'sha-lom,
v'ta-gi-ei-nu lim-choz chef-tsei-nu
l'cha-yim ul-sim-chah ul-sha-lom.
V'ta-tsi-lei-nu mi-kaf kawl o-yeiv
v'o-reiv v'lis-tim v'cha-yot ra-ot ba-de-rech,
u-mi-kawl mi-nei fur -a-ni-yot
ha-mit-ra-g'shot la-vo la-o-lam.
V'tish-lach b'ra-chah < b'chawl | b'- > ma-a-sei ya-dei-nu
v'ti-t'nei-nu l'chein ul-che-sed ul-ra-cha-mim b'ei-ne-cha
uv-ei-nei chawl ro-ei-nu.
V'tish-ma kol ta-cha-nu-nei-nu
ki Eil sho-mei-a t'fi-lah v'ta-cha-nun a-tah.
Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai
sho-mei-a t'fi-lah.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Iraq; Sharing the Burden

Today is Christmas Eve, and although I don't celebrate Christmas, I know that many of the troops serving in Iraq do. I find myself feeling very deeply for them and their families as I think about them being away from their families on such an important holiday.

It started me thinking about this war compared to other wars. Does anyone else feel like we at home are being asked to sacrifice exactly NOTHING while these men and women sacrifice their family time, their careers, and often their very lives in the waging of this war? Whatever each of us thinks about the reasons and justification for this war, I find it hard to imagine that anyone doesn't feel compelled to wonder, "so what is MY contribution to helping these soldiers succeed in--and perhaps survive--this conflict?"

The President has given us tax cuts. With his Medicare bill, he signed the largest entitlement program in American history into law (you were thinking Ted Kennedy had that honor?). He swears there will be no draft. He continues to exhort us to support the economy by spending.

Where are the ration cards? How are we still riveted on trash like Paris Hilton and shows like High School Reunion and America's Top Model when so many of our young men and women are dying in a foreign country? Especially those of us who opposed this war; what is our excuse for ignoring it in favor of surrounding ourselves with garbage? You can't tell me it's a means of numbing our pain at being at war. This war has barely touched those of us stateside. Could we maybe take the time we spend watching The Next Gilligan's Island jiggle show and perhaps do something to support the troops? If the military is too strapped to armor its vehicles and provide soldiers with flak jackets, could any of our better-off citizens perhaps consider donating their tax cut to save a soldier's life?

All of us--those who are vocal for the war and those who are vocal against the war--need to get our asses off our couches, out of our offices, away from the TV, out of our own little mini-dramas, and recognize that, for better of for worse, the war is happening. Men and women are separated from their families over Christmas. Many were killed just days ago in Mosul. Can you put yourself in the shoes of those families for even a millisecond? Can you imagine the grief of having your brother or son blown up 4 days before Christmas? Most of us can't. Why? Because we have not been asked or required to sacrifice anything in pursuit of this war. Again, I don't care if you think this war is the most evil perpetration upon humanity in world history; more than ever, then, your goal should be to get as many of these soldiers home alive as quickly as possible.

It's time to stop wringing our hands at the ongoing war while doing nothing in our daily lives to stop it or ease its pain for those involved; it is also time to stop waving the flag and complimenting "our troops" as a means of demurring on justifiable questions about the war's planning and execution. Both are offensive means of shielding ourselves from having to truly get involved.

As Christmas approaches, perhaps The Book of John says it best: "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."
I John 3:18

Merry our friends and country(wo)men near and far. May next Christmas be one of peace.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Flies in the Ointment: Part Two in The Continuing Saga of my Office Bathroom

Today's entry in E's Office Bathroom Hijinks is brought to you by the good people at Analpram HC. Today's Bathroom Hijinks are also brought to you, not by Dreaded Stall #2 {see my October 27th post}, but by "handicapped accessible [if your wheelchair is the size of an airplane coach seat]" stall #3.

So. How would I know about Analpram HC? It occurred as my bathroom dramas always do: I had to pee for the second time that hour, so I walked in, took a seat, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a shiny long tube of something quite near. There, resting nicely on top of the TP holder, was a front-label-side-up tube of Analpram HC.

Now, I had no idea what Analpram HC actually does. But my rigorous linguistic training and laser-beam insight into medications containing the word “anal” caused me to infer that it was, well, bum cream. I still do not know what its specific purpose is because I was sure as hell not touching someone’s leftover bum cream in a public bathroom just to learn the contraindications! I’m intellectually curious, but not quite to the level of getting germy. I briefly considered being brave in service of my starspangledhaggis readers. But then I decided that if you were reading this, you were already on the internet, so googling “analpram” would take you no time at all, you could then tell me, and I wouldn’t have to soak my hand in bleach for the duration of the day. I also knew that there was no way that I was going to do a google search for “analpram” from a work computer. I was just going to have to wait.

Now, you might think that the story ends there: E tells another scatological story, analpram ha ha ha, can’t wait for next time. Nope. It gets better. The next time I go to the bathroom, the tube is turned over! Now I can read the other side! Finally! The suspense has been killing me! But…..WHO TURNED IT OVER?!! Who is that person whose curiosity so got the better of her that she actually touched someone else’s bum cream to find out?! I could feel myself getting more excited by the second that I worked with someone so out on the freakin’ edge that she would just go for it like that. Wow! What a woman! I’ll bet it’s the same woman who finally flushed the toilet in my last post! I MUST learn her identity and nominate her for Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Fun Fearless Female award…after, of course, soaking her hands in bleach for the duration of the day. I could also feel myself getting childish, regressing to that element of my personality that is always just under the surface, where farts are the funniest of G-d’s creations because they are the great leveler of mankind. I was starting to say in my head in that singsongy kid way: Someone touched the bum cream! Someone touched the bum cream!

And just as I thought I had reached nirvana, I read one line on the tube that absolutely put me over the edge into full-on laughter:

“Analpram HC is not for ophthalmologic use.”

PS--Here comes the science: Analpram HC® offers relief of inflammation and pruritus (itching) associated with conditions such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures. It is the only hydrocortisone acetate cream available with the advantage of pramoxine HCl. The pramoxine HCl provides temporary relief of pain and pruritus while the hydrocortisone treats the inflammation and pruritus.

The Worst and Best Boss Ever

A friend and I were discussing job promotions the other day, which morphed into a discussion of What is Wrong With Nonprofit Management Today. Perhaps someone with more corporate experience can jump in and tell us if things are different in non-tax-exempt land, but at nonprofits there seems to be an ongoing inability to weed out emotionally unbalanced, or perhaps to be kind, slightly off-kilter people from the management ladder.

As you may know, I deal with nonprofits for a living, helping them to tackle issues such as this. I am quickly coming to the conclusion that poor management is not solely an organization-specific issue, but an industry-wide issue. And I think it happens like this:

Incredibly talented person, Nancy Nonprofit, comes on board as Director of Communications or Development or Major Gifts or whatever. Absolutely knocks her goals out of the park. Is rewarded by a promotion to Senior Poobah of SuchandSuch, a job at which Nancy continues to excel, thereby being a daily asset to the organization and its mission. Awesome. Super.

So what happens then?! Yep. Our dear Nancy, that amazing on-the-ground performer is promoted to a position that requires the management of staff. Staff who are doing the job that Nancy used to do, used to excel at, and used to love. Nancy doesn't get to do much of the on-the-ground stuff anymore because she is managing a whole staff in her new position as VP for Whatever, even though she has no management experience. She attends meetings with the CEO, she handles HR issues, she sets the course for the dev/comm/marketing wing of the entire organization. Nancy oughta be psyched, right?! WRONG! Because Nancy loved her old job, secretly wishes she could still do her old job, secretly resents the people who are getting to do her old job while she is sitting in Senior Staff meetings talking about budgetary line items. Nancy slowly morphs into a completely horrible boss. The kind of boss who causes the first act of anyone's day to be a walk past her assistant's cube to ask, "What kind of mood is she in today?" so that you can tell if your day is going to be disastrous or productive. The kind of boss who yells at staff in the hallway. The kind of boss that makes you cringe when you see her "having an episode" and think about a caption under her saying, "This is how women in high positions handle stressful situations."

How do these people GET and KEEP power when everyone, it seems, except HER boss knows that she is just this side of mentally unbalanced? As my friend and I discussed our old bosses we realized that the reason Angry Boss manages to cling to power is because she has both the Five Best Traits of a Boss which HER management gets to see (talent, initiative, etc), but also the Five Worst Traits of a Boss (micromanagement, distrust of staff, belief that no one can do it better than her, fear of talented young women on her staff, etc) that they don't, but that terrorize her staff into performing for her. How does someone who is so profoundly feared and loathed by her staff manage to accrue further and further promotions?

"People are promoted to their level of incompetence." I think that was Jim Collins in the book Good To Great who said that. [correct me if I'm wrong]. His point was exactly what my friend and I were discussing: a talented person is promoted and promoted until they are now doing something they were never interested in doing and perhaps have no skills to do, but that they do because, hey, it's a promotion and how do you turn that down?

This is the issue with nonprofits. What we need is a fundamental sea-change that encourages promotions based on ability that are not inextricably tied to management of other staff. That's why even the President of the United States has a Chief of Staff. No one expects POTUS to do performance reviews of his administrative assistant. No one expects him to sit in interminable admin meetings when he should be out doing what he does best, which is the original reason he was hired: to lead. So why do nonprofits take these incredibly talented, skilled people and force them into a position that is not a good or healthy fit for their temperament or career goals under the guise of "promoting" them? Can't we find a way to reward good work without perpetuating a medieval system of rewarding the strongest and best with "dominion over all the people?" Can't we create non-management, super-poobah career tracks that recognize the incredible skills of some people while not inflicting their psychic breaks and ongoing resentment on the junior staff?

Surely we can do better.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Winter Weather Advisory in DC: We're Goin' to DefCon 1!

This season's first "winter storm advisory" for DC was issued today, with prognostications for 1-2 inches of snow, ice, and high winds. Having grown up in New England where we went to school in 10 inches of snow (just plow it and get the buses on the roads, Sully!), I look forward with a mix of amusement and irritation to "winter weather" here in DC.

As it has in winters past, the advisory has cued the mad dash of all non-New Englander transplants to the grocery store to clear the shelves of bread, milk and diapers in anticipation of [eeeeek!!!!] snow. Even people who do not have kids pile their carts with Pampers because, you know, what if we can't get out in our cars and are stuck in the house? Better to have provisions, to be safe than sorry.

No amount of assuring DC denizens that 1-2 inches of snow, and in fact, even 3-5 inches of snow, are entirely navigable, does a bit of good to stem the grocery store bedlam. "Listen to the Bostonian: You will not get frostbite in your own home, you will not be forced to use newspaper for toilet tissue, you will not have to ponder your capacity for cannibalism after eating wallpaper glue and envelope adhesive for sustenance. It's all going to be okay."

For such an overeducated bunch of folks here in Beltwayland, we sure get wee-wee'd up about some flurries. To be fair, it may be because {as my dear fellow New England friend C says} "the entire state of Maryland has the same number of snow plows as the medium-sized city of Walpole, MA." True dat. But let's surmise that it did take even 72 full hours to clear the roads after a snowfall; would we really be reduced to eating paper and boiling snow for water within 3 days? It may also be because the local TV stations absolutely LIVE and PRAY for snow because it guarantees them rapt viewership. Hence, one local channel's year-round name for its weather operation: {cue the James Earl Jones voice with added reverb} "Storm Center 4." Yep, even in July, it is called Storm Center 4 because, Washington, you just never know when it might snow! And you'll be left homeless, penniless and starving! Tune in at 4, 5 and 6pm to get the latest on whether the snow will bring about an end to life on earth as we know it! ONLY ON STORM CENTER 4!!!

How ludicrous is it? Well, as I've often said: Osama Bin Ladin does not have to find any more creative way to bring the capital of the free world to its knees than to invent an Evil Jihadist Snow Machine. Seriously, should he spray Washington with a mere sprinkling of 3 inches of snow he will control the entire machinery of power for the nation. It will bring the local--and therefore national--economy to its knees, create panic and looting among the citizens, bring all public and private transportation to a halt, and lay waste to our homeland security apparatus.

There's nothing to do but sit back and watch the drama unfold from the security of my pampers-lined, keeblerfudgecookie-stacked pantry.

My Jewish Christmas Morning

I'll be spending my Christmas morning with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I'm already feeling quite merry at the prospect...

Ocean's Twelve Posted by Hello

Friday, December 17, 2004

Stop Peddling Smut: Ban the Liberal "Circle Jerk"

I have been thinking long and hard since the November election about what Dems did wrong in 2004. And beyond just the Dems, what are the challenges endemic to the liberal mindset that make it hard for us to win elections even when facing a weakened candidate who purports to have every "family value" but lacks veracity? I have been formulating some thoughts since November on the theory that if we are to win in 2008 we need to not only fix what was wrong in 2004 but ensure that in 2008 we do not make the mistake of re-fighting 2004. If we approach 2008 with "lessons learned from 2004" as our handbook, we will lose again. Hands down.

Here is my opinion, which will no doubt have me hooted off Majority Report Radio: What we as liberals need to do is truly have a "come to jesus" meeting about whether we would rather be right--or be in power. A good friend of mine called it The Arrogance of the Disenfranchised. It's the compulsion to insist on all-or-nothing outcomes when the social, psychological, and political work has not been done to appropriately secure those outcomes. Some of us call it The Liberal Circle Jerk: we talk at each other, we all clap for each other, and it never occurs to us that our time would be better spent educating those who disagree or don't understand, rather than congratulating ourselves because we all are in accord with each we go right off the electoral cliff.

We feel so strongly about the "rightness" of our issues, in a very genuine way, that we almost lose sight of the point of having life-affirming ideas that benefit other humans: gaining the power to enact those ideas. Without taking the necessary steps to put our beliefs into action, what is the value of those ideas? Zero. It is a Circle Jerk. "Yay me! Good for me! I'm such a good person! Whoo! look at me!" Impact of circle jerk: Zero. Impact of strategic organizing around a shared set of values that may get you near to, but not exactly, to where you feel your issue deserves to be: Immeasurable.

The Right has done a fantastic job of empowering their constituents to ACT upon their beliefs in a way that, as you can see unfolding before your very eyes, has given them the power to enact them into policy and law. That could have been us, but we squandered it with our political orthodoxy. Yes. The Liberal Political Orthodoxy. If you aren't A, B or C, then you are not a good liberal. Sure, the Right has their orthodoxy too, but THEY WON, WE DIDN'T. So they are doing something right that we are messing up. Agreed?

So where have we gone wrong? One incredibly smart woman I know put it this way: "I knew John Kerry was going to lose in April 2004 when I attended the March for Choice in DC." At the march, the "c word" was thrown around by speakers and attendees alike, the message was "get angry and stay angry for 8 months"...and that was it. There was no "take this handbook on how to go home and mobilize 10 of your friends to bring this issue to the attention of your local area and to ensure that those who agree with you vote...oh, and here are the words to use to reach those who aren't yet with us." The ONLY purpose in having a one million person march is to show the powers that be your political numbers--and therefore clout. But if the powers that be know that for every one voter you reach, your "c word" rants are turning off another two voters, then they are happy to let you march all the way into the electoral minority. The Christian Right, by contrast, provided talking points, sample letters to the editor, ideas for voter mobilization, coffee klatches to drum up support for local, state and national candidates. In short, they taught their members how to speak to people who were on the fence or just needed a little motivation to actually go and vote. They avoided their 1996 mistake of putting Pat Buchanan on the podium during prime time, or of having him represent them at all. We didn't. We sqaundered the efforts of one million people simply by believing that we could somehow convince people of our positions--by speaking to them in OUR language rather than in their own.

After a survey showed that suburban women's main impetus for voting GOP was fear, Michael Moore led a whole effort to tell Americans not to be scared, and that fear was not a reason to vote for GWB. Stupid, stupid, stupid. People feel what they feel. Meet them there. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. And then show them YOUR ideas for calming their fears. GHWB made that mistake in '92 when he refused to acknowledge that the economy was in the toilet. People simply wanted to hear him say, "I know people are hurting, and I am working to ease that hurt. My plan is different from Clinton's but the point is the same: to ease your economic hurts and fears." Nope. GHWB kept insisting that all was well with the economy. Fiddling while Rome burned. Which is what Michael Moore did last October. You can't TELL people not to be scared. You can only acknowledge that they are and meet them on that level. Unfortunately, the Dems and liberals in general, for being truly caring, decent human beings on a personal level, have zero ability to do just that on a macro, electoral level.

Another case in point: In college, as crazy feminist as I was, I still considered myself somewhat strategically minded. As a bunch of us were creating signs to take on a pro-choice rally to the statehouse, I expressed concern about a couple of the signs requesting that the government "stay out of my [P-word]." I tried to remind the women that we were going to a sort of suburban area where that word is not only not used, but is considered so offensive as to actually prevent us from having an impact, therefore making the whole bus trip a complete waste of time, so could we perhaps not speak to ourselves with these signs but to the people we were trying to reach. Well, you'd have thought I was advocating chastity belts with the drama and questioning of my "commitment" that ensued. I went on the march but kind of just felt completely homeless within the women's movement. I just wanted to say, "guys, it doesn't GET more liberal than your girl E, and if you are offending ME, then you have lost a whole chunk of potential support from people far less liberally-minded." Which is exactly how my friend felt at the March for Choice: homeless within the women's movement, even while being a raving liberal.

So what's the solution? Well, greater minds than me will I'm sure have suggestions. But for my 2 cents, you'll have to tune in for Part 2 of Stop Peddling Smut: TLCJ.

In the meantime you can visit
for additional ranting and discussion.

Jews Have No Christmas Spirit

Chanukah ended Tuesday night (or was it Wednesday?). One of the nights we went to my sister's house to give the chilluns their presents and light the candles with everyone together. I will get back to this stream of thought as soon as I indulge in one of my now-expected digressions...

What non-Jewish people may not know is that Chanukah (as well as Hannukkah, Hanuka, channukkah, ad infinitum) is a very minor holiday among Jews. I mean, we like it, don't get me wrong. But it is nowhere near the same ballpark as a holiday celebrating the birth of your savior. Seriously. So while I personally appreciate people wishing me a Happy Chanukah because I appreciate people who don't assume everyone is Christian, I also don't want anybody to feel pressured to "include" me when it doesn't make sense to.

For instance, if you are having a Christmas Party, I am totally psyched to come. I LOVE Christmas parties. What I feel bad about is that now some hosts feel guilty for having a Christmas party and not a "holiday" party because they feel like it's rude to me to not acknowledge my holiday. Here's the thing about that: in the workplace, I feel incredibly uncomfortable with Christmas parties and gift exchanges because they basically force me to be the one person (or maybe a couple of us) who has to awkwardly say, "yeah, I'm not doing the gift exchange. No, it's no big deal. No seriously, it's cool. You guys go ahead." I am incredibly not comfortable pretending I celebrate Christmas so that I don't have to look like I'm the party pooper. For perspective, imagine if I came in to work on Rosh Hashanah and my Jewish boss handed out yarmulkes to every employee, you know, just to be festive. Go on--wear it! Everyone else is and you don't want to wreck the party, do you? How would the non-Jews feel? THAT is what a workplace "Christmas" party does to me. I get that tense feeling in my tummy, like okay, now I have to piss on their parade and not exchange Christmas Tree ornaments with each other (which is not something I have made up. An office right here in Washington DC where a good friend of mine works had a Christmas party this past week where everyone was to bring a Christmas ornament and exchange it. He took the day off rather than having to be the one guy at the party who didn't bring an ornament to exchange and therefore look like he wasn't a team player).

I worked at one office in Atlanta where my VP seriously, with a straight face, asked me why "Jews have no Christmas spirit" when I very politely and quietly demurred on wearing a Santa hat around the office Christmas tree. I wish I were making that up, but it happened as recently as the late 90s at a major company in a major city in America. I was dumbfounded and completely at a loss for where to even begin to help this lady out with an answer. When the other people around the table heard that and got uncomfortable, the whole thing devolved into one big awkward excruciating Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm episode: someone chimed in about how Jews were wonderful, smart savvy people, and then another said how the Holocaust was a terrible thing, and isn't Seinfeld just the funniest show on TV, and another said she just loved bagels, and other said his sister married a Jewish guy and the whole family loves him....and I was just beside myself with desperation to be released from this Christmas "party" so I could stop being the crazy non-Christmas circus freak. My stomach still does flip-flops when I think back to that "party" and how I instantly became the awkward focus of conversation simply because I said, "no thanks" when I was handed a santa hat.

So I think that helps you to see why I dread Christmas parties at the office. However, office Holiday Parties I get behind and in some cases, help plan myself. Everybody needs a party, and there's no better time than around "the holidays" to blow off some steam. As long as there is no gift exchange and no "why aren't you wearing the santa hats we provided?" I am cool and ready to have a great time. The purpose of any party in the workplace should NEVER be to create division, to make some employees feel like they don't exist or that they are not "festive" or cooperative, or to foist personal beliefs on your workers. Unless I worked at Oral Roberts University, and then, well, I get what I deserve.

But back to personal parties. Personal parties are a completely different animal. You are my friend. You celebrate Christmas. You are sweet enough to invite me to your home to celebrate with you. I am THERE! With bells on! In fact, I am looking forward to Christmas Dinner at the home of a good friend's grandmother in Virginia. I love that my friends are sweet and generous enough to share the joy of their holiday with me. And maybe that is the difference between office parties and personal parties: the sharing of the joy. If my friend has a birthday party, I go to the party, celebrate with him, smile and laugh and enjoy seeing him enjoy his big day. My joy at his event doesn't make it MY birthday, and it doesn't make people all of a sudden demand that I blow out the candles too or that I accept presents too on pain of being a party pooper. It's simply a sharing of joy, as friends do. During Christmas at the office, this "fun" bandwagon emerges that everyone is expected to get on and avoid admitting that it is actually "enforced fun." And so anyone who doesn't toe the company line about getting on board is seen to be not participating. There is no sharing of joy. Simply time spent eating and drinking with people you aren't necessarily friends with, and whom you don't necessarily want to share your religious beliefs with anyway.

So, I guess what this boils down to, is that it's not that I as a Jew have no Christmas spirit. It's that I have Christmas spirit to the extent that it brings YOU joy on YOUR holiday, much like I get in the Birthday Spirit for your birthday. Ask me to pretend it's my holiday too, and you are just begging me to ban leavened food in the office during Passover in the spirit of you being a team player and celebrating my holiday with me. No pizza, no toast, no bagels, no nuttin'. Now wouldn't you rather just give that Santa hat to someone else? ;)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Listserv Love-Hate

Why does it always go like this:

You get excited about a particular issue so you join a listserv, be it through yahoo or whatever user web site offers it.

{For those of you just joining us, a listserv is (as described by the good people at James Madison University), "an electronic mailing list of e-mail addresses of people interested in a certain topic or specific area of interest. The purpose is to share announcements or to enable listserv subscribers to communicate with each other to discuss common topics of interest." Every time someone posts a message to the listserv you can choose whether you want to receive each email as it is posted, or receive 10-20 of them in digest format.}

So, as you have no doubt surmised, I joined a couple of listservs a few months ago in the throes of excitement about connecting with others who also do fundraising or live on Capitol Hill, for example. The first couple of days I was delighted to read each email from every shmo who was also on the listserv because you just never knew what exciting stuff you would learn. Then, lo around day 6, I was feeling somewhat "over" the 45 emails in my box every 3 hours, especially when they involved two people chatting about something very specific that should have been personal emails between them instead of posts to the listserv. No matter! I'll just switch to the digest! I'll get 15-20 emails formatted into one email, perhaps twice a day, and I'll be back to lovin' that listserv in no time.

The digest works great for about another couple of weeks as I diligently check each digest email, scan it for interesting tidbits, and then delete or save as appropriate. That works for a couple of weeks more.

***Passage of time****

You want to guess how many unread digest emails I have in my yahoo account now?

At last check, 43. And I can't stand about 3 people who post to these listservs whom I've never even met. I'd take my name off the list....except I'm afraid I'll miss something.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gangstas: Scottish-style crime rings

If you have ever wondered what the differences are really between Scotland and the US, here is one example of a Scottish Crime Ring:

Gangs steal moss to fund crime

ILLEGAL gangs dealing in drugs and other organised crime are now turning to the countryside to make money with devastating effects on Scotland’s native habitats, The Scotsman has learned.

Police officers working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have found that work parties, often involving illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, are being bussed north of the border by criminal drug gangs to pick sphagnum moss, which is then sold to garden centres.

Large tracts of endangered peat bogs are being ripped up and irreparably damaged for the black market trade in moss used in Christmas wreaths and for hanging baskets.

Sphagnum moss provides a protective layer for endangered peat bogs, and if large amounts are removed the bog dries out and it ceases to provide a haven for wildlife.

It is illegal to take plants or other natural resources without the permission of the landowner. In addition, the new Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act, which came into effect last month, will make it an offence for anyone to damage protected sites.

SNH is working with Strathclyde Police as part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime initiative, to urge gardeners to find out where the moss was sourced or if garden retailers supply wreaths made from non-moss products.

It is valued by gardeners because it retains eight times its own dry weight of water and therefore keeps plants arranged in wreaths and hanging baskets alive for much longer.

John Ralston, the licensing officer at SNH, said: "There is clearly a massive demand for Christmas wreaths and hanging baskets, much of which will be made of moss from dubious sources.

"We are concerned that species such as sphagnum moss are being plundered in large quantities by commercial pickers to fuel this trade."

This year there have been two known cases of large-scale illegal gathering of sphagnum moss in Lanarkshire, one of which caused £34,000 damage.

PC Phil Briggs, a wildlife crime officer with Strathclyde Police, said: "Now that criminals have realised that they can start making money from this activity they are filling the niche.

"We are working closely with the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London," said PC Briggs.

"There are three or four people at a time going in to areas and stripping blanket bogs of sphagnum moss."

Short Story Long: I await the Scottish gangsta rapper who can effectively rhyme something with "sphagnum moss."

Mars/Venus: There is no love like that of a parent for a child. Really.

I have a couple of friends/coworkers having difficulties in their relationships with their boyfriends and husbands. As each has told me their particular issues, I have realized that they all share the same theme: the guy equates unconditional love with unconditional approval. So every time he does something inappropriate or inconsiderate and is called on it, it precipitates a relationship near-meltdown based on him feeling "never good enough" or "unloved." I wonder how universal this issue is out there?

One of the hallmarks of an adult relationship is divesting yourself of the need to be parented by your mate. Each of us has our first relationship with a member of the opposite sex through our parents. My early relationships, looking back, were definitely defined by how I related to my dad and what my understanding of a man's love should be, based on what I experienced growing up as a daughter, ie, a man will always protect me and will never hurt me and will think I am sunshine and lollipops incarnate. Same with men. Their first understanding of women comes through their mother, and therefore understandably, their definition of being loved by a female subconsciously mirrors that relationship.

For guys, your mom is probably the only woman in the world who will most likely not tell you that you are acting like a complete and embarrassing ingrate. She will not demand that you be better than you are because she already thinks you hang the moon. She will not say to you, "That is unacceptable and you know better" because, again, she is your mom and sees you through very particular eyes. That is why moms exist. We should all be lucky enough to have (and be) moms who love our sons like that.

However, when a guy with a loving mother gets into a relationship, he can sometimes subconsciously expect you to be like his mom, since that was his first female relationship. So any time you expect more of him or tell him he's behaving like a #$%^@ or say anything that sounds like you disapprove of him as a person, he flips out and thinks he can't ever do anything right and takes the relationship into a chaotic death spiral. Why? Because he is craving the Mommy Love, that intertwining of unconditional love and approval that only a mother can give--but that wives and girlfriends cannot.

I once read a Dr. Phil article (I know he's a moron, but I liked this one bit of advice) where he cautioned women to speak to the men in their lives carefully. He understood that when a woman says, "You are acting like a jerk" what she is saying is, "I love you more than I can say, and that is why I am demanding that you act like the man I know you can be." He pointed out, however, that what men hear is, "You are flawed and not good enough the way you are." His advice was always to discuss behavior and not character with a man that you love. I think it is good advice--for men and women both.

The key to having a successful, long-term and truly rewarding relationship is letting your wife/girlfriend off the hook of having to love you like your mom. Or, just as equally for women, letting your husband fail you sometimes, letting him let you down and not having that have to mean that he must not love you enough. Mommies and Daddies love/approve of you unconditionally. Wives and husbands can't and don't. They are two different kinds of love, and expecting to be parented by a partner is unfair and immature. Your wife can't love you like your mom, so stop holding her to those standards. Your wife/husband can love you equally or more in a different way than your parents, but s/he cannot love you to those standards. Guys who subconsciously desire mommy love from their girlfriends end up killing what may be a solid relationship because they equate any expression of "disapproval" as somehow being incompatible with deep, deep love. Which, of course, is a mystery to women because we DEFINE deep, deep love as not letting your man knuckle-drag his way through life. We see them as the wonderful people they are as well as the wonderful people they can be, when what they see is us trying to "improve" them, which feeds the belief that we don't love them just as they are.

Relationships get into trouble when one party has not yet learned that deep, abiding romantic love does not equal blind approval. Nor does blind approval equal romantic love. They are two separate things--and more often than not--are of necessity mutually exclusive. How can someone say that she loves you truly and just be fine with everything you do no matter how selfish or unthinking?

In my opinion, if a woman thinks your shit don't stink, it means she doesn't care to really know you. The true joy of a lasting relationship is being fully aware of your partner's stink and loving him or her not in spite of, but because of, it. I know my own shit stinks, and I feel blessed and lucky every day that I am loved regardless.

These feelings are at the core of so much infidelity if you think about it. People cheat because they meet someone who "understands" them and "gets" them in a way their spouse or partner seemingly does not. The cheater basks in the glow of all the hallmarks of early-stage relationships where everything about each other is wonderful and awesome and swoony. The cheater feels happy to finally be "approved of." Unfortunately, after ruining the previous, wonderful relationship and now spending nights alone to ponder how it all went so wrong, if the cheater is honest, they know that the approval of the affair only occurred because that person didn't know you well enough to start calling you on your bad behavior. And, furthermore, if you are honest about the people you cheated with, you know that they would have been LONG GONE at the first whiff of your stink.

So what's my point? I hope the three different yet similar guys in each of the struggling relationships lets his wife/girlfriend off the hook of having to love him like a parent. And I hope each of the women finds a way to speak to the men so they know they are always loved, even if not always found charming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Check Out My New Site


By, for and about people living with chronic disease. It's kind of Aplastic Anemia-focused, but is really meant for anyone who deals with the daily crap of a disease. As I get older, I realize that we are quite a sizable group of people and that none of us is alone.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Telly: Another totally fun episode of Las Vegas

Seriously. If you need some mind candy, this is the show. James Caan at his cheesy tough guy best. Josh Duhamel for the ladies. Various chiquitas for the guys. And the best female addition to a TV cast since Stockard Channing as Abby Bartlet: Cheryl Ladd as James Caan's wife.

Cheryl Ladd is the magnetic force around which all my childhood dreams revolved. She was the blond Charlie's Angel which means I mandated that I got to be her when my friends and I pretended to be Charlie's Angels on my street after school. She replaced Farrah, but there was no point in wishing you were Farrah. NOBODY was Farrah. But Cheryl Ladd was pretty in an achievable way. Not that she was achievable, but certainly more within the realm of remote possibility in a way that Farrah was not. She was always in a bikini or in a roller derby outfit or in a 50's diner waitress skimpy outfit. Kind of like Jennifer Garner in Alias, only without the overt a** kicking. I loved Cheryl Ladd. If there is such a thing as a non-sexual crush, I had one for her.

So picture a wee fat Scottish girl on a Scottish street playing private detective with her non-blonde friends, using her finger as a gun, doing that three-way "Freeze!" they all did simultaneously for dramatic effect. Good times, man, good times.

Short Story Long: You know you're old when the hot girl from your beloved childhood TV show is now the MOTHER of this generation's hot girl...

me Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 12, 2004

My Quentin Tarantino Weekend

True confessions: I have never seen Pulp Fiction until tonight. As long as you all have known me, all those times you made some PF reference and I laughed along with you? Yeah, I was pretending. Never knew about "le cheeseburger" or "going medieval on your a**" or "the Wolf" or any of those other touchstones of the movie's popularity. I just pretended to get it because every time I said, "I've actually never seen the movie" I got shouted down: "How can you not have seen Pulp Fiction?! Oh my god! What kind of person has never seen Pulp Fiction?! Where were you when it came out? Out of the country? In a convent?!!" Ad nauseum. Yes, friends, apparently it has been unconscionable for me to have shirked my pop culture responsibilities by not making a point to see this movie. So, as a new member of Netflix, I decided this was the weekend. Bring it on.

But I needed to ease myself into it. I got home last night late from my office holiday party and felt like it was not the time to delve into PF. So I watched Kill Bill Vol 2 instead. I had seen Vol 1 in Vermont back when I was traveling for work and spending my evenings alone in a hotel room. Sad, sad, sad. I know. But I needed entertainment, and since the hotel didn't offer any "adult" fare, I settled for Tarantino instead. Vol 1 was MESSED UP! Which brings us to Vol 2. Much better movie than the first. More story, more background, more action, less stomach-churning gore. Quite enjoyed it. I wasn't sure what to think after having seen Vol 1, but it turned out okay.

Until tonight. I couldn't forestall it anymore. It was time to see Samuel L. Jackson quoting Ezekiel before blowing someone's head off. Time to see Ving Rhames have a bad day with the hillbillies. Time to see Uma in a bad wig. Wow. And what can I say except: Potentially The Most Anti-Climactic Moment of My Life (not including the time in the 80's where my sister and I got excited when my grandmother said that we were related to The Thompson Twins and we immediately had visions of going backstage and meeting their famous friends Boy George and George Michael and The Human League....until she ended the sentence with, "you know the twins: Eddie and Ian." Rock star hopes dashed in a nanosecond. Rock star band replaced by pimply-faced twin Scottish puddings).

But I digress. Back to the anticlimax. Maybe PF was better back in the day? Anyone? I just didn't see tonight why it was considered a tour de force. It was...fine. But no more memorable than, say, Stuart Little or Christmas With The Kranks. Maybe it is the Tarantino reputation? I first saw Reservoir Dogs back in college, where I was astounded at how fantastic a movie could be. The dialogue was snappy and smart, the story was twisted and addictive. I didn't know who Quentin was, but I knew he had talent. Sick, unfortunate, in-need-of-counseling talent, but talent nonetheless. So maybe that's why people love PF? Because they WANT to love PF? I don't know. All I know is that I am dropping that baby back in the mailbox, saying good riddance, and counting the days till The Office: Series One arrives on Wednesday!

The Bush White House: Lies, Lies and More D*mn Lies

Forget Iraq. Forget WMD. Forget Kerik. The latest Bush administration lie is not only monstrous, it is tearing down the wall between church and state and endangering our children to boot. {With thanks to The St. Petersburg Times for the following facts}.

A new congressional report has found that the government's abstinence-only sex education programs are rife with inaccurate and resultingly dangerous information. The government will spend $170 million next year to support abstinence-only education. Many of the recipients of that money will be faith-based organizations. The congressional study, conducted by the Special Investigations Division of the Committee on Government Reform at the behest of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., found "false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health" in more than 80 percent of the most popular abstinence-only curricula.

Much like his Kerik background check and his WMD justification for invading Iraq, the President has once again demonstrated a lazy intellect when it comes to accountability on issues with which he agrees. None of the abstinence-only programs are vetted for accuracy, if you can believe it. House Republicans even voted down a Democratic attempt to require medical accuracy as a prerequisite for receiving the funding.

As a result, young men and women are being told the following monstrous lies under the guise of sex education:

--5 to 10 percent of women who have abortions will become sterile (when there's no correlation between elective abortions and sterility)

--condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission 31 percent of the time (when a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that consistent condom use resulted in a zero transmission rate)

The result is not that young people are scared off sex until marriage. (Even most of those who take virginity pledges engage in premarital sex.) It's that they don't bother taking precautions against sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. They are led to believe that condoms are ineffective.

"We hear from kids all the time about the myths they've been fed," said Marilyn Anderson, director of education at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. "The whole idea is to scare kids and make them think they'll get HIV by having sex. But what's walking into our clinic says that kids are having sex, just without condoms."

Although the federal government has determinedly refused to study whether any correlation exists between teaching abstinence and actual abstinence, the social science that does exist demonstrates very little positive impact. The handful of states that have studied it found no long-term success in delaying sexual initiation. Instead, some state program evaluators said the programs' lack of information on pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases was leading to dangerous attitudes and behaviors.

Bush's push for abstinence-only education is a way to pander to his base. According to Adrienne Verrilli, director of communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the purveyors of these programs are often connected to the antiabortion movement.

It's no surprise, then, that the curricula have also been found to mix religion and science in ways to promote an antiabortion agenda. One course described a blastocyst as a "tiny baby" that "snuggles" into the uterus. Another called a 43-day-old fetus a "thinking person."

In Louisiana, a state-sponsored Web site tells young people that withholding sex until marriage makes one "really, truly, "cool' in God's eyes." And in Florida, the Pinellas Pregnancy Center received more than $300,000 in 2003 and about $200,000 in 2004 in taxpayer money to spread an abstinence-only message in public school health classrooms. They reach between 5,000 and 6,000 students a year this way, according to program coordinator Linda Daniels. The center describes itself as "a faith-based organization that offers a Christian response to the issue of abortion."

Clearly, this administration considers HIV and unplanned pregnancies in today's teens as collateral damage in their larger war on a woman's right to choose. More importantly, as my mom always said, "if you have to lie to get me to side with you, your side must not be very good."

Politics: Kerik's Undocumented Troubles

As you know, Bernard Kerik withdrew his name from consideration for the Director of Homeland Security post due to some potential issues with undocumented household help, as well as, it now turns out, an ongoing civil case regarding an affair with a subordinate.

As I read this story, I had two thoughts:

1) Republicans are currently the most hypocritical group of people on the planet.

Bill Clinton's administration was roundly dismissed as an ineffective, useless and incompetent bunch of chumps when his nominee Zoe Baird encountered the same issue of undocumented household help TEN YEARS AGO. Republican members of Congress could not contain their glee, and ran to any TV camera in sight to say what a blight such a terrible, terrible oversight was on the President and his clearly-struggling White House. Isn't it funny, ten years later when this issue is clearly something you should have handled before you announce a nominee to great fanfare, that this administration is managing to dodge the exact same charges they would have leveled at Clinton by blaming Kerik? Where is the media on this? Can we replay some of the gleefully aghast comments of these senators when it happened to Clinton and ask them why they do not similarly judge the Bush administration?

2) Rich people should know better.

Okay, so I'm currently in my "populist" place, remembering my more humble origins, where the notion of having a nanny was no more realistic than Mary Poppins herself. Where the only person cleaning your house was you. Where you felt bad for kids with nannies (not that I knew any) because it meant, in your mind, that their mom didn't love them enough to make them breakfast herself. I mean, why would you have children and then pay someone to live in your house and watch them? Daycare is one thing, but actually having Alice the Housekeeper in your house doing your laundry?! Man! That only happens on TV! And how would your mom know if you weren't feeling well or weren't eating properly if she wasn't there? Would she just ask the lady she paid to raise you? Who would you cry to and cuddle up with when your tummy hurt? The whole idea was ludicrous in my mind.

So, forgive me for saying that this was my second thought upon hearing the Kerik news. But here's where I was going with that: If you are lucky enough to have the means to have someone cleaning your house for you, don't you think you ought to ensure that they are legal? That they have papers? That you are not inviting some random person into your home near your family and kids?! It's not like you're working three shifts at the supermarket and don't have the time and means to do the research! Is anything more important than making sure you can vouch for the honesty and legality of the person you bring into your home?

Or are you willing to take shortcuts to save a few bucks? Hmm...maybe that qualifies Kerik for the Homeland Security position after all. Although on the other hand, how are you qualified to keep illegal immigrants out of the country if you can't even keep them out of your own home?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Doppelganger Drama

I am writing this while sitting on a flight home from LA where I spent exactly 21 hours on a hastily-assembled business trip. I am sitting across the aisle from a man who so closely resembles Dick Cheney that I keep sneaking furtive glances at him even though I know he is not the Vice President. I wonder if he is used to it by now. I wonder if he even knows, but if he doesn’t see the resemblance himself, I can’t imagine anyone will tell him. How do you tell someone, “I’m sure you’re a nice man, but you look like an overweight, belligerent bald dude and I can’t stop staring at you?”

It reminds me of my first day on the job at a major national nonprofit back in the late 90’s where one of my fellow newbies in the orientation session was a dead ringer for Monica Lewinsky. Like Mr. UnCheney, she was a dead ringer to the extent that I secretly wondered whether she was indeed Ms. Lewinsky, might have had trouble finding employment and so had assumed another name and a new vocation. In the back of my head I knew it was pure fantasy, but it was kind of fun to imagine anyway. Also like Mr. UnCheney, there was NO WAY to tell her about her lookalike. I mean, how do you say that to someone and not just completely ruin her day? "Hi. Nice to meet you. You look exactly like the woman dubbed 'The Portly Pepperpot' by the New York Post. But it looks great on you though!" Yeah..that ain't happenin'.

It’s a tricky business, comparing one person to another. I remember back when I was a chubby kid, my friend’s dad told me that I looked “just like Debbie Reynolds,” which he obviously had meant as a compliment. I didn’t take it as such. First of all I was appalled that I didn’t remind him of Mallory from Family Ties or the eldest daughter from Charles In Charge. Noooo, I had to look like some old lady whose only accomplishment to my knowledge was giving birth to Princess Leia. The good news is I looked like a movie star. The bad news is I looked like a movie star from the 1950s —- 30 years later. Oh the humanity! I was then told a couple of years ago I looked like Anne Heche (immediately post-Ellen, immediately pre-husband and baby), which bummed me out incredibly. I had short hair at the time, so I comforted myself with the thought that maybe it was the fair skin and short blond hair? Right? Right? Cause I don't really look like her, do I? DO I?!! Oh my lord, I look like Anne Heche! I can't go on!

Likewise, I have always told my friend L, who, btw, graciously entertained me last night after my meeting in LA (thanks for the burrito, yo!), that he was a cross between Joaquin Phoenix and Tobey Maguire. I thought, “Now THAT is a compliment, not the least of which is because it’s true.” His reaction? Total offense that I mentioned him and Joaquin Phoenix in the same sentence. Ooops. My bad. I'm thinking there's not a thing wrong and quite a few things right with Mr. Phoenix, but it seems that my understanding of what would be considered good looking was vastly different from his, just as the Anne Heche dude thought he was giving me a compliment.

As I thought about this, I realized that I do the “s/he looks like…” thing a lot. I don’t know why. But I probably should be more careful. I think it’s because, when I’m trying to tell a story about someone, I want to give the listener some sense or taste for the person I’m discussing. For instance, I always describe my father as either a) Mike Myers’ Scottish father in So I Married an Axe Murderer [which is truly a shockingly 100% accurate rendering of my dad in every way] or b) a cross between Buddy Hackett and a non-racist, Scottish Archie Bunker. Not that the description tells you anything concrete, but it gives you a flavor, an essence, a mental and emotional collage as a starting point for understanding the story you’re hearing. But sometimes I can be unintentionally off.

Like the time I described my English friend of Indian descent as "like George Michael, only Indian." Now this was back in the late 80's/early 90's before GM went off the rails and started wearing his Village People couture, back when he was still a teen heart throb. Regardless, my friend questioned me for days about what specific element of his body and face made me think, in his words: "Oh yes! George Michael indeed!" Ooops. *I* thought he was cute, and I was referring to his manner of speaking and his dancing style and oh never mind...

So I am now drafting a list of people whom I should never use as a comparison. Any suggestions? I have so far:

Dom DeLuise
Ed Asner
Gilbert Gottfried
Robert Smith of The Cure
Christina Aguilera
Paris Hilton
Carson Daly
Prince Charles
Kim Jong-Il
Mick Jagger...

Contrary to Popular Belief, Handwashing is Not Optional

If you have not gleaned it from these pages, you haven’t been reading closely enough: public lavatories frighten and confuse me. Perhaps because I am a germophobe.

Phew! There! I said it! It’s out there! I am a germophobe. I worry about E.Coli on almost every surface. I banished antibacterial soaps from my house because they actually contribute to bacterial resistance. I don’t touch the poles on the metro when I commute, and I wash my hands whenever I return home from running errands. Call me OCD, I don’t care.

Having said that, can all people of good hygiene please agree on one thing? “Handwashing” has a specific definition, and if you miss any essential element of that definition, you have not washed your hands. Essential elements: very warm water, soap, friction, time. Soap up, wash your hands vigorously in very warm water, create friction, and do it for at least 15 seconds.

I find it ironic that there is a great national hue and cry about the dearth of available flu vaccines and the consequent deleterious effects on the health and welfare of the public, when no one wants to listen to the simple truth: The best defense against catching a cold, flu or any of the various E.Colis that make you “ride the porcelain bus” for hours on end, is washing your hands properly after touching public spaces and especially after using the bathroom.

Yep, it really is just that simple.

So why do I still see the following types of handwashing malfeasance in public bathrooms (which makes you wonder what people do in their homes when they know that no one is watching them):

1) The Opt-Out. This is the most brazen of all handwashing crimes. Like that “Poppy’s Pizza” episode of Seinfeld, the person just leaves the bathroom with not a thought to washing their hands. It blows my mind when I see this and wonder what kind of parents the Opt-Outer has. Male or female, I think we can agree that the Opt-Out is disgusting. Total time: 0 seconds.

2) The Dabble. You know you’ve seen this one: you run your hands under the water, flick your fingers around a little bit to imitate the motions of actual handwashing, then leave. Makes the person think they’ve washed their hands when they have simply wet their hands. Total time: 6 seconds.

3) The Soapy Dabble. Slightly better than #2, but still only superficial: you put soap on your hands, run them under the water, flick your fingers around a little bit to imitate the motions of actual handwashing, then leave. The use of soap also makes the person think they have washed their hands when they have simply given the bacteria on their hands a nice, relaxing bubble bath that gets them in the mood to reproduce. Total time: 8 seconds.

4) The Thumbless. I busted MYSELF doing this one not long ago. When you wash your hands, check to see if you make a point of washing your thumbs. Probably not, right? Blue light tests of people who had just washed their hands showed a markedly higher level of bacteria on the backs of people’s thumbs than on their hands and fingers precisely because we don’t think to really focus on them. Total time: 6-8 seconds.

5) The Nice Try But No Cigar. You wash your hands properly but then you turn off the faucet with your hand rather than with the paper towel. I'll give you a second to wonder why.....okay...because what turns the faucet ON? The pre-wash/just out of the toilet/germy hand which you have just re-infected after doing such a nice handwashing job.

6) The Two Steps Back. Whether with a proper handwashing, a Dabble, a Soapy Dabble or a Thumbless, the Two Steps Back occurs when the person washes their hands and then puts them under one of those hot air dryers that many restrooms have instead of paper towels, ostensibly for “sanitary reasons.” You’ll be interested to know that those hot air dryers are not hot enough to kill any bacteria on your hands, and in fact are at the perfect temperature for bacteria multiplication. Tests have shown increased bacterial levels on hands dried under the hot air compared with those dried with towels. Whenever I travel and there is only an air dryer available, I just smile and tell myself , “That’s what jeans were invented for.” Total time: depends if you shake, air dry, or jeans dry.

So there it is. A Handwashing Litany of Shame. Have I missed any? These are all based, obviously, on my Jane Goodall-esque anthropological studies of ladies rooms. I’m not sure if mens rooms see any different behavior. Gentlemen?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Because Grandpas are Special

For your eyes only (wink wink), and because we know that you would deplore and disapprove of any fanfare, folderol or hoopla, we will simply say:


Nostalgia: The Past, Only Better.

Depending on where you see it, the definition of nostalgia is one of the following:

The good old days multiplied by a bad memory.

[n] a feeling of remembering the past as a happy time


longing for something past

I am feeling somewhat partial to the first one. I was leaving my gym yesterday when I passed in the lobby a Latino man with one of those vacuum cleaner backpack thingies on his back while he, obviously, vacuumed the lobby. Without having any idea where it came from, I heard myself say, "Man! I wish we had those in the 80's!" This was immediately followed by a rush of somewhat crappy memories and an equal rush of somewhat happy nostalgia.

Back in the day, my dad's second job was as the sexton of the presbyterian church. It was his job to ready the building for Sunday services, including the sanctuary, kitchens, classrooms and social halls, as well as any other events during the week. It was a classic job for immigrants, which I sometimes have to pinch myself and remember that we were.

The crappy memories were of having to spend my Friday nights at the church vacuuming every damn inch of it--ALL of which was lushly maroon-carpeted. I could hang out with friends on Saturday nights, but Fridays were family night at the church. My dad mercifully didn't make us clean the toilets or restock the toilet paper, but each of the kids had a job to do because the building was so big and it all had to be spotless and ready to go on Sunday morning. (I will spare you the details of the hell that was our life on a Saturday night--after a Saturday wedding--to get it re-cleaned for the next day...).

Anyway, when I saw the man with the vacuum cleaner backpack, and the rest of my gym members who almost didn't even notice his existence except to ensure they didn't walk right into him, I felt my throat catch. I knew that feeling: "Don't mind me, I'm the apparition cleaning up after you; I may or may not actually exist as a human. Feel free to be the only other person in the room with me while still managing to somehow not acknowledge my presence." If you haven't ever had that feeling, I highly recommend it. I assure you that you will never look right through another human being again simply because they are doing some kind of manual labor that you know that somewhere in your heart of hearts you thank god you yourself don't have to do for a living. {Who knows? Maybe that's why we avoid the social contact?}

So that's the crappy part. But like I said, the crappy memories of second jobs and embarrassing work hours with my parents instead of fun hours with my friends was immediately followed by a tremendous nostalgia for precisely those days.

We would sometimes go to the Y Family Swim before going to work on Friday nights, so we'd vacuum and mop with wet hair and tell tall tales about who was lamest in the water (me) and who was the best cannonball diver (my brother) and who was just so bored with the whole thing regardless(my sister). I would turn on the sound system and "test" it by singing songs like Dream On by Aerosmith or Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics to my audience of four relatives. My mom would then tell me to stop playing with something that is not a toy and get back to work. The three kids would then offer to mop the social hall (which contained a piano) so that my brother could play chopsticks and his one other tune which I think consisted of about 15 minutes of only the opening piano riff of Don't Stop Believin' by Journey. Then, come 9 or 10pm, we'd head home. All done till Sunday night when my Dad and Mom would head back to do it all over again. We got a reprieve due to it being a school night.

Even as I am writing that I am thinking, "Man, that SUCKED! I shoulda been at the mall with my friends! My parents should have been home relaxing after a week at their other full-time jobs." And yet something about seeing that man with his vacuum cleaner backpack made me long for it. Not, of course, for the work and the angst and the hassle and the embarrassment of having your classmates see you cleaning their church floors, but for the family time, the stupid sibling time, the opportunity to play a piano which we would never otherwise have had access to, the opportunity to learn the following valuable lessons:

1) There is never any shame in doing any job well. Especially if it supports your family and pays your bills.

2) I am more than what someone thinks I am at first look. You might think I am the mop girl, or [in college] where I am the cafeteria worker girl and the print shop girl. You can treat me and characterize me however you want to, but just because YOU say it's so, don't make it so.

3) I am lucky beyond measure. I look around at my life today and cannot believe that I am where I am. I make more money alone than my parents did combined... ever...and they put three of us through college! I work hours that I choose, on projects that I like, and I don't really USE public toilets, much less clean them.

3) Nobody is "just" anything. No one is Just The Mailman. Or Just The Janitor. Or Just The Housekeeper. Or Just the Mechanic...Or Just The Sexton. For just a moment, picture the quality of your life without Just The Garbageman or Just The Janitor or Just The Roto Rooter Man. They seem kind of important now, don't they?

4) A cleaning burden shared is a cleaning burden halved, especially if you're jammin' to Don't Stop Believin' while you work.

5) If they'd ever let me set foot back in that church and get up on that microphone, I'd rock the holy hizzouse!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Smorgasbord: Oral B Brush Ups

Stop me if you've heard this already: Oral B is now selling pseudo-toothbrushes in the form of little covers that fit over your finger to enable public and anytime toothbrushing.

Okay. Can we discuss this before anyone actually does this? Please? Is this what we need as a citizenry? Are we so busy that we can't actually conduct our ablutions in the privacy of our own home anymore? I've gotta sit on the Metro and watch someone "brush" their teeth on their way to work? What kind of primordial civilization are we creating here? What's next? People just pooping their pants on the train? Shaving your legs in the car on the way to work? Stop the madness!!!

My first encounter with Brush-Ups was in LA a few weeks ago. In the Crown Room bathroom there was a woman using one of them. I intentionally didn't pay too much attention because I have a notorious gag-reflex when watching other people brush their teeth. I don't know what it is. I can see nose picking, I can smell--and then laugh at--the worst brand of fart my brother [or others--you know who you are!] can deliver, I can clip someone's toenails, but dear lord help me if I see someone brushing their teeth. Seriously. At the first sight of the toothpaste coming out of someone's mouth, I just start gagging.

I learned about my gag reflex at Girl Scout camp in 1981 in New Hampshire. It was tres rustic: pit toilets, log cabins, and a huge trough with multiple spigots for us to all brush our teeth and wash up. The first night we all gathered round the trough to brush up for bed. And so it began. Gag-o-rama.

I think there are a few elements of the gag that can be explained:

#1: The Froth. Seeing the toothpaste froth, a phenomenon I have never understood, is the primary gag inducer. Your teeth are INSIDE your mouth, so why is the toothpaste seeping OUT of your mouth? It's called a "dime-sized" amount of toothpaste on the brush for a reason, people!

#2: The Mirror Gaze. Seeing someone gazing at themselves while frothing and brushing is like a Creature Double Feature. Gag-o-Rama in stereo.

#3: The Tongue Brush and Gag: My senior year of college (where we had co-ed bathrooms), this one guy, Bill, would perpetrate not only #s 1 and 2, but also the dreaded and revolting #3. He would brush his tongue all the way back into his throat and then gag into the sink. And it wasn't just a quiet little mini-gag; it was a sound akin to Chewbacca when the Millennium Falcon was being attacked by TIE fighters; you know, that Ghhraaaaaahhhahhaaaagggghhhhhh noise that tells you there was some serious epiglottal contact.

#4: Even writing this. I've gotta stop. Bleeah.

Short Story Long: Brush you teeth, comb your hair, put on your makeup, shave your face, clip your nails and put lotion on your stanky feet at home. Please. Thank you. And to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Smorgasbord: On the Subject of Religion...

That last post has got me thinking/percolating/mulling about religion in general. Religion fascinates me because, with perhaps the exception of ethnicity or tribal loyalties, it is the single most powerful force for both good and evil on the face of the earth. Some people might argue that religion is also wrapped up in the issues of ethnicity and tribal loyalty too, making them but two sides of the same coin.

When I think about religion in the way God may have intended it I think about those people who rise to a difficult task in the service of a greater good, whether they were "religious" or not. Moses, Gandhi, Queen Esther (yeah, I gotta plug my namesake), Oskar Schindler, and all of the others that mean the most to you and your faith.

[I'm being careful to word that so it's clear that I have no earthly idea what "God intended" by any of his works; the cockroach, that vertical ridge between your nose and top lip, male nipples and Yanni being perfect examples of His wondrous creative inscrutability).

Anyway, maybe because I'm a politically-minded person, a lover of great oratory, or just a DC denizen who walks past the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool weekly, I think about Martin Luther King, Jr. who peacefully changed centuries of institutionalized racism through his deep faith and active religious belief. He personifies Faith In Action, which to me means the exact opposite of public, self-conscious, stiff-necked observance to some set of biblical or oral principles; it means actually living the teachings of your faith rather than talking about how good you are for believing the teachings of your faith. Maybe that is why even today, in 2004, I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I hear him speak from a .wav file:

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, and rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight,and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together...When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

In the same measure, I could provide a litany of quotes that demonstrate the evil and divisive use of religion. But that would be tedious and depressing to catalog, not to mention for you to read. Besides, I think we all know by now how truly dangerous humans are when they start to believe that God is "on their side": Crusades, Jihad, Inquisition, Blood Libel, Nazism, you name it. We all know the terrible costs on a macro scale of humans co-opting (or demonizing) a religion for their own purposes, so I'll ask you to forgive me for not detailing it here. I'll just give you a nugget from Mark Twain, who sums it all up nicely:

Man is the religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion –- several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.

What saddens me more than the large-scale, human-tragedy, genocidal type of results from religious practice, are the smaller-scale, everyday mini-tragedies that come from one person believing that he or she has "the answer" and that you are somehow "less than" because you don't happen to share that "answer."

Think about Moses who said when God called him, "I am not eloquent or a man of words...for I am slow of speech and have a heavy and awkward tongue." Or Jeremiah who said to paraphrase, "Can't help you, God, I'm just a youth." Or Esther, who didn't know if she had it in her to save her people, had to be told, "Who knows but that you were brought to your position for just this reason and just this time?" What these people had in common was an immediate feeling that they were not up to the task, that they were lowly, humble, defective humans who couldn't imagine how they would be of any use to God or his children.

Now compare them to the Most Religious Person you know. Whether it's on TV, like my personal favorites Jack and Rexella Van Impe (cable access, always preaching Revelation and Armageddon, bless their little brimstone hearts), or in your own church, temple or house. Name the key difference. Yep. "Religious" people always feel uniquely qualified to tell you what you are doing wrong, to take issue with your particular religious practice, and to make a big show of their own piety and observance, never noticing your etiquette in reserving judgment of THEM. We have all worked, lived with and sometimes been raised by these dear souls. We have a love/hate connection with them, don't we? We love them as people but find them insufferable on more than a few levels. We intentionally talk around certain topics so as not to enter into a debate to the death on some small point of theology over a nice dinner. We allow them to "share" their beliefs with us, and never once ask that they allow us to share ours with them. For "religious" people, it is always a one-way dialogue. J and I had to stop hanging out with one particular friend who could not stop himself from "sharing" the gospel of Jesus Christ with us every time we saw him. A couple of times, hey, he's just excited about his beliefs. A couple more times, and you realize that that person sees you as an empty vessel into which he feels compelled to channel his religious fervor. Um, no thanks. We have plenty of friends who like us just the way we are, thank you.

Anyway, I need to get back to work, so let me end this magnum opus with this: if your religion separates you from those who love you, if it causes you to judge people you used to love unconditionally, if it makes you feel superior to others--either in your own religion or in another, if it seeks to ever-so-innocuously reduce the circumference of your life until you can associate only with people just like you, I would say the following (on behalf of Thomas Jefferson):

"I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be judged."

Can I get an AMEN!!???

Telly: Suppression of Inclusive Religion

The following post can be found at My response is below it.

My Church Is Being Suppressed by Agencies of the Federal Government: CBS & NBC

CBS, NBC have refused to air the United Church of Christ's television advertisement highlighting Jesus' inclusive and universal welcome to service because they deem the ad as 'too controversial'. The advertisement is set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ (UCC) seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation. See the UCC ad for yourself at StillSpeaking.

The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run the 30-second television ad from the UCC because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial." In a written statement, CBS explains the ad is being denied "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

A similar statement of rejection from NBC labeled the spot as "too controversial."
Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry pointed out inescapable ironies:
We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line.
Former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication addressed the source of the problem: The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious affirmation in jeopardy. By refusing to air the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling religious worship. They are denying the communities they serve a suitable access to differing ideas and culture.

Is this what life in the Theocratically United States of America will be like?

Wow. This is shocking. And yet not surprising. Here in the United States we have a very adolescent approach to issues of sexuality. Young girls can be hypersexualized for our viewing pleasure (Olsen twins, Britney about 6 years ago, anyone?), promiscuous sex and disrespect/degradation can be seen on just about ANY reality TV show except for maybe The Amazing Race, female athletes have to get their tits out for FHM or Maxim in order to be noticed by the culture at all, and yet we can't have condom commercials, we can't talk intelligently about contraception in any televised forum, and now a church can't say "welcome everyone!"???

It drives home the truth: that conservatives want prayer in schools only if it's THEIR prayer. They want greater attention given to religion, only if its THEIR religion. And now the media is so cowed by the conservatives that they won't even take money to air a religious message? Insane. Because they definitely won't turn down Bud Light's money to show half naked women mud wrestling over a beer.

As my dad says, "These are the antics of a dying nation." Heaven help us.