Thursday, December 10, 2009

The commandment that comes with an asterisk

Something occurs to me, reading headlines about teabag wingnuts and their consistently outrageous claims about President Obama.

These allegations are obviously lies. Sure, some of these people are truly around the bend -- especially those who have access to little more than a keyboard, and dutifully forward the wacky reforwarded e-mails they get from equally confused, pathetic people such as themselves. They sometimes don't know better, by virtue of insufficient education, low IQ, and/or social insulation. Sometimes they do know better, deep down, but it's easier to remain ignorant.

But then you have the people who promulgate this garbage.
Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bob, the Polish Porn Enthusiast

Bob was a friend-of-a-friend. The friend who introduced us was a co-worker of my ex-husband Doug. Let's call him PV. PV was a social engineer long before Facebook. He absolutely loved creating connections between people. "Oh, do you know so-and-so? Let me introduce you." I think PV envisioned his friends as a collection, all displayed together artfully on a shelf. The only problem was, many of PV's friends had strange quirks, and they didn't mix well together. PV was the sort of person who could subtly alter his personality to harmonize with whoever he was spending time with at the moment. Not everyone can do this. So PV's attempts to create little subsets of friends usually failed in the end. There was the added factor of PV's propensity toward gossip. If he could get friend A to move in with friend B, sooner or later he'd do his very best to get the "dirt" on friend A from friend B or vice versa.

Doug and I moved from New York to Atlanta in the mid-1980s, and PV followed a few months later, for the same reason we did: job changes and a lower cost of living. PV lived with us for a few months, then got his own place. After a few years, he met the lady he later married. She was an eminently level-headed and sensible person, but even she needed a few years to wean PV off his never-ending frat party, the mad social carousel.

PV came to like the south quite a bit and did his best to persuade his old NY friends to relocate. A few did, but most either declined, or they moved briefly to Georgia, found it very much not to their liking, and high-tailed it back to the frozen north. Bob the Polish Porn Enthusiast belonged in the latter category.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Catching Myself in a Classic Lie, Part 2

Continued from the previous post: Why did I write “He paints the sky with stars” on the Facebook page of a respected non-theist who died earlier this year?

First off, the line comes from the title of a song by Enya. I listen to a lot of Enya, on Rhapsody and Pandora, as well as in the car. There are days when a good dose of “Only If” is the one thing that can ward off creeping depression. Enya is the sort of music you either love or hate. It’s perfectly formulated, commercially viable Celtic/New Age. It does exactly what the genre is set up to do. It calms, it soothes, it puts your mind at ease.

During my days as a believing Christian, I heard plenty of ominous statements about New Age, mainly that it was a “gateway” to occult or satanic practices. People like Bob Larson said it was “trance-channeling” music; he linked New Age with Hinduism, Buddhism, transcendental meditation, mind control, brainwashing and subliminal programming, all of which – and much more – are believed by fundamentalists to be in direct opposition to scriptural Christian doctrine. The list goes on and on.
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Catching Myself in a Classic Lie, Part 1

Note: The quotes contained in this post are not verbatim, but accurate enough to convey what the speaker was attempting to say.

A very unscientific survey seems to confirm that 2009 has been a year of loss for a lot of people. We’ve had a rash of very high-profile celebrity deaths, and the pattern seems to be present for many closer to home, myself included.

In addition to my brother-in-law, who died about six and a half months ago, there have been numerous passings at the Unitarian Universalist church I attend. Shortly after I joined, the minister said to a group of us, “These next few years are bound to be tough ones for this congregation – many of our most active members are also our oldest, and I anticipate conducting a continual series of memorial services.” That prediction took a couple of years to come true, but now it has. We’ve lost close to half a dozen this year. It’s stressful for everyone.

One member whose death has especially touched me was Bill, who would have been 81 today. Bill’s passion was membership, though during his many years, he was a willing participant in nearly every aspect of church life. Bill was invariably the first person a visitor would meet, as was the case with me. Even though it was summer and the minister wasn’t there, Bill was, in his requisite tweed blazer with patches on the elbows. In a place where many attendees arrive in shorts, flip-flops, and kilts, piercings and tattoos blaring forth, Bill was always impeccably groomed. In spite of his relatively small stature, his bearing was one of authority and dignity. Bill knew everything there was to know about making a good first impression.

“What did you think of it?” he asked as I stood in the fellowship area with my coffee cup that first time. When I replied with my favorable views, he smiled and said, “Well, just keep in mind that it’s going to be a little bit different every time you come here. You won’t be bored.”
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Meme

Bad-Tempered Zombie, Professor B. Worm and Wandering Coyote have all stepped up to the plate on this meme, which comes highly recommended for People Who Can't Think of Anything to Blog About.
This may also come in handy as an insomnia remedy. You never know:

50 Things I Have Never Had:
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too Compulsive? Not Enough? Hell If I Know!

I spent about an hour today with this little red notebook I have. It's spiral-bound, lined, perforated and hole-punched, and I've had it for about 2 and a half years. My goal was to record daily events and also to house keepsakes such as movie tickets, programs, etc. to keep sort of a 3-dimensional record of my daily activities.

Today I decided to ditch the scribbles and just use it as a scrapbook.

A quick side-note: People either love scrapbooking or hate it. Those who love it are among those who turned "scrapbook" into a verb not all that long ago. I personally have no time or use for the type of activity that involves buying little cutout frames for a scrapbook.
Click Here to Read More..

Monday, October 05, 2009

I may be wimpy and inarticulate, BUT...

...I can still promote better, braver bloggers here.

Better, Braver Blogger #1: P.Z. Myers tells us why he's not about to become a "nicer" atheist:

Better, Braver Blogger #2: Lugosi
Actually, I got braver than usual on Facebook this weekend and managed not to back down from a controversy.

Lugosi posted this great satire on the healthcare debate, including a reworked version of that infamous "Obamacare" witch-doctor poster.

"Reworked version" is in bold italics because, when I reposted it, a friend glanced at the picture and made the assumption that I was presenting from the "anti" side of the room. It was the most controversy I've ever had on my Facebook page -- it was so exciting!! In the end, everybody blew air kisses and made up and had coffee, and the best thing was, people read the piece and laughed and learned. Great way to start out a week.
I hoist my coffee mug to the better, braver bloggers I'm privileged to know.
Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Decades, Two Disasters

My sister-in-law Brenda was flooded out of her ground-floor apartment near Atlanta during the heavy rains earlier this week. In addition to the water, there was also runoff from a nearby sanitation facility, so everything the water touched is a total loss. We have photos of rooms where the waterline is halfway between the floor and the ceiling. A refrigerator was tipped over.

Brenda was living with her two daughters, both in their 20s now, and one daughter's two children, both under the age of 5. They have moved temporarily to stay with Brenda's oldest daughter and her 9-year-old. Brenda's on disability, and given their living situation, we expect they'll be able to get assistance from FEMA.

Ironically, this is the second time something like this has happened to Brenda. The time before was 10 years ago, almost to the day. That time, she took a vacation with her daughters and returned home to discover her house burned to the ground as the result of an electrical fire. Once again, they moved in with the oldest daughter.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Of TV and Comedy, Pratfalls and Walnuts

[Edited to add, months later:  Apparently I'm the only person on the planet who didn't know what "jumping the shark" means -- I could have trimmed this post considerably by simply using that phrase.  Live & learn, I guess.]

My husband Carl watches reruns of Family Matters in the mornings. The sound effects are unmistakable -- the dulcet tones of Urkel and the audience members with their high-pitched "Woooooooooo!" every time two cast members kiss or even make reference to the topic of sex (in this case, the key word was "lipstick." Whatever...).

Hearing those sounds this morning gave rise to a lot of random thoughts about comedy and TV.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Religion Explained. Finally. Now I Can Go Eat Some Soup.

Found at: Click Here to Read More..

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Big Brother" apparently wasn't Garrido's keeper

First, my "no-news" update:
Nothing stopped me from posting during the last week, other than busyness and lack of subject matter. I did cut back substantially on consumption of news, but there was no way I could miss the death of Ted Kennedy (and of Dominick Dunne) or the resurfacing of Jaycee Dugard.

I did keep NPR turned off for most of my daily 90-minute commute and enjoyed some oldies from the 1970s. Any news-perusal skirted subjects that seem to induce the most stress, and gave me an opportunity to analyze exactly which subjects fall into that category. It appears that issues that stem from religion-based ideology are the ones that push my buttons. This includes large swaths of Asia, Africa and South America; the health-care debate; prison reform, and workers' rights, to name but a few.

It helped my frame of mind - a little, so I may continue this routine for awhile.

Now, onto Jaycee. The more reports I read about this case, the more stupefied I become.

Sex offenders: They have to register; they get their names published on lists; they get hounded from one neighborhood to another, even if their "offense" has nothing to do with endangering the welfare of anybody. But, with all that, with all the news the subject generates, here we have a monster who got away with imprisoning and impregnating a child for nearly 20 years, even though the authorities knew exactly where he lived. The neighbors even knew he was a registered sex offender, yet they said nothing when they saw three young girls out on the front lawn! Hello??? Isn't the whole point of the whole "registered sex offender in your neighborhood" campaign that they should not be anywhere near children? And yet, the neighbor said "We just thought the kids were his sister's." SO WHAT? If that were the case, the "sister" would have been in violation of the law for bringing children there, if only someone had reported it. And if someone had really checked.

Why is our justice system so dysfunctional? Why did it take two almost-rookie campus cops to run a background check, followed by the guy practically turning himself in? He walked into someone's office and basically said "Hi, I'd like you to meet my bitches." He never moved from his house; all the parole officer and sheriff's deputies had to do was walk through the yard. With everyone raving and ranting about Google Earth violating our privacy and government knowing too much about us, with all these vast resources available, Garrido was sitting there on a platter, running a business, writing a blog, practically screaming to the authorities, Hey, here I am -- I'm a criminal with a twisted past. Would someone please come over and check on me?

I hope this case wakes some people up and brings about changes. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, August 21, 2009

Could "no news" be good news?

Since earliest childhood, I've prided myself on keeping up with current events. My mom always had a transistor radio on the kitchen table, and our stations were WHLI in Hempstead and WINS Newsradio. In grades one through four, everyone had to bring in a daily clipping from the paper. We all got Weekly Reader or Young Citizen. Not knowing or caring about what was happening on the local, state, national or international levels was unacceptable to me.

Still is.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bedtime, Sunday

Hope everyone has had a decent weekend. It seemed to go by quickly, didn't it? Relatively slow on the news, as well, and wasn't that a relief?

Busy couple of church-days, but still got all the domestic stuff done.

Messed up something in my back yesterday and shambled around like Igor both days. It feels better now, and I'm looking forward to using my massaging seat cushion in the car for the 40-minute drives to and from work.

Here's to a productive and satisfying week for all. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Post Needs a Title

I caught this online yesterday while at work and e-mailed it to myself to avoid forgetting or losing it.

It's a long article that covers a lot of ground. I'm glad the writer got paid for ruminating publicly about so many of the issues that we, who grew up in religious households, grapple with here and elsewhere. For the first half of the article, I found myself nodding:

In other words, maybe it wasn't prayer that made my dad better -- maybe it was all that chemo. Or the scope with tiny scissors that removed nine moldy tumors from his bladder without his even having to check in to the OR. Or the meticulous doctor who managed his case with such vigilance.

I guess that "maybe" should have tipped me off, because when she gets within 4 or 5 paragraphs of the end, she drops the ball, and it rolls rapidly downhill from there:

Regardless of where I am on the spectrum from atheism to theism, I'd rather my girls be grounded in something, even something that seems too good or crazy to be true.

It seems to me that she's allowing her fear of losing her parents (and perhaps their love) to push her toward a more theistic view. Quite bluntly, she's willing to offer her children's intellectual integrity as some propitiating sacrifice to God -- "just in case he's really there..."

A classic case of what Sam Harris illustrates on page 39 in The End of Faith:

Clearly, the fact of death is intolerable to us, and faith is little more than the shadow cast by our hope for a better life beyond the grave.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

School (Daze)

I had an epiphany last night -- while doing some filing, I ran across a folder containing all my school records.

Fifteen years ago or more, I took all the original report cards that my mother had saved and transcribed them onto a word processor. Then I printed it. Everything from kindergarten through 12th grade -- actual subjects, then such measures as "makes good effort," "plays well with others," etc. How many absences I had, and so forth. I also saved most of my grades from the two colleges I attended between 1976 and 1986 (one full-time, the other evenings).

Grades in math and related subjects were consistently soft, around a C or a 75 in most cases (we used letter grades in elementary school, then switched to numerical in 7th grade). That was the pattern that persisted all the way through college. Of course, in college, I had a dandy little safety valve called an "incomplete," and I took a lot of those before managing to pass statistics. I have one D throughout my entire academic career, and no F's.

The math didn't surprise me, but here and there I would run into a 75 in science, or even social studies. And last night, as I sat there looking at these things, I found myself thinking such thoughts as "That's unacceptable." Bottom line is, those C grades showed where I just didn't make the effort and didn't push myself, because I could have done better.

The surprise was my disapproval of these grades. At some previous time, I would have shrugged and said "Oh well...I ended up with a final grade of B," or "There was probably something going on in my life that I don't remember now," or some other excuse for mediocre performance. But I've noticed that during the last 6 years or so, my approach has shifted from doing what was required to attain a minimum standard and keep people off my back, to setting the standards myself. I think those low grades in science and social studies bother me because I KNOW I had it in me to pull A's and B's.

All of this matters because I'm planning to go back to school and get that damn Bachelor's degree once my finances have stabilized a bit. I've gotten information on several schools, both local and online, and am starting to visualize what the process will entail. I no longer want to "just get the piece of paper," as I've been saying for so long. I want to get the piece of paper after having turned in a good performance to earn it. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Breaking Through Silences

I'm cursed with a long memory that allows me to revisit unpleasant moments from long ago and get upset about them all over again.

The encounters that are most likely to come back and haunt me are those in which I have allowed myself to be rendered mute. That would seem almost counter-intuitive. Certainly, there are plenty of episodes in which I shot my mouth off and caused problems for myself, but even in those cases, my words kept the conversation moving toward a resolution, for better or for worse.

It's the times where I said nothing and walked away because I couldn't sort it out in my head fast enough that leave me with that indelible aftertaste of frustration. What lingers is that feeling, if only I could have gotten the words out and made the other person understand me, it would have had a better outcome.

One incident I remember: This was way back in my freshman year of college, at the Rathskellar (doesn't every college have a Rathskellar, and why is that?...). It was peak lunch hour and crowded. I saw a small table with four chairs -- three were empty and one woman was sitting by herself.

I approached the table and asked the standard question that people I'd grown up with and gone to high school with always asked: "Is somebody sitting here?" Or, to be more precise, "Somebody sittin' here?"

What the question meant was, "Is one or more other person(s) with you, just not in the immediate vicinity, who will return from getting food and be dismayed if they find that I am sitting in the chair that they had reserved for themselves? In other words, I need a place to sit; this chair looks empty, but I am inquiring of you as to whether this is the case? Will I be able to sit at this table and eat my lunch, or will my food get cold and probably spill onto the floor as I wander around trying to find another place to sit down?"

The answer I expected from the woman was either "My friend(s) will be back in a minute, sorry," or "No, have a seat." In other words, I was welcome, or I wasn't. I could have dealt with either one.

Instead, the woman looked at me and replied "Yes, somebody's sitting here." She wore a small smile when she said it.

I had absolutely no way to reply to that; I was utterly tongue-tied. Words were flying back and forth through my mind, of course:

Okay, are you trying to tell me I insulted you with my question, which sounded like I was implying that no human being ("somebody") is sitting at this table, when obviously you are?

Or are you answering my question the same way anybody in high school might, meaning yes, somebody (else) is coming back any second and therefore I can't have their chair? Is it three other somebodies who will need all the chairs, or just the somebody who would most likely be wanting to sit in the chair closest to me?

But the way she just answered with that one statement, and fixed her steady, small-smile gaze on me completely unnerved the unsophisticated 18-year-old me and conjured up all those high school moments of being told I wasn't welcome at the cool kids' table. I stared back at her for what seemed like a really long time, hoping she might clarify the statement (of course she didn't), or that I would figure out a good answer (I didn't), and then just silently turned away and went somewhere else. I don't remember now whether I did find another seat somewhere or stood over the trash receptacle and wolfed my lunch, or maybe took it outside. All I remember is the woman, the look on her face, what she said, and what I didn't say.

Nowadays, happily, I'd have handled it much differently. First, I'd have asked "Is there a space for me to sit here?" or something more specific and less Long Island than "Somebody sittin' here?" College was where I began to meet people who weren't from my lower middle-class hometown, who were better-spoken and better-mannered.

And even if I'd kept the same opening and gotten that "Yes, somebody's sitting here" answer, I'd have the words to break through: "Well, you certainly are sitting here. What's your name? I'm Volly," with an offered handshake as my Philly Cheesesteak slid gracefully off the tray and onto the floor, inducing guilt and forcing her to offer me a seat at her table.

I'd also have come up with something like "It sure is crowded here," or some other standard conversational opener. And even if she'd flat-out rebuffed me, that would have been okay too. Especially if we were here in the South. I could have told her to "have a blessed day" before walking off.

But those moments when someone else's words blocked my own are the ones that fill me with a lot of anger -- always toward myself, of course. Anger that I didn't do my job and come to my own defense, whatever the circumstances. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's Almost Funny

On another online venue, I posted a cryptic little two-liner about "certain people" who treat others badly. So happens (as it often does) that I was referring to my boss, The Scorpion Queen. There was no reason to be specific, and since it is a semi-private social networking site, I deliberately refrained from "naming names" or providing more detail. My reference was general enough that many others reading it could relate. Many did. The responses varied from "me too" to "having a bad day, are we?" to "karma will kick their butts sooner or later," etc.

Well, some people are awfully paranoid. One of those is my ex. After months of blessed silence from the lad, I started getting snarky online posts and e-mails from him. After a bit of bewildered back-and-forth on a range of topics, Doug finally got to the point of his strange demeanor. He had read my post on the social networking site and instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was referring to him.

Several responses came to mind, but maybe the St. John's Wort has been doing me more good than I realized. I managed to remain friendly and matter-of-fact, and assured him that the wellspring of that post was my working environment, and that he could expect plenty more in that vein, due to an overwhelming need to vent as an alternative to doing something that might land me on the six o'clock news.

I have often been struck by the bizarre similarities between my ex-husband and my late mother. One of those parallels was a tendency to assume that any cryptic thing I might write was a reference to them. Mom read one of my youthful short stories (without my permission) and lambasted me for describing her as "plump and matronly." There was no convincing her that I had Sada Thompson in mind when I wrote it. And now, 32 years later, here's Doug, channeling Mom.

And betraying his guilty conscience in the bargain... Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Other Victims of the Right-wing Hate Machine

This report from the Southern Poverty Law Center was the last thing I read before going to bed late last night, and it popped out at me first thing this morning.

One excerpt in particular struck me:

April 4, 2009
Three Pittsburgh police officers — Paul Sciullo III, Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly — are fatally shot and a fourth, Timothy McManaway, is wounded after responding to a domestic dispute at the home of Richard Andrew Poplawski, who had posted his racist and anti-Semitic views on white supremacist websites. In one post, Poplawski talks about wanting a white supremacist tattoo. He also reportedly tells a friend that America is controlled by a cabal of Jews, that U.S. troops may soon be directed against American citizens, and that he fears a ban on guns was coming. Poplawski later allegedly tells investigators that he fired extra bullets into the bodies of two of the officers "just to make sure they were dead" and says he "thought I got that one, too" when told that the fourth officer survived. More law enforcement officers are killed during the incident than in any other single act of violence by a domestic political extremist since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Here's the thing: I frequent a local message forum. It's a mixed bag of media veterans, minor celebrities, entrepreneurs, low-level politicians, stay-at-home moms, retired people, and just regular workin' folk.

Oh, and law enforcement. Mustn't forget the LEO's. There are at least four in our group, perhaps two to three more who don't post as frequently. We have a moderator for all LE-related topics; one who's sort of a philosopher and a brilliant writer; and then, well, we've got two other guys.

The moderator and the writer, I've met. Both relatively young, both married (neither for the first time); both have children. One actually has a child less than a year old. Their genuine dedication to their families and their jobs, and by extension, to the rest of us, can't be doubted. I have a lot of respect for both of them. Overall, their political leanings are conservative. I don't think it's possible to be effective in law enforcement unless you've got that mindset: The rules are made to be followed, if the law isn't respected all you get is anarchy, you can't be soft on crime, etc. etc.

However, the thing I sense about the moderator and the writer is their essential humanity and kindness. Neither of these guys is a bully. They may be cynics, but they have enough broad experience in the world to understand that "bad guys" come in all stripes and a measure of impartiality includes the notion that not even someone you think of as "respectable" is immune to sliding toward the dark side, under the right circumstances.

Now the other two guys, the ones I haven't met, are both prolific posters. I realize that the forum is an outlet of sorts. The writer has a better one: He actually gets paid to submit columns (under a pseudonym) to the newspaper, and he's earned accolades just in the year he's been doing it. We feel like he's "ours" and we're proud of him. But these other two specialize only in snarky one-liners and opinions that often come very close to hate speech.

This isn't a big city, so every one of these guys has worked the area I call home. What strikes me is, the latter two most assuredly harbor a lot of the "us vs. them" mindset that trickles down from the alleged minds of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly - the idea that only whites really have it together; that minorities are more prone to drug use and crime; that we need a strong military-style government in charge and it should be based on very conservative Christian values.

What inspired me to even write this was a clip someone posted featuring Glenn Beck speaking to Ron Paul about the whole "one world government/Federal Reserve at the center of everything/they're taking over and no one is doing anything about it" trip. And just as predictable as clockwork, one of our one-line LE pundits chimes in with something along the lines of "Yes I know the country's going to hell in a handbasket, but what do you want us to do about it?"

This guy, based on his huge number of posts, clearly believes that white male Republicans who listen to Limbaugh, Beck and O'Reilly are the key to preserving the status quo, and that everybody else (liberals, feminists and non-whites who don't know their place) are determinedly chipping away at it.

Looking more closely at his posted response, the two components that leap out at me are "us" and "do about it."

That brought me back to the excerpt that I started this with. Richard Poplawski is a classic right-wing extremist wingnut who also sees the world in terms of "us vs. them" and "do something about it."

And "do something," he did. As a result, three police officers are dead and one wounded. The guy with the gun was not "from the projects." He did not match the profile of any of the usual suspects that my LE acquaintances grumble about on a regular basis. He was, in fact, if you want to be kind about it, a white working stiff upholding his second-amendment rights. Just like so many of those who pepper the online paper here in town with their dubious wisdom. So many of them see white conservatives as working hand in hand with law enforcement against a common "enemy." "If you're not for us, you're against us," is the underlying theme.

So who came for Richard Poplawski's guns? Surprise! It wasn't President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Rachel Maddow. It was three guys who, if inclined, would quite likely have been posting on our forum about how "guvmint" is looking to unleash the anarchists and dismantle the beloved traditional hierarchies that made this country great.

And I wonder if the LE guys who post anonymously with such swagger are considering any of this. If they see the glaring logical fallacy in their views.

The side they so ardently support could one day be the death of them. Literally.
. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, July 12, 2009

TV - Just Not Getting It

I watched plenty of TV when I was a kid, and beyond. Saturday morning cartoons (Space Ghost, Wacky Races, Justice League, Looney Tunes); Dark Shadows every afternoon from July of 1968 until the last stake was driven home in early 1971. Lassie, The Adventures of Superman; Batman, and all the way to All in the Family, M*A*S*H, 60 Minutes, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, American Idol, and Two and a Half Men. Up until about 3 years ago I also paid a fair amount of attention to TLC and the Discovery Channel, enlightening myself with such fare as Clean Sweep, What Not to Wear, and various medical tabloid goodies about the morbidly obese and those disfigured by tumors. Hey, it's dumb, but it isn't porn, and it never addicted me to the point of my contemplating the purchase of a DVR. Even as a child, TV took second place to books.

Books are still my first love. I often think of the many volumes that I traded, loaned and never got back, sold, and donated in the midst of numerous moves between Long Island, Queens, and the Sun Belt. If I'd hung onto all of those, I'd probably need a bigger house. A recent acquisition of hand-me-down furniture freed up a significant amount of bookshelf space so that I no longer have to create double layers to accommodate all my reading material. That feels nice. My book collecting has decreased somewhat in recent years, mainly due to budgetary constraints. Still, now and then I go on a book binge and Ebay is wonderfully convenient for such purposes. E-books are also starting to pile up on my hard drive. My to-read list includes Brave New World, House of the Seven Gables, Lair of the White Worm, The Turn of the Screw, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Wind in the Willows, Walden, Oliver Twist, and Freakonomics. Incidentally, is a great resource for classics as well as offbeat or obscure titles, especially self-help.

This 70/30 ratio of books to TV began to change about 10 years ago when I found more interesting things on the Internet. I suspect that timeframe for online exploration is true for most people reading this, though some may have started a bit later. I did Prodigy and AOL in the early- to mid-1990s, then got caught up in fanfiction (writing and reading -- unbelievably time-consuming), and that led to some good friendships that started out as virtual and gradually transitioned to real-life. Since moving to my present location, the local message forum, blogging and Facebook have added even more hours to my surfing day, not to mention my compulsive trawling of major news sites.

And a girl's got have tunes, after all, so Rhapsody, Pandora and a wicked set of speakers contribute to the growing amount of time spent in this one little room, occasionally looking out the window and getting up to eat, work, sleep and other less fascinating pastimes.

So now the mix has shifted dramatically: 70% internet, 25% books, 5% TV (including my twice-monthly DVD offering from Netflix). My husband frequently glances into this room and remarks "I don't know how you do it," referring to the amount of time I spend online.

He, on the other hand, has no interest in books, and less than zero interest in the computer, but cannot live without TV. He knows every major network news anchor and can name the entire cast of Desperate Housewives and the storyline of Ugly Betty. He suffers through Two and a Half Men because I like it, but frequently remarks that he's "getting burned out on it." He has a small number of movies he can watch over and over (Air Force One, US Marshalls, Monster-in-Law, The First Wives Club, Sling Blade, and Sweet Home Alabama, to name a few. He's also trying to get into Harry Potter but doesn't want to admit it to me). But one of his other favorite things to watch for hours on end is those Time-Life infomercials advertising vast collections of oldies from the '50s, '60s and '70s. And yes, they do go on for at least an hour. I hear the little 5-second snippets of familiar tunes and it tells me he's at it again. On the rare occasion when I wander into the room while he's watching, he'll say "Wow, 9 CD's, all those songs. A hundred and fifty-eight hits for $149.99. That's really a pretty good deal! Only 99 cents per song." And I'll say uh-huh, and we'll both know that unless we hit the lottery or something, the chances are slim indeed that we'll ever plonk down a credit card and order all that music. We've got plenty of CD's, by the way. But something about having ALL those songs in one place just captures Carl's imagination every time.

So I'm mystified that he can sit for such a long time (broken up by a Marlboro break out on the back deck) watching elaborately produced commercials, the same movies again and again, and prime-time fluff. I'm especially baffled by the allure of the tube, because on the increasingly rare occasions that I sit down and start flipping the remote, most of what I see is total crap. My ability to sit through most shows has long since departed. There's certainly plenty of rubbish online, no question, but the selection process is so different.

And yet, I don't walk up behind the sofa where Carl is sitting and say "I don't know how you do it." Because I used to do it too.

A LONG time ago. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Swim Caps: A Short Story

In the bland little suburb where I grew up, the planners had seen fit to install Olympic-sized swimming pools every 20 blocks or so. As in many such places, they also saw fit to compose a broadsheet's worth of rules for proper conduct. None of them made any sense. One was "No suntan lotions or oils in the water." In today's sunscreen-obsessed culture, that one certainly wouldn't go over very well; I doubt it did even back in the mid-1960s. The lifeguards could be shits when they wanted to be, but most of the time, as long as they had other lifeguards to flirt with, they didn't much care what you did once you got past the Gatekeeper, who checked to see that your pool tag was current and listed in the master database, and that you had an actual swimsuit on (she made you strip off your outer clothing so she could check). She, too, was a shit, but she had no one to flirt with, you see.

One of the rules everyone remembers was (and I am quoting accurately here): "All females must wear swim caps while in the water."

That was fine, up until about 1969 or so. Then, of course, the entire world turned upside down and "our boys" started growing their hair long, like "those hippies."

Immediately, a controversy ensued. If girls (even with very short hair) had to wear swim caps in the water, then long-haired guys should have to, as well. The purpose of the rule was to prevent long strands of hair from clogging the filters.

I'm sure the Pillars of the Community would have really preferred simply to ban those dope-smokin' war-protestin' hippieboys from even entering the pool enclosure, but that was not to be. In the spirit of fairness, the rule was amended to read "All persons with hair over 3" in length must wear a swim cap while in the water."

I heard tell of one young man who chose to comply with this rule, but he disappeared the next day and was never seen again.

By 1975 or so, there was no longer any swim cap rule at our local pools.

And the persons rejoiced.
Click Here to Read More..

Friday, July 10, 2009


I can't possibly be the only one who engages in light fantasizing while listening to the NPR interview show Fresh Air.

Drew Barrymore was on today (a rerun from April) and I found myself silently responding to some of Terry Gross's questions as though they were directed at me.

I think the best thing about Terry's interview style is the open-endedness of her questions. She invites the interviewee to ramble wherever their mind wishes to go, and that results in some thought-provoking answers.

In the course of my own mental wanderings, I sometimes answer a question and discover some interesting new things about myself.

Today, I found myself describing my father, and how my upbringing was influenced by his worldview.

He lived to be 75 and would have celebrated his 93rd birthday on July 25th.

I've been aware, for a long time, that he desperately wished for me to grow up utterly protected and sheltered from all of life's realities, especially money and sex. To a degree, it worked, because I didn't leave home until age 22, and that somewhat naive, suburban part of me still lives on rather too strongly.

But today I thought about him a little more and came to some new conclusions.

To sum up, everything that made my father the least bit edgy, and brought some depth to his biography, he steadfastly disavowed. He was ashamed of ALL of it. This was a man who never broke a law in his life (except for one DUI when he was 60). He thought he was deeply unworthy, and wanted everything in my life to reflect some idealized opposite of the way he saw his life.

He rejected:
  • being Jewish
  • being the 1st generation of his family born in the US
  • growing up on the streets of Brooklyn
  • having a stepmother and some half-siblings
  • dropping out of high school and going out on the road to make his fortune as a musician
  • traveling through Europe with the Army band
  • working for a company that distributed records to jukeboxes
To me, these sound like elements of a pretty decent novel. But my father either didn't want to discuss certain aspects of his life, or he would simply dismiss them, with a grimace and a wave of his hand, as being one of the many things that he thought made him inferior. And any time I showed signs of resembling him in any way (such as having problems with math), he would get downright frantic. Any time I expressed interest in having my life go a different way than what he had orchestrated (wanting to live in Manhattan, for example), the reaction was similar. I was dismissed as a fool, who didn't "understand what the world was like."

I've seen similar characteristics of others from his generation. That sense of shame; the resorting to silence. His was, I think, the secret-keepinest bunch of people who ever populated the modern age. Put up, shut up, ignore it and it'll hopefully go away. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

No Identity Issues Here

I just received an e-mail from someone asking if I'm the same Volly who has a Christian book site.


No -- I use this name only on this blog, and as a commenter on others. That's it. I do have a gallery of pseudonyms on LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook (actually, I use my real name there), Twitter and a local message forum, not to mention Yahoo, Google, Hotmail and AT&T e-mail. All different, and rarely overlapping.

I tested it, though -- typed "Volly blog" into the Google search engine, and the "real me" didn't appear until page 6, with my Blogger profile.

That's the name, and I try not to wear it out... Click Here to Read More..


Somewhere in my travels through the Googleverse, I discovered

If you're not familiar, check it out. Developers and computer non-geeks alike can benefit from its wide range of articles. Everything from the most in-demand tech careers to the best way to format an Excel spreadsheet to new Firefox add-ons to tips for dealing with clueless IT department managers, and beyond. It has downloadable .pdf's, the best of which is the regular "10 things" feature.

If you use a computer (and if you've got a blog...) this site will help you -- probably within the next week. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Ranting Again

Not long ago, I got all ranty about commonly misused words and phrases, and it felt good. So I've found another target.

A bunch of people form a group with a common goal. Do they:

a. Ban together,
b. Band together?

The answer is b. This is pretty straightforward. They're like a "band" of brothers, or if you prefer graphic imagery, they are held together cohesively, as though with a rubber band.


The problem starts when the past tense rears its ugly head. Then people get all confused and start saying "We banned together to get a stop sign put up on the corner."

Um, no....

You banded together.

I think the mix-up comes from two possible sources.

First, remember when you were a little kid and you excitedly told your mother what you heard from some other little kid, about an accident at the pool? C'mon, you remember the conversation. You told Mom "Some kid drownded at the pool."

Everybody says "drownded" the first time. And everybody gets corrected - the present tense is drown, and the past tense is drowned. So deep in our subconscious, we retain the "lesson" that one never uses a word that ends in "nded." Unless it's the word ended, which still (oh, go on, admit it, you'll feel better) makes you slightly nervous.

Another unacknowledged factor that leads to the misuse of band and banded is the context. You and that bunch of people are getting together to -- what? Okay, maybe you want that stop sign put in. Maybe you're circulating a petition to end the war. But in at least fifty percent of the cases where people band together, they are working to ban something or cajole the government into having something banned.

"We banded together and the City Council banned smoking in the park."


Maybe we should forget about banding together and just gang up on the local politicos.

Probably get faster results that way... Click Here to Read More..

Friday, July 03, 2009


It's been about 16 years since my last massage. I don't know why, just as I don't know why it took me so long to hit the gym and the riverwalk. But there it is. Time slips by, and you're left with a bad case of "WTF?"

Evidently, my body was quite unused to being used; shortly after my first two workouts, things started knotting up badly. If it wasn't my lower back and right hip complaining, it was my neck, right shoulder and right arm, suddenly taking major exception to my days spent mostly on the computer with mouse in hand. I persevered two more times at the gym, but couldn't get beyond one mile on the treadmill and feared an unexpected twinge that might cause me to fall or stumble and embarrass myself. Wednesday I skipped a night, and yesterday I asked my doctor to recommend a massage therapist. I got an appointment for mid-morning, which meant I got to sleep in a little.

It was nice having today off; the timing couldn't have been better. A 30-minute massage was within my means (this week). The process was uncomplicated, and I'm so glad I did it. When I got out of there, I felt floaty, but noticed that my driving reflexes were just as good as ever, if not better.

The therapist said it took at least half the session to work through the surface tension in my shoulders. She strongly recommended coming back for at least one 1-hour session, or weekly half-hour sessions. I can't do that just now, but will certainly not let another 16 years go by before the next one. I'm hoping to be able to get in at least one 30-minute session per month going forward.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law Yolanda has been volunteering as a test case in the healing touch method. She's just as much of a skeptic as I am, but has been fairly impressed with the results. Before she even told me about what she's been doing, I noticed a distinct difference in her speech over the phone. Typically, her speech is rambling, scattered and disorganized, and it's sometimes a chore to converse with her. She will repeat the same idea several times in a row, attempting to summon just the right words. There are long gaps between words and sentences, as though she goes away for awhile, making it necessary to wait. If you cut in, she "loses her place" and starts over. She's suffered at least one small stroke. But this afternoon, she sounded very present, with a cohesiveness I hadn't heard from her in awhile. I think the healing touch therapy is beneficial to her, and for one simple reason, having nothing to do with chakras, vibrations or any other kind of woo-woo. It's the fact that she is in a room with one person, getting their undivided attention and interest. She's had a few failed relationships; she's been alone for awhile and tends to get her relationship needs met by spending her time with couples. She often complains about being the third wheel. So it must be nice to experience caring touch and a listening ear. I have no doubt that alternative therapies work, for this reason. And as long as it doesn't cause the user to part with ridiculous amounts of money that enrich the "therapist," or to get drawn into a cult or isolated from their normal life, it can only help. It's a stressful world out there. Trying to tough it out alone doesn't generally accomplish much.

Note: Just in case anyone wonders about the title of this post, it is a direct quote from an enterprising gentleman who greeted my son and me at the entrance to a NYC subway back in the summer of 2000, when we lived there. Good price, too: "Ten dolla." Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moving Day

No, not moving as in boxes & bubble wrap - moving as in not allowing my body to sit in a chair in front of the computer all day.

I'm SO sedentary, it's not funny. I need to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 lbs. My diet is reasonably good, and changing it has only yielded temporary improvement. What I need to do is exercise. But I don't. Probably my most active years (true for most Americans, I think) were from birth through about 13. My parents wanted me home & safe, so they installed a swing set in the back yard, and a succession of swimming pools. We had a very large above-ground pool with a rim you could walk around, and a slide, and it was used for at least three years. When we took it down, I was still walking the mile or so to school most days, and it was easy to walk to local stores. But once I got that driver's license, I lost most incentive to walk, and the pounds started to creep on. After childbirth and gallbladder surgery, the gain was steady. Now, more than ever, I'm feeling the multiple effects of being too heavy. Sleep apnea; acid reflux; fallen arches; general achiness and lethargy because my frame is simply bearing too much. Not to mention the frustration of trying to shop for clothes. And the interesting thing is, while so many women have body dysmorphic disorder, in which they are not terribly overweight but visualize themselves that way, my problem is the opposite. I'm always surprised when I look in the mirror and see my "wide-load" self, because in my head, I'm still that rather stringy-looking individual I was for so many years.

But today I resolved to get moving. The local park has a fitness center that costs only a dollar to get into. It's pretty basic, but pleasant, and the only requirement is that you wear gym shoes. "No work boots or sandals" the sign says; I can only imagine some people thinking they can use an elliptical machine wearing work boots...

I got on the treadmill and did 2 miles. About half of that was at 3 mph or slightly above. For any lower speed, I raised the incline to about 4 degrees. It really felt good. I used to do 10K's, but a few years ago, tried a 5K and came in second to last. Humiliating. So I have plenty of incentive to work out, and the fitness center is open until 8pm, so I can go there right after work. Tomorrow I'm skipping church and doing some walking along a local trail. If I'm such a "morning person," I might as well put that to some use.

One of my co-workers has lost a fair amount of weight over the last several months and I think it's about time I started following her example. Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One of those "Signs of the Apocalypse"

It's almost a cliche nowadays -- people use "this must be a sign of the apocalypse" to describe an event that was so unlikely, so improbable, it never would have been predicted. Something that upsets the balance and order of the world as we would like to imagine it.

Something like a couple I've known since the beginning of my first marriage (hint: Reagan was enjoying his first term) who are about to finalize their divorce. She's a few years older than he, but both are in their 50s. Always viewed from without as slightly bohemian, though she consistently held down 9-5 jobs while pursuing some artistic pastimes. They seemed absolutely "made for each other," and it did last over a quarter-century. No kids, but lots of pets.

I've only gotten her side of the story, but she described objective, provable events, rather than a slanted POV, so I'm inclined to believe her. It sounds like a classic midlife crisis, complete with a long-distance affair revealed via cellphone records; makeovers; separate vacations and finally just the vaguely expressed desire to be single.

And so, now two people who seemed like puzzle pieces that fit seamlessly to create a pleasant picture are now having to rethink everything about themselves.

It's disturbing because if this couple can call it quits, there are precious few others I know out there that offer any real assurance of permanency. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, June 22, 2009

Two Rants for the Price of One

When I think of two things to be annoyed about between the grocery store and home, it's time to get on the soapbox.

Rant #1: Actually, this is a twofer, dealing with a couple of dumb usage mistakes that I frequently read and hear.

  • When you are trying a different approach to something, you do not "take a different tact." The word is TACK -- from sailing, in which you adjust your sails to catch wind so as to sail in a different direction. I think people who use this are thinking of "tactic," which is, of course, another word for strategy or approach... and then they get the two mixed up and come out with "take a different tact." Noooooooo!
  • When you are narrowing your aim toward a particular object, you do not "hone in on" it. You HOME in on it. Again, almost understandable. To hone is to sharpen, so yes, you want to sharpen and refine your sights to find exactly what you're looking for, but the word comes from HOMING pigeons, with their natural ability to find their way to a particular destination, and then later, such navigational aids as radar and sonar.
Rant #2: In between the grocery store and my house is a hospital. They apparently have adopted the same sort of no-smoking rules that most other medical facilities have nowadays -- NO smoking anywhere on the grounds. Fortunately, the place covers one small city block and the emergency entrance is quite close to the street. The smokers simply walk outside (taking care, presumably, not to get run over by a speeding ambulance) and smoke out on the public sidewalk.

Yes, smoking is legal and they have every right. I can understand a past, present or future patient smoking. Or the next of kin of a very sick person relieving their stress with a cigarette. I know how addictive nicotine is -- my mother lay dying in the hospital 20 years ago, with oxygen, and her last conversation with my father was an argument about why he couldn't bring in her cigarettes and let her smoke in bed!

But what annoys me, beyond all reason, is medical professionals who smoke. This evening I passed the "smokers' corner" and saw a woman in full surgical gear -- gown, cap, booties and even a mask, hanging around her neck -- puffing away.

Sorry, that's just gross. I can visualize the person doing what my husband does: Hold that last drag in the lungs as long as possible and then let it out just before going back inside the building. On goes the mask, and that grungy air gets exhaled into the fibers of the mask, just before the wearer leans down to examine that incision... Yech, ptui!!

I hate to encourage draconian employer policies, since we already have more than enough of those ... but medical professionals who smoke on the job? I'm sorry. I cannot muster up any degree of tolerance for that. Light up the second you clock out, if you must. Smoke all night at home, if you must. But please consider the workplace a sacred space and leave those damn things at home! If you can't go 8 hours without a smoke, you are in a very sad place and need to get some help.

This concludes the rant. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, June 19, 2009

Juneteenth - Check it Out.

June 19 is known as Juneteenth, a timely and forward-looking celebration that encourages education, knowledge and self-improvement.

It hasn't been publicized as well as it should be, IMO. I'd like to see it catch on. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good Weekend

The last two days had nearly everything one such as myself might hope for in a weekend:

  • A meal out
  • Lots of sleep (yeah, baby!!!)
  • Money-making potential, via the web
  • No crises
  • Spiritual uplift
  • New furniture (it was a hand-me-down from Billy, but less than 30 years old. Some space dilemmas ensued, but it still looks gooood)
  • Good weather. No rain, a little breeze, not too hot.
  • A chance to get together with some people I hadn't seen in awhile
  • A neighborhood association meeting with no drama (though several people tried to coax me back onto the Executive Committee. Can you spell "no," boys and girls?)
A decent weekend like this makes it possible to face a Monday at work. I'll check back at the end of the week and let you know how long it lasts. My co-worker is having surgery this week and will be out probably through the end of the month. This, of course, means overtime but also means TSQ will be in enhanced psycho mode.

Have a great week, everyone... Click Here to Read More..

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Celebration of Prudery, Nonsense and Illogical Legalese

Ellen Friedrichs on AlterNet offers a mind-boggling sampler of sex-related laws throughout the US - everything from "sexting" to what NOT to say when your students (or, for that matter, your own kid) asks you questions about the birds & the bees.

Scare - E. Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Messy? Or Messed Up?

One of my little fascinations is people who live lives of out-of-control clutter. Yes, I will gawk at Oprah's show (on the rare occasion I'm home to watch it), when her featured guest is someone whose home is subdivided into "rooms" made of stacked newspapers going back to the Kennedy Administration.

I guess this interest has its roots in my own youth. My dad was one of those people who were terrified of throwing something away. As he got closer to retirement, this propensity got much worse. He decided he had to start recycling, but didn't know how to go about it. His solution was to keep all the trash in the garage until he could get around to separating out the aluminum cans. It's a good measure of how tuned in I was at that age, that I never thought to volunteer for this job. Instead, Mom and I rolled our eyes at each other and shook our heads, watching the bags of refuse pile up ... until we started seeing mice and badgered Dad into just letting Sanitation pick it up.

Anyway, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization has put together an interesting tool (downloadable .pdf format) for evaluating the degree to which a clutter-bug might be edging into the Need-Help Zone. It's called the Clutter Hoarding Scale - down along the left-hand side of the organization's linked website.

In these stressful times of economic crisis, I have a hunch that more people than ever are finding themselves awash in this type of problem -- less ability to organize, combined with dwindling resources to maintain their home and make disciplined decisions about "stuff." We see more people moving "back home" as they become unable to keep up house payments, or downsizing to a trailer or one-bedroom apartment. Possessions suddenly take on heavier significance. Am I wasteful if I throw that away? I have so little already -- how can I afford to cast off still more? We live in thrifty times. I should save that old _____ and make a _____ out of it, like I saw in a magazine.

I subscribe to a news feed from Check it out if this topic draws you, too. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, June 06, 2009

You Can't Pigeonhole What's Personal

I suspect I'm not alone in keeping a running list of potential book titles in my head. One of those, which perhaps one day I'll actually write and publish, is called It's Always Personal. There's no such thing as "wholly objective" politics or ideology. The convictions that often turn into far-reaching public policy come from the personal experiences of one individual, who perchance connects with others who share similar experiences. When these people and their common bond find themselves in "the right place at the right time," you can end up with new paths in history.

My little thesis gets a boost from this article in the New York Times, comparing Supreme Court aspirant Sonia Sotomayor with the sitting 18-year veteran Clarence Thomas. Two minority Catholics, not too far apart in age, whose worldviews are at distant poles.

So what's personal? Experience and temperament.

Mr. Thomas learned he could rely only on himself. His father left when he was a toddler. A few years later, his mother sent him to live with his grandparents, dumping his possessions in grocery bags and sending him out the front door, he wrote in his autobiography, “My Grandfather’s Son.”

Ms. Sotomayor also grew up without a father; hers died of heart problems when she was 9. But her mother was a sustaining force, supporting the family by working as a nurse. In a recent speech, Judge Sotomayor recalled her mother and grandmother chatting and chopping ingredients for dinner. “I can’t describe to you the warmth of that moment for a child,” she said.

And what if these two histories were reversed? Isolate little Sonia from nurturing family connections, and put young Clarence in a warmer, more close-knit and positive-thinking family, and what would you get?

We'll obviously never know. I suspect that with such an upbringing, Sotomayor would still have carved a niche for herself, still identifying with the underdog and championing their rights -- if not at Princeton, then perhaps among less prestigious, more subversive company. And Mr. Thomas may have gained the confidence to push forward and join those elite "insiders" who so intimidated and frustrated him at Yale, rather than hanging back and feeling permanently isolated from everything he really wanted.

It is as pointless to speculate about something that will never be, as it is to dismiss such factors and expect any individual to "put aside" their personal experience when called to the bench. Neither Sotomayor nor Thomas wears blinders that render them incapable of seeing the other side of an argument. Both are highly intelligent and idealistic.

In the final analysis, both are human. No one can expect anything more or less. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, June 05, 2009


I haven't blogged about my son in awhile. He finished his freshman year but may not get to be a sophomore anytime soon. If I thought a "smack upside the head" would make a difference, he'd have gotten one long ago from either his father or me. But he's locked into a pattern of making dumb, impulsive decisions and then lying when the decision starts to go wrong. As a result, he will soon lose his car and basically be disowned by his father, who says Wally has "worn out his welcome."

I think the only thing that will set him straight is being forced to be entirely on his own. No favors, no gifts, no safety net, no second chances, no benefit-of-the-doubt. He tells me a decent-paying job seems to be a sure thing, and I certainly hope he's right about that. He will need one. I'm a long way from giving up hope that he will start behaving in a mature manner. He has the foundation - he just needs a more immediate sense of the consequences when he hatches one of his hare-brained ideas. It can be said that both his father and I made decisions through the last 15 years that have contributed to Wally's mindset...but there is no way to turn back the clock. Even abject apologies from both of us would make little difference. I've used Carl (my husband, Wally's stepfather) as an example of things Wally shouldn't do -- quit school, start smoking, lock himself into a dead-end job and/or "up and move" when things get stressful. I think he understands the truth of this.

He has a girlfriend he seems to be fairly nuts over -- this is the first one he's really gone on about. But I'm uneasy that he may grab onto her as a life raft. I hope her parents are strict and protective, because if they're not, she could be vulnerable to the urge to rescue and take care of Wally as he bumbles his way along to stability. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, May 30, 2009

And a good time was had by all. 'specially me.

Okay, guys, I have just gotten through, truly, the suckiest week at work in a long time. I will not belabor the details; that's not the purpose of this post.

This is going to be a happy post, by gum.

At 5:00-ish yesterday evening, I almost literally limped to my car. I mean, we're talking down, ragged and defeated, despite the author of my pain taking a vacation day. My circadian rhythms make the hours between 5 and 7 pm the lowest point for me, energy-wise. I typically get up at 6 a.m. and for the next several hours am very ready, willing and able to do just about anything, especially when it comes to planning and organizing. But starting around 3:30 in the afternoon, the energy starts to wane seriously. Especially on Friday, and especially if it's been a tough week. A good example of this was yesterday -- made a detour to the restroom and stood in front of the wastebasket with a crumpled paper towel in one hand and my car keys in the other -- needing about three long seconds to sort out which one I was supposed to toss in. There are some evenings when I will walk in the door, say hi to Carl, kick off the shoes and most of the clothes, and just fall into bed and be deeply asleep within 2 minutes, waking up an hour or so later not having changed position. Then, of course, I stay up until the wee morning hours, but...

So, yesterday evening, I had to rush over to the church to catch the tail-end of an important meeting, and then a half hour later it was time to attend dinner at a friend's house. I had to slap together a time sheet, as I always do on Fridays, and would have gotten it started earlier, except for having to fill in on the company switchboard from 4-5. So it's rush-rush-rush, making up the time sheet, shutting down my computer, putting away all the paperwork and getting out of Dodge. In my quest to arrive promptly at the meeting, I took a shortcut along one of the most dismal, drug-ridden streets in the city. Such was my pessimistic frame of mind that I fully anticipated encountering a flat tire, fender-bender, carjacking, or improvised explosive device along one of those 4 blocks. Perhaps my emotional sun started to peek through the clouds as I turned onto the next street and left all that squalor behind.

The church meeting was not unpleasant, but it was a somewhat confused and talk-heavy affair, and having come in so late, there was little for me to contribute. I think everybody was fairly fatigued by the time we broke up at 6:00, but I didn't want to arrive too early at the dinner, which was located just blocks away. But there was no one to hang out and chat with, so I took the long route to my friend's. I'd never previously visited them before dark. Upon arriving, I discovered that they have ample parking space behind their house, making it unnecessary to scope out an appropriate spot at the curb. One of the other guests had arrived just before me; their smiling faces were a balm to the soul as we walked into the house together.

And so went the whole evening. My friend is a wonderful host, along with her husband, and a splendid cook. I've known her just over two years and feel enormously blessed by her friendship. She is a consummate night-owl. If you even try to make conversation with her before 11 a.m. or so, you'd be advised to record it, since she won't remember much of it later. So most of the time we spend together is on weekday evenings. She's walking on air, while my ass is dragging. I was genuinely worried about how I'd hold up for 3 hours' worth of leisurely dining and conversation with six other people.

But I needn't have worried. There was wine (oh, yesss!), salad, a roast, potatoes, squash, a marvelous dessert and coffee. A few auxiliary brain cells kicked in and I was able to converse intelligently about politics, religion and society in general. I indulged briefly in a recitation of the preceding week's miseries, but all of that suddenly, miraculously felt irrelevant.

After about three hours, the inevitable exhaustion reappeared and I was the first to get up and say goodnight. I'd seen one or two discreet glances at wristwatches before that and suspected that I'd provided an opportunity for the others. Six warm hugs and then it was a short, uneventful cruise back to my (thankfully) empty street and quiet abode.

An absolutely perfect end to a day that could have been worse, at the conclusion of a week that many of us thought would just drag on forever.

I'm hoping the momentum will carry me through this weekend and enable me to do something other than stare at the computer and take naps. And then Monday it's back to the battlefield ... freshly armored. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Absolutely nothin'

A fellow blogger has been conspicuously absent the last week or so; today he resurfaced with an explanation that his neglect of an urgent project has made him decide to cut back on his Internet activity until he gets it all done.

At least he's got a legitimate excuse. I check in here every day; see my most recent post growing cobwebs and still can't come up with a decent topic that's postworthy. I comment plenty, both here and on LiveJournal. Just no original posts.

Some of my mental energy has been diverted to one of those sites where you write "articles" for which they "pay." The quotes refer to the fact that no magazine I know would accept the stuff I crank out at its current level of quality, and the fact that the "pay" amounts to pennies and you have to accrue $25 before you can get it out via PayPal. Still, it's become mildly addictive.

Have been catching up with several old friends recently unearthed on Facebook. Trying to come up with a way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Harris' novel Hannibal, which launched my brief fanfiction writing career and some decent friendships, both on- and off-line.

So, in case anybody was wondering, I'm not dead, at least not in the physical sense. Depressed, maybe, a little. Looking forward to the next burst of inspiration. It will come. It always does. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, May 11, 2009


A gentleman at the church I attend is close to 83, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a couple of years ago. His declining state troubled me enough to e-mail the minister about it. I'm feeling half-embarrassed about the e-mail, because I picture him reading it, thinking "Tell me something I DON'T know."

Sol has been at the center of church life for decades. I'm a newcomer. So the majority of people know Sol and his large family, most of whom attend the church. They knew Sol when he was the founder and CEO of his own company.

Other people have joined the church since I did. They probably look at Sol and think of him as "the old guy who won't be around much longer." He's always been a quiet sort (at least as long as I've known him). He and his wife sit in their accustomed seats in the front every Sunday without fail (except for a week here and there when one or the other was in the hospital). They're a "fixture" in the truest sense of the word. It's easy to look at him and think "He's here, he's old, end of story."

But I fit somewhere in the middle between those who "remember him when" and those who don't know him at all. When I first joined the church, he welcomed me, fetched me coffee, and made small talk about what we had in common, which is a Jewish background. There was a connection made there, and so I took notice of things he did and said. He was a funny guy, and sharp. He had a wry sense of humor. Another elderly gent in our church tends to be something of an instigator. He'd throw some crack at Sol, and Sol would saw him right off at the knees. It was a treat to see Sol in action.

In the last couple of years, Sol has been in the hospital for heart problems and his wife was treated for cancer. They both "pulled through." But my most recent interaction with Sol was quite different from what I'd gotten used to. Now he barely speaks and is more likely to fall asleep wherever he sits. His breathing is labored and rapid, and his facial expression when awake is one of puzzlement. Sure, the way he has been for five years probably is nothing like the younger version of Sol, but just what I've seen in the last month marks a dramatic deterioration.

Because I spent much of my childhood in the company of older relatives and neighbors, I saw plenty of people "get old," "slow down," etc. But the difference between the natural aging process and Alzheimer's is unmistakable, even in someone of advanced age. It doesn't just sneak up gradually. Or if it does initially, once it takes hold, the effects are obvious, even on a week-to-week basis.

It's scary. I'm glad the scientific community is working to find a remedy.

[Came home, wrote some more...]

Some years ago, I heard a truism I never forgot:

"When the mind goes, the heart shows." That could be why some people who always seemed to have it together in their prime become ugly and foul when they get old and their faculties slip. I also think this applies to intoxication as well as dementia. Other people become childlike and sweet.

That's the case with Sol. Those who knew him a few decades ago describe him as a Type-A, impatient, rather intimidating, driven sort. That was all in the past by the time I joined the congregation. The man I met was gentle, kind, absolutely devoted to his wife. I feel privileged to have met the "heart" of Sol, before the Alzheimer's took that away, too. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"White Light" - Wishin' and Hopin'

I don't pray to a deity. Stopped doing that nearly 7 years ago. Happy to put it behind me. Never looked back.

I don't meditate. But I'd like to learn. I have a great deal of difficulty focusing on one thing, such as breathing, to the exclusion of other things. It's a work in progress.

But without prayer or meditation, there remains the question of what to do when there's a situation that's out of your control, but you've got something invested in the outcome.

Wish ... hope ... send white light, as a friend of mine likes to say.

I'm more than a bit skeptical about the "law of attraction." I've tried it a few times, seen it work, but the track record is almost exactly equivalent to the results gained through prayer. Inconsistent. Closer to coincidence than anything.

So I hesitate, good humanist/skeptic/UU that I am, to delude myself into thinking I can send out "waves" or "vibes" or anything like that to the universe and somehow influence it to alter the course of events to suit me. Pure logic says it's in my head and nowhere else.

But the thoughts persist. The helplessness that has kept religion going for millennia.

Two of my good friends have been vacationing at Ground Zero for the current flu outbreak. They are healthy, vigorous people who always keep a positive attitude and don't generally slouch around talking about their latest ailment. And fortunately, in the event that some microbe may overtake them, they have access to good healthcare. There really is no reason to worry about my friends. They've kept in touch via e-mail and made no mention of any worries other than government offices being closed and the possibility of travel delays. I do sense, though, that they're more than ready to get back home.

I feel tense, restless, and yes, helpless. I have a personal stake in this situation simply because I care about them and think they're undeserving of sickness, bureaucratic inconvenience, or even the worries of friends, who may want them to quarantine themselves for a week or so after they come back, just to play it safe.

I'm as clueless about "white light" as I ever was about prayer. The Law of Attraction folks say I should only visualize the best outcome -- picture them bouncing off the plane with carefree grins and luggage full of whimsical, sanitary souvenirs. A month's worth of amusing stories about the food and scenery. That is, actually, how I see them in my mind's eye.

If that's "white light," I'm hitting the SEND button now. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Coming Out" as a non-believer

I've copied and pasted an entire letter and response that appeared in's advice column, authored by the brilliant and compassionate Cary Tennis. Salon doesn't always provide access without a subscription; this came by way of Google Reader.

This man's dilemma is one that I dealt with last weekend, surrounded everywhere by evangelicals. With all the non-stop drama, the last thing I wanted to do was stir the pot by making reference to my non-religious status. Even disclosing that I attend a UU church was risky, so I kept mum.

There were, of course, plenty of people in the family who were also "on the outside." I guess we all get "prayed-for" on a regular basis...


April 21, 2009 |

Dear Cary,

I'm "stepping out on faith" here, but could you offer me some helpful advice and/or suggestions? I am an African-American male who, after several years of being a conservative, evangelical Christian, now considers myself to be a "Jesus-admiring, agnostic humanist" who also attends weekly church services at a predominantly African-American Missionary Baptist congregation with my conservative Christian wife. In light of this, I have long agonized over the idea of announcing my philosophical position to my Christian spouse, family and friends.

Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A week, and a year

The atmosphere is heavy here at home today, because it marks one week since Billy died. My husband, in particular, feels some resentment at the "life must go on" philosophy. I agree, it seems a bit too soon to just "forget about it." The weekend with family brought back all the never-ending drama that surrounds so many of our relatives. And even 150 miles away, we keep stumbling over little reminders.

One year ago, Billy was in very bad shape. I had saved some of his e-mails. They were all written in block caps with no punctuation or sentence division. You had to read them over a few times to get the rhythm, tempo and shadings. They were brief, almost like haiku. When he wasn't giving Larry the Cable Guy a run for his money with his outrageous, wry humor, he was sending out clear cries for help. But trying to respond was akin to tracking someone out at sea in a dense fog. You'd swear the voice was coming from the east, but once you arrived there, you found nothing, and resumed paddling about, listening for more clues. We had gotten so many "goodbye cruel world" messages from him, interspersed with the clowning, that after awhile, we could do nothing but sit back, wait, and try to offer him friendship and encouragement when he would accept it.

While there won't be a clear cause of death available for a couple more months (pending all the autopsy & toxicology reports), we're reasonably confident that he died of natural causes. The scientific term for this is "Just one a them thangs." The medical personnel at the scene say that his body showed no movement or struggle after he hit the water, unlike a person trying to save himself from drowning. Death must have come very, very fast. Was his state of mind such that he welcomed it? We'll never know. He wasn't in the midst of extreme hardship, as he had been a few months before ... but his relationship with his daughter had to have been at the lowest point possible. He viewed her as flawless, an angel. It appears that in the weeks leading up to Billy's death, she resisted that characterization to the point that she went out of her way to rub her father's face in her imperfection; to make it impossible for him to harbor any illusions. He may have felt great relief that parts of his life (finances, friends, health) were turning around, but doubtless felt an endless void with regard to the one person that really meant anything to him.

I'm just one person among many, surprised again every day at just how badly he is missed. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Leaf Falls

Carl's younger brother Billy was found dead early this evening, face-down in a shallow pond. Only the medical examiner knows for sure at this point, but I think he probably suffered a stroke or heart attack and fell forward. He was not in good health. Ironically, things were just barely beginning to turn around for him. He'd just turned 50, two months ago. In December he moved into a house on his older brother's property and was starting to make friends and feel less like a hermit. Things were probably at their best in 10 years, despite being on permanent disability and in poor health.

Billy was the youngest of six. The first to go. He also has an 18-year-old daughter who was the light of his life -- her mother died of cancer in 2002. They'd been divorced for years before that but Billy never really loved anyone else. She had remarried and Billy had had one long-term relationship, complete with stepchildren. That relationship ended about 6 years ago and then Billy lost his job. It was a mess, but moving closer to J.R. was a very positive step.

We'll be taking a 150-mile road trip sometime within the next 12 hours. Most likely there will be a long delay before he can be buried, but Carl will want to be with his family. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sleaze: Individual vs. Corporate

For the first time since at least the mid-1980s I feel sorry for Woody Allen. My personal opinion, just to get it out of the way, is that everything Mia Farrow accused him of is true. And that's all I have to say about that, because other than representing a generation's worth of cinema, the man has no personal connection to my life.

Now, on to American Apparel. This company also has no connection to my life whatsoever, other than furnishing my terminally fashionable son with clothing that is acceptable to him. It makes me no never mind, as my grandma used to say.

But, as anyone who has taken a General Business 101 course can quickly tell you, ya DON'T use the image of a celebrity in your ads without obtaining their permission and/or being prepared to compensate that person for the use of their image. Or go to court...

Heck, I vividly remember Robyn Smith, the former jockey and widow of Fred Astaire, doing serious battle with various advertisers who attempted to doctor film footage of the dancing legend to sell their wares. Fred was dead already; probably could not have cared less, alive or dead, but someone was concerned enough about preserving his dignity and reputation to prevent those intangibles from being appropriated for someone else's gain.

So here's ol' Woody, understandably miffed at the unauthorized use of his image. When you're miffed, you use lots of subjective, opinionated-type words, such as "sleaze." That should have no bearing on the legal proceedings.

But because sound bites richly reward anyone who behaves childishly, American Apparel has chosen to escalate the war of words by getting out their rusty shovels and dig-dig-diggin' the dirt on the plaintiff.

Sheez. Didn't I see this on L.A. Law? Where's Susan Bloom when we need her, other than doing Charlie Sheen's laundry?

I hope the judge hangs these corporate clowns out to dry. Agree with it or not, another judge found Woody Allen relatively guilt-free a long time ago. Taking a "best-defense-is-a-good-offense" approach cannot help American Apparel. All it will help is the ratings on various tabloid-TV news shows (which means all of them). Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Uh huh...

I should never randomly surf the web when I'm feeling curmudgeonly, as is the case this evening.

I stumbled onto a blog that shall remain nameless, other than the self-description: "Just an amateur blogger."

This individual wrote an article about making money on the internet.

Here's the first sentence -- copied and pasted:

Get money from the internet with the only writing on the site is very enjoyable.

I'll bet she makes money hand over fist...writing instruction manuals for consumer electronics that are sold at Dollar General.

Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Making Lists, Killing Time

Confession: I'm killing time to avoid having to confront the painful reality of tax preparation. And that's all I have to say about that.

As for the lists, I have subdivided my blog list into categories, mainly because the list was getting unwieldy. Some of the categories are pretty easy, especially "Atheist Blogs," because a great many have the "A" word in the title or the "scarlet letter" prominently featured.

I originally had two separate categories in mind for "liberal" blogs and "political" blogs, but truthfully, you're not going to find any "Townhall"-style bloggers featured here, so for me, "liberal" and "political" are a tad redundant.

Skeptic/atheist/freethinker that I am, I still attend a Unitarian Universalist church, as I've mentioned here and there; it's an adventure to sort out objective reality from wonder (or "woo-woo," as our minister calls it). Yesterday's "unknown" is today's science and the same undoubtedly holds true now, for the most part. Yet, there are still questions about how we grow our worldview, and anyone who takes on this challenge full-time deserves recognition, which is why the "Religion/Philosophy" list is separate.

The feminist blog list is small, and I am in the process of remedying that.

As for the rest, a number of my favorites fall into several categories all at once, or offer an unblinking and unintimidated view of the author's everyday life, which I find irresistible and often inspirational. We are, indeed, all in this together and blogging helps provide great reassurance of that. There are a few expert blogs in here, as well as irreverent humor -- in all cases, you'll find an abundance of talent and great writing.

If you're a blog author and you want to persuade me to move your blog to another list, drop a line. Meanwhile, enjoy and have a good rest of the weekend. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Locking KIDS up for life - it's just plain wrong.

I read this story on a couple of days ago and have been waiting for a less-busy day to sit and cogitate on it -- I knew it would end up as a blog post.

I've watched our society become more and more punitive and unforgiving over the last 35 years or so. It's time we got down to what lies at the bottom of it.

Here's one bottom dweller:

Jennifer Jenkins, who co-founded the National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers. The Illinois-based group has fought legislation in nine states that would remove sentences of life without parole.

It wasn't this quote that got me into Rant mode:
"Victims have the right not to be constantly revictimized," she said.

It was this one from another bottom-dweller,
Harriet Salerno, president of Crime Victims United of California, a group trying to block the passage of laws that would ease sentencing for juveniles.

She founded the victim's group after her daughter, a pre-medical student, was murdered at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in 1979.

"Many of them have dysfunctional homes, and the crimes will escalate because there is no place to put them." [emphasis mine]

Here's another gem from Ms. Salerno, not a direct quote:
Salerno, of Crime Victims United of California, said that some juveniles can be rehabilitated but that some committed crimes so severe, resources shouldn't be wasted on them.

The story also notes, significantly, that not all of these life sentences are for murder. Armed kidnapping and rape are heinous crimes, for sure, but combine the fact that the victims survived with the age of the perpetrator and it's enough to make you want to bang your head.

Here's what I'd like to say to Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Salerno:
Your statements reflect fear. No doubt, when you lose a family member to homicide, it changes your worldview. But what I'm hearing from you is, even a perpetrator such as Quantel Lotts, who committed a one-time offense and has demonstrated remorse -- the victim's family is even working toward his release -- should be kept behind bars forever because he frightens you.

I'm more than happy to endorse a two-strikes-and-you're-out policy. A person who commits a crime in the heat of passion, or out of a warped value system (such as gang involvement) has the opportunity, while in prison, to ponder his fate and his alternatives. The penal system needs to get back to the business of rehabilitation, BUT, even a typical stretch in a state prison can motivate a reasonable individual to resolve to stay out following release. It's a tough road, but not a non-existent one. So a willful reoffense, to me, does deserve the old lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key. Absolutely.

But to condemn someone to life in prison when there's no indication that he intends to pick up where he left off the second the gate slides open is short-sighted and self-indulgent. It's also a flagrant misuse of power. We might as well throw socioeconomic and racial bigotry into the mix, since it is there in the quotes for all to see.

I don't like what our society has become.

I don't like the vilification of people such as Michael Shane Lasseter, who make goofy mistakes and are held up as the epitome of evil. Once again, we have a pattern: Because of Lasseter's foolish and unthinking actions, coming less than 2 months after the 9/11 attacks, a lot of people got scared. Nobody got hurt. But the guy was made to suffer excessively, in my opinion.

I don't like the fact that you can say the phrase "I could kill you for that" and run the risk of having someone file charges against you. Just the other day at work, I called a customer and left a voice message that part of the problem I'd called him about earlier had resolved itself on its own after we spoke. When he called back, he said "I'm visualizing my hands around your neck." Twenty years ago that phrasing would have been recognized for what it was: ironic humor. Nowadays, it takes courage or naivete to say something like that. People go to prison for saying things like that.

We live in a crazy world. Gradually, the "good guys" are morphing into the villains.

Jennifer Jenkins and Harriet Salerno frighten me.

Let's lock 'em up.

End of rant... for now. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, March 30, 2009

Talking About Israel Some More

Back on October 31 of last year, I reflected on my evolving mindset concerning the "other" side of my religious heritage, i.e. Judaism. The first item on my short list was Israel, and how, for many years, I had been convinced that it represented a more advanced moral standard and a higher plane of existence, as it were. More recently, having rejected religion outright, I was finally willing to take a cold, hard look at Judaism and decide whether or not it was worthy of rejection in the same way as Christianity.

I thought I had the issue all tucked in and put to bed with the lights out, but recently, a new angle (new to me, at least) on the subject has taken shape.

Excerpted below is the article from the NY Times - emphasis mine.

A Religious War in Israel’s Army

JERUSALEM — The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting ... exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.

...[T]he left-leaning secular kibbutz movement ... showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, the army — like many of the country’s institutions — was dominated by kibbutz members who saw themselves as secular, Western and educated. In the past decade or two, religious nationalists, including many from the settler movement in the West Bank, have moved into more and more positions of military responsibility.

“The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies... The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.”

Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.

He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

...[W]hat was evident in Gaza was that the humanistic tradition from which a code of ethics is derived was not being sufficiently observed there.

Mr. Halbertal, the Jewish philosopher who opposes the attitude of Rabbi Rontzki, said ...“The right tends to make an equation between authenticity and brutality, as if the idea of humanism were a Western and alien implant to Judaism,” he said. “They seem not to know that nationalism and fascism are also Western ideas and that hypernationalism is not Jewish at all.”

This brings me back once again to an examination of what Judaism is to me. I realize now that from the very beginning of my exploration of Judaism, the focus was always on philosophy, scholarship, reason. I recall the pleasure I derived in college from independent reading and study -- the leisurely examination of "the meaning of life," and the historical threads that bound all of like mind -- those who sensed that we, as humans, had the potential to rise above emotion-driven savagery and create a world of thought, beauty and constructive action. But the farther along I went, the more room there was for religion to rear its ugly head. Time and again I was reminded by one person or another, that, oh yes, scholarship is fine, but Judaism is about tradition, which holds that women are "ordained by the almighty to be separate from men and to serve a different function. Women, you see, are holy because they can bear children, and that is your supreme calling. Scholarship is nothing -- men study scripture day and night because they can't bear children..." etc. etc.

So while I tried mightily to cling to the humanistic, reason-bound traditions of Judaism, my lack of grounding in it (that is, the fact that my mother was gentile and therefore I did not have "the birthright" as one rabbi put it), made it very hard to fight back against the growing tide of traditionalism. In college, for example, during my sophomore year when I first began hanging out at Hillel, the campus rabbi was a fairly liberal-leaning, egalitarian sort. At first glance, he gave the impression of being rather old-school, but that wasn't where he was coming from.

But then he left, and a female rabbi replaced him. And then came the backlash. Whereas earlier, our functions had been co-ed, as soon as the female rabbi arrived, the more reactionary elements in Hillel demanded a more traditional setting for our social activities. And so up went the mechitza [that's the curtain that separates men and women in orthodox synagogues]. Soon there was a lot of talk about the "authentic Jewish experience," in which we gals were expected to move to a Chasidic enclave and settle into a "proper" existence of early marriage and abundant childbearing, complete with an ugly wig, ugly shoes, and a lifestyle reminiscent of a Polish shtetl in 1901. The Jewish version of Quiverfull, in other words.

This encroachment of oppressive religion was what drove me far and fast from Judaism. Something in me sensed that it was harmful to my psyche. And since the rabbis I consulted were unanimous in saying that I should never expect any encouragement to convert, that I was entirely on my own in this endeavor, backing away was fairly painless. [The followup question of what led me into Christianity is something I'll have to look at later, since it seems to be a clear contradiction.]

But getting back to Israel -- it's a question that I imagine many Jews are having to grapple with, and it parallels the dilemma that many religious Americans have faced over the last 35 years or so, as the religious right has hijacked some fairly benign and humanistic concepts. Equality, dignity, compassion, unity ... those were the values I grew up with as a nominal Catholic, and I have clear memories of a reaching out between Christians and Jews during the post-war years, up to the late 1970s. Suddenly, religion began overshadowing everything again, emphasizing the differences between groups that had been working so hard to embrace their commonalities.

Finally, the question is being spelled out for people to really look at. What is Israel, and more importantly, what is Judaism? Is it an advanced, lofty, scholarly, humanistic and ultra-modern system of philosophy? Or is it, like other western religions, a regressive, patriarchal political system that endeavors to shackle its followers through fear, superstition and brainwashing?

My rejection of Israel in my post from last October was, I think, born out of the intuition of what it seems to be becoming -- what the New York Times article describes. Click Here to Read More..