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..