Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cynical Joke or Smart Choice?

John McCain has named Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, as his vice presidential running mate.  I have heard a lot of people describe this choice in different ways:  cynical, smart, practical, insulting, anti-feminist, risky, and a joke.

I'm not sure which this decision is, and I tend toward cynical although it may turn out to be a very smart decision.  Sarah Palin may well pull the Hillary Clinton supporters, whom she called whiners, into the Republican fold.  I don't believe that any demographic group votes as a block.  All Black people don't support Barack O bama, for instance. And I certainly don't believe - even despite acquaintances who tell me I'm wrong - that all women, most women, or even a substantial number of women, especially Hillary Clinton supporters, will vote for Sarah Palin merely because they all share anatomy.

Sarah Palin's views are diametrically opposed to Hillary Clinton's.  According to published reports, Sarah Palin believes that any sort of birth control, including a married couple using a condom, is wrong.  Unlike HC, she has neither national nor international political experience; in fact, her main claims to elected office include being named first runner up in the Miss Alaska competition in 1984, being a council member and then mayor of the little town of Wasilla, Alaska, and then governor of Alaska for one month longer than Barack Obama has been junior Senator from Illinois.  In science, she denies that global warming is caused by human carbon use, and she advocates teaching creationism rather than evolution, which, after all is merely a theory rather than a proven fact.  She is a life-long member of the NRA.  None of these positions mirrors HC's.

I also wonder about Sarah Palin's common sense.  She doesn't seem stupid, but she does seem insular and perhaps self absorbed.  Why else would she deliver a speech in Texas after her water broke and then fly eight hours home to Alaska to have the baby a month prematurely?  

Why would she name her children Trig? or Track? or Willow? or Bristol? or Piper?  Can you guess which of them are male and which are female?   Hint: she has two sons.  (In the interest of fairness, I do believe that children's names should be gender based and not chosen because they're "a cool name."  I don't believe that names should be a source of embarrassment or grounds for teasing.)  Somehow, I'd like a little more quiet wisdom in my national leaders.

An acquaintance suggests that having five children, including four under sixteen and one an infant with Down's Syndrome, should preclude her from being in political office, indeed from working at all.  This acquaintance, a female, a strong feminist, says that that choosing to have children means also choosing to take care of them; that being a baby machine and a full-time member of the work force means delegating to others the raising of children.  If our country's most important resource is our children, then cherishing and nurturing and caring for them should be a priority.

Another friend suggests that having a developmentally challenged child will pull voters to her as the underdog.  Who knows?

Perhaps, on the other hand others are more equipped to raise children than parents whose work is more important.

Will Sarah Palin help McCain's chances of being president?  I have no answer to that.  Is her choice cynical, smart, practical, insulting, anti-feminist, risky, or a joke?  Again I have no answer.  But I suspect that American's hidden bigotry may well play a more important role.  No one wants to appear prejudiced and will therefore tell pollsters that they have no trouble voting for a person of color.  But once they're in the privacy of the voting booth, they may not be able to vote their public declarations.

As always, I invite your comments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mother Robin - Take 2

In yesterday's posting, I didn't mean to sound as if I am against people expressing their opinions. I have no problem with that in most cases. And I am considered a loose cannon when it comes to opinions - for proof, read on:

My problem is that all too often the news media act as if opinions are more important than facts. Our local newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and particularly The Chicago Sun-Times, and our local television news teams, particularly Fox (I shudder, I shudder) present themselves as interactive and hold call-in and internet polls on matters of fact instead of opinion. Some of them are truly absurd: Does Iraq have Weapons of Mass Destruction? Does Iran have nuclear weapons capability?

The first, even though the Current Moron lied to us, has proven to be false. And even when the question was asked before we invaded Iraq in an illegal preemptive strike, no one knew for certain. Not the newscasters, not a kept-in-the-dark Congress, not lied-to Colin Powell, and certainly not the well-intentioned but naive people who responded to the silly polls. I hesitate to use the term slack-jawed yokels again.

The second question is equally unknown to the American public, although my guess is Not Yet.

And even though the questions are patently silly, the media all too often put the responses to these inane questions on the front pages of their newspapers or lead with them on television news - and use them as teasers for hours before the news. Iran has nuclear weapons! Details at Ten!

Unfortunately, the details turn out to be a horseshit call-in poll answered by a bunch of people who have no lives outside their own bubbles, and who spend their time watching Fox News and judging people who have what these flat earth-ers consider heretical religious beliefs.

I don't find this much different from the call-ins conducted by otherwise thorough C-SPAN that elicit answers like, "I worked for Hillary, but I don't agree with Obama's stand on abortion so I'm voting for McCain." How is Obama's view on abortion different from Hillary's? From what I can tell it isn't. This kind of illogic is crazy-making.

When I taught high school English in another life, I once had a student who didn't like studying vocabulary and tried to lead a revolt in the classroom. He said we should vote on what we thought words mean rather than learn a standard, universal definition. While this is an idea that Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts espoused: "It means what I say it means," it confounds communication rather than enhancing it. And this immature logic is very little different from that shown too often in the media.

As always, I welcome your comments. Click Comments below to leave one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Mother Robin and the Democratic Convention

N.B. Many of my political prejudices show here and since I'm heading toward my dotage, I get to take many tangents to express them.

The Democratic Convention in Denver is well under way at this point, and I watched some of it last night with the same kind of concentration lots of people devote to the Olympics.

I watched the Olympics for a while - the first week - but got tired of the same sports being featured (Beach Volley Ball and the scantily clad athletes? Too gruesome for words. Ann pretended to be really disgusted that the women who played BVB wore next to nothing and no doubt ended up with sand in unspeakable places, but the men who played BVB wore long shirts that covered up their pecs, their abs and their deltoids, and long, floppy shorts that deprived her of the eye candy our President seemed to enjoy so much as he awarded the female players with pats on the ass. The thought makes me shudder.) I would have thought, at least from the network coverage, that about two hundred people total participated in the Olympics - in addition to the million plus Chinese volunteers who spent a year making sure the Olympics went well.

So I learned from the Olympics and watched the Democratic Convention on C-SPAN. It offered complete coverage with no comment from so-called experts, at least during the convention sessions themselves. Early this morning when I tuned in briefly, the commentators on C-SPAN were interviewing people from all over the country about whom they would vote for: Obama or McCain - and why - especially in regard to the Clinton supporters who are re-focusing their loyalty, sometimes to McCain.

I heartily endorse the idea that the "common people" should have a voice, but it seems to me that the primaries and state caucuses are the forum to express their support for candidates. In February I hobbled over to the local school to vote in the primary after I broke my ankle, and rather than break more bones, I asked the election officials to haul a voting machine up to the landing of the stairs in accordance with federal handicap guidelines. Anyway, it seems to me that too many slack jawed yokels have opinions based on their emotional reactions to McCain's POW status, or their one-issue litmus tests (Abortion, Immigration, Censorship, or the Briefs/Boxers/Depends debate) rather than a broad examination of the issues and the candidates' stands on them.

I recorded one of the network's prime time programs of the Convention on our DVR. I was appalled first that the networks made America's Got Talent and Two and A Half Men (both no doubt part of the current administration's diet of bread and circuses) a priority over the nomination of the candidates for president. I was taken aback that for the single hour the Convention was broadcast, the regular number of commercials reduced actual coverage to about 40 minutes.

I was more disgusted with the coverage itself, however. Rather than showing the Convention, the talking heads commented on it. This speech was to the point. That tribute covered all the bases.

I am sick to death of being treated by the media as if I am too stupid to do my own thinking. I can watch Michelle Obama's speech and make my own judgments about it without being told what to think by so-called experts who pretend to be smarter than I am. I can watch the tribute to Ted Kennedy and realize that it is a beautifully done propaganda piece, not that the network I watched showed more than a few highlights.

Propaganda is not bad, it merely puts the best face on things. I knew when I was being emotionally manipulated - and I permitted it because Ted Kennedy is dying of brain cancer. And because he has done more things I admire than things I don't. And because his family has made more sacrifices in the name of public service than most I can think of.

On C-SPAN I watched Emil Jones, Illinois Senate Democratic Leader, mouth platitudes and fail to mention that he is retiring and has slated his son to take over his seat in an act beyond nepotism and into primogeniture. On C-SPAN I watched the leaders of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers speak about education and agreed with most of what they had to say about involving teachers in educational goals - instead of lawyers who somehow get elected to office and then think all teachers have to do is stand in front of a group of students and talk off the cuff.

On C-SPAN I watched Jesse Jackson, Jr. speak about his association with Barack Obama. He's my federal Congressman, and I enjoyed noting that he's listed as from both Chicago and Homewood, the village where I live.

On the national network, those people got short shrift or none at all. Instead, the talking heads talked to other heads about the speeches - if they mentioned them at all - and filtered those comments through their own prejudices. Just as I filtered my analysis of Emil Jones in the earlier paragraph.

Barack Obama has been accused by the Republicans of elitism. And the media have given his "elitism" a lot of play, at the same time they report on how many houses McCain owns or thinks he owns. It is the media that are elitist, however. They seem to believe that they can take in all the information, all the nuances, all the events at the Democratic Convention - and I'm sure at the Republican Convention coming up - chew them up, digest them for me and 300 million other Americans, and then, like the mother robin, vomit them into my waiting mouth. They seem to believe that they are without bias and reporting straight. They aren't.

I'm smart enough to make up my own mind about candidates and the people who support them. And until the current administration started testing all students on facts instead of the ability to think, so were most Americans.

As always I welcome your comments. Click on comments below to express them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Nine-eleven. November 22, December 7. These are all dates that people of my pre-Baby Boomer generation and older remember. These are national anniversaries, all tragedies.

We all know nine-eleven, the day Al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, the most recent of the terrible anniversaries. Most of us do not recognize it as the date of chosen son Tim’s birthday, however. It isn’t all bad.

November 22, 1963, is the day I lost my innocence, the day I realized that the world is not a nice place. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas that day. December 7, 1941, is the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, HI, and drew the United States into World War II. That’s before my time, of course.

There are other dates I remember: September 8, 1973, is the day our son Daniel was born. December 2, 1940, is the date of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction that occurred at the University of Chicago. December 2 is noteworthy date in other ways. It’s my birthday and more important, the date on which we baptized Daniel. The latter two are happy occasions. Perhaps all three are.

January 7, 1993, is the day our son Daniel was killed in a freak accident. It’s a day we always remember, but not a happy one.

And today is an important date. It’s the anniversary of our wedding in 1967.

Forty-one years ago it rained – poured, in fact. We got married in Ann’s parents’ home in New Lenox, IL. The campus minister came up from Charleston and officiated. (He later dumped his wife for his secretary, and then, I hear by the grapevine, dumped her for the new secretary. I don’t know how long the chain was, but he did better by us than by himself.)

We held the reception at Ann’s folks’ home, and Ann’s mother, the eternal Home Ec teacher, prepared the grand buffet herself and asked ladies from her church guild come in to serve. We didn’t see Ann’s parents after the ceremony until they visited us in Ohio (where I had a graduate assistantship at Ohio University) at Thanksgiving. We could never figure out where they disappeared or what they did when they vanished.

Our anniversary is somehow made more significant – and joyous – by the fact that in the general population the divorce rate hovers around 50 per cent. In our demographic, couples whose children have died, the divorce rate rockets to about 85 per cent. That’s an astounding figure and, I think, a testament to Ann’s willingness to make things work and the very good therapists we saw after Daniel’s death over fifteen years ago.

Before he died, we always joked that we couldn’t afford to get divorced, even if we had wanted to. Which we didn’t. After his death, we grieved in such profound and different ways that for a while it didn’t matter if we were married or not. We lived in separate bubbles for a short while. But as we came out of the grief and shock and guilt and anger and all those other conflicting emotions, we realized what love and strength we have together, and continued to build on it.

And no matter what has happened in our lives, the most important fact remains that we continue to love and support each other, that we expect to remain married forever.

We experience occasional joy and occasional sadness, but on the whole we live our lives in great contentment. Early this morning, just after midnight, when I went to bed after the Olympics, I woke Ann to wish her Happy Anniversary. She didn’t curse me for violating the biggest rule of the house: Don’t wake anyone unnecessarily. She didn’t snort and turn over. Instead she giggled and wished me the same. Then we both went right to sleep.

Not to brag, but our marriage works.

As always, I invite you to comment below.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Toast not a Roast

Today is the big day: Tim, our grandsons' dad, is getting married to Karen, one of my former students. That sounds surprising, but it isn't. Some of my former students are in their middle to late fifties at this point. Karen, of course is not. She is considerably younger than my early students. And just for the record, she is younger than my middle students.

This week has been a whirlwind of pre-wedding events: Tim's two sisters are staying with us and we welcomed them at about 3 a.m. the other day because of plane delays. A pizza party followed by the bachelor party. The rehearsal. A shower for the ladies. The rehearsal dinner. And today is the wedding. Preceded by photos and followed by the reception. Tomorrow is the post-wedding brunch at the bride's parents' house.

I am the Best Man. Go figure. My duties today include not passing out during the nuptial mass, not crying too hard, and offering a toast. Here's the preview:

As the best man, I have the privilege of proposing the first toast.

I want to say a couple of words about Karen before I talk about Tim. She is one of my former students – as is her sister Susie - and I am happy to say Karen did not receive the only B of her high school career in my English class.

Karen is a lovely person on every level I can think of. In addition to being beautiful, she is kind, gracious, graceful - and I know that Tim adores her.

Now to Tim. When I met Tim I thought he was a very tall man. This was shortly after our son died, and he helped us through a very difficult time. He gave us his two sons David and Jonathan, whom we adore, to be grandparents to. For that magnificent gift, that new connection to life and family, we shall be always grateful.

As I said, I thought Tim was very tall. He told me that as I got to know him better, I’d find out he was not semi-divine, and he would start shrinking – at least in my perception. That happened. I discovered Tim is human. Sometime totally human. Never as human as I am. And he is shorter than I originally thought he was.

Today, however, Tim stands taller than I have ever known him.

Both Tim and Karen know how much I love them.

Let us raise our glasses: To Tim and Karen. Our love and best wishes for great happiness!

Please feel free to comment below.