Monday, April 30, 2007

Mixed feelings about the new U.S. Passports

I read in the newspaper today that the United States is introducing a brand new design for our passports.

In addition to new security measures, such as an embedded computer chip with biographical information on it, they've tarted them up with various iconic images such as Mt. Rushmore, the flag, an Eagle, parts of the Constitution, Star Spangled Banner, and more.

I have mixed feelings about this. First of all, I kind of liked the plain old bluish colored pages of the old design - they were honest and real, and when you entered a new country and they stamped the passport, you could see it and read it easily. These new pictures may interfere with the stamps and make it hard to read them when you try to look back at the countries you've visited.

But the more important reason I'm wary of this new design is the jingoism that it seems to imply. Other countries, as far as I know, don't have a whole bunch of fancy pictures in their passports. Why do we have so much hubris that we feel a need to have what amount to ads for our country on our passports?

It's as if everywhere we go, we want to proclaim, "I am an American!" as if we are better than everyone else. Maybe if we were truly living up to our American ideals right now I'd feel better about the whole thing. But at the moment, what with the Iraq war, the limiting of freedom at home (suspension of habeas corpus for "enemy combatants," illegal wire tapping, etc.) and everything else that's going on, I'd just as soon keep a low profile. Adding all this illustration to our passports makes it seem as if we are trying to tell everyone how great we are. And sadly, most other countries would not agree with us.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Every Cat Has His Day

I was just cruising around various blogs and came across a whole bunch of cat blogs. They are mostly blogs written by the cats themselves rather than the owner of the cats. Some cats know how to spell, others are more challenged in that area.

Here is a link to the one I had first found - Jeter Harris. Mr. Harris is a tiger cat from New York City and is a huge Yankees fan. He has tons of links to other cat blogs in his links list.

This plethora of catdom made me realize I had been neglecting my very own cat, Baxter. I have hardly even mentioned him, even when he has often been sitting solidly in front of my computer screen, and moving the mouse around by rubbing his head on my hand as I try to type.

And who gets all the pictures posted on the blog? The dog.

Baxter is highly affronted that I have ignored him all this time. After all, he was here first. He was an only pet for the 2-1/2 months after Alice died and before we got Diva. And he liked it that way. He has still not totally accepted Diva's existence in the house and finds it annoying every time he realizes she's still here.

If she so much as comes near him, he growls. If she gets too close, the growl escalates into the "ROWWR" noise. Anything further, and it is the hiss. Which only gets Diva excited. She thinks he wants to play, so she starts hitting at him with her paws. This does not go over well with Baxter and he usually takes off at this point, giving the dog a chance to chase him until he goes under a bed somewhere and escapes.

Luckily, once the dog is asleep, Baxter knows he's safe and can come in to the room and cuddle with us. He also sleeps on the bed with us and the dog.

At any rate, in order to appease Baxter's pride, I am now going to post a few pictures of him so you can see him in all his glory. He is very large, about 17 lbs.; and he's big, not fat. I like to say he's "big boned."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My mom is blogging!

When my mother moved into her apartment we gave her our old computer, which still works quite well. We got her hooked up to Comcast so she has internet access.

She is still learning so hasn't done a lot with it so far. However, the other day when I was there, she told me she wanted to write a "column" about grammar, a subject she has always cared about very much. I told her it wouldn't be a column, but a blog!

I told her about blogging and how she could write about her pet grammatical peeves, and she could publish the articles on the internet and people from all over the world could read them. She liked that idea so I started up a blog for her. She has now posted her first blog entry. It's dated Sunday because I was just showing her how to publish when I was there Sunday but she wrote it today.

So, please stop by my mother's blog: Marge's Words to the Wise. If you have a chance to comment please do, she'll love to hear from you!

Removing AdSense

I'm tired of AdSense posting ads about Pit Bulls just because I talk about my dog on this blog - I am sure that the type of people who advertise Pit Bulls are not the type of people that should be breeding Pit Bulls; they're probably breeding them for the wrong reasons. And then today was the last straw - it was advertising videos of pit bull fights. This is unacceptable.

I had checked AdSense to see if there is any way to control what comes up on the blog but there does not seem to be a way. Since I wasn't making any money on it anyway I'm getting rid of it!

Please, everyone - if you do want a pit bull terrier, please adopt one from a rescue group or shelter. There are so many wonderful dogs in need of homes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tune in, Turn on, Drop out

DH and I just watched the PBS "American Experience" about the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. It chronicled the advent of the hippies, who were attracted to San Francisco in the wake of the Beat Generation, following them from the idyllic time when they truly were living new values and starting a revolution - through the darker time when it became less about love, peace, and making the world a better place, and more about drugs and runaway teens and squalor.

In the beginning large groups were all living in Golden Gate Park and there was a group called the Diggers who brought "free food" every day. The members of the group would go around to marketplaces and supermarkets and gather up the wasted food that was being discarded, and go back and cook it up for the masses. There was also a Free Store where people brought their unwanted possessions - furniture, clothing, etc. - and those in charge of the store redistributed them to people who needed them.

One of the values this represented was the idea that the hippies felt they didn't have to work and could kind of "live off the land" and share and share alike. This philosophy apparently didn't take into account the fact that people had to have jobs and do work in order to run the marketplaces that the Diggers got their free leftovers from; that people had to have jobs and work in factories to produce the furniture and clothing that were being given away and redistributed.

When it comes down to it, it is very difficult to get around the need for someone to work in order to provide things for people to live on.

And even if one doesn't take that into consideration, eventually the whole "free" system broke down when San Francisco was inundated with too many people coming to share in the experience, but coming for the wrong reasons - to run away, to escape, to find drugs.

Once the population gets too big, barter and sharing don't work anymore. This is probably the reason communism never worked on a large scale.

It's really too bad, because the idea of communism - "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" - makes a lot of sense and it would be a wonderful way to live, in a perfect world. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world, and there is no free lunch.

Many of the hippies of 1967 became the yuppies of the 1980's. Were the exact same people who shunned materialism and wanted to reject the world and live on a commune the ones who later became the masters of the universe and bought BMWs and large homes in the suburbs? Maybe not...but it was all one generation - ours.

And now our generation of Baby Boomers is poised to become senior citizens. Many of us are already card-carrying members of the AARP, and many have already retired from their careers and are pursuing other interests. The sex, drugs and rock and roll are long gone and we are now facing the realities of wondering what we'll do when we become old, not having died before then as The Who wished they would do.

One of my favorite folk groups, Modern Man, sings in their hysterically funny take-off on rap music, "Give me some ass...give me some ass...give me some ass-isted living!" It will be interested to see how we Baby Boomers redefine old age, just as we've redefined every phase of life as we moved through it.

I read an article a couple of years ago in the NY Times about Baby Boomers who were planning to live together in groups as they aged so that they could take care of each other, rather than being shuttled off to assisted living and then to nursing homes, isolated from the things and people they enjoy.

I like that idea. I was a bit too young to ever really experience the real 60's - I only hit the tail end of them, which was really the early 70's. I was only 9 when Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech at the Washington Monument, and 14 during the Summer of Love. And I wasn't the kind of kid that would have hitched across country at 14 to join the flower children as some that age did. So no living on a commune, no marching for peace. I marched in one demonstration when I went up to college in 1972. And that seemed to be the last one they had.

Perhaps in the end I will live on a commune after all - in my old age, surrounded by good friends...hopefully near a beach, in warm weather...from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

It can work, in small groups.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spring is finally here...

...and with a vengeance. After about 6 days of cold rain from the worst Northeaster in years, it was suddenly 80 degrees today. I had a dream last night that I was going to get a pedicure. I think I'll make it come true tomorrow! It is definitely sandal time.

The unrelenting deluge we had on Sunday and Monday caused the usual leak we get in our sunporch ceiling to become a steady stream. The buckets and the plastic tarp over the couch were not enough; the water managed to splash all over the carpet behind the couch. As a result, the entire sunporch has an unmistakable odor to it, similar to cat pee. Since I know it isn't cat pee (our Baxter is not That Type of Cat - no spraying for him!) I know it must be mold from the damp carpet. So today we just kept the porch door closed so the rest of the house wouldn't be contaminated and we are trying to dry it out by leaving the ceiling fan on. Let's hope it works!

I can't complain - many people in our area got a foot of water in their basements, and luckily ours remained bone dry.

It is amazing how influential the weather is on my mood. Being able to sit in our yard and have our breakfast, not having to wear a coat, and just being able to wake up to sunshine instead of another grey, gloomy day, makes all the difference.

So, here's to Spring! Let's hope it is finally here to stay.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Too many guns

A friend called me today, and in the course of conversation she asked if I'd heard about the gunman that had barricaded himself in at NASA (and has now killed a hostage and himself). My reaction was, what else can happen in this country? Why is our country so likely to have these incidents?

I hadn't written about Virginia Tech yet because it is still so fresh in my mind. I can't even imagine the horror the surviving kids went through, seeing their friends and classmates slaughtered, and the grief experienced by the parents of those killed.

And today is the anniversary of Columbine. I remember where I was when I heard about it- we were on vacation in Ireland. A shop owner started talking to us about it and we got into a discussion about guns. European countries, including Ireland, all have stricter gun control laws than we do here in the U.S. In many countries, handguns and automatic weapons are completely banned, and the recent shootings have sparked a wave of criticism of the American penchant for guns.

I have no problem with shotguns for those who live in rural areas and are either isolated and need something to protect themselves, or do use them to shoot pests on their farms. But I don't see any reason the ordinary citizen needs to carry a handgun or assault rifle.

I do understand the spirit behind the Second Amendment. I know that the Bill of Rights was written shortly after the United States won its freedom from a tyrannical England and there was fear of Big Government becoming oppressive again, and people wanted to know they could take up arms against their oppressors if need be.

Maybe that is still a consideration today. We don't want all the power to be in the hands of the authorities. But that still doesn't mean we need to stockpile assault rifles and carry handguns around with us, or let just anyone own a gun.

What I do not understand is the rabid support the NRA and other pro-gun groups show for virtually unlimited gun ownership. How is it to the advantage of the law-abiding gun owners to support the right of any idiot to buy a gun? Don't they realize that every time one of these nutcases takes up arms and blows away a bunch of innocent people, that it makes guns look bad, and them look bad by association?

I was amazed that some pro-gun proponents actually believe that if the students in the classroom at Virginia Tech had been armed themselves, that this would have solved the problem and prevented the deaths. I can just see all of them opening fire and the shootout that would result during the ensuing panic.

We need to have stricter background checks for the purchase of any type of gun. Apparently in Virginia the law prohibits anyone who had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital from buying a gun. The gunman, Cho, had not been in a mental hospital. But he had been sent involuntarily for psychiatric evaluation. Shouldn't that be enough? That authorities were so concerned about his mental state that they sent him to psychiatric care?

Nowadays in many cases, in-patient care is not encouraged or paid for by insurance and outpatient care is the only choice for a troubled person. If someone has gone for outpatient psychiatric care, at the very least the gun laws should ensure that further investigation be done to find out why before letting the person buy their gun and blithely go off with it.

And of course, if the guns Cho bought had not been handguns, but shotguns that could not be concealed, he would have been seen with them and perhaps disarmed before he could do harm.

Yes, our rights are important. But rights have to be earned. Not everyone deserves a gun. We can do better than this in this country, and we must.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Doggone it!

I have to admit, my dog is a brat. She is aptly named "Diva." When she wants something, she barks. Loudly. Incessantly. Irritatingly. Until I am driven to desperation and just try to appease her, give her a biscuit, a Greenie...anything to get her to stop.

I realize this is not the thing to do. I realize I am actually training her to continue the behavior. But I end up doing it anyway.

So she is now a fully developed brat. Or diva. Whatever you want to call her.

Tonight we had a couple of friends over to plan a park cleanup we're holding in early May. Diva had been peacefully sleeping on the couch when they arrived. She adores them, so her excitement level immediately increased tenfold.

After lots of licking of faces and running about, she sat at their feet and accepted further homage and ear-scratching. But of course that is never enough for a Diva. She then decided they should play ball with her and proudly brought them her slimy dog-spit covered blue Jolly ball. They patiently threw it for her for about five minutes, but then it was time to get down to the reason we had met so they tried to stop. This did not go over well with Diva because she wasn't done playing with the ball. (She is never done playing with the ball).

So she started the Demand Bark. Bark, bark bark. (Patient friend then throws ball). She then stands in front of the ball barking some more. Bark, bark, bark.

I said to DH, "Do something. Go lock her in the upstairs bedroom."

"No, leave her alone, she'll be fine."

Of course, she wasn't. She continued the barking periodically for the rest of the time they were there. (It's just lucky they love dogs.)

After they left I thought she would calm down, but no. She was all excited that people had come to see her (as she perceived it) and she was not yet ready to calm down. Bark, bark, bark. More barking. I was trying to get dinner ready, so I gave her a Greenie to occupy her (continuing her training as a Diva).

In the meantime I got the potatoes into the microwave, got the steaks ready to grill (a little Worcestershire and garlic powder), and made the salad.

DH was on the sunporch on his computer. I went to tell him he could now take the steaks out and put them on the grill, then went upstairs for a minute to get something.

When I got downstairs, DH was still on the sunporch and I heard a strange noise emanating from the dining room. Kind of a crunching noise. I looked in the kitchen at the counter at the steaks on the plate that was not far from the edge of the countertop. But it wasn't "steaks." It was "steak." A steak was missing. Crunch, crunch. Omigod, the dog had stolen the steak!

I ran into the dining room and turned on the light, and there she was. Hunkered down happily on the dining room rug, crunching up the bone that was all that was left of a lovely piece of organic, grass fed, having received no hormones...Porterhouse steak.

I grabbed the remnant of bone out of her throat. Luckily she really didn't eat a lot of the bone itself. I momentarily pondered whether this latest dietary indiscretion would be bad for her, but figured raw organic steak wouldn't hurt her. After all, that's what wolves eat, basically. So I decided not to bother to make my usual call to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic (I think they recognize my voice by now) to ask if having consumed a nearly one-pound Porterhouse steak and part of its bone would be a problem for a pit bull with very large jaws.

I informed DH that if he had taken the steaks out onto the grill when I'd mentioned it, this would not have occurred. We won't get into the ensuing discussion.

In the end, we just split the remaining steak, which turned out to be fine, since, let's face it, if we were paying attention to what I've learned in Weight Watchers regarding serving sizes of meat ("the size of a deck of cards"), that one Porterhouse steak was plenty for two people.

I guess I should just thank Diva for helping me out with my portion control issues.

(For anyone who is concerned about Diva's well-being, she is now sleeping the sleep of an extremely satisfied, tired dog - with no repercussions from her gluttony).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cool New Widget

I was reading Who's Yo Mama, one of the blogs I enjoy reading because it is all about my favorite place - Maui - and saw this interesting widget on the side of her blog - it translates the blog into several different languages. I clicked on the Japanese flag and instantaneously her blog was in Japanese!

Since I notice some of the people who are looking at my blog are from other countries, I figured it couldn't hurt to add it on to my blog as well. I am still a newcomer to this whole blogging universe and am still having fun trying out new things.

So have fun playing with my new Babel Fish widget! And check out Who's Yo Mama too!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

New post on Medicana

It's on Elephantiasis. Wonder why I'm writing on this rather arcane illness? Check it out and you'll find out.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thoughts on Imus

My first thought was "good riddance." I had never listened to Imus in the Morning, but had caught (accidentally) a few riffs of Howard Stern, and rejected them both outright for their mean spirited repartee.

I am no fan of any of these "shock jocks" who love to put down everyone who isn't like them and think it's funny. They remind me of bullies in the schoolyard, a phenomenon I am familiar with from my long-ago youth, and have no desire to perpetuate in the grown-up world.

Unfortunately, many people find these commentators funny, or they feel vindicated in their own not-very-hidden prejudices when they hear comments by the radio personalities that mirror their own feelings and thoughts.

I'm sure Imus is not sorry for what he said about the Rutgers basketball team members. I think he's sorry he got in trouble and lost his job. And I don't think CBS or MSNBC are sorry either. They are just sorry they lost the support of their advertisers. If Imus had "gotten away with" his comments, and had just increased his audience by the notoriety, CBS and MSNBC would have been happy to keep him on board and continue to rake in the big bucks. After all, how many other equally offensive things has he said over the last 30 years and not gotten fired?

We all know that not all derogatory speech is created equal. People on the other side of the racial divide often say things that are biased against whites or other groups and they get a pass. And it's always still open season on gays and fat people, as Harvey Fierstein pointed out in yesterday's Times op-ed piece. Imus is just the scapegoat because he picked the wrong people to pick on, and they called him on it.

Maybe the bigger question is, why do we as a country lionize these people who make their living putting down other people and speaking with offensive language? When did our society become so crass, so crude, that we no longer have any standard of decency?

I'm not saying that we should go back to the days when a married couple on TV had to have twin beds, a la Rob and Laurie Petrie, and when "All in the Family" shocked people by having a toilet flush - imagine - in the background! But I am fondly recollecting the time when George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine truthfully reported there were indeed seven words you absolutely could not say on television. Admittedly, in talking about them, Carlin did say them. But not on television. After watching some recent episodes of South Park and my first ever episode of the Sopranos (we just got HBO) I know that the limits he was talking about are long gone, at least on cable.

And that is just one breakdown in civility in this country. Speech against other groups has never been stronger on the "shock jocks" radio that many everyday people seem to flock to. On one hand, some deride efforts at civility as "political correctness" and yet there is more non-PC talk then ever.

People like Imus cross the line on the radio all the time. It isn't until someone says "No, this is wrong, and we aren't going to take it," that this kind of talk is stopped.

The hostility and mean-spirited commentary spills over from the shock jocks onto other talk radio. Ann Coulter says horrible things about the liberals and anyone else she doesn't agree with; and so do many other commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, and his callers. The hatred that oozes from these people just because they don't agree with others on political issues is unbelievable. And of course, the vituperation can happen on the other side too.

I am totally against censorship; I'm not a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but would be if I got up the energy to join. The government shouldn't be regulating what is said on radio. But the marketplace and the audience have the right to regulate it. And in this case, they did just that.

Maybe it's time people turned off the radio when they hear hateful comments about others. Maybe it's time we stopped writing about them in People magazine. Maybe it's time we just say no to this type of "entertainment."

There is plenty of talk radio that stays within the bounds of civility and still manages to be entertaining: The Curtis and Kuby show on WABC radio, for instance. Two opposing viewpoints, good discussions, intelligent (for the most part) call-ins. But they don't cross the line. Kuby of course is the liberal, and is plenty PC, but even Curtis is respectful of diversity even though his opinions lean in the opposite direction from Kuby.

You don't have to be a bully to have a good radio show. And maybe it's time we went back to an era where people were more careful not to use language that hurts. Perhaps these shock jocks have forgotten that the people they are speaking about are actually people like themselves, people with feelings and hopes and dreams. The Rutgers women's basketball team reminded Imus of this. And the airwaves are cleaner for the reminder.

Now if only the other talk-radio show hosts would think about this as well. Maybe we could finally have a civil conversation about issues in this country instead of a shouting match of bullies throwing words like stones at each other.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

...I am my mother after all.

I'm not sure of the origin of this saying, but it is so true.

Is it like this for everyone? When you're young you swear you're never going to be ANYTHING like your mother. Nope, won't happen. Then gradually, the older you get, the more you realize you are EXACTLY like your mother. How does this metamorphosis occur?

When I was young, if I went to the mall with my mother I told her to walk 10 paces ahead of me so no one would know we're together. Heck, she wore what we called "pedal pushers," when no one else wore them, she wore tops that didn't tuck in, and elasticized was SO embarrassing.

Now I wear the exact same things. Except they call the pedal pushers Capris or crops now. And they're in style...for now. But I know, just like my mother, I will continue to wear them in the summer even when they're not in style. Because I wouldn't dare go out in public wearing shorts now with the legs I've got!

My mother was a Journalism major in college and went into medical writing as her career, at least until she had me and stopped working. I too majored in Journalism but by then they called it Communications. I never went into writing, I ended up in another field. But now after almost 30 years at the Big Corporation, I'm realizing that medical writing would have been perfect for me, with my fascination for all things medical. I may end up doing that yet.

When I was young I never thought my mother and I looked or acted anything alike. Now when people I know meet my mother the first thing they always say is "You look SO much alike!" I don't think it's the look so much. It's how we act. It's like in the old Patty Duke Show..."They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike" - it's about the mannerisms more than the actual resemblance. (Of course, in their case, they really were alike - they were both Patty Duke).

I find I let out a big sigh when I sit down in a chair, just like my mother. And, I have adopted her habit of saying "Oh, Lord," when something is just too much for me, including when I get up OUT of the chair. Just like my mother.

Mannerisms are one thing. But my other personality traits are getting more and more like hers as well.

My mother is not a morning person. She stays up till all hours reading and then sleeps till 11:30 or so in the morning. And she can't function unless she relaxes over her breakfast and coffee with her newspaper in the morning. And, my mother is always late for things. I have many memories of Sunday mornings when my father would be pacing impatiently with his overcoat on, waiting for my mother to go to church, and she was sitting there with her coffee, finishing her morning cigarette, saying "We have plenty of time." Of course they would always be a couple of minutes late.

When I first started working at the Big Corporation we had to be there at 8:15 sharp. I was always a couple of minutes late but at least I managed to get there within a minute or two. In order to accomplish this I usually slept till the last minute, took a quick shower, threw on my clothes, and bolted out the door, driving to work like a maniac.

Gradually over the years my lateness worsened. Luckily the standards relaxed as well. They developed a 3-tiered flex time where the latest schedule began at 8:45. That helped. Then I started slipping further and arriving later than 8:45. Later still I found it ruined my morning if I didn't sit and relax over my coffee with the newspaper, so I began taking longer and longer to get out of the house. Now my standards have slipped completely. I wander in any time after 9:30 but sometimes it's more like 10 after 10. I do work late and make up for it but I can't help realizing that I am more like my mother every day in this regard. Some day I may not be able to leave the house at all until 3 p.m., as is the case for my mother now!

My mother never worries about anything ahead of time; she knows how to roll with the punches. In this way I hope to be more like her, as I think it is the secret to her health and longevity. At 88, a pack-a-day smoker who never exercises, she still has normal blood pressure, takes no medications other than eyedrops for glaucoma, and is enjoying her life. My aunt, her sister, is the worrier in the family. Even though she doesn't smoke and exercised a lot more than my mother (she walked extensively up until a year or two ago) she is the one with heart trouble, insomnia, stomach problems, and she has had a couple of mini strokes.

Right now I'm more like my aunt when it comes to worrying about things, and have the high blood pressure to go with it. But if past performance is any indicator, the older I get the more like my mother I will become. So let's hope my metamorphasis continues until I am her clone in every way!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

First Destination Posted on Marvelous Meanderings!

I've finally completed the first real post on my new travel blog, Marvelous Meanderings. It covers the beautiful island of Maui. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, April 06, 2007

"Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely."

The full statement reads: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton, British statesman). So the more power we give to the religious right in this country, the more times we give in, the more corrupt their leaders will become.

Before I start this essay I want to say up front that I highly respect those who believe in their religion and sincerely try to live by it. I am not talking about those people when I refer to the “evangelicals” or the “religious right.” I am talking about those who profess to believe in the Bible and Jesus, but who are trying to get power in the government and eradicate our separation of church and state to gain power and money for themselves. This is how a theocracy is formed. Religious people who follow the tenets of their religion are not power-hungry. Zealots and hypocrites are.

Originally I had planned to just pick a topic such as gay marriage or stem cell research, and explain why having a theocracy would be detrimental in regard to these subjects.

But I realized that opponents of stem cell research or gay marriage would simply poke holes in whatever arguments I made, because their beliefs differ from mine. They would say that their values, which they feel are the right values, would prohibit either from taking place and that’s why they think combining religion with government is a good thing.

So I took a step back and thought about it from a holistic standpoint. What about a theocracy makes it inherently detrimental to the country? The answer came to me: Power.

Any time one point of view gets all the power, bad things happen. This applies in other countries, and it applies here in the United States. And when these bad things happen, they would affect all of us.

I read an interesting article in the NY Times the other day about a famous experiment that was done in the early 1970’s at Stanford University.

A social psychologist, Philip G. Zimbardo, picked two sets of students and subjected them to a harrowing experiment. Half of the students were told they were in charge of the other half, who were their prisoners. The psychologist refused to interfere in any way and gave the “guards” absolute power over the “prisoners.” The treatment of the “prisoners” deteriorated to such a degree that Dr. Zimbardo was forced to stop the experiment after only five days, although it was supposed to run for two weeks. The “guards” were subjecting the prisoners to torture of various types, deprivation of food, sleep and water, as well as physical abuse.

Obviously, it doesn’t take any imagination to translate these findings to explain what happened at Abu Ghraib.

To take this analogy in a different direction, let’s think about what could happen if religious zealots controlled the government completely. How could too much power affect these leaders?

Right now, although there are those in the government who have been elected with the help of right-wing evangelical religious groups, these leaders are not only beholden to them but also to the other constituencies they represent. And most of those elected because of these evangelical groups are not religious zealots themselves; they actually are using those that are supporting them in order to accomplish other objectives.

So there is a balance of power and the religious right does not get its own way on all of the issues their supporters would like.

But if the leaders themselves are the zealots and truly try to fulfill what they see is the mandate of the religion they profess to believe in, things change. As it is, President Bush has already made as many efforts as possible to shift the balance of power squarely into the Executive Branch, undermining the strength of the other branches of government.

If this process were ever completed, and a president were elected that truly vowed to make all the dreams of the religious right come true, the country could become a very scary place.

I was actually involved in an evangelical church back in the 1970’s (a long complicated explanation that I won’t go into now!). I was attending church faithfully and then one day they were preaching about Anita Bryant’s campaign in Florida to prohibit gay teachers from teaching the children. They were praying for her “success.” That was the last service I went to and I haven’t looked back since.

Evangelicals like to say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” But when “hating the sin” means they are so ignorant that they think that gay teachers might be an immoral influence (or worse) to children, and want to incorporate job discrimination into the law, then they are indeed “hating the sinner.” This is not what our democracy is about. And if people who believe this way received all of the power in this country, discrimination against people for sexual orientation would soon be the law of the land in certain professions.

Evangelicals believe that they are all going to participate in the Rapture in the End Times, when they are taken up to Heaven when Jesus comes back. They also believe the Bible has given them “dominion” over the rest of the earth. As a result, until very recently, most evangelicals have been anti-environment and were able to reconcile their religious beliefs with those of the business-favorable Republicans who also are against the environment. If all of the government were controlled by this type of believer, you could say goodbye to any semblance of adherence to the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act.

Of course, there is also the ever-present issue of the evangelicals’ battle against teaching evolution in the schools. No matter how much proof they are shown of the age of the earth, they continue to believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis. This is fine; unless they are in charge. As it is, they are in charge in some areas of the country and are starting to teach “Intelligent Design” in the classrooms. If they were in charge of the whole country, you could expect to see this rolled out nationwide. As it is, our kids are growing up learning less than in many other countries, and the United States is falling behind in science. If we start teaching our kids information with no scientific validity, we will only fall farther behind.

Unwanted pregnancies? Say hello again to back-alley abortions and women and girls dying because they try to end a pregnancy on their own; or girls who are forced into bearing unwanted children who will grow up poor and underprivileged. Unwanted pregnancies would increase because people would not be able to buy birth control at their local pharmacies anymore if it is the type of birth control that would offend the conscience of a religious zealot.

Stem cell research? Forget about it. No cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease in our lifetime.

Gay people would be marginalized and would have to start keeping their true identities hidden for fear of losing their jobs or even being committed against their will to psychiatric hospitals to undergo a “cure.” Children of gay couples might be taken from the only parents they ever knew “for their own good.” Other children would languish in foster care because there would be fewer couples available to adopt special needs kids, which gay couples are often willing to do.

This would just be the tip of the iceberg. You’d also have more religious wars to look forward to, as the evangelical right is fiercely anti-Islam. I have a friend who is extremely sincere in her beliefs, and I respect them. But she is inundated with propaganda from her church which is anti-Islam. She sends me e-mails all the time with scary pronouncements about the dangers of Islam. And she doesn’t see that her religious group believes just as strongly as those that follow Islam and has the same kinds of prejudice. She doesn’t see that Holy War is an oxymoron.

As someone who has studied the Bible and been a part of the evangelical movement in the past, I see a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of disconnects between what is said by the religious right, and what I see said in the Bible. But they are not seeing it.

Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” He did not say “Try to get leaders elected who will do what I say.”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He did not say, “Make my kingdom happen here on earth.”

Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” He did not say, “Try to get leaders elected who will give you tax cuts.”

Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He did not say, “Let big businesses flourish at the expense of little people and help rich people get richer.”

Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” He did not say, “Rich people should run the government.”

Jesus said, “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.” He did not say, “Start a preemptive war with an Islamic country for no good reason.”

Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He did not say, “Even though you want to have a loving family surrounding you, don’t let those gay people do the same thing. They should be miserable because they are sinners.”

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” He did not say, “You have the right to sentence people to death, and to decide whether they are worthy of having the same rights you have."

Yet these are the kinds of people that the religious right are supporting, people who believe in all of the things that were NOT said by Jesus. If the United States became a theocracy, these people would band together and make life as we know it obsolete.

The scenarios I’ve described above would just be the beginning. As the power started to corrupt further, people would become afraid to speak what was on their mind if it didn’t match what the leaders believed. Freedom of speech would be curtailed. Those in power might start a secret police system to spy on people to find out if they are gay and kick them out of jobs. They might start arresting young girls for having abortions or the doctors who provided them. It could get even worse. Neighbors could be reporting on neighbors. Oh, I forgot, they already asked people to do that since 9/11…

I won’t even go into all the examples of how power has corrupted theocracies in the past. I just need to say “Spanish Inquisition,” “Crusades,” and “Henry the 8th” and you get the idea. Don’t let it happen here. Heed the warning.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy April 6-8

Have you ever heard of a blogswarm? Well, I'm planning on participating in one now that I know what they are. I somehow got a link to Blue Gal and heard about the Blog Against Theocracy to be held April 6-8. Check out the link Blog Against Theocracy for full information about how it works.

You just have to post once during that time period on one of the subjects relating to separation of church and state. Then you e-mail your post to and it will get posted onto the Blogswarm site.

Although I tend to lean toward the agnostic side of things, you don't have to be non-religious to believe this country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state, and to feel that this principle is being eroded and is in danger of eradication under the present administration.

I hope no one is offended by this; I mean no criticism or disrespect of anyone's beliefs as long as they don't start affecting the lives of those who don't share those beliefs. Freedom of speech is a fine line - you have to make sure one person's freedom of speech doesn't impinge on another person's freedom to practice their religion. But by the same token you can't let someone's practice of their religion impinge on someone else's life either.

Let's preserve our freedoms. Blog against theocracy this weekend.

Pit Bull Ponderings

I keep noticing an "AdSense" ad for "Blue Pit Bull." I hope to heaven my blog is not advertising for some pit bull breeder that is breeding them for the wrong reasons. I am not allowed to click on my own ads (AdSense rule) so I can't follow up on it to find out. So if anyone is following that ad please let me know if it is a legitimate site, or whether it is advertising pit bulls that are huge, called "game," or in any way implied to be fighting dogs.

I am supportive of knowledgeable breeders breeding good pit bulls that have excellent temperaments, which is their natural personality. The pit bull has been bred historically to be good with people, and was once "America's Dog" back in the mid-20th century. It is only in recent years that unscrupulous people and back-yard breeders have been breeding dogs that are aggressive to people. These are the breeders we need to put out of business so that the pit bull breed regains its deservedly good image.

My dog has the greatest temperament - she passes every temperament test, she has her Canine Good Citizen Certificate, and probably could get her Therapy Dog certification if I worked at it. She is the only dog I've ever seen that actually wags at passing cars. And if she sees a stranger walking toward her on the street, the tail immediately starts going and she is disappointed if she isn't able to greet them personally.

This whole issue was brought to mind by the fact that our local newspaper's website had a poll today asking "What do you think of pit bull dogs as pets?" with answers like: "They scare me," "They should be banned from neighborhoods with kids," "They make fantastic guards for your house" (they don't, actually - they're too friendly); and finally "They're just lovable K-9's."

First of all, why post this poll in the first place? There have been no incidents that I am aware of in our area in recent weeks that would prompt such a poll. It's just catering to media hype. Why not have a poll about German Shepherds? Or ferrets? Or wild animals? Why pit bulls? Because pit bulls are all any newspaper ever wants to talk about. If there is a dog attack, it always mentions if it's a pit bull (and who knows how many really are actually pit bulls; often it turns out the dog is not a pit bull). But if it's some other kind of dog, breed is seldom mentioned. That is why I question if the statistics they have are even accurate since many people don't even know what breed of dog they're talking about when they call something a "pit bull."

Can YOU find the pit bull in this group?

(By the way, I picked the wrong dog myself!)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Political Humor

I recently saw an article on my favorite daily blog, Baristanet, which chronicles the latest events in my local area in Northern New Jersey. The accompanying picture showed a guy holding a bumper sticker that looked like this:

Being a Harry Potter fan AND a Democrat, I loved it. So I did a little Googling and found the website that sells them: I also found this funny link to the original cartoon that started the idea:

Hope you enjoy these tidbits.

I've been spending my time working on the first real post on my Marvelous Meanderings website. I'm almost done so keep an eye out. I'll post an announcement here when it's finished so you can check it out!