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Signing Statements for You and Me

August 29, 2006
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I’m a little behind on some of the summer’s news, particularly news that was dropped like a runny popsicle by most news agencies.  Earlier this month, the American Bar Association formally protested President Bush’s overuse (in their eyes) of “signing statements,” which U.S. Presidents can add to bills as they sign them.  Historically, these signing statements were usually on the order of “Great piece of legislation, everyone!” and they were relatively rare.  Recent presidents have been using them more frequently, often “to declare that sections of the bills they sign are unconstitutional [in their opinion], and that they thus need not be enforced as Congress wrote them” (Boston Globe, 7/24/06; outraged emphasis mine). Clinton did this more than 100 times.  Bush has done it more than 700 times. Which explains something that puzzled me; namely, why Bush doesn’t veto legislation.  Vetoes call attention to themselves and can be overridden by Congress.  Signing statements tend to fly under the radar, and they’re much harder to counter.  By using signing statements, presidents can essentially give themselves the line-item veto, which has been ruled unconstitutional.  This is not only a separation-of-powers issue, but a nonpartisan issue, as the next President will be sorely tempted to continue the trend if it isn’t stopped, no matter his/her party.

Is the widespread use of signing statements unethical?  Let’s look at it the way Kant might.  What if everyone used them?  Try it.  The next time you have to accept or reject a contract—a job description, a mortgage, wedding vows, etc.—just write in small letters (or mutter under your breath), “Not,” next to any parts of the contract you don’t think should be enforced.  Then don’t feel obligated to fulfill that part of the contract, and see what happens.

As you’re being escorted out of the building, sitting in jail, or watching your former spouse burn your possessions, just think what a shame it is you aren’t President.

Read this poem

August 21, 2006
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“The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver.  This means you–especially you who rolled your eyes when you saw the word “poem.”

Good luck and thanks to the brand-new Ethical Culture circle of San Jose, CA (or thereabouts), for introducing me to this poem.

What is it you plan to do?

Why I have trouble with Krista Tippett

August 20, 2006
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This morning I listened to her interview with Karen Armstrong on “Speaking of Faith” (NPR).  Armstrong is a well-known religious historian and writer, and she seems like a very thoughtful and ethically minded person.  I haven’t read all her books, but her main message in the interview clearly was that the highest ethical/religious virtue is compassion–being able to imagine yourself into the experience of another to better understand them.  She also said in several different ways that what she learned from leaving Christianity (she was a Roman Catholic nun as a young woman) and studying many religions is that how people treat each other is the important thing, not beliefs or creeds.  So how did Tippett summarize Armstrong’s story?  As (yet another) “journey back to faith.”  I felt that the phrase undermined Armstong’s whole point and shoved it into the popular girl-meets-god, girl-loses-god, girl-gets-god story.  I’m getting sick of the word “faith,” and I agree with Armstrong that what the world needs is less faith and more compassionate acts.  And I’m disappointed in Tippett for changing the subject.

Back and blogging

August 15, 2006
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I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things after being away.  So I’ll save the profundities (or what I like to imagine are profundities) and just pass on one lesson I learned while teaching this summer at the American Ethical Union Lay Leadership School: Practicing Non-Violent Communication is one of the hardest things on Earth.  Making cold fusion work is a walk in the park compared to trying to re-wire yourself to do things such as (a) describe an action without making a judgement (e.g., “When you turned away silently” vs. “When you ignored me”) and (b) figure out and state specifically what you really want and need (e.g., “I need you to say, ‘I love you but I can’t talk about this now'” vs. “I need you to pay more attention to my needs”).

And that’s just a couple parts of it.  There’s also describing your own feelings using actual adjectives (e.g., “I feel sad” vs. “I feel you are a big jerk”), making requests, etc.  Clear, compassionate, honest communication.  Terrifying to contemplate, isn’t it?  I thought ethics was just about telling other people why they’re wrong. . . .

Deer dilemna

July 13, 2006
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For the past couple weeks I’ve been in New York, keeping an eye on my dad, who is convalescing from a very nasty tick-borne disease called babesiosis.  It’s rather like malaria for the American Northeast, spread by the ticks on the proliferating deer and mice.  Although my father is on the mend, I’ve been surprised how quickly my former attitude toward the deer has changed.  Although they have ruined almost every garden my parents and their neighbors have planted in the last dozen years, and although Lyme disease runs rampant in the area (also carried by the ticks), I formerly held the line separating the deer as beings from the problems they cause us.  It’s humans that have moved onto their turf in such numbers that they have nowhere to go but our backyards.  Bleeding-heart vegetarian etcetera. 

Now I want them dead.  To paraphrase George W. Bush, They tried to kill my daddy.  There is apparently a company that will come onto your land and kill your deer and donate the meat to homeless people.  Clearly this company exists to placate the consciences of people like me. 

What will we do?  Well, my parents’ property is part of a co-op with many other houses, whose daddies the deer have not tried to kill.  I will leave it up to them.  Sometimes the only honest way you can solve an ethical dilemma is to recuse yourself.

Summer blogging schedule

June 26, 2006
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I believe that summers should be about not having a schedule, so I can’t tell you exactly how much blogging I’ll be doing for the next couple months.  Some, but not a lot.  I will be attending the American Ethical Union‘s yearly Assembly in Chicago next weekend, and after that I will be on vacation.  My plans include continuing to search for reading as good as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series (very difficult, though I’m enjoying Independent People by Halldor Laxness), and, not at the same time, going on a one-week media fast: no Internet, TV, movies, radio, magazines, not even books.  Which leaves gardening and cooking.  Assuming I survive, I’ll let you all know how that goes.

William Bloody Shakespeare

June 20, 2006
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We went to see Shakespeare in the Park last week.  The play was Julius Caesar, and it was a good production, but what came to my mind, sitting out on Art Hill on a perfect summer night, were some words from another Shakespeare play, words that have been coming back to me again and again for the past few years.  They’re from Henry V, in the scene where King Henry is in disguise and talking with some of his soldiers the night before a battle:

KING HENRY V
. . . methinks I could not die any where so
contented as in the king’s company; his cause being
just and his quarrel honorable.

WILLIAMS
That’s more than we know.

BATES
Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know
enough, if we know we are the king’s subjects: if
his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes
the crime of it out of us.

WILLIAMS
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at
such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of
subjection.

King Henry’s response to this accusation, after some lame analogies, is that the king is not responsible for soldiers’ deaths because their deaths are not his express purpose in going to war.  This is also the argument that no one is morally responsible for “collateral damage,” even though such deaths, like soldier’s deaths, are a certainty of going to war.

I saw my brother play the soldier Williams when I was a kid, but if you Google “But if the cause be not good” and “Iraq” together, you get over a hundred hits, covering everything from casualty numbers to the justification for the war to torture and atrocities,  so clearly I am not alone in being haunted by this scene.

And it’s worth mentioning that in Julius Caesar, replacing the “king” doesn’t help, as long as those who replace him suffer from the same blindnesses.

Love Is Stronger Than Death

June 13, 2006
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Our community has suffered several sad losses lately, so I revisited Ethical Culture Leader Arthur Dobrin’s little booklet “Love Is Stronger Than Death.” You can read it online here. His words are very helpful to anyone who is grieving, which includes all of us at one time or another. It’s also helpful to anyone who knows a person in grief.

From Chapter 1: “I think there are two ultimate sources of comfort for the bereaved. The first is the recognition that the great mystery is not death but birth, not that someone loved is now gone but that the person was here at all. The great gift is life and loving and being loved in return. In this way love is stronger than death. The second source of comfort comes from other people, from those who can sit quietly and simply be with the bereaved. Their love, kindness, tenderness and caring is what gives us the strength to go on.”

It’s often uncomfortable to reach out to those in mourning: we don’t want to say the wrong thing; we feel useless; we have our own painful memories and issues surrounding death. It helps to be reminded that we are each other’s ultimate comfort and way back to life. Any reaching out done with love and caring reaffirms that–no matter if we’re a little awkward or don’t know what to say. Our presence is the important message.

Politics, music, and protest

June 8, 2006
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A couple links to some powerful words I’ve come across this week:  This one is a blog entry by Jean Sara Rohe, the student speaker who was in the news recently for her speech criticizing her school’s commencement speaker, Senator John McCain.  She describes her decision to take the action she did, and the transcript of her speech at the bottom is quite mature and thoughtful — very different from the way it was portrayed in the media. This one is a blog entry about Bruce Springsteen’s new album of classic folk songs, and the importance of honoring roots and history.  The last paragraph in particular could be a humanist artistic credo.  I recommend checking them both out.  Enjoy.

Anti-marriage amendment

June 6, 2006
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The U.S. Senate is voting this week on the anti-marriage amendment to the Constitution, which would take away the right of states to decide the issue of same-sex marriage and would legalize discrimination in the document that is supposed to be the last, best defense of our rights.

As you can tell, this is not an issue I strive to be “open-minded” about, although I know there are good-hearted people who are uncomfortable with it.  It’s okay to be uncomfortable, but personal discomfort is not an ethical basis for denying others their civil and human rights, or for establishing fundamentalist Christianity as American marriage law.  There is no evidence that same-sex marriage will hurt anyone, and plenty of evidence that it will help gay and lesbian families and therefore the whole nation.

The Ethical movement officially supports same-sex marriage, and the National Leaders Council has stated that according to our beliefs, a same-sex commitment ceremony is equal to a legal wedding, no matter what the laws say.  It’s unlikely this amendment will pass the Senate, nor does the scapegoating of gays and lesbians seem to be distracting people from the real problems in our country this time.  Nevertheless, contacting your senators is always a good idea.

"X-Men: the NGO" ?

May 30, 2006
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We went to see the new X-Men movie this weekend.  I was a fan of the comics as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed the movies, for the most part.  I enjoyed this one—I laughed, I cried, I cheered Ian McKellen (he’s the bad guy, but the best actor).  And yet, as I watched another “evolutionarily advanced” super-being blow something else up, I realized that all superheroes do (in America at least) is destroy.  Even the good guys are primarily good because they can wipe out bad guys.  Destruction is supposedly a symbol of power, yet destruction is so easy.  And so much faster and louder and more spectacular.  But does it really take more power, let alone courage and control, than creation?   Is the power to destroy worthy of respect (as opposed to healthy fear)?

Would we go see a movie about mutant superheroes who worked for the Peace Corps and never punched or exploded anything?  Who built bridges and vaccinated children at superspeed or settled conflicts with superpatience?  What if they still wore sexy outfits?  Or are we all too used to an orgy of violence now to find peaceful progress interesting?

Each generation re-founds its movement (hopefully)

May 23, 2006
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A transcript of my recent interpretation of the Founding Address of Ethical Culture, as well as the original by Felix Adler, is now available by clicking here. The podcast will be available soon.  A shorter and also very interesting talk by Adler on the 50th anniversary of the founding address can be read by clicking here.

In the later address, Adler says that the new “menace” to society is no longer fundamentalist religion but rampant individualism. To counter this new menace he advocates a “spiritual evolution” in which “[b]inding ties are imposed not from above (by fiat of God) but from ahead. The radiant future stretches forth its arms toward us, and binds us to be willing servants to its work, willingly to accept those limitations of the individual will which are indispensable in the service of a far-off cause, a service which at the same time disciplines and ennobles the individual himself. This, to my mind, is the solution of the problem how constraint upon the self is compatible with the affirmation of the self.”

Now that we’re being menaced by fundamentalist religion and rampant individualism, Adler’s words seem more relevant than ever.

Was America founded by Ethical Culturists?

May 17, 2006
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“Today some aspects of Deism are continued in the United States in the Masonic order, in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination, in the Ethical Culture Movement, in the tradition of free-thought, in the historical-critical approach to the Bible that emerged in the late-nineteenth century (and that is foreshadowed on some pages of the Age of Reason), and to some extent in the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers).”   – From David Holmes’ new book, Faiths of the Founding Fathers (p. 48).

Definitions of Deism tend to focus on how strongly a person believes in a god or gods and how those gods are understood.  The part of Deism that Ethical Culture inherited is the idea that humans are wholly responsible for solving our problems, creating our own revelations, and taking care of each other.

Religion and Ethics and post-abortion counseling

May 16, 2006
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Last week the PBS show Religion and Ethics covered competing conservative/liberal post-abortion counseling and support movements. The show featured St. Louis’s own Rabbi Susan Talve and Rev. Rebecca Turner, executive director of the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (of which the Ethical Society is a member).

The conservative movement mentioned in the piece, called Rachel’s Vineyard, has hundreds of retreats that, according to their website, offer a non-judgmental environment.  Look through the rest of their website and judge for yourself how likely that is.

Founders Day

May 14, 2006
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Platform Address by Kate Lovelady, Leader
Delivered on 14 May, 2006

A very free and idiosyncratic re-wording by Kate Lovelady, Leader of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, of the Founding Address by Felix Adler, May 15, 1876, New York Society for Ethical Culture.  (Read the original address).

PLATFORM TALK

For a long time now, people have suspected that–without meaning offense to traditional religious institutions–Sundays might be used for a better purpose than they are now. They might even be used to advance the general good. During the past few years this suspicion has become an urgent conviction, and those who feel passionately about this purpose have brought us together today.

So brave a cause as moral progress can only succeed with the help of many, and so you are here. My task is to explain, as frankly and plainly as I can, our ideal goals and our great plans. We are about to set out on an untrodden path that will take our lives in a new direction, so let us begin by looking at the health and happiness of both our public and our private worlds.

We would seem to live in a golden age, having left behind so much ignorance and brutality and having achieved unimagined technological progress, comfort, even luxury. Yet our technology also has made possible unimagined evil, and our relations with each other seem to lag far behind our intellectual and economic progress. The old faiths have fallen before new knowledge; doubt spreads even in places where it is forbidden to speak of it. The foundation of our morality has been the old faiths, and as that foundation has crumbled so has our understanding of our obligations to each other as members of the human family—our understanding of every person as sacred. In our anxiety and our greed we sacrifice what should be most precious, and we sell the possibility of a better future for short-term gain.

I do not wish to imply that personal or national wealth is necessarily immoral. It is usually easier to pursue happiness in a rich country than in an impoverished one, and millions have come to America for a better life. But as we diminish our pursuit of happiness to a mere pursuit of personal wealth and comfort, we diminish ourselves and we forget life’s greater causes and meanings. We have already lost much of a sense of meaningfulness in life; we are rudderless ships tossing on economic tides, each of us absorbed in the race of competition or in simply remaining upright. And when we make it to harbor, we find our home fires barely burning. We come home at night tired, perhaps to tired children and a tired partner, with our minds still at work. We are pulled between our jobs and our relationships and our families, and more and more often something breaks. Being a partner and a parent requires a commitment of time and attention, as well as inner resources that can only be developed with time and attention. More and more we trust in strangers to care for and educate our children. We spend our days in the frenzied pursuit of money and our so-called leisure time in the frenzied pursuit of shallow and fleeting pleasures. Our only true joy is in music—the divine comforter that wordlessly speaks of an ideal beauty and harmony far transcending our prosy life.

The great and crying evil of modern society is want of purpose, a narrowness of vision that shuts out the wider vistas of the soul, the absence of the inspiration that consecrates existence. We keep so busy that we may not feel wanting. But there comes a time of rude awakening. We lose a job, a home, we lose a loved one. In such hours, what is to keep us from despair, if not the deeply held and developed conviction that humanity has a great and unselfish work to perform, independent even of comfort, yet work in which we will find our true solace, our enduring reward?

Our private concerns also have a wider effect, because our homes are the roots of the nation, and when they are weakened, the fruit that is our public integrity rots on the vine.

This is the 100th anniversary of our nation. General Washington once declared, “The national policy would be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality,” and he appealed to the wisdom and integrity of the founders to safeguard our nation. If he were here today, he would find on his doorstep each morning a new story of corruption and perjury. Our highest offices contain the worst offenders, and America hangs her head in shame before the nations! And for what have these miserable men and women sold their honor and that of the people? For more riches to heap on an already obscene pile. Reformers suggest new laws or regulations, but how can they succeed when the lawmakers and law-enforcers are themselves corrupt? All reform will fail unless the source of the corruption is addressed, unless conscience is awoken, the confusion of right and wrong made clear, and the higher purposes of our being brought powerfully home to the hearts of all people.

And beyond the need for greater well-being in our private and public lives, what of those who will inherit the future we build? What shall we do for them? Shall we let them go forth into this world of sorrow and confusion and dead-end temptations, without even an effort to help them? We work and struggle to give our children a better life as measured by money and possessions. What do we do to help them live a more joyful, meaningful, ethical life? To help them create a world not founded on greed and inequality? To help them be true men and noble women who can meet all challenges because they believe in the destiny and the dignity of humankind? What do we do? We teach them to repeat some scattered verses of the Bible, some doctrine they can hardly comprehend; and then at the age when doubt begins to arise and grope toward the light, we send them out to fend for themselves. Do you believe that they are magic charms, these empty words you teach your children?

Many have said that the most important qualities of childhood—innocence and wonder—are disappearing; that respect for parents has become old-fashioned. A generation ago we had great hopes for the future. Have those hopes been fulfilled? Has the passive wonder of those children grown into active idealism? We have sown the seeds of long neglect, of hopes and promises abandoned. Change must come, and it can be brought about only by our combined efforts.

We live in a society with a division of labor: builders build our houses, bakers bake our bread. Most of us focus on one calling or career, and we have specialists in every field and endeavor. We entrust our children’s intellectual education to teachers who specialize in different areas of knowledge. Why should we assume, then, that the moral education of our children, the highest object of parenthood, can be achieved in the odd hours between more important activities? Society needs specialists in the moral education of children, people who will throw all their energy and passion, their hearts and minds, into this difficult but noble work.

The past speaks to us in a thousand voices; great thinkers warn and comfort and stir us to action, if we can hear them. The future also speaks; it calls us to prepare its way. Dare we fail to answer?

For all these purposes, we propose to unite in community, to set apart one day of the week to repair the wasted energies of body and mind, to remind each other that more profound relations between people are possible. We choose Sunday, for the practical reason that it is currently the only day of rest from business. Ancient traditions have chosen other days to meet, and had the labor laws chosen a different day of rest we would accept any one of them equally. The name of the day is unimportant. We are concerned only with the opportunity it offers. How others see fit to spend this day is not our affair, and if others misinterpret our choice to meet on Sunday, the practical work we achieve will quickly dispel their ideas. Some have argued that Sunday should be reserved for private time with family. While we respect this idea, we believe that an hour spent in serious reflection will not infringe upon our families but rather enrich all aspects of our lives, and add zest to all our joys.

Our meetings will be simple, and free from all formal ceremony. They are to consist primarily of a lecture, accompanied by music to both elevate and calm our emotions. The lecture will have two goals: First, to tell the story of human aspiration, to explore the roots of our continuing conflicts as well as to celebrate our achievements of social justice and the interdependence of all people. For just as viewing great works of art refines our aesthetic taste, so contemplation of higher thoughts enlarges our souls. Second, the lectures will clarify our responsibilities as moral beings in view of the political and social evils of our age, and provide us with consolation even in the midst of anguish.

But do not fear that we will create a new priesthood. The job of public teacher is an unenviable one. Few people will leave the seclusion of the scholar’s life, or the peaceful walks of literature, to become a target for the criticism of unkind and hostile minds. Moreover, the lecturers are but instruments. You listen not really to them but rather to those countless voices through the ages of which they are merely humble interpreters. Yet there are things no lecture, no language on earth can express—the nameless yearnings of the soul for a world that is far better and happier than we can even imagine. Such longings only music can express and relieve.

We will eliminate prayer and every form of ritual, on the one hand to avoid interfering with those to whom prayer and ritual are an important expression of their religion, and on the other hand to honor those who have dispensed with prayer and ritual as unfulfilling. It is my dearest hope to raise our movement above religious strife, to be that common ground where we may all meet, believers and unbelievers, for purposes universally understood as worthy and important.

Surely it is time. For more than three thousand years the earth has been drenched with blood over disagreements of doctrine. There have been no wars more terrible than religious wars, no hates more bitter than religious hates, no cruelty more brutal than religious cruelty. Countless families have been destroyed. And for what? Are we any nearer to agreement? On the contrary, diversity within and between churches has never been so widespread. Sects and factions multiply on every hand.

Freedom of thought is a sacred right of every individual, and diversity will increase with the progress of human intelligence. But if difference is inevitable and welcome in the realm of ideas, there is a sphere in which harmony and fellowship are desperately needed. Believer or non-believer, we will respect every honest conviction. But be one with us in action. Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed! This is the practical religion with which none can disagree. This is the platform broad and solid enough to hold the worshipper and the atheist. This is that common ground where we may all grasp hands as brothers and sisters, united in humankind’s universal cause.

The Hebrew prophets said, to serve Jehovah is to make your hearts pure and your hands clean from corruption, to help the suffering, to raise the oppressed. Jesus of Nazareth said that he came to comfort the weary and heavy-laden. The Philosopher affirms that the true service of religion is to serve the common good. There is no difference among these. There is no difference in the moral law. But many prefer to argue over the origin of the law than to follow it. It is easier for some to say, “I do not believe,” and to think no more about it, and easier for others to say, “I believe,” in order to bribe their way into heaven, than it is for any of us to fulfill our human responsibilities, with all the daily struggle and sacrifice that they require. To echo Edmund Burke from one hundred years ago, “The proposition is peace!” Peace to the shouting and warring sects, peace to heart and mind— the peace that is the fruit of true freedom. Let religions wave a white flag over the battlegrounds of the past and turn the desolate fields into sunny gardens and shaded sanctuaries. Let her call we travelers from the dusty road of life to breathe a softer, purer air, fragrant with the flowers of wonder, and musical with sweet and restful melody. There shall we bathe our spirits in clear water and take up our journey again vigorous and fully alive.

Why should there be any more dividing lines between people? Why should the fires of prejudice flare? Why should we not hold this common ground that we have found at last, and protect it—the stronghold of freedom and of all the humanities for the long years to come? Not since the Reformation has there been a crisis as great as in this present age. The world grows darker around us. And yet there is light ahead. Starry legends greet us shining through the past on their way to the misty vistas of the future—they tell us that humanity will continue to birth great and noble sons and daughters, that truth will triumph in the end, that even the humblest servant of humankind may become the instrument of unending good. We are helping to lay the foundations of a movement whose fulfillment will not be seen for centuries upon centuries. But we will be content, if we can contribute even the least toward such an achievement. The time calls for action. Let us do our part faithfully and well. And O, friends, our children’s children will hold our memories dearer for the work that we begin this hour.

“Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed!” — Felix Adler, Founding Address 1876

In memory of Leon Deraps

May 11, 2006
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Whom I never had the chance to meet Leon was a Marine serving in Iraq and the youngest grandson of one of our feistiest members (and that’s saying something). His grandfather’s continuing goal in life is to warn as many other youth as possible about the realities of military service–particularly the low-income and minority youth who often see the military as their best hope for a career. Leon was killed this week. There’s an article about both of them here.

I didn’t know Leon or his parents, but my guess is that they feel his death was a necessary sacrifice for a noble cause. I think you would have to feel that way to keep from going mad. I imagine Leon felt his death would be worth it, though I wonder how many soldiers who feel that way would feel differently if they really knew that they would be the sacrifice. We aren’t built to believe in our own deaths, especially when we’re young and healthy.

My condolences to the men and women and children who’ve died in this war, to the families separated and destroyed by it, to the international goodwill squandered by it. It’s hard to imagine that it will ever seem worth it. I don’t even know whether it’s blasphemous to the sanctity of life to hope somehow that it will.

Give us a peace equal to the war / Or else our souls will be unsatisfied, / And we will wonder what we have fought for / And why the many died. –Langston Hughes

Francis Howell saves Christmas

May 5, 2006
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Update to my last post.  The FH school board voted 4-3 to change the name of their winter break to Christmas break.  (Article here.)

Significantly, one of the main crusaders on the school board said that should the district be sued over this change, he was confident of pro-bono help from the Alliance Defense Fund–which is linked to Campus Crusade for Christ and the Focus on the Family folks that recently sought to “cure” St. Louis’s gays and lesbians.  (You can read about the fund here.)
A silver lining is that Francis Howell’s teachers have a perfect case study at hand when their classes discuss diversity, multiculturalism, and mutual respect.  Or are those topics only to be covered at home, like sex education?

I tried so hard . . .

May 3, 2006
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. . . not to write about the “War on Christmas,” a “controversy” that tends to make everyone in the discussion sound “nuts.”  I wrote and then deleted a long blog entry in December about it.  Yet with the May flowers it has bloomed on our doorstep:   “The Francis Howell School Board is considering changing the name of the winter break to ‘Christmas break’.”  The vote is expected to take place tomorrow, May 4.  An article on this is available here (Google cache).

Interesting quotes from the article:
” ‘The reason we take a break is because it’s Christmas, not because it’s winter.’ “  Actually, the reason Christmas is celebrated in late December is to coincide with the Winter Solstice, a traditional time of celebration for thousands (more than 2) of years.

“[School board member] Black said he was offended that Francis Howell was helping to minimize the segment of society that celebrates Christmas.”  . . . I admit this is a very unethical of me, but the only response I have to those worried about the marginalization of 95% of society is laughter.  I suppose I should feel sorry for all those kids who wouldn’t even know it was Christmas unless their school calendar told them . . . sorry, I’m laughing again. 

Would re-naming it Christmas Break mean that kids who don’t celebrate Christmas have to stay in school?  Of course not–it wouldn’t mean anything, really, except that when it comes to religion in school and appreciation of diversity, “Majority Rules.”  Is that really what Francis Howell wants to teach its students? 

Again

April 25, 2006
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Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the best way to remember such an event is to fulfill the promise of “Never Again.”  To that end, please click here to hear “The Best Hope for Peace in Darfur,” a panel discussion that recently took place at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.  Taking part was the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General and Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, whose reporting on the genocide in Darfur is trying to prove that one person’s pen (or keyboard) can make a difference.

More than you wanted to know, but maybe less than you need to

April 24, 2006
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I don’t want to be confused with Katie Couric, but last week I had to get an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, and since these are procedures that many people need to get and are often afraid of, I thought I should say a few words about it. (I’m fine, by the way.) The fact that I’m a little embarrassed about writing this seems to me proof that I should, since things that are embarrassing we avoid, and when we avoid medical tests we endanger our lives.

First, I am a big coward when it comes to pain. I can barely keep from fainting when I have to give a blood sample. So I was worried about having an IV. But it didn’t hurt at all, partially because I announced I was a coward, so they were extra careful and an additional person even came over and held my other hand and distracted me while they were putting in the needle. So if you are coward, admit it. It can only help.

Second, the procedures themselves (I had both in the same session). –I have nothing to say about them, actually; I was out cold. I remember nothing between being told that my arm would feel warm when the sedative was added to the IV (which it did, but not in a painful way), and waking up an hour later to see Billy waiting to take me home. The drugs wore off quickly and I had no discomfort or side-effects. (Maybe they just played cards for an hour while I was asleep and then billed my insurance company. . . . ) Apparently it’s only in the last few years that they’re been putting people entirely under when they do these procedures. So if you had one a few years ago under local anesthesia and you hated the experience, it’s completely different now.

Third, since if you’re still reading you have some interest in this topic, it’s true that the worst part of a colonoscopy is the “prep,” which involves drinking a lot of powerful laxatives. However, that part wasn’t as bad as I feared either. It didn’t taste gross (I drank it mixed with Gatorade), and I didn’t have stomach cramps. It’s not an evening I care to repeat soon–it’s very boring–but it’s not nearly as bad as a stomach flu, and if you’re very cosmic and/or from California you can call it a “detox” and feel spiritual about it.

This was just my experience, and other people’s might not be as easy. . . . Discovering a drug allergy you didn’t know you had is not fun, for example. But these procedures can ensure your quality of life, or even save your life. Colon cancer in particular is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and a colonoscopy can reduce the average person’s risk of dying from cancer by 90%.

So if your doctor tells you that you need ’em, get ’em. It’s no big deal–even for a big coward.

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