Monday, December 17, 2012

Innocence lost? Innocence recaptured?

If nothing changes, our schools will become less a school and more like maximum security facilities. 

Our precious children will feel less like a student and more like a prisoner. 

Our educators may feel less like a teacher and more like a prison guard.

I would bet that in many of our schools the air of innocence has changed today.... feeling invisible? Perhaps, but felt? Most definitely.

Yes, we must protect our greatest and most precious of assets, but must we be forced to go such extremes? Must parents worry about their children's safety in the place we used to view almost as a holy ground?

The innocence of books, and of coloring and drawing, of running and playing during recess and in gym classes, of lessons and learning is slowly being strangled by fear.

It used to be a kiss and hug, and "I love you, have fun at school today" would suffice.

What the hell has happened to us?

Is this what is yet to come?

We love our guns. Will nothing ever change?

Newton, Connecticut's first responders after leaving
the scene before having to tell the parents their
children have been killed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Do we love our guns more?

Than we do our children?

These precious children will spend the rest of their lives trying to forget yesterday.

Any questions?

Not Again? Why do we let this happen again and again?

I don't want to say too much about this. After all, what can I possibly say that I have not said before?

I do not want to sensationalize nor do I want to point fingers. I just want this madness to end. Twice in one week--and a third incident this we

ek occurred in California this evening--this time, thankfully, without death or injury--we have had a crazed gunman unleashing whatever madness from which they suffered upon innocent victims.

Of course, I am talking about the senseless tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 

I am sad beyond sad. When I heard the news I sat stunned and I was mortified... and like most of you, I choked on the realization that 20 young children died so senselessly. Once again, young innocents died because of our cowardice to face the facts, that our fetish with guns is killing us.

12 beautiful little girls and 8 boys' families today are suffering in pain, anguish and despair. Seven adults' families' lives also are shattered (including the gunman's). This school's children today lost their innocence. The trauma they have suffered will surely haunt them for a long, long time.

I am sad beyond sad. As the President said yesterday, "I grieve as a parent." I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow these families are experiencing today. 

The time has long passed that we find a way to satisfy those who insist they must have their guns and those of us who sensibly ask for some kind of checks and balances to alleviate such tragedies. 

Between the years of 2000 and 2009, 298,000 Americans have died from violence surrounding our second amendment right to a own gun. Roughly, 30,000 Americans have died annually from gunshots. Some will claim, "take away guns and a murderer will still find away to kill." Perhaps so. But a gun makes killing so easy, so impersonal. Take a gun out of the equation and some of these 298,000 Americans might still have died, but NOT 298,000. 

The average murderer, if ever there was such a thing, with no access to a gun is less likely to kill. Most will not use a knife in fear of having it turned against them. Most will not have access to poison nor know how to use it if they did. Most would not use a car (yet another of those asinine arguments that cars kill people but no one advocates taking them away). Most would not attempt to physically kill... again, fearful of being killed themselves.

Social commentator Michael Moore today observed that on this, the 221st anniversary of the passage of the second amendment, we can see that our founding fathers took around 15 seconds to load a musket. Today, in those same 15 seconds one can kill dozens, if not hundreds of people!

So.... No more madness. No more blame. We must sensibly and calmly find a way to 1) address the health issues of those who have let loose their fury on children, on men and women with weapons that have no business being sold. C
learly, these people are suffering from sort of mental malady. 

2) We must and I do mean MUST sit down--both sides of the debate on gun control and do more than merely give lip service. If we do nothing, the comments "oh, this is terrible... those poor poor children..." and countless other offers of condolences will continue. 

Be clear here. Anyone who knows me knows I have no love of guns. I don't like them. I refuse to own one and I will never own one. 

That said, I do not advocate taking guns away from citizens, BUT I do insist there is absolutely no logical reason for an average citizen to own a high-powered automatic assault rifle. None.

I'm sorry, but whether anyone wants to admit, there is no reason for a gun to exist other than to kill and/or destroy... and yes, I realize a gun can also be used to protect. I understand that. I do not deny that, but sensible gun laws can be made that permit someone to own a gun without the fear of them going out and killing the masses indiscriminately.

I tire of the snarky remarks that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." 

This is incorrect. People do kill people... and they do it with guns. I am tired of the arguing. I shake my head when hearing people say we need more guns, not less. 

I am tired of those shouting down other who ask for a calm, logical dialogue. And most importantly, I am tired of us, as a nation, being forced to going through this time and time again.

Our children, our citizens, deserve better than this. Like you, I just want this madness to stop. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Undefeated! ND? Yes!!! ND!!

Tonight, my team--the University of Notre Dame--won their final game of the season, defeating their longtime nemesis, University of Southern California. This was a milestone for the team! They ended their season 12-0, the first time the Fighting Irish have had an undefeated season since 1988. On to Miami for a chance at being national champs! Way to go, Irish!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering--Honoring our Heroes

As Memorial Day approaches, I want to recall for you all a sad, but necessary tradition performed by servicemembers when a comrade has fallen. I witnessed--and participated in this in 2008 and 2009. The ceremony known as Fallen Comrade Ceremonial Parade.

As fate would have it, I was twice at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan when the following occurred.

In the dark of night (the first at 0200, the second night at 0400), while many of us were asleep, the base intercom shattered the already unquiet night (no matter what time, day or night, the whine of jet engines screaming and other activities fill the air at Bagram).

The voice called us out to join together to honor a fallen comrade.
As we pulled ourselves from the warmth of our sleeping bags (it was in winter months of November and February) and in the dark we fumbled to get into our uniforms, put on our cover, coat and gloves and we left our tents to walk up to the main street of the base. As we stumbled out to the street, we joined together in a fellowship only we servicemembers can truly appreciate.

We lined up standing side-by-side on the street. Men. Women. Americans. British—all coalition members. Both sides of the street we stood.

I leaned inward and looked to my left and right. What I saw was sobering. For the entire length of the street… at least a mile, I saw an unbroken line of servicemembers, hundreds of us, from all branches of service. We stood in silence. Alone in our thoughts, some in silent prayer. And we solemnly waited.

Eventually a vehicle would turn on to the street, from a starting point I do not know. It slowly approached us. As it neared, we all snapped to! Standing at attention. Being pulled behind the vehicle was a cart carrying a flag-draped coffin.

As the vehicle neared each of us we rendered a hand salute. As it passed we slowly de-saluted and returned to Attention!

We stood for a few minutes before breaking ranks and we returned to our tents, to the gym, to the Pat Tillman USO Center, the dining facilities, to our own thoughts and our own devices.

These two men's coffins were loaded aboard an awaiting plane to return their bodies home. Home to their loved ones.

For us, life went on.

Except for these two brave men (the first was American, the second a few months later, was a Polish soldier). You see, we didn’t care of what nationality. We didn’t care if we personally knew them or not.
We cared that they were honored… and especially that they were remembered. Someone’s son, brother, grandson, someone’s husband. Someone’s friend.

As I walked away from the second ceremony early that morning I remember thinking of the poor family back home that was probably just learning of their loved one’s death. I cried.

I was not in Afghanistan 11 months ago, but I know my former student Ben Rast was afforded this time honored ceremony after his death. I hope the Fallen Comrade Ceremonial Parade offers some comfort to those personally affected. I know I was. I’ll never forget it.

I wish I could present you a photograph of this ceremony. I almost took my camera (both times) with me that night and then thought better of it. I didn’t want to be “on duty” for this. I wanted to honor these two men in full. Somehow taking a picture for my own edification felt wrong. I don’t regret it, and you know, none of this was for me, it was for our honored dead.

I hope that ceremonies such as this are soon a thing of the past. Please think of this as you enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. The true meaning of the holiday is not for any of us, but for those who fought, and especially for those who died defending the ideals of what we hold dear.

U.S. Navy Hospitalman Ben Rast
Dec. 24, 1987 - April 6, 2011

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Divisiveness. Us vs. Them! is pure ugliness!

This objectionable photo is making the rounds again.

I first saw this when then-Senator Obama was running for President while I was stationed in Afghanistan in 2008. It angered me then; this weekend I saw it once again on Facebook and it pisses me off just as much now as it did four years ago. It was originally used to attempt to dissuade voters for voting for "one of them."

If this photo had been taken of President Bush, he'd have been holding a coloring book (j/k). Okay, okay, cheap shot.

Seriously, I see great things in this photo.

1) The photo shows Senator (when this photo was taken) Obama reading. Think of the message this sends out to young kids! The President is a man of books, scholarly books no less!

2) He is reading a book about other cultures! I only wish earlier Presidents had done more of this, maybe then they'd have had a better understanding of the people in the Middle East--nay, the world!

Our country has a long history of supporting the "wrong people" in that region... witness this, in the 1950s through the late 70s we supported the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iran and yes, the U.S. even supported Osama Bin Laden's attempts to combat Russia in Afghanistan in the late 70s, long before he turned on us. Our support for each of these men has come back to haunt our nation in countless ways in which we are still reaping the ill-effects.

3) His wedding band is clearly visible. Need I say more about that? Okay, maybe I should. I am referring to the fact that the President loves his family. He loves his wife and his two daughters! i.e., He IS a family man.

As to when I mentioned that earlier Presidents should expose themselves to other cultures either through book or more personal means, I think too many of all our politicians rely far too much on intelligence reports alone and not enough on just going out and testing the waters themselves (within the bounds of safety, of course). If we all truly were to experience the people here and abroad, I'd think we'd see that our perceived enemies are not so different than ourselves.

My comments below are aimed at no one in particular but just some thoughts and observations I have made while in Kuwait and in Afghanistan. I'm sure some of "my brothers and sisters" with whom I served have their own observations as well.

All peoples, all of them, worry about surviving one day to the next; we worry about feeding our children; worry about their future; hoping for a better day, etc.

For many cultures abroad, those people worry about from where their next meal will come.

Yes, many Americans worry about that as well, which only serves to make my point...

Many abroad worry about what disease might come along to wipe out all that they cherish; or if their own government will enslave them, or steal their children to fight their wars; and countless other things that we Americans would never ever consider or even question.

I have seen our people, leaders and civilians alike, spouting stupidity, saying other cultures place little or no value on human life. I dare anyone to go overseas, Africa or Afghanistan, or southeast Asia, for example, and talk to a parent who has watched a child die.

I posit they feel every bit the same loss we do when we lose a child.

While covering a story in Afghanistan, I personally witnessed the anguish of a father who had come to an Afghan medical clinic to see his son (a member of the Afghan National Police) who had been shot in the head by the Taliban. When told his son would never leave the clinic alive, I saw the pain as the father turned, head bowed as he walked silently away. Having a son myself, I can empathize how I would have felt. I wanted to cry for this man, so please do not tell me "they" do not value life the way we do.

Sure, it's easy to say things like that when we see someone walk into a crowd wearing a suicide vest. Sure, it's easy to point fingers and say, "see, this what the Muslim faith condones." I say hogwash! The Christian Crusades of earlier times was no less brutal and no less hateful.

I hesitate even doing the "my pain is worse than yours;" I am constantly reminded of the "people are people so why should it be that we get along so awfully (as the song says)?"

We've certainly had our own share of loonies here who have killed indiscriminately. Look at Timothy McVeigh, for example. His bomb targeted the innocent and left many a family in despair, wondering “why us? What did we do to deserve this?”

So many of us have not seen the abject poverty abroad (except perhaps those who have volunteered their time doing missionary work... or those of us servicemembers who have been stationed overseas).

I venture a guess that if our own people suffered from the same level of sadness, those who have witnessed civil war on a daily basis, the governments who have enslaved or starved their people, or those who have lived in a war zone day in and day out for year after year... witnessing pure futility. If we witnessed those kinds of horrors every day, do you really think we would act any better?

For our leaders who find it so easy to send our children into harm's way, I say that maybe they might be more hesitant to do so if they had to send their own children. In fact, I almost think it should be a prerequisite for sending others to war.

Sure, those of us who serve understand the magnitude and danger AND possible consequences of our actions. BUT tell that to a young child. Do they understand what it really means when Mommy or Daddy or their big brother or sister may not come home again? That they may never see them again. I firmly believe our leaders, Democrat and Republican alike, find it too easy to send troops overseas.

So why this lengthy commentary? If you read the original comment attached to the photo...

[THIS WILL CURDLE YOUR BLOOD AND CURL YOUR HAIR: The name of the book Obama is reading is called: The Post-American World and it was written by a fellow Muslim. "Post" America means the World After America! Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. Folks we need to be aware of what our President is thinking--or planning. We must expose Obama's radical ideas and his intent to bring down our beloved America!]

One can easily see the author was attempting to divide us by trying to paint the President as "one of them." It's outrageous, it's divisive, it's racist, it's anti-religious and it is pure bigotry. And I am sick of it.

And if you aren't, why not???

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Indiana legislators as teachers? Don't make me laugh... please

Here we go again. Our backward thinking, God-fearing (and I do not mean that in a good way) Indiana state legislators are at it again. This current session has been one of the most contentious, hateful (to individual freedoms) in recent memory. A bill has been introduced to instruct our public schools to begin teaching creationism to our children in science classes alongside the teaching of evolution.

To this, I say, oh hell NO!!!

If my vote means anything, I vote no. If teaching creationism must be inserted into our high school curriculum, it belongs in a religious studies unit, NOT in a science class.

If you really want—no, if you really need--your children to learn religious doctrine, please, please, please, do it yourself in the privacy of your own homes and in your churches... or send your children to a religious school. But let us not pollute our science classes with this hocus pocus, phony excuse for science!

Today, if I were still teaching (I taught English and U.S. History for eight years), and if I were told I would have to do teach religious doctrine in my classroom, I would quit my job.

Simply because I am not a pastor nor am I qualified to lead our children in religious dogma (nor do I want that responsibility), but I would bet your local minister is.

Religion and science, religion in public schools do not belong together. Not now, not ever!

One presiding problem with teaching evolution vs. creationism is this. Science teachers teach evolution is a theory, one that is evolving as we learn more and more through the fundamentals of study, research and practice.

It has been my experience that religious folk want creationism taught as a fact, no questions asked. You find me one religious person who will say that it is okay to say "there may be a God" and I'll eat my hat.

There is a big difference. Scientists don't claim to have all the answers. The fundies, however, look at God as being the be-all, end-all. I'm sorry, but a 2,000 year old book does not bring me answers, not ones that I wholeheartedly endorse. How can I? How can I believe a book that says it is okay to marry one's daughters? Or one that advocates stoning petulant wives or children?

Tonight, on a Facebook message board one person stated that one need do no more to find answers about creation than citing Genesis in the Bible. Again, I am sorry, but citing passages from Genesis is not proof of anything other than proof that you can read the Bible, and for that, I direct you to thank your elementary school English and reading teacher. is this.

Science teachers teach evolution is a theory, one that is evolving as we learn more and more through the fundamentals of study, research and practice.

Another gentleman, through the course of discussion said he refused to believe in evolution because he cannot accept that man came from apes. Funny, science has never said we came from apes. I suppose far too many people are confusing life here on Earth with "The Planet of the Apes." I had to laugh at yet another who said that the Bible even refers to the dinosaurs, calling them dragons. Sorry, but the concept of dinosaurs did not really occur until the latter part of the 19th century after fossil remains were discovered by a number or archeologists. I can almost envision some of these fundies pointing to “The Flintstones” as further evidence of man living with dinosaurs.

Whenever this argument comes up inevitably the subject of the U.S. Constitution comes up. Clearly, the First Amendment shows that our founding fathers believed we should have a separation of church and state. True fundies will, naturally, hear nothing of it.

Boldly proclaiming they know far more about what our founders had in mind. Really? How do they know this? Were they there when Thomas Jefferson and others wrote our most cherished national documents? Of course, the opposite could be said of me... was I there? No, but the following words…

"The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion..." pretty damning evidence what the founders had in mind when they framed the document to guide our leaders and our citizens in the days to come. I have heard fundamentalists time after time claim that those words do not implicitly forbid law and religion from climbing into bed together.

Yet if passing a law that permitting the instruction of creationism in public schools' science classes is NOT "respecting the establishment of religion," I don't know what is!

And if you think by not teaching creationism is impeding your exercising of your freedom of thought, think again. No one is saying you cannot believe in the God of your choosing; there are no thought police waiting out there to brainwash you into atheism.\

I would ask if you want, or need a teacher telling your children that "there *may* be a God." For religious folk, that is most certainly unthinkable. I'd hate to be the school secretary and later, the principal that gets an earful from that parent who said "what the hell (pardon the pun) are you teaching my child?"

A good science teacher teaches his or her students that evolution is a theory. For the fundies, they obviously want a teacher to say there IS a God--not there MAY be.

One person posted a notes saying she didn't understand the big fuss and offered the absurd idea of "why not ask the kids whether or not they want to learn about it (it being creationism)?" Honestly, I laughed.

That's great! Do we ask children if they'd like to partake in alcohol? or have sex? Do we ask them if they want to learn our fractions today? or how about would you like to learn to conjugate a sentence (oh wait, we don't hardly do that anymore, do we?)?

No, in our schools we teach our kids the fundamentals of education--math, science and reading--in school. I'd like to think we teach critical thinking skills, but I do not even think we do that anymore... Hardly. We teach rote memory. We give multiple choice tests over short answer and essay tests. Our schools have become as assembly line as our rapidly disappearing factories.

And shouldn't we teach the fundamentals of the Bible in church?

One brave soul offered the notion after research that the first textbooks in our public schools were the Bible and other religious documents.

We used to drive Model T Fords too, but no one is advocating that we do that today. We also no longer use science textbooks from the 1950s either... and for good reason. We have evolved. We have learned more (although the very implication that our leaders want us to teach creationism might invalidate that statement).

I would ask why is it sad that we do not used textbooks from the 1690s? Why should we? And I would ask someone to prove why. Seriously, just because "we always used to do it this way" is not a good enough excuse--unless you want to find a way to travel back in time and be educated in that era, that is.

Perhaps the most usual argument is "what are you people (those against teaching creationism) so afraid of? Aren't we "big" enough a people to be open to all ideas? Sure, we are. But I think those people using that argument are missing the point.

If our state legislators want to permit teaching Biblical studies, let them do it in a context as an elective, as a Biblical course (even still, I do not advise this). Our Hoosier leaders are poised to pass this legislature yet I ask them this, who is going fund it? ]

Already in recent years our legislators have cut funding on everything else to do with education, so who's going pay for it now? And who is going to teach it? Who is going to train the teachers? And whose God are they going to gear the curriculum towards?

I say it again, teaching creationism in a science class is not the correct forum.

A writer asked "has science ever created life?" I would not know where to begin with such a ludicrous argument, other than saying it bears no meaning to this conversation. Unless that person is trying to confuse the issue with mumbo jumbo mysticism, not fact nor theory (And who is to say that science won't do that someday... after all, 100 years ago, a test tube baby would have been viewed as either magic or well, um, a gift of God).

Personally, I think God gave us minds--our intellect--to use for the betterment of man.

This actually brings me to a point often overlooked. Why cannot these two camps, these two seemingly different sides work together? I will leave that for you, gentle reader, to ponder for yourselves.

Hopefully, this will be my last word on the subject (but who knows?... and I doubt it).

I do not mean to be so confrontational or combative on this subject... at least not in the way some of readers might assume. As a former teacher, I can honestly say there is not enough time in the day to teach as is. There are also not enough funds available to give the job the devotion it truly deserves , yet here we go again with our legislators who think they know what is best for our schools and for our children. Please do not saddle teachers with yet one more responsibility, one that should fall under the parents' purview.

Our legislators obviously know what it is like to step in front of a classroom full of (hopefully) open minds asking us to do more with less (I say that with the sarcasm it deserves).

Is it not funny that 99% of these people, our leaders--that is--have absolutely no training in school classroom management and curriculum yet they know what is best (as I yet again roll my eyes)? There is that old adages, "those who can, teach. Those who cannot, legislate."

The writer advocating looking to Genesis did say one thing I think most people would agree with, a place for us to find a common ground...and that would be: "It would actually nice if legislators got out of the education business altogether."

I ask this: How about we let our teachers teach? How about we let our teachers do their jobs?

Here's the best way of looking at this subject. I don't come into your homes telling you what to believe, how to raise your children nor do I come into your workplace and tell you how to do your jobs. Please permit me the same respect in my dominion.

I've said this before and cannot re-iterate enough. Religion is a truly personal thing. Again, for you parents, if you want your kids brought up with your beliefs, why would you want someone else to do your job for you? So I firmly believe (with no disrespect intended) that if you want your kids raised in a religious indoctrination, please do it in your homes or in your church. That is where it truly belongs.