Friday, November 04, 2011

Ambulance Chasing

A couple months ago, I rode along with my paramedic buddy Dave Ward during his shift in Champaign-Urbana. It turned out to be an exciting night of injuries, drunkenness and crazy in the twin cities. I wrote a very long article about it, published at Smile Politely. 

For the brave and patient, it is available here:

Riding in Vans with Paramedics

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Most Awesome Prayer Ever

For the record, I also give thanks for my own smokin hot wife.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The backs of poor people

Obama on the budget negotiations:
“Nothing is easier,” Mr. Obama said, “than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor, or people who are powerless and don’t have lobbyists or don’t have clout.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Responses to Tucson

It’s almost as if President Obama and Sarah Palin were talking to each other through their respective speeches yesterday:


"What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together."

"But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

"But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

"If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle. "

"President Reagan said, 'We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.' Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election"

This last point by Palin is surprising to me, given how easily she conflates Muslims with terrorists. If she really believes that acts of criminality begin and end with those who commit them, then all this hubbub about the not-Mosque at not-Ground Zero was just a bunch of political theater. And how can journalists incite such criminality if it begins and ends with the criminal?

The reason for the illogic is that it isn't really true. Criminal acts are a combination of individual action and the environment that surrounds someone. Individuals need to be accountable for their actions, but there is a shared responsibility when things like this happen. If we don’t question environmental and cultural factors and work to change them for the better, then we run the risk that these kinds of tragedies continue to repeat themselves with other individuals who are in the same environment or have the same kinds of mental illnesses.

So, there might not be a direct link between our current state of political vitriol and this shooting. On the other hand, targeting a politician is by definition a political act. The guy was not so crazy that his violence was random. It was directed at a politician who he thought was evil. Whether or not specific words reached him isn’t the point. The point is that we should all now recognize how careful we should be with our rhetoric, because it reaches the crazy people too.

The main thing we need to do is learn how to criticize and debate without demonizing. It’s something I don’t always succeed at. But, once again, Barack Obama demonstrates that he is a better person than I am. A better Christian, even. I’ve been angry at him over the last two years for his various compromises and caves he has agreed to. But he just turns the other cheek and moves forward. He encourages us to be our best selves.  To look for unity when it is easier to point fingers and be divisive.

I wish I could say that everyone who spoke yesterday was as grace-filled, and as Christian. I wish I could say it for myself on most days.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jesus the Liberal Democrat

For your holiday enjoyment, from the masterful Stephen Colbert:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today I Balanced the Budget

I didn't have a very productive writing day, but I did manage to solve the country's budget deficit problem:

My solution was 65% spending cuts and 35% tax increases. I cut unnecessary defense budget items, capped medicare growth and taxed people who could afford it.  Heck, I even managed to get a half trillion dollar surplus by 2015 and a trillion and a half dollar surplus by 2030.

Your welcome, America.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Rally Ends

I'm back from the rally, after a long day of travel, and a lovely nostalgia run through the Balto-Wash corridor (I lived there in the late 80s).  You can now re-live my day at the rally via my Smile Politely article: Sanity is More Reasonable Than Fear.

We decided not to bring our own signs.  They wouldn't have fit on the Metro anyway.  It was great to go with Dave though, for the same reason it's great to have him on my side during basketball games: he is very, very tall.  Tall people are easier to find at rallies and able to get better camera angles at funny signs.

I had a great time at Dave's brother-in-law's Eric's house too, who has the second most adorable children in the world. Plus I had a great lunch with Alisa, my old friend from Maryland, where we caught up and reminisced about the being in our 20s back in the 80s.

Anyway, the rally was a huge success.  People are no longer fearful. Sane and reasonable discourse now rules the day. The election today will sweep in a new generation of moderates committed to finding common solutions that work for everyone, regardless of ideology and prejudice.

Maybe not. I'm glad I went anyway.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Signs of Sanity

Simply put, the rally was awesome. I'll have a complete report at Smile Politely in a few days, but for now, I want to post my favorite signs. Or at least my favorite signs that I have pictures of.  Here they are:

Shirt says: The founding fathers were East Coast Liberals

It was hard to tell if someone was really counter-protesting, or whether they were just being ironic.

The rally was so successful that it even brought together Darth Vader and Napolean Dynamite.
Dave and Dan, happy to be part of the awesomeness of whatever it was that just happened.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Credit where credit is due

It is nice that President Obama has joined the ranks of the "It Gets Better" campaign.  What would be nicer is if he would actually do something within his power to advance gay rights. So far, all he has done is split hairs about how to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, and then send justice departments lawyers into the courtroom to defend it everytime it is challenged.

Again, nice speech.  Now actually do something with your power to advance gay rights.

So, let's give credit where credit is due. It was a lawsuit by Republicans (in the form of Log Cabin Republicans) that led to the court decision to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Republicans have now accomplished more for gay rights during the Obama era than Obama and all Democrats combined.  All Democrats have done is sit on their thumbs and cower from doing the right thing, as usual.  And they wonder why there is an enthusiasm gap in this election.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apologies, Apologies

Virginia Thomas' request for an apology from Anita Hill is simply too surreal not to poke fun at.  I wrote up a quick Smile Politely column in honor of Virginia Thomas:  Apology Accepted.

In the spirit of her quest for unity, I am willing to accept Virginia Thomas' apology if she is offended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity

Thanks to my friend Dave Bullock, who has been gaming credit card companies for years for free airline miles, I now have a plane ticket to DC for the weekend of Oct 30th. Not coincidentally, this is the very same weekend of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Also, we are staying with his brother-in-law in DC for free. The upshot of all this is that he gets to win any argument about who is the better friend for the rest of our lives.

Of course, there is the rally as well, the true purpose of the weekend.  The problem is, I'm not sure if I should be allowed to attend. After all, I'm not really a moderate. I am a radical, leftist, socialist, let's-tax-the-top-5%-an-additional-3%-on-the-part-of-their-income-that-pays-for-vacations kind of extremist. I even believe in universal healthcare. How can I possibly keep my seething anger and  lunacy in check for an entire rally?

Obviously, I need a reasonable sign. And luckily, the march organizers have put up a website to share and test signs at

Some of my favorites so far are:

I'm mad as hell. But by tomorrow, I'll probably be fine.
My political views cannot be summarized in a pithy sign
Sarah Palin for Governor of Alaska
One of us or perhaps neither of us may be right
I wouldn't presume to tell God who he hates
I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler
I support the sign that I am holding
I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it
I don't know what we are yelling about!!! (picture of Steve Carrell yelling)
Only a Sith deals in absolutes

So far, my only idea for a sign is "Sanity is not just for liberals." Jill thinks it's divisive and totally against the spirit of the rally.  And, she's right. See what I'm up against here?  I have to get sane in the next 2 weeks to earn my way into the rally.

So, if you have any suggestions for a sign that will lead others to believe I am a reasonable moderate, let me know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bill Maher must be happy

Which Americans know the most about religion?  It turns out to be those annoying atheists:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

Unfortunately, they did not specifically track Mennonites. I suspect Mennonites would have done about average, unless the questions veered off into farming lore.

Another interesting finding:

I've long believed that most people who want prayer and religion in school don't really want prayer and religion in school. They want their version of prayer and their version of religion to be dominant over other forms of prayer and other religions in school.

For instance, if we allowed prayers to Jesus in school, we'd have to allow prayers to Allah as well. And if there were prayers to Allah at school, you'd find support for prayer in school drop like a stone tablet.

As such, it doesn't surprise me that so many people don't know about the legality of a comparative religion class or that you read from the Bible as literature.  That's not what they are fighting for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The GOP's war on math

Paul Krugman on the GOP's promise to cut the deficit, either by declaring war arithmetic or eliminating government. We aren't sure which one yet.

On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.
True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Imam Speaks

The Corboba Center Iman had an op-ed in the NY Times yesterday.  As I said, he is exactly the kind of religious leader we need in the world right now:

Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.

President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.

The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mosque Mess

I've been very frustrated with my fellow Americans about the not-Mosque at not-Ground Zero. I even got into a Facebook argument with an old high school acquaintance, which was probably a mistake. Facebook is better for announcing that you just had a great meal than for pointing out how un-American people are.

Anyway, my responses ended up being a half-written article, so I went ahead and did a full Smile Politely column about it.  It's called  The Burlington Coat Factory Mosque, and is available here.

It's hard to say much that hasn't already been said.  As usual, Jon Stewart has been the most poignant and the most funny.  Monday's show was no exception, as he pointed out how Fox News is trying to smear the not-Mosque by associating it with an Islamic group run by...Fox News' very own top shareholder. It's long, but well worth viewing.

And, in even more depressing news, Pew came out with a new poll about Americans views of Islam. Unsurprisingly (by now, anyway), 51% oppose the not-Mosque. What shocked me was this:

62% say that Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build houses of worship in their local communities.
Lots of opposition to the Mosque has been wrapped in language of "we believe in freedom of religion, we just think the location of this [not] Mosque is insensitive." But the numbers above are a lot more sobering. Read it and weep. About 38% of Americans apparently do not believe in freedom of religion.