Friday, April 30, 2010

This is Just Something I Suspect

You know, evidently everyone agrees that immigration is a problem and that there's a significant strain on resources due to the amount of undocumented aliens in America and something must be done blah blah blah. I might be paranoid, but I suspect if you lined up all the things that were an enormous strain on our resources, undocumented aliens would be pretty far down the list. I bet I can think of five things off the top of my head that are bigger fish to fry:

1. Climate change. We're talking a threat of biblical proportion from climate change and we're now living in a country where like a third of us don't believe it's even happening. The? Fuck?
2. War. We're in one. In Afghanistan. Wars are really expensive, plus lots of people die in them.
3. People still hate us. They might hate us less, but it would probably be good to do more to restore our standing in the rest of the world and do a little bit to convince the folks living in the middle east that normal, sane Americans don't really believe that our god is bigger than theirs.
4. Healthcare. I know we passed a bill already, but it's kind of a wimpy one. I'm not sure the likelihood of being bankrupted by a severe medical issue has actually dropped away.
5. Jobbity jobs jobs. We need to start making stuff here again. A good way to do that would be to stop rewarding people for making stuff in other places.
6. Here's an extra - we're also living in a country where a state law says you can reasonably suspect someone's an illegal alien without providing one single solitary example of how you reasonably suspect someone's legal status without f**king reasonably suspecting every Mexican person you see in Arizona. And that is super shitty.
7. Here's one more - people in Alabama think it's better for a kid to leave them in foster care in perpetuity than it is to let a gay couple raise them. Because Mike Huckabee says kids aren't puppies. Or something. And that is SUPER shitty.
8. One more - a woman in Oklahoma who wants to undergo a LEGAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE can't do it until she lets someone else shove an ultrasound wand up her vagina FOR NO MEDICAL REASON.
9. Oh, let's keep on going, how about the fact that there's an oil spill the size of freaking DELAWARE in the Gulf of Mexico? And our president seems to be cool with Drill, baby, drill (the stupidest fucking idea since the Zune)
10. Finally, Sarah Palin made 12 million dollars last year. Sarah Palin. Sarah Fucking Palin. I know I wasn't going to write about her, but that pisses me off.

I got carried away. Makes me furious. Here's what I'm saying: with all the super scary stuff out there, I have a hard time getting all fired up about whether or not the guy working the kitchen at my neighborhood diner has a legit social security number.

And I suspect that the Lou Dobbs' out there are all pissed off about "the illegals" because people like to think that they'd have everything, they'd be Sarah Fucking Palin if only it weren't for that damn minority taking it away.

Yeah, I said it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

God Blog

For most of my life I not only believed in God, I believed in a very specific, kind of embarrassing God. I believed that there was this beneficent old man (ack!) who looked upon the things I did either approvingly or with rueful, mute recrimination. I believed in a very paternalistic God, since I was raised Catholic and that's how we roll.

So, there's that.

And then there's this: when I look back at my life, I am overwhelmed by the largesse. I was raised by two people who loved me and took good care of me. I've been educated. I'm healthy. I'm married to a good man and have a daughter who is made of awesome. I have a home and a job and an adorable dog and a cat for whom the rules of longevity do not seem to apply. I live exactly where I want to live and have some awesome friends.

There are some who'd say I've been blessed.

But, there has to be a corollary. Why would I have all this and this other person dies of dysentary at 4 and this other person loses a child to cancer and this other person is swallowed up in a tsunami?

My beneficent God, it seems, is just horrible to other people. He's like a father that buys me pretty dresses and ice cream and a canopy bed while he locks his other kid , naked, in the attic and feeds her every fourth day or something. It just doesn't make sense.

And if it sounds like I'm railing against God, I'm not. Because I don't believe in God. It offends my sense of logic too profoundly. Not the part about there being some cosmic architect. The part about him being so arbitrary. It makes no sense to me. And, so I don't believe in God.

For a lot of people of faith, as I believe they're called nowadays, the concept of atheism is anathema. It seems like an absence of something, like something is missing. But, I don't see it that way at all. I don't need God. I don't miss God. Because, I'm not alone. As my boyfriend Eddie Vedder says, I can count on two hands the ones I love. And I live in this world with a billion other people, all of whom are in this with me.

My life is as rich as ever, having evicted the beneficent old man from his perch in my brain. I'm too busy trying to live a life that I approve of, too busy scolding myself when I'm mean or small or greedy or impatient, too busy with the business of being alive to worry about what happens when I'm dead.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fangirl Post

When Air America Radio launched in 2004, I listened to it about all day. But, after a spell, I limited my listening to The Al Franken Show and Rachel Maddow. I have an abiding love for Al Franken who I think sits up in the senate and attacks our cynicism about government. But, Rachel Maddow blew me away.

I remember once Chuck D, who was one of her co-hosts, was talking to her and said something to the effect of "The thing that really kills me about you is how you get up at 5:00 and read until we do the show and then you're reading again until you go to bed. You study this stuff so hard." This embodied what I loved about her. She is a liberal, she has an ideological bent, but she backs it all up through rigorous study.

Plus she has this way about her - she's respectful to her guests, she's funny, she's unapologetically goofy and weird.

By 2005, I was asking anyone who'd listen, why doesn't Rachel Maddow have her own show? I'd watch it every night.

And now she has a show, and is one of the most respected names in cable news. And, if only you'd listened to me in 2004, you could say to your friends, "Oh, I've been listening to her for years!"

Well, it's not too late to be an early adopter. I'm sending you to someone else: Ta-Nehisi Coates. I would happily re-post everything this guy writes. He's a constant student and a lovely writer and a real thoughtful guy.

Over the past month, he's been running a series called "Honoring Confederate History Month" where he talks about various aspects of slavery. Let me give you an example of what I mean about his commitment to deep thought, prefaced to say I think you'd probably really enjoy the whole post:

Subbing in myth for history is a false armor to guard against the hurt--and yet somewhere inside the hurt still throbs. Some of us fear admitting what the Confederacy was about, because we don't want to cede the moral high ground to a bunch of Northern elitists. But why? Was the North really more moral than the South? Did the South embrace a slave society because there's something intrinsically evil about living below the Mason-Dixon line? I don't think any people should fear their history, so much as they should fear their ignorance of history. Don't fear the past that led to the assassination of Lincoln, fear the present that leads you to fly the flag embraced by his killers. True the hurt is in what happened, but the shame is in the pretense that it didn't.

I don't just read Ta-Nehisi Coates. I re-read him. A lot. Bookmark TNC. You won't regret it.

\end fangirl

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Hope I Die Before I Get Old

One of the cultural benchmarks of one generation giving way to the next is when the old folks start bitching about these kids today and how much better they got it when they were young. When I was young, the Boomers loved to tell us how they stopped a war and discovered rock and roll and did kind drugs that led to peace, love, and understanding. We, on the other hand, were exactly like Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey Jr in Less Than Zero and the world was going to hell because everyone was going to be Charlie Sheen in Wall Street.

(Currently, it seems as though the youth of America has been or is on their way to being ruined by the hook-up culture, Twitter, Facebook and the entitlement developed by giving everyone in Little League a trophy. Or something. Maybe just the internet and cheap Chinese crap.)

I remember when MTV came out and the Boomers were appalled. When they were young, they'd tell anyone who'd listen (so mostly, their kids, who kind of had to) they associated music with a moment or with a person. When they heard a song, they remember something they did. We would associate music with some slick, soulless video (like the videos were slick in the 80s... have you see I Ran? Watch it... it's hilarious. The hair! The liberally pleated pants! The trash bags!)

Earlier today, I fell into an early 90s nostalgia-induced stupor. And I watched a couple of videos.

I don't remember the first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit. But I do remember the first time I saw the video. Same for Jeremy.

Those videos took those songs, which really did change music, and underscored the angst and disaffection so ham-handedly handled by the artless, anvilicious Less Than Zero. Those two songs, along with their accompanying videos, defined the angst and disaffection that I think a lot of us really did feel. They increased the power of those songs. And I bet just about every 40 year old out there would agree.

I try really hard not to say "Kids today are so fucked up because they blah blah blah instead of blah blah blah. I really do believe that's how you get old. I think if you try to stop thinking that the world for young people should be exactly the way it was for you, no matter how hinky your knees get or how much EVERYTHING makes you fat, you stay a little bit young.

With that note, I leave you with the two songs that will always make me feel 21 and the two videos that still make me catch my breath when I watch them.

Enjoy! Be young. And, Jesus, what did you kids do to MTV? It's RUINED. Get off my lawn.

Morning Commute Conversations, Part Eleventy Seven

I took Laney to see the Harlem Globetrotters last night, and while we only made it through the first quarter, we still didn't get home until close to 8:30, which meant Laney wasn't asleep until 9:00. Then she woke up super early this morning. She was tired.

For most of us, fatigue leads to crabbiness, foginess, sleepiness. For Laney, it leads to pointlessly inquisitive. So here is a rough summation of our drive:

Laney: What was your favorite part?
Me: When the Generals player was running around in his underwear
Laney: Why did the main guy give the referee the helium filled basketball
Me: Because it was funny
Laney: Why?
Me: Because it floated up to the ceiling
Laney: Why?
Me: Because it was filled with helium
Laney: Why is that funny?
Me: Because it was unexpected.
Laney: What was your favorite part?
Me: I just told you: when the Generals players was running around in his underwear
Laney: Why?
Me: It was funny [in all honesty, that might not be the whole reason why that was my favorite part]
Laney: Why did he hypnotize Scooter?
Me: To cheat
Laney: But how could an umbrella hypnotize you?
Me: It couldn't really - it was just to be funny
Laney: Why?
Me: Ummmm....
Laney: What was your favorite part.

Let me tell you something: trying to explain comedy to a six year old while navigating traffic on Lake Shore Drive is no easy trick. But as ridiculous and circuitous as this conversation was, it came nowhere near approaching the level of inane, balmy, cockeyed REDONKULOUSNESS of what I heard on the radio after dropping Laney off.

See, yesterday, Obama extended hospital visitation rights to partners in same sex couples. This is clearly the decent right thing to do, even if it doesn't go far enough in recognizing the civil rights of gay people. But, whatever. This is a positive step and I'm really glad he did it.

And then I hear the reaction quote from the Family Research Council spokesperson: "In its current political context, President Obama's memorandum clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special-interest group."

What? How? Wha?

And what lesson can we take from this? That even in the deepest stages of sleep deprivation and Globetrotter-inspired flummoxation, my six year old kid makes more sense than the guy who writes the talking points for the Family Research Council.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mike Huckabee is SUCH a Colossal Asshole

So, here's Mike Huckabee on his support for an Arkansas ban on gay adoption:

I think this is not about trying to create statements for people who want to change the basic fundamental definitions of family...Children are not puppies. This is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out, how does this work?

I'm just going to say this plainly: that statement is stupid and nasty.

Gay parenting is not experimental. Boatloads of happy, healthy children have been raised by gay parents. Boatloads of happy, healthy children have been raised by single mothers and single fathers. And boatloads of messed up, neglected and abused children have been raised by a mother and a father.

There is no recipe for a happy family, no simple algorithm to apply to child rearing. Outside this one: people who put the needs of their children above their own (including, not for nothing, bowing down at the altar of their own retrograde, bigoted positions on homosexuality) tend to do a pretty good job parenting.

And, Mike Huckabee, I don't care how much folksy charm you have, statements like this betray you for the mean, shallow, narrow little man you are. And I will give you the same wish I give all people like you: I hope your kids are gay and happy.


Monday, April 12, 2010

In Case You were Curious...

Following is the letter I'm posting to the Russian Embassy tomorrow:

To whom it may concern:

I was horrified by the story of the woman who sent her seven year old son, adopted from Russia, back to Moscow via a one-way flight and with only a note to alert people what was going on. What gross negligence and cruelty! I hope that she is prosecuted for this to the fullest extent of the law.

But despite (or perhaps because of) my anger at this craven behavior, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my daughter, whom we adopted from Russia in May of 2005. My heart is breaking for all the families who are waiting to bring their children home and for those children who are waiting for a home. It’s important to me that you know our story.

Here’s a family picture.

Our daughter is named Helena Marjorie Westhoff and we call her Laney. We adopted her on May 26, 2005 from Blagoveschensk. She was a little on the small side when we brought her home, but now is very tall and very strong. And, as you can see, very beautiful.

Laney will be 7 this July. She’s in first grade, but can read at a 3rd grade level and is doing math at a 2nd grade level. She is very smart and exceptionally articulate.

She’s also an incredibly kind child. Her teacher tells us that whenever another student is feeling bad, or sad, Laney is the first child to comfort him or her. She’s never mean to other children and has a lot of friends.

She’s honest. When she tells me something, I know she’s telling the truth. This is such a wonderful and unusual quality in a kid.

She’s so strong and healthy! She’s 4’2” tall and 51 pounds. She’s all arms and legs, with boundless energy. She loves to play! She taking tennis lessons and is good at it. My husband is trying to teach her to throw and catch a baseball. It took him months to find a left-handed, pink baseball mitt, but he found one! And now they play catch in the yard. Laney has a big appetite, and eats broccoli without any complaints.

We have a dog and a cat that Laney loves to cuddle and snuggle with. Here’s a picture of her with her pets (and her Mom):

She loves animals of every kind!

Her favorite television show is SpongeBob SquarePants and her favorite books are the Eloise books. She loves to color and draw. She creates incredible worlds with her dolls and toys and makes up the most wonderful stories.

But, most importantly, she’s very happy. She smiles and laughs all the time. She’s such a wonderful child. Here’s a picture of her fresh from the bath, after she lost her first baby tooth. Isn’t that a wonderful smile?

Laney knows her whole story. She can find Blagoveschensk on a globe and has told her classmates the story of her adoption. Every year on May 26th, we tell her a story that begins: “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful Russian lady who was very sad because she was growing a baby in her tummy and knew she could not keep her. In the meantime, there were a man and a woman in Chicago who were very sad because they wanted a baby daughter very badly and couldn’t have one. Then one day a very wonderful person in Russia sent the man and woman a letter and asked if they wanted to adopt this little girl And, of course, we did!”

We are so incredibly grateful to the Russian people and their government for allowing this to happen. Our daughter is the light of our lives. She is the greatest gift we could imagine and we take our responsibility to her very seriously. There are times when misguided people will congratulate us for “rescuing” her. We always make sure that they understand that what Laney has given us (and what you’ve given us by allowing this adoption) is far greater and more important than anything we could give her.

In conclusion, I hope you will reconsider closing adoptions to American families. It is impossible to imagine our lives without her. Thank you for our daughter.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Abandoning You Child

I'm taking a quick 10 minutes to write about this:

Russia threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families Friday after a 7-year-old boy adopted by a woman from Tennessee was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.

It would take a writer with a lot more skill than me to really convey the agony of waiting for a Russia adoption to come to fruition. We waited over two years for a referral. When we got our referral, we made our first trip to the Russian Far East. We had an American doctor tell us we shouldn't adopt Laney. We flew home and waited 10 weeks before we could go back to get her. Every point of that journey was agonizing, but the worst were those 10 weeks between trips.

Everything in our lives stopped. We went to work and out with friends and read books and watched TV during those 10 weeks, but none of it mattered. Everything that was actually happening was only happening behind a prevailing, agonizing wait. The only thing that was really happening was that we were waiting, consumed with anxiety, for a call to tell us we could get our daughter.

My heart is breaking for that little boy. It's hard to fathom how he ended up placed with people so criminally fucking stupid that they put a seven year old child on a plane with a note and returned him like he was a stereo that didn't work like they expected it to. Like they think there should be a return policy on a child! Monsters.

Hearing this story takes me right back to those horrible 10 weeks between our trips to Russia. If this had happened then, I don't know what I'd have done. And right now there are people in that situation because of this family's criminal negligence, stupidity and cruelty.

I'm going to write to the Russian Embassy today. I'm going to send pictures of Laney and talk about how happy she is and how grateful we are. And this family in middle Tennessee... well, if I believed in God I'd say I hoped he'd have mercy on their souls, because I sure don't.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Finding a New Game

It's no secret I'm a fan of the Current Occupant. There's a lot I like about Barack Obama, but one of my favorites is his determination to remain "No Drama Obama." With that in mind, let's talk about the crazy out there these days.

Over the past several months, the right wing lunacy out there has really ballooned and it's freaked me out. It freaks me out when Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that HCR is just Obama's way of mainstreaming reparations. Or when Glenn Beck accuses the president of practicing eugenics. Or when she who shall not be named and her congressional sidekick imply that Barack Obama is going to get us all nuked into oblivion.

It's scary because it has a tangible effect on the suggestible crowds who listen to this kind of stuff.

Also, no matter how hard you try, you cannot find an equivalent level of left-wing mainstream craziness. This is not to say there are no crazy liberals. There are truthers and PETA and Code Pink. But these people aren't our liberal TV hosts and they are not our elected democratic officials. We keep our crazies on the fringe, where they belong. The right, on the other hand, seems hellbent on mainstreaming the shit out of them.

That said, and I doubt I'm going to say this well, I'm abidingly troubled by the reaction to the right-wing crazy because it's starting to feel like some of the outrage is more in service to feeding the dialectic (us vs them) than it is because we really want it to stop. Sometimes we get all up in Fight Club just because we want to fight.

Maybe we should adopt a little more No Drama Obama and just refuse to engage in the crazy.

People aren't going to stop believing that Nancy Pelosi wants to eat their babies just because we stop getting so outraged by Rush Limbaugh telling his audience that she's no different than those mullahs who convince people to put bombs on their kids. But if we stopped paying so much attention to that kind of nonsense, we might be able to focus our energy more positively.

For example, if we'd spent less time being mad about the crazy shit the right made up about ACORN and more time talking about all the important, good things ACORN did, maybe there'd still be an ACORN.

If we keep playing this game, the game keeps going on. And personally, I've been too invested in playing it. I'd really like to find a new way to engage.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Sometime in the mid-90s, I grew to really hate Jeff Foxworthy. I'd tell some guy (always some guy) that I was from Memphis and he'd look real delighted and say "Memphis! Hey did you know you might be a redneck if..." And this poor sap always thought he was the first person to assail me with that played out witticism (currently, this guy is the same guy who finds out I'm a vegetarian and says "if God didn't intend us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them of tasty meat." Siiiiiigh).

Dammit, Jeff Foxworthy (I'd think). You've just handed entitled yankee elitist another tool with which to paint my home in broad, condescending strokes. Stupid.

But, in retrospect, I wasn't being fair to Jeff Foxworthy. It's not his fault that your average New Yorker thinks that everyone from the south is exactly the same (I pick on poor New York, but, honestly, I think it's just the most provincial place in the world. This may be more due to my Chicago-ness, than my southern-ness).

When I was growing up in Memphis, the word "redneck" meant something. And it meant something pretty serious. It didn't mean someone who didn't have a lot of money and wasn't fancy (we'd probably call that guy a 'good old boy'). We saved "redneck" for people who were stupid and lazy who nevertheless believed like gospel that the reason they didn't have anything was because someone took it from them. And that someone was probably black. We never called someone a redneck affectionately. It was a word with a very specific invective that we reserved for people that were dangerously stupid.

And the clearest nonverbal indicator of a redneck was the goddamn confederate flag. If someone had a confederate flag painted on the back window of their truck, it meant something really specific - and everyone knew exactly what that was.

As a quick aside, take this lyric from Sweet Home Alabama: "In Alabama we love our governor." This didn't mean "step off, yankee, from our politics." It meant we love George "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever" Wallace. In Alabama, the song was saying, we love our white supremacist, segregationist governor.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but this isn't something to be proud of.

I love the south. I love southern accents in all their various forms. I love the literature and that particular, friendly warmth that southern people enjoy. I especially love that accent. Honestly, a good Tennessee accent sounds like honey on my ears and is especially refreshing after all these years amongst that godawful flat Chicago one.

But from my vantage point of internal southern-ness, I know that there ain't enough lipstick in the world for the confederate pig. In other words, Governor McDonnell, knock it off with Confederate Month nonsense. Unlike Jeff Foxworthy, people aren't condescendingly misunderstanding the redneckitude of what you mean. On the contrary, we know exactly what you mean.

*Edited to note, an old buddy tells me I've got it wrong on Sweet Home Alabame. Check out comments.