If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
     Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
     If all men count with you, but none too much; 

--If, Rudyard Kipling

I am a candidate for Chair and Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad Norway. If you're an American expat in Norway, I ask for your consideration and vote. You can read my candidate statement here. If you register with Democrats Abroad by 15 February 2017, you'll receive a ballot via email. Thank you!

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Last month, millions of women and our allies--people who love, respect and value us--rallied and marched in cities and towns around the world. Ask any one woman why she participated in the Women's March and you'll get a unique answer. We didn't agree on everything, but we do agree on this feminist principle: Women's rights are human rights.

Of course I showed up on a Saturday afternoon to remind the world that this is important. Of course I brought my husband and daughter. Of course I marched.

And, of course, there has been blow-back. 

I understand a lot of it. People are indignant because they see this movement--the largest single populist demonstration in U.S. history--as a threat to the new President's agenda, which they support. People are offended by women dressed as vaginas or wearing "pussy hats." People are upset that pro-lifers were ostracized in some cities. And people are skeptical about what such a nebulous event accomplished or can accomplish in the long run.

I understand.

This is part of my political philosophy that I want to wear right out in front:

I can say, "I understand" without saying, "I agree." And I can say, "I disagree," without saying, "I don't understand."

We're too quick in our speed-dating, Snapchat, 140-character culture to divide along these lines. These things shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Understanding comes with intelligence and experience. It does not require agreement. And it does keep the conversation going. Open mindedness is not gullibility, but we often act like it is. Easier to shun the thing we don't understand than to sit down and ask questions about it. Discernment takes too long.

A friend of mine is a national park ranger. Garrett and I, in his words, "disagree fairly extensively." But his post on Inauguration Weekend and the Women's March is important to me. Not because we agree. We don't. But because his perspective is unique, and his sincere love of history and respect for our government are admirable. He makes good points in this piece about the procedures around peaceful protests and the way security works, how demonstrators step on their cause when they fail to clean up after themselves, etc. And he reminds us of history's long view on both the march and the presidential campaign that gave rise to it. Best of all, Garrett presents his perspective in a way that doesn't entrench him on a specific side, and he doesn't close off debate by rejecting opposition. On the contrary. 

He is trying to be understood. He is trying to understand.


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On the walk to barnehage this morning, I met a fellow mom in drop-off mode. Like many of my neighbors, she wears her headscarf under her parka; her daughters toddle beside her in matching pink snowsuits. I've seen this mom many times before and, because I'm me, I always smile and say God morgen. This usually elicits the standard, solemn Norwegian nod. Today, though, she surprised me by responding.

We spoke in Norwegian for a minute or two about our kids and the school. Then I had to stop and apologize because I couldn't come up with a word. She smiled and told me, in English, that her Norwegian isn't perfect either. She learned English and Norwegian at the same time after moving here ten years ago as a refugee from Somalia. When she heard I'm from California, she said she has always wanted to visit the states.

"My best friend lives in Indiana now," she said. 

"Indiana is nice, too," I told her. "But not as nice as California."

We laughed. As we pulled up to the barnehage, she became serious.

"I want to visit her, but now... I don't when I'll see her again."

Somalia is on the President's list of banned Muslim-majority nations. 

I know as well as anyone that the plural of anecdote is not data. My conversation with a sweet lady from Somalia (who is, in some ways, better integrated to our host country than I am) doesn't prove that there aren't anti-American terrorists in her country. But President Trump's ban doesn't appear to be based on data or anecdote. 

The list of seven nations is conspicuously partial, excluding countries where Trump has business interests. It also doesn't include any of the countries that have actually been home to terrorists who have attacked the United States. As it stands, this ban is a careless, heartless move that serves to placate the President's most fearful constituents, and, possibly, to anger and distract the energies of his most ardent opponents.

Activists protest at the airports. The ACLU attempts to defend people whose rights are at risk. My Farsi- and Arabic-speaking friends volunteer as translators. My traveling husband decides exactly how much information he believes is pertinent to provide at passport control. (What will we say one day when asked about our religion at the American border?) Fighting ticks up in Ukraine. The EU takes a defensive stance against the American President. The world rages.

But here in Oslo today, I exchanged names and sincerity with a woman who was a stranger. We talked about helping one another with language. Because we're alike: immigrants, moms, kind people. This is one example of what writer and philosopher Rebecca Solnit describes as the "politics of prefiguration":

"[T]he idea that if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it's a temporary and local place, this paradise of participating, this vale where souls get made." -- Rebecca Solnit, "Getting the Hell Out of Paradise"

I know so many fellow liberals are feeling exhausted these days. Particularly white, straight, middle class liberals who aren't used to feeling required to play constant defense, for ourselves and for others. We're out of practice after eight years of nodding along to the progressive agenda of a President who had our respect. If any part of that describes you, I encourage you not to become fatigued. Live your activism; make it your home. Smile at strangers and be open-hearted. These little things will renew us, remind us why we're fighting.

If I've taken one positive thing from my conservative, religious upbringing it's the knowledge that a living witness is the most dynamic kind. Move through the world the way you want the world to be, and when you're reinvigorated or spurred to jump back in, pick up those signs and call those senators. It's your soul. Take care of it. It's your world. Change it.
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See if any of this sounds familiar.

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A swarthy, coarse, rude tycoon named Harry arrives in Washington D.C. He's ready to do business. He's got a right hand man with political experience and connections. He's got a "bad apple" congressman ready to take bribes. And he's got a statuesque trophy girlfriend, Billie, who knows how to keep her mouth shut as long as she gets what she wants. ("Two mink coats. Everything.") 

While Harry wheels and deals, he realizes Billie's own brassy, uncouth manners might be a liability. He hires a bright young reporter named Paul to squire Billie around and teach her a few things. Just to give her something to do during the day, to polish her up.

But Paul begins with books. He urges Billie to read and read and read. He gives her The Federalist Papers and "After Visiting the Tomb of Napoleon" by Robert G. Ingersoll. Billie tries hard to understand it all. She's a high school dropout and a former chorus girl and, worst of all, she's been living with Harry for seven years. Her own father won't see her as long as she is still "living in any way unethical." Paul is the first person to respectfully meet her where she lives and give her a shot at seeing out of her circumstances.

(And Paul is William Holden so, hello sexual tension.)

They visit the Supreme Court, the National Archives, and attend the symphony.

Paul even gives Billie a political piece he wrote titled "The Yellowing Democratic Manifesto." In a moment of tables turning, Paul learns that his liberal elitism has rendered his message and principles all but unintelligible to people like her. 

This is a problem, because, in taking on this Pygmalion-style task, Paul has an ulterior motive. Frustrated, Billie asks why it's so important to him that she reads and thinks about the writing of men dead for hundreds of years.

Paul says:

It's sort of a cause. I want everyone to be smart.
As smart as they can be.
A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

Here's where I'll stop and say this has always been one of my favorite films. I watch it at least once a year. It began as a smash Broadway play by Garson Kanin, and the dialogue sparkles. It's hilarious. It's also an incredible time capsule of 1940s Washington, as well as a glimpse of the post-WWII re-casting of gender roles. 

But with a twist. Billie is the hero.
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Suffice it to say that there's a lot of garbage out there on the interwebs. It's tough to sift through the majority of it to find the relevant, articulate, credible stuff. Social Media is sometimes the worst way to do it. Then again, social media guarantees that I--deep in my liberal bubble lined with back issues of The New Yorker--won't miss out on at least a few bits of priceless crap. Like this one: THE SEXODUS, PART 1: THE MEN GIVING UP ON WOMEN AND CHECKING OUT OF SOCIETY. Please don't click on it. You don't need to read it. Chances are it will offend you, as it offended me, and as it would offend anyone who believes that the ultimate goals of humanity should be love, respect, intelligence, and dignity for all. 

For those who aren't aware of it, there's a movement that has begun to swell. It's a group, mostly men, who believe that the American way of life has been bastardized by the Feminists, and that the rights of men have been severely trampled by the advancement of women over the last century. These men rally. They march. They rant.

It looks, in fact, a lot like the very beginnings of the Feminist movement must have looked so long ago. Whiny and irrelevant. And we all know what happened there, so maybe we'd better keep an eye on these guys.

Or not. Because there actually is no deep Feminist plot to keep men down and put women in all the high places.

Which is one of the major differences between the Feminist movement and the, shall we say, Masculinist movement. When Feminists call for "women's rights," they're talking about rights which previously have been granted to men, but not women in equal measure. When Masculinists call for "men's rights," they're talking about rights which used to be theirs exclusively, and have been allegedly usurped by women. So, these are rights that the men want back. 

What rights are the Masculinists talking about? For starters: American education has, allegedly, been so twisted by the Feminist "establishment," with the focus placed entirely and obsessively on the needs of girls, that boys have stopped being accommodated at all. This has, according to the Masculinists, led to a decline in male literacy, male high school completion, and male college attendance/degree acquisition. Teaching has been Feminized, and the poor little boys are suffering.

I'll grant you that the decline of male educational achievement is no myth, but the only way you can blame that decline on Feminists is if you simultaneously admit that women have never been the weaker sex... simply the dormant one. If you believe what these Masculinists are preaching, the only logical conclusion is that, the second women stood up to fight on fairer ground, men sat down. Which is ridiculous. 

Unfortunately, Masculinist propaganda like this Sexodus piece manages to reach its intended audience: men who aren't part of that movement, but who due to personal circumstances and/or upbringing, believe they are entitled to more than they have actually earned, and are looking for someone to blame. These guys grew up watching Disney's Cinderella, too. But where the girls were being negatively saturated with the image of a helpless, stoic, beautiful girl who is rescued from her plight by a nameless prince... the boys were being negatively saturated by the image of a nameless prince whose only task was to ride up on the horse with a glass slipper to have the beautiful, silent girl throw herself into his arms. Now, we're reaping the consequences.

I love the marriage Jonathan and I have built. And there may be people out there who are surprised to learn that our relationship includes almost zero power struggle. We split the tasks required of us based on personal prerogative and aptitude. It could be that our conservative Christian upbringing has positioned us to maintain some kind of modern relationship hybrid in the liberal setting to which we've moved ourselves--including the best parts of love, sex, monogamy, fidelity, partnership, respect, and equality. Or not. Maybe it's all luck. But I'm writing this piece while barefoot, pregnant, and in the midst of sending my husband off to the office with a kiss... and I'm still a Feminist. And so is he.

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Though we're currently celebrating America's Independence Day in Oslo for the fourth time in a row, and though we're watching soccer as part of that celebration, Jonathan and I do miss lots of things about being home for this wonderful holiday. I rooted around through our photo bank for a few of the things we miss the most (and made myself terribly homesick in the process):

2003

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Every year, our home church puts on a BBQ. This includes food, games for the kids, music, and a car show. Jonathan participated in the car show for a couple of years, showcasing his beloved 1990 Jaguar XJS V12. Pretty sweet ride. Sometimes we miss that car.

The July 4 BBQ is all about relaxing and being a kid again. This includes juggling. My man can juggle anything, even lawn flamingos. This also includes water wars. Somehow I was always a target in these super soaker battles, and I unfailingly ended up drenched to the bone. That's young John Cromie on the right, looking every inch the BBQ nightmare scenario he was for me.

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It's not uncommon for expats to, over time, develop an even deeper, more keenly felt affinity for their own hometowns. Absence often has that affect on the heart, or so I've heard. Then again, I've always loved Livermore, California. Not loving Livermore was never the problem. We left for other reasons, but I'll leave that for other posts. Today I'm singing the praises of my town.

Jonathan and I returned "home" for a visit over Easter, and allowed ourselves to be embraced by the comfy sameness of it all.

First Street -- Where all the action, such as it is, happens.

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Donut Wheel -- Best donuts in the state.

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Valley Furniture -- Can't ever remember a time when there wasn't a Blowout Sale sign in the front windows.

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Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have the sins of our forefathers laid bare and tied to the post for our review. Stowe demonstrates the visible gradient of slave owners and slaves alike--a sliding scale from the best to the worst--in 19th century America. But then, with a startling crack, she splits the façade of that gradient apart. It dissolves before the eyes of the reader. There is nothing relative about one man owning another, whether he treats his property with respect or abject cruelty. Nothing matters beyond the value of personal freedom.

There were those at the time who argued otherwise, and Stowe offers these denials and protestations alongside the rest, usually juxtaposed with a gut-wrenching illustration of human bondage. Even now it's tough to say what struck me hardest in the reading. Was it watching a woman's children torn from her grasp to be sold on an auction block? Was it the continuous breaking of promises from master to slave? Was it the cold-hearted trading of men and women done in parlors over coffee? Perhaps it was the subtle sounds of abolitionism and realizing that those on the side of "right" were once nothing but a weak, wavering minority in my home country.

While the prose is consistent, beautiful and compelling, I found the latter half of the book preachy to the extreme, so moralistic that it began to sound like harping. This is unquestionably a Christian tome. But it is a testament to the power of religion, not only because the book swayed hearts and minds, but because of what the author writes in her final chapters about the incredible faithfulness of those slaves who believed in God, as well. Some of the battered, sunken, deprived masses of African slaves in the United States--numbering over the course of history into the millions--found a reason to pray and sing and praise and hope. On top of this, Stowe illustrates the irony of such profound faithfulness in a society where Christianity was used to justify the necessity and even the righteousness of slavery.

Slavery is a blight upon American history, and this book (along with Frederick Douglass's Slave Narratives and Solomon Northrup's 12 Years a Slave) should be required reading for every citizen, precisely because there are still some people who don't want to read it. They are squeamish and indignant. They believe racism no longer exists. They want to forget it all happened.

Which, on second thought, is what was most difficult about this book. The stories of Uncle Tom, Eliza, and George are fictionalized accounts of people who actually existed. Compiled to form a narrative, names and dates adjusted for continuity, but otherwise real. What of those real men, women, and children? What of the millions whose stories were never told? If anything is made brutally clear in this book, it is that the subjugation of a population lays waste to its history. Slave owners in America did worse than own and abuse the living: they rendered their slaves nameless, voiceless, detached from time and place, and buried everything in the backyard. Then left bootprints on the unmarked graves.

It is the overwhelming size of what has been intentionally forgotten that breaks my heart.

Read this fine piece of 19th century literature, and in reading know that racism will never be extinguished in America. The roots of it are far too deep and far too much the fault of the men and women who founded our country. And if you believe you are blameless, having been born almost 150 years after Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, think again. Every time you subconsciously take some small credit for the good in our history--the pride you feel in the Declaration of Independence, for example--you must take an equal bit of the blame. Many of the men who signed that illustrious document were at their leisure to pave the way of a young America because they had slaves to work their land and make their money. You may hold your chin high on the Fourth of July, but you can't claim the ink of that revolutionary quill without getting some of the blood on your hands, as well.

View all my reviews

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In Oklahoma yesterday, a man named Ronald Clinton Lott was executed by lethal injection. He was convicted of raping and killing two elderly women in 1986 and 1987. He bound them, beat them, raped them, and suffocated them. Two old women who each lived alone. Evil exists in this world, and yesterday in Oklahoma, one evil flame was stamped out by our legal system.

Thankfully, they got the right guy. Ultimately. Another man, Robert Lee Miller, Jr., was originally tried and convicted of these exact crimes. By a jury of his peers. And sentenced to death. Miller spent more than ten years of his life on death row in Oklahoma and, had DNA technology not exonerated him in 1998, might have been the one eating Long John Silver's hush puppies dipped in ketchup a few hours before his last, long walk to the death chamber yesterday.

I wonder if capital punishment is only supported by those people who think they understand the value of human life. Their own. Someone else's. Anyone else's. It will never cease to amaze me how many Christians support the practice of capital punishment. They point to the Old Testament. (Just a fraction of it; the full thing is far too hoary and inconvenient.) It's as if Christians forget that their savior was executed. Unjustly.

And that was a good man who died at Calvary that day. Possibly the best man who ever walked the earth. Who among us believes he knows the value of that man? In money. Or in human soul count. Or in the amount of love his earth-bound mother had for him. Who among us believes he knows the value of his own life? Break down the body into pieces and sell it on the black market and you'll get a tally, all right. But you won't get the worth. I say this knowing (in a distant way) that evil exists in the world. 

Two and a half years ago, a car bomb exploded less than a mile from my home in Oslo. The man* who set it off in front of the Prime Minister's office building, killing 8 people in the blast, proceeded to a small island north of the city and hunted down children at a summer camp. He used automatic weapons to massacre 69 people. Because the PM's political party was too liberal for his taste, too open and too tolerant. This man, a native Norwegian, hated the influx of Muslim immigrants to Norway so much he wanted to kill them.

At the end of that sad, bloody day, this terrorist allowed himself to be taken under arrest. I remember hearing that news and feeling the battle of emotions within me. What would I have preferred? A suicide? That the responding officers had killed the murderer where he stood? 

There was never any way that the Norwegian government would kill this man. He knew that. It's his country. They're his laws. His rights. Norway doesn't use the death penalty. Not even in response to the worst civilian crime in the country's entire history. 

Watching that smug, slick-haired, quasi-Nazi bastard sit in the courtroom over the next few months was excruciating. Watching him sentenced to a mere 21 years in a Norwegian prison (in a private, three-room suite of a cell, as the New York Times pointed out), the maximum sentence allowed under Norwegian law, made me physically ill. 

Is that it?! Twenty-one years? You've got to be kidding me! The man belongs in hell, and it's time for us to send him there. Without further delay. Shoot him. Stab him. Burn him. Drown him. Hang him by the neck from a fucking yardarm. I don't care. But do it and do it fast. He's as guilty as sin. He admits the whole thing. He looked those children in the eye as murdered them. He wished he could have killed more. If we let him out when he's 53, he WILL do it again. The only way to stop him is to reach into his chest and crush his heart, once and for all.

These were my thoughts on the day of the sentence. These are my thoughts today, too. But I can't ignore a few important facts.

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My brother, Curtis, has a new blog, which I just discovered this week. Those of you who know Curtis won't be surprised that he has a lot to say about certain things, mostly regarding topics philosophical and/or political. I love that he's begun writing these things down and putting them out there for quasi-public consumption. He and I differ on a lot of things, but that's what discourse is all about. Intelligent debate. Not these vitriolic spit-fests leading up to political primaries, or the partisan finger-pointing and name-calling which inevitably arise once the elections are over. I'm talking about thoughtful, reasoned discussion.

Today, I commented on Curtis's blog for the first time. It's really a response to several of his posts thus far, but I enjoyed writing it out, so I thought I would share it here for fun. (Also to encourage anyone who likes to read Libertarian treatises on modern society to visit pCoast Compelled.)

In Curtis's most recent post--Thanksgiving. To who?--he makes the case for personal responsibility and congratulation. An excerpt:

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and as usual we all have many things to be thankful for.  After all that's what the coming holiday is all about.  But, in light of the current legislative terrors plaguing our society... I have a suggestion.  I think people ought to think carefully about what they're thankful for, but most importantly - who provided those things for them.

We did, as individuals, provide for ourselves our current circumstances... So thank yourself. If you did well in school, be grateful for having the courage to persevere.  If you landed a good job or kept one, be deeply appreciative of your own hard work and level headed decision making skills that made that possible.  If you bought a new car or made any life-changing purchase, be grateful for saving enough of your hard earned money to do so, or for having the backbone to set priorities and goals and follow them through while navigating the financial and legal processes.  If you have a wonderful spouse, be thankful that you have chosen to be attractive to that person (of course you'll want to keep this thought on the DL).

My comment is as follows:

Wow. Well, first, thank you for spilling your optimism about the average individual human all over the interwebs.

As I read through these initial posts, I found an interesting pattern. You're writing to a certain subset of people, and that subset holds close to a rubric set by your own life experience and personality. On Thanksgiving morning, you'll be patting yourself on the back for choosing a job which pays you enough money to be able to buy a new home. And you'll be praising yourself in the mirror for taking care of your own health. And you'll be looking at your brainy, beautiful wife and thinking, "It's a good thing I've actively made myself funny and handsome and successful enough that she wants to be with me." All across America, there may well be similar people giving themselves similar affirmations, but the grave weakness of this fallacy is in its incompleteness.

Allow me to apply what I'm talking about to my own life first. There are plenty of good things in my life which are here in spite of me or my choices. For example:

It will never cease to amaze me that I have the choice not to have children. Until the 1960s, married women either had kids until their bodies gave out, or they stonewalled their own husbands to reduce the odds of conception. Worldwide, women had only one dependable option to limit their family size: abstinence. A close second was abortion, which was illegal and, therefore, not widely available or safe when it could be obtained. The invention of the birth control pill and the legislative victories which made it legal are two things I can take ZERO credit for, but which affect me every day of my privileged life.

I am also thankful for the existence of extraordinary people who do good things for the world and spend their lives selflessly in service to their fellow man. Malala Yousafzai is one. Nelson Mandela is another. I am thankful for public defenders, inner-city teachers, first responders. I am thankful for my friend Jeremy, who pulled an unconscious woman from her burning vehicle and dragged her to safety. And for victims' rights advocates. And for people who pay for the coffee of the person behind them in line at Starbucks. And for whoever gave the homeless man on my street a new blanket and shoes last week. These people are empowered and making their own choices, and what they do has no direct effect on me whatsoever, but I am grateful to them. Humbled by them. Hopeful that there will always be people like that, because--on my worst days--I might need one of them, and--on my best days--I might be one of them.

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I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Tom McClintock titled Yosemite National Park: Closed for Preservation, a rant instigated by the following legal action against the National Park Service:

Environmentalist groups such as Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government challenged the National Park Service's 2000 and 2005 plans to manage the Merced River, which runs through the park, claiming that the Park Service was insufficiently preserving the river's "wild and scenic" character. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs and invalidated the Park Service's plans in 2008. A settlement, agreed to in September 2009, required the Park Service to draft a new plan for the Merced River--and also paid these professional environmental litigants more than $1 million, courtesy of American taxpayers.

As a true Yosemite girl, having climbed the domes and hiked the backcountry, having read Muir's musings on a flat rock in the Merced at dusk, and having married into the surname Camp, I felt the need to respond:

California Democratic Rep. Tony Coelho wrote a letter to the director of the National Park Service, vowing to fight any measure which removed current recreational facilities from Yosemite Valley, stating: "The Merced River in Yosemite Valley has been recreational for almost 150 years. Yosemite Valley has never been wilderness."

That's idiocy. And it's also the difference between someone who wants national parks to be preserved for generations to come and someone who actually understands what that will take to achieve.

When President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant in 1864, he designated Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as a protected area "upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation". But in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect who served on the Yosemite board of commissioners, warned that "the slight harm which the few hundred visitors of this year might do, if no care were taken to prevent it, would not be slight, if it should be repeated by millions." This classic conflict between the desire to keep our parks pure and to attract tourists is what pressed President Theordore Roosevelt, after camping in the Yosemite wilderness with John Muir in 1903, to remove control of the valley and grove from California and return it to the federal government. President Lincoln's mid-Civil War desire to set aside a national treasure had been absolutely essential to the process, but it was an incomplete one, and Olmsted's words continue to ring true.

California's population density breaks down to roughly 283 people per square mile. That's pretty crowded. (For the sake of comparison, Norway's population density breaks down to only 35 people per square mile.) The wear and tear of people and their vehicles, not only on the ground, but to the air, the water, the amount of trash and sewage generated and accumulating in the parks, is astonishing, and must be slowed. The most militant environmentalists want it to be stopped altogether. And I don't blame them for that, but I pity them their shortsightedness on another hand. What good is a beautiful thing if no one gets to see it? If it languishes in a secret spot, we run the risk of forgetting it's even there.

Yosemite and Yellowstone and the like are some of my favorite places in the world. I have great childhood memories there, and sharing Yellowstone and Teton with Jonathan for the first time in 2007 ranks up there with the truest pleasures of my adult life. But there's a line we must make and be willing to hold, those of us who claim to admire and uphold Muir's legacy. He wanted Yosemite preserved for the generations to come, but he couldn't have known how large those generations would be, or how much strain we would put on the environment. He couldn't fathom families arriving in enormous gas-guzzling SUVs, using diapers that don't biodegrade, with seven different electronic gadgets, each with its own charger. At sixty, John Muir was still climbing to the tops of 80-foot trees to sit and consider the music of the wind. He couldn't guess that obesity would become an American epidemic, and that his favorite valley trails would be paved over to allow, not just foot and bike traffic, but scooters and electric wheelchairs. He wrote in his journal every day; sang songs robustly as he stomped off into the trees; camped so he could rise and walk directly into the mist of the waterfalls. He never imagined whole families would spend their evenings ensconced in deluxe rooms watching television and checking Facebook.

So, where is the line?

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Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds. 

This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.

On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.

Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.

And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.

I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!

I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.

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Driving along California's endless freeways you're bound to see a memorial. Heaps of fabric flowers, ragged under the hot sun, ragged in the windy backwash of speeding cars, clinging to chain link fences and sign posts. A simple cross. Faded plastic icons. Candles that can't hold a flame.

How long has it been there? This outpouring of love and grief.

In a moment, you're past it. Vaguely, you might think of the life or lives lost on that dusty spot, but there is no sense of eternal pain. No names. Though blood was spilled, the heat and wind make light of these things. 

Should that be?

Last month, I turned one of the ten thousand gray corners in St. Petersburg and came upon The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. A bizarre beauty, the cathedral was erected to commemorate the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. 

Under the rule of Alexander II, Russian serfdom was dissolved entirely, a progressive move that earned him the title Alexander the Liberator. But at the same time, his crackdown on the people of Poland was brutal. He began his reign with a speech in which he told Polish people across the Russian empire not to expect any freedom or equality in his eyes. This so-called "No Hope" speech fueled the fire leading to the January Uprising in 1863, ultimately suppressed by the Russian military after 18 months of fighting. The result? Hundreds of Poles were executed; thousands were exiled to Siberia. 

Yet, everything in history depends upon one's point of view. In Finland, Alexander II is still regarded as "The Good Tsar." 

On 1 March 1881, he stepped into his bullet-proof carriage, a gift from Napoleon, accompanied by an armed guard. Members of the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") movement waited in the crowds that lined the streets. The first bomb was tossed beneath the horses pulling the emperor's carriage. When Alexander emerged unhurt, a second bomber stepped forward and threw his package at the emperor's feet, crying out, "It is too early to thank God!"

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It took less than a minute after the plane landed on the tarmac in St. Petersburg for me to realize that this vacation was going to be drastically different than the rest. All I had to do was get through passport control. I froze. My eyes flicked wildly from wall to wall. Where were they? My beloved letters?! How could there be so many signs, but not a single recognizable word?

такси. банк. цветы. аренда автомобиля.

Until that moment, I had considered myself well-traveled. I had sixteen countries under my belt, most of them in Europe, and I was used to breezing through airports without a hiccup on my way into town. Not because I'm multilingual (far from it), but because I've got a basic hold on several languages. My years of French class in high school and college are a useful foundation, but it's simpler than that:

Take the English alphabet, throw in a couple extra letters, sprinkle a few accent marks on top, and you've got French, Italian, Spanish, German, Norwegian, and the rest of the European languages.

Except Russian, Greek, and the like. 

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I've been accused of cowardice. 

Yesterday, I reached out and told someone that I didn't agree with him. Not a shocker. We don't agree on much. But I also told him, via a Private Message (PM), that he ought to be more careful of the kinds of things he posts on Facebook.

This particular young man has a habit of libeling our President, of posting items about the gun control debate that can only be described as antagonistic, and of bullying people who don't agree with him. I've seen him attack the character and convictions of individuals and groups. These social media choices mirror his real life actions: he lives unapologetically. Which is to say, he steamrolls through his conversations with deaf ears and blind eyes... self-righteous to the point of recklessness... and it pisses off a lot of people.

In this case, he shared a Reuters article about the defeat of gun control legislation in the senate with just one comment: "WOOHOO!!!!!" Unfortunately, the thumbnail that accompanied this article was a portrait of distraught parents in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. I doubt he selected this photo intentionally, but it was still insensitive. At best. In fact, after the correspondence that ensued in the wake of that post, I wouldn't put it past the guy to choose precisely that photo. You'll see what I mean in a minute.

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My running shoes are neon pink.

This morning, I laced them up and stepped onto the treadmill at my gym, just as I have many mornings in the last few weeks. And I ran.

I ran toward the glossy faces of the broadcasters on CNN and the BBC as they told the story. Two bombs exploded in quick succession near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, yesterday. At least three are dead. At least 144 are injured. Critical injuries include amputated limbs. Among the fatalities is an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester. 

My feet thumped and thumped and thumped on the spinning road of the treadmill. I was going nowhere. And the newsmen and newswomen repeated the little we know, and all that we don't know, over and over. 

Yesterday, I was watching the live stream of the Boston Marathon as the elite runners churned through the miles between the halfway point and the finish. I was watching as Yolanda Beatriz Caballero Pérez of Columbia pulled ahead of the women's lead pack by more than thirty seconds. 

A year older than me, Caballero looked strong and fluid, pumping along at a blistering pace (at Mile 12, her split was 5:26). The announcers ran through the details of Caballero's life as she ran straight toward the camera. Last year, she lost her husband of five years to a stroke. He'd been her best friend, her true love, and her running coach, taking her from a daily jogger to a marathon champion. Last year, she placed 8th at the Boston Marathon and earned a selection for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.

After a couple more miles, I watched as Caballero was overtaken by Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix, her long, blond ponytail swishing in time with her stride.

Already, I was looking forward to my next day's workout, inspired by these incredible lady athletes who make it clear what the human body is capable of.

Once the elites had crossed the finish line, I stopped checking the Boston Marathon Twitter feed. We had a birthday to celebrate. While thousands of people continued to run from Hopkinton to Boston, I sang Happy Birthday to Jonathan and carried his angel food cake into the living room. The candles wavered. He made a wish and blew them out.

Just about then, there was blood in the streets of Boston.

President Obama has warned against jumping to conclusions, but promises that whomever is responsible, be it an individual or a group, they will feel "the full weight" of justice. 

Detonated for maximum carnage, the "crude devices" placed among the crowds at the finish were timed to coincide with the moment that the most runners would be crossing the finish or arriving in the last miles. Thus, we are reminded of the evil which human beings are also capable of.

Could there be anything more sadistic than cutting off a runner at the knees?

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Which black hole has Audrey fallen down today, you ask? Well, I'll be happy to share. 

This video clip is one of dozens which has been posted by a Baptist preacher out of Tempe, Arizona in the last few years. This guy is a NUT JOB. Unfortunately, he's handsome (Jack from Lost, anyone?), affable, articulate, has ample proof of his personal virility (seven kids), and enjoys wearing a suit and tie. I say unfortunately because all of these things make him prime preacher material, whether or not he has any real handle on the Truth. 

Today alone, I've watched him preach on the role of women (surprise, he doesn't like Feminists), gender (he thinks women shouldn't wear pants), and our President (Barack Obama is the devil... "and get the hell out of my church if you don't want to hear it!"). 

In the clip I've posted, Pastor Steve Anderson holds forth on the "righteous government" which at least one of the original thirteen colonies had in place back in 1639. This government did away with jolly old religiously-persecutorial England's rule of law which included a whopping 150 crimes which were punishable by death. Whew. Because killing someone who forged a check is just dotty! And then the New Haveners in the Connecticut colony instated the Hebrew rule of law which had a much more reasonable list of 11 crimes punishable by death. 

You're wondering how this is better than the old British standard the colonists escaped, aren't you? Good news for check forgers: they just get time in the stocks. But the new and improved list includes the following crimes: 

  1. Murder
  2. Treason
  3. Perjury against the life of another
  4. Kidnapping
  5. Beastiality
  6. Sodomy ("Which is homosexuality... being GAY!" Wait for the jazz hands. Seriously excellent.)
  7. Adultery
  8. Blasphemy in the highest degree
  9. Idolatry
  10. Witchcraft
  11. Rebellion against parents

Now, I'm not going to get into a debate with anyone about capital punishment. At least not here. So, why post this? 

Because it frightens me and I want to call it out of the darkness by name.

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It took me ten minutes to jog from the Russian Embassy in Oslo down Drammensveien to the nearest Joker market and withdraw the cash. I'd expected the cost of two Russian Tourist Visas to run about 630 NOK ($110), based on what I'd read several times on the consulate website. Standing before the cashier at the embassy, my heart had stopped when she did the math and said the total: 1980 NOK ($345).

"I don't have that much with me," I'd said. My cheeks began to flame.

She shook her head and held the calculator up for me to see. As though I didn't trust her math. Which I didn't. After making sure that they weren't charging me for express processing, and that it was merely my non-EU citizenship that cost so much, I asked:

"Do you accept card?"

It was clear she didn't understand me. I repeated myself in broken Norwegian. She responded by reaching up to tap her long, purple fingernail on the window of bullet-proof glass between us, just behind a sign which read, in three languages: We do not accept bank cards. Cash only. Exact change.

Well, I thought, this is it. I knew something was going to go horribly wrong, and it's happening

All morning I'd dreaded this appointment. Something about walking into the Russian Embassy just seemed wrong, shady, or dangerous. I blame Hollywood. The Russians have been our go-to on-screen villains for ages. Our nuclear opponents. Hard-liners with their fingers on too many big red buttons. I know this isn't true today. I grew up in the years after President Reagan said, "Tear down this wall!"

Yet, there are shades of darkness that remain in the real world. One need only look at Russia's recent crackdown on the civil rights of gays and lesbians, or their censure of freedom of speech and expression in the Pussy Riot incident, or their ban on American adoptions of Russian children. These are things I don't agree with, and they're only the ones existing above the surface. What will I find when I venture behind the metaphorical culture wall that remains?

Standing on Russian soil at the embassy, I felt vulnerable. To what? Human trafficking? Communism? The rampant road rage that makes dashboard cameras so popular among Russian drivers? I shook off the dread. There had to be a solution to this problem.

I showed the embassy cashier the bills I had with me, less than half the amount needed, and shrugged.

She leaned down to speak into the microphone on her side of the glass. A speaker about the size of a Kleenex box was mounted on the wall at face-height and made her instructions sound like she was rattling back a take-out order at the In-n-Out drive thru.

"You go out," she said, her Russian accent tugging at the corners of every word. "Out, along street. Get money from minibank."

"I can come back here?" I asked, beginning to gather my things. I'd waited in line for over an hour already and didn't want to take another number.

"Yes. You go out, come back here." Then she raised her wrist to show me the face of her watch and tapped it vigorously. There wasn't much time left. The office would close at 12:30.

I waited for her to slide my paperwork and passports back to me.

"We keep," she said.

I shook my head the way you do when you get out of the pool to clear your ear canals of water.

"We keep. You go. Come back."

"No," I said. "I don't want to leave my passports."

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Dear Mr. President,

I voted for you.

Home. My husband and I moved to Norway from the United States for adventure, opportunity and the chance to try something new. We stay because, given our new perspective, it is difficult for us to believe that moving "home" would be in our best interest. Norway is consistently listed as one of the "happiest" and "best" places to live in the world. This is due to the country's high standard of living, access to higher education, national wealth, cleanliness, and independence. Children are healthier, better educated, and safer. We pay high taxes, but in return we receive tremendous benefits. Watching the vitriol of the last election from afar, I was ashamed. All that fighting, all those hard lines, all those promises, all that MONEY... and in return, what? I can't say Norway is a better country than the United States, but nor can I say that the U.S. is the best country in the world. And wouldn't you want to live and raise your family in the best country in the world? Please do what you can to make me want to come home.

Signed,

Audrey Camp from Oslo, Norway

Four years ago, I was as idealistic as any other 25-year-old. Well, that doesn't mean much. Kids today become so jaded so quickly. Maybe I'll say it this way... Four years ago I was as idealistic as young Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, just before he ascended to the Presidency. The man wanted to bridge gaps, soothe the rancor of Washington, and accomplish lots of important stuff. In 2008, I liked his message, but I didn't vote for him. I believed he was too young and inexperienced to make headway in our white-haired White House, let alone the big, bad world of international relations. He won without my vote. And almost immediately, I was thrilled about that. Even in the face of a GOP machine intent on making him, young Barack Obama, a Democrat, fail in four years, whether or not that hurt our country, the man himself strove to meet his own ideals. Four years later, he earned my vote with guts, humility, and the overall optimism and decency of his party's platform.

I'm no longer a shiny-cheeked idealist, but neither, I'd guess, is President Obama. Yet, he seems to remain optimistic.

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Dear Gun Rights Advocate:

Please stop waving your selectively-historical, emotional arguments in my Facebook. It's irresponsible. I'm referring, of course, to posts which are intended to promote our Second Amendment rights by referring to historical atrocities which, allegedly, bear some resemblance to what's about to go down in the United States.

The most recent I've seen is a tidbit titled A Little History to Think About... 

A lengthy caption runs under a black and white photo of the carnage after the massacre at Wounded Knee in December of 1890. Dead bodies litter the snowy ground. The burned skeletons of empty teepees lean in the wind. Members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, perpetrators of the violence, walk through the scene, hats still on. 

The 7th Cavalry ended the American Indian Wars by slaughtering the Lakota at Wounded Knee. Depending on where you get your information, the massacre may have started because one Lakota tribesman refused to give up his gun. And so, about 300 natives were killed, according to this Facebook post, in one of "the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history."

The person who wrote the inflammatory text accompanying this photo didn't sign his full name. (Once or twice he misspells Cavalry as Calvary. I suspect this is an accidental irony.)  And he draws a bloody line of connection through the dots of history which begins in Biblical times, with Cain's murder of his brother Abel. What surprises me is not that the author roots his indignation and fear in religion, but where else he feels his greatest fear has been mirrored in the past. An excerpt:

"Evil exists all around us, but looking back at the historical record of the past 200 years, across the globe, where is 'evil' and 'malevolence' most often found? In the hands of those with the power, the governments. That greatest human tragedies on record and the largest loss of innocent human life can be attributed to governments. Who do the governments always target? 'Scapegoats' and 'enemies' within their own borders...but only after they have been disarmed to the point where they are no longer a threat. Ask any Native American, and they will tell you it was inferior technology and lack of arms that contributed to their demise. Ask any Armenian why it was so easy for the Turks to exterminate millions of them, and they will answer 'We were disarmed before it happened'. Ask any Jew what Hitler's first step prior to the mass murders of the Holocaust was- confiscation of firearms from the people."

This Facebook post has been shared more than 25,000 times. Talk about perpetuating a myth.

The thing is, dear Gun Rights Advocate, anyone who thinks there's a legitimate chance that our government is going to send in the cavalry to take away his guns really ought to be taking bigger steps to thwart them than pointing to pictures of the massacre at Wounded Knee. I'm willing to admit that a person's paranoia doesn't always make him wrong, but unless he's willing to leave the country to escape this impending/potential tyranny, and unless he actually thinks "1776 will commence again," I question his convictions. 

Gun-owners in the United States are not the Jews before the Holocaust. That self-comparison is so ignorantly insensitive to the history of global antisemitism, it actually makes me ill. Nor are they the Native Americans about to lose their home and history to a far more powerful population of invaders. 

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On the Monday following the Olso bombing and Utøya massacre, more than 100,000 people converged in front of Rådhusplassen (city hall) to memorialize the victims and support their families. The crowd held long-stemmed roses which they raised to the sky in peaceful defiance again and again. It was, possibly, the most elegant, loving tribute I've ever seen. I took the video, below, with my iPhone, and there IS audio, but you won't hear a thing. It was as if everyone in the city was holding his breath.

 

When the speeches were finished, everyone walked away. We streamed back through the veins of the city, and along the way, we placed our roses. At the feet of statues. At the cornerstones of the parliament buildings (Stortinget), Oslo Cathedral, the Royal Palace. I added mine to a growing heap of flowers at the Eternal Peace Flame at Aker Brygge. Hundreds of thousands of roses blanketed the city.

It's not up to me, an Outsider, to say whether this defiantly peaceful response is a byproduct of the natural stoicism of Norwegian society. But these people are bred of generations who have thrived in the cold and the dark by drawing closer together. Their ancestors saw the rule of other nations, Sweden and Denmark, and outlasted Nazi occupation. This country has seen its share of adversity and woe. 

It is up to me, as a writer, to observe the response and share it. Especially because the echoes of this Rally of Roses were so gentle and lovely. The next day, I walked through town and captured the aftermath with my camera.
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For the last couple of weeks I've been on the American road. Jonathan and I were celebrating my graduation by rolling from state to state in a rental car, eating our combined body weight in cheeseburgers, and visiting lots of friends and family. I'll blog the rest of the trip soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to get my red door groove started again by sharing something pretty neat.

At a giant antiques store in Bellefonte, PA, I uncovered this little treasure: 

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Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Authored by the starlet's mother, Lela Rogers
Copyright 1942

The best 39 cents I've ever spent. It takes me back to all those childhood hours, flopped down on my stomach on a bed, a couch, a floor, or a grassy field, making time with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, or the Bobbsey Twins. Now I'll know to keep my eyes open for Betty Grable and the House With the Iron Shutters and Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Castle! (Unfortunately, the guarantee that those titles "may be purchased from the same store where you purchased this book" is unlikely to hold up after 70 years.)
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Yesterday was Norway's birthday, May 17th. 

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Throughout the country schoolchildren participate in colorful parades, celebrating 17 May 1814, when the Norwegian constitution was signed and Norway was finally declared to be a separate nation. In Oslo, the barnetoget (children's parade) begins down by the water and winds uphill to the Royal Palace. It is the largest parade in the country; about 100 schools participate, and the number of spectators can reach 100,000! At the palace, the royal family stand on the balcony to inspect each school and band as it goes by.

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King Karl Johan, King of Sweden and Norway at the time the constitution was signed, also inspects the schools as they pass. Norwegians are very patriotic, though not necessarily in the way I was brought up to think of patriotism in the U.S. Love of country simply laces every celebration. It's not strange to have a Norwegian flag displayed at a birthday or anniversary party, and Christmas decorations often include flag ornaments and ribbons. But on Constitution Day, flags run a red, white, and blue river all the way up Karl Johans gate.

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This means we get our own flags, too!
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I love many of the statues in Oslo, but this is one of my favorites. Gunnar Fridtjof Thurmann Sønsteby is stationed at Solli plass, just down the street from our place. Nearby stands a larger-than-life, stooped-shouldered Winston Churchill. But Sønsteby is the one who catches the eye. 

It could be his posture, relaxed but alert; it could be his bicycle. Today it was the pile of roses and flags at his feet and tangled in his handlebars. 

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Sønsteby was the most famous member of the Norwegian underground during WWII. To this day he remains to be the most decorated person in Norway's history, receiving awards and honors and medals from both the Norwegian government and the American government for his efforts during the Nazi occupation. He was known (or unknown) as Agent 24 during the war, and received saboteur training in England. All around, a pretty brave, pretty cool guy.

Sønsteby passed away last week (10 May) at the age of 94. As a lover of history, it's a beautiful thing to see appreciation expressed for this man and his personal efforts and sacrifices so many decades after the fact, by way of flowers and flags.
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, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, Rick Santorum has a chance to be the GOP candidate for President.

It's tough to find the words to explain why I will never vote for Rick Santorum. Wait. That's not accurate. It's tough for me to come up with my own words to explain what should be so obvious.

On the other hand, it's EASY to come up with Rick's words on the topic. I may be a registered Republican, but contrary to the cliched image of my party, a bunch of red necks in lockstep with the bombastic conservative talking heads on TV and the radio, I vote based on issue, not on the big letter R next to a candidate's name.

So, just for fun, I'll let the man himself make it abundantly clear why he will never receive my vote... and all based on the issues.

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The issue: Gay Marriage (and Sex, in general)

"And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery." 2003

Good news. The Supreme Court has said that I have the right to consensual sex within my home. My Fourth Amendment right to privacy secures that. Personally, I'd prefer it if my President spent more time thinking about positioning our country for betterment and progress, and less time thinking about my sex positions. And I'm straight. I can't even imagine how much the gay community wishes their bedroom habits were no longer a topic for debate.

"[Contraception is] not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." 2011

Young American women may not realize how close we are to finding ourselves shoved backwards into the realm our mothers and grandmothers fought and struggled to rise above. It's easy for conservative men (religious men) to talk this way. They're not the ones who get pregnant. If Rick Santorum could get pregnant, he'd buy a lifetime supply of condoms and shut up about it.

"In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." 2003

The slippery slope. I can play that game, too. If we allow Christians to marinate in their own ignorance, they'll start thinking that openly gay men are simply closeted pedophiles. Etc.

The issue: Women

"The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." Excerpted from Santorum's 2005 book It Takes a Family.

Even better, this is the book he now claims was co-authored by his own wife. But he didn't give his wife authorial credit at publication time. 
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The following is a cross-post from my second blog (Feeding the Trolls). I feel strongly about this issue, and I hope that, upon reading my remarks, you will, too.

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The United States of America, my home country, is stepping into a new era regarding the availability of health care. Because health care is such an enormous issue, people are bound to have trouble with individual provisions within the larger bills and debates. One of those provisions has to do with Birth Control. I capitalize Birth Control because it is, in my mind, after certain vaccines and quality-of-life-enhancing medications, THE most important health care advancement in history. But even in the U.S., where women are liberated to the point of achieving the majority of advanced degrees offered each year, there is something scary looming large around the availability of contraception: Religion.

Now, I understand that there are countries where women are still considered property, and in those places I wouldn't be at all surprised to see religious leaders refusing to allow contraception to their chattels. But when the Legislative Branch of the United States' government convenes a panel of male religious leaders to weigh in on the availability of Birth Control to American women, I am blown away. And pissed off.

So, I thought I'd write a letter to the eight male witnesses (dominating two panels of ten total witnesses) called by last Thursday:

  • The Most Reverend William E. Lori (Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, CT)
  • The Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (President, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod)
  • C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. (Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University)
  • Rabbi Meir Soloveichik (Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University)
  • Craig Mitchell, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Ethics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • John H. Garvey (President, The Catholic University of America)
  • Dr. William K. Thierfelder (President, Belmont Abbey College)
  • Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver (President, East Texas Baptist University)
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Tonight I heard my President call for America to respond to a "Sputnik moment." It was, in a sense, a call to arms. I liked this call. In October of 1957, Russian scientists launched a beach ball-sized satellite into space in a move that rocked this country and kicked off a race to stab a flag into the dusty surface of the moon. The spirit of competition that spurred us to win that race was unfortunately mired in fear and distrust. What President Obama is hoping for in this case, I think, is for the American people to seize on an opportunity to surge ahead in the world based on something much more positive. 

Even with the lagging recovery of our economy, even with our high unemployment rate, ours remains to be a great, resourceful nation. We are smart, strong, and wealthy, and underneath the blanket of icy deficits and corporate scandals, still there springs a blade of optimism. 

It's what we're raised to believe here in the United States: that we are the greatest nation in spite of what anyone else has to say, in spite of evidence to the contrary. In our worst moments, that belief sounds and appears arrogant. Arrogance taints foreign policy, corporate cooperation, and even entrepreneurship. But once we've been knocked down a peg or two by the realities of commerce and a shrinking globe, the seeds of that arrogance which remain embedded within each of us can be relied upon to quicken our own recovery. Blind patriotism may be ignorant, but stubborn patriotism, well-worn patriotism, patriotism with a little scar tissue... that might just kick start us again.

Innovation. I wish I had the mind for it. Jonathan does. I've watched him conceive brand new ideas and implement them dozens of times. When he thinks, he moves laterally, diagonally, outside of the space in which all normal people reside. His is the mind of an explorer, an astronomer. I can only hitch my wagon to his star when it comes to innovation. But I am happy to lend what talents I do have to the recording of his innovations, and that's precisely the point.
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IMG_0332.JPGCedar Grove Community Church is hosting a new Worship Bible Study at 6pm on Sunday nights. One of the discussions trailed over onto Facebook. The prompt was as follows:

I'd like to continue a discussion that we started at our Bible Study on Sunday night... here's the question: describe what you think about the Church (the global church, not any one particular one)... free association time.

Being given to diatribes, I thought I'd refrain this time, try to salvage what's left of the ever shrinking group of people who consider me "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." Everyone else knows me too well. But Pastor Tom nudged me, so... 

@TB: Here's my shot...
 

 

First, the global Christian church exists only insofar as we agree on the following: Jesus Christ was the one and only son of God, He died and rose again, and in doing so, He bridged the gap between sinners and their Creator.
 
But that's it. Beyond that sliver of dogma remain as many divisions and derisions about faith and salvation as there are human beings on the planet. And that's only when considering the global Christian church. Look outside those broad borders and the world according to its different beliefs is a jungle, savage and fascinating and desperate in its plight, and as worthy of our time and love as we were worthy of the time and love of Christ.
 
What do I think of the global church? Not much.

Let us not forget that the worst moments (and eras) of history have always come at those junctures when "righteous" men (and women) have sought the power to take over the world for God or god. Such misguided focus and greed has toppled empires.

Thus, I've often wondered whether the Christian community realizes that fighting against the separation of Church and State may not be in our own best interest. 

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confessions.jpegApologies are tricky.

When we were little, my brothers and I committed an endless stream of wrongs against one another.  Once we'd been caught by the folks, each of us was directed to apologize to the victim of the teasing, the ostracizing, the exclusion, the punching, the ditching, or the name calling.  Those apologies were never sincere.  We were unrepentant and eager to get on with our games.

"I'm sorry I abandoned you while we were playing hide and seek."

"I'm sorry I
accidentally made your lip bleed when we were wrestling."

"I'm sorry that I pedaled really fast and left you to bike to school alone."

Our parents knew we were insincere, too, but they orchestrated the whole ceremony of acknowledgment and apology anyway.  What's more, they orchestrated the ultimate act of forgiveness.  This last part was equally insincere, but even more important than the apology itself.

"I forgive you."

"I forgive you."

"I forgive you."

It was the act of repenting and the act of forgiving which my parents wanted to instill in us. They couldn't force us to be sorry for something, but they could teach the difference between right and wrong and then take us through the paces of apology and forgiveness.

Eventually, we began to apologize for stuff on our own, too. Wonder of wonders! We processed the situations and empathized with our victims and then, urged by something akin to the Golden Rule, we attempted to repair the damage with words.  Even at times when we didn't feel regret or guilt, seeing the sorrowful look on our sibling's face was enough to squeeze the apology out of us. And in the end we learned something, garnered trust, improved our relationships.  Apologizing made a difference, even when the motivation wasn't sincere.
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21gs.jpgToday we honor our veterans, both dead and living, who have served in every war or conflict in which the United States has held a stake.  Both of my grandfathers and both of my grandfathers-in-law served in WWII.  My brothers, Ted and Curtis, are each in service to our military today, along with several of Jonathan's cousins.  I dedicate this entry to them.

I wake up in the morning and shower and drive to work.  I sell insurance.  I partake in hobbies and leisure activities.  Then I come home to share a hearth and a table and a bed with my husband, a man who also works on behalf of our nation's security.  I am like so many blessed people.  Freedom laces each of my personal moments.

I choose to drink a Diet Coke before 9:00 am.  I choose to take riding lessons at a local equestrian center.  I choose to attend a movie with my best friend on a Monday night.  I choose to worship God, travel the world, drive a car.  Every one of these choices is sacred in a sense, especially considering that there are those in the world today who are denied any and all of these things, and especially considering that there are thousands who have died in the pursuit of the preservation of these freedoms, petty or important as the case may be.

To me, Veteran's Day is the perfect time to begin an entire season of acknowledgment and charity.  We are fast approaching Thanksgiving, an American holiday initiated as a celebration of gratitude.  When newcomers to America were starving, those who had occupied this land for centuries, and who had every right to stave them off, chose instead to share a harvest, a bounty, an excess.  That day, that joint feast between Native Americans and Pilgrims (though most likely gilded by history), had nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with mercy and humility.

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betterangels.jpgNovember 4, 2008 dawned to the sound of my shower and Jon's groaning at the prospect of being out of bed before 7:00 am.  Our polling place is the elementary school across the street, so we pulled into the parking lot moments after the doors opened. Already, there was a lone line of eager citizens stretching out the door. I was more than happy to stand in line (something I've never experienced as a voter).  The turnout made me very proud to be an American.  I gazed at the people flowing in from the parking lot to extend the line behind me and marveled at the beauty of democracy.   

Jon and I linked arms and blinked against the chilly morning air, taking final consideration of ballot measures and political candidates before entering the voting booth.  We joked that our ballots might just be exact opposites of one another, a complete wash.  That wasn't actually the case, but it could have been.  We eavesdropped on the conversations of our fellow would-be voters as they whispered to one another.  When it came time to sign the register and take our ballots from the volunteer, we exchanged a knowing glance before heading to our separate booths.

I voted.  No on 8.  Yes on 4.  Abstained on 11 (the concept of Redistricting strikes me as something that laypeople cannot possibly understand without taking a university-level course on the subject). No on most bond measures.  These decisions had been carefully made after doing research and participating in lengthy discussions with friends and family.  Anything I didn't feel qualified to consider... I didn't sully with an uninformed vote.

Most of all, though, I have agonized over my preference for President, torn by issues as massive as the troubled economy, as polarizing as abortion, and as petty as choice of vice presidential running mate.  Finally, I came to the end of the road, and all was quite clear to me.

Today I voted for President, but I am not going to share my choice.
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twin_towers1.jpgSeven years ago, two black boxes of souls standing sentinel over New York City were felled by cowards in commandeered planes, and America staggered.

Go ahead and scream and holler for an end to this war... 

Please, run out in the streets and chant and pump your fists in the air.... 

It's your right! 

I'll not stop you. 

Even when you ignite my country's flag in protest, something I find to be heinous and absolutely offensive, I'll step aside. 

But keep in mind that in your protest you are living proof that our guaranteed American freedoms are necessary and valuable and should be held up as a standard, nay a beacon, for the oppressed peoples of the world. 

The rabble who hijacked airliners full of men and women and children on September 11, 2001 hated me and they hated you... but more than that, they hated us.  You and me.  Your viewpoint and mine, side by side, different perhaps, but operating in parallel and out of respect.

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vote.jpgTwo men are vying for the most powerful political office in the world.  On the Left is Barack Obama, the young, African American Junior Senator from Illinois, an articulate orator, a Harvard graduate.  On the Right is John McCain, the aged war hero, four-term Arizona senator and former congressman, Naval Academy graduate, and the one who fits the historic American President Mold.

While many are loathe to vote for a candidate running on the opposite ticket, I have long believed that America would be better off if people took the time to consider the individual running for office rather than the broad brush of his or her political allegiance.  Thus, since the arrival of Barack Obama on the political scene, since the confirmation of Hillary Clinton that she would campaign, since Mit Romney's first speech as a presidential candidate, I've been looking forward to casting my vote, not for a Republican, but for the right person for the job.

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There is a burial ground which ought to be visited today.  It is broad, vast, immense.  The horizon line of this field runs the length of my comprehension, and continues to a place I cannot go, not even in my dreams.  Beneath the golden plain, beneath the purple sky, are deep, black furrows of dirt.  It is ripe soil, full of potential for harvest and hope.  But we leave it alone.
 
We nod at the multitude of stark headstones, admitting the sacrifice, but never wandering the lengths of the rows.  Never dropping to our knees and weeping on the slight mounds in the grass.
 
Our heroes have been laid to rest here.  We know all of them and none of them.  We are aware and oblivious.  In our own daily toil, in front of computer monitors in air conditioned cubicles, we have forgotten.
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small town.jpgSunlight on brick is hottest at four in the afternoon. It bakes between the boxy shadows of the buildings on Main Street. Boys sip coke from slender-necked bottles. One of them shakes his fist, rattling the dice and tossing them down to clatter up against the wall. Two sixes. As there are no rules to this game yet, he'll come up with them later, he smiles and takes them up to roll again.

Women move slower in the heat, but they allow their hips a bit more swing. This is to catch the only breeze with their pastel skirts; catch it and let it flutter between their knees, cooling their muscular ankles. From beneath the brims of their day hats they talk the way only women can. Words like soft bubbles float between them, many at a time. To the words they nod. It could be gossip. It could be education. It could be nothing at all.

I wonder at these people, the ones who move by me without looking back. They would only see a little girl with her hair snarled into something like a braid. They might see my freckles or my chocolate brown eyes. But I doubt very much they would see me. I do not translate well into words the way they do.

One man hefts a crate of newspapers. He is the owner of the market, and those newspapers no longer possess the news. What happened this morning is long gone. In the heat of the afternoon, people do not care about anything but the baseball scores, and they'll catch those on the radio this evening. Or they can stand in the doorway of the barber shop and listen in as he gives free haircuts to the only three White Sox fans left in our town.

Mr. Charles and his wife live above the market in an apartment with only three windows. Behind the store in a planter box, Mrs. Charles keeps a very small Victory garden. When she took the train to Springfield to visit her mother for a week, I stopped by and watered the tomatoes after school. On my last day I tied a red, white and blue ribbon to the top of each plant. The plants have outgrown the ribbon now, and it's tattered, but Mrs. Charles won't untie them. She says that patriotism must be able to withstand wear.

If I take careful steps, the long kind, so I feel a pull just behind my knee but both feet are flat on the ground, it takes only thirty-two to reach the corner where my house is. The two blue stars hang in our kitchen window above Mom's white porcelain duck. One star is for my brother, Henry, and the other is for Uncle Thad. When we're sitting around the table at dinner now, since last December, Dad tells us to hold hands and then he says simple words to God. He never asks for a thing, but instead speaks what he hopes he knows. Henry is safe. Thad will be home soon. Those goddamned Nazis will lose this war.

Sometimes I don't keep my eyes closed all the way, and I see Mom wince a little when he swears. But I also see her mouthing her own prayer. She asks things, so I do, too.

Our table cloth is sky blue with little eyelet flowers. When dinner is over and everyone is gone, I help to clear the table. But I get the napkins last. The crumpled white napkins look like clouds on the blue tablecloth sky. It makes me think of Henry and his plane, the way the engine sounds like a thousand snaps being pushed closed and ripped back open all at once. His uniform looks like that sound, all snaps and razor sharp creases down his long pant legs. His picture is on the piano and his cap is cocked to one side. He is next to his plane, which looks like it is baring its teeth; and I think he looks so dashing.

But that is all I think of this war. If I think much more about it I'm afraid I'll become bitter. I could even start to stoop a little, like Mrs. Macklin does because she's always leaning in to hear the war news on the radio. Instead I skip rope and walk along the curbs like they're tightropes. On Tuesdays we go to the community center pool.

I love to swim, and Mom made me a red bathing suit that looks just like the one Betty Grable wears in her most recent movie, but I don't look at all like her. Too small in so many different ways. The boys at the pool don't look at me, but like I said before, they wouldn't see me anyway. Until last month the boys went to the pool to watch Hannah Stuart. She's the only one in our town who owns a bikini. But then she went off to be a nurse in the navy. Both of the Levi brothers enlisted that same week, but that was probably a coincidence.

Today, though, I am merely sitting on Main Street. A lady in a pink dress and a yellow hat is buying a water melon, but she seems to be having trouble picking exactly the right one. When I am older I hope I learn how to do those grown-up women things, like applying mascara or picking out melons or placing strips of cucumber by the door so the ants won't want to come in. I can't do any of that now.

What I can do is watch. I see things and know things so fast that the words just come from nowhere, from that secret spot in my brain where I never sleep. And I remember all of it. I remember the way the chalk clicked and broke in half in Ms. Silver's hand just before she dismissed our Sunday school class on that weekend before Christmas. Dad was waiting for all of us in front of the church, even though he never goes. He'd walked over and he was out of breath. He was holding Mom's hand and squeezing, and then they led us down the street like ducklings. I shuffled my feet along to make scratchy, soft-shoe music. I remember Dad sitting us down on the sofa and explaining the word infamy.

My peppermint ice cream has melted into a pink puddle in my glass. It is time to take the thirty-two steps home. But today it takes forty-seven because Able Bowers was washing his truck in the street and he tried to spray me, but even when I ran out of his reach I kept count. I try to be impeccably honest. I also try to avoid Able Bowers.

Dad is whistling 'Ain't We Got Fun' from the bathroom where he is washing his hands. When he hugs me I can smell the soap. The plate in the middle of the table is piled high with corn on the cob. It has a damp, sweet smell. I wish we could afford air conditioning. But when we take our seats and settle into the evening time, a coolness comes over us. Around our table we are safe. Dad is a rock. Mom is impenetrable. I hold hands with my little brothers, Jacob and Matt. They are so small and fair. I feel love for them pouring from my heart, all of a sudden, a reaction to the dark, fluffy tops of their heads bowed as Dad speaks. I am supposed to be praying.

Tonight I do not ask God for anything, I do not tell him what I hope is true. Tonight I say thanks. Here there simply is no war.

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fourthofjuly.jpgWhen the thumping of fireworks splattering across the night sky reverberates within my own chest, rivaling my heart, I know without a doubt how lucky I am. How lucky to be here in this country where my right to speech and faith and the pursuit of happiness are protected. Lucky to be here in this town where folks wear their patriotism on their rolled up, hard-working sleeves. Lucky to have a husband who squeezes my arm in time to the music behind the firework show, kissing my nose between the glorious, colorful pops in the sky.

It is a good feeling. And, although I was less than impressed with the renditions of the cliche Fourth of July songs chosen as this year's soundtrack, I was comforted by the sentiments. Hearing "I am proud to be an American" and "The Truth goes marching on" and "America, America, God shed his grace on thee"... without the protestations of the "lefties and greenies" who seem so noisy the rest of the year, that is something I love.

I wish we, those of us who love our country enough to congregate with family and barbecue until we're too tired to move, I wish we would take the time to be more blatant about our love of country the rest of the year. Why only once? Why only in the months following tragedy?

Tonight I watched every kind of person, representatives of every walk of life, every race, every religion, every level of education and class, streaming toward the flat, welcoming field of green. They spread out their blankets and were careful where they set their keys. They readied cameras and kicked soccer balls, munched on kettle corn and swung laughing children through the air by their ankles and wrists. They bobbed their heads to the music, smiling at the words. They watched one another. They made eye contact with me. They nodded and knew me, a neighbor, a friend, a fellow patriot.

Jon and I tossed a frisbee around with Cindy and Jason. Grass crunched cold under my toes and I snagged the frisbee from the air, biting my lip when the spinning momentum made my chilly fingers sting. Jon clapped for me and I bowed. It was a terrific catch. It was something to remember.

With the first big bang we raced back to our blankets and curled up, wrapped up to keep warm, and straining to hear the music above the explosions. Jon took pictures and I hummed along to the songs I knew. As always, it was the classics, the George M. Cohan songs that make me think of Jimmy Cagney tapping away and stubbornly waving that grand old flag, those warmed my heart the most.

After the firework show, which needed better music but remained amazing after one of the most spectacular finales I've seen in ages, Jon pulled me up and we danced in the center of the field. It was our third Independence Day together, and each year we dance. He touched his nose to mine, cold and loving, an eskimo kiss. And once again, for the zillionth time today, I felt unbelievably lucky.

(My family's second annual Fourth of July Scar Belly Open was today. We came in second. Dad and Mom have a trophy as evidence of their victory. We will unseat them next year. We will reign supreme.)

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babe.jpg"My stepdad's gonna kill me! It was his ball."

"So?"

"So, some lady signed it."

"Okay, Smalls, this is important. What was her name?"

"I dunno. Ruth. Baby Ruth."

"Babe Ruth?! Ahhhhhhhhhh!"

In 1993, Benny "the Jet" Rodriguez got a lesson from his idol. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. How cool do you have to be to say something like that? As cool as Babe Ruth, the Legend himself.

Because our father was and is a huge fan of baseball, my brothers and I grew up knowing all about the Sultan of Swat (and his buddy, my personal favorite, Lou Gehrig). Dad's Murderer's Row t-shirt got passed down as pajamas through all of us, and I'm pretty sure I cried the day it got shredded to be used as cleaning rags.

Anyway, even as I admit I could probably fit all that I know about baseball and homerun records on the head of a pin (I was Big Mac's biggest fan during his race... man, was that really eight years ago?), I understand the ambivalence which fans of America's favorite pasttime are currently feeling toward Barry Bonds.

A gentleman on the news tonight really summed it up for me when he said, "[Bonds] was probably the best in the game before he decided to resort to steroids. It's actually kind of sad." And it is sad. Baseball is a game, a sport, a pasttime. It's not life or death. It's not worth cheating to get to the top.

The Babe set the bar and athletes today can't touch it without drugging themselves, bulking up like animals (and I think I can reasonably say that McGuire isn't to be left out of either category). That's what bothers me. Hank Aaron got death threats for being a black man chasing the record... Barry Bonds shoots up and we're all supposed to look the other way.

I could watch Field of Dreams over and over again, listening to James Earl Jones speak deep and slow about the best game in our history, smelling the grass, eating the hot dogs. "People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come." Or, Pride of the Yankees... "Today, I consider myself... the luckiest man... on the face of the earth." Or, A League of Their Own... "Are you crying? There's no crying in baseball!"

And to me, that's what baseball is, fun and idealism. Something that involves hotdogs and honor and absolutely no crying. My brother, Ted, caught a foul ball at an A's game four years ago... and it remains to be one of our happiest pictures together as a family, Mom, Dad, Ted, Curt and me. I remember the sparkle of the fireworks that night as we all sat on the field and stared straight up, watching the heavens reaching for us. Beautiful. Perfect. Family.

So, I wish, I wish, I wish that people (hey Barry, that means you) would think about what the game of baseball meant to people in decades past... and then play accordingly. The incredibly gifted athletes who dominate now might just squeeze a bit more enjoyment out of play time if they were brightening the days and months and Springtimes of happy-go-lucky fans nationwide.

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flag.jpg

Patriotism is an urge that I attempt to nurture within myself every day. It is what drives my emotions when I join in singing the national anthem during a baseball game, or when I hold a door open at work for a lady who has her hands full, or when someone cuts me off on the freeway and I don't honk my horn and make unnecessary hand gestures to communicate my frusteration. I do not believe that patriotism must be defined by flag-waving or marching bands. The men and women who don uniforms to fight for our country and the divine rights she claims to guaranty for us all... they are the truly patriotic ones.

And yet, there are other, more quiet folks who wear their love for the United States on their sleeves. Aid workers and organ donors, the guy who tours high school campuses to register newly-18-year-old voters, open-minded college professors, self-defense teachers, anonymous hotline volunteers, parents, little league coaches and entrepreneurs.

A lot has been said about the immigration debate here in the United States. No matter what happens, millions of people will be affected, perhaps negatively. But I have hope.

Even when issues like this one flare up on the grand scale, and even when they spark smaller controversies nation-wide, what patriotism really ought to boil down to is a humble gratitude and a truly Christian blend of compassion and forgiveness. That was the original message behind patriotism.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!!

Our country would not be, simply would not exist, had it not been for immigration. We are all the descendents of immigrants. Even in my family. On my dad's side we can trace our roots back ten or twelve generations in the U.S. But that thirteenth generation, the first Pancoast to set foot on American soil, was a British citizen. Just like every other immigrant, he came here looking for something. Maybe money, maybe power, maybe the simple freedoms our constitution provided, maybe the beauty of our natural wonders, maybe free enterprise.

Whatever the case, those who immigrate come looking for something better. We tout ours as the greatest country in the world! We are the strongest, the richest, the proudest. We have so much. How on earth can we be surprised when so many people want to come here? Or, if we aren't surprised by the desire, we're floored by the number who ignore our flimsy immigration laws and policies and cross our poorly defended borders illegally.

I have an appreciation for the journey some of these people undertake in order to grasp the flapping coattails of the American dream. Hundreds of miles with almost nothing to sustain them on the journey. Parents drag their oblivious children across the border or onto shore in the dead of night because, they think, as all parents think, there is a chance for our children to have something better!

That being said, even America has her limit. We must restrict ourselves lest we become waterlogged. Unless we look out for ourselves, how can we possibly aid anyone else? So we man our borders or build a wall. We send illegal immigrants back where they came from. But must we turn this into the sickeningly derisive battle it seems to be becoming?

Let us be loyal to our country, certainly. But first, let us be loyal to mankind. Let us, as Americans who can absolutely afford to be, compassionate. Considerate. Stern and law abiding for our own sake, but kind because every person who braves death to sneak into the United States is still a person. He has a soul. She has a family. It is not for us to be mean hearted about the need to deny them entry. Rather, it is for us to set an example of strength and decency.

Today I am feeling patriotic, as I do every day. More than that, though, I feel lucky. I live in a land where I am free to post this blog for the world to see, brandishing a personal viewpoint like a sword or a flag. I have no desire to leave the United States in search of more freedoms, more chances. But I was fortunate enough to be born here.

At some point, though, one of my ancestors looked around his or her foreign town. And then he or she said aloud, "I've heard of a land of milk and honey. In this land are many chances. For the sake of myself, for the sake of all those I love, I will sacrifice much, perhaps everything, to find and settle in that land."

Before we point fingers or draw lines in the sand, we must first remember our beginning. Our beginning. Our power lies within our muddled bloodlines, our murky heritage. And it was not only the brightest minds or the rich or the powerful who journeyed here. It was the weak, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse. We asked them to come. We came. We thrived. Now it is up to us sustain a country that is strong enough to continue that compassionate and time-honored tradition.

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patriot.jpg"Would you like a lesson, sir, in the rules of war?"

When a cruel green-eyed captain snarls these words at Mel Gibson in The Patriot, he is standing an arm's length away behind a carefully aimed pistol. And this is only moments after he has ordered his troops to execute every wounded enemy soldier on Gibson's property, and then to burn the house and barns, kill the livestock. What is his point?

There are no rules of war.

Fifty years earlier, a romantic comedy called "Dear Ruth" was a smash at the box office. Young, dashing William Holden played a war hero home on leave to see his girl. Cute movie. Along the way Ruth says to him, "Bill, you're not being fair." His reply?

"Oh, all's fair in love and war, and I'm in both!"

Okay. So where are we? Oh, yeah. There are no rules of war. Or are there? Or should there be?

Should civilians be off limits? Should prisoners be fed? Should torture be used in the interrogation process? Should we be allowed to get angry when these tactics are used on our citizens and soldiers when we're fine with using these same tactics on our enemies?

A few days ago the Australian press broadcast images of American troops setting the bodies of slain Iraqi insurgents on fire in the street. And it's been over a year since the images of Abu Ghraib prison leaked. What are we doing?

Responding. For months we watched hostage after hostage, civilians from many countries, beheaded by radical terrorist militant groups... proudly, defiantly. Our people, American citizens with families, were unsafe. And so Iraq's worst individuals taught us about the rules of war. Those intangible and seemingly non-existant rules.

But I don't think that reaction is justified. As angering as the terrorists' actions are, and as much as they evoke an animal rage within me, I hate to see our boys resort to those measures. I hate to see them sink that low. Because eventually, when those who make it home are home, and they sit back and think it all over, that will be something that haunts them. The self-defense killings, the inevitable collateral damage, will all balance out because our flag will still wave overhead. The acrid smoke and the stench of burning flesh and the hellish flames dancing on and in the bodies of the dead they have burned for bravado or as bait... that will never balance out. Instead it will hang in the minds of the men who committed the act, at an odd angle, never to be forgotten because they will wonder at its necessity.

Or, worse, it will be forgotten. And in the wars of the future the list of rules prohibiting crimes against humanity will diminish... becoming the "all's fair" and decreasing the gap between us and the barbarians of our history and our present.

I'm not saying that these dead men set ablaze don't deserve this treatment. The evil men who beheaded the hostages, the men who flew planes in the World Trade Center and all who commit these kinds of atrocities world-wide deserve this much and more. Still, we need to remember that this war isn't about what they deserve. It's about what we deserve: a better, safer, more tolerant world.

We curse Saddam as he sits smug and clean in a chair in a court half-way across the world, and as he proclaims that he is still in charge. We want him to pay for the massacre of more than a 100 innocent men, a whole town. And we want him to pay for more than that, too. He is evil, we say; he is inhuman. I say that, too. But we can only continue to look down on Saddam, call him those names and believe we are just when we sentence him to death, if we refuse to operate on his terms.

When we begin tormenting and torturing prisoners and defacing the bodies of the dead, then Saddam is right. He IS in charge. We're no better.

Playing World Police isn't easy, and it's probably not even a job that most of us want to focus on. Our country, after all, could use a little domestic overhaul. Still, the sucker punch we received on 9/11 akwakened a terribly patriotic beast. It was vengeful, our reaction, at first. Now it has become more, though. The idea of ridding the planet of terrorism entirely is an ideal one. It may even be impossible. But it remains noble!

That's our trump card. In a world that hounds us for our Shock and Awe Campaign and our bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq, we stand apart and alone... but tall, a head above the rest, because we're willing to refuse to be bullied, and we're able to stand up for those countries that can't afford the luxury of that stand on their own.

In the end, however, and as always, our victory must also be principled. We must be able to say that we did all we could to make this world better. Ridding the world of terrorism doesn't mean anything if we only become terrorists in the process.

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london_bus_bomb.jpgA deadly day has come. Evil infiltrated the London Underground and the London bus lines and detonated multiple explosive devices, killing more than 30 people and injuring hundreds more. Is this Britain's 9/11?

When our twin towers were so tragically toppled only four years ago, Tony Blair and his country stood staunchly behind us. Today our president got the chance to reciprocate.

In a statement condemning today's attacks, President Bush drew the battle lines once again. "The contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty and those who kill, those who have such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks."

Many innocent people were murdered today. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few Muslims among the casualties, too. The perpetrators of this barbaric crime may honestly believe they are committing such acts in the name of their god... but their reasoning doesn't matter really. Feeding off the fear and pain of civilians is sadistic and wrong.

I pray that justice is done in the name of all the victims, that the leaders of the world can unify through this tragedy and pursue more efficiently and effectively the terrorists who seek to destroy our daily lives. Most of all, though, I pray that we who are not to blame can find peace in the idea that we are in the majority. Republicans and democrats, Christians and atheists, men and women, adults and children, every race, every creed, every color... we are what the Muslim extremists hate simply because we can live in relative harmony with one another, promoting respect and tolerance, maintaining our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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