Sunday, September 23, 2012

Senate Republicans to veterans: your future not as important as ours

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a legislative press conference.
Shrewd politics or business as usual?  Senate Republicans have said unequivocally that it is more important to them to deny Obama a legislative victory before an election, than it is to do the right thing for our nation’s men and women in uniform.
S.3457, the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, was a $1 billion jobs package that proposed the establishment of a veterans jobs corps that would have put up to 20,000 veterans to work in their local communities over the next five years.
The bill, which came up on the senate floor for a vote on Wednesday, September 19, called for job openings to be created in “conservation, resource management, and historic preservation projects on public lands and maintenance and improvement projects for cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the National Cemetery Administration; and as firefighters and law enforcement officers.”
Acting in true form, however, senate Republicans, many of whom had spent the better part of the Republican National Convention touting the importance of job creation and veterans’ benefits, voted rank-and-file against the bill, merely to deny President Obama a legislative victory before the general election in November.
Just what are we telling the some 800,000 unemployed veterans in this country?  What message are we sending to the next generation?  That it is okay to place politics ahead of the needs of our nation’s defenders; the men and women who sacrificed and bled bravely for our country?  Need we even be reminded of how many of these men and women never came home?  Is their memory and the honor, courage and sacrifice of those veterans who did make it home not worth the commitment of our government to do the right thing, partisan politics aside?
What about all these politicians who spend so much time saying that caring for America’s veterans is our country’s “most sacred duty”?
“The fact is, it’s a national disgrace that veterans’ unemployment is 14 percent,” said Sen. John McCain, directly to the face of veteran and citizen journalist Meg Lanker-Simons at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, “That’s a national disgrace. And we’ve got to try to find more ways and better ways to hire veterans. And that has got to be our highest priority.”
Right on, Sen. McCain!  Well said!  Few people in this country would disagree.
So why then, a few short weeks later, did you vote to kill the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, right before you voted yourself and your fellow senators on vacation for the remainder of the election?
“We already have six veterans’ job-training programs, but what the heck? Let’s, ah, let's have another one,” said McCain in a sarcastic tone on the floor of the United States Senate.  I wonder, where, then, was all this “national disgrace” impetus that characterized his remarks to that veteran at the RNC?
“Instead of meeting us halfway, we have been met with resistance. Instead of saying yes to the nearly 1 million unemployed veterans, it seems some on the other side have spent the last week and a half seeking any way to say no,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
And there we’ve hit the proverbial nail right on the head, haven’t we?  From as far back as 2009’s rise of the Tea Party to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s now infamous remark that “our top political priority over the next two years ought to be to deny President Obama a second term,” Republicans have held the progress of our nation hostage merely so that they can attempt to win back the White House, and get themselves re-elected.
Repeatedly they shoot down legislation intended to bolster the economy and create jobs, so that they can stand on their soap boxes and point their fingers at President Obama for his “failed economic policies”. 
Make no mistake folks, the failure is not President Obama’s.  The failure is with the party that sabotages the political process in order to accuse a President of failures that are not his own, but are instead failures of the party. The failure is with any politician who puts political ambition or the party line before the job the American people elected them to do; that which is in the best interest of the country and its citizens.
In an effort to get re-elected as well as to deny President Obama a second term, senate Republicans have said to the electorate that their political future is more important to them than our veterans.  But this should come as no surprise.  They have repeatedly said that their political future is more important to them than middle class families, civil rights, balanced budgets, healthcare, or jobs.  Why should our nation’s veterans fare any differently on their list of priorities?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Doctor to patient: your religion is ‘very offensive’

Practicing Witch Kristen Menard and the pentacle necklace she wears every day as an expression of her Wiccan faith.  Image by KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, LA.

Dateline, 1956 – A Louisiana doctor is drawing attention for having asked his patient, Kristen Menard, a practicing Witch for more than 15 years, to remove her pentacle medallion because it was “very offensive to (him) and (his) Christian clientele.”
There’s only one problem with this story so far.  It’s not 1956.  By gawd (sic) it’s 2012!
I suppose it should come as no surprise that ignorance and intolerance of this level still exist in the world.  Even in the United States, the world’s bastion of freedom and so-called democracy (more on that remark in a later article), here in the twenty-first century we are still plagued with widespread bigotry and cultural ignorance (only these days we have the class enough at least to veil it – albeit thinly – under the auspices of groups like the Tea Party).
Like most Witches, Menard wears a silver pentacle medallion around her neck.  The display of this symbol is no different an expression, of course, from the wearing of a cross or Star of David.  Like all such religious symbols, the wearing of the pentacle is an outward testament of a person’s faith and beliefs.
“I wear it every day. It’s a symbol of protection and each point (of the star) represents something different,” says Menard.
“In my faith that is wrong,” says Lake Charles, LA chiropractor Shaine Rider, “It’s very offensive to me and I don't want that in my office.  And if someone can’t respect that enough to put in their shirt then there is going to be a problem.”
Menard claims that for the first month or so she was in Dr. Rider’s care, he frequently questioned her about the medallion, implying through his line of questioning that he believed it to be satanic.  Recently, however, Dr. Rider’s questioning turned into an ultimatum.

Lake Charles, LA Chiropractor Dr. Shaine Rider, who says Menard's "flaunting" of her pentacle is "wrong" and "offensive".  Image by KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, LA.  

     “He said you are going to have to take that necklace, put it away or take it off,” said Menard, recalling the incident, “I said ‘why?’ I didn't understand. And he said something about his son.”
Standing her ground, Menard refused.
“I said ‘I'm not taking this off,’ and that’s when he said basically he couldn’t treat me. And I walked out,” Menard said.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Rider’s explanation illustrates a poor understanding of what Witches actually believe.
 “Those signs and those symbols are very satanic and very new age,” said Rider.
Satanic?  That’s a pretty interesting leap for a religion that does not believe in Satan – or any devil-like figure for that matter.
Himself a devout catholic, Dr. Rider claims he never asked Menard to take her necklace off and that he never refused to treat her, though he did go on to say, “She came in and I very briefly said, and very nicely said, ‘Would you mind doing me a favor? Would you mind putting your pentagram inside your shirt?  …It’s very offensive to me and other patients... those that are Christians.”
For the record, Menard was wearing a pentacle, not a pentagram.  What’s the difference?  A pentagram is a depiction of an interwoven star by itself.  A pentacle is a depiction of an interwoven star – pentagram – inside of a circle.  The latter symbol sees much more common usage among Pagans / Witches than a pentagram alone.  Why would I spend a whole paragraph on this distinction?  I don’t know… call it a pet peeve.
“I don't try to wear this on the outside of my shirt which is a scapular,” said Rider.  A scapular is a small religious object worn by Catholics that represents a particular devotion.  “It’s my belief.  It’s what I wear inside my shirt. That’s all I was asking her to do is put it inside her shirt out of respect for my beliefs, and for the loss of my child and for our faith here. And she got irate and called me names and left,” Rider said.
Dr. Rider may keep his scapular under his shirt, but his Catholic faith is nonetheless apparent.  A crucifix hangs on the wall of his office not far from a portrait of his son, whom he lost to cancer.
While the loss of Dr. Rider’s son is tragic, this writer fails to see how a patient wearing a pentacle is somehow disrespectful to the son’s memory.  Nor do I see how it disrespects other patients – or the good doctor himself for that matter.  Menard was wearing a symbol that expresses her faith.  The wearing of a religious symbol does not malign other religions not represented by that symbol.  It’s a freakin’ necklance, people, not a declaration of war!
“To discriminate against anybody – race, religion anything… is completely wrong,” Menard went on to say, “And it shouldn't happen especially when he’s a doctor and he’s supposed to treat somebody.”
What is perhaps most disturbing to me about this story is not simply the ignorance with which Dr. Rider approached this situation, making stupendous assumptions about the nature of Pagan beliefs, but that it rather illustrates an ingrained dichotomy present in Christianity; the belief that that if something is not Christian, it is satanic.
Facing this kind of intransigent belief which bases itself on blind faith, there is no hope for reason and enlightened discourse.  This is, at its core, the very reason that we, the supposed free-est society in the world, in the year 2012, still face the same ignorance and prejudices that have plagued us since the dawn of man.
To my mind, we will never be a truly free society until we can free our minds of hereditary prejudices, and, as Albert Einstein so eloquently suggested in his “Great spirits” soliloquy, boldly and thoughtfully use our intelligence.
Menard has rightly filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Chiropractic Association against Dr. Rider.  Sadly though, while it may force him to change his business practices, it will do nothing to change his closed and bigoted mind.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in freelancing

So it begins; this, my freelance writing adventure.  Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Indeed, I thought to myself as a sipped a cup of hot tea, head in hand, staring at my computer monitor this evening.  There I sat wondering what profound, ground-breaking topic or quixotic prose I would compose that would so magnificently inaugurate this blog as to immediately set it apart, thus launching me extant into a glorious career as a topical writer / commentator.
Of course, no one starts off famous or even noteworthy right out of the gate.  I’ve had some successes with writing in the past, sure; been published a few times.  I used to write for local newspapers in upstate New York.  I got a couple of kudos from the publisher in the form of New York State Press Association Award nominations.  No, I didn’t win, but the nominations were a pretty kewl nod.
Still, in this world of self-made pop writers and guerilla journalism, it is becoming harder and harder to really make a name for yourself – much less a living – being a writer, particularly of the freelance variety.
The good news is that it’s not impossible.  It just takes a lot of hard work and patience.  Let me reiterate that – it takes a LOT of hard work and a LOT of patience.  So all the experts tell me and so I have discovered even on my own.  Before launching this blog I read probably about a hundred others.  I read blogs about politics, blogs about religion and spirituality, blogs about science, economics, philosophy…heck, I even read blogs about blogging.  I found some of them informative, some humorous, some were rather dry reading, and others were utterly forgettable.  But what I took away from all that reading was this: great blogs begin with great writers.
See I’ve read blogs that were popular, but not at all well-written or topical.  They rather reminded me of the penchant we have in this country of rewarding stupid people with fame.  For example, Jersey Shore, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and the most recent television abortion, Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.  I mean, really people?  C’mon!
Notwithstanding that those examples are television shows and not blogs, the principle is nonetheless illustrated.  Blogs may be popular because they’re written by popular people, but that doesn’t make them great.  Great blogs are topical, well-written, insightful, thought-provoking and often witty or humorous.  I have found some great examples out there; some of the greatest in fact are by authors that are not at all famous.  For my part, fame isn’t so much the goal here as is the ability to make a living doing what I love: writing.  And that, to me, would be just swell!
So here’s to greatness from small beginnings (hint for those not conversant in Latin: that’s what the headline means)!  I am committed to my course, and I am looking forward to the adventure.  With a little luck, I might pick up some readers along the way.