Friday, December 14, 2012

Guns (Redux)

Back in August, while vacationing at Cape Cod with family, I started writing about kids and guns. Or, more to the point, parenting and guns. I noodled around, trying to talk about how we institute sane gun policy with our child, because kids, especially boys, like to play with toy guns.

Now, on December 14, 2012, as I sit on the couch with my child while he eats Extra Cheesy Cheddar Bunnies and watches “Wonder Pets,” that essay sits unfinished in my queue, and 20 children and 7 adults have been slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut by a man with guns.

On Tuesday, a man with guns killed two people at a shopping mall in Oregon. Here in Minnesota last week, a man shot his granddaughter because he thought she was an intruder. (She lived.) On Thanksgiving, again in Minnesota, a man shot and then executed two teenagers who he says broke into his home. I don’t need to go any further back in time, do I?

Because America has reached the point where headlines such as this are necessary: “Mass shootings at schools and universities in the US” (emphasis mine) and “A history of mass shootings in the US since Columbine.” They don’t even try to list them all anymore.

One of the reasons I have not finished the essay is because talking publicly about guns and gun policy is a daunting prospect in this hysterical, gun-addled country. It’s like a third rail or, more accurately, a religion, where no one is allowed to criticize or question. The moment anyone brings it up, the NRA and various right-wingers go ape-shit, bark about the Second Amendment, trot out false equivalencies, blame it on gun control, and it’s all over.

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

Fuck you, NRA, and the heavily-armed horse you rode in on.

People with guns kill people, and you can keep your bumpersticker mentality and bizarre interpretation of the Constitution to yourself. Your superficial, myopic sloganeering in your adoration of the Second Amendment is laughable, uncritical, and harmful. It hinders thoughtful discussion of our culturally complicated relationship with firearms. It distorts our history and makes effective, evidence-based public policy impossible. I have no use for you; you are part of the problem. Because you stifle any chance to approach this issue with sanity, facts, reason, and long-term thinking.

Sure, it’s not just about guns, but you won’t let us talk about the guns part at all. And, truth be told, your friends on the right don’t want to assist the mentally ill, talk about poverty, drug policy, education, or anything else that might help. And it’s not about better defenses or arming teachers or security at schools. Stop blaming the victim.

All you have is “No.”

So just shut up.

Your right to have a gun is infringing on my freedom to be safe anywhere, ever.
You’re done.

After today, you have nothing more to say.


No apologies, folks. It's time for a review of the evidence and a re-evaluation of national and state gun policies based on facts. It's time to address the cultural issues. It's time to talk about our national obsession with firearms and the Second Amendment. It's time to talk mental health, poverty, crime, and drug policy.

Past time.

Thoughts and prayers are one thing. I'm sick of them. Thoughts and prayers are not action.

Surely a great nation such as the United States can work to craft sane gun policy as well as policy that works on other related issues. While it is certain that every prohibition creates another underground, I believe that we can create a policy long-game that starts to create change.

Stop standing in the way, GOP and NRA. You have no leg to stand on.

You never did.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

United Gifts of America

This may be one of the worst things I have read in awhile: Romney reflects on his loss in call with campaign donors

Not the least for its cynical reaffirmation of the famous 47% comments, its abject disdain for government, and complete inability to analyze election results, but because the party of "personal responsibility" and its poster boy, Mr. Romney, take absolutely no personal responsibility for his loss.

It couldn't be that you see access to health care and the ability to get a college education as "gifts"; it's that those gifts were given to brown people, young people (presumably of all colors), and women. It couldn't be that your party no longer has anything to offer to broad swaths of a changing America, it's that America is changing, and you don't like it. It couldn't be that what Mr. Obama has offered is good and important to many Americans, and actually is what they want; it's that President Obama bribed voters with "freebies." It's not that you are anti-immigrant, it's that President Obama painted you that way. (Insert Jessica Rabbit quote here.)

You, in other words, did not bring this failure, this loss, on yourself through bad politics and poor policy, it was thrust on you by a President, a government, who panders to minorities and women (i.e. not "real Americans"?). He, Mr. Obama, is the cynic, not you. He is trying to make life better for Americans purely to be re-elected president, while you pandering to a decaying segment of America is purely American.

I'm disgusted. More disgusted than when I heard the 47% comments for the first time. But I suppose I am not surprised. The Party of No has learned Nothing. Perhaps they shouldn't. Perhaps they should continue looking for the missing black people, talking about "urban voters," and revive their search for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration. Maybe, then, in 2014, we will be rid of their over-represented public presence for awhile.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanks, Minnesota. Again.

The rights of a minority should not be put to a vote. The Minnesota State Constitution is no place for discrimination; it is a place to uphold rights and equality.

I'll be saying "Thanks" to Minnesota voters for awhile.



Tea Party for the Community?

There's an interesting article in the NYTimes about Occupy Wallstreet organizing to help people hit hard by Sandy in the New York City area. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters for America tweeted a query: "Good piece in NTY about the Occupy relief response to Sandy. Q: has Tea Party ever dedicated itself to acts of goodness?"

From the New York Times: "ON Wednesday night, as a fierce northeaster bore down on the weather-beaten Rockaways, the relief groups with a noticeable presence on the battered Queens peninsula were these: the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police and Sanitation Departments — and Occupy Sandy, a do-it-yourself outfit recently established by Occupy Wall Street."

And that got me thinking: does Tea Party morality allow for helping your fellow human? In the libertarian-objectivist model, if one is suffering, hasn't one brought that suffering upon oneself, even if it's caused by a natural disaster? If someone knew a storm was coming, and did not prepare, do they deserve what follows? Do the dictates of "personal responsibility" stretch that far?

I really don't know; that's why I'm asking.

For religious members of the Tea Party, are natural disasters acts of God, and brought about by a moral failing? And isn't suffering also the direct result of a moral failing?

Or is it only if people in the government extend the helping hand that it's wrong? Even though one could argue that officials are elected by the people, so the government is only extending the hand of the people through a bureaucratic system.

The only things I have seen Tea Partiers doing are: yelling at elected officials at community meetings, holding up poorly-spelled and/or logically-flawed posters at rallies and protests, and generally being nuisances in a completely non-constructive manner by spouting hollow rhetoric about "liberty" and "freedom," which seems to mean "taking liberty with the truth and freedom from facts."

In many ways, I would think that the Tea Party should be getting all hot and bothered, reading about the response these Occupy people have put together. After all, it's private citizens doing it, instead of the the government, even if they are just a bunch of dirty hippies. But then again, it's community organizing, and it's what Barack Obama references when he says that Americans stick together and help their fellow Americans. And we cannot agree with the Great Socialist.

And how can a group of people like the Tea Party get together and organize themselves, protest as allowed by the government, elect candidates into the government, etc. without criticizing themselves for "community organizing"?

There again, I think this is only OK in their morality when it's based in rage toward a government that...

Oh, I don't know. It's all so tortured.

See above. I really don't know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs

If you are anything like me, you read and re-read and sometimes still read the Chronicles of Narnia. I have always especially loved The Last Battle, with its nefarious plots, darkness, and heroics. It is perhaps the most obvious in its Christian allegorical implications, but any reader can create meaning and draw parallels, and as a nonbeliever, the most striking and current parallel I have is pulled from Chapter 13: "How the Dwarfs Refuse to be Taken In:"

"Romney and his campaign had gone into the evening confident they had a good path to victory, for emotional and intellectual reasons. The huge and enthusiastic crowds in swing state after swing state in recent weeks - not only for Romney but also for Paul Ryan - bolstered what they believed intellectually: that Obama would not get the kind of turnout he had in 2008.

They thought intensity and enthusiasm were on their side this time - poll after poll showed Republicans were more motivated to vote than Democrats - and that would translate into votes for Romney.

As a result, they believed the public/media polls were skewed - they thought those polls oversampled Democrats and didn't reflect Republican enthusiasm. They based their own internal polls on turnout levels more favorable to Romney. That was a grave miscalculation, as they would see on election night."

Wait, that's an article about the Romney campaign on November 6.

Let's try this:

Tirian had thought... that they were inside a little thatched stable, about twelve feet long and six feet wide. In reality they stood on grass, the deep blue sky was overhead, and the air which blew gently on their faces was that of a day in early summer... Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren't strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round nor took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn't see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.

You remember it, right? Everyone emerges through the door into a bright, sunny paradise, but the Dwarfs sit huddled in a circle, only able to see the dark, dirty stable. They close ranks and refuse to listen to anyone:

"Now it's time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.
"To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we'll be there to meet him half way."

Oops. That was Sen. Mitch McConnell.

"But it isn't dark, your poor stupid Dwarfs," said Lucy. "Can't you see? Look up! Look round! Can't you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can't you see me?" 

"Are you blind?" said Tirian.
"Ain't we all blind in the dark?" said Diggle.

"There is no black hole, save in your own fancy, fool," cried Tirian. "Come out of it."

Now, I don't expect republicans to be wandering about a post-election world in which they lost, taking gulps of bright, autumn air, sighing sparkles, and peeing rainbows, but the choice has been made, it was clear, and people want action.

They don't want yammering about a republican mandate when House republicans, while still in charge, had fewer votes than House democrats. They don't want continued obstructionism from a Congress with historically low approval ratings.

All the "modern" GOP has to offer is denialism and the inability to prepare for all outcomes if those outcomes do not fit with their created reality. Karl Rove going live on Fox News to tell them they had it wrong when they called Ohio for Obama. Running an entire end-of-campaign strategy on the belief that polls are skewed and that your anecdotal observations and internal polling tell the Real Story because the other one doesn't look good. Choosing to believe that the Obama ground game was all just smoke and mirrors, and that their own ground game was superior and would carry the day when they had not even truly tested their big, expensive GOTV apparatus. Ignoring any data showing Obama in the lead in both electoral and popular counts. Thinking that we still live in an America where all that counts is GOTWV: Get Out The White Vote.

And closing ranks on November 7, vowing to stick to their dark, fantasy-based belief in cutting taxes and obstructing the President, all in the name of party and politics.

“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs."

Monday, November 12, 2012

B Not So Much

Stands on her own! Literally!
I see what you're trying to do here, Mattel. I really do. But why did you have to go all Fox News, Million Mom on it? What's wrong with a smart pantsuit in a vibrant blue? Or a sassy, shorter cut?*

A sensible pair of flats and a casual cardi?

I know. It's Barbie. She started out as a fashion model, and now, she can B President, right? That's progress! She has B-liefs! She can B Aggressive! B B Aggressive!

And you, little (white) girl, playing with Barbie, can B anything!

I know you can't make everything in a version that looks like everyone, but instead of white brunette President Barbie AND a white blonde President Barbie (such diversity!), how about black President Barbie? And I know pink is your signature color, and certainly the women pictured above have appeared in it, but for President Barbie of the B-certainly-does-not-stand-for-Bitch Party, couldn't you have knocked down the Studio 54 disco-ball glitter just a tad?

At the very least, you are not teaching the art of smart campaigning, as no one, male or female, is going to win the presidency with a sunglasses-wearing micro dog in their purse and cutesy not-spelling and supremely weird phrases on their campaign literature.

I think the elections of 2008 & 2012 showed us what happens when certain parties don't choose serious people to run for higher office, and I will not be expecting "Lastly, I have to thank Barbie" in Paris Hilton's 2050 acceptance speech.

But I do think we can do better than this for our girls.

 *Think of the awesome that would follow if you modeled a President Barbie after Hillary. She would come with transcripts of speeches, giant checks written to her SuperPAC, copies of her legislation as a Senator, diplomatic credentials from her time as Secretary of State, and then there's The Ken-First Gentleman doll. The accessories create themselves.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dear GOP,

You didn't lose because you didn't have enough money.

You didn't lose because the media are against you.

You didn't lose because Barack Obama is a big ol' meanie.

You didn't lose because of a superstorm.

I'd like you to take a time out. You can come out when you have thought about what you have done wrong and are ready to change.



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There's got to be a morning after

Like many people, I went to bed after President Barack Obama's acceptance speech, grabbed my phone, and hit "refresh" on an election results page until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.


That was just me?

I won't believe it.

When I finally put down the electrons, the only race outstanding here in Minnesota was the Graves-Bachmann congressional seat. I saw the amendments fail and the 8th CD go back to the DFL. I saw DFL majorities predicted in the Minnesota Legislature.

(Don't worry, Governor Dayton. I know you said you would shine our shoes and press our shirts if we gave you that, but consider it a reward for all your hard work the past two years.)

Now, as I catch up on the (very) few hours of social media I missed during what feels like a short night-time nap, I'm feeling good. I don't feel like gloating or rehashing gripes about the "modern" GOP, although I must say that Mitch McConnell remains an ass. Not exactly breaking news.

I feel like thinking. And writing. All the stress and worry of the last few weeks is gone; today is for reflection*. Because action is right around the corner. Positive action. I feel for those on the other side of these wins. More precisely, I feel for those on the other side of Barack Obama's win. I cannot feel sympathy for anyone who lost while trying to limit someone else's rights, and I'm talking to you, "Vote Yes" people.

Ok. That was a little gloaty.

But just as I don't like seeing the bench on the losing side of a big game, I don't like seeing the faces of sad supporters of a losing candidate. They, too, put their all into something they believed in, and it hurts to lose.

What I wish they would understand is that Barack Obama is a thoughtful, caring, and strong leader who seeks consensus and compromise, and he really is listening to the fact that 48% of the citizens of this country did not vote for him. Just as the 50% who did need to understand that 50% is a slim majority. They are results that demand compromise, and this is the place where the GOP falls down.

Barack Obama has compromised, and the GOP has not. It's time for those "clear eyes" to be truly clear. American voters seem to want a divided government, but they still want to see something accomplished. For reasons that entirely elude me, they do not make a connection between a 14% approval rating and GOP recalcitrance, and they kept the House in republican hands for now.

Those representatives have two years to prove they care about governing; that they care about the citizens of this country beyond political grandstanding, or the midterms could make that decision for them.

*and maybe some laundry.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thanks, President Obama

(This was adapted from the "Top Ten Reasons" blogs, written for Obama for American Minnesota. The whole list can be found at

Dear President Obama,


Because of Obamacare, my child cannot be denied coverage simply because he was born extremely premature, and insurance companies can no longer deny payment were he to reach an arbitrary cap. Because of Obamacare, millions of Americans no longer have to worry that our family’s future will be mired in endless fights with insurance companies over the health and welfare of our children, or that we might face bankruptcy due to unpaid medical bills.

Thanks for keeping young adults on their parents’ health insurance. Now they have more choices when they go out to look for a job, and their parents can feel good that they are continuing to provide health care safety and security to their grown children.

You do care, and that’s one reason why I am voting tomorrow for four more years, so that you can preserve the gains we have already achieved through the Affordable Care Act as well as make sure that the law is fully implemented.

And thanks. There’s no doubt you have always been surrounded by strong, caring, accomplished women. And as the father of two girls, I know women’s issues are important to you. You know that we cannot succeed as a nation if over 50% of our population still has to struggle for equal pay or defend our right to choose when we start a family.

Your accomplishments for women cross policy areas, from health care to jobs. Under Obamacare, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition, and women have access to preventative care like mammograms without copays or deductibles. In addition, women will gain access to birth control with no copay.

Thanks for supporting Planned Parenthood and the good work they do all over the country, ensuring that women have access to high quality, affordable care including cancer screenings and birth control. Thanks for believing that a woman’s health care choices are her own, and should be made with her doctor, not interfered with by politicians or employers.

Thanks for signing the “Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act,” and for standing by making sure that women are payed the same amount as men for the same work. You know that equal pay is not just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue, and you know we have more to do, including passing paycheck fairness.

So, thanks.

And thanks. Even through my four-year-old is not involved in politics, if he’s anything like me, he’ll be active and involved when he’s 17 and voting in the midterms of 2026. That may sound like a long time from now, but thanks for knowing that we have to play a long game, instituting sound policy now that will benefit us far into the future.

It’s in all our best interests to make sure that the next generation has the chance to do as well as or better than their parents. The next four years will see opportunities to appoint new Supreme Court judges to oversee the law of the land as well as the full implementation of Obamacare.

I want to know that public schools will be strengthened and supported, and that young people will be encouraged to pursue a career in teaching because jobs have been created and incentives are in place. I want to know that Pell Grants will be available if my child needs them; that opportunities for jobs in technology, energy research and development, and manufacturing are there when he finishes his education.

Thanks, President Obama, for working toward a better future for our children.

Oh hey, I also want to say “thanks” because as the child of a transgender parent, I cannot stress this enough: you can be proud of your record on civil rights for LGBT Americans. You know that we all do better when we all do better, and as long as people are discriminated against because of who they love, we still have work to do.

That’s why you’re the first sitting president to support marriage equality for same-sex couples and why you repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” You acknowledge that millions of Americans are serving or want to serve their country and should not have to hide who they are to do so. You know that millions of American couples deserve the same considerations and rights as their opposite-sex counterparts.

Because of you, Mr. Obama, the federal government now extends key benefits to same-sex partners of its employees. You also signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. In addition, your administration is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act, believing it to be unconstitutional.

Your accomplishments for the LGBT community are many, including banning discrimination in federal workplaces based on gender identity, ensuring hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for gay and lesbian parents, and allowing transgender Americans to receive true gender passports without surgery.

So yeah, wow. Thanks.

I could go on and on, but you have a country to run and an election to win, so I’ll have to say goodbye without thanking you for ending the war in Iraq, reforming student loans, giving tax cuts to American families and small businesses, supporting math and science research and education, allowing states to opt out of No Child Left Behind, expanding renewable energy, passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, signing Wall Street Reform, strengthening our relationships with other countries, creating 5.3 million private sector jobs, appointing the first Latina to the Supreme Court, signing the new START Treaty with Russia, improving services to Veterans, and so much more.

You're a class act. I look forward to four more years, and...



Karen McCauley
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Minnesota Voter's Bill of Rights

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vote No. Twice.

Here in Minnesota, November 6, 2012 is not just about voting for president, senator, congresspeople, it's about just saying "No." No to two costly, hateful, and unnecessary amendments that seek to enshrine disenfranchisement and discrimination into the constitution of the state of Minnesota.

So I did what any citizen would do. I drew.

Feel free to save, share, print, whatever. Just give credit.

And be a Supervoter. Vote No Twice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If this is Grace...

I'm good, thanks.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Would Jesus Do?

I don't really know, frankly, but I know what humans should do: support this man and his remaining members.

St. Paul UCC Church at brink of closing over gay marriage stand

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bye Bye Vikings?

Nah, first of all, they have nowhere to go and secondly, we all know that a publicly-funded stadium is an inevitability. Governments no longer have the power to say "no" to sports franchises when they hold them hostage with threats of relocation. I, for one, am fine with letting them go--they can go lose games somewhere else. The "jobs" argument holds no weight with me, as the data show that the jobs created are, in the long run, low-wage and highly subsidized. In the end, these deals are almost always a net loss for the public and a huge gain for the team and the NFL. For all of their sucking and the rather long rap sheet, the Vikings are one of the most profitable teams in the League; they can afford to pay.

But the tradition of funding stadiums for private enterprise with tax payer money is so embedded in policy now, that there is almost no stopping it, and it's such a political hot potato that no matter how you vote, you lose. Someone will be pissed that you let the Vikings leave and didn't "create all those jobs" and someone will be pissed that you handed over millions of dollars (that you owe the schools) to a bunch of rich people.

This is one issue that cuts across political boundaries, with me parting ways with my governor, for whom I have the utmost respect, and the unions, which I support.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Drink Like You Care!

OK, this is making me nuts, so I think it's only fair that I post it here so you can listen to it and be nuts, too.

Recently, Pete's band the Hounds of Finn wrote and recorded a jingle for Finnegan's Beer, a Minnesota nonprofit beer company that donates all its profits to fight hunger. Excellent, right? Except I can't get the jungle out of my head, which means it's a really good jingle, but it's in there, and it won't get out.

Sheesh. I need a Finnegan's.

GAH! Devil!

Here's the song:
Drink Like You Care - Hounds of Finn by Finnegans Beer

Here's a blog post about the song complete with an odd interview with the Hounds:
Finnegan's Blog

Here's a video about the recording of the jingle:
Hounds of Finn: Drink Like You Care

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich

We none of us live forever, but there are people we expect to Be, to remain. To continue. When we lose them to the one thing we all have in common, it does not seem possible, because they were More. More than us, more than individuals. More than death.

When I was learning myself in college, one of the many times I have met me, Adrienne Rich was one of the tour guides, pointing out important artifacts along the way. Pieces of oppression, bits of victory, nouns placed unnaturally and precisely adjacent to their verbs. The poetry and prose of a journey, documented just, it seemed, for me.

I still have all I ever knew of her, in dog-eared, marked-up books, and these will remain; they will continue. What we who were not her family and friends have lost is possibility and the knowledge that she was still out there creating, striving, observing, and recording.

My heart and thoughts go out to those who knew and loved her.

My sadness is deep, and so is my gratitude.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gee, Thanks, Google

So much for that "Don't be evil" maxim of yours...

I don't think things are quite that desperate, yet.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Being sad led me to church last week for the first time in over twenty years. I was not looking for a higher power or searching for meaning in a tragic loss, I was looking for community. Not necessarily people to talk to, but I wanted to be around people who knew my friend and perhaps hear him spoken of. So I went to his church, and I took babywhumpus with me.

We got gussied up, perhaps not as fancy-like as I would have when I still went to church, and people dressed in their Sunday best, but somewhere in the middle. I don't know what people wear to church anymore, but I suspected that Unitarians would be somewhat relaxed about dress code.

I had checked out this particular church online before, as it is near our house, progressive, and would perhaps provide an opportunity to troll for teenaged babysitters without too much propaganda. Nonbelievers are somewhat limited in that sense, as we don't generally gather regularly to network. When I learned that my friend attended this church, it became more appealing as his version of spirituality was kind, accepting, and non-threatening. We never went because, well, daddywhumpus is in a band, and Sunday mornings are slow-going, and scurrying out to a meeting house is the last thing that appeals to us. Unless there's bacon.

But that's brunch.

Plus, I am both an atheist and an introvert, who is unenthusiastic about change, new environments, and new situations.

I lost my community of commiseration when I got laid of, where I was around people who felt the same as I, or at least knew my friend. I decided to go to church.

daddywhumpus was out of town, so I was trudging into new territory on my own with babywhumpus, which is a recipe for discomfort  if not disaster. He's not a sit-still-and-listen kind of child. He has contemplative moments, but they are commensurate with his life: short. And often about food.

The experience was about what I expected. The church is welcoming and without garish adornment; one is not assaulted with God or Jesus. There are pamphlets about human rights and specific communities and how the church is inclusive to all. I could see my friend here, smiling openly at people, talking and walking through the halls. Had I shown up there when he was in attendance, I can precisely see the reaction on his face: open-mouthed, wide-eyed shock, wonder, and gratitude, all at once, followed by a hug and kiss.

I took babywhumpus around the spaces, telling him to be quiet, even though Unitarians are not generally as stuff as some, and showing him the organ and its pipes. We sat at the back and only talked to a few people, and my friend was mentioned at the beginning. We did not make it long; once he tired of scribbling on the bulletin, was finished munching his Cheddar Bunnies into crumbs all over himself and the floor (mortifying), and made to crawl up under the pews like his Gran did when she was little, I got him out of the sanctuary. We walked the halls a little bit more, looking around, and I tried to get him back into the service as I wanted to hear the message and see if I could be comfortable here, but it was not to be. It was a beautiful day, so we went to the co-op, and went home to make eggs and sausage.

I'm glad we went; It was nice to pay respects in that way to my friend--he would have appreciated it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

This is Public Service

Gary DeCramer

On Wednesday night, I sat on the couch at a friend's house, and said, "I am one of perhaps a thousand people who feel exactly the same way I do, right now, about this one person."

One of thousands of people who are sincerely shaken, devastated, and heartbroken by the loss of a single individual who, through being who he was, touched them all.

I don't know how Gary DeCramer got any "work" done, as he dropped everything whenever anyone stopped by his office and tapped on his door. It did not matter who you were. He may have held up a hand to give you pause, but when he finished whatever he was doing, he was all yours.

But this WAS his work. People. Relationships. True and salient leadership through the most humble of actions: listening. This is not to diminish his brilliance and intelligence. Indeed, his ability to focus and listen only added to his discernment. 

In the bright constellation of Gary's career, I am but an observer in a planetarium, but because of who he was, I want to add my notes to the log. His commitment to the common good will live on in the people he inspired.

I cannot think of him or see his name without tears because when I think of him, he pops into my head so clearly, and I know that those images are mine to hold, as they will never be repeated in real life. Smiling at me as he approaches, his arms already open for an embrace. Offering up a witty and perhaps ribald remark on current events as we commiserated over the news of the day. Lighting up over a poem he wanted to share with the class to focus their study...

"Mama," Finn said, "are you sad?"

"Yes, darlin', I am. My friend Gary died."

"Did his heart break?"

"Yes, honey. Sometimes that happens. I'm sad, but we will be okay."

Gary would have wanted it that way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gary DeCramer


Gary DeCramer died yesterday, and we all lost someone. Gary was a public servant, a leader, father, husband, friend, colleague, mentor, advisor...Gary was a person to emulate; a person we can all hope to be like.

I recently left the Humphrey School, where I worked with Gary for the past four years. In the busy time before my last day, I wanted to write notes to my colleagues to let them know what they meant to me, but I ran out of time.

I have been carting the stationary around for the past month, moving it from place to place as I clean and organize here at home. I figured I still had time to get these notes out because I had lost a job, not the people who I worked with and loved. Those people would still be there.

I was wrong.

So, Gary... Here's your note...

One of my biggest regrets about leaving the Humphrey is that I will not be seeing you almost every day. You have been a friend and mentor, and working with you has been a treasure and a joy. You are the kindest person I have ever met, though your gentle nature does not dampen the fierce commitment you have to the common good and to the people you care for. Your dedication to students is inspiring, and I will miss sitting in your office, listening to you work out a lesson plan or lecture. I will miss talking about our gardens as spring rolls into Minnesota. I will miss you kneeling down by my computer to work out the kinks in a presentation. I will miss the welcome that says, "I am genuinely happy to see you."

Your leadership is meshed with caring, understanding, and nuance. You can see the facts of a situation and chart the best course, even in an instant, and manage different personalities with ease, always making someone feel valued, even in his or her most vulnerable moments. You are someone I wholly trust.

You once wrote to me that my attention to beauty was not missed.

Gary, your humor, kindness, and gratitude were not missed, either.

The Humphrey School note on Gary
Marshall Independent
Pioneer Press
Morris Sun Tribune

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Queen and the Ball Boys

I don't watch much football. It's not that I don't enjoy it when I do sit down to watch a game, I am just not invested enough to put that much time into it. Unless the Steelers are playing, I don't particularly care who wins (if the Cowboys are playing, I want them to lose. Can you tell which decade my football alliances come from?), and I have so many other things to do. This is not to denigrate the joy that others get from the sport. Plenty of my entertainment indulgences would be trivial and banal to much of the world.

I do usually watch the Superbowl, however. It's a good time to get together with friends, drink beer on a Sunday (I do this anyway, but it's nice to have it not only validated but expected), and whoop and holler. I get to critique that ads and see a spectacle of a half time show. Hopefully the game is good.

This year, rooting for no one, we spent the Superbowl at the home of good friends who are the parents of babywhumpus' best friend. The kids get to play, and the adults get to watch the game (Mostly. The boys are three, after all). We were also treated to scrumptious Mexican food, thanks to our host. I was most looking forward to the halftime show, as Madonna was performing. I have a deep love for her that goes back to her first album when I was 12. She is an enduring and talented female artist who has been in my life for the past 30 years.

Along with many individuals, I am rather involved in Twitter. While I only regularly "live tweet" one program (Nature on PBS. Yes, I am that kind of nerd. It's OUR version of football.), I enjoy following the live tweets of others who watch Downton Abbey or award shows along with me. I was interested to see what my feed would produce about the halftime show.

It's always a spectacle of some sort. Hopefully. It's supposed to be 12 minutes of jam-packed entertainment. Of course, no one will ever forget Boobgate and apparently the Black Eyed Peas came close to annihilating the entire western world with the awfulness of their performance, but Prince put on one of the best shows I have seen, and Bruce Springsteen not only ran into a camera on one of his knee slides but he also tore up the place.

Funnily enough, I don't remember many comments the next day about how old those guys are. Prince is the same age as Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen is ten years older. I love both of them, and they put on amazing live shows.

I should not have been surprised to watch my Twitter feed fill up with jokes about how old Madonna is, one tweet after another, how she's a has-been (haven't people been saying that for 30 years?), and how terrible the show was. Granted, I am a fan, but that doesn't mean that I love everything she does or am incapable of seeing her with a critical eye. (I barely cracked her album "Hard Candy," and I have never seen the movie "Swept Away.") She seemed a bit nervous and a little stilted at the beginning. I heard somewhere that she was nursing a hamstring injury, but I don't know if that's true. I thought the show was over-the-top--a little bit hilarious due to the Gladiators and the obvious references to the male sports event happening around her. It was entertaining, splendid, and she chose great songs. Not to mention, she looked amazing.

Let's check the Twitter feed, shall we? Old, old, super old, oh em gee so old, old joke, old.

Neither terribly clever nor funny. All by men.

The next week, I sat down to watch the Grammys. Bruce Springsteen performed. Paul McCartney performed. The whole show ended with old white guys playing the guitar. Penis, penis, penis. (Oops, did I type that? Forgive me, it's early, and I haven't written in awhile.) Twitter feed: nary an old joke.

I am not saying they were not out there, this is anecdotal data based on who I follow, and I was busy being appalled that a batterer was being given stage time--TWICE--plus an award and a standing ovation, but given the amount of old jokes laid down for Madonna, there should have been at least one for Paul McCartney. Come on, the dye job alone should have been enough for at least one comment!

You know, I don't need to rewrite territory that has been written much better by Naomi Wolfe over at The Guardian, so just read this. I have a lot to catch up on.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

ID Me: Oh No, Not Again

In honor of today's Democracy Day of Action, I am revisiting a post from 2010, with minor editing. It's unfortunate that I have go here again, but like the issue of marriage equality, this just keeps popping up, this time in the possible form of a constitutional amendment. Like the constitutional amendment to enshrine marriage inequality, this possible amendment would institute inequality in the constitution of the State of Minnesota. This is the opposite of what constitutions are meant to do.

I have been serving as an election judge since the 2010 primary in August. I enjoy being involved in our political process, and this civic duty is a logical extension of that. It's a long day (14 and a half hours, at the least), but it goes by surprisingly fast, even when turn-out in your precinct is only 22%, as it was for the primary (this was unfortunately rather high, in reality) or 9% for a special election. I knitted six washcloths one election day and almost the whole body of a sweater for my son on another.

On November elections, I do not expect to get that much knitting done (only four much smaller dishcloths) because turn-out would be higher. For the 2010 election, we had 59% in our precinct, which is also, unfortunately, considered high. I expect that 2012 will be higher, though still not what it should be.

We were warned by our head judge that there may be issues with voters wearing "ID Me" buttons or insisting that we check their ID. Just a few days before the election, the Supreme Court had denied a case brought by "Tea Partiers," in which they wanted the right to wear these materials. It was deemed to be covered by the "no campaign or political materials in the polling place" law, and we were to ask people to cover any such items. This includes sample ballots from specific parties and tee shirts that say "Wellstone!" even though he is clearly not running for election.

I did not see any buttons that said "ID Me," but I did have some rather forceful or snide individuals, muttering comments or stating outright nonsense regarding voter identification. I was only on the roster table for a few hours, so I am not sure what other judges may have heard, but I had three notable people offer their opinions. One woman was rather incensed, having "just found out today that Minnesota does not require ID to vote."

"I mean, that's ridiculous."

"It's the law, " I replied.

"Well, it's a stupid law," she said.

Another muttered, when I said that it was the law, "No wonder this state is so screwed up."

The final major comment was from a gentleman who proffered his ID in my face. When I said that we do not require ID, he said he knew, but wanted me to check his ID. I said it was the law that Minnesota does not require ID to vote, and I asked his last name. He remained silent and held the ID in my face. Once I had given him his ballot receipt, he said "It's the government's law that you have to have ID on you at all times. It's the law."

I closed my lips together firmly to keep from answering. He moved on.

Now, I have to say, "Really?" Where does he live, and where is he getting this information, and moreover, why does he believe it?

Voter fraud is a current specter striking fear into the hearts of white people across America. As this issue does divide mostly along partisan lines, with republicans favoring more voter ID requirements and Democrats being against them, I have to ask the question, "Why?"

Is voter fraud a big problem? If so, would identification laws solve it? What's the big deal about requiring ID? You need ID for a lot of things, and voting is pretty important, so requiring ID to do so seems innocuous. Why does it divide along party lines? Who benefits and who loses? Why do some people assume that everyone else is lying, even when they themselves never would? Why didn't these people get upset in 2000 or 2004 when there were massive voting irregularities? Do they believe that liberals are stealing elections through voter fraud, and ID laws will fix that? Do they think that Minnesota is the only state that does not require ID?

In reality, 24 states do not require ID, and the other 26 have varying degrees of requirements. (National Conference of State Legislatures) Furthermore, from what I could gather, voter fraud of the type that would be caught by requiring ID is so rare as to be statistically uncountable, leading Project Vote to say:

"Voter identification requirements, while increasingly popular in state legislatures around the country, are a solution without a problem."

So, if voter fraud via voter impersonation is not a real problem (Again, the kind that would be caught by requiring Voter ID), then what is this really all about?

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as much as 12% of the eligible voting population does not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of these people are seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, students, and women. It seems to me that Voter ID hoopla is meant to instill fear in a certain sector of the population, that certain other sectors of the population are voting illegally, so that ID laws can be passed, making it harder for those certain other sectors of the voting population to vote.

If we are truly concerned about fairness in elections, then we need well-funded, well-trained election oversight departments and officials, who can track down irregularities when they occur. We need to pursue cases of voter intimidation, which, unlike voter impersonation, actually do happen. We need to make information about voting and voting rights as well as election and polling information easily available to the voters.

The "Voter ID" issue is a low-hanging fear-fruit. It "sounds good" when you hear it, and people will shrug, thinking it's no big deal. That's often because they have not thought any deeper about the issue, such as barriers to obtaining government-issued ID, how those barriers affect different groups of people, and who it is that these laws would keep from voting. Once it's personal, and it keeps your grandmother, college-aged son, or disabled friend from casting their vote for an elected official, people start to wake up. We have a growing segment of the population that has to decide between food and medication, or that simply does not have enough to eat. Spending the time and money to get a photo ID is not in the budget. Sometimes, it is not even possible, and these people are voting citizens.

Here in Minnesota, we have an incredibly fair and well-run elections process, with a dedicated Secretary of State and excellent local elections offices. Two widely publicized recounts have proven that Voter ID laws are unnecessary, here or anywhere.

These laws only "sound good" when you don't have to think about it and it doesn't affect you.

I urge you to do all you can to oppose Voter ID laws in Minnesota and around the United States.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Old School

Ok, so I get it. Groups need to have private spaces for the sake of maintaining community. For the most part, this applies to disenfranchised groups like African Americans or, yes, women. When it comes to social elites, however, these groups are usually insulated by their privilege and do not necessarily need artificially imposed privacy to maintain cohesion.

This is why it is insulting and infuriating to read about groups like "C Street" or "Kappa Beta Phi", which is a group of one-percenters. It seems redundant for a bunch of Wall Street financiers to get together for a swanky private party and congratulate themselves. To the average American, it appears that wealth and self-congratulation are the norm for these guys (and "smattering" of gals). After all, while "Main Street" flounders, Wall Street is doing just fine, not in the least because it accepted money from main street taxpayers to bail them out of their self-imposed troubles, all while glibly denying that it was the very government they disdain that saved their smug, shiny asses (See "This American Life" Episode 415: Crybabies).

These guys might believe in Wall Street, after all, there truly is a street named "Wall," but after weighing the evidence, I have decided that the "free market" they tend to extol is a supernatural entity, and I do not believe in it. I do not believe it necessarily selects for quality or in the best interest of the consumer. I do not see any evidence that the free market creates or encourages rational behavior on either the production or consumption side. It seems to me that the "products" these Wall Street guys are creating are not particularly real or of any use to the average consumer (until they fail and crash the entire economy). I don't see this class of individual as creating jobs that are beneficial to America, when considered in proportion to the capital they tie up. It appears that left to their own devices without oversight from an elected government, the lure of massive profits at any cost is too much for most people, and they will do anything to make more money.

I therefore add "The Free Market" to the list of gods in which I do not believe. I hope it enjoys the hazing it gets when it joins Thor, Zeus, and Mammon in the grand ballroom of the subconscious.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Yes, you read that right. I've been laid off. On the bright side, perhaps this means that I will be able to write more.