jeudi, juin 30, 2005

Am I So Wrong?

Am I so wrong if I enjoy this?

What about this?

I have to confess I really enjoy that one. I guess I have a dark vindictive side. Please close the base. It works on so many levels: South Dakotans might learn that it pays to have a tenured leader, SD votes will lead to a direct loss in jobs (and maybe people will start to get it), Bush will betray Thune by putting the extra bombers in Texas, Thune will try to peeve Bush by not supporting noms (not that it will matter), etc., etc., etc.

The one downside is that those thousands of South Dakotans seeking jobs would migrate to the nearest place in the region where the economy is actually pretty good.

mercredi, juin 29, 2005

"So Here It Is Again..."

We don't need it do we?
It's fake that's what it be to 'ya, dig me?
Don't believe the hype...

"Don't Believe the Hype" Public Enemy

I did not see the President’s speech last night.

Instead, we walked to the lake, got some ice cream and listened to the St. Anthony Park Community Band play military marches in the pavilion.

I have read a lot about the speech, and here are my uninformed comments:

Bush (a man who needs a lot of inspiration before he will appear before his public and even more before he will appear before the media or answer questions) made the speech because his approval numbers are flagging. His numbers should flag.

Bush made the speech because support for the war at home is flagging (note: support (or lack thereof) for the war is different from support (or lack thereof) for the troops). Support for the war should flag.

Bush did not advance a strong policy during the speech (note: “as Iraq stands up, we will stand down” is not policy – and though his comments directed toward the insurgency were specific, they were not sound).

Bush would do well to discontinue efforts to connect Iraq and the attacks of September 11th. Only the most biased partisan is buying that anymore (and no efforts are needed to maintain their allegiance). The wiser course by far would be justifying the war on its own merits. Bush’s repeated unwillingness or failure to do this speaks volumes. Trying to link Iraq and 9/11 is, at minimum, intellectually dishonest. More likely is it a continuation of the vulgar manipulation that is evident upon reading the Downing Street Memos. But one thing for sure, it absolutely betrays that the man himself has no confidence that he could state the case without resort to intellecutal dishonesty/emotional appeals/September 11th.

Bush’s appeal to patriotism, asking Americans to fly the flag on the Fourth to honor our troops, is worthy of a book of analysis. I hope such a book is written and read by millions. Here, suffice it to say, the appeal is the desperate effort of a desperate man who desperately wants to recapture the fervor we had immediately after the tragedies in NY, DC and PA. Any response will lose significant amounts of impact. Most everyone says "yes, I love you," when you ask them if they do. The more meaningful expressions are spontaneous and heartfelt. As well, the wave-the-flag appeal is another effort at distraction (“don’t look into things too much, just follow along, you’ll feel better about things if you fly the flag”), it favors style over substance, and offers superficial ways to support our troops when clearly they need more than symbolism.

If Bush's ratings go up, we may be doomed, but none more than those who bought his propaganda. They were hoodwinked and led astray. Wave the flag if that's how you roll, but don't do it because the man asked you to. Don’t count yourself among those who will.

Don’t believe the hype.

mardi, juin 28, 2005

Two Parables, Two Questions

On the eve of the autumnal equinox,
I saw Jesus at the Wal-Mart on University Avenue.
Though not as tall as expected,
I knew Him because
His skin was everyone’s and
because of a certain because
that is sensed, not articulated,
because of His hands.

I felt I could ask Him anything,
and just as I thought to ask why
He was at Wal-Mart, at this Wal-Mart,
I found myself remembering

a night in high school
when we crowded into JL’s microbus
and went to a titty bar just East of downtown Wichita;
a night when
an elder from my church was there
and that which once seemed
wholly good, revealed
its potential
to be

I thought to ask if the
amount of energy and matter
is constant, or about Tesla’s coil
and electrical fields or Rwanda
or St. Paul, but instead
I asked him why He looked so sad…and…

(though I
couldn’t feel it,
the earth’s plane
relative to the sun.
- the equinox -
night and day
would be
nearly equal
in length)

…He said (His only words), He said

“at night,
in the city,
the stars
are very hard
to see.”

I asked if it was metaphor.

He registered another parable misunderstood
with a smile both quiet and small, and
touched my cheek -
his latest dull disciple.
His gaze could have destroyed,
but instead He
walked away. He

walked away. He walked away and
toward a point where I
could not see Him
for all the commerce. He walked
forward in time and I wonder
if I ever saw him at all.
He walked (with some sadness)
as we all walk; He
walked (knowing He
was misunderstood).
He walked…away
from the vernal.

lundi, juin 27, 2005

Just as I Was about to Covet My Neighbor's Maid Servant...the Case Against the Church of America

Are we a religious country?
Should we be?

Are we a Christian country?
Should we be?

Here are my answers.



I’ve always found a lot of the explanations for why we are a religious country to be a bit soft. So, okay, our money says “in God we trust,” yes, the houses of Congress and the military each have a Chaplin. Sure, congressional sessions are opened with a prayer, and yes, our Pledge of Allegiance was amended to include “under God.” Still, for each reference to support a vision of the United States as a religious country there is countervailing evidence of a desire to avoid the mistakes we left behind in merry-old England by not establishing a national religion.

My favorite countervailing evidence is the First Amendment of the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

A lot of people conclude that it means that the government should not establish, support, or otherwise involve itself in religion, but I think that’s a wee bit overstated. To me, the 1st Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a national religion, and protects the individual's right to worship, or not worship, however the individual sees fit (within reasonable limits. Ask any Mormon or any snakecharmer).

For some reason, my Christian brothers and sisters have started to get fairly aggressive when it comes to the inclusion of Christian symbols in public settings. Most of all, they love to post the Ten Commandments in parks, public squares and court houses.

Some people claim that posting the Commandments provides a great guide to ne’er do wells and scofflaws who might otherwise become total sociopaths. I can’t dispute this. In fact, I was recently in a public park, and the only thing that kept me from coveting my neighbor’s ass was a centrally placed admonition against such ugly acts contained in a standard rendition of the Ten Commandments, beautifully carved in Minnesota’s classic dolomitic limestone.

In all seriousness…most people already know the Ten Commandments. For those who don’t, well, hanging it up in a courthouse is not going to reach them. I also wonder if posting it in a Courtroom isn’t a bit late for those who supposedly need the message most. And forgive me if I think that more than posting sections of the good book are required to trumpet a return to a more “moral” nation. Nevermind the pesky question of whose morality should be trumpeted.

We are a Christian nation to the extent that the majority of Americans are Christian. Past that, forget it. And two points must be acknowledged. First, it is clear that the founding fathers wanted to allow for the free exercise of other religions (there were Quakers and Unitarians among the founders, BTW); and second, a significant number of Americans are not Christian. In fact, significant enough (and I would argue that one person is all you need in order for the number to be qualitatively significant) that it is just plain inappropriate for our country or states or counties or cities or civic organizations to promote the symbols or tenets of one religion in public places. For Christians who find this difficult to understand, please let me know how you would feel if Wiccan symbols or tenets were erected in our courthouses and parks. Come to think of it, that might be rather cool. We could put pentagrams in our parks, and we could close our schools and commercial institutions for every solstice to allow people adequate time to worship the four winds. Blessed be.

For non-Christians living in a country where we are told that we are free to worship as we would, it makes no sense that one religion (representative of the majority or not) would be the primary one represented in buildings that are used by all and paid for by all. When the ten commandments are put in our courthouses, the money used to buy the granite and to install it, comes from people whose religions include other (or additional) commandments, and it comes from people for whom such prescriptions are anathema (pun intended). When the commandments of one religion are posted four thousand times, but the tenets of other faiths are not posted at all, to me, it starts to sound like one religion is being established .

So, in my view, the Supreme Court’s decision today is disappointing. There was an opportunity to recognize the need to move away from this unworkable brand of religious favoritism, and we missed it. Instead, a murky and difficult to apply “case by case” standard was born.

In other words, the decision was deferred to another day. Because it is inevitable that the problem will only worsen and that a true solution (needed enough today) will some day be mandatory if we are to save our imperiled but noble republic from complete ruination!

jeudi, juin 23, 2005

A Strange Day for Justice, or: While You're at It, Bury Him in Prison

Frankly, I’m thankful that justice has finally prevailed in Mississippi. It took 41 years to the day, but I’m thankful. And it is entirely fair to me that the “mastermind” will die in prison. He got 41 years of freedom that he never should have had. And I don’t even need to comment on the lives ended too soon. James Chaney died at 21. Andrew Goodman died at 20. Michael Schwerner was only 24. And neither should we lose sight of the fact that they were killed for supporting civil rights and registering blacks to vote (think about it as the worst kind of prior restraint and try to gauge the impact on the Freedom Summer and on the rate at which people exercised their unalienable rights). So, those who killed them committed crimes against persons, but also violated rights that are fundamental to our democracy. If you want my opinion, he got off light. He got off very, very light. Here’s my favorite line from the CNN article:

“In a 1967 federal trial, an all-white jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Killen. The holdout said she could not vote to convict a preacher.”

38 years later...there's a little bit of justice in Mississippi…

But it is interesting to me that it happened on a day when the Supreme Court completely lost its mind. Most are interpreting the recent ruling regarding Connecticut home owners as providing to local governments the ability to take private property if it serves an economic end. Before today, such takings were limited to projects with a clear public use (like highways, etc.) or to renewal projects for areas that clearly needed urban renewal.

Today a working class neighborhood lost to an office complex. Stated differently, the local government said – we can generate more tax revenue if we allocate this land for commercial use and who cares if people have lived on it for decades?

Almost as troubling as the decision itself is who joined the majority and who dissented. I was in shock when I saw that Stevens wrote for the majority and was joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Rehnquist, Scalia Thomas and O’Connor dissented, and they got it right. You read me correctly: Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas are right on the money. And now I feel that black is white and up is down and old is new. Next thing you know, Bush will become a peacenik or an honest man.

[Let me pause here to say that if I were one of those Connecticut homeowners, anyone seeking to remove me from my property would have to physically drag me out. Period.]

I’ll comment more after I have read the opinion. I’m reluctant to comment based on news reports. I will say this – if what I’ve read is true, then this is a sad, sad day for property rights and for the poor (who are most likely to be targeted by this "essential" projects), and it is an excellent day for corporations and for the wealthy. In other words, not a lot has changed but things have gotten much, much worse.

mercredi, juin 22, 2005

The Sickness

My computer is so sick with a virus that it has to be re-imaged tomorrow. More posting activity soon.


lundi, juin 20, 2005

In Defense of Public Radio and Television

On a typical morning, I wake up just after my wife leaves at 6:30. I usually go through the standard human morning rituals and then dial in to see my work schedule for the day and to read and respond to emails that posted after I logged out the previous day.

One wonderful luxury of my current job is that I don’t really have a start time. The downside is that I don’t really have an end time. I am not micromanaged and I love that my workload (and not my boss) dictates my schedule.

Because I can start whenever, I usually let my daughter sleep until she wakes up on her own. One reason for this is when I travel, she wakes up very early and leaves the house at 6:30. It seems fair that she sleep when she can.

When she wakes up, I get her ready for school while we watch the morning lineup on PBS. We watch “Maya and Miguel,” “Arthur,” “Clifford” or “Dragon Tales.” If she wakes up really early, we watch a little “George Shrinks.” If we are running really late (literally twice a year), then we see a little “Berenstain Bears.” She never watches more than one show, and some mornings (like this morning) we watch not at all.

Regular readers know that my daughter is almost 4. One thing that parenting has taught me is that there is an entire subculture out there for little kids. I had never heard of 90% of the characters and shows that are very familiar to me now. The other thing parenting has taught me is that kids of every age are a target market (emphasis on target).

[Quick Story: once when I was an uncle but not a father, I asked my brother for a gift recommendation for my niece. He recommended Blues Clues, and I thought he was talking about a CD that introduced children to the Blues (you know, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.) I went to a CD store and a clerk set me straight.]

But I digress…

PBS programming is great for children for 3 main reasons (there are many more).

First, the shows are educational and have messages that are great for kids. For our household, there are no contra-messages to worry about (in other words, words like “shut up” and “stupid” are not used. There is no hitting or violence. Bizarre, unusual or inappropriate things don’t happen).

Second, the shows are not edited in the scatter-shot MTV style where things are constantly changing like a strobe light or something. I just don’t think kids need that. They move at a pleasing pace and have gentle tones and gentle music to support gentle themes. The whole thing is not sugar-infused madness. Instead, it is peaceful and calm. Kids need that.

Third, there are no commercials (per se). I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this. Much of children’s programming is horrible, but it is goodness and light when compared to the commercials that support it. They are absolutely wretched. When watching children’s programming on other networks, I’m left to believe that it is all about marketing. The synergy between shows and products is frightening. The Bratz DVD promotes the dolls and also future Bratz product releases. It would take days and days to convince me that all of it is in the best interest of children.

I also enjoy evening programming on public television, but I’ll spare you my take on all that.

To me, the Republican effort to discontinue government support for public television - an effort that will either prove fatal or will fundamentally alter the quality and scope of public television - is horribly misguided and not at all representative of a family-friendly platform.

First, the government supports all television. If one were to place a dollar value on the direct and indirect support that the government gives commercial television, I’m sure it would exceed the support for public television by a factor of ten. The infrastructure used by commercial television is itself worth billions, not to mention tax breaks, revenues from government (military) advertising, etc. Cutting support for public television while continuing support for commercial television is just plain wrong.

Second, public television is good. It is especially good for children. Nick, Jr. has its moments (and LOTS of commercials) but its best shows for toddlers (like “Blues Clues” and “Dora”) have a tiny portion of their programming time. The rest is “Sponge Bob SquarePants” and “Fairly Oddparents” and “Jimmy Neutron” and other shows that really should not be watched by toddlers (they're fine shows, but they’re violent and use language that children should not use; they are not geared toward education; they are geared for entertainment; the editing is too sudden for children; and the messages are not geared toward the young). The potential end of public television leaves young children with very few options for quality television (remember, not all household have cable). We know kids will watch TV, so why not give families the option to watch good television? I have a feeling that without “Clifford” or “Arthur,” toddlers would watch Nickelodeon instead. This is not an improvement, and limiting options as the Republican are attempting to do is not a family-friendly move. In fact, it is anti-family and anti-kids.

Third, public television and public radio fulfill a unique role in American society. They routinely cover stories with a depth that others cannot achieve, and they often cover stories that others ignore. My own humble web log is thick with stories that were inspired by public radio and television. No one should believe that the absence of public programming will compel commercial news sources to spend less time on Michael Jackson, and more time with Jack Welch. It just won’t happen.

Fourth, because it is public television, those who do not like it should seek to change it (and I say that with some hesitation knowing how those who are unhappy might seek change it... more “Fair and Balanced” News). You should never destroy something that you could “improve.” This is particularly true with things that have a rich history and have sentimental and actual value.

Anyway, I’d get more riled up about it if I thought it were really likely to happen. In the end, public television will get its government dollars. The Republican Congress is radical and ridiculous, but the Senate will hold them in check (radical, yes; ridiculous, yes, but comparatively sane and prudent). Public television will live on, and children everywhere will learn to share and play fair from cute little animals that are quite articulate, from kindly older men (no longer of this earth), and from quality time in the laps of their parents watching shows that are worth watching.

mardi, juin 14, 2005

"A Selfish Kind of Love", or: "A Willow Deeply Scarred, Somebody's Broken Heart", or: "You Gotta Get it Right While You Got the Time"

"Man In The Mirror"

I'm Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It's Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

As I, Turn Up The Collar
On MyFavourite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin' My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To SeeTheir Needs

A Summer's Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man's Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya' Know'
Cause They Got
Nowhere To Go
That's Why I Want You To Know

I'm Starting With The Man InThe Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place(If You Wanna Make TheWorld A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, AndThen Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,Na Nah)

I've Been A Victim Of
A Selfish Kind Of Love
It's Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They're Not

A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody's Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
(Washed-Out Dream)
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya' See
Cause They Got No PlaceTo Be
That's Why I'm Starting WithMe
(Starting With Me!)

I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror(Ooh!)
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways(Ooh!)
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place (If You Wanna Make TheWorld A Better Place)

Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself AndThen Make A Change)
I'm Starting With The Man InThe Mirror(Ooh!)
I'm Asking Him To Change His
Ways (Change His Ways-Ooh!)
And No Message Could've
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make TheWorld A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make That . . .
(Take A Look At Yourself AndThen Make That . . .)


I'm Starting With
The Man InThe Mirror,
(Man In The Mirror-OhYeah!)
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways (Better Change!)
No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer

(If You Wanna Make TheWorld A Better Place)
(Take A Look At Yourself AndThen Make The Change)
(You Gotta Get It Right, WhileYou Got The Time)
('Cause When You Close YourHeart)
You Can't Close Your . . .YourMind!
(Then You Close Your . . .Mind!)
That Man, That Man, That
Man, That Man
With That Man In The Mirror
(Man In The Mirror, Oh Yeah!)
That Man, That Man, That Man
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways(Better Change!)...

lundi, juin 13, 2005

Where to Send Her

So, I've been having this internal debate for a long time.

Should we send TinyE to a public school or a private school?

My default setting is public school. We are committed to supporting our community and to being a part of our community. We live in St. Paul on purpose - we prefer to be in the city with its various diversities. We like being close to where we live and work (not contributing to sprawl), and we like living in older homes with mature trees and access to parks and public transportation.

With school choice, here are two things I want to point out: first, I didn't even think about private schools until I went to a school fair, and my favorite school, the one I felt would most suit TinyE, just happened to be a private, affordable, Quaker school very close to our home.

Second, we plan to pick schools divorced from private versus public. We want to select schools that we think will work best for her, visit them, and make the best decision we can. The majority of the schools we will consider will be public (I'll predict we consider 2 0r 3 private schools, tops).

Here's why I favor public schools:

Our public schools here are just fine. There are underperforming schools, and there are excellent schools, but, on the whole, our schools here are pretty darn good and will prepare a child from a supportive home for the rich world with all its options and challenges.

Our (interracial) daughter will be in a more diverse setting and will see herself as a part of a larger and varied community. I want her to know that people are wealthy and poor, have many different skin colors, have different physical and mental abilities, and come from different kinds of homes.

We have open enrollment, and she can go to any school including one of three foreign language immersion schools, math, sciences, computer or arts magnet schools, schools that promote the environment, music magnets, and so on and so on.

Our friends who are part of the public schools really liked them. Though not all have had completely positive experiences.

No tuition expense.

As a citizen in a community, I feel that if there is something in the community that could benefit from community support and attention, I should offer support and attention rather than just walk away from challenges or walk around them.

Here's why I favor private schools:

I'm concerned about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on curriculum. Put simply, I don't want to prepare TinyE to pass standardization exams, and I don't want her to attend a school where that is a primary or prominent academic goal. When I think about sending TinyE to a private school, this is my number one reason.

We can select a school with small classroom sizes. I have looked at three private schools, one has 15 students per class, one has 17 and the other has 18. Average classroom sizes in St. Paul Public Schools is in the mid-20s to lower 30's, and I think TinyE will do well in a small school with smaller classrooms.

I find it hard to consider the public schools divorced from my own experience as a student in them. It seems they, like the world at large, are not quite what they used to be and that the differences are for the better and for the worse. In those instances where it is worse, I'm not sure I've come to peace with it. I may just need some time to do that.

I also have this flat earth mania thing going on (which I know is completely insane). In my work, I often sit in rooms with people from all over the world. This manic side of me feels compelled to prepare our little 3.5 year old for a world where she will complete for school places and jobs and promotions and etc. against kids from anywhere. And yes, I understand that she needs to just be a kid and learn to love school and all of those things - I know the last thing she needs is pressure from Dad to be valedictorian or something or other.

The whole idiotic evolution thing. I'd just as soon dodge ignorance where I can.

I want the best for my little girl, not just good, but excellent. If a private school is the best, wel then...

Anyway, dear readers...have you made this decision for a child or two? Have you thought about it? What should I consider as I make my choice?

vendredi, juin 03, 2005

Reunited (And It Feels So Good)

Before I post on today's topic (my high school reunion), I'd like to say a couple of things.

First, if you have EU stock, my analysts are recommending short term "sell," mid-term "hold" and long term "buy." Unification ain't easy, but I have a feeling they'll figure it out, even if le Francaise dit "non." Pourquoi? Je ne sais quoi.

Second, not to brag, but I called the whole Deep Throat thing last November.

Third, if lying is an impeachable offense (and I'll check my history books and get back to you on that one), then it is time to call for the impeachment of President Bush (more later).

It's a rainy Friday in Mission, Kansas, where I am sitting in my twin brother's (the handsome, smart, increasingly thinner one) living room, dying for someone to make me some eggs. Why won't someone make me eggs? Why? Scrambled please, with just a hint of cheddar (don't over cook 'em, thanks).

Later today, I will venture to Wichita, Kansas, (haters, jump back! Give me room to boast, please!) for reunion activities all day tomorrow. So, it was five years ago that I matriculated from the hallowed halls of one of America's most unexceptional high schools (which happened to have a few excellent teachers). And now I return, 20 years later, to look at name tags and ask people what they do for a living. "So, you married?...Sorry to hear that. Do you think you'll remarry?...Good for you!" It's kind of like riding in an airplane with people who, 20 years ago, were on the scene when your voice was cracking and you were like so totally gonna get grounded it was like totally ridiculous.

Two nerdy confessions: first, I liked my red grape high school years. I thought it was fun enough. Not as fun as my distilled college years, but I look back with no bad thoughts. Second, I'm looking forward to showing up (fat [sigh]) and seeing everyone - be they bald, skinny, gorgeous, homely, softened, hardened, greying, dyeing, successful, unsuccessful, all of those things or none of them. I kinda, sorta think that kind of thing is kinda sorta neat.

Have a wonderful weekend. Mrs. Duf, TinyE and I are on vacation next week: expect infrequent posting.

mercredi, juin 01, 2005

Though an Art Therapist Might Be Concerned, I Am Proud

I have all these dorky rules for my blog. I have never published the rules and I won't publish them in their entirety, but here are a few.

One, I use a made up name. My real name is not Duf Fer. It's Michael something or other - not so hard to find out, but I use a pseudonymn on purpose.

Second, as a general rule, I don't curse on my site. I broke that rule (in a quote) the day after the election, but other than that, I try to provide a site that my mother, my mother in law, and religious conservatives can read without concern that I will write something offensive or base. Cursing doesn't bother me (and I don't think it bothers my mother or my mother-in-law), but I know it bothers others, so I try to avoid it.

Third, I don't have any pictures of me or my friends. As well, I would not post a picture without permission. It's just me being weird.

These rules are dorky and, in some cases, paranoid, but hey, they are my rules.

I'm breaking my rules today and posting a picture of my wife, me, and my daughter, a.k.a. TinyE. It was drawn by TinyE, who, at three and a half, did an unreal job of representing our little (and apparently unhappy) family. It is, without question, my favorite of her drawings. It was done in chalk on our driveway, so I had to memorialize it before it rained. I barely made it.

I love this picture and hope you like it too.

Yes, my head is that big.