mercredi, mars 28, 2007

An Open Letter to My Muslim Brothers and Sisters

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I’m writing to share my thoughts on items recently reported by the Twin Cities media – all concerning how religious convictions impact the ability/willingness of Muslims to perform some tasks that are often considered essential to customer service jobs.

The four items that stand out the most are:

The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport airport customers who have alcohol (usually purchased from duty free shops) in their possession.

The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport customers who travel with animal companions (even if the potential passenger is blind - ouch).

The refusal of Muslim grocery store cashiers to scan pork products.

The refusal of Muslim women to appear uncovered for State ID photographs.

But you’re not alone: Some Christians refuse to dispense lawful medication based on religious grounds.

I’m sure you’re well aware that America prides itself on religious tolerance. I’m sure you’re also aware that we sometimes fall short of our ideals. Though it’s not expressly written in any of our laws, a number of our traditions and practices have their origins in Christianity. Sunday as a day of rest takes it origin from the Sabbath – not an exclusively Christian tradition, but evidence of how religion shapes our traditions.

In many ways, I see the tension between your religious beliefs and American traditions as analogous to the experience of other religious minorities. For example, Jews in America don’t get time off to observe their holy days (even though Christmas Day is a day when most workplaces are closed). In effect, Jews lose personal leave in for religious observance. Seventh Day Adventists will refuse to work their sabbath - from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown – though it may impact both job choice and career growth. Some faith traditions eschew electricity and modern conveniences and thrive in our country, a place that prides itself on technological and scientific advances.

But the conflict is not limited to religion. On the basis of personal ethics or morality, people in America may refuse to eat meat, or wear fur or leather. Some people refuse to ride in cars.

In America, a vegetarian may decide that working as a waiter at a steakhouse, or working as a sales clerk at a furrier is not their ideal profession.

No one has to work as a cab driver. But once one decides to do so, he or she must serve all who seek transport (unless they’re phenomenally drunk or conspicuously dangerous). No one has to work as a cashier, but once one decides to do so, he or she must scan all items available for purchase. No one has to drive, or even have a photo ID, but if one chooses to take advantages of the rights and privileges that require an ID, one must take the photo in a way that makes it useful for identification purposes.

And just as I would advise a Christian who aspires to be a pharmacist but does not want to dispense birth control to choose another profession, and just as I would advise a vegetarian who does not want to profit from the death of animals not to work at a steakhouse, I would advise you, my Muslim brothers and sisters who do not want to give cab rides to people traveling with alcohol or animals to seek other work.

No one here will force you to live outside of your faith or traditions (unless you’re faith promotes animal sacrifice or polygamy or ganja/peyote/licking those frogs or other things considered too extreme for support), but don’t expect too much accommodation either.

Realize that the failure to offer it is not related to intolerance, but actually has a practical basis. In a country where the freedom of religion is included in the Constitution, we cannot rewrite our traditions, laws, and practices to embrace every tenet. We tend to honor Christian principles more than we should – we don’t always live up to our ideals.

So my advice to you is this: follow the dictates of your heart, your conscience, and your faith, even if it means you must sacrifice in order to do so.

With sincere best wishes,


P.S. Thanks for the idea Mary!

mardi, mars 27, 2007

Eyes Wide Shut


This is just going to be a magical year*.

This new disc is so good that it makes me close my eyes.

Let me explain.

I have this weird habit of closing my eyes when I listen to music I really like**. It helps me hear it better. Er…something like that. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” has many eye-closing moments for me. I love “The Lonesome Crowded West” and “The Moon and Antartica,” and longtime readers know I was reduced to a screaming teeny bopper by “Good New for People Who Love Bad News.” I don’t know yet where “We Were Dead…” fits within that amazing legacy, but it’s up there friends, it’s up there.

Will I be at the Modest Mouse show in Minneapolis next month?***

And as I type this, I’m listening to a bootleg copy**** (amazing quality, BTW) of the forthcoming Wilco album, “Sky Blue Sky”. Surprise, surprise, it’s flipping amazing.

I was going to try to see Bjork in Chicago with some rock-headed friends, but it’s on Mother’s Day weekend, and…um…I don’t have the kind of sway on the homefront.*****

P.S. The new Arcade Fire doesn’t disappoint either.

*But not in sports. [sigh]

**No, no, no, not when I’m driving, silly billy.


****Don’t rat me out please, I’ll buy multiple copies when it comes out. I’ll get the domestic, the foreign and any special editions, so, please, let me enjoy this advance ride in peace. Thanks in advance.

*****Nor would I want it. Of course I would rather be at home celebrating the three mom’s in my life instead of at the concert of my dreams.

dimanche, mars 18, 2007

Is it Just Me? Am I the Only One?

I don't like it when cashiers comment on my purchases. I don't like it at the grocery store, the pharamacy, or at Target-type stores. I don't care for it.

Recent example from cashier who just scanned a 14.5 ounce can of stewed tomatoes:

"Oh, I use these to make goulash!"

mercredi, mars 14, 2007

Violet and Orville

This story touched me. No, not a fairy tale, but an interesting twist on "'til death do us part."

mercredi, mars 07, 2007

Hello Darkness My Old Friend...

The other day, TinyE and I were on our way sledding with her friend “Roni.”

The girls were gabbing away as toddlers are wont to do, and then, TinyE said –

“I wish my skin was lighter.”

Her friend replied “Oh TinyE, the outside doesn’t matter, what matters is the inside.”

And one million thoughts swirled through my head.

Here’s a sampling:

Why does my five year old daughter wish her skin was lighter?
The schools are clearly talking about tolerance and race and ethnicity, and etc.
Do TinyE and “Roni” really believe what they’re taught?
Do they really believe that skin doesn’t matter?
Or is it just something they memorize like the words to “We Shall Overcome”*
At age five, has she already observed something about the world?
Did she observe something about bias in her school?
On television?
As a child, did I ever feel that way? I guessed that I did.
Is TinyE showing, the smallest, faintest glimmer of an emerging self-esteem issue?
I found myself thinking about skin color and about the tendency, even among my people, to express a bias toward people with lighter skin.
I wondered what issues my daughter (who has a father with ancestry traceable to Africa, and a mother with ancestry traceable to Europe) will face.
I thought then about gender and class and style of dress and style of speech and hobbies or interests and all the ways we heap expectations on people, all the ways we define people we don’t really know.

But perhaps most of all –

I wondered why, at moments like this, I treat my daughter like she’s five. Why don’t I ask her why she feels that way? Why don’t I share my experiences with her? What am I waiting for?

Does not my silence now portend a more damaging silence later?

It is in keeping with my character,** but that’s no excuse. There are times when silence is wrong.

Parenthood often presents examples to prove that point.

*Which they sang in the car only moments later. Both of them know they words, even though they go to different schools.

**I’m not confrontational, in fact, I’m conflict adverse. For example, last month, I had the great good fortune to attend a basketball game between the University of Minnesota and Ohio State. The Buckeyes (Ohio State), with their sublime septuagenarian, Greg Oden, crushed our Gophers (who are in a rebuilding year or years). In the waning seconds of the game, a woman sitting in front of us, turned to friends (sitting behind us) and, speaking right past me, said that the Gophers should have played their “black team.” To sharpen her point and heighten her dullness, she added, “you know, the more athletic players.” I had two thoughts that day. First, my favorite Viking saying - “the half wise are everywhere,” and second, that’s kind of funny, because if you have a choice between me (black, but decidedly non-athletic) and my brother-in-law (white, but legendarily athletic) for your team in a pick up game of hoops, I can offer no better advice than this: pick the white guy!

dimanche, mars 04, 2007

I Live in Minnesota

We've had some snow here in Minnesota. Yah uh huh, youbetcha.

A view of the back yard from the house. The table top gives you as sense for all the snow we received over 12 days. Yes we need a cover for our patio furniture. Thanks for noticing. Classy.

A view of the house from the driveway. What this picture does not show is the photographer, a man whose whole body hurt at the time this photo was taken.

vendredi, mars 02, 2007

TinyE's Poem

TinyE wrote and read this poem to me:

You are a cat
You are my cat
I love you cat
Cat loves you
Oh cat

jeudi, mars 01, 2007

Why I Love My Neighbors: A Really Short Conversation Preceded by a Whole Lotta Background

Background to a Really Short Conversation:

"Betty" is a woman who lives near us. She’s really nice. She has a ghetto fiancé* – let’s call him Steve.

Anyway, Betty and Steve are wonderful. Really, all of our neighbors are wonderful.

I am starting to entertain the notion of moving; what makes that prospect almost unbearable (besides packing up all of our stuff, moving it, and then unpacking it again) is the thought of leaving our amazing, wonderful neighbors. But we need a bigger dining room, and a bedroom for guests, a little bit more room for books, and a slightly (really just two feet) bigger kitchen. And it is a buyer's market, and there is an ideal home for sale that I keep thinking about. Well, ideal in every way except one: price.

But all of this is background for what I want to tell you.

Last week, after more than a foot of snow hit St. Paul, my neighbor Steve was kind enough to blow the snow** off our driveway. Just so you know, our driveway is 80 feet long – never get a driveway this is more than 15 or 20 feet long. It seems like a good idea at the time, but it's a bad idea.

Okay, and now I’m really done with the background.

Really Short Conversation:

Duf: I guess it’s time for me to get a snow blower.

Steve: You don’t need a snow blower as long as I’ve got one.

The Whole Point of the Really Short Conversation:

My point...and I do have one...

All of my neighbors are this thoughtful and nice. We have four neighbors with super-mega-horse-power-industrial-strenght-snow-killah snow blowers, and they practically fight over who gets to blow snow off our driveway. And it's not for love of blowing snow. Well, not really. It's just that they're cool people. In fact, I was out shoveling today*** and my other neighbor (let's call him Phineas) said he'd run over it with his snow blower if I wanted him to do so.

I'm more than happy to oblige.

*Ghetto fiancé is my term for people who are engaged with no wedding planned for any date in the foreseeable future. One of my dear friends from high school (let’s call him Hector) has been engaged for 14 years. His beloved is his ghetto fiancée (but I would never say that to his face, instead I would blog about it). People often get engaged to feel better about living together or to get others to feel alright/better about them living together.

**I don’t own a snow blower. I’d like to never own one – all they do is emit carbon dioxide. Now, you’ll notice that I don’t prevent my neighbors from using their carbon-dioxide-emitting snow blowers on my property. This is for two reasons. First, it would be really hard for me to tell the four neighbors who would offer to blow snow off my driveway not to do it (and awkward if I said why). Second, I still shovel most of the time. So, I feel it’s a net gain for mother earth.

***We're expecting between 12 and 18 inches of snow today and tomorrow. This after getting more than 12" not so long ago. But I Live in Minnesota, so what can I expect?