Friday, February 29, 2008


I saw and heard a couple of things yesterday that have got me thinking. I was on my way to a meeting in Kansas and drove by a home on a major street which had a large, hand-lettered sign out front. I was driving, so I couldn't write down the message on the sign, but here's what it said, to the best of my memory:

"Just be glad
that we are killing
more of their children
than they are
of ours.
Happy Holiday"

The "Happy Holiday" part is definitely right, and creates a pretty bizarre juxtaposition. I'm not sure which holiday is meant. Which is the "let's celebrate the children we've killed in our war" holiday?

I wondered whether the sign was meant to be satire, but I'm inclined to think that it is not. Someone actually feels that way, strongly enough to put those feelings on a sign. Which leads me to ask: how is it that someone can feel that way to begin with, and feel so strongly that way that the person is willing to put it on a sign right next to a heavily trafficked street? (Roe Avenue at about 60th, for those who are local)

Even if it's meant to be satire, the language is so violent and objectionable as to fail miserably. At least as "front yard, general-public-accessible satire."

I was sad about this first, and then outraged. I wanted to turn around and go to the person's door and try to have a conversation with him or her. Or maybe I didn't want a conversation, exactly. I wanted an opportunity to simply express the hurt I felt reading that sign, the hurt I felt knowing that someone who lives in the same general area I live in has such blatant disregard for the lives of Iraqi and Afghan children.

I didn't, of course. I was late and I probably wouldn't have anyway because I'm a coward and I can blog about these horrible things instead of doing something real. Plus, I'm reasonably certain that person owns a gun. Or two.

So my meeting went on forever, and three hours later I was driving home and "Studio 360" was on NPR. The featured interview for the episode was one taped with the writer Susan Sontag. I came in late, but it seemed like the theme was "images of voilence and war," or something similar. Sontag talked about images that she had seen which had affected her deeply, and they did a couple of segments on war movies and photographs.

At one point Sontag talked about the ability of an image like a photograph to evoke moral outrage. Then she said that she couldn't understand why people had a puzzled reaction to the atrocities of war. She said she was tired of people wondering why an SS officer could tear babies from their mothers' arms and send hundreds to the gas chamber by day, and then go home and play a little Shubert and entertain the kids before supper.

Her point was a good one--that human beings are capable of any manner of violence, a truth borne out by all of history. She felt that it was somewhat disingenuous to be shocked, or surprised, when someone commits a horrific act, since people have been doing that stuff since Cain killed his brother (she didn't say that, but it's my frame of reference and I'm stickin' with it).

I understand her point, but I still want to reserve the right to be puzzled and outraged. I just can't resign myself to the notion that somewhere in the Kansas City metro, there are people who really devalue the lives of children enough to express the sentiment on that yard sign. And no, a cruel yard sign is not the moral equivalent of Nazi atrocities, but it is the sort of thinking expressed on that sign that leads to the sort of moral equivocation we're experiencing as a nation right now.

See, I need to be able to ask the question, Is the United States of America really debating whether or not it is okay to subject someone to waterboarding? Have we really succeeded in pretending that some people are not as human as other people, and therefore different rules apply to those people?

I don't understand it. I don't understand that sign, and I don't understand how we've gotten to this place. So I gotta ask, even though I already know I won't like the answers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ship of Fools

Okay, you guys have to check this out:

Great stuff. Here's my favorite link on the site:

It's the site for those who will be left after Pat Robertson and James Dobson go up the great escalator.


It's one of those great Divinity School Words: "theodicy." It refers to the constant human struggle to understand how evil exists in God's world. Or how God allows evil to exist. Don't ask me--I've never totally understood it.

But our most excellent local religion columnist, Bill Tammeus, has written a great column this week which takes up the issue of theodicy. He starts with some questions he received from a reader, who noted that the figures for church attendance in Sweden seem to belie that country's commitment to caring for "the least of these." They're good questions, and Tammeus does a great job grappling with them. Give it a read:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm so glad I didn't take a drink of my tea...

...before I read this in this morning's paper:

David Letterman, on Fidel Castro stepping down: "Experts (say) he'll either be succeeded by his brother Raul, or by his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro."

Seriously, tea would have come out of my nose. Letterman, still funny after all these years.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Missouri Looking Good

In the three years before I moved to Missouri, I lived in two college towns and a suburb in New England. One of the college towns was quite liberal. The other one was Berkeley. And New England is New England. Stodgy liberalism--strange, really.

So Kansas City was a shift for me. Is a shift. Some of the stuff that I read each day in the Letters to the Editor continues to curl my toes, even though I've lived here seven and a half years. Recently it's been the letters of support for the mayor of Kansas City, who appointed a woman to the Parks Board who turned out to be a member of the Minutemen. When the mayor refused to ask her to step down, even after we lost a couple of conventions over the flap, there were dozens of letters proclaiming the Minutemen a "patriotic" organization and applauding the mayor for refusing to back down to "blackmail" from La Raza and the NAACP. Ouch.

The good thing about living in Missouri, though, is that we have Kansas right next door. There are wonderful people who live in Kansas. Some of them go to my church, which is about a mile from the Kansas border. Lots of great Kansans.

But crazy stuff happens in Kansas. There's all the evolution stuff, which sets the population of Kansas up to look like extras in Inherit the Wind. In black and white, even. There's the District Attorney who is obsessed with outlawing abortion.

And then this little gem from outside of Topeka on Thursday. It seems that St. Mary's Academy was preparing to play a high school basketball game, when the school's Athletic Director discovered that one of the referees for the game was a woman. He declared that she could not officiate the game, because a woman should not have authority over boys.

Go ahead, laugh. This is funny stuff. This would have been funny in 1978. It's downright hilarious in 2008. And sad and wrong and dumb.

If you want to read the whole article, go here for a fair and balanced AP story:,2933,330642,00.html

For whatever reason, the story is not on the Kansas City Star site, though the Star broke it. But AP has the details right. All those unbelievable details.

And one really great detail. After Michelle Campbell was removed from the refereeing duties in the game, school officials went to two other (male) referees and asked them to step in. Upon hearing the details of this little officiating "emergency," both refused, and walked out with Campbell.

Lots of great Kansans. There's two of them now. Unfortunately, the headline for this story won't read "Two Officials Stand Behind Removed Female Official." It'll be more likely "Crazy Stuff Keeps Happening in Kansas." From now until crazy stuff stops happening, I guess.


Okay, yes, I am a sucky blogger of late. I just can't tear myself away from Bad Girls.

That's not really true, though I am kind of obsessed. There are so many bad lesbian love stories on TV, and the Brits finally gave us a good one. Of course, one of the women enters the relationship straight, because the entertainment industry just can't figure out how to have two lesbians fall in love. One of them always has to be previously straight and fall backwards into the relationship, kicking and screaming. Why is that?

Anyway, if you've got LOGO, check out the first three seasons of Bad Girls. I've seen most of it now, so I'll try blogging more than once every couple of weeks. Sorry about that.