Category Archives: current events

50 thoughts on turning 50: #20 Put a face on the problem

Once upon a time, I had a lot of opinions about stuff. People, religion, politics, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Most of what I believed I learned in books and church.

Then I actually put faces to issues and life changed for me.

This is on my mind this week thanks to news reports about proposals to create local housing for illegal immigrant children out of former warehouses and retail space. A lot of people are questioning where the children came from and why are we taking care of them rather than sending them home.

Illegal immigration is a tough one for me. Yes, I believe in obeying the law. Yes, I believe illegal immigration is causing serious problems – like people entering the US without proper immunizations and sparking a resurgence of diseases like measles; crimes caused by illegal immigrants; the destruction of private property along the border (check out the 2006 documentary “Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration“); the crushing burden on our educational and health care systems.

But there are these other nuances to the issue that, unless you really look for them, would leave you with the belief that the problem can be solved with the wave of a wand.

Like what to do with illegal immigrant children.

A few years ago, I watched the 2009 documentary “Which Way Home“. It completely changed the way I view illegal immigration. The number of children trekking from South America to the United States is staggering. More than 100,000 children were taken into custody every year, on their way to a better life, in search of their parents, or escaping abuse and poverty. And that’s just the number we know about; who really knows how many children die or are lured in the drug and sex trade along the way.

It caused me to think more about the reality of the situation – could I put a child on a bus back to Mexico if I knew they were going back to forced prostitution, for example? What do we do with otherwise law abiding illegal immigrants who’ve been here for years and are ingrained positively in their communities? I ended up with no answers but a lot more insight into an issue that really doesn’t have a blanket solution and can’t be addressed with bumper sticker politics.

The broader lesson? If you’ve got a strong opinion on an issue, take time to put a face to it. Against gay marriage? Befriend a gay couple. Anti abortion or pro life? take someone of the opposite opinion to lunch – once a week for a year. Pro gun? Befriend someone who has lost a child in a gun accident. Anti gun? Take a class in gun safety and learn how to fire a pistol.

I don’t have any answers to the problems or political issues. But I do know that you can’t really have a legitimate opinion on something until you’ve honestly faced the other side of the issue. And the best way to do that is to listen.

I think I’ve developed more compassion and a broader world view, as well as more desire to actually consider an issue rather than just blast an opinion on social media and move on with my day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand on an issue or argue for reform or believe with every fiber of your being that your side is right. It does mean that you move forward with more grace and humility in all areas of your life.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.


I muse about the tragedy in Webster, NY

west webster patch

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, tragedy visited the small town of Webster, NY, when a madman set fire to a house and a car, luring first responders to the scene and then gunning them down in cold blood. What ensued were hours of confusion and chaos as SWAT teams descended on the small spit of land, a two lane road bordered on one side by Irondequoit Bay and the other by Lake Ontario, chasing the gunman, evacuating neighbors, and retrieving the bodies of shooting victims. Firefighters, unable to enter the area to fight the blaze, could only watch from a distance as seven houses burned to the ground and their commrades lay injured or dead.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were shot to death and John Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured by gunfire as they arrived on the scene. Jon Ritter, a full time officer with the Greece, NY police, was on his way to work; seeing the fire trucks he followed to offer assistance and was injured by shrapnel when gunfire hit his car.

This happened almost in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Webster, NY is a few miles from my house on the east side of Rochester, NY. My daughter went to Christian high school in Webster for three years; I often walk the beaches to take pictures where this event happened. Webster is part of the larger community of the city of Rochester. It’s a small town just outside of the city, but we’re all neighbors.

When things like this happen in other places, the national news media always reports that “it’s a small town where almost everyone knows someone who was affected.” But you never really understand what that means until it happens in your town.

Yes, I know someone affected. Several someones, in fact. (Click here to continue reading on my blog at

9/11, ten years later

September 11, 2011, 8:40 a.m. – I get up like any other Sunday, ready to watch CBS Sunday Morning, have some tea, and start a relaxing day. Except instead of the usual Sunday morning t.v. fare, Mayor Bloomberg is speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 10 year anniversary.

I didn’t forget, but I did get up like it was any other morning only to be jarred from my complacency by tragedy.

Just like I did 10 years ago.

Ten years ago today, I don’t remember exactly what I was doing that morning. I know the television was on, tuned to a morning show. And I know my attention was elsewhere, probably with the dog. (We had one dog then, Natasha, and one cat, Penny; both died in 2005.) 

I remember the moment after the first plane hit, watching the smoke billow out of the first tower at the World Trade Center. What a horrible feeling, what a horrible accident.

And then, soon after, the second plane. I saw that one as it happened. The panic, the confusion. My panic, my confusion. I don’t remember what I did next. I may have called darling husband at work. I may have called someone. I may have sat glued to the television. The images on the television screen are burned in my mind but my actions, if there were any, are a blur.

As I sit here writing, I can hear the families of those killed on 9/11 read the names of those killed on 9/11, and I think, “It takes so much longer for them to read their names than for their lives to be snuffed out, as quickly as a candle flame, thousands of souls left this earth.”

I know that I was glued to the television when a reporter breaks in with the news that something has happened at the Pentagon. At this point, I know I am in total panic. This is the end of the world. I either call my stepmother or she calls me. She has a nephew who works at the Pentagon, or worked at the Pentagon, or has a friend who is at the Pentagon. I can’t even remember. We both are watching the television as we talk on the phone.

I don’t know what to do, so I decide to drive to darling husband’s work, bringing with me a small, portable television. At that time, darling husband was in the midst of plans to go to Jamaica on a mission trip with a group from the church we were attending.  I’d had a sense of foreboding about the trip; normally I was completely supportive of these trips but this time I had a knot in my stomach right from the start. I know I am in a panic about that trip, as I bring the television so he can watch what’s going on. He is supposed to leave in a matter of days, departing from Logan airport in Boston with a layover in Miami.

As we plug in the television, we see the images of the first tower crashing to the ground. I am in a panic, I am numb, and I am sure the end of the world is at hand.

And as I sit here writing, the names of the victims are still being read in the background. This time, there are many children and young adults reading names, children of the victims, children now on their way to adulthood, their entire lives overshadowed by losing a parent or loved one in this national tragedy.

It’s strange to think that these young people were just babies or young school children when 9/11 happened. It seems like just yesterday.

I get up and let the dogs out as the reading of the names continues; I can hear the television faintly as I toss the ball for our dogs in the backyard. Time has moved on, the world did not end, life continued. But the memories will last forever.

Gay marriage legalized in NY

Last week, New York State legalized gay marriage. I don’t know that anyone doubted that it would eventually come to pass, New York being a bastion of liberalism. I confess that I don’t really know how I feel about the new law. But here are some of the things I ponder:

1) Yes, the word “marriage” does have religious meaning for me, so I struggle with pairing “gay” and “marriage”. But even more at the forefront of my dilemma is that the word “marriage” has lost its religious meaning, even for religious people. The divorce rate in this country is astronomical, so I think that unless those who are rallying for “traditional marriage” get their own acts together, the debate over “gay marriage” is a moot point.

2) Just for the record, marriages in the Bible usually involved more than one wife and/or lots of concubines. So the word “traditional marriage” needs to be tempered with “American traditional marriage”. Just saying. Continue reading

Rochester NY woman arrested after video taping traffic stop (video)

On his radio show this morning, Glenn Beck highlighted a Rochester, NY news story about a woman named Emily Good who was arrested by police while videotaping a traffic stop.

Beck made a big deal about the story because he claims it points to the police taking away the rights of citizens. But his show producer, Stu, was on the side of the cops. And so am I.

I don’t think for one minute it was about the video taping. The officer never asked her to stop taping. He asked her to go in the house and tape from there, or get off the sidewalk, which is not her property.

We don’t know what the traffic stop was for, who it was they had in cuffs from the traffic stop (the “witnesses” said there was another person in the car), what she said before she started taping or what happened prior to the tape going on, and what other run ins she’s had with police in other antagonistic situations.

The police don’t know if they’re going to have a mob situation on their hands (she wasn’t alone out there) or what they’re dealing with with the person in the car, and they need to keep control of the situation. I think the cop was calm, rational, and within his right to ask the people to go inside to maintain control of the situation, bc these kind of seemingly innocent traffic stops can spiral out of control quickly when bystanders are acting like jerks

And let’s not miss one other important point: these folks videotaping are savvy. When the cop asks her what she’s doing, she says it’s her right. Who said it wasn’t? She’s already defensive and prepared to give the cop a hard time. And remember, we don’t know what happened prior to this taping. It seems as if she and the cop already had words. Her reason for staying outside? “I feel like I need the fresh air right now.” Riiiight.

The witnesses also said they had already called 911 to report the cop. But why? So they could inflame the situation, maybe?

So I’m with Stu on this one, Glenn. Remember Eric Massa? When you were ready to make him the poster child for political change? And that blew up in your face? I think this might be another one of those stories.

Warnings on cigarette packs too much information

One of the new photos that will be required on cigarette packs by 2012. (Photo source: FDA press release)

Let me state right off the bat that I am not a smoker. I’ve never been a smoker. I hate cigarette smoke. I hate it when someone smokes near me or smokes and then comes near me. Smokers have no idea how much their breath smells and the stench of cigarette smoke hangs on their clothes, in their hair, on their skin. (In the interest of full disclosure, I equally hate strongly scented candles and when people douse themselves in extremely noxious cologne.)

I am also married to a smoker and have a smoking daughter and mother and extended family members. I am a non-smoker in cigarette land.

Having said that, I have to comment on the new FDA warning labels that will be required for all cigarette packages by 2012.

If you missed the story, cigarette packs – which already carry warning labels about cancer and nicotine addiction, in addition to hefty taxes designed to deter smokers from smoking – will now be adorned with gruesome photos of rotting teeth, diseased lungs, dying smokers hooked to oxygen and even an actual corpse.

I”m not sure how other non-smokers feel about this, but I say that this is just one more example of governmental interference. Continue reading

Post Rapture insurance for your pets

Harold Camping of Family Radio in Oakland, CA has made a bold prediction: Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011. For those readers not familiar with Christian jargon, the rapture is supposedly the time when Jesus returns to scoop up all of his people, thereby ushering in the final scenes before the end of the world.

The topic of a pretribulation rapture is itself in debate, and others who have named dates for the second coming of Jesus have been left waiting at the bus stop. But leave it to enterprising entrepaneurs to capitalize on believing pet owners. Two companies are offering after the rapture pet care, so that when Christian pet owners ascend to their heavenly homes their dogs and cats and other warm fuzzies won’t be left to the fend for themselves.

People, I don’t make this stuff up. Continue reading

Students asked to write paper on “Why people should NOT own pitbulls”

This is our scary pit bull puppy. Run before she kisses you with her poop breath.

I’m working on a story for the BarkAroundTown. com blog about a student at a high school in Virginia* who was given the assignment to write a paper on why people should not own pit bulls.

It’s possible the teacher didn’t know that the student and his mother are actively involved in pit bull rescue. Possible.

As you can expect, the mom and student both objected to the assignment, which didn’t give students the option to defend the pro side of the issue. They’ve spoken with the assistant principal and the teacher, who replied:

“Yes, this is the paper asking students to use the topic “People Should Not Own Pit Bulls.”   When we began this project, several students mentioned that they owned pit bulls.   I said that they didn’t have to BELIEVE people should not own pit bulls, but for the sake of this four paragraph research experience, I wanted them to use the four articles/sources I provided to discuss two reasons why owning pit bulls could be dangerous.”

The issue is a hot button on Facebook today, and I’m sure the school is getting their fair share of phone calls and emails, since the mom shared the story on her rescue’s FB page and asked people to contact the school.** Because the Bark Around Town blog is about sharing information and I try to be more objective, I’m waiting to hear back from the principal and the student before I post over there. But here on my personal blog I want say that I think the teacher dropped the ball on this one.

I understand that teachers occasionally ask students to do an assignment like this – defend an issue they don’t agree with, and I assume it’s to help them understand how to research, how to look for supporting facts for one side of an issue, etc. But in this case, taking the popular view (ie: pit bulls are dangerous) doesn’t really help the matter. If that was in fact the goal of the assignment, the teacher should have assigned the pro pit bull view, or asked students to write on why breed specific legislation is bad. Asking them to defend a popular view doesn’t stretch their research ability or their ability to craft an argument for an unpopular opinion.

So let me ask you this: if your student was assigned this topic, what would you do? Would you protest? Tell your student to write the paper? And if you’re an English teacher, maybe you could shed some light on why a teacher might assign something like this, to defend one side of an issue even if the student doesn’t agree with it?

Stay tuned to; when I hear back from the principal and student I’ll post a more informative story there.

* I’ve removed the name of the school until I can confirm it
**  I just learned that the FB page where this letter appears is NOT the page of the mom who wrote it. I’m trying to confirm the information with the student’s mom.

Can you increase your risk of dying?

Reporter on local TV news report: “The study shows that people who spend the majority of their day sitting at their desk have a higher risk of death.”

Me: Considering that everyone’s risk of death is 100%, I’m not sure how much higher she thinks it can get.

Charlie Sheen: if life imitates art, what’s the problem?

For days now, we’ve all been having a good chuckle – or at least a head scratch – over Charlie Sheen’s interviews about his drug and alcohol problems. While he claims to be clean, you only have to watch a few minutes of interviews to realize that there is something not right about him.

But one thing I haven’t heard any bring up is this: Charlie Sheen is a drug and alcohol addicted, misogynistic narcissist playing a drug and alcohol addicted, misogynistic narcissist on the most highly rated television show on the air.

So … we love one and mock the other? It seems a little bit hypocritical, if you ask me.

Not that I’m trying to justify Sheen’s actions. Yeesh, the guy has gone totally off the deep end. Just watch the interviews.

But really, didn’t we as the American viewing audience – or at least those who watch the show – just encourage his behavior? Who are we, really, to make a show like “Two and a Half Men” #1 and then turn around when life imitates art and shake our heads in judgement?