Last Call for 2010

party-hat I’m cleaning out files and dumping what I’ll never use—some of it because the crummy foreign-made hyperlinks are broken—and while reorganizing the rest I found some things that need to be posted now, as a benchmark, because I’m sure this stuff isn’t over yet.

I’ve been very interested in the growing disaffection with American politics and politicians, and not just what’s coming from tea parties.  Back in April Mark McKinnon and Lawrence Lessig called for a constitutional convention if only to shock the legislative classes into understanding that people have had enough of the corruption that has institutionalized itself  in Washington, D.C.  By fall, of course, Jon Stewart got tens of thousands to rally for simple reasonableness in politics and government, and by the end of the year McKinnon and some other esteemed names were launching the No Labels approach to finding solutions to problems.  This could just generate “passionate ambivalence”, but I’m optimistic: the dismissive comments coming out of the loudest mouths on both ends of the spectrum might just mean the center has found a weapon to use against the unreasonable and the extreme.

Inconceivably, the Roman Catholic Church took the disgrace of the priest sex abuse scandal, and made it worse: first a senior official says criticism of the church is like anti-Semitism; then we learn that while in his prior job the man who now leads this church had authority directly from Pope John Paul II to act in these cases, and for 20 years chose not to; and now for Christmas, the pope says western society and its permissive sexual attitudes are partly to blame for many of the church’s celibate employees sexually abusing underage members of their parishes.  Like I said before, why aren’t these people in jail?

On the subject of blogging, I recently found some great sites that have helped boost traffic here at the corner idea stand.  Take a look at Blogiche, Alpha Inventions, and BlogSurfer if you want to get more eyeballs on your blog; you’ll get a new insight into what else is out there, too.

I’ll wrap up with syndicated columnist Scott Burns and his column from last January which reminded us then (and now) that everything old is new again: there’s always a crisis, we can’t rely on our government to take care of us, and we are getting better as the years go by.

The greatest story ever told…by some kids

Finally, after waiting for millennia—the real story of the first Christmas:


Thank you, Kids Act Out, Aol Video and Landline TV.

Merry Christmas to all!

No straight path to civil rights for gay Americans

Life would be easier to follow and less confusing to live if there weren’t so many detours.  But things happen when they happen, regardless of when we think they should have happened: witness the latest victory in the struggle for civil rights for homosexual Americans.

Legalized discrimination against gays in American society has been taking a beating and is on its way out, and with last week’s vote by the U.S. Senate to join the House of Representatives in repealing the Clinton-era law which prohibited homosexuals from serving our country in the armed forces if their sexual orientation became public, we’re one step closer to equality.  Once the bill gets the president’s signature (later this week), it’s up to the administration and the Defense Department to make the necessary changes to enforce the law.  That means things won’t change right away, but they will change.

“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the debate opened.  “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”

No gloating over winning one battle while the war remains to be won.  We can expect to hear a lot more thanks to a well-financed new group connected to Media Matters for America that promises to act as a “national rapid-response war room” taking on false and homophobic messages in the media and the political arena.

My happiness at the Senate vote was tempered by the recognition that so many members of Congress still found a reason to be against it—you can check the roll call vote in the Senate here, and the House here.  But big changes like this don’t happen overnight or all at once, and I try to keep that in mind when I see blog posts and headlines calling on the next Congress to reinstitute the law or ominously warning that this change will force God to stop blessing the American military (honest to God!) leading to the imminent and total destruction of our nation.  No doubt there are some with the same feeling about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I’m not going to let any of them them ruin the moment, or the movement.

The thin line between prudence and paranoia, and how the Post Office is really to blame

I’m ashamed of myself for something I did this afternoon…except that I’m not, not really, and that bothers me, too.  Clear?

I was flying X-wing fighters (on the computer, not for real) when the phone rang, and I was peeved because that meant I was going to have to look away from the screen to find the two-key combination for “pause” and I hoped I wouldn’t get killed in the meantime.  Just don’t answer the phone, you say—yeah, but it might be my wife.

It wasn’t.  It was a man’s voice asking if this was the Ryan residence, and immediately I’m thinking, jeez, some knucklehead selling something or asking for a donation is taking me away from what I want to be doing; the nerve of this maroon.  He launches into what immediately felt to me like the opening of a sob story that had the skeptic in me—OK, the cynic in me—thinking that someone was trying to con me.  So I became very restrained, tried to concentrate and not stupidly reveal that one crucial detail that would let this guy get away with it (whatever it was).

He explained that he was calling because of misdelivered mail: he’d opened an envelope and found a check that wasn’t for him, so he looked more closely and saw it was from an out of state bank –“Do you have an account in Boston?”—addressed to a woman at my address—“Is your wife’s name Florence?”—and that he got in his car and brought it to our house but no one was home except the dogs (who aren’t allowed to open the door to strangers), so he left it hidden inside the Christmas wreath on the front door so it wouldn’t blow away, and he wanted to let us know it was there—“Is it there?”

Of course, I’m way too smart for this: I’m not going to rush over and open the front door, eight entire feet away, to see if there’s an envelope hidden in the Christmas wreath (puh-leeze!) because I think this guy—or better yet, a confederate!—is strategically positioned so he can see me open the door, and then he’ll…well I don’t know what, but something, I’m sure of that!

Since I was in a good mood I didn’t go off on the guy; I asked his name, learned that his street address is not the same as mine (not even close), thanked him for his efforts and ended the call, all with the quiet confidence of a man who knows he has skillfully avoided danger and is eager to get back to fighting the Empire.  A few minutes later I casually opened the front door, and…there’s an envelope stuffed into the Christmas wreath; it’s addressed to my wife, from a bank in Boston, and inside is a check for more than $22,000!

One reason I was suspicious of the call was we weren’t supposed to receive a large check from any bank in Boston, or anywhere else.  My wife’s employer is liquidating its old pension plan, though, and neglected to explain that when she elected to roll it into the company’s existing 401(k) that she would still receive a check that had to be delivered to the mutual fund.

Time to review: a man we don’t know opens his mail and finds a check for $22,000 that doesn’t belong to him; rather than just send the check back to the Post Office, he gets in his car and drives the few miles to our house to put it in our hands; when we’re not home to accept delivery he secures the envelope so it won’t become lost; and when he calls us to make sure we found the envelope, he gets mistrust and skepticism rather than the thanks he deserves.

A couple of months ago during the frenzy over a Muslim group’s plan to build a community center a few blocks from the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood, Houston’s Leading Information Source reported on the local Muslims who were introducing themselves to neighbors and assuring them that they were not terrorists; I thought, have we really become so fearful now that the whole world is guilty until proven innocent?

Today, I’m wondering where I should be drawing the line between prudence and paranoia.

Obama the Hustler?

Charles Krauthammer thinks President Obama snookered congressional Republicans and Democrats with this week’s budget deal, and that they still don’t know that they’ve been had:

At great cost that will have to be paid after this newest free lunch, the package will add as much as 1 percent tohuggy-obama-barack-obama-chitown-huggy-bear-demotivational-poster-1219696416 GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points. That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012.

Obama is no fool. While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea-Party, this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.

Is he right?  Does it matter?  Do you think Barry should co-star in the next remake of “The Sting”?