Friday, August 27, 2010

What Happened to Patriotism?

I was going to write about marriage, and the fact that it is somehow possible to feel completely and happily hinged to another person even though the two of you often communicate as well as schizophrenic earthworms.

Considering how many painful misunderstandings happen between people who love each other, it’s amazing complete strangers on the street can coexist at all.

To illustrate this point, I’ll save my marital insights for another time so I can clarify something I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I argued that building an Islamist Center two blocks from Ground Zero was neither a “poke in the eye,” nor a “slap in the face,” nor any other Three-Stooges-style assault described by right-wing pundits.

Essentially, I said it was not Islam that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, but a group of extremist terrorists who happened to be Muslim. So it makes a lot of sense to ban terrorists from Lower Manhattan, but banning an entire religion seems a little reactionary.

We should take pride in our freedoms, not shirk away from them or resent them because we’re in too much pain to correctly identify our enemies.

When I made this argument, I took for granted that everyone has a basic understanding of what those freedoms are. How silly of me!

Instead, many conservatives, ironically some of the most patriotic, flag-waving people you’ll ever meet, seem to possess only a vague awareness of the Bill of Rights.

(Well, maybe that’s not fair. They have Amendment Number Two down pretty well. But the rest, they’re pretty fuzzy on.)

One reader emailed me to say that we can let a mosque appear at Ground Zero as soon as Muslims let people build churches and synagogues at the Mecca.

What are we, in the fifth grade? “I’m only going to do the right thing if the other guy does it first.”

Or: “Aww, mom! Why do I have to honor other people’s freedoms? Johnny’s mother doesn’t make him honor people’s freedoms.”

Please pay attention to this brief civics lesson: The First Amendment does not apply only to religions you like or people you agree with. We’re stuck with it, regardless of what happens in Saudi Arabia, so you might as well get used to it, young man.

It reminds me of when Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on Larry King to complain that her right to free speech had been violated because so many people voiced anger over her use of a racial slur during her radio broadcast.

Uhm, excuse me, “Dr.” Laura, but the First Amendment does not protect you from being criticized for what you say. Please stop influencing many thousands of Americans who unwittingly seek your advice even though you have the brain of a pygmy marmoset.

Mangling the constitution this way is not just ignorant, it’s dangerous. So you say two blocks from Ground Zero is “too close” for a mosque. What about four blocks? Or a mile? Who’s to say if anywhere in New York City is “too close?” Who gets to decide where we draw the line?

“I think they should build it in the Middle East,” said one Ground Zero protester, quoted by the Associated Press.

Exactly. If we can ban Islam in Manhattan, why can’t we ban it nationwide?

Somewhere in hell’s sewage treatment facility, Adolf Hitler is giggling.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some Things to Ponder

 Bangor Savings Bank proudly displays this sign at the mall: “Our customers enjoy no ATM fees anywhere, anytime.”


I don’t see why that’s anything to brag about. I don’t enjoy any of the ATM fees my bank charges me, either.


* * *


No visit to the Maine Coast is complete without a stop at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.


We borrowed a couple of passes from our local library so we could visit during the last day of their Fairy Festival.


We built Fairy Houses, read Fairy Books, and had Fairy Tea while listening to Fairy Music and eating Fairy Ice Cream sprinkled with Fairy Dust.


We tried to go to the Fairy Dance, but the Fairy Instructor did not adhere to the Fairy Schedule and decided to go home early, probably to drink some Fairy Schnapps and get Fairy Plastered.


As you might expect, the festival was populated by 78% of the pre-teen girls in Maine, many of whom, like my five-year-old daughter, wore various types of wings and tu-tus.


I could not believe how packed the place was.


A handful of young boys, mostly with names like Aden or Hunter, also showed up.


I’ve never met anyone named Hunter who actually hunts, by the way. People who hunt tend to be named Bill or Steve. There ought to be a law about that.


* * *


While I sat poking at this keyboard in a local coffee shop a few weeks ago, a man walked up to me and said, “You must write what has never been written, say what has never been said, and make what has never been made. Otherwise, it’s going in the garbage.”


My response: “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”


* * *


I had more or less forgotten about the issue of Vanity Plates until I saw one yesterday that said, “RU Sore.”


Really? You paid an extra $25 to ask other drivers if they’re sore, but then not hear the answer? What the hell is the point of that?

I also saw one that said, "ROCKERZ."  I immediately wanted to be just like the person driving the car.  He was my idol. 

The day before, I noticed one that said, “TP4MYBH.” If you were a teenager in the 1990s you might recognize this “Beavis and Butthead” mantra, with the “BH” standing for one of your private orifices.


If you’re bored sometime, find your way to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles website and try searching some of your favorite words on vanity plates.


Don’t get your hopes up for “GETSOME,” “EATME,” “PSYCHO,” “MUFFDVR,” or “SEXME,” as those are already taken.


So is “FAIRY,” in case you’re wondering.


On the other hand, “MASTRB8” is still up for grabs. I’m not sure what to think about that.


* * *


The owners of an historic home in Chatham, MA have rebuffed municipal restrictions on their renovation plans by having the house painted lime green and bright yellow.


As you can imagine, all the wrinkled up “preserve our history so I don’t feel irrelevant” stick-in-the-mud geezers have their Depends in a twist over this abomination.


History is for museums. It would be one thing if this house was unusually unique or important (“Benjamin Franklin Blew His Nose Here”) in some way unlike dozens of others in self-proclaimed “historic” towns along the New England Coast.


Besides: The house is attracting more tourism to the town.


Huh. Imagine that. Allow a little bit of character and uniqueness to seep in, and people want to come see it.


Now all they need to do is host a Fairy Festival, and they’ll be all set.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Loving Thy Enemy

"I love Muslims,” says Pam Geller, a notorious right-wing blogger, “but the Ground Zero mosque is an offensive insult and a stab in the eye.”

That’s curious. Glenn Beck, who most likely also loves Muslims, has called the mosque proposal a “slap in the face.”

Which is it?

Beck even said, “Any attempt to describe it as something other than a slap in the face is another slap in the face.”

Did you see that? Pam Gellar slapped Glenn Beck in the face! And all of America, too!

The blasted thing hasn’t even been built yet, and we already look like we’re married to Mel Gibson.

But we still love those Muslims, gosh-darn it! Love them right to death!

A lot of conservatives will twist themselves into knots trying to show that they’re not bigoted. In fact, a simple analysis of recent news shows that they simply don’t know what bigotry is.

Try this thought experiment: Suppose you have a jerk for a neighbor. He plays loud music at all hours, lets his dog poop on your lawn, sets fire to your car, whatever. He also happens to be Mormon.

Fortunately for you, the man’s job gets transferred, and he has to move out of state. But you learn that the person who wants to buy his house, coincidentally, is also Mormon. What is your reaction?

Well, if you’ve got any brains in your head, you know there are lots of Mormons in the world, and most of them are not feces-distributing arsonists. So you shrug it off and hope for the best.

If you don’t apply the same standard to Muslims, and instead trump up reasons to treat them differently, you are a bigot.

Witness Beck, who claimed on his August 4 show that Islam is a religion that “is saying we should blow people up.”

Glenn, buddy: Roughly 1.2 billion people (roughly ¼ of the world population) follow Islam. If even half of them were terrorists, or America-hating terrorist sympathizers, all corners of the globe would have seen an apocalyptic bloodbath long before now.

Or, Witness Gellar, who started the American Freedom Defense Initiative (interesting name, I thought that’s what the military was for):

“There is an Islamic history of building triumphant mosques on conquered lands…. We know the imam in charge of this has been dishonest about the funding. He's tied to terrorism." 

That analysis would make sense, except that a blind baboon could find the holes in it:

1. We have not actually been conquered.  The stated aim of al-Qaida and the 9/11 hijackers was to destroy our way of life.  Though our economy has stumbled a little of late, you can still get 118 different varieties of barbecue sauce at the grocery store, see plenty of porn for free on the Internet, and sue the government for not respecting your Satanist rituals during your incarceration. Way to not even come close to accomplishing your mission, Mr. bin Laden.

2. To say the people behind this mosque are “tied to terrorism” is pretty vague and misleading.  You could use the same logic to argue that the members of your local Catholic parish are “tied to child molestation.”

If you’re truly not a bigot, your attitude should be: Let them build a mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. So what? It doesn’t prove anything, other than that we are still the greatest and most tolerant nation in the history of the Earth.



Chuck McKay is a Maine freelance writer, teacher, and a Threat to Our Cherished Way of Life. Email him at

Friday, August 6, 2010

Education Is Your Job (If You’re Not Too Busy)

Well, it’s the middle of August, when the air thickens with humidity and discussions about how the Red Sox are going to tank again (at least this time they have an excuse, and the health insurance bill to prove it’s a valid one).

Then there’s the various annual ads and articles about how best to outfit your child for “back to school,” as if that procedure has changed even slightly in the last 75 years.

Backpack. Binder. Pencils. Lunchbox full of crack cocaine and potato chips. Move on.

While the rest of the world changes rapidly, schools chug along like it’s 1961, and no one except a few consultants and activists seems to notice.


Well, those who post comments on the Bangor Daily News website seem to know everything. Let’s consult them. Just a moment...

Yup, I knew it: Every single problem with public education can be traced back to the teachers’ unions.

School violence? Blame the union. Decaying buildings? You can bet the NEA fed into it somehow.  Fights on the bus? The school board’s hands are tied.

Bad teachers? The Unions won’t let us fire them. Does anyone even know what a “bad teacher” looks like? If so, how many are there, really?

We can’t count them, apparently. Let me guess: it’s because the union won’t let us, right?

You may not like it, but I’m going to inject you with some actual facts:

Massachusetts routinely leads the nation in school performance. Teachers unions are very strong there.

Conversely, unions tend to be weak in Southern states, where test scores tend to lag behind the rest of the country.

Is it any coincidence that Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country, while people in the South, as I understand from listening to the radio, routinely have to eat something called “Poke Salad” for dinner?

This juxtaposition of obvious and readily available information has been brought to you by Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

In her new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch blasts the No Child Left Behind Act, which she once supported.

Ravitch claims the law puts unfair pressure on educators by not accounting for differences between schools in different regions.

You mean schools in the Bronx are not the same as ones in Skowhegan, and the kids from Skowhegan aren’t even the same as the ones from Kennebunk?

I am in shock.

The real problem with education is that it is run by politicians, who tend to favor lightweight reforms that look good in headlines, but don’t actually accomplish anything substantial.

Politicians answer to people with money, and people with money tend to have done alright for themselves with schools just the way they are.

Conservatives hold aloft the idea of privatizing schools. That’s not going to make anyone more interested in actual reform. Schools will still function the way people with money want them to, keeping kids busy and ranking them for success.

Real reform can only come from one place: Parents educating themselves about how kids learn and what really goes on inside classrooms.

A healthy quantity of informed and involved citizens can still get a politician’s ear, at least at the local level.

That is, if they’re not too busy blaming unions and talking about the Red Sox.