Monday, March 28, 2011

Something You Can Do!

OK, this is pretty great:  artist Ashley Wood, whose vinyl toys are astonishingly popular around the world, is doing something pretty wonderful tomorrow, to support the Japanese earthquake/tsunami victims:

Yep.  3A Toys, Ashley Wood's company, is going to eat the cost of production, shipping and handling, and donate 100% of the price, every penny, to Japan relief.  The price is going to be around $40-$45, which is much lower than 3A's usual prices which run around $150-$200.  It's a fantastic way to pick up a valuable collectible piece and do some good at the same time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Update on Japan

I just heard that Clare is fine.  She is in the southern part of the country now and far away from the nuclear troubles.  She has decided to remain there and finish her time in the exchange program.  Good for her!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seven Principles, Simple Language

If you go to the home page for the Unitarian-Universalist Association, you can find the UU "Seven Principles," the closest thing we have to dogma.  Granted, we have no dogma, but we all pretty much agree on the Seven Principles or we wouldn't be Unitarians.  However, when you read them, they definitely read like they were written by a committee.  Of Unitarians.

To call him a colleague would be presumptuous, because it implies that I'm, well, in his league.  But Dr. James Haines of Elizabethtown College, professor of music and music therapy, IS a good, good friend.  He is also a talented composer.  For some insane reason that I will never quite understand, he thinks I have a way with words.  He and I have been collaborating on adding to the relatively small stock of hymns by Unitarians.

I wrote this poem with the idea of it being the lyrics for a hymn for family choir or young voices.  Jim has written a stunning melody for it.  Maybe someday you will hear it at your local Unitarian church.

Seven Principles, Simple Language © 2011 by Tom Hayes

These are the Seven Principles
Which all of us hold dear.
They can be said quite simply
For everyone to hear --

Every single person is important.
(Every single person is important.)

Treat others with kindness, as you would yourself be treated.
(Treat others with kindness, as you would yourself be treated.)

Be free to learn together and to learn from one another.
(Be free to learn together and to learn from one another.)

Always search for truth.
(Always search for truth.)

Every voice deserves to be heard.
(Every voice deserves to be heard.)

Work for a world that values fairness and peace.
(Work for a world that values fairness and peace.)

Take care of our Mother Earth.
(Take care of our Mother Earth.)

There are just Seven Principles
Which all of us hold dear.
They can be said quite simply
So everyone can hear.

And speaking of our church, one of our young people is currently missing in Japan.  She e-mailed us shortly after the quake earlier this month, but has not been heard from since the tsunamis hit.  We hope and pray that you're OK, Clare, and that you come home safe to us soon.  My poem is dedicated to you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Westboro Update

An update to the goings-on at yesterday's funeral of the seven Perry County children:  the Westboro Baptist Church did not show up to protest.  They will often not bother to show up if they get the publicity they desire out of merely threatening to come, and yesterday's funeral seems to have fit their needs nicely.

I am reasonably certain that they did not decline to come because of compassionate or altruistic reasons.

I mean, think about it.  They were interviewed by national press; got the entire local population stirred up; had everyone from Amish and Quakers to biker gangs give them additional publicity by swearing to show up to protect the family...essentially they got everything they needed without actually having to be there with their signs.  They were the lead story on all three local networks on Monday night -- "Will Westboro show?" -- and all three included coverage of the Westboro "message."  (I refuse to detail that message here again; if you want the ugly details, see the previous post.  Bad enough that I'm adding to their publicity in my outrage.)

There would have been a wall of people between the Clouse family and the hate message.  A forest of rainbow-colored umbrellas from Silent Witnesses that would hopefully have been a wall of love between Westboro, the Clouse family, and those in Perry County who were of a more violent bent when it came to the protesters ("One Bullet, One Gun, One Shot.")

Yeah.  By all means, Westboro, protect YOUR kids from the counter-protesters.

I am an atheist, true, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a part of me that would love to see God come down and have words with everyone on this planet who presumes to speak for him, from jihadists to televangelists to the Westboro effing Baptist Church.  And maybe even more than words.

God willing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tragedy in Perry County

Last week, the Clouse family in nearby Perry County suffered a terrible, terrible tragedy.  A fire destroyed their home and seven of their eight children died in the blaze.  Mrs. Clouse is also pregnant with what would have been their ninth child, and learned only days before the fire that this pregnancy came with serious complications.  Only their three-year-old survived.  The Clouses are a rural Mennonite family.  Mom was out milking the cows and Dad was out in their delivery truck.  The three-year-old survived because she came out to the barn to warn Mom about the fire.  By then it was too late.  The other seven died from smoke inhalation according to the county medical examiner.

I cannot even begin to imagine what this family is feeling.  I understand that the mother is nearly comatose with grief.  Their Mennonite community has gathered around them and has already started rebuilding their home, in cooperation with nearby Amish and "English" families.

Which makes the rest of this story even more tragic.  We learned yesterday that since their recent Supreme Court victory, the Westboro Baptist Church has decided to picket the funerals of the seven children with their messages of hate.  They plan to challenge the Pennsylvania statute which is trying to establish a decent perimeter at funerals and similar events to protect mourners and still maintain the free speech rights of protesters.  Shirley Phelps, founder Fred Phelps' daughter and one of their lead litigators, said, "We're coming to Pennsylvania because the entire state enabled a Pennsylvanian and a few Pennsylvania lawyers to try to declare war on God.  It was an epic failure and God is punishing the state."

That's right.  According to the Westboro Baptists, God killed these seven babies because Pennsylvania allows gays to exist.  And because it was a Pennsylvania father who took Westboro to the Supreme Court for protesting at his straight son's military funeral.  (Yes, God also hates the entire United States and punishes us by killing our soldiers because we tolerate homosexuality.  These same nuts protested the San Diego Comic Con because reading comic books elevates Superman and Batman to godhood, reading comics is a form of idolatry, and kids should be reading the Bible anyway.)

This is what we get for protecting the rights of these hate-spewing sons of bitches.

I still feel that these protests are illegal and should not be protected by free speech, any more than yelling "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded theater.  It is hate speech, which should never be tolerated, much less free.  People are flocking into Perry County in support of the Clouse family, to the point where even if Westboro pulls one of their no-shows it threatens to become a media circus -- which is exactly what this family hopes to avoid.  All they want is to be left in peace to grieve their horrendous loss.

I hope they get a quiet and uneventful memorial for their lost children this Tuesday.  As a father I mourn with them for their children and hope that their community gives them the strength to continue on, if only for the sakes of their surviving child and the child yet to be born.

Friday, March 11, 2011

If the Crick Don't Rise

I'm sitting here in the early morning hours, keeping half an eye on the basement drains and half on the creek that forms the border of our back yard.  After some record-breaking rain storms, Harrisburg is waiting for most of our streams and rivers to flood sometime today.  I don't really expect much trouble from the creek itself.  The lay of the land is a little difficult to describe, but I'll try:  my back yard ends in a rather steep drop-off, but the other side of the creek just sort of opens out into a very shallow rise.  It seems to me that any flooding that might occur would go that way and overwhelm the low-lying properties on the other side.  The basement drain is another matter entirely; when those decide to back up, they just do.  We have been fortunate in that this has never happened to us in this house but you never know.  A good friend had to leave choir practice last night because his drains decided to flow upwards.

And yet in spite of the gray weather, the days of rain, the hassles of walking a dog who would rather pee on my armchair than go outside when it's raining...I find that my outlook has considerably improved from the last time I was here.  Not sure why; must simply be adjusted brain chemicals.  The world outside has certainly not improved any.  Earthquakes in New Zealand and this morning in Japan, both places where I have people I love...but so far, they are all safe.  Huge budget cuts in education as our new Republican governor jumps on the union-busting bandwagon and cuts funding to higher education by a whopping 52 percent.  Governor Corbett hasn't been as blatant about it as, say, the governor in Wisconsin has been, but it's pretty obvious that this is a shot across the bow of the unions of higher education faculty.  As a parent I can't wait to see what the jump in my daughter's sophomore tuition will be.

But I sit here appreciating that my circumstances are such that I was able to immediately replace my iMac when the old one failed; that my daughter and wife have safe and reliable transportation (as opposed to my old Corolla which seems to have a revolving door installed on the Check Engine light.  Still, it keeps going out by itself after a day or far....)  So in spite of bleak weather, bleak events in the world both human and natural, and the imminent arrival of Daylight Savings Time (oh, how I loathe Daylight Savings Time!) I'm feeling...hopeful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Hello Darkness --

-- my old friend."  Those lyrics by Simon and Garfunkel seem particularly appropriate today.  I have been struggling, once again, with my periodic bouts of depression.  Not because of anything new in my personal life, I don't think -- my health, although terrible, remains largely unchanged; the other frustrations in my life are neither better nor worse, so there's no real reason for the oppressive feelings that are overwhelming me lately.

I think it must be coming from the world at large.

I'm finding it hard not to be cynical about the goings-on in the Middle East.  I'm finding it hard not to be cynical about rising gas and food prices, which seem to me to be largely due to price-gouging and profit-taking.  I have never understood why gasoline that has been bought and paid for by the retailer must be IMMEDIATELY marked up to reflect that instant's increase in oil prices.  It seems grossly unfair, and as a former fat kid who was tormented ceaselessly in the schoolyard, I know unfair.  And I find it hugely depressing.

I think, though, that what put me over the edge this time was yesterday's ruling in favor of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church by the United States Supreme Court.  I do understand the legal arguments, although I am less sure of why the Court ignored completely two of the three legs of the prosecuting arguments and focused only on the Free Speech aspects of the case.  I feel that Westboro's ugly protests at military funerals, claiming that our men in uniform are dying as God's punishment of the United States for its toleration of the existence of homosexuals, come under the heading of screaming "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded theater.  Yes, freedom of expression is important, but not at the expense of the rights of others.  Hate speech should not be covered by the Constitution.  And "slippery slopes" be damned.  We all know what ugly language is and we don't need fourteen pages of legal definitions to identify it.

The court should not have dismissed out of hand the subsequent cyber-harassment of the family of the slain serviceman, either.

I despair at times just because I'm a human being.  This is one of those times.  I guess I need to adjust my medication.  Again.