Friday, April 19, 2013


While getting my MFA at Western Connecticut State University, I distinctly remember having an argument over whether "alright" was a word or if it was a mistaken attempt at the words "all right." I was a huge proponent of "alright" being, well, all right. But it turns out, upon further review, that most grammar sources consider the word "alright" not a word at all.

Who cares you might ask? Well, until just today, I sure didn't. A wise young lady pointed out to me that the beauty of language is that it changes over time anyway, so I'm perfectly alright with "alright." But "all right" is all right with me, too.

Why did it start mattering today? Well, I was listening to the song "Revolution" by the Beetles, a song that poignantly asks, "Don't you know it's gonna be all right"?

Is it, now?

This year has been filled with tragedy. Newtown. Boston. Aurora. The list goes on. If a friend of mine told me he or she had decided to never leave the house again out of fear, I could almost understand that. I would argue, but I would understand.

And the times we live in are getting so damn confusing. We're a country that invented the atom bomb, yet is shocked at the extent to which bombers would go to make sure their bombs did the most damage possible. We think our nation is going to hell in a hand-basket, yet other places in the world face more destruction and evil than we could imagine--Israel, for example, where there have been 140 suicide attacks since the year 2000. The same policy makers who believe we should tighten immigration laws for our security refuse to vote for background checks on firearms in the name of freedom, and as we lament a marathon being attacked by "foreigners," American drones attack weddings overseas.

Arthur Miller stated in the published version of his play The Crucible that "When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom." This is evidently still an issue. We definitely deserve pity.

Where we strike that balance between safety and freedom will significantly determine the quality of life we chose in this country, the kind of life we leave for our children. How can we live as freely and safely as possible? It's a complex time, alright (all right?), with complex issues. We spend so much time wondering what the "founding fathers" would say if they were alive today, what they meant by playing the elaborate joke of lacing our Constitution and Declaration of Independence with so much freedom. The truth is that they'd probably say, "Just stop killing each other, knuckle heads."

But here's the deal. This isn't new. As Billy Joel taught countless high school history class students back in the eighties so their teachers could seem cool, "We didn't start the fire." We're talking about a world that once thought it was okay to flog and crucify individuals. Since the dawn of time it seems we've always looked back at the good old days. When were they? Humans can be violent. The potential is in us all. It always has been.

And the violence is fairly limited. The accidental explosion of a fertilizer plant in Waco, TX did more damage and had more casualties than the bombings in Boston. Yes, any loss of life is a tragedy, and when I think of the amputees, especially children, my heart breaks. But, compared to some places in the world, we are very safe. More people die in car accidents than mass shootings. We can't let this define us.

I like to say that for every bomber, for every mass shooter, for every inner city drive-by, and every cold-blooded murder that garners national attention, there are millions of broken hearts. The number of people in Boston who pitched in, sacrificed, gave blood, gave shelter to the displaced, and who continue to pitch in to help out far outnumbers the two men who carried out the deed. What all these tragedies show us is that people are good. People are great. Not just New Yorkers or Bostonians, not just Americans, human beings in general have an enormous capacity for compassion and love when shaken from the complacency of their everyday lives.

So that gets me back to the debate between "all right" and "alright." I'm going to use the mistake "alright" from now on. For certain, there are problems in this world, horrible evils that threaten us daily. All is not right on Earth, in America, or in your town. We, as humans, are not all right. In fact, nobody is right all the time. But even though all is not right, we will be, for certain, alright. As long as love and compassion outweighs evil and hatred, we're going to be alright. We will move on. We will live our lives. We will be okay.

Or is it "O.K."?

Here we go again!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Don't Be Numb

We all play many different roles in life. I consider myself a father, teacher, writer, husband, friend, brother, consumer, voter, and the list could go on. But the two roles that I think truly define me are "father" and "teacher." And today, both of those integral parts of my concept of self had their hearts broken.

As a father, the Sandy Hook tragedy points out an essential truth. Our children are the most important things in our lives. The idea that I could be standing in front of a class discussing Huck Finn one moment and receiving a call delivering the most devastating news imaginable the next makes me ill. What if? The question is numbing.

As a teacher, I can't help but think of my high school students, all of them I've had in the past six years, imagining them years ago on a playground at one of the district's elementary schools. There's that question again. What if? What if something like this had happened in our district. What if I'd never gotten the chance to meet, teach, and care for the amazing kids I work with every day. They've had such a profound effect on my life. That idea is quite numbing as well.

But don't let it numb you. Don't let it paralyze you. Yes, today hurts. Yes, we will cry when we look at the photos being posted across the internet of parents breaking down as they realize the fate of their precious angels. And yes we will feel varying degrees of hatred and anger for the man who caused all of this.

But don't be numb.

Feel it. Really let it affect you. It was numbness, dissociation, it was a paralysis of the heart that must have allowed this man to commit this act in the first place. It would take someone so numb that he could look a bunch of beautiful, sweet, and innocent little children in the face and then pull a trigger. So don't be numb. Feel every gut-wrenching moment of it. Those innocent cuties deserve that tribute.

And when you're feeling it, realize that we are going to feel this again. Again and again. What started long before Columbine and will, God help us, continue long after Sandy Hook, seems to be only increasing. It's a never-ending cycle of violence. With it, we feel hopeless. We feel lost. And most of all, we feel helpless.

But we are far from helpless. No, we can't prevent the tragedies that have already happened. We might not be able to prevent those that come in the future. But we can absolutely do something.

I'm not talking about gun control. Though it's worth taking a look at. Unfortunately, no amendment can amend what happened. No law can subvert the laws of nature.

I'm not talking about prayer. Though I'll be praying day and night for the lives lost, those destroyed, and for the protection of those that remain.

No, I'm talking about what the Apostle Paul referred to in Romans 13:10 as "the fulfillment of the law." Love. We can love.

What better way to combat hatred and anger, the kind of hatred and anger that caused tragedies from the Holocaust to 9/11 to Columbine to today's horrific events in Newtown. Love each other. Love each other like it matters, like there's no tomorrow. Go out of your way to make others smile. Go out of your way to tell the people you care about how you feel. Go out of your way to make the outcast feel special. Spread love like a disease--an epidemic of Biblical proportions. In short, care about others instead of putting them down, trying to defeat them, or feeling jealousy toward them.

Just love.

We may never know what caused one man to lash out at the world and destroy the future of Newtown, CT. But what we can be sure of is that it had nothing to do with love. A man filled with love, surrounded by love, emitting love, could not commit a crime such as this.

After all, with love, it's impossible to be numb.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"All You Need is Love"
Performed by The Beatles

Sunday, November 4, 2012

More Questions Than Answers

With just a couple more days until the election, I have to admit that the results are much more up in the air than when I once posted that Obama was guaranteed an electoral landslide. What happened? Mitt Romney got on the public stage alongside President Obama and denied all of his ideas were his ideas and backtracked on all his plans. Much like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar who stares at his mother and says the cat did it, Romney's strategy was simply say, in the immortal words of Shaggy, "It wasn't me."

Obama had no answer, looked silly to America, and the entire debacle that was Romney's campaign was shaken away. Call it an Etch-a-Sketch or Romnesia or a brilliant--albeit late--pivot from primary to general election strategy (let's face it, all candidates who have to win a primary do it), it worked brilliantly, and people were no longer scared of Mitt Romney.

With all the analysis I've done of the situation, I think it all is going to come down to five questions. These are not the questions most will be asking themselves as they wait for Tuesday's results. We will probably never know the answer to these questions, but behind the scenes somewhere they will have contributed to the results of this election. Here they go, in random order:

1) Will the evangelical Christian right that pushed George Bush to victory but was not enthusiastic about John McCain vote for a Mormon. There was a piece on yesterday about a conservative Christian voter that said he, and others like him, are merely sitting this one out. They won't vote for someone who is pro-choice, whether we're talking about abortion or gender of marriage partner, but they also won't vote for a Mormon whose view of Jesus Christ contradicts their own. If we concede that evangelical Christians carried W to re-election despite everything going wrong in his presidency, we have to admit this is probably a problem for Mitt Romney.

2) How big a fluke was Barack Obama winning in the first place? Were we really carried away by the chance to make history and by soaring rhetoric? Were we really taking George Bush out on John McCain? In short, was Obama just in the right place at the right time, or was the country really voting for his progressive agenda? The honeymoon is certainly over. Both sides were frustrated by his attempts to play nice for two years, and when he got tough, Republicans got rubbed the wrong way and now refuse to play at all. If Obama wins again, despite a failing economy, this might show us where our country is as a whole. Have we become more liberal, and have social issues like acceptance of gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and socialized medicine become acceptable to the majority? Have we become a liberal nation? Or was 2008 a fluke? That might get answered Tuesday.

3) The fact is there are about 5% more registered Democrats in this nation than Republicans. Turnout then, as usual, becomes key. The more people that actually go out to vote, the better it is for Democrats. The more people who stay home, the better it is for Republicans (assuming independent voters break even, and with the national polls tied in the final days, that seems to be the case). Who can motivate the base more to come out and win this thing? Now, I admit, that's pretty much a question every pundit is asking and goes for any election. But I think there's a different question this time in regards to this. With the apparent hatred between these two candidates, the complete and total disgust building between the polar opposites of our society, I think the question is which side hates the other side more? Will liberals disgusted by the Republican party in general come out to the polls out of anger more than conservatives who are pissed off by what they see as a socialist agenda? Who is more pissed, sickened, outraged, disgusted, and/or homicidal might be the key to this election.

4) Also related, who are the more protestyer protesters--the Tea Party movement or the Occupy movement? There is no better way to show the vast differences in America public life. Both the Tea Party and Occupy movements have had issues with both candidates, it seems, or at least think neither is either liberal enough or conservative enough to satisfy their anger. Perhaps what we're seeing through this is that both candidates are more moderate than mainstream voters gives them credit for. Some do see this and claim they're both the same candidate that really agree on most issues. Either way, even though nobody will ever be liberal enough for the 98% and nobody will ever be conservative enough to be invited to this tea party, they will definitely be voting for the candidate closest to their own agendas. Which side is stronger, more organized, and like in question three, the angriest could be a huge factor in this election.

5) Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We live in a strange world right now where men are overwhelmingly going for Mitt Romney and women are overwhelmingly going for Barack Obama. This isn't new. When you watch the debates and you see that little meter going at the bottom, often the two lines, one for women and one for men, are heading in completely opposite directions. This means something. Think about it. This means that in several households--I'm not about to venture to do this math--the husband is voting Romney and the wife is voting Obama. How is that possible in this age of hatred between parties? It's true, though. Maybe this accounts for the divorce rates being so high. Numbers this varied can't lie. We like to think we live in this world where men and women are equal and the problems of women and men have now equalized. Men care about their children going to war and getting sick, too; don't they? Maybe not? Who knows? But for this election, the question may be who can make more inroads with the gender who seems to oppose them. Can Obama convince more men to vote for him? Can Romney win over women? The battle of the sexes could be the battle for the White House. Will married men vote for Obama just to keep their wives off their backs????? Okay, that last one was just a joke, but this will be interesting to watch.

There are a slew of other factors going on out there, city vs. rural vs. suburban for example. In a recent Colorado poll that has Obama up slightly, Obama leads handily in the cities, has a comfortable but more modest lead in the suburbs, but is losing in the rural towns. Will cities and lukewarm support in the burbs win despite Romney's support from rural towns. What about the Hispanic vote that Obama will win by a landslide? What will that turnout be like in states like Florida?

There's so many interesting angles this time around that I could see Obama winning an electoral landslide (not a popular vote landslide), and I could see him losing altogether. I could see Obama winning the electoral vote but losing the popular vote. Heck, there's even a chance at an electoral college tie which, though various legal messes, could end in a Romney/Biden White House. What a goldmine for SNL!

It's going to be an exciting night full of answered questions, but when it's all said and done, whoever is the president is going to have a lame-duck Congress that needs to get to work on debt reduction and the debt ceiling. Actually, the "George-Bush-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy" issue will be the first thing to decide with that deadline for their expiration looming. What happens after the election, before the new Senate and House are sworn in, might be just as politically exciting as this election.

Well, that's my final word on this election. I'm guessing Obama wins with 303 electoral votes, but I'm not exactly sure. Romney might pull it out or Obama could win by more. There's too many questions left unanswered. We'll have to tune in Tuesday night to find out.

Peace, and may the force be with you.

 Why can't this happen more often?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Politics in 3-D

I'm a liberal. Let's get that straight from the get go. But this isn't about my political beliefs. It's about theirs. The kids. The future of America.

With the election coming up, I have been engaged in quite a few political conversations with my students and ex-students in the past few months. Through these conversations, one thing has become abundantly clear--the polarization of our political system is in danger of collapse. I'm sure most of you would say, "That's great news." However, do you really mean it?

I see most of us commenting on Facebook and commenting on articles, mostly through condescending and often inaccurate memes, even analyst on television, completely dedicated to their red roots or their blue. We've identified with a party, memorized its stances on every key issue, and adopted them as their own. We make fun of the spin room crap shoveling while strapping on our own boots to join them.

So what do the youth believe? I read a comment the other day, and forgive me for not remembering which of my Facebook friends posted it, that said, "Everyone is a little bit Libertarian." Somehow young people in this country have been able to see past the giant donkeys and elephants in the room, to somehow ignore the red or blue glasses that tint, or perhaps taint, all of our adult viewpoints, and see another future for America, a future where political polarization and hatred are replaced by complete unity and harmony from sea to shining see. Not red states, not blue states, but purplish states.

It seems that young people, though they sometime take up their parents' (and probably grandparents') torches and argue over Obama and Romney, really do mostly agree on the problems that face our country--and the answer for them has become Libertarianism.

They realize our government has gotten too big, that social programs are being taken advantage of and leading to laziness, that government that's too big and infringes upon rights (see USAPATRIOT ACT) is downright scary. They've read 1984 and recognize Orwell's Big Brother looming over them. However, they do not see the Republicans as the solution to that problem. They are smart enough to see that the debt exploded under Republican rule.

They also see the Republicans as backward-thinking folks that infringe upon basic rights and are saturated in bigotry. They believe in marriage equality and may even be truly post-racial in some circles (if only their parents would let them be). They don't hate gays. They believe in freedom of religion, but they don't think that means ending contraception and abortion. They know that rape is rape. They are disgusted by Republicans and their attempts to send us back to the 1920s.

Let's not forget that this is a generation, like the 60s and 70s, scarred by war. For most of them, they don't remember a world where we weren't at war. Their earliest childhood memories are of 9/11, and they've known relatives that have spent more of their lives overseas fighting than arguing at the dinner table. It's a shame the way they've grown up, and they blame George Bush and Republicans for the most part for this.

They aren't too thrilled with the Democrats either. They see liberals as big spenders who want to control their lives. Yes, the Dems would let them marry who they wanted. Yes, the Dems would let them buy contraception. Yes, the Dems would care for the needy. But with the thought of being saddled with a massive debt to China, they also see the Dems as enablers of big spending and laziness.

They fear a government so big they have no choices. They fear Obamacare and socialism. They've been taught to hate Communism and that our troops have been fighting for American values by uprooting political systems around the globe that control their people too much. They've been taught to hate China and call them currency manipulators. They fear the Dems as much as the GOP.

There's a reason Ron Paul, at his age, was so popular among the youth. Most of his contemporaries probably hear about hash tags and think you're talking about "those hippies" and their "marijuana cigarettes." Now Gary Johnson (the official Libertarian candidate) is even becoming a darling, unfortunately for him, among those not yet old enough to vote. Why is this?

The kids today want freedom, unadulterated freedom. They want gay marriage, they want free markets, they want to legalize drugs (not to use them but because they can't understand how the government can tell us what to do under any circumstances), they want free speech and a freer press. In short, they are pure-blooded Libertarians. Even those that don't know what the term means.

I took a test the other day on It told me that I matched up 83% with Barack Obama and 23% with Mitt Romney. No big surprise there, right. Well, the surprise was that I matched up with 85% of Gary Johnson's beliefs. I've made fun of Libertarianism as wanting to have your cake and eat it too for a long time. But what if you can? What if we all are a little bit Libertarian. I'm wondering if America knew Libertarianism existed if Libertarian candidates wouldn't win in a landslide. Think about it.

Most of us do complain about government spending and the debt. Most of us do think people are taking advantage of foodstamps and other benefits. Most of us do fear the government controlling us. On the other hand, most of us have gotten to the point where legalized marijuana and gay marriage don't scare us. Not only do most of us think contraception is okay; over 90% of woman use it and 100% of men, while not wanting to discuss it as a political point, are grateful for it.

We want freedom. America was founded on it. But it seems the Democrats and Republicans are perfectly willing to preach freedom while cherry-picking which freedoms they are for or against. The youth seem to see through this. The youth just wants to be free. After all, that's what we've been teaching them since they started school. They see that slavery can exist in many forms.

Imagine a world where 47% of America doesn't hate 47% of America. Where everyone can agree on one basic set of ideals. We were founded on these ideals. Freedom is our credo. I can't help but thinking there is a shade of purple we can all get behind, kind of like looking through a pair of those 3-D glasses, where what's right in this world will just pop out at us and not be so hidden behind the words "it's complicated." I wonder if the young folks are right.

The editor-in-chief of the high school newsmagazine I advise has written her November cover story on third-party candidates not getting enough attention. She is an adamant Libertarian. I see her fighting and arguing for the rights of all and freedom for all on a regular basis. That's what she's been taught to do. How can that be wrong? I love that about her, so how can I tell her that's not the right way just because it's not the left way?

She talked about feeling disenfranchised (though she didn't use that word), and I told her, in a rather condescending way, that she would have to get used to it because she supported a part "nobody cares about." I apologized later and told her that I meant that it was unfortunate nobody cares about it, not that it wasn't important. And that's what I truly believe. We should get to hear all sides, not just the sides the media wants us to hear.

But I was wrong. People do care. Just because they don't know the option exists, or because they are too young to vote, doesn't mean nobody cares. They do care. They care a lot. I see it on Twitter and Facebook. And if we don't beat the righteousness out of them, and don't somehow convince them they have to pick a side in the unending fight over two belief systems--philosophies that don't really truly exist in all practicality--if we let them wear those 3-D glasses and see the world in a beautiful shade of purple, maybe this will be our future.

While I'm a liberal and believe in taking care of the least among us, I can't help but think that America as a whole is all little bit Libertarian. They just don't know it yet. But with young people like my editor-in-chief leading the way, some day they may. A child shall lead them. Don't think it's possible? Still think we're stuck in a two-party system that will never be shed?

Look at Colorado. This state might be fully legalizing weed in a week or so. The hippies who smoked around a circle like on That 70s Show are now prominent leaders in government and industry. Look at inter-racial dating and marriage. We are quickly becoming more and more post-racial because of the extent of mixed-race families in this nation. As the children of those first desegregated schools have grown up, so has the idea of racial equality. Racial equality without government-coerced quotas.

So, what we as the establishment see as a crazy fringe group, a fad of the naive young people of our nation, may one day be the reality. After all, when I was in high school, sadly to us, the idea of a black president was a fantasy, an impossibility. Things change, and the youth are the barometer predicting that change. I see it permeating my classes. They're sick of leftist big government. They're sick of right-wing fundamentalist bigotry. They're truly ready to move forward. And they see that forward as Libertarianism. In a way, they're already fighting for our freedom. Who are we to stop them?

What would Abe Lincoln think about this election?