Tuesday, December 21, 2010


October 20, 2010 was officially designated national “Spirit Day” by the organization in charge of designating official days to be observed throughout the land, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The observance was prompted in part by the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate published a video of him having same sex sex.

So, of course, many students at the Howell, Michigan High School wore purple to show their opposition to school yard bullying at least, or especially, when the person being bullied is homosexual.

So did the Economics teacher, one Jay McDowell, who also happens to be the head of the local teachers union.

Enter a member of the class, allegedly a young lady, wearing a belt buckle designed as a replica of the Confederate flag. Mr. McDowell, asked her to remove it, which she did.

Whereupon one David Glowacki, taking the clue from the teacher that the study of economics would be delayed until political and social issues were thoroughly explored, inquired as to why the belt buckle was to be sequestered when there were so many other visible, purple indicia of opinion in the classroom.

True to the liberal creed of selective censorship, Mr. McDowell proceeded to lecture Glowacki and his classmates on the difference between symbolic speech which is acceptable, i.e. support for gay rights, and symbolic speech which was unacceptable, i.e. sympathy for the defeated and discredited Confederate States of America.

The difference, Mr. McDowell explained to his young charges was that gay rights symbols were supportive of something decent folks ought to be in favor of, while the Confederate flag was symbolic of something decent folks ought to be opposed to.

Unconvinced, Mr. Glowacki revealed that he was not in favor of gays and that in fact his religious persuasion included a belief that homosexual liaisons were sinful.

Taken aback by such impudent disavowal of secular humanistic orthodoxy, Mr. McDowell took the only course of action which would assure that no further such heresy would sully the ears of his economics students.

He invited Mr. Glowacki to take a walk. Get out of the room. Disappear. Which is what Glowacki did.

Not to be overlooked, another student spoke up and asked if, in view of his similar opinion, he might also be permitted to adjourn to the corridor. Be gone, said McDowell.

The two exiles ended up getting minor disciplinary demerits.

End of story? Not hardly.

Enter the higher ups of academic administration. The school board promptly suspended Mr. McDowell for one day with and one day without pay. His crime: punishing a student who disagreed with him.

The leader of the teacher’s union was not about to accept such a sentence without a fight. He informed the school board that unless they withdrew the punishment, he would take his case to the media and the public uproar would bring the board to its knees.

In the tradition of all school boards, they listened and then voted no.

And so the issue was joined. At the next board meeting Mr. McDowell was favored by the support of a new, unlikely champion; a 14 year old gay lad from another school district, one Graeme Taylor, who made an impassioned presentation excoriating the curse of schoolyard bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, questioning and sexually ambivalent students during which he revealed that he himself had seriously considered suicide at the age of nine.

It was heart rendering human drama that instantly filtered to the breaking news department at MSNBC.

Taylor’s speech was immortalized on video and promptly displayed on the Internet where 13,000 people saw it before the Livingston County Press and Argus got it pulled to protect their copyright.

Mr. McDowell’s predictions came to pass. Bags of mail, megabites of email, phone calls and blogs from around the country came forward to bolster his appeal, encourage him to litigate and generally debunk the reactionary school officials as nothing but a bevy of small town Republican bigots and homophobes.

I looked long and hard to find out what the American Civil Liberties Union had to say about the affair.

It seemed to me that Mr. Glowacki had a first amendment right not only to believe what he believes about homosexuality, but to express his beliefs publicly without being punished or bullied by the authorities.

The most I could find was a footnote that someone from the ACLU had suggested that the whole thing was a teachable moment and it might have been a better opportunity to teach if the students had been allowed to stay in the classroom.

With such courageous defenders of our first amendment rights at the ready, what have any of us to worry about?

And anyway, isn’t it reassuring to realize that in these difficult economic times, our children are learning so much about the economy?

Thursday, December 16, 2010


She was twenty-one. A pretty girl, in a corner booth at the Motor Bar of the old Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit. It was nearly Christmas, and she was alone.

Really alone. Her father, a fifty-nine year old German immigrant, had died in her arms two months before. He had been her only family after her mother died and both her brothers were killed.

She was engaged to be married, but her fiancé was across the street at an office Christmas party.

And so her cocktail was salted with Christmas tears.

That was sixty years ago.

We have celebrated the birth of the Christchild in 15 different houses since then. There have been plenty of squeals of delight and shouts of joy, gasps of surprise and smiles of contentment.

But it seems there are always some tears. Christmas tears.

I don’t know why it is. God knows I have tried.

The first year I bought her a vacuum cleaner. The next year, an electric frying pan. Then a clock radio.

When I gave her the electric blanket, she stopped crying long enough to explain that nothing which plugs in is romantic.

I tried buying clothes. Very iffy endeavor. If they are too large, she is insulted. If they are too small, she is hurt.

One year I bought pleats. She said she never wears pleats. I said I never noticed, and she cried.

Next year, I brought home pleats again. It didn’t help to tell her that my secretary picked them out.

And then there was the year I decided to be practical. We had a house full of little ones and no savings. I wanted to give her a sense of security, so I bought her some airline stock. To build up the excitement and suspense, I went out to the airport and got one of those folders they give you. I wrapped it in a small box and put that in a larger box.

When she finally got it open and saw the folder, she jumped in my lap and said, “Where are we going?”

Needless to say, the stock certificate was a disappointment. Adding insult to injury, Eastern Airlines went broke in a couple of months.

One year I decided that the best gift I could give my family was to quit smoking. I snuffed out a cigarette five days before Christmas and quit cold turkey. Then, to make it more concrete, I spent the next 120 hours composing a detailed diary, which I printed out and bound up in a booklet, entitled “Five Days to Christmas.”

I was sure that my dear ones would treasure that story and celebrate my new found freedom from the ravages of nicotine.

Not so. The booklet sat on the coffee table until well after New Years, when I filed it away in my desk.

When kids are little, tears often come at the end of a long day of excitement. New toys seem to break easily. And young ones don’t accommodate sharing very well on Christmas Day.

There are tears of joy, and tears of relief. And tears of exhaustion.

And tears that come when, at two o’clock on Christmas morning, the damned toy that just won’t work they way it does on television finally succumbs to Brennan’s Law.

Brennan’s Law? Very simple.

You can’t fix it unless you take it apart. It won’t come apart unless you force it. If your force it, it will break. Therefore, you can’t fix it unless you break it.

Never fails.

Of course, there are tears of joy on Christmas, too.

I managed to evoke some of those a few years ago when I gave my dear wife the keys to a cottage in the North that she had been wanting for a long time, but never really expecting to have.

But real Christmas tears are poignant, bittersweet.

They well up and salt your glass of wine when your daughter and her family have all gone to bed and you’re sitting alone in front of a multi colored tree remembering the hectic days, the exciting days, the days full of hugs and laughter, wrapping paper and card board boxes. The long nights of anticipation, the cold parking lots and midnight Masses, the long rides home.

Any Christmas could have been our last.

We never thought about it. We were too alive. Too full of the moment. Too busy doing Christmas.

We think about it now. Every kiss and every hug. Every thank you and every goodbye. Every moment of this magical season pinches the corner of your eye and calls out a little wet reminder that it will all be over.

Not this year, surely. Maybe not next year or the year after that.

But sooner. Always sooner.

We’ll squeeze it for all it can give. Christmas is, after all the story of the Baby’s birth. It is all about beginning, starting new. Starting over.

And not being alone. Not ever being alone again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The federally funded Smithsonian Institute, one of America’s premier art museums, recently featured a video showing a crucified Jesus Christ covered with a swarm of ants.

The insult to Christians was palpable. So much so that Congressional pressure was brought to bear and the exhibit was cancelled.

By contrast, here’s what is going on in the Justice Department:

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez has directed the Civil Rights Division’s National Origin Working Group to work proactively to combat violations of civil rights laws against Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South-Asian Americans, and those perceived to be members of these groups, through the creation of the Initiative to Combat Post 9/11 Discriminatory Backlash.

Here’s what “working proactively” apparently means:

Berkeley school district 87, in the state of Illinois, is accused of violating the civil rights of Safoorah Khan, a teacher at McArthur Middle School, by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices.

A complaint filed by the United States Department of Justice in a federal court in Chicago alleges that Ms Khan's bosses forced her to "choose between her job and her religious beliefs."

She wrote to the school's superintendent asking for a 20-day unpaid leave of absence in December 2008, to travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, the pilgrimage all Muslims are supposed to make once during their lifetime.

The request was denied, however, because the "purpose of her leave was not related to her professional duties" and was not specifically included in an agreement with the teachers' union.

After appealing and being rejected for a second time, Ms Khan wrote to the school board that "based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing Hajj."

The teacher, who had joined the school in 2007, resigned shortly after. Now the Government is seeking to have her reinstated with back pay and promotions, and for the school board to pay her compensation.

That’s right. The Government is seeking to have her reinstated. The federal government. The government of the United States. Attorneys employed by and paid by the federal government are taking her case. For free.

Not the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. Not the CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

No, the lady is represented by our federal government. Paid for by our tax dollars. The same tax dollars that support the Smithsonian Institute which thinks that insulting Christians is an art form.

Ms. Kahn was hired as a teacher in 2007. She wanted to make her once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca in 2008. Makes you wonder how much she was able to save in 10 months. And what she plans to do when she retires.

The 22 story Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, situated between the twin towers, was obliterated on 9-11. Nobody knows how many people were inside. The New York Times estimated that at least 50 people died there.

About two hours after that holocaust, the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines withdrew its offer to host a convention of the Midwest Federation of American Syrian-Lebanese Clubs.

The Federation charged the hotel with discrimination and the Department of Justice extracted an apology, money damages, and a commitment to sensitivity training from Marriott.

Despite its federally imposed sensitivity, the Marriott in Oak Brook, Illinois refused to host a 2009 conference of Hizb ut-Tahrir America, an organization of fundamentalist Muslims which urges the killing of those who leave the Islamic faith.

Those folks ended up at the Hilton, where their meeting was protested by R.E.A.L., (Responsible for Equality and Liberty) an organization which urges Americans to love all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of religious belief.

Apparently, the Civil Rights Act which outlaws discrimination in public accommodations on account of race, color, creed or national origin doesn’t cover discrimination based on advocating murder, even when the killing is claimed to be a tenet of religious belief.

Interesting. What if the belief requires bodily injury less than killing? Cutting off the hand of a thief, for example? Or the clitoris of a baby girl? Or the foreskin of a baby boy?

Or what if one’s religious belief includes a prohibition against marrying outside the faith or inter marriage with other races? Or what if it condones polygamy? Could the Marriott turn away a Sheik who wants to bunk in with his harem?

Unhappily, our federal Nanny has entered the thicket of theology.

I wonder how long it will be before we reach the ultimate goal of statism where everything that is not prohibited is mandated.

There are, I submit, certain consolations associated with being 81 years of age.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


In May of 2001, Ryan Brown, scheduled to speak at commencement exercises at Washington Community High School in Washington, Illinois, went to the microphone and spouted a loud “Ah Choo.”

Whereupon a group of his pals shouted “God Bless You,” thereby defying the ‘no praying’ order of a federal judge.

And so the culture wars continue.

Now comes Ronnie Hastie, a star running back for Tumwater High School in Washington State.

After a 25 yard touchdown run in the T-Birds 63-27 win over East Valley in the Division 2A semi final game, Hastie dropped to one knee and pointed to the sky. He was immediately, and literally, hit with a yellow flag, and his team was penalized fifteen yards for “celebrating.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations sent a "point of emphasis" memo to athletic directors across the country before the 2009 season reminding them of the need for good sportsmanship in games.

It called specific attention to federation rule 9-5-1, which reads, in part: "No player shall act in an unsportsmanlike manner once the officials assume authority for the contest."

Examples of inappropriate behavior, it said, included but were not limited to, "Baiting or taunting acts or words or insignia worn which engender ill will; Using profanity, insulting or vulgar language or gestures; or Any delayed, excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself."

College and high school athletic associations have cracked down on post touchdown celebrating in the wake of practices among NFL professionals which the powers that be have decreed to be excessive.

Many fans disagree. Some say that NFL is beginning to mean “No Fun League.”

Celebrating touchdowns, in fact, has become an art form in the NFL.

You can Google it and see the latest and the greatest by such outstanding celebratory performers as Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Joe Horn.

Admittedly, some of it is tasteless, if not downright vulgar.

But most people are not offended to see athletes rejoicing over their success. In fact emotional demonstration is very much part of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s part of the drama of sports.

I suppose nobody can quarrel with the effort of high school coaches and athletic associations to instill attitudes and behavior reflecting good sportsmanship in student athletes. After all, participation in team sports is part of the overall educational process.

But I have to say that I am troubled over the call on Ronnie Hastie.

From his perspective, it was a big surprise. He had executed the same prayerful posture every time he got into the end zone all season. The semi final game was the first time it had resulted in a yellow flag.

So the call is subjective. Some refs tolerate it, some don’t.

What gets my stomach in a knot is the idea that thanking God for athletic accomplishment can be viewed by anybody as an act of poor sportsmanship.

One of the suits back in the association office, trying to justify the call, told reporters that the reason for the rule and the call was to prevent delay of the game. He said that upon reaching the end zone, a player is obliged to immediately turn the ball over to the referee.

I saw Hastie’s genuflection on the video. It didn’t take more than a second. If fact, if the ref had reached for the ball instead of his flag, he would have had it in hand before the penalty marker hit the ground.

Unfortunately, the incident smacks of something much more ominous than cracking down on poor sportsmanship.

How much of the impetus to penalize Ronnie Hastie and others like him comes from the same culture war that shuts down prayer at high school commencements and the singing of Christmas carols in public schools?

Where will the ACLU stand if a team is penalized because a player makes the sign of the cross on the field?

It does make you wonder if the fellow refereeing the Tumwater game would have thrown the flag at a wide receiver named Muhammad something or other who prostrates himself toward Mecca in the end zone.

For let’s say, ninety seconds.

Delay of game?

Not hardly in this day and age.