4th of July Stirs Up Patriotism — and Prejudice

On this day that celebrates America’s Independence, our TVs blast pictures of fireworks and barbeques and parties. But we also witness the scenes in Southern California, where American citizens have blocked buses carrying illegal immigrants from entering their communities.

Perhaps most disturbing are the film clips of these organizers waving American flags while screaming, “Go home!” It harkens back to an earlier time of a little African American girl, Ruby Bridges, walking bravely to school in New Orleans, flanked by secret servicemen whose job it was to protect this child from the screams of whites threatened by integration.

Not much has changed in America since those days in 1960.

True, integration is the norm now and the idea of someone being forced to sit on the back of the bus simply because of the color of their skin seems absurd to most Americans. At the very least, Civil Rights laws have resulted in today’s children accepting and expecting to go to school with classmates of all ethnicities and religions.

But the vocal protests in California are disturbing. Not because those who enter the U.S. illegally should be allowed to bypass our immigration system – they shouldn’t. But because of the venom spewed at mostly women and children by citizens waving the American flag – a flag that symbolizes freedom, opportunity and equality.

Those who advocate rounding up the 11 million illegals hiding in our shadows and shipping them back to wherever they’ve come from are failing to look at the bigger picture – and that means asking the questions not being asked: Why are people fleeing over our borders at ever increasing numbers? Why are these people risking their safety and often their lives to travel hundreds of miles in order to enter the land of the free? Why isn’t our government enacting trade embargos with the countries they are fleeing from – countries like Mexico, one of our largest trading partners, whose corrupt government, police force and drug cartels make life for its citizens so unbearable that they are willing to risk it all for a chance at a normal, free and safer life? And what would happen to these immigrants if we did send them back? For many, a certain death.

Since 1886, America’s Statue of Liberty has beckoned the world to give us their tired, their poor, their huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. But the reality of our history on immigration is another story. In the 1840s, the surge in Irish Catholic immigration was met with hostility by many Protestant Americans, especially those who could trace their ancestry to America’s beginnings and viewed themselves as “natives.” The same reception was met by Italians in the late 1800s to early 1900s – again, too Catholic and too “ethnic.” And yet, I have heard some Irish- and Italian-Americans today dismay over the fact that in their minds, Hispanics are taking over America. Maybe, but 56.7 million Americans – or 18 percent – can claim Irish descent, and Americans with Italian heritage are now the 4th largest ethnic group in our country. In other words, the Irish and the Italians did take over – and we are enriched by their culture that has become so engrained in our way of life.

Illegal immigration is nothing new. My own great-great grandmother who emigrated from Lebanon to work and send for her ill husband and children, discovered upon landing in America that her sponsors had failed to meet her ship. She languished in a holdover center at Battery Park for several months, before deciding to take matters in to her own hands. She wasn’t going back to Lebanon, where life was as unsafe there then as it is for many of the illegal immigrants sitting on the buses in California today. And she wasn’t going to leave her fate in the hands of the Battery detention center. So she climbed out a window and approached a police officer, showing him the address of her sponsors that she written on a piece of paper and kept in her pocket all this time. There were many immigrants then who couldn’t speak English, so the cop assumed her status was legal and put her on a bus for upstate New York. Five generations later, her hundreds of descendants thank her for her tenacity and bravery, with nothing apparent to indicate that they are the beneficiaries of the illegal entry of their ancestor.

In other words, contrary to those who cry foul about the influx today of Spanish-speaking immigrants, assimilation does happen over time.

While it’s true that the security of our country demands that we tighten our borders and have immigration policies in place, it is this Congress’ refusal to vote on immigration reform, and the hostility and prejudice directed at today’s illegals from the south that are glaringly uncomfortable and striking. We are a country of immigrants, all of us. Some of our families have been here longer than others. And yet, we continue to resent any immigrant who arrives unable to speak English and who doesn’t measure up to our ideal of what an American is. We also fail to ask the hard questions and admit that the answers to illegal immigration are not as black and white as we’d like to believe.

Two hundred thirty eight years later, who we really are conflicts with who we should project and aspire to be – a country that welcomes those yearning to breathe free.

Christmas Isn’t Going Anywhere

(First published on November 10, 2009)

I get the same email every year at this time, just as Christmas is gearing up for its spending season. A Christian – usually a friend or family member – laments about what has become of Christmas and points out all the infractions now levied against this holiest of holidays.

For example, it makes many Christians mad that school children are no longer allowed to sing Christmas carols in public school, or that the school vacation in December is now called Winter Break instead of Christmas Break. Never mind that every parent – regardless of religion – pays an equal share in taxes that support public school, or that many religions, besides Christianity, celebrate a holiday in December.  

Justification for celebrating Christmas in public schools is often made by pointing out that the founding fathers were Christians and that America was founded on Christian principles; therefore, Christianity should be the law of the land. Many of the founding fathers were Christian, but they were also very clear about separation of church and state. If any Christian wants to send their kids to school where Christmas – and not the holidays in general – is celebrated, they have the choice of private Christian schools. Non Christian children in public school however, also deserve the choice of not being indoctrinated with all things Christmas.

Another thing that gets many Christians riled up is that many cities now call their Christmas trees “holiday trees.” While I agree that this is ridiculous since no Jew or Muslim looks at a decorated evergreen as anything but a Christmas tree, a more appropriate compromise of taxpayer dollars would be to share the Christmas tree with a Menorah and other religious symbols. But it seems that even that gesture infuriates many Christians. Anything that takes away from Christmas – or involves sharing Christmas with other religious holidays – is a sign that Christmas has been diluted and that Christians are being persecuted.

Apparently, many Christians have been seething about these politically correct changes for years, despite the fact that everywhere you go, there is Christmas: stores are decorated in Christmas-oriented decor, Santa is a popular figure at the malls and often has his own display, Christmas songs and carols are played nonstop on the radio, and holiday shows abound on TV. Imagine being Jewish, for example, and having to drag your kid down the street where Christmas and Santa Claus are in your face on every corner and in every shop window along the way. I’ve had Jewish friends tell me that it is a difficult task, but also an opportunity to teach their children about the beauty and mystery of Hanukkah. 

Perhaps the biggest slight for many Christians it seems is the simple wish of “Happy Holidays!” I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received from fellow Christians promoting the idea that we need to step up, drop the “Happy Holidays,” and say, “Merry Christmas!” to all – regardless of whether or not we offend someone who may not be Christian. One email I received stated that we need to stop worrying about whether or not we are hurting anyone’s feelings, including non Christian children. In other words, it’s time we took our holiday back. This kind of logic goes against the grain of what Christianity is supposed to be about: sensitivity towards others.

Besides, there’s a simple solution here: if you know someone is Christian, then, by all means wish them a very Merry Christmas. But if you aren’t sure what their religion is or what they celebrate, then what is wrong with wishing someone a happy holiday?

This, of course, is an affront to all those Christians who say today Christianity is under attack. I say, if Christians really want to know what it feels like to be truly discriminated against, ask someone who survived a concentration camp,  been judged on the sound of their name, or who has been racially profiled.

As for those Christians who cry foul and claim that Christmas is being watered down, well, common sense should tell them that the sheer dollars involved in gift giving guarantee that Christmas isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

And if they truly believe in what the holiday is about, then Christmas isn’t going away ever.

Half a Century Later, We Still Mourn

jfk101I was six and in first grade when President Kennedy was murdered. My brother was five. It occurs to me on this 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, that my brother’s class is probably the last who will remember where they were, what they felt, and how this tragedy forever changed our country. In fact, “Where were you?” is probably the iconic question of my generation, and one that for those who lived it can easily be answered.

My school day started out like any other day that morning. And then came the announcement across the loudspeaker of Kennedy’s death and we were sent home for the day. Some kids were crying as we made our walk home, the crunching sound of autumn leaves mingling with their occasional sobs. One boy said, “He was the greatest president we ever had,” to which I replied, “What about Abraham Lincoln?” and an argument ensued. Ironic that I would use Lincoln as an example, since he was also assassinated. It would be just one of many ironies that historians have debated over the years.

Upon entering our house, we found our mother, unable to speak, glued to our black and white TV. Our Air Force father had left for a tour of duty in England some months before, where we would eventually join him. I’ve often wondered how he heard the news, and how difficult it must have been for my mother to not have him there to share in the sorrow. For their generation, still young and hopeful, Jack and Jackie represented elegance, class, and the expectation of a better tomorrow.

We were not allowed to turn the TV channel in the days that followed the assassination, but we didn’t want to. We were mesmerized by history unfolding, however tragic, and time seemed to move in slow motion. We listened intently as newscasters informed viewers of the latest information about the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, and what his motivations might have been. We related to and yet were horrified when Jack Ruby extracted his — and the nation’s – vengeance on Oswald. And we wept collectively as a country as the perfectly planned funeral played out before the world. For me, the memory of JFK’s death and the days that followed will forever be captured in black and white film, grainy and grey, as if to symbolize a tragedy our country still can’t shake.

Like the eternal flame that marks President Kennedy’s grave, the events of that fateful day still burn fifty years later … and will until the last of the generation that remembers has passed.

Selling Yourself Short

I never answer ads for writing jobs that state that the amount of payment depends on experience. A job is either worth a certain amount of pay or it’s not, regardless of how many years a writer has under his or her belt.

The companies that run these ads are trying to get talent for a steal, but the bottom line should be that your time as a writer is money, and not dependent on how many years you have been penning your lines. The fact is, a company knows what their budget is and what the job is, and that’s what they should pay.

I advise writers to avoid these kind of writing jobs — the time involved is almost never worth the amount you wind up getting paid. Also avoid ads where you have to bid on a job — it only pits writers (and artists) against one another, when what we should be doing is sticking together and demanding to be paid what our talent is worth.

If engineers, plumbers, electricians, computer techs, and even mechanics can demand a high dollar for their time and talent, surely writers can do the same. After all, there isn’t a company on the planet who doesn’t use the written word to further their business.

And that should be worth something.

The Complete Guide to Interpreting Your Own Dreams

The Dream bookmail person rang my doorbell today, leaving me with an unexpected surprise: after a year delay, my latest book, The Complete Guide to Interpreting Your Own Dreams, has finally been released in print format, and there on my doorstep were six beautiful copies!

The book was previously released as an e-book, available at Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com, but nothing beats holding a physical copy in your hands.

You can purchase the print version of The Complete Guide to Interpreting Your Own Dreams on the Products page of this site, or get the e-book version on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/ck69j9c.

Pope Benedict’s Papacy Marred by a Failure to Lead

Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down and I for one am happy about the news. As a Roman Catholic, I have had my belief in the church rocked by a decade of scandalous revelations. When Pope John Paul II died, many of us looked to Benedict as an extension of his charismatic leadership, someone who would and could carry on John Paul’s compassion, understanding and leadership for a flock in need of a shepherd.

Pope Benedict, it seems, had other goals in mind.

In Benedict’s vision, the Church’s problems could be laid at the doorstep of 50 years of modernization. So rather than focus on the challenges confronting congregations, he has instead changed the wording of the Mass, making it awkward, unfeeling and clumsy. Instead of drawing Catholics together, he has alienated gays and women. Instead of addressing problems in the priesthood,  he has failed to fully understand the extent of the damage done by a hierarchy that has shielded pedophile priests rather than risk losing more priestly bodies.

In fact, the growing shortage of priests is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles facing the Church, yet it can be remedied by some very simple solutions: allow priests to marry, and permit gays and women to be priests.

The Roman Catholic Church bends for no one, of course, and change has never come easily. But there are many married deacons who would make dedicated and loyal priests, except for that one little detail — they are married. There are also many women who would love to be priests and who as priests would enrich the Church, moving it away from its chauvinistic roots towards a more motherly, inclusive organization. Instead, women are expected to be happy with their lot in religious life: as caretakers and nuns in secondary roles. In other words, men are still in charge, despite the equal gains women have made in the modern world.

The Church justifies its men-only club by pointing out that Jesus picked only men, failing of course to recognize the equal role that Mary Magdalene played in the group. Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ closest friends and was there at the Crucifixion. She was also the first to discover that Christ’s body was missing from the tomb, and she was the first to see the Risen Christ. Mary Magdalene was also by Christ’s side at various important events in his ministry, most notably as witness to when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

As far as celibacy among Catholic priests go, this tradition can be traced to 304 AD, when it was decided that priests needed to act in the image of Christ, who was not married or in a relationship, and needed to fully give their attention to their duties to the Church without being sidetracked by a wife and children. At that time, even priests who were married had to vow not to have sex with their wives

And then there’s that matter of gays being priests … Pope Benedict is uncompromising in his stance that homosexuality is unacceptable, despite the fact that many Catholic priests are gay. In Benedict’s world, being gay is a choice, ignoring all the while the gayness of the priesthood.

Perhaps most importantly or equally important is the matter of pedophile priests. Many pedophiles seek job fields that offer a cloak of secrecy and protection while putting them in easy access of children, and the Catholic priesthood is no different. Here again, Benedict’s limited vision fails to recognize that the best way to remove the pedophile wall of secrecy is to open the priesthood to married men and women, single women, and gays. This would make religious life more attractive to hundreds of potential candidates, and make the priesthood more transparent.

Instead, this pope has struggled to get a handle on the pedophile scandals, priest shortages, and the modernization of a people who no longer accept the Church’s stance on moral or dogmatic issues as final and absolute. He has dug in his heels about changes that could modernize the Church while still retaining its doctrine, preferring to insist on a return to more traditional days prior to Vatican II. As a result, the Church has lost membership in droves in Europe and South America, and individual Catholic churches have been closed or forced to give up their personal identities in favor of clustering due to a severe priest shortage.

He has also dampened the dreams of many members of the Church who saw Pope John Paul as a beacon of light and had hoped this pope would continue that legacy, one that had won over the world and built bridges with peoples of all faiths.

Read more about the controversy of Pope Benedict’s papacy at http://tinyurl.com/bq9pxqq.

Repost: Christmas Isn’t Going Anywhere

(First published on November 10, 2009)

I get the same email every year at this time, just as Christmas is gearing up for its spending season. A Christian – usually a friend or family member – laments about what has become of Christmas and points out all the infractions now levied against this holiest of holidays.

For example, it makes many Christians mad that school children are no longer allowed to sing Christmas carols in public school, or that the school vacation in December is now called Winter Break instead of Christmas Break. Never mind that every parent – regardless of religion – pays an equal share in taxes that support public school, or that many religions, besides Christianity, celebrate a holiday in December.

Justification for celebrating Christmas in public schools is often made by pointing out that the founding fathers were Christians and that America was founded on Christian principles; therefore, Christianity should be the law of the land. Many of the founding fathers were Christian, but they were also very clear about separation of church and state. If any Christian wants to send their kids to school where Christmas – and not the holidays in general – is celebrated, they have the choice of private Christian schools. Non Christian children in public school however, also deserve the choice of not being indoctrinated with all things Christmas.

Another thing that gets many Christians riled up is that many cities now call their Christmas trees “holiday trees.” While I agree that this is ridiculous since no Jew or Muslim looks at a decorated evergreen as anything but a Christmas tree, a more appropriate compromise of taxpayer dollars would be to share the Christmas tree with a Menorah and other religious symbols. But it seems that even that gesture infuriates many Christians. Anything that takes away from Christmas – or involves sharing Christmas with other religious holidays – is a sign that Christmas has been diluted and that Christians are being persecuted.

Apparently, many Christians have been seething about these politically correct changes for years, despite the fact that everywhere you go, there is Christmas: stores are decorated in Christmas-oriented decor, Santa is a popular figure at the malls and often has his own display, Christmas songs and carols are played nonstop on the radio, and holiday shows abound on TV. Imagine being Jewish, for example, and having to drag your kid down the street where Christmas and Santa Claus are in your face on every corner and in every shop window along the way. I’ve had Jewish friends tell me that it is a difficult task, but also an opportunity to teach their children about the beauty and mystery of Hanukkah.

Perhaps the biggest slight for many Christians it seems is the simple wish of “Happy Holidays!” I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received from fellow Christians promoting the idea that we need to step up, drop the “Happy Holidays,” and say, “Merry Christmas!” to all – regardless of whether or not we offend someone who may not be Christian. One email I received stated that we need to stop worrying about whether or not we are hurting anyone’s feelings, including non Christian children. In other words, it’s time we took our holiday back. This kind of logic goes against the grain of what Christianity is supposed to be about: sensitivity towards others.

Besides, there’s a simple solution here: if you know someone is Christian, then, by all means wish them a very Merry Christmas. But if you aren’t sure what their religion is or what they celebrate, then what is wrong with wishing someone a happy holiday?

This, of course, is an affront to all those Christians who say today Christianity is under attack. I say, if Christians really want to know what it feels like to be truly discriminated against, ask someone who survived a concentration camp,  been judged on the sound of their name, or who has been racially profiled.

As for those Christians who cry foul and claim that Christmas is being watered down, well, common sense should tell them that the sheer dollars involved in gift giving guarantee that Christmas isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

And if they truly believe in what the holiday is about, then Christmas isn’t going away ever.

Rite Aid Strikes Out With Latest Marketing Ploy

I don’t usually shop at Rite Aid. It’s too expensive when compared to Walmart. But this morning I paid the chain a visit to purchase some make-up items that Walmart’s been out of for a while.

While I was there, I decided to pick up some aspirin. I went for the store brand since a yellow sign indicated that it was marked down from $3.99 to $3.59. At the register, I told the clerk that I had a Rite Aid Rewards Card, which is what you need at Rite Aid in order to get stuff at the sale price.

On checking my receipt, I noticed that the aspirin was rung up at $3.99. When I pointed out the error, the clerk told me that the $3.59 price was only if I had accumulated 200 points on my Rewards card. “It’s in the fine print below the price on the sign,” she explained.

“So all of these yellow sale signs throughout the store are only good if you have 200 points?” I asked.

“No, some are on sale if you have a Rewards card, and some are on sale if you have a certain amount of points on your Rewards card,” she said, as if that was a reasonable explanation.

Newsflash for Rite Aid: this strategy is a marketing failure — or as the kids today say, an “epic fail!”

One of the worst things a company can do is to confuse the consumer. Rite Aid does this right off the bat by requiring customers to have a Rewards card in the first place. I get that the idea behind the card is probably the assumption that a Rewards card may get the consumer to shop at Rite Aid as opposed to another store. But if Rite Aid has done its homework, it would know that in today’s economy, most consumers will shop where the best sales are, not because they have a certain card. How much more appealing and easier it would be for the customer if that customer could just pick and choose between items that are on sale and items that are not. Having to remember to lug along an extra card, in addition to all the other cards I have in my wallet, is strike one at home plate. The most successful stores, such as Walmart, provide sales items for all of its customers — not just those who have signed up for a Rewards card.

Strike two is making the consumer read the fine print on what qualifies for savings. As a customer, I don’t want to have to remember how many points I have on my card. I also don’t want to spend my time while shopping reading the fine print on each and every sale sign. After all, isn’t convenience the whole point of running into a drug store in the first place? Now I have to slow down and do some comparison shopping on whether I have a Rewards card or enough points on that card.

If I want to take that amount of time to shop, I’ll do it at Walmart or Dollar Tree or some other store where the deals are on a daily basis. Strike Three.

New E-book

The good news: my latest book, The Complete Guide to Interpreting Your Own Dreams, is now available as an e-book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/8zo3saq and at Barnes and Noble at http://tinyurl.com/cz5rh2s. The bad news: release of the print version has been pushed back to 2013.

Life Without Bitty

Just when I thought that I had shed all the tears I could for Lil Bit, I found myself weeping again last night. It started with my daughter, Sydney, pointing out that one of our other cats, Snickers, was sounding more and more like Bitty when she meowed. My husband and I had noticed this very thing and had just talked about it that morning. It was as if Snickers thought she could comfort us by mimicking our Bitty’s habits and sounds.

Case in point: I caught Snickers hiding inside an empty box. Not that that’s unusual for a cat — many cats love hiding in boxes, baskets and other close quartered places — but Snickers never had.

We’ve also caught whiffs of how Lil Bit smelled in the weeks before she died — a pungent, garbage-like odor as if her very insides were rotting. And they were. Sydney has also had six dreams of Bitty, some of them not that pleasant. I told her it was Lil Bit’s way of letting her know that she was still around us.

That’s what psychics say — that your loved ones hang around and find ways, such as dreams, to communicate their presence. It’s supposed to be a comforting thought but it’s not; we’d rather have the real live Bitty.

Having to listen to my daughter lament that she’ll never hear Bitty’s high pitched meow again and that nothing is ever going to be the same from here on in has found me sobbing into my own pillow at night. Having to hear her also cry herself to sleep finds me shaking my fist at God for this cruel reality.

Lil Bit’s tombstone arrived a week ago and we finally put it on her grave last Saturday. Now there are two grave markers for two exceptional cats who have left big paws to fill.