Category Archives: .

On the gaps in our education

IMG_0029

The magazine rack at our local coffee shop.

andersonlogo

When I was 20, I got a job in the typing pool of a big city law firm. One day, I scuttled into the office of a young lawyer and closed the door behind me. “Did you know,” I whispered conspiratorially, “that the Davises are Jewish?”

“Ummm, so am I,” he laughed, pushing back his chair. “My last name is Goldstein, for crying out loud.” When this failed to register, he tried more clues, but nothing he offered up made a dent. “Wait a minute,” he said finally. “Are you telling me you’ve never met a Jewish person?”

I recall my face getting hot and how I avoided him for days after. I felt small, ashamed of my ignorance, sorry for the nasty way I’d said, “the Davises are Jewish” like an accusation, when I had no idea what being Jewish even meant.

I grew up in a place much like Lawrenceburg in rural, southern Missouri. Everyone I knew was a Christian of some sort. When I was in high school, my mother remarried and we moved to a little town of 500 with one church, and the local joke was that if you were of a differing faith they ran you out on a rail. A joke that was not all that funny, frankly, when you bore witness to a family literally and cruelly being run out of town.

The sheltered, uninformed way I grew up came to mind last week when I read that our high school principal wants to hire a preacher to teach Bible class.

Unlike my little Missouri town with one church, we have dozens of churches here, as well as a multitude of Sunday schools, Bible study groups, and Vacation Bible Schools. Most businesses around town have Bibles in the waiting rooms and/or Christian radio playing over the sound-system. I think it is fair to say Anderson County is awash in both Biblical study and Christianity.

When I graduated high school, I knew plenty about the Bible, but lacked so much else. I had a hard time managing a budget, ran up credit card debt, had never been to the theatre or a museum, struggled filling out the most basic tax forms, bought cars I did not realize I could not afford, and sometimes made unintentional but unkind comments around people of different cultures or faiths.

My question for the principal is this: what educational gap is Bible class expected to fill?

What if we offered more classes about how to buy a car or a house, how the stock market works, ways to save for retirement, how to budget and cook for a family of four, how to interview for a job? What if we took our kids on more field trips to Louisville and beyond to experience the theatre, a museum, a synagogue or a mosque, ethnic foods?

Last week a friend shared a story about her church’s Sunday service. The pastor had asked someone to sing parts of traditional Christmas songs and then he offered commentary. Can we sing still “White Christmas,” he said, or is that too politically incorrect? After a song about a boy wanting a toy gun and a girl wanting a doll, the pastor asked (sarcastically, I assume) if we can still sing a song about gender-specific toys without offending the liberals.

I do not profess to understand the purpose of that sermon, but sadly it seems both petty and no more informed than me at age 20. Instead of teaching the Bible in high school, maybe we should have a class that teaches our kids how to discuss differences of religion, ethnicity, and politics with respect, because as I can sadly attest, many of the same folks lecturing me with long lists of Bible verses recently have also made public comments and filled their Facebook pages with memes that do not exactly denote a civil, Christian spirit.

If the high school principal is set on offering a new class, why not add something like “World Religions and Cultures,” instruction that could send our kids out into the world more tolerant and less fearful of people, ideas, and religions different from them?

Filling this ever-widening gap might be the most Christian, most Biblical, education of all.

Advertisements

What healthcare for the very, very rich looks like

portrait-of-dr-gachet

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, one of the most revered paintings by Vincent van Gogh

h-l_kycom_4c_logo-1444742878

I am sitting down the dinner table from a wealthy man when I hear him describing a term I have never heard before: concierge medicine. “$1,200 a month,” he explains, “and worth every penny. If I get sick on a holiday or a Sunday, my doctor answers his phone. Same-day appointments, prescriptions filled in an hour, no waiting for a nurse to call you back.”

Looking up and down the table, I expect surprise, some pushback, but nobody balks, so I go back to picking at my salad, calculating the value of $14,000 a year before taxes. Then I picture myself calling Dr. Lu or Dr. Charlene at home on Christmas morning. It’s me, my throat hurts, are you busy?

Money might not buy happiness, but for the wealthy it buys … and I feel I should say this with the French flair it demands … concierge de sante.

I recall the gleaming promises of healthcare that President Trump made within days of his November 2016 election. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he told The Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

He told 60 Minutes he would replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) with “great healthcare for much less money. So it’ll be better healthcare, much better, for less money.

Two years on, the president’s plan for better, cheaper, insurance-for-everybody still does not exist, but he took to Twitter on Dec. 14 to cheer a Texas court ruling on the ACA. “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”

What kind of man gleefully chalks up a big win at the idea of vulnerable Americans losing their healthcare? The kind of man who has never laid awake nights wondering if he, or his children, can afford to see the doctor. A man born rich.

Mr. Trump sold himself to working class voters as self-made, but The New York Times has reported, “a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.”

The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, is famously quoted as saying, “Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.” Maybe, but I would argue that easily shelling out $1,200 a month for the privilege of calling your doctor’s personal cell phone 24/7 eliminates one very big damn thing.

An oft-reported exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway went like this: “The rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald said, with Hemingway adding, “Yes, they have more money.” These days, they also have access to dark money and the colossal power to enact or withhold legislation, like healthcare and tax reform.

This time last year, the president had just signed his massive GOP tax cut bill—the creme de la creme of his first year in office—and told reporters, “I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.” And then he jaunted down to Mar a Lago for the long Christmas break and announced to the members of his private club at a dinner party, “You all just got a lot richer!”

At a candidate forum in Anderson County on October 18, a voter asked Congressman Andy Barr about how the tax cuts helped regular people like us, and Rep. Barr took the opportunity to boast about what a boon $2,000 a year is. How thankful we should all be! Two-thousand a year is a lot of money!

Well, I’m no tax expert, but I can multiply and divide and I know $38 a week is nowhere in the ballpark of, “You all just got a lot richer.”

Now, if I only had an extra $1,200 a month for concierge de sante so I could see my doctor before her first available appointment: April 25.

What it takes to build a shelter

IMG_0101

Donna Callahan, Director of Anderson Humane Society, with elderly beagle Hope.

h-l_kycom_4c_logo-1444742878

We found Handsome, an elderly Golden Retriever, in a small rural shelter in December 2013. He had been surrendered there and was listed as very thin and a little timid. “I am looking for someone to love me and to build my confidence again,” his profile read. “I am very loving and gentle. Please come meet me and give me a chance to show you who I am.”

He was thin alright, and weak. I rode with Handsome in the backseat for the two-hour drive home, his head resting on my lap, as my husband watched us through the rearview. “I don’t know,” he said. “Poor guy might not last six weeks.”

And yet, we knew what we were in for. The previous year we had adopted Annie—a 12 year-old Chocolate Lab surrendered by the family she had been with from puppyhood—because a woman named Debbie, a tireless, rescue volunteer made it her mission to find Annie a home, and eventually found us.

Annie had lived only eight months, but they were joyful and comfortable months, and we were ready to give Handsome the best of whatever time he had left as well. All thanks to dedicated people like Debbie, and small-town shelters.

Animal rescue groups, even those with recognizable names, do not spring up out of whole cloth. They are born of hard work. Donna Callahan, Director of Anderson County, Kentucky’s Humane Society, was just 20 years old in 1978 when a woman named Ann Garrison discovered the local warden kept the dogs he picked up in a barn, and once a week or so he either killed them or sold them to medical labs.

“Ann led a group of mostly women, and she was relentless,” Donna recalls. “She went to every court hearing demanding change. And while the court finally agreed to let me take over Animal Control, they could not pay me or provide me with a facility beyond a concrete pad with chainlink around it at the old sewer department.”

But this new “facility” was no more tenable than the old one. “That’s when I took over all but one stall in my father’s barn,” Donna says. “We built kennels for the dogs, letting the cats and kittens roam free inside, and when somebody donated a trailer load of food, my dad graciously let me take over his garage as well.”

Volunteers met every month at the library and raised money with events like bake sales on the courthouse lawn. And while Anderson County eventually founded a building in which to house Animal Control and hired a paid officer, there was still no place dedicated to finding permanent homes for the animals they brought in.

Donna and others soldiered on, working weekends and holidays, and after filing 501(c)(3) paperwork and receiving a small grant, they were finally able to erect a small building up the road from the Wild Turkey Distillery, the place we know today—40 years after Donna first took over her dad’s barn and garage—as the Anderson Humane Society.

http://www.andersonhumane.org

Donna is 60 now, and while she would be the first to dismiss any credit, I think it is fair to say her life’s work has been taking care of the most vulnerable animals in this small, rural county, and with little money. Every dollar here is so very hard to come by.

I recently stopped by to see Donna following a weekend fundraiser, the annual rummage sale. She gave me a big hug, showed me a set of little pink dog sweaters a friend had dropped off, and introduced me to her latest arrival.

“This is Hope,” she said, her voice catching as she got down on the floor to cuddle with a gray-faced, elderly beagle no one had claimed after being picked up as a stray. “Older dogs, you can just see it in their faces, that look of ‘I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to have a person.’ These are the ones who tug at me the most.”

They tug at me, too.

Handsome, the sweet old guy we did not think would last six weeks, is about to celebrate his fifth Christmas with us. He limps around a bit, but he is healthy, loves ice cubes, and begs for truck rides. We still have no idea how old he is, but no matter. It turns out he needed so very little: a family, an enzyme to sprinkle on his food, and Debbie, his angel on earth like Anderson County’s Donna Callahan.

__________

Anderson Humane Society
1410 Versailles Road
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
(502) 839-8339
http://www.andersonhumane.org

__________

IMG_1708

Handsome.

It’s not about the Bible

IMG_2123

Driving through the business district of our rural Kentucky town, you can’t miss this spray-painted message, proudly displayed on a bed sheet.

andersonlogo

We moved to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in 2015, the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage the law of the land and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, for religious reasons, she said, refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

After three and a half years, First Christian Church here has become the first to allow its reverends to perform gay marriage ceremonies, while “Pastors at other area churches said they were aware of the decision and didn’t know of any other churches in Anderson County that currently perform gay marriages.”

We have more than 70 churches. Local businesses display reminders that this is a county of Christians: the Bible prominently placed in the magazine rack of the coffee shop, Christian radio playing while you’re getting a physical therapy treatment, t-shirts for sale with cute sayings like, “I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”

And yet, the pastor of Alton Baptist was quoted in an Oct. 17 article saying he believes only 15 percent of the county goes to church. Why? Could it be lack of inclusivity? Could it be that rigid, puritanic social stances have pushed people away?

Many will say hogwash. And many, as they did on the Anderson County News Facebook page, will point solely to the Bible:

“When you go to CHURCH that preaches out of the BIBLE Gods holy word. You will not find anywhere in the Bible it’s ok for homosexuality. Plain and simple.”

“Problem is ppl try to fix the Bible to fit the sin. It plainly says that not one word in the Bible is to be changed. He is the Alfa and the omega the beginning and the end. He says you will be punished and put to death for sin and you will. Homosexuality is a sin.”

“This is Crazy!! GOD and the Bible teaches not to do these things so why would a church say it’s ok!!”

“You can love the people but the Bible says a marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe the whole bible so are you believing only part of it?”

I am reminded of an episode of The West Wing in which a woman insists it is the Bible, not her personally, that condemns homosexuality. Fictional President Bartlet responds, in part: “I am interested in selling my youngest daughter, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7, what would a good price for her be? My chief of staff insists on working on the Sabbath, and Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?”

For those holding up the Bible (and not simply their personal distaste) as justification for opposing same-sex marriage, are we still required to kill someone for working on the Sabbath, or have I missed something?

I often hear, “I don’t care what people do in private, I just don’t agree with gay marriage,” and so I refer you to faith columnist Gary Thompson’s Oct. 24 column in which he wrote, “The laws under the Constitution of the United States must not be abandoned simply because we don’t agree with them.” While Mr. Thompson was likely not referring to same-sex marriage, the rules still apply. Same-sex marriage is the law, and the law is the law whether you agree with it or not.

Here in Anderson County, we have a Bible in the coffee shop, Christian radio at physical therapy, and “I love Jesus” t-shirts, but only 15 percent of us attends church. Perhaps it is time to consider this Facebook message from one of your neighbors:

“Well it is 2018. The faith as a whole must evolve or face loss of their congregation. The way the Bible is interpreted has always and will continue to change, and the overwhelmingly consistent message of acceptance and love endures regardless. As human beings we must evolve on this topic. The fact that two people love each other enough to bind themselves before a God they still believe in when it’s purely an option, in the face of a still broad society of un-acceptance is reason enough to get on board.”

To First Christian, I say thank you for having the courage to lead.

To the more than 70 additional area churches, I ask, with so many folks today feeling afraid and alone, is the marriage of two people who love each other really such a burden?

Trump MIA as Commander in Chief

h-l_kycom_4c_logo-1444742878

While there are many things in the Trump administration that defy credulity—his Twitter tantrums, his flailing against the press as the “enemy of the people,” his seeming inability to offer comfort in the wake of tragedies like the Tree of Life Synagogue or the California wildfires—his ongoing defamation of our military leaders and his snubs of the traditions for honoring our troops are nothing less than conduct unbecoming.

There is a famous Denzel Washington scene from the 1993 movie “Philadelphia,” a line of dialogue that best reflects my bewilderment at President Trump’s role as Commander in Chief. “Explain this to me,” Denzel says, rubbing his hands hard over his face, “like I’m a two year-old, because there is an element to this I just cannot get through my thick head.”

On Nov. 10, the president tweeted, “I am in Paris getting ready to celebrate the end of World War One. Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?” But then he skipped the celebration altogether, a last-minute no-show for his meticulously planned memorial visit to Aisne Marne American Cemetery, a short 50 mile drive from Paris.

The reason given? It was raining.

Upon his return to Washington D.C., the president then took a pass on paying his respects at Arlington National Cemetery on Veteran’s Day, a long-held presidential tradition.

The reason given? Too busy making phone calls.

The president has been in office almost two years, and while he has made plenty of boondoggles down to Mar a Lago and has visited his golf courses more than 150 times, he has yet to visit our troops deployed to war zones.

The reason given? “He does not want to associate himself with wars he views as failures.”

To paraphrase Denzel, could someone please explain all of this to me like I’m a two year-old? Because there is an element to this level of disrespect I just cannot get through my thick head.

And let’s not forget the troops deployed here at home.

In the days leading up to our Nov. 6 midterm elections, the president insisted a dangerous invasion threatened our southern border, that thousands of migrants who were both on foot and still more than a thousand miles away, posed an imminent threat. “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border,” he tweeted. “Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!”

He immediately deployed almost 6,000, active duty troops to the border. He warned that he might deploy up to 10,000! Fifteen-thousand if need be!

But a mere three weeks later, this caravan has all but disappeared from public view. Where did they go? What happened?

No credible explanation has been given, and “according to Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the commander of U.S. Army North, who is helming the operation from San Antonio, Texas, ‘Our end date right now is 15 December, and I’ve got no indications from anybody that we’ll go beyond that.’”

In a recent interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News, the president took umbrage, inexplicably defaming Adm. William McRaven, the commander of Seal Team 6 who served honorably for 37 years, accusing him of being a partisan hack and musing offhandedly, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?”

These are the president’s own words, his actions, and they defy decency.

We often hear the president’s loyalists insist he is doing a fine job, that the poor man receives too little credit and too much criticism, and that, above all, they did not vote for a saint, a minister, or a moralist to serve in the Oval Office.

What about Commander in Chief? Did they vote for one of those? Maybe they could explain it to me like a two year-old, because by his own actions, the president as the leader of our great military is woefully missing in action.

Crazy socialists!

andersonlogo

November 14, 2018

I am in the checkout line at the Lawrenceburg Kroger when the couple in front of me stalls to chat with the cashier. “You know I’d have done quit already if I could,” the wife says, sliding her credit card. “But he’s the one I’m worried about.”

She nods her husband’s way, but he shrugs her off. “Between the shoulder he fell on last winter, his knees, and the neck thing, I mean, he’s still got 12 years to Medicare, and I got 14. I pray to the good Lord we make it and that we can both still walk when we do.”

I take in every word because I have just read a Facebook post from an old friend. This friend lives in France half the year, and she’s posted a story about how, after a long flight from Minneapolis to Nice, her husband collapsed coming out of the shower. So she did what she does in France. She called her doctor and he came right over, helped her get her husband into bed, figured out he was just badly dehydrated, got an IV going, and left.

No ambulance. No ER. No panic. The cost? Nothing.

This is what socialized medicine looks like in real life. Not the scary ads politicians like Andy Barr bombard you with on TV, not two years to get a simple surgery, and not long lines in a clinic. Well-run, socialized medicine looks like my friend’s story: a doctor who does all the basics for one small area of town and gets to know his patients as both caregiver and friend, all paid for by the government through taxes.

This August, I went to my 35 year high school reunion. The day of our big shindig, we got bad news. One of our classmates, a sweetheart of a man who’s been fighting cancer for a few years, was being moved to hospice, and this not only cast a pall over the night, it sparked a lot conversation over beers and loud music about illness, aging, and healthcare.

A teacher with a chronic illness: I’d retire tomorrow, she told me, but who can afford private insurance? Plus, I don’t trust that pre-existing conditions will always be covered, and I am still years from my pension. I have a family. I can’t take that risk.

A long-haul trucker from a large family: My wife and I are moving to North Dakota, he said. She’s been sick a lot, so she needs me to be home more, and I can get a driving gig up there with good insurance and where I’m home most nights. But how do I leave here, how do I leave my family?

I could go on, but you get the point. Like the woman in line at Kroger, we are all throwing the Medicare dice. Good Lord in Heaven, we should or could retire … but healthcare: 65 or bust!

I am a Democrat, so I have spent a lot of time the last six months talking about healthcare (Amy McGrath’s plan included a Medicare buy-in at age 55) which means I have spent a lot of time hearing the word “socialist” screamed my way.

For the record, I am not a socialist. I believe in the free market economy. But I also believe that our workforce would be a whole lot more productive with accessible, affordable, you-can’t-ever-take-this-away-from-me medical care.

Imagine if my teacher friend could simply retire because she’s done teaching, opening that job for a new teacher who really wants to be there for our kids.

Imagine if my truck driver friend, a nice man with a decent savings, could stop driving altogether to stay home and with his sick wife instead of having to move to another state, far from his family, to work for healthcare coverage?

I know you’re skeptical, so I encourage you to Google a 2008 NPR story titled, “Healthcare Lessons from France” to learn more about what good, nationalized healthcare looks like.

And ask yourself this: if socialized medicine is so evil, why are you so desperately praying to reach age 65 so you can sign up for Medicare, the American version of socialized medicine?

My friend’s France story continued into the next day. She was taking her morning walk around the neighborhood when she ran into her doctor coming out of someone else’s house. How’s Ronnie? he wanted to know. And as they talked, she said she’d forgotten one of her medications back in Minneapolis. No problem, the doctor said, and pulled out his prescription pad and wrote the prescription for her, right there in someone else’s driveway.

Crazy socialists. Who in their right mind would want healthcare like that?

Midnight in America

When we were little, Daddy and our uncles would hide outside our bedroom windows at night to scare us. If we’d been bad—sassed back, refused to eat our peas, protested bedtime—we could expect the boogeyman. The boogeyman was how they got us to behave.

My fear of the boogeyman lasted, embarrassingly, into my 20s. I remained afraid of the dark and of what lurked beyond nighttime windows. I knew this was irrational. But irrational fear is still fear.

In the weeks before the midterms, the president and his allies employed a boogeyman scenario: a caravan of Honduran migrants was marching like an army toward our southern border; thousands of aggressive, marauding criminals bringing both murderous intent and diseases of Biblical proportion. Small pox! Leprosy! Middle-Eastern terrorists hiding amongst the women and children!

And at numerous rallies endorsing Republican candidates, including Kentucky’s Andy Barr, the president declared that a vote for the candidate was a vote for him personally, a vote for security and safety.

On Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Illinois—the same day congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue were gunned down, and following a week of pipe-bombs mailed to prominent Democrats—the president repeated the falsehood that Democrats want to abolish U.S. borders. Vote for me if you want to be safe! And “of the dozen people interviewed at Mr. Trump’s rally, almost all of them spoke in considerable detail about their concerns over immigration. Ms. Hooten, the Trump supporter at the rally on Saturday, blamed Mr. Soros [a prominent Jewish benefactor], Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama for the caravan. ‘I think they’re all involved in this,’ she said. ‘I feel it’s treason.’”

Reporters told a different story about the caravan, filing photo after photo of crying, bedraggled children and stories of exhausted men and mothers, but no matter. The president continued flogging his fear narrative in the days before the big election, inexplicably dispatching 5,200 troops to the border for a caravan of refugees still a thousand miles away and on foot. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” he tweeted.

Then came election day and warnings about the caravan miraculously disappeared. No more tweets. No more warnings of invasion. No more terrifying, presidential pronouncements. No more FOX news alerts. Just like that.

In 1984, President Reagan declared that it was morning again in America, but President Trump seems hellbent on an American midnight. Dangerous, dark people are invading this country, he reminds us every chance he gets, and you’d better stick with me, your White Knight, the only one you can trust to keep you and your loved ones safe.

In Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” he quotes then-candidate Trump from a March 31, 2016 interview. “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear.” And as we have learned, he wields that power with abandon.

When the president held his post-midterm election press conference, he mocked every Republican candidate who had not welcomed his embrace on the campaign trail. The message? Fear me, I can hurt you.

When questioned about his phony, caravan campaign tactic, the president bristled, declaring the reporter asking the question an “enemy of the people” and later, in a unprecedented act of retribution on the free press, stripped that reporter’s White House credentials.

When I look back now, I can see where my young daddy and uncles were coming from. They used what they knew how to use, scaring us and calling us names like “sissy” or “big baby” because that’s all they knew, and they were overwhelmed at having a houseful of children and no idea how to control us.

Sadly, and I would argue dangerously, this president is equally overwhelmed and ill-equipped. He lies, scares, and threatens because has no other tools in his toolbox. Like my daddy and my uncles, the president uses the one tactic he knows—fear—to maintain a sense of control.

On a recent trip to Missouri to visit my Trump-trusting parents, I was greeted with Dad showing me his iPad. “Have you seen this? The Muslims are going around to all the Walmarts in this area and buying up burner phones! They’re planning something.”

You might call my dad’s fear irrational, but it is still fear, and I blame the president for gleefully stoking it.

It is midnight in America, and I am not a kid anymore. I know enough to be afraid.