Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

We have a new game show in the U.S. It's called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" and features contestants grappling with questions taken from our primary school curriculum. (Quickly Now: How many moons does the planet Mars have? No peeking.)

DD was in the fifth grade when this show debuted, so we watched several episodes. She delighted in knowing answers to questions that JP and I both had forgotten in the years since we were in fifth grade. (In my case, that's been a few years, believe me.)

One of the many things she studied this past year was the composition of the U.S. government. She learned how we have three branches, each designed to check and balance the other so that no single branch takes too much power unto itself.

I was recently reminded of her lessons--and the show--when I read of Vice President Dick Cheney's claims that the Office of the Vice President does not, in fact, belong to the executive branch of the U.S. government and is therefore free from oversight. These claims seem, well, disingenuous coming from one who has served in a variety of capacities in our government.

Sadly, it seems our vice president is not, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader. Either that or he's trying to hide something.

*Sigh* It almost makes me pine for a more innocent time, one where the (then) vice president was unclear on the proper spelling of a certain root vegetable.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Secrets, Lies, and Audiotape

Today, the Central Intelligence Agency released several hundred pages of formerly classified material detailing (among other things) misdeeds and other embarrassing activities made by "The Agency" between 1959 and 1973.

In the tradition of Dave Letterman's "Top 10" lists, here is a summary of the so-called Family Jewels:

8. Tested equipment in Miami prior to a political convention.

7. CIA personnel "swept" the 1968 conventions (and candidates) for listening devices.

6. Loaned equipment to police agencies near Washington D.C. so they handle protests from "dissident elements" rather than the CIA's own guards.

5. Surveilled "newsmen" to identify their sources and other activities to support local police investigations.

4. Illegally confined a Soviet defector for nearly three years.

3. Wiretapped two unidentified newsmen to learn their sources. Most identified.

2. Tried to use the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro.

1. We don't know.

That's right! One secret, the first one mentioned in the report, has been kept private. The details appear to have taken two and a half pages, pages that are completely blanked on the online report.

What do you suppose was detailed in those pages? Watergate involvement? The JFK assassination? Tests involving LSD? Remote viewing? Roswell? Some strange combination of these possibilities?

Whatever the final secret, one thing became pretty clear while I was reading the report. The agency's former activities could have been ripped from modern headlines. Illegal detention. Wiretapping of American citizens. Attempted regime change. Monitoring of dissidents and protesters.

It doesn't seem like much has changed in the last 34 years, does it?

One final note. Disclosures like this intrigue historians, political science students, and X-Philes. They generate headlines and water cooler gossip. They're fun to read and ponder. They're flashy; they command attention. I'm sure we'll be hearing about the Castro thing for days.

I do wonder one thing, though. Why was so much information was released at this particular time, especially after so many years of official denials and refusals?

It wouldn't happen to be a transparent attempt to shift attention from more recent acts of questionable legality, would it?

Nah. Our leaders wouldn't do that to us. Would they?

Photo credit: Paul Morse

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Secret, Secret

If you see me,
acting strangely,
don't be surprised.

I'm just a man
who's circumstances
went beyond his control.

-- Mr. Roboto, Styx.

Today's Sunday Scribblings prompt is secret. We all have secrets. Things we keep from our children, because they're not old enough or because we're not ready to admit they're mature enough. Things we keep from each other because they're embarrassing or simply too private. Things we keep from ourselves because, well, because we're afraid to accept them.

Some secrets are good secrets. Birthday presents, for example are good secrets. I like to quietly buy holiday presents throughout the year. It gets tricky from time to time, especially when JP asks "What's in the bag?" and I have to say, "I can't tell you." She's very understanding in general, but doesn't like the idea of Christmas presents being purchased in March. I haven't done as much of this sort of thing over the past couple of years, but if she seems to bond with something while we're out and about, you can bet I'll try to figure out a way of swinging back when she's not looking.

Some secrets, of course, are bad secrets. I imagine we can all think of cases where our actions weren't as transparent as we might have hoped. For myself, I try to learn from those mistakes. I try to understand what led me to make those choices in that way.

And, as I mentioned earlier, some secrets are very private and personal. I do have one secret that I've keep inside. On the one hand, it seems trivial, but from a different perspective, it's complex.

My childhood was not the most pleasant nor was it the hardest around. My parents didn't like each other very much and they had a lot of frustration in their lives. Frustration with themselves. Frustration with each other. Frustration with their situation. (They married because they "had to." Their marriage ended their college careers and that limited their opportunities.)

As you might expect, there were many shouting matches. They cursed at each other, they fought with each other (yes, physically). Things were thrown. My father waved his pistol about. My mother pulled knives. As far as I know, neither ever actually attacked the other.

Some of this would spill over in my direction. Today, we would call these episodes physical and emotional abuse.

Even though things were bad from time to time, there were good times, too. I loved my parents deeply and was devastated when my dad told me they'd decided to divorce. (I was 14.)

As I grew up, I recognized that my experiences were what we would call "adverse." Somewhere, I had heard that children frequently continue the patterns of their parents. That scared me because I didn't want to be responsible for putting another through experiences similar to my own. I made a conscious decision to handle things differently than my parents did.

As I got older, I realized I couldn't wait to become a father, to create a family with a different experience. One filled with love, security, and stability. I wanted a family and I looked forward to nurturing and guiding young spirits in a way that I had not been.

In college, a friend asked me to impregnate her so she could go onto Welfare. She promised that I wouldn't have to support her or the child in any way. She said I could walk away. I declined, knowing that I would never be able to walk away from a child of my own. While I liked her as a friend, I wasn't willing to have a parenting relationship with her.

Later, a girlfriend chose to abort a pregnancy. She didn't tell me until a few years later. We had drifted apart and she felt it was important that I knew why.

I didn't marry until I was 32, in part because I knew I wasn't ready. We tried to have children, but it never worked out. We went to fertility clinic and spent thousands. Nothing seemed to work. No test was able to explain why it wasn't happening. We scraped the cash together for an IVF procedure. It failed. I was devastated and began to realize that I probably would never have a child of my own. I would never know the emotional fear and thrill that some speak of feeling when they hold their newly born child for the first time.

We decided to adopt and Kara came into my life. She was nineteen months. We bonded quickly. The first Sunday she was with us, she and I were blowing bubbles in the back yard. I was kneeling in the grass and she snuggled into the crook of my arm and put her head on my shoulder. In that moment, my heart blossomed out toward her. I think I felt, in that moment, that fear-thrill moment. This little girl was choosing to trust me to love and protect her. It was an awesome moment and a scary one was well.

That marriage disintegrated shortly after the adoption was final.

I eventually met (and married) JP who had three children from previous relationships. DD is the youngest.

So here I am today. DD and Kara think of me as Dad, which I love. And I do what I can to nurture them, protect them, and help them grow up knowing love and security. It's nice.

It's hard sometimes, but it's good. I'm thankful. I'm grateful. For while it's not happened the way I thought it would, I am a parent and I like to think I am the kind of parent I always wanted to have.

The secret? There are times I wonder what it would have been like to have a child of my own, one of my flesh, a sprout from my own seed. Oh, I know. That's irresponsible or unnecessary or somehow less than noble. I do not allow that wonder to affect the way I treat my kids in any way whatsoever. It's something I keep inside and try to understand when no one else is around (or awake). Perhaps it's a biological imperative. Perhaps it's a left-over from reading too many "Arthurian" tales of heirs and lineage. Perhaps it's a desire for an unbreakable bond. Perhaps it comes from something I haven't yet identified.

In some ways, it's ironic. Most of my life, I've wanted to have children. And I like to think that I am a good parent. I'm not perfect, of course, but I do pretty well, all things considered. (It helps that JP keeps me honest and real.) And, unlike some divorced Dads, I am trying to remain involved and active in Kara's life, in spite of the roadblocks her mother throws up.

But, this is the way my life has worked out. While it's not exactly what I thought it would be, I am a parent and my kids love me. My wife loves me. I am creating a family life better than the one I grew up with. That's pretty heady, when you think about it.

I'm happy. And even though neither of my girls has a single strand of my DNA, they have (I think) something more useful: my love, my attention, and my time.

I can live with that.

Photo credit: Me. It's my other set of girls when they were three months old.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Day in the Life...Just a Day

Today marks a solstice, summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern. According to Wikipedia, it is also the anniversary of the end of the Tauranga Campaign in the New Zealand Land Wars (1864), of Guam's becoming a U.S. territory (1898), of the fall of Tobruk during World War II (1942), of the acquital (by reason of insanity) of John Hinckley, Jr. in the assassination attempt of U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1982).

It is the birthday of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905), Jane Russell (1921), and Lalo Schifrin (1932), who composed the well-known theme for the television program Mission Impossible.

Today also marks the anniversary of the deaths of Niccolò Machiavelli (1527), John Lee Hooker (2001), and Carroll O'Connor (2001).

Ten years ago, I actually wondered what today would be like, as (at that time) it would have marked the tenth anniversay of my marriage to Pamela (Kara's mother). Knowing now what I didn't know then, I am grateful that anniversary never came to pass. I can only imagine the pain, misery, and futility I would have felt today.

Instead, I am happy in my marriage (to JP) and look forward to going through life with a partner who builds people up, rather than tearing them down. I feel lucky to be with someone who listens to--and enjoys--my point of view. I am honored to be building a life with someone I like spending time with. We're buying a house together (yikes) and I'm really looking forward to creating a home for our family.

Thank you, JP, for making today a day of joy, happiness, and peace for so many others in our life these days. It's just a day on our life...and I couldn't be happier.

The following poem is dedicated to my lovely wife and others who have survived with their hearts and integrity intact.

We do not know where our path will lead
Until we look back to see where we have been.
We do not know what we will see
Until we remember what we have seen.
We do not know how we will survive
Until loving arms surround and support us.
Move forward with faith, trust, and hope.
You will only fail if you stop believing.

Photo credit: Me. I took it when JP and I visited Paris a few years back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Holy Identity Theft, Batman!

Yikes! Its been more than a month since my last post. I'm soooo very sorry. I will strive to post more frequently.

So...what brought me out of hiding? What tidbit of activity in this life caught my fancy enough to share it with you? What madness stirs me to post?

Identity theft is, as I'm sure you've heard, becoming a major problem in modern society. It appears in headlines more and more frequently. There was, for example, this recent item describing how one woman caught the thief that stole her identity.

However, the headline that caught my attention was the one describing Herman Munster as one of the most recent victims of online theft. If you're not familiar with the name (or the photo), Herman was the (fictional) father in an American TV show called The Munsters.

What really scares me? Herman apparently had a working credit card number. I'd like to hear how that got authorized.

I'm sorry for going underground for so long. Things have been very hectic in these parts. But more on that later. For now, don't fill out any online forms unless you really do know where they're going. Otherwise, you may not be quite so amused the next time you hear about identity theft. (As Herman might say, "Darn! Darn! Darn!")

Photo credit: Unknown. I "borrowed" it from Morticia's Morgue, though I presume that Universal Studios owns the copyright.