Saturday, December 25, 2010

On Christmas, a Choice

I really hate to write this actually on the holiday, but I can't take the "have it both ways" attitude any longer.

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful one. But please pick one of the following philosophies. Choose carefully!

a.) There is nothing wrong with having Christmas displays in the town square, in front of City Hall, or in public schools. Furthermore, we should all say "Merry Christmas!" and not this watered down "Happy Holidays" stuff -- but, recognizing that, we are acknowledging that Christmas is a completely secular holiday with no religious meaning whatsoever, and that it's about Santa Claus and drinking cider and not remembering Bethlehem at all.

b.) Christmas has become way too secular, and we've forgotten its religious roots. We need to remember that the birth of Christ is the reason for the season -- but, recognizing that, we are acknowledging why it's inappropriate for public tax dollars to be used towards a public display honoring Christmas, and that it's perfectly fine for stores and shopping centers to say something more inclusive than the belief-system-specific "Merry Christmas."

I'm closer to (b.). How about you? No hybrid choices, though. Pick one.

Oh, and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Letters

The following appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on November 8 ( No, mine has nothing to do with the Obama presidency:

"I'm in favor of gays and lesbians having the right to marry and adopt children, but Michael McGonigle (letters, Nov. 4) can't be taken seriously if he's comparing those who think differently to violent extremists who stone to death people who disagree with them (including gays and lesbians)."

-- and this appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times on November 27 (

"I distribute literature for two nationwide organizations that assist victims of domestic violence, and I am frustrated that people such as Nan E. Fagan (letters, Nov. 14) are still operating under the delusion that violence is a strictly male-on-female phenomenon.More than 250 studies, reviews and analyses demonstrate that women initiate domestic abuse against their male partners approximately as often as the reverse occurs. A recent study by the American Psychiatric Association indicates that, when only one partner in a heterosexual relationship is violent to the other, it is the woman almost 71 percent of the time.There is also a startlingly high amount of domestic violence within the gay and lesbian community. Like straight men, these victims are ignored when people like Fagan pretend violence is only defined as 'when a man hurts a woman.'”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No Need for Candidates to Use Misandrist Insults

I'm not entirely familiar with Ruth Marcus's work, but I agree with her this week:

Click here: Ruth Marcus - 'Manning up' isn't the problem this election

Excerpt: "'Man up' as in 'man up, Harry Reid,' from Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle on Reid's playing down of Social Security's financial woes. And, though it got less attention, from Missouri Democrat Robin Carnahan to Republican Roy Blunt at a Senate debate the very same night, on health care: If Blunt wants to do away with health care for others, Carnahan told him, 'then you ought to repeal your own first. And man up.'

Ladies! If we're so tough, so confident in our toughness and so comfortable with it, what do testicles have to do with it?...Don't -- even, or maybe especially, if you're a woman -- equate toughness with manliness. At least not unless you think it's acceptable for your opponent to tell you to behave like a lady."

I'm pulling for almost every Republican candidate next month, but I still agree with Ruth Marcus's every word here. I'm tired of women -- politicians or otherwise -- who believe that they themselves are not to be attacked for their gender but that they have every right to ridicule men for theirs.

If Harry Reid -- and, again, I am NOT a fan -- had told Angle to "man up" or "woman up," there'd be a tidal wave of anger against him.

You're better than this behavior, Sharron.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Helping Boys to Like Reading Without Scatology

I liked this a lot:

"When I was a young boy, America's elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males," writes Thomas Spence. "That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can't read."

Spence is not the first to observe this. He disagrees, however, on one of the proposed "remedies."

"According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must 'meet them where they are'—that is, pander to boys' untutored tastes.
For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means 'books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.' AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to 'grossology' parties."

His alternative theory?

"The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time 'plugged in' than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys' attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?"

I'm with Spence. Both boys and girls (and adults) would make room for reading if they weren't constantly plugged in to MP3s, cellphones, Twitter, and Facebook. Making books more available and removing (at least for a little while) devices that feed the picture into young minds, rather than allowing imaginations to do some of the work, is what will help more young people read. I know I'd hate going to a "grossology" party, with everyone talking about poo or their farts or puke. I read a good amount of sports fiction and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries at that age.

Another "solution" I have a problem with centers upon gender stereotypes, as people argue that boys will all love reading adventure and sci-fi stories, while girls read about being saved by a white knight. Have boys and girls alike read Treasure Island, and then have them all read Jane Eyre. Maybe you'll find more boys like the first book and more girls like the second. Maybe you won't. But exposing minds to many types of literature and helping them figure out what they like and don't like seems like the best bet. After all, even though I'm not a patron myself, don't both genders adore the Harry Potter series?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Forget Alpha and Beta and Just Be Yourself

Boy, oh, boy, (and girl, oh, girl,) am I tired of seeing stories like this one:

From the brief article:

"Research suggested that females have found the rise of the 'more feminine man', or 'metrosexual', a big turn-off.
Women see modesty amonsgt men as a poor character trait that could adversely affect their employability or earnings potential...
The study of 132 female and 100 male student volunteers found, however, that men did not view female modesty negatively.
The participants viewed footage of 15-minute job interviews of males and female actors delivering similar responses to questions for the position that required social skills.
The applicants were judged to be equally competent for the role but the 'modest' males were less liked, results published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity showed."

First off, could we please desist with the idea that one can speak for all women or all men or all anything else? Women are not a monolith, and neither are men. I'm certain some women would love to marry James Bond or Cary Grant, and many others want the quiet bookworm who talks about his feelings a lot. (I won't get into right now which category I'm more likely to fall under.)

Secondly, we don't need any more damn labels to stick onto people. (I agreed when Michael Stipe said that he thinks "labels are for canned food.") There's a stereotype about men and boys that they're generally slobs or barbarians who like to hit each other with sticks while rolling around in the mud in their underwear. Then, when it's time to go out to dinner, they wet their hands and run their fingers through their hair to comb it. If you do anything beyond that, the stereotypers first assume you're gay (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course), and if they find out you're not they'll give you the new label of "metrosexual." If you fail to live up to one stereotype, they'll hit you with another one, rather than reconsider whether they should be pigeonholing people. I was never a fan of John Edwards politically, but I didn't give him any crap over his $400 haircuts while he was running for the presidency. If women can throw down four Bennies at the salon -- then go for it, man. And I spend $18 at The Hair Cuttery, so I'm not speaking from experience here.

Next, and this will come as a surpirse to many women: men don't merely say they have emotions because they think it will impress you or turn you on. Men have emotions because they're human beings. I'm always disturbed when I find a woman who talks about her feelings or cries or needs a shoulder to lean on (about every day) suddenly turns around and ridicules a man whom she sees doing these things even once.

When people first began to move away from these stereotypes years ago (prompting the sort of backlash we now find in the Telegraph piece), it wasn't merely because the stereotypes were unfair (which they are, to both sexes), but also because they're simply not true. Society must stop telling men that they're not to have emotions or to admit that they have them. Maybe men's average life expectancy will start to rise if they don't insist on internalizing everything.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Declaration (for the) Independence

How cool is it that my letter about the Philadelphia Independence was published on July 4?

"I was pleased to see the Philadelphia Union draw such a large crowd to the first game in its new home, PPL Park in Chester. But too little attention has been paid to Philadelphia's other expansion soccer team: the Philadelphia Independence, of Women's Professional Soccer.

It was good that The Inquirer had a sizable article about a recent Independence win, but too many news outlets seem to be ignoring the team, despite the fact that it's in second place in the WPS at the All-Star Break."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Laugh Away -- Just Not When Someone Gets Hurt

I thank Dr. Helen Smith for again sticking up for men and boys everywhere.

I have no idea why anyone would consider it funny when anyone else is hurt, and writing around (or on the ground) in pain.

A few years ago, I was in NYC with friends, and I decided to take a break from the bar scene to grab some bottled water at a nearby all-night-deli. I excused myself and walked about half a block west. In the time I was in the store, getting my liter of water (probably for about $6.49), it began to rain. POUR. I said, "Oh, jeez," and then ran as quickly as I could back to the bar. It didn't help. Upon my re-entrance, tugged at my drenched shirt and made some comment to the effect of, "Well, I wanted water, and I got it!" and one of my friends laughed. He apologized immediately for laughing, but I said, "It's okay! You can laugh; it was funny." On the other hand, had I been HURT instead of wet, and people had laughed, I would have been very upset.

On Sesame Street many years ago, there was an episode on which one of the adult characters hurts his thumb while using a hammer. Oscar the Grouch appears and asks what the commotion is, and the man explains what happens, adding, "You probably think this is funny." But, in one of the great moments of the show's history, Oscar says, "No! I laugh at people sometimes, but I don't laugh when someone is in pain. Pain HURTS!"

If only television writers, screenwriters, and Madison Avenue writers would watch more Sesame Street.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Published Letter, One Irate Reader. Check.

A letter of mine appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer today. Sweet placement, too, as I'm batting leadoff in a Sunday section:

I'm not affiliated with the Tea Party movement, but I am taken aback by how quick its opponents are to dismiss it as a band of racists. Now E.J. Dionne has joined the chorus, albeit in a muted fashion (Apr. 20).

If about 11% of Americans are African-Americans, and about 6% of Tea Party supporters are African-Americans (as a Gallup poll tells us), then I really don't see that as a huge disparity.

When pressed for evidence that the Tea Party comprises 2010's version of segregationists and would-be slave-owners, its opponents either repeat anecdotes of racial slurs (mostly unsubstantiated) or point out all the white faces -- as if "Caucasian" is now automatically a synonym for "bigot." Meanwhile, African-Americans and Latinos who align themselves with the Tea Party movement, or identify themselves in any way as conservative, receive even more vitriol, being called "Uncle Toms," "Oreos," "coconuts," and "traitors." Isn't it a tad wrong to suggest that all members of a race should think the same way about everything?

Calling one's opponent "racist" used to be the last, desperate step when losing an argument. Sadly, it's become the first.

I've gotten some good feedback, but, of course, not everyone's a fan:

"Your letter simply underscores the frightened and frantic politics of the far right wing...[B]y the way, if you believe that the far right wing fringe of the Tea Party movement is not motivated by racism, you are either not paying attention or you are ridiculously obtuse."

The more intelligtent readers will, no doubt, take note that my letter wasn't about any far-right wing OR far-left wing of any movement; it was about a movement as a whole. It's buoying when someone is so kind as to prove my point so soon after my work meets the public eye.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BeneGram's 2010 Final Fourcasts

I have two perfect women's final fours (2005, 2009) and one 3-for-4 performance on the men's side (2003). Which means nothing with regard to this year, of course. (Then again, I said something to that effect last year.)

WOMEN: Stanford, Nebraska, Connecticut, West Virginia. UConn over Nebraska in the final.

MEN: Pittsburgh, Kansas, Duke, West Virginia. West Virginia over Kansas in the final.

Happy Dancing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Losing Jerry Won't Diminish Lyndsey's Love

Those of us who contributed money over the months so that Massachusetts woman Lyndsey Medeiros could afford cataract surgery for her pet turkey, Jerry, received the sad news today that Jerry passed away after complications from the surgery.

Medeiros and her family, no doubt, have had to endure months of anger and failed attempts at humor from dimwits who think they're wildly clever when they suggested keeping Jerry "warm" in an oven set to 450 degrees. (These are the same people who write "People Eating Tasty Animals" and think they're Jonathan Swift.)

The Medeiros family deserves our credit for their consistency and selflessness, and -- it bears repeating -- while the people who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars buying flat-screen TVs and sports cars for themselves have every right to do so, they also have no ground to stand on when they accuse Lyndsey of "wasting" money by helping a pet -- including a pet they themselves don't have the presence of mind to find worthy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Call to Be Grateful

I will reiterate my thoughts from last year at this time, as well as add some wise words from a speech I heard a few years back, with things for all of us to think about.

"Happy Valentine's Day to those of you who have a special someone to spend it with. While you're staring at each other across the candlelit table, remember those who've spent every February 14 of their quiet lives alone. There are those who've just suffered through a divorce and those who are finding themselves without someone for the first time in a while, but there are also those for whom romance and dating and true love have always been mere widespread rumors. Some are teenagers; some are inhabiting college dorm rooms; some are in their 40s or 50s. Keep them in mind on this day, and you will treasure what you have more."

Think about this: Should you find it hard to get to sleep tonight --

Just remember the homeless family who has no bed to lie in.

Should you find yourself stuck in traffic; Don't despair. There are people in this world for whom driving is an unheard of privilege.

Should you have a bad day at work, think of the man who has been out of work for the last three months.

Should you despair over a relationship gone bad, think of the person who has never known what it's like to love and be loved in return.

Should you grieve the passing of another weekend, think of the woman in dire straits, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for $15.00 to feed her family.

Should your car break down, leaving you miles away from assistance -- think of the paraplegic who would love the opportunity to take that walk.

Should you notice a new gray hair in the mirror, think of the cancer patient in chemo who wishes she had hair to examine.

Should you find yourself at a loss and pondering what is life all about, asking "What is my purpose;" -- be thankful, there are those who didn't live long enough to get the opportunity.

Should you find yourself the victim of other people's bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities -- remember, things could be worse -- you could be them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti/Dominican Republic S.O.S.

Pick one.