Dear Congress: Everything You Need to Know to Solve the Debt Ceiling Crisis You Learned in Kindergarten

Dear Members of Congress:

You probably shouldn’t be wasting time reading my blog post – as right now you have more important things to do, like preventing a chain-reaction, global economic meltdown caused by the crisis you manufactured around the debt ceiling.  But in the event you have to take a potty break, and brought your iPad into the stall with you – this might be a helpful read, and more productive than Googling yourself to see how many Americans have cursed your name within the last 24 hours.

Given that you work for an institution that requires at least a majority, if not a super-majority vote of agreement in order for you to accomplish anything; and given that the term “compromise” has ironically become a term of derision and scorn amongst your colleagues in Washington – it seems to me you’ve put yourselves, and us collectively, into a no-win situation. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be such a bad thing – as most Americans, Democrats and Republican — feel that the less meddling you do, the better off the rest of us are.

But, you’ve uncorked this genie with absolutely no idea of how to get it back in the bottle.  So perhaps a few words of common sense and homespun wisdom that you should have learned in kindergarten – non controversial ideas that all Americans can agree on – might be helpful to you in cleaning up the mess you made.  So here goes:

  • Family Values:  If you are a part of a family – were raised with siblings, or are raising children –  you know that you can’t always get what you want.  And if you stomp and scream and hold your breath until you break the spirit of those around you to get your way, you might win once or twice – but no one will play with you ever again.  You will get locked in the closet and have to suffer while the other kids play, only to be released begrudgingly after all the fun is over.  You will be called “Prissy,” “Cry Baby,” “Adolph,” and/or “Bossy Pants.”  And no one will like you. Respect you.  Or take you seriously ever again until you grow up.  Unless you are an only child or an alien hatchling, you already know this.  So stop jumping up and down and telling us why your constituencies elected you, and why you are not going to budge or compromise.  Nobody cares why you’re sulking in the corner with your arms crossed, holding your breath and turning blue.  Nobody likes you right now.  And we can’t stand listening to you.  You sir/madame, are flushing our country down the toilet by your actions.
  • Nobody Likes a Tattletale: We all have been there.  Somebody throws a spitball at you in class.  Someone tugs your hair and pretends someone else did it.  You got tripped on the soccer field and the coach didn’t see it.  We all have suffered indignities.  And we all have inflicted them.  But no one respects the kid who raises his hand in front of the teacher and other kids, and tattles.  At my home, tattling was a punishable offense.  So – if you don’t like how your colleagues across the aisle are negotiating this debt ceiling deal – I can tell you that you won’t win support or sympathy by holding a press conference to point fingers and call your colleagues names.  We all think that’s really snarky.  It makes us think of that annoying tattletale in class.   You’re not winning any supporters.  You’re hurting your cause.
  • Play Nice With Others in the Sand Box: On your job descriptions, I’m sure it mentioned that you have to work with 534 other people on a fairly regular basis.  That you will be working in a collaborative environment and that all opinions are respected.  That you must be congenial and respectful of diverse opinions.  If the job description didn’t mention that, it should have.  Most of us work in similar environments so we’re used to it.  We go to work every day with people who have different beliefs, some of whom we don’t like or see socially – and we still get the job done. We learned how to do this in the sandbox when we were kids.  We usually learned that lesson the hard way – after we yanked the Tonka Toy from Billy’s clutches, only to have it yanked away from us by Mom and returned to Billy, followed by a very shameful and public expulsion from the sandbox in front of the other kids. In Congress, you seem to gloat that you don’t like the people across the aisle or spend any time with them.  And that you don’t try and get to know them and understand their positions.  You seem to think it’s a good thing that you don’t go to dinners with colleagues from the other party, have lunches in the congressional cafeteria, or play golf with them.  In the sandbox – if you didn’t come out and play, we couldn’t get to know you.  So we thought you were weird and, most likely we hated you and called you names.  But that’s what happens when you don’t try and get to know the people you work (or play) with – and play nice.  When you made a small effort, it changed everything and we realized that all those nasty things we were saying really weren’t true.  And you became our friend and we learned how to do stuff together.  But, how are you going to save our economy from the folly you’ve created – if you can’t even play nice together in the sandbox?
  • Take Responsibility for Your Actions: I think every American – Republican or Democrat – can agree that we were raised to take responsibility for our actions.  If I broke my brother’s toy – I had to replace it.  When I stole candy from the counter at the supermarket – I was called to task and marched back to that counter with money from my piggy bank and paid for it.  When I stuck the key in the electrical outlet that subsequently created an arc on the electrical grid and a power outage in our neighborhood (OK, I wasn’t always the brightest kid), I fessed up and took the lumps.  So, if you, Congress, fail to resolve this debt ceiling crisis after creating it in the first place – I want you to pay for it.  Depending on who you believe, the economic consequences of failing to do your jobs and pass the necessary debt ceiling legislation will cause a ripple effect in the billions, if not trillions of dollars around the globe.  Given that the cause will directly be the result of your failure to do your jobs, I believe you should be personally liable for your abrogation of your responsibilities.  I advocate that the General  Accounting Office should keep a spreadsheet tallying the economic impact of this mess you’ve created, and on a monthly basis divide the total damages by 535, and send you a bill for reimbursement.

Now, I’m sure you’re not currently legally liable to pay damages for your recklessness.  But you’re Congress – so you can change the law.  I think every American – Republican and Democrat – would support this legislation.  So, if you truly represent the sentiments of your constituents – you should be able to pass this bill on one vote without so much as a debate.

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A Better Way to Shine a Light Than Book Burning

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not exactly a strong believer in organized religion.  I am spiritual, and have always sought my own path to better understanding divinity – often through interactions with, and the writings of, spiritual people of all faiths whose messages resonate with my own particular frequency.

But at the same time, I deeply respect those who find their eternal truths through Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or through the hundreds of other religious faiths around the world reminding us that there is more here than meets the eye.  That we are precious and unique, loved and loving, creation and creator, earthly and divine. And that our most important jobs are to love and treat others as we wish to be treated.

So, like millions around the world drawn into this theater of the absurd drama unraveling right now about the Florida “pastor” threatening to burn the Koran – I wonder, how on Earth did we get here?  How is it that an isolated fringe lunatic spewing garbage and hate, has a spotlight on the world stage, potentially fomenting another cycle of hatred, fear, misunderstanding and violence in a world already overflowing with it?

Anybody finding their way to this blog will surely feel the same way I do about the danger that religious intolerance engenders.  And there’s plenty of commentary and analysis on the subject currently bouncing around the echo-chamber of the 24-hour news cycle to fill you in if you’ve missed it.  But really, why do we allow the lunatic fringe to control the debate, when most of us are rational moderates who respect multiple perspectives and ideologies?

Last night, my husband John and I attended high-holiday services at our LA synagogue, and our rabbi, Lisa Edwards, gave a remarkably compassionate and enlightened sermon on the topic, and announced a new Jewish-Islamic interfaith program the synagogue will be sponsoring in an effort to help bridge the destructive chasm forming in our culture among different faiths.

Her main point was that there is such fear-mongering and misinformation happening now, especially in our country around the Islamic faith, that we give power to the crazies like this Florida pastor, to impact world events with the force of a tidal wave when, in fact, their ideas do not even warrant a ripple.  The only thing we can do when hate-mongers wish to shroud us in their veil of darkness is to pierce that veil with the light of knowledge and understanding.

So, it occurred to me that simply decrying the idiocy of this pastor’s publicity stunt is not enough.  I can easily speak out against it, just like any other sane person can.  But I have to honestly acknowledge to myself that as much as I know there is nothing to fear about the Islamic faith (dangerous fundamentalists excepted – but they cast shadows in every religion), I don’t know much about it — really.  That makes any impassioned commentary I might make about this Koran-burning fiasco simply another uniformed, angry voice in the crowd.  Do we really need that?

The only thing that I can do that will truly make a difference right now is to learn a little more about Islam, so that hate mongering and misinformation cannot play a role in my judgment.  So that I can cast a little light on the subject – not more darkness.

There’s a lot at stake.  Ignorance has destroyed many a great civilization, and ours is no less impervious.   That slippery slope of self-destruction starts with fear.  Then, zealously applied misinformation.  And frequently devolves into burning books and undermining the rule of law to deprive discreet groups of their fundamental human rights — like the freedom to practice their religion when and where they like.  Sound familiar?

So, I just ordered a copy of the Koran from Amazon and promise to give it the ‘ole college try.  I don’t expect to really get into it any more than I have the Old or New Testaments (did I mention that I don’t have a terribly high patience threshold for ancient religious texts?).  But at least I’ll know what it says, so I can try to shine some light on the subject when the next debate inevitably comes along.

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Dog Ears and eBooks

I’m not a luddite… really. I don’t miss vinyl records or 8-tracks or cassettes or CD’s and I won’t miss my iPod when someone (and it will happen) comes up with a better musical mousetrap.

I’m a proud, card-carrying, iPhone4 call-dropping , Facebook-posting, FourSquare check-in(g), Google-mapping, techno-geek. And I’m generally not nostalgic when the new displaces the old – that’s progress. Innovation begets innovation – and new economies, art forms and modes of expression are the progeny. And I’m all for it.

Except, I have a confession to make… I like books. No, not the kind you scroll through on your Kindle, iPad or Nook. I’m an addict of the hard-bound, tree-murdering, page-yellowing, paper-cutting, mildewing variety that you lug through airports in already-overstuffed bags and clumsily balance on your thigh as you negotiate your buy-on-board snack with your spork.

I have nothing against ebooks. Nor their smug fans. I don’t mind when Kindle readers sneer at me with mocking superiority as they toggle through their entire eLibraries, effortlessly choosing amongst a thousand volumes, from Angelou to Zola, to satisfy their attention-deficited reading disorder. While I’m traversing the country bench-pressing McCullough for the 6 months it takes me to journey from Truman’s barren youth to his dropping the a-bomb.

Truth be told, these eLiterati wouldn’t be nearly as smug if their finely-honed thumbs and forefingers couldn’t guiltily toggle from this week’s People Magazine to the factory-pre-loaded Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare, to avoid the over-the-shoulder judgment of a nearby snooper. At least if I’m reading Kathy Griffin’s Official Book Club Selection, the world knows it. I own it. Good trash is good trash.

No, my distaste for eBooks extends beyond the personality disorders of their acolytes, and goes to my own personality disorders, forged in that dysfunctional maelstrom we call childhood.

In our house, the walls had two functions, neither, it seems, related to personal privacy nor sound insulation. Walls in the Lipsey household were used for displaying my mother’s paintings. Or for housing books.

As far as I can tell, Earl Klep, our family’s carpenter, must have sent all his children through college on his profits from the solid oak, stained, built-in’s he constructed in nearly every room. That 100-year-old house is still standing, and I’m sure its because those bookshelves are holding it up.

I guess my parents’ thinking was that a blank wall was a shameful thing to waste. And they didn’t waste an inch. Every wall was organized. “Like” was stacked with “like” in an homage to the Dewey Decimal System. The Boer War, Civil War and Reconstruction coexisted peacefully in a section of the den. Monet, Manet and Modigliani shared esthetic proximity in the living room. And Potok, Rand and Roth’s tableaus of angst-ridden mid-twentieth century life competed for attention in the family room.

My parents were also aware that children of different ages constantly roamed about the place, so reading matter also had a vertical orientation. As you grew taller, new topics of discovery previously beyond your grasp found their way to your reach – literally and figuratively. The floor level bookshelves in the family room brimmed with kid-friendly fare. Monopoly, Risk and Sorry board games were stacked for easy access next to the LiteBrite’s, Rock’em Sock’em Robots and Legos. Just above for easy access by tiny digits sat the Worldbook Encyclopedia, the entire original edition of Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Seuss, Cleary, and on and on.

The greater the height and distance from the kid-friendly epicenter of our family room, signaled increasingly remote and mysterious subject matter. Upstairs, in the master bedroom for instance, on the top shelves along the ceiling along the far wall were the sections that came to hold the most intrigue as my precocious young mind grew more curious. DH Lawrence, Erica Jong, and Jackie Collins sat inconspicuously, unnoticed by the untrained eye. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and, of course, Reuben’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask* intermingled in a disorderly moshpit of adult content genres. (* By the way, I was afraid to ask. But I wasn’t afraid to scale Earl Klep’s solidly crafted bookshelves (a.k.a. kid-ladders) to find out for myself! Parental control technology is so much more sophisticated these days!)

Meandering through our home from room to room was much like taking an intellectual tour of our family. Each space had a mood and feel that radiated as much from the books lining its walls as from the furnishings. Every shelf told you something about us. Well-worn spines, torn covers and dog-eared pages signified concentrated study, while stiff covers and crisp pages revealed superficial inquiry or boredom. The number of volumes on a shelf dedicated to a particular subject matter reflected depth of interest. Whole sections devoted to glass blowing, jewelry design, figure drawing and color theory, for instance, tracked directly to my mother’s evolution as an artist.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve carried my parents’ book obsession to their level of extreme. I don’t display every book I read. I don’t finish every book I start. I don’t feel guilty about giving books away as my limited shelf-space bows to its limits. (Ikea could learn a thing or two about bookshelf construction from Earl Kelp.) But books do line the walls of our house (where they also compete for space with my mother’s cherished paintings), sectioned off by subject matter from room to room.

I love seeing them in the periphery, reminding me of different periods of my life. Of interests I picked up along the way. I love pulling a book off the shelf that I bought five, ten or twenty years ago and reliving the excitement I felt discovering it for the first time. I love it when house guests wander along the shelves, perusing titles, finding something of interest to digest during their stay. I love the occasional silent look of surprise or judgment when someone discovers the unexpected. “That book is out of character.” “I didn’t know he was into that.” “Who on Earth would buy that trash?”

I love that a book can simultaneously be part of the inner architecture of my mind and the outer architecture of my environment. Which brings us back to the original topic of ebooks. Why don’t I like them? Because you can’t build your home around a Kindle.

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(Virtual) Ties That Bind

This week I was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death by heart attack of a college fraternity brother.  So many thoughts wash over you upon hearing of a tragedy like this: The hole left behind by his passing, the loss to his wife, kids, siblings and parents; his young age, and the re-realization that you yourself are a mortal being in time.

This friend and I were not close.  In fact, we had lost touch for over two decades until out of the blue he friended me on Facebook a couple years ago.  After the salutory exchange of messages exclaiming our happiness to be reconnected — we settled into the all-too-familiar Facebook friendship.  The one in which we keep tabs on one another through Facebook Wall updates but little else.  You know those types of virtual friendships.

In fact, social media has so over-saturated our lives that many of us our experiencing “friend-fatigue.” Who on Earth has 200…300…500 close friends?? And why would we care about keeping up with such a large group of “tenuous” friends that really have nothing to do with our day to day lives?

Then the news of my friend’s passing… It started infiltrating Facebook Nation. From the rumor mill, to sad confirmation, to an outpouring of grief, to the posting of warm memorials from friends and colleagues of every corner of his life, posted for us all to read and share communally.  From people I didn’t know, to old friends who’d long since escaped my orbit (even on Facebook).

Then of course it hit me.  Every religious and spiritual philosophy holds as one of its key tenets that we are all connected.  That every meeting between people, no matter how brief, has meaning and leaves a lasting ripple that radiates outward to forever. Of course believing that intellectually, and feeling it viscerally are two different things.

But then from the magic of my computer, I came to grieve, with friends, virtual-friends and strangers alike, for someone who was a part of my experience many years ago.  And for a brief moment we were all connected and sharing a communal moment.  A virtual light shined and technology, of all things, exposed those delicate filaments, invisible ties that bind and connect us all.

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