Flowers are red, fingernails are pink

My son Angelo, who’s 3, insisted this weekend that his mom and his sisters paint his nails. It was a lovely shade of pinkish, on the darker side. Not quite red. I don’t know what to call it and didn’t think to ask. All I know is, it was on my son’s fingernails, and I groaned a little.

It’s not the first time Angelo has blurred the gender line. Earlier this summer, he insisted his mom buy him a “Frozen” cap with Elsa’s hair sewn into it. And a T-shirt with Elsa’s image on it. My wife found a blue one.

He wore that thing at Disney World. And he loved it. And so did we.

Now don’t get me wrong. Angelo typically wears boy stuff. Ninja Turtle shirts. Batman raincoat. Iron man shoes. Mickey Mouse shirts (no interest in wearing Minnie or Daisy items). But every now and then, Elsa.

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

But something happened Monday night my wife and I were not prepared for. Angelo was lying down next to my wife, and he said to her, “I don’t wanna wear nail polish.”

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Nail polish is for girls.”

“Who told you that?”

Angelo said his preschool teacher told him nail polish is for girls. He repeated the accusation to me. And I have to admit, I was pretty upset about it. So was my wife.

Now, let me get this out of the way: the teacher denies this, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. We know Angelo’s teacher to be a wonderful, dedicated and compassionate person. We have no idea why Angelo said what he said, but 3-year-olds have been known to misinterpret what they hear from adults. Whatever. It’s not the point, and we love Angelo’s teacher and school.

But whatever the source was, Angelo felt criticized for showing up at school with painted nails. And that makes me uncomfortable.

If my son wants to wear nail polish, that is his business. He’s 3. He’s not declaring his sexuality. He is not rebelling against gender politics. You know what he’s doing? He’s looking at painted nails and saying “Cool! Can I try that?” And we’re saying yes. Because if my son wants to go to school with dark pink, light red nails, he is going to school with dark pink, light red nails.

And an Elsa hat with a wig attached. We want our son to feel free to express himself, to let us know who he is, not to mold him into what he “shalt” be. We are not going to change who he is by suppressing his self-expression, but we will be able to love and support him more completely if we allow him to be himself.

We removed the nail polish Tuesday morning, and that made me a little sad. Not because I want him to wear it. I don’t, to be honest. But I want him to decide on his own that he doesn’t want to wear it. Otherwise, he’s being less than who and what he wants to be. “If you want to put it back on or pick another color, just tell us,” I said to him as we finished.

Maybe he’ll go with green next time.

One of the saddest songs I ever heard is called “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin. It’s about a little boy who colors flowers using every crayon in the box, and the teacher who successfully “straightens him out” by instructing him that flowers are red and leaves are green.

In case that description is too subtle, here’s a spoiler: The teacher is the villain in this song, and the child is the victim.  There’s nothing subtle about it. There is a correct answer to “what are the letters of the alphabet?” and “what is two plus two?” There is, however, no correct answer to “what colors do you want to use for your art?”

Or your fingernails.


Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

I was going to write a post on the Baked Alaskan, but I don’t think I could do a better job than Jeff Winbush. For the record, he and I appear to have come up with the “Baked Alaskan” moniker independently.

Zero Tolerance For Silence

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?


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They’re coming for your children! And so are Satanists!

When you take something seriously, it is sometimes difficult to tell when you are being mocked.

In no area of life is this more evident than it is in the field of religion. Tell a devout Christian that there is no God, and the Christian will respond with assurances that you are wrong. But tell him you are a Satanist, and he thinks you really believe in and worship the Dark One.

Rationally speaking, there is no such thing as a Satanist. A person who truly believes that there is a spirit being named Satan who opposes the Creator God of the Old and New Testaments would never worship such a being, for to do so would be to deliberately enlist in the losing side of a war.

There are words for people who believe in a literal Satan at work in this world. Those words are Christian, Jew and Muslim. Not Satanist.

Whenever I encounter someone who calls himself a Satanist, I chuckle. This person is not a “Satanist,” the way a devout Christian would describe such a person. He is an in-your-face, obnoxious atheist. Not content to carry the banner of “skeptic” or “unbeliever,” the Satanist intentionally presses buttons to antagonize those who believe in the Islamo-Judeo-Christian God.

If you don’t feel intimidated by the idea, visit the Church of Satan website, and you’ll quickly learn that Satanists are not what Christians portray them to be.

“To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions… Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods, doing so because many of our species cannot accept or control their personal egos, feeling compelled to conjure up one or a multiplicity of characters who can act without hindrance or guilt upon whims and desires.”

Did you catch it? The simplicity is a bit disarming. “Satan,” to the Church of Satan, is a symbol, not a real being. They don’t worship “Satan” for the simple reason that they do not believe Satan exists. They do not believe in supernatural beings, at all.

Let me insert an asterisk here: There are all sorts of wacky beliefs about all sorts of supposed gods, so when I generalize about Satanists not believing in a literal Satan, I do so fully expecting that somewhere out there is a silly (and for all I know quite dangerous) sect of people who really do believe in a literal Satan and choose to worship him anyway. Then again, I know people who voted for Sarah Palin, Ross Perot and Walter Mondale on purpose. What can I say.

By and large, when “Satanists” emerge in the public sphere, it is far more likely that they are atheists trying to make a point than worshipers of a literal Lucifer. Atheists have been known to invoke the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” as God in order to mock theists. “Satan” takes the affront one step further, from mockery to downright antagonism.

And good Lord, does it work!

satanic17n-1-webWitness the reaction to reports that a group calling itself “The Satanic Temple” wants to distribute “satanic” literature to public school children in Orange County, Florida. Outrageous, right? Well, yes, and that is their modus operandi – to instill outrage. To what end? Well, in this case, their goal is rather transparent. They are seeking to protest the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren by advocating the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren.

Rush Limbaugh would (or should) recognize it as an example of “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.”

It. Is. Brilliant.

“Prayer warriors, unite!” one friend wrote on her Facebook page. And while I completely respect my friend’s right to express her religious views and concerns, I can’t help but feel that she completely missed the point. In short, she did not realize or recognize that her religious beliefs were being exploited and mocked for a legitimate purpose.

It turns out that the school board in Orange County has permitted “World Changers of Florida” to distribute Bibles in schools, then allowed an atheist group to distribute materials earlier this year.

The Satanic Temple rightly recognizes that the school board cannot discriminate against any group on religious grounds, so they are seeking to distribute something called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

According to the book, Satan can only be appeased by blood sacrifice. Otherwise, he is unable to welcome those who have previously acted against his interest in the world.

Oh, wait, that’s not what the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities says about Satan. It’s what the Bible says about God. An easy mistake to make.

No, the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities includes admonitions about friendship, respect and freedom.

It should offend Christians that Satanists want to distribute this book to children. Children are not old enough to appreciate the satire being aimed at religious adults who see nothing wrong with using the state to promote a religion they like, but whine like sacrificed goats when the state is used to promote a religion they don’t like.

Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that some other religious group is going to use that school as a recruiting ground. And non-Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that Christians are going to use that school as a recruiting ground, too. It works both ways.

Why exactly is it that any Christian group would want to distribute Bibles in a public school? Why not select a private place where adults gather, such as, I don’t know, a church? If a religious group wants to recruit new members, why go to a public school? Why not go to a playground, where there’s a good chance the children’s parents will be there? (Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?)

Give credit where it’s due: Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are not seeking to distribute their materials in public schools) at least have the integrity to knock on doors and speak to adults about their faith. They don’t come after your children when you’re not looking.

The way I see it, the solution is not that difficult. If you don’t want state resources co-opted to promote every religion, you stand against state resources being co-opted to promote any religion (including atheism). Problem solved.

Recommended reading: Dear Oklahoma: Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan.

The Pledge of Allegiance: Resistance is Not Futile

The American Humanist Association has started a new campaign to get people to boycott saying the Pledge of Allegiance until the words “Under God” are removed. I can sympathize with the campaign for a variety of reasons, but I suspect it is doomed to failure. As long as The U.S. Supreme Court stubbornly and wrongheadedly refuses to admit that the insertion of those words constitutes an endorsement of religion, the Pledge of Allegiance will never be changed back to its original, religiously neutral, inclusive form.

FlagThat last point should be emphasized: The American Humanist Association does not want to change the Pledge of Allegiance. It wants to change it back. And no matter where you stand on the question of God, if you really think about it, you should stand with the American Humanist Association on this one. Because they’re right.

I have problems with the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in schools on a number of levels. I don’t know that a single article can do justice to the complexity of how I feel, but I’ll give it my best effort.

First off, we’re expecting children as young as kindergarten and first grade to recite something they could not possibly have the maturity to understand. Ask them what allegiance is, and they can’t tell you. Ask them what a republic is, and they can’t tell you. Ask them what “indivisible” means, and they’ll say it means you can’t see it.

The Pledge of Allegiance is an adult commitment that should be made by adults, or at least by children old enough to fully appreciate what it means. Civics should teach us why our country deserves allegiance. It should not instill so-called allegiance through mindless daily repetition.

I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I was instructed early in life that I was not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance – not because I didn’t love the USA, but because pledging allegiance to a flag constitutes idolatry. Agree or disagree, that is what my religion taught. And government had no right, none, to compel me to recite a pledge that violates my religion. The Supreme Court eventually agreed in 1943, after first deciding three years earlier that children could be compelled to violate their religion by reciting the pledge.

What changed? I can only imagine that common sense prevailed (and enough Witnesses got their butts kicked by so-called patriots who failed to understand that dissent is part of the fabric of this nation).

Ever since the 1943 decision, no student could be compelled to recite the Pledge. At least, not by law or policy. But social and peer pressure is strong, and many schoolchildren are too young to realize they have rights and can stand up – or sit down – for them.

By the way, that is still the law of the land, so when the American Humanist Association calls on people to sit out the Pledge, it is asking them to do something perfectly legal.

The words “under God” were not added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954. For decades before that, the Pledge was recited daily without those words, and no one was accused of being unpatriotic for it. The insertion of those words was entirely and exclusively for religious reasons – it was initiated by a chaplain and promoted by religious groups, including the Knights of Columbus (a private organization of adults making an adult decision in keeping with their religious views). The KoC believed the pledge was “incomplete without any reference to a deity.” Religious leaders called on President Truman to add the words in 1952.

To conclude, as the U.S. Supreme Court does, that the insertion of the words “under God” do not constitute an endorsement of religion by Congress, in direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, is nothing short of willful ignorance and historical revisionism.

If you don’t believe the words endorse religion, I invite you to conduct this simple experiment:
First, find someone to express the view that “under God” should be removed.
Next, watch what happens. Pay careful attention to who defends the insertion of those words, and what their arguments are.

What many people don’t realize, because they rarely see it, is that there is a stigma attached to sitting out the Pledge. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked to defend my non-participation as a child. Not once, not a single time, did I challenge someone’s decision to recite the Pledge. It may not have been legally required, but it was certainly expected.

No child should ever be put in that position by his or her own government, using schools as an agent.

When the Pledge was recited while I was growing up, I would stand (I didn’t know I could remain seated) and I would pray in silence (turns out you can say the Lord’s Prayer in the same amount of time it takes to recite the Pledge of Allegiance).

Would I have remained seated had I known that was an option? Probably not. The peer pressure to stand would have been great (not to mention, teachers who honestly and sincerely believe they are doing the right thing instruct children to stand even if they’re not reciting the Pledge. Legally, such teachers are mistaken, but their hearts are in the right place).

And let me get this out of the way: it is NOT a show of disrespect to our military for anyone, child or adult, to decline to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. The men and women who serve in our armed forces do so to protect our freedom, not to force us to violate our religion or our conscience. It is a perversion to tell me what I must do to show respect for those who serve, fight and even die for my freedom. What part of “freedom” are some people not understanding?

It is not unAmerican or unpatriotic to sit out the Pledge. It is unAmerican and unpatriotic to force someone to stand up for it when he or she objects to it on principle.

So here’s my advice to anyone upset with the American Humanist Association and its “Don’t Say the Pledge” campaign: Embrace it. Embrace every child and adult who exercises his or her fundamental right to sit out the Pledge, for whatever reason. Let them know, and let everyone around them know, that the right to sit down is part of what makes this country great. Do that, and you help this country earn the allegiance it is seeking.

As an adult, I typically remain silent for the Pledge during government meetings or other events I cover. But in my mind, for various reasons, I have my own pledge, one that is no less patriotic.

I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, to the democratic republic it both is and strives to be, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

[Clarification: This post is not intended to present a complete history of how “under God” came to be inserted into the Pledge. I am well aware that it was inserted during the Eisenhower Administration, not the Truman. And Eisenhower was motivated to insert the words because of a sermon he heard on the topic. The major point I was making is that the insertion of those words was motivated by religion, not mere civics].

I got tired of click bait: How I solved it will shock you!

Click Bait

I stopped clicking on manipulatively titled Facebook posts.

Hey, thanks for visiting. While you’re here, check out my three most recent posts:

Time to hold Fox and Friends to a lower standard>

Convert or Die: Unacceptable for any religion

The ice bucket challenge: a fad that stands apart


Time to hold Fox and Friends to a lower standard

Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy stuck their foots in their mouths again on “Fox and Friends” Monday.

For those who missed it, here’s the rundown: Kilmeade, Doocy and Anna Kooiman were discussing the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator when the conversation segued into the message sent by celebrity victims of domestic violence who stand by their men.

Click on this link for the video:

So Kilmeade’s takeaway from all this? “I think the message is, take the stairs.”

Say what?

And Doocy’s response: “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”

Say what?

The comments are an embarrassment to the public discourse, even for a show like Fox and Friends, which exists on the border separating journalism and commentary from entertainment and mind-boggling stupidity. Kilmeade and Doocy crossed that border Monday.

There they were, making a serious point and raising a serious question (why do so many abused women stay with their abusers, and what message do they send?), then failing to explore the serious question they raised with an ounce of substance. Finally, they cap it off with two tasteless jokes, undermining the seriousness of any point or question that they raised.


I note with some amusement that professional journalism associations have not condemned the comments. I’m pleased with that, because to criticize the comments would be to confer journalistic legitimacy on Doocy and Kilmeade, and this exchange is Exhibit A for anyone who wants to make a case that these two are not journalists.

To hold Doocy and Kilmeade accountable to the standards of professional journalism is as foolhardy as it would be to hold the Ringling Brothers Clown College to those same standards. They are what they are — buffoons who should be ostracized by real journalists.

Kilmeade has made a number of gaffes that have required explanation and apology in the past. My only interaction with him, which was indirect and not private, was in 2009, when he somehow managed to equate interracial marriage with bestiality. As Dave Barry would say, I swear I’m not making this up. At the time, I was president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, and I called for two things from Fox: An apology, which we got, and a chance to begin a dialogue with Kilmeade and the show’s producers, which was ignored.

And that’s the shame of it, because a dialogue then might have helped. Well, it would have helped a journalist interested in getting better at his job.

But Brian Kilmeade is not a journalist, as he has demonstrated repeatedly. No sense holding him to a journalist’s standards.

Oh, yes, Kilmeade kind of sort of — okay, didn’t apologize for his Ray Rice comments on Tuesday. He said: “Comments that we made during this story yesterday made some feel like we were taking the situation too lightly. We are not. We were not. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us, I can assure you.”

Mr. Kilmeade, you were taking the situation too lightly. And you are. Domestic violence is a very serious issue, but not to you. You have assured me of nothing other than your failure as a commentator and communicator.

But look on the bright side; it’s not like anyone expected any better from you.

Carry on.

Convert or Die: Unacceptable for any religion

I don’t know what it is about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments on ISIL* that infuriated me the most. His statements struck a chord for many Americans sickened by the militant group’s beheading of two American journalists and the Obama Administration’s allegedly insipid reaction to it [I included the word “allegedly” because I am not passing judgment, pro or con, on the administration’s response]. Robertson’s solution for how America should handle ISIL is, to me, as sickening as ISIL itself. Yes, I feel that strong about it.

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying America should not respond to ISIL. I’m not saying our response should not be decisive and unequivocal. I’m not saying we should not eliminate the threat any way that we can. At the same time, I’m no expert on Middle Eastern politics (neither is Robertson, by the way). I would like to see this handled intelligently. Robertson’s solution is not intelligent. It is abhorrent to any decent thinking person whose views are governed by reason rather than bloodthirsty passion.

Here’s what Robertson actually said:

Watch the latest video at

In this case you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible. I’m not giving up on them, but I’m just saying, either convert them or kill them. One or the other.

Convert them or kill them. Note that I’ve linked to the Fox News video and transcript of Robertson’s comments, and I invite you to watch and read them in context. I will be quoting from that transcript, but lest I be accused of taking his comments out of context, I strongly urge you to read them in context before deciding whether you agree with me.

I’d much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of having your sins removed and being raised from the dead. I would rather preach the gospel of Jesus to them. However, if it’s a gun fight and a gun fight alone, if that is what they’re looking for, me, personally I am prepared for either one.

Honestly, I doubt Phil Robertson is prepared for either one. I doubt he’s prepared to preach the gospel to ISIL, and I doubt he’s prepared to enlist and take the fight to them, “personally.” But I do think his sentiment is honest.

Look, I’d much rather have ISIL converted to Zen Buddhism if it will stop the violence. To me, the key is getting ISIL to stop and renounce the violence. Religion has nothing to do with it. The problem with ISIL is not Islam, it’s what ISIL has shown it will do in the name of Islam. Changing religions is meaningless if it won’t change their behavior.

You can speak your mind, Rev. And I can criticize what you say. It works both ways.

But make no mistake — Phil Robertson’s comments had nothing to do with peace and everything to do with imposing his religion at the end of a sword (or the barrel of a gun). Don’t believe me? Read his words IN CONTEXT. Here’s what preceded “convert them or kill them”:

Worldwide, planet-wide, Biblically speaking, two groups of people, the children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one. That’s First John 5:19. The evil one works in those who are disobedient. Galatians 3, they are prisoners of sin. Second Timothy 2, the Bible says they’ve been taken captive by Satan to do his will.

Listen, let me show you one. I’ve got the old — hey, America, Declaration of Independence, it’s my book marker. Don’t forget that. Listen to this, Sean. Solomon, one of the wisest men on earth if not the wisest, he’s speaking of wisdom, “Whoever finds me, wisdom finds light. Watch and receives favor from the lord. But whoever fails to find me,” this is the God of the Bible, “harms himself.” Now, listen to this on this ISIS thing, “All who hate me love death.”

So you scratch your head and you say, well, why is it that when we’re not even over there in the Middle East, why do they continue to slaughter each other when we’re not even on the premises? They can’t blame us. We left Iraq. You said what happened in Egypt and Syria, you say in Libya. They just slaughter each other. You say, what? “All who hate me love death,” Sean.

Did you catch that? If you’re not Christian, you’re under the control of the evil one, taken captive by Satan to do his will. ISIL, to Robertson, is just an example of evil. If you’re not a Christian, you’re another example of evil. If you’re not a Christian, you harm yourself. If you’re not a Christian, you love death.

Robertson has a right to his religious beliefs, and I have a right to call his application of his religious belief slanderous, barbaric and dangerous. I’m not criticizing Robertson’s religion. I could care less what he does on Sundays (or any other day, for that matter). I’m criticizing his views on what America should do in his religion’s name.

[Side note: I do find it odd that Robertson can slander all non-Christians in such a blanket fashion, while anyone who criticizes him is accused of attacking his religion. My view is, if your religion makes statements and judgments about me, then I am entitled to respond to it without being accused of “attacking” it. But we can handle that double standard another day].

So when we piece his comment together, here’s what he’s saying: ISIL is a threat because ISIL hasn’t found the God of Christianity. What we need to do is make them Christian. If they don’t want to become Christian, we have to kill them.

There is nothing laudable about that position.

ISIL is a threat because ISIL is willing to wage war and commit atrocities in furtherance of its vision of an Islamic State in the region. What we need to do is stop them from waging war, by convincing them it’s not in their best interest or by crushing them until the threat is eliminated. Millions of Muslims live in the United States peacefully, and in the world, peacefully. The quarrel is not with Islam, per se, as much as it is with what certain people are willing to do in its name. It is a political battle, not a religious war.

A friend of mine suggested the following: “I think he is pretty much saying..let’s kill them. And really…what are the other options? He is really stating the obvious…convert them so that they no longer act on hatred and bloodshed OR do unto them what they are doing unto others. What is bothering you the most about his statement? That he is speaking of Christianity or that he believes they should be killed? These are barbarians. Plain and simple. If he would have left out religion completely and simply said I would rather change their minds on how they feel about us but if I can’t and all they want is a fight then that’s what they will get…would that be more acceptable?”

Let’s clear something up: Robertson DID NOT SAY “convert them so that they no longer act on hatred and bloodshed OR do unto them what they are doing unto others.” His solution was not focused on changing their behavior, it was focused on changing their God.

That’s the fallacy in his comments: it presents us with a false dilemma. Convert or kill, as if there are no other options. There are oodles of other options, all of which have one goal in mind: a peaceful alternative to the need for force. “Convert” is arguably the least peaceful alternative on the list, one almost guaranteed to instigate further hostility. THAT’s why it’s dangerous and repugnant. Robertson himself admits that “convert” is not even remotely likely. He’s right about that. But the alternatives he ignores, the ones that don’t make any religious demands, have a greater capacity to bring peace, assuming ISIL wants peace (which doesn’t seem to be a reasonable assumption at this stage).

Anyone who thinks the solution to a problem in the Middle East is to force Muslims to change religions under threat of death is a first class, grade A, bona fide moron.

The solution to murder in the name of religious extremism is NOT to threaten war in the name of another religion.

So, the answer to my friend’s second question [“if he would have left out religion completely and simply said I would rather change their minds on how they feel about us but if I can’t and all they want is a fight then that’s what they will get…would that be more acceptable?”] is an unqualified YES!

“Convert or die” was the cry of the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is also ISIL’s m.o. It has no place in enlightened civil dialogue in the 21st Century.

*ISIL and ISIS are the same organization. I use ISIL because as an acronym, it more accurately reflects what the organization claims to be: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Click here for an explanation.