Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Word of the Day: INSANITY

Within my three-part posting titled 'Massacre' earlier this year, I made reference to the massacre at Columbine High School thirteen years ago and how someone at my church could tell how deeply troubled I was about it just by my facial expressions.  Just five months ago, I wrote the three-part 'Massacre' posting regarding the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Just five months ago!  Now, I am writing about another school shooting, only this time the vast majority of those murdered (twenty out of twenty-seven) were children just six or seven years old.  

Early on here, let me state that am as heartbroken as I am fed up with events like the one that took place this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts.  I have never had children, but I am stunned at this news.  I am also finding a passionate fire welling up in me, more than ever before, in terms of those in power MUST take appropriate steps in response.

One of my questions for those in power is What is it going to take for you to do the right thing for those you are supposed to serve, the American citizens?  What, indeed!

Many references in the news and on political pundit shows have been to the massacres at the Aurora movie theater and at Columbine High School.  To any of you who have been keeping up with the news, those markings of time -- April 1999 (Columbine), July 2012 (Aurora), and December 2012 (Sandy Hook) -- are not the only sadly significant moments of such tragedies.  Here is an incomplete list of some of them:
April 20, 1999 -- Columbine High School (deadliest U.S. shooting at a high school)
March 21, 2005 -- Red Lake Senior High School
October 2, 2006 -- A one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania
April 16, 2007 -- Virginia Tech (deadliest U.S. school shooting of all time)
January 8, 2011 -- Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and others
July 20, 2012 -- Aurora movie theater shooting
August 5, 2012 -- Oak Creek Sikh temple in Wisconsin
December 11, 2012 -- Clackamas Town Center shopping mall
December 14, 2012 -- Sandy Hook Elementary School (deadliest U.S. shooting at an elementary school)

As I said, that is only a partial list.  Is that sad enough, disgusting enough, angering enough yet?

School shootings are not a phenomenon beginning at the end of the twentieth century C.E.  (In fact, the first attack on a school, which was with bombs, not firearms, took place eighty-five years ago.)  You could probably trace non-school-related public shootings and massacres back to the gangster era in this country...further back, a few centuries back, if you include the U.S. Civil War and the murders of Native Americans.

Face it, part of the identity of the United States of America, current culture and historic past included, is not an attention to weapons and murder, but a regard for and an obsession with weapons and murder.  The idea of "frontier mentality" is not misplaced here, and feelings about the right to bear arms (the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment) within the borders of this very country differ from region to region.  

Personally, I would prefer no one had weapons.  That includes not only individuals, but governments and other leaders of state around the world.  That is my preference.  On a practical level, however, I cannot see removing all weapons as feasible, just to follow my preference.  (The U.S. government, military, and police forces would keep theirs, anyway.)  Since the Second Amendment guarantees the right for individuals to bear arms, I feel that anyone who is SANE, CAUTIOUS, and RESPONSIBLE should be allowed to do so.  SANE, CAUTIOUS, and RESPONSIBLE are unequivocally vital!

Freedom inextricably includes responsibility, and rights include the same.  Strike responsibility from the equation in any way, shape, or form, and you are no longer discussing freedoms or are declaring open season on the citizenry.

To the issue of safety, it is true that no one can be safe 100% of the time.  Injury, sickness, or death can happen to anyone at any time.  Parents will always try to keep their children as safe as possible.  For your own lives, staying home all the time wouldn't protect you 100%, either.  You might be safer than most, granted, but something can happen to you at home as well.  "100% safe" is a fallacy.  As President Obama said at his address at the interfaith vigil held in Newtown this past Sunday, "No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society...but that can't be an excuse for inaction."  I would add that it can't be an excuse to do too little (a band-aid on a broken leg), either.  Something must be done, something significant, something measurable, something far-reaching.

Far-reaching should not and must not include an undermining of the rights of the those who are sane, cautious, and responsible gun holders -- which, by the way, includes the vast majority of gun holders in this country.  Punish the many for the few never has settled with me, and it won't in regard to gun control, either.  To those legal and responsible owners who are afraid of such an undermining, I get it.  Washington, however, better get it, too.  This problem is not just guns and rifles.  It includes mental health, which has been steadily given less and less necessary attention year after year for some time now.  It does not include media (i.e. films, video games, etc.), as many like to place the blame, but it does on the involvement of parents telling their kids over and over again that those same movies and games are fantasy, not reality.  They are escapism, not realism.  I've seen hundreds of movies and television shows with violence and they have never inspired me to commit any acts of violence on another person, and I believe that the vast majority of others who see violence act in the same manner.  

It also includes political structure, which means that politicians need to sever ties with gun manufacturers for their own and those companies' profits, for such is the influence of destruction.  It also displays an evil distortion of "U.S. citizens" as only them and not the population at large.

The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  What this meant at that time and for several generations after related to enforcement of laws, insurrections, invasions, national defense, self-defense, and tyrannical government.  In any of the shootings I mentioned above, or any mass shooting, for that matter, tell me how the shooters are enforcing any law, protecting against insurrections or invasions, defending the country, defending themselves, or fighting a tyrannical government.  The instances where any of those points were somehow reasons (and distorted reasons) for the murderers to do what they did would be few and far-between.  They would be too few and far-between to do little to nothing in response.

If the conversations that lead to progress include law enforcement, gun manufacturers, the mental health community, citizen groups, and victims, then true change for the better can be had.  It will be to our peril if not.  On that note, I'd like to address the National Rifle Association (NRA).  I have read lately that majorities of the members of the NRA would like to see changes in gun laws.  However, the members do not run the NRA gun lobby; the NRA leadership does.  So, the leadership needs to address this.  Why hasn't the NRA publicly denounced, in no uncertain terms, these acts of violence?  Why hasn't the NRA publicly stated, again in no uncertain terms, that they are for gun owners' rights, not the rights of anyone to get his/her hand on firearms?  In other words, why don't they just come out and demand that the right to bear arms is not synonymous with the right to unload reason?  Are they so narrow-minded that they really believe reasonability is in direct opposition to a Constitutionally-guaranteed right?

The NRA recently released a statement saying it was "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown".  It explained its silence regarding the massacre in the following way: "Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting."  Yes, common decency is good, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that, when NRA rallies are many times held in or near the towns in which such tragedies occur.  (Note to the NRA: The mourning, prayers, and the full investigation have not ended yet.  I'm just saying.)  They also want to make "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." 

Pardon my cynicism, but I'll believe that when I see it.

It is not just those who are insane who commit these horrific acts of violence, but the state of how things are in this country that is insane.  The U.S. has the highest number of gun owners in the modern, civilized world along with the highest numbers of deaths via firearms in the modern, civilized world.  I have never heard any gun owner, and I know a few, give any reason why an individual MUST have weapons (and even gear) of war -- not hunting or self-defense, but war -- in their possession.  I haven't heard one reasonable justification yet because there is no reasonable justification to be found.  None.

Are we, as a society, sad enough, disgusted enough, angered enough yet to make the necessary changes to stop (or at least to greatly curb) this insanity?  We better be.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Phrase of the Day: SENDING A MESSAGE

Just last week, in certain department stores across America, the latest trend in Christmas season shopping insanity continued...and got even worse.  The Friday after Thanksgiving Day is known as Black Friday.  It is called such because that is the one day in which retailers are supposed to begin turning a profit for the year (being "in the black") after spending the year running at basically a deficit (being "in the red").  The term came about sometime in the early 1960s and gained wider usage in the following decade.

However, for the past several years, the black connotation given to that day has also come to mean something different: black, as in a black mark on society as a whole.  In addition to this blog entry's title, Sending a Message, some other words are key here -- greed, behavior, family, and necessity.

One of the basic precepts of going into business in the first place is to, hopefully, make a profit.  Even if your main thrust is to provide a service or certain products, you certainly don't intend to lose money.  That is how it should be, so keep in mind that I personally have no problem with any business turning a profit.  It seems to me, however, that the earlier and earlier start times for doors to open to shoppers is, in one sense, about greed.  Why stop at turning profits with closing on Thanksgiving Day and then opening up on Black Friday, when you can push the envelope further and further.  The longer you're open, the likelihood of greater profits.  

I can remember Black Fridays past from my childhood.  My mother and I would always go to the old Audubon Shopping Center -- a kind of really neat semi-outdoor mall -- and wait for Santa Claus to arrive.  He did, via helicopter, and he made his way through the throng of excited children (including me!) there to see him.  Then we'd go to one of the department stores that had a special area set up and we'd wait in line to see Santa, just as children and their parents do nowadays mostly in malls.  It never took place on Thanksgiving Day, always on Black Friday.  As I grew up -- and I'm counting from my teens now -- I neither felt, nor did I ever hear anyone else say, that being able to shop on Thanksgiving Day would be a great idea.  Thanksgiving Day was a least for most of us...and going shopping (except for something last minute at the food store) was the last thing on anyone's mind.  Period.

When the malls began to open on Black Friday an hour or two earlier than their usual weekday opening time, it seemed not too terribly big of a deal.  Around here, the 10:00 a.m. opening at the malls would be 8:00 a.m., maybe 9:00.  Then, a slight push up in the time kept happening.  When 7:00 a.m. was the opening time, my family and many of my friends thought that it was ridiculous.  However, the shoppers came.  When the opening time was 6:00 a.m., our collective "That's ridiculous" exhortation echoed again.  Again, the shoppers came.  It seemed like each year, or every two years, the opening time was a little earlier and a little earlier.  5:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. opening times bordered on the absurd.  Undeterred, the shoppers still came.  Lining up late at night or even camping out became more and more commonplace.

For a couple of years, there were no changes, but the next leap was on the horizon...and it was a big leap.  Last year, an opening time of midnight on Thanksgiving night was announced by several retailers.  The greed was multiplying.  It was disappointing, but the shoppers didn't disappoint retailers.  They came...and they came in droves. The insanity would not end there.

This year, for the first time ever, many of those same retailers (i.e. Wal-Mart, Sears, Toys R Us) opened up on Thanksgiving evening.  Some stores opened at 10:00 p.m.; some opened at 9:00 p.m.  Others opened at 8:00 p.m.  That's right, 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.  The words "ridiculous" and "absurd" now seem woefully inadequate.  And, you guessed it, the shoppers stood in line and camped out so that they could storm the stores just like starving animals hunting prey...not like savvy consumers, but like starving animals. 

Why would I use such strong language?  Did I go shopping on a Black Friday and have a really bad experience?  No, I did not.  In fact, whenever I did go to a mall on a Black Friday -- which was extremely rare (rarer than rare, in fact) -- it was to pick up a couple Christmas cards and maybe some gift wrap.  Not only that, but I usually went sometime around 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., when most shoppers would be at the food court getting dinner.  The bulk of my Black Friday experience was watching the annual news reports of shoppers packing malls.  That whole fighting crowds scene, even before this Black Friday/Thanksgiving madness ever started, never seemed worth it to me.  That kind of behavior was, quite frankly, repulsive to me. 

That behavior has gotten worse each year.  Here are some examples from just this year alone.

In the rush of all this hullabaloo, the family has taken a real hit.  It's not just for those employees who have to work (employers telling you when you can have Thanksgiving with your family), but it's also for consumers (letting shopping dictate how you'll structure your holiday).  Looks like the score is Retailers 1, Families 0, with no change in sight.

Tacked on to all of this, and no less important, is the concept of necessity.  I gotta have this...I gotta have that...little Johnny's gotta have this...little Jane's gotta have that, and so on.  Gotta have?  Wow!  Really?  If pressed, many of these same folks would say that, of course, life would go on if they didn't buy this or that,  (Maybe they'd soften their language by saying they "really want it".)  "Want" would be more appropriate, but "gotta have" seems to be the prevalent nomenclature.  We have been told what is necessity -- come buy it from our stock -- and too many of us have bought that message.  The fundamental five -- air, water, food, shelter, clothing -- are necessities.  Period.  Anything else beyond that is superfluous.

We have given up our power as consumers -- yes, there is such a thing beyond raising a stink or filing a lawsuit -- in order to make stores our new recreational rooms, and to make cashiers and salespersons our new extended families.  Perhaps you know the famous line from the film 'Field of Dreams': "If you build it, they will come."  Maybe you know the line that became famous in the 1960s: "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?"  (There was a 1970 film of the same name, and the phrase was a line in The Monkees' song 'Zor and Zam'.)  Well, if you don't show up, the retailers will change.  Retailers follow consumer's patterns, but many act as though consumers must follow retailers' patterns.  So, if you don't show up, aside from apparently feeling less of a person for not going, do you really think that a year or two of consumers not showing up on Thanksgiving night wouldn't force retailers to go back to being closed on Thanksgiving Day and open on Black Friday?  If you don't think so, then they own you, plain and simple.

As far as I'm concerned, a necessity for this time of year is a paradigm shift.  Fast!

For the record, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with people buying gifts for loved ones, none at all.  My point is regarding how that has been tainted.  All of this is easy to blame on the retailers alone.  True, greed is a powerful motivator and that falls clearly on their collective shoulders, but there is another and equal part in all of this madness...consumers.  Keep showing up earlier and earlier when they are open earlier and earlier and watch what happens next year or the following.  If we didn't show up, they wouldn't open.  It is that simple! We are, and have been, sending a strong message: We are owned...we liked to be owned...we like to behave like wild animals...and we only value families as justifications for all of the above.

Somehow, I never thought that was supposed to be the message of this time of year.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Word of the Day: GRATEFUL

Well, here it is, Thanksgiving night.  The parades are over.  The dinners have been cooked and eaten, with leftovers being put in the refrigerator.  Tummies are full, if not overstuffed, and more than one belt has been loosened.  

In preparing for this blog entry, I was surprised to find out how many countries celebrate their form of Thanksgiving or some sort of "harvest festival", or mark it in other ways.  In addition to the United States, the list includes:
(Jour de l'Action de grâce)
Germany (Erntedankfest or Harvest Thanksgiving Festival)
Grenada (commemorating the anniversary of the 1983 U.S.-led invasion following the deposition and execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop)
Japan (Kinrō Kansha no Hi or Labor Thanksgiving Day)
Korea (Chuseok; a harvest festival based on the lunar calendar)
Liberia (commemorating its colonization by many former U.S. slaves)

The Netherlands (commemorating the hospitality extended to pilgrims on their way to the New World)
Norfolk Island (brought to the island by those working on U.S. whaling ships visiting there)

For many people here in the U.S., Thanksgiving is nothing more than a day off from work, except for those who work for certain retailers here in the U.S. (i.e. Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.).  How working on Thanksgiving night, beginning at eight or nine o'clock, is justifiable would suffice to fill up another blog posting.  (Hint: I will be doing that soon.)  For those who do have the day off, it is a day to relax, hopefully, perhaps depending on who is cooking and for how many.  

One of my pet peeves is regarding Thanksgiving in relation to Christmas.  I am one of those people who do not want to hear Christmas music until after Thanksgiving.  A couple of radio stations in the area begin playing some Christmas tunes prior to Thanksgiving.  Yes, I also love Christmas songs, but I want to enjoy them for the Christmas holiday, not as an enticement to go out and buy things.  In fact, I actually heard one Christmas song being played before Halloween this year!  (Before Thanksgiving is bad enough, but before Halloween?)  Here's a cartoon that I saw a couple of years ago that captures my sentiments exactly in a humorous way:

Although not a religious holiday at its core, many churches here mark this day by highlighting the act of giving thanks or being in the state of gratitude.  Whether lived out religiously or not, being grateful is worthwhile...and, I would argue, necessary.  We have so much for which we should be grateful.  Then again, we do tend to focus on, and get all wrapped up in, all the negative in our lives.  Mind you, I am not discounting those who have things really hard  -- which does not include being furious that the jerk in front of you got the last one of the latest technological fad or some other on-sale item -- or that the burdens one carries on his/her shoulders don't matter at all.  My focus here is on those who have problems but see them as greater than what they are, as well as those who just simply have a lot on their plate (sans the Thanksgiving meal, that is).  Problems aplenty or problems overblown, being grateful is both a necessary state of mind and way to live one's life.

I, too, have fallen into the trap of letting focusing on the negative usurp gratitude's rightful place in one's life.  It is an easy and a common trap.  After spending literally decades of doing that, I have become better at not focusing on the negative, and the times I have noticed myself do that have been a welcome change.  I am on the right track, where I wasn't for far too long, and I am grateful for that.

See, there's one thing already!

Now, let me add to that one thing...because I can.  While this is not a comprehensive list, and I admit that my focus is not always clear from time to time regarding these, they are things for which I am truly grateful:
My (relative) health: There are those with chronic pain and/or other health issues I've never faced
A roof over my head: Not everyone can say that

Heating, cooling, hot water, electricity, clean and running water: Not everyone has these; many have none of these
I never go hungry: Too many go hungry and too many die because of it
A bed to sleep in: An easy one to overlook, while many people do not have that simple comfort

My parents: Without them, who knows what would have happened to me
My close friends: They offer me their laughter, their open ears, their open hearts, and their uniqueness

My acquaintances/people who share a particular similar interest: I would probably have no one with whom I could exchange ideas and similar experiences in relation to those interests
Those who have treated me unkindly or unfairly: They remind me of how not to be and keep me on the right path of being a good person
My life experiences, good and bad: While I hate the bad ones, they teach me and make me who I am

Like I said, this isn't a comprehensive list, but it's not a bad start, wouldn't you say?  When I look at these, I say to myself, "Wow, how could I forget these?"  Try making a list yourself and see what you come up with.  Be honest, don't make any items up, and don't scrimp.  If, after you finish, you say to yourself, anything along the lines of, "Yeah, but...", imagine your life without all of them!  I think your perspective might just change.

So, what would be on your grateful list?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Word of the Day: ELECTION

[To my readers, I still have not recovered 100% from my shoulder injury, but it is well enough that typing at length is possible.  We are fine where I am in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and a nor'easter that hit just days ago, about a week after Sandy.  We had no damage and the electricity stayed on the entire time during Sandy, and just a little snow shower and sleet during the nor'easter.  I am grateful we fared well with the storms and glad to be back at the keyboard, commenting.]  

Two days ago, along with millions of other Americans, I went to the polls to vote in the general election.  Although born here in America, I am a late arrival to the act of voting; this was only my third general election.  In addition, I have voted in two mid-term elections (2006 and 2010) and local special elections.

I spent most of my life jaded with the election process and politics in general.  I was well aware of the political mantra of Every vote counts, but I refused to believe it.  I would say that the word that best described my sentiment was "irrelevant". 

My parents never voted -- they shared my same sentiment -- but I would always watch the election night results.  I first started in 1972, when Richard Nixon won re-election.  In the past several years, as well as when I was much younger, I went to bed before the election was decided and found out who won in the morning.  (Well, there was that pesky 2000 election that wasn't decided until over a month later!)

Speaking of the 2000 presidential election, the events that took place to decide that election, along with the policies and actions of then-President George W. Bush and his administration (i.e. 9/11, Iraq War, War on Terrorism, Hurricane Katrina response) were enough to persuade me to vote for the first time.  My first votes were cast in the 2004 general election.  I voted for John Kerry, and even though he didn't win, I continued to vote: in the 2006 mid-terms, the 2008 general election, the 2010 mid-terms, and this year's general election.

My non-voting parents always sided with the Democrats, and my voting record in the last two presidential elections shows I followed in their understanding: John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.  My feeling is that the Democrats are, to varying degrees, more for the working person, and the Republicans are more for businesses and the wealthy.  I admit my cynicism has remained in the form that what good for the common individual that either party does is not always high on their respective to-do lists.

However, in retrospect, I must also admit that my votes for Democratic presidential nominees were cast not so much as pro-Kerry or pro-Obama, but more anti-Bush and anti-Republican.  Of course, when someone votes for something, it inherently, by its nature, means it is subtextually a vote against something else.  What I was voting for was coming from a place inside of me that was based more in "not him" or "not them", rather than "for someone else".

Like many other Americans, I was told that a vote for someone other than a Democratic or Republican nominee -- a third-party candidate -- was a wasted vote.  Granted, third-party candidates, at least in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, rarely break or come close to 10% of the national vote, but is everyone who votes for a third-party candidate really throwing away their vote?  What if a voter agrees more with what the third-party candidate says than what the two major party candidates say?  The thinking is that they should ignore that and vote for one of the two major party candidates anyway.  Really?  So, car companies can offer several types of vehicles (and more than one type of the same vehicle), Starbucks can offer dozens of coffee choices, cable TV can offer hundreds of stations, and that's all okay...but serious consideration of a third-party candidate is not okay?  I have come to a place where I believe voting your conscience is key, while far too many others will say that voting one's own conscience might be ... irrelevant.

Freedom of choice is a very narrow concept politically.

A vote cast as "the lesser of two evils" is a wasted vote.  A vote cast as "I'm not crazy about this candidate, but I know I dislike the other candidate more" is a wasted vote.  Both are abdication of one's own responsibility as a voter.  Both say that your vote is the same as a game show consolation prize.  Not to mention that both are reflective of people's impressions of candidates, parties, and politics in general.  I won't add votes not cast, since I understand very well about feeling disenfranchised, and a vote cast for the wrong reasons is a wasted vote.  A vote not cast is simply a missed opportunity.

This year, for the first time, I voted third party.  It wasn't because I wanted to pick a lesser evil or because I disliked one major candidate less than the other.  It was because I wanted to take part in the voting process, but I was unhappy with the two main choices offered.  It was because I feel more candidates should be given a fair shot in elections.  It was because my vote is neither a consolation prize nor an abdication of responsibility.  

My vote was for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and her Vice-Presidential running mate Cheri Honkala.  Even though they finished fourth overall, with less than 1/2 of 1% of the vote, I still felt good about my vote.  I knew it was unlikely she, or any third-party candidate, would win, but I also knew that my vote, while among the few and far-between, stood for something more than dissatisfied resignation.  

And that is not a wasted vote.


Monday, October 29, 2012

An update to my readers

Greetings, dear readers.

I wanted to give you all a quick update as I haven't posted for several days.  I've been dealing with a nasty shoulder injury for more than a couple of weeks and am still working on getting it back to normal.  As a result, it is a little difficult to type (at least to type at length) because of that injury. In addition, I am in the area being affected by Hurricane Sandy, which should be making landfall in roughly three hours from the time of this post.  

I hope to be posting once again by the beginning of next week.  

If you are also in an area that will be affected by Hurricane Sandy, please be safe!  If you're outside the affected area, please keep us in your prayers, well wishes, and thoughts. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Words of the Day: DISAGREE & ARGUE

It absolutely boggles my mind the way in which more and more persons express disagreements and arguments.  Anymore, it is becoming less and less of how I grew up regarding them.  Some of you may be wondering why do I list both disagreements and arguments, asking, "Aren't they almost the same thing?"  Not quite.  Here are some definitions I am using as my basis for the headline of this commentary:
DISAGREE -- 1) To have or to express a different opinion; 2) To disapprove of something.
ARGUE -- 1) To give reasons or to cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one's view; 2) To persuade someone to do/not do something by giving reasons.

We have all disagreed with someone regarding something, and we have all disapproved of something someone is doing or has done.  In its most obvious understanding, not everyone is going to agree on everything and not everyone is going to like everything everyone does. 

We have all argued with someone regarding someone about which we feel strongly.  Even if we look back at it in hindsight and say the point of the argument wasn't really that important, we still felt strongly at that time to warrant an argument.  The first definition of "argue" listed above is along the lines of a debate or a courtroom trial (i.e. closing arguments).  In conversation, we might say "If you want to argue the point that..."  That is not a sign of heated confrontation; it is merely taking up or presenting contrary positions on a particular point.   

An argument, however, can be a totally different creature altogether.  Aside from its use in debates and trials, an argument can refer to an altercation of some kind.  If turned into a physical confrontation, that would be, of course, called a fight.  Usually the argument at that point would be called a heated argument.  That leads me into my main ... well ... argument.

I'm not someone who thinks that everything decades ago was oh so better, as if it was a pseudo-utopia, where killings were practically zero, no one was gay, almost all kids were well-behaved, and the government did mostly everything right.  In many ways, things were better, yes, but not to the point of waxing nostalgic as proof.  In terms of the legal definition of over-the-line behavior, crime, things were better many a decade ago.  One might say that things are just worst.  It might even be said that as the population increases, the number of crimes exponentially increase, which is a reasonable deduction.  My argument, however, would be that a huge part of it is that we simply have more and more coverage, and far more access to that coverage 24/7, of crimes so that it appears as though things are far worse.

In fact, some statistics would bear my argument out.  According to the FBI, between 1960-2010, as the population of the United States steadily increased, crimes have not followed completely in lockstep with that rise in population.  After hitting peaks in the mid-1970s, the early 1980s, and the early 1990s, crimes against property is at its lowest level since around the late 1960s.  Violent crimes, which peaked in the early 1990s, are at their lowest level since the early 1970s.  The most serious type of violent crime, murder, which hit its peaks in the same periods as those involving property, is down to the same level at the early 1960s.

The second piece to this commentary is interpersonal.  One element has to do with ordinary citizens.  Whether it's someone or a group of persons you read or hear about or someone in your own neighborhood, maybe even from your block, the whole idea of disagreeing and arguing has turned violent.  Mind you, I still think a huge piece of this has to do with news coverage.  (More on that specifically in a moment.) 

Why do people wait in line for a store to open up -- the time it opens is irrelevant, but 3 or 4 a.m. or even midnight is ridiculous -- and then trample others while they storm in, acting like nothing more than savages?  (They are not savvy consumers; they are savages.)  Why does a grown man punch a teenager because she cut in line at a fast food restaurant?  (I've had people cut in front of me more than once and a curt tone of voice, if I say anything, or dirty look from me is what I find to be a sufficient response.)  Why do parents at a sporting game where their children are playing start a fight with the referees/umpires, with other parents, or even with the children?  Why do soccer (football) fans throughout Europe sometimes get violent at, and outside of, games with fans of opposing teams/countries?  Why do parents harm their children?  Why do children commit "adult" violent crimes?

I could go on, but these examples all come back to one answer: Too many people, in all walks of life, have been inculcated with the idea that violence is a normative expression of a disagreement or an argument with someone else.  Violence is not normative; it is extreme.  When the extreme of violence is made to be normative, then a social decline has begun.  If it continues generation after generation with no interest or insufficient effort to stop it, then it is a sure sign that society is on an irreversible downward slide.

The worst expression of such is war.  Personally, I have no vested interest in who starts a war; both sides are culpable in that horrific expression.  Look at those who come home with serious, lifelong injuries, or missing limbs, or some sort of psychological damage.  Look at all those who died -- from hundreds, maybe thousands, in border skirmishes, to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions killed in larger scale operations.  If you add up the wars the United States alone was involved, and added up from the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries alone, and include only those who died in battle, you'd be approaching one million deaths.  If you count just those who were injured, you'd surpass one million.  (Keep in mind even that does not include other operations involving the U.S. military not listed as wars.)  Take those numbers and add them to the world's figures and violence as normative becomes even less "wonderful". 

All of what we see on television -- and there are other sources of this inculcation, to be sure -- is programmed.  That, in and of itself, is no major revelation, I know.  What is being programmed and why would fill up another blog posting by itself.  However, several years ago many of the major television networks in the United States began putting their news departments under their "Entertainment" banner.  Such is still the case today.  With that paradigm in place, watching the violence on television news broadcasts -- not just in series -- adds to violence as entertainment.  In terms of the Iraq war alone, keeping pictures of flag-draped coffins of those who died in combat from the American public was an attempt to keep the "entertainment value", if you will, of the war sustained while avoiding any distaste for the war to build up. 

Viewing the violence all around us as entertainment makes us no different than the Romans at the Colosseum.

Finally, let me offer this: When I was a kid in grade school and a youth in high school, the worst I or my peers ever had to worry about was someone starting a fistfight.  We didn't worry about knives and guns.  That never crossed our minds.  If it did, either no one acted on it or we never heard about it.  I remember seeing a heated argument in high school gym class one day and while the student received whatever punishment she did, no punches were thrown.  A little bit of shoving with loud arguing, but no punches, no flat-out occurrence of fisticuffs. 

We have lost our ability to disagree and argue without violence.  If this trend continues, it is one irrefutable sign that society is doomed.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Word of the Day: INNOCENCE

I must say that I resisted writing anything about the topic I will cover today...not out of fear, but out of a sense of not wanting to shed any additional light on the topic.  However, I could resist no longer, and the light I will be shedding on this comes from a place where both sadness and disgust reside within me.

By now, you have probably heard of something that is trying to be passed off as a film, titled Innocence of Muslims.  If you've heard of the film, you have also likely heard about the protests that have arisen throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, as well as Australia and Canada in response to the film.  Although it is being said that some of the protesting is in direct response to the film, and some is the result of the film being a last straw in many people's minds.

To begin, let me address the least important aspect of this: Innocence of Muslims as a film.  If I had seen the entire film, I would be able to address this more fully, but all I have seen is a fourteen-minute long video on YouTube that is supposed to be a trailer for the full-length film.  The full-length version is supposed to have been screened only one time, at the Vine Theater in Hollywood, California in mid-June of this year.  It has been reported, however, that an actual full-length film may not even exist. 

What I saw when I watched the fourteen-minute video was absolute garbage.  It doesn't even suffice as a trailer.  What "clips" were shown displayed a film that visually looks like it was done by rank amateurs.  To say that it looks like high school film students made the film isn't incorrect, but it would give high school filmmakers a bad rap.  The acting is so bad that it makes Robert Pattinson look Oscar-worthy.  ("Muhammad" asking someone questioning his sexuality, "Do you remember the night at the gym?"  Come on!)  Actors in the film who have said they didn't know anything about what the finished product would be are, in my mind, telling the truth because many lines of dialogue were clearly (and poorly) dubbed in during post-production. 

Speaking of high school filmmakers, I'm sure they could do a far better job at making a movie than this piece of crap.

Okay, enough about the as-a-film aspect.  More importantly, the film is an anti-Muslim propaganda piece.  It has been called by its makers and promoters as anything but an attack on Muslims.  Make no mistake about it, dear readers, whether you've seen the video or not, whether you want to see the video or not, this film is an attack on Islam.  Period.

Much has been made about the producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka Sam Bacile).  Some articles have him as being a porn film producer.  He once was a government informant on a bank fraud case to try and benefit himself, since he was implicated.  He served jail time for the bank fraud and has had other run-ins with the law, including time served for the manufacturing of methamphetamine.  He has also reportedly used more than a dozen aliases.  Mr. Nakoula is no stranger to lying or breaking the law.

He is also no stranger to antagonism, since he claimed, during an interview for the film, that he was an Israeli Jew and had received five million dollars to fund the making of the film from Jewish friends.  So, let me see if I have this right: You're Jewish and Jewish friends fund the film which is anti-Islam.  Is it such a huge stretch to make the observation that this film could be oddly considered as an early birthday present for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, who has repeatedly stated he wants to wipe Israel off the map?  (No, I have absolutely no proof that such is true; it is merely an observation, which wouldn't seem so far-fetched if it was ever proven true.)

There is one more player in this exercise of ignorance and intolerance: Pastor Terry Jones.  Does the name ring a bell?  This bile-spewing individual -- that's bile, not bible -- who gives both ministry and Christianity a dark stain of discredit, is the man who wanted to burn copies of the Qur'an, the Muslim sacred text, in 2010.  (He and several others went ahead with the burning in April of this year.)  Just two weeks ago, on September 11th, what Jones called "International Judge Mohammad Day", he screened a copy of the film for his parishioners at Dove World Outreach Center, located in Gainesville, Florida.

Clearly the use of the word "innocence" in Innocence of Muslims is derisive.  The idea is to say, "Hey, you know that [wink, wink...nudge, nudge] all Muslims know this is all true, right?"  (I guess "Insert Laugh Track Here" is supposed to be appropriate.)  Mr. Nakoula and Pastor Jones obviously feel very passionate about this subject and this film.  Their positions are that any finger-pointing at them is unjustified, and that anyone who does that is ignorant. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Pastor Terry Jones, it is the two of you who are ignorant, and any finger-pointing is, indeed, justified.  You are nothing more than hate-mongers!  You're not as innocent as you'd like to think!

As I mentioned at the opening of this entry, this film saddens and disgusts me.  It breaks my heart to see people using religion, as it has been so many times throughout history, the wrong way for the wrong reasons.  Additionally, I am just so sick and tired of religion bashing.  I couldn't care less who is doing the bashing and who is getting bashed.  People such as Nakoula and Jones, and many others like them, who use misconstruing and misinformation with heavy doses of ignorance and arrogance to create a world ruled by hatred and fear are not, cannot, have never been, and never will be oh-so-innocent.  

How about a film called Innocence of Nakoula and Jones?


Saturday, September 15, 2012


[Something a little different today, and something that will take you longer than my lengthier posts, a Movie of the Day.]

(c) 2011, The Thrive Movement
Directed by Foster Gamble and Kimberly Carter Gamble
I own no rights.

(You'll probably want to enlarge the video box above, as I haven't found a way to enlarge it here, by clicking on the button to the right of the YouTube logo that looks like four corners of a square.)

I watched this film a couple of weeks ago and
really enjoyed it.  If you've seen any of the documentaries Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story, or Food, Inc., there are elements in those films in the first half of this film.  (If you've seen none of them, this will be quite the eye-opener.) 

The film will have elements that seem rather new-agey, so you are likely to be turned off early in the film if that does not appeal to you.  I would, however, encourage you to take the time and watch the film in its entirety.  It does not stay in the new-agey realm throughout the entire film.

The film discusses who is in control of things and how, why, and when they work...and for whose benefit.  It then goes on to offer ideas on what can be done to combat what has been happening for years, with the intent, as the film's creators put it, of our "reclaiming our lives and our future".  The "our" means both individually and communally.

At its core, the film is a multidisciplinary look at, and statement on ways to address, the crossroads at which society -- and, by extension, humanity in general -- is today.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Eleven years ago today, the United States of America suffered a terrible blow.  Within the span of seventeen minutes, two airliners (American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175) crashed into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.  Thirty-four minutes later, another airliner (American Airlines flight 77) crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.   A half-hour after that, a fourth airliner (United Airlines flight 93) crashed in Shanksville, PA., possibly having The White House as its intended target.  In the midst of all this, the South Tower of the Twin Towers collapses, while the North Tower collapses twenty-one minutes after the crash of Flight 93.  A little over seven hours after the collapse of the North Tower, Seven World Trade Center building collapses.  Almost 3,000 persons, including first responders, died on that day.

A national tragedy, to be sure.

While there are those who disagree with the official story of what happened that day, and I admit I count myself among them, today is a day to focus on the victims, both those who died that day and this nation as a whole.

That it was the worst attack on America on American soil is sufficient to qualify the events eleven years ago as a national tragedy.  The loss of so many lives is part and parcel of such a denotation.  The element of surprise adds to the horror of that day.  No citizen in America woke up that Tuesday morning in September of 2001 expecting anything like what happened to take place.  I think back to an event that occurred sixty years earlier, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and how the element of surprise added to the horror.  The Oklahoma City bombing nearly 7 1/2 years ago would also be a similar example of the same.

There can be an argument made that our political and military involvement in affairs around the world, both known and unknown to the general public, but mostly unknown, has been an example of instigation to foreign entities.  Seldom accepted as reality, or even in the realm of possibility, it has been vilified as nationalistic heresy, or unpatriotic behavior.  This is not say that those who already have a hatred toward this country are really nice people or they never would have tried something, anything, against the U.S. if we hadn't meddled in their affairs.  (That meddling can also be seen by them as the occupying of their country, absent of any attack on them directly.)

How anyone can say, without question, that they would absolutely hate it if any other foreign force occupied our country and that we should respond accordingly (forcefully), but that any country we occupy should just welcome us with open arms because we're the ones doing the occupying isn't nationalistic heresy.  It's nationalist arrogance.

The surprising nature to the average U.S. citizen of the attacks and the loss of life in the thousands are part of the national tragedy of the events eleven years ago today.  There are other elements of this tragedy as well, which became apparent after the day itself.  It was announced just yesterday that Federal health officials included several forms of cancer, in relation to the various toxins released onsite and the first responders who were exposed to them.  That it took eleven years for that to happen is a national tragedy.  Efforts in Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda being undermined for a stronger effort in Iran against Saddam Hussein to take place is a national tragedy.  

The people of this country being led into a war based on lies is another national tragedy.  (You might also want to research the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August of 1964 and check out the film The Fog of War.)  It is also a national tragedy that the flag-draped coffins of U.S. military dead were not allowed to be photographed and published.  They are our deceased citizens, our deceased military, and our deceased sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers, for crying out loud!

We have experienced a kind of rubber band effect in this country, and the same has happened in other countries around the world as well.  Whereas we were fired up when this tragedy happened, we later found ourselves harshly divided over it.  Do we stay to win in Iraq or leave...and what does "win" mean?  Patriotism was labeled as flat-out, unwavering, unquestioning agreement with the government.

"All you have to do is tell [the people] they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in any country."
                                                                                                          Nazi leader Herman Göring

"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government."
                                                                                                    American author Edward Abbey
"Loyalty to country always.  Loyalty to government when it deserves it."

                                                                                   American author and humorist Mark Twain
"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
        from The Use of Force in International Affairs by the Friends Peace Committee (Philadelphia)

How love of one's own country excludes disagreement is disheartening and, I admit, frustrating.  I love my country so much that I want it to do the right thing as often as possible.  However, I love it so much that I know, as it is run and represented by human beings who inherently make mistakes, it will make mistakes.  I hope those mistakes will be few and far between, and that when they happen, my country will "'fess up" and do what it takes to make things right.  That is not hatred for one's own country, and saying it is not the absence of patriotism.  Just the opposite.

Silence and acquiescence are unpatriotic.

While I can comment a great deal on the events eleven years ago and the years since, on this day, I remember and honor all those who lost their lives on that day of national tragedy.  You were a part of your families' and loved ones' lives and you will always be missed.  You were a part of the fabric of this country you called home and you will always be missed.  May the loss we all suffered, directly or indirectly, compel us and others to never have to go through this again by the use of common sense, decency, and discernment.  Then, and only then, can we turn this national tragedy into a national triumph.  Rest in peace.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Word of the Day: FAMOUS

"The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you."
Gloria Vanderbilt

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."
Andy Warhol

To many people, the idea of being famous is appealing.  Look at anyone who is famous and you're likely to see that person getting attention, sometimes lots of attention, and usually lots of perks.  They are well-known, liked by some or many, hated by some or many.  That's one of the aspects of fame: it is not an all-encompassing across-the-board thing.  Fame means there will always be those who understand why you are famous and celebrate you -- thus the word "celebrity" -- and there will always be those who cannot figure out why in the world so many people like you so much.  ("What did he/she ever do that's so wonderful?") 

There are also huge drawbacks to fame: gossip stories, death threats, extortion attempts, paparazzi, over-zealous admirers, lack of privacy, and people wanting to know all your business, to name a few.  I once heard Harrison Ford during an appearance on 'Inside the Actors Studio' say, "You have to be willing to live in front of people."  Easier said than done.  As a fairly private person myself, it was probably a good thing, in hindsight, that my attempt at an acting career twenty years ago never came to fruition. 

My focus today, however, is on what being famous has become in the last dozen or so years.  Growing up, some of those persons who were famous were astronauts, sports figures, entertainers, scientists, and authors.  Many of those same types of persons remain famous today, rightfully so.  There is, however, another kind of fame that has gained a lot of traction.  I chalk it up to the unfortunate phenomenon called Reality TV.

Reality stars, as they're called, get a lot of attention.  They also expose not only the good inside them, but all of the bad, too.  In fact, it is the bad that gets the most attention.  Look at shows like 'Survivor' and 'Big Brother' (which are more game show/reality TV hybrids) to see people scheming to screw over someone else for their own gain.  Other shows like 'Ice Road Truckers', 'Swamp People', and 'Deadliest Catch' (all three of which, in my opinion, do not belong on the highly reputable cable channels The History Channel and Discovery Channel) simply show people doing their jobs.  Granted, they are dangerous jobs, but a TV special on these and other jobs would be sufficient; a series is overkill.  Programs such as the Paris Hilton/Nicole Richie series 'The Simple Life', 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians' (and all of its spinoffs), and 'Jersey Shore' merely show people being famous for ... being famous.

All of the above-mentioned shows feed into this whole concept of being famous for being famous.  In other words, if you can find a director and a producer who's willing to stick you in front of a camera, you can be famous.  No special talent or skills are required.  No major notable life achievements are required.  No solving of any major problems or issues here or around the world is required.  Just a director, a producer, a subject, cameras, etc., and a desire to show trumped-up conflicts that bring out the worst in people and, wham-o, you have a TV series.

And you will have a following.  And people will laud you as though you have done something spectacular.

While fame is a fleeting and fickle thing, being famous for doing something of major importance seems appropriate; the fame those on reality shows have is just plain ridiculous.  It makes being famous cheap and shallow.  This kind of pre-fab fame overshadows earned fame, and that is truly sad.  I think of someone who recently died, Neil Armstrong.  In the summer of 1969, he became the first person to walk on the moon, uttering the famous line: "It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  He knew going into space and walking on the moon would make him famous, but he never sought the spotlight for himself afterward.  He was humble and his fame was earned.  The only thing reality TV stars earn is a paycheck.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Phrase of the Day: BACK TO SCHOOL

It is that time of year once again, when parents and students alike are preparing for the new school year.  No doubt the new school year ahead is invoking a myriad of emotions, from excitement to dread.  It is a time of both the known and unknown.

I remember when I was in elementary school, which included kindergarten, and what the end of August was like.  It was the annual trip to the store to get school supplies and, as I was in parochial (Catholic) school that had a dress code, any new dress shirts, dress pants, or ties I might need.  It was exciting for me, seeing all the new pens, pencils, notebooks -- they were called "composition books" with a black-and-white marble-looking cover -- and other supplies from which I could choose.  I wasn't crazy about the clothes part, however.  Having to try on pants, and maybe needing to get them hemmed, was my least-favorite part of this pre-school year ritual.

By the time I reached high school -- there were no middle schools then, just 1st through 8th grades, then on to high school -- this pre-school year time was still somewhat exciting for me.  Even though I knew my wish that Summer vacation would last longer would never come true, the shopping element was a reminder of new beginnings...including one final reminder that I had, indeed, made it through the previous school year.  (I needed that reminder.  More on that in a moment.)

By the time I had reached college, everything was much more "business-like" and matter-of-fact.  So, it was get this, this, and this...make sure I have that, that, and that.  College was the first time I was not attending a parochial school and the dress code was much more relaxed (i.e. no dress shirts or ties required, jeans were acceptable) than what I had known for the previous thirteen years. 

Now, back to what I mentioned earlier about my needing a reminder that I had made it through the previous school year.  When I began my postgraduate studies, and all throughout that time, I never imagined myself being able to finish.  Self-confidence has never been a strong suit of mine.  You would think, after my final paper was handed in, and my final class had ended that it would sink in.  It didn't.

I remember the commencement ceremony from when I finished my postgraduate studies.  While my fellow graduates and I were lined up, ready to process in, one of my fellow graduates, David, could see the look on my face and came over to me.  Here's how the brief exchange between us went.
David: "Are you all right?"
Me: "I'm just afraid."
David: "Of what?  Being in front of everybody?"
Me: "No.  That I'm going to wake up."
David: "It's real, brother.  It's real."
After all papers were handed in, all classes were finished, and even the commencement ceremony was over, I still didn't believe it until I received the diploma in the mail.

I cognitively knew that I had done the three years of study and had completed all requirements necessary to graduate, but I never believed that I could do all that.  At that moment, it was the known and the unknown converging.  (It was more like colliding.)  I cannot say that my self-confidence has risen dramatically to an enormously more constructive level, but it is far better than it was.  My decades of poor self-identity regarding how smart I was, at least in terms of formalized education, was finally shattered.

I remember the words of the woman who served at the time as Director of Admissions during her speech at the beginning of our time there: This is not the beginning of your journey; it is the continuation of your journey.  Very true.  To that extent, all of my time before my postgraduate studies, during my studies, and all of my time since then, including my sitting at my keyboard typing this, has been part of my journey. 

That reminds me of an old adage: "You learn something new every day."  While I cannot say that I am aware of learning something new every single day of my life, learning is an on-going, lifelong process.  To any readers of this who are younger and in the midst of their schooling, that might seem depressing.  It's not, though.  Going to school is formalized education and life is informal education, but both are education nonetheless.  I would also add this as advice: Be open to the lessons in the classroom as well as outside the classroom.  I have learned you need both.

I can remember telling a former neighbor of mine in the apartment complex where I was living at the time who was a med student -- and this was long before I ever entertained the idea of attending a postgraduate school -- that we both had classrooms.  Hers were in the school, and mine was outside my front door.  Learning can happen anywhere at any time.

One final thought: When I lived on campus during my postgraduate studies, I hung just a few things on my walls.  (Apparently, I was told that I was in line with bachelors who live alone...their walls are usually sparsely covered.)  One thing I had hanging up on my wall was a sign that really sums up my life.  Here's what it read:

"I am a full-time student in the course of Continuing Education at the School of Life."


Friday, August 17, 2012


A few months back, a rabbit had dug a nest in the front yard to have her babies.  I let cutting the grass go for several weeks so as to not disturb the in-ground maternity ward, as well as to help provide a little cover for momma bunny's young ones.  It was amazing watching the momma come and feed her babies and, when the time came, for the three of them to take their first steps (or first hops) out of their nest.  Finally, they had all left the nest, literally, and were on their way.  I did see one of the young ones several days later.

Nature doing what nature does.

Several days ago, we had the teenage son from next door, who regularly cuts the grass, finally give the front lawn a much-needed mowing.  About a week-and-a-half prior to that, I had noticed the momma bunny in the yard again a few times, but saw no new holes.  We have several wild animals in the area, including the usual birds and squirrels, but also chipmunks and even a groundhog (that I've nicknamed Gary the Groundhog), so seeing momma bunny again was nothing more than a pleasant surprise.  Around the time the neighbor's son had cut the grass -- I forget if it was just before or just after -- I had noticed a hawk was in the area.  (I first heard the screeching sound, which I initially thought was an injured bird, and then noticed the hawk high up in a tree across the street.)  The hawk was in the area for a few days, until one day, I look out the front window...and there was the hawk standing in the front yard!  I went to get my camera, but the hawk had flown off by the time of my return.

Several minutes later, the hawk had returned, but something was different.  As I readied my camera, I noticed the hawk looking down a great deal and standing somewhat oddly, more so than I thought it should on the ground.  It quickly snatched something -- it was so quick, I couldn't tell what -- and used its massive wings to whisk off airborne once again.  Many more minutes had passed and there was no return by the hawk.  The ground where the hawk had landed, however, looked different, altered, but somehow familiar. moved though a hole had been dug.  My heart sank.  I went outside and looked at the area more closely.  There was tufted grass and patches of fur.  The fur was also familiar; it was rabbit fur.  Just off to my right, a patch of displaced grass covered what was a fairly shallow hole, nothing like the one from several weeks earlier, not nearly as deep; it was not much bigger than the size of my fist.  The hole was empty.  My heart sank further.  The hawk had come to take the baby rabbits for itself to eat.

I felt so bad, especially after trying to leave the front yard alone weeks earlier so that the rabbit babies could be safe and secure until their time to go on their way arrived.  I felt good that I was able to do that.  This, however, was the opposite feeling.  Obviously, the momma bunny had given birth again in the front yard, and the mowing of the lawn had blown her young ones' cover.  A few days later, I mentioned this in a group setting and one person even mentioned that the hawk may have fed itself or perhaps some babies of its own.  The person echoed what I had thought to try and fully grasp the situation, "Nature doing what nature does."

Sometimes, as a human, it is hard to understand that phrase.  Add to the fact that baby rabbits are cute, increasing the "Awwww" factor, and the understanding is even harder to find.  Nature doing what nature does can seem harsh, even inhumane, to our eyes.  We may try to stop it or, if unable to do so, simply watch in horror.  We value life -- well, at the very least we do so cognitively -- and, granted, we value human life more so, thus we find this behavior shocking or saddening. I felt so bad for the baby rabbits, but my friend was likely correct: the hawk knew it or its offspring needed to eat, and that's all it knew.  It thought on a (surprise, surprise) totally animalistic level.  Hungry, get food, eat.

Humans tend to think of themselves as the protectors of...everything.  It's their job; it's their duty.  Sometimes, however, there are things out of our reach, or even not ours with which to tamper, that we cannot protect, correct, or fix....harsh, disturbing, saddening, upsetting, but true.  If I had known the momma bunny had given birth again, I may well have told to neighbor's son to hold off again and just done some weedwhacking around the yard, but leaving the grass surrounding that hole untouched.  Indeed, the hole's cover had been blown, and it was not my taking the baby rabbits out of the hole and leaving them exposed in the yard, but perhaps the hawk had not eaten in quite some time.  Perhaps the hawk babies, if there are some, may have not eaten for some time, or were screeching for their first meal.  Who knows for certain, but the fact remains that, as sad as that was, I needed to let it be. 

I briefly thought about what animals, if they possessed the same brain capacity as humans, would think about some of our behavior!  No doubt, they might see a lot of it as savage.  I did not struggle over this for days on end, but I needed to remind myself that life is very dangerous for wild animals.  When I drive around I see a squirrel or skunk or some other wild animal lying dead in the road, unable to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, I need to remind myself that such is the case with animals living in rural or suburban areas (and sometimes in cities, too).  This was, as sad as it was to see, a natural unfolding of the cycle of life for wild animals.  It was nature doing what nature does.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Term of the Day: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

[Something a little different today: a Term of the Day, instead of my usual Word/Phrase of the Day.]

In mid-July, the president and Chief Operating Officer of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain, Dan Cathy, took a public stance regarding same-sex marriage in an article in the Biblical Recorder, a weekly newspaper published by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.  He opposes same-sex marriage:
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that."

On the weekly radio program The Ken Coleman Show, Mr. Cathy further explained his stance:
"As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage.'  I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."

For anyone who has ever eaten at Chick-Fil-A, or at least knows something about it, the restaurants are somewhat operated under religious principles, specifically Christian principles.  Its most obvious example of that is being closed on Sundays, the Christian holy day of the week.  It is not unusual to go to a food court at a mall on a Sunday and to see every restaurant in it open except for Chick-Fil-A.  I don't think it is such a shock to learn that Mr. Cathy -- or anyone else in the upper echelons of Chick-Fil-A management, for that matter -- has religious views.

Personally, I don't have a problem with Dan Cathy having religious views; that is his business.  I couldn't care less what his religious views are, since they are his and his alone; I have nothing vested in what he believes.  He did, however, decide to go ahead and make his business the business of others with his public statements.  That does change things a little.  What it does not change, as far as I'm concerned, is whether or not anyone can openly air his/her beliefs.  That is his right to do so.  Period.  All of the outcry to shut down or ban Chick-Fil-A restaurants is silly; it wouldn't stop him, anyway.  I say that if you don't like what his beliefs are to a huge degree, then just don't eat there.

When he did make that choice to go public, albeit many will call it now open to "public scrutiny", he now must enter into public discourse.  Anyone with their own beliefs, religious or otherwise (but I'm focusing on religious here), who keeps them to him/herself is not doing anything that puts them in a position where they have to engage in public discourse.  (Not that any of them need me or anyone else as a "referee".  They certainly do not.)  Anyone who shares their beliefs with others, but on a smaller scale than nationally/internationally, must be open to public discourse between him/herself and others in those however-big-or-small circles.  Exponentially, sharing one's beliefs on the public scale as Dan Cathy has must be open to public discourse on an even larger scale.

Being open to public discourse does not mean he is required to change his position.  It means he must be allowed to say his piece and others need to listen, and others must be allowed to say their piece and he needs to listen.

The initial public response has included a "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day", put forth by former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, on August 1st.  Two days later, on August 3, gay rights groups around the country organized "kiss-ins" at various Chick-Fil-A locations across the country.  (Although, the Appreciation Day attracted more individuals than the Kiss-Ins.)  I do not believe Mr. Cathy's stance will hurt Chick-Fil-A financially, not one bit.

Mr. Cathy's stance is based on the Bible's definition of marriage: one man and one woman.  Okay, fair enough.  After all, the Bible does say that; there are no examples of men marrying men or women marrying women to be found within its pages.  If that is what he believes, then that's what he believes.  No one has to agree with it.  Most people know that, but does Mr. Cathy?  I think so, but is he okay with that?  I don't know for certain.  Only he can answer that.

If he is not okay with that, then I have a few questions for him.  One question I have is about the law.  You know, that thing under which marriages are deemed legal?  Now, the Bible says nothing about forbidding or shunning marriage from having a legal element to it.  However, if one man and one woman get married in a church, but do not obtain a marriage license (including getting it signed by all perspective parties and returning it to the relative authority for it to be properly processed), is the marriage legal?  No.  Is the couple married spiritually?  Certainly.  The spiritual aspect is irrelevant to the law and other pertinent matters, such as all marriage rights (i.e. access to medical information, visitation rights), just as the legal aspect is irrelevant to spiritual matters.  Thus, marriage, as we have it today, has both a spiritual and legal aspect to it, but only the legal aspect opens the couple to the benefits of marriage.  Anything in the Bible arguing against that?  Not that I'm aware of. 

That alone, tells me that any exclusivity of marriage being for one man and one woman only is Biblically-based -- thus, by extension, religiously-based -- and has no legal leg on which to stand.  Yes, I know that same-sex marriage is not an across-the-board law of the land -- and you have the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the majority of U.S. states defining marriage heterosexually -- but I, personally, do not see any legal basis for it.  Not all laws are religiously-based, even if certain religious understandings are in sync with those laws. 

Civil unions are a joke.  (I mean that with all deference to my gay friends and the gay community at large.)  It was supposed to be akin to "equal", but was more along the lines of "separate, but equal".  In reality, they are separate and unequal.  Let me be frank here: civil unions are not equal to marriage.  I know a gay couple who are good friends of mine who have now been together over thirty years.  When civil unions became legal in their state a number of years ago, they were joined at a civil union ceremony.  One of the two has been in the hospital a lot the past couple years.  Does his partner have the same rights to his medical information as a married spouse?  No.  In any legal matters, even though they are legally joined in a civil union, are they always recognized as a "married couple"?  Again, no. 

The argument that giving gay couples the right to marry will destroy the institution of marriage is also bogus.  It doesn't seem to me that heterosexual couples are doing the institution any favors.  How does Mike & Steve or Mary & Sheila getting married really hurt marriage?  What if you get you think that hurts marriage?  Probably not.  (You're likely to be busy being angry at your ex-spouse, or at least just glad to get away from him/her, and figuring out who gets what.) 

Maybe those people are afraid that "the gays are trying to takeover everything".

With regard to the term "marriage" itself, I don't have any vested interest in it and I think getting hung-up on terminology bogs the process down.  If all of the rights and privileges that go with heterosexual marriage are also given to same-sex couples, does calling it "marriage" or "civil union" or even "mutually agreed upon same-sex couple conjoinment" really matter that much?  After all, this is not a religious issue, although there are religious angles from which to view it; this is a civil rights issue.  Same-sex couples do not have the same rights when it comes to marriage as opposite-sex couples do.  Period.  That's not doctrinal destruction...that's civil rights.

Here's my take:  If you really had no problem with gay couples getting joined together and sharing in the benefits of "traditional" marriage, but didn't want to call it "marriage", then call it something else and give them the same rights as heterosexual couples.  End of story.  However, if you do the proverbial "tossing a bone" to same-sex couples by saying you'll give them a legally-recognized rite, but that rite doesn't come with all the rights normally afforded heterosexual couples, then you really don't want gay couples to get joined together for life...and taking it a step further by using the Bible as your defense for your exclusion.  

Say, are there any homophobes in the audience tonight?