Archive for May, 2011

Dishonoring Memorial Day.

May 30, 2011

Some folks can’t seem to deal with reality. I’m not talking about the folks you see in a big city, the unfortunate ones who wander the streets in something of a perpetual haze. No, I’m talking about the ones who seem to be willing to forget the world around them, and everything that happens, or has happened, in it.

One of the biggest culprits of this sort of self-delusion are the people who love to pontificate about how today, America is “paying” for all the various and sundry “sins” of what they often refer to as the “Me” generation. In their minds, America is wallowing in lassitude, governed more by some sort of desire for more and more for less and less work. It’s morals have supposedly deteriorated from some earlier, higher state; and unless we can “return” to those ‘higher’ values, we’re doomed.

What a load of crap.

I wonder how many of these fine folks have been to see a young man or woman come home from Iraq or Afghanistan in a metal box. None of them had to go and die, there being no draft to compel them. No, they, often held as symbols of the “failings” of our current society by these same ‘concerned’ folks, volunteered to defend their nation. In the end, they laid down their lives for that nation and put the lie to the idea of a generation of selfish do-nothings.

They aren’t alone. One of the things that stands, perhaps more than anything else, from this Spring and it’s savage outbreaks of tornadoes, is the willingness of people to help. In both Alabama and, more recently, Joplin, within as little as a day of the true scope of the damage was known, people have arrived, willing to help in any way possible. None of them is looking for a job or any sort of reward, they just saw some others who had suffered terribly and came to do what they could to help. They spend their own money, use their own vacation time, to do nothing more than help others. They too put the doom-sayers, the folks who deride the current society as somehow less than it was in some mythical past.

America’s not perfect, that is something I would never claim. The problem is, it never has been, and when people try to pick a past era as somehow representing a “more perfect” state of our nation and society, shows nothing so much as their own ignorance and willingness to engage in wishful thinking. The thing that is truly great about America isn’t our perfection, nor how we are ‘greater’ than any other nation. It’s how we can can rise above the imperfections present in us all and be something better, even, occasionally, something great.

A final sort of “pet peeve” in the vein of rewriting reality occurred today, and it truly pissed me off. I was flipping around, looking for something to watch on the TV, and I came up on the start of a baseball game. The Chicago Cubs were getting ready to start a game, and it being Memorial Day, they were in full ‘patriotic fervor’ mode. It wasn’t really over-the-top, or even very offensive…..until the announcer told everyone to stand for the national anthem. I do not know who the woman was who they has asked to do the honors, but someone should set down with her and have a good, long talk. You see, rather than answer that announcement by stepping up to the mike and opening with the stirring lines of “The Star Spangled Banner”, she decided to open with “God Bless America”, THEN she decided to actually sign our national anthem. I know, many conservatives these days want to do away with “The Star Spangled Banner” and replace it with a song that reflects (in their words and pathetic little minds) “our nation’s Christian roots”. Until they accomplish this idiotic task, I would hope they would have the decency to remember what song we all do rise to.


What’s unsaid.

May 29, 2011

I interact with a lot of folks online, and while some of them agree with me, some of them don’t, and some of them do both. It’s the usual interactions of humans everywhere, say something, express an opinion, have someone come back with a challenge, defend, counter…….the story of how humans have always interacted, write on the electronic media that is the Internet.

Recently, I got into a “discussion” that revolved around a story, posted on a ‘pro-life’ Web site, that Pepsi was working to develop a new sweetener for it’s line of products. It’s teamed up with a company that, according to the groups site, will use cells from aborted fetuses to produce said new sweetener. The individual who brought this to my attention, who is very “pro-life”, thought that this was the sign of absolute evil, that this was the worst thing that could happen, a major company ‘profiting’ off ‘dead babies’.

The problem is, the story on that site doesn’t tell the whole story.

You see, the company will be using a specific cell line, HEK293. It’s a line of kidney cells, and it is derived from cells harvested from aborted fetuses, but the line was developed in the 1970’s, in Holland no less. Here’s a little something on the subject:

You see, the ‘pro-life’ Web site doesn’t mention this fact. It also doesn’t mention that these cells are, in all likelihood, going to be used to test how the new sweetener effects human kidneys, and not as part of the actual manufacturing process. Both of these facts underline an important truth about getting your information off the Internet: pay attention to who’s writing.

You see, the problem is, the ‘pro-life’ site didn’t lie in it’s story, but by not mentioning some things, and the way they worded their story, they produce a story that skates very close indeed to lying, without actually going over the line. It’s hardly a new thing. Organizations have been writing stories to make themselves look good, their opposition look bad, and generally fire up their base since, well, since people have been writing on such subjects.

That’s something important to remember, the next time you go surfing the Internet looking for the latest-and-greatest news story. Just because a site tells you something, and you want to believe what you’re reading, it might not be such a good idea to actually believe what that site says. Always be sure you look behind the curtain to make sure it really is a wizard who’s telling you the truth of the Universe, and not a fraud peddling their own version of “The Truth”.

Here ends the lesson.

Simple murder.

May 27, 2011

I read a lot, some of it in books, some of it in newspapers, some of it from on line sources. I recently ran across a story that stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the story itself, but the response people had to it, that really stopped me cold.

This is the story:

The facts are simple: a pharmacist is working in a drug store in a “bad” section of town. Two teenagers walk in, one of them armed, and attempt to rob the drug store. The pharmacist has a gun behind the counter, which he pulls and shoots one of the would be robbers. The other robber flees while the pharmacist follows him to the door, then he returns to the counter. Now comes the part that changes the story. The remaining robber is now on the floor, unconscious with a bullet in his head. The pharmacist goes behind the counter, retrieves a second gun he has there, then come back around the counter. He then proceeds to fire five shots into the unconscious robber’s abdomen, killing him in the process.

When the story first broke, people hailed the pharmacist as a hero, he was seen as defending himself and his coworkers. When video surveillance from the store was examined by the police, they notified prosecutors, who charged the pharmacist with murder. The case was tried before a jury, who heard both the prosecutor’s argument that the shooting was murder, and the defense’s claim that it was simply a matter of self defense. The jury took around three and a half hours to decide that it was, in fact, murder; and to further recommend that the pharmacist be sentenced to life in prison.

It’s all pretty straight forward, the evidence was in no doubt what happened, and the jury would have been hard pressed to come to any other verdict. What amazed me was what I read when I scrolled down past the end of the story.

One after another, people had weighed in, denouncing the jury and hailing the pharmacist as a hero. The level of hatred, of anger, that most of those people expressed should be enough to make anyone shudder, if not openly blanch. It’s like once the kid walked in the door, he was fair game, no matter whether he was actively attacking anyone or not. It makes one wonder, what would these people have considered a response on the robber’s part that would have justified not shooting him. Would it have been enough if he’d been gasping out pleas for mercy? If he’d managed to get on his knees and beg for his life? When does a person cross the line from defending themselves to, as the prosecutor put it, becoming “judge, jury and executioner”?

For myself, I think the jury did the right thing. Shooting someone who’s actively trying to harm you is an act that isn’t hard to justify. Shooting someone who’s lying defenseless in front of you, that’s murder, plain and simple

The importance of paying attention.

May 18, 2011

The words “sex scandals” and “politics” are so closely linked to each other that they sometimes seem to be almost unavoidably so. But two recent high-profile instances make you wonder why anyone is amazed why that they happened, or should that be why they were allowed to happen at all?

The first case to hit the headlines was that of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He is accused of sexually assaulting a maid in the New York hotel suite he occupied. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he is often referred to, is no stranger to accusations that of sexual assault. A reporter for a French publication had stated that she had been assaulted by DSK. The incident occurred when she went to what she thought was to be an interview for a story. After the attack, the reporter refused to file formal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is well connected politically. Since he was arrested in this country, other women have begun to come forward to relate similar tales of their treatment at the hands of DSK.

The second case involves now-retired governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this case, there is no doubt what Schwarzenegger did, because he has admitted to fathering a child on a former housekeeper. It isn’t as though Schwarzenegger had never been accused of going beyond what might be thought of as the normal boundaries of how he interacted with women either. During his years as a Hollywood ‘star’, several of his female costars had spoken out about Schwarzenegger’s behavior towards them and the unwanted sexual advances they had received.

These men share few political similarities, Schwarzenegger being until now a darling of the Republican Party, and Strauss-Kahn being affiliated with the Socialist wing of French politics. What they do share, though, are characteristics that they demonstrated many times, characteristics that were more often than not ignored by those around them. Both men were willing to use positions of power to allow them to take advantage of women who they had power over. Both men had been accused of abusing their positions to take sexual advantage of women. Most importantly, both men were allowed to get away with their bad acts without facing any sanctions.

Not every accusation of sexual misconduct is true. But having said that, when a person in power faces accusations that they are using their power to take advantage of others, those accusations should be, must be, investigated fully and openly. Schwarzenegger, at least, seems to have taken care of the child that resulted from his infidelity. Whether the past accusations of possible misdeeds will now be re-investigated more thoroughly remains to be seen. In the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a woman has had her life damaged, possibly destroyed, because no one would listen, or was willing to act, to stop a man who seems to have been slowly but surely spiraling out of control.

This IS unacceptable.

The police, the media, even ordinary people, MUST take seriously the need to keep this sort of thing from happening, and the only way to do that is to make sure when an accusation is made, it’s taken seriously. The innocent will be cleared if the accusation is false, and if it is not, someone will be stopped before they can do something to ruin another person’s life. No other course will work, no other way of dealing with this sort of situation will succeed.

The IRA’s shame.

May 17, 2011

Being part Irish, I try to keep up on what’s going on in Ireland. Right now, Queen Elizabeth of England is on a state visit to Ireland. She’s laid a wreath at the monument to the Irish who died fighting against English rule and planted a tree in a garden in Dublin dedicated to peace in that island nation. From early reports, it seems that more than a few Irish are quite happy to have her visit. That is not, however, a universal sentiment.

In the run-up to her visit, several IED’s were found scatted around Ireland, all of them linked to a group trying to ‘bring back the armed struggle for freedom’. Many of the members of this group are former IRA members who are dissatisfied with the current peace process. As to why they’re dissatisfied, I do not claim to know, but I would be willing to hazard a few guesses.

When English rule or ‘the North’ was at it’s worst, the IRA were heroes to most Nationalist for their actions against a government that was aimed very much at keeping them ‘in their places’. They were seen as ‘striking a blow’ for all the people who could do little to nothing to change things on the ground. Later, as the IRA began to move more towards bombings and other acts of more indiscriminate terror, those same people began to have doubts. Since the Good Friday Accord came into being, many people, on all sides of the Northern Ireland political scene, have begun to see that the time for violence has passed, that it’s time to find a way forward together. The main terror groups, both the groups sharing the IRA’s views and those who had fought against them, turned in and/or destroyed their arms and began to try to move back into society. By all accounts, while it hasn’t been an easy transition, it has been happening. The local government has come to reflect the make up of the community it represents, and the various parties have managed to work together to keep it that way.

And therein lies the rub.

When “The Troubles” were on, the people who were fighting were heroes, but now, no one cares. They’re having to accommodate The Others, the people they once fought against. Worst of all, the world they knew is changing. The comfortable old hates are no longer accepted. The “us versus them” split that once defined their world is disappearing. In other words, they’re in danger of becoming footnotes in history.

So, they lash out and try to bring the world they once knew back. No ‘peace’ with “The Enemy”. No fading away into obscurity. No more being ignored.

People like this are the worst cowards. That’s because what they fear is the future, a future that they don’t understand and will do everything they can to stop from happening. The saddest thing of it all is, the harder they struggle, the more violent they become, the more they’re likely to end up being despised by the very people who’s adoration they hope to regain. It’s what happens to people who try to ignore the future, they just become sad relics of a past no one want to remember.

Evolution IS beautiful!

May 10, 2011

There’s an abandoned house not too far from where I live. The owner moved out and just left it setting, I’m not even sure they bothered to lock the front door. With the return of warm weather to my region, the lawn is slowly starting to get shaggier and shaggier. No doubt someday soon, someone will be around to mow it, but for now, it’s slowly going a bit wild.

The nice thing about a wild yard like this isn’t the long grass, though after a long, snowy winter like the one that haunted this part of the country, all that green does help to remind you winter is over. No, what’ really nice is the weeds.

You see, the yard has already started to sprout a healthy smattering of dandelions, and their bright yellow flowers are quite an enjoyable sight….at least as long as you’re not expected to get rid of them. The yard also sports a very nice selection of native violets. Most folks consider them to be a weed to, but in this case, I figure ‘most folks’ don’t know what they’re talking about. The violets actually come in two distinct varieties: one is your “traditional” violet, complete with it’s characteristic color. They’re quite nice looking flowers, and their color stands out well on the green background. The other variety, though, is a white violet. It’s the same shape as it’s “normal” cousin, and it springs from from an identical plant, but instead of the purple with a yellow/gold ring in the center, a white violet is just that, white, and has a pale violet ring around the center. I walked among them today, looking at them. My own yard has a small colony of white violets, but seeing as how I actually live in my house, I’m expected to keep the yard mowed, so mine never achieve quite the glorious stage that these have, both in size and quantity. I noticed that some of the white violets in the abandoned house’s yard looked odd and bent down to pick one to see if I could figure out what wasn’t right. What I saw was that, on some of the flowers, the violet ring had nearly disappeared, leaving only a small patch of pale purple on the lowest point of the central ring area. A truly white violet was arising by simple mutation!

I wondered how people who insist that evolution is a “myth” would explain my small discovery. Would they claim God had somehow decided to change a small patch of flowers? Or would they think Satan had put them there to “tempt” someone into believing the “false doctrine” of evolution?

Me, I see a small change in a single plant, spreading as that plant produces more copies of itself. I don’t need to see ‘the hand of God’ in it, I just see a small, random change producing something quite beautiful. That beauty is enough for me.

One man’s weed, another man’s beautiful moment.

Some things are worth doing!

May 7, 2011

(Posts have been few and far between for me these past few months due to the increased demands on my time from classes. Now, summer is here and I hope to let some of my other creative juices flow.)

Did you have a chance to watch the movie “Wall-E” when it came out, or maybe since then? Do you remember the basic premise: the little robot, all by itself, doing what it could to clean up a planet’s worth of garbage left behind by a wasteful humanity? I was recently put in mind of that by something I did.

What I did was a recent trip I took to Rockford. To get there, I had to drive up Interstate 39, one of the major north-south roads in the state of Illinois. On both my drive there and the drive back, I was struck by something: garbage, lots of it. It was almost as though there was not on instance where I could look out the window of my car and not see something in the roadside trees, or adorning the fence line. Most of it was plastics, anything from shopping bags to left-over pieces of plastic sheeting. And it’s not like this stretch of road runs through large towns, or near any really big landfills either. No, this is out in the country, about as far from people as you can get and be on such a road. Nor is it the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. So how does all this garbage get there?

Is it because, in an effort to cut spending, this state (and, no doubt, many others) is cutting it’s spending on such “non-essential” things as roadside clean up? Are we, as a society, becoming more callous about caring for the world we live in? Is it a case of us simply having so many plastic items, and so many other things for that matter, that we simply use once and forget about, that the sheer volume is beginning to overwhelm our ability to deal with it?

Many cities have recycling programs, and these are, at least in my opinion, good things to have. But would it not make more sense to use fewer things that are intended for a single use? Would it also not be better to make those things that we do need to make for single use more easily broken down if they do end up not being disposed of properly? Would it not be a good idea to keep reminding people that we, all of us, are responsible for keeping this planet we live on a place that we actually WANT to live on?

Maybe it’s time we pulled those old public service commercials out, the ones that reminded us not to pollute, to always take care and always dispose of our trash properly, and give them a bit of an update. Some might decry such spending as a “waste of the taxpayer’s hard-earned money”. My response? Horse shit! People talk about not passing on a nation to the next generation that’s in debt, but if the nation they inherit is a place that’s unfit to live in, what have they gained? Some things you just pay for, knowing that the cost is worth it. Having a place to live that’s not a single massive garbage dump, now that’s priceless.