Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Disturbing Image: Assault as a Spectator Sport

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.--Graham Nash

William Golding wrote a novel called Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in which a group of English schoolboys being evacuated from home to escape an unnamed war crash land on an island. With all the adults killed in the crash, the boys must fend for themselves. Control of the group descends into a power struggle between Ralph who represents order and the better parts of civilization, and Jack who represents anarchy and our base desires run amok. I thought about LOTF today when I heard a horrifying story on the evening news.

In Richmond, CA, a young girl, age 15, left her homecoming dance at 9:30 pm to go home. She never got home; instead she was gang raped on the school grounds. According to the police, as many as four to seven people assaulted the victim while a dozen or more watched. Some of the spectators took pictures. No one called 911. The young woman was found after someone who wasn't present at the ongoing assault overheard people talking about what was going on and called the police. They found her severely beaten and semi-conscious, her injuries so severe that she was airlifted via helicopter to the hospital. The police report that the attack lasted more than two hours. So far there have been two arrests, a 19-year-old ex-student and a 15-year-old student at the high school.

Like most people, I am horrified by the actions of the perpetrators who physically assaulted this young woman, but I'm perhaps more disturbed by the spectators who watched, commented, and took pictures as if witnessing some carnival side show. The perpetrators, once apprehended, will suffer the consequences of their actions, but it is not likely that anyone who "merely" observed will be punished. According to legal experts offering an analysis of the events, there is no affirmative duty under California law to undertake being a good Samaritan.

It's easy enough to shake our heads and ponder what has become of our young people; however, I think a better question is what have we taught our young people?

The message that we communicate to our youth is muddled and hypocritical. We give lip service to values--love thy neighbor, be truthful, be responsible--but our actions are totally disconnected from those values. Dishonesty reaps rewards until you get caught, then you may go to prison but when you get out, you go on the speaker's circuit and/or write a bestseller about how you managed to be a cheat for so long. The homeless, the poor, those who speak with a foreign accent, aren't our neighbors and we don't have to love them. Hell, we don't even want them in our neighborhood. Rehabilitation has nothing to do with our prison system; it's all about vengeance. Much of the opposition to a public option in the health care plan rests on the ideology that we have no responsibility to ensure access to health care for all who live within our borders.

The underlying theme among those who are opposed to health care reform is a belief that some people are undeserving of health care. Topping the list are illegal immigrants. Elected officials demanded and received assurances that no health care reform program would include providing care to illegal immigrants: Love your neighbor as you love yourself unless your neighbor is an illegal immigrant in which case they're on their own. There is also an overt concern with allegedly undeserving poor people getting health care at the expense of the rest of the hard working people otherwise known as, I am not my brother's keeper if I don't find him worthy of help.

We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of this country. This isn't a battle in which you can afford to be neutral, playing the role of spectator like those young people who stood on the sidelines watching and doing nothing. Our youth are us, stripped of the veneers of polite society. If we give them no sense of real values, of ethics that aren't situational, of a belief in the collective responsibility of us all to be our neighbor's keeper, then what can we expect except that they will become like LOTF's Jack, an amoral wild child without conscience, relentlessly selfish and cruel, willing not only to perpetrate violence but to stand idly by as if the brutalization of another human being is a spectator sport.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Act Today to Support Health Care Reform

Want to do something about health care reform? Pick up the phone and make a call to Congress today. There is power in numbers.

I just made today's 44,322nd health reform call to Congress. Help us get to 100,000: Call Congress today! It will take you less than ten minutes to click the preceding link, get the appropriate phone numbers, and make the calls. If you are not part of the solution you have only yourself to blame when the problem persists.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ballon Boy Update

Since my post last night, it appears that the authorities have determined that it was all a hoax. Once the balloon landed and they were able to examine it up close, based on the materials of which it was constructed, experts determined that it was impossible for the balloon to have carried Falcon aloft.

Why did the parents concoct this farce? The local sheriff surmises that it was "a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves or better marketing themselves for a reality television show at some point in the future." People really are crazy.

There's Crazy and There's Damn Crazy

I was listening to my favorite country music station this morning when I heard a tune by Billy Currington, People Are Crazy. I like the simplicity of the chorus: "God is great; beer is good; and people are crazy." The crazy people have definitely been highly visible this week; it makes me wish that I drank beer.

Another Reason Not to Shop at Walmart
Three years ago, Heather Ellis and her cousin went shopping at a Walmart in Kennett, Missouri. Among the reasons I vowed to never set foot in another Walmart was that even when a store was packed, only two or three of the 20 checkout lanes would be open. Heather, an enterprising college student, and her cousin found themselves facing long lines, so each of them got in a separate line. Her cousin's line moved faster and Heather joined him. The checkout person accused Heather of cutting in line. The manager was called, Heather exchanged words with the manager and refused to leave the store. The police were called and things went from bad to worse. Heather was eventually charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a police officer. If convicted, she faces 15 years in prison.

Since the incident, Heather has been public in her protest that the charges against her are unwarranted, but I'm not interested in arguing the merit of the charges. What caught my eye is that it appears that the KKK does not approve of Ms. Ellis' public protest against the charges against her and have offered her a friendly warning to cease and desist via cards delivered by a helpful local police officer stating, "You've just been paid a social visit by the Ku Klux Klan; the next visit will not be social." It seems to me that "social visit" and "KKK" just don't belong in the same sentence. Personally, I'm boycotting Walmart and although Walmart has not acknowledged the impact of the loss of my patronage, I'm certain that I am missed. People are crazy.

Up, Up, and Away in My Beautiful Balloon
My sister suspected that it was a hoax from the start. She thought that the likelihood of six-year-old Falcon Heene being in that balloon was a variation on the boy who cried wolf. I had my doubts when it was revealed that the only confirmation of Falcon's being the balloon boy came from his slightly older brother. Why is it that adults don't recognize that more than half of the eight and under set still believe in bunnies carrying eggs in baskets and at least one out of five has seen Santa Claus come down and go back up the chimney? They are not reliable witnesses to anything.

Nonetheless, the entire nation, courtesy of the omnipresent media, was caught up in watching the frantic pursuit by land and by air of a helium filled, saucer shaped balloon, covered in aluminum foil, and allegedly carrying little Falcon off to Oz. The sigh of relief breathed when Falcon was discovered in the attic over the garage hiding in a box was quickly followed up by mutterings about it all being a hoax.

The hoax theory gained momentum when the Heene family was interviewed on CNN. Papa Heene asked Falcon why he hid for so long. Falcon responded, "You said we did this for a show." Kids do say the darnedest things. The headlines on Saturday proclaimed that the local sheriff plans to charge Papa and/or Mama Heene with something; he's consulting with the DA to see what's the strongest charge that is likely to stick. So far it appears that any applicable charges would be misdemeanors.

Maybe it's just me, but if you're going to perpetrate a hoax, you really should get a better partner in crime than a six-year -old. People are crazy.

But What About the Children?
I respect people who represent the interest of children, and it really pains me to question the sincerity of Keith Bardwell, a white Louisiana justice of the peace in his efforts to protect the future progeny of interracial couples. For the last 2 1/2 years, Mr. Bardwell has refused to marry any interracial couples that request that he perform the ceremony. By his count, there have only been four couples who he has had to turn down. I can't help but wonder if perhaps no more have approached him because they are familiar with his policy.

According to Justice Bardwell, whenever a couple contacts his office seeking marriage, he inquires if they are an interracial couple. If they answer affirmatively, then he explains that he can't marry them. Bardwell is acting out of humanitarian concerns for the children that such marriages may produce.

"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

Bardwell is not a racist. How do I know this? Because he stated in an interview, "I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way, I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

I don't know where Bardwell stores his piles of black friends, but perhaps he should ask some of them to explain that a rather significant element of racism is a belief that the races shouldn't mix. If there is anyone who is reading this who is tempted to leave me a comment favoring Bardwell's concern for the children produced from mixed race marriages, don't. If you do, I won't be nice; I will hurt your feelings and you won't be happy.

Now that Bardwell's manipulation of the law to suit his own world view has been revealed, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations are calling for his dismissal. Quite a few of the commenters on the news boards appear to believe that Bardwell is within his rights because he is entitled to his opinion. Bull, he's an officer of the court and his opinion isn't worth crap; his job is to uphold the law. The 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. the State of Virginia specifically prohibits imposing any restrictions on marriage based on the race of the parties. As officers of the court, judges, justices, magistrates, and lawyers do not get to choose which laws we enforce and which ones we don't. We certainly don't get to act contrary to the law and substitute our personal judgment.

Mr. Bardwell's own words identify him as a bigot and his position of power over people's lives certainly elevates him to the status of racist. Some people aren't just crazy; they're damn crazy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trying to Live a Green Life

Today is Blog Action Day and the topic is climate change. My thanks to Alan over at Roberts Roost for inspiring me to participate. The way it works is that bloggers all around the world write on the same issue for a day.

I think of myself as environmentally aware; I recycle and try to minimize my carbon footprint. However, I'm not doing as well as I thought. According to the carbon calculator on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) site, I generate 26 tons of carbon dioxide annually; the national average for an individual in the U. S. is 27 tons; the world average per individual is 5.5 tons.

There are many carbon calculators online that provide you with a ballpark figure of your carbon footprint (all the greenhouse gasses you emit or that are are emitted on your behalf). The Mother Nature Network has identified the top 15 carbon calculators, just click here. I selected TNC because it also offers concrete actions that you can take to offset your carbon footprint.

My biggest use is energy consumption in my home. I've replaced some lights with energy efficient bulbs but not all. I plan to remedy that this weekend. I do set my thermostat low in the winter; I don't mind being a little cool, but I confess that during the summer, I blast the a/c. Next summer, I'm going to set the thermostat higher.

My city provides us with recycling bins and I need to use mine consistently. There are some things that I have already done that lessen my carbon footprint. I've gone paperless; I pay all my bills electronically and I do all of my banking online; my paycheck is on automatic deposit. I send e-cards for birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations, etc. I buy locally as much as possible; my favorite place to shop is the state farmer's market which happens to be located in my city. I try to plan my errands so that I can do them on my way home from work rather than make a lot of repeated little trips. When I go to the grocery store, I take my own canvas bags. They are much stronger than plastic and reusable.

Participating in Blog Action Day: Climate Change has made me seriously evaluate my individual efforts to combat global warming and to live green. I know that I can do more. I encourage each of you to do as much as you can; the more that we learn, the more effective we can be in combating climate change. There is a wealth of available information just a mouse click away.

My great nephew is 9 1/2 months old. He's the joy of my life. I want him to have a world where he can run and play outdoors the way that I did many years ago. I don't want him to have to buy his water in plastic bottles. I want his sky to be blue, his earth green, and his water drinkable. I see my efforts to do my part to protect the earth as a sacred trust owed to the generations that follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Anti-Obama Folks Are At It Again

I really have to stop reading comments on the Net. Generally the criticism Of President Obama's selection for the Nobel Peace Prize goes something like this: he was only in office for 11 days when the nominations were made; he hasn't brought about peace any where; he hasn't done any thing; he's the sorriest president ever; he needs to be thrown out of office; he should give it back; etc. Allegedly, there is a petition circulating via the Net calling upon the selection committee to revoke the award. I didn't seek it out; I really don't want my head to explode. Following is my general response to all of this anti-Obama claptrap. I don't recall there being this much hate when Yasser Arafat was a recipient.

There is no prerequisite that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient must be a president of a country so Obama's time in office isn't relevant. Indeed, most of the recipients are not presidents of any country. He's been a voice publicly calling for diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflict since he began his campaign for president more than two years ago. The award is not for being president, it is for advocating for the use of diplomatic means to settle disputes and for advocacy on behalf of engendering peaceful interactions among nations. All past members have not necessarily been successful at accomplishing their goals; many have failed. President Woodrow Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to start the League of Nations which ended up being a dismal failure, primarily due to the United States refusal to be bound by the tenets of the League. The current United Nations evolved out of the ash heap of residual ideals left from Wilson's efforts.

I'm not interested in debating whether people share my belief that Obama does deserve the honor bestowed upon him. I know that you can't change my mind and I doubt that I can change anyone's mind who doesn't agree with me. However, I do think that the discussion needs to be framed in relevant facts.

In addition, the Nobel Peace Prize has never been awarded based on world consensus. The committee has never in the past called up the U.S. and asked us how we feel about a proposed selection. It's sheer arrogance to believe that Americans should be able to dictate how the selection is made. The nominees do not nominate themselves and they don't campaign to win. The nominees are not even made aware of their nomination until the winner is announced.

President Obama did not seek this honor. I've read comments on other sites where people have taken him to task for not refusing to accept the award. What an insult to the selection committee and the entire process for him to do so! He respectfully and with humility thanked the committee. To do otherwise would contradict all precedent.

Finally, if we examine past recipients, this isn't a new thing to select a winner based on that person's philosophical ideology, a person who has not brought about peace or brokered a treaty. Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa come to mind. Tutu was recognized for his opposition to apartheid, his strong support of human rights and his message of reconciliation in South Africa. He has never ruled a country or held a political office. Mother Teresa was recognized for her leadership and self-sacrifice in her humanitarian efforts to attend to the needs of those living in poverty. Again, she was not a ruler or elected to public office. I don't note this to disparage the selection of Tutu or Mother Teresa. To the contrary, I believe that both were deserving based on their commitment to offering a consistent message regarding our obligations to humankind, especially those who have the least of any of us. Their ideological beliefs motivated their actions in actively advocating for change to ensure advancement in human rights. However, Tutu didn't eliminate apartheid nor did Mother Theresa eliminate poverty.

If you are interested in reading a history of the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize there is a very informative article online, The History of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1901-2000, that provides some insight as to the criteria for selection.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize, and Hope

My favorite time of the morning are those early hours right after sunrise. I wake up, go to the bathroom, then climb back in bed for a couple (okay more like three) more hours of sleep Friends and family know not to telephone me before 9:00 a.m. (except my mother but she had special privileges). So when the phone rang this morning and I opened one eye and saw that it was 8:10 a.m., I did not have pleasant thoughts. However, as I have a vivid imagination, I couldn't simply ignore the ringing phone as it could have been some major catastrophe like my sister calling to warn me of an impeding tornado heading my way.


With way too much cheer for 8:10 a.m. my brother-in-law's voice came through the phone line loud and perky, "Wake up sleepyhead, Obama won the Nobel Peace prize!"

I mumbled a response and then realized that I could communicate more efficiently if I removed my mouth guard (I grid my teeth in my sleep) and took of my C-PAP sleep mask (sleep apnea). "Yeah, I know. I was up late and heard it on the news about 2:00 a.m. Funny, I thought about sharing the news with you but I figured you were asleep."

Bob's enthusiasm was contagious and once I had managed to open both eyes at the same time, I shared in his delight. I also shared his disgust that already Limbaugh, Beck, and Steele were busy disparaging President Obama's selection . Sadly, their comments reflect the underlying qualities that have come to characterize the image of Americans in the world during the last eight years--arrogance and ignorance.

As I've read blogs and news stories on the Net, it's not just Obama's detractors who have criticised his selection by the Nobel Peace prize committee. His supporters have also expressed concern that as a recipient, there is more pressure on him to perform miracles.

I've never confused Obama with Jesus Christ. However, he is a man who does not fold under pressure. He did the unthinkable less than a year ago; he played the game his way and he won the election. All throughout his campaign he was under attack--accused of being a socialist, decried as unqualified, alleged to not be a U.S. citizen, labeled as a traitor with a secret agenda to sell America out to Islam. His detractors began their campaign long before he was elected to office, but in spite of or perhaps because of their vitriolic attacks, he won decisively. I still recall my shock when the election was called by 11:00 p.m. est.

Admittedly, he does not have a lengthy track record of being an advocate for peace, nor can he point to a treaty that he has brokered. Our own country continues to be embroiled in the wars that he inherited from the Bush administration. So why did the committee select him for the Nobel Peace prize?

I think it is because he represents hope. This award is an affirmation that the rest of the world is beginning to again view America as a positive force, a leader among nations. The prize is not Obama's alone; it is an award to this country for once again turning towards a path of leadership in adhering to ethical principles and fostering diplomatic resolutions to our differences.

There were many policies espoused by the Bush administration that troubled me and among them was the emphasis on tough talk and displays of might that only served to escalate conflict. A president who referred to other nations as evildoers and challenges them to "bring it on," doesn't bode well for conflict resolution.

The entire world has a vested interest in our path. As much as some Americans deny it, the reality is that the advancements in travel and communication have moved us from a collection of individual nations to a world community. Our weapons have gotten more powerful but so have the weapons of everyone else. When we blow the world to smithereens, there will be no victory, no dancing in the streets for anyone. There is no logic in cheering for Obama's failure, and those who do so fail to recognize that if his vision fails, we all fail. We should all be praying for his success, instead of taking pleasure in painting him as the devil incarnate.

I am pleased and proud that President Obama's vision of a better world has been so publicly recognized with the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize. The myth goes that after Pandora opened the box and let out all the ills of the world, she was overcome with the enormity of what she had done and filled with despair, until there was a sound of one final creature exiting that box and her name was Hope.

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.