05 December 2013

Let's Get Ready to Arguuuuue!




As the flow chart above demonstrates, there cannot be a discussion (on any topic) if the parties involved in the discussion do not abide by certain rules.  These rules are immutable and cannot be discarded if, in fact, a discussion is to be held.  Let’s put this to the test.  There is a good chance that as you read this essay, you may be guilty of improper argument techniques, per the flow chart.  Let’s find out. 

I came across an article today, written by a doctor (OB/GYN, no less) who is on a crusade to tell the world that having an abortion is directly linked to breast cancer.  In fact, she posits that the more abortions a woman has, the greater her chances of being afflicted. 

On the surface, her claim seemed plausible:  Basically, she says that induced abortions interrupt the hormonal production that occurs naturally during pregnancy, and, if I understand correctly, that interruption is a shock to the woman’s body.  All those extra hormones floating around with nowhere to go then become an unstable petri dish, which can and will become cancerous.

At first, her position seemed to have a semblance of merit.  Just two paragraphs in, though, she wrote something that immediately set off my bullshit detector.  She wrote:  “…abortion increased the risk of breast cancer by 44% with one abortion, and 76% and 89% with two and three abortions.  Now, I’m no doctor, but that seemed wildly improbable.  Indeed, if that were the case, one would think women, particularly those who have had more than one abortion (and they are legion), would be dropping like flies.  Further, it seemed to me that the global medical community at large would have easily pinpointed the cause of these deaths and sounded an alarm that people the world over would have heard. 

It didn’t take much research to find that Mary Davenport, MD, author of the article, was being less than honest about her claim.  It turns out that every major scientific body on the planet disagrees with her.  In fact, the American Cancer Society “noted with concern that: ‘The issue of abortion generates passionate viewpoints in many people. Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and is the second leading cancer killer in women (lung cancer is the first). Still, the public is not well-served by false alarms. At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer’.”

The comments on this article, which, ironically, were published by a website called “American Thinker”, illustrate how easy it is to forget how to discuss a topic rationally.  There are none that dispute the main issue, namely, that abortion causes cancer.  Instead, they rail on about the evil abortion killing machine (which, in the minds of the commenters, generates billions of dollars per year), and the government/big pharmaceutical company cover up that has blinded an unsuspecting public in pursuit of their godless liberal agenda, to wit, killing as many innocent babies as possible for the love of money, immortal souls be damned.

It took little time for this “American thinker” to decide that this article is not designed to educate the audience about a potential health hazard, but is instead a thinly veiled tirade against a practice the author disagrees with.  Whether abortion is right or wrong is not the subject of the article, but it is the issue she wants to address.  She just doesn’t say that.  Mary Davenport is counting on an audience that isn’t reading the words.  She is counting on a fallacy.  She is counting on an audience that does not know how logical arguments (discussions) work.

As I believe I’ve made clear, Mary Davenport, MD, is not telling the truth.  As far as science (as we know it) is concerned, abortion does not cause cancer, no matter how much the good doctor wants it to be true.  It is, of course, entirely possible that evidence could come to light that disproves our current knowledge, but the key word is “evidence”. 

Now, ask yourself this:  Did you, at any time while reading this, feel compelled to say “Ermergherd, abortion is bad!”, or “It’s her body, her choice!”?  If you did, then you fell off the logic train.  Abortion is a complicated issue, one that demands rational discourse.  Davenport’s article posits that abortion causes cancer.  It does not say whether it’s right or wrong, but she’s counting on you to make that leap, to forget the initial, salient issue, and go blindly charging to another, frothing with her brand of baseless moral confidence.  As soon as you do that, you’re off track.  If you can’t stay on one point, there’s no way you can expect to stay on several. 

One issue at a time.  Slow and steady wins the race.  We are much better off putting our faith in what we know to be true than what we want to be true.


24 November 2012

For Mindy Sue



It seems when I was younger, I didn’t have nearly as many conflicting thoughts as I do now.  I remember a time in my life, well into my thirties, where things seemed nearly perfect.  I had a nice house and a steady, decent paying job.  That’s not to say it was worry-free, because it wasn’t.  It just seemed that the path to the future was pretty clear, albeit frighteningly boring.  Things are different these days, but if nothing else, I know I saved myself from working in a factory for 40 years, and I’m good with that.  But I didn’t write this to talk about my problems.  I wrote it to make the point that it’s funny how things work out.

I won’t go through the entire timeline, but I started out worrying about money and ended up waxing nostalgic all the way back to grade school.  I can’t say it was the best time of my life, but it sure was fun.  We lived in a small town and I went to school with the same kids from kindergarten through the seventh grade.  I had friends, good friends that I’d known for years.  We had a lot of laughs.  Out of the blue, I absurdly remembered a pep rally from the seventh grade where every kid in the school was laughing at the same time. 

I remembered a girl who had to speak at the pep rally, but she wasn’t just any girl.  She was that one girl in the school who was developed far beyond her years.  Unlike most of the girls there, she had far outgrown her trainer bra.  She had boobs that jiggled and swayed when she walked.  When she walked, her ass was poetry in motion.  She was every 12 year old’s dream.  Anyway, she had to read something from behind a lectern to the entire student body, and as she started, she shifted her weight from one foot to another.  Then she did it again.  And again and again, almost every 10 seconds or so.  I don’t think she knew why everyone was laughing because she kept doing it.  She almost looked like she was dancing.  I laughed too, but only because I was deeply in lust with her.  I’m not sure I knew what lust was then, but she did make me feel real funny whenever she got close…like in the same room. 

I didn’t mention the girl’s name, but if you went to Parkside Jr. High in Normal, you know who I’m talking about.  I got to thinking of people’s names, of the kids I went to school with, and was surprised I could remember so many of them.  We all do that, don’t we?  Think about people we knew as kids, and wonder what happened to them?  I suppose I could probably find them on Facebook, but that was so long ago.  Would they remember me, and what would I say after hello?  Anyway, one name in particular came to mind, and for just a few minutes, nothing else mattered except the memory of Mindy Sue Lenning. 

She was my first girlfriend.  She was my first hand-hold, my first kiss.  She was also my twin sister’s best friend, so she was always near, even if in gossip.  Everybody in grade school knew it was me and Mindy.  She was short.  She had moved from Birmingham Alabama; I can still hear exactly the way she enunciated “Birmingham”.  Her father’s name (which I knew from looking them up in the phone book) was Gerhard, which, at the time, was just hilarious.  She had an exotic look, like a pacific islander, and imperfect teeth that were perfect.  She was happy and fun and laughed at everything I said.  It didn’t matter what we were doing, because whatever it was, we would have a good time doing it.  We moved away from Illinois after I finished the 7th grade to a Detroit suburb.  Things there were far different there, but that’s another story. 

The point is (and I hate that I sound like an old person when I say it) that those were good and much simpler times.  When I get down on the way things are now, it’s good to remember that things were good before and with any luck, they’ll get good again sometime.  Of course, they’ll never be as good as childhood; that time has come and gone and it can never be recaptured.  I don’t think of those times often, but when I do, it’s always good.  I did some digging on Mindy, though, and found that while it is good to remember the past, it’s also good to leave it right there.

After some digging, my sister and I finally found Mindy.  Well, her obituary anyway.  She died September 8, 2008 at 12:35am in her home.  It didn’t say what kind, but it was cancer that killed her.  I had to stop and sit down for a minute.  All of our childhood plans came back:  Her family lived in an apartment, and I can remember going there and knocking on the door and sweating bullets asking her mom or dad if she were home and could she come out?  We’d walk down to Normal Park and there was never enough time to make our plans before she had to go back in.  When her dad whistled, she had to go NOW.  We had time to plan our marriage; there was no question about that happening.  We didn’t have a profession planned, we didn’t think of college, because none of that mattered yet.  The only important thing was that we were going to be together forever, holding hands (kissing sometimes), and playing and daydreaming in the park. 

Mindy was married and divorced (to a guy named Jeff, oddly enough).  She had two kids and died at the age of 46.  From what little I’ve been able to find, she had a normal life, and I’m happy for her to have had it.  I felt badly, though, because she had been dead for four years before I knew it.  I wish I had a different picture of her; the one posted is the only one I could find.  Her smile was magical. 

I’m sure things would have been different had I not moved.  The Detroit area, and shortly thereafter, Flint, MI, was much, much different than the small farming town I spent the first 13 years of my life.  There’s no changing the way things are, but every now and then, because I’m old, I remember the old days and old friends…and it’s good.  In my digging I found a lot of names that I recognized.  I remember some names that I couldn’t find at all.  I’m torn between seeing how they are now and remembering them as they were.  Such is my fate as an old person.

18 November 2012


Let’s talk about killers!
 

Confessed Killer Released From Jail After Two Days

When I first read this I knew I wanted to say something about it.  I ran into some trouble, though, because I couldn’t decide how to start.  I don’t want this to sound sappy, because it’s something every single one of us potentially faces:  That you’ll kill the person you love the most. 

Here are the facts:  George Sanders, in Sun City, AZ, shot his wife last Friday, November 9th.  She survived for a couple days, but died in the hospital Sunday.  After his arraignment, he was released from jail on his own recognizance.  How can this be?

Here’s the story:  George and Virginia Sanders had been married for over forty years.  Virginia, 81, suffered from multiple sclerosis; she had been in a wheelchair since 1971.  George had been an avid golfer, but gave it up to take better care of his wife.  Neighbors said they would see them strolling together, he pushing her wheelchair around the block.  He would play the piano or guitar and sing to her.  By all accounts, he was the perfect loving husband. 

George says Virginia asked him to kill her.  He says she was tired of the pain.  She had recently been told that she needed to be hospitalized for her condition.  George shot his wife in the head.  Once he had done it, he called 911 and told police what he’d done.  He was arrested.  At his arraignment, wearing a prison jumpsuit and facing a charge of premeditated murder, he interrupted the judge to tell him that he wanted a blanket.  He said, “I’m so cold, and I’ve been so cold.  My back is spasming.  Could I be given a blanket or two?”  He was released.

There are so many things to say about this story; as I wrote the facts (or as much as I could find from news reports) I hoped I would latch onto that one hook that would make this easier to write about, but it never happened.  You should also have several unanswered (or unanswerable) questions, the most pressing being this:  He admitted to murdering his wife.  We generally lock people up for that sort of activity don’t we?  Why then, do I feel like this guy should be immediately be surrounded by his family and given a hot meal and a warm bed and an endless ear in which to pour what must surely be a heavier burden than can be imagined?

The sixth commandment (you knew I’d work the bible in here somewhere), according to KJV says “Thou shalt not kill”.  I have an acquaintance very well versed in the Talmud who holds that the literal translation of the sixth commandment isn’t “kill”, it’s “murder”.  Thou shalt not murder, and there’s a big difference between killing and murder, isn’t there?  We kill enemies, but we murder innocents, and who is more innocent than a wheelchair-bound victim of MS?

I could go on and on about this story.  There are so many things about this that could be argued from different religious or philosophical viewpoints, but the bottom line, the one thing I took away was this:  I have the utmost respect for George Sanders.  I’ll bet as he left jail, there were only two sounds those around him could hear:  His muffled weeping, and the clanging of his giant brass balls as he shuffled off.

 
 

Every year, on November 11, we celebrate Veterans Day.  It was originally known as “Armistice Day” to commemorate the end of WWI, but was amended in 1954 by President Eisenhower to be “veterans” day.  Sometimes it’s confused with Memorial Day, but in a nutshell, Memorial Day is for those who died, and Veterans Day is for those who served.  As a US Army veteran, I must confess to spending last Sunday having a few self-congratulatory drinks.  They were very good, but I also spent some time thinking about the recent vets, the ones who actually stood in harm’s way, and to tell you the truth, I felt guilty.  I felt guilty because even though I served, no one ever shot at me.

I’m not sure I can fully explain why it is that I felt that way.  It is the height of folly to wish to be in a combat situation, but I must confess that I remember doing just that.  I spent 15 months at the DMZ in Korea, and it seemed like not a week went by when we weren’t jarred awake by someone screaming that the North Koreans were on their way over the border and by God it was time to grab your shit and get ready to fight.  It always turned out to be a drill, but for that 3 or 4 hours, it was an adrenaline rush like I’ve never experienced since.  And I feel guilty for being a veteran but never having fought.

This has been bugging me for some time, but I got to thinking about it, and I have (tentatively) found a panacea for my “lack of combat” guilt.  First, I retrospectively have to thank my lucky stars that during the time of my enlistment (83-86), there were no major conflicts in the world that we were involved in.  Second, as I remember, when we had to go through those constant alerts, it wasn’t just those of us whose role was a combat engineer standing in the cold waiting to get our rifles.  The cooks were there.  The supply guys were there.  The commo guys were there.  The goddam mail clerk was there.  Everyone was facing the same scenario:  Time to kill or be killed.  We all fulfilled our obligation to be ready if needed.  There’s no shame in that.

Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying “An army marches on its stomach”, and anyone who’s ever been out where there is nothing knows that you might be able to forage for a while, but sooner or later, you’ll be looking for the mess tent.  Bullets are also very important.  The enemy doesn’t wait for you to reload.  Someone has to bring them to you.  Someone has to be operating a radio; you can’t combat if you’re not in contact.  The obvious point is, they guys on the front can’t do their job unless the rear is there.  Everyone who knows me knows I mean no disrespect to the green berets when I say that in the big picture, all those deployed are in fact, Special Forces.
 
 

We make heroes of those who kill the enemy, and make no mistake:  I fully endorse that label.  If you stand and fight when the bullets are flying, and you are lucky enough to return home, you are a hero in my book.  There are those who say that our forces fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq are fighting meaningless wars for oil or profit, and there’s probably a good deal of truth in that, but the bottom line is, they’re facing real bullets from real guns and they’re not running away.  The war in Iraq is derided as a “war for oil”, but Saddam Hussein killed innocent people by the hundreds of thousands for the accident of their birth.  (Look up Kurdish massacres.)  Should we just allow that to continue?  The Taliban shoots 12 year old girls in the head for the crime of going to school.  Should we turn our backs away from that?

Some say we stick our noses in where we don’t belong, so as long as I’m ranting, I’m going to just say it:  Yes, we are the world’s police.  Call me a xenophobe, but remember this:  There is any number of groups in the world that would, if given the chance, march into your town and show you how shitty your short life could be.  If we don’t stop them there, they’ll be on our doorstep before you know it.

And that’s my military rant.  I have a lot more to say about killing and murder and death.  Just ask me.

07 August 2012

Just Like Living In Paradise


I live in a tropical paradise.  When I go out my front door and walk due south, I can only walk for about a minute before my feet are wet up to my ankles in the Gulf of Mexico.  The azure gulf yawns before me, and the white sugar sand beach stretches in either direction as far as I can see.  A constant breeze breeds constant waves, blowing and crashing to the tune of seagulls whining and wheeling overhead while pelicans looking too big to fly cruise the surf, suddenly plummeting into the water to surface with a fish, which they swallow with a snap of their necks and a flap of their pouches. 

It is the very definition of idyllic.  It’s so captivating that as I stand and marvel, the surf washes in and then hisses back, taking the sand from beneath my feet so that if I stand too long, I lurch like a drunk, almost falling down while standing still.  (It’s the surf…really.)  Almost every day the sun shines from a cloudless sky, and every day I stand in awe, not only at how beautiful it is, but how easily my worries fade into the sun and surf and wind.  It never gets old. 

And then some idiot always wakes me up.

The trouble with living in a tropical paradise is that everyone, naturally, wants to be here.  Far be it from me to begrudge any person the joy of sandy toes and surf, but because I live here, I also reign here, if only in my imagination, and there are visitors to my kingdom whom I would, if I had the power to do so, quickly and forcibly remove, to wit:

In March there were some vacationers from Wisconsin here, staying for a week in the building next to mine.  I saw them as they arrived:  A mom, a dad, two young boys, maybe 8 and 10, and a person I’m pretty sure was a brother in law.  I knew they were from Wisconsin long before I saw their license plate, because the entire clan was decked out in Packers gear.  Every article of clothing, from hats to shoes screamed “GREEN BAY PACKERS!”  Their car, as you might imagine, was also festooned with cheese head paraphernalia.  They were from Wisconsin.

When it’s not blazing hot, I keep the windows open, and in doing so, am treated to the sound of the surf crashing on the shore.  Sometimes it’s almost loud, but it’s always there and always soothing.  I catch snatches of voices from the beach as well.  They’re faint, but I can hear them:  Children squealing with delight or drunk people “woo-hooing”.  And then there were the Wisconsinites. 

I think it was the second night they were here.  I was sitting in my apartment and I could hear people in the street.  At first it was just background noise, and it fit in, because it’s warm and playing outside is the thing to do.  Then, closer, just outside, I heard words of encouragement, like “Catch it,” and “Go deep,” which were inevitably followed by the sound of tennis shoes frantically flapping on the asphalt.  Sometimes, the ball was caught, and sometimes not; I could hear it bouncing sporadically, as loose footballs do.  It was completely normal, except that after every sound of the ball not being caught, the result was the adult male voice saying, “Really?  REALLY?”   It must have been after three or four times that I’d heard it when I realized that my pleasant background symphony had gone from pleasant to obnoxious.  “REALLY?” must have been the only word/expression this guy knew, and he couldn’t have sounded more ignorant.  It seems to me that only dullards use that phrase that way, as if repeating one rhetorical word with increasing volume somehow imparts an air of unique respectability to the speaker.  I think it made him sound like an idiot.   

Anyway, as the sequence began yet again, there came the sound of the flapping tennis shoes, a scuffle, and then a fall; the unmistakable wet smack of skin on pavement.  Anyone who has ever witnessed a child falling down on the street knows there are about 5 seconds before the wailing starts and of course, start it did.  I couldn’t see, but I knew there were tears and blood.  The male voice admonished the crying child to not be so thin-skinned.  Far be it from me to tell anyone how to raise their children, but that lummox didn’t seem very sympathetic.   

Right here is where this story should end.  But it doesn’t. 

I stepped out on my porch out of sheer disbelief to see what would (or wouldn’t) happen next.    Within three minutes, they were back at their street football game.  It wasn’t fifteen minutes before the entire scene was played out AGAIN, complete with skinned knees and tears, with dad yelling “REALLY??”  like a skipping record.  I felt like this:


I stood, smoking and smirking; I didn’t say a word to them then, nor the entire week they were here.  They didn’t speak to or even acknowledge me either.  Probably best that way. 

I think what bugs me the most is that it never occurred to these morons to walk not 20 steps to the sand on the shore of the goddam ocean to throw their football.  In the sand, if you miss a throw, it won’t bounce very far.  It’s good exercise to run in it, but most importantly, when you fall, you rarely bleed and almost never cry. 

The stupid street football show went on ALL WEEK, and this thick dolt never thought to play in the sand that he obviously drove his family a LONG WAY to be beside.  What a great way to spend your vacation:  forcing your kids to play next to the beach but not on it, spending a fortune on tissues for tears, bandages for blood, and seven solid days of crushing your child’s self-esteem because they cry when they fall down trying to catch a football thrown in the street NEXT TO THE SANDY BEACH.  I’m all for tough love, but everything in moderation.  And keeping him from playing in or next to the sea is just wrong.  As the southerners might say, that’s just “yankee” wrong.   

It’s not all bad here, though.  In fact, I have met some extraordinarily nice people.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved in groceries; when the weekenders find out I’m always here, they invariably give me a cornucopia of foodstuffs, from eggs to half rib eye tenderloins.  I’ve gotten furniture, food, bait, and sometimes, when I’m paying attention, advice.  I’ve been lucky enough to make new friends, have good conversation, and most importantly, I’ve got a revolving set of drinking buddies that I see every couple weeks for a couple days, and then they go away for a while.  Let me tell you, it’s impossible to put a price on that.  That’s a slice of fried gold right there.

01 August 2012

The Wages of Sin


Christian religious scholars have poured over “scripture” for over two millennia.  Why, you might ask, do I have quotation marks around the word “scripture”?  I mean, doesn’t everybody know that the word is used to describe the writings of both the old and new testaments, and further, that for the faithful, they’re considered sacred, the word of God Himself, in all his forms?  Well, I have the quote marks because to me, they’re not sacred.  Call me a blasphemer, but until they’ve been proven to be of divine origin, they’re words, like any other set of words, and carry no more weight than any other writing.  In fact, a case could easily be made to show that they are anything BUT sacred or divine, but I’ll leave that argument for another time.  For the purposes of this essay, let’s assume they are in fact direct quotes.

God speaks for the first time in Genesis.  Since there were no people, there is no way to know what He said, which makes the whole “Let there be light” thing unbelievable, but remember, we’re pretending. So anyway, the Bible tells us what God says in many places throughout the Old Testament, but in Exodus, He writes it down.  No wait.  He carves it into stone.  Twice.  I find this very significant because now we’re not working with hearsay, but text written “with the finger of God.”

You would think that, as the infallible word of God, it wouldn’t matter which translation of the Bible you use, because they would all be the same, but again, we’re pretending.  So let’s use the King James Version (from 1769, not the original 1611 version of the version…see a pattern here?)  Exodus 20:4-5 says:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” 

If you’ve done any kind of bible study (and I don’t mean reading it and hoping for a personal revelation) you know that many of the stories related therein are allegorical in nature.  For instance, the story of David and Goliath is far more than a fable about a little boy killing a giant and becoming a king, but in the case of the quote we’re dealing with, it seems pretty clear that we are to take the words literally; there are no hidden meanings here.  God is telling us what He wants us to do.  In writing.  It is highly unlikely that He used medieval vernacular, so let me try a translation: 

“Do not make statues of me.  Do not portray me as a bird, an animal or a fish.  Nothing.  Do not hold idols as holy; I don’t like it.  If you do, I will punish your children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren.”

That seems pretty plain to me.  St. John of Damascus, who was most definitely not divine, argues that there are occasions where idols can be used, which has been very helpful to the Catholics, but it seems to me that taking the word of a mortal man, which stands as a stark and utter contradiction to what God himself plainly said is beyond presumptuous.  It is as if he (St. John) is saying, “I know what God said, but what he really meant was…”

As it has been since antiquity, that attitude is still prevalent today.  Almost everywhere, there are examples of people who, under the guise of religion, peddle as authentic and sanctioned things which are blatantly un-biblical.  I picked this particular line of reasoning to rail against the Solid Rock church in Monroe, OH, just north of Cincinnati. 

Dubbed a “mega church”, they are a non-denominational organization that until last year had a six-story high statue of Jesus that looked for all the world like it was made of butter.  It was actually made of fiberglass and foam; it was the gaudiest thing I’ve ever seen.  I remember the first time I saw it.  It scared me. 

I came around a curve on I-75, heading south from Dayton to Cincy, when I saw two massive yellow arms stretching into the sky.  As I passed it, I saw that it was a statue of Jesus from the chest up with his arms outstretched; there was a pool in front of it and it looked like he was drowning and clutching for a life preserver.  I know I’m not the only person to think it was odd.  I’ve since seen it described as “butter Jesus”, “drowning Jesus”, “Subway five dollar foot long Jesus”, and the most popular moniker, “touchdown Jesus”. Here it is:

 

In the Old Testament, Yahweh often meted out terrible punishments to those who transgressed against him.  Evidently, he still does that.  On June 15th of last year, a thunderstorm passed over the skyward- reaching Jesus, and a bolt of lightning shot down from the sky striking the statue.  In what can only be described as a spectacular blaze, the entire thing burned to the ground in short order, causing $700,000 worth of damage, and killing all the fish that lived in the pond it protruded from.  The next morning, all that remained was a creepy, smoldering skeletal frame.



You just can’t come away from this incident wondering if there was a supernatural hand at work.  If ever there was an example of a commandment being outright flouted, this was it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I take a good deal of glee in thinking that for once, God did something about those who use Him to prey on the gullible.  Still, the Solid Rock church is undaunted, and plans are underway to build a new, better, not as idolatrous replacement.

 

In a USA Today story the day after the fire, it was reported that the original statue cost $400,000; the new one is estimated at up to $750,000.  In what I consider a shockingly arrogant move, the Solid Rock church feels it’s better to spend almost three quarters of a million dollars on an idol that God EXPRESSLY FORBIDS IN WRITING instead of, oh, I don’t know, using that same money to help the needy people of the area, and by needy, I mean those who really NEED a hand.  If you’ve ever been to Dayton or Cincinnati, you know there are plenty of them. 

Anyone who reads my dreck knows my feelings on Christianity.  For those who don’t, I’ll say it again:  Beware the person who claims to know the mind of God.  


PS:  I've heard Heywood Banks' song.

14 October 2011

No Not Smoking Allowed


Several years ago, I read an article that said some people are genetically pre-programmed to smoke cigarettes.  I don’t remember where I saw it, and I also don’t remember who wrote it, but in spite of my lack of citations, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I fully believe that it’s true. 

The first time I ever put a lit cigarette in my mouth, though, it wasn’t to smoke it.  I was about 8 or 9, I think, and one of my friends had stolen a cigarette from his mother at my behest.  I remember I came running across our front lawn, and like an idiot, held the cigarette up to show my sister, never thinking that my mother might see what I was doing through the window (which she did).  Mom was pretty angry and we had to wait until my dad got home to see what sort of demise he had planned for us.  To show us the evils of smoking, he made us light it and then swallow, not inhale the smoke.  She puked after the first puff, which left me to finish it.  I swallowed every puff of smoke and didn’t get sick, and didn’t touch another cigarette for another 4 or 5 years. 

When I finally did make a conscious decision to smoke, it was the easiest thing in the world.  It was the early ‘70’s, and at that time, it seemed everybody smoked.  You could smoke on planes and in hospitals; I could smell smoke on my pediatrician’s breath.  It never occurred to me that smoking was bad because almost every adult I knew smoked, and those that didn’t seemed utterly unconcerned about it, except of course, my parents.  In short, it was normal and acceptable behavior.  My parents didn’t smoke, but my grandmother did, and when she visited, the ashtrays came out and for the length of the visit, she smoked in the house.  It was from her that I pilfered my second cigarette.

I knew exactly how to smoke.  I had been watching it my entire life.  I’d watch them puff, then inhale, and then watch the smoke pour from their mouths and noses.  If the light was just right, like when sunlight is streaming through a window, the smoke would waft from them like a dragon, curling and swirling in the light, as milk does when it first billows up from a cup of black coffee.  It was fascinating and I wanted to do that.  So when I took my first puff of my second stolen cigarette, I did not cough or gag.  It was as though I was a “natural” smoker; like I was born to smoke.  That was 36 years ago.

Regular readers of this blog know I have to tell one story in order to tell another (usually whiny) one, and this entry is no different.

In spite of my nostalgia about smoking, we all know that it’s bad for you.  Not every smoker dies from a smoking related malady, but since the chances of ill health skyrocket when you smoke, it’s a safe bet that it’s a habit best left undone.  Personal experience has shown me that quitting can be a nightmarish undertaking.  I’ve done it a few times, but have never lasted more than four months.  Quitting cold turkey is maddening, nicotine gum tastes like spearmint paint thinner, and the only way a patch would work would be for me to paste it over my mouth. 

Fortunately, modern technology has come to my rescue in the form of the electronic cigarette, hereafter referred to as an “e-cig”.  They’re not actually new, but they’re new to me, and as far as I’m concerned, offer the best alternative to smoking I’ve ever heard of.  You can look up the specifics here, but in a nutshell, they are small battery operated devices (about the same size and shape of a real cigarette) that, when puffed on, deliver a small dose of nicotine by way of vaporized propylene glycol, much like a humidifier.  To quote the cited article, propylene glycol has been “utilized in asthma inhalers and nebulizers since the 1950s, and because of its water-retaining properties, is the compound of choice for delivering atomized medication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes propylene glycol on its list of substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and it meets the requirements of acceptable compounds within Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations”.  Add a dash of nicotine, and you have an e-cig.

The American Association of Public Health Physicians state that smokers can reduce their chances of smoking related illness by up to 99.9% by using an e-cig.  They do not have any of the over 4000 known carcinogens found in regular cigarettes.  They do not ignite and are never on fire.  I just can’t stress this enough:  Using an e-cig is not smoking.  It appears that a person using an e-cig is smoking, because they do exhale water vapor (which looks like smoke), but it is NOT smoke, and produces no odor.  In fact, if you didn’t actually SEE a person using one, even a person sitting right next to you, you would never know they are using it. 

So, what we have with e-cigs is a nicotine delivery system with no odor, no carcinogens and no ashtrays.  “But wait!” you say.  “Nicotine IS a carcinogen!”  Well, no it’s not.  In fact, nicotine by itself, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer “has not been assigned to an official carcinogen group.”  (See toxicology in the cited article.)  To be fair, nicotine is addictive, but traditional cigarette smokers are ignorantly enslaved by all the other crap found naturally in tobacco, as well as other horrible stuff intentionally added by tobacco manufacturers to ensure a constant supply of addicts, er, customers, and more importantly, money.

Let’s recap:  Cigarettes are bad.  E-cigs offer all of the benefits (as smokers see them; they’re also cheaper than traditional cigarettes) with none of the health risks, smell, or mess.  Even (relatively) new social stigmas concerning smokers should be alleviated.  Because they’re not cigarettes, e-cigs have no second hand smoke, so no one can blather on about disingenuous “facts” concerning second hand smoke.  E-cig users can get their nicotine fix at their desk or in a crowd without the slightest inconvenience to others in the vicinity.  Problem solved for everyone!  Right? 

Unfortunately, no, the problem is not solved, which brings me to the root of this rant.  Most major airlines and a host of businesses have already, or are in the process of banning e-cigs from use.  Why?  Because people who don’t use them don’t want you to use them either.  I swear I can’t make this up. 

Let’s look at the reasons for banning e-cigs on airplanes.  As mentioned earlier in this post, smoking used to be allowed on airplanes, and so you know I’m not a smoking Nazi, I would tend to agree that smoking in a tube full of people could be bothersome to those who don’t smoke.  Now, everyone has rights, and one group’s shouldn’t trump the other’s, but smoking in a crowded place is just inconsiderate on the part of the smoker.  E-cigs completely eliminate any physical discomfort other non-smoking passengers might have to endure.  The smoker gets his/her nicotine fix, and the non-smoker is utterly undisturbed, right?  Well, no, they’re not.  It seems the argument being trotted out in support of the ban is that non-smokers and people who don’t understand how e-cigs operate are frightened and traumatized by witnessing a person using one.  Jason Healy, president of Blu e-cigs (my favorite), says "It's not the actual product, it's the disruption and explaining to everyone else that it's not smoke."  (Citation)  In effect then, those complaining about e-cigs can’t smell it, but they can see it, and they don’t like it, and, by God, they’re not going to sit on a plane and watch someone else not smoking.  Ridiculous, no?  It gets better.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), author of the original 1987 ban on airline smoking thinks that his ban should be extended to cover e-cigs as well.  Now, I’m not a senator, so I’m much more prone to critical thinking, and I’m having a hard time understanding how a bill that bans smoking should also apply to not smoking.  Lautenberg says, “We still don't know the health effects of e-cigarettes, and we don't want to turn airline passengers into laboratory mice.”  (Citation)  Huh?  The only by-product of e-cigs is water vapor.  WATER VAPOR.  Should we also ban asthma inhalers?  As mentioned above, e-cigs operate on exactly the same principle.  Senator Lautenberg isn’t blind, so I can only assume he is ignoring the fact that e-cigs DO NOT LIGHT, and a person using one is NOT SMOKING.  So it seems that the only legitimate reason for the ban is that it bothers a small group of ignoramuses who apparently have nothing better to do than to whine about something they know nothing about, but they don’t like it, so it must be bad, and since they don’t like it, then no one else should be allowed to do it either.

In all honesty, I really don’t believe it’s the whining of dummies that is causing the ban on e-cigs.  Like anything and everything else in our world, there is one, and only one culprit:  Greed.  For every political decision made, one has to wonder what the motivation is, and who stands to profit.  Societal benefits are a by-product of legislation.  My guess is that people like Lautenberg are probably in bed with the pharmaceutical companies, who stand to lose a good deal of money if and when the sleeping public finally awakens to discover that e-cigs cost a good deal less than ridiculously overpriced nicotine patches.  It also wouldn’t surprise me in the least to know that tobacco companies are just as ardent in their zeal to see e-cigs restricted as much as possible.  And as long as I’m speculating, I would have no trouble believing that the pharmaceutical companies and the tobacco companies are in bed with each other, in spite of their apparent conflict.  (I know that sounds a bit “black helipcotery”)  They’re both making obscene amounts of money and e-cigs pose a potential threat to those profits, and besides, people like them, and how can we have things people like if somebody isn’t profiting grossly?  The love of money is indeed the root of all evil.

I would also suggest (but could never empirically prove) that there exists in our world people who just can’t stand to see others engage in harmless behaviors they don’t approve of.  Like one child withholding a toy from another who obviously wants it, for the sole reason of watching them want it and not be able to have it, these people derive some sort of satisfaction from imposing their will upon others.  Much like nicotine, this sort of disregard for others provides them with the dopamine that normal people get from a smile or a kind word.  In our politically correct world, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that in their zeal to keep their own feelings from ever being bruised, they inherently must bruise the feelings of others. 

A ban on e-cigs is patently ridiculous, isn’t it?  I’m just so sorry to have to say that all my ranting isn’t going to change anything.  It will become the norm, and life will carry on as usual, and I truly feel sorry for the people who can’t see a problem with it.  And you can bet that if there’s any money at all to be made from an e-cig ban, the politicians will be on board as well under the guise of the public good.  I’m sure there are many militant non-smokers who fully support the ban on e-cigs, and will go to sleep snug and smug in the knowledge that no one is going to offend them in any way, especially not by enjoying something they don’t approve of.  It’s bad enough that there are those who would tell us what to eat or wear or do or say, and we behave as if that’s normal and acceptable.  Keep this in mind, though:  If they can ban an activity that hurts no one while having the populace agree, they can do anything, and that, my friends, is not freedom.  We would do well to heed the words of Bertrand Russell, who said “There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.”

If you agree with what I’ve written, how about dropping Frank Lautenberg a line and telling him (and by extension, all of your lawmakers) what you think of his logic?  Here’s how to contact him:  http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/contact/routing.cfm. 


27 May 2011

I Can't Type

There are a couple of things that have been bugging me for a while, and I wanted to explore them fully and rationally. I wanted an essay for each, because I believe they are topics that should be discussed fully, with all sides presented so that you, the reader, can make an informed opinion and perhaps dig even deeper than I did. That’s what I wanted, but I can’t do it. I can’t write long essays because both of my forearms are covered with poison ivy blisters. So since I can’t comfortably type, you’re going to have to read my unedited and possibly poorly thought out arguments. If I have to be miserable, so do you.


Immigration Wall



This picture comes from the desert in Arizona and it should disturb you for a lot of reasons.  Having said that, I want to continue by saying I have friends on both sides of the immigration issue, and each offers a strong opinion about their take on it. I’m not going to try to rationalize each argument, although I’d like to say that any talk of racism when discussing illegal immigration is moot. There is no race of illegal aliens, so that’s been taken out of the equation. And because I have poison ivy and vodka, I’m going to tell you what I think about the whole mess as quickly as possible.

I’m having a party. It may not be the best party in the world, and I do have some rules, but all the attendees seem to like it, and that’s what matters. The first rule is that everyone on the planet has a standing invitation. Show it and you’re in. All I want is an RSVP. Tell me you’re coming and I’ll make sure the rope opens for you. However, if you show up uninvited, you are implicitly saying that you’re not going to follow the first rule, so I have no choice but to assume you’re not going to follow any of them, and that means you have to leave now. See how simple that is?

God Hates Fakes



On May 22 of this year, just a couple days ago, an F5 tornado plowed through Joplin, MO. By all accounts as of this writing, at least 125 people are dead or missing. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church plans on picketing there Sunday with this message: “Thank God for 125 dead in Joplin.” The group will be holding signs claiming that they’re glad those people died; they died because God is punishing America for allowing homosexuals to live freely. I have a big problem with this.

There are people who defend Phelps’ group saying they have a right to free speech, no matter how offensive their message, and they’re right. For just a tiny bit of background, Phelps’ “church” is a small family based cabal of lawyers and paralegals whose sole mission is to bait grieving families in their most desperate hour into behaving like any rational person would. They travel across the country to brazenly mock the deaths of strangers’ loved ones, hoping for a physical confrontation so they can seek redress by suing the “attackers” as well as the state and federal governments for failing to protect their right to free speech. I believe in my heart that anyone can say anything they want without fear of being taken away by the government. I really do. But, here’s how it works at my party: You can stand up and say anything you want, but if you willfully act like a dick for the sole purpose of being a dick, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get smacked for being a dick. You are not owed anything. It’s real simple.



I could have posted pictures of my disgusting, zombie-like arms, but I didn’t. I did, however, post one depicting the root of my problem.  (Snerk!)  One thing about this is that although I’m right-handed, I seem to be unable to brush my teeth in a fluid motion using that arm. It wasn’t until now that I realized I had always used my left hand for tooth brushing. As I do it, in my present condition, I absurdly think of a monkey randomly poking a stick into a termite mound. It’s weird.