Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Conversation Between God and Mother Nature

"I remember when you thought them amusing. You smiled proudly as you told of their first shaky steps and your laugh was tolerant as you recounted their initial fumbling attempts to improve on your methods. As I recall, you considered those attempts proof of the superior intelligence with which we endowed them."

The deep voice of God was calm but Mother Nature shook her head anxiously.

"But, Lord, you don't understand the severity of the situation. Yes, it was easy to enjoy them in the beginning when they were children. It was humorous when they struck at me with their helpless toddler's hands. The harm they could do then was minimal and I was confident that as they grew in strength, their wisdom would also increase. But now, they are so strong. And their knowledge is powerful and dangerous but it isn't tempered by the wisdom I expected. Lord, I'm frightened for them and for the earth.

It is all very easy for you to counsel patience. You're often gone on other business but I'm here every day and I see the trouble they keep getting themselves into and it's me who has to try to get them out."

Mother Nature's voice quavered and a tear ran down her green cheek.

"I know you put me in charge and I've tried to do the best I can but it's getting harder and harder.

God patted her shoulder comfortingly.

"Now, now. It can't be all that bad. You know we expected problems. We knew that humankind wouldn't grow up overnight. I know their adolescence had been hard on you but surely, it isn't as bad as you imagine."

"Come with me," she begged, "and see for yourself.

God sighed and straightened his tired shoulders, then took her hand.

Together they visited much of earth, experiencing a gamut of Godly emotions caused by the actions of their creations.

Together, they picked their way through the twisted rubble of a city battered by warfare, murmuring prayers over the bodies of dead and dying children. God's eyes were pain-filled but he said nothing. He had seen it so many times before.

Together they visited once-pine covered mountaintops skinned off for the coal beneath and once pristine waters despoiled for the oil beneath and once lush meadows, made barren by chemical spills. God shook his head sadly at the devastation wrought by those greedy for Earth's resources.

"It breaks my heart to see it," said Mother Nature bitterly, for of course, the natural world was her own special province.

Together they visited a beautiful church built in God's honor. God smiled in relief.

"Here, at least, they are trying."

"No Blacks or Gays are welcome here, Lord."

The church seemed to tremble as God struggled to keep his temper in check.

"What could be more blasphemous than to use my Holy Name and not welcome all my children?"

Mother Nature shook her head gently. You begin to see how it is with them."

Together, they visited a secret laboratory where men in white jackets worked busily, perfecting a yet more lethal weapon to use on their neighbors.

Afterwards, they both sat silent and depressed.

"You know, Lord, we've worried over them before but time is running out. They have the ability to destroy everything now."

"I know, I know." God spoke wearily. "I guess we over-estimated them."

"Well, I'm at the end of my rope. They grew up in a perfect environment, a green and magnificent earth, bright blue skies, a golden sun to keep them warm, crystal clear water to drink, delicious fruits and vegetables and grains and nuts of every description, animals and birds to eat and befriend and do their work for them. We gave them strong bodies and superior brains. You know, Lord, we made sure there was enough for all of them if they were only willing to share.

I've sacrificed my mountains, my seas and my forests to their quest for wealth. I've lost whole species to their arrogance. They are my own children and it hurts me to say this," she was sobbing openly now, "but I wash my my hands of them. I don't want to lose everything I love because of them."

"But, surely, we have some we can be proud of. Some must slowly be reaching spiritual adulthood after all this time, " pleaded God.

Mother Nature sniffed and nodded her head.

"Well, yes, there are a few," she agreed.

"Then let's take a look. We owe them that much, at least, to see both sides before we decide."

Mother Nature took him to one of her favorite spots, a place she visited often when she needed uplifting, the small ship, Calypso, anchored off the turquoise shore of Australia, where the crew searched the waters for humanitarian answers to nature's questions.

They visited a hospital in the midst of one of the Earth's most filthy teeming cities, Mother Teresa's legacy, where all patients were treated with loving respect, despite race or religion.

They watched a family who, along with their own children, had adopted others who were retarded, blind, crippled, of all races, and cherished each of them.

They regarded a farmer to who treasured and respected his land.

They stopped by a second church where all who entered were welcomed wholeheartedly and a second laboratory where men in white jackets worked themselves to exhaustion searching for cures for devastating diseases.

And God's heart almost hurt with pride at what humankind was capable of being.

Mother Nature waited patiently for God's decision. He started slowly, almost haltingly.

"It seem to me, Mother Nature, that we knew from the beginning that there is no guarantee with children. We've done all that we can do, as you pointed out earlier. Besides the physical advantages you mentioned, we gave them free will and love, honor and dignity, morality and courage. We gave them examples by which to judge their lives and whenever the Earth seemed mostly desperately in need, we sent them a Holy One to act as their guide. It's true that, at times, we have been tragically disappointed."

"My soul still aches over the Holocaust and Hiroshima and Chernobyl," she whispered.

"Yes," God's voice held infinite pity. "We cried for them and bled for them. But I have decided there is nothing we can do but let them have their chance. I know it doesn't look hopeful but for the sake of the one's who are truly trying, we must give them the opportunity to find their way."

Mother Nature started to protest but God help up his hand.

"We gave them life. We gave them the freedom to find their own paths. Always, it seems they have chosen the rockiest roads. We can offer them love and assistance when they choose to seek it from us but beyond that, their destiny is their own. That was the bargain we made when we created them and that bargain will we kept."

Mother Nature bowed her head in acceptance of His will.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Andrews - Small Town America

When we lived in Houston, we rented a house in a subdivision on the western edge of town. The management company that handled our rental gave us a copy of the subdivision rules - there were lots of rules. If you didn't mow soon enough, they came and measured the height of your grass. If it was too long, they cut it and sent you a bill. You were not allowed to park any vehicle with writing on it (such as a company truck) in your driveway. Ditto, boats and motorhomes. Every roof had to be the same color and composition. Only certain colors were approved for painting houses. Above-ground pools were forbidden. You could be cited and fined if your dog barked. There were several subdivisions in our area. All of them were upscale to one degree or another. All had the same stringent rules. If there was anything they hated, it was non-conformity.

When we moved back to Indiana, we rented a house in Andrews - population about 1,500 hardcore non-conformists. Try to tell an Andrewvian that he couldn't park his boat in his driveway and prepare to get an earful of four-letter words. Try to dictate to him when he needed to mow his grass and watch him let his lawn become a meadow. Tell him what color his new roof had to be and watch him move heaven and earth to find passion purple shingles.

In Andrews, the more affluent people lived next door to the welfare Mom (and were probably her most helpful supporters). In Andrews, old Frank, who owned the grocery store, would let you run a bill while you were laid off. If you wanted to make a donation to charity, you gave money to Frank because he knew who in town was having it tough and he'd pass it on by way of groceries, or maybe a baseball mitt for a kid who needed one, a baseball mitt he just happened to have in the back of the store.

Andrews, small as it was, supported three bars. They were restaurants too but mostly they were bars. You could watch sports there or play cards or just hang out with your neighbors. There was a grain elevator too, right in the middle of town. The huge stack of corn fines in the back was the best place in the world to dig for fishing worms.

The social center was the Lion's Club baseball field. Just about everyone in town supported the Little League and Pony League teams, whether they had kids themselves or not. If you were looking for an Andrewvian, just show up at the baseball game and you'd be bound to find them. Grab yourself a hotdog and a pop from the concession stand (staffed by Moms and Dads) and sit in the grandstand to enjoy a long summer evening of neighborliness and  baseball.

We had baseball in Houston too. I was even on the Board of Directors. Our facility was spectacular with fields for T-Ball and Little League and Pony League and softball and soccer. The concession stand was as large as many restaurants. Parents were supposed to volunteer to staff this one too (two hours, twice a season) but mostly, they hired high school kids to do their stint. At the end of the night, we always had kids no one picked up and it was our job to deliver them home to the various subdivisions where they lived. I guess Houston parents were too busy making money to make sure their kids got home from baseball.

Our kids in Andrews were a wild bunch and we mostly just let them go. They didn't steal or vandalize but they did sneak beer and drink it at the park. They disappeared down to the river to fish or go canoeing. They jumped off bridges and swung from vines and took beater cars back to the old gravel pit to go "mudding". If the town marshals caught them drunk, they brought them home instead of charging them with Minor Consuming. In Andrews, law enforcement had a tolerant "kids will be kids" mentality....and so did parents. In spite of all that, there was an element of wholesomeness in Andrews, a Tom Sawyerish kind of innocence.

Kids in Houston were wild in their own way too. It was a badge of honor to have stolen an Izod shirt of every color from the mall. Egging houses was a fad. They too snitched booze but rarely got arrested....if their parents were rich enough. Parents here too often had no clue where their kids were but the possibilities were endless and dangerous compared to Andrews. Girls were sometimes raped and boys beaten up by strangers. Rivers can be deadly but malls are a different kind of deadly.

So we went from one culture to one completely different. It all depends on your priorities which is best. You're certainly more likely to find financial success in Houston but for raising children, give me small town America every time.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Heresy is Alive and Well

I posted this cartoon on Facebook and received a reply back from one of my friends who called my concern about climate change and the possibility of doing anything about it "laughable". My answer was that if reincarnationists are correct and people tend to reincarnate back in groups, today's Republicans must be the same crowd that insisted on Galileo being tried for heresy.

Honestly, it seems to me that they literally revel in their own ignorance. They live in a world of hoaxes and conspiracy. Science is one big hoax. The president's credentials to hold his office are a conspiracy. The Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax and so was the lost flight 370 from Malaysia...and the United Nations is going to take all our guns and establish one-world government.....and 911 and Kennedy's assassination.....

The more educated and intelligent people try to tell them differently, the more they pooh-pooh them. They're proud that they can't be fooled by a bunch of pointed-headed liberal elites. In the face of research and facts and statistics about melting ice caps and the rising water levels and droughts and fires and catastrophic weather events, they hold firm that it is all nonsense.

Of course, they are aghast if you venture to question their belief in a grand old man in the sky who watches out for us all and who sent his son to be crucified for our sins and then rose to heaven. Now, that to them, is incontrovertible truth and they don't understand how anyone could possibly doubt it. In their world, faith trumps evidence every time.

If they had been alive when John F Kennedy declared that we would land on the moon in ten years, they'd have fallen on the floor laughing. Of course, many of them still think the moon landing was a hoax and created on a stage set in Hollywood.

We've always had these people but geez, have they always been so numerous....and so influential? Have we always loaded up our Science committees with kooks regardless of party in charge? Have we ever created political oxymorons like putting Michelle Bachman on the Intelligence committee?

The next thing you know we'll be burning witches at the stake again. Does that bother me? Yep, because I'm liable be one of the first to feel the flames!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Not For Their Sake, But For Ours.



I'm not totally opposed to the death penalty in principal. I think some people commit such heinous crimes, that they are a cancer on society and society has the right to surgically remove them in the same way a surgeon excises a tumor for the patient's health.

Having said that though, I have so many conditions that the death penalty would probably be very rare if all of them were met.

First, we'd have to be absolutely, positively sure that the defendant was guilty by irrefutable evidence and that isn't always easy to come by. Reasonable doubt isn't even enough to kill someone. There must be no doubt whatsoever. The estimate is that one in every 25 death row inmates is not guilty.

Second, I'd have to be satisfied that justice was being meted out fairly, which it obviously is not today. As long as African-Americans are so much more likely to be put to death than their percentage of the population would indicate, then we know that judges and juries place less value on the life of a black person than a white person and are less cognizant of the heavy weight of responsibility inherent in these decisions.

Third, I'd have to be convinced that executions could be done humanely, which has surely not been the case so far.

We have run the gamut in trying to figure out the best way to kill people in our history. We went through a spell when hanging was the approved method. But hanging wasn't always reliable. Hangings didn't always result in broken necks and quick deaths. Sometimes, the victim hung and choked and gagged and writhed at the end of the rope for long minutes before he or she died.

Then we discovered the gas chamber. Ah, what a much more clinical way of causing death. But gassing people isn't exactly fast and painless death either. Victims fought against their restraints. Their muscles seized, their veins bulged. they moaned or cried out.

Then came the electric chair, which we sometimes affectionately called Old Sparky. You could not deliberately devise a more gruesome and horrifying death than death by electrocution, watching hair burn and skin blister and eyeballs pop out of heads.

And, finally, we discovered the perfect way to kill. Lethal injection. Hey, its just like having anesthesia administered before going into surgery and most of us have been through that. Just count backwards from ten and you're sleep before you ever hit one. Problem solved.

Except, it wasn't. We didn't always get the mix of chemicals right and the people we had administering them weren't always trained to do it properly. What the heck, how educated do you have to be to kill someone? Again, witnesses reported obviously agonizing death struggles that lasted for long minutes before the inmate died, minutes when the body bucks and the jaws clench and the prisoner tries to speak.

We carry on about how brutal Muslims are for beheading people but actually, beheading is probably faster and less painful than all the things we've tried.

The firing squad never really caught on in the U.S. though it's what I would choose if I had to make that choice. As far as I know, Gary Gilmore was the last American prisoner executed via firing squad and that was his request, not because Utah wanted to do it that way. Why, I wonder? If your shooters are good marksmen (and if I had anything to say about it, all the guns would be loaded, not just one), it would be over in seconds.

Do we have a bias against beheadings and firing squads because we somehow hold the belief that if we don't see blood, it can't be that bad? Are these forms of killing people for the sake of our own delicate sensibilities rather than the victims?

Our highest rates of executions occurred between 1992 and 2005. Since then we've slacked off to a rate between 37 and 52 a year. Thirty-two states approve of capital punishment though not all of them use it very often. The states that feel mostly positively about it are mostly southern and red.

In the most recent case in Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin felt so strong that two inmates must die now that she defied her own state Supreme Court which had declared that not enough was known about the secret and murky combination of chemicals being used to insure a humane death. (European manufacturers will no longer sell us the drugs we used to use, not wanting them to be the cause of bringing about death). Fallin insisted the execution would go on, (while still refusing to reveal what drugs Oklahoma was using and where they'd been obtained, with or without the Supreme Court's approval. Some Oklahoma legislators threatened to have the judges impeached. The justices finally backed down and reluctantly gave their okay. I bet they wish they hadn't buckled in light of the what happened next. And we still don't exactly what happened to Inmate Lockett.

We do know that he didn't have a good vein for an intravenous placement (which is the case for many criminals who've been intravenous drug users) so it was finally inserted into a vein in his groin (though the protocol calls for both arms), an extremely delicate procedure. This took from 5:27 until 6:18. At 6:23, the sedative was introduced. At 6:30, Lockett was still conscious. At 6:33, he was pronounced unconscious and the next set of drugs were administered. From 6:44 to 6:56, problems began. Lockett was obviously not unconscious. He was groaning, writhing and trying to talk. The blinds in the death room were drawn so we only have the warden's word for what happened after that. Supposedly, Lockett's vein exploded. There wasn't another viable vein in which to reinsert the needle. The doctor said he'd not received enough chemicals to kill him and they didn't have anymore available anyway. At 6:56, the execution was called off. At 7.06, Luckett was pronounced dead. According to officials, he died of a heart attack.

Furthermore, the second execution scheduled for two hours after Lockett's was postponed for at least two weeks (his attorneys have asked for a six-month stay). In the meantime, the state of Oklahoma is going to do an investigation of what caused such an appalling miscarriage of competence. (How much do you trust them to come up with honest answers?)

Don't get me wrong. I can't summon up much mercy for either Clayton Lockett,who buried a teenage girl alive, or the second inmate, Charles Warner, who raped and killed an 11-month-old girl.

But executions aren't meant to torture for evil deeds. They are simply meant to rid ourselves of malignancies on the body of society. They should be quick, clean and humane, not for the sake of those being put to death but for the sake of our own humanity.