Thursday, August 30, 2007

Masculinity in the 'Hood

Although I'm not a big football fan (the Bengals have cured me of that) I do have some thoughts about the NFL - Michael Vick controversey, concerning whether or not he should ever play football again. I'm sure the NFL, its lawyers, the Falcons, their lawyers, the team's owner, his lawyers, and Vick and his lawyers will figure all that out after criminal justice system is through with him. At the very least, the Falcons' fans, whether or not they have lawyers, will miss Vick's participation in the 2007-2008 season.

If you've been living in a cave the past few weeks, you may not know that Michael Vick, erstwhile black quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL, due to his pleading guilty to organizing a dog fighting "league". He will probably spend the next year or more in prison. Dogfighting is illegal in nearly all states and is a federal felony if there has been any interstate activity. It is possible for him to be sentenced to a maximum of five years on federal charges. That could put paid to his football career. If it is proved that Vick was also involved in gambling on the outcomes of dogfights, there could be even more charges against him, and he could face a lifetime ban from football according to the NFL's policy for personal conduct.

Obviously, dogfighting is a repulsive "sport" to most people, doglovers or not. The most heinous of his actions, however, were his methods of killing the underperforming animals.* According to the indictment, Vick "...executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions by various methods, including hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground." Reasonable people would judge Vick a candidate for a severe sentence.

The larger question, however, is whether or not he should be deprived of his livelihood for the remainder of his productive football career. He has declared that he is sorry for his actions. Sorry he got caught, maybe. His apology rings a little hollow, too reminiscent of Paris Hilton's repentance of her multiple DUI's and finding solace in the Bible. It remains to be seen how Vick will attempt his own redemption. It takes more than an apology and admitting that he used "bad judgment and made bad decisions." After being heavily involved in dogfighting, he now says that it is "a terrible thing and I do reject it." Riiiiight.

What also concerns me is the developing debate on whether or not Vick is being vilified due to his race more than a white man involved in the same behavior would be. I know no one who would be satisfied with a less severe punishment for a guilty party not of Vick's race. However, there are few who could have lost as much as Vick has already lost. As one of the highest paid NFL players, along with his highly successful product endorsements, he was a much admired Falcon whose jerseys were immensely popular. Certainly Vick will lose his $20 million salary for the next season and possibly more. He may also have to pay back a good portion, supposedly $22 million, of his $40 million signing bonus. He recently lost his position as company spokesman for AirTran Airways and Nike has cancelled his shoe contract.

Future endorsements have flown out the window, unless his successful redemption would make him eligible for something other than a Purina commercial. Whatever criminal punishment he receives, he has already paid a dear price for his "bad judgment and bad decisions." He was ranked 33 among Forbes' Top 100 Celebrities in 2005. However, various antics even before the dogfighting accusations caused him to lose some luster and several endorsement contracts were not renewed.

Critics have been suggesting that this all is a case of "piling on" and that this incident should not cause Vick to lose his livelihood. In the case of his former endorsments as well as with the NFL and his former team, time will tell. A year or two in prison, with the exercise facilities that will be available to him, won't harm his chances to maintain the physicality necessary to return to the game. Another year or two after he is released, Vick can prove his dedication to "growing up" by avoiding the tempations that led to his downfall. The opportunities in the 'hood to stray will remain.

As another young black man who grew up in the projects has said, "If you can't change the people you're with, you have to change the people you're with." This young man, Farrah Gray, was a millionaire at fourteen, the money earned by hardwork, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his dedication to following the values given him by his family, pride, respect, hardwork, preparation, inspriation, the desire to give back and the strength to never give up. His book "Realliionaire" should be in Vick's jail cell.

Our current culture stripped away a black man's main role in providing for his family - in many ways, not just monetarily. The Great Society's generous but ill-conceived welfare programs made keeping the father at home with the family unnecessary. The advent of the Black is Beautiful movement of the late sixties and seventies was supposed to enable blacks to enhance their lives with pride at being black, not define their lives. Suddenly, the unspoken message went across the nation for black youth to not act like "whitey", to reject the white man's standards in education, especially and most tragically. Young boys interested in learning were often ridiculed for doing well in school. The entertainment industry, with the rise of cable television in the 70's and 80's, showed young black men and women where it was "at" for their success - in the NBA, or the NFL. The sexual revolution in the 70's added to the downfall of the family, both white and black, but it hit far harder among blacks. Birth control was available, and soon legal abortions were there to provide for the birth control of last resort. For far too many, the stigma of unwed motherhood became obsolete, replaced with a badge of self-worth.

From rolling out:
Middle-class black women with children fail to see marriage as an option due to their dissatisfaction with the low numbers of black men they view as marriageable material. The social castration of the black male has almost been secured with soaring high school drop out rates, unemployment, drug abuse, and incarceration.

Midnight basketball programs, the good intentions of keeping youngsters off the streets, reinforced the stereotype. Midnight homework programs would have been a better alternative, but rejected as too white. No one bothered to mention to the millions of young athletic "wannabe's" that only a minute percentage of people, either white or black, makes it to the big show. Millions are left behind with nothing but a good jump shot to show for all their years practicing. Without education to give them an alternative, they go back to the streets and look for other ways to prove their manhood. Then you find the development of men with the attitude "My dog is badder than your dog" and spontaneous dogfights in an alley, either for a few bucks, or the prestige of having such a bad-ass dog.

* I'm sure there are quite a number of athletes who are glad they aren't treated the way Vick's dogs were treated after an underperforming season. However, if Beckham doesn't get his act together soon, there might be some people willing to give him a "slight correction."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Nerve!

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told a labor group he would ask Americans to make a big sacrifice: their sport utility vehicles.

The former North Carolina senator told a forum by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, yesterday he thinks Americans are willing to sacrifice.

Edwards says Americans should be asked to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. He says he would ask them to give up SUVs.

John Edwards proudly says he drives a an energy-efficient Ford Escape and says he uses his Chrysler Pacifica (a "crossover" vehicle more like a station wagon than an SUV) when he needs more than two seat belts in the back. He also admits to having a pickup truck for when he needs to "move furniture or haul something". When was the last time he and Elizabeth moved any furniture?

He lives in a huge monstrosity of a house, to the tune of 28,000 square feet, over 10 times the size of the average single-family home in the US*. He declares that in addition to energy saving methods used at home, he's going to purchase carbon credits in order to ensure that his home is operated in a carbon-neutral way, and at the same time, his guilt at using so much energy is assuaged. Maybe Al Gore can advise him on how to purchase some of his available credits. It looks like Edwards needs to purchase a lot. It appears that a great number of trees had to be felled in order for his house to be built to his specifications.

He is wealthy enough to have an attached recreation building which, according to his county tax officials, "has a basketball court, a squash court, two stages, a bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms, sqwimming pool, a four-story tower, and a room designated 'John's Lounge'." Imagine the energy expended just to keep pipes from freezing and enough lights on to get around the 10,400 square foot "main house".

Don't get me wrong. The man has worked hard for his money, even if it was at the expense of medical doctors' insurance premiums. He should be allowed to spend it however he wishes. I care not a whit about how he spends his money. What I do care about is how he tries to tell the rest of us how to spend our money and live our lives.

Edwards is a great one to be bloviating about "two Americas". Maybe he has inhaled too much hairspray.

*according to census figures.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Global Burning!

The photos spotted on the internet showing smoke emanating from the numerous fires plaguing Greece caused me to wonder what effect these fires have on global warming. Supposedly, the most damage in terms of heating our immediate atmospere comes from active volcanoes. It is difficult to discount the apparent damage from such massive wildfires.

A check with the National Interagency Fire Center gives startling information concerning current large fires in the United States. As of August 27, There were 40 active large* fires, burning 1,780,254 acres. That's over one million acres. We are accustomed to hearing about fires in California, especially in drought years. This year we have heard about massive fires in Oklahoma as well.

The map directly above shows all fires in the US in 2007. Pretty amazing. One interesting thing to me, in evidence especially in the following photo showing smoke from fires in the Santa Barbara area of California, is the visible pollution in the form of smoke from those fires. The pollution from automobiles is different in chemical composition than that in smoke from forest fires. I see no evidence of automobile pollution, however. Perhaps someone will inform me of the reason why. The Earth Observatory website provides satellite photos from wildfires around the world. It's hard to understand why there is no mention of the effects of such fires on global warming. The large fires currently featured are those in California, Greece, Sicily, the Amazon, Montana and Idaho, South Africa, the Canary Islands, Southern Europe, Italy and Manitoba, Canada.

* In wildland fire terminology, a "large fire" is one burning more than a specified area of land, e.g.,300 acres.

Friday, August 24, 2007

No Reincarnation Zone

Living in Tibet? Planning to reincarnate soon? Better check with the Official Reincarnation Permit Bureau to see if you qualify for a license. China has declared through the State's Administration for Religious Affairs no one shall reincarnate without permission. This is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation."

At first this seems mad. Of course, the atheist leaders of the Chinese government have a method to their madness. (The People's Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950.) This ruling is aimed more at Tibet, and Tibetan Buddhism, than to people in China. It is an effort to maintain and even increase control of deeply religious Tibetan Buddhists, and to limit the influence of Tibet's exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama who is 72 years old. It is natural to expect another incarnation of the Dalai Lama within the next decade or two. It is believed that reincarnated lamas, important buddhist leaders, can be identified as young boys. Preventing the the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist monks from recognizing their own candidates for this position, will give the government greater control over the future of the traditional and mystical system currently used for the recognition of the living Buddha who is to become the next Dalai Lama.

This is just the latest assault on Tibet's Buddhist heritage. Not only has the Dalai Lama been exiled in India and any images of him banned, but also religious and political websites with any reference to Tibet. Many Tibetans are even afraid to mention the Dalai Lama's name in public out of fear of retribution.

The Dalai Lama, who teaches peace and compassion, said recently in Germany that resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet must remain peaceful. He is optimistic that he will one day return to Tibet and believes that an evolving China that is no longer isolated will be able eventually to resolve issues with Tibet and help to develop it "while at the same time preserving our (sic ) own unique culture, including spirituality...." It may be some time, however, if the Chinese opt to stick with the hardline approach disallowing the Tibetan Buddhists the time-honored tradition of selecting the next Dalai Lama.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Made in China

(UPDATE: 8/22/07, 11:00am - Now it's blankets.)

(UPDATE: 8/22/07, 3:35pm - And now it's chopsticks! Recycled without benefit of sanitizing by a Chinese company. Think about that next time you order General Tso's chicken.)

(ORIGINAL ARTICLE) -I suppose it was just a matter of time before the bubble of inexpensive, imported items from China burst. The first indication was last spring's pet food scare wherein an unknown number of cats and dogs sickened and died after eating contaminated food. This triggered a massive recall of pet food from retailers around the world. Unscrupulous Chinese suppliers used wheat gluten "enhanced" with melamine and other compounds to inflate its apparent protein value. It soon was revealed that similar practices occur in the production of food for humans as well, at least in China and other parts of Asia.

Soon came the warnings of toothpaste and cough syrup from China containing a deadly chemical, diethylene glycol (DEG), used in antifreeze and brake fluid. DEG is a thickening agent which replaced the more costly glycerin, commonly used in the manufacture drugs. In Panama in 2006 at least 51 people died after ingesting cough syrup laced with DEG. The FDA is now blocking the importation of Chinese toothpaste, and one would hope, cough syrup. Also, the FDA has warned drug companier, suppliers and pharmacists to make sure that any glycerin used is free of contamination.

Chinese tires also made the recall list. almost a half-million tires were defective due to the lack of a key safety feature. Many of these were sold in the US.

This was recently followed by several toy recalls. Due to excessive amounts of lead,Fisher-Price recalled 83 types of toys made, at least in part, in China, Big Birds, Elmos, Doras to name a few. This was followed by Mattel Inc. issuing on August 14, 2007, a a recall for 9 million Chinese-made toys, some with small magnets, some also with potentially dangerous levels of lead paint. *
Now we have to watch out for items of clothing. New Zealand is inspecting Chinese-made clothing supposedly containing high levels of formaldehyde which can cause skin irritations and possibly cancer. Several parents have reported problems with their childrens' nightclothes causing rashes.

What to make of all this? What seems to be a coincidence at this point must cause manufacturers and governments to be taking a closer look at Chinese and other imports. They must ramping up investigatory agencies to prevent similar dangerous items from entering the marketplace. One hopes that any deviations from safety standards will be spotted among the items examined. But what of the items not examined? Let's face it. It is impossible to thoroughly or even cursorily examine each shipment of goods from China or anywhere else for that matter.

In the final analysis, it is up to each consumer to protect himself from unsafe imports, just as it is in every other aspect of his life. Since food items don't list countries of origin for each nutritional component, it makes sense to buy only from trusted food manufacturers, if one must buy prepared food. Although growing one's own food may be the best protection against poisoning, due to accident, neglect, or criminal intent, that is no longer possible for the vast majority of people. Careful selection of foods is possible. Buying locally grown produce, when in season, careful investigation of meat and dairy producers, as well as scrupulously clean kitchen practices, should take care of most food threats. We must rely on our government agencies to do the investigations for us. Governmental representatives must be reminded of their obligation to
ensure that these agencies are well-funded and well-managed to protect the country from unscrupulous or just careless suppliers of food and other consumer goods.

Even with adequate governmental inspections, some items one has to take on trust. Because no one can make his own car tires, trusted manufacturers will have to do. (Remember the Firestone tire recall in 2006 when at least 6 1/2 million tires were recalled?) Few people make their own clothing, much less weave their own fabric, or grow their own cotton. At the very least, purchasing items from trusted manufacturers can lend one some sense of safety. Unfortunately for all, the recent experiences with "Made in China" items has lent some more credence to the old saw "you get what you pay for."

(Remember playing with toy soldiers made of lead? We probably chewed on them also. My father had a collection of magnets that I played with quite often. It never occurred to me to eat them.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Clueless in Iowa

From Lex:
"The more he talks, the more painfully obvious it is that he's clueless."

From George Will:
"Sen. Barack Obama recently told some Iowa farmers that prices of their crops are not high enough, considering what grocers are charging for other stuff: "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?" Living near the University of Chicago, Obama has perhaps experienced this outrage, but Iowans, who have no Whole Foods stores, might remember 1987, when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis urged Iowa farmers to diversify by raising endive. Said a farmer to a Boston reporter, "Your governor scared me just a hair."

From Sloan:
"Arugula? Will all the Iowa farmers go out and plant arugula next Spring? Cows like grass and corn. Do they like arugula? What would their milk or beef taste like? Not to mention that if very many farmers start growing arugula, what happens to the price? Economics must not have been his strong suit. Jeesh!"

Next we'll see him with an army helmet peeking out of a gun turret.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Cowardy Lions

Last night, the Senate passed the McConnell-Bond bill (S. 1927) adjusting laws pertaining to the Foreighn Intelligence Surveillance Act(FISA). This intent of this legislation is to clear up debate concerning laws currently on the books regarding monitoring terrorists who are on foreign soil. This will allow the administration to look into intelligence situations without the delays associated with waiting for judicial review.

However one feels about this, it is dismaying to find that the final vote was 60-22 for passage. Some Senators didn't find it necessary to vote one way or the other, preferring to straddle the fence and avoid being shunned by those on either side of the issue. Such moral cowardice has no place in government, especially in a time of war and terrorism.

Shame on them.

The House of Representatives followed suit with a 227-183 vote to allow warrantless eavesdropping on foreigners when the communications pass through equipment located in the United States.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Dog's Life - Part 2

In March, I wrote about the death of our beloved Kirby. We heard from many of you who, after expressing their condolences, related stories about their dogs. It seems that "dog people" love to tell and hear stories about dogs, and most of them have experienced the heartbreak and grief when one of these special animals passes away.

After much thought and consideration of all the pros and cons, we have taken the step of adopting another little bundle of energy into our lives. This past Sunday, we bought a cockapoo, black with a few white markings, a male named Knuckles. Such a macho name for this little guy. Our other dog, Miss Dixie, is not so sure we did the right thing. She tries to ignore and avoid him as much as possible, even when he is inviting her to play in his coy puppy way. He stalks her, lies in the grass and watches her. Then he moves up a few feet, lies down again, and watches some more. Eventually, he gets up and starts running in circles around her, yipping at her. She just watches him and then gets up and moves a few feet away. Sooner or later they will be chasing each other around the backyard and playing tug of war and all the puppy games.

It's been four years since we had a puppy. We tend to forget just how much work they are initially. For relatively painless housetraining, I always take puppies outside whenever they do anything new, right after they wake up, after a play time, after they eat or drink; it's straight outside, saying "Go potty" over and over until they do what they are supposed to do, and then it's high praise and cuddles. We keep our puppies in kennels indoors for most of the time to take advantage of their natural instinct to keep their "bedrooms" clean. Consequently, I am taking Knuckles outside every half hour when he is awake, rain or shine. We also have sleigh bells hanging on our back door. Each time we go outside the bells ring. In a few weeks, he will start ringing the bells himself to have us open the door for him. The bells are loud enough to be heard throughout the house. It is great (also a free burglar alarm) and the older dog helps teach the new one.

It's been in the 90's this week and so I am frequently sweaty and dirty (who can resist getting down on all fours to play with a puppy?) and unable to keep my hair in any decent condition. My clothes are covered with little puppy footprints. This is going to be my life for the next few weeks until he starts to get the idea.

The initial cost of the puppy is just the beginning of the outlay of cash. We had all the puppy accoutrements, small kennel, bowls, leashes, collars, etc. I did get a new cushion for the kennel and a few new toys along with a puppy harness. Trips to the vet will add an expense. In a few months, Knuckles will join the ranks of neutered males and with luck we will be spared some of the more obnoxious male dog habits.

He's a cutie, for sure, and is already worming his way into our hearts. He will never replace our Kirby, just as Dixie didn't replace Jesse, who didn't replace Tasha, who didn't replace Pumpkin, or Zephyr, or Pooh-Bear. I could go on, and on, but I won't. Each dog is loved for his or her own personality quirks and lovability. Our hearts have enough love to go around for all of them.