Monthly Archives: July 2008

In Praise of Bikers

I don’t think I’ve ever known a more magnanimous group of people than bikers.  They get together to support an incredible range of charities in spite of the reality that they are generally not in the top 10% of America’s most wealthy.  Instead, they have the biggest hearts and are willing to share and do what it takes to be helpful to others in need – a truly remarkable group.

Since I’ve been riding my Harley-Davidson Road King trike, I’ve experienced first-hand the camaraderie of bikers.  Whenever bikers pass each other, they signal a kind of “hello” by raising their straightened left hand slightly.  I am unaware of “road rage” behavior from bikers.  It’s the car drivers, seated in their metal containers, who seem to feel a sense of ownership of every part of the road on which they find themselves.  Cars will cut off other cars with millimeters to spare, offering a finger gesture in response to the shocked or frightened motorist who has just been subjected to their outrageous maneuvering.  Some will even wield a gun if particularly annoyed by being inconvenienced or held accountable for vehicular misbehavior.

The first time I went on a major road with my bike, it was scary.  I’d always pull over to the right to allow speeding cars to move past.  The most frightening was when two lanes merged into one, and many drivers would speed to 70 or 90 mph just to gain an advantage and get past the bike.  Now I see the safety factor in riding in a group!

Are Newspapers Biting the Dust?

“It has fewer pages than three years ago, the paper stock is thinner, and the stories are shorter.  The newsroom staff producing the paper is also smaller….Financial pressures sap its strength and threaten its very survival.”

Nope, that isn’t a statement about your local newspaper.  It’s a statement about the American daily newspaper of 2008, as reported by the Pew Research Center.  “This description is a composite.  It is based on face-to-face interviews conducted at newspapers across the country, and the results of a detailed survey of senior newsroom executives.  In total, more than 250 newspapers participated.”   In total, more than one in every five of the nation’s 1,217 daily newspapers participated, making it one of the broadest surveys of its kind in recent years.

The majority of newspapers are now suffering cutbacks in staffing, and even more in the amount of news they offer the public.  The forces buffeting the industry continue to impact larger metro newspapers to a far greater extent than smaller ones.

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent announcements of a further round of huge newsroom staff reductions at large papers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post, all known to be quite liberal in their perspectives. Let’s also not forget The New York Times, that bastion of bias, with a second quarter drop of 82% in revenue, with print advertising continuing to shrink.

The Pew Report was meant to document how newspapers are faring in the race between today’s financial pressures and the innovative attempts to insure the industry’s future.  Many papers are expanding their web presence and getting into web TV to mobilize the rapid growth of web readership.

One major area of concern, however, which has already cropped up in television news, is the pressure to have a constant flow of new material on the web, which means “a loss of time to organize a thoughtful attack on a story, to think through precisely why a story is being done, or how to make that story more meaningful.”  Newspapers have long had that luxury and that responsibility.  Television and radio news, with their competitive immediacy, have veered toward the unexamined and notorious for the sake of ratings. 

We should be worried.

Children “Forgotten” in Overheated Cars

Thank goodness for technology, that’s all I can say….no, it’s not all I can say after all.   The Associated Press reports that the number of children left to die in hot cars during the summer is rising.  Research shows that July is the month when most are “forgotten” by their parents to die a slow, horrible death in the back seat of cars.

Now, in addition to your cell phone, BlackBerry, iPod, iPhone, GPS device, Bluetooth and mini-tape recorder, you can buy a “ChildMinder.”  The device, costing about $60.00, consists of a sensor pad placed under the cushion of a car seat, and is wirelessly linked to an alarm on the parent’s key chain.  If the adult walks more than a few feet away from the car with the child still in the seat, the alarm will sound.  Wow!  What a great way to help a parent remember that they have a small human being with them!

In the past 10 years, almost 350 children have died in cars, because the parents or other caretakers simply forgot them.  Only about 7% of these sad deaths involved drugs or alcohol on the part of the adult.  Most cases involved dentists, nurses, ministers, college professors, concert musicians, social services board members, NASA engineers…you know, the pillars of the community.  These are the busy, self-involved folks always in a rush, for whom even dropping  kids off at a day-care center instead of tending to the little ones themselves was too difficult an assignment.

Astonishingly, these parents, when prosecuted at all (and only 50% of them are prosecuted), receive only three to five year prison sentences.  Also astonishing is how much “understanding” public support they get from those who say “It can happen to anyone.”  No, it can’t happen to anyone. 
It can happen only when parenting and family are not the highest priorities.  It can happen only when parents spend their time focused on maximizing their own personal fulfillment at the expense – and very existence – of their children.

My DNA Made Me Do It!

At this point, every news outlet has discussed the conclusions of some researchers from the University of North Carolina.  The researchers insist that three genes “may” play a strong role in determining why some young men raised in rough neighborhoods or deprived families become violent criminals, while others do not.

The research team studied only boys, and used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a U.S. nationally representative sample of about 20,000 adolescents in grades 7 – 12.  They found specific variations in three genes that appeared to be associated with bad behavior, but only when the boys suffered some other stresses.  “But if people with the same gene have a parent who has regular meals with them, then the risk is gone,” said one of the researchers.

Genes give us a range of potential – the interaction of those genes with real life determines the outcome – and it appears like family is everything with respect to raising decent, adjusted, functional children.

Quote of the Week

The Framers of the Constitution knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution.  But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.
               – Hugo Black
                  U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1937-1971)

Fear Tactics and Free Speech

Two year ago, a Danish journalist/cartoonist gave his political opinion with a newspaper cartoon that depicted a caricature of Muhammed, and there were death threats and rioting by those who described themselves as “offended.”  The cartoonist was arrested on charges of discrimination against Muslims.

A Paris court also handed down a $23,325 fine against Brigitte Bardot, the former screen sex symbol and current animal rights campaigner.  She was also ordered to pay $1,555 in damages to MRAP, a prominent French “anti-racist” group which filed a lawsuit over a letter she published in her animal rights foundation newsletter and which she also had sent to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.  Evidently, she had criticized the Muslim feast of Aid-el-Kebir, which is celebrated by the slaughtering of sheep, and had expressed her concern that Muslim laws were beginning to dominate French culture and jurisprudence. French anti-racism laws prevent the incitement of hatred and discrimination on racial and/or religious grounds.  Bardot had previously been convicted four times for “inciting racial hatred.”  Her attorney said, “She is tired of this type of proceeding.  She has the impression that people want to silence her.” No kidding.

English courts are now becoming a popular destination for libel suits against American authors.  The cases have largely been brought against American writers and scholars for criticizing Islam or “naming names” of those who appear to support and fund terrorism.  To avoid costly litigation, some American publishers are withdrawing the publication of those books.  Unlike in American law, in Britain, the burden of proof in libel cases is on the author, since British law considers the disputed information as false until proven true. 

Here in the United States, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Joseph Lieberman (Ind/D-CT) have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, which bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law.  The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  This legislation wouldn’t protect those who recklessly or maliciously print false information, but it would ensure that Americans are held to and protected by American standards.

According to Specter and Lieberman as quoted in The Wall Street Journal (7/14/08):
 “The 1964 Supreme Court decision in NY Times vs. Sullivan established that journalists must be free to report on newsworthy events unless they recklessly or maliciously publish falsehoods.  At that time, opponents of civil rights were filing libel suits to silence news organizations that exposed state officials’ refusal to enforce federal civil rights laws.  Now we are engaged in another great struggle – this time against Islamic terror – and again, the enemies of freedom seek to silence free speech.  Our legislation will help ensure that they do not succeed.”

The anti-free speech forces have accomplished a lot in Europe and in our own universities (with their tyranny of the “politically correct”).  This is the time to draw that line in the sand.

A New Kind of Recycling

Each year, billions of food wrappers and drink cartons end up in landfills because the material they’re made of is geared to keep their products fresh, and not necessarily to decompose.  Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s, Clif Bars, and Coca Cola, to name a few biggies, have teamed up with TerraCycle (www.terracycle.net), a company that takes their packaging waste and sews, fuses or weaves it into products such as totebags, lunchboxes, showercurtains, pencil cases, backpacks and more.  The Chips Ahoy! umbrella caught my attention, as did the Oreo cookie wrapper shower curtain!

When Children Have Children

The teen pregnancy rate is up for the first time since 1991, according to a report released by the National Institutes of Health, and is a cause for concern.   “This is one of the key indicators for the health of the teen population,” said Edward Sondik, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics.  “Not only does this affect teen health at this point, but their health and well being for the next 20 to 40 years, as well as the health and well-being of their children.”

This is one of the most self-centered actions a female can take.  It is obviously not in the best interest of a child to be robbed of a father, a two-parent home, and a committed relationship which would give the child the security and role-modeling he or she needs to fulfill hopes and plans for a loving, secure marital future.

It’s very “in” lately to be a pregnant Hollywood star, and lots of money is offered for exclusive pictures of the heirs to celebrity notoriety or fame.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the star is married or not – there is no judgment, no condemnation, no “clucking,” no criticism, no shame, and no consequences.  It is just all “okay.”
 
When people do the wrong thing, repent, and then do the right thing, you’d think that they would be idolized.  Nope.  The media tends to humiliate and denounce them as hypocrites.  So, the “act” is irrelevant; the only thing that is relevant in current day society is that you must never say that anything is “wrong.”  If you do dare to call anything “wrong,” then you will be attacked. 

But back to the children.  Children having children is in no way a positive thing for either child.  There is sufficient research and practical experience to confirm the problems encountered by children without an intact family.  Why is this ignored?  Why is this denigrated or dismissed?  Why doesn’t anybody care about the children?  Why is it all about how the female “feels” – which, I’m sure, isn’t too great, once the reality sinks in that caring for an infant involves a lot of sacrifice and stress.

Kids have very little to connect to these days.  That might sound like an odd comment considering all the means of communication available:  email, text messages, cell phones, and Internet social networking sites, but paradoxically, as the number of technological advances continues to grow, the sense of truly being bonded and connected one-on-one in the non-virtual space continues to diminish…significantly.  When one has a site with 200 “friends,” one really doesn’t have a true friend.

With parents not around to connect with kids because of busy careers or divorce, or because they’re shacking up or never got married, having a baby of one’s own seems like an obvious way for a kid to get attention, bond to someone, and have some “hands-on” love.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t play out that way as the child-mothers discover that children are seriously dependent beings.

I remember when actresses like Ingrid Bergman (who left her husband and child to go to Europe to have an affair with one of her directors) were shunned from Hollywood for such behavior,  Now, having affairs, abandoning children, and giving birth out-of-wedlock are met with magazine covers and more job offers based on increased visibility.

When children have children, it’s largely because nobody is taking care of them; they’re lonely and lost.  But we should never point a finger or suggest fault – after all, someone’s feelings might be hurt!  And we all know that “feelings” are the most important value – right?  Dead wrong.