Friday, December 29, 2006

82. Man's civility lacking naturally

It was a terrible irony when Steve Irwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, was killed by a stingray barb while filming in Australia. The irony is further exemplified because I understand that the likelihood that someone would die from a stingray is pretty remote.

I cannot say that I really watched the Crocodile Hunter more than a couple of times, mostly in passing, but his death was tragic from an ecological standpoint. Few others have reached out in the preservation of ecosystems as well as the care and understanding of nature's most obscure and dangerous animals in a more oddly eloquent way than the heavy-accented Australian.

However, following Irwin's death, reports began to surface that stingrays were being killed and mutilated by people- probably out of both fear and revenge. Such action is both ignorant and in exact opposition of what Steve Irwin would have wanted. The Times-Online reported, "The dead stingrays have been discovered on two beaches in Queensland State, where Mr. Irwin lived and ran his popular wildlife park, Australia Zoo. Two of the unfortunate rays, discovered today, were retrieved with their tails lopped off, according to local fishery officials."

Equally tragic and ironic were the deaths of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed by the grizzly bears they so endeared while producing the documentary Grizzly Man. However, many people are attacked and killed by animals- most often by bears and dogs. In almost every case, the responsible animals are tracked and killed, as well as any others guilty by association. This action by humans as a measure of revenge against animals is certain, regardless of celebrity status or the type of attack.

An attack on humans is a death sentence for the animal. This is difficult to understand since these animals are acting like the animals we insist they are. When we expect them to accept the abuse of living for human appetite we separate them from their consciousness, pain and spirit. When animals harm a human, suddenly they are conniving murderers. This is a deplorable sentence when one considers that some of the animals, such as pit bulls, are bred specifically for their aggressiveness. And others, such as bears, are acting in a manner consistent with their genetic programming- an argument that saves human murderers from the death penalty on the grounds of lacking mental capacity.

I understand the premise that if an animal attacks one person, it might attack and harm another. Of course, this automatically dismisses the idea that attack was provoked by an insensitive or abusive human. It also dismisses the criminal plea of temporary insanity. There is no trial or witness testimony, the animal, and often others like it, is executed as readily as possible.

I realize that this is an uphill argument, but sometimes I wonder just how much we want nature's deck stacked in our favor. It as though no other species have a say as to what happens on our planet. It is not enough that we destroy their habitats and pollute the planet's air and water. It is not enough that many live and die miserably on "factory farms" or are tested on for human benefit. Humans rule and we decide which animals are to be food, which are to survive and when to execute those that question our authority. Our domination seems to forbid any measure taken by an animal in fighting back and protecting itself. It is apparent that natural selection and the survival of the fittest only apply to other species- humans have crowned themselves exempt from nature's struggles. Consequently, it is somewhat ironic that the more we attempt to distinguish ourselves from nature's cruelty, as a civilized being, the more harm we seem to inflict on other species.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

81. Who's fighting this war?

Traveling down Route 2 upon our first snow of the season, and our first taste of the holiday season, I trailed a car that had a bumper sticker that read, "Merry Christmas: How is THAT offensive?" Not long after I learned that Wal-Mart had decided to greet their customers with "Merry Christmas," rather than the politically correct, "Happy Holidays." I found these two incidents oddly related, and contemplated the issue a bit further.

My question was, is wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" offensive? I am among the staunchest civil libertarians and an outspoken non-theist, yet I do not ever remember being offended when wished a Merry Christmas. However, according to the media, there seems to be a "War on Christmas." And, for many, the war is real- as evidenced by those that rejoiced in Wal-Mart's decision and the amount of Christmas Cards sent to the ACLU.

My curiosity was aroused, and I decided to find out if there was indeed a "War on Christmas," and if so, who was responsible and what exactly people were fighting about. I conjured up a small, very unscientific, survey and e-mailed it to both my religious and non-religious (agnostic and atheist) friends. In addition to the "War on Christmas," I wanted to know if people, specifically my non-religious friends, were offended by the "Merry Christmas" greeting. I also wondered if my religious friends were upset at the political correctness implied in wishing folks a "Happy Holiday."

I received dozens of responses, and the results were a little surprising. Most of the non-theists did not acknowledge a "War on Christmas," while nearly all the religious responses felt that there was. As for a greeting of "Merry Christmas," only 2 of 26 non-theists said that they were offended. It seems, almost conclusively, that the war for political correctness is not being fought by non-theists. Conversely, the religious response was that they were, often very, upset about being asked to be politically correct. Many of the arguments focused on the theme that this is a "Christian nation." Non-theists blamed the media and the conservative base for making an issue out of nothing, while religious responses primarily blamed the ACLU and atheists. Finally, in a show of solidarity, both non-theists and theists felt that Wal-Mart changed their policy for financial gain and publicity. I would agree, I think it is a great strategic move by Wal-Mart- attempting to mobilize the conservative base- at a time when they are facing increased resistance from communities.

It seems then, unexpectedly, that Christians were more offended at the political correctness of "Happy Holidays," than non-theists were over "Merry Christmas." In other words, being politically correct is more offensive to Christians than not being politically correct is to non-theists. Christians seem to be rallying behind the premise that their "right" to say "Merry Christmas" has been taken away. However, it might only be a self-inflicted skirmish.

One atheist made this comment, "As a former member of a cultic fundamentalist group, I know it is valuable as a method to maintain cohesiveness in a group to make the members feel embattled, that the world is against you." Whether it is the ACLU, atheists or the media that is responsible for the "War on Christmas," there is certainly a measure of embattlement. My survey was retuned by the ACLU which noted that they are inundated with Christmas cards, empty donation envelopes, and large donations on closed bank accounts. Furthermore, some of the Christmas cards are filled with expletives and the ACLU voice mail is often filled by after-hour callers. Promoted by Christian groups to their members, and through e-mail campaigns, the endeavor does not seem very kind or Christian-like.

For the record, the ACLU's involvement in Christmas is limited to the separation of church and state insomuch as it related to the government endorsement of a particular religion. While it may occasionally represent religious discrimination, it does not have any influence over corporate or individual decisions regarding how the holidays are celebrated. Much of this misinformation is propagandized by the media and people like Bill O'Reilly. In truth, governments are permitted to exhibit some religious displays so long as secular displays are also represented.

While I favor diversity, respect and consideration as a measure of inclusiveness, I am not always in favor of political correctness. What I am in favor of is discourse, and believe that with understanding- ignorance and prejudice would be eradicated. The unwritten rule forbidding the discussion of religion and politics in many arenas only amplifies the misinterpretations. People need to be willing to have a civilized debate, and to occasionally change their minds. It is this level of discussion that might eventually lead to real political correctness. Because, like saying you are "sorry," political correctness only means something if it is sincere.

Non-Christians have the same guaranteed rights as Christians, but must also accept that that the majority of this country is Christian, complete with their holidays and traditions. On the other hand, Christians must acknowledge and embrace the premise that just because they represent the majority, they cannot trample the rights, culture and traditions of the minority. While not personally offensive, wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" is exclusive and presumptive.

Minorities have the same right to celebrate the holiday season as Christians. Other religions celebrate traditional December holidays, such as Hanukkah, and the non-religious celebrate other events such as Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice. In fact, for those unacquainted with the "real" story of Christmas, it actually began as a celebration of the winter solstice, as noted here by the History Channel:

"The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking."

Moreover, it is unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. The history and tradition of this holiday is as muddled as religion itself. In fact, it was the Roman god Mithra that was said to have been born on December 25- which, incidentally, is also the date of the pagan Saturnalia festival. The History Channel continues:

"In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention the date for his birth. Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25."

The winter holiday season is my favorite time of the year, narrowly winning favor over the comfortable autumn tone. There seems to be a kindness in the air, save the indomitable holiday shopper and the perplexing, as debated here, choice of seasonal greeting. Many of the responses from my survey spoke about the meaning of the holiday season and Christmas- an affection that my family and I share. Nearly all responders, theists and non-theists, share the holiday tradition with family and friends, and engage in the exchange of gifts.

Perhaps my favorite plea was for the traditional "peace on Earth and goodwill to men." There are so many important issues in the world, such as war, disease and poverty, it almost seems ridiculous to waste time analyzing what is most often a sincere and warm holiday greeting. In the end, the decision is a personal one, and with that, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season- and not just because it is politically correct.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

80. Seal hunt is barbaric

One of my biology professors in college talked about the prejudice against insects. As an etymologist, he loved insects with an affection, that, by in large, I do not share. They are interesting, but my curiosity is limited to their ecological impact. What I did take to heart was the bias towards, as he described, "furry animals with big brown eyes." I do not doubt the bias exists, as evident from a very early age at birthdays and holidays with every teddy bear sold. Our affection for these mammals is almost universal, as dogs, not crickets, are man's best friend.

There is probably not an animal that exemplifies the prejudicial description of "furry animals with big brown eyes," more than baby seals. These animals are an endearing spectacle of snow white fur and large, distinct brown eyes. It is here where the almost universal affection for theses animals ends, at least from the perspective of Canadian fisherman who hunts these animals for their fur.

I am certain that over 90 percent of the population would react in absolute horror if they were to witness the clubbing of a baby seal to death. Further, the act is so harsh that it would traumatize most young children. In response to the outrage across the world, in which hundreds of thousands have protested this practice by boycotting Canadian seafood, the Canadian government has moved, not to end the act, but rather to prohibit the filming of it.

The hunt is described this way by The Humane Society of the United States, who has led this campaign:

Canada's annual seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet. This year the Canadian government allowed fishermen to club and shoot more than 330,000 seals in the North Atlantic-almost all of them babies as young as 12 days-just to earn a few extra bucks by selling seal skins. Last year, 98.5% of the seals killed were two months of age or younger, and veterinary reports indicate that many seals have been skinned while still conscious and able to feel pain.

Fisherman often use wooden clubs or shakapiks (large ice-pick-like clubs) to beat the animals to death, rather than shoot them, because they are paid $2.00 less for every bullet hole in the skin. And if they are shot, they are only shot once, and then left or dragged along to die. There is a small market for seal oil, but none for the meat. The seals are killed almost exclusively for their furs, with their carcasses discarded after skinning. Seal hunting is an off-season activity and is relatively economically irrelevant to the overall business of Canadian fisherman. This is widely accepted as a cruel and unnecessary act.

To participate in the fight against the killing of baby seals, consumers are encouraged not to patron restaurants that serve Canadian seafood and, of course, not to purchase clothing made of fur. Designers using this fur include Gucci and Versace. It is only through economic pressure that the Canadian government will be motivated to end or severely limit this practice.

It is an unfortunate fact that in nature animals must die for others to survive. However, the death of an animal usually occurs so that another can survive, not so the elites among us can wear their fur. Those that parade around in animal fur need to understand the often tragic and horrific circumstance in which that fur was obtained. From the perspective of animal lovers and those that appreciate nature, there hardly seems to be a more deplorable act than the brutal slaughter of unsuspecting baby seals.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

79. Democracy is tyranny, too

I must admit that I have some compassion for smokers. Although I have vehemently argued against the cigarette companies for their acts of irresponsible marketing and I find it remarkable that this dangerously unhealthy product endures such viability in our culture, I understand on an individual level that smoking is an addiction.

Voters this November were afforded the opportunity to remove smoking from all public places- an issue that easily passed. Certainly, from a health perspective, this was an easy decision. The decision was made easier by the somewhat underhanded attempt by the cigarette companies to add an amendment to the state constitution preserving the right to smoke is several venues. But I do have apprehension regarding the process, most notably, the use of majority rule to pass legislation and ratify constitutional amendments.

I have considerable concern for the use of the state constitution and Ohio voters in addressing these types of social issues. I believe that amendments to the state constitution should be reserved for the most creditable of social conditions. Ohio voters recall in 2004 when it was used to amend the constitution prohibiting gay marriage- something that was already illegal under Ohio law. This year an amendment was added raising the minimum wage. I agree wholeheartedly with the raising of the minimum wage, but I do not think that it should have been an amendment to the state constitution.

While smoking is not a civil right issue to the same degree as gay marriage; the tyranny of the majority, as I have written before, is capable of trampling the rights and privileges of others. If we are going to engage in using the Ohio constitution to accommodate the wishes of the majority, one has to be concerned at what point they, themselves, will be on the outside looking in. Certainly, smokers that voted against gay marriage now recognize the consequences of majority rule. Conceivably, there is an endless list of demographics that can be sorted through a democratic vote, such as making English the only acceptable language and defining ourselves as a Christian nation.

This issue is further exemplified in Cuyahoga County where voters turned out to support a tax on cigarettes to fund arts and culture. What does smoking have to do with art and culture, and what limit is there on taxing any activity that is performed by a minority of the population for the benefit of the majority? Why not tax the purchase of bubble gum? Taxes are usually levied on "sins," such as cigarettes and alcohol or luxury items- both which separate a minority from a majority who would rather have someone else support their endeavors.

The Sun Newspaper endorsed the issue, noting "...we're giving the nod to county Issue 18, an excise tax of 1.5 cents per cigarette for the sole reason that we are convinced a strong arts and culture community can only help spur badly needed economic development, attract businesses by raising the quality of life and avoid the stigma of being a city that doesn't support the arts."

The Plain Dealer also endorsed the issue, while admitting, "...we agree: This particular tax is not ideal, especially since it forces a shrinking minority to pick up the tab for supporting the arts."

There are two points to these endorsements; the first is my assertion that the majority is forcing a tax onto a minority population. The second is to ask why the entire community cannot be taxed to support art and culture- considering its benefit. The answer to my second point is that they tried, but in 2004 the county voted against a property tax proposal to finance art and economic developments. It seems that it is only a good idea when someone else pays for it. I also cannot resist the proposition that this tax is levied "per cigarette," as an unfair ploy to make the tax feel painless.

People will almost always vote in their best interest rather than on the principle of what is right or wrong. For example, how many smokers voted to ban smoking in public places? How many considered the effects of second hand smoke and made the rational decision to vote against their own interest? I would guess not many. And how many non-smokers voters decided against breathing fresh air or increasing the tax on cigarettes? Again, I would guess not many.

This idea of the tyranny of the majority was explored by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy of America. He boldly states that if people are given power through equality, they will have a tendency to become weak through their dependency on the rule of the majority. He further comments, "I know of no country in which, generally speaking, there is less independence of mind, and true freedom of discussion, than in America."

Thursday, November 2, 2006

78. Green lawns are a luxury

The aesthetics of that, which we find pleasurable, range from classical music and photography to beautiful landscapes and fine art. In between are numerous cultural and economic differences and preferences. While no one has the right to decide for others what they find attractive, there is an argument that all aesthetics are a luxury. That is, they are a part of our disposable income which we pursue for little other reason than we find them personally appealing.

I contemplated this idea while cutting the grass for what I hope will be the final time of the year. I was noticing the wretched condition of our lawn, which coincided with the unexplainable desire to improve its condition. I reflected in depth about this subconscious longing, since I can find no practical reason to indulge in what many people may find aesthetically pleasing, namely "green grass."

We planted our own lawn about six years ago, which has gone through cycles of spirited growth, drought and the invasion of uninvited species of imposter grasses. We have sparsely maintained the traditional method of lawn care, that is, consistent watering and seasonal fertilization. Even then, rarely do I engage in this activity without noting to myself, in amusement, the sound bite I heard a couple years ago describing the seemingly inane human activity of spending money to fertilize and water the grass, only to create the chore of cutting it. It is not that I would not like to have a lush lawn, free of crabgrass and dead patches of turf; rather, it is that I have a hard time justifying it as a worthy cost of disposable income.

Certainly I understand that many people enjoy doing yard work, as I do myself. And as I mentioned in the introduction, I respect the right for everyone to appreciate whatever it is they find pleasing. However, I wonder if it is truly an appreciation that they are engaging in. Do people really consider why they appreciate a lush lawn? Is it aesthetically pleasing or is it a measure of tradition and expectation?

I think that people often do what they think they are supposed to do, an idea I will develop further in future writings as the "scripted life." Living the "scripted life" is a product of doing things that are either traditional or as a measure of expectations- without really considering why those things are being done. It is also a product of doing things without considering alternatives.

I have commented to my wife about some of the more obsessive people dedicated to lawn care that they will have nothing else to write on their tombstone other than, "Here lies John Smith, he had a great lawn." Recognizing it as an insensitive comment, my point is hopefully obvious. Everything we do, and everything we spend our money on, is at a cost of every other thing we could do with our time and money. I bet many people who want to have a nice lawn do so because they are "supposed" to have a nice lawn, rather than because of its intrinsic value. The cost of such a lawn can be expensive, considering the lengths some people will go to. Not only are some people will give up a large amount of time, they are willing to employ professional lawn companies and install sprinkler systems. To pay that price for "green grass," is, in my opinion, a woeful luxury. The idea is a slanted socioeconomic premise when one considers that many people cannot afford to purchase food or keep gas in the car, while, in juxtaposition, others throw money out into the lawn for the brief visual pleasure of a steady shade of green and the consistent shape of its vegetative blades. Further societal debate would include the wasteful implications of watering the yard when some parts of the world lack clean drinking water and the environmental aspect of overzealously throwing lawn clippings into our landfills.

"Green grass" is one of possibly many things we take for granted without considering the real reason why we find those things worthy as a part of our lives. It is might also be one of many things we do without considering alternatives. For example, would the time and money spent on its endeavor be better spent on philanthropic causes? Imagine, for a moment, if every homeowner in the country donated the money spent on their lawns to charity.

There seems to be a subconscious value placed on philosophy and ceremony, aesthetic and otherwise, which we often act on in life without considering its actual value, our real desires, possible alternatives or potential consequences. Is a little crabgrass, in lieu of say, cancer research, really so bad?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

77. APL is going to the dogs

The Friendship Animal Protection League (APL) has been in the news lately, releasing information that it is in serious financial trouble. On Sunday, October 15, the APL held its annual membership meeting at the shelter, where it elects trustees and officers of the board. Concerned with the viability of the APL, my wife and I paid our dues, to become voting members, and attended the meeting. I debated whether or not to seek election to the board- in the end, deciding to see what direction the organization took before committing.

The meeting was attended by forty or so dedicated animal lovers, all which should be commended for their dedication in helping these homeless companions. Many of these volunteers donate their time and money to assist these animals in finding a blissful home. In addition to the laborious chores of cleaning cages and walking the dogs, they spend a lot of time helping with fundraising activities.

The non-profit protective league, based on the meeting we attended, seemed dangerously unorganized. The biggest shock for me was when David McClelland, the executive director, was unable to tell the membership exactly how many trustee positions were to be elected (until consulting his cheat sheet). How can an executive director not know how many trustees are to be elected at a membership meeting, especially considering that the trustees serve as his boss? Furthermore, it was disappointing to notice that many of the current trustees, not up for reelection, did not bother to attend the meeting- considering the state of the organization. After the election of what ended up to be six trustee positions, four officers, (and a "hanging chad" type discussion) a complete board of sixteen organizational trustees was put into place. The first challenge for this board will be to decide whether or not they have adequate leadership.

McClelland began the meeting with the notion that the shelter is broke. This is consistent with his statement to the Chronicle Telegram which reported that, "He (McClelland) stopped taking a paycheck in May - he made about $40,000 a year - and used his own money to pay APL staff last week." If this is the case, why did he and the board wait until October to make a public statement? The paper also reported that APL reserves ran out in September. Again, why do an executive director and his board just sit there and wait until they are out of money before making a public appeal. This delay puts the public in a tough spot, for now they have to decide whether or not to donate to what might be a "sinking ship." In other words, will my donation make a difference if the shelter is doomed to close?

Reviewing just the last two issues of the APL's newsletter also hinted at poor decision making on behalf of the APL's leadership. In the August issue, McClelland writes that he met with trustees and volunteers for a "Solutions Summit to review our financial problems and find a solution." He continues, "Of course, I reviewed the information in detail. This was a mistake. I should have told the group that we were broke but that this was not important." How is reviewing financial information with a Solutions Summit, dedicated to reviewing the financial problems, "a mistake"? How is it "not important"?

In the newsletter article he talks on two occasions about a "love miracle that will find us," and that losing the lease to Bingo, one of their most profitable fundraising events, as "God clobbering us on the head so that we could find a better place." Maybe God could have found them a better place, before the lease expired or within a month or two of its expiration? It sounds somewhat evangelical and a little desperate to me.

In the Chronicle Telegram, it says that the APL lost their Bingo lease in September. However, in the newsletter it states they lost their lease a year ago. Perhaps it was a year ago in September, and a convenient misuse of the facts as not to appear so delayed in their appeal. But it gets worse, as the October newsletter notes that, "Since people have been fighting over a plan to buy a party center and use it as a bingo hall; a plan to lease a bingo hall or doing something else to raise money quickly. Unfortunately, nothing has happened." The creative use of punctuation aside, it obviously puts forth the idea to its membership, and anyone that buys a newsletter, that this organization has had problems for a long time. Evidently, the recent financial problems were anticipated well in advance, and APL leadership has spent at least a year fighting over what to do. In the meantime, the organization has been sliding into financial difficulties. Finally, I do not think I have ever seen the "dirty laundry' between an executive director and his board shared in a community/membership letter.

The APL is a valuable resource to our community, but like any non-profit in today's competitive philanthropic market, it needs to show supporters that their donations will properly managed and utilized. There are a number of good causes and good organizations, including competing animal organizations, which donators will consider.

The challenge for the elected board is not only to rescue the APL from its financial difficulties, but also to decide if the management that created the financial hardship is capable of leading it out of it. Personally, I am skeptical.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

76. Call law what it really is

A recent trend in Congress is the attempt to pass bills through what I would call, "the backdoor." Actually, it is probably not a recent trend; it is just that I notice it more nowadays. I am also sure that it is not a partisan issue, but my recall is largely limited to the last several years of Republican rule.

There are several ways this is accomplished, such as adopting a popular or patriotic name for the bill, attaching it to a larger perhaps even compromising bill, or rendering a law meaningless by cutting off its funding source. They all lack integrity and serve nothing more than to "trick" the general, unsuspecting public. Elected officials that engage in this practice are an embarrassment to the political system- regardless of which political party they belong to.

I have previously noted the improper notion of the Patriot Act, which is actually a stripping of civil liberties, that was unread and passed by Congress in the early morning hours. The bill has nothing to do with patriotism, and one could even argue that infringing on civil liberties is, in fact, quite unpatriotic. It is more accurately described as the search for terrorists, acted upon with few boundaries. Ironically, appropriately described, it might still have passed due to the level of fear propagated by the government.

In another example, Congress recently considered a bill involving the death tax and the minimum wage. Project Vote Smart summarized it this way, "a motion to invoke cloture on a bill that increases the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2009 and increases the "Death/Estate Tax" exemptions to $5 million by 2015 and extends many other expiring tax provisions (Sec. 401) (Sec. 101) ." It does not seem to me that something as important as raising the minimum wage ought to be attached to any other bill, especially one that provides such a benefit to the very wealthy- many of whom are voting on the bill itself. To me, it is analogous to your boss offering you a significant raise if you promise to ask your neighbor to feed his or her dog a little extra. I have to ask, whatever happened to the Republican plea for an "up and down" vote.

Recently, I was made aware of another sneaky and inappropriately named bill attempting to get through Congress. This one is entitled, "Public Expression of Religion Act" (H.R. 2679)." The American Humanist Association, among several opposing the bill, summarizes it this way, "This bill would bar courts from awarding attorney's fees to prevailing parties bringing suit under the Establishment Clause, and they would make it much more difficult for citizens to challenge governmental violations of the separation of church and state."

Very clever, but really, how does the person who authored and entitled this bill sleep at night? It has little to do with the public expression of religion; rather it seeks to accomplish just the opposite- preventing individuals from exercising their religious freedom. The bill seeks to prohibit victorious (that's right, victorious) attorneys from collecting their fees. Unsuccessful lawsuits do not receive attorney fees; which, of course, is the natural deterrent from investing in cases that have little chances of winning.

Thus, in order to protect the government's actions as a conscious hindrance of religious freedom under the Establishment Clause, the sponsors of this bill have resorted to cutting off the financial support necessary of bringing suit against those actions. To me, this is an immoral manipulation of our most precious freedoms. Rather than expect the government to follow the laws of this country and the rights of individuals, Congress would rather prevent its citizens, especially its poorest citizens, from challenging it.

Following a bill through Congress, as it weaves through the House and Senate, is difficult enough. Certainly there many other examples, such as the Horse Slaughter bill and the bills that attempted to commence drilling in Alaska. This is still a representative government, and I am sure that those of us that would like to occasionally follow the legislative process would appreciate our perspective laws being properly named, fairly presented and of respectable moral standard.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

75. Canned hunting not sport

When Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shot lawyer Harry Whittington last year, the one thing that was not missing was the humor. Columnists, comedians and cartoonists lined up to make jokes about the incident. Here are just a couple of examples:

"You know what they say, if Dick Cheney comes out of his hole and shoots an old man in the face, 6 more weeks of winter." (Jimmy Kimmel)

"Something I just found out today about the incident. Do you know that Dick Cheney tortured the guy for a half hour before he shot him?" (Jay Leno)

The jokes ranged from funny to overtly political, while the cartoons similarly varied from creative to cliché.

However, the issue also brought some much needed attention to one of the most pathetic "sports" in the world- canned hunting. The endeavor is such that it is impossible for me to find anything humorous about wealthy people living out some wretched fantasy of killing entrapped animals for fun.

During these canned hunts, "clients" pay large amounts of money to shoot animals, often exotic animals, which frequently have been raised by humans for the sole purpose of being killed. During the hunt, the animals are released into an enclosed area where the "hunter" eventually kills his or her victim(s). The success of the experience is often guaranteed. The animals, growing up with significant human contact, commonly do not even fear their attackers.

Following the incident last year, Time magazine estimated that there are over 2000 of these "canned hunt" operations throughout the world, while the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) projects that there are over 1000 facilities in the United States alone operating in 28 states. For those that enjoy participating in these hunts, and trophy hunting in general, there are organizations such as the Safari Club International (SCI). Notably, there is a significant disparity in the way some people view this organization and how this organization, of course, views itself.

The Safari Club International, from its mission statement, views itself as "the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide." And, among other things, it engages in "promoting a positive image of hunters and portraying them as responsible citizens who fund wildlife conservation, education and other programs which benefit the community."

Somewhat inconsistent to this mission statement, the website features pictures of grinning hunters posing with their dead victims as well as downloadable record books to document their accomplishments. Apparently, as a part of their undertakings, Safari Club International members attempt to shoot a prescribed list of animals including the "Africa Big Five," (leopard, elephant, lion, rhino, and buffalo) and the "North American Twenty Nine" (all species of bear, bison, sheep, moose, caribou, and deer).
According to the HUSU, Safari Club International "has grown to some 40,000 trophy collectors. More than half boast an annual income of more than $100,000. The average member owns 11 rifles, six shotguns, five handguns and a bow. Two-thirds spend about one month hunting each year, and a quarter of the members more than 50 days."

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of HUSU, describes the members of the Safari Club International this way:

"It's a perverse and destructive subculture. Thousands of animals suffer and die for the amusement of wealthy elites who have the means to pursue any form of recreation, but choose to shoot the world's rarest and most beautiful animals. There's no societal value to the exercise, just a selfish all-consuming mentality of killing, collecting, and showing off trophies. They know the price of every animal, but the value of none."

Safari Club International, similar to other organizations, use political donations to protect their "rights," often attempting to persuade legislators in regards to importing the "trophies" of endangered animals, including gorillas, cheetahs and orangutans. The HUSU reports that since the "1998 election cycle, SCI has contributed $596,696 to Republican candidates and $92,500 to Democrats."

In some ways, I cannot decide which is more appalling, the slaughter of innocent animals for entertainment, or the fact that these wealthy people are so bored that they can find nothing better to do with their time and money. Personally, I find hunting to be a deplorable activity, but I understand that in many ways it is a part of life. It is the motive of sport hunting that bothers me. And if hunting is to exist, I only wish to suggest that animals are afforded a fair opportunity of survival.

It seems that the egos of some are nurtured by investing their wealth into pretending that they accomplished something. Some of these people, perhaps like Vice President Cheney, are so conditioned for success, and "stacking the deck" in their favor, that they are not interested in risking failure.

Maybe next, wealthy, insecure people can contract with Michael Jordan to let them beat him in a game of one-on-one. And the same lack of accomplishment could be memorialized in a photo of a smirking client, next to an exhausted Michael Jordan, with the outcome proudly displayed on scoreboard in the background.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

74. Does faith need history?

I remember as a child watching a show called "Name That Tune." To my recollection, contestants, after given a clue, would bid each other down until a person had the challenge of "naming that tune" in just a couple of notes. I guess the show had several stints on television, but that version is all I recall. I watched in amazement as players could name a song tune in only one or two notes. I was never musically inclined, and to me each note sounded like the doorbell.

I do enjoy history, and I have created a version of this game here, this time the challenge is to recall the name of a person, living or deceased, historic or fictional. Here goes:

"This figure was born to a mortal virgin (celebrated on December 25), witnessed by shepherds and Magi bearing gifts. He or she performed miracles, such as raising the dead and healing the sick, and carried the keys to heaven. Before dying, this figure had a Last Supper with twelve disciples. Each year, this figure's triumph and ascension to heaven was celebrated during the spring equinox."

If your answer to the clues above is the ancient god "Mithra"- congratulations, and well done!

Actually, in review of ancient gods and heroes, we find that many of these mythical figures share the same story. In 1936, Lord Raglan, in the book, "The Hero," classified these parallel-life commonalities into a scale of 22 heroic attributes. I will not go through all 22, but included here are the first ten:

1. The hero's mother is a royal virgin
2. His father is a king and
3. often a near relative of the mother, but
4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
7. He is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.

Of the 22 familiar characteristics, the top scorers were Oedipus (21), Theseus (20), Moses (20), Dionysus (19), and Jesus (19). It is interesting that the story of Jesus is similar to other mythical figures in history. Some have suggested that an actual historical figure would not score more than six.

The conversation surrounding a historic Jesus is a complicated one, as scholars have debated this question for centuries. Unfortunately Jesus did not write anything himself, and no credible historical author of the time period, such as Seneca, Arrian, or Damis, wrote of him. The Gospels, of course, came several decades after Jesus' death, and none of them actually lived while Jesus was said to be alive.

Even though, a majority of the world would agree with me that either Jesus did not exist as a historical figure, or if he did, he was not the son of God; this is an uncomfortable dialogue to have here in America. Each Sunday morning I listen to preachers quote Jesus or eloquently describe in detail his actions and intentions. While the message might be a valuable one; unfortunately, there is little evidence that, if Jesus did exist, what he said or did has been accurately recorded.

I am not going to say that Jesus did or did not exist as a historical person; honestly, I do not think we will ever know for sure. Deciding if he did and what he meant to history and Christianity is a personal discovery. Unfortunately, historians are human and write with the same prejudicial and bias viewpoints that we each share individually. In that manner, many religious scholars and historians write with the assumption that Jesus did exist, just as many of us believed that he existed simply because we grew up being told so. Conversely, many secular scholars feel that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Jesus did exist.

To some people, whether he existed or not has little bearing on their faith, while others, like those that protested "The DaVinci Code," may feel even presenting any evidence that may conflict with their religious teaching is sinful. On the other hand, for others, a historical representation of Jesus is a central theme of their lives and, similar to the premise suggested in the movie, any deviation from the religious teachings may be reason to question their faith.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

73. Wait until next year, again

I was very concerned last season when the Cleveland Indians let a golden opportunity to make the playoffs get away. They boasted the league's best pitching and were fourth in runs scored, yet faltered, or I would say choked, down the stretch and missed the playoffs. I also vented in this column at the nonchalant attitude of the Indians front office and the media, both of which seemed quite content to concede it as part of the building process. I felt such a concession was inappropriate, dangerously generous and presumptuous.

Last year's optimism has turned into this year's disaster. Currently, the team has the third worst record in the American League as it creatively finds a way to lose on a regular basis. They are still scoring runs, but the pitching has dropped from tops in the league to eleventh. The organization itself gave up a couple of months ago and went from a team that many analysts picked to make the playoff to a team that is barely recognizable.

When things are going poorly, there is enough blame to spread around. I think it began last year, again, when the team did not make the playoffs. Besides the fact they tore apart the leagues best pitching staff, mostly in an effort to save money, they seemed to become overconfident in their baseball judgment. The front office, after last year's success, felt as though they had figured out how to play competitively on a modest budget. While they did sign some young players to long-term contracts, they easily dismissed expensive veterans in favor of less-experienced alternatives. Almost immediately, one year after winning 93 games, they have again begun to rebuild. General Manager Mark Shapiro is accumulating young talent at an alarming rate- alarming in that it is almost like they throwing mud against the wall to see what will stick. The Indians chose not to resign or traded a significant number of players from last year's campaign, including Kevin Millwood, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, Arthur Rhodes, Bob Howry, Bob Wickman, and Rafael Belliard. In return, they have received potential.

Manager Eric Wedge has not deviated from what cost him a chance as the playoffs last year, that is, his refusal to manufacture runs and the team's inability to win close games. In addition, team fundamentals seem to be lacking this year, most notably a defense which has performed dismally. Finally, and partly as a result, the team lacks excitement. They do not steal, hit and run, bunt or create any type of offensive pressure. Long gone are the days of Kenny Lofton, Omar Visquel and Roberto Alomar tormenting opposing defenses with their speed and versatility. Long gone is the intimidation of Albert Belle, Jim Thome, David Justice and Manny Ramirez in the middle of their lineup. Although scoring runs, in total, has not necessarily been the problem, the team lacks the intensity essential to win close games late.

After the excitement that began to resurface the last year, this is major setback to an organization trying to return to the success it achieved the second half of the 1990s. Those teams did it with an electrifying, young foundation, but also brought in veterans like Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Roberto Alomar and Eddie Murray. They had the diversity and charisma of a champion- determined, passionate and a bit arrogant. This team, even with their young potential, has yet to bond with the fans. Their best player is a designated hitter, who leaves the dugout only four to five times a game and the only player that brings any enthusiasm is Grady Sizemore. And, since they have revamped their lineup- with several players we know very little about- there is no fan connection to this team.

As for the future, there remains some optimism in that they have signed a number of players to long-term deals and the young players they acquired have added some athleticism. In addition, they have three left-handed starters, which, along with Jake Westbrook, form a decent pitching staff. I would love to see this team go out and add a couple of star players to their foundation- players that would add experience and excitement. I also think that a couple of star players would both raise the interest of fans and show the fans that this ownership is serious about winning. I am not saying they need to spend like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, which they cannot do in this market, but that they made a big mistake in not signing someone like Kevin Millwood, who lead the league in ERA last year- and was replaced by a couple of journeyman. And, of course, it is a matter of perception, because even if his replacements outperform him, the organization let the fans know that they were not willing to pay the price of success.

Wining is not easy, just ask the Chicago White Sox. They were a team that dominated both the regular season and the postseason last year- losing just one postseason game on the way to their World Series championship. In their off season, they not only resigned their star player, Paul Konerko, but also went out and acquired one like Jim Thome. Now, because of the red-hot Detroit Tigers, the resurgent Minnesota Twins and a competitive American League, they are fighting to just make the playoffs. They did the right thing however; they did not take anything for granted. Even with their success, they aggressively tried to improve their team.

I think the Indians took the opposite route. They took for granted the success of last season, feeling that their improvement and achievement was a natural progression. Even though owner Larry Dolan promised to open up his checkbook when the team was close to winning the World Series, apparently 93 wins is not close enough- as the Indians came out of the winter meetings and entire off-season without a significant free agent signing. They seemed to overlook the fragility of many of the factors that led to their success last season. And, worse of all, they seemed content with not making the playoffs- a fact that concerned me last year and has proven prophetic this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

72. Company has no morals

Late one evening last week, my wife and me jumped into the car, filled it with our three dogs and headed to Speedway for a couple of seventy-nine cent "smoothies." Some brilliant television marketing sparked our interest, and spontaneity, which was timed perfectly with the recent heat wave. Unfortunately, the smoothies were not completely frozen, and we ended up with a couple of liquid popsicles. The trip was not for naught, however, because the dogs enjoyed getting out of the house and participating in one of their favorite activities, going for a "r-i-d-e." With three dogs, we have to spell the word, because the mere mention of it, upon our consideration, turns the house into utter mayhem. Suddenly, it seems as if we have ten dogs, running, barking and jumping everywhere and on everything. You would think they had won the lottery.

The usually efficient Speedway was very backed up with a long line of customers. It surprised me, considering that it was after 11:00 p.m. I saw on the side of the register a woman with a hand held contraption, one that looked similar to the inventory entry pads I have seen at the grocery stores. At first, I thought she worked for Speedway, after which I thought her efforts might be best received in helping the sole attendant move some customers through the line.

As I approached I realized that she was not entering inventory, more so, that she did not even work for Speedway. She was, in fact, an employee of R.J. Reynolds, and her intent was to offer smokers two packs of Camels free if they purchased one pack of cigarettes- of any brand. The machine in her grip was one that, upon receipt of the free packs of Camels, automatically entered the name and address of the customer into its memory via his or her driver's license.

As a marketing plan, I would have applauded the effort. R.J. Reynolds was working to both get the customer to consider their particular brand of cigarettes and obtain a large amount of customer information- for more effective use in direct marketing. I also appreciate the leg work, working store by store, meeting customers one by one. The plan also worked well for Speedway, as their customers received three packs of cigarettes for the price of one. Customers that appreciated the savings are likely to go back to Speedway a few more times, thinking that maybe there will be another great offer.

I wondered though, in the context of the whole situation, about the woman handing out the free cigarettes. Does she not understand how horrifically dangerous and addicting cigarettes are? It is probably true that the person accepting the free smokes is already addicted, and that in truth, she was only promoting her "brand" of cancer and other deadly disease But I still wonder how she reconciled that at night. Had anyone in her life ever died from the use of cigarettes? If not, would that have made a difference in her decision to market them for R.J. Reynolds? Is it a matter of personal interest, as I have suggested several times before, that is the mechanism driving her decision-making? Or possibly, is she in complete denial of the dangers of smoking?

I realize employment is difficult and perhaps many people are doing things that they are fundamentally against just to feed their families- and I empathize with that. We are faced with tough ethical decisions from time to time.
R.J. Reynolds must also be held accountable. There is nothing more amusing, the consequences aside, than reviewing the website of cigarette companies. In the case of R.J. Reynolds, I will admit that they are consistent to the idea that they are not trying to persuade a nonsmoker to start smoking- at least in this case. They are just trying to get them to change brands. Their website, however, also states the following:

"The company takes great pride in the principled, responsible and lawful manner in which we conduct ourselves and our business. This company is filled with extraordinarily dedicated people who share a deep commitment to four very important principles that guide every aspect of what we do. We fully recognize that we produce a product that has significant and inherent risks (the first principle)."

Their marketing philosophy states,

"R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (R.J. Reynolds) believes that cigarette smokers are at significantly increased risk for a number of diseases and conditions, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease (including heart disease) and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Our company's philosophy is to operate as if smoking is a cause of these diseases."

How does a principled and responsible company exists in an environment in which it "operates as if smoking is a cause of" these life-ending diseases? How do extraordinarily dedicated people produce and market a product that they themselves recognize as having significant health risks? Have they ever asked themselves what exactly what are they dedicated to?

On the larger, societal scale, I think how great it would be if people were truly principled and responsible, and refused to do what they know is wrong. Would it not be great if people refused to work for these cigarette companies? Would it not be great they refused to work for companies that built bombs or that harmed animals and the environment? Finally, would not the world be a better place if people refused to kill each other as an exercise of patriotism or act of religious devotion.

I have never understood the point in which people stop thinking for themselves. Whether it is selling cigarettes or as a member of the Nazi army, why do individuals give up not only their morals and values, but also their life to harm or kill innocent people?

71. Stretching truth is natural

Its commonplace is such that I have taken the liberty of introducing it in nomenclature as "The Exaggeration Principle." ‘Principle' might be the wrong word, for it might only be a theory, factor or postulate, but I like the way that sounds, so I am sticking with it.

The exaggeration principle is increasingly becoming a dictum of life similar to trying to decide whether or not a given statement is true or false. It is used in business, politics and other areas of life, such as story telling. Its purpose is to create an action or reaction, depending on the nature of the exaggeration. It can be used for effect, revenge, to start trouble, create a panic or as a way of lying without completing lying- an infamous ploy which hinges on the fact that part of the story is true.

The exaggeration principle is exactly as it suggests- an exaggeration of the truth. The exaggeration exists as measures of embellishment, overstatement and amplification, varying in degree based on the situation at hand. Sometimes the principle is done purposely to harm another individual, sometimes innocently as a part of human nature. Key words include: every, always, never, everybody, nobody. These are the action words often responsible for the exaggeration, although there are many others. The principle can be completely harmless such as telling fish tales, or extremely dangerous when used in business and politics. In the worst case scenarios, an important truth might be ignored based on the same idea that those that "cry wolf' are eventually ignored in the matter of truth.

In the workplace, it is common among competing employees. One employee might walk by and see another employee sitting down. Maybe a few hours later, or even the next day, the employee might again walk by and see the same employee sitting. The correspondence to his or her supervisor is that "every time" I see that employee he or she is just sitting around. The statement is true, but on the basis of a very small sample size. However, that supervisor might then tell another supervisor that the employee is "always" sitting around, now clearly exaggerating the situation.

This was often the case in health care, especially from concerned advocates, such as the families, social workers and others. The worst example of exaggeration was often presented as "always" or "never" occurring. For example, facility resident Ms. Jones "never" has her nails properly trimmed or she is "always" in bed without her alarms on. Other departments often complained about each other, "the floors are never clean," or "the food is always cold." Each place of employment has their examples.

The trouble for supervisors in the previous example is getting to the truth. Do we properly trim Ms. Jones' nails, and is the food always cold? Where does the truth lie? Unconsciously, I think we perform an exaggeration appraisal on each bit of information we receive, based on from whom the information is coming. Some people are quickly noted for grossly exaggerating a small situation, while others may undermine a very serious one.

In politics, exaggeration often reveals itself in "spin." A fact is exaggerated, twisted or extrapolated to misrepresent the truth. The "slippery slope" argument is also a form of exaggeration in which a simple fact is extrapolated to form a ridiculous conclusion. A recent example is the gay marriage campaign in which opponents suggested that legally permitting gays to be married would lead to other odd nuptials, such as women marrying their pet goats. The idea of "spin," "slippery slopes," and other exaggeration are common forms of rhetoric, especially in the news world of five-second sound bites. These exaggerations are used to shape public opinion by creating slogans or instilling fear. Entitling the war as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," clearly exaggerated the benevolence of our endeavor.

The embellishment of fact often includes numbers- again, sometimes in innocence, other times, as a measure of deceit. The fact might include an idea that is not often researched, such as a technical number. It might be that 3 to 5 percent of all scientists dispute the idea of global warming. That percentage might change to "around 5 percent," then to "5 to 10 percent," and finally "over 10 percent." The change in percentage is often directly proportional to the interest of the person or party presenting the information.

Finally, the principle is frequently used in our social lives. It is used to make the stories we tell just a little more exciting and to strengthen our arguments with family and friends. From barbeques to the late night scene, those great stories get a little "taller" with each recital. Interestingly, a recent AP Poll revealed that 52% of Americans think lying is never justified, while 40% think exaggeration is acceptable when it makes a story more interesting. Conversely, in family matters, the conversation often turns into a barrage of exaggerations. For example, those people that are sometimes late are described as "always" being late. There are also those that "always" borrow money, and "never" pay it back. An annoying habit can be made out of questioning each exaggeration, asking, "Really, he is always late, you mean to say that he never arrives on time?"

While "The Exaggeration Principle" may never have been officially recognized, I am sure that it has existed since the beginning of human communication. It can be fun, "dueling" it out with friends to see who can spur the biggest reaction through the amplification of the facts. Unfortunately, it can also cause a great deal of harm, as many people can be harmed when others act on an exaggeration as fact. Politically, exaggerated facts can lead to civil unrest, uprisings and even war. "The Exaggeration Principle" is powerful concept; its users might consider proceeding with caution.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

70. Feathered friends add joy

My wife affectionately named them the Smiths, after the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." They have no resemblance to the characters in the movie; actually, their relationship better resembles "Romeo and Juliet." Romantically, this pair of Mallard Ducks have been visiting us regularly now for over two years.

Mallard Ducks are the most popular duck in the world, and they usually stay together in flocks. They are omnivorous, adapting and enjoying a diverse diet- both "dabbling" at the water surface and eating a wide variety of seeds. Males and females form monogamous relationships in the autumn and separate after reproducing the following spring.

The Smiths arrive both in the morning and late afternoon for their daily meals; usually one eats while the other attentively watches for our pack of dogs and other predatory threats. Not only do we see them in our backyard, we see them down the road at another feeder and we often see them flying back and forth between the two. For two years, nearly every time we have seen one, we have seen the other. In true anthropomorphic fashion, they really seem to care about one another; there seems to be an aurora around them and a sense of sincerity in their relationship. In fact, I could have sworn that I heard the male whisper Shakespeare to her one evening:

"Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty
till this night!"

It is often the same routine; they land in the neighbor's yard and carefully and cautiously walk about 50 feet to our feeders. During this short, habitual journey, they are assiduously watching for our dogs. We usually look for the Smiths before letting the dogs out, but occasionally they escape our view. The getaway plan includes jumping into the neighbor's pool or an immediate take off.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was driving down a side road not so far out of the path the Smiths usually take. Lying dead in the road was a male Mallard. My heart sank, for I immediately thought of Mr. Smith. Beyond the fact that I do not know how someone could hit a very slow moving, bright and colorful duck on a 25 mile per hour road, I wondered what Mrs. Smith would do without Mr. Smith.

My fears were relieved, at least for the Smiths, as later the next evening they arrived for dinner on schedule. Their pattern and charm has almost made them part of the family. Mallards live up to twenty years, though due to human influence and predation most only survive a couple of years. When this pair leaves us, whether it is because they rejoin a flock, the male instinctively fly off with his male counterparts or, worst case scenario, they are tragically harmed- it will truly be a somber moment.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

69. Policy often led by bias

A few years ago, in preparation to serve on my first non-profit board, I attended a seminar aptly titled, "The Role of the Board." I was younger and much less accomplished that most of the other people that attended the seminar, and I hoped to learn as much from them as the presentation and panel discussion itself. I do not remember much detail from that event other than what disappointed me most.

Early in the day, experts in the field emphasized the importance of sticking to the mission of the non-profit entity. The discussion of integrity and ethics in this matter was quite pronounced, and I felt that the message really hit home. Later in the day, we were placed into groups of maybe 8-10 people; each group culturally and professional diverse. We were given a set of exercises, only one of which I still recall. We were asked to discuss and make a decision on a large donation to the organization that came with specific details- details that attached restrictions to the donation, most of which ran contrary to the mission of the organization.

I remember sitting, actually stunned in silence, as our group, made up of professional community and religious leaders, worked assiduously, even in a fictional exercise, to find a way to accept that donation. They worked to alter the mission and the services of the organization- whatever it took. I was appalled.

President Bush is beginning to push his "traditional marriage amendment" again in a seemingly desperate attempt for support. Of interest in this matter, is not my stance on gay marriage, which I have frequently commented on, rather the opinion of Vice-President Dick Cheney. The Vice-President opposes a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage, not because he is suddenly open-minded on the issue, but because his daughter is gay. Analogically, the very conservative Vice-President opposing a gay marriage amendment is like the pro-life parents that recommend an abortion to their daughter because an early pregnancy threatens her college education and subsequent career.

The obvious politicking of the issue is embarrassing, as frantic Republicans seek to rekindle the conservative flame that was so successful in 2004. However, my only point is to ask what is the chance that Vice-President Cheney would be opposed to a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage if his daughter was not gay? In the same manner, how adamant would President Bush be if his daughter was gay? Finally, how much would any Republican, except the most evangelical, care about the issue if it was not seen as a dividing issue- one that successfully factored in President Bush's reelection?

It seems that people make decisions, in business, politics and their personal lives based on their personal interest- not what is right or wrong. In the midst of opportunity or in the fear of danger, principle and ethics are tossed aside. The justification of these decisions is often easy, even if the intent is obvious and well-known to others. It is like when people say it is not about the money, then, of course, it is usually about the money. When people change their opinions on an issue, it is usually because the opposing argument now holds a more opportunistic or consequential interest.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

68. There's no humor in Hummer

From a social and ethical standpoint, the decision was long overdue. Of course, it was not made from the social or ethical standpoint, rather, as always, it was an economic decision. Hummers (H1), the oversized, gas-guzzling symbol of American greed and materialism, have finally been discontinued by General Motors due to poor sales. General Motors will, however, continue to make the similar, but smaller, H2 and H3 models. The last Hummers are scheduled to roll off the lines in June, 2006.

Hummers (with this term, I am referring specifically to the H1), weighs up to 8500 pounds, gets an estimated 10 miles per gallon and cost between $120,000 and $140,000. The weight of this vehicle brings forth two, not so insignificant, issues. First, it is not subject to fuel economy regulations, which is why it is only estimated. Secondly, its weight fell, until recently, into a tax loophole that allowed purchasers to deduct a considerable amount of its cost. The tax regulation was originally created to offer a break to farmers and small businesses that relied on large and expensive capital purchases. I guess, not so surprisingly, Hummer owners quickly took advantage of this loophole, one that was never intended for their benefit.

A commercial, by Volkswagen I believe, takes issue at the purchase of expensive vehicles, specifically, the reasons why individuals may do so. From a megaphone, individuals cite things like: their relationships with their parents, the need to flaunt their wealth, the desperation for attention and the compensation for personal shortcomings. Whether or not any or all of these factors actually play a role in such a purchase, people believe that they do- at least satirically.

Of course, the most common retaliation by Hummer owners is that others are jealous, or in envy, of their ability to purchase and own such a vehicle. This argument certainly holds true for some, but even upon considerable wealth, I would never purchase such a vehicle. Neither would a lot of people. It seems that those susceptible to such gluttony cannot see value in this world past wealth and power. In fact, when I see a Hummer on the road, I think quite opposite. I think of the selfishness necessary to waste the world's most precious resources. And I sorrow for their materialistic values.

Some might view these opinions both unfair and without standing. However, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all judged on the decisions we make. I often hear that we do not have the right to judge another person. The truth is that judging, or forming the opinions about other people, is a part of life. The only thing that people can ask, or that I would ask, is to be judged fairly.

How fair is it to judge, or form an opinion of, a Hummer owner? From my perspective, perfectly fair, because owning one of these vehicles says a lot about the inherent values of its owner. While a Hummer owner might be ignorant to these facts, the more likely scenario is that he or she just does not care. Generally, the affluence necessary to make such a purchase encapsulates some worldly knowledge. The choice, is a conscience one, and a display of arrogance in respect to the generally agreed upon social faults of these vehicles.

As a social criticism, the denigration is justified based on the impact these vehicles make environmentally- and there is no one else to hold accountable other than the purchasers (and perhaps the legislators.) Consider if the Hummer had been even more successful. What would have been the consequences; how would it have affected the supply and demand (and price) of gasoline? America already dwarfs the rest of the world in energy use per person. Imagine if everyone in America drove a Hummer. Fortunately, many potential purchasers were short of means, if not ego.

General Motors marketed and sold Hummers for fourteen years, selling nearly 12,000 of them. For me, that was fourteen years and 12,000 Hummers too many. I am sure that I am not the first, or the last, to say, "Good riddance!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

67. Tell Dad you love him now

If there is a song that puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it, it is "Cats in the Cradle." It is the music, the lyrics and, most significantly, the message. For me, and surely many others, it is a true account of time, growing up and relationships. It is about life and understanding how quickly life can get away from you.

The story, if it needs to be told, is that of a young father that has difficulty making time for his son. There were, "planes to catch and bills to pay." However, despite missing his father, the son takes his disappointment in stride- pledging that when he grows up that he is going to be like his Dad. Later in life, indeed, the tables turn. The father wants to spend time with his son, as the son replies, "What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys." Finally, in retirement, the father realizes that when his son still is not available (job's a hassle and the kids got the flu), he has grown up just like him.

The relationship certainly held true in the relationship with my father. Growing up, I wanted more time with him than he could spare, and before he passed, he had more time available than I could manage. My father did spend a lot of time with me and my family, so I cannot say that I grew up without him- but as a kid you do not understand the affect eight hours in a factory can have on someone. After my father retired, he seemed to love late night philosophical debates- even if we held opposing views on a number of issues. It is a little strange that growing up he answered all my questions and in the end, I spent my time listening to his theories.

I never appreciated what my father accomplished until considerably after his death. He had an eight-grade education and worked at General Motors all of his life. He grew up in the city, the youngest of nine children, without a mother. Later he picked up his young family and moved west to the country where he tried his hand at farming before opening up several small businesses. Often embarrassed in his difficulty with spelling and math, I never realized how ambitious he was. He was a risk-taker that never let his lack of "credentials" hold him back. As a businessman, he knew people. He knew how to talk to his customers, what they wanted and he always showed his appreciation for their support.

As a family, we had the usual peaks and valleys that were not short on unforgettable moments. We were a sports-oriented family that spent a lot of time on the baseball diamond and football field. Together we shared the heartbreak of Cleveland sports teams, comforted only by Mom's traditional homemade pizza. In our attempt at farming, we raised cows, pigs and chickens- sometimes chasing them down when they got out at 3:00 a.m. or rescuing them when they got stuck on the frozen pond. Finally, we worked hard to start and manage our family businesses.

There is never enough time; my father passed at the young age of 55. He did not see me earn my master's degree, receive my license in healthcare administration, coach high school baseball or read anything I wrote. He visited our house just once and he will never know his grandchildren- if we ever have kids. With time on his side, he would still be involved in my life. He would have told me how to coach and on what subject to write my columns. We would still have disagreed on a number of issues, and he would have frustrated me- but like anyone who has lost someone, I would welcome that frustration now.

They say time is measured in moments, not time. It is amazing how fast time passes. It seems like he has been gone forever.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

66. Is your butt trashing the planet?

Earth Day should be one of the world's greatest celebrations, for it is the one thing that everyone and everything on this planet has in common. Our reliance on the planet is not debatable, not even across the traditional segregations- such as politics, religion and culture. However, its revelry is somewhat lackluster and that is not surprising when we consider how well we treat that which we should be so grateful for. In fact, to the planet itself, just showing no appreciation would be a gift, as the voyage of humans on planet Earth has been nothing short of neglect and abuse.

Pollution of any kind is humanity's crime upon nature. Whether it is the air we breathe, the water we drink or the environment we inhabit- pollution affects both human beings and the Earth's biosystems. The violence within our own species withstanding, I do not believe that there is a greater measure of human arrogance than the destruction of the earth and its resources.

In this discussion, I will take a leave of absence in my attack of corporations, since their environmental neglect in the name of shareholder profits is already notoriously spoken for. Although I may return to share the extent of this neglect in a future column, this notion is well documented even if the penalties have been laughable.

I will be specific in this discussion of pollution, narrowing my scope to the smokers that litter our streets and sidewalks with their cigarette butts. I find this to be a disturbing practice that, from the looks of our street corners, is either legal, rarely enforced or perhaps even encouraged. To view this inartistic display for yourself, look at the road and sidewalks around you the next time you are stopped at an intersection.

Some estimates put the amount of cigarette butts littered each year at several trillion. This easily makes cigarette butts the most littered item in the world. One at a time, these tiny butts test our understanding of the impact made by a little pollution every day. Moreover, because of the size and frequency, it is often overlook or ignored as individuals often let each other ‘off the hook' rather than express displeasure over such a ‘menial' crime.

My annoyance surrounding this issue is two-fold. My first issue is the thought process, or lack thereof, when someone throws a cigarette butt out of his or her car window. Is there no community value for a clean environment? And whom exactly does these individuals believe will be responsible for cleaning up their mess? The result is either a littered community or the waste of public money on its cleanup.

My second item of displeasure is that this practice is completely and utterly unnecessary, since every car I have ever owned has come equipped with an ashtray. When did it become an acceptable practice to bypass the vehicle-equipped butt reservoir in favor of the streets we live on? My suspicion, though I hope that I am incorrect, is that the cleaning up of an ash tray requires a few minutes of inconvenience every couple of weeks.

I am not a smoker, and do not mean to lecture from any perceived position of superiority. Cigarette smoking is a very addictive habit and I empathize with anyone who tries to quit. However, my understanding of this habit is not extended to the proper disposal of its residue.

It is pleasing to note however, that Lorain County is doing something about it. The Lorain County Commissioners and the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District are engaging in a campaign to clean our county of cigarette butts. The program features "Adopt-A-Spot" and "Adopt-A-Highway" solutions.

While I applaud the program, I would have to admit that I would be a little tougher. I would let those that litter clean up their own messes. I believe the fine for throwing a cigarette butt out the car window, if ever enforced, is usually around one hundred dollars. I would add to the fine a video on recycling (similar to the seat-belt video) and community service that involved, at minimum, a four-hour shift cleaning up the very road or intersection where the culprit littered. If a few people spend their Saturday morning cleaning up cigarette butts, suddenly their ashtray might become a whole lot more popular. It might also, and more importantly, lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for the planet we live on.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

65. Sacred cows mess up the streets

Are beliefs sacred? What about the rational behind those beliefs? If not, who has the right to challenge the rational behind someone's sacred beliefs? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the consequences for challenging those beliefs.

These are tough questions, most significant when the consequences result in riots, political influence and prejudice. Is it fair to say that once religious beliefs leave the church and not only enter, but also attempt to influence, through one methodology or another, societal and political culture, that they are no longer protected as a sacred ideology? Several events have once again inspired this discourse, challenging ethical behavior, the separation of church and state and, most importantly, free speech.

The Muslim unrest over the sacred depiction of the prophet Muhammad hit home here in the United States when Borders and Waldenbooks stores refused to carry the popular secular magazine, Free Inquiry, which in its April/May 2006 issue illustrates four of the controversial cartoons. Borders Group Inc., cited safety for itself, its customers and its employees as reason to censor the magazine. Whether or not the portrayal of Muhammad in cartoons was of moral good taste, radical Islamists have instilled a level of fear into anyone that might criticize or satirize its religion.

Another event pitting the civil guarantee of free speech against sacred religious beliefs is the portrayal of Scientology in the popular animated cartoon South Park. In mocking the beliefs of well-known actors and spokespersons such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, the cartoon similarly raised ethical issues in attacking one's beliefs. Reports attributed the cancellation of the repeat episode to pressure put on Viacom by Tom Cruise and his threat not to promote Mission Impossible III if the cartoon ran.

A final example is detailed in the documentary "This Divided Nation" (although there are many more, consider the Beckett Corporation's financial and political pressure surrounding the Men's Club in Elyria). The documentary surrounds a small conservative Mormon college in Utah that arranged to bring Michael Moore in to speak on their campus prior to the 2004 election. The town and the campus became religiously enraged, resulting in verbal threats, attempted bribery and, ultimately, a loss in funding (reportedly $200,000), over the student government's decision to bring in a non-conservative, Democratic speaker. Although many students did acknowledge that this was an issue of free speech, and some even spoke to the irony of their own religious intolerance (and missions), most that opposed Moore's appearance had not seen "Fahrenheit 9/11"- rather, had simply heard that he was "evil."

While I do not endorse "mocking" or taking other cheap shots at one's beliefs or spirituality, I do fully endorse the critical examination of religions that attempt to promote itself or its particular values onto society. If Muslims are going to suggest that their religion is a peaceful one, then, in turn, riot over a cartoon published in a foreign country- then I believe we have the right to examine its religious claims. If Tom Cruise is going to use his celebrity status to publicly promote Scientology, then I believe we are afforded the right to examine his religion and publicly comment on its rational. Similarly, if Mormons are going to hypocritically deny the right of a non-conservative to speak, in the midst of their religious missions where they consistently ask people for open-mindedness, then I support the right to examine and criticize their religious ideology. Finally, an issue that needed no introduction here in Ohio, if Christians are going to use religious morality found in The Bible to support a constitutional amendment banning gay-marriage, then let us examine The Bible for moral consistency.

It seems to me, at a level reaching near absurdity, that many religions want the best of several worlds. They wish to maintain their non-political, tax-exempt status while not only attempting to influence societal values, but also threatening, either financially, politically or through fear, those that dare to get in its way. They want all the benefits afforded religions, and they want it without the slightest sort of religious examination or criticism- under the guise of sacred and personal spiritual belief.

How much longer can governments, corporations and politicians remain tolerant and subservient to the influence of religious leaders and their followers, who are doing their best to exemplify the reason, and brilliance, behind the separation of church and state?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

64. Nature teaches us lessons

The discourse of nature is boundless in all its splendor, conjecture, and obscurity. This endless exploration accommodates all theories and areas of study, so much so that scientists can spend their entire careers embarked on a journey to uncover just one of its secrets. This exploration often offers social and even political insights into our own civilizations, history and evolution. In this respect, people can see nature in a variety of ways, such as beautiful, symmetrical, harsh or even metaphoric. In addition, some take great aim in distancing themselves from it, while others embrace its significance.

Any study of nature and its ecosystems finds millions of stories to be told. From plant lifecycles to habit adaptations each species has a tale of history, survival and incredulity to be shared. The challenges that many of these species have faced, experienced or overcome in order to pass on their genes reveal the complexity, cruelty and competition of nature. As human beings, we are so far removed from nature that I think it is easy to lose perspective of life itself.

I have a subtle African print entitled "Essence of Survival" that reads, "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed...every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle...when the sun comes up, you'd better be running." In nature, there is no such thing as a day off.

Fortunately, not all methods of survival are so straightforward, even if the competition is no less intense. To illustrate one of any number of examples, the Brown-headed Cowbird has adopted interesting survival skills, both promiscuous and parasitic- although by no means eccentrically unique by nature's standards.

A regular to the area in general and our backyard in particular, it seems quite normal in its disposition. The name comes from, as one might guess, its affinity to cows and other livestock (actually it was known as the "buffalo bird," but after human beings killed all the buffalo, the birds adapted to cows). The birds would follow the herding animals, eating the insects disturbed in its path. The travel made nesting difficult and required some adaptation on the bird's part.

Brown-headed Cowbirds do not build nests; rather the females lay their eggs in the nests of other (usually smaller) birds. She enters the nest and in less than one minute, she disposes of a one or two of the hosts' birds' eggs and lays hers in their place. The cowbird eggs hatch slightly before the rest of the nest and develop faster. The host bird often takes in the misplaced chick, even though it may kill or have killed her offspring. Over 150 documented species of birds have raised Brown-headed Cowbird young, as the female may lay as many as 40 eggs per season. The Brown-headed Cowbirds do not commit to another as a mate (although some dispute this), build a nest, or raise their own offspring. (Hmm, maybe they do live the "good life"- no spouse, no house, no kids!)

The Brown-headed Cowbird has been successful not only in its clever adaptations, but also thanks to humans, which have opened new habitats through deforestation (cowbirds prefer the fields). The potential impact of cowbirds is to the many songbirds whose nests they damage and whose offspring they kill. Several species are becoming threatened by its parasitic nature, such as Kirtland's Warbler, Black-capped Vireo, and Least Bell's Vireo. Some songbirds, however, have caught on and have begun displacing the cowbird eggs. (Imagine the conversation between songbird mates... "Honey, where did this egg come from?")

Unfortunately, as the tale too often goes, humans decide which birds we do and do not like, and in preference of the songbirds, the Brown-headed Cowbirds are now trapped and killed in some areas- even if many of the scientific facts surrounding its nature are disputable. The Audubon, as late as 1997, disputed some of the negative claims made against cowbirds, while noting that nearly $800,000 is spent annually protecting other species from cowbirds. Perhaps this observation by Stephan I Rothstein of the University of California, sums it up best, "People hate cowbirds, yet people love hawks. Hawks catch adult birds and rip them to pieces. Maybe people hate cowbirds because they're tricky."

Brown-headed Cowbirds are just one of thousands of fascinating species that engage scientists and the public alike. Its beauty or its nuisance, I suppose, is a matter of perspective and preference. Personally, it appears that they are making practical use of their competitive and adaptive advantages. I think every species and each individual deserves a fair chance- for that is the best deal nature can afford to offer.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

63. Our treatment must evolve

My best friend, Easton, whose age now wears a distinguished graying about his face, engages in a ritualistic howling at the siren sound of ambulances and police cars. Nose postured to the heavens, he belts out an uninhibited, long-winded yell- whose distinct tone is capable of being heard several houses down the road. Despite the fact that in a nice sweater and glasses he looks like a well-aged college professor, his animalistic digression reminds me that his genetic history still leans to his seemingly ancient evolution from the wolf. For, as the experts explain it, howling is a type of communication in response to what the dog believes is a call from another dog that is far away. Wolves apparently use it when they become separated from their pack as a way of reuniting.

My wife and I find the endeavor amusing, to say the least- first attempting to contain our laughter and then, embarrassingly and mockingly, joining in. Unfazed by our playful shenanigans, Easton fully commits to this practice until the siren reaches an inaudible distance. As we emerge from this evolutionary parade, Easton seems to awake from the sleepwalking state with a matter-of-fact type pose that says, "An evolved-wolf's gotta do what an evolved wolf's gotta do!"

Sometimes it is easy to forget that even our most civilized canines are still animals- encoded with over 40 million years of genetic traits and tendencies. In fact, the DNA of wolves and dogs are still nearly identical. Their selection and success as a species, in respect to humans, is offered by several theories. The most popular suppose that wolf pups from thousands of years ago were adopted, with the least aggressive serving as the best companions, or, alternatively, that they evolved as a niche species living from human refuse. Either way, we are stuck with each other now, for dogs left to the wild today would have a pretty tough go at it- especially many of the specialty breeds that no longer have the talents necessary for survival. It seems man's best friend needs us now, as biologist James Serpell notes, "The domestic dog exists precariously in the no-man's-land between the human and nonhuman . . . neither person nor beast."

Unfortunately, this relationship can turn out to be confusing for both humans and the dog. Where exactly does the dog fit in the family unit? When is the dog supposed to act like a human and when is it permitted to act like an evolved wolf? One moment the dog is out hunting and fishing through mountains and streams with his "best friend," the next some little four-year old is smacking the dog upside its head for barking at the casual passerby. Likewise, some dogs make the family vacation to Florida, while others sit in the corner as an item of property utilized and cared for only when called upon.

The relationship, of course, is dependent upon one's attitude and understanding toward dogs specifically, and animals in general. As annoying as it can be when Easton and company are chasing other animals, knocking things over playing with each other, or barking at other dogs, I see them as engaged. As much as I do not want them to beg at the dinner table, I know they are acting on their most imprinted instincts. And, in a unique manner, I actually feel bad that they have to beg- for it seems demeaning for them to have such dependence on us, especially since I know that if left to them, they would be happy to go out and catch their own food. At the same time, in my hypocrisy, I am embarrassed and attempt to control them when their excitement for guests resembles a Barbarian attack on Rome.

In the treatment of our dogs, and other animals if we must keep them, I prefer the golden rule. Ask yourself, if you were a dog, how would you want to be treated. It is amazing that these animals, which provide unconditional love, companionship and loyalty, are so often neglected or mistreated. Our flawed perspective is that on one hand we both acknowledge and view them as "animals," then on the other, punish them when they act like one. Their unconditional love should be reciprocated; flaws and all, as both humans and canines work through this anomalous evolutionary relationship.

When the clouds darken and the rains threaten, the slightest thunder sends Easton, that favorite wolf descendant of mine, scampering to the smallest and darkest place in the house. Occasionally faced with exit impediments, such as a closed bathroom or basement door, his next option is at my feet, tightly curled and intensely shivering in fear. If he did not seem so embarrassed at the behavior, I might ask him about that wolf lineage. For how is it that far-off thunderstorms make evolved wolves such an emotional wreck.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

62. Morals deeper than religion

In my interview with the Amherst News-Times, I mentioned that I believed morality to be humanistic rather than religious. Such a testament, especially in today's conservative environment, is deserving of both an explanation and a discussion. The problem is, and the reason I have not written specifically on the subject previously, is that religion has been labeled as a "conversation stopper." This ideology, that religion cannot be critically examined and discussed, is not an original idea of mine, rather the theme of Sam Harris' popular book, "The End of Faith." He writes, "Observations of this sort pose an immediate problem for us, however, because criticizing a person's faith is taboo in every corner of our culture. On this subject, liberals and conservatives have reached a rare consensus: religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse." I emphatically agree with this quandary, for it is not acceptable, on a personal level, to criticize the religion of another. To do so is an individual attack, to the extent that friendships are lost, and families torn apart.

There are, of course, national issues of morality such as abortion, stem cell research and the death penalty. But the issue of morality is much deeper than this. And to discuss morality, and the claim that it is derived from religion, is therefore only fairly considered when religion itself is examined. Two points further trouble the discussion. First, there are thousands of religions, religious beliefs, and religious interpretations. Thus, specific arguments of morality will often be regarded as a misinterpretation or not applicable to one's specific belief. Secondly, there is the issue of defining morality, which is often formed and based on religious belief- not an independent examination. Mark Twain wrote to this problem, "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing."

So, for example, when I quote an Associate Press report that, "nearly a quarter of the grants handed out by the Bush administration's $15 billion program to fight AIDS in Africa have gone to Christian religious groups that oppose teaching people the use of condoms," I have crossed moral boundaries, interpretations and definitions. Christian groups that oppose birth control do so based on moral religious beliefs. However, I would adapt the moral philosophy that by opposing the use of condoms, these religious groups are aiding in the transmission of the very deadly disease that they have specifically been funded to prevent. In this disagreement, there are two assumptions made by the religious groups. The first is that the use of birth control is a mortal sin, subject to an eternity of damnation. The second is that abstinence is a realistic approach in the fight against AIDS. I cannot prove or disprove the first assumption, since it is based on faith (and not subject to examination); however, I can argue scientifically that programs that promote abstinence and birth control are the most successful. Regardless, how is it decided which moral standard is superior, especially when I cannot challenge the issue of birth control as a sin?

As difficult as individual issues can be in the discussion of morality, there are general moral judgments that need to be considered in my assertion of humanistic morality. The first misconception is that one needs religion to act morally. I do not think that anyone needs to rely on religious guidance to understand that killing another person is morally wrong. Secular morality may be best defined by Paul Kurtz in the affirmations of humanism, "We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences." There is the argument to this debate that a non-religious person acting ethically is more moral than a religious person who acts ethically. The reason behind the argument is that a religious person acts morally because he or she has been instructed to, fears the consequences, or has been promised an afterlife in exchange for; conversely, the non-religious person acts morally completely on his or her own ethical values.

The second misconception is that religion maintains absolute moral ideology. Religious theory, especially among religions, is filled with contradiction, hypocrisy and extremism. How does it that religion endorses war on other faiths? How does a religion maintain credibility when the very priests selected to delivers God's message are committing, in mass, some of mankind's most horrendous acts? How is that hatred and discrimination is tolerated in any moral ideology? Of religion's long history of violence and hatred, Blaise Pascal wrote, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." These questions will undoubtedly test the willingness of an individual to objectively examine religious morality.

Furthermore, my opinion is that if an individual is going to adopt a religious ideology, then he or she ought to read it, understand it and act to it. It is not a credible moral argument to pick and choose religious ideas that apply favorably to one's own life or beliefs. If the moral teaching of one's religion is derived from The Bible, then all teachings from The Bible should be regarded as moral. I do not believe that one can use The Bible as moral support for the discrimination of homosexuals and then say it does not apply when the same book calls for rebellious teenagers to be stoned to death. Sam Harris notes that if are to judge the moral guidance of The Bible, then atrocities such as the Spanish Inquisition must be interpreted as a precise and faithful following of God's word- for the book of Deuteronomy clearly explains, in detail, that anyone suggesting the worship of an alternative God must be put to death. Ann Coulter, a leading conservative author, was morally consistent to this idea when she said, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

From a philosophical standpoint, we must note that religions define morality based on their texts, teaching and beliefs. To do so, one must reject some of the moral ideology taught and practiced by other religions. This again leads us to the question, which religion is correct? Which religion is moral? Thus, from the question itself, "religion" cannot be the sole basis of morality when moralities differ among religions. In terms of faith, it is best explained this way by Stephen Roberts, "I contend that we are both Atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."