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?