Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bumper Sticker Tirade

I'd like to comment on several bumper stickers I'm forced to endure on a seemingly daily basis:

Hey, bicyclists, if you want me to share the road with you then you need to follow the same rules of the road as I do with my car. That includes not shooting through stop signs and red lights, riding single-file (I mean, we learned that in elementary school!) and using hand signals when you plan to turn or cut into the other lane. When I was riding all over Austin (one of the least bicycle-friendly cities around; trust me, the streets of Chicago are safer!) I took the time to actually read what my rights were as a bicyclist, and the law was quite clear: follow the rules of the road. And that's what I did. I stopped at every stop sign, waited for the light to turn green, rode in single-file, and made it abundantly clear when I planned to shoot over to the turn lane. Sure, I still got hit by a car, twice, but the law was on my side in each case. When you ignore the rules of the road, you ruin it for the rest of us by creating an image, a stereotype, for which many motorists have only contempt. I mean, why should the SUV soccer mom "share the road" with someone she thinks isn't going to follow the same rules?

And you motorcyclists on your Harleys and crotch rockets, if you want me to look twice to save a life then I suggest you try going the speed limit, quit weaving between cars and stop riding the shoulder in traffic jams. I'm happy to look twice, but that doesn't give you the liberty to put me in a position that jeopardizes our lives. I once spent a night in jail and lost my driver's license for drinking and driving on a scooter (yes, only in Boulder). When I told Officer Bill Palmer that it was just a scooter and that my big, rusty 1976 Chevy Blazer with its "Your taxes pay for rape, torture and murder in Central America" and "I [heart] golf" bumper stickers was parked safely at home, he said, "It's a motor vehicle, son." If that 50cc Honda Spree Scooter can be considered a motor vehicle then I suspect your motorcycle can be, too, so treat it like such, and I'll do my best to look twice to save your life.

No, freedom is not free; however, it's been proven that the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not started in defense of American freedoms. What happens in Kabul has no impact on our freedoms, unless, of course you take into account the loss of our civil liberties that were imposed upon us not by the enemy but by our own politicians, such as wiretapping and the Patriot Act. In fact, no modern war was fought because our freedoms were actually in peril. We only got into WWII after Pearl Harbor and there was no way Japan or Germany could invade the US. Korea and Vietnam were ideological wars: stop Communisim at all costs! And the Gulf War did nothing to secure my freedom of speech or press, although it did help to secure access to oil in the Middle East so American car companies could continue to make gas guzzlers. Oh, and it angered a certain Osama bin Laden. What happened on 9/11 did require a military response but at no time were our freedoms in actual jeopardy. You're right, freedom is not free, but there is a huge difference between protecting freedoms and protecting American interests, which is what all our modern wars have been about.

I suppose you're right in claiming that Jesus does save, although I have my doubts sometimes. Thing is, isn't there something about not using His name in vain and still you stick a gaudy sticker on a car bumper with His name on it? Come on now, show the man a little respect! Do you seriously think a sinner such as myself is going to be driving behind you, read that sticker and think, "You know, you got something there. I mean, if it's on a bumper sticker than it must be true! Hallelujah!"? If you want to get The Word out, try doing good works, living a good life, and if you have them, teaching your children the same. Earn my respect for your beliefs; don't sully the man and His message by sticking tacky stickers on your car.

And as for visualizing world peace: visualizing whirled peas is more realistic.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Second Chance for Vick?

Anyone who knows me and/or pays any attention to my Facebook posts knows that I'm rather fond of animals. So it might surprise you that I think the loathsome thug that is Michael Vick should get a second chance in the NFL.

Let me be clear: I hate what he did. I get really angry when I think about the animals that suffered because of him. I reveled in his fall from grace, and if I could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life, I probably would. The animal-lover in me wants to throw him in a pit with a few fighting dogs and close the door. That is my gut feeling.

But the rational me knows the man deserves a second chance in life. He was found guilty of his crimes and took the punishment the law imposed on him, and when his sentence is over he has the right to start over. Some say his punishment wasn't hard enough, that even though he's done his time he still shouldn't be given the chance to play football again and make millions. That's crazy, animal-fanatic talk. Michael Vick is forever tainted and he will never be able to erase from our collective memory the brutal and savage nature of his crimes, no matter how many good deeds he does or how successful he might once again become. We will always be able to point out his scarlet letter. But the law says he's paid his debt to society and now it's society's responsibility to leave him alone to let him live his life.

Word has it he'll be working with the Humane Society of the United States to educate kids about dogfighting, and who better to do that? Kids, especially teenage boys, will listen to him before they listen to Anne Marie Lucas or some irrelevant (but well-intentioned) animal rights celeb, like Chrissie Hynde or Brigitte Bardot. He could potentially take the fight against dog fighting to a whole new level, and that is something we should hope for and embrace.

I'll be happy each time he gets sacked or intercepted. I'll be happy if he never gets a starting job. He has a right to fight for that starting job, though. He has a right to try and rebuild, to make himself a better person than he was before. He has a right to a second chance.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kudos to Big Brother

By now you've probably heard about the parents who are refusing to get their son treatment for his cancer (you can read the full story here). There are many aspects of this story that make me literally shake with anger: parental neglect, religious indoctrination, selfishness, and plain stupidity. But it's this quote that caught my eye: "I feel it's a blow to families," he said. "It marginalizes the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children's medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us." All I can say is, hooray for big government!

In these situations, I'm glad we have a government that does on occasion stick its nose into our personal business. I respect an individual's decision to refuse medical treatment for him or herself for any reason. However, when it comes to parents subjecting their children to those same beliefs without that child really knowing the alternatives (in this case, life and death), I'm all for government, big or small, intervening and saying, "You're wrong."

The government IS often better at making decisions for us. Individuals are motivated by self-interest so they can't always be trusted to make the right decisions for someone else, even their children. Add the cloud of irrationality that is religion and you get people who need the cold, emotionless rule of law to keep them in check. Otherwise they end up hurting themselves and others.

I believe in my government, and I'm glad to have it looking out for me and for the children of whackos. It doesn't always do the right thing, it can be corrupted, and on more than one occasion I've tossed my hands up in despair of it. In the end, however, I know it's good, and in this particular case, I couldn't be more proud of it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Passing

Last week I learned of the death of a former middle and high school classmate. My first reaction was the typical shock, but as the days passed I realized that I really didn't feel much at all; I was indifferent. I don't mean to sound callous or to be insensitive to any of his friends who might read this, but I'm not saddened by his death.

When I was a teenager, I'm sure there were times when I wished him dead. In those pre-Columbine days when bullying was an accepted part of growing up, D.S. was my bully. He wasn't a physical bully; instead, he used words and his celebrated wit to make my life fairly miserable. He knew I was weak, sensitive and insignificant, and he used my weakness, sensitivity and insignificance for his amusement. We barely even knew each other and yet he taunted and labeled me. I used to have a 10-speed bicycle that my uncle had built for me. It was big, heavy, and blue, and I loved it. One day the recently deceased asked me if he could take a ride on my bike. Knowing him to be a big cyclist even then and me wanting desperately to be accepted, I let him. He returned to tell me that my bike was nothing short of a piece of junk. It may sound trivial now but then it was huge to me, and I was crushed. From 8th-12th grade, he found many moments to cut me down, to make me doubt and hate myself. He was just plain mean to me, and I hated him.

That's how I remember D. Part of me says I should forgive and forget, but the other part says it's more complicated than that. Even if it has been over 20 years, why should I forgive him? I mean, have you ever been bullied over a period of years? And because that bully is now dead and because of the manner of his death, I should set aside the pain and anger he caused me and honor his memory? While living, he showed me no compassion and so I'm finding it hard to show compassion for him in his death. I didn't know D. the man, only the teenager, and perhaps he'd grown to be a better man than he was a teenage boy. Perhaps if we had met again years later he would have expressed remorse, maybe even ask for forgiveness, and if he had I think I would've forgiven him. But that didn't happen, and I'm not feeling compelled to forgive him today.

There is for me a certain poetic justice in his death. On more than one occasion his bullying contributed to my adolescent suicidal thoughts, and yet it was D. who was unable to deal with the pain in his life and step back from the ledge. I take no joy in knowing that he was suffering. I am proud, however, that even in the most vulnerable time of my life, when D. and people like him mocked and ridiculed me for no other reason than that they could, I did not break and was able to keep moving forward. He broke.

I do hope he is in a better place, at peace. I feel sympathy for his family and friends, but I do not grieve or pity or feel sorry for him. I will not miss D.S., but I'll never forget him. What does make me a bit sad is that I won't remember him for the good things I'm sure he did in his life or the happiness I'm sure he brought to those he loved because the only memories he left me are memories I'd rather forget.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Do the Right Thing

I'm tired of doing the right thing. I want to do the wrong thing.

I want to be the person you flip off as I drive to the front of the line of cars and cut in. I want to be the a**hole talking loudly on his cell phone while you try to read. I want to be the mother who treats the restaurant as if it's her child's day care center. I want you to "shhhh" me as I talk during the movie. I want to be the neighbor who burns yard waste on Sundays and violates water restrictions. I yearn to be the person who doesn't pay for trash service and instead throws a diaper-laden bag in the middle of a busy street. I want to be the person who lets his dog run off leash and then leaves its sh*t on the path. I want to get out of my seat before the plane comes to a complete stop. I want to stand at the front of the bus instead of moving back to let other people get on. I want my bags to occupy the seat you could be sitting in. I want to have more than 10 items in the express checkout lane...and then write a check. I want to find a wallet with lots of money in it and keep it. I want to be the one who doesn't flush the toilet in the mall restroom. I want to yell at the person behind the counter just so that I can get my way. I want to dump my ash tray in the parking lot, flick cigarette butts on others' lawns, and leave trash from McDonald's in the gutter. I want to store both carry-ons in the overhead bin.

But I won't. I won't do any of that because it wouldn't be the right thing to do.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Triple Crown

Like I do every year, I watched the Kentucky Derby this weekend. I don't bet on the horses, could care less about the hats and who's in attendance, and I'm not all that interested in the lives of the jockeys, trainers, and owners. Sometimes I choose a favorite based on the horse's name or its appearance, but generally speaking it doesn't matter to me who wins, just as long as I get to see the race. I simply love to see horses run. I can watch Secretariat's win at the Belmont in 1973 over and over again.

I've occasionally wondered whether my love of horse racing undermines my animal activism. Not really. For starters, I'm an arm-chair activist: I donate money and send emails and that's about it. I don't go to rallies or demonstrations or canvass neighborhoods for support. I know which of my friends are sympathetic to my "causes" and I don't force my views on the others (posting on Facebook is not forcing - you can choose not to read my posts!). So to call me an activist is a bit of a stretch. Second, thoroughbred horses are big investments (Mind That Bird, the newest Derby winner, was bought for a measly $9,500) and are overwhelmingly treated very well by their owners. I do have issues with what happens to those horses that don't get to spend their retirement as studs but until I stop eating beef, chicken, pork and lamb, my argument is is lacking.

PETA would certainly say that horse racing is unethical as it exploits horses for our entertainment, and I don't disagree. It is exploitation...but it's an exploitation with which I am comfortable. I'm not comfortable with dog fighting, cock fights, bear baiting, hunting with dogs, zoos, aquariums, animal testing, snake hunts, prairie dog shoots, and circuses, to name just a few of the human activities where animals are exploited for entertainment. Perhaps my fondness for horse-related sports (racing, equestrian events and rodeos) makes me a hypocrite. So be it. Must be the "liberal" in me.

I'll watch the Preakness and the Belmont, too, and once again be awed by the power, grace, and beauty of the horses and the thrill of the race. If you haven't before, you really should sacrifice the 2-3 minutes it takes to watch those races. The Triple Crown isn't the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, The Master's, Final Four, World Series, or Stanley Cup. It's better.