Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Face of Tragedy

From the Encyclopedia of Nations: "Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has an area of 10,714 square miles, slightly smaller than Maryland. Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, estimated at 699 persons per square mile. Land shortages and urban overcrowding have led to many Haitians attempting to emigrate , either to the neighboring Dominican Republic or to the United States. The capital, Port-au-Prince, had an estimated population of 850,000 in 1995, but much settlement in slum areas is unregulated, and the population probably exceeds one million."

On Tuesday afternoon, January 12th, the worst earthquake in 200 years - 7.0 in magnitude - struck Haiti less than ten miles from their capital city of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake was such a devastating event in a place so ill-prepared to cope. The pictures on television are almost too much to bear, and we are looking at the terrible images from the comfort of our homes... imagine what those poor people in Port-au-Prince must be experiencing. Every so often, Mother Nature reminds us that no matter how superior and technologically advanced we think we've become, we are still at her mercy. In Haiti's case, it wasn't a fair fight.

To describe Haiti as a backward country would be putting it mildly. While the Dominican Republic has thrived as a tourist mecca, Haiti has languished. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, even before the government was taken over by the corrupt Duvalier regime, except that the gap between Haiti and the other poor countries in the West grew under the Duvaliers, Pappa Doc and Baby Doc. Haiti's very poverty was the key note of their private economy. Foreign governments, and religious and humanitarian organizations poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Haitian development and relief in the Duvalier years, but not much of that money found its way into the projects for which it was intended. The Duvaliers and those on whom they smiled, stole the overwhelming bulk of this money.

The earthquake could have been a killing blow for Haiti, but amidst the death and disease, people from all over the world responded. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, military personnel, rescue organizations, churches...all without regard for their own safety and welfare, delivered food, water and medical supplies, but most of all, hope, to a country badly in need of some. My hat is off especially to the doctors, who left their lucrative practices behind and rolled up their sleeves to save lives in conditions that were deplorable. I sometimes become more cynical about life than I should, but heroic actions like the ones undertaken by so many angels in Haiti help restore my faith in humanity.
Unlike the citizens of New Orleans, who responded to a similar tragedy with looting, violence and scamming the government out of money that poured into the area with no accountability, the people of Haiti were much better behaved. They welcomed all the outside help they could get, but helped each other as well. There was one negative note...the recent plot by some American "missionaries" to sneak 33 Haitian children (some of whom still had parents and relatives living in Haiti) out of the country, allegedly to be sold in the child adoption market. I hope this was all a misunderstanding and that their intentions were to care for the children as they claim, but if not, then their fate should be simple...tie anchors to their legs and drop them in the Caribbean.

I want so much to believe that humanity is essentially good. It's easy to become cynical when we see greedy politicians like the Duvaliers fatten their Swiss bank accounts at the expense of the people they are supposed to be helping. May God spare the poor Haitian people any more misery for a while, both at the hands of men and nature.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, January 18, 2010

"We The People"

There is quite an interesting special election race going on in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Kennedy held the seat for 46 years, no disrespect to the man, but an argument for term limits if I ever heard one. The Democrat candidate is Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General. She is opposed by Republican Scott Brown, a Massachusetts State Senator, who has his work cut out for him in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. Kennedy's seat is currently held by appointee Paul Kirk, a longtime Kennedy aide. That Brown has any chance at all is causing havoc in the White House, since a Republican victory could spell trouble for the Obama health care plan.

The political maneuvering going on around this election, and the bigger issue of health care in the United States is nothing short of deplorable. America has long been the model the world turned to when examining forms of government that have endured and afforded the greatest opportunity for its citizens. Our democratic form of government and the cornerstones of its success, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, have been like a beacon to oppressed peoples everywhere. The foresight and wisdom possessed by our founding fathers led to the creation of a country that, while not perfect, is the closest thing to it ever seen in the history of man. Corrupt politicians and uninformed, apathetic voters are changing all that, and squandering the sacrifices of those who purchased with their lives our right to freedom and democracy.

The Democrats in Massachusetts and the White House are exploring back-door schemes to get their convoluted health care plan passed, whether or not Brown wins in the election being held tomorrow. They talk of ways to circumvent the voting process to jam this plan down the throats of the American people who have made it clear that they don't want it. Paul Kirk, the appointed lame duck Senator keeping Kennedy's seat warm (or so he thought until Brown mounted a real challenge) said he would "do what I was sent here to do", meaning to vote for the plan even if Brown is victorious in the election. The Republicans maintain that Kirk's voting power dies the moment Brown wins the election. It's a mess that will only get messier.

Elected representatives are supposed to vote the way their constituents want...they are elected stand-ins for the people who sent them to Congress. Lately, the will of the people seems to have been subjugated to the will of the political party in power, and the special interest groups like unions and corporations who fund their election campaigns. This miscarriage of justice is not restricted to Democrats, although they have raised it to an art form. Republicans can be just as deaf to the wishes of the folks back home. The result is that the people are cut out of the equation. What we want no longer matters. Men like Ted Kennedy get sent back to the Senate for term after term, even though many who voted for him have no clue what he stands for. They vote Democrat because their Ward bosses tell them to.

Washington, Jefferson, Adams, who made America great, would not recognize the country they worked so hard to build and nurture. Universal suffrage took a while to attain, the problem is that with the privilege of voting comes the responsibility to cast an informed vote, something many do not bother to do. If you honestly understand what your candidate stands for, and vote for him or her because of that stand, then I respect you even if I disagree with your choice. If you vote for somebody because someone tells you to, even pays you to, then we have a problem. If you have no idea of the issues and your candidate's position on them, please stay home and let the people who care enough to learn the facts elect this country's leaders.

If the Democrats lose in Massachusetts, its elected representatives should be saying: we lost this election in a state where we outnumber the opposition 3 to 1, its very clear the people don't like what we're doing and want a change...maybe we should go back to our town hall meetings and LISTEN to them. Instead they are plotting to find a way to subvert the will of the people. This is not the America the world looked up to, and it's our job as citizens to make our displeasure heard loud and clear. America does not belong to the politicians and special interest groups, it belongs to the People.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I'm Not Cool

I might have been cool at some time, but that's all over now. It's OK, don't protest, I've made my peace with my un-coolness. Here are the Top Ten reasons I know I'm no longer cool:

10. I go through the used clothes my sons give me for the local clothing drives and usually find a few things to augment my wardrobe. I usually replace these with a few things of my own; I'm damned if some homeless guy is going to be better dressed than me.

9. I take home my leftover home fries from the diner and whip up some beautiful potato and egg omelettes. Less wasted food, less wasted energy by not having to cook my own potatoes, and a few cents saved in my budget. Wins all around but my kids would be mortified.

8. I don't buy things I can't afford just to keep up with the Joneses. Those irresponsible Joneses, with their crippling mortgages and Lexus SUVs, are the ones who put this country in the hole we're in, and that all us "un-cool" people have to pay our way out of.

7. Rather than sit on the stoop drinking Colt-45 out of a paper bag, and taking money for nothing from hard working people, I sleep better knowing I worked for what I have. Welfare and the "entitlement" mentality are crippling this country.

6. I have no tattoos. No part of my body is pierced. I don't grow the hair on the back of my bald head long and tie it into a ponytail. I don't pay $90 for jeans with some gender-challenged designer's name on the pocket when I can buy equally good pants for $20 bucks.

5. I don't pretend to like that thumping, grunting noise they call rap music. The content is offensive, and the lifestyle of the thugs who foist this crap on us goes against my grain. Add to that a dislike of guys wearing their pants below their asses, especially white kids trying to look cool.

4. I believe marriage by definition is a union between a man and a woman. I'm OK with same-sex relationships, even extending the same benefits to partners in such a relationship as spouses in a marriage, but don't call it a marriage; it's not.

3. I used to be tactful, but as I get older tend to speak my mind. My wife refuses to go to a movie with me because I'm a "shusher"; I'm tired of dealing with incompetence and apathy in people; I say things out loud that I should keep to myself. Definitely not cool.

2. I hate reality TV shows, especially the ones that trash the not-so-talented performers, or tell me way more about the participants' personal lives than I need to know. I think people who tune in to these shows just to watch the train wrecks are sad and pathetic.

1. Although they are in their 30's and 40's, I still worry about my kids. If they get into trouble, I fret as if the problem were mine. I try to keep them from making the same mistakes I did, yet allow them to make their own decisions and learn from their bad ones. Tough balancing act.

Probably in the next fifty years, there will be a "Museum for the Un-Cool" where fossils like me will be on display for cool people to snicker at. There will also be an exhibit featuring all the American values that have been diminished by the legions of the politically correct; it will occupy several floors. Glad I won't be around to see it.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Brain

As I get older, I find it necessary to keep my brain stimulated or risk losing brain function. There are those who would argue that my brain never functioned at all, but I reject that assertion. Human learning is a fascinating process that begins the minute we enter this world. Modern-day humans have the longest childhood of any species on earth, but this was not always the case. The first "humans" that walked the earth grew up much faster. They didn't have the luxury of 15-20 years to grow and develop physically and mentally. Circumstances in their environment forced them into adulthood in a much shorter period. Moreover, they developed differently than we do. They achieved physical maturity faster, since they needed to get bigger and stronger sooner to survive in their harsh world. Their brains developed more slowly than ours since what they needed to learn was limited to knowledge that affected their survival.

How did I learn all this stuff? This week, PBS began a three-part series called "The Human Spark" that looks at what makes modern-day man unique in the world. After a few billion years of living evolution on this planet, and nearly two million years since people recognizable as human entered the world, a new breed of human burst upon the scene; it was us. Until then, our ancestors shared the planet with other human species, but soon there was only us. What did we possess that the others didn't? That something was the Human Spark. Did it originate in Europe as some archaeologists believe, or did it come about earlier in time, maybe on another continent?

The work of archaeologists, paleontologists and sociologists always interested me. These scientists devote their lives to the study of some seemingly small aspect of human existence, but the collective knowledge that emerges from their research gives us a pretty good picture of how humans evolved. Early humans had much smaller brains for instance, but greater brawn. Survival for them was simple; don't get eaten by something else. The brain and the body developed to help humans not only survive, but learn to kill and eat the things that were trying to eat them. As man began to learn the skills to make basic tools, and then weapons, the brain grew, but slowly. It was pointed out that Neanderthals went for 2,000 generations without changing the basic tools they first learned to make. They did adapt them for use in different environments as they started traveling to other places, but the basic designs remained unchanged.

In contrast, I recently audited a training class at work on basic pumps. Pumps were created essentially to move liquids or gasses through piping systems. The design of the pump is ingenious, yet simple. It was invented not that long ago in time, and yet its design has undergone probably thousands of changes since then, and I'm certain more will come. The Human Spark is what drove man to look beyond what was and to ask what could be. It created language, culture, music and art. It was responsible for the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. It produced change much more quickly than it came for the Neanderthals, and caused the brain of modern-day man to grow much faster than that of our ancestors. Despite this, science tells us that even today, humans use just 10% of the capacity of the human brain.

If you're still awake, consider this. The earth has been around for about 4.7 billion years, early man has been around for maybe 2 million years, but modern-day man, people who resembled us, have been on the planet for a mere 50,000 years, just a couple of blinks in time. Yet because of the Human Spark, man's knowledge doubles maybe every 5-10 years. That's an incredible acceleration in learning and brain function in a very short period, as time is measured. Hey, we can now make microwave popcorn!

We can only imagine what the next hundred years will bring, that is if we don't blow up the planet before then. If this kind of stuff interests you, take a look at the good work PBS has done on the subject. The Human Spark . Alan Alda PBS


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association