Bees, Global Warming, and the Apocalypse

I recently took a class on Bees and Beekeeping at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign*. I took two things away from the class. One, beekeeping is not easy. The other is that the world may be in real trouble.

The decline in the honeybee population has a real impact on the overall environment we live in. We need bees for honey but more importantly pollination. One of the lessons we learned in the class is that even minor changes in the environment have a large impact on bees.

Global warming clearly has an impact on bees. One such negative consequence is that Africanized bees are expanding their territory further North. Africanized bees bees are not only more aggressive but have a greater likelihood to swarm. They are also more likely to leave their hives and not return.

Another problem that may be exacerbated by the change in climate are increased problems with pests, in particular Varroa Mites and Hive Beetles. Varroa Mites were not discovered until 1987 but are a devastating problem that can eventually kill entire hives. It seems as though almost every hive suffers from them. The Hive Beetle came from Africa and they are also an enormous problem.

Pesticides also are having a negative impact on bees. Even if pesticides don’t kill the bees directly they weaken their immune system such that it makes bees more vulnerable to the effects of global warming and pests. Attempts to limit the use of some types of pesticides do not appear entirely effective.

The reason I am writing about bees is not for beekeepers who already know about these problems. I am discussing these issues as an allegory. The impact of global warming and environmental damage through pesticides and other chemicals can be seen in all forms of life.That certainly includes humans.

The food we eat, the liquids we drink, and the chemicals we ingest purposefully or through pollution are slowly destroying our world. It is more likely society will die out as a result of a thousand cuts rather than a sword through the heart. An atomic bomb or a giant meteor are less likely to end the world than continuing the slow path to destruction we are already on.

Genetic engineering may be looked at as a solution to solving the problems we created. We can make bees more pest resistant or better able to tolerated climate changes. We can do the same with plants and food products. The question is, should we?

We have mapped the genome of the honey bee as well as that of a human being. Genetic mapping becomes cheaper and easier each year. The result of this work has been a huge benefit to science. The practical and positive impact of these accomplishments is so great it is hard to quantify.

Yet, the potential for negative consequences related to genetic engendering has greatly increased. Genetically modified corn and potatoes have been around for a while. So far with little adverse effect. Genetically modified salmon have also been approved to join their starchy friends on our dinner table. A salmon that grows twice as fast as its natural brother does cause me greater concern than a pest resistant spud.

The more we damage our ecosystem the more radical the steps we will need to try and repair it. Pests, throughout history, have adapted to the escalating war of poisons. What will happen when we take even more radical steps to protect the environment we are destroying?

The solution maybe taking a step back rather than a jump forward. Cutting down on green house gases and organic farming may be a backward step in the right direction. Even though these old fashion ideas may be harder than developing new poisons and relying on genetic engineering. Energy from sources other than coal and oil might also be a step in the right direction.

I have been considering these concepts for the book Bunny Blood Feud. What will the future look like if we have a race between mother nature and technology to maintain a livable ecosystem. In the past technology has been our savior. What will be the role of technology in the future?

As the population expands we have been able to keep pace by growing more food faster. We have used pesticides and fertilizers to make it so fewer people can grow food on less land. We have been able to locate oil where it would have been impossible to do so a few years back. What if we reach the end of the road. What if out of desperation we take things too far? These are the concepts I want to explore in Bunny Blood Feud.

* I would like to thank the 2016 Bees & Beekeeping Short Course held at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign for teaching me about bees. If I made an errors in my explanation of bee related issues it is likely my fault not theirs.

The Next American Revolution

As the election draws near it is clear that Americans are seeking change. Trump and Sanders may not win the nomination for their prospective parties but their popularity is an indication that the American people are not happy with the status quo. I should stress that The Commander and Chief no matter who that person is can’t solve the major underlying problems with this nation. Yet, he or she can help lead us in the right direction. This is a critical time in American history.

It is a mistake to look to the past for solutions to our current  problems. Yet, we can’t ignore history either. I find some of the rhetoric from the candidates reminiscent of the mistakes this nation has made in the past.

Some people believe that this countries unprecedented post WWII growth can be repeated and the way to do so is to live by the social values of the 1950’s. That is simply nonsense. We live in a bigger world today and the world’s resources are being shared by more and more industrialized countries.

Henry Ford sold his cars cheaply enough so that his employees could afford to buy them. In the past the rich recognized that they had to live among factory workers and thus needed to provide a living wage. Multinational corporations are not set up to care about individuals within this nation.

Today products are made in China. The factory owners don’t ever see their employee’s and wouldn’t recognize them if they did. The rich can live in gated communities and never be confronted with the poor. Factory owners no longer live in the same city where their products are made.

Many issues the politicians discuss in debates and on the campaign trail are designed to appeal to the listeners passion and prejudice rather than their needs and expectations. People shouldn’t vote against their financial interests because a candidate claims to share their religion or side with them as to some social issue.

What made America great was our education system and the size of the Middle Class.The Middle Class is shrinking and our education system is no longer the best in the world. As more of the world’s wealth is put in the hands of fewer people the likelihood of a second American Revolution increases.

Programs like social security, food stamps and welfare are about more then a nation’s generosity. Starving people are dangerous. People will kill to feed their children. It is a mistake to vote for anyone who does not believe in a safety net. Yet, the system can’t work if a person with a full time job does no have a better standard of living than a person on welfare. These are issues candidates need to discuss.

This election we need to elect a president who:

A.  Will work to help education her citizens.

B.  Allow people to believe through hard work they can succeed and actually support legislation that will make that happen.

C.  Will bring people together.

D.  Will put the blame on the people responsible for the problem.

E.  Understands where the money is and how money works.

F.  Is not so arrogant that they can’t consider the view point of others.

G.  Are guided by the best interest’s of individuals and not corporations.

This election we need to avoid candidates who:

A.  Believe God is on their side.

B.  Wrap themselves in the flag.

C.  Believe they can succeed through force of will.

D. Can’t answer a direct question with a direct answer.

E.  Promise the impossible.

It is also important to remember that the president has very little control over most social issues other than the nomination of Supreme Court Justices. Issues such as gay rights, abortion, and gun control are issues primarily addressed by state legislatures and by the judiciary. In addition the interpretation of the United State’s Constitution has nothing to do with the President that is an issue for the courts.

I am not endorsing a specific candidate. Even if I was who would listen. I am asking that people make an effort to educate themselves about the candidates. People need to pick a candidate who puts substance above rhetoric. I hope as a nation we will make the right decision for the people of this country.

 

 

Halloween -The Top Five Things to Do to Get Your Fright On and the Top Five to Avoid

Halloween is just around the corner and it is time to get in the spirit of the holiday. The release of The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest is certainly a festive way to celebrate. It is so spooky it should get your gibbets shaking well past Thanksgiving. I have decided this Halloween to provide a list of the top five things to do to get your fright on. I have also listed the top five to avoid.

Five Good Things to Do

  1.  See a scary movie in the theater. The theaters should provide a few good chills in October of 2015 with: Goosebumps, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Last Witch Hunter and Bone Tomahawk. I have not seen any of these but they look scary.
  2. Rent or Netflix a scary movie: It Follows is coming to the little screen. It is a fun film that takes the teen scream movie to a very different place. This was one of the best new horror flicks to come out last year.The Babadook is also out and this was original enough to give me a few chills. You can also enjoy all the Saw movies on Netflix.
  3. Pumpkin related activities. Yes, going to the local pumpkin patch to select your potential Jack-O-Lantern is always a good time. It is fun for the little goblins as well. Pumpkin related foods from pumpkin pie to pumpkin bread and ice-cream are a tasty fall treat. Although, I must confess I prefer butternut squash to pumpkin in my pie.
  4. Story Telling is particularly fun on and around Halloween. Every so often there will be events at bonfires, libraries and book stores promoting spooky story telling. I don’t know why we as I society we have forgotten how much fun tales around a fire can be.
  5. Real Haunted houses can be great on All Hallows Eve. I am not talking about the Haunted Houses that seem to spring up in abandoned stores and malls each year. I am recommending real haunted houses. Do some research there are a lot of haunted places all over the country. Around me there is the Lincoln Theater in Decatur, Illinois that gives tours and is said to be filled with ghosts. In Chicago the Congress Plaza Hotel has a reputation for spirits. I few of the old building at the University of Illinois are said to be haunted including the English Building and Lincoln Hall. The haunted tower at Urbana High School is also said to be haunted.

Things not to do.

1. Raising the dead is always a mistake. If have learned anything from Pet Cemetery,  Flatliners, and Frankenstein it never turns out well when you try to raise the dead. Sure it sound like fun until someone has their brains eaten.

2.  Killing people and playing with their guts. Life is sacred and it is wrong to snuff it out. Also, it is illegal and bad karma. Live and let live I always say. It is also near impossible to get blood and guts our of your clothes.

3.  Using a Ouija Board alone is a mistake. It is a bad idea to invite spirits and possibly demons into your home. It is a worse idea to do so alone. You need someone else to help tether you to this world. It also helps to have someone back you up in a fight with the supernatural.

4.  Say “Bloody Mary” or “Candy Man” into a mirror three times. Yes, there are movies named after Bloody Mary and the Candy Man. If you watch them you will get the idea of why this is not such a good idea. Let’s just say what you unleash is damn hard to put back in.

5.  Agree to a dare. Yes, it’s Halloween and your best friend has double dog dared  you to go up to the old Jenkins home knock on the door and run. Maybe you are promised a candy bar if you only spend the night at the abandoned house on Elm Street. To paraphrase the Nike Commercials, Just Don’t Do it.

So take my advice and you will have a lot of fun this Halloween. Don’t forget to get your copy of the Wiccan Witch of the Midwest on Amazon, B&N and the Camel Press web page. You can have a lot of fun and still be safe and respectful of the creatures that go bump in the night.

 

 

 

 

Is college worth the investment?

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater takes place on a large Midwestern University. I feel this gives me the credentials to give an opinion on the value of an education. That and the fact that I have an undergraduate degree from The University of Wisconsin and a law degree from the University of Illinois. When I am not writing books my other job is as a lawyer. I see on a weekly if not daily basis the struggles of individuals and families trying to pay for higher education costs.

Presidential candidates are also starting to notice the financial struggle of students and families. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have discussed how public universities are charging more for tuition than students can afford to pay. They are starting to notice that student loans debt is getting out of hand.

Yet, this blog is not about politics but more about practicality. It is seems there is good evidence to support the idea that a four year degree is worth obtaining. This brings to mind two questions. The first question is what degree is worth obtaining? The other question is where a college student should go to school in order to obtain the highest return on his investment? I will admit that some of the argument I intend to present is not backed up by empirical evidence and is just my opinion. I could probably look up real evidence to support my conclusions but why bother. After all it is my blog I should be able to say what I want.

I am an author which I assume you know and is why you are looking at my blog. My undergraduate degree is in psychology. I love the arts but it is not necessary to have a degree in fine arts to write, paint or act. It is my humble opinion that a degree in psychology or the fine arts is not a good investment. I hate to say this, since I readily admit when it comes to these areas of studies I am far from proficient, but it makes sense to spend your educational dollar on STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education. Obviously, this is not everyone’s forte, including mine, but this type of education will probably provide the best bang for the buck.

The next question is where to go to school. I spent my undergraduate years in Madison, Wisconsin even though I lived in Illinois. Out of state tuition at the time was reasonable. It may not be anymore depending on your ability to pay. I question if it makes sense to go to an out of state college.

I also question the value of a degree from a more prestigious university versus a junior college or a state school. I would argue that a degree from a private school does not translate into more money. There are certainly exceptions but there are always exceptions.

Yes, I understand this blog does not discuss the intangible aspects of an education. Harvard may provide a perfect opportunity to meet the son of a C.E.O. who will give you a job upon graduation. Amherst, might provide just the right climate for spiritual fulfillment. If you have the money and are not looking for the best return on investment by all means search for the college that meets your individual tastes.I am trying to talk about college in terms of a business proposition not in terms of self actualization.

Sadly, I believe universities are also starting to think of college in terms of a business as well. In my home town the home of the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign the Chancellor of the U of I Ms. Wise is stepping down among controversy. It appears the University is seeking to pay her an additional $400,000 bonus on her way out.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-university-of-illinois-phyllis-wise-bonus-20150810-story.html#page=1

This, is one of many examples of universities being more akin to wall-street companies than a place to educate our children. The average law school professor earns $128,000 per year not including substantial benefits while the average lawyer makes $76,999. Universities are a business and students are their clients. F.Y.I. If anyone is hiring I would gladly quit my job (as a lawyer) to be a law professor. I would also take far less than $128,000 per year, with benefits, to do the job.

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Professor_of_Law/Salary

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Attorney_%2f_Lawyer/Salary

University’s are seeing record numbers of international students. In part that is because universities make money on international students who pay out of state tuition.

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2013/11/11/us-sees-record-number-of-international-college-students

The University of Illinois has more Chinese students than any other public university and the result is a great deal of money.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-university-of-illinois-chinese-students-d1-20140801-story.html#page=1

Universities are no longer set up to help students mature from adolescence to adulthood while cradled in love and school spirit. They are money making machines and our children are their products. It is time we start thinking of colleges in that manner and start looking for bang for the buck when it comes to education.

If students walk out of college with enormous debt than they might have been better off working at a low paying job and putting that money in a savings account. It is time we start looking at the cost of higher education and ask if it is worth it. The answer is just dollars and cents or perhaps dollars and common sense.

 

 

 

 

 

What makes a great book?

I have just finished reading a book that was awful. I normally don’t finish reading books that are bad. I will ordinarily decided a book is good or bad within the first fifty pages and give up if I don’t like it. Yet, this book was so bad I had to believe the end would reward my persistence. I was disappointed. Yet, I have no doubt there are those who loved it.

What makes a great book? The answer is it depends on the reader. I can read a book in a contemplative mood and find it profound. I can read the same book in a jovial mood and find it hokey. I have found books to be funny at one time and ridiculous at another. The mood of the reader is certainly one factor in determining if a book is enjoyable.

The moment and time in the reader’s life when he or she read the book is also important. The obvious conclusion is that when you get older you enjoy more profound literature. For me the opposite is true. I read Crime and Punishment when I was younger. The dense writing helped me enter the mind of the main character. I wouldn’t re-read the book again. I am less interested in the form of writing than I once was. I like books that are easy to read and concise. Why take five pages to say something that can be said in one? Flowery language can be distracting. The use of metaphors can help me visualize a more abstract concept. When everything is a metaphor it can take me out of the world of the book. Perhaps one aspect of getting older is understanding life is short. I don’t want to read a densely written tome. Who has the time?

If you look at the early works of Pablo Picasso they looked far more realistic and adult than his later works. He learned, through practice, that you could portray a message with a few strokes of a brush. A message as important as what you can say with a whole canvas filled with pigment. I remember reading a book called A Clergyman’s Daughter by George Orwell. I can’t tell you what it is about but I remember it was boring and hard to read. George Orwell went on to write Animal Farm and 1984. Both books were short and easy to read and their message was very clear. Both books are considered classics and to me are far preferable to A Clergyman’s Daughter.

The mood, age, and preference of the reader certainly have a huge impact on whether a book is considered great. Yet, an author has no ability to control the taste of the reader. An author should make every effort to write in a manner that is clear and easy to read but it is a mistake to write for the reader. An author must have a story to tell and must accept the fact they can’t make everyone happy.

Literary taste certainly changes over time just as art and fashion. Shakespeare during his life was one of many playwrights who created decent entertainment. Now he is considered among the greatest writers of all time.

I don’t believe a writer can set out to create a number one best seller or a literary classic. Only readers can make a book a number one best seller. Only time can make a book a literary classic.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater comes out in a few days. I hope my readers find it entertaining and fun. If not you have my permission not to finish reading it. Although, the ending is kind of cool so I would finish it if I were you. I would also suggest eating a cookie prior to starting to read the book. It helps put you in a good mood at the start.

 

 

Snacks & The Movie Experience

Movies can cost a hundred million dollars to make. More impressively, most of them still make a profit. It is no wonder studios and movie theater owners will do their best to pack people in. The negative impact is that studios do not want to take a lot of risks with that kind of money. As a result they tend to lean towards as close to a “sure thing” as they can find. We are thus inundated with sequels and remakes. Creativity takes a back seat to the mighty dollar.

Yet, theaters and studios have started to realize that people will only pay so much for a movie and they can only improve the product so much. Thus, they have tried to make going to the movies more of an experience and charge more for that opportunity. We now have a choice of:  3-D. IMAX, D-Box,and the Luxury Studio. If we have all of that in Champaign, Illinois I can only assume in New York and L.A. they give you a foot rub and a manicure.

I am not a big fan of 3-D, IMAX or D-Box (I have tried them all). I do kind of dig the Luxury Studio seating. It seems to me there is not a lot more they can come up with. Perhaps they will return to Smell-O-Vision or 4D. The former was an attempt to allow the viewers to smell all the action by pumping scent into the theater. The latter might involve spraying the audience with water at the right moment or running a fan when it gets windy in the film. It was kind of like the midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show where the audience would pelt you with rice and toast. I tend to find such things take you out of the movie rather than draw you into it. Who knows maybe they will surprise me with a fantastic new idea I have not thought of.

One area where the theaters are recently making progress but I feel is rife for further opportunity is snacking. No longer do you have to go to dinner and a movie. You can now have dinner in the movie. The theaters around here now serve pretzels, hotdogs and pizza. The prices may be high but not nearly as bad as the mark up of paying four dollars for a box of M&M’s or six dollars for a soda. Some theaters are also selling adult beverages.

My thought, why stop there? Snacks may be the answer to bringing in the customers. Let’s face it, the movie itself will probably be available to down load  before it has finished it’s run at the theater. The theater has to sell the “movie experience” not just the movie.

Nothing says experience like, crab puffs, shrimp puffs or cheese puffs. Hell anything with a “puff” would work. The same is true with, egg rolls, spring rolls or shrimp rolls. You could mix up the menu depending on the flick.  A movie like The Wolverine could have had sushi available during the scenes in Japan. You could serve steak in movies filmed in Texas or Chinese Food for movies filmed in Beijing. You get the idea. Snacks provide a near endless amount of variety and tastiness.

Can you imagine seeing the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory if the theater re-created the chocolate waterfall? The theater could sell cups to the viewers. Perhaps they could show major television events as well on the big screen with appropriate snacks. The Final Four, The Super Bowl and the Oscars were all made for the theater. You might even use two theaters. You could have a separate theaters for Duke fans and Wisconsin fans or Patriot fans and Sea-hawks fans.

I am not asking for the movie people to give me money for these brilliant snacking ideas. That being said I wouldn’t turn down some free passes. I was also thinking that we could add thin slices of beef jerky or fruit leather to books. Why should movies have all the fun. Then again, what if your book gets wet or if it is an ebook. Maybe snack coupons would work better? Well, give me time I am still working on these ideas.

Group Think, Fraternities and the New Book

People act differently alone than as part of a group. Sometimes this can be a good thing. If you are among a group of law abiding citizens you are less likely to engage in bad behavior. It would be socially unacceptable to steal or use drugs in a public gathering where you are being observed. It is rare to see someone light up a joint in church or steal a box of girl scout cookies in front of a busy grocery store.

Yet, group behavior can also encourage people to act badly. Lately the news has had a number of cases concerning bad behaviors on campuses. One example is the Oklahoma fraternity caught chanting racial slurs. Another is the Penn State University fraternity that was suspended for a year for posting naked photographs of woman passed out at one of their parties.

Throughout time people have acted badly in the safety of groups. The Nazi’s and the KKK relied upon this type of group think to get otherwise law abiding citizens to act in an evil manner. Mob action is a crime in the State of Illinois. As a society we understand that groups acting in concert can be dangerous. Acting as a part of a group is not an excuse for bad behavior. It is the ultimate act of cowardice to defend personal evil behavior based on the argument “everyone else was doing it”.

I am of course not comparing fraternities and sororities to evil organizations like the KKK. Fraternities provide a home away from home for their members. They raise money for charities. They help their members with school and social adjustment.

Yet, what would happen if a fraternity were to use the secrecy of the fraternal system to hide a horrible secret. What if a fraternity were sacrificing co-ed’s to Ancient Egyptian God’s. The answer to that question is provided in my new novel The Fraternity of the Soul Eater.

A part of the fraternal system involves rituals. There are initiation ceremonies, secret hand shakes and memorizing rules and historic facts. There are of course rituals involving hazing. Some of these rituals are harmless fun and others involve dangerous practices. Alcohol abuse is not uncommon. Yet, the fictional rituals in The Fraternity of the Soul Eater takes maters much too far. The rituals in the book involve human sacrifice. Murder is necessary to prove your loyalty and gain admission into the fraternity from hell.

Membership in this fraternity does have its privileges as well. It turns out that the alumni are among the richest people in the world. Is the money the members receive payment from ancient deities in exchange for human souls? Is the money simply the result of former members supporting graduates when they complete their education?

We think of our colleges and universities as safe places where we can entrust our children. What better place to hide the evil defined with in the pages of this book. What better place to reshape the world.

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=1876&ChapterID=53&SeqStart=72900000&SeqEnd=73600000

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/furor-over-university-of-oklahoma-frat-members-racist-slurs-in-viral-video/

http://www.aol.com/article/2015/03/17/penn-state-frat-suspended-over-facebook-page-with-nude-pics/21154416/

 

What is offensive?

Times change and so does our sensibilities when it comes to what is offensive. Using the “N” word is frowned upon in polite society. Yet, some of the novels most famous for striking a blow against racism use the word repeatedly. These include but are certainly not limited to: The Invisible Man (The Ralph Ellison version), To Kill a Mocking Bird and Huckleberry Finn. Many classic books are filled with anti antisemitism, sexism and racism.

George Carlin’s stand up comedy sketch about the seven words you can’t say on television is a great example of words people find offensive. I should note, at least on cable television and Netflix, that there are few words left from that list that have not been uttered on television.

I believe that books should be given far greater latitude than television when it comes to being offensive. First of all children rarely seem to read novels anymore. If my children where willing pick up a book, I would put up with all of the words on George Carlin’s list within its covers. Children should be encouraged to read more.

Second, novels may be about entertainment but many also have something to say about society. Sure, some television shows rise to that level but most do not. Television tends to address problems that can be solved in less than thirty minutes minus commercials. Novels, are more likely to address the human condition.

The person uses an offensive word may have an impact on how bothersome it is. To hear the “N” word used in a rap song may not be as offensive as if it were used by a member of the KKK in a speech. In addition, what I find offensive, you may not and vice versa. A person could have been in an abusive relationship where the perpetrator referred to him or her using a distasteful word. As a result hearing the word used again may be even more bothersome. An individuals history impacts what they find offensive.

Some words we generally consider offensive may not be offensive depending on their context. As Mr. Carlin pointed out, “ass” and “bitch” are not dirty words when referring to animals. Unless you are calling your cat a “bitch” or your dog an “ass”. That being said who knows what a cat or dog finds offensive.

My feelings are that nothing should be off limits when it comes to writing. That is provided the purpose of what is being written is not simply to shock the audience but to convey something to the reader. Some characters are racist, sexist and sacrilegious. The language they use and their general attitude should reflect that. Ordinary people use swear words. A person shot with a gun is unlikely to say, “shucks that smarts” when the bullet goes in. Books that are trying to be realistic should have realistic dialog.

In addition violence and gore are also part of our society and are reflected in my books. In part my intent is to show how horrible violence is. Novels are not television. If you are shot you normally don’t get up. If you are repeatedly punched or thrown down the stairs there is a likelihood you will die. Real violence is not pretty and I don’t want to portray it as such.

An obvious point that you, my faithful readers, may bring out, is why am I not using the actual swear words in this blog? The answer is, that I want to show respect for those who don’t share my views. People may not like my books and  prefer Cozy Mysteries instead. My blog is for everyone to enjoy, or dislike. My books are for people who choose a book that may not be “G” rated in all regards.

My goal as  a fiction writer is not to intentionally offend people. My goal is primarily to entertain. That being said my books do tend to be a bit gritty and swear words do slip in from time to time for the sake of realism.

Books need to reflect the time they take place in. I would expect more crass language in a modern book than a book from the Victorian era. That being said books going way back to the times of Shakespeare and Chaucer had more than there fair share of material that some people would find offensive today. Sex, violence and fowl language go back to the times of the caveman. Assuming cavemen could talk (they could in those insurance commercials).

In some contexts offending people can be a good thing. The First Amendment was created to protect offensive speech. All political change starts with dialog someone finds offensive.Many of the great books that called for social change were controversial. Many of those same great books are banned and censored by schools.

What brought much of the topic of this blog to mind is that Champaign Central High School is performing the play To Kill  A Mocking Bird from February 19-22, 2015, They have two separate casts one, as it is traditionally done, the other where the lead white characters are played by African American actors and the African American characters are played by white actors. It is a play where the “N” word is used. It is also a play about race. I am looking forward to a great performance.

 

Torture

The Senate report on CIA torture has been a part of the nation’s conversation. I expected people to take the position that the acts complained of in the report took place soon after 9/11 and were brought on by fear. I expected people to take the position that these acts of torture would never take place to prisoners in American custody by Americans again. I expected people to claim that this was after a terrorist attack, and as such was an unusual circumstance, unlikely to reoccur.

Yet, my expectations were wrong. Shockingly I have heard two arguments both made by former vice president Dick Cheney but repeated by others. Both arguments are morally reprehensible. The first was that these acts did not amount to torture. This is truly a bizarre statement. Anally inserting food, water boarding, forcing people to remain in a coffin size box or in one position for hours or days at time can only be described as torture.

The Humane Society has fought against such inhuman tortures for years. They have stood against force feeding geese to fatten up their livers. They have stood against gestation pens for pigs and battery cages for chickens. Animals should have enough space to turn around. My position is that any conditions the Humane Society considers too inhumane for animals if applied to a humans is torture. I guess I am a radical.

The argument that this is not torture is simply ridiculous. The argument that they didn’t know at the time it was torture is equally without merit. There was a reason this torture was done outside of the United States and in secret. There is a reason the Commander and Chief was not fully informed about what was happening. That reason is that CIA Officials knew it was torture.

The real issue is when if ever is torture acceptable. I understand that people act out of fear with presumably good motives. Placing Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II was morally wrong but I presume the motivation of the government was not evil. They acted out of fear and to the detriment of the nation but not for the purpose of being evil. I could make a similar statement about Joseph R. McCarthy and the red scare of the 1950’s. I believe the CIA acted with the desire to save lives. Their actions not their motivation was bad.

If you have seen enough action movies you might ask, “If your child was being held in a giant fish tank, with one hour’s worth of air, and you had the perpetrator in front of you wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get the information to free your child?”. The answer to this silly question is, of course. The question is silly for a number of reasons. Number one, as an individual of course I would do anything to save my child. Yet, there is a difference between the actions of an individual and that of the government.  Number two, the question presupposes that I know this is the perpetrator, the CIA had no such knowledge admitting that some of the people subject to this treatment were innocent. Number three the question describes an urgent and immediate necessity not a circumstance where people are held for years. Finally there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of anyone who supports torture. Torture does not work. When subjected to torture people will say what the interrogator wants them to say not the truth.

The United State’s is a civilized country. We don’t target civilians and we don’t cut innocent people’s throats and video record it. Like all civilized countries confessions based on torture are not admissible in court. Such actions would violate the rights of due process guaranteed in the United State’s Constitution. The Geneva Conventions signed by the United States tried to end the use of torture of prisoners of war that we saw in WWII. We know as individuals not just as a nation that  torture is wrong.

Torture not only harms the victims of the torture but the perpetrators. How can a person torture another without loosing a part of their humanity. Often in abuse and neglect cases children are taken away from both parents because they witness violence between their parents. Even though that violence does not extend to the children. Children who observe such violence grow up to be victims or abusers. Witnessing abuse is damaging by itself. Participating in violence is worse. You can’t torture a person without thinking of them as less than human. Once a person believes that others are less than human than they are surrendering their own humanity.

How do you get people willing to blow up the Twin Towers, a bus or a restaurant? How did Hitler get people to murder millions of innocent men, woman and children? You convince people that the victims are less than human. You work to dehumanize people through education, propaganda and hate. You support acts of torture because the people we are harming aren’t worthy of the basic dignity provided to the animals we intend to eat.

How does this type of behavior reflect on the United States? I am not talking about our reputation before the United Nations. The U.N. is an organization that has shown itself to be of little value. I am talking about our reputation with individual nations. We need moral standing when we come into a country and try to help them form a democracy. We need moral standing to act as peace keepers and policeman. We need to lead through example.

I am not so naive as to believe any example we set will have any influence on terrorists. Yet, it might have an impact on nations that allow terrorists within their borders. It might encourage other nations to take their own stand for what is right. It might convince them to join us in coalitions to spread and encourage justice.

This is not an issue that demands debate. It is common sense. There is a simple and obvious line that divides right and wrong. I am also not trying to convince people that my argument is the right one. I have no magic wand that will change a person’s fundamental nature. I am writing this simply to vent and to show my disappointment that there are intelligent people willing to sacrifice their humanity for little or no benefit.

Coal in our stockings and hate in our hearts, is no way to go through the Holidays.

‘Tis the season to find reasons to look for differences between people. We are clearly and significantly divided as a nation. This is evidenced by the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York. We are not just divided by race but by sex, religion and class. We look for reasons and excuses to hate one another.

One reason maybe to protect our psyche. If people were of equal value how could we justify allowing so many people to be poor. How could we justify spending ten bucks for a movie when a child doesn’t have enough to eat.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater talks about DNA and genetics. There are few differences between us. We share 50% of our genetic make-up with a banana. We share well in excess of 90% of our genes with a chimpanzee and well over 99% with each other. At a cellular level we are not that different.

We look for differences between us. We intentionally seek evidence to support the position that we are special. Is the color of our skin significant? What about religion? Christianity incorporates Judaism.  Islam incorporates Jesus and Moses within the construct of their religion. Is it all that different? Are we special because of who our parents are or what country we live in.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be special. In fact we are all individuals and we are all special. It is alright  to celebrate individuality and acknowledge differences between us. Yet, not at the expense of others. Being special does not make someone else less special.

It is alright to hate an individual. If a person is awful no matter the season feel free to hate them. It is not alright to extrapolate based on an individual’s behavior hatred of a group. Perhaps the need to judge a person quickly is instinctual. Our ancestors would need to determine if a person or animal was dangerous in a split second. When safety and life and death are on the line you didn’t have the luxury of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the times have changed. We are no longer cavemen living in groups and tribes.Today we can take the time to get to know one another.

So this holiday season why not aim for peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. Let’s put our differences aside. After all we are a lot more alike than different. Also, a book by Scott A. Lerner makes a great holiday gift.