Friday, February 20, 2009

I Just Don't Believe This!

"Pray for the dead, and fight like Hell for the living"

-"Mother" Jones

Normally, this is classed as a "humor" blog. I frequently look at serious subjects, but usually in a light-hearted way. Don't look for jokes in this post, though. To be blunt, I am ENRAGED by news I've received tonight via Facebook.

As many of you know, there was a horrific plane crash just outside of Buffalo last week. 50 people, many of whom were residents of, or had ties to, Buffalo were killed. Throughout this week, several churches have quietly held memorial services for the victims. By all accounts, they have been well attended. Earlier tonight, church bells throughout this end of Western New York rang in memory of the dead. This is a close-knit area. Many people knew one or more of those on the plane. Those of us who were spared direct connection with the tragedy are in mourning for fellow humans, and those who sufferred loss, and live on.

Word has reached us, though, of a disturbing response to last Thursday's crash. Representatives of the Westboro Baptist Church have announced their intent to come to Buffalo, and picket two memorial services on Sunday (2/22). If you're not familiar with Westboro Baptist, it's an independent church in the state of Kansas. It's noted for sending groups of protestors to funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afganistan, and using these events to claim that America's current woes are caused by the government's tolerant attitude towards homosexuals. Understand; as disturbing as I find their message, I believe they have the right to express it. Where I draw the line is their disruption of funerals and, now, apparently, memorial services. Even people in virtually every nation I believe to be truly repressive have the right to mourn their dead without disturbance! (It may be the only universally agreed-upon human right on Earth)

Were the protest to be held in a location away from the services [one of which is scheduled in the community where Flight 3407 went down], I could accept that. But to disrupt the honest mourning of the grieving is just wrong.(Facebook members can find out more about planned counter-protests here.)

-Mike Riley

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monkey Business

No, nobody's perfect. And yet, I feel very self-critical when it comes to what I consider my flaws. Take my lack of pity for people who do things that are just obviously stupid. Understand, I'm not talking about the honest mistakes that every human makes. Nor am I intolerant of people who err due to lack of knowledge. No, my full-bore scorn is reserved for people who should know better, but choose to ignore Reality looking in at them, and pretend the world is a different place than it really is.

Example One comes from the series of children's books [also a movie or two,
and now an educational series on public television] about the chimpanzee Curious George, and his guardian, the appropriately named Man In The Yellow Hat. Anyone who's read or watched more than a story or two in the series can predict what's going to happen in each episode; George gets separated from the Man, and has an adventure that usually ends with him trashing a store, house, cake, or party, just in time for the Man to come up from wherever he'd been and say something like, "Oh, Heavens, isn't George a curious little monkey?" I mean, come on! First of all, if this were Reality [with a capital R], the owner of whatever George had destroyed would be screaming [justly, I'd have to say] for compensation from the Yellow-Hatted Man. Then again, I could see Yellow [you don't mind if I shorten his name up a bit, do you?] saying, "Hey, he's a monkey! Why did you let him into your store? Waddya think he'd do, polish your counters? He's a fu__in' monkey!" (I'm trying to figure out which of the TV "judges" would get the arbitration case, and what would be the result. I think George and the Man win from most of them, by the bye)

Case two comes to us from Stamford, Connecticut, home of, among other things, World Wrestling Entertainment [and you can't imagine how desperately I wish I could bring them into this one]. It's also home to one Sandra Herold, who owned a 150-pound adult chimpanzee names Travis. Most animal experts would call that a disaster waiting to happen; it's estimated that a 150-pound chimp at full maturity is three to seven times stronger than a similarly-sized human. Unfortunately, the disaster came to pass today. Here's the story.

Now, I do feel sorry for Ms. Herold losing her pet, which was said to be like a child to her. But, to quote the Man With The Yellow Hat: "He's a monkey!" And, as the CNN account pointed out, Travis had gone, well, apeshit at least once before [the photo is from his 2003 escape and rampage through the streets of Stamford. Granted, he's no King Kong, but he probably did cause a good deal of damage and consternation. Why did the city allow Ms. Herold to have her chimp back after that display?]. Further, I feel badly for Charla Nash, scarred for life by Travis [what was she thinking, getting involved with this mess?]. I feel badly for the police who had to deal with Travis [No, I don't believe it's emotionally easy to put several slugs into a living creature, whether it's life or death or not]. I feel badly for Travis; if he'd been properly restrained, or, better yet, left alone in the jungle that gave him birth, he'd likely still be alive today [The story notes that Travis stole a key to escape his cage. Is this too clear a clue as to the brains of this outfit?].
(A sidebar to the men in the audience: were you as creeped out as I was about that 2005 case in California where the escaped chimp ate a man's nose and genitals? I can kind of picture the scenario and I wish I couldn't...)
Keeping a wild animal as a pet; obviously stupid. What was Sandra Herold thinking? What was Stamford, CT thinking of when they permitted it? Pardon me, I need to go away and calm down...
-Mike Riley

Friday, February 13, 2009

Puhleeze, Mr. Postman!

In the interest of full disclosure; one of my uncles was, for many years, employed by the U S Post Office, the government-run mail-delivery service superseded in recent years by, among other things, the U S Postal Service, private delivery services, cheaper phone rates, the Internet, ...well, you get the idea. The point is, the Postal Service has fallen on hard times [I imagine a similar crisis ran through the whale-oil industry, once electricity became commonplace in American homes]. Still, I can't come up with a sane explanation for the story I'm about to tell [a true one, by all accounts. You can't make this stuff up, and frankly, given the state of Earth just now, why bother?]

The U S Postal Service has a noble heritage; born as the Post Office, in the earliest days of the Republic, it strives to live up to the words of ancient Greek historian and traveller Herodotus: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds". This matter refers to that first impediment - snow. I have spent every one of my 51 winters in a snowy climate; most of them spent here in Western New York state. I point this out to demonstrate that, based on experience, I know snow [despite having a reasonably successful pro hockey team, an active basketball scene, skiing, snowboarding, tubing, as well as the defending champions of the National Lacrosse League, the true winter sport in Western New York is "trying to live as normal a life as possible despite all this snow, wind, and cold". And baby, we are the champions!].

Anyway, as winters go, the current one has been a little on the harsh side: very cold, lots of ice on the sidewalks and streets, and a good deal of snow. In areas where snow falls, usually property owners are responsible for clearing the hazard from sidewalks, either themselves, or by hire. Lawns, as you'd probably guess, are not required to be cleared. What, then, to make of the case of a U S Postal Service postman, who received a written reprimand from his superiors for using shovelled sidewalks during his route, instead of cutting across unshovelled [and snow-laden] lawns?

It's not that the unnamed postal employee [somehow, I suspect there's a statue somewhere with that name] was failing to deliver mail, or excluding homes that hadn't shovelled their walks. Apparently, the Postal Service wants its delivery persons to do their routes as quickly as possible, so that one person can do the work, say, of one-and-a-half, at the same rate. A supervisor watched our mailman in secret, then issued the rebuke.

The union that has jurisdiction over postal carriers is, well, disgruntled, claiming that the whole thing is nothing more than pressure tactics by management. Residents in the area this mailman serves [suburban Buffalo] think he's done nothing wrong, noting that they would do the same in his position. Indeed, given the eight-to-nine-inch tall snow drifts covering many lawns in the neighborhood, what else could he do?

Yes, I know the Postal Service is scrambling for every buck it can find. But when common sense gets thrown down the mail chute, into the bottom of the mail sack, you kind of wonder what the point of saving a small amount comes down to. No wonder these people "go postal"! (By the way, does that kind of thing happen in other countries? I can think of a few examples of it happening here, but not elsewhere. If anyone knows of a "postal employee going postal" story from outside the US, please let us known in the "Comments" section) I'd like to think that my uncle, who worked his way up the ladder from mail sorter to postal inspector, wouldn't get himself involved in such a mess...
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Of Gods And Games...

I don't know why [probably something to do with having done this for too many years], but lately, when I'm at work, I find myself with too much time on my hands. Thank the gods for the Internet! It's a marvelous source for free [well, cheap] information, entertainment, and games, games, games [a briefly-considered title for the Motley Crue anthem "Girls Girls Girls!"]!

In the first category, this item from It looks at the very real possibility that archeologists have found the true birthplace of worship to the ancient Greek god Zeus. (For those who haven't picked up a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology [or, for the old-school krew, Bullfinch's Mythology] since high school, a brief overview:

Zeus was the principal god in Grecian mythology. He was said to be head of the gods, who lived on Mount Olympia, and spent most of their time, if the legends are correct, drinking ambrosia and trying to get into the tunics of mere mortals who struck their fancy. Zeus, among other powers, was said to hurl thunderbolts from the sky [marginally better than empty ambrosia goblets, I guess]. There were temples and statues dedicated to Zeus throughout Greece; the most famous statue was a monumental work at Olympia, home of the original Olympic Games [artist's rendering at left]. The Olympic Games began as a form of worship to Zeus, by the bye. For that matter, many forms of leisure activity began as worship to one god or another, including theatre [who knew?]).
I'm not sure if resolving exactly where divinity worship in Greece began actually makes our current world a better place, but I suppose archeologists and researchers need something to justify their educations and salaries.
Skipping entertainment [hey, if you really wanted entertainment, would you be here?], the Internet is a great place to find games. This one, BoomShine, is at once one of the most frustrating and infurating puzzlers I've run across in a dog's age. Highly recommended [parents who want to steer Junior away from those disturbing "shooter" games so common on the 'Net can rest easily; nothing gets blown up here but a series of dots, and the effect is rather like watching a fireworks display while looking through a few layers of Saran Wrap]. Incidentally, I found BoomShine through a great "link farm", All My Faves. This one doesn't have Everything on the World Wide Web, but it does have just about Everything You'd Want, and there is much to be said for that. Bookmark or 'Fave' this...
-Mike Riley
P.S.: The second eye surgery went as well as the first. Thanks for all the prayers and kind thoughts. Life without glasses [except for "close work"] is truly fascinating, and I hope to put a few thoughts on the matter in a future post - MR

Friday, February 6, 2009

TV vs Reality

I'm not by nature a sceptic, but it's always nice to get confirmation of a piece of information I haven't formally researched ["research" in this case referring to a quick Google search]. For years now I've heard that newspaper reading is mostly a pursuit of "older" Americans. Well, I'm 51, and lately, I've found myself reading the paper. Having grown up in Buffalo, NY, I find myself drawn to the only regional newspaper, The Buffalo News. I'm far from alone in this pursuit, of course; indeed, the News either tops, or is in the top 3 of, annual lists of US newspaper circulation [a reflection, no doubt, of the area's aging population. It also explains why uber-investor Warren Buffett owns it]. I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but I find myself poring over the pages for news of Buffalo and its environs [I get most of the world and national news on TV, and find that local TV doesn't really cover non-visual stories].

For instance, yesterday's paper carried an update on a missing-person story from last fall. A few details were missing, both from the Lackawanna police investigators who explored the case and the News story, but we can fill most of them in with a little reading between the lines. The girl, you'll remember if you read the article, disappeared shortly after her betrothal to a man from Yemen was announced. She apparently moved in with a friend's family, and remained there until this week. Then, she appeared at the Lackawanna police station, which ended the investigation. It's believed she contacted the police anonymously shortly after leaving home, noting that she was safe. One police investigator noted that the matter was closed, adding that they had no plans to further explore what they considered a "family matter".

I'm guessing here, of course, but this looks like an arranged marriage gone wrong. Such arrangements are common in Muslim families [the girl was wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf in the News photo], as well as in several other cultures. For some reason, the betrothal went sour. The girl disappeared for a period of time, during which, I'd guess, the arrangement became null and void [I have virtually no knowledge of such matters, and if my speculations are wrong, I sincerely apologize to those who follow such custom]. Once the wedding was off, she was free to resume life with her family.

The reason this whole thing caught my eye was the announcement, earlier this week, that CBS-TV in the United States will present a "reality" series, based on the idea of arranged marriages being set up in America, where such weddings have become rare(Now understand; while I don't believe in the arranged marriage system, I'm not really critical of it, either. After all, any nation whose divorce rate has reached 50 % has no business criticising anybody else's way of doing things. And, it should be noted, under such a plan, the in-laws are likely to meet at least once before the Big Day].

Now, you'd think CBS would know better: after all, this is the network that aired the notorious Kid Nation series a couple of seasons back [of course, no one seems to have gotten that message; Britain's Channel 4 is currently broadcasting a series based on the same premise. Its chief innovation is that, unlike Kid Nation, the suddenly-emancipated children have the advantage of modern conveniences. Wii...]. Of course, in the arranged marriage series, all of the participants are probably over the age of 18; if adults want to put the control of who becomes their life partners in the hands of friends and family, that's their business. It's likely the show's producers have the "players" under some sort of contract, so that they can make a follow-up series in a year or two, noting how many couples are still together [anybody want early odds on how many are?]. And, unlike the FOX series, these couples have to get married [if a couple divorces, does the show cover their legal costs?].

In conclusion: In any battle between reality and "reality TV", put your money on reality. It's almost always unpredictable, and usually more entertaining.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get the paper...

-Mike Riley