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Friday, February 15, 2019

The Self-Righteous Among Us

Why are people so self-righteous?

From spending time on social media each day, I have concluded that the US is full of self-righteous people. The biggest offenders are vegans, anti-abortion advocates and the religious right. Perhaps Americans have always been this way, but I suspect things are worse now than in the past because these self-righteous folks now have a public platform to promote their righteous beliefs.

See, I pretty much follow a live-and-let-live philosophy of life. And I really resent being told how I should feel about something or which rules I should follow in my life. I am more than capable of making my own decisions. I don't need some zealot telling me that what I do or eat or believe is wrong. The positions espoused by these people are not morally superior to those held by others, despite what they may claim.

I might be following a post on Facebook about a terrible case of animal abuse when -- you can bet on it -- somebody will say something like "How can you be so upset about an animal when millions of babies are murdered every year and nobody cares?" I have several problems with this. First, abortion is legal in the United States. Second, most of those so-called 'babies' are little more than clumps of cells with no consciousness and no ability to survive outside the womb. Third, my impression of the so-called 'pro-life' movement is that they really don't care about the child or mother once the child is born. So they really should be called 'pro birth' advocates. Fourth, what have these people done to help the situation? How many children have they adopted or otherwise supported? Finally, nobody is forced to undergo an abortion against their wishes. Abortion is a choice, and it should remain such.

Vegans aren't quite as self-righteous as the anti-abortion crowd. Again, in comments following a post about an egregious case of animal abuse, invariably someone will chime in about the billions of farm animals (sorry, farmed animals in veganspeak) killed to feed people every year. With vegans, it seems to be an all-or-none issue. Either people are animal killers, or they are vegans. I abhor animal cruelty, and I do what I can to avoid things that involve cruelty of any kind. But I cannot be vegan. While I haven't eaten pork for decades or beef for several years, I still eat poultry, fish and eggs. I switched to vanilla almond milk a couple of year ago to avoid the cruelty inherent in the dairy industry, but I enjoy yogurt and cheese on a regular basis. I won't eat anything that is boiled alive (lobster and crabs, for example), and I find shrimp to be disgusting. I won't eat any kind of fish that is endangered, such as swordfish. I eat eggs, but I buy eggs only from free range chickens. If I am someplace where something is served that I don't or won't eat, for whatever reason, I simply don't take any of that particular food. I don't make a scene, and I don't lecture about the evils of pork or any other food.

That brings us to the religious right, those so-called Christians who believe everyone else should be compelled to live according to their religious principles. Those on the religious right are to my mind the most hypocritical, self-righteous people around. They see nothing wrong with discriminating against gays and lesbians as they strive to protect "the sanctity of marriage," when so many of the 'righteous' are guilty of multiple divorces and adultery. How many of these so-called religious leaders have been found to have adulterous relationships and frequent visits to prostitutes? And I resent the in-your-face brand of Christianity these people espouse. If they oppose the gay lifestyle, they should avoid it. If they are anti birth control or anti abortion, they should reject birth control and abortion for themselves. But don't try to force your beliefs, regardless of how strongly you adhere to them, on others. The US was founded as a secular society where people are free to practice whatever religion -- or follow no religion -- they so choose. Christian beliefs should not be taught in public schools other than in a comparative religion course or lesson. The populace that doesn't follow the beliefs of the Christian right should not be forced to live according to their interpretation of the Bible.

I also strongly dislike Christians who feel it necessary to make a public show of their faith. I seem to recall something in the Bible about saying one's prayers in private and not making a show of praying. Wearing a cross around the neck is fine. I have no issues with that. But is it really necessary to point to the sky or kneel every time a football player scores a touchdown or a baseball player hits a home run? Utter a private prayer of thanks if need be, but self-aggrandizement is offensive. Do they really believe that God helped them score that touchdown or hit that home run?

The bottom line for me is the ability to consider both sides of an issue and then decide for myself how to live my life and what to believe. I, like millions of others, have my own moral compass. Trying to force me to think a particular way or follow a certain way of living will not work. I resent the efforts by some to inflict their way of thinking and living on me. I don't care which religion, if any, people follow. I have friends who are Christian (both Catholic and Protestant), Jewish and Muslim, and a few who are atheist or agnostic. All are fine with me. Follow whatever religion makes you happy. But don't try to force your beliefs -- about religion, abortion or veganism -- on others.

Somehow these actions make these 'righteous' folks seem anything but.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Why Can't Americans Spell or Write Properly?

Why are Americans so illiterate?

Maybe they're not illiterate (unable to read and write). But I am often appalled by the poor spelling, grammar and punctuation I see in Facebook posts. I realize that people sometimes make typographical errors as they enter their comments. I'm not talking about being able to write a thesis or college-level paper. But come on, is it so difficult to use the proper word or spelling? And what about punctuation? Is it not important to be able to communicate our thoughts clearly and unambiguously?

Here are a few examples of common errors:

  • 'Prolly' is not a word! 'Probably' is a word.
  • 'Their coming over to watch the game' is not correct. 'They're coming over to watch the game' is correct.
  • 'How do you like you're new car?' is not correct. 'How do you like your new car?' is correct.
  • Sentences are meant to have a period at the end of each thought and not be a run-on thought that goes on forever and ever with absolutely no punctuation why can't people understand that (This is the type of thing that drives me crazy. I have seen many lines of text with no punctuation -- not even a comma, much less a period to break up the text into readable thoughts).
These are basics of spelling and word usage that people should have learned in middle or high school. Seeing so many people -- most of them native speakers of English -- unable to use basic English correctly makes me wonder about the state of American education as well as the lack of communication skills of much of the populace.

I realize that in the age of text messaging and the many abbreviations that go along with this shorthand method of communicating (LOL, ROFL, CU, etc.), spelling and proper sentence construction have fallen by the wayside. But not everything involves a text message or tweet. Sometimes we need to be able to communicate a thought in clear, understandable English. Sadly, I believe we are failing.

Not everyone is born with good writing skills. I consider being a good writer to be a gift, much as being a good singer or talented artist is a gift. But everyone should be able to construct a proper sentence and spell basic words. If unsure about the spelling of a particular word, use an old-fashioned dictionary or thesaurus. Or look it up online. Such a simple thing can keep people from looking stupid or illiterate. We all should also be able to correctly use words such as your and you're, and their, there and they're. These words are homophones, words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. And they definitely have different meanings. They are not interchangeable.

Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Americans reads one book or fewer in a year. One book! I read 25 (usually more) books every year. And I'm not talking about comic books, or about books with more pictures than words. I read biographies, historical novels, and other 'high brow' non-fictions offerings.

I always have been an avid reader, even as a young child. I used to love ordering books through the Scholastic Book Club. It was such an exciting day when the books I had ordered finally arrived. I now have close to 300 books on my Kindle. I have spent several hours during overseas flights reading rather than watching movies to pass the time.

Reading has so many benefits. I learn new things. Reading helps me better understand historical events. I learn new words. I am entertained. I gain new perspectives. I also believe that my love of reading is in large part responsible for my ability to spell correctly. I couldn't be a writer while being unable to spell.

One study reports that the average American reads only at the seventh or eighth grade level. Is it then any wonder that critical thinking skills are so low among American citizens? If we can't read and comprehend something written at a higher level, how can we be expected to analyze and understand it?

I'm not the grammar police. I don't correct people's online spelling or grammar errors. But I do cringe when I read such things, and I do have to wonder about the intellectual capacity of the writer. Perhaps it is this lack of critical thinking that has divided our country into two such disparate camps.

I have no answers. Perhaps we need to return to the days of spelling tests and instruction in parts of speech and sentence construction. I used to hate diagramming sentences, so I hope there is a better way to teach these essential skills. But they are essential skills that everyone needs to master.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Decline and Fall of the Human Race

I have come to the conclusion that the human race has reached its pinnacle and is now moving backward. How far back remains to be seen.

Humans have developed wonderful technologies and made amazing advances in the sciences and medicine. But we have apparently lost our souls, our humanity, our sense of compassion and our concern for the planet on which we live. Consider the following:
  • It appears that we have learned nothing from centuries of warfare, as countries continue to engage in wars across the world.
  • Battles over religions continue, with adherents of various religions trying to force others to live according to their beliefs, and worse, murdering those who don't adhere to their way of thinking.
  • Far too many are still unable to see past differences in skin color, religion or nationality.
  • Our sense of community is practically non-existent.
  • People continue to force animals -- dogs and chickens -- to fight for their lives as 'entertainment' and greed.
  • It's all about 'me.' I want what I want when I want it. People with this way of thinking don't care who gets in their way.
  • We are destroying the only home we have, through overpopulation, pollution and  greed.
  • We are forcing many species of plants and animals toward extinction through loss of habitat, hunting for 'trophies' and for supposed magical cures.
  • Violence against others who are somehow different is increasing, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, gay, transgender or anything other than straight, white and Christian.
  • Mass killings in the US are so commonplace they barely rate a mention in the daily news.
  • Sympathy for others, whether immigrants or animals left outside in -40 F temperatures, is on the decline.
  • Many people communicate primarily electronically, mostly via text message, rather than face to face. We don't engage with others as we used to.
  • Road rage doesn't just involve shouting at someone any more. Now it's just as likely to involve someone pulling out a gun and shooting at the other driver. In the state where I live, a 6-year-old girl was fatally shot in a road rage incident.
  • A disgruntled former employee may well return to his former place of employment and shoot his manager and former co-workers (and yes, nearly all these attacks are carried out by men). 
  • Civil discourse appears to be a thing of the past. When is the last time you saw a reasoned conversation by people with different opinions? Now people simply resort to name calling and insults.
  • American judges (certainly not all, but far too many) are failing to impose serious sentences on those convicted of serious crimes. Animal abusers get off with a fine and a few months of probation. A pedophile in his 60s was sentenced to a prison sentence of half the typical sentence, while the two teenage girls he sexually assaulted were labeled by the judge as "aggressors."
  • We are killing our oceans and our marine life with tons and tons of plastic. 
  • Too many people seem to think that laws are meant for everybody else, but not for them.
Unless an awful lot of people step up to stop this decline in how humans act and treat each other, I'm glad I won't be here when the species finally destroys the planet, the resources on which life depends, and our society. It won't be pretty. It isn't too late to make a change, but time is short and we all need to act NOW.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

I No Longer Have an Opinion

I have decided that I will no longer have an opinion about anything.

Of course, I will still have opinions, but I will no longer share them or express them on social media. I am tired of being attacked by those who don't like my opinions. An opinion, is, of course, just that -- my opinion. It's what I think about something. It's how I feel about something or someone. One definition of an opinion is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Like it or don't like it, my expressing my opinion about someone or some thing is no reason to attack me. My opinion is not a personal attack on others.

If I say that I don't think it's a good idea to feed a dog a plate full of tacos (five or six full-size tacos, at least), that opinion is based on fact. The greasy taco meat could well cause the unfortunate dog to develop pancreatitis. Tacos are not part of a dog's, or any four-footed animal's, natural diet. So my opinion is an informed one. It should not result in attacks on me. A video of the dog devouring the tacos isn't 'cute' or 'funny' as many believe. Those attacking me are doing so simply for holding an opinion different from theirs.

If I offer an opinion about the current abysmal state of politics and the self-centered ruling party in the United States, on my own, personal social media page, I don't want to be attacked or told I need to produce proof. I do not want to engage in an argument with somebody who employs the same bully tactics as the current American president. I don't need to provide proof of my opinion. Like my opinion or don't like my opinion, I refuse to argue about it. 

If I reply to something and state a fact incorrectly, I have no problem with my fact being corrected. I may recall something incorrectly, or have stated a fact incorrectly. But my opinion is not open to 'correction.'

My first reaction to any attack is to attack back, or to tell the attacker to STFU. But I won't do that. That won't change anything. It will further inflame the situation. So for the sake of my sanity, I plan to no longer offer an opinion about, or respond to, anything posted on social media. I may continue to 'like' a given post, but I don't plan to offer an opinion. It seems that these days, anybody who offers an opinion about anything with which somebody else disagrees is open to personal attacks.

Well done, America. You have taken the next steps toward becoming an intolerant, unreasonable society unable, or unwilling, to accept, much less entertain, the thoughts of those who don't agree with yours. We are now a rude, uncivil, unreasonable society. Congratulations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

We the People Are Worth ... Nothing

How can this country be so screwed up?

And why do we allow it to remain that way? I am a passionate environmentalist. I recycle everything I can. I pick up trash in my neighborhood. I conserve water. I take reusable bags when I shop. I refuse to wear fur of any kind. I drive a fuel-efficient car, and I do little driving. When I lived in California, I would frequently walk to the grocery store or drugstore if I needed just a few items. Or I would ride my bicycle. 

I also am a huge animal lover, regardless of the species. I am especially fond of elephants and wolves, as well as all apex predators. Last summer I spent a week in the wilds of Alaska photographing grizzly bears. I go at least once a year to Yellowstone in search of wolves. I go to Africa at least once a year to photograph that continent's amazing wildlife.

So I am dismayed and disgusted by the ongoing, and growing, attacks on the environment and on wild animals. I'm not alone in feeling this way. Millions of Americans have signed petitions, sent e-mails and written letters in opposition to the current administration's efforts to remove animals from the Endangered Species Act, to allow hibernating bears and their newborn cubs to be shot in their dens, to allow wolves and their young to be slaughtered in their dens, to allow the importation of elephant and lion trophies into the US. 

Lions, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and pangolins are killed by or for several Asian countries for the supposed magical powers of various body parts. Wealthy trophy hunters continue to buy the right to kill lions, elephants and other endangered species. And those of us who enjoy the animals' natural beauty and their innate worth -- not their 'magic powers' or heads on a wall -- can do little more than endure yet more heartache.

The current administration continues to remove or weaken environmental protections. It's now legal once again to bring the body parts of lions and elephants into the US as trophies. Regulations designed to protect our water and air from pollution are being dismantled, all to benefit big corporate donors to the Republican party. 

Many, many more people want to protect the environment and to be able to enjoy wildlife in the wild than those who get off on using a high-powered rifle to slaughter an elephant munching on a mouth full of grass. But we little people are of no consequence to those with power.  

So why is the world so screwed up, and getting worse by the day? It all comes down to money. Those with unlimited funds can buy permission to do almost anything. They can buy politicians and get laws changed. What can we little people do? Boycott businesses (such as Jimmy John's restaurants, whose obese owner is a 'big game hunter'.) We can sign petitions and write letters to politicians, but without the big money being thrown at them by the other side, politicians just don't listen. I'm not optimistic that things will improve any time soon. 

I hate the current administration and its policies with every fiber of my being. I just hope I live long enough to see the pillager-in-chief removed from office so we the people can start to repair the damage he has inflicted on this nation.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Some Random Thoughts

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon:

  • I don't care who wins the Superbowl today. (I refer to it as the Stupidbowl). I won't be watching it. 
  • It reached 60 degrees F outside, so I opened one of the dining room windows just to let some fresh air into the house, which has been closed up tightly for several months.
  • It really felt good to drop off a load of no-longer-wanted or needed stuff (backpack, camera bag, clothing, Beanie Babies, etc.) to a thrift store that supports a local dog rescue. Plus, it clears out space in my closet.
  • How early is too early to start packing for a trip?
  • Today is International Golden Retriever Day, a day to honor the best dogs in the world. I have been blessed to share my life with 5-1/2 goldens, all of them rescues. The half golden is my current dog, a golden retriever/corgi mix. He has the coat, ears and tail of a golden, as well as the typical golden personality, in the body of a corgi.
  • No matter how many times I do my income taxes, it’s always a pain in my behind. It’s not just paying the taxes; it’s all the work involved in preparing them. Using a computer program to do my taxes is certainly a whole lot easier than in the old days when I did them with a pencil and calculator. But there’s still so much information that has to be gathered, reviewed and entered. 
  • Business must be slow for personal injury attorneys, as any time I turn the television on all I see are ads for ambulance-chasing lawyers. 
  •  To the scammers who daily inundate my in-box with their never-ending ads for exotic girls from every corner of the world, quick and easy loans and all kinds of other stupid stuff, sending me the same email 10 times a day will not make me more likely to respond to your scams. 
That’s it for the first Sunday in February.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fixing a Badly Broken System

Some 800,000 employees of the federal government have been turned into political pawns and are being held hostage because the US president is having another temper tantrum.

All of a sudden there is a 'national emergency' at our southern border. Isn't it strange how this situation has been going on for a long time, but all of a sudden, as Robert Mueller is closing in on him, the president decides this is a 'national emergency.' He insists that only a huge, multi-billion dollar border wall or fence (he keeps changing his story) will solve this 'emergency.' So he has refused to sign legislation to keep the government funded, after initially agreeing to sign it, until he gets money for the wall.

This has resulted in 8000,00 federal employees and untold government contractors being denied their paychecks. This is just latest attempt to distract the public from his legal woes. He decided not to sign the bill after being warned by his advisors at Fox 'News' and other conservative pundits that his 'base' wouldn't approve. Without funding, several federal agencies were forced to close. That means that workers at these agencies were sent home and are now in their third week without pay. Other workers, deemed 'essential,' are forced to work without pay.

The pain these workers are feeling is real. Many will be unable to pay rent or mortgage payments. Some will be unable to buy food for themselves and their families. Other bills will go unpaid. And what does the president suggest these unfortunate people do? "Make adjustments," he says. How does one "make adjustments" when there isn't enough money to buy groceries? Some have signed up for unemployment benefits, while others are taking any job they can find.

This isn't all on the president, of course, although most of the burden is on him. Senate Republicans are also to blame for refusing to even vote on a bill that the bully-in-chief won't sign.

I have a couple of thoughts to prevent this from happening again.
  • Government shutdowns, whether partial or complete, should not be allowed for any reason.
  • If Congress refuses to do its job and pass a budget, government agencies should continue operating with the same budget as the previous year.
  • The American people should have the right to a vote of no confidence.
  • Federal workers forced to work without pay during a furlough should all call in sick, as some TSA workers are doing.
  • If both houses of Congress refuse to pass a budget in a timely manner, all members should be forbidden to run for reelection.
  • Members of both houses should be confined to the chambers of Congress without food, water or bathrooms until they pass a budget.
  • No one should be allowed to leave on vacation, whether it be the summer recess, the winter break or any other recess, until a budget is passed. Who else gets to go home for vacation while leaving critical work undone?
In addition,
  • there should be term limits for both houses: two six-year terms for senators and three two-year terms for representatives. There already are term limits for presidents, governors and other government positions. Being elected to high office should not be a lifetime career.
  • Campaigning for any federal office should be allowed for no longer than six months before an election. It works in the United Kingdom, so why not here? No campaigning means no campaign-style rallies, no television ads and no print ads for or against any candidate.
  • Members of Congress and administration officials should receive the same benefits and annual cost of living increases that are provided to other federal workers.
Of course, many of these suggestions will never happen because they would require the approval of the very Congress they are meant to contain. I can't imagine career politicians doing anything to curtail their power and opportunities to enrich themselves.

The American political system is badly broken; perhaps it is terminally ill. We must find a way to fix or replace it.