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Death by Diamonds and Pearls November 12, 2009

Posted by monty in news.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

out-to-lunch

This semester was cruising right along until I hit the last couple weeks.  Now I’ve been so fried and preoccupied with job-related stuff that my initiative and inspiration for this little site have been sorely lacking.  I could also blame my abandonment of what I was working on for National Novel Writing Month on those factors, but that would, of course, only be partially true.

So anyway, activity around these parts might continue to be a little sparse for the next few days while I recharge my batteries.  It’s entirely possible that I’ll feel refreshed and rejuvenated with the advent of the weekend, but it’s also possible that I’ll spend the next 72 hours curled up at the bottom of my closet, sobbing softly and talking to myself.

Just so I’m not leaving you completely high and dry, here are two recent videos of Carrie Prejean.  I wrote about her appearance on The Today Show the other day, and now you can see the interview in all its unhinged glory.  The Larry King clip is nearly as good – which means you get even more evidence of just how batshit crazy this broad is.  If God wants to reward us all, he’ll give us a Palin/Prejean ticket in 2012.

*****

Current listening:

Roxy country

Roxy Music – Country Music

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Let Go of the Dream October 22, 2009

Posted by monty in news, religion, TV.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

god_farside

For all of its failings as a serious news outlet, NBC’s The Today Show always provides me with at least one daily epiphany.  For instance, last week I realized just how far teenybopper music has fallen if Justin Bieber is now something worth squealing over.  The Beatles?  Of course.  Hanson?  I get it.  Hell, I could even understand – to a certain degree – the fervor over The Backstreet Boys.  But this little neutered homunculus?  Ten-year-old girls in this country really need to raise their standards.

Anyway, I often choose not to write about whatever caught my eye on Today simply because it would be silly for my primary inspiration to be a show that features Al Roker as a serious journalist.  But here’s the funny thing about Today: It does a hell of a good job at being populist – from its bite-sized headlines to its fan-friendly celebrity interviews to its cooking segments to the call-in portion of the show where people can pose their money questions to a battery of economist-type folks – and for that reason it seems to pretty accurately capture the “common man” vibe.

This is never truer than when the show features, almost daily, a kid who fell down a well or got a lawn dart stuck in his head or swallowed a bag of rubber bands.  It’s usually inane fluff, the very worst kind of “human interest” b.s. that epitomizes the non-news I wrote about last week.  But every so often there’ll be a story that gives me pause and makes me think about my life or society or The Big Picture™ or whatever.  Today it was the story of Mikey Czech, an 11-year-old kid who died of a brain tumor.

Sad as that story is, that’s not the thing that caught my eye-ear.  In interviewing the parents about the charitable work they’re doing to find a cure for this particularly deadly type of cancer, the host asked them if their son’s death had in any diminished their faith in God.  The wife was very forthright, stating that they were devout Catholics, but that she was still dealing with a lot of anger.  Her husband, on the other hand, offered up that tried and true Christian platitude that underscores exactly why I could never, not ever ever in a million years, be a good Christian: “It has a greater purpose.”

You’re kidding me, right?  Your son, eleven years old, dies of a tumor at the base of his brain, and it’s somehow comforting to think that God intended his death to be part of some great plan?  That kind of belief system is so foreign to me that I don’t know whether to ridicule it or grudgingly admire it.  To claim that your son’s death was part of God’s plan is to admit that God, at the very least, allowed your son to die.  If you want to take a really cynical perspective (which I’m not; I’m just saying), you could even claim that God caused your son to die.  After all, a plan is preordained, it’s thought out, it’s, well … planned. The components of a plan don’t happen by happenstance.  If it’s part of a plan – or serves a greater purpose, to use the father’s own words – it’s not an accident.

Disagree?  Let’s say I have a plan to, I don’t know, sell the best-tasting lemonade in the history of the universe.  This plan means I have to develop a business model, find a place from which to sell or distribute the lemonade, advertise my product, and, last but not least, actually produce the lemonade.  As part of this plan I find the ideal location for a storefront/manufacturing base.  It’s in an old – but still tenanted – apartment building.  The building would be cheap to buy (the owner’s fallen on hard times, property values have tanked, etc.), and because the neighborhood is just starting to show signs of gentrification, it would be in my best interests to snatch up this place for my new business venture before prices skyrocket.  The landlord needs to sell, I want to buy, and the transaction goes down.  The problem?  Oh, yeah.  There are still people in the apartment building.  Obviously I can’t effectively operate an efficient lemonade business with a bunch of deadbeats taking up the space, so, as their new landlord, I evict them.  I know some of them don’t really have anywhere to go, but why is that my problem?  I’ve got a plan to execute and, let’s face it, the world needs more lemonade and fewer welfare cases.  So some of them find new places to live, some move in with their parents (or their kids), some become homeless.  At least one of the homeless dies from malnutrition.  Bummer, right?  But my plan is humming right along.

I know it’s just a dopey example, but I hope it makes the point that the plan – formulated and enacted by me – caused misery and death.  But guess what?  All the misery and death served a greater purpose.  It allowed me to become a lemonade mogul!  Pretty sweet, eh?  And just think: this is an example of a plan where the misery and death weren’t even intentional parts of my plan.  They were just byproducts.  Happy accidents, if you will.

But okay.  To return to the Czech father’s belief that his son’s death serves a greater purpose, if God is, as advertised, all-powerful, why can’t the plan or the purpose be achieved without the death of a little kid?  Let’s give the Big Guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that the purpose for Mikey Czech’s death (the purpose his father is talking about) is for his parents to become philanthropists and start a foundation dedicated to curing brain cancer.  Surely there’s a better way to convince someone to find a cure for brain cancer than to strike down his son with a painful, inoperative tumor.  Is it churlish of me to point out that if God really wanted a cure for cancer he could just bloody well go ahead and cure it himself any time he wanted to?

I know, I know.  The father is searching for comfort, and he finds it, like many before him, in his faith.  But hearing him write off his son’s death as just a cog in the machine set in motion by the Man in the Clouds made me realize yet again that profound religious belief is simply beyond me.  I can’t subscribe to any belief system that justifies the cruel and painful death of a little kid as just being part of some mysterious plan – or some “greater purpose” – that we’re just supposed to trust exists.  I just can’t do it.

I don’t have – nor have I ever claimed to have – any answers or definitive stance about religion or the existence of God.  I try to have an open mind about it, and if I have any beliefs, they’re more in line with the Deists of the 18th and 19th Centuries (see Locke, Twain, Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, Voltaire, et. al.).  If there’s a God, he’s non-interventionist, the Switzerland of deities.  He got the ball rolling, but after that, things happen according to the laws of nature, and he keeps his all-powerful nose out of it.  Believing that way seems much more realistic to me, for instance, than believing that God killed Mikey Czech and allows Dick Cheney to flourish, or that he’s a big football fan who, according to some athletes, allows one team to score a bunch of touchdowns and trips up the other team behind the line of scrimmage.

In the end, it seems to me that Mikey Czech’s mother has every right to be angry.  I suspect, however, that she’s angry for all the wrong reasons.  My guess is that she’s angry at God for allowing her son to die.  It seems to me, though, that she should be angry at the religious establishment that has allowed (and encouraged) her to believe that prayer works.  I know it’s comforting to think that God’s got our back, but if history teaches us anything, it’s that when the serious shit goes down, we’re on our own.

*****

Current listening:

David ziggy

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The Edges Are No Longer Parallel October 16, 2009

Posted by monty in news, school, TV.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

sayahhh

Because television news seems to be doing all it can to contribute to the collective intellectual retardation of this country, stories involving children seem to get an increasing amount of play, especially on the morning shows (I watch Today, because they’re so sassy!).  This isn’t necessarily anything new, as the countless stories of children falling into wells will testify.  But every time I see one of these, I – along with many others, I’m sure – wonder why these stories are considered newsworthy.  I guess they’re human-interest stories, but in terms of importance, they rank right up there with stories of people getting lost while hiking: of minor importance to anyone outside immediate friends and family.  When we could be getting in-depth stories that analyze health care reform or the war in Afghanistan – you know, things of actual importance – we get Balloon Boy instead.

But I get ahead of myself.

This week there were three stories in the news, all involving kids.  Only one of them, I think, is deserving of any kind of national attention, and even that one you have to stretch a little.

Boy In BalloonMost recently, we have Balloon Boy. If you haven’t heard this story, it involves the unfortunately-named Falcon Heene, a six-year-old kid whose parents feared he had taken off in a giant Mylar balloon they were building in their garage.  When authorities finally chased down the balloon 90 miles later – after reaching an altitude of 7,000 feet – they found that Falcon wasn’t in it.  Fears ran high that the boy had fallen out somewhere along the line.  Upon searching further, Falcon was later found at home.  In the attic.  Playing in a box.

In other news, health care reform bill passes Senate committee.

The plot thickened – as it always does – when Falcon later said that he hadn’t come out of the attic when his parents called for him because “you guys said we did this for the show.”  Was this ridiculous non-story a hoax?  Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, vehemently denied it to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (because of course he’d admit to perpetrating fraud on national television), but the rumor persists.  Other fun facts: Richard Heene and his wife Mayumi were contestants on the 100th episode of TV’s Wife Swap and the elder Heenes also “devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials.”

Michael BThe second story is much more tragic, but I’m still not convinced it’s necessarily deserving of all the exposure it’s getting.  In South Florida, 15-year-old Michael Brewer was set on fire by five other teenagers because Brewer supposedly owed one of them $40 for a video game.

As the story goes, the boys poured rubbing alcohol on Brewer and then flicked a lighter at him.  Brewer, now burned on 65% of his body, ran and dove into a swimming pool, but it eventually took a man with a fire extinguisher to completely put out the flames.  The mother of two of the suspects denies they had anything to do with it, which is natural, I suppose.  After all, what mother wants to cop to her kids setting someone on fire?

In some ways I feel bad saying the news shouldn’t be preoccupied with this story.  It’s horrific and very, very sad, but it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know: that teenagers can be brutal and cruel and thoughtless.  We’ve seen this over and over again, and the only thing that changes is the vehicle of brutality.  From Columbine to the recent beating death of a Chicago teenager to Michael Brewer, there is never a shortage of adolescents doing horrific things to one another.  To treat it as national news is only to be redundant.

tdy_ellis_boy_091014.300wFinally, we have the story of six-year-old Zachary Christie, who was caught at school eating his lunch with a Cub Scout camping utensil that included a spork and a knife.  Under the school’s zero tolerance policy for weapons, Christie was suspended from school and sentenced to 45 days in a local reform school.  That’s right.  If you’ve ever wanted to know what pure evil looks like, just gaze at his photo.

Once this story got national exposure, the outcry was such that Christie’s punishment was diminished to a short suspension from school, and his placement in reform school was eliminated altogether.

Of the three stories described here, Christie’s is the only one that seems to me to be worth reporting.  There are a couple reasons.  The first is the social justice angle.  Any time a news story can bring injustice to light (and cause its prevention) it’s worth reporting.  Zachary’s punishment was obviously extreme, and there’s no telling what would be the future repercussions of this kid being sent to reform school at such a young age.  Reporting this story brought his situation to light and helped get his punishment reversed.

The second angle, from a policy standpoint, is the absolute lunacy of zero tolerance rules.  Any rule that effectively eliminates the context of the infraction is just not a good idea.  This is especially true when you’re dealing with young children, who often don’t fully understand the impact of their actions.  Case in point: I had a Cub Scout pocketknife of my own when I was younger.  I took it to school one day, not with the intention of shanking someone, but just because it was new and, like most little kids, I wanted to keep it with me.  I had it sitting on my desk at one point – with the blade unopened – and my teacher took it away and gave it back to me at the end of the day.  That’s fine.  I get it.  But I had absolutely no inkling that it was in any way bad form to bring the pocketknife to school.  The thought that I could get in trouble for displaying a cool Christmas present in class never even crossed my mind.  Now imagine that my elementary school had had a zero tolerance policy.  Would it be justified to suspend me and send me to reform school when A) there was no malice involved in my actions, and B) I probably wasn’t aware of the rule in the first place?

I’m not sure many people know that, post-Columbine, zero tolerance policies are actually fairly common in schools, especially for weapons, but also for drugs and alcohol.  A story like Zachary’s will, with any luck, clue people into the fact that these policies are out there, and that they’re usually a bad idea.  I understand the desire to keep kids safe, but at some point common sense has to enter the picture.  Imposing a blanket sentence on anyone who breaks a rule – without taking into account that there can be variations in how the rule is broken – is to completely remove the possibility of thoughtful, reasoned judgment from the person imposing the punishment.  It’s only through public pressure that schools will ever amend policies that run counter to intelligent thought, and it’s often only through seeing a story like Zachary’s that the public will ever be aware of what actually goes on in schools.

Television news often gets it wrong – actually, they usually get it wrong – and the fact that they got it right once this week is no reason to celebrate.  .333 might be a great average if you’re a major league ballplayer, but for a professional news organization, it’s downright abysmal.

Bonus footage: Zachary’s story on NBC’s Today:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

*****

Current listening:

Teenage fanclub howdy

Teenage Fanclub – Howdy!