Saturday, February 19, 2005

Obnoxious Phone Solicitors

I rarely answer my own phone. Usually, I keep my computer online 24/7 and let the CallWave service screen my calls, so that I can either ignore them, or return at my leisure. This is mainly to avoid the endless parade of inane phone solicitations that come in each day. I have made it a firm policy to never buy anything over the phone, unless I am the one who has initiated the call.

Yesterday, however, my son was expecting a call he didn't want to miss. He went to take a shower and asked me to get the phone if it should ring. I said, OK, and after he'd been in the shower about five minutes, the phone rang.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the call he'd been expecting, but one of those obnoxious phone solicitors. And this particular solicitor did the one thing that sets me on fire quicker than anything -- when I answered they didn't tell me who they were or get to the point of their call. Rather, they demanded that I identify myself first.

I let them have it.

I said, "No, no, you've got it all wrong. You have invaded my privacy by calling me uninvited on the phone line that I pay for and you think I'm going to just identify myself just because some rude stranger calls and demands it? I think not."

Then I hung up on them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Some Thoughts on Abortion

Several weeks ago, I was surfing the net and I saw a poll on one site: “Should Roe v Wade” be overturned?” I was stunned and appalled that a comfortable majority had voted yes, 56% to 43%, to be precise. In past polls about abortion, I’d normally seen the reverse statistic, with most people supporting a woman’s right to choose, even if they were personally against abortion for themselves.

This about-face is but another example of the regressive trend this country has taken under the current Bush administration, another being renewed attempts to have creation “science” being taught in public schools.

Abortion is a highly complex issue that cannot be approached with an absolutist, black and white mindset. No one likes abortion. Many times, it is merely the lesser of two evils.

However, I believe that abortion should remain a legal choice that should be equally accessible to all women. We have to consider that overturning Roe v. Wade would not end abortion, but would only serve to make it more dangerous. Wealthy women would still be able to obtain safe abortions, as they were able to do in the days before legal abortion, but poor and less well connected women would be returned to the Russian roulette of illegal abortion. Desperate women throughout history have always been willing to resort to desperate measures to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Rather than attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade, a more realistic goal would be to find ways to reduce the number of abortions. This would start by looking at the various reasons why women choose abortion, and then working to provide workable alternatives.

This would include such things as affordable day care, low cost educational opportunities, vocational assistance, safer and more effective birth control, working to reduce stigma against unwed mothers, expanded health insurance, more funding of programs benefiting children, such as Head Start, family friendly workplaces, and the like. Of course, this wouldn’t eliminate abortion altogether, but would go a long way to reducing it.

Many, though not all, “pro lifers” are inconsistent about their support for life. There are against abortion, but many are just as fervently for the death penalty. They assert that adoption is the solution, not abortion, as abortion is a traumatic event, supposedly scarring a woman for life, yet few would be personally willing to adopt such babies. They want to protect fetuses, but once they’re born, they’re on their own, as many are against funding programs that largely benefit children. I’m guessing that, for some of them, the underlying motive is to make sure that having sex always has a “consequence”.

Prohibition didn’t work. Abortion being illegal before 1973 didn’t work any better, as women have sought abortions from the beginning of time, even when having one could likely endanger their own lives as well. They can’t put the genie back into the bottle. Let’s keep abortion safe and legal.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

A Neighbor's Woes

Some time back, I wrote about my next door neighbor who has Alzheimer’s disease. Today, I’ll write about my neighbors on the other side.

A single man a few years younger than me had lived next door for years after inheriting the house from his parents. He was an alcoholic living on disability and mainly kept to himself. I didn’t bother with him much, as I don’t have much patience with drunks. He was a good neighbor in that he didn’t make a lot of noise and he minded his own business.

One night about six months ago, my son woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me our neighbor was dead. As I sat up half-asleep, he told me that EMS was at the house right then and they were taking his body out. It turned out that he’d accidentally overdosed on a combination of booze and prescription medications.

My son told me that this guy had a brother staying with him, who was also an alcoholic on disability and that he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to manage living alone. My son’s concern was not misplaced, as the night after the death, another brother came by to check on him. When he couldn’t get him to the door, he asked my son for help. They looked in the windows and saw him passed out on the floor. Not knowing if he’d overdosed as well, they got into the house through the window.

He was all right, other than having passed out from too much drinking. For the next six months, he lived there much as his dead brother had, drinking and keeping to himself. I don’t think I saw him more than once in the entire time.

One day last week, I smelled smoke and thought that someone in the neighborhood had lit their fireplace. Then I heard the sirens of several emergency vehicles getting closer, then saw other neighbors coming out of their houses.

I went outside and found my neighbor’s house on fire, flames and smoke shooting out everywhere. The fire trucks had arrived by this time and were hurrying to fight the blaze. Remembering that this guy had passed out in the house before, I was afraid that he might be in there passed out then. I voiced this concern to a woman standing in my driveway, and she assured me that he was OK. She’d been driving by and saw the flames and smoke, and had called 911 on her cell phone. As she was making the call, she saw him staggering out of the house.

It turned out that the house hadn’t had electricity for months and that he’d been using kerosene heaters to keep warm. The heaters combined with his habitual drunkenness are probably the likely cause of the fire. It was a brick house, so the shell of the home is still intact, but the inside is a shambles. However, he escaped with the most important thing -- his life.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Max Schmeling, 1905-2005

A couple of months ago, I wrote an entry objecting to the careless use of the word “hero” in reference to professional athletes, an opinion I still hold. But there are always exceptions to the rule.

Max Schmeling, who died last week, was an athlete who was truly a hero. His heroism had nothing to do with his being a boxer, however, though his career no doubt helped to put him in a position to earn that title.

In addition to being the world heavyweight champion of 1930, Schmeling fought 70 total bouts, with 56 wins, 10 losses, 4 draws, and 39 KOs. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

Schmeling is probably most remembered for his two fights with Joe Louis in the late 1930s, winning the first, with Louis taking the second. In the politically charged atmosphere preceding World War II, Hitler used Schmeling as a propaganda tool to demonstrate Aryan supremacy.

However, Schmeling always declined to join the Nazi party. He also fell out of favor with Hitler for refusing to fire his Jewish manager and for losing the second fight with Louis in 1938. In retaliation for this, Hitler had him drafted into the Paratroops and had him sent on several suicide missions.

During the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, Schmeling hid two young Jewish brothers in his hotel room, and later helped them escape to the United States. Henri Lewin, who later became a hotel owner, invited Schmeling to Las Vegas in 1989 to publicly honor him for saving his and his brother’s lives, risking his own life to do so.

After the war, Schmeling met Joe Louis again, forming a friendship that lasted until Louis’ death. By this time, Louis was living in reduced financial circumstances, and Schmeling helped pay his medical bills. When Louis died in 1981, he paid for his funeral.

When he heard of Schmeling’s death, Muhammad Ali said, "Max Schmeling had a lot of class. He had a lot of respect for Joe Louis in the ring and out of the ring. I'm sure he's in heaven now. He and Joe are talking about their old fights."

"I don't want anyone to say I was a good athlete, but worth nothing as a human being — I couldn't bear that." -- Max Schmeling, 1993.

Rest in peace, Max.


To read more about Max Schmeling:

Friday, February 4, 2005

Give 'em Hell, Harry!

The more I hear about Bush and the longer I live under his debacle of a presidency, the more I can’t help but compare him to Harry Truman, whom I consider my favorite president. I’ve always admired Truman for his plainspoken common sense, his zero tolerance policy for bullshit, and blunt honesty. It's too bad we don't have a president like him today.

Truman was the last president not to have a college degree, but he was in no way uneducated. A lifelong, avid reader, he was self-educated and could have easily run intellectual circles around the present resident of the White House. He also has the distinction of being the last president who did not leave the presidency as a millionaire.

Following is a list of Truman quotes. Enjoy!

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

I would rather have peace in the world than be President.

The buck stops here.

When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

A bureaucrat is a Democrat who holds some office that a Republican wants

All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.

Any man who has had the job I've had and didn't have a sense of humor wouldn't still be here.

Being too good is apt to be uninteresting.

Experience has shown how deeply the seeds of war are planted by economic rivalry and social injustice.

Nixon is one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides.

I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.

I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here.

It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.

My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.

Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in.

When even one American-who has done nothing wrong-is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth-then all Americans are in peril.

You and I are stuck with the necessity of taking the worst of two evils or none at all. So-I'm taking the immature Democrat as the best of the two. Nixon is impossible.

You know that being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.

The Republicans believe in the minimum wage -- the more the minimum, the better.

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a Republican. But I repeat myself.

Upon books the collective education of the race depends; they are the sole instruments of registering, perpetuating and transmitting thought.

Republicans don’t like people who talk about depressions. You can hardly blame them for that. You remember the old saying: Don’t talk about rope in the house where somebody has been hanged.

These polls that the Republican candidate is putting out are like sleeping pills designed to lull the voters into sleeping on election day. You might call them sleeping polls.

Herbert Hoover once ran on the slogan, “Two cars in every garage”. Apparently the Republican candidate this year is running on the slogan, “Two families in every garage”.

Any denial of human rights is a denial of the basic beliefs of democracy.

There isn’t any doubt that a woman would make a good president. They make good senators, good member of the House of Representatives, and have held other important offices in the government of the United States.

I do not understand a mind which sees a gracious beneficence in spending money to slay and maim human beings in almost unimaginable numbers and deprecates the expenditure of a smaller sum to patch up the ills of mankind.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

A Traditional Conservative

While reading Mr Bob’s blog yesterday, I thought about Barry Goldwater when I read a reference comparing traditional conservatives to present-day “neo-cons”.

Though Goldwater was more of a libertarian in many ways, and had some rather reactionary views, particularly in reference to the Cold War, he is commonly seen as the father of modern conservatism.

Unlike today’s “neo-cons” however, he was not afraid to cross party lines and stand with liberals and Democrats when he thought it was right.

In the 1970s, he assisted WWII-era WASPs (Women’s Air Service Pilots) in getting the veteran’s benefits they’d been so long denied. A co-founder of the Arizona NAACP, he was also involved in desegregating the Arizona National Guard. A supporter of gays in the military, he once made the comment, “It doesn’t matter if a soldier is straight; it only matters if he shoots straight,” and “Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar.” Goldwater was also firmly pro-choice, viewing abortion as a private matter, a decision inappropriate for the government to meddle with.

He was a passionate defender of personal liberty, and saw the religious right's political views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties. Not shy about expressing this particular opinion, he’d clashed on more than one occasion with such political fundamentalists as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, calling them “a bunch of kooks”, and once saying, “Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell's ass."

I can’t help but think that Goldwater would have been appalled at the younger Bush’s presidency, especially the increasingly strong influence the religious right has had on the president’s views and policies.

It’s too bad there is no longer a voice like Goldwater’s in the Republican Party.


To read more about Goldwater’s opinions of the religious right and his ideas of true conservatism: