I received the following notice for jury duty in the mail a few days ago, (although I edited out all of the actual personal data before posting it here):
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that the first thought which came to mind was:
"Crap. I do not want to do this."
The second thought that came to mind was: perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss my 'Civic Responsibility.' I am eternally grateful that I am a citizen of the United States, and trial by peers is one of our cherished legal rights which is not available in other countries around the globe.
But over the ensuing days I thought about this a little more, and I began to form the opinion that I have already fulfilled 2,973 days of civic responsibility during my time in the military. Now, for those of you who have never served in our nation's armed forces, you may think that is an unfair attitude. But let me be very clear: during my eight years of military service, the Army owned my life 24 hours a day, and it often made good on its possession. I spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours working in abhorrent conditions in obscure areas around the planet which the average person doesn't know about, and I did so at any hour on any day - regardless of the weather, physical discomfort, or extended separations from loved ones. During my tenure in uniform I endured countless nights trying to sleep in a makeshift lean-to in subzero temperatures, scorching desert heat, and torrential downpours. I also missed dozens of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So believe me when I tell you - we veterans have already done more than our fair share for society. With that in mind, I started to think that all honorably-discharged veterans should be exempt from jury duty.
But then again... as I continued to ponder the subject, I began to think about what the impact to society would be if we exempted all veterans from jury duty.
As I watch the news, I am amazed at the lack of responsibility that is so prevalent in North America. When someone does something bad, they generally refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. But when society attempts to punish a person who has done something wrong, large-scale riots break out in protest. When these riots inevitably destroy cities, their apologists claim that none of the rioters were at fault - it is their 'oppressors' who are the evildoers. But the worst part is - if someone is ever taken to trial for their part in these tragedies, the courts often let the guilty parties go without punishment. A group of defense attorneys were able to successfully use the following defense: "They were simply part of a mob; individual actions do not matter."
Well - let me be perfectly honest: I do not share that opinion. I whole-heartedly believe that if a person screws up, they are personally accountable for their actions; I do not care about the actions of any moral degenerates who may have been surrounding them at the time. If you individually break the law - you are individually guilty. Period. And when you are punished, it is not the arresting officer's fault - it is your fault. (Likewise, if you are pulled over for speeding, it is not the police officer's fault if you get a ticket; you broke the law, so you have to pay the fine.)
In the end I came to the following resolution: even though I may not want to give up a day of my life to serve on a jury, perhaps I need to. Our society desperately needs more people who are not afraid to use the word "Guilty" when it needs to be used. So even though I will undoubtedly be bored for most of the day, I will be bored with a better attitude.
PS - If you are a lawyer who is selecting jurors and I'm in the pool of potential peers, I believe everyone is guilty of something. Food for thought. ;-)
Look, I get it - companies are in the business of making money. I like a good paycheck, you like a good paycheck, everybody likes to receive a good paycheck. But that being said, everyone who has ever bought something from someone else has realized that the people who are doing the selling are charging you more money for their merchandise than what they originally paid for it - that's called profit, and that's how they make their living. We implicitly accept this arrangement every time that we make a purchase, and I have no problem with that. In principle, at least.
But every once in a while I run into a situation where someone is so blatantly overcharging that I no longer want to deal with them.
For example, consider the following true story:
I recently dealt with a company which attempted to keep my business by using "Hard Sell" tactics when I contacted them to cancel my account. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said it was because I could get the same service through another company for less. They replied that "since I was such a loyal customer," they would be willing to match the other company's price.
At this point I said, "You realize that you just admitted to ripping me off for all of the time that I have been your 'loyal customer?' If you were willing to provide the same service at a lower cost all along, why didn't you do so earlier? That would have kept me as a customer! But now I think you're just a bunch of thieves; so unless you're willing to refund what you have been overcharging me, just cancel my @#$% service and let me get on with my life."
That ended the sales pitch and they cancelled my account.
I can be somewhat adventurous when it comes to food; I've been to lots of places around the world, and I'm generally willing to try the local cuisine - even though I've sometimes wound up sick from doing so. But that being said, anyone who knows me well should know that my favorite fare is Mexican food; this is due in large part to growing up in Arizona. As a direct result of my southwest-inspired cultural and environmental surroundings during my formative years, most people who know me are also aware that when it comes to salsa, I can be quite picky. I have been known to leave a restaurant because of bad salsa, and I have brought my own salsa to other restaurants.
It is also common knowledge that I like my salsa hot - somewhere between Habanero Peppers and Ghost Peppers is my ideal temperature range. If my sinuses haven't been cleared up by the time I'm done eating, it wasn't hot enough. That being said, a good salsa is not just about scalding what is left of my taste buds; anyone can make a sweltering salsa, but it has to have enough flavor to make the heat worth the pain. It takes skill to make a salsa hot and delicious at the same time.
One of the many reasons why I loved to have lunch with my friends and co-workers Keith Moore and Wade Hilmo in Seattle was that they shared my affection for a good salsa; any two or three of us would drive around to all of the Mexican restaurants in the Seattle area and judge their salsa. It was kind of amusing to watch us, because we would discuss the merits of various salsas like wine connoisseurs contemplating a rare vintage: "Hmm... I detect cilantro, a touch of garlic, minced onions, with just a hint of pineapple..." (Seriously - one restaurant used pineapple to counter the heat in one of their salsas, which was better than it might sound.)
Needless to say, I was quite happy when the Salsa Fairy arrived with a box of Mrs. Renfro's salsas earlier today... which you can plainly see in the following image. A second box of salsas arrived at the same time, and between the two boxes I had several jars of Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa, Tequila Salsa, Chipotle Salsa, Pomegranate Salsa, and Mexican Hot Sauce.
Because I live in Arizona, I celebrated this momentous occasion with a half-dozen or so tacos - each with a different salsa.
Yup, life is good and all is well in the world…
Even though the following article was written a couple of years ago, it has been making the rounds lately: The Lovely Little Town That Would Have Been Absolutely Screwed by World War III. It's a great article, and I highly recommend reading it. However, here's a spoiler alert: they're talking about Fulda, Germany.
The topic of that article should come as no surprise to anyone who served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR); the Fulda Gap had been used as a thoroughfare for invading armies between East and West Europe for centuries. This point was vividly brought to my attention when I was in-processing after I arrived in Fulda in January of 1988.
Part of my in-processing was a briefing with Colonel Thomas E. White, who was the 52nd Regimental Commander from 1986 to 1988. During his briefing Col. White made the following ominous statement:
"If the balloon goes up, we expect 90% of the 11th ACR to be dead within the first 30 minutes of battle. This is simple a fact of life. Get used to that idea; it will make things easier."
Col. White followed up that dire prediction with the following observation:
"Fulda has the highest divorce rate of any post in the military. If your marriage survives your tour here, it will survive anything."
In retrospect, Col. White wasn't the cheeriest guy.
But that being said, I soon learned just how true his second statement was; during my first year in Fulda, I was deployed to one place or other for 40 of the 52 weeks. (Most of that time was on the East German border in places I cannot mention.)
At the time, we knew that the Russians had tactical nukes stationed just across the border, and since it was our job to figure out what the Russians were doing, we coined the following unofficial motto:
"The 511th MI Company: First to Know, First to Glow."
Thankfully, the balloon never went up, and less than two years after I arrived in Fulda everything had changed dramatically: the borders between the East and West were opened, the Berlin Wall was demolished, and Soviet Communism met its inevitable demise. If you had told me during my first few days in Fulda that all of those earth-shattering events would occur during my tenure at the 511th, I would have thought you were nuts. Just the same, it has been almost 30 years since I arrived in Fulda, and I'm still thankful that the doomsday prophets didn't get their way.
Someone I know posted a link to the following blog by Greg Boyd on Facebook. The title alone piqued my interest, and because I like to keep an open mind, I read it with genuine curiosity.
Thank You Obama for Denouncing "Christian" Violence: It is Actually Far Worse Than ISIS
This article was obviously written in response to President Obama's recent comparison between the barbaric practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the actions of Christian Crusaders from centuries ago. President Obama was speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is hardly the appropriate forum to make such a comparison, but just to set the mood for this discussion – here are the president's exact words from Mr. Boyd's blog with regard to the recent spate of murders that have been committed by ISIS:
"Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
President Obama has taken a considerable amount of criticism from Christians for that statement, and at face value that criticism might seem justifiable. However, that particular sentence is being taken out of context, which makes it somewhat difficult to evaluate on its own. To be fair to President Obama, here is a more complete quote from his speech, which adds a little more depth to his earlier statement:
"So how do we – as people of faith – reconcile these realities? The profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths – operating alongside those who seek to hijack religions for their own murderous ends; humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country slavery and Jim Crow [were] all-too-often … justified in the name of Christ."
By including the quote from President Obama within the context of his original discourse, his intended meaning does not seem to suggest that he possesses an anti-Christian ideology like most pundits are proclaiming. To be sure, President Obama's speech was poorly-worded and poorly-delivered in what was probably the poorest choice of locales. But what is worse, the President's examples are poor history, and while I could easily expound on the foolishness of his revisionist narrative, I will gladly refrain from doing so in favor of simply addressing Greg Boyd's equally lamentable indifference to the history of Western Civilization.
To being with, it is sheer lunacy for anyone to attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of present-day terrorists with the actions of uneducated, Medieval warriors from 1,000 years ago. I whole-heartedly acknowledge that quite often the actions of the Crusaders were horrific and condemnable, but those actions took place many centuries ago and there is nothing that can be done about those atrocities now. However, the world can do something about the atrocities that ISIS is currently committing. For those reasons alone, making a comparison between these two sets of objectionable behaviors is completely ludicrous. In fact, making such a comparison is even worse if you hope to garner some degree of sympathy for ISIS, because comparing their current behavior with those of the Crusaders would seem to suggest that the members of ISIS have failed to evolve during the past 1,000 years. Christian armies are not currently marauding across the Middle East and oppressing the innocent – but ISIS currently is. This means that Europe and other Western Cultures have obviously moved past what is considered by many to be a dark period of religious dominance, imperialism, and intolerance, even though ISIS remains fully-engaged with theologically-sanctioned slaughter.
But let us set aside the comparison between the behaviors of two disparate cultures that are separated by a millennium. Instead, let's look at a few important historical subjects. But before I continue, I need to stress that I do not know Mr. Boyd personally. He could be a great guy, and I mean him no disrespect. However, based on his discourse he seems willfully dismissive of history. His rhetoric consistently employs a very common argument that I often hear about the Crusades, which is this: when you want to portray Christians badly, simply bring up the Crusades, regardless of the fact that nearly 1,000 years have passed since that time. While I agree that Christians should not attempt to ignore the atrocities of the Crusades, it is also true that anyone who wants to bash Christians desperately needs to get some new material. If the best that you can do is to bring up something from the Middle Ages, you really need to rethink your argument.
With that in mind, if you were to believe Mr. Boyd's blog – which would be a very foolish thing to do – you could easily infer that the Crusaders were a bloodthirsty mob which ravaged the Middle East on a quest for glory at the expense of the peaceful Muslims which inhabited the region. Nothing could be further than the truth, and it would seem that Mr. Boyd is simply regurgitating the uninformed drivel that was passed down to him as a by-product of his higher education.
Let me briefly step back in time to frame this historical discussion, and it is completely necessary for me to paraphrase a narrative from Jewish Scripture in order to put a few things in perspective. It is very important that you realize that I do not mean for anyone to believe the story that I am going to relate – you are welcome to believe that this is a fairy tale which is best reserved for Sunday Schools. But it is absolutely essential for you to understand that the inhabitants of the Middle East believe this story, which serves as an ancient foundation for unrest in the region.
According to Jewish Scripture, in approximately 2000 BC, God promised to give a son to an aging Abraham and his wife Sarah, and from that son God would make a great nation. However, when Sarah could not conceive a child, Abraham and Sarah grew impatient. So they took matters into their own hands, and Sarah offered her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar had a son with Abraham, and she named the boy Ishmael. Many years later, Sarah gave birth to a son, whom she named Isaac. When sibling rivalry ensued between Ishmael and Isaac, Sarah insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Hagar took her son and left as instructed, and when she felt certain that she was doomed to die in the desert, God spoke to her and told her that her son, Ishmael, would also become the father of a great nation.
As I said earlier, you need not believe the preceding story as historical fact, but you need to understand that many inhabitants of the Middle East believe it to be true.
With that in mind, the present-day Jewish population of the Middle East trace their heritage back to Isaac, and the present-day Muslim population of the Middle East trace their heritage back to Ishmael. The descendants of Isaac believe that they are the true inheritors of God's blessing to Abraham, and therefore they are the heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East. They base this claim on the fact that God made His promise to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and not to Hagar. Conversely, the descendants of Ishmael believe that they are heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East because Ishmael was the first-born son, and according to regional traditions of the time, the first-born son has the principle inheritance.
Leaving aside the Jewish and Muslim Scriptures, the kingdoms of Israel existed for several centuries, although many of those centuries were spent enslaved to other kingdoms which had conquered Israel. When the Jewish revolts of the first century AD failed, Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD, and the kingdom of Israel ceased to exist. Many Jews and Christians fled Judea, (called the Diaspora), although considerable numbers of Jews and Christians chose to remain in the area despite their loss of national identity. As Christians made their way throughout the Mediterranean and European regions, they faced tremendous religious persecution due to their unwavering faith and subsequent refusal to convert to the religions of their host countries. Christian pacifism led to their widespread slaughter and martyrdom, although eventually their example of "turning the other cheek" and forgiving their aggressors won over the hearts of their oppressors. When emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th-century AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and thereby most of Europe. In addition, the ancient city of Jerusalem was under Roman rule, and therefore it passed peacefully to Christian control, (or more accurately to Byzantine control). In short, Christianity spread throughout Europe based on a lack of aggression, and not by violent overthrow.
Jumping ahead a couple centuries, Mohammed rose to power based on proclamations that he was the last prophet of God. Mohammed asserted that – as a direct descendant of Ishmael – he was heir to the kingdom that was promised by God to his forefathers, and anyone who followed him would be part of that kingdom. At the age of 40, Mohammed began to preach the message of Islam publicly, and he soon began a campaign of military conquests throughout the Middle East to spread Islam through violent oppression (Jihad). To Muslims, each new conquest was not new territory to them – they were the rightful heirs based on their promised inheritance. As they conquered each region, any non-Muslims residing in the conquered territories were offered few fates: forced conversion to Islam, paying the jizya (which is mandatory tax on non-Muslims), enslavement, or death. (It should be noted that the jizya is little more than an early form of a "Protection Money" racket, where non-Muslims are paying for their 'protection' from Muslim harassment.)
The stark contrast between the first centuries of Christianity and the first centuries of Islam is incontrovertible; early Christianity triumphed through pacifism and forgiveness, whereas early Islam conquered through violent subjugation. A series of Muslim rulers spent the next several centuries rampaging throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe. By the start of the second millennium AD, Jihadists had brutally conquered much of the Mediterranean region. (As the Muslim armies made their way through the Middle East, Jerusalem was one of their most-prized conquests.) In each region they conquered, the existing Jewish and Christian populations were confronted with the fates that I mentioned earlier: conversion, jizya, enslavement, or death.
After centuries of militaristic aggression, the armies of Jihad stood poised to conquer all of Europe. When faced with that possibility, the European nations banded together under the Crusades and – with the Pope's blessing – set out on the First Crusade to halt the advance of Islam and retake Jerusalem. In this particular instance, one could rightly make the argument that the Pope – and thereby the Christian Church – had no just cause to promote warfare based on the theological tenets of their religion. However, the political situation of the time must also be considered; European leaders were often preoccupied by wars between their countries, and therefore they could seldom agree on any unifying purpose – even when their inaction might result in their own destruction. By rallying the individual nations for a single cause – however misguided or misrepresented that may have been – the Pope managed to unite the disparate European nations to join together and thereby preserve Europe from Islamic domination.
I should mention, however, that Mr. Boyd attempts to play games with his English vocabulary when he suggests that the Christian-affiliated armies were not called "Defenders," but rather that they were called "Crusaders" because they were consumed with offensive actions rather than defensive actions. I disagree – they were called "Crusaders" because they were sent out by the Pope and they believed that they were on a "Holy Crusade." Their mission actually was – at least in part – to defend Europe. For Mr. Boyd to make such an assertion – especially as someone with a Ph.D. – is rather poor form.
For the sake of reference, the following video illustrates the staggeringly-large scope of Islamic conquests over the centuries, and it compares that with the relatively minor impact of the Crusades; I highly suggest that you watch the video before you continue reading.
Jihad versus Crusades
As you can see in the video, for several centuries the Muslim armies wreaked havoc across the entire Mediterranean region – where they routinely slaughtered or enslaved the native populations of each territory. In contrast, the Crusades were a collection of relatively minor skirmishes. What's more, after the First Crusade, most of the subsequent Crusades were abysmal failures that have done little more than to serve as the foundation for Muslim hatred of Western interference in the Middle East.
However, it must be reinforced that the Crusades were not a situation where a group of Christians woke up one morning and decided to march to Jerusalem and kill its peaceful inhabitants; the Crusades were launched as a reaction to centuries of violent oppression at the hands of invading Jihadists. It should also be repeated that Christians facing persecution in the first centuries of Christianity won over their oppressors by following the tenets of their religion: pacifism and forgiveness. While the Crusaders may have embarked on their journeys with the blessing of the Pope, that did not mean that they were actually Christians, nor does it mean that they were following Christian Scriptures. In fact, the opposite is true; the Crusaders were going to war in direct opposition to Christian beliefs.
On that same thought, much has been said of the condemnable actions of the Crusaders when they sacked Jerusalem: the invading Crusader armies killed Muslims and Jews throughout the city, which is hardly following the foundations of the Christian faith. However, that method of warfare was true for all conquering armies of the time; the Muslims behaved in a similar fashion when they conquered new territories, as did the Persians before them, and the Romans before them, and the Greeks before them, etc. The nature of warfare until recent history had always been that of systemic slaughter. While it does not excuse the behavior of the Crusaders, you must consider their actions in light of their time period and their society – their actions were neither worse nor better than the Muslims whom they were conquering. In a similar manner, when the Muslims retook Jerusalem, thousands of Crusaders were slaughtered.
Having expounded on the history of the Crusades long enough, there are literally thousands of better examples of violence that were committed "In the Name of Christ" that would have made both Mr. Boyd's and the President's statements considerably more valid. For example, I would consider the centuries of bloody wars between Catholics and Protestants in the wake of the Reformation even more apropos as discussion points for their position. But that being said, choosing the Crusades as a fodder for their arguments simply displays a wanton disregard for historical accuracy.
When considering Mr. Boyd's and the President's other examples, I have to agree – the Inquisition was inarguably a horrific episode in Christian history. But once again – the people engaged in torture and genocide were not following Christian Scripture. To restate my earlier premise, there is a world of difference between claiming to behave "In Christ's Name" and actually following Christian teachings. However, that does not excuse the actions of the Inquisition, nor does that absolve true Christians for failing to bring an earlier end to the Inquisition, (although many Christians died in their attempts to do so). Likewise the people who abused Christian Scripture to justify years of slavery and Jim Crow laws where decidedly un-Christian in their behaviors, and it should be noted that thousands of genuine Christians spent several decades fighting against those who justified slavery and racism based on false interpretations of Scripture.
The behaviors of false Christians are what led Gandhi to say, "I like your Christ, [but] I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Or, as Brennan Manning once summarized, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle." In other words, when people claim to follow Christ and do not follow Christ in their actions, they are not Christians, and they easily confuse non-Christians who cannot tell the difference.
As I mentioned earlier, committing atrocities on behalf of Christ is a violation of the core principles of Christianity. Over the two millennia since the foundation of Christianity, countless despots have justified their actions by claiming that they acted "In the Name of Christ," or they have convinced others to follow their orders based on a personal revelation from God. There is a section of dialog from the recent movie The Book of Eli which illustrates this concept perfectly; in one particular scene, the film's antagonist describes the Bible in the following manner:
"IT'S NOT A @#$% BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON! A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, @#$% town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book."
Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman), from The Book of Eli (2010)
Even though the film is purely fictional, this statement has a ring of truth to it; many people have abused Christianity for their own, selfish ends. That does not make them Christians, and their actions are easily identifiable as contrary to the Christian beliefs of forgiveness and pacifism. Conversely, Islam was founded as a "Religion of the Sword," where violent subjugation of non-Muslim peoples and places was foundational to the spread of that religion. There is an irrefutable difference between the two religions in that regard, and to compare the two is utterly ridiculous – with one exception: condemnation of their evil actions. Those who commit evil in the name of Christianity are acting in opposition to the tenets of Christianity, and their acts are to be condemned. Likewise, those who commit evil in the name of Islam – even if they are acting in accordance with the tenets of Islam – are also to be condemned. Evil is evil – regardless of the motivation.
In a savage turn of events, Mr. Boyd probably owes his physical existence to the Crusades, for without the Crusades the marauding armies of Jihad would more than likely have conquered all of Europe. And since each of us is the by-product of thousands of chance encounters between our respective ancestors, it is very likely that a Muslim conquest of Europe would have altered the face of Western Civilization to the point where someone in Mr. Boyd's family tree would never have met someone else, and as a result he would not have been afforded the opportunity to dispassionately persecute the actions of the Crusaders from the relative safety of the religious freedom that has been afforded to him by centuries of sacrifices on his behalf.
Just the same, it wouldn't hurt if both President Obama and Greg Boyd brush up on their history before they attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of 21st-century terrorists and 12th-century Crusaders. Because in the end, trying to compare the two simply makes them look silly.
Update: I discovered the following op-ed piece after I had published this blog; it's a great read on this subject: Obama's Morally Confused Prayer Breakfast Lecture
OK – I have to make a shameless admission: I really like Jonathan Coulton's music. Jonathan's style is sort of like modern-day-Internet-geek-cyber-folk-pop, as if that's a real genre.
Anyway, years ago he wrote a song called "Code Monkey," which became something of an Internet hit. (Hey, I'd call over one million downloads a hit.) If you're curious about the song, you can browse to http://youtu.be/MNl3fTods9c in order to see it with the lyrics.
That being said, fans of "Code Monkey" might not be aware that Jonathan teamed up with Greg Pak and a few additional artists, and together they converted "Code Monkey" and several of Jonathan's other songs (like "Skullcrusher Mountain," "Re: Your Brains," etc.) into a weird little graphic novel.
Truth be told, I'm not a graphic novel kind of guy, but I love the song - so I ordered a copy through Greg Pak's online shop.
My signed copy of the graphic novel just arrived, and it was a great read; it was fun to see the characters from so many of Jonathan's songs brought to life, even if it was just for a hundred pages or so.
For those of you who are familiar with the song, you're probably wondering to yourself, "Does Code Monkey finally tell his manager to write that @#$% login page himself and win the heart of Matilde, the girl of his dreams?"
Well, you'll just have to order the book and find that out for yourself.
(FYI – The graphic novel was a Kickstarter project in 2013 which was fully-funded in just 12 hours; it eventually reached $340,270 of it's original $39,000 goal.)
Warning: I will be a little more... um, blunt.. than usual in this blog. I make no apologies, because this is a very serious topic.
Someone I know posted the following article to Facebook with the caption, "When you don't vaccinate your kids, you contribute to this:"
Disneyland Measles Outbreak Hits 59 Cases And Counting
But what was the most-troubling about his post was an anti-vaxxer who responded to it; this anti-vaxxer was suggesting that: 1) measles isn't a deadly disease, 2) it can be treated by homeopathic herbs and essential oils, 3) contracting the disease will build natural immunities, and 4) we should be more concerned about the amount of sugar in our food than the measles. Unfortunately, this person was being serious. Adding insult to injury, when she was corrected with information from the World Health Organization (WHO) which pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from the measles, this anti-vaxxer changed her story and claimed that since only 145,700 people died from the measles in 2013, that's only 0.000024% of the world's 6 billion people, so measles isn't that big of a deal. This anti-vaxxer was completely blind to the fact that we were discussing 145,700 people who didn't need to die because the cause of their deaths was easily-preventable. In other words, what she really meant was - since the people who are dying from the measles aren't people that she knows personally, their lives obviously don't matter.
Before I continue, I need to state that I passionately agree with my friend's original statement: if you do not vaccinate your kids, you are contributing to potentially lethal outbreaks. Let me put this another way, and let me be very clear as to how I feel about vaccinations: if you are part of the current crowd of crazy people who oppose vaccinations for easily-preventable diseases - you are an idiot. Period. End-of-story. And if you are a parent who refuses to vaccinate your children, and your children contract an easily-preventable disease - you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person. Child Protective Services should take your children away from you because you are endangering your children, and you are obviously too inept to be a parent.
Let me dispel some of the anti-vaxxer's arguments with actual facts about the measles from the WHO at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/, (note that the added emphasis is mine):
- Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
- In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour.
- Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
- In 2013, about 84% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
- During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. In 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.
The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 145,700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5.
Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the mucous membranes, then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.
Accelerated immunization activities have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths. During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths. Global measles deaths have decreased by 75% from an estimated 544 200 in 2000 to 145 700 in 2013.
Let me reiterate some of those facts: immunizations have reduced the number of deaths by 95% in just the past 35 years (from 2,600,000 fatalities to 145,700 fatalities). When we discuss childhood immunizations for diseases like the measles, we are not discussing whether your child will stay home from school for a couple of days with a temperature - we are talking about preventing your child's death. Your child could die because of your parental incompetence, and all it takes is a simple vaccine to remove the possibility.
This anti-vaxxer also suggested that natural medicine was sufficient for the measles, which is a ludicrous proposal; if natural medicine was sufficient, then we would not have had millions of people dying each year throughout the history of humanity. I have met several people in my life who have grown up under the mistaken premise that centuries of naturalistic alchemy was more effective than present-day medicine. I would love to point out that for the thousands of years that homo-sapiens have walked the face of the planet, the life-expectancy of the average human was ½ or ¼ of what it is now. During that time, thousands of pseudo-doctors prescribed any number of naturally-based remedies, yet the majority of people could still expect to die before the age of 30 or 40, and millions upon millions of children died before they left infancy due to disease. In contrast, modern medical science has introduced thousands of real cures based on real science which have produced real results in terms of preventing disease and improving the quality of life. Natural medicine may make your feel better about yourself in an isolated, narrow-minded, yuppie universe, but a host of readily-available facts tell a decidedly different story: science actually works, whereas visiting a modern-day witch doctor does not.
I grew up in a time where contracting a large number of easily-contractible diseases was still a frightening fact of life, when millions of lives were seriously impacted by global diseases like measles, polio, etc. In the decades that preceded my childhood, a plethora of deadly diseases ravaged our society; diseases like smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, etc. Times are vastly different now; in today's United States we are blessed with a society where decades of successful vaccination programs have reduced these diseases to the point where apathy and complacency have set in, and as a result we are forced to endure the idiocy of anti-vaxxers who think that vaccines are no longer necessary.
However, vaccines are still just as necessary as they were in the past. An essential part of our country's life-blood is immigration; millions of new immigrants settle within our borders each year, and most of these people are coming from countries which have no regular vaccination program. If your unvaccinated children go to school with children who have inadvertently brought diseases to the United States - your child will likely become infected. And as our world becomes increasingly more global, your child's chances of travelling outside the United States increases, and immunizations are necessary to prevent overseas exposure to diseases that we no longer worry about domestically. For example, thanks to a successful vaccination program, the United States hasn't seen a case of polio since 1979; however, when I was in India a few years ago, I met someone whose brother was recently paralyzed by polio.
If there was no measles vaccine and people were still dying to the left and to the right, people like this anti-vaxxer and everyone like her would be clamoring for a measles vaccine. You might recall the recent Ebola panic; suddenly everyone was screaming for a vaccine. I am completely confident that science will eventually come up with a vaccine for Ebola, and I am just as certain that 100 years after its debut the world will have anti-vaxxers who think that they just need to apply a homeopathic salve until they build up their immunity to Ebola. (There should be a special category in the Darwin Awards for anti-vaxxers.) Just because we don't see a specific disease in our day-to-day lives, that doesn't mean that it isn't a threat to the rest of the world.
I understand that some parents were unnecessarily frightened by a popular myth that was floating around which suggested that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine could cause autism. That theory has long-since been debunked, but a few ill-educated people are unwilling to let it go. However, even if the infinitesimally-small chance of autism was remotely true, the theoretical number of people actually affected by the risk of autism would still be staggeringly-less than the number of lives that are actually saved by vaccinations. Penn and Teller put together a presentation which beautifully illustrates this point (Warning: Foul Language):
I have wasted enough time and effort on this subject, so I will leave you with a final parting thought: vaccinations have a proven track record of saving lives. If you are an anti-vaxxer, I do not care which stupid theory you are adhering to - you are just wrong. If you believe that natural medicine is the cure for everything - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that vaccines were designed by evil pharmaceutical companies to get rich - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that the side-effects from vaccines are worse than the disease - you are just wrong.
The simple fact is - vaccines save millions of lives each year. If you are too foolish to be immunized, perhaps you are doing the world a favor if you die from an easily-preventable disease and your genes are removed from the global gene pool so humanity can evolve past your demonstrably-lower level of intelligence. However, if you are a parent and you refuse to immunize your children, I will state once more - for the record - that you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person.
Since the time that I published this blog, several relevant articles have been published on this topic, so I have decided to periodically update this blog with pointers to articles that I think will add to this discussion.
And even though this subject isn't funny, there are a few humorous posts on the subject:
Once again, I was a weather wimp today. The nice folks at Sabino Cycles had organized an 8am ride for the Northeast side of town, (even going downhill on Freeman Road!). That being said, I looked at the weather forecast last night and saw that the temperature was going to be around 45 degrees at that time, but if I waited a few hours the temperature would be in the 70s. With that in mind, I didn't bother to set my alarm last night and I woke up sometime around 8:30am. Kathleen and I had a bunch of various chores to do around the house, and I wanted to do a small bit of bicycling maintenance before I hit the road, so I made plans to head out sometime in the afternoon.
After taking care of our assorted domestic activities around the house, I managed to get on the road shortly before 3pm. My plan was to ride around Pistol Hill Loop, which is decent metric half-century ride (50K or 31 miles). The weather was gorgeous – 65 degrees, blue skies, and nary a cloud in sight. The first four miles of the ride were fairly routine – it's the same path that I take whether I'm riding to Saguaro National Park or the Pistol Hill Loop.
As I hit the bottom of Jeremy Wash and rode past the Rincon Valley Market, I had been riding for almost a half-hour, and I could tell that my pace felt just slightly behind normal. (Looking at my ride statistics later in the day showed that I was 1.5 minutes behind my normal pace for the 15-mile loop from the Rincon Valley Market around the Pistol Hill Loop and back. Hmm… I can tell when I'm going to be a minute off for a whole hour?) With that in mind, I decided that I should hit some of my energy snacks. I usually use the Gu gels, but Kathleen had picked up some of the Gu Chomps energy chews for me, which are somewhat like Gummi Bears:
They were pretty good, but eating something solid like an energy chew while riding uphill is a little more difficult than ingesting a gel; I had to be extra careful not to inhale something by accident while I rode (and thereby I avoided choking to death).
There's not much to say about my ride around the Pistol Hill Loop; it's much easier for me than it used to be, but that doesn't mean that it still doesn't suck. Nevertheless, I saw lots of other cyclists on the road, and we all waved cordially to each other as we passed on opposite sides of the road.
I had been riding for 1.5 hours by the time I completed my way around the loop past the Rincon Valley Market and started my way up the steep hills on the north side of Jeremy Wash. The next few miles were pretty much all uphill, and I could really feel the impact of not having ridden earlier in the week. (By way of explanation, I was slammed at work this week, so I was forced to skip my normal Tuesday and Thursday rides.)
Needless to say, I was pretty tired by the time that I was approaching Saguaro National Park. And even though it wasn't on my original plan, I decided to turn into the park and add its 8-mile loop to my ride. (Although the whole time my brain was screaming, "I don't want to do this! I don't want to do this!")
Unfortunately I entered the park behind a very slow-moving vehicle that wanted to negotiate all of the initial hills around 5mph, and the road was too narrow so there was no way for me to pass. I was really frustrated by this predicament – not just because I was forced to ride 20 mph slower than normal, but also because it meant that I couldn't pick up any speed during my descents to use when ascending the next hill. After an extremely slow first mile or so, I was finally able to pass the slowpoke, who never pulled to the side of the road despite clearly seeing me in their driver-side mirror. (Grr.) Needless to say, this really hurt my ride time around the park.
On the straightaway between the 2nd and 3rd miles, I was hitting my energy snacks again as another cyclist passed by me. That probably wouldn't have happened on a normal day, but I was riding a few mph slower at that precise moment while I was consuming a few more Gu chews. Once I was done, I resumed my normal pace, and I stayed a couple of hundred yards behind the other cyclist for the next mile or so as we approached the steepest part of the climb up Riparian Ridge.
As we both climbed the ridge for the next half-mile or so, I was steadily gaining on the other cyclist, but he crested each hill before me (since he was a hundred yards ahead of me by this point), and he took better advantage of his descents to widen the gap between us. (You may remember from previous blogs that my overwhelming Fear of Mortality on a bicycle kicks in around the 30 mph mark, and the other guy obviously does not suffer from a similar sense of fear.)
Anyway, the gap between us grew to a sufficient-enough distance that I would not be able to catch up, but I tried my best to keep a decent pace for the rest of the ride through the park and all the way home. I arrived at our house right around 5:30pm, with just a tenth of a mile under 40-miles for the total distance. That's not too bad for my only ride this week.
- Primary Statistics:
- Start Time: 2:57pm
- Distance: 39.9 miles
- Duration: 2:33:18
- Calories Burned: 1708 kcal
- Altitude Gain: 1808 feet
- Average Speed: 15.6 mph
- Peak Speed: 31.2 mph
- Average Cadence: 77.0 rpm
- Average: 63.7 F
- Minimum: 59.0 F
- Maximum: 66.2 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 158 bpm
- Maximum: 174 bpm
I seldom talk about this, but it was on this day three years ago that our family lost my father-in-law, Terry Wetmore, to Alzheimer's Disease. My father-in-law was truly a second father to me; after my wife and I were married, Terry quickly became one of my closest friends. No matter the situation, the two of us would trade jokes back and forth - perhaps a little too often - and often to the chagrin of everyone else around us. Terry was a successful businessman in his younger days, and in his latter years Terry and my mother-in-law were part of a clown ministry that performed around the world.
The first indication of Terry's battle with Alzheimer's Disease was forgetfulness, and as his symptoms gradually progressed over several years, we found ourselves trying to help him process his fears and frustrations as he fully realized what was happening to him. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been for Terry, and it was extremely painful to watch his slow descent from a successful and self-determined businessman and loving grandfather into a growing fog of confusion.
As the months slipped by, Terry became progressively disorientated; for example, on more than one occasion he would plead with me to take him home, and I would have to gently remind him that he was already there. Eventually he could do little more than sit and stare at the world around him with an empty gaze from eyes that could not process his surrounding environment. One of the worst parts about Alzheimer's Disease is that each day passes and you are gradually robbed of your loved ones in spirit, even though you still have them physically.
I have a cousin who is living through similar circumstances, and during one of our conversations I mentioned that I am certainly no expert on how someone should go through this type of situation with a loved one. But I told her that I learned to appreciate the good days that we had near the end, and one particular event came to mind. My wife and I were visiting with my in-laws at a time when Terry's existence was rarely more than sitting in his favorite chair and watching television during his conscious hours. My mother-in-law invited my dad over to join us for dinner, and as the five of us relaxed around the dinner table, Terry miraculously emerged from his usual lethargy and became fully-engaged in the conversation. Terry was behaving more like his old self – he was joking with everyone, he was firing back at my dad’s ubiquitous one-liners, and he was referring to me by an old nickname which he had fashioned for me during all the years that we had known each other.
This was a wonderful moment in time; but it was all-too-brief, and sadly it was the last of its kind. Terry’s return to normalcy lasted for just that evening, and even though the weeks ahead had periodic episodes of lucidity, we soon had to put my father-in-law in a nursing home because his day-to-day needs were too much for my mother-in-law to take care of on her own. Terry’s health declined rapidly over the next several months, and he passed away within the year.
There is hardly a day that goes by where I do not think about how much I miss Terry. Brief moments like the dinner that I described were unexpected blessings, and they are wonderful memories that I will treasure for the rest of my days. Events like that are the way that I choose to remember Terry's latter years, and I am so thankful that I have a lifetime's worth of deeply-cherished reminiscences of him from our younger years.
Today was a fairly easy ride, although I had planned to ride more. The folks from Sabino Cycles had a ride scheduled for 8am this morning, but I had stayed up way too late the night before and decided against going out that early. I got up around 9am, but I had a lot of household work items to do, and as you may recall from earlier blog posts I needed to change out my flat tire.
I tried an experiment for my new inner tube: I bought a Slime Smart Tube, which is touted as a "self-healing tube," meaning that it contains a compound that should automatically plug small holes when they occur. (And Arizona is a state with no shortage of sharp, pointy things that try to kill your tires.) Reviews for Slime tubes are mixed, but I have known some people who love them. I knew that they would weigh more than a normal tube, so I decided to weigh a tube before installing it on my bicycle. A normal tube that I use weighed 84 grams (2.96 ounces), whereas the Slime tube weighed 176 grams (6.21 ounces). That shouldn't be enough of a difference to weigh me down all that much; and it's much better than a solid tube.
After finishing some routine maintenance on my bicycle, I was able to get on the road shortly after 4pm. I made good time to Saguaro National Park, where I got into a conversation about Fat Bikes with another cyclist who was leaving the park and one of the Park Rangers. I had been researching that style of bike earlier in the week, so I was able to discuss the merits of owning one. (I'm still not sure if I would get one, though.)
There were a few cars in the park, but for the most part the traffic wasn't too bad. I felt like I was making good time for the entire ride, and I completed the full distance from my house through Saguaro National Park and home again in a few seconds over an hour, so I was incredibly close to my one-hour goal. That being said, my time around the park loop was a little over two minutes slower than my best time, so had I completed the loop around the park a little closer to my 30-minute goal for that course, I would have beat my one-hour goal for the total distance.
There's always next time.
- Primary Statistics:
- Start Time: 4:14am
- Distance: 16.8 miles
- Duration: 1:00:16
- Calories Burned: 745 kcal
- Altitude Gain: 3173 feet
- Average Speed: 16.7 mph
- Peak Speed: 32.3 mph
- Average Cadence: 71.0 rpm
- Average: 58.0 F
- Minimum: 55.4 F
- Maximum: 69.8 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 162 bpm
- Maximum: 175 bpm