Wednesday, November 26, 2014

R.I.P. Jon Mendelson

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For much of my life, I've remembered November 22 as the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. From this day forward, that event is dwarfed by a more recent loss--the day the world lost Jon Mendelson.

I just learned of his passing. I am profoundly saddened for his family, especially his wife Judy who was in every way his soul mate. This is such a loss not only to Jon and Judy's friends, and everyone who knew him but to those who hadn't yet had the pleasure. 

Jon Mendelson was a retired biology professor at Governors State University, University Park, IL. He was a teacher who embodied the true meaning of the word--as both the noun and the verb. Everyone, with whom he came in contact, was better for it. He exuded knowledge like no one else I've ever met. He easily shared what he knew. Moreover, he not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. 

Jon was a driving force, not just for education, but for conservation, preservation, and the very connection of man to nature, obvious in the nearly 1,000 acres of Thorn Creek Woods in Park Forest. Jon was personally acquainted with the trees, bushes, ponds, streams, native wildflowers and wildlife within the now-preserved forest. Jon and Judy followed in the footsteps of the late Jim and Mary Lou Marzuki, who were instrumental in the early protection of this unique urban sanctuary. Jon was not just knowledgeable about the gullies, ridges, and waterways created thousands of years ago; he was the expert.

I first met Jon when I was studying the environmental effects of the proposed airport development near Peotone. Though we were just acquaintances, I felt a profound connection to him and all he stood for. Jon was inspiring. He made me want to know more about the environment. He was a good man who cared about all the right things. He was humble, brilliant, and hard-working. Nature was his passion. In my view, he represented the very best of the human race. 

I specifically remember one year in the mid-90's. It was Earth Day. I had recently been awakened to global environmental issues such as destruction of habitat, oil spills, and potential nuclear calamity, to name a few. I felt a need to renew my own connection with nature, so I decided to go for one of the many walks/tours Jon conducted through Thorn Creek Woods. I was so impressed by his knowledge and mesmerized by the way he communicated with the mid-sized group on the tour, especially the children. He changed my own focus of individual destructive acts by mankind toward the larger, more serene picture of the earth and its life cycle. He pointed out rocks that have stood for centuries, since the glaciers dropped them right where they stood. He spoke of oak and hickory trees planted in the 1800's. He spoke of the flora and fauna as if they were his dear, old friends. I left that day feeling exhilarated and anxious to learn more about the world around me. 

I no longer live in the area. I haven't seen Jon in years, but I will always remember the sound of his voice, the way he laughed. I will forever be touched by the fact that I knew him, a fact that makes me proud. 

It is with great sadness that I recognize his passing. Rest in peace Jon. We are all better for having known you.
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

We need to hear from Bill Cosby

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Bill Cosby, now under scrutiny from alleged past deeds
Allegations in recent days have been leveled against Bill Cosby by a long line of women. These allegations are disturbing for so many reasons, but the biggest danger is to try to paint this picture in black and white, without the predominantly gray areas that must be examined. 

Understanding what really happened all those years ago is not going to be easy, especially when only one side--the side of the alleged victims--of the story is being told. Media can't be expected to paint a complete picture when all the facts aren't available. 

What has been written will likely result in so much regurgitation from all who have an appetite for every morsel of information about this seemingly scandalous story. The danger to the truth comes when seasoning is added to those morsels in the form of sensationalism and misinformation added by both media sources and the consuming public.

It is for that reason that I think Cosby owes it to the millions of people who have admired him for years, to at least explain his side of the story.

Like all others, I am trying to understand this story. 

I admit I rarely watched the Bill Cosby show. I doubt I ever watched a half dozen episodes. I don't recall ever watching I Spy. So, the only thing I really knew about Bill Cosby was the comedian that I saw on variety shows. I considered him to be a very funny guy, in a real world view kind of way. 

He wasn't really even on my radar, until he began talking to black youth about their behavioral issues. That impressed me. Someone had to do it. Someone had to take a stand that might affect the uptick in black on black crime in the inner cities. Someone with standing had to be heard. 

The first thing I have to say is that we must not judge what happened 30, 40, 50 years ago by the standards and attitudes which have evolved since that time, particularly in regard to feminist issues. Times have indeed changed. Woman have come a long way since those days and see things through a completely different lens. We must not use that lens to judge the past.

As a society, we need to define and discuss rape. This one word covers everything from the violent, horrific physical act that includes beating, bruising, and death or near-death experiences that happen to include sexual intercourse, to the more psychologically-harming drug-induced sex act and everything in between. I believe there are very many variants of what we now call rape. 

The way rape is viewed by law enforcement varies from state to state as well as in judicial remedies. But probably the biggest road block in the understanding of rape may be in the interpretative differences between men and women. As much as we are equal, we are also different. We need to better understand our differences.

One thing that has changed drastically, and with good reason, is the tendency to blame the victim when it comes to sex crimes, whether it be a woman or a man. The catch all seems to have been provocative clothing. While this is of course no reason to rape someone, nor should any woman dressing in sexy clothes be targeted or blamed, we need to understand why clothing may be a contributing factor to why someone rapes. Instead of casually dismissing it, its context must be understood. 

Our society is to blame for much of how this story has seemingly unfolded, at least from what is known. Why do we treat celebrities as though they are god-like? Why would a 19-year old girl accept drinks and especially drugs offered to her during a seemingly casual encounter? Is Bill Cosby a rapist or is he suffering from a sexual addiction? What was his motive? Why would anyone think it is OK to drug someone and then have sex with them without their consenting participation? 

There are so many more questions about this story, but the bottom line is, I'd like to hear from Cosby. Is he sick? Is he still sick? Does he want to live the rest of his life with this cloud of certain speculation over him? Is his attempt to counsel inner city youth his way of apologizing for his own indiscretions? What do the women he allegedly violated hope to get from telling their stories? 

Until those questions are answered, it is impossible to draw conclusions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Society has run amok with violence

United States flag with peace sign canton
United States flag with peace sign canton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems that every day, headlines across the country scream about violence erupting in some small town, village, or hamlet. Without even mentioning the violence in major cities, or on foreign shores, our society must do something about the increasing abundance of violence that threatens to turn a peaceful life into chaos with ramifications beyond imagination. 

I've long been concerned about increasing violence throughout our society. It fills our televisions, movies, news, and satire. Graphic images, perfected through technology, make me cringe. I am increasingly concerned over what all this is doing to us, in the recesses of our brains. 

While I don't have any scientific evidence to back up theories about violence, it just seems logical that pounding gut-wrenching pictures and ideas into our brains will have some kind of effect, if not now, at some point in the future. 

As a more than middle-aged woman, I have seen the escalation of violent tendencies overall, complicated by a sense of immunity to it by young people. They not only accept violence, but they value it in their entertainment. 

The statistics about violence, are to me, staggering.

"The 20th century was one of the most violent periods in human history. An estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of conflict, and well over half of them were civilians," according to the Peace Alliance, a non-profit that promotes peace. Some of the other statistics the group cites are as follows:
  •   In 2001, almost 21,000 homicides and 31,000 suicides occurred; and almost 1.8 million people were assaulted, while about 323,000 harmed themselves and were treated in hospital emergency departments. (Surveillance for Fatal and Nonfatal Injuries – 2001, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics System)
  •   Worldwide, an estimated 1.6 million people lost their lives to violence in 2000. About half were suicides, one-third were homicides, and one-fifth were casualties of armed conflict. [World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, 2002]
  •   Homicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2001. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2002. [Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System – 2002, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
  •   The health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide committed by intimate partners exceed $5.8 billion each year. Of that amount, nearly $4.1 billion are for direct medical and mental health care services, and nearly $1.8 billion are for the indirect costs of lost productivity or wages. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, April 2003.)
  •   A 1992 study in the United States put the annual cost of treating gunshot wounds at $126 billion. Cutting and stab wounds cost an additional $51 billion. (Miller TR, Cohen MA.,. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1997, 29:329–341.)
I believe that as we age, we are an accumulation of all that has occurred in our lifetimes. We are like a computer whose hard drive runs continuously soaking up bytes of information to be stored for later use. The bytes consist of all that we have experienced in our lives. The longer we live, the more we store. Every image, thought, or memory remains filed away. It isn't always easy to retrieve. I believe our dreams are like defragmenting that hard drive. Haven't we all had violent dreams often times based on something we've seen or heard?

Recently, I experienced a picture on Facebook where Hannibal Lechter was digging a spoon into somebody's brain. I do not want to see such an image. I'm appalled by it because cannibalizing people is real and horrible. A picture like that doesn't belong among pictures of cute cats and babies.

Another one that got to me was a promotion for the television show, "The Walking Dead." A supposed human corpse, complete with hanging skin, bloody scalp, and tattered clothing advertised the series. Will we start seeing a rash of grave robberies now as people try to find a zombie they can call their own? Why does anyone watch this stuff?

A rest in peace sign.
A rest in peace sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Murder is the #1 attraction at the box office and in television shows and video games. How many different ways can a person be snuffed out? And how often are these dramas played out in real life? Which came first, the attempt at a perfect murder or the TV show that portrayed it? 

Violence seems to be a never ending cycle. Where is the value of human life? I used to think it was obsessive to try to ban violent video games, and I still believe more strongly in the first amendment than any form of censorship, but where is the hue and cry that says enough is enough. Can't we see that we are harming human beings, especially our youth? Doesn't all this exposure to violence simply guarantee a screwed up, Xanax-riddled society? 

Then there is the gun issue
There seems to be a real romanticism about guns. We all want to be John Wayne or Marshall Dillon or the Rifleman, where justice was settled quickly and easily. That isn't the world in which we live today. It wasn't even the world of yesterday. It was all fiction. The whole ugly story of the violence that occurred when the west was settled wasn't shown on weekly TV shows. 

We are all capable of violence. Our hair-trigger emotions in today's overly-complicated society where induced anger is so often the result, do we really want to make it easier to kill people? An increasing number of people experience mental health issues. Their emotions are less stable, so it follows that they would be more likely to act upon their anger. Yet, our societal laws equally encourage them too, to own firearms. We have seen the hideous results. There can be no greater horror than sending your child to school one day only to learn they have been gunned down by a disturbed young man turned depraved killer. The horror of Sandy Hook Elementary has changed so many people, yet not enough apparently. How many more tragic events in the workplace, on college campuses, in public restaurants, or in a private residence are we going to allow before we decide to do something? Politically, we don't even talk about it. That's inexcusable! Must the violence reach inside our own individual homes and families before we wake up and realize the gravity of this situation? 

I don't have answers. No one person does, but it seems to me we need to start to change our thinking. Instead of the bottom line being about dollars and sense, perhaps the bottom line ought to be about common sense.