Monday, December 16, 2019

I remember this day; I remember Stephen Balz

My family had just moved into our new house in Chicago’s western suburbs a year earlier. I had a birthday just three days before. I turned 9. I was making new friends. I was a happy kid. Life was great, until this day 59 years ago. In some ways, that event far away changed my life.

On Dec. 16, 1960 two airplanes collided in a horrific mid-air collision over Brooklyn, New York. At that time it was the worst air traffic disaster ever experienced. 134 people died.

But the one thing that brought this incident close to home for me was that a lone survivor was a young boy, just two years older than me, who lived for a few hours before succumbing to his injuries the following day. His name was Stephen Balz. He was flying alone that day, enroute to Grandma’s house for Christmas. His mother was waiting for him at the airport.

His family lived in Wilmette, also a suburb of Chicago, but on the north side of the city. Our new house was just a few miles south of O’Hare Airport, where Stephen’s plane took off from.

Our old house was next to a set of railroad tracks. I was accustomed to the sounds, having lived my whole life there. The trains never bothered me as they rumbled down the tracks with their syncopated clickety-clack sound. But airplane noise was new to me. The engines roared and screamed. In those days, airplane noise was deafening.

After that day, I was afraid of the planes flying over the bed where I slept. I remember sleepless nights as I stood on my bed looking out my windows and watching the planes roar past our house at just above treetop heights.

Years earlier, I used to enjoy watching them. In fact, my family used to spend hours at Midway and later at O’Hare Airport watching planes take-offs and landings. It was a source of entertainment just as the jet age was beginning.

But hearing about this accident had me on edge. It so disturbed me, that I couldn’t get the image of that young boy out of my head. Accounts at the time related that as he lay in the snow he told his rescuers that when he looked out the window of the plane, he recalled that New York looked beautiful in the snow, like a fairy land.

For years, I had remembered his name. I remembered the photo of that brave, little boy just two years older than me.
Then along came the Internet

For some reason I googled the name I remembered for a lifetime.

I was completely shocked to come face-to-face with the photograph I had carried inside my head since I was just 9 years old, the picture that haunted my memory.

I am grateful to the technology that allows us such a view into our own past, our own subconscious mind, even if it is painful.

I began to read everything I could about Stephen and about the crash itself.

I’ve seen thousands of airplanes over the years. Airplanes and airports have seemingly always been a part of my life. But to be confronted with the images of a broken airliner with parts and pieces scattered among normal looking neighborhoods remains a frightening and terrifying spectacle.

The Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn was just one of two locations marking this tragedy. Another site, one on Staten Island where the other plane fell from the sky turned a field into a graveyard with parts of bodies strewn among carefully wrapped Christmas packages.

I can barely imagine the devastation this caused to so many people who just wanted to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. The story itself breaks my heart.

Yet, some good has come out of this horrific tragedy, as it always does. It provided lessons about air traffic safety, contributing to what makes aviation one of the safest modes of transportation available.

I will always remember Stephen and the good, caring people who came to his aid. I continue to read about this tragedy and the human toll it took. Somehow I feel I owe it to Stephen to remember. I’ve carried his memory with me for 59 years. I suppose I will take it to my grave.

So on this day of remembrance, continue to rest in peace Stephen.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day, a personal view

Arlington National Cemetery
Today our nation recognizes and honors veterans, all those men and women who have given up years of their lives and more, to defend the freedom our country has avowed since its founding. This is something we must all do, especially on this day and at this time. Whether traveling to a foreign land or staying at home to vote for better leadership of our country, we must all do our part.

I refuse to say Happy Veterans Day because this day is not happy. Too many of this country’s men and women remain in foreign places, far from home in locations they would rather not be. Too many veterans have died during and after leaving the military, or suffered from illness and health consequences directly related to their military service. So many others have been ignored and mistreated, despite efforts to do the very best we can.

We can’t even celebrate all those veterans that have come home since so many have not yet done so. So many more have come home only to be buried by their loved ones. Statistics on veteran suicide are horrific.

Somehow, saying “thank you for your service” seems shallow and over-used in so many instances.

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery. I have never seen a more moving scene. To view row after row of stones, as far as the eye can see, marking individual graves of sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers whose lives were taken too soon, is one of the saddest things I’d ever seen. And to think there are 137 national cemeteries in 40 states. This country is only 340 years old! We have to do better.

I recognize the calling of those who have joined the military, for whatever reason. But in my view, the best way to honor our veterans is to end all wars, to make Veteran’s Day one where we can celebrate world peace and everyone who has contributed to it.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Voting is important; they are supposed to speak for us

Most politicians at the national level have proven to be vindictive, greedy, self-centered, and more involved in their own political future than in that of the country or their own constituents.

The politicians that are supposed to represent us don’t care what we think. Just write a heartfelt letter or call your congressman or senator to see how little they care what you think. Responses come in the form of mass-produced form letters that often times aren’t even seen by the addressee. Responses are handled by their staff and it is up to these unknown, unelected employees, who answer our questions or respond to concerns.

When I have been able to interact with my representatives, I’ve found the general attitude to be annoyance, as if the public is in the way, a barrier to their getting their work done. And their work hardly focuses on the public good or what the public cares most about; it focuses on cash donors with the bottom line being their own election bid.

To me, the problem is that politicians are supposed to be public servants. They are our representatives that do the public’s business. They manage the country in which we live in the government that is of the people, for the people, and most importantly, by the people. Everything they do, they do in our name.

Being a Congressman or Senator is not meant to be a life-long career. That has to change and the solution is term limits.

Imposing term limits as a policy would not be an easy task, since lawmakers would have to support legislation that would put the good of the country over what has become a lucrative career path with corporate kick-backs, deal making, and oh, so many perks. It would take some very open-minded politicians, the likes of which we have not seen in decades, to propose legislation that would bring about term limits.

If term limits are not possible legislatively, we, the represented, have only one choice. We, the voters can impose term limits ourselves. We have the option every two years for Congressional Representatives and every six years for Senators, to vote them out! Voting is our only tool, so we must use it wisely.

Voting is our only option.

When voters get no response from their representatives, we must resign to get rid of them. When we learn that our representatives are not worthy of the office they hold, we must resign to get rid of them. If our representatives choose their corporate funding sources over our concerns, such as what we’ve seen in the health care debates, we must resign to get rid of them.

When candidates lie to our faces, such as the Republican candidates that claim they will protect pre-existing conditions at the same time they voted or sued to end this provision in our health care insurance, as outlined in this story,, we must resign to get rid of them.

There are new examples every day of dastardly deeds unbefitting a representative of our government. If this is as bothersome to you as it is to me, remember that we can change things. It will take some time, but eventually, our leaders will get the hint. If the makeup of Congress changes every two years, it will become clear that if our public figures don’t do their job or don’t do it on behalf of the people that put them there, then they must go.

There are times we will be forced to elect the lesser of two evils

The lesser of two evils is not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes, the two-party system advances candidates that we consider unappealing. Instead of simply voting for a partisan, which is done all too often, become an informed voter. Don’t look at the party; look at the individual who if elected, will speak for you. Study what the candidates stand for. Hear their message, which does not include the hundreds of “attack the other guy” ads being run by way too much money in the political system. Do your homework. There are so many resources available today, at your fingertips.

Voting is one of your most important obligations as a citizen of this country. You will choose the men and women that speak on your behalf in this and other parts of the world.

Tuesday is Election Day. Do your part to make this country a better place. Vote!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day, my favorite day of the year

Today is my favorite day of the year -- Earth Day.

Mother Earth was kind enough to give presents -- a gentle rain shower that turned our Arkansas back yard into a rain forest. The sun is shining now. Like all females, Mother Earth is prone to changing her mind. As I look out the window into the woods, droplets of rain on the still new leaves sparkle as the warm sun caresses them. The landscape shimmers as if dressed in sequins. Thank you Mother Earth. The effect is spectacular.

Almost thirty years ago on this day, I experienced a kind of environmental awakening that has forever changed how I see and think about things. This new kind of spirituality inspires deeper thought, a kind of peripheral vision that takes in new dimensions, and a sense of connection to all living things.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe," said John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, who was born on this day.

That quote has been my favorite since I first heard it. Connections are not always clear. Sometimes they are difficult to discern, but we must not be blinded by the obvious.

On that day so long ago, I walked with a group of other nature lovers along a trail. It was a time when "Save the Earth" was a popular slogan. I was disturbed about oil spills, killing dolphins in tuna nets, too much plastic that never degrades, landfills overflowing with trash that could be recycled into useful products, and the very future of the only planet we can call home. But as I walked the trail, in the forest remnant that had been largely untouched since it was carved out by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years ago, I realized that humans aren't able to save the earth any more than they can affect it. Mother Earth will save herself, even if it is at our expense. I fear for humans who totally miss the point. The only thing that man's work will destroy is man.

I'm saddened that little has been accomplished since that day in 1990. And I am frustrated -- no angry -- at recent political attempts to reverse protections of the environment.

Even though I'm unhappy that there must be legal efforts to thwart man's destructive behavior against himself, it is too important not to be supportive since not everybody gets it. My hope for the environmental future of mankind is that more people realize the connections. 

...initially posted in 2010, but still relevant today

Thursday, April 6, 2017

April the pregnant giraffe preparing to give birth is a natural occurance

Watch live streaming video of the happy event!

Just when you think you've heard all the ridiculous things possible, something simply blows your mind.

Giraffe, Zoo, AnimalsThat was the case for me this morning, when I learned that the live-stream of a giraffe preparing to give birth was temporarily removed from You Tube for being "sexually explicit." The live stream from Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York has since resumed as the giraffe, fondly known by millions as April, prepares to give birth to her calf.

What kind of an insane person could consider an animal doing the most natural thing in the world--giving birth--to be harmful to watch because it is sexually explicit?

What is wrong with people?

The stream also contains live comments. Like with all social media, there are jerks that have to try to ruin things for others. Most comments, however, are heartwarming, loving, and caring. Folks began watching, since Feb. 23 when the stream began, in breathless anticipation. It is almost like April has become a family member to many as her pregnancy continues. Watching has become a calming way to start a new day with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, as April is cheered on. Moms and Dads are using the experience as a learning tool for their children. Most who watch are grateful to the park for making the videos available to the public.

There is no doubt April's giving birth, when it happens, will be labeled "Breaking News" and will be mentioned by nearly every media outlet. April, and her companion and father of her calf, Oliver, have certainly become celebrities. 

To anyone that sees this event as anything but the beautiful event it is, seek help.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Understanding is key

Image result
Albert by Wikimedia
Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein 

To me, ideas like that are the reason Albert Einstein was such a genius--that and so much more--of course. If he lived today, folks would simply say 'he gets it.' Just because he lived two centuries ago, doesn't mean we can't still glean wisdom from him.

Since the election of Donald Trump as our 45th President, there seems to be a wider than ever chasm within our country. There are folks who voted for him, that are completely confused as to why some of the rest of us are being so critical.

"Give the man a chance," they say. "Wait and see what he does."

I have been following politics for decades. I watched every minute of the inauguration. I watched nearly every debate. I follow the news from a variety of sources, both print, local, and cable. I was even paid to write it a few years back. What is more important though, is that I've participated in the democratic process, both as an activist and a journalist. I've watched how things work. I'd like to think I understand the process.

I'm pretty active politically on social media sites, where I've met with a wide variety of views. Some are similar to my own, while others are diametrically opposed. This includes a wide range from friendly banter, humor, to disagreement and downright rudeness.

For those who have been really critical, my observation has shown that so many of the most vocal are the first ones to say how much they despise politics. They do not obsess over the coverage of political events. They may catch the evening news or even a cable network. Or, they participate in water cooler discussions at work. Or their talk about current events with friends over a beer on the weekend. Politics is really everywhere, like it or not. 

Sometimes, people are just too busy with their lives to pay close attention. But that limited involvement does not provide a real understanding of this ever-more complicated subject. 

Watching what has gone on in social media is a lesson in misunderstanding. The name-calling is merely a ruse for "I don't know what I'm talking about." It was especially heinous during the Obama years.

Calling Barack Obama Obummer or Hillary Clinton Killary was simply a sign of ignorance, pettiness, and frankly, immaturity that belies credibility that doesn't even measure up to misunderstanding.

To quote our recent Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan, “Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.” 

In the case of Donald Trump, this is paramount. He says something one minute and contradicts it the next--literally. There is no way to know that without following all that he says. Trump is great at giving lip service, telling people what they want to hear, but he has nothing behind it. Remember when he was pro-choice. Now he orders his Vice President to attend a pro-life rally. No one knows where he really stands on the issue.

While it sounds good to cut regulations, what that actually means is business will prevail over property rights, healthy food choices, clean air and water, to name a few. Making money will be the only thing that matters. Imagine doing away with the regulations that have cleaned up rivers and streams where raw sewage used to be dumped. Regulations protect endangered species, keep from building in flood zones, guard against too many chemicals applied to our food, protects our children from harm, etc. Doing away with regulations is dangerous. Sometimes the price is just too high, even at a cost savings. Trump doesn't get that. Business is all he knows and all he wants to deal with. There is more to governing than a bottom line.

Politics requires study. It just isn't enough to hear news filtered through someone else. 

So don't be so hard on those of us that have real concerns about the operations of this president. He has been in office just one week and has already burnt too many bridges.

The greatest example may be his insistence that Mexico pay for a wall Trump wants. He has talked smack about building a wall on the southern border with no thought as to how his words are received by Mexico, one of our best trading partners and closest global neighbors.

Donald Trump is so arrogant and so hell bent to make money off everything he can, in violation of the oath he took to uphold the Constitution, that I wouldn't be surprised if he had plans to build his wall and then establish an aviation flight school on either side of the border. That way, he could get a little piece of the action from all those rich drug dealers and criminals he claims are coming here. 

Seriously though, Trump wants Mexico to pay for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Mexican President Enrico Peńa Nieto said no and is offended at Trump's insinuations, not to mention the words he used about Mexico sending us its rapists and murderers. Just this week, Nieto canceled a trip he had planned to the U.S. Trump is angry that Nieto won't agree, so he is looking at other ways to get the job done. He doesn't seem to care about how much it will harm the people he works for--us! He is talking about imposing a tax on imports. 

Vengeance has no place in governing, yet Trump has exhibited several instances of his need to get even with people who are critical of him, much like he did with Hillary Clinton, who once was an invited guest at his wedding. 

In addition to angering one of our best trading partners, taxing goods in Mexico will include higher priced fruits and vegetables and other imported goods. How is this beneficial to anyone?

There have been so many things in the last seven days that are offensive and downright dangerous, like Trump's claim that when we pulled out of Iraq, we should have taken the oil. First of all, that would be a violation of the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, how does Trump's off-handed remark potentially harm our soldiers stationed in Iraq--soldiers charged with peace-keeping duties? I certainly hope soldiers aren't killed because of Trump's bravado.

We all have a long way to go to understand how our government operates. It will be more difficult in time, as Trump plans to silence the media that disagrees with him. This, to me, is the most dangerous thing of all. Without a free press, we might as well be Nazi Germany. 

Don't ever stop asking questions. Don't ever stop trying to understand. But if you do, please don't complain about those of us who do.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Will spraying for Zika bring about a silent spring?

monarch butterfly
Already dwindling populations, are we irreparably
harming our butterflies and bees?
While watching the news this morning, I was alarmed by the reports of almost frenzied aerial spraying of insecticides in Florida in hopes of eradicating the Zika virus.

Is it wise to douse every living thing with poison?

While I understand that this illness must be eradicated, I can't help but worry about the long-and- short term effects. Is this overkill?

The Zika virus has been around for a long time, discovered in monkeys in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 with the first human case five years later. Cases were reported in Africa and Asia, but not until 2015 was it discovered in South America. There are now reports of cases in southern Florida and more widespread instances of Zika-carrying mosquitoes throughout the southern United States and beyond. The disease is spread by mosquito bites, and as recently discovered, through sexual contact, and possibly by blood transfusion. Despite its long history, more than 60 years, there remains no vaccine.

While I understand the need to control the spread of this disease, which can cause microcephaly, a severe fetal brain defect, in infants. There are also increased reports of Guilllain-Barre syndrome, a disease where "a person's own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC). But I can't help but worry about the effects of widespread use of insecticide.

Will we see a Silent Spring in seven months from now?

Zika is an "international health emergency," say the CDC, as new countries affected are added almost daily. According to a timeline published by Reuters, the first baby born with microcephaly in the U.S. was in Florida June 28 of this year. Today, it says the CDC reports 400 pregnant women in the U.S. with evidence of the infection, up from 346 a week before. Three more babies have been born in the U.S. with birth defects, bringing the total to 12. Infected babies were also born in New York City, Spain, and Honduras.

Cases are declining in Brazil where the Olympic games are about to begin. Numbers are falling--from 3,710 to 3,741--a week ago.

The first Zika death has been reported in Puerto Rico in April where there are also 683 suspected cases, including 65 pregnant women and five suspected instances of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Spain reported its first case of a brain-defect related to Zika in May.

Surely widespread spraying of insecticide cannot be done worldwide. Wouldn't it be more prudent to encourage individuals to protect themselves from being bitten by infected mosquitoes?

There are scientific solutions on the horizon, such as the controversial genetically-modified mosquitoes, but for a myriad reasons, not the least of which are funding and uncooperative public agencies, that is not happening.

We find ourselves in a potentially deadly situation at present, but what about the solutions causing irreversible damage to the environment? 

The most commonly used fogging agents used in Florida to kill adult mosquitoes are pyrethroids.

This man-made chemical is similar to the natural occurring compound in the chrysanthemum flower. Large amounts of this chemical can cause dizziness, headache, and nausea that can last for several hours. Larger amounts might cause muscle twitching, reduced energy, and changes in awareness. In larger amounts, it could cause convulsions and loss of consciousness. Exposure might be capable of causing cancer, according to the Toxic substances portal of the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry of the CDC. 

We have already seen a decline in the number of bees and butterflies, as well as other pollinators essential to the production of food and essential plants. According to Nature World News, "Now new research has determined that sprays commonly used to control mosquito populations in the United States may also be having an adverse effect on common butterfly populations." The publication cites journals: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, and Chemosphere.

This 2015 article, published prior to the massive spraying due to Zika, sounded alarms to the use of insecticides.

"It was already known that these chemicals were toxic to many species past a certain concentration," according to the report. It adds that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already lists insecticides as toxic to aquatic organisms and honeybees.