Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Computer Programmers Would Make Good Legislators

By Alan Burkhart

CodeFade No clue why this occurred to me, except that I stopped working on a programming project (my hobby) to read the news, which these days is almost all political. I read yet again about the sheer size (2000+ pages) and cost (who knows? Probably trillions) of the so-called health care reform. And as I read I began to wonder just how much of the final bill will be legitimate legislation and how much will be end-runs, workarounds, patches, what-ifs, and so on.

Every time a new law is created, whatever problem they were trying to solve usually gets worse (and more expensive). But, rather than repealing or rewriting the buggy law, they just keep piling on more legalese and spending more money until the original problem finally goes away. But as we all know, in the process of writing all this massive, mindless legislation, they invariably create a brand new mess of problems.

And of course, they now feel the need to write yet more laws to solve the new problems (that they caused), and the vicious circle continues. The bank failures, courtesy of The Community Reinvestment Act, come to mind.

Imagine if a programmer behaved in such a way...

You write a block of code to access a certain file, but in the process you create a bug in another part of the program (a common occurrence). What do you do? You remove the offending code to eliminate the problem,  then you think it through, and then you write new code that accomplishes your purpose of the moment without creating the problem.

headbang But what if instead you simply applied some sort of cheap workaround instead of properly fixing the code? In all likelihood, you'll have broken another part of the project without even knowing it. You don't find out until a week later, and by then you've forgotten the aforementioned workaround and have no clue why the program is behaving so badly. So you write a workaround for this, too. You end up with twice as much code as you should have and the  program is a house of cards – subject to falling apart at any moment.

Am I stretching my often-questionable logic too far here? Maybe. But imagine for a moment if legislators wrote legal code like most of us nerds write computer code. When (not if) a new law totally screws an unrelated sector of society, you go back and remove the block of legal code that caused the problem. And then you figure out how to rewrite the law without causing collateral damage. You don't just pile on hundreds of lines of lawyer-speak until the problem goes away. Imagine – sensible, constructive legislation that pays Paul without robbing Peter.

The health care legislation currently being debated in the Senate is in excess of two thousand pages. That's a lot of legal code. I wonder how many "bugs" that'll cause? I daresay a system-wide crash will be just around the corner if it passes.

Perhaps before passing a new law to solve a problem, our legislators should consider instead repealing the law that caused it.

Discussion at Free Republic:

Discussion at The Code Project: Click here

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ain’t No Fanatic Like a Religious Fanatic

By Alan Burkhart

People can always find an excuse for killing each other. It’s human nature. But I find it doubly disturbing when someone feels wanton murder is somehow an act of righteousness. Faleh Hassan Almaleki and Yasser Said stand accused of attacking their daughters. The fact that as of this writing, both are still on the run pretty much cinches their guilt.

Almaleki’s daughter, Noor Faleh Almaleki, is alive but suffered life-threatening injuries when her loving father ran her down with his car. Said’s two daughters were shot a total of eleven times in his taxi cab.

Noor Faleh Almaleki PEORIA, AZ. - Peoria police are looking for a father suspected of running down his daughter because she was becoming too "westernized" and was not living according to their traditional Iraqi values.

Peoria police say 48-year-old Faleh Hassan Almaleki of Glendale allegedly ran his daughter down Tuesday at an Arizona Department of Economic Security parking lot in Peoria. - KSAZ Fox 10

LEWISVILLE, TXSarah and Amina. - An honor killing.  That's how the mother [Patricia Owens] of two girls murdered in their father's taxicab last year describes their deaths. 

Amina and Sara Said's father, Yasser Said, is wanted for capital murder for allegedly shooting them 11 times on New Year's Night 2008.

Owens says their father was offering the girls a night out on January 1, 2008.  Amina had even come home from a friend's house.  "Amina said she was hungry and he said he was going to take them to eat," Owens said, "and the next thing I knew the Lewisville Police was at my door."

The officers were there to notify her of a 911 call that had come into Irving Police, in which one of her daughters screamed she was being shot. - CBS 11 TV

Hey lady! Cover up that hand! That much of Islam’s teachings reduces women to little more than property is beyond debate. We see and hear evidence of this sad fact around the world almost daily. Those who adhere to and believe in a strict Islamic lifestyle cannot help but regard Western culture as decadent and obscene.

This of course gives rise to the question: “If we’re such a rotten bunch here in the USA, why do Muslims flock across our borders in such great numbers?”

There are many possible answers to that question - some right, some wrong. Many Muslims come to America and other Western nations to escape the violence and poverty often present under Muslim rule. One can hardly blame anyone for wanting to get out of Afghanistan.

Why then, do some Muslims insist upon bringing with them the thing that destroyed their lives overseas? No one expects them to completely leave their culture and religion behind, but it should be obvious to these people why their home countries are in such a sorry state of affairs. The so-called Religion of Peace is little more than a death cult.

Humble servants of Allah One needs look no further than the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to see the carnage wrought upon innocent people, especially women, by Muslim fanatics. Women are feared and mistrusted, seen somehow as predators preying upon the weaknesses of honorable men. For this, the Taliban denies them almost all basic human rights. They aren’t even allowed an education under the Taliban’s primitive interpretation of Islamic law.

Kooky Krazy Kracker These beliefs and the resultant abuse and murder bear a disturbing resemblance to the treatment of blacks during America’s dark past. When blacks were finally granted citizenship and voting rights in the US, many backwards-thinking whites were loathe to see blacks become their cultural equals. Much violence was done against blacks as they sought to emerge from the shadow of slavery and live lives free from the fear of harm.

Racial prejudice has gradually faded in America, though it still rears its ugly head from time to time. Trouble makers, both black and white, find excuses to stir the racial soup to see what rises to the top. How fortunate we are that such human debris are the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps some Muslim men feel similar fears upon coming to America. Centuries of being taught that women are unworthy of respect, that their lives have less value than primitive notions of “honor” can be difficult to leave behind. Change can be a frightening prospect.

But what can be done under US constitutional law to protect Muslim women from harm on our soil? Non-Muslim men commit violence against their families every day. Domestic abuse is rampant in America, so we can’t exactly look down our noses at Muslims in particular. Many innocent American women are murdered without any connections to religion, Islam or otherwise.

I think a broader problem, of which domestic abuse specifically by Muslim men is a symptom, is the mindset that is created by adherence to strict interpretations of the Muslim faith.  Apostasy, for example – leaving the Muslim faith for another religious faith – is punishable by death under Muslim law. And in many Muslim nations, Muslim law is the law of the land.

In Western civilization, law is not based solely on religious beliefs. Any government that respects all religious beliefs must by definition be religion-neutral. This isn’t to say that lawmakers should not be allowed to follow their beliefs, but rather that no religion be allowed to trump the rights of the citizenry. And our rights are guaranteed via the limits placed upon government in our Constitution.

(Note to President Obama: Please memorize the previous sentence. There will be a quiz.)

911 - Second Explosion This is the dilemma we face as a free nation in allowing religious extremists into our society. We cannot ban Muslims because of their faith, nor can we routinely intrude into the homes of Muslims just because they’re Muslims. But we must remember the fact that the same extremist mindset that led Yasser Said and Faleh Hassan Almaleki to attack their daughters, is that which led 19 Muslim terrorists to kill 3000 Americans on September 11, 2001.

BOSTON —  Tarek Mehanna grew up in Boston's upscale suburbs, earned a doctorate in pharmacology, taught religion and math at a Muslim middle school and was considered a typical American kid by those who knew him. Yet Mehanna, who had Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, told a friend he felt out of place in America, according to documents filed in court. And prosecutors say he used his hostility toward this country in a plot to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, assassinate top politicians and shoot down shoppers in U.S. malls.

Mehanna, 27, was arrested early Wednesday at his parents' home in Sudbury, an affluent town around 20 miles west of Boston. He was charged with conspiring with two others — Ahmad Abousamra, an American now in Syria, and an unidentified man who is cooperating with authorities — to support terrorism. – Fox News 10.22.09

Islam, in the mind of a devout Muslim, supersedes any and all other laws. This is why it is considered a crime in some Muslim nations to practice a non-Muslim religion, and why non-Muslims are often treated badly under Sharia law.

And, it is why innocent young women like Sarah and Amina Said were struck down in the flower of their youth. It’s why Noor is fighting for her life after her father ran over her. It’s why Fathima Rifqa Bary ran away to Florida to escape her father after she converted to Christianity. Whether her fears were justified, only time will tell. But the fact that she has those fears is significant.

Western culture is far from perfect, but we abhor and punish those who commit violence against the innocent. Muslim culture, whether it openly embraces it or not, is at least tolerant of violence against women and non-Muslims. Peaceful Muslims living in the US, Canada and other civilized nations have done little to persuade their fellow immigrants to embrace the West’s more tolerant way of life.

Until Islam moves forward and joins the rest of the world in the 21st century, women will continue to be in danger from Islam’s warped sense of honor. And the world at large will continue to be victimized by violent Muslim fanatics who kill at the urging of their false god.


FreeRepublic Post:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


GA_Flood During the recent storms and floods that besieged the state of Georgia, I had occasion to drive all the way across the state on I-75. Beautiful sunny weather down south, but as I neared Atlanta the skies were darkening and the wind was bending the trees along the roadside. By the time I reached Atlanta, I was in the midst of a chain of raging thunderstorms.

You would think that people who live in the rainy Southeast would know how to drive in the rain. But no, they were sliding and spinning all around me. The rain was worsening and visibility was reduced as badly as if I were driving in thick fog. After one stretch in which I witnessed three accidents in about five miles, I found myself a truck stop and called it a day. I’m way too old to play bumper car.

Sitting there in the Pilot Travel Center in Cartersville, GA, I began thinking back about some of the accidents I’ve seen – and the handful I’ve been involved in. A traffic accident is something you don’t forget – especially that sick feeling at the last second when you realize there is nothing you can do to avoid the collision. I’ve logged about two million miles in thirty years of trucking, and I’ve had my share.

Don’t Cross That Line…

SlingPackTrailer In 1986 I was hauling glass for a living. A “sling pack” glass hauler is a specialty trailer with a large rack in the center for hauling uncrated glass. As you can see in the image, the middle of the trailer is quite low to the ground.

I had delivered in Ford City, PA and was headed home empty. Passing through east Texas on a dark two-lane road late in the night, I was just humming along thinking about nothing in particular. I was meeting a car when it drifted across the center line and impacted the lower part of the trailer. Sparks flying, the car ground itself to pieces against the trailer, spun around behind me a slid off into the ditch.

I stopped and ran back to the car. An elderly gentleman who’d been about a half mile behind me and lived nearby said he would run home and call the police. I dashed down into the ditch, and here is this guy, about 19 or 20 years old, walking around the remains of what had been a really slick Olds 442. The whole driver’s side was basically missing. He had plenty of scrapes and bruises but nothing life-threatening. The kid smelled like a brewery and the back floorboard was full of Milwaukie’s finest.

I walked up and introduced myself, and the guy actually asked me if I had seen what hit him. I replied that yeah, in a manner of speaking I had seen it.

“Well, what was it?!”

Yep. He was that drunk.

When a Texas state trooper arrived he took one look at the guy and deposited him in the back of his patrol car. I limped on home, and the trailer required quite a bit of work before I could load it again. The Olds, I’m sure, was a total loss. Too  bad – those were great cars.

Things That Go Bump At The Light…

DatsunPickup In 1988 I was in southeastern North Carolina – I don’t recall the town – sitting at a traffic light. I was pulling a 48-foot steel flatbed loaded with lumber. Imagine my surprise when I felt a rather solid impact from behind. I jumped out and ran to the back of the trailer where a crowd of people was gathering.

There was this old Buick, a big late 60’s road yacht, crammed into the back of the trailer. The man and wife inside were hurt although not terribly so. But behind them was the little Datsun pickup truck (remember those?) that had hit the Buick hard enough to shove it into my trailer. The two girls inside were badly injured. The driver’s forehead had been essentially peeled back and the flap of skin was hanging down over her face. I eased it back into place and held it there to slow her bleeding until an ambulance arrived. The other girl’s legs were bleeding freely, the dashboard having been pushed down on them just above her knees. Both were unconscious.

It was about nine o’clock in the morning. According to a county deputy I spoke to a few days later, the two young gals were more than a little intoxicated (beginning to see a trend here?). I never found out if they’d just gotten an early start or were still drunk from the night before. I don’t suppose it matters at this point. Hopefully they recovered from their ordeal, and perhaps learned from it.

Butch Needs A Ride…

130 bbl vacuum trailer In 1980 I was still trucking in the oilfield, having not yet “graduated” to cross-country trucking. I was pulling a tanker for a large oilfield construction and service company in Palestine, TX. On this particular morning, all of the drivers were as usual hanging out in the “driver’s room.” This is where we waited for the various truck foremen to come out and send us to wherever they thought we needed to be that day. My foreman, a very cool dude named Gary, sauntered in and asked me if I knew where Butch lived. I replied in the affirmative and he said Butch had called and asked for a ride because he’d had car trouble.

I grabbed one of the company pickups – a painfully stripped down, no-frills Chevy half-ton, and headed out US 79 to Butch’s house. Butch lived right alongside highway 79, and so I’m sitting there waiting for traffic to clear so I can make a left into his driveway. Let me add here that highway 79 is the main drag through Palestine. A very busy road in the morning. Butch is standing there in his driveway, lunch pail in hand, when I saw him get this horrified look on his face. I instinctively knew what was coming. I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna hurt.” I was right.

FordPickupFront The 3/4 ton Ford pickup plowed into me from behind, literally knocking the bed completely off the truck I was driving and shoving me about fifty feet ahead. My head snapped back and hit the rear window, then forward so my eyebrows could kiss the steering wheel (yes, I was wearing a seatbelt). Somehow, I also managed to yank my left pinkie finger out of socket. Never did figure out how that happened.

As you might imagine I was rather dizzy and uncomfortable at that point, and feeling like I’d just picked a fight with the wrong locomotive. I got out of the truck and promptly slid to the asphalt. The woman in the other pickup was screaming as if the Hounds of Hell were after her, so when Butch came to my side I asked him to check on her.

He came back a moment later and helped me to my feet. He said the lady had not one scratch, but was bawling her eyes out because she’d just wrecked her husband’s brand new truck. I was less than sympathetic, as were the cops. According to a motorist who was following her in traffic, she’d had a newspaper open across the steering wheel when she hit me. Excuse me for thinking perhaps the radio would have been a better option for getting the morning news en route to work.

She actually fought the ticket, claiming that I had pulled out from the shoulder in front of her. Never mind the half-dozen or so eye witnesses who testified against her. As I recall, she ended up going to a defensive driving school. I spent a few days at home. It’s hard to drive a truck with both your eyes swelled shut. Hey, anything for a day off, right?

Turnpike Turkey…

MassPikeSign During the busier parts of the day, the intersection of I-84 and I-90 near Sturbridge, MA. is a nightmare. I-84 is a free road, but I-90 is toll. Traffic backs up for miles waiting to get to a toll booth. In fall of 1999, I was creeping along, having covered about 200 yards in 10 or 15 minutes. There is this little import car – a Honda if memory serves – beside me. The lanes narrow down from 6 or 8 to about 4 or 6 (I forget exactly how many) before the booths, so people are constantly jockeying for position.

I was aware of the car. But I was already in a lane that would roll me through a booth. This guy was determined to get ahead of me. He was evidently planning to intimidate me with sheer size and brute strength of his vehicle. Interestingly enough, he’d had several opportunities to move to the right and get into a lane. But he seemed especially enamored of the lane I was in.

TollBoothBooBoo At about walking speed, the guy just drove into the right front wheel of my truck. The lugs chewed up his left fender like so much soft taffy. I rolled on through the booth, got my toll ticket and stopped on the other side. The Honda comes through behind me, stops and the guy jumps out hopping mad. I ignored him while I walked around to the right side of my truck to check for damage. Aside from some blue paint in the threads of my lug bolts, all was well.

The whole time I’m inspecting the truck, this four-eyed human hemorrhoid in a cheap suit is ranting and raving, telling me about his high-dollar lawyer and all his friends on the Sturbridge Police Department. I called the Mass State Police and informed them of the incident. They asked if anyone was injured. When I replied that no, we were fine, they said, “Thank you and have a nice day.”

I told him the same thing before I drove away.

Oops, My Bad…

Lest you think I am concealing evidence - I will admit that yes, I did cause an accident. Back in 1988 I was in Upstate New York in some little backwater town. I was hunting a small pre-fabricated steel plant where I was to pick up a load bound for Topeka, KS. I reached a “T” intersection and was looking both ways to hopefully see the place (my directions weren’t exactly of Rand McNally quality). I spotted it down the street, but needed to make a right turn to get there. As luck would have it, it was a narrow intersection and I needed to swing wide to make it.

FlatbedRear For reasons unknown, my common sense, experience and training all chose that moment to forsake me. I glanced in the mirror, saw nothing, and backed up so I could swing wide to the left to make the turn. And of course, there was car right behind me – too close for me to see it in my mirrors. Crunch time.

I pretty much annihilated this girl’s bumper, hood and grill. No one was hurt since I was moving quite slowly, and she apologized for being too close. But I told her no apologies from her were warranted. This one was on me. It would have taken perhaps 10 seconds for me to have stepped out of the cab to properly look behind the trailer. But it never even occurred to me to do so.

Amazing how dangerous even a momentary lapse of judgment can be. And I promise I’ll always get out and look in the future.

See ya’ll on the road.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Conscience or Career?

By Alan Burkhart

More and more often we encounter news of an employee forced to choose between his or her job and performing an act which that person finds morally reprehensible. This occurs most frequently in the medical and pharmaceutical professions.

Consider the case of Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo,  a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. According to a recent article in the New York Post:

A Brooklyn nurse [Cenzon-DeCarlo] claims she was forced to choose between her religious convictions and her job when Mount Sinai Hospital ordered her to assist in a late-term abortion against her will.

"It felt like a horror film unfolding," said Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo, 35, who claims she has had gruesome nightmares and hasn't been able to sleep since the May 24 incident...

Cenzon-DeCarlo is a devout Catholic and niece of a Filipino Bishop. Given the Vatican's strict interpretation of scriptures regarding abortion, it's easy to see why the young lady was so upset by the situation.

From the Vatican's "Declaration on procured abortion":
You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born."[6] Athenagoras emphasizes that Christians consider as murderers those women who take medicines to procure an abortion; he condemns the killers of children, including those still living in their mother's womb, "where they are already the object of the care of divine Providence." Tertullian did not always perhaps use the same language; he nevertheless clearly affirms the essential principle: "To prevent birth is anticipated murder; it makes little difference whether one destroys a life already born or does away with it in its nascent stage. The one who will be a man is already one."

However, the abortion in question was evidently not one sought as a matter of convenience or after-the-fact birth control. Was this case  justifiable as a "clinical" abortion? That depends upon whom you ask.

Mt. Sinai Hospital staff allegedly told  Cenzon-DeCarlo that the patient was suffering from preeclampsia and required immediate treatment in the form of a late-term abortion (the patient was 22 weeks into her pregnancy).

Cenzon-DeCarlo claims that the patient was not taking magnesium treatments – the standard therapy for preeclampsia – and showed no outward signs that she was in immediate danger.

WebMD has the following to say regarding preeclampsia and eclampsia :
Also referred to as toxemia, preeclampsia is a condition that pregnant women can get. It is marked by high blood pressure accompanied with a high level of protein in the urine. Women with preeclampsia will often also have swelling in the feet, legs, and hands. Preeclampsia, when present, usually appears during the second half of pregnancy, generally in the latter part of the second or in the third trimesters, although it can occur earlier.

Eclampsia is the final and most severe phase of preeclampsia and occurs when preeclampsia is left untreated. In addition to the previously mentioned signs of preeclampsia, women with eclampsia often have seizures. Eclampsia can cause coma and even death of the mother and baby and can occur before, during, or after childbirth.

Cenzon-DeCarlo has filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming her religious rights were violated.

There also have been several high-profile cases in recent years involving pharmacists who refused to sell female customers a "morning after" pill to terminate a possible pregnancy.

Where do we draw the line between legal / ethical responsibility and religious freedom?

Where do we draw the line regarding an employee's rights and the rights of the customer and the employer?

While I am admantly pro-life, I cannot agree with those who attempt to alter their workplace to fit their own personal beliefs. Let's consider some admittedly over-the-top examples:

  • If you object to pornography, should you apply as a salesperson at "Ample Annie's Triple-X Emporium?"
  • If you're vehemently anti-gun, why are you working at Smith and Wesson?
  • If you're a card-carrying member of PETA, should you be working at a slaughter house?
  • If you are a nurse and you object to abortion, shouldn't you be working at a facility that does not perform abortions?

A business, any business, reflects the personality and beliefs of its owner and management. It is not the place of employees to attempt to fundamentally alter that business. If you're offended by the fact that your boss sells Cajun-Grilled Breast of Spotted Owl, you do not have the right to refuse to serve it. Either take care of the customer, or hunt a new job.

Walgreens sells the "morning after pill." They recently fired several pharmacists who refused to dispense the drug because of their pro-life views. In the moral sense, I agree with the pharmacists. But no one was twisting their arms to make them work at Walgreens. If they found the practice unacceptable, they should have simply moved on.

True enough, President Bush strengthened the rules protecting employees whose conscience was at odds with employer policy. It's also likely that President Obama will undo those rules. And I will find it impossible to disagree with him if he does. The inmates cannot be allowed to run the asylum. For a business to provide goods and services consistent with its mission statement and advertising, everyone has to be on the same page.

As a trucker, if I object to the consumption of alcohol but go to work for a company that routinely hauls beer, how can I complain? When my dispatcher tells me to head over to Miller Brewing Company, shall I tell him, "Sorry, I don't do beer loads?" Do I have that right?

No, I don't. I'm basically asking to get fired and will probably get what I asked for.

If you want your views to be respected, then you must be willing to respect the views of others. Whether you agree with those views is irrelevant. Respect is a two-way street. That's not to say that you can't try sitting down with your boss and discussing the matter. But if your boss says you have to be willing to do whatever it is you find objectionable, then you have two options: You can comply, or you can hit the help wanted section in the classifieds.

The boss may not always be right, but he's always the boss.

Sources and Related Reading:




ACLJ sues Walgreens over ‘morning-after’ pill firings

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

How did I get here?

CellPhone_Texting That has to be the question Staten Island teen Alexa Longueira was asking when she suddenly found herself down a New York City manhole.

According to MyFox New York:

Alexa Longueira was walking down Victory Boulevard and getting ready to text-message when she fell into an open sewer manhole. Now the city is trying to figure out why the manhole was left open and unblocked. Alexa suffered some cuts and scrapes but is otherwise OK.

So just how did Alexa end up in a manhole?

Seems the young lady was too busy texting to pay attention to where she was going. Pardon me for saying so, but given that she was walking around in one of the world’s largest and busiest cities, shouldn’t she have been paying attention to her environment? Perhaps I’m being unreasonable.

It’s a given that the manhole shouldn’t have been uncovered. The city workers involved say they’d left it open only for a moment to grab some cones. They probably assumed that people walking down the street would be paying attention. Perhaps they were being unreasonable, too.

Here’s an interesting thought: Had Alexa sauntered down the street a few seconds later, there is every chance she’d have tripped over the cones and gone head first into the manhole. She might have died, and this story would have lost all of its entertainment value. Do you doubt me? Think about it – she was obviously paying zero attention to the path ahead of her. If she didn’t see that gaping hole, why would she see a rubber cone?

And of course, Alexa’s parents say they plan to file a lawsuit. If they cared one whit about their daughter, they’d apologize to the city and thoroughly discipline poor Alexa for being so careless with her own safety.

Every day I see people texting while they’re driving. It’s insane. Many areas have enacted laws against texting while driving, which is a good indicator of just how serious the problem has become. Mind you, I love my little Motorola cell phone. And yes, I send the occasional text message. But if I’m walking, I stop. And I never… NEVER text while driving. You should be very relieved about that since I drive an 18-wheeler for a living. Remember: I’m out there. Somewhere. Always.

And please explain to me how you can be watching where you’re going while concentrating on making a smiley face on a 3-inch screen? Answer: You can’t. And that’s why sooner or later you’ll crash into the back of my trailer at 70 mph. Perhaps your family will have “LOL! :-)” etched on your gravestone.

Come on people, grow up just a little bit, okay? I’d hate to meet you by accident.

Related Reading:

MyFox article

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Absent Friends

NOTE: Because a police investigation is ongoing and the person described in this post is charged but not yet convicted, I am not using her name. She is referred to here simply as “XXX.”

I have had a death in my family. Sammi, my 4-legged feline companion died sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Had she died of natural causes I could deal with it. But Sammi's death was anything but natural.

For 7 years, I had trusted XXX with a key to my house and each day (while I'm on the road) she would come over and feed her and scoop the litter box and spend some time with her. XXX also would let me know when the electric bill arrived and tell me how much it was so I could get it paid, often by sending her the money via ComChek (a money transfer service). I paid her for her time each month, and for 7 years she took reasonably good care of Sammi. It was an imperfect but workable arrangement.

Tuesday I was unable to contact XXX. I knew the electric bill was due. So I called the electric company to find out the amount. That’s when I discovered the previous bill was never paid and the electricity had been off for several days. I was over 400 miles away from home in Tennessee. I contacted a friend and sent her the money and she paid the bill for me. But no one had a key to my house. No way to check on Sammi.

I drove nearly non-stop from TN to my home in MS. I found Sammi dead in front of her EMPTY water dispenser and EMPTY food dispenser. Whether it was starvation, dehydration, or cooked alive by the searing heat inside a mobile home with no a/c (100+ degrees OUTSIDE), I'll never know. It hardly matters at this point - Sammi died alone. And she suffered horribly. She died wondering why neither XXX or I was there to help her.

XXX, a neighbor, mother of two young children, and the woman whom for 7 years I had trusted with the well-being of a cherished pet, went down in one of the largest drug busts in the history of the state of MS - fifty people taken into custody and over a million dollars‘ worth of meth confiscated. My understanding is that she is accused of being a transporter.

I didn’t find out about the bust until Tuesday evening, and by then it was too late. Sammi was trapped here in the house for over a week before I even knew there was a problem. The drug trade has claimed yet another innocent life, and deprived me of one of my best friends.

I have no words to describe how I feel, except that it feels as if I have been poisoned. Everywhere I look, I see something that reminds me of her. I cannot bear to look at her scratching post, yet neither can I bear to dispose of it. I cannot walk into the kitchen without seeing her tiny form lying there where I found her, even though I’ve laid her to rest. I still catch myself looking at the floor before I move my office chair, because one night I rolled across the tip of her tail as she slept near my feet.

If I have learned anything from this, it is that none of us lives in a vacuum. What we do, or do not do, affects others. I could blame all this on XXX. I could rant and rave about her criminal activities and how Sammi’s blood is on her hands. And to a degree I would be correct. But, no. I grew complacent, content to let someone else tend to my affairs in my absence, and Sammi paid the price for that complacency. And I also will pay a price, tendered in haunting “what-if” questions that will gnaw at me for years to come.

Hindsight is always 20-20. Perhaps had I paid a bit more attention, I'd have questioned how XXX could drive an expensive SUV on a fixed income. Perhaps I’d have picked up on some hint that things were not as they appeared. Then again, perhaps not. I'll never know, but I'll always wonder. I'll not bury myself in guilt, but Sammi was my charge. I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something I could have done differently that might have saved her.

Warm thanks to all of the friends and family who’ve been so supportive over the last 24 hours. Some may be curious as to why I’ve posted this, given how (very) unpleasant it is to write about it. Three reasons: To let the rest of my good friends know what’s transpired, to attempt to clear my head a bit by articulating what’s spinning around inside it, and lastly because it’s a good reminder of just how painful the consequences can be when we behave irresponsibly.

The link below goes to a news video (it's a pop-up window) regarding the bust. XXX is among those shown walking in chains into the courthouse. I’ll not say which is her, because she is not yet convicted.
Click here for the video.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Religious Freedom versus Parental Responsibility

For generations, free nations have recognized the individual’s right to believe and worship as he or she sees fit. In the United States it is considered to be among our most sacred constitutional protections. Our own Declaration of Independence makes a direct and undeniable link between our nation’s religious heritage and the basic human rights Americans hold dear:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How unfortunate it is then, that in recent times we have seen an upswing in cases where religious freedom and human rights have come to be at loggerheads.

In spite of its numerous flaws, the USA has one of the better healthcare systems on the planet. Why then, do some parents subject their children to the twenty-first century equivalent of witch doctors and faith healing? What part of “Thou shalt not kill” do they not understand?

Certainly, parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit must be protected. It is not the business of government to dictate what values a child is taught in the home, how they are disciplined (excepting abuse), and what spiritual teachings parents share with their children. But as in all facets of a civilized society, lines must be drawn. And when parents step over those lines, authorities must step in to protect the children.

Such is the case with respect to two children currently in the news.

Thirteen year-old Daniel Hauser, of Sleepy Eye, MN suffers from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Due to their religious beliefs, his parents stopped his chemo-therapy and decided to pursue “alternative treatments” as defined by a Native American religious group called the “Nemenhah Band” to which they belong. As a result of this decision, Daniel’s tumor is growing. Daniel’s parents claim their affiliation with the group does not conflict with their Catholic faith.

Fortunately for Daniel, a Minnesota judge has stepped in to save his life. According to an article at

In a 58-page ruling Friday, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser of Sleepy Eye, Minn., has been "medically neglected" and is in need of child protection services. Rodenberg said Daniel will stay in the custody of his parents, but Colleen and Anthony Hauser have until May 19 to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.
For Daniel, there is hope.

The same cannot be said for Madeline Kara Neumann of Weston, WI. The personable, popular eleven year-old girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis in 2008. Diabetic ketoacidosis is completely treatable if one acts promptly. I know: I am a diabetic and developed the same condition in 2007. When I think of the nausea, the loss of control of bodily function, the thirst and the sheer blinding pain I went through, I cannot bear to think what this innocent girl must have suffered. That she did so needlessly only makes it worse.

In an AP article from 2008, Police Chief Dan Vergin had the following to say:

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing "was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray," he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.
Madeline’s parents now face charges of reckless homicide and could end up spending the next twenty-five years in prison. But no prison sentence can resurrect their daughter.

A worthy question at this point is: “When are authorities justified in usurping the religious rights of parents to protect their children?”

To me this is not a complicated question. Here’s why:

Refer back to the excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. Our founding documents recognize that we are guaranteed - not by our government but by our Creator - “certain unalienable Rights, [and] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

By allowing a dependent child to suffer or die, a parent is in direct conflict with this most important line from the Declaration. It is the parents’ charge to protect the God-given life and liberty of their children. Should they fail in that charge and place their children in harm’s way, they have effectively forfeited their rights as parents by defaulting on their responsibilities.

Mainstream Christianity and Judaism have no reservation about protecting the lives of the innocent, including those still within the womb. But groups like the Nemenhah Band and others have become more prevalent as the years go by.

Regardless of one’s faith, common sense should tell these people that anytime a so-called “spiritual leader” deviates wildly from well-known and established teachings, questions should be asked. There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Christians are in fact warned of this in Second Peter:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.”
Minor children are for the most part unable to speak for themselves in legal matters. They cannot make major decisions regarding their own healthcare. They have neither the legal authority nor the necessary life experience to make such decisions. It is a parent’s most basic responsibility to make those decisions in the child’s stead. When a parent, through either malicious intent or outright stupidity puts a child’s life in danger, the rights of the child must take precedence over those of the parents.

Any parent who allows a child to die for “religious reasons” is as guilty of murder as one who puts a gun to the head of a toddler, and deserves to be dealt with accordingly. Hell isn’t hot enough for people like Leilani Neumann.

UPDATE (May 17/09):
Check out the story of 10 year-old Hannah Powell-Auslam. Try to imagine being only 10 and having breast cancer. Her parents are seeing to her medical care (which unfortunately included a mastectomy) and she's doing well.

Photo Credits:
Daniel Hauser & Madeline Neumann: The Associated Press
Cross & Declaration of Independence: & public domain image combined

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Images From Missouri Ice Storm

By Alan Burkhart

Thursday (01.29.09) I traveled up I-55 through Arkansas and Missouri on the heels of a rather nasty winter storm. From just north of Blytheville, AR to a bit north of Charleston, MO the storm dropped an unbelievable amount of ice. The results were devastating. Thousands of people without power and significant damage to homes, trees and power lines.

Being the shutterbug that I am, I grabbed my digital camera to get images for my blog. But the batteries were dead. And since no one had power and all the stores were closed, I could not get any batteries. So, I was reduced to walking around in the cold snapping low-resolution pics in bad light with my cell phone. Most of them came out too crappy to use here, but I've managed to salvage a few. Most of these were shot at or near the Pilot Travel Center in Hayti, MO. A few others were shot north of Hayti after I hit the road again.

Trees along I-55 just smashed to bits by the ice

Look at this tiny twig encased in so much ice...

Uh oh! Better call GEICO

Another crappy image (crappy cell camera)
This was at the exit of the Pilot Travel Center

(Above & Below) Decorative trees at the Pilot ruined by the ice

One of hundreds of power poles snapped by the ice

No power = no gas.
While at the Pilot, I was approached by dozens of motorists looking for
ANY PLACE they could find some gas.
Also an elderly fellow whose generator had run out of fuel.

(Above and Below)
There is a tree under all that ice.
Really. No foolin'

See ya'll on the road.