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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Megan Lancaster: Still Missing and Subject of Unkind Facebook Reference

 Megan Lancaster

Here is a comment made recently by a young lady on the Facebook page "Finding Megan Lancaster 2013." Her identity will remain concealed in this blog entry.

"Give it up already. One less prostitute is how it should be seen."

Telling people to "give up" on finding Megan Lancaster, a young girl missing for well over a year, is uncaring enough, but to suggest she is a worthless piece of refuse is inhumane. It is amazing how some people insist on judging others while placing themselves above reproach. I think people should consider their own faults before thoughtlessly writing such words of condemnation.

26-year-old Megan Lancaster has been missing since April 3, 2013. Her car, a Ford Mustang, was found on April 5 abandoned at the Portsmouth, Ohio, Rally's Restaurant on 1111 Monroe Street. The family reported Lancaster’s wallet was found in the passenger seat of her car. When they've tried to call her, Lancaster’s phone went to voicemail.

Some employees at Rally's report a white Chevy pulling in behind Lancaster's parked car on April 3. These reports say she got into the car with an unidentified subject somewhere around 10:00 P.M. that night. Employees are said to have copied the license number of the suspect Chevy and reported it to the local authorities. They even claim to have seen it "stalking" the lot days later.

One later sighting of Megan on April 3 was reported to have occurred at a convenience store/gas station in Wheelersburg around 1:00 A.M. Megan appeared to be in distress at the time.

Now, over sixteen months later, Megan is still missing, and her family and friends still anxiously await her return. It appears that the investigation has grown "cold." Little more, if any, is known about Lancaster's disappearance or her whereabouts. Rumors and speculation are rampant.

Yet ...

This young Facebooker's callous comment may have a silver lining.

In her attempt to defile a young lady, she may have unconsciously stoked the embers of a fire. It is my hope that this remark causes a blaze of new activity in the investigation to find Megan.

It is time to ramp up, not "give up" 
the efforts to find Megan Lancaster. 

Part of the problem that has slowed investigation has been this attitude that some of our citizens are more valuable than others. Indifference to her discovery and offensive comments about Megan reek of judgment that the young girl is subhuman and not worth the effort to locate.

If Megan was a prominent, wealthy, highly valued person, search efforts by enforcement would still be at a fever pitch. I know this; you know this; this is a sad commentary on how authorities the worth of human life. It is unacceptable merely to "write off" a life because of a person's standing in the community. A missing pet has drawn more compassion and effort from people than the case of this missing girl.

Still, Lancaster's family has been relentless in their search for her. They have held numerous searches, prayer services, candlelight services, and individual investigations. In addition, they have distributed information, canvassed neighborhoods, posted signs, worked closely with enforcement and media, and requested much-needed outside help. The family and close friends have tried so hard to find out anything more about Megan through all available resources, and they continue to do so. 

Megan's parents acknowledge she has had drug problems, and they’re afraid these activities may be connected to her disappearance.

"She just got mixed up with the wrong people," her father Charles said. "I loved her, even though I didn't like what she’d done. She's still my daughter.”

Lancaster's life is typical of those fallen into hard luck, yet surprising in that her connections, her circle of friends, and her influence run deep. It is safe to assume that when Megan was walking the sidewalks of Portsmouth, many prominent people sought her companionship. The truth is well known and the silence is disturbing. Surely, there are those who knew Megan who need to come forward with new revelations about her.

After all, Megan is a young, attractive girl who is intelligent and "street wise" yet chemically dependent. She relies upon an element who uses her for their own satisfaction and their own advantage. Never let it be misunderstood -- she is an innocent victim. To even suggest taking a life of an addict or a prostitute is "the price they pay" for their lost ways is heartless.

Those who have used Lancaster (and gotten away with it) should relate all pertinent information about her to the proper authorities. Then, those authorities should relentlessly pursue all leads. It is time for the truth about her disappearance to surface, no matter whom the revelations may harm.

Consider the truth. 
Megan is yours.
She is mine. 
She is a vital, missing part of our community family.
She is  an innocent victim of something that has gone terribly wrong. 
We must work to find her and 
to uncover the mystery of her disappearance.

The family deserves more than a thin manila file in the cold case drawer at the Portsmouth Police Department. They need answers from those who know more, and they need dogged investigation to uncover crucial evidence. It doesn't matter that so much time has passed since Megan's disappearance. In fact, this is even more reason to ignite new and better search efforts.

We need to find Megan Lancaster, and we need to do this together. We need to see that this is accomplished with the highest transparency. We must this for Megan, for her family, for her friends, and for ourselves. She has been missing far too long. Each new day that she remains missing weakens us all -- please understand that predators on the loose are going to continue their deadly games. You and I may future victims. If Lancaster has fallen victim to evil, justice cannot be done until she is found.

I want you to ask yourself, if these photos were posted with information that each was missing, which would likely draw the most attention, response, and loving concern? Can you live with your conclusion?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Can You Give Blood If You Are Inked?

Do you have tattoos? Do you also intend to give blood to save lives? If so, you should know that donating blood platelets or plasma has become increasingly more difficult, causing a drastic supply shortage. The American Red Cross is turning a lot of willing donors with tattoos away.

In 2002, the Food and Drug Administrated voted to continue to require people to stop giving blood after tattoo sessions. The vote is the reason why to this day, most people have to wait 12 months before they give blood again. The panelists recommended that blood banks check that tattoos were performed at licensed facilities, too. These votes are generally the reason we have the rules we have today.

The only exception to the waiting period rule is if the tattoo was received in a state that regulates the tattoo industry. Currently, some states do this.

You are eligible to donate after 2 weeks if you are healed without infection and received the tattoo/piercing in one of the following regulated states: AL, AK, AR, DE, HI, IA, KS, LA, ME, MI, MS, MO, NE, OK, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, and WV.

Giving blood after a tattoo is not entirely simple. When you go to a blood bank to give plasma, they ask you a series of questions to determine if you are eligible to donate. Obviously, they don't want to risk accepting contaminated blood, so they will ask about your sexual history, current health status and other related questions, including whether or not you have gotten a tattoo or piercing within the last twelve months.

If a blood bank doesn't mind taking your blood, you will have to declare which tattoo artist and parlor you used . This is all for the sake of the health of people who receive blood. The requirement is related to concerns about hepatitis.

If you should happen to contract a disease from a tattoo or piercing, it should show up in a screening after 12 months, which is the reason for the waiting period. 

So, even if body art is important to you, you may want to consider sacrificing your own desires for the benefit of others. With the current popularity of tattooing and the fact that so many people constantly add to their body art with new inkings, this is a real issue. Twelve months of your freedom to give blood is currently being assessed for each new tattoo.

I think this may be enough reason for some to reconsider inking their bodies. In my opinion, those who really value total freedom from labeling and stereotyping should preserve their natural skin. I know I am an old fart; however, I believe the most beautiful features of human beings are God-given. In fact, this is true of any art form -- nature dominates a facsimile. Go to the Grand Canyon and you will understand no picture, painting, film, or other rendering can capture the spirit that dwells there.

A human body is a beautiful creation. The outer expression of your soul you choose to share with others does not need to be stamped by a tattoo artist. Do you really believe an inking makes you more spiritual or more expressive? It is really just a "sell out" to someone who doesn't know you. Americans have bought into a fad that they will, unfortunately, wear until their last breath. If you are young and believe your likes and opinions won't change as you age, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

As a last caution, I'm sure many tattooed people give blood without waiting the required period of time. Their tattoos are probably hidden, and they lie about having the body art. In doing so, they jeopardize innocent folks who receive their blood. Some criminals are so desperate to acquire money  to continue their endeavors that they don't care about their fellow man. This is just one more indication of the lack of concern for the public good. Blood -- what gift could be more important to saving lives?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Aloneness and Loneliness: Peace of Mind or Unhealthy Contagion?

"Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely
Know this feeling ain't right

"There goes my baby, there goes my heart
They're gone forever, so far apart
But only the lonely know why I cry, only the lonely
Oh, only the lonely, only the lonely"

"Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison

Oh, yes. We all know the feeling. The sinking heart, the queasy stomach, the aching mind -- the forsaken hurt is nearly unbearable. Yet, two words could be used to describe the cause of the painful effect. I think people can be "alonely" or "lonely." Some are both. Let me explain.

Actually, aloneness and loneliness are classified as two different feelings.

Aloneness involves isolation and separation or "being away from others."

On the other hand, loneliness is "a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person wishes that he or she had better social relationships." It is generally classed in psychological terms as a period of heightened cognitive discomfort and uneasiness from being oneself.

We all wish to be alone at certain times in our life. For instance, we require solitude to develop peace of mind. It can fuel our spirits. Being alone is both a need and a tonic in today's fast-paced world. We may seek privacy to restore our energy as the stillness of solitude provides us with much-needed rest.

In fact, being alone can actually strengthen our attachments as it gives us freedom and satisfies our will to be individuals. In that manner, it can actually allows us to connect to others in a far richer way.

Psychologist Ester Buchholz, author of Call of Solitude, says ...

"'Alone' did not always mean an absence of others. The word was coined in medieval times, and originally signified a completeness in one's singular being. In religious terminology, 'solitude' typically meant the experience of oneness with God."

(Ester Buchholz. "The Call of Solitude: How Spending Time Alone Can Enhance Intimacy." Psychology Today. January 01, 1998)

One way "alone time" is fueled is by experiences that put us in contact with nature. Computer life can also be important for providing solitary time as we employ technology for stimulation, knowledge, news, and relationships. Even employing pursuits that alter states of consciousness  -- anything from ritualized pathology to institutionalized religion -- can allow us to find peace in "alone time."

However ...

Loneliness also seems be a familiar risk of aloneness.

Loneliness is felt by a wide range of society on a regular basis: there is no one reason which causes the feeling or emotion of loneliness, but it is commonly associated with depression and a lack of a social life. Loneliness reflects a discrepancy between the current quality of our social relationships and the desired quality of our social relationships.

Even though loneliness is universal and part of the human condition, becoming too isolated from community and connection makes us sad and depressed.

We don't even have to be isolated from others to experience loneliness. Buchholz explains ...

"People inside a tight-knit nuclear family can be just as unknown and lonely as those living on their own. Attachments are not automatically fulfilling relationships. In some cases, attachments are maintained only at the cost of extreme personal compromise: people speak of being shackled and held hostage in a relationship. Certainly there are well-made marriages, but if we are primarily social animals, why would bonding prove so arduous?

"Most people seek balance through finding someone or something that will keep them in the world with peers and alone in contentment. 'Alone time' and together time require smooth segues in order to avoid conflict."

Loneliness is both complex and unique to each individual. It has no common cause, and it is a state of mind. Kendra Cherry, author and psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, says, "People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people... It is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most." 

(Kendra Cherry. "Loneliness."

John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist and one of the top loneliness experts, contends loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. Other contributing factors include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person's life can also lead to feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression or simply attributed to low self-esteem.

Past research has found that lonely people tend to act more shy, hostile, anxious and socially awkward. They also tend to interpret social interactions differently, often seeing certain behaviors in others as a form of rejection or dismissal.

(Kendra Cherry. "Loneliness Can Be Contagious."

Loneliness varies with age and poses a particular threat to the very old, quickening the rate at which their faculties decline and cutting their lives shorter. But even among the not-so-old, loneliness is pervasive.

A Contagion of Loneliness

Studies have found that loneliness may actually be contagious! In a ten-year study, researchers examined how loneliness spreads in social networks. The results indicated that people close to someone experiencing loneliness were 52-percent more likely to become lonely as well.

Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. 

(J. Bryner, "Loneliness spreads like a virus." Live Science. December 01, 2009)

Judith Shulevitz, science editor and chief science writer of The New Republic, wrote that "emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancertumors can metastasize faster in lonely people."

(Judith Shulevitz. "The Lethality of Loneliness." The New Republic. May 13, 2014)

Read the entire article by clicking here:

In the late 1950s, world-famous German psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, whose essay "On Loneliness" is considered a founding document in this fast-growing area of scientific research, figured that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world.

Aloneness and Loneliness Now and In the Future 

Life is certainly perilous as our healthy state of mind requires time alone and sustained, loving contact with others. Census studies put the percentage of American adults who lived alone in 2008 at 15 percent. This figure is increasing. Around 1900, a few percent of Americans lived by themselves; in 1960, 6% did; and now the figure is much higher.

Without some intervention, loneliness promises to get even worse. In a 2013 essay for The New Republic about the consequences of loneliness for public health, Judith Shulevitz reported that one in three Americans over 45 identifies as chronically lonely, up from just one in five a decade ago. “With baby boomers reaching retirement age at a rate of 10,000 a day,” she notes, “the number of lonely Americans will surely spike.” 

(Judith Shulevitz. "The Lethality of Loneliness." The New Republic. May 13, 2014)

It is startling that people report having almost no close confidants When polled as part of a 1984 questionnaire, respondents most frequently reported having three close confidants. When the question was asked again in 2004, the most common response was zero confidants.

Since experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but that it is the quality, this trend is very disturbing. Most experts agree having just three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness and reduce the negative health consequences associated with this state of mind. 

(D. Askt. "A Talk With John Cacioppo: A Chicago Scientist Suggests That Loneliness 
Is a Threat to Your Health." The Boston Globe. September 21,2008)

Why are more people choosing solitary living? Claude S. Fischer, American Sociologist and professor of sociology at the University of California, offers these reasons why:

* Living alone is largely what Americans do who live long enough to outlive their spouses. In 2009, one-fourth of those who lived alone were women 65 and older. The evidence strongly shows that the elderly prefer to live alone when they physically and financially can. The elderly are, for example, more likely than young people to tell pollsters that old people living with their adult children is not a good idea.

* Another, smaller component in the expansion of solo-living is the delay of marriage since about 1960. More Americans are waiting longer to marry.

* A third, yet smaller, component of the solo-livers are the divorced – especially divorced men. (Divorced women typically live with children.) Here, we start to get larger proportions of people in single households who would prefer not to live alone. But the divorced, especially the men, do not stay divorced long, a couple of years or so on average, although longer for women. 

(Claude S. Fischer. "Alone or Lonely?" Made In America. August 11, 2010)

My Take

So, at a deep level, loneliness research forces us to acknowledge our flexibility in the face of present-day social forces. Isolation can be beneficial or devastating. So little is known about the state of mind that sustains loneliness that we must guard against depression and seek various outlets for meaningful social interaction in order to live with dignity and happiness.

The present state of affairs reminds me of the popular Beatles song of the 1960's "Elenore Rigby."  Little did Lennon and McCartney know things would be much worse in 2014.

Which also, by the way, reminds me of the charge for people to befriend those in need. Whether it's a child in a single-parent household or a senior in a nursing home, we must concern ourselves with doing our part to insure that aloneness contains as little loneliness as possible. The ramifications of a trend toward loneliness continuing to increase more and more are unthinkable.

As another Beatles' lyric would beg, "Help, I need somebody. Not just anybody." I hope this entry delineates the difference between just being alone and suffering debilitating mental and physical illness due to loneliness. Every deserves to have time alone but no one deserves to be eternally lonely.

"All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?"

From "Elenor Rigby" by the Beatles

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Two Words for the Ages: "Jesus Wept"

"Jesus wept."

--Gospel of John, Chapter 11, verse 35

This is the shortest verse in the King James Bible.

This verse occurs in John's narrative of the death of Lazarus, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus' sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus of their brother's illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus had died.

Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus' friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved. After asking where Lazarus had been laid, and being invited to come see, Jesus wept. He then came to the tomb and told the people to remove the stone covering the tomb, prayed aloud to His Father, and ordered Lazarus to come out, resurrecting him before the mourners.

Why did Jesus weep when He had the power to resurrect Lazarus? Why was He moved to tears?

Most biblical authorities agree that Jesus's crying demonstrates that the Christ was indeed a true man, with real bodily functions such as tears, sweat, and blood. It affirms his earthly form.

Some scholars believe the act also shows the sorrow, sympathy, and compassion Jesus felt for all mankind. There are those who say he cries over the grief felt by Mary and Martha. Some researchers even think that Jesus, standing in front of the tomb of Lazarus, was angry at death and at the abnormality of the world -- the destruction and distress caused by sin.

Witness Lee, famous Chinese Christian preacher, states "to be a vessel to contain God, man was created with emotions." He argues that every person to whom Jesus talked in John 11 (his disciples, Martha, Mary, and the Jews) was blinded by their misconceptions. Thus, He "groaned in his spirit" because even those who were closest to him failed to recognize that He was, as He declared in verse 26, "the resurrection and the life." Finally, at the graveside, he "wept in sympathy with their sorrow over Lazarus's death."

 (Witness Lee. "Life Study of John, Chapter 23, Section 2)

Consider the tears of Jesus. They are the tears of a man and the empathy of God. He shed the visible drops of emotion for human beings, whether in grief for Lazarus or in realization of the inefficacy of mankind.

To consider that Jesus was moved to tears is powerful in itself. The son of God would seem to most people to be omniscient and too almighty to be a man of sorrows. He must have known he could raise the dead. Yet, the passage "Jesus wept" proves He was acquainted with grief, and notifies the world He was a savior who could be touched by and with human emotions.

Two words -- "Jesus wept" -- solidify the reason for our grief over lost loved ones and our faith in redemption and resurrection. I believe as Jesus Christ shed tears, He proved the necessity of the human inclination to mourn death, yet he also allowed the living to look beyond their feeble human condition. The pain of loss and empathy for those who have experienced loss is essential to us all. Yet, Jesus, true God and true man, is with us in all our pain and suffering.

How terrible it must be to live without faith. In this world we encounter so many grievous situations that our tears can progress until living seems unbearable. When this occurs, and I believe it does to every human to a great extent, those without faith have no hope. Many of them slip into deep depression and find themselves freefalling into a darkness that consumes their spirit and eventually deadens their soul. When humans refuse to seek help from above, they become walking bones and flesh without direction. They are homeless, wandering spirits.

God does not intend for frail human beings to be alone in their struggles, but when people are faithless, they choose to deny that Jesus once wept for their misunderstandings. Doubt can be deadly. I believe no one can experience the fruits of living without faith in a God who offers the gifts of unconditional love, forgiveness, and life after death.

Through his visible tears, Christ has proven that faith is not a mirage. It is up to each person to experience similar tears and to accept faith. We hurt; we endure pain; and we cry; however, we must find comfort that God has graced us with gifts we do not even fully understand. I believe the wet drops that Jesus shed are symbolic of our need for trials, for empathy, and for belief. The tears show us the sovereign nature of God and the extraordinary power of belief.

I think it is very likely Jesus knew all along He intended to raise Lazarus from the dead. And still, He wept. As a savior, his tears flowed upon the earth of a cruel world that can only be abundant to those who have faith that God does not intend for anyone to perish.

His tears are proof that He sympathizes with our weeping and our joy. Those with undying faith realize He is with us in every aspect of our lives. The tears He shed enriched the living before he raised the dead. They are visible proof of Jesus's immortal soul and fell to earth to fertilize his never-ending love for humanity.

And Jesus Wept

"Lord, if You had been here, "
Mary Magdalen cried.

"Lord, if You had been here
Lazarus would not have died."

She knelt before Him in the dust
She kissed the Master's feet
She washed them in her falling tears
There - kneeling in the street.

She took Christ then, to Lazarus' tomb
In grave-clothes there he slept.

"See how He loves him," said the Jews
As, sorrowing, Jesus wept.

Across His cheeks down through his beard
The shining teardrops wound
Then one by one fell from His chin
Like shards upon the ground.

Jesus called - Lo, Lazarus lived!
Then many saw the Light
As thunder rolled and angels spoke
Christ walked into the night.

At dawnlight Mary went to where
Christ's tears had wet the street.
She found there growing in the dust
A vine - and ears of wheat! 

--Margaret Kollmer

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Living With Reanimation: I'm Sick of Zombies

Maybe I am one of a few, but I am so sick of all the fuss over zombies. Why have people elevated these fictional, flesh-eating, reanimated human corpses from the horror film genre to cultural icons of rabid popularity? Today it seems as if it's "everything zombie" -- from survival products to clothes to energy drinks to art works to jello molds -- is celebrated. People devour zombie videos, and they even have zombie apocalypse parties to get blasted before the end of the world.

I'm not a scholar of the monsters, but it is my understanding that a "zombie apocalypse" is the breakdown of society as a result of a global rise of zombies hostile to human life that engages in a general assault on civilization. The zombies rise from the dead to take over the world.

Films such as Night of the Living Dead portray such widespread decimation. The cataclysm intensifies as victims of zombies may become zombies themselves. This causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading "zombie plague/virus" swamps normal military and law enforcement organizations, leading to the panicked collapse of civilian society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for food and supplies in a world reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness.

Even the government has contributed to the zombie apocalypse frenzy.

On May 18, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse providing tips to survive a zombie invasion as a "fun new way of teaching the importance of emergency preparedness". The CDC goes on to summarize cultural references to a zombie apocalypse. It uses these to underscore the value of laying in water, food, medical supplies, and other necessities in preparation for any and all potential disasters, be they hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or hordes of zombies.

("Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." May 18, 2011)

This zombie madness has seemingly brain washed millions. Theories about why the creatures are so popular abound. One blogger for IGN Entertainment, Inc. gives two possibilities. He says ...

* One possible reason is the idea of turning from a rational human being into a mindless monster is just as fascinating as is it horrifying. 

"Just like vampires and werewolves, zombism involves an involuntary shift in consciousness where one is no longer in control of his or her body.  This provides a terrific moral quandry for any and all engaged in the practice of zombie slaying.  Is it acceptable to kill a zombie because it's just a mindless brute and not actually a person anymore, or is it a crime against nature either because either A) what if there's still a shred of humanity underneath that decaying flesh or B) the creature is no more evil than a bear or lion fighting for its food." 

* Another reason of zombie popularity relates to authors and filmmakers "cashing in" by using zombies to glorify violence. 

The media uses zombies as the main antagonists, not to provide the same social commentary but to make goriness acceptable and even passe.

"They portray zombies not as a terrible crime against humanity but as lifeless husks that are not only okay to slaughter in droves, but encouraged to do so.  Whereas blowing off the head of a living, breathing human would be classified as graphic at best, doing the same to the undead corpse of the same human would be considered acceptable and excusable. Thus violence against zombies has become a proxy for violence against intelligent beings, giving an excuse to ruthlessly murder something that looks very much like a human but is treated very much like cannon fodder."

("Two Conflicting Theories on Why Zombies Are So Popular." August 21, 2012)

* Blogger and psychologist Mark E. Koltko-Rivera thinks the zombie popularity is all about how people fear the risk of pandemic disease with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

That concern, in a context where the average person seems powerless, is reflected in the popularity of the zombie in so many types of media. Koltko-Rivera claims the zombie is a perfect metaphor for the outbreak of pandemic disease. He even cites some Canadian medical researchers who published a chapter about zombie epidemiology in a serious 2009 academic book on disease modeling, a chapter titled "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection" to support his belief.

Koltko-Rivera looks at the following developments to solidify his theory: 

(1) the rise in international air travel making the spread of disease much quicker, 
(2) the population growth in rural China putting people in close contact with farm animals in which organisms such as avian flu virus incubate and mutate, 
(3) advances in biotechnology and genetics making it possible for well-heeled organizations to design their own microorganisms, and 
(4) the misuse of antibiotics leading to the rise of treatment-resistant forms of bacterial diseases like bacterial pneumonia -- diseases that often come in on the tails of a viral infection such as the flu.

 My View

So, I have learned that many people believe zombies are captivating symbols of a potential pandemic in an American culture that chooses not only to glorify violence but also to blur the lines between hatred and pity for the fictional undead. In essence, much of the population thinks zombies are frightening "cool."

You know, I did feel sorry for Victor Frankenstein's monster played by Boris Karloff in the famous 1931 film. The eight feet tall and hideously ugly monster was rejected by society. However, his monstrosity resulted not only from his grotesque appearance but also from the unnatural manner of his creation -- the secretive animation of a mix of stolen body parts and strange chemicals. He was a pitiful product not of collaborative scientific effort but of dark, supernatural workings.

Horror is elicited by various associations, but I guess what I'm so sick of seeing is gross and decaying body parts, brain-gnawing delirium, and the profusion of realistic-looking blood and guts in portrayals of violent decimation. To me, this overkill spawns acceptance of gore, and, like the writers for IGN, I believe it creates a climate for admiring violence. In short, some of the zombie stuff is just brutally sickening with no limits on barbarity.

Hey, I'm tired of the zombie thing. Hasn't it run its course through mountains of body parts and hideous, lumbering villains? I think the best monsters in media are less numerous and much more dramatically portrayed. Give me one scary character such a Bela Lugosi "Dracula" or a Stephen Spillberg "Jaws" great white any day.

If zombies are your "thing," enjoy the fright and impending doom of being overcome by these masses of flesh eaters. As for me, the zombie killings have become so graphic that they now are nothing more than sickening special effects. I'm ready to forget zombies, the zombie apocalypse, and the entire concept of slaughtering people who are already dead.  

I guess I just don't enjoy the entire phenomenon of eating humans and blasting away the organs of smelly, rotting creatures. But, for some, it's the grosser, the better. And, it seems there is no end to the bloodbath.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bombing, Staying, Leaving -- Still Lambs On the Mountain?

I get mixed messages in the news about American involvement in Iraq. Does anyone else see the painful lack of a workable plan to deal with Iraq and the ISIS terrorists? When you read the news, you can't help but wonder just how far the new American commitment will go. How deep and how broad is this administration willing to re-enter Iraq and pull strings to interfere?

Mixed Message #1

* President Obama announced Thursday that U.S.-led airstrikes have broken the siege by Islamic militants against religious minorities who were trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq.

But ...

Officials said there were about 4,500 Yazidis left on the mountain, and that half were herders who want to stay. Though it's not clear whether they are out of danger, Obama said he does not expect the U.S. to launch an evacuation operation. "The situation remains dire for Iraqis subject to ISIS' terror throughout the country," Obama said.

 Mixed Message #2

* The President reiterated that this would not commit "combat troops on the ground."

But ...

While green-lighting additional airstrikes, he said the U.S. also has increased military "assistance" to Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and he made clear the U.S. " mission in the region" is not over yet. 

Mixed Message #3

* Airstrikes will continue as needed, and the 130 U.S. troops sent earlier this week as an assessment team are now likely to return to their home bases.

But ...

A humanitarian airdrop that took place on Wednesday "could very well be the last one," according to the administration. The U.S. team that assessed the situation in the Sinjar Mountains found many pallets of unopened food and water.

Mixed Message #4

* Obama insists, "The only lasting solution is for the Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqi citizens." Obama said he called al-Abadi to express his support.

"We are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against (ISIS) above all by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new inclusive government under the leadership of prime minister designate Abadi," the President said.

But ... 

Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has refused to step down after Haider al-Abadi was nominated to replace him.

In a televised address Wednesday, he called the move to appoint al-Abadi a constitutional violation.

Al-Maliki filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the formation of a new government, and said he wouldn't step down until the court has ruled.

Let's Summarize

The situation in Iraq was dire and still is. We bombed ISIS, a group that threatened to kill helpless civilians, and we gave the refugees humanitarian support. Yet, we left about 4,500 Yazidis on the mountain? Was our mission accomplished?

We claim that airstrikes will continue as needed, but we stopped the humanitarian support of food, water, and safe passage? Is our intent to kill as many ISIS insurgents as possible or to help Iraqi people survive and eventually flee to safety?

President Obama has been very definite that the U.S. will not put our troops back on the ground in Iraq. Yet, what about the danger to assessment teams, military advisers, and our staff at the U.S. Embassy? I wonder if the policy is to protect these Americans or continue to flirt with strong commitment by leaving them in harm's way.

Our government supported Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the formation of a new constitution in Iraq. But now, we're urging the Iraqui people to come together and back Haider al-Abadi. Now, al-Maliki won't step down. What will happen if "our will" is not imposed with Presidential posturing?

To top that, Iran endorsed Iraq’s prime minister designate Haider al-Abadi, striking a decisive blow against incumbent Nouri al-Maliki as a wide spectrum of domestic factions — and even his most loyal militia — also turned their backs on the country’s longtime leader. Not that al-Maliki isn't corrupt and preferential, but how do we share a "new bed" and new ideals with Iran, one of our most feared enemies?

The current actions taken by the United States government guarantee nothing. Americans mostly oppose direct U.S. military action to help the Iraqi government fight Islamic militants threatening to take control of that country. A June 20-21 Gallup poll finds 54% of Americans opposed to and 39% in favor of taking such action, lower than the level of support for other potential U.S. military actions in recent decades.

Of course, Americans are reluctant to support U.S. military action in Iraq, perhaps because of a desire not to get involved further in Iraq after the U.S. recently removed its troops from there. A majority still approve of the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, and most continue to regard the 2003 invasion as "a mistake."

Let's open our eyes. Airstrikes are political moves that are a lot more antiseptic than putting ground troops in harm’s way, and a lot more practical in terms of logistics and timing. The strikes give Obama a chance to address concerns about the lack of action and direction from Washington these days. It is all basically about criticism for what the administration didn’t do in Libya.

"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; 
all politics can do is keep us out of war."     

--Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), Italian physician and educator

From "Monster" by Steppenwolf 

"We don't know how to mind our own business
'cause the whole world's got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner, we can't pay the cost
'Cause there's a monster on the loose
it's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there, watching ..."

Golfing, Slaving, and Singing in The Land of the Dying

"I am still in the land of the dying; 
I shall be in the land of the living soon. (his last words)” 

--John Newton, sailor and Anglican priest   

 Paul Atzinger

Paul Azinger is a professional golfer who spent almost 300 weeks in the Top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking between 1988 and 1994.

Fate can be so unkind. In 1993, Paul Azinger learned that he had lymphoma: he had developed life-threatening cancer at the age of 33. He had just completed the best season of his career, a year in which he had won more than $1.4 million playing golf. He had captured his first major tournament, the P.G.A. Championship, in a playoff over Greg Norman. He also had won three tournaments, bringing his career total to 11. He had even played a big part in the United States victory in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry.

Needless to say, the news of his disease changed his life.

"When something like this happens, you can scream, 'Why me? Why me? Why me, God?' " said Azinger. "You can run away. Or you can do an about face and run to God. That's what I did. He had a plan."

Through it all, Paul Azinger never said "Why me?" Not when he found out for certain that the searing pain in his right shoulder was cancer. Not when he was so sick from chemotherapy that he couldn't stand up. Not when he woke up and found tufts of hair on his pillow.

Believe it or not, Azinger called his battle with lymphoma "a great blessing." He said, "This whole ordeal, this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I can honestly say that. One of the best things about it is that it's given me a forum to encourage and inspire a lot of people. It's taught me a lot."

What, exactly, did cancer "teach" Azinger?  He explains: "I know I'm not bulletproof. I'm just as vulnerable as the next guy. None of us is promised tomorrow. We've got to live every day to the fullest."

(Larry Dorman. "To Azinger, Cancer Becomes a Blessing." The New York Times. May 17, 1994)

But, how did Azinger ever reach this state of realization? He wrote the following: "(At first) A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. And then something hit me even harder. I am going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s only a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live."

His friend, Larry Moody, taught a Bible study on the PGA tour. After learning of Azinger's cancer, Larry said these words to him: 

"Zinger, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."
In one of his sermons, Reverend Weldon C. Bares wrote about Azinger and this revelation. "Those words made a difference to Paul Azinger. Think about that statement: 'We are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.' That place, according to the Bible, is Heaven, the land of the living. A place where there is no death, no night, no tears, no sickness."

(Rev. Weldon C. Bares. "The Land of the Living." Lake Charles American Press. August 09, 2014) 

With his faith, his family's support and great medical care, Azinger overcame his biggest challenge -- the deadly disease. Paul later wrote a book called Zinger about his battle with cancer and was the recipient of GWAA Ben Hogan Award in 1995, given to the individual who has continued to be active in golf despite physical handicap or serious illness. 

 John Newton


We Are In the Land of the Dying

The life story of Paul Azinger brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this entry. 

John Newton, the author of the quote, was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. When John was eleven, he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired.

In 1744 Newton was impressed into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. Finding conditions on board intolerable, he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged (eight dozen lashes) and demoted from midshipman to common seaman. Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated murdering the captain and committing suicide by throwing himself overboard. Instead, he recovered, both physically and mentally.

(John Dunn. A Biography of John Newton. 1994)

Newton later wrote, he remained arrogant and insubordinate, and he lived with moral abandon: "I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others."

Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died from tuberculosis when he was a child, Newton had long since given up any religious convictions.

Then, at his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on the slave ship Pegasus, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He did not get along with the crew, and they left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer. Clowe took Newton to the coast and gave him to his wife, Princess Peye, an African duchess. She abused and mistreated Newton equally to her other slaves. Newton later recounted this period as the time he was "once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa."

(Memorial epitaph, St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, London)

Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father. Newton boarded the merchant ship Greyhound to return to England.

On the homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Newton experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.”

Before the tempest, Newton had been reading Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ, and was struck by a line about the "uncertain continuance of life." He also recalled the passage in Proverbs, "Because I have called and ye have refused, … I also will laugh at your calamity."

("John Newton: Reformed Slave Trader. August 08, 2008) 

Newton recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

Indeed, Newton had converted during the storm, though he admitted later that his true conversion did not happen until some time after that. He admitted about his initial experience, "I would not consider myself to have been a believer, in the full sense of the word."

For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a higher power.

(Al Rogers. "Amazing Grace: The Story of John Newton.
 Away Here in Texas. July-August, 1996)

John Newton ultimately became captain of his own ship, one which plied the slave trade. While in West Africa (1748–1749), Newton acknowledged the inadequacy of his spiritual life. He became ill with a fever, and professed his full belief in Christ, asking God to take control of his destiny. He later said that this was the first time he felt totally at peace with God.

He continued in the slave trade for a time after his conversion; however, he saw to it that the slaves under his care were treated humanely. Hoping as a Christian to restrain the worst excesses of the trade, he went about "promoting the life of God in the soul" of both his crew and his African cargo.

Recollection of that chapter in his life never left him, and in his old age, when it was suggested that the increasingly feeble Newton retire, he replied, "I cannot stop. What? Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?"

But, by 1755, after a serious illness, he had given up seafaring forever.

(Adam Hochschild. Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery. 2005)

During his days as a sailor he had begun to educate himself, teaching himself Latin, among other subjects. From 1755 to 1760 Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he came to know George Whitefield, deacon in the Church of England, evangelistic preacher, and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church.

Newton became Whitefield’s enthusiastic disciple. During this period Newton also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Newton’s self-education continued, and he learned Greek and Hebrew.

He decided to become a minister and applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination. The Archbishop refused his request, but Newton persisted in his goal, and he was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln and accepted the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire. Newton’s church became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged. He preached not only in Olney but in other parts of the country. In 1767 the poet William Cowper settled at Olney, and he and Newton became friends.

Cowper helped Newton with his religious services and on his tours to other places. They held not only a regular weekly church service but also began a series of weekly prayer meetings, for which their goal was to write a new hymn for each one. They collaborated on several editions of Olney Hymns, which achieved lasting popularity. The first edition, published in 1779, contained 68 pieces by Cowper and 280 by Newton.

Among Newton’s contributions was a hymn to illustrate a sermon on New Year's Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper's Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England.

In the United States, however, the song was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening (Protestant Revival Movement) in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named "New Britain" to which it is most frequently sung today.

Newton's hymn became one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. The hymn is "Amazing Grace." Author Gilbert Chase writes that it is "without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns

 (Gilbert Chase. America's Music, From the Pilgrims to the Present 1987)

Through the years other writers have composed additional verses to “Amazing Grace” (it was not thus entitled in Olney Hymns), and possibly verses from other Newton hymns have been added.

However, these are the six stanzas that appeared, with minor spelling variations, in both the first edition in 1779 and the 1808 edition, the one nearest the date of Newton’s death. It appeared under the heading Faith’s Review and Expectation, along with a reference to First Chronicles, chapter 17, verses 16 and 17.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

In 1788, 34 years after he had retired from the slave trade, Newton wrote Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade in which he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships during the Middle Passage. He wrote the book to help William Wilberforce's campaign to end the practice -- "a business at which my heart now shudders," he wrote.

Newton apologized for "a confession, which ... comes too late ... It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders." He had copies of his book sent to every MP, and the pamphlet sold so well that it swiftly required reprinting.  

(Adam Hochschild. Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery. 2005)

I Understand

With his last words, John Newton confirmed his humanity and his imperfect being. As his life drew to an end, he became acutely aware of his greatest shortcomings and with greater understandings, he found that living on earth requires redemption after living life to its fullest. Paul Azinger, hundreds of years later, also found that the most important concept of life is spending time "trying to get to the land of the living."

The time we spend here is merely meant to be preparation for eternal life. In a manner of speaking, death is a release into the life we desire. We should not fear death, but we must prepare for a transformation while building a solid spiritual, moral soul. This means accepting fate but not giving up -- a dedication to both physical and spiritual readjustment builds a person up to being fit enough to enter the graceful land of the living. "It saved a wretch like me."

  “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

--John Newton