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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting High on Risky Business: Youth and Endorphins




A child exposed to risk factor faces the distinct likelihood of abusing drugs. What are some elements that increase the risk? Adolescents are prone to peer pressure and often experience times of stress when their raging hormones can lead to extreme aggression and to poor decisions. Many live in poor conditions and lack parental supervision for support.

And, it's a simple fact that young people are risk-takers. Research suggests a combination of hormonal factors, an inability to perceive risks accurately, and the need to impress peers help explain why youth take huge risks. All of these influences seem to peak in the years between 10 and the mid-20's.

Of course, those who use heroin and other opiates take significant risks. Here are some findings from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Center for Health Statistics:

* 1 in 15 people who take non medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years.

* In 2004 1.4 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 5% used heroin. In 2010, 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 14% used heroin.

* Heroin users are 3 times as likely to be dependent.  14% of non medical prescription pain reliever users are dependent. Yet, 54% of heroin users are dependent.

 * Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month.

* On average approximately five people die each day in Ohio due to drug overdose.



Endorphins are the body's natural pain medication hormones. Endorphins flood the space between nerve cells and usually inhibit neurons from firing, thus creating an analgesic effect. On a lower level they can excite neurons as well. When endorphins do their work, we feel good, high, or euphoric, and we experience relief from pain [analgesia].

When endorphins are naturally released, it makes us feel better, improves our mood, increases pleasure, and minimizes pain. For example, Serotonin, also known as hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is commonly referred to as the “feel good hormone” because in appropriate levels it can make us feel positive and balanced. Oxytocin is another hormone believed to ease stress and improve mood.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine says one of the biggest reasons people become addicted to opiates is their effect on the brain:

“Addiction is not about drugs, it’s about brains. It is not the substances a person uses that make them an addict; it is not even the quantity or frequency of use. Addiction is about what happens in a person’s brain when they are exposed to rewarding substances or rewarding behaviors, and it is more about reward circuitry in the brain and related brain structures than it is about the external chemicals or behavior that “turn on” that reward circuitry.”

The active ingredient in all opiates -- morphine -- has a chemical structure similar to endorphins. Like an evil twin, the morphine molecule locks onto the endorphin-receptor sites on nerve endings in the brain and begins the succession of events that leads to euphoria or analgesia.

This imposter is more powerful than the body's own endorphins because the organism can actually control how much of the "feel-good" chemical hits the brain. Since we are all pleasure-seeking organisms, the motivation to self-administer such a drug is easy to understand. Opiates release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do. The result of such drug abuse can be dependency, then addiction.

But ... 

Why don't we fuel young desires for risk taking and pleasure seeking with worthwhile activities and meaningful experiences? It's time to quit passively accepting the tremendous influence opiates have on youth. It's time to quit expecting hoping and praying alone will satisfy the psychological and physiological needs of adolescents. It's time to realize that making youth aware of the dangers of drugs does not keep multitudes of them from accepting the risks of drug abuse while basking in the chemically induced "feel good" pleasure of ingesting the chemicals.

In short, it's time to take matters into our own hands and expose young people to supervised, healthy, adventurous activity. It's time to introduce them to reality and natural risks.


Let me give you a little more information about things that can naturally release endorphins that lead to happiness, to pleasure, and even to euphoria.

* Exercise

When we exercise, our body releases endorphins in the blood. The brain may perceive exercise as a type of pain and therefore it releases serotonin and other endorphins. Another possible theory is that the rise in fatty acids caused by exercise may acidify the blood, triggering endorphin release. And, of course, improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity.

* Sunlight

Endorphins affect our need for the sun. The sun plays a vital role in every function of the mind and body. We are wired with an evolutionary drive for sunlight exposure as a means to synthesize vitamin D. We’re programmed to like the feeling of the sun because it ensured that our ancient ancestors got their vitamins. 

*Meditation

Controlled breathing, Tai Chi, Yoga and other forms of meditative exercises are believed to trigger endorphins in the body. People who regularly meditate have considerably increased levels of the neurotransmitters GABA. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is one of the major inhibitory neurotransmitters in their central nervous system. It‘s best known for stabilizing mood disorders. Anxiety, tension, insomnia, and epilepsy are believed to be due to the failure to produce adequate levels of GABA.

Meditation can also provide a dramatic boost in DHEA hormone levels. DHEA enhances memory, alleviates depression, and causes a remarkable improvement in our sense of psychological and physical well-being. It is also provides strong support to the immune system. 

* Eating "Endorphin Food"

Chocolate releases endorphins like anandamide, the chemical that copies the relaxing effects of marijuana. Maybe that's why some of us have equated the feeling from eating chocolate to feeling like they are in love.

Eating spicy foods, such as hot peppers, is said to release endorphins. This relationship is thought to be due to capsaicin, a chemical compound responsible for giving spicy food its “hot” quality.

Even eating some so-called "comfort foods" does, indeed, comfort us by increasing serotonin levels which can make us calm and relaxed. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and pasta all provide an endorphin-rich comfort zone. 

And, even smelling vanilla is known to release endorphins. According to a study at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients undergoing MRIs who breathed vanilla-scented air reported 63 percent less anxiety than those who breathed unscented air.

* Laughing and Smiling

The simple act of laughing is an everyday, immediate way for us to achieve an endorphin rush.

Dr. Lee Berk, an immunologist at Loma Linda University's School of Allied Health and Medicine, has studied the effects of mirthful laughter on the regulation of hormones since the 1980s. Berk and his colleagues found that laughter helps our brains regulate the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. They also discovered a link between laughter and the production of anti-bodies and endorphins

Humor also helps us regulate the brain's dopamine levels, reported a Stanford research team in the December 4, 2003, issue of the journal Neuron.

True smiles, called Duchenne smiles, result in the production of endorphins, giving mood a boost. A Duchenne smile is one that engages our entire face, including our eyes. It's almost impossible to fake, and it only happens when we're really feeling happy. 

* Having Sex

I don't have to relate that being intimate with someone releases endorphins that make us feel great. In fact, endorphin production can increase 200 percent from the beginning to the end of sexual activity. Be it masturbation or actual intimate sex with a partner, these forms of exercise also release endorphins, especially when orgasm is reached.

Recent studies have documented that ongoing physical contact and not just sex alone also helps produce endorphins. That is good news for those of us in close and loving relationships. Although there are many reasons why we choose to maintain those close and loving relationships, endorphins may be a factor. Endorphins also produce a general sense of well-being, including feeling peaceful and secure.

* Love

That feeling we get when a loved one walks into a room is the result of a mini flood of endorphins. Adding more love to our lives is a great way to improve our happiness level. Phenylethylamine, or PEA, is an amine that naturally occurs in our brain. It is a stimulant, much like an amphetamine, that causes the release of norepinephrine and dopamine. This chemical is found when we are falling in love. It's responsible for the head-over-heels, elated part of love.

Humans need to feel they are loved. American psychiatrist wrote in his book, The Chemistry of Love (1983), when people feel socially isolated or cut off from familiar figures, the brain shuts off endorphin production. Thus, according to Liebowitz, “as most adults feel some anxiety when separated from important figures in their lives, and some sense of increased security when their closest relationships seem stable,” attachment, as in the form of a human chemical bond, is mediated internally by the release of endorphins in the brain. 

* Massage / Acupuncture

Both of these treatments release endorphins, relieve stress and make us feel better all over.

In addition to soothing tired and tight muscles, massage also has the ability to induce the release of endorphins in our body. This explains the slightly groggy effect, lightheaded, sense of well-being. Recent studies suggest that endorphins enhance the immune system, relieve pain, reduce stress, and retard the aging process. Scientists also have found that beta-endorphins can activate human NK (Natural Killer) cells and boost the immune system against diseases and kill cancer cells.

Acupuncture and electroacupuncture (EA) as complementary and alternative medicines have been accepted worldwide mainly for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Acupuncture releases endorphins. For example, EA of 2 Hz accelerates the release of enkephalin, β-endorphin and endomorphin, while that of 100 Hz selectively increases the release of dynorphin. A combination of the two frequencies produces a simultaneous release of all four opioid peptides, resulting in a maximal therapeutic effect. (Ji-Sheng Han. "Acupuncture and Endorphins." Neuroscience Letters. 2004) 

* Music and Brainwave Entertainment

To put it simply, Brainwave Entertainment refers to the tendency of the brain to synchronise - or entrain - with the frequency of certain stimuli, such as isochronic tones, binaural beats or monaural beats.

Brainwave entrainment recordings designed for endorphin release consist of sound frequencies that synchronize brainwaves to the same range of frequencies of the sounds. By shifting brainwaves, it is possible to naturally bring our brain into a state where it releases endorphins.

Studies show listening to music can help us recover from pain and reduce the need for post-op medications. Another study reveals music can reduce our anxiety just before surgery. Many patients say music's ability to alter their mood can be quite beneficial.
Dr. Peter Crookes, heals for a living but says modern medicine can only bring people so far. The rest depends on the patient and he believes music helps.
"It may cause the release of endorphins and that is one of the postulate mechanisms. Anything that will open the patient's mind to other dimensions of life helps them to cope with it," said Dr. Crookes.

* And, RISK

Taking some types of risk is also a good way to get the endorphins flowing. While the flight or fight syndrome might have us going crazy in line for the roller coaster, it’s the endorphin rush we feel as we drop down the first massive hill that keeps us coming back for more.

Stress, worry and sadness completely disappear when we are doing something we like. Young people like the feeling of taking risks to experience a satisfying rush. I doubt if this will ever change. Instead of letting adolescents find themselves in situations that are too risky, even deadly, we should structure activities that provide significant "highs" for them.

I honestly believe these natural highs reduce feelings of needing to experiment with heroin and other opiates that eventually betray youth and destroy them.

Look again at the list above of things that offer great, natural endorphin releases. Exercise, sunlight, sex, love, food, laughs, music, meditation -- activities that put young adults in contact with each other while working and/or playing together represent learning situations that not only offer excitement but also reinforce the importance of dependence for survival.

The "glory days" of adolescence must include tons of natural endorphin-releasing commitment.

I worked several summers for the Youth Conservation Corp of Ohio, and I can tell you that nothing solidifies brotherhood and dedication between young men and women like working, learning, and playing together in situations that, quite frankly, were challenging and dangerous. Tight supervision by adults -- college age and above -- helped meld these groups of teens into a happy, thankful, dependable corp.

Does this sound ridiculous to suggest to you that we should encourage young people to cut trail, build structures, paint, dig, plant, camp, rappel, canoe, spelunk, hike, orienteer, swim, dance, and learn to love each other? I can assure you young people crave contact that engages their minds and bodies.

How to take self-satisfying risks with all the necessary mental preparation and physical exertion is something we must teach our children. Of course, we must choose activities that limit the severity of danger, but we should also help young people build their skills to advance and to achieve rewarding behaviors on their own. This involves tremendous nurturing and exacting building of skills.



I see the zombie interest, the haunted house interest, the "live in a fantasy world" interest as indications that kids (and, a certain segment of adults) crave to be challenged and put into situations with elements of risk that allow them to experience insecurity and to overcome their fears. In addition, I think ingesting and injecting drugs is an acceptable endorphin substitute to many who don't understand that the real "rush" is found in living an adventuresome reality and maneuvering through exciting, uncharted waters.

Young people need to get high. They need experimentation to feel the exhilaration and the thrill of encountering risks. We, as parents and grandparents, need to be sure they are involved in bold activities that keep endorphins flowing throughout their bodies and that build lifelong interests to engross them in wonder. There are a million such compelling interests available. All adolescents have "switches" that can be "turned on" to positive, rousing settings.

Left to their own devices, many young adults will seek pleasure through chemicals. They will find their fix only to chase the artificial high forever. Expending minimum effort to take drugs, they will languish and never learn how to achieve natural highs that pay lasting dividends.

For God's sake, we must help them find safe gratification while realizing they have bodies and minds full of endorphins and new ideas.

The ultimate risk is to assume youth become contented, independent people on their own. They don't. Almost everything they do on their own is risky, too risky to face without excellent guidance and faithful companionship. Dealing with the experience of falling in love alone makes for a plateful of teenage responsibility. Adults are meant to be stewards to make smooth transitions possible.

Kids must love, live, and find satisfaction with or without us. And, isn't "the real thing" what we all hope we can achieve together?

Life

By Henry Van Dyke

Let me but live my life from year to year, 
With forward face and unreluctant soul; 
Not hurrying to, nor turning from the goal; 
Not mourning for the things that disappear 
In the dim past, nor holding back in fear 
From what the future veils; but with a whole 
And happy heart, that pays its toll 
To Youth and Age, and travels on with cheer. 

So let the way wind up the hill or down, 
O'er rough or smooth, the journey will be joy: 
Still seeking what I sought when but a boy, 
New friendship, high adventure, and a crown, 
My heart will keep the courage of the quest, 
And hope the road's last turn will be the best.



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sexual Fluidity: Women and Their Potential for Non-Exclusive Attractions



Being the curious fellow I am, I wondered about the number of homosexuals and bisexuals in the United States. I thought the research would indicate a fairly large percentage of both. However, The National Health Interview Survey (2013) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the federal government’s most relied upon estimate of the nation’s health and behaviors, found that fewer than 3% of respondents self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Only 1.6% of respondents self-identified as gay or lesbian, and even less, 0.7%, self-identified as bisexual.

(William Bigelow. "CDC: Nation's Percentage of Gays, Lesbians, 
Bisexuals Less than Supposed." breitbart.com from The Washington Post. July 15, 2014)

Maybe some of my surprise about sexual orientation can be attributed to a new understanding of what is known as "sexual fluidity." This is a new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies. It is making headlines, especially as it relates to females. 

Lisa Diamond, PhD, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2009 book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, describes sexual fluidity as a "situation-dependent flexibility in women's sexual responsiveness," which "makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women under certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orientation"

Diamond contends, "Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something a woman can control." 

(Lisa M. Diamond. Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. 2009)  

Researchers say although there can be some overlap between bisexuality and fluidity, they are not they same thing. Bisexuality is a "consistent pattern of erotic responses to both sexes, manifested in clear cut sexual attractions to men and women" whereas fluidity is a kind of "potential for non-exclusive attractions." This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait.

Studies indicate that sexual fluidity is more prevalent in women than in men, according to Bonnie Zylbergold, assistant editor of American Sexuality, an online magazine.

In a 2004 landmark study at Northwestern University, the results were eye-opening. During the experiment, the female subjects became sexually aroused when they viewed heterosexual as well as lesbian erotic films. This was true for both gay and straight women.

Among the male subjects, however, the straight men were turned on only by erotic films with women, the gay ones by those with men. "We found that women's sexual desire is less rigidly directed toward a particular sex, as compared with men's, and it's more changeable over time," says the study's senior researcher, J. Michael Bailey, PhD. "These findings likely represent a fundamental difference between men's and women's brains."


It seems many women are attracted to the person, and not to the gender: they are moved by traits like kindness, intelligence, and humor, which could apply to a man or a woman. Most of all, they long for an emotional connection. And if that comes by way of a female instead of a male, the thrill may override whatever heterosexual orientation they had.


Fluidity

I believe that gender and sexual relations for many has become more and more irrelevant. We live in a society that loves to label everything, and sexual identity classifications are problematic and confusing for people who desire more than one gender. Even men experience high sexual fluidity in  all-male (and/or stressful) environments such as militaries, war-time, prisons, etc.

Of course, we shouldn't interpret these findings as proof that all heterosexual women are sexually attracted to other women. But, don't they suggest women are more capable of finding people attractive, no matter what orientation they claim? Maybe that's why an estimated 95% of straight men who fantasize about or partake in threesomes are only interested in being with two women, while more heterosexual women are open to adding another woman or man to the mix.

After all, women seem to be more receptive than men to a variety of sexual cues. Many women love romance novels, sensual delights, and the mention of anything "50 Shades." In matters of love, romance, and sex, females seem so much "more complicated" than men. Diamond says, “It’s far more common to be someone who is a little bit attracted to the same sex than someone who is exclusively attracted to the same sex." I, for one, believe this especially holds true for women.

Leila J. Rupp, a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of the authors of a study, “Queer Women in the Hookup Culture: Beyond the Closet?” Her work found that the college hookup culture, generally characterized as heterosexual, is, for some women, a setting “to explore and to later verify bisexual, lesbian, or queer sexual identities.”

“Some students are embracing fluid identities and calling themselves ‘queer,’ ‘pansexual,’ ‘fluid,’ ‘bi-curious,’ or simply refusing any kind of label,” says study coauthor Verta Taylor, a UCSB professor of sociology and Rupp’s life partner. “The old label bisexual no longer fits, because even that term implies that there are only two options: lesbian/gay or straight.”

(Trudy Ring. "Exploring the Umbrella: Bisexuality and Fluidity."  
advocate.com. February 11, 2014) 

The idea that not everyone is exclusively attracted to one gender, or equally and consistently attracted to both, isn’t new. Sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues developed the Kinsey Scale in 1948, placing sexuality on a continuum of 0 to 6, “exclusively heterosexual” to “exclusively homosexual.”

Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale

0- Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
1- Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2- Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3- Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4- Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5- Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6- Exclusively homosexual

Not every individual’s sexuality is stagnant and unchanging. Today, sexual preference and partner choice is more out in the open. We are learning more and more about a wide range of responses and sexual desires. How does this relate to companionship, marriage, and the family? I don't know. I do know, however, that attitudes toward various forms of sexuality are rapidly changing.

Fluidity is one way to describe sexual reality. Saying someone is straight, gay, or bisexual may be stereotyping their sexual identity. I learned this, and now I am feeling more comfortable in my geezer understandings of human nature, in particular in my scant knowledge of females.

This brings me to my closing point: learning and comprehending knowledge are essential to keeping abreast of change. And, change is certainly an everyday occurrence. Perhaps, we all need to educate ourselves about sexual identity and reduce the tendency to think in terms of silly stereotypes.  
 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reinstate Pete Rose to Re-energize Baseball




For you youngsters, a baseball history lesson is in order.

Peter Edward "Pete" Rose (born April 14, 1941), also known for his nickname "Charlie Hustle," is a former Major League Baseball player and manager. Rose played from 1963 to 1986, and managed from 1984 to 1989.

Rose, a switch-hitter, is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year Award, and also made 17 All-Star appearances at an unequaled five different positions (2B, LF, RF, 3B, and 1B).

Pete Rose did something long ago that violated a set-in-stone rule. He made bets on games while still in uniform, which was (and still is) strictly prohibited. Rose did not bet against his own team, as some of the similarly disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox did, but his gambling habits broke a code of conduct and earned him a "lifetime" ban after a Major League Baseball internal investigation in 1989.

In August 1989, three years after he retired as an active player, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Reds, including claims that he bet on his own team.

In 1991, the board of baseball's Hall of Fame placed the name of Pete Rose on the "permanently ineligible" list. His is the only name on it.

Complicating matters, Rose spent close to 15 years denying all allegations until fessing up in a book he wrote in 2004. Furthermore, he was slapped with a five-month prison sentence and a thousand hours of community service for two felony counts of evading income tax.


Why So Many Fans Associate with Pete Rose

After hustling his way through several sports in grade school and high school, Rose settled on baseball. As a young man, Rose was not gifted with outstanding physical attributes, but he became known for his intense, hard-charging style for which he credits his father. After graduating from Western High School in Cincinnati, Rose was not considered a top prospect, but his hometown Cincinnati Reds signed him to a professional contract.

Over the next few seasons, Rose steadily improved his game, hitting .330 for the Macon Peaches in 1962 and putting himself in position to be promoted to the Reds, should the opportunity arise. The following spring, when regular second baseman Don Blasingame pulled a muscle, Rose stepped in, and he never relinquished the position. His work ethic transformed a player with average skills into one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

I believe no one exemplified dedication and effort for baseball more than Pete Rose. He ate, drank, slept, and dreamed about playing the game. I've heard it said that Pete would play a major league game and then be able to recite every pitch of the game with lucid detail. I read once how after his game (before the advent of cable television), he would leave the stadium and search the dial of his radio to find another baseball broadcast. He simply loved the game, and the game loved him.

There are those who say Rose is a horrible ambassador for baseball because of his gambling addiction. And, granted, Pete broke many fans' hearts (myself included) when he committed the infractions and when he denied doing so for so long. How could he have jeopardized his lofty standing by doing such inexplicable acts? It seems so terrible.

Yet, excessive gambling is a sickness. When some people gamble, the develop an addiction like others do with liquor or drug abuse. Then, gamblers need help. Perhaps, Pete Rose had an overwhelming addiction that clouded his judgment as it took control of his brain. His personality points to vulnerability.

We could talk at great length about those who have broken Major League Baseball rules concerning substance abuse, particularly players linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Here is small segment of a list linked to these drugs either through the 2007 report by investigator George Mitchell or by positive drug tests by Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball (Note that this is not a list of players who have been proven to use performance-enhancing drugs.):

Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Ryan Braun, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Melky Cabrera, Marlon Byrd, David Bell, Antonio Bastardo, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Cameron, Lenny Dykstra, Jason Giambi, Yasmani Grandal, Kent Mercker, Manny Ramirez, Benito Santiago, Mike Stanton, Matt Williams.

Sportswriter Mike Downey wonders why Rose should still be banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame when others who commit major infractions are either given a second chance or not held to certain standards at all. Downey says of the hypocrisy:

"In the same breath, they tell us funny stories about the Hall of Fame baseball greats who bar-hopped all night, came to the park drunk, played with a hangover, hahaha, what a guy. Oh, that Babe. Oh, that Mickey.

"It is, of course, a Hall of Fame also occupied by an accused gambler or two, by a wife-beater or two, a philanderer or two, a racist or two, a cheater or two, a rule-breaker or two. Just as today's voters continue to debate who did and didn't demonstrate exemplary character, we could argue whether Pete Rose must be forever bound by 'rules are rules,' or if rules, as some have been known to say, are made to be changed."

(Mike Downey. "Let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame Already. CNN Opinion. August 21, 2014) 

To me, 25 years is long enough for Rose "getting exactly what he deserved." I want him to be reinstated in order to contribute to the game he loves. A life sentence from the game and from the Hall is unfair. If you want to give this type of punishment to those who have contributed to damaging "the integrity of the game" (whatever your definition of that may be), you should apply the same ban to others who broke the cardinal rules.

If, on the other hand, you believe in repentance and forgiveness, you should look at the benefits of letting Pete Rose take part in Major League Baseball. I've heard many say, "Yes, he should be in the Hall of Fame, but he must never be allowed to manage again." I believe he should already be in the Hall for his performance as a great baseball player. This is merely a token of acknowledging his outstanding career.

Now, after serving a lengthy sentence away from the game, Rose should be reinstated. How else is he expected to serve Major League Baseball? After all, when Mark McGwire occupies a position as hitting coach for a major league team, I think baseball has already committed itself to forgiveness.

Here is what Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said this August about reinstating Rose:

"I'm going to do what I think is right," Selig said to a group of reporters in Cincinnati, according to USA TODAY Sports. "I have five months to think about it. So it is under advisement. I understand that this is the only place I go that they're going to ask about it. I understand that."

"You all know I was particularly close to Bart Giamatti," Selig continued. "He was really one of the best friends I've ever had in the world. I understand the feeling here in Cincinnati. I really do. I'm sensitive to it, as a matter of fact. I've said, because I am the judge, that it's a matter under advisement."

"I think it's inappropriate for me to say any more than that. But I've taken it seriously, talked to a lot of people. It's one of those situations in life that you wish didn't exist, but it does."

(Greg Archuleta. "Pete Rose Reinstatement: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig To Decide Before Leaving Office." Sports World News. August 23, 2014)

If Bud Selig feels Cincinnati is the only place that questions Rose's return to baseball, he needs to get a firmer grasp on the state of the fans. I believe most fans abhor the lack of hustle and mediocrity of dedication to the game today. I believe Pete Rose could have a major effect on instilling accountability in young players. He needs to be a part of Major League Baseball, where he belongs.

I have recovered from my broken heart, and I want a "Pete Rose" baseball intensity back in the game. I believe Pete deserves a second chance. What in the world would a continuation of the ban benefit?


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Case For Cursive Writing Instruction




As typewriters and computers offer writers a means for producing modern communication, cursive as a way of formalizing correspondence has fallen out of favor. Most tasks, which would have once required a cursive hand, are now done using word processing and a printer. The educational trend around the United States is to emphasize keyboarding -- a skill that is included in the Common Core education standards adopted by most states.

Cursive writing is a long-held cultural tradition in America with deep roots in the history of the country. 

Yet, common etiquette advocates longhand in personal correspondence -- thank-you notes, informal letters, memos. So, many citizens still seek cursive instruction to provide a skill that offers a sense that a real person is involved in correspondence.

The teaching of cursive has been de-emphasized in some public schools. Also being able to write in a fair-hand is still looked upon as a sign of literacy in many countries. In some countries, the quality of one's cursive is used to determine the appointment of public office. And, in Tennessee, where concerned lawmakers fear that some children do not have a signature and struggle to read their teachers' handwriting, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill making cursive a mandatory subject in grades two through four.

Schools are expected to start bringing back the declining art of cursive in 2015-2016 under the new rules, signed into law this year by Governor Bill Haslam. Keyboarding and print writing will still have their place, but legible penmanship will be required by third grade.

(Tim Ghianni. "Sharpen the Pencils: Tennessee Revives Cursive Teaching." 
Reuters. August 23, 2014)


Those who argue for cursive insist that instruction is important for many reasons:

* It teaches fine motor skills, 

* It is faster and more efficient than printed handwriting,  

* It enhances the creative process and has other cognitive benefits, and

* It insures that many historical documents won't be illegible to those who can’t read cursive.


To Teach Cursive Reading, Writing, or Both?

Kate Gladstone, a handwriting expert and educator quoted on the topic of handwriting in publications as diverse as The New York Times to the Journal of the American Medical Association, believes that cursive should be taught in our schools -- but only to be read, not written.

“Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print,” Gladstone says. “Writing cursive, however, takes much, much more time and effort to master, even sketchily.” She believes schools should not teach students to write elaborate letters when there is so much more substantive curriculum. Gladstone says it’s not a worthwhile return on the investment of time and energy.
Cursive isn’t required for legal documents, either. In state and federal law, Gladstone says, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind.

 (T. Walker. "Does Cursive Need to Be Taught in the Digital Age?" NEA Today. July 22, 2013)


My View

Let's consider a few more points in favor of teaching children to read and write cursive ...

* Not everyone has access to a computer and a printer.

* Note-taking remains part of the academic experience, and notes are often shared/compared.

* Learning cursive promotes brain development, says William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University.  His article in Psychology Today contends when students write in cursive, "there is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it . . . brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding."

* Instructive in cursive involves "learning to learning's sake." Knowing how to write and read in cursive will give students a greater overall advantage in both their ongoing learning and in their future careers. They will gain confidence with these skills, and they will be able to decipher documents written in cursive.

* Writing cursively can be an art form. Balance that with a history of eastern traditions of calligraphy, and it can create some solid curriculum in cross-cultural studies.

* Internet plagiarism is a concern for schools, so many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and these essays must be legible.
  Internet plagiarism is a concern for schools, so many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and these essays must be legible. - See more at: http://www.k5learning.com/blog/why-do-schools-still-teach-cursive-writing#sthash.MRIrNI5b.dpuf
Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who, according to the article, “cites multiple studies showing that sloppy handwriting routinely leads to lower grades, even in papers with the same wording as those written in a neater hand”:
Graham argues that fears over the decline of handwriting in general and cursive in particular are distractions from the goal of improving students’ overall writing skills. The important thing is to have students proficient enough to focus on their ideas and the composition of their writing rather than how they form the letters.
- See more at: http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/09/do-we-need-cursive-anymore/#sthash.XEulTfvu.dpuf

* Copying texts, like a poem, helps kids to “internalize” language.  Often students will confess to not understanding a poem when they read it, but that they have a deeper understanding once they have copied it. A 2010 study by the Carnegie Corporation of New York reported that students’ reading skills can improve if they write what they are reading in addition to them learning writing skills and increasing how much they write.

So ...

I believe reading and writing cursive writing must be included in mandatory language arts instruction. The personal touch of cursive writing is evident in something as simple as an autograph. An autograph represents an original handwritten signature, a portrait made with one's own hand. This signature inks a style symbolic of the writer. In doing so, it becomes a simple piece of personal art representative of a single, unique human being.

How sad to think learning to employ written language may be strictly limited to mechanical means. The effect on the meaning of some types of correspondence would dictate a loss of meaning, a loss of inflection, and a loss of originality. Cursive writing, itself, requires an understanding of a certain amount of interpretation and expression not found in printing.

To believe that extensive use of computer keyboards and smartphones spells the need to abandon
cursive instruction denies the need to insure writing remains a "fingerprint" of its author.

I disagree with Jen Doll of The Village Voice when she says, "In our modern day keyboard- and smartphone-focused lifestyles, we simply don't need it (cursive) any more, except for signing our names on credit card bills. So let cursive rest in peace, and embrace our evolution as a species. We don't write on cave walls anymore, either, at least, the majority of us don't."

Jen and I disagree on "our evolution as a species" when she calls for the death of this form of communication we all know as "cursive." Thanks for the revival, Tennessee.




Saturday, August 23, 2014

America Has Become the Land of Second-Class Citizens


 
 
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" ”

--Emma Lazarus

This quote comes from Emma Lazarus' sonnet, "New Colossus," which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem speaks of the millions of immigrants who came to the United States (many of them through Ellis Island at the port of New York).

In 1903, a bronze tablet that bears the text of "The New Colossus" and commemorates Lazarus was presented by friends of the poet. Until the 1986 renovation, it was mounted inside the pedestal; today it resides in the Statue of Liberty Museum in the base.

This line from "The New Colossus" has become the quote most associated with American liberty. The question is "Do we live up to the heritage of the land of the free and the home of opportunity. No, I am not going to address the pressing issue of immigration although it does directly relate to the question. I wonder if "tired, poor masses" of citizens, many now third and fourth generation Americans, are afforded their equality.

A second-class citizen is a person who is systematically discriminated against within a state or other political jurisdiction, despite their nominal status as a citizen or legal resident there. Not slaves, outlaws or criminals, second-class citizens still have limited legal rights, civil rights and socioeconomic opportunities.

These people are often subject to mistreatment or neglect at the hands of their broadly accepted superiors. Instead of being protected by the law, the law often chooses to disregard them. A system with de facto second-class citizenry is generally regarded as violating human rights.

Second-class citizens are often faced with serious restrictions in the following areas:

* Language
* Religion
* Education
* Freedom of Movement and Association
* Weapons Ownership
* Marriage
* Gender Identity and Expression
* Housing
* Property Ownership

The growing gap between those at the top and the bottom of the socioeconomic scale is evidence that the United States is a land of the very rich and the very poor. I believe we are fast becoming a land full of strapped, poverty-stricken, second-class citizens. This poverty is embedded in the structure of the new American society and maintained by an unequal distribution of political power.

Far back -- fifty years ago -- Michael Harrington, author of The Other America, a work that is partly credited with launching President Johnson's "War on Poverty," showed his audience that even in the post-war boom of the 1950s and ‘60s, poverty was real.

The problem then, Harrington argued, was not so much that poor people were rejected or forgotten. He wrote, "What is much worse, they are not seen." Harrington wrote portrayals of the American underclass of rural Appalachia and the isolated urban slums of inner-cities that brought the "invisible" poor into the light of day.


In 2014, we still have plenty to accomplish concerning equal opportunity and full participation to all people in American society. One fundamental cause of persistent poverty is the unintended silence of millions of impoverished people in political matters. They feel defeated and too readily accept a view of fulfilling a low station. Simply stated, the impoverished lack the means and the disposition to achieve political clout that would likely improve their conditions.

Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that roughly 50 million Americans -- one in six -- now live below the poverty line. Additionally, one in five American children have fallen below the poverty line; the last time poverty levels were this high, Lyndon Baines Johnson was president.

(Wynton Hall. "Nearly 50 Million Americans in Poverty, Worst Since LBJ." 
www.breitbart.com. April 3, 2013)

Nearly half of these Americans, 20.5 million people, are living in deep poverty on less than $12,000 per year.

What about jobs? Half of American jobs pay less than $33,000 per year, and a quarter pay poverty-line wages of $22, 000 or less. This translates to a shocking reality -- people in the bottom fifth of the income distribution now command the smallest share of income, 3.3 percent, since the government started tracking income breakdowns in the 1960s.

How about the middle class? Middle-wage jobs lost during the Great Recession are largely being replaced by low-wage jobs (if they are replaced at all) contributing to an 11 percent decline in real income for poor families since 1979.

27 million adults who are unemployed or underemployed and 48 million people in working poor families now rely on some form of public support. And, means-tested government programs excluding Medicaid have remained essentially flat for the past 20 years, at around $1,000 per capita per year.

Americans on food stamps now outnumber the combined populations of 24 U.S. states.
In addition, 14 million Americans now receive disability checks each month.

 (Daniel Weeks. "Poverty vs. Democracy in America." The Atlantic. January 6, 2014)

Several years ago, here is how one writer, a political scientist, described the ability of poor Americans to participate in society:

"The opportunities and choices available to low-income individuals and families are so different from those available to their wealthy and even middle-class counterparts that they might as well be living in another country. 

"You're more likely to get sent to Iraq, more likely to go to jail, more likely to have an unplanned child, more likely to have asthma from breathing polluted air if you're poor. More likely to have to choose between paying for food (none of that organic stuff, either) and medical treatment, less likely to get adequate care if you choose the latter. 

"Pointing out that there are still people in the world who are worse off in an absolute sense does not absolve us of the responsibility to address our own country's need."

(Alyssa Katharine Ritz Bassistoni. "The Reality of Poverty." The Nation. October 22, 2007)

Bassistoni writes that the stigma attached to poverty is justified by the illusion that we live in a meritocracy (A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement). She states, "Segregation is acceptable as long as it's rationalized by socioeconomic status, since that is supposedly determined by a person's choices in life. We don't like to admit that it helps to have been born into the right neighborhood, race, gender, family."

How easy it is for the privileged to dismiss all poor people as dirty addicts, welfare kings and queens, lazy bums, and worthless idiots. And, believe me, many do so to establish a cruel pecking order. So, as these richer folks spread their disgust for "low lifes," they influence others to believe their views. The truth is that if you are born into poverty, you will likely live a poor life yourself as a second-hand citizen.

If America's hope is our children, it's time we improve the life of all of those young people without favor. Why do poor children suffer so much?

* Of course, they are impoverished.

* They suffer from hunger and homelessness.

* They live in homes with absent and incarcerated parents.

* They suffer from violence and substance abuse.

Is it any wonder high-school dropout rates for these children are around 50 percent. College-graduation rates are less than 10 percent for people in poverty, which is five times worse than upper-income youth.

So, without a high-school diploma, poor children are four times more likely than their college-educated peers to be unemployed and 10 to 20 times more likely to end up behind bars.

Then, regardless of high-school completion and criminal status, close to half of all people raised in persistent poverty remain poor at the age of 35, transmitting the same status to their kids, while less than four percent join the upper-middle class. It is a vicious cycle that few poor Americans can escape.

Even the health of those in poverty is affected: Prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, around four in 10  Americans in poverty or who lack a high-school diploma also do not have health insurance -- four times the rate among non-poor people -- and one third of all deaths are estimated to result from poverty and low-education.

(Daniel Weeks. "Poverty vs. Democracy in America." The Atlantic. January 6, 2014)


My View of Second-Class Citizens

For so long now, those with favor and privilege in America have contented themselves to build their own families and help raise the standards of living for their own. Period. Most feel they have enough "on their plate" taking care of their siblings And, granted, that, in itself, is a tremendous job and a huge accomplishment.

But, what about our own less fortunate citizens? What about the second-class Americans? We like to think we can give them a public education which will allow them to rise from the ranks of the poor. Yet, with all of the stressors faced by poor families, many of these kids slide, fall, and crash. Then, they are unable to "pick themselves up." They become devastated and distrustful of the system as they eventually realize the cards have been stacked against them from the statrt.

Speaking for myself, the son of a salesman and a working mom, I know without their tremendous support -- emotional, financial, social, and spiritual -- I would have failed to complete two college degrees and secure a profession as a teacher. During my maturation, so many times problems got in the way of my plans, and my parents guided me through those dark days. And, guess what? Thanks to their help and the assistance of so many others who cared, I was able to raise my own family of four children years later.

We all have the obligation not only to acknowledge the enormous problems that continue to plague our society, but also to take actions to change a society that creates, and even happily perpetuates, second-class citizens. America must become once more the nation that provides freedom and equal opportunity to the impoverished.

We can choose to rant and rail at the welfare system, shout at indigents to "Get a job!" and curse the atrocious realities of crime and disease that stem from poverty.

Or ...

We can choose to restore the American Dream by making the end of poverty in the United States our top priority.

I believe we must do the following to help our fellow man:

1. We must insure that the public educational experience provides top-flight employable skills and works to better opportunities for poor children to progress and to enter post-secondary programs. I suggest a 13th year of mandatory secondary education focusing on employment skills for those who do not enter college after their senior year.

2. We must demand employers -- corporations and companies -- provide legitimate full-time work for every American who wants to earn an honest living. Those jobs must include a wage and benefits that will suffice to allow citizens to live a comfortable life with decent housing, healthcare, and advancement opportunities. Above all, we must end this craze of providing only part-time employment for those good workers with greater monetary needs. And, we must lobby to raise wages for service jobs.

3. We must re-establish the "War on Poverty." Instead of accepting the old adage "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," we need to recognize each hindrance that widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots and realize helping others and including others can raise hopes and standards of living -- all standards of successfully surviving.

4. And, most importantly, we have to preach self-reliance as the optimal condition while designing workable plans for all Americans to actually reach a better state of living. 


Once again, we must instill a caveat that effort and hard work PAY, no matter how menial the job. Once again, we need to concern ourselves with "the huddled masses." And, once again, we must be our brother's keeper by helping him become a viable thread of the fabric of our working communities.


The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


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?