Friday, October 21, 2011

The Deaths of Yue Yue and a Dictator -- Writer's Poke #330

A little girl escaped the watchful eyes of her mother, and ended up on the narrow streets of a big city. In the distance, a white van approached. The driver wasn’t going very fast – maybe just 20 miles an hour, but he apparently didn’t see the toddler, and the toddler definitely never noticed the van. And then in a moment, it happened. The van ran over the little girl.

The driver knew that something was wrong. Maybe he noticed at the moment of impact that he was running over a small child. But after pausing for two seconds, he decided to drive on. This decision required that the back tires of the van would run over the girl, and as the van drove off, a smear of blood trailed off into the distance.

Although no one saw this event happen, a security camera captured it on video for the world to see. And, it captured the aftermath. Within seconds a man walked down the street. When he came across the girl, he didn’t even bother to look down. He simply altered his path, walked around her body, and continued on his way. Other people came upon her body. Some stopped to look at her. No, she clearly wasn’t dead, but no one stopped to try to help.

Another van came down the street. It didn’t stop. The street was so narrow that it couldn’t avoid running over her legs. This van, like the last one, wasn’t driving more than 20 miles per hour, but this driver, unlike the first, never bothered to pause.

Finally, a trash worker noticed the body of the girl, and she attempted to move the body. At this point, maybe a few minutes had passed from the initial hit-and-run, and the girl was more or less lifeless. The trash worker was able to locate the mother, and the mother quickly scooped up her daughter and rushed her to the hospital. She was soon declared brain dead.

This event happened in China, but it could have occurred in Chicago, or anywhere in the world. People claim that human life has value, and yet when confronted with a situation that puts their own lives at an inconvenience, how many of us value our convenience over the value of another person’s life?

Certainly this little girl was “innocent,” but consider that in another part of the world, the dictator of Libya was being shot and beaten to death around the same moment. No one would claim he was an “innocent victim,” but is it right for people to cheer and claim “this is the day we’ve been waiting for”? In his case, people judged his life had no value. Does that make them any different from the people that judged the toddler’s life in China had no value? We assume that the little girl had potential and deserved a future, and yet most of us probably deny the same assumption to the Libyan dictator. And what about the people connected to both deaths? How do we feel about their potential?

What gives a human life value?

“The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.” – Peter Singer

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Draining Your Life Essence

A friend of mine does this "Devil You Know" webshow. He's easily the second most funny guy in the Mattoon, Illinois, class of 1991. This is Episode 9, but you might want to start at the beginning. Otherwise, you'll be lost

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lasting Fame -- Writer's Poke #329

(Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce's Ulysses)

Students of Marilyn Monroe recognize that she was much more than a pretty face.

Monroe created herself. She started from nothing, and she used her natural beauty and charisma to transform her image into one of the world’s most recognized. Even though she played the “dumb blonde,” it was all an act. She was constantly reading, and always learning. She wanted to be a respected actress, and instead of getting by on her looks, she cared about landing meaningful roles worthy of her profession.

Her tragedy, perhaps, is that she became trapped in her own manufactured image. But in this she wasn’t unique, as it is the trap in which most famous people find themselves. What was truly tragic about her life was her inability to find lasting love, although she did experience it, to a degree, with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio. What she was never able to experience was motherhood, and this is what may have caused her to end her own life.

Monroe never had a close relationship with her own family, and her inability to have children of her own probably left her feeling forever isolated and incomplete.

Why is Monroe still remembered fifty years later? Most people don’t study her life, nor do most watch her movies. And yet, people don’t remember her simply for her looks, do they? Is it possible to read and know a person like Monroe by only seeing her picture? Do people connect with her, not simply because of her physical beauty, because her story, captured beneath the manufactured image, somehow breaks through?

What makes fame last? Does the current generation have anyone equivalent to Marilyn Monroe?

“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.” – Marilyn Monroe

It's Because I'm Black! -- Writer's Poke #328

I have been the victim of racism. Sort of.

When my wife and I were in Washington D.C., we stopped for lunch at a Subway. As we ate our meal, I watched a young African-American male hitting up passers’ by for money. God, I thought, I hope he moves on by the time we’re done with our meal. He hadn’t, and as soon as we left the safety of the restaurant, he approached us.

“Excuse me, sir,” he politely began, “but I’m a student on a field trip with my college.” Sure you are, I thought. “I’ve been separated from my group, and I need $20 so that I can get back with them.” I declined to give him any money, and his attitude and demeanor immediately changed.

“It’s because I’m black, isn’t it!” he shouted. I just kept walking, but his volcanic reaction scared me. What would I do if he attacked me? I thought. I didn’t think this because he was black, either. I have been approached by panhandlers all over the nation – some white, and some black – but I had never experienced anyone reaction to a “no” so vocally. Most simply go on to the next person walking down the street. Why this person decided to lash out at me I’ll never know, but my wife and I kept on walking, and he didn’t follow us.

Truth be told: the whole incident ticked me off. Here’s a man that didn’t know me, but he assumed I was racist, or he assumed that his accusation of racism would be an effective ploy to make me feel guilty enough to reconsider and give him money? I’m not sure what he was thinking.

Racism does exist in this country. Of that I have no doubt. But throwing around the accusation like a hand grenade is counter-productive, to say the least. Then again, ignoring the fact that racism still exists in the United States isn’t the solution, either. So what is?

What is the best way to deal with racism in the United States in 2011?

“Excellence is the best deterrence to racism or sexism.” – Oprah Winfrey