Thursday, April 23, 2009
Several weeks ago, I wrote this post titled Speaking of Banks to vent my frustration over how easy it is for any lowlife knucklehead to rob banks.
Well, I just learned that the suspect who inspired the post, one David Graf of Seaford, was caught along with his accomplice, Lauren Becker of Commack. I had suspected as much, as I wrote in my post, "Judging by his targets, he either drives himself around or he has an accomplice, as his targets are scattered throughout the county."
Newsday has his mug shot here. As the text below the photo indicates, "they robbed banks to fuel a drug addiction." I mentioned that in my previous post as well, "It would not surprise me if the suspect in the Plainview robbery was a heroin or other drug addict looking for cash to feed his habit. If that is the case, he is going to keep on committing robberies until he eventually slips up and gets caught." Of course, anybody could have guessed that.
Graf and Becker are just two more sad examples of the tragedy of drug addiction. They not only hurt those around them, but they waste their own lives as well, all in pursuit of that next high.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Likewise, when many individuals each do a small amount of good they can together accomplish a great deal of good. In the first of what I hope will be a regular series of posts on this blog, I want to discuss the benefits of composting and how it applies to this philosophy.
This past summer, I decided to start composting my lawn and leaf waste. When I thought about it, I realized it was extremely wasteful to spend money on several boxes of plastic lawn and leaf bags to bag grass clippings and leaves, haul them to the curb for trash collection and have them take up space in landfills. So, with a quick trip to a nearby Home Depot, I obtained the basic supplies needed for under $20 and went about setting aside a corner in my backyard for the compost bin. Above is a picture of the bin I shot today.
What are the practical benefits of composting? Well, for starters, I am looking forward to starting a vegetable garden this spring, so I hope to be able to generate enough useable compost to mix with top soil. By composting my grass and leaf cuttings, I am also saving some money that would be spent on lawn and leaf bags. But the benefits extend beyond that.
As I wrote in the paragraph above, composting yard waste means less of it takes up space in our landfills. If more people with available yard space for a compost bin did the same, it would have a multiplier effect. From the Environmental Protection Agency's web site on composting, "Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream."
Mass composting of yard waste could also help reduce fossil fuel use. When homeowners leave upwards of a dozen bags of raked leaves by the curb during the height of the autumn season, garbage collection trucks have to stop and idle while the workers pick up the bags and toss them into the back of the truck. While we are probably talking maybe a matter of a few seconds of idle time, when you multiply that amount by the hundreds of homes on each truck's collection route, the amount of fuel wasted really starts to add up.
In addition to composting grass clippings and leaves, table scraps also make a valuable component of a compost pile. I started adding things like banana peels, apple cores and other fruit and vegetable scraps several months ago. Instead of tossing in the items individually, I purchased a small pail with a lid that pops open when you step on the foot pedal and a supply of bags made from biodegradable cornstarch. Above is a picture of one of the bags filled with banana peels and such.
Another thing I did late last autumn after doing some research about composting was to toss in some worms that I came across when I was raking and vacuuming. Recently, when I have been churning around the pile after receiving rainfall, I was surprised to see that at least several of the worms in the pile were still alive after so many months had passed.
As I am still quite the novice when it comes to composting, it remains to be seen how successful it will turn out with my planned vegetable garden. Regardless of that, I can at least take some satisfaction in knowing that I am doing a little bit of good by adding less waste to our landfills and helping to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. If you believe that these are worthwhile goals and you are able to compost your yard waste and table scraps, then I hope you will help fill up that water-jar.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I'm on my lunchbreak now and checked the New York Times online a moment ago to catch up on current events, and wanted to immediately share this article with you. (Registration required). It is thrilling to read about these brave Afghan ladies demonstrating against the "marital rape" law, though it is equally disheartening to see the vitriolic fury their protest march generated among the fanatically conservative minions of Kabul.
The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.
“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”
“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”
But the march carried on anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.
With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.
The women who protested Wednesday began their demonstration with what appeared to be a deliberately provocative act. They gathered in front of the School of the Last Prophet, a madrassa run by Ayatollah Asif Mohsini, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric. He and the scholars around him played an important role in the drafting of the new law.
“We are here to campaign for our rights,” one woman said into a loudspeaker. Then the women held their banners aloft and began to chant.
The reaction was immediate. Hundreds of students from the madrassa, most but not all of them men, poured into the streets to confront the demonstrators.
“Death to the enemies of Islam!” the counterdemonstrators cried, encircling the women. “We want Islamic law!”
The women stared ahead and kept walking.
The end of the article features one of the clerics of the madrassa, a Mohammed Hussein Jafaari.
The article quotes him as saying, “We Afghans don’t want a bunch of NATO commanders and foreign ministers telling us what to do.”
Oh yeah? Well, you know what Mr. Jafaari? A lot of Afghan women don't want a bunch of perverted Islamic male scholars telling them what to do!
I really wish there was something substantial we could do to help these ladies achieve the gender equality that they deserve. For all of their bravery, sadly they appear to be vastly outnumbered. Off the top of my head, one thing we could do, even if it does not solve the problem, is to offer asylum to any Afghan woman who wants to flee the country to escape the law. One counterargument to that idea though is that if we make it easier for the more independent minded women to leave Afghanistan, that will just make it harder for the remainder who stay behind. But I fear that the number of women who will push back is not enough as it is, and therefore it would not make much of a difference if they stayed, except to get themselves killed. Besides, if we can get enough women to leave, maybe it will create a shortage of wives and these tribalistic misogynystic assholes won't be able to have children to pass on the madness to another generation.
Monday, April 13, 2009
A top Afghan cleric [Mohammad Asif Mohseni] who backs a law that critics say would allow marital rape has dismissed the outcry the legislation has generated in the West.
The law states that "it is essential for the woman to submit to the man's sexual desire" and says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days, unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse.
Surrounded by supporters, Mohseni unfurled reams of paper with hundreds of women's signatures and thumbprints backing the law.
He also said much of the uproar had come from people misinterpreting the law and that a woman could refuse sex with her husband for many reasons beyond illness, including fasting for Ramadan, preparing for a pilgrimage, menstruating, or recovering from giving birth.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
DEVOUT Christian followers of Good Friday's crucifixion rituals in the rural Philippines village of Kapitangan were devastated to learn that John Safran's nailing to the cross alongside local penitents was a TV comedy show stunt.
"Why does he want to come here and laugh at us? We don't laugh at his culture and his beliefs. So he should respect ours."
I'm sorry, but what the fuck is there to respect about having yourself nailed to a cross? What a bunch of backwards-ass supersitious weirdos!
Buboy Dionisio, nailed to the cross along with Safran, who was sporting a Monty Python-style wig, said he could not understand why the comedian and his producers had falsely claimed to be making a serious TV show.
The comedian and his crew - believed to be filming for an ABC TV series to be screened this year, John Safran's Race Relations - were threatened with deportation and forced to sign an affidavit pledging not to use footage mocking crucifixion rituals.
Kapitangan Village councillor Cleotilde Gaspar was shocked Safran was making a comedy show because he had "really been crucified with the nails going all the way through his hand".
"But if he is making fun of us and what we do that is very serious for us because for us it is not funny," she said.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
A court in Bangkok said Suwicha Thakho, 34, digitally altered images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family and posted them on the internet.
Thailand's royal family is sheltered from public debate by some of the world's most stringent lese-majeste laws, as the police and army try to suppress what they fear is a rising tide of anti-monarchy sentiment.
One political activist was jailed for six years in November for an anti-monarchy speech she made just a stone's throw from the old royal palace last July.
But this insanity doesn't just apply to Thai citizens. Foreigners in Thailand are also at risk of falling afoul of these laws, no matter how inadvertent the offense might be.
Harry Nicolaides, an Australian writer jailed in Thailand for defaming its monarch, has returned home after being pardoned by the king and set free.
The charges arose from a passage in a largely unknown novel he wrote in 2005, of which only seven of 50 copies printed were ever sold.
Mr Nicolaides was met by his family in Melbourne. He would next see his mother in hospital, his father told reporters.
He told reporters he had been crying for eight hours, having only learnt moments before his flight that his mother had suffered a stroke while he was imprisoned.
"A few hours before that I was informed I had a royal pardon... A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison," AP quotes him as saying.
So, in the spirit of irreverence, I invite all readers here, Thai and non-Thai, to insult the royal family...just because it should be your right and because you can.
Last week a friend and I were walking east from 6th Avenue down 48th Street in Manhattan to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant. There was this loud and annoying music playing from this long, white camper with a large picture on the side of the late Lubavitcher rebbe Schneerson. Inside were a number of Lubavitchers, an Orthodox Jewish sect, many of them young men bouncing and swaying to the music like some Jewish hip-hop posse.
I said to my friend, "I would rather listen to rap music then this." I shouted at the people in the bus to "turn that crap down," but did so halfheartedly, knowing it was a futile gesture. We crossed the street and went into the Chinese restaurant, and forgot about the Lubavitcher bus.
After lunch, my friend and I walked back towards 6th Avenue and turned left as I intended to walk with her until we got to the corner of 47th Street. And lo and behold, there was the camper, parked on 6th Avenue across the street from my office. Up ahead, I could see two of the Lubavitcher boys accosting men who walked past them on the sidewalk, asking "Are you Jewish?"
Apparently, what these Lubavitchers were engaging in is something called kiruv, which the Wikipedia link describes as "the collective work or movement of Orthodox Judaism that reaches out to non-Orthodox Jews to believe in God, engage in Torah study, and practice the Mitzvot in the hope that they will live according to Orthodox Jewish law. The process and act/s of any Jew becoming more observant of Judaism is called teshuva ("return" in Hebrew) making the "returnee" a baal teshuva ("master of return")."
As my friend and I closed the distance with them, I anticipated that I would be approached by one of the Lubavitcher boys and was ready for them. "Are you Jewish?" one of them asked as I walked near him.
I turned to face him and said "No, I'm an atheist, and you should be too." With that, I turned away and kept on walking with my female friend (apparently, the Lubavitcher males don't address women). She expressed some surprise at what I had said, but I replied to her that once they insert themselves into the public square like that, I am under no obligation to respect the substance of their beliefs. If they have the right to accost me in the street and ask me if I am Jewish, then I have every right to tell that person he shoud be an atheist.
One of these days, if I have the time and the requisite amount of chutzpah, I might identify myself as Jewish to these clowns just to see what they do next. If so, you will be sure to read about it here!
Monday, April 06, 2009
As I wrote in Part 1 of this series, "in order for the Church to survive and prosper, it needed the Germanic kings who occupied the former Roman territories to convert to Christianity and be baptized in the Church."
Of course, in order to get these Germanic kings to open themselves up to the prospect of conversion to Christianity, the faith had to be presented to them with a pretty face. In other words, the first stage in getting a Germanic king to embrace Christianity was for him to be presented with a Christian bride.
Returning to the Frankish king Clovis, the starting point for his conversion, and the subsequent conversion of the Franks, began with Clotild, his Catholic Burgundian wife. The historian Edward James, in his book The Franks, summarizes the narrative of Gregory of Tours, whose Ten Books of Histories is one of the major source writings for the period.
"Clovis's Burgundian wife Clotild wanted him to agree to baptize their first son, Ingomer. Gregory devises a little sermon for her to preach to her husband, which made the same points that early medieval preachers tended to make to pagans: your gods are bits of stone or wood; they were men, not gods; they set examples of immorality...The child was baptized, and promptly died. Undaunted, Clotild had her second son baptized, and when he too fell ill she prayed and the child recovered: a sign from Heaven."
It was some time afterwards that Clovis allegedly decided to be himself baptized following a battle against the Alemmani, in which he supposedly had called on Jesus Christ for aid and promised to be baptized if he was victorious. The likely story is that Clovis had already considered conversion to Christianity before the battle, but that he needed a suitable pretext before making his intentions public, in the same way that Abraham Lincoln was waiting for the right moment, the repulse of Robert E. Lee at Antietam, to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. After all, when you are a manly Germanic king, you can't expect your people to cast off their old gods just because it will make your wife happy. But Clovis's agreement to be baptized undoubtedly made conversation at the Merovingian family dinner table a lot less contentious.
Following the conversion of the Franks (at least superficially, but more on that in a future post), the Frankish kingdom itself became a new source of royal Christian brides to be dispatched to new pagan kings as part of a strategy to bring them into the community of Christian kingdoms. Thus, a Christian Frankish lady named Bertha was married to Ethelbert of Kent in the latter half of the sixth century. Writes Richard Fletcher in The Barbarian Conversions, "[w]e do know that Bertha's kinsfolk had been able to insist that Ethelbert permit his wife to practise her religion. She came to Kent accompanied by a bishop named Liudhard."
"Bertha would have known of her great-grandmother's part in the conversion of her husband Clovis. She may well have received a hortatory letter reminding her of it...when she went off as a bride to Kent. Her assistance in the conversion of Ethelbert was acknowledged by Pope Gregory in a letter he sent to her in 601."
The story repeats itself with Edwin of Northumbria, who married Ethelburga, a Christian princess from Kent, the aforementioned kingdom of the Christian convert Ethelbert. "Diplomatic presents of rich apparel, gold embroidered, cunningly hinted at the splendid trappings of Christian civilization. Queen Ethelburga was firmly reminded of her duty as wife and queen to bring about Edwin's conversion." Well, it certainly adds a whole new meaning to the phrase 'missionary position'! Edwin finally succumbed and was baptized on Easter Sunday in the year 627.
It seems clear that the marriage of a Christian princess to a pagan king played an important role in getting the king to convert to Christianity. The princess would be accompanied by her own retinue, including her own priest to minister to her and her attendants, thus providing a foothold for the Christian faith in the king's court. As to how much the king's resistance to conversion was broken down by his Christian queen's pleading and cajoling is difficult to say. There were other factors at work of course. By marrying a princess from a Christian kingdom, a pagan king became increasingly drawn into a network of political and trading relations with Christian kingdoms such as the Franks. Ultimately, a pagan king would proclaim his conversion to Christianity and be baptized because he found it to be advantageous to do so. Since there was no aggressively proselytizing alternative faith, and the Catholic Church carried with it the prestige of being a Roman institution, adopting Christianity was a way of formal joining the club of "civilized" nations. And an important first step in the process of conversion was marrying a Christian princess from one of those Christian kingdoms.
Coming soon: The Rise of Christianity Part 3: The Sacred Oak of Geismar
Saturday, April 04, 2009
I was reading this week's issue of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald. At the bottom of page three was an article about how Nassau County Robbery Squad detectives are still looking for a bank robbery suspect who robbed a Chase Bank on Old Country Road this past March 23.
The suspect, a white male between the ages of 27 to 32, approximately 5'8" in height, passed a note to the teller demanding money. After being handed the cash, he fled the scene.
The article then lists the following bank robberies he is suspected of carrying out based on photographs taken of him by the bank security cameras:
March 21 @ 12:30 p.m., Washington Mutual Bank at 3345 Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown.
March 21@ 1:55 p.m., Citibank at 670 Merrick Avenue in East Meadow.
March 23 @ 5:04 p.m., at the aforementioned Chase Bank at 1100 Old Country Road in Plainview.
March 26 @ 5:45 p.m., CapitalOne Bank at 1145 Willis Avenue in Albertson.
March 29 @ 1:30 p.m., TD Bank at 4126 Merrick Road in Massapequa.
March 30 @ 7:10 p.m., TD Bank at 416 Central Avenue in Cedarhurst.
As you can see, the suspect was especially ambitious on his first outing on the 21st, robbing two banks close to each other geographically in a narrow time frame. Judging by his targets, he either drives himself around or he has an accomplice, as his targets are scattered throughout the county. I would guess that he figures if he does not confine his robberies to a specific area, it will lessen his chances of being caught.
But back to the question I asked at the beginnning of this post, I have personally never worked in a bank, so I do not know what their procedures are in these situations. If anyone reading this has or currently does work in a bank, I would appreciate your comments. It looks to me though that the policy is for tellers to automatically comply with a request for money under the assumption that the robber is armed. But it strikes me as being way too pathetically easy for any loser or lowlife to walk in and demand money knowing that he or she will make an easy score. I do recall reading a few months ago where one bank robbery was foiled when a teller, in response to a demand for money, laughed at the would-be robber and said "Are you kidding me?" Apparently, that was all it took for the robber to lose his/her nerve and flee.
Now, I don't claim to be an expert on issues of security, but it seems to me that there are plenty of low-tech, commonsense methods that banks can adopt to reduce the number of robberies. How about requiring every person who enters a bank to show a valid identification? Every dance club that serves alcohol requires patrons to show i.d. at the door before entering the premises. Why the fuck can't banks do that? Or, if that is too much trouble, how about requiring everyone who enters the bank to remove their hats or hoods or anything else that obstructs views of their faces and to stand in a spot that enables the security camera to get a clear photograph? The article on the suspect in the Plainview robbery shows two separate photos of him wearing a baseball cap that partially obscures his face.
I understand that there are legitimate concerns about bank robberies turning into violent stand-offs. But it appears the overwhelming majority are like those perpetrated by the aforementioned suspect, a lone, in all likelihood unarmed individual, whose demands for cash made to a teller are meekly complied with. It would not surprise me if the suspect in the Plainview robbery was a heroin or other drug addict looking for cash to feed his habit. If that is the case, he is going to keep on committing robberies until he eventually slips up and gets caught. I just can't help thinking that people like him wouldn't be as successful as they are if banks would be take some proactive security measures.
You earned a higher interest rate on your XXXXX Money Market Savings account during this statement period because you had a qualifying XXXXX Better Banking Checking account.
And what was this "higher" interest rate I earned? Drum roll please.........
Last month I earned a whopping eight cents in interest! Whoooey! I wonder what my rate would have been if I did not have the savings account linked to a checking account, 0.00001%? Or maybe it would be a negative number. Of course, this savings account does not constitute the main core of my savings. It's meant to be an easily accessible fund to tap for unbudgeted emergency expenses such as having to get the car repaired or to have an appliance fixed or replaced. But an interest rate of 0.01%? I guess I can understand if that is the best my bank can do under the present circumstances, but it shouldn't act like it's doing me a favor by offering me such a piddling rate.