Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I think there's something wrong with me.

Okay - I know there's a lot wrong with me, but that's not entirely the issue here.  I'm talking about something specific.

I'm actually upset that we didn't get any major snowstorms this winter. 

Granted, winter isn't officially over for another three weeks, but it sure feels over.  Tomorrow is March 1, which is typically heralded as the gateway leading us from winter into spring.  I've noticed the sun rising in the morning quite a bit earlier than this time a month ago, and the last couple weeks have had temperatures approaching 60 degrees.

So why is any of this bad?  Why should I regret not getting a "real" mid-Atlantic winter?

Compare this season to the last couple winters we've had in the area.  Two years ago we were blasted with an apocalyptic series of snowstorms the likes of which we hadn't seen in a good five years.  People were stuck in their homes for the better part of a week, and grocery stores were completely emptied of milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper (I always found that last item kinda funny - do people anticipate going to the bathroom a whole lot more often if they're stuck at home?). 

Last year we were hit with one major storm in mid-January.  Thanks to the storm hitting before road maintenance could take any cleaning action, most everyone was stuck in traffic for hours.  My normal commute of not even 10 minutes was over three hours.  Some of my coworkers at the time were in their cars for 8 hours or longer. 

This year, we got a pitiful dusting here and there.  No catastrophes or piles of snow loaded up on street corners.  Pathetic.

What the hell is wrong with me?  Shouldn't I be happy that we were spared such nightmares this winter?  Granted, I suppose there's the super small chance we might get a storm in the next couple weeks, but considering how unseasonably warm it's been, I don't see it happening.

I guess this feels so foreign to me is because I grew up in the northeast and anticipate at least one or two big snowstorms every winter.  One of my best friends lives in San Diego and specifically moved away from her home in Kansas to get away from frigid winters filled with snow.  I couldn't fathom living in an area where the weather doesn't get fiercely cold between December and February. 

The irony here is that usually around this time I can't wait for spring to get here.  I've normally had my fill of winter by this point and can't wait for spring to finally arrive.  Since we didn't have much of any kind of winter at all, I feel like we skipped over the last three months all together with no fanfare at all.  It's anti-climactic.

It's fine if you think I'm some kind of looney toon here who doesn't appreciate a very mild winter to offset the last two crazy winters we've had in the Baltimore/DC Metro area.  I'm completely aware of how nuts I sound, and maybe the cosmic reason why we haven't gotten much snow at all is simply because of the last two winters.  Balance in all things.

Hey, the upside to spring already being here is that pitchers and catchers have already reported, and batters are starting to show up as well.  I can live with that.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I've Turned Into a Cynic

There was a time when I looked forward to the Oscars broadcast every year.  I went to Oscar parties every year and watch the entire show with a group of friends, and we'd debate over our personal favorite films from the previous year and make our individual predictions.  The only annual party I looked forward to more than an Oscar party was a Super Bowl party.

However, over the last 10 years or so, I've grown more and more disinterested in the Oscars with each passing year.  I'm not sure when or why it started, but when I found out late last week that tonight was the Oscars telecast, all I thought was, "Huh.  I wonder what else will be on TV that night."

(Incidentally, I found out the NBA All Star Game was tonight too, and I can't figure out which program I'm less interested in.)

I think there are several possible reasons my lack of interest in the Oscars.  First, I don't go to nearly as many movies as I used to back in college.  I haven't seen more than one or two films that had been nominated for Best Picture per year for the last decade, and I haven't seen a single film nominated this year, though it's worth noting that I do want to see Moneyball and Midnight in Paris.  I remember the year that Titanic had won for Best Picture, I had seen all five films nominated prior to the Oscars, so I sorta knew what I was talking about back then.  That's not the case anymore.

Second, I don't really get the point of rooting for any one film or actor to win.  I don't have any stake or connection to anyone who's nominated.  I sure did love Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, but it really didn't matter to me whether he won.  I thought Jeremy Renner was equally awesome in films like The Town and The Hurt Locker, but I think it's silly to get worked up over rooting for one actor to win.

Third, let's be honest for a moment here.  The entire show - and this is true of all awards shows really - is one big ass-kissing event.  I really cannot stomach the red carpet pre-show where the paparazzi schmooze with actors.  People like Joan Rivers drive me crazy with how she sucks up to celebrities, and I grit my teeth anytime an actor is asked which designer's clothes they're wearing.  Then all the awards speeches involve thanking the Academy, a faceless group of people who I don't care which films they vote for one way or the other.  

When I was in college, one of my buddies who was interested in film directing at the time told me something that Woody Allen had once suggested.  Allen came up with the idea that instead of awarding a single film or performance as the best of a given year, just release a list of the ten best films of the year as many critics do.  The same could be done for all the major performances of a particular year as well.  It's a much better way to recognize which films contributed to the artistic medium than subjectively award one film as being the single best of all.

I know I sound like a sourpuss rambling about the Oscars and other awards shows, and I suppose that's a fair reaction.  I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of watching the Oscars if someone still watches the show and gets something out of it.  I just don't see the value in the production of the show anymore.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nothing Like a Good Controversy in Society and Politics

Last week the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in the state.  It's expected to pass through the state senate, and ultimately Governor Martin O'Malley is also expected to sign it into state law.

Since only a handful of states have legalized gay marriage to date, it's still a fairly controversial subject, with the Christian right heavily objecting to the concept.  I read over the weekend that despite the bill's expectation to pass, many churches throughout the state are going to petition the bill be struck down.

I'm still very neutral about the idea of gay marriage.  I am a Christian and share many conservative values with Christian doctrine, but I don't feel offended or violated at the concept of a gay couple choosing to marry.  I also question the suggestion that gay couples choosing to marry is a "disgrace" to the sanctity of marriage when so many heterosexual marriages involve abuse, betrayal, and cheating.  Don't those three things do more to destroy marriages and families than gay couples?

However, I firmly believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that people in the gay community make.  I know the common response to such an idea is that no one would simply wake up one morning and decide to be gay, especially considering the kind of mockery and ostracizing the gay community has had to face over the years.  My feeling is that no person ever makes such a decision overnight.  No person decides to buy a car sight unseen either; if I'm in the market to buy a car I'm going to want to test drive a few models to see which one I prefer.  I'm certainly not going to make the claim that I was born to like SUVs over sedans or sports cars.

Speaking of being born gay, I find it very troubling when I see shows on television where a gay person says something along the lines of the following: "I was definitely born gay.  I probably would be straight if I could be, but I'm not."  Such a statement is used to support the theory that people in the gay community are born that way, but I have a major issue with such a statement.  First, that statement implies the person feels shame over his/her lifestyle.  Why should anyone feel shame over the kind of person he/she is attracted to, unless they at some level regret it?

I've gone on a far different tangent than I had planned on when I first started writing this post.  One thing I had promised myself a long time ago was to never go overboard with preaching my beliefs to others because I feel it's very counterproductive.  I think such preaching comes off as a "holier than thou" attitude, which understandably turns a lot of people off.  But I also know when something is and is not my business, and gay marriage falls into the latter category.  Even though John Edwards is utter slime, he did have one strong insight when he was campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008.  He said that even though he was a Christian, he felt the role of President of the United States superseded his own personal beliefs, and as such something like gay marriage would not contradict his beliefs.  That's the right attitude to have.  He essentially said that while he may disagree with homosexuality at a personal level, he wouldn't let his personal beliefs get in the way of the country as a whole.

I have several friends who are gay, and I'm sure they're very excited at this bill passing.  They have every right to be happy, and I have a hard time believing that God would object to two people who were in love and happy with one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Eye For An Eye

I thought when Jerry Sandusky was arrested last fall and charges of sexual assault were brought against him, he would be the closest living example of true evil that existed in this world.

I may have been proven wrong.

Earlier this week, I read about the sentencing of Alyssa Bustamante, an 18 year old girl from Jefferson City, MO.  She was charged and convicted of brutally killing a 9 year old girl in her neighborhood in 2009. 

Before I get into my thoughts on the case, here's the story if you'd like to read about the case first.  WARNING: it isn't for the faint of heart.

To say that Bustamante had emotional issues would not even begin to describe her mental state.  She was taking Prozac at the time, and whatever her dosage was failed to keep her head straight.  Add to that a very broken home (her father was in prison and her grandmother was her legal guardian), and a recipe for disaster was in the making.

I say all that to add context to her as a person, not to make excuses for what she did.  No, she is right next in line with Jerry Sandusky as people who are close to being truly evil in this world as people get.  What disturbed me the most about her case was the excerpt from her own diary that the prosecution had read at her trial.  Here's the brief piece they had read:

“I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead...I don’t know how to feel atm. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church”

If that section doesn't disgust or disturb you, I don't know what will.

I'm not even sure where to begin in talking about that quote, so I guess I'll so sentence by sentence.  Her first line implies there was more than one victim she had killed, and in fact when she had confessed to the murder she led police to two gravesites she had dug for her victims.  Only the body of the 9-year-old girl was found, so it's possible that she was arrested before she could hurt anyone else, but the implication is still there.

Second, she made it very clear that killing the little girl was premeditated.  She had chosen her target, she had waited until the most opportune moment, and she had planned out how she was going to kill her victim.  And she bragged about it!  She actually said it was enjoyable.  She was clearly in a stable state of mind as she wrote all this out in her diary.  She doesn't get any plea of mental insanity this time.

The worst part was at the end where she said she had to go to church.  I read online that she had to pack her things up for her grandmother to take her to a party at her local church.  Before I had read that detail online elsewhere, I honestly thought she wrote the line about going to church to be ironic, like she was being clever or funny about what she had to do immediately after killing someone.  Tragically, I was wrong.

The small amount of relief in this case is that the prosecution didn't drop the ball at any point, compared to the Casey Anthony case.  The defense attorneys knew Bustamante was guilty, and fought to get her a lesser sentence if she chose to plead guilty.  In the end, she got a life sentence with the possibility of parole, but I have no idea what the minimum number of years she'll have to serve will be.

I read quite a bit on Facebook about this story, and coincidentally I had stumbled onto it thanks to a friend of mine having posted the link in the first place.  Most of the comments I've seen about the story pretty much demand an eye for an eye, saying Bustamante deserves to be put to death for her crime.  At the very least, she deserves to be locked up for the rest of her natural life and have the keys thrown away.

While I'm pro-death penalty, I'm not exactly one who believes in the concept of an eye for an eye.  I do believe there are criminals who deserve to be put to death for whatever they had done, and there are certainly crimes that fit such a penalty.  Considering how Bustamante had clearly premeditated this crime, and her laissez-faire attitude after she had killed the girl, the death penalty would be warranted.  She's not the type of person who would be able to be rehabilitated in prison.  When she had spoken to the family of her victim at her trial, she tried apologizing and said if she could take back her actions she would.  Maybe I read her words out of context, but that kind of apology is only spoken by someone who feels remorse because she was caught.  Her diary entry completely contradicts her apology, and I don't think the gravity of her actions would have settled in over the passage of time.  Brutally killing an innocent 9-year-old girl isn't the type of action one can simply take back with a few words. 

The worst part is that throwing Bustamante in prison or executing her won't bring back her victim.  The family of her victim probably won't ever get full closure, even now that Bustamante is headed to prison.  In a way, Jerry Sandusky did an even worse thing to his victims because they have to live on with the memories of what he had done to them.  Sandusky and Bustamante won't ever suffer like their victims or the families of their victims will, which is a testament to how truly evil they are.  We can rid the world of evil people like Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muammar Qaddafi, but we'll never be rid of the evil people who are next door.