Saturday, December 8, 2007

Time of the Season

I was raised a W.A.S.P. - White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. By choice I am agnostic, meaning at its basic I do not believe in organized religion. I have different ideas and notions about faith, spirituality, etc. Does that mean I do not believe in a god? To be frank, I have never been enraptured by the spirit, felt a calling toward faith, etc. But that does not preclude me from believing that there just very well could be a "god," in whatever form they may chose to take. Think how gullible and stupid people are today, and go back a few millennia when that can be coupled with superstition and mysticism. How do we know this "god" was/is not just some superior race or whatever that came to Earth, for good or bad?

That said, at Christmas time I seemingly get caught up in a duality of conscience, as I like to call it. How do I celebrate a holiday based on religious principles, particularly Christianity, and the birth of Jesus Christ? If I do not believe in organized religion, how can I celebrate one of its venerated traditions like Christmas? The question is, do I believe there was a man who lived over 2,000 years ago named Jesus Christ? Yes. Do I believe he had good intentions and ideas? Yes. Do I believe his words and teachings have been manipulated and distorted by organized religion? Yes.

So, in the end, I can celebrate the man while ignoring the minutiae of organized religion. Why? Because, for one thing, I am tired of being cynical of the world. Believing in something - in this case, a man with principles and convictions that transcends all times - just might erode that feeling. One can only hope.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Would Obi-Wan Do?

RenĂ© Descartes’ simple yet profound supposition, “I think, therefore I am,” succinctly expresses the idea that the mind directly influences man’s actions. Yet, he believed that at times the reverse can be true, causing a duality in man that goes against rational thought. Thus, to “govern our passions” is not as simple as thinking through them logically, but rather finding a balance between the two that leads to true knowledge. Whether each alone can realize this same end without regard to the other, and to which is the purest means for attaining it, has been a philosophical dilemma for centuries.

Our lives are filled with a constant tug of war between the heart and the mind. We are told to follow our heart, yet cautioned to look before we leap; equally, in spite of the most irrefutable of facts and analysis, intuition can override such rationality. In such a dynamic, the mind will accept intuitive decisions if it seems the logical course to follow. E.E. Cummings, in his poem "Since Feeling Is First,” makes it clear that emotions are the guiding spirit in our lives rather than the mind. “Since feeling is first,” it reads, “who pays any attention to the syntax of things . . . and kisses are a better fate than wisdom.” In Cummings world, ignorance is bliss when it comes to self-expression – even if it means being wrong.

Personal passions often drive many of today’s issues that need rational, thought-out resolutions. As the facts stare us in the face, our minds can tell us one thing and our hearts the exact opposite. Often, it is an uncertainty as to the proper course to follow, and examples abound equally of decisions made contrary to the way reason points and feeling suggests. Many times, we second-guess our decisions at the time or do it in hindsight whenever there is an underlying uncertainty. It is human nature to do so, just as it is to follow through in spite of such reservations.

Passionate zeal, as an emotional state, is unfortunately only temporary, and typically not reliable in the long-term. The reason for its short-term success is motivation toward immediate action. However, the results generated from such depend greatly on emotional sustenance, as a dispassionate attitude leads only to weak action and mediocrity. It is therefore important to think critically on the issues, while maintaining a passion for them, in order to differentiate between a solid argument and absurdity in the call for action – or lack thereof.

Throughout history, leaders and ordinary citizens alike have made both calculated and emotionally driven decisions, with equal success and failure. The conclusion to be drawn is that logic and emotion working in conjunction is simply the start of the process of understanding rather than the end result. Those who lead may succeed by winning hearts and minds, but genuine leadership comes from a balance between the two that guides a leader in making the tough decisions – especially if it is an unpopular, yet correct, one to follow. This is what faces today’s generation as they look to lead the world into the future.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Monday, September 17, 2007

Randomness To Yuma

With concerns about germs and disease, why are bath & body poofs (yes, I used the word "poof") typically in an open bin without any individual protective covering on them? This is something used for cleansing, yet they are vulnerable to sneezes, grimy hands and all sorts of vileness from other shoppers. And unless you do self-checkout, it gets even worse – a conveyor belt potentially ripe with a bouquet of grossness and a cashier fondling your shower accessory with the deftness of a monkey shitting themselves.

The other night while taking a late-evening stroll, I noticed a Walgreens shopping cart sitting in the grass on a hillside. The Walgreens is a block up the road. I wondered how the cart got there, picturing either a person who at first needed it to walk their groceries home deciding otherwise or clandestine cart races at midnight. It evoked a conversation a few weeks ago with Blake, the Walgreens clerk on the night shift.

The cash register drawer stuck. He made an idle comment about it doing the same during a robbery. Only half listening, counting out my money, I did a double take. Turned out a few years past, someone robbed the store during the night shift. Sometimes if I'm bored or can't sleep I'll walk to the Walgreens, being that it is just up the street and 24-hours. I'll perhaps buy a Yoo-hoo or something significantly unneeded. However, I find my late-night "exercise" curbed since that chat.

My point? Like the poofs, we're all vulnerable. It's just a matter of limiting, or even thwarting, the chances for its occurrence.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Coke And A Smile

Do I wish there was no such thing as war, poverty, or disease? No terrorists, illegals, or unborns? Of course I wish that mankind never knew such things. If all it really did take was a Coke and a smile to make all the world's problems go away, I'd buy Coca-Cola and Hallmark and hand them out. Do I cringe every time another multi-billion dollar space mission investigating how algae reacts to space conditions fails, while people cannot even afford food, gas, or proper healthcare? Yes, I do. It is absolutely ridiculous what we will and will not do, fix and not fix, and invest and not invest.

What is the alternative though? Allow the terrorists and their sponsors to wage war unchecked, let illegals stream across our sovereign borders to take jobs away, and spend billions on the welfare state for people who would rather sit on their asses collecting a check instead of working the jobs the illegals take? I wish it really did take a Coke and a smile. But that is not realistic. The problems will not go away simply by ignoring them, and in most cases especially if we do – they will only get worse.

The difficulty is being human, one's worldview of humanity and what is necessary to confront the problems facing us. I wish it really did just take a Coke and a smile. Then maybe all our energies could go toward bettering humanity, rather than trying our best to destroy it.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Carnival of Sports

Not that long ago, St. Louis was named the top sports city in the nation. St. Louisans are known for their enthusiastic support of its sports teams, especially when it comes to the baseball Cardinals. Many other sports have thrived in the region, generating significant economic activity for the city and surrounding areas. Log onto the St. Louis Sports Commission's website and you will see just how supportive St. Louis is, and has been, of athletics, from the 1904 Olympics to the 2009 NCAA Women's Final Four. Golf and tennis, respectively, owe major cups – the Walker and the Davis – to the city, as both were established by St. Louisans. Even in the era of the football Cardinals, with their dismal play and apathetic ownership, fans showed their support in droves year after year. A majority were even saddened when they left the city for the Arizona desert. Sports are a tradition in this city, and will always be a part of its future.

Remember, though, when you used to go to sporting events to see live action, and athletes were worshipped more than the gods themselves? Remember when your parent, or maybe even your grandparent, taught you how to score runs, hits and errors on the scorecard? There was a time when people went to the amusement park to be amused and the sports arena to watch . . . well, sports. Nowadays, the two are seemingly indistinguishable from each other, and its occurring at an exponential rate. Sadly, it has taken away the amusement of the original intent of the venue – the sporting event itself.

Lockouts and scandals have made it so, forcing owners to do anything to fill arenas. Attractions/distractions are thrown at fans as they make their way along the trail to their grazing spot, only to be hounded further by purveyors of consumptive consumerism. All of this to satisfy the adult-child that willingly opens the pocketbook – if only to quiet the real child that needs yet another "toy" to break or collect dust. Meanwhile, the apparent poverty-stricken manor lords gouge the ordinary fan at the ticket booth and vending to compensate for their "losses," while playing hardball with their respective city halls to garner the best deal for a new stadium in order to compete with larger markets.

The self-serving athletes we are expected to hold in esteem in spite of their mediocre play and indignant attitude make the problem no better. Are we as spectators supposed to feel sorry for multi-million dollar athletes who cry foul over salaries that offer only three million a year and not five million – not including a signing bonus – when there are average people who cannot afford a meal, health insurance or housing? Granted, these "warriors of the gridiron" can do more with a bat, ball, or puck than the average person, but where does it end? When Johnny-come-lately athletes command a trade or higher salary without the backing of a justifiable performance, it makes one ponder the objective of sports – the pursuit of selfless victory or self-indulgent promotion?

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Till Sickness Comes

Without healthy, educated individuals, there cannot be a healthy, educated society. Moreover, without the ability to defend that society, there cannot be a strong nation. These are the main issues that should occupy the forefront of any national policy-making. Education and national defense are frequent topics of debate, while health care consistently wavers and lags behind until politically fashionable.

The problem with health care is not the care part. The majority of medical professionals are dedicated in their jobs to treat patients, and they do it well because that is what they have trained to do. Like in anything, one gets what one pays for. That is the problem – paying for it. The cost of many health-related services have soared in recent years, with trillions of dollars paid annually for insurance, doctor visits, hospital stays and medicines. Staying healthy – and getting the care when otherwise – costs money, but it should not cost an arm and a leg.

There is also the bureaucracy, which has created an inefficient system of poor management and excessive costs. Buried in paperwork and regulations, patients face a myriad of obstacles from the varied individuals and entities, with enrollment rules just as diverse, that comprise the health care system. A multitude of insurance plans, each with their own rules on coverage and eligibility, forces providers and patients alike to determine coverage for particular services. As such, individual insurers erect administrative barriers that discourage some from even making a claim. Administrative fees and overhead alone from this complex and fragmented structure has been a main cause of increased spending over the years. The situation only worsens once the bill is itemized and tallied.

According to the latest data, the majority of Americans have health insurance, either through their employer or self-purchased. For those under- or uninsured – the elderly, disabled and the poor – there are programs that provide public funding for medical services. Federal law also requires access to emergency services for all regardless of one's ability to pay. Even so, those without health insurance are expected to personally pay for services if they do not qualify for financial assistance – and numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that approximately 45 million people, or 15% of the population, are currently uninsured, a slight rise in recent years. A number of polls show that 70% of those surveyed feel the federal government, as part of its responsibility toward its citizens, should ensure that all Americans have universal health care coverage.

Solving the health care debate means simplifying its dysfunctionally convoluted administration, lowering its cost and, most importantly, making it available to everyone. The health of the nation depends on it.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Sacrifice and the Toll of War

Here is an accounting of the toll war has taken on the United States since 1775. The numbers provide good insight into the sacrifice we were once willing to pay as compared to present-day "cut-and-run" policies by some politicians.

For example:

World War I (1917-1918)
Battle Deaths.................................................53,402

World War II (1941-1945)
Battle Deaths................................................291,557

Global War on Terror (as of May 31, 2007)
Battle Deaths...................................................3,842

In the two world wars alone, spanning five years total, close to 345,000 military personnel lost their lives as a direct result of the conflicts. Some of these fatalities resulted from massive operations that saw thousands die in a single day. We have been actively fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for close to six years, and fatalities are just under 4,000. Compare that to the 4,435 who died fighting over a period of eight years during the American Revolution.

From such a perspective, one can see that the price for freedom and democratic principles has dramatically changed - and to those opposed to an alleged "unjust war" is too high a cost - since the founding of this nation, and even more so since World War Two. It is sad that over 200 hundred years ago, 4,435 patriots died for their beliefs, and now some cannot stomach one fatality in defense of those beliefs while simultaneously voicing opposition under the very umbrella of freedom for which those patriots past, present, and hopefully, future, fought and died.

Fact Sheet: America's Wars

Operation Enduring Freedom & Operation Iraqi Freedom

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Liberty Nibbled Away

Like any other routine traffic violation, a primary seatbelt law allows police to stop a motorist, and their passengers, for not wearing a seat belt. Under current Missouri law – St. Louis County excluded, having passed a primary law in March – police can only cite seatbelt violations after stopping a motorist for another traffic offense. For obvious reasons, enforcement and safety are the goals of any primary seatbelt law, with advocates and opponents alike citing statistics to prove or disprove the effectiveness of seatbelt use. For Missouri officials, another would be the millions in federal grant money the state would receive - that could be used toward education, enforcement and infrastructure - by amending the law from secondary to primary enforcement.

With an inherent suspicion cast upon enforcement, the issue in the seatbelt debate is about choice. Under a secondary seatbelt law, a person has the choice to wear or not to wear a seatbelt. A primary law leaves no choice – an infringement on the fundamental values upon which this country was founded. The fact that wearing a seatbelt is an enforceable regulation is a moot point, as enforcement is often discretionary, and despite the letter of the law, maintains a personal choice under it. As such, responsibility lies with the individual to weigh the consequences in the decision to wear or not to wear a seatbelt.

Primary seatbelt laws are simply part of a growing trend, a footnote in government’s continual intrusions and micromanagement of our daily lives. For all its ills past and present, the United States has thrived, and is sustained, by personal rights and freedoms; with the potential cost to civil liberties, legislation that debases that idea erodes any future for it. The expansion of governmental powers under such would be a potentially opportunistic – and legalized – tool by zealous law enforcement. As political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke stated, “the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.” Despite a country founded on life AND liberty, that sentiment is slowly, but assuredly, coming to fruition.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Friday, March 16, 2007

What Price, Our Freedom?

In 1796, a fledgling nation was wrought with disagreements over the role of government, issues of domestic policy and factionalization over foreign policy. All of this was offset by the nation's determination to become a world power and preserve the peace. Thus, the stage was set for President George Washington to leave office with words of advice to the nation. In his farewell address, Washington wished to instill what it meant to be an American patriot and a member of a common nation. He warned against being swayed by those who would attempt to take away those shared traits, both internally and externally. In the same speech, Washington warned against two other enemies of the nation: partisanship in deciding national issues and entangling alliances. He called for the nation to put aside party politics and unite for the common good, wholly free of foreign influence. He went further by stating that the United States should concentrate only on American interests, acting "for ourselves and not for others." While necessary for the country to be friendly and open in commerce to all nations, he felt the country should avoid long-term alliances that went against the interests of the United States.

In all his foresight, what Washington saw as potential trouble for the nation has steadily become one. The United States has forgotten its fundamentals, its culture, and its history. Style points rather than substance of statement dictate debate, while policy decisions are seen by some as a multilateral round table rather than what is in the best interest of the nation. Our leaders should guide, control, and appease with no favoritism, without coddling to the whims of those who do not share our national interests. A leader unites all, whether they want to or not, and ends bitter partisanship. Most of all, a leader shows strength in the face of insurmountable odds, while pursuing a course of peace with all nations – even if the path to such means the use of arms and unpopular decisions.

The problems of the nation, and the world, will take more than one generation to fix. It will also take leaders with strength of heart, resolve, and purpose. Twenty-four hour news coverage continually shows a world on the verge of destruction, and it washed up on our shores on September 11, 2001. Ironically, it did not come from two Super Powers playing a chess match on a world map, but from small-minded lunatics with a death wish. The world has become a dangerous place, but only because of those who shirked the opportunity to make it otherwise. We must not stand with just a strong voice, but with a united front against those who oppose the fundamental principles of this nation. Throughout the world, change often comes from the barrel of a gun or an explosives-laden car. We as a nation should be grateful that we do not live under such conditions. To ensure a peaceful future, our main goal should be the spread of such values to those parts of the world living in turmoil and terror. Otherwise, the lives of those who have fought and died for such will have been in vain.

©2007 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Broken Trust

Domestic abuse. There are many connotations for the term, and just as much stigma. The general perception of domestic abuse is that of a battered woman, typically lower class, in a physically abusive relationship with a black eye as evidence. This is a misconception, reinforced by both society and our own attitudes on what constitutes abuse and the typical person involved. Separate from the physicality is the psychological nature of abuse. In and of themselves, mental and emotional abuse is a common occurrence that typically goes unnoticed – and cuts across all levels of status. In general, domestic abuse is about totalitarian control over another person – typically a female – and the harm inflicted upon them, no matter the form it takes.

Due to its nature, the situation is a catch-22 for both police and victim. Far too often, police are unable to do anything beyond situational assessment and control due to a lack of evidence of abuse – both past and present – especially if the abuse is more psychological than physical. On the flipside, victims are fearful to prosecute their abusers – only compounding the problem even more – as studies have shown that such actions have resulted in further, and more fatal, abuse. As a result, victims, through no fault of their own, literally handcuff police in arresting alleged abusers without prior complaints or legal action.

The problem is not an urban one, as studies and figures show. It occurs in the suburbs of cities across the country just as often as in their core. Such a phenomenon has gone unnoticed due to many factors, but two stand out:  the lack of education counteracting the myths of domestic abuse and the lack of support in countering the abuse throughout the suburbs of America. Many feel abuse could not happen in neighborhoods where affluence and prosperity is key. These same reasons against its occurrence are also the reasons for its unheralded regard – the abused housewife and corporate mother alike do not want to jeopardize their affluent and prosperous lifestyle by addressing their abusive relationship.

The question of responsibility is an easy one to answer. Certainly, victims are not accountable for the actions of their abusers. The problem is the nature of the relationship – victims feel responsible because of the abuse. Believing everything to be their fault, they blame themselves for it – which in turn is reinforced by their abuser. It is nothing short of domestic terrorism that thrives on fear and control – a difficult cycle to break, but one that must be broken either by the victim or on their behalf. It is the only way to hold abusers accountable for their actions. All concerned parties must make tough choices to end domestic abuse; support, protection, enforcement, and most importantly, accountability are all necessary for those choices to occur. It takes courage, but it also just takes a phone call – to anyone or by anyone. Otherwise, victims will continue to be victims, and abusers will continue to abuse. 

©2007 Steve Sagarra