"Ridin' the Rails"
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SHADES OF PURPLE
10 December 2005
Radio talk show host, Bernie Ward used color as an example to spark discussion on his radio program. He talked about the "red states" and the "blue states" and wondered if there might be areas of purple, where the red state people had blue state feelings and vice versa.
It's difficult to see the world in black and white--or red and blue. There surely are areas where viewpoints overlap and where people of greatly differing opinions can come together and agree on some points, even on the most emotional of issues.
A friend of mine sent me an article from the L.A. Times talking about two vastly differing groups who worked together to help the survivors of Katrina. A group of evangelican Christians worked side by side with the Rainbow Family Flower Children, latter day "hippies" in providing food and clothing for those who had lost everything in the wake of the hurricane.
"Gradually, barriers melted. The evangelicals overlooked the hippies' unusual attire, outlandish humor and persistent habit of hugging total strangers. The hippies nodded politely when the church people cited Scripture. The bonds formed at Waveland Village have surprised both groups," says the article.
"They are as amazed as we are," said Pete Jones, who with his wife organized the ministerial group. "We have all learned so much."
I think this was one of the wonderful things about a television program, the name of which I have now forgotten, where a person holding a strong belief in one thing was sent to spend a month with a person whose life and whose beliefs were completely different.
For example, a homophobic guy from the midwest, a military type, spent a month living with a gay guy in San Francisco. It's amazing to me that he agreed to it. He left home making jokes with his buddies about showers and fearing for his manhood and things like that. There was an uneasy truce during the first weeks with his new roommate, but in the end, fast friendships had been formed, a new understanding of what "the gay lifestyle" is really about, and a promise to remain friends with his roommate and others he'd come to feel close to was the result.
I've always thought that with respect it might be possible to discuss an issue with someone of a vastly different opinion and come to an understanding and a respect for our differences.
Some years ago, I saw perhaps it was a 60 Minutes report on a facility for family planning which was run by a right to life group and a pro-choice group. Together. While nobody's views on the issue of abortion were changed, the two groups together acknowledged that the most important thing was the welfare of the mother and the prevention of unwanted pregnancy in the first place.
So the pro-choice group supported the pro-life group's sessions with the girls, trying to convince them to give birth to the child and turn it over for adoption, or accept assistance with getting settled after the child was born. The pro-life group agreed to respect a woman's choice if her ultimate choice was termination. And both groups worked together on educating young women on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
I don't know if the group is still running, but it seemed an emminently sensible collaboration to me. Women knew that if they went to this clinic their needs would be put ahead of everything else, that they would get good solid information, counsing and support, and that if they ultimately decided to terminate the pregnancy, that decision would be respected, and if they decided not to terminate the pregnancy, they would have emotional support and assistance.
I'm sure that a lot more babies were born and a lot more women felt better about themselves, no matter what decision had been made. And maybe the two sides of the issue began to understand the other's position.
Perhaps this kind of dovetails on my great grandfather's piece about intolerance. If we are ever going to come to peace in this world--about any of the hot button issues: choice, homosexuality, the war on terrorism, capital punishment, environmental issues, territorial disputes--whatever--we have to stop the shouting and the posturing and just listen to each other.
I'm as guilty of it as the next person. I have my hot button issues, and you all know what they are. It's difficult for me to discuss anything rationally, especially with someone whose opinion is as adamantly opposed to mine.
But what does that solve? I go my way, smoke coming out my ears, more convinced than ever that the other person is an idiot who just can't understand; the other person goes off in the opposite direction thinking exactly the same things about me, and we have solved nothing.
We all need to walk a mile in our brother's shoes once in awhile.
I was thinking about the issue of capital punishment, as the 1000th person to lose his life in this country since the re-instatement of the death penalty was executed and Schwarzenegger is debating whether to commute the sentence of gang member Stanley "Tookie" Williams, scheduled to die on Monday.
Capital punishment is one of those purple issues for me. I can understand the sentiments on both sides. You probably won't find me standing outside San Quentin demanding clemency, but you also won't find me shouting chants about killing the bastard either.
(You can't even say that I don't understand how the family of the victim feels because I'm the sister of a murder victim, so I do know.)
I never could understand the concept of "eye for an eye." The latest guy to die was a real bad one, according to what I read. Went berserk and killed his father, wife and kid. Not a candidate for father or husband of the year.
It has always seemed to me that the worst punishment a person could endure was life imprisonment without opportunity for parole. If an inmate is executed, there may or may not be the panic leading up to the actual death (or perhaps the inmate has made peace with death and goes to death looking forward to a better after life).
But think of it. Prison walls forever. Never to know freedom. To have all of your actions monitored and directed by someone else. Never to have a nice social event with friends or family. Never to hold a loved one. Never to watch a child grow up. Always to live in fear of the other inmates in your institution.
On a purely economic scale, life imprisonment is also cheaper. California spends $90 million annually on the death penalty, without ever executing a prisoner! A thesis on the economics of capital punishment states, " the cost of keeping a 25-year-old inmate for 50 years at present amounts to $805,000. Assuming 75 years as an average life span, the $805,000 figure would be the cost of life in prison. So roughly it's costing us $2 million more to execute someone than it would cost to keep them in jail for life."
There is much debate on how effective the death penalty is in actually deterring crime, but isn't the whole purpose to punish the guilty party? Or is it getting revenge? If it's punishing the guilty and making sure s/he is never again a danger to society, life imprisonment seems, at least to me, to be the most logical, most effective way to go.
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