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Monday, March 29, 2010

Autism Awareness Day @ The Philadelphia Zoo

Spread The Word & Join The Fun!
Sunday, April 18th, 11:00am-4:00pm

Zoo admission tickets for this event are $10.00 per person for adults and children 2 years old and above. Zoo Parking is $12.00 in addition to the admission price. No additional admission fee is required for Philadelphia Zoo members. Avoid lines by purchasing your tickets in advance. Tickets for admittance and parking can be ordered online and printed at home as follows:

1. Click here to log-on to the Philadelphia Zoo website and buy tickets using the promo code, AUTISM.

2. You can also purchase tickets prior to the event at the Zoo ticket window.

3. Tickets will also be available at the Zoo ticket window on the day of the event.

4. If you purchase tickets for this event, they cannot be used before Sunday, April 18th or after Friday, April 30th.

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers:

Q: Who can attend the Autism Awareness Day event?
A: The event is open to anyone in the community who is interested in helping spread Autism awareness. So ask your friends, family, neighbors, teachers, and therapists to come and join us.

Q: I have a Philadelphia Zoo membership. Do I need to purchase separate tickets for the Autism Awareness Day event?
A: No. If you have a yearly membership to the Philadelphia Zoo, you can use that for admission. The group ticket rate for the day is for those who do not have a membership.

Q: What happens if I pre-purchase tickets and I am not able to attend the day of the event?
A: All pre-purchased tickets are valid from the date of the event on Sunday, April 18th through Friday, April 30th.

Q: I did not pre-purchase admission tickets and the deadline is past. How can I get tickets to the event?
A: There will be a special designated ticket booth at the Zoo on the day of the event where admission tickets can be purchased at the discounted group rate for the day. However, please note that tickets purchased on the day of the event can only be used for that day’s admission. Tickets and parking can also be purchased and printed online, as noted above. If you do not have computer access, click here for a "snail mail" registration form and information.

Q: Does the Autism Society of Greater Philadelphia* use this event as a fundraiser?
A: The main purpose of the event is to raise Awareness for Autism in the community as well as provide a fun day for families and friends in the Autism Community. The chapter does not receive a portion of the ticket sales, but donations for the chapter are solicited through the use of donation boxes on the day of the event. Monies are also raised through the sale of autism merchandise and goodwill donations.

Q: Who would I contact to volunteer my help for this event and/or if I have more questions?
A. Contact Anna Filmyer via email or phone 215-884-0844.

Entertainment throughout the day includes: Steve Pullara and the Cool Beans Band, “Give and Take Jugglers”, Magic by Michael Bonacci, Stacey’s Face Painting, Puppets Pizzazz, Music with Miss Amy, and Costume Characters. There will also be a Resource Fair with Autism information and merchandise.

* All information for this post was obtained from the Autism Society of Greater Philadelphia website.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Health Care Bill Passed!

The vote was 219-212 in favor of reform.
Now, let's have a nice hot cup of tea to celebrate!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mark Your Calendars

March-May Upcoming Events
(click on images for a larger view)

Check out these future happenings at Sharon Baptist Church and the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, and the Gospel Soul Cafe in Somerdale during the months of March, April, and May to see Judge Mablean Ephriam, Bern Nadette Stanis ("Thelma" of the TV show Good Times), Deborah Cox, Tyler Perry as "Madea", Kirk Franklin, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Fred Hammond, and various other Gospel recording artists. Feel free to copy and spread the word!

Event #1

Event #2

Event #3

Event #4

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Autism Authors, Books & Prayers

Lynne Gillis & Elizabeth Burton Scott

An occupational therapist and a former elementary school teacher, who is also the parent of an autistic son, have co-written and recently published a book called, "Autism Recovery Manual of Skills and Drills - A Preschool and Kindergarten Education Program for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists". The book contains 90 skills and drills to assist the parents and caregivers of autistic children in helping them to overcome the symptoms of autism.

Lynne Gillis, from Mattapoisett, MA received her B.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from Columbia University in 1971. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association. She specialized in pediatric occupational therapy for 30 years, working in private and public schools, rehabilitation outpatient clinics, early intervention programs, and home-based therapy programs. Her professional experiences and enthusiasm for the profession have made her a role model for occupational therapists working with children.

Elizabeth Burton Scott, from Dallas, TX has a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and taught second and third grades for seven years. With her professional skills, she persevered in leading her son, Roman, through his early childhood years and struggles with 45 symptoms of autism. She also appeared on Good Morning America (see video) after she wrote her first book, "Raindrops on Roman - Overcoming Autism: A Message of Hope", detailing her personal experience of redirecting a child with autism. The book contains 78 skills and drills that she used with her son, which eventually led him to a full recovery from his autism symptoms. Click here to read more about their incredible story.

Elizabeth and her son, Roman

Both of these books can be purchased at any bookstore and Robert D. Reed Publishers. In addition, Elizabeth has graciously written the following three prayers for your own personal inspiration. Click on the images below for a larger view or go to Autism Prayers to view full-size, high-quality PDF versions of these prayers. They are free of charge, downloadable, printable, and suitable for framing. Just follow the instructions as indicated and feel free to share the prayers as needed.

by Elizabeth Burton Scott, author of Raindrops on Roman
Overcoming Autism: A Message of Hope
© 2009 Robert D. Reed Publishers

by Elizabeth Burton Scott, author of Raindrops on Roman
Overcoming Autism: A Message of Hope
© 2009 Robert D. Reed Publishers

by Elizabeth Burton Scott, author of Raindrops on Roman
Overcoming Autism: A Message of Hope
© 2009 Robert D. Reed Publishers

April is Autism Awareness Month and
World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why Do Women Cry?

A little boy asked his mother, "Why are you crying?" "Because I'm a woman," she told him. "But, I don't understand," he said. His mom just hugged him and said, "And you never will." Later the little boy asked his father, "Why does mom seem to cry for no reason?" "All women cry for no reason," was all his dad could say.

The little boy grew up and became a man, still wondering why women cry. Finally, he put in a little call to God. When God got on the phone, he asked, "God, why do women cry so easily?" And, God said...

"When I made woman, she had to be special. I made her shoulders strong enough to carry the weight of the world, yet gentle enough to give comfort.
I gave her the ability to love man, even when she does not receive love in return.

I gave her an inner strength to endure childbirth and the rejection that many times will come from her children.

I gave her a hardness that allows her to keep going when everyone else gives up, and take care of her family through sickness and fatigue without complaining.

I gave her the sensitivity to love her children under any and all circumstances, even when her children have hurt her very badly.

I gave her strength to carry her husband through his faults and fashioned her from his rib to protect his heart, even when he does not protect hers.

I gave her the wisdom to know that a even a good husband will sometimes hurt his wife deeply, and test her resolve and strength to stand beside him anyway.

And finally, I gave her a tear to shed. This is hers exclusively to use whenever it is needed."

"You see my son," said God, "the beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love and pain resides."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Retrospective: The Godfather Of Graffiti

Introduction (Shout Out): If you are a native Philadelphian, you know that for many years, graffiti was viewed as a long-standing problem or art form in this city, depending on your personal view of it. And, if you grew up here during the 1970s, you know that there was one tag name that could be found just about anywhere and everywhere you looked... "Cornbread". There was a time when no place in this city was too high, too low, or otherwise off limits to bearing that name. As a teenager, I remember seeing it on the "Welcome To Philadelphia" sign out by the airport, numerous office buildings in Center City, and the Benjamin Franklin bridge, just to name a few. I remember my father asking on many occasions whenever he saw it in some out-of-the-way place like that bridge... "How in the world did he get way up there?"

This collection of previously published articles, which were written throughout the last decade, tell the story of the young boy from Philly behind that infamous tag name and it has also been determined that he is the true "Godfather of Graffiti". He is still very much alive and it might surprise you to know that "Cornbread" is known around the world to those who view graffiti as a treasured and valued form of art expression. His name is also hanging in a museum in Paris, France and he didn't have to sneak in after hours when no one was looking to put it there. The once young boy, now grown man, behind that name was actually asked for his signature tag so it could be used for a graffiti art exhibition and he was paid for it.

Some people have judged him harshly for the "mark" he left upon Philadelphia; others idolize him for that legacy and the art form he created, which later became a part of inner city/urban culture across the nation. I should also say here that this post is not intended to promote "vandalism" in the form of graffiti. Personally, I prefer what graffiti evolved into via the beautiful murals that Philadelphia is known for today. But, there is a "reason and a season" for everything and simply put, those murals would not exist without the graffiti that came before them. So, the story of the person behind the tag name "Cornbread" is at least worth knowing... and for starters, his real name is Darryl A. McCray.

When "Cornbread" Was King
By Yvonne Latty, Philadelphia Daily News, April 25, 2000

In Philadelphia, graffiti as we know it began with a skinny kid who called himself "Cornbread." At his peak in the 1970s, his simple black tag was spray-painted everywhere. On a 747 jet. On a skyscraper. On an elephant in the zoo. He spent entire nights in SEPTA depots, writing his name inside and outside the trains and buses. "He's the original king of the walls," said Stephen Powers, the author of "The Art of Getting Over: Graffiti at the Millennium." Hollywood hotshots wanted to make a movie about his life. Graffiti would make him a star. It never happened.

Instead, Darryl A. "Cornbread" McCray, now 46 years old, became a drug addict. Recently, he spent two months in jail on an attempted-rape charge that was later dropped. He was released on March 2, 2000. During an interview while he was still in custody, McCray strutted into the small interview room at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility oozing charisma. His large dark eyes were afire. There was a huge smile on his face. "Can you tell the guys in my cellblock, C-21, that it's really me - that I'm Cornbread," he said with a laugh. Then, he launched into his life story.

McCray said he got the nickname at reform school because he always talked about the cake-like cornbread his grandmother used to make. At age 10, he was sent there for two years after setting his school on fire. "The gym teacher hit me in class and I peed on myself," McCray said. "I got so mad I set the gym on fire. I was the black sheep of my family. I was always getting into trouble."

When he was released at 12 years old, the North Philadelphia youth met his first love and decided to use graffiti to woo her. "I saw this girl, she was so pretty," he recalled. "I wanted to talk to her, but I didn't know how. The only way I could think of getting her attention was to write 'Cornbread loves Cynthia' everywhere. She was like, who is this guy?" And then, one day she saw it on my notebook and we started going out." The romance was short-lived, because Cynthia's parents didn't like him.

"But by then, everyone was talking about me," McCray said, his face lighting up. "My name was all over North Philly. I began to write it everywhere. When I was growing up in North Philly, it was full of gangs and the only way you could get a rep was to kill somebody. I didn't want to do that, but writing my name everywhere gave me a rep and that's what it was all about for me." Graffiti became his life. He'd spend all night spray-painting in SEPTA depots and tunnels. He had his tag monogrammed on his clothes. And he started putting a crown on the tag to show he was "king of the city."

When others began spray-painting city walls, trains, and buses, McCray got more daring. One night, he took the construction elevator to the 49th floor of a building being erected at 15th and Market streets and wrote his name on the steel. When a rumor started that he had died, McCray climbed over a fence at the Philadelphia Zoo and wrote "Cornbread Lives" on both sides of an elephant's rough hide. He got nine months of reform school for that offense. When the Jackson 5 came to town, he joined throngs of fans to see them off at the airport, then snuck out to the plane and spray-painted the side of their 747 jet. "I didn't get arrested," McCray recalled. "Instead, they wanted to do a movie on my life."

The movie, "Cornbread, Earl, and Me", didn't turn out the way McCray planned. "With all the stuff going on, contracts and everything, this neighborhood activist said I should get a lawyer," he said. "The lawyer told me not to sign anything until he saw the contracts. The movie folks said, our lawyer is your lawyer. We made plans to meet again and they never showed up. I never heard from them again. Five years later in 1975, the movie came out. It had the same name, but it was set in Chicago and was about basketball." That was the beginning of tough times for McCray. "I went to California," he said. "I tried to sue them. But there was nothing I could do. Hollywood people said maybe I could be an actor, but I should go to New York and study. I went there for five years and studied and all I got was nothing."

Moving back to Philadelphia, he got a job with the city's Anti-Graffiti Network. They were recruiting prominent former vandals as field representatives in a campaign to fight graffiti. But McCray and then-executive director Tim Spencer butted heads, and he was fired. At that point, he was already dabbling with drugs. "When I lost the job, I got heavy into drugs, heroin and cocaine. I was really messed up for a long time. During that time, I was in and out of jail so much the cats never missed me." Credit card scams, theft, counterfeit money, writing bad checks - McCray did them all during his stint as a small-time crook. He even went on a cross-country crime spree and wound up arrested in Arkansas. The longest he spent in jail was eight months, he said.

In 1990, he got clean and became a free-lance photographer. He said he travels to events like block parties and takes Polaroids for $ 10.00 a photo. He also made lots of babies - 10 with five different women. His children range in age from 20 months to 26 years, and he's the grandfather of five. He lives in a dark basement apartment on Walnut Street near 49th with his girlfriend and two of his kids.

McCray, who has not done graffiti in 25 years, is full of regrets. Having lost the chance to cash in on his fleeting fame in the 1970s, he hopes to find a writer who will pay to write Cornbread's life story. "I want to get paid," he said. "Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter was compensated - that's all I want. It makes me feel good when I see someone use graffiti as a vehicle to get out of poverty, but I've gotten nowhere. I love my children, but all I've gotten out of life was a bunch of nothing."

Film Profiles Famed Philadelphia Graffiti Artist "Cornbread"
By Julie Stoiber, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 3, 2006

Thirty years after his brush with Hollywood, when fame felt so close he could taste it, Darryl A. "Cornbread" McCray still boils with anguish as he tells about the movie of his life that never got made. "That would have been my ticket out of the ghetto life," he said. When he was ditched by the studio – undone by his own audacity – "I sat there and cried," he said. "I was robbed." But with his penchant for redemption, the now 52 year old McCray, an in-and-out father of 10 who has worked to reconcile with his children, the self-proclaimed king of graffiti who scrubbed clean the very Philadelphia walls he so notoriously defaced, may yet see his story on the screen.

In a documentary scheduled to be released this fall, filmmaker Sean McKnight, 37 years old, of Ridley Park, will tell the tale of a troubled middle child from a God-fearing North Philadelphia family who got the attention he craved on the streets. McCray accomplished it by spraying his tag, "Cornbread", with a swoosh at the end and a crown over the B – along every bus, trolley, and subway route in the city and, in one of his most daring feats, on the flank of an elephant at the zoo.

The film is called "Cry of the City (Part I): The Legend of Cornbread". "In his day, he was notorious," McKnight said. "His fame is not exaggerated." And, not just in Philadelphia. The authors of a new book on the graffiti movement identify Cornbread as "the first 'bomber,' the earliest example of a person going out on the streets with no other purpose than to write his name on everything."

McKnight, whose one-man Cinema Alliance has a single feature-length film to its credit, began shooting the documentary in the fall, interviewing more than 40 people, including graffiti writers, a black historian, a news anchor, and former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr. "I was pleased to participate because Cornbread became an inspiration for many of the young people about why they should not write on walls," said Goode, now director of Amachi, a national mentoring program for children of prisoners. “The number-one problem in the city when I ran for mayor was graffiti."

The politician and the vandal met in 1984. McCray swaggered up to Goode at City Hall, a scrapbook of news clips under his arm, and told the mayor that his anti-graffiti campaign had no chance – unless he gave Cornbread a job. Goode not only hired him, McCray said, he showed him off at a news conference. "If you mention his name, people will say, 'Cornbread?!' Then, they’ll just start talking about him," McKnight said.

One day in a North Philadelphia high-rise, McKnight said, he was making small talk with two women as he rode the elevator to McCray’s apartment for a shoot. They asked about his equipment and when he explained what he was doing, they freaked out. "Cornbread?! Cornbread lives in this building?!" He’s a celebrity and they knew exactly who he was."

But, for all his admirers – and there are many, McKnight said – McCray is also reviled for the untold destruction he visited on his hometown: He once tagged the top floor of a skyscraper under construction near City Hall. He stood in different depots different nights and hit every bus, trolley and train in sight. "The documentary presents both sides of the coin," McKnight said. "We talk about the damage." At the outset, McKnight said, he told McCray the ground rules: "It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. He’s done drugs. He’s been arrested some outrageous amount of times,” McKnight said. "I’ve asked him questions about his life like, 'You’re not being a great father if you’re strung out on heroin, are you?' He’s got a dark side and he’s willing to explore it."

McCray, who described himself as "buck wild" as a teenager, ended up in reform school. There, he missed grandma’s cornbread so much he badgered the head cook to make some for him. Fed up one day, the man grabbed McCray and warned his counselor, "Keep this Cornbread out of my kitchen." Soon, McCray was writing his new nickname on the jailhouse walls. When he got out, he fell for a girl named Cynthia. McKnight tracked her down for the documentary and wrote "Cornbread Loves Cynthia" on the chalkboards in her classrooms and on the route she took from school. After her parents moved her away, he went back to "Cornbread" in black or silver.

What really got the city’s notice was a flurry of stunts McCray staged in the early 1970s after local media publicized his death, mistaking him for a young man nicknamed "Corn" who was murdered in West Philadelphia. "I thought, all I got to do is start doing bizarre stuff and my reputation will rise again," he said. That’s when he hit the zoo and the skyscraper, and paid a friend to stage a fake crime so he could tag the police cars and wagons that responded. "I was no stranger to danger," he said.

What caught Hollywood’s eye was the Jackson 5 jet. McCray planted himself among a crowd of autograph seekers who mobbed the band when it deplaned at Philadelphia International Airport. Amid the chaos, McCray claims, he dashed up and sprayed the plane and his name was still there when the jet returned to California. It wasn’t long before a studio representative tracked him down and offered to make a movie about his life, McCray said. When he demanded his own lawyer, the studio balked, he said.

He lost his oldest son to a street killing a decade ago. Desperate to find the shooters, he put on rags and pushed a shopping cart around a drug neighborhood, a homeless personal that allowed him to pick up information about the men responsible. Police made an arrest. If they had not, I was going to hold court in the street," McCray said.

With his rich voice, expressive face and preppy ball cap, McCray acknowledges that all his bravado – his middle initial stands for “Alexander the Great”; every one of his eight grandchildren looks just like him – didn’t really get him where he wanted to go. "I wrote on walls because that was my escape from ghetto life," he said. He has had personal satisfaction, working for the Anti-Graffiti Network, helping delinquents attain high school equivalency degrees, counseling addicts. But he has yet to achieve the kind of bust-out exposure he envisioned. He lives in a so-so neighborhood, makes his living selling cut-rate DVDs and CDs. His drug addiction, he said, cost him a shot at a deal to market a cornbread mix.

With the documentary comes renewed hope. Raphael Paris, a local funk and blues musician who idolized Cornbread as a kid, is doing the narration and the soundtrack. His band: "Cornbread". His top song: "Cornbread." McCray said, "I pray to God, let this be a success. This is the beginning of a new start."

Former Philadelphia Graffiti Artist Now Arts Advocate
By Erin Negley, Reading Eagle, February 6, 2008

Cornbread’s graffiti career may have been short-lived in the 1970s, but it was prolific. The godfather of graffiti managed to spray-paint his crowned signature all over Philadelphia, tag the Jackson 5’s plane, and sign both sides of an elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Former graffiti artist Darryl "Cornbread" McCray speaks to an audience at Albright College's Center for the Arts. McCray now works with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. On Tuesday, Darryl “Cornbread” McCray spoke about his “art” to a small audience at Albright and showed a documentary about himself. After watching “Cry of the City (Part I): The Legend of Cornbread”, some fans stayed for his famous autographs.

McCray, now 54 years old, started writing his name everywhere in a reform school in the mid-1960s. Gangs did the same, but McCray wasn’t in one. "I wanted a reputation, but I didn’t want blood on my hands for it," he said. His signature, Cornbread with a crown over the "B", came from a nickname he got after pleading with a reform school cook to make cornbread.

When he returned to his Philadelphia school, he wooed a classmate with messages painted along her route to school: “Cornbread loves Cynthia.” Cynthia changed schools and Cornbread’s reputation grew as he spread his name throughout the city. His fame was such that the media once mistakenly reported he had died. “Cornbread Lives,” McCray replied, on the side of an elephant. In 1971, his first son was born and he quit doing graffiti. "I had a great sense of responsibility to raise my child and writing on walls was kind of childish to me," he said. McCray left Philadelphia for a time to pursue acting and a film about his life.

When he returned in the early 1980s, he was appalled. Graffiti had become vandalism, not art. The city was a mess, he said. As a member of former Mayor Wilson Goode’s Anti-Graffiti Network, McCray helped lead a cleanup. His advice to would-be taggers now would hearten even the most anti-graffiti municipal official: "If you’ve got the talent to do graffiti, you can get paid for it. But don’t go out and vandalize."

Today, McCray works as a mentor and speaks to children about art with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. His appearance at Albright was arranged by Jon E. Bekken, chairman of the college’s communications department. "I’m interested in a wide range of communications, in particular in ways in which people who don’t have access to media outlets try to get a voice," Bekken said.

Honorable Mention (Shout Out): Another tag name that was found around Philly during the 1970s right along side that of "Cornbread" was his friend and partner in graffiti, "Cool Earl". Because he was not mentioned in any of the above articles (which I found a little surprising), I did some research on my own to see if there were any updates on him but, no luck. So, wherever you are "Cool Earl", I hope that you are doing well too.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nutter, Are You Nuts?

Well, the fun never stops when it comes to all of the ridiculous ways that the City of Brotherly Love is trying to get more money from its fair citizens "by any means necessary". The latest proposed tactic: We may have to pay for our trash to be collected and a tax may be placed on soft drinks (and the like) which contain sugar! Check out THIS breaking news...

Mayor Michael Nutter formally proposed yesterday a $300 annual trash fee and the biggest tax in the nation on sugary drinks, as he told Philadelphians that "nothing worth having in life is free." Casting himself as an unapologetic champion of city services, Nutter (who has been known as an avid tax cutter for most of his career) said the new taxes were necessary to fill a budget deficit of up to $150 million. Nutter said during his budget address to City Council... "The deep budget cuts required to fill the deficit would force massive layoffs and a very noticeable reduction in city services. It's a path we should avoid."

The $3.87 billion budget Nutter proposed yesterday includes just $33 million in spending reductions, compared to $146.6 million in new taxes and fees, a figure that rises to $185 million in future years. Past budget-cutting targets, such as libraries, pools, and the Fire Department, are entirely untouched in Nutter's latest budget offering. Indeed most departments, with the notable exception of prisons, avoided Nutter's budget ax entirely. Nutter said... "So yes, we'd pay a little more. But we'd preserve city services."

Many Philadelphians will shell out more than just a little, if the mayor's proposals are enacted. The $300 annual garbage fee, which would raise about $108 million, is akin to a 26% increase in the city's property-tax collections. The tax of two cents per ounce on sugary drinks will not prove cheap for those unable to break their Coca-Cola habit either. Drinking two 12-ounce cans of sugared soft drinks a day would add up to an additional $175 in taxes a year. Together, the two new fees represent a 4.9% increase in Philadelphians' overall general fund tax and fee burden.

In Nutter's view, these sacrifices are unavoidable, in light of lower-than-expected tax collections and unforeseen expenses like the huge cost of snow removal. Nutter said... "In extraordinary times, we've met the challenge of recession. We've innovated, we've reformed, and we've preserved the basic services that Philadelphians want and deserve." The mayor struck a few sober notes in his 50-minute budget address, such as when he quoted Thomas Paine: "These are the times that try men's souls."

Nutter's overall tone was far more positive than it was during last year's long-running budget crisis. He told City Council... "I believe that Philadelphia is uniquely positioned for greatness in this new century. We're at the right place, at the right time, and we have what it takes to create huge economic growth and prosperity for our city, a city that is safe, smart and sustainable." Calling his administration "battle tested," Nutter extensively referenced the spending cuts he enacted last year, such as a $50 million reduction in overtime spending and the shedding of 800 city jobs through attrition. Nutter said that overall city spending in 2009-2010 was $159 million below the prior year, excluding pension and debt-service costs, which he has no short-term control over.

Given its controversial new provisions, Nutter's budget will surely be attacked from many corners in coming months. Already, former Mayor John F. Street is a prominent critic of Nutter's plan. Waving an empty two-liter bottle of Coke as a prop, Street said Nutter's proposed taxes would disproportionately hurt the poor, a criticism echoed by low-income advocates. Street said Nutter should have raised property taxes instead, a course Nutter rejected given the inaccurate real estate assessments provided by the Board of Revision of Taxes. Street said, "The real estate assessments are out of whack, I give him that... but this is an out-of-whack proposal!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Man Vs. God (Dawn & Tilikum)

On February 24th, Dawn Brancheau, a 40 year old female trainer, was standing at the edge of a tank for an otherwise routine show at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL. Suddenly and without warning, Tilikum, a 29 year old male killer whale who has performed with Dawn before, leaped from the water, grabbed her by the hair/ponytail, and began thrashing her around. As horrified visitors watched, both from around the tank and from the viewing window below, the whale then dragged Dawn underwater to her death. It was later reported by some witnesses that the killer whale appeared to be "agitated" before the attack.

Tilikum, who weighs in at a whopping 12,000 lbs., has been an attraction at the Orlando-based marine park for 16 years. The day after the incident occurred, a SeaWorld official told reporters that "something about the trainer's ponytail" may have triggered the unexpected attack. Officials investigating the incident initially treated the death as a "homicide" with a decidedly uncommon perpetrator. Within two days, the investigators had been to the scene, sorted out the rapid-fire sequence of events that led to the death, and essentially closed their books on the case.

Unfortunately, this incident was not a first-time offense resulting in human death for Tilikum. In 1991, he and two other female killer whales drowned a trainer during a performance at Sealand of the Pacific in Vancouver. He was then sold to SeaWorld and in 1999, a man who trespassed in the marine park after hours and apparently jumped in the whale tank, was found dead and lying across Tilikum's back the next morning. As a result of those two incidents and the most recent victim, Dawn Brancheau, the question of what should be done with Tilikum was in serious debate, as most animals linked to human deaths are usually "put down" or otherwise destroyed.

In addition, serious questions have been raised about Tilikum's experiences and/or environment at SeaWorld that would cause the killer whale to react so violently to the "swish of a ponytail", as officials at the marine park would have you to believe. Another theory being explored is the idea that "confinement" was responsible for Tilikum's aggression, while others believe that animals born in captivity or those who have been in captivity for long periods of time, have adapted to "socialization" and that is all they know.

No matter what brought on this tragedy, it has been decided that Tilikum's third killing is not a "death-penalty crime" and he has benefited from that decision by merciful judges. In addition, Dawn Brancheau's relatives pleaded for mercy on behalf of the killer whale. So, a little more than 24 hours after Dawn's death, SeaWorld announced that the whale's life would be spared. It was reported that Dawn's older sister said that Dawn, who was married with no children, would not want anything to happen to the whale and the family regards her death as a tragic accident.

When I heard and read about this incident, I also felt that it was a tragic accident. I can't even begin to imagine the agony and pain that Dawn's family must be enduring at this time, not to mention the trauma of the visitors and in particular, small children, who witnessed this horrific tragedy. And yet, despite those feelings and the human death toll that is now linked to Tilikum, it might surprise you to know that I agree that his life should be spared. However, my reasons for feeling this way are somewhat different from that of SeaWorld's breeding and money or Dawn's family and their desire to carry out what she would have wanted regarding Tilikum's life. Why? Because the simple truth of the matter is, it's not about what SeaWorld, Dawn, or any of us would have wanted. It's about what God would have wanted.

Just like a parent will do anything within their power (and at all costs, I might add) to protect their children from anything that would be harmful or detrimental, God did the same for man (His children) when he created the earth and everything within it. There are certain creatures, such as killer whales, that God separated from us and He did it for a reason. He carefully and lovingly gave these creatures a special place to inhabit that was all their own, just as He did for us. And, for those of you who would argue that God gave man dominion over animals... I would reply by reminding you that He also gave man "free will" and for some of us, that is just enough rope to keep hanging ourselves over and over again.

Since the beginning of time, man has always struggled with the belief that he knows more than God... and until we accept that we do not know more than our Heavenly Father (just like children do not know more than a parent), avoidable and senseless tragedies such as this will continue to happen. Unfortunately, it is too late for man to try and rectify the mistake that was made with Tilikum by removing him from his natural habitat. Among various other reasons, he cannot be returned to the place that God prepared for him because he has no viable teeth left, which is a means of defense for killer whales. Apparently, his teeth were worn away on the holding gates that man built and used to separate him from the other whales at the marine park.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we have witnessed this type of scenario play itself out time and time again. Now, man must come up with a reasonable solution for a needless problem that he has created for himself regarding Tilikum in order to prevent more deaths. Unfortunately, Dawn and Tilikum were merely pawns in this game of Man vs. God and it is not worth the loss of life that has occurred up to this point. It has often times been said that God allows certain things to happen for a reason. And, oh yeah... What's that other thing that's been said? You know what I'm talking about (snap, snap)... something about man not leaning to his own understanding? Proverbs 3:5!

This post is dedicated with the utmost respect to the life of Dawn Brancheau and the continued right to life of Tilikum, until God decides otherwise...

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