Sunday, November 25, 2012

Her name was Astrid: The Day The Feds Killed My Dog

Six years ago, as I was nearing the end of my two-year prison sentence, I was (and had been for most of my stay) in the "dog program". This was a program designed to help save the lives of difficult-to-place dogs from one of the local animal shelters in Lexington, Kentucky. There were 20 inmates chosen out of approximately 300 to be a part of the dog program, and I was happy to be one of them.

It was our job to take the foster dog assigned to us and, with the help of an animal psychologist and trainer from the shelter, make the dog into a better candidate for becoming someone's beloved pet, thereby saving it from being put to death. It was a great program, because not only did it save a dog's life and provide a potential pet to the community, it also gave those of us who were a part of the program a sense that our time wasn't completely wasted while we were in prison.

The dogs were already named by the shelter when they came to us. One day, they brought me a dog named Astrid, which means "divine strength".

I trained and fostered several dogs during my stay at the prison, but Astrid was special. She was a Rottweiler/mix, black and brown, not particularly attractive OR unattractive - just a typical Rottweiler in need of some love and instruction... quite ordinary, except that she managed to steal my heart like none of the other dogs quite had.

She was very playful. Her favorite game was tug of war, and she would give a playful growl as she tried to get the rope toy from whomever was playing with her. In fact, she loved to play tug of war so much, that if she started to get the upper hand and was about to overpower me, she would ease up, indicating that she enjoyed playing the game more than she enjoyed "winning".

What really struck me about Astrid was how she was so sweet and loving and playful, despite the fact that she had never, even though she was more than a year old, had a home. She had been a stray from the beginning, and had spent her entire young life in captivity.

Animal shelters are even worse than prisons. The dogs rarely get to leave their cages, they don't get bathed much, if at all, and they don't get much attention. It's very noisy, extremely stressful, and just plain miserable.

Until Astrid came to federal prison, misery was all she had ever known. It was no surprise to me that she thrived with the attention she got from my three roommates and I as we walked her, fed her, loved her, and trained her. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to save her.

Astrid was, like many dogs are, very protective of those whom she viewed as part of her pack. When the guards came around twice a day for head count, she would bark nonstop, and there was one female guard (who was known for being more of a troublemaker than any inmate ever was) who made an issue of it.

As the primary trainer for Astrid, she was considered "my" dog to train, and my roommates were there to provide backup support and to help take care of her while I was carrying out my other responsibilities and unable to be with her.

I asked the animal psychologist if he had any advice during a training session one day, and he made it clear that the best thing to do was ignore the barking. "Shushing" her or doing anything at all to try to get her to be quiet only reinforced the behavior, because that confirmed for her that she was bringing our attention to something that warranted attention from us, which made her think that her behavior was helpful.

The female guard making an issue of this became enraged when she came around to do head count and saw that we were no longer trying to quiet the dog. When she brought it up after head count one day, I explained (and my roommates backed me up) that the animal psychologist had told us we should ignore the barking and that it would eventually stop if she was given enough time to get acclimated to the routine of the guards coming around at the same time each day.

The response from this guard was to toss her head and say "whatEVER" as though she were an adolescent girl annoyed at someone. She continued to create drama over the barking, claiming that it interfered with her ability to conduct head count. (Funny, no other guards had trouble counting simply because the dog was barking.)

This guard was not well-liked by any of her colleagues, and because of her reputation for being a trouble-maker and pot-stirrer, we were all concerned that this guard was out to cause trouble for us because of her narcissistic annoyance that a dog would DARE bark in her presence, and we tried to make sure we never left Astrid in the room alone for that reason.

One evening, one of my roommates was staying in the room with Astrid while I visited with someone on another floor, and this guard opened the door to our room in as sudden a manner as was possible, almost as though she was TRYING to provoke a response from Astrid. Astrid was startled and jumped up quickly, then tried to get the guard to play with her by jumping on her the same way that Booger does (and many other dogs do) as well.

The guard had a few scratches on her where Astrid's sharp claws had scraped her skin (I have those all the time from playing with Booger) and then made a claim that Astrid had "attacked" her, even though there was more than one witness clearly stating that Astrid had merely playfully "jumped" at her the same way most dogs will.

Unfortunately, with a Rottweiler already dogged (no pun intended) by a bad reputation for her breed and an exaggerated claim made by a government employee, Astrid never stood a chance. Animal control was sent to pick her up a few days later, and was evaluated for aggressive behavioral tendencies.

I'll never forget how sad it was when they came to get her. My roommates and I went outside and petted her as they put her in the truck so she wouldn't be so scared. We knew this was going to make her even more fearful than she already was of new situations, and it was no surprise that she appeared fearful/aggressive to the animal control people when they got her to the evaluation area where they keep dogs accused of being aggressive. Who wouldn't be fearful and self-protective after being yanked out of the one and only place where she had been able to experience love and safety?

Of course, Astrid wasn't a danger at all, and if she had been she would have been taken away by animal control immediately instead of a few days later. Even then it was only done because of the persistent bitching (no pun intended) by the guard who had it in for Astrid (and later me, since Astrid had been my dog).

Sadly, I learned from the shelter employee at her next visit that the guard had made such an issue of the "incident" that animal control had no choice but to put Astrid to sleep.

Let's not mince words. They killed her. They killed Astrid because she jumped on a guard in a playful manner, NOT an aggressive manner, and because the guard insisted the dog was aggressive because she didn't like the fact that the dog barked during head count.

The sadness and feeling of helplessness I experienced when they took Astrid away reminds me of how I felt for Dorothy when the wicked witch took Toto away. It was so wrong, so unnecessary, and such an unfortunate loss of a perfectly wonderful animal who could have made a great watch dog and pet for some lucky dog lover if she had just been given a chance.

But Astrid never had a chance.

Every year around this time, I remember Astrid and think about all of the other dogs like her (including Booger) who are wrongfully misjudged as being "dangerous" or "aggressive" simply because of their breed. And, since I've had Booger, each year around this time I hold him a little bit closer, a little bit tighter, and a little bit longer when I give him a hug during our love-in sessions, and I hope that somehow, the Astrid in my memory knows that she was, is, and will always be loved every bit as much.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Oppression Of Unequal Pay

We've all heard the claim that "the reason women don't earn as much as men is because they don't negotiate as well". Sometimes, that's true. When it comes to contract work, independent contracting, talent-oriented jobs, and many high-end positions, it definitely accounts for much of the income disparity between female workers and their male counterparts. However, I don't think most people realize just how blatantly women are getting discriminated against in hourly wage jobs, and it has nothing to do with negotiating skills at all, because frequently there IS no negotiating in these positions. To demonstrate this, I will share a personal story with you:

While I was on supervised release, I was not allowed to work in a position that required the use of a computer. (Apparently, the feds thought I was Kevin Mitnick.) As a result, there were very few jobs I could work in, given the fact that the economy made it difficult to find a job already, and felons have an even more difficult time finding jobs even in a good economy. In a bad economy, it's almost impossible, especially considering how almost every job requires the use of a computer.

One of the two jobs I had while on supervision was as a delivery driver for a pizza delivery company. These jobs are extremely dangerous (stories are plentiful about pizza delivery drivers being robbed, assaulted, and murdered) and they don't pay much. The company I worked for does not even pay minimum wage to its drivers, since it is considered a tipped position. Of course, sometimes there were no tips, especially with a tanking economy, and by the time you paid for your gas (not paid for by the company) and wear and tear on your vehicle, the $1 per delivery (1/2 of the delivery charge the customers pay) seemed like a joke. (The company justified keeping the other $1 to cover their insurance costs - the insurance covered them if a driver got into an accident, but it didn't cover the driver that worked for them - we had to pay for our own auto insurance and assume all liability ourselves, even while on the job.)

You were TOLD what you would be paid when you were hired, and it was clear that if you didn't like that, you could go look for a job elsewhere. There WAS no negotiating.

During my first week on the job, I was robbed at gunpoint on Valentine's Day night. It was a terrifying experience, but I handled it better than most probably would, and I went right back out and made more deliveries after I was finished with the police report, knowing that the sooner I got back on the horse, the more likely I would be able to overcome the fear of what had just happened.

Unfortunately, over the next few days I was dealing with some pretty bad post-traumatic stress issues. Getting robbed at gunpoint isn't something you take as lightly as I convinced myself I could the night that it happened, so I took a day off and then worked a couple of day shifts with the permission of the owners until I was ready to work at night again, when there are more deliveries and the tips are often a little better (and also when they actually needed me the most - you can't be choosy when you need a job).

Despite the fact that I still experienced severe anxiety many times when making deliveries (I still, even years later, have PTSD related to the robbery) I continued doing my job. When the cowardly male drivers, many of whom were over 6 feet tall, were too frightened to deliver to the projects, or sometimes just didn't think they would make a decent tip delivering there and wanted to hold out for a delivery in a better neighborhood, my 5 foot tall, female self would get in my minivan and drive the damn pizza to the projects, honey badger style, not giving a shit and knowing that if I just kept making deliveries it would eventually even out and I might have a decent chance of having some money left over after buying gas at the end of my shift.

Even my male supervisors at the pizza store commented on how brave I was... "Man, she's a 5 foot tall woman and she's not afraid to go out there, but you guys are whining about it? Man up, dude!"

My delivery times were often faster than anyone else's, male or female. I didn't stop at a convenience mart and chat while drinking coffee like some of the other drivers did, I didn't goof off. I delivered, I answered phones, I helped make pizzas (not part of my job), and prepared other drivers' orders for them when I wasn't up for a delivery.

Everyone seemed to acknowledge that I was one of the, if not THE, hardest worker there. I followed the rules, I minded my own business, I took up the slack for the kids smoking pot out back instead of doing their jobs, because I figured they'd have plenty of time to be serious and work their asses off later in life.

It was a lot of fun working there, but it wasn't always easy. Sexually inappropriate comments and behavior were rampant there, but I took it in stride, choosing to view it as a compliment that boys 20+ years younger than me were aggressively pursuing me, inappropriateness be damned.

Once, there was an incident where one of the twenty-somethings actually went overboard and did something that one might consider a sexual assault. One of the witnesses was incredulous that I wasn't more upset, and he thought I should report it to the owners, but I was just trying to get through my supervised release and didn't want to rock the boat. (You are very vulnerable to a lot of injustices when you are on supervised release, and many people know that and take advantage of the situation.)

Despite all of that, I continued working there even after I was released from supervision, mainly because it wasn't easy to find anything else. By that time, the economy had tanked so completely and college graduates weren't even able to get jobs delivering pizza, and I felt lucky to have a job at all.

Until one day, I made a disturbing discovery: We were talking about how wrong it was that we got only 1/2 of the delivery fee when gas was almost $3 a gallon, and a comment was made by a couple of guys that the $5.50 per hour they were making just wasn't enough to survive on when tips were so low and gas was so high.

WHAT?!? I was only making $4.50 an hour. How the hell were these guys making $5.50 an hour? They had worked there as much as a year LESS than me, were lazy and slacked on the job constantly, and a couple of them were some of the wusses who were too afraid to deliver to the projects, so they left me to take those deliveries for them. Later that afternoon, one of the guys who let it be known he was making $5.50 an hour (who probably didn't know I wasn't making that) started taking deliveries that weren't his to take, leaving me without any deliveries in a three-hour period. I. Was. Pissed.

Needless to say, that was when I decided it was time to take the plunge and try to find work as an independent contractor using my writing, programming, and web design skills. I told the general manager of the store I needed some time off, not wanting to start any drama, and I never went back to work there again.

I don't know for sure who made the chicken shit decision to pay the hardest working person at the joint a dollar less per hour than the males who didn't work nearly as hard and were too afraid to deliver to the projects, but l can tell you that, despite the fact that I had a lot of respect for the men who owned the stores where I worked, I found their attitude toward employees to be rather condescending.

Constantly, we were all told "You should just be grateful you have a job." (I was.) When we complained about gas prices, they promised to pay us the entire $2 delivery fee instead of only half of it when gas reached $3/gallon, but at that point it seemed the oil companies all conspired with them to stay right at $2.95/gallon. :-(

Incredibly, the owners constantly acted surprised that some of the employees were stealing from them... sometimes it was cash, sometimes it was food... stealing isn't ok, but when people are busting their asses and destroying their vehicles so they can earn less than minimum wage even WITH tips, and the attitude is that the paycheck they EARN is some kind of charity the owners are doling out to them, the understandable resentment on the part of employees gets expressed in ways that aren't very pretty.

Newsflash: Employees EARN their pay. They don't receive paychecks for staying at home or hanging out at the store. You are paying them whatever you are paying them to compensate them for their time away from their families, their effort to the point where every bone in their body aches at the end of the day, and for performing the jobs that keep your company running and (hopefully) profitable.

The attitude that many corporations and even small businesses have toward their employees is that the employees are some sort of welfare recipient, and there seems to be very little appreciation for the fact that these are the people that allow the business to function in the first place. Everyone is expendable, and nobody matters. And they wonder why their turnover rate is so high?

It's even worse when one segment of the population gets marginalized and paid even less in an already-low-paying position because she doesn't have a penis, despite the fact that she works just as hard or harder and has more experience.

The ONLY reason this continues in this day and age is because it is mostly secret. Employees are threatened with termination if they discuss their salaries with other employees, and it's legal to do that because most states keep employer-employee relationships at an "at-will" status, meaning you can be fired for any reason EXCEPT discrimination. Firing you for discussing your salary isn't discrimination, so they get away with that and nobody realizes just how rampant the problem is.

Why does it matter? Because that extra $40 a week, or $160 a month, would have made the difference between whether I had to choose between paying the power bill or foregoing a doctor visit and some medication to treat musculoskeletal issues. It would've made the difference in not having to choose between buying new work shoes when they developed holes in them and filling up my gas tank.

When you're making didley squat to begin with, every cent matters that much more, and the fact that I have a vagina didn't make me magically able to afford things better than a male, so why was I getting paid less?

And if you think I'm overstating the importance of all of this, remember that money is the vehicle that gives us the power to live the lives we choose. If some have less power to live the life they want to live than others who do the same job at the same company simply because of their genitalia, it's no different than taking away someone's right to be seen as equal at the voting polls or anywhere else.

If you wouldn't make excuses for not allowing women to vote, you shouldn't make excuses for us to not be getting equal pay for the SAME JOB AT THE SAME COMPANY as those who have penises. And if you WOULD be willing to make excuses for not allowing women to vote, well, I think you'd fit in much better in a barbaric, third-world country than in America.

I can't vote, but I can sure share information with people, and I've managed to open some eyes during this campaign which has resulted in some people I know changing their minds about who they are voting for in favor of a more reality-based candidate.

Romney and Ryan have voted AGAINST fair pay for women repeatedly. Any woman who is ok with that probably doesn't work for a living, and definitely doesn't know what it's like to struggle at the hands of a male-dominated work-force who conspire to take more for themselves at the expense of women who often work harder than they do.

I'm all for keeping the government out of our lives and businesses as much as possible, but when somebody is conspiring to keep me from finding out that I'm being paid less than my male counterparts, I call bullshit, and we do that by refusing to support candidates that refuse to support equality.

And, for all of you who are annoyed that so many people are on food stamps, you might want to consider that a large majority of people on food stamps HAVE JOBS, but they don't get paid a living wage. Women who aren't getting paid as much as men who do the same job at the same company are more likely to need food stamps to feed their kids (since so many deadbeat dads don't take care of their responsibilities). Next time you open up you mouth to whine about how many people are on food stamps, consider your part in it if you voted for a candidate who is against equal pay for women.

Got a calendar handy? It's 20-fucking-12, folks. Why are we still discriminating against women to begin with?

I'll tell you why. Because we have tolerated this bullshit for far too long. And, as one of my favorite quotes says: "You deserve what you tolerate."

It's time to stop tolerating it.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Softly

It's raining hard outside as I write this, and it's a cool rain that announces the arrival of fall loud and clear. It's always been my favorite time of year, but this year it seems even more special than in years past.

There have been some disappointments throughout the year, but that seems stellar in comparison to so many years of my life where there were major catastrophes and devastating traumas. I'm grateful for some normalcy.

It looks like this is going to be one of those years where the first 3/4 of the year is taxi-ing down the runway, and the last three months are the takeoff. I'm looking forward to that.

Perhaps the biggest changes that have taken place this year are internal, both literally and figuratively.

My health hasn't been that great this year, but at least I haven't suffered from the "I-wish-I-was-dead-summer-flu" that I had while moving last year. I still am not sure how I managed to survive that.

I've done some refining of my political views as I uncover more information and reflect on ideology vs. reality. It has made for some stimulating debate, but the more red pills you take, the more alone you feel in a world full of people who are addicted to the blue pills.

Perhaps the biggest change in me has been that I have made room in my heart for true friends and family, and have accepted that some family will never truly be family in any sense other than genetic, while some who call themselves friends are not friends in any sense of the word at all.

Discernment. I'm learning it.

I've eliminated my tolerance for people who clearly do not care about me beyond whatever is in it for them. That's not easy, because I have a terminal sense of optimism that often deceives me into believing that people have better intentions than they often do, because my intentions tend to be good. Not everyone is like you and me. That's a hard lesson to learn.

It isn't easy to walk away from someone who treats you like a second-class citizen when there is something you feel you should be sharing with them, but sometimes it's for the best, lest they destroy that which would otherwise be shared.

I've found that there is room in my life for more than I thought possible now that I have eliminated some wasted space.

If all goes well, Booger will have a new brother or sister in the not-too-distant future, and the house will be filled with even more unconditional love. I'm excited about that.

Maybe I'm just mellowing with age, but I don't feel nearly as anxious as I used to about the future. Or maybe, it's just because I'm so tired all the time. ;-)

I'm not quite at the top of my game yet, but I'm on my way.

Leaves are falling softly with the rain, and I'm falling softly into place in the multiple roles life has called me to fill. Some were unexpected, but they all feel right, so I'm rolling in them like leaves and enjoying the hayride.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Best Birthday I Ever Had (Was In Jail)

September 13, 2005, my cell-mate was a bankruptcy attorney who was serving a short federal sentence for bankruptcy fraud. Her sentence was less than six months, so she didn't get sent to a prison, but was to serve out her sentence in a federally contracted detention center, in this case, a county jail.

She had three young children, (including a set of twins) and one of them was a "special needs" child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other issues. Since she was a single mother, she was allowed to break up her sentence over two summers so that her sister could keep her kids while she was locked up and then she could be there to take care of them when school was back in session.

She and I became very close as we got to know one another. Like many who feel the walls of despair closing in on them while confined in a drab environment, she tortured herself with despairing thoughts, including that she was a bad mother (very few who have that fear are ever actually bad mothers) and I did my best to keep her focused on the positive things she had going for her.

She was a beautiful woman, very attractive, kind-hearted, intelligent... she was within a year of my age, and it was hard to imagine how she could end up in this situation. Of course, many people have said the same thing about me. I assure you, it can happen to anyone.

One thing I knew was that she would be fine once she got out. She took over the jail within a few weeks, teaching everyone from accused murderers to crack addicts new card games and making it clear to them that she wasn't going to be bullied. She always had the upper hand, and I was sure she would somehow maintain it throughout the rest of her life. (I should get in touch with her and verify that she has, though there is no doubt in my mind.)

The week before my birthday, she, knowing that I didn't have a steady source of funding with which to purchase items like shampoo and lotion from the commissary, had me make a list of items I wanted for my birthday. I was thrilled!

She was going to be going home in a couple of weeks, so she was planning a farewell party and also ordered about 35 Hostess cupcakes, one for every inmate in our pod. (This never happens. Ever. Nobody does this. Except Shannon.)

So, on my birthday, we were all released from our cells for breakfast. I went about my usual routine of taking my shower afterwards and returned to one of about ten four-person tables where several of us normally played cards until it was time to be locked back down. When I got to my usual spot at the table, I got the surprise of my life. Not only was there a Hostess cupcake waiting there for me, but there was also a birthday card, (you could purchase those from the commissary list to send to loved ones) signed by everyone, and a "candle" she had somehow managed to fashion out of paper. (Keep in mind, inmates have no access to scissors.)

Before I even had a chance to react, the pod of about 35 women who had just been going about their business were suddenly all turned in my direction and the room swelled with the sound of everyone singing "Happy Birthday". That's when I realized that I was experiencing my first-ever surprise birthday party. In jail.

Growing up, I had enjoyed throwing my father a surprise birthday party just a couple of years before he got sick and died. Many surprise parties had been thrown in my family, and I was always enamored with the idea of sneaking around in order to bombard someone with expressions of love and happiness. The fact that someone would go to that kind of trouble  seemed to me to be the ultimate validation of the fact that the person being honored at such a party was deserving of love.

Like many who are in the black sheep role in their family, I struggled with feelings of unworthiness. I never thought anyone would go to that kind of trouble for me unless it was a matter of necessity, but there I was, turning 36 in jail, and experiencing the most amazing (and unexpected) surprise birthday party anyone could ever imagine, in the most unlikely of circumstances.

My brother and I always had nice birthdays growing up. My parents went out of their way to make it special with what little resources they had, and they always succeeded. I cherish those memories, but as birthday surprises go, nothing - not even winning the lottery on my birthday - could ever compare to what Shannon, a friend I had known for only a brief time, did for me. It really is true that it's the thought that counts, and the thought she put in will count for the rest of my life.

So there you have it, horrific, wonderful, and bizarre all rolled into one bittersweet, delicious experience with a paper candle on top. I challenge you to beat that combination in a true story. I just don't think it can be done.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Misogynistic Surge Of 2012

Throughout the history of humanity, misogyny has been an oppressive force against women. We've made some progress, but perhaps not as much as we would like to believe.

The most obvious evidence can be seen in recent comments made by many politicians of the right-wing variety and the more than 600 bills they have introduced in an attempt to take away a woman's right to control her body. Of course, there is also rape, the glass ceiling, inequities in pay between women and their male counterparts, and so on.

There seems to be a surge in misogynistic behavior in some of the most primitive males of the human species. Like a virus before it finally dies out, succumbing to the immune system of its host, there is a surge of feverish activity in a desperate attempt to continue its survival.

However, there is a less-obvious (and perhaps more insidious) source of oppressive behavior towards women by males that often gets overlooked, one that I have personally experienced with increased frequency over the past few years.

It goes something like this:

A woman has males with whom she interacts either in person or online who are casual acquaintances. Sometimes they are old classmates, others may be past or present work associates, friends of friends, or acquaintances from a variety of other sources.

As it goes between most humans, there are shared views regarding economics, politics, and religion, along with differing views regarding same.

Everything is fine until the differences become evident in a debate, and this is where things go south very quickly in a way that rarely occurs between two males or two females:

The male makes statements regarding his views, and the female counters with her own (or vice versa). There is an exchange between the two, but in cases where the female is just as persistent in defending her view as the male is in defending his (especially where the female is providing logic based on facts and the male is relying more on assumptions and an emotional attachment to his own views) the female becomes the enemy, and civility becomes something the male seems incapable of exercising.

I have seen this quite frequently here in "The Bible Belt" where I spend much of my time, but I have also seen it elsewhere. The message seems quite clear: "You're allowed to have different views than me, but you are not allowed to challenge my statements regarding mine, especially when I have not based them on sound information. My male ego is so fragile that I will make you my enemy if you point out logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies, or other information that shows my assumptions and statements to be in error."

A woman can be perfectly civil and never raise her voice or engage in rude behavior, but many men seem to think it is their right to be "right", even when they are wrong, and begin to personally attack the female with whom they are engaged in conversation when her challenge to his logic is as persistent as his refusal to be confronted with factual information to the contrary.

From there, we see ad hominem attacks, anecdotal fallacies, red herrings, and other pathetic attempts to distract the opponent (and perhaps themselves) from the fact that they are losing ground in the argument, debate, or discussion:

  • ad hominem attack: an attempt to deflect an argument by inferring or outright claiming something derogatory (and unrelated to the discussion) about your opponent
  • anecdotal fallacy: unverified stories given as "evidence"
  • red herring: an attempt to deflect an argument by bringing up something else, but usually only after the one committing this act has had a chance to state their case, leaving the other party without the opportunity to do the same

If you're lucky, you learn that this is someone unworthy of your time and you simply stop associating with him. However, it doesn't always work out so smoothly.

There are some males who become so riled by the fact that a woman dares oppose him as persistently as he has opposed her that his ire doesn't end with her attempting to distance herself from him, and he aggressively pursues her with behavior that may range from bullying to stalking, either online, in person, or both.

The cyber-bullying, which has now been classified as a crime, usually involves making statements about the victim which are either false or unsubstantiated, and/or badgering the victim by repeatedly making derogatory statements about her publicly, either addressed to her directly or referencing her on social media platforms or other electronic means.

The cyber-stalking, also classified as a crime, often involves harassing or hunting her down online (finding as many ways to contact her as possible, including multiple social media venues, blogs, etc.) and sometimes even involves attempts to hack into her accounts and disrupt her ability to use them and/or commit crimes using them.

In some cases, the stalking becomes physical and the victim is physically hunted in an attempt to intimidate or terrorize her.

I have several friends in law enforcement who have witnessed some of this behavior toward me from males over the past couple of years and have expressed concern. There have been reports made in some cases and in others, I simply didn't feel it was warranted.

Nonetheless, it is a frustrating state of affairs at best, and a reminder of just how hostile the world still is toward women (especially intelligent, articulate women who do not cow down to arrogant, unsubstantiated proclamations made by emotionally immature males).

I have heard many stories from other intellectual women who hold their own well with their male counterparts, and it wasn't until I heard from so many others that I realized this wasn't just something resulting from my own refusal to back down from a few bullies, but a widespread attitude and set of behaviors from many men who, now that rape and physical assault are not options they can easily get away with, have learned to find other ways to make themselves feel powerful at the expense of women.

Fortunately, there are many males who are not like this. I am very grateful to have many of them in my life, which only makes the less-evolved males stand out even more as the troglodytes that they are.

So, my warning to all women is: don't get so distracted by the idiotic statements of GOP members on television that you fail to notice when someone right in front of you is engaging in the subtle behavior of undermining you psychologically. They may not be able to pass laws in an attempt to control your body, but they are desperately seeking to take up the same amount of space in your mind that they apparently have allotted in their own minds (such as they are) for you.

Evict them.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Raping Your Wife: It's not nearly as bad as smoking pot. (According to Todd Akin)

Earlier this year, I blogged about the scientifically and medically illiterate Stacey Campfield and his ignorant statements about H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. regarding how it spreads and who can and (allegedly) can not get it. (Anyone can get it.)

Now, it's time for yet another blog post about another politician who is even more scientifically and medically ignorant than Stacey Campfield. (Who knew THAT was possible?) I'm referring to Republican Todd Akin, who represents Missouri's 2nd Congressional District.

For the record, his statement was, when asked if he would support abortions for women who have been raped:

"It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
(Continuing with this blog post required a short break where I had to get a drink of water, as the cognitive dissonance created from typing that quote dehydrated my brain severely, and I'm pretty sure the "doctors" he was referring to must have a Ph.D. in voodoo.)

He also said that he would prefer that punishment for rape be focused on the rapist and not "attacking the child".

First of all, anyone who has even a rudimentary understanding of reproduction knows that a fertilized egg and/or a developing fetus is not a "child". Using the word "child" to describe any pregnancy is nothing more than political and/or religious rhetoric stemming from the fear-reactive area of the brain known as the amygdala which, despite its primitive nature, continues to override common sense in many who do not recognize that the only real reason why they do not like the idea of abortion is that they are wired to favor reproduction of the human species for survival purposes.

Any other claimed reasoning for why there is any concern for the developing fetus is nothing more than a rationalization of an involuntary reaction caused by the way the human brain is wired. That includes religious rationalizations, humanistic rationalizations, or any other reason given by those professing concern for a fetus.

Despite the fact that there is no reason for us to fear that our species will not survive if everyone does not reproduce abundantly, the instinct to bring forth spawn is so strong that our species is obsessed with the activity that brings it about (sex) to the point where it almost seems to override any of our other basic needs, including sustenance. (Don't believe me? Ask any teenage boy to choose between eating for a week and having sex, either with another human or via masturbation.)

The instinct to give birth upon becoming pregnant is so strong in some of us that even I believe that if I were gang-raped and became pregnant with quadruplets, knowing that it would likely kill me to carry the pregnancy to term, I still do not think that I could bring myself to have an abortion. The unnecessary instinct for survival via reproduction really is that strong in me.

Luckily, having an above-average understanding of both science in general and medicine specifically, my logical and critical thinking skills are able to override my primitive survival instincts when it comes to respecting the boundaries of other people's bodies.

Here are a few facts which, once understood, help intelligent people to achieve the necessary objectivity in order to behave less like a primitive human and more like an intelligent human regarding this issue:

  • There is no "certificate of conception" or "certificate of pregnancy" issued during a pregnancy because fetuses are not persons.
  • There is no death certificate issued after a miscarriage, because fetuses are not persons.
  • Between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 pregnancies usually ends in miscarriage, often before the woman realizes she is pregnant. This means that a pregnancy does not necessarily indicate a viable potential for human life.
  • Claiming that the potential for development into a human life equals a "child" is the same thing as saying that an egg and a sperm which have not even been joined and are not even in the same body is a "child". It isn't. Potential does not equal existence.
  • Not planting a seed for a tree is not the same thing as cutting a tree down, and not allowing a fetus to develop into a viable human being is not the same thing as killing a person.
Now that we have addressed the ridiculous statement that a "child" is being "punished" if a woman chooses not to allow a blob of cells to remain in her body, let's move on to the next point:

The only thing the female body can do to "shut that whole thing down" if she's raped and does not want to give birth as a result of that rape is walk into an abortion clinic and exercise her right to remove the cells which she does not wish to keep in her uterus. (An alternative would be for the female body to walk into a drug store and request a "morning after" pill.)

That's the ONLY thing the female body can do to "shut that whole thing down". There are no magical powers contained in the uterus or the vagina that suck an egg back into the ovary once it has been released during ovulation. There is no spermicide that is released that kills only the sperm that ejaculate from a rapist's penis.

I had to address the statements made by this arrogantly ignorant politician, simply because to not do so would be irresponsible just in case there might be others who have not been properly educated about these proven facts of life. However, this is not the most important point of this blog post.

(Also, I'd like to pause for a moment and recognize that many women who have been raped have experienced flashbacks triggered by these arrogantly ignorant comments spewed forth from the pie hole of Todd Akin, and if you need help, I recommend visiting

The most disturbing thing isn't that there are people who don't understand these basic facts even after living in this country for 65 years and having access to every conceivable (no pun intended) necessary resource available at any public library which would allow them to know better.

The most disturbing thing isn't even that this same man thinks that it's a bad idea to criminalize raping your wife, as he claims it becomes a "legal weapon to beat up on the husband" during divorce proceedings. (He wouldn't vote to de-criminalize the use of marijuana, but he would vote to de-criminalize a man raping his wife. Note: This is the year 2012 and this is a Christian man who lives in America, not a Muslim living in Afghanistan.)

The most disturbing thing is that this man (if we can call him that... personally, I think "beast" would be more appropriate) holds public office with a considerable amount of power and authority attached to it, and was put there by American citizens who likely did not even know that he had these views.

Say what you want about "the media". Bitch about how inaccurate it often is, whine about how some things get way too much attention and others not enough, display your intellectual snobbery by claiming that anyone who pays attention to anything the media puts out is naive and "drinking the Kool-Aid", but do NOT tell me that the media always gets it wrong, and do not tell me that being able to watch the words come out of this idiot's mouth is not CRITICALLY important when it comes to understanding who exactly is in power in this country and why they shouldn't be there.

I propose that, in a country that requires any non-citizen wishing to become a citizen to pass a test showing a basic knowledge of this country and how it works which surpasses what even the average American-born citizen knows, we require that ANY political candidate pass a basic high school level science proficiency exam, including a test proving a basic understanding of sexual reproductive science and biology.

If you wonder how it is possible that any politician is against sex education in the classroom, including sex education and safe sex methods for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, it's only possible because they themselves do not have such knowledge, and therefore can not comprehend its importance.

The rest of us, however, know better, and if we don't start demanding that the people we pay to represent us in making policy in this country know what every high school student is required to know before walking across the stage to receive their diploma, we deserve whatever unpleasant results these ignorant people bring to our existence.

And to those who think it doesn't matter who they vote for or are considering not voting or voting for a candidate with no chance of winning because they can't decide which candidate they dislike and/or disagree with the most, understand that you are tolerating extreme ignorance in the leadership of your country by passively allowing it to continue, and you'll have no valid complaint about how unhappy you are with the state of our affairs if you make no effort to help bring about an outcome that promotes reason over superstition.

As a wise person once said:

You deserve what you tolerate.

Do you deserve to be represented by people who have less than a sixth-grade level understanding of reproductive science? Do you deserve to be represented by someone who thinks it's worse to smoke marijuana than it is to rape your own wife?

Vote accordingly.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

When I Was A Christian...

Before anyone who reads this decides that this is "just another post from the atheist point of view" or that it's about me being "against religion", you need to know that I felt EXACTLY THE SAME WAY about the topic I am about to discuss when I was a devout Christian as I do now. EXACTLY. THE. SAME.

When I was a teenager, I was called to give sermons to the SOUTHERN BAPTIST congregation where I was a member in Ringgold, GA MORE THAN ONCE. I remember one of my sermons dealt with what message we sent as Christians with our behavior, and I posed the question: "If someone who knew nothing about Christianity observed us in our daily lives, what would they learn about being a Christian from us? What would be their understanding of what it means to be a Christian?"

I am now going to answer that question.

If *I* knew nothing about Christianity and were observing many Christians today, my impression of Christianity would be that it is mainly about making sure we made a huge show about praying in public before football games, before school started, and at government functions and political events. Also: a lot of whining about the fact that not everyone gives a Christian-specific greeting during seasonal holidays, even though most Christian holidays have pagan origins...

Forget the fact that the Christian holy book makes it VERY CLEAR that making a big show of praying in public is NOT what Christianity is about:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (7) And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6.5-8 NASB
The Christian holy book ALSO makes it very clear that mindlessly reciting prayers by rote is not meaningful Christian behavior, and yet that is exactly what goes on when "The Lord's Prayer" is recited at public events as some sort of obligatory ritual.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. - Matthew 6:7 KJV
It's quite clear that both of the foundations on which all of this noise is being made about prayer before football games is based are discouraged in the Christian holy book. How ironic.

But perhaps the most sad aspect of this drama is that it sends the wrong message not only to non-Christians, who increasingly view Christians as political invaders who wish to force their religion on everyone else, but also to our children.

When your government denies you special privileges when you demand that they treat your religion as though it is the "official" religion of this country (which we do not have, since our forefathers, in their wisdom, made it clear that we were NOT to make an establishment of religion in our government), when they deny your request for special recognition over all of the HUNDREDS OF OTHER RELIGIONS practiced in this country, and you then behave by claiming that you are persecuted, you are teaching children to take on an attitude of entitlement... you are teaching them that if they do not get special treatment as Christians, they are somehow victims.

This is where bigotry begins, folks. It starts with indulging in the delusional behavior that not getting special privileges equals persecution, and it progresses to believing that you are superior because of your beliefs, and/or that your beliefs are superior to those of others.

From there, the attitude grows into the view that other religions are not only NOT entitled to the special privileges that you fancy YOURSELF to be entitled to, but that they are LESS entitled to EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW.

This is why Christians who view marriage between two people of the same sex as PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE (the same way many anti-gay-marriage Christians are FINE with eating shrimp, also listed as an abomination in the Christian holy book) are upset that some Christians are attempting to step on THEIR toes by disallowing THEM to legally marry gay couples in their churches.

And, even worse, the massive efforts and grandstanding that goes into "fighting for prayer" at football games, schools, and government assemblies does absolutely NOTHING to advance the cause of Christianity. In fact, it diminishes its true purpose and everything that it is supposed to stand for, which is practicing kindness and respect toward others, remaining humble in the expression and practice of your faith, (as opposed to loudly demanding that everyone wait while and take notice as you do so publicly) and helping those who are homeless, hungry, naked, and sick.

The only thing that comes from praying before these events is self-satisfaction of the Christian ego.

Now, if the same people who are congratulating themselves for "coming together" as Christians from multiple denominations with the common goal of making a huge drama out of praying before a football game were also putting the same amount of effort into collecting food for the homeless at said football games, it might not be such a vulgar display of selfishness on their part to demand that everyone wait while they recite a rote prayer before the game.

I have no problem with anyone who wants to pray anytime or anywhere, so long as they don't whine about not being allowed to do it over a loud speaker as part of an officially mandated activity on government or taxpayer-owned/funded property. I do, however, find it very sad that so many Christians show such a lack of respect for their own religion by ignoring the truly important aspects of practicing it in favor of superficial shows of power before football games.

I feel that way now, and I felt that way when I was a Christian.

Clearly, being an atheist hasn't changed me. It has merely revealed that my ability to tell right from wrong does not stem from religion, but comes from common sense which we all have the ability to exercise, if only we will shed the ego and focus on what really matters.