The Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crime That Might Not Have Been

Saturday, July 16, 2016, 20:54 EDT Leave a comment

Orlando rainbow flagLast month’s terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was universally believed to have been a hate crime targeting the club’s gay patrons. At the time, it made sense; if the attacker had intended to perpetrate a garden-variety assault on a large group of people, he wouldn’t have ended up at a gay establishment purely by chance.

It turns out that assumption might have been incorrect. The FBI has found no evidence that the terrorist chose the Pulse because it catered to a gay clientele. In fact, several of the earliest reports—that the shooter was himself gay, or that he was in the closet—have not been substantiated by any evidence uncovered by law enforcement officials.

Which isn’t to say that he did not deliberately kill dozens of gay people. He just didn’t leave behind any evidence of such intentions. But as the saying goes, absence of evidence isn’t necessarily evidence of absence.

We know that Islamic terrorists, extremists, and theocrats around the world aren’t known for being gay-friendly. In at least ten Muslim countries, homosexual acts are punishable by death. In other places, private citizens who kill gays go unpunished. I’ve never heard an interpretation of Islam that was pro-gay.

In all likelihood, the Orlando killer was anti-gay in the same way that Islamic terrorists are anti-Christian, anti-Jew, and anti-Western: they see it as their duty to Allah to kill “infidels” and “kafir“.

I Hope You’re Not Dead

Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 16:38 EDT Leave a comment

Long-time regular readers of this blog might be aware that I have an ex-boyfriend whom I’ve never quite been able to put behind me. I learned several years back that he wasn’t able to put me behind him, either. Without going into details, he isn’t available. Nonetheless, we have maintained a very occasional communication, more or less limited to major holidays and each other’s birthdays, usually a text message, very rarely a phone call.

I told him a while back that such an arrangement wasn’t acceptable to me. I also told him that he had to be the one to end it because I did so 30 years ago and have regretted it ever since. I’ve tried to be patient while he comes to terms with what he has to do.

Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. For the first time since we reconnected in 2009, I didn’t hear from him. I can think of a few possible reasons:

  1. He is dead or otherwise incapacitated,
  2. Some other grave matter has kept him from communicating,
  3. He is somewhere without cell service, or
  4. He just decided not to call.

I pray it isn’t 1 or 2. I would understand 3. But my fear is that it’s 4. Our situation is such that I have decided not to initiate direct contact right now.

Once, he read this blog regularly. I don’t think he has for quite some time. But just in case he’s reading now, here’s a message:

LOML, don’t be this cruel. Please contact me, if only to let me know you’re OK.

Categories: life, love

Why Screaming about “Rape Culture” Makes Women Less Safe

Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 13:34 EDT Leave a comment

One of my Facebook friends posted today about the case of the Stanford University student who was convicted of rape and got a ridiculously short sentence. The rapist’s father complained he shouldn’t get anything because he was actually a great person, except for that little rape thing that only lasted for 20 minutes. To my friend, this case proves that “rape culture is real and it’s present and if you refuse to acknowledge it, you’re perpetuating it.”

Her view isn’t uncommon. But it’s actually dangerous to women.

When I was a kid, parents taught their children to take care of themselves by not putting themselves in unsafe situations. They weren’t telling us that it would be our fault if something happened to us, they were telling us that they didn’t want something to happen to us. Be careful on the monkey bars. Don’t talk to strangers. If you’re home alone and you get a phone call, tell the caller that your parents can’t come to the phone, not that they aren’t there. It was advice intended to keep us safe from bad people.

Today’s parents give similar advice for 21st century situations, such as not posting personal information on the internet that might help predators find you. Now as then, such instruction is given because we live in a world where people do things they shouldn’t. We can’t convince them all to stop, so we make it harder for them to do those things to us and those we love. People who are more careful are less likely to be hurt by bad people.

Now imagine for a minute that a group of parents got together and decided that they weren’t going to teach their kids how to stay safe. Instead, they were going to insist that kids should be able to go online and give unknown individuals their full names, addresses, phone numbers, and youth soccer game schedules. Oh, and if you try to tell those parents that they are putting their children at risk, they protest that you’re blaming the victim and their kids shouldn’t have to be careful and if you think they should, you’re part of the problem.

Most of us, I hope, would call them out for stupidity, if not negligence. Yet we accept such attitudes from people who invoke “rape culture” as a reason for why women shouldn’t be encouraged to avoid situations that make them vulnerable to being raped.

I posted this reply to my friend:

I disagree that “rape culture” exists. There are many more thefts in this country than rapes, yet it isn’t because of “theft culture.” There are lots of homicides, but it isn’t because of “murder culture.” Same with reckless driving, kidnapping, drug dealing, and child abuse. The very fact that we have laws against these things, and that people go to jail for them (even though the sentences are sometimes lighter than we think they should be) is proof that there is no “culture,” except among the criminals.

After my house was burglarized, I didn’t defiantly refuse to lock my doors and complain that we need to teach people not to steal. I installed better locks. I wasn’t blaming myself for becoming a victim, I just took some simple steps to minimize the chance that it would happen again. That made more sense to me than waiting for the coming of an imaginary utopia in which unicorns roam freely and nobody does anything wrong.

Do you lock your doors? Not leave your pocketbook lying open at a bar while you go to the rest room? Look both ways before you cross the street? That doens’t mean you’re perpetuating “[insert crime here] culture.” It means you’re using common sense to protect yourself from thieves and dangerous drivers. Please, please, please, use the same common sense to protect yourself from rapists.

I can only hope she takes my advice.

How Guns Make People Stupid

Saturday, June 4, 2016, 20:15 EDT Leave a comment

So I was wandering around the internet, just minding my own business, and I ran across this at the San Diego Union-Tribune site:

Study: Legos are becoming more weaponized

[…] Since the first Lego weapons came out in 1978, the percentage of sets including weapon pieces has grown from 1 perent of sets released that year to 29 percent of sets released in 2014, according to a study last month from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The article has a catchy graphic showing the “percentage of individual bricks released that year that were weapons.”

What the article’s author, someone named Kate Morrissey, meant to say is that Legos now have more pieces made to look like little Lego weapons. What she actually said is that Lego sets contain actual weapons, and that the toy blocks themselves are now being used as weapons. No, really. That’s what she said.

From Merriam-Webster online:

weapon
noun | weap·on | \ˈwe-pən\
: something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy

weaponize
verb | weap·on·ize | \ˈwe-pə-ˌnīz\
: to adapt for use as a weapon of war

Such is the lack of intelligence that emerges whenever some people are confronted by anything that can in any way be construed as even slightly resembling a gun. Remember the story about the little boy who was suspended from school for nibbling a Pop Tart into a vague gun shape? Or the even littler girl who was suspended from kindergarten for having a bubble-blowing toy?

I’m all for prohibiting kids from using weapons. I also have enough common sense to know that bubble blowers and pop tarts and tiny plastic toy pieces aren’t weapons. And I’m so old that I remember when journalists knew that, too.

I Just Got a Dollar in the Mail (or, Do Not Sell Your Privacy to Scarborough Research)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 15:48 EDT 21 comments

No really, I got a dollar in the mail today.  Cash money.  A 2003 $1 United States Federal Reserve Note, legal tender across this great nation and on the black markets of several lesser nations whose own currencies are next to worthless.

$1 bill

Hi, George!

Now if you were raised like I was, your mama probably told you never to send cash through the mail. That’s because in the unlikely event that the envelope is lost or stolen, there is no way to stop payment or track it the way you can with a check. So naturally, I was curious about the sender whose own mama apparently didn’t care enough to give him/her the same wise advice.

The sender is some entity called Scarborough, and along with the $1 bill they sent a letter (English on one side, Spanish on the other, because evidently every other immigrant group that ever came to America doesn’t count, but don’t get me started on that), a short survey, and a postage-paid return envelope. The letter informed me that if I simply completed said survey and sent it back to them in said envelope, they would send me $5.

I’ll take scams for $1000, Alex.

A quick internet search reveals that Scarborough Research of Coral Springs, Florida, and business addresses, has been a complaint magnet for some time because of their aggressive telephone practices and refusal to honor people’s requests to stop calling. The Better Business Bureau of West Florida has handled 166 such complaints in the last 3 years, 74 of those in the last 12 months (yet it still manages to give the company an A+ rating, apparently because all those complaints were “closed,” i.e. resolved). Others have made their feelings known via web sites like Complaints.com, ReviewsTalk, and Complaints Board. A 2011 Chicago Tribune article addresses the company’s annoying practices. And that was just on the first page of search results.

Apparently, if I were to fill out this company’s survey (which includes giving them my home address and phone number), not only would I get $5, but I would also “agree that Scarborough may contact [me] about future surveys and other research opportunities.”

In other words, for the cost of a coffee and doughnut, I would be selling my right to be free of the persistent and intrusive rudeness described in all those links above.  So it isn’t a scam.  It’s just unethical business practice, which can feel just as bad to the victims.

Obviously, plenty of people take the bait, having no idea what they’re getting themselves into.  Why else would a company send thousands of dollar bills to complete strangers (mine was addressed to “Resident”) if it didn’t get the attention of enough people to make it worth their while?  And that’s not including the additional $5 for each sucker who signs up.  You would think that wouldn’t be enough compensation for someone to give up his or her privacy, but the truth is that all of us give it up all the time for nothing.

  • Have you ever used a web site that required you to agree to receive email solicitations as a condition of proceeding?
  • Have you ever installed a smartphone app that required permission to access your contacts, calendar, or other information stored on the device?
  • Have you ever signed up for a store rewards or frequent shopper program whose terms included collecting data about your shopping habits and purchase history?

Those are just three ways you forfeit your privacy, but there are many more. We go along with it because we want the benefits that come with that web site or app or rewards program. Those of us who are more careful and agree to such terms only if we believe the company to be reputable are deluding ourselves that our information is guaranteed never to be abused by them or someone else. If you don’t believe me, refresh your memory about the antics of the ironically named National Security Agency.

Is it possible to fully participate in today’s society without giving up our privacy? Probably not, unless tens of millions of people decide to stop availing themselves of 21st century conveniences that an entire generation has never lived without. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t avoid other intrusions. I’m willing to give up something for the safety and convenience of a GPS app when I’m far from home, but not for a lousy $5.

If you want to pay off my mortgage, then we’ll talk.

Categories: culture/society

Happy September. The World Is Coming Apart.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 13:25 EDT Leave a comment

Geez, I leave you people alone for not even five months, and all hell breaks loose. Clearly my presence is needed. Not to mention my commentary about it all.

Ukraine

For those who don’t know anything about Vladimir Putin, let me clue you in: He’s an old Soviet KGB guy who masturbates to a picture of Stalin. OK, I don’t actually know about that last part, though I wouldn’t be surprised. I do know that he is philosophically much closer to most leaders of the former Soviet Union—save Gorbachev—than any Russian leader since the collapse of the old communist empire.

Thus, no one should be surprised that he has invaded what in his dreams is still called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Sure, he insists that it isn’t really an invasion, just the action of unaffiliated rebels, because he is counting on the rest of the world not noticing that those rebels are all wearing Russian military uniforms and driving Russian military vehicles and packing Russian military-issue heat. Indeed, the only thing that should surprise anyone is that it took him this long. Make no mistake, Vlad has designs on Ukraine—and several other nations.

ISIS/ISIL

Take your pick on which name to use. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. In fact, you can call it Al Qaeda or Hezbollah or Black September for all I care. It’s yet another Islamic terrorist group with an odd affinity for killing people who don’t toe their religious/political line. Remember after the September 11 attacks, when George W. Bush and assorted celebrities tied themselves in knots to assure Muslims that we weren’t at war against Islam? It turns out that Islam, or at least a segment of it that enjoys a disturbing amount of support from Muslims around the world, was at war against us, and still is. ISIS has vowed to destroy the United States and fly their flag over the White House. All I can say to that is, over my dead body, and I mean that literally.

One aspect of the news coverage that bothers me is all the attention given to the beheadings of two American journalists. Not that those weren’t awful, but ISIS has been doing this for months, and many of their victims have been Christians, particularly children. I’ve seen a fair amount of coverage in the alternative media and a few conservative news sites, but the mainstream media has been more lax—until their own were the targets.

Ferguson, Missouri

If media outlets give disproportionate coverage to journalists killed by terrorists, they also give disproportionate coverage to black men killed by police. Again, it isn’t that such cases shouldn’t be investigated; I’ve seen and heard enough about over-zealous cops on power trips to appreciate the possibility that the shooting of an unarmed civilian is indeed unwarranted. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the people who jumped on the bandwagon denouncing the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri. But as is the case so often, it turns out that initial reports—and my initial reaction—might not have been entirely accurate.

I consider heavy-handedness by law enforcement to be a significant threat to liberty. At the same time, it isn’t heavy-handed for an officer who believes he or she is in danger to exercise self-defense, which is the right of civilians as well. Let’s just say that I am no longer convinced that the Ferguson officer didn’t have a legitimate reason to feel threatened. Besides, if the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer is by definition a big news story, then the killing of an unarmed white man by a black police officer (yes, it happens more than you would think) should be as well. That there is disparate treatment says more about the racist attitudes of the media and many observers than about alleged racism by police.

Rape culture

It isn’t a new idea, but the neo-feminist insistence of societal misogyny so pervasive as to indicate the widespread cultural acceptance of rape is getting a lot more attention lately. It’s bullshit. Seriously, if encouraging women to take simple steps to keep themselves safe is sexist—and the reasoning (I use the term loosely) goes that men shouldn’t rape, so women shouldn’t have to protect themselves from it, and suggesting they do is akin to blaming the victim—then it isn’t just rape that our society supposedly accepts.

I have a home security system because my house was broken into a couple of years ago and I don’t want it to happen again. But really, it wasn’t my fault that I was robbed; I should be able to feel secure in my own home. So what if I refused, as a protest against “theft culture,” even to lock my doors and windows? Or what if I failed to safeguard my personal information—social security number, online passwords, credit card numbers, and the like—as a protest against identity thieves and a statement of empowerment? I would be out of my mind, that’s what. Because in the real world in which I live, there are those who break into houses, steal people’s identities, and yes, even rape women. I can stomp my feet and bitch about it, or I can be a grown-up and protect myself against it.

And having thus vented, I feel better now. I’ll be back soon with more of the insightful opinions you have come to expect from me and have, no doubt, missed terribly.

One Year

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 12:23 EDT Leave a comment

The 2013 Boston Marathon took place a year ago today. Of course, that annual big event would be overshadowed by the explosion of two bombs at the finish line at 2:50pm, just a few hours after the winners had crossed.

Three people were killed at that moment, dozens more seriously injured. The medical personnel who volunteered at the finish line to handle cases of dehydration, heat stroke, and muscle strains became, in an instant, medics in a war zone. It was later reported that the medical tent personnel triaged 58 people—several of whom had limbs blown off—in less than a half hour.

One of the registered nurses in the medical tent that day, a friend of mine who is also an officer in a U.S. Army Reserve medical brigade, recently spent three weeks in annual training exercises simulating mass casualty situations, which for their purposes were defined as five or more casualties. She said that after Boston, five casualties was a piece of cake.

People have moved on with their altered lives. The families and friends of the three dead, along with the loved ones of the M.I.T. police officer killed three days later by the alleged terrorists (or, as I call them, dirtbags), have made it through the first year. Survivors have recovered, some continuing to learn how to use the prosthetic legs that replaced the real ones they lost. Marathon organizers have planned this year’s event taking into account the need for increased security. Boston and state police, with federal law enforcement, have developed new public safety strategies based on lessons learned. Some of the runners who were prevented from finishing last year’s race have taken advantage of the Boston Athletic Association’s offer to run this year without having to re-qualify. Likewise, some of the volunteers who dealt directly with the carnage have decided to go back to the medical tent.

Today at the finish line, which has already been painted on Boylston Street in preparation for next Monday, wreathes have been placed in memory of the victims. A commemorative service will begin in a few minutes at Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. As I watch some of the coverage on television, I am more than a little weepy, which surprises me because 1) I was 40 miles away at my office when the bombing happened, 2) I didn’t know any of the victims (although several of my friends were very nearby); and 3) I never cried back when it happened, going instead from shock at the attack to indignation by the time the suspects were identified and hunted down. Probably thousands of other people feel the same way I do and, like me, don’t really understand why.

Maybe it’s because, as I’ve said before, this may not be personal to me as an individual, but it’s personal to me as a New Englander. This corner of the country is very stoic, its inhabitants proud of our history as the cradle of the American Revolution. Boston seems like a big city, but in many ways it feels like a small town. And the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world, is our special party in which we are kind enough to let others join. Crashing it for the sole purpose of killing and maiming people is bad form, and we take it personally. In the immortal words of David Ortiz, “This is OUR fucking city!” The implication being, How dare you come into our home and attack us and our guests! How dare you take our wonderful event and ruin it with blood and body parts! A year ago, it made me angry. I’m still angry, but I’m also sad, and it has taken a year for that to happen.

Some things can’t be understood or explained, so I won’t try. I’ll just let it happen. And maybe, on Monday, I’ll head into Boston and watch a marathon.

Bode Miller, Christin Cooper, and NBC’s Olympic Coverage Suckitude

Monday, February 17, 2014, 18:22 EDT 1 comment

While the last part of this title could launch a whole series of articles, my target today is last night’s Christin Cooper interview of American skier Bode Miller after the Super-G event which was his final chance to get a medal. Miller’s rather interesting story includes significant competitive achievements. It also includes a recent personal loss, the death of his younger brother.

Throughout their coverage so far, NBC has presented personal information about Olympic athletes as a way to elicit greater interest among viewers (and, by extension, enhance the television ratings). After all competitors had finished yesterday’s race, Miller was left tied for third place, thus becoming the oldest alpine skier ever to win an Olympic medal.

Cooper approached Miller and initiated the following on-camera exchange:

NBC [Christin Cooper]: For a guy who says that medals don’t really matter, that they aren’t the thing, you’ve amassed quite a collection. What does this one mean to you in terms of all the others.

Miller: This was a little different. You know with my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. This one is different.

NBC: Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?

Miller: [pause] Um, I mean, a lot. Obviously just a long struggle coming in here. And … it’s just a tough year.

NBC: I know you wanted to be here with Chilly, really experiencing these games. How much does this mean to you to come up with this great performance for him? And was it for him?

Miller: I mean, I don’t know if it’s really for him but I wanted to come here and … I don’t know, I guess make myself proud, but…

NBC: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?

Miller: [breaks down crying]

Awful, right? But it gets worse. Because of the time difference between the U.S. and western Russia, the NBC production team had 20 hours to either edit the interview before televising it or decide not to use it at all. They did neither.

The viewing audience was horrified, as indicated by comments on Twitter.

Then, to add stupidity to both insult and injury, the networked doubled down. According to the New York Times, an NBC spokesperson issued a statement in defense of the interview itself and the decision to air it later.

“Our intent was to convey the emotion that Bode Miller was feeling after winning his bronze medal,” a spokesman for the network said. “We understand how some viewers thought the line of questioning went too far, but it was our judgment that his answers were a necessary part of the story. We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”

How nice that Miller, who apparently has been friends with Cooper for years, is willing to forgive. That doesn’t mean that it was the right thing for NBC to do.

How and why did this sordid episode suck? Let me count the ways.

  1. Even if Miller’s grief over his brother’s death was “a necessary part of the story,” it was addressed very clearly by Miller in his response to Cooper’s first question. Hammering him about it afterward was redundant, unnecessary, and ultimately mean.
  2. NBC is supposed to be presenting Olympic coverage, not a gossip rag. Giving some background on the athletes adds a human interest aspect to the coverage, but it shouldn’t be the focus over the results of the competition. NBC chose to make it the focus.
  3. Cooper had obviously decided in advance that she would go for the most gut-wrenching display she could evoke. That she didn’t stop until he was sobbing is proof of her intent.
  4. Once she got the tears she wanted and in full view of the camera, Cooper attempted to comfort Miller by laying her hand on his shoulder. If she were really concerned for his comfort, she wouldn’t have badgered him.
  5. The decision, hours after the fact, to air the entire exchange shows how far American media have descended into the “reality TV” pit. Someone, or more likely several people, deliberately decided that the ratings were worth exposing someone in a vulnerable moment to a voyeuristic public that, thankfully, was horrified by it.
  6. “How much does this mean to you?” (like its close cousin, “How special is this to you?”) isn’t an interview question. It’s a crutch used by reporters who are too incompetent to ask relevant questions about the event at issue and/or too lazy to come up with a real question. Just once, I want the interviewee to reply, “It’s not special to me at all, dumbass,” and then walk away. Extra points if it’s done on live television.

Over at today’s Wall Street Journal, Kwame Dawes has an “Ode to Bode Miller’s Tearful Interview with Christin Cooper” which I won’t excerpt only because you really should read the whole thing. All I’ll add is that it made me think of rocker Don Henley’s 1982 single “Dirty Laundry,” which is as accurate an indictment of major media today as it was then.

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash
With a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom
Got a running bet
Get the widow on the set
We need dirty laundry

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em all around

Categories: family, media, olympics, sports

The Christmas Story

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, 00:28 EDT Leave a comment

The following is a post I have published here and elsewhere many times in the past. It is timeless. Merry Christmas to all.

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20
(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

Categories: christmas, faith/religion

Fun with Numbers, Again

Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 14:15 EDT Leave a comment
Categories: this and that
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