Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Absurdity of the War on Terrorism

Often when we disagree with someone or a group of people, we assume a stance of hostility, blame and we choose violence; perpetuating never ending cycles of vengeance and trauma. For example: Your country has different beliefs than mine and I decide that some of your people are heinous criminals that I need to destroy. You may or may not agree. I bomb your country to kill the infidels. Problem: my bomb does not just kill the infidel, it creates an area of destruction. I kill many people, some of whom never thought or did anything harmful or contrary to my beliefs-they may not have supported the infidel either! Their family members suffer the trauma of their death as well as the wounds they may survive with in a world that has been shattered by a bomb. They have little to live for, except revenge against the callous apathy that eradicated their loved ones with the push of a button. Each bomb dropped is another wave of death, destruction, and mangled lives. Each bomb creates emotional, psychological and physical trauma of immense proportions. When survivors suddenly side against me, I feel I'd better go kill those infidels too. Infidels just keep popping out of the wood work, and it reinforces my shallow view that 'all those people over there are evil and twisted' when ironically it was my choices, my attacks that shaped their perception of the world. In actuality, I am the one who committed the crime.

I bring this point up in contrast to the humanitarian programs. If you really want to stop terrorism you do not fight it, bomb it or threaten it. You choose to make amends and start the healing process. You make reparations, you offer empathy and foster an environment where everyone has food, shelter, clothing, and safety. You do not move armies in or drop missiles. Give people a  reason to choose to turn away from retaliation, give people a reason to stop supporting violence on either side. There should be one side-humanity.

We get so wound up with how right we are, we pick and hold our arguments close to our hearts. Is there any wonder why the 'enemy' does the same? What would your life be like, how would you choose to live if suddenly a missile struck your town, killing your loved ones and friends and destroying your economy? You'd what? Go get weapons and make them pay? Right, that is exactly what they are doing, isn't it amazing how much alike both 'sides' think?

Labeling groups of people and judging everyone who could possibly be involved or supportive of the group is not a sign of enlightenment or compassion. It is absurd. Do you like it when someone labels you and treats you with bias because of your appearance or beliefs? No. I have yet to meet anyone who gets tickled pink by the idea of being called a bigot or referred to with slurs.

If you want to end terrorism you have to look at ways to bring positive changes and stability into the countries that are torn by poverty and war. You have to give people something to live for. Regardless of how bad things get in the United States people do not race around committing acts of terrorism every day. Why? Because they are comfortable, they do not want to lose what they have, and they have the freedom to waste time playing video games and eating junk food. Give people what they need. Give them respect and tolerance. Foster growth. Open communications in a constructive manner.

Stop trying to be the final judge, jury, and executioner for the villains; start giving people a reason to start being human again instead of faceless enemies. I'm getting tired of the absurd arguments for perpetual wars, especially when I see people in our own country struggling to get by on low wages, when corporations take high paying jobs overseas to increase profit margins, and legislation is passed for the good of the profit rather than the good of the people. Let's get our priorities straight. Let's become a respectable country known for wisdom and compassion rather than weapons sales and mass destruction. Let's stop creating terrorists and committing acts of terrorism-before you say we don't do that, think about the recent findings about the CIA. The CIA allegedly works on your behalf. I am not proud of the techniques they used and I do not feel there is ever a justifiable reason to torture anyone. Ever.

A New Year approaches. We can choose to change our country, our stance, our view. Why not choose a healthier one and become a leader in changing the world in a positive way? Remember peace, when does it get a chance? When does the name calling and retribution stop? How much has to be destroyed before we admit that we are going about this backward?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Absurdity of our Perception of Good Entertainment

Movies and television programs predominate our spare time as entertainment. When the Weather Channel first aired they were amazed at how many people tuned and stayed on the channel, even though it was just a looping program about current and anticipated weather. They thought it was absurd. Maybe they should have surfed the channels. Maybe they should have considered the pathetic options viewers wrestled with before settling on the mind numbing loop of current weather conditions. Movies about shark tornados, redundant bland comedies targeting various age groups, the same plots with different settings and characters or perhaps the never ending sequels that arise like a bad case of herpes whenever a movie does turn out to be good.

We vote by watching. Advertisers pay to plug their commercials in. When I was growing up there was an alarming trend correlating a decreasing attention span that paralleled the time between commercials during television programs. At that time it was approximately eleven minutes, this year I clocked the average length of a television program between commercials to range from four to seven minutes for commercials lasting three to six minutes.

We buy into marketing and branding, we support franchises at the expense of creativity, quality and variety. Instead of encouraging people to develop different acts and names; we only want to hire people dresses as knock offs of Disney Princesses to come to our children's parties. We are teaching our children by endorsing this and offering it. We could be encouraging and supporting independent local entertainers; instead we encourage them to become knock offs of movie characters discouraging them from exploring their originality. Encouraging them to become just another version of something that is already overdone. I advertise and reach out to events, libraries and communities to storytell for children or adults or both. I am not a knock off of a popular mainstream character or part of a franchise. Individuality is not supported or endorsed, we want the same as everyone else done the same way as always.

On a larger scale, live entertainers are being discouraged and opportunities for work are decreasing unless you build a large following via the chance of likes on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Google+. Did you know that Key West has a live entertainment scene where many street performers learn their trade? Did you know they are starting to charge entertainers to busk there? Charging people to have the chance of entertaining? It is absurd that I should pay for the chance to entertain. Entertainers should be paid to entertain. We should encourage live entertainment venues and diversity in entertainment. We can encourage variety in live and recorded entertainment by choosing to watch, choosing to share and choosing to do reviews. Request bookings for real entertainers who work hard to create, rehearse and live their art forms for you to appreciate. Walk away from franchise shows that do repetitive cookie cutter acts, playing to the lowest common denominator. Ignore the ads for people to come and entertain at children's parties dressed as a princess or superhero. Remember the circus performers? Why not book circus performers, magicians, henna artists, face painters who don't have to dress as a popular character because their work is the art and the draw, storytellers and people who go by their own names? Why not appreciate something different?

Isn't it absurd that our society is so drawn to generic overly sugared children's cartoons and testosterone oozing antiheroes so much that we can't live our lives without having to engineer ways to integrate these two dimensional characters as the pinnacles of art and creativity in our lives?

I remember working festival on Pirate day in Georgia about eight years ago. They were doing a pirate competition. Over a hundred people walked by dressed as Jack Sparrow. How unique and expressive of roguish individuality! One man walked down the path wearing ripped off neon pink shorts with a day glo tattered shirt and a pirate hat. Best pirate I saw all day. Every single person woke up that morning thinking about how they would be the most original and different pirate; they would fit the rebel archetype like Johnny Depp just like everyone else dressed the same. There was only one guy that morning who woke up with that thought in mind who actually did dress differently. Even more absurd, although they all dressed like rude alcohol craving women chasing rogues, they all still acted like themselves! How absurd to see a Jack Sparrow talking on her cellphone with two small children trailing behind her! Why do we need to have people perceive us as these generic characters to feel good about ourselves?

As we buy into franchises and brand name mainstream entertainment we gradually lose the amazing and unique possibilities. Professional live entertainers with incredible skills and talent sit without work while companies and individuals who mimic the latest fads or do repetitive moronic acts are hired. Who was the last live entertainer you interacted with? Have you ever taken a moment to appreciate a street performer or lane act? Most busk, which means they work for tips; what you choose to give is how they pay their bills and the memories they offer you are worth far more than the dollar or five you throw in their baskets. Without contracts, without money for busking; entertainers turn to other ways to make a living like politics and sales. After all entertainment sells and politics is acting.

We need to pay for licenses to busk for you, as for some reason, some people have an aversion to encountering street performers. They assume we are panhandling or that there is something unsavory about us; that we are somehow going to steal from them or erode their morals just by brightening their day with a few moments of distraction and entertainment. Wow! That is absurd! Instead of being excited by the potential of a magical experience, instead of taking the time to appreciate the skills and talents of people who have devoted their lives to entertainment people tune out and retreat to their electronic pacifiers. Wait! You could be connected with the world around you, you could be having a marvelous unique experience. You could be doing something you never thought you would or seeing someone do something you never realized was possible. Encourage the arts and live entertainment, invite buskers and entertainers to venues and discourage law enforcement from arresting them! I think it is ridiculous that friends have been arrested for juggling or performing magic on the streets. People were enjoying their performances, those moments were taking the stress and tedium of the day and reducing it with laughter and anticipation only to end in citations.

Take a moment to look into what live entertainment is available in your area or at events you attend. Do a YouTube search to look for amazing acts rather than edited footage. Gig Salad offers listings, have you looked there and searched for original options? Have you encouraged or supported original artists or have you accepted the easiest option, by buying into the same prefabricated pastel package as everyone else?

The next time you go out and stroll through an outdoor venue; take a moment to stop and listen or watch live entertainers as they work. Give them your attention, give them a tip; catch a video or picture to tag them in and share if you are impressed. Like them on Facebook, write a review if you have a moment or two. We each make choices of what becomes obsolescent; let's make the choice to endorse originality in art and performance. Let's stop watching mediocre movies and television; let's give channels feedback and encourage them to hire better writers! Advertisers don't like paying when no one is watching shows, they quit paying for shows with low ratings. We all know that!

Isn't it absurd that the SyFy channel still pays people to write the terrible movies they produce? Isn't it absurd that they still produce them because we watch them? Why?? Why does the History Channel obsess about aliens and ghosts? They produce shows because people are watching them. You know who you are, please do the rest of us a public service. Develop healthy hobbies or watch a porn. Pornography at least doesn't try to pretend it is something other than films about sex and it seems to be one of the few entertainment venues left that has abundant variety in what it produces. I never thought I'd endorse porn but I never thought my viewing choices would be reduced to a hundred variations of Law and Order or Monster Ninja Ebola Butterfly Hurricanes and reality shows.

Publishers, this falls on you too. Find better writers. Nurture creativity, encourage individuality. Stop arresting buskers. Stop trying to charge buskers to entertain. It is absurd!

After all we create these megalithic entertainment monsters; wouldn't you rather take pride in fostering a variety of entertainers and seeing their careers grow? Or will you find an absurd excuse as you book the mimics and knockoffs for your next special event; after all it will be extra special when it's like every other one they've gone to and done. Lately, entertainment has followed the trend of moving away from being about skill or talent. It is becoming about brand recognition like advertising, politics and sales which I find to be absolutely absurd.

Tonight I am going to sit and watch Tom Frank perform on YouTube. I'm going to enjoy the Kamikaze Fireflies too! I may even watch some episodes of Glove and Boots and Simon's Cat. What are you going to do, watch Sharknado Seven or Ghosts in the Federal Reserve?

The Absurdity of Modern Priorities

The Absurdity of Modern Priorities

Tired of hearing advertisements and news bites? Tired of hearing about social and environmental issues? It is absurd how everything is so amazing and terrible at the same time. Planes getting lost, countries struggling with recession, pollution from the nuclear plants in Japan continuing to have a devastating effect on the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes you just want to massage your ears, sometimes you wish you could massage your mind. Feeling like the issues around you are sometimes distorted to influence how you choose to live and what you choose to buy. Gofundthis one or that one instead of buying a good or product from them to support them. I am not against supporting people. I just wonder why we don't choose to buy products from someone or work out contracts with them when we want to endorse them, instead we encourage them to ask us for handouts. Why not be a real support and offer them sales, share and offer feedback to encourage others to do the same? Why not offer connections and a hand up?

Danny Lord massaging his ears after the latest tedious advertisements.

It is absurd that every time the sky becomes cloudy, the news channels start describing the latest Weather Apocalypse unfolding outside your door. People suddenly rush to stores, stock up on groceries, cancel plans to go to outdoor events and they hunker down. They turn on the television, they surf the web. They inundate themselves with short, edited videos to distract themselves. They watch the antics of animals, pranks, crazy things caught on video. We spend our time using applications. Ten years ago an application was something you filled out to get a job. Now it's a little icon you click on to open a program designed to be user friendly. Something to make your world easier or to distract you from this one.

It is absurd to watch people sit on their phones and tablets on a beautiful sunny day, instead of appreciating the world around them. Touching, smelling, observing, and talking; living outside of our heads. It is absurd that more restaurants do not have signs requesting or requiring people to minimize their phone use and socialize. We are going to have to start offering classes to teach people how to socialize without a small rectangular box.

How many hours a day do people log in and play virtual games? How much time do you spend in virtual worlds? Out of curiosity I spent a few months playing several games, the games are designed to encourage you to play frequently with time sensitive settings that limit how much you can play unless you send invitations to your friends and allow the games to post on your Facebook timeline. You find yourself thinking "it's been five hours, I should have enough points back that I could finish this or that task." Instead of going out on a hike, learning local plants and wildlife; instead of working or volunteering to better the world; you're watching cartoon graphics.

This month I have started using Duolingo, I set goals for how much I want to learn and practice every day. I am working on improving my spanish skills. In one month, I have taken a few minutes every day and am now at a point where I can read over 50% of written spanish communications. One month. What does a Farmville or Castle Dragon trophy get you? What does it do for you to level up at Candy Crush Saga? Nothing. You cannot put them on your resume. They do not enhance your skills, your ability to think, create, dream, imagine. They just distract you and your time slides away. The value of your time depreciates.

This summer I stayed with a friend who loves gardening. She was very busy, so I tended her plants. Every day I went out and watered them. It only took several minutes a day. Had we planned ahead, we could have grown a full garden! I watch people play games where they grow crops, build houses and create empires. I find it absurd that someone will waste their time planting a virtual garden when they could go outdoors and plant a real one. Instead of wasting their time watching pixels they could enjoy the real thing. It's winter? Indoor garden or spend the time learning different gardening techniques.

Still don't think the virtual reality that we over prioritize is absurd? Remember Guitar Hero? Remember how many people picked up plastic instruments and began to play? Remember how good they THOUGHT they got, only to find out that after hours and hours and hours of practice… They had NOT gained any actual skill and could NOT play an actual instrument.

Why do we have to do surveys to find out what superhero or cartoon character or mythological being we are? Why do we need to associate ourselves with some generic quiz that really has no relation to reality to validate or amuse ourselves? What does it matter which character you are like? Are you really like a character from a fiction or are you a unique and complex individual that should take pride in who and what they are instead of having to build ourselves up by saying 'see I'm like this and like that.'

People who know us, know what we are really like. People who care about us do not care about whether we are like a dragon or an angel. Truth is we aren't like any of the fictional people, animals or creatures. We are all different. We are unique. It is absurd that we devalue and depreciate ourselves by condensing ourselves into canned, generic answers someone wrote to amuse themselves as they wasted their time creating the survey! The surveys are a clever way to get us to advertise products, just like clothing with company logos. We pay in time to be walking and sharing advertisements. Sad thing is, we share these things first.

We share articles that fit our political views. We share pictures. We could share links to our friends work to help them connect and grow. Instead we share surveys and game requests, we spend our time shifting shapes into patterns to reach the next level. We choose not to spend the time improving our life skills or doing little things that improve our lives and our world.

We miss out on the experiences we could be having. We miss out on laughing and loving. Choose to skip the surveys and be yourself. Learn how to do a balancing act with a snail or not.
The snail actually balanced quite well. It could have a future in entertainment. 

When did you laugh most recently? When did you do something absurd? When did you do something to improve yourself? Be honest, how much time do you spend each day letting your life go by as your fingers keep pace on the hammer wheel of your virtual world?

What are your priorities? Do you let the media shape them? Do you let your smartphone and applications shape them? Is it time for you to play your game or pass a survey on?

Why not pass on something to provoke the mind? Why not work on improving yourself and your world? No matter how much we choose to bury world news under the pabulum of memes and pop star coverage, the reality is there. There was a cartoon once of Nero passionately playing the fiddle while Rome burned behind him. Are we choosing to allow inept politicians and greedy corporations to determine the quality and condition of our world in trade for the virtual one they offer us as a cheap distraction? It is our choice, not theirs. We make it every time we choose to sit for a session of Castle Dungeon Candy Farm Zombie World Assault or whatever the latest game is, we make it when we share surveys and memes instead of links to help others in need or encouraging sales for local businesses and friends. Let's choose to empower people rather than enable absurdity.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Absurdity of Advertising

The Absurdity of Advertising

The Modesto Bee had a lovely square coupon attached to the front of it. The coupon advertised by two and get one free caramel apples. You are thinking "so what?" The same newspaper had just warned readers the day before that there was an outbreak of a food borne pathogen that might be linked to eating caramel apples and that it was too early to identify specific brands to avoid. One day they issue a warning and the next day they accept money to advertise the product they warned against. Are you thinking that maybe in that twenty four hour period the caramel apple candy scare had passed? Think again. It is over a week later and they have now identified the culprit to be listeria and the source might be Happy Apple Brand caramel apples. Thirteen people at least have become ill and reported it. I wonder how many other people went bug eyed and started laughing when they saw the ironic coupon crowning the front page of the newspaper like I did. I saved the sticker to smile at when I need to recall how absurd and ironic our society can be.

Then Sony has their system hacked, possibly by North Korea after producing a movie making fun of it's government and leadership. Sony gets tired of having it's customers and relations but at the fingertips and mercy of long distance hackers and pulls the movie before it is released. People band together in an anti-terrorist stance to pressure Sony to release the movie and accept the targeting of hackers. The United States may or may not have hacked North Korea in response. Is this sounding like a grade school melodrama yet? "Joe made a Youtube video calling a principal at another school a potty-head. Joe's phone stops working right and so does his friends. Youtube pulls the video. Kids riot and pout. Even kids who think Joe is pretty stupid and that the video is moronic. Youtube puts the video access back. Now even more people HAVE to watch it because not doing so would be supporting terrorism. Do you realize how absurd that statement is? I like Seth Rogen, I enjoy laughing at some of his comedy. Some of it I find very juvenile and awkward-this is my opinion. It doesn't make me a patriot to see a moronic comedy. It doesn't have any impact at all on politics in North Korea any more than it would if a North Korean made a movie making fun of our political system and politicians. You think there isn't enough material for them to work with?! Come on.

Let's consider that at least five of the Senators WE elected to Senate faced criminal charges in 2014 ranging from bribery, DUI, corruption and conspiracy to sell guns, money laundering, as well as felonies. Let's also look at the number of ex-congressmen and women who turn into lobbyists boasting of making three and four times the income they did when they were in office by manipulating politics using tactics that legislators cannot but are legal for lobbyists to use. They brag about it! They represent whoever pays them well, a few actually go after the causes they tried to support for their constituents but the majority don't. The majority do not represent you in their actions or their votes, they spend their time fundraising and spin controlling against negative publicity. They spend their time listening to lobbyists and finding ways to make bad ideas sound reasonable to the general public. We persist on identifying ourselves with specific parties. Stop for a moment! The next time you watch a political debate between parties I want you to close your eyes and picture them preparing for a professional wrestling match. It may sound absurd, but it will remind you of a few essential facts.

One: if they are talking, it is all prearranged and carefully planned to appeal to certain viewers and listeners. Actors make excellent politicians. They PAY people to write for them who do not care what you actually think or feel. They care about where the money comes from. When they talk you should be focusing on what is motivating them to say what they are saying, what do they get out of their stance?  Remember the swine flu? Remember Joe Biden making a rash statement that was rather alarmist. Do you remember how much he and his friends made off the stock for Tamiflu, when they had had a surplus that was going to expire… until we all had a need to run out and get some to keep ourselves safe from the Swine Flu Terror! He apologized and retracted the statement but his dramatic advertisement worked. At the expense of your nerves, he counted his profits and sold his product. It should not be legal and it is so absurd that we choose to allow melodrama and hype to direct us to make choices.

Movie theaters that did not plan on showing The Interview had to pick it up and change their schedules because everyone has to watch it now. It's a classic because of the hype. Sony did the best advertising they could have by pulling the movie and building public outcry. The movie may end up making a profit because it's now a patriotic film. Wow. One woman was interviewed about going to see the movie, she identified that her relatives were afraid that North Korea would bomb them for seeing the movie. News flash, North Korea does not come to your small town and bomb your politically inactive family because you saw a movie. They MAY hack your account if you have one through Sony; they may screw with internet access and a wave of new viruses may come out to mess with our software. If there is violence it will be government versus government. If you aren't a decision maker in Washington with clout, you are just one of a multitude that doesn't even register on another country's radar. We really need to get over our over-inflated sense of self importance.

Arguments rage about fracking. Companies want to frack more. Gas prices drop drastically just before the holidays, and when you mention how happy it makes you they tell you that they let it happen because of fracking. They encourage you to support it more, and to be more dismissive of the problems that arise around it. Don't think about the earthquakes in the Dallas area which correlate to an increase in fracking there; contamination of ground water is not a big deal. I read someone justify the contamination of ground water through fracking 'because' it has been contaminated before. Do I have to say how absurd that rationale is? Really? I have hiked in the Adirondacks. One of the worst environmental embarrassments in that region is the acid rain that killed off life in many of the lakes there. Years later, they were pristine and lifeless with hikers and locals hoping that one day that would change and the ecosystem might bounce back. But hey, if they were contaminated before-why not more!

IT gets better, so they advertised for fracking by dropping gas prices for the holidays then just after Christmas they announce that they have to raise them to protect the environment. They need to make it more expensive to drive so we all drive less. We are going to drive when we have to drive, why not fund building more forms of alternate transportation that have lower impact on the environment? Why not put money toward funding the development and construction of more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles? Why not offer incentives for people to car pool and ride share? Why not just be honest with us and stop using every single change to manipulate our sympathies and get us to stand behind stupid and reckless choices?

Before you argue against that I want you to consider how many times the FDA has approved pharmaceutical drugs ONLY to pull them within several years when they are discovered to have too many adverse or potentially lethal effects. Do you know the numbers or the names? There is a list on wikipedia; there are approximately 170 drugs on the list that may or may not have made it to the United States before being put on the list in Europe due to issues there.

Not front page news, but real and impacting real lives in the United States. Did you get a vote on how the pharmaceuticals are tested and regulated or categorized? No? But one of the big ticket hot items is cannabis legalization, which the pharmaceutical companies do NOT want as it jeopardizes their profits. Their stance has nothing to do with research, nothing to do with cannabis itself. Their stance has to do with controlling profits and making money.

On the other hand they are fighting a struggling economy, the demonstration that Colorado has not gone "insane" from legalization but instead has generated millions in tax revenue that it can use to address state needs without increasing taxes on individuals. Colorado created more jobs as well as decreasing prison populations with legalization. Other states are looking and changing their stances. Energy drinks are legal and have warnings on their labels, they have repeatedly caused harm yet they aren't all over the news and the source of controversy. Why can Red Bull give you wings and get in trouble for traces of cocaine in their product about ten years ago when you can't smoke a joint to take the edge off your anxiety or anger? On the other hand you could go get a prescription for zoloft and risk "homicidal ideation" as one of the adverse effects. Is zoloft going to go do the jail time for you when that doesn't fly as an excuse for an acquittal in the courtroom? I used to carry around a Baycol mug that I drank my coffee out of. Baycol was a heart medication that was pulled because people died using it.

When companies make electronic goods they send them for testing at independent laboratories before selling them, you know that "UL" tag on your lamps? It means an independent company tested the product and found it safe. WHY is there no independent lab testing on pharmaceuticals? The research companies do support their products, as grant writers have to demonstrate that their proposal will be successful and have a predicted impact-the research presented to the medical field often has holes in it. You aren't supposed to ask about those during the presentations when they are feeding you 'finger foods' because laws changed and prevented them from buying you meals as it was too much like bribery. So now the finger foods are the meal. I went to a few presentations at the VAMC. I was the one asking the awkward questions about research validity. I excelled at statistics and methods in both my undergraduate and graduate programs. The outcome of research is only as strong as the validity of techniques used to gather information and to monitor results; strong and valid research uses methods to decrease and prevent bias in outcomes and observations. It is hard to do that when you are the one that will profit off the results of your research. We COULD pressure the government to require independent testing of pharmaceuticals before they are approved. It seems absurd that we do not. It seems absurd that we have no problem with every pharmaceutical being approved without debate when we have to debate cannabis. We did not debate when the country spontaneously decided to legalize ABSINTHE several years ago- and absinthe is one of the most illegal drugs in the world with a terrible reputation for misuse. We legalized absinthe and everyone hasn't rushed out and cut off their ears or turned into derelicts begging on street corners. It is all about advertising and where the money goes. Decisions are arbitrary and often absurd, and we let the media shape our perceptions. Why?

Today, I ask you one thing. Please, the next commercial or news broadcast you see I ask you to watch it with one thought in mind. Who makes money because of what they are saying? What actual evidence other than the statements of someone being PAID to say what they are saying is offered to you? Note it. Start doing it as an exercise. See how often you find yourself resisting absurdity and digging for the truth. Empower yourself.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Absurdity of Gender Typing

The Absurdity of Gender Typing

Society sets certain expectations on children based on their gender. Culture, peer pressure, and fashion work in tandem offering very specific paths that boys or girls may choose to follow. Perception of them as an individual is based on which path they choose rather than by WHO they are. Their appearance becomes the clue as to how they will interact with the world. It is absurd.

Let's start with females. Girls, women, ladies, bitches, sluts, whores, queens, divas. Have I missed a few of the terms used to identify the female gender? How many times have you said or heard any of these:

Girls like pink. Girls don't hit. Girls don't like math. Girls don't like science. Girls love to cook. Girls love fashion. Girls love to get dressed up. Girls love makeup. Women love to bitch. Whiny Bitch. What a whore. It's women's work. It needs a woman's touch. Girls want to be princesses. I'm waiting for Prince Charming. She was asking for it. She's a slut. She dresses like a whore. Girls hate cleaning.

Now that we have those great theories out there, I am betting that you already thought of more. We cue each other socially on how to interact. We reward behaviors: I have seen many parents reward their daughters for whining or pouting, using negative manipulative behaviors instead of neutralizing them.

I see pictures of current fashion and style. Girls wear shorts that barely come past their crotch. I can make out their nipples through the shirts that barely make it around their body without popping as they are skin tight. I hear several friends in my head saying "it is their body, it is expression." So why does fashion not accentuate natural beauty, why does it emulate a ten dollar crack whore? The body is beautiful, why not display it like a valuable jewel? A friend had a lovely body painting done, hold on tight, she WASN'T wearing a shirt. Her skin was a beautiful blue and white pattern. Beautiful! No one who saw her thought about taking her around back and gang raping her. I am not saying that anyone deserves to be raped, but the media creates an image of what someone wants based on how someone is dressed and how they apply their makeup and style their hair. The ones girls are wearing, like those of the crack whore on the corner indicate: stripper, hooker, easy, looking to score if you follow examples from our culture.

Before you object: have you every seen a stripper wearing body paint in a beautiful design that did not point at their sex? Have you seen one wearing long dresses; clothing that isn't form fitting? Ever seen one wearing granny panties rather than a thong? Nope! How am I not surprised. If I was going to go change careers today and become a stripper I would have to go buy the right clothes. I would have to apply my makeup right. I would also have to learn how to dance, or maybe come up with a routine involving comedy. I would need a g-string, thong, lacy bras, tight little skirts and tops. Somehow the fashion that teenage girls emulate is the very same as strippers wear to work. Strippers do not run around when they aren't at work in thongs and stiletto heels; with camel toes hanging out of their shorts. They just don't.

Women in committed relationships find themselves dressing up less and less, not worried about catching someone's eye. Dressing for comfort instead of looks.

I grew up in a small town. As teenage girls we were socially encouraged to learn to cook and take care of the home. We were encouraged to date boys and to dress up to catch the eye. We were on display. We were trophies to be impressed and won. We sought to win the right guy. We cooked, we joked, we excelled at sports and some girls fucked. It was always assumed we would marry, have children and tend our homes and families. What about who we were? What about what we wanted? Did we ever even know or were we too busy doing the things that got us rewards?

When I dress up and go out I wonder if I am looked at as a prize or trophy to be won and had. Are women really just a hole with two legs and tits for guys? Are guys really just dicks with wallets? I refuse to believe it! I have spent a lifetime refusing to believe it! My best friend in school was a boy named Sean and we played with dolls together-until he got teased so much his parents put him in a private school. I wasn't hired to work for my grandparents' construction company because it wouldn't
'look right' to have a woman on the crew. I hear "I don't think of you as sexy, I think of you as competent or sweet." Why is slut style sexy? Why isn't being responsible, kind, intelligent, outgoing sexy? Why isn't well dressed sexy? Come on people- it is up to us!

Did you know that there were gender correlation experiments done back in the eighties and nineties that looked at audience approval of films based on gender of the main characters? Did you know that BOTH genders like movies better if the main characters are male? Next most liked was unattached female characters. Think about that. They didn't include porn in the study or the results might have been a bit different. We act like porn doesn't exist, it is some sort of embarrassment-when it sells more than any other genre and was the motivator for the very internet we use now to exist. We are such an absurd society-to denounce sex and reward oversexed fantasies all in the same breath. No wonder kids are confused.

It goes beyond how we dress. We treat people based on their appearance. When someone shows up wearing less than a bath towel around their waist, we do not assume they are exceptionally intelligent or capable. What would your first thought be if I showed up at your door in a bikini? It wouldn't be philosophy or gardening, it wouldn't be that I was there to change the oil in your car. If I showed up in a suit you might wonder at first if a God found me and decided I needed to go pester you at your house about what you should believe; then you would wonder what I was selling. We reinforce the roles by rewarding the appearances that we like. We buy from salesmen who fit the stereotype. We tip scantily clad strippers with bigger bills. We give teenage girls our credit cards; which is our way of saying 'use your judgement which is influenced by what your favorite pop stars are wearing on your shows.' How about a little reason? How about a little practicality?

Women have a glass ceiling, often perceived as less capable in the professional workplace and paid less than male peers. When a woman expresses her opinion or makes a strong statement she becomes a bitch or overly emotional. Just a woman.

Instead of focusing on making children into a generation of mindless consumers who are only good at doing what they are told and following the popular opinion- why not take a role in guiding them? Why not empower them? Instead of enabling them and accepting that teenagers cannot cook, have no clue about finances or budgets- why not teach them? Why not discipline them now and then? Reward honesty and make manipulative behaviors cost? Stop playing servant to a generation who hasn't earned it!

Boys have it just as bad if not worse gender typing than girls. Boys, men, brolos, jerks, assholes, pricks, son of a bitches, fuckers, players. I probably missed a few here too.

Boy's don't cry. Boys don't hit girls. You can't do that to her, she is just a girl. You're a boy, your responsible. Men are strong. Guys don't ask for directions. Men get it done. Guys got to play the field, can't be tied down. Boys like red and blue. Boys don't wear dresses. Make up is for girls. Boys don't like dancing. Boys don't like dolls. Boys don't show their feelings.

Teenagers and young adults discover sex. They have sex. It is part of life. It happens. Sometimes girls get pregnant. Some girls make a career out of having children and living off child support while telling their children how irresponsible and uncaring their fathers are; a lot of guys get buried by child support. Sometimes the amount that is garnished is so high they can barely afford groceries and if they fall behind they are 'dead beats' or worse. They are criminalized. The courts often favor the women as 'women are nurturing' and are the mothers. Custody should not be determined by genders or outdated gender roles. This is a world where both parents have to work to support a child and pay the bills; just because a couple has a child does NOT mean that a guy should have to finance a woman's life until his child turns 18. There are many people who have various views and opinions on the topic; this is my opinion. I have seen women with three to five children from different fathers who DO not work; who live off the child support they get from the fathers who DO work. I ran into these women often when I worked in mental health. They had a lot of issues with substances and mental health problems and here they were raising and being the role model for three to five children. Absurd! Some guys get the short stick here. The legal system only works as well as you can afford it to, and it is influenced by opinion. Between couples it gets ugly. It can become a battle of words and worse. I wish more people would use condoms!

Parents enable their children, doing everything for them from packing their lunches and cleaning their rooms. Parents vie with one another to see who can outdo and be the best parent of all. One parent was described as even going into the classroom, taking her son's books and homework out for him. Wake up! How is your child ever going to succeed if you coddle, make excuses and enable? Are you planning to have an adult child? Part of becoming mature is being held accountable, being given responsibilities and learning how to live without your parents doing everything for you!

The people I see with the most balance in dealing with the typing are those who rebel against it. The people who say 'this is me.' I am who I am, deal with it and accept it or not. I have a beautiful friend who is a stripper. She always dresses up, she looks like a movie star from the days of black and white films. She has created her own style. We can all do that! She is so sexy, that she would be sexy in an oversized gym suit with a thick parka on from head to foot. I have another friend who plays with toys and she was the one in the body paint. She is an advocate for appreciating the beauty of the body. She is right. There has to be a way to desensitize how we react to nudity as a society. It starts with identifying and breaking our ridiculous perception of gender types and on stereotyping based on someone's clothes.

If I was a kid right now, I would be pissed off. A generation without direction, told they are always good because they might feel pressured or bad if they are told something else. Do you know that in many countries children see their parents shot, tortured, bombed and burnt in front of them? They are shot at! If a child from Bosnia were to suddenly be transported here they would wonder what madness had befallen the world. They would do chores, complete homework and strive to never have to go back to the war zone. They would work to save the money to bring their families here. Why do so many people and children illegally migrate to the United States? Because WE don't live in the real world. We live in an artificial bubble of consumerism designed to remain stable and keep the lower classes mollified enough that the wealthy can thrive. The lower classes do not have to worry about outright war, only taxes, poor health care, unhealthy food additives, and the occasional violent criminal. Way better than Sierra Leona where bodies lie around, and ebola claims lives left and right.

Children, I challenge you: shake off your smothering parents; start following the news. Start learning how to take care of yourselves and maybe someday you can teach your parents! Kids figure out who you are and what makes you happy; do not look to television, movies or commercials for a clue. Those things are only there to USE you. If I teach you nothing else, please remember that- and please, please, please when you eventually have sex USE protection: birth control is responsible. It isn't sexy to fuck without considering the consequences you could pay for the rest of your life.

Interesting fact about humans: when we have to focus our priorities on survival we stop worrying about what we wear or what Miley Cyrus did last night. When we have to focus on survival, when we have to DEPEND on each other, we stop coddling and start teaching. We set expectations. Our hearts break when we get hurt or fail, but we really live rather than perpetuate a cycle of consumerism, gender typing and bias, and petty conflict. We stop worrying about test scores. We start LIVING.

We all need to stop making excuses. We need to stop blaming the people we CHOOSE to elect. We can change how politics work, instead we just BITCH about them. We can CHOOSE how to perceive each other. We make choices every day, we choose to be passengers in our own lives-when are we going to take the wheel?

For now, I am going to continue to watch our society struggle with gender typing. I am going to dress up when I want to. I am going to make fun of people who see me as a prize to be won or had; I am going to encourage my friends to do the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Emotional Trauma and The Absurdity of How We Respond

Emotional Trauma and the Absurdity of How We Respond

There is nothing absurd about trauma. Do not treat someone who has gone through trauma as if their reactions are too much or absurd! Do not belittle them or rush them in how they deal with it. Impatience only adds to the difficulty they experience. Be a REAL support! 

Emotional trauma happens, we do not want it to but it happens in life. Everyone is a separate individual. Everyone has different thoughts, feelings, drives, desires and aversions. Everyone experiences life events from a different perspective.

One of the first critical lessons we learned in my graduate courses regarding trauma was mind bending. One of the biggest, most traumatic source of conflict comes from the aftermath of trauma. People living in the same house experience different relationships with one another. Two siblings can have opposite experiences. Neighbors and friends of the family may see only the 'public' face and not bear witness to the words that aren't posted on the Facebook feed. Different people have completely different experiences of the SAME event! Your parent may have complimented you and bought you wonderful gifts, but turned around and guilt tripped your sibling, embarrassing them and buying them cheap unwanted baubles.

People assume that their friends and relatives feel and act the same whether they are in public or not. They assume that they would make decisions the same way that they do. They put words in their mouths. They hear the words and judge the feelings to be there. They do this with no idea of what really went on, no idea of how what they are saying could be harmful as they were not there. They were not a fly on the wall watching abuse or neglect. They only have the glib words and public face, the persona adopted by someone to be successful outside of their house.

We always want to help. Especially when the holidays come around. Family is part of the holiday theme, so is togetherness. There is a black and white movie appeal at bringing estranged family together again. Stop! Do you know that the holidays are a time of stress for those who have trauma in their past? Many have found balance or peace, they turn their faces forward and appreciate the good in life while you reach out and shake their shoulders and spin them around saying "They LOVE you, I know!" The worst injustice, the cruelest act of kindness that you could ever do. Never assume. Assuming in someone else's relations is absurd. You are not them, if you respect their ability to make decisions then accept that they have good reasons for making the choices they have.

You are wonderful for wanting to help them heal! You are caring, you mean well! Let me give you a better suggestion.

Listen to them. Ask them open ended questions. Never use words that indicate that you know someone else's feelings or thoughts. Validate their emotions and experiences. Offer them support. Do not try to reconnect people. Do not take word of one to the other. To someone who had trauma in their past, words put in the mouths of the people who scarred their hearts are like sharp knives. They can easily slice open old wounds.

Look at the people who cry out about how wonderful they are and how tragic it is that someone in their family or an ex will not respond to their attempts to connect. I don't mean look on the surface. I mean how honest are they? Do they work hard to always have the right appearance? Do they manipulate others into viewing them the way they choose? Are they manipulative? Do they have mood swings? What do they say and how do they sound when they lose their temper? Do they misuse substances? Do they have trauma in their past, that they may or may not have dealt with?

Keep your thoughts to yourself but you may see the edges of their carefully created fabrication if you really look. They REALLY do want you to approve of them. They REALLY do want you to believe that they care. In a warped way, they probably do. Abusers and people who are neglectful dislike it when others realize they are flawed. They do not like being called out. They will claim that what is said is lies, while rewriting the past in their minds. They change their history, they believe the new words. "I fell down the stairs, the dog ran off, he loves me." See eventually, the abused learns to believe them too.

It becomes a cycle. It passes from one generation to the next. The cycle can be broken. You can support someone who is struggling. Encourage them to be honest to themselves. Validate their experiences. Hug them. Laugh with them. Keep their eyes focused forward. When they get frustrated or stressed, encourage them to use their skills to face the challenges. Never put someone else's words in your mouth. Even if you are a parent, a lover, a sister, a brother- even if you are loving, not everyone else is the same as you. Many pay lip service to saying they are but often behind closed doors are not.

Some people get mired in trauma. They dwell in it every day. Help them get passed it by encouraging them to seek professional help. If they are already doing that but still playing the drama card, it is self esteem they lack.

Self esteem takes work to build, especially when it was destroyed when a child was growing up. Self esteem has no relation to how smart you are, how nice you are, how talented you are. Self esteem is about how you feel about yourself in relation to the world. Do you value yourself? Do you value what you have to offer the world? 

It is absurd how many people in this country struggle with self esteem issues, and yet we do not teach how to enhance it in school! We haphazardly cobble together treatments for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, social disorders… These can be caused by other issues BUT often self esteem plays the largest role. We do nothing to stop the perpetual cycle of self esteem destruction in the next generation. We do nothing to empower them. We enable them. We teach them to take tests. We give them technology that they can use to learn languages and other cultures-instead they use it for video games and gossip. Who taught them that? 

When I worked substance abuse treatment I taught anger management. I have taught thousands of veterans anger management. Vets came from other states to the treatment program I worked at, just to take my classes. We did not use the cookie cutter book. We talked about real, valid emotions. We waded through the ugly emotions and addressed the thoughts as well. We went over the body's response to stimuli that we perceive as causing anger. We discussed ways to manage anger not just count to ten and skip away. Funny it is in every book, but when someone has REAL anger-they admit they use the ten count to aim!

The vets I worked with stayed after the group one day. A room full of guys sat waiting. I asked what everyone was hanging back for. They looked at each other. The bravest one spoke. He said they had talked. They all knew that what they really needed was self esteem. They had no idea how to learn it. They had talked about who could teach them. They knew that their anger, their substance abuse, their interpersonal conflicts arose from their self esteem issues. They chose me to teach them. I sat down. Self esteem is a tough topic. It comes from perception based on emotions. When it is negative or defunct, you are going to face all that in helping someone heal it. I have gone through it myself.

People can recognize when someone has. The vets knew. They asked me to create the groups. I went to my boss and obtained permission. I gave it a lot of thought. I did research on what was out there. There was a curious lack of resources. Just Pollyanna Sunshine butterflies and rainbow pictures saying "believe in yourself." If it were that simple, no one would struggle at all. No one chooses to have low self esteem. I went to a coworker I respected. Chaplain Jerry, he taught another group with me and in had told me how he dealt with low self esteem in his own life in the past. I asked Jerry to help me create the groups. I showed him what I had, he and I created a series of groups that would span eight weeks with two-one hour sessions a week. After that, individuals could stay in an advanced group meeting weekly to work on projects.

We watched the movie "Pay It Forward." The vets in the group identified events in their past as well as how they handled them that affected their self esteem. The events that had a negative impact more often than not related to someone else's statements or judgement of them! The things that were destroying them were the words of someone else!

How do you build self esteem? Accomplish what is in your heart, be active in doing the things you love. Building confidence. Building successes, setting goals and working toward them. Achievements. Exercise and good diet. Mostly, learning to listen to the little voice in your heart. Learning that what it says is valid. Choosing to do what is in your heart; whether it is to stand up and say "no more" or to go to a soup kitchen and volunteer--these things can build a self esteem that has been beat into the ground.

For the holidays, instead of dishing out words from someone else's mouth, give support. Help build up the people you love. Keep other people's words out of your mouth!

I am working on a book on Healing Trauma and Guided Meditations. I will address this more in the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Police Priorities Are Absurd… And Why!

Before you get upset, I support the men and women in Blue. They have a difficult job, sometimes there is no good possible outcome to a bad situation. The Police help keep communities safe. They diffuse dangerous situations. They die in the line of duty. They save lives. Bad ones give the good ones a terrible name by taking bribes, instigating conflict, brutality, unlawful seizure and theft of goods/money, and harming the people they are sworn to protect. I hate the bad ones. I love the good ones.

As long as there have been Police, there have been issues with corruption and misuse of power. Did you know that the position of Coroner was originally created by an English King to investigate deaths on his roads? He instituted the position to have the Office of the Coroner investigate deaths to make certain that the Sheriffs were not the ones killing and robbing his citizens as they traveled. The Coroner was not working for or with the Police. Think about that. This was hundreds of years ago.

Conflicts and protests bloom across the country due to Police Officers using lethal force against unarmed citizens. Illegal use of chokeholds, shooting children with toy guns, shooting. Money is being thrown at buying body cameras and cameras to mount in Police cars. I support this idea. It protects the Officer as well as the citizen. It could help to reduce misunderstandings in the aftermath of misjudged situations instigated by both sides. I read the local paper and it tells me how Modesto California is about to spend over $100 thousand dollars to mount a camera on a plane to look for drug deals. Locals here complain in the Opinion section of the paper that 'people should just trust the Cops and be nice, do whatever they ask'. They apparently have not read any national papers this year.

Earlier this year there was a HUGE article about Police corruption. Police officers stealing MILLIONS of dollars from citizens who were not charged or convicted of wrongdoing. They were caught misusing a search and seizure law, claiming they thought the money was being carried to purchase illegal substances. The people did not have drugs or drug paraphernalia-there was no cause to search and no reason to seize-EXCEPT THAT the people were carrying cash. Next time you get cash to travel with, to go Christmas shopping with or to do your purchases at an outdoor festival; consider that you could be pulled over and have your money seized! Consider that over THREE million dollars was taken from law abiding citizens this way. Many pursued legal action and learned that the officers NEVER filed the report. Straight up theft of monies seized. How many people did not pursue legal action? Departments are rewarded bonuses in their budgets if they seize money. The more they seize, the more the departments are rewarded-with no relation to drugs at all; just grabbing money using a drug law as an excuse. Remember why a monarch created Coroner? In our modern day, the Coroner and the CSI folks do great work; they are independent from the Police but they socialize and are friends. Can you really, truly say you are going to be non-biased when you are fraternize and you work together on cases? I hope the Opinionated local gets a taste of corruption when he's headed on a cruise with his family. Won't it be ironic when he is stopped for talking on his cellphone while driving, has several thousand dollars seized 'for drugs' that he wasn't going to buy? It sounds absurd, but it is happening. It is not the dealers getting stopped or having money seized, it is your neighbors-people who may never have done anything wilder than have a glass of wine in a restaurant.

It gets better. If you doubt me on this one I will refer you to the USA Today FRONT page article from the weekend edition, December 19-21, 2014. Violent criminals are not being extradited. Police departments have declined to pay for the extradition of over 79,000 violent criminals if they have passed state lines. They are NOT telling victims or their communities. It has been found out as the departments have to file about wanted criminals in an FBI database. They are asked about extradition and in 2014, many departments changed status on what added up to 79,000 plus cases across the country. The FBI cannot change that status. The FBI can't force them to extradite even if the crime committed was heinous. Rape, armed robbery, assault, and murder. Not jaywalking or check bouncing, not smoking a joint. Hard core criminals hopping a bus across the state line. If you have not grasped the absurdity of this yet let me make it clear:

John Doe puts a gun to person X head in California. John Doe drives to Washington. He gets caught by Police there, they find "No extradition" on his warrant. THEY RELEASE HIM. No jail, no court, nothing. John Doe shoots person Y in the head in Washington. Washington arrests him on this charge or John Doe dances into his front seat, puts on his seatbelt and boogies into Wyoming. No extradition, just a frustrated department at the receiving end that REALLY wants to put the asshole away but instead there are the words "NO EXTRADITION." You could change gun to the head to rape or assault. Same deal. Victims not being told. Communities not told, just a quiet change of status in an FBI computer. The FBI is not thrilled, but they have no jurisdiction. One department in Massachusetts changed status on about a dozen people wanted for committing sexual assaults. They claimed a missing victim, but USA Today found the victim still lived at the address on the report; so much for that weak excuse.

Why are they doing this? Apparently, Extradition is expensive and the departments do not have the money to pay for them. Yet they have the money to spend at least $100,000 on a camera for a plane to look for drugs; not extradite violent known criminals but 'maybe' find some potential criminals-question are you actually going to charge them or are they going to get a 'no extradition' tag too once you might find them? Departments are spending a LOT of money buying surplus tanks, expensive riot gear and military guns and ammunition. I would think the first priority in Police Department budgets would and should be: capturing violent criminals, keeping them locked up once caught, investigating crimes. I would not think the priority would be to gear up like pseudo-military units with a hyper focus and skewed priority of the 'War against Drugs.'

Which if you haven't realized the absurdity of that let me simplify one more time.
There are cartels in South America and Mexico. The Cartels transport illegal drugs, they grow them, they terrorize people living in the South America and Mexico. They murder people and commit other horrible violent crimes against humanity in general. We as a public support and endorse the Cartels. You say "No we don't!" YES, we do. When we label any drug "ILLEGAL." We cease to monitor it, we do not test it, we do not tax it. WE create a market for it where the substance is sold at exorbitant prices without any quality control, without anyone supervising or monitoring its use for safety and prevention of abuse. The black market sells these drugs at higher than average price. People become criminals to produce the product because it pays higher than other crops or legal jobs. People become criminals transporting it across borders-because the risk pays highly. The more Police out to catch it, the more risk there is-the higher the price at market. More laws and lower tolerance raise the cost to bring it to sell thus everyone involved gets richer. The Cartels have more bullets to kill farmers with, more money to bribe corrupt government and police officials with. The Cartels control the majority of illegal drug sales and trafficking in the United States. Anyone buying a drug illegally, anyone paying taxes to increase Police actions in the drug war: they are both paying to endorse the Cartels and to help them make more money. STOP! We can destroy their power.

We can do it in a way that boosts our economy. We can do it in a way that refocuses Police budgets on enforcing the laws and catching the violent criminals. Remember the violent criminals as they laugh driving from state to state chaotically leaving a path of broken people behind them? Nothing to do with drugs. Rapists. Murderers. Are you so afraid some guy down the street might smoke a joint to fall asleep without nightmares from when he was in Vietnam? Wise up! Does that guy really have to be forced to take a pharmaceutical drug with toxic side effects on his body because you bought into the hype against cannabis?

That is another crock. Did you know that the DuPont family makes paper, back in the Great Depression they struggled to make money. Hemp was taking off, it was cheaper to use and made better quality paper. The DuPonts spent a fortune to manipulate law makers. They used their connections and money to fuel the "Reefer Madness" campaign. Hemp and cannabis were made illegal. Books were made out of paper. The DuPonts more than made their money back. All you got was crappy books and a country full of criminals, a Cartel you are paying to support. Well done. Way to research your choices people-people were so focused on the depression and bought into the media hype that they did not bother looking past the cannabis fear to see who was manipulating them, who was going to make the money off their choice. Don't believe me, consult Wikipedia- do a Google search. It is all at the tips of your fingers.

Legalizing drugs allows the government to regulate them, prescription process monitors their use and a legally available drug does not have much value on the black market. No one gets killed over a drug that can be legally obtained. Quality and dosage can be monitored in legal drugs. Dealing with a DWI is far less dangerous than dealing with someone with an illegal pound of any drug in their car. If the drug was not illegal, conflict would stop being a possibility. Lives saved, risk reduced and the less the risk the less money in production and transport. If it is not illegal the costs drop. The money dries up. The Cartels can't function without an income. They would turn on themselves. If there is no money to be made in them, people stop joining them out of desperation to make money or feel safe because they are a part of one. Legalizing doesn't mean everyone is going to run right out and turn into addicts. Legalizing means that drugs would be available with prescriptions and monitored by a physician; the potential for self harm or misuse is reduced.

We determine the priorities of our Police Departments. We approve whether they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on spy cameras. We vote for the laws they enforce. We encourage them or denounce them-but we are the ones who determine how they do their jobs. If we do not like who works for the different departments then it is up to us to pressure them to change how they hire and how they train officers. We are responsible for changing the laws to stop illegal seizure. We are the ones who make it absurd. They have the difficult job of enforcing our hypocritical choices. Fight the war on drugs and keep endorsing it while you support enforcement of law regardless of ethnicity or your sitting there thinking racist thoughts (It was one or the other). Could we get priorities straight and EXTRADITE violent criminals?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Danny Lord plays with Mirrors in 2000 and How Socialization has Changed

Magic and Mirrors, Music and Friends

Fourteen years ago on a beautiful night four friends performed live together. Jerry Barry produced the film of the performance. Sure, you can see impossible videos using editing magic and mirrors left and right on youtube now. Everyone produces their own films and even my phone creates slow motion videos. Watching this video, hearing the lighthearted music of Jerry Barry, Craig Broers and Ty Billings about High School blues I think of how much time has changed. It has only been fourteen years yet now our lives focus around our phones. We constantly tweet, like and share videos and memes. Watching Danny Lord do magic in front of a live audience who WATCHED the stage! No one was looking down into their lap or into their hands. They were too busy laughing and enjoying the magic and amusing antics in the performance. Remember when we all used to do that? Live entertainment instead of YouTube!

I walked through a mall several nights ago amid typical holiday bustle. It was refreshing to see people acting like they used to. Then I noticed them. The silent staring statues with their little boxes raised in worship. Once I saw one I saw many, they were new obstacles that the throngs of shoppers maneuvered around. None of them smiled or noticed the people around them, not even their friends and loved ones who, out of boredom or loneliness also began picking up their personal universes to disconnect with as well. I used to look forward to meeting and befriending random strangers on a jaunt but now people dive into their social media pacifiers instead of looking out into the world around them to make connections.

Last month I was at a Farmer's Market in Oakland. A live musician played the kettle drum livening the mood yet no one gave him tips, many had headphones in. Some people were having very private conversations loudly in public, which seems weirdly ironic. I always want to go near these people and yell "He/She is having this conversation on the street where there are currently over 50 people who have to listen whether we want to or not- thought you should know." Somehow a car disregarded the many signs not to drive down the middle of the market. People looked annoyed and avoided the car. One woman looked up and our eyes met. She said "A Car?!" Then she looked astounded that she spoke to a stranger. I looked equally astounded I think, but it was about the car which resembled a cork floating in a swimming pool. People surrounded it. I would not have wanted to be that driver. I smiled at her and agreed that it was a pretty ridiculous thing to see. It bothered me that we both seemed anxious about talking with each other. When did talking to friendly strangers become a bad thing? All of my friends were friendly strangers once!

At times I am relieved to have all of my friends at my fingertips, yet at other times I have put the phone down and said "I need to get work done or when are you going to put your phone down?" Eventually they will find a way for us to do all of our work via our phones. Imagine, they could simplify the issues with voting if they made an app that allowed users to log in and vote in elections. Elections would be more accurate and more voters would vote.  Why not?

Today I enjoyed watching Danny perform, listening to an audience and watching the audience without seeing them constantly distract themselves tweeting and sharing and liking. I enjoyed hearing Jerry, Craig and Ty play. I am glad that Jerry caught that night so that fourteen years later we can appreciate a social evening, the kind we used to have all the time-the kind we took for granted and seem to have lost.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Absurdity of the Perception of the Homeless in the United States

 Take a moment to think about the homeless population in our country. Where do you live and do you ever encounter anyone that is homeless? What descriptions come to mind when you think about the word "homeless"? A friend of mine once asked the question "What is warmer to sleep on concrete or marble?" Anyone who has had to sleep on the ground knows the answer. They're both cold and uncomfortable, it doesn't matter. Lately cities have taken the tact of trying to push homeless populations out. San Jose destroyed a tent city called the "Jungle" where several hundred homeless people had been living. They stated it was because the creek going through that area was getting contaminated. A man in Fort Lauderdale was arrested and repeatedly harassed for feeding the homeless- as if doing so encouraged more people to "become homeless" for a meal?

Are you picturing an unwashed man with a cardboard sign? Are you picturing someone sitting in stained clothing talking to themselves? Are you thinking "they must be crazy or on drugs"? Are you thinking they're all combat veterans? Bottom line is, are you already deciding in your mind that there is something seriously wrong with them and they somehow deserve to be where they are at?

There is a lot of stereotyping in how we perceive homelessness. Crazy, defective, screwed up, drug using, unhygienic, layered in unmatched clothing living out of a shopping cart. These words top the list. Should they? Why do they? What shapes how we perceive homelessness? You have to do a search on information on homelessness to get a lot of dry statistics on the topic that actually contradict these descriptions; otherwise you can search and find images that only reinforce the stereotypes.

I want to stop for a moment and take a serious look at that cardboard sign. Some sign bearers are legit while others have learned that they can make a living by having the right look and sitting in the right place with a sign. Last year I saw shifts of young couples working the intersections in Muskogee Oklahoma. As they prepared for their shift, leaving their home with a baby stroller that held new Starbucks mugs and a very nice iPad among other shiny accessories I watched them cover these items with a ragged blanket so people driving by wouldn't see them; but the couple could take turns sitting in a coffee shop while the other looked woeful working the street. The appearance of homelessness without the actuality of it. I knew a guy who used to work renaissance festivals, he kept getting in trouble for panhandling in Atlanta; he had a home and a job but wanted more money. He talked about making a couple hundred in an hour sometimes. When I worked at the VAMC in Bath there was a man who liked to sit off the highway exit with a sign saying he was a veteran. He was not. Many veterans and even the VAMC administration went and offered assistance only to learn that he lied because people gave more to veterans. I have also been told that in big enough cities there are people who design and sell the cardboard signs. Imagine putting that on your resume?

Now on the other hand, I have a friend who works a professional job. His wife divorced him after cheating on him. It was ugly. They have joint custody, but he couldn't afford as good a lawyer as she went out for. Although they have joint custody, he has to pay child support. The amount he pays limits what he has to live on. He has to survive on peanut butter sandwiches to go paycheck to paycheck. He can't afford to buy his children Christmas presents, which only reinforces the negative statements his ex wife makes to the children about him! If anything happens to his health or if he gets laid off at work, he could be on the street. No mental illness, no substance abuse, just life.

How many people are homeless in the United States? What supports are actually out there to help them obtain gainful employment or income? What supports are out there to help them gain safe permanent housing? How does someone become homeless?

There are many reasons from medical conditions, loss of employment, rising cost of housing, loss of investments, family conflicts, legal issues and mental health issues being among the top real reasons for homelessness. Each year reported percentages vary on reported causes. There is a major issue with obtaining accurate counts of homeless populations. Try accurately counting snowflakes. See the problem? They are homeless and all counts are estimates. At the end of 2013 it was estimated over 600,000 people in the US were homeless (according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness statistics). They stated that the national rate was 19 people out of every 10,000; with variations from 106 in Washington DC to 8 in Mississippi per 10,000. Lack of affordable permanent housing was a repeated theme, with less than a quarter of that number being the chronically homeless that could fit the image you were thinking of earlier. There are many families who are homeless; with an increase in people living out of vehicles, tent communities and shelters. Since 2009 there has been an act called HEARTH that has been helping to get people into housing programs and off the streets. As they place people and help find housing, more people are becoming homeless and needing assistance; there is a need for affordable housing in the United States. Unemployment as well as underemployment is also a major issue. If you aren't sure what underemployment is, it is when you find out the person bagging your groceries has a Masters degree or the person pumping your gas has a Bachelors degree.

Another great question: without an address how do you sign up for health care? How do you obtain employment? The first questions on any job application are about your address. Potential employers do not look highly on "a tent folded up in a ditch under a pile of branches behind the grocery store." If you are wondering about this oddly specific example address: while working in Hillsboro Oregon this summer I found a man hiding in this residence behind the grocery store just off the fair grounds. He looked relieved when I didn't harass him. I travel and work around the country, every time I get settled I start to apply or even look into applying for health care it is too late again. The process for someone low income takes so long, that about the time they would set appointments I am heading to my next paying job in another state and my next address. I have to go where I have work. Bottom line, regardless of what the bureaucrats in Washington want is that I take care of me first and worry about hoop jumping second.

Free food isn't always healthy food, sometimes the food handed out by food pantries is expired and rotting or it's not healthy- full of artificial ingredients and negligible nutritional value. Food pantries offer needed relief to individuals and families; their volunteers work hard to help those in need but they have to work with what is donated and fresh produce is often old, and almost inedible.

Unhygienic: where do you find a safe place to shower or bath when you have no real home? Is laundry your highest priority when you have nothing or is food? Complaining about where the homeless relieve themselves? Are there public toilets? Are there enough 24 hour access public toilets? I guess you go where you can, where you have a little privacy when you have limited to zero options. Next time you are out in public and have to go to the bathroom, take a moment to pretend you can't access the bathrooms anywhere. Where would you go? Where would you bathe? Would you buy food or do your laundry first?

Many programs require people to meet certain standards and to give up freedoms, privacy, and choices regarding how to spend their income to participate in them. When I worked in mental health, residents in our facility did not have control of when they could access money. They had to go to the office and plead for it. They were denied if the Manager did not feel they should get access to their money (say they chose not to complete a chore they were assigned or they had a negative interaction with staff regardless to whether they or the staff person instigated the issue, imagine someone saying you couldn't get ten dollars from the ATM because you had a bad day and snapped at someone you didn't like earlier). Many would rather be homeless than give up their rights and freedoms, even if it means they have to live in unhealthy environments and have people look down on them. It is humiliating to be an adult and to have someone else tell you how to make your decisions especially when no one is perfect and the people making the decisions can be just as messed up! Unless someone is deemed incompetent by the Court System they have rights, and should be treated with respect rather than condescension, labeling, and judgments. Staff opinions influence how much staff work with and offer assistance to individuals in programs. The more likable you are, the more help you may be offered. I watched sincere veterans who weren't always amiable receive less staff support than ones that were always superficially friendly. I gained the respect of the sincere, but possibly sometimes negative veterans and worked with them basing my level of assistance on how hard they worked to improve themselves rather than on how friendly they were. The veterans I worked with did not have high recidivism rates. I selected who I worked with based on their actions rather than their words. This isn't a common method in working with people, although many claim to do it. It isn't always easy to work with someone who responds with profanity when you ask about their day; but if you're responding with feelings you already missed the boat. They made an honest statement on their experience. If it is a shitty day, it is a shitty day for them; it has nothing to do with you. Often as I drove into work I would think "if I had to live in this program, what would I act like, how would it feel, and what would I say?"

Yesterday I walked the streets of a great city; murals covered the walls at street level in a cacophony of professional art. Sitting in front of them and around the landscaped fountains and statues there were individuals and small groups of homeless people. I walked past a couple leaning against the cold marble  side of a building as a police officer quietly encouraged them to go "somewhere else." It was a man and woman, the woman had just thrown up on the sidewalk. She was crying. Asking for a place to go, but the answer was just "not here." After the Officer walked away, she cried harder. They were real tears. She looked up at all the people walking by, all looking the other way only to steal glances in their peripheral vision as they passed her. It was one of those moments I felt like a ghost, somehow no one saw me watching. She turned to the man with her and said "I hate this, I'm so tired of having to live with my life on display. I didn't do anything wrong." She took a deep breath to compose herself. My heart hurt for her. She could be any of the hundreds of friends I have that travel and do sales for a living; living hand to mouth and pay day to pay day. She wasn't screaming, she was not deranged or drugged out. She was heartbroken and world weary. Her clothing weren't ragged or stained and she had groomed herself as best she could. She didn't smell. As I was walking on, I heard her stop a group of people from walking where she had thrown up her last meal. She didn't have anything to clean the sidewalk with. She didn't ask them for money. She didn't ask to be homeless. The man she was with never replied while I could hear. I wondered what twist of circumstance landed them there. I wondered if she would be better off leaving him and getting support. It should not have to be a choice: break someone's heart, destroy their pride and sense of self and what is left?

Some people live up to the expected image for the reaction of the crowd as well as the privacy and respect that come to someone unpredictable and potentially dangerous. I watched another woman, dressed in several layers of unstained clothing as she stood performing a graphic dramatic monologue to no one, never outright threatening anyone but looking repeatedly in a specific direction as if to tell someone unseen how she felt about them. Last night I was driving to a job and I saw a man sitting at a busy intersection with his sign and his dog. They were silent and resigned, as if they were on a guard shift watching the intersection. I had fresh fruit in the backseat, but couldn't reach it. I nodded at him and smiled. He smiled back. It was what I could give before the car behind me honked impatiently. It was an acknowledgment that he was human, an equal. Give food. Give eye contact. I decided that I would keep fruit and granola bars where I can reach them in the front seat so I can easily hand them out the window.

Are we humans or automated consumers tweeting, liking and shopping as the media tells us to? Turn it off, tune it out, take a moment to reach outside your life and be a respectful friend for someone who could really use one. Who really makes the decisions in your life? Do you or do you allow the media and advertisers to direct you? The holidays are coming up, I bet you're doing the shopping you are socially pressured to do although technically shopping and gift giving have nothing to do with holidays.

Consider employment and wages, consider housing costs. Why are they the way they are? Why have we allowed politicians and the media to make it acceptable to treat American citizens as less than human? Why not work to change it? Why not start looking at revising wages, health care costs, and housing costs in a meaningful way? Why not revise the political system to prevent corporations from making decisions and consider the wellbeing of all of the citizens of this country first- before we budget more money for wars overseas? Let's focus on improving the situation in our country. Why not look at systems in place in other countries that do not have large homelessness issues or underemployment issues; why not consider modeling our national healthcare system after one that works more effectively rather than making it up as we go along based on who's connected politically and wants to make money. Corruption, even legal corruption needs to stop its absurd that we find it acceptable at all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What you REALLY should know about college and kitten pictures so you read it.

Are you a young adult, a teenager, or a parent? There are misconceptions that influence how we make major financial decisions that will have repercussions lasting a lifetime. 

"You can't get a good job unless you go to college." 
"Once you have a degree it's easy to find good paying jobs." 
"College makes you more marketable." 
"I can pay off the loans quickly. I won't have trouble paying them off." 
"Only screw ups or people who don't try can't find work after college."
"You can't get anywhere without a degree." 

Sounding familiar? Thinking these statements are correct? WRONG. 

Before deciding what to do after high school, or in life before taking the next career development step it is important to get the details. The small print that you aren't taught to look for. Sales depend on the buyer being caught up in the dazzle and the "of course, you won't have any difficulty and you'll end up better for the price paid or the loan signed." This is true of any sale whether it is a new cellphone contract, a new vehicle, purchasing a new home or choosing to buy an education. Colleges are businesses, their goal is to profit from selling you the education they offer. So they offer classes that sound hip and fun from "How to survive the Zombie Apocalypse" to "the Psychology of fear." These classes do not certify you in a skill, they do not add to your resume. I'm going to put the small print in large print for you: 

What does the program you are looking at certify you to do? 

How much more education is needed beyond the schooling you are considering, to obtain a high paying job in that field?

What are the mean and median incomes for people who have completed that program- and did they have to pay for further education or tests/ certifications beyond the costs mentioned? 

What support services does the college or program offer to help you build a resume, network with potential employers and do they offer you support even after you graduate or drop out? 

What is the ratio of graduates/ completed program students that are employed in the field they received the education/ training for versus unemployed, underemployed or employed in a different field? 

What percentage of students who completed the program are struggling with outstanding loans and difficulty finding employment? 

Why do the movies, why does society treat college like a second high school- encouraging young adults to drink heavily, focus on a social scene including sex and other recreational drugs rather than internships and externships? 

Why don't more programs have semesters where students studying in various programs go out and work in the field rather than just completing classwork and thesis? Without experience, can you really know that the field you are studying is one you want to work in? 

Why aren't students taught about student loan debt issues in this country? Why don't they have to read that the current administration has put a 25 year cap on student loan repayment and why aren't they made aware of the percentages of people in this country who have gone to college and graduate school who have defaulted loans? 

What is the price of having a loan default and how does it happen? 

Vague answers, generic handouts with nonspecific information, enthusiastic and personable enrollment specialists whose role is to connect with you and to get you to sign the bottom line. This is what you face. 

We've created a monster by incorporating college into our perception of what is a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. We have done our society a disservice by choosing to believe that only someone with a degree has skills, then we become frustrated when they don't really have practical skills but they can parrot what they were told. 

Four year schools do not like to admit that you'll leave them with the ability to get the same pay, same jobs as the person next to you who didn't sign student loan papers but sought work after high school. There are a few degrees that are exceptions to this general rule, but they are more difficult programs that most students shy away from. 
They also tell you "this field is expected to grow, with an increase in employment opportunities" while not telling you that they and other colleges are saying that to thousands of potential students. Is the field supposed to grow enough to support an influx of thousands, or are you supposed to feel influenced by the Barnum effect here- that you are special and you have an RSVP on one of those possible jobs from possible expansion? Several friends back in the 1990s got degrees in computer science, a "growing field" which became so flooded that even low paying temp positions were being fought over like the last cookie in a group of dieters. 

Other friends worked toward and got degrees in education, only to find that they were required by law to obtain their Masters degrees within so many years. They signed the loans, did the extra classes and got the degrees and larger debt. That was when they learned that there was no pay increase with the Masters, and that teaching is not as lucrative as it once was. Classroom issues and pressures to teach for test taking rather than problem solving, initiative and teamwork building, accountability in students taking part of the process pushed both friends out of the field. They sought work in other venues, finding the field they thought they wanted to work in was nothing like the actual field they found themselves working in and they still had the loans to repay. 

I received a Bachelors in Psychology with Honors (the Honors meant extra classes but doesn't mean anything on my resume- small print again); my first job was in an independent living program. My pay was about ten dollars an hour; my loans were almost twenty thousand dollars. I still had to pay rent, utilities, buy food, car, car insurance, car maintenance and the cost of surviving while paying the loans. Students do not take the cost of life into account, and that's without the impulse buys or going out and spending money on things you like. The work I did had no relation to my education and within a week I learned that my coworkers all only had high school or two year degrees (even though the position claimed to require a bachelors) and that their pay was the same as mine. Their loans were less to nonexistent than mine, who was smarter?

After dealing with a glass ceiling for years, being turned down for promotions despite a five gold star work record at all of my jobs as my employers said "you can't be considered for management positions as you do not have a Masters degree." I looked into getting a Masters through an online program. 

Who regulates and mediates conflicts with colleges? Crickets and the College Review Board. Using the CRB is harder than translating a forgotten language while breathing water without gills and about as effective. 
The loans were huge. I thought I could pay them off in x number of years based on x income I could make. I did not take into account that not all employers recognize an online degree, that the degree would get pulled out from under me through a change in staffing. 

I signed the papers. I took the classes. I worked and I studied and I completed all assignments. The loans piled up. My employers still declined promotion options citing the online education as the reason. The college never discussed the possibility of that happening. They wanted the guarantee of my money. I switched employers. Still a glass ceiling. My thesis advisor resigned from the college two weeks before my thesis would have been reviewed and completed. My second was made my primary, it was rushed and I was encouraged to just go along so I would finish on time. I made the mistake of doing so. I signed the second to be my primary. Then I couldn't get any response from her until after the semester concluded. Even though she had been paid by the college to be on my thesis team, I learned that she had never read my thesis. Six months and $6000 in loans and one of the two people who were supposed to be working with me had never even read a page I had written. Now this person, who I learned had obtained their degree from that very college in the past year or two, wanted me to "start my thesis over," rewrite the whole thing and it would be at least 3-6-9 months more of loans before I could possibly be reviewed and complete the degree. I requested a concrete timeline and list of tasks necessary to complete my Masters and was now given vague answers and requests to sign for more loans. "Give us more money and we'll tell you more!" I refused and requested conflict resolution, no where on the Walden University website could I find the forms to submit, nor could I get anything except "you consented to change your primary and your primary can make any decision they feel is necessary." I went from a completed thesis to a total do over because my advisor resigned. 

How terrible and wrong you say? It happens to thousands of people every year. There is nothing to protect students from this. I have tried contacting the advisor who quit; and all he says is that he sucks, and he left due to conflict and disagreement with the school and their practices. He says I shouldn't have to redo the whole thing but that means nothing in the face of giant loans that do not go away. There is no statute of limitations. The loans buried me. I had barely been able to pay the undergraduate loans and now had loans for graduate school that hasn't enhanced my employability at all. 

People that struggle tooth and nail and succeed at paying off their loans feel that everyone with a loan should be made to suffer like they did. Stockholm syndrome with debt because misery loves company. 

I'm sitting here, mostly unemployed because my brilliant resume is terrible. My education has no value in a country of overeducated people all seeking employment and vying for low paying jobs. 

One of my friends is a lawyer, she struggles with loan debt and has searched for employment unsuccessfully for the last three years. No one told her that that was even possible when she signed the papers to go to school. 

Most employers want education and experience, the problem being: how do you get experience at a good job to get a good job when you have an education and no experience? Thousands of new graduates flood the fields every year, wages do not go up with cost of living and it gets harder each year to find options. 

But go ahead, push your child directly into an education rather than encouraging them to get some experience; work a few jobs from sales positions to nannying to farm work, make their mistakes without building a debt. Mature first. Play first. Figure out what you want to do first. Learn to read the small print and ask the uncomfortable questions. 

Just because you like an obscure time period in history does not mean it is a good investment to take out loans to get your Masters degree in Egyptian Sand Castle Building. One of the nicest grocery store bagging clerks I ever met was a woman with a Masters Degree; and instead of paying attention to that I was busy laughing at people getting philosophy degrees so they could flip hamburgers and now I compete for their jobs. 

If you do nothing else, learn from this. Look into what I am saying. It is real, it is true and the facts are out there. Educate yourself. Do not emotionally manipulate your child into a life of debt. Do not trick yourself into the chains of debt. Sadhu thanks you for enjoying the kitten pictures, he is glad you took the time to read just to see him.