THE DRESDEN FILES Reading Challenge



My Blog List

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Requiem For A Champion

As you can see, this is a pretty old column. I'm re-posting it because John Paulk, who is a Facebook friend of mine, posted that he's got a friend that is starting chemotherapy for a pretty aggressive cancer. Courage, no matter where it manifests, is always to be saluted and celebrated.

*********************************************
Harlan Bennett

17 May 2005


*********************************************


I’ll never forget the first time that WonderWife and I went to St. Phillip’s United Methodist Church. We were looking for a church home, and, being as we are both lesbians legally married to each other (in Texas, but that's a tale for another time), simply finding a church where we were welcome wasn’t exactly the easiest thing we had ever done. We had been members of a Reconciling Ministries Methodist congregation, and, due to several factors which I won’t go into, weren’t happy there. In fact, we were unhappy enough that we had left the church and hadn’t been to a church - any church -  for several years. Be that as it may, we had decided that we wanted to find another church to go to. Both of us had truly missed the fellowship, and the worshipping together with people that we felt comfortable with, so we set out to find ourselves a church home in WhiteRepublicanLand.

Us belonging to the Methodist Church was a compromise of sorts; I am a Roman Catholic, and WonderWife had settled on the Unitarian Universalists. Nothing against the Unitarian Universalists, but I myself was reared in a somewhat stricter religious environment, and WonderWife wasn’t exactly comfortable with that, while I was extremely uncomfortable with a religion that had no discernable creed, so we compromised, and went to the Methodist Church. It’s a most excellent religion, very social work and social justice oriented, and we were both satisfied.

At any rate, we started out to go to several churches in the area, and we found out a pretty curious thing: None of the Methodist churches in our area wanted anything to do with us. They didn’t object to our coming once or twice, but after that, they really, REALLY didn’t want two out and open queers sitting in the pews every Sunday, and we were oh, ever so politely, told that they didn’t think we’d be happy with them, and that they would appreciate it if we’d just go away and not come back. Four or five rejections of this sort pretty much tend to put you on edge, and make you wish that you weren't trying to be a Christian. We were in a pretty grumpy state of mind when we finally went to St. Phillip’s.

We had decided to go to the early service, because that’s usually the best service to check things out during, and decide if we were even interested in returning.  St. Phillip’s was different.  Oh, boy was St. Phillip’s different. We came in on an evangelical early morning worship service, with everybody singing at the tops of their lungs, obviously glad to be there, obviously happy with what was going on – and filled to overflowing with love and devotion. The pastor’s sermon that day was absolutely amazing; he preached on Christ’s making Himself of no repute because He insisted on hanging out with publicans and sinners, and…well, WOW. We knew then that this was the church that we wanted to stay with, the one that we’d been looking for – and, after the service, is when we met Ed and Renee Williams.

Don’t get me wrong – we met everyone that day including both of the pastors, who are terrific folks, but it was Ed and Renee who really made an impression, right off the bat. Renee has one of those lovely, carved faces with all the laugh lines in the right places, and Ed is always smiling and glad to see you – and not being phony about it, which is really easy to spot. I had worked myself up into such a state of nerves, expecting to add yet another rejection to our list of disappointments, that I developed some fairly severe back muscles spasms, and was basically flopping around in my wheelchair like a fish out of water, and WonderWife, Polly (the assistant pastor), Louis (the senior pastor), Renee and Ed were all trying to help me. The rest of the people that were there that day were all standing around, ready to jump in at a minutes’ notice, but I noticed Renee, because she was on a walker, was having a hard time standing, and was still trying to help.

We found out later that Renee had had a pretty hard time. She had had cancer, had chemotherapy for it, had had a truly horrendous car accident that resulted in a closed head wound, and generally, physically, had a great deal of trouble doing much of anything. I thought at first that she had had a stroke, because her speech was the kind of slow-speaking that stroke victims tend to have when they are recovering. Ed told us a little bit of what had happened to her, and several other people in the church told us a little bit more, and I have got to say, my admiration for her just went sky-high after that. Here is a woman who’s got worse physical problems than I do, who isn’t whining, crying or grizzling about her situation, who doesn’t allow it to run her life, and who is just as active a church member as anyone could ever wish for.

Grace – and courage.

She started chemotherapy again about two months ago, and was having a really hard time. She didn’t let it slow her down, though; she kept her position on the Prayer Team, and kept coming to church and to Sunday School, and she never complained. NEVER. Unfortunately, all that grace and courage didn’t help her when the chemotherapy got her liver all stirred up, and the doctors found that she also had a pretty nasty case of Hepatitis B to go along with that.

Courage – and grace.

Ed sent out an e-mail that Renee was a lot worse, was in a coma, and that she was going to be transferred to Hermann Hospital’s Liver Unit. The doctors over there were washing her blood, hoping against hope that this would help, and he was asking for blood donors. Sunday, he came to our Sunday School class to tell us all that the doctors had declared Renee terminal, that there was nothing more that they could do for her, and that her physical death was probably only a matter of a few days away.

I wish that I had been privileged to know Renee Williams a bit better, and I also wish that I'd been privileged to know her a whole lot longer. She epitomized, for me and for everyone else that knew here, the absolute ideal of grace and courage. Grace, in that she knew that she was pretty much doomed, accepted it, and didn’t allow it to rule her life. Courage, in that, when she started the chemotherapy this time, she knew that it probably wasn’t going to have a happy outcome, and she went ahead with it anyhow.

Courage – the best, highest kind of courage – knows that you’re licked before you ever start, but you try it anyhow, and you don’t whine about the outcome, be it good, bad or indifferent. Renee Williams is the best example of that courage that I’ve ever seen. She’s a true champion.

Monday, October 7, 2013

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SENATE AND HOUSE REPUBLICANS

October 7, 2013

OPEN LETTER TO SENATE AND HOUSE REPUBLICANS

Dear Madams/Sirs:

Thank you for killing me.

No, I really mean it. Thank you for killing me.

How is that possible? Well, I’m SO glad you asked. Let me explain, and hopefully you all will understand the human cost of your little temper tantrum.

The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients for clinical research and stop answering hotline calls about medical questions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be forced to stop its seasonal flu program and have a "significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations."  That means that about 10K more people, including children and old people who are most vulnerable, are not going to get a flu shot, and get sick. At least a third of them are going to die. New cancer drug trials will stop. No new drug trials will begin.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will not be able to provide local housing authorities with additional money for housing vouchers. The nation's 3,300 public housing authorities will also stop receiving payments, although most of these agencies have enough cash on hand to provide rental assistance through the end of October. This means that there are roughly 1.1 MILLION people who are going to be living on the streets in cardboard boxes, and begging for pennies to feed themselves and their families.

The Department of Agriculture will be forced to cut off support for the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food and provides nutritional information and health care referrals. The program reaches some 9 million Americans. The USDA estimates most states have funds to continue their programs for a week or so, but they'll likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period, since emergency funds are projected to run out by the end of October. Lots MORE people, this time women and children, are going to starve to death.

Of course, you don’t care anything about that, do you? After all, these are the drones that refuse to work, and who believe that they’re ENTITLED to low-cost food and housing simply because the minimum-wage jobs – plural – that they hold don’t produce enough income to support them.

Meal on Wheels has already gotten horrific cuts, and these are the people that you pretend to love so much. Most of the folks on that program have been reduced to one meal – that’s ONE MEAL – a day, thanks to your sequester. Do you actually know – or care how many of the veterans that you drooled all over at the WWII Veterans Memorial photo op depend on this ONE program to eat? How about all of the vets that are going to be without money and a place to live after the end of the month? What about their health care?

You have killed me. Would you like to know who it is that you’ve killed?

I am a child with cancer on an experimental medical program that is now not going to get the meds that I need in order to survive. I am the woman with breast cancer who won’t be able to afford to get the life-saving treatment that I need because I’m not able to pay for it because you killed most of the womens’ health programs that came through Medicaid. I am an orphan disease sufferer who was in a clinical trial for the treatment of my disease, who now will not be able to get the meds or the other medical treatments that I need. I am an adult that has adult-onset multiple sclerosis who won’t be able to get the meds or the follow-up medical monitoring that I need because your holier-than-thou “principled” stand on what you deem to be "non-essential" programs has cut off all funding for the end-phase clinical trials that I was in. 

All current patients in research programs and experimental med programs are supposed to still receive care, no matter what other programs are shuttered. That is a lie.Most if not all of us have been notified that until and unless the government is re-funded, the meds and treatments that we are all depending on just to stay alive are ending at the end of the month. Period.

So, I hope that you are all happy. None of you are going to starve or die of treatable and preventable diseases. You will, of course, “slim down” the FedGov to your own expectations, just like Generalissimo Franco did in Spain prior to WWII. Thus we will finally have the “New World Order” that you all have been working towards: the 1% will rule and live in health, safety and comfort and the 99% will starve to death in the cold/heat/dark.


I hope that you live long enough to regret your temper tantrum. I just hope that I live long enough to see it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FRANKENFOOD

FRANKENFOOD! (OR, how TV sometimes anticipates real life)

I LOVE all of the CSI shows, mainly because I love to watch smart people solving puzzles. These three shows are really good at that (and the back stories about the people involved are interesting as well). Unfortunately, sometimes the shows anticipate real-life problems. Like the CSI: MIAMI episode, BAD SEED. I have watched it several times since its original air date, and it gets more and more interesting every time. It was a very scary show, made even more frightening by my reading the latest information about GM crops that dropped into my e-mail the next morning.

GM, as I’m reasonably sure that everybody knows at this point, stands for Genetically Modified; GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and usually means food crops. Most people call it FrankenFood and refuse to eat it. There was an absolutely huge scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that Taco Bell was using GM corn in their tortillas. 

According to the article, there is some concern that a protein found in the altered corn could cause an allergic reaction in some consumers, which is why the FDA had not approved of its use in humans. Y’see, this corn was only approved for cattle feed. So, OF COURSE, instead of it being directly fed to the consumer in the form of corn products, we got to eat it in beef. Wow. Wasn’t that terrific. According to U.S. government scientists, the GM corn, named "StarLink", is safe for cattle, pigs and other farm animals.

Uh-huh. It’s safe for our food animals to eat it. SURE it is. Of course, nobody did any sort of research into whether those food animals were safe for human consumption, either. An independent laboratory, Genetic ID Inc., concluded in three sets of tests that the samples contained StarLink corn. The boxes of taco shells sold under the Taco Bell brand were produced by Kraft Foods Inc., a unit of Philip Morris Co. Inc.

Dr. Mercola stated back in 2000 on his web site: “In addition to being worried about the corn, what do you think happens to the livestock being feed the GM foods? Although I do feel that animal protein is an important part of the human diet, I am a firm believer in treating livestock properly, which certainly does not include feeding them genetically-modified "FrankenFoods". This is another great reason to buy organic whenever possible and to try to only patronize companies that pledge to stay GM-free.”

So, this is important why?

As Monsanto prepares to unleash its latest Genetically-Modified (GM) corn supercrop, the International Journal of Biological Sciences has revealed the true cost of these crops. The study focused on three GM corn crops - Mon 863, Mon 801 and NK 603 - and found that they caused statistically significant rates of kidney and liver malfunction, as well as some heart, adrenal, spleen and blood damage in rats. These crops have been approved for consumption in the U.S. and many countries in Europe without proper research into their affect on human health.

GM technology inserts non-food genes into the DNA of food, sometimes making the crop more resilient to herbicides and other times, causing them to produce toxic proteins that act as pesticides themselves. This process changes the structure of the food drastically and presents humans with substances that have never been a part of the human or animal diet.

Several countries in Europe, such as Germany and France, have already banned GM crops, including Mon 801. But the U.S. FDA has done us a potentially dangerous and disastrous disservice by simply taking Monsanto's word that these genetically modified crops are safe and not doing any testing! This 90-day study was just the beginning, and these GM crops must be studied further instead of being immediately available for human consumption.

And this has what to do with a TV show?

Here’s the plot of BAD SEED:

When a pale and unconscious ER patient named Lauren, dies from complete organ failure, Alexx Woods believes she was murdered with an unknown poison. Ethan, her boyfriend who said he had planned to propose to her, becomes the main suspect. Horatio and the team test everything in her apartment for any sort of poison. When the boyfriend collapses during Delko's questioning, they discover Lauren was poisoned by a deadly strain of E. coli. The team investigates the restaurant where Ethan and Lauren last ate but are directed to the farm where the produce comes from, as E. coli starts with the grower. Ryan, Jesse and Walter get resistance from the farm but manage to test the crops and come up with nothing. They investigate other methods the strain could have infected the crops and discover everything is controlled by a larger corporation, Bixby Organic Foods. They secretly go back and test the irrigation system and discover the water tests positive for E. coli as it goes right through a manure invested cattle field. They discover the corn that's feeding the cows is a perfect breeding ground for E. coli but when Alexx tells them that Ethan doesn't have an E. coli infection they have to dig deeper as to what the source is. Bixby was growing genetically engineered corn to make easier to digest and Ethan had eaten some of that corn, showing symptoms of botulism and succumbing to it. Horatio confronts the CEO of Bixby but he claims a few deaths are worth feeding an entire nation.

This is the attitude of Monsanto and all of the other ginormous chemical and agricultural combines. Of course, that they all will be getting even richer as a result of these “FrankenFoods”, so-called, is just a SIDE issue. They really really REALLY care about us and gosh, if a few people died of allergic reactions to their manipulations, so what? That’s just that many FEWER people to clutter up the earth, after all!

And this, gangers, is why we ALL have to watch what we eat and where it comes from.


Friday, August 9, 2013

RANDOM POSTS, RANDOM MUSINGS

Thursday is usually the day that I get all of my junque mail. Some of it is just that: junk, some of it is amusing (coupons for Viagra sent to MR. Harlan Bennett) and some of it is very informative and interesting.

I belong to The American Farmland Trust. Which, I’ll add, is a grass-roots organization that is dedicated to saving American family farmlands. They sent me a most interesting bumper sticker entitled NO FARMS NO FOOD. Most family farms don’t use GMO seeds for their crops, and most family farms also don’t factory-farm their animals. If you’ve never had real grass-fed beef, for example, you don’t know what you’re missing in terms of taste and texture. There’s another consideration as well: most factory-farmed animals are fed antibiotics because the conditions on the farms are so atrocious. So, the antibiotics are in the food chain, which means that the humans that eat the animal flesh ingest the antibiotics, which in turn means that the bugs that the antibiotics are designed to fight have a chance to mutate and become immune. Which means, of course, that THEN when you get sick and start taking antibiotics for whatever disease or sickness you have, the antibiotics are ineffectual.

So, what does this have to do with family farmlands disappearing? It means that there are fewer and fewer farms where you can go and get non-factory-farmed animal flesh and non-GMO produce. Unless you’re a member of a co-op, you just have to TRUST that the foods that you’re buying at the store are not tainted by being fed substances that are incorporated into their bodies. Like, for example, pesticides that have been incorporated into the genetic make-up of the silage and the grains that are fed to cattle, hogs, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, sheep, goats – pretty much EVERY factory-farmed animal and plant out there. What the people at Monsanto and other chemical companies don’t take into account is that even if the GMOs are supposedly bioengineered to be sterile, they don’t stay that way. Because Earth has a high level of naturally occurring radioactivity, EVERYTHING that grows eventually mutates to a different form (which, incidentally, where biologically viable “sports” come from) to suit its environment. According to EuropaBio, all GMOs eventually become as fertile as the seeds that are NOT GMOs. Which makes cross-pollination possible – and a real problem if natural seeds, heirloom seeds and GMOs are being grown in close proximity to each other.

Most family farms won’t grow GMOs even when it’s lucrative for them to do so. So, the family farms have to start selling off their land to pay for upgrades in equipment and for taxes. There are a lot of family farms here in Texas that are going out of business because there are housing developments going in around them and they can’t afford to pay the taxes on their land. The ones that are surviving are all part of a co-op movement like Local Harvest. The food is a bit more expensive, yes, but it’s clean, it tastes better and by buying from the co-op farms, you are helping save farmland. If you’re a farmer or you’re thinking about becoming one, just click on the text here and you'll be able to find out how to do it.

Speaking of which, see y’all later – it’s time for me to go hit the weekly Farmer’s Market at Rice University. AND, if you’re interested in helping save American farmers’ land, here’s a link to American Farmland Trust: 



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

THE AMERICAN VERSION OF JONATHON SWIFT’S “A MODEST PROPOSAL”

I belong to several discussion groups on Amazon, and we really have some lively discussions. Right now, one of our own is suffering his way through a semi-famous urban fantasy/paranormal writer’s latest “book”, if you can call it that (it’s hard cover, it’s got a cover and it’s filled with the English Language, sort of – must be a book), and one of the scenes spawned an interesting take on fundamentalism as it regards whole human bodies (one of the characters MIGHT be facing an amputation to save his life) and, predictably, the fundies are objecting to that because their version of God will not accept anybody that is not whole of body into their version of heaven.

There was a lot of discussion about how on earth or anywhere else that these folks could be so cruel. Nobody could believe it, so I’m offering an explanation. Feel free to disagree; after all, while I’ve researched the topic, the conclusions are my own opinion – and I DON’T like fundies very much.

Fundies are all practical Darwinists. Fundies also hate humanity, to put it mildly.

Darwinism, which is a term coined by Thomas Huxley, among other things, argues that survival serves as a core value of life. Lived out practically, one who takes risks, lives on edge, and attempts radical endeavors would struggle to survive when compared to those who live a more stable, safe, and risk-free existence.

So, a practical Darwinist is a person that believes Darwin's law of survival of the fittest applies to EVERYTHING. If someone gets sick or is hurt in an accident, they shouldn't be helped. If their bodies aren't whole, they are no longer to be considered fit to survive. If there's a catastrophic event, like an earthquake or a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, no aid should be sent and nobody should try to help the survivors. They prove that they're fit to survive by their own efforts. If a vicious disease (like smallpox or SARs) breaks out, only those that are found to be free of the disease should be inoculated; the ones that are already sick should be isolated and left alone to live or die as the case might be. No medical aid whatsoever, and no attendants.

A practical Darwinist hates the very idea of man-made limbs because the person needing those limbs has proven that she/he is not worthy to survive. Paraplegics should be left alone to live or die on their own. Quadriplegics should be allowed to die of their injuries, and if they survive them, they should be left strictly alone. No help.

One of the participants asked "What happens if the person, or a loved one, gets gangrene or develops a twisted bowel? What then?" In answer to your question about what happens if the practical Darwinist is diagnosed with a twisted bowel, gangrene or, say, blocked arteries, said practitioner is expected to live with the condition, NOT seek help for it, and either live or die as their version of god wills it. Someone who is blind or deaf, same thing. No aid of any sort, not a cochlear implant or a Seeing-Eye dog. NOTHING.

After all, faith moves mountains, heals the sick, raises the dead . . . well, I'm sure you get the idea. Yes, if your body is less than perfect IN ANY WAY, it means that you are no longer one of the fittest. This injunction applies to diabetics, people with heart conditions, people that have chronic, life-threatening diseases like multiple sclerosis, those that need transplants, even people that have had cataract surgery aren't exempted.

DO NOT mention logic and reason in the same breath as religious fundamentalism. Being a true-blue, dyed in the wool fundie means that the very first thing that you WILLINGLY throw away is the art of critical thinking and reasoning. Look at the Heaven's Gate cult, for a fairly horrid example. Or the Branch Davidians, for another. A practical Darwinist is ready to die for her/his beliefs. The worst thing, she/he is willing to let *YOU* die for them as well.

Pretty contemptible, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS – AND BONUS RIDDANCE

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we all flew to school on pterodactyls, I was a licensed psychotherapist. I worked mainly with the GLBT community here in TedCruzLand aka Texas. Back in those days, it was RonPaulLand but that’s a tale for another time.

I was a thumping liar in those days. Here I was, presuming to deal with GLBT problems, and I was so far into the closet that not only was the door nailed shut, but it was bricked up and concreted over. It took the collapse of my 3rd marriage to make me face the truth that I’d always known and pretended didn’t exist: I was a lesbian then, and always had been. My earliest memory of knowing that I was different came when I was 5 years old, and my daddy picked me up – and I slapped at him and told him, “Put me down, I don’t YIKE boys!” Needless to say, that hurt my daddy’s feelings.

When I was 16, my folks caught me fooling around with my best girlfriend – nothing serious, just a lot of kissing and feeling each other up – and they took swift and direct action. They put me into a mental institution in Ohio to “cure” me of being gay. I underwent several different kinds of “therapy” – salt shock therapy, insulin shock therapy, electroshock therapy – all to cure me of being a sexual deviant. I was lucky at that; back in those days, a lot of “queer cures” also involved prefrontal lobotomies. I escaped from there, and I mean that literally. I climbed down from a 3rd floor secured wing and ran away.

Eventually, after some trials and tribulations – and getting married for the first time trying to prove that I was NOT a pervert but “normal”, I got educated and wound up in private practice. I also got married again, and, in the process, discovered that sex with a man under any circumstances still made me throw up. That marriage ended in divorce too.

And I was still in serious denial about what I was born as, what I was hard-wired to be: a lesbian.

Third marriage: utter failure from the get-go. It lasted 5 years and ended because he found a woman that was more of a woman than I ever could be. I sat down and took a long, hard look at myself at that point, and decided that it was time for me to quit lying to myself and everybody else, and quit being afraid that my folks would put me BACK into a mental institution because I was gay. Needless to say, my folks completely rejected my coming out, and it was many years later that we reconciled. My mother and I wound up being able to talk to each other about who and what I was before she died. That’s a memory that I’ll always treasure.

My 4th marriage has lasted almost 14 years. I am legally married to a woman in the state of Texas. We are in love, we love each other dearly, and we are completely well-matched to each other. The only happiness that I’ve known in my entire adult life has been with WonderWife. I just wish that we were going to have a lot more time together.

However, that’s not the purpose of this column. I wanted y’all to know where I was coming from, who I am and have been, and why yesterday was such a monumental surprize, blessing and vindication.

Yesterday, EXODUS INTERNATIONAL, the largest and more harmful of all the ex-gay ministries, ceased to exist. I DID live long enough to see it, after all.

The closure of this contemptible organization comes less than a day after EXODUS released a statement apologizing to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for years of undue judgment, by the organization and from the Christian Church as a whole. “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical," said Alan Chambers, president of Exodus (full text of the apology can be read here: http://exodusinternational.org/2013/06/i-am-sorry/).

In April, John Paulk, former chairman of Exodus and the co-author of "Love Won Out: How God's Love Helped Two People Leave Homosexuality and Find Each Other," renounced his past involvement in the "ex-gay movement," and expressed remorse for his actions. “For the better part of 10 years, I was an advocate and spokesman for what’s known as the 'ex-gay movement,' where we declared that sexual orientation could be changed through a close-knit relationship with God, intensive therapy and strong determination," Paulk said. "At the time, I truly believed that it would happen. And while many things in my life did change as a Christian, my sexual orientation did not." He added, He added: "Today, I do not consider myself 'ex-gay,' and I no longer support or promote the movement. Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people."

Reversing himself like this is an act of high courage on Mr. Paulk’s part, and I honour him for it.

I’ve been yelling about “reparative therapy”, so-called, for the better part of 25 years. It does not work. It has never worked. It CANNOT work. “Therapists” of every ilk and so-called “christian” persuasion have, basically, tortured people into nervous breakdowns and even death because of the guilt that they laboured under through not being able to be “normal”. To be heterosexual. I understand that. I’m glad beyond anything that this sickening, shameful chapter in the evolution of GLBT rights is OVER.

{{As an aside: GOT to wonder what Michelle Bachman’s husband is going to do for a living now. SURE hope that they’ve saved SOME of the money that he extorted from all of the miserably unhappy and desperate GLBT people that he tortured over the years}}.

Sic Semper Tyrannus – Bonus Riddance.


{{** TRANSLATION: So passes tyranny – and GOOD RIDDANCE}}



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WHY ABOLISHING THE DEATH PENALTY MAKES GOOD FISCAL SENSE

I’ll admit it: once upon a time, I was a death penalty advocate. “Kill ‘em all and let THEIR version of God sort them out” was a mantra that I embraced because I couldn’t see the sense of keeping what were obviously the dregs of society with no redeeming social value alive. I mean, they got a fair trial, right? They were convicted by a jury of their peers, right? So why bother to keep them alive, sometimes for decades after they’d been rightfully convicted, right?


Two words changed my mind about this Old Testament covenant: Clarence Brandley. Here’s a link to his Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Brandley. This one case is what changed my mind about capital punishment, all those years ago.

You can’t give the executed person back his or her life after they’ve been put to death if and when it’s determined that said person was wrongly convicted. I wrote a column about capital punishment in September of 2011 (http://cherose-thethornbush.blogspot.com/2011/09/murder-is-murder-is-murder-isnt-it.html) after a death penalty case in California. I wrote an even earlier column about the murder of Jessica Lunsford (http://cherose-thethornbush.blogspot.com/2013/05/murder-is-murder-is-murder-isnt-it-redux.html).


What brought this to my mind yet again are the legal shenanigans surrounding the Jodie Arias case. It’s a death penalty case that’s already cost the taxpayers of Arizona over $1,000,000.00 just in her defense fees alone. It is going to ultimately cost the state of Arizona over $4,000,000.00 altogether in both defense and prosecution costs. That doesn’t even begin to address what it’s going to cost the state of Arizona to pursue the death penalty to its conclusion in this case, presuming that the new punishment phase jury votes unanimously to assess it.

So, let’s break down the cost of putting a person to death versus putting that same person in prison for the rest of their natural lifespan.

"Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present system ($137 million per year), the present system after implementation of the reforms ... ($232.7 million per year) ... and a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty ($11.5 million)."
--California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, July 1, 2008

There’s a big difference in cost there, wouldn’t you agree? And that’s just for calendar year 2008.

On March 3, 2013, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES on MSNBC discussed how economic concerns are shifting more attention to the high costs of capital punishment. Guest Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, described how the millions of dollars spent on the death penalty could be used elsewhere: “Maryland’s [death penalty repeal] bill actually will give money and resources to the families of people who’ve lost loved ones. California’s bill was actually directly aimed at helping to solve the 34% of homicides that aren’t resolved in an arrest, 46% of rapes that aren’t resolved in an arrest, mostly in poor and minority communities. I think if you’re concerned about public safety, these economic arguments actually make links that we have to make.” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was quoted, urging state legislators to the repeal the death penalty, saying, “The death penalty is expensive and it does not work and we should stop doing it. In Maryland, the cost of prosecuting a death row case can be as much as three times what it costs for a case seeking a life sentence without parole." Or, in other words, at least $5,000,000.00 over the course of the appeals process. A 2010 fiscal report by the Legislative Services Agency of Indiana found that the average cost of a death penalty trial was around $450,000. Some cases have cost more than $1 million. In contrast, the same study found that the average trial and cost of appeal of a life-without-parole case was one-tenth as much, $42,658. "As soon as they file that notice that they're seeking death, that defendant is going to get 2 lawyers paid at taxpayer expense at over $100 per hour. They're going to get unlimited experts. If there is a jury, it's going to have to be sequestered. There's going to be all sorts of added costs to that”, Professor Joel Schuum of the McKinney School of Law in Indiana (who was the chair for the discussion) noted.

Criminal Justice Professor James Acker of the University at Albany recently discussed the decision by the District Attorney to seek the death penalty against James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding many others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In addition to concerns about the defendant's possible mental illness, Acker raised a number of questions about this course of action: "Will the victims and their families somehow be made whole? Would the time and money devoted to achieving this man's death not be better spent on services and law enforcement initiatives meant to repair and prevent the mindless devastation of criminal homicide? Would this man's execution serve an ineffable impulse for justice?" In his op-ed for CNN, Acker also examined the reasons for the dramatic decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S.: "a revulsion against the awful prospect of executing an innocent person; the racial and social class inequities imbued in the death penalty's administration; the enormous financial burden placed on state and local budgets in supporting capital prosecutions; the availability of life imprisonment without parole to keep the streets safe." He concluded by asking, "[W]hat good would be accomplished through this ritual act--[and would] the lives of the individual victims and Coloradoans generally [] be made better, and justice served by his lethal injection?" You can link to a lot more information and opinions here: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty.

Basically, the cost of legally murdering just one person is obscene. Leaving aside the question of the morality of the state committing an act of murder to satisfy a statute, what good does it do? Well, it sure as hell deters the person that’s put to death, doesn’t it? I mean, that person is NEVER going to commit another act of any sort, right? Why can’t we just do away with the death penalty and take that money, and do something useful with it – like rehabilitation for the convicts? Better food, better housing, higher pay for the guards – SOMETHING besides using it to kill people.

Quite aside from that, gangers: I cannot think of a worse punishment than to be shut up in a little concrete box. To live alone (in segregation, where I’m reasonably sure Ms. Arias is going wind up) with sunshine and fresh air rationed on a weekly basis, with showers rationed on a bi-weekly basis, with every aspect of your life regulated and scrutinized. No privacy. Very little contact with the outside world. Rotting in the stink of your own reflections, for the rest of your life.

I can’t think of a worse punishment than that.

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER, ISN'T IT? (REDUX)

{{I wrote this particular column in 2005, after the murder of Jessica Lunsford. It's still timely}}

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER, ISN'T IT? (REDUX)


By now, I’m sure that everyone has heard the sickening addendum to the equally sickening story of Jessica Lunsford, murdered in Florida by the friendly neighborhood pedophile across the street. I’ve heard every spectrum of outrage from every person imaginable that was involved with this story. I’ve heard the father calling out for this man to die. I’ve listened to the pundits, the TV lawyers and all the talk show people screaming for this man’s blood. I’ve even heard televangelists saying that, if EVER anyone deserves to die for what he did, this man does. I’ll have to admit, there for a moment, I felt the same way.

I have a blood daughter that I adore even if she doesn’t speak to me because I’m considered to be a family disgrace. I understand that pain – the searing, sickening, soul-destroying pain – which comes from losing a beloved child to death. I know where Mr. Lunsford’s coming from, because I feel exactly the same way. If I had had a lovely, bright, cheerful, joyful daughter that had been stolen, raped and abused over the course of at least two days, and then buried alive, left in the ground to die a slow and terrified death from suffocation, I would feel the same way that he does. I would have ripped the murderer limb from limb, I would have torn out his heart and BURNED it in front of his face. There, literally, is NO end to the horrors that I would visit upon him, this sick, contemptible, twisted ABOMINABLE bastard.

That’s what ANY parent would do, given the opportunity. There is not enough money in the world to make this go away, there is not and never WILL be enough forgiveness in my heart, to NOT want to visit this person who ripped my world apart and who crushed my soul with every single, solitary, truly AWFUL thing that my mind could devise – and I have a VERY fertile imagination.

OK, so? He deserves the death penalty, right? He deserves a SCRUPULOUSLY fair trial, he deserves the very BEST legal help that he can get, and THEN we get to take him out and kill him, right? TOO BAD we can’t do to him what he did to that baby girl, TOO BAD that we CANNOT make him suffer the way that she suffered – right? Unfortunately, we’re a civilized country, so after that trial and conviction, we’ll take him into a chamber, strap him down, and use the same chemicals that we put our sick pets to sleep with; no pain, no horror, NOTHING except that he quits breathing, his heart quits pumping and he goes to meet God with this horrific crime writ large on his face for all the angels to see.

Right?

WRONG.

Murder is murder is MURDER, and murder is wrong. Death itself robs us of our loved ones, both human and animal. Death attends and woos us every day while we live. Death takes all – the brave, the cowardly, saints, sinners – ALL, and Death comes to us all whether we like it or not – and MOST of us DON’T, myself included. Murder is even worse. Murder de-humanizes both the victim and the perpetrator. Murder robs us of our loved ones before their allotted time is finished. Murder reminds us that there are, still, amoral and uncaring animals in our midst that are pretending to be as human as we are – and that they will always be with us.

OK. So? What do we DO with these animals? Well, they’re rabid dogs, and we kill rabid dogs, right? OF COURSE we do. THEY don’t know any better, and their sickness will kill, so we kill them FIRST - quickly, quietly, humanely. Unfortunately, this is an argument that doesn’t translate to humankind. We are NOT animals, to destroy those among us that are sick. We must try to heal that sickness if we can – and if we can’t, then it’s up to us to be sure that this sickness doesn’t get out to infect the rest of us.

Capital punishment, dress it in whatever language that we will, is still an act of murder. It is the state – which includes, dear reader, you and I – rather than an individual doing the killing, but it is STILL murder. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” is pretty plainly stated in the Bible, and that is what gives the state the moral sanction to COMMIT murder, no matter how quietly, and no matter how humanely. This is wrong. There is no difference between the acts of politically sanctioned murder, such as war, state sanctioned murder such as the death penalty, or individually performed murder, like the murder of Jessica Lunsford.

Many, MANY people die that deserve to live, and if we cannot give BACK to them what was taken from them, then we have no right, no ethical mandate, and NO moral reason to take life from anyone else regardless of what they might have done – or DID do – to deserve it.

Murder is murder is MURDER – and we do NOT have the right to kill.

WONDERWIFE AND THE COOKIES

{{This is an oldie but a goodie. LOVE you, honey!}}

WONDERWIFE AND THE COOKIES

My wife, who is normally a rational and intelligent woman, decided the other night that she wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies for herself. I need to explain to you all that she is a wonderful engineer, a terrific electrician, a designer and constructor of structures par excellance – and a not-so-great cook. Not that she’s afraid of the kitchen, oh, NO – but, by mutual decision, we split up the household chores a long time ago, and cooking is not something that she normally does (although, I must say, she makes the best chicken-fried steak in the world - but I digress). I do all of the easy and mundane stuff, like housework, cooking, balancing the checkbook, formulating plans for world peace – y'all know, the inconsequential stuff – and she does all the hard stuff, like designing and building machines that are 50% more energy-efficient and 40% less polluting, holding down an engineering job in a male-dominated profession, starting and successfully running an engineering consultancy that builds factories all over the world - and changing light bulbs.

So, on this eventful evening, we went into the kitchen, took down 60 or so cookbooks (out of the 3 bajillion or so that I've collected over the years), and set out to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe that we could find. She finally decided on the one that’s on the back of the chocolate chip package (what a surprize), and we got the ingredients all gathered together (or so I THOUGHT - serves me right!), and I left her to her own devices. I went into the living room for some quiet, philosophical time alone (read serious Nintendo playing), and, about 20 minutes later, she came into the living room in tears. Something wasn’t working right and her cookie dough was not turning into cookie “dough”, and she wanted my help.

I went into the kitchen, and looked at the gooey, sticky mess in the bowl, and said ECH, YUCK, and various other wifely sounds of absolute disgust, and asked her how on earth she had managed to concoct such a mess (and a very gooey, slick, oily, nasty-looking mess it was, too). She told me then that she had used cooking oil, like the recipe said to do, and that this was the result. I just looked at her, completely dumbfounded, and asked her if she’d read the recipe. She said that, yes, she had, and since she couldn’t find the solid shortening (or the butter, which was sitting smugly in the butter compartment of the 'fridge), she’d used what she could find, which was the liquid cooking oil, and that she did not understand why it had turned out so badly. I didn’t laugh in her face – which, believe me, took a lot of doing – and pointed out that solid shortening or butter was required, found the solid shortening for her, and beat a very hasty retreat from the kitchen while she was dealing with the mess and starting over.

So, I can hear you asking, what on earth was the problem? After all, don’t all little girls learn how to cook when they’re very small? Well, yes, under normal circumstances, they do – but there’s a joker in this deck that y’all aren’t aware of. Let me explain:

My wonderful, feminine wife, you see, didn’t start life out as a girl. She is a male-to-female transsexual and started life out as a male – and everyone “knows” that “boys don’t cook”, unless, of course, they’re one of those fags on the Food Channel.

Oh, and the cookies? The second batch? Best darned cookies I ever ate!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

HOW TO LEARN HOW TO BE A PREPPER

Let me preface this article with a caveat: WonderWife and I are preppers. Yup, you heard me right. We’re part of a growing movement in this country that gets laughed at, teased and generally treated like we’re insane. We are neither insane nor are we paranoid. We just believe in being prepared for whatever. Like, say, the coming zombie apocalypse.

Being a prepper is akin to playing LIFEBOAT. You start off with a list of “must-have” things and then start paring the list down to what you actually need, bearing in mind that you might just have to carry everything on your back and planning for that. Not everybody wants to devote that sort of time and effort to planning for something that might not happen, but it’s fascinating to see what you really need as opposed to what you only think you want. WonderWife and I do a lot of camping. We’ve dedicated, literally, years to finding the perfect mix of foods – fruits, veggies, meat products, spices, etc. – that we can carry and that we will also enjoy eating. Suprizingly enough, when I started doing the research for this particular article (which, incidentally, is turning into a whole SERIES of articles), I found that there are a lot more people out there that believe in being prepared for catastrophes of whatever sort, and who act accordingly.

For example, the Mormon Church is very much into every family having at least a 3 month supply of canned and dried foods for every member. I sorta vaguely knew this, since I got a lot of Mormon relatives, but it wasn’t until BabyBrotherA joined the Mormon Church that I really got interested. I REALLY hate to plug Glenn Beck for any reason, but he’s got the right of it. Everybody needs to have a cache of canned and dried goods in case of disaster. I know that we’d have been in really bad shape, for example, if we hadn’t had a lot of dried foodstuffs and water purification gear when Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coastline in 2009, for example. We never lost water, but we cooked on camp stoves for the 22 days it took the power company to restore power to our neighborhood. Using a water purification system is a great way to stay hydrated without having to boil water, for example, and it keeps the water clean without exposing it to bacteria that come into play in the cooled water.

As I said, I got interested in the subject, and was really quite surprized to find that there are a LOT more of me and WonderWife out there than I would ever have thought. So, I’m putting up a beginning basic kitchen list in this article. These are things that everybody should have.

Key points to consider when starting an emergency food pantry are:

Stock emergency foods that will not require refrigeration, and should require little electricity or fuel to prepare.

Additionally, the foodstuffs should have a long shelf life.

They should provide ample nutrition and contain little salt.

The following foods are all popular food staples that should be considered as “must haves” for your emergency pantries. The advantage to storing these items is they encompass all of the key consideration points listed above. Best of all, these items are very affordable and versatile, thus making them worthy of being on your storage shelves for extended emergencies.

Stock up on the following items today to get your prepper pantry ready for the next extended emergency:

1. Dried fruits, vegetables, meats, and soups.
2. Dried legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
3. Crackers
4. Nuts
5. Pasta sauce/tomato sauce or paste
6. Peanut butter
7. Pasta
8. Flour (white, whole wheat)
9. Seasonings (vanilla, salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, pepper, taco seasoning, etc.)
10. Sugar
11. Bouillon cubes or granules (chicken, vegetable, beef) IF you can find this staple as being salt-free or low sodium, pay the extra money and get it
12. Kitchen staples (baking soda, baking powder, yeast, vinegar)
13. Honey
14. Unsweetened cocoa powder
15. Jell-O or pudding mixes
16. Whole grains (barley, bulgur, cornmeal, couscous, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat berries)
17. Nonfat dried milk
18. Plant-based oil (corn oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, olive oil)
19. Cereals
20. Seeds for eating and sprouting
21. Popcorn (not the microwavable kind)
22. Instant potato flakes
23. Packaged meals, like mac & cheese, ramen noodles, noodle cups, MREs and so on
24. At least 2 gallons of purified water, per person. PLUS: A water purification kit/kits. You can get a Brita water pitcher and make sure to have at least 5 filters.
25. Dried fruit juices, teas, coffee, drink mixes

Bear in mind that this is a pretty standard list, and there are literally thousands of web sites where you can go to get the information that you need. What’s interesting is just how closely it mirrors the list of necessary things that the wagon trains started out with, at least as far as food items are concerned. You can find a complete list of everything that our pioneer forebearers were told to bring (including tools and furniture items) at these web sites:

http://library.thinkquest.org/J001587/supplylist.htm

http://www.yankeepeddlerfestival.com/covered_wagon_supplies.htm

Being a prepper these days is a WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLE lot easier than it was for the wagon train pioneers! There are a lot of other things that you’ll need besides these things – like camp utensils, plates, paper products and so on, but I’ll cover that in other articles.









Saturday, May 11, 2013

DEATH THREATS? SERIOUSLY?

Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I did NOT like Aurora Teagarden, I wasn’t fond of Lily Bard, and I loathed Harper Connelly. So, when I was given a three-fer of the SOUTHERN VAMPIRE MYSTERIES by Charlaine Harris, well . . . I was in the hospital at the time and any book was preferable to NO book.

Imagine my pleased surprize and delight, then, with Sookie Stackhouse. Wow. Just, WOW. A steel magnolia in training, with the added difficulty of being a telepath? With vampires that weren’t prettied up, supernatural elements of all sorts, and, eventually, the entire pantheon of supernatural and supranatural creatures and beings? Hoo boy – I fell in love and haven’t fallen OUT of love with this quirky, insane at times and thoroughly entertaining series. I’m like any other rabid fan: I wanted it to go on and on and ON forever. So, like any other rabid fan, I was upset at Mrs. Harris’s decision to end the series and move on to something else, while at the same time I was eagerly anticipating the ending. Would Sookie get her HEA? Who would it be with? What about Sam – does he get over being dead and resurrected? And Tara and JB? And the villains, of course: what was going to happen to them? Steve Newlin/Fellowhip of the Sun? Felipe, the King of Louisiana, Arkansas and Nevada? Her cousin Claude in jail in Faery? What happened to him? How about the other characters? How about the Eric/Freyda mess – how is THAT going to be resolved, or is it?

So MANY questions – and all of them answered. All of the storylines crafted throughout the series were ended. NOT neatly, no, but in my opinion satisfactorily. While I wasn’t exactly pleased with some of the endings, they were logical within the framework of the world that Mrs. Harris crafted. The characters were true to themselves and their back stories, the plot lines and story lines were consistent with the internal logic of the universe, and it was, to me, an altogether satisfying read.

DEAD EVER AFTER is, at times, incoherent because the action and dialogue jumps around from person to person and place to place. It is, at times, a bit hard to follow. It also, at times, makes no logical sense until you’ve read the entire book at least twice. Fortunately, with a book, you can do that. That’s one of the most wonderful things ABOUT a book, it’s always there to be read, re-read and savoured. While I was surprized in a good many places with this one, I was also delighted.

Which is why I was so unpleasantly surprized when I read the newspaper reviews of the book. Almost without exception, they were scathing. AND rude. When I read the Amazon reviews, I was appalled at the reaction of most of the reviewers. When I read the interview that Mrs. Harris gave, I was not only appalled, I was – well, angry. Apparently, Mrs. Harris has gotten death threats for her endings. It seems that her fans were just as fickle and as rude as the troos of another urban fantasy writer, only her fans were threatening her with mayhem and murder simply because she didn’t write the ending that *they* wanted and felt that they deserved.

Death threats? REALLY?

I think what everybody has lost sight of here is that these books are Mrs. Harris’s creations, the people that inhabit her world are *her* children, and that, unlike some other alleged writers I could name, she has always been aware that they are fictional and not actually real people. Even the books that she’s written that I wasn’t real fond of have had an internal logic that has been followed faithfully. The rules of her universes have been consistent, her character development has been both logical and consistent, the storylines have been good (even if I didn’t much care for them) and basically she’s followed her own rules. The characters are always developing and growing which I think is important.

Now, does the fan base have the right to complain? Of course they do. I myself have complained on occasion when an author that I have enjoyed in the past has taken a direction that I didn’t care for. RIVER MARKED by Patricia Briggs is one of the books that almost put me completely off both the author and the series. WAKING THE WITCH by Kelley Armstrong is another one. I found it very hard to like either one of these books because the author took a differing point of view from the one that I expected and thought should be taken. OK, they were bridge books but I didn’t like them and I was quite vocal about my dislike. However, complaining about a direction that I don’t like is NOT – repeat, NOT – the same thing as threatening the author because said author didn’t do what you wanted them to do.

Back to DEAD EVER AFTER: I never liked Eric Northman. Not even a little bit. He was abusive to everybody around him. He used Sookie as if she was an object – after all, she was nothing but a mostly human person, not important to him – until he decided that he needed to have her as a sex object. He tricked her into a marriage that she didn’t want to one-up his new king (although he did that to “keep her safe”), he ordered her around like a slave, he never really appreciated her for just herself – and, despite her stated wish to NOT be turned, he was contemplating that anyhow. He tried to make her into a kept woman, again against her wishes, and got angry with her when she declined the “honour”. Control freak, much, Eric? I must confess that it gave me an inordinate amount of pleasure when his life finally caught up with him and he was forced into the same position that he tried to force Sookie into.

Sookie’s HEA was not what I expected, at all – and I loved it. Her HEA was not what everybody wanted, oh, no. However, it’s the one that she secretly wanted and got. Not every woman in the world has to have a protector or even really wants one. Full circle back to mostly human but also recognition of her own worth as a person. One is, after all, a whole number.

I’m sorry that Mrs. Harris is having such a hard time, and I hope that all of the angry fans get over themselves.

They need to.

Monday, February 25, 2013

THE SHAME OF THE STGRB’S WEB SITES – AND WEB LIES

I belong to Goodreads and a couple of the groups that have been started over there. It’s a good site, and a very good resource for the indie and self-published authors. That’s why I’ve been bemused, nay, DISGUSTED by the shenanigans of the STGRB’s web site and one of its chief protagonist/apologists. I swear, people – NOBODY could make this stuff up!

STGRB stands for Stop The Goodreads Bullies, and was started by a female author wannabe who wasn’t happy about her reviews there. She got steadily more angry and abusive over what she perceived to be bullying by the members, and enlisted another male author wannabe in these battles – with the result, finally, that she and her male counterpart caused so much trouble that the two of them finally got themselves banned. I don’t have a problem with that (I’ve been banned from a few sites myself, although not for as good an apparent reason as these two folks have been), and the two of them (although they deny this) started the STGRB website for all folks that didn’t care for Goodreads policies. They squalled, and they bawled, and they got a lot of publicity.
There has, of course, been a real backlash about this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/foz-meadows/stop-the-gr-bullies-a-response_b_1690469.html, http://behindstgrb.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/top-8-reasons-why-stgrb-is-the-biggest-bully-in-romancelandia/, and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-losowsky/stop-the-gr-bullies-an-ap_b_1690134.html. Read the articles, and form your own opinion.

Unfortunately, this – apparently - is really what STGRB is all about: http://behindstgrb.wordpress.com/. And it gets worse. A LOT worse.

Now, the male apologist/protagonist is busily setting up websites that are dedicated to destroying people that he doesn’t like and who are openly critical of his tactics:

John Green
http://johngreenisapervertedbully.blogspot.com/

Jude Henderson
http://judehendersoniselsa.blogspot.com/

Amanda Welling.
http://amandawellingisgenx.blogspot.com/

GenX
http://genxpose.blogspot.com/

Mr. Carroll Bryant. That’s his name, and destroying peoples’ reputations is his game. I’ve read some of his writing, and, while it’s not bad, I would far rather read OhOhOhLookLookLookSeeSpotSeeSpotRun because it’s a lot more comprehensive and coherent than what Mr. Bryant writes. Yes, it’s personal prejudice on my part; I like a book to have focus, coherent plotlines, reasonable editing for spelling and grammar, and characters that I actually care about (CYPRESS LAKE by Joe Basara comes to mind – not to everybody’s taste but it’s well-written self-published book, Faulkneresque). Mr. Bryant also considers himself a poet as well as a musician. I’ve read his poetry which is boring - not bad but sounds more like high-school angst than poetry. I haven’t listened to any of his music but I am going to presume that it’s about on the same level (garage band).

That’s the real tragedy, of course. To ALMOST have the talent to be a break-out author and poet, and to lack the self-discipline to do anything other than try to trash people that have never done him any harm except to post that his talent is a very minor one and that his writing is boring. The fact that this particular book was published through a for-pay company is just icing on the cake. Of course, a for-pay publishing company is not in the business of helping an author make the book better unless the author is paying for services like spelling and grammar checks, editing of all sorts and so on. I honestly don't have a problem with this, since part of the package is multi-site promotion - but, still, I also know a lot of self-pub and indie authors that do it all themselves.

What he’s doing is shameful, to put it mildly. What the STGRB site is trying to do is – well, if it isn’t criminal, it should be. This is McCarthyism at its worst and most virulent: To attempt to silence by fear people who’s only sin is NOT agreeing with you like good little sheeple, to attempt to put them in harm’s way by publishing their personal information, to attempt to whitewash your own atrocious behaviour – this is wrong. And it’s shameful.

Mr. Bryant has further accused the Goodreads site and some of its groups as promoting paedophila because there is sexual role-playing supposedly going on in said groups and there are suspected minors in these groups. What’s interesting is that he openly admits that he based the female character in his unreadable book YEAR OF THE CAT on one of his female “friends” – who happens to be underage. Didn’t Vladimir Nabokov write a book about that? Called LOLITA? He also admits that he used her image and her real name WITHOUT her permission.

H’mmmmmm

{{according to Mr. Bryant's blog, he's taken down three of the four cited blogs}}



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

THE SHAME OF OUR COUNTRY

I was watching Rachel Maddow’s show the other night, and what she was reporting on struck a real nerve with me, particularly since WonderWife has a problem with the VA. It took her 2 years to get certified to go to the VA here in WhiteRepublicanLand for her health benefits. I am glad that at least she got that – but we’re still waiting for her to get her disability benefits – for almost 3 years now.

Reminds me of the Rudyard Kipling poem, TOMMY. Yes, this sort of mistreatment of veterans has been going on that long. I include the poem here:

Rudyard Kipling

Tommy

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

(My thanks to the Poetry Lover’s page: http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/tommy.html)

According to the VA, they’ve put a computer system in place to speed the process of adjudicating claims. It doesn’t seem to be working. According to the VA, they’re doing the best that they can. Well, gangers, trust me: If this is the BEST that the VA can do, what’s the worst?

This is a national shame. And it's a national disgrace, as well.

The VA backlog is decades old, and mythic in size. Politicians speak of rooms waist-high in paperwork, a building that sags under the weight of unprocessed forms. At the start of 2012, it was taking the VA 188 days to resolve a veteran's claim. At the end of this year, that number had increased to 262 days. "We feel like the backlog is unacceptable," says Tommy Sowers, assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the VA. But, he says, the VA has made it easier for more veterans to qualify for benefits. By doing so, it also made the backlog longer. "We say that for Vietnam veterans, that we should open it up make it easier to file a claim on Agent Orange-related diseases," Sowers explains. "That means more claims are going to come in the door. When we make it easier for veterans to be diagnosed and treated for post traumatic stress, that means more claims are going to come in the door."

The VA has also made it easier for veterans to seek benefits for traumatic brain injury. All these changes mean the VA has been running in place - which is not a recipe for any sort of success. It has processed about 1 million claims a year, but more than 1 million new ones keep coming in. Sowers says the VA will turn the corner — but not soon. "I wish I could give you an answer that next month we could just throw more resources at this and eliminate [the backlog]," Sowers says. "We can't. This problem has been decades in the making and it's going to take a few years to fix." The fixes mostly involve changing from a paper system to an electronic one. VA officials say to watch for improvements in 2014, and for the backlog to be eliminated in 2015. The error rate now hovers around 14 percent, and the mountainous backlog stands at nearly 900,000, as 53 veterans reportedly die each day waiting for their benefits.

This is completely unacceptable.

In December, 2012, the VA touted its “paperless, digital disability claims system” as “a lasting solution that will transform how we operate and eliminate the claims backlog.” However, at the four Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional offices where the new system was deployed under a pilot program, OIG found it took even longer to process a claim than the VA's old paper system. Despite that failure, 18 regional offices have begun the conversion to the new system, and the remaining 38 are expected to make the switch by the end of the year. “VBA should immediately develop and implement a robust plan so that its computer system operates properly and VBA can begin processing claims in an accurate and timely manner,” says Paul Sullivan, a longtime veterans' advocate and director of veteran outreach at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that focuses solely on veteran disability issues. “Veterans are justifiably frustrated at the deteriorating claims crisis, especially the lack of planning to fix it. Nearly one million veterans now wait nine months for a VBA decision that is wrong as much as 30 percent of the time. How many of our veterans will die waiting for a VBA claim decision that is often wrong?” In a written response to the OIG’s criticisms, the VA said the “excessive” emphasis in the report on the problems with the new electronic claims processing system is “misplaced,” and that while it has taken steps to resolve the issues identified during the rollout of the new system, it expects to “address risks and issues as they are identified.”

“I hear from veterans all the time who are distraught because they are waiting for a claim to be adjudicated,” says Anthony Hardie, a veterans' advocate and Gulf War veteran who’s testified numerous times before Congress on Gulf War Illness and other issues. “There’s a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling that you are up against an uncaring, unfeeling bureaucracy. It can be overwhelming. When I left the military in 1993 there was a claims backlog,” he says. “Twenty years later there is still a claims backlog. It makes my blood boil.”

So, what’s the solution?

Well, for starters, the VA could hire an outside company to FIX what’s wrong with the system. Yoohoo? Apple? Microsoft? Dell? Any of y’all have a system that could actually work right? Secondly, they could also hire a lot of the unemployed vets to do nothing but data input. Thirdly, they could hire a lot of the unemployed vets to do NOTHING but double-check the data input with the hard copies of the claims, and they could keep these people ON the payroll to do the same jobs. SAP software has applications that, once they’re set up and running, will sort the claims in order of age and expedite them. Once this is done, the VA and the FedGov will have solved several problems. One, the claims will be processed in a timely fashion. Two, the dilemma of unemployed vets will mostly be solved. Three, the system will save money. AND it will save lives as well.

Then, maybe, it won’t be a case of “Tommy this and Tommy that, and Tommy get behind”. Instead, it will be a case of all of us realizing that, but for the thin khaki line, we might just be in one hell of a lot more trouble than any of us like to admit.











Friday, January 25, 2013

THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS – AND IT HAS GOT TO STOP

Like most people, I don’t really think about privacy issues on the Internet. I don’t think that most people worry overmuch about privacy on the ‘Net (although there are an absolutely ASTOUNDING number of people that think that they really can hide behind a monitor and the moniker ANONYMOUS). Well, gangers, I just got schooled in just WHY it is that privacy concerns should be uppermost in everybody’s minds.

Two of my friends got doc-dropped today. Just in case you don’t know what that term is, doc-dropping occurs when somebody gets all of a person’s private information – real name and all “handles”, physical address, all phone numbers, all e-mail accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, 4Square, Reddit, Tumblr, Skype, where their kids go to school, where the person works – you name it, EVERYTHING – and then publishs it on a public venue. It’s contemptible because it’s usually threatened (and used) to punish a person for having an opinion that runs counter to their own stated positions.

It’s also damned DANGEROUS.

THINK about it, people. We live in a world where NOBODY is safe from anything. Look at the nasty habit of SWATing people that’s becoming so popular in Hollywood. Think of all the public figures who must be accompanied by armed security people wherever they go – and, also, think about a President getting shot in the street by a crazy person even though he was surrounded by armed men. Think about what happened to Gabby Giffords. And they weren’t doc-dropped. Now, think about what would happen if somebody with a grudge doc-dropped *YOU*. Scary prospect, isn’t it? And do NOT think that it couldn’t happen to you, because it can. It has.

There’s a group called Stop The Good Reads Bullies. It was started by a fairly incompetent writer who objected to bad reviews and started putting up fake reviews to make this author look better. This writer also picked fights with everybody that objected to the nasty comments that were made by this person (and I’ve read said comments, by the way) and, when this “author” was outed as a sock-puppet reviewer of the works that this author had published, made so much trouble on Good Reads that this author was kicked off the site and banned from posting there. So, this author started another group: Stop The Goodreads Bullies.

Unfortunately, they themselves are a group that is far more in love with bullying than the people on Goodreads ever thought they could be.

There’s been a squabble going on between a friend of mine and one of the male authors who is apparently a fairly big noise on this site. I’ve also read his books, which were an absolute waste of time. Good ideas, bad writing, needs an editor. He fancies himself as a poet – which I’ll promise you he isn’t – and a musician. Since I haven’t heard any of his music, I’ll suspend my judgment on that as well. He also apparently thinks that he’s the Goddess’s Gift to womankind as well. Be that as it may, I have read the relevant posts, and this male author is a complete jerk. He is as big a bully as the other author.

Now, they have erroneously identified a person that had absolutely NOTHING to do with the original squabble and have doc-dropped her. There is another person that is going to be doc-dropped who also has nothing to do with the original squabble. This sort of behaviour is far more suited to an elementary school playground – IN MY OPINION. I have no problem with supposedly grown adults behaving like spoilt five year olds, but I DO find it disconcerting that a bunch of frauds are yelling about being OUTED as frauds – and punishing the people that outed them. They were profiled on Huffington Post and the author was forced to publish a follow-up, explanatory article to his original article.

Here is a link to the original article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stop-the-gr-bullies/stop-goodreads-bullies_b_1689661.html. Here is a link to the follow-up article by the original author: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-losowsky/stop-the-gr-bullies-an-ap_b_1690134.html. And here is the link to Ray Garton’s masterful response: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-garton/stop-the-gr-bullies-_b_1696640.html

There are divergent opinions, of course, as to whether STGRB and their adherents are being noble in re helping people that have been or have been perceived to have been bullied, or whether they’re worse than the ills that they claim to be trying to cure. I’ll leave that decision up to you, gangers.

I know what I think.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

IT'S BEEN A WHILE

It’s been a while since I felt like writing anything here, and I apologize for that. Having a chronic, terminal disease is sometimes hard to live with, and the absolute, screaming disgust that I lived with during the run-up to the Presidential election was extremely debilitating. Somehow, I thought better of the ReThugnican opponents than what they’ve showed lately – I know, the eternal optimist.

There have been some absolutely horrible things go on in the last couple of months. There have been a bunch of equally horrible people promoting callous, self-righteous agendas as well. I am referring to the Sandy Hook massacre here, and the NRA, not to mention the ToiletPaperPissers (aka as the Tea Party Patriots). The absolute worst thing that I’ve seen lately has been the revival of the feckless, screaming opposition to the President’s modest (VERY modest) exercise of the Executive Order to at least start getting rid of assault weapons and extended use magazines. Plus, of course, that bugaboo that haunts ALL gun owners according to the NRA: universal background checks.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOh! TEH HORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRORZ!!!!!!!

One of my state’s elected representatives, Steve Stockman, has said that he’s going to start the impeachment process over the President’s executive orders (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/01/15/rep-steve-stockman-threatens-to-impeach-obama-over-guns/?wprss=rss_politics). Senator Rand Paul has compared the President to a monarch (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/15/rand-paul-gives-obama-the-royal-treatment/comment-page-3/). He further stated: “I've been opposed to executive orders, even with Republican presidents," he said. "But one that wants to infringe on the Second Amendment, we will fight tooth and nail. And I promise you," he continued, "There'll be no rock left unturned as far as trying to stop him from usurping the Constitution, running roughshod over Congress. And you will see one heck of a debate if he decides to try to do this."

His argument falls in line with critics who say recent legislative pushes – both at the federal and state level – to amend gun laws mark an aggressive front against Second Amendment rights. The National Rifle Association on Monday posted to Twitter that gun owners are "under assault" and argued the White House and New York Politicians "declare war on the #SecondAmendment."

What ABSOLUTE crap.

Know what’s interesting? RONALD REAGAN was in favour of an assault weapons ban (which President Obama mentioned Wednesday). So was George Bu$hit. Both of them tried to get an assault weapons ban in place, and Bu$hit is actually on record as stating that he couldn’t GET Congress to re-authorize the Clinton ban.

What’s the MOST interesting thing about all the hoo-haw and foofaraw is the astounding number of people that are, once again, comparing OUR PRESIDENT to Adolph Hitler. Of course, it would be easy to write them off as nutcases and looney tunes – but I for one am DAMNED sick and tired of this nonsense. So, what’s really behind it?

IN MY OPINION: it’s a bunch of reactionary, white people who are NOT comfortable with the notion that there’s a BLACK MAN in the White House, who is NOT a “step ‘n fetchit, uppity N’WORD.” That’s what this is really all about. White people who are scared of the notion that the minorities that they not so secretly despise are actually better public servants than they’re used to, who have BRAINS and IDEAS and who don’t really need the approbation of the old rich white folks to survive. Take a look at a picture of a Tea Party function, for example? Do you see ANY minorities in those pictures? SURE you do – they’re busing tables and serving food. There have been at least two token blacks prominently displayed: Herman Cain and Allen West. Herman Cain is a skirt-chasing lunatic, and Allen West was “retired” as a lieutenant colonel for cause. THIS is what the Tea Party has to offer: puppets on a string.

My wife and I are both hunters. We own several guns: 3 shotguns, 2 nine millimeter handguns, 1 revolver, 2 30.06’s, 2 30.30’s, and 4 .22s. We reload our own ammunition. WonderWife has several 15 bullet clips for the two automatics, and I’ve got 9 6 shot speed loaders. When I was physically able, I preferred to bow hunt – with a double compound recurve bow. We both love to target shoot. There is no need for us to have assault weapons. We both belong to a GLBT shooting club called Pink Pistols that is NRA registered. The ONLY reason to have an assault weapon is to kill people. The ONLY reason to have 100 bullet clips on an automatic weapon is to kill people FAST, without reloading. There is no reason for anybody that is not in the military to have these weapons.

The best thing that has happened in this whole sorry mess is the reaction of New York state. The worst thing is that the Hitler references have started up again. GOT to wonder if the chuckleheaded FOOLS that are referencing Hitler and POTUS in the same breath know anything about the Holocaust?

Somehow, I don’t think that they do.