Monthly Archives: April 2018

Counterbalance: Good News Wednesday, Cats & Dogs Edition

Because nothing brings a smile quicker than kitties and doggies.

Aside #1: Yeah, I know it’s a rather lame idea, this post, but I just needed a break from humans today.  I’m sick again, with new symptoms, and it’s got me feeling somewhat depressed.  I promise next month’s good news will be more interesting.  Stick with me.  Next week I will be back to political commentary.

First up is a story from the Sunny Skyz website about the Cat Pawsitive program, an effort by The Jackson Galaxy Project.  This program trains shelter cats in order to make them more adoptable and confident.  The example in this article is workers teaching cats to “high five” the humans!

Also from the Sunny Skyz website, a story about a 17 year old dog – who is blind and deaf – who led his family to their missing 3 year old daughter.  He stayed by her side all night, leaving only to run to rescuers as they came near, so he could lead them to the girl.  Both girl and dog are fine (“17 Year Old Deaf and Blind Dog Help Searchers Find Missing 3 Year Old Girl”, Sunny Skyz website, 4/21/18).

“Dog Ownership Linked To Living Longer, Study Finds”, reports an article on The Independent website (Josh Gabbatiss, 11/17/17).  The benefit of dog ownership is apparently linked to lower levels of cardiovascular disease.  Hey, makes a good argument if you need to convince someone that the puppy your spontaneously brought home is a life saver!

Not to be outdone, the Health Fitness Revolution website lists 10 health benefits of being owned by a cat, which include reducing stress, decreasing risk of strokes, providing therapeutic help, boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, and even reducing your carbon footprint.

Aside #2: I can’t confirm the lowering blood pressure thing, possibly because my cats are all the time causing mischief.  Running after them while saying, “No, don’t do that!” is not a calm experience.  Except for them.  They seem to think it’s amusing to watch me.

Here’s a cat who prevented mischief – “This Just In: Angry Cat Foils Burglary”, posted by someone named Andrea, LifeWithCats website, 4/10/18.  Cat parent in Maryland was woken up by his kitty, who was meowing while looking out the window and watching someone steal things out of the parent’s car.  Good kitty!

From the LifeWithDogs website, here’s a funny video of a dog who really, really loves pizza!  Now I know what “zoomies” are.

Here are some brief and funny stories about cats from a website called “Dog ‘N Meows” (“7 Funny Overheard Cat Stories to Crack You Up”, 9/9/17).  I like the one called “Sneaky, Evil Queen”.  I had a cat who always used to get my dog in trouble that way.

Funny dog pics. Enjoy. These are from BarkPost.

And finally, from my most favorite site “ICanHazCheeszburger(LolCats)”, this:

No matter what kind of day I am having, ICanHazCheezburger? always cheers me up!

Aside #3: If you have any favorite happy kitty/doggy sites that do not focus on “hurt/near death animal saved by humans” stories – because those make me cry, even though they have happy endings, and I don’t need more crying in my life right now – please let me know so I can enjoy them right along with you.

Weird news of the week:  The Japanese have invented a “shadow man” that is a projection of a man on your curtains, doing things like boxing, doing karate, or vacuuming (to name just 3).  It’s designed for people who live alone, to make others – like burglars – think there is another person there.

I think this is a great idea.  I would buy this.  In another, more urban place I lived, I once had a guy knock on my door, claiming to be a neighbor needing help.  I stupidly let him in, then got suspicious, and told him to get out (which he did).  I called the cops and they told me the guy usually beats people up and takes their money.  Needless to say, I got a lecture about opening my door to strangers.  The cops told me he probably had been watching the duplex to see if I lived alone.

Recommendation of the week: Code Black resumes tonight.  It’s a medical procedural drama.  Pretty good, if you like that genre (I do).  Another good medical drama is The Resident.

Be good.  Be kind.  Back to my serious self next week.

 

 

 

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The Struggle to Defeat Transphobia: Our Challenge as Allies

Transphobia: A sense of disgust, hatred, dislike, or fear of people whose identity falls outside conventional societal gender norms.

I was prompted to write about transphobia by a close family member who identifies as transgender.  She – and I – are concerned about the uptick in violence towards anyone perceived as “the other”, especially those folks who do not conform to binary gender roles.

This is another result of the rise of right-wing extremists, unleashed by the GOP and their bigoted leadership (especially in the White House).

Aside #1: To those who insist, even now, that 45 has always been “pro-LGBTQ”, let me remind you that there have been many anti-LGBTQ policies and “recommendations” since 45’s been in office (for a list of just a few, see  “Trump promised to be LGBTQ-friendly.  His first year in office proved it was a giant con”, German Lopez, Vox website, 1/22/18).

There has been an 86% increase in anti-LGBTQ violence since 45 took office (“Report Shows Massive Increase in Anti-LGBTQ Violence Since Trump Took Office”, David Lorh, Huffington Post online, 1/22/18).  That includes 52 hate-based homicides.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that even 1 homicide is too much.

This is scary stuff.  From harassment by bigots online, to homicides committed against people for just being themselves, the increase in hateful words and murderous deeds should worry everyone who has a heart and a conscience.

Considering that conservative estimates are that 4.1% of Americans, or 10 million, identify – at least to Gallup and other pollsters – as LGBTQ, chances are that you probably know someone, or are related to someone, who is LGBTQ.  That includes 7.3% of Millennials, who report the largest numbers overall (“In U.S., More Adults Identifying as LGBTQ”, Gary J. Gates, Gallup website, 1/11/17).

Those are just the people who report that they are LGBTQ, however.  Especially in this current climate, the numbers could be higher.

My point is, even if you don’t care about this issue, this danger, as something likely to happen to you, it’s quite possible it will be important to someone you care about.  Someone you care about could be suffering from bullying, or worse.

All because of who they are.

How is that, in any way, acceptable to a society which (used to) pride itself on its tolerance and diversity?

And what can we, as allies, do about it?

Well, I’m happy you wondered that, because I ran across an article on the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) website called “Tips for Allies of Transgender People”.

It’s a short read, but it lays down the basics of how to support people and how not to be part of the problem.  Tips include: don’t out someone, don’t ask them what their “real name” is, don’t make assumptions about their sexual orientation (that’s different from gender identity), respect how they refer to themselves (this includes pronouns), and don’t try to show your support by giving them backhanded compliments (“You look just like a real woman”).

In terms of addressing broader issues such as bathroom access, civil rights, and anti-LGBTQ sentiment voiced by people in the general public, you can and should at the very least educate people.

For example, the idea that allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms will put children and women in danger of being victimized by sexual predators is a straight-up myth. Yet, time and time again I hear this “argument” bandied about by people who really ought to know better.

It’s important that we explain to people why this is not true.

A great article on this is called “Church More Dangerous for Kids Than Transgender Bathrooms”, on the Patheos website.  I like it because it provides a familiar reference point for many of the people who think this myth is true – church.  Many of the folks who spread this false information are religious.

Aside #2: Yeah, even the “hate the sin, love the sinner” types who think it’s ok to be transgender as long as it’s “not in their face” or in any way connected to being actively gay/lesbian.  Sigh.

The article contains statistical nuggets that you can use to explain the facts to people, such as:

1.  90% of child molesters target children of family members and friends, and the majority are men married to women (The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute).  Not strangers.

2.  From 1950-2013, over 17,000 victims made sexual abuse accusations against Catholic clerics (US Conference of Bishops Report, 2014).

3.  Lest the person you are trying to educate thinks this is all confined to the Catholic Church, a group of Protestants has launched a program called “Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment” (GRACE) that addresses this problem.  They state that there are, on average, 70 accusations of sexual abuse per week within Protestant churches.

Then you can finish your educational session by citing the statement from over 300 experts in sexual assault prevention that says giving transgender people the right to use the correct bathroom (as defined by them, not by you or anyone else) does not put women or children at risk for sexual assault (National Alliance to End Sexual Violence as quoted by the National Center for Transgender Equality website).

You can also do the many things progressives do to support any cause they care about, as well.  Things like writing your Congressperson, signing petitions, joining/supporting organizations, voting out bigots, and attending rallies and town halls.

And, also important – listening.  Not inserting your issues into the discussion.  Being supportive.

A good resource is the largest family and ally organization that helps LGBTQ people and those who love them: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), founded in 1973.  They support LGBTQ causes and oppose bigotry and “conversion therapy”.  They have local chapters, and there is probably one near you.

Aside #3: Of course, there isn’t a chapter within 50 miles of where I live, but there is one in Memphis.  Another reason I really need to move.

Even if you don’t know any LGBTQ people, it’s worth checking out some of these websites I cited, just for your own political/personal development.  Chances are, you’ll run smack into a bigot one of these days, and it’s nice to have a well-rounded point of view to convey.

Because saying nothing is not an option.  Not when the bigots are so loud, so prevalent, and so sure that no one will challenge them.  We can’t let that slide.  We need to stand up for others.

Weird news of the week: Dumb place of the week award goes to Saginaw, Michigan, where a customer at a fitness center caused a panic when he showed the name of a WiFi network called “Remote Detonator” to a manager.  The manager evacuated the place and called the cops (“WiFi Network Called ‘Remote Detonator’ Prompts Gym Evacuation”, Associated Press via the ABC News website, 4/16/18).  Bonus weirdness: Former FBI Director James Comey meets Ghostface Killah and Method Man from Wu-Tang Clan backstage at “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (Spin website, scroll down to the bottom of the page).  It just seemed surreal to me.

Recommendation of the week: The websites I mentioned in this post are my recommendations for this week.  I haven’t done much this week except hobble around with my sore toe and curse the snow that won’t seem to go away!

Be good.  Be kind.  Be a good and kind ally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DHS All Up in Your Internet: Don’t Panic…Yet

5 days ago, Forbes published an article titled “Department of Homeland Security Compiling Database of Journalists and Media Influencers” (Michelle Fabio, Forbes online website, 4/6/18), in which they made a reference to a posting by Homeland Security asking companies to submit “capabilities statements” for doing “media monitoring”.

Aside #1: I find it odd that I haven’t seen this news blasted all over TV and the internet.  Too much going on with the White House, I guess, what with the FBI raiding the president’s lawyer’s office and all.

Homeland Security is already monitoring social media accounts of immigrants, as reported in September of last year (“DHS Wants to Monitor Immigrants’ Social Media. No One Knows What They Will Do With This Information”, Walter Ewing, Immigration Impact website, 9/29/17).  Oh, and that includes green card holders and naturalized US citizens – and the people with whom they interact, which of course includes US citizens who were born here.

When you add these 2 things to the revelation about Cambridge Analytica mining the data of not only 87+ million Facebook users but an untold number of people via online survey sites like E-Rewards (that subcontract out their surveys to different companies), it seems that no one’s information is safe anymore – not their likes and dislikes, their buying habits, their age/gender/location, and now their political views (“Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Data Mining: What You Need to Know”, Ian Sherr, CNET website, 4/9/18).

Aside #2: I got one of those notices from Facebook telling me my data had been compromised because of something called “My Digital Life” – a quiz that 200,000 or so people took that also hijacked their lists of friends so their data could be mined, too.  I didn’t take that quiz so they got me via some friend of mine who did.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist – clearly I don’t care who knows my political views or buying habits, as I blog about politics and take online consumer surveys – but the bigger issue is whether or not somebody should be able to get information about you without your permission. 

For example, I have never allowed an app or a survey to connect to my Facebook page, mostly because I don’t want them to get to my friends’ data that way.  They got you anyway, sorry.

It seems to me that unless you go completely offline, and do not have a social media account, do not comment on websites, or don’t even Google anything, someone somewhere has some data on you.

Even if all you do is order products online, someone still has some data on you.  And who knows – I don’t, certainly – what home assistants like Alexa know about you?

This latest news about DHS monitoring “media influencers” is troubling.  What does that even mean?  YouTube “stars”, bloggers who have a certain number of followers, people who follow and comment on the Idiot’s Twitter account, people who do podcasts, commenters on political sites such as Raw Story and Daily Kos?

How many millions of people would that be?

This would not be a daunting task, I suspect, because there are computer programs that can find people on a DHS “watch list” such as this.  Just think of how quickly and how much a search term in Google returns – when I Googled “how many returns per search term”, I got 125 million hits in 6 seconds.  How hard would that be to search the web for parameters set by DHS?

Basically, we’re all going to be on some watch list, somewhere. And under this administration, that can be particularly scary.

We do, of course, have this thing called the First Amendment.  It guarantees freedom of expression, speech, the press, and assembly.  It states that the government can neither establish a state religion, nor restrict religious practices.  It also guarantees the right to petition the government.

But we also have sedition laws, which hinge on whether or not the “seditious” speech or action is an “imminent threat”.  There have been very few prosecutions in this country for sedition, mostly because we do have the right to “agitate” – for lack of a better word – under the First Amendment.

It’s that pesky “imminent threat” definition that makes things a bit murky.

Considering we have a president who stated last night that the raid on his lawyer’s office and hotel room was “an attack on our country” (“Trump Denounces FBI Raid on His Lawyer’s Office as an Attack on Our Country”, Michael D. Shear, NY Times website, 4/9/2018), who knows what “imminent threat” will mean to a Republican-appointed DHS?

Add this to the fact that dangerous man John Bolton (the new national security advisor) just fired the head of DHS – no doubt for being not far enough to the right – and things start to look a bit alarming.

It’s all concerning right now, but we don’t need to panic.  At least not until we see new prisons and detention centers being built.

Hopefully, this administration will either be gone or severely restrained (think “midterm elections”) before that happens.

Weird news of the week: “Why is Orange Snow Falling Across Eastern Europe?”  Insert your own 45 joke here.

Recommendation for the week: I may have recommended her before, but it’s worth doing again.  If you want to know – really know – what’s going on in the White House and politics, you won’t do better than watching The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.  And if you don’t watch MSNBC, you can still hear her on her podcast.  She lays things out so clearly, and explains them so thoroughly, that you will learn quite a bit every time you tune in.

Be good.  Be kind.  Knowledge is capital, knowledge is power.

 

 

 

The Politics of Gaslighting

This is a picture of a gaslight.   It was invented in England in the 1790s, and by the next century it was on streets and in houses, being the main form of lighting in England and also in the United States (“Lighting a Revolution”, National Museum of American History website, no author or date noted).

A feature of this type of lighting was the ability to turn the gas up or down, making the lighting brighter or dimmer.  It is this ability that is the subject of the 1944 film “Gaslight”, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer (which was adapted from a play written by Patrick Hamilton (“Gaslight”, IMDb website, no author or date noted).

The character played by Charles Boyer was trying to drive his wife (played by Ingrid Bergman) crazy by turning the gas up and down, when supposedly she was the only person in the house at the time.  The husband would tell his wife that she was imagining this, making her doubt her own perceptions.  He hid and moved other objects, too, always stating that the objects were either not missing, or she stole them, or otherwise manipulating her.

This is where the term “gaslighting” comes from – I bet you’ve heard it used once or twice.

This form of manipulation is on public display every time 45 or one of his surrogates speaks.  It’s more than just “spin”, it’s an attempt to reframe reality in such a way that, once ensnared by the manipulation, the subject can’t think clearly – even in the face of facts that are quite obvious to everyone else.

Falling for this kind of trick is not a reflection of how “smart” someone is, contrary to what many people think.  It is also not a reflection of how educated someone is, how ‘weak” someone is, or how low someone’s self-esteem is.

The truth is, anyone can be manipulated by this technique.  A lot depends on how invested the person is in the relationship, how much the person trusts the one doing the gaslighting, and – especially in the case of 45 supporters – how others around them think and react.

Despite the appearance of a diverse society, the USA has a few “group-think” characteristics that can be manipulated for any purpose, if someone wishes to influence a substantial number of people, using gaslighting.

Aside #1: I think we have seen how this has played out, in terms of the effect of Russian bots and memes on some of the American public.

Let’s just look at one characteristic…

Like all groups, American society experiences “trends”, “fads”, or “crazes” – pick your term.  Everything from consumer products to reality tv shows, large numbers of Americans do fall into the “everyone does/has/watches it, I have to have/do/watch it” kind of thinking that defines a trend.

It doesn’t matter if this trend is harmful to others (Samsung products that are made in factories under such horrific conditions that workers have died), or harmful to themselves (doing stupid things on YouTube), I think it’s safe to say that people are not at their critical thinking best when they succumb to fads.

Of course, sometimes the trends are not harmful – like the hula hoop (yes, I’m old), jogging, or eating healthy food.  But you have to admit, these things tend to “catch on” and become popular in our culture.  Some people do things because “everyone is doing it” – that’s a hallmark of our world today.

It’s become this way with politics now.  Oh, I know, you can look at the 60s and see how people jumped on the bandwagon and became hippies, social activists, and the like – and you can even go farther back in time to see social movements trending.

My point today is, it’s reached a point where there is very little balance around for people to cling to, to keep themselves from washing out to sea with the rest of the ocean of popular culture.

For example, ideas trend quickly on social media and are picked up by others (the news, talk radio, etc) and spread, so there’s often very little time to think about the veracity of whatever idea is making the rounds at any given moment.

45 and his surrogates know this.  By the time one or all of them have spread a talking point, they are on to the next one before people have a chance to evaluate it.

It’s gaslighting at warp speed.

But it’s not just that it’s a conservative talking point – it’s that a lot of what they spread isn’t true.  People can, and do, fact-check this bunch all the time, but by the time the lie is disputed we usually have another false narrative to deal with.

Even people who don’t normally listen to or agree with the right-wing can be sucked into it at times.  A good example of this was the recent drumbeat about gun ownership, in the wake of the mass shooting in Florida.

No matter which position you took, it seemed that most people agreed on the following:

–That there should be ways to more easily commit people for observation (especially kids, using the ‘expertise’ of police and guidance counselors)

–That someone’s mental health status should be a key factor in whether or not they can buy a firearm, and even

–That we should “open up more mental hospitals to get mentally ill homeless people off the street”

You guys know where I stand on all this.  I see it as scapegoating a population that is vulnerable, and I also see it as a clear indication that most people do not understand mental illness.

Aside #2: “Hey, I can do what Dr. Phil does!  I don’t need a degree, psychology is just common sense!”

Anyway, these ideas about the homeless and people with mental illnesses went viral, and pretty soon everyone, it seemed, was advocating them.

Even though there is zero evidence that homeless people have guns and pose a serious risk or participate in mass shootings.  As for police and guidance counselors committing kids, that’s bs too as these people do not have the education or training to do this.

And there’s the whole “which mental illnesses do you mean?” question, as well as the fact that many people with violent tendencies never see a counselor, mental health clinic or hospital so how do you identify them in a gun sale?

This was gaslighting to distract people from the real and solvable issue of access to guns that can kill large numbers of people at a time – assault weapons.

How can people help others, in this age of deception, evaluate what they see and hear on social media, at White House press conferences, and on news shows?  How can we guard against being taken in ourselves?

I believe that it’s very difficult to do those things in the current climate.  Unless someone is predisposed to question everything they see and hear, the noise often becomes overwhelming and exhausting.

I think we’re going to just have to tough it out until November, when the midterms occur.  Because if the moderates and liberals regain the House of Representatives (at the very least), this will change the dominant narrative – or at least put a stronger counterpoint out there.

Politics is a numbers game.  If there are more reasonable, rational people in office, there will be more chances to express ideas that, even if you don’t agree with them, will at least not be lies.

Am I saying that left-leaning people don’t lie as much as right-leaning people?

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Don’t believe it?  Try looking at websites that keep track of  and fact-check the things politicians say, like FactCheck.org.  Or you can fact-check politicians yourselves, if you are so inclined.

That’s one thing you can do before November. Then make up your own mind as to whether or not a politician is gaslighting you.

Weird news of the week: From CBS news, a report of a UFO over Arizona, seen by pilots of 2 separate jets…“2 Airline Pilots Report Seeing UFO While Flying Over Arizona”, CBS News website, 3/29/18. 

Aside #3: Yes, I do see the irony in reporting weird news in this blogpost. Go fact-check it, then!

Recommendation of the week: Another one for people who like old-time tv, especially in the paranormal genre – the One Step Beyond channel on YouTube.  This show aired in the 1960s, and scared the crap out of me as a child.  It’s interesting to me now because it shows how women were portrayed in that era (hint: not in a good way, really), plus the stories are interesting.  It predated The Twilight Zone, by the way.

Be good.  Be kind.  Facts matter.