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Is Mass Surveillance in America Really That Bad? June 8, 2013

Posted by Dindy in barack obama, Current Events, iraq, Islam, Muslims, Politics, privacy, Right wing, Terrorism.
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Mass Surveillance in America

On Wednesday, the Guardian published a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over data for all the calls made on its network on an “ongoing, daily basis.” Other revelations about surveillance of phone and digital communications have followed.

That the National Security Agency has engaged in such activity isn’t entirely new: Since 9/11, we’ve learned about large-scale surveillance by the spy agency from a patchwork of official statements, classified documents, and anonymously sourced news stories.


This is an example of the slippery slope. Almost all of Congress supported the Patriot Act when it was passed, and few Americans protested (yes, I WAS one of the protesters.) But now that we have started down the slippery slope that is the Patriot Act, they are finding more and more ways to infringe on our privacy. And at first glance, it seems fairly innocuous– they collect metadata regarding calls made in which one of the participants is outside of the US. Then they may initiate further surveillance and tap the phones. Who can complain about that?

Except my future son-in-law has family in the UK and calls them frequently. Now surely none of them would show up on the surveillance radar– but how do we know that, because we don’t know how they select the phones which will be tapped and whose phones they select? My almost son-in-law has a fairly common name, and we know from the experience my dh, Bill Robinson, has had at airports since 9-11 that merely having a name that is similar to someone who is on the Watch List is enough to warrant additional screening at the airport. Either that, or Bill, himself, is on the Watch list, which given his history of writing letters to the editor criticizing the Bush Administration is not inconceivable.

Then, I have another friend with family in Iran. They also speak frequently on the phone. Well we KNOW that anybody who lives in Iran is automatically suspect, right? (No, I don’t really believe that, but there are many who do!) So are they being tapped?

I have FaceBook friends who are from Pakistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. We became friends when I was playing Farmville and have remained friends. I’ve even chatted with a few of them on FB Chat. I don’t really know much about any of them, but what if by virtue of our FB chats and the fact that we are FB friends, any of us comes under suspicion?

Even if the current situation is not unreasonable, how do we know that the next permutation of this act won’t be? The Act started in 2001 allowing the sharing of “tangible” data such as tax forms,  books, business records and library check out records. It wasn’t till 2006 that we found out about the warrantless data mining of phone records. Then in 2007, the FBI and NSA started getting access to info from Microsoft, and in subsequent years Apple and Google. Well crap! That suddenly makes my Yahoo Account feel much more secure than the Google Account I’ve held for years as my very private email account. And with the purchase of my last Android phone and my iPAD, I now make frequent purchases through Google Check Out. So does that mean that the government now knows how much time I waste playing Angry Birds? Or are they tracking my purchase of John Denver Music with suspicion since he was known as a hippie peace freak?

The trouble is, it’s hard to argue with a program that has apparently been a factor in preventing further terrorist attacks in the US. It’s hard to argue with success. But how much are we willing to give up for that security? On the one hand, it’s easy for me to say that the government is welcome to look at any of my phone records, Amazon book orders and Angry Bird purchases they want– but there are a few problems with that– what if they start tracking what I watch on TV? What if they start instructing their satellite cams to zoom in on my house? How do I know they aren’t already doing so?

And what if they start taking a perfectly innocuous action of mine– and decide it’s suspicious? We’ve all had the experience of surfing the web and being pulled into a website we really didn’t want to see by inadvertently clicking on something else. Or, sometimes, in my attempt to learn about a subject, I might inadvertently  end up on a website the NSA has marked as suspicious. Will they then increase their surveillance of me? Start tapping my phones? Start reading my emails? Do I have anything in there I don’t want the government to read or know about?

Well, I have, on rare occasions,  criticized Obama. I’ve criticized Dubya and Cheney a lot, and if Cheney is still running things from his secret bunker as some have claimed, I might be in trouble. I have also frequently criticized the Patriot Act, right wing politics and Faux News. I’ve said, more than once, that Gitmo should be closed. Does that open me up to greater suspicion?

Many think that my aforementioned dh has become an apologist for Islam as he frequently argues against the anti-Muslim hysteria that we frequently encounter here in the US and in Texas. Does that automatically open him and me up to more suspicion?

It’s easy to scoff and say, “My life is an open book and the government is welcome to poke through my underwear drawer any time they like.” But are they really? If the organization doing the searching is determined to find something, I am not so sure that they won’t be able to dig up something. I did send a letter to President Nixon when I was a very little girl. In the letter I expressed my concern about the POW/MIA situation in Viet Nam. Clearly my anti-government tendencies go way back! (And no, I didn’t do it as a school assignment. It was of my own volition. I even got a letter back from him that my parents told me had his actual signature. I still have the letter somewhere.)

I do jaywalk rather frequently as it is the only way to get across the street in Fort Worth, and I have run the occasional red light and driven the wrong way down a one way street. I even go more than five miles above the speed limit on occasion.

I sent dirty letters to my husband when he was in Officer Training School in San Antonio, and I wore a black armband when Ronald Reagan was elected. I inhaled some second hand marijuana smoke while standing in line for a concert. I have muttered imprecations against the Catholic Church on more than one occasion. So I clearly am not as pure as the driven snow.

It seems kind of silly for me to be worried about this government erosion of our privacy, because I REALLY don’t have anything to hide. Yet, I am worried. How much more has the government failed to reveal about their data mining? And where do we draw the line and say enough is enough?

My Thoughts on the Aurora Tragedy July 20, 2012

Posted by frrobins in Uncategorized.
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I was horrified when I learned about the shootings at the premier of The Dark Knight Rises. I’ve been to premiers before. I’m sure that once the baby is older I will again. The wonderful thing about premiers is that you’re with a group of people you feel safe and comfortable with, even if you’re all strangers. When you’re a geek, you feel alienated from society as a whole. When everyone around you is lining up to see a certain movie, you’re all united just by that love of the movie. And that someone would shatter that with death and violence makes my stomach churn.

A lot of the reactions I’ve heard to the event includes something along the lines of “I don’t under stand how…” The statement is understandable, and believe me, I’ve spent hours wondering why people would commit such atrocities. What I realized today is that I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to understand that type of thinking. And I think it’s a good thing that the overwhelming majority of people in this world cannot understand that type of thinking. It’s a sign that our moral compass is intact.

The other thought struck me when I read that the suspect was calling himself “The Joker.” In Batman, Bruce Wayne has to take a stand against the bad guys because the police sure as hell can’t. In real life, the police nabbed the bad guy. He didn’t escape. They’ve evacuated his apartment building and the surrounding ones. They took wounded people to hospitals in squad cars. Sadly, 12 people died, and around 50 were wounded. But the police cannot be everywhere, nor do we want to live in a world where they are everywhere.

My point in all this was that their quick arrival and effective response saved lives and lead to the immediate arrest of the suspect. This villain will not go on to hurt innocent people for days, months, years, etc. There was not one hero there, but many, from the people who made the 911 calls to those who started going to other theaters to tell people to evacuate, to the police and paramedics and doctors. There was one villain, and dozens of heroes. Just something for me to think about when I start despairing of humanity.

The Problems With Natural Family Planning March 13, 2012

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Self-control. Self-restraint. Keep your legs closed. Abstinence. Those are things I hear from people who want women to shut up about getting easy, cheap access to birth control. As if every woman who wants to use birth control is some sort of nymphomaniac who simply cannot control herself.

I’ve seen Catholics advocate natural family planning, saying that abstaining for a week is good for the marriage and we should just exercise self control.

One of the many problems I have with this is that for most married couples, there is a problem with sexual activity, but it’s not too much. It’s too little.

Life is busy and stressful. Jobs, kids, housework, juggling friend and family. For a lot of married couples, sex becomes another chore. I’ve seen many married couples complain to me about the lack of sexual activity going on in their life and non who are complaining (or bragging) that they get too much. I’m sure one or two exists somewhere, but they are the exception to the rule.

So, suppose tired, overworked couples using Natural Family Planning and, in the mist of all of the day to day stress and hassles, becomes surprised to find that they are both in the mood at the same time. Until they realize it is during the wife’s fertile period. The next time they get around to fooling around could very well be next month. For couples who desperately need to reconnect or who are trying to work on improving their intimacy, this becomes a huge obstacle.

If hypothetical family wants to use NFP, that’s fine. The thing is, it is not a good solution for the majority of families. For one thing, it’s not something that only one partner can commit to. Both partners have to sign on. If the wife wants to use NFP but the husband doesn’t and neither want a pregnancy, well, hello strain to the relationship. It also ignores the reality that we still live in a culture where some people believe a wife does not have the right to refuse the sexual advances of her husband.

A lot of work also goes into NFP. When it was originally conceived, advocates believed that women were consistently fertile for only one week of the month. The problem is that this fertile period varies greatly. To track when the fertile period occurs requires daily monitoring of the bodies’ vitals. A lot of people don’t have the time. A lot of people don’t want to think about their fertility every day. And ask any couple going through infertility what constantly having to monitor their fertility does to their relationship. It causes a lot of strain.

I’m tired of the assumption that engaging in consensual sexual activity is somehow irresponsible or shows a lack of self control. I’m tired of people who are against birth control forgetting that married couples use birth control. And I’m tired of the idea that somehow taking steps to ensure that an unwanted pregnancy does not occur means that a woman is irresponsible.

Women who use birth control are not nymphomaniacs who need to reign in their lusts. They’re the women you and I know, struggling to juggle intimacy with everything else on their plates. For some, the cost of birth control is prohibitive. It won’t fix everything, but it will take another worry off her shoulders.

2011 in review January 1, 2012

Posted by Dindy in Uncategorized.
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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

And a Happy George Day to All! November 26, 2011

Posted by Dindy in atheism, Christianity, Religion, Religious Right.
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The Thanksgiving leftovers haven’t even had time to get cold, and already the opening salvos have been fired in the annual war between those Christians who are outraged that people dare to celebrate the Yuletide season without reference to Christ and, well, everyone else. I see at least three posts a day from Facebook friends:

“I’m inviting all my Facebook family and friends to join me in returning to the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”!! If you agree with me, please re-post this message…..MERRY CHRISTMAS! We need Christ back into our lives GOD IS WELCOME IN MY HOUSE.”

This is actually one of the tamer of the Facebook posts floating around. Others are more emphatic, with one person shrilling, “People shouldn’t celebrate Christmas if they aren’t going to recognize Christ!”

Woof. Okay. So you don’t want anyone celebrating Christmas but Christians, but you want everyone to acknowledge and pay homage to YOUR celebration of Christmas. Gotcha!

Let me go on record here as saying I don’t really care what you call it. If someone wants to wish me a happy George Day instead of a Merry Christmas, I’m fine with that. I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Someone wants me to have a happy day. How nice. Not only that, but they want my cat, George, to have a nice day. I’m so glad they care about him, because he really is a very nice cat even if he does keep me awake at night when he does the monster mash on my chest.

I guess that’s where I just really don’t understand the Christians. Why is their happiness about the celebration of Christ’s birth dependent upon everybody else also celebrating that birth? Never mind the fact that Jesus is actually not the reason for the season, that the mid-winter festival was around for centuries before it was co-opted by the Christians who were trying to make their faith palatable to the pagans in northern Europe. For people who are supposed to be immersed in the joy of their savior’s birth, Christians seem to be mighty unhappy people. Instead of being glad that someone is giving them a pleasant greeting, they choose to grind their gears because they are not being wished a “Merry Christmas.”

As an atheist, I never used to mind it when people wished me a Merry Christmas. I admire many of the teachings of Jesus, and I don’t mind taking a day out to celebrate his birthday as a time of joy, love, peace and giving. However, I did think it was nice when merchants and other people started noticing that not all of their customers were Christian and started wishing people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Now, though, when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” I stop to wonder if they are doing so to make a statement about how their religion should be the only one to be acknowledged. What I used to think of as a pleasant little greeting has been robbed of any nice sentiment it may have had.

Christians lament the “good old days” when nobody complained about being told to have a “Merry Christmas.” Well, there were a lot of things that people never used to complain about—blacks never used to complain about having to drink from separate water fountains, and people never used to complain about eating in restaurants without smoking sections. The world has changed, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that our society here in the United States is made up of people of many different beliefs, or no beliefs. So what if people never used to complain about being subjected to the religious practices of another group? Now that people have complained, it is just plain rude to continue to ignore the fact that other people may not wish to listen repeatedly to exhortations to celebrate a Christian holiday.

There are actually many celebrations that occur during December. Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Bodhi, Al Hijra, Hogmanay, Omisoka, St. Lucia Day, and La Posada, among others. For any group to insist that their particular holiday be celebrated among all others is not only arrogant, but short-sighted for those merchants who want to convey the message that they value all of their customers, not just the Christian ones.

However, it really is no skin off my nose if you want to wish me a Merry Christmas. I need all the good wishes I can get, so Mele Kalikimaka and a Happy George Day to you too.

Are Teachers Overpaid? By Some Standards, Yes November 13, 2011

Posted by Dindy in Schools, Uncategorized.
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A new study by conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has concluded that public school teachers are overpaid compared to their counterparts with similar qualifications in the private sector. This is not a popular stance to take, of course, especially during this particular year when so many states have decided that one way to lower their expenses is to cut teaching jobs.

This happens to be a question that I can speak to somewhat knowledgeably since not only did I used to be a teacher, but I am a Human Resource wonk, with expertise in Compensation. In addition, I have spent most of my professional life working either in the public sector or the non-profit sector, both of which tend to have lower pay than the private sector.

So let’s look at the question of whether teachers are overpaid compared to comparable workers. When looking to see if different jobs are paid on an equitable basis, one of the things we so-called experts do is look at the level of education and experience required for the job. It is possible to walk into a teaching job with no experience, straight out of college. As long as one has a Bachelor’s Degree, one can teach.

Starting teachers in Texas make $40,000 to $50,000 a year, or even more, which isn’t bad for someone fresh out of college with no experience. It’s even better if you consider that this is for ten months of work. If you converted this to a full year salary for 12 months of work, you get $48,000, which, again, is pretty good for someone fresh out of college.

Teachers, quite rightly point to the fact that their job is not an 8 to 5  job, that they spend countless hours after school and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons, that the importance of their job should be considered when making decisions about pay, and that theirs is one of the hardest jobs in the world (well, I might actually quibble with that last one because I have been a teacher and I can tell you that there are jobs that are MUCH more difficult). They will also tell you that they spend their summers working on their Masters degree so they can move into a higher level of pay and improve their level of knowledge, so it’s not as though they are lounging around the pool all summer sipping mint juleps. (Actually, when I was a teacher, I did spend my summers lounging around the pool and playing with my kids. I did not sip mint juleps, however.)

Nevertheless, let’s stipulate that teachers have  hard jobs and important jobs, so we can look at some other public sector employees. For instance, child protective workers. Child Protective workers are a lot like teachers in some ways. You can walk into a Child Protective Services job with a 4-year degree and no experience. The jobs are certainly important, and are difficult and often dangerous. Social workers often go into some of the worst neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night and talk to hostile, possibly violent people, to determine whether the conditions are severe enough to warrant removing a child from the home. Child Protective Service workers work 12 months of the year and frequently have shifts in the evenings or weekends. They are often on call 24 hours a day. If they want to get a Master’s Degree, they do so during their off hours, and once they attain that degree, it won’t necessarily improve their pay, unless they move to a higher level position.

For their trouble, entry-level Child Protective Services workers in Texas are paid about $26,000 to $30,000 a year. It takes them about ten years to get up to $40,000. If you compare hourly rates, beginning teachers in Texas make about $23.08 per hour, compared to $12.50 an hour for Child Protective Service workers.

Librarians are another public sector employee. The average starting salary for an entry-level Librarian in Texas is $40,000, which is comparable to our starting salary for teachers. However, librarians are required to have Masters level degrees. They work 12 months of the year and often work evenings and weekends. Many of them are not able to have two days off in a row on a regular basis because of scheduling issues at their work place. As someone who practically lived in my hometown library when I was growing up, I can attest to the importance of what they do.

So if we compare the hourly rate of a librarian to that of a teacher, the librarian makes $19.23 per hour, compared to $23.08 for teachers. Ironically, many librarians pick up their teaching certificates along the way so they can work as a  school librarian and make more money than their counterparts in the public libraries, while at the same time enjoying better hours and vacation benefits.

I’m not going to compare the salaries of teachers with those of private sector jobs because I think it is apples and oranges. It’s like comparing the pay rate of a police officer to a security guard. It just isn’t a valid comparison. However, it seems pretty clear that when it comes to public sector salaries, at least, teachers don’t do too badly when compared to other pubic sector jobs.

But that is just entry-level salaries. There is a problem with teacher salaries, but it’s not what people think it is. The starting salary for a teacher is actually pretty good, but if you take a look at teachers with ten or more years of experience in the classroom, their salary is not much higher than the starting salary. In Texas, teacher pay caps out at about $60,000 a year. Whereas most people who start a job after college and stay in the same career field can expect to see their pay rate climb as they move into higher level positions, teachers see their pay rate flatten.

The problem is that their job remains pretty much the same no matter how many years of experience they have. After the first three or four years, a teacher with five years of experience is doing pretty much the same job as a teacher with ten years of experience, who, in turn, is doing the same job as a teacher with 20 years of experience. If anything, their job has become a little easier because they can recycle their lesson plans each year instead of having to create them from scratch, and the more familiar they become with the material–  by virtue of teaching it over and over again–  the easier it is to teach it.

Sure, after a few years they might become a “Master Teacher” or they might pick up some additional certifications which they can use to boost their pay a little, but they are still teachers. If they want to make more money, they need to change their jobs: move into administration, for instance, or go into another profession.

Librarians are in a similar situation, but they do have some upward mobility in their jobs– they can become head of a section of the library, or specialize in a particular subject area. Child Protective Service workers rarely stay around for more than a few years, but the ones who manage to stick it out will generally move up into higher levels of administration and will see their pay increase accordingly.

Most teachers say that they want to stay in the classroom, that they went into the field because they wanted to teach and that there are rewards beyond money to what they do.  Having been a teacher, I can agree with that– not only did I love working with the kids and imparting knowledge to them, but I enjoyed being home when my kids were home, having summers off and two weeks off at Christmas. I never expected to make a lot of money as a teacher, and I didn’t.

Yes, in an ideal world we would pay teachers a salary that is representative of the intrinsic value of what they do. In the real world, however, their salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars and in this particular day and age especially, taxpayers are loath to part with those precious dollars to increase wages for those who work for them.

So back to the original question– are teachers overpaid? Well, looking at it using standard compensation practices, yes they are when compared against similarly situated public sector employees. However, I would prefer to say that the problem is not that teachers are overpaid, but that social workers and librarians are underpaid.

Despite what those of the American Enterprise Institute would have us believe, there is an intrinsic value to the services provided by teachers that is seldom matched in the private sector. They may not be underpaid, but most of them deserve every penny they get. To paraphrase the song, “They work hard for the money so you’d better treat them right.”

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child? November 5, 2011

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Parenting.
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In a video that has quickly gone viral, the daughter of a Texas Family Court Judge is savagely beaten with a belt by her father for the oh so horrible crime of downloading files illegally from the internet. The incident happened seven years ago, when Hillary Adams was 16 years old. The judge admits he did it and adds that he lost his temper and has apologized so it’s no big deal.

The video itself is very hard to watch, and I was only able to watch a couple of minutes of it. While some have speculated about Ms. Adams’ motive in posting the video, I applaud her for doing so, no matter the motive, for her video has brought to light an ugly part of parenting in America– far too many parents think that spanking is an appropriate means of disciplining their children.

Now first let me state that I do not think spanking is necessarily abuse– although the beating Judge Adams administered to his daughter was definitely abusive. However, spanking is not particularly effective, sends kids the wrong message that hitting is an appropriate way to handle problems, and can lead to increased aggression and actually lead to worse behavior on the part of the child.

I used to teach parenting classes to high school students and one thing I found is that many people very strongly WANT to hit their children. I used to ask my students, “What if someone could show you a way to teach your children how to behave well without having to spank them, would you use it?” Most of the students responded with a loud “No.” They would not even consider that there might be a way to raise their children without spanking, or even if there were, they still wanted to spank.

When I would tell students that I didn’t spank my kids, they would respond that my kids must be rotten brats (they weren’t) or that I was just lucky enough to have kids that were naturally well-behaved. It apparently never occurred to them that maybe my kids were well-behaved because my husband, and I found ways to teach them how to behave that did not involve spanking.

In a real-time study of parenting behaviors conducted by Gerald Holden of Southern Methodist University, parents were recorded in the process of slapping, swatting and hitting their kids.

While listening to his mother read The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, one boy began touching the pages, garnering a slap.

“At 2:03:31, the mother says, ‘No, Justin,’ and continues reading,” according to a transcription describing the incident. “Then at 2:03:34 she smacks him, and says, ‘No, Justin. If you want me to read, quit messing with the pages. Cause you’re moving it while I’m reading.'”

Now there were many ways the mother could have reacted when her son started touching the pages of the storybook. She could have stopped reading and just talked about the pictures to him. She could have closed the book and said, “I guess you don’t want to hear the story tonight. What would you rather do instead?” She could have said, “Oh, you want to play peek-a-boo with the tortoise!” and turned the story into a game. This mother was so focused on her goal of reading a story to her child, that she overlooked a wonderful opportunity to just have fun with the boy.

One time one of the teachers stayed after class to argue with me about spanking. He told me that some kids are just bad and need to be spanked. I disagreed with him so he gave me an example– “What if you had your two-year-old with you at a picnic in the park and you told him to stay away from the creek and then when you went to look for him you found him down by the creek?”

I asked him why the parents would take their eyes off a two-year-old when there was a creek nearby.

He didn’t like that, but he continued. “Well what if he ran down to the creek and then wouldn’t come when you called him?”

“Can your two-year-old run faster than you?” I asked him. Again, I pointed out that the parents should not be letting the child run down to the creek  in the first place. Someone should be watching the boy at all times, and if he has that big of a tendency to run away, the parents need to get a child safety harness.

The teacher finally stomped out of the room, upset that he could not get me to admit that this two-year-old needed to be spanked for going down to the creek.

Teaching children how to behave is not easy. Parents often have to be inconvenienced and often have to be creative. Sometimes they have to give up the things they really want to do so they can closely monitor their children’s behavior. And they need to start from the time their children are very young to help their kids learn appropriate behavior.

Some people have actually sympathized with Judge Adams. The daughter was downloading files illegally, they say. She was clearly out of control. I say that if a parent has to beat his child for misbehavior when she is in her teens, then clearly the parent lost control of that child a long time ago. There were any number of things the judge could have done when he learned his daughter had downloaded illegal material. He could have taken away her computer privileges or could have made her pay for the downloaded files. Instead he thought carefully about it, grabbed the largest belt he had, and beat her while yelling obscenities at her.

When we got our first computer, I was worried that my daughters would spend all their time after school playing on the computer instead of doing their chores and homework. I set up a password on the computer and changed it every day. The girls didn’t get the password till they had completed their chores and homework. Was it inconvenient to change the password every day? Sure. It was a pain in the neck. But we only had to do it for a few months until the girls had thoroughly absorbed the chores and homework first message. When we lifted the rule, we told the girls that if they stopped doing their chores or homework before playing on the computer, we would reinstate the password rule. We never had to do so.

So again, I ask: If someone could show you a way to teach your kids how to behave without hitting them, would you use it? Somehow I think Judge Adams would say “No.” Like the teenagers I used to teach in parenting classes, he seemed to really WANT to hit his daughter.

Yes, Women Are Being Arrested for Having Miscarriages October 13, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Uncategorized.
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Regarding my previous post about the Personhood Amendment, some people would say that I’m blowing the consequences of it way out of proprtion. They say women won’t be prosecuted for having miscarriages. Then why is there legislation in Georgia pending that would require women to prove that their miscarriages happened naturally? Or why did Utah try to pass a law that would charge women with homicide if they miscarry?

So. Women who suffer miscarriages are guilty before proven innocent. This is a complete reversal of a fundamental principle of our justice system: that people are innocent before proven guilty.

Pretend that you’ve desperately wanted a baby. After months of trying you finally get that positive pregnancy test. You’re over the moon! You tell your spouse who is thrilled. You tell your parents who are dancing on the roof. You tell family and friends, all of whom are excited and happy. Everything is going fine. Until one morning a few weeks later when you start bleeding. You rush to the emergency room and hear the worst: a miscarriage is happening and there is nothing you can do.

You’re heartbroken. You realize that in 7 to 8 months time you will not be taking your beautiful baby home from the hospital. Your grief threatens to overwhelm you. You start wondering how you are going to tell your family and friends this devastating news when a police officer comes in and says he needs to take a report.

He inquires about every aspect of your private life. What you eat. What you drink. What drugs, legal or illegal, you take. What toxins you are exposed to. Without thinking you mention that you drink unpasteurized dairy products.

Before you know it you are charged with a felony. There’s no evidence that you caused the miscarriage by drinking unpasteurized dairy products, but there’s no evidence that you didn’t either. Sure, 60% of miscarriages are cause by chromosomal abnormalities. Sure, most of the rest of that 40% are caused by deformities in the uterus, fibroids, hormonal imbalance, severe mineral deficiency, but you can’t prove that any of those were the cause of this miscarriage. You’re seized with guilt, wondering if it was the milk.

You go to court, where the prosecutor paints a picture about how you never wanted to be a mother, you just wanted the attention a pregnancy draws without the responsibility, so you deliberately drank unpasteurized milk to cause a miscarriage. Your defense bring out family and friends who say you wanted the baby but the prosecutor says it was all an attention bid. You cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you wanted the baby. You cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not cause your miscarriage.

Think I’m blowing things out of proportion? Ask the woman in Iowa who was arrested for falling down the stairs while pregnant if I am.

Every woman who has suffered a miscarriage should be in an uproar over this. Every woman who plans to get pregnant should be fighting this tooth and nail. Every man who loves the women in his life should stand with her. Every women who does not plan on having children should fight this for the women in her life that she does love.

Here are the cases I’ve found where a woman has been charged with having a miscarriage or attempting to cause one, and this is just the tip of the ice berg. In South Carolina alone, an estimated 300 women have been arrested for actions taken during pregnancy. Still think this is not happening?

Christine Taylor of Iowa found herself arrested and sent to jail after she fell down the stairs while pregnant.

South Carolina’s Regina McKnight was sentenced to 20 years for having a stillbirth.

Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi age 15 faces life in jail after a miscarriage, Bei Bei Shuai of Indiana has been charged with foeticide and sits in jail without parole, and Amanda Kimborough of Alabama, mother of 3, faces 10 years behind bars if convicted of causing her miscarriage…and her three children risk losing their mother.

And for those saying Shuai deserves it because she tried to kill herself, may be you should read her story before being so damn judgmental.


Lynn Paltrow, heroine of our movement! Defender of the rights of women who have been charged with having miscarriages. It’s sad though that there are enough cases that a lawyer specializes in it!

So yes, women are being arrested for having miscarriages. This is an established fact, not a slippery slope argument.

Next up: If these personhood laws are so women and child family, then why are their effects so damaging? A thorough examination of the harm these laws will cause. And what would help women who are addicted to drugs or attempt suicide while pregnant? It’s certainly not jail time!

Lawmakers: Stay Out of My Uterus! October 11, 2011

Posted by frrobins in abortion, activism, Current Events, health, Politics, privacy.
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I am very concerned about something going in Mississippi, where lawmakers are trying to pass an amendment that would give a fertilized egg the same rights as a human being. This is something that should send chills through every woman and man. The consequences would included criminalizing abortion and BIRTH CONTROL! This could pave the way for criminalizing taking the pill as it prevents a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus. This bill will require criminal investigations when a woman suffers a miscarriage.

For those who say that people are blowing the consequences of this bill out of the water, women are already being criminalized for having a miscarriage or still birth.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the causes for most miscarriages ARE UNKNOWN! In most causes, CHROMOSOMAL ABNORMALITIES are most likely to blame. Meaning that there is nothing that the mother did or did not do to cause it! So, we’re going to put women who have suffered the emotional trauma of a miscarriage under investigation?

Last year, I was pregnant. Considering I have PCOS and was at a higher risk of miscarriage I was nervous all the time about it happening. Most women in the early stage of pregnancy are in the same worry boat. They worry about that one glass of wine they had before they knew they were pregnant. They worry that the pollutants they are exposed to at work will harm their baby. They worry that the tumble they took caused permanent damage. When a miscarriage does occur, some women feel intense guilt for something they probably did not contribute to! How is subjecting them to an investigation going to assuage that guilt? It is going to make them think of EVERY THING THAT THEY DID OR DID NOT DO THAT MIGHT HAVE CAUSED THAT MISCARRIAGE!

Moment of truth. I did not do everything “right” during my pregnancy. I had shrimp the week before I found out I was pregnant. Eating shrimp could have given my son listeria and killed him. It didn’t. When I was three months pregnant I was so sick and nauseous that everything I ate came right back up. I lost 20 pounds during my 3rd month of pregnancy. I stopped eating because even the thought of food made me sick. I lived off water, ginger ale, and a little bit of rice and mashed potatoes. I hate ginger ale but I drank it because it was the only thing that helped with the nausea. Ginger ale is not healthy and even contains a minimal amount of alcohol. I was definitely not getting the nutrients that I or my baby needed that month.

Later I petted and played with a stray kitten. I worried and worried afterwords that the kitten might have had some parasite and that I might have passed it on to my baby. I worried when the place I worked in was found to have mold. I worried during the weeks I was too nauseous to exercise. I took Tylenol for the mother of all headaches. I took benadryl to control a bad allergy attack. I worried.

I dare you to find the pregnant woman who went for 9 months without having one drink, went without eating shrimp/lunchmeat/things containing raw eggs such as Caesar salad dressing, never went into an area where there was dangerous fumes such as a freshly painted nursery, ate a perfectly balanced diet every day for 9 months, exercise moderately every day, never smoked, never used drugs (legal or illegal), never cleaned a cat litter box, never got a bit reckless and took a tumble, etc. People are not perfect. While you won’t find someone who did ALL of those things, most pregnant woman would have done one of those things at some point in their pregnancy.

So, what should we do? Put pregnant women in a bubble? What if they have a drink before they realize they are pregnant? Put all women of childbearing age in a bubble? I read an article once by someone advocating that every sexually active woman of childbearing age should take folic acid even if she’s not planning on having a baby. So, should every sexually active woman of child bearing age act as though they are pregnant when they aren’t? Can you see how ridiculous this gets?

What about cases where it is the health of the mother vs the embryo/fetus? Anti-abortion activists live in a world where women never die from complications related to pregnancy or birth. This is a fantasy world. In the US, 2 to 3 women die every day as a result of complications from pregnancy or childbirth! I went to a panel discussion on medically necessary abortions headed by an OB-GYN who told stories of women who desperately wanted children but encountered some severe health problem that would kill the woman, the child or both. What to do in such tragic cases should be a private decision between the woman and her doctor. The government should stay the hell out of it!

Need an example? Here. There are medical reasons for abortions! And for those who say that you should always hold out hope for a miracle, that’s YOUR choice to make for you, not them. And in their case, it would have been a wrong choice. No miracle happened. Their baby is dead.

With regards to abortions for non-medical reasons, I say I want to see the abortion rate decreased. Abortion is not a desired thing. Which is why we need to focus on preventing unplanned pregnancies. And the best way to do this is through birth control.

Telling people not to have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant does not work. And in countries such as Romania where birth control was outlawed they have a problem with unwanted children being put on the street. Do lawmakers REALLY want to see something similar happen in the US?

Further, there are medical reasons for using birth control. I was put on the pill before I was sexually active to control my PCOS. What right do legislatures have to say what medicine I can or can’t take to control a medical condition I have because it might prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted?

So, to prevent any harm from happening to potential fertilized eggs, should sexually active women of child bearing age be prevented from taking medicines that could harm/terminate an embryo? We wouldn’t want a woman taking medicine that could harm a “person” before she realizes she’s pregnant after all. Is this something that we really want to see?

Think. Really think. This isn’t about protecting fertilized eggs or embryos. This is about controlling every aspect of a woman’s reproductive self. This is something that the government should stay the hell out of.

I know that there is a lot of energy directed at the economic woes that our country is facing, and that needs to happen. However, I don’t want to see this very important issue swept under the rug as a result. We need to make noise over this issue, and we need to do it now.

Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry


“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.


“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.