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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?

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.

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.

The Guilty One Who Went Free July 6, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Casey Anthony, Caylee Anthony, Current Events, Justice System.
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There’s a saying that I think sums up my feelings about the Caylee Anthony case. Better 100 guilty (wo)men go free than one innocent suffer. Unfortunately in our country, too many innocent people have served time in jail or been put to death for crimes they did not commit. This is so common that organizations such as The Innocence Project are needed to overturn wrongful convictions.

There are numerous reasons why people are wrongfully convicted. Just the fact that someone has been charged of a crimes biases a jury into thinking that s/he must have done something wrong, for instance. The heavy use of eye witness testimony which has been proven to be alarmingly unreliable is another. Then there is a sort of group think that occurs when detectives and other crime workers focus on a suspect. They start to hone in only on the evidence that confirms their suspicions rather than stuff that does not.

I have often thought that our courts need to reform to counteract those measures. I look at it from the viewpoint of someone who has been wrongly accused. The evidence, in my mind, needs to be water tight. Unfortunately, the consequence is that some people who are guilty will get away. Yet if it is a choice between that or an innocent person being wrongfully convicted, I’ll take the former.

This is what happened with the Casey Anthony trial. I believe that Casey was involved in her daughter’s death, but I cannot prove it. And neither could the state.

They could not even say for sure how Caylee died. And even now I’m completely at a loss for how events played out. The prosecution could not offer a firm scenario. A lot of stuff just doesn’t make sense.

Was Caylee buried in the Anthony’s backyard for a period of time or not? If she was, then why was she moved? And if her mother had murdered her, then why drive around with her daughter’s corpse in the back seat of her car for a few days before throwing her body in a field that is just down the street from her parents’ house? If you had murdered someone, would you drive around with the evidence of your crime in the trunk of your car for a few days? But then, if your child was missing, would you wait a month to call the police?

None of it makes sense. I’ve perused internet forums to try to piece together some logical way that events went down and have just become more and more baffled (this is the one thing that leads me to think it might have been an accident that spiraled out of control).

A lot of people are mad at the jury right now. A lot of people have been insulting their intelligence. The truth of the matter was, Casey Anthony was up for the death penalty, and the prosecution did not have a strong enough case to warrant such a drastic punishment.

I know a lot of people will say that I’m ignoring poor Caylee in this, who lost her life. It is truly tragic and I do feel for her. When I heard about how her grandmother found her favorite doll in the front seat of Casey’s car it stabbed my heart. Convicting her mother will not bring her back to life. Caylee is dead and, sadly, has no needs now. And while I wish there had been enough evidence left to firmly point the finger at her murderer, there isn’t. In the past, in our rush for justice, we have too often lynched the wrong person.

Most likely, a guilty woman walked free. Our justice system is run by imperfect humans after all. And at least, it was not in the direction of punishing the innocent.

Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

Guilty Until proven Innocent? Where Do We Draw the Line? June 29, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Airport Screenings, Current Events, Drug Screenings, Politics, privacy, Terrorism, Uncategorized.
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Freedom of speech has been something I’ve closely guarded. Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been less diligent about my privacy. I’ve had no qualms whatsoever about peeing in a cup for a drug screening required for employment. And I’ve thought a lot of the brouhaha over airport screenings overblown. Something that happened to a co-worker has caused me to reconsider that complacency.

“Gina” went in for a job interview. They were interested in hiring her and sent her off for a drug screening. Gina didn’t think much of it until she got there. During the screening, the nurse asked her to lift up her shirt to her bra and then to remove her pants and underwear…in front of the nurse. The nurse then proceeded to do a cavity search on her. Once that was completed, Gina was asked to pee in a cup in front of the nurse, with the nurse standing very close by at eye level with her hips.

I was shocked and horrified when Gina told me about this, as was another co-worker who was there. Gina was treated like a criminal. She’s never been in jail, never been charged with drug possession, and here they are treating her as though she is untrustworthy and making her prove her innocence.

Innocence is difficult to prove conclusively. Sure, Gina’s never been in jail for drug possession, but may be that’s because she’s never been caught. Sure, she tested negative, but may be she stopped for a few months to beat the system. Sure, she’s never acted like she’s under the influence of an illegal substance, but may be she’s really good at hiding it. That is why the burden of proof is on the person making the accusation of guilt.

The thing is, more and more we live in a society where innocent people are expected to prove that they are innocent. We undergo background searches and urine tests to get jobs. We get body pats or full body scans at the airport. An old lady with cancer has to remove her adult diaper to board a plane. A 6 year old is given a pat down before being allowed to board a plane. A young mother is bullied for asking that her pumped breastmilk not go through the scanners, per regulations.

And now to get a job, a young woman has to have a cavity search and pee in front of a nurse.

I used to think that people who argued against drug screenings and pat downs were privacy nuts arguing at the top of a slippery slope. Now I’m thinking that I was wrong. I’m starting to see that we’re moving to a world where people are presumed guilty until proven otherwise, and it’s not one that I want to live in.

Where I’m stuck on is how to change it. We live in a country where the nightly news feeds Americans a diet of fear. We give up our rights because we’re scared to do otherwise. How do we change the tide?

To Fund Or Not To Fund – A Sharing of My Mind With My Senators April 13, 2011

Posted by Bill in abortion, activism, Current Events, health, Uncategorized.
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I just sent an e mail to both of my Senators on the vote on whether to fund Planned Parenthood that is scheduled for tomorrow.  I know, rather late in the day but what can I say.  I am, for the second time in my life, a college student and all college students wait to the last minute to do anything – study for the major test, read the assignment, write the paper, send a letter to their representatives on important issues. 

Anyway, I rather liked the letter so thought I would share what I said.  I especially liked my argument against an anti choice argument that I have been hearing a lot of lately. 

Dear Senator

I am contacting you in regards to the scheduled vote on funding Planned Parenthood tomorrow.    For several reasons I would strongly urge you to vote to continue its funding.

First, none of the money that Planned Parenthood gets from the federal government goes for abortion. 

That money instead goes for greatly needed woman’s health services.  Women’s access to services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, physicals, contraceptives, tubal ligations and vasectomies, testing for sexually transmitted disease, sex education, and menopause treatments would be greatly impacted were Planned Parenthood not funded.  And yes, I know that other clinics and hospitals can perform these services, but not at the same price.  Which means that the poorer women would be the ones feeling the greatest impact of this cut.  Without this care our health care costs as a nation would increase. 

I realize that many have argued that by providing Planned Parenthood money for its other health services for women it has freed up money for Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.  By this reasoning though we should also not be funding any social programs with ties to a religious group. 

Currently a religious group’s social programs can receive federal money as long as they ensure that the money goes for the social work and not for proselytizing or the support of their religion.  In this manner we manage to avoid the Constitution’s prohibition of government financial support for churches. 

However, using the same logic used above about Planned Parenthood funding, we should not be doing this since the funds provided by the government free up other moneys that the church can use to further its religion; a violation of the Constitution.

So, I would assume that if you decide to vote against continued funding of Planned Parenthood for the above reason then you will also at some point vote against federal funding of faith based charities for the same reason. 

I would also like to point out that Planned Parenthood’s promotion and distribution of effective contraception for women have quite likely prevented many more unwanted pregnancies that would have resulted in abortions than the number of abortions they have actually performed.  Any reduction of their ability to provide quality sex education and contraceptives would result in an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies as well as an increase in number of abortions.  Especially of “back alley” abortions that resulted in the maiming and deaths of so many women before abortion was legalized. 

In summary then I will state that the federal funding of Planned Parenthood does not go for abortion.  It does however go to preventive care that is so necessary for the health and the healthcare costs of not only the women in America but of our country as a whole. 

Please vote to continue funding of Planned Parenthood. 

Now, some things I did not include in this letter because around 500 words is all I figure a politician’s aide has time for and I also did not want to take the focus off the fact that Planned Parenthood’s main services are health and prevention and not abortion include the facts that:

1)      Abortions are legal.  Funding them should not be an issue. 

2)      Abortions are often necessary to save the life or health of the mother.

3)      Do we really want to make rape and incest victims carry through with their unwanted pregnancy?

4)      Many of the fetus’s aborted were either not likely to live anyway or were going to be born are permanent cripples or vegetables.  Or were likely to live only a few pain filled days anyway. 

While I know that both my senators are likely to vote to defund Planned Parenthood I wanted to at know my stance on this issue and that they have made at least one of their constituents unhappy.

Smarter Activism March 18, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, communication, critical thinking, Current Events, iraq, Memories, Personal, Politics, Schools.
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It might seem ironic that I went through a crisis of faith as a college student. That’s the best way my husband and I could describe it. I went through this even though I was and am an atheist. Born and raised. Yet while some atheists run away in fear from the word ‘faith’ there are things I did and still do have faith in. For me this came from my Humanistic philosophy. I believe that people are mostly good and will do the right thing. And this was where the crisis in faith came in.

The invasion of Iraq and subsequent re-election of Bush were what caused it. I knew that we had no valid reason for invading Iraq. I felt it was morally wrong. And I could not believe so many people supported it. I protested, wrote letters, pestered my acquaintances with anti-war rhetoric. I did the stuff that reformers before me did that lead to progress. No one ever told me that those reformers experienced more failures than successes in their life. While Susan B. Anthony secured some property rights for women, she fell way short of her big goal of earning the right to vote. And the setback were numerous.

It was bad enough that Iraq was invaded. It was worst that Bush was actually re-elected. I wore my CD player out with Green Day’s American Idiot and went through a period of several years where I gave up on activism all together. People were idiots and it was useless trying to reason with them. It was a small comfort that shortly after his re-election people woke up to their mistake, and that long term Iraq has been considered a fiasco. It doesn’t change the fact that many have died unnecessarily and that things are worse now.

Eventually I got back into activism, though not the way I did before. I hope I’m doing it smarter. How? Well, trying to figure out how to repackage my message.

This is hard. Studies have shown that when people are entrenched in a position, reading evidence against their position only strengthens their previously held beliefs. Then there is the confirmation bias, where people seek out information that confirms their beliefs. Making it unlikely they’d even read what I have to say anyway.

So, how to reach across the aisle and convince people of the validity of my viewpoint? This isn’t an “I’m smart and right, you’re an idiot and wrong’ thing. For instance, I really don’t care about your religious beliefs, so long as you don’t try to impose those beliefs on me. What I’m talking about is stuff that does affect me. Such as global warming. The evidence supports that it is occurring and we need to do something about it. This affects me. How do I make people see the reality of the threat here and, more importantly, get them to see the importance of eco-friendly planning? Fear mongering works. People are irrational creatures. Rather than think rationally we think with our emotions. Even the most logical person will think irrationally in the throes of fear and anger. Hence, how we found ourselves in Iraq.

I don’t like fear mongering. I respect its power and I don’t like it. I don’t want to scare people into making decisions…it tends to lead them into making the wrong ones. I want people to look at the evidence rationally and make informed decisions.

So people don’t make decisions about important things rationally. I’m against using irrational means to spread information even if it benefits my cause. How do I get around this? I know! Teach kids critical thinking skills while they’re young!

Consider that a lot of people don’t know how to make informed decisions because they were never taught how. I’m going to use Shirley Sherrod as an example. An edited video came out showing that Sherrod, a black woman, discriminated against a white farmer. Or did it? When the full video was seen, it was obvious that Sherrod had done no such thing. By that time it was too late. Her reputation was damaged and she had lost her job.

What if, rather than judging Sherrod by a few video clips, people had watched the full tape from the beginning? It is ridiculously easy to manipulate sound bites or take written words out of context. What if people looked up the original source of a quote/video/sound bites, etc?

All of this can be taught. It’s not difficult to learn. Kids can learn it in history class. What if, instead of memorizing dates of events they will forget during summer break, we teach kids skills that historians use to determine what happened in the past? What if we explain the difference between a primary and secondary source and have kids find examples of each. What if we show how information can be corrupted, either intentionally or unintentionally?

Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” In Antonia Frasier’s biography of this infamous queen, she details how this quote had been attributed to many an unpopular queen through history, and how with Marie Antoinette it stuck. This misinformation pervades our past, present, and will be out there in our future. How do we inoculate our kids against it?

What if we showed how words and information can be manipulated by governments and other groups of people and taught children how to check their facts, think critically, and question what they see and read?

Of course, this would require a major overhaul of how we see education in America. It would require letting go of our standardized testing fetish and introducing a more difficult curriculum into the classroom. It would mean teaching kids that may be our government wasn’t always all good. And I live in a state that wants to use history class as a propaganda machine for saying that the reason the south succeeded was a state’s rights issue that had nothing to do with slavery *sighs*.

So how to reform the schools to teach critical thinking? How to convince people that this is needed? Especially when giving out harmful standardized tests is a big money maker for some people and the current broken system benefits some politicians? I can already hear cries of liberals wanting to brain wash children into godlessness, when in reality I could care less about their religious beliefs and just want people to think critically about issues that affect us all (we’re not on this rock alone). Heck, critical thinking is the opposite of brainwashing. I use it even with sources I trust or things I want to believe.

For instance, Jon Stewart once made the comment that Sarah Palin made rape victims pay for their rape kits. Alarmed, I went the check and found that while her chief of police did this, whether or not Palin supported it is undetermined. Now, I dislike Palin. I think she is harmful to the women’s movement and like to collect ammunition against her. But if I start passing around misinformation, then I look like a fool.

So, to get people to think critically about issues we need to teach these skills in school, which means reforming an educational system that favors rote teaching and blind acceptance, which means convincing people that changing it to teach critical thinking is a worthy goal without using fear mongering. Whew! So ladies and gents, how do I pull that off? Well, if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Because I haven’t figured it out yet.

Gambatte, Nihon! (Hang In There, Japan!) March 15, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Current Events, Uncategorized.
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The earthquake in Japan has shaken me more than any other natural disaster in my lifetime. I have never been to Japan, though I very much hope to one day. Yet for nearly ten years I have explored its culture, listened to its music and studied its language. Anime, manga, J-pop, and learning Japanese are passions that unite my husband and I in an interfaith marriage. I feel a connection to Japanese culture that is stronger than any other place hit by a major natural disaster in my lifetime.

What throws me is the lack of empathy I occasionally run into. I wasn’t surprised to see it. It rears its ugly head in every natural disaster. It goes like this: We shouldn’t feel sorry for those in Haiti or New Orleans because they’re poor and black. We shouldn’t feel sorry for those hit by the Indian Tsunami because they’re heathens. We shouldn’t feel sorry for those in Japan because they’re not Americans. Wow. I may have a bleeding heart, but it’s better than having no heart.

One piece of venom I see thrown around is that the US should not give foreign aid to other countries because no one gives us foreign aid during times of disaster. This sentiment is usually followed by some rather inflammatory remarks about the country in question and shouts to American supremacy. Well, the statement that no one helps us is wrong. During Hurricane Katrina plenty of nations gave us financial aid, medical assistance, and supplies. This stuff makes me wish people would look up what they say before spreading it around as truth.

The other thing is, black, white, red, or brown, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist, rich, poor, or middle class, the people affected by these disasters are human. They have hopes, wishes, and dreams. They have families and loved ones. They have feelings. They had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is something that could happen to any of us.

Mother Nature is cruel. She does not care if you are a young baby or an old woman when she strikes. She does not care if you are struggling to make ends meet or have cash to spare when she attacks. She does not care about your color or creed. She moves in a way that is often random and still predominately unpredictable to humans. And the next person she could strike could be you or someone in your family.

I appreciate the view that we should not send financial assistance to other countries when we’re in so much dept. I can respect that you’d much rather do other things with your money than donate it to relief efforts. But to make disparaging remarks about a group of people down on their luck? Well, it’s not the lowest of the low but it doesn’t make you someone I’d want to associate with.

And fortunately, there are plenty of people in the world who are better than that. They are the ones on the fandom boards who are holding auctions to help the survivors. They are the ones donating time or money to help. They are the ones helping people get word about friends, family, and loved ones in Japan to people who live outside of it. And, should your luck turn and you find yourself in the wake of a natural disaster, they could be the ones helping you out.

Moral Outrage vs. Moral Good March 5, 2011

Posted by Bill in abortion, Christianity, Current Events, health, Politics, Religious Right, Uncategorized.
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The great state of Texas is about to pass more restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.  This restriction is in the form of requiring a sonogram test to be taken anywhere from 2 to 24 hours (still being worked on by our high minded representatives) before an abortion along with requiring the women to view the image, listen to the heartbeat, and listen to the doctor describe its development. 

Hoozah!!!

The march towards doing away with the moral acid (abortion) that has burned and stained our nation for so long continues!

Or does it?

For those who are anti-choice/pro-life and who are celebrating this seeming victory I have a question:

Are you more interested in reducing the number of abortions or in expressing moral outrage and becoming “morally pure”?

I ask because when looking at abortion rates around the world something becomes very clear very quickly.  Those countries with the lowest abortion rates have legal and liberal abortion laws.  Those countries with the highest rates of abortion either have very restrictive abortion laws or have made abortion totally illegal. 

Western Europe has the lowest rate of abortion in the world at 12 per 1,000 women between 15 and 44.    We, with our mix of abortion rights with restrictions come in at 21 per 1,000 women.  Of course this is still much better than the Latin American countries where it is not only restricted but also usually illegal.  Their abortion rate is 31 per 1,000 women. 

Now another item that I notice is that in many of these countries where abortion is legal, birth control is also available.  In fact Western Europe actively teaches about contraception and works to make sure that it is easily available. 

Personally I believe that it is this linkage with birth control that has helped bring down the abortion rate in countries that allow abortion, although I freely admit that I cannot find research showing this to be true.

However given the following facts:

 –         Countries with high abortion rates are those in which abortion is illegal or severely restricted. 

–         Countries with low abortion rates are those in which abortion is legal.

–         Countries with freer access to contraceptives have lower abortion rates.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people wish to make abortion illegal.

–         Anti-Choice/pro-life people usually do NOT support contraceptive education, nor do they support making it more easily accessible. 

I feel comfortable in stating that the anti-choice/pro-life people, in their efforts to promote morality and eliminate the killing of fetuses are instead working to actually increase it by creating the conditions for abortion rates to increase. 

Kind of ironic that. 

As for myself, I consider myself a pro-choice/pro-life person.  I believe the woman has a right to choose for herself.  However I would like our country to  create a setting in which choosing abortion would be rare or even non-existent.    Given what can be seen around the world that involves a setting in which abortion is legal and not surrounded by these roadblocks and a greater emphasis on contraceptive use. 

Now my choice is fairly easy.  I look at the evidence and go with it. 

However the anti-choice/pro-life  people have a harder decision.  They first have to decide what is more important to them – reducing abortions or being morally pure.