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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?

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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

and

“[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.

“Yes.”

“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.

The Ramblings of a Grumpy Grandpa September 1, 2011

Posted by Bill in Family Values, humor, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized.
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This country is in serious trouble because there is a problem that, as far as I can tell, is NOT being addressed.   Of course, given our current situation in Washington D. C.  (the septic tank overfloweth) it’s a problem that is going to have to be solved by you and me – the people both common (you) and uncommon (me). 

And the problem is:

Mail Carriers.

Fed Ex, UPS, and USPS – all of them.  Each and every one. 

 Today I was babysitting my grandson while my daughter went to work.  Brent  (my grandson, although I do occasionally allow my wife to claim partial ownership) woke up too early and as a result was in a very grouchy, fussy, unhappy mood.  And he likes to share. 

Finally though I had him down for his first nap (he is 9 months old in case you’re wondering).  Just 5 minutes after getting him down my daughter comes home from her work.  Fortunately he slept through her coming home. 

My daughter had a client to see in three hours and since she was tired from a lack of sleep (she’s a partying type of gal and although she claims it’s the result of developing lesson planes and Brent’s midnight feedings and such she don’t fool me none).

Well since Brent was asleep in his crib in his room and my daughter was asleep in her bed in her bedroom and since I was also a bit tuckered out from the constant studying needed to maintain my A average in college I decided to lay down on the couch and get a bit of a nap myself. 

For 23 minutes that plan worked like a charm.  And then the doorbell rang.

Actually, it didn’t just ring.  It gonged.  My daughter and her husband have  the loudest doorbell I have ever been woke up by.  I will say though that it did get results.

I jumped off the couch before my eyes were even open.  My daughter comes charging out of the bedroom.  And their dog, Amelia, started barking up a storm, even louder than their doorbell and a whole lot more insistent. 

All three of us rush the door to keep whoever had rung the doorbell from ringing the dag-nabbed thing again.  And despite being atheists we were all praying that the noise had not woken Brent up.  Well, two of us were.  I think Amelia didn’t care – she was just having a good old doggy time having an excuse to bark. 

Anyway, my daughter reached the door second (Amelia was first).  She pushes Amelia aside and flings open the door to accost, browbeat, kick, hit, spit on, slap, yell at and in general make whoever was on the other side of the door miserable and forever regretful for daring to ring  her doorbell.  Opening the door she (and myself) discovered that the craven coward had fled and that no one was there. 

However there was a package.

Now, it don’t really matter which carrier delivered it cause they all do the same thing.  Put it on the porch, ring the doorbell, and then high tail it out of there. 

Let me just ask this one itty bitty question – WHY????!!!!!

I mean, if you’re not going to wait for the person to get to the door and hand it off to them then WHY ring the bell?  Do you ring the bell when you put mail in our mailbox?   Heck No!

Just leave the blasted package on the porch.  We’ll see it at some point when going in and out and without all the grief and suffering caused by ringing the doorbell and running.  I can’t begin to count the times when I have run out the bathroom pulling up my pants and trying to get the belt buckled and zipper done before I reach the door(that’s hard to do without falling down).   Only to find a package instead of a person.   Then I have to go back to the bathroom and start up where I left off.  At my age that can be kinda hard to do sometimes. 

I swear that the head of each of these three outfits must have been one of those annoying kids who think it funny to go up to a house, ring the doorbell, and then run away.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that they have all gotten together and set a date when every house in the United States of America – or heck, the world for all I know – receive a package on the same day so that all of their mail carriers can drop it off on the porches of hundreds of millions of homes, ring the doorbell, and run away.  They must be rolling around laughing inside their penthouse office suites, thinking about this doggummed, obnoxious, juvenile prank being done on a world wide scale – their fantasies writ large. 

Anyway, my daughter brought the package in.  As she did there came from the back of the house the sound we both dreaded most – Brent’s wailing.  Actually I dreaded it more than my daughter cause since I was the babysitter I was the one who got to stay up with him while she went to finish off her nap. 

Crabby and grouchy Brent from the morning was gone now.  Now I was dealing with the Very Grouchy, Upset, I Don’t Like Anything Not Even Grandpa Brent. 

Not fun.

So – since our politicians for sure aren’t going to deal with this issue I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I’m creating a sign to put over the doorbell which reads:

DO NOT RING THIS

DOORBELL

Quietly put the package on the porch, back up softly and quietly and then just plain go AWAY!

Just in case that don’t work I’m learning how to shoot a gun.  Once I get that down I’ll get me one.  And a silencer.

Dagburned mail carriers.

Postscript – Just now noticed that although I named my grandson and the dog I didn’t name my daughter.  Well, actually I did name my daughter and now that I think about it my daughter and her husband named Brent and Amelia.  What I meant though is that in this blog I provided the names of the dog and grandson but not my daughter.  But that’s OK, cause as long as you get the big stuff right the little, unimportant details can slide right on by.   Right Fritha?

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?

The Times Have Changed – A Belated Thanks May 30, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Family Values, Personal, Uncategorized.
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I am rather behind the times in writing this.  But then that is hardly surprising.  Normal day to day living can put a person behind on so many things – from the mundane such as yard work and learning Spanish to the more important such as telling loved ones that they are loved. 

This falling behind the times is even more pronounced when the times themselves are changing drastically.  Even if those changes are good and wonderful as well as scary and concerning. 

This is my attempt to catch up on one of the more important items that I am behind on – about six months behind in fact. 

I was updating my profile today to reflect some changes that occurred over seven months ago.  A mundane update.  However in starting this I realized that I really needed to do something more.   This change demanded something be done more important than just updating my profile.   

This is the something more.

In my blog profile I mentioned working as Operations Manager at a production facility.  I also made it clear that while it brought in some good money it was not one of my passions.   It was, however, OK and I didn’t hate it.  I did well, receiving good evaluations, promotions, nice raises, and had the respect of my people and peers. 

Things changed though a few years ago when our then Plant Manager left to take a new position with another company.  I was made interim Plant Manager and asked if I wanted to be among those considered for the position.  Given my lack of passion for it, the fact that I already was working more hours than I really cared for, and the fact that I did not wish to travel as much as the position would require – I declined and thanked them for seriously considering me.

After about four months of being interim Plant Manager they hired someone to take the position permanently.  Two months later I was beginning to regret my decision not to go for it.  As were many at the plant. 

I will not go into the details here other than to say that the man had good and innovative ideas, was very knowledgeable about the budgetary details and processes so important for Plant Managers, had extensive experience in setting up data bases that were useful in tracking the Plant’s process.  However his people skills and management style were abysmal.  He made the workplace very difficult to work for and, for me, turned what was a tolerable situation into one that was a nightmare.

He tended to accuse first and if you successfully defended yourself there was no apology.  He came across as abrasive, so much so that I had two or my people within the space of a month burst into tears under his questioning – and he wasn’t even in full chew out mode.  He either did not know or did not care to compliment people on what was done right, only chew on them.   He also was a poor communicator on his expectations and although he made the right noises about being willing to help if asked, his help was not really helpful.   

However, despite these flaws, he did make sure that the Plant was profitable and turned out a quality product.  As long as he did that no one at our corporate office was going to do anything about the manner in which he accomplished this. 

Given our financial situation at the time I did not feel that I could just quit without having another job with comparable pay in the hand.  And it needed to be in the area since Dindy had a nice job making the same amount of money I was.   I was looking but not having much luck in finding anything. 

So often the word “change” is a scary word.  Something to be avoided if at all possible.  Many, if not most, people usually use the word change in reference to bad things happening – such as my new Plant Manager.  However something happened then that proved that change can also be a good thing.

My wife changed jobs. 

Dindy had been looking for a few years for a different position in her chosen career.  Given what we were both making she could afford to be patient and she did like both her work and her employer.  Her patient looking paid off.  She found her dream job. 

It was in her career field, it was a promotion, the work atmosphere was great, the job more challenging and responsible – in short it was the best job she could imagine.  And what was even better, in terms of my situation, she was going to get a substantial raise.  One that would allow us to again start taking vacations to spots further away than the Texas coast or the Oklahoma parks.  One that would allow us to make some needed repairs on the house and even to improve it.  One that would allow us to build up our very low savings account.  One that would allow us to make investments and really start saving and preparing for a possible early retirement. 

Substantial enough where I no longer had to worry about getting a position that matched my current salary.   That was wonderful enough for me in and of itself. 

However the changes were not finished yet. 

In the middle of October 2010 I had taken two days off for a four day weekend.  I did so because I was about to lose a key person for maternity leave and I would have to help fill in and do a substantial amount of her work since we had no substitute who could do all of her functions.  Given that I wanted a few days off before starting on 70 hour weeks. 

I received a call from my work on my first day off, Thursday.  They told me that I needed to come in Friday because my worker was going to be starting maternity leave then instead of the scheduled Monday.  I knew that this might happen, so while disappointed was not surprised.  What did surprise me was the fact that my Plant Manager told me this came about because of my bad management decisions and then also questioned my ethics, implying that I had been hiding some information.   I was not given specifics on the phone.

After hanging up I spent a few moments ranting and raving to myself.   And cussing my Plant Manager.  After calming down a bit I decided that I needed to go talk to him and find out what management “mistakes” I had made and what information had I hidden.  First though I talked to Dindy.  Well, actually I ranted for a bit more.

I had made mistakes before – who hasn’t.  Although in this particular case I could not see that I did make any mistakes.  But I had never – never – never – had my integrity questioned by any Plant Manager (and I had been under three others before the current one) nor at any of my other jobs.  

After I had started to calm down enough where I felt I could go talk calmly with my Plant Manager Dindy then surprised me.  She told me to quit. 

She told me to quit even though I had no job lined up or even one on the horizon.

She told me to quit even though we had not had a good vacation in years.

She told me to quit even though we had not built up our savings or even started on our investments for retirement.

She told me to quit even though we had not done any of the repairs or improvements on the house. 

I was dumbfounded.  Delighted.  And scared.  We talked for quite a while about this.  She told me that she wanted me to enjoy myself again.   She told me that I had been difficult to live with – moody, short tempered, and not laughing as much as I used to – ever since this new Plant Manager had come on board.  She told me she was greatly concerned about my health and happiness.  She told me that my happiness and our happiness together mattered more than the money. 

She told me that she wanted me to look and pick a new career that I would enjoy and not worry about the money. 

After a great deal of assurances from her that she meant this I hung up and went to talk with my Plant Manager.  I did not go intending to quit.  I did go though to find out what he thought I had done wrong and why he was questioning my integrity.  And if I did not agree with the answers, then I would quit.  If we could work it out, then I would stay.

Needless to say I did not agree with his answers.  And so, when he told me I had to make a decision in regards to continuing to carry on the conversation we were having and making things more difficult for me or to just shut up and just deal with it I made a decision that he did not expect.  I quit my job of 15 years on the spot. 

Now I have decided, for various reasons, to take up a new career in medical technology – specifically radiology.  Although it will pay about half of what I used to earn once I attain my degree (in a couple of years) it will be enough.  And it will provide me much more satisfying career than the one I had.    

I have completed my first semester at TCC (all A’s – hoozah!) and as I write this am getting ready to start my first summer semester. 

Dindy’s salary is large enough to keep us going, along with whatever I bring in from a part time job.  Our house still needs repair.  I have a car with about 120,000 miles on it.  We will not be taking any long, exotic vacations.  We will not be retiring early (although we will not have to work beyond attaining our social security either). 

I am though much more relaxed and happier now.  Dindy and my daughters find me to be more fun to be with than I was before.  My life is not centered around my work and how to deal with the problems therein – problems made worse by having the most difficult boss I have ever had in 40 years of working. 

Both Dindy and I account this trade off a total win for ourselves. 

It is interesting that we are told that we live in a materialistic society.  To a great extent that is true.  Further, one of the charges that is often leveled against atheists by believers is that we are materialists and value only the material things of the world. 

This is further evidence, if more is needed, that many theists really do not understand atheism at all.  Humans are humans whether atheist, theist, or pantheist.  We share the same needs and desires, many of the most important of which – personal connections and satisfaction – go far beyond just the material.

Dindy’s support for me is just one example of this truth.  And one that I am and will be forever grateful for.

Thank you Beautiful. 

 

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.

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.

Freedom Isn’t Free February 28, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Current Events, Memories, Politics.
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“Freedom isn’t free!”

I used to seethe when someone would fling that in my face. I was an angry college student, doing everything in my power to prevent the invasion of Iraq. I wrote my representatives. I went to war protests. I tried to talk some sense into people. I voted in the 2004 elections. It was to no avail. Iraq was invaded despite my efforts.

That mantra would get under my skin when some pro-war supporter threw it at me. Of course freedom isn’t free. Unlike them, I didn’t see how invading Iraq would protect my freedom, or the freedom of the Iraqis. Freedom can’t be imposed on people. It’s something that the individual person has to fight for him or herself.

Right now, this battle is being fought in Libya. By protesting their government, demanding change, holding their representatives accountable they are demanding their freedom. For some, the cost is their life. For those still fighting, I wish them luck.

Recently, people have earned their freedom in Egypt and Tunisia. I hope that the people in those countries work to create a government that serves the needs of the people rather than fall to the danger of having a new tyrant put in place.

Freedom is not found by invading foreign countries. Nor is it found by unquestioning obedience to a political leader. While I voted for Obama, if he decides to invade Libya you bet I would object. Freedom is not earned by slapping an American flag sticker on your car and continuing on with your day. It is gained by keeping oneself informed of the actions of one’s own government, by questioning that government, by letting one’s representatives know your opinions, and by voting a representative out of office should s/he not meet one’s needs.

When a young woman writes her elected officials, she is earning her freedom. When a man joins in peaceful protest with others, he is earning his freedom. When a brand spanking new 18 year old votes for the first time, she is earning her freedom.

I am heartened by what is going on in the Middle East. Back in college, I used to tell people that when the Iraqi’s hunger for freedom was greater than their fear of their government they would rebel on their own. And that victory would be greater than one imposed on them because they themselves would have earned it.

In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries, this is proving to be the case. They have taken the first steps on a long road. I wish them luck in navigating the bends and avoiding the potholes.