the “new book of crazy”

A 12th century stone statue in Polonnaruwa, Sr...

A 12th century stone statue in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, widely believed to be of King Parakramabahu I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been more than a month since I’ve posted on this blog.  I had a crazy eight week class–Psychopathology–that required weekly exams and bi-weekly papers and it was just crazy. It was the equivalent of Anatomy class for med students as we got to learn about the DSM-5–the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is a book listing of all the diagnoses related to mental illness.

I felt kind of privileged because the DSM-5 was just released this past May and so those of us in the Psychopathology class this fall were among the first to learn about new manual.  When my mother was going to school for social work in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were making the transition from DSM-II to DSM-III.  Now they’ve dropped the Roman numerals and they’ll number updates to the in the same way they number software updates, so I guess that brings the DSM into the third millenium.

Even our instructor disliked the word “psychopathology” because of the concern that it reinforces the stigma against mental illness. The DSM-5 goes to significant lengths to caution against using diagnoses to stigmatize without taking into consideration different backgrounds, cultural values and life experiences. The DSM-5 also points out that a conscious, well-informed decision to deviate in specific ways from social norms is not, in itself, a psychological disorder. Indeed, I feel that people who make such concious decisions may very well be more sane than others, and I have little doubt that future historians will look at the late 20th and early 21st centuries as rather mindless and barbaric by comparison.

Another story that illustrates that point well was the first required reading in the course, excerpted from the book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters which revisits the Western response to the trauma of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, specifically in Sri Lanka. To sum things up, Western psychologists, sometimes even without the permission of the Sri Lankan government, assumed that the survivors of the tsunami would respond to trauma in the same way that Americans do, and since the Sri Lankan public was, to a large extent, not exposed or aware of modern Western psychology, a second “tsunami” of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder would soon sweep the island nation unless well-intentioned Western psychologists intervened.  Watters argued that counselors didn’t consider the possibility that PTSD itself might be a disorder unique to Western culture, and that attempts to impose Western trauma treatment on a non-Western culture might not help, and could even hurt.

Counselors didn’t try to learn about strong coping mechanisms already inherent in the culture of Sri Lanka. Those familiar with Sri Lankan culture believed residents were, in fact, remarkably resilient even through decades of civil war.  Researchers studying trauma around the world have reported markedly different responses to trauma from different cultures. But when the survivors didn’t respond to the counseling in the way the Western counselors expected, the visitors often judged the Sri Lankans for being “in denial” or “lacking self-awareness.”

While social workers carrying clipboards into Sri Lanka certainly had more pure intentions than the Portuguese carrying guns onto the island four or five centuries earlier, I think that a colonial mindset still permeated both “invasions.”  Whether the gift was the Bible in the 16th century or the DSM-IV in the 21st century, the visitors assumed that Western culture was superior and that they had arrived to save the natives from themselves.  My experience has been that unless such a prejudice is verbalized and exposed to the light of day as a prejudice, such unspoken assumption remains invisible to the person harboring it.  As such, the 21st century visitors were “in denial” of the disrespect they held for the Sri Lankans they wanted to treat.

I actually have a theory that PTSD exists largely because Western culture in the industrial era has 1) been stripped of a lot of its spiritual meaning due to corrupted religious institutions and people responding to such institutions by minimizing spirituality in their lives and 2) become much less communal and more isolating than many other cultures.  Without these pillars upon which to lean in the face of tragedies, Western society may very well be less equipped to deal with disasters than many other cultures around the world.  I have reviewed no research supporting this assertion and I very well might be biased.  Neverthless, I think that we ourselves might one day find ourselves in need of counseling from these same cultures that we have previously looked down upon.

the four major political parties of the united states

English: Breakdown of the , as of February 201...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives held a rather extraordinary vote that says a lot more about the reality of American politics than most media pundits would have you believe, and provides Exhibit A as to why not to take either MSNBC or Fox News very seriously.

The vote was known as the Amash/Conyers Amendment–introduced by two House members from Michigan–Justin Amash, a Tea Party Republican elected in 2010, and John Conyers, a 24-term liberal Democrat.  The amendment would have de-funded the part of the National Security Agency that has been engaging in mass surveillance of Americans and require that any FISA court order pertaining to the surveillance of any Americans must pertain to individuals under investigation, as opposed to the mass collection of electronic communications going through AT&T or Verizon.

The amendment lost, but the vote was uncharacteristically close for any recent U.S. House vote.  The amendment lost by twelve votes, 205-217, with twelve member not voting.  (I wonder if those twelve non-voters will get an earful from their constituents.)  There are 234 Republicans and 200 Democrats in the House, but the votes of both were very split–94 Republicans were for it and 134 against it, while 111 Democrats were for it and 83 against it.  The breakdown of the votes are here.  The debate over the vote produced seemingly rather odd bedfellows, including Michele Bachmann and President Obama.   Congressman James Sensenbrenner–a Republican just one or two Congressional districts away from mine who was instrumental in drafting the 2001 Patriot Act and has been a longtime advocate of the “War On Terrorism”–testified that he had not intended the Act to engage in such mass surveillance. Many other House Republicans stood up and read the text of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Another noteworthy testimonial came from Iraq War veteran freshman congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who said after the vote that she could not in good conscience support a program that violated the very Constitution for which she and other troops felt they were risking their lives.

My point in reporting this is that American politics are not as simplistic as one might think.  As far back as the Clinton Administration, I saw the possibility for coalitions between certain liberals and conservatives that might not be immediately obvious.  During this Obama Presidency, similar unique alignments are becoming more and more common, and the Edward Snowden affair has probably made these unusual coalitions more and more visible.

English: A map illustrating the Nine Nations o...

English: A map illustrating the Nine Nations of North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as The Nine Nations of North America claimed that there are actually nine nations of significant size in this continent, rather than three large ones and a collection of tiny ones, I believe that the U.S. political system has roughly four political parties.  If I were to name them, I would refer to them as the “Democratic,” “Republican,” “Libertarian” and “Progressive” parties.  I am referring to these parties I describe in quotation marks, and the word “party” in lowercase form, so as to distinguish them from the political parties of the same name that have existed throughout U.S. political history.

The newly constituted “Democratic” and “Republican” parties would generally conform closely to the current positions and roles of the respective parties’ leadership. As such, the “Democratic” party would be much more economically conservative and less dedicated to civil liberties than most of the real-life Democratic Party’s voting base is.  Both parties would continue to be strong advocates for foreign intervention. The “Republican” party would not be a fan of civil liberties and  would continue to increasingly favor big business over the public in almost all conflicts between the two–this would include Wall Street, The “Democratic” party would continue moving in that direction as well, just a few steps behind the “Republicans.”  Evidence of this continued rightward tilt, which began around 1980, is the fact that the economic policies of President Clinton were much more conservative than that of President Nixon.

The “Progressive” party is more in alignment with the liberal Democrats of the 1960s and 70s.  This party is most ideologically in line with the ideals behind President Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives. The “Progressive” party would be much less likely to favor business interests over the public interest, and would likely be opposed to most of the foreign conflicts in which the U.S. has entangled itself over the last 25 years.  There would also be a much stronger emphasis on civil liberties than present with the current Democratic Party leadership.  The “Progressive party” voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed by President Clinton and the Republican leadership in 1993, and has been increasingly critical of President Obama on the environment, civil liberties, and foreign policy.

The “Libertarian Party” would include the current smaller real-life Libertarian Party, the Republicans who supported Ron Paul’s Presidential candidacy in 2008 and 2012, and a number of other Republicans who are strongly in favor of limiting government regulation on businesses and individuals in general. They are also strong civil libertarians and often (but not always) are much more opposed to foreign intervention than either Republicans or Democrats. A tiny minority of these “Libertarians” (think Ross Perot, for example) even opposed NAFTA as it did not fit their ideal of what a “free market” looks like.

The current majority of the membership of the U.S. Congress belong to either the “Democratic” or “Republican” parties.  The “Democratic” and “Republican” parties consist of 80-90% of the U.S. Senate, and consist of a majority in the House of Representatives–but a much smaller one than the Senate.

The majority of the votes in both houses of Congress usually consist of the following coalitions:

  1. a non-controversial measure supported by all four parties in Congress
  2. coalitions of “Democrats” and “Republicans” voting together on the measure (meaning the leadership of both parties support the measure even if the measure might be controversial–I think of a famous quote from the late, great comedian George Carlin that said, “The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”),
  3. a coalition of “Democratic” and “Progressive” representatives on one side of a measure, and “Republicans” and “Libertarians” on the other side.  These votes are the ones most often reported by the mainstream U.S. media.

But the vote yesterday represented a coalition that is becoming increasingly common:

4.  A coalition of “Progressives” and “Libertarians” on one side, and “Republicans” and “Democrats” on the other side.

This coalition also surfaced in the vote on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Looking at the votes, one can see that “Libertarians” and “Progressives” are less present in the Senate than in the House.  This is not surprising, as being elected to the Senate or any higher office requires pleasing a larger array of constituents in order to get their votes and campaign donations.  The higher the office one seeks, the more votes and campaign donations one must solicit in order to win the elections.

This is not to say that all of the House members who voted for the Amash-Conyers amendment were “Libertarians” and “Progressives”–I know, for example, that Rep. Sensenbrenner would not fall into either category.

The U.S. political system is even more complicated than that. For example, the Green Party shares the Libertarian distrust of big government, but not regulation.  The real-life Green Party tends to favor decentralized and more locally accountable government, but are more in favor of government regulations as long as they occur at the local level.

There is also what I would classify as a “Christian evangelical” group consisting of a majority of “Republicans,” perhaps half of the “Libertarians” and a decent-sized number of “Democrats,” who want, to varying degrees, to make Christianity the official religion of the United States and tend to be intolerant of non-Christians.

My observation is that the Tea Party as we know it today is not really a unified or cohesive movement, despite what the mass media might say.  The Tea Party consists of a grouping of extreme “Republicans” and extreme “Libertarians,” who don’t always agree with each other.  For example, Reps. Amash (R-MI) and Bachmann (R-MN) both have widespread Tea Party support but were very much on opposite sides during yesterday’s vote in the House.

My point in making this post is that the current partisan attacks and maneuverings in U.S. politics do not constitute a full picture of the complexity of U.S. politics.  I don’t want to throw myself into the mud with the other partisans well-versed in Fox News and MSNBC talking points (and I wouldn’t even put Fox News and MSNBC at opposite ends of the political spectrum), but it is still very necessary to be an astute observer of politics.  Being able do so means:

  1. an increased ability to find common ground with people one might not normally associate with,
  2. that being in favor of more radical change might not necessarily make you a political outlier,
  3. being able to work with people different than you will mostly likely produce the best solutions to the problems that plague our world today.

One humorous epilogue–on the same day that the House voted down the Amash-Conyers amendment, I received a fundraising email from Michelle Obama saying, the first line of which read:  “There’s a lot of noise and talk and back-and-forth going on in Washington, but hardly any of it seems to be about the struggles that middle-class families face.”  The irony of the timing of these two events is not lost on me, even if it’s lost on the Democratic Party.

everything you know about politics is wrong (the view of the fistfight from 30,000 feet up version)

FireworksIn my last three posts I talked about the revelation of the existence of the mass surveillance program in which your emails, internet searches, and mobile phone data are collected, stored and subject to review by the U.S. government at any time.

One of these posts talked about potential links between this PRISM program and President Eisenhower’s warning 52 years ago about the threat that the military-industrial complex could have on rational foreign policy discourse.  Viewing that speech in its entirety served as a useful snapshot of the beginning of the 1960s and how the U.S. saw itself then as compared to now.

But I think it would be oversimplistic to blame the military-industrial complex in the U.S. Yes, I believe they have an undue influence in U.S. foreign policy. Yes, access to untold billions of private conversations has to be tempting for any entity to want to exploit. Nevertheless, I think greed and hunger for power are only part of the equation.

It could be that mass surveillance and infinite detention are part of a conspiracy to remove the foundation of democracy, of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and other rights that we’ve taken for granted.   But it could also be the desperate thrashing about of a government realizing that it is actually quite powerless in the face of some cold hard realities racing towards all of us.  Realities that, frankly, very few Americans want to accept and face.

One of my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is blogs,” The Automatic Earth, has what I believe to be the best assessment of the quantity, trajectory, velocity and texture of various large pieces of excrement headed towards the giant ceiling fan in whose breeze the world in general and Americans in particular have been basking in for two-thirds of a century.

The blog’s author, Nicole Foss, sees the first challenge being with financial meltdown that started in 2007, but whose full effects have yet to be felt. We aren’t in the panicked months of 2008 when the word “bailout” first entered the nation’s everyday vernacular, but signs of it can be seen in the financial crises in Europe, the slow economic recovery in places like the United States and Japan, and rapid rise and quick fall of artificial bubbles such as China’s construction boom.  What Foss sees is a crash that would make 2008’s crash seem like a tiny firecracker, followed by a futile “Great Collateral Grab” which will only show the degree to which assets are already over-leveraged.

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy In...

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested – USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foss projects the second wave troubles coming from tightening energy supplies.  Even if the world is able to successfully press the “reset” button on the economy and head towards a recovery, this recovery will run headlong into the reality that a 150-year old energy party that the industrial world has enjoyed is about to have the plug pulled on it. This “energy party”–that is the comfort and affluence we have enjoyed over the decades–is about to end with the end of easily accessible oil.  The crisis we are facing can be best summed up in five letters:  EROEI, or for short, “Energy Returned On Energy Invested.”  The EROEI for crude oil has been, until recently, very high but is beginning to decline rapidly.  The above graph shows the comparative EROEI for various efforts at extracting energy in the past and present.  You can see how newly developed oil has a much lower EROEI than oil twenty years ago.  Despite all the hype about “green energy,” we are not going to come anywhere close to the EROEI levels in the past, and given that the world, and Western society in particular has been dependent on such high EROEI levels, we are faced with a second crisis that we must face and then overcome. The fact that the there is a mad dash towards Canadian tar sands despite the huge expense of extracting the oil from the sand, fracking instead of the natural gas development we’ve seen until recently, and efforts by coal companies to blow up entire mountaintops shows that times are indeed getting tight.

At the same time, we must overcome a third hurdle which is the environmental fallout from this long “party.” Climate change is one big part of this but there are other factors, including depletion of valuable resources, rapid use and destruction of topsoil due to of unsustainable farming practices, the depletion and/or poisoning of precious freshwater sources, and the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the over-use of antibiotics in our medical and agricultural systems.

So, in that light, should we be surprised if our governments are beginning to behave in a more paranoid and irrational manner?  This is, of course, not to excuse their behavior. Nevertheless, in order to address actions by our government that would have seem bizarre a few generations ago, we have to understand the climate in which they are operating.  These are extreme days, on many different levels.

My point of this blog post is not to be doom and gloom. My point is that we as a human race have chosen to  learn our lessons the hard way.  I am optimistic about the long-term survival of the human race, but we’ve got some difficult times and adjustments to overcome.

The answer doesn’t start with our federal government, much less the state.  Our political system is incapable of producing knights in shining armor, which is why I never, ever have worked for a political campaign and never will.  Change has to come from deeper within–within ourselves, between ourselves and God, or however you might want to visualize it.

This doesn’t mean that we abdicate the inclusion of our voice on the important questions of the day.  Certainly, our First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments are worth fighting for.  Our environment is worth fighting for.  What it means is that we need to always be aware of the big picture and let that larger view choose for us where it’s the most important place to get involved.

everything you know about politics is wrong (love for sale version)

Obama and the Military Industrial Complex
Obama and the Military Industrial Complex (Photo credit:

In my last post I wrote about the PRISM surveillance scandal and how the United States government is taking more and more steps towards becoming a police state. Why would this happen?

A number of theories abound, of course–everything from the Illuminati to the United Nations to the accusation that President Obama is a socialist.

What has been very noteworthy is the involvement of private contractors in these surveillance efforts. Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton when he chose to blow the whistle on the NSA. Other companies involved in the development of this surveillance state have been Northrup Grumman, Narus (now owned by Boeing), and Palantir.  There are likely others. Furthermore, Google has access to much of our private data as does every Internet Service Provider.

This development calls to mind President Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961 where, among other things, he warns about the power of what he called the military-industrial complex.  I’ve posted a video of his speech below in its entirety so that viewers can get the context of it.  Also worth seeing is a video about Eisenhower’s desire to talk about the military industrial complex.  Reportedly, while still in the White House, the President would get angry upon seeing a magazine advertisement by a military contractor boasting about their involvement, and throw the magazine into the fireplace.


A noteworthy question when thinking about recent developments with the revelations about PRISM is whether the “balance” that Eisenhower frequently exhorted in his farewell address still exists today, especially when so much of our personal information is in the hands of these private contractors…

Power corrupts, and access to so much data can corrupt absolutely. But while the presence of this military-industrial complex might be part of the issue, I’m convinced that Big Brother’s influences in the United States government exists for reasons beyond the existence of the military-industrial complex.  I will write more about this in another post…

everything you know about politics is wrong (big brother version)

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

Cover of Nineteen Eighty-Four

Uncle Sam has hit the fan.

The events of the several weeks should erase any doubt that the U.S. government has gone off the deep end. Revelations of systematic monitoring and reading of our electronic communications and Web activity have established beyond a reasonable doubt that we are now living under a mass surveillance system that the likes of the North Korean government could only dream about.

This type of mass surveillance is precisely the type of totalitarianism that George Orwell was trying to warn people about when he wrote the book Nineteen Eighty-Four back 65 years ago. (Note that the book was intended to be a satire.)  I believe that in conducting such mass surveillance on Americans without their knowledge or permission, combined with the ability to detain indefinitely without trial anyone on the mere suspicion of “terrorism,” the United States government has abandoned any pretense of fostering a free and open society.

Ripped to shreds is the Fourth Amendment which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Ripped to shreds is the Sixth Amendment:  “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

And this in turn has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, which was supposed to guarantee our freedom of speech.  Further evidence of the negative impact on free speech has been the surveillance and wiretapping of a Fox News reporter and twenty Associated Press reporters. And the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered information about extensive monitoring and infiltration of Occupy Wall Street which undermines the argument that this surveillance structure exists solely to prevent terrorism.  According to this report, the government even monitored activists opposing the NDAA of 2012..

Particularly relevant today is Benjamin Franklin’s quote from 1759: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

What is most interesting is the traditional left/right political alignments that fall apart in the ensuing controversy over this issue.  While some partisans on the right will tie these revelations together with the usual accusations against “big government liberals,” President Obama is merely continuing what George W. Bush had started.  Just as the NDAA 2012 vote split votes within both Democratic and Republican parties, this issue seems to be doing the same thing.  Indeed it appears that the members of Congress most against the NDAA have been further on the left and further on the right, while those considered moderate have been the most willing to defend the likes of the NDAA and the PRISM surveillance program. We shouldn’t kid ourselves into believing that President Obama or members of Congress actually want to see an open and honest debate about this.

All of this, however, is just yet another sign that we live in extreme and unstable times.  I can’t pretend to know what President Obama is thinking.  He made many promises when running for President in 2008 that he has not kept, and in many cases has made 180 degree turns completely opposite to what he has promised.  I don’t know if he genuinely wanted to make the changes he was going to make or if he intended to say what he needed to say to get elected and then do whatever he (and/or the people who contributed his campaign) wanted.  Was he genuine about his intention for reform and then found himself trapped in a machine not of his own making?  Personally, I believe you’d have to be bat-guano crazy to run for President in this day and age.  It is noteworthy that the last three U.S. Presidents who have served accumulated a significant amount of gray hair within a couple years of taking office.  Before that, the first President Bush had already been Vice President and CIA director, and President Reagan’s hair was reportedly dyed, and before then–well that was a different era entirely.

I have watched the websites of my representatives in Congress.  As of today, Sen. Tammy Baldwin has yet to release an official statement about this growing scandal.  Sen. Ron Johnson has this series called “Victims of Government,” but the focus is on small businesses and alleged Washington red tape, not the surveillance state that affects all of us.  Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has more substantive statements about various aspects of U.S. government policy–the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement being negotiated in secret, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for every citizen, but hasn’t specifically mentioned this issue either.

I believe that whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning will be treated more kindly by history than pretty much any political leader today.  I hope that the recent revelations will shake things up and bring our society back to a more democratic open space.

As huge as the news of a the potential decline of American democracy might be, it can’t be talked about separately from other extreme developments today such as globalization, environmental decay, and economic instability. The fact is that we have many difficult lessons to learn before we can truly become civilized as a human race. I have zero doubt that future historians will look back at this time as being highly barbaric, even as many amazing and positive developments are also coming into being. This is something I’ll be talking more in future posts  Meanwhile, I am re-posting a video by Thievery Corporation featuring Mr. Lif, the title track from the Culture of Fear album released two years ago this month.  It seems especially relevant today.


bury my heart at schoolhouse rock

Recently, I’ve been struck by how much denial that continues to exist in American society over the genocide of the American Indians.

Certainly, there is debate over the extent to which this was, in fact, a genocide.  The guesses about the number of people living in the Americas immediately before 1492 range from 8 million to 145 million.  A pretty good scholarly article on this is here.  The one weak argument I find in this discussion is, “If there were seven times as many people in Mexico [as there were in England], shouldn’t there be seven times as many relics in Mexico?”  He claims there should, but that doesn’t make sense.  That’s like saying that we would have needed to see the remnants of interstate highways to prove that a civilized people lived there.

Where the author does make a noteworthy argument is over the question of the impact of disease.  He said “If a tribe was enslaved or driven off its lands, the associated increase in deaths by disease would definitely count toward the atrocity…however, if a tribe was merely sneezed on by the wrong person at first contact, it should not count.”  The question is, what usually happened at the point of first contact?  And given that almost every single Native American tribe in the U.S. was forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands, is it really fair to say that disease wiped them out first, or is that simply an excuse?

But the point of my post is not to throw myself into the debate, but to illustrate the extent to which the plight of the Native Americans is removed from our conscience as a nation, and I want to do so by showing two videos.  The first are scenes from the 2007 HBO film “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.”  The second is a Schoolhouse Rock short I remember from my childhood in the 1970’s.  The contrasts between the two is downright shocking–indeed seeing the second video was shocking by itself.  Count the number of references to Native Americans in the Schoolhouse Rock video and what kind of references these were.  And then think about it.



how to *really* avoid rape

© Simonkr | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Simonkr | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I’m reblogging this from littlemissconceptions, a blog written by a fellow Baha’i in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I think it hits the nail on the head as to the missing element in much of the “rape prevention advice” that is out there and the inherent double standards that don’t get talked about when discussing rape prevention.

Ten rape prevention tips–In case you’ve never seen this before :

1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.

4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.

6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.

7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.

10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

***end of reblogging***

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with advising people of steps to avoid being raped, sometimes people flip the advice around and use it to blame rape victims.  Sometimes people find other ways to blame the rape victim for what happened to them.  But the advice often given out to women also often doesn’t consider statistics that show that in 38% of rapes, the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance of the victim, in 28% of rapes the perpetrator was an intimate, and in 6% of rapes, the perpetrator was a relative.  Nevertheless,  strangers commit 26% of rapes , so the measures women take are not unnecessary.  Also, per some reports one in six men are raped before the age of 18.

In my view, it is a grave injustice that women have to take so many measures compared to men to avoid being attacked.  Men Can Stop Rape has done some effective campaigns to educate men about rape and their critical role in stopping it.  Rape will be ended not by pepper spray or women avoiding walking alone, but when men provide more positive role models of healthy masculinity and more healthy concepts of sex become predominant in our society. women (and some men) are having a field day with BIC pens

Many things on the Internet “go viral,” but this is the first time I’ve seen a product on get so much attention.  The thing is, I don’t think it’s attention that either or the manufacturer necessarily asked for.

The product in question is a 16-pack of “BIC Cristal Pens for Her.”  The product description below says that the pen “has an elegant design – just for Her! It features a thin barrel designed to fit a women’s (sic!) hand. It has a diamond engraved barrel for an elegant and unique feminine style.”

The featured pens come in pastel colors apparently designed to scream “girl cooties!” to the average misogynist. As a pen connoisseur myself, I had no idea that a feminine style was a must, but, as one female reviewer remarked, “the men in the marketing department must be on to something.”  Apparently they are also graceful grammarians.

When I checked Amazon there were 846 reviews for this pen–85 pages total.  The thing is, I’m certain the overwhelming majority of the people reviewing it have never bought this pen.

Going back to page 85, in the fall of 2011, the reviews look pretty much standard and serious, though a few reviewers commented about the gimmick of marketing pens exclusively to women.  However, starting at about page 78, around the end of July 2012, someone posted a comment saying, “Finally, pens for women! I don’t know what I’ve been doing all my life writing with men’s pens. It’s just been such a hassle!”

And then the lampoons began.  Most of the remaining 78 pages of reviews are dedicated to women (and some men) poking great fun at the gender stereotypes inherent in such a product.  I could not stop laughing.  Some of the quotes are below:

  • “I love BIC Cristal for Her! The delicate shape and pretty pastel colors make it perfect for writing recipe cards, checks to my psychologist (I’m seeing him for a case of the hysterics), and tracking my monthly cycle.”
  • “The “Oprah” of pens…My ‘man’ pens typically roll over in disgust when I share detailed, in-depth moments of my day; but ladies, I’m telling you, BUY THESE PENS! They DO listen, and they REALLY CARE! Then, pour some wine, invite over 15 of your closest gal-pals, and make a whole night of it!”
  • “Nice try, BIC, but next time, leave out the ink and stick in some batteries instead.”
  • “Grate procduct S 5tars! but #need a k3ybrd 4 grls PLZ!”,
  • “As a red-blooded ‘Murikan man, what I want to know is who taught all these women to read and write in the first place? And how is a ball-point pen “for Her” going to get my pot pie on the TV tray any faster? Now shut up and bring me a beer, NASCAR’s on.”
  • “I tried to give this zero stars but the system wouldn’t let me. I tried to order these on-line but couldn’t. Possibly because I am a man? I have contacted the ACLU and plan on filing a lawsuit immediately! Men have the equal right to be condescended to! We demand the equal right to be trivialized! We demand indignity!”
  • “love the pretty colors and skinniness, but I’m only giving two stars because they’re annoying. For one thing, they dot every “i” with a little heart. They also won’t make periods at the ends of sentences; it’s a question mark or exclamation point every time, also dotted with hearts–SUPER annoying. I went to okay a memo from my boss with the word “Fine” and it looked like I was coming on to him or something, which I wasn’t. At ALL.  Secondly, they insert “like” and “um” randomly throughout whatever it is you’re writing. I guess people still know what you mean but it takes up a lot of extra time and makes whatever you’re saying sound dumb.”
  • “Who knew I could come up with so many haiku about kittens and puppy dogs!”
  • “Thank you, Bic! With these pens in hand I can finally find my place. No more struggling as a fine artist and designer, now I can do what I do best: writing color coded “To Do” lists and drawing unicorns.”
  • “Great fit, but I have a question….I see this comes in a sleek design. But as a ‘full-figured’ woman, do these pens come in ‘curvy and carefree’?”
  • “If I ever find out who these products are for, I will let you guys know.”

More hilarious reviews are being added daily.  You can find them here.

one flu over the newscaster’s desk

The flu is back, and scarier than 2009!

Pardon my sarcasm.  Influenza is not something I take lightly–especially given the risk that it can trigger my asthma and possibly even bring on pneumonia.

It’s just that the more this flu season is hyped on the news, the less we actually seem to be informed.  One big example is the 62% effectiveness of the flu shot reported the Center for Disease Control.  “We found overall vaccine effectiveness to be 62%,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, at a press briefing. “That means if you got vaccinated you were about 60% less likely to get influenza requiring you to go to a doctor.”

The most complete report of the study I found was here.  Unless I (or the report) am missing something, what Dr. Frieden said and what the CDC reported seem to be two entirely different things.  The sample consisted of over 1,000 people–but only those who were already seeking medical treatment for respiratory infections.  So how can he say that the flu shot will make people less likely to need to see the doctor if the CDC only studied those who, um, saw a doctor?

Yet despite what seems to be limitations to the degree of effectiveness of the flu vaccine, watching the news will often lead the viewer to conclude that only the following steps are necessary in order avoid the flu:

  • Flu shot
  • Flu shot
  • Flu shot
  • And, lest you forget, the flu shot

Exhibit A is below.


Whether or not you choose the flu shot, the CDC’s (questionable) 62% figure indicates to me that other practices are equally important:

  • Wash your hands
  • Use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
  • Keep your hands away from your face
  • Cover your cough
  • Avoid people if you’re sick
  • Avoid sick people

Hand washing is probably the second most frequently cited advice and for good reason.   Hands take germs from doorknobs, hand railings, keyboards, money, and other things touched by more than one person, and infect the person once the hands touch the mouth, eyes, nose, etc.  Germs also travel the reverse direction as well.  Regular hand washing cuts the path of transmission.  Hand sanitizer is a good substitute if soap and water are not available.

What irks me is the enormous number of people who don’t cover their cough.  To me, learning how to cover your cough and keep your cough contained should be as basic as toilet training.  That there are so many people in our society who are “orally incontinent” in this way is deeply disturbing.

Next piece of advice–avoid people if you’re sick.  I’m dismayed that there is a “stuff it up” culture in our workplaces that encourages–and compels–people to come to work sick.  Worse is the number of workplaces that don’t allow paid sick days for their workers–particularly restaurants.  According to a survey by the Food Chain Worker Alliance, nearly 80% of food workers don’t have sick days, and more than half say that this forces them to come into work sick.  So it seems to me another piece of good advice would be to avoid restaurants during flu season–unless they offer sick days.  Maybe empty restaurants will convince management that sick days might not be an cost-prohibitive after all.


People in Japan and other parts of Asia have had a long-standing practice of putting on a mask in order to keep others from catching their colds.  I think they’re on to something.  While avoiding others is the best way, a mask is probably the next best way.  The Japanese have succeeded in making this a more attractive fashion accessory.  It might also help with that “oral incontinence” issue I was discussing a couple paragraphs before.


From Japan Trend Shop

Use of masks to prevent the spread of germs seems inconsistent in American health care facilities.  Some facilities will hand masks out to patients as they check into Urgent Care if they appear to have a respiratory illness.  At the same time, I’ve often noticed a “tough it out” attitude among many health care workers who don’t seem concerned that patients might get sick from staff or other patients.  I’ve twice caught colds in Dean Clinic’s urgent care (and have twice complained about it).  In both cases there were visibly sick people coughing frequently and loudly who weren’t asked to wear a mask.  I think I actually caught a cold from a nurse who was unmasked and not acting too concerned about her sneeze and cough as she asked me to open my mouth and say “Ahhhhh…”

My understanding is that surgical masks don’t really protect the wearer from colds unless they have an N95 rating or higher.  There are some out on the market with a microscopic coating that reportedly disable bacteria and some viruses.  There are gloves and scarves out on the market that reportedly do the same. I’m not sure how effective these products are, but it’s probably better than nothing as long as it’s not worn longer than recommended.  I just might try these out for a test ride on crowded buses.

Oh yeah, and that flu shot.  I have always had mixed feelings about the flu shot.  In a blog post from five years ago I reported how I ended up going home early from work due to dizziness–five hours after receiving the flu shot.  The post also talked about a housemate’s respiratory problems that seemed to start with the flu shot.  In the months that followed that post, her respiratory problems got even worse, and seemed to be an issue for most of the remaining months we lived together.

I’m not going to take a position on the shot vs. no shot controversy.  On one level, it makes sense that the more immune people there are, the less like the flu will spread, thereby minimizing the spread.  On the other hand, many people believe that the vaccines themselves present a risk, which might make the previous argument moot.

In any case, common sense dictates multiple approaches to avoiding the flu.  I fear that over-emphasis on the shot will push aside other practical measures that in my view are equally critical.  So I’ve posted them as a public service.  Have a happy and healthy winter season!


Today is the tenth anniversary of the day that I first moved into a co-op house in Madison.  I’ve been living in an intentional community lifestyle ever since then.

As much as I want to celebrate ten consecutive years of community living and the fact I’ve lived in intentional communities for over one-fourth of my life, it’s not just intentional communities that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been a Bahá’í for five years, but it’s not just the Bahá’í Faith that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been concerned for several decades about the state of our world and our continued ability to sustain life on this planet, but it’s not just the environment that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve struggled for months if not years to come up with a single world to really try to describe what it is that I want to write about and why. “A Hundred Hands Will Catch You,” while compelling (and based off a line in a poem I wrote over twenty years ago) still did not quite sum up what I felt this blog was about.

I found myself wanting to reach for something that links all these things.  Community, togetherness, unity, oneness, love…what?  These words seemed so abstract and overused as to become highly subjective and/or meaningless.  Reaching for them felt like reaching for handfuls of air–there was nothing original there, nothing to grab on to.

Then I came upon the word “gather.” Meaning people–gathering people.  Something felt right about this word–a little more concrete.  People coming together for a good reason.  What reason?  Many reasons: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.

One concern I’ve highlighted frequently over seven years of blogging has been the degree to which Westerners tend to live in isolation from each other compared to most of human history.  Our world of intimates has often shrunk to the size of the nuclear family–with not much outside that nucleus–and even that nucleus has been split with single mothers struggling to raise children on their own, giving away significant portions of their income to child care and at the mercy of employers that won’t let them stay home with a sick child.  Regardless of our status, we are left with little time to share with each other, so television, the Internet and video games fill the void.

We’ve let ourselves become broken up as a people.  We’ve become prisoners within castle walls stacked up high with bulk purchases from Sam’s Club.  With the biggest interactions between us and the real world coming through television and the Internet, we can easily become defenseless against the whims of image makers, spin-meisters, and people all too wiling to define our reality for us.  We are, in essence…


Scatterlings. I’m reminded by the Juluka song from the early 1980s. It’s hard to find a definition of the word “scatterlings” or how it came into being–a common online definition of the word is “One who has no fixed habitation or residence; a vagabond.” Juluka’s song “Scatterlings of Africa,” according to songwriter Johnny Clegg, was about how all of us Homo Sapiens have our origin in Africa.  The lyrics of the song also speak a lot about searching for truth–the line “on the road to Phelamanga,” refers to a search for the place where the lies end and where there is nothing left but the truth.

Thus the genesis of the new title for this blog: gatherlings. Now that we have scattered ourselves in so many ways, to the extent where human beings and the resources of the earth are becoming more and more exploited, it becomes critical for us to gather together.  Why?  Once again: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.  To gather together is the essence of civilization.  We are still learning to become civilized.  We are still evolving as a species and as a society, and evolve we must if we are to avoid becoming extinct.