The Boston Globe f* – ahem, I mean “fouls” – it up again.

I’ve had it. I’m sending this one right to them (The Globe.) Let’s see what happens.


I ask that your office read this letter in its entirety. I realize that it is rather long; I’ve included several citations and sources to substantiate my comments.


I’ve followed the Globe’s reporting of child abuse and DCF for years with a great deal of frustration. I recognize that your “heart is in the right place.” I’d like to think that the problem with your reporting is one of misguided good intentions, not just a desire for sales. In an effort to bring attention to the problem of child abuse, your reporting often lacks a thorough or objective examination of facts. One might even characterize the reporting as fear-mongering.

A seasoned reader who has with worked with and researched social services issues, I found such bias apparent in Saturday’s article, full of barely substantiated innuendo and statements from an agency without any substantiation as to their veracity.

Your description of prosecutors’ actions in the case seems one-sided. You referred to the “hesitancy” to prosecute because of defense attorneys “claims” based on medical conditions, but omitted how completely true these claims sometimes are.  A layperson with little or no experience in these issues would readily infer that the reluctance to press charges is a matter of moral cowardice, not a commitment to objectively gathering facts before acting on a conclusion.

We found it assuring that prosecutors were circumspect in not engaging in prosecutorial misconduct (a charge from which social workers are happily shielded). Legal cases, when carefully and thoroughly prepared, take time.

Similarly, your article cited second-hand inconclusive statements by DCF regarding alleged medical assessments the nature of the injuries, themselves DCF speculations hedged with qualifiers like “likely,” but no direct evidence, or independent substantiation.

We’d all like to believe that employees of government agencies and government spokespeople don’t become overzealous and misrepresent or misunderstand facts. However, we all know that isn’t true. I’m disappointed that The Globe didn’t take into account the undeniable reality that those things do, in fact, happen.

The Ripples Report, an independent review of the DCF investigation and appeals process, submitted to the OCA, found that:

In our review of 32 randomly selected decisions (including documentation on the initial investigation), we found multiple instances where, in our opinion, the quality of the initial investigation was not sufficiently comprehensive.

Could the document your article cited be one of those cases? Has anyone considered that an “insufficient investigation” can result in a “false positive,” where a family is forever destroyed by supported charges of abuse where no abuse occurred?

There are wonderful DCF social workers out there, but if the media is willing to accept that there are corrupt judges, as in Pennsylvania’s Kids for Cash scandal, abusive law enforcement, as in Ferguson, can The Globe not accept that overzealousness at best and misconduct at worst exist at DCF, and approach their claims with a proportional amount of skepticism?

According to one news reports during the Peletier scandal, DCF has mishandled medical information in its successful efforts to remove a child, when the social worker withheld information from the child’s Tufts specialist from the court. We are personally aware of DCF reports riddled with false and fabricated information. It happens often enough to cast a shadow over any agency documents your reporter consulted.

As a result, an unnamed babysitter may have just had her reputation forever sullied, and her position in a community forever damaged with little or no evidence. Maybe she is responsible for what happened, but shouldn’t the fact speak for themselves, when there are some facts? And what if she was not negligent or responsible? Even though your reporter did not name the babysitter, the story was on the front page, and we can be sure that everyone in Ms. Keane’s community and circle of friends knows exactly who that babysitter is.

There are, in truth, a number of childhood diseases that can mimic child abuse, and are often mistaken for abuse, to the destruction of families and reputations.

Frontline, no less, featured a story about pathologist Dr. Michael Laposata’s work on childhood diseases that do, in fact, mimic child abuse. For us, his statement that “overdiagnosis may be even worse than underdiagnosis, because not only are we affecting the child, we are now affecting another person, a parent who is being accused of abusing the child” was especially poignant.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-child-cases/if-its-not-abuse/

In 2008, a couple died in a murder-suicide directly stemming from false allegations of child abuse of their infant found to have multiple bone fractures. The baby was later diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The article quotes a medical expert as saying: “most [injuries] occurred after birth from normal handling” [italics mine]. One family member said of social services “they tore that family apart.”          The infant died later. An entire family was utterly destroyed.
http://www.denverpost.com/2012/03/31/mistaken-allegations-of-child-abuse-lead-to-murder-suicide-before-babys-rare-genetic-disorder-found/

This is not the first time I’ve seen The Globe run articles that seem to be a knee-jerk response, rather than a thorough examination of what may be a complex issue.

On September 1, 2015, Michael Levenson wrote an article under the inflammatory headline “Scores of Mass. Children Mistreated in Foster Homes.” Unfortunately, his presentation of the contents of the report was misleading at best. A rudimentary analysis of the report’s numbers, when used with to other reliable statistics (some from Massachusetts own Office of the Child Advocate and the Ripples Report) easily showed that the report’s substance did align with the hysteria-inducing headline. I say this because I did such an analysis, which I posted online (http://wp.me/p1Tq1w-9l).

That same month, Joan Vennochi wrote an editorial responding to DCF’s failures with the position that the entire problem of a disregard for children and families could be resolved with more money and more resources. This involved the case of a child who had been starved into a coma despite social worker’s ongoing visits, after DCF had managed to amass its own body count.

Just how much someone should be paid before they are willing to save a child’s life?

If firefighters had stood by watching people die in a fire, or police officers had failed to act while witnessing a fatal crime, would Ms. Vennochi have been so adamant that more pay and more resources would solve a problem that, it seems to me, is more due to a scarcity of compassion and empathy than financial resources (http://wp.me/p1Tq1w-9t). I quickly “Googled” – not a comprehensive statistical inquiry, I admit – and it seems firefighters make in the ballpark of what social workers make, but I don’t think anyone would excuse their failure to put save someone from a house fire as a result of low pay.

The Globe seems to act consistently as the public mouthpiece for DCF, as well as its defender in the public eye, regardless of the agency’s transgressions. In doing so, I believe The Globe fails in its duty to the public.

Has The Globe called for legal accountability for the social workers involved in any of the deaths since Jeremiah Oliver? In Los Angeles and Detroit, social services social workers were charged in similar cases.
(http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/11/15/2-social-workers-charged-toddler-death/93875514/;
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-social-workers-charged-gabriel-fernandez-torture-20160407-story.html)

While I’m the last person to recommend any action that would fan the flames of overzealousness in reporting families – which seems already to be a problem – the lack of legal consequences leads to failures to act on one extreme, and persecution of innocent caretakers and parents on the other.

What is your paper’s position on Absolute Immunity for social workers, which shields them from charges that would normally address misconduct that would be criminal for a private citizen or even law enforcement?

Has The Globe ever reported that several years ago, one foster child advocacy group scored Massachusetts among the lowest five states for foster children’s rights in terms of time spent in foster care. Has The Globe ever investigated?

We have witnessed misconduct that would have resulted in charges and dismissal had they been perpetrated by members of law enforcement (who I’ve witnessed, by the way, treating people charged with crimes with more humanity and more dignity than we’ve seen from DCF social workers). We witnessed treatment of children that would have assuredly resulted in termination of custody and possible charges. However, all our efforts to call attention to these problems fall on deaf ears. The sad part is that we are not alone. The dismissive claim that we are an “isolated incident” doesn’t stand up to facts.

Did The Globe publish an equally passionate piece regarding the DOJ and HHS joint investigation that found that DCF violated one mother’s civil rights in removing a child? What was The Globe’s editorial position regarding the plight of the Peletier family, and have they continued to hold the Oversight and Audit Committee accountable for its inquiry?

How many times has a DCF source either on or off the record violated client confidentiality in providing background information for an article, even the oft-quoted “multiple allegations” (which can often arise from a single source or simply over-reporting by mandated reporters working in an atmosphere of fear and overzealousness)?

If your paper did report prominently on this or the other issues I’ve raised, please let me know, and I will apologize, and include the information in places where I’ve posted this letter.

Child Abuse has become the new Red Scare, with The Globe’s help.

Citing four professional and reliable sources, Wikipedia estimates that false accusations of sexual abuse alone is under 10%.  I’ve read advocacy organizations claim overall false accusation rates ranging from 2% to 25%.

The Globe’s article, and past reporting, has helped feed the fear that under every bed is a deadly child abuser, and every injury or death is surely the result of horrible abuse. Did a kid fall off a bike? Must be child abuse. Don’t like a kid’s punk haircut? The mother is neglectful. Want to scare someone into compliance or payoff? Tell them you’ll accuse them of child abuse. Don’t like someone or their kid? Accuse them of child abuse. Disagree with someone’s values on parenting? Accuse them. Want to feel heroic and needed or just want some attention? Accuse them.

These scenarios are not far-fetched, and represent some very real experiences of parents that rarely, if ever get the kind of media attention you granted Ms. Keane.

Of course we all want to act when we hear of a case of a child dying from abuse or neglect. It’s our basic instinct. I’ve been guilty of letting myself be manipulated based on the instinct to see justice done, and became involved with someone else’s agenda or vendetta, only to find out that the facts bore little relationship to reality. I’ve been on the receiving end as well.

While that’s all very human, it’s not what journalism is supposed to be, from what I understand. Rather than being the cooler head that lead reason to prevail, The Globe, however well-meaning it may be, has repeatedly orchestrated the stage for child abuse witch hunts.

The press lately has been very indignant about any claims of bias or agenda-pushing. And I readily agree that the national claims by the alt-right are absurdly false. However, there is a kernel of truth here, where on this one issue, The Globe cherry-picks its objectivity, and quite frankly, walks in step with DCF without ever examining the facts of an issue, or the possibility of underlying agendas either on the part of the agency, or the individual caseworkers involved. Has anyone done thorough investigation into the financial incentives for maintaining children in foster care, including CAPTA funds, institutional antipathy to adoption, or bias in the foster care community?

When The Globe touted its role in the priest sex abuse scandal a few years ago, we were aggrieved by the hypocrisy, as your paper has failed to play the same role of an objective, investigative press when it comes to claims and allegations of child abuse.

I would ask you and your staff to consider this: if a member of the public came to you with a claim about DCF social workers who endangered and mistreated children, potentially violated policy, engaged in harassment, and even perjury, would you have put that story on your front page with as little research or substantiation as you did the Keane story? If that member of the public could substantiate many, if not all, of the claims, would you do that story at all?

A (former) Christian’s Argument for Atheism

This was so important to me I decided to blog it. It’s about something the Pope, my most favorite person in the Universe, said.

pope-frank
The quote and the article have nothing to do with each other, except being said by the same wonderful man. Okay, maybe there’s a tiny connection.

“How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”
~ Pope Francis

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/pope-suggests-better-to-be-atheist-than-hypocritical-catholic/ar-AAngu7y

 

I’ve been running this blog for about five or six years. About a year or so ago, I stopped posting. I’ve considered sending out an explanation, but my readership is pretty small, no one was clamoring for an explanation, so I let it be.

When I read the article about what the Pope said, I decided to write a post because his comments touched on something I felt very deeply. It was as if I finally had permission to speak about something I was ashamed to know.

Separation of the Church and the State of Being:

I’m not the same person I was three years ago. I came across a recent blog post the other day and I was reminded that my faith and love for God were so profound …

“Faith that can not withstand the light of reason, is not Belief, but mere Supersition.” ~ John Donne (I think).

                                                  … and so utterly out of touch with reality.

For new readers, or readers who haven’t read this, my family experienced and lost a brutal and abusive adoption battle, complete with corruption, harassment, one assault (albeit not an injurious one) against me by a social worker, and even abusive and neglectful treatment of the children by the system. I’d relied on my faith in family, people, the justice system, my understanding of God throughout the whole process.

That turned out to be a huge mistake.

In the ruins of what used to be my life, some of the little gems of non-wisdom I’d held on to couldn’t stand up to any rational examination.

So many things I’d been taught about God and told about God and encouraged to believe turned out to be just – in my world anyway – well, bullshit. All those pleasing, palliative platitudes were as useless as the pledge of allegiance during a frontal tank assault: “God has a plan,” the frustratingly misleading “Prayer Works” and “Things always happen for a reason.” Then there’s its fraternal twin “Things always work out for the best,” and my personal favorite “God never gives you anything you can’t handle.”

There was a reason for an entire loving, healthy, safe, law-abiding family, including innocent and vulnerable children, to be traumatized and destroyed by corruption on the possible scale of Pennsylvania’s Kids for Cash scandal? God had a purpose in me feeling like my whole gut was ripped from my body with bare hands and have the people who were supposed to be helping me treat me with complete contempt? God had a plan to traumatize and scar innocent little children?

Really?

If there was a purpose, maybe I could’ve been told about it. It might have helped me all those dark days and nights for God to let me in on His Little Secret. Knowing the Grand Plan might have helped me put my body soul back together a bit sooner and a bit better, but apparently He didn’t think it was important enough to tell me about it.

God’s supposed to be loving, and I’d always heard God loved me, but none of that sounded very loving to me. In fact, it sounded pretty manipulative, if we were all permanently traumatized in the service of a whole cosmic plan that benefited someone else but left us hanging.

And if prayer worked, and people were praying for us, why wasn’t it working in our lives? Does prayer work for others but just not for us? Where does that put us in the cosmic scheme of things?

payer-works
So does this mean I just didn’t pray hard enough?

It wasn’t long before my brain took all these questions and went global. It seems none of that stuff works out for a shitload of other people, either.

Taken to their logical conclusion, these soothing little bromides must mean: there is a reason that millions of women are raped and terrorized every year, God has a plan for children who die from childhood abuse or neglect, people who suffer indignities, abuse and/or illness to the point of suicide are simply chosing not to handle it, because God wouldn’t allow it if they couldn’t really handle it. Then there were the implications over centuries of genocides (including one itsy bitsy little Holocaust) that some people might argue God, in His infinite wisdom and omnipotence, might have let go on a wee bit too long.

In this light, some of those platitudes people say every day, and I’ve heard for forty some odd years, sounded downright cruel.

I’d gone from seeing God everywhere to not seeing God anywhere.

In fact, I came to believe, maybe if I hadn’t had such profound faith in Divine Intervention, that “prayer works,” that “there is always a reason;” if I’d trusted God a little less and my instincts a little more, I’d had kept my family, those children would have kept their safe and loving home. Hell, I might not be blogging right now – I’d be outside playing with my children.

divinity
The only Divinity I can be sure about anymore

My faith in God, Divine Inspiration, Divine Intervention fell apart. The only Divinity I believed in anymore was an old Southern recipe that overpopulated 1970’s church bake sales.

Even so, far be it from me to rain on anyone else’s theological parade. I can’t lie and pretend to believe this anymore, but each person has to come to their understanding of their world in their own time, and it’s not up to me to drive the faith and belief out of anyone. Even I’m not that bitter, yet. So I kept my mouth shut. It kept the bitching and moaning about my blog in my personal life down to a minimum, so that was an added perk.

All of that said, I have always loved Pope Francis, and still do. I admire the shit out of that man. I think he’s probably more Godly than our constructs about God. So when I saw the article, I was inspired to write again. Maybe it was validation, maybe it felt like  permission, but I was inspired all the same.

The Pope spoke to what I believed.

The Pope had spoken to my heart. He put the Papal Seal of Understanding on the second reason I left religion and belief behind: the failure of so many of Christianity’s self-avowed devotees to even faintly resemble what Christ taught in the New Testament.

In my old days, I walked around in a rosy cloud of thinking everyone had to be so wonderful and I was so … not wonderful, lacking somehow in some way each and every person I met was superior. Nagging, pesky little questions and doubts popped up in my brain, but I took care of them because whatever they were, they were mine, and ergo, wrong.

I knew (and tried to please) people so toxic they should’ve come with their own warning label. “Devoted” religious people who could be the meanest, most spiteful, most selfish people I’ve ever encountered. In my low self-esteem fugue state, I could be convinced by them and myself that the problem was me – not them.

So, when I started to wonder, what the fuck is up with this? Why were some of these people just so friggin’ mean? I pushed all those clearly rational thoughts back down again with a “Shush, these are Nice Anglo-Middle Class People because they dress in nice Anglo-Middle Class clothes, they have nice Anglo-Middle Class jobs and go to nice Anglo-Middle Class Church. These are the Right Kind of People.”

Eventually, riding that train of thought down the track led me straight to a derailment disaster complete with metaphorical and psychological toxic waste spill requiring the complete evacuation of everything I once believed.

The new me is a thankfully bit more skeptical.

Once I separated my unicorns-and-rainbows myth of Church People from my life experiences, I saw that the reality was less Carol Ingalls and Olivia Walton and more Bravo Real Housewives. Now, I knew some wonderful, loving, selfless, truly Godly women in the Church World. Ironically, though, these weren’t the women who sought prominence, and they didn’t wear their religion on their sleeve like a badge. Some of the most visible, prominent women showed themselves to also be the shallowest and meanest, once I got to know them. It wasn’t how it was supposed to be, it probably isn’t that way everywhere (I hope), but it was that way in the world I lived in. Given that I don’t have enough time or money to travel the globe, get a representative sample and do a full statistical analysis, I figure I have to base my new understanding on the data I have at hand.

Soooo ….  I looked around with a willingness to be brutally honest, and I saw:

561639e64cfa04814a58fbe186f3dae8People who’s actions bordered on theft, who exploited the poor for financial gain (then bitched about them), touted bigotry and misogyny. There was the one who never missed a service then tried to undermine a loving marriage with lies and manipulation out of jealousy. The one who taught Sunday School then harassed and bullied family members anytime a fit of pique struck. The ones who leveraged their positions in the church to promote themselves, their personal causes, and practice nepotism. Public advocates of Christ’s teachings while turning their backs on injustice or exploitation unless it impacted their own identity group. And I was supposed to be the spiritually inferior being here?

I seemed to remember reading something discouraging all that in the Old and/or New Testaments. But what the hell did I know, right?

We’re not just talking Catholicism here. It’s no one religion’s fault. There are mean little assholes in every religion. While I know there are mean little assholes everywhere (I worked in the banking/finance industry, after all), church is supposed to be the one place working to eradicate that kind of thing, not enabling it.

If someone keeps telling you they’ve got the cure, but it sure as hell looks like they’re still sick, who in their right mind is going to think that cure works? That might be what the Pope’s talking about.

And, as before, my brain’s newfound superpowers decided to take on bigger challenges and look around in my world. I didn’t have to go too far.

The Power of Prayer to do absolutely nothing.

prayer-is-useless
More and more, every day, this was pretty much my sentiment. Except I would have preferred a petition to a sandwich. A call to a representative, a written letter of protest. Those would have been good sandwich-alternatives, too. Prayers – eh – not so much.

It was the spiritual cowardice I saw and completely resented. People  wept crocodile tears and made public prayers about the poor, downtrodden, suffering people “over there” somewhere, always thousands or millions of miles away, but their response to our exploited children and destroyed family in their own community was a pat on the head, a prayer, and any combination of the aforementioned platitudes. I didn’t necessarily need a hug, although it felt nice, it didn’t put my family back together again or clear my name. I needed activism and advocacy.

I guess all the prayer and beatitudes gave people some sense of agency (and it was supposed to make me feel loved) in an overwhelming situation, but that wasn’t supposed to be the goal. It also serviced a sense of compliance and complacency that perpetuated the problem, honestly. Because, and let’s face it here, when the rubber hit the road and it was time to be counted, like Peter, they didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of the controversy with authority.

The worst part was and still is to see almost everyone’s revulsion when faced, not with the horrible crap my family had to face and withstand, but faced just with the reality that we had to. Not everyone, but almost everyone I’d expected better from, and some people who owed us better. It was surprising to see the very few people who tried to actually help in a meaningful way. Only one would could be described as religious.

Everyone quickly become more pre-occupied with other problems. Short attention spans notwithstanding, the change in focus was, from my point of view, to causes more appealing because they were either immediately solvable (a few hours), or quite frankly, trendy, in-the-news social ills that played well to a the liberal identity, but many of which didn’t really solve anyone’s problems.

I’m not saying some individuals didn’t benefit, but these were drop-in-the-bucket feel-good gestures, some of which only had a fleeting Look-At-Wonderful-Us quality. When it came time for real action in a real situation of injustice, something that meant involvement and engagement for the long haul, in our situation … it wasn’t there.

In that light, I was disappointed.  I didn’t see much of what Christ taught. I didn’t see much of what the Old Testament taught. What I saw was the same old thing I’d seen in office politics and secular community groups dressed up in a cross. The Bible might have been the platform, but it wasn’t the foundation.

ghandi
I don’t know if Ghandi really said this or not. Like all my pics, I got it off of Google. But it does sum up my theological sweet spot right now, in fewer words than I ever could.

Why I stopped blogging:

Truth, sometimes, is not pretty. Oh hell, often it’s downright ugly, thanks to the dank, toilet-like nature of humanity most of the time. Deep down, I’ve always known this. I knew this before I knew how to sign my name in cursive. As a young girl, I was privy to the darker side of people, and fought hard to believe it wasn’t people’s only side. In ways I won’t get into, that need ironically led me to find mostly people with mostly dark souls, if they had any souls at all.

I’ve always felt strongly about writing the truth. I don’t always mean the factual truth, although accurate representation of the facts is important – no one knows that better than I do. The rest of our culture seems to be learning that Life Lesson about six months too late. I mean the truth about life, what we know, what we should know.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten to see a side of humanity, government, existence and even religion that most people are lucky enough never to see. Every day I wish I was one of those lucky, sheltered bastards. My truth is, well, a truth that sometimes requires alternating dosages of Nexium and Red Wine. Alternating, remember I said that because that is the key component there.

There is also the real backlash to my blog in my personal life from real people in my real life. These aren’t strangers or trolls, but people I know. I’d like to think I’m ballsy and badass enough to take it, and if I had hundreds of readers out there hanging on my every word, I would. But I don’t. Some days, putting up with the obnoxious and abusive bullshit I have to confront for writing something autobiographical, all because of someone else’s imagination just isn’t worth it. (This time, however, it is.)

I can’t blame it all on them. I’d like to, but I’d by lying to myself and you.

For a while, a brief while, my life was lightness and joy and love. There were patches of unpleasantness, but I could handle them because of the abundance I’d been lucky enough to enjoy. Then the luck ran out.

It pretty much beat the life out of me for a long time. And while I’ve done a badass job of putting myself together again, it has been a DIY project, with DIY results.

Quite frankly, I’ve soured on the most of human race. It makes me wish for life on another planet with aliens. By that I mean THE Ridley Scott Aliens.

alien
I should’ve lined up this Lovely to help with one of the “home visits” and seen how she reacted to a social worker cussing her out in front of her little babies.

The point is, I haven’t written because I don’t believe that anyone wants to hear what I have to say. This isn’t self-pity or self-deprecation; it’s an honest assessment of our culture. Hell, half of what I need to say I don’t want to hear and wish to God I didn’t know. I’ve waged my own distraction campaign with Nordstrom (God Love Nordstrom’s!!!!) online shopping and cake decorating to choke a horse, so I’m not all that superior here.

And if I find the truth so unappealing, how can I expect anyone to want to read a blog about all of that?

 

The Presidential Election: a eulogy for decency?

I’ve read the coverage of Trump’s “win” with interest. I could take many roads: the plethora of even more disgusting information about him that’s come out post-election and why the %#*)!! is the media just publishing it now?. Hasn’t Meghan Kelly ever heard the phrase “too little too late”? The NYT is just now exploring Guiliani’s financial interests?

My own personal take runs a little bit deeper: what we’re seeing is not the disease, but the symptom

Despite Clinton’s continued insistence that Trump’s rhetoric of hate and divisiveness does not reflect who we are as a people, the fact is that his election may very well be all too indicative of who we are: that we were inured to not just racism, but greed, graft, vindictiveness and dishonesty long before the man threw his hat in the ring. He may very well be the culmination of something that has been brewing in our culture for a long time.

I look around just my little corner of the world, and I see mini-Trumps populating the landscape. I look in the news, and see plenty of people in authority self-dealing and abusing the very people they are sworn to protect. Trump is nothing new; in fact, he’s not even the bottom of the barrel.

Pennsylvania AG goes to prisonJudges over-sentence children to a private institution for kickbacks. Colleges ignoring or retaliating against student rape survivors. Of course, my personal favorite social services social workers, betraying children’s privacy, harassing private citizens with false allegations (personal favorite of the personal favorites), or indirectly killing children (of course, they’ll always be welcome in our state where social workers are loved and embraced despite the body count.)

Even with all of this, I have to admit, though, I didn’t see it coming. It’s understandable: I’m not a pollster, a statistician or political analyst. If they all didn’t see it heading straight for us like an out-of-control locomotive barreling down the tracks to which we were helplessly tied, why should I?

Yet, in hindsight, it all makes sense to me now. It even seems inevitable. Unlike many of the news analysts, pollsters and academics, I have a ground-level, first hand view of exactly the kind of social b.s. that probably helped this happen.

A little biography may help show how it suddenly hit me, in a very personal way, how inevitable this all may have been. For the past two years, I have been struggling to bring accountability and investigation to my family’s tragic encounter with a cluster of individuals in state government whose conduct was, to say the least, unethical. Many have called it cruel (and it was). Some officials may find one day, if we have our way, that these people acted illegally. These women destroyed lives for no greater purpose than their own professional advancement or concealment of misconduct, or to enact their own inner rage and frustration without consequence on helpless victims, including children. In the most tragic of ironies, their conduct resembled that which so many have condemned in Trump.

I wish this had been an isolated situation, or we had been an isolated case. It hadn’t. Barely covered news stories and statistics show other families have similar problems. As far as aggressive graft, self-dealing and general lousy behavior: I’d seen it in schools, caregiving organizations, on the news, social grounds, facebook pages and online forums. Everybody seems to be at everybody’s throats these days.

If we don’t stop this kind of thing at the ground level, of course it’s going to escalate until we find that same kind of behavior ensconced in the Oval Office.

nipitinthebudThe worst part is: no one is doing anything. Narrative form dictates I raise this point at the end, but it’s too important to wait. If we don’t stop this kind of thing at the ground level, of course it’s going to escalate until we find that same kind of behavior ensconced in the Oval Office. Though paraphrasing Barny Fife will force me to grind my teeth into migraines nightly for the next eight weeks, quote him I will:
we need to nip this shit in the bud.

But we don’t. Try reporting just one instance of misconduct by a school official. I did. There aren’t even crickets.

I’d contacted one of our state representatives, a well-known state politician who has been quite vocal in criticizing Trump. Ironically, much of the behavior for which Trump is so reviled is the same behavior we encountered ourselves: threats, groundless damage to our reputation, verbally abusive conduct, physical intimidation, abuse of power for personal gain or vendettas. And that was on their good days.

Related image

I don’t live in PA, but my state is just as bad … wait, lemme check … no, worse.

Yet, this representative’s staff — along with several so-called “oversight” agencies — has passed the buck, ducked phone calls, done nothing, given excuses and generally swept the problem under the rug.

Am I paranoid? Or maybe I just don’t have a case and don’t know it. Well, a recent study by Johns Hopkins University suggests that instead, I might be on to something. And if it weren’t for Jeff Guo at the Washington Post, I’d be stuck in the quicksand of self-doubt myself.

Image result for what washington gets wrong bookIn summarizing a new book by Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg of Johns Hopkins University, my experience is pretty typical, and the dismissiveness I perceived is very real:

Bachner and Ginsberg argue that Washington’s bureaucrats have grown too dismissive of the people they are supposed to serve.

Bachner and Ginsberg recently sent around an informal survey to selected members of this technocratic class, and the results, they say, were shocking.“Many civil servants expressed utter contempt for the citizens they served,” they write in their book, “What Washington Gets Wrong.” “Further, we found a wide gulf between the life experiences of ordinary Americans and the denizens of official Washington. We were left deeply worried about the health and future of popular government in the United States.”

So how am I to believe it when the so-called “liberal” politician claiming the moral high ground takes the podium and passionately swears to stand up to the “bully” in the highest office in the nation, if this same politician’s own staff can’t stand up to a few bureaucratic bullies in a regional office at the state and local level?

It starts to look like grandstanding. It starts to look like marketing, or (ahem), campaigning.

Adding insult to injury, I voted for this person. I supported this person publicly.

Yet, when push came to shove …

So, for the past week, I’ve been driving around asking myself if that’s how many of the “rust belt” voters must have felt.  To take it a step further, every time some news anchor or political analyst talks about how “these people” must have felt left out, etc., I start to ask myself if maybe they were.

News articles and opinion pieces abound now (CNN summaries several theories here),  all falling over themselves trying to explain what it was that “the experts” didn’t see. Well, I think they didn’t see what a lot of other liberals (including me) didn’t see: us. White people who, for whatever reason, face discrimination (age or socio-economic background, gender) or injustice. White people who still suffer economic hardships may feel excluded from narratives for equality and recovery, even though severe intra-racial hierarchies of division-by-prejudice exist by class, region, education. One can argue the legitimacy or fairness of those feelings, given the history of white privilege and tremendous racial exploitation in this country. However, many voters acted on those feelings and here we are post-election, faced with this reality created out of those very feelings..

In our personal efforts for justice, we’ve reached out several news agencies to cover our story. While we definitely want to rectify our situation, we want to bring attention to the legal loopholes and unregulated authority that has led to this problem for us and other families. We want reform so no family goes through this again. Not a single reporter has agreed to cover our story. One reporter from a very liberal, erudite public news outlet was actually insulting and condescending. Interestingly, her position seemed to me to be driven by sentimental myths and emotion, not facts. Another has simply ignored me altogether, not offering me the courtesy of returning my calls.

For all the explanations of why people who weren’t expected to vote for Trump did, maybe that extreme act was the only way they would be seen and heard, and they knew it.

I’ve lived the very dismissive elitism these folks were protesting. In fact, I’ve lived both sides of it. I’m a woman from the Deep South living in New England. For all of my liberal arts education and accomplishments, there are a bevy of unspoken assumptions and stereotypes about me that come into play any time I open my mouth, some of it very overt. One of the very government employees with whom we worked clearly operated on decades-old stereotypes about people from my “Red State.”

The thing is, I never tied it into how others may have felt in other parts of the country at the voting booth. The irony is, of course, how opposed to Trump I was. When I look at the news media now, and examine the reaction to how some states “flipped,” I can see the dismissive prejudices and stereotypes about certain white “demographics” camouflage by the passionate criticisms of prejudices assumed to be held by such people.

And thus, liberal media, and progressives may have created their own problem: looking down upon any group, even so-called “Blue Collar” workers, etc., as inferior will not endear them to your cause. Not giving them a narrative where they can feel engaged and recognized, where their unique problems are addressed, well, that won’t earn you any brownie points, or votes, either. Just sayin’.

So, I scan news articles and opinion pieces explaining the surprising “rural vote” with a new sense of … empathy. No, identification. I’ve been dismissed by the very political bloc of which I was an enthusiastic member. I’ve been derided by the press’s elitist stereotypes of my “demographic,” which amounts to little more than its own form of bigotry. I’ve been rendered helpless, powerless and voiceless by the bureaucratic machinery in my “Blue State” which so vehemently criticizes a newly-elected leader whose behavior so closely aligns with the bullying, aggression, deceit, graft and disregard I’ve seen by state and local officials. I have been, as many analysts theorize the “rural voter” was, forgotten and left behind.

So, the question in my mind becomes: why should we be surprised that a person of this caliber reached such a high office when people with the authority to do so have done nothing about the same problems at a much more manageable local and state level, or when we as private citizens engage in that behavior, or look the other way silently when others do?

And when I see all of this, I have only one response: of course Trump won. Of course he did.

 

Pronouncing The Walking Dead Dead

The Walking Dead.

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I stopped watching after this season’s second episode. I haven’t seen it since. The narrative tone, the authorial position, have all changed drastically. These story lines weren’t allegories masquerading as horror, with ultimate sympathies for the human race. Instead, the viewer became subjugated to a taunting, teasing author whose narrative, like Lucille, became a weapon. Shooting Negan’s violence with the camera standing in for the viewer spoke volumes.

It seems that characters like Rick, and Glenn, or Carol and Maggie, no longer carry the voice of a struggling humanity, but that they are now the devices upon which the new authorial voice, Negan, speaks and acts against the audience. Sure, art and fiction are supposed to be catharsis, but for us.

maxresdefaultIn season six we were teased about Glenn’s fate, to many critics’ and viewer’s chagrin, only to have him survive, almost inexplicably. Glenn was almost transformed into a Mary Sue. Then, of course, only to have him brutally murdered in the next season’s premiere exactly how he dies in the book.

Such plotting didn’t serve the story, it didn’t fit any thematic purpose. In fact, there was none. Of course, senseless randomness and tragic chaos occurs in everyday life. However, TWD set itself apart by using tragedy and violence to make sense of the chaos thematically. Meaningless death had meaning for the viewer: bravery, humility, tragedy, honor, justice. This season’s premiere of TWD, however, had degenerated into the sadistic slasher genre, more closely resembling Friday the 13th sequels and B-films like The Tourist Trap: inexplicable violence committed by an uncomplicated villain against characters who were merely stand-ins for the viewer, quite literally in some takes.

The Governor was complicated; Garth was complicated. They were horrendous villains, but villains with story and theme. The first was the tragedy of one man’s struggle to maintain an illusion of a civilized life whose time had come to an end, and the sacrifices he was willing to extract from others to keep that illusion alive. Garth, the second, was the cautionary tale of what can happen to the human soul when it has been so brutalized that all humanity is destroyed.

Negan of the season premiere is simply sadism and greed. There are people like that, and no doubt our increasingly contentious and greedy culture gives rise to more of them than in better times. TWD,  however, didn’t explore this. The writers and producers leveraged Negan’s villainy at its most superficial level for the sake of violence, gore and the cheap facsimile of suspense that wasn’t too suspenseful, once we knew who’d been killed.

But hey, Fear the Walking Dead may have just become a real story.

The Sound of Silence: Shame.

The Sound of Silence: Shame.

I got a new follower the other day. Yay!

Hello New follower!

Once again, huge crush on a fictional character. Happily, husband shares said crush. Think Deadpool would come to “dinner”?

So, it got me to thinking … which some say is always a dangerous thing … maybe I’ve neglected my blog too long.

Why did I neglect my blog so long, someone may ask?

Bear with me. As usual, I will progress from the personal to the general, and after a brief autobiographical anecdote, I will draw a line of reasoning from me to how this relates to the world at large.

Well, there’s a bevy of excuses: my involuntary stay at the hospital where I had to pay the ransom of one inflated and discontented gall bladder for my release, my new job (which I love), etc.

But the real reason is that I was shamed. Not “ashamed,” but shamed by another person – retaliated against. A variation of the situation has happened before, and it didn’t sway me one way or the other. But this was different. My husband was pulled into it, even though he doesn’t involve himself in my writing at all. I don’t have much patience for people who try to stir up unnecessary trouble between a husband and a wife.

It almost worked.

It seems a disgruntled family member of a family member, despite my clear avoidance of her for nearly a year, found and read my anonymous (I write under a pseudonym) blog (her right) then complained to anyone in the clan who will listen. Then of course, a representative/mediator (every family has one, not a bad thing if handled well) went to my husband to “discuss” how the post upset the fragile little old ladies of the clan who are about as fragile as the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Leona Helmsley. But, as we know, my husband is the U.S. Regulatory Compliance & Complaint Commission for all things me.

Some people might conclude that since directly shaming me didn’t work, there were hopes an end run using my husband might quiet me down. After all, here in 1894, we all know people can rely on the men-folk to Keep Their Women In Line.

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Wait, what? It’s not 1894? I can say what I want? Write what I want? Have my own values? Have a say in how the money I earn is spent? I don’t need the permission from The Elders or my husband for any of that?

Get thee to a sanatorium because I know that’s just crazy talk.

Still, the price my marriage had to pay seemed too high, especially with my husband caught in the middle as an innocent victim.

No matter how proud a person is, how confident, the right arrow at the right time, aimed at the right vulnerable spot can have a daunting effect. Even as I started to write this post this morning, I was filled with apprehension. It was my distaste for petty drama, my dislike for how my husband was treated in all of this, and I must admit my indignation at the gall on everyone else’s part that kept me away. I just didn’t want another petty drama in my life, and I want my husband and myself to be happy together, in spite of the punishment we both get for his decision to marry me.So, though I knew it was wrong not to post, though I betrayed what I believed in by keeping silent in response to one disgruntled and unfulfilled trouble-maker, I still kept quiet.

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Me! Who aspired to wield my keyboard against evil with all the fierce determination of a Carol Pelletier.

Until now.

Image result for peace at any price is no peace at allBut that’s how bullies work, isn’t it? They don’t care if they frighten you, harass you, shame you, whatever. They don’t care who they hurt or what they take down with them. They just want to make whatever you’re doing (even if it’s just occupying their shared piece of the planet) is such a pain in the ass that you will stop and comply with their values and edicts, no matter how imaginary their superiority is, or how destructive to others (or even themselves in some cases) their demands are. They will involve anyone and everyone – regardless of the harm they do to others or their relationships – in the advancement of their agenda. Sometimes that agenda extends no further than sameness.

And for a few weeks that had worked on me. Thank goodness that bullshit’s over.

Apparently, besides pissing me off, the situation pissed my gall bladder off enough to nearly explode and land me in the hospital. (I’m just joking here, but at some point, said critic will probably read that, take is seriously, then stroll through the next Social Gathering with a bell announcing how I publicly blamed her for my gall bladder removal. Welcome to Reality of the Absurd.)

So, when the pain and the painkillers (highly overrated, by the way) wore off – I set before myself the task of wanting to write about this, but in a way relevant to readers.

Well, it was quite the Labyrinth of choices I had before me: the cultural, the political, the social. Everywhere I looked I seemed to see the dynamic: if someone says something a group of don’t like, that someone is subjected to a barrage of berating shame. There were the incidents of college student micro-offenses[i] [ii] [iii], a trend that inspired Dr. John (Jay) Ellison of the College at the University of Chicago to write a “trigger letter,” which essentially explains to incoming students that the protections and rights of free speech extend to people whose viewpoints you don’t like.

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Then, of course, there’s the current political discourse.

Social media has gone nuts. I’ve seen threads where one person’s view, albeit an offensive or biased view, elicits a mob reaction of demeaning insults that mimic a witch hunt.

It seems that whenever someone says, or holds a viewpoint another person doesn’t like, well, it’s time to retaliate. Hard. Even my much-beloved liberals and once-beloved Huffington Post seem to have adopted the stance of rancor, and a passionate contempt for people with opposing views seems to have replaced the contempt we are supposed to have for those ideas only.

Does everyone really think we all need to think the same thing, believe the same thing and anything different lands us in the madhouse, or worse? Are we now all agents of sameness, wanting to make sure we place our ideological pods next to everyone’s bed at night while they sleep?

However socially prevalent this trend may be, we are all able to be more than the product of our societies. We are able to rise above the lowest common denominator and seek out and strive to reach some moral high ground. Hell, these days I’d be happy to see a half-dozen or so people standing around chatting on the moral kind-of-halfway-up ground.

For me, that ground, either high or merely higher means respecting the boundary between what I believe or think, and another person’s right to autonomy. Our ideas, values, opinions – however objectively or subjectively determined, no matter how data-driven or emotionally-driven they are – are not weapons.

No one appreciates the freedom of speech ideal more than I. I’m notorious for my practice of it. I love a good debate and there are no hard feelings at the end of a good airing of ideas. However, there’s a time and a place. There’s also a distinction between my abstract opinions about the world, and passing judgment on someone’s actions that have nothing, or little, to do with me, and have everything to do with the other person’s welfare. While we all tend to judge privately, there’s a line in the sand – or at least should be – when it comes to using that judgment to try to enforce someone to conform to my personal values, or insulting, offending or belittling them for having values different from my own. I try not to cross that line.

If we want to change the world for the better, and there seems to be a current huge disagreement over what that “better” looks like, beating people up with moral superiority is hardly ever a) effective or b) humane, regardless of which side of the aisle you’re sitting on.

Long ago I realized two important things: First, that having feelings that I don’t like is a part of life, and I don’t have to do something about each and every thing that comes along that makes me feel bad. One great gift (and so totally not worth it – more of a consolation prize, really) of tragedy and adversity is that you come to realize just how transitory and insignificant most of the little dramas we all regularly encounter are. Feelings (unlike men at my age) are indeed like buses: if I just wait it out, another one will be alone in thirty minutes. There are things that I can just dislike and leave alone.

The second is the point of my post: I have the right to dislike and/or disagree with someone, and other people have the right to dislike and/or disagree with me. It may be unfortunate if that happens (then again, maybe I’ve dodged a bullet), but that doesn’t give either one of us the right to be unkind to the other or muck about in each other’s lives. In fact, we can agree to leave each other alone.

(Let me clear up one thing as an aside: there is a difference between being kind and kowtowing. There are those who will try to convince you that the latter is really the former. It’s not. Benefit from the wrinkles I earned picking that up on the school yard of life.)

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attributed to the Dalai Lama

Sadly, however, I’ve learned the hard way that kindness and courtesy are often mistaken for weakness, and as one person put it “weakness is often seen as an invitation to attack.” Merely tolerating offensive views, or personal aggression, are often mistaken for actually condoning either or both.

 

This has been a huge stumbling block for me and gotten me into numerous  problems great and small, tragic and incidental. My willingness to ultimately “live and let live” gets misconstrued as weakness and vulnerability. Then, when I prove more strong and intelligent than previously suspected, all hell breaks loose. Gnashing of teeth, wailing, the whole thing. Not pretty. Huge pain in the ass.

So, thanks to more recent epiphanies, I’ve extended my principle so that while I strive to avoid being unkind to others, I strive even harder to avoid unkindness from others, as is not only my right, but my responsibility.

And yet, everywhere I turn around I see people, groups, etc., so rancorous that I wonder if they’ve even lost sight of the ideologies they’re espousing. Maybe the true goal is really just conflict or conquest into conformity. Either way, nothing ever gets better.

Just to continue the example of conflict for conflict’s own sake: the post that caused this last drama? Though assuredly not the last. I wasn’t even thinking of that woman when I wrote it; I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in eight months (intentionally). I had in mind some corrupt public servants and two rather dogmatic writers I’d known. Even so, the truth didn’t matter and it wouldn’t have mattered to her. Disruption had been achieved.

Really though, even if this is the current climate all around us these days, can’t we set the bar a little bit higher here people, and create some better goals for ourselves?


[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/28/the-war-over-words-literally-on-some-american-campuses-where-asking-where-are-you-from-is-a-microaggression/

[ii] http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraid

[iii] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/professors-investigated-for-presenting-opposing-viewpoints/article/2594590

Does organic food cause autism? Could Nicolas Cage movies make you more likely to drown? Six ways to misuse statistics | Puff the Mutant Dragon

Back in the 1940s before the polio vaccine was invented, the disease caused a lot of anxiety among parents of small children. How could you reduce your child’s risk of contracting this nasty …

Source: Does organic food cause autism? Could Nicolas Cage movies make you more likely to drown? Six ways to misuse statistics | Puff the Mutant Dragon

Christmas in July – Thank you to recent readers.

I haven’t written in a while. …

To be blunt, I’ve been encountering alot of Universal Resistance — what-the-hell-ever I mean by that. Personally, I think it could also be called Asshole Resistance. I’m still pondering why the Universe populated my particular corner with so many assholes. Probably it’s ultimately my doing in some cosmic way; and I mean that with all self-respect for my recent epiphany into the matter, but that’s another post.

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As I said, I haven’t written in a while …

My departure from the blog started when I encountered the most notable resistance in response to my Christmas post, Christmas List for When Christmas Hurts. It came in the form of an email from a family member who took my post quite personally – and not in a good way. She let me know it. She dutifully instructed me on how the hypothetical and real subjects of the post, including me, should have felt and thought – about her.

Although, I must admit, said letter-writer relation does not qualify as an asshole. I must point that out.

If you’ve read that post, you’ll know that there were layers of sad and tragic irony in that one email that I not to explore. I’m still thinking that was a good move in the long-term.

There were other bits of Resistance – to my blog, to my posts, to my writing, to my very goals in life. Yay! Again: I’d managed to accumulate a disproportionate number of assholes in my little corner of the world.

There was so much resistance to everything I believed or thought or felt that I was beginning to wonder if I really was a native of Planet Earth, or just planted here as an experiment in psychological adaptation. Clearly, I wasn’t getting whatever “they” understood and “they” certainly weren’t getting me.  Maybe I was really a native of another planet who’d been brainwashed into believing deluded concepts such as empathy, compassion, honesty, justice. The experimental goal was to find out how long it took to adapt to life here, where none of that seemed to apply, and if such an adaptation were even were possible.

Note to lab workers: it may not be possible. Come get me.

Then something happened. That one post that my family member(s) found so objectionable? Objectionable enough to write and tell me what people should be thinking, and what people should be feeling? Well, it started getting hits. In May … June … July.

It’s reaching people.

And I want to thank those people. I want to thank you so very much. You inspired me.

I didn’t write that post to be like-bait or click-bait. I wanted it to be connection-bait: a connection between strangers who can only share that rare and often solitary experience of pain across the connection of the internet.  In any other age we would have been isolated, and confused by the absence of any confirmation of our experience.

I was hurting in a fundamental and visceral way that I knew no one around me could or would understand, and I had hoped that others were still in the same predicament. Perhaps they would also know what I knew, and hear that someone understood, and someone accepted our experience as, well, inviolate – deserving of respect, tenderness, privacy. Perhaps they could hear that nothing was wrong with us – not really – above the noise of people telling them what to think, what to feel, to make the holidays nice for themselves, not us. All from people who could never envision or even just accept our experiences, our needs – people who were sometimes too self-absorbed to try.

Hopefully what all of us – we, products of tragedy – needed was to find out we weren’t alone.

And the likes I’ve gotten have told me that we’re not.

So, I’m sort of back.

Oh, and for those relatives who want to troll my blog then tell me how wrong I am to write the truth?

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The Christian call to action

I was all set to write a post about Christian Identity, and how I believe moderate and liberal Christians have allowed our identity to be co-opted by a fundamentalist right. I believe that to be true, I believe it is a tremendous problem in the Christian community that has led to the decrease in church membership, and it is something I need to write about.

It was going to be so clever – with images of Progressive Christian Activists juxtaposed with more socially toxic fundamentalists and a tagline “Think this, not that,” my own spin on the common “Eat This, not That” organization.

But, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way.

I had a problem in getting the whole thing on paper: I was busy screaming at God.

screaming childAnd when I was done with that (and some days, I’m never really done with that), I realized that inside my head I was screaming at my fellow Christians. And I had to ask myself: is the bad wrap Christianity gotten exactly what it deserves?

The ugly truth and the seeds of an awakening:

For those who read me regularly (and the three of us should get together one day for lunch), you know I’ve been through hell. In a fit of social conscience I stupidly reported professional negligence and misconduct in what looks like a corrupt organization. Thirteen months later I was accused of all sorts of monstrous things, lost my beloved family, etc. The Lifetime Movie of the Week ensued.

If you think it’s bad on television, you can’t imagine how terrible it is in Real Life.

Thus was my Kafka-esque little existence when someone dropped the Real Bomb: there are more out there like me. More out there without my money, my education, my stamina (a polite term for stubbornness), my resources. For these people, as my associate put it, this is nothing astonishing, shocking or even terribly new. For these people, this is life dealing with that organization, that branch of government.

I was, in fact, gaining entry into a world that most middle-class, middle-aged professional, educated white women never see and never believe even exists. But it is, in fact, a well established world.

How the fuck did this all happen? Yes, I said it. The f-word. When talking about God. I do it alot. I even say it to God. How about that?

But that’s all beside the point.

My question is how did some of my Christian brothers and sisters let this happen? I don’t mean how they let this happen to me (that’s in Part II). I mean, how did we let the world get this way? The problems I experienced aren’t secret, by any means.

The personal suddenly became the political. Like an ideological Transformer.

Do LaundryFor all the true help and concern some people offered, there were more that offered gestures of short-term pity that terminated in a palpable sense of impatience with my heartbreak, trauma and outrage. And while a few people did offer genuine assistance, most offered, at best prayer.

I didn’t need prayer. I needed help.

In my frustration and outrage, I looked around me. As I looked around me, the 2016 Presidential election began in earnest, and my frustration grew to encompass not just the benign sense of “nothing can be done” in my own world, but also what I saw happening in the Christian community – particularly the white, affluent, liberal Christian community – around me.

Where were we? There were pockets here and there, but rarely covered. And if we weren’t out there in force sufficient to capture the media’s attention, to capture the attention of policy-makers, what good were we doing?

Maybe some are there. Maybe I don’t see them – that in and of itself, however, is a problem. I believe, however, that there are many out there who are held back from the passionate, outspoken action that the Christian community so desperately needs.

My situation, I believe, crystalizes a general problem in the mainstream Christian community. My own personal experiences seem to reflect a general hesitancy on the part of mainstream, mostly Anglo Christians (and I say this as a pasty-white, Wonder Bread little suburbanite myself) to, well, get down and dirty.

The ultra-right, who mask their oppressive or power-driven agendas as Christianity aren’t so squeamish. This, the willingness to march onto the battlefield of principle where others forfeit the fight, is what wins for them the banner of public policy.

In refusing to fight the battle, we lose the war of our country’s soul. I worry that in trying to separate ourselves publicly from their message, we’ve made the decision to divorce ourselves from their passion.

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Al Franken said something in his book The Truth that rocked my world. He was talking about people who “internalize the message of the attacker … [and] try to be nicer.” He said:

“Sometimes you can gain your soul by fighting for what you believe in.”
~
Al Franken, The Truth

He was talking about a disappointing political campaign for which he worked, where the conservative opponents got really nasty, but the candidate wanted to maintain a certain sense of decorum, under the banner of waging a dignified campaign. The candidate took that banner home with him, but lost the campaign.

Millions of people suffered a worse society and didn’t get the improved government they needed. People suffered. I believe that the political climate that arose led even to the deaths of many who were unjustly treated, denied medical care, denied services, denied justice. But hey, the candidate kept his dignity, right?

Is that what Christ wants from us at the personal or at the political level?

Have we, as mainstream Christians, diluted our mission with the need to be socially acceptable? Have we confused kindness with compliance, peace with passivity? Are we so integrated with the mainstream that anything that hints of “stirring up trouble” frightens us into hiding?

Part I: The Political

Political activism, some would argue, is at the very heart of Christian living. The activism they, and I, mean is not the unobtrusive “changing the system from within” that is often results in little change for the people who must wait the lifetimes it takes for such change to take root – if ever.

The activism I’m talking about is a bold, present, unavoidable confrontation of the way things are with the way things ought to be. It is not just some people’s choice, but I believe every Christian’s mandate.

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It’s a frightening prospect, because such passion evokes images of angry, militant, almost violent mobs and groups demanding policies we, in walking with the Christ of love and peace, find very objectionable.

Let’s not confuse those principles, however, with the passion we should adopt in fighting for Christ’s true message.

The Civil Rights Movement, for many, was founded on Christian beliefs. For Martin Luther King, Jr., the church had a sacred responsibility to improve the lives of the down-trodden, the oppressed and the poor whom he called the “broken-hearted”:

Secondly, when the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance … to them that are captive. … This is the role of the church: to free people. (Martin Luther King, Jr., “Guidelines for a Constructive Church”, June 5, 1966)[i]

King was not alone. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis for his ideas and activism.[ii]  So, yes, the price is high – frighteningly high. I’ve paid this price – not with my life, but with my love and potentially my reputation.

Objection to injustice isn’t an exclusively Christian principle, but a profound value we inherited from our Judaic foundations.

Every man should view himself as equally balanced: half good and half evil. Likewise, he should see the entire world as half good and half evil…. With a single good deed he will tip the scales for himself, and for the entire world, to the side of good.
~  Maimonides[iii]

Some believe feminism itself is rooted in Christ’s ministry: the first evangelical, the first to receive instructions to go and spread the word of Christ’s resurrection[iv] was not Peter, but Mary of Magdalene. In teaching a woman who – at that time – was of substantial inferior social standing, in bringing a woman into the society of men for spiritual instruction, Christ was embarking on a controversial path. According to some documentaries and reviews, texts point to the fact that the disciples themselves were not 100% on board with Christ’s own Women’s Lib program.

images (89)In all of these examples, positive change was not won by a subtle cooperation with long-standing institutions and organizations and efforts to politely suggest reform that is either diluted or revoked in the end.

Instead, people protested, marched, plotted, wrote, yelled, complained, whined, stood up and were over all generally impolite, inconvenient and unpleasant. They took the path that led to change, however unseemly or even risky it may have been.

It’s the twenty-first century now, and today’s visible, activist Christianity advocates a set of values that seems to be based on oppression, hate and bigotry – the very values King, Bonhoeffer and the feminists opposed. Christian activism has taken a very visible turn that we’d ague is entirely inconsistent with Christ’s message that was founded on inclusion, equality and love:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
~ Galatians 3:28

Meanwhile, the Westboro Baptist Church publicly spews its hateful and oppressive message any chance it gets, and in as cruel and barbaric a fashion as it can dream up.

Political candidates driven more by ambition than service prey on the hatred and fears of the public, spurring violence and division, hoping to leverage the misguided impulses of a right-wing, conservative movement and hopefully sweep up other Christians in their wake.

Many groups work both the legal and political channels to restrict the freedoms and autonomy of citizens, without any regard for the individual moral or spiritual beliefs of the women in their employment or jurisdiction.

Children become legal pawns or cash cows for agencies and governments, the importance of health and welfare subjugated to the need to acquire authority without accountability, funds without function.

For those of us who want to walk with Christ and follow his message of love, mercy and compassion, this headlines-grabbing, meme-inducing business is disheartening at best and disgusting at worst.

So, even if many Christians can overcome the fear of consequences, there’s the problem of seeming too much like the aggressive mob whose agenda we find so contrary to Christ’s message.

However, is agreeing only to oppose by the most agreeable, compliant means possible what Christ asked us to do? Is that what he did? Did Christ sentence himself and his disciples to what Leonard Cohen called “twenty years of boredom for trying to change the system from within?”

Does that even work?

wpid-screenshot_2015-10-20-07-28-37-1

Or did Christ fight?

Fight? Fight did I say? Have I forgotten about peace, about love, about mercy that Christ taught? Christ didn’t fight, of course not. Christ allowed himself to be crucified.  Christ taught peace, forgiveness, mercy.

No, I haven’t forgotten any of that, but I’ve tried to put it into context. Christ did not want a war over ideaology. That’s not what I’m talking about. For Moses, for Ghandi, even Moses, war and violence were not the answer. I believe very much in Christ’s message of peace.

However, non-violence doesn’t mean compliance. I believe that Christ’s vision of peace is the very thing we need to fight for: with protest as Christ did in the temple, with public gatherings as Christ did, with direct and open debate with authorities as Christ did.

As King did.

Only when we do this, can we win true peace.

justice_quote (1)To use a quote attributed to Marie Curie: “peace at any price is no peace at all.” Peace, at the price of justice and freedom, I would argue, is no peace at all – it is compliance at best and slavery at worst.

If we set the standard to our fight for our fellow man, our children, to a fight that shies from controversy, that demurs to illegitimate authority and yields to our varying fears of reprisal, then we have given the enemies of peace and justice the perfect weapons to ensure a world that does not hold much, if any, of the peace, justice and mercy Christ wanted.

When Christ cracked his whip at the vendors blaspheming the temple, there was nothing pretty about it. There was nothing typically peaceful about it.

There is nothing pretty or seemly or polite about building the world Christ has called upon us to build. It will be a hard fight, because the forces that oppose us – and I do believe in a Devil and an Evil as I have never believed before – will fight us to the end.

archbishop_sheenFor all of the examples I’ve drawn, the price has been high for fighting greed, injustice, corruption, exploitation.

So, yes, there is something to be afraid of. That does not change the fact that Christ – and the Judaic God he worshiped –  call us to do this. He calls us to act out, be obnoxious, be vocal, be seen, be heard, be there.

From what I can tell, that’s the Christian thing to do: bitch, moan, complain, march, wave signs and be a general pain in the ass until the wrong gets righted.


[i] http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_guidelines_for_a_constructive_church/

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer#Execution

[iii] http://www.qotd.org/search/single.html?qid=25092

[iv] Let’s set aside the debate on whether the resurrection is a historical fact, a spiritual metaphor, or literary addition to the Biblical record to fulfill earlier Old Testament prophecies. That’s not the point here.

Let me tell you what a “money maker” is

So, I was listening to Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That” and I got pissed.

Now, there’s Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” that addresses this painful trend of late where male-pov country songs present an ideal that isn’t what it used to be.

But, as Rhett was crooning to his neo-country hit “Shake that Money Maker,” me and my little keyboard had just had enough.  I figured Maddie & Tae, though wonderful, weren’t enough.

This is my contribution:


One more country song
I swear he’s got it all wrong.

Saving all his lyrical pearls
For just the pretty girls.

Telling them to shake their money-maker
Singing it to the world.

I’d had enough, made me want to scream
Made me want to get a guitar and sing

Fella don’t you know how it is
Don’t you even know what a money-maker is?

Shaking my money-maker when I use my head
Shaking my money-maker when I earn my bread
I shake my money-maker all day into the night
I’ve been shakin’ it to make it my whole life long
When you gonna write my country song?

Every time I teach your kids to spell
Every time I make your mama well

When I fight for right over wrong
When I keep your house lights on

Clothing my kids, Cooking their meals,
Fixing my home, hagglin’ deals

Shaking my money-maker when I use my head
Shaking my money-maker when I earn my bread
I shake my money-maker all day into the night
I’ve been shakin’ it to make it my whole life long
When you gonna write my country song?

Slinging these hash and eggs
Ten hours straight on tired, sturdy legs.

Working, studying in school for years
To leave my mark when I’m gone from here

No matter the jobs that come my way
I gotta be twice as good for less the pay

Shaking my money-maker when I use my head
Shaking my money-maker however I earn my bread
I shake my money-maker all day into the night
I’ll be shakin’ it to make it my whole life long
I’m still waiting for my country song.

E. Blalock


 

And that, ladies and gentleman, is what MY mama taught me being a Southern Belle was all about.

 

Happy Easter: Crumbs of Hope from Reality TV

Warning: irreverent pics ahead. Purpose: to offset serious subject matter.

easter candy
These little dandies bypass cute and go right into menacing, don’t you think? Ergo, I love them.

Today is Easter.

Last week also saw the Purim: Ta’anit Esther – March 23, 2016 and Shushan Purim – March 25, 2016, about which I know embarrassingly little. So other than commemorating the event, albeit late, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my pen still when it comes to details about that. If anyone wants to comment, and offer some additional insight or information, please do. I would love to know more.

The common thread between these two, however, seems to be one of victory. I beg for correction here, but the way I understand Purim is that it celebrates victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther.

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For Christians, Easter is about Christ’s victory over death, over enemies, over oppression of his message, even over the friends who abandoned him when he revealed himself to them, affirmed his presence, and entrusted them with the legacy of his message.

This is based, for those not “in the know,” on the story of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension as told in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

And thus, I have many complicated feelings this Sunday morning, as I wonder if my family, my loved ones, the innocent, helpless people I know will ever see victory.

Like Christ, we found and lost the first round. People betrayed us, abandoned us. Like Mary of Magdalene, we stood by helplessly with love and despair and watched everything go terribly wrong.

Thus, I’ve become a very narrow-bandwidth person, a one-issue activist. I could even be said to be a selfish little bugger, because I want restoration for myself and my family. I don’t mean money (though that helps), I mean reunion.

I mean resurrecting the state of family we once enjoyed from a cruel and sadistic destruction and restoring us once again.

I mean overcoming the lies and political agendas that overshadowed right and wrong and love and compassion.

You know, like at the tomb.

funny-pictures-history-so-i-was-like-mom-chill-out - Copy
I give snarky little frig magnets like this to my pastor. She loves it. What a trooper.

I am still waiting for the “Sunday” when everything will be renewed, knowing that outside the four Gospels of the New Testament, and Hollywood movies produced by Sony et al., people don’t always get that. There are stories every day about families losing children to absurd legal technicalities, sickness, criminals. Stories every day of people rotting in prison until they die, over something they didn’t do.

I have doubts rooted in an abundance of documented and highly publicized reality.
Then I watched TV last night.

This wasn’t some televangelist or movie with a proselytizing agenda that threw me a crumb of optimism and hope.

It was reality TV. Secular (gasp!) reality TV.

A reality show had filmed in a penal institution where some friends work (not live), so my husband and I watched just to see if any of them made it onto the show.  As we watched, there was a storyline of one kid who shouldn’t have been there in the first bloody place. As a middle-class, middle-aged suburban white woman even I knew within five minutes that this kid was only guilty of being black, young and in the city.

When the crew filmed him, did he protest, rage, object, as he had every right to do?
I mean, Jeez Louise even Christ had his moments of doubt and protest with God. C’mon.

This is what this kid did on camera: he was always polite, most of the time smiling, always calm. According to one of the institution’s personnel, he finished his high school diploma (not GED) for gifted kids with commitment and hard work. Then, we learn, he had decided to be baptized by a pastor he’d known before he went to jail

And so, the pastor was interviewed on camera.
He spoke about hope.
I was undone.

Hope, if I paraphrase correctly, was the last thread of life. In fact, it is life. Without it, we are dead. We must hope. Period.

What do I do with that? What in the hell do I do with that? When the one thing that breathed beauty and joy into my life – love, motherhood, family – is gone? When everyone says or acts out everything from “they weren’t really yours” to “you don’t have to be a mother to be around kids” to “you can’t fight city hall” to “well, I know somebody who had it much worse than you” to “this is too depressing, I can’t be around you when you’re like this”?

Oh, and let’s not forget the looks of “well, you must have done something wrong,” despite statements from half-a-dozen people and witnesses that no, in fact, I didn’t.

When friends and supporters abandon me, authorities ignore justice for their own political agendas, and my spouse and I are left to fend for ourselves?

Oh, yeah, like Mary M. and her guy. Like that.

How do I hope? How do I pray? I’m not a religious figure or the least bit holy. I’m a frustrated, indignant middle-aged woman cursed with a fatty liver, a potty mouth and an overblown sense of right versus wrong. One small, anonymous peon who’s tired of looking this particular situation from the underside of the bus I was thrown under just as it parked. Right here. On me.

c8b6d908751a2b52742a84382107df08
This is credited to Pope John Paul II in other images and sites. He’s the guy who fought Communism in Poland. Then became Pope. Talk about fighting City Hall and winning.

Then I turn on the TV and there’s this teenaged black kid sitting in jail for something he didn’t do and he’s holding on, being positive, not giving up.

So, there and then I’m reminded that I can keep the faith a little longer. I can keep up the good fight, which I realize I’ve been doing all along — as my own form of prayer. I pinch pennies to pay my lawyer. I learn about boring-ass legal minutiae to work off some legal fees. I pour over bureaucratic policies and proceeding transcripts for any iota of helpfulness. Is that prayer?

Former monk and author Thomas Moore says as a monk he was taught that everything we do is prayer. So, yes, maybe it is.
Will my prayer be effective?
There are no guarantees.

But sometimes, the good guys do win.

The show closed by adding an epilogue: the kid was released later for lack of evidence.

070408-david-the-abandoned-grave-psalm-16-dale-wells-51-728

So, even documented and highly publicized reality even says that sometimes, we do win victory over our enemies. Maybe someone in power, like Esther, who has some connection to our suffering, intervenes and instead of slaughter and persecution we get advocacy and victory. Maybe we make it out of the tomb after all.

I certainly do hope so. I’m guessing that’s what Easter’s supposed to be about.


In hoping that even writing is a form of prayer, I send a Happy Easter and hope for victory to Tarzan Boy, Nugget and the Abinator. 
And yes, Tarzan Boy, I do still love you after all this time.
More than ever, even in your absence, and will forever.
You don’t have to know it for it to be true.

Easter Message: Hoping for Hope in the moment of Darkness

He QiLenten-cross

Both of these are hard to credit. The left is cited as only ‘HE QI,’ I assume the artist’s name. The right is cited only as “Lenten Cross” associated with a church’s promotion of services.

These are my thoughts this Easter, as everyone around me celebrates the holiday. My post is grounded in the Christian faith, and cites biblical passages. My aim is not to convert or preach. In fact, I express more than a little doubt.

My goal is to reach out across the cyber divide to others, like myself, who may need to join hearts and minds with others who are struggling this holiday. We may seem alone, but we are not alone.


Today is Good Friday. This weekend in Easter.

Of course, there’s some redundancy in that last sentence, but bear with me as I try to leverage a rhetorical device or two.

Last Christmas I wrote about Easter, promising those of us who were in pain that this was our moment:

If Christmas is the Red Carpet Opening Night for that life’s work of compassion, then Easter is the Grand Finale launched by Good Friday.

And now Easter is here.

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins.

I think a lot of people are out there who are still in crisis, still traumatized, still facing crippling uncertainty about their lives, their existences, their own survival, who really can’t be easily convinced that this is true. Admittedly, this is a truth more easily accepted by those whose enjoy the blessing of complacency, or who can see life’s adversities clearly in their rear view mirror.

If you don’t fall into one of those two camps, the promise of Easter is just that: a promise. Not fulfilled, not kept, and some days about as useful as the paper it’s printed on.

The good news that it will take me approximately a thousand words to get to, in spite of my own present doubt as to God’s divine assistance and intervention, my skepticism about the usefulness of God’s love for me in building a meaningful life here below, is that Easter does hold one bit of good news. We’re in good company.

Good Friday
Credited as medieval Abingdon Missal manuscript,Bodleain Library, Oxford, U.K.

 

Christ went through this shit too. To be even more blunt: Christ, whom many see as God’s own Son on Earth, the Word made Flesh, got royally screwed down here too. He got turned in to the authorities by one of his students, his friends acted like assholes, and he got killed. Killed in one of the most slow, painful, humiliating, public ways imaginable.

No matter how sweet and compliant the mainstream makes Christ out to be, according to the book of Matthew, he wasn’t entirely happy about it either.

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xxx
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And so we come to last night, Holy Thursday.

Last night I went to Maundy Thursday service. It was sad; it’s supposed to be.

Maundy thursday

For Maundy Thursday, our service’s theme could be summarized as this: Christ knows the trouble is headed his way,  his closest friends are starting to crumble and he sees it.

And he’s completely helpless.

 

This is the scene: Christ and his followers are in Gethsemane. He now knows the shit is about to hit the fan: he takes two friends off a few yards or so and asks them to stay awake while he prays.

“Praying” here means begging God not to let this happen. I suspect it also means trying to wrap his head around this, all the while knowing that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and there ain’t a whole lot he can do about it.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ( Matthew 26:39)

When I was younger, I was confused – and awed – by Christ’s compliance with such a dire fate: Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Now older, wiser, sadder, more beaten by life, I imagine maybe Christ was not being compliant, but recognizing his own powerlessness in the situation: what was going to happen was going to happen whether he liked it or not. The Gospel According to Matthew makes it sound like perhaps he didn’t.

I can’t blame him. Everything was going to be very ugly from there on out. He begged God to make it stop. The God he loved. The God he served. The God he praised with every cell in His body.

God didn’t do a thing about it.

Then of course, people do what people do in a crisis: they run, they hide, they deny. They let you down.

His friends fell asleep while he prayed:

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

They pulled this crap three times.

Of course, we know about all the betrayals that follow: Judas, Peter’s denial.

I tend to be a little lenient on Judas; he’s just a guy. I know how wrong he was, but I also know how commonplace that kind of wrong is. I’ve known many people who succumb to Larger Than Life authorities who threaten people with the power to squash them like a bug. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If Judas was any worse than most people, then it was only by a hair.

Honestly, this is how people act when faced with standing up for what’s right or complying with authority. How many people are willing to throw an innocent coworker under the bus, or hide evidence of wrongdoing if a boss demands it, just to keep a job? How many school administrators, daycare workers, etc., face regular threats from social services to support false accusations to maintain their licenses? How many people have felt coerced into cooperation or silence by corrupt police or lawmakers?

I’m not here to argue the historical accuracy, or factual basis of these accounts. That said, I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that this part of the story aligns with human nature. Ask anyone who’s watched half  of their friends shrink away during a long, drawn-out bit of ugly crisis. It’s what a friend of mine calls “empathy fatigue.” When the adversary is a big, huge entity (government, commerce), I call it abject fear.

Slander, false accusations (and people do run during that one), victimization. Why would anyone expect a rallying, working, devoted team of supporters and activists if Christ’s own disciples crumbled at the one moment of crisis?

The Erstwhile Easter Message:

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins. Christ rises from the tomb, faces his disciples, gives them their message (which, if you asked me, we totally messed up).

It was a sign of hope: hope for victory, hope for survival, hope for transformation. So Easter for me always overshadowed Christmas in terms of spiritual significance.

Once upon a time.

I was accused of things I didn’t do when I was trying with every cell of my being to do the right thing, to bring love and hope into the dark world for a few people. Friends crumbled and ran and hid once it looked like the people in power had won and I had lost.

Some people might compare the one person with the power to truly help me to Pontius Pilate, a weak figure who, caught in the middle a formidable force and a lone, innocent figure, chose the path of power. I’m okay with that comparison. Truly okay with it.

I begged God not to let the worst happen, not to let evil destroy my life that was my family. I begged God to spare little helpless people the suffering they would go through at the hands of corruption and blind hatred. Deep down I knew how helpless I was.

Resurrected_Jesus_two_Maries
from Wikipedia. Listed as Stained glass from S.C., USA, Lutheran Church

I’d love to offer you some conviction that I, like Christ, rose out of the darkness triumphant and unrecognizable, renewed to be reunited with God.

If I did, I’d be a liar.

Maybe I’m still in the tomb, in the darkness, waiting for my transformation to be complete. Maybe it’s a metaphor of hope, of the miracle that happens to some people, but not all of us.

I don’t know. I wish I did.

I wish this Easter could mean victory and hope this year. But it doesn’t.

But it means something.

It means that in all the millennia of mankind’s existence, there is at least some frame of reference for my experiences – some narrative the truth of which aims straight at my struggles: they aren’t my imagination. And if some two-thousand-year old scripture can point its narrative finger at this experience, then it’s a struggle that’s inherent to mankind, maybe even to Christ himself.

And when friends and acquaintances run, deny, fall asleep on the watch, even rat my little innocent ass out, I’m still not alone. Somebody knows. Somebody went through it. He got out okay. Maybe I will too.

Maybe.

It doesn’t offer me much comfort, but it does offer me some.

 

New TWD Review: I got questions.

The main theme of which is:

What have they done with Carol & how do we get her back?

Please see my new review of last week’s TWD episode at my sister site:
http://twd-i-got-questions-lots-of-questions

I have not abandoned thee …

The sister’s site new post for last week’s TWD will be up tomorrow.

images (13)

Unfortunately, a Life Project regarding family has consumed me today and yesterday.

buried-paperwork


But you do not leave empty-handed!

I would love comments on the below. You can reply back with the letter of your choice. It’s a one-keystroke Call To Action.


I’ll be doing a layperson sermon in the summer, and my pastor and I are debating topics. Please reply with your vote.

canstock15549502

A. The Christian Case for Raising Some Hell.
Based on a prior blog post.

B. The Christian Marvel Avengers:
Time to reveal our secret identities.
This is the fodder for a soon-to-coming blog post.


Dear Readers (are you out there?), not only do I not mind other points of view, but I welcome it.

My writing style may be a little … strident … but as a person, I love other points of view. Who knows, maybe your comment will be the fodder for a whole new perspective I will explore here.

Apple vs. The Dept. of Justice: Freedom Fighter or Bad Apple?

Would you want the government to be able to commandeer information from your secure iPhone? Or would you want the manufacturer to protect the information on your phone, even after you were deceased?

You’d probably prefer the latter. Some things are just nobody’s business. We are already taped, recorded and observed beyond belief. Alone in our homes we aren’t even protected from camera drones. Privacy has become a dwindling privilege.

CyberSecurity1

Let me ask you this, though. What if it were your child, or spouse, or sibling that was killed, and that information may lead to the prevention of other senseless mass murders? What if that information would help investigators learn more about how that horrible crime happened, and if anyone facilitated that crime, and others?

Would that change your mind?

I don’t want to be harsh. To be blunt, I’ve been on both sides of this problem. I’ve had entitled government employees rummage through my life like it was a yard sale. That said, I’ve also been prevented from easily obtaining my own phone usage information to provide evidence of incidents like harassment and stalking.

Before I launch into my own opinion, I’d like to offer up some detail I found when researching this post. It definitely influenced my perspective.

Facts of the case:

What is at issue, from the articles I’ve read, is data from a phone used, but not owned, by Sayad Rizwan Farook, who was one of the killers in the San Bernardino shooting.

Who’s phone is it?

Interestingly, the phone in question did not belong to Farook at all, in the sense it was his personal property, according to CNBC. The iPhone is, in fact, property of the San Bernardina County Department of Public Health, a government agency, also the target of the attack. This agency has agreed to let investigators access the phone.

In short, Apple is refusing to let the government have access to information on government property.

Typically, when an entity provides an employee with equipment, the employee contract states that the item and all information contained is property of the entity, not the individual. Many employers retain the right, in the employment contract, to access that device at will. It stands to reason, then, that had Farook survived, his employment contract would mandate that he surrender that phone and the password information to access it.

One interesting note: Farook, who did not own the phone, had disabled Cloud backup six weeks prior to the San Bernardino massacre, according to the New York Times. Some states have strict data and record retention policies, even for electronic data. Even private organizations must adhere to these policies so that they comply with regular audit regulations to maintain certifications. Farook may have been in violation of such policies when disabling the backup.

Once could also argue that because the phone belonged to a government agency, funded by tax dollars, that the phone is property of the public, as well as the data, and therefore is in service to the public at all times, even in crime investigations.

Secondly, it is not simply a Department of Justice request that Apple is defying; this is a court order issued by a judge. This means that a judge vetted the request for compliance with the law before issuing the order.

The action that the FBI is requesting, according to Reuters, is that Apple disable passcode protections. The New York Times reports that “the Justice Department wants to force Apple to write software that would allow the government to try millions of random password combinations.”

There may be an argument for expense in terms of developing software to ensure compliance, but apparently the DOJ doesn’t buy it.

Apple and the Department of Justice: Bad Blood

On April 11, 2012, the department filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Apple

This current conflict is not the first dust-up between these two organizations. According to the same Reuters article, this may be another incarnation of a conflict that arose in 2014, when Apple announced “strong encryptions,” and the government had concerns.

However, that doesn’t make the 2016 controversy at hand round two, even. There’s more.

According to a 2013 Justice Department public statement,

On April 11, 2012, the department filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, for conspiring to end e-book retailers’ freedom to compete on price …

The Department then sought sanctions against Apple, “following the July 10, 2013, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York decision finding that Apple conspired to fix the prices of e-books in the United States.”

These sanctions were:

  • a five-year restriction on Apple from “entering new e-book distribution contracts which would restrain Apple from competing on price”
  • during that time Apple could not be “a conduit of information among the conspiring publishers or from retaliating against publishers.”
  • a ban on Apple from “entering into agreements with suppliers of e-books, music, movies, television shows or other content that are likely to increase the prices at which Apple’s competitor retailers may sell that content.” (Unclear if it’s during that five years or permanent.)

I don’t personally know the people involved in making these decisions. I cannot say with certainty that executives at Apple may have a bitter taste in their mouth left from the trial and the Department of Justice’s proposed sanctions.

I do know people in government who definitely would and do seize on the earliest opportunity for retaliation, and I’m sure that those same kinds of people exist high up in the corporate world as well.

Articles I’ve read go into a lot of the posturing and finger-pointing that is going on between the government and Apple: an ID change during one attempt to access the phone that may have created some problems,  etc.

Ideology versus practicality:

We live in a world where we all want certainty; we want broad, rigid rules that we can use to guide our actions flawlessly. Apple has taken a broad ideological stance: we will not assist in accessing data. Period.

One has to ask: who is being served by that position, besides Apple itself?

In our modern culture’s obsession with formulaic-driven decision-making, we may end up causing more damage in refusing to take the time to consider deeply the issues we face. There are undoubtedly countless circumstances under which Apple’s stance would be the fair, just and morally obvious choice. This is not one of those times.

It’s one thing to protect privacy, without a doubt. However, after taking a deeper look into this, I’m getting the impression not of Apple protecting data, but hiding it.

images

Secondly, Apple has placed its own agenda against the owner of the device, and the information. When seen from this view, Apple is not the pillar of civil rights it claims to be, but actually a usurper of individual (the organization) will.

IMHO:

There are some unintended consequences to Apple’s stance that aren’t being discussed. The failure to address  of those possibilities bothers me. It’s easy to discuss the idea of government getting into our private data, but the facts undermine that position; Farook didn’t own the phone, he probably didn’t own the information on it, and he probably had to sign a contract acknowledging such.

The fact that the owner of the phone, the Department of Public Health (employees of which were victims and targets), also Apple’s customer, has agreed to allow authorities access, and that should have been the end of it. That Apple refuses to respect that agreement really bothers me. It tells me that the public welfare may not be most prominent in Tim Cook’s conscience when he makes ideological and sweeping statements such as calling the judge’s order a “dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.” Do the victims, the survivors and their families also have a right, a civil liberty to justice?

The New York Times reasoned that Apple’s motivation may be “because the business company’s business model encourages” such a stance. Indeed, one has to ask how their brand and consumer base would have reacted if they’d quietly complied. Other sources have explored the possibility and claims that compliance with the order would cost Apple undue expense or resources, which the DOJ says are untrue.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve tried to obtain my own data with my cell phone provider, which is not Apple. It was impossible. Apple’s stance puts a prohibitive price tag on the search for justice, and even then, sets itself above the needs of its own customers for justice by defying court orders.

Access-to-Justice

The legal decisions they are seeking through their motions would make it impossible for your or me to access data on our phones if we wanted to show threats to our lives, stalking, fraud, etc. Most individuals do not have the resources to mount the aggressive opposition that the Department of Justice and the FBI have put forth.

Most Important Law of Unintended Consequences:

As this drama plays out on an abstract level for most of us, it has a real impact on the victims’ families and survivors of San Bernardino. At every mention in the press, at every news feed, they relive their horror all over again.

They can’t just not turn on the news; they have a right and need to follow the election and keep abreast of their local news. Maybe they could stay off of social media, but that may be the only access to beloved family members and friends they have.

Apple is prolonging their wait for closure and justice, and reopening horrible wounds by making their opposition to investigators so public. I wonder what the self-congratulatory emails and press releases CEO Tim Cook sends would look like if he thought about that.

California Shootings

 

 


Sources:

CNBC:
http://www.cnbc.com/2016/02/19/doj-files-motion-to-compel-apple-to-comply-with-fbi-order.html

Reuters:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-encryption-doj-idUSKCN0VS2FT

New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/business/justice-department-calls-apples-refusal-to-unlock-iphone-a-marketing-strategy.html

Department of Justice:
http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-proposes-remedy-address-apple-s-price-fixing


Latest Motion by DOJ:

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/19/business/document-motion-to-compel-apple-compliance.html?_r=0