Think of Horses

Here’s a quote that’s often used in the medical profession:

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward

In other words, don’t assume some exotic medical malady first, when it is much more likely to be something quite common. A child is much more likely to have a bladder infection than maple syrup urine disease.

But I think this quote can and should be applied to a lot more areas of life than just medicine. One of the reasons that I tend to look askance at most conspiracy theories is the simple, basic fact that the vast majority of people cannot keep secrets. And trying to get a large number of people to agree, let alone march in lockstep toward one common, corrupt goal, is next to impossible. If something nefarious is going on, chances are it’s one person at the heart of it, maybe two at most. Not an entire organization.

I know a woman who thinks zebras all the time. For example, she saw a dog hair on the counter at her place of work, and rather than assuming it fell off someone’s clothing, she instantly concluded that someone was sneaking his or her dog to work on her days off. Seriously?

And when you try to do something helpful for this woman, she automatically believes you must be out to get her. It has got to be exhausting, always running with the zebras like that. And because she trusts no one, no one trusts her. That’s kind of sad.

I genuinely believe that the simple explanation is most often the right one. That’s how I choose to live my life. Yup, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m also a lot less stressed out.

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It makes me tired just watching.

“It’s a leaf.”

I had some business to do at the courthouse. When I entered the building, I waited patiently in line like a good girl to pass through the metal detector. I couldn’t be more harmless if my life depended on it, but I’ve come to accept that this is a world in which one occasionally has to be metal detected.

Finally it was my turn. I put my keys in the little plastic tray. I walked through the detector. No beep. Why am I always relieved? I went to gather my keys and go about my business when a guard grabbed me by my forearm.

“Is this a weapon?” he asked.

“What, my keys?” I was totally confused.

“No, that. That!” he said, pointing to my keychain.

“Uh… no,” I said, stupidly, “It’s a leaf.”

He looked at it more closely. “Okay. Move along.”

With that I was dismissed like a disciplined school child. It took me a minute to regain my equilibrium.

I looked down at my keychain and remembered where I got it. I was watching a demonstration of the dying art of blacksmithing. I like to support artisans whenever I can, so I bought the keychain, which is a little curved iron leaf, less than the size of my thumb. It would never have occurred to me to attempt to use it as a weapon. The keys on the ring are probably more lethal, if it came to that, as are my teeth and my overall determination not to be f***ed with.

But what rattled me was that a guard could see a leaf and see me, and conclude that there was potential danger there, even if only for a second. That pretty much sums up the state of American paranoia these days. It makes me sad.

It reminded me of the time my nail clippers got confiscated at the airport. Again, my keys were left untouched. So was my laptop, which I could easily use to knock someone out if the spirit moved me. But those nail clippers? Lethal, I tell you! (Images of a terrorist holding a nail clipper to a hostage’s throat and saying, “One false move, and I’ll clip her! I swear to GOD I will!”)

You want to know what we really should be afraid of? The fact that the very people who would have us all hand over our nail clippers and artistic keychains are the same ones who feel that depriving the general populous of automatic weapons is an outrageous civil rights violation.

Heaven help us all.

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Secret Squirrel

I know several people who have a very strong sense of privacy. They don’t reveal anything to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary. They are listeners, not talkers. They observe the world, and keep their opinions about it to themselves.

On more than one occasion I have been shocked to my very core when I’ve found out something about one of these Secret Squirrel types after having known them for years. Often it’s pretty major stuff, too. Not necessarily anything sinister, but usually it’s something that fundamentally alters my view of that person.

Part of me wishes I could be that self-protective. But on the other hand, these people seem kind of tense to me. They’re a bit paranoid and suspicious. And to be honest, even though I know I shouldn’t take their behavior personally, it’s hard not to get my feelings hurt because it makes me feel untrusted, and if you can’t figure out after decades of friendship that I’m trustworthy, that just makes me sad.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m way too wide open. Because of that, I’ve been taken advantage of. On the privacy spectrum I’m at the opposite end. There has to be a happy medium out there, where you’re open to love and friendship and closed to swindlers and scumbags. I think with time I’m slowly working my way toward it. It’s a process.

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Drudge Sludge

I have a dear friend who gets all of his news from the Drudge Report, and therefore spends the bulk of his time angry, scared, and bitter. Talking to him can be exhausting. It’s like being the opponent in a sadistic game of dodgeball. He lobs paranoid gobs of information at me, I dodge the insanity, do some research, and do my best to calmly parry with logic and the facts.

  • In 2008: “Obama is going to make us pay 10 dollars a gallon for gas!” “Er…first of all, the president doesn’t set gas prices. Second, if he did that it would be political suicide.”
  • “Vaccines cause autism!” “Uh… actually, even the scientist who started that rumor has since recanted and apologized. Here are about 30 articles.”
  • “The government just imposed a quota on disciplining African Americans in schools.” “Nope. The government has just provided guidelines so that minorities will receive the same punishment that whites are getting for identical infractions.”
  • “Obama didn’t vote for anything in the senate. He only voted ‘present’ on everything.” “Hmmmm… that’s funny. I’m looking at his voting record right now, and there’s an awful lot of ‘yay’ and ‘nay’ votes for someone who supposedly only voted ‘present’.”
  • “Snopes.com is run by paranoid, incompetent, hysterical liberals!!!” Sigh. “That reference you’re citing is from a blog. And that blog got it from a viral e-mail that has been circulating since 2008. Here is an article from a reputable source that dismantles that e-mail point by point.”
  • In 2009: “There are concentration camps hidden throughout the US and soon we’ll all be in them.” “Well, that will become obvious pretty quickly, when everyone starts reporting missing friends, neighbors and relatives.”
  • “Dennis Rodman and Barack Obama are close friends, so he must have sent him to North Korea on purpose.” “Wow. If that’s the case, Rodman sure trashes his good friend in the media with a brutal frequency.”
  • “You can’t get out of state health care with your Obamacare, you know.” “Okay, I just spent 20 minutes on hold with my new insurance company, and they say of COURSE I’m covered for out of state healthcare.”

Honestly, it’s emotionally draining.

Here’s the thing about the Drudge Report. If you read it, it quickly becomes apparent that the main theme is “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” And when you look deeper you discover that its primary sources are Fox News, the Daily Mail, and Rush Limbaugh.

Fox News is caught in lies so often, and promotes such a warped agenda, that it has become the butt of jokes internationally. The Daily Mail, with its plummeting subscribers list, is Britain’s fear-mongering equivalent. And Rush Limbaugh… don’t even get me started on that ignorant fool.

For your own mental health and the sanity of those around you, it’s best to get your information from a wide variety of reputable sources. The Drudge Report is not reputable. It’s risible at best. I’d sooner get my news from a supermarket tabloid.

Speaking of reputable sources, I’m just a humble blogger and this is simply my opinion. By all means if you wish to chow down on a healthy stew of racism, homophobia, misogyny and a lunatic fringe hyper-conservative fantasy, then the Drudge Report is definitely for you.

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[Image credit: interestingtopics.net]

Yes, it’s the Anniversary of 9/11. Can we Please Talk About Something Else?

My mother once wrote me a letter dated December 7th and below the date she wrote “I remember Pearl Harbor.” And it is important to remember those tragic moments in history so that we may learn from them, heal together, and never repeat them. I get that. But.

I strongly suspect that I will dread this day every year for the rest of my life. As we are all quite painfully aware, it’s the day that the world changed. Or better stated, it’s the day that those elements in the world who hate us finally got our attention. I will never forget how I felt, standing in my living room in a state of shock, glued to the television, watching people jumping out of windows to their deaths. It’s a sick and helpless feeling, made that much worse because you know it will forever be a part of your history.

I’ll never forget the fear that permeated the atmosphere for months afterward, and how the poorly focused hatred still lingers. I’ll never forget the rigid and war-like patriotism, and how people would look at you suspiciously if you did not have an American flag on your lapel or hanging from your front porch.

There’s enormous pressure in times of hyper-patriotism. If you’re not with us, then you must be against us. I have never liked situations where there has to be an “us”, because that means someone is forced to be a “them”, and things can so quickly get out of control. I won’t even root for a particular sports team for that reason.

So here we are on the biggest “us” day of the year. And if I did have the blessed relief of forgetting, even for a little while, I can always count on this anniversary to roll around every single year to remind me. I try not to turn on the television on this day. I don’t want to see those images of the planes hitting the towers ever again.

We are lead to believe that to shift our focus would be to dishonor the 2,996 people who lost their lives that day. I disagree. I did not know any of those people personally, but I can’t imagine that if I lost anyone that I loved due to a tragedy, that they’d want me to obsess over the tragedy. Rather, I think they’d want me to focus on their lives and what they meant to me. None of these people deserve to “become” 9/11. They were so much more than that to the people who loved them.

So please don’t talk to me about 9/11, and I’ll make an effort to avoid the media frenzy as well.

I hereby pledge to honor the fallen not by dwelling on 9/11, but by appreciating what I have, and by taking a moment to be thankful for the fact that I get to stand here and breathe this air and feel the sunlight on my face.

I’ll remember the lives that were lost not by living in a constant state of paranoia and xenophobia, but by realizing how precious life and freedom and basic human rights are, and how lucky I am to have them. And I’ll do my best to do that every single day, not just today.

When all is said and done, I suspect that there could be no better memorial than that.

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(Image by Moira Schlobohm – Google +)

Keep your Children Safe: Think Like a Pedophile

Controversial title, I know. But hear me out.

Charish Perriwinkle, 8 years old, is dead. Most of you will not have even heard of her. She was abducted from a Walmart here in Jacksonville, Florida, and within hours her body was found and her abductor was apprehended. He was a serial pedophile, someone who should never have been allowed the freedom to continue hunting. Moot point, because hunt he did.

I always hate it when abduction news stories lay the blame at the feet of the parents, because there’s really only so much you can do when there’s a monster on the prowl. But there are some disturbing lessons to be learned from Charish’s tragic end.

First of all, her abductor befriended the family that very day at a Dollar General store, and offered to meet the whole family at the Walmart to buy them clothes, and her mother accepted. That’s an astoundingly dangerous amount of trust to put in a total stranger, but then I know what it’s like to be poor and desperate. So I’ll give her the benefit of a doubt on that one.

But what I have a much harder time accepting is that once they were all in the Walmart, shopping away as you do, the creep offers to buy them all some hamburgers, and the mother allowed him to take Charish with him. Alone. And she didn’t get worried until they had been gone for a half hour.

Pedophile avoidance 101: Do NOT let your child walk off with a virtual stranger. Duh. That seems like common sense to me. But then, maybe I’m better at putting myself into the twisted mind of a pedophile than some people are. But parents need to learn to think like a predator in order to make sure their children are not the victim of the hunt. If you are a parent, a certain level of paranoia is not only acceptable, it’s required. So here are some tips. (And before you hurl verbal tomatoes at me, note that I’m saying you should THINK like a pedophile, not ACT like one.)

  • If you are a pedophile, you’re going to want to put yourself in places where you have access to children. I always find drivers of ice cream trucks highly suspect. I look askance at men who hang around public pools or playgrounds. And if you see someone chatting up the kiddies at the school bus stop, you’d be well advised to interrogate that person. And I don’t care how lost you are, if you feel the need to drive up to a child and roll down your window to ask for, well, ANYTHING, then that’s an enormous red flag. If you’re lost, ask an adult, or risk having your eyes scratched out by me or someone like me. Yes, all of this is profiling at its worst, but you know what? I could care less. Your child is too much to lose. And if the person is truly innocent, then he or she shouldn’t be offended that you are questioning their behavior and putting your child’s safety above all else.
  • Do your due diligence. Unless you know someone inside and out, for years on end, do not, repeat, DO NOT let your child go anywhere or do anything with that person alone. In fact, you’ve got to question why a person would want to spend time alone with a small child that isn’t their own.
  • Meet the parents of your children’s friends. Just because someone is a parent does not make him or her trustworthy.
  • Lock your doors and windows, close your curtains at night and leave your bedroom doors open so you can hear as much as possible. If you can’t afford a security system, I’d even consider putting a portable motion detector that triggers an alarm at a height that’s taller than your child so he or she doesn’t trigger it, but not taller than an adult. Aim it right over your child’s bed, and turn it on every night without fail. You can get them at Radio Shack. As a matter of fact, if you’re not a parent but know someone who is, this would make a great gift.
  • Teach your children. Sadly, “stranger danger” isn’t enough, because abusers are often relatives or friends. Teach your children about good touch and bad touch. Teach them to always talk to you about things, even if someone tells them they shouldn’t. Teach them to be safe. Mind you, there is a difference between making them feel insecure and constantly afraid and teaching them that safety is important and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Even theirs.
  • Don’t ignore your inner voice. If something inside is telling you that someone is creepy or suspect, err on the side of caution.
  • Participate in the National Child ID Program so that your child can be easily identified if the worst should happen.
  • When in public, do not let your child out of your sight. I once saw a toddler wandering around a large public library. No parent anywhere in the vicinity. This kid was in the same room as the homeless people who come to get out of the heat and use the internet to look at soft porn. I walked up to the kid and said, “Where’s your mommy, honey?” and he burst into tears. Even though the child was wailing, it took what felt like 5 minutes for the mother to wander out of the stacks to find the kid, and she didn’t seem the list bit concerned. It took everything in me not to slap that woman across the face. Twice.
  • For the love of God, do not sexualize your children. When I see parents entering their kids into those beauty contests, putting them in sexy little outfits, covering them with makeup and teaching them to blow kisses at strangers, I want to vomit. When children are allowed to wear clothes that are not age appropriate, it makes me shudder. Children should not be dressed to attract. You never know what you’re attracting. And what lesson are you teaching? That your looks are a commodity for manipulation? That’s a twisted and dangerous mindset.
  • If your state has a sex offender’s database as mine does, look up your neighborhood. You’ll be horrified to see how many live near you. Print out their files. Memorize their faces and addresses. And if you suspect that that person no longer lives at that address, report it to the authorities, because chances are that criminal has taken flight and is re-offending. (There’s an address near my house that looks abandoned to me, and a sex offender supposedly lives there. I’ve reported this to the police, but that address is still the one listed for this guy, and that disturbs me greatly.)
  • Pedophiles LOVE the internet. Pay close attention to what your child does on line. Your child should not be talking to anyone whom you do not know personally. Period.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • As a parent, trust should not be your default position when someone enters your sphere. Trust should have to be earned, and it shouldn’t be easy.

I know it takes energy to be on alert 24 hours a day, but this world isn’t a safe place, and your children are too precious to put at risk.

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(Image credit: pasadenausd.org)

Can You Keep a Secret?

What? You didn’t seriously think I was going to tell you one, did you?  Well, actually, in this day and age when people have 600 friends on Facebook, 570 of whom they’ve never met, and in spite of that fact they post the most intimate, personal things about themselves, I don’t suppose it’s that big a stretch to suppose that I would.

I knew a young man whose wide open Facebook page gave you the following information: His high school and the year he would graduate, which tells you his approximate age. About a million pictures of himself. His sexual orientation. A very personal and public letter to someone that indicated that he was EXTREMELY sexually active. The town in which he lived, which has a population of about 200 people. And then one day he posts that his parents were taking a trip out of town. I’m amazed every pedophile in the tri-state area didn’t converge on his house. Among his 600 friends, how many of them could be trusted? He couldn’t possibly know for sure.

When I pointed all this out to him, he said, “I have nothing to hide.” And yet, his planned career path is one that requires confidentiality. Employers check Facebook. Based on that, no one is going to hire him. It breaks my heart.

The more life experience you have, the more you realize that secrets don’t get kept. That’s why conspiracy theorists amuse me so much. Do you honestly think that entire government agencies are capable of keeping extremely volatile and scandalous secrets for all eternity without a single person leaking information? People are not automatons. You can’t punch a set of commands into them and expect no one to deviate. We’re more like ducklings who will scurry off in every direction without any obvious reason. Anyone who believes humans are capable of the level of efficiency and unity of thought and opinion that would be required to maintain a conspiracy is, frankly, kooky.

And have you ever noticed that these conspiracy theorists never seem to participate in any wide open movements for the common good or take the lead in movements for positive change? They are entirely too busy assuming that everyone is diabolically evil and that their personal duty is to convince everyone who will listen that they are the only ones who know the truth. This level of paranoia is a sickness. It’s like voluntarily marinating in a vat of toxic waste.

My response to these people is, “So you’re aware of a problem? Well, unless you’re going to come at me with a solution and actually take an active part in it, don’t waste my time. I have no need for your stress and anxiety. This constant state of hypervigilance without positive resolution does no one any good.”

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