Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ebola The Gay and Atheist Away

Via Right Wing Watch comes this report of a Christian wingnut named Rick Wiles, who has a radio program called Trunews.  While I am sure I have heard of him before, nothing he said stuck in my memory.  Well, I will certainly remember him now.

On his program, Wiles said "Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming.”  He then went on to say, among other things, “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

Normally, I would just shrug this kind of thing off as some nutty utterances by a fringe character.  In this case though, shortly after uttering these comments, Wiles had on his program Frank Wolf, a veteran Republican congressman from Virginia.

I don't know if Congressman Wolf heard Wiles remarks before speaking with him.  If he did, I would like to know why he still appeared on Wiles program.  If he didn't hear the remarks, will he condemn them if brought to his attention?

I was sufficiently disgusted that I called Wolf's office and spoke to one of his staffers.  I told her that Wolf appeared on Wiles program several days before, what Wiles had said, and asked her why the congressman would validate a radio show host who uttered such horrible things.  She took down my address, but the tone of her voice had that "we'll be sure to give this the attention it is due" vibe to it.  I won't hold my breath waiting for a letter in the mail from the congressman, though if by some chance I do, I will be sure to share it here.

I also wanted to follow up with an e-mail, but the e-mail form requires one to enter a zip code and informs you that only e-mails from constituents will be answered.  As I am a New Yorker, that ruled out any chance of my getting a reply.

I just looked a moment ago on his website to see if perhaps there was a press release condemning Wiles remarks, but there was none.

It would be great if some of Wolf's constituents who are angered by Wiles comments were to contact Wolf to let him know that it is unacceptable and wrong to associate himself and legitimize Wiles.

But back to Wiles himself.  While hateful, his remarks, along with those by other so-called Christians, are also rather revealing, not to mention pathetic.  It's as though they are throwing up their hands and hoping that their imaginary friend will do their work for them and use plagues and natural disasters to wipe out the people and things they hate because they can't do it themselves.  It also strikes me as very unchristian behavior.  After all, Jesus implored his followers to love their enemies.  Wiles doesn't seem to be expressing any love for me by hoping I die from Ebola for having the temerity to be an atheist in America.  Furthermore, as a frequent blood donor, if I were to be killed by Wiles god, my community would no longer benefit from my generosity as a donor.

If by any chance you read this Rick Wiles, I don't want you to die from Ebola.  Instead, I want you to reevaluate what you believe and make an effort to become a decent human being, if that is at all possible.

Praying For A Discount

This article on the BBC web site caught my attention.  It seems a diner in North Carolina was offering 15% discounts to customers who visibly prayed over their meals or before being served.

While some Christians might think this is such a wonderful thing, I can't help but think what's to stop nonreligious customers, once they hear of the discount, from engaging in phony prayers just to knock 15% off their tab?  Especially us atheists.  After all, if Christians believe that we are immoral and untrustworthy by nature, then local atheists should eat at that diner en masse, making outward displays of prayer and piety, while inwardly snickering to themselves in satisfaction for hoodwinking the restaurant's owner.

I imagine if enough people did it, it would start to cut into the restaurant's profit margin, thereby causing the owner to terminate the discount.

If you are an atheist and you were going to eat in a restaurant knowing that customers who prayed in the restaurant would receive a 15% discount, would you make a show of prayer to save a few bucks on your bill?

Not sure if I would, but if I did, I might write Matthew 6:5-6 on the bill.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Baby Jesus Was Watching Over You

As I have mentioned before, Facebook is a gold mine of religious silliness for an atheist blogger.

Some months ago, a friend from high school shared on Facebook a traffic incident that she had experienced.  She was driving on a dark road somewhere out in eastern Suffolk County in inclement weather when the car ahead of her lost control, spun around, and narrowly avoided colliding with her.

One of her Facebook friends proclaimed in a comment to the post that "the Baby Jesus was watching over you."

I had to figuratively bite my tongue to keep myself from writing something sarcastic in response.

I wanted to write "The Baby Jesus?  How could the Baby Jesus watch over her?  Jesus was an adult when, according to the Gospels, he was crucified, died and rose from the dead.  Do you mean to tell me there is a part of Jesus that remains perpetually an infant to this very day?  Maybe the Trinity needs to be revised (would you call it a Quadrinity?)  to Father, Grown Son, Infant Son, and the Holy Spirit!"

I guess this is one function of my blog.  A place where I can vent about the things I can't write on Facebook in response to some of the nuttiness I encounter.

The Importance of Skepticism

The atheist/skeptic community quite naturally focuses the majority of its attention on religious claims, and for good reason.

However, a healthy skepticism is vitally important on other facets of our lives as well.

This is a post I mean to write for quite a while, but unfortunately I never seemed to get around to it.  Now that I am attempting to revive this blog, it seems as good a time to address it as any.

Several years ago, we received a letter in the mail from the People To People Ambassador Program informing that our daughter, who at the time was in 4th grade, was nominated (by who, it didn't say) to participate in a trip to London and Paris.  Wanting to find out more information, I went on the web site.  Strangely, when I entered the code that was in the letter, the address it had for my daughter was in Wisconsin instead of New York.  I called the number and spoke to a customer service representative, who said it must have been a glitch or something.

Anyway, the program was having a presentation for interested parents at the SUNY Stony Brook campus.  My daughter was quite thrilled at the prospect of going on a trip to London and Paris, and I recall at one point when I made a joke about her not being able to go, she started to cry and said "You have no idea how much this means to me!"

So, my wife, my daughter and I made the trip to SUNY Stony Brook on the appointed day.  When you arrive, they collect the letter you receive in the mail.  In retrospect, I wish I had made a copy of it so I could reproduce its contents for this post.

We, along with other parents and children in attendance, entered the auditorium and listened to a man named Mike speak to us.  He then showed us a short film about the program.  After that, he brought out some of the people who have participated as chaperones for the program.  If memory serves, they were all school teachers.

The presentation was rather slick, and at least one person I read online described it as similar to promoting a time share.  There was a great emphasis made about how international travel can boost one's chances of being accepted to college and how it was such an enriching experience.  The cost estimate for the trip, to the best of my recollection, was somewhere around $5,000 to $6,000 dollars.  For parents who would have difficulty paying for the trip on their own, there were some fundraising opportunities, which I guess was doing things like selling candy bars and such.

After the presentation was over, Mike said that representatives were available in the lobby to accept deposits for early registration for the trip.  When we went out into the lobby, I saw that a number of parents had lined up to register their children for the trip and pay the deposit.  My wife asked me if we should do the same and I told her that I wasn't going to be rushed into paying for my daughter to travel to Europe with a bunch of strangers without doing more research about the organization.

Sure enough, when I did do some online sleuthing (the Internet is your friend!), I found some not so flattering things about the People to People organization.

For starters, my daughter had not done anything noteworthy to have received her invitation to the trip. 

An investigation by CBS found some bizarre irregularities in the invitations that were sent out.

"Many parents... believe their kids won an honor from a non-profit run by President Eisenhower's granddaughter. But the experience of Steve and Jennifer Barbee indicates otherwise.

The Barbees' daughter, Katelynn, got invited on a People to People trip this summer with other "high school students" from Tennessee. But Katelynn died back in 1996 when she was 10 days old.

CBS News found the same story in Iowa - a boy supposedly "recommended for the honor" of a People to People trip for his "outstanding middle school achievements." Impossible, said the mom in a letter, because her son "died at seven weeks of age in 1993."

I also found reviews of People to People by former and current employees of the company at a web site called Glassdoor.  The picture they painted was not a very encouraging one.

One employee wrote in May of 2011 that the cons of the organization included:

Unpleasant work environment full of aggression, anger and frustration.
Many people afraid of being fired for speaking their mind.
High turnover among staff.
High pressure selling leads to many cancellations.

A former employee wrote around the same time that "There seems to be a lot of very angry and nasty people in the management group.  It is not unusual for shouting matches to break out among 'leaders' in the company."

Another current employee wrote "Attempts to find and keep senior people have failed time and again as they arrive and figure out the real situation and leave.  Consequently, the same poorly qualified individuals stay and continue to make poor decisions." 

When I was doing the research I had found a review site from parents and students, where many, though not all, of the reviews were mostly negative.  I tried to find it again, but it may no longer be online.

Needless to say, after having investigated the matter to my satisfaction, I went over my findings with my daughter to explain why I would not register her for the trip. She was very understanding and accepted the decision.  I only wished I had done the research before wasting the time and gasoline to drive all the way out to Stony Brook. 

That being said, I do not deny that a fair number of children who go on People to People's trips have enjoyable and memorable experiences, and I read a number of reviews to this effect.  Some of them may even end up reading this post and commenting here.

Still, it seems clear that the way these trips are marketed to impressionable children and well meaning parents is not entirely honest.  As explained above, my daughter didn't receive her invitation because of any special achievement on her part.  With regard to college, I had never traveled outside the United States until I was 20, and that didn't stop me from getting a college education.  My daughter and my son are certainly more well traveled at their young ages than I was.  I didn't fly on an airplane for the first time until I was 25.  My son was less than six months old on his maiden flight.  I was 20 the first time I ever left the United States, and that was a drive to Montreal, where I stayed less than 24 hours.  My kids have been to the Philippines and Hong Kong 3 times, as well as Taipei, the Bahamas, the Caymans, and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. 

By all means, send your children on a People to People trip if you want to, but don't do it because you believe that they will suffer some horrible set back in life for not attending, because they surely won't.

You Can Keep Your Religion, but...

When I first started this blog back in the Autumn of 2006, I tapped out this brief declaration in which I exhorted religious people to give up their religion.  At the time, I saw my blog as a platform for atheist evangelizing, and I perhaps naively hoped way back then that I could write posts that would cause religious believers to acknowledge that they could and should abandon their religious beliefs.

Time and experience have since mellowed me in this regard.  Don't get me wrong, I still think it would be great if people abandoned superstitious religious beliefs, and I still proclaim that the god of the Bible and the Quran is no more real than leprechauns or the Loch Ness Monster.

What has changed is my sense of priorities.  As a parent of two children, one 13 and the other 11, one of my most important responsibilities is to do my best to raise them to be educated, morally autonomous young adults who can behave responsibly, earn a decent living, and make positive contributions to their community.  This is one facet of my life where I feel that I need to focus on getting things right, for lack of a better word.   It is more important for me to be successful in my personal life, being a good father, a good husband, a good son, a good neighbor and a good citizen, than it is to be an atheist telling religious people that the beliefs they hold dear are not true.

I have since come to divide religious believers into two broad camps.  One camp consists of religious people whose beliefs fall under what I call Inner Fulfillment Purposes.  They practice their religious beliefs because it gives them a sense of meaning, purpose and joy.  I don't really have a problem with them.  The other camp consists of the Busybodies.  These are the people who feel that their religious beliefs give them license to insert themselves into the lives of others.  They run the gamut from the relatively harmless Jehovah's Witness who will ring your doorbell on a Saturday morning to the Muslim extremists who will beat you do to death because you allegedly wrote something insulting about the prophet Muhammed.

So, if going to church on a Sunday morning or synagogue on a Friday evening floats your boat, far be it for me to complain about it.  But as far as the Busybodies are concerned, they're still fair game to me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'll Never Forgive Ridley Scott For Prometheus

Yeah, I know!  Prometheus came out what, like 2 or 3 years ago?  Why still bitch about it?  Well, for openers, I was really looking forward to seeing the Alien franchise go off into a new and interesting direction instead of just rehashing the same old thing.  But alas, it was horribly botched.  And now comes word that a sequel to Prometheus is in the works, which only serves to remind me what an awful mess the first one was.

I'm not going to go through a laundry list of plot holes and stupidity in Prometheus.  The video below by Cinema Sins covers a lot of it.



There are a couple of things about Prometheus that really irk me that I haven't really seen addressed in comment threads I have read about the movie in a number of articles and posts.  Here goes.

Charlize Theron's Character Serves Absolutely No Purpose!

When we first meet Vickers after the crew wakes up from hypersleep, we see her staring intently ahead while doing push ups.  The impression we get of her is that of a very strong and determined person who is not to be trifled with.  When she addresses the crew, she tells them rather emphatically that "it's my job to make sure you do yours."  Afterwards, she has a private meeting with Shaw and Holloway, the two characters whose research has provided the entire raison d'etre for the voyage to another star system, and proceeds to give them a thorough dressing down.  Clearly, Vickers is being set up to be a dominant personality and potentially a villain, or at the very least, an obstacle to Shaw. 

But once the vessel Prometheus sets down on the moon LV 426, Vickers almost immediately fades into insignificance.  It is Holloway, not Vickers, who orders the ship's captain Janek to have the crew gear up to venture to the alien structure near the landing site.  Shaw tells one of the security guards accompanying them to the structure that no weapons are allowed.  I thought Vickers was in charge!  At no point during the crew's journey to and exploration of the structure does Vickers provide any orders or guidance to them, nor does anyone consult with her.  The person who just a few minutes earlier in the film made such a show of being a dominant personality ends up being just a passive observer for most of the remainder of the film.

The one time during the entire movie that Vickers shows any real, decisive action is when she torches the infected Discount Tom Hardy with a flame thrower.  Even then, he likely would have died on his own, so her action doesn't affect the plot in any meaningful way.

Her irrelevance as a character is further underscored, rather embarrassingly I might add, at the end of the movie when she ejects from the Prometheus in an escape pod seconds before it crashes into the Engineer's ship, only to die moments later when the alien vessel rolls on top of her.  At the very least they could have had her survive only to be killed by the Engineer or by the squid creature in the life pod.

Perhaps Vickers was more integral to the plot in an earlier version of the script, only to be pretty much neutered in the rewrite.  I don't know.  What seems clear to me though is that if Vickers was completely excised from the movie it would basically have been unchanged.

Elizabeth Shaw's Crucifix

After the android David drugs Shaw, he steals her crucifix necklace.  It is never really explained why David takes it.  Perhaps, because he is an android, David considers religion to be irrational, so by taking the crucifix from Shaw he is separating her from something that he believes she is better off without. 

At the end of the movie, when Shaw goes into the crashed Engineer's ship to retrieve David, she makes a point of taking her cross back from him, which prompts David to ask rhetorically how she can still believe after all that has happened.

What is odd about this little subplot is that we are being told that Shaw's Christian faith is very important to her, but at no point during the entire film (apart from the very end when she prefaces the date with "in the year of our Lord") does she give any indication that her actions or beliefs are informed by Christianity.  In fact, what she does espouse is the complete opposite of Christian doctrine.

When Shaw and Holloway are giving their presentation to the crew at the beginning of the movie, she tells them her belief that the Engineers "engineered" the human race.  This is in complete opposition to the Christian belief that human beings were created by God in the image of God.  If the development of the human race, and indeed, the origin of life itself on Earth, is due to the work of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, then what room does that leave for a biblical creator God in Shaw's belief system?

The prominence of Shaw's crucifix is just a lazy way to inject religion into the movie without providing any substance.  What would have been interesting is if Prometheus gave us an Elizabeth Shaw who struggled to reconcile her Christian faith with her discovery of the existence of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.  After all, how does the existence of intelligent beings on another planet fit into the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ?  Did Jesus die for the sins of just the human race or does it also extend to all intelligent life throughout the universe, assuming that we are not alone in the universe?  If Prometheus wanted to tackle some really important philosophical and religious issues, surely the impact of life on another world on human religious belief systems should have been on the top of the list.

Yes, I know that Prometheus hints that Jesus was a messenger sent to Earth by the Engineers and that his death by crucifixion is the reason why the Engineers decided to destroy the human race.  That just seems plain silly to me, as it doesn't make any sense that an extraterrestrial being would succeed in his endeavor by being an itinerant preacher in Judea instead of landing his spacecraft outside of the emperor's palace in Rome.  And why didn't the Engineers send a similar envoy to China, which also covered a similar extent of territory and ruled over a large population?

The sad thing about Prometheus, at least in my opinion, is that it could have been a better movie than the one we got.  In Greek legend, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humanity.  If Prometheus the movie had been true to the legend, then instead of trying to find immortality, Weyland's motivation for funding the expedition would have been to get his hands on advanced alien technology, with Shaw and Holloway's scientific endeavor providing him with the cover to carry out his true agenda.  The Engineers, in Chariots of the Gods fashion, instead of having engineered humanity, played the role of trying to shepherd us, as well as beings living on other worlds in our galaxy, until we were far enough along to continue to reach the technological level to become a space faring species.  The world that the star map led to could have served as a testing ground for anyone who landed there to determine if their race was worthy or needed to be exterminated.  When Vickers, acting as Weyland's proxy on the voyage, attempts to steal from the Engineers, it sets in motion a chain of terrible events that not only threaten the members of the voyage, but the human race itself.  The tie in to Alien would be that the derelict Space Jockey ship that Ripley and her crew encountered was on its way to destroy another alien world that failed the test, but something caused the ship to crash.

At any rate, we didn't get the Prometheus that we deserved.  Maybe if I was a Christian, I could forgive Ridley Scott for making such a visually beautiful piece of shit.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

More Shit Anti-Choicers Say and Some Shit Pro-Choicers Say

This picks up on a post I did about a year and half ago about the anti-choice line that pregnancies are a "gift from God."

In reading comments that anti-choicers leave on posts that deal with the subject of abortion, there are a number of common arguments I see them make that are flat out dishonest or wrong.  Here they are with my response to them.

If She Didn't Want to Get Pregnant, She Shouldn't Have Had Sex In The First Place!

In a nutshell, the anti-choicers who spout this line seem to be saying that every woman who has ever gotten pregnant but doesn't want to have a baby put herself in her position by engaging in reckless promiscuity without a thought to the consequences.

My retort to that argument is to point out to the anti-choicer who uses that line that unless he or she personally witnessed every act of sexual intercourse in this country that resulted in a pregnancy, then he or she is in not position to judge whether or not the woman was being irresponsible.  This position also implicitly denies any responsibility on behalf of the man who impregnated her, as if all men are so much a slave to their hormones that they are beguiled by these women into becoming sperm donors.

How can we know that a man and woman who have sex intending to have a child weren't making a rational decision at the time, but that subsequent events forced them to change?  Maybe the boyfriend or husband of the woman suffered a serious physical injury or medical condition that made him unable to work while simultaneously incurring huge medical expenses that make carrying the pregnancy to term a tremendous hardship for them.  In that case, it would make more sense to terminate the pregnancy and then try again later when the man has recovered and they get their finances back on track.

What if the woman were in an abusive relationship where she is too scared to refuse consent to have sex?  The act of getting pregnant might be the catalyst to make her realize that if she carries the pregnancy to term, she might either find herself further trapped in the relationship, or if she leaves him, face the horrifying prospect that the abuser will take her to court for custodial rights or give him a reason to hunt her down.

In short, since we don't know the context for each sex act that results in pregnancy, we can't assume that a woman's reason to abort a pregnancy is done for trivial reasons.

Pro-Choicers Hate Babies and also, We Want to Kill Them!

As the father of two children, I call bullshit on that.  I concede that some women who support abortion, such as Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, are on record as stating that they absolutely have no desire to have children.  However, the majority of those of us who believe in a woman's right to an abortion are parents ourselves.  Some women who choose to terminate a pregnancy will either go on to have children at some point in their lives or they have already had children.  From my own perspective as a father who has a daughter, I want her to be able to have the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy if she found herself in such circumstances.

As for the hyperbolic rhetoric about baby killing, if it were really true, why would abortion rights supporters stop at pregnancy?  If we were so gung ho about "killing babies" we would be unplugging incubators in hospital maternity wards and snatching infants out of strollers at the part and smashing their skulls against the pavement.  And yet one never hears of such a thing.

Pro-Choicers Celebrate Baby Killing!

Yeah, totally man!  I can't tell you how many post-abortion parties I've attended. 

No, we don't celebrate abortion.  What we do celebrate, if anything, when marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is the recognition that a woman has the right to bodily autonomy and to be able to have not only the right to terminate a pregnancy if she so chooses, but to also have affordable access to an abortion.  What we also celebrate and advocate for is the right of a pregnant woman, if she chooses to carry the pregnancy to term, to have access to quality medical care not only for her own personal health, but to help ensure that the baby she wants to have is born healthy.  Anti-choicers never seem to want to acknowledge this.

That being said, in the interest of balance, there are a couple of arguments I hear from pro-choicers that also annoy me.

If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would Be A Sacrament!

Well, if men could get pregnant, then they wouldn't be men.  Since we don't live in a world where men can get pregnant, we are in no position to seriously say how that would affect the debate over abortion.  That's why that is a line that I never use in arguing with anti-choicers.

How Many Babies Are You Adopting?

On the surface, I get this argument.  If an anti-choicer wants to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term that she doesn't want to have, will he or she (as there are a fair share of anti-choice women) step up to take care of that baby?

Admittedly, I haven't looked at the statistics, but I don't doubt that some evangelical Christians do adopt children, whether domestically or abroad.

That being the case, as an atheist and a supporter of abortion rights, I don't want anti-choicers adopting children and indoctrinating them children into believing all of the things we deplore among the Religious Right. 

When all is said and done, the basic disagreement between supporters and opponents of abortion rights is that one side considers the fetus to be subordinate to a pregnant woman and the other side takes the opposite position.  One side recognizes that pregnancy is a serious medical condition and that a woman should have the right to determine if she wants to terminate a pregnancy, whether it is for reasons for her own personal health and well being or because she does not want to bring a child into this world if she does not believe the conditions are favorable to raising a child in a healthy environment.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dealing With The Aftermath

I don't know what it is like to be in abusive relationship, but I can imagine that for a person who has experienced being on the receiving end of threats of or actual instances of physical abuse, the psychological scars remain long after the relationship has ended.

For starters, it must be hard to shake the fear, that omnipresent sense of dread, that one day the abuser will find the victim at the victim's new home, at his or her job, or while shopping at the local mall.  It can be hard for someone who has been in abusive relationship to allow oneself to trust anyone else who might show a romantic interest in him or her.  Then there's the loss of confidence.  "How could I have been so stupid to allow such a thing to happen to me?" is a thought that many people who have experienced an abusive relationship must ask themselves.

When I left off with my previous post about my friend Lucy (as an aside, I changed the name I used for her), she had made her escape from her abuser with the assistance of her uncle.

Quite naturally, Lucy was afraid to go back to her apartment, at least for the short term, so she stayed at her uncle.  Her uncle though, as it turned out, was not exactly a fountain of sympathy.  Lucy would tell me that he would berate her for allowing herself to get involved with such a man.  He made her feel like she was imposing on him and her aunt, telling her she could only stay with them until the end of the month.  Knowing her uncle's personality, it may be that she was reluctant to reach out to him sooner.

Having been a hotline counselor some years ago, one of the qualities that was ingrained into me was to be nonjudgmental.  In Lucy's case, sure I could think some of the things that her uncle said to her, but it would not be productive to say them.  What matters most is not to tear a person down, but to build that person back up.

I asked Lucy to tell me as much about the abuser as possible, so that I could make more informed suggestions to her.  One of the most important things she said about him was that he was the kind of person who did not like to make a scene in public or draw attention to himself.  His parents house, where he was presumably living now, was in the outer suburbs of Toronto,  Furthermore, he did not have a car and had to rely on public transportation to get around.  Based on this, I told Lucy that it should be safe to return to her apartment building.  As the temperatures were starting to get colder in Toronto, it wasn't likely that the man would ride for an hour on public transportation to get to her neighborhood and then stand around in the freezing cold waiting for her to show up at her building.

Still, Lucy was still unable to bring herself to return to her apartment.  Not only could she not shake the fear that he might turn up there, she could not bear to be in the place where she suffered the abuse and sleeping in the bed she had shared with him.  So Lucy ended up staying for a time at a homeless shelter.  She described to me the conditions at the shelter, including a roommate who was not exactly playing with a full deck, if you catch my drift.

After about a week or so, I implored Lucy to return to the apartment.  Over a month had passed since she had left, so it seemed reasonable to expect that the abuser would believe she had moved out permanently.  I told her that she could look for a new apartment while she was there.  Fortunately, she had made the acquaintance of another woman who agreed to stay in the apartment with her on the first couple of nights of her return.  The on jarring note was that the asshole ex-boyfriend had left a letter that she reckons he slipped under her door within a week after she had made her escape.  He asked her to call him.  The only other communication she had from him, apart from that, were the calls he made to her cell phone the night she left him, which she did not answer or return.

Lucy started searching for a new place to live and managed to find another apartment that was in a more favorable location for her commute to her job.  She moved into it at the end of the year, and thus far Lucy's life seems to have taken a turn for the better.

While Lucy's physical circumstances have indeed improved, it must be hard for her as well as others to feel normal again.  Lucy admitted to me on a couple of occasions that part of her still misses the man who abused her.  I told her that it was understandable to feel that way, as he must have had some positive qualities that attracted her to him in the beginning.  That being said, I advised Lucy that whenever she starts to feel like she misses him that she should remember what it was he did to her.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dealing With An Even More Figurative Grenade With The Pin Pulled Out

Sorry, but I couldn't help making an allusion to a now infamous post by PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog in which he shared allegations from a woman who claimed to have been raped by a famous person in the skeptic community a few years earlier.

This past September, my friend Lucy (not her real name, which I don't want to use in this post)   revealed a frightening dilemma of hers to me, but unlike the allegations Myers shared, this was a situation that was happening in the present rather than an event that took place in the past.

Before I get into it though, first a little background information.   Lucy is an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Indonesia in her mid-forties.  I became acquainted with her in the late 90's because we were both (and are still) trademark paralegals.  Lucy worked at a firm that we used for trademark matters in Indonesia and she became my main contact there.  At some point, we became e-mail pen pals.

After a few years, she got a visa to visit the United States in 2004 and brought along her mom, who was wheelchair bound because of a stroke she had suffered.  The father had died a year or two before that.  I invited Lucy and her mom to stay with us in our house during the portion of their trip they spent in New York.  Lucy visited the United States a couple of years later on her own, and again stayed with us for the New York portion of her trip.

In my communications with Lucy after she returned to Indonesia, she expressed a desire to leave and move to the United States or Canada.  Part of her desire to leave Indonesia stemmed from the anti-Chinese riots that broke out there in 1998.  How could the Indonesian-Chinese community be sure that such a terrible thing couldn't happen again?  Lucy had applied to immigrate to Canada but hadn't heard anything.  Then in 2007 she applied to and was accepted for a year of study at the Franklin Pierce Institute in New Hampshire, a school that offers post-graduate programs in intellectual property law.  Besides getting her out of Indonesia for awhile, Lucy hoped it would create an opportunity for her to get a US firm or company to sponsor her for a work visa so that she could stay permanently.

After Lucy completed the program, her hopes for remaining in the United States did not pan out.  She was unable to find a firm or company to sponsor her for a work visa, but she did not want to go back to Indonesia.  Finally, she caught a lucky break, when her Canadian visa application was  accepted.  Lucy moved to Toronto and applied for trademark paralegal positions with firms in the city.  Unfortunately, she did not meet with success, telling me that the firms wouldn't hire her because she didn't have "Canadian experience."  It was a Catch-22 scenario.  She couldn't get hired because she lacked the experience, which meant that she couldn't get the experience that would get her hired. 

Lucy ended up working at menial jobs, barely scraping by to make a living.  She had no family in the area except for an uncle with whom she was not close, and she had no close friends in Toronto, which made her experience all the more gloomy, which I believe left her vulnerable to what would follow.

Fast forward to the near present.  When Lucy was in the United States, she had an account with Bank of America.  After she had moved to Toronto, she had asked if she could give the Bank of America my address for sending a new debit card, because for some reason the bank couldn't mail it to a Canadian address.  So, when the card arrived at my house, I mailed it to her.

This past September, I received another mailing from Bank of America.  I could tell from holding the envelope that it had an ATM card in it, so I sent message to Lucy via Facebook that I was mailing her the envelope.  I then proceeded to go to the post office to deliver it.

I think it was that very night when I was on Facebook that Lucy sent me an instant message telling me not to mail her the envelope, alluding that she was in a difficult situation.  I replied to her that I had already dropped it off at the post office.  Then she asked me if my name was on the return address label.  I answered that I had, and then she dropped the bomb.  She told me that she was in a relationship with a man who was very jealous and violent, and she feared that if he saw the envelope in their mail that he would think I was someone with whom she was having an affair.

Needless to say, I was quite shocked and horrified by this revelation.  I had read enough stories in the news of women who were murdered by former or current boyfriends or husbands, and now my friend Lucy was in a dangerous situation where the same thing could happen to her.

Knowing that she really had no one to turn to, I instinctively sought to do what I could to help her, but communicating with her was difficult.  Such was the hold he had on her that he made her give her the passwords to her Facebook account and some of her e-mail accounts so he could monitor her activity.  I sought to avoid that by sending her a message via LinkedIn, not realizing that doing so sent a notification of the message to an e-mail account that he had access to.  Lucy told me that the boyfriend started to ask her who I was, accusing me of being a secret boyfriend, and that he was going to lookup all the men in Toronto who had the same name as me, as he apparently didn't know I lived in New York.

The one bright spot in Lucy's life was that she had finally found a job with an intellectual property firm in Toronto.  While there, she was able to e-mail me using an account that she had kept secret from the abusive boyfriend.  Thus, Lucy would be able to fill me in on what was happening and I would sound her out on ideas for her to get free of the abuser.

Early on, I called the Toronto Police Department and spoke with someone there about the situation.  He suggested that I provide him with her address and they could send an officer to Lucy's apartment to investigate.  I decided not to, because I didn't want to act without her permission, plus I was afraid it might exacerbate the problem.  When I discussed it with Lucy, she was adamant that I not get the police involved, as she feared it would make the boyfriend more violent.  I asked her if he had ever hit her, and she told me that he punched her in the face and threatened to throw her off the balcony of her apartment.  He also assaulted his own mother when she criticized him for his relationship with Lucy.  Some people often wonder why women do not immediately flee an abusive man, but I understand that if a man shows that he is capable of engaging in physical violence, the thought of taking action to leave him can seem more terrifying then staying with him, because leaving him might make him even more violent and unpredictable.

As angry as I was, I realized that my desire to charge into the fray and be the knight riding to the rescue had to be tempered by the need avoid further inflaming the situation.  I told Lucy that she had to get away from the man as soon as possible, because he would only further tighten his hold over her as time went by.  Such was his jealousy that he didn't even like her going shopping lest she speak to other men.  After a dinner with Lucy's uncle and aunt, the man claimed that her uncle was not really her uncle, but rather some kind of sugar daddy.  It got to the point where the man was so paranoid, he would follow her to the laundry room to make sure she didn't speak to any other men.

I offered, if necessary to come up to Toronto and be there with her at her apartment in the presence of a police officer and evict the boyfriend, as he was not on the apartment's lease and had no legal right to be there.  My plan was that we would then pack up all of his belonging and arrange for a mover to bring them to his parent's house the next day.  The superintendent would change the locks on her apartment so that he could not get in if he decided to attempt to return.  I also encouraged Lucy to tell her supervisor at her job, because (1) someone else in Toronto needed to know the situation she was in, and (2) at some point she would have to take some time off from her job to take the action she needed to get the man out of her apartment as well as face the possibility that he might try to harass her at the office where she worked.  I told her that the more isolated and alone she was, the more easy it would be for the man to maintain his grip on her.  Furthermore, when she expressed her concerns about going through with leaving him, I stressed to her that there was no course of action she could take that would not result in disrupting her life in some way.  The choices she had, as I laid it out for her, was to either stay with him and he would likely eventually hurt her again or even kill her, or she could make a break for freedom while living with the fear that he might try to find her and hurt her.

Fortunately, she did tell her supervisor, who gave her a referral to someone she could talk to about the problem.  Lucy also finally took action and followed the plan I recommended to her.  She informed her uncle about what was happening and he agreed to help.  She took a day off from her job and went with her uncle back to her apartment, where she arranged with the superintendent to remove and store all of the man's belongings.  She then packed some of her own things and left the apartment to stay at her uncle's.

When Lucy shared with me the news of her escape, which happened about a month after she revealed to me that she was in an abusive relationship, I told her how proud I was of her and that I understood that it was not an easy thing to do.  She had taken an important step in reclaiming her life, but there would still be difficulties in the road ahead, which will be covered in the next post.

Exercise in Futility On Ice

Future Matts Zucarello?
 
 After making an effort to revive this blog in 2012, I found myself unable to focus on writing much of anything in 2013.  It was not so much for lack of ideas or things I wanted to write about.  A good deal of it was just not being able to find the time to sit down and turn my thoughts into words.
 
Part of the reason for my lack of time can be found in the picture above.  For the last year and a half or so, I have become a hockey dad.  After trying and not liking soccer, baseball and basketball, my son Andrew decided he wanted to play ice hockey.  Figures it had to be the most expensive sport!  LOL!  Andrew only started learning to ice skate a couple of years ago and in that time he has made tremendous progress.
 
This winter is Andrew's most active season yet for hockey.  He is currently playing in a Sunday league at IceWorks in Syosset, which is also the practice rink for the New York Islanders (which means occasionally one gets to see the Islanders practice, and a couple of their players have children that play in the house league), and playing in the Town of Oyster Bay ice hockey league, which usually has games two weeknights per week.  Then there's a hockey class at IceWorks on Wednesday evenings, plus skating at public sessions at one of the Oyster Bay rinks on Fridays or Saturdays, and a puck shootout session on Saturday nights.
 
Andrew's near term goal is to tryout for and be able to play on a travel hockey team.  His ultimate goal is to be able to play in the NHL, but of course he'll have to take things one step at a time.  I don't know how realistic a goal it is for him, but I am happy that my son has found a passion in life that also gives him a measure of confidence that he previously lacked.  Naturally, I want to encourage him to pursue his dreams as far as they will take him.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Dauis Church Part 2

Those of you who follow the news may have saw or read about the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the Central Visayas region of the Philippines this past October 15, with the epicenter of the quake being the center of the island of Bohol.

Had my life taken a different path nearly two decades ago, this particular earthquake would likely have been no different to me than any other natural disaster to afflict a country thousands of miles away.  Brief moments of sadness and maybe a donation to a disaster relief organization if the damage and death toll were particularly severe, only to fade away and be forgotten.

In this case though, the quake affected me personally because Bohol is the island where my wife grew up and where her family lives.  I have been there three times in the last ten years and the wife, kids and I were planning to visit again next summer.

The good news, to cut to the chase, is that the family there are safe and unhurt.  The house of my sister-in-law Mia and her husband Stuart was badly damaged and is uninhabitable for the time being, though Stuart seems to believe that the damage can be repaired.

The death toll at present is below 200, with some hundreds more injured.  The physical damage is far greater, with the island's infrastructure severely damaged.  Bridges have collapsed, roads have been buckled, and buildings destroyed.  It will likely take some time before the island looks like it did before the quake, and I imagine that there will be some kind of effort to enforce stricter building standards to make structures more resistant to quakes.

One class of buildings that has suffered considerable damage, and in some cases virtually complete destruction, is Bohol's many Spanish colonial era Catholic churches.

Among those churches is one that has some personal resonance with me, the Dauis Church, which I did a blog post on nearly 6 years ago.  It was the church were Stuart and Mia had their wedding ceremony on June 26, 2004.  Below is a picture of the Dauis Church I took on the day of their wedding.



And here is how it looks now.


As you can see, most of the front of the building's fa├žade has crumbled, though the tower looks largely intact.  I haven't seen pictures of the sides and back of the church, so I don't know how widespread the damage is.  Other churches, particularly the Baclayon and Loboc churches, have been largely destroyed.

Granted, as an atheist, I would rather that a hundred churches (unoccupied, of course!) crumble to dust than lose a single hospital for treating the sick and injured.  In this case though, the Dauis Church has a sentimental value for me, as it was the setting for a joyous occasion in our family.  And as I wrote in my original post about the church, I can appreciate such places for their historical and cultural importance as well. 

It Takes A Sick Day To Start Blogging Again

Yeah, it's been nothing but crickets here for the last three months, probably my longest dry spell ever.  It hasn't been for want of topics to blog about but finding the time.  Well, today I'm home sick and have the house to myself, so I am all out of excuses.  Here we go!