Confessions of a She-Geek

June 12, 2016

Anchor Point, part 4

Filed under: Anchor Point — Teresa @ 6:58 pm

It didn’t take long for Libby to start second-guessing her decision to omit some of the details during the interview. The more she thought about it, the more foolish she felt about indulging some vague sense of unease – especially since Annie’s (Anita’s?) disappearance could indicate a serious medical emergency.

The difference between life and death; wasn’t that how Delgado put it? What if one of the things Libby withheld provided to key to finding Annie-Anita? And how would Libby feel, if the police managed to track Annie-Anita down without the additional details, but too late to save her life? Did Libby want to deal with that kind of guilt, knowing that she might have been able to prevent someone’s death, but decided against it because something seemed a little off?

Over the next couple hours, Libby brooded when she wasn’t fielding phone calls from people reporting various computer-related technical issues. Fortunately all the calls were for easily-solved things that happened on a regular basis; this was a very good thing, given Libby’s level of distraction. Auto-pilot was a beautiful thing.

Lost in her thoughts, Libby was finally startled out of her reverie when a koosh ball hit her left ear. Libby’s startled gaze flitted around and finally landed on Tonya’s mildly-irritated/vaguely-concerned  face, peering at her from around the low divider that separated their desks. Tonya waved the koosh ball slingshot in Libby’s general direction.

“Girl, what is up with you today? It’s like you’re on Venus or something.”

Libby looked at her gravely. “I think I might have made a mistake earlier.”

“Earlier? You mean when you talked Detective tall, dark, and grumpy?” Tonya scooted her chair closer to Libby’s and lowered her voice to a murmur. “What – you think you said something wrong?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Something wrong like, ‘Oops, I used the wrong dinner fork’ kinda embarrassing social faux-pas, or something wrong like, “I picked out the wrong dude from a lineup’ life and death stuff?” Tonya raised an eyebrow. “‘Cause I love you, but you are the reigning queen of making something out of nothing. Remember when you cut Tina off in that meeting, and spent the rest of the day convincing yourself she was mad at you? And when you went to apologize, she had no idea what you were talking about.”

“Yeah, but I’m starting to think it’s more like ‘picking out the wrong dude from a lineup’ life and death stuff,” Libby admitted quietly. “And it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but now I’m having second thoughts.”

Tonya regarded Libby for a few seconds. “Well, can you fix it? Instead of sitting here stewing about how you did wrong, can you at least try to make it right? If it’s as serious as you think?” Tonya’s phone rang. “Oops; duty calls.” She launched her chair back into position.

That was a perfectly reasonable question. Whatever weirdness gripped Libby’s over-active imagination during the interview had long-since dissipated. She couldn’t come up with a single rational reason to hold back the remaining details. At the very least, she could try to make it right. Libby started looking through the various items on her desk for Detective Delgado’s business card, frowning as the card failed to make itself known.

Muttering all the while, Libby turned her attention to her pockets, then the floor around her, then the trash can. No dice; the card was nowhere to be found. A brief web search led to the city’s web site, which in turn led to a list of contact numbers – including the non-emergency number for the Law Enforcement Center. Libby dialed the number.

“Law Enforcement Center; how may I direct your call?”

“Hi; I’m trying to reach Detective Delgado?”

“What is this concerning?”

“I may have some more information about that missing persons case. Detective Delgado left a business card, but I can’t find it,” Libby admitted sheepishly.

“Who shall I say is calling?”

Oh. Yes, Libby could see how that might be helpful information. “It’s Libby Edwards; we talked this morning. Well, not we like you and me; we, like Detective Delgado and me,” she clarified (likely unnecessarily).

Sounding vaguely amused, the operator replied, “Okay; I’ll see if the detective is available. Please wait.” There was a click, followed by tinny Muzak.

Grabbing a pen, Libby pulled a notepad closer, intending to jot down everything she remembered from Annie-Anita’s conversation. Before she could touch pen to paper, the hold music cut off abruptly.

“Ms. Edwards? I have Detective Delgado on the line.”

“Thank you,” Libby said (although given how quickly the operator removed himself from the conversation, it was doubtful he’d heard).

A woman’s voice said, “This is Detective Delgado. I understand you have some information for me?”

Libby hung up.

 

 

June 11, 2016

An Open Letter to Judge Aaron Persky

Filed under: Life and Stuff,Mental Health — Teresa @ 5:42 pm
Tags: , ,

Mr. Persky,

In light of the ridiculously lenient sentence that you just handed down to a convicted rapist, part of me is tempted to say that I hope one day you’ll be in the victim’s shoes, or that someone you love will be in the victim’s shoes, and you’ll know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the travesty of justice that gave Brock Turner a laughable six months for being caught in the act of RAPING AN UNCONSCIOUS WOMAN.

Part of me wishes that you would find yourself knowing first-hand what it’s like to see a person who’s caused so much harm to you or to someone you love, stroll off with a slap on the wrist. But truth be told, I don’t hope that, because it would mean that another person was raped, and that she (or he) now has to endure a lifetime of emotional, psychological, and possibly physical repercussions – and I wouldn’t wish that on ANYONE.

Not even you.

What I do wish is that you take to heart the anger and outrage your decision has caused, and understand that in putting the well-being of a convicted rapist above the well-being of his victim, you have reinforced the very rape culture that makes it so hard for rape victims to come forward in the first place.

  • That in making this decision, you’re sending the message that as long as someone has enough money and influence, they won’t have to suffer the same consequences that people who don’t have money and influence do.
  • That forcing yourself on someone who’s incapable of giving consent isn’t REALLY rape as long you’re drunk and don’t mean any harm by it.
  • That even in cases where there isn’t a shadow of a doubt of guilt, a rape victim cannot be assured of achieving justice when facing her (or his) attacker in court.
  • That following some ridiculous collegiate bro-code is somehow more important than ensuring that victims don’t suffer in vain.

As furious as I am with you, I am more saddened that Brock Turner’s victim sat in court and watched as you essentially said that as long as Brock feels bad about his actions, 6 months of prison, probation, and being added to the list of convicted sex offenders is punishment enough.

It’s NOT.

And given the amount of anger and outrage directed toward you over the past few days, I am not alone in this belief. When even a law professor from your own law school starts a campaign to recall you from the bench, I think it’s safe to say that you will also be dealing with the long-term consequences of a bad decision.

And it will be well-deserved.

June 5, 2016

Anchor Point, part 3

Filed under: Anchor Point — Teresa @ 8:03 pm

Libby waited anxiously for the police to arrive, grateful that Bob had arranged for her co-workers to cover for the time being. Given how distracted Libby was, it was unlikely that she’d be of much use fielding technical problems until this interview was out of the way.

She was still surprised that she hadn’t been asked to come to the Law Enforcement Center to give her statement, but apparently whoever was conducting the investigation either didn’t want to wait or was already out of the office and found it more expedient for the interviewer to come to her.

Finally at half past ten, two suited men approached the reception desk. After exchanging a few quick words with them, Tina pointed at Libby. The men nodded, then made a beeline for Libby’s desk as Tina attempted to watch what was happening without giving the appearance of watching. In Libby’s opinion, Tina failed miserably in her efforts.

Rising nervously, Libby waited as the men closed the distance, coming to a stop by Libby’s desk.

“Libby Edwards?” The taller one spoke while his slightly-less-tall companion looked on.

“Yes.”

“Ms. Edwards, thank you for agreeing to talk with us today. I’m Detective Delgado; this is Detective Chau. Is there somewhere private we can speak?” The detective managed to be simultaneously deferential and authoritative.

Libby gestured toward Bob’s office. “We can use my manager’s office.” She led the way, navigating between the rows of desks separated by low partitions.

As they entered Bob’s office, Libby wondered what the protocol was, seating-wise. Should she be behind the desk as the “host”? Or should one of the detectives sit there since they’d be running the interview?

Detective Delgado took the guesswork out of the way by perching on the edge of Bob’s desk while his partner and Libby sat in the chairs. at a look from Delgado, Detective Chau closed the door.

“Okay, Ms. Edwards. Why don’t you start at the beginning and walk us through what happened this morning?” Both detectives watched Libby intently, pens poised over their notepads.

As they did this, Libby became gradually aware of a faint sense of unease, reminiscent of how she’d felt when she’d encountered Annie/Anita this morning. “Well, I was getting ready for work this morning, and -”

Chau held up a hand. “Excuse me. About what time would you say this was, so we can establish a timeline?”

“Oh. Maybe 5:15?”

Chau nodded and scribbled something in his notebook. “Thanks. What happened next?”

“The doorbell rang.”

“Would it be safe to say this is not a common occurrence for you?”

Huh? What did that have to do with anything?

Something must have shown on her face, because Chau added, “If not, there’s an outside chance that someone else might have seen something; another possible lead.” He leaned toward Libby slightly, leaving Libby fighting the urge to lean away slightly in compensation.

That…  kind of made sense, Libby supposed. And it wasn’t like Libby had a lot of firsthand experience with police interviews anyway; what little she knew was gleaned from various TV shows and movies; it’s unlikely they were terribly accurate.

“I hardly ever get people dropping in without calling, and never that early.”

“So the doorbell rang, and what then?” Delgado prompted.

“I opened the door and saw her standing there.”

“‘Her’ being Anita Wilkes?”

“Yes. Only she called herself Annie Wilcox. She asked if she could borrow my phone.”

Chau and Delgado locked eyes for a split second. “You’re sure about that? Annie Wilcox?”

“Yes. She said her boyfriend was gone when she woke up, and that she needed to make a call.”

“Did she say who she was calling?”

“No; she gave me the number, and I dialed it in, then handed her the phone.”

“You dialed the number?”

“Yes; I dialed and when someone picked up, I told him I was calling on behalf of Annie Wilcox, who wanted to talk to him.”

“What did he sound like?” At Libby’s confused look, Chau continued, “Did he have a discernible accent? Vocal tics? Was his voice high or low? Old or young?”

Libby thought. “Nothing jumped out at me as unusual. Which I guess means he sounded like he was from around here. He sounded like an adult? Not old, and definitely not like a kid.” She paused briefly. “He slurred a bit, but I’m guessing that might be because he just woke up.”

“That’s a definite possibility.” Chau agreed, smiling briefly at Libby. “Do you think you’d be able to recognize his voice if you heard it again?”

“I doubt it. I talk to a lot of people on the phone during the course of the day. Most voices just don’t make that much of an impression.” She looked apologetically between the detectives.

Without looking up from his note-taking, Delgado asked, “Did you hear anything she was saying during this conversation, once you handed Ms. Wilkes the phone?”

In addition to coping with an increasingly-insistent case of the willies, Libby now had that little voice to contend with. Careful. Here be dragons.

Without really understanding why, Libby found herself saying, “Not really; sorry.” At seeing the beginnings of twin scowls, she hastily added, “I wanted to give her some privacy, so I left the storm door closed. She walked a few feet away and was talking pretty quietly.”

That seemed to allay their concerns.

“Okay; let’s go back to Ms. Wilcox, then. What was her demeanor?”

“She seemed pretty upset. Scared, you know?”

Delgado nodded. “Did she seem to be injured in some way, or in pain?”

“Not really. She seemed fine, physically; just upset.”

“So once the phone call was done, what happened next?”

“She gave the phone back to me, then she just left. I asked if -” Libby’s brain caught up with her mouth. I should call the police. And she’d said no. That sense of wrongness surged.

“You asked if?” Chau prompted.

“If there was anything else I could do. And she said no,” Libby finished lamely. It was sort-of true, she told herself.

Finishing his writing, Delgado closed his notebook and tucked it into a pocket. “Okay; I think we have all we need for now.” Standing, he extracted a business card from another pocked and extended it to her. “This is my direct number. If you think of anything else, no matter how small, please don’t hesitate to call me. It could be the difference between life and death.”

Libby took the card reflexively as Chau got to his feet. “That’s it?”

“For now at least. If we have additional questions, we’ll be in touch.” Delgado extended his hand. “Thank you.”

Libby shook his hand, then Chau’s. With a nod, Chau and Delgado left, taking the oppressive sense of wrongness with them as Libby let out a sigh of relief.

 

Anchor Point, part 2

Filed under: Anchor Point — Teresa @ 5:54 pm

Dawn was just barely breaking when Libby pulled into the employee parking lot. Despite the odd interruption to her morning routine, Libby still somehow managed to arrive well before her shift began. Maybe that whole phone call business was just a tiny glitch in an otherwise perfectly fine day.

Grabbing her backpack from the back seat, Libby clambered out of her beat-up Beetle, made sure all the doors were locked (although that last part may not have been strictly necessary, since it was a fairly unlikely target for car thieves), and headed for the main entrance.

She’d nearly reached her desk when the overhead lights flicked on, and a cheery voice called out, “Good morning, Libby! How was your weekend?”

Libby turned to see Tina bustling about, getting the IT reception area ready to go. Tina was a morning person; Libby was not, which made the daily ritual of morning greetings rather perfunctory on Libby’s part.

“It was fine; yours?” Reaching for her coffee cup, Libby hefted it in Tina’s direction. “Be right back; need coffee.”

“Sounds good! I’ll join you!” Mug in hand, Tina scooted around the edge of the reception desk. “I had a lovely weekend! My son stopped by to help me with some repairs, and we wound up grilling out. It’s so nice to have him nearby again.”

Libby blinked. “You grilled out? It’s April. There’s still slush on the ground.”

Tina waved a hand dismissively. “The temperature was above 40; that’s plenty warm. Plus, we had to make sure the grill was working, right?” She winked, then headed for the break room, Libby in her wake. It was way too early to be so perky unassisted.

As the coffee brewed, Tina chattered away while Libby made various encouraging sounds and tried to keep her yawns to a minimum. Five minutes later, they were seated at their respective desks, preparing for another fun-filled day of fielding various complaints and clearing up assorted misconceptions from people who believed that their computers should be working in a way that computers actually didn’t.

Libby logged onto her workstation, noting that she still had a good twenty minutes before her shift began. Time enough to check out the news, then. Taking a sip of coffee, Libby nearly choked when she saw the photograph of her early-morning visitor prominently featured above the headline Local woman missing; police seek tips.

Clicking on the headline led to a video clip of a press conference, which was apparently held the previous day.

A grave-faced man stood at the podium, backed by several equally-serious men and women, some uniformed and some not. “Good morning, and thank you for coming. Yesterday this woman,” He indicated the large photo on the easel to his right, “Anita Wilkes, was reported missing when she failed to show up for work for the second day in a row. Ms. Wilkes is twenty-eight years old, approximately five feet, five inches, and one hundred twenty pounds, with brown hair and eyes. She is also diabetic, which makes it crucial that she is found as soon as possible. She was last seen leaving work on Thursday afternoon, wearing her waitress uniform. If anyone has any information regarding the whereabouts of this woman, we’re asking you to please contact the local police. Thank you.”

The man stepped away from the podium and walked off, ignoring the reporters’ questions. When a few enterprising journalists made as if to follow, they were intercepted by uniformed officers, who gently but firmly turned them away just before the video cut off.

Clicking the back button, Libby scanned the site for any additional information. Little additional detail was forthcoming. Anita (Annie?) Wilkes (Wilcox?) was a graduate student, working her way through school by waiting tables at a local restaurant. Apparently sometime between finishing her shift on Thursday evening and starting her shift on Friday afternoon, she’d gone missing.

So if she was missing, what was the explanation for showing up at Libby’s door not two hours ago? Libby frowned to herself.

“You okay, Libs? You look spooked.”

“Bob!” Libby startled, cursing under her breath as hot coffee sloshed onto her desk. Preoccupied with her thoughts, she hadn’t seen her boss approach.

“Woah, there. Sorry about that.” Bob clucked sympathetically from where he leaned against her desk, then reached behind him and snagged a box of tissues. “I guess you were so caught up you didn’t hear me coming.” He held out the box for Libby. “Happy Monday, eh?”

Libby looked mournfully at the now-sopping tissues.  “No; it’s fine. Alertness is overrated anyway.” She dropped them into her waste basket with a wet plop.

“Not sure you actually need any help being alert.” He chuckled as Libby acknowledged the point. “Something wrong?”

Libby gestured toward her monitor. “That woman who’s missing? I saw her.”

“Seriously?” Bob straightened. “You mean recently?”

“This morning. She rang my doorbell as I was getting ready for work. Wanted to borrow my phone.” She ended the last sentence on an upnote, turning it into more of a question than a statement.

Bob’s gaze sharpened. “Libs, you gotta report this.”

Libby nodded in agreement. “Yeah.” Something occurred to her. “Was there something you needed?”

“Nothing that can’t wait until after you deal with this. Stop by my office and we can talk then.” Bob patted Libby’s shoulder encouragingly. “Quite a way to start the week, huh?”

“Yeah; quite a way.” Libby smiled ruefully at her boss.

Bob headed back to his office as Libby reached for the phone.

 

May 31, 2016

Anchor Point, part 1

Filed under: Anchor Point — Teresa @ 12:53 am
Tags:

I need a sign to let me know you’re here
‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me
And I’m calling all angels
I’m calling all you angels

 

When the doorbell rings at 5:15 AM, it’s not likely good news – which is why Libby hesitated, pausing in her attempts to coax her eyebrows into something approaching on fleek.

(Not that Libby had a very clear idea of what constituted fleekness, really, but Tonya assured her that the potential for achieving that level of idealized grooming was technically within Libby’s grasp. “C’mon, Libs, the raw material is there; you just gotta put in a little effort,” is how Tonya’d put it, gesturing vaguely to her own perfectly-shaped brows. “This doesn’t just happen.”)

Putting down her eyebrow pencil, Libby made her way to the front door, flipped on the porch light, then looked out her kitchen window at the girl huddled miserably on the front step. In deference to the late-April predawn, Libby’s visitor wore a knitted beanie on her head and had apparently donned a down-filled vest over what looked like thermal underwear (pajamas?). The ensemble was completed by unlaced winter boots – which, given the amount of slush that had yet to thaw, made sense.

As if sensing that she was being observed, the girl’s head swiveled and her woebegone gaze met Libby’s. The girl’s lips twitched briefly into what looked like an attempt at a smile as she shivered under the yellow glare of the porch light.

As harmless as the girl looked, something about the situation seemed… off. Libby opened the front door, keeping the storm door between herself and the girl. She had no idea why, but a little voice in the back of Libby’s head urged Libby to exercise caution.

“I’m sorry for bothering you so early, but I was wondering if I could borrow your phone?” The girl paused briefly, then blurted, “My phone’s broke, and when I woke up my boyfriend was gone, and I don’t know where he is, and I need to call someone.” She peered up at Libby hopefully.

Was this a scam of some kind? An attempt to gain entry into Libby’s house? The girl looked harmless enough, but then again, wasn’t that how con artists and criminals lured in their intended prey?

Surprised by her own cynicism, Libby  carried out a brief, silent argument with herself. This could just as easily be exactly what it looked like: the girl needed help, and Libby’s light was on, so the girl took a chance that Libby was awake. Surely it couldn’t hurt to offer some assistance.

Be careful, the little voice insisted. Protect yourself.

Libby grabbed her phone and returned to stand in her doorway, keeping the storm door closed. “I can make the call, if you give me the number.”

“Oh, thank you so much! I just gotta look up the number.” The girl reached into a vest pocket and pulled out a battered cell phone. Seeing Libby’s raised eyebrows, the girl turned the phone so Libby could see the shattered screen. “It doesn’t work for making calls anymore,” she said, poking at the screen until she’d found the information. “Okay, here’s the number.”

Libby punched in the digits and hit the call button, waiting as the phone rang several times. She looked at the girl. “No one’s answering…”

Just as the girl’s face began to crumple, a sleepy voice answered, “H’lo?”

“Yes, hello. My name’s Libby; I’m calling on behalf of…” she paused, looking at her visitor.

“Annie.” The girl said, then added, “Wilcox.”

“Annie Wilcox? She needs to talk to you.”

“O-kay?” The man on the other end sounded understandably puzzled.

Opening the storm door, Libby handed the phone to Annie, then shut the storm door again. Apparently her inner voice approved of this tactic.

Annie paced nervously as she muttered into the phone. The tears that were just barely held at bay spilled down her cheeks. “No. No; he’s gone! I don’t know where! I don’t know what else to do…. can you come over? Please? Just… come over? Right away?” Annie listened briefly, then shut her eyes as if in thanks as some tension left her face. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much! Yes. Yes, I will.”

Disconnecting the call, Annie held the phone out to Libby. “He’s coming over,” she said. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”

Opening the storm door, Libby took back her phone. “Do you need me to call the police?”

Annie paled. “No! No. That’s not necessary. I’m just a little freaked out, is all.” She gestured vaguely toward the phone in Libby’s hand. “Thanks so much for your help.”

Twisting her mouth into what Libby guessed was intended as a smile, Annie turned and scuttled off into the pre-dawn, leaving Libby with a disconcerting combination of relief and confusion.

Well, that’s one way to start your workday, she mused. Shaking her head, Libby switched off the porch light, licked her front door, and returned to her morning grooming.

 

May 30, 2016

Obi-Wan Kenobi; Spin Doctor Extraordinaire

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 11:17 pm

In accordance with my proposed Rules of Online Engagement, let me begin by saying this is an opinion piece, based on my observations. I do cite some sources, but a lot of what follows is my own attempt to unsnarl some very snarled stuff.

Now that the 2016 Presidential campaigns are in full swing, we’re being treated to a veritable plethora of highly-focused pot-stirring pretty much everywhere we turn. This is understandable when you take into account that campaigning is basically a form of marketing, intended to convince voters to “buy” a “product”.

Political marketing is its own industry. There are businesses devoted to helping people “sell” politicians, providing consultation, tools, and resources which are all geared toward identifying a target demographic, then using various tactics to win votes. Like all marketing, campaigning involves a fair amount of filtering, drawing the audience’s attention to some things, while distracting the audience from others. It’s advertising 101, and it’s highly effective. It’s also manipulative and (in my opinion) if not outright dishonest, then at the very least, disingenuous.

Here’s the problem: while the goal of campaigning may be to win the majority of votes, voting is fundamentally an exercise in trust. If a political campaign is successful, the candidate is elected. At that point the campaign is done, and the voters have to live with what comes next. More often than not, what comes next is the harsh glare of reality, rather than the carefully-filtered version of the world presented by in the campaign.

Trust is broken as the filters are removed. Voters become frustrated and angry, but it’s easy enough for a politician to put the blame on his (or her) opponents, rather than to acknowledge a much simpler (yet infinitely more complicated) truth: reality is messy. Things are inter-connected. Whether it’s Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, the physics of string theory, chaos theory’s butterfly effect, religious traditions such as Pantheism or Christianity, or even the Force, across multiple disciplines, faiths, and cultures, people recognize this.

This applies to politics, too. What is done to address one issue, will have an impact in others. Some connections are easy enough to see: increased funding to the military means decreased funding elsewhere. Education reforms will impact how well-prepared the work force will be 20 years from now. Changes in environmental policy will effect industries which benefit from the current environmental policy.

But other connections are there, as well. As an example, increased military funding would mean more military gear and weapons will be made (domestic economic growth, which is good), but producing the materials needed to make the gear opens the door to other issues. Mining/smelting will increase pollution. Health issues stem not only from the hazards of mining and production, but also the soldiers who are wounded in combat. This leads to increased demand for affordable health care, as well as a need for veterans’ benefits and dealing with disabilities. Increased military funding would also have a political price in terms of international relations/diplomacy. And so on, and so forth. The devil is in the details, and politicians are hoping that no one is reading the fine print.

How do politicians deal with this? By trying to put themselves in the most favorable light possible, while effectively demonizing their opponents. The politicians (and all to frequently, media) focus attention on one perspective, while carefully discounting any other interpretations. They do their best to spin the situation to their own advantage.

And spinning isn’t new by any means. It’s been around for a long, long time. Heck, even one of pop culture’s best-known good guys, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, wasn’t above it. As part of a recruitment pitch, Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker that Luke’s father was a Jedi who was betrayed and murdered by evil despot Darth Vader.

In fact, Darth Vader actually was Luke’s father (spoiler alert!) and the truth was – as it so often is – more complicated. Vader began life as Anakin Skywalker. It’s true that Anakin became a Jedi, but it’s also true that he was impulsive and impatient. His abilities as a Jedi impressed someone who exploited Anakin’s frustration, and later his fear and anger, to convince Anakin to betray the Jedi order. Ultimately Obi-Wan and Anakin dueled, and Anakin was injured so badly in the process that he spent the rest of his life in body armor that doubled as a life-support system.

When Luke learns that Vader actually is his father, Luke confronts Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan’s response was that the good man he’d known as Anakin died the day that Anakin betrayed the Jedi, and that what Obi-Wan originally told Luke was the truth – from a certain point of view. The question is, why did Obi-Wan choose to lie?

It was never fully explained, and there are a lot of fan theories out there. Personally, I think the lie had several purposes:

  • To motivate Luke accompany Obi-Wan on the upcoming mission
  • To introduce Luke to the concept of the Force
  • To indicate that the Force ran in Luke’s blood (literally)
  • To persuade Luke that he was destined to become a Jedi.

It was definitely manipulative, but I don’t think it was selfish.

The cynic in me insists that our politicians’ spinning is being done for purely selfish reasons. The politician is trying to ingratiate himself (or herself) to various lobbyists and special interest groups, or to assist in accumulating power/influence in his (or her) political party, or to obtain increased campaign funding, or something along those lines. The motivation to spin is not to help other people, but to protect his (or her) own interests.

And in the process, the short-sighted approach to fixing one thing while breaking several others continues. I, for one, have had it. The proverbial emperor has no clothes, and I’m calling him (all politicians, as well as political pundits) out. If you want to change one thing, be prepared to adjust the others as necessary, as well. If you want to ban abortion, then provide the necessary resources to sustain a human being: education, health care, affordable housing, equal opportunity in the workplace – the whole shebang. If you want to fight against gun control, then be prepared to increase funding to the legal and penal systems, parolee programs, police force, and workforce training. If you want to cut education funding, be prepared for an increase in crime, poverty, and public assistance.

Things do not happen in isolation, and we cannot keep pretending that they do. That approach just creates this weird push-pull where nothing is really fixed, because fixing one thing breaks others. And if the true goal is to actually fix things and make life better, then this has to stop.

We can’t lay all the blame on the politicians (or the media), either. We have to stop indulging this ridiculous stalemate. If a politician says he (or she) will do certain things if elected, doesn’t do them, blames the opposition for the lack of progress, and swears that things would work out perfectly if only the opposition weren’t re-elected, then he (or she) is part of the problem. Stop re-electing these people! Stop listening to the same old song and dance, then letting yourselves be convinced that it’s not the politician’s fault (oh, no); it’s everyone around the politician who is wrecking things. If everyone else is wrecking things, then “everyone else” (in other words, all politicians who indulge in this nonsense) shouldn’t be left in a position where they can wreck things.

We need to break the cycle and apply some critical thinking to the situation. We need to stop relying on carefully-crafted sound bytes and messages and start looking at the actual facts of situations (not some political pundit’s biased explanation of events). We need to stop buying into the wisdom of the bumper sticker and Internet meme, resist the impulse to boil complex situations to a single sentence, and actively work to understand the complexities.

Then maybe we can break the stalemate.

March 19, 2016

The Tree (Memento Mori in the USA)

Filed under: Daily life — Teresa @ 6:58 pm

A few months ago I was jolted out of almost being asleep by a horrendous BANG. Heart pounding, I lay in my darkened room, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. After a few seconds of lying in the darkness, not hearing any further sounds, I slipped into sleep.

The next morning as I was getting ready for work, I wondered briefly what happened the previous night, but it soon slipped my mind. Later that day as I glanced through the headlines of the local news, my eye was caught by the image of a mangled car sitting next to a tree that I recognized. That BANG was the sound of a car-on-car collision which ended the life of a local woman.

At first I felt guilty for not having gotten up to see what had happened – as if seeing with my own eyes the first responders in action would have in any way changed the tragic outcome. Then I felt grateful that I hadn’t borne witness to what was undoubtedly the grisly aftermath. Then my thoughts turned to the victim’s family, and how sad the situation was. As I pulled into my driveway that evening, I noted the deep gouges in the yard across the street, and marveled that the tree itself appeared unscathed.

Over the next few days, that tree became the focal point for various impromptu memorials: stuffed animals, photographs, flowers, and so on placed around the base of the tree. A memorial gathering took place by that tree. And day after day at some point the same car would be parked near that tree for a while, then drive off. My heart went out to the driver.

Since then, someone has continued to make that tree a focal point for his (or her) mourning process: a bouquet of flowers tucked into a black ribbon and a yellow ribbon, both of which are tied around the trunk. And every so often, a car will appear for a while. The driver will spend several minutes standing quietly next to that tree, head bowed, then get back in the car and drive off.

A couple days ago, a small gathering took place by that tree. I realized after the fact that it has been about six months since that sad event took place. And those ribbons and a fresh bouquet still decorate that tree. And part of me wonders: at what point will those items be removed from that trunk for good?

Not too long ago I saw a YouTube video from the PBS Idea Channel which posited the question: Is it okay to mourn celebrity death online? (Spoiler alert: it totally is; there’s no one “right” way to mourn). Ostensibly an opinion piece about the increasing role social media plays in the grieving process, the video also touches on how Western cultures deal (or don’t deal, as the case may be) with death, grief, and mortality. Simply put, Western cultures in general, and the U.S. in particular, do not know how to handle death. We treat it as an enemy to be conquered; outwitted, somehow, through modern medicine and self-care and cosmetic surgery, collectively pretending that we’re not all, ultimately, going to die despite all these things.

This, combined with The Tree, has put me in a reflective state of mind. See, The Tree makes me uncomfortable. I’d just as soon not see the tangible signs of mourning every time I look out one of the windows on that side of my house. I’m sympathetic, but uneasy witnessing someone else’s grief. And I wonder: is it because I want to help these people, but don’t know how? And I wonder: how am I defining help, anyway? Putting an end to the emotional pain they are trying to process, laid bare to my eyes? And I wonder: is this helping them, or just making it easier for me to retreat into this cultural programming?

Sure, one could argue it’s about quality of life, and making sure that our time in this world is as enjoyable (read: unpainful) as possible, for as long as possible. And yes, that is a good goal, and one worth pursuing. But sooner or later we all die. And culturally-speaking, we tend to avoid that simple truth and treat death as something unusual and to be surprised by when we are once more facing it. Is it fear of the unknown? At least partly, I’d say yes. Now, depending on your belief system, you may feel pretty confident in knowing what happens to us after we die. And that there’s no reason to fear what comes next. But this is not something reflected in American culture.

After mulling it over for a while, here’s what I’ve come up with. This isn’t about fear; it’s about avoidance of pain. Grief hurts. Mourning hurts. The sudden appearance of a person-sized hole in your life (whether or not you believe that one day you will be reunited with that person) is incredibly painful, and collectively we do everything we can to avoid it. We want that pain to END as soon as possible, and don’t appreciate being reminded that it’s always there, lurking in the shadows, as the inevitable happens to people we care about.

But here’s the thing about mourning: avoidance as a coping mechanism? Sucks. And a culture that focuses on NOT dealing with death leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable. Religious rites help fill this gap, giving us a framework in which we can work through our pain. And certainly there is a lot of WORK involved in the lengthy list of to-do’s necessary to tie up various loose ends when someone dies. But the bottom line is that mourning is difficult, and messy, and while you can be sympathetic when someone else is in mourning, you cannot take on their pain and do the mourning FOR them, however much you might want to.

In the case where you and your loved ones have the same person-sized hole appear in your lives, you have to watch your loved ones handle their own pain, while trying to help you handle yours, while also trying to let you help them handle THEIRS. There’s some comfort in knowing you share the same pain, but it doesn’t really lessen it.

The Tree is a case in point: someone is clearly struggling to work their way through a broken heart, attempting to patch up the person-sized hole left in his (or her) life. And really, I think that’s what mourning really is. It’s the appearance of the person-sized hole, acknowledging that the hole exists, and eventually patching the hole. The hole is still there, but it’s covered over. And if you live long enough and love enough people, eventually there will be a lot of patches over a lot of person-sized holes. There’s a beauty in that; in knowing we’ll all be part of someone else’s patchwork. Maybe keeping that in mind is a first step toward a culture shift.

December 30, 2015

Teacher, teacher (can you teach me?)

Filed under: Daily life — Teresa @ 6:20 pm
Tags: ,

A recently-posted opinion piece in the Toronto Star has been making the rounds on Facebook. The gist of the piece is that paying teachers more hasn’t led to higher scores on standardized tests.

The responses to the original posting are astonishing – a lot of the respondents seem to truly believe that paying teachers a higher salary is a waste of money because then people will go into teaching for the high wage, rather than out of some altruistic desire to help prepare children to take their place as productive members of society.

I don’t know what’s more absurd: saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more because the test scores aren’t any higher, or suggesting that paying more would attract all the wrong people.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I started my career as a teacher, and taught in the classroom for five years before I realized (read: admitted) that it just wasn’t for me. I have first-hand experience as a teacher, which I strongly suspect is five more years than the people who made these comments have.

Saying that you know what it’s like to be a teacher because you went to school, is like saying that you know what it’s like to be a doctor because you have an annual physical. Actual contact time is just the tip of the iceberg, and in no way reflects how much actual time teachers put in.

If you divide a teacher’s salary by the actual number of hours worked, I think it’s safe to say that even the “exorbitant” pay of a whopping 50,000/year doesn’t amount to very much per hour – at least not in the U.S.

While it may technically be true that teachers “get the summer off”, those “summers off” are generally filled with prepping for the upcoming school year, taking classes to meet continuing education requirements, leading students in extracurricular activities (which at least in the U.S. are pretty much a condition of employment), and in some cases, even TEACHING summer school.

I have never, ever met anyone who went into teaching because the pay is fantastic and the working conditions are ideal. It’s hard, HARD work. Anyone who believes otherwise, just needs to spend an academic year shadowing a teacher. Every hour spent with students is the result of several other hours of prepping and followup.

Using standardized testing as the be-all and end-all of measuring student progress, is frankly bogus and always has been. All standardized tests measure is how well students can take tests. Some students do very well on tests; others don’t. If you believe that the only point of the educational system is to help kids score well on tests, then you pretty much believe that education basically IS pointless.

The point of an education is to teach kids how to think, and how to function as productive members of society. Standardized tests do NOT measure that. And the time-honored contention that standardized testing is necessary because there’s no better way to measure progress, is a very, VERY old argument that becomes less valid with every passing year.

Authentic assessment (i.e., measuring what students have learned in a way that accurately captures the student’s level of mastery) MUST involve more than just standardized tests. We use standardized testing because numbers are easier to boil down into statistics. But when the statistics themselves don’t give an accurate picture of what’s really going on, there’s a fundamental problem with that approach.

Teaching to the test may in theory lead to higher test scores (assuming that the students actually TRY to do well, which is by no means a given), but all it proves is that students can succeed at taking tests. It’s NOT an accurate rendering of what students have actually accomplished.

So what do I suggest? How about this: using performance-based assessments that actually demonstrate what students can do? Having students work on cross-disciplinary projects which demonstrate the ability to pull together, analyze, and communicate new information? Establish baseline competencies for each student, which the student then completes as part of ongoing coursework?

How about not boiling students down to scores on standardized tests, which puts an inordinate amount of pressure on students to do well in this one thing, while ignoring all the other things he (or she) also does as part of an ongoing education?

Unless you really think that doing well on a test IS the point of education. If that’s what you truly believe, then feel free to ignore this post.

September 19, 2015

It’s a Fan’s World

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Given my on-screen name, it should come as no surprise that I am, and have been for most of my life, a lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and (to a somewhat lesser degree) comics. When I was a kid, the word most frequently used to describe my main focus/interest (aside from “geek” or “nerd”) was Trekkie – although I was into other things, as well. These days my genre-based enthusiasms would likely have me labeled more as a fangirl (which is fine by me).

The advent of social media has brought with it a fairly standard set of fandom… traits? Tools? Avenues? These aren’t all new things by any means, but the scope has expanded. These traits/tools/avenues include on-line discussions hosted on pop-culture sites like The AV Club and Previously.TV; Twitter feeds, fan art/blogs/crafts/fiction/pages/videos, and fan conventions. People who share interest in the same things, can find one another and build a community virtually overnight. And these communities can be amazingly well-organized. As a fangirl (and borderline-Type A), I approve.

I also approve of the emerging trend that channels all this creative energy and enthusiasm into a force for positive change in the world. In an earlier post I mentioned how actor Misha Collins co-founded a charity called RandomActs.org, which is accomplishing some very impressive things, both large and small. What I didn’t mention is that this charity’s growing visibility is largely thanks to the fan base of a tv show on the CW network, called Supernatural. If the stories are to be believed, Mr. Collins started a Twitter account several years ago at the behest of the network executives, as a way of connecting to and increasing the fan base. He realized fairly quickly that the fandom was a huge, but largely-untapped, resource – and (if you’ll pardon the expression), tapped it.

He’s far from the only celebrity to do this. YouTube vloggers John and Hank Green created DFTBA out of the fan community that sprung up around their YouTube channel. Actor Zachary Levi (from genre shows Chuck and the Heroes reboot) donates the proceeds from the annual fan event, Nerd HQ, to such causes as Operation Smile, and there are many, many other examples out there.

I know this isn’t a new thing: celebrities like Paul Newman have used their fame to found and support charities for a very long time. But those activities are based on the actor; not any specific fandom. I’m talking more about the trend for fandoms to unite not only in their love for a tv show/film franchise/comic book title/book series, but also in their desire to make a positive change in the world. This is a new thing, and one that I absolutely endorse.

September 13, 2015

More Than a Feeling…

Filed under: Daily life — Teresa @ 11:43 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve heard it said that suffering builds compassion. In suffering, conventional wisdom tells us, we find common ground on which we can build connections and help to raise each other up. It does seem that many people choose to turn their pain into something positive, building up from what was burned down much in the way that forest fires can lead to new growth.

A couple weeks ago the Twitterverse blew up when actor Misha Collins was mugged in Minneapolis. Fortunately he wasn’t seriously injured and has fully recovered since then. Rumor has it that he refused to press charges against his attackers, and despite the attack he still participated in the fan convention that he flew in to attend. He chose to put aside whatever he was going through to do what he thought was most beneficial.

Now, this actor uses his celebrity to do some impressive things, including establishing a charity called Random Acts. Mr. Collins’ actions suggest that he is deeply compassionate and committed to helping others wherever he can. At various Q and A sessions with fans, he has alluded to a less-than-ideal childhood, marked by poverty (he was homeless for a time) and a fair amount of adversity. Yet he emerged from these experiences with a heart for helping people who are struggling. Was it his own experiences that made him so determined to lighten other people’s loads?

On the flip side, is it possible for a person who has never faced adversity to understand what it is to struggle? Does someone born in the lap of luxury have the capacity to empathize with someone who has to choose between keeping a roof overhead and food in his belly? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pampered rich may not be able to grasp something so far outside their own experience **coughdonaldtrumpcough**. If you’ve never been hurt, or hungry, or cold, you won’t be as inclined to help someone who is hurt/hungry/cold.

Yet recent scientific studies suggest otherwise. Just Google “toddlers and empathy” and see for yourself. Human beings seem to be hard-wired for compassion toward one another. So what happens? How do we go from being naturally predisposed to kindness, to the merciless nastiness that is far too prominent in the world? Why does pain lead some people to greater kindness and others to cruelty?

Maybe it’s not the pain itself, but our response to the pain that makes us bitter. I’m happy to say that I’ve rarely been seriously injured, but have on occasion needed to take heavy-duty (prescription!) painkillers. I’ve noted that while under their influence, I may still feel pain, but I don’t mind that it hurts. And if I don’t mind the pain, I can ignore it and get on with things. So is that the answer? Is holding on to our natural compassion more a matter of just accepting that potential pain, and if it hurts, then it hurts?

Maybe so.

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