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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Get ready for two years of suck

With the Republicans taking over the Senate, both houses of Congress have Republican majorities.  The Republicans do not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but now that they have a majority in both houses, they have all kinds of opportunity to wreak havoc on the country.  Here's what I expect to see:

  • Attempts to repeal parts or all of the Affordable Care Act:  House Republicans have attempted to repeal Obamacare several times in the past few years without success, because the Senate squashed these attempts.  Now, the Republicans in the Senate will rubber-stamp them, most assuredly, so either the Senate Democrats have to filibuster, or President Obama will have to veto.  Will the Democrats bend or stand firm?  That's what remains to be seen.  
  • Attempts to pass a "defense of marriage" amendment: Chuck Todd, whose analysis I have pretty much despised since I first saw him on television, claimed that the Republican victories are a repudiation of President Obama.  I strongly disagree.   In every race where Democrats distanced themselves from the President, they lost.  In races where Obama was involved in the campaign, they won.  Tom Wolfe won in Pennsylvania, and he had no problem siding with Obama.  I think the Republican victories have to do with a few things, and one of those involves all of the states having their anti-marriage equality laws declared unconstitutional.  Given that the victories occurred in largely red states--religious states--it stands to reason that anti-gay bigotry fueled Republican turnout. 
  • Way too much compromise in order for Democrats to remain relevant:  This is the big potential mistake that scares me the most.  To get around the filibuster, which Senate Republicans used a record number of times during the Obama Presidency, the President and Senate Democrats compromised far too often with Republicans.  The best possible thing the Democrats could do right now is go into damage control mode and not let anything Republicans try to pass go through.  Make the Republicans compromise--which they are loathe to do--or don't let anything pass.  Unfortunately, I envision Democrats bending, just to make it look like Congress is doing something and the President is not a lame duck.  
  • Mandate:  Even though the Republican victories came in mostly red states and during a mid-term election where voter turnout is usually down, the Republican politicians and their media cheerleaders will label the takeover of the Senate a "mandate".  Now, to NBC's credit last night, they did not make that assessment; they said that the elections were too tight to call any of these victories a glaring indictment of Democrats.  
  • Impeachment:  I don't know if they're going to go this far, but I can envision a huge waste of taxpayer money on impeachment proceedings with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.  Then again, impeachment could get them destroyed in 2016. 
My advice (for what it's worth) to Democrats: stay on the people who represent you in government.  Tell them to stand firm and use the tools available to them to stop Republicans from running roughshod over our country.  Look forward to 2016 and work for overwhelming victory till then.  And take a lesson from this mid-term election: these were tight races, and every vote counted.  If turnout would have been better for Democrats, we wouldn't have a Republican Senate.  Your vote matters in EVERY election.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

About letting the market decide

"Let the market decide."

The free market ideologues will have you believe that the market is perfect when it's unregulated, or, at the very least, that it is at its best and most efficient.  They would have you believe that an unregulated market would be the best option for the most people, or at least, that's the line they sell you, while they are fully aware that it would be what's best for those who already have wealth.  They would have you believe that an unregulated market would result in more competition, not less, in better products, not lower-quality ones, and in lower prices, not higher.

I have huge problems with the concept of an unregulated market, especially after working with the people who would control that market for most of my adult life.  The one thing that people must bear in mind is that business is only about profit.  That's its aim.  Whatever concepts people add to it to make it more bearable, profit is the only goal that ultimately matters, because without profit, business won't exist.  Sure, there are not-for-profit businesses that exist for charitable/humanitarian/philanthropic purposes, but no one expects the people who sell most goods and services to do it for free.  I don't.  However, I have several problems with the market that make it worrisome for me to dispense with regulation entirely.

First, the current philosophy of capitalism involves paying labor as little as possible.  The idea that "capitalism is the greatest engine for freedom" couldn't be more false.  The market built itself on the exploitation of labor, and it continues to exploit it.  The slave trade thrived for centuries to support capitalism, and was itself the worst example of unbridled capitalism.  When people argue over the causes of the US Civil War, there is a crowd that says it's about states' rights, and there's a crowd that says it's about slavery.  They're both right, but they both miss the truth.  It was really the fact that slavery was the backbone of capitalism in the South that caused the South to secede.  As country after country abolished the slave trade, capitalists in the South saw that the United States was going to abolish it soon, and they wanted to preserve the institution as long as possible to preserve plantation profits.  Preservation of profit not only prolonged the enslavement of millions of people, but also resulted in the lost of hundreds of thousands of American lives, all over capitalism.

Secondly, there is no interest in the greater good built into the idea of making profit.  Business only has interest in profit, so the only important consideration in business becomes how to maximize profits and preserve cash flow.  There's no interest in making life better for the maximum number of people, nor is there consideration for future generations.  Some people involved in business might consider these concepts, but there's no guarantee.  Of course, the concept of "the greater good" itself is problematic; who determines what constitutes "the greater good"?  What is "good"?  We would have to agree on a definition in order to work toward that end.  I think a decent example of a standard would be what medical professionals use in patient care: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  At its base, the hierarchy has survival needs, then moves on to things people need for emotional well-being and intellectual growth.  I think society becomes better when more of these needs are met by the greatest number of people.   Will everyone agree on this standard?  I would say "probably not" if I wasn't sure that the answer was "definitely not."

Next, the marketing of goods and services relies on manipulation and the presentation of the least amount of information to the public.   The market is best served by an ignorant population, not an informed one.  Ignorance breeds poor decision-making, however, and leads to poor representation in politics.  It leads to all kinds of disaster, as well.  Take, for example, the introduction of a species to a an area foreign to it to rid crops of a pest.  That species has no natural predators, so they infest the area, and their numbers get out so out of control, they become pests themselves, leading to ecological disaster.  Arguably, the levees keeping New Orleans from flooding broke because of bad decision-making regarding their maintenance, and anyone who watched the news in 2005 knows that result.  Ignorance led to unjustifiable war in the Middle East.  Can we blame the market on these things?  Well, the introduction of species to foreign environments had a direct capitalist cause, but the examples illustrate what happens when ignorance reigns, rather than what happens when the market is in control.  Still, the market wants ignorance, because it's easier to sell products that either do nothing or cause harm to a few--or even many--if the population remains ignorant, and ignorant politicians are a by-product of a culture of ignorance fostered by the market.

Finally, capitalism leads to a greater quality of life for the few, not the many.  The ultimate result of an unregulated market would resemble the medieval feudal system in Europe; most of the wealth will remain in the hands of a few, and the rest of the people will work for scraps.  Right now, people are kept far too busy and too poor to do anything substantial about the disparity of wealth that exists globally, and the market will work hard to preserve the status quo.  They will be entertained with junk food for the brain on the Internet, television, and radio.  Take a look at the news in the United States, for example: there's rarely anything of substance in a news broadcast.  How does news of a murder many states away affect life where you live?  It doesn't.  It doesn't inform you.  It only serves to shock you and keep you watching.  Look for in-depth investigation into anything on the news; you'll be hard-pressed to find it.  Very few journalists engage in it.  Why?  The news is a for-profit industry, and it's easier to provide superficial stories than it is to infiltrate organizations and businesses to provide investigative reporting.  The responsibility is to the bottom line and to the shareholder, not to the consumer.

If we are going to have a market, it should be a well-regulated one, tempered with information and consideration for what's best for the maximum number of people, not one that fosters ignorance, has no responsibility to labor or the consumer, and not one that influences politics.  The market should not decide how much freedom we have.  The market should not be the sole arbiter of what direction science should take.  The market should not be the determining factor in what makes the news.  If capitalism is going to survive, we need to regulate the hell out of it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

This atheist doesn't give a damn about Carrie Underwood's song

There's a rumor going around about atheists being angry about an overtly religious song by Carrie Underwood.  I wouldn't even have known about it if people didn't post this nonsense on social media.  Without checking sources to find out which atheists are trying to get the song banned, conservatives perpetuate a falsehood that raises the ire of the ignorant against people who aren't doing anything to harm them.

  • The United States Constitution prevents legislation that would get any song banned.  Sure, atheists might boycott overtly religious music, but get it banned?  How?  The claim is ridiculous on its face, and even if some atheist or group of atheists tried, it would be legal folly.  Expensive legal folly.  
  • They're assuming that atheists would care about Carrie Underwood's music.  I don't think I've heard a single Carrie Underwood song.  She doesn't sing in a genre where I'd have the opportunity to listen to her.  What is it, country?  Atheists who listen to country have to be used to religious themes by now; they've been part of country music for as long as I can remember.  
  • There are so many music choices out there, no one need be bothered by a single song by a single artist, ever.  Unless the music industry decided collectively to only produce religious music, atheists have and will always have plenty of opportunity to listen to music without religious themes.  Radio stations limit what they play, so this song might get a lot of attention on certain stations, but no atheists need be subjected to religious music against their will. 
I don't even have to ask if people are stupid enough to believe that atheists would be angry--as if atheists all think with one mind and speak with one voice--at a religious song, because I know they are.  If they weren't, this nonsense wouldn't be all over Facebook, Twitter, conservative blogs, and fake news sites.  

Just stop it, idiots.  We don't give a shit.  I don't know the lyrics, I haven't looked it up, and it's doubtful I'll ever hear the song.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Meltdown on the road

During the most recent IEP meeting I attended for my daughter, the superintendent of Student Support Services informed me that the school district sees no reason why Caitlin needs an aid on the bus, if I should ever allow the transportation company they contracted to take her to school again.  Well...we have very good reason to ask for an aid, and it was driven home to us in a big way yesterday.

Caitlin forgot a Ziploc storage bag full of little toys at school and realized it when we were five minutes away.  I told her they would be there tomorrow.  She had a meltdown.  People with kids who have autism know the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum, and this was a meltdown.  She threw her backpack into the front seat, threw toys, tried to pinch Jeanie (my significant other), and tried to grab and hit me.  She started crying and screaming.  Then came the big scare: she unlocked her door, unbuckled her seat belt, and opened the door while we were moving.  I immediately slowed down and pulled over.  We got out of the car.  Caitlin wanted to walk back to her school.  I wouldn't let her.  While I calmed her down, Jeanie set the child safety locks so Caitlin couldn't open the door from the inside again.

If I didn't have Jeanie there, I wouldn't have known she unbuckled her seat belt--which already had me slowing down to pull over.  If I didn't have her there, I might not have slowed down in time to make the opening of the door less dangerous.  If she wasn't there, I might have lost my child to a meltdown.  And here's another thing: I found out this morning that Caitlin knows how to switch the child safety locks.  Even if she hadn't seen someone do it, she can read, and the instructions are pretty clear on the door.  She tried to switch it before I could catch her this morning. aid on the bus?  No bus.  I suppose I should tell the story of what happened with the bus in the first place.  Caitlin was taking a van to school at first, but they switched her to another van after they added another child to the route.  It's understandable; they didn't want the other children to be in the van for an hour and twenty minutes one way (we are forty minutes away).  However, they put her in a van with a driver who apparently doesn't care whether kids get to school.  He didn't show up at the end of my driveway on September 12th, and he claimed to have stopped.  I can't trust someone who will blatantly lie to me and his supervisor to transport her to school.  I asked for alternative transportation, but the school will not provide it.  They said she can take the van she was on, or I have to take her to school.

They had a nurse on that van.  She was rude and combative with me from day one.  She seemed to be nice enough to my daughter, but I had two major problems with her.  First, she didn't even try to listen to Caitlin.  She mistranslated her constantly.  Secondly, she got Caitlin to repeat, "God bless you."  No.  "Bless you" is a cultural expression that has lost its religious meaning, but when someone throws "God" in there, it invokes religion where none is needed.  For fuck's sake, the expression comes from a belief that you're more vulnerable to demon possession when you sneeze.  Virtually no one who says, "Bless you," believes that nonsense anymore, but when you put "God" back in, you hearken back to medieval belief systems that have no place in this age of information.  I don't want my kid mentioning a deity she can't understand, either.  She is in a house full of atheists; "God bless you" has no place here.  It's not cute or funny to introduce religion to an autistic child with a language delay that prevents her from discussing and comprehending abstract concepts.

The school assured me that the nurse wouldn't make any religious references again, but I have trust issues with religious people since I was harassed at work years ago, and I will not trust the driver, no matter what.  He didn't get reprimanded, and the director of transportation even had the gall to tell me that he was "doing a fine job."  Really?  He not only neglected to show up at the end of my driveway on September 12, but he also lied about it and is okay with making me out to be a liar.  Would I spend an two hours and forty minutes of my day driving my kid to and from school if I thought there was any chance I was mistaken about the time I was at the end of my driveway?  Caitlin was watching the time.  We were there at 7:15.  She said at that time: "Van number of minutes?"  I said, "The van should be here in five minutes, kiddo."  Five minutes went by, and I heard, "Van number of minutes?"  I replied, "Any minute now."  Every couple of minutes until 7:35, I heard "Van number of minutes?"  I finally decided he wasn't showing up, so I went back into the house and called.  They said he called twice, the last time at 7:21, and said that I wasn't at the end of the driveway.  What I wonder is: where was he when he called?  It wasn't anywhere on my street.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Figuring out how to get my daughter to get along with the cats

Yesterday, Caitlin punched one of the cats, Paco, in the ribs, after becoming frustrated.  Obviously, this behavior is unacceptable.  Paco is as lovable as a cat can be.  He's friendly to everyone, playful, curious, and not at all skittish.  He's very social.  To his credit, he didn't retaliate at all, as one might expect (either fight or flight would be the result in most cases with the other two cats, I would think), but we have a real problem here.  Caitlin has to learn to get along with the cats and can't be allowed to think abuse of animals is acceptable.  

Caitlin has autism with a language delay.  Although her vocabulary is large, she does not have two-way, meaningful conversations.  She communicates her needs and answers yes or no questions, but an open question will not work with her.  Teaching her about respect for animals through reason simply isn't going to work in her case.

I did some research yesterday and this morning.  After encountering absolutely awful things people said about kids with autism, I did happen upon some useful information.  There are camps and programs, but they aren't accessible to me here (they are in New York; maybe I can find something in PA, though, given time).  The most useful thing I've seen so far is the social story.  Creating a social story with pictures about the correct way to interact with the cat and the correct way to handle her frustration seems like it could work.

Another bit of advice was to have rules.  Jeanie (my significant other) suggested that idea last night, and the presence of success stories regarding the use of clear, written rules reinforces her good idea.  Still another approach that we can use in conjunction with what I've mentioned so far is reinforcement of good behavior.  We've been using the promise of a visit to Chuck E. Cheese as a reward for being good all week.  Being good meant staying out of the "grumpy chair" at school and listening at home, but we can't let abuse of the animals slide at all.  However, the all-or-nothing reward approach doesn't do anything to reinforce all of the good things she's done this week.  She attended Jeanie's son's IEP meeting, where there was a room full of adults--a situation where she doesn't normally do well.  She behaved admirably.  She has been doing her shower on her own--turning on her own water, checking it, washing her own hair and body.  She has finally brushed her teeth willingly, without a fight.  She is doing very well in school, and has even received a reward from her principal for it.  All of these good things should certainly be rewarded immediately.  I think reinforcement of these good behaviors will encourage her to follow the rules and behave, as well as trying to do more things idependently.

Finally, a chart might help, or maybe a calendar.  Every time she demonstrates good behavior or does something new independently, she gets a sticker or a note on the calendar that says what she did and when.  She will get a mark on the calendar if she just gets through the day well, even if she doesn't do anything new or out of the ordinary.  If she does something bad like hitting the cats or refusing to listen, she will get a negative mark.  If she goes a whole week without getting negative marks, she gets a bigger reward, like going to Chuck E. Cheese or Guitar Center (she loves Guitar Center).  A park with a playground would be good, too.  

I am hopeful that all of these ideas in combination will get her to stop hitting--or even trying to hit--the cats.  Any advice from anyone who has been through a similar situation would be helpful.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I really love my life at the moment.  I have a great woman in my life who makes me incredibly happy.  I love her kids, and I love my kids.  We have a nice house in a rural setting, set far off the road and away from neighbors.  I work from home the majority of the time.

Sometimes, though, parenting challenges me, and I hate myself for failures in administering discipline and keeping calm.

Last night was an example.  My daughter, Caitlin, gets more and more frustrated when things don't go her way, then does things that are rude and inconsiderate--but doesn't realize that they are rude and inconsiderate.  The following sequence of events led to her melting down and screaming at the top of her lungs:

  • She requested that we call my mom, so after work, we called her.  We got her onto Skype.
  • Caitlin wanted my mom to take the computer into the kitchen.  My mom didn't feel like unhooking everything and taking the laptop into the kitchen, so she refused.  It's a valid response.  
  • Caitlin didn't want to see my mom anymore, because the view wasn't changing to the kitchen, where she would see the microwave, the oven, and the refrigerator.  She is obsessed with these appliances.
  • After she asked to see "grandma's flowers" (when my mom doesn't have the camera on, it's  a picture of flowers on Skype, Caitlin would not stop interrupting.  She became more frustrated the more I told her to "stop" and "wait".  I stopped the conversation with my mom.
  • I told Caitlin she was being rude, and she smacked the laptop.  I became angry and snapped at her, telling her that she is not to touch to laptop.  
  • She wanted me to do her "Knocking on ____, bye bye _____" game (e.g., knocking on yellow flute, bye bye striped flute), and I refused, telling her that she needed to listen to what I was saying.  She became more frustrated.
  • The more frustrated Caitlin became, the more violent she was.  She finally slammed the laptop closed, and I lost it.  I yelled at her to get into her room.  
  • She laid down and put the blanket on her, but she came back out of the room.  I yelled more and got her back into her room.  She became more agitated and belligerent.  I became more irritated and frustrated, which made me more angry.  
  • After she throw her Spongebob Squarepants keyboard at the door, I finally went into her room, put her on her bed, and held her down like they told us to do in a class I took in Michigan.  Supposedly, the child will eventually calm down.  Not Caitlin!  She screamed at the top of her lungs and cried. 

I finally gave up and got off the bed, repeated a few things, then turned of the light and closed the door.  She stayed in her room finally.  

Then I started hating myself for my actions.  

Yelling doesn't do a thing but make my daughter more irritated and frustrated.  Refusing to do that game she does to calm her does nothing but make her more frustrated and agitated, then violent.  Getting angry does nothing to resolve the issue.

So what should have I done?  How do I even discipline her?  Where do I go from here?

One approach would be to calm her down first, but instead of doing what she wants, take her into her room calmly and read to her, maybe with a little bit of her calming game on the way.  When she is calm, explain to her what she did and how she should behave.  Unfortunately, I have my doubts that she will recognize that she's done wrong and about whether or not she will understand my explanation.

Another approach, suggested by Jeanie, is to mentally prepare her for my mom's refusal to go to the kitchen.  Mental preparation seems to work with her more than most things, and we prevent the incident altogether.  This might work.

Still another thing I could do is print out a picture of my mom's kitchen to show her, rather than asking my mom to move into the kitchen for us.  

I know for certain that I have to take an alternative approach, because what I did last night didn't work.  All it caused was anger, frustration, and--for me--pain.  I have injuries that the activity aggravated.  We need to work on remaining calm, no matter what. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why it's wrong to put an assault rifle into the hands of a 9-year-old

I can't believe I'm even having to write this article, but I live in 'Merica, so I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose.

A 9-year-old girl killed her instructor on the firing range with an Uzi in Arizona.  Later in the article, the revelation that this isn't the first accident involving a child and an Uzi; an 8-year-old in Massachusetts killed himself with one at a gun show.

I am not anti-gun.  I am not pro-gun.  I am fine with adults owning guns for protection (within reason), for firing on a range, and for hunting.  I am fine with older kids learning to hunt with rifles.  However, it's wrong to put an instrument of death into the hands of a young child.  A weapon designed only for killing is not something that should be included in childhood recreational activities.  I have several problems with this idea.

First, a child has not developed the judgment necessary to respect the danger guns represent.  How many children her age even have a grasp on the concept of death?  Why put a weapon designed for hitting multiple targets at once in a military situation into the hands of a person who isn't even allowed on a battlefield?

Secondly, a young child isn't going to be able to handle the recoil of an Uzi.  These are not toys, and should not be handled by non-military personnel.  A child doesn't have the strength to keep this gun stable.

Next, there is no reason to teach a child how to "safely" use a sub-machine gun  In what situation would a 9-year-old actually use an Uzi?  Do the parents think their child will fight in the upcoming revolution or something?

Finally, a child should be shooting squirt guns, Nerf darts, or, at most, an air rifle.  A paint gun might be within reason.  It is not reasonable to have a nine-year-old firing real guns, unless it's for hunting with family or something along those lines.

I'm truly angry at this incident.  The parents, the instructor, and the owners of the gun range are all responsible for this senseless death.  I hope some rules change at the range over this horrible tragedy.  I call it a tragedy only because of the scars it will leave on the child's mind; the adults in this situation should have known better.