Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Suffer the children...

Recently in Grand Rapids we had a rather shocking murder: Jamarion Lawhorn, a 12-year-old boy, took a knife to a playground of a private trailer park and fatally stabbed a 9-year-old boy and then asked a nearby adult to borrow his cellphone so he could turn himself in to the police. "Hi. I just stabbed somebody. I want to die. I'm tired of living in this world. Please pick me up," he said.

Besides the extreme youth of Lawhorn and his victim, Connor Verkerke, the case was troubling in a number of ways. The two boys didn't know each other. There had been no contact between them. The act was premeditated, committed in a place Lawhorn didn't play, and done in broad daylight. Also, Lawhorn was black and Verkerke was white.

If you haven't heard about this case, it's not surprising. The larger media doesn't cover stuff like this; it's too busy trying to inflame a race war in Ferguson. And although by all accounts Connor Verkerke was a very nice boy, well behaved and very loved, he tragically was the wrong color for clickbait. Just another unfortunate incident. Nothing to see here.

The story gets grimmer, though. Lawhorn, when examined after the crime, was found to be covered in bruises. CPS substantiated child abuse allegations against his mother and stepfather last year, but apparently the parenting classes they were required to attend didn't "take." So Jamarion and his two younger siblings continued to live in a house with little food, no sheets or blankets on the beds, drug paraphernalia in the bathroom, and turn-off utilities. Oh, and two abusive. drugging adults. Of course, now that Jamarion's done something even CPS can't sweep under the rug or try to repair with therapy or classes, the other children have been pulled from the home, and the state has filed to terminate Anita Lawhorn and Bernard Harrold's parental rights.

Jamarion will spend his life locked away somewhere. He's still being held in jail until they can figure out what charging a 12-year-old as an adult really means. No judge will ever assign bail and shouldn't. He probably has a metric ton's worth of rage shoved down not so deep inside. Who wouldn't? No mention has been made of whether his mother and stepfather will be charged. Anita already surrendered her rights to two other children back in the 1990s because of abuse.

This kind of thing absolutely guts me. Stuff with kids always does. And it's not because CPS didn't do its job. CPS can't do its job - we place parental rights to abuse and neglect children above the rights of children to have functional families, just like we place the rights of people to "express themselves" sexually, socially, emotionally, politically, criminally, etc., before the rights of children (and all people) to live in safe, prosperous, and orderly cities and towns. It's important that we mouth the right sentences, not that we protect the vulnerable. Ideas over people.

Anita Lawhorn is a bad mother and very likely a very nasty piece of work. But she's feral because she's been allowed to become feral and to continue to be feral. And at the individual level, there's very little we can do about any of it. Agencies will encourage people to become foster parents, and many well meaning and very ill-prepared people will sign up to try and put the pieces of the puzzles of the Anita Lawhorns out there back together - and then the state will give those kids right back to their abusers. And innocent people, black and white and every other race, will get mugged, robbed, stabbed, shot, raped, and murdered because children who live in hell grow up to have, to be demons.

And that is not even remotely surprising, just horrible and terribly sad.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Piece of Advice #113: Stock up

One of the things that I was grateful I had done when we found out my husband was being laid off was to have fully stocked my pantry. Between that and the freezer we could have eaten for a couple of months, at least, although thankfully it didn't come to that. It was still a huge load off my mind when I was calculating expenses that we would have enough food to eat, no matter how long unemployment took to kick in. And it took a long time. I don't know how families without any savings do it.

Yesterday I also restocked my freezer with meat and fish from the coop, enough to make it through at least several months. I've purchased a half a pig as well from my local farmer who puts them out in his fields to fatten them up for fall. I'm splitting it with a friend since we both have smaller families. Last December we got a quarter hog's worth of meat, and it filled my freezer up. Meat is so expensive right now that buying it in bulk, even free range as I prefer, often costs less than what's in the grocery store. You do have to be organized in how you use it, though, because more than six months in the freezer is bad for most meats.

Many staples last in storage indefinitely, though. Beans, rice, split peas, lentils, wheat berries (if you own a grinder) all can last for years without spoilage. My pantry also has sugar, honey, and agave nectar, condiments, spaghetti and other noodles, canned fruits and vegetables, an embarrassing amount of tea leaves, as well as oils and spices and medicinal herbs. I have perhaps 40 gallons of water in storage as well. I put 3 drops of bleach in each container to keep it from molding. I've never had to use much of it, but the bleach will quickly evaporate once uncapped and then it will be safe to drink.

Other things I keep about in case of emergency: batteries, flashlights, extra blankets, a battery operated shortwave radio, a crank radio/lantern, camping gear, and a complete medical kit (with surgical tools and a number of spare bandages). I also have ibuprofen, Tylenol, and aspirin, elderberry elixir, as well as an additional stock of any medicines we regularly use.

The medical supplies could easily come in handy during an extended electrical blackout, blizzard situation, or epidemic. This has been on my mind be cause of the uncontrolled Ebola outbreak in West Africa. While I don't believe the disease would spread nearly as fast in a first world country with a complete infrastructure and advanced medical care available, I do think we will see cases in the U.S. before long, given the entirely insufficient attempts to limit travel to and from West Africa or quarantine asymptomatic people who have recently been there.

Fortunately Ebola is not an airborne disease, but influenzas are and all we'd need to bring the world basically to an at least temporary stop is one virulent and highly infections avian or swine flu. No matter how prepared cities and hospitals feel they are for an epidemic, the fact remains that as a society we don't know how to deal with mass illness or large amounts of infectious medical waste. Even professional cleaners used to disinfecting don't know enough about the sterilization required in such an emergency, and although medical supplies are generally not in shortage, that could change rapidly if there is enough sudden demand.

You can't always control your circumstances, but long term planning for a number of eventualities can make challenges easier to manage when they do arise. Stock up now.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Piece of Advice #112: Pray

As the world spirals into chaos, with Russian separatists bombing airliners full of HIV researchers out of the sky, and ISIS beheading toddlers, and militant Muslims destroying millenia-old Christian communities and committing genocide, while Israel decides now is the time to show the Palestinians who's got bigger guns, Ebola rips through Africa and missionaries put self-preservation ahead of the safety of the whole North American continent, the U.S. Government deliberately floods our southern border with tens of thousands of  homeless children with a variety of contagious medical conditions, and the majority of people in post-economic-recovery America can't scrape together $400 for an emergency expense, the future seems bleaker by the hour. Add in extreme cold and extended drought, wars and rumors of wars, famine, livestock disease, oil spills, poisonous solvent exposure, groundwater contamination, and nuclear waste, and it feels downright biblical.

Of course, none of this is new. Horrors have happened before, on a grander scale, and some survived to tell of the carnage and degradation. Drought and dust storms have happened before and been addressed, albeit with tremendous environmental damage and human suffering. Christians and Jews, Russians and Chinese, as well as any number of other religious and ethnic groups have been targeted for genocide, not even that long ago.

It's frightening, though, when stories like this one hit your local news: a twelve-year-old boy walks up to a nine-year-old on a playground and stabs him repeatedly with a knife, killing him, then turns himself into the police, saying, "I don't want to be on this earth anymore." It makes you doubt your own advice and think twice about ever letting your kid out of your sight again. You get to wondering if these parts can be cleaned, if the puzzle can be put together again, or if this time things are too messy to put back in order again.

It's during these times that I've taken up prayer again, albeit in a different way than when I was a child. For one, I no longer really expect miracles or direct intervention in my (or others') problems. I pray for perseverance. I pray that I will be able to be generous with others instead of hoarding and counting what savings we have. I pray that people will build community and that they will be grateful for what they do have instead of resentful over what they do not. I pray that I will build community and that I will be grateful. I pray that my husband will figure out how to make the hours he's put into his business pay off.

Over a year ago we found out my husband was going to be losing his job, and I decided to say my rosary daily so he would find something else. Our income was drastically reduced, and I've had to step up my hours writing to keep the family economically afloat, and during the long, horrific winter, I got fairly discouraged.  But I kept praying. During Lent I asked if anyone needed prayer, and slowly my prayer list has gotten longer and longer. I didn't realize before how many people in my social circle were struggling with health issues, family problems, unemployment, grief and sorrow. Praying for them made me realize how common my problems were, how this was just another thing people, even people who plan and prepare, go through and endure and try to stiffen their spine through. It's been humbling and eye-opening.

There really isn't anything I can do right now for Christians being murdered in the Middle East, except pray for them. But I can pray for them. And the act of prayer connects me to them and to all the other people who pray and have prayed. Some people say that prayer is worthless, that time and money is more important to give. But I've found that, by praying, I am more aware and concerned about the people around me. I check in on them more and am moved to be more personally generous. If I pray for the Israelis and Palestinians, I conceptualize them as people with needs. I know that when people tell me they are praying for me, I feel loved and cared about. And if that is the main gift I can afford to give now, that's the one I'll give.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Piece of Advice #111: Bypass Craigslist Casual Encounters

The big news in my neck of the woods this last week has been the triple homicide that resulted from a Craigslist Casual Encounters sex meetup gone wrong.

Police are being somewhat mum still, but only hours after Brady Oestrike fled a police chase, slammed his car into a highway barrier, and shot himself, and the police recovered the body of 18-year-old Brooke Slocum and her unborn baby from his trunk, people online were already making connections between Slocum and several Craigslist postings from June and July.

Apparently, Slocum, 8 months pregnant with her boyfriend Charles Oppeneer's baby, arranged to meet Oestrike with Oppeneer at a park for sex. Oppeneer's headless body was found on Wednesday, July, 16, and a search for Slocum was carried out and ended with the aforementioned chase, crash, and suicide.

I've covered stranger danger here at  TLAoS-PfW and have argued against Craigslist as a good place to look for love or sex, even. As I've explained to my 10-year-old son, repeatedly, you do not know who is on the other end of an internet chat, and it's imprudent to meet anyone you don't know in anywhere other than a very public place (and never without adult supervision). From interviews with Slocum's family members, it seems this was not a first encounter for Brooke Slocum. She'd been augmenting her income through Craigslist for awhile - until she met the wrong guy and was murdered.

This story is depressing on so many levels. You have Slocum and Oppeneer strange relationship (Oppeneer had two children from a previous failed relationship) and plans to co-parent, with or without the third party Slocum was seeking out for true love (?). So there's three children with precarious futures because clearly these two weren't going to make it as a couple. And then there's Slocum's apparent attempt to hold on to her boyfriend by including him in other sexual adventures. She's an attractive enough young woman with her whole life ahead of herself and this is the best arrangement she can create for herself?

Additionally, you have Slocum's family who could not control her behavior. Her father was quick to say in interviews that Brooke "wanted love" and to justify his daughter's behavior as a desperate attempt to "keep her new family together." Based on Brooke Slocum's online profile's, it's obvious that her home life had taken a few beatings long before she signed up on Craigslist. She was writing letters to her unborn baby, Audi, explaining why she met men on Craigslist for sex.

Who does that? Not anyone who's had healthy parent-child relationships patterned for her.

And then there's the killer Oestrike who is more of a cipher at this time. It appears he had used Craigslist before for role playing stuff (that he paid for). He seems strange, lonely and obsessed with weaponry, particularly guns, but not a poster child for triple homicide. And where did he put Oppeneer's head? Police have taken apart Oestrike's car part by part, and gone through his house, ripping apart furniture and walls. I suppose we will have to wait some time to get a reason for why Oestrike took it in his head to murder Oppeneer and Slocum.

It's not surprising that in a country when we have government subsidized Planned Parenthood employees educating 15-year-old girls about rough sex and bondage, you eventually get young women comfortable enough with prostitution to turn to it for money. It's also not surprising that, given the divorce rate, many young people are insufficiently supervised and get into trouble. But how sad and unnecessary this all is.

I hope that any young readers of this blog will think twice about their safety before they go anywhere with people they don't know and will skip Craigslist Encounters altogether. 









Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Piece of Advice #110: Don't wrap your kids up in cotton wool.


Did you have a Big Wheel?  I had one, the ugly orange original, not some fancy, rigged up glitter princess one.  Remember how loud they were, that plastic grinding against the dirty blacktop?  What a great memory.

Gosh, and remember when kids wore shorts that short in a completely non-sexual way?  I spent much of the 70s (by 1980, being 9 years old, I wouldn't have been caught dead on a Big Wheel) hanging out in hideously ugly green/yellow/orange androgynous polyester two piece pants sets.  And my hair was like that boy's.  Ugh, what a horrible decade for fashion.  But, man, as kids we were still allowed to do stuff.

One summer my sister and I built forts out of wooden pallets left behind by the developers who carved out my suburb and stopped more or less with our house.  They dumped a whole box of nails and all kinds of 2x4s and pressed wood a big ravine they dug out behind our house (Hill #1), and we dragged all of it up the hill and got out our dad's hammers and went to work. We made this rag tag shack fort and we were so proud of it.  The boys from a street away came and tore it down in the night, and we vowed we'd build it again.  And we did.  Again and again.  Stepping on rusty nails did not stop us!  Ripping open our scalps on broken wood from low door "frames" didn't stop us.  We had the best time getting sunburned and scabbed and poked and cut and showing those boys we would not be defeated.

We walked and biked all around our neighborhood, all day long in the summer.  I don't even know if my mom even knew where we were.  We were just supposed to be home by dinner and not watch TV. We'd ride over to the park and swing on the rusty swings and fling each other off the paint chipped merry-go-round.  I distinctly remember riding the steep hill down Packer Dr. with my feet on the handlebars and my hands up in the air and, of course, no bike helmet.  No one wore a bike helmet.  No one.  I didn't tell my mom about the feet on the handle bars thing, though.  No, I did not.

Elbow and knee pads too!
There were creepy adults in the 1970s and 80s, but we didn't look at adults as creepy.  Now as parents we read all the time about sex offenders and kidnappers and closed head injuries and we want to protect our kids against all of that.  Of course we do.  But we're getting pretty paranoid.  There's no real reason toddlers need to wear helmets on their scooters.  They're not going very fast and they aren't going to be out of the supervision of adults.  But I've seen all kinds of moms apologize for their tiny kids being "in danger" from not wearing a helmet. 

My son rides a bike and a scooter and roller blades and I've never been able to get him to wear one.  I also can't get him to put a coat on for half the winter, let alone mittens or gloves.  I do not let him wander about the neighborhood because we live in the city, only a couple of blocks away from a middle school in which my cousin's wife remembers seeing one girl shiv another with nail file in the hall.  The houses across the street from the school have had any number of break ins too.  He plays in the park and walks the neighborhood, but I wouldn't be comfortable saying, "Be back by dinner."  I just don't know my neighbors like we knew the neighbors growing up - and I have tried.  Three different neighbors moved out this year, ones I'd gotten to know some. 

Still, I let my son climb trees and slide down icy hills in winter.  I don't make a big deal out of it if he get a boo boo.  Cuts and bruises and scabs and scars are a part of growing up.  Life is full of pains, large and small, and if he doesn't learn to deal with them now, he'll be too weak to deal with larger problems later.  And I'd prefer that he not turn into a huge whiner who thinks it's other people's responsibility to shelter him from any and all adversity in life.  If you let life be the teacher and hand out consequences for homework, they'll learn some important lessons earlier on and probably be more pleasant to be around in the here and now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

#FatShamingWeek

Sorry, I can't get behind this blog/Twitter trend.  And it's not because I'm not consistently appalled by the amount of weight Americans have gained over the last 20 years.  I am.  I remember driving home from work sometime in the late 1990s and hearing on the radio that two-thirds of Americans were overweight and feeling shocked.  After that I started spot checking each roomful of people to confirm this and realized that, clearly, we have a problem.  It's not confirmed that obesity causes higher morbidity, but it's certainly correlated with a swath of horrible diseases - diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, and it exacerbates other conditions like joint problems and arthritis.  That only makes sense; if you load up a person with mobility issues with, say, 10 bags of flour, they're going to find it more difficult and painful to get around.  Added to the fact that people who are obese tend to have become obese by eating incredibly unhealthy foods, and we have a severely health compromised citizenry (and right when we're looking to socialize medical costs too!).  I fully support any sort of research that could provide solutions to turn this trend around.  It's particularly troubling to see children and young people get fat because their obesity will directly impact their overall quality of life and the array of choices they will get to make.

But fat shaming is like slut shaming - obesity and promiscuity are established practices in the western world, and we've reached and passed critical mass for turning it around by social shunning.  When 7 out of 10 people in a room are fat, your trenchant commentary on their expanded waistlines is going to have little effect - except for arousing anger and hard feelings.  Sure, feel free to reject the lunacy of the "Heathy at Any Size" propaganda.  You don't have to believe things just because people really, REALLY want to you to believe them.  But we're going to have to come up with better solutions than tossing epithets like "fatty" and "land whale."  Or snapping pics on our cellphones and uploading them to Twitter.  Seriously, that's just self-righteous cruelty. 

You can give people information, but until they're ready to hear it, or until we install a better system of incentives/disincentives, you can't control people's weight. 

I've heard the argument that social shunning turned cigarette smoking from cool to prole, but while there is currently a lowered status assigned to smoking, it was government intrusion and eventually very, very expensive lawsuits that turned things around for our collective lungs.  It was only after Big Tobacco's back was broken that we all fell in line and denied ever EVAR smoking those cancer sticks.  We then shunted the addicted to roped off ghettos and eventually out into the cold, cold night.  Only people who ride very large motorcycles or work in black fingernail jobs like auto repair management can smoke with impunity now.  The government could probably do the same with fast food (or alcohol!), but it's in bed with Big Ag and Big Sugar - so no dice.  Unhealthy people with unhealthy debilitating addictions are easier to push around too, so perhaps it's not in our government's best interests to encourage it at this time.

Obesity affects everyone - outside of the weight loss/bariatric surgery/dialysis industries - negatively, but this is not an effective answer to the problem. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Splintering

Western culture is clearly coming to a breaking point between the two competing ideologies of Liberalism, which has its "religious" expression in Humanism - with or without the atheism - and Christianity, which is considerably weaker than it's ever been in the West, outplayed and outshone by its competitor's easy breezy narcissistic hedonism. 

The two have coexisted uneasily for this last half century, but cannot much longer now that Liberalism has decided to directly and unambiguously target religion and the religious as Evil, and has decided that nodding and smiling is not enough of a response to affirmations of its core tenets of democracy, diversity, unfettered sexual exploration, and redistributionism.  So, here we go.

The Pax Dickinson skirmish of last week, was one of many recent examples of people being fired for saying something - instead of say, doing something - the other side considered going against the narrative and outside the realm of acceptable thought.  My response to it was rather personal as it happened to me, on a much smaller, less public scale a few years ago.  I had done volunteer work for a reader's website for about 10 years and had gotten along just fine with the site's administration and readers all that time, until I strayed from the party line on frats, alcohol and rape, and then people made a lot of noise, called me a lot of names, attempted to psychoanalyze me online, and called for my dismissal.  I decided to resign rather than apologize and (maybe) be forgiven.  Doing thousands - literally thousands - of hours of volunteer html coding behind the scenes no longer seemed so appealing.  The hardest thing for me to swallow was the accusation that my son was obviously in an abusive situation with me as his mother, if I thought the way I think.

I saw the same sentiment echoed in Anil Dash's words about Dickinson: "So, to be clear: I have no interest in playing an agent of Pax Dickinson's redemption. I do not want him anywhere near kids of any sort, let alone teaching anyone." 

Words now = pedophilia or child abuse. 

I was also extremely put off by how the people who criticized me seemed to revel in my newly cast off status, how they gleefully proclaimed, "Google is forever," as if my never getting a job again was suitable punishment for saying women shouldn't go to frat parties and get completely hammered because it wasn't safe.  Justice served!  Maybe someday she and her (abused kid) can starve!  We can always hope!

To be clear, I believe (among other things):
  • Order > Chaos
  • Self control > Hedonism
  • Community > Individual expression
None of those values would have even been questioned by the majority of Americans fifty years ago.

It's interesting, though, to see how the other side reacts when someone of their values wanders past the ideological fence and gets taken down.  The outrage, the cries of unfairness, the accusations of injustice, bigotry, McCarthyism; it's all the same.  In this case, a lesbian Catholic school teacher was fired for coming out and stating she was in a lesbian relationship.  She wanted to express her values, and since this is not in accordance with the Catholic Church's "branding," she was fired.  An entirely predictable outcome. 

Note that children are once again involved.  It's really starting to heat up over children and who gets access to their minds.  This is because we're splintering as a society into groups - not even cohesive groups - but everyone knows that children are the future, and if people can choose how and where and why to educate their children, they may not choose as directed.  Should be interesting.