All posts by marlenedotterer

Science Fiction and Fantasy writer

Guns and America

In the issue of guns and mass killings in our country, everyone immediately lines up on their side of the argument. In this corner, we have gun control. In that corner we have violent media. In another corner we have mental illness. And over there is the bad parenting crowd. In the middle, we have gun owners and advocates who want their guns, no matter what. The arguing never changes and action never happens.

Let’s look at the big picture for a minute.

It’s all of these things.

ALL of them.

An effective solution must incorporate some of everything. Once we understand that, once we ACCEPT that, we can begin to take intelligent action.

With the Big Picture is established, we can begin to break it down. I have no real order to my list, certainly not order of importance. If all these things fit together, there’s no single thing that’s more important than the others. Let’s just discuss them.

Violent Media

Entertainment Industry: this is on you.

You own it. You profit from it. And every man and woman who has worked in a violent movie, written a violent script, drawn a violent graphic novel, created a violent video game: you walked with Nikolas Cruz onto that school ground and pulled the trigger with him.

You can’t get out of it. You are murderers.

Until you stop creating and selling blood and body counts, our society will never be able to solve this problem.

It is possible to create entertainment that has conflict and action (and a good story – remember those?) without body parts and gore, and without deaths numbering in the hundreds or thousands. You create rally cool explosions and ten-minute long car chases that destroy buildings and bridges, and you litter your fictional streets with dead bodies and blood.

We can see only so much of this before we are numb to it, and the dead cease to be people with lives and loves and hopes.

We can see only so much before it’s easy to walk into a school and litter the playground with real bodies.

Mental Illness

There’s little doubt that mental illness plays a part in many mass shootings. At the very least, a shooter is a disturbed individual, and intervention, therapy or medication may have prevented violence. But this issue is part and parcel of our miserable health care system. It will be addressed by solving that problem. The thorny issues of how to spot the problems, how to report them, and when to act on them will begin to be answered once we make mental health a regular part of health care.

Bad Parenting

This issue is always thrown out by the people with perfect children. It almost doesn’t need to be talked about. But as someone who does NOT have perfect children (just darn good ones, but also one very troubled one) I suppose I can say a few things here.

Kids need guidance. They need to learn self-discipline. They need to face the consequences of their choices and actions. All of this happens differently at different ages and with different abilities. The goal is a human who can handle himself in a reasonably intelligent manner by the age of 18.

It’s true that some parents want to make everyone else responsible for their child’s mistakes. That’s just tiresome. If you’re one of those parents, trust me, everyone around you knows it. They are ridiculing you behind your back. I hope that thought embarrasses you. Now go make your kids do some chores and get their homework done.

“Bad parenting” is just a buzzword. The truly troubled individuals who are killing people were not always brought up by bad parents. They weren’t necessarily spoiled or neglected. They probably were not brought up by atheists either, despite all you folks who insist these things happen because we no longer pray in schools.

Something that would really help is better communities. We’ve become too individualistic, too self-reliant. How many of your neighbors do you know? How many of your friends are the parents of your children’s friends? How much time do your children spend doing interesting and constructive things with diverse groups that include people of all ages? Not just church services, and not just youth sports groups. How about picking up litter or building homes for the homeless, or making a trail in the wilds? Is there a community garden they can work in? Volunteer work in a nursing home or hospital, or maybe helping an elderly neighbor clean out gutters? And are you out there with them?

There is so much a community can do for its families. There is so much we NEED to be doing. This is a hugely neglected part of life in America, and we’re paying for it in the currency of lonely, bored children. I don’t mean that kids should never play or hang out with their friends. That needs to be done, too. But they are doing that. What they are not doing is being part of a community, and that’s largely because we, the adults, are not part of the community. We need to change that.

One last point: Did you read the section above on the Entertainment Industry? As parents, we can’t get away with just blaming them. We are responsible ourselves, to keep our kids from seeing bloody and violent movies and video games. I know this is hard, and even impossible, on some level. Kids will access them somewhere, somehow, no matter what we do. But by refusing to allow them, we can at least minimize exposure. And our kids will be more aware of the influence these things can have over them. Whether this helps or not, I don’t know, but the problem is so serious I think we must try.

And parents need all the help they can get, which must come from the community. I’m thinking of rating systems. They’re a joke at this point. Somehow, the movie rating “PG” has become a defacto “R,” with some of those movies containing more and more graphic violence. We’ve all become so used to violence in our entertainment, that we’re exposing our children to it at younger and younger ages. It’s time to demand that this stop.

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room.

Gun Control

If you are against restrictions and regulations of guns, you are the problem. You are responsible for every murder done with an assault, automatic, or semi-automatic weapon.

Now that I’ve really made you mad, let me talk about what sensible gun control can look like for civilian Americans:

  1. No assault, automatic, or semi-automatic weapons of any kind, ever. I think the standard should be one bullet per trigger pull. Any weapon that shoots more should be outlawed.
  2. One gun per person.
  3. A license is required before a purchase can be made. In order to acquire this license a person must:
  4. Be at least 25 years of age
  5. Pass extended background check with NO license going to anyone convicted of a felony, battery, assault, domestic violence, stalking, threatening, mentally ill… I’m sure there are more, and also nuances among some of the ones I’ve listed.
  6. Show proof of completion of an approved, official training course in the laws pertaining to guns, and in the handling, shooting, storage, and safety of guns. The course should also include enough first aid to handle accidents.
  7. Show proof of insurance that covers loss, theft, damage to property, and injury/death to animals that were not being hunted for food, or injury/death to humans.
  8. If your gun is lost or stolen, you cannot replace it.
  9. A second gun can be bought only upon surrender of the first gun for recycling or reuse.
  10. Renew license every three years by passing a new test of your knowledge and shooting ability.

Beyond this, we must all follow rules and restrictions for the use of guns. Just like we can’t drive a car anywhere or any way we like, we can’t use guns indiscriminately. For example, no guns allowed in public places.  They should be restricted to hunting situations or shooting ranges. Ammunition should also be highly restricted – perhaps no more than five per year in the home. But you cannot shoot your gun in the home or on your property, unless it’s in self-defense. You must take the gun to a shooting range to practice.

And – this is vitally important – guns can only be purchased at retailers licensed to sell guns. No gun shows, no private sales.

I’ll admit this is all draconian. You’re throwing up your hands and saying there’s no point in having a gun at all under these conditions. Which, frankly, is exactly what I think. That’s my bias, I’m afraid. I don’t understand why you want one or what you want to do with it. Maybe that’s something someone can explain to me.

I know, I know – you want it for self-defense. But in a practical sense, that just doesn’t add up for me. If you are going to safely have a gun in your house, you have to keep it locked away from children, and have the ammunition stored separately. If someone is threatening you or your family, how are you going to have time to get all that together? But if you don’t store it like this, your family lives in constant danger of accidental shootings. Not to mention, it’s very easy for a crook to find your gun and use it against you.

So what’s the point of having it? Honestly, I don’t get it. So, I’m standing by my list.

There is one more very important step to consider before we’re done.

The Cleanup

Putting all these regulations and restrictions in place would be a wonderful start. But it’s only the beginning. The hard work must still be done: finding and confiscating the plethora of guns that are everywhere in our society.

We have to register all the guns that are currently in circulation. And most importantly, we must remove any assault-style, automatic, or semi-automatic gun, and the ammunition they use.

THAT is going to take some work. It will require a national effort that reaches into every city, town, and hamlet. It’s an undertaking fraught with opportunities for danger or corruption., Where do we put the guns we gather up? How do we make sure they are not sold to arms dealers, foreign or domestic? Or stolen by the same? How and where do we safely store and destroy the ammunition?

I refuse to believe it’s too hard to do. We need to roll up our sleeves and do it anyway.

An important first step will be to declare a moratorium on the manufacture and sale of any new guns or ammunition. Don’t whine that this will put people out of a job. Businesses lay off people for far less important reasons. I don’t know if anyone has ever counted, but I am certain that there are more guns and bullets on this planet than will ever be needed.

If you insist on a strong military, then gather everything up and give it to them. They might actually have the infrastructure to handle the influx. And they are the only organization in our country that needs these things.

Once we’ve stopped (or at least, paused) the influx of new guns and ammunition, we start gathering what’s out there. If you already own guns, you have to register them. You have to surrender outlawed types. And no, we aren’t paying you for them. You spent your money on something you had no need for, and that was drastically dangerous to everyone in the country –  that’s on you. The taxpayers are already paying for the damage that’s been done, and now we’re paying to destroy them. We’re not giving you money, too.

If you have lots of guns and bullets, and a law is passed to restrict the number you can have, you’ll have to surrender the extras.

Anything you keep, you will have to pay to register and insure – each one separately. You will have to pass a test, written and practical – to obtain a license to keep them. If you can’t afford to do this, then surrender the guns and ammo.

Marlene, you’re nuts.

Yes, I know this is not likely to be implemented. There are too many people who don’t take the danger seriously enough, or who just don’t care. But America has become a war zone, and as an American, I think that’s intolerable. It’s one thing if a foreign enemy attacks us relentlessly and we are fighting a real war in our country. But we’ve done this to ourselves and that is completely ridiculous. This is a drastic situation and it requires drastic action.

Gun owners and advocates, I’m begging you: take this seriously. Look at what our country has become. Our children – kindergarten through high school –  go to school and practice how to hide in a closet and not make a sound for fifteen minutes. People go to the movies or shopping, or out to eat, and keep looking over their shoulders, pushing worry and fear into their guts, knowing that at any moment, a hail of bullets could shatter everything in their lives.

No reason. No warning.

Knowing that it probably won’t happen, doesn’t help the fear and anxiety go away. We live with it now, every minute of our lives. Our children live with it. And many, many innocent Americans have paid the ultimate price.

Gun owners and advocates, I’m asking you: is this the country you want? Don’t you think it could or should be different? Why won’t you help us?

 

 

 

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The Foundation of Gender Inequality

This article is so perfect, you must go read it right now. It’s NYT, so if you don’t subscribe you might not have access, but I encourage you to try. The title is interesting: “The Men Who Want to Live Forever.” But those men (billionaires, of course) are just an excuse for author Dara Horn to zero in on the bottom line for gender inequality: throughout human existence, women have been almost exclusively responsible for the care, feeding, and comfort of other human beings.

Men have not.

More than any of the millions of words written about patriarchy, sexual harassment, glass ceilings, or male-posturing-resulting-in-war-greed-destruction, this essay brings the point forward in an easy to understand way. Men feel free to do all these things because they (as a gender) have never developed the empathy that comes from the day-to-day caring of vulnerable humans.

I am not saying that all women have empathy, or that they all enjoy caring for other people, or even that all women are good at it. I am not saying that is what women should be doing, exclusive of all else.

I am not saying that all men have no empathy, or that no men ever physically care for someone else. My own son is a nurse – thus I have positive proof that men can be caregivers.

But let’s first acknowledge that male dominance is the Way of Life on this planet, and has been for most or all of human history. Let’s acknowledge that the rules, religions, and laws of human history have been made by men, and for the benefit of men. They exist to protect and ensure the dominance of men.

Let’s acknowledge that through all of our species’ history, very few men spent time in the physical care of other human beings. This is their handicap. This denied them to opportunity to develop deep empathy. As Ms. Horn points out, caring for someone else forces the caregiver to see the world from someone else’s point of view. What does this person need?

And then, one more step beyond figuring out what the other person needs: the caregiver must then fulfill that need.

Oh my gosh, if more men – if all men  – spent their lives sharing equally in the care of vulnerable human beings – children, the elderly, the ill, the injured – I believe we would see the end of patriarchy. Men and women would be partners in the existence of the human species, and in the societies we build.

Because this is the core of life. Not power. Not money. Not dominance.

Caring.

Those rich and powerful men who want to live forever? Let’s see them spend all their years in the care of others. To actually be responsible for the humans around them.

To quote Captain Kirk: “Above all else, a god needs empathy.”

Let’s fix this.

Ursula K. Le Guin. Go in Peace.

Ursula K. Le Guin

 “The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will go on, today and tomorrow and for a very long time now. As it should. She was the mother of so many of us, and you should take time to mourn your mother.”

-John Scalzi

 Like so many others, I felt a true loss upon learning of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death. And I feel a strong pull to “speak of her name and of her words.” I’m not a famous writer. I never met Ms. Le Guin, so I have no special stories to share. I only want to speak her name and talk for a minute about her words.

I first read her words when I was too young to truly understand them. Perhaps junior high or early high school. But while I missed much of the depth of her wonderful stories, I did appreciate them. Not just the poetry of them, though that wonder was there. No, what I felt in those words was power and recognition.

Her power was that of a mother, as John Scalzi so appropriately said. Here was a woman writing about nurture and honesty and respect. She wrote stories that fed us and opened us and shamed us. She showed us how to be True People, and she did it in the firmest, gentlest way. She was not a mother you could ignore, or talk back to, or argue with. She spoke with the authority of wisdom.

She was one of the first female writers I read who did that.

And I recognized myself in her words. Her stories were worlds I knew in my soul. I never knew her, and she certainly never knew me, but we were kindred spirits. Her worlds showed me how we could live honest lives, and that it was possible for a society to respect the Earth.

More recently, her words – in countless blog posts and articles – often gave me hope as she wrote about the nightmares of our world today. She had a way of laying a perspective on things we couldn’t control. If she was angry, she said so. If she despaired, she showed us why. If she had a solution, she described it. She reminded us that women were strong and good, and that we had a job to do in this world. She insisted that men were good, too, but not better than women. Equal. She never lost sight of the fact that we are all in this together.

And she never gave up on us.

I will miss her.

 

 

 

Relaxis Report: Meh

I’m sad to say the Relaxis pad is probably not going to work for me. The few early successes I had never translated into dependable use. Most often, the RLS symptoms were not alleviated, and occasionally, they got worse. It worked SOMETIMES, but the not-working times were hard on me. I lost even more sleep trying to find a vibration setting that would do something, and often couldn’t fall back asleep at all. I don’t need ANOTHER thing keeping me awake at night. I can do that all on my own, thanks.

I decided not to use it at all over the Thanksgiving weekend. I hosted the Thursday meal with friends, then had a houseful of kids and adorable grandkids (happy about that!) Friday – Sunday. I needed to sleep! So I went back to the pills to get through the nights. Boo – hiss, yes. But it worked and in the end, that’s what matters.

I want to do one more experiment in the car. We have a round-trip to and from Sacramento in a couple of weeks. That will be the big test. I don’t have a lot of hope, but I’d hate to send the thing back and wonder forever if it might have helped with travel.

Throughout all this, the company rep has been in touch with me and he’s continued to offer suggestions. He has also stretched my trial period to the end of December, so I can do the car trip. It’s possible (he says) that the pad will help in the car or plane even if it doesn’t work at night in bed.

I don’t think he really has a lot of hope either, though.

Remember when I first got the pad and we did the high-vibration test to see if I was averse to vibration? The test I passed quite easily? Well… it was a fluke or something, because the more I used the pad, the more I grew to hate the vibration. Almost to the point of nausea, especially because I was afraid it would make the symptoms worse. The last time I tried to use the pad, I turned it off after just a few minutes and kicked it to the floor. Then I took a half-pill.

So it seems I’m stuck with the medication. I’ll keep doing everything I can to reduce symptoms: timing and quantity of meals and alcohol, yoga, leg stretches, etc. But if I need extra meds to get through a car or plane trip, I’m taking them.

Life is short and I have things to do.

 

Net Neutrality or Just Slow. What are the Solutions?

We’ve had major internet problems for months. We’re in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area, suburban, but surrounded on all sides by around 500,000 people. We’ve been Comcast customers for years.

Nearly everyday, we either lose internet completely – several times a day – or it’s so slow, our routine is to click on a web page and go do something else. Often, the page never comes up all the way. Or we get messages saying the website is unsafe, or doesn’t appear to be working, or nonsense like that. You’d think it was still 1998 or something.

Comcast helpfully sends out technicians who look at wires outside and pass the problem up the chain to different technicians. We are constantly assured that the problem will be fixed soon. We’ll have a few days of good connection, then ho-hum, back to slowville.

What to do? I’m not sure AT&T would be any better, and I don’t know of any other options around here. So this article got my eye.

At the moment, we supposedly have net neutrality, but you’d never know it if you lived in our house. We have few options and no voice in the service we get. And if net neutrality does go away, we lose big time. So a local co-op sounds like an interesting idea. But I don’t know how it would work, especially around here. Wouldn’t the co-op have to use Comcast’s or AT&T’s infrastructure? How independent would it really be?

Does anyone know about this? What other options are there for us?

Where Comes the National Anthem?

Brent Staples writes a perspective in the New York Times that offers information the average American probably doesn’t know about our national anthem. Maybe you knew already about “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and its history and reason for existence. I’ve never heard of it.

Most of us know at least a little about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” how Francis Scott Key wrote it after seeing the flag still waving over the fort after a bitter battle. Stirs the soul, yes.

Most of us know Key was a slave-owner. In general, I’m willing to allow historical figures their triumphs even if they held views we now consider vile. “Men of their time” and that kind of thing, but I add the caveat that there were a LOT of other men (and women) of “that time” who understood those views were wrong. So no one gets a complete pass in my book. But I only recently found out about the despicable third verse of Key’s song:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…

This is probably a reference to the slaves who fought with the British in return for the promise of freedom, assuming the British won the war. I can practically see Key’s as an incarnation of Emperor Palpatine, licking his lips and rubbing his hands in gleeful disdain as he cackles over the cowering humans he owns. “You lost and you are doomed forever! Ha!”

So maybe we should not have used that song as a national anthem. Can’t we be better than that?

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is better – you can read the lyrics here – although it’s still  not perfect IMO. Personally, I don’t think we can have an anthem that does not acknowledge and honor the native people we slaughtered as we stole their land from them. But the history of this song is a clear tribute to real freedom because that freedom applies to all Americans.

Which is the whole darn point.

Matter, Mass, Reality. Hope You Like Onions

Here’s a link for you: http://nautil.us/issue/54/the-unspoken/physics-has-demoted-mass.

I can’t say that I actually understood it all, but it was fun to read. Matter matters, of course, but energy is the heart of the matter.

So to speak.

Read the comments, too. There are some good observations by people smarter than me.

 

American Women Die in Childbirth

As a natural childbirth teacher and doula, I know all this already. But this article in Quartz is a credible and accurate summation of the seriousness of America’s problem.

This post is not intended as a scare tactic for women. I simply want to point out that it’s a serious issue that has not been exposed enough.

I’m going give you one quote from the article, that says all the important points beautifully:

Jennie Joseph, a British-trained nurse midwife who has been practicing in the US for the past 26 years and runs Commonsense Childbirth, a birth center which offers midwifery prenatal care in Orlando, Florida, sums it all up effectively: “It’s racism, it’s classism, it’s sexism: All of these things are at play and […] the intersection with capitalism and power,” she told Quartz. “[Women] are dying of a system that’s broken.”  (I added the bold).

Americans – especially American politicians, along with the religious right – want a country where women have no access to birth control, no access to abortion, no access to adequate pre-natal care and even less access to post-partum care, no societal support in the form of visiting nurses, doulas, lactation consultants, no help in raising the children they give birth to, and NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT ANY OF IT.

Women are not heard in American medicine. This is a real and known problem. Reproduction is just one part of it, but it’s a huge part. Please read the article.

 

 

Update on Relaxis

I have a few more days (or nights) of data, some good, some bad. In general, I think the pad is working, but I’m still a long way from having it perfected.

One of the exceptional things the Relaxis company does is that a representative stays in touch for the trial period. Carl has called me twice since I got the pad (six days ago) and will call again today or tomorrow. These calls are useful. I can explain what’s been happening and he can offer suggestions for improvement or assurances that things are going as they should.

A drawback to this is that he may give advice based on not enough data. For instance, on our second call, after I’d tried the pad for two nights, I mentioned that the pad had reduced my symptoms but that I could still feel them a little. He suggested I try higher settings to see if that worked better, reminding me that I need to experiment with the settings to see what my response is.

That night’s slightly higher setting helped a little more and the next night (Saturday) I tried a little higher to see if it would help more. Umm… no.  Using the higher setting gave me my worst night in a long time. It made everything worse. It was so bad, I was moaning. The nerve sensations reminded me of labor contractions, which I know how to handle. I had five kids without drugs and taught natural childbirth to others. I thought if I handled the RL waves like contractions, maybe I could get through them. But these waves were wildly intense. They only lasted about 4 seconds, but the next one started about 3 seconds after the previous one ended. With labor, at least you know the contractions are doing an important job, and it will all end once the baby is born. But this… there was no point and no end in sight, so in desperation, I took another full dose of Sinemet, then stood up for 30 minutes before going back to bed. I did not use the pad at that point, and happily, the medicine did the trick. I fell asleep around 4:00 and slept until 7:30.

So last night, I put the setting back to a lower level. No pills, just one episode of RL, and the pad made it go away almost immediately. But I never fell back asleep. I’ve been awake since 2:00.

That’s not unusual, although I’m never happy when it happens. That’s typical insomnia – adrenaline and hyper thoughts making me wide awake and ready to fight. But here I have a suspicion: that last night’s episode was caused by – or made worse by – the vibrations. I think this because in addition to the usual adrenaline, my whole body felt vaguely… tingly. Like the nerves were reacting to an electrical field or something. Or maybe that they were still vibrating slightly as an after-effect of the session with the pad.

I will discuss this with Carl when he calls, either today or tomorrow. I hope it’s tomorrow because I’d like to see if it happens again tonight. I’m kind of afraid that this reaction is a game-ender – the kind of side effect that means I can’t use the pad. I hope not, because as I said, I think the pad is working.

We still haven’t tried it for travel and I really want to see if it helps with that. We’re going to my daughter’s in San Jose on Saturday, and that will be our big experiment. Even if the pad helps only with car trips, it’s worth the price. Even better if it helps with plane trips. We won’t be flying for the rest of year, so I won’t have a chance to try that yet.

The experiment continues….

RL Hope… Maybe

So sorry to keep you all in suspense for two days! I’ve used the new pad for two nights now. That’s not enough time yet to know if it’s going to work or not, but here’s how it’s gone so far.

Night 1: I used the pad once at about 12:30, on almost the lowest setting. The pad will vibrate for 35 minutes, then turn itself off. I turned it off after about 20 minutes, as my legs seemed to have calmed down and the vibration was… well, not a problem really. I just wasn’t used to it and it was keeping me from falling deeply asleep. I was sleeping lightly, and really, that’s better than what I’d be doing without the pad. But once I turned it off, my legs stayed calm and I went back to sleep until about 4:00. At that point, I felt wide awake. No restless legs, but I wasn’t able to go back to sleep. I got up at 5:00.

This is pretty typical for me.

But the interesting thing was that I didn’t take any extra medication during the night. I usually take one full Sinemet before bed and have one more pill, cut in half, ready to take as needed during the night. I didn’t take either half pill. THAT was an amazing thing.

Last night was not as good. I had one episode at 12:30 (that seems to be normal – I guess the bedtime medicine wears off about then). I took one of the half pills, then used the pad for the full 35 minutes. I’m getting used to the vibration and managed to go to sleep before it turned off. I woke again around 3:30 with restless legs and tried the pad again without taking the other pill. I think the pad helped, but I could feel light sensations in my leg the whole 35 minutes. But when the pad went it off, my leg was calmer and I could lay still. I couldn’t get back to sleep though, and got up about 4:45.

Maybe if I’d taken the second half pill, the pad would have worked better and I could have gone back to sleep. Or maybe not. There are lots of times when I’ll take a Sinemet around that time and while it might calm my legs down, I still don’t get back to sleep.

So the jury is still hearing evidence. I was told that it will take time for the pad to reach its full potential with my body. Two nights is not enough time for real results, so I’ll be patient.

I think I should continue to take medicine as needed. That’s what Carl, the company representative, said I should do for a few weeks. Perhaps the pad will make the medicine work faster, and maybe help the effects last longer. That’s something to work toward. My tendency is to always want to stop taking medication as soon as possible, so I have to keep the goal in mind. Keep taking the meds if I have a problem at night, use the pad, give my body time to adjust. Maybe eventually, I can reduce the meds. But don’t rush it…

I guess this means I have to be patient. Darn!