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Islamic extremist, Christian extremist, animal rights extremist, leftist extremists…the list goes on. For every cause, religion or philosophy you can think of, there is a solid chance that someone, somewhere has done something extreme and violent in it’s name. I realize that I am opening myself up to comments full of “Nuh-uh, Pollyanna, there was this one group once that didn’t! U R sooooo wrong!”  So be it, that’s fine, but it’s going to miss the actual point of this blog post.

Point is, summing up any act of extremism in a one or two word description completely undermines the goal of understanding extremism. It hints at an explanation that isn’t actually any explanation at all.   “Oooh”, says the average newswatcher. “So it’s a Christian/American/Islamic/Arab/ lefty/righty thing. Gotcha, and yes, they must be bad people.”

The description is meant to be an explanation, but the real reasons are not about that description.  See, the thing about extremism is that it is way more complex than what screams out from newspaper headlines or is mentioned as a lead into a 30 second news story.  While the group involved likely has an easily definable goal they can state, the process of getting to that level of extreme action is what should be the concern.

There are plenty of of people in the same religious, racial, or ideological group that don’t do these things and are absolutely sick over the fact that there are other people doing horrible things in the name of what they believe in.  Most large groups have a few extreme members, so why are we looking at the group as a whole and not the thread that runs between the most radicalized of any group?

While I’m certain some of the extremists are mentally ill, particularly some of the key leaders and instigators of these organizations, I’m not convinced all are.  If it isn’t mental illness, and it isn’t simply a [insert your choice of religious, ethnic, or ideological group here] thing, what is it?

The more I look, the more I am convinced that extremism is a product of desperation that turns into hatred and rage. It seems to draw those who feel that they don’t have a voice, that there is no productive way out of disagreement, and that they simply don’t matter. The extremist group gives the frustrated individual a sense of belonging and meaningfulness that they simply did not achieve through more productive, reasonable channels.

With our tendency to break it down into two word descriptions, we are reinforcing the Us vs Them idea.  We dont talk about the reasons behind the choices they made, many of which have nothing to do with their groups goals, but instead, we try to define them as quickly and simply as possible– you believe X, so you are X.  Not only that, if you believe X, and you are X, you believe exactly the same thing as anyone else in that group.

Promoting human rights while eliminating the factors that push people towards division are key here.  We need to send the message that everyone deserves rights, regardless of religion, race, gender or philosophy. We must stop thinking in the us as the good guys, them as the bad guys mentality. It’s counterproductive and wrong; we all know great people who have different beliefs from as us as well as really jerky people who have the same beliefs as us.

Dropping the one word description and the ideas behind it will help immensely. Let’s call terrorists what they are: terrorists. Although certain ideas are promoted in extreme agendas, let’s get to the real reasons behind these actions and not blame a religion, idea, or race that is by and large, peaceful.  Let’s focus on the extremism itself and find out why these people are angry enough to kill.  If we can come to an agreement on that, only then will we be able to find a real solution to it.

Lawn Loathing

Lawns are a waste.

There, I said it.  While millions are recoiling in horror,  it’s completely true. Lawns are a waste.

Everyone in my neighborhood has a lot that’s about 1/5 of an acre, and the houses are situated nicely to there’s a front lawn and a back lawn.  Landscape bushes and a few flowers get thrown into the mix, but 90% of what the eye can see is manicured (or in the case of some neighbors, wildly overgrown) turf grass.

You’d think with turf grass’ popularity, it would do something really terrific for the people who have it. It must be great, or it wouldn’t be everywhere, would it?

As a the caretaker of a lot that is mostly grass, I have contemplated what it does for me, and realized that the idea of grass-as-wonderful couldn’t be further from the truth.

It takes a lot of time to make sure it looks nice.

How many weekend hours have I spent on the standard maintenance trinity of mowing, weedwhacking and edging? Lots.  Too many to count, in fact. I could be spending time with my kids. I could spend those hours walking my dogs. I could spend those hours curled up in a chair on the patio with a good book and a glass of iced tea. Nope, I’m out there, sweating like a pig with menopausal hot flashes in the heat of summer, just trying to keep things under control so I can do it all over again next week.

It costs your wallet and the environment dearly to have a manicured lawn.

When weeds pop up, we run for the broad spectrum herbicides, perhaps because we are too tuckered out from mowing to dig those weeds by hand.  In any climate where rainfall happens less than once or twice a week, we pour gallons upon gallons of water onto our lawns, hoping to keep them from turning brown.  If a fire ant hill pops up, we run to buy insecticides to annihilate the little bite-y monsters. We buy chemical fertilizers and use fossil fuel power tools to help us with our tasks. I don’t think I have to tell anyone that this hit both the environment and the pocketbook at the same time.  Are we really paying our hard earned cash to waste water growing a plant that does nothing?  Are we honestly paying good money to poison our own corner of the world?  Yes, yes we are. Lawn care is a very big business.

Lawns become a dead zone for local fauna.

My grass doesn’t attract hummingbirds, bees, spiders, ladybugs, bats or snakes. It attracts absolutely nothing because manicured lawns don’t provide shelter, food or water. In my neighborhood, people try to overcome this by putting out bird seed, bat houses and hummingbird feeders. One must wonder how beneficial these efforts actually are.  A prime example is hummingbird syrup, which is made by boiling white sugar, water, and red food dye together. It most certainly provides calories for the little birds, but does it keep them healthy? I can’t help but wonder if we’re actually hurting them in the long run by thinking we’re helping in the short term.

Bats, spiders and snakes are another issue that must be addressed.  A lot of people find them to be creepy and want to eliminate them from the garden.  This is extremely shortsighted.  While I doubt I would ever kiss a snake, pet a bat or snuggle a spider, they are very important members of the local ecosystems. Bats eat mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that people try to kill with strong insecticide foggers. Snakes eat mice– yes, the very same mice that come into the house in the winter and cause rat poison to be put around the house.   Spiders, depending on the size, eat everything from mosquitoes to baby mice.

To give just a little example here, lets talk a little more about mice. Mice, in my opinion, are fine outside, but I really don’t want them in my house. If I allow snakes to do their job, the problem is solved. If I disrupt that particular chain by removing snakes, the mice end up inside in the winter. To get rid of the mice, I would go out and buy–drum roll please!– rodent poison. Rodenticides are not specific killers.  While arsenic and strychnine are sometimes still used, modern rodenticides are most often anticoagulants.  All of these can cause serious harm or death to humans and pets. While adult humans know better than to put poison in their mouths, young children and pets often do not. Is it truly worth the risk? My former neighbor used strychnine a  long time ago, and unfortunately, one of my dogs–a wonderful family pet– got into it.  She survived, but  barely.  The convulsions and seizures were truly terrifying to watch, and I realized that if it could happen that easily to a 70 lb dog, a toddler would have no chance.  It is a risk I am simply not willing to take for my family. In my home, the answer is no. We have an area of the yard that actually encourages snakes, and it will stay that way.

To top it all off, even after all of these drawbacks, grass lawns don’t actually DO anything.

I don’t look forward to the first blade of grass like I do the first sun ripened tomato. The smell of grass, while pleasant, is not nearly as pleasing as the scent of honeysuckle (a hummingbird favorite, by the way!). Even a normal-sized residential lot is plenty of room to grow fresh veggies for the table, trees for shade and flowers for their beauty, bee friendly pollen, and scent.

The sterile looking lawn just isn’t a concept I can embrace.  I can’t and won’t rip it all out, but I am moving towards a garden that does what a garden is supposed to: honor the environment and it’s citizens, save me money and my kids from poisons, all while pleasing my senses and stomach. My yard has the potential to be a miraculous place. It’s up to me to make it that way.

 

This is a bit of a departure from anything that I actually attempt to write well as it has bearing on situations Right Effing Now.

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc are all great places for sources of news. Really, they are. There is such a thing as too much news though, and in certain cases, publicly posting information about protest locations, numbers of people, weapons possessed and so on can cause a very real danger to the people who are actually there.  If the protesters or revolutionaries can access that forum, so can the people looking to do them great harm.

There is absolutely NO need for me, a half world away, to inquire about any specifics.  To do so is egotistical and callous– why on earth would I put these people in jeopardy, and if they are busy trying to avoid bullets, don’t they have more pressing issues than satisfying my idle curiosity? I’m not important to their situation– THEY are.

Details will come in time. In an age where news scrolls down a feed by the second and articles from another country can be accessed and translated with the click of a few buttons, I know it can be hard to wait.  Wait we must though, or we may be putting the very people we are supporting in grave danger.

2 elderly Sikh men were shot in California recently as they walked down the street, victims of an apparent hate crime. One passed away, the other is in critical condition.  The families of these men are quite understandably devastated.

Shooting two elderly men is a bad thing.

Shooting two elderly men who are sharing a stroll and a conversation and minding their own business is an especially bad thing.

Shooting two elderly men who are sharing a stroll and a conversation and minding their own business is truly, truly heinous when one learns that the men were likely shot because they were wearing turbans and were mistakenly identified as Muslims.

Islamophobia is not only violently affecting Muslims, but people who are perceived to be Muslim.

 

This is terribly frightening stuff, folks, and we need to stop this, but how?  If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments.  My heart breaks for these men and their families.

Dear Virgil,

As of today, when I learned about your comments stating that illegal immigrants should be shot from helicopters like wild hogs, you have made it on to the very small list of people-I-have-never-met-and-never-hope-to. You have, in not so many words, wished for death to not only me but my small daughter. You have wished to tear apart our family.  You have wished for my husband, who honorably served his country and is now disabled, to bear heartbreak caused by the country he gave his health to defend.

Guess what? The system is broken. I am not a criminal in any way other than falling illegal because of ridiculously long wait times and lost paperwork. I have tried to make things right and have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in this effort.  Still, according to you, I should be shot like vermin.

And what of my daughter?  She’s a little kid in grade school, and while I can understand faulting me–wrongly– for USCIS losing my paperwork repeatedly, why would you say that she should be shot from a helicopter like a feral hog for failing to have paperwork that is always completely in order?

Rep Peck, could you please explain to me why you would “joke” about killing her?

Oh, but you were joking. Does that somehow make it better? If I say, “I hope you and your children are murdered, LOL J/K”, I assume you’re going to be rolling on the floor, unable to breathe because of the gales of laughter racking your body. You can tell I’m joking because I was considerate enough to put LOL at the end.  Look, everyone’s a comedian!

Thing is, I would never say that, even in “jest”. It’s hurtful, wrong, and couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s even less appropriate than it is funny, and that is saying a lot. I do not wish physical harm to you, and I certainly do not wish physical harm to your family. I do hope you are held accountable for your statements, and that you never hold any public office or power again, but that’s quite a bit different from saying that I hope for your death. While you’re clearly unsuitable and incompetent, you do have a right to draw breath.

Jokes often have a grain of truth, and in your forced apology, you stated that you were expressing frustration about the immigration problem. To me, this says that the grain of truth is definitely there.  I would urge you to say that illegals should be shot not only to a bunch of your cronies– many of whom are not defending you or your comments, did you notice?– but also to the people you think should be murdered because of their paperwork.  Go ahead, tell my daughter why you think she should die. Say to my face that you think that I should be exterminated like the vermin you think I am. I might punch you (LOL! J/K! Knock-knock, who’s there? HUMOR!) but I would also respect that you have a set big enough to stand by your words.  But, of course, you said it was all just a regrettable joke when the doo-doo started to hit the fan and when people called you out on your hate.  Your words are vile, your damage control is cowardly, and you are a disgrace to all that is right about this great country.

I may just be an uneducated*, America-hating**,  system-screwing***, disease-spreading****, doesn’t-care-about-being-legal***** immigrant******, but even I know when wrong is wrong.  You, sir, are wrong.

Thanks!

Pollyanna

*- I don’t claim to be the smartest individual alive, but I have higher education that I cannot use, because I’m not currently allowed to work.  My certifications would allow me to work in a understaffed area in the medical field, and would be actively help the American people. Lose-lose situation there.

**- I am a patriotic American, just not on paper yet.  If I hated it, I would leave.  Not every immigrant is a refugee, and my home country is actually quite civilized and pleasant. I left for personal reasons, and despite people like you, I like it here.

***- I pay taxes. I’m not on welfare. I’m not on food stamps. I’m not collecting SS checks. My financial affairs are much like any other middle class American family. But man, wouldn’t it be easier for me if I was doing all of that?  I could get my kids reduced price corn dogs at school!  Too bad I’m honest, moral and don’t believe in taking what isn’t mine.

****- You wouldn’t believe the vaccinations and health checkups my daughter and I had to go through before being allowed to move here. They checked both of us for everything from TB to syphilis to cancer to mental illness to habitual drunkenness.  I’m quite certain that I am more physically sound than many natural born Americans.  The worst you’ll catch from me is a cold. I should be more afraid of your germs than you should be of mine– when was the last time you were checked for smallpox?

*****-Have you ever looked into what it takes to stay legal, especially when one immigrates after 2001? If you have a line on a reliable time machine and seeds for a money tree, please contact me privately. I’d appreciate it.

******-Ah, the word immigrant. You meant brown people who speak English with an accent, right?  Most people do, it’s a common mistake. Know this: I am whiter than you.  English is my mother tongue. I am still an immigrant, and a sometimes-illegal one at that.  I bet you thought that you could get away with it because immigrants wouldn’t understand your violent hate speech. You’re wrong. I understand very well, and I will never forgive you for it, no matter how many times you’re forced to apologize.

For a fascinating look at how your uterus is actually not yours, I recommend heading on over to read:

http://hannahweptsarahlaughed.blogspot.com/2011/02/um-why-does-government-hate-women-so.html

 

I also recommend that someone get help for these elected officials, as they have clearly lost their damn minds.

If you didn’t know, Rep. Peter King is holding a witch hunt investigation into the radicalization of Muslims in America.  While it hasn’t been said in these exact words, the basic idea is that pretty much all American Muslims are ticking time bombs who hate kittens, freedom and AMERICA.

The enemy.*

I will never argue that every Muslim who was ever born was of exemplary character.  That’s just not true, and I don’t like dealing out falsehoods especially in broad brushstrokes. You have a brain, you are capable of processing more than dramatic oversimplifications and hysteria. You know that the world has it’s many shades of gray.

What I will argue until death is that in any group of millions, there will always be a few who are bad. This holds true for Muslims, as well as EVERY OTHER GROUP out there.

Don’t believe me?  Still see all Muslims as a threat?

What if we were to question all Catholics for their involvement in child molestation?  Or all Baptists for their involvement in picketing military funerals? How about white people for the whole Aryan Nations/KKK/other idiot racist groups thing? Or pro-life individuals about their roles in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller?  Or every teen about gang involvement?  I could go on until I find ‘your’ group, but I think I’ve made my point.

The fact of the matter is that some people do horrible things.  They come from all backgrounds, all faiths, all races and all nationalities.  Yes, some are Muslims.  When we blame all Muslims for “radicalization”– no, lets change that, since King himself called for the end of political correctness, “terrorism”– we are missing all the other baddies of every other color, nationality, race and religion that intend to do us harm.

The ones who commit crimes should be tried, and if found guilty, punished. We should not be holding an entire community responsible for the actions of a few.  We shouldn’t look at any one connection as the reason.  It’s much, much more complicated than that.

To use an hypothetical analogy, let’s say your neighbor got into a car wreck while drunk. You don’t drink. Should you be regarded as a potential– or likely– drunk driver, even though you have never had a history of drinking while driving because you live on the same street?  Wouldn’t  it be a huge waste of time to make sure a non-drinker doesn’t drink and drive?  Would it take attention away from people who do drink and drive, but don’t live on the same street?

There are those who say that they’d be okay with this kind of thing because it’s in the interest of public safety. It’s been my experience that those who say that have never been singled out like in this way. The tune changes pretty quickly when they are the ones under suspicion because of the actions of others.  Also, how exactly is routing resources away from people who do honestly warrant suspicion to ones who don’t considered “safe”?

Blaming the entire group for the actions of a few is wrong. Insisting that every member of a religion feels the same way as it’s most radical, violent member is wrong.  We need to look at the members who are radicalized and violent, and find common threads between them and other individuals in other groups who have also become radicalized and violent instead of looking at the whole largely-peaceful, law-abiding group.

We need to reject the idea that everyone in one religion is bad, because not only is it false, it gives the dangerous impression that everyone else is okay.  It gives the impression that we need to worry only about Muslim-based extremism and violence. It gives the impression that Muslim terrorists will kill people deader than other groups or individuals will.  Tell that to the people who lost loved ones in the OKC bombing.   I think they’d disagree.

So, if we all buy into King’s rhetoric and watch all Muslims with extreme prejudice and caution, who deserves blame when we have turned a blind eye to the next Jared Loughner or Timothy McVeigh?  We all do, unless we stand up to King and tell him that we need to find the REAL causes of terrorism and extremism, instead of just creating political talking points and creating a sense of misguided xenophobia.

*– FYI, this cat actually IS the enemy of all people, everywhere.

Quick Geography Lesson

Despite the obvious alliteration, Libya would like you to know that it is not Lebanon. Lebanon would like you to know that it is not Libya. Maps are available for free on Google, if you find yourself confused.
Thanks!

I don’t agree with a lot of activists, even though I do agree with their causes.   Feminism?  Sure. Environmentalism?  Yes, good.  Religious tolerance?  Yep, totally believe in that.  I believe in all of these things, and many more, but I don’t believe in a lot of the champions of the cause.  They are just too much for me, what with the shrieking, denouncing, inflammatory statements and all or nothing mentality.

Acting on one’s beliefs should be open to everyone, whether they are able and willing to devote forty hours a week or one hour a month to the cause.  Someone who doesn’t have as much time isn’t a lesser individual.  It’s not about who is awesomer, it’s about progress and change for the better, and those things don’t often happen overnight.

Recently, someone bitchily  informed me that I couldn’t say I cared about animals or the environment  if I wasn’t vegan. Good grief.  Did that person think they were helping the cause of veganism– or the environment, or animals– by saying that?  What I got out of that statement was that vegans are kind of elitist and nutty, pardon the terrible pun. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to slide into the warm, greasy embrace of  a double bacon cheeseburger, despite the following things I  believe to be true:

-A vegan diet does make me feel better, physically, and is lower in fat and higher in fiber than many meat based diets.

-A vegan diet requires less energy, water and land to sustain than a meat based diet.

-A vegan diet, provided one stays away from purchasing only convenience foods, is cheaper than a meat based diet.

-Vegan diets, by their very definition, do not promote cruelty at animal farming facilities.

I know this, and I have drastically reduced the amount of animal products in my diet.  I occasionally eat a bit of meat,  and refuse to throw out a pair of leather shoes that aren’t worn out. Honey, milk and eggs are still in my diet, but in lesser amounts.

I think it’s utterly ridiculous to decide  to arm myself with nothing more than a can of chickpeas and a lot of enthusiasm and announce to the family that I am now vegan, and so are they. Maybe some people can convert overnight, but I am not one of them.  It takes baby steps to change life long habits, not to mention a lot of careful research and planning .

My efforts, while not the definition of “vegan”, are still efforts in the right direction.  I’m not suggesting that there should be parades in my honor for taking steps towards a healthier diet, but I don’t deserve to be denounced because I’m not yet one of the animal product eschewing elite.

I know there are a lot of vegans– most, actually– who are very kind people and would never dream of ramming their dietary choice down the throat of someone else.  These people are ones who I honestly believe are the future of veganism, and will lead by example and not by attempting to shame others. They are the recipe sharers and the ones who bring a tasty vegan meal to a potluck and allow it to speak for itself.  They are around to debunk myths and inform.  They know that they can draw more flies with stevia based sweetener than with vinegar.  It’s too bad there are others out there who wreck all of their efforts with the elitist, holier-than-thou attitude.

Despite the nastiness of that conversation, I have a meatless dinner planned for tonight, and I will continue to try.  I may not be able to wear a medal on my chest that has “Vegan” written on it, but I fight the good fight and still make baby steps towards my goal.  It’s all anyone can ask of me.

It seems strangely fitting that I’m writing my first post on the 100th International Women’s Day.

I’m not going to go into IWD’s origins.  That’s what Google is for, and I am one of those high-falutin’ blog writers who expects her readership to actually think and use search engines.

Anyhow, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that we’ve come a long-ass way from the way things were a hundred years ago.  Still, things could get much, much better.

On different sides of the planet, two things happened within the last twenty four hours that had me more than a little upset, not just for me, but for my daughter as well.

1. Despite women and men marching side-by-side in Egypt  in January to remove Mubarak from power,  women demonstrating for women’s rights were assaulted, groped, insulted and taunted by men.  The protesters left, in fear for their safety.

2. Booty Appreciation Day was the top trending topic on Twitter yesterday, and it was “celebrated” by young Western women publicly posting pictures of their bare or nearly-bare rear ends to be rated and appreciated by the menfolk of Twitter.

It’s pretty easy in Western culture, particularly the area in which I reside, to throw metaphorical stones at other cultures for being backwards as far as women’s rights go.  You know, on one hand, these metaphorical stones are warranted: a lot of other cultures have shitty records when it comes to treating women like human beings. On the other hand, things like #bootyappreciationday lead me to believe that we’ve done no more than encourage women to choose to be treated like subhuman creatures.  Is this what we are doing with our rights?  Really?

It’s disgusting and shameful to see so many other women around the world fight so hard for basic rights– the right to have control over their own bodies– when we have many of those rights, but choose to exchange them, wrapped in cheap poly-blend stretch lace, with a saucy grin and an “LOL”, for 140 characters worth of praise and the chance to be compared to other grinning pieces of rump.  This is NOT progress, ladies.

The fight for women’s rights, is not just a fight to be allowed to show off.  It’s a fight for dignity and respect.  The protesters in Egypt get that.  Now, when will we?