book reviews

A review of Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60

This review also appears on my travel blog.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had downloaded the book my former Peace Corps colleague, Loretta Land, published in 2019. I spent a good portion of today reading it, finally finishing it a little while ago. Loretta’s book, Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60, appears to have been self-published in 2019. Loretta died in January of this year, so she evidently just made it under the wire to fulfill her goal of writing a book. I remember back in 1995, when we first met as trainees for Peace Corps Armenia, Loretta told me she was going to write a book about her experience. Little did I know that after our service ended, Loretta would go on to work in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ghana, and China.

Loretta’s overseas adventures began in Armenia, when she decided she wanted to be a Peace Corps Small Business Volunteer (SEAD). Originally, she’d planned to go to Fiji when she was 63 years old. This was because she figured she could do her two years, then come home eligible for Social Security. But she writes that God had other plans for her, and she, along with 31 others of us, got the chance to come to Armenia instead, two years sooner than she’d planned. As she mentions frequently in her book, God’s plans don’t always line up with ours.

Loretta Land was the eldest member of our Peace Corps group, A3. We were the third group to come to Armenia and probably the first group that didn’t run into a significant number of problems. Loretta explains that A1, the first group, had arrived in Armenia in the dead of winter and things were not quite up to speed. A lot of people in that group either quit or found jobs. A2 was a smaller group that arrived just as the first group was finishing up. Likewise, that group endured a lot of hardships. Quite a few people quit or found jobs. Our group arrived when things were still pretty tough in Armenia, even in the capital city, Yerevan, but logistics had worked out enough that things were pretty livable. We did have a few people quit and/or get medically separated, and one woman decided to marry her host brother rather than serve (she never swore in). But, by and large, our group was pretty resilient and most of us did our two years.

I didn’t get to know Loretta as well as I would have liked. We both lived in Yerevan, but she lived on the other side of town. I always had great respect for her, as she was always so kind, productive, and caring. I admired how she had decided to come to Armenia and be of service to the people there. And boy, was she of great service to the people. I was very impressed with all she managed to do while she was a Volunteer, as well as afterwards. She came back to Armenia to work on a couple of occasions, and I guess found that she preferred living abroad in developing countries rather than working in the States. She did have a three month stint working in Americorps (formerly called VISTA), but ended up resigning from that and coming back to the former Soviet Union.

Loretta’s book was fun for me to read, mainly because I knew a lot of the people in Armenia she mentioned, as well as some of the situations she writes about. However, the fact that I was in Armenia with her also presented some problems. I’m kind of a stickler about editing, and as much as I enjoyed Loretta’s book, I also think it really needed a few rounds with an editor. Because I knew a lot of the people she mentions in Armenia, I know that a number of names were misspelled, and I don’t think she did that on purpose. Any of us who were in Armenia at the time she was would know the people she mentioned.

She also got some facts incorrect. For instance, on more than one occasion, she mentions that the Soviet Union consisted of thirteen republics; it actually consisted of fifteen. I knew this, but double checked just in case. She mentions that the wife of the U.S. ambassador who served Armenia when we were there was Korean. Actually, she was Vietnamese. I double checked that fact, too. And she mentions that abortion is illegal in Armenia. This is incorrect. I actually knew several women who’d had multiple abortions, as it was the main source of birth control. I actually went to a meeting to discuss the abortion situation in Armenia. A couple of A1s who were working in Armenia had done some work on the abortion issue and we had a discussion about how rampant it was. And I also double checked that fact, too.

Large portions of Yes You Can! consist of letters and emails Loretta lovingly wrote to her children. I enjoyed reading the letters and emails, although sometimes she addressed people within them without explaining who they were. I’m sure her family members and friends know who they are, but this is a book that was being sold on Amazon and presumably read by strangers. So the lack of explanation could be a problem for those reading who didn’t actually know Loretta. She repeats herself a few times, which adds to the length of the book, which according to Kindle, is about 670 pages. An editor could have helped her pare down some redundancies and make the book shorter and easier to digest. There are lots of footnotes, too, which I sometimes found distracting and/or unnecessary. The title of the book implies that it might be a “how to” book, when it’s really a collection of stories about Loretta’s experiences overseas.

I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, and I am. But my criticisms don’t mean I didn’t like Yes You Can! I’m actually really glad I read Loretta Land’s book. She managed to accomplish so much, and she made so many lifelong friends. One thing that puzzled me, though, and I wish she were still around to explain, is why more than once, she writes “I never learned how to love.” She mentions that she went to high school at a boarding academy because she had no home to go to, although she also mentions that she was the youngest child of six. She doesn’t really explain her upbringing, nor does she explain why she says she “never learned how to love”, when it’s very obvious to me that she was a person who both loved, and was loved very much by other people.

Above all, I am just really impressed by Loretta’s bravery and her fortitude. I was in my 20s when we lived in Armenia, and I thought it was tough living there. I think Loretta’s living conditions were harsher than mine were. I didn’t have electricity much during the first year, but I did always have running water. Loretta apparently didn’t have much of either. She faced some truly frightening situations, too. At one point, early in our Peace Corps stint, Loretta was actually threatened by the Armenian Mafia. She writes of two other situations in other countries in which she was afraid for her life. I did have a couple of scary incidents myself, but none involving the Mafia!

I mentioned in yesterday’s post how grateful I am that I had the chance to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. One reason I am grateful is because I got to meet people like Loretta, who was very inspiring. I really looked up to her, and now that I’ve read about how she spent the last years of her life– serving and teaching other people– I admire her even more. She really lead a fascinating life. She mentions that one of her sons predeceased her. I’m sure the rest of her children are amazing people. I already read about her son, Andy, who is a hospice nurse and climbs mountains. A few years ago, Andy was climbing Mount Everest when there was an earthquake an an avalanche. Andy managed to survive, but not before Loretta was interviewed by the news. I later caught up with Loretta on Facebook, amazed that she looked and sounded just like I remembered her years ago.

So, despite my criticisms, I am glad I spent the money and took the time to read my former colleague’s book. It was a treat to read, but mainly because I knew her. She was a wonderful woman. I’m glad she managed to accomplish this goal she had before her time on Earth came to an end.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
complaints, expressions, healthcare

That “Karen” stigma can actually be dangerous…

Good mornin’ y’all… it’s another day here in COVID-19 paradise. As much as I would like to escape the reality of the virus, it’s pretty much impossible if you read the news. And as you know, I read the news a lot.

I did play Sims 4 yesterday. It was the first time in months. I laugh at myself now, because when I lived in Germany the first time, from 07-09, I used to waste hours playing Sims 2. It kind of makes me sick to think about it, especially since those were the heady days before the COVID-19 plague hit us. I should have been out enjoying Europe instead of living in a fantasy world. In those days, I also wasn’t on social media and was spared a lot of drama… I also didn’t blog back then. Hmm… maybe it’s time I delved back into Sims life.

Anyway, on with today’s topic. I was going to write about how COVID-19 is starting to remind me of a bizarre BDSM themed novel. I was inspired by that thought when I read about how people in China are now getting their anuses forcibly swabbed to test for COVID-19. I first learned about this new phenomenon when one of Bill’s very right wing friends mentioned it. He heard about it on the radio, but now the news is making the rounds. Apparently, the virus lives longer in the anus than the respiratory tract, so anal swabbing for the common good is becoming a thing. Isn’t that just typical? COVID-19 is a pain in the ass… literally!

But think about it… we have lockdowns, extended isolation, forced face masks, which some people think look like gags, wristbands that monitor one’s movements to make sure they quarantine, and the overall stern attitude and tendency to lecture others that many people have adopted. It is a little kinky, particularly if you’re also in a car, wearing a seatbelt. And now, we have anal swabbing too? Not to mention all the latex gloves… and if you’ve spent any time around kinky people, you know that latex is a very popular thing in certain circles. I sure hope no one invents a COVID-19 PPE suit made of latex. When you’re as fluffy as I am, latex is not your friend. I’ll bet some people have gotten spankings over not properly masking, too. In fact, I bet someone’s written a dirty story or made a porn video about it.

I could go on about the BDSMification of COVID-19. In fact, I could probably have a lot of fun with that topic. But I’m not going to go any further with that right now, which I’m sure will disappoint the many secretly kinky readers among us (seriously, I get tons of hits on my posts about kinky stuff- especially the naked spas– even got one from Baghdad today). Instead, I want to trot out one of my tired old topics… that much maligned insult, “Karen”.

I have repeatedly written about how much I despise the trend of hijacking people’s names and turning them into pejoratives. I have even been bold enough to state it out loud a few times. I often get a bunch of shit from other people, who think it’s their right to use perfectly good first names that were popular years ago to insult others. As I wrote yesterday, a lot of people refuse to think beyond the box, so they won’t consider why calling someone a “Karen” could be a really bad thing. They will simply insist that the “Karen” pejorative is here to stay and it’s their right to use it instead of coming up with something more original and clever on their own. And the end result is that now, lots of people live in fear of being labeled a “Karen”, which in the era of COVID-19 can be a deadly mistake.

Consider today’s article from Dr. James Hamblin, a medical doctor who is also a staff writer for The Atlantic. Besides being a physician, Hamblin is also a public health lecturer for Yale University’s School of Public Health. I ran across his advice column this morning as I was drinking my coffee. It was about a letter he got from a woman from Georgia with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis. She writes that the lady who runs the drive in pharmacy where she picks up her medications refuses to wear a mask properly. She wants to say something to the technician, but doesn’t want to be labeled a “Karen”. She asks how she should confront this situation.

Dr. Hamblin’s response is a bit long-winded… and, in fact, annoyed me quite a bit. He writes about how masks are supposed to be a show of empathy and unity, as well as acting as a medical device. Personally, I’ve about had it with people who want to preach about empathy and unity when it comes to wearing face masks. Given what happened at our Capitol a couple of weeks ago, I think promoting mask wearing as a way of showing people how “nice” you are is kind of misguided and pathetic. I’m sure a lot of the maskless people who stormed the Capitol are perfectly nice folks when they aren’t breaking the law for Donald Trump. I really mean that. There’s no telling what gets someone so upset that they decide to storm the Capitol. Some of the protestors were clearly bad actors, but a lot of them were probably normal folks who were simply misguided and misinformed. Many Trump fans truly are basically good people. Conversely, there are lots of liberals who are legitimate jerks. Believe me; I’ve met them. I disagree with the idea that whether or not a person is wearing a mask is a direct measure of their quality as a person, and I refuse to get on that particular bandwagon.

I think people should simply wear masks to slow the spread of the disease. I prefer to leave the preachy platitudes and moral judgments about them out of it. A person can be a perfect asshole and yet wear a face mask without complaint. Or, a person can be sweet, generous, and loving, and not want to wear a mask for whatever reason. I don’t see it as having much to do with the type of person someone is… it’s just something we’re doing for now, and I can definitely do without the lectures on morality or assumptions about a person’s character. As long as the person complies with the rules, what difference does it make? And if they don’t comply, I’m more likely to just get the hell away from them, if I can.

I took a look at the Facebook comments on this post, and ran across several responses from people who do NOT want to be called “Karens” and, in fact, are so afraid of being labeled as such that they don’t say or do anything when someone is breaking the rules. I’m going to be honest and say that there are times when I don’t mind speaking up when something isn’t right. There are other times when I don’t bother. Scratch that. There are MANY times when I don’t bother. Confronting people is often exhausting and futile at best, and in the United States, it can actually be very dangerous. You never know who’s unhinged and packing heat or looking for a fight.

One woman wrote that last summer, she’d politely asked someone at the grocery store to pull up her mask so she could get around her. She claimed that at the time, she had been taking care of her father, who was then very ill and, in fact, recently passed away of Parkinson’s Disease. But, the commenter wrote that instead of politely pulling up her mask and letting the commenter get around her, the maskless woman then went ballistic and complained about her to the store manager. She claims that the maskless woman “told a bunch of lies”. The manager then called the police, who confronted the commenter as she was trying to drive away. Now, the commenter laments, her name is permanently logged on a police record, all because she’d decided to speak up at the grocery store. And, to add insult to injury, the police officer who approached her also wasn’t masked. It would seem to me that this story is one that might discourage someone from being confrontational about masks.

Lots of people were telling this lady to “lawyer up”. I thought that was funny, since people don’t seem to realize that lawyers cost lots of money, and unless there is money to be made, suing someone is a lot of stress and expense for, perhaps, not the greatest payoff. I will admit that it was satisfying for us to sue our ex landlady. She blatantly ripped us off and needed a knot jerked in her, because I suspect she’s done it to other people. But Germany’s legal system is more reasonably priced than America’s is, and you can get legal insurance here to defray the cost (although it’s still expensive). Also, I have my doubts that the commenter’s account may not have been entirely truthful. Let’s face it. When someone relates a story, it’s often embellished to put the storyteller in the best light. The situation she described made it sound like she was the only rational one involved. Maybe it happened exactly the way she reports it, but I have my doubts.

There were a lot of other responses from people who wrote that confronting people over mask wearing is not really “Karen” behavior. And I would tend to agree with that. However, enough people obviously think of being confrontational in any situation as being entitled and annoying– in short, being a “Karen”. The definition of a “Karen” is a middle-aged, usually white woman who is overly demanding and complains a lot. And given how polarized people are over face masks, and the fact that many Americans, as a whole, don’t like to be confrontational or considered high maintenance, the threat of being labeled a “Karen” could deter them from doing the “right” thing. What you consider the “right” thing to do, in this situation, depends on who you are.

It’s true that hanging around someone who isn’t masked could potentially be very dangerous, so it’s not unreasonable to speak up. On the other hand, I can also understand why many people would prefer not to. No one wants to end up on the news or YouTube for a situation like that. And even if some people don’t think speaking up about improperly worn face masks is stepping into “Karen” territory, not everyone will agree that it isn’t. Some people would prefer to avoid the temporary drama, potentially at their own peril.

I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back that in this situation, I think I would simply find a new pharmacy, or barring that, I would get my meds through the mail. Since I have Tricare insurance, getting regularly dispensed meds by mail is probably the way I’d get them regardless. It’s cheaper, and the military/government prefers to do it that way. I might, or might not, send a letter or email to the pharmacy explaining why I moved my business elsewhere. The reason I wouldn’t automatically do it is because the pandemic has been going on now for about a year and if people haven’t gotten the message about masks yet, a complaint from me probably won’t make that much of a difference. The original letter writer for The Atlantic’s article mentioned that she lived in a small town in Georgia. It does occur to me that maybe there aren’t other pharmacies. Or maybe no one in that town cares about masks. Either way, if the pharmacy tech hasn’t yet been confronted by her boss, there’s a good chance that complaining probably won’t change her behavior.

I have never used a drive in pharmacy myself. Are they like drive in tellers? If so, is the technician even in direct contact with anyone? Wouldn’t you be staying in your vehicle anyway? Is it like getting food from a fast food place? Or is it more like making a deposit at a bank? If it’s like getting food, I could see why not wearing a mask is problematic. If it’s like going to the bank, it would seem like it’s less so, since banks have drawers and/or canisters that they put the stuff into.

I agree, wearing a mask is the right thing to do in a healthcare setting, to include pharmacies, where you would be coming into contact with sick people. But it seems to me that a technician alone in a room dispensing medications maskless might be less risky than working the desk in a store, where people are coming up to pay and pick up their prescriptions perhaps without benefit of a window. I don’t know. I mean, yes, the germs can aerosol into the air and land on things, but that’s probably happening anyway.

However, I also know that many people feel better when they see others properly wearing a face mask. And conversely, many people hate the fucking things and are creeped out by them. I would imagine that in Georgia, more people are creeped out by them than not. I base that on having lived in somewhat rural Georgia for a relatively short spell. Nice people, but they don’t want to be told what to do. I can’t blame them for that, even though I’m smart enough to know that the fucking plague isn’t going to go away if we just ignore it. Personally, my solution is just to avoid people as much as possible, but I know not everyone can do that.

Anyway… this post has gone on long enough. I’m rambling like Dr. Hamblin. I’ll close by saying that I’m happy to be weathering this particular storm in Germany, where people are more sensible and there are fewer guns. And no one calls anyone “Karen” unless it’s their name… Fun fact, in Armenia, almost all Karens are men. Know why? Because in Armenia, Karen (pronounced Car-en) is a masculine name. Now you’ve learned something new and useful! Have a great day, and try to avoid being anal swabbed!

Standard
language, overly helpful people, rants

Hey Digga!

Here comes another one of my rants about overly sensitive language cops. It comes this morning as my friend from my hometown shared a news article about a professor at the University of Southern California, who went viral for teaching about pause or filler words in China and using a word that sounded a lot like the n-bomb.

Professor Greg Patton, who teaches communications, was talking about the Chinese equivalent of “err” and “um”, you know, what we in English speaking countries say as we’re thinking about the next thing we’re going to say, but we don’t want “dead air”. It turns out that in Chinese, the “filler” language akin to our “ums” and “errs” is the Chinese word for “that”, which is evidently “na-ge”. And spoken out loud, “na-ge” sounds a bit like the taboo n-bomb.

Naturally, someone was filming the professor, and the footage made it to the Internet. Several students complained to Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the University of Southern California. And now, Professor Patton is no longer teaching the course. According to the article, Patton voluntarily stepped away, as Garrett stated:

“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,”

News of the debacle reached China, where native speakers posted on social media that the backlash was discriminatory toward speakers of Chinese. Interestingly enough, I have another friend who lived in China for awhile and she frequently told me about how racist their society is. In fact, in the Toytown Germany thread I reference later in this post, someone wrote this:

Silly and sad, just shows you how people are tripping over themselves to show how not a racist! they are. Big smiiiiiiles, eeeeeeveryone’s happy, no one’s racist here, nosirreee… All a little different from actually not being racist.

As an aside, China is an objectively far more racist society. Pot, kettle, black. The Chinese government knows full well what resonates in foreign media for political effect. Their diplomats will criticize America’s racism, while within China, Africans are called chocolate or monkeys and many restaurants or hotels forbid entry. Not to mention the current Uyghur concentration camps. There are no self-reflective large anti-racism movements.

A few months back, veteran Canadian news reporter Wendy Mesley for the CBC (like the BBC) got in deep doodoo for betraying her secret racism. While in a conference room with producers (apparently none Black?), discussing a specific episode of her show and how they should cover BLM protests and racial issues, she said that word while discussing how they should refer to this work here. It’s the title. The discussion was about that and she said the title. She was (temporarily?) removed as host and issued an apology, etc. Confession and repentance, 50 Hail Marys and 50 Our Fathers.

Obviously the word shouldn’t be used, but it’s hard to see what this kind of official censure for using it in (closed door) academic/historical contexts achieves. The reporter is known for her progressive liberal stances. Of course, CBC as a state broadcaster had to do something… 

My reaction to this? Big sigh. I have already written more than once about my strong aversion to burying language and banning words, particularly when they are words that only sound like offensive words. I am also extremely irritated when people don’t have their facts straight and attempt to ban words based on untruths. But, most of all, it disappoints and offends me that people who attend a prestigious school like the University of Southern California are not intelligent enough to understand the difference between someone deliberately being hurtful by using clearly derogatory and racist language, and a professor who is actually trying to educate them about another culture and language.

Seriously? My opinion of the California USC (as opposed to the “original” USC, my alma mater, the University of South Carolina), has now dropped considerably. With all of the other crap going on right now, one would hope a famous and storied school like USC, where parents are going to prison and paying fines for cheating their kids’ ways past the admissions office, could rise above something as petty as this without it making the news. I certainly don’t think a man’s livelihood should be threatened over this incident. And it should not be international news, either!

What the hell are colleges and universities for if there can’t be a free exchange of ideas without people getting offended? Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where ideas can be born and hashed out, and language can be used in an instructional way. Professor Patton was not trying to be offensive. He was trying to educate! That’s his job!

You might be wondering about the title of this post. It comes from a recent thread on a Web site called Toytown Germany, which I joined in 2008, when we lived in Germany the first time (pre-Facebook days). I still hang out on Toytown Germany on occasion, as it’s a very useful source of information about living in Germany and the information isn’t strictly for the U.S. military affiliated population. That site has many people on it from all around the world, including Germans. The one thing they have in common is the ability to speak English.

Anyway, recently, a woman who teaches in a German school started a post about the German slang word “digga” and how she finds it offensive. The original poster teaches in an inner city school in Cologne. She’s a native English speaker from an “ethnic minority background” and she writes that she doesn’t generally try to prevent her students from using slang. However, she tried to draw the line at the word “digga”, because it sounded a lot like the n-bomb and she felt her students were using the word in a derogatory way. Clearly, it was triggering her a lot.

“Digga” is a word that originated near Hamburg. It’s basically akin to the English slang terms, “dude” or “bro”. She wrote:

I banned the word ‘digga’ in my class and I told the students that they should be ashamed to be using such language whilst considering themselves anti-racist and progressive. Now I have had a bit of pushback from a few parents who say I shouldn’t stop kids from using their German language slang.

I have had to bite my own tongue and hold back. I think  parents need to listen to the music their kids are listening to, they need to pay attention to the media their kids are consuming but most are quite naive or really don’t want to know.

This lady also got quite a pushback in Toytown Germany, which isn’t surprising. That forum is not exactly “politically correct” and people will not hesitate to tell off anyone who comes off as ignorant. Many people told the teacher she was wrong to ban the word “digga”, as it is not a racist epithet. This was the first of many comments she got:

digga comes from “dicker” (a kind of fond way of addressing someone who is your friend, and it also has nothing to do with them actually being fat), it has no associations to nigga whatsoever and I agree with the parents that you are overreacting as well as overreaching.  It is also not a new phenomenon, has been popular at least as long as I have lived here although back in the early 2000s it seemed like more of a Hamburg thing that kind of made its way over.

In any case it really has nothing to do with nigga.  

One person was sympathetic to the teacher’s plight and wrote this:

Verbal violence is a form of abuse and precursor to other violence. It all starts somewhere. Sigh. Fighting it is an uphill battle. Letting slip leads to the abnormal becoming normalised. Saying nothing condones this undesirable behaviour. This possibly escapes the attention of the parents. However, their and your energy is limited and you have to choose how to use it. The insider connoisseurs claim the expression is harmless… but you see it in context. You don’t have an easy job!

Okay, but words are always evolving. I can think of a half dozen of them right off the bat that once were totally innocuous and later turned into insults that need to be banned. The word “faggot”, as well as its abbreviated form “fag”, for instance, has a few meanings, only one of which is derogatory. And yet if you say that word in certain places, you will face a huge backlash.

Ditto for the word “retard”, which is a perfectly innocent word with forms that are used in many languages. In fact, we heard it correctly used in France and Italy– it had to do with the train schedules. But now it’s pretty much banned in the United States.

It seems to me that we focus way too much on words and not nearly enough on attitudes and context. Instead of banning words and firing hapless professors who use certain words in their classes, we should take a moment to consider the context. Was the professor trying to be hurtful when he used that word? Was the professor being oppressive? In the case involving the USC professor, I don’t think so. In the case involving the teacher in Germany, I would argue that trying to impose the standards of one’s own language and homeland to people from another country is overreaching.

Banning words or making them taboo doesn’t change negative attitudes. A person can be racist and never drop the n-bomb. A person can be non-racist and use the n-bomb in an instructive way. Think it can’t be done? Try reading a slave narrative and banning that word. Try listening to certain musical selections where it’s referenced. “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder immediately comes to mind, as it has in my previous rants about this topic.

To the teacher’s credit, she did come back and thank everyone for setting her straight. Ultimately, she was looking for clarification and the right way to handle this situation, even taking into account that she has an “obvious walking disability” and is a person from “an ethnic minority background”. The thread continued for several pages and was revived when the news came out about the professor at the University of Southern California.

Again, I reference what Dean Geoffrey Garrett said in response to the uproar about the Chinese filler speech that sounds like the n-bomb…

“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,”

Wow. So he’s very concerned about the “psychological safety” of students in a world where they have been regularly threatened by school shooters, terrorists, cops who kill innocent people, and deadly rogue viruses like COVID-19? I mean… people are getting killed or dying by the day in the United States, sometimes while just sleeping in their own beds! And he’s worried that his students will be permanently scarred by the Chinese word “na-ge”, which just happens to sound like the n-bomb, an English slur? Seems to me that the dean needs to gain a global perspective and stop being so politically correct. Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out. That’s my motto.

Right now, many people are focused on simple SURVIVAL. The people who are lucky enough to attend the University of Southern California ought to know the difference between someone being hateful and derogatory toward a group of people and someone who is talking about another culture with another language. They need to grow up and wise up. In the vast majority of cases, if they’re at USC, they obviously have had a lot of things go right in their lives.

They’re in a class where they’re learning about something that most people would never have the opportunity to study because they’re too busy learning skills that will keep them alive and able to pay their bills! They are probably the last people who need to be up in arms over a professor teaching them about Chinese filler words that happen to sound like a racist epithet in some parts of the world. And if they’re offended in the classroom in California, God help them if they go to China and actually hear Chinese people saying “Na-ge” over and over again. There will be many special snowflake meltdowns!

Jeez!

Standard
complaints, rants

It’s piqued, not peaked, dammit!

In the interest of not ranting about my recently usual topics today, I’m going to revisit another tired subject… people who can’t spell. Especially when they are pesky spammers!

They visit every day… and I can almost bet there will be spam waiting for me…

I have a persistent spammer. Based on the fact that I get lots of hits from China, I’m assuming that is where this spammer is coming from every day, even though the screen name is in Thai. And every day, whoever is generating this spam leaves the same message. It’s probably automated. Sometimes I get this very same comment on several posts. One day, I had eighteen of these very same comments in the moderation queue.

From my travel blog. Every day, I get this same message at least once, but sometimes up to eighteen times.

Now… I get that spammers are gonna spam. BUT– I don’t understand what the purpose of this particular spam comment is. There’s no hyperlink in it, and it doesn’t seem to be selling anything. It just says “Like!!” There’s not even a hyperlink to the blog this spammer supposedly writes, which I would never visit because I know the difference between “piqued” and “peaked”. See below…

Granted, I don’t know Chinese or Thai. I am not particularly gifted in any language, including English. But I do think that if you’re going to spam people in a foreign language and compliment them on their blog, you should at least write something in your zone of competency. On the other hand, plenty of Americans don’t know the difference between “piqued” and “peaked”, either. Nor do they know other quirks of English.

For example, the other day, I was hanging out in the Fender Community on Facebook and someone wrote a post referring to a popular strong coffee beverage. What am I writing of? Why, espresso, of course! But this person didn’t write “espresso”. Instead, she wrote “expresso”, which I see from the squiggly red line in my text is incorrect. I know… I know… I’m being very picky. It’s one of my many quirks. But when someone writes “expresso” instead of “espresso”, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.

Don’t even get me started on “discreet” vs. “discrete”, “per se” vs. “per say” (Holy fuck, that one bugs!), “faze” vs. “phase”, or “hellow” vs. “hello”. Okay, so it’s not very often that people write “hellow”. It happened yesterday, when I was on Recovery from Mormonism and someone wrote a post about a book they’re writing. First of all, the post was one big wall of text with no breaks between paragraphs. Secondly, the very first word was “Hellow.” And that is exactly where he lost me.

When someone complained about the “wall of text”, the original poster made an excuse about his equipment. It reminded me of an extremely exasperating Epinions (a defunct review writing site) member who had a habit of downrating people for typos and differences of opinion, but expected other people to cut her some slack because she didn’t have a proper word processor or some other such thing. She once called me “finicky” for rating one of her reviews “helpful” because it was a wall of text with many errors in it. And yet, she did the same thing to me because there was one typo. This incident occurred just a week or so before Epinions finally went down in flames, and at that point , I was getting really fed up with some of the more “eccentric” people on the site. I also blogged about it. In the interest of killing time, here’s an excerpt from that piece, which I wrote in February 2014:

“…every once in awhile, you run into someone who is a bit “odd”… The truly psycho people usually end up leaving or getting kicked off the site.  But those who are just a little odd often end up sticking around and even gain some clout on the site.  They are usually minor annoyances that flare up occasionally, much like a hemorrhoid or a cracked molar (which is also troubling me this morning).   

Yesterday, I wrote a review of Preparation H with Hydrocortisone.  It was a simple review, less than 500 words.  I’ve started using this product because I’ve been experiencing some itching where the sun doesn’t shine.  I bought it for the itching, not because I think I have varicose veins in my ass (though for all I know, I might have them).  I wanted something that wasn’t going to irritate my skin. 

Because it’s a review of an embarrassing product, I injected a little humor in my review.  Well, this morning I got  a rating and this comment from this rather odd Epinions member who, over the years, had left me weird comments and the occasional lowball rating.  She wrote that she can’t use steroidal products and has to treat her itches homeopathically.  She suggests that I use apple cider vinegar, adding that she “say[s] it works better” than the product I reviewed. 

I will admit, this is the first thing I read this morning as I was just opening my eyes and her comment annoyed me.  If you can’t use a product because of your own idiosyncratic body issues, how do you know how it works for other people?  I can use steroidal products if I want to.  If you can’t, because you have sensitivities, does that mean that I should automatically do what you do?  The person also said that apple cider vinegar burns, even if it is effective.  I prefer not to apply something that burns to my asshole.  I’m not into that kind of thing.  I left a polite response indicating that I prefer to use something that doesn’t burn and I was glad she’d found a solution for her issues.

But then I go to another review, which this person rated “helpful”.  In the past, I would have been annoyed by a “helpful” rating; but before the standards changed at Epinions, “helpful” was still considered a good rating.  I probably would have just let it go.  Since the dumbing down of the Epinions rating system, the “helpful” rating is now considered akin to what used to be a “somewhat helpful” rating.  And this person who left me this shitty rating did not leave a comment indicating why, so now I’m left guessing why she apparently didn’t find my review acceptable.

Under normal circumstances, I usually ignore people like her.  I make a point of not engaging and won’t read or rate their reviews.  But this morning, because I was so irritated, I did go to her page.  I read her latest review, which happens to be a music review.  She had a string of inflated ratings, some of which I personally didn’t think she deserved.  I noticed her review was kind of hard to read, with no spacing between paragraphs and too much bolding.  She writes that it’s because she’s typing on a word pad instead of her computer.  That’s an explanation, but it doesn’t change my reading experience.  Besides, if she has her standards, then I must be entitled to mine. “

I ended up leaving her the same rating she left for me, and somehow I had a feeling that she’d take exception to it. And sure enough, I was right. Here’s an excerpt from a follow up post from that same time period.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Epinions and an encounter I had with a rather odd person who annoyed me by suggesting I put apple cider vinegar on my asshole and rating a review of mine low without any explanation.  In my post, I explained that I’ve had a few encounters with this person and usually ignore her.  I find her a bit strange.  Others seem to have a similar opinion of her.

I made the mistake of reading this person’s latest music review.  I rated it “helpful”, and while my rating may have originally been inspired by early morning annoyance and the desire to take revenge, in actuality, I did not find her review to be very good.  Because she didn’t leave a comment for me explaining her low rating, I didn’t feel the need to leave one for her explaining mine.  I figured I’d probably hear from her and, sure enough, I did.  She sent me the following email this morning…

Hi fellow Epinions writer,

I was just curious why you were the only one that rated my CHERISH by David Cassidy a helpful . . .

What could of made it VH or Expert in your opinion ?

Have a nice day !
sharing the light, 

And this was how I responded to her. Bear in mind, Epinions had gotten very annoying by February 2014. If it hadn’t tanked days after this incident, I would have probably quit writing there. By that point, it was no longer worthwhile on any level.

Hello,

I rated your review helpful because I found it hard to read. There was a lot of bolding and no spacing between paragraphs.

Also, I didn’t think you offered much analysis of the music on the album. There is a lot in the review that came from the album cover, but not so much about the music itself or what you think of it. I realize you might have been trying to make your review fit into the lean and mean promotion going on this month. Personally, I find writing lean and mean music reviews difficult. Perhaps if you want to make the review under 500 words, you could remove your discussion of Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, which doesn’t really have much to do with the music on CHERISH. That would save you some words which you could then use to offer more of your opinion of the music.

All the best.”

Below is her response in italics.  My comments are in bold.  Given my complaints about excessive bolding in her review, I offer apologies in advance to anyone who finds the formatting hard to read.  😉  While I am somewhat tempted to respond to her email, I realize it would only cause a back and forth that would probably lead nowhere.  Unfortunately, I am still left with the desire to communicate, so I will respond in this blog post.  If she happens to read it, so be it.

Hi,

I had a comment written from myself explaining the inability to space properly after four edit attempts the paragraphs properly and using the bold where it was necessary (I did remove that comment before you came in and rated this) the final published draft now a review does look terrible but the platform of Epinions WOULD NOT and still won’t let me edit using proper spacing.

I did actually see the comment she left before she removed it.  My perspective comes from that of a reader, not as a fellow Epinions writer.  A visitor to the site is not going to know or care about her problems with the Epinions platform.  They may not even see the comments section or bother to read it.  If she’s going to explain why the formatting is not right, it would make more sense to put that information in the review where people will have a better chance of seeing it.  But anyway, while I do empathize and her inability to format correctly is regrettable, it’s not my problem.  It’s not an Epinions visitor’s problem, either; but it would likely affect their experience on the site.  

I do not have a word counter anymore as my old computer tower crashed (due to possible virus threats that came through last month and December in Epinions before my tower crashed) and I no longer have a Word Program that counts such things so if it does not make the lean and mean grade, so be it. 

Again, computer issues… not my problem, nor is her inability to count the words of her piece.  In all honesty, I don’t even care how long or short the review is, as long as it adequately covers the subject.  The only reason I mentioned the Lean and Mean promotion is because she mentioned it at the end of her review.   But the review’s helpfulness or lack thereof is entirely based on its content, not how many words are written.   Whether or not the review counts as Lean and Mean is of no concern to me.  Moreover, I bet if she looked online, she could find a word counter.

However if that is what epinions rates on instead of merit for knowing the material and knowing it well, then so be it also.

Knowing the material and knowing it well is very important in a review.  Based on what I read in her review, I was not convinced that she did.

The album CHERISH was and did have a lot to do with his dad and step-mom, which is why I added that info. I have been following davids career since I was 16 and have seen him twice in concert, I thought it would provide more oomph to the review. 

Okay, if the album’s concept really does have to do with David Cassidy’s relationship with Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones, then that information certainly is useful and should be explained in more detail.  But in her review, I didn’t see much of a discussion as to why that information was important.  And again, include the information or don’t include it.  It’s her choice.  I honestly don’t care.  

My suggestion to omit information was simply to give her a way to economize on words so that she could add more of her own opinion while staying under the word limit challenge this month.  In my view, more of her own opinion would have made her review much more useful.  I would have also advised her to leave out the information she included on the artwork and liner notes.  Again, that would be simply to keep the review under 500 words and qualify for the sweepstakes.  Any other month, I wouldn’t have even mentioned word count.  

Instead it gets downgraded by only one finicky Top Reviewer . . . 

I’m really not that finicky.  In fact, I consider myself a very fair and even an EASY rater, the vast majority of the time.  This person’s analysis of the music on David Cassidy’s album consisted of a list of album tracks with four or five vague words about what each song sounds like and very little about her opinion.  The review told me almost nothing about what was actually on the album and I found it hard to read besides.  I stand by my rating, finicky or not.  

oh well epinions is not as much fun as it used to be and the rating guidelines have seriously changed the incentive to keep on plugging away on reviews EXPERTS find fault with.

I completely agree.  Epinions is not as much fun as it used to be.  I don’t consider myself an EXPERT, though.  I am just another Epinions user and reviewer.  Moreover, a few days ago, when she left me a “Helpful” rating on one of my reviews with no explanation, I didn’t go whining to her in an email demanding her reasons why.  In fact, she has left me many lone lowball ratings over the years with no explanations.  I have never once complained to her about them.  

Besides, the overall rating of her review is still “Very Helpful”; other members gave her high ratings.  In the long run, my rating means nothing anyway, other than an insult to her pride.  Would it make her happy if I just went back and changed my rating?  Maybe so…  It sounds to me like she cares more about ratings than the actual quality of her work.

And below, in italics, was my conclusion. Fortunately, since Epinions died just days after this incident, I didn’t have to make the decision myself.

Before anyone brings up the obvious, I do realize that my decision to go to her page and rate her review led to this.  I should have done what I normally do when it comes to this particular person.  I usually ignore her and seldom read what she writes because I don’t want to encourage interaction.  I probably would not have even noticed her rating this time if not for her comment that the product I reviewed was inferior to putting apple cider vinegar in my ass, even though I’ve read that it is a “miracle cure”.  I’d rather not exchange an itchy ass for one that burns.  But lesson learned.  I won’t be reading or rating any more of her reviews.  It’s too much trouble.  

Anyway, this is probably a sign that I need to take an Epinions sabbatical.  I’m going to give it some serious thought. 

I used to spend hours writing for Epinions. I actually made a significant amount of money there, too– I think it was about $12,000 over eleven years, which when you consider that I was just reviewing stuff around the house, wasn’t an insignificant amount of cash. Especially since I joined the site a couple of years after its initial heyday, when people were getting a penny per view, or something like that. I made some good friends writing there, found some good products, went to some fun parties, and scored plenty of schwag besides making some income. It was a great place for writers and it had surprisingly high standards. But yes, I did run into some strange folks… and some of them couldn’t spell or wanted to apply different standards to me than what they applied to themselves.

I’m sure the lady who inspired my rantings in 2014 was crushed when David Cassidy died a few years ago. Maybe it even inspired her to break out the apple cider vinegar and apply it liberally to her asshole or anywhere else the sun doesn’t shine.

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