communication, law, Police, travel

Damned if you do… damned if you don’t…

I still have a ton of travel blogging to do, and I’ll be getting to that in a little while. First, I want to write about a situation I read about this morning.

Last month, white mom, Mary MacCarthy, was traveling with her ten year old biracial daughter, Moira. They were on their way to a funeral in Denver, Colorado. Ms. MacCarthy’s brother died suddenly in October, so MacCarthy had to take a last minute flight from her home in California. MacCarthy is a single mom, and her brother was like a father to Moira. The girl was crying when she was boarding the flight, and the two were initially not able to sit together. MacCarthy asked other passengers if someone would be willing to move so that she and her daughter could be next to each other.

Another passenger was kind enough to oblige, and the pair arrived safely in Denver, where they were met on the jet bridge by a couple of Denver police officers. MacCarthy was shocked to be confronted by the cops. She worried that they were there to deliver more bad news. But, it turned out that they wanted to talk to her because someone had called them, suspicious about their behavior. Moira had been crying because her uncle died. Then, afterwards, she was confronted by the police, and terrified because of all of the news coverage about people of color being abused or even killed by the police.

After talking to MacCarthy and her daughter, Denver police cleared them of any wrongdoing, and they were free to go. MacCarthy recorded the incident on her phone. The initial police report indicated that a Southwest flight attendant had reported the duo for “suspicious behavior”.

Two weeks later, MacCarthy got a phone call from the Denver Police Human Trafficking unit. The caller said the unit was following up on MacCarthy’s case. It was only then that MacCarthy realized she had been suspected of human trafficking.

MacCarthy sent an email to Southwest Airlines about this incident and, she says, so far they have not apologized. Instead, she claims she has only received two brief automated responses. MacCarthy has retained an attorney and is accusing Southwest Airlines of “racial profiling”. She now wants “a written apology from the airline, immediate reimbursement of the full price of their tickets, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving ten year-old Black girl.”

Southwest Airlines has said it’s “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s story of the events and has “plans to reach out to her.” In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson said:

“We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year,”

I can’t blame Mary MacCarthy and her daughter for being very upset and traumatized by what happened to them last month. On the other hand, I also have some empathy for the flight attendant who called the police. It sounds like the flight attendant was following protocol based on training. And while it’s certainly possible that the call was based on the flight attendant’s racial biases, I can’t conclude for certain that it was, based on the information I’ve read about this case so far.

Just yesterday, I read another story about a sixteen year old girl who was abducted by a 61 year old man. The girl had seen a hand gesture on Tik Tok called the Signal for Help. She used it while riding in the car with her kidnapper, hoping someone in another car would notice her signal of distress. Fortunately, someone did notice, and called 911. The motorist who made the emergency call also stayed behind the car and updated the police to the kidnapper’s location. That’s how the Laurel County sheriff’s department in Kentucky managed to arrest James Herbert Brick and bring the teenager he’d abducted to safety.

Brick has been charged with two felonies: unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. He was locked up in the Laurel County Correctional Center in London, Ky., on a $10,000 bond.

In both of these scenarios, people saw something and said something, which is the advice often given to those who are concerned about something that is amiss. I’ve heard that advice given in situations involving potential crimes, as well as in situations that involve potential medical issues. Yes, it’s possible that a person is making much ado about nothing, but, as they say, “better safe than sorry”, especially when children are involved.

My heart goes out to Mary MacCarthy and Moira. They were already upset and anxious on that flight to Denver, given the terrible and sudden loss of MacCarthy’s brother, who was only 46 years old. Ms. MacCarthy also says that Moira is only ten, but she looks much older than ten. And it’s almost always scary to be confronted by the police, particularly in this era during which Black people have been injured or killed by American cops.

But… unfortunately, there are people out there who traffic children. Not all traffickers are scary looking men. Sometimes women are involved with trafficking children, and they get away with it, because they don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a trafficker. And flight attendants are trained to look for the signs of people who might be harming children. The flight attendant who called the police reported that Ms. MacCarthy and Moira were among the last to board the flight and the last to buy tickets. And they didn’t speak during the flight. Of course, the flight attendant had no way of knowing the circumstances of why the duo were behaving as they were, and she had many other passengers to look after on the flight. It might not have been possible for her to find out more about the situation before she made her judgment call.

It seems to me that Ms. MacCarthy is legitimately upset because she’s offended. I don’t blame her for being offended. But I would also hate to see people being discouraged from calling for help when they see something that doesn’t look right. I understand that calling the police on matters involving people of color can lead to tragic consequences. It shouldn’t be that way, though. People should feel free to call for help if they think help is needed. And I think in this case, the flight attendant was obviously concerned and felt that the situation merited calling the police. It turned out that she was wrong, but what if she hadn’t been wrong?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed several people hitting a post I wrote earlier this year about how the “Karen” stigma can actually be deadly. That post was about a column I read in The Atlantic magazine, about a woman who was concerned that her pharmacy wasn’t requiring people to wear face masks at the drive in pickup station. But she didn’t want to be a “Karen”, so she didn’t say anything about it.

That post was written in late January of this year, before a lot of people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The incident the article it was based on occurred even earlier than that. The point I made in that post is that being overly concerned about being labeled a “Karen” or a “BBQ Becky” or “Permit Patty” could actually cause harm to people. If there is a situation that is potentially dangerous, a person should feel okay about asking for help from people who have the ability to investigate. In a perfect world, making such a call would be perfectly safe, and would not result in someone being hurt, killed, or even humiliated.

Ms. MacCarthy assumes that she and her daughter were questioned because they don’t look alike. And it’s possible that racism played a part in the reason the flight attendant noticed them and called the cops. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the flight attendant was legitimately concerned and believed the duo were throwing up major red flags. The end result was that Mary MacCarthy and her daughter were cleared and allowed to go on their way. Yes, it was traumatic, embarrassing, and scary, but in the end, no one was hurt or killed, and no one actually was being trafficked. Those are good things, even if Southwest Airlines hasn’t apologized for the mistake.

For the record, yes, I do think the airline owes Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter a sincere apology. I’m sure that Southwest Airlines will eventually settle with Ms. MacCarthy. Hopefully, the settlement will be appropriate and make the situation less horrifying for MacCarthy and her daughter. According to NBC news:

“At this point they can speak with my attorneys,” MacCarthy said.

She says it’s about more than an apology.

“I travel with my daughter’s birth certificate because I’m ready to answer any questions if necessary,” she said. “The fact that we’re mother and daughter, the fact that I’m a single parent traveling with my daughter. It’s the right of TSA to ask those questions, I’m open to that. But the way this was handled was so unprofessional.

“I will do whatever it takes to speak out against the type of ignorant behavior and policies that lead to families being treated this way.”

I think people involved with serving and protecting the public have a tough and often thankless job. But I also think that these kinds of situations, where an offended person pursues legal remedies against those who act out of caution– especially when it involves children— could have a chilling effect that might lead to more children being harmed or killed. If someone sees something that raises a red flag, but they decide not to act because of the danger of being sued or even just being called a “Karen”, there could be even more tragedies. I’m sure the young lady who gave the Signal for Help while being driven through multiple states with her 61 year old captor is happy that someone acted and called the police.

But… in Mary MacCarthy’s defense, I also think that once the Denver Police cleared her and her daughter, that should have been the end of it. The human trafficking department should not have called her to “follow up”. I think if that hadn’t have happened, this story would have a different trajectory. And I do believe her when she says that Moira is traumatized by what happened.

I hope someday, the police situation in the United States will be overhauled, so that officers can actually be thought of as good people to call for help, rather than just threatening and potentially deadly. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. And… on another note, flying has gotten to be pretty terrible these days. Stories like these make me want to avoid flying even more than ever.

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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!

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politics

Remember John Edwards?

Yesterday, as Bill and I were enjoying our Veteran’s Day celebration at home, I had a random thought about former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Edwards was also Democratic nominee John Kerry’s running mate for Vice President in 2004. He was also a former senator in North Carolina. I remember thinking he was a very handsome man. He seemed to have a lot going for him besides his looks, too.

John Edwards had four children in his marriage to his wife, Elizabeth. There was Wade, who was born in 1979 and tragically died in a car accident in 1996. Daughter Cate was born in 1982, then came Emma Claire in 1998 and son, Jack, in 2000. Tragically, the children’s mother, the former Elizabeth Anania, had breast cancer and it killed her in 2010, when she was 61 years old. While Elizabeth was dying of cancer, John Edwards was having an affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter. And with Hunter, Edwards fathered another daughter named Frances Quinn Hunter, who was born in 2008.

For years, Edwards denied having an affair with Hunter, a former campaign worker. He denied that he was the father of Frances for two years, before finally admitting it in 2010. Elizabeth Edwards published a book in June of that year entitled Resilience. In the book, she never mentions Rielle Hunter by name, but refers to her as “pathetic” and a “parasitic groupie”. When John Edwards finally admitted that he’d been sleeping around, Elizabeth separated from him. She intended to divorce him after the one year waiting period required in North Carolina, but died before the time was up. She and John were still legally married when she finally passed away of metastatic breast cancer in December 2010.

John Edwards’ political career was left in a shambles after this affair was made public. It wasn’t just that he’d been unfaithful to his seemingly loyal wife. He was also accused of fraud. Edwards supposedly used over $1 million in campaign contributions to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter. A few years later, Edwards was found not guilty on at least one the fraud charges and mistrials were declared against the others, but the damage had already been done. Edwards hasn’t been back on the political scene. Instead, he’s gone back to being a lawyer. His daughter Cate is now the managing attorney of the San Diego office of his Raleigh based law firm, Edwards Kirby, which, I believe, specializes in malpractice suits.

Why am I bringing up John Edwards today? Because, for some reason, his story popped into my head yesterday. For several years, he was a political golden boy who seemed to have everything going for him. He had an affair, which is not uncommon among people who work in very challenging, powerful positions. The affair, along with the alleged fraud, eventually ruined his career in politics.

And yet, here we have an obvious scumbag like Donald Trump, who has a long history of extramarital affairs and fraud attached to him, and half the U.S. population wants to see him continue his destructive presidential reign. Why was John Edwards so quickly tossed out of the political arena, his reputation effectively ruined, but Donald Trump is still a hero to so many?

I think about John Edwards and, while I would not condone his actions, I think he is a lot more decent than Trump has ever been. He’s certainly better looking, anyway. Maybe he doesn’t have Trump’s charisma, although over half of us in the United States and probably many more people beyond have found that his charm has worn off entirely. It’s amazing what was unacceptable in 2010 that is apparently okay in 2020.

Also… I think of all of the ordinary people who have been “canceled” on social media just for being shitty. Ordinary people who get caught on video being bad for a few minutes can wind up getting death threats, losing their jobs, and being publicly shamed to the point of wanting to commit suicide. And yet we tolerate a president who has mocked disabled people, bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, and has a long history of ripping people off and bullying them into letting him steal from them. Why are so many people willing to give Trump a pass for being the bastard he so obviously is, but more ordinary people wind up “ruined”, at least temporarily, for being caught on video being a “Karen” (a term that needs to die quickly)?

The mind boggles. Well… another day has passed, bringing us closer to January 20. Although I don’t look forward to the drama yet to come as the day draws closer, I am relieved that Biden won. And he did win, y’all. There was no fraud on his part. If anyone was acting unfairly, it was Trump. He and his cronies pulled all sorts of devious and illegal shit to ensure that he wouldn’t lose the White House. And, guess what– he lost anyway, didn’t he?

I can’t wait until he’s gone. It’s been four years of non-stop circus show theatrics coupled with soul crushing embarrassment and moral degradation. It made me rather sick to see Trump honoring veterans yesterday, saluting when he’s not a fucking veteran and can’t claim one tenth of the honor any basic servicemember has. He needs to go.

In other news… aside from losing his father a few days ago, Bill also lost a great aunt yesterday. He didn’t know her well. She was in her 90s and had Alzheimer’s Disease. I have heard stories about her. I hope she’s resting in peace, too.

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poor judgment, social media

We shouldn’t “love to hate” people…

At the risk of sounding like I’m telling people what to do, I feel compelled to write a post about a news story I was alerted to last night. Amber Lynn Gilles of San Diego recently decided to visit a Starbucks. She was not wearing a face mask, even though the masks were required.

San Diego County issued a notice as of May 1, requiring residents to wear face coverings in most public settings, including when visiting a store or getting food at a restaurant. The rule does offer exemptions for those with a health condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. Gilles implied that she is medically exempt from wearing a mask, but she didn’t explain why. Perhaps she doesn’t actually have a medical condition preventing her from wearing a mask. Or maybe she simply feels it’s no one else’s business.

In any case, Lenin Gutierrez, the barista who tried to serve Ms. Gilles, asked her if she had a mask. Gilles said she didn’t. So Lenin said he couldn’t serve her.

Gilles’ response was to flip off Lenin, “curse up a storm”, take Lenin’s picture, threaten to report him to corporate, and complain about him on Facebook. This was her now deleted post:

“Meet lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption.”

To be sure, this was not Amber Lynn’s finest day. I don’t condone her behavior at all. She sounds very much like an asshole. Other people thought so too, and her post quickly backfired. She got all kinds of hate, and yes, lots of people calling her a “Karen”, which if you know this blog, you know I don’t like. But what was most troubling to me was that Gilles got death threats. It struck me as completely hypocritical and ridiculous, especially since the face masks are supposed to help preserve life.

As I have read on Facebook post after Facebook post for the past few weeks, wearing a mask is the “kind” and “considerate” thing to do. If you wear one, you are showing regard for other people and their health. Well… if that’s how people really feel– that all people’s lives are important, and we should be doing our best to preserve them and show our regard for others– why would we cheer about Amber Lynn Gilles getting death threats?

Gilles doesn’t sound like a very pleasant person. She wrote on Facebook that “Masks are stupid and so are the people wearing them.” According to the Washington Post article I linked, Gilles has also expressed her contempt for masks in prior posts and suggests that people who wear them are “not thinking clearly”. The 35 year old mother of three has also been described as an “anti-vaxxer”. She was quoted as saying, “It starts with coffee but it ends with digital certificates and forced vaccinations.”

Mmm’kay then… it sounds to me like Gilles is very frightened about something. Perhaps that is what led to her outburst. Maybe she’s feeling “caution fatigued“, as I know I am these days. I know I’ve been feeling anxious and depressed and, at times, angry about what’s happened this year. I feel kind of robbed, even though I probably don’t have the right to feel that way. I am admittedly a very privileged person who enjoys the good fortune of being able to stay home and avoid these kinds of altercations. However, I still feel angry and depressed, whether or not people think I have that right. It is what it is.

Coronavirus is scary, and many people are fearful of what is going to happen in the immediate future. A lot of times, fear is expressed as anger. Anger makes people feel powerful and strong. Fear makes them feel weak and powerless. I’ve seen this reaction in dogs many times… wonderful, sweet, loving pets reduced to snarling and lashing out with their teeth because they’re scared and feel the need to defend themselves. I don’t think humans are necessarily that different. I’ll bet Amber isn’t always profane and hostile. Most people aren’t.

I don’t know what led Amber Lynn Gilles to this point in her life. I’d like to think, though, that she’s not a totally terrible person. This incident amounts to just a few minutes of her life. In my experience, most people are not completely horrible, nor are they completely wonderful. Most people have good days and bad days. I would not want to see a person’s life ruined over a few bad moments caught on video or social media. I would not want Amber Lynn Gilles to kill herself or be murdered over something like this. I think people who send death threats should be prosecuted.

Someone on the Washington Post wrote this comment, with which I completely agreed:

Yeah… it’s hypocritical to condemn someone for recklessly avoiding wearing a mask when your response is wishing for them to die.

I suspect that the people who are reacting in this way, whether they’re refusing to wear a mask or being hateful to people who refuse to wear masks, are doing so because they’re scared and feel like they’ve lost control. They feel good “going off” on someone, not realizing that reacting to other human beings with hatred is no better than the initial bad behavior that prompted the hateful response. Lest anyone call me a hypocrite, I’ll even admit that I should try harder not to be mean spirited, too. Sometimes I vent with anger, although I mostly try to keep it somewhat private. Especially now. I try to do better, although it’s a daily struggle.

The good news is that Lenin Gutierrez is now being rewarded for the few minutes of meanness Amber Lynn Gilles sent his way. Matt Cowan, who doesn’t know him or Amber Lynn Gilles, decided to set up a GoFundMe account for him, inviting people to give him tips. At this writing, his tip fund is over $58,000, and Gutierrez, who sounds like a genuinely good person, says he’s going to use the money to teach dance to children.

I have often stated that I think good things can come out of almost any situation. As unpleasant as Amber Lynn Gilles’ behavior was, if you think about it, it may ultimately change many lives. If Gutierrez makes good on his plans to teach dance, he will no doubt do a lot of good for a lot of young people who could use some good in their lives. If Amber Lynn hadn’t been so hostile and insulting to Lenin Gutierrez, he might just keep on being a barista, serving the people Gilles calls “sheep”. But now he’s being singled out as a mensch, getting handsomely rewarded for doing his job and being cool. So, if anything, that was something good that came out of Amber Lynn Gilles’ outburst. Maybe Lenin Gutierrez will have the chance to fulfill a dream that will bear wonderful fruit for other people.

There are people I strongly dislike, and I am sure quite a few people strongly dislike me, too. But almost everyone I’ve encountered has had a positive aspect to them. Even Bill’s ex wife, who is someone I admittedly despise, has done me a solid. If she hadn’t been such a terrible wife to Bill and divorced him, I might still be single, and he might still be in a less ideal marriage. So, I am grateful to her for that… and I’m sure if I thought about it, I might even think of other reasons to be grateful to her.

I strongly dislike our former landlady for being immature, disrespectful, and trying to rip us off. But I am grateful that I got to live in a nice community in a beautiful area for a few years. I have good memories of our time there, even if the way we’ve parted hasn’t been good. But even leaving that situation on bad terms has a positive side, since I am also learning from that experience. That will only make me wiser, which is a good thing.

I don’t blame Amber Lynn Gilles for not liking the mask. I don’t like it, either, and I’m not convinced that it helps that much. I think that most of us will eventually be exposed to the virus, whether or not we wear masks. And some of us have already been exposed and aren’t even aware of it. I understand why so many people are angry. People are pent up, frustrated, worried, stressed out, angry, and sad. We should try to work together, but a lot of people feel like rebelling in a crisis– like the scared dog, they lash out. Some of them lash out inappropriately, like Amber Lynn Gilles, and that creates a domino effect of hatred… like the people who wish she was dead. I’m sure Amber’s children wouldn’t want their mother to die for want of a face mask and a cup of coffee. That’s preposterous.

It doesn’t help any matter when we don’t have empathy. Expressing hatred, and wishing for death on people we don’t even know, is not empathetic or civilized. It’s the wrong course of action, and ultimately will lead to our downfall. So no, I don’t wish death on Amber Lynn Gilles or her ilk. I wish her peace, which I hope will help her react with more kindness and understanding the next time she encounters someone simply trying to do their job.

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social media

Well… that didn’t last long.

A couple of days ago, a friend invited me to join a group for military spouses against racism. I hesitated for about a day before I accepted the invite. It’s not that I’m against fighting racism. I do think it’s a serious problem and I am always open to learning new ways to be a better person. I like being in groups where resources are shared and people can discuss things openly and calmly. At first, it looked like that group might turn into something useful and good.

Nevertheless, I still hesitated joining. I was right to hesitate. In my experience, Facebook groups, especially those involving the U.S. military, tend to degrade very quickly. In the past, I have hung on in those types of groups for much longer than I should have, trying to take what was good and leaving the rest. But I am now at a point in my life at which I don’t want to waste any time on bullshit. While that group started out pretty well, this morning I could see that it was rapidly turning into a shitstorm. 2020 is one big shitstorm on its own. I don’t need any more thrown at me on social media.

In this case, the shitstorm was prompted when an admin posted that the word “picnic” is a derogatory, racist term. I was a bit perplexed by that revelation. I had never heard of “picnic” being offensive. It’s used a lot in Germany. It’s generally a term used to describe dining al fresco, often while sitting on a blanket with a basket full of food.

There’s even a play called Picnic, that I remember being performed at my college when I was a freshman. Longwood University, then called Longwood College, has a long history in the fight against racism. It’s located in the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the location of one of the worst resistances of massive integration in U.S. history. Prince Edward County is also the location of a well-known fight for civil rights. From the link:

During the 20th century, Prince Edward was the center both of one of America’s worst episodes of massive resistance and one of the bravest moments of the Civil Rights struggle. In 1951, the student-led strike at Moton High School, organized by then-16 year old Barbara Johns, produced the majority of plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education. The public schools, however, were closed for five years beginning in 1959 rather than integrated. And yet it was here also, four decades later, that a majority of voters opted to make Douglas Wilder the first African-American to be elected governor in any state in all of American history – yes, that happened in Virginia.

I couldn’t imagine my racially conscious college putting on a play called Picnic if the word “picnic” is racist. I decided to look up the history of the word to find out if it was, in fact, derogatory. What I found out is that for the past twenty years or so, there’s been an urban legend going around the Internet claiming that “picnic” is a racist term. However, the story about “picnic” being offensive is false. The word was first used in France in the late 1600s. It was first used in English in 1748, and in those days, it had no racial connotations whatsoever.

So how did this rumor get started? Well, it seems that back in the days when lynchings were completely acceptable, some white people would have a picnic while they watched. It was entertaining for them to watch black people being lynched. They’d eat, drink, and be merry. At some point, the word was supposedly bastardized to mean “pic-a-nig”, or so I learned as I read that thread, which eventually swelled to over 250 comments before I finally decided to leave the group. Because some people “picnicked” while lynching people, somehow there were people who felt that the term “picnic” should always refer to the practice of white people having an outdoor gathering involving food while watching black people being murdered in the most horrifying ways.

Some people correctly pointed out that the word “picnic” isn’t a racist term. They provided the usual links to proof– and the links were good ones, from legitimate academic sources, as well as popular and reputable sites like Snopes.com and Politifact. But the person who started the thread soon became very agitated and, though she was an “admin” for the group, sank into name calling. She repeatedly called one articulate poster a “Karen” (and if you read this blog, you probably already know how I feel about that) and accused her of being “passive aggressive”, a term which I have a feeling she can’t accurately define. I watched her escalate the situation more and more with some concern. Other posters were calling her out for being immature, but she insisted that she was just calling people out for being “racially insensitive” because people were refusing to agree with her that the word “picnic” is triggering and they didn’t want one more word to be considered “bad” due to racism. It seems like people who are against racism would want to see fewer offensive words rather than more words– but here they were, arguing over whether an innocuous word should be deemed “offensive” due to what some people did during lynchings.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might also know how I feel about burying language and symbols. I understand why people think it’s the right thing to do. It’s certainly easier to ban words and symbols than it is to reclaim them and encourage people to change their attitudes and enlighten themselves. However, it’s been my experience that when people ban words and symbols, new ones tend to crop up. Moreover, by banning a so-called “offensive” word, you still haven’t dealt with the negative attitude that led up to its creation. It’s more like an “out of sight, out of mind” solution that only hides the problem instead of fixing it.

On my original blog, I once wrote a post about an argument I got into with a guy who insisted to me that it’s offensive to use a word like “niggardly” when describing one’s money habits. Niggardly, by the way, is NOT at all a racist term. It has nothing to do with racism, doesn’t have the same etymology as the racist term “nigger”, nor is it even spelled like the racist epithet. The guy who was arguing with me is a teacher, and he has a habit of being very overbearing with his views. I don’t like overbearing people, probably due to my own personality quirks. His “style” was not making me want to change my opinions, yet he kept hammering away at me, insisting that people have the right to be offended by the word “niggardly” because it sounds like a racist epithet. And rather than encouraging people to educate themselves so they won’t be offended when no offense is intended, he thinks we all should just quit using that word. I didn’t appreciate his heavy handed approach. I found it disrespectful and disdainful. It didn’t make me inclined to listen to or consider his viewpoint.

I will grant that there are other words that mean the same as niggardly does. We could all just say “stingy” or “miserly”. It basically means that a person is tight with their money, and there are other ways to say that without using a word that sounds so close to an insult. And frankly, if I were a teacher, I would absolutely encourage my students to choose a less controversial word simply because it’s better to avoid an unnecessary fight with someone who has a less developed vocabulary. However, I would also want them all to know that the word is not akin to the “n bomb”, and that if they see or hear it, they should not take offense if it’s being used properly. It’s not an insulting word, even if it does sound like a word that is very insulting.

I feel the same way about the term “picnic”. If you feel better calling an outdoor gathering involving food a barbecue or a cookout, by all means, call it by those terms. But I also want people to know that if the word “picnic” is considered racist by some people, it’s because it was wrongly hijacked. Its original meaning had nothing to do with racism. And I don’t think it’s right to give bad people the power to change language in that way. Why should we? It’s not the word that’s “bad”. It’s the asshole who is using language to be hurtful and demeaning that is “bad”. Words are neutral.

I’m still with George. It’s best not to hurt people with words, but the words themselves are neutral. It’s the asshole who is saying them that needs to be dealt with, and that’s a lot harder than banning “bad words”. It’s the CONTEXT that makes them good or bad.

I didn’t like the way the admin, who by the time I left the group had been stripped of her admin powers, was insulting and berating people. I also noticed that she wasn’t the only one engaging in that behavior. The attacking and uncivilized behavior was distasteful to me, and some of it seemed like it would cause more problems than it solved. I felt my stress levels rise just reading everything and seeing all of the visuals… and I wasn’t even involved in 99% of what was being shared in there.

For instance, I noticed one member had posted screenshots of an American man who works in a German military town. The guy has responsibilities in a major military facility, but his personal views are on naked display. He used monkeys to make his point– the old “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” illustration, which commonly uses “three wise monkeys”, a concept that originated in Japan. Someone in the group determined that the mere use of monkeys was inherently racist and people were talking about trying to get him fired. While I personally disagreed with what I saw on his page, I also think there’s a fine line between calling out racism and ruining people’s lives by threatening their livelihoods.

There are real costs associated with call out culture and mob mentality. The aftereffects of publicly shaming people and making them infamous don’t always just affect the perpetrators; they also harm people associated with them, some of whom are completely innocent, and cause the problem to get worse. Imagine if the guy they were discussing so fervently has young children. These women go after this guy’s job by making an “ICE” complaint. The many complaints cause the man to lose his job, and his family eventually spirals into poverty that leads to other serious family issues like divorce or alcoholism. The young children grow up in that bad environment, and hear about how it happened. How do you think that might affect how they view military wives, particularly those of color? Will they be grateful that someone took a stand and made the guy pay for posting the three wise monkey emojis, even if what he wrote wasn’t particularly racist in nature? Or will they be angry that a group targeted their father and caused his life to go south, thereby causing their lives to go south, too?

I think most people respond better to kindness, reasonableness, and understanding than they do shaming, insulting, threatening, and attacking. I was hoping that group would be a place where people could have intelligent discussions without fear of being attacked or insulted. Unfortunately, I saw evidence that what was originally intended to be a place for sharing ideas and understanding had turned into the usual military wives Facebook group, with lots of people immediately adopting an adversarial tone rather than taking a moment to collect themselves and giving people the benefit of the doubt. And frankly, I’m just too old, crotchety, and impatient for those kinds of groups anymore. So I will continue to do my best to educate myself outside of that group. It’s probably better for my mental health. Maybe I am a “Karen” after all.

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