book reviews

Repost of my review of Escape from Camp 14…

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote for Epinions.com on July 12, 2012, and reposted on Blogspot version of this blog. It appears as/is.

From October 28, 2014:

I went through a phase a few years ago and read a bunch of books about North Korea.  This morning, I read an article on CNN written by Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to grow up in and escape a North Korean prison camp.  He has been labeled “human scum” by North Korea’s leaders.  They claim that his description of what life is like in a North Korean prison camp is a pack of lies. 

I found Escape from Camp 14, Shin Dong-hyuk’s book, extremely fascinating.  Aside from having an amazing story to tell, Shin Dong-hyuk is a talented artist.  You can see some of his drawings on the CNN article, though I must warn that they are basically artistic depictions of how prisoners are treated in North Korea.  Some people may find them disturbing.  I did find them a bit graphic, yet I also marveled at Shin Dong-hyuk’s talents and I’m glad he is now free to share them with the rest of the world. 

From 2012:

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with stories about North Korea, one of the world’s most opaque countries. That’s why I felt compelled to read journalist Blaine Harden’s new book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West(2012). This book is the true story of a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born and raised in Camp 14, an oppressive North Korean political prison and later managed to escape. Though I had a feeling that parts of Escape from Camp 14 would probably depress me, I figured that ultimately the story would end on a somewhat triumphant note. And again, I think oppressive regimes are oddly fascinating.

Who is Shin Dong-hyuk and why was he raised in prison?

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in 1982, the second son of parents who had somehow managed to be allowed to get married. Shin’s parents didn’t marry because they loved each other. They married because they were being rewarded for doing something good. Sex between inmates at Camp 14 was forbidden, except between married couples. After their wedding, the happy couple was allowed five nights together; then they were separated and Shin’s father was allowed to visit periodically. Shin’s older brother was born in 1974 and by the time Shin was old enough to remember much, he had already been sent to live in a boy’s dormitory. When Shin was still a very young boy, he too was sent to live in a dorm. It wasn’t too big of a deal, though, since Shin didn’t have much of a bond with his mother, anyway. They were too busy working to form a bond.

In North Korea, people who commit crimes against the state are severely punished. So are their families. A person who gets caught doing something illegal will go to prison and so will his or her parents, siblings, and any children. The whole family pays for one person’s actions; consequently, there’s a lot of peer pressure to be on one’s best behavior. Shin was born in the prison and never knew any other life, mainly because two uncles tried to escape North Korea back in 1951. Shin’s childhood was spent working, starving, and being beaten and indoctrinated. He spent those years fearing for his life; for the punishment for disobedience was being shot on the spot. When Shin accidentally broke a sewing machine, he paid for it by sacrificing part of a finger. 

When Shin was 13, his mother and brother attempted to escape Camp 14. Shin overheard their plans. Like any good North Korean prisoner, Shin felt compelled to alert the authorities. Not alerting the authorities of an escape attempt meant being shot. The guards were able to stop the escape attempt and Shin was rewarded by being tortured and interrogated. Then, he and his father were forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed. He was not sad to see them die. He thought they were selfish for putting him in the position to have to tell on them.

It took Shin months to recover from the injuries he suffered while he was being tortured. During that time, he met a man who told him about life outside of the camp. Shin was fascinated that there was a world beyond the electrified fence. But he also knew that the fence was deadly and would kill him if he tried to flee. And if he was caught even thinking about escaping, he would be shot. 

Years later, Shin met another man who told him more about the world outside the fence. Shin found himself obsessed with the notion of escaping. With his new friend’s help, Shin hatched an escape plan and successfully escaped the political prison in 2005. Harden relates Shin’s amazing story of breaking out of the North Korean camp and eventually making it to South Korea, then the United States.

My thoughts  

Whenever I start to feel badly about my own life, all I have to do is remember what Shin Dong-hyuk has already endured in his 30 years on the planet. He grew up starving, friendless, and without much of a family, imprisoned for crimes he had nothing to do with. Against all odds, he broke free to go to a new country that for most of his life, he had no idea even existed. Adjusting to that new life in rich, opulent South Korea was extremely difficult. And then when he went to the United States to tell other people about his life in Camp 14, he had a hard time adjusting… and relating to other people. 

Harden’s done a great job with Shin’s story, maintaining an objective yet compassionate tone as he describes the atrocities Shin and other prisoners endured. It makes any problems I face seem trivial. This book took a long time to read and was, at times, a bit depressing. It’s not pleasant to read about innocent people being starved, beaten, and brainwashed. However, I have to admire Shin’s courage for escaping, even as he experienced guilt knowing that his father would certainly be punished for his escape… and the man who came with him on his break for freedom ultimately ended up being killed by the electric fence. Shin used the man’s body to insulate him against the electricity– without that dead body, Shin never would have made it to freedom. He’s paid a price, though, through constant nagging guilt. At this writing, Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have managed to escape prison and defect from North Korea.

At the end of this book, Harden includes drawings Shin did that depict the horrors of Camp 14. I found the crude drawings haunting and horrifying. There are also photos.

Overall

I would definitely recommend Escape from Camp 14 to anyone who is interested in North Korea or likes true stories about overcoming adversity. This is not a happy book, but I found it fascinating to read and I definitely rooted for Shin Dong-hyuk.

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expressions, lessons learned, musings, YouTube

“You should never meet your heroes…” or should you?

A couple of days ago, when I was watching the movie, Camp, I was reminded of a famous saying. “You should never meet your heroes…” ostensibly because the reality of who they are will always be a disappointment. The character, Vlad, actually says those words when he runs into his hero, Bert Hanley (played by real life musician, Don Dixon), who is rip roaring drunk. Vlad idolized Bert Hanley for being a great musician and songwriter, but he didn’t know that Hanley was a cynical drunken asshole. And he was disappointed when he found Hanley, who was supposed to be directing the camp, completely bombed. Adding insult to injury, Hanley vomits on Vlad as he tries to help him up. Real class.

I ran into that quote myself a few weeks ago on the Cruise Critic messageboard. I was reading SeaDream Yacht Club’s board and joked that I really wanted to meet a regular poster named Jim Avery. And another regular poster wisely pointed out, “You should never meet your heroes.” He’s probably right. I’ve met a few people on SeaDream cruises who were posters on the messageboard. Some of them legitimately turned out to be people I wish I’d never met. I love SeaDream cruises, but I have to admit that it’s a line that attracts a fair number of entitled twits. In all fairness, though, some of the other passengers probably think I’m a twit, too. Especially when I’m in the piano bar. 😉

Some of the people on SeaDream probably think I’m not unlike this guy… I even have a similar physique.

I do love being on a SeaDream cruise, though. I haven’t been on one since 2013. I honestly thought we would eventually do another cruise with them, but Bill was going to be retiring in 2014, and I wasn’t sure what his employment prospects were going to be. Also, I knew that he would likely be starting a new job with limited vacation time. Then we ended up moving to Germany, and the rest is history. We have done three more Hebridean cruises, though, and Hebridean is as expensive as SeaDream is. I booked those cruises because of the themes and itineraries… and unfortunately, thanks to COVID, I’m not sure when we will be cruising again. So I will probably never meet the famous Jim Avery. I might be better off for that, since he might turn out to be a mean spirited jerk. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe I would think he’s funny and witty. I may never know.

Wonder if, when she has a quiet moment, Anna regrets being a “super fan”…

This topic comes up, in part, because Katie Joy on her YouTube channel, Without a Crystal Ball, did a video about how Anna Duggar was a “super fan” of the Duggar Family, back in the day. Katie Joy talks about how Anna admired the Duggars, having seen their public persona. She was dazzled by their images. I wonder if she now thinks the reality of being a Duggar is anywhere akin to what she imagined when she first saw Josh and his family. Especially now that it looks like Josh is going to be heading for prison soon. Maybe he’ll manage to get off, but I have a feeling he’s going to be wearing a striped uniform soon.

Then again, sometimes the opposite is true, and you should meet your antiheroes because they’re not nearly as bad as you think they are. You think someone is a real jerk, and it turns out they’re the opposite of being a jerk. Reality is often unlike what we think it is. I’ll give you a real life example.

For years, I thought Bill’s daughter was as hostile as her mother is. I was angry with her for a long time, mainly because she and her sister rejected Bill and refused to speak to him. It pissed me off that a man who is as kind and loving as Bill is, was being treated the way his daughters treated him. I was tired of people giving them a pass for that behavior.

But then Bill started talking to his daughter again, and he started to learn about what was behind that seemingly cruel behavior. And now I know I was wrong about Bill’s daughter, and fully admit that I was wrong. She’s turned out to be a very resilient and empathic person, much like her dad is. She is the very opposite of her mother. It had only seemed like she was a mean and judgmental person. The reality is, she’s not like her mother at all.

This week, Bill’s daughter wrote to Bill expressing her worry and dismay at seeing the crisis in Afghanistan. She wanted to know Bill’s thoughts on the situation. Bill explained to her that he never went to Afghanistan; he did his time in Iraq. But he has many friends and colleagues who served in Afghanistan, and they are devastated by the news. It’s heartbreaking to see that all of the time, money, effort, and lives spent on Afghanistan have seemingly gone to waste.

Bill’s daughter has decided to do what she can to help. She says she’s learned how to say “Hello” in Farsi, which is lovely, although Bill wrote back to tell her that most Afghans speak Pashto or Dari. She says that she knows that it means a lot for people to hear their language. Bill’s daughter is even putting together hygiene kits for refugees. She’s turned out to be a very good person, in spite of everything. She’s finding out that her dad and grandmother, both of whom were demonized for years by her mother, are actually excellent people who love her.

I often wonder what it’s like for Bill’s daughter now. She missed knowing Bill and his mom for most of her life. She was told many lies. Now she’s old enough to seek the truth, and she’s been brave enough to do it. I’m sure that as exhilarating as it is to know Bill again, there’s been a lot of pain. It’s not easy to find out that your mother lied to you, took advantage of you, and was completely abusive and horrible to so many other innocent people. Bill’s daughter has children of her own, and I know she wants to protect them from her mother. That’s got to be hard, especially when so many people have bought into the false story.

I have also gained more respect for Mormonism. I still don’t like the doctrine and I think it does a lot of damage to people who can’t fit into the mold. A lot of people have been harmed by people in the church. But Bill’s younger daughter managed to find good influences in the church, and some good hearted members helped her escape an abusive situation. Granted, she could have found help elsewhere, but in her case, it was the church that helped her. Going on a mission humbled her and broadened her horizons. She started to see perspectives that had been kept from her for so many years. In her case, the church actually helped her grow. It filled a need for her like the Army filled a need for Bill.

Now that I think about it, the Army has also damaged a lot of people… like those who fought or died in Afghanistan for what seems to be naught… But was it really all for naught? I read that some Afghan girls on a robotics team were rescued from Afghanistan. If not for the war in Afghanistan, would they have been rescued? Would they have ever had the chance to study robotics or be on teams that were successful in North America and Europe? What about the other girls who got the chance to go to school during our twenty years in Afghanistan? If not for the war, what would have happened to them?

What about the people who were born because of the war? There were romances between Afghans and Americans. Surely, there are people who exist now because we went to war, just as many people died because of the war. Those relationships help bridge understanding of the cultures. They add stories to the collective… and everyone does have a story. The war seems like it was a huge failure on many macro levels. But on micro levels, maybe it wasn’t. I’m reading about people in Afghanistan defying and protesting the Taliban, despite their fearsome reputation of being brutal in the face of defiance. Would they be doing this if not for the war? To be honest, I think Afghans are the only ones who can save their country from the Taliban. It can’t be up to any other country.

I think sometimes we get lost in what appears to be, rather than what is. It happens when we worship an image over what’s real. Or when we assume we know the truth about something when we really only have some of the information. The situation in Afghanistan looks very bad right now. I can’t deny that. But there are always other perspectives and other ways to look at things. Every new situation brings with it new opportunities. Hell… Bill’s daughter is using the situation in Afghanistan for inspiration. She’s learning a few words of a new language in hopes that maybe somehow, she can help someone. Maybe she will be an actual hero to someone, rather than a hero based on an image, reputation, or facade.

Maybe a lot of people view the United States as “heroic” on some level. And sometimes the USA is heroic. But more often, it’s comprised of fallible people who are living life as best they can. They look to their heroes for inspiration. Sometimes, that view is much better than reality is. And sometimes reality is better than we’d ever hoped or expected.

Well… I guess it’s time to wrap this up. Arran and Noyzi are breathing on me, hoping for a walk. The sun is finally out this week, so I guess I better take advantage before the weather turns shitty again. Have a happy Friday.

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Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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music

Here’s to Life…

No… I have not become a pro-lifer. I just have life on the brain this morning, for a couple of reasons. First off, I learned this morning that Amy Jordan Duggar King (whichever last name she’s going by these days) just had her first baby, a son named Daxton Ryan King. It seems like nowadays, we’ve given up all the names that were incarnations of Aiden… Jayden, Braden, Hayden, Kayden, and Maiden… Now “axton” has become the popular suffix of modern names. We have Jaxton, Braxton, Saxton, and now Daxton. Well, as long he’s healthy and happy, I guess that’s all that matters. Amy had a C-section in a hospital. She looks like she’s over the moon due to the arrival of her son. Good on her! I hope the planet is good to him as he grows up.

Sigh… I love this song.

“Here’s to Life” is also the name of a beautiful song I first heard in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Composed by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary, this is a wistful song about the passage of life. The song was made popular by Shirley Horn, but the version I heard was done very movingly by the Jordan Family, a musical family from New Orleans who, at the time of the Katrina fundraiser in 2005, were still missing a couple of people due to the flooding. The above video is a beautiful live version done on the second anniversary after Katrina hit.

Artie Butler talks about how he came to write this beautiful song and Phyllis Molinary wrote the lyrics. He wrote it for his dad.

I would love to do the jazzy rendition done by the Jordan Family, but it’s not available. Since I just updated my iMac to Catalina, I wanted to see if my music library was affected, in terms of DRM. I had Barbra Streisand’s karaoke version of “Here’s to Life” that I never uploaded, so I decided to do it this morning. I don’t know that I ever listened to Barbra’s version before this morning. Barbra Streisand is one of those singers whom many people love. Personally, she’s not my favorite, even though I recognize her brilliance. I would rather watch her act than listen to her sing. I feel the same way about Bette Midler, whom I think is a wonderful comedienne. But I do like what Miss Streisand did with “Here’s to Life”. Below is her version.

This is very nice. I like the arrangement very much, although it kind of misses the gut wrenching emotion of Stephanie Jordan’s version, which I can tell really came from her heart.

I also did a version this morning. In a former life, I may have been a torch singer. The lyrics are especially meaningful to me lately. Zane, the wonder beagle, has been on my mind a lot. I really miss him. I probably miss him more than some of the people I’ve lost over the past few years. Arran, our other dog, has been adjusting to the loss… it’s almost like Zane jumped into him and imparted some manners. He’s been very snuggly and cuddly, obviously enjoying not having to share the attention with Zane. We’ve had fewer behavioral issues. It’s been nice, although it doesn’t make up for the hole in our little family. Last night, we had beautiful rainbows as the sun came out during a rainstorm. Although I know it’s just a weather phenomenon, it made me think of Zane and made me wonder if maybe he was saying “hello”… So I took a few photos.

Even if he wasn’t greeting us, the rainbows made me think of Zane, and how quickly almost ten years can fly by. He would have turned eleven next month and we would have celebrated ten years with him in December. And now he’s gone. “Here’s to Life” reminds me that life is fleeting, and it’s a good thing to savor every moment if you can. Zane was one of those creatures who was almost always happy, and he made me happy. I was not blessed with a naturally cheerful personality, so I have to work at seeing the bright side of things sometimes. I try to maintain perspective as much as possible. I think that’s something everyone should do. Unfortunately, some people aren’t able.

This morning, I was looking through memories on Facebook and was reminded of an argument I had with a conservative friend of mine. He’s a police officer and, I think, is a bit embittered by the so-called “liberal media”. I had shared a video of a black woman who was in tears because she was pulled over by a white police officer for driving too slowly. She was absolutely terrified that she would be arrested, wounded, or killed by the officer. I was responding to this woman’s palpable distress at being pulled over and not understanding why the cop had stopped her. She obviously felt her life was in jeopardy and there was nothing she could do about it.

The police officer clearly felt terrible that the woman was so upset. He really was a good officer who was legitimately concerned about her safety. He gave her a hug and begged her not to cry. But the woman was still legitimately afraid. I thought her story was heartbreaking, and said so. My cop friend tried to make himself and other police officers out to be victims of the “liberal media”, who make people like the woman in the video terrified. But it’s a fact that unarmed people of color have been killed by law enforcement. The woman’s fear is not unfounded or unreasonable, and I empathized with that reality. That was what I was responding to, even as I understand that my cop friend feels badly when people complain about police officers abusing their power.

Here are a few comments from our discussion. He claims I “misread” his intent.

Not that I want to rehash this discussion, per se… this is more a comment on perspectives. My friend John has the perspective of a police officer. I can see his perspective on a cognitive level. I also see the terrified woman’s perspective. Being pulled over is scary enough when you’re not in a group who is regularly targeted simply due to your appearance. I can see why the lady in the video was so frightened and, as a fellow human being, I related to her pain. It doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with John. I just didn’t feel like we needed to turn the narrative of this particular video into something about the poor police officers.

I know that most cops don’t abuse their power. Too many of them do, though… and people sometimes get hurt or killed. A nice lady who was driving a little bit under the speed limit should not be reduced to tears of terror simply because someone who is supposed to protect and serve pulls her over due to legitimate worries about her ability to drive safely. The cop described in the video was doing his job well, and I commend him. He is a credit to his profession, and reminds us that no situation is truly “black and white”, and almost nothing is all good or all bad. But that doesn’t mean the woman was “wrong” to be scared, nor is her legitimate fear necessarily the media’s fault.

Black and white thinking– assuming someone or something is all good or all bad– is a bad habit a lot of us get into. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people are not all good or all bad. Most of us are middle of the road. I don’t assume all police officers are horrible people based on a few media reports. However, I also don’t assume that people like the woman in the video are wrong to be scared when they get pulled over by the cops. Unfortunately, by sharing this video, I got into a minor argument that ultimately got kind of negative. But even this discussion led to something good. We had a discussion, and it’s a part of what inspires me to write today.

Zane, the wonder beagle, taught me that most everyone is inherently good on some level. He maintained a positive attitude and didn’t engage in black and white thinking. It’s easy to be bogged down by negativity and hatred when someone or something causes a negative reaction. But almost every situation has a silver lining, and that’s why it’s so good to try to maintain perspective. Even bad situations can lead to something positive and hopeful.

For instance, in 2012, when we lost our sweet “bagel” MacGregor, Arran came into our lives and brightened it. We also made several new friends in North Carolina. Zane brought good things to our lives, too. And now that he’s gone, his life still makes a difference… even if it’s just in the form of inspiration that comes from singing a song, taking a photo, or writing a blog post.

John Rasmussen, the awesome artist who made this, was inspired by Zane, too. Check out his Facebook page.

Well… this post turned into a roundabout discussion, didn’t it? I do enjoy my “music” days, even if other people don’t. I feel good when I can make music for myself and anyone who cares to share it with me. I write most days and writing often brings me satisfaction, but music brings me joy. I’d probably be a happier person if I could do more music and less writing… at the very least, I’d get into less trouble. So “here’s to life”… and here’s to you. And here’s to realizing that if you want to see rainbows, a little rain must fall.

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musings

He’s got a point…

I have to be honest. I hate these kinds of memes…

Y’all know I love animals, right? I especially love dogs, horses, and cats. My very first jobs were working in a barn and at a veterinary hospital. I’ve spent a lot of time loving animals and they’ve mostly loved me back, with the possible exception of our old cat, Cricket, who had the misfortune of living with my family of origin when I was a toddler. That being said, I don’t like it when people lose their common sense when it comes to animals. I don’t like it when anyone loses their ability to see other perspectives.

Two well-meaning friends have posted this meme recently. I know they are both caring, compassionate, loving people. On the surface, I totally agree with this message, but I would never share it. For one thing, I find it manipulative. I am not a fan of guilt trips, and this smacks of a guilt trip to me. Most people on Facebook wouldn’t support this kind of thing, anyway, so you’re preaching to the choir. Anyone heartless enough to simply dump a pet without any remorse is probably not going to care about your meme. The rest of us are probably just going to feel shitty.

Please don’t get me wrong. I absolutely think it’s a terrible thing to abandon animals. I do not, at all, condone dumping pets on the side of the road. However, I also realize that pets are not people and sometimes people find themselves having to make terrible choices. When I clicked on the original post to read the comments, I found a thread full of interesting perspectives. One man named John was brave enough to post this:

It’s not cruel.

People who do this do so because they don’t see any other choice. It’s done when families go broke, and can’t feed the kids, much less the family pet.

Instead of condemning the poor for doing this in a desperate situation, help them. Help them find jobs, groceries, etc.

He was immediately pounced upon by the outrage brigade. Lots of people tried to “educate” him, although he struck me as being quite intelligent. More people tried shaming and insulting him for daring to be contrary. A couple of folks appealed to the guy’s sense of decency, reasoning that pets can’t fend for themselves and should be taken to a shelter. John came back with this comment:

Those services aren’t always available. Plus, when tragedy strikes, people can’t always think of everything.

And, yes, they can fend for themselves very well.

Later, it came out that the guy, John, who is originally from Chicago, actually lives in Europe. He claims that living in Europe has changed his viewpoint. Naturally, I was interested when he mentioned Europe, since I am an American who also lives in Europe. A couple of posters chastised him for “pretending” to be European. I wanted to know what part of Europe, so I stalked his Facebook page. Turns out he’s in Bulgaria.

I have been to Bulgaria. I went in 1996, when it was still recovering from years of being behind the so-called Iron Curtain. I’m sure Bulgaria is a lot better now than it was in 1996, although in 1996, it was a hell of a lot nicer than Armenia was, which was where I was living at that time. Bill visited Bulgaria about ten years ago. It had come up in the world a bit. I don’t know what it’s like in 2019, but it’s probably not as cushy as Germany is. Here, I never see stray animals. In fact, spaying and neutering is not nearly as common in developed European countries as it is in the States. Why? Because while there are definitely shelters here, they aren’t overflowing. Most people take care of their pets.

Having been to Bulgaria, my guess is that the attitude toward pets is not the same. I distinctly remember in Armenia, there were packs of street dogs that would roam around looking for trash. Some of them were alright, but some were downright mean. As much as I love dogs, I often had to carry rocks with me in case they got too close. The street dogs were not necessarily friendly, with few exceptions. Bulgaria probably has a similar problem. It’s possible that John has seen street dogs or strays roaming around Bulgaria. But he’s also seen very poor people trying to take care of themselves.

I also remember meeting Armenian refugees who had been living in Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union fell. These folks had once had their own apartments, but once the Soviet Union broke up, they had to flee Azerbaijan. Whole families ended up living in dorm sized rooms. That’s five or six people living in a space designed for two. Would Fluffy or Fido necessarily fit in with that reality? Probably not.

I was intrigued by that post because, while I could definitely see the perspectives of outraged, kind-hearted, well-meaning Americans, I could also see John’s perspective. He’s left the United States and moved somewhere where life may not be as easy. He’s seen another perspective and it’s changed his opinions. This happens to me every time I live abroad. So far, I’ve lived abroad in five different places and three different countries. Each experience opens my eyes a little bit more. I imagine it’s been the same for John, who came across as quite intelligent and calm, despite the mob of angry rebuttals from the clueless that came his way. I particularly liked it when he calmly pointed out to several posters that they were making assumptions and putting words in his post that he never wrote. For instance, one person wrote this:

I care about people and animals. I am just sorry you feel that you’re only option is too leave your dog on the side of the road.

And John responded with, “I never said that. There’s no need to be self-conscious.” Later, he added “Gratefully, I never had to. But I’m lucky. Many people have had to do so.

When another poster offered to find a home for John’s dog, he wrote “In fact, our dog is a stray that sat at our gate for a month before we let her in. The best guard dog I’ve ever seen in my life. Like I said, we’re more fortunate than many here… I’m not going to condemn others for doing what they need to do in order to survive.

I think sometimes people get so wrapped up in outrage that they don’t allow themselves to see other perspectives. John never said he condones dumping animals. John never said he planned to dump his dog, nor did he applaud people who do. He simply suggested that sometimes people find themselves in situations where that seems like the best thing to do, whether or not it actually is. If he lives in Bulgaria, I can see why he’d come to that conclusion. I can also see why our fellow American brothers and sisters are outraged. It’s mainly because they’re ignorant and/or unwilling or unable to broaden their perspective.

What really made my eyebrows raise, though, was when someone claimed John was an atheist and quoted the Bible as a means of proving that this man she doesn’t know doesn’t believe in God. First off, even if he is an atheist, that really has nothing to do with animal dumping. Secondly, there are plenty of so-called Christians who have black hearts. Just this morning, I read a news article about Jerry Falwell Jr. that pretty much proves that point. He’s supposedly a “Christian”, but he’s got his head shoved way up Donald Trump’s ass, to the point at which he’s said he thinks Trump should be given two extra years to continue to fuck things up. I may not be the smartest or wisest person in the world, but I can smell bullshit for miles. And a lot of “religious” people are full to the gills with bullshit.

Anyway… while I don’t think there’s any excuse for ditching animals if there is any possible alternative, I also think John is right that sometimes people have to make very hard choices. I think of the folks who have been affected by the most recent natural disasters– wildfires, hurricanes, and the like– and realize that even some Americans are caught in that dilemma. If a wildfire is about to consume your house and you have a bunch of pets, including horses or other livestock, what the hell do you do? It would be wonderful if you had time to load them in a trailer and get them to safety. But what if you can’t do that? I’m sure people in Bulgaria or Armenia or any of the countries that aren’t the United States or Germany have to make those difficult decisions. So I, for one, applaud John for being brave enough to speak his mind and not go along with group think. It’s getting harder and harder to do that these days, in this age of Internet warfare. And more people need to pull their heads out of their asses and think outside of the box. Not every place on the planet is like America. Not everyone wants to live in America. American solutions aren’t always solutions that fit every situation. Think about it.

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