STEMming the tide

This was a guest post on Dr. Philip Moriarty’s blog, and I am posting it here on my own blog as well.

So I wanted to start this off by giving you all a bit of my background, especially since I will be dicussing STEM and non-STEM degrees and the disservice we are doing to our children (and ourselves!) with the constant push for STEM while sometimes outright shunning anything else.

I am a 34 year old who holds two degrees, a Masters of Divinity (a religion degree commonly posessed by clergy) and an Associate of the Arts Oregon Transfer Degree with a focus in Sociology. Why an AA instead of an AS? Long story short, I was out of financial aid money and I had already racked up $30k in student loans due to having to change majors because of health issues. It was the only degree available that I had “completed” all of the requirements to get.

I grew up in a house that praised both STEM and non-STEM fields. My mother is a microbiologist and veterinary technician and my father holds two degrees, one in fish and wildlife (a STEM degree) and the other in economics. I grew up spending many of my weekends with my mother in the lab at the VMTH at UC Davis and developed an outright love for the biological sciences. To this day the smell of the gram stain chemicals will almost instantly bring a smile to my face because of my memories in the lab.

I excelled in school in science and in music, but struggled in math and English. I even received awards of Honors in Biology and Recognition in Chemistry from the Golden State Exam. I completed the course work required for the basic computers course in under two months my senior year and transferred into the advanced class at the beginning of the second semester.

So why is all of this important?

Because growing up, even though I knew that both STEM and non-STEM fields were necessary for a well rounded society I still had to deal with the constant comments about “throw away degrees”. The Liberal Arts degree jokes were a dime a dozen, and if you considered going into a field that was considered a liberal art or humanities, you were teased to no end. I even bought into the hype about how if I wanted to earn a decent wage and not be a burger flipper or working a minimum wage job my whole life I would have to get a STEM degree.

I was already pretty burnt out on school by the time I graduated in 2000 due to the introduction of the senior project and the fact that I was actually taking extra classes on top of my already full class load. While most students had at least one open period, I had -1 open periods. I actually had two classes at the same time (senior project and computers). I took two English classes that year because the school wasn’t willing to let me count my British Literature course as my senior English credit and my World Literature course as my junior English credit. I took math applications that year and learned how to apply math to real world situations, which meant I had a lot of extra work outside of school.

While I had wanted to take a break and get my head on straight, my family pushed for me to enter college through Solano Community College since my grades and test scores (ACT, SAT II, ASVAB) weren’t “good enough” for the colleges I wanted to go to. Never mind that I scored in the top 90th percentile for my ACT and the top 99th percentile in almost everything on the ASVAB…my grades were what shot me in the foot.

I enrolled in the fall of 2000 with my major listed as undecided and did my best to make my parents proud. I wanted to get a degree in either micro or molecular biology, but I was also really wanting to get a degree in literature or history. I was too ashamed to tell anyone that I wanted a degree in a field that was the source of “Would you like fries with that?” jokes and ridicule.

I dropped out of college due to fatigue in 2001 and spent the next four years working various jobs, including cooking jobs for Xanterra National Parks and Resorts. I constantly looked back at my failures in college and friends and family kept urging me to go back to school so I could get a degree and make decent money. Every time I brought up a degree that wasn’t in one of the STEM fields I was met with reminders about how those sorts of degrees weren’t worth anything and I would just be wasting my time. I was told that all the “good jobs” were in STEM and I needed to focus on one of those fields.

Another big push was to work in a medical field, which I decided to go for in 2005 when I entered training to become a phlebotomist and lab assistant. I got to intern at Kaiser Regional Microbiology in Berkeley, California and on Travis Air Force Base. I was happiest when I was able to work in the lab, but I learned early on that unless I had a masters or higher I would be nothing more than a grunt wherever I worked.

I began work as a phlebotomist in 2006 and found myself getting paid only a dollar or so more than when I worked as a cook (with no certifications, training, or well…anything). Sure, I had a job, but it wasn’t anything like everyone had been promising me.

Fast forward to 2013 and I have just completed my M:Div and am also enrolled in college at Rogue Community College. I find myself joking about my “throw away degree” and how I’m trying to get a degree in a field where I can actually make money and have a steady job.

I feel shame whenever my M:Div is brought up.

My parents remind me from time to time that my father was able to complete his masters in 4-5 years, and that I really should apply myself better.

 I wound up spending four years at RCC due to mental health issues and having to go from full time to half time. I racked up $30k in student loans just to survive and appealed multiple times to have my financial aid extended after having to change my major not once, but twice (Early Childhood Education → Criminology → AAOT). When I graduated in 2015 I didn’t feel pride, I felt disappointed and like I had let people down. Sure, I had my degree, but it was pretty much useless outside of transferring to a university.

So…what does all of this have to do with STEM v non-STEM degrees?

 A couple of months ago I found an article that discusses how we are doing a disservice to our children by shunning non-STEM subjects, especially literature and the arts. After reading it I looked at what was going on with my own daughters and I felt my heart sink.

My eldest had gone off to Job Corps to learn a trade, but she had been told by her counselor before she left school that anything outside of a STEM degree would be a worthless degree and she should either learn a trade or get a STEM degree.  She told me a few years later that at the time she’d wanted to tell that person they were full of sh*t, but she’d kept her mouth shut.

Currently she’s unemployed with certifications in culinary arts. People want experience, not certifications, where we live, so she is stuck either getting a minimum wage job to gain experience, or find a job in a different field than the one she’s trained in.

My middle daughter is the one suffering the most from this push for STEM degrees. She is very skilled in art and loves music, but she has been told that if she gets a degree in either of those fields, she might as well just throw her money away. Before she’d been told that she had planned on going into the music field and possibly teaching music.

Now, she doesn’t know any more and is just sort of drifting about as she finishes her final year in high school.

Because of the push for STEM classes, the board of education in Oregon decided that students had to take three years of math, but only classes listed at Algebra 1 or higher would count. Both of my step daughters (the two oldest) were moved around constantly when they were younger so they were still in basic math when they entered high school. This gave them a year to go from having trouble with basic addition and subtraction, to learning the quadratic equation.

Needless to say, they failed horribly, even with extra math classes and assistance.

One would expect that if a child failed a class, that the next year they would repeat it so as to get a passing grade. In the case of my daughters, they were just pushed into the next level of math. So they went from basic math to Algebra 1. My eldest decided to change her diploma to one of the “alternative” diplomas due to this very issue, and wound up wasting an entire school year. She was receiving grades on things like watching movies! That was how little these people thought of the children who opted to go for one of the alternative diplomas (either due to special needs or due to just giving up). Anything to keep those graduation numbers up!

Oregon offers the standard diploma, a modified diploma (which has “lowered” requirements in the core classes and double the amount of electives), an extended diploma (which only requires half the credits of a regular degree AND has lowered requirements), and an alternative certificate (basically you’re just a warm body that gets counted to help bring in money and you get to walk across the stage at graduation). The reason for this is that with the push towards higher levels of STEM classes and the push for students to go into STEM fields, students began failing to meet requirements to graduate.  Instead of reevaluating the situation and possibly changing the graduation requirements to meet those of another state (each state has its own requirements for graduation! There is no “federal standard”!), they decided to create new diploma options, many of which are little more than a piece of paper.

With a modified diploma you cannot get into a four year university. You have a chance at getting into a community college, but you’re most likely going to be making up for lost time with remedial classes and thus wasting your financial aid and being forced to take out student loans. Trade school acceptance is a crap shoot. You cannot enlist in the military for the most part, and you will find yourself having difficulty finding work since it is a “lesser” diploma.

With an extended diploma or an alternative certificate….yeah. You might as well just go for your GED.

We are cutting music, literature, art, and humanities classes at a frightening rate in our high schools while continuing to push for our students to excel in math, science, and English. We are forgetting that while it is good to have a focus on STEM subjects, and that STEM fields are important, so are the non-STEM fields.

In Oregon, we lump foreign language, the arts, and career and technical education (CTE) into one category. Children need three credits (years) to graduate with a standard diploma, but the school pushes for students to either learn a foreign language or focus on the CTE classes. Math, social sciences, and science require three credits each, English requires four credits, health (another science class) requires one credit, and physical education requires one credit. Children also have to earn six credits of “electives”.

We need literature, music, art, and all of the other fields. We are beginning to suffer as a society due to our children not learning anything more than a cursory once over of these subjects. Many children don’t read outside of what is required for school since reading for pleasure is seen as a waste of time in many cases. If a child starts showing interest in music or art teachers begin to try to steer them towards a field with a “better future”.

We have the science to prove that we need these fields, and that children need to learn about and immerse themselves in these fields; yet we are continuing to cut them from our curriculum at an alarming rate, replacing them with “elective” classes. When a child sees that their favorite subject is an “elective” versus a “core” class, they begin to look down on it. It happened to me, it happened to my husband, and it has happened to my kids.

To this very day I still have to fight that the social sciences are valid options for a field of study. I get told that if it’s not a “natural science” then it’s worthless. I get told that my preferred fields of study (psychology and sociology) are bullsh*t. Heck, people even grade the social sciences as some being more “science” than others, just to justify their attacks on certain fields.

If people are doing this with the social sciences, you can just imagine what they are doing with the arts and humanities fields.

We need to stop treating STEM fields as the high lord and master and remember that we need ALL fields of study to be able to be a well rounded society. We need to stop shaming people who wish to go into the non-STEM fields, and we need to stop telling our children that they won’t be able to be successful unless they go into either a STEM field or into the medical field.

So Duke University has made the news again, and thankfully it’s not another rape case.

So Duke University has made the news again, and thankfully it’s not another rape case.

However, I’ve noticed that the reason they’re in the news is causing a lot of pearl clutching and panic (and of course moral outrage) among certain groups of people who *ahem* tend to be less than friendly towards feminism or feminist theory. Trying to wade through the numerous articles, videos, vlogs, and um…whatever Alex Jones creates is a nearly Hurculean task.  Heck, trying to FACT CHECK the various articles about how Duke University is creating a “”safe space” for men to contemplate their “toxic masculinity”” is exceptionally difficult.

So I’m here to help out.

The main article being cited is the Washington Times’ article titled, ” Duke University launches ‘safe space’ for men to consider their ‘toxic masculinities’” which sadly, misses the point of what is actually going on.  The point passes so far above their heads it’s passing through the stratosphere. Now if you look at the article, it looks pretty damning, and it appears that they cite their sources repeatedly.

Not really…

You see, most of the links aren’t sources for their article, but links to their own paper ( as you can see here). They have one link to an article about the Duke Men’s Project, and if you follow that link you’ll discover that sadly, the Washington Times is more interested in sensationalism than actually reporting the truth.

Like a cherry picking apologist, they grab bits and pieces and move them about to make it look like Duke University is hosting some sort of evil feminist brainwashing scheme to make men learn how their masculinity is bad and they need to be accountable to feminism.  I’m not making this shit up. They’re seriously making it seem like there’s some sort of evil plot being hatched by the even more evil feminists to make men into…not men?

Just like a Christian apologist taking an atheist’s comments out of context, they grab a chunk of what is said and twist it into something entirely different from the truth.

So what is actually going on, you ask?

Essentially there is a group that is working to launch a nine-week long program called The Duke Men’s Project that “aims to discuss masculinity, feminism and intersectionality.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Even their Facebook page states that the Duke Men’s Project is “an initiative sponsored by the Duke Women’s Center to increase male allyship in gender equity and gender violence prevention.”

In layman’s terms, it’s mostly for male feminists and male allies, not all men.

It is a program that aims to focus on things that are typically viewed as part of what is known as toxic masculinity and how to recognize and work with them in hopes of creating a healthier view of masculinity than the one currently held by many people. Of the various topics covered, there will be discussions on the “language of dominance”, pornography, machismo, and rape culture.

According to their Facebook page, their intention “is to rework current narratives of masculinity for a healthier alternative; one that is inclusive, equitable and positive”.

For those who are interested, here are a few links to what toxic masculinity is:

“The Difference Between Toxic Masculinity and Being A Man”

“When Masculinity Fails Men”

Toxic masculinity

One of the big things that is being ignored by most of the people reporting on the Duke Men’s Project, is that it is based on a similar program that already exists at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Where was the outrage over that program? Is it because Duke University had that rape scandal? What makes Duke’s program so newsworthy? (Well aside from the fact that it’s pretty awesome to see something like this taking place)

The program isn’t meant to be this whole rigid “you will learn this!” sort of thing, but instead it aims to create an open dialogue and discussion about the topics. It is meant to get people to overcome the sense of passivity that often exists for male feminists and allies.

“It’s easy to say you’re a feminist but actually embodying what that means is a different story-it’s changing how you see the world, straying away from the savior complex that you get assigned from other people and recognizing that the labor we put in really pales in comparison to the labor all the other women have put in to this movement.”

-Tanner Johnson

Heck, they are even taking part in Breaking Out 2016, which is a photo exhibition at Duke University featuring students who are survivors of gender violence. It allows survivors to tell their stories (anonymously if desired) so that people can speak up in a culture that often focuses more on victim blaming and silencing victims ( especially male victims!).

If you want to actually know what it’s all about, you can read the interview done by the Duke Chronicle here or you can check out their Facebook page and even get clarification straight from them. Can’t get any closer to the truth than directly from the source, right?

So…who are you going to believe?

The people writing articles just to create moral panic?

Or the actual source?

 

Love, Muses, and the Reverse Friendzone

So back in 1999 I met an individual that would later be the one who helped me see just how much of a waste of human protoplasm my ex-husband was.  I met Archer (not his real name, obviously) through an online game known as a MUD.  For those not in the loop, MUDs were the precursor to MMOs.  MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon and was a text based game that was playable through various programs or through the dreaded telNET.  You did the same stuff as you do in an MMO, but it was all text, no pictures.

Archer began to interact with me when I was a tiny little newbie player, and I enjoyed his flirting and how nothing was ever serious for him.  I created a new character in the game, this time an angel so that I could hang out with him and play with him since he was the first friend I made on the game.  Over the years I would not only make more friends on the MUD, but I also wound up being a developer on the game for several years, but back to Archer.

Archer and I flirted on the MUD and off the MUD and we found comfort in talking with each other.  I was in the process of breaking up with my first boyfriend and Archer was there to talk to me and reassure me that I shouldn’t just give up and should listen to what my heart told me.  We grew to be close friends and the flirting turned a bit serious for a while until I officially got together with Eric.  Looking back on it, I can definitely say that Eric was my rebound even though I had never had sex before and had only had one boyfriend before him.

We’d not even gotten to the point of a relationship when I got together with Eric, and so we just backed a bit off on the flirting and stuck to having fun on the MUD and hanging out.  The MUD was our personal place where we could enjoy each other’s company.  I won’t lie, I started developing feelings for Archer, even though he was younger than me and we’d only known each other online.

As the years progressed, we started to fall for each other, or so I thought.  

He was one of the reasons I started having almost instant regrets about marrying Eric.  But Archer had never told me he loved me, except when we were on the MUD, and when I tried to bring it up he would deflect it or work towards changing the subject.  I think I actually based a good chunk of my second book on that whole bit.  I’d tried even saying it first, before Eric and I were engaged, and Archer never said it back.  Like an idiot, I justified it to myself that he just didn’t know how to say it, since he came from a broken home and had been abused as a kid.

Is anyone else beginning to notice I spent a lot of my life justifying people’s shitty actions because I just didn’t want to acknowledge that there are total cunts out in the world?  Yeah, lot of good that did me.

I had been married to Eric for about four years when I was given the option of traveling down to the LA area for a small conference of sorts for laboratory professionals (I had just earned my certificate for lab assisting and phlebotomy and wanted to further my education).  I was excited because I would finally be able to meet Archer face to face.  He’d always had some excuse why he couldn’t come visit me over the years, but this time I was going to visit him.  My marriage with Eric was already crumbling due to his statements about never moving back to Oregon and I was wanting to be with my daughter more and more, so I figured heck, we’d (Archer and I) talked about having sex before several times, and I was in the process of getting separated from Eric…

Yeah…it didn’t happen.  

Obviously we were kind of awkward finally meeting face to face, and we hung out in my hotel room watching TV, but that was about it for the first night I was there.  The second day was the conference, and that evening we hung out again.  I actually ASKED him to have sex with me, and he shot me down.  Sure, he was polite about it, but come on!  Someone travels down to see you, and you know that they chose what conference to go to JUST so they could spend time with you, and you had been discussing sex with them….and you fucking shoot them down?

So needless to say I was kind of crushed on that aspect, but again I justified it as he was just being polite and didn’t want to risk getting me in trouble with Eric since Eric was still really possessive even though we were breaking up.  I told myself all sorts of things, explaining away that I had been “friendzoned” as some people like to call it.  As I was heading out to head back up to where I was staying in Fairfield, I managed to get a very….VERY chaste peck on the lips from Archer.

It was a combination of spending time with him, how polite he had been (in my mind), and my justifications that allowed me to gain the courage to tell Eric to fuck off.  When I got back to Fairfield I stood outside of my van and grabbed at my ponytail.  I’d been growing it out for a couple years, but I was determined that if I was going to make such a drastic life change I needed a body change as well.  I grabbed a box cutter that I kept in my van and sliced off my ponytail.  Long story short on that one, it didn’t go over well with Eric and his family but I didn’t care anymore.

Eric gave me the ultimatum of picking either him or my daughter, and I moved out two days later.  I was practically giddy as I drove up to Oregon, and after getting settled and helping put my daughter to bed I contacted Archer to tell him about what had happened.  He seemed happy for me, and I felt like I had someone who was supportive of me even while I fought with Eric and his family during the divorce.  Thankfully, Eric wanted nothing to do with my daughter, and we filed the divorce in Oregon, so it was somewhat clean…his parents were just being really difficult about certain things.

Archer stuck around and we got closer online.  We cybered from time to time, and that was really the only time that he would ever say he loved me.  Even then he would brush it away with a comment about it being in the heat of the moment or things like that.  During the divorce and the period after it I wound up writing two books based off of our characters from the MUD.  Found a publisher for them, publisher went under, so I went indy with them and am currently “fixing” a lot of the bullshit that I had put in them.

In 2009 I decided to go down and visit Archer again.  I drove down there from Oregon and arrived at my hotel exhausted.  I got cleaned up and went out to get dinner before Archer got off work.  While we slept in the same bed together that night, he was on top of the covers “to be polite” while I slept under the covers.  We went and saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine the next day and I almost got us kicked out of the theater when I shouted out that their explanation about the hydrochlorothyazide hiding the woman’s heart beat was complete and utter bullshit.  Archer laughed at it and we finished out the movie before heading back to his place for a bit. Nothing juicy happened there, I basically got to see his room and sit on his bed while we talked for a bit.

That night while we were watching TV in my hotel room I tried to hint as hard as possible at my mood, from stroking his leg (and up to his third leg) to actually (AGAIN) asking him to have sex.  And again, I was shot down.  He didn’t have a reason this time, just an “I can’t” and him moving my hand from his leg.

I went back up to Oregon defeated but again justifying his actions.  We kept up our “relationship” if you could call it that online until I took a small break to date one of the most abusive pieces of shit in the world.  To be fair, I didn’t know he was that way when I first met him.  I wound up having to get a restraining order against the guy after he started stalking me and threatening me and my daughter.  I had a short relationship with another person, and that relationship ended on decent terms.

My stalker kicked up his game around the time I met Harvey and I started having problems at work due to what my stalker was doing.  Harvey let me crash at his place since he lived in a secured building while we moved my stuff to a storage unit so that I could be safe.

It was around then that Archer decided he wanted to be in an actual relationship with me.  

The problem was, I was tired of waiting and I was tired of being led along.  Now for context, Harvey and I were only good friends at the time, and I asked him if he would help me gauge if Archer was a decent person or not.  Harvey agreed and so Archer came up to visit.  I went to his hotel room and due to bad lighting and a crappy parking lot I wound up high centering my car on a piece of concrete.  I had to call Harvey to help me move my car since Archer isn’t exactly a big and burly person.  So all three of us hung out for a while, and I could see that Archer was intimidated by Harvey (most people are though for some reason….) and so I went home and we were all going to meet up the next morning for breakfast.

I could see that Archer was NOT pleased with Harvey being there at breakfast, but at this point I was kind of wanting revenge of sorts for being shot down twice and having “wasted” time traveling down to see him.  That and he didn’t make any attempt to say he wanted to be alone with me, so I just let things play out.  We went to the flea market and all three of us got separated for a bit, mostly because I have this lovely tendency to go squirrel on people and wander off when I see something that catches my eye.

I met up with Harvey and told him my concerns about Archer, and he told me to trust my heart on the matter.  I was sitting in a chair with Harvey standing next to me when Archer found us, and he looked like he’d just sucked on a lemon. Harvey and I weren’t even being intimate, yet I felt guilty when Archer glared at me and I instantly went into chastised and submissive mode.  He asked to be taken back to his hotel room and so I did as he asked.

Harvey and I got back to the apartment and I went to take a second dose of my medications since I was shaking so badly I was having trouble standing.  I’d barely had the chance to finish my water when the texts began.

 “Are you and Harvey fucking?”

 “Are you and Harvey together?”

 “Why did you let me waste this money to come up here if you were with someone?!”

I tried to explain to him that we weren’t in a relationship and that we were just friends.  That’s when the text that killed ANY feelings I had left for Archer.

“Swear on your daughter’s life that you aren’t fucking him.”

I showed that text to Harvey and even he had nothing to say back.   I wrote back to Archer that Harvey and I were not fucking, and that he was just a friend.  Archer then went into this long text about how he had come up there to propose to me and how he had been planning on finding a place up there so we could live together and all those wonderful things I had dreamed of years ago.  One problem though, now all I wanted was to kick him so hard he coughed his nuts out his mouth.

It’s only now when I look back on it all that I realize he had just been leading me on, and that the final set of texts was more to hurt me than anything else.  I’d made the mistake of falling for someone who was toxic for me and who quite possibly could have turned out to be abusive.  I kept justifying his actions and explaining them away instead of seeing them for what they were.  I had given my love to someone who hadn’t appreciated it, and when I decided I was done he had gone out of his way to make ME feel guilty for not still being in love with him.  I guess it’s why poor Harvey is constantly having to reassure me that he’s not going to do a 180 on me and start abusing me or mistreating me.  I was so used to being abused and used by that point that it was all I knew.  Actual love and compassion was foreign to me outside of the love I felt for my daughter.

Since the visit, Archer and I have only spoken a few times.  Those conversations have been short and cold, and nothing like they used to be, but I honestly couldn’t give a flying fuck.

So there you have it.  I fell in love with a man who became my muse for two books and was one of the main characters, only to find out that the feelings were not equally shared.  While my love for him did help me get through some tough spots, it was one sided and once it had served its purpose, it vanished.

How $10 became “I Will Never Trust You Again”

While I was born in Oregon, my parents moved down to southern California before I was three.  After my brother was born, we moved up to Davis.  I went through third grade without too many issues, well aside from the alien abduction that has left the scar on the right side of my forehead.  I say it was an alien abduction because I have yet to find a better explanation for how I got from sitting on the side of my bed looking at my night light to lying half in my room and half out of my room with a giant gash in my forehead.  While my dad says that I hit my head on the bed post, the lack of blood in the room and the large gap in my memory kind of make me wonder.

 Occam’s razor aside, the alien abduction story definitely makes for a better explanation than “I woke up, then fell asleep and then in the middle of sleep walking fell and cut my head on a wooden head board and stumbled out of my room.”

 When I was eight, we moved to Winters, where I lived until my dad dragged me up to Oregon in 2001 to keep me away from the man who would become my ex-husband.  Winters can definitely be described as a one horse town, to where if you blink when driving past it on the 505 highway, you will miss it.  I lived in the safest part of town according to my dad, because no one would be crazy enough to try to rob a house on a block where there had been two homicide suicides in under ten years.  During the years that I lived in Winters, I managed to dye the carpet in my bedroom blue with my chemistry set, cut a square hole in my parent’s screen door and tried to blame it on the dogs, and spent probably a good portion of my youth grounded.

 But aside from living in Winters, none of that really has anything to do with my story.  

 About 38 miles from Winters is the town of Vallejo, where at the time of my visit was a park called Marine World Africa USA.  Now it’s apparently called Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, but you know what?  Fuck Six Flags!  Marine World Africa USA will always be more awesome because of all the different animals they had and all the fun science stuff that was available for a nerd like me to experience.  Screw the rides, I want science!

 I was ten years old when the incident occurred, and I remember that not only did they have a new addition to the shark exhibit, but since Jurassic Park had recently come out in the theaters, they had a whole new dinosaur and pre-history exhibit in the park.  I was so excited by the dinosaur exhibit that I spent a good several hours pouring over every part of it and playing with the interactive exhibits within the larger exhibit.  For a ten year old kid who loved to learn and loved science, it was the best time of my life.

 Using the map that they gave me when I got into the park, I decided to wander to the different places to watch the various animal demonstrations and shows.  I set up specific times to meet up with my parents to check in, and made sure that my watch was working properly before heading off to have fun.  I went and watched the dolphins, and then on to the tigers to watch them play in their exhibit with the trainers, and then over to the butterfly house to get out of the sun for a little while before meeting up with my parents for lunch.

 My parents had brought stuff for lunch along with them, but I didn’t want any of it.  I can’t even remember what it was, just that I really REALLY wanted a hot dog and a large lemonade.  I got told that if I wanted that, I had to spend my own money on it since they had packed a lunch for all of us and they would not spend money on overpriced food.  Being ten, and I REALLY wanted that hot dog and lemonade, I went and spent my money on my lunch.  Yeah, I know…stupid kid wanting stupid things.  Remember that lunch, it will play into this story later.  I do have to say though, it was a really good hot dog and lemonade…at least my memory wants to claim it is.

 After lunch, we set up another set of check in times and off I went to go and have fun again.  Since the shark exhibit, called the Shark Experience, was the closest to where we’d had lunch, I headed over there to enjoy the air conditioned exhibit.  The Jaws theme plays on a loop as you walk into the exhibit, with outlines of the different species of sharks on the wall glow in the black lit corridors.  To say that the building all of this shark stuff was housed in was big would be an understatement, if I remember correctly it houses a 300,000 gallon tank along with many other things.  There was a tunnel that you could walk through so that the sharks swam overhead, and there were floor to ceiling viewing areas where you could just watch all the sharks swimming about.  I kept wanting to see that one shark with the saw blade nose swim over head, or one of the giant rays to swim over my head like they showed in the commercials, but they were always off on the far end of the tank for some reason.

 I could have spent days in there and still not been bored of the exhibit, but because of the crowds I probably only spent about thirty minutes in there before shuffling on to look at the sharks outside and then on into the gift shop.  

 Inside the gift shop I saw all sorts of things I wanted, from books, to models, to a wash cloth that if you put it in water it grew from a squashed disk into a usable washcloth.  But the thing that caught my attention the most was a pen that when to tilted it, had a shark that swam from one side to the other.  Well, he swam backwards if you tilted it one way, and swam forwards when you tilted it the other…so I guess that’s swimming? I remember really wanting that pen, but when I checked my pocket for my money, the memory of lunch came back, and how I had spent my ten dollars on food.  I stood there staring at that pen, and decided that I wanted it, and that it would be mine.  Looking around, I carefully slipped it into the pocket of my white wind breaker before also slipping that wash cloth disk in as well.

 Since no one shouted at me to put it back, I went on my merry little way to the next exhibit.

 After spending time watching the seals swimming around, I sat down and watch the sea lion show.  I always wanted to be picked when they came out to get someone to come up and meet the sea lions, but they picked some blond boy instead to get kissed by the sea lion.  I was glad it spit on him instead.  I went along the trail to the next exhibit, and eventually found my way to the front of the park and the main gift shop.  Inside I found these little troll doll pencil toppers that were smaller than my thumb, and in my pocket went one of each color.  With my new possessions, I went off to watch the killer whale show.  I met up with my grandmother and we watched the show together.  As we left the stadium, I told her about how I had found some toys in the dirt on my way to the show and showed her the troll dolls.

 She looked like she believed it, so I went off to the “kid” area and played on the giant rope ladder that encompassed the entire area.  You would climb up and could move across to other areas of the kid zone, or just sit up there and enjoy watching everyone walking and moving around below you.  It made me feel really cool because everyone looked so tiny below me when I was up there.  I noticed the ball pit that had this really cool air tube where you could put a ball on top of it and watch it hover was almost completely empty, so I climbed over and down to the entrance, took off my shoes and wind breaker, and hopped on in.  For some reason, it was like a challenge to me to try to keep that ball hovering for more than a few seconds, and I wanted to try to get to ten seconds this time around without some snot nosed brat swatting the ball away and laughing at me.

 I’d managed to get a ball to hover for around 8 seconds, even though it took me half an hour to get to that level of success, when I heard my mom say my name.  She didn’t say my full name, or even my first and last name, but the tone she put on my first name told me I was in deep shit.  Mind racing, I started trying to figure out what I had done wrong.  I hadn’t hit anyone, and I had been on my best behavior the whole time I’d been at Marine World, I had no idea as to why she had the “you’re going to regret being born” tone in her voice.  Climbing out of the ball pit, I didn’t even get the chance to slip my shoes back on before she told me to sit down at a nearby picnic table.  I could feel my heart racing as I sat down, and I could feel that sensation of fight or flight pushing its way up my spine and the bile rising in my stomach as I looked at my mom.

 “I want you to empty out your pockets.” she stated coldly.  “Empty them out and put everything in front of me.”

 My body went numb.  My grandmother had obviously told my mom about the troll dolls, and my mom didn’t believe I had found them.  I just knew it.  I began to empty out my pockets, pulling out the map of the park, and then the troll dolls. “Anything else?”  I pulled out the pen, forgetting about the washcloth.  “Where did you get these?”

 “I found them.” I lied.

 I figured I was already in trouble, so no point in owning up to something if I was just going to get in trouble regardless of what I said.  I might as well try to proclaim my innocence in hopes that I was believed. No sooner had the words left my mouth than I knew that she wasn’t buying it.

 “We’re going to go to each store you took these from, and you are going to walk up to the clerk and tell him you took them without paying and that you are sorry.” she stated coldly.

I nodded, my brain telling me to just shut up and go along with it.  We first went to the shark exhibit gift shop, and I walked up to the clerk, handing him the pen and telling him the line my mother had told me to tell him.  He set it on the counter and said that he was glad I returned it and was being honest.  It sounded rehearsed, but I didn’t get to check it as my mom dragged me to the next gift shop.  I showed my mom where I had taken the troll dolls from, and she stated that she didn’t care and that I couldn’t just put them back and be done with it.  She took me to the nearest clerk and had me hold out the dolls while reciting the line, “I took these without paying, and I’m sorry.”

This clerk looked between me and my mom, and then took the dolls back.  She didn’t say anything, but merely put the dolls behind the counter and watched as my mom pulled me from the store and over to the large dolphin fountain near the entrance of the park.  “We’re going to wait here for your dad, brother, and grandparents, and then we are leaving.  I hope you are proud of yourself, we are leaving early because of you.” she said.

I didn’t say anything, I just stared into the water and tried to count how much money had been thrown into the water that day.  I’d counted somewhere around four dollars by the time the rest of my family made it to the fountain, and the look in my dad’s eyes made me wish I could drown myself in the water.  I wanted to just crawl into the fountain and disappear in the water. Without saying a word, we all left the park and headed back to the van.  I kept trying to lag behind, not wanting anyone to see the tears forming in my eyes, but every time I did, my parents would demand I hurry up and stop feeling sorry for myself.  “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”…that is a phrase that still fills me with anger, even to this day.  It was what my parents, especially my father, would say any time I started to cry.  If I got angry, I was not allowed to express my anger in the ways I knew how, so I would cry to relieve the emotional pressure, which would lead to me being punished and told to stop feeling sorry for myself.  It is what led to me being unable to express my emotions properly even to this day, and led to the feelings of shame I feel every time I cry.

When we got to the car, my dad made me take off my windbreaker and turn out the pockets on my shorts.  He proceeded to check the windbreaker, and found that there was a hole in one of the pockets and that one troll doll and the wash cloth disk had fallen through it.  Pulling them out, he looked at me and coldly told me, “I will never trust you again.  Get in the van and buckle up.  You’re grounded until I say you’re not.”

 I can’t even remember how long I was grounded, or how many times I was checked to make sure I hadn’t stolen anything from other family members after that event.  If something showed up in my room that wasn’t mine, it was obvious that I stole it, and I was punished…even if I hadn’t taken it.  I knew that on several of the occasions my brother had planted stuff in my room, and on other occasions either the thing had gotten mixed in with my stuff and wound up in my room, or I had legitimately borrowed it by asking permission and being told I could take it into my room.

Fast forward 20 years.  I’m up at my parents house visiting with my daughter.  While she is cleaning up her toys, I’m telling my dad about finally getting my Masters in theology.  Harvey is sitting at the table with us as I tell my father about my thesis on Christianity being a piggy back style religion and talking about the various religions and mythologies it borrowed from to create its story.  As I finished up, feeling super proud of myself for my accomplishment and my paper, my dad leaned forward and said, “Don’t lie.  You can tell the truth about this stuff, you don’t need to lie.”

I could feel tears welling up and could hear Harvey’s grip on his cup tighten considerably.  Why would I lie about a degree I had received?  Why would I lie about a thesis I had written?  Why wouldn’t he just believe me?

Keeping as calm as I possibly could, I pretended to check a message on my phone and said to Harvey that we had to go.  I gave my daughter a hug good bye and headed out the door.  Part of me already knew the answer.  No matter what I could say, my dad would always tell me to stop lying.  I could tell him the sky was blue, and he would say, “Stop lying, the sky is cloudy today.” or something like that.  To him, everything I say is a lie, even when I show him definitive proof.  Or if I bring him proof of something I have said, he looks at me and asks, “Why did you bring me this?  Why didn’t you just tell me about it?  I don’t need to read an entire paper on the subject.”

Even today, 20+ years after the incident, he still refuses to trust me.  I have to have someone backing me up, or somehow prove to him beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am telling the truth for him to even consider believing me. Oh, and just to let you know, the main person who always told me to stop feeling sorry for myself when I cried, the person who told me that anger was a mind killer but never helped me with a safe way to deal with my anger, the person who wouldn’t let me leave a situation to go and calm down, and then punished me for becoming emotional?  My dad.  The man who refuses to trust his eldest child, is also the one who caused his eldest child to not understand how to regulate their emotions properly.

Why I’m not jumping on the “Anti-Islam” bandwagon

For those who are interested, there is a map detailing all of the mass shootings from 1982-2016 (including the June 12 incident).  It can be found here.

On June 12, 2016 the United States of America saw the worst mass shooting in recent history.  I’m specifying recent history due to the fact that the US has seen far worse during the Native American genocide, but that was in the past, yo!  And let’s not even get started on what we did to the African Americans in 1917 (100+ killed), 1921 (55-300 killed), or 1932 (dozens).  We can’t be blamed for what our ancestors did!

We just get to blame everybody else for what  their ancestors did!

Ok, back on track.  The shooting occured in Orlando, Florida around 2am, leaving 49 people plus the shooter dead and over 50 wounded.  News agencies were quick to point out the shooter’s Muslim background and the fact that he had called 911 during the shooting to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.  Everyone seemed ready to jump on the terrorist bandwagon and begin attacking Islam once again.

News came out later in the day that a man in California was captured carrying several weapons and materials to make a pipe bomb.  For some reason, the news has yet to refer to this guy as a terrorist or even a potential terrorist. The man, James Howell, had the same intent as the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, yet only Omar is being referred to repeatedly as a terrorist.  In fact, there isn’t a single article I can find that mentions James’ religious affiliation.

Is it because Omar made that 911 call?  Is it because he has made comments about pledging to other Islamic terrorist groups (all of whom hate each other)?  Or could it possibly be that people are needing yet another excuse to find a group of people to turn their hatred towards?

Remember, James Howell was white.  We can’t go and call our lovely white men terrorists!  Only brown people can be terrorists! Just look at the Planned Parenthood shooter, or the Aurora, Colorado shooter and tell me how quickly the media jumped to calling them terrorists.

Oh that’s right, they only did it on a few select outlets (mostly left leaning and feminist outlets) and those outlets were bashed for calling these men terrorists.

When it came to the Planned Parenthood shooter and to James, the news media was quick to point out that the police were trying to find a motive for the shooting.  Just make sure you ignore the fact that both men actually told police why they were doing what they were doing. In the case of Omar?

TERRORISM!  ISIS! ISLAM!

If you were someone like myself who tried to point out that there were other causes for what he did, or that he is in the minority for people committing mass shootings and therefore trying to place all the blame on one topic was absurd, you got a rather large wave of backlash for your comments.  At one point I was forced to mute people because they were so dead set on having Islam be the scapegoat for this latest massacre that anything and everything I said fell on deaf ears (or would it be blind eyes since it was written?).

Even if it is the case that we can place the blame on religion in this shooting, how then are we to explain all the other mass shootings?  Remember that the US is home to nearly a third of the worlds mass shootings when we look at the time period of 1966 to 2012. In fact, there are more mass shootings in the U.S. than any other country in the world.  They surveyed 292 incidents using the FBI’s definition of a mass shooting (four or more people killed), and found that 90 of them had occurred in the US.   The next country on the list, the Philippines, came in at 18. Let that sink in for a moment.

Let’s also let this sink in:

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which compiles data from shooting incidents, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. That number can include any gunmen as well. By that definition, we’ve seen 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year.

According to the Washington Post article “The Math of Mass Shootings”, data was examined in the worst cases (most deaths/injuries) from 1966 to 2016, and they received a total of 126 mass shootings that did not include gang violence, shootings that began as other crimes, or killings that involved only the shooter’s family.  They kept to a very specific set of guidelines which can be found in their article (linked below).

Let’s take a look at some of the data from these 126 events.  The specifications for these are a lone shooter (or two shooters in a few of the cases) who kills four or more people during the event.

  • There were a total of 869 victims
    • 144 of these were children or teenagers
  • Shooters brought on average four weapons to their shooting (244 guns total)
    • 140 were obtained legally
    • 39 were obtained illegally
  • There were 129 shooters
    • All but three were male
    • 72 of them died at or near the scene
      • Most often by suicide
  • Most of the incidents took place at either a school or a business

Add to this the fact that the US owns more guns per citizen than any other country with 88.8 guns per 100 people (Yemen is in second place), and the fact that of all of the shooting incidents the FBI reviewed between 2000 and 2013, only 5 of 160 incidents ended with an armed citizen taking down the shooter, it really brings to question the narratives of the good guy with a gun, or how if only we had more guns we would be safer.

But I’m getting off topic, back to the Islam blaming!

So we’ve got the data on the majority of the mass shootings that have taken place in the US from 1966 to the present, with numbers showing gang violence both included and excluded.  We’ve seen that of all of the mass shootings, only 3 of the shooters were female. So what about religion? That is what is being blamed for the Orlando incident, so let’s see if Islam is to blame for these mass shootings!

Just from perusing the news around the various shooters, such as the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear, one can see that unless the suspect is thought to be a Muslim, his religion or religious ties are either not called into question, or are just a footnote in the story.  We don’t see people going out and calling for the destruction of all Christians or how evil Christianity is (seriously, it’s a fucked up religion if you sit down and actually read the books). In fact, we see a lot of back peddling and attempts to push the shooter’s mental health as the cause of the shootings.

So then why such focus on Islam?

We constantly hear about “radical Islam” and how all Muslims need to be held accountable for the fringe minority who go out and commit heinous crimes.  We see people on social media practically screaming for the destruction of Islam or to label the religion as a religion of hatred and to have it banned.  Why aren’t we seeing people doing the same for “radical Christianity” or say…”radical Judaism”? Let us not forget that at least two pastors of the Christian faith have come out since the Orlando shooting not only praising the deaths of the victims, but saying that this should occur more often!  These CHRISTIAN pastors are calling for people to go out and kill LGBT+ individuals, or to have the government round up the LGBT+ community and have them all executed.

Hey, is anyone else feeling the urge to go, “You know who else wanted to do this sort of thing?  Hitler.”?

So um…where is the outcry for the destruction of Christianity?  Where is the outcry to have all Christians held accountable for the fringe minority?  Why isn’t the news media labeling every Christian shooter as a terrorist just like they do with any shooter who may or may not be Muslim?  Because we need someone to hate, and Islam is the perfect boogeyman to turn our hatred towards.

Just think about this quote from Kelly James Clark of the Brooks College and Kaufman Interfaith Institute:

For every non-Muslim shooting suspect, the media never mentioned their religion. Moreover, in nearly every case, it was claimed that the mass shooters were suffering from some sort of mental instability.

Of all the mass shootings to occur, less than 1% have been by Muslims, yet the second the media finds out they were or are a Muslim, that is all that is talked about.  The cause moves from anything else to ISLAM.  Islam is to blame.  Period. End of story.  In 2015, only one mass shooting out of the 207 that had occurred was by a Muslim.  From 1982 to the present, only four mass shootings have been committed by Muslims, and those Muslims are rarely devout followers.  Omar was known to drink heavily (something that is forbidden in Islam), was gay, and committed many acts that are expressly forbidden by his supposed faith.  The shooter in the Chattanooga shootings, Mohammad Abdul Azeez, was a known drug and alcohol abuser who had been ostracized by his family and friends, yet what was the one thing the news media looked at when it came to his crime?  That he was a Muslim. Suddenly he became a “devout Muslim” and that his attack was because of his religion. The media jumped on the terrorism bandwagon and went to town on the story.

Yet we don’t see that happening with Christian shooters.  We don’t see their religion being the sole reason for their shooting spree.  We instead go to the good old reasons of “mental health” and “gun culture”.

The hypocrisy is strong in this.

Could religion play a part in the reasoning behind a shooting?  Yes.

Could the person’s upbringing play a part in the reasons behind a shooting?  You bet your sweet ass it does.

Does the availability of guns play a part in these shootings?  FUCK TO THE HELL YES.

Does the person’s mental health play a part in the reasons behind a shooting?  “I’ll take self answering questions for $1,000, Alex”

So why then, are we only focusing on Omar’s supposed religious background for his motive?  We’ve got more than enough data spread out before us to show us that people with serious mental health problems are able to not only purchase, but own guns legally in the US ( See my video on this here), and yet we refuse to do anything about it.  We refuse to fix our failing mental health system in the US (which was practically dismantled in the 1980s instead of trying to fix it), we refuse to close loopholes that allow people who shouldn’t have guns to purchase them, and we refuse to even allow scientists to study gun violence!

You’ll hear excuses such as, “If we make laws against guns, only criminals will have guns!”  These are the same fucktards that think banning abortion will stop all abortions, let that sink in.

We refuse to fix the problems in front of us, instead focusing on some giant boogeyman for us to hate.  I’m pretty sure we all read the book 1984 in school, and I’m hoping that we remember that they had a daily event, known as the Two Minutes of Hate where people were expected to spend that time hating on certain figures of ideas.  The two minutes of hate was used to prime citizens with hatred for rival nations and ideas.

WE ARE DOING THE EXACT SAME FUCKING THING WITH BLAMING ISLAM FOR THE REASON OF THE MASS SHOOTING!

WE ARE CREATING A BOOGEYMAN TO HATE INSTEAD OF TRYING TO FIX A KNOWN PROBLEM!

And yet, I’m the one who is attacked because I won’t jump on the “Hate Islam” bandwagon?  I can despise a religion all I want, but apparently unless I’m willing to turn this into a literal them vs us (Islam vs us), I’m an Islam apologist.

Because I want to look at the reasons behind the shootings instead of the buzzwords and the hate, I’m the bad guy.  Because I want us to focus on the data that shows the reasons behind the shootings, I’m burying my head in the sand.  Because I refuse to blame a religion that I dislike (like I dislike all organized religions) and refuse to fight to destroy it, I’m not worthy of being considered human.

If I were to point out that almost all of the shooters were white men, I would get crucified.

If I were to point out that almost all of the shooters had legal access to the guns they used, I would be slammed as anti-gun and wanting to take away people’s rights.

If I were to point out that the vast majority of the shooters were either non-religious or Christian, I would be told I’m hateful and bigoted.

Yet if I blame Islam and say we need to destroy it, I’m on the side of justice!

So why do I refuse to jump on the “Anti-Islam” bandwagon?  Simple.

LOGIC AND REASON are why I refuse to jump on the “Anti-Islam” bandwagon.