Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gene and Gilda... just stop already!

In case you didn't know, actor, screenwriter, director and author Gene Wilder died a couple of days ago.  He had lived a very full life and was 83 years old at the time of his passing.  He'd also suffered from Alzheimer's disease, which kept him out of the spotlight over the past few years.

I first became familiar with Gene Wilder in the 80s.  He was still a fairly prolific actor back then.  I still have not seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Young Frankenstein, but I did see The Woman in RedStir Crazy, and Blazing Saddles.  I always thought he was funny and charming.  I may have to read his novels, too.  I bet they were excellent.  But I am not writing about Gene Wilder this morning because I want to memorialize him.

Gene Wilder died a married man.  His fourth wife, Karen, married him in 1991.  That was twenty-five years ago.  Karen stuck by him as he aged and got sick.  He was married to her longer than he was the three wives before him combined.

But people seem to want to remember him with his third wife, Gilda Radner, the adorably funny comedienne who starred on Saturday Night Live in the 70s.  They were married in 1984 in the South of France and their marriage ended tragically five years later, when Gilda got a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer.  I read her book, It's Always Something, when I was in high school.  It was published in 1989, the year she died.

I will not dispute that Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner were deeply in love.  I remember reading about their love in Gilda's book.  And I'm sure, if there is a Heaven, the two of them embraced and celebrated when he finally reached the Pearly Gates.  Maybe they're rejoicing being together again.  I really don't know.

What I do know is that Gene Wilder has a surviving wife here on planet Earth.  And not even twenty-four hours after her husband's death, a news article popped up about Gene and Gilda and their sad love story.

I get that Gene Wilder is timely news right now.  I get that he and Gilda had a special love for each other.  But, in my opinion, the media could have waited awhile before they went ahead with this reminder of Gene's past love life.  He has a widow now who is presumably grieving.  Where is the deference for her?  Couldn't this reminder of Gene and Gilda have waited until the sheets had gone cold?

What kills me is that most of the comments I've read on that one story alone were very positive.  They were all about how deeply Gene and Gilda loved each other.  Only a few people spared a passing thought for Gene's fourth wife, Karen, who must have also loved him very much.  Most people were writing things like "What a beautiful love story!"  "They are together again!"  "Such a positive story for a change!" (really?).  It just seems kind of thoughtless to me.

This issue is not new, though.  If you've read this blog for any length of time, you may already know how I feel about a certain essay that regularly circuits the Internet.  It's called "Paradox of our Time" and it often gets falsely attributed to George Carlin, who read it and thought it was a "sappy load of shit".  The essay was, in fact, written by Dr. Bob Moorehead, a pastor.  In fact, this is what Mr. Carlin himself had to say about "Paradox of our Time".


One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called "The Paradox of Our Time." The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.

I figured out years ago that the human species is totally fucked and has been for a long time. I also know that the sick, media-consumer culture in America continues to make this so-called problem worse. But the trick, folks, is not to give a fuck. Like me. I really don't care. I stopped worrying about all this temporal bullshit a long time ago. It's meaningless. (See the preface of "Braindroppings.")

Another problem I have with "Paradox" is that the ideas are all expressed in a sort of pseudo-spiritual, New-Age-y, "Gee-whiz-can't-we-do-better-than-this" tone of voice. It's not only bad prose and poetry, it's weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that.

But anyway, there is a version of "Paradox of our Time" circulating that adds a bit more to the essay.  Some uninformed jerk decided to turn the essay into a love story by adding that Carlin wrote it right after his first wife, Brenda Carlin, died of liver cancer.  Then, they add that Carlin quickly followed her to the grave.

A Weird Al Yankovic song about this very issue...

Folks, Brenda Carlin died in May 1997 of liver cancer.  George Carlin died in June 2008.  And guess what?  He had remarried!  His second wife, Sally Wade, even published a book about their relationship.  They were together for about ten years.  "Paradox of our Time" was written in 1998, a year after Brenda Carlin died.  But it was not inspired by her, nor was it written by George Carlin.

Now... I don't know Sally Wade.  I did read her book about life with George, though, and she strikes me as a pretty tough cookie.  Still, I'm sure it was annoying to see her husband not only associated with a piece of writing that he thought was a "sappy load of shit", but to also see people fabricating a false history.  George Carlin did NOT die of a broken heart right after his first wife died, though he did die of heart failure about eleven years later.  To fabricate a tall tale about how he "followed Brenda to the grave" is just disrespectful, not just to George, but also to his second wife, Sally.

I understand that people want to admire their heroes.  People also love a good story.  We'd like to think that love is forever and that when someone's first true love dies, he or she is waiting for them up in Heaven.  And maybe that's what will happen-- or maybe not.  But if someone whose first love dies has the good fortune to love again, isn't it more respectful and kind to pay deference to the person left behind when he or she passes?  Maybe Karen came after Gilda and wasn't as famous as Gilda was, but she stuck around for 25 years and presumably took care of Gene Wilder when he needed her the most.

In the case of Gene and Gilda, I would say it's fine to write about their relationship at some point.  They were genuinely in love with each other and I don't think it's wrong to wax poetic about that.  But I don't think it's appropriate to romanticize Gene and Gilda when Gene hasn't even been dead 24 hours and has a grieving widow now acutely dealing with his death.  It's just tacky and rude, and shows no consideration for his wife.

But... in the interest of not being a hypocrite, I will not go around flaming the people who do write about Gene and Gilda "together again at last", even if it does make me shake my head...  When it comes down to it, people have the right to express themselves, even if they're being tacky and rude in the process.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Almost Anorexic... another book review

When I was younger, I went through some pretty disordered eating rituals.  I was obsessed with my weight and how it looked on me.  You'd never know it to look at me then or now, but I engaged in some behaviors consistent with eating disorders.  I was not really a binge eater or a purger, but I did sometimes stop eating.  There were a few times when I was younger that I'd actually stop eating for several days.  My weight would go up and down, along with my moods.  I could be funny, goofy, and almost manic, or very depressed and angry.  Some people thought I was so moody that more than one person asked me if I was bipolar.

It took many years, but I finally quit obsessing so much about my weight.  Sure, I'd love to be a lot thinner than I am now; but I no longer obsess about my weight.  I don't starve myself or force myself to exercise more than I want to.  I do engage in some behaviors that might be considered disordered to some people, though, and that's one reason why I decided to read Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One's) Relationship with Food a Problem? (The Almost Effect).  This book, published in 2013, was written by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas, who is (or was) an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in the Department of Psychiatry, and Jenni Schaefer, a singer, songwriter, speaker, and author who suffered from eating disorders and managed to recover.  I also read this book because I myself have studied public health and social work and this book might be considered professionally relevant to me if I actually practiced.  This book is the fourth in Harvard Medical School's "Almost Effect" series.    

Dr. Thomas goes by the name Jenny, so in order to make things less confusing for readers, she is referred to as Dr. Thomas in this book.  Jenni Schaefer is referred to as Jenni.  My name is also Jenny, so I felt like I was part of the club!  In any case, Dr. Thomas and Jenni keep their writing conversational and personal as they explain why they wrote about a condition called "almost anorexia".  Basically, what they mean is that there are many people out there who are eating disordered, but don't quite qualify for a formal diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.  The book is called Almost Anorexic, but it's actually about a spectrum of eating disorders-- everything from orthorexia (an obsession with clean, healthy eating) to binge eating disorder (binging on food, but not purging).  My guess is that they chose to call the book Almost Anorexic because anorexia is probably the most dramatic, the most recognizable, and is certainly the most lethal of recognized eating disorders.  I think it also has more of a fascination factor and less of an ick factor than, say, bulimia does.  

This book is for anyone who "flirts" with eating disorders.  The authors offer insight into what eating disordered behavior is.  Eventually, toward the end of the book, there are some strategies offered to help combat the behaviors that can lead to full blown eating disorders.  I got the sense that preventing full blown eating disorders was what the authors were really after, though they did recognize that many people suffer for years engaging in behaviors that make them miserable and can ruin their health.  

One thing that I appreciated was that the authors point out how eating disordered behaviors, even if they aren't bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can do a lot of damage to a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Aside from that, life is short and obsessing about calories, food, exercising, what others look like and what you look like to others is a serious waste of precious time.  It truly doesn't lead to anything but self-destruction and makes life much more difficult than it needs to be.  The authors recognize that their readers who might be struggling with disordered eating should strive for moving beyond those "almost anorexic" behaviors, but they also know that actually doing that is very difficult for most.  So they offer some good strategies and encouragement, along with anecdotes that make the reading more interesting.

I have read a lot of books about eating disorders over the years.  It started when I was a teenager and got to a fever pitch when I was a young adult.  Lately, I don't read as much about eating disorders as I used to.  The topic just doesn't interest me as much.  However, I did notice that the authors, particularly Dr. Thomas, whose voice seems to be the principal in this book, mention a lot of books that I've read.  I was really impressed when she mentioned Fasting Girls, which is a really great book about the history of eating disorders that I remember reading when I was a college freshman in 1990. She also mentions Cherry Boone O'Neill's classic anorexia memoir, Starving For Attention, which I read for the first time in 1986.  

So, not only has Dr. Thomas got a lot of professional experience and training, she's also read some of the best books.  But she also includes a lot of the latest research in a way that will speak to younger readers... the ones who are addicted to pro-ana or pro-mia Web sites or refer to their eating disorders as "Ed" or some other name.  "Ed" is the little voice in your head telling you you're too fat or that you look awful in your favorite jeans.  "Ed" is the voice that tells you to engage in unhealthy and obsessive behaviors.  Dr. Thomas and Jenni explain strategies as to how to get "Ed" to shut up and go away, even as they acknowledge how difficult and scary it is to do that.

A lot of people struggle with "eating disorder not otherwise specified" or EDNOS.  That is essentially what "almost anorexic" refers to-- having subclinical signs of an eating disorder that don't quite qualify for a diagnosis.  Not being full blown anorexic or bulimic doesn't mean you aren't suffering or doing damage to your health.  That's really what this book is about, as well as encouraging readers to take care of themselves and get healthy.  I think it's an excellent read for a lot of people... many of whom never talk about "Ed", but hear from "Ed" every day.  I give it five stars and a hearty recommendation, especially for those actually suffering.  I think it's slightly less helpful for family members and friends, though it's probably worth a read by them, too.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Being sued by your mom...

No, not me.  I am not being sued by my mother, thank God.  I don't think my mom would ever bother with such a notion.  I am referring to a piece I read on Yahoo! last night about a woman whose father suddenly got the flu and died in 2011.  There she was in her early 20s, suddenly left without a father.  She went to Michigan to help her brother, who had been living with their dad as he recovered from a nasty divorce.  Their mother, who was divorced from their dad but receiving alimony payments, immediately freaked out about how she was going to survive without "daddy's money".

Eventually, the woman's mother sued her daughter over her inheritance.  And she didn't just sue her one time; she sued multiple times.  Every time her case was thrown out, Mom would escalate it to the next court.  Eventually, it got to the state Supreme court and Mom lost again.  Meanwhile, mother, daughter, and son were on very tense terms.  Things were so strained that the daughter didn't invite her mother to her wedding.

To her credit, the author of that piece writes that she tried to mend fences with her mother.  It didn't work, though, and her mother is now apparently out of her life for good.

I shared this post with my friends and one mentioned that she had a similar battle with her stepmother, who didn't want to provide for her late husband's children from another relationship.  Another friend said that her deceased biological father's wife died and left a will, including her late husband's living children.  My friend, who never had a relationship with her father, is one of his living children, so she is embroiled in a similar situation with her half siblings.

And, of course, it's not lost on me that there may come a day when my husband's ex daughters and even his former stepson will be expecting something from Bill's estate should he predecease me.  Bill's daughters formally disowned him by letter back in 2006.  They were still minors at the time.  It's been ten years and he hasn't seen or heard from them.  And yes, they have been disinherited.  They use their stepfather's surname now and may have even been legally adopted by him.  We don't know because they don't communicate with us.

Our situation is a lot different than the one in the article I linked to.  The author of that piece apparently did have a relationship with both of her parents, even though they were divorced.  The woman's father had provided for his children in his will, but not his ex wife, who apparently felt she was entitled to something.  I must say, reading that article brought out some feelings in me.  There's always the chance that I'll wind up being sued by Bill's kids.  But... maybe I won't.  Their mother doesn't seem at all interested in using the court system to get what she wants.

There have been many times I've thought about this scenario.  Part of me thinks I wouldn't really care about money in the wake of Bill's death.  Sure, I'd be worried about supporting myself, especially if I'm old and can't take care of my needs.  But I think I would be very devastated.  My heart would be broken.

There's another part of me that is still good and pissed at Bill's daughters for treating him the way they did.  Granted, their actions were brought on by their mother, who has a long history of fucking over her ex husbands.  Still, they are adults now and their behavior has been utterly deplorable.  I would not want them to get any of Bill's money because they don't deserve any.  By their own choice, they have no relationship with Bill and they call another man "Dad", even though that man was not around when they were very young.  He didn't change their diapers, feed them, take care of them when they were sick, or work to support them.  Bill did all of those things and he continued to support them until they were adults.  He even supported their older brother, who was not his child and had a biological dad who remained his legal father and never paid child support.  For all of Bill's love and support, he got repeatedly shat upon.

And so, if they do decide they are owed something from Bill's estate and I am still around, you better believe I will vigorously defend myself.  They will probably try to make me look selfish and mean and I will simply pull out the proof I have that their father was a good man who tried his best to do right by them.  I do not think children who disown their parents are owed anything.

If I'm honest, though, this is a fight I simply don't want to have.  I think it's awful that death brings out greed in so many people.  But, much like the woman who wrote about being sued by her mom, I think that people who are destructive and care more about money than family relations deserve to be left out in the cold.

Anyway... I probably shouldn't read these kinds of articles because they depress me.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I learned a funny new slang word yesterday...

Somehow, I ended up on some page about politics and someone wrote about how, back when Bill Clinton was campaigning for president, he noticed that Hillary Clinton had a nice "turd cutter".  I must admit, I had never heard that term until I read it yesterday.  It made me laugh.

I read on, and the guy wrote about how he was in the military during Bill Clinton's first campaign.  It was his job to stand guard.  Hillary and Chelsea were there and the guy said he noticed that Hillary's ass was bangin'.  Someone else commented that Hillary would have been in her 40s at that time, prime cougar years.

I probably shouldn't have laughed about guys talking about Hillary Clinton's ass.  To be honest, I have been rather appalled by the sexist comments I have heard people making about Mrs. Clinton.  I am not a fan of her politics myself, but I do think she's more than proven that she's not just another sex object.

Edited to add... Now I see how I ended up reading about Hillary Clinton's butt.  I have been watching old episodes of Night Court  recently and had looked up the actor, Richard Moll, who played Bull Shannon.  I was reading about why Mr. Moll would never do a Night Court reunion and, for some inexplicable reason, someone brought up Hillary Clinton's turd cutter.  The shit you read on the Internet!  It's crazy.

Anyway, Bill is off on a business trip, so I'm going to spend the next few days trying to cope.  Then, when he gets back on Thursday, we will head off on a trip to Belgium for the long weekend.  I'm really looking forward to it.  The dogs are coming, too, because we're renting a house.  It should be very relaxing, as long as he gets back in time.  When it comes to flying to and from Africa, one never knows what will happen.

Maybe later, I'll be back to vent...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Violence is not the answer...

This morning, an Army officer with whom I am marginally acquainted posted a link to a news story about three Marines who beat the shit out of a guy who was messing around with one of their wives.  The link the guy posted didn't seem very objective to me, so I went looking for a news report.  I found one from a newspaper out of Bakersfield, California.

Basically, what happened is Norman Early III was lured by a faked text message to the home of Diana Reyes, wife of 22 year old former Marine Sergio Medina.  Early had been pursuing a romantic relationship with Reyes while Medina was deployed.  Reyes had tried to break up with Early, but he persisted trying to maintain contact.

Medina and two Marine buddies, Leonardo Ortiz and Rodrigo Sanchez, both 20 years old, decided to get even with Early.  They sent Early a text message that appeared to be from Reyes, inviting him to her home.  When Early arrived at the home, the three men beat him, tied him up with zip ties, and threatened to kill him.  They wore face masks and held Early for thirty minutes, then released him after taking his cell phone and wallet.

Early managed to call for help from his car's OnStar system.  He went to a hospital where he was treated for an orbital fracture, bruising to his head and body, and swelling to his head and neck.  At one point, Early's kidneys failed and he needed dialysis.  He came close to dying.

The comments on this story were pretty shocking to me.  A lot of people seem to think this beating was justified.  I would agree that it's really not a good idea for anyone, male or female, to get involved with someone who's married.  Getting involved with a Marine's spouse is probably especially stupid.

However, Medina and his buddies, who were sentenced to six, three, and three years each in prison, had no right to beat the shit out of Early.  They behaved like thugs and got kicked out of the Marines.  Now they're going to be cooling their heels in prison, where they will face the consequences of their actions.  Medina's wife, Diana Reyes, will be alone again and, if they haven't gotten a divorce by the time Medina gets out of the pokey, she will probably end up messing around again.  Meanwhile, taxpayers will be supporting these three guys who are in jail because of their violence.  It's doubtful jail will turn out to be a positive learning experience for them.  They'll probably come out even more violent than they were before.

Now, Norman Early III was certainly wrong for his behavior.  I can understand why some people think he's a scumbag.  And Medina's wife, Diana, probably has some responsibility in this mess, too.  But people can't go around assaulting and robbing people who do them wrong.  It's criminal, thuglike behavior that will only make life worse.

I'm sure a mitigating factor in this case is that these guys had presumably deployed to places where there was a lot of violence and perhaps had participated in battle.  On the other hand, thousands of veterans have gone to places like Iraq and Afghanistan and not turned into thugs.

These three are lucky they only got six, three, and three years in the big house.  They probably should have gotten more time.

I have turned off comments for this post.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Things are not always what they seem...

Today's post is inspired by a news article I read yesterday about General David B. Haight.  Haight, a two star general, BYU graduate, married father of four, and graduate of both the Army and Naval war colleges was, until May of this year, serving as the head of the European command here in Stuttgart (EUCOM).  Just as an aside-- Bill used to work for EUCOM during our first time in Germany.  Now Bill is working for AFRICOM, which is the African command, also in Stuttgart.

Anyway, General Haight, also apparently related to the late Mormon Apostle David B. Haight, was fired from his job in May.  Why?  Because for the past eleven years, the good general has been swinging.  Yep.  This man, who might have ultimately retired with three or four stars, has been having a torrid affair with a 49 year old woman named Jennifer Armstrong.  They met in Iraq back in 2005, when she sent him emails praising his smile.  They eventually met in person and started their eleven year sexual odyssey.

Now... a lot of people think that what the general does off duty is no one's business.  However, at this point in time, adultery is against the United States Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The reason adultery is against the rules is because it puts servicemembers at risk of blackmail.  Many people in the military have jobs in positions that require them to have security clearances.  Having an affair, especially one that isn't just a one night stand, gives the servicemember something to hide, which can be exploited by others.  There's a comment on this thread on Reddit that probably does a better job than I can explaining why adultery is a no no.

Moreover, it's behavior that is unbecoming of an officer.  This guy was a leader and a role model to thousands of people.  He should have been setting an example for everyone by following the rules.  Instead, he got away with his affair for eleven years, brazenly using government resources to carry on with his mistress, Jennifer Armstrong.  He was hanging out with swingers, going to clubs and parties, and basically not being an example worth following.  

Armstrong, by the way, appears to be pretty crazy too.  She evidently emailed every guy in the Army named David Haight in her quest to get chummy.  She lied twice about having degrees that she doesn't have.  She's also declared bankruptcy twice.  The fact that the general fell for her attentions says something about his ego and his lack of commitment to his marriage.  

When I shared this news on Recovery from Mormonism yesterday, one person mentioned that it's highly possible that Haight has been a bishop at some point, which would mean he probably quizzed church members about their habits and whether or not they were remaining faithful to the church's lifestyle requirments.  At the very least, he was probably one of those members that Mormons love to praise.  Here he was, Mormon royalty, BYU grad, good looking and high ranking military officer, returned missionary, and an apparently faithful believer in the church.  But underneath that facade, he's screwing around and breaking the rules.  I did note that he was not using drugs or alcohol during his escapades, so it does at least look like he followed the Word of Wisdom.

Granted, Haight is human and humans make mistakes, but this mistake is a whopper.  He was totally living a double life, presenting one image to the world and living in a completely different reality.  Somehow, he appears to have justified in his mind that what he was doing was permissible.  Maybe the stress of being at such a high level was too much for him.  Maybe he spent a lot of time downrange and got lonely.  I see here from a news article in 2013 that he was still sleeping with his wife.

On Thursday night, the soon-to-be brigadier general thought the promotion would bring some excitement to his wife, Bonnie. While the two were in bed, he put his arms around her and asked a big question. “ Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that you know you would get to sleep with a brigadier general,” he asked? “She kissed me on the cheek and kind of patted my forehead and said dear you are not even in my wildest dreams.”

Read more here:

This is maybe the third or fourth high ranking military officer I've read about in the past five years or so who has turned out to be a total scumbag.  The first, of course, was the guy Bill went to war with in 2007.  Colonel Phil Stemple put Bill through absolute hell in Iraq for six months.  Then, in 2010, he went to Iraq as a brigade commander, where he proceeded to abuse on a much larger scale.  He was very publicly fired in 2011.  Stemple had been slated to become a general, but was forced to retire after his very public scandal.

In 2014, I read about Colonel Jeffrey Pounding, another officer Bill worked with who turned out to be carrying on with a mistress for years.  He was also HIV positive and apparently didn't disclose that fact to his mistress, who later blew the whistle on him.  Pounding was brought up on charges due to his failure to disclose his HIV status, but those were dropped last year.

Of course, most of us have heard about General David Petraeus, who was also having an affair and got caught.  His story was very publicly disseminated in the news.

ETA: This was in my feed this morning.  Retired four star Air Force General Arthur Lichte accused of sexually harassing a female colonel in his command...

Give me my faithful, retired, ex Mormon LTC any day.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The day Shelton killed himself...

Yesterday, I happened to read an article in the Army Times about a shocking situation that occurred at a court-martial hearing on July 15, 2015.  At about 1:00pm that day at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 46 year old Master Sergeant Timothy Shelton of West Virginia was found guilty of several charges of sexual abuse of a child.  He was expected to be sentenced for his crimes after a one hour lunch break.

During the break, Shelton was unshackled and escorted to his lawyer's office and to a separated room where he was allowed to speak with his family.  Shelton then asked if he could go to his truck to get his ACUs, which is the required uniform for the confinement facility.  He was allowed to get the uniform.

A short time later, Shelton asked if he could go back to his vehicle for some prescription medication he had left there.  Amazingly enough, this request was also granted.  Shelton went to the vehicle escorted by two guards, one of whom got a phone call from a commanding officer.  While the guard answered the phone call, the other escort went with Shelton.  Upon reaching the truck, Shelton opened a box where he had stored a revolver.  He pulled out the weapon and used it to kill himself.  Fortunately, no one else was injured or killed during the incident.

Shelton had been serving in the Army since 1990 and had served two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014.  He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.  He had problems with nightmares brought on by losing his best friend to a helicopter crash and being assigned to a job where he had to investigate other helicopter crashes.  Seeing the footage created tremendous stress for Shelton and worsened his PTSD.  

When I shared this article on Facebook, several of my friends wondered why Shelton's issues with PTSD entered into the story.  I wondered about that myself, at first.  Lots of people have PTSD and don't assault children.  Having read the article again, I think the reporter included the information to explain Shelton's mental state when he decided to commit suicide.  That particular story was less about Shelton's crimes and more about how he was able to kill himself while being "guarded".

First off, I have to say that it's very fortunate that no one else was hurt when Shelton decided to kill himself.  It amazes me how trusting Shelton's guards were, although I can sort of understand why they were so trusting.  This was a guy who wore the same uniform and had done well enough in the Army to achieve the rank of Master Sergeant.  The guards probably had a modicum of respect for him, despite the fact that he was just convicted of sexually abusing children.

Secondly, while I think Master Sergeant Shelton's crimes toward children are despicable, I have compassion toward him and his family.  Many people commenting on the Army Times article were posting comments that were pretty unsympathetic.  I certainly understand people thinking Shelton is a scumbag for hurting children and then not owning up to what he did, but the fact is, he was still a husband, father, son, friend, and brother.  There's no doubt that his family and friends were hurt by this whole situation.  I see many people lit virtual candles for Shelton.  Moreover, he must not have been all bad if he managed to serve over two decades in the Army and achieve the rank of Master Sergeant.  Shelton has a family living with the aftermath of his crimes and the manner of his death.  I have empathy for them.  This situation must be a nightmare for them.

When it comes to child molesters, many people have absolutely no sympathy.  A person who sexually abuses kids is often thought of as a monster.  As someone who was sexually abused as a child, I can understand where the outrage comes from.  However, I also see a different side of sex offenders.  Many people who sexually abuse others were themselves victims of abuse.  Most people are not all good or all bad.  The man who abused me also taught me about gardening and took me places.  He paid attention to me and was nice to me when I drew him pictures.  He also showed me pornography, which was a bad thing to do.  But he wasn't all bad.  Even my husband's vile ex wife isn't all bad, even though she does very bad things.

When I was in college, I had a professor who used to talk about her alcoholic first husband.  She used to tell us that she had to learn to "separate the man from the action".  She had to learn to see her first husband as a fallible human who sometimes did bad things, not as a person who is inherently bad.  That concept has really stuck with me all these years.  It's easy to be blinded by evil things people do, especially when the things they do are absolutely horrible.  But the vast majority of people have a shred of decency within them somewhere.  It's evident that Shelton had more than a spark of decency.   Otherwise, why would so many people express condolences on his obituary?

I noticed many people who were commenting about this news story were glad Shelton killed himself. Quite a few outraged folks said they were glad that POS was gone, since it meant one less child molester in the world and one less incarcerated person taxpayers would be supporting.  I have to wonder how many of those people would feel the same way if it was one of their loved ones who had been convicted of devastating crimes against children and then committed suicide while supposedly being guarded.  It's easy to damn someone to hell if they are a stranger.  It's harder if the person is known to you and you've seen their human side.  Plenty of people have rigid, black and white thinking when it comes to sex offenders.  But when it turns out the offender is a loved one, the black and white thinking becomes a bit grayer.  

I think Shelton's decision to kill himself must have been somewhat spur of the moment.  He probably had thought of suicide quite often, since he had the weapon in his truck.  However, the day he decided to pull the trigger must have come as somewhat of a surprise to him.  The situation lined up just right for him to take the action he did.  Had he been a civilian who had just been convicted of sexual abusing children, he never would have had the opportunity to get his hands on a weapon.  Hell, even as someone in the military, the way this situation came together is amazing.  He must have decided within minutes to self destruct.  Had he had different guards...  had he been kept shackled...  had he been denied access to his vehicle...  maybe he might still be living now.

In any case, perhaps death was the easy way out for Shelton.  But, at least we can take some comfort in knowing that he can no longer victimize anyone.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Selling church...

Every once in awhile, someone in our local Facebook group will ask about where to go to church.  Germany has many churches, of course, but most of us in the local Facebook group are English speakers.  A service conducted in German is not so useful.  Many people attend services on one of the local installations.  Not everyone has access to the installations, though.  And some people are looking for a specific type of service.

I had to giggle yesterday when a newcomer asked where she and her family could attend services.  She has three kids and wants to find an American style church that will be good for them.  Her family is not affiliated with the military, so they have no access to the installations.  And they are Methodists.  Well...  sure enough, there were quite a few folks who were willing to sell their church.

There are always folks from the two Baptist churches scouting for members.  The first time we lived here, we were invited to a Baptist church by a woman who was a lapsed Catholic.  Bill and I don't attend church.  He's too scarred from being Mormon and I just don't care about church that much.  I think Bill is a actually a lot more spiritual and potentially religious than I am.  I just never really care too much about it one way or another.  I see church as a place to go for socializing and sometimes good music.  A good minister who isn't too boring is a huge plus.

Someone also mentioned a church near one of the installations that is Pentecostal/Assemblies of God.  I knew a lot of folks who were involved in that faith when I was growing up.  I'd say it's not much like Methodism.  Methodists are rather mainstream and moderate.  The AoG and Pentecostal folks struck me as being a lot more like holy rollers.  

One person mentioned an English speaking Anglican church.  I think if I were inclined to attend services, that's the one I'd want to go to.  But the original poster says she's wanting an American style church and my guess is that the Anglican church would not be very American.

And yes, sure enough, there was a plug for the local Mormon ward.  The folks who were plugging it touted the excellent youth program and said a person can be as "active as they want to be".  It was all I could do not to comment that there is a HUGE difference between Mormonism and Methodism.  One brave soul did ask the question and I know he knew the answer:  "Is there a significant difference between your faith and the Protestant faith?"

One of the LDS ladies selling the Mormon church advised him to visit one of the official church Web sites for information.  Right.  Because we can't have people finding out the non whitewashed version of what Mormonism is all about, can we?  The person who advised the guy to visit or took pains to empathize that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ and is a Christian faith.  She also mentioned "instantaneous friends".

Now...  here's one thing that maybe the LDS apologist hasn't considered.  Real friendships aren't formed "instantaneously".  Real friendships take time to develop and must be nurtured.  "Instant friendships" are most likely going to be assigned friendships.  Assigned friendships are almost always fake.  The LDS church is pretty much rife with assigned friends.  Home visitors, visiting teachers, Relief Society, and everything else...  They will be friendly until you start asking uncomfortable questions.  Aside from that, it may be pretty damaging for young women to be told that if they engage in sexual contact before marriage, they are akin to chewed pieces of gum or shattered vases.

The apologist also emphasized that newcomers are "welcomed".  Maybe that's so, at least the first time a person shows up to a meeting.  But if he or she starts coming regularly, there will be pressure to be baptized.  There will be pressure for the newcomers to get on board with the status quo-- look the right way, dress the right way, drink the right liquids, pay the right amount of tithing...  I highly doubt that a person who comes to meetings for the three years a typical military tour lasts will simply be encouraged to attend casually.  Mormonism requires big lifestyle changes that the entire family is pressured to embrace.

And yet...  this is what the apologist says...

you will find a very welcoming group of individuals and families who simply wish to share the hope and happiness they find in following this faith.

If that's true in Stuttgart, it would be the first time I've seen a group of Mormons take a laid back approach to their faith.  You'd think that people who are sincere about wanting to sell their church would be honest and upfront about what attending would mean.  And if they have nothing to hide, then why can't an investigator take the time to read multiple sources to help them make up their minds?  Even if there are a lot of people with axes to grind posting about Mormonism, it seems to me that a person with strong faith and conviction could easily overcome those obstacles.  Moreover, if there are a lot of people with axes to grind, maybe that should tell you something about the church itself.

I guess I can understand being a member of a church you love and feeling like everyone misunderstands it.  On the other hand, if you expect people to join your church, you should be open to allowing them to make an informed decision.  Mormonism and Methodism are not much alike.  They have different beliefs.  The newcomer looking for a new church should do her homework for her own sake, and that of her kids.  I did notice, though, that she knew something about Mormons.  She responded to the one guy who asked about "significant differences in beliefs" and told him to "Google Mormons".  I guess she got the message.

On a different note, yesterday I listened to a very interesting discussion/interview conducted by a guy who interviewed a woman raised according to Bill Gothard's principles.  It was quite eye opening and really put a different spin on fundamentalism.

This guy, Chris Shelton, usually talks about Scientology, but in this video he talks to a woman who was raised in the Quiverfull movement.  Crazy stuff!

And finally... I heard that Jessa Seewald is now pregnant with her second child.  She is due in February.  Hopefully, she and Ben come up with a better name for #2 than Spurgeon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Looks like we're going to visit Northern Ireland next year...

Of course, I'm also hoping we can visit Ireland before 2017.  We have been trying to get there for years.  But I did manage to talk Bill into another Hebridean Island cruise for September 2017.  It originates in Oban, Scotland and hits several places in Northern Ireland before coming back to Oban. I sent a booking request last night and hope to be confirmed by the end of the week.

With any luck, we'll be able to pull this off.  Of course, there's always the chance that Bill's company will lose its contract and we'll have to move again... but I think the odds are good that we'll still be here next year.  Even if Bill's company does lose its contract, the next company would probably hire him or his company would just move him somewhere else.

Bill was reluctant to say "yes" last night, but much to my surprise, this morning he was all for it.  In fact, he asked if we'd gotten a response to the email I sent last night.  I reminded him that England is an hour behind us and it was still the wee hours of the morning there.

Hopefully, this cruise won't end with us worrying about a sick dog, vomiting, or me having a period.  Maybe the third time will be the charm?  I hope to finally break this bad luck curse I seem to have when I go to Scotland.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nadia Comaneci's Letters to a Young Gymnast...

I was only four years old in 1976, when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci became the first female gymnast to earn perfect 10s on her Olympic routines.  I grew up loving horses, not gymnastics.  I have absolutely no talent for gymnastics.  I'm not very coordinated and could never so much as turn a cartwheel.  I didn't start watching the sport until 1988, when I was 16 years old and started noticing American athletes like Phoebe Mills and Kristie Phillips, both of whom are my age.

Nevertheless, I heard a lot about Nadia Comaneci when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  I grew up during a time when a number of European countries were Communist and closed off from the rest of the world.  I was always fascinated by what was behind the Iron Curtain.  I even lived in the former Soviet Union for a couple of years right after it fell apart.  As I started to become interested in watching gymnastics, I also became interested in Romania, which has been a source of so many great gymnasts since Nadia's day.  Thanks to YouTube, I have been able to watch Nadia as a gymnast in her prime.  Even today, forty years after her victory in Montreal, I still think she is one of the most beautiful athletes I've ever seen.

Bear in mind that the floor she's tumbling on is not nearly as springy as today's floors.

Maybe it was the Rio Olympics that made me finally decide to read Nadia's 2003 book, Letters to a Young Gymnast.  I've had it downloaded for awhile, though.  I finished it last night and I have to say, Nadia's story is really fascinating.  The book is written as if she's corresponding with a young person who has written her letters.  She refers to her unknown correspondent as "Friend" and makes it sound like they have been corresponding for awhile.  She writes about what it was like to train with Bela and Marta Karolyi when they were young coaches in Romania.  She explains things that a lot of young people of today would not understand because they are not growing up in a time when so much of Europe was cut off from the Western world.

For me, reading about Nadia's experiences living in Romania under Ceausescu are fascinating.  I have done quite a lot of reading about Romania in the 1980s.  I've even seen some Romanian films; there are some surprisingly interesting movies coming from Romania, a country I haven't yet visited but have always found intriguing.  Like a lot of Americans, I had seen the dramatized 1984 movie about Nadia's life called Nadia.  Based on Nadia's book, the movie did get a lot of the basic stories right, though some of what was presented as factual in the movie was not quite correct.  Nadia tells her story from her perspective, which for me, was very illuminating.

Nadia post defection...

I liked that Nadia addresses the way the Karolyis have been criticized by Americans for being too strict and abusive toward their athletes.  Nadia explains that she never saw the Karolyis as abusive.  She lived in a country where people had little food because their dictatorial leader was exporting everything that was produced in Romania.  Because she was an athlete, Nadia and her teammates ate very well.  They were taken care of much better than most of their countrymen.  It wasn't until she was a young woman in her 20s that Nadia began to experience what life was like for ordinary Romanians.  In fact, in her case, it was somewhat worse because her coaches defected.  For several years after the Karolyis left Romania, Nadia was under constant scrutiny by the Securitate (Romanian secret police during Ceausescu's era).

When it became clear that Nadia's gymnastics career was "over", she was treated more like everyone else.  When she turned twenty-five, a large chunk of her meager pay was withheld by the government because she was childless.  Imagine that.  She was being paid about $100 a month and a lot of that money she never saw, all because she had not produced any babies for the state.  Nadia writes that during Ceausescu's era, women were ordered to have children.  Fetuses were considered state property.  Most women under age forty-five were escorted to doctors every three months to see if they were pregnant.  Nadia writes that she never had to go, but other women did.  More babies were born, but there wasn't enough food for them and their mothers were not getting proper care during their pregnancies.  Nadia even references an excellent book about Romania during the Ceausescu regime, Red Horizons by Ion Pacepa.  I read that book myself several years ago and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about what life under Nicolai and Elena Ceausescu was like.

I remember back in 1990, I read an article in Life Magazine about Nadia's daring defection from Romania.  She and a group of other Romanians decided to flee the country in late November 1989.  I was then a senior in high school.  No one in that group had any idea that there would be a revolution within just a few weeks and the terrible Ceausescu regime would dramatically fall apart.  Nadia writes that she was going crazy in Romania, working a boring desk job with barely enough money to eat and heat her home.  She wanted something more and knew she was unlikely to get it in 80s era Romania.  So she decided to leave.

I distinctly remember reading the article in Life, which was entitled something along the lines of "Fall From Grace".  It basically portrayed Nadia as a cold hearted slut.  The author wrote about how Nadia was dressed, with too much makeup and short skirts.  I remember the writer's insinuation that Nadia was bulimic.  She wrote about how Nadia ate from her companion's plate and then disappeared into the bathroom, coming back smelling "sickly sweet".  Here's a link to an old article from People magazine that depicts her in much the same negative way.  And it seems that Nadia's story has also been "told" by actress Katie Holmes, who may have some things in common with the gymnast.

Nadia explains that during that time immediately after she defected, she barely knew any English and had dressed the way people in Europe were dressing at the time.  She was ignorant about the local mores and did and said things to make her look unappealing to the American public.  I think part of her problem was the fact that she had little experience dealing with Westerners and didn't know much English.  Part of the problem comes from the fact that she is apparently very introverted and doesn't show emotion to others.  She initially came across as cold and unfeeling, which doesn't appeal to a lot of Americans (even though she notes that Americans are generally a lot less physically affectionate than Romanians are).  I think that many Americans didn't know what to make of Nadia back in 1990... and poor Nadia was dealing with some pretty significant culture shock.  Aside from that, her country was in chaos.  She'd risked her life escaping Romania, not knowing that had she waited a few weeks, she probably could have left with less drama.  But then, maybe if she'd done that, her story would have ended differently.

Nadia Comaneci has been married to fellow gymnast and Olympian Bart Conner for over twenty years.  I always thought they made an interesting couple.  Bart Conner is very friendly and extroverted.  He's been a gymnastics commentator and always comes across as super people oriented.  Nadia, on the other hand, seems much more reserved and mysterious.  I enjoyed reading Nadia's perspectives on how her relationship with Bart Conner bloomed into marriage.  They now live in Norman, Oklahoma and run a gymnastics school.  They have a son.  Nadia is a naturalized American, but she has kept her Romanian citizenship.  She loves Romania and, apparently, Romania loves her right back.

Anyway... I did very much enjoy Letters to a Young Gymnast.  Perhaps this book is even more interesting to those of us who remember when Communism was a reality in many more countries than it is today.  I would definitely recommend this book, not just to young readers, but to middle aged people like me.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

God as a rapist?

Sorry for the provocative title, but that's what I thought of when I saw this video starring a creepy pastor named Jack Schaap.  Schaap was once a pastor at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and had a flock of 15,000 people.

In this video, Mr. Schaap polishes a rod in much the way many men masturbate... 

After I watched this video, I showed it to Bill.  We both came to the conclusion that this guy is basically equating God as a rapist.  Listen to the way he speaks.  The man is hysterical, but God is calm and in control as he "hurts" the man... the man who is polishing a shaft.  This was presented at a youth conference in 2010.  

Incidentally, Mr. Schaap is now behind bars because he had sex with a sixteen year old girl whom he was counseling.  He claims the girl was aggressive and apparently thinks his twelve year sentence should be reduced.  He thinks he deserves leniency.  But when it comes to disciplining children, he has no mercy.  Behold...


Clearly all that corporal punishment doled out by Schaap's parents didn't do the job.  He's in prison and he thinks he doesn't deserve the punishment he got for sexually abusing a minor.  He thinks she's at fault, even though he's an adult who had power over her as well as a married man...

Here Schaap talks about how Joseph was an old geezer and Mary was an old hag...

A video about Jack Schaap's creepery...  Given what happened, that video about polishing the shaft is even creepier than it might have been.

And a news story about Schaap's sentencing.  It was recommended that he get ten years, but he ended up with twelve.  He also lost his wife, Cindy, to divorce.

It was about a year ago that the world learned of Josh Duggar's sexual indiscretions.  But here we have Jack Schaap... a person Josh Duggar could have eventually become like, having sex with teenagers while preaching to his congregation about sin.  He wrote letters to his victim, a girl who was taught to worship him.  He violated her trust and that of her parents, who had sent her to him for help.  He preached about spanking his children... while he was also spanking his monkey on a pulpit in front of thousands of people who hung on his every word.

"Your job has become your God." Schaap says.  And Schaap says freshmen at his college shouldn't date, but he sure didn't apply that rule to himself.

Where in the hell does he get his nerve?  This man is the epitome of toxic.

 And others knew he was toxic and crazy, but they said and did nothing...


I think most religious people mean well.  They want to do the right thing.  Some of them have been raised in church and they believe they have to follow people like Jack Schaap.  It makes me sad for those who don't see how toxic many religious leaders are.  

I have two cousins who were male cheerleaders.  One is a happily married man with three kids.  The other is a gay man.  Both are military veterans and graduates of Virginia Military Institute and neither are "sissies"...  

It's sick how men like him get into power...

The plot thickens...  Turns out Schaap and an associate ripped off a bunch of church members, too.


The Internet is a minefield of ruffled feathers...

It's hard not to eventually piss people off if you spend any time online.  I have learned this lesson very well, especially since I started blogging back in 2010.  Every once in awhile, something I write on this blog, on Facebook, or even on YouTube gets someone pissed off.

A couple of days ago, someone left me a comment on my post about Renee Alway, the former contestant on America's Next Top Model who is now sitting behind bars.  The person who commented is supposedly one of Renee's friends.  She says Renee is a wonderful person and I should keep my "blog shit" to myself.  Of course, I beg to differ.  

First off, I don't think what I wrote about Renee was really all that bad.  I imagine there are many other people out there who have a lot less compassion for her than I did.  I'm sure that others have written much worse things about her than I have.  I'm sorry that Renee is in prison.  I would have liked to have seen her succeed in modeling.  I think she's gorgeous and I got the impression that deep down, she has a good heart.  However, she is now in prison because she made some very unwise choices.  Because she is also a public figure, people are going to follow her story.  Some of us are going to write about her.  It is what it is. 

The commenter was upset that I "put Renee on blast".  Well, here's the thing.  Renee put herself on blast when she chose to go on a reality TV show.  Clearly, she wanted attention from the public.  If she didn't want attention, why would she pursue modeling or, let's be honest, an entertainment career as a reality TV star?  I don't think it's a bad thing to want to go into the entertainment business, by the way.  But you can't have it both ways.  If you want to be famous, you're going to sacrifice a lot of your privacy.  Renee was an adult when she decided to go on TV.  She was also an adult when she committed her crimes.  It's not my fault she put herself out there.  She's an interesting person, so she gets press.  It is what it is.

I have written this before, but I think it bears repeating.  If you really think this blog sucks, don't read it.  Just go somewhere else.  And, for God's sake, don't bother leaving me a nasty comment.  When you leave comments, you'll only draw attention to my blog.  My post about Renee Alway has been here for months.  It's now getting renewed attention because some commenter decided to tell me off.  Irate comments are interesting to others.  People like controversy.  

Secondly, I explained that this is a "personal blog".  I think the commenter thought that meant that if it's personal, it should be "private".  I certainly could make the blog private or open only to invited readers if the mood struck.  There may come a day when I go that route.  But for now, it's simply a "personal" blog that happens to be open to the public.  

Although the words "personal" and "private" can be synonymous, in this case, when I explain that this is a "personal blog", I simply mean that it comes from me.  It contains my observations and opinions.  Some of the things I write are verifiable and factual.  Other things written here come only from my perspective and are not necessarily factual.  This blog isn't a scholarly source, although I have apparently been quoted in scholarly papers and even on Wikipedia.  It's simply an informal place where I write my thoughts and opinions.

You don't have to take what I say as fact or even care about my opinions, but I do have the right to express myself, as long as I'm not engaging in libel.  You can't tell me to "shut up" simply because you are offended by something I've written.  I can't help that you're offended.  I don't intentionally try to offend people.  I never know who is going to read this blog or how they will react to what I write.  If I tried to please everyone, I'd go crazy.  So, I'm just going to do what pleases me.

Thirdly, I do not take orders from commenters.  I will blog about anything I want.  Telling me to "keep my blog shit to myself" will only cause me to blog more.  Random strangers on the Internet do not get to tell me what to do.  I don't obey shamers.  If you really want me to change or delete something I've written, you will get much further if you make a polite and respectful request.  Swearing at me or being abusive will not get me to delete anything, but it may cause me to politely tell you to fuck off in yet another blog post.

I don't know if anyone has ever blogged about me.  I don't go looking for things that are written about me.  I have decided that what other people think of me is none of my business.  I think reading up on myself can only lead to trouble and disrupt my peace.  A wise friend of mine who happens to be in show business told me that I should never read "reviews".  She is absolutely right.  In fact, I would recommend that policy to any artist who is tempted to Google themselves and is subject to being "reviewed".

People are going to say what they're going to say.  You can't shut them up if they're living in a free society.  If you want to avoid being offended, my advice is not to go looking for trouble.  Of course, sometimes you need to know what's being said.  If someone's saying things that aren't true and it's having a damaging effect on your reputation, then I can understand wanting to read what other people say.  But for most folks, it's probably better to just stay ignorant about other people's opinions.  Most of the time, searching for feedback will only lead to heartache because most people aren't going to say what you want to hear.

Finally... I want to reiterate that opinions are like assholes.  Everyone has one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks.  This morning, I got a comment from some guy on YouTube who was upset by a comment I made on a video about the death penalty.  Someone wrote that anyone who kills should expect to be executed.  I asked if that logic wouldn't also extend to the executioner.  Like it or not, executioners are killers, even if what they are doing is permitted by the government.

My observation that "executioners are killers too" upset someone who claimed his son was murdered.  He left me a pissy remark along with the opinion that all murderers should die.  My response?  "You are certainly entitled to your opinion."  While I'm sorry that the guy's son was killed, his outburst did nothing to change my mind about the death penalty.  I still think it's wrong, and I'm still going to say so.  Moreover, I respond a lot better to logic than emotion.  If you want me to change my mind, improve your argument.  Don't yell at me, and don't try to shame me for expressing myself.     

If you want to get me to change my mind about something, you should approach with civility and respect.  If you "yell" at me, I'll cross my arms and stop listening because I will simply assume you're an asshole.  I don't listen to assholes because that's where shit comes from.

You are in control of your Internet experience.  You control what you read.  If you don't like something I've written, be assured that in the vast majority of cases, I didn't write it to offend you.  Angrily telling me to "shut up" is not going to get you anywhere.  I would dare say that Renee Alway wouldn't let someone tell her to shut up.  It's one of a few things I admire about her.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

You just never know what's around the bend...

This morning, I woke up to the very sad news that the husband of an old friend of mine died.  I didn't know the man; he came into my friend's life after she and I had a parting of the ways.  Our split had everything to do with our lives going in different directions and nothing to do with animosity.  We knew each other in the 1980s, when I was a teenager who showed horses.

My friend was also a regular on the local horse show circuit.  Her mother was my chemistry teacher in high school (and she also taught my sister, Sarah).  They were both fixtures at every Saturday show.  I used to enjoy watching her ride.  She was reed thin and had a graceful seat.  Her brother, who had the golden throat of a seasoned sportscaster, often announced at our shows.  Those were good days.  Sometimes, my friend shares photos from even before I was in the saddle... from the days before my immediate family moved back to Virginia for good.  It's fun seeing people I used to know when they were even younger than they were when I knew them well.

My old friend stayed in the county where we both grew up, and I moved on to many other places.  Facebook brought us back together several years ago and I've been staying in touch with her from afar as she raises her beautiful family in Virginia.  She has a teenaged son and a young daughter who also rides horses.  Her son recently attended Boys' State and it looks like he has a bright future.  Her pretty daughter regularly shows up in videos taken at horse shows.  I enjoy watching her ride, but watching her makes me miss the days when I used to ride, too.

I must say, the news that my friend's husband died came as a shock as it showed up in my Facebook feed, among all the usual political rants, funny memes, and utter nonsense that usually appears there.  Sometimes I sit and ponder how much things have changed since the last time I saw my friend in person.  In those days, Facebook was not even an idea.

When someone died, you'd read about it in the paper or news would pass by word of mouth.  Maybe it would show up on the news if the person who died had enough notoriety.  Nowadays, we often find out about death from Facebook.  Maybe that's not all bad.  People can respond immediately and from far away places.  On the other hand, that immediate availability could also serve as a source of pain.  It's hard to know exactly what to say when someone experiences such a devastating loss, especially when it's very sudden.  Sometimes people say the wrong thing at the wrong time.  

My friend's husband was from New Orleans.  He worked for the shipbuilding industry in Newport News, Virginia, just like many other people in that area do.  A month ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  A month later, he died while undergoing treatment.  My friend had announced to everyone exactly one month ago that her husband had only just been diagnosed with a brain tumor the week prior.  She had said they knew nothing about the tumor and were going to try to get a second opinion.  Exactly one month later, he's gone.  I look at her Facebook page and see that her husband seemed hale and hearty for most of this year.  There's a picture of him braving the winter weather to feed the horses.  There's another photo of him and his daughter going to a dance together, taken just months ago.  It just seems inconceivable that he's gone so soon.

My old friend and I are not close enough that I would know a lot of details about what the last month has been like for her and her children.  I can only try to imagine how I would feel if I were in her shoes.  The words that immediately come to mind are "heartbroken", "devastated", "shocked", "angry", "scared" and "overwhelmed".  But I know those words don't even come close to how she's feeling right now.  The truth is, I can't even fathom it.

I am heartened to see that many people in the community where we grew up are still living there.  She will have a lot of local support from her friends and family.  Even though I haven't seen her in person in maybe 26 years, my heart goes out to her.  It sounds like her life changed so suddenly.  You just never know what's in the future.

I realize that I could easily end up in a situation like my friend's.  In fact, over the years, Bill has been in a few situations that he might not have escaped.  He was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.  In fact, he had only recently been in the area that was hit when 9/11 happened.  His office had only been moved the month prior.  Had it not been moved, he'd probably not be here today.

The week before he went to Iraq, a helicopter carrying one of Bill's former colleagues was shot down.  Everyone on the helicopter died.  Bill's former colleague was supposed to be coming home within a week or two; the arrogant colonel who took Bill with him to be his deputy was to be replacing him.  The guy Bill was replacing was not on the helicopter and struggled with a lot of survivor's guilt.  He made the mistake of visiting his boss's widow when it was too soon.  I don't think it went well.  I remember Bill telling me about the crash just days before he left to go to war.  He was afraid I'd be very upset.  I actually remained pretty calm because I knew that his fate was not likely to be the same, even though I knew the possibility existed.

Pretty soon, Bill will be going to Africa again.  He has to make a short stop in Saudi Arabia as the airplane he's on changes its crew.  I try not to worry when Bill travels.  The new job he's taking will supposedly require much less traveling-- and actually, this year, he hasn't had to travel as much as he did last year.  But even if he didn't travel, he could be struck down by something like a brain tumor that comes out of nowhere.

I guess if there's anything to be learned from this situation, it's that life is short.  You never know what's coming.  Maybe it's not worthwhile to worry about so much stupid stuff.  Enjoy the time you have with the people you love.  Don't waste time on fighting or petty bullshit.  You just don't know what could be around the bend.  Life is full of surprises.

I'm sending so many prayers to my friend and her family.  I know they'll be okay, but there's a huge hole now.  It may be a long time before things feel right again.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Toni Tennille tells all in her life story...

Captain and Tennille perform during their heyday with two of Toni's three sisters singing backup.  Toni's sisters were also musically talented.  I'm pretty sure they're all lip syncing here, though.   

I just finished reading Toni Tennille: A Memoir, the life story of singer, songwriter, and actress Toni Tennille, who is best known as half of the 70s pop duo, Captain and Tennille.  As a bonafide child of the 70s, music by Captain and Tennille was part of my early soundtrack.  Their cover version of Neil Sedaka's "Love Will Keep Us Together" was a huge hit in 1975.  I grew up hearing it on the radio and at my Aunt Gayle and Uncle Brownlee's house.  Brownlee is my dad's younger brother and a musician; he always had hipper musical tastes than my dad did.

Captain and Tennille also had a popular variety show on ABC that aired for one season.  I never saw their show because besides being very young in 1976, I was also living in England.  As Toni Tennille explains it, in those days TV wasn't as global as it is now.  She and her famous ex husband, Daryl Dragon (aka the Captain), were able to travel to Scotland on vacation and not be recognized by leagues of adoring fans.

Anyway, I decided to read Toni Tennille's story when I read an article about her online.  She and Daryl Dragon got divorced not long ago.  They had been married for 39 years and both are in their golden years.  I was curious about that, but I also admire Toni Tennille's talents as a musician.  So I downloaded the book, which Tennille wrote with help from her niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair.  I just got around to reading it and, I must say, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book.  Caroline did a great job in making the book seem as if it came straight from her Aunt Toni.

At the very beginning of her story, Tennille writes about being a small child in Montgomery, Alabama, playing outside.  Suddenly, there was an accident that could have altered her destiny.  A heavy wheelbarrow fell on Toni's finger, nearly severing it.  Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she underwent surgery.  Young Toni had shown musical talent and had an interest in playing the piano.  She lost part of her finger, but then went through many surgeries to reconstruct the digit so she'd eventually be able to play her instrument.  Bear in mind, this was going on in the 1940s, when surgeries were much more primitive than they are now and anesthesia consisted of ether.

She continues her story with tales about growing up in an era when blacks and whites were segregated.  Her parents were fairly well off; her dad owned a furniture store and her mother was on a television show.  They had hired help.  The help consisted of several black women who looked after Toni and her three sisters.  Toni explains that her family treated the help with dignity and respect.  Racism always made the Tennille family uncomfortable.  Still, if I had to mention a part of the book that made me a little uneasy, it was that part.

Fate led the Tennilles out of Alabama when Toni was a student at Auburn University.  Her father's business failed and Toni had to drop out of school.  But it turned out there was a bigger life waiting for the family in California.  It was there that Toni met Daryl Dragon, who would eventually become her second husband.  Daryl Dragon came from a wealthy California family.  His mother had been a singer and his father was Carmen Dragon, a famed conductor.  All of the Dragon siblings had musical talent, but Daryl was said to be the most talented.  He was working with The Beach Boys when he and Toni met.  Thanks to Daryl, Toni landed herself a gig playing with the big time as a member of The Beach Boys' band.

As time passed, Toni and Daryl started working together.  They became an act.  People thought they were married, so they eventually decided to make it official at a wedding chapel in Nevada.  Sadly, although Toni claims to have been in love with her husband and wrote many songs for and about him, he never seemed to return her affections.  They slept in separate bedrooms.  Daryl respected his wife for her musical abilities, but didn't seem into her as a woman.  And that was the state of their marriage for a very long time.

Based on Toni's many observations about her ex husband, my guess is that he's more than a bit narcissistic and/or perhaps suffering from Asperger's Syndrome.  She claims that he saw her as a possession.  He would get very jealous when she was involved in any acting job that required her to kiss another man.  And yet, when she was at home, he never kissed her very often.  He spent a lot of time alone and adhered to weird, strict diets, which he expected his wife to follow.  In one story, Tennille writes about eating nothing but yellow grapefruit for weeks.  She writes of visiting beautiful cities world renowned for food and ending up eating tasteless crap her husband favored.

The "Captain", so nicknamed by one of the Beach Boys, was rarely without his hat.  Tennille explains that he started balding in his 30s and was very self-conscious about his thinning hair.  So he would never be hatless, even in places where it was customary or compulsory to remove one's hat.  Toni Tennille missed out on seeing the Sistine Chapel because her husband refused to remove his hat.  He also has a condition that affects his eyes, making them look strange.  Dragon was self-conscious about the problem, which prompted a lot of fans to write in and ask what was wrong with him.  That was also a source of much shame and embarrassment for him and he took it out on his wife.

While Toni Tennille writes a lot about her career and some of the great things she was able to do, a lot of this book is about her marriage to Daryl Dragon.  And folks, I'll be honest.  As interesting as it was to read about her marriage, it was also more than a bit depressing.  Here she was, this beautiful, talented, vivacious woman and she spent her best years married to a man who didn't really love her.  She allowed him to dictate so many things about her life.  It wasn't until she was in her 70s that she finally had enough and got a divorce.  However, despite the divorce, it seems the Captain and Tennille still talk.  Toni writes that they speak on the phone every couple of weeks or so.  I guess old habits really do die hard.

Despite the fact that I think Toni Tennille should have divorced many years ago, I did like her book.  She comes across as very likable and friendly.  Ultimately, she keeps this book pretty positive, yet I never got the sense she was embellishing about the ordeals she went through in her personal life.  If you're curious, I recommend reading Toni Tennille's Memoir.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mothers who act like martyrs...

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted a rant about how parents should always look after their kids.  She said whether the "kid" was still an actual child or an adult, his or her parents should still be around to take care of them if they need help.  If they need money, mom and dad should ante up.  If they need shelter, mom and dad should offer it.  In short, a parent's job is never done.

My regular readers probably already know that my perspective on parenthood is permanently skewed.  I never got to be a mother, even though I always wanted to be one.  Bill fathered two kids, but they disowned him, mainly over parental alienation and religion.  I know that if he'd had his daughters with me, Bill's story would be very different.  Bill acknowledges that he made a mistake partnering with his ex wife.  He should have had more self-respect and waited for someone more suitable.

Anyway, my friend is a very good person who has a son.  She got divorced a couple of years ago and, I'm only guessing, her ex husband must not have helped their now adult son with something.  So my friend took to Facebook and wrote a vague post about how parents should always be willing to help/bail out their children if they need it.

I made a comment about Bill's kids disowning him and how he's had to get on with his life.  Otherwise, he'd go crazy.  Had he been able to stay in their lives, I know he would have helped them as much as they needed.  In fact, it would have given him much joy to be helpful to his kids... probably to his and their detriment.  Bill is kind and generous to a fault.  My friend liked my comment.  Several other women started opining.

One person was someone I knew in high school.  I distinctly remember her getting pregnant during our senior year.  She ended up leaving school at some point, though I remember her attending well after she was showing.  She went on to have a daughter.  Apparently after that, she had at least one more child.  To my friend's rant about the importance of parents being "there" for their children, she made the comment that she'd do *anything* for her daughters.  She followed up by making a comment about how her children's fathers had abandoned them, but she would be there until the day she died.

Another person commented that she'd sell a kidney so her daughter could go to college.  And another commented about how she'd get evicted from her home so her kid could go to school.

I couldn't help but think to myself that while these statements are kind of impressive, they also smack of martyrdom.  I wonder how much these women really thought about what they were saying.  I don't think you've done your job correctly if you've raised a child who would willingly allow you to sell a kidney just so he or she can go to college.  I would hope that a college aged child would value a loved one's health over post secondary education.  College is important for many career paths, but it's not a basic necessity.  Having healthy vital organs and a roof over one's head is much more important in the long run.  Moreover, you can't be "there" for your children if you're very ill or dead.  Kids who love their parents don't want to see them suffer on their account, either.  Guilt is not a comfortable feeling for decent people.

As for the friend who commented that her children's fathers had abandoned them, I wonder what she was thinking when she chose to make babies with men who are allegedly assholes.  Granted, she was very young with the first child.  She probably thought the guy was much better than he turned out to be.  She and I are both products of the same public school system in Virginia.  Having had classes with her, I know she's bright.  I also know that we were taught about how babies are made well before she got pregnant.  She still managed to get pregnant long before she was really ready to be a mother.  She claims that her parents didn't help her, so she left home when she was still a teen.

The father of my classmate's child, she has stated, eventually abandoned them.  Okay, so she made a mistake when she was young and got involved with a man who wasn't a good father.  But she also has at least one more child that she claims was abandoned by the other parent.

I want to ask her why she hadn't learned from her first mistake.  Did the men she had babies with suddenly turn into jerks when they became fathers?  I suppose it's possible.  I think it's more likely that she ignored the signs that these guys weren't up to the job of being parents or partners.  Maybe she didn't think about the future when she had sex with them.  Perhaps she was living in the moment.  Or, it's possible that she's like Bill's ex wife and claims she was abandoned when, in fact, she engaged in parental alienation and pushed her children's fathers out of their lives.

This lady says she will always be "there" for her kids; but it seems to me that by having kids with men who are selfish jerks that supposedly abandoned them, she partially failed her children from the get go.  If she engaged in parental alienation, she also failed her kids.  But, because she has these kids who, regardless of the reason, are missing their fathers, she gets to be the martyr and make dramatic statements about all she would do for her children.  No doubt she and her kids have endured some difficulty and pain.  I think some of that pain could have been avoided with some planning and forethought.

I think one of the best things you can do for a child is offer them a stable, loving homelife.  If you choose to have a baby with a partner (as opposed to using a sperm bank), choose one that will do his (or her) share of the work.  Otherwise, you are complicit in making your children's lives more difficult than they need to be.  Children are not extensions of their parents, but separate beings.  It's not your job to live your life through them or make your life about them.  It's about helping them become the best people they can be.  

I think many people are far too casual about sharing their DNA.  Too many women see their children as entirely their own creations.  Children are created by both a sperm and an egg.  One parent is not capable of carrying the child in his body, but the child still wouldn't exist without his input.  Those who want to raise a child with a man and want the man to be involved should realize that it's a 50/50 partnership.  Do your best to choose a good person to be your partner.  That's one of the best things you can do for your children.  Maybe then, you won't have to *suffer* so much for your kids because there will be more than one person available to share the load.

I know this sounds terribly judgmental.  I am fortunate in that I never got involved with anyone who treated me badly.  It seems the men who liked me have all been solid citizens.  I have never been attracted to abusive or unavailable men, nor have they been attracted to me.  So maybe I lack sympathy for women who get involved with creeps.  I don't see why you'd even want to go on a date with one, let alone make a baby with one.

Ah, but I'm sure a lot of these women enjoy a special kind of joy when they can brag about being martyrs while simultaneously shitting on their children's fathers.  They don't consider that those kids know that half of their DNA came from a man their mother doesn't respect or may even hate.  I would submit that if you willingly make a baby with a person you don't respect, you are showing even less respect for yourself.  And if you don't have self-respect, you really have no business having children.