Monday, August 17, 2015

Clown Car Politics

I haven't written a post in quite some time; mainly because I have children and a job. But my favorite uncle gave me some grief about my noticeable absence at our annual family reunion, so I decided to take the 5 minutes and find something to write about.



Donald Trump?


What the fu. . . .

He said what?!


Raping who?


I don't get it.

No, seriously, I don't get it.

Just why?!

Wait, I'm finding sympathy for Megyn Kelly somehow?

How did this happen?!

Seriously America?

Please stop.

I mean it.

Oh, and stop it with the other 6,000 idiot Republican candidates too. They're all horrible.

Except John Kasich. I at least probably wouldn't have to move to Sweden if he were somehow miraculously elected.

The end.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Cloud Nine

I am positively ecstatic this morning! A few days ago, I submitted a piece for the local paper to use as a "guest editorial." After a few days, I had given up hope that it would make it through the conservative editorial staff, but this morning, I woke up to an email from the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking permission to reprint my letter in their national newsletter. I quickly went to the local paper's website, and there it was. I couldn't be happier. Not only that they published it, and that it might get some national attention, but that it means other atheists and freethinkers in my small town now know that they are not alone, and that there is a community waiting for them. Here is the text of the letter:

"I recently read a guest opinion piece that seemed to make the case for religion as a necessary tool for moral behavior. As an atheist, I often hear that there can be no morality without the absolutes of the Bible (or any other holy book). However, I've found that morality can be quite easily boiled down to one simple piece of guidance, which is commonly referred to as "the golden rule." 
While the phrase "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be found in some form in the Bible, I'm confident that we as a species could have figured this one out on our own. It's really quite simple. Why, as an atheist, don't I run around murdering people? Because I have no desire to do so, and even if I did, I am equipped with empathy and can understand how that action would hurt someone else. Why don't I go around driving my car at 100 miles per hour when I feel like it? Because I'm aware of the danger that puts not only myself in, but my fellow humans as well should I happen to crash. 
I have had no trouble raising children without the mandates of any religion. They are simply taught to use the empathy and compassion they were born with to treat other people with respect and kindness. If they wouldn't like someone hitting them with a stick, then why would they go around hitting someone else with one? It's not a terribly difficult concept to understand, even for children. In fact, when I look around at the world today, I see a direct correlation between the people committing the worst atrocities against humanity, and religion. 
I get together regularly with a group of atheists, agnostics, and "freethinkers" as some people prefer to call themselves, and they are some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. And the interesting thing is, they aren't "good" because they are trying to earn their way to heaven, or win favor with a deity. They are good because they genuinely care about their fellow human beings, and want what's best for everyone. We have evolved as a species to care about each other. It's the only way we can survive. If we didn't have that sense of built in empathy, we would have become extinct long ago. 
I think it's far nobler a pursuit to really wrestle together with questions of ethics, than to evade our responsibility and just parrot edicts that were written down thousands of years ago. It's too easy to not have to really think about the consequences of our actions when we can just point to a book and say "but God said so." In no other realm of understanding is faith seen as a good way of knowing anything about the universe. We don't understand math because we take it on faith. So why should we stop wondering at the many mysteries the universe still has for us to find answers to? Leaving it to faith is giving up, and deciding that we don't need to seek any further understanding of our lives. In my opinion, that stance does not get us any further as a species. It only leaves us standing still; unable to progress and make life better for everyone."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ode to Humanity

It's easy to get down on living in a small town. Not much to do, limited options, and LOTS of Republicans to deal with. But yesterday, I had the kind of day that reminded me that it also has its perks.

I went to the tiny mall to get some earrings, and ran into a friend from high school who I now keep up with on Facebook. She just got a job at the local pharmacy I use (when you have Crohn's disease, you take a lot of meds). We talked for a little bit about our kids and the local schools, and I was reminded just how much I really like her. She's a very cool person (and she complimented me on my blog the other day at the pharmacy, which always helps). I'm looking forward to getting to know her again.

After the mall, I headed to Target to get the usual supply of make up, snacks and interesting clearanced out items that I don't actually need. At the checkout, there was an older woman behind me who got very excited when she found a DVD of The Hunger Games at the checkout. The man she was with started teasing her about liking it, and I piped in about how much I loved it too. We had a nice little moment discussing how, yes, we know it's supposed to be for teenagers, but it's still really good.

While I was checking out, a new friend of mine who works at Target stopped over to say "hi." She has attended get togethers for my atheist group a few times, and is one of those people who just immediately makes you smile, because she's always smiling too. We also shared a nice little moment bonding over our shared love of Peeps marshmallow treats. Because seriously, if you don't love Peeps, there's just something wrong with you.

After Target, it was time for my monthly coffee meet up with my atheist group. The group started small a few years ago, and has grown beyond my wildest dreams since then. I have met some of the most caring, funny, kind and generous people through this group, and I'm reminded every time we get together how lucky I am to count them as my friends. We had two new people join us (a mother and daughter), and they just instantly connected with the rest of the group. When atheists and liberals find each other in a small town, it's a beautiful thing.

Don't get me wrong; there are things I hate about living here too (way too much nature for starters). But I was reminded yesterday that I have such a great family, great neighbors, and so many great people around me who enrich my life all of the time. I would say I was blessed, if I actually believed there was anyone doing the blessing. :-)

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Which I Weigh in on Vaccines and Then Duck

Vaccinations have become a hot topic of late, and since they are apparently now a political issue, I feel the need to put in my "official" two cents. I'm hesitant to do this, because I have good friends and close relatives who are anti-vax, and I really don't want to offend or hurt them. But I'm putting this out there anyway, and am going to let the chips fall where they may.

I have two kids. Both have received every vaccination suggested by their pediatrician, a man who I respect and trust. He went to medical school, and he keeps up on the latest medical research, something I cannot do because I am not a trained pediatrician, and have no skill in deciphering medical studies and research. Therefore, when my kids are sick, I take them to see the doctor, and he tells me what the best course of action is. He always takes into account my input as a parent, since clearly I know my kids better than he does, but I'm willing to take his word that "medicine A" will help with "illness B."  I've never once felt like he was jumping too quickly to a pharmaceutical solution when one wasn't warranted, and he's never pressured me to use any medication on my children.

I once asked him about the vaccination debate, (just out of curiosity - I wasn't trying to make a decision either way for my kids, as they had already gotten their shots). This is what he told me: "If there were any danger to giving kids vaccinations, and I was only doing it to make money for myself and a drug company, then I would just give them to other kids and not my own. But honestly, vaccinations are not a money making proposition, for doctors at least. In fact, we generally break even or take a loss on them. But really, why would I give them to my own kids if I had any question at all about the safety? I would just give them to other people's kids and rake in the dough."

Now, obviously this is just one doctor's take on the issue. He can't speak for the whole of the medical community. But still, it makes sense. He has a son the same age as mine, and I trust that he's confident enough in what he's giving his own son, so I don't worry about him doing the same with my son. He's just more knowledgeable than I am on the subject, period. And no amount of Googling is going to earn me a medical degree.

The reason I think this is such a tough issue for many people is that the pharmaceutical industry certainly hasn't given anyone any reason to trust them. Do they do shady shit for the sake of profits? Definitely. Are people in America over-medicating themselves? Probably. Do drug reps trade free lunches for the chance to get doctors prescribing their products? For sure. I used to work at a clinic, and the free lunches were the best part of the job.

But does any of that mean that vaccines aren't safe and effective? No. How do we know this? Scientific evidence. Why should we trust scientific evidence? Because of the scientific method. Why should we trust the scientific method? Because it's been proven time and again to work. The science on vaccines is not unclear. Vaccines have been studied, and studied, and studied. And while there is always a small risk with any medication, there is a much bigger risk to NOT getting vaccinated.

My generation has been lucky in the area of infant mortality (at least in America). These days we don't just expect at least 1 or 2 of our kids to die from a routine illness like measles or small pox. We don't have to watch our communities be decimated by influenza. We haven't been traumatized by a child getting polio, like my grandmother was with my uncle. We take it for granted that our kids will, for the most part, be healthy and stay alive to reach the terrible twos (with a few horribly tragic exceptions, obviously). I don't even have to watch my kids suffer through the painful scratching I had to endure with the chicken pox, because now we can vaccinate against that too. In fact, my kids are pretty dang healthy.  You would expect that if having all of those vaccinations had somehow ruined their immature immune systems, that they would be catching every illness that came knocking on our door, but no, with the exception of some constipation issues, my kids have been able to fend off virtually anything. Of course, this is just "anecdotal evidence" which shouldn't really be taken to mean anything, but still, you get my point.

At the heart of the anti-vax debate are parents who truly believe they are doing what is best for their children. For whatever reason, they feel that vaccinating might harm their child somehow, and I can understand that. No parent wants to gamble with their children's health and well being. But part of the problem, as I see it, is the view that MY children are the only thing that matters. As parents, the view that all of our parenting decisions should be sacrosanct and autonomous, and that we always just "know" what's best for our own child, ignores the fact that our children are part of a society, and yes, even a "herd."

Which brings me to my neighbor. She has a son, Cole, who is roughly the same age as my youngest. They are BFF's, and during the summer, they have the run of the neighborhood, playing together all day long. It's really very sweet. But Cole has a variety of health issues, which prevent him from getting certain vaccines, and which cause him to pick up EVERY bug that travels within 10 yards of him. My neighbor has to be very careful about keeping her house free of germs, and if my kids are at all sick, Cole can't come over and play. She is relying on me to vaccinate my kids, so that her son doesn't get the measles (or anything worse). She is like many parents out there with children of kids (and babies who are too young to get vaccinated), who are relying on YOU to do your part and get your kids their vaccinations, if at all possible.

Women in other parts of the world will walk for days to get their kids to a vaccination clinic, because they've seen firsthand the devastation of losing a child to a preventable illness. While (mostly upper class white) people in America debate and pontificate over the idea  that you're poisoning your baby with *GASP* chemicals (ignoring the fact that everything on the planet is made out of chemicals), women in poorer parts of the world are just trying to keep their babies from dying.

I'm not even going to touch the autism issue, because the link between vaccines and autism is just not there. Case closed. No more debate needed.  And even if it did, autism is not worse than dying.  I can't even imagine how offensive it is to people who are actually on the spectrum to hear that the mere thought of someone's child being like them is worth risking their life over. I'm not trying to downplay the devastation autism can cause for families, but I hold to my belief that a child with autism is better than a child who is dead. And that's only if there were a link, which there's not, so again, case closed.

But like I said, I have close friends and relatives who choose not to vaccinate, and despite our different feelings on this issue, I still love them and think they are great parents. I think we're ALL trying to do what is best for our kids, and fighting with them won't really help anything. They are right to have questions about how the environment around them affects their kids, and we should all have some healthy skepticism about the things we feed and inject into children. Autism IS on the rise, and there ARE more food allergies today, and processed food IS worse for you than fresh vegetables. Overuse of antibiotics IS something we should be looking at more closely, and pharmaceutical companies ARE pretty horrible in some of their tactics.

But the vaccine debate doesn't need to be had. It's over. And there are real world consequences to not getting your child or yourself vaccinated. And those consequences affect other people's kids. Which is why this is such an emotional topic. But turning it into a political issue only muddies the waters even more. This should not be a Democrat vs Republican issue. Mainly because there are not 2 sides to science. Do I think we should require parents to vaccinate under penalty of law? That seems a little creepy even to a commie lefty like me. But do I think you should be required to vaccinate your kids if you want them in the public school system? Yes. No exceptions. I think that granting religious and philosophical exceptions to vaccinations is stupid, because science doesn't care what your religion or your "deeply held beliefs" have to say about it. And neither does Cole, who just doesn't want to be sick all of the time.

So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth. I'm not an expert and I would never claim to be, but there are experts in the world, and I take my advice from them, not the Internet.


P.S. And I have one more beef with this whole issue: the idea that alternative medicines are not about profit like those big evil pharmaceutical companies. I used to own an allergen-free food store, and the companies we ordered from also sold alternative medicines and vitamins, and let me tell ya, there is a LOT of profit to be made in the "all-natural" industry. The difference of course is that there is actual science to back up the claims of vaccines, and none to back up the claims of the homeopathic tablets that cost you $30 a bottle.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Great Depression

I have a confession to make.

I'm depressed.

Not like "feeling down" depressed, but actually, truly, clinically depressed.

I first went on antidepressants when I was pregnant with my son 11 years ago. The pregnancy seemed to trigger something in my brain that turned on a hard-core depression which I had never experienced before. 

And let me tell you, it wasn't (and isn't) pretty. As a person with a chronic medical illness, I can easily say that I'd rather deal with physical illness than mental illness. At least when you're physically ill, people seem to understand that you're sick. When you're depressed, people don't see it, and if they do, they think you just need to snap out of it or think positive thoughts. They think that you're weak, or that you're just being lazy or cranky.

But depression isn't really a state of mind. It's an imbalance of chemicals in your brain that can't be easily fixed. You're not really depressed "about" anything, but then again, everything depresses you. 

For example, I'm currently depressed about being depressed. It's not fair to my family to be laying around all day long doing nothing, but the thought of doing anything other than laying in a fetal position and watching Netflix depresses me. Which means my house is a mess, which depresses me even more. And since I've been laying around depressed, I haven't been cooking much of anything, which means my kids are eating a lot of frozen pizza, which further depresses me while I berate myself as a terrible mother.

Then there's the fact that it's Christmas time, which is normally my favorite holiday. But because of my depression, I can't enjoy it, which depresses me. And since I can't enjoy it, I haven't done much gift buying or cookie baking, which also depresses me. 

Then there's the depression of thinking constantly about how depressing everything is for everyone else in the world. For people who are homeless, or lonely, or hungry. For people who have lost children and are suffering so much more than I have or ever will. The thought that they're depressed depresses me. 

The fact that the human brain is so complex and fragile that a minor deficiency of one or another chemical can fuck up your whole life depresses me. The capacity for human anguish in general depresses me, along with the fact that millions upon millions of people in the world are, at this very moment, suffering. That depresses me.

And it depresses me that my mind has been essentially hijacked. My personality, the very thing that makes me, well, "me"; that thing is temporarily on hiatus along with my ability to find comfort and joy in anything that usually gives me comfort and joy. That's gone for a little while. And guess what? That really, really depresses me. 

But I'm one of the lucky ones. This depression is only temporary. It's just the result of a medication change. The antidepressant I had been on for the last several years wasn't quite cutting it anymore, so I'm in the process of switching over to a new one. But in a week or two, when the new medication has reached its optimum effect, I know I'll feel better. I'm lucky enough to have health insurance, and the ability to pay for the medication I need. I have a husband who can take care of the kids when I just can't. I'm financially stable enough that this temporary situation won't ruin my life. But there are so many people out there that don't have all of the luxuries I have. And that depresses the hell out of me. And the fact that I'm laying here being depressed when I should be grateful for all of the things I have; that truly depresses me. 

But for now, all I can do is wait for my new medication to kick in, and hope that my children don't starve in the process.

I'm not writing this to get the typical "hang in there sweetie!" comments that one generally receives after posting something like this to a public forum. I don't need sympathy or attention. All I need is to let you know that when someone you know and love is suffering from depression, or any type of mental illness for that matter, they truly are suffering.

What I need is not to hear comments like "Why is <insert celebrity here> depressed?! They have nothing to be depressed about!" Or comments like, "I can't believe <insert celebrity here> killed himself. How selfish of him! I can't understand why anyone would do that!"  These types of comments further the misguided notion that depression is simply a character flaw to be "fixed" with the right balance of strength and positive affirmations. It is not. It is a heavy black coat that settles over you and refuses to lift without genuine, medical intervention.

Which brings me around to the relevance of this sort of post on a "liberal" blog. Imagine if everyone in America, regardless of their circumstances, had unlimited access to mental health care. Imagine the increase in productivity, the people now able to hold down a job who couldn't before. The children who now have healthy parents who are able to take care of them, leading to a lesser burden on child care resources. The families saved from the trauma of suicide. All of this could happen, if only we could get our priorities straight. If only we saw this as an issue more urgent than providing billionaires with even more money. If only.

But we don't. We choose to live in a system where the "haves" get to live healthy and comfortable lives, while the "have nots" are just shit out of luck. And you know what? That really fucking depresses me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An open letter to the people who "don't really follow politics"

That's it. Someone needs to tell you people off, and I'm in the perfect mood to do it today.

I would venture to guess that there are more people in America who "don't follow politics" than people who do. They are many reasons for this. Mainly my guess would be that people just have more pressing concerns; the kids need baths, it's almost dinner time, I'm working 2 jobs to make ends meet, etc.  And I get that. Life is busy for all of us.

What I DON'T get are some of the other reasons; American Idol is on, I'm going to Buffalo Wild Wings to get drunk, I need to find out which Kardashian is pregnant now. We are increasingly becoming a nation of grown children, obsessed by our own urge to be constantly entertained. If it's boring, we don't need to do it. We're like little dogs in our ability to be distracted by shiny objects.

And it's infuriating to me.

I know that not everyone enjoys politics. I can appreciate that I find the whole thing more interesting than most. But for the love of God people, this really does affect you!!!!

You seem to be just willfully ignorant about the fact that who represents you in government actually makes a difference in your life. They get to pass laws that govern how you live your life, and you have to deal with it! Don't believe me?  Here are a few examples:

1) Was it simply awful to be subjected to the barrage of campaign ads you had to endure while you were trying to watch American Idol? That was made possible by Citizens United, which allowed unlimited amounts of money to be spent in campaigns. Citizens United was brought to you by conservative Supreme Court Justices who were appointed by conservative Presidents. Oh, but you probably don't even know what "conservative" means, do you?

2) Like birth control? Did you ever get any of it from a clinic like Planned Parenthood? Did it keep you from getting pregnant when you didn't want to be? Well clinics like those rely heavily on federal funding, which can be easily pulled by a conservative government. And what's more, they're already trying to pass laws to make it so that your health insurance doesn't have to cover your birth control. Have fun paying full price for those pills every month!

3) Do your kids go to a public school? Are you tired of getting that long list at the beginning of the school year that asks you to pay for everything right down to the kleenex in the classroom? That is because of underfunded schools. You could fix that!!

But you don't. None of you do. You prefer to bitch and moan about what "the government" does, as if you have no control over who is actually IN the government.  You are so busy staring at shiny objects that you have NO IDEA what your lawmakers are doing behind your backs.

Yesterday, I lost my state representative.  He was the kind of guy that was still idealistic about his job, and actually worked hard for the good of his community. He actually got to know his constituents and took the time to listen to them and help wherever he could. And I don't blame his loss on the Republicans. I blame it squarely on you. People who don't vote because you're too damn lazy and disinterested to take 10 minutes out of your day to go fucking vote already!

And if you don't want to follow politics, America makes it easy for you! We have a two-party system (for now). Pick one and get on board! They even put the name of the party on the ballot in case you have no idea who the candidate is! It's simple!

Have no idea who you even WANT to vote for? Here, take a quiz. This quiz will tell you who to vote for! It's ridiculously easy!!!!!

The apathy is just stunning to me. I can't even wrap my god damned brain around it.  We actually live in a country where the common people can choose their leaders, and a majority of them don't even bother!

And as a result, we live in a country where the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. It's taking more hours at work just to support a family, and I wonder how long it will take for people to get fed up enough to actually want to DO something about it.

I think of all the struggles of the past: unions, abortion, corporate regulation. We're going to have to fight all of those battles all over again, because people have gotten so lazy and complacent that they've just watched all of their rights slowly go away.  If all of you people who "don't follow politics" started following it, even just a little, we could change SO MUCH in America. Maybe you wouldn't have to worry about going bankrupt because your kid got sick. Maybe you could afford to take a vacation once in awhile. Maybe you wouldn't have to go back to work six weeks after giving birth. We are all living at the mercy of corporations right now, and most of us don't even realize it.  And we do nothing to change it.

I don't even know why I bother some days. Why do I waste my time trying to make things better, when clearly so many people just don't even give a shit? I'm sure I'll get my motivation back eventually, but for now, I need to just stew about the sorry state of the American people for a little while.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Catholic Radio

I've had the occasion to travel from my small town to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (what we locals affectionately refer to as "the cities") several times in the past few months. It's roughly a two and a half hour drive, which isn't so bad, but there are only so many hours of This American Life I can listen to before I start to tune out.

And so, as I approach the middle of my journey, which is the St. Cloud area, I always see not one, but two giant billboards for the local AM Catholic radio station. With two giant billboards enticing me, how could I NOT listen? And boy am I glad I did! I've learned SO many good things from listening, and my life has been so enriched by the teachings of the one true church. 

So let me summarize the collective wisdom I've gained onto you, fair readers.

1.) If you're not married, don't have sex. Not any. Not ever. Especially if you're female. It's probably the worst thing you could ever do. You're going to break your parents' hearts and probably die of a horrible STD (and that's only after you've totally ruined God's plan for your otherwise perfectly planned life). Sex is demeaning (if you're female) and the "hook up culture" will only leave you broken, and a shell of your former, pure self. Especially if you're female. Besides, you can't really enjoy sex unless you are fully giving your future to the other person, by which I mean consenting to give birth nine months later and raise a child for the rest of your life. Also, watching rom-coms will make you slutty. Especially if you're female.

2.) If you ARE married, have sex. Lots of it, all the time. Why? Because babies, that's why. Babies are a gift from God and will do nothing but add to your enjoyment of life and bring you tons of fun and happiness. And don't even think about birth control. Having babies is not a choice to be made, it's a blessing from above. You made the choice to have kids already when you said those wedding vows, and there's no going back now. Only God knows how many kids you can handle. You may be thinking, "but what about my high blood pressure, or financial situation, or sanity?" Doesn't matter. Keep in mind that God will provide. Afraid of mounting medical bills from having all those babies, or the cost of food, clothing, etc? Not to worry. God has already thought about all of that for you, and decided you'll be just fine with 25 kids (and more than likely, they'll all be healthy and perfect anyway). You can always make more money. It's easy. Too many people these days spend all their time worrying about how babies will affect their lives, instead of considering that babies are totally awesome!! They have cute smiles and say cute things and look so cute in their cute little outfits. And you really don't want to be one of those schmucks only raising one or two boring kids, do you?

So basically, what I've learned is that the Catholic Church is extremely concerned about how much sex you're having, and why you're having it. Only they know the true purpose and gravity of sex, and how it affects people. If you would only take their advice, it would all be smooth sailing from here on out. So don't screw this up people!! Or, I guess, DO screw it up, but only if you're married and want to have dozens of kids, as is your duty to God. Especially if you're female.