Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Beth as fencing assassin; your ass on my wall

Monday was an “OW!” day, but that’s a good thing! I started the day with a run, cutting a minute off my best time, with significant huffing and puffing and then on to practice more lunges. I have been practicing lunges for months now, and the harder I try, the worse they seem to get (or the more I realize how inadequate they are?). I also practiced three different attack lines with my ping-pong ball. That night I went to fencing with a focus: work hard, fence hard.

By Tuesday my left arm and shoulder are covered in bruises and there are several strained muscles. Tuesday morning, my heart brings me to consciousness as it goes from 60 beats per minute asleep to over 200 in a P.A.T. attack, which lasts over 10 seconds as I lie there wondering what is happening. The attack finishes with a series of beats so severe and quick that it actually shakes my entire body before returning to normal. I guess I am awake now. I think that means I had a really good workout.

On Monday night, I was the first bout of the evening, working with Rodney on blade manipulation, then bouting with Gerald and William. I was there to work on three things: an long lunge to the arm going outside the opponent's blade; stealing the line and three types of short attacks on the wrist. “Stealing the line” is what I call when I move over so that my blade is pointed directly at the opponents wrist, instead of slightly to one side. Since I am usually taller, it means that if they break their defensive position, I can attack straight ahead, over their guard, but without exposing myself.

Gerald started off by complaining about a groin hit I had given him last week (that hit actually spurred me back to training as I was aiming for his side and got his groin instead - not a good example of point control). He said that there was a bruise line leading right to his groin. “So what you are trying to tell me Gerald,” I said, as we tested swords, “Is this week you were thinking of me in the shower?” Gerald doesn’t blush, but he came close. “Did you get a groin protector?” I asked.

“I tried,” he said, “but they all have holes in them?” I guess the puzzlement I felt showed on my face as he just said, “I know!” But, as it happened, I didn’t hit him in the groin; this week.

William afterward started telling me what I needed to do to win the bout and I told him I didn’t want to hear it, “I didn’t come to win,” I said, and Rodney finished the sentence, “We came to train.” Yeah.

Gerald helped me with training on lunge defense. Kathy, a friend from the US, sent me a section of a fencing book which said that the best way to avoid a defense stopping your blade is to get the person to make the defense as soon as possible, so it can be avoided. This made good sense to me. Only it takes me a few lunges for me to see the defense and then try and avoid it.

Leaving Gerald's 15 minute workout, I went to the other strip and did a 15 point bout with Amanda, focusing on my training in those three areas. She beat me handily. After, I found out from Amanda that she is leaving Saturday to go to the Elite competition. This is one of two competitions in Canada to get points to start the international circuit. Mr. Ho wanted her to be trained up. Oh, well, in that case, my trying to win would actually be helping Amanda right? So I offered to do another bout with her, “for competition training.” She agreed.

Mr. Ho and Gerald came over. Gerald and Mr. Ho were trying to tell me to get double points. As when Amanda trains for competition, Mr. Ho gives her opponent two points for every touch they get on Amanda, sometimes three points. My first argument with Mr. Ho ( a couple months ago) was when I told him that I would take one point but if he wanted to give Amanda two points for her touches on me I wouldn’t mind. That didn't go down so well, and I got a lecture. But I think Mr. Ho is either warming up to me or getting worn down. Mr. Ho pointed out on Monday, that with double points, you can win if you are getting two to one. “Assassins don’t do double points.” I told him, “Assassins target and attack.” Mr. Ho laughed. I told him we were doing single points. Fine, he agreed, I would be the only person doing single points with Amanda.

It was the second hardest bout I have ever fought. I took an early lead, mostly off wrist hits from stealing her line, and then decided to chance a fleche. Bad move; her point. We fought on; she fleched me and I got the point, so we both stopped fleching. I was ahead at the 5 point mark, and she caught up, so I buckled down. When I attacked, it was instinct, adrenaline and lust...I mean blood lust. On one point I lunged so hard that I slid forward several feet with my arm extended to hit her in retreat. I looked down at my back leg, “Bad lunge,” I told Amanda, “my back leg is still bent.” She nodded, yup, and we took the line. My blade wanted to get those points so bad, it was starting to ache. I actually had to restrain myself during the match as my blade started giving me suggestions, or rather suggesting I give into what it wanted, which was to just keep launching myself vertically at Amanda until someone pulled us apart. I tried to convince it that getting her blade out of the way first might make that a better plan.

I led at the 10 point mark when my body started to slow down; we had been fencing for 20 minutes straight. I was still ahead on positioning; I would get inside her guard and race for the touch, only her reactions were faster, about 1/26th of a second faster – just fast enough for her blade to register first. I also missed points as I lost fine control of pressure on my point. Nothing more frustrating than seeing the tip hit an opening, and then not continuing that last few centimeters to depress the tip and get the point. I was still winning strategically, but I didn’t have the reaction time anymore.

I fought on, during one point Amanda lifted wrist to beat my blade, exposing and inch of her hand. “Do it again?” I asked, and as she lifted her hand to beat my blade, I hit her pinkie. Ohhh, she was not pleased. Of course, while that was what I intended to do, it certainly wasn’t what I expected to happen. But I was happy to take the credit. Another point I lunged for her upper arm on the outside, she blocked with a high lunge to my neck, trying to use her arm to push mine aside. I twisted the blade and hung on, finishing with her blade slamming into my neck, pushing me back, but with my blade, twined around her arm, and ending ON TARGET. Okay, I would accept that double point.

Though the bout I kept saying to myself, “There is but one point.” To try and remind myself that it was only this second, and this point that mattered. And I kept that to the end, though my reactions slowed and my stamina failed. Amanda won 15-12 in a bout that lasted 30 minutes. I only had two doubles. When Mr. Ho heard the score he looked a little disturbed. I think he must have sensed I was going to ask for training because he started saying that fencing is like flying, you have to put in the hours. “Amanda has epee for five years.” He said, pointing to her.

“And I’ve fenced it for 5 months, but then, I’m super!” I said back pointing to my chest.

“No, no, it like flying, people can not fly right away.”

“Sure they can,” I told him, “There’s supergirl, there’s superwoman...” Okay, not getting training from him anytime soon.

I went back to the other strip with Gerald and William. Previously, Willam had fenced Amanda and then staggered lethargically though a bout with me. He looked at the sweat pouring off my face and said, “Now you’re going to be like I was.”

“You forget William, exhaustion makes me MORE aggressive.”

“Oh yeah.” He put on his mask and found out. Arm hit, arm hit, BAM.

As I was decimating William, Gerald calls out to me, “Is that I swagger I am starting to see in your step?” Who me?

Gerald came on and we fought back and forth. With two points to go he says, “Now I’m going to have to beat you, or you will become insufferable.” Wrong thing to say, Gerald! I love being insufferable!

I squeak out a point with close body work and then finish him with a lovely lunge to his wrist. At which point I drop to my knees in front of him and start my victory dance/wiggle which ripples up as I rise from my knees to face him. The dance gets slightly out of control when I finish by kissing my blade and my arm repeatedly. “Was that what you meant Gerald?”

William comes back on and we fence some more. The “professionials” quit 20 minutes ago. Everyone else is packed up but we fence on. Eventually the people from the Y are there to kick us out. I fenced from the first bout to the last bout. After, William tries to tell me I am fencing better. “I don’t want to hear it!” I say but then immediately start harassing him, “You better keep training,” I threaten him. “Because otherwise, I will have your ass!”

I’ve fenced so late, Linda shows up wondering where I am. Gerald, William and I are standing together. Gerald is saying that Amanda is still best because she is consistent. While I argue that consistent can become complacent – take chances! William turns to leave and I yell after him, “Keep training! You know I have a picture of your ass on my training wall!”

Gerald, after composing himself asks Linda, “Doesn’t she ever shock you?”

She comforts him, “She used to, but you adjust.”


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Monday, August 28, 2006

31 day challenge, wine for wild boar & audio-visual distractions

Many have asked how I am doing on my 31 day challenge. Pretty crap, if truth be told. I am currently stuck on Chapter Six which will be henceforth referred to as “Hell Chapter” since the more I edit it, the longer it gets and the more difficult it becomes to rewrite. On Sunday I locked myself in the bedroom, and reread the chapter, then rewrote a page, but found it so hard going that I soon found myself looking around for anything else to read within reach. With a battle of wills, I forced myself back to editing, and succeeded in rewriting another 2 and a half pages before I fell asleep over the pages for two hours. But hey, I’m editing on Sunday.

However, the reading project is going so well, and the editing so poorly that I may have to make this a 100 day challenge. I have read Expendable by James Allen Gardner, recommended to me by fencer/pilot Wendryn. We have amazingly similar tastes as this was one of only two books her first list that I hadn’t already read. I had forgotten the opiate intellectual rush of a book with which you just “click”, and Expendable is my first in a long time. It is a story narrated by a woman with a facial blemish in a society where everyone is medically corrected except for a certain few, who are herded into the intergalactic explorer core, where they usually end up on a planet where their voice recording ends “Oh Shit!” But because they are different, and ugly, no one really cares too much; they are expendable.

I have also been reading Thunder and Light by Marie-Claire Blaise and from Dawn to Decadance by Jacques Barzun as recommended to me by Doctor Slack. I am not having as much fun with them as Thunder and Light is almost all description, as one characters says of another’s writing, “Adrien had criticized his style as too slow and verbose.” And Jacques Barzun is a writer who spends the first ten pages telling us that while OTHER (read lesser) historians may say X or Y, it is REALLY V or W because I, Jacques Barzun am so much more brilliant and right than others. Then he proceeds to vilify those he doesn’t want us to like with one line anecdotes while taking pages and pages to explain those who have been “misunderstood.” Of course, anyone who sets themselves up that way to begin with gives me the Don Quixote complex and it’s not long before I’m screaming “Charge” and galloping toward windmills. But they challenging are my perspective, which is what I asked, so, all is going according to plan, bwahahaha!

Last week Linda and I watched the DVD documentary Mondovino, about how the merchandising of wine and dominant wine reviewers like Robert Parker (whose reviews reach magazines as diverse as Business Week) are creating mega owners and consultants who, in search of high ratings and sales, are making wine taste the same worldwide. Countering this, Linda and I were trying to find a dish in order to open our De Martino Legada Reserva 2004 from Chile. We have three bottles of it and it is part of the 200 bottles of red wine we brought with us from the UK, where wine is relatively inexpensive, to Canada, where wine is unbelievably expensive and is made by people in giant vats over 45 days (as “make your own” is cheaper than buying). The De Martino Legada stumped us last week, when we were going to open it, as it kindly suggested on the back that it goes well with “wild boar and cheeses.” I assume wild boar is more common in Chile, or that the person writing the suggestions was heavy into the red wine. Instead we opened it this weekend with spicy fajitas made with chicken marinated in lime and later we served it again with a cheese we picked up at the Xmas fair in Venice Italy last year. It seemed to do the trick; and we contented ourselves that we did not have one of the uniform or “bland” wines condemned in Mondovino; it also had sediment.

On Sunday we watched the German film, Regular Guys which is a situation romantic comedy with strong gay themes. It was well made and very funny as our male police officer hero gets dumped by his fiancée, followed by his clothes and car getting stolen and at the end of a drinking self-pity binge, ends up in a gay bar and waking up the next morning in the bed with what even I can admit is a gorgeous guy, who then offers to let him stay. Of course, enter the mother, the previous boyfriend, the other cop friends and all sorts of situations. I do have to say though, if you are a straight guy staying with a well known gay guy who is desperately in love with you, stop taking so many showers and opening the door dressed only in a towel (repeatedly). One favorite scene involves a female coworker who has a crush on the straight police officer, who after finding out he is the gorgeous guy’s new boyfriend (a little misunderstanding) refuses to get out of the town’s public fountain as she gets drunk on champagne.

I also watched the entire TV series Surface, which just came out on DVD (remember I tend to watch at 4 times speed or faster reading subtitles – so it only took a few hours). I give it 8.5 out of 10 as it had good gripping episodes with fairly likable underdog characters. The series also doled out the answers to mysteries on a regular basis (more in 15 episodes than the X-files managed in 10 seasons) and had good CGI work. Of course any series with has continuous ongoing disasters which threaten to wipe out large amounts of humans is only going to be a plus for me. I would definitely pick this up for $25-28, which it should be in about a week on

And for the first time in almost a year, I am really looking forward to a film. I just this morning saw the trailer to The Prestige (click on the trailer size to download) and if the film is half as good as the trailer, I am already getting stimulated (intellectually, okay, intellectually). By the same director as Batman Begins, with magicians, evil magicians, occulty stuff and Michael Caine there is so much to get excited about!

As for me, I am back to rewriting. So when you are sipping your latte, or sitting staring out the window, just remember me, slumped drooling over Hell Chapter, which I will finish...before it finishes me!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tension without redemption: Why US TV is so boring!

With the combination of the fall DVD TV box releases and the upcoming Emmy’s, there is no better time to grouch about television programming. Of course for me, TV means “TV programs on DVD” as I don’t actually get TV programming directly. My gripe with TV programming, spurred on by Emmy winners and HBO, can be summed in three words: Tension without redemption. What we have now is largely riveting watching, based on tension revolving around individual weakness which, as a larger story, is almost instantly forgettable. After watching the second series of Deadwood in a few days, I said this to Linda, “It’s very compelling, but terrible storytelling.” Deadwood, along with a great many Emmy winners can be summed up with a few phrases: “People were bad”, “Everyone gave in to their darkness”, “People were weak, and did bad things”. There are the shows that start out this way: Rome, Carnivale, Huff, 24, Invasion, Lost, OZ, Desperate Housewives, Arrested Development, Rescue Me, The Job. And then there are shows which start out focusing elsewhere, but are radically adjusted in the second (or later) season/seasons to reflect the “fallen world”: Nip/Tuck, O.C., Buffy, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, Profiler, The Wire, Angel, 4400, Las Vegas.

For me personally, and I think for humanity in general; there is a need for closure and redemption. If you look at the foundations of myth and the oldest and most retold stories, they tend not to go in an ever degenerating spiral into lust, greed, cruelty, weakness and despair (History perhaps, but not literature), but rather in a full circle, though often with tragic elements, such as the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, Don Quixote; even Moby Dick. And while there are characters who “pay the price” like Loki, Prometheus or King Arthur, there is often the implied promise of a future redemption and return. US TV shows which do offer views on redemption in a realistic setting (please do not refer me to Touched by an Angel or anything involving Michael Landon) are cancelled: Dead Like Me, Book of Daniel, Joan of Arcadia, Wonderfalls, Freaks & Geeks, Jeremiah. Though so too are shows implying that the evil that humans do can come anywhere but within, or that is anything but normal and natural: Point Pleasant, American Gothic, Tru Calling, Dark Angel, Odyssey 5, & Miracles (Miracles is an exceptionally good show too!).

This is why I tend to watch UK TV. Having moved to the UK, I was shocked by the horrific level of most British TV. It takes brainless and trashy to new levels (yes, I somehow thought that what PBS showed was 90% of British TV). However, for reasons as yet unknown, UK television is also renowned for realistic yet compelling detective dramas. And while the main characters are usually flawed, they are essentially good people trying to do a good job while working around the racism, sexism, hypocrisy and just plain human stupidity (unlike main characters in US shows they are often not corrupt, killing people and hiding the bodies, sleeping with their sister, raping their suspects, etc). There is an entire range from the “nice” detectives like Inspector Lynley and Midsomer Murders to your midrange eccentrics like New Tricks or Inspector Morse to your harder hitting/expose like Waking the Dead, Frost, 55 Degrees North, The Vice to the hard and gritty of it like Messiah, Touching Evil, Prime Suspect, Murphy’s Law, Cracker, Wire in the Blood, Second Sight and Between the Lines to your unconventional yet fantastic series like Judge John Deed (a high court judge who seeks out the truth, against the status quo), Life on Mars (a modern police detective thrown back in time to the bad old 70’s with truncheons, no forensics and no computers), and Silent Witness (a pathologist who goes around interviewing and interfering).

Maybe UK detective TV is more compelling for me because it more accurately reflects my experience. UK TV has odd and even extreme looking characters (for example, the hero of Life on Mars to the left, is considered "good looking" by UK TV standards), US TV have perfect looking characters. UK TV has characters who are poor and often struggling while US TV have characters who never talk about money, or seem to have problems finding tailored suits. UK TV has characters who constantly are hitting their head against prejudice, pointless rules, bureaucracy and time wasters while US TV characters are constantly hitting their head against who they should sleep with next: their ex-wife, their best friends wife or the total psycho who looks stunning. UK detective TV has lots of gay and particularly lesbian characters as well as others who face discrimination because of their sex (Prime Suspect), age (New Tricks) or race (55 Degrees North) while US detective TV has 1 gay and lesbian character (both in The Wire) and many many shows where everyone is completely and wonderfully adjusted and tolerant (well except to gays).

This is not to say I have given up on US TV, but that the shows I like are often the exception instead of the rule. Veronica Mars stands out not only for good writing but for being the almost the only show that year to actually FINISH its story arc. House M.D., though not particularly LGBT sensitive, is a fun show to watch, though getting less so as we get more of the “things fall apart, fallen world” themes. Strong Medicine, after it’s first few episodes was simply astounding (any TV program that dedicates a show to dealing realistically with the prejudice surrounding fibromyalgia, for example, is astounding), Medium was far better than the premise sounded (thanks to the 7 year old family member), Law and Order Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent are excellent (I recommend Criminal Intent Season 2 available from for an insightful and intellegent show). The first Season of Nip/Tuck was very compelling, as they realistically dealt with many of the people and reasons people go to plastic surgeons in an interesting way. The second season threw that entirely away to focus on human degradation: Boring! I can get that out my window (particularly late night weekends), I don’t need to pay to watch it.

But these are my opinions, and I’d like to hear yours. Or if you know a series, like Dead like Me or Joan of Arcadia that I have missed, please fill me in. Or if you have some experience of how Deadwood, Carnivale, Lost or Desperate Housewives actually stayed with you and made a positive impact on how you viewed or lived your life – please tell me. I mean, all those thousands of emmy voters can’t be wrong....right?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

LSD fencing, taut bodies & inner Drill Sarge

This weekend I had to face the dark and scary truth: I was an amateur fencer. I wasn’t putting in extra practice anymore, I wasn’t building endurance, and I wasn’t getting better. Indeed, due to my special ability to not retain any skill which isn’t reinforced daily, I was getting worse. They say admitting the problem is the largest battle; that’s why I got up and said it out loud: “I am an amateur fencer, but I don’t have to just be that!” The two people across the table looked at me. The woman spoke, “We’re selling timeshare vacations.” They looked at each other and me again, “But we have a strict no drug policy.”

I needed drastic action, so I got up Monday morning, suited up and went for a run on the short course (the short course is 3.5 to 4 miles). My legs hurt, my lungs hurt, my body had flabby bits. I showered and worked the ping pong ball. Later that night at fencing, I was sad and angry. Waking up to how awful you’ve become, then trying to get better but realizing that what you did 8 hours ago isn’t really going to help you now isn’t pretty. I lined up my attacks, I tried my lunges, I worked on second targets and I missed everything. I gave into the ugly side.

When I was in school, they used to show films on how drugs were bad. Central to the film was the “teen high on LSD.” As the serious narrator said, “Angel Dust; destroyer of teen lives!” there would be scenes of a guy or girl screaming and flailing away while five or six police officers where being tossed around. Know that image? Put an epee in their hand and that was my ugly fencing on Monday. Frenzied stabbing is too kind, as it implies some sort of control. At one point I actually released my fencing grip and threw the epee the last four inches to hit William.

After practice I dumped my gear in self-disgust and immediately suited up for another run. And off I went, after 10:00 pm, my keys through my fingers for effective defensive stabbing. In retrospect, this last run might have been a bit much. My body thought so. On Tuesday, I wasn’t moving too well. I got through the day with pain killers and holding on to walls when I walked. I did NOT go running but I did go biking and then later walk a few miles.

This morning I am up again looking at my running suit. I can walk in a straight line again. Do I really want to do this? No. I put on the running suit.

Originally I had some idea that I could jog 4 miles while thinking about how to improve my novel. This is not what happens. Instead I have two voices in my head that shout at each other the entire time. One I call “Drill Sergeant” and other I call “Normal Sane Beth”. Drill Sergeant demands that I keep running, no matter how many people pass me, or how much I feel like falling down:

DS: “Come on, knees higher, no, no, no, don’t even think about slowing down!”

Me: “What difference will it make if we walk, I mean, that guy walking with a cane passed me; if people are walking faster than me, then how does that count as running?”

DS: “You want to passed less, run faster! Look, William and Gerald are laughing at you.”

Me: “No they aren’t. They can’t see me, no one cares if I walk, I don’t care if I walk.”

DS: “That guy over there is laughing at you.”

Me: “No, actually, he might be flirting we me, except I can’t see too well through the haze of sweat”

DS: “Shut up and run!”

With the city marathon a month away, all the super fast, super tanned and super fit runners are out on the paths. This does not cheer me up. The first week of a new exercise program SUCKS! My running course is mostly uphill for the first half and downhill for the second, which is good because otherwise I wouldn’t make it home. Drill Sergeant gets pretty snarky about it, “Oh, you can’t even run DOWNHILL now?” But I finish with two blocks that go straight up. This lets me end with the “fish out of water” gasping air and trying to stay upright look. It’s soooo sexy! I was half way up the first block and looking pretty bad when a woman my age on the sidewalk suddenly yelled, “You’re a star! You’re a superstar!” as I passed her. I hope it wasn’t sarcastic, because it got me smiling and up that darn hill.

So I am not a killer fencer, not the cold assassin with jaw dropping skills and a body so taut that you can’t decide if you are filled with desire or just fear that I will snap you in half. But I’m working on it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rev. Tim Labouf punishes Mary Lambert; and gets caught

Mary Lambert, aged 81 has taught at the Watertown First Baptist Church for 54 years. That ended on Aug 9th when she was sent a letter telling her that the Diaconate Board of the church was unanimously dismissing her from her 11 year post teaching the adult bible study class because she was a woman. The letter explained her termination as spiritual reasons, specifically quoting 1 Timothy 2:11 -14, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

As this story continues its bouncing round the internet, aided by being circulated by the Associated Press, obviously a lot of women (and men) are irritated, angry and confused. What is the Pastor Timothy Labouf and the church board doing? Is this some Christian fifth column trying to convince more people to become agnostic? No, there is actually a larger and more squalid story.

First, the letter sent to Mary Lambert was signed and authorized by Kendra LaBouf, the Pastor’s wife in her role as the clerk. She among others are part of the “new members” which have stepped up to fill board roles as part of Tim Labouf’s reforms when he took over the church a few years ago. Essentially we have a church disagreement between the old church members and the new pastor and his followers. Rev. Tim Labouf, released a statement letting everyone know that the problems with Mary Lambert went far beyond the spiritual and that the spiritual was only a “small aspect” of her termination. Indeed the decision goes back to a disagreement a few months earlier where this new board “passed a resolution on May 21st 2006 reprimanding those individuals and their actions” and that “the Board has been aware that several of those individuals continued to engage in activities the Board viewed as detrimental to the church family.” Though in his statement Rev. Tim Labouf has promised “I am now prepared to be transparent with you about this issue”, we never find out exactly what actions or ideas this 81 year old woman has that is so “detrimental.” We do find out why was she never told about the majority of reasons she was removed from her position of responsibility? “the board had originally intended to include all reasons for Lambert's dismissal in the letter sent to her. But after legal review it was decided to stick with "spiritual issues..."; "it was recommended that we refrain from including issues that could be construed as slander and stick with “spiritual issues” that govern a church, which the courts have historically stayed out of." Yeah, harder to sue someone when they hide behind God.

This is what as known as assassination by scripture, an event I have experienced first hand and witnessed many times in my Christian career. It goes like this: a) Person disagrees or does something the church leadership disagrees with and is told to shut up. b) Person does not shut up or stop actions (like being openly gay for example) c) Scripture is found to strip the person of all public positions and/or throw them out of the church (for example, when they couldn’t find anything else for me they decided that I wasn't “humble before the Lord”). Statement is made about how this is for the persons benefit and that it is for the good of the “church family” and that they are praying for the person to grow (this is church lingo for: “if you do what you are told and toe the line and we may let you back”)

After this excessively long public statement where Tim Labouf implies all sorts of things about Mary Lambert (the BAD 81 year old), he tells us; “"Christian courtesy motivates us to refrain from making any public accusations against her." Sort of in the same way he was doing her a favor by telling her God wanted her out of her job instead of that she was a pain in the butt getting some good old fashion church retribution.

Tim’s overwhelming concern for Mary is evident as he gives assurance to reporters that this won’t be affecting his decisions as a member of the City Council, and states in his formal public explanation of his decision as church pastor that he is a good Council Member, one who has served for many years, and made many good decisions for the benefit of the town. Indeed he starts off his statement defending his church actions with a long rambling campaign appeal about his council work including, “I believe that together we have accomplished some great things and I firmly believe that our best days still lie ahead.” Yes, the words, “snake” or “slithery” may be crossing your mind (they are mine). He then goes on to tell us, in all earnestness, that he doesn’t hate women, indeed, he knows women, some are friends: “I have a number of female acquaintances and friends that work in our business community” Recognize that statement? I do; for instance when my brother told me, “I don’t have a problem with gay people, I know several gay people.” That was until I came out, and suddenly I was going to hell. But then, I guess like Tim Labouf, he knows how to separate his religious and his political viewpoints. Tim doesn’t hate women; I guess in the same way a church viewpoint with white supremacy wouldn’t hate blacks – they are just called (almost against their will, honest!) in judgment before God to use God’s word to smite down those rebellious blacks...I mean gays...I mean 81 year old women.

In true form he tells us: “I will remain prayerful that the various discussions will lead to spiritual growth for many.” Though this may look like another call to agnosticism, in church lingo it means “may God give you a lobotomy so you understand that I am right in all things.” Pastor Tim concludes by saying this has been a learning experience for him. Which I think is very accurate, in the way that Nixon said Watergate was a learning experience too (like “learn not to get revealed to the press”).

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Mini Golf: life lessons from heterosexual suburbia

The more life appears out of control the greater the need for zen life lesson known as MINI GOLF (or putt-putt golf to the Europeans). This is the beauty of mini golf: You face endless obstacles, becoming more and more absurd; actual skill is often a handicap, you have no idea of whether you are doing well or what a good score might be, even if you do exceptionally well it is impossible to brag about and at the end of the day, it achieves nothing as your ball disappears forever at the 18th hole. It is the essential span and lessons of life engaged and then forgotten in under an hour.

Still being car deprived, Linda found a bike path that took us to an 18 hole spiritual center called “Mattick’s Farm Mini Golf.” We are currently in that post-move state which involves a lot of deprivation: no car, no TV, no bed, no matching furniture, not many utensils. We like to pretend that we are making some sort of conscious life choice instead of just being poor. I guess not getting massively into debt IS a life choice.

The bike trail undulated through the hills and forest of lower Vancouver island, with occasional hazards of giant mounds of horse poop from the horse riders. But it was shady, and scenic, with ocean views at times, along with the sweet smell of fir, pine and blackberries. It ended at a rural/suburban center in which cradled the flower of middle class heterosexual lifestyle. While everyone stared at the purple haired giant bike riding lesbo with her rainbow bracelets, we overheard conversations of trust funds, whether Ted and Betty would be joining the country club and how a woman facing retirement could make sure the husband wouldn’t suddenly divorce her and take the condo at Whistler. Linda and I felt decidedly out of place. Two hours earlier, in our “alternative” part of town, a shirtless guy, high on something, stumbled down the street after me screaming “Baby!!! Oh baby!!” followed a few minutes later by a 70+ year old guy who told us that he came to this part of town for the good looking girls, and we were the best he had seen today. As “traditional” nuclear families pushed passed us, keeping the children out of arm’s reach, I wondered if this was a place for me. Soon after, a 20-something cute girl, wearing a gummy bear as a necklace, told me she like my purple, I smiled and then she handed me a putter.

As for the actual game, it is hard to comment. I was the only person in the party to get a hole in one, but then, it was a hole in one at MINI GOLF. Plus, I actually missed what I was shooting for, bounced off a lot of other things and ended up in the hole. Success was a random accident when skill went totally wrong; you see how great a microcosm of life this is? It seemed that this particular mini golf course was a bit low budget since many of the obstacles were large rocks. I live on the top of a mountain range rising out of the sea, so large rocks are pretty common. I was sort of hoping to avoid monsters, or fiendish traps; to have my struggles on the course tinged with mythic, perhaps even heroic elements. The other main obstacles were cement logs. What legend drawn from the heroic myths talks of a hero bounced off her course because she keeps hitting giant boulders? Oh well, I learned many life lessons out there; just me, the purple ball matching my hair, the putter and lots of rocks and logs. I probably should have written them down because later we drank champagne while watching British mysteries on DVD and cuddled like two squirrels in a jar of peanut butter. All my zen observations from the course like “pounding the ground with your club in frustration does not make your ball go through the cement toadstools any faster” are now muddled with the memory of trying to find and kiss all of Linda’s peach fuzz. That might be a life lesson all on its own.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Thong days, waxing, brazilian and Neitzsche

In life there are disasters which hit you all at once (“We’re repossessing your house”) and those that chop away; death by a thousand paper cuts. I lost this week to paper cuts. But so what? As my grandfather told me; “What do you do when life hands you lemons?” Make lemonade? What are you talking about? No, you go up on the roof and throw them at your neighbors (“look’ee ma! See em run!”).

You know I was all set up for this 31 day challenge, which has now been postponed a few days. Last Monday William from fencing asked me how the challenge was going. When I let him know there were problems in starting that day he said, “Oh, it’s hard to start a new project on a Monday.” Actually, I told him, I tend to have difficulties starting projects on days ending in Y.

Let me give you an example: On Wednesday I got a call from my doctor’s office chastising me because I did not show up to the appointment the previous day with the specialist Dr. Quinn. Appointment? What type of specialist is Dr. Quinn? When was I notified of the appointment? There was a lot of “I’m reviewing the records” and then they hung up. The next day, another call. I had been rescheduled as a special favor, at the exact same time I have another doctor’s appointment. “Well, you’ll just have to sort it out yourself.” I was told. As yet, I still have no idea what specialty the doctor might be – I think it might be either heart or gynecology. I’d really like to know so I can arrange my thong days.

Yesterday I went to get my eyebrows shaped; which actually was suppose to happen after I turned my hair purple on Tuesday, except that they kept saying they were full and it would take another hour, until we ran out of hours. I do not recommend going to a beauty instruction academy for anything involving wax. The girl doing my eyebrows was graduating in two weeks. She started by dropping wax into my hair. The instructor came over, many, many times. Getting my eyebrows shaped usually takes about 5 minutes. 35 minutes later we were still at it. “You are leaving some eyebrow, right?” I asked, “I won’t have to paint them on?” The girl started talking how lucky I was to have so much to start with. “That a big problem now?” I asked, “Women coming in with big sighs talking about being cursed with their thin arching eyebrow like top models?” The instructor came over to check and found that strange parts of my forehead were covered with wax. “We got zealous and I know there is only one eyebrow left, but it’s well shaped right?” I asked. The instructor laughed. Before leaving I told the girl that she had convinced me of one thing; I was never getting a Brazilian wax done there (for the guys, a Brazilian wax is having your public hairs ripped out – it’s intimate and painful). Why? Well, first it was the 8 beds crammed into a room with all the privacy of an overcrowded ER. Second it was the numerous consults. “Instructor, I’m half done this Brazilian, can you come check? Actually, bring the class of new students to observe too!”

Meanwhile, doctors on two different continents have been working to try and get me a medication which I really need to live a normal life. This wonder medication, for example, interrupts some sort of spinal neural response that can give people with certain types of chronic pain almost total pain elimination. This drug is used around the world with virtually no side effects. It either works on you or it doesn’t. I’m one of the people it does. But, because it replaces so many other drugs, it has been consistently blocked by US companies for FDA approval (though 4 months ago the European company was bought out by Pfizer so FDA approval should come in a year or two). My Canadian doctor has petitioned the Canadian Government which in turn asked Pfizer to give me the drug, though US unapproved, on a special humanitarian exemption (which they can chose to do). When I left the UK, my UK doctor gave me enough for 6 months, which is now gone, but can only give me more if I fly back to the UK to get a prescription in person, he did however suggest I try an on-line pharmacy. I found what seemed a US based one and faxed in my prescription. Yesterday afternoon I received notification that I would not be granted an exemption and they suggested that I seek alternative possibilities. Alternatives? Do they mean alcohol? Valium? Nietzsche?

So it looked like I would be stuck paying for everything myself from the US online pharmacy (since my Canadian doctor is happy to give me prescriptions). Until I got to my US Post office box this morning to find a letter from the FDA saying my medication had been seized from the US mail (permanently), for, ironically, my own protection. Ouch! So I am $80 poorer and back to square one. Then, on returning to Canada, I was sent to Canadian Customs special duties inspection for bringing back a used DVD box set of Remington Steele worth $18.50. Me, big time smuggler!

I think right now my life can be summed up by this actual conversation I had with my favorite postal worker:

Her: “Bad news?”

Me: “Well, there may be a gun and a tall tower in my future.”

Her: “I never heard that, and when they ask, I know nothing about you.”

Me: “That’s good.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nellie McClung's eugenics: her shame and our heritage

Nellie McClung is a feminist hero of Canada. She was a popular novelist, helped improve the conditions of working women and was one of the “famous five” women who worked to have women recognized as equal under the law; gaining women the right to vote and hold political office. In my town, the library is named after her (since she lived in Gordon Head, Victoria late in life). When my book came out, the publisher wanted to know if I was related to her as it would have boosted sales. She was the only Canadian female delegate to the League of Nations and she may be chosen as one of the faces on the $50 bill. Oh yes, and she was responsible for the forced sterilization of thousands of Canadian men and women (primarily women).

Nellie McClung was, with other feminists, a proponent of Eugenics, which means “well born” and uses the breeding ideas for cattle and other animals toward humans. Darwin’s grandson founded the British branch of Eugenics and the idea of improving society by selective breeding soon caught on in the frontier lands. “In 1924, the United Farm Women of Alberta, led by the likes of Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy and Nellie McClung, launched a massive campaign of support for the implementation of a province-wide sterilization plan.” According to Emily Murphy, the first Canadian woman Magistrate: "Insane people are not entitled to progeny." Nellie McClung, who became MLA for the province of Alberta in the 20’s, argued that legislation was needed for forced sterilizationa and that "young simple-minded girls," would particularly benefit. Mrs. Margaret Gunn, the President of the United Farm Women of Alberta campaigned for Eugenics with the statement “democracy was never intended for degenerates.”

With Nellie McClung’s support on March 21, 1928 Alberta passed The Sexual Sterilization Act; the first sterilization act in the entire British empire. It stated: “the patient may safely be discharged if the danger of procreation with its attendant risk of multiplication of the evil by transmission of the disability to the progeny were eliminated, the board may direct ...sexual sterilization of the inmate..”

It was such a popular idea that the westernmost province British Columbia (where Nellie McClung moved) started their own forced sterilization program five years later. In 1942 Alberta expanded the act to include those with epilepsy and syphilis. Alberta was the most vigorous in all the British Empire with their sterilization policies, approving almost 5000 cases before the four member Eugenics board was disbanded in 1972. Yet, they still managed to approve 55 sterilizations even in their last year of existence. From 1929 to 1972 only 46 out of 4785 cases for sterilization were turned down. Dr. Jana Grekul for her dissertation went though the minutes of the board, examining each case. “Her two years of research revealed that nearly two-thirds of the patients referred to the board had no documented genetic condition.” So, the genetic "reasoning" behind sterilization turned into something else. The Eugenics board went specifically after women, teenagers and the native population: “Beginning in the 1940s, women were more likely to be presented to the Board, even though they constituted less than 40% of all patients in the feeder institutions. On average, 64% of all women who were presented were sterilized...Although teenagers and young adults made up less than 20% of the Albertan population at the time, they comprised 44% of all presented cases, and 55% of all sterilization cases..In the last few years that the Act was in place, Indians and Métis comprised about 27% of the sterilizations, although they were only accountable for 2.5% of the population.”

The girls who were sterilized had often been previously transferred to Schools for Mentally Defectives and determined to be of low IQ. In reality, many been sexually and physically abused and then dumped by foster or step parents, as was the case of Leilani Muir, who successfully sued the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization.

In British Columbia the fear of the influx of Slavic immigrants from the Anglo Saxon settlers put the blame of societal breakdown as genetic traits (mental illness, alcoholism, sexual degeneracy, etc). Locals then passed thier own Eugenics law and started the British Columbia three person Eugenics Board. It lasted a year longer than Alberta, ending in 1973. There is no exact count of how many people were sexually sterilized in British Columbia because ALL the records of the board were conveniently destroyed.

This subject, besides research for my novel, has a particular interest for me. After all I was born in British Columbia, one of the few provinces to have a sexual sterilization law. I was also, at age six, determined to be mentally defective and the teachers wanted to send me to one of “those schools.” This was because I was writing everything backwards and I tended to freak out around noise (in fact that’s why I didn’t go to kindergarten: too noisy). Around this time my father started reading to me the children’s book Leo the Late Bloomer (nice try Dad). A little while later they noticed me doing math problems and had me retested. This time it said I was a genius and the talk of moving me to a "special school" was dropped (Hey, 1 vote for extremely high IQ, 1 vote for low IQ: still could go either way). But, yeah, there is a bit of the “There but a twist of fate and parents who didn’t immediately accept everything they were told go I”

Lest we think that “gee…that was all in the past.” Manitoba in 1990 and 1992 proposed bringing back a partial consent sterilization program (where involuntary sterilizations would only be done if it was in the patients "best interest"). Also only in a 1986 court case did the Supreme Court of Canada decide that a parent or guardian could not sterilize their ward without consent. This was from the “Eve” case where a mother wanted to sterilize her mentally challenged adult daughter. The daughter didn't want to, nor did she want to stop seeing her boyfriend (which was why the mother decided to sterilize her).

Not that the US wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about Eugenics as well, with 30 states having Eugenics laws, the first proposed law was in Michigan in 1897. By 1942 thirteen states had various forms of “three strike” laws which beyond incarceration allowed courts to sterilize prisoners against their will.

Virginia, for example, forcibly sterilized 7,450 individuals, stopping in 1979. “Virginia’s law asserted that "heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime…" It focused on "defective persons" whose reproduction represented "a menace to society."

The first person Virginia sterilized was Carrie Buck, whose mother gave birth to her at an asylum, and Carrie also had a child but was NOT married (insert grim, moralistic music). Carrie was charged with hereditary sexual promiscuity and “feeblemindedness.” Modern research has shown that the defense and State lawyer made an agreement so that the sterilization law would be enacted, and that she was not “feebleminded” as she got A’s and B’s in school and was on the honor roll. Nor was she “sexually promiscuous” but her child was produced when she was raped by a relative of her foster parents (before she was dumped back as a State ward).

The principal targets of the American program were those mentally challenged and the mentally ill; but many states also targeted the deaf, blind and epileptic. Native Americans were particularly targeted and were sterilized, not only against their will, but often without even their knowledge, while they were in the government controlled hospitals for other reasons.

North Carolina, who forcibly sterilized over 8,000 is notable in that it increased it’s sterilization AFTER the war more than before (three times more). It stopped in 1974, when all records were permanently sealed. Odd, how these governments don’t have a problem sterilizing the most vulnerable and victimized members of society, but they do have a problem, once they decide not to do it anymore, to let anyone read about their glorious handiwork.

The worst victimized group in the US was the Native Americans, who were targeted not in 1920’s but in 1970. Why? Because in 1970 the census came out showing that the average Indian woman bore 3.79 children, whereas the median for all groups in the United States was 1.79 children. Thus the Indian Health Services (IHS) started a policy of sterilization as a form of birth control: targeting the women and using deception, lying and any other means.

This was not an isolated idea. In 1977 Dr. R.T. Ravenholt, director of the United States Agency for International Development (office for population control), said “the United States hoped to sterilize 25 per cent of the world's roughly 570 million fertile women. Ravenholt linked such control measures to the "...normal operation of U.S. commercial interests around the world."”

"Various studies revealed that the Indian Health Service sterilized between 25 and 50 percent of Native American women between 1970 and 1976." (Source: The American Indian Quarterly 24 no.3 pgs 400-419 Summer 2000)”. “A young Indian woman entered Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri's Los Angeles office on a November day in 1972. The twenty-six-year-old woman asked Dr. Pinkerton-Uri for a "womb transplant" because she and her husband wished to start a family. An Indian Health Service (IHS) physician had given the woman a complete hysterectomy when she was having problems with alcoholism six years earlier. Dr. Pinkerton-Uri had to tell the young woman that there was no such thing as a "womb transplant" despite the IHS physician having told her that the surgery was reversible.” Marie Sanchez, the Northern Cheyennes' chief tribal judge found two fifteen year old girls who said that they had been told they were having their tonsils out, only to emerge from a local IHS hospital without their ovaries.

The US General Accounting Office conducted a study which, while not explicitly stating that the IHS was coercing forced sterilizations, did conclude that the IHS was NOT following the guidelines of informed consent. “In a lot of cases, women were told that hysterectomies could be reversed, that they would lose the children that they already had, lose the federal aid that they were getting if they did not comply, or were given consents to sign when they were still drugged after having given birth to other children (Akwesasne Notes Spring 1977).”

While the rest of North America was quietly ending Eugenics laws, on the US Reservations, the IHS coerced sterilizations were actually increasing: “A study of the Navajo Reservation sponsored by the Public Health Service, calculated that the percentage of interval sterilizations had doubled from 15% in 1972 to 31% in 1978” In 1979 a researchers' visit to a single facility in Claremore found 81 sterilizations in six months with nurses who "validated that sterilizations were occurring and with greater frequency." By the by, because sterilization was done by the IHS, that meant this whole action was federally funded. When tribal bands finally took over health agencies in the late 70’s and 80’s the program of sterilization was ended.

Is there sense in the horror? Not much, except that this didn’t occur in Nazi Germany (though Hitler did get a lot of ideas from the long running US and Canadian Eugenics programs), but with the "good folks" and heroic feminists of these shores of "freedom." These were feminists and national heroes who advocated that women who were different than they were, or didn’t have the same moral values they did should have removed, against their will, the right to ever bear children. I had nightmares last night after reading the material. I’m glad I did. I hope I never forget what can happen when people use the “common good” to take away an individuals right to choose. Or how easy it is to do horrific acts...but with the best of intentions.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This day, this year, this life; Linda choses me!

Thirteen years ago today, Linda and I promised ourselves to each other. We were young, innocent and only knew that being apart was making us crazy. I flew to her small town and we packed her car with her grandmother’s quilts, her flute and anything we could fit in there. It was exciting, very intoxicating sitting next to each other in the car and knowing this was the start of our new life together. We stopped in tiny Montana town at 2:00 am to play on the school ground swings, then giddy with each other, immediately drove off the road and threw a pound of gravel into the engine. When our fan belt broke two States later the mechanic opened up the hood and there was gravel still scattered on top of the engine. What a giant sigh and look we got from him.

We were romantic, impetuous, and couldn’t figure out why couples fought. Then we fought, and fell in love all over again. One night, when we were first seeing each other, she wanted to show me the lakeside in moonlight. The mosquitoes ate me alive. Coming back, the moonlight behind her, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was terrified because I couldn’t control how I felt about her. This is how I was introduced to love.

Well, it is thirteen years later and to most people I’m just one in that odd animal “BethandLinda” who through we look total different are for some reason indistinguishable. “You’re B…B…L…oh I never know which is which.” I can’t say I’m sorry. I still not sure what love is exactly, but everyone thinks we’ve got it. Even Christians and relatives who want to believe that we’ll break up because we’re not “normal”, have to remove themselves from seeing us, citing as a curse, “It’s not right, but you obviously love each other.” We do? Guess so. I like being around Linda, even when I don’t like being around humans (they are as a species often disappointing). I like hearing her voice, I like her smile, I even like to watch her sleep (until I whisper “roll over, you’re snoring!”) I don’t know if I believe in the love of God, but if I do it is only because I have known the love of Linda (Oh, the Pastor’s go insane when I say that).

We wake every morning knowing that there is nothing keeping us together except wanting to be together. We don’t have a pet, or a car, or a house. We don’t have people expecting us to stay together, oddly, after all this time, we still have quite a few who want us to break apart (Linda still gets offers to “come back home if things don’t work out”). We know we could have a bad day; that we could say things to hurt the other (and some days we do). And yet here we are. In all my life, my claim to greatness is this; I knew and loved one person who made me a better person than I could be on my own.

Happy Anniversary Linda.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Zed update, possible striptease & big in K.C.

Okay, a quick update on the novel Zed before I start obsessing on my about to be rewritten novel Control Group (I am looking for a catcher title – I wanted Kontrol but it was the title last year for a Hungarian film about people who live entirely in the Budapest subway system – which starts with an long apology from the writer/director that the film is not being negative about the Hungarian subway systems but that it is instead a METAPHOR).

It seems that the US press isn’t really interested in reviewing my book Zed, though whether that has more to do with the fact that the book wasn’t published until weeks AFTER it won the Book of the Year award, I couldn’t say (not bitter, honest!). Suck! So if you have read the book and you live in the US, can you please register than you have read it for LibraryThing. It is also a good way to record which books you have read. But if Zed gets to 10 on LibraryThing, I get a toaster. Right now, I don’t have a toaster.

I am in the running for the Butler Book Prize, the shortlist comes out in a few weeks. This is the annual prize for the best writing from a Victoria author in the last year. It is a really horrid event as the five finalists have to go to a dinner and then give readings of their work, and the local press reports how well they read. Then they announce the winner (which they knew before that night and has nothing to do with how well anyone read). BUT, the prize is $5,000, and for that kind of money, I am willing to do magic tricks, or maybe a striptease. I just think that having five people get emotionally worked up and doing readings so that four of them can sit there later going, “Damn!” really stinks. Plus, I read badly. I really wish I had one of those voices that is rich and mellow and makes the work wondrous. Instead, people think I am on speed. Or coming down off speed. In fact you can almost smell the sour post-cranked state in my stumbling-ripping-ever racing on voice. I also have a problem of stopping abruptly and blinking rapidly while people look at each other with raised eyebrows and about seven people decide to clap. But, again...$5000.

If you live in Kansas City, the library has made a little on-line display about how Zed is soon appearing at the library. So, I’m big in Kansas City. If you have read the book Zed and liked it, please recommend it, and point out that you can pick it up for $8 plus shipping on A woman at Linda’s work read it, and liked it, and then told Linda that she was really glad that someone as dark and imaginative as me had someone as stable as Linda to be with. I have to say I liked it better when people were worried about Zed falling into the hands of children than when they read it and decide to make sure I stay away from gun shops and town towers. I’m really not that deranged and violent. Okay, Linda did stop me trying to leave the house yesterday with a butcher knife which I only wanted to SHOW a couple guys, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Incest: In family sexual abuse the child pays

The US and Canada are countries in which children pay the human cost for the unchecked sexual desires of those who “protect” them. It is called incest. Of course as a child, you don’t call it incest, even as an adult it is hard to connect the sexual abuse experienced to word which is so bad that according to Patricia D. McClendon, “talking about incest is a bigger taboo than incest itself.”

Incest is "...the sexual abuse of a child by a relative or other person in a position of trust and authority over the child.” That can include siblings or uncles, indeed father/daughter incest is one of the lowest percentages; step-father becomes significantly higher. Incest is a “shame” word, which implies that any participant, even unwilling or forced, is someone filthy and taboo. 46 percent of children who are raped are victims of family members; Eleven percent (11%) of (all) rape victims are raped by their fathers or step-fathers, and another 16 percent (16%) are raped by other relatives. But that’s not news to anyone is it? We don’t talk about it, but it goes on and on.

What is news to me is that many states complicitly sanction sexual child abuse as long as it is by family members, fathers in particular. This is done through what is called the “incest exception” in which parents or close family members who commit sexual abuse are given significantly lesser sentences. For example, in Illinois, If a person molests a child, he faces up to 30 years in prison. If he molests his own child, he can get immediate probation. These probations are meant to “keep the family together” which usually requires mandatory family counseling. So if as a young child you manage to report sexual abuse to someone who believes you, you go through the entire process of having people calling you a liar (Statistics show that in 98% of cases children's statements are found to be true), then you end up right back facing the person who sexually abused you in counseling to help THEM. Loopholes are often put in for state workers such as the Maryland rule that state workers having sex with a minor detained in a care facility are subject to a maximum of three years or a $3000 fine (to put that in perspective, if you make and sell pirate DVD’s you face 5-8 times the financial and prison penalties). Hmmm, how many times can you have forced or coerced sex with minors in your care for $3000, I wonder? A full list of the states with “incest exceptions” is found here.

The National Association to Protect Children works to close these loopholes, often with significant difficulty. A couple years ago, they worked to change North Carolina’s incest law which remained unchanged from a 1879 “law that said an uncle who raped his niece was guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by 45 days of community service”; a father would get probation. To draft a new law and get it passed met with resistance, as one state senator who initially voted against the law stated:

“Everybody down here just wants to punish somebody. Hell, I got this old boy back home, I can't get him out of jail! He fondled his niece—no penetration or anything, you know. Those sons of bitches gave him two years!"

"How old was the girl, Senator?"

"Aw hell, I don't know… Four?! Five?!"

Clearly sexually molesting young children is viewed by some as a "victimless crime."

What society currently ignores are the real costs, which are carried, not by the people who initiate and are responsible for the sexual abuse, but by the abused themselves. Common costs (oten at 50% of those abused or higher) for those who were victims of incest include: eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, Substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts, and psychological need for treatment. “In addition, almost two-thirds of the women stated that they never or rarely went to the doctor or the dentist as the examination was too terrifying for them.” If you want a taste of the real cost of incest and sexual abuse, read Rhonda’s story on Wiccychicky’s blog.

For those who have been abused by their fathers or father figures, the cost seems excessively high; currently “There are 162,000 homeless youth estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States and 61% of homeless girls and 19% of homeless boys reported having been sexually abused before leaving home.” Of those engaged in prostitution or survival sex, 66% were abused by their father or step father. In sexually abusing a daughter, a father or stepfather breaks the core trust of what protection is. These acts done to them redefine the very ways these girls view themselves and those around them. Male therapists to homeless survival sex teens often report that after they connect and form a bond with young female runaways, sex is offered, and when refused the girl becomes angry and confused. Sex is how these girls define who they trust. Father figures forcing themselves on young, often pre-pubescent girls give them a dilemma of who is good and who is bad. Can you want to love your father so much that you must be bad, so they can remain, in your eyes, the protecting and loving daddy? The sad truth is that, with the assistance of society and the law, the lights of young men and women are crushed, dimmed; sometimes made into literal human discards while those who did this to those under their care go on.

If children could be commoditized as easily as the DVD box set of Lost Season 2 or Pirates of the Caribbean, then laws would already be working through legislatures to protect them. Sadly, it is up to individuals, many still struggling with the shame and stigma placed on them, to say what should be self evident: sexually abusing your own family members is bad. Really bad. People get screwed up; for life. Let's stop it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My 31 day challenge: can you help?

I am going to take a 31 day challenge; but I need your help (don't worry it's not money, just your life experience I need...that and sexy, sexy photos). The 31 day challenge is where I push myself to try and complete something, usually something complete absurd in 31 days. I think I once read something about Confucius advising that a musical instrument could be learned by spending 16 hours for 16 days. I thought, “what if I just half one and double the other?”

When I was going to college and working in a bookshop I took the challenge of reading 100 books in 31 days (everyone who worked there got to pick 10). I failed, but ended up reading 80+ books that I wouldn’t have otherwise. When I wanted to learn the double bass, I practiced 4 hours a day for 31 days and got the basics down pat and when I wrote Zed I wrote the entire first draft in 31 days.

Right now, I am stuck on with my revision of my novel Control Group. I know what needs to be done; a complete rewrite of all characters, cutting some chapters entirely and rewriting everything else. So I have decided to give myself a 31 day challenge. To immerse myself entirely in the work, hours and hours every day until I either am found huddled on the floor, drooling and muttering “so many split infinitives” or I succeed (or make so much progress that the rest is merely clean up).

This is where I need your help. Spending hours and hours on editing and rewriting, I have found that because I am in the same mental state, the work becomes slightly stale. I used the same descriptive words. Someone is “placidly ironic” on page 42, 44 and 46. When you spend so much time in the same head space in such a short period of time, it tends to capture a single linguistic picture. To counter this I try to read a book every day, particularly authors who have such dominating world views that they tend to take over your mind. Reading books like these are an enforced kick-in-the-head to my creative and linguistic centers and keeps the language and imagery from getting stale.

If anyone can help me out by suggesting books I would be in your debt. It doesn’t matter about the author, subject or genre (though fiction is preferred) as long as the author has a distinctive and unique world view. Examples from last rewrite are the depression writer, David Goodis, who wrote Don’t shoot the Piano Player or Peter Hoeg’s Borderlines or Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Memoirs are good too, as when I was rewriting Zed I read a lot of memoirs from the Vietnam war. Sorry the stuff about the need for sexy, sexy photos was a lie (well, any other month, just not this month - too distracting!).

I have four days to fit my study with time locks, get my paper, pens, stocks of root beer, pretzels and books to read before I begin my functional insanity (spending that much time with so many imaginary people in your head, talking to them, interviewing them, finding out their likes and dislikes, it makes me a bit...odd). So please, any help or book suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Men: the creeps, the possessive & good guys

I don’t hate men. Wait, let me revise that, I don’t hate ALL men. It’s just that as soon as a guy starts interacting from the point of view of his penis or with the assumption that as a guy he must be smarter and more capable than me he tends to move into the “Die! Die! Die!” category. And a lot of guys I meet seem to want to leap into this category.

A couple days ago, I am in the library looking at a couple books on vampires when I hear a sucking, hissing sound a couple feet away. I look up and this creepy mustached guy is doing a Hannibal Lector impression at me. He has been waiting for me to look up, and gives me this half face leer then walks past. My first reaction: leave the library. My second reaction: WTF! Guys that hit on me tend to have this strong possessive aspect but come on, making the sucking noises Hannibal Lector makes to Clarice in Silence of the Lambs as seduction. What kind of sicko is that?

The next day, I am buying groceries and this guy with his hand covered in a bandage follows me into an aisle. I put down my basket and he sort of moves between me and my basket, bumping his body into mine. I think, “Maybe my basket is blocking where he wants to shop.” So I pick it up and move to the produce, looking for a decent green pepper. Nope, he’s still following me and though there is plenty of room, stops to rub his body on me, sliding up beside me. “What you been doing?” is his first question, which is kinda odd and possessive but years of social training kick in and I tell him I went blackberry picking today. All the while I am trying to dump back the green peppers and go, but he has blocked me in. Linda, who has been in another part of the store, arrives, and turning to me says, “Can you help me find something?” We take off. We get in the que to leave and because there are people already behind us when he finds us again, he gets in the line next to us. We are almost running as the groceries are packed, trying to make it half way down the block so that he can’t follow us and find out where we live.

The next morning we are walking down to play tennis when we hear, “You didn’t tell me you were a tennis girl!” It’s the guy from yesterday, only without a shirt and striding down a side street toward us staring hard at me (What? You OWN me now? I HAVE to tell you everything?). We walk faster and glance back to make sure he doesn’t keep following. We notice how he totally focused on me, even though there were two of us. Though I already have 4 semi-stalkers, I told Linda that he scares me more than the rest of them. Because while all they talk about is sex or sexual innuendo, this guy, as soon as he targeted me, started touching. The others talk but don’t touch. This guy already crossed that boundary and quite honestly is going to make leaving the house alone a bit of a worry for a while. Near midnight, last night some guy starts screaming outside my apartment “Bitch! Whore! Slut!” I ran to the window to check. Nope, not my guy, just ANOTHER guy venting his anger combined with sexual frustration at women.

I do have to wonder about the assumptive sexual possessiveness of guys. A professor at PCC, my old community college blogs about his colleague who during the length of his course, is marking the young women (age 18) in his class on a scale of how sexually attractive they are to him. It takes a while because he wants to see all the women in different outfits before finalizing his list. And he does this for every class. Yet this is defended as a “typical guy thing.” Though guys agree that making lists of which girls under your authority sexually excite you and how much is WRONG if the girls are 14, it is “fair play” if they are 18, because it is legal to have sex with them. Yeah. Again, not convincing me on liking guys.

But there are guys who I have had friendships with during my life, the “good guys”. See I don’t hate ALL men, there are good ones, including:

Stafford: We were best friends from ages 8-11 when he moved back to Kenya with his family. We were poor but had lots of imagination. We also cured each other of smoking as we found some brown sticky paper and tries smoking some rolled up dry grass we found sticking out between the pavement. Much choking later we concluded smoking was for idiots and I’ve never tried smoking since.

Dave: While on the down side, Dave is perpetually obsessed with women and has some strange theory about how they are taunting him. On the plus side, he is always there for his friends and his apartment has always been open to hang out. I got drunk the first time at his place (on purpose to see what it felt like). And he twice traveled across the country just to see me. Anytime someone is willing to shell out big bucks to cheer you up, they go into the good guy category.

Keith: He was my first decent therapist and I didn’t find him threatening because he was gay. Actually he wasn’t gay, but he says everyone thinks he is. Anyway, it proved to me that there are guys out there who know how to keep both trusts and boundaries.

Chris: He is the all around worst worker I have ever met; he steals, he tries to sneak off and sleep on the job, or brings a handheld game console to work to try and play during shifts. However, when I was being harassed from locals and my car was getting repaired, he came and drove me to work, even when he wasn’t on, so I didn’t have to worry about it. He also was the only one of all my colleagues and staff who would testify about the sexual orientation harassment I was receiving at from my supervisors, their supervisors and the management.

Les & Simon: A gay couple who befriended us and took us places we had never been (like a gay club stripper night – Les sometimes forgets that not everyone likes naked men as much as he does). Les looks like a Welsh Rupert Evert and Simon is your over-enthusiastic choir director. They got us into a male only monastery for chapel and always kept us entertained with their plans and ideas (like a sea side retirement home for gay guys with the whole building painted a rainbow).

Gerald: Well, we all know about Gerald. He’s a pretty good listener and can take both physical and verbal abuse easily. He does tend to get a bit odd around sexual subject and keeps saying, “You have to remember, I come from a different generation.” To which I reply, “Yeah, the generation which invented free love.”

I didn’t include any guys I haven’t met, though there are a few great guys from the internet that I would like to meet. But see, I don’t hate ALL men. Now if you could pass the word to some of the creeps round here, I could get to leave my apartment a little more often.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Summer epee: wacky attacks and gloating

As summer drags on, so does the weary epeeist. With the fencing salle largely empty, while others are vacationing, swimming and having barbeques; I try to convince myself that getting bruised in a very hot building in a lot of protective wear is fun, fun, fun!

William had emailed me to let me know that his doctor hadn’t cleared him from his strep-throat so he wouldn’t be there. Mr. Ho does not like ill people because a) they are inferior fencers and b) they could infect his superior fencers. He treats his “professional” fencers a bit like low-immunity race horses. Due to Mr. Ho’s martial arts background I told William I would tell Mr. Ho that he wasn’t sick but up doing special training in the mountains. In the martial arts stories “special training in the mountain” is a sign of dedication. Apparently Mr. Ho doesn’t know those stories.

Rodney and Gerald were again the only epeeists there to begin with so we started to get set up. “Where’s William?” Mr. Ho wanted to know. I gave him the spiel about mountain training. “He’s climbing a mountain!?! That’s no good! He could climb 1,000 mountains and get no better at fencing.” This really agitated Mr. Ho and for the next ten minutes he just walked around randomly shouting, “Why climb a mountain? It’s no good!” Oops, sorry William. Once he calmed down about William he came over and asked Rodney if he was getting fat. What a motivator!

We fenced, did some blade engagement/arm attack practice and fenced some more. I fenced with Rodney, lunged and hit what I thought was his groin. “Missed by inches” he told me. “Oh. I don’t think I’ve ever hit you in the groin.” I said to Rodeny. I turned to Gerald and asked him, “Have I hit you in the groin?”

“Not tonight, Elizabeth” he answered dryly.

Last week in fencing Gerald and I had been reduced to siblings in the back of the car on a road trip as Gerald would say, “Bet you’re not going to lower your hand.” And so I would lower my hand saying, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

Gerald wanted to know my “plan” for the night. I told him I had been watching Luc Besson films like Nikita and Leon as part of my new training program to be a female assassin; but still had issues about not wanting to hurt or kill people and the problem regarding epee that assassins usually attack people from behind, in surprise. So far, I hadn’t been able to work out how to get behind people while fencing to stab them. “What I need,” I told Gerald, “are dirty tricks.”

“Dirty tricks?” Gerald perked up as he picked up his helmet to fence, “I’ll show you dirty tricks.”

“This isn’t where you throw down money and then hit people when they try to pick it up is it?”

He just gave me a withering look and put on his helmet. Rodney called “fence” and Gerald shouted, “look” pointing over my shoulder while straightening his sword and flying at me with a fleche. Come on Gerald, how stupid does you think I....Oh, he hit me. Point Gerald.

Fine! Two can play that game.

As soon as “fence” is called I shout, “Shoelace untied” to Gerald while I lunge. He remains unfazed. Maybe he’s seen that one before. Point Gerald. Fine, the next point I do my “Jumping Jack Flash!” where I jump spread eagle into the air and then immediately lunge upon landing. Gerald is ready but shaken. We get double points.

By this time the entire fencing salle including some people walking down the hall have stopped to watch our match.

In the next point Gerald chases me to the end of the strip before lunging. I step into it and try to hit his arm somehow turning so my back is to Gerald. He tries to run past. I block him with my bum and immediately start thrusting under my arm with the epee, trying to stab Gerald before he can get away. I still have my back to Gerald but run backward down the strip jabbing at him as he tries to escape while gasping from laughter. Somehow he manages to hit me. Curses.

“Elizabeth! First rule of Epee, you must turn around!” Mr Ho is shouting at me. I nod my head gravely as Rodney and Gerald are reduced to helpless laughter. Mr. Ho continues, “If you show back it is easy to hit you. Face forward!” I tell him that I will defiantly give that a try.

Gerald says, “I think we’ve lost what little credibility we had.”

Next I try a move that I actually worked out the day before (yeah, I do think about these things). I crouch on the ground, sword arm out threatening Gerald who looks down at me in confusion. “Ribbit!” And I leap straight up at him. Point Beth. Gerald admits that “Frog attack” is pretty formidable. It worked so well I tried it with Rodney later; successful again!

Gerald and I get to 4-4. I know that Gerald loves to lunge at 4-4 so I prepare a move I saw a German woman use at the World Cup. The second he lunged I leapt vertically as high as I can, aiming my epee straight down at his forearm. He misses his lunge and I start keening with excitement until I see that the tip of my epee has missed his forearm entirely. He recovers and lunges again as I land while screaming “No, No, No!” Bout Gerald.

Please be careful with some of these moves; remember we are trained fencers; no matter what Mr. Ho screams at us.

I finish the evening facing Gerald again. It starts well when I get a beauty of a forearm hit. This inspires a little dance with lots of hip and arm movements. “Mustn’t gloat” Gerald tells me.

“What?” I demand, “Gloating is the point of making hits like that.” Gerald has his game together and starts a series of attacks. But I have magic point and attitude and we get a series of doubles which bring us past 5-5, 6-6 to 7-7. I accompany every double with more mocking hand and body gestures. Waggling my fingers off my nose is a favorite.

I know that Gerald is going to fleche and raise my arm, already tasting the victory dance I am about to invent for him. But as he fleches he uses a strong beat on my blade which flings my arm too far aside to block his attack. I realize a full second before his tip hits that the bout is his and by the time the he touches me I am already screaming in frustration.

“That’s the best way to win, isn’t it Gerald” I say as we shake hands, “having your opponent screaming in the horror of defeat before you even touch them.” He looks at me and gloats, just a little.

Pic 1 -

Friday, August 04, 2006

In Las Vegas pigeons get food; homeless get penny slots

When in a city park is it legal to feed the birds but not the humans? When you feed them in Las Vegas. Just over a week ago the Mayor and Las Vegas city council passed a ordinance which made it illegal to feed a homeless person in a city park with up to $1000 fine and/or six months in jail. Already seven people have been fined and three arrested for feeding the homeless. The resolution passed unanimously.

The city claims that the ordinance is because they care, that when the homeless use the city parks they are pulled away from the care they could be receiving at shelters. Yet the shelters are strategically placed in “the corridor” far away from the tourist areas, and center of town and contain only hundreds of beds for the 12,000 Las Vegas Homeless, now 1.2% of the official population. Also, the area is considered dangerous, even by homeless men, who sometimes opt to avoid it at night or carry knives for safety.

The downtown city park opens from 7 am to 7 pm, and the police frequently raid and arrest homeless entering before or after those times for trespassing. Yet it is these visual reminders that all may NOT be perfect in the city of free flowing alcohol and gambling which is a major irritant to the mayor who had previously brought up privatizing parks in order to be able to charge all homeless with trespassing at all times of day and night saying in support: “I don’t want them there. They’re not going to be there. I’m not going to let it happen. They think I’m mean now; wait until the homeless try to go over there.”. How are law enforcement going to know who is homeless and who isn’t? If the person looks like they need assistance, then they fall into the target scope, “"Certain truths are self-evident," (Mayor) Goodman said. "You know who's homeless." (homeless profiling?)

Las Vegas, who ranked as the meanest city to homeless in 2003 is now holding the number 5 spot. Beyond lack of beds and resources, Las Vegas targets only homeless among the tourists to arrest for trespassing, loitering, and drinking in public, the crackdowns on trespassing lead to longer and longer jail time. They also closed the Crisis Intervention Center and started a program a mouth ago of rounding up homeless against their will for a three day mental health assessments followed by involuntary committal; a program they want to increase. As yet, they haven’t followed Summit, NJ’s example of using the Patriot Act to throw homeless out of public areas based on a Justice Department warning that terrorists could pose as homeless.

The Las Vegas Mayor, Oscar Goodman, was reelected in 2003 with 85.7% of the votes. He is a local, having spent 35 years as a defense lawyer for some of the most famous mob and other organized crime figures including Jimmy Chagra who ordered the murder of a Federal Judge and Chicago mobster Tony Spiloto who was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the Las Vegas mob film, Casino (the film where Goodman also played a cameo role). Mayor Goodman is an erratic character who seems to understand locals and local interests. Apparently he sees no irony in being a spokesperson for Bombay Gin (donating ½ his salary to a private tuition school of $11,000-$15,000 a year founded by his wife to develop “values” to Las Vegas elite children) who in March 3, 2005 told a class of (public school) fourth graders of what he would bring if marooned on a desert island it would be “a bottle of gin” and went on to list “drinking” as his favorite among all his hobbies.

Mayor Goodman takes his duties to Las Vegas seriously; “We're an adult community, an adult playland, let's not pretend to be something we're not. I think anything that's legal should be here.” (Las Vegas Sun 8/2/02). He is adamant against anything that disturbs the vision of the perfect adult playground, not limiting his attack to homeless. In Nov 2005 he suggested that those guilty of graffiti have their thumbs chopped off on television, as well as caning or whipping teen offenders. Earlier this month the mayor considered legal action to stop the upcoming release of the console and PC game Rainbow Six: Las Vegas. Because the game shows terrorist in Las Vegas, the Mayor feels that it could be harmful economically to the image of Las Vegas and thus, “it may be something that's not entitled to free speech”

Mayor Goodman and Las Vegas’s ordinance only highlight a city which sells the idea that anyone can come to Las Vegas, make it big and gamble and drink without consequence. Marta Valenzuela, a health care worker who deals with homeless says, “Ninety percent of my clients have gambling and alcohol problems". The book, The Word on the Street: Homeless men in Las Vegas, recounts homeless getting day jobs through a job lottery (even trying to get work is reduced to gambling?), or earning money though “silver mining” or “credit claimed” by looking for loose chance or unplayed coins around the slot machines. The Western Hotel in Las Vegas is a gambling destination for homeless as they offer penny slots which give a jackpot payoff of just $12…but as importantly comes with two free meal comps. These comps, are frequently sought, as they are sometimes sold off for $2 by those wanting money for drugs or alcohol. There is also 10 cent roulette. Only Las Vegas can find a gambling market for homeless. The city is also famous for exploitation of homeless men with the release of Bum Fight videos where Las Vegas homeless men where encouraged to fight to be filmed for a “reality TV” DVD’s and a online site. Recent videos like Bum Fight III capture multiple scenes of homeless getting beaten by locals and create “Antics” like putting $20 on top of a slippery pole and then filming the homeless men fighting it out to get it. The two men who made Bum Fights, after being found quilty for staging illegal fights, were given community service, which they didn’t do and then lied to the judge about. This resulted last week in a jail sentence of six months. Rufus, a frequent favorite in the videos said, “I think it's a damn light sentence”. He sustains lasting injuries and his friend, also in the videos, is “practically crippled.”

So, for the thousands of homeless in a city hundreds of miles from any other cities, the struggle to survive goes on, just a little harder now. Maybe Mayor Goodman is trying to get his city back up to the number 1 spot for worst city for homeless this year. But, it’s not personal, it’s just business, right? As the Mayor says, “Hatred is not what Las Vegas is about,… We will have zero tolerance for anyone who is intolerant.”; “A place like Las Vegas, which is the greatest city in the world, will not allow anyone to be prejudiced, biased, or hateful.” Eh?