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Ghosts of the Past: the Dark Side of Medieval politics

Ghost of the Past Chinese webLast week the Ghosts of the Past debuted in Chinese language edition thanks to the careful work of some of the best translators in all of Beijing.  One measure of feedback I received from my editor was just how dark and sexy the book was.  Given my well deserved scholarly reputation as a historian, Ghosts of the Past and its equally saucy sequel Princess Anyu Returns might seem out of place from the rest of my work.  Out of place until you look deeper into history and explore the treacherous realm of sexual politics that was the experience for most medieval noble and royal women.

Life for women has always been somewhat of a treacherous experience filled with dangers.  With few or no legal rights or protections, women rarely decided for themselves who to have sex with, let alone marry.  Instead the men in their families, their governments, and their religions held almost complete control over their bodies.  Among women of high social status this meant that women’s bodies were tools for gaining wealth, power, and social status by those in position to use them.

Ghosts of the Past cover webThis social and political reality for women underscores the sometimes brutally dark sides to Beinarian society.  Sex and childbearing are tools the villains (both female and male) use at their leisure to impose their will on others, advancing mysterious agendas that only become clear after Princess Anyu Returns from her exile.   These agendas add spice to both Ghosts of the Past and Princess Anyu Returns with twists and turns around every corner.  Villains use sex and violence freely to achieve their goals, predating on the innocent and using every method at their disposal to thwart the heroes and heroines.  They are just as likely to kill as seduce and use offspring created at the expense of their enemies as weapons against them.

It is a dark, dystopic realm where only the bravest dare tread.

Are you brave enough to travel there?

 

Find the Ghosts of the Past in English on Amazon, Barnes/Noble, Smashwords, and iTunes or in Chinese on Amazon, Chinese Amazon, and Douban.

Myopia Epidemic: Get Outside and Play

This morning twitter gifted me with a fascinating study published this year in Nature magazine entitled, “The myopia boom: Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. Some scientists think they have found a reason why.”

Myopia2The study reports alarming and very dramatic increases in myopia (the scientific term for near-sightedness/short-sightedness) worldwide with Asian myopia rates now well over 90% compared to 10-20% just sixty years ago.

Intriguing in the analysis is the finding that time spent outside correlates with myopia with the highest risk for developing myopia among children and adolescents spending the greatest amount of time indoors and the lowest risk experienced by those spending the most time out of doors.  Activity level was surprisingly not a factor, but light exposure is.

Our eyes need light, especially unfiltered, natural sunlight in order to be healthy.  We need to get out of doors and play.  And on nice days we need to move our classrooms out of doors, something I am pleased to say my teachers did from time to time, especially in springtime.

So get outside — even when the weather is a less than ideal — and help preserve and protect your sight.  You deserve nothing less than healthy eyes.

The fine print: why the Rite Aid brand helps my skin better than Aveeno

Hives are painful.  Hives are common.  Though sometimes they have a clear cause, often the real cause of hives cannot be tracked, even by painful allergy tests.

Since August of this year I’ve been daily attacked by hives, especially at night when dozens of welts erupt all over my body.  At first I did nothing.  Then I tried cream after ointment after cream before going the classic route and picking up a bottle of plain calamine lotion from Rite Aid.  But that lotion is very runny and without anyone available to apply it to my back, I’ve been suffering.  That is when a friend suggested I try Aveeno’s Anti-Itch concentrated lotion which is creamy and easy to apply.

AVO-03690-1

This lotion costs around $12 for only 4 ounces — per ounce more than double the cost of the store brand calamine.  So I had high expectations for it.

To my shock however it does not work — at least not compared to the calamine lotion from the drug store.  This despite the known benefits to the skin of its oat complex and the excellent reputation of the Aveno problem.

A look at the fine print however is revealing.  Because when you strip aside the brand image and look only at active ingredients the answer becomes obvious:  it only contains 3% calamine and 1% pramoxine.  That means the lotion relies mostly on the oat complex the brand is famous for instead of the calamine solution that families have used for decades to successfully address skin diseases and conditions.

By contrast the Rite-Aid calamine lotion contains 8% calamine and 8% zinc oxide, both of them tried and true ingredients for healing and soothing the skin.  Though runny and a bit inconvenient to use, the lotion works — reducing pain and deterring scratching so the skin can heal.

And when that fails another very simple remedy helps me with the pain and swelling:  ICE PACK.

 

 

Fines not Jail Time — A Better Solution to America’s Incarceration Epidemic

Incarceration_rates_worldwideAmerica has an incarceration problem.  The United States has only 5% of the world population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.  Since 1972 the US prison population is overwhelmingly for non-violent crime, especially drug offences.   Most American prisoners are poor and non-white.  Enforcement is overwhelmingly higher among non-whites and sentences are stricter as well.  Recent statistics show that many states pay over $40,000 per prisoner per year to keep them in jail — that’s more than what many teachers are paid.

WI_Incarceration_rates_by_race_0The social consequences for incarceration are even higher.  Our tough stance on non violent crime has wrecked havoc on our communities and broadened the race divide.  What is worse:  given the poverty of most prisoners and the reduced employment opportunities to ex-convicts, there is far less incentive for most ex-cons to stay out of jail.  When life in jail is better than life outside of jail, it becomes understandable why so many choose to return to prison.

There has to be a better way.  I think there is.  Instead of sending non-violent offenders to prison, we FINE THEM.  Money talks.  Money motivates. Just think about how many people take care to follow traffic laws for fear of a speeding or parking ticket?  How many people will park in the correct spot because they don’t want the expense of their automobile being towed?  If we levied hefty fines instead of jail time on non-violent crime, we would save taxpayer money while increasing revenue through the fines themselves — once we close one critical loophole:  bankruptcy.

StudentLoanDebtMap440x281In the United States filing for bankruptcy will discharge your debts — including fines for breaking the law — but it WON’T purge your student loans.  This of course is completely backward.  Student loans need to be forgiven after ten years.  Period.  No one should die still owing student loans.  Twenty years after I graduated student loans, I still owe more than it costs to buy a house in my local area.  Yet if I failed to mention a box of crackers at customs returning to the USA from a trip to Canada, I could get out of my $10,000 fine just by declaring bankruptcy.

This is backwards.

So let’s reverse this.  Let’s increase fines on criminal offences.  Let’s punish with fines instead of jail time.  Let’s prevent bankruptcy from discharging debts owed to states for criminal offences (even parking tickets).  And at the same time, let’s forgive all student loans after ten years, including and especially for those who graduated university before 2005.  You shouldn’t be paying student loans while receiving medicare — but you should be paying back child support if you skip out of your obligations.

To make the system even more fair, let’s make fines follow income resources with the wealthiest paying the highest fines for the same offences.  Earn less than $20,000 a year and your parking ticket (as a simple example) is $25.  Earn $25 million a year and your parking ticket is $2500.

We need fines to work this way because at present the wealthiest Americans feel they are above the law.  Of course they are:  they have loopholes they can use to avoid taxes.  And if they receive the same fine for the same crime as someone making minimum wage, they have no deterrent.  What is $100 to a billionaire?  They spend more than that on lunch everyday.

We can make the system fairer.  We can bridge the gaps between us.  We can close loopholes and use the power of money to reduce crime.  And we can use that savings to fund education and forgive educational debt.

We can and must do better, forgiving educational debt while using monetary incentives instead of costly jail sentences to reduce crime.

The US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment: Police, Not Guns in Every Home

American gun patrioticThe 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution is interpreted by the National Rifle Association to mean that every American is guaranteed the right to own and carry firearms anywhere, at any time, in any context s/he wishes.  Common sense is not part of their position.  Guns should be at the zoo, at Starbucks, at your kid’s playground, even in your child’s school.  Guns should be everywhere because the Constitution says so!

Except the Constitution doesn’t say that,  Instead the full text of the 2nd Amendment is:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

14th century Italian militias.

14th century Italian militias.

Now as I talked about three years ago on Yahoo Voices and reposted a year ago, the idea of the militia has a specific historical context grounded in Anglo-Saxon tradition.  It is, at its core, a feudal institution pre-dating professional armies where local men and women responded to local emergencies by arming themselves and protecting their towns and villages.  Mercenaries (soldiers for hire)  were for centuries rather unreliable folks with rape/pillage habits — something American colonists experienced with the Hessian mercenaries hired by the Crown.  Before the emergence of completely professional national armies, soldiers for hire had the habit of abusing the local population, of taking what they wanted.  So locals tended to maintain their militias to protect themselves against such abuse.

gun murder

Times have changed in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional soldiers are hometown heroes and heroines — not threats to the safety of civilian populations. Invasions from foreign powers on home soil is essentially unknown to most Americans and British — the main modern exceptions to that happened during the 2nd World War.  Our armies have professionalized and this is a good thing. Because since the beginning of professional soldiering, the professionals have always possessed superior skills, protection, and weapons compared to their civilian counterparts.

And that is what a militia is:  civilians responding to emergencies.  It’s volunteer police, volunteer fire department, and neighourhood watch organizations. I’ve seen arguments for including USA state national guard units under this umbrella — except those are trained and equipped much more similarly to the full time army, navy, and so forth — and they are paid to do so!

Two London constables on duty.

Two London constables on duty.

So what then does the 2nd Amendment actually guarantee Americans?  If you treat the word “militia” properly, what is the 2nd Amendment actually protecting?  In my analysis as a historian, the 2nd Amendment guarantees us POLICE FORCES and FIRE DEPARTMENTS which do the same job that our militias once did.  Police forces/constabularies and fire departments protect local populations from danger — from within our localities and from outside threats.  When a riot breaks out, it’s the police — not a Federal soldier — that is sent in to deal with it.  When Federal soldiers ARE sent in to deal with riots we habitually treat this much as our ancestors did with mercenary soldiers — and perhaps rightly.

In the Autumn of 2001 New York Penn Station was protected with Federal soldiers carrying high power weapons through the station to police it, a response to 9/11.  Believe me, that terrified me as I walked through the station to catch or depart from my New Jersey Transit trains!  A regular NYPD officer in regular uniform with regular equipment felt safe to be around.  But Federal troops?  Utterly terrifying!

gun murder 2We need our police officers and constables.  We need this modern form of our ancient militias.  We need to honour and respect the work our officers and constables do and trust them to do their job — rather than delude ourselves into thinking we can do their jobs better than they can and therefore arming ourselves.

Gun are not the solution.  As a matter of fact, they aggravate our problems.  A woman is 500x more likely to be shot/killed during a domestic dispute when firearms are kept in the home than she is when family firearms are kept in a neutral location such as a gun club.  There is a reason why the murder rate in the United Kingdom is so much lower than in the United States.  This twisting of the 2nd Amendment is why.

Some of you are likely to attack me for writing this.  That is fine with me.  Be my guest.  Because as a woman who was hurt in a gun “accident” as a child, I fiercely uphold that the gun laws in the United Kingdom are the best way to go.  I’ve seen what guns everywhere all the time can do and it disgusts me and terrify me.

Leave the guns to the police and the constables.  Leave them to the real modern militias. And please, in the name of sanity, stop thinking that having a gun around makes you safer!  IT DOESN’T!

Going at it alone: more lessons from Josh Duggar

josh-duggar-reason-for-abuseRecently the Duggar family went on the record in an effort to lay to rest the scandal concerning Josh Duggar’s molestation of his sisters when he was fourteen years old.

In the interview the Duggar parents admit that Josh informed them of his behaviour three times across 2002 and 2003 and that each time the family decided it was best to deal with it from within the family boundaries instead of going outside of it.  When that did not work on the first attempt, they went to their church for help.  On the third time in 2003 they sent Josh to a faith-based camp for help.  But in all three cases it was dealt with entirely from the tiny confines of their close-knit community instead of informing the law and allowing the state to step in.

In 2012 I wrote a report for Yahoo Voices concerning rape and incest within the insular orthodox Jewish communities, a report that was re-posted into this blog before Yahoo dismantled Yahoo Voices.  In that report I called for an end to victim-blaming in religious communities.  Sadly with the Duggars his victims are also defending his behaviour, no doubt partially because the Duggar parents are in denial themselves regarding just how serious sexual violence is.

Until we start treating sexual crimes as serious, until we stop making excuses for those who violate the physical integrity of other people, and until we genuinely punish the perpetrators of these crimes while providing a strong and protective support system for those hurt by them then of course we cannot expect to stem this epidemic of violence and sexual violence.  Even in 2015 we treat rape as “no big deal.”  Women and men both do this, including victims of assault and sexual assault.  We keep making excuses and telling those hurt to shut up and “get over it.”

Now as a healed survivor, I am the first to say that experiencing assault and sexual assault does NOT BREAK YOU.  It doesn’t taint you.  It doesn’t make you less of anything.  In fact it becomes an opportunity for transcendence, to grow into something greater and be a better person — no different than any other form of hardship.  This isn’t lessening the horror of the experience; what I suffered WAS HORRIFYING.  A healthy human being MUST BE HORRIFIED by violence and especially sexual violence.  At the same time, our societies have this habit of not only dismissing survivors when we speak up (been there!), but also treating us as the walking dead.  So we are dismissed first for daring to speak up and second when the wounds heal — as they must heal.

It’s a culture that favours those who rape, beat, and kill and treats those who receive this treatment as surplus population who had better just die off quickly so our societies can pretend there’s not a problem.

Most alarming to me is the matter of the insular community.  Why?  Because I see its danger as someone whose insular community made it easy to continue these acts of violence and to continue dismissing me when I sought help.  Yet, unlike the Duggar girls, I went to adults for help — but they wouldn’t  help because of the insular community.  It was easier to call me “evil sorceress” or “seductress” (right because four year old girls instinctively know how to seduce men 10x their age into sex?) than place that phone call to social services that would have taken me to safety.

The larger problem is therefore not Josh Duggar — a man who doesn’t deserve to have his children grow up with him — but the communities themselves.  We can only help people in need when we go beyond our castle walls and allow the larger secular community to intervene, to enforce laws written to protect children and provide safe home environments for everyone.

Yes, our governments are not perfect; there has never been a truly perfect government.  But when we fail to trust others beyond the boundaries of our small communities we set ourselves up for exactly the epidemic of violence and sexual violence plaguing our societies.  Protecting the community becomes more important than what is right and just for the people being hurt.  This was the case at Penn State and it is the case with the Duggar family.

What is your take on the Josh Duggar matter?  Reply to this post with your comments below and let’s get a serious conversation going!

Does being a sinner make you above the law? Issues raised by the Josh Duggar defence.

19 kidsIn May 2015 a tabloid reported that twelve years ago Josh Duggar of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” reality show molested five girls twelve years ago.  When his parents found out, they refused to report the crimes to the police, even though Josh molested his own sisters.

This is, rightfully, creating a scandal and cries for TLC to cancel the programme — which as of this date they refuse to do, even with corporate sponsors pulling out.

The Duggars and their allies have a defence they use time and time again:  Josh is a sinner who needs forgiveness and is entitled to forgiveness.

If a Christian (which I am no longer) admits to sinning that this is, in essence, a free pass with the law. Josh Duggar’s family doesn’t believe that Josh should be punished because he admitted it was a sin to molest his sisters (never mind their mental/spiritual wounds here; HE is the victim). Another Quiverfull leader named Rick Boyer is repeating the same idea in a story published this morning: that since being human makes you a sinner that any efforts to prosecute these crimes is a conspiracy by pagans and “guillible christians” to destroy more godly people.

So the problem isn’t the crimes these people commit — it’s the rest of us who say that when you commit a crime THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES UNDER THE LAW.

Of course one might say that there is a fundamental belief that secular law and secular government is itself evil — the devil is in charge.

So I must ask: what are they really going for? Should we simply eliminate all secular institutions and put religious institutions in charge of our lives?

How is that any different than what people are facing in Iraq or Syria where religious extremists have replaced the law? Where heinous torture, sexual violence, and murder happen daily? Where the only religious expression or lifestyle allowed is their radical one — and if you disagree or just deviate from their harsh rules, you can expect to lose your life or worse?

Liberty only exists through secular government, through the rule of laws. Religions must not be allowed to hold the powers of life or death over anyone.

And remember if you are fine with one religious group ruling the people by their sense of what is moral or right you damn yourself to be on the receiving end of another group you disagree with. Would you want to live that way?

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/quiverfull-author-delivers-melodramatic-defense-of-duggars-against-pagans-and-gullible-christians/