Thursday, December 19, 2013

Social Media, Predators, and Why Consistency of Character Matters

We've all seen them, the tweets and re-tweets to sell books. Everyone has a book these days, now that self-publishing is the new "it". But how do we know what is worth reading? Do we rely on the stars that are slapped on books at digital publishers? Do we rely on the glowing reviews that are swapped, bought, or self-written? It's time to put the "social" back into social media. It's time to understand why consistency of character matters on Twitter, Facebook, and every other digital outlet.

As a caregiver educator, I am constantly flooded with requests from social media marketers, looking to use my content for free. They fluff up my feathers and tell me wonderful things about myself, but not because they actually think I'm swell. They do it because they want to use my reputation to burnish their own.

As an author of mysteries (and a few short caregiver guide books), I'm on the other side of the coin when I try to market my tales to readers. I am constantly looking for ways to connect with real readers who seek the kind of mysteries I write. I actually want to target the kinds of readers who like my type of work.

As someone with an educational background in information studies and media, I know the power of social media when used effectively. When we really engage and connect in meaningful ways with the people out there, it can really change the world. Don't believe me? Check out the cancer communities that offer real-time support, from the wonderful #bcsm for the Breast Cancer Social Media chats (part of the www.bcsmcommunity.org group) to www.ihadcancer.com to www.stupidcancer.org. These are just three examples of how effective social media can be in reaching out to the public and helping people through peer support, education, and sharing of insight and information. Whether you're a teenager, a senior citizen, or a "betweener", you can find help twenty-four hours a day. That's powerful stuff.

Recently, I noticed that there were some rather unsavory activities on my author Twitter feed. People I followed were actually sending out adult material without any warning, expecting me to re-tweet it, no questions asked. On top of that, a number of dubious followers were suddenly showing great interest in some of the author groups to which I belong, and using hash tags that were utilized by followers of jihad. What was that draw? Erotica. Not just erotica, but often times violent erotica, that involved exploitation of women, young women on the edge of adulthood. In a world of terrorists looking for opportunity, it seemed they had latched onto the Golden Goose. Authors so desperate to sell books, they would re-tweet "anything and everything", in exchange for the same service for their literary works.

Am I a prude? Hardly. I read "Lady Chatterley's Lover", "Fear of Flying", and any number of other "racy" novels in my many decades. But do I tweet explicit material on a public Twitter feed? No. Why? Because it's a PUBLIC Twitter feed. Do I know whether I have teenage followers? Yes. And I have an ethical and moral obligation to help them keep their childhood years unsullied by adult materials. I don't care if everyone else does it. I never jumped off the bridge because all my friends were doing it back in high school, so I'm not about to change now. Consistency of character really does matter, and I'm not about to alter my plans now to please the folks who holler, "Thought Police!" every time someone objects to erotica.

But there is something far more sinister to consider on the current state of self-published books, and especially erotica. Unless you read each and every book that you receive on your Twitter feed, how do you know what you're passing along? Traditional publishers have rules and guidelines they follow when publishing erotica. They know what the public's sensibilities are and how to market it without running afoul of common sense. In the world of self-published erotica, the rules aren't the same. If the person crafting the tweet isn't honest, isn't decent and caring, aren't you subjecting your followers to unsavory social media when you re-tweet those "naughty" tweets?

I personally had concerns when I noticed some very graphic, very explicit tweets that encouraged violence on my feed. I wasn't the only person with such concerns, but I had to consider my own situation. As a caregiver blogger, I know there isn't much of an audience for these kinds of materials among my followers. As a mystery writer, I like happy endings and real solutions to life's problems. That's what my fans enjoy about my books. But it was more than that.

What if, I asked myself, the prolific tweeter wasn't quite what he seemed? What if all that flash and glitter he threw on top of his tweets was hiding a dark side, one that could and would affect any of my unsuspecting followers? And I wasn't the only one with that concern. After all, Twitter is a PUBLIC forum. That means anyone and everyone can read the tweets and retweets, including those folks who are responsible for preventing acts of terrorism around the globe.

There are two things that terror organizations need to be successful in terror campaigns -- targets and money for their operations. They launder cash until it's clean. They hide in plain sight to gain credibility in order to determine those targets which will most satisfy their operational goals. What could be more satisfying than a bunch of erotica lovers who flout the rules?

To my knowledge, most erotica authors aren't violent sexual predators. There are men and women who write "naughty", "steamy" sex tales that titillate. They're hoping to be the author of the next "Fifty Shades" in the self-publishing field (by the way, trends appear to indicate the readers are becoming jaded with all the erotica offerings -- apparently, the thrill is going). But what if there are those folks who are more than just authors sharing their sexual fantasies? What if some are very real predators, looking to exploit everyone?

Most people have consistency of character. It develops over time, with our actions, our shared views, our behavior. As the years go by, these tidbits of our acts, thoughts, and deeds become part of the record of our lives. Many people don't necessarily understand this as they use social media, nor do they care. They tweet and re-tweet "anything and everything", more as a social protest than as an ethical consideration. So, what happens if you actually empower a "bad guy"?

How do you know, as a tweeter and re-tweeter, that the man selling vampire tales of violence, sex, and mayhem is harmless? What if he chose to write those books because there was something driving his behavior? Most people don't advocate exploitation, especially of young, vulnerable women, but if you tweet and re-tweet these kinds of books, aren't you saying it's okay?

What kind of person normally writes a book about unbridled violence and mayhem? Someone you invite into your living room? Having worked with juvenile and adult psychiatric patients, many who had violent tendencies and were constantly on the prowl for their next victims, I can tell you that concern is merited when you see something that's "just not right". Do a simple search on such an author, and what do you find? Glowing words that make him seem warm and fuzzy, like the guy you meet at your kid's soccer game, but all descriptions provided by him. Read his articles and he's spouting off about the censors who take umbrage with his writings. Read his advice to fellow authors and it's lifted right off of other authors' advice columns, with a few words tweaked here and there, to make it look like he's created his own content. These are the behaviors of a predator. He steals to sell. He's always the victim and everyone is out to get him.

Dig a little deeper and sometimes there's an actual criminal background. Maybe there's a conviction, or two, or three, hiding in his past. Maybe he moves around a lot for a reason, to evade law enforcement scrutiny. And maybe, just maybe the reason this guy has so much time available to pursue his writing career is because he's on parole, even as he's looking for his next big scam. What if he defrauded folks out of their money by sweet talking? What if he used that money to feed his addictions? What if he's really looking for the opportunity to go global, be it money laundering or child pornography? How do you know that the guy writing those sex-ploitation books isn't a real creep in sheep's clothing? If you take him at his word and his word is a lie, don't you empower him?

Consistency of character matters to most authors, but some of us are a very trusting bunch. We want to be perceived as supportive of everyone in the business, and it's easy to assume that "big business" is out to get "indies". We like to help each other, so we go with "no questions asked", and that's the crack in the door to uncivilized behavior. Raise the flag of censorship and all good sense seems to fly out the window.

In a world where "anyone and everyone" has a product to sell and will use any means necessary to get the job done, we are all vulnerable. Asking for PUBLIC rules, for PUBLIC disclosures of obscene materials, isn't an effort by the "Thought Police" to crack down on erotica. It's about doing right by everyone. In this world, we have people who have lost the ability to tell real life from fantasy. We embrace the paranormal and encourage people to believe they have magical powers. But what happens when those magical powers have a dark side? What happens when they separate the believer from the rest of society? Without a conscience, any human is capable of heinous acts. Without that connection to our fellow human beings, we can feel isolated and desperate. When we give our impulses free reign, we can harm those around us and even ourselves. Self-control isn't about taking away our freedom to choose. It's about taking charge of the course our lives take and making wise decisions that positively affect everyone, even us.

Social media is a powerful tool that really can make a positive change in this world. I know that it can comfort a hurting heart. I know that it can make an isolated person feel connected to the rest of humanity. But it can also pose enormous risks to the unwitting. That predator is out there, gaining ground. He put lipstick on the pig he is parading around in public, and all everyone sees is a "naughty" pig in stilettos and a skirt who's off to the slaughter house to be tomorrow's book bacon, not realizing the guy is desperate to make money, not the old-fashioned way, by selling a quality product, but by exploiting "anyone and everyone", fictional or real.

Real predators can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. Eventually, their dangerous behaviors signal that real laws are being broken. More importantly, when they are engaging in criminal enterprises behind the scenes, they often come up on law enforcement radar because of their association with known criminals. All it takes is one appearance on the computer of a child pornographer under investigation, one phone call to a known money launderer, one email to a terrorist with known ties to a terror group. If you have been helping a real predator manipulate the system, doesn't that speak to your willingness to aid and abet? Imagine how horrified you would be to learn that you popped up on law enforcement radar, not because you're a willing partner, but because you thought you were doing something good for a fellow author, who wanted to do the same for you. If you drink at that tainted watering hole, how can investigators not assume you helped?

Social media is a new and vast land. It is, at times, untamed and uncivilized. How do we resolve an issue like this? We begin to understand that we must impose our own need for safety and responsibility to our fellow human beings. We understand that in developing our social ethics, we aren't seeking to destroy civil rights, but to uphold them. When a predator cries, "Thought Police!", ask yourself how true that is. In the Sixties, we questioned authority, and the authority changed. Now it's time to question the authority of those who holler "Thought Police!" every time someone is concerned about sexual exploitation and a preponderance of violence. A predator never sees himself as the bad guy. He sees himself as the survivor. He doesn't think he's violating anyone's rights. He thinks the world is violating his, by trying to curb those dangerous and disturbing tendencies he demonstrates in his every move.

In this age of teenagers not knowing real from virtual, when death hardly seems like a bad thing, especially when the world is a dark and terrifying place, maybe it's time we started to focus on developing safe havens on social media, with rules that provide a comfort zone. Maybe we have to stop providing cover for predators and start insisting that we look out for each other online. Maybe if we join together to embrace what is good and true about the human spirit and provide community support that is meaningful across social media, these self-serving marketers will lose their power to persuade. But before that happens, we have to choose to be consistent in our character. Please use social media responsibly. You are what you tweet and re-tweet.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Can a Six-Year-Old Boy Sexually Harass a Classmate?

That same state that legalized recreational marijuana also just charged a six-year-old boy with sexual harassment. What's wrong with this picture? At a time when health care costs are going through the roof, it's okay in Colorado to encourage smoking a substance that will damage lungs, but we actually expect a six-year-old child to understand that a kiss on the hand is a criminal offense, one that will remain on his permanent record?

Looking back on my youth, having been lucky enough to have good principals with principles, the dreaded "Go to the principal's office!" wasn't so much about punishment as it was about teaching moments. If you did something wrong, an adult sat down with you and explained why it was wrong. But more than that, the adult followed it up with the occasional reality check, to make sure you understood why what you did was wrong.

Looking back on my days working with children, from juvenile delinquents to students with learning disabilities, I can tell you all about poor impulse control and why it's important to steer a student in the right direction. But then, I actually worked with teenagers who were a danger to society, who broke real laws by committing real crimes, and I know the difference between intent, impulse, and intervention. There actually are some kids who feel like killing and want to kill. There are also those who fantasize about victims and given half a chance, would carry out those fantasies. The goal of preventing crime is a good one, but it is dependent on understanding human behavior in practice, not just theory. Teaching methods have to be provable, measurable, and demonstrable. Is the student understanding what he needs to know for age-appropriate behavior? It's a yes or no question. Either he gets it or he doesn't, and if he doesn't, a good teacher finds another way to reinforce the lesson. As an educator, you don't ever expect a student to rise up to your level of teaching. You break down the lessons as far as is needed to help each and every student understand what needs to be taught.

When you're dealing with a six-year-old, you meet him at his capacity to understand. He's "in love" with his classmate. More accurately, he has a crush on her. Is this appropriate classroom behavior? Heavens, no. But there is a world of difference between a kiss on the hand and sexual assault. This isn't aberrant behavior. This is a kid who's probably seen "America's Funniest Home Videos" more times than he should. He's probably been sold on the idea that this is cute behavior, not that it's naughty or dangerous.

No six-year-old child is capable of understanding what sex between two humans really involves. The best he can do is mimic what he sees in his world. Has he seen too much? Maybe. But does that mean his teachers, his principal should call the cops and have him charged with a sexual crime?

Where are the teachers in this case? Who taught them to teach? How can they not understand the real mindset of a six-year-old child? Instead of guiding this child to more appropriate behavior, through a planned program that will raise his awareness of what is acceptable with fellow classmates and what is not, someone went and called the cops. If teachers aren't teaching, what are they being paid to do -- babysit?

Think about this before you come back at me as some old curmudgeon. Those cops are supposed to investigate real crime, not imaginary crime. Every day, thousands of women of all ages are sexually abused. Go to any woman's shelter and you will find them. These women weren't abused by six-year-old boys who kissed their hands in school. They were battered, beaten, forced into sexual acts by bullies who would not take no for an answer. When I see stories like this, I think about a young mother who was just murdered, along with two people who rushed to her aid. I think about the women in India, gang-raped by men who thought they could take what they wanted because it was there. These are the real victims of sexual crimes These women were in genuine, not imaginary, danger. And they were in danger because the men involved had no respect for them as human beings.

When we see the level of bullying rise in our society, when we see real victims emerge because we are not reaching our children in school, making the emotional, mental, and physical connections that nurture compassion and respect, it's because we are too busy labeling the superficial and not seeing the deeper, more dangerous implications of children's behavior.

No six-year-old child has the mental capacity to understand sexual harassment. He does and should, however, understand that you keep your hands to yourself at school, that you don't poke, kiss, or maul your fellow students. There's nothing sexual about it. There's nothing odd about it. It's a normal lesson that many students need to learn. That is why we have teachers. That is why we have curriculum. But most of all, that is why we have school principals. These are teachable moments. These are lessons that need to be applied and measured, so that we know students are getting the right message.

Bottom line? Students need to learn respect for fellow classmates. There's nothing sexual about respect for one's peers or one's teachers. It's about knowing where the line in the sand is, understanding that we must give respect as well as expect it for ourselves. And if teachers can't get a six-year-old boy to understand this concept without calling the cops, maybe it's time to reevaluate how we teach in America.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did Someone Hijack Google Apps? More Double-Billing....


This is a continuation of a previous post, Has Google Apps Been Hacked, Hijacked, or Did It Intend to Double-Bill Me?

Yesterday, I wrote about getting an email from Google Apps, telling me that my domain registration for a website had failed because of my credit card information. Mind you, the website was re-registered in August and is good for a year. I have the Google receipt to prove it.

Today, I got another series of emails from Google Apps. This time, I was notified that my payment failed on that same website, The Practical Caregiver Guides, along with three of my other custom domains. These, too, were already paid for, with receipts confirming the information. So, why would Google Apps want more money?

I went to the bank yesterday and got the routing information on the unauthorized withdrawal in October. It says Google Apps on the bank record, just like it says Google Apps for the authorized payment early in August.

But here's the interesting thing that makes me very suspicious. Someone left off some Google information regarding domain registration that makes me think it wasn't necessarily Google Apps that used my credit card as much as it was an unauthorized Google employee. I'm not going to spell out what was missing, but it was a very important registration detail.

When I look at the information that was used in this double-billing scheme, one thing leaps out at me. Whoever tried to charge my credit card with four more payments on already registered domains didn't have all the information correct. He or she only had some of it.

Does that let Google off the hook? I don't think so. If anything, this could signal that Google Apps has a serious problem with its security for financial transactions, especially if this was done by an unauthorized employee. It was bad enough that I never receive any receipt for the unauthorized withdrawal in October, but to be notified at a different email address that the money is still due? That's just WRONG.

So, what do I do about it? I just spent the better part of three hours trying to log into my Google Apps console, to remove the "auto-renewal" option. I'd rather authorize each and every payment I make when it is due. Only one problem. My console says I am due to pay AGAIN in December, and it won't let me into the "auto-renewal" screen to change it until I re-verify my account, which will result in the money again being withdrawn from my bank. Boy, now I feel even more like Charlie on the MTA. "Oh, did he ever return? No, he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned...." (Bess Hawes and Jacqueline Steiner knew what they were talking about when they wrote that song!)

No matter what I do, I can't get into the console for my other account to change my blogs' domain information. I've followed all the instructions, and every time I go through the process, following Google instructions, my screen says "invalid request". Only one problem. That's not on the list of acceptable "problems" to report to Google. I can't tell the company I'm having problems because the company says I already have an administrator console. Apparently, it's the one I can't access. To summarize:

I can't contact Google to tell them I'm having this problem because I'm not "upgraded" to receive customer assistance from Google. To access customer service, I must pay AGAIN.

I can't access my own administrator consoles to make the changes because those buttons aren't where they are supposed to be. Believe me, I've clicked every $%^& button on my administrator console to seek the domain management button. I've watched videos of other people accessing Google Apps consoles. How come theirs look very different than mine? How come they have features I don't have?

I can't alter my payment information and remove the auto-renewal authorization without "verifying" my credit card and authorizing ANOTHER payment that isn't due.

Bottom line? I'm drowning in Google Apps that don't work, and come December, Google Apps plans to take more money out of my bank account, "on schedule", for a domain registration that isn't due until August 2014. Lord only knows what's going on with the domain accounts that I can't access. How did my Google accounts get so messed up? How can I clean them up if a real human being won't sort out the mess that Google Apps created?

I never had this problem before Google changed its payment game. Everything was in one place and it went like clockwork. The more it builds "apps", the bigger the mess Google creates. And the bigger the mess, the greater the opportunity for unsavory activity. Should it really be this hard for me to remove the auto-renewal feature for Google Apps?

I'd like to tell you that it's probably me, that I'm just not understanding all this technology, but the fact is I understand it too well. This is ridiculous, but is it deliberate? I'd like to think not. Then again, you have to wonder where that unaccounted money is going. I still don't have any kind of receipt from Google for the unauthorized withdrawal, nor do I have any way of changing my own account. Does that mean my Google accounts have been hijacked? I wish I had an answer for you.

It's really shameful that what was once uncomplicated and simple enough to do in the click of a button is now so complicated that I am at the mercy of Google Apps. I do have one consolation, though. When I opened the account I use for Google Apps, I had the foresight to sit down with my bank manager and set up a plan. He was wise enough to take me through all the issues involved with online financial interactions. His advice to me? Never keep any unnecessary money in the account I use for online purchases, just in case I run into trouble like unauthorized purchases. I'm glad I listened, because if I hadn't, I'd have found my bank account sorry depleted by Google Apps.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Has Google Apps Been Hacked, Hijacked, or Did It Intend to Double-Bill Me?

What's going on with Google Apps? Has it been hacked or is this double-billing just a new marketing ploy?

Google, the behemoth of the Internet, double-billed me. It not only double-billed me for a website I own, it never sent me a receipt for the second helping of my cash from my bank account. I found out from my monthly statement that Google Apps went into my account, grabbed the cash, and ran. Looking at the billing flaw in the Google Apps system, I only hope Google hasn't volunteered to help fix the HealthCareDotGov website, because this is a big, fat, hot mess.

I say that because Google Apps is not apparently hooked up to Google Accounts, even though it has the Google logo. It's some kind of separate entity that only exists in "Silly-Com Valley". My trouble all started on my Google Apps Console.

If you own a custom domain through Google that you operate as a website, rather than a blog, you step out of the Google embrace, into Google Hell, better known as Google Apps. Here's my caregiver education website:

The Practical Caregiver Guides

I paid my yearly fee, according to Google Accounts, back in the summer. The fee was withdrawn by Google accounts without a problem and the domain name was re-registered through 2014. I have a receipt for this, both from my bank and from Google. But my Google Apps console claims that I haven't paid since 2012. It demanded that I update my billing information, which I did. It refused the information. Said it was wrong. And then it went into my bank account and took out the money. I got no receipt for the second snatching of my domain fee.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, I should contact Google Apps directly. I would except for one small problem. I am not allowed to contact them unless I pay for Google Business Apps. That's right. There is no direct contact possible unless I upgrade to Google's paid customer service. My only option is to post a message on a message board and hope someone out there has had a similar problem and can make suggestions to me on what I can do. Does that sound kosher to you? We're not talking about a glitch in writing software code. We're not talking about a formatting problem. We're talking about a Google entity that double-billed for services. That requires a direct contact.

You'd think that Google would operate like a normal business. There's a billing dispute, so you call or email the billing department to complain. Every other company I deal with online has been responsive whenever there is an issue. So, why is Google different? Why do the rules not apply to this company?

I'd like to tell you I have an answer, but I can't find anyone I can ask. Google Apps is a fortress I just can't crack. Today, I was again informed that my information still is not working and that come 2014, my card will not be accepted for payment when it becomes renewable again. Does that mean I will be double-billed AGAIN?

Google is in my email accounts, constantly trying to sell me products and services. It tracks me all over the Internet, following my searches and gearing its marketing to my apparent interests. Too bad it hasn't figured out its own screw-up yet, because this could turn out to be costly for the company, especially if I'm not the only victim.

If Google has the capacity to track me all over the Internet, why can't it tell itself I've already paid my bill and register that information on Google Apps, or write the code that will give me a button to synchronize the information? If my emails for my Google Apps account go through my Google account, surely there is some back-and-forth.

I waited for the Google Apps double-billing to kick back to Google, so that Google could acknowledge the fee was paid months ago. Alas, it was all for naught.

Is it right for Google to operate its business this way? Of course not. But as long as I can't directly contact them, I'm like Charlie on the MTA. I can't get off the subway train. What are my options? Do I find a good lawyer and file a class action lawsuit against Google, inviting fellow Google Apps users to join me in suing for the double-billing? Do I suck it up and just ignore the fact that I'm paying twice? Or do I go public and ask for public help in bringing this to Google's attention?

Here's the big question. Is Google Apps is deliberately double-billing customers who use Google Apps for anything? Maybe it's not just those of us who purchase custom domain websites. Maybe Google knows it's double-billing and by not allowing us to directly contact them is merely exploiting the system vulnerability. How can we possibly know if Google is deliberately violating our trust and our bank accounts if we can't contact them for answers?

For all we know, Google Apps was hijacked into and taken over by scammers because Google Apps is no longer secure. If our financial information is compromised without Google's knowledge, this is much more than a security issue. This is about an entity that is so bloated, it can't protect its users from Internet threats.

What if hackers simply redesigned the Google Apps console? What if they were satisfied with a running a simple parallel program of mimicking Google Apps. For every dollar Google takes in legitimately, maybe the hackers take in their own illegal cut as they pretend to be Google Apps.

If Google Apps has been hacked without its knowledge, hijackers could be using that money for nefarious purposes. Who knows? All I know is that because I can't tell Google Apps that this is happening to me, I can't get the company to refund me the money. Google better get its collective head out of its Apps and fix this mess!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Unleashing Cujo -- Aggressive Dogs Are Dangerous

Ah, dog walking -- such a wonderful way to get exercise. The fresh air makes me feel alive, the blue skies set my spirits soaring, and best of all, I've got my little pal trotting along with me. What could be better than having a friendly canine companion to accompany me on hikes in the forest or strolls on the sandy beach?

I can tell you what can be worse. Having an unleashed dog come out of nowhere and make a beeline for my leashed and harnessed little Yorkie, Dino. It happened yesterday. One moment, I was standing next to a calm, content pooch, and the next, I was gasping at the ferocity of a snarling, airborne bull dog, hurling itself at the tiny target by my side. It all unfolded as the dog owner stood there, shocked, unmoving, frozen in place, leaving me to jump into action.

Having lost one Yorkie in a terribly tragic doggie daycare incident (the staff member left Sweetie alone with other dogs, so no one actually saw the assault that killed her), I am especially vigilant in keeping Dino safe. When we're walking, I don't like to let him off the leash, even though he's a great dog who obeys commands well. Yesterday, I was relieved that I had the good sense to keep him tethered to me. That leash and harness allowed me to grab and lift my dog out of harm's way. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do it before that bull dog struck, and that's something that now compels me to share this with readers. It's the "what if's" that are the problem. What if I was unable to grab my dog that quickly -- what would have happened?

-- My dog might have suffered serious injury or (like Sweetie) death.
-- I might have had to kick the other dog to fend off the attack.
-- I might have been injured trying to protect my dog.
-- My dog might have yanked the leash out of my hand, trying to get away.
-- My dog might have run into the street and been hit by a car.

But the real kicker to the incident? The dog owner actually said to me, "I'm really surprised my dog did that. She normally only goes after females that way." Say what? Your dog NORMALLY only goes after females?

That statement shows the dog owner has had previous incidents of her dog attacking other dogs. She has become complacent and lax in preventing such situations, basing her decision on whether a dog is male or female. Because she recognized Dino as a male dog, she did not bother to control her aggressive dog, because her dog NORMALLY only goes after females.

More importantly, she still does not leash her dog, even knowing her bull dog's tendency for aggressive behavior. Why would a responsible dog owner EVER walk an aggressive dog unleashed? Is that not an invitation to tragedy? What about all the risk she invites every time she takes her dog out without one? Not just to the dog that might be attacked, but to the humans who could face injury while responding?

So many dog owners feel free to ignore leash laws, even as they pat themselves on the back for being "good owners". They justify their behavior based on the idea that they have a good dog. Must be the other dog's fault, right? Something in the other dog brings out the worst in Cujo and makes him aggressive. NORMALLY, her dog doesn't go after male dogs. In this case, the implication was that Dino was attacked unexpectedly because there was something "female-like" about him. He should have been safe by virtue of his testosterone? Should I rush him to the vet for some kind of male hormone therapy? I think not.

The fact is dog behavior is not always predictable. Dogs are constantly assessing the competition. Even the best dog in the world might feel threatened in the blink of an eye, and it is a "dog eat dog world", isn't it?

Do I fault the dog for attacking Dino? No. I fault the dog owner. The responsibility is hers, and all the apologies in the world don't count unless she's actually learned from the experience. Do I think she will now leash her dog when she walks the bull dog in the neighborhood? No, I think she will continue to see it as a mere bother, nothing to worry about. The next incident will be just as cavalierly dismissed and life will go on as usual.

But here's the reality of that complacence. What happens next time, if my elderly father is walking the dog, or I'm momentarily distracted? What if no one is able to scoop this tiny Yorkie out of harm's way in time? What if, as I try to save my dog from that snarling menace, I fall and break a bone or two? I can't save my dog while I'm writhing in pain, can I? Clearly the dog owner isn't particularly quick on the uptake. If she were, she would have recognized what I saw in a flash -- her dog was poised to attack -- and she would have grabbed her charging dog before it got past her.

Leash laws exist because these kinds of tragedies have occurred with greater frequency than most dog owners like to admit. It all looks very different when it's not your dog being attacked, doesn't it? But what if the shoe was on the other foot, and it was my dog going after yours? How would you feel? Would you be outraged? What would you do? Would you call animal control? Would you make a mountain out of a mole hill to protect your loyal canine buddy?

The really sad thing is I probably could have enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the dog owner. We could have chatted and exchanged friendly greetings. That is a big part of why I love having a dog to walk. But as long as her bull dog is uncontrolled, the risk is too great.

Will I stop walking my dog in the neighborhood? Heavens, no. What I will do is insist that dog owners control their dogs, and should they fail to do so, I can and will insist on consequences -- not because I like to be mean and tough, but because dogs are dogs. We are all part of a community, and we need to respect the needs of others when we're out in public spaces. We do not live in a vacuum. Our actions always affect other people, good or bad. Responsible citizens work to make life better for all, mindful of the fact that we share this planet. We all bear responsibility for what happens. This is true whether we're dealing with gun violence, teen bullying, or any other form of anti-social behavior. We must respect and support each other in healthy, socially-empowering ways.

Unleashing Cujo is not just an act of stupidity, it's selfish and short-sighted. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In Cujo's case, better to keep her out of the dog pound by reining in her aggressive behavior around other dogs and owners. Dino deserves better than that. So do I. And so do all the other dogs that are NORMALLY attacked by that snarling bull dog. Carpe canine.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Call Me "Slow Hand" -- My Followers on Twitter Dump Me Before I Can Follow Back

How do people do it, actually complete work tasks and tweet? I'm constantly finding myself falling behind. The way I seem to be lumbering over the landscape, I feel like a two-ton dinosaur on an obstacle course. By the time I climb over that wall and make it onto the ground, everybody else is way ahead of me.

The most horrifying part of the whole Twitter game? I get notified whenever someone follows and when someone unfollows, and sometimes it happens within hours. Before I've had a chance to take a breath and click "follow", I've lost someone I didn't even know was on my list.

Most days, I have more than two hundred emails to open, spread among my business accounts. As an author and a caregiver educator, I have to be careful to weed out the "need to answer" emails from the "mark as read, then delete" emails, and that doesn't even take into consideration the spam that lands in my boxes. I spend so much time perusing the emails, I sometimes shudder at all the time I waste being notified that this one followed me and then unfollowed me.

How can I keep up with the constant flow of social media -- quit working? That hardly seems a smart move, given the fact that I have bills to pay. And let's be honest -- it's not like Twitter is rewarding me for tweeting in a timely fashion. I don't get any real tangible reward for keeping up with the tweets.

If anything, I'm starting to feel like I'm being punished because I'm not on top of my new followers. Any chance we can all come to some kind of an agreement? Say, for example, if I haven't followed back within a week, folks should feel free to drop me like the proverbial hot potato. But in the meantime, no one should take my lack of "follow back" (as opposed to follow-through) personally. I might be traveling. I might be putting the finishing touches on a manuscript, in which case I need all my marbles to properly edit and format my digital book. Or -- believe it or not -- I might actually be doing on something physical, like communing with nature or contemplating my bellybutton while I search for signs of intelligent life in outer space.

We should never get so wrapped up in social media that we forget to interact in the here-and-now, with the clerk in the grocery store, with the mail carrier in the mail truck, with our neighbors as we walk the dog. Nor should we ever forget that a tweet is not the same as a handwritten "thank you" when someone has graciously entertained us or a "cheer up" for someone who really needs that human touch. As great as Twitter is in connecting us instantly to people on the other side of the world, it's still an electronic communication. Unless you put the human touch to it, it really isn't worth a hill of beans.

We are becoming programmed to do everything instantly -- wage war, wage peace, cure cancer, and even disarm mentally unstable people in the blink of an eye. Somehow we've forgotten that human beings are rather complex characters. Our bad habits, our vulnerabilities, our worst fears...they didn't happen in a single instance. They developed over time, just as our good habits did. Real human learning takes rote practice before it's ingrained in the psyche. We still have a chance to remember what's important in life before it becomes buried under all the different social media outlets. Every time you hear of some tender-hearted child committing suicide because of cyber-bullying, every time you hear of some delusional individual spiralling out of control and into a virtual reality that is completely fantasized, remind yourself that you are here and now, and the people around you need you to connect with the heart and the head, not with a button. We should take our time in building bridges together. That's when those 140 characters will really mean something.




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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Would Winston Churchill Say to a New Jersey Still Devastated by Hurricane Sandy?


What would Winston Churchill tell the weary residents of the Jersey Shore nearly a year after the raw power of Hurricane Sandy chewed up this beautiful land and spit it out? How would he inspire its citizens, especially after the terrible fire that just consumed the brand-new boardwalk in Seaside Heights, taking with it all the hard work and dedicated efforts of those determined to rebuild?
My inspiration for this imagined speech comes from one Winston Churchill gave in October of 1941 at the Harrow School, at a time when another generation struggled with a war that brought great devastation and hardships lasting years. I have always found courage in the example set by those who lived through rationing, the physical destruction of vast areas of land, the brutality of war, and the constant uncertainty in overcoming an enemy determined to force its will upon free people. In many ways, what happened to the cities and towns along the coast after Hurricane Sandy tore through the Jersey Shore can be compared to only a small portion of the land obliterated by World War II and to its people’s determination to rebuild following that horrific destruction. What might Churchill say today to the victims of Hurricane Sandy? Perhaps something like this:
Nearly a year has come and gone since I visited the New Jersey Shore. The last time I stepped onto that sandy beach, the golden ends of glorious summer days still lingered in the warm salt air, even as the fall crept up on us.
The eleven months that passed have seen dark devastation and human despair that cut deeply into the soul of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic coast. While there is still sorrow hanging over the shoreline, with empty lots where homes once stood and piles of rubble left behind in the storm’s terrible wake, there is also a vitality and resilience to the people who live here or come here. When you walk down the street, you see not people cowering at the massive loss, afraid to look up and meet your gaze, but people who stand tall because they have begun to realize that the great havoc a mighty storm can wreak is not greater than the human spirit.
In the days and weeks that followed the raging seas and howling winds, the people of the Jersey Shore were overwhelmed and poorly supplied, as efforts to overcome the massive blow were slowed by logistics and reality. The memory of those few powerful hours and their aftermath resided in the souls of all who love the Jersey Shore, and it was nearly impossible to shake off the pain of endurance. Even now, it is easy to feel frustration at the seemingly endless lag in restoration.
But learn we must in equal parts what is quick and done and what is long and difficult. Through this painful experience the people who love the Jersey Shore have begun to discover their determination to dig in. They do not expect each day to present them with overwhelming challenges; they do not always expect that each day will bring a chance return of hurricane winds; but when they, over time, make up their minds that the deed must be done and the job completed, even if it takes months -- if it takes years -- they do it.
Another lesson we may embrace, in reminding ourselves of what happened on the Jersey Shore eleven months ago and now, is that what we see can deceive us, and in the words of Rudyard Kipling, we must “...meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.”
You cannot tell just by looking on the surface how things will progress. Sometimes the creative mind paints a darker image than reality provides; yet without that creative mind there is little to be done. Creative minds often conjure up greater pitfalls and obstacles than perhaps manifest; definitely many more than will occur; but then they must also open their hearts and pray to be given that extra boost of courage to build a bridge between what is and what may be.
But for the people of New Jersey, and those of us who appreciate the glory of its beautiful coast, what our experience at the cruel hand of Hurricane Sandy has taught us is what I shared October 29, 1941, as I addressed students at my alma mater, Harrow, even as the war in Europe spread. I told them:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

The New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy stood all alone in the wake of the storm, and to the rest of the United States it appeared that the Garden State’s place on the tourism map was erased, its spirit broken and done.
Very different is the underlying sentiment today. New Jersey, other states believed, had drawn an eraser across her blackboard and wiped it clean. But instead New Jersey stood in the abyss. There was no cowering and no intention of surrender; and by what may appear to be heaven-sent inspiration to those on the outside looking into this glorious state, though those who hold the Jersey Shore dear to their hearts never doubted it, there are now signs that resonate the strong message -- believers in the Queen of the quintessential beach experience must continue to persevere to conquer.
As I encouraged a generation more than seventy years ago, we should heed these words: “Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”

For the people of New Jersey, especially the residents along the shore, the hard reality has been that time and tide wait for no man nor woman; the natural power of the elements has crushed and crumbled what has been crafted. But the human spirit is always greater than the manifestation of the physical world; it brings with it the power to rise above, to do the impossible against all odds. When we look past the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and we remind ourselves of what generations who came before us have faced with fortitude and resilience, we must take our cue from their determination, stamina, and true grit. It will take time to rebuild what was lost. But for everyone who ever felt that glorious tingle of saltwater on the skin or bit into a ripe, juicy Garden State tomato from the local farm stand, the power of New Jersey to awe still remains. Where there is a will, there shall be a way. Take heart and remind yourselves of the motto of this great state -- “Liberty and Prosperity”. When there are doubts, find resolve. When there are tears, be determined. The Grand Old Lady that is the Jersey Shore still remains, though she struggles to recover from her wounds. She will rise once more on the shoulders of the people who love her, who cherish her. She will shine once again and offer us her bounty, that our souls may be restored by her briny breezes, her salty seas, and her glistening sands.