Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Motherhood Really Instinctual for Women?


As an author with several mystery series under my belt, I am always curious about how readers perceive not only my stories, but also my characters. In Henry Hartman’s Fall Guy Crisis, career woman Sydney Stansfield Hartman suddenly finds herself saddled with the care and feeding of someone else’s baby, thanks to a series of unexpected events involving her husband, an FBI agent. Poor Syd, used to coming and going at all hours of the day and night, suddenly has to juggle her work as an interior decorator to keep someone else’s child safe from harm. It’s a big adjustment for her. Recently a comment in a review caught me off guard. My reader thought this was ridiculous -- any woman should be able to handle an eight-month-old baby. I don’t know about you, but this assumption took me by surprise.

The reader questioned why Syd wouldn’t know how to take care of this tiny stranger...as if every woman somehow instinctively knows how to care for children...as if Syd is being portrayed incorrectly in the struggle to get it right as a foster mom, without any hint of realism provided by me, the author.

I grew up babysitting, starting when I was ten, and later became a “mother’s helper” and a nanny. Once I earned a degree in early childhood education, focusing on child development and psychology, I spent many years working with a wide range of children -- some with handicaps, some with behavioral disorders, some with learning disabilities, some with catastrophic illnesses, and sometimes even just ordinary children.

In all those years, I saw many adults floundering as they tried to understand these wondrous little beings. They were in over their heads, at their wits’ end, baffled by the behavior of their offspring and at a loss for what to do. While parents delved into long, involved descriptions of how their normally well-behaved toddler had a complete meltdown in public, I just asked a simple question: “What time of day was it?”  An inexperienced parent might inadvertently drag a child out to an event during nap time, but not one who’s “been there and done that”. The mom who’s gone through this scene and wised up knows nap time is sacrosanct. Her child’s body expects him to rest at the same time every day and wants to shut down. If little Nathaniel’s mind is over-stimulated by unexpected activity, it’s going to lead to a major conflict. “Your child is tired and can’t think straight,” is the logical explanation for why the little guy lost it at his brother’s soccer game.

As an adult, you learn over time that you can’t work against a child’s internal clock and expect to succeed -- that’s just foolish. We’ve all been to the grocery store and had the experience of walking down aisle after aisle, listening to the wailing and whining of a small child while the parent tries to reason, cajole, threaten, or otherwise command obedience. Good luck with that if it’s mealtime. If adults find it challenging to wander through all that food without giving into the urge to splurge, how do you think impulsive, emotional, unfiltered kids feel, when all they hear is no?If you want cooperation from little Wendy, take her shopping when she’s not hungry and surrounded by all that tempting stuff on the grocery shelves.
 
That’s why I laughed at the notion that any woman will automatically know how to take care of an eight-month old child. Having been in that position many times over the years with different children, I can assure you there were plenty of times I had no clue what was going through a screaming baby’s brain. Did the diaper need to be changed? Was his little tummy upset? Did his ear ache? Was he teething...coming down with a cold...hungry? Whenever I had a fussy infant on my hands, I automatically went through my checklist, trying to find the right solution to the problem. I didn’t do it by way of instinctual knowledge, but by training. I learned and observed. I gained insight and wisdom. I paid attention to the clues. Having also observed a number of confused parents as they struggled to understand their children, I know that it sometimes takes a detective to follow the clues and find the root cause of a problem.

But where are women supposed to get the insight into a child’s behavior if they, like Syd, aren't exposed to children? Babysitting isn’t as popular an activity as it was during my teenage years. In this day and age of instant Internet connections, is it too tempting to turn to strangers for advice on raising their kids, shunning the wisdom of women who have real-time experience? Gone are the days when mothers helped daughters learn how to bathe their first infant. Families are now so scattered across the country, the extended family is far removed from the everyday interactions that are so precious in a child’s formative years. Instead, new mothers and fathers often struggle to figure out how babies “work” on their own, missing out on so much family wisdom.

Parental expertise isn’t something we can download on demand, at a moment’s notice. Children don’t come with user manuals, any more than parents come with built-in “wisdom genes”. It takes interactive learning, some good guidance from experienced mentors, and a whole lot of hands-on training to raise a child.

Sadly, what the reader missed about my book was that Syd has the older and wiser Hartman ladies to guide her through the parenting process. Two vivacious and often funny senior citizens, Prudence and Charity, join forces with Faith, the no-nonsense lawyer, to help Syd care for her unexpected little ward, along with the invaluable experience of  a man who’s changed many a diaper over the years and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Together, the extended Hartman family gets involved in nurturing a child in need.

We forget sometimes that, in this age of high-speed technology, people are still people. We’re born innocent, and if we’re lucky, we grow in wisdom as we experience life. We need to help each other along the way and share those important life lessons that weave the strength into our society and make us decent human beings.

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“Henry Hartman’s Fall Guy” is free at Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Apple, and other digital retailers. Amazon charges 99 cents, unless you can get them to price match it for you.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Are You a Control Freak for Practicing the Golden Rule?


What ever happened to the Golden Rule? Has it gone out of style? Is it foolish to think that what we do as human beings makes a difference?

I admit it. I have a penchant for moving shopping carts at the grocery store. Too many times I’ve found a perfectly good parking space taken up by a wayward cart left behind by a busy shopper, often just a few feet from the cart corral. What does this say about us as a society?

There was a time we thanked people for holding the door for us as we came upon them. We appreciated the effort made. It told us that people were aware of our existence. We were part of society and we knew it by the way our fellow citizens treated us. Those little measures of civility made us feel connected, especially because the majority of us felt compelled to return the favor in some way, passing it along to the next person we met. There was a sense of camaraderie reflected in simple gestures. We made eye contact and recognized our connection in that gaze. We smiled and saw the power of a friendly curl of the lips. We felt emboldened to look out for other people and felt good to be a productive part of society.

Ah, but society is now the devil, the root of evil conformity and repression of individual rights. Society is some mindless conglomerate of oppressive practices, where things as arbitrary as speed limits and traffic lights prevent us from driving unimpeded down life’s highway. Too many rules. Too many bosses. Too many affronts to our choices. Shouldn’t we be free to pursue our own desires without interference from those around us? Aren’t we the best judges of what we should do and how we should do it? Why should we consider what other people think or want?

The other day I returned my cart to the corral, where I found a tangle of carts spilling out into the path of ongoing cars. It took me less than sixty seconds to put them together, but what did that gesture say about me? That I’m a control freak and I have to have things neat and tidy? I’m sure that’s what the smug thirty-something woman who shoved her cart at the corral told herself, even as I was walking away. She had watched me put all those carts together as she loaded her groceries into her trunk. She saw them all nice and neat within the confines of the metal fencing. And yet she shoved her cart in the direction of the corral, knowing that another five steps would have allowed her to add the cart to the orderly line. That sideways glance at me made it clear that I was, in her view, some control freak, some oddball, some wacko with a compulsive disorder. (Good thing she wasn’t judgmental, right?)

What would I say to her if she had voiced her opinion of me? How would I answer her blind arrogance? I would say this. Every time I am in a public place, like a grocery store, I think about how many people are affected by my actions. I think about my fellow shoppers, including the mothers and fathers with young kids in tow, the elderly, and the handicapped -- those people who need to pull into the best available parking space. I think about the store employees, trolling the parking lot to gather the shopping carts. Who am I to make their jobs more difficult by being sloppy and insensitive to their efforts, especially when the weather is brutally hot or cold?

What do I get out of my effort to make the parking lot a little better for those who come after me? I get the reminder that I am a part of a greater whole, a community. I realize that every time I push my cart into the corral. There are other people affected by my actions, and because of that, I have a responsibility to do right by them. I take that knowledge with me wherever I go. That’s why I look at people as I pass by. That’s why I offer a smile or a compliment or a friendly remark to the cashier who scans my groceries. That’s why I thank the person who bags my purchases. It’s my way of saying, “I see you and I recognize you as a person. I hope you show me the same consideration.”

We do not, as individuals, live in a bubble world, untouched and out of reach of our fellow human beings. A conscious decision to do right by others, the essence of the Golden Rule, is a practice of every good citizen. It transcends any organized religion. In a world of chaos and cruelty, where bad guys think they can act without consequences, it’s easy to become dismayed and disheartened. The world seems on the brink of disaster as human values seem to slip away from us. The only real remedy is to recognize the reality of human behavior. Those without a conscience are free to wreak havoc on the rest of us because they do not see us as having worth. They are set on their course and they will not allow themselves to have a change of heart. They will do what they will do regardless of consequences and in spite of the plight of their fellow citizens.

If we want the world to be a better place, we don’t have to cross the Sahara to do it. We don’t have to scale Mount Everest or sail half way around the world. Every time we practice a little kindness, every time we reach out with simple gestures, we weave the fabric of our society. We encourage those around us to take a chance and gain a little self-respect in the process.

No man or woman is ever an island in a world of people. We may feel alone or abandoned, but that’s because we’ve allowed our society to fracture. Every time we jettison our good sense, every time we ignore or excuse our own bad behavior by believing it’s someone else’s job to do these simple little things, we give ourselves and everyone else the permission to pretend the rest of society doesn’t matter. “We are the only people on the planet with any value.”

The Golden Rule was never a path to religious zealotry. It doesn’t make us idiots or fanatics when we practice it. It’s a means of recognizing that other people exist in this world and we need to get along with them. It makes us mindful of the reality that each of us has the power to influence the people around us. Every little effort we make defines us as people. We choose to empower good over evil. We choose sharing and caring over hoarding and selfishness.

Do I think that young woman who shoved her grocery cart at the corral understood that? No. She was busy thinking that she had so many things to do and her ten seconds was too valuable to waste. But someday...somewhere...somehow, she will be in need of an act of kindness. In that moment, when she feels her back is against the wall and there is no hope, her heart will open up and she will begin to understand that she is of this world. Her eyes will see what she has missed all these years and she will recognize her hunger for that human compassion she believed was meaningless. It will matter. And that’s when she will become a responsible member of society, aware of the people around her and willing to do her part to make this world a better place in which to live.

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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.