Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who Defends Those Who Defend Us?

When I was a high school senior over a decade ago , I took the ASVAB test. I hadn't seriously considered joining the military, but the test meant I got out of a class I didn't like. And to be honest, I was nerdy enough that I enjoyed taking (and acing) any type of standardized test. Despite the fact that there were things on the test I had never seen, I ended up scoring in the 98th percentile. Needless to say, I became quite popular with recruiters. Over the next few months, there were numerous phone calls and visits. I was offered scholarships that included full tuition, room and board and a monthly allowance. Upon graduating with my degree, I would be required to spend four years in the military. For a seventeen-year-old girl who was anxious to get away from her hometown and seemingly overprotective mother, it sounded like a sweet deal. In fact, the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I could go to college for free, do some traveling, defend my country and be free to live my life by my 27th birthday. I could also make my father, who spent 40+ years in the military, extremely proud.

There was one small roadblock--my mother.

Momma was immensely unhappy when the recruiters started calling. If she answered the phone, she didn't let them speak with me and often resorted to rudeness if they were insistent. She told my father not to encourage me and to instruct his "buddies" to leave her baby alone. To me, she insisted that the military is no place for a woman and that she would stop at nothing to dissuade me from joining. She swore that if I joined I'd be sent off to some Third World country where I'd be captured, tortured, raped and/or killed. I was young and invincible and assured her that she was overreacting. There were quite a few heated discussions and probably a few fights. In the end, I didn't accept the scholarships, and I didn't join the military.

As it turns out, I graduated from college in May of 2001, just months before the attacks of September 11. I sometimes wonder what the last few years of my life would have been like if my mother hadn't absolutely put her foot down and squashed my ambitions of being some sort of G.I. Jane.

I started thinking about this today after reading an article on about sexual assault in the military. Turns out that enemy soldiers aren't the only thing about which my mother had to worry. At a VA Hospital in L.A., 41% of the female patients said they were victims of sexual assault or abuse while serving in the military. Twenty-nine percent said they were raped. Jane Harman, a Democratic Representative from California, said to a House panel this week, "Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq." According to Harman, only 181 out of 2,212 reports of military sexual assaults, or 8 percent, were referred to courts martial in 2007. Sadly, it's believed that many sexual assaults remain unreported.

I found this article at that includes interviews with several women who were raped while serving. Many of the attackers went unpunished. The victims were often treated like criminals themselves. The article was written in 2005; you can read it here:

To be honest, much of this is not the least bit surprising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1.4 million people on active duty; about 80% of them are male. For the most part, the men who serve our country are honorable and brave. But with that many people serving, it's inevitable that they won't all be decent or moral or even mentally stable. I've known quite a few men in the military and for the most part they were good, solid men. But I've also known a few who I personally don't think should be allowed to handle heavy artillery due to rage issues, latent alcoholism or mental illness (or a combination of two or three of these). And to be frank, I have little trouble picturing these guys in situations where they would sexually assault a woman,, especially if there's alcohol involved.

It doesn't surprise me that women are raped in the military. It doesn't even surprise me that women who report rapes are often treated so badly. It does anger me, though. Many of these women are risking their lives on a daily basis to serve their country. As of 2005, 15 percent of those on active duty were women; 16,000 of those were single mothers. These women have to leave their children in order to give them a better life, and some of them are not only having to protect themselves from enemies but also from the very men who are supposed to have their backs. I've read stories of female soldiers urinating in cups at night to avoid going to the bathroom in the dark. Others talk about carrying knives to protect themselves from unwanted advances. I know there's not really a way to prevent these crimes from happening, but these women must be protected if they come forward and admit to being raped. The men who assault these women must be prosecuted. Perhaps if more of these soldiers are punished, then others will less likely to assault other women.

In a way, my mom was right. She used to say, "There are things that can be done to a woman that they can't do to a man." There's some truth in that. A woman can be beaten, but bruises and bones heal. Yes, there's emotional damage, but not the type that is inflicted when a woman's own body is used against her as a weapon.

In January of this year, the VA opened its 16th inpatient ward that specializes in treating victims of military sexual trauma. Obviously, the government realizes that there is a problem. I'm thankful that there is treatment for these poor people, but what actions are being taken
to prevent this from happening in the first place?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Age of Aquarius?

I hate water.

Wait, no I don't. I love long showers. I love hot baths. I love water with a slice of cucumber. I love swimming. I love the rain (as long as it's not cold outside and there's no tornado attached). I love the sound of the ocean and the feel of the waves washing over my feet..

I hate unexpected, UNWELCOME water. You know, the kind that flows into my life and bites me in the bum every so often.

If I think about it, I guess it kind of started when I was in high school. My friend Jamie and I almost drowned off the coast of Florida. Long story short, we drifted too far out on floats and ended up in a bad undertow. We obviously didn't drown, but it wasn't without help and not without Jamie losing some hair--it was the only part of her I could hold on to so that she didn't go under while she panicked. The experience didn't deter my love for swimming, but it did give me an entirely new respect for the ocean (I don't go out past my waist now).

But this experience is different from those that followed. I willingly entered the Atlantic. My other bad experiences with water have been inflicted upon me.

Then again, maybe this is some sort of Final Destination thing. The water is determined to get me.

It started in the summer of 2001. John and I were moving our few belongings from Henderson to Memphis...on a flatbed trailer (can I stop here and say this WASN'T my idea and I was COMPLETELY against it?). I just knew someone would hit the trailer and spread our stuff all over I-40. In this regard, I'm lucky. We DID make it to Memphis, but only after a torrential downpour. Seriously, the animals were gathering around in pairs.

Everything was soaked. My kitchen table warped. The drawers in my dresser fell apart. It was a mess. It rained so much that day that the road we lived on flooded (more on that in a second) and part of the roof at a local mall collapsed.

In the end, we laughed it off as a good story we'd have about moving into our first apartment (though I still would rather make 100 trips with my car than use a flatbed trailer)

Now flash forward to the Summer of 2002. John and I went to Boston to visit friends. When we returned to Memphis, I noticed a lot of debris hanging out from the bottom of my car and from the tailpipe. As I walked over to investigate, our kindly neighbor, Mr. Frank, came out and said, "I have some bad news." Our apartment sat almost on top of Walnut Grove Road. Remember when I mentioned flooding earlier? This was the road. Not all of it floods, just where we lived. We still maintain the "person" who developed that area was a drunken chimpanzee. There had been a torrential downpour and the water backed up into our parking lot and turned it into a small pond for a couple of hours. Dumpsters floated away. A car floated away. Children were swimming around in it (sadly, I'm serious about that. Their parents must have been drunken chimpanzees, too).

The good news was that Mr. Frank's grandkids had saved my car from being smashed by a dumpster. The bad news was that my car had been almost completely submerged. This happened about four days prior to our arrival home, so the car sat for DAYS in the hot Tennessee sun with water standing inside.

The car and everything inside was ruined. All my CDs in the floorboard are warped. The entire interior was molded and turned from red to white. The engine wouldn't start. The electrical system was kaput. And the smell, oh Sweet Jeebus, the smell. If I had words to describe it, they wouldn't be appropriate for this blog. The guy who came to tow it away wouldn't even get inside long enough to put it in neutral. He dragged the car onto the tow truck which produced a sound like something small and furry dying.

The car was completely totaled, of course. And not just any car. It was my FIRST car, my Ozzie. Nothing flashy, just a 1995 Thunderbird. But it was mine, my ThunderOSTRICH. Ozzie the ThunderOstrich. *sigh*

John took pictures of me with it before they dragged it away, but I just can't post them. Too painful. Here's Ozzie in happier days.

**Side note: State Farm gave us what the car was worth and more... and then raised our premiums. Never mind that their OFFICE had to evacuated due to the VERY SAME FLOOD. We're with AllState now.

Flash forward to New Years Eve 2003. John and I call it an early night and head back home between 11 and 11:30. And thank goodness we did. I walk into the apartment and head d0wn the hall toward the bathroom. As I enter the hall, water surges from the carpet and COVERS my feet. My hallway is soaked! I run into the guest room. Water is everywhere and is currently gushing onto the bed (which is covered in clean clothes I needed to hang up). The mattress is soaked through to the box springs. The closet and everything in it--clothes, files, the stuffed animal collection John won from the Claw Machine--it's all soaked. As I head back into the hall, I notice water cascading down the wall behind my washer and dryer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

See, the apartment above us was a "holding ground" for illegal Mexicans. The guy who rented the apartment (but didn't live there) would house Mexicans until they could find somewhere to stay. The apartment was a revolving door of anywhere from 3 to 5 tenants. They weren't bad neighbors to have, though. They tried to keep a low profile since they didn't want attention drawn to themselves. Every so often, we'd have to ask them to turn their music down because a new guy would crank up his circa-1986 ghetto blaster with some bumping back-home music (I swear to you I'm not making this up--that radio was in a Beastie Boys video). The only other bad experience was when someone puked on our front door during a Cinco de Mayo shindig (it was promptly cleaned up).

This brings us back to New Years. It seems that there was a new group of guys living upstairs. It also seems they weren't familiar with an appliance we call a washing machine. They had the basics down--clothes in, add soap, turn on. But there was a certain finesse missing. When the maintenance guys finally got into the apartment (no one was home) they found the washing machine that appeared to be possessed by Satan. It was so full of clothes, that it had completely kicked out from the wall. The water had continued running for hours--down the wall and into our apartment. I hate to admit it, but I considered calling Immigration.

The apartment management wasn't happy either. Know how much it costs to get a carpet guy out at midnight on New Year's Eve? Um, yeah.

Luckily, we salvaged everything except some files, a few stuffed animals and a couple of shirts. I'm sure the apartment had mold four inches thick in the ceiling and walls, but they weren't about to pay to rip it all out and redo it. It's no wonder I was ALWAYS sick when I lived there.

So I've had to refurbish/replace my furniture, replace my car and half of my CDs, throw away some of my "Claw" babies, and squeeze out a queen sized mattress.

Now it's June of 2005. We are leaving for St. Louis in three days (to live, not to visit). My parking lot--which had not flooded since I lost Ozzie--FLOODS! At this point, I'm driving a Camry, my mom's old car which I darn near coveted. Luckily, I get my car out before it gets too bad, but not before water creeps into my floorboard. To be safe, I take it Abra. They say they'll have to keep it until the claims guy comes from the insurance company. They ended up having it for a MONTH. During that time, I made several trips to Jackson from STL because my car was supposed to be done. I'd get here to find it hadn't even been looked at! They kept saying it would have to be totaled. All it needed was a good cleaning, but because they let it sit, they had to replace the carpet, mats and some wiring. It was a nightmare. And then the insurance company threatened not to pay for my rental (they did--my agent was a maniac who made some very ugly phone calls on my behalf).

What's the count now? Four incidences? Today's number five. It could have been SO much worse, but it just adds to my theory that water not a friend I can trust.

Earlier this evening, I went into our bathroom and heard water gushing, like the sound the tub makes when it's on except INSIDE the wall. The Mr. was running the sprinklers outside. We're not sure what went wrong, but something is jacked up with the faucet on the side of the house. We don't know what the inside of the wall looks like, but my closet had water standing in it. Luckily, we got the carpet up and will only have to replace the pad. Mr. told me they may have to go through the wall to fix it. I almost threw up. Said wall is where my tub sits, my super big wonderful tub that I use all the time. The one place I can go and not fear the reaper water.

I can't win.

By the way, anyone remember when I wanted to move to New Orleans instead of STL? In 2001? Surprised?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I sent my Batsuit to the cleaners...

...and I think they shrunk my mask. What will I wear to The Dark Knight now? We talked about going on opening night, but since we're driving to Memphis to see it, we're going to wait and go early Saturday. I'm super psyched. I'm trying not to read too much about it because eve though I anticipate it to be phenomenal, sometimes too many good reviews can lessen my enjoyment by raising my expectations too high. Plus, I don't want to know anything. I just want to go and wiggle around in my seat with glee.
P.S. Does anyone see something wrong with this picture? If you know me very well, you'll notice something is amiss.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jumping RIght In...

While this isn't technically my FIRST post, it is my first post of any substance. I decided I need to start off with something that might get people talking, and a topic close to my heart is education.

This past spring, a judge in California tried to make homeschooling illegal unless the parent is a licensed teacher. And while the ruling is basically being ignored by the state (Governor Ah-nold doesn't support it and the state education department refuses to enforce it), news commentators and bloggers have discussed the merits and downfalls of the ruling.

In order to teach in the public school system (and I assume most private schools), a person must have a license or must be working toward a license. Many school systems, especially those who struggle to find teachers, will allow a person with a degree to teach while s/he is taking classes to receive a license. For example, someone who has a degree in English like me is allowed to teach while taking her education classes to get certified.

If a teacher must have a license to teach in the (gasp!) public school system, then why can practically ANYONE choose to homeschool his or her child? Prior to 1994, Tennessee residents who wished to homeschool were required to have a B.A; however, that requirement was lowered and parents now must only have their high school diploma or G.E.D. Parents who don't have the minimum required educational requirements CAN submit waivers which are sometimes approved.

A high school diploma means you graduated; it does not mean you performed well in high school. And considering the pracitce of "social promotion" that was much more prevalent in years past, many of these parents didn't "earn" their diploma. Basically, Tennesse's law potentially allows uneducated--though most likely well-meaning--parents to homeschool their children.

Now before you jump on me, give me a moment to clarify a few things. I'm not AGAINST homeschooling. When done correctly, I am more than willing to admit the value of this method. I understand why parents are disenchanted with the public education system; as a public high school teacher since 2001, I've witnessed first-hand the problems in our schools. The blame for the decline must be placed on many heads, including the parents...but that's a WHOLE different blog.

Back to homeschooling... I understand why parents want to homeschool. I APPLAUD those who pour themselves into it and do it the right way. I think homeschooled kids are just as successful as kids who attend regular school, public and private. I know people who were homeschooled who are brilliant, well-rounded individuals. But the key to homeschooling is the kids have to be SCHOOLED CORRECTLY. And while it seems a majority of the parents are doing this, I can't help but think that some (again, well-meaning) parents just aren't up to the job.

Am I saying that a degree equals infinite knowledge and teaching ability? No. I have a degree and teach school, but that doesn't mean I'm the least bit equipped to teach calculus or chemistry or Spanish or practically anything out of my subject area. BUT I do feel that I COULD teach those things if I needed to. It would take a lot of studying and reviewing on my part, and I would have to take it a lesson at a time and probably learn a lot of it WITH my child. But the bottom line is that I could do it. I'm not tooting my own horn, but I enjoy learning and it has always been a priority. If I want to learn something, I can.

But everyone's not like me.

What about the parent who wants to homeschool who STRUGGLED in school? Or worse, who never really cared that much about school s/he was young? How do these people homeschool their children, especially when the child gets into the upper grades? How do you teach Calculus when you barely passed Algebra? How do teach your child to write an essay when you still can't tell the difference between an adjective and adverb? How do you teach chemistry when you had to retake it in summer school?

My point is what happens to the kids whose parents just aren't up to the challenge?

As I've said, a degree doesn't mean you know everything, but it means you've learned SOMETHING. It shows that you (hopefully) can at least comprehend a wide range of subjects and content areas.

Okay, I've ranted enough. Time for you all to weigh in on this. What type of educational background should parents have in order to homeschool their children? Is a high school diploma enough? Should a degree be required? Or is just the desire to teach your kids at home enough?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Goodbye Myspace...

Well, not completely. I'll still retain my account over there, but I'm moving my (incredibly neglected) blog over to blogspot. This may mean my readership (which is currently dwindling) may decrease, but it will allow a few friends who avoid social networking with plague-like fervor to access my literary ramblings.