Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aftermath in Tucson: amid good news, serious questions remain

By now, the horrific events of Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona have been spread throughout the news media that they no longer need to be exhaustively rehashed. Now, it is time to move beyond the “what” to both the “why?” and the more important question: “how could this have been prevented?”

The good news is that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is going to live. In their latest update, her surgeons at University Medical Center in Tucson report that she continues to respond to simple commands and is moving both arms. This latter is the best news yet because it shows that, at a minimum, the motor control region in her left hemisphere (the one that got hit) is in reasonably good condition. Because she is still on a breathing tube as a reasonable precaution she cannot talk. Until it is removed – as it will in time, since she is able to breathe on her own, another positive sign – her physicians will not know the extent to which her left hemisphere speech center has been damaged.

The gunman – Jared Laugher, 22, of Tucson – was subdued at the scene by a quartet of bystanders. On Monday, January 10, in Federal Court in Phoenix, he was arraigned on five federal felonies and ordered held without bail. The arraignment was moved from Tucson when the entire Southern District Court bench recused themselves out of necessity because Southern District Chief Judge John Rolle, a friend of the Congresswoman, died at the scene.

Now the finger pointing and rhetorical jousting has begun, with seemingly everyone pointing their finger at someone as responsible for triggering this event. This continuing negativity has got to stop. Indications are that the gunman was politically independent, so the vitriol from the Conservative Right probably would have had minimal effect on him. At this time, I have seen no indication that investigators have found any compelling links between the gunman and right wing talk shows and groups.

What is emerging, however, is a long-term pattern of unstable behavior in public. Last fall he was asked to leave one of Pima Community College’s campuses because of a pattern of disruptive outbursts in his classes that left his classmates feeling fearful. It is impossible for anyone to make a definitive diagnosis at a distance in a case like this, however, it is clear that he does have problems of some nature. I have a hunch that his motivation was completely non political, which lets right wing commentary off the hook – for now.

At the same time, this needs to be a wake up call to all Americans. Political conversations and commentary have grown way too caustic and fixated on tearing the other side down. The era of violence-suggestive political speech needs to come to an end now, before it encourages another unstable individual to act out the violence being spread by talk show hosts, and far too many politicians.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Net Neutrality May Soon Be a Thing of the Past

Today is Tuesday, December 21, so today is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In the wake of a historic vote by the Commissioners of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this morning, today likely will be seen in retrospect as the darkest day in the history of the Internet. Despite campaign promises, and repeated statements after his inauguration supporting unfettered Net Neutrality, today, the FCC is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that threaten the independence and open freedom Internet users now enjoy.

Since its emergence in the 1990's as a public spin off from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research project called ARPAnet, the Internet has been freely accessible by every interested computer user with a means of connecting to it. While all Internet service providers (ISPs) have always charged users for their connections, the content itself has always been available free of charge. That may be threatened in the future.

Once implemented as proposed, the new regulations will make it easier for mobile service providers such as A T &T and Verizon to restrict or block access to web sites or services they deem to be in competition with similar services they themselves provide. As an example, a provider with its own video on demand service would be free to either severely restrict or completely block its customers from accessing Netflix’s instant streaming movies and TV show episodes. Other streaming video sites could be similarly affected.

Some of what is allowed under the new rules is already happening with some Cable TV/broadband Internet providers. My broadband service is provided by Cable One, a regional carrier located primarily in the Midwest and parts of the West. They never explain why to their customers, however, they have completely blocked access to ESPN’s on-line live game broadcasting option now called (previously it was, Under the proposed rules, actions such as these could easily become commonplace.

Another big area of concern – especially for mobile Internet customers – is media access. Currently, independent sites such as Newser, Alternet, and the Huffington Post are the best of the corporation independent news websites that help to keep the Internet democratic by providing all of the hard news and fact-based opinion that the corporate media tries to suppress. Under the new rules, an ISP that is ideologically strongly conservative would be allowed to restrict or deny access to “unacceptable” web sites like these.

In time, I can see this access filtering extending to the blogosphere as well. This is why US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) sees this issue as “the most important free speech issue of our time” in a well written critique published on the Huffington Post website yesterday.

One strength of the Internet lies in its diffuse, largely unregulated, fiercely independent nature. There never has been a “central headquarters” for the net, and one must never be created. Corporate America wants the FCC to give its blessing to their goal of transforming the worldwide Internet into yet one more profit center for them, and into yet one more avenue through which they control what every human being on the planet sees, hears and believes.

If and when the FCC completes its action on this matter and posts the new rules on its website, I will have more to say on this matter. For now, I add my blogger’s voice to those who oppose regulatory moves aimed at trying to regulate that which defies regulation – the Internet.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fire in historic Provo, Utah Tabernacle Leaves City’s Cultural Heart Broken

Sometime in the wee small hours of Friday, December 17, 2010, a fire broke out, apparently on the second floor, of the historic Provo Tabernacle in Utah. This building, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been used for both community and church events.

Shortly before 2:45 am, the Provo Fire Department received word of the fire, and responded within moments, to find the second floor engulfed with fire. At first, hose crews were sent into the structure to attack the fire from the inside. However, in time, in the interests of safety, these crews were withdrawn while the suppression effort continued from the outside. At 5 am, the north part of the roof began to collapse, and take part of the north wall with it. By 6 am, virtually the entire roof had collapsed.

The big question, naturally, is whether the outer walls can be saved or not. The answer is far from certain at this time because the investigation into the cause has yet to begin. Only after that process is finished can structural engineers enter the structure to assess the condition of what is left. Preliminarily, the appearance of several visible cracks in the first floor outer walls before the fire was extinguished raises serious doubts.

One might wonder why a non-Mormon who has never even visited Provo would even care about this news event. I find I can’t explain it, however, there is something about this story that has touched me very deeply. For some reason, I feel a sense of loss, even at a distance of several hundred miles. Perhaps, in time, clarity on these issues will surface. Until then, may my compassion reach out and bring a feeling of comfort to the community of Provo.

I’m Back (Again)

To paraphrase the heroic pilot who saved the world in the movie Independence Day, “Hello, world – I’m back.” With this post I bring this blog literally back from oblivion. I was under the impression that I had deleted it earlier this year. So when I logged on to today, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that this blog still exists AND that people are still occasionally visiting it. So, rather than start a new blog that no one could possibly know about, I will resume posting Random Musings on a variety of subjects.

Last month I took part in the National Novel Writing Month contest for the third year in a row, and in the process became a three time winner of the event. In its wake has come a new personal commitment to write at least 1,500 words a day of either fiction, non fiction, or both every day of the year. What better encouragement to write on a regular basis that to have a blog (or two) nagging at me?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

President Barack Obama: Most Disappointing One-Term President in American History?

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama captured the attention of the American electorate by his campaign theme of “Change we can believe in.” This message took hold in the minds of many voters tired of the communicationally challenged Bush administration. So, in November, he was elected in a stunning landslide over the Republican ticket of McCain & Palin. Even in his Inaugural Address, this theme of change loomed large, renewing the hope everyone felt.

Almost from day one of his administration, President Obama seemingly has spent more time backpedaling from campaign promises and distancing himself from actions mentioned in the Inaugural address than he has pushing through actual progress.

The muddled mess called health care reform is but one shining example of this pattern. Early on, his administration emphasized the need for a Public Option in health care reform. Then when obstructionist forces in Congress – from both sides of the aisle – balked, instead of standing firm, he backtracked, and withdrew his support. As a result, meaningful health care reform likely is unattainable for the foreseeable future. Indeed, in the March 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew asks “Is There Life in Health Care Reform?” While serious doubts exists about the future of the current House and Senate versions, there is still a slim chance that a decent bill will emerge.

More disturbing is the track record of waffling being established by the Obama administration in the foreign relations arena. In a brief review of this muddied record, Kenneth Ross, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch asks “Empty Promises? Obama’s Hesitant Embrace of Human Rights” in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. This short article gives a well written look at this track record, and the places where his words and actions do not match up.

Perhaps no issue underscores this inconsistent track record more clearly than the status of Guantanamo Bay and the remaining inmates. In his Inaugural Address, Obama made it clear that the base would be closed within a year. Yet it is still open, still occupied, and the military tribunals created by the Bush administration still exist. Does a clear mandate for the closure of Gitmo still exist? It is beginning to appear like such a mandate no longer exists.

Domestically, his track record is equally dismal. Too many misguided Bush administration policies continue in full effect, apparently without being examined by his administration for their effectiveness, or even their constitutionality. Indeed, it appears like airport security is only growing more draconian, more irrational and more constitutionally questionable under his administration, not less. As a nation, are we safer today from terrorist attacks than we were even a year ago? I have my doubts.

During the campaign, and early in his Presidency, he at least made it sound like he was a firm supporter of expanding civil and legal rights for the entire GLBT community. Yet, over a year later, only the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act has been enacted into law. It is beginning to appear more and more that he has withdrawn support for passage of an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that bans employment discrimination based on sexual identity or gender orientation. When that critically needed law will actually be voted on by either the full House or Senate is anybodies guess.

Despite the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff coming out strongly in support of repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, again his administration seemingly has backtracked and withdrawn its support for repeal. If the leadership of the military supports repeal, and if there is widespread support of the idea from the rank and file in the military, shouldn’t he at least be somewhat supportive of the repeal legislation languishing in Congress?

Throughout the campaign and the early days of his administration, President Obama kept promising greater transparency in how the administration conducted its business. Increasingly, those promises are not being kept.

One example of this re-emergence of Bush-era opaqueness affects me personally, and I am beyond not happy. In the waning days of the Bush administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing drafted a revision to tenant documentation requirements. Under this proposed rule, all tenants of Public Housing Authority units – regardless of length of tenancy – would be required to provide a birth certificate, or a US Passport as proof of legal citizenship status. Those who failed to provide the documentation in a timely manner would be declared to be illegal aliens, and evicted from their residence. What remains unanswered is whether HUD’s declaration of those in non-compliance as illegal would lead to their arrest and deportation by the Federal Government.

The Obama administration revisited this draft rule last fall in response to a number of concerns voiced by Public Housing Agencies near the US borders with Canada and Mexico about the rule’s impact on people born in other countries. Then, working in a completely opaque, behind closed doors environment, the draft rule took effect January 31, 2010.

Because I am disabled, I live in a local Housing Authority studio apartment. Thus, I have two major issues with this rule and how it was placed into effect.

First, at no time has the need, or benefit, of this rule ever been explained to Public Housing residents, despite the fact that it affects us personally. Not only that, but, based on Internet research I have done in recent months, no public hearings of any kind were ever held, and no public comment period ever existed. If this is what the Obama administration means by “transparency”, then my Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary needs serious updating.

Second, I take serious umbrage whenever anyone questions my citizenship status. I represent the eleventh generation of my patrilineal lineage to call this continent home. Indeed, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather brought my family tree to New London, Connecticut in 1666, then was chosen as New London’s Constable a year later. Thus, my family has lived on this continent for more than a third of a millennium, so I should not have to prove to anyone that I am a US Citizen. Yet that is precisely what I am being forced to do.

This ridiculous rule first saw light of day during the illegal immigration “crisis” that the Bush administration believed we had in the United States. It is one of many such rules that needed to be scuttled early on in his administration by President Obama. This rule does nothing about increasing US security, or about reversing the on-going financial malaise gripping the country. So, why is it necessary? The only reason I can see is that it gives control addicted, voyeuristic Federal bureaucrats yet one more tool to use to threaten and oppress the less well off, the disabled, the physically challenged and senior citizens without cause. This from a Nobel Peace Prize recipient?

Kenneth Ross, referring to the situation in Israel, quotes part of President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech: “only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.” While these are nice words, again, the administration’s actions them. More disturbingly, with the dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still very much with us, these words apply as much to US citizens as those of any other country. Are all of his promises and rhetoric nothing more than empty words? Apparently.

My disappointment with the Obama administration continues to grow more profound with almost every passing day. I voted for him in 2008. I doubt that I will vote for him in 2012.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Baptist missionaries arrested in Haiti, giving the United States yet another international black eye

On January 20 ten Baptist missionaries, most of whom reside in Idaho, were arrested in Haiti for trying to transport 33 children into the Dominican republic without proper documentation. In their initial court hearing they were charged with kidnaping and criminal association. Because the first charge involves children, Haitian law apparently prohibits release on bail while the case is pending.

This case has already been fairly widely covered in the US news media, with most media outlets getting the essential facts right. However, pertinent background facts about Laura Silsby, the group’s leader have been either ignored or glossed over far too often. In some of the media reports, this presents the group as being victimized by the Haitian government while possessing noble intentions. I contend this is far from the case.

In Idaho, Laura Silsby has frequently been in trouble of one kind or another with the law. She owns an online shopping business based in southwest Idaho. Between February, 2008 and July, 2009, fourteen lawsuits for nonpayment of wages. Nine were resolved in favor of the employees. Her business paid out in excess of $34,000 in back wages and Idaho Department of Labor penalties.

Currently, court records acquired by the Boise Idaho Statesman newspaper show that she is due in District Court next week for a hearing in a civil suit filed last October by her former marketing director. The trial in that suit is scheduled to begin later in February. In March, she is due in court to answer to yet another civil suit that has been filed against her.

An excellent brief summary of her civil woes assembled by the Statesman can be read here.

From her track record of deceit, and an apparent problem with keeping commitments, troubling questions abound about this entire group effort. Equally puzzling is the make-up of the detainees. Six of the ten are 34 years old or older, and include a part-time youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas and the pastor of the Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Why didn’t one of these other adults sense something was amiss, and speak up? For that matter, why
didn’t at least one of them take the time to research the relevant legal requirements for setting up the Haitian refugee orphanage they were allegedly building in the Dominican Republic?

Clearly there are many details about this incident that have not been made public yet. Until all of the facts are on the table and out in the open, many questions will remain. The group’s Haitian defense attorney claims that nine of the ten were unaware that they lacked the proper paperwork for moving the children across the border. I find that claim a bit hard to believe.

Once the Haitian judicial process is completed the world will know whether the collected evidence is sufficient to confirm their guilt or not. If they are adjudged to be guilty, then the question shifts to the appropriate sentence to be handed down. The kidnaping charge carries a possible maximum sentence of up to life in prison while the criminal association charge carries a lighter sentence. Their Haitian attorney seems to think that the most anyone would get is fifteen years. Would this be a just sentence? As I am not an attorney, this is a question I do not feel qualified to answer.

Still, this case raises troubling issues. Just how far should American aid providers be allowed to go in helping foreign victims of natural disasters? Is it appropriate for aid workers to seek to convince affected parents to hand them their children, as apparently happened in this case? How much effort should aid workers put into documenting whether a child is or is not an orphan? Finally, if a child has lost both parents, but has other, even distant, living relatives who are in a position to provide care and shelter, is the child still an orphan?

The down side to this unfortunate incident is the negative reputation and image it unavoidably lends to the Southern Baptist Convention and its relief efforts world wide. Even though all ten are members of SBC-affiliated churches, their questionable actions should not be seen as indicative of the way Baptist missionaries behave. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any Baptist church.)

As a native of Idaho I am disgusted by the actions of this group. The typical Idaho resident is a stable, law abiding citizen who would not consider stooping to seemingly stealing children in an earthquake ravaged country to satisfy personal needs. Sadly it appears like Laura Silsby does not fit this mold.

Tonight, as I write this post, my heart goes out to the Haitian people. On the heels of last month’s crippling earthquake, the survivors do not need events like this creating more problems.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

President Obama Should Skip The Annual National Prayer Breakfast

This year’s National Prayer Breakfast will occur tomorrow, Thursday, February 4, 2010 in Washington, DC. Every year it draws invited members of Congress, the Administration, influential business and religious leaders. It is billed as an ecumenical gathering that reaches out to a wide variety of faith traditions. As AlterNet found out when it requested media access, the event is private, by invitation only and excludes Muslims, Jews and, presumably, anyone else whose views differ from those of the sponsors.

This pointedly narrow-minded Christian gathering is closed to most religious faiths and denominations in the United States. Accompanying the breakfast is a week-long lobbying festival on Capitol Hill, during which Family members pointedly push their agenda as the only acceptable American positions and policies. Thus, it appears to me that, whenever members of Congress or the Administration attend the breakfast they are sending a silent message that the Separation of Church and State doctrine is empty and meaningless.

President Eisenhower attended for the first time in 1953, and the sitting president has attended every year since. In keeping with that tradition, President Obama is planning on attending. There are compelling reasons why he should skip the breakfast, thereby breaking the 57 year long tradition. Then he would be wise to use his absence to more forcefully speak out against the pending Ugandan law criminalizing homosexuality and the advocacy of gay rights. This law provides for imposition of the death penalty for some “offenses.” Reportedly this law was written, and promoted in the Ugandan Parliament by legislators who are affiliated with, if not actual members of, The Family.

I also must question the ethical propriety of any Administration or Congressional member to openly attend this private event. The organizers, usually known as The Family is hugely secretive, particularly when it comes to revealing the names of members, or any details about its finances. Also, in a statement released earlier this week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) noted that the organization’s head, Doug Coe, has praised the organizing abilities of Hitler and Bin Ladin.

Given that The Family obviously does not believe in freedom of speech, of association, of the press, or of religion, is it ethical for those who swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” before taking office to attend anyway? Is it appropriate for Administration and Congressional officials to attend an event overseen by one who praises an avowed enemy of the United States?

I am back after another hiatus and a laptop change

Two and a half months ago this blog, and my writing-oriented blog, From Both Sides of the Fence, went on what I thought at the time would be a permanent vacation. When this hiatus began, I was deep into participating in the 11th annual National Novel Writing Month contest (I won, as usual) and was struggling with an eight year old Sony laptop, and its arthritic keyboard.

Thanks entirely to a surprise offer from a relative in December, I have retired the Sony Vaio laptop, replacing it with a new Hewlett Packard Pavillion laptop. At the same time that I gained a larger screen and keyboard, this changeover also allowed me to upgrade from Windows XP (32 bit) to 64 bit Windows 7 Professional.

I have never been much of a Microsoft booster. Still, with Windows 7, I feel like Microsoft finally has developed a Windows version that really works. For the first time, I feel like Windows is working for me, rather than against me. For the first time, perhaps ever, the Internet is a joy to use because it is so colorful and fast.

For the first time since I launched these blogs, I can finally see them the way other visitors to them do. I am quite pleased at the colorful appearances of both, appearances I previously could only guess at due to limitations in the older laptop.

So Random Musings is back in production, this time much more likely to stay that way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maine Voters Fell for Outright Lies and I am Angry

Maine was one of a handful of states that held state-wide election voting. New Jersey and Virginia elected new Governors while Washington state and Maine voted on state-wide referendums affecting the GLBT community. Other states, including Idaho, held local elections for City Council seats.

Earlier this year the Maine Legislature passed, and Maine’s governor signed, a new law granting marriage equality in the state. This opened marriage up to any two consenting adults without regard to gender or sexual orientation. So the Religious Right launched a ballot initiative to overturn that law.

By using many of the same tactics that successfully passed Prop 8 in California last year, and by using much of the same inaccurate, deceptive, dishonest and alarmist rhetoric, these same forces cowed Maine’s voters into overturning marriage equality in that state. This is a bitter defeat that the GLBT community throughout the United States needs to be concerned about, and unhappy with. Every successful denial of any part of GLBT civil rights strengthens the opposition and encourages them to be even bolder in future campaigns.

I am also angry with President Obama for staying silent in the weeks before this election. Indeed, he could have helped strengthen the supporters of marriage equality in Maine (and elsewhere) by using the power of the Executive Order to suspend the Federal Defense of Marriage Act while mandating its repeal by Congress. He could have spoken out and stressed that the Maine overturn effort was both unacceptable and wrong. But he did not.

As a result, people like Harry Knox, the Human Rights Campaign’s religions and faith program director wondering (among other things) “Am I human?” “Am I an American?” No American citizen, regardless of who or what they are should ever be forced to feel that way.

To hear the vitriol-infused opponents of GLBT civil rights protections put it, they are taking a stand to preserve the sanctity of marriage and to preserve America as a Christian nation. I don’t get it. The version of Christianity I grew up knowing is grounded deeply in truth, honesty in all dealings with your fellow man, and a non judgmental approach to life. In addition, even as a child I was taught that the Devil (by whatever name you choose to call him) is the father of all lies.

They claim that because the US is a Christian nation, and has been a Christian nation from its inception, they must support continuing discrimination and oppression based on factors they disapprove of. By taking this stand they negate a direct statement about the nature of the US found in the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified in 1797, and written by President George Washington’s administration. The preamble of this document asserts that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Ergo, the United States has always been a secular nation open to all faith traditions and varieties of religious beliefs.

An excellent and comprehensive look at the question “is America a Christian nation?” can be found at the Freedom From Religion Foundation website. The more the religious right uses the Bible as a weapon against the GLBT community, the more strongly I feel like becoming a member of that organization.

The religious right claims that they are fighting to keep America solidly Christian. Yet, given their open embracing of all forms of dishonest rhetoric and behavior, frequently stooping to using outright lies to get their way, I am beginning to wonder. Given the New Testament’s description of the Devil as the “father of lies”, is the US becoming more securely Christian, or is it becoming more Satanic?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween: ghoulish, yes, but what do we have to fear? Nothing

The sun has now set on Halloween 2009. This means it is time to
be afraid . . .
Be VERY afraid!!!

Yet, in reality, what do we have to be afraid of? In reality – absolutely nothing. How can this be?

Do we need to fear the past? Unless you are a casual criminal with a conscience that frets about past actions, it is illogical to fear the past. Why? That which is past continues to trouble your mind only if you allow it. Some years ago I developed an analogy that helped me begin recovering from my own past. Briefly, I visualized past memories as cups of colored water, which I then poured off the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As soon as they were dumped, I moved to the west side of the bridge, to spot them in the bay water flowing out into the pacific.

Guess what? By the time their water had merged with the greater stream of water flowing under the bridge, their color had disappeared so that the added water was indistinguishable from the main stream. In other words, they effectively no longer existed, so they no longer needed to bother me. To me, this adds meaning to the old saw about “water under the bridge.”

Do we need to fear the present? As long as Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now provides a guiding influence to one’s life, fear will not enter the picture because, in each now we only take on that which we can easily handle. Everything else is left for a future now when we will again have the tools, strength and insight we will need.

Carefully controlling exposure to mainstream media, whether print, electronic or Internet, helps control or eliminate fear. Sadly, mainstream media (and Fox News in particular) is increasingly political agenda and profit-driven. This is increasingly leaving them beholden to the needs and opinions of their corporate advertisers. As a result, news reports and opinions that might be seen as critical of their advertisers are suppressed.

As long as net neutrality exists, so that the Internet is openly accessible by everyone without governmentally-imposed restrictions, there will be a variety of alternative news sources on the net. The challenge becomes that of identifying the websites that feel “right” to you, then hanging on to them. I have found several, including The Huffington Post and that I endorse.

At the same time, for me, the Buddha’s teaching “all is impermanent” significantly blocks fear of the present. Whenever something crops up that my mind is unsure whether it can handle it or not, this teaching defuses the inner tension by reminding me that the uncertainty will not last indefinitely. Since making this teaching an essential part of my being, quite a bit of fear and anxiety have been defused by recalling it to my conscious mind.

Do we need to fear the future? Humanly, not fearing the future is far from easy, because of this fear’s roots in the fear of the unknown. This primal fear may have developed in humankind at the time of the fall from the Garden of Eden. The challenge faced in rising above fearing the future is in developing the discernment needed to recognize future events that are worthy of fear and those that are not.

Once again, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings help with this discernment’s development. By focusing on living only in a segment of the Now that supplies manageable bits of life to be dealt with, the future largely takes care of itself. The fact is that virtually everything the human mind fears about the future either turns out to be far more trivial than the mind envisioned, or never comes to pass. As to the rest, living only in the Now guarantees that when those events (or things) arrive, they will be at least relatively easy to deal with.

The power of the Law of Attraction also is useful in dispelling fears of the future. Instead of focusing thought energy on what might go wrong in the future, focus it on what can go right. This increases the likelihood that future events will be much more positive than negative. As those who teach this law stress, “what you think about the most, manifests the most.” Focus on that which you fear, and that is what the future will present to you. Focus on that which you will be able to handle, and that is what you will encounter in future Nows.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is finally law

Earlier this afternoon, in a well attended White House ceremony, President Barack Obama signed the Defense Authorization bill into law. Included as an attachment to this bill is The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. With President Obama’s historic signature on the larger bill, the first Federal law to explicitly extend protections to all transsexuals is now law.

I agree with National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling’s observation that this is a powerful day as the United States government, for the first time, stands up and declares that violence against transgender people is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country," Many people who are unfamiliar with the transgender community and its social milieu cannot fully grasp the palpable fear too many community members must live with on a daily basis. This fear starts with the fear of becoming a violent crime victim because of who they are. It them extends to the all-too-real risk of extended periods of unemployment and forced homelessness, again because of who they are. This law will make adequate prosecution of violent criminal acts committed because of “how they pray, who they love or who they are” as President Obama observed before signing the bill into law.

One point cannot be stressed enough: this hate crimes law extension addresses violent criminal acts exclusively. It does not render illegal acts of hate speech. So the claims from the deluded right that this law erodes (or repeals) both freedom of speech and freedom of religion by restricting what can be said from the pulpit are flat out wrong.

I continue to struggle with understanding how those who identify themselves as Christians can condone deliberate acts of violence against their fellow man. I grew up in a Christian family, have embraced the Faith in the past, and have read the Bible many times. The impression I have always had is that Christianity is a faith deeply rooted in love and tolerance. This is best seen in Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In all of the years of meditatively reading the New Testament, I have never seen any list of allowable exemptions from this commandment. So where is all of this Christian Right hatred coming from?

As the NCTE e-mail announcing this law’s signing stresses, the new law adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to existing law. With specific regard to the transsexuals, the new law:
will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it;
will help provide federal expertise and resources when they are needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement; and
will help educate the public that violence against anyone, including transgender people, is unacceptable and illegal.
All of these aspects of the law are positive steps forward for the transgender community, as well as the larger GLBT and disabled communities.

Joe Solomonese of the Human Rights Campaign also has issued an e-mail celebrating this historic milestone. He points out that this milestone has been reached only as a result of constant efforts over the last decade by literally countless concerned citizens. These efforts have been spearheaded by Matthew Shepard’s parents, who were able to attend the signing ceremony. In his opening remarks, President Obama recognized their efforts and stated that during an earlier meeting with them in the Oval Office he “promised them that this day would come.”

Now that Federal law finally protects the GLBT community instead of supporting various forms of discrimination, the real work needs to begin. Next up are the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bars employment-related discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Bills that would bring this protection into begin have been introduced in the House of Representatives. Only through concerted grass-roots lobbying by those of us who support it will it have any chance of becoming law.

But ENDA isn’t the only pressing issue on Congress’ plate. Equally important are repeal of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) that may have made sense at one time, but increasingly has grown into an irritating relic of a less enlightened era. Likewise the Military’s ill-advised “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that effectively closes off military service to the entire GLBT community needs to be repealed sooner rather than later.

So, while tonight is a time for celebrating today’s historic accomplishment, in reality the work is just beginning.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Unrecognized American Epidemic: Animal Cruelty, Part II -- Do domesticated animals have souls?

Hovering in the background of any discussion of animal cruelty is the question about animals and eternal souls. Conventional Christian wisdom holds that they do not, that the presence of an in-dwelling eternal soul is what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Perhaps, however, I am not entirely convinced about this. The innate ability of certain, but not all, animals – dogs and cats in particular – to become companions for humans, and to largely need humans for survival gives me pause.

If the possibility of some animals possessing an innate eternal soul did not exist, then how could specific species of animals become domesticated over a period of time? This question is particularly pertinent for canines and felines (i.e. dogs and cats). Wouldn’t all animals remain wild and inherently unsafe for humans to be around, like lions, hippopotamuses, etc are today? Yet through the years there have been many reports of family pet dogs, cats, horses, even other animals enriching or saving people’s lives in one way or another.

I have heard people opine that a dog who alerts family members to the presence of a fire in the family home thus getting everyone outside in time is merely seeking to be let out for itself. In other words that it is incapable of any form of altruistic thinking or behavior. I disagree. If dogs lack the capacity for altruistic thinking, then how are seeing eye and hearing ear dogs explained?

I have heard many people express the view that animals have no concept of death and are incapable of feeling emotion, hence have no feelings. Plus, since they cannot understand human language, it is perfectly ok to make snide, cutting remarks about them in their presence. Again, I disagree, and for the same reason. I have seen contradictory behavioral evidence with my own eyes.

When I was a child my family’s life was greatly enriched by Tiger, a purebred male seal point siamese cat that we acquired as a very young kitten. Because the breeder also had a couple of very friendly, outgoing dogs, Tiger lacked the typical feline inability to coexist with dogs. Our net door neighbors had both a poodle named Kukla and an older female siamese cat. It did not take very long for Tiger and Kukla to become very good friends. When Kukla passed away Tiger very clearly went through his own mourning process. It is true that cats lack tear glands so they really can’t shed tears the way humans can, but all other outward signs of being in mourning can be expressed by cats.

Another piece of evidence in favor of some animals having souls lies in their ability to both give and feel love. For people struggling to overcome some mental illnesses – depression, in particular – therapy cats frequently provide the companionship and affection (not to mention attention) the person needs. By providing the person with the same benefits yielded by psychoactive medications, a therapy cat is significantly healthier for the patient.

There are numerous reports over time of dogs or cats becoming separated from their families during long-distance moves. The families, naturally, assume that they will never again see their beloved pet (since pets, presumably, can’t read change of address cards), so they begin to mourn the loss. Then, after a variable period of time, the missing pet turns up at their new doorstep ready for a very long nap. If animals lack the capacity for an eternal soul, then how is this behavior explained? More pertinently, how do the animals find the correct address?

To shift gears slightly, for many years I have been skeptical of the contention that cats have no souls. For one thing, a middle ages Pope drew on his own feelings about cats (he clearly hated them) and denounced them as the spawn of the devil. While this seemingly was rooted in black cats being linked with witchcraft and with this claim that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, his denunciation has never made sense to me. In particular, the long-running claim that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, based only on the discovery of numerous pictographs of cats in Egyptian temples, has never been confirmed through other uncovered records, to the best of my knowledge.

For another thing, on many afternoons (or mornings) when sunlight is streaming through the windows I have observed many (mostly) younger cats contentedly (and intensely) watching something moving around in mid air, something only they can see. Whatever this entity is, its presence clearly is a source of great joy for them. If these occurrences aren’t spiritual in nature, what are they?

I am no theologian, and am largely estranged from Christianity, so I will leave the debate over what the Christian Bible says about animal souls to those more knowledgeable about such matters. In 2007 Gary Kurz wrote a brief, very informative and well-reasoned article on this issue titled The Souls of Animals. There may be some Christian Fundamentalists who disagree with his conclusions. However, his analysis does make a lot a sense to me.

Additional insightful points are made by Stacy Mantle in an essay posted at's Veterinary Medicine section entitled Do Animals Have Souls? Her points bear repeating: animals simply do not treat humans the way humans mistreat animals. I have never heard of a cat drenching a human with a flammable liquid, then striking a match. I have never read any accounts of dogs locking their human companions in their back yard without adequate food, water or shelter, then moving. Nor have I ever heard of a dog putting two humans in a ring where they are allowed to fight until one is too injured to continue, or is dead.

In reflecting on the importance of animals to humans, I find myself wondering. Would God create this ability to form loving bonds with animals if they did not possess souls? In light of this, shouldn’t abusive treatment of animals be seen as morally wrong as abusing either young children or vulnerable adults? If people can accept that murder of other humans is morally wrong, then why can’t they accept that the deliberate killing of ferrets, dogs, cats and other companionate animals is also morally wrong?

Finally, Congress Got it right: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is headed for the President’s Desk

Yesterday (October 22), the U S Senate passed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Once it is signed by President Obama, it will become the first Federal law to explicitly include all GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered) individuals inside the protective umbrella of federal law. This represents a sharp reversal from earlier Federal legislation that explicitly excluded the transgendered from its provisions.

Specifically, in the 1990's, when Congress codified the military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it legitimized the practice of barring all GLBT individuals from military service. When Congress enacted the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, the legislation explicitly excluded transsexuals from its protective provisions. None of the federal laws addressing either employment or housing discrimination provide protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA, for short) excludes same-sex couples from federal protections and benefits. Many states use this law to justify legally declining to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in another state.

This new law adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to Federal hate (or bias motivated) crimes protection. In addition, local authorities who are unable or unwilling to deal with hate crimes will now be allowed to seek federal assistance. On this point, this new law represents a valuable step forward because there are many law enforcement departments that simply lack either the resources or the expertise to properly deal with crimes of this nature. More troubling are the Prosecuting Attorneys who decline to add hate crime charges to crimes that meet the definition. Perhaps that situation will now improve.

One point needs to be emphasized. Unlike claims still being made by right wing authors and commentators, this new law does not address hate speech. Thus, it does not muzzle deeply conservative churches who have divorced themselves from bedrock Christianity. Its provisions apply only when an individual is physically attacked because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability.

Thus, it will still be legal to write and talk about hate-driven topics, so right-wing radio and television talk shows are free to continue their spew of verbal diarrhea uninterrupted. However, it will now be legally not ok to physically act out on that warped rhetoric.

This is as it should be, and I applaud Congress for showing this rare use of statutory restraint. Some radical group likely will try to challenge this new law on First Amendment grounds. By explicitly excluding all forms of speech from its provisions, passing constitutional muster in the courts should be more easily achieved.

It will be interesting to observe the response to this law here in Idaho. Idaho law does recognize freedom from discrimination as a civil right. However, this recognition excludes discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. I suspect its impact in this state will be minimal for quite a while.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Unrecognized American Epidemic: Animal Cruelty, Part I: Why the ASPCA’s mission grows more urgent on a daily basis

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we have moved from summer into fall, in preparation for winter’s inevitable onset. More and more prevalent in the media are stories about this year’s H1N1 swine flue season and its impact on various population components. This, however, is not about this potential epidemic. Rather, it is about a much longer-running American epidemic whose effects are more insidious, and in the long-run more deadly. This is the epidemic of acts of animal cruelty in all 50 states.

This issue came back into my attention this week via an e-mail from the valuable activism organization, In this e-mail they told all I needed to know about the latest outrage that surfaced in the news this past Tuesday. The horror tale broke my heart, and has left me feeling sad ever since. In the e-mail, the lead drew on a news story that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News about a six week old brown tabby kitten dubbed “Cuddles.”

In the Philadelphia suburb of Chester last week, a group of men attacked the kitten, first by stoning it, then by pouring lighter fluid on it, and igniting it. Cuddles’ screams of agony drew the attention of Animal Control officers, who tried to rescue her.

When one of the Animal Control officers picked her up, and tried to hug him. In the midst of her unimaginable agony, she recognized a difference between the men who tormented her, and the heroes who tried to save her. All she wanted was a little love, a little friendly attention. For that she was tortured . . . and lost her life.

This is not the first incidence of animal cruelty in the Philadelphia area this year. Philadelphia is no worse (or no better) than any other part of the country. Nor is its urban nature necessarily making it more abusive toward animals. Rural parts of the country, on a per capita basis, are even more abusive toward animals, especially when the abusive practices of the livestock, poultry and swine industries are factored in.

A number of years ago the jack rabbit population in eastern Idaho mushroomed to problematical levers. During the winter the rabbits angered and frustrated ranchers by eating the winter forage their cattle herds partially depended on for food. Then, after stripping the land of forage, the rabbits literally moved into haystacks, further depleting winter food stocks intended for their livestock.

After considering a variety of responses, some rather expensive, the ranchers and state officials came up with a cheap solution, dubbed Rabbit Baseball. On a specified Saturday, everyone (teenagers and children as well) interested in participating gathered in a staging area and then set out across the desert to club to death as many rabbits as they could using whatever weapon at their disposal. Some participants actually did try to play rudimentary games of baseball, using (presumably) dazed, but still alive rabbits in place of baseballs. All of these actions occurred with the approval of the State of Idaho.

As a nation, why should we care about animal cruelty? After all, some would argue, animals aren’t human because they don’t have eternal souls. When they die, that’s it for them, unlike us. Not so fast.

One very pertinent reason for caring is the clear link between childhood animal cruelty for personal enjoyment and later homicidal behavior toward human beings. Indeed, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer all tortured or killed animals as children. Dahmer, as an example, moved from dismembering animals as a child to dismembering humans as an adult.

While it is true that many childhood animal abusers do not go on to become serials killers, still this behavior needs to be recognized as a warning of deeper psychological problems in the youth. In 2002 the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law reported that "A history of animal cruelty during childhood was significantly associated with APD [Antisocial Personality Disorder], antisocial personality traits, and polysubstance abuse. Mental retardation, psychotic disorders, and alcohol abuse showed no such association." (J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 30:257?65, 2002)

The United States is known worldwide for its extremely high violence levels in society. Including deaths from all causes, at least 30,000 people die from firearm wounds. Thus, in two years firearms kill more people in the US than died during the entire twelve year Vietnam War. This is simply unacceptable and should be seen as unsustainable if American civilization is to survive over the long term.

Mahatma Ghandi made the connection virtually every American ignores: "the greatness of a nation, and its moral progress is measured by the way its animals are treated." When viewed through this examining lens, it Is easy to see that the United States clearly is deficient in terms of its moral growth and maturation. All too often how adults treat animals mirrors how they treat children and vulnerable adults. Given that animals (especially dogs) are described as having the intelligence level of a very young child, this connection does make sense. Besides, just as young children are vulnerable, incapable of adult understanding and reasoning hence need the protection of adults, so too do domesticated animals.

With animal cruelty already at epidemic levels in the United States, and on the rise in terms of frequency of incidents occurring, should we be worried? Absolutely. There is no reliable way (that I am aware of) to determine the number of criminal acts against humans that are first practiced, and perfected, on animals. However, it is a slippery, rather steep slope between abusing an animal, abusing a child, and abusing other adults. Similarly, the slope is steep between believing it is ok to kill “dumb” animals because they aren’t behaving in the “right” way and believing it is ok to kill “dumb” humans because they aren’t conforming to the “right” expectations.

It is time for those Americans capable of caring about anything other than their own back account balance and forcing their code of morality on everyone else to step up, speak up and demand significant improvements in three things. First, state and local animal cruelty laws need to be strengthened through tougher penalties that carry real consequences. Second, the ability of local prosecutors to routinely reduce felony violations to essentially meaningless misdemeanors needs to be barred by new statutory stipulations. Third, in most areas of the country, local law enforcement needs to be encouraged to make animal cruelty investigations a priority, not a “when we catch up on other cases, then, maybe . . .” issue. These changes will happen only when the caring citizenry bands together and demand these changes.

At the same time, worthwhile groups need to be better supported (in terms of both membership and financial contributions) so they, too, can be more active in bringing about these changes. Chief among these worthwhile organizations is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA. This organization, which I am embarrassed to admit I am not yet involved with (but will be – soon) works tirelessly for the protection and compassionate treatment of all animals.

In more enlightened parts of the country (New York City in particular), in conjunction with their local animal shelter operation, ASPCA investigators are sworn law enforcement officers as well, and are authorized to arrest animal abusers on their own. This empowerment needs to spread nationwide. Over time this empowerment can spread to other parts of the country, but only as states modernize their laws and more concerned citizens support both the idea and the organization behind it.

One concluding question to be pondered: is there any real difference between a group of teenagers clubbing an innocent, loving animal to death and a similar group beating Gwen Araujo to death (because “no one would be that stupid”)? Is there any real difference between a guy clubbing a sweet, loving cat to death in order to “prove his virility” and a guy beating his talented, beautiful transsexual girlfriend senseless, then leaving her to die alone in order to “save face with his buds” as happened to Angie Zapata in 2008?

In Part II of this post, I will examine this issue of animal cruelty from a different angle by addressing the question of whether some animals have inner spirits (or souls) or not.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Asexuality: What Is It?

Nicole Prause and Cynthia Graham conducted a research project a few years ago seeking to develop a reliable means of classifying asexuality in humans. Their research methodology, results and conclusion appeared in their article Asexuality: Classification and Clarification, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Research (2007) 36:341-356. For readers interested in consulting this article but who lack access to a library that subscribes to it, it can be accessed through the ProQuest Central periodicals database as a PDF file. Your local Public Library should have information on accessing the ProQuest databases.

This article acknowledges a significant problem that needs to be addressed by academia: the extant published research literature on asexuality is scant. Prause and Graham accurately describe the situation in their conclusion, where they refer to the “paucity of research concerning asexuality.” As a result, reliably accurate information on asexuality is difficult to find. Why is this so?

Well, for openers, asexuals are invisible within the general society within which they live. One generally accepted estimate places the proportion of asexuals as about 1% of the total population. Social science research dollars rarely are spent on studies focusing on populations that are this small. Thus few people outside the asexual community know very much about it, which strikes me as unfortunate and sad.

At the outset, the question asked in this post’s title needs to be addressed. One problem with developing a description of asexuality is that there is no one commonly accepted definition of the term. To some, it describes a total lack of interest in, or desire for, sexual relations with another human being. To others, it describes a lack of pleasure in sex, or a lack of a feeling of enjoyment in sexual relations. This is where it becomes confusing and, frankly, murky.

Is asexuality the same as celibacy? No, because celibacy is a conscious decision to completely abstain from sex, often for religious reasons. Asexuality, on the other hand, is more a subconscious behavioral trait. Even that comparative description leaves a lot to be desired because of the wide variation in human beings.

So if asexuality is so difficult to define or wrap one’s mind around, what, exactly, does the term say about a person who so identifies? Some would say that the person is admitting that she is an abnormal freak, and undoubtedly using it to deny their underlying homosexuality. This view is simply wrong because there is no connection between the two orientations.

Others, perhaps most others, would respond along the lines of “huh? What?”

At this point I wish to move from taking a stab a developing a clinical-sounding description to embedding a personal essay in this post. Bear with me for the two are intimately connected. This topic is of definite interest to me for I, myself, am asexual. No, I am not embarrassed, or ashamed, to admit it.

For me, being asexual feels blissful because it takes all of the pressure off of my life that sexuals (i.e. non-asexuals) feel. When I am cruising around my local grocery store, for example, I notice that other shoppers – especially those younger than middle age – tend to focus primarily on the other shoppers while obsessing about buying the “right” foods. By not feeling that constant need to “score” I am free to stretch my food budget as far as possible by focusing on sales and other favorable priced alternatives. By not feeling pressured to focus on the other shoppers AND the shopping, like most shoppers, it looks to me like I experience grocery shopping as far less stressful than others.

At a more subtle level, asexuality is advantageous in another direction. To make a long autobiographical story short, my desire for bringing the next generation into the world has always been nonexistent. Running through the generations on both sides of my family tree are a number of hereditary conditions, some mild, others potentially life threatening. I developed the perspective years ago that the best legacy I could leave for future generations is to not have kids, thereby allowing my weak portion of the human genome to die out. By being asexual, this barrenness does not bother me at all. Instead, to me, it is a relief.

A valid question is: how far back in my life can my asexuality be traced? Surprisingly far. It is possible that my asexuality has been with me since puberty, or possibly a little after. In high school I noticed that the sexual innuendo and jokes quite commonly floating around the student body (not to mention the constant flirting) actually disgusted me. Did I feel driven to try to “score” at least once during high school? No, it simply never occurred to me.

In college, I lived in a co-ed dorm for the last five regular semesters of my stay. Good ‘ol Morrison Hall was built in the early 1950's. its residents were arranged in 8 person suites, with six of us living in single rooms. Around campus we had a reputation as “oh, that dorm. We’re not too sure about them.” Anyway, the entire time I lived there I never once felt the desire to “do it.” At the time I chalked this up to the problems from within my family I was perpetually wrestling with, but now, I wonder. Do I regret never sleeping with anyone in college? Not at all.

This raises the pertinent question of causation. What precipitated the genesis of my asexuality? I cannot point to any one event as its trigger. In the minimal amount of scholarly research I have been able to unearth on asexuality, one probable cause that turns up is religiosity. It is true that my childhood environment was steeped in bedrock Christianity of a rather rigid style. In addition, my dad’s entire life was adversely affected by traumatic events from his childhood. These traumas left him with a negative attitude toward sex, even within the bonds of marriage. In retrospect, occasionally I wonder if he was actually asexual but couldn’t express it.

Now just a minute, I can hear some of you saying. First you say that an asexual is someone who sees sex as “just not important”. Then you speculate about your own father. Which is it? The answer is complex because some asexuals actually do engage in sexual relations. However, those who do usually do so because it is seen as expected of them. Put another way: they do it because they feel they have to do it, not because they necessarily want to.

There is one complicating aspect to my asexuality that I am omitting from this discussion because it is its own extended discussion, and it complicates the picture. This is my parallel transsexuality, which I was, in fact, born with.

At the outset of this post, I mentioned the dearth of scholarly research on asexuality. This is a hole that needs to be filled in, provided the research is balanced and open minded. In particularly, there appears to be no existing research on root causes of asexuality. In particular, I see early childhood influences and family religious activity as very pertinant areas to explore. Likewise, whether it is a permanent aspect of the person’s being, or whether it can be temporary, appears to have not been examined by researchers.

There are three questions that inevitably will come up, so I will conclude by addressing them here. First, are asexuals gay? Not necessarily. The two states of being independently assort, as do heterosexuality and asexuality. This means that there are multiple possible orientation combinations. (Thus asexuality shares this characteristic with transsexuality.)

Second, are asexuals transgendered? No, because the two conditions are completely unrelated. Transgender is strictly connected to one’s gender identity and does not directly address sexuality, sex drives or related aspects of being human. Asexuality refers only to one’s disinclination toward maintaining a strong sexual urge, and does not address matters of gender at all.

Third, are asexuals mentally ill? NO!!! It is generally asserted that some condition qualifies as a mental illness only if it causes the person distress or hinders normal daily function in some way. Since asexuals generally do not feel distressed by the condition, and it does not interfere with the person’s ability to hold down employment, maintain an apartment, keep their bills paid, etc, clearly it does not qualify as a mental illness.

Finally, are there any reliable sources of information about asexuality on the Internet? Fortunately, there are. Easily the best source of more information on asexuality is AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. I am a registered member of this site, and I have found it to be very helpful and loaded with accurate, useful information. For anyone looking for accurate information on asexuality (or, especially, anyone who is wondering about themselves), this is the best place to turn to. For those warped individuals who might be looking for an opportunity to troll for people to criticize, harass or threaten: do us all a favor and go elsewhere. Yes, AVEN has a very active forum posting community. However, these forums are moderated, and trolls are NOT welcome.