New App Simplifies Trafficking, Incest & Statutory Rape

CHARLOTTE, NC — A new App called Nurx ensures sex traffickers, abusive relatives and overbearing boyfriends are not burdened by complicated encounters with health care professionals, while ensuring that the girls who service them never, ever, meet a physician, nurse, or clinic work who might intervene and contact the authorities.

“If a teenage girl is engaging in a behavior that has potentially life-threatening consequences, that’s not something her parents need to know about,” the health care provider explained.  “It’s better just to give her a medication with known fatal side effects without ever consulting a physician in person.”

Critics have questioned whether teenagers are able to reliably choose their own prescription medications, but teachers and school administrators all agreed in an industry consensus statement, “If there’s one thing we can say about teenagers, it’s that they are reliable, diligent, and filled with a deep sense of personal responsibility.”

The document went on to say, “No teenager would ever lie on a form on the internet.  Sexual predators don’t ever use fake identities on the internet either. So this is completely not a public health concern.”

“We care about girls’ reproductive health and freedom,” a public health official observed.  “Many girls have said they’d ‘rather die’ then let their parents know what they’re doing. Nurx is here to make that possible for them.”

 

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Need a prescription?  Internet doctors can help you with that.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [CC 3.0]

 

 

 

One Weird Trick for Understanding French Culture

I like France.  I like France very, very much.  More epic vacation blogging to prove that point is coming soon — meanwhile I hope you are enjoying Erin Arlinghaus’s reports from Chamonix.  But there are few related bits of French culture that are astonishing to Americans, or should be.   An interview with Gabrielle Deydier helped pull all those threads together for me, and will hopefully help other Americans appreciate a strong difference between American and French culture.

Gabrielle Deydier is fat.

That’s radical, because being fat is not something French people do very much.

I know this, because one of things I’ve been meaning to mention here in my collection of vacation blog posts is that if you are a plus-sized person, you need to plan ahead when traveling in France. For example, of our various accomodations during our trip, most of the bathrooms were very spacious — larger than a typical American bathroom.  One, though, in a perfectly reputable non-chain hotel, was tiny like you’d find in the smallest of travel trailers.  A bathroom so small you’d be wishing for that giant powder room they had in coach on your flight across the Atlantic.  It’s just assumed that the people coming to the hotel are thin people.

This worked out well for us, because my rail-thin children could go shopping and buy clothes that fit them, which we don’t get to do in the US very much.  But not everybody comes in extra-extra-slim, so if you are planning a trip to France and space needs are a concern, that’s something you want to find out before you make reservations.  Seriously: Ask for measurements in the room you are booking.  (If you’re tall: Ask them to measure the length of the bed, if it isn’t given in the room description.  Inquire about ceiling height in the shower as well.  And remember, every room is different in a non-chain French hotel or B&B.)

So back to Ms. Deydier.  Her book is called You’re Not Born Fat, and it chronicles the shocking amount of open prejudice and insult she has received as a fat person trying to live and make a living in France.  She literally lost her job as a teaching assistant after a month of harassment about her weight — harassment that came from the teacher she worked with, who openly mocked and criticized her in front of the students.   She writes about the lengths the French will go to in order to be thin, including a huge and sometimes-deadly bariatric-surgery industry.  As she writes for Le Parisien, the rate of suicide among those who undergo surgery is double that of those who do not.

If you wish to understand this mania, spend in a little time in the mind of America in the 1950’s.

Keeping Up Appearances

A good friend of mine from high school in France (who later struggled with anorexia in college) came to visit me in the US.  We toured around a bit, and of everywhere she visited, my grandparents’ home was where she felt most at ease.  She described them as being “like the French.”  My grandparents are not French.  But my grandparents were model 1950’s Americans.  They lived by the etiquette book.  Every bit of bourgeois conventionality youngsters rebelled against in the late 1960’s my grandparents embodied in every fiber of their being.

The French, you see, put a very high value on appearances.

Consider adultery, for example.  It is widely accepted as a part of life, so much so that there is even a specific time of day devoted to it.  But discretion in the rule.     The hacking of Ashley Madison was a disaster, because it broke of the rule of don’t-ask-don’t-tell.  Lifelong marriage is highly valued, but “fidelity” is about maintaining the family home and unity in public life, not about who sleeps with whom.  Your wife’s children are your children, and it’s illegal to get a paternity test showing otherwise without a court order.

Thus, in turn, comes the law making it illegal to show a video featuring happy children with Down Syndrome. Abortion is the ultimate tool for keeping up appearances.  And this brings us back to the 1950’s.  While Americans never embraced adultery the way the French do (but did still tolerate it for the sake of the marriage), Americans have a long history of institutionalizing disabled children:

Between 1946 and 1967, the number of people with disabilities that were housed in public institutions in America increased from almost 117 000 to over 193 000, a population increase that was almost double that of the general post-war “baby boom”.  As time went on, those admitted were becoming younger and their disabilities more pronounced. In regards to Down syndrome in particular, there were many cases where fathers and doctors conspired to have a baby institutionalized and then told the mother that the baby had died.

Now, of course, we just abort them.  The French do as we do, but with the French twist of not permitting any reproachful reminders that there were better choices.  Smoothing things over is the highest goal.

On ne naît pas grosse par [DEYDIER, Gabrielle]

Cover art courtesy of Amazon.fr.  FYI a good source for French-language books if you wish to order online for shipment to the US is Decitre.Fr.  They don’t have this particular book in stock in paper right now, though.

Hurricane Silver Linings: Certified Deaf Interpreters

The best part of hurricanes making travel plans for South Carolina is getting to watch Jason Hurdich at the press conferences.  He rose to fame in 2016, and those of us who only ever watch the governor if it looks like the state might blow away have been enjoying his work again this round.  SC hurricane briefings are a linguistic buffet even without Hurdich (especially with McMaster at the helm), but Hurdich adds an extra layer of interest because he is a Certified Deaf Interpreter.  I want to quickly explain why CDI’s are valuable, because some people wonder about that part.

A CDI is a deaf or hard-of-hearing person who partners with a hearing interpreter.  The process works like this: The governor (or whoever) says what he or she is going to say.  A hearing interpreter signs that message to the CDI.  The CDI then re-signs the same message out to the Deaf audience.

This confuses (hearing) people a little, because they wonder: Why the relay?  If you have one interpreter already, why add a second?

The answer is that certain native speakers of any language have a better command of their language, and better communication skills, than other people do.

***

Imagine for a moment that you are trying to find out what is happening in some corner of the world where the residents speak no English.  There’s a local guy who’s taken English classes, and he can interpret what his fellow citizens are saying pretty well.  His accent is strong, sometimes his syntax is stilted, and sometimes he uses archaic terms.   It’s not that you can’t understand him, but many English speakers would have to strain a little as they made the effort to follow his interpretation.

So you add a second person to the chain, someone who is very skilled at communicating to a native English-speaking audience.  She doesn’t speak the foreign language, but she is very good at taking stilted English-as-a-second-language and rendering it so that the message is quickly and easily understood by local Americans, or whatever regional English-speaking audience you are trying to reach.

–> If you were trying to reach the average listener an Ireland, you would use a different native speaker. This is exactly why US, British, and Australian news agencies send their own reporters into other countries, rather than relying on a local resident with not-that-bad-of-English.  It’s just easier for a skilled American reporter to communicate with Americans, a skilled Australian reporter to communicate with Austrailians, and so on.

***
A Certified Deaf Interpreter is that.  When you have a message that’s really important to communicate clearly, you choose a spokesperson who is particularly skilled in the native language of the audience.

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Photos courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

A Thank You Note for Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I wish to thank you for your extraordinary comments to Professor Barrett, in whom, you assure us all, the dogma loudly lives.  (May that be said of all Notre Dame’s faculty one day, please God.)

The reason I wish to thank you is because, like most people, I have some things I believe to be true.  I also have children, most of whom are now teenagers.  Teenagers do this thing that’s necessary for the good of the species, but aggravating all the same: They question the beliefs of their parents.

I would like them, for example, to believe with all their heart that texting and driving is always to be avoided because it poses a serious danger to themselves and others.  I think that’s true, I assume you do as well, and since one day my children might be sharing the road with you, we both have a strong interest in their coming to accept that belief and act on it.  You might say that you and I are dogmatic on that point.

Another thing I’d like them to accept with all their heart is the Catholic faith.  That’s something that probably isn’t so easy for you to understand.  See, here’s the difficulty with kids these days: They don’t fake religious beliefs in order to get along and smooth their social paths.  Back when you were a kid?  Yeah, people did that.  They might be Catholic because it was their family heritage, or they found the communal life appealing, but without necessarily feeling that they had to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith as being exactly true.  I think you work with some people who are like that.

But we of the younger generations don’t do fake-religion so much.  There are a few holdouts, of course, but for the most part, if a young adult these days practices a religion, it’s because he or she thinks it is true.   That’s especially so for Catholics, because in many circles (yours, for example), there’s no real social benefit to being Catholic.  Sometimes it even kinda sucks.  (In a join-your-sufferings-with-Christ kinda way, don’t get me wrong . . ..)

So, like many Catholic parents, even though I try my best to pass onto my children the things that I think are true — both about road safety and the reality of human existence in a larger way — I am well aware that my kids might choose to reject my beliefs.  And though they might lie and say they don’t text and drive even if they do (please God no), they probably won’t get around to lying about being Catholic, at least not after they’ve moved on to college.

And that’s why I want to thank you.  See, my boy is a senior in high school, and like many boys he doesn’t always share his inner thoughts with the world.  I don’t always have a clear read on what he thinks about the Catholic faith.  But this morning?

I showed him the video of you making your famous quote.  He laughed so hard at how ridiculous you were — it was truly a wonderful moment for a mother to share with her son.  We made jokes about “dogma” and a little bit of woofing sounds (which got our actual dog excited and after that she stood at the door all day watching for squirrels because she could tell we knew dogs were important), and also he joked about “those dangerous Christian religious extremists refusing to kill people!”

It was a really fun time for the two of us.  It was also a moment when I knew that my boy understood a person should act on his or her beliefs.  Otherwise they aren’t really much in the way of beliefs, are they?

So thank you very much for giving us that little gift.

I wish you all the best,

Jennifer.

PS: My son also thought you looked drunk.  But you weren’t, I don’t think.  He really hasn’t spent that much time around either senators or drunk people, so he’s not necessarily the best judge.

 

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Photo via United States Congress, US Senate Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Price Gouging is Evil.

Up at the Register: What is Price Gouging and Why is it Wrong?:

In a crisis situation, it is possible for monopoly suppliers to charge prices for goods that buyers cannot afford — thus becoming not ordinary monopolists but price-gougers. Note well: This doesn’t mean buyers don’t recognize the value of the supplier’s work and risk. Rather, the problem is that the reason it is possible to charge exorbitant prices is because the goods and services in question are necessary for survival. People will literally die if they don’t have clean water.

Contrast this to the Disneyland scenario: People will not literally die — nor even figuratively do so, we hope — if they don’t have a Disney vacation.

Price gouging is the act of choosing to profit off someone else’s life-and-death desperation rather than to show generosity.

It is bad for you to do this to yourself.

Most people instinctively know that price gouging is a nasty thing to do.  A few people though, rightly observing that price rationing via free markets is ordinarily the go-to method for figuring out how to satisfy unlimited wants and needs with limited resources, get busy in their head thinking up rationalizations for why it’s just “good economics” to allow price gouging.

It isn’t good economics, and for those people, the Register article puts a toe into the world of price elasticity of demand and all that stuff.

Summary: You can be a decent capitalist and still have moments — fire, famine & flood come to mind — when you notice that the market is there to serve you, not you to be slave to the market.

 

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Lots of Bottled Water, photo by Brett Weinstein, CC 2.5 via Wikimedia.

In Search of the “Real America”

There’s a meme going around right now about what “real Americans” are like.  We see pictures of heroic rescues in the Texas floods contrasted with recent racist or fascist violence.  The “real America” is the good one.  The real America is where people pull together, act bravely, and give everything to help their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be.

I don’t disagree.  America really is that, and we have the pictures to prove it.

The difficult bit is that we aren’t only that.

***

I have some assorted friends whom I profoundly love and respect, and to whom I owe a perpetual debt of gratitude for the goodness they have brought into my life.

These friends are like me, though, in that they are noticeably flawed.   (Like me in kind, not degree – evidence is I’m more flawed than they are.)

I don’t want to hear about that.  Even if I do sometimes notice their weaknesses, I want everyone else to shut their mouths.  What I see in them, what I want everyone to notice, is the beauty and goodness and truth they bring to this world.   I want to shout: Do you not understand what they did for me? For you?!

***

This instinct to see the good in our friends is how we get to an All Dogs Go To Heaven theology.  It’s a good instinct.  We can see that our friends are made in the image and likeness of God, inherently lovable and worth loving.  That’s an accurate view of who they are.  The thought of such a person going to Hell is unthinkable.  We’re not alone there.  God Himself has been quite explicit about His desire to save the world rather than condemn it.

***
Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side!  We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

***

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving.   God can see those parts though.  The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be.  The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

***

We aren’t supposed to like nastiness.  It isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable to live with horrid people.  We should want to be surrounded by peaceful, loving, generous folk who fully live out the commandments.  (Never ever forgetting Proverbs 27:14, but of course there are others as well).

So it’s understandable that we have low patience for certain sins.

***

What is lost in our national discourse is the appreciation of the complexity of other humans.  Someone can be terribly wrong in some ways and entirely right in others.  Someone can both commit serious sins and carry out marvelous good works.  (I’ve got the first part down, thanks.)

You can be a racist nationalist who risks your own life rescuing total strangers.

You can give away your fortune aiding the poor, and also devote yourself to killing the unborn.

You can be a notorious philanderer and also an unshakable civil rights martyr.

The combinations are unlimited, and Americans seem, collectively, to be trying out all of them.

***

Where our national discourse goes wrong is in trying to mount the opposite of the ad hominen attack — call it the ad hominen defense.  If my side is right, my men must be perfect.  An attack on my ideas is an attack on me and mine.

We are unable to admit the possibility of human weakness and complexity, nor to properly rank the seriousness of our failures.  Thus we end up in bizarre situations both divisive and falsely “unifying.”

Sometimes, out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings or overlooking their virtues, we’re afraid to condemn their serious sins.  Better to get along and smooth things over for a day that never comes when somehow we’ll dialog our way past the impasse without ever opening our mouths.

Other times, out of fear of seeming to approve a vice or a poorly-formed conscience, we feel compelled to commit a course of Total Condemnation — economic, political, and personal.

***

Let me show you a video of the way of peace.  This is South Carolina removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

It came down because of decades and decades of peaceful protest. Did it take too long? Yes.  The remedy for sin always takes too long.  Do people suffer injustice in the course of the long, slow path of peaceful protest? Yes.  But people suffer injustice from violent protest, calumny, and vicious personal attacks.  There’s not an option for waving the Fix Everything Wand and presto-change-o the world is magically better.

Peacefully refusing to accept injustice works.  It has worked marvels of healing and change in a place where you would never have said fifty years ago that all this would come to pass.  It worked in a place where people are still fallen.  Sinful people who do wretched things made that flag come down.  Gracious people doing their best to make the image of God shine in the darkness made that flag come down.  They were the same people.

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U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle: “Soldiers, fire fighters, paramedics and neighbors ensured more than 1,000 people and hundreds of dogs and cats were safe, evacuating them to dry ground and local shelters.”  Courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Prepping for Disasters

Texas is on my mind, what with friends being flooded and vivid memories of SC’s teeny-tiny-in-comparison floods.  Something to know about these disasters: You don’t hear from the worst-affected.  In order to post photos mid-storm, you have to have power and internet.  In order for you to see photos from disaster crews, the disaster crews have to be able to get into the area.  You can reasonably assume the destruction and death in Texas are much worse than what we are seeing now.

Into this, yesterday afternoon I was enjoying a little slice of Heaven: A leisurely afternoon of lunch and conversation with good friends in glorious weather.  During which time a friend posed a disaster-preparedness question: In the event of an EMP attack from North Korea, do we need to worry about having an emergency water supply?

On the one hand, the answer among the conversationalists was yes: Well pumps and city water facilities both use electricity, so if that goes out, your water goes out.

But I felt compelled to add: I have no idea whether the North Koreans will ever disrupt my water supply, but I know for a fact the city’s beaten them to it plenty of times.  So yes, I store water.  Weirdly, thus far we’ve been spared weather-related disruptions even when those nearby were not — but construction crews working near water mains?  Oh yes, that gets us every time.

Tip:  When you empty a liquor bottle, you have a freshly sterilized container on your hands.  Go ahead and fill that puppy up with nice clean city water while you’ve got it, screw the lid on, and stuff it into some corner where you can never reach anyway.

Related Tip: If you are using a vodka bottle, label your stored water.  Otherwise, you’ll lose track of whether you’re looking at water or vodka.  When you need the one for something, the other just won’t do.

Since water’s something you just can’t go without, it’s something I’m a recreational-prepper for.  When a hurricane comes, I turn over the canoe, lay out the kiddie pools, and put out coolers and other containers under the eaves of the house, to collect rainwater in case we lose water afterwards.  You want to be able to flush your toilet post-hurricane, even if it doesn’t rain again for a few days.

As footage from Texas shows, though, all your prepping can come to naught.  Catching clean rain water for post-storm use does you no good whatsoever if your clean water is under four feet of biohazard-laden flood waters.  Storing rice and beans won’t help if your rice and beans are soaked in the flood, or carried off in the tornado, or burnt to ashes when lightning catches your house on fire.

So why bother prepping?

 

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Image: Modified Copernicus Sentinel data [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo ], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Prepping Improves Everyone’s Odds

The reason everyone should do at least a little bit of disaster-preparedness is because you have no idea ahead of time who’s going to get hit, when, where, and how.  If my neighbor’s house floods — whether due to a hurricane or just a busted washing machine hose — if I have a little stash of instant coffee over at my clean, dry, spared-disaster house, things can be better.

Tip: Instant coffee + a box of UHT chocolate milk = A tiny package of sanity when civilization has receded beyond your horizon.

Double Tip: Even more than coffee, keep a reserve supply of any necessary-to-life medications you take.   If you possibly can, make arrangements with your physician to get yourself one month ahead on your refills.

Triple Tip:  Many people can’t do this because we have stupid, stupid, stupid laws.  Consider lobbying for change in this regard.

The reality is that in a major disaster, everything is going to be horrible.  You can’t possibly build the perfect bunker to shield yourself from every misery.  But what everyone can do is think ahead and set aside a little bit of provision, according to their means and their needs, so that overall the odds are better that somebody nearby will be in a position to provide emergency relief until bigger help can come along.

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 Photo by Brant Kelly (_DSC9077.jpg) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Related, three posts from SC’s floods that might be of interest.  The first two are particularly apropos if you have young people who would like to drive down post-disaster and help with the massive clean-up:

Once it’s all-clear and you can safely get in to help in a useful, systematic way, in conjunction with some effort spearheaded by locals who know what it is needed — which is going to be a while, and by that time the work is going to be super-nasty — do it.

The third is probably only of interest to a select audience:  What’s the Story Behind the Flooding in SC?  Obviously, the story behind the flooding in Texas is that Harvey is dropping several giant lakes worth of water on land that would rather be land, thanks.  What’s relevant for SC folks, and others who’ve endured similar spot-disasters, is that what we’ve experienced are situations where most people are fine, if inconvenienced, which leaves a very strong community at hand available to assist with clean-up.

Greater metro Houston, in contrast, is getting poured on in a way that’s going to be devastating more people than not.  And remember that washed-out roads means that the ability of anyone to get in and help will be hampered for a long time.

So this is a hugely different situation than that time your town was hit by this or that terrible-but-limited natural disaster.  And you know from memory that things were plenty bad enough then.  This is super-bad.

 

Two Bits of Common Sense Eclipse Safety for Kids

I live on the pending eclipse path, so How To Keep Your Kids From Going Blind is suddenly a topic around here.

First thing to know: The hazard of the eclipse is if you look at the sun.  There aren’t deadly Eclipse Rays that come out and attack while you are napping in your hammock in the shade.  The trouble, of course, is thats it’s really unusual to see the sun get all blocked up by the moon, and so people who would otherwise never stare at the sun might suddenly take an interest.  Staring at the sun is always bad for you.

(Your pets, in contrast, probably aren’t going to take up astronomy as a hobby on Monday afternoon, unless I suppose that’s something you’ve caught them at before.  My pets never stare at the sun. They mostly stare at the back door.  And meat.  If there’s a Meat Eclipse, my dog will be watching that one closely.)

So anyway, back to your kids.

#1 Practice Using Your Safety Glasses Ahead of Time

You got yourself NASA-approved glasses, of course, and you’ve read all about sun-viewing safety.  Now practice.  You do not want to be in the middle of a very short once-in-a-lifetime event and your kids are like “I can’t make mine work!”  “I can’t see!” “These itch!”  Practice.

#2 Not All Children Can Be Trusted to Wear Their Safety Glasses

If your child is not mature enough to be counted on, skip the viewing altogether.  Just don’t go there.  If your child is young enough to be oblivious you don’t even have to tell them there’s a viewing option.  You can just let your young children know that the sun is going to be covered up by the moon, so it’s going to get dark outside in the middle of the day, which is nifty.

They’ll of course want to see it get dark (but they won’t want to go bed).  So pick a room with a window that doesn’t face towards the sun during your eclipse time of day.  Set the kids up so they can watch it get dark out that window. Stream the eclipse on your computer so that they can compare the progress of the eclipse with conditions outside.

For more info: NASA has all your eclipse enjoyment science needs covered hereFood, drink, and lounge chairs you’ll have to sort out for yourself.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

What Memes Mean

Here’s something interesting about the social media reaction to the racist violence and demonstrations in Charlottesville: People felt the need to assert that racism is wrong.

It was a specific kind of assertion: Not just anger or frustration or sadness, though there was that.  Rather, there were many assertions that seemed to be purely about the need to affirm that yes, in fact this is evil.

Contrast this with, say, the announcement (I saw several over the past few days) that someone’s child had died of a terrible accident or illness.  Those announcements spur people to offer their prayers and condolences, and often in the wake of certain kinds of deaths there will be some venting of how much we hate suicide or drowning or cancer or whatever the source of the problem was.   There might, later at a less sensitive time, be links shared on how to cope with that problem or ways to prevent it in the future.

But no one feels the need to wave a flag saying, “Guys! Drowning is bad!”  or “Cancer isn’t glamorous!” or “It’s time we put aside our love of fatal traffic accidents!”  There are no links to inspiring stories about people who campaigned to persuade the world that being crushed in a landslide is in fact undesirable.  There will be no hopeful mention of the man who used to just love the prospect of dying from massive burns and smoke inhalation, but thanks to a profound change of heart, he now realizes that’s not what people should want out of life.

These evils are self-evident.  You might disagree over the extent to which they can or should be avoided (close all the mountain passes!), but you don’t disagree that these things are bad.

 

***

People can’t shut up about the evil of racism because it is still a pressing topic for them.

Perhaps your friend who daily asserts that skin color doesn’t matter can remember a time when he did think it mattered.  Maybe he wasn’t that bad, but he was bad enough.  He looked down on people of other races, or he felt that somehow his own people were superior, or that there was some justification for certain types of discrimination.  Maybe he theoretically believed in human equality, but in practice he felt that most people of this or that race were not, in practice, as educated and moral and generally deserving as people of his own race.  Maybe he still struggles to shake off the vestiges of prejudice.

Or perhaps your other friend grew up in an openly racist culture (if she’s old enough, she almost certainly did), and she still has memories of segregation and overt discrimination.  Maybe she remembers the callous things some people used to say, and the downright mean things other people used to do.

And perhaps that other group of friends who are always asserting racism is wrong are doing it not because it has ever been an issue for them, personally, but because they are regularly encountering people who are racist.  Maybe they see racism in action.  Maybe they overhear racist comments.  Maybe they get into arguments with others who try to make the case for racism.

***

This is why people post those memes.  The repetition grows tiresome for us who aren’t at that point.  We don’t need anti-racist reminders anymore than we need reminders that air should have oxygen and diesel fuel doesn’t belong on your drinks table.  We wish you would quit posting pictures of different-colored kittens all snuggled up together in a display of racial solidarity, and get back to sharing the plain old non-polemical kittens for which the internet was invented.

But we’ll be patient.  Because if you are a recovering racist, or you spend your day with not-yet-recovering racists, maybe you need an outlet.   If Solidarity Kittens help you, then please: Be helped.

***
In the making of this post, I looked through many kitten photos on Wikimedia, because I’m committed to social justice that way. Other things you might like to know about:

Enjoy.

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Kitten photo by: Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands.  

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Cute Kittens poster via Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Should You Go Watch Next Year’s Tour de France?

In conversation related to the epic vacation, a friend shared that her husband has been wanting for years to go watch the Tour de France.  If you’d like to go next year, about the time this year’s Tour winds up (check) is when you want to begin thinking and planning.  My tentative answer to the question of whether you the adequately-funded Tour de France fan ought to make the pilgrimage is: But of course!

What follows are my reasons and suggestions based on my (very) limited time spent Tour-watching this month, and my large amounts of time spent driving around rural France.  If you’re planning to take the plunge, you’ll of course want to consult some experienced Tour-followers for Tour-specific advice and tips.

 

#1 Reason to go: It is so much fun.

This is my view of the Départ from Vittel this year:

We drove through the middle of nowhere for about an hour (all of it perfectly scenic French countryside), hit a roadblock, got directions from the friendly gendarme manning the road block, and circuited around to get to the ample parking in the town of Vittel.   More friendly gendarmes* gave us directions to the starting line about a ten-minute walk from our parking lot, where we arrived in time to get a spot on the fence, get our cameras ready, and watch the tour take off.

Everyone along the sidelines was happy and excited to be there.   It was a fun and pleasant activity even for we who do not obsessively follow competitive cycling (I know!).

Afterwards we collected up trinkets from the vendors who’d set up booths inside the fenced-off area, then got the girls’ eyes checked:

Not joking!  One of the follow-the-Tour activities was a mobile optometry station called Bus de la Vue.  Anyone can get their vision screened, though adults need to understand French because they use a machine that asks you questions you need to be able to answer.

You would get to meet a lot of interesting people if you followed the entire Tour.

Realistic Tour Expectations

In terms of seeing the Tour itself, a beginner navigator should plan for each stage to either:

  • See the start;
  • Pick a station along the route to watch the athletes pass; or
  • See the finish.

Depending on your location you might be able to see two of those.  Two factors, though, should temper your expectations.  The first is that driving in rural France is a slow and circuitous process.  The second is that roads will be closed — even roads that all your research indicated were supposed to be open.

What I wouldn’t be afraid of is that every single stage of the Tour be overcrowded and impossibly expensive to visit.  What you do need to plan to do is rent a car (surprisingly affordable) and move from hotel to hotel throughout your tour.   You can’t realistically plan to save money by booking a rental apartment, since you’ll be moving from day to day.  Your budget-level hotel cost if you search diligently and reserve super-early is about $100/night.

Tip: A “bed and breakfast” is called a chambre d’hôte, and in rural areas might be easier to find than a regular hotel.  (Remember Google Translate makes it possible for you to do all your reservations in the same combination of broken French and dubious English that will be your lingua franca during your trip  — you can reserve off French-language websites, you aren’t limited to only staying with people who have English-language reservation systems.)

You could instead rent an RV and do a camping road trip, an option I haven’t priced but which seems to be popular.  Know that in an RV you should plan to park at the edge of town and walk in — don’t expect to be able to park or even drive within built-up areas.  Transit in urban areas is good, however, so you can make that work.

Staying Married When Only One of You is a Sports Fan

Imagining for a moment that you have both the funds and the vacation time to follow some or all of the Tour, the thorny question is: If my spouse and I attend together, what will this do to our marriage?

Here are some options for allowing the non-sports fan to enjoy some Tour-ing but get overwhelmed by too much cycling:

  • Drop your spouse off at the day’s chosen spectating location, then use the car to go see area sights.
  • Identify sights at the start, finish, or along the route of the day’s stage, so you can both be in the “same” place but not doing the same thing.
  • Make friends with other loyal spectators, and send your spouse to chase the Tour with them for a day (or more, depending on how good of friends of they are).
  • Pair up with another couple traveling to the race, rent two cars, and give one to the sports fans and one to the tourists.
  • Drop the non-sports-spouse off at a train station to catch a train to a city of interest (for the day, overnight, or whatever suits).
  • Sign up for bus tours of scenery (wine tasting buses, for example) in the region where the sports-spouse is following the Tour.

And of course if your spouse is a sports fan but doesn’t have to see every single stage of the race, you could always choose a combination of Tour-watching days and normal-tourist days.

What is not realistic is thinking that you will somehow both watch the race and do other tourist activities on the same day.  In theory that might be possible some of the time in a limited fashion.  The difficulty is that the race takes up the middle of the day, which is when museums and shops and other attractions are open.  Unlike Americans who keep everything open all the time, the French keep strictly reasonable hours.  Also, if you are based in the start or finish-line town, everything in that town may well be closed so all the residents can go watch the race and/or staff the essential venues.

That said, if the non-sports spouse’s dream vacation consists of moving from hotel to hotel, wandering the village-du-jour  and seeing whatever happens to be on hand, and then eating a nice dinner together at the end of the day, you’re covered.  As ways to make your sports-fan spouse happy, that’s a pretty good gig.

*Security is good throughout France.  My experience is that local and national police (wearing blue uniforms) were generally ready to be helpful unless they were clearly occupied with some kind of serious situation.  In contrast, the camouflage-clad teams of four soldiers roving around carrying we-mean-business-rifles do not want to talk to you, and they do not want you to take their picture.  You can pretty much read the threat level at any given location by who is doing what for security.  The French government is serious about keeping the nation safe for occupancy.