Category Archives: #OurWorld

#OurWorld: Homeless in Winter

Sam av

There are a lot of days now where I’m uncertain about the future of our world. It feels like the world is one feather away from collapsing upon itself sometimes. Tensions are rising between nations. It looks like there are foreign countries strengthening relationships. The U.S. isn’t everyone’s best friend. Our people are desperate.

I see the best of people and the worst of people, almost side by side. Today I read a thread on Facebook where someone in my community was looking to pay for someone to take her mother grocery shopping because she’s not able to drive, and almost thirty people offered to do it for free. I’ve seen a lot of similar posts for aging folks in our community who need help with shoveling lately, too.

And then, today in my town of residence, there was a news story about someone who stole Christmas presents from underneath a Christmas tree while the family was at the neighbor’s house.

Troubling.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. The economic situation seems precarious. Sometimes it feels as if any day will herald a horrific crash reminiscent of the housing crisis in 2008. I wonder if I’m ready for it when it comes. If the people I know are. I worry for my friends, family, and neighbors. I give a lot of myself to complete strangers through what I do for work. I take my responsibility very seriously.

Are we going to make it? Because what if we don’t? What if we lose everything?

Addressing the homeless problem has always been tough for me. I’d never seen homeless people when I was growing up. They were always here…but in places I never saw growing up because I never went to those areas. It was harder when I moved to the city. They’re much harder to ignore there. I see them with their signs at intersections. They ask me for change. When I first started to encounter struggling humans, I was too poor myself to help them.

I hate saying No. It was awkward for me to decline, but back then, I pretty much had to.

When I got to Pittsburgh (I lived there for a few years), I could help a little more. I gave a few dollars here and there for bus fare and such. It was also in Pittsburgh that I started to hear stories about how people made profits off pretending to be homeless, or how they’d just take your money to buy drugs and alcohol.

This upset me. That anyone would pretend they were poor so people would give them free money disgusted me. To prey on charity, while making those that truly need help look like greedy leeches? That’s awful. And I didn’t want to be part of the problem by giving people money to fall victim to their addictions either.

I was torn. After all, I still wanted to help.

I made the decision to offer things instead, rather than money. And whatever I’ve done for those in need has been geared this way ever since. Sometimes, too, I sit and talk with people a bit. I’m terrified, of course…I was raised to be paranoid about my health and safety, though sometimes I think this is wrong…but I’ve learned that a lot of people just need someone to listen. I can definitely do that.

But you know…even then…

I have a friend who jokes that I live “North of The Wall” (reference A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin). It gets bitterly cold up here. Temperatures are already falling to subzero numbers. I–HATE–being cold.

I could not imagine having to survive out there. I don’t care what lands a person on the street in the first place. The fact that anyone might be stuck out there in this frigid, barren wasteland frightens me a bit. Dying of exposure is a very real possibility.

I’m proud of my community, for stepping up. I’ve had the privilege to be involved with a lot of giving efforts, especially around the holidays. The people up here are pretty fantastic, all things considered. Seeing thirty people offer to take an old lady to the grocery store or help a different old lady keep her driveway clear or shovel her roof gives me a little hope. One of the people I play Pokemon Go with gathered up a bunch of winter coats, hates, gloves, scarves, etc. to give away downtown. She even made up a batch of chili to go with it. There are charity drives for blankets and coats and food.

Even in my small community, there are more than ninety people living on the street. That number shocked me. We’re not perfect, even here. We still can’t help our most vulnerable. I know more people than I thought I did that spent at least some time without a bed of their own.

I feel like this problem is one people like to ignore. It’s uncomfortable. It’s there, in front of us. It’s personal. It forces us to examine the contents of our soul, compare Haves and Have Nots. Makes us feel a little guilty for not suffering. To make assumptions about whether or not someone deserves a little help. Yeah. It’s a human thing. We aren’t perfect beings.

Christmas is a season of giving. For most people, that means presents. Gift giving and gift receiving. It’s also an important season for charity. Please don’t forget about our less fortunate. For a lot of people, it isn’t about the presents. It might not even be about food. Some people are just trying not to freeze to death.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #OurWorld category on Tuesdays to tune into some of the causes we think are important to raise awareness.

#OurWorld: Worldbuilders

Sam av

In a previous post, I lauded the wonders of Worldbuilders, my favorite charity of all time.

Worldbuilders is a charity founded by author Pat Rothfuss in order to use the collective power of readers, fellow authors and book lovers to make the world a better place. During the Worldbuilders fundraiser, Pat blogs about the cool book donations we receive from authors and publishers (and all the other cool swag from artists, webcomics, etc.) Everyone who donates to Heifer International through our Team Heifer page is eligible to receive one or more of those cool books and swag at the end of the fundraiser.

All year round, we run The Tinker’s Packs where you can find cool merchandise inspired by Pat’s books, as well as foreign editions from various fantasy and sci-fi authors, and more recently some of our cool projects like our Worldbuilders and Heifer International Calendar. Profits made by the store go to Worldbuilders.

What I love about Worldbuilders is that it’s one of these wonderful examples of good people using their power of influence to do amazing, wonderful things. Authors, editors, literary agents, readers, and of course, Pat Rothfuss himself, all working together to make the world a better place through Heifer International, Mercy Corps, and First Book.

Heifer plays the long game, bringing education, materials, and a passing-the-gift philosophy that ensures generations of self-sufficiency down the road. Mercy Corps jumps into action as crisises arise, bringing food, clothing, shelter, and education to people caught in dire situations like natural disasters and war. First Book promotes literacy around the world by providing books for educators and administrators, bringing much-needed educational materials to disadvantaged youth.

It’s fantastic, in my opinion, that we are harnessing the power of bibliophilia to help people become sustainable in impoverished countries around the world.

And they have so much fun doing it, too!

When they reach fundraising mile markers, called Stretch Goals, they have little celebrations to entertain the world, like this one, which is Patrick Rothfuss pronouncing tricky names from his book series, The Kingkiller Chronicle:

Often, Stretch Goals involve authors and agents doing silly things for our amusement. In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Wesley Chu and RJ Bennett  read terrible erotica while drinking, Neil Gaiman read The Jabberwocky on a winter walk in the woods, The Doubleclicks play “I Love You Like a Burrito” on a cat piano with Pat Rothfuss as a guest star, and authors read 1-star reviews of their work on camera.

Worldbuilders is a lovely charity. It brings together the spirit of people who like to do good things and give what they can while having a good time and celebrating the imaginations of word crafters everywhere.

They also have a Cards Against Humanity Fantasy booster pack that was built by some of your favorite fantasy authors (YOU NEED THIS).


I talk about Patrick Rothfuss a lot.

It’s because I think he is a wonderful human being. The world is a better place because he is in it, and I feel like the people that make you feel that way deserve recognition as often as you can find a way to squeeze them into conversation. People like Patrick Rothfuss inspire us to do better, to be better. He’s the kind of writer I aspire to be because he is a great writer who is also a warm-hearted human being who truly cares about people…

…and also because he can do these things while also having a hilarious sense of humor with frequently dropped F-bombs.

It means I can do it, too.

So thank you, Pat, for your contributions to the earth. You inspire the good in others.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out our #OurWorld category on Tuesdays to tune into some of the causes we think are important to raise awareness.

#OurWorld Of Greed and Puppy Farms

Frankie Av

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“Plan for Scotland’s first industrial puppy farm in Ayrshire met with fierce objections.”

And I say it should be.

This was the headline for a recent news article in the Sunday Post. It details the proposals for a 40-dog farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, for breeding puppies for cash. Those who have asked for consideration of their proposal are actually linked to the people responsible for the puppy farm in Fivemiletown in Ireland. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-32308177  

These animals are farmed, quite literally, as cows and sheep are. Bred purely for monetary value and kept in squalid conditions so that every penny made goes into the sellers pockets.

Now, you might ask, what the difference is between farming cattle and dogs? Surely it’s an animal therefore the same? But it’s not. Cows, sheep, pigs etc, are usually found in fields, eating grass in large areas with a certain amount of freedom. They need to be vaccinated, cared for correctly, their health maintained and monitored regularly.

Dogs on puppy farms, rarely see the outside of their cage. They are rarely given medication unless vitally required therefore no vaccinations. They are usually fed the cheapest of food, left in dark dingy sheds or trailers without any contact with humans or other dogs. Often uncared for, most dogs are matted beyond all recognition and riddled with infection, disease and infestations. Dogs are also companion animals and crave attention and companionship, therefore life within a cage in such terrible conditions affects the dog’s mental health. What is also so tragic is that once a bitch is unable to produce viable or healthy litters after non-stop breeding, they are killed having never lived a life other than having multiple babies in a cage.

The puppies are often treated the same and live under the same conditions. Often they live in the same cage as their deceased siblings, taken by illness and infection and congenital maladies. They are cleaned up prior to a sale and often have malformations, heart conditions, deformities and such. Being bred from such a small gene pool and within such horrendous conditions AND from failing bitches who have birthed a hundred litters, it is unsurprising these puppies are unwell and often unmanageable.

This is the reality of a puppy farm or mill. Distressing and upsetting.

I could show you pictures and give you statistical evidence of why puppy farms are not a good idea and should be damned, but there is another way to look at the problem. I have often asked you to imagine the life of another or an animal, this time is no different.

Imagine being a dog, a loyal and loving dog, who just wants to see its humans happy. As a pup you are taken and put into a cage, and you very nearly never leave that cage. You are forced to have as many puppies as your body will allow, while being malnourished, starved of light, attention and stimulation, while being quite miserable every single day for your entire life. Forever.

And the reason your life is so utterly tragic? Because that human you wanted to see happy wants to take your puppies and sell them for top prices then put you back into the cycle again. And worst of all, not all puppy farms are illegal, therefore no one has to even care about the fact you suffer.

This is an interesting look at the other side of the cage from a person who worked in a puppy farm. The last sentence is a killer. 

Puppy farms are the result of greed wishing to be part of supply and demand for an ever growing designer-dog or pure-breed fad. To me, a dog is a dog. A dog doesn’t need a fancy title on papers. It doesn’t need to be a special colour or have a certain nose shape or leg shape. It doesn’t need to be registered with a breeding institution to let me tell others how fantastical I am for owning a special dog, because, to me? ALL dogs are special. Every single dog ever born, be it through a recognised breeder or through a back road rendezvous, is a special life. I understand that folk like a certain breed, I understand that some might just want to be one-up on their neighbours, but that’s not what owning a dog is all about. At least, not for me.

And it doesn’t just happen to dogs. Take a look at this disturbing article in which unscrupulous sellers shaved kittens to gain high price for what they sold as sought after Sphinx cats!  What length some will go to earn a good bit of money is disgusting.

Every dog I’ve owned has come from a rescue center, and they have been the most adorable, loving and loyal dogs I’ve had the pleasure to know. They have been mixed breeds–the one I have now, my little Bella Notte, has four main breeds in her blood; Rottweiler, Lurcher, Whippet and Labrador. She’s a mixed can of awesome and uniquely individual and so utterly loyal and loving that I don’t need a certificate nor have to pay up to £1000 or more to love her.  

Greed and superiority issues are what has created the dreaded puppy mills and farms, otherwise we would all have a little Bella, and I’m sure be much happier and better off for it!

Would you seriously consider buying a designer dog or pure breed if you knew they came from a mill or farm, knew they suffered to come into existence, knew their parents are probably still in that dark cage churning out other poorly puppies? I’d hope not. Unfortunately not all puppy farms or mills are large scale. They can be a few dogs eternally breeding at the back of someones home. It is still farming, just not on as grand  a scale as some and often just as awful. 

You can make a stand against this cruel trade. Sign petitions and raise awareness of the farmed dog plights to local councilors and politicians. IF you suspect or know of neglect or abuse, report it!  Get them investigated.

Another way is to spread the word of how dogs are treated in these puppy farms and mills. Let others know and get them to understand that the cute puppies are more than likely unhealthy, mentally unbalanced and uncared for.

But the main thing you can do to fight against these farms is to RESCUE A DOG FROM A SHELTER OR RESCUE HOME!!!

Have a little look at these statistics from Dogs Trust in the UK.

https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/news-events/news/over-47-000-people-heartlessly-abandoned-their-dogs-in-one-year

My dogs have all came from the Dogs Trust. With so many dogs in shelters and rescue homes across the country, there really should be no reason for puppy farms. Yes, some people want a PUPPY, but is that puppy going to love you more than a rescue dog who stares out its window hoping that the next human might just take it home? And there are often puppies IN The rescue homes, litters born on the street or to homes who can’t cope. It’s worth calling ahead to the shelter to find out if there are puppies available if it is a puppy you are set on having.

The funny thing about rescuing a dog, is that you never choose the dog, the dog chooses you. And for an animal which has often been neglected and abused during it’s short life, to choose YOU for it’s family? That’s a special thing indeed. How did they choose me? Out of all the dogs in the shelters we looked through, the dogs which chose us just glued themselves to us where the others did not. And they pushed their nose against mine, a sign for me that the dog wants to come home with me. Rescue dogs are a beautiful animal, and while they often require a lot of love and attention to undo the harm done to them, they are so worth it!

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My Bella!  Laying around while I write! 😀

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

#OurWorld Anti-Slavery Day

Frankie Av

 

Back in 2010, the UK government created this day in order to raise awareness of modern day slavery and hopefully in doing so, help prevent it. Many people believe slavery is simply an evil of the past. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Slavery today takes many more forms than the often thought of black man forced to serve the white man. Of course, this still does occur, but there are also modern twists on slavery insidious enough as to become invisible to the eyes of the ignorant.  

It may surprise some to hear that human trafficking is, in fact, a form of slavery. Women and children and yes, sometimes even men, forced to work as sex toys in the seedy underground of society. It may also surprise you that fake marriages can be a form of slavery. As is domestic servitude, coerced criminal work, drug mules, and forced labour no matter how it is enforced. Often the people in these situations find themselves abused in many ways. Beaten into submission, psychologically tortured, threatened with death of themselves or loved ones, raped and abused; this list isn’t exhaustive.

When these facts are taken into consideration, it is estimated that up to 45 million people are held in modern slavery around the world, of which 14,000 reside in the UK alone. Many of these people have been forced from their homes and even their countries, whether by subterfuge or kidnapping or even facilitated through bribes and debts.

Earlier in the year, I read about two men who were kidnapped after sleeping rough then forced to work for a family for up to 26 years. Threatened with violence, these men suffered long and punishing working hours with little hope of escape. Poorly cared for and forced to live in squalid conditions, one man even developed osteoporosis as a result of malnutrition. These were vulnerable people living in the same area as their captors, so not all people living in slavery are from other countries. This happened in Wales, in the United Kingdom.  

I have often asked you to try to imagine being an animal trapped in a cage its entire life and what that must be like. Some people can not imagine this or even attempt to do so, as to them the suffering of an animal is of little or no consequence. But, if you can, try to imagine being a person–man, woman or child–waking each day into an abusive situation. Imagine being forced to work for no pay and little food. Forced to clean the house of your captors, launder their clothes and bedding. Your worldly possessions consist of only the unwashed old clothes on your body, and you sleep on their sofa or floor, not even afforded the luxury of privacy or even a room. Imagine being forced to have sex with multiple strangers who care not a jot for you, all for money you will never see. Imagine being poisoned by drugs and words, trapped in locked rooms and even cages. Imagine being threatened every day with death and beaten within an inch of your life.

If you can imagine such an existence and understand just how awful it would be, then you might understand what these 45 million people are going through every day. If this is the case, you can and should do something to prevent it or stop it.

There are signs to look out for of slavery and human trafficking. If you see any of the signs, or anything in any way suspicious, report it and you might save some poor tortured soul from a terrible life. You can report such things anonymously if you wish, but please do report it.

You can find more information on modern day slavery and ways to fight against it here on the Anti-Slavery Day website

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

#OurWorld: The Sham of Adulthood

Sam av
I keep a series of rants on my Facebook. They’re just what they seem…it’s when the urge to write collides with my sense of outrage. Since I mentioned this particular incident in my video today, and I wrote this rant on my Facebook also today, I figured it would be a good time to just put this up here. I think the message is important, and this is all that’s currently on my mind. Today was supposed to be another politics day, but they’re related topics.

—-
I had an incident yesterday that hit pretty much every single one of my triggers and the ensuing rage resulted in a purge of more than 100 Facebook friends. Some of them were family. Some friends. Some were just people I knew had said some shit in the past so heinous I had considering deleting them right then and probably should have. I hang onto people like this because I generally believe that it’s important to stay informed. They disagree with me, so I should keep them nearby to understand their perspectives.

To understand the full ferocity of exactly what occurred, I need to take a step back into my childhood and set this scene.

I had a stormy childhood. My parents divorced when I was in fifth grade and I was the middle child. My brother and sister handled this differently than me. I won’t tell you their stories because their stories are theirs. What I will tell you is that I was The Middle in every sense of the word. I was between every single conflict that occurred with my family. If you know me at all, you know that I am an observant, inquisitive person with a heart that frequently bleeds for the pain of others. I hate to see people upset, and I’ll often sacrifice my own feelings and absorb their pain into myself. I am a tough cookie. Usually, I can handle doing that.

However, there were more adults in my life than simply my parents. I had a lot of extra Moms (and Dads). I had a fantastic mom, actually. I didn’t really need another one or anything, but my mother was going through her own set of struggles – heartbreak, credit destruction, depression, divorce – and I didn’t feel like I should interrupt her internal world of hurt for childish foibles back then. So I set myself up with a lot of other strong, kind women to stand-in for her while I was growing up. I had an amazing aunt and uncle, several friends’ mothers, one of my bosses, and many teachers.

I have always been too smart for my own good. No, I am not tooting my own horn. Believe me when I say that this has more often been a curse than a blessing. I didn’t do well with friends my own age. Most of my friends were older, many of them adults. I paid close attention to people and their struggles because of the position I was in, so I gained a lot of personal experience with people. What came of this mostly was that I can usually find the benefit of the doubt there somewhere, and you have seen that in my posts and notes. I want – desperately – to hate people. But I can’t. Because nearly every single person is a complex compendium of experiences and struggles all their own. So when a person upsets me, I find ways to justify their behavior, and I can let it go.

As I grew up, I learned. A lot. I asked questions people didn’t want to answer and I made statements and made advice no one thought I was ready for. All my life I have been shot down with “Because I said so” and “I’m older and wiser than you” and “You don’t know any better.” The adults in my life drilled my head with promises that someday I would be older and I’d understand that things weren’t the way I saw them now. It was like…some kind of warning that one day I’d learn to hate the same people for the same reasons as they did? Or that I’d somehow one day disprove my own convictions and learn to be less kind.

But I haven’t. Honestly, none of my core values have changed. I still see people this same way. I still impose myself between the downtrodden and the aggressors. I still sacrifice pieces of myself to please others. At times, this gets to be so bad that I crash, and I crash hard. It’s incredibly painful to be this way. Right now I look out upon the world and all I see is a future of blood and ashes. Everywhere you turn, there’s just hate, hate, hate. Labels and categories and reasons assigned to despise a person that have no foundation in facts and really just come from the gut.

I’m twenty-eight now. I’m the adult. I’m roughly the same age as the people who taught me to be a good human. It dawned on me when my niece was born that it has now become my responsibility to build good humans in the world like my set of Moms (and Dads) did for me. I have to be the example. I have to explain why things are the way things are when they don’t make any sense.

I won’t say “Because I said so.” I promised this to myself growing up. Back then, I really did want to know Why. I won’t make this mistake with today’s children.

And I won’t say “I’m older and therefore wiser than you are.” Not ever. Because what I have learned about my parents is that they weren’t always wiser than I was. In some cases, they weren’t even close. And I’m not naive enough to believe I know everything. I love a well-crafted debate. I cherish those moments when I am effectively proven wrong. I look forward to being challenged by the perceptions of today’s youth. They’re brilliant and energetic, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the decades to come.

Age does not confer wisdom. They are often correlated, true. But the adults in my life, for the most part, have not left Leelanau County for as long as I have been alive. World experience has to be gained out in the world.

So. The Incident.

Poor-shaming is one of my hottest buttons. I simply can’t stand by and hear it. I grew up poor. My parents worked their asses off and taught me the work ethic that has driven my every action. My siblings and I are hard workers who don’t call in sick and don’t slack off. All of us have gone through times in our lives when we had to find new jobs and new places to live. There isn’t much to be had. The difference between wages and rent in the area is crippling. We’ve all gone through low points where there seems to be no point in even living. Every day we work for the majority of our time. All of the money goes to bills.

That isn’t life.

And it doesn’t matter if that’s the life you knew. That doesn’t make it right. There exist entertainment and life’s simple pleasures for a reason. We were meant to balance work and life, learn and experience, not devote our entire lives to the machine of America. Where’s our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?

This country is a shit hole. To deny this is completely foolish. People are broke, sad, and angry. The results of what has happened to our nation is obvious. Violence, apathy, grief. What we have is a delusional subset of the population screaming “MURICA!” and condemning everyone who so much as whispers that there is something wrong here that CAN and absolutely SHOULD be fixed. On the other side you have a huge subset of the population that has the academic degrees you told us we should get, the mindfulness you taught us as children, and the energy to get some shit done.

But now that we have all of these qualities, we are condemned for them.

At the debate last night, there were more people drinking and grumbling over both candidates than enthusiasm. There is NO excitement for this election. NONE AT ALL. So for anyone to believe these two candidates are the best of the best, chosen by the people, is completely false. We’ve been had. The government has us bent over the table in so many ways. No one is even fucking hiding it anymore. Videos of cops shooting unarmed, surrendered people. Proof that the election was rigged. Monetary raises and honors and awards for the people stealing our money from the banks.

WHERE IS YOUR SENSE OF OUTRAGE?

I was third in my class. I graduated with a 3.997.

I graduated college with a 3.741. GVSU, Honors College, a degree in Cell & Molecular Bio.

I could have gotten a PhD.

I make my living dedicated to saving the lives of strangers. Many of whom are probably the same assholes that I rant about from time to time. But that doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. We’re all humans with the same intrinsic value to this world. There ought not be any room in your heart for hate.

So a conversation started on “affordable housing” and the availability of jobs. In my area, the average rental is about $1100/mo, but the average job pays $9/hr. The area is dependent on tourism in the summer time. Many people get laid off in the fall and winter. The service employees that serve the wealthy tourists must live outside the city because they can’t afford to live in it. The area is at 98% occupancy and most people spent 57-60% of their income on rent. The city itself has recognized that this is a problem. We’re driving out young professionals who can’t find an opportunity here, and now there are more jobs than there are people who can fill them, since service employees can’t afford to live nearby.

But I walked in on a conversation about how people shouldn’t ‘expect’ affordable housing and that no one ‘owes them’ anything, about how there are ‘plenty of jobs’ but people are ‘too lazy’ to get them and just want their ‘handout.’

I have not personally met a single person my age that is on any kind of government assistance. On the contrary, they’re often working 2-3 jobs trying to make ends meet while hopelessly saving for school or trying to pay back the student loans – loans we obtained to save our damned souls when our parents and adult role models urged us to (read: shoved down our throats) lest we be stuck ‘flipping burgers for the rest of [our] lives.”

So when I pointed this out, I got dog-piled by a bunch of poor-haters. They were quick to tell me to make something better of myself, become an RN or a lawyer or something, that it’s not that hard to figure out. They hadn’t even read my comments where I told them I had a career and was just barely part of the middle class now. I’m actually doing pretty well…it’s just that I’m not dickish enough to declare that because I did it, anyone can. I got incredibly lucky in many ways. Nor did they have any clue that I’d already been through school, which I had also said in my comments.

/Yeah. Because it’s super easy to just ‘become’ a lawyer. Anyone can do that. It isn’t that hard to figure out. /sarcasm

So when there wasn’t any good and useful information to use against me, this zinger came out there.

“I’m older and wiser than you are. We’ll just leave it at that.”

/Triggered

I’m almost 30. When do I qualify to be a real adult? Do you all sit around at your tables comparing ages so that you know exactly how much value to assign to your respective opinions, or is it just with people who are obviously younger than you are? How do you gauge that? Is it the lack of grey hairs, or wrinkles? Because that seems awfully subjective to me. There are different hues of grey and depths of wrinkles. How many years is a wrinkle worth? A grey hair? Is there an algorithm I can learn so that I can also judge everyone else’s statements by their age? I’d really like to make sure I’m accurate. It’s important to me. If I had that equation, I’d probably increase my wisdom thousandfold. At least! Then I’d know exactly how right every single source of information was. It’d be better than any other source of knowledge in existence, I’d bet.

You know why they say this?

It is the only thing they have that I cannot refute. “I’m older than you are.”

“Yeah, I’ll give you that. You’re definitely old.”

You know what else though? They will ALWAYS be older than me. It gives them an excuse not to come up with any argument that has any substance or evidence. They will ALWAYS be older than me. Therefore, it won’t ever matter what I say or how many times I ever prove them wrong. Older is better, and they will always win. I can be twenty. Thirty. Forty. And it won’t fucking matter because they won’t ever listen to what I have to say. I will forever be a child to them, even if I am raising my own kids.

Congratulations…you’ve just proven to me that you don’t give a shit about the truth. I therefore cannot take anything you say seriously. I therefore don’t need you in my life. You are the reason we cannot have nice things. You are the reason this country is a mess.

Get out of the way.

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

—-

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

 

Check out our #OurWorld category every Tuesday to tune into some of the causes we think are important to raise awareness.

#OurWorld Perfectly Pretty Pangolin

Frankie Av

One of my favourite little animals is the strange but wonderful Pangolin. It almost looks like a toy with its lovable eyes and strange posture.

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They are covered in overlapping scales made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails and hair.

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When scared, pangolins can pull themselves into a spiky armoured ball!

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There are eight different kinds of pangolin, and all are hunted for their scales and meat. As a result, they are protected by law and two of them are already listed in the IUCN Red List as critically endangered.

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I just think they are so cute, and I would hate to see them hunted to extinction! I also made a drawing of one as part of my Love Life campaign.

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Read more about these little animals here at ArkiveWWF, and the IUCN.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

#OurWorld: The Straw [Haired] Man: A Story of Propaganda & Deceit

Sam av

We’re being played.

I mean, let’s be completely real for a bit here. I’m not an expert. I’m not old and wise. I’m not a politician. Nothing in this discussion is going to be one hundred percent, irrefutable fact.

But here is what I do have going for me. I am an intelligent human being with an education. I paid attention in history class. I have a fondness for scheme, plot, and story, and I have a special affection for tales that are especially twisted, fucked up, rife with betrayal and shitstorm.

It’s kind of my thing.

So while I won’t claim that what I say here is absolute fact, I will say that my opinions and perspectives are not impossible. And the real possibility that I might be correct is…scary. So consider the cost of all things, not just the thing that seems most pressing at this time.

Before we begin, I feel the need to point out (because I know some of you will freak out if I don’t), that I am in no way, shape, or form endorsing Donald Trump, nor am I dismissing the horrible garbage he spews from his mouth. I won’t be voting for Donald Trump.

But my wild claim of the day is that he is not quite as bad as people have painted him to be. And I’m not convinced one way or another that the man is even a serious candidate for President. It has been a favorite theory from the beginning that he isn’t, that he was put in play by the Clintons to ensure that she wins.

How does that even work?

This is what is called a “Straw Man.” The candidate vilifies the opposition to make themselves look like the only viable option. The speech goes a lot like “Well, I’m better than that guy! I think we can all agree that he would be a disaster, am I right?!”

 

In Donald Trump’s case, he does a pretty good job of making himself look terrible. He has said some terrible, awful things. Hateful, spiteful things about Muslims, women, Mexicans, Democrats, etc.

I’m going to challenge your perception a bit…and remember, this is all just speculation. We’re having a conversation and keeping an open mind…

Because you’re brilliant, right? We’re smart folks.

Have you ever said something you didn’t mean?

Why did you do that?

No, I mean, really…why did you do that? What was your motivation for saying the thing? Did you perhaps have something to gain? Or stand something to lose?

Donald Trump has had wins and losses as a businessman, but it’s clear to most that winning is important to him. He said some things…here and there. And he got a variety of reactions. Like brand testing, if you will. If you say five things and people boo you on one and cheer you on one and are lukewarm on three, then the one that was cheered becomes your brand, and you don’t ever say the thing that gets you booed again. Trump built a campaign of cheering points. He learned his demographic…and it’s a large, unhappy demographic that he’s had a hand in screwing over. He knows what they are primarily upset about, and he gave a voice to the fears…fears that have been quietly but steadily growing since even I was a child.

They are taking your jobs.”

They are destroying America.”

They hate us.”

And the word ‘they’ is only a placeholder for the particular demographic that you, in particular, are afraid of.

On stage, he has offered no real solutions for these problems.

“I’m going to bring jobs back.”

“We’re going to make America great again.”

“I guarantee. Trust me.”

And his target audience, his target consumer, gobbled it up. I’m not saying they are stupid…in fact, I think that people who write off these millions of voters as ‘a basket of deplorables’ are completely naive to the concerns of those voters. They care about America. They’re hurting as we all do. We’re merely in disagreement about the root cause.

So he won his primary by presenting a popular set of values and fears. He read his audience better than his competitors and he business manned the shit out of that election.

WINNER.

Does anyone remember that one show a long time ago…?

Seems a bit like a different kind of Donald Trump. Still quite stubborn, very alpha male, not a person I’d like to meet, surely.

Donald Trump loves the TV screen. He participates in far more media than any other candidate. He takes interviews on phone, on television, on radio. He loves giving speeches. He loves hearing himself talk. He loves the cheering and the crowd. He thrives on that energy.

So what the hell is this?

Over the past 40 years, the labor force participation of women with children under 18 has grown from 47 percent in 1975 to 70 percent today. Raising a child is now the single greatest expense for most American families—even exceeding the cost of housing in much of the country. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of mothers with children under 6 are working outside of the home.

Government policies are stuck in the past, and make already difficult choices regarding care arrangements even more difficult. Outdated policies in many cases cause women to make choices that are not the best for either their families or the economy.

Today’s workforce includes 73.5 million women representing 47 percent of the entire US labor force. Over 24 million of those women have children under age 18; almost 10 million of them have children under age 6. Women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households with children under the age of 18, but hold 62 percent of minimum wage jobs. The number of families headed by single mothers has doubled in the last 30 years; about two-thirds of these mothers work in “dead-end, poorly compensated jobs without flexibility or benefits.” Government policies must be especially helpful for these women.

Current federal policies regarding child and dependent care do not reflect either the needs of American families or the contributions of women to the American workforce. The high cost of quality care burdens working families while the tax code provides disincentives for women to reenter or enter the workforce.

Our plan will transform child and dependent care to meet the needs of 21st century families, empowering parents—not bureaucrats.

It’s an excerpt from his website. And includes one of the major policy changes I have badly wanted to see: paid leave for new mothers. It also includes something major that has been warped in the public eye: Donald Trump’s respect or lack thereof for women.

Does anyone out there remember Omarosa? When she was on The Apprentice, I thought she was an awful person. She’s mean-spirited and competitive. However, one cannot dispute that she’s a driven, ambitious individual. She was the first winner of The Apprentice and has worked for Donald Trump ever since. So I’ll give her a moment here to tell you how she feels about his views on women, because I think she’s more qualified than I am.

So, here’s what I think about the character of Donald Trump.

I think he’s a bullshitter. And I think he is very good at it. 

I don’t think he has any trouble at all saying whatever words he thinks are necessary to achieve his ultimate goal. I don’t think he means even half of it. He has boldly lied and he has said things he can’t back up. And then when he’s backed into a corner he flings insult without hesitation. He’s already walked back several of his statements. If he were to achieve the White House, I think he’d leave the work primarily in the hands of others and simply trust them to do what they need to do, but wouldn’t hesitate to throw his executive weight around if there was a problem. I think he’ll follow through on a few of his promises and then work on what he secretly believes the real issues with the nation are.

It has been highlighted multiple times (as Omarosa herself said in the video above) that Donald Trump’s positions have changed since he started running for President, and I think that it’s because he’s garnering votes in much the same way as Hillary Clinton: saying what the people want to hear and harnessing the energy of the crowd.

While we’re on the topic, look at the difference in crowds that they draw:

Hm. She looks like she needs some help.

Some quotes from the Twitter:

I would vote for unconscious Hillary before I’d vote for Trump. She could be on life support and better than that evil clown.

When u think Trump can sink no lower… This is so dangerous for US democracy.

And then he hires white trash to run Trump campaign. Sticks to his own kind, lying bigots.

Trump’s election would mean the beginning of a 21st-century era of McCarthyism; it’s vital he is kept far from the White House.

And these ppl would be the next owners of the US power alongside Trump. Not in this life!!

Racist Trump has the audacity to think we don’t remember what he’s done!

Or there’s this one from a newspaper in Oregon:

Think of this before you vote in November. Donald Trump has made disparaging remarks about women, war heroes and mothers of a soldier killed in combat. He has mocked a disabled person.

I grew up with a disabled little sister and witnessed her being ridiculed as a child. These were children, of course, and they hopefully grew up to know that this was abhorrent behavior. Trump apparently did not.

We cannot let this truly loathsome person anywhere near the White House.

You see, what the media, her supporters, and anyone who speaks on her behalf has done is shift the focus off of Hillary Clinton and onto this Evil Madman. It’s like “Don’t look at me! What about the Second Coming of Hitler?!”

All she has to say is “I won’t let that happen!” and she basically wins.

Now, stay with me…stay open-minded. And think. When you are so blinded by your fears–because let’s face it…he’s been made out to be Hitler 2.0, and he has said some stuff to back up the claims–you have to question who you are as a human being. What can you do to stop this madness? Because really, you don’t have a lot of choices here. You can vote for the person most likely to defeat him–Hillary Clinton–or accept that you may deny his opposition your vote by voting for someone else, or not voting at all. It’s up to you. You’re a German citizen during the rise of the Nazis. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!?

That’s fucking powerful.

Because you have to. You HAVE to vote for Hillary Clinton. Morally, you have no fucking choice at all. You’re certain our country will burn itself down if we elect him. And then you are blind. You’re fucking blind. You can’t even help it.

NOTHING else matters but that he be defeated.

How fucked up is that?

Okay. Now let’s walk it back.

Who made you do this?

Was it him? Or was it her?

Are you sure? Like, really, really sure?  Are you willing to risk your future on the concrete value of your ‘best guess’?

Did you forget some things? America was founded on a system of checks and balances, with three branches of Government:

  • Executive Branch – President
  • Legislative Branch – Congress
  • Judicial Branch – Supreme Court

The President doesn’t have as much power as we assign to him or her. They cannot pass law without Congress, and they can be put in check by the Supreme Court (“Hey, you can’t do that…it breaks our fundamental American code.”).

He can appoint Supreme Court Justices, but Congress has to approve that…otherwise Merrick Garland would be a Justice right now.

He can create Executive Orders and push his will, but the Supreme Court can strike that down as unconstitutional.

He can’t just Go To War. Congress has to approve that.

He can piss a lot of people off, but…honestly, we’re not doing too hot with our buddies already.

If he became the fearsome dictator everyone seems so concerned about…do you have so little faith in our people that you don’t believe we’d stand up and do something about that? The ripple of discontent is rough and ragged right now. The whole world is watching.

Do you have so little faith in our military that you believe its officers would blindly follow nonsensical, inhumane orders and break the Geneva Convention?

If you ask me, the only thing at all fearsome about Donald Trump is the millions of voters that want him to be President, and they aren’t going anywhere whether he gets elected or not. They’re scared, angry, poor, and desperate, and a lot of other adjectives that aren’t stupid or racist (hey, we have those in every party, honestly).

But hey. At least they voted for him, which is more than I can say for Hillary Clinton. 


I like to use relationship analogies a lot. Probably because they’re so relatable. By now, pretty much everybody has been in a relationship that hasn’t gone well.

So stay with me here…this is going to get deep.

Do you remember when you first fell in love, with that first lover? How the sky opened up, and light shone down from the heavens, and flowers bloomed where your lover walked? And then, you got the first inklings that something might be amiss. A yellow flag. A caution flag? You ignored this first flag. Probably justified it. There was a reason, or you were being silly. Maybe you were just being too paranoid. Too jealous. Too clingy?

Do you remember when the switch flipped? There came a day when you were just all kinds of done with that.

The ‘done’ happened over something stupid. For me, it was because he put my iPod through the washer without checking pockets. It would have been a small thing by itself, but it was just the 123498th time he just didn’t care enough to take some extra time to do things right.

Right now, we’re all in different stages of our relationship with Hillary Clinton. Look at everyone who ever talks about her as if that person is your very best friend in the most fucked up relationship ever, and you’ve been trying to tell them that they need to GTFO but they just won’t listen. What stage are they at? In love? Denial? Or so fucking done they can’t even…?

Bernie’s supporters are So Fucking Done.

And when you reach the point of So Fucking Done, what you find is all of that stuff you let slide when you were in love. Those might-have-been lies are just lies now. Those maybe-she-was-just-trying-to’s are just “She fucking lied to me again!”s. Those Right-Wing-and-or-Russian-Conspiracies are “Do you ever tell the damned truth?”s. When you learn to be suspicious and question everything, you see a lot more.

And yeah…maybe we’re seeing more than is there.


But we still haven’t seen her fucking Wall Street Transcripts, and she said she’d share them. And I don’t want to hear anyone’s fucking “But what about HIS–”

I don’t give a shit. You want to talk about issues? Let’s talk about issues. She has yet to prove she isn’t cozy with Wall Street. *I* want to know. I have wanted to know. I have wanted to know since it was asked in the debates last fall. I wanted to know when I was firmly in her camp. And her repeated dodging, lying, and covering up every time someone questioned her actions is what made me fall out of love. She’s nothing but a scumbag Ex now. Qualified? Maybe.

But once you lose the trust of one who loved you, it’s really fucking hard to get it back. I mean…can I trust anything she says now that I know she’s lying at least some of the time? Abso-fucking-lutely not. That’s how you end up in shitty failing relationships your entire life. Done with her. And I never did like that Trump guy.


But let’s face it…she’d never have a hope in hell of winning if she weren’t running against Donald Trump.

Let it sink in again.

If it weren’t for Hitler 2.0, she simply could not win. 

Do you trust these people, any or all of them, not to deceive you? How well do you really know them? How well do you know him? Or her? What motivates them? What are they afraid of? Who are they in this for? Where do their interests lay? How does money flow in and out of their plans?

Just keep thinking, people. When you feel this strongly about something you don’t want to do but feel obligated, you are being manipulated. Start asking all of the questions.

But at the end of the day, you have to live with your decision…you will do what you feel is right. And that’s perfect.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

 

#OurWorld: Hacking Elections

Sam av

In a previous post, I outlined some of the many ways millions of American’s were unable to have their voices heard or their votes counted. In this post, I’d like to focus on one issue in particular because I don’t think people are talking about it enough.

And it’s the problem with how the votes are counted.

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” -Joseph Stalin

So the general concept of a vote is quite simple. A single person goes to the voting booth, fills out their ballot, and puts it in the ballot box.

However, some of you may have noticed that the passage of time has never ceased. As the years fly by, technology advances. Some of you parents out there might have noticed that your kids are very gadget-oriented now. Toddlers are learning how to use iPads. Everyone has a cell phone. We’re a tech-savvy generation. And tech-savvy generations produce the good and the evil both. Some of us will make smaller, more powerful technology. Most of us will only use this technology.

And some of us–the scum of the universe–will exploit this powerful knowledge to prey upon the majority who doesn’t understand it. Face it: right now, there are people who don’t know how to use a computer, check their phone voicemail, or even HTML code.

Computer programs are written in code. It’s a code I don’t profess to understand. I’ve learned basic HTML so that I can design a simple webpage, but I don’t know how to write scripts or programs. Many of my generation have gone to school for this, though. They’ve learned how to write subtle, elegant code that responds in specific ways to do a variety of processes. It’s amazing stuff!

How many of you truly understand the nuances of what you’re doing on the computer right now? What code is running wordpress? How does your computer function? Most of us don’t even know. We’ve never had to think about it.

But if you want to know how far we’ve come…this is one of the first cell phones:

Now, to put it in perspective, meet the voting machines:

Most of the voting machines in use in the USA were engineered in the 1990s. In a report by NYU law school, experts from the Brennan School of Justice said:

“The problem of aging and outdated voting equipment is national and widespread. We ignore it at our collective peril. A majority of jurisdictions in 2016 will be using machines at or near the end of their projected lifespans.”

The average personal laptop needs to be replaced within four years.

The average cell phone is replaced within two years.

These voting machines in fourteen states are 15+ years old. Now, even if hacking weren’t an issue–and it always is, no matter what anyone says…any machine that can be hacked will be hacked; any game that can be cheated, any bug that can be exploited, someone will figure out how…it’s pretty much the law of the internet–old machinery has any variety of hardware failures–loss of memory, loading problems, recording errors, etc.

It’s a simple enough program, counting votes…but that’s exactly the problem. Simple machines with simple programs are a piece of cake for hackers. And why would anyone want to hack a vote?

To fuck with you.

And it’s actually incredibly easy. In fact, this guy was paid to do just that in the 2000 election.

And this guy does it, too.

So even if we could forget about all of the ‘irregularities’ that happened this year in the primaries (I surely cannot), and even if we could believe this year was fairly decided (and I don’t), it is incredibly easy for me to believe that old computers can be easily hacked.

Your vote goes into this box and disappears. That’s it.

How much control does a hacker have?

Well. Have any of you ever been the victim of a computer virus? Some of them are devastating…they’ll shut down your whole computer, maybe you can’t turn it on, or it’s sluggish. Some are more subtle than that. I once had a virus that hid my files on my flash drive. They were still there…they’d just been relegated to hidden files. What was more, the virus created shell files that looked like my files but had no information. At first, I thought they’d been hollowed out, all of the information I’d stored completely wiped. They were there, though, and I recovered them safely.

Hackers may be able to access voting machines remotely.

They can definitely rewrite the card.

Communications between a voting machine and the server may be intercepted, the same way an identity thief might snag your information from unsecure wifi.

If you’re still not convinced, this guy bought his own machine and toyed with it himself, proving how an election could be stolen in just seven minutes.

The Moral of the Story

In the ongoing chaos of the aftermath of the primary season, Americans are looking for the most critical next step. We’re regrouping, adjusting, recalibrating, and searching for what it is we can do to make the best of what is already a terrible situation. Some of those options I’ll be going into in coming Tuesdays, but this particular problem seems to have been largely ignored.

Does it matter who is running for President–or even Congress, the Senate, our local officials–if a man in his garage can change the results of hundreds or thousands of people in only seven minutes?

Our sacred choice–our vote–is just data on a server, vulnerable to all manner of corrupted individuals with the power to alter that data. If the vote loses integrity, then our power to choose is only an illusion.

The real question becomes…who is behind the hack?

Well, here’s what the President has to say about it:

It’s not very inspired.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

#OurWorld: Don’t Waste Your Vote

Sam av

At this stage of the USA’s 2016 election, you’re likely to be in one of these groups:

  • Still holding on for Bernie
  • So fucking done with everything
  • Grudgingly voting for Trump or Clinton
  • Flirting with the idea of voting Third Party
  • Praying for a miracle
  • Standing beneath the sky with your hands like claws in the air, screaming “WHYYY?”
  • Fantasy planning a permanent move to a foreign country

Unfortunately, no matter which category you’re in at this point, you’re probably fielding a whole mess of bullshit, ala the proverbial fan that flings it. Someone’s using shouty capitals or calling you names telling you that you’re wrong and should agree with them.

Before I begin to dissect an old argument, I want to preface it with this:

If you’re already planning on voting because you wholeheartedly feel a certain way, meaning you actually LIKE Trump or Clinton or you fully support a third party candidate, or you’re so done that you’re perfectly fine with throwing away your vote to write-in “Boaty McBoatface” just to say you voted, please take what I say with a grain of salt. My intention here is not to provide you with yet another vitriolic onslaught to force you to agree with me. As always, my intention is only to provoke thought. It’s the truth we each have for ourselves that matters at the end of the day. Your vote is your vote. You’re the one who has to live with the decision you make…but, decide, one way or the other.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…!

The one common denominator of all of the categories above is that most of us, the grand majority of us, are disgusted with our nominees. Keep your reasons to yourself…we’ve all heard it, and we’ve all made up our minds already as to who gets to claim the glorious title of “Lesser than Two Evils.”

Wow. What a way to win an election. “I only marginally hate you less than the other person, so you win by default because I think I’d rather see America char itself to a crisp than be murdered by Death Star. At least a charred earth is one we can rebuild.” Note the sarcasm, mmk? Thanks.

The problem is, we keep dropping ourselves in this trap. The Democrats pick a horse and the Republicans pick a horse. Neither of them are awesome so we end up picking the one we dislike the least. The Democratic Party has changed, though, as has the Republican Party. We’re just used to the way things are. By now, we’ve decided who the villains are. Blue hates Red, Red hates Blue. Democrats will vote for Democrats, and Republicans will vote for Republicans. Voting across party lines is…unthinkable.

But after all this time, the choices seem more bleak every time an election rolls around. The Democrats have no reason to change. All they have to do to win is to NOT be a Republican. The Republicans are the same…they only have to point fingers at the Democrats, and voila! Someone goes up on a stage with a microphone and makes outrageous promises, tears down their opponent, and whomever does better at the game wins the Presidency.

It’s fucking awful.

Throughout my relatively short lifetime of twenty-eight years, I’ve learned to despise politics.

(quote credit: Larry Hardiman)

And now, because of this wild and crazy election cycle and the general exposure of corruption deep in the American government, I realized something important. Not talking about politics because it’s uncomfortable is what got us into this predicament in the first place. Choosing not to debate with someone who disagrees with you means that your convictions are never challenged for truth. Diverse viewpoints initiate new ideas. We find compromise and understanding. We grudgingly accept that we might not always be right.

It’s important.

So I no longer back down from a debate (unless I am legitimately worn out, in which case bowing out is good for everyone involved).

So here’s today’s debate:

It’s November 8, 2016. Trump vs. Clinton. Who are you going to vote for?

First problem: It’s NOT just Trump vs. Clinton. It’s Trump vs. Clinton vs. Stein vs. Johnson vs. a list of other Presidential candidates that don’t have access to enough electoral votes to win.

Who are these other candidates? Gary Johnson is the nominee of the Libertarian Party, whose philosophy consists mainly of freedom from overregulation. Jill Stein is the nominee of the Green Party, which is a far-left party focused on threats to the planet and people.

Currently, the polling for all parties is as follows:

CANDIDATE VOTE%
Hillary Clinton 43
Donald Trump 37
Gary Johnson 11
Jill Stein 4

If any candidate gets 15% of the vote in several nationally recognized polls, they gain access to the Presidential debate stage. That means they’d be on stage with Trump & Clinton, presenting opposing viewpoints to a huge audience of Americans. It would be the first time for most Americans that they will be told they have four choices instead of two.

The problem with that is that so many Americans believe that a third party can never win. The problem with that is that nearly half of registered voters are neither Democrat NOR Republican. They’re actually independents. Independent voters are the largest voting bloc in America right now at 43%.

The other thing that isn’t taken into account is that Trump and Clinton are the worst nominees in history for BOTH parties. In a Fox News poll published on Aug 3, 61% of respondents said they did not trust Hillary Clinton, while 62% said the same of Donald Trump. A whopping 60%+ of respondents do not trust either candidate.

60% of Americans don’t like the candidates.

43% of Americans are beholden to neither party.

Yet there are people who continue to hammer home the point that a Third Party can never win.

Why?

Because there have been times in the past when candidates have been considered ‘spoilers.’ In elections, a spoiler is someone who has a platform similar to another, which splits the voters two ways and generally causes the majority-holding candidate to lose the election to the opposing philosophy.

Yes, spoilers exist. But to compare this election to any that came before is to deny the truth we have already seen this year. This election year is like no other election year that has ever, ever happened. There’s an unprecedented level of interest, an unprecedented level of hate for the frontrunners, and an unprecedented number of Americans who are so fed up with both parties that they want more options. 

Real change does not happen all at once. Do I think it’s possible for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein to win this election? Absolutely. Do I think it’s likely? No.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that our country’s vision for America has shifted, and the two major parties have not. They continue to serve their own interests (*coughcough* MONEY *cough*) and forcing terrible candidates down our throats. They have no reason NOT to, because we keep letting them do it.

If we don’t vote for our interests, our interests receive no representation in government. Remember that old quote? It’s a good one:

“Taxation without representation is tyranny.” -James Otis

If we siphon enough of the vote away from these clearly poor choices to lead our government, we can take our first step in the right direction. Us fickle Americans are more likely to back a candidate we think can win (which is a stupid way to make decisions, if you were to ask me). If we can start to move the needle in the direction that America needs to go, rather than the direction our shitty parties are taking us, maybe we can present a shinier case for the future.

If you think Trump and Clinton are both bad for America, the best way you can say that is to not vote for them. A vote for Stein or Johnson is a vote for Stein or Johnson. It’s not a vote for Trump or for Clinton. Let the minority of people who voted for them in the primaries squabble over which of the nominees is a worse candidate. We didn’t select them. We aren’t forced to back them. Let’s be better than this.

The primaries barred millions of Americans from having their voices heard. Independents weren’t allowed to vote in many states (New York, for example), but nothing is stopping them from casting a vote in November.

I had decided a long time ago that I cannot support Trump or Clinton. Neither one of them is what America needs. Clinton says one thing and does another. Trump is…well, he’s Trump. I’m not going on the record books as supporting either of them. Furthermore, I believe this was all a highly corrupted, rigged election in which we never really had a choice in the first place, but I’ll get into that argument again another day. The last thing I’m going to do is put my name down in support for the person who denied America the President that it does need, and instead throw my support behind the woman who is ready to fight for his values.

Her name is Jill Stein.

A vote for the things that you want is never a wasted vote. That line of thinking is the psychological foundation for abuse. So don’t waste your vote. You deserve better.

We all do.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

#OurWorld Our Extraordinary Ordinary World

Frankie Av

As a science fiction fan, I’ve often found myself thinking about other worlds, undiscovered planets and inhabited lands thousands of lightyears away. What would they look like? What kind of plant life would they have? Would they have vast oceans? What kind of animal life might evolve on a world completely different to our own? So many questions and imaginings about a world which may or may not exist.

Earth might be the only world in the universe to hold life. It could be the only planet of its kind. Of course, it might also be one of millions of similar planets. There could be billions of combinations of atoms formed countless ways to create creatures and worlds the likes of which we could not even imagine. But if we look to our own world, we will find there is so much of it which has never been explored, never even been seen by the human eye. We have oceans so deep we can’t explore them without being crushed. We know more about our moon and other planets in the solar system than we do about our ocean floor. Remote forests are so thick and dangerous most have never been mapped.

In 2015 alone, thousands of new species were discovered on Earth. Thousands of never-before seen plants and creatures native to our own world. We don’t even know what exists on our own planet never mind be able to guess at what might live on another.

With so many questions about other worlds, we rarely stop to look at our own. The beauty and splendour of it all. The biodiversity unique to Earth is astounding. In a time of negativity, horror and sadness, take a moment to look at this beautiful planet we live on. The heights of our mountains, the depths of our seas. The green of our forests and the white of our cold snow.

We don’t need to look to the stars for new and exciting things. They are here, discovered every day, sometimes by people like you and me.

Original Video here

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE