social science, Uncategorized, virtual

Internet Newbie Manual

Chapter 1: Introduction

Here you are (at last). Welcome!

While everyone else is busy tweeting, friending, chatting, and skyping, you’re just wrenching yourself off the phone and creating a hotmail (shudder) username.

Don’t worry about it. And don’t let them make you feel like a loser. You’re the one that can still write “letters” even if you can’t order a humidifer from overstock just yet. You still go to Borders to buy books, and Amazon remains a deep, dark, leafy, mysterious jungle to you. You don’t yet know what Bcc does, and you still don’t know what “Reply All” does to the rest of us. When you get “Not Found,” you wonder if the computer is broken. You pay Geek Squad to open Microsoft Word when it shuts down abruptly and takes your letter to the gas company with it. You don’t really know for 100% sure what PC, netbook, notebook, software, hardware, and programs really mean, but you don’t dare confess to that.

Here’s your welcome note, and a short introductory manual for internet use. Think of it as a Guide to the Internet similar to tourist guidebooks. This way you won’t butt in on list-servs, sending a message asking to unsubscribe to every list-member. You won’t (please) Reply-All. You won’t Reply-All to your entire religious congregation when you really want to send a lightly flirtatious email to ONE of the recipients. You won’t, in short, make a nuisance of yourself as you blunder around cyberspace.


1. The “FORWARD” button should be marked with a big BEWARE! DO NOT TOUCH! For the first six months, DO NOT USE THE FORWARD COMMAND. The temptation to do so will be severe, and you want to send jokes dating from 1990 to your work colleagues. You want to send warnings about aspartame and cancer  to your grandchildren. Surely everyone ought to know how their daughters could become pregnant with octopi?? And why shouldn’t you forward the inspirational chain letter about mothers to 10 other friends? Or you should urge your friends to put down “Jedi” as your religion so they can reach the requisite 10k? You yearn to forward angry news items from religious right-wingers who are convinced that Everyone Else  is launching a movement to erase your denomination from the planet. You want to forward photos of celebrities engaged in nasty acts. Why, you wonder, is it so bad for you to SHARE? Isn’t the internet all about sharing? Isn’t it all about information spreading like the oil-spill across the oceans?

Maybe it is. But consider yourself like a 7-year old child in matters of sexuality. Yes, you have sex organs. But you should not do it. Yes, you can hit forward. Just DON’T DO IT! Remember Nancy Reagan’s slogan, and stick to it.

2. Don’t open emails from ANYONE you don’t know for that 6-month period. Even if it promises to show you Obama coupling or Kama Sutra images. Especially if it urges you to pick up your lottery winnings, and trust that no one’s handing out big wads of cash for doing practically nothing, whether they’re in Nigeria or anywhere else. Trust that it’s all illusion, unless it’s an email from Mom – (Subject Line: Why haven’t you called me?) or from your husband (Subj: Will be l8 again) or from your Dad – (Subj: Come over and help me with VCR again). If you don’t know them, delete it. For at least 6 months. Consider yourself as committing a 6-month fast on words such as Millions, Lottery, Free, S*x and so on.

3. Cleave to “SAVE DRAFT.” The Save Draft is your friend. Having poured out anger, bile, accusations, and fury in an email, do not hit SEND. Hit “Save.” Then Shut Down. Get a smoothie. Watch a movie. Then Power On. If you’re still inclined to read it, take a look at Drafts. If the email you typed 5 hours ago still seems like something you would sign your name to, then hit Send.

4. You can look for it YOURSELF.  Before you ask your friends to give you information on how to weed your garden, wean your child, get a job or a degree, or find a rental, type your question into the box at or You will find information mixed with rubbish, but you will find information. If you want to know about it, it is probably there. The internet is pulsing with enormous quantities of information, both useful and useless, (usually) free for the taking.

5. What you do on the internet is not private. For the first few months on the internet, avoid typing in your  SS#, DOB, Mother’s maiden name, Father’s middle name, Name of first pet, color of first car, and city you were born or married in. If you’re on Facebook, for instance, uncheck the boxes that say every prying eye can see your children’s videos, your personal information, and your status updates about your raving lunatic of an employer. Come to think of it, for 6 months, don’t blog. If you must leave comments on forums and at blogs, etc., don’t leave your first, middle and last names along with your hometown. Please. I saw you ranting about how you’re sick of them flooding your nice neighborhood, and I don’t like you anymore.

Once you’re done with your probationary period, you may go ahead and open accounts with retailers and overstock and if you want. And when you do start logging into your bank account, make sure you don’t do so when you are sitting in Starbucks. People can “see” you. You should make sure someone sets your home network so that no one else can use it.

6.When you’re creating a password, use your brains. Don’t just be lazy and do the DOB with your initials, or your spouse/kids’/grandkids’ initials and DOBs. People know this information. Use something not everyone knows, like the theater where your water broke, or the neighborhood where your SIL’s mother’s niece’s MIL lives. You get my drift.

7. For a year, don’t download any Porn. You shouldn’t be downloading porn anyway. These websites reproduce.  penetrate deep inside your PC, thrusting their tentacles into its deepest recesses, snooping around for your private (info). Consider yourself abstinent for a year and don’t do it.

8. The Really Good Deals Are Not. Save yourself some time and know that those ridiculously low prices have conditions attached. That cruise price is base price, w/o tax, only for one night and only at the worst possible time of the year. That travelocity deal is probably gone by the time you get to it, but has served its purpose (i.e. getting you to click on And on craigslist, for instance, pretend you don’t see those screaming ads NO SCAMS! YOU CAN GET A FREE JEEP CHEROKEE LIKE I DID! or GET THEM BEFORE THEY’RE GONE! $200 VACATION PACKAGE DEALS IN MIAMI! If you want a crazy-high-followed-by-a-depressing-low, just eat some chocolate, or get a coffee. Don’t go to the arms of scammers and businesses fishing for eyes.

9. Your Clicks Are Wanted. Know that businesses and websites want you to click on their links. Your clicks mean money to someone. So don’t throw your money around. Save yourself for the really good stuff.

Anyone want to add Chapter 3?

children, gender, religion, social science

Bewilderment is sometimes religious: the horrors of child abuse

28-year old Melissa Huckaby kidnapped 8-year old Sandra Cantu, raped her with a foreign object, and murdered her. Sandra’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase, in an irrigation pond. When all the amazement over a woman (and a mother) being a rapist and a murderer was done, we are left with the tragedy, the terror and the brutalization that Sandra underwent.

Every day, all over the world, children are raped. Children are brutalized and beaten. Children are exploited for sex. Children are used for labor. Children are forced to beg – many of those are maimed so that they may bring in greater earnings. Children are sold into slavery and prostitution. And while we may prefer to treat this as a problem of poor brown folks, the problem is here too.   Children are starved to death, powerless, with food just feet away from them. Children are deprived of normalcy, innocence, happiness.

As a parent, as a religious person, as a human being, in witnessing such crimes against innocence, I cannot escape that horror that shakes me to the core. Having been raised in the “developing world” – as it is optimistically described, despite the tentacles that continue to probe its insides, I know how much worse the fate is that awaits victims of brutalization.

It is difficult, often, in the face of such agony, to face the world that contains such horrors. It is difficult to make sense of anything at all.

Many times a day, when I look upon my 4-year old daughter playing with bubbles in the bathtub, the intense and horrific images of Shaniya Davis’s fate pass before my eyes.  As I hold her to comfort her grief over a lost stuffed toy, I see the bizarre image of pimps kidnapping children, orphaned in the Pakistani earthquake. I cannot stop thinking about parents selling their daughter Sumayya (7) so they could build a new house.

I do not understand. I cannot bear to have my daughter shiver in the snow. Her fear of a “How to Train Your Dragon” battle scene cuts me to the quick. But there are mothers who force their daughters into beauty pageants. There are mothers who abuse, neglect, beat, starve and sell their children. But most mothers would lay down their lives for their children. A mother’s heart breaking for her child’s pain, fear, suffering, hunger, cannot understand – a mother’s heart breaking for any child because all children must must must have innocence, peace, happiness, play, food, sunshine, and free air. And too, too many children do not. I do not understand a world where children suffer, are brutalized, are beaten, are raped, and die terrible deaths.

As a religious person, this I find to be a mystery I cannot fathom.

Suffering can cultivate strength in some people. In the Surah of the Cave, we read of how Khidr teaches Moses lessons about the ultimate wisdom of Fate, teaches him how suffering and death may serve a higher purpose and may bring about ease in the future.

Rape and abuse, as far as we know, do not have salutary effects upon a child’s future.

With the scale and degree of suffering, misery, victimization that we see today among children, this is a hidden blessing in no shape or form. This is a grotesque, satanic, evil inversion of the very nature of humanity.

The revulsion that you and I feel when we hear of Shaniya Davis’s rape, or the little orphan Aisha being sold into prostitution is, I think, entirely religious. The horror at sharing species with a being who would use physical power over a child to force her into sex is not a “secular” or anti-religious impulse. It is an instinct that attacks, from the very gut, behavior that is unnatural, behavior that is the total inversion of what it should be – protective of childhood innocence. The philosophical incomprehension is spiritual, at some level. There are other ways of religiously processing such horrors and surviving their impact, but this is one.

But it is hard to not understand. The intense physicality of child abuse is of a nature that does not allow us to retreat from it. It’s not like famine due to natural causes, or like the destruction wrought by a tsunami. It is ugly. If we do not understand its occurrence in the same world that we occupy, how can we accept the world in which we live? How can we accept or trust or face fellow members of the human race, who would use small children in kiddy porn to make dollars? How can we understand?

As a mother, I have gradually come to the conclusion that it is not for us to understand.

It is not decent for us to indulge, to luxuriate in the ultimately patrician pastime of making sense of these horrors. A God’s eye view is not for us. The only option that remains for us is to fight these crimes, comprehending or not. Whether we can sociologically process root causes, whether success ensues or not, whether we can prevent one Huckaby from victimizing one more Sandra Cantu, we should not waste time pondering the damned shame of such lives and such deaths. Reflecting upon such things overlong, and comforting ourselves with explanations or fine chocolates, this is effort that should be spent upon fighting abuse, kiddy porn, war, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, lawlessness, any of the potential factors involved in human misery.

This, I think, is the only truly religious response to such things.