Category Archives: Editor’s Corner

EDITOR’S CORNER: Spinning the Wheel on the US Financial Structure System

By Stacey Doud – This is the OPINION of the Editor-In-Chief and does not reflect the general views of the Grapevine Source or any of its other contributors

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Like a lot of folks, I like to play games on my phone/tablet. It’s great entertainment when I’m waiting somewhere. It’s also a nice way to “wake up my brain” in the morning, or to just take a break from work/housework.

One of the games I play is a slot game called, “Hit it Rich!”

I got to thinking about how this game mirrors society a bit. When I first started out, the game gave me $3 million, so when I talk about millions, billions and trillions, I’m representing millions as “lower class,” billions as “middle class” and trillions as “upper class,” as far as financial standards in the US go. Yes, there are players that go beyond that in winnings, which would be “the rich upper class.”

When I started playing the slot game, I liked it because it is pretty mindless. It’s a great game to play when I didn’t want to think too much, like I have to with puzzle games and such. It has a feature that gives me extra money as long as I log in every day and spin the bonus wheel. I can request extra coins and free spins from friends, as well as gift to them.

With my initial $3 million, I tended to alternate getting up to $10 million or so or going completely bankrupt. Fortunately, when bankrupt, I logged into the game app every day and spun the wheel to build up enough winnings to play again. It took me several days to get that “baseline” of $3 million back, but eventually I’d reach that goal and be able to spin again.

Now, here are the parallels, which are completely my opinions.

I’m about to talk about federal assistance. I just want to clarify up front that I will be referring to folks who use the system honestly because they really need it, whether temporarily or more long-term. My mother is one of those people, and we are thankful that the system exists and can help her, which helps me, as I’m the only child (and definitely not financially rich).

I looked at those free spins when I was bankrupt as federal assistance and/or a job. I used it honestly, and built up enough money to “live” on (i.e. be able to spin/play). I did not spin until I had that $3 million back, though I easily could have. Of course, some people who depend on federal assistance (including my mom) have to “spin.” They need food, clothing and shelter. Ideally, the bonus wheel spins that they take advantage of every day would represent a job. But it could represent unemployment or just checking the mail every day for the assistance check or volunteering for a cause that is important to that person.

Of course, many people in this country are honestly disabled, so they may not be able to spin at all and rely on collecting the free bonus every day when they login. But the fact that they take the time to login every single day shows perseverance and initiative. The people who skip days or weeks of bonus spins or just keep requesting coins from friends are obviously not committed to the game.

I was playing along in this pattern of “millions to bankrupt” for a long time. I even gave up playing for a while, but I still collected those bonus spins just in case I ever wanted to play again.

Over time, I accumulated a few billion dollars. I could bet higher and, in turn, my wins tended to be worth more. So I was spending more, but my returns were higher. This is not always the case with the middle class. Of course, one hopes to secure a good-paying job so that they can afford to “bet” more (i.e. have some disposable income to enjoy some “luxury” items/activities) now and then. But these days, it is costing us more for “necessities,” such as food, electric service, rent/mortgage, etc. In many instances, the middle class is just able to pay the bills for a lifestyle that takes care of these necessities and that’s about it.

Of course, there are many, many Americans who live beyond their means and “rob Peter to pay Paul.” I liken this to players who actually buy extra coins, spins, etc. with real money. I realize that these are the folks that keep the game available to me for free (along with the inevitable ads) and allow the game company to update and change it from time to time. They are a big source of revenue for the game “economy.”

With my few billion dollars, I started betting higher, and one day, I hit a jackpot! I went from $1 billion or so to $36 trillion…just like that. And guess what? I started getting showered with rewards! I could move up a level in two spins! And each time I moved up, I got a bonus of at least $4 billion.

Game

Hit It Rich! Game Screen

What. The. Heck?

I don’t need those bonus things. I can bet $20 billion on a spin like it’s nothing. I give coins and free spins to all of my friends that request it. I’m not the one who needs the extras. The “millionaires” do.

Of course, one could make the argument that maybe the millionaires aren’t managing their money well or are not being thrifty or are not using all the resources that the game provides. And I’m sure this is true with many players. But what about the millionaires that are doing everything “right,” but just haven’t hit a jackpot like I did?

I’m sure I don’t have to point out the parallels here. The rich are getting richer, and they get so many perks and free stuff…yet they’re the ones who can afford that stuff if they wanted it!

Why does a rock star get a free meal at a restaurant and regular patrons don’t? It’s bass-ackwards to me. Mr. Leather Pants could afford to buy every patron in the whole restaurant a nice meal, yet his is free? How is that logical?

I know, I know…it makes Leather Pants come back to said eatery and thus attracts his fans, etc. to the establishment. I get the PR/economics of this. I just think it’s stupid.

While Leather Pants makes millions for dropping one album and touring for three months, regular folks are living paycheck to paycheck. I always thought that if I were talented enough to be a pro sports figure, a singer or actress, I’d do a couple of movies/albums/seasons and then retire. I mean, how much money does one really need – or better yet, how much money is one able to spend in a lifetime?

Sure, I could spend $50 billion (real life) dollars before I die, but it would probably be tough. If you doubt me, try this exercise:

Someone gifts you $1,000. This money doubles every day. So on Day 2, you’d get $2,000, then $4,000, then $8,000, etc. It keeps doubling every day, whether you spend it or not. Use the table below to get started. Make sure you list what you buy specifically and estimate the cost to the best of your ability.

Day

Amount of Deposit

Purchases

Cost of Purchases

Total Cash Left

1

$1,000

2

$2,000

3

$4,000

4

$8,000

5

$16,000
6

$32,000

7

$64,000
8

$128,000

9

$256,000

10 $512,000

Let me know how you do! This is what the rich upper class deals with daily. Sure, they own companies and invest in stuff and give money to charity. But if you try the above exercise, you can see it’s a drop in the bucket.

The bottom line is that, in my opinion, the benefits to the lower, middle and upper classes are upside-down. My little $3 million in the slot game is a distant memory. I am LOADED RICH, baby! But does that make the game more fun? Not. At. All.

Editor’s Corner: It may not be dementia

By Stacey Doud

dementia-6signsabuse690x400We haven’t posted a whole lot on The Grapevine Source lately because we were dealing with a family health issue…and I have to say I learned a LOT.

My mother is a total morning person. When I couldn’t get her on the phone by 9am last Saturday, I drove to her apartment, which is about seven minutes away.

I got there and she was indeed in bed, which at 9am is unheard of for her. Everything was dark. I was able to wake her but she was disoriented and basically couldn’t even sit up in bed. She was trying to speak, but it came out in a whisper and made no sense.

So I called 9-1-1. Fortunately, a fire station is right down the road and the EMS/Fire guys were there within minutes. They assessed her, and her vital signs were perfect. But it was obvious that she was not herself, so they took her to Baylor Scott and White Hospital.

To make a long story short, it turned out that my mom had a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). I learned that infections like UTIs can mimic the symptoms of dementia in the elderly. WHO KNEW? The Occupational Therapist explained that the process looks like this: the person slowly stops hydrating as much as he/she should, as well as stops eating right (skipping meals altogether at times); he/she starts to feel yucky generally; then the mental symptoms can start. In my mom’s case, her psychiatric symptoms started sometime late Friday night/early Saturday morning because she was totally lucid and fine when I spoke to her Friday around 5pm.

The infection causes blood to flow to that area so that white blood cells can try to fight it, and some of that blood comes from the brain. When there’s not enough blood to the brain, the person gets confused and dementia-like. I found a pretty good article on this issue at SeniorLiving.org:

“One of the many unseen, hard-to-detect dangers that senior citizens face today is urinary tract infections, more often known as UTIs.  Though easily treatable, the symptoms of UTIs in the elderly can often mimic those of other more serious conditions, like dementia. Given that UTIs are one of the most frequent, hidden infections seniors suffer from, it is important to be able to differentiate them from other illnesses, then isolate and eliminate them.

“Older individuals are vulnerable to UTIs for several reasons. The biggest culprit is an immune system weakened by time that increases susceptibility to any infection…Seniors are also more prone to UTIs because they get an assortment of ailments that cause urinary retention.  There are certain health conditions they face that make it harder to pass urine, such as diabetes, kidney infections, and kidney stones.  In addition to slowing the process of urinating, diabetes raises glucose in the urine, which also increases the likelihood of a UTI. An older person’s inability to urinate properly can then necessitate a catheter, which is difficult to keep sanitary, making them even more vulnerable to the same infection.”

My mom is now back home and doing well. She uses a shower chair now to prevent falls, as her physical body is still a bit unstable. Home health comes by three times a week, and I check on her every day. She wants to maintain her independence, but she’s 73 years old. Fortunately, she is understanding of her limits. She makes a point to drink plenty of water (dehydration/electrolyte imbalances can add to the cognitive symptoms), and eats three meals a day, even if one meal is a nutrition drink.

We learned a lot, and want to prevent this from happening again. I like to think I am a biology nerd and know more than the average bear about how the body works, but I did not know this. It flabbergasted me.

I wanted to share it here so that our readers will know, and hopefully this knowledge can prevent or quickly treat this medical issue in at least one other person…hopefully more.

Have a blessed day and feel free to email questions to me if you have any. I will do my best to answer them (based on my experience) or ask our home health nurse if I do not know the answer.

Editor’s Corner: Why I Hate the Holidays

By Stacey Doud, Editor-in-Chief

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-postcI have been called “grinchy,” a “party pooper” and a “complete holiday ruiner,” but I don’t even care. I HATE the holidays. “Why?” you ask? Let me tell you, my patient readers.

I’m not trying to sway anyone to my way of thinking or to ruin anyone’s holidays. If you don’t want to read a grinchy post, then please move on. But here are my complaints:

  • Christmas, which is supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ (even though “they” got the time of year wrong), has turned into a frenzied ball of materialism. I overheard a conversation in a grocery store recently between an adult and a child of about 10 or 12 (I don’t know how they were affiliated…babysitter, aunt, whatever). The child was talking about going to visit her grandparents on Christmas Day. “I’m just gonna go for an hour or two just to eat and get my presents,” the young lady said. It took everything in me not to go over to them and freak out. Is this what Christmas has come to?
  • I do NOT need to be bombarded with Christmas carols and decorations from September – December. This just reinforces point one above. Can I please go Trick-or-Treating and celebrate Thanksgiving before you stuff your shiny Christmas balls down my throat? Please?
  • Sometimes, family gatherings just suck. Some families don’t get along that well. They would never pick each other to be in their lives if it wasn’t for that blood connection. Yet, if you don’t go spend time with your family, then you suck as bad as your family dynamics. Why get together with people you don’t even like? Sure, someone gets drunk and there’s drama and that can be fun, but mostly, it bites.
  • Food, food, food. You or someone you may care a little about slaves away for hours (or days, for that matter) to make a beautiful meal for family and friends. Those piglets come in for 10 minutes, shovel food down their faces and then go watch football or take a nap. Yay you, for working so hard. And then you have to clean everything up after that.
  • Gifts: If I get you a $50 gift card and you get me a $50 gift card, then how stupid are we?? I know there are people that put lots of thought into gifts and I’m not talking about you. I’m speaking to my kinfolk (the lazy people). Why not just forgo exchanging gifts with adults and just get stuff for the kids while they still think Christmas is fun?
  • Decorations: Yeah, let’s spend hours and tons of money on decorations that will be up for six weeks max! YAY!! Go on vacation instead. It will probably cost about the same.
Viceroy-Bali-Hotel-Pool-Cover-image

Decorations or THIS? Hmmm…

Yes, I am grinchy. Hopefully, you are not and think I just need a good massage, therapy, psychotropic drugs or something. But if you’re as green and furry as I am, then you feel me.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays and Happy Diwali. If I forgot your religious celebration, email me at biteme@holidays.com.

But seriously, THANK YOU for reading. We appreciate each and every one of you and wish you the happiest of holidays!

Editor’s Corner: School is useless

By Stacey Doud

Young handsome male student sitting frustrated between study booTeens: Believe me, I get it. Sometimes it seems like school is a waste of a day (or a few hours if you’re homeschooled). I’m almost 50 years old and still have never needed to use calculus or had to know the date that Ben Franklin’s mom’s third cousin twice-removed got married (though that “useless knowledge” is awesome for trivia games).

Looking back, it seems like when the holidays came around, we all started to get antsy. Maybe it was looking forward to the upcoming vacation from the drudgery of school or just that we had been going pretty much every day since August, but November and December seemed like the months where my enthusiasm for school tanked.

But the important things about school are not as obvious as a certain subject or teacher or assignment. It’s showing that you can finish something (whether it be grade school, an assignment or college), and that you did it with a little pride. It’s about perseverance and learning how to deal with other people. It’s about finding some kind of path for your life.

Jean_Piaget_in_Ann_Arbor

Piaget. He wasn’t always this old. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Psychologist Jean Piaget broke the adolescent years into stages…and some of it actually makes sense.

“Adolescence, these years from puberty to adulthood, may be roughly divided into three stages: early adolescence, generally ages eleven to fourteen; middle adolescence, ages fifteen to seventeen; and late adolescence, ages eighteen to twenty-one. In addition to physiological growth, seven key intellectual, psychological and social developmental tasks are squeezed into these years. The fundamental purpose of these tasks is to form one’s own identity and to prepare for adulthood.” [Source: HealthyChildren.org]

Adults: Who didn’t try different “looks” or personality traits as a teen? Hopefully you didn’t dye your hair black (before there were ways to re-color) and walk around with half-black and half-brown hair in high school like I did or steal a golf cart for 30 minutes just because you could. But I’m sure there was something you’re not entirely proud of that showed you that the behavior wasn’t you. And hopefully you found some stuff that was you. That was your job at the time. And all the while you thought school was dumb.

4611a8dc193f5418a638b05423e231dfGoing to school is the job of the typical adolescent. Sure, you may be super-intelligent or be able to recite Pi to the 2,000th number, but school is still your job (along with all the social BS, etc.). And just you wait…when you grow up (as so many of us were in such a hurry to do), you’re most likely going to have to go to some kind of job every day. If you’re blessed, you’ll enjoy your job and it won’t feel like “work” per se.

But in the meantime, just do your current job, even if you don’t completely understand why you have to do it. It will all become clear some day, and if it doesn’t, please don’t forget to drop me a line and tell me I’m full of crap.

You’ll get through these years. The extreme emotions will die down. Look to the people who love you for help, whether it be with an assignment, a feeling or anything else that’s troubling you. I know you think adults are stupid, but most of us have been where you are and can at least listen and empathize.

happy-thanksgiving-2017-aOn that note, enjoy your Thanksgiving break (if you’re a ‘Murrican) and always remember that there’s more to the story than you think. And PLEASE think a lot and think often.

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logoFor further reading on doing well even when you consider your job useless, as well as other tips, tricks, scholarship opportunities and raw dialogue, click HERE.

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Stacey Doud is the Editor-In-Chief of The Grapevine Source. She is a former overachiever with three college degrees and hopes that no one stresses as much as she did. Please direct all hate mail to staceydoud33@gmail.com.

Editor’s Corner – Movie Review: “The Meg”

Review by Stacey Doud

MV5BMjg0MzA4MDE0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzk3MzAwNjM@._V1_Jaws fans beware! The Meg was touted to be a bigger and badder Jaws, but I couldn’t help but miss the John Williams score from the original, though the elaborate use of CGI (which obviously wasn’t available in 1975) was a visual treat, sort of making up for my auditory disappointments.

There are some scenes that almost replicate Jaws to a tee, which shows a lack of originality, but The Meg uses not only higher tech cinematography, but also more modern ways to die in the ocean – like in a big human hamster ball or an underwater state-of-the-art laboratory.

I’ve always been attracted to movies set under water or that contain interesting under water scenes. I recently saw Deep Blue Sea (1999) and prefer it to The Meg only because it has a modicum of scientific interest. The Meg is just bada$$ CGI sharks. It’s like Jurassic Park set under water, with only a few, though impressive, species of dinosaurs. 

Lead actor Jason Statham wasted his time in this movie. He’s a talented action actor, but The Meg could have used a trained monkey in the lead role and would have been as effective as Statham. That was disappointing to me, as I generally enjoy Statham’s performances.

Don’t get me wrong – if you are a fan of the genre, it is a fun ride. But don’t expect Jaws – or a real plot. But the bada$$ sharks are worth the rental fee as long as you’re not expecting anything poignant.

★★★ (3/5 Stars)

Editor’s Corner: How did I get here?

feeling-lost-in-singaporeHave you ever gotten into a situation (either good or bad) and wondered how you got there? Sure, big events happen sometimes. But, a series of small occurrences can also take us to places we’d never thought we’d be.

I’m going to share with you a trivial situation and a more serious one to illustrate how life can turn you around and around…gradually.

THE GAME. I have found some fun games and such online. I’ve never been a big gambler in real life. If I go to a casino, I’m the one playing penny slots, and if I took $20, I’ll play until that is gone or until I double it. Coming home with $40 is better than coming home in debt, in my opinion. That being said, my favorite game to play on my phone or iPad is a slot game. Even though I know it’s truly not random, it gives me the feeling that it is, and that I’m trying my LUCK.

When I first started, I think the game gave me $1.5 million. Can you imagine having $1.5 million? Can you imagine LOSING it?

I’d find a slot I liked that seemed to give me decent returns, but, eventually, I’d be broke once again. The odds are always with the “house,” or, in this case, the game designers. [For more in depth information about why we love slots, scratch-offs and buying lottery tickets, click here.]

Eventually, several slot games started paying off and my “meager” $1.5 million turned into $10 million.

Then, I stumbled across a slot game that encouraged me to bet big to win big, and I took the bait. Call it luck or psychological programming, but now I am a fake billionaire.

Heck, I now bet that stupid $1.5 million on one spin! I am flabbergasted that I keep winning. The rich get richer, eh? And to what end? Realistically…nothing. I get no benefits in the real world by playing this game.

I know I could lose my fake fortune in five minutes and I know it’s not real. The point is that I went from the baseline ($1.5 million fake dollars) to where I am now gradually, yet it changed the way I think about the game.

When I play the game now, I feel invincible.

I know that sooner or later, I will hit the BIG WIN. And while it does absolutely nothing for me in real life, there’s some weird part of me that feels like I really won that money.

When I play now, if I don’t get at least one big win, I feel ripped off.

I had to look back at when I started the game. I was happy to win $100,000 back then. But since I’m now a fake billionaire, I feel gypped at anything less than several million.

And it was GRADUAL. I think that many situations – good or bad – happen gradually. And most of the time, we don’t really see it as it is happening.

LIFE. I’m a divorcée, and it took me a while to understand how and why my ex and I got to the point of splitting up. He never hit me, went to strip clubs or cheated on me. But after almost 23 years of being together, it became obvious that we didn’t have much in common anymore. It was gradual.

Over those 23 years, things had GRADUALLY changed. I got more involved in the community…he got more involved in the company that he and his business partner built. Is either thing wrong? No. But it created a chasm over time.

Through the years, people and circumstances change slowly…sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But oftentimes, we just don’t notice the gradual changes. That’s why we end up in a situation that, “I never thought I’d end up” in. No one gets married thinking that they’d get a divorce.

A SOLUTION. It happens to everyone…sometimes in inconsequential situations (like my game) and sometimes in much more important scenarios (like a divorce).

Vigilance is easy from the outside. I can see what YOU need to fix in your life; however all we can really control in life is our own behavior. But, like driving on the same route every day and not remembering how you got to your destination, we get “zombied” with day-to-day stuff. Pretty soon, we are in a situation that is unfamiliar or that only “other people” get into. Our behavior needs to have purpose and requires forethought. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Check in with your situations, relationships and feelings regularly. Remain observant. It is human nature to adapt to different situations, but make sure that you’re adapting to healthy ones! Hopefully, this will help you get to whatever destination you’re aiming for in a more conscious, purposeful way.

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If you have thoughts, complaints or questions about this article, please email the author, Stacey Doud, HERE.

 

Editor’s Corner: A Challenge to All Americans*

september-11-2001-911-ground-zero-twin-towers-23I’m sure everyone that’s old enough remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001 when images of the annihilation in New York City were broadcast over the airwaves. Perhaps you even remember the aftermath and how the country seemed to come together against a common enemy with no real face. People of all colors, races and religions helped one another to heal and rebuild.

It’s almost the 14th anniversary of those attacks and look where we are now. It’s almost as if we learned nothing from that tragedy.

From Ferguson, MO to Houston, TX, we are seeing Americans turn on each other. Not against a common enemy, but against other Americans. Americans that may be perceived as enemies because of the uniform they wear or the color of their skin.

WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

As a mostly-white girl (I’m half Portuguese, so maybe that counts as something other than white? I don’t know/care), anything that I say, do or write will be read with that fact in the forefront of the minds of my audience whether I like it or not. Of course, the color of my skin is just one aspect of me that people will judge. And we all judge…it’s human nature. We can’t help it. The most we can do is to be aware of these judgments and let them go as soon as possible.

But what is the truth when it comes to law enforcement and racism? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. I know that if an officer is patrolling a neighborhood that’s known for criminal activity and is also primarily lived in by African-American folks, Hispanic people or mutant green men from Mars, chances are that the officer will encounter African-American people, Hispanic folks or mutant green men from Mars in that neighborhood. And if Joe Turd has caused trouble before and is in the vicinity when trouble breaks out, Joe Turd will most likely be questioned, no matter what color his skin is or whether he’s from Mars or not. That’s just the police doing their jobs.

On the other hand, cops are human beings and are not exempt from bias, whether it be racial, gender-based or situational. They are trained to listen to their intuition, yet try not to base decisions on things like gender, religion or skin color. BUT IT HAPPENS. There are law enforcement officers that are white and generally dislike black people or Hispanic people or women or Martians for whatever reason. There are also black officers that have a general dislike for white and/or Hispanic people, women and/or Martians. There are some things about humans that are extremely difficult to change, and biases formed in childhood or in trauma are VERY tough to shed.

And the same goes for civilians. Whether it was growing up with a parent who voiced or demonstrated dislike/hatred for cops, Hispanics, blacks, women and/or Martians or having something traumatic happen that involved cops, Hispanics, blacks, women and/or Martians, biases form and sometimes, they stick.

When a bias leads to loss of life, that’s when the humanity ends. If a cop shoots someone just because of his or her gender, religion or ethnicity, there’s no humanity in that. The same goes for civilians who kill people based on their occupation, gender, religion or ethnicity. Hate: 1; Humanity: 0.

What makes everything worse is the connectivity of today. Someone gets a bug up their butt about cops, blacks, Hispanics or Martians and rants on Facebook or YouTube. It goes viral and other people get riled up (this is called emotional contagion). Thoughts lead to feelings and sometimes to actions. Someone loots a store. A riot breaks out. A peaceful demonstration turns into a hatefest.

Guess what? Most people these days are angry. If folks answered honestly, I’d bet 80 out of 100 are pissed off about something. And if it’s something they can’t do anything about, they are more likely to join in on something else that will let them express their anger. If I’m pissed and I see people yelling and screaming and looting stores, I might just join in.

If I wear a uniform and a badge and I’m angry because some mentally ill black guy just gunned down a fellow officer in cold blood, I’m especially dangerous. I have the right to carry a gun and have permission to rough people up a bit if I need to. So, it is up to me, the individual, to be aware of how I’m feeling, and make sure I take that into account, even if I have to make a split-second decision for my community’s safety. It’s still all me.

Folks, we can’t have a war unless there are two sides. September 11 is quickly approaching again, and we will all undoubtedly take time to remember those lost on that day 14 years ago. I challenge you to go beyond that day in your memory. Think about September 12, 13, 14 and beyond, when every American came together because we were all feeling attacked.

We are all feeling attacked again. The only way to stop this is to remember that every cop and every citizen (no matter how long his or her rap sheet is) is a human being. That’s something we all have in common.

So before you share that Facebook post, upload that video to YouTube or participate in that protest, think about how your individual actions will affect humanity in general. Will your actions be positive or negative (toward ANY group or individual)? If the answer is negative, I challenge you to not do it. Don’t say it. Don’t share it. Start an anger journal if you have to get it out. Talk to a friend or counselor. Paint pictures of the object(s) of your disdain, adding porn staches and horns. Tear up paper to shreds. Hit your bed or armchair. But please, stop this insanity. Stop the hate. Stop the killing.

We can’t be at war with each other. We are all we have. No matter what god you pray to, compassion is the underlying message. Remember that. We are all human…we all bleed red (well, maybe not Martians). Let’s work hard to “just get along.” Rodney King’s question echoes through society even louder today than it did in 1991.

We are all Americans. Let’s love one another on a basic, human level, even if we don’t necessarily like everyone. Love is free…hate is priceless. Think about it.

*This post is entirely the opinion of the editor and does not reflect the opinions of Houston Community Newspapers or 1013, Inc.

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Dr. Dennis Hughes Hearing

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic and some language may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to analyze details of the case that had to be left out of articles for larger distribution. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

FederalCourthouseI didn’t even know there was a Federal Courthouse in Galveston, so when it was time for me to go to the Pre-Trial Hearing for Dr. Dennis Hughes, I had to do some searching for where to go.

Hughes had been arrested on Friday, June 5, 2015 for Federal Possession of Child Pornography.

Why “Federal?”

Because federal jurisdiction almost always applies when the Internet is used to commit a child pornography violation. And that happens a lot, unfortunately.

Hughes was escorted into the courtroom by a group of U.S. Marshal Gulf Coast Task Force members. He appeared unassuming; a stereotypical professor-type, clean cut and balding, except for his attire, which was an army-green prison-issue jumpsuit. A Marshal sat with Hughes during the proceedings, which created the impression that Hughes was very dangerous.

SealU.S. District Magistrate Judge John Froeschner entered the courtroom and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack was soon speaking to her first and only witness, FBI Special Agent (SA) Kelly Berry.

Berry testified that according to Hughes, his habit had been snowballing since the 1990’s, when he started looking at magazine ads and found himself attracted to adult women who were dressed to make them appear younger. By the time he was arrested, Hughes had been spending his nights online, looking at and downloading pornography that displayed pre-pubescent girls (around age 11 or 12) after his family was asleep.

This is the predictable course of pornography addiction. It starts off innocent enough, but the person starts needing something new and different. Sometimes, in the cases of adult porn addiction (and sometimes with children, but I won’t go there), people “graduate” from “just looking” to seeking out prostitutes or other folks who’ll do things with them that they have seen done in pornography. In rare cases, this can escalate into rape and other non-consensual acts.

Fortunately, it seems that Dr. Hughes has not been inappropriate with any real-life children. None of his pediatric patients or their parents, members of his Little League teams, the kids that he volunteered with at his children’s school nor his own children, have thus far reported any wrongdoing on Hughes’s part.

Some people reported that his behavior seemed “a little strange,” like him taking photos at the school even after the yearbook (for which he was taking the pics) had gone to print or insisting that he do full-body scans on his melanoma patients himself instead of taking the “usual” course of referring them to the Dermatology Dept. for the scans. However, this can also be explained as hindsight bias, in which people who now know that Hughes enjoyed child pornography interpret something benign as being sinister.

An aside…Hughes only spends about 20% of his time at work with patients. He is a Physician Scientist, which means most of his time is spent in a lab doing research. He is also a tenured professor. His specialty is the study of melanoma (skin cancer) and osteosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the bones and most frequently presents in children. When Hughes does see patients, they range in age from 6 months to 21 years.

But I digress…

The story of how Hughes was found out is a little complex.

The FBI was conducting an international crackdown on child pornography providers and users, and during February and March of this year, had been operating the servers of an “underground” website/forum which they had seized control of.

This website required users to purchase external software in order to gain access because the site masked Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that users became “untraceable.” But since the FBI was operating the service, they were able to gather IP addresses of actual users. Hughes was one of those people.

The FBI subpoenaed Hughes’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) for his home address and obtained a search warrant, which they executed on June 5, in the presence of Hughes, his wife and his three children.

MugshotSA Berry testified as to the content of the files found on a thumb drive that Hughes had surrendered. She cited one example, a collection of 16 images named “ManFuckPreteenLatina,” which depicted a naked, pre-pubescent girl on a bed, first with a clothed man and then with a naked man, allowing the men to perform sexual acts on her. About 10GB, or 8,200 files, were found on that one thumb drive alone. Hughes’s computer was seized and the hard drive is being examined by a forensic team to determine if there are more files.

Hughes’s work computer was seized by UT/MD Anderson police before the search warrant was executed at his home. A cursory examination indicated that there were pornographic images of young girls on the hard drive, but a forensic exam must be performed to determine whether these images were actually downloaded at that location (which would add to the federal charges) or installed from a thumb drive or other external device, which would exempt those files from being included in the charges.

During cross-examination by the defense, it was established that Hughes had cooperated fully with law enforcement and turned over everything that was asked for. He admitted to having the files and even spoke to SA Berry about the waxing and waning of his habit.

While he claimed he had been too afraid to seek professional help because he thought he would be turned in to authorities, Hughes did say that he regularly confessed to his priest and that sometimes he would go months between “episodes” of looking at porn.

His triggers seemed to be anger and insomnia, and he found the dopamine rush he received from masturbating helpful to help him stay alert when it was time to go to work. Berry testified that it was her opinion that Hughes felt shame, guilt and remorse.

During SA Berry’s testimony, Hughes didn’t show much emotion at all. However, that was all about to change.

Defense Attorney Neal Davis called Hughes’s wife to the stand.*

Hughes lost it, and wept uncontrollably for a minute or two as his wife approached. He hung his head low and wiped the tears away with a tissue.

635694697743568182-dennis-hughesMrs. Hughes presented herself as incredibly strong in the face of the “shame” that her husband had brought her family, her church and her community. She was teary, but remained in control of herself until she was seated in the back of the courtroom after her testimony.

It was almost painful to watch this very conservatively dressed, Catholic woman testify to the events that had brought her to that point. Despite her shock at learning of her husband’s habits, she supported his pre-trial release and testified that, to her knowledge, he had not been inappropriate with any children in their lives. She said she would assist her husband with the conditions of his release if it was granted, and that she had already had their home Internet service disconnected.

Mrs. Hughes is a homemaker, and depends on her husband’s income. The prosecution tried to make a point of this and offered it as an explanation of Mrs. Hughes’s support of her husband.

Honestly, it is most likely a part of her support. Mrs. Hughes is a Notre Dame educated woman, but had not been employed since 2004, when she quit to raise her family. If her husband’s paychecks stopped coming, she would be in quite a pickle. It is unclear whether or not Hughes would continue receiving a salary if he was incarcerated. As a tenured professor, there is a strong likelihood that he would, but that is not guaranteed and is to be determined.

After she was finished testifying, Mrs. Hughes collapsed into the arms of her father, who was sitting in the back of the courtroom, and sobbed.

Zack and Judge Froeschner had a dialogue about Hughes’s release. It was apparent that His Honor was leaning toward granting the release, as long as Hughes followed the two pages’ worth of conditions during that time. Zack basically had no rebuttal…there was no indication that Hughes was a danger to others. He could be a danger to himself, but he had so far proven himself to have not crossed the line between fantasy and reality.

Judge Froeschner said that he didn’t see any danger that Hughes would pose to others if he were released. He said that Hughes had the support of his family and his community and would be closely monitored to make sure he was complying with all of the conditions set forth. Froeschner made it clear that he wanted to set a bond amount, and called a recess for the lawyers to work that out.

They agreed on $50,000. Hughes would be free soon.

Hughes was escorted out of the building by U.S. Marshals. Ultimately, it is up to them as to when to release Hughes, so he did not necessarily go home this day. However, if it wasn’t today, it will be soon.

Hughes will have to seek treatment for his addiction, stay away from schools and daycares, have “responsible adult supervision” when he is around children and refrain from any interface with the Internet. The conditions go on and on, but I won’t bore you (if I haven’t already).

If a plea bargain can not be agreed upon, Hughes will eventually go to trial. He is facing a minimum of 5 years in federal prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. His medical career is over. It is unclear if his marriage will survive this.

I left the courthouse feeling very sad because I knew this whole thing could have been prevented. It made me think of a former client who was labeled a sex offender for life because a few images of minors had been found on his computer. Of course, it is unknown if my client or Hughes would have escalated into actually hurting someone, but that doesn’t dampen the senselessness of it all.

The moral of the story is that if you or someone you know is dealing with pornography addiction, get help now. I don’t care if you’re Barack Obama – GET HELP. If you’re using the Internet to download videos or pictures of minors, you’re committing a FEDERAL OFFENSE. Even if it’s not minors you’re looking at, this escape is not worth losing your job, family and dignity over.

For more information about pornography addiction, click HERE. To find help for pornography addiction, click HERE and enter your ZIP code to find a helping professional near you.

Take care of yourselves out there.

*I am purposely not using the first names of Mrs. Hughes and the children to give some semblance of respect to their privacy.

To download supporting documents, click HERE (7 MB .pdf file).

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Verdict (Arrijana Hill)

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

It’s all about who you know. That’s what really gets you what you want and/or need in this world. So, be kind to everyone you meet. Not because you may want something from him or her in the future, but because that’s the human thing to do. Plus, you never know what private pain a person is going through at that moment.

Opal Hill’s pain was evident last night in Judge Pat Sebesta’s courtroom as she read her Victim Impact Statement after the man convicted of killing her daughter was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 40 years. Of course, that’s if he earns it. Either way, he’ll be 58 years old at that time.

What a waste. Not only of Ryan Matthews’ life, but of Arrijana Hill’s and her two unborn babies. If you’re not familiar with the story, please read THIS. Matthews is barely 18 years old.

The jury was out for a little over five hours yesterday. They returned around 8:40 p.m. It was only through the kindness of a friend that I learned that a verdict would be returned last night. I hauled down to Angleton, getting there literally five minutes before the jury bell rang.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill were there with their support system, as well as Velma Guadiana, Pearland Police Department’s Crime Victims Liaison and Det. Jennifer Page. I thought it both fitting and ironic that it is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Hills could be the poster family.

I gave the Hills my package of tissues, which I’d regret not keeping a few later. I smiled encouragement. What else could I do?

Matthews was brought back in the courtroom and then the jury filed in. Judge Sebesta warned the audience against outbursts of any kind and then read the verdicts.

GUILTY of count one – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and one of her unborn babies.

GUILTY of count two – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and the other unborn baby.

Quietly, most of us lost it. I personally was happy that this man got what was coming to him, but it still didn’t bring Arrijana back. It didn’t undo what was done. But it will ensure that the man who took those three lives will lose most, if not all, of his as well. It’s so sad. I needed my tissues.

Sebesta polled the jury. They all affirmed their guilty verdict.

After sentencing, Mrs. Hill slowly walked to the stand to give her Victim Impact Statement, with Mr. Hill standing behind her in strong support. Matthews kept looking at the floor, as he had when the verdict was read.

Tearfully, she faced Matthews for the first time in over a year, telling him of the, “Breathtaking agony, shattered dreams and seemingly aimless existence,” that they have been living.

“You deserve this for your selfishness and this senseless act and the impact it had on so many lives. You are a true depiction of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You could have chosen to move on and to do better in life, but you chose the coward’s way out. You get the coward’s reward,” she said.

Hill credited her faith in getting her and her family through this ordeal and finished her statement by reading the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014):

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
 I rise.

Yesterday, God’s people, Opal and David Hill, rose. They held their heads up high as they left the courtroom. Neither looked at Ryan Matthews again.

In Memory of Arrijana Hill (1997 – 2013)

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – Ryan Matthews Trial

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this alleged crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. Mr. Matthews is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

*********************

As a reporter, I get to share in many joys and positive moments in our community. I also hear the worst of the worst. I was on the scene soon after three Manvel High School students died in a one-vehicle crash. That vision often haunts my dreams.

Arrijana Hill

Arrijana Hill

When I first heard about the murder of Arrijana Hill on March 21, 2014, I was not yet employed by Houston Community Newspapers. As such, I could feel sympathy, but not get too close. However, sitting behind the alleged killer, Ryan Matthews, this morning, I thought I couldn’t get any closer.

The State’s opening statements were detailed and lasted over an hour. When the Deputy DA was finished, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I can’t imagine how the Hills must feel. Such senselessness. Such selfishness.

Before the trial began, I sat in the mostly empty courtroom, finishing an article on the City Council meeting last night. Judge Pat Sebesta came down and chatted with me briefly, amiable as always. I received a text from my friend who wanted to sit in on the trial, trying to find the courtroom. So, when Ryan Matthews was brought in the room, I barely noticed.

He’s a lanky young man of 17, dressed in a sky blue button-down shirt and slacks. I half expected him to sit with the audience. He’s a handsome boy, but his eyes…they are sad. As he sat at the defendant’s table, I realized why.

How could this nice-looking, clean-cut young man choke his pregnant girlfriend to death with his own bare hands and then stab her in the neck? Looks are deceiving, as they say. Do any of us know what we’re capable of, really?

After some pre-trial business, the State presented its opening statements.

Assistant District Attorney Travis Townsend presented a timeline put together by text messages and phone calls between Ryan and Arrijana, Ryan and several other girls and Ryan and a friend that he often paid to give him rides.

Ryan Matthews was a talented athlete. He was a student at Pearland High School, participating in both football and track. He and his parents realized that he’d have a better opportunity for a scholarship if he finished high school at Dawson, but he was not zoned to attend DHS. He had a female friend that was zoned to Dawson, so he enrolled there using her address and transferred in 2013.

Arrijana Hill was also a talented athlete. She was a track star in several events, including the high jump, at Dawson High School. She had two brothers, one older and in college, and one younger in junior high. She had two loving and understanding parents, as demonstrated by their unconditional acceptance of her, even after she confided in them that she had gotten pregnant at the age of 16.

Ryan and Arrijana crossed paths in the athletics program and started, “hooking up,” as the kids say these days [mom moment…sorry].

The first time they had unprotected sex was on December 18, 2013. Once is all it takes.

Eleven days later, on December 29, Ryan texted Arrijana: u r on ur period, right?

Arrijana: uhh…I haven’t started yet, so idk [that’s “I don’t know” for you old folks]

On January 29, Ryan texted Arrijana again, asking if she had started her period yet. Arri, as Ryan called her, told him that she had missed her period in December and January. Ryan encouraged her to “punch urself in the stomach…lol.” In fact, that request would be sent to Arri over and over and over, with an occasional “Did u punch urself tonite? lol” in there.

LOL means “laughing out loud” for those unfamiliar with text abbreviations. However, “LOL” can be meant as truly laughing, indicating lightheartedness or as a way of saying, “I’m just joking.” It’s impossible to conclude the intent of this abbreviation on a text message, as many a couple can attest to after fighting over a misunderstanding of tone in a text…because there is no tone.

Ryan Matthews

Ryan Matthews

Ryan asked Arri about her period several times in February. She took a home pregnancy test on February 26 after staying home from school, feeling ill. It was positive. She visited her OB/GYN the next day, who confirmed her pregnancy, estimating that she was 12 weeks along. She texted Ryan to tell him. What she got back was surely disheartening. He encouraged her to get an abortion.

News travels fast, even in the largest of high schools, so it wasn’t long before other students were buzzing. On March 5, Ryan texted Arri that he was “pissed off” about the rumors and said “I’m gonna go off on the next f***er that talks to me.”

On March 6, Arri’s doctor informed her that she was going to have twins. She was excited and felt blessed. She told Ryan. His response: wtf? that’s not good news. [wtf = “what the f*ck”] Later, he added “can I punch u in the stomach pls lol” [pls = “please”] and “I cant believe this is f***ing happening to me.”

It’s unclear whether Arrijana knew that Ryan was talking to other girls during this time, but his text messages indicated that he was. On March 20, he texted the girl whose address he was using, telling her that he loved her.

On March 21, the day of the murder, Ryan texted Arri that he was leaving campus early and that he wanted her to come with him, presumably for sex. At 1:41 pm, Arrijana Hill sent the last text she would ever send. She told Ryan where she was in the school and asked him to text her when he was ready to go.

Though “normal” days showed Ryan sending 200+ texts, his phone showed no activity from 2:09 pm until 2:43 pm on March 21. That’s a little over 34 minutes. Was he silent because he was having a rendezvous with his lover? Or was he silent because he was killing Arrijana?

At 2:43, Ryan texted his friend and asked to be picked up. This friend thought that he was dropping Ryan off so that he could spend time with his girlfriend. Ryan paid the friend $20 regularly for rides.

Video surveillance showed Ryan and his friend leaving the Hill’s neighborhood at 3:11.

At 3:24, Ryan sent a text to Arri: “hey baby.” In the next 24 seconds, Ryan sent two other texts to her. Then, never again.

Arrijana’s younger brother got off the bus from junior high school at the front of his neighborhood at 4:22 pm and caught a ride home with a neighbor. He noticed that only one of the two locks on the back door were locked. As he entered, he noticed a broken lamp and some other displaced and broken items. He decided that he needed to get out of the house and went to a neighbor’s to call his mother.

At 4:36, Arri’s mother, Opal, texted her: “Where r u?”

Opal left work and arrived at her home soon after. Noticing the same things her son did, she left the house and called her husband, David, who came home immediately.

Opal called 9-1-1 at 5:01 pm.

David arrived home and searched the house, where he found his daughter’s body upstairs, lying in a pool of blood.

Pearland Police Department arrived on the scene at 5:10 pm. They noted no sign of forced entry (which can mean that the victim knew the attacker or that the attacker had a key to the home), that the scene looked “staged,” as in someone had gone through and knocked things over to make it look a certain way and that nothing was taken from the home (which would indicate that this was not a robbery gone bad).

Detectives continued their investigation, while Ryan transferred suddenly to Pasadena Memorial High School on April 5, which was also his 17th birthday.

The Medical Examiner conducted the autopsy, which showed that Arrijana had been asphyxiated and that her carotid artery had been punctured by a sharp instrument. There were other stab marks on her body. Ryan’s DNA was found in her vagina and anus.

Detectives collected samples from the clothing that Ryan was wearing on March 21, as well as from his backpack. Arrijana’s DNA was found on these items.

Defense attorneys argued that the investigation suffered from “tunnel vision” after someone suggested that the killer was Ryan on social media. They pointed out that a landscaper and his crew had been in the area during the time of the murder. They said there had been a footprint found that did not match Ryan’s shoe size. They repeatedly remind the jury to, “remember that he was a 16 year-old boy” and to try to think like a teenager would.

Will this be enough to exonerate Ryan Matthews? Only time and the trial will tell. It is MY opinion that the facts in this case will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ryan Matthews knowingly, and with premeditation, killed Arrijana Hill because she insisted on having her babies. He did not want to be tied down or have his bright future in sports lost because he was a father.

Yes, all teenagers are egocentric – they can only think about themselves. But not all teenagers are capable of murder. We’ll find out in time if Ryan Matthews is capable of the unthinkable. I believe he is…and now look at his bright future.

If convicted, Matthews will receive up to 40 years in prison without parole because he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.

My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to David and Opal Hill and their two sons, as well as the parents of Ryan Matthews. I am also keeping all of the investigators in my thoughts as well, as it must have been (and may still be) very hard to deal with the death of such a young and promising life…plus two.

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