Toxic Comments: Normalizing Atrocities, a Resistance Post

Bomb-Cool-iconHave you ever been in a public place minding your own business when a stranger makes a rather loud offensive statement?  They didn’t make a statement pertaining to you, but it was a sexist, prejudice, or propagandist statement.  It’s a statement so offensively toxic that it even offended you!

Words were on the tip of your tongue.  You wanted to tell them their rhetoric was hurtful, wrong, and disrespectful of those around them.  Yet, you didn’t say anything.  You think they had a right to voice their opinion.  Besides, if you confronted them, something bad could happen.  Then you have the worst thought of all:  It wasn’t your problem.

Guess what.  It was your problem.  Furthermore, if you’re an American in the age of 45, it’s most definitely our problem.

As it happens, I heard an educator (unrelated to my academic institution) talking at a Starbucks and she made a horribly disagreeable comment:  I make students stand for the Pledge since my husband fought in Vietnam for their right to say it.

I forced myself not to comment, and yes, it was the worst thing I could have possibly done.

Bio-hazard-icon

In the current climate of highly charged hateful rhetoric and actions, I’m learning from my inaction, and I encourage people to calmly and logically shut down ignorantly toxic comments.  Call them a gateway drug to homegrown terrorism (or for a man to stab their fellow countrymen and call it Patriotism).

~Continued after video~

While the educator’s comments aren’t hate speech per se, it’s still a dangerous comment specifically for pure ignorance, which happens to lead to dangerous nationalism, authoritarianism, indoctrination, and even brainwashing.

Paraphrasing from the above Huffington Post video, Americans let those comments slide, we are helping to normalize such thinking.  Kids who hear it will think that toxic perspective is fine, or normal, and we encourage those few of like, small-minds to voice the same opinions.

Here is why that educator’s comments are so disagreeable.

First, the part claiming her husband fought in the Vietnamese war so American students can say the Pledge of Allegiance is revisionist history and has absolutely no basis in fact.

France-Flag-iconThe Vietnamese War had nothing to do with American freedom nor the Pledge of Allegiance.  America entered the war to help the French retain control of their Indochina colony.  When the French lost control and Communists took over Northern Vietnam, the American government found the situation disagreeable and stayed to help Southern Vietnamese take back the North.

Second, anyone who claims they, or their spouse, fought for the American right to say the Pledge drank the crazy people Kool Aid.  Our government’s Enlightenment Era Creators in the American Revolution were those who truly fought for our freedom.  They fought for the colonists’ right to have an equal say in government as part of a living document that also includes instructions for two methods of revolting against those in power.  Not of the idiocy to say a simple Pledge.

Hypothetically, in some bizarre dimension the Vietnamese War had been about American freedom, that freedom would encompass a wide range of freedoms we enjoy in the real world.  They would include the freedom to choose to say or not to say the American Pledge of Allegiance.

As Americans, we take pride in our First Amendment:Paper-icon

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These days, Americans refer to the First Amendment as freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  In the 80s and 90s, I remember it was referred to as freedom of the press.

The original Thirteen Colonies were formed on the promise of religious freedom and a haven from political upheaval.  Basically, their own countries persecuted (i. e., imprisoned or penalized) them because of their beliefs either in religion or politics.

Even today, there are countries – a few more liberal than America – that still penalize people for criticizing their leaders.  Here are twelve of them:

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Lebanon
  3. Venezuela
  4. Poland
  5. Turkey
  6. Netherlands
  7. Cameroon
  8. Bahrain
  9. Kuwait
  10. Thailand
  11. Iran
  12. Indonesia

The American Constitution was written so all American citizens have governmental say without the threat of persecution, which is also covered in the First Amendment (…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances).

We have the right to protest peaceably.  If Americans wish to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance, they can without penalization.  Hell, even in the 20th Century, people burned the American flag at protests without legal repercussions.  Why?  Because that is also covered under the First Amendment.

When I substitute in a classroom, I don’t force the students to stand and recite the Pledge.  Any students who choose to sit, respects the rest of the class by staying quiet through the Pledge.  Those who choose to say the Pledge, respects the classmates who choose to sit – as in not shaming those who sit through the Pledge.

Personally, I stopped saying the Pledge because I disagree with the under God part, which wasn’t added until the 1950s as a convoluted way to combat the political concept of Communism.  (Anyone else confused by that?)  Plus, I don’t recite the Pledge as a protest against the current political stupidity in the White House and Congress.  Although, I still stand and face the flag out of respect for my family history.

(By the way, anyone else think it’s overkill to say the Pledge everyday in school?!  Why don’t we say it once at the beginning of the Academic year or each semester?).

Typically, I resume working after the Pledge and ignore the moment of silent reflection.  I think taking a moment to silently reflect – which is code for pray – is a waste of time when people should do that in the privacy of their own home before going to school or work.  In addition, the Pledge of Allegiance is a prayer since it incorporates under God and was originally written by a minister.

I’m not saying the misguided educator was a follower of the Far Right, but I’m going on the assumption based on her comment.  Aside from the confusion over the term freedom, the Far Right (who proclaim themselves Patriots) get a lot of things wrong.

The Far Right likes to take their Nationalism to the extreme.  Perhaps, they believe the Pledge was always recited by school children at least once everyday across the country dating all the way back to America winning independence from England.

bag-books-iconActually, the Pledge wasn’t a classroom ritual until 1892, and America didn’t have an official pledge until the first half of the 20th Century.

It was not until 1942 that Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance. One year later, in June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it. In fact,today only half of our fifty states have laws that encourage the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom!

Forcing children to say the Pledge in school is not Patriotic since it’s considered a form of authoritarianism in a country that’s supposed to be a Republic.  While forces are attempting to change the foundation of our government to an oligarchy and 45 treats his position as a dictatorship, I believe wholeheartedly that this country will always remain a republic, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

I wish I would have said something to that educator, yet I would have done more harm than good.  Unfortunately, I would have yelled at the woman instead of calmly explain to her the wrongness of her statement with logic.  Perhaps, it would have been a futile attempt.  At least, I would have demonstrated that there are Americans who won’t stand for a dictatorial revisionist history.

However, I’m mainly writing about this experience to encourage other fellow Americans with cooler heads to curb both hateful and blind nationalist propaganda.  The more we make these comments abnormal, the less we have to deal with open hate, Patriotic stabbings, and the fear of homegrown terrorists.

The benefits of releasing your inner child.

img_0001At the beginning of the year, I found a passion in adult coloring. I admit there are people who laugh at me when they see me coloring or when I tell them I color. Those people simply can’t fathom a childish hobby having any adult health benefits. I color to reduce stress, which actually works. Coloring also has some other side benefits I never imagined.

Some people think that coloring would actually be stressful. You have to make sure to color inside the lines, pick the correct color, and the picture is finished perfectly.

If I was making a sign to show in public or attempting to impress Picasso, those things would cause me considerable stress. When I’m coloring in my personal coloring book, I have no deadline. I don’t want to impress anyone and I don’t have to adhere to specific coloring guidelines. In this activity, I’m the boss. Who cares if I make a mistake or use an unconventional color?

Sure, there are few people in the world wired like me. My brain goes 100 MPH thinking of at least three different things at the same time (six at most)and I have a penchant for reading a good book while watching TV simultaneously.

I can read your mind, dear reader. You’re thinking that such things are impossible. One person’s impossible is another woman’s daily life.

As you can imagine, meditation is impossible. I’ve tried it and all I showed for it was frustration. In a surprising twist, the act of coloring can cause a meditative state. It helps clear the mind. Being an active person, I should have known my type of meditation would require me being involved in an activity.

Coloring can also help people who suffer from anxiety.

Just like meditation, coloring also allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus only on the moment, helping to alleviate free-floating anxiety. It can be particularly effective for people who aren’t comfortable with more creatively expressive forms of art, says Berberian, “My experience has been that those participants who are more guarded find a lot of tranquility in coloring an image. It feels safer and it creates containment around their process,” she adds.

It can also be a solace for people grieving a loved one.

For Ledger and others, coloring books offer a real elixir, a way of getting past hurdles — mental, physical or both — that can’t be replicated by more-traditional approaches.

Joanne Schwandes, a 67-year-old Silver Spring resident, says that coloring books have boosted her confidence in fine motor skills weakened by a tremor in her arm. A Virginia mother says that coloring has helped her stay calm in the face of her son’s violent behavior. On one Facebook coloring group, members share their creations along with their stories of healing — using coloring as a tool against self-harming or as a way to manage the effects of physical illness or fend off depression and other difficulties.

img_0002Adult coloring books are considered a fad just like the many different diets that come and go. People roll their eyes and say it’ll never work when they’re really secretly trying it out in the privacy of their home.

Fads, or bandwagons, generally have negative connotations, an implication that a person should be ashamed to try the fad. When it comes to adult coloring books, the first reaction I get from most people is Coloring is for kids.  Young Adult books are considered for teenagers, but I see a number of adults unabashedly reading them (including me). What’s their point other than their rigid need to label activities and limit their imaginations?

So coloring books are not for everyone. Good thing there are other childish pastimes that are mentally beneficial for adults. Happy playing!

Happiness is…

img_0317At the school where I am a sub, I remember spending a year working in the library.  I had never pegged myself as a librarian when I was a teenager.  Still did not think of it when I was in college trying to envision a future career path.  Now, I am a little disappointed that I did not go out for Library Science.

Not that I am disappointed in my Masters in Literature.  Quite the opposite since I never imagined having a Masters in the first place.

Yet, that year I spent working the school library was both tiring and awesome.  The kids in my school are voracious readers and they constantly need new books.  In fact, it is encouraged that the kids tell the librarians what books they would like to see and those librarians put the titles on a Wish List.

Several boxes of new books would come in on a bi-weekly basis.  Sometimes, I would help unpack the boxes and double check the shipping lists.  I cannot tell you how sublime it was to have the new book smell waft up from a newly opened box nor the euphoria I felt running my hand over the smooth book covers.

When particular book covers caught my eye, I would pause to read the summaries of those books making my own list for future book check out, or to buy my own copy for my home library.  I may not work in the library as much these days, but I use Good Reads to keep up on the new books coming out and making my own wish list.

They have many different lists of books to choose from.  I prefer the new YA fantasy books scheduled to come out for either a new year or the rest of the year.  Each book that catches my attention is put on my Amazon wish list and I Pre Order them a week before their release date.

I may not get boxes of books like the school library.  Yet, even receiving one new book is enough to get me excited.  If only I were rich and never had to work a day in my life.  I would likely spend my days doing nothing but reading my new books and writing.  (Also, traveling through England, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Romania, …).

If my readers are wondering, I am going to read Witch’s Pyre first.  The previous book in the trilogy ended on a cliffhanger and my readers know how much that bugs me.  Now I get to find out how the trilogy ends!

Books-2-icon

Want to see what I’m currently reading or curious about past book reviews?  

Go to my Reading Common Sense page.

 

Attempting to be a Better Person: When in doubt, give a hug.

Study-iconLast week was only a four day work week, but four days is more than enough time to learn some life lessons.  It doesn’t matter how old a person is, there will always be room to learn.  As Socrates once said:  I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

One of the first classes I took in college was called Death and Dying.  The name of the Psych class says it all.  I learned about the mourning process, what goes through a bereaved’s mind when they grieve. Most importantly I learned what to say and what not to say to a grieving person.

yellow-cry-iconAdmittedly, I was a bad student and didn’t pay much attention.  As I grew older and had friends who lost loved ones, I wished that I  paid attention in that particular class.  I wanted to say something to them, something that would lessen – in some small way – the pain they felt.  The words that tumbled out of my mouth were likely the wrong words.

I said things like “If you need anything, let me know,” when I was simply an acquaintance.  Then there was the ever non-helpful “I’m sorry.”  I vaguely remember “sorry” being mentioned in the Death and Dying class.  Why would anyone say sorry to a grieving person if they weren’t directly responsible for the death.  Unless they were responsible, then sorry wouldn’t cut it.  The point is, those are the only two sentences that come to mind for most people – at the very least me – when attempting to console a grieving person.

Friends are not easy for me to come by since I’m so picky.  I’m not into shallow friends and that’s all the effort most people want to put into a friendly relationship.  Then I found my current job.  While I’m still picky about my friends, my coworkers and I get along splendidly.  Since my coworkers and I have a nice working relationship, I feel the need to ease their pain when they grieve.

Roughly two years ago, a coworker lost her mother.  Most sent her condolences in the form of words, cards, gifts, etc.  I honestly didn’t know what to do for her.  After careful consideration, I wasn’t going to try words and I thought it best if I didn’t say anything.  Then I saw her in the office.

Emoticon-Hug-Hugging-Offering-iconShe was obviously still in pain.  I couldn’t give her a cheerful “hi” and walk away, which was what I was in the middle of doing – a decidedly callous act that’s not in my nature.  In that moment, I went with my gut, turned around, and hugged her.  She held me so tightly for a while and I let her.  Maybe it’s my imagination, but when we separated, it looked like it helped her.

This week started and I had another coworker who lost a family member.  Her Facebook page was awash in condolences.  I know people mean better, but sending condolences through Facebook seems insincere.  Talking to them in person or giving them a card seems more personal and heartfelt.

I sought her out at work and gave her a hug.  Then we had a chat.  I listened to her and let her take the lead in the conversation.  It seemed to help.

While I still think I should have been a better student and paid attention in that Death and Dying class, I found my own way of consoling people.

Sometimes, a class is helpful to get through certain aspects of life.  Yet, if you don’t have access to that class, it’s best to go with the gut to find the right answer.

The Single Life: No Dating, No Stress

Heart-black-iconIn the early 2000s, a few international people over Yahoo chatrooms had one misconception concerning American women. They were surprised at my single status because of the international stereotype that American women were constantly dating.

Basically, we use guys like tissues and can’t stand one second of the single life. The stereotype might be true for some or most of my countrywomen. I remember coming across a few that went guy hopping until they eventually married, but that’s not me.

I’ve never been much for dating. When I was in my 20s, I kept an eye out for possible date worthy men, but never desperately pushed the dating agenda. Being single never concerned me.

As an outsider looking in (I do a lot of people watching), dating is a crazy game. Both participants dress in their best clothes – or casual business depending on the dating activity – and they adopt a foreign persona to impress a possible life mate.

If the guy seems reasonably intelligent and knowledgable about current affairs, I’ll give him a shot. If his repertoire of conversation is constricted to sports, I’ll be bored out of my mind. I don’t think it’s so much to ask for a well-groomed guy who’s a good conversationalist.

Unfortunately, the only way I get an intelligent conversation is traveling outside my little hole-in-the-wall to a mass gathering of academics and scholars. An intelligent conversation is the main reason I go to conferences to deliver papers. I’m so desperate for discussions on the Anti-Conservative message in the television show Supernatural, that I will solder through an incredibly uncomfortable speaking gig in front of a decent sized audience.

Now I’m sitting comfortable in my 30s and romantic relationships are the last thing on my mind. This past weekend, I visited my grandmother in the nursing home. I make the half hour drive most weekends to be good company and let my grandparents know how I’m doing.

Since grandma has been in the nursing home since January with no options of leaving, her amusing everyday banter has dwindled to amusing arguments she had with another old lady about grandma’s shinny shoes. Grandma being MY grandma, decided to throw me a curveball.

An aid entered the room to assist my grandmother’s roommate. While the privacy curtain was closed, grandma leaned toward me and said, “That’s H. He dresses me in the morning.”

grandma-iconI replied, “That’s nice,” thinking it’s refreshing there’s a guy who doesn’t mind dressing my grandma. Lady parts tend to scare off most American men.

“He’s a really nice guy,” continued grandma.

“Okay?” I wasn’t quite sure where she was going with this.

“Say hi to him once in a while.” Then she turns back to the TV.

“Okay?” I repeated while I was left completely confused.

Ten minutes later, I figured out my grandma was trying to set me up. The reasoning was sound especially when she was crying about holding great grandbabies near the end of January.

I feel like she’s putting all this on me. Like she doesn’t have four other grandkids. Three of them are in serious relationships and one is engaged. I hope she gave them a great grandbaby ear full too, but I doubt it. As the oldest of her grandchildren, she must think that I’m the only one that can produce the sacred senior citizen status great grandbaby. Apparently, one of her friends was lording it over her before the nursing home stay. Her friend appears to have MANY great grandbabies.

Either way, I found her hook up attempt funny and posted the experience as a Facebook status. About four people thought it was likable (one of them being a cousin). Another of the four commented that I should go for it.
I know I’m always preaching about stereotypes and never judge a book by its cover, but I highly doubt the aid who’s nice to grandmas is a MENSA candidate. He didn’t look like he was a heavy reader, nor did he look like he was knowledgable about current affairs. The poor man didn’t even look Liberal. I commented to my friend stating that he didn’t look like he could keep up with me in a conversation.

She persisted. I reiterated my no three more times and told her that American football was legalized assault and battery before she gave up. (Football made it’s way into the conversation because liking the sport is an egregious crime in my book. She happened to like it).

The entire instance had me annoyed. What was once amusing became annoying. I know my friends and grandmother mean well. If I was anyone else but me, I probably would go for it. People have a hard time understanding I’m not desperate for a guy, to be involved, or to be married.

As I thought about it more, the more I realized dating and romantic relationships was a chore. I would have to find time to meet a guy, which would eat into my coveted reading, writing, gaming, and watching TV. Then there’s dressing up trying to find something impressive, classy, and appealing in my limited wardrobe. (I don’t do sexy).

Scrutinizing every inch of my appearance trying to find something he might find objectionable.

I’m an upfront person. Innuendoes and “little hints” people use during dates go over my head. I prefer laying my cards on the table because it saves time. For someone like me, I’d rather do other things with my time besides playing a tedious dating game.

Honestly, if there were any guys out there that wouldn’t mind me wearing jeans and my Edgar Allen Poe t-shirt on a date, that would be awesome. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a guy that would be comfortable with that much less a guy who would be comfortable with my upfront manner. Limiting my personality is too much work. Besides, most people go on dates with the hope the budding relationship will end in marriage. Why wear clothes reserved for special occasions or work, pretend that American football is awesome, or reality TV is the best entertainment since the dawn of colorized sitcoms?  Shouldn’t the person know who the date really is on the inside?

Girls-Red-Dress-iconMost Americans and some internationals must realize there are happily single people in this country. A person can throw a virtual baseball on the world wide web and hit a blog or article giving reasons why there are happy single people.  Single people simply LIKE being single for their own reasons. Reasons that are no one’s business but their own. There’s not a blanket stereotypical purpose to the choice. It’s a choice. People should respect that.

Book Review: The Red Queen and The Selection Series

Books-2-iconSince I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, I thought it might be useful to start reviewing the books for friends and anyone else interested.  If any of my lovely readers need credentials for these reviews, I would like to remind them that I do have a Masters Degree in Literature and have delivered many literary analysis and criticisms at conferences.

I received the book review idea from a friend on Facebook.  She posted that she was reading The Red Queen and said another friend said it was a cross between the Hunger Games and Greek Mythology.  I thought my friend needed another opinion.

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

The Red Queen is set in a futuristic world where only two classes of people exist.  Those of silver blood who feel deserve privilege because they have powers.  Then there are the commoners who have red blood and are supposedly powerless.

The red blooded Mare Barrow discovers she is not so powerless.  Because of a chance encounter with a stranger, she finds herself employed as a servant in the palace.  Later, she’s made into a princess and engaged to one of the royal princes.

Mare must tread carefully in this new environment.  Since she possesses something she shouldn’t have (namely powers), her life is precariously balanced between a glamorous life of imprisonment and death.

As for The Red Queen as a cross between The Hunger Games and Greek Mythology?  I can understand why people would like to make comparisons, but at least be accurate.

The book does have a strong Hunger Games feel.  However, nothing in the book gave me the impression that greek mythology had any influence in the story line.  Unless they were referring to the futuristic Roman style coliseum described in the book.

Architecture is not a valid reason to compare a book to mythology.  Now if the story line or the overall “feel” followed a certain greek myth, I could see how the comparison would be valid.

Furthermore, (and the reason why I bunched The Red Queen and The Selection Series reviews) the book is also compared with The Selection Series.  I disagree with this comparison too.

I reiterate, one small section of a book that just so happens to coincide with the entire theme of another, does not make an accurate comparison.  Unfortunately, I’ll not go into detail for fear that I’m giving away too much of the book.

Aside from a Hunger Games feel, there is no other book I would compare with The Red Queen.  I do see strong comparisons with the current American social, economic, and government climate.

Overall, it was a good read.  Whether or not it’s good enough for spine-wearing repeated reads, I’m waiting on the second book to judge.  My advise is to read it as an ebook first before spending coin on a hard copy.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

The first three books of The Selection Series follows America Singer as she reluctantly volunteers for a process styled after the Reality TV show called The Bachelor.

America lives in a kingdom that relies on a numbered (1-10) cast system.  Those in the first cast rule the kingdom.  Apparently, there aren’t many of those.  People in the tenth cast are constantly poor and live on the street.  Each number has it’s own profession and the further down in cast, the poorer the people.

There are few ways to change cast such as marriage, adoption, etc.  Then there is a Selection where thirty-five girls or guys are chosen to wine and dine with the current Prince or Princess.  The ultimate goal: an advantageous marriage where family members also rise in cast.  After all, the Prince or Princess can’t have poor in-laws.

America, with the pressure of family and boyfriend, volunteers to be chosen.  Once she’s unexpectedly chosen, she’s whisked away to the palace, dressed extravagantly, and taught in the ways of a Princess.  All while competing for the attention of the Prince.

I found this series very frustrating.  More than once, I had to put down the book and cool off before I threw it through a window.  America was a highly fickle character who lacked the ability to commit.

This wasn’t a problem in the first book.  She loved her boyfriend, he told her to volunteer, and she would always remain committed to him.  The poor guy wanted the best for her.  Yet, as she spent time with the Prince, her commitment to her boyfriend wavered and it seemed like she was growing attached to the Prince.  Since her boyfriend basically severed their relationship, I didn’t see a problem with her commitment wavering at this point.  When her boyfriend came back into her life, it was understandable that she would be confused with her loyalties.

I was expecting her “wavering nature” to last through the first book and maybe half the second book.  After all, she was a young girl who needed to take in the experience and learn from it.  That didn’t happen.

America was fickle the whole time until a chapter or two from the end of the third book.  There was absolutely no growing or learning.  I like strong female characters or even female characters that learn to be strong.  Reading this series made me feel sorry for the boyfriend and the Prince.  When they tried to face a reality without America in their lives, she got angry with them for attempting to move on.

Honestly, I was amazed I stuck with the series for as long as I did.  I was even more amazed that I tried to read the fourth book despite the lackluster ending of the third.  Like a high school student once told me, she couldn’t put it down despite her frustration because she wanted to see when America would gain some sense.  It was the same with me, and I was hoping the fourth book would be much better than the rest of the series.

The fourth book starts the selection for America’s daughter.  Only this time, it’s a Bachelorette style selection.  I didn’t even get through the first chapter before I was so completely disgusted with the series that I gave the books away to a student.  No way was I going through yet another fickle female lead who doesn’t grow.

While the main character and the other female characters did not wage World War III on each other for the Prince’s affections, they were all very milk toast.  If they did play dirty, it was equivalent to grade school hair pulling.  I can understand, given the situation, these girls couldn’t break out the uzi or walk out of that ridiculous demeaning selection farce.  There wouldn’t be a story otherwise.

If anyone likes Bachelor and Bachelorette, these books are definitely for them.  For a person who thinks those shows are stupid and weeps for a society that would gain entertainment from that tripe, don’t waste hard earned cash on The Selection Series.

Future Book Reviews

If these reviews helped, here are upcoming book reviews:

  • The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  • The Goddess Test Series by Aimee Carter
  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
  • Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
  • Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge
  • Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  • Splintered Trilogy by A. G. Howard