Saturday, September 1, 2012

Philosophy and Humanity

Any argument based on a faulty premise is doomed to a foolish stalemate.  The stalemate occurs when the faulty premise is exposed. “When does life begin?” is such a debate.  Sperms are alive.  Eggs are alive.  All the sub-microscopic shit that goes into their make-up is alive.  If we were to find a sperm or an egg on Mars we’d go batshit crazy saying there is life on Mars, which there would be.  So, the answer to when does life begin?  It’s already begun.  Faulty premise.

The second faulty premise in the life/choice debate concerns the “sanctity” of life, which, if we’re talking from the political/religious right, means human life.  There is no sanctity of life.  Dictionary.com defines sanctity as “a sacred thing; sacred or hallowed in character.  “Sacred” means “entitled to veneration or religious respect  by association with divinity or divine things; holy.”  Life isn’t that; certainly human life isn’t.  And the people who make that argument don’t treat life as if it is.  You can’t call life sacred and then be willing to let whatever happens, happen, the moment that life becomes “viable”.  You can’t call life sacred and be willing to end it by institutional force when a faulty court system deems the owner of that life to have done something particularly heinous.  You can’t consider life sacred, then go drop bombs on it. 

The universe doesn’t treat life as if it’s sacred.  And if the universe is run by a deity, then that deity doesn’t treat life that way.  Life, even human life, comes and goes at the whim of random chance.  Disease, things bumping into things with great force, faulty arteries, poisoned brains, gravity, sneak up behind us and extinguish our lives on a daily basis.  Thousands of times.  No entity stops it and no entity cares.  The universe is loving enough to allow the rules of science and random chance to do their thing. 

A righteous group, political or religious, that claims to believe in sanctity of life, but behaves as if they do not believe in the sanctity of lives, particular lives; lives already being lived, is spiritually empty.   This god-awful war on women, and it is nothing short of that, is being waged by people who recognize no sanctity to the lives of women making the overwhelming choice of whether or not to bring a child into the world for whatever reason.  If you really believe in democracy, then you value choice.  The choice is about whether or not to stop the baby from happening, it is not about killing an innocent life, just as it is a choice to shoot a live sperm into a sock (sorry, flashback) instead of into home base for some egg.  If the people who are so quick to find a way to force women to carry every sperm-egg union that occurs, implanted by whatever source, would be just as quick to help take care of that baby once it found it’s way to the light of day, we could at least see a thread of humanity in their argument.  But that ain’t how they vote.  They vote to extinguish choice, then to extinguish funding for every possible service that might give that child a chance for an empowered life.

When James Brady was President Reagan’s press secretary, he was, by all counts, in lockstep with Reagan’s pro-gun, pro-NRA stance.  Then James Brady got shot in the head, and guess what?.  All of a sudden James Brady wants to make it more difficult to get guns, and particularly certain kinds of guns.  Different story when it hits home.

If you’re a lawmaker and you don’t have the imagination, or the decency, to put yourself into the situation that the law you’re making addresses, you shouldn’t be a lawmaker.  Imagine if Paul Ryan’s daughter Liza were to be brutally raped at say, the age of twelve by a violent schizophrenic or mentally ill psychopath.   Should her twelve-year-old body not “have ways to shut that thing down” as his policy-lock-stepped friend Todd Akin believes it would, Paul and his wife would be in a pickle if the bill he sponsored becomes law.  They would be required not only to force his twelve year old daughter to pile the trauma of carrying that child to term atop the original horrific trauma of the act, but then live in fear of the very real possibility that the donor’s DNA might run down the generational pike into the Ryan gene pool.  If that didn’t change his perception – and his vote - I’d have less respect for him than I have now, which seems mathematically impossible. 

If your philosophy trumps your humanity, you are not fit to be making laws for humanity.

Friday, July 27, 2012

We Are Paterno


It’s not often the Penn State Board of Trustees asks my advice, in fact the next time will be the first.  But had they sought my counsel regarding the Joe Paterno statue, I’d have offered guidance they might not have received elsewhere.  Leave the statue where it is.  Then create a bronze statue for each of the victims who came forward, head down facing away from JoePa and his charging players, and several glass statues – ghosts, if you will - representing Sandusky’s anonymous, uncounted victims. Believe me, they’re out there.

Here’s the problem with taking down the statue: it eradicates the glaring reminder of what happened.  “Let’s put this behind us and look to the future,” is not the most beneficial action here.  If the Penn State situation were an aberration, it might be a good move, but it isn’t.  The uniqueness is the setting and the setting only.  I can guarantee you that any therapist or social worker who works with families that include sexual predators, knew the truth within the first forty-five seconds of Sandusky’s interview with Bob Costas.  Mr. Defensive Coordinator Extraordinaire is a garden variety sexual predator.  The only thing that makes him different is his fancy playground.

The NCAA came through Penn State with a fiery sword the other day and left a rather wide swath.  They may not have issued “the death penalty,” but I’d almost rather be dead than get shot in both knees, one shoulder and the nuts.  Much of the sport and news talk afterward focused on how the football program would survive for now, and how long it would take it to come back.  I’m far more interested in how long it will take the mental health and social work programs of this country to rise to championship status in the first place.

Championship status!  Hell, I’d be happy with a winning season.

The economy goes bad and politicians start making cuts.  On the right, social services and mental health treatment are among the very first targets, and the left is all too willing to leave them on the table as bargaining chips.  What are they bargaining away?

They’re bargaining away hundreds of thousands of kids just like the victims of Jerry Sandusky.

A teacher in a public high school in this country is looking out over a classroom that includes (conservatively) one in four girls and one in seven boys who have been sexually mistreated.  In my early days at the mental health center in Spokane, Washington, the child therapist who worked almost exclusively with sexually abused five-and-unders, worked twelve hours a day four days a week and ten hours the fifth, eating lunch in the minutes between clients, and she had a six month waiting list.  That’s in a county that might have included 350,000 people. 

The two categories of people most often diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in this country are soldiers and sex abuse victims, and from a mental health perspective we treat them both about the same.  They go to war - and believe me, if you’re a victim of that kind of abuse, you’ve been to war – and expect them to deal with the damage with almost no help.  The New York Times reports we’re losing a soldier a day to suicide.  There’s no way to calculate the number we’re losing from that other war.

The reason Joe Paterno and the rest of the top guns at Penn State were able to respond to what they knew in such a shameful way is, they didn’t engage their imaginations.  They didn’t allow themselves to picture those kids, didn’t empathize with them. Because of that, the kids were dismissed and ignored, and Penn State is going to have a crappy football team for a long time. 

But now we are Joe Paterno, and we have a second chance.  We have been reminded once again that it’s time to engage our imaginations, see the kids we are charging past, pick them up and bring them along.  We know they’re everywhere among us, and once we know it we can’t unknow it.  No one gets more na├»ve.  Just as the “leadership” at Penn State couldn’t protect the Nittany Lion brand by pretending the awful isn’t real, neither can we protect the USA brand that way.

Penn State was fined sixty million dollars by the NCAA, to be distributed to organizations around the country equipped to prevent and treat sexual abuse.  Sixty million.  Given the size of the problem nation-wide that’s like taking a leak in the Pacific Ocean to warm it up. 

If you want to be the greatest country in the world, you can’t just declare it so.  You have to make it so.  You can’t simply harken back to a time when your national political and economic forces aimed to create actual equal opportunity.  You can’t rename greed, capitalism and then rename that democracy.  In the same way putting a magnetic ribbon on your car doesn’t really mean you support the troops, calling Jerry Sandusky a monster may not mean you really want to take care of lost children.  Taking care of lost children calls for funding and action.

Sandusky’s victims – at least some of them – are found now.  They discovered varying degrees of empowerment speaking up, and they’re going to be offered help.  But close your eyes and use your imagination.  The horror those kids went through is all around you.  They are calling for help in language you may not understand, but there are people out here who know that language, and if we create public policy that supports them, trains them, and pays true middle class wages while keeping client loads at reasonable numbers, we can begin snatching those kids out of Sandusky’s shower and walking them to safety. 

Boy Scout "Leadership" Loses Moral Compass

Big surprise that the “leadership” of The Boy Scouts of America spent all that time and energy to arrive at the same conclusion about gays among their ranks as always: that approximately ten percent of the population will continue to be excluded based on the same kind of willful ignorance that kept women and blacks from voting for more of our history than not.  And it baffles me that any adult, gay or straight, would direct their kids toward an organization that, ten or twenty years from now, will likely be viewed, at least as far as their leadership goes, as a hate organization for their bigoted views on a population that is as natural, and numerous, as left-handers. 

If the fear (and understand that you will never hear them articulate their true fear) is that accepting homosexuals as scout masters increases instances of molestation, then they should issue an equally loud outcry toward male coaches of girls’ athletic teams and males who lead church youth groups that include girls.  I know of far more instances of inappropriate and illegal behavior by leaders of those groups. The national BSA “leadership” doesn’t seem to consider that their policy puts scouts more at risk of sexual victimization, because it focuses on a population statistically less likely to offend than the general population, and away from true predators, such as, say, the great football defensive coordinator at Penn State who nobody ever accused of being gay.  Predators are genius at choosing their playgrounds, and sleight of hand is their thing.

If the fear is that gay boy scouts or gay scout leaders will influence straight boy scouts to become gay, well, that’s just dumb.  Stupid.  Ignorant.  All the politically incorrect terms that point to a brain that simply doesn’t operate well and feels no compulsion to gather any real information or make change.

It’s time we started calling things by their real names.  The National Board of the BSA is replete with bigots.  They benefit from being part of a culture (and I blame the conservative/religious right for this because they are masters at calling something its exact opposite) that has somehow made it more heinous to call someone a bigot than to be a bigot.

The big wigs of the BSA will do what they do.  Their “leadership” is filled with hard-wired dogmatists, and their asses are covered by the Supreme Court.  About the only thing Decent America can do is never contribute and don’t join.  The Scouts’ true value is to give us something visible to stand against.  

But Decent America must also require their media to tell the truth when dealing with issues such as this.  The whole truth.  USA Today reported that a “special committee comprised of professional scout executives and adult volunteers, was unanimous in its conclusion…”  While the article names the Scouts’ chief executive – Bob Mazzuca – and two members of the executive board – James Turley and Randall Stephenson, who have “recently indicated they would try to work from within to change the policy,” -  none of the other members of that “special committee” were named.  They are allowed to promote their bigoted policy under a cloud of anonymity.  Tough investigative journalists have exposed the identities of CEO’s and underlings responsible for the recent Wall Street crash.  They ferret out undersecretaries of undersecretaries whose emails have contributed to all manner of governmental excesses.  Hell, a National Enquirer reporter brought down John Edwards.  Certainly there is an investigative reporter out there somewhere willing to track down the names and photos of this “special” subspecies so that twenty years from now we can look back on them with the same contempt that civil rights champions look back on the likes of George Wallace and Orville Faubus. 

I worked as a child and family therapist full time for almost twenty years, still chair my county’s original child protection team.  Before that I was an educator of students k-12 in alternative education.  I have worked with gay teenagers trying to find their way in all venues, many simply staying alive long enough to find respite among intelligent and compassionate humans, accepting enough to let them have control of their own lives in a hateful greater American climate; worked with gay foster parents, gay teachers, gay artists, coaches, business people.  When I hear willfully uninformed people from the so-called right talk about the “gay lifestyle,” I automatically think, Get up, grab breakfast, go to work, try to live a meaningful life…JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!  There is no gay lifestyle, people.  There is only a forced secretive existence in response to “Christian” conservative bigotryLifestyle has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  Should I be asked to “come out” as a heterosexual?  “Hi.  I’m Chris Crutcher.  I do what is none of your damn business with women.” 

Famed weight-loss expert and failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee revealed his true colors following the Boy Scouts statement, declaring that keeping gays out of scouting will protect boys from abuse.   Huckabee consistently doubles down on his political views by couching them in his religion, and in the process contributes to the shameful name of both.  There is no correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia.  None.  Mike Huckabee willingly allows his philosophy to trump his humanity. 

Morality is about decency, plain and simple.  It’s not about religion and it’s not about sex.  It isn’t an abstract; it’s about action.  I’m not a Christian but I grew up in a Christian church and am hard-wired with many of its teachings, and the Jesus of my imagination would slap Mike Huckabee down like a moneychanger.  Decent America must deny extremists - Huckabee and all his Huckabettes - their basic premises, because if you accept a stupid basic premise, you enter into a stupid conversation.

Based on my conversations with teenagers, and I have had many, I’m guessing that Scouts themselves are far more accepting of their gay peers than is their “leadership.”  A majority of young people with whom I’m in contact don’t get what the gay marriage or gays in the military controversies are even about.  As one high schooler told me only a few weeks ago, “Who gives a shit?”

Well, Scouts, here’s my advice to all of you who want to be on the right side of history, as well as the right side of humanity.  Get new “leadership.”  Better yet, get leadership.  If it comes from the ranks, they can’t deny you.

PHOTO:  What a pussy scout I was [second from the right, age 13].  That was a bunch of scouts from McCall and me headed for the National Jamboree in Colorado Springs in 1960.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In Defense of Name-Calling

Yesterday I tweeted this:  “Which one of you pseudo Mensa teabaggers wants to tell Sherman Alexie that you’re going to take your country back?”  Almost immediately I received a response from what sounded like a reasonable woman saying she keeps an open mind, doesn’t think Sherman’s book should be banned, and by the way, Chris, why the name calling?

It sounded like a legitimate question from a legitimately concerned person, that I could not answer in a 47-word tweet.  So I directed her here.

First, a disclaimer.  I didn’t say it because Sherman’s stunningly accomplished novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, gets challenged and banned in “conservative” communities with chilling regularity because of realistic language, a hilarious masturbation scene and a mirthfully scathing indictment of the difficulties of a young outsider finding his way through institutional racism.  I said it because Sherman is a member of the only group in our country who can legitimately lay claim to taking their country back.

I admit using the term pseudo Mensa teabaggers is indeed name-calling. I admit I meant it to be.  I did it because the tea party is better at name-calling than anyone in the business, and they do it without actually using the names.  They carry posters of our president with a Hitler moustache, or looking like a monkey.  (And yes, I know there were plenty of pictures of W looking like a monkey, and those were also inappropriate, but anyone who doesn’t know the racial aspect of doing that to a black man as opposed to doing it to a white man, has been listening to way too much Dr. Laura.)  They have so many code words for folks of different races or (avowed) sexual preferences or political beliefs than their own, they could publish an alternative thesaurus that would end up on the NY Times bestseller list.   

But my name-calling was tongue in cheek; throwaway.  My point was that, whether my Twitter follower considers herself a part of it or not, she is represented by “leaders” who are simply not very smart, in the sense of having information or even wanting information.  Sarah Palin will say anything.  Well, almost anything.  She won’t say anything of substance, backed by fact and she won’t put herself in the position of being challenged by anyone to the left of Fox Entertainment.  Glen Beck is literally too dumb to insult, to paraphrase a line from “The Hangover.”  Those two, along with Jim Demint, Michelle Bachman and Dick Armey are the daily faces of the tea party.  Twitter lady, they represent you. As levelheaded as you might be, if you decide you are a member of that group, that is your identity.   And if you are a Republican in this country, they are the folks dragging you to the right.  They are not you.  They are the folks dragging you to the right.

I’m in Chicago today, hosting the American Library Association’s Great Chicago Readout, kicking off our celebration of Banned Books Week with authors of some of the top ten banned books of 2010.  I look over the list of reasons for the challenges and bannings: religious perspective, homosexual content, sexual content, offensive language, suicide.  Human things.  Things the people who want to “take our country back” don’t want kids to talk about; human things the “conservative right” doesn’t think should be part of human education.  Wow.

If I’m speaking to any tea party members today it will be saying “excuse me” as I politely move through their picket line.  (That’s facetious; it’s a little cloudy and windy in Chicago today, too inclimate for them to come out and stand up for their “Christian” principles.  That’s facetious, too.)

But see, it’s those “Christian” principals I have such an issue with, because those principles are anti-freedom and it ain’t s’posed to be that way.  There will be a lot of Christians in the audience and they don’t need quotation marks around their name because many of them will also be true patriots.  They understand the reason the founders used specific language in the Constitution to separate church and state.  They understand the complexity – and the intimacy – of spiritual belief, and know why it is personal and not to be included in the making of democratic law for all men and women.  They understand equality.

The Glen Becks and Sarah Palins of the world are not Christians; they’re “Christians.”  They hide behind bastardized versions of scripture to make money and get cheap attention and gather a following of people who don’t want to take the time to truly understand the complexity of freedom.  They’re a bad reality show.  My hope – and my belief – is that they’ll have a relatively short shelf life.  It’s fun to be nasty and mean and dismissive toward people who are not like you, but eventually the thrill of that meanness gets old and more and more of your followers discover you aren’t there for them – you’re there for your own celebrity.  Eventually they’ll walk away and you’ll be crying like a third grader who’s best friend just found a new best friend.

Since September 11, 2001 I’ve heard over and over, in reference to our two wars, “Freedom isn’t free.”  That’s not just true about war.  It’s also true about everyday life in a real democracy.  If you don’t have the courage to bring out the tough issues, debate and explore and learn, and invite your free countrymen to do the same, then maybe you don’t have the heart to live in a free country.  You can continue to live here, however, because it is a free country, where you can choose to be lazy and under-informed and hold your discussions in sound bites with your like-minded friends. 

My conservative father went to war to be sure you could do that.  (My conservative father would also have run a nail through his eye before allowing children to be barred from information that would make them understand their world, and he was a school board member from the time my older brother entered the first grade until my younger sister graduated from high school.He also went to war for my right to call you names when I’m feeling tired and lazy and just want the cheap, good feeling one gets doing just that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My humble Opinion about Humble

Recently the annual book festival held in Humble, Texas, a posh Houston suburb, had to be canceled because the Superintendent of Schools "disinvited" bestselling author Ellen Hopkins after a small number of parents and a librarian warned him of questionable content in her books.  The majority of authors who had also been invited to the festival, "disinvited" themselves and the festival was no more.  I was not a part of any of that.  To be disinvited, you have to first be invited.  But I did spend some time on a blog discussing with other YA authors, our thoughts about the incident.  Many were authors who had gone through what Ellen went through or who had found themselves in a situation where one of their number was censored.  When asked, I simply said that if another author gets bleeped from a conference because of language or content of his or her stories, I pull out.  Policy.  Far better writers than I came into the discussion on both sides.  Some said boycott, others said, go and talk about it; we don't want to cheat the kids out of the experience of meeting and talking with authors they admire.  As my cats often say to me, that gave me paws...er, pause.  I don't like cheating kids out of anything.

But the authors aren't cheating the kids.  The Superintendent is cheating the kids.  Blaming the authors is like blaming the fearful young wife for bashing her face into her abusive husband's fist.  This might well be a time for those kids to have an experience that is a whole lot more fulfilling than meeting their favorite wordsmith.  This could be a time for them to stand up and feel empowered; to write letters to the editor, and picket, and demand answers to why a few ideologues, who are not educators, by the way, get to decide for everyone that they shouldn't see and hear Ellen Hopkins talk about writing books to which many of them connect.  And it's time for the people who put that festival together (I've been there, they are an exemplary group of people; it takes major time and energy to organize a festival that is so well run) to stand up and challenge those few loud parents and that superintendent to a verbal dual.  "How many contemporary books have you read?  How many kids have you stood before, trying every creative trick you know to get them involved?  How many stories have you looked for that will tickle those students' imaginations and get them reading and writing and discussing.  How dare you put your philosophy ahead of our humanity.  And our professionalism.


The conservative (read Christian) right is stealing the careers of our most creative educators.  That's how kids are getting cheated; by having their best mentors crippled.  The best teachers and librarians don't go into their profession to be conduits of propaganda.  They go into education to help students discover.  It is, in my opinion, incumbent on administrators to create a safe haven for that discovery.

I guess I think that the folks who believe in the First Amendment, who understand why it's there and why it's the first one, need to be as aggressive as those who believe that amendment was written only for their free expression.