Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Free Neil and Ferdi


FREE NEIL AND FERDI

I recently returned from a week of presentations at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I witnessed a human rights situation that is, for lack of a better term, dangerously bizarre.  Two elementary educators and six cleaners (janitors from ISS Indonesia) have been charged in a sexual abuse case that does not pass the smell test.  I’m not talking about the smell test that tells you something in the back of the refrigerator has passed its expiration date.  I’m talking about dead bodies stacked on a pile of burning tires.

In March of 2014 a parent came to school charging that her first grade child had been raped by cleaning staff in a bathroom close to his classroom.  JIS administrators removed all cleaning staff under the ruse of training, then cooperated with police, which resulted in the arrest of two identified cleaners.  There was sadness and shock among the entire JIS educational community, and great empathy was exhibited toward the child and Indonesian mother and Dutch father. 

But then Mom went to the press, where she gave graphic descriptions of the rapes and publicized the name of the child.  She said her child was raped thirteen times in March and had contracted genital herpes.  Another four cleaners were arrested, including one woman.  The Mom charged conspiracy, even though two of the cleaners didn’t work on that part of the campus and just happened to be there the day the additional four were being (randomly, it turns out) pointed out. 

The cleaners stated they were beaten and threatened by police without the presence of legal counsel.  One of them supposedly committed suicide by drinking bleach and other cleaning fluids, but a photograph of his body showed severe bruising and evidence that his lips had been stapled.  All but one of the rest of the cleaners confessed, none with any legal counsel.  The female, who did have legal counsel held her ground.  All were quickly convicted, none being allowed to recant their confessions once they reached the relative safety of the courtroom.  Four received eight year sentences, one (the woman) a seven year sentence, and of course, one is dead.

The child was examined by four separate doctors, none of which found any evidence of genital herpes.  Each doctor asked that the mother return with the boy for a second examination and in each case she did not return.  No doctor found anal tears or any evidence that would have had to accompany thirteen instances of sodomy in that short time.  With her case falling apart, the mother offered to disappear for a settlement from the school of thirteen and a half million dollars.  When the school refused, she upped her lawsuit to a hundred twenty five million and implicated three educators: Neil Bantleman, a Canadian, Ferdi Tjiong, an Indonesian and Elsa Donahue, an American citizen.  Neil and Ferdi were arrested and remain incarcerated to this day while their trial proceeds.  The American consulate threatened to bring down the full weight of American diplomacy in the wake of an American citizen being arrested on such flimsy evidence, and Elsa’s name was withdrawn.

After that, it gets crazy.

Some highlights of the stunningly, astonishingly, spectacularly, jaw-droppingly absurd events (this from a writer who knows, at a molecular level, that adverbs are not his friends) are these:

--One of the sites where the rapes supposedly occurred during the school day is a site called the aquarium, so-named because it is glass on four sides.  Four sides.  That’s all the sides there are.  Any passersby, and they would have been legion, would have witnessed the goings-on, and their silence would make them complicit. 

--Later the testimony changed to a indicate a collection of “secret rooms” which have since been walled off or filled in or projected into the universe somehow.

--More of the boy’s testimony - and he is not to be blamed for what he has been coached to say – indicated that Neil pulled a magic stone out of thin air, with which he numbed the boy below the waste so there would be no pain.  The stone disappeared as magically as it appeared.

--In the days following the original accusations, the boy continued to attend school and exhibited no evidence of trauma.  He played happily and alluded to nothing untoward and had no problem approaching the places where the alleged crimes took place.

--The police declared they administered lie detector tests to Ferdi and Neil that concluded positively that the two were lying, but never brought the results into court.

--No credible psychologists or therapists interviewed the child or engaged in play therapy with the child, or brought any evidence to court that a trauma occurred.  (Believe me, the trauma that occurred all comes from the mother’s willingness to parade her innocent child in front of the public.)

It goes on and on. 

And the cleaners languish in prison and Neil and Ferdi await their fates.  The entire JIS community is anxious beyond imagination because nothing has been done to exonerate the cleaners and the fear is that Neil and Ferdi will be found guilty to conceal the embarrassment – and corruption - behind that original injustice.

This isn’t a story about sex abuse.  This is a story about corruption. 

March 3 was the last day of testimony (the defense was allowed three fewer days to present their case than was the prosecution) and the verdict is to come in on April 2. 

I’m calling for OUTRAGE; on the part of the American educational community, on the part of the Canadian educational community in particular, and to whatever extent possible on the part of the world educational community.  This could be you.  The teachers and administrators working at American International Schools all over the world are typically adventurous, dedicated, creative souls from all parts of the globe.  They bypass - by way of exceeding - the grueling, anxiety-producing, memory level testing practices that plague American public schools, to fire the imaginations of their students.  And they direct thousands of well prepared imaginative students into some of the finest English speaking educational institutions all over the world.  I have visited international schools in Jakarta, Singapore, Moscow, Warsaw, Mumbai, New Delhi, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sau Paulo, to name most of them.  Though JIS is halfway around the world, many of the students are Americans, and many more will be applying to attend American colleges and universities.  The Canadian government is being maddeningly quiet for whatever reason, so in my view the educational community needs to raise hell.  Look, I know there are human rights violations all over the world that make this one look tepid, but this is one we can do something about.  Wake up the Twitter world at #Freeneilandferdi and let’s get viral.  For those interested in detail, a chronology prepared by a vigilant JIS parent of the entire set of bizarre proceedings is posted just below this.

Detailed Chronology of JIS Fiasco


Dear Sir/Madame,

I am writing to express serious concern for my colleagues Neil Bantleman (Canadian/British citizen) and Ferdi Tjion (Indonesian citizen). The Indonesian justice system is letting them down following absurd allegations concerning the alleged abuse of children at Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS). (Formerly: Jakarta International School). I am a primary school teacher at JIS and parent of 2 children, aged 5 and 6, attending the school currently. Media from around the world has covered the facts but apparently not the international BBC. Here I write a concise description of the facts of the case to date.

In March 2014 shortly before spring break a parent arrived in school with disturbing information. She said that her child had been raped by cleaning staff in a bathroom close to his classroom.

JIS administration removed all cleaning staff from the PIE campus under the ruse of training. They then liaised with the police to have the two identified cleaners arrested leaving it in police hands.

With the alleged perpetrators behind bars it could then be communicated to the teachers and community that a terrible crime had occurred. Everyone was very sad and felt sorry for the child and his family. A wave of melancholy descended upon the JIS community.

The mother then went to the press. She gave vivid and graphic descriptions about what she believed had happened to her child and publicized the name of her child. It was assumed that her anger and desperation were responsible for her actions.

She said that the her child was raped 13 times in the month of March and had contracted herpes. Both these allegations were later proved untrue by medical reports from different hospitals presented in court.

Three more cleaners were arrested making a total of six, 5 men and 1 woman. The community began to grow suspicious. It is possible (although unlikely) that a child could be hurt by two cleaners acting together. It is highly improbable that 6 cleaners could act together and not be noticed. It is even more unlikely that one of these would be a woman.

The cleaners state that they were beaten and threatened without any legal counsel present. Police claim that one cleaner, Azwar committed suicide by drinking bleach and other cleaning fluids although his body was photographed as being severely bruised with evidence that his lips were stapled.

In a letter from ISS cleaner Syahrial on April 26th 2014 to his mother, he wrote,

After being beaten up, Azwar was brought to the bathroom . After coming back from the bathroom, Azwar was brought back to the Investigator Room. He was drenched and shivering. He was badly beaten up, then he kept being forced until he kept falling down.”

With no hope and in a sorrowful situation the cleaners made confessions to stop the torture. These confessions were later retracted as they were coerced through police torture. Azwar and Afrisca were the only cleaners who did not confess. Azwar is dead and  Afrisca was the only cleaner to be provided with legal counsel at this point.

In the same letter Syahrial described his own torture,
“I was kicked, hit, and my face was burned with cigarettes. I was questioned from 21.30 to 03:30. I could not bear the torture. That was why I confessed. I was forced to do it because blood kept coming out of my nose...I swear in the name of God, and in the name of Quran that I did not do it. Once again I apologize to all my family members. I can’t stand it anymore. My body and my head hurt all over. Once again, please, my family should not talk the investigators.  I will be beaten up again, will be hit again. I will talk during Court. I is ask for prayers.”

When paraded in front of the press the cleaners wore masks. It has been suggested that this was to cover up the bruises inflicted by the police.

During the trial of the cleaners it soon became apparent that not everything was adding up. First of all the the medical evidence contradicted the fact that any rape had occurred at all and despite the mother telling the press her child had herpes it was clear that he did not.

Dr. Narain Punjabi from SOS Medika clinic in Cipete was the first doctor to check the boy. He asked the mother to bring the boy back a week later for follow up tests. She never returned, yet still went on to use the initial — and inconclusive — results as the basis for her criminal complaint.

John Kevin Baird, a professor at the Center for Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine was asked to review the clinical laboratory evidence. He concluded that there is no medical laboratory evidence that the boy had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Baird said that the IgG test was incredibly accurate.
“So, if you look at the facts that the boy was not infected with anything and the defendants were shown as having herpes, how was it possible that they could have sex with the victim multiple times for a span of several months?”

“The male defendants in this case are identified in the case dossier as being positive for IgG HSV-2... If five men with genital herpes gang-raped a victim a total of 13 times over four months (a total of as many as 65 events of sodomy), it is impossible that victim would emerge from that kind of abuse and not be infected by genital herpes. And yet, the alleged victim was negative for IgG HSV-2 at the end of that long period of alleged abuse. That test result cannot be reconciled to the alleged offenses.”

At Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital (RSCM), Octavinda Safitry forensic pathologist on
March 21st states that there is no evidence of sexual assault. She was again asked to return but never did so, claiming that Pondok Indah hospital was closer.

At Pondok Indah Hospital Dr. Lufti examined the child. He found Pus and then told mother to return for further investigation. Again she never did. Lufti said that the problem could simply be a gastrointestinal infection, caused by ingestion of bacteria from food or drink. Not herpes which is caused by the virus. That’s 3 doctors who asked her to return and three times she refused.

When it was clear to the mother that evidence was contradictory to her claims she decided she wanted out. She contacted JIS with a bargain. She offered to leave the country “peacefully” in return for 13.5 million USD. JIS refused wanting to see teachers and their school cleared honestly through the Indonesian court according to the facts.

The mother then raised her lawsuit to 125 million dollars. Along with the increased monetary demand she implicated three educators, A Canadian, Neil Bantleman, an Indonesian, Ferdi Tjiong, the elementary principal, American citizen, Elsa Donahue, and also a security guard. Neil and Ferdi were then taken into custody where they have remained incarcerated to this day.

When the American consulate discovered that one of their citizens was about to be arrested on such flimsy evidence they threatened to bring down the full weight of American diplomacy upon the head of Indonesia. This presumably is the reason why Elsa Donahue was never taken into custody but remains referenced in the original dossier. It’s also interesting that the security guard referenced in the original accusations has never been brought in for questioning or arrested. Perhaps because the security force is contracted through the regional police force.

The founding Australian, British and American embassies released a joint statement describing the disturbing way that Indonesia was dealing with this.
"We are deeply concerned about the detention of several JIS teachers last night.
We believe JIS and its teachers have closely co-operated with police authorities, and we are surprised at these developments given the presumption of innocence in Indonesian law."

Despite there being no physical evidence, the cleaners were convicted one at a time on 22nd December at the South Jakarta Court House. Five families were torn apart, mothers, wives and children cried whilst their men tried to accept the unacceptable with dignity. Indonesian Justice suffered a huge blow. Awan, Zainal, Syahrial, Agun were each given 8 years sentences and an unpayable arbitrary fine of 100 million Rupiah. Afrischa was given 7 years and also 100 million Rupiah fine.

Icha Setyani (24) (Afrisca) Supports her aunt and sister. She was due to be married on October 19th. Her fiance has stood by her.

Awan Amin (21) Lives with and supports his grandmother.

Zainal Abidin (20) Supports his sister and her 4 sons, who had to stop going to school. He recently started attending college and worked as an motorcycle driver as a second job to pay for it.

Syahrial (27) supports his wife and their 2 ½ year old son.

Agun Iskander (25) supports his wife who recently gave birth to their child.

Azwar (27) died in police custody supporting his mother who described him as a “gentle soul” protesting his innocence to the end. He was to be married to another ISS cleaner in July 2014.

A statement of concern was soon issued by American Ambassador Blake,
“We note with concern that the investigative proceedings of both this case, and the accusations against the JIS teachers, raise serious questions about the standards of evidence applied….we are also concerned about the defense claims that police used violence against these defendants to extract confessions…” He said the; “The outcome of these cases and what it reveals about the rule of law in Indonesia will have a significant impact on Indonesia’s reputation abroad”.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch in Jakarta also criticized the court’s decision to accept the confessions without investigating the allegations of torture, including in the case of a sixth janitor, Azwar, who died while in police custody.

Lin Neumann, incoming head of the American Chamber of Commerce, said the verdicts should be scrutinized by an independent body or in a well-documented appeal, adding that any questions that arise about Indonesia’s justice system could cast a shadow over doing business in the world’s fourth-largest country.

It was then time for the court to have its way with Neil and Ferdi. Their trial began on December the 23rd.

The dossier for Neil and Ferdi was sent back to the police 3 times from the public prosecutor over 120 days. The detainment of Neil and Ferdi was extended 3 times as the prosecution failed to find any credible evidence and only days before a new attorney general was announced.

Some of the claims made by the mother and actions of the police have ranged from the outrageous to the absolutely impossible.

Initial allegations state that the three educators abused the child in a glass walled office known as “The Aquarium” in a high traffic area with a female security guard sitting permanently outside in the middle of the school day. It is also alleged that some rooms have since been “hidden” and an offense was committed in a kitchen on a busy school day.

Elsa Donohue is said to have administered a drug, so far unknown by the medical community, blue in nature, that renders the recipient temporarily numb from the waist down.

Neil Bantleman clicked his fingers and a Magic Stone appeared that anesthetized the child to pain. Alternatively, Neil is said to have taken a brief flight in an airplane to return with the stone.

The perpetrator had a Thor like body with skeletal tattoos. None of the defendants sport any kind of tattoo.

When the photos of the cleaners were shown to the child a witness said that he continued to play and skipped between the photos showing no emotion.

In her early press conference the mother suggested that her child was raped 13 times in March. This changed to a time frame of 15 months from January 2013 - March 2014 and making the location anywhere in South Jakarta. This A: is against indonesian law as a place and time for a crime must be stated. B: makes allegations impossible to defend against, as alibis can not be provided. It is also noted that a child’s testimony can not be used in court to secure a conviction as he is underage and he can not take an oath.

This was confirmed when University of Indonesia law expert Chairul Huda testified that the Criminal Law Procedures Code (KUHAP) clearly stated that a child’s testimony could not be used as evidence of a crime.

The reason for this is given by retired detective at Australia’s Victoria Police force, Sr. Sgt. (ret) Chris O’Connor, who testified and said children gathered and stored information differently to adults, and thus were prone to suffering false memory syndrome. O’Connor added that he did not believe the sexual abuse occurred based on the information he was privy to.

Somehow 6 of Indonesia’s most humble cleaners could organize into a gang involving expat and local teachers of Indonesian, American and Canadian/British citizenship without anyone noticing. In recorded history there has never been a case remotely similar. The prosecution also claims that the ISS workers operated separately from Neil who operated separately from Ferdi at different times in different locations. Conveniently this allows the prosecution to pick and choose who they would like to convict.

It is clear that the psychologists who questioned the child have unsuitable or no credentials or experience. It is likely that their questioning led the child to give certain answers.

The prosecutors have called as “expert” witnesses child psychologists; Nella Safitri Cholid, Nurul Adiningtyas and Setyani Ambarwati. However, their testimony has been fundamentally flawed in many ways.

Firstly, the psychologist were affiliated to the mother who has paid for their services meaning that their testimony is not independent.

Secondly, The psychologists lacked experience in such cases, Nurul is only familiar with one other case in her entire career.

Thirdly, they had no idea about the child’s psychological condition when asked by the judge.

Fourthly, Nella was unable to show a certificate in forensic psychology.

Nural also revealed that the prime means of entrapment for the JIS teachers was not the child’s testimony but the school yearbook.

Nurul was also dependent upon vague interpretation upon pictures drawn by the child at a different time in front of a different psychologist. (This extraction of details using pictures has been abandoned by psychologists for decades.)

Setyani also seemed to be completely confused, discussing unrelated information which didn’t seem to fit with the case at all.

Neil and Ferdi were subjected to invasive questioning from so called medical experts. One of which was apparent “sex expert”, Naek L. Tobing who appears to lack credentials or experience on any matter related to child abuse. He is infact an “expert” in the growing problem of micropenis and obesity.

Mr Bantleman said the line-ups involved him standing in a car park beside two Indonesian police investigators (whom the children knew as part of the case), while the children were inside behind tinted windows.

Neil and Ferdi were asked to undergo a polygraph test. The police were so certain that it would show lying that they kept promising to release the tests to the public. Since the tests were never revealed we can only assume that the tests show that they are telling the truth.

The child continued to attend school and visit the bathroom where they were allegedly raped. Pictures were taken of the child enjoying his life in the school and swimming in PE. Psychologist said that children would not feel comfortable in a school where they had been harmed and they would certainly not return to the scene of the alleged crime.

The mother was allowed to accompany her child on a late night raid at the school where she was photographed directing her child to the locations where she believed a crime had taken place with an outstretched hand.

During this late night raid “Evidence” removed from the offices includes a yellow sash worn by all school staff whilst on duty, a common household blender and a rope still in cellophane packaging to be donated to flood relief victims of Jakarta.

After being invasively, personally and repeatedly examined by many different doctors, subjected to suggestive questioning, removed from school where he was happy and played daily and brought into school late at night, the three psychologists concluded that the child is suffering some kind of stress but none of them know what the cause is. Could the cause of his stress be the ordeal he has been subjected to by his parents? In the U.S. the mother would be required to undergo a psychological evaluation and be closely watched by the child protection system for her willingness to put her six-year-old child in the eye of the media and therefore the public, by showing his picture and graphically describing the alleged rapes.

At this point in time the trial continues. Judge Bustaman has enforced a “Gag Order” disallowing anyone to comment on the events in the courtroom. EmanSuparman, who heads the Indonesian government's judge monitoring and investigation division, stated Judges have no authority to prevent information flow and communication between lawyers or prosecutors and the media.

Marc Garneau, foreign affairs critic for the Canadian Liberal Party, in a statement says,
“The embassies of a number of other countries have already expressed concerns about the fact that Mr. Bantleman was detained for three months without any charges,” Garneau said. “I am also alarmed by credible reports of corruption and inhumane prison conditions in Indonesia...We expect the Indonesian legal system to conform to international standards of justice and the rule of law and for the government of Canada to defend the rights of Mr. Bantleman to a fair process.”

Paul Dewar, MP Ottawa Centre, Wayne Marston, MP says,  "We urge the Canadian government to pressure the Indonesian government to ensure that the rights of Mr. Bantleman it is properly maintained throughout the trial, in strict accordance with international norms.”

Recently the judges have stated that they will be giving their verdict on April the 2nd and therefore the trial must conclude on March 3rd. This means that the prosecution were given 11 days to present their case compared to only 7 days for the defense. The judges have also stated that no more than 1 hour will be given for questioning of witnesses. What chance do Neil and Ferdi have for justice when the judges have already decided the date when they will give the verdict and the date when they will stop listening to evidence?

Given the irregularities and the failure to accept evidence or even hear the evidence we are extremely worried about the lack of transparency and what this means for the outcome of Neil and Ferdi’s trial. It is very worrying that international observers are not permitted to observe the case under the ruse of protecting the child’s identity. After 6 months in prison Neil and Ferdi still languish in limbo, not knowing if justice will be served.

The chance of them being found guilty is worryingly high even though evidence proves that allegations are impossible. (*The ISS Cleaners have already been convicted on the same lack of evidence.) The school community including parents, alumni, students, visiting authors and guests continues to support Neil and Ferdi turning up regularly at court and attending vigils. Vigils have also been held across the globe by former students and teachers.

All we ask is that the facts of this case are reported fairly and transparently. Justice for a British citizen, and seven Indonesian citizens is at stake. It is clear that we can not rely on the indonesian justice system alone. My friends and colleagues are in serious danger of being sentenced to 15 years for a crime that they did not commit. Myself and thousands of parents continue to send our children to Jakarta Intercultural School, confident that they are educated in the safest and most compassionate ways.

Yours sincerely,
David Allinson
Grade 5 teacher at JIS
Parent of two children in EC2 and KG attending JIS

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Responsi-damn-bility


I watched Fredrick Wilson II’s rant on the black man taking some “personal responsi-damn-bility,” (posted below) in the wake of the Ferguson/Michael Brown tragedy and I stepped away seriously considering what he had to say. It’s a call from Fredrick to “his people” to stop blaming, take a good look at where they are and fight their way out by succeeding; by getting an education and finding empowerment. He wants them to stop doing the things, or appearing to do the things that are more likely to get them killed or seriously injured. I suppose I could argue either side.

But see, it’s not up to me to argue either side. I’m a sixty-some-year-old white guy living in a country that has been forever run by forty- and fifty- and sixty-some year old white guys. Any black guy who cares even a little bit about what I have to say about racism is wasting time. But just as Frederick Wilson claims that legions of black guys over relatively recent years have created a perception that scares the cops and the white public into responding too quickly with violence, I claim that legions of white guys have created a perception that if you aren’t a white guy, you’re gonna have a lot harder time getting a break and we will do whatever we have to do to keep you “in your place.”

Neither is always true, or even true most of the time, but perception, as Frederick says, is often reality.

So I give it up to Frederick. It’s for the black community, and every other minority of course, to find the best way to help itself and its members lead long and empowered lives.
But in like spirit, I gotta issue the same spanking to white American males. I’d include white females but we’re doing a pretty good job of holding them back also. When a white man who is very close to me asks in all seriousness why we don’t have a TV channel exclusively for white people like we do for blacks, I’m as close to speechless as I get (which is actually not that close.) Jesus, for all of my childhood and a good part of my adulthood that’s ALL we had. Tap your helmet. And speaking of helmets, when some white guy – and it’s always a white guy – asks me if we have to rename the mascots of ALL the NFL teams because we don’t want Nordic folks to be offended by the Minnesota Vikings or people in the meat packing industry to go off on Green Bay’s mascot or cattle ranchers to cringe when Dallas’ football team comes on TV, I wonder if they know how ignorant of the real issue they sound. I don’t think you’d create a lot of ill will walking up to a stranger in snakeskin boots and a George W. Bush hat and calling him cowboy. But I don’t know anyone who isn’t an avowed racist looking for a fight, who would walk up to an American Indian they didn’t know and call him a redskin.

This bigotry stuff ain’t rocket science.

If it’s incumbent on minorities (and guess what, very soon we’ll ALL be minorities) to step up and take responsibility for their reaction to racism, then the same has to be true for us. We, all of us white dudes, should make a habit of walking into Barnes and Noble, heading straight for the “History” section and demanding to know why The Autobiography of Malcolm X isn’t there. When the clerk tells us it’s in the BLACK History section, that’s time to get seriously and loudly indignant. It’s fucking HISTORY, man! It’s ALL the shit that happened! Same thing for women. Latinos. Asians. Everybody. Half the responses to this rant should be about the folks I left out in that last sentence.

You know, a whole lot of white racists who won’t call themselves racists, WILL and do call themselves Christians (and this is not a knock on Christians; it’s a knock on racists). Many are the kind of Christian who believes there will come a time when they stand before the pearly gates to make their case. Up or down. It’s called Judgment Day. Hard to imagine the gatekeeper going light on a history of turning one’s back on political reform that keeps poor people (high percentage of minorities) away from decent jobs and health care and opportunity just because the guy with the idea for that reform was black. Hard to believe the gatekeeper won’t have been instructed to look for folks who, knowing that resources like food and medicine and housing and wealth are FINITE, took as much as they could get anyway. The gatekeeper might simply be instructed to ask and record those men’s definitions of “enough”.

I noticed that the majority of Hoo-zahs for Fredrick W II’s rant came from white people, declaring “Here’s a black guy saying what I’ve said all along.” Go back and watch it again; that isn’t what he’s saying. Clarence Thomas is the black guy saying what you’ve been saying all along. Nothing.
Many credible brain scientists will tell you that humans are hard-wired for racism; that throughout evolution the safe group has been the familiar group, made up of beings that looked like us, and that’s how we learned to gather. But the brain is evolving too, and it should be smart enough by now to understand that evolution doesn’t have a nurturing component. Evolution doesn’t CARE. It’s up to us to comprehend and appreciate simple cause and effect. If you’re a white guy who believes black men are scary and prone to criminal intent, answer this question with the same earnestness with which you’ll approach the gatekeeper. “Did my actions on earth make it harder for any group of people to get a fair shake?” If you think you’re going to need a different answer, there’s still time.

I don't know that I agree that Fredrick Wilson is one smart young man, I just couldn't figure out how to post this without the banner.
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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Big Truth

On Friday, October 31, the fourth victim of the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting, lost her struggle for life. 

The Big Truth

Her name is Shaylee Chuckulnaskit. She’s fourteen years old, described in glowing terms by family and friends as a “shining light.” The light has gone out. Shaylee Chuckulnaskit is dead. Killed by yet one more “school shooter”, a term that has become in relatively recent years as common as “most likely to succeed” or “class clown.”

One more school shooter, one more dead classmate; a headline on the AOL news site for one day, then gone. Shaylee Chuckulnaskit doesn’t matter. Her family and friends are forever broken-hearted, left to wonder why and what could have been while the American public, from an action point of view, doesn’t give a shit.

We have allowed the National Rifle Association, along with a frightening number of talking-point-driven disciples to promote an argument so foolish, so outrageously absurd, that it almost sounds like an argument (See Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, et al). They trot out ex-soldiers and police officers, the two groups who should know best the dangers of putting firearms in the hands of the public (and many of whom do) to trumpet the Big Lie that guns equal freedom. They get firearm embracing “tough guys” to call anti-gun activists “pussies.” Well, tell you what: pussies, properly employed, are quite nice, and it’s impossible to BE one.

The next Big Lie is that it’s really not about guns, it’s about mental health. They spew that vapid assertion in the same breath they use to crush any legislation that would fund the slightest increase in mental health services that could begin to address the issue. Plus any honest mental health specialist would tell you that the likes of Ted Nugent or Joe the Plumber or George Zimmerman or the guy who shot the black kid in the convenience store parking lot because his music was too loud, would be the first to lose their gun ownership rights because they carry a gun in hopes of having the opportunity to prove they need to use it, which is fucking crazy.

Truth: Ted Nugent probably isn’t going to shoot anyone; neither will Joe the Plumber. Other Truth: We have no idea who will. Other Other Truth: We know what he’ll use.

Recently I got into a dust-up on Facebook (I know better, but I’m doing it again) with an ex-serviceman who said I had no right to tell him what kind of weapon he could use to protect his family…and that I had an agenda. He intimated that because he is ex-military and I’m not, he is more qualified to pontificate on issues regarding firearms than am I. Well sorry my friend, but I don’t ask race car drivers to make traffic laws, and I don’t ask people with a philosophical love for an instrument designed for the sole purpose of putting holes in things, to decide on how large the holes or how fast we can put them in, because when we put holes in things what is inside leaks out, and way too often what leaks out is blood.

DUH! that I have an agenda, but if I and other anti-killing activists can get enough voters together, then I WILL have the right to tell him what kind of weapon he can use to protect his family. Once again to Gandhi: There is so very little we can do and it is so important that we do it.

This problem has a generational solution, which means I’m not going to be around to see it solved. Self-styled tough guys will call the likes of me “pussy” and gun manufacturers will continue to trumpet the notion that forefathers they can’t even name, meant to pave the way for a nation of thoughtless cowboys. Conventional wisdom will have to change which means someone with a far more powerful voice than mine will have to lead the call to disarms. It may be the voice of the parent of a slain child whose sound will somehow rise above the wails, or more likely, the parent of a shooter, with the courage and the grit to hold the Big Truth up for us all: If your philosophy trumps your decency, you have a fucked-up philosophy, and worse, a fucked-up allegiance to that philosophy.

I part ways with my liberal friends as they peel off to find reasonable arguments for gun ownership that go one inch beyond hunting for survival. I know it will have to be gradual, we have made guns so available to the disenfranchised and the bullied and those in other ways kicked to the curb, that we now feel the need to arm ourselves against those we have armed.

Maybe I’m delusional, but somewhere down some distant road, I have to believe I hear that voice…

So goodbye Shaylee Chuckulnaskit. Your name now disappears into the sea of the slaughtered. Wouldn’t it be fitting if members of your Tulalip tribe - once called savage by citizens of a savage nation – the tribe who spawned both you and your killer, were to find a way to lead that savage nation to grace.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BANNED BOOKS WEEK SUMMARY


Best Questions From A Week Of Banned Books Week Presentations

Q.  If you know your books are going to get banned, why do you write them?

A.  Because I know they’re going to get banned.  Only kidding.  I never write a       book with the idea of getting it banned, but I also never write a book with the idea of not getting it banned.  I tell the story the best way I can and let the chips fall.

Q.  What do you say to people who want your books banned?

A.  “Shut up.”  (That’s my attempt at banning the banners.)  When that doesn’t work, I tell them I was told from early childhood on that America is a free country.  I was told that by my conservative father who had just come back from a war against this German dude who thought mind control was the best way to deal with the teeming masses.

Q.  What are the biggest reasons people want your books banned?

A.  1) Use of “bad language.”  2) Inclusion of a LGBT character portrayed in a positive light.  (it’s okay to include such a character if she or he is a freeway sniper or a serial killer…or maybe a cannibal.)  3) Sexual content of any type (because we know teenagers never think about, or engage in, sex.)  4) Characters who challenge authority (because we all know those in authority always know best).  5) Content that undermines “Christian Values” or pokes fun at Christian doctrine (because everyone knows Jesus couldn’t take a joke).  6) Content that focuses on racism and our society’s general acceptance of it, as long as it’s not called that.  On rare occasions the politically correct left weighs in, demanding the removal of language that is racially sensitive (represented by those who think the so-called “N” word should be removed from Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird.  In my books, racists use racist language). 
I’m sure I’ve heard other rationale for book banning but what I’ve given you covers about 98 percent of it.


Q.  You’ve been speaking out against censorship for a long time and you seem pretty practiced at it.  Have there been times when you walked away thinking you changed the minds of your opposition?

A.  No.  Most often if they come to hear me, they come with a philosophy and a purpose.  They can’t afford to break their solidarity.    I’m as locked into my view as they are to theirs, so the “discussion” is pretty much wasted time, though it can get pretty hot pretty fast, so I guess it’s better than bad TV.  Actually, minds get changed when kids speak up.  Because so often adolescents and adults don’t communicate on more than an “as needed” basis, adults often forget the reasoning power and the passion of those kids.  The rational brain of the adolescent isn’t fully developed, to be sure, but it isn’t fully undeveloped either.  A number of years ago I happened to be within short driving distance of a school district in which my book Whale Talk and Walter Dean Myers’ fabulous Fallen Angels were being challenged.  Fallen Angels is about a Harlem teenager gone to war in Vietnam in the late sixties, told in the realistic language you might expect.  After a particularly long and fruitless discussion among combative adults during which NO minds were changed, a high school senior stepped to the microphone.  He informed the board that he was a 3.8 student who had never received a grade lower than an A in his English classes.  He had been offered both academic and athletic scholarships to several well-known universities, but intended to join the armed forces.  “This time next year,” he said, “I won’t be at one of those universities.  I’ll be in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Are you telling me that if I go there to fight for my country, then come home to write about it – in a true way, like Mr. Myers did – you’re going to ban me right here in my own school?”  The members of the board sat way back in their chairs.  Had that young man been allowed to speak first, we’d have all been home watching Monday Night Football by then.  The most powerful voices trumpeting the First Amendment come from those from whom the material is meant to be kept.

Q.  Are there any books you think should be banned?

A.  No.

Q.  So you believe all books are “worthy”?

A.  Kurt Vonnegut once said something close to, “The problem with standing up against censorship is some of the shit you have to stand up FOR.”  Believing in freedom of expression does not mean you believe all expression has the same value.  Here’s all you need to know.  If one book gets in the crosshairs (to use a Sarah Palin metaphor) all books are in the crosshairs.  This isn’t about evaluating books.  It’s about freedom to choose, plain and simple.

Q.  What about child pornography?

A.  Child pornography is illegal.

Q.  Where do you get your ideas?
           
A.  Pocatello, Idaho.

Q.  You said you are sixty-eight years old.  You don’t look a day over forty.  In your travels around the country, how do you go about fending off the romantic advances of your most ardent fans?

A.  George Clooney and I have talked a lot about this.  Neither of us has come up with a satisfactory strategy.

Q.  Are any of these questions made-up?
           
A.  All questions are made up.

Q.  Okay, I get that, but are any of these questions made up by you.

A.  Well, maybe one…

Monday, September 15, 2014

More on Adrian


ADDENDUM 

I feel compelled to add to what I posted yesterday about Adrian Peterson’s “discipline” techniques.  Somewhere in that post – and it should be just below – I said I thought there was some chance that Peterson was one of those people who might do better, once they knew better.  At the time I hadn’t seen the pictures or heard the accounts of the damage inflicted, or heard his son’s utterances about having leaves stuffed in his mouth and about being afraid to tell what happened for fear of it happening again.  I had also not heard Adrian Peterson say “I am not a child abuser.  I feel bad.”

First off, Adrian, lots of child abusers feel bad.  Child abuse isn’t about how you felt.  It’s about what you did.  What you might have said was, “I am a child abuser.  I feel bad and I will do whatever I have to do to become NOT a child abuser, including making a promise to the God I point to before every game that I will never lay a hand, or a weapon, on a child again.  Ever.” 

Again, I don’t care what the National Football League or the Minnesota Vikings do with Adrian Peterson.  I’m sure that down the line they have enough money to pay enough P.R. people to make this look very different than it was.  For my money, I’ll never take Adrian on my fantasy football team and I’ll never watch another Minnesota Viking game in which he participates.  Believe me, that means dick to the Vikings or to Adrian Peterson but as Gandhi said, “There is so very little we can do and it is so important that we do it.”

Adrian Peterson didn’t “discipline” his child.  Adrian Peterson tortured his child, and ESPN and the rest of the mainstream media need to call it by its name.  If these exact measures were taken on a kidnapped American or an American prisoner of war, it would be decried as torture.  If our government were to take same measures against an “enemy combatant,” they’d go off-shore to do it. 

The dictionary definition of “spank” is “to slap or smack with the open hand, especially on the buttocks.”  You don’t spank a person with a stick.

Charles Barkley said on a pre-game show yesterday, that’s how black folks in the south “discipline” and by these standards every black parent in the south would be in prison.  I’m a big fan of Barkley and I’ll defer to him any time on the actions of black folks, even though I know southern black people who are absolutely appalled at Adrian Peterson’s behavior.  Best I let THEM take Charles on.  But this isn’t a racial thing.  Barkley needs to defer to me on the actions of white folks.  I grew up in rural, lily-white Idaho and this shit was all over the place.  I ran child abuse and anger management groups for twenty years in Eastern Washington and those groups were ninety five percent white and we had waiting lists.  Adrian Peterson may have learned his techniques from a mean black dad, but I can match mean white dads, dad for dad, with anyone who wants to take the challenge.

In his first public statement, Peterson said, among other things, “I’m not a perfect parent.”  Who in the WORLD thinks we’re talking about perfection here?  How about we take that word out of the conversation.

Adrian Peterson says he’s a Christian.  I wonder, if in his WILDEST imagination he can picture Jesus bruising an cutting a four year old child with a stick. 

In case Adrian might consider advice from another black football player who came up hard – a Hall-of-Famer – I give him Cris Carter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whacking On Your Children


Whacking On Your Children
Man, the National Football League can’t catch a break.  First Ray Rice punches out his fiancé, followed by two more players with domestic violence cases pending and another benched until his case is adjudicated.   And now Adrian Peterson, an even bigger stud running back than Rice, gets hauled in on child abuse charges for “spanking” his kid with a switch. Geez, you’d think these guys run around getting hit in the head all day.

Running our debate about violence toward other human beings through the National Football League is a little like commissioning Fox So-Called News to lead a national debate on fact-finding, and anyway, it’s a mistake to enact laws or base our judgments on high profile cases.  Keeping Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice et al off the football field will do little to stem the problem of family violence in this culture.  In fact, other than the matter of public visibility, it’s no different than demanding an Idaho lumberjack not go back into the woods or a West Virginia coal minor not go back underground if they’re involved in a domestic violence situation.

But the Peterson situation has ignited an old debate about whether or not it’s okay to hit small children, and by small children, I mean anyone smaller than the person doing the hitting.  Texas, where Peterson is from, and many other states have laws that draw a very thin line between physical punishment and abuse; so thin that for some it’s invisible.  BUT IT’S CRAZY THAT WE’RE EVEN HAVING THIS DEBATE.  Discipline and hitting are not the same thing.  Peterson’s childhood coach said Peterson has told him stories of his father being a “firm disciplinarian.”  His lawyer says he was parenting the way he was parented.  One great failing of this culture is how cavalier we are about misnaming things.  What his coach should have said is that Peterson’s dad hit him. 

Discipline is not hitting, and fear is not respect and until we understand that as a culture, we’re not going to get it about disciplining our children.  We hit them not for their own good, but because we’re mad and frustrated and don’t know what to do, so we revert to what is familiar.  What we DON’T seem to know at that juncture, is anything about child development.  You can be a firm disciplinarian without laying a hand on a kid, and in so-doing give yourself a better chance of an open relationship with them as they grow, one where you can have actual meaningful conversations, during which they learn through interaction with you why you want them to behave as you do.  There are things you can take away and let them earn back; toys, privileges; later on, drivers’ licenses.  They learn empowerment.  I can fix what I broke.  If they act the way you want them to act they can regain what they lost behaving as they did in the first place.  It lets you be proud of them, and them to feel that pride.  It establishes the value of your approval. 

And it lets them learn in a safe environment.

When you hit a small child you’re telling that child that the person who is supposed to protect them from harm, will, in fact, inflict that harm.  Because that is not your intention, does not stop it from being so, IN THE EYES OF THE CHILD. 

In my experience the Adrian Peterson’s of the world have a  much better chance of making changes.  As flimsy as his attorney’s declarations sound, it appears he really MAY BE a product of his environment and there are a significant number of people who, when they know better, do better. 

There are many credible studies showing that punishment, particularly physical punishment, has the least efficacy as a parenting tool.  It stops the behavior quickly but has almost no lasting power and a lot of downside in terms of relationship.  There are no studies, unless done by belt companies or the makers of wooden spoons, that depict physical punishment in a more positive light than the use of strong boundaries through relationship.  The statement, “My old man beat MY ass and I guess I turned out okay,” is the one I’ve heard uttered most often in anger management and child abuse groups.  Go figure.