Showing posts with label politics and my socialist heart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics and my socialist heart. Show all posts

April 14, 2014

The Things We Know

Today at Support for Special Needs:
The challenging aspects of being the parent of a special needs kid aren’t always the things you don’t know, although believe me when I say those are bad ones, like "stay up late and start drinking early" bad ones. Sometimes a greater source of parental frustration comes from truly knowing your child, in a way that is simply impossible for a doctor or a teacher or even a family member, and having to work tirelessly to be taken seriously.

December 5, 2013

Injustice League

This week (sorry, I forgot to publish this on Monday) at Support for Special Needs:
What I truly want is for my friends to run out of hurts, to have no stories of our community being treated poorly. I want someone to say "I looked up #retard on Twitter, and nothing came up." I want to hear about the organ transplants being granted to patients with intellectual disabilities. I want to hear about how the kids on the bus were kind and the popular middle school girls gave the shy little nonverbal girl at the back of the room a makeover after school and taught her to dance to One Direction. I want to read about kids who are different writing poetry, not suicide notes. I want to read about the community that decided to invest in special education programs, and about the politicians who reach across that aisle to extend basic human rights to the disabled, rather than taking away their "entitlements".

July 22, 2013

Leave the Ladders in Place

This week at Support for Special Needs:
For those of us charged with caring for and helping to build independent lives with loved ones with disabilities, trust can become hard to extend. We’ve all been burned. When we see someone like Greg Abbott build a career with the benefit of a lot of good people’s hard work, only to pull the ladder up behind him, we’re not shocked.

June 3, 2013

On the Question of Humanity


Today at Support for Special Needs:
Not every dehumanizing party sounds hateful. The most dangerous among them sound downright reasonable. They are the ones who stand most defiantly in the way. They are the ones who go to city council or school board meetings and with voices both calm and reasoned make the policies that weigh down our loved ones like chains, or make them invisible altogether. They are the ones who make services and education for the disabled sound like entitlements, or luxuries that we might be able to afford next year, perhaps. They are the ones who reject individual social responsibility in favor of community Darwinism, and make basic human rights sound like a choice that we can easily reject and still sleep soundly when we get home.

December 17, 2012

"No sad thought his soul affright…"

Today's post at Support for Special Needs is a simple one, mostly paying honor to those who died in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. I thought about writing about something else, but ultimately I felt like it wasn't time to move forward just yet. Soon, it will be. Not too soon, I hope.

I also wanted to share some of President Obama's remarks from the memorial service last night. Mostly, I wanted them here, noted, remembered, so that down the road, as the horror dims and we become tempted to accept the unacceptable again, we'll be reminded that for a moment, maybe just a fleeting moment, we knew better.




Excerpt from President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

December 16, 2012
Newtown, Connecticut


But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t -- that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose -- much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

December 16, 2012

Unnecessary Evil

Okay, it's been a couple of days. Let's talk about guns.

First of all, I've got what borders on a shameful confession to make. My own opposition to gun ownership has become a little fuzzy over the years. I think in large part, that might just be pragmatism. Guns are a reality in this country, to the point that perhaps it is a little foolish to stand on principle in deciding not to have one, even if that means being that last unarmed citizen standing. I do still stand on that principle, primarily because I have a kid in the house, and I've seen that story on the news too many times to believe that I'm the one guy who will somehow keep his kid from shooting herself when no one's around.

But I also get why people feel the need to have a gun. Take my Liberal card away if you must, but I really do.

A few years ago, someone on the highway threw something huge and heavy, perhaps a brick, at my car, hitting it just above the doorframe on the driver's side back seat where Schuyler was sitting. It left a sizable dent; two or three inches lower and it would have gone through the glass and hit Schuyler. I never knew what I did to deserve that. Who knows? Does it matter? All I know is that I felt threatened, truly threatened, and when I got home, I found myself researching handguns online.

I found one that I thought would be perfect, too. It was a small caliber revolver, nothing crazy. I chose a revolver because it was small and less likely to jam, and because its hammer action made it much less likely to misfire if my hands were shaking in a crisis, which I can guarantee they would be. Of all the self-protection options I explored in the previously unexplored world of firearms, it seemed the least likely to end badly.

I didn't buy it. I spoke to a member of my family and was immediately told that no, I needed to get a 9mm semi-automatic weapon, because of the increased lethality and the ability to fire quickly and repeatedly. I needed to pack some real heat. That was what it took to snap me out of my new gun fever. I imagining Schuyler getting hold of this thing, and suddenly my fear of Very Bad People was dwarfed by my fear of the Very Worst Thought Imaginable. I deleted the link to my handgun of choice and I put our big aluminum softball bat next to the front door. And that was that.

But I thought about it. I seriously considered it.

And now, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, I'm left, as we all are, with some serious questions, and some harsh realities. What do we do about this increasingly dangerous world that we, and more importantly our children, find ourselves? And do we as a society need to exercise a right that may or may not be Constitutional to own military-grade weapons that are designed for one purpose only: to kill a great number of people in a very short period of time?

The debate over gun ownership isn't as black and white as the gun lobby would make it seem. If we accept that there are probably three reasonable reasons to own a gun -- home protection, personal safety and for sport/hunting -- then we have to decide where assault weapons and deadly, rapid-fire ammunition fit.

Conventional wisdom says that a shotgun may be the most effective gun for home defense. It's extremely effective at close range (ie. your house), requires no accuracy so you're unlikely to miss your target, and the sound of the gun being cocked is unmistakable and likely to scare off whoever is trying to steal your tv without firing a shot. If you feel that protecting your home requires an assault weapon or something that can fire off multiple rounds quickly, you might want to consider moving.

As I mentioned before, a revolver is the gun most recommended for personal safety. Unless you're living in a video game, it will almost certainly provide you with enough shots to defend yourself against an assailant, and its hammer action makes it less likely that you will accidentally shoot off your own foot, or that your kids will accidentally hurt themselves with it.

If you're a hunter and you need to bring down your target in a hail of rapidly fired lethal rounds designed for military combat, you might be missing the "sportsman" part of the deal. Unless you are targeting bears wearing body armor, you might also be overestimating your prey.

So we come back to the question of the kinds of weapons that are being used in incidents like Newtown. What is their place in our society? What does the Constitution really have to say about them? Do we have a legal right to sell and own semi-automatic weapons and rapid-fire ammunition? Should we?

Today, two days after Newtown, I feel like the answer is becoming more clear. If the reports coming out of Newtown are accurate, the shooter got off over a hundred rounds in a very short period of time. According to a medical examiner, those children were shot multiple times, from three to eleven times EACH, with a weapon described as "the civilian model of a military weapon used by military and police organizations in over 60 nations around the world". (Does that phrase even make sense? The civilian model?) If the information from Newtown turns out to be true, then twenty-six innocent civilians, most of them six and seven year-old children, were killed by multiple wounds inflicted by the same bullets used by troops in Afghanistan.

There's a lot to talk about in the wake of these shootings, and I think an equally important topic is the state of mental health treatment in this country. It's a subject that I very much hope gets discussion, and much needed action. But the fact remains that if the Newtown shooter had come into that school with a shotgun, or a revolver, or a hunting rifle, or for that matter a knife or a hunting bow or a hammer, we would be facing a very different level of horror, and having a very different conversation.

If you're reading this, I grant that you are unlikely to be one of the citizens who feels a right and a need to easily purchase and own these weapons, or ones just like them, or things like high-capacity gun magazines that allow shooters to fire off multiple rounds in quick succession. But if you are, let me ask you. Why? Do you feel the need to be armed and equipped to fight in a military combat situation? Do you like owning the same weapons that you see in your video games? Is it about feeling safe, or feeling cool?

Because nothing's free. Your right to own weapons designed to kill a lot of people very quickly isn't one that has been handed to you by two hundred year-old frontiersmen with muskets. It's one that has been paid for, and dearly. It's a right that has turned our public places into crime scenes that look like war zones. It has turned our teachers into first responders. Your fight for personal freedom has enlisted our children as unwilling warriors. Warriors, and martyrs.

But I have another shameful confession. I think it's probably too late. If you're all about having these weapons remain cheap and easy to get in this country, I don't really think you've got to do anything at all. You've already won. I don't actually think we are going to meaningfully address this problem. We can try, and I hope we do, but those weapons are out there. You can't solve clean air problems by stuffing the black clouds back into factory smokestacks. We can't unfrack the earth. And we can't take away all the military grade weapons that are now in the hands of, well, whomever. We don't really know, do we? We hear a lot from those who loudly proclaim that the Liberals want to take away their guns (and they're kind of right, when they're talking about those specific weapons of mass killing), and we certainly know where they stand on the issue. Cold dead hands, etc.

But then there are the quiet ones. The wounded ones, the angry ones, the lost ones, the forgotten ones. The ones we don't think about or worry about or try to help, not until we see them on CNN. Their unbalanced rage and impulse to hurt or kill isn't something new, nor is it specifically American. But while we can continue to choose not to help them or care about them or even think about them, we might try not to arm them quite so effectively.

But I'm not sure we can now. And I'm not sure we have the will to try.

I'm not here to call anyone to action, not directly. I'm not going to tell you what to say when you write your representatives. I know what I said when I wrote my own, including my new Tea Party-affiliated Senator-elect, but if you have any idea about the state and the county in which I live, you'll know that my messages were very likely dumped directly into a "left wing loony" file. I certainly can't tell you what to say, or what's the most effective way to affect change. I'm a writer, so I write. Whatever it is that you do is what you're going to do, I guess.

But I hope you're thinking about this, and I hope your horror doesn't fade. When enough of us decide that we're going to take the mental health of our citizens seriously, and when we decide that the right to own cool guns is being paid for with our most precious blood, then perhaps something will happen. I have my doubts, and they are extreme, but I'd love to be wrong.

November 7, 2012

"Hope is that stubborn thing inside us..."

"I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

"I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

"America, I believe we can build on the progress we've made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.

"I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."


President Barack Obama
November 6, 2012



October 23, 2012

Just a Word: Election Edition

It's election season in the United States. This is a very special time for the people of this country, an opportunity to come together to soberly and with much reflection choose the fellow citizens in whom we trust to lead our nation into an uncertain future.

It's a time to explore our differences, of course, but also to celebrate the process of peaceful transition, of the theory of democracy made real. In this season, it is possible to experience the essence of American citizenship and the dignity and majesty of our system of government, based as it is on the strength and goodness of community.

In that spirit of civil discourse, I give you the post-debate words of author, pundit and self-proclaimed patriot Ann Coulter.



Having gotten everyone's attention, she later doubled down. (Beautifully, she did so as a way of calling out the president for insensitivity.)



Charming.

Look. I've written about this in the past, about how some people use this word because they are ignorant, and others because it's good for an easy laugh. And I have never ever said that no one has the right to use it. I've never advocated banning a word, even if that was even possible. In a way, I'd almost rather prefer that the people who want to use it actually do so. It's a quick identifier, a kind of vocabulary profiling, a little red flag that tells me a lot about the person before I invest a great deal of time taking them seriously.

Also, as I've made clear before, I have been extremely guilty of using that word in the past. I didn't necessarily get smarter since then, but through my own life experience and through the extraordinary people I've met as a result of advocating for Schuyler, I think I might have become a little wiser. Certainly more sensitive, although like most people, I have a long way to go. Still, I freely acknowledge that when it comes to speaking out against using the "R word", I am very much Nixon going to China.

Where Ann Coulter is concerned, the first thing we must do is take ignorance off the table. As noted in a post on Sprocket Ink, Coulter graduated cum laude from Cornell with a B.A. in history, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she edited the Michigan Law Review.

When she uses this word to insult the president and liberals, Ann Coulter is making a choice. It's a very calculated choice, too. She knows that people will be upset by her language, but more importantly, she knows exactly WHO will be upset. When contacted about her use of the so-called "R word" in her tweet yesterday, Coulter replied, "The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it."

Ann Coulter knows who will be upset, and she knows who will be thrilled. I've worked in a book store; I have a pretty good idea of the people who buy her books. Either way, she's playing to her audience.

And like every other public figure who has used this term loudly and proudly, Ann Coulter has spared not a single thought for those whom she hurts. People like my daughter aren't on her scope. People like my family don't matter. Human beings with developmental disabilities have so very little political power, and fight so hard for what scraps they have. Are they even human beings at all? Don't ask Ann Coulter.

For those with developmental disabilities who can stand up for themselves, and for those of us who care for and love and most of all strive to protect and build a better world for those whom the likes of Ann Coulter would reduce to a vicious punchline, the fight falls at our feet. Not to stop people like Coulter from expressing their opinions. Not to silence them. As I said, if anything, I prefer that they stand in the light when they make these statements. Given the choice of knowing that there are roaches skittering around my kitchen at night (note: I'm being metaphorical; we don't have roaches, knock on wood) or turning on the light, I'll reach for the light every time. Even if some of the roaches, like Coulter, crave that light.

If Liberals excuse her remarks because we think she's a buffoon who is clearly desperate for attention, we become complicit. If Conservatives distance themselves from her and say "Well, she doesn't speak for me, so I have no duty to rebuke her," they are also complicit, because it's not a political issue. It might be a little different if she were abusing communities with any power or any privilege, groups that could push back.

But Coulter knows that the disability community is a safe target. No, scratch that. Not even a target. Just a punchline. A target would imply that there was some political gain to be had in hurting people like my daughter, like her friends and her family and her community.

As it is, there's not even that. They're just retards, right?

Right?

As citizens of the world and children of God, we have a choice to make, and it needs to be every bit as deliberate and considered as Coulter's choice to use that word the way she does. We have a choice to make every time we read a comment like hers made by a public figure, of course. Whether it's a notable Republican like Ann Coulter or a Democrat like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, we have to hold them accountable.

But more than that, we have a choice to make every time we hear a stranger at the mall use it, or a friend, a family member or a coworker. It is in those moments most of all that we make choices, sometimes hard ones. When we choose silence, when we choose not to make waves or risk looking like humorless scolds, we make a choice. We choose the side of the Ann Coulters of the world.

We choose the dark. When we're silent in opposition, we choose the dark, and we do so knowing perfectly well that we have a flashlight in our pocket, and we choose not to use it.

I remember a line from that famous Howard Beale scene from Network:

"All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!'"

I guess what I'm trying to say is yeah, I'm as mad as hell. And I'm not going to take this anymore. And neither should you.

May 28, 2012

But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars (Memorial Day 2012)

Bugles sang, saddening the evening air,
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.

Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.

Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.

( ) dying tone
Of receding voices that will not return.
The wailing of the high far-travelling shells
And the deep cursing of the provoking ( )

The monstrous anger of our taciturn guns.
The majesty of the insults of their mouths.

-- Wilfred Owen


July 31, 2011

Strong, entitled, impolite.

Over the weekend, I gave a speech, the closing keynote at the 2011 Angelman Syndrome Foundation Biennial Conference. It was a somewhat different kind of speech for me, more of a call to arms than I've really given in the past, and it was unproven. It seemed to go over well, and I hope I get the chance to deliver it again, but still. I wondered if it was appropriate.

If I'd been paying more attention to the whole debt ceiling debate going on in Washington, and in particular who was increasingly likely to get thrown under the budget cutting bus in whatever deal was made, I would have realized that yes, my approach was appropriate. Appropriate, and necessary. I have a feeling that a great many of us are soon going to find ourselves standing up and throwing rocks at giants.

Anyway, here's a short excerpt from the speech I delivered, the part that feels the most relevant.



Who's going to speak up for our kids?

This is the fight. These are the kinds of things that lurk out there, the attitudes towards a segment of our population that struggles for respect like no other. We simply must make significant cultural and societal changes and acknowledge that the struggles of those with disabilities are nothing less than human rights issues.

This is the heart of our fight, because it extends to every aspect of our children's lives, from the care they receive from the medical community to the seriousness they are afforded by their schools to the resources allocated to them by our political leaders. We've all seen it, time and time again. We've watched our representatives in government approach funding for disability programs and special education as if these are the nice things we can afford when times are good, like luxuries. They behave as if cutting these programs is reasonable, as if life will somehow wait for our kids until the good times return. More and more frequently, I hear these programs referred to as "entitlements", spat like a dirty word, as if our expectations constitute an unreasonable drain on society. And I'm not even talking about this from a partisan position. We've all heard political figures from both parties as they put our children's quality of life on the table while protecting their own special interests. I've come to believe that the term “independent voter” has come to represent someone who is equally appalled at what both parties are doing. I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover a great many of these appalled independent voters in the disability community.

What I have to say to you today is something that you already know. As parents and family members, as caregivers and therapists and teachers, we are the voices for our kids and our loved ones. We are the believers. So much of the world sees our disabled loved ones as powerless, so it is us, you and me, who must be the forces of change. We have to toughen up. We have to stop accepting scraps from the table of human decency. We must be the ones to lift the expectations of society. We have to be the ones to write the narrative of this fight in terms of civil rights, of basic human rights. Our voices must be strong, they must be entitled, and, on occasion, they must be impolite.

I believe in my heart of hearts that in terms of legal protection, in terms of funding in education and adult services and accessibility, and most of all in terms of a fundamental change in the empathetic and compassionate hearts of our fellow citizens, the fight for equality for children and adults with disabilities will be the next great civil rights battle in this country. But for that to happen, our loved ones, the ones who depend on us for so much else, they will need for us to stand up and raise those strong, entitled, impolite voices on their behalf. Are we ready to do that?

I think we are.

May 5, 2011

Just a word.


The world is just bound and determined to make me take a stand on the "R Word", isn't it?

The short story of why this came up this week is this: An old friend from high school had a comment thread going on Facebook, about politics and Osama bin Laden and all that, and another person from high school took the opportunity to insult all of us Liberals with a term cleverly derived from the word "retard". When I called her on this, a few people voiced similar opinions of distaste for the word, at which point another old friend surprised me by suggesting that the use of the term was fine in a political context, particularly by someone who had served in the armed forces in the past. "SOMEBODY here wanted to make this whole thing about him and/or his family," she said about me, "and the rest of you joined in for the stoning by making this an issue about special needs kiddos."

Here's how I responded, in the moment:

I'm sorry, I like you, but you don't get to decide who is offended by a term like "retard". You don't get to decide if that awful word and the associations that accompany it are acceptable in a public discourse, about politics or anything else. You don't get to decide if the families who face that kind of crap EVERY FUCKING DAY need to get over ourselves. You don't get to decide that context makes it okay to use a word that gets thrown around in reference to kids who can't even defend themselves as an insult to anyone. You don't get to decide that my child and tens of thousands like her are acceptable as punchlines. If you don't understand why YOU don't get to make that decision, then I simply don't know what to say. It's not about politics or freedom of speech. It's about being a goddamn decent human being.

Now, the person who made the original comment wasn't someone I'd ever been friends with in high school. Frankly, she was an idiot* back then and she has apparently committed to that state of affairs for the long haul, bless her heart. But the other person was someone for whom I actually have a great deal of respect. It was a harsh reminder that even among the good at heart, there are blind spots where disability is concerned. Or at least the use of that one loaded, terrible and stupid word.

*(Edited to add: Yes, I know. "Idiot" is kind of the same thing, from like a hundred years ago. I would no doubt be considered quite the scandalous cur in 19th century parlors and sanitoriums.)

In the past, I haven't really wanted to make much of the whole "R Word" issue. I know it means a lot to others, and I totally understand, but I thought it would be possible to take a more nuanced position. I'm a special needs parent and advocate, yes, but I'm also a writer, and the idea of "banned" terminology doesn't sit easily with me. And honestly, it's a word that over the years, I have had to work to keep from coming out of my own mouth, and particularly in my past writing. I'll confess to that. I wasn't offended by Tropic Thunder; on the contrary, I felt like it was satirically taking issue with movie actors who cynically use disability roles to boost their careers. And I've always felt that when someone outside the disability community uses that word, much like when white people use the "N Word", the person ultimately damaged in the eyes of the world is the user more than anyone else. Try using the word "retard" in a job interview and see where it gets you. You'd might as well wear a swastika on your head.

I wrote about this once before when it came up in regards to my daughter. Back in the spring of 2009, the school diagnostician wanted to give Schuyler another IQ test, one that would, in her opinion, give her a new and more accurate number. That number would classify Schuyler as mentally retarded.

We chose not to allow that test, and I think I can say with absolute certainty that we never will. But the conversation put something on the table, something undeniable, and once placed on the table, it never really goes away.

"In a range consistent with mental retardation." Retardation. Retarded. The "R Word".

Retard.

I have a little exercise for those of you who aren't a part of the disability community. I want you to say that word. (I'm not going to call it the "R Word" any more. If you want to use this shitty word, let's own it.) I want you to say it out loud to yourself. "Retard." (If you're at work, you might want to wait until later.) See how it feels, just as an independent word without context.

Now I want you to scroll down and find a photo of Schuyler. Look at it and say it again. "Retard." Because whether or not we ever allow a therapist or a teacher to attach that label, it's one that is already being tossed her way, and has been since she was very young. So try it. Look at her and say "retard". How does the word taste in your mouth now?

Now I'd like you to google terms like "developmental disability" and "Down syndrome", and go look at some of those kids. Look into their eyes and say "retard".

In each of these scenarios, try to assign yourself a number. Imagine how many times you think any of these kids has heard the word "retard". Now line up all the people who ever said it to them and then put yourself at the back of that line. What do you want to say to the person ahead of you? What about the next person who gets in that line behind you? How long do you think that line would be for adults with developmental disabilities?

Now, just for kicks, pull out a photo of YOUR kid, or your nephew or your brother or sister. Doesn't even have to be a kid, just someone that you love fiercely and would defend with everything you are. Look into their eyes and say it. "Retard." Imagine it's not you saying it, but someone else, some other person. Maybe a stranger, maybe someone you know and even like and trust.

Now imagine that other person trying to tell you that you're being overly sensitive, you're being "PC", that they have a right to use that word however they want, that it's okay in a certain context such as politics. Imagine they're calling you or someone else a retard, but instead of hearing that as a random insult, you associate it with someone you love, and that association is, by design, intended to be devastating and intentionally using your loved one as a benchmark for extreme stupidity.

Now, repeat this exercise until you want to break something, until you want to burn down the whole world.

That's how it feels to us when you use the word "retard".

Do I sound like a one-issue guy? I know that I do. I hate that I've become that person, and I hope I won't be forever, but yeah, maybe I have. I was once a fairly active political creature. In college, I once stood outside the death house in Huntsville protesting an execution. I even worked on the Paul Simon campaign, and how many people even remember who that was? I also used to bring the funny, or at least I thought so. And I used to write a great deal about music, which is what I thought the focus of my life would always be.

But this is it. This is who I am now. Every day, I feel the rest of it being put away, being filtered out, and what is left is a father with a broken little girl. And I get that wrong, a lot, but when I get it right, I am momentarily the person I am supposed to be.

There are people in this world, and I'm actually thinking of the parties involved in this particular incident, who have single issues dominating their lives as well. Some of them have served their country in the armed forces; others have children who are doing the same, and for them politics is very personal. Their passions come from those single dominating issues, and I get that.

But that passion, or that service for that matter, it doesn't give you license to use kids like Schuyler as insults or punchlines. You have a right to call me stupid because of my beliefs, absolutely. But you don't have license to say that I am so stupid that I am on the level of a child with a developmental disability, MY child, OUR children, as if that is the worst thing I could ever fear to be. You don't get to portray yourself as a child of God while you throw the most defenseless of us under the bus to score some point in a ridiculous Facebook comment thread.

Not without me calling you on it. Not without me at least giving you the option of looking into your own heart and deciding if you like what you see.

November 19, 2009

More on Bernie Goldberg

(Heh. "More on Bernie Goldberg". I'm twelve.)

I had listed these updates on the last blog post, but at this point, I think they probably deserve their own post. So here you go:




Update: I posted a comment on his blog (and you can, too!):

Robert Rummel-Hudson says:
November 19, 2009 at 10:56 pm

The thing is, and I suspect you are fully aware of this, parents of kids with disabilities aren’t offended because of your conservative positions. We’re offended, deeply offended, because you have taken our children’s plights, their very LIVES, and you have turned them into talking points. You’ve politicized the most personal and difficult decision a family can face, all in the service of a cheap shot.

Here’s a secret for you, although if you had any experience with or sensitivity toward children with disabilities , it wouldn’t be a secret at all. Most of us who are raising children with disabilities don’t hate Sarah Palin, no matter how liberal our politics might be. We may hate her politics, but she’s part of our club. It’s a club none of us ever asked to join, and it’s a club with a lifetime membership. And for Sarah Palin, as with the rest of us in that club, the politics of disability will be personal for her.

As a non-member of our club, please do us the courtesy of politicizing your own children and leave ours alone. They have enough to worry about as it is.

– Robert R-H



Update to the update: A very interesting, very intelligent comment was left on Mister Goldberg's blog that you definitely have to read. It presents, among other thoughtful points, a simple math question.

If, as reported by King's College in London, roughly 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero are aborted, and if Down Syndrome is the result of a genetic defect that does not affect any one particular ethnic or demographic group more than any other, then clearly, liberals aren't the only parents making the difficult and heartbreaking choice to have abortions when faced with the prospect of having a child with Down Syndrome. More to the point, there are families, a LOT of them, who consider themselves to be religious, and who identify as Pro-Life, who are nevertheless making a very tough and very personal decision, and they aren't basing it on politics.

Bernie Goldberg, I hope you will consider the possibility that this decision might just be more complicated than you are allowing in your idiotic Fox News sound bite. It might be time for you to apologize for what was, upon further reflection, a deeply stupid comment.

Because I am rather fond of oxygen, however, I won't be holding my breath.



Update cubed: Bernie has issued a statement about his remarks. Buried deep within his post, near the end, is something like an apology:

As for Palin’s decision not to abort her baby with Down Syndrome: Women and their husbands should do whatever they think is best in those circumstances. I have no say in those matters and I would never try to influence someone’s decision in that area. It’s simply, and obviously, none of my business. But I am asking this: Who is more likely to have the baby with Down Sydrome, a pro-choice woman or a pro-life woman? A woman who isn’t religious or one who is? A woman who believes a life – even a life of a fetus – is sacred, or one who doesn’t? I know there are many who will disagree, but I think it’s a safe bet that the pro-life, religious woman who believes in the sanctity of life is more likely to go continue her pregnancy (even as many who fit that description will abort a fetus with Down Syndrome).

That’s all I was trying to say. I never thought I was “politicizing” anyone’s children or anyone’s pain. If I did that, my sincere apologies to one and all. But I still believe many elite liberals hate Sarah Palin for a whole bunch of reasons that have little to do with how she would vote on this issue or that — or even, as they often claim, because they don’t think she’s that smart, There are lots of lbierals who aren’t “that smart” — and they don’t seem to trouble their fellow libs all that much.

So there it is, Bernie Goldberg's sincere apology, wrapped in layers of justification and parting cheap shots like bacon, and of course followed immediately by a sentence that begins "But I still believe...". It is, in fact, a pretty weak apology, insulting enough that I almost wish he'd just said "Fuck you, I stand by my words!"

Bernie Goldberg's career as an author and a talking head is entirely, completely, 100% based on his ability to politicize every issue that he touches and to demonize and dehumanize people whose political beliefs differ from his own. If he admits that he crossed a line and that some of the heartbreaking, grey-area moral questions faced by families like ours can and should transcend red/blue politics, then he weakens his brand. I suspect, therefore, that this is as good as we're likely to get.

So thanks, Bernie. You're a peach.

A Message for Bernie Goldberg

I'm going to start off by saying that I had no idea who Bernie Goldberg was before this. A few minutes on Wikipedia and his own website told me plenty, that he's got a snappy suit with a nice tie, and that he's a conservative writer with a penchant for hyperbolic book titles. And that's fine, really. There are plenty of conservative writers whom I've admired in the past. (Well, "plenty" is perhaps pushing it.) I realize that sounds dangerously close to "some of my best friends are black", but it is what it is. In my own writing, I try to be fair and I try not to be boring. (It's harder than it sounds.) Follow those two rules and I don't care what your politics are.

I also never watch Fox News (see above re: fair and not boring), so I probably would have missed Bernie Goldberg's comments if not for Jon Stewart last night. The topic was Sarah Palin, or more precisely the media reaction to Sarah Palin. The part that jumped out at me came at about 6:15 in the show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: The Rogue Warrior
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis


If you don't feel like sitting through that, here's the money quote from Mister Goldberg:

"She [Palin] has five kids. Liberals don't have five kids. One of them has Down Syndrome. Liberals certainly don't allow THAT to happen."

Okay.

So let me strip this of politics for a moment, because I find it equally distasteful when people of any political stripe do this, and I try (with admittedly varying degrees of success, I'm sure, so call me a hypocrite if you like) to avoid doing it myself. But let me just state something that would seem to be torn right from the pages of The Encyclopedia of No Shit.

Families of kids with disabilities are not here to serve as your political talking points.

Whether or not you are a good parent to a child with a disability has nothing to do with your politics. Conservatives have broken children, liberals have broken children, and we all do the best that we can.

Conservative politicians say stupid things ("How does special education, $6 billion dollars, stimulate the economy?" - Sen. John Kyl), and so do liberals (President Obama's idiotic joke about the Special Olympics). If there's one thing I think we can all agree on, it's that neither party has been particularly sensitive to the needs of the disability community, not when it comes to actually doing something besides talking pretty. If you are in public office and your last name isn't "Kennedy", chances are, you haven't done enough to help these kids.

Perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough, but I can't find any information online that suggests that Bernie Goldberg has any particular expertise regarding children with disabilities. I felt pretty confident, therefore, in sending a message to Bernie via Twitter, one that I am absolutely 100% certain will fall on deaf ears.

"Please politicize your own kids, not ours."

Ass.

October 12, 2009

Go Team Schuyler


Julie, Schuyler and I ("Team Schuyler", naturally) have decided to participate in the 2009 Childhood Apraxia Walk in Fort Worth, after following a link on organizer Anne Devlin's Facebook page. I realize that you may be struggling with the idea of me actually walking for three miles without there being some kind of automotive emergency or the actual breakdown of civilization. But this is a cause that goes right to the heart of us, because verbal apraxia is one of the manifestations of Schuyler's Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria.

It's the monster that keeps her from speaking.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a motor speech disorder. For reasons not yet fully understood, children with apraxia of speech have great difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary for intelligible speech. Apraxia of speech is sometimes called verbal apraxia, developmental apraxia of speech, or verbal dyspraxia.

The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America or CASANA's "mission is to strengthen the support systems in the lives of children with apraxia, so that each child has their best opportunity to develop speech". CASANA is the only charitable organization in the United States whose exclusive mission is to represent the needs and interests of children and families affected by apraxia.

We're hoping that if you live in the area, you'll join us for the 2009 Childhood Apraxia Walk in Fort Worth. It'll take place on November 15, 2009 at Trinity Park in Fort Worth. It will be a family-friendly walk with the option of a 1-mile or a 3-mile. If you register by October 26, you'll be guaranteed a Walk for Apraxia T-shirt in your size.

If you can't join us, we would appreciate your sponsorship. All proceeds from this event benefit CASANA's apraxia programs and research.

Seriously, we hope you'll be able to join us. You'll get to spend three miles with Schuyler (no more than ten or twenty feet of which will take place in a straight line, I suspect; she walks like a moth flies), and if my old, fat Robba the Hutt body fails me from the extreme trauma of walking three whole miles, you can point and laugh with a clear conscience and non-boomeranging karma.

TEAM SCHUYLER

September 7, 2009

Here's how he's going to destroy your children, America.


Okay, I was wrong. The White House has released the text of President Obama's speech to schoolkids tomorrow, and the Conservatives were right. It's nothing less than a manifesto for turning your kids into little Socialist zombies. God, I only wish I'd listened to you. All I can say is that I am so, so sorry. America, I'll miss you. I should have listened. Oh God, why, WHY DIDN'T I LISTEN???

Here's the full text, so you can read for yourself the horrifying vision this man has for the future. Whatever you do, however, don't let your kids read it. Or any persons with sensitive constitutions, particularly pregnant women. Obama will turn your fetuses into Socialists, too. Don't think he won't do it.

---

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event


Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009



The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

September 5, 2009

Citizen Rob: UPDATE

(From the Dallas Morning News Plano Blog, emphasis theirs)

4:49 PM Fri, Sep 04, 2009
Matthew Haag/Reporter

I'm getting emails from schools and a call from a parent saying that Plano ISD has reversed its initial decision to not show any of President Barack Obama's planned speech to schoolchildren Tuesday. Plano ISD originally said the speech wouldn't be shown live and that a link to the speech would be added to Plano ISD's Web site.

The speech still won't be shown live, but Plano ISD has let each school decide whether they want to show it a day or so later. For example, Schimelpfenig Middle School will show the speech Thursday between between 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. A parent whose daughter attends Plano East Senior High School said the school will air the speech after Tuesday, as well. And students who don't want to watch it must go to the school cafeteria and work on a brief assignment.

"It sounds like punishment to me," said the parent, who refused to give me her name.

I have a suggestion for that brief assignment:

"Research the actual definition of 'Socialism'. Compare and contrast what you discover with the inane bullshit your parents have told you about Socialism and how it applies to the president. Bonus points will be awarded for epiphanies regarding anything else your parents might have told you over the years."

September 3, 2009

Citizen Rob

The Plano Independent School District initially planned to broadcast President Obama's September 8 address to the nation's school children, but after a much-publicized letter by a local conservative parent, the Plano ISD made the following policy decision:
Upcoming Presidential Address

The United States Department of Education sent a letter to all school districts on August 25 announcing a presidential address to school children on Tuesday, September 8. The topic of this public broadcast is the importance of education. To clarify questions and concerns about this presidential address, Plano ISD notes the following:
  • This event is not a component of the Plano ISD curriculum and is therefore not a mandatory activity.
  • Viewing the broadcast is not a planned classroom activity for September 8.
  • Like many historical events, the address will be made available for students and teachers via the digital video library.
  • The video will also be posted on this home page.
As much water as I have carried for this school district and its commitment to education and to community, I can't tell you how disappointed I am. I've heard the arguments, about how that scary socialist Obama is going to hypnotize our precious children and read Karl Marx to them. I'm sure I'll read some more of those arguments in the comments of this blog.

Here's the thing. HE'S THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Much like Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States when he spoke to the students of America, Barack Obama was elected by the majority of the citizens of this country. I think it's safe to assume that at least some of those citizens DON'T hate America. I can't tell you how many times I heard conservatives go on about respecting the office of the president during the years that said office was being held by George Bush. And all that talk? Complete and total lip service.

The simple truth is that for all our talk about patriotism and love of our country, Americans have completely lost their sense of community. You see it in the arguments against providing health care for every American, because it might have some small detrimental effect on some people's bottom line, and that, friends, is socialism, plain and simple. You see it in the "us versus them" in our political dialogue. You see it every time you hear someone describe an America that only reflects their ideology and rejects the beliefs of other citizens.

Where does your community end, America? Does it stop at the wall surrounding your gated neighborhood? The boundaries of your church, or your political party headquarters? Because if your community stops anywhere short of the edge of the map, then you are not a patriotic American. You are the problem.

I was especially annoyed to see the president of the Plano ISD Council of PTAs, Cara Mendelsohn, quoted by The Associated Press as saying that President Obama is "cutting out the parent" by sneakily addressing students while they are in school. This is the PTA President, being quoted in her capacity in that position. Does her conspiracy theory represent that of the Plano ISD PTA? Should it?

I was annoyed, but also intrigued. Oddly enough, the Plano PTA's site doesn't seem to prominently display information on how to actually join the PTA, but that's okay. I'm a smart guy. I can find it.

August 26, 2009

Our gratitude will almost certainly be inadequate


I'm bracing myself for the Conservative backlash against the commemorations already beginning in honor of Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away last night. Those of you who feel like doing a little dance on the man's grave would be well advised to do it far away from me or my family, or any of the tens of thousands of families just like ours. Or, if you really look at it, probably families just like yours, too. I challenge any of you to show me a politician of either party within the last century whose legislative actions have done so much to help Americans, in ways that have a direct impact on their lives.

Here's a very short, woefully incomplete list of why I'm not particularly interested in hearing why you didn't care for Ted Kennedy. I'll bet you can find at least two pieces of legislation on this list, laws molded in part or entirely by Senator Kennedy, that have literally saved my daughter's future. Hers, and countless more just like her, both living and not yet even born.

1964: Head Start
-- Provided meals and early education to pre-school children through the Employee Opportunity Act. (Schuyler participated in a Head Start program when she was a baby. It was part of the early intervention program that probably saved her.)

1971: Federal Cancer Research Program
-- Quadrupled the amount of money spent by the federal government to fight cancer.

1972: Title IX
-- Demanded equal funding for men's and women's athletics on college campuses.

1975: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
-- Guaranteed free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities. (This is the law that provides for Schuyler's education, and for EVERY SINGLE CHILD WITH A DISABILITY in public schools in this country. Every single one of them. Think about that for just a moment.)

1978: Civil Rights Commission Act Amendments
-- Expanded the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission to protect people from discrimination on the basis of disability.

1984: Improved Access to Polling Stations
-- Required polling stations to provide physical accessibility for physically disabled and elderly people on federal election days.

1986: Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act
-- Allowed disabled workers to receive SSI benefits and Medicaid coverage.

1988: Fair Housing Act Amendments
-- Prohibited discrimination towards people with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing.

1989: National Military Child Care Act
-- Established the Department of Defense child care system.

1990: Americans with Disabilities Act
-- Prohibited discrimination against any qualified individual with a disability in job application procedures, hiring or discharge, compensation, advancement and training. (This is another big one for Schuyler and her friends. There are people in this country whose lives, and the quality of those lives, have been saved by this law. That's not even remotely an exaggeration.)

1990: Ryan White CARE Act
-- Provided assistance to states to develop effective and cost-efficient AIDS care programs, aimed particularly at early diagnosis and home care.

1993: National and Community Service Trust Act
-- Created AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service to help expand volunteerism and education grants for students who choose to volunteer for service after college.

1993: Student Loans
-- Allowed students to borrow money for college directly from the federal government.

1994: Family and Medical Leave Act
-- Provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family emergencies or after the birth of infants.

1994: Crime Act
-- Secured funding for 100,000 new police officers, imposed new penalties for crimes involving gangs and firearms and authorized the Police Corps, a program to award college scholarships to students in return for a commitment to serve as police officers.

1996: Kennedy-Kassebaum Act
-- Enabled employees to keep health insurance after leaving their job and prohibited insurance companies from refusing to renew coverage on the basis of preexisting medical conditions.

1996: Mental Health Parity Bill
-- Eliminated limits on mental health coverage that differ from other covered illnesses.

1997: State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
-- Supported state efforts to provide health insurance to uninsured children in low-income families.

2000: Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act
-- Improved data systems and research on the extent and severity of minority health problems, and authorized significant resources to help enhance the delivery of health care to minorities.

2001: No Child Left Behind Act
-- Required more rigorous testing of public school students and permitted parents to transfer their children from low-performing to higher-performing schools. (Clearly I've had issues with the implementation of this law, but the philosophy behind it is sound, and even in its flawed state, it has helped a lot of kids with disabilities.)

2006: Family Opportunity Act
-- Provided states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to children with special needs and allowed low- and middle-income families with disabled children the ability to purchase coverage under the Medicaid program.

-----

Senator Kennedy, on behalf of those who are unable to say it for themselves, thank you for your service to this country.

May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

I have no idea who put this together, but I'm glad they did. When I think of Memorial Day, I don't think of flags and pretty flowers, or speeches and justifications. I think of this piece of music. This is the "Libera me", the final movement of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.



Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda:
Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra:
Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem

Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo
dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna.
Quando coeli movendi sunt i terra.
Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis
et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde.
Libera me, Domine.

(Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death
in that awful day
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken
when Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.

I am seized with fear and trembling,
until the trial shall be at hand and the wrath to come.
Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death.
When the heavens and earth shall be shaken.
That day, that day of wrath, of calamity
and misery, a great day and exceeding bitter.
Deliver me, O Lord.)


-----



It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."

"None", said the other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war,
Even the sweetest wells that ever were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now...

("Strange Meeting" - Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918)

-----



In paridisum deducant te Angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam
Jerusalem. Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam
habeas requiem.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Requiescant in pace. Amen.

(Into Paradise may the Angels lead thee:
at thy coming may the Martyrs receive thee,
and bring thee into the holy city
Jerusalem. May the Choir of Angels receive thee
and with Lazarus, once poor,
may thou have eternal rest.

Lord, grant them eternal rest,
and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

Let them rest in peace. Amen.)

April 25, 2009

Dumb Man Tweeting

Most days of the week, I listen to a program on my local public radio station called Think. It's been one of my favorites since it first aired a few years ago, thanks to the amazing host, Krys Boyd, who interviewed me on the television version of the show last year, in what was ultimately my favorite media appearance. A few days ago, I turned on the show to find that the guests were Jake Heggie, a composer who wrote a celebrated operatic version of Dead Man Walking about ten years ago (which is being performed in Fort Worth next month), and Sister Helen Prejean, the memoirist and activist who wrote about her early experiences as spiritual advisor to death row inmates in Dead Man Walking. Both the opera and the movie are based on her book.

Sister Helen has been one of my heroes, ever since I was in college. Until that time, like a lot of Americans, I hadn't given the reality of the death penalty much thought. I don't think I was even opposed to it when I was young. It seemed clear to me, you know? Someone kills, they deserve to die. Reading Prejean's book and especially seeing the movie, I realized that the issues are much more complicated than that. I eventually became a committed opponent to capital punishment, even attending a few protests and, much later, helping exonerated death row inmate Kerry Max Cook during his book tour. (That experience was sort of a beating, culminating in being rudely shoved out of the way by Robin Williams. At least I got a good story out of it.) Put simply, Sister Helen Prejean was a driving force in opening my eyes to a cause that I have come to believe in deeply. She's one of my personal heroes.

So when I saw, via a feed from the radio station, that Sister Helen was on Twitter and had posted a message about the show, I immediately sent her a tweet. (God, I hate using that word. I feel like I'm turning into Elmo every time I say it.)
  • @helenprejean Thought it was wonderful! Also, you're one of my heroes, which feels like a weird thing to say on Twitter, but there it is.
It felt good to be able to say that to her. And yet, something was bugging me about it. I imagined her receiving it and thinking "Oh, who is this nice person who just said this to me?" And then I imagined her clicking on my name to see what else I had said on Twitter. I clicked the link myself, and I looked at my previous message, the one that she would see if she looked at my feed.
  • A farting pug is driving me out of my own apartment. That hardly seems fair. I hope my central nervous system will restart with fresh air.
Yeah. Impressive.

I posted a message to my feed, because what is Twitter if not a place to showcase my bonehead moves?
  • I sent a twitter message to one of my personal heroes, only to realize that my previous tweet mentions dog farts. (This hero? Is a nun.)
Yesterday morning, when I checked my messages, I saw that I had received one from Sister Helen. And so when one day Schuyler is old enough to talk about the death penalty with her father, when I can show her the film and even give her a copy of the book and tell her how much I've admired the work of Sister Helen Prejean, I'll be able to tell my little girl that once, I actually received a personal message from Sister Helen herself.

If pressed, however, I'll have to confess to Schuyler that the message said:
  • Dog farts don't bother me. Well, mentioning them doesn't! Thanks for the tweet.
That's right. Fellow memoirist? Death penalty opponent? No, thanks to the magic of social networking and my crumbling short-term memory, Sister Helen Prejean was introduced to me as "the dog fart guy".

I'm swell.