Thursday, April 29, 2010

Collapsing in order to expand...

1994 supernova explosion in NGC4526
(picture courtesy of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Palate Cleanser #18

Green Field, Germany

Photograph by Johannes Ehrhardt, My Shot
National Geographic Society
This is a photo of some new growing fields in a southern part of Germany, near the park called Schoenbuch. Ehrhardt took this picture a few minutes before a storm began.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marketing Cruelty

My friend Thelma Lee's article on Live Food Markets may change the way you think of your fresh cooked seafood. Let's hope so...

Why “live markets” need to die.   By Thelma Lee Gross, D.V.M. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pedophiles, Gay Men, The Catholic Church and The Church's Spurious Correlation Theory

It's been a bad week at blogging for me. Some health stuff has me kind of shaken up. But it doesn't have me so shaken that I'm not reading the news and keeping up with all the commentary on the Catholic Church and all the spurious theories about gay men being pedophiles. 

Clearly the Church, and especially gay anything have become something of a hot button topic for me. I've got that Irish Catholic side of the family, the great uncle who was a deacon and plus I've got, and have long had, some very dear friends who are gay. Including the happily, but not legally since they live in Florida, 'married' couple who have lived across the street from my mother since 1973. Yeah, Ned and Charles are just so fly-by-night... why should they be allowed to marry? Personally, I'm really thinking I can't say a thing that's negative about their right to be legally married or make health decisions for each other until I've been with my husband as long as they've been together. (I've got another twenty years then... And Charles gave me such good advice right before I got married: "think before you speak". What can I say, the man has known me since I was twelve.) This whole business about gay marriage, and heaven forbid gay adoption, is beyond mind-boggling to me. What is the big deal if gay people want to get married and adopt kids? I think they should have the opportunity to make the same mistakes and enjoy the same perks as all the rest of us.  In fact, I insist they should. But it's definitely the minority view here where I live in Florida, where we are so backwards on some things that it's a miracle that we don't live in some kind of reverse entropic state where time's arrow has been reversed. Today I was at the Juvenile Courthouse and actually heard someone praise Anita Bryant. A concept so intellectually retro that just wrapping my head around it, I'm probably getting younger while writing this post.

The Teflon Pope in Malta reassuring people.
(Image credit: Associated Press)

So earlier this week, the Teflon Pope assured us that he will take action on the sex abuse scandals rocking the Church. It's been more than a month since he spoke about the scandal that started making big waves in Ireland. He's been pretty silent about Germany, where his reputation is somewhat damaged. Then there's Brazil. Or Norway. Or Malta. Or India, a great outpost to send your pedophile priest who's under extradition. And so very many reminders of Boston. The damn Boston Globe won't shut up on the subject. The New York Times and Washington Post are also part of the axis of... well, you get it. 

Anyway, it's been a month since he last spoke about the issue and so I'm thinking Pope Benny is starting to hear that parishioners are seriously bothered. Attendance is dropping like a rock in the Catholic Church in recent times, as it is. Which also means tithing is down. Which might be even worse now, because people don't want to give money to an organization that was tacitly condoning (by not defrocking, not turning over to police pedophiles, who were then reassigned so they could molest boys and girls elsewhere). What can we say? Money talks. It talks much louder than people shouting that they or their children were molested, raped and traumatized. And so now the Teflon Pope is saying he is just so very contrite and that the Church will address these many, many (it might be better to borrow from mathematics and use a many factorial here: many!) wrongs. Friends on facebook have likened this to believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. (I love my friends...)

But in the meantime, among the faithful, or should I say the hateful, there are all these ugly rumors that swirl. That gays are pedophiles, that it isn't a Church problem, it's a gay problem. Of course it is! Gays are responsible for all the earthquakes going on (oh, wait a minute... that was promiscuous women... sorry) Heck, there's even a repellant organization called the American Family Association with a Mr. Bryan Fischer who thinks that gays can't be trusted to be on the Supreme Court because they are so very wrong, against the laws of nature and of man. (I suppose pointing out that homosexuality exists in nature and that it used to be illegal for people of different races to marry in some states and territories would be pointless...) A few of my obviously far too liberal friends made observations about Mr. Fisher's position, especially Irma who pointed out that if a gay Supreme Court justice was likely to be biased in favor of gay rights, then a heterosexual one was equally likely to be biased in favor of heterosexuals and therefore to be potentially discriminatory! (I'm sure that form of discrimination is just what Mr. Fischer had in mind, though...)

So about this business of pedophiles and gays, Dr. John Cantor has a great op-ed piece addressing the issue on It's a concise and trenchant analysis of the relevant medical literature which just fails to show any correlation between being gay and being a pedophile. In fact, you could easily turn his statistics on end a bit, and can see that the preponderance of pedophiles (about 70 - 80%) are heterosexual. There's a lot of hard evidence that pedophilia and hebephilia are neurodevelopment perturbations, which is a very elegant way of saying that it's a subset of brain development that is off in the tail section of the bell curve, or not average. Pedophiles and hebephiles appear to have less "white matter" in the brain. Dr. Cantor published an article in Neuropsychology on the topic in 2004, and another in the Journal of Psychiatry Research in 2008 (J Psychiatr Res. 2008 Feb; 42(3):167-83. Epub 2007 Nov 26.). Dr. Cantor's findings have been further supported by independent findings of neurodevelopmental structural differences in the brain  in Germany, published in 2007 (Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Jun; 64(6):737-46.). The topic of pedophilia and brain development is thus a very loaded one. Because basically, if your brain is wired that way, you're screwed. There is no cure and, therefore, the effort expended on treating pedophiles may be completely misdirected. For instance, slapping them on the wrist and saying "bad priest" and sending them to India really isn't going to work. Taking away their access to children might seem an obvious step, but you know, nothing with the Catholic Church has ever been obvious. (Look at telling people in HIV-ridden Africa that they shouldn't use condoms, for instance...)

Anyway, since I had an argument with a long time friend the other day about homosexuality and brain differences (like they don't believe that the brain was different first, they think it became different because the people chose to be gay- just don't even get me started...) I went back and looked at some of the more recent results of brain scans of heterosexual men and women versus self-reporting homosexual men and women. Those ever liberal Swedes published a really interesting study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2008 (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jul 8; 105(27): 9403-8. Epub 2008 Jun 16 and of course y'all know how prestigious the National Academy of Sciences is, right?). Take a look at their summarized brain symmetry images. Compare homosexual men and heterosexual women, and homosexual women and heterosexual men. 

Covariations with the respective amygdala seed region in hetero- and homosexual subjects. The Sokoloff scale indicates T values. Clusters detected at T = 3.0 are superimposed on the standard MR image of the brain. (Credit: Image courtesy of National Academy of Sciences, PNAS (copyright 2008).)

Based on the foregoing, I have definite thoughts on these results. Since they suggest neurodevelopmental hard-wiring of same-sex attraction, it would mean that this is one of those things you just can't 'cure' and that maybe it wasn't even a choice. And if we can't cure it, we should just acknowledge it and like we do with people of different races or religions or such, give people with these different brains rights if they aren't harming people because of those differences (see hard-wired differences detailed above, in contrast). Because if I'm HoM or HoW how would that difference in my brain count as being any different from my not being blue-eyed if the world was supposed to be mostly blue-eyed? Can't fix me if I don't have blue eyes, right? You can put me in contacts just like you can try to force a person who's gay into a straight lifestyle. But my eyes will still be hazel and the other guy will still be gay. And I don't think I should be told I can't marry or adopt children or keep my job or feel safe in my community just because I have hazel eyes. I really just don't. Do you?

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The Sleeping Brain, Emily Sutton, Netherhall School, Sixth Form

Saturday, April 17, 2010

PC #17

Pansies, photo by H. Pospesel

Friday, April 16, 2010

Further thoughts on Reactive Attachment Disorder, and the loss of family

I've had some interesting email exchanges today, with two followers of the blog, about the case of Artyom, Reactive Attachment Disorder and various reasons why children who have been orphaned or placed in foster care act the way they do sometimes when offered stability and long term care or even family. I gave one younger reader an exercise that really drove home the point to my own daughter, age sixteen at the time we adopted our youngest, of what has happened to those children removed from parents and family they actually knew. 

So here's the exercise, which is among one of the only things I truly remember from a totally deficient 30 hour fostering/adopting course, called MAPP (Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting) that my husband and I took with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Pick the FIVE things that are the most important things to you in your life. People choose all kinds of stuff. Their cars, their Xboxes, their house, their job, their family, wife, friends, girlfriend, dog, cat, books, TVs. Whatever. Pick the five things you'd never, ever willingly give up or lose.

Now you're going to take away one of them. But you can be clever about it. Let's say that you have your job, your car, your house, your dog and your husband. You can regroup. Hey, most people think pets are part of the family, so just regroup and call it family and you're down to four. Presto! Magico!

But, just because I'm so very mean, I want you to give up another one. Let's say you had family, friends, house and job. What do you want to let go of? Well, it's hard to have a house and no job (as all too many people know, sadly) so I'm betting if you're like me, you'd give up that house, keep the job and keep your family and friends. You can sack out on somebody's couch until you save up for the rental apartment.

So now I'm being really horrid and I say give up another one. You're having a bad decade. I'm betting you give up your job over your friends, but whatever, you're down to two things you can't live without.

I want you to give one more up. What are you left with now?

And you know what's next. The last thing? The one that even if you can't much stand them, you're probably going to have trouble letting go of...

Well then that means that these children, every single one of them old enough to have recognized a caring face, an even occasionally warm voice, a tender touch, the scent and sound and heartbeat they know... they lost that one thing. The thing you'd likely have kept at all costs. Especially if you were thinking about wanting a child in the first place.

You're emblematic of what got taken away. Why should they trust they won't lose you, too? And you can bet, everything in that bruised mind and heart is telling them that they shouldn't

What's the job of the adoptive parent? Prove them wrong.

And just for shakes, when you think about taking a child old enough to be interacting with an adult in expressive ways into your home, think about what all too often you're asking them to give up. 

In foster care and orphanages there is often not enough food, not enough clothing, not enough to play with, not enough attention and not any love. So what do you do? You fight. For every crumb. Every bit of attention, no matter how you get it. You keep clothes that you cannot possibly ever fit into again. Every thing that anyone ever gave you, whether it works or not, or whether you use it or not. Because it was yours. Because just about everything that was yours that you really, really wanted, you lost. And you've had enough of losing things that were yours to last an entire lifetime. So you fight and fight and fight. And sometimes you fight just so you don't have to feel anything else that you can lose. Like the promise of something better or lasting. Because you've probably seen way too many such promises. And even if you're only five or eight or ten, you've heard and seen enough to know that to believe such things is a total set up for feeling like you never want to feel, ever again.

photo: San Diego State University, 
Dept. of Psychology 

So now what are you asking that child to give up? 

Nothing less than the very skills that he or she has honed to perfection to survive.

And people wonder why adoption is hard? Think like the child people, think like the child. 

If you can manage it, you will surely forgive much.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

PC #16

(Attribution Unknown)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another image gift...

This, from the delightful TL.

"Of course, my confessions probably aren't nearly as interesting as yours."

by Kim Warp

Published in The New Yorker  4/12/2010

Artyom, Disposable Children, Elaboration of Harm and the Sorrow That Is Reactive Attachment Disorder

Talk about a subject which can arouse passion in me...

As an adoptive parent and Guardian ad Litem, I can definitely say that little in life prepares you for dealing with that moment when you realize you have made what should only be a lifetime commitment to a very badly damaged child.

When you want a child in your life, most people envision a shiny, new, loving and heartwarming child. You don't envision a child with years upon years of deep, and possibly permanently neurotransmitter/chemically entrenched, psychological damage that seems to frustrate both your, and their, every desire for closeness, ease and enjoyment. It's a shock to see that you have adopted a child that appears almost hell-bent on self-sabotage and to see that they have incredible skills and deftness at pushing you over edges you didn't even know you have. It's a scary thing and having been there and done that, I can't minimize how hard it is to deal with a wounded child who arrives in your home and proceeds to set up a little shop of horrors there. I've got the bite scars to prove my point, memories of lying in bed around dawn wondering really, seriously, how I was going to make it through another long day of calls from school or if there was no school, all the behaviors, the anger and tantrums. I even have the memories, from early on, of times locked in my bathroom to cry in private while worrying about what could happen to the pets, or the house as a whole, while I'm in there.

So I can understand any parent's frustration with a wounded and reactive attachment disordered child. It is such a very, very tough thing to work through. But even so, there's just simply nothing that one can say that excuses what happened to 7 year old Artyom:

Clearly this woman was just not able to cope with this child's behavior. She gave it a good, and I admit I say that with a sarcastic undertone, six months. From the perspective I have, of six years down the road from her, she clearly knew her limitations and frankly I shudder to imagine what this child's life was like while with her. There's this line from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited that has described so many kids I've known in the foster care system who were removed or abandoned by parents and then placed into bad placements or bad adoptive placements:

A blow upon a bruise...

That's exactly what you do to a child who was already messed up when you give that child away yet again, especially after saying you were their forever family. When that blow is on the bruised heart and mind, you are looking at diminishing odds for saving that individual. Imagine having your life damaged beyond repair by age 7.

I have been amazed by reactions of friends about this story. I've heard people who don't seem to understand just how very bad it can get with an aggressive RAD child. (Black eyes? Been there, done that. Bruised ribs from being elbowed so hard by a tantrumming child that it literally took my breath away? Oh yeah. Completely trashed room? Ditto. Told child that when he was calmer that if he needed a bit of assistance picking things up to call me and not to pick up anything that was clearly broken like glass... but left it as it was, since, as I pointed out, it was his room.) And I have heard people say that some foster children really do turn around and kill their families and/or burn down their houses.  That's true, too. But you know what? On the continuum of "I know what I'm doing here and things are getting better even if it's slow going" and "This is so much more than I am capable of handling and I may do this child more harm than good and vice-versa" I just know there is a way better solution than packing up a child and putting him, unaccompanied, onto an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

The Hansen family did not contact any social service agency in their county for help and the local adoption agency that was to monitor the family's progress hadn't been able to get a hold of the family for their monthly home visit since late March. What they did was abdicate all personal responsibility. They didn't deal with the fact that a child who had told them he'd been beaten and mistreated so badly that he set things on fire back home in Russia might do better in the care of a social service agency in Tennessee than he would in their home or certainly back in Russia where he was beaten and provoked at age 6 or 7 to set things one fire because of his psychological issues. They clearly didn't want to go to Court and be embarrassed by having to tell a Judge in front of a room full of people that they did not know how to parent this child and that they didn't think they could or even wanted to try anymore. They didn't want to deal with the dark sad looks that people would give them as they surrendered their parental rights and then wonder if those people would think very, very badly of them. 

No, instead they sent Artyom back to where he'd been mistreated. They paid a driver $200 to get him there.

And that my friends, is a crime beyond any law that one can find in the Tennessee statutes on Child Welfare. But it's a crime, as everyone from the Russian president to my 14 year old thriving child can tell you.

~ ~ ~

The Diane Rehm Show had an excellent program on International Adoptions this morning on NPR. You can check out the streaming audio later today.

You can learn more about dealing with RAD from Dr. Jane Aronson at and from the website

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

PC #15

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Merci à ma belle amie... On saisit le moment parfait.

Monday, April 12, 2010

PC #14

Cotton by Laura Jean Peterman, copyright Warren Tyrer

I'm considering this image educational. It is teaching me not to associate cotton with healthcare.

The Wonders of Health Insurance (Healthcare Reform... still)

(original source of image unknown)

Recently my child was ill with bronchitis. I took him to the pediatrician, paid my $25 co-pay and he was diagnosed with bronchitis, put on Zithromax ($132 with our University's group Health Insurance because it put us over his 'fund' for the year), a prescription cough suppressant ($20), and an albuterol inhaler ($55). We waited four days and since we were leaving for cold and wet Seattle and he was still coughing up a storm, our pediatrician sent us to the ER for a chest x-ray. Just to be on the safe side. There, after an only four hour wait, he had a chest x-ray, was re-diagnosed with bronchitis and was discharged with two additional prescriptions, a steroid inhaler (Flovent, $68) and oral prednisone (generic tables, $20).

Well, I just got my bill. Our co-pay for the ER visit was $100. The bill I have received AFTER OUR INSURANCE PAID is for a whopping $685. Yes, you got that right. That $685 was after the insurance had paid their portion of the 'adjustments'. We owe $685 for a chest x-ray, the same diagnosis and two additional prescriptions received. I haven't even seen the radiologist's bill yet.

We have good healthcare coverage. I guess. In theory. But I have to say, I'm really questioning what we pay for with bills like these.

The kicker? The $55 generic albuterol inhaler (you know, the rescue inhaler that's supposed to keep you breathing?) quit working after about three days. I've asked the pharmacist about that and he says I'll have to send it back to the manufacturer to see if they'll replace it. But after hearing my story he advised me not to tell them I'd taken it on an airplane because of the potential pressure effects on the valve.

Words fail me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

PC #13

Peonies by Judy Stalus

Barbarism Against Women

I was chatting with the Cynical Nymph earlier this evening about what it is that makes women, especially young women in this day and age, feel like they are so inadequate and about the fact that many feel they are even unjustified in feeling unhappy or are constrained in their expression. Indeed the outlets for unhappiness among women in the Western world may not be as radical as women who self-immolate in India, Afghanistan and other places where their rights are so constrained that they make our lives look like a cakewalk. And yet so much in life is relative. None of us really knows what it is like to walk in another woman's shoes, to feel that other woman's perceptions of herself, her body, her rights.

After brooding for more than a day over the horrifying death of a 13 year old Yemeni child bride from internal bleeding after her "wedding night" (I just shudder to imagine what that child endured) I am more in awe than ever of a child like Nujood Ali, who ran away and went directly to a Sana'a Court and told a judge who noticed her that she wanted a divorce, that she'd been raped and then refused to reunite with her husband in three to five years. (As if sex at thirteen to fifteen with her barbaric husband was going to be better? As if he was going to be nicer now that he'd been arrested and brought before the judge?) I admire young women like Nujood Ali, adult women like her lawyer Shada Nasser, who no doubt took her life in her own hands to represent this child in a cause that was quite unpopular.

Nujood's book, translation published in March 2010

Nick Kristof's column this morning on Elhad Assi, the 13 year old girl whose childhood and life came to a terrifying end at the hands of a 23 year old rapist to whom she was married, says the tide is changing in the Muslim world on this issue because of the public censure over cases like Elhad's and Nujood's. Many have suggested that the practice of child marriage of girls holds back societies by devaluing the role of women, their worth and relevant potential. Kristof feels the fact that in some countries a better educated bride is finally at long last more valuable is a sign of change. He closed his column saying "there’s still a lot of work to be done."

When I talk to beautiful and amazing friends, my own lovely daughter, and so many young women, I see that perhaps we all need to do more work. Cynical Nymph has made a number of brilliant posts about eating disorders and their relevance as a Western form of self-immolation. I can see her point, that it is a kind of prolonged and silent scream. Our lives are indeed so much better, freer and less fraught with terror than a child like Elham's. But our lives and how we feel living them are what we know, the constraints on any psyche are no less real. Barbarism in society can come in both overtly visceral or perniciously subtle form.

Girls like Phoebe, Elhad, Nujood and so many young women I know hunger for self-worth and worth in the eyes of their culture, families and peers. It isn't trivializing things to compare them in their disparate worlds. And it's not overstating it to say that even now in the 21st century, it seems like many women are just starving for that worth...


Readers interested in learning more about the practice of child marriage are encouraged to check out the PBS documentary Child Brides, Stolen Lives. It is not for the faint of heart.

The Anti-Palate Cleanser

And a link from Richard Dawkins: I Will Arrest Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, April 9, 2010

On being being prickly, Irish, worthy of abuse, and Team Constance

Last week, Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor had a great column in the Washington Post. It was so great, so complete, and so pointed that I really didn't think I could blog about it at all. It felt like it would be superfluous or diminishing. I'm sure just about everyone who's reading this blog remembers 1992, when Sinéad O'Connor tore up a photo of JPII on Saturday Night Live while singing, a capella in her rich Irish mezzo, Bob Marley's War. "Fight the real enemy", she said as she shredded the photo. So much of her column stayed with me. I emailed the address she provided. I told her she was great and I was proud to be an O'Leary and Irish, along with her. 

Sinéad O'Connor, 1992, NBC (Saturday Night Live)

In her column, she asked, whether "Irish Catholics, because we daren't say 'we deserve better,' should be treated as though we deserve less" in response to the Teflon Pope's wholly inadequate apology for the decades long events that are still being revealed in Ireland. The events that despite the growing number of reports in places like Norway, the US (just google it, okay- there are way too many to choose from and I don't want anyone to feel singled or left out), Germany and even probably in India (nothing like knowing how to convert people, right?), the Teflon Pope seemed to suggest were just an Irish problem. Well, this week, a lot of people seemed to deserve so much better than what they got.

As one site, Get Religion, claims, the press just doesn't get religion... Of course, I suppose there have been all manner of defenses of the Catholic Church, which definitely in my mind, still isn't quite getting what it deserves. Defenses or should I say... offenses, when trying to defend the indefensible? For instance, the Bishop of Tenerife is really just outstanding in his claim that some of the adolescents were consenting and therefore it was okay for supposedly sworn to celibacy priests to have molested them. Though, in fairness, the Vatican went out of its way to distance itself from the Brazilian Cardinal Scherer, who spoke about exorcism rather than incarceration as the solution the other day. And they also tried to do the same (though it was a bit harder to do that with their own elected defender who spoke in an unprecedented fashion right before the Teflon Pope on Easter Sunday Mass), with Father Cantalamesso, who likened the persecution of Jews to the present "persecution" of the Church over the fact that they've sheltered pedophiles for decades if not centuries. (Of course, the Brazilian Catholic Church holds an especially cherished place in my thoughts because of their opposition to the abortion obtained by the 9 year old who had been raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather. Did I mention they ex-communicated the mother, the child, and the doctors that saved the 9 year old child from delivering twins? They didn't, as I understand it, ex-communicate the stepfather. I have a lot of wonderful Brazilian friends but somehow I just don't have friendly feelings for the Catholic Church there, which has the largest number of Catholics of any country in the world. Yeah, it's an old story from last year, but still, talk about not getting what you deserve, for anyone involved.) 

Yesterday, as Maureen Dowd so 'adversarially' pointed out, "How can we maintain... faith when our leaders are unworthy of it?" How perfectly she captures not just the Church but even politics at this juncture, or even... public high schools in Mississippi and Massachusetts where there are further examples still of people not getting what they deserved. Sometimes I find Maureen a bit... edgy. I've always enjoyed her fire and ire, though sometimes I think she gets abrasive and deters some of the choir. And I think she knows that about herself. Because she got her brother Kevin, who's evidently really devout, to give her comments on the situation with the Catholic Church, Ireland, and the Teflon Pope. His comments, “In pedophilia, the church has unleashed upon itself a plague that threatens its very future, and yet it remains in a curious state of denial," are rather daunting when you consider that she describes him as truly one of the faithful. 

But I find what Maureen Dowd says to be true, across the board this week. "Our leaders are unworthy." Whether we're talking about Phoebe Prince (latest), whose face and fate just linger in my mind. She was the child who it seems didn't dare say she deserved better and whose school faculty, administration and fellow students didn't seem to think she deserved better either.

Phoebe Prince, CBS News

Or Constance McMillen, on whose behalf, along with so many other teens and adults who are persecuted for their sexual orientation, I just signed an ACLU petition to my legislators. (I'm sure those of you who have kept up know about how Constance was tricked into attending a decoy prom so that she definitely wouldn't attend the real prom arranged privately by other students and their parents from her school. They even made a Facebook page called "Quit Yer Crying Constance" and posted photos of themselves at the real prom, and some of the students were all bent out of shape when their public Facebook photos were picked up and maligned all over the blogosphere. Like so many others who are Team Constance, I fanned the mean page so that I could post to say I love Constance and I'm not afraid of a girl in a tuxedo.)
Constance McMillen
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The bad press for the Catholic Church and the Teflon Pope just spins on and on. While South Hadley High and Itawamba Agricultural High School certainly aren't in the same league as an organization covering for pedophiles, I'm not left feeling appreciably better about whoever it is that's running things. It certainly doesn't seem like a higher power should be letting all these many, many things, both great and 'small', go so very wrong. 

I guess in my rather tenuous belief system, if I have faith in anything it's that cruelty in any form is just plain wrong. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Palate Cleanser...

Prickly Pear Cactus: Sharp spines erupt from the skin of a prickly pear cactus in the Galápagos Islands.

Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic Society
I'm thinking this palate cleanser is a perfect preparation for this evening's course of Teflon Pope, with a side of Maureen Dowd and Sinead O'Connor. Prickly is good...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Biding Time, and the wonders of Philip Pullman

Well, I have to admit that the whole business about Phoebe really has stuck with me long and hard this week. I keep thinking about the poor girl and the incredible and intentional cruelty she seemed to have endured, along with the even more incredible indifference of the adults in her school who witnessed some of it.

The week is getting away from me and, as I read article after article in the US and international press about the Teflon Rat, I mean Pope, and the defense of the Catholic Church, I am so offended and yet feel as if it would be wrong to set myself up as the ranting anti-Catholic blogger because the scope would just be too damn narrow.

A draining week thus far... So busy with issues for the new house and for work related things that I've had little time to write. Worried about the youngest going off to a school trip on Friday through Sunday and his perpetual tendency, and temptation, to crash off the gluten-free diet.

How I'm feeling:

The Martyr of Solway by John Everett Millais

The reality:

Things are pretty much on the upswing, even if I want to kill my windows and door people. Kinda sorta. And well... there's all this other drama going on but I must be discreet. Sigh.

Yes, I need to have some breathing room. But on the positive side, I received my gorgeous copy of Pullman's new book from the UK this afternoon. I'm just so excited. So I'll pop back later and rant some more about the Teflon Pope, the dangers of stepparents visiting Kyrgyzstan (is a Stan tour complete without going there? Hell yes, I hope) and how amazed I am that Pullman's YA fiction is still under the radar in the US. Nothing like books to spread reason, I mean sedition, where the church is concered.

Monday, April 5, 2010

PC #11

Dreaming, originally uploaded by acreativemint.
Dreaming by acreativemint

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Resolving My Attention Deficit and the Cruelty of Children

After crawling back home from Seattle last night shortly before midnight, I'm faced this morning with the urgent need to write something to satisfy my craving to write. But where to start? The plethora of material is just daunting. There's the Teflon Pope's Easter Week Vatican backlash against the NY Times which is now making allusions to the Holocaust and persecution of Jews (and I am just so impressed with the Vatican on this one...), or the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams (who liked one of my all time favorite fantasy series, His Dark Materials so how cool is he) dissing the Irish Catholic Church on lack of credibility or the Obama administration's offshore drilling proposals, or their take on wiretaps or the ultimate Mean Girl scenario in Massachusetts or a food post on seafood in Florida (supposedly local but not) or iPad frenzy.

I guess I'm going to have to go with Phoebe. Back in January, fifteen year old Phoebe Prince hanged herself following months of bullying. Nine youths have been charged as being involved in her death. 

I'm really having such a hard time with this story. My child is routinely bullied at school both for his short stature and his immature social skill set. Meanly bullied. He's the original short fuse child and has so many triggers, having been adopted at age 8 and having had enough bad stuff happen to him by then to last an entire lifetime and still have some left over. So really, the bullying thing, so very not okay with me. His school is middling supportive. Especially after I informed them about the tenth grade kid who was harassing him by grabbing his butt last year in the hallways and said if it happened again, I'd call the police and file a report alleging assault. Yeah, that one kind of got their attention. They knew I meant it. Must have been the menace in my voice. Oh wait. Must have been the fact that I'm involved in the child welfare court system. Yeah. That one.

And so I relate to the whole issue of bullying from the perspective of a parent. Schools are so prone to not finding ways to handle things deftly on this issue. And even when things go very and tragically wrong, they deny all culpability. You have to be really aggressive to get progress on bullying of your children and then you have to hope that the school itself doesn't bully your child. After all, I'm lucky in that my child is in a private school that costs a fortune. I can always use that angle, the one where I'm paying you to take care of, not allow wholesale abuse of, my child, to safeguard him after I've complained. But what options did Phoebe's parents have? They reported it twice to the school and if you believe the investigative report in the NY Times there is ample evidence that the school faculty, administration and even nurse knew this beautiful child was being abused. And for what? She slept with two boys? She spoke with a brogue? A boy who liked her was promised to a cool set girl and she trespassed by default because he asked her out? How cruel would a band of youths have to be to make a child hang herself? She was insulted openly in the classrooms and even in front of unmoved faculty. She was harassed in person, by phone and online. 

The District Attorney in this case has taken a lot of heat in the Massachusetts press for some of the charges filed against the nine youths. Especially the statutory rape charges against the 17 and 18 year old boys who were involved with her and then joined to varying extents in the bullying by speaking badly of her. And then there are the seven girls who are charged. Some are charged as minors and some as adults. The felony charges include violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly. According to reports in the Times, District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel was quoted as saying “The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome, but did not violate any laws." 

So what's a parent to do when their child is bullied this badly? Call the police? Hire an attorney or go to Legal Aid? I guess I'd have done all that. But that would be if my child reveals the extent of his or her suffering, which all too often youths are afraid to do. For instance, I found out about that butt-grabbing harassment only by chance, following up on a passing comment by my child and his wanting to take a different route to go retrieve something from his locker when I picked him up at school one afternoon. I asked why he was taking a much longer route and pressed and pressed until he told me why. It turned out that a teacher had witnessed my child getting this abuse and said nothing. In fact, another teacher had reported my son for striking his abuser in retaliation for his being grabbed by the much older and bigger boy! Kids in this age range have to rely on attentive adults, who look out for them. Like school staff who are there to see it happening. I really have to question what the faculty and administration thought was happening when they saw Phoebe Prince repeatedly in tears and having so much trouble coping day after miserable day. I mean yeah, we're all just human and maybe they didn't know it was so very, very bad. But someone should have thought to ask what was going on, what could be done to make it better. It's just astonishing to think that a 15 year old girl hung herself and then they noticed they had a problem. Talk about attention deficit...

So I'll get back to the Teflon Pope later. For the present, I'm just going to ruminate on what savages children can be. And how there's still something so dark in all of us that we can be so cruel as a species. And how utterly indifferent people can become to suffering. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Palate Cleanser #10

Pink Hyacinths, originally uploaded by o_lesyk.
Much needed...

What a World, What a World Redux the Third

So I'm on vacation in the Pacific Northwest, dealing with aging parents and cold rain and coughing kids. But the real world is an even colder and sharper place. The real world has viral video games like RapeLay, a Japanese game (and I use that term quite generously) that actually first came out in 2006 in which the player/perpetrator gets to seek revenge on a woman by selecting victims in her family to rape repeatedly, by various means, also selected, and even to impregnate her and urge her to have an abortion. CNN had a splashy cover image on the their website about the game.

So I've really tried to put this game, and the CNN coverage of it, out of my head since I read about it two days ago but I just can't. First, there is the game itself, which is so obviously objectionable and which has been rendered "viral" because of the mass interest created in coverage of its heinousness. Part of that seems all too familiar to me as a parent. I used to explain repeatedly to my two older kids and even to my youngest why it was that various Grand Theft Auto video game offerings had no place in our home. (Particularly ironic with the youngest since he's adopted and his brother in law is a police sergeant). But where do I even begin with a game as heinous as RapeLay?  But there was this second thing that stuck in my mind. When I googled for a bit more information on the game, I saw it had been around for about four years. Where was the ire and outrage when the game was released four years ago? How could it be around for four whole years and just be getting all this outcry now I kept asking myself? And why would CNN be all over the issue now?

Taking compassion fatigue to a new level, repeated exposure to violence inures young people to it. It sets a new threshold for normalcy that is simply frightening to contemplate. We know this from all kinds of studies from  the dehumanized Lost Boys in Sudan to young men inculcated by the Taliban to young people ensnared by various terror organizations throughout the world into thinking that life is worthless unless it's their own or their leaders and their ticket to the afterlife is to become suicide bombers. And filling news websites with images and rhetoric that express alarm and horror in a sensationalized fashion may even be contributing to the problem, especially if we look at the DART analyses on the effect of visual imagery of trauma and the viewing audience. So what about the potential for exploiting the information in order to up your visitor clicks onto your site? Hmmmm. Would CNN be using biased and exploitative reporting here? Au contraire, mais non! How could they?

After not being able to get the report and the whole "game" out of my head, I dug around and found the Kotaku article, which was something of a gold mine at least in terms of further information and context. It seems that in 2009 the gaming industry itself, within Japan, put a stop to production and development of games involving such sexual malice. I should note that they didn't put a stop to the release of games already in the release pipeline although they did rename them.  And what can we say about a gaming culture that even developed rape games in the first place? But anyway, what the Kotaku article makes you wonder about is what CNN was up to with their report, especially the context of their report. What are we reading when we read the news these days and why do we have to do all kinds of research to make sure what we read is true? All I know is that paying attention to the news is getting to be an exhausting process. Between trying to prove to my mother that Glenn Beck is lying and distorting facts, statistics and reality, and researching even reports on supposedly neutral outlets like CNN, who even has the time for news? Being sure it really is news (rather than opinion or reality-based fiction) is becoming such a trial.

The strategy of exploiting and generating more and more outrageous sound bites is so harmful to our literate and caring society. It's great to see the world out there and know where our ire and moral outrage should be directed. 

If it hasn't been bled dry by a sensationalized and distorted press presenting information out of date and out of context.