Context and Content

Last week I was reading at  Elizabeth Floss’s blog about a new tool coming out called MPower.  Being that I am sort of a technology junkie I was intrigued by this idea.   Content filtering isn’t a new idea by any means, after all  you could pick up NetNanny over ten years ago to help filter internet content and the movie rating system has been around even longer.  I have long had three major concerns with these tools and I don’t think Mpower will be markedly different.  The first issue is that they never work that well ,  second is my belief that much of the most damaging content on TV is not objectionable in the “checklist” sense – it is more complex and subtle and third context matters — in most cases it matters more than content.

These Things Usually Don’t Work Very Well: After having looked over the Mpower site  and they claim that they will be able to clip out “seamlessly” offensive content according to settings that you select.  (watch their video to see)  In the FAQs section they explain that not every show will be content scrubbed, only the most popular shows and then they will also offer family safe viewing options.   So first off it will not cover everything.  My assumption is that they actually use humans for content filtering (someone is viewing the show and editing for content limitations according to the training the receive)  which is actually much more reliable than software filtering, as anyone who has ever tried to manage a message board with word filtering and found that something ridicules like “grape” was being filtered out will tell you.

I can’t find anything that makes me think that the internet filtering will be very sophisticated.  They claim the will block “Hard-core” porn and will send a notification when the block is circumvented, but there is a lot of content on the internet that isn’t hard-core porn but is still seriously objectionable.  My total guess is that there will be DNS blocking of sites.

I am willing to give Mpower the benefit of the doubt and maybe they will do content filtering better, but I will not be surprised if they have a very limited selection of programs that they filter, have a good deal of problems with the filtering they do and end up with the exact same filtering issues that usually plague the “parental control” tools.

A Lot of the Worst Stuff Isn’t Violence or Sex: Now before you think I am saying something I am not let me explain that I do NOT think that children should be watching sex, violence or “mature” content on TV.  But I do think that there are things on TV that do our children just as much, if not more harm, than the occasional vulgar word, naked body or violent scene.  Anti-adult messages, consumerism, materialism, a host of poor values are shown in nearly every single show.  The world of television is more violent than real life.  It portrays a higher standard of living than most children will ever experience as normal.  It sets an unrealistic standard of physical beauty and the ideal of beauty exemplified in the media is more the creation of marketing — designed to undermine the self-esteem of young woman in a crass bid to sell them more products that they “must” have in order to feel good enough about themselves.   Moral relativism, anti-clericalism,  and an antipathy toward organized religion are so common place that the few exceptions to it stand out as note worthy.    But these are not things that are “filterable”.    In my mind these things end up being far worse for our children overall than the objectionable items which can be filtered.   In part because they are so prevalent in the media they end up being viewed as normal.   To put it another way… it isn’t just the individual scenes of objectionable material that I object to, it is the over sexualized, materialistic, relativistic anti-religious world view that is the predominate view, the normalized view on television that I object to.

Context Really Matters: So this brings me to my last point of concern, context makes a HUGE difference.  Context can more or less redeem some otherwise objectionable content.   The villain meeting his violent end,  a breast exposed in a video about breast-feeding or “cultural” nudity,  the romantic kiss at the end of a movie… could all in theory be blocked because they match the checklist “bad stuff” of a filter (either software or human).   On the other hand some movies and TV shows are so violent or sexual as a result of their thesis that I can’t image any amount of filtering being enough.  Irony or ironies one such movie is the example of filtering in the Mpower video.  If you watch the promotional video you will see an example of filtering on “domestic violence”.  “I don’t want my children to see domestic violence”, says the voice over while we watch a scene being edited to remove the images of a husband backhanding his wife.  The problem with this is that the scene is from the movie “The Stoning of Soraya M”   (at least I am fairly certain it is).    I am at a loss how a movie about a woman being stoned because she was falsely accused of adultery at the hands of her abusive and ambitious husband so he can marry another woman is going to be made “family friendly” because the scene where his hand hits her head his removed.   If you child is old enough to grasp all the really intense issues about the rights of women under shira law — old enough to get something worthwhile from the movie as a whole then they probably will be able to internalize and conceptualize the wrong that this man does to his wife — both hitting her and framing her for adultery and letting her be executed.    I can not image how you could cut enough scenes from the movie to make it ok for a child who hadn’t reached that level of understanding.   Another example – The Passion of the Christ – if you blocked every scene that was objectionable on the violence you wouldn’t have much movie left.  But then again what parent would toss these movies into the DVD player for their 6-year-old to watch?  Not many I suspect.

This attitude might put me at odds with other mothers in the particulars, but there are movies that contain a fair amount of violence that I really have no problem with my children seeing, especially my older elementary aged children.  The Narnia movies,  the LOTR movies or one of my boy’s favorites (they are 11 and 6) Master and Commander.  The violence in all three is “war” these are battle scene movies and there are definitely good guys and bad guys and violence isn’t some game or morally neutral abstract.  Violence is hard and sad and even a little frightening but forced upon the good guys.  Master and Commander shows the life of young men on a British ship of war (even the maybe eight or nine-year-old “powder boys”.  To see a young midshipman step up and take command, a boy of maybe 13, is inspiring to my young men – the violence ads realism, it isn’t over the top, but it is enough to make the reality of the boy’s courage more admirable .  Life on a ship of war wasn’t a game, it was a life or death high stakes venture for all involved.

So for us context is every bit as important as content.  Another movie that I watch with the children is “The Mission”  which tells to story of Jesuit missionaries who are caught between their duty to the church and their duty to the people they serve when the Church is strong armed by the Portuguese government into surrendering control of her missions in Paraguay and Brazil.   It is a rich and complex movie (and one I think is highly underrated)  it has some violence and some cultural nudity  — the issues are really complex on some levels, but  I find it has a great deal of value for my older children (the 11 and up crowd)  you see a native priest forced at gunpoint to take off his clerical robes – racism in action.   Several priest die.  The two lead characters, one a reformed slave trader who dies fighting to defend his flock, and the other serves them by saying Mass and is shot leading his congregation with the monstrance. Which one chose the better path?  Why did the do what they did?  Why were some of the soldiers so reluctant to fight (one commander has tears streaming down his face and fights on anyhow)     These are wonderful questions for a boy of 11 to be thinking about.    But I wouldn’t ever just sit them in front of the TV thinking that Mpower was going to filter out anything objectionable.

So what to do? Honestly I think products such as Mpower are going completely the wrong direction.   The are working on two premises —  one that families have to watch television and two that eliminating offensive scenes is the enough.  I don’t think either one is true.  You really can have more control over what your children see if you just drastically limit it.  Cut cable all together, be selective with what you bring into the home and watch it with your children (especially the first time).  Discuss what they see and point out those things you agree with or don’t.  Technology isn’t going to fix what is wrong with our current media, most of it is just a wasteland to start with and attempting to rely on such technology is probably not a sensible solution if you are seriously concerned about the moral messages your child is exposed to and assimilates as opposed to the scenes they are watching or not.

My world · rants

A Reflection on Racism

Last June I posted a bit of a rant related to racism and homeschooling.   Last week I had occasion to mentally visit the topic again and this morning I have time to write about it… fitting for MLK day I guess.

My Hannah is eight years old.  She is the first of my children to have been homeschooled from the start.  Last week she and I were talking and somehow the conversation wound around to racism.  Hannah really had no idea what racism is, it never occurred to her that people would think less of someone based on the color of their skin or where that person’s ancestors had come from.   “That’s stupid”, was her honest assessment of the very idea.

The all come to him
Christ and the children of the world.

I couldn’t help but contrast this to my oldest daughter’s,  Ashley’s, experience which I wrote about last June:

When schools do try to teach diversity it is frequently out of context or worse full of politically correct social agenda.  I remember my daughter coming home from third grade heart broken one day, “mommy,” she asked sadly, “Why are white people so mean to black people?”  I was floored.   Where do you even start with that?  Her class had been immersed in Black History month for about six weeks.  Story after story about the horrible meanness of white people.  She had learned what no child should ever learn, that something was wrong with people like her and by extension with herself because of her skin color. We were able to point out that while some people were bigots that bigotry was a product of education and environment not of her ethnicity and that our family had several friends and even relatives with a variety of racial backgrounds and skin tones.  Do I trust the schools to do a great job teaching my children about the beauty and diversity of race, creed and culture?   In short, the answer is no.

The experiences of my daughter’s couldn’t be different and I think they illustrate something profoundly wrong in how our society deals with issues of race.

Some people would read the two stories of my daughters and be sure that Hannah was missing something and that Ashley was better off.  They would re-spin the two antidotes and say that Ashley came home with a heartfelt understanding of race issues, that she had learned how cruel and unjust society is and would be better equipped to go out and try to rectify the errors of the past, while Hannah is sheltered and unaware, that she is part of the problem since she isn’t sensitized to the struggles of minorities in society and unaware of the bias that she benefits from.

In my mind Hannah has escaped the brainwashing.  She doesn’t see herself as better because of her race, she doesn’t see others as inferior based on their race, she doesn’t even see race — she just sees skin-tone and that only as a description no more an indicator of status than hair-color.   Ashley’s paradigm had been shifted to see RACE, to see a victim and a villain, skin color meant more to her than a descriptive quality, it carries with it a crippling of the historic victim and a hobbling  of the historic villain.   I may be totally wrong, but I do not think this is what Dr Martin Luther King had in mind when he spoke of his dream.  To be judged only on the content of one’s character is much closer to Hannah’s colorblind world view than the painfully pan-tone aware view that Ashley had foist upon her in a public school classroom.

There is nothing empowering about believing that you are a member of a “victim class”.  In college in my required women’s studies classes I often found myself taking the minority view that women are not the poor hapless victims at the hands of evil men, especially white, privileged men, and that they had instead a varied history that reflected more than the monotonousness world view presented in my college classes.   I could actually get away with speaking my mind on this subject in class because, being female, I was free to reject the role of victim.  The men in my class were not so fortunate – the villain is not allowed to reject the role, no matter how removed from them by actual history or circumstance.  If a man in the class were to point out that it was women for instance who put their daughters into corsets or to point out that in a many cultures women and the children benefited from most of the double standards (women and children first in an emergency)  he would be soundly put in his place a a perpetrator of the horrible male hegemony.  Sexism is a charge that is hard to slough off, racism is worse.

Over the last year I have seen one thing very promising coming from our current president’s historic role as the first American President of African extraction.  We are quickly getting over the villain thing.  The first half of the year was peppered with accusations of racism against those who opposed the president’s agenda.  Don’t like the government handing out money hand over fist — you must be racist.  Opposed nationalization of health-care — again you are a racist.  The tea-party movement was labeled racist and the media was so enamored with that line of attack that MSNBC actually cropped a shot of an gun tooting protester to hide his dark skin – while the presenter prattled on about the raciest, gun-packing, protesters.  And people started to question the whole idea of racism as a political motivation.  They could say in their hearts, “I don’t have a thing against my neighbor who is black (or Asian, or Native American)   where do these people get off calling me racist because I don’t want to government in control of my healthcare.”

There were people who were excited to vote for Mr Obama because it was their chance to prove to the world, to themselves, to history, that America has grown beyond a racist past and that we no longer need to be hobbled and burdened by the roles of villain and victim — when the left and the media went right on playing the old race card it felt like something of a betrayal.  But of course they have only illustrated the classic problem of  victimology.   When wrong doing is assigned as a function of birth it can never be made right because it was unjust to begin with.    Little children should not be segregated into groups of historic victims and historic villains.  We should each be held accountable for our own actions, not the actions or circumstances of  our assumed ancestors.  There is no way my children will be able to compensate my neighbor’s children for historic racial injustices.  First off my children’s ancestors were not the slave owners of American History and the neighbor’s emigrated from Sudan less than two year ago.   A bit flippant of an assessment, perhaps,  but also an illustration of the reality of today.

The civil right’s movement of Dr King was working to address actual wrongs.  Wrongs in the enforcement of the law, inequalities in educational opportunity and civil discourse.  Moving onward, moving towards something better requires  a letting go of the past.  The wrongs of history can not be set right, only learned from.  The desperate attempt, even well intentioned, of rectifying past wrongs with present injustice can never set those past wrongs to right.  It could only perpetuate a circle of oppression and oppressor with the roles changing but the tragedy always the same.   No little girl with dark skin should ever come home from school feeling like she isn’t smart enough, or good enough or pretty enough because her skin is dark.  Not little girl with light skin should ever come home from school thinking she is bad, or her family is evil, or that she owes some debt she can’t repay because she was born with light skin.  Far better if every little girl would have to have the completely foreign idea of racism explained to them and then be able to wrinkle up their nose and declare the whole thought of judging people on such petty things as “stupid”.

Food · rants · Uncategorized

Food with a conscience

Why I think this SOLE stuff (or something related to it) matters
Virtually every summer my family drives out to Eastern Oregon and spends the weekend in the cabin my great-grandfather build in 1914.   We enjoy the same plants, the same deer, the same trout that my grandmother loved when she was a little girl – the land she loved all her life and the land where her ashes now rest.  I grew up hearing stories about my Great-grandfather and the land he handed over to the BLM for antelope preservation and the dairy farm my grandfather lost – the tears he shed when he had to sell his “girls”,  I planted lots of little trees, and spent enjoyable time hunting and fishing while being taught (as I believe the children in most hunting families are) the importance of conserving healthy habit for the ducks and deer we hunt and eat.  My children’s brains are packed with happy memories, the stories of their family and the practical instruction of being good stewards of the land and the creatures we share it with.

I have also lived long enough to be somewhat alarmed by the nature of suburban sprawl, to see McMansions devour farmland and orchards chopped down for strip malls.   While I am not against “progress” I often wonder if we have the slightest idea what we are progressing towards and if the destination will worth the trip.   I want to see local, small dairymen who love their cows and have names for each of them thrive.  Spending most of my childhood on a cattle ranch gave me a halfway decent insight into the dignity of people in “fly-over country”.  I honestly grew up thinking that all beef cattle were grass fed till they were shipped off to the local packing plant which was owned and staffed by folks the rancher knew.    So my life experience whirls together in my brain with my somewhat pastoral, idealistic world view and I come out with this ideal of a place where farmers are like craftsmen growing food that local people eat, enjoy and most of all trust because they know and trust the families that grow and produce it.  My ideal is a world where Tolkin would smile because gardeners are important people, a place where the job title “farmer” is one held in high esteem.

So what is SOLE: Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical – that is the acronym, but what do those things actually mean?  Sustainable farming and production methods so that our children and grandchildren are given a verdant and fertile world, organics grown without pesticides, herbicides or hormones that protect the environment, local foods that help sustain your local community and limit shipping costs and ethical business practices which promote a living wage, the dignity of food producers and ethical treatment of livestock.  My sense is that like me, most people have their own interpretation of this.   Just as no one is the absolute authority no one is really completely wrong, but there is a sort of “orthodoxy” of SOLE that nests with the “Green” movement and shares much of their strengths and all of their short comings.

The Strengths of SOLE

Let’s hit the letters one at a time.

Sustainable: one of the things that impressed me most in The Omnivore’s Dilemma was the farm of  Joel Salatan.  Being a fellow Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Capitalist-Lunatic nearly everything he says seems to resonate with me.  The solution to much of our problems isn’t in regulations, government control, more restriction or requirements, the solutions are honestly to be found in more people being able to be “Joel Salatans” and that means dumping government control of our food and that also means doing away with the well-meaning, busy body, disconnected elites in the green movement who tsk tsk about the poor food choices Americans make without addressing the basic problems in reverting to a more sustainable agrarian culture.  If you wouldn’t encourage your son or daughter to be a farmer you are part of the problem.

Sustainable farming and ranching are “doable” in fact from what I have researched it would be possible for sustainable agriculture to feed a world, but not THIS world.  The suburban world that we live in, a compartmentalized world bounded by an artificial divide between work and home life driven by the ever increasing need for more,  new and (arguably) better material possessions and personal achievements and “status” can not survive on the family farm/sustainable farm model.  Not because of how many of us there are, but because of  the disconnect there is between the production of the essentials for life and the lives most of us lead.   Family farms, community dairies, local bakers and butchers could feed the world — but only a world where there were a LOT more farmers, diary men, bakers and butchers.  Because there is a mathematically certainty.  Just as cost is decreased by an increase in scale — sustainability in agriculture is decreased by an increase in scale as well.  As a rule the bigger the agricultural enterprise (in terms of production) the less sustainable it will be.   Basically you can have a lot of cheep food of questionable value at a low price or you have to produce food in smaller quantities at higher cost.  The smaller quantity model  would necessitate an increase in the number of food producers, but that would also mean more producers requiring less from the system as they could support much of their own food needs.  Which goes back to my assertion that if you wouldn’t encourage your son or daughter to go into farming you are part of the problem.


Seasonal: I can’t find a single bone to pick with seasonal other than I  would miss my out of season goodies — there are of course some places where cold winters make seasonal a matter of “store-able”  but that is in a way seasonal as well.

Organic: The concept of organic is a bit more straightforward.  When I can I want to purchase food that has as little chemical additives and as much nutritional value as possible.  In theory organic food works toward solving that problem, but since “organic” is a FDA regulated term it might well be quickly turned against the very ideals that breed it.  We are already seeing this to some extent. I want to say Organic is great!,  but I am not totally sold on it since the lable “organic” doesn’t mean as much as it should, or even as much as it is perceived to.   I am convinced of the damage pesticides, herbicides  and artificial fertilizers can have on the environment and I question the sustainability of  large scale monoculture farming without them and do not trust the argi-business behind it all.

And that is the rub.  Agriculture has become a huge corporate enterprise that doesn’t see individual people, doesn’t honor the dignity of the person, it only seeks to squeeze the most production for the least input at the lowest cost possible.  This is completely contrary to my ideal of the farmer-craftsmen who are honored by the communicates they serve, yet it may be in some ways unavoidable.   Since we are no longer a nation of farmers, since we have endless rows of houses with no space for gardens ( even HOAs that explicitly disallow vegetable gardening)  and apartment dwellers who can’t do more than have a pot or two on a window sill we need a mechanism to feed cities.

Large scale organics have a selling in point in that they can, right now, get a large amount of food onto the American table.  The problem  is that as the food industry has awoken to the idea that “organic” is a new consumer desire, it is not just the reaction of the moment, another Alar scare splash that will quickly fade, the idea of large scale organic becomes something much different than a natural system driven farm like Joel Salatan’s and become something entirely different.  The large food production machine has set its sights on organic.  Which will inevitably lead to the term organic favoring large commercial interests.  The more we allow (or even demand) that government solve our problems the more we place our welfare in the hands of politicians who will sell us out to the highest bidder who will always be big business.

Local: Recently I saw a complaint against the local food movement.  It was another take on the efficiencies of scale.   Overall what is worse for our selves and our environment: a local hot house tomato in February or one shipped from Southern California?   Is Local Food Better? Of course the most local food is the food in your own backyard.

Ethical: And here is the big problem, what is ethical?  Is it more ethical to feed the world on conventionally grown food, are we raising the prices of food by pushing for more expensive farming methods?

Admittedly my ideal is a touch different than the typical SOLE enthusiast – who would doubtlessly cringe at my brood of six carbon footprint producing offspring  – so it might be more fair to say that I am something all together different.  For example I do not shop in fancy fair-trade stores or purchase certified organic clothing or even think for a moment about the songbird holocaust caused by my coffee habit.    It isn’t that I feel that fair-trade is not worthy of supporting, it isn’t that I don’t want my clothing to be produced in a way that isn’t poisoning the water table somewhere, and I have nothing against songbirds, but I find there to be an elemental sophistry in much of the “green” movement.  The reduction of consumerism is far more relevant to living lightly on the earth than shopping fairtrade.  I might love a nifty, colorful purse made by hand by hemp growers in Bolivia, but isn’t it better for me just to do with one sturdy leather bag that I use for five years or more?   It is  more green to wear organic clothing if your alternative is to own less or shop garage sales and thrift or resale stores?   And if I am concerned about the songbirds shouldn’t I just deal with the withdrawal headaches and learn to love mint tea instead of shipping coffee beans halfway round the world?  So I find myself more often than not confused by my betters in the SOLE universe.  They espouse their particular version of what is sustainable and ethical but I find their views  seem wasteful, commercial, based on poor science and basically good for nothing but diminishing a sense of affluent guilt.  I am at heart a conservationist not an environmentalist and I am frugal and “simple” more than “green”.  But then again I know there are a lot of people much better at putting their ethics in the fore of their families food choices.  So I am not at all above reproach on this and I certainly don’t claim any moral high ground.

I am really not sure if this has a point or not, but since this is my own collection of vagrant thoughts called a blog here it is.

Food · rants · Simplicity

Food – SOLE food, frugality and where the rubber meets the road

Last Monday I linked to an article “SOLE Food: Eating organically (and responsibly) on a food-stamp budget” penned by Michelle Gienow,  which intrigued me at first because, like so many other families, we are trying (having) to trim where we can and the food budget is getting a good, hard look.  I also, like so many other moms, am concerned about the quality of the food I feed my family,  conserving the natural environment and the ethical dimension of food production.   But the “SOLE Food” article left me with bad taste in my mouth.

I suppose this is entirely my own fault.  I wanted an article, thoughtful and well reasoned by someone who is either talented at pinching a penny, a seasoned SOLE food practitioner, or at the very least someone who is somewhat familiar with both.  What I got felt more like the ramblings of a spoiled suburban mom who shops at Trader Joe’s and fancies herself environmentally conscious because she frets over how many dead song-birds her coffee represents,  gets a CSA box, shells out 7$ a gallon for milk and has the good sense to be appalled that she bought her children Chickfil-a kiddy meals.   And no, I am not exaggerating anything there.  So, yet again,  my judgment on this might be a tad harsh because of the expectations I had going in.  I am sure she is a lovely person and yes, she is at least “trying”, but it still me off a little (and really pissed off some people in her comments).

As happens every once in a while I sat down to write a response to this and ended up with multiple  tangents going off in different directions.  So I am just breaking them apart instead of sitting here with a blog with no new posts for days on end.  My thoughts meandered off into several  different directions.  First there is the thought about SOLE, what is means, what I think it should mean, where it fails and where it can be better. Children of that tangent spring their own full blown ideas:  Why we need to rethink what we think of labor, can the world be sustained by small farming and what would that mean, and why we need homemakers and how homemaking promotes a truly sustainable world. And finally I realized that I can take on the “foodstamp” budget challenge pretty much anyway I want.  First off by dumping the concept of  “Foodstamp budget” and then going ahead with just a thrifty budget  and secondly by changing the SOLE idea to more match what I think is a real-life friendly way.

So I will be popping these up as I get them complete and then linking them all back together.

Autism · rants

So what is up and why do I hate warrior moms?

Nothing is particularly up.  I think I am having one of those weeks where many things are causing me to think about Rachel’s autism and all the things we have done, seen, tried, been through and what will happen next.  I also have seen, for the first time ever in the popular media, a book published on autism that was NOT the “my child is recovered from autism” story – which doesn’t mean there haven’t been others, but I haven’t seen them. I still need to grab “Boy Alone“, but I am looking forward to it from what I have read so far, because these voices need to be heard also.   My voice needs to be heard,  Ashley’s voice needs to be heard and Rachel’s voice needs to be heard too. Hopefully Karl Taro Greenfeld’s work will help there.

When I see someone out on the talk show circuit: “For $29.95 buy my book, or better yet all five, and I will show you how to spend thousands of dollars on treatments that have — at best– anecdotal  support so that your child will be recovered too.  That is if they are in the 3-20 percent that can recover in the first place. ”  I find it annoying.  Yes, yes  I know I shouldn’t.  Those wonderful talk-show circuit celebrities in the spot light are just trying to give a voice to all those moms and dads out there struggling to recover their children from autism and they have really special insight into this because the did the right stuff.   I find it annoying because they don’t talk enough about the 80% of children that don’t get “recovered”  — in fact they don’t talk about them at all, other than in passing, as the standard disclaimer that one or another treatment won’t work for everyone.  They sell hope, they sell a lot of hope and I will give you that hope is needed, but hope doesn’t compensate for the 80% reality, especially not for those on the severe and profound ends of the autism spectrum.  If your child is on the severe end of the spectrum, yes, you need hope, but you need reality too.  You need to know that as your child ages things will change – sometimes changes might be good and others will be challenging. You will need support, you will need to have a plan for what to do as your child enters adulthood.  You don’t need to be physically exhausting and financially bankrupting  yourself trying every single cure d’jour out there and you do not need to feel guilty about not being super mom (or dad).

So if that is what is up, why do I hate warrior moms?  Short answer is I don’t.   I don’t hate warrior moms at all, in fact it has at times been a word I  would use to describe myself.   I really have nothing against moms (or dads for that matter) who want to describe themselves as warrior parents – as long as their spears aren’t pointed at me.    And, amazingly, some parents of autistic children do just that.  Crazy I know, but please stick with me for a moment.

I think for some parents of younger autistic children parents of  autistic children who are older, teens or adults,  can be very frightening.   Because our children are living proof that not everyone gets recovered/cured.   Occasionally this manifests itself in the assumption that there must be something we did or didn’t do.  Did we not try “X” diet?  Did we start early intervention soon enough?  Did we do enough hours a week? What about heavy metals?   I have seen it, the mom with the younger autistic child, she is sure – absolutely certain – that there must have been something we didn’t do.  And she is right, there are a lot of things we didn’t do.   We never tried aversion therapy,  we only gave Secretain two rounds,  we tried wheat/glutton free for a couple hellish months,  we never pulled out the carpet, or re-paneled the walls.   No one can do it all  and there is a fine line between trying “everything” and driving yourself and your child beyond with is good.

But Rachel wasn’t one of those “normally” developing children that suddenly became autistic.  She was different right from the start.  At three weeks I remember my mother noting the intensity with which she would stare at her jumpsuits striped cuff.   There was always something a little off – she would get so upset with the least variation in her routine.  We thought she might even be deaf at one point.   Further she has no less than three cousins that are on the spectrum on her father’s side.  So yeah, I think it is probably genetic too.  But even with the knowledge that Rachel has probably always been autistic, and even knowing that she was never in the high probability to recover group, it is difficult to keep an even countenance when the questions (all well meaning of course) come from someone who has heard the latest celebrity explain how to cure autism.   THAT is what I mean when I equate the current  “Warrior Mom” mentality with the “Refrigerator Mom” mentality of the 50s and 60s.  It isn’t that I don’t think warrior moms are wonderful people advocating very hard for their children.  But the reality is that  there is a cultural assumption perpetuated by the media that if moms and dads do enough or try enough then they too can cure autism.  This is not exactly a positive thing for parents of children who are teens and adults and still firmly on the spectrum.  It is almost mind boggling that parents of autistic children want to jump on that band wagon, but some are more than happy to do it.

So if you are a warrior mom and you think I have totally lost it, don’t understand, am really mean to Ms McCarthy (because I mention her name once in passing as someone who claims to have “recovered” her child from autism)  or whatever that is FINE.   I really and honestly hope that you find that thing or a combination of things that reduces your child’s autistic symptoms and I totally applaud your efforts to do so… BUT (you knew that was coming right?)  Do not make the same mistake I did.  You may find that your child at 14 is every bit as autistic as they were at 4 and it will be ok.  It won’t be normal, but it will be ok.  You don’t have to beat yourself up, or let anyone else beat you up over it either.  And once you get to that point you will likely find it every bit as annoying as I do to have to listen to the person at the grocery store, or your aunt, or the new neighbor ask the same questions about Diet X and Music therapy and you will smile and sigh and go on, and if you are like me you will rant to your blog because, well, sometimes you just need to rant.  Because you need to say it.  I am Darcee, my daughter Rachel is 15 year old and is severely autistic.  She will always be autistic.  I love her and she is a happy girl most the time.  Her life is not normal, but it is hers and it is good and autism is just a part of that.  I didn’t fail her, though I sometimes have felt like I have, but she is and will always be autistic and my daughter and someone who is loved.


Warrior Moms and Refrigerator Moms

it’s always mom’s fault.

There is a mindset that if your child has autism you should fight tooth and nail, never surrender- never give up, not even in the face of teachers, doctors, or therapists who tell you “nothing” can be done.  The warrior mother picks up her spear and goes out to fight for her child so her child will be cured of autism and have a normal life.   Best case scenario: >80% of children diagnosed with autism at age three will still be autistic at 18 no matter what treatments or therapies they have access to.   They may function at a higher level, be able to learn how to interact more typically, but they will still be autistic.

It used to be that mom’s were blamed outright for not having attached properly to their children and causing autism.  Now mothers are told that if they do enough autism can be cured a la Jenny McCarthy.  But reality isn’t that kind.  For the vast majority of autistic children no matter how well mom brandishes her spear at the end of the day autism will still be there.    And I think this focus is HORRIBLE.  It is horrible to  parents, families, teachers, society at large and most importantly to the child themselves.   It is every bit as cruel as the refrigerator mother mindset and maybe even more so.


Pet Peeve Time

So, last night I got a call from a young woman wanting to talk to Ashley.   This is not an unusual occurrence so I handed the phone over to her thinking it was one of her friends.   It wasn’t.   It was a sales call from a place called Sorenson  Senior Portraits, they are located here in Portland and have sent us several mailings about their services.

About two minuets into the phone call Ash started looking really confused.   She said something like,  “I think you really want to be talking to my mom.”  Then she handed the phone to me.  The girl on the phone identified herself — which she hadn’t when I first answered the phone .  Apparently this company calls teens, tells them all about their “portrait program” and then (once the teen is excited about this) talks to the parents to close the deal.  This is the absolutely slimiest sales practice I can imagine.    It is akin to a car deal calling and getting my teen all excited about the “first car” program and then expecting me to foot the bill.

I explained to the sales girl that I think selling a service to a minor who is not paying for that service is a really scummy business practice.  She obviously didn’t get this, she said twice  “Well, I wasn’t meaning to offend you.”  NO… really?? I thought she had called obviously to offend me. *eye roll*  No, I get that she wasn’t trying to offend me she was trying to sell their “photography program”.   That wording seemed a bit confusing to me.   I asked what was their “program” was, thinking maybe they had a special program for student photographers who worked with them… no, no, no it was just their sales package, the typical “no sitting fee” thing.    I also thought it was fishy that the girl on the phone kept mentioning that someone at Ashley’s school had “referred” her name to them as someone who would be really a great person for them to take pictures of.   Now I am familiar with the business practice of asking for referrals.  I have done  it myself, but I willing to bet that most teens don’t think in terms of business referrals, but instead are thinking that a friend recommends this company.    The wording felt sort of deceptive, not that I was in a mind to cut them any slack at that point.

Well, at least I know one place I can cross off my list when looking for senior portraits for Ashley.

Catholic Homeschooling · rants

Racism and Homeschooling

Over at Bendng the Twigs I found a pair of posts refuting the idea that a common motivation for homeschooling is racism.

Emperor Of China's Gardens - William Alexander
Emperor Of China's Gardens - William Alexander

Usually I miss the hotly controversial postings about homeschooling until they are well past their expiration date, but this one I almost made it in time for.   Apparently Jesse Scaccia, a teacher, has put his ‘well honed’ mind to the test and was able to come up with ten reasons that homeschooling is bad.  His list boils down to:  homeschool children are weird, homeschool parents are arrogant, selfish and isolationist, homes are not schools,  Mr Scaccia has some sort of personal issue with homeschooling and apparently the Great Commission requires sending our impressionable offspring to schools that weren’t even in existence in the first century.  I count five reasons there,  but I don’t judge Mr Scaccia too harshly on his math problem; he is an English teacher not a math (or biology) teacher.

I am not overly interested in dissecting Mr Scaccia’s opinion except as it  is related to the issue that homeschoolers are somehow more isolated culturally than schooled children and that this could in some way create citizens who are bigoted.  To quote:

4. Homeschooling could breed intolerance, and maybe even racism. Unless the student is being homeschooled at the  MTV Real World house, there’s probably only one race/sexuality/background in the room. How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?

3. And don’t give me this “they still participate in activities with public school kids” garbage. Socialization in our grand multi-cultural experiment we call America is a process that takes more than an hour a day, a few times a week. Homeschooling, undoubtedly, leaves the child unprepared socially.”

Being socially isolated and culturally backwards I have no idea what MTV Real World house is, but considering it is MTV I am comfortable making a guess that more often than not it wouldn’t be a great environment in which to raise a child to be anything remotely resembling a cultured and liberal minded person.   But let’s answer Mr Scaccia’s question:  How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?

The Maasai of Tanzania
The Maasai of Tanzania

I have never lived among the Maasai of  Kenya and Tanzania, but I do appreciate their culture.   I could say the same about the Japanese  or  the Spartans of Ancient Greece.   Other groups I have some first hand experience with:  Members of  the Modoc tribe of Southern Oregon and Northern California were family friends in my childhood.    I have lived among African-Americans and Choctaw tribal members  in the South and the next street over from Orthodox Jews in Boston  and at the same time one apartment down from a family from Lebanon – the second wife was a particular friend.    I have traveled in Mexico, Germany, France and Austria and brought home an appreciation of these countries’ art, music, culture and food.  But none of these experiences were gained inside the walls of a traditional school — not a single one of them.

While I won’t deny that there may be some parents who homeschool their children with the hope of insulating them from other cultures and peoples  0r who, even worse, homeschool them in the hopes of indoctrinating them into a belief that their race is superior to others;  such parents are the minority.  They are a minuscule group defined by an ideology of fear, fear of blacks, fear of whites, fear of anyone who doesn’t agree with their world-view, but they do not represent homeschoolers at large.   But, to quote Jefferson again:  “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation  and education of the infant against the will of the father”   Even if a very few wacky parents wish to teach their children thus it is not an argument against homeschooling.   It is at most an argument against parents being wacko, but since that is rather impossible to avoid (public school or not) the point is moot.

But turning again to the question at hand I realize that my personal experience will most likely be met with “Yes, but that is just your personal experience, how are most parents going to manage that?”    Let me answer that obvious objection by talking about my personal experience a little more in depth.

Continue reading “Racism and Homeschooling”

My world · rants

Too smart by half

Last night while reading over at Hot Air I stumbled on this article.  There is a TV show called “WifeSwap”.  I remember hearing about this show in 2005 when they aired “Margaret” from Louisiana who was a bit of a nut-case if  the YouTube clip I saw of them time was any where close to accurate.   At any rate apparently there is a new nut-case by the name of Stephen Fowler who spent two weeks belittling and verbally torturing his “swap-wife”  Gayla Long in front of his children, even encouraging them to be disrespectful of her.   The last segment of the show is here.   Reason #763 not to watch television – shows like this.   I feel so badly for this “gentleman’s” children because what they are being taught is pride and intolerance and both are love killers.

I would like to say that I was shocked by this Mr Fowler’s opinions, but the truth is that while his behavior shocks and appalls I am very aware that a good number of people hold his opinions.   At one point I was very much in danger of being one of them.  Then God gave me Rachel and she taught me what an idiot I was and through her God saved my heart.

The Children of King Edward Imprisoned in the Tower - Paul Delaroche
The Children of King Edward Imprisoned in the Tower - Paul Delaroche

I grew up being the “bright girl”  the smart one in my class, the one with the high test scores.  Gifted and Talented education was just coming along when I was in school and I was plucked into it immediately.   So I was quickly surrounded by people telling me how great I was for being smart.  I really wanted to believe them.   I wanted to be special.  It didn’t take long to internalize the values of the people around and I found that I began judging people around me much more on how intelligent I perceived them to be than on the type of person they were.

Now intelligence is a wretched thing to judge people on.  It is every bit as superficial a judgment as beauty.   Judging someone on their education (as Stephan Fowler was) is like judging someone on their appearance.  Beauty and intelligence are both God given blessings which we have absolutely no control over.  Appearance and education are a extension of those respective gifts improved through opportunities we pursue, the environment we are raised in and the personal habits we develop.    But neither appearance nor education is a indication of a meritorious character and they most certainly are not the summa of a person’s worth.

It is seductively easy to judge people on the things we feel that we ourselves possess and even easier to judge people on those things we feel are important but secretly fear that we lack.   If we ourselves are not good enough, at least we are better than those folks.  But that is pride, and it kills love.

The thing in my life that shook me out of this was having to come to terms with Rachel’s autism.  I was coasting through life thinking that smart was better.  I didn’t see the danger of this utilitarian thinking.  I didn’t realise how fast life could change and how difficult it can be at times.  When Rachel was diagnosed I remember being told by a rather wise education specialist, “She is still the same littler girl that she was yesterday”.  This was true.  I still loved my daughter just as passionately, I wanted the best for her, I knew her worth despite the reality that she wasn’t capable of expressing her intelligence.  She was still worthwhile and I still loved her.

This cracked and ruined my neat little world view of how people should be valued.  It fixed it and it healed me.  While I wouldn’t ever wish such a painful lesson on anyone I wish that we could help fix our world so that love and an understanding of the intrinsic worth of each individual could get a better foothold in the public discourse and that the “culture of life” could have better purchase against the current culture that determines the worth of each of us as a function of our utility to society.

*I originally has his name as Stephan Fowler, the correct seems to be Stephen Fowler.


Bye, bye Wooden Moose-toy

Dangerous Criminal
Dangerous Criminal

Several years ago my brother-in-law in Alaska treated our son to a terrific toy moose.  It was jig-saw cut and rubbed with food-grade oil and very well loved by my little boy.  Sadly, unless our lawmakers manage the Herculean task of undoing their own mindlessly stupid legislation these types of handcrafted toys are a thing of the past.  Along with the little girl’s aprons, hair bows, taggy-blankets, toy wooden swords and other delights I have found at holiday bazaars and the home-made soakers, children’s clothing, thrif shops… oh the list goes on forever.

The very ironically named Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires any item made for the use of children under 12 to be certified lead-free from an approved third party testing laboratory.   The cost of this, and the fear of the $100,000 fine for failure to comply is already forcing many crafters to close their doors.

Think I am nuts? Well, if you haven’t seen this covered on your local news you can see it here: Uncle Sam vs. your favorite toys 

If you have heard of this you may have also heard that resellers will not be compelled to test their inventory but can use their “judgment” to decide if the item is lead free.  Great, only if they are wrong they will be fined.  From the CSM article: “In its attempt to address the outcry from small businesses that sell children’s products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has clarified that resale stores can use judgment in distinguishing between products that are high risk versus low risk for lead without certification. However, if resellers “judge” wrong, they are still subject to federal, civil, and criminal penalties. ”   Note this only applies to resellers; manufacturers are still on the hook  — even if that manufacturer is a mom selling booties for babies or  hand made mantillas for little girls.

The CPSC has also proposed that “natural” materials such as wool, cotton, gems, silk and wood will be exempt.  As long as they are not painted, stained or dyed.   Even if the material is certified with the GTOS it still has to be tested for lead if it is dyed.  

Hazardous Material
Hazardous Material

A few links for more information:

The official CPSIA government site.
CPSIA Central, where you can see what small and micro business owners are doing to stop this.
The Toy Industry Association’s site.
Etsy has a forum set up.
and there is a nice series of articles at Over Lawyered (no offense to my favorite Yak)

Please, if you like handcrafted items contact your congressional representative  and senators.