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Monday, March 24, 2014

Rep. Shirley Jackson's Constitutional Mistake


Rep. Shirley Jackson, while speaking on the House floor a few weeks ago, mistakenly said the Constitution is 400 years old. It's not-the Constitution will celebrate its (*adopted) 227th birthday (or if you go by the ratified date, it just turned 225) this September-but in the heat of the moment, Rep. Jackson made a mistake. And oh my goodness, conservatives lost their collective minds. My theory is Rep. Jackson, being an African American woman, perhaps had Jim Brown's comments about slavery being not that bad in the forefront of her mind, and confused the dates.
What I find fascinating about the right wing's response to Rep. Jackson's error is how many times one of their own says something incorrect, misleading, offensive, or just plain dishonest, and we hear almost nothing from them. Well, we hear support for the incorrect, misleading, offensive and/or dishonest comment, but they rarely call one of their own out on the carpet. Allow me to do a little carpet calling on their behalf.
*Rush Limbaugh's comments about the Pill. In 2012, Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut," because he seems to believe the Pill works like Viagra (illegal or not). According to Rush, Ms. Fluke is a slut for having "so much sex she can't afford the contraception." Um, no. But do you recall any conservative pundit or politician coming to Ms. Fluke's defense, or pointing out that the Pill is taken once a day, not every time a woman wants to have sex?
*Todd Akin's legitimate rape claim. Also in 2012, Todd Akin, who was running for senate in Missouri, gave an interview during which he said this:
From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
To their credit, Mitt Romney, John Cornyn, and Mitch McConnell did slam Akin for that comment. Others on the right did not. From Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association to the Family Research Council, right wing "Christians" lined up in support of Akin and his comments. One group, American Vision, went so far as to accuse GOP leadership of engaging in "legitimate political gang rape." Tony Perkins of FRC stated:
We haven't seen anything this vicious since some of the same operatives did this to Palin.
What a perfect segue!

*Sarah Palin's "blood libel." In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, a map on Sarah Palin's website showed gun sights over numerous congressional districts Palin had targeted for defeat. Included in that map was Gabby Gifford's district. Attempting to defend herself, the Half-Governor released a 7-minute long video. Reading from a teleprompter, Palin spoke of the "enduring strength of our republic," made numerous references to "the greatness of our country," then made what is quite possibly the most offensive comparison I've heard in a very long time:
Within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
In Sarah Palin's mind (and apparently, the mind of Andrew Breitbart), the media was waging a blood libel against her. Blood libel is an accusation that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children, and used the blood of those children in religious rituals. It's a horrible lie, used to promote and defend violence against Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement after Palin's comments, and while pointing out it was unfair of the media to accuse Palin of being an accessory to murder, stated they wished she had used another phrase, "instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
*Weapons of Mass Destruction. Former president, George W. Bush, and members of his administration told the American people, the United Nations, and both Houses that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They lied. When Joe Wilson returned from Iraq with proof that Iraq did not have WMDs, the Bush administration outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, to the New York Times as a covert CIA operative. The man who did it-Scooter Libby-the man who gave Valerie Plame's name to the press, had his prison sentence commuted by Bush. Dick Cheney was allegedly pushing for Bush to pardon Libby, but Bush refused.
Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction; the Iraq war was all about oil. Thousands of our military men and women, and over one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, all dead because of oil and a lie. Again, I don't hear many conservatives railing against the Iraq war. Cheney has said he'd do it all again. And conservative pundits and politicians often say America was safer under George W. Bush.
Yes, Rep. Shirley Jackson mistakenly said the Constitution is 400 years old. She didn't call a law student a slut, or lie us into war, or hand out checks from tobacco companies on the House floor, or scream "You lie!" during the State of the Union, or tell women our bodies have a way of shutting the whole thing down, or compare being attacked by the media to a horrible myth used to justify murdering Jewish people. But to many conservatives, Rep. Jackson's error was an egregious one, while the "mistakes" listed above were  just fine. 
Give the choice between Shirley Jackson's innocent mistake, and mistakes that encourage bigotry, embrace misogyny, or lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, I'll take Rep. Jackson's Constitutional mistake every, single time.

*I edited this after someone I know only on Facebook ignored all the conservative horrors in this article, and said I got the age of the Constitution "wrong." I guess not only conservatives think that's the most important error one can make. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All Children are Gifts; Not All Children are Gifted


Tuesday, I read an article entitled Every Child is Gifted & Talented. Every Single One. The article proposes that every child is gifted, and we should nurture those gifts. While I agree that children may have individual gifts and talents, stating all children are gifted is a mistake, and a harmful one. I waited, thinking and musing over the piece, and then today, Wednesday, I read a response to that article by Madison Kimrey.

Madison is, in fact, gifted. She tests in the "Profoundly Gifted" range, meaning she can think me under the table. I'm pretty sure I could beat her at RISK, but only by distracting her with pie. Madison is twelve years old, a petite political powerhouse, with a disarming grin, hair most of of would sell our souls for, a wicked sense of humor, and a brain that does things most others' brains do not. She also has a support system made up of friends, family members and mentors, all of whom understand how unique Madison is.

In her rebuttal to "Every Child is Gifted," Madison writes about her own struggles with her mind. Anxiety, mood swings, and social skills that are a little wonky are part of her daily life. Madison is home schooled, which, for many truly gifted kids, seems to be the best option. Madison is so bright, I sometimes forget she's still a kid, to be honest. Reading her article reminded me, and it made me adore her all the more.

See, I was gifted as a child. I was reading fluently by age 3, always at least a grade ahead in reading and math, and I was lucky to attend a Catholic school that seemed to draw many other gifted children. I had at least 6 friends who probably qualified as gifted. Did we get fabulous grades? Nope; in fact, almost all of us failed deportment every report card. The teachers would sigh, and say things like "Erin's so bright, but she just won't stop talking during class." I was bored out of my tree in school, so I stopped paying attention.

The 6 friends and I got along pretty well, but we didn't get along with other kids. Sometimes, we would fight among ourselves, and that got really ugly. None of us had the social skills to say "I'm sorry," or "I was wrong," we would just stew and plot, until Chrissy would yank one of us (me) by the hair, and we'd make up. A few weeks would go by, and we would start it all over again. I distinctly remember one of the Jacot twins throwing a rock at my head. This was in grade school, mind you; high school was worse.

Depression, crippling self doubt, never feeling good enough are all part of many kids' experience with being gifted. I had theater and ballet to keep me "sane," but my life was complicated by a mother who was battling (and losing that battle) with mental illness, a father who had no idea what to do, and my own seeds of borderline personality disorder. Yes, I read "The Shining" when I was 13 and understood it, yes, I excelled in English and Religion and Reading Comprehension and Math, yes, my standardized test scores were through the roof. But I didn't have the one thing I needed to really do anything with my giftedness: a support system.

Instead of college, I joined the Army. Instead of furthering my education, I taught myself how to write, how to be a lighting designer. Instead of a 4-year degree, I have a degree from a culinary school. Everything I know, I gleaned on my own.

My son is smart as heck, he's funny, he's empathetic, he's just a joy. But he's not gifted, and in a way, that makes me happy. Please do not misunderstand-I know so many gifted people, and I loudly support them, and cheer their accomplishments. I also know what they went through as children. Not all of them were lucky enough to have Mary Kimrey as their mom, not all of them were loved and cherished and protected the way Madison is. One of the only true geniuses I know (as an adult) is Craig Kanarick. He co-founded Razorfish, and now he runs Mouth, a high-end gourmet food company. I remember him as a kid: he didn't have it easy, either.

Every child is a gift. Every child deserves a safe place where they are loved, where they can thrive and grow. Every child is not gifted. And that might be a good thing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fighting Hate with Love: A response to Westboro Baptist "Church"

Image of Fred Phelps from The Washington Post
Sunday morning, I read an article at LGBTQ Nation that stated Fred Phelps is dying. According to Nathan Phelps, Fred Phelps' estranged son, the patriarch of the Phelps family is in hospice in Topeka, Kansas. Nathan also wrote his father was "excommunicated" from the Westboro Baptist "Church" in 2013, but no one from the "church" has confirmed this. My friend Scott posited that might have been a power play by Shirley Phelps-Roper, and I tend to agree.
The first time I learned of the WBC, I was in Topeka with my dad for my grandfather's funeral. As we were driving to the funeral home-I had been given the honor of choosing my grandfather's casket-I noticed a kid, about eight years old, standing on a street corner. He was holding a huge sign that read "God Hates Fags." I turned to my dad and said "What the hell was that?" My dad proceeded to explain who they were, what they did, and later on in the week, drove me to the Westboro Baptist "Church" compound, which was maybe a block from where my grandfather had lived.
And now, the man who created Westboro Baptist "Church" lays dying, according to his son. What to do with that. Here is a man who thrived on hate, who was, at the very least, an emotional sadist, who led his family in protests against soldiers, teachers, children, and victims of hate crimes. In many people's eyes, the Phelps family is guilty of child abuse: filling young children's minds with hate, dragging those children all over the country to protest funerals, forcing little kids to hold the most hateful signs and scream "God hates fags" at the top of their lungs. What they do is awful, what they believe is awful, and when we hate them, we are awful, too.
The only way to fight hate is with love. You cannot fight hate with hate, it never works. A perfect example of this are the Angels, who often gather outside funerals to protect the mourners from the Westboro Baptist "Church." These remarkable people stand, extend their flowing robes to form "wings," and block families and loved ones from the hate of the Phelps family. They don't yell, or scream, or engage in hateful dialog; they smile, turn their backs on the protesters, and let their light guard the bereaved.
Maybe the reason Fred Phelps, Shirley Phelps-Roper, and the Westboro Baptist "Church" exist is to remind us that hate never wins. Oh, they may get themselves on television, but in the end, it's the love that overflows for families and friends that matters. Loving, peaceful counter-protests, specifically aimed at shielding vulnerable families, crop up whenever WBC threatens a protest or holds one. And the love outnumbers the hate every single time.
Then there's the forgiveness part. This is a tough one. I learned how to forgive from my father. When I was a kid, we had a predatory priest enter our lives, and he nearly destroyed our family. A few years ago, while attending a Catholic retreat, my dad stopped in front of a statue of Mary, Jesus's mother. He stared up at her face and wondered how she had been able to forgive the people who murdered her son. At that moment, he realized that forgiveness is the key to, well, everything. And he forgave that priest. Sharing that story with me, he never said "Erin, you have to forgive people," he let it knock around in my head for a few days (really, weeks), and I came to my own understanding. When it hit me, I was able to forgive not only the priest, but other people who had harmed me, both physically and emotionally. A weight was lifted from my heart, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt peace.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." What if Fred Phelps and his family know not what they do? What if the entire reason they exist is so we can learn how to forgive, and how to fight hate with love? Forgiving Fred Phelps, forgiving Shirley Phelps-Roper, does not diminish the pain they cause, nor does it mean we somehow either support or understand what they do. It means that we refuse to fight them on their level, with hate and rage and abuse. Maybe the lesson is ours to learn.
A Facebook friend, Malina, wrote something in passing that struck a chord with me. When Fred Phelps dies, people from all over the country could travel to Kansas for a protest of a different sort. Signs with loving messages like "God Loves Everyone," and "Fight Hate with Love." Rainbow shirts, and flowers, singing songs of peace and comfort. The antithesis of every WBC protest in history. I might just do that anyway, because I really believe with my whole heart that love will always triumph over hate, and good will always win. Perhaps you will call me naive, you wouldn't be the first. But if I can forgive my rapist, and my dad can forgive a predatory priest, maybe there's room to forgive Fred Phelps.