News media, social media and facts in the time of coronavirus

I’m going to share my take on information/misinformation/freedom of speech and press as a journalist. This is just my take, with my opinions uniquely my own, created by my whole set of personal circumstances but heavily informed by my training and long years of editing/writing experience in the news field (this includes me having to teach and train and work with younger and less experienced writers who were still learning to really appropriately acquire information through research and interviews and then correctly interpret and analyze it and then synthesize it for readers in a way that is clear, informative/understandable to most readers, and accurate).

First, I am generally unlikely to watch a YouTube video that is popular and going around Facebook but that has already been marked as problematic by what I consider to be trusted sources. Almost all the time, the people who created/are the “specialists” in the videos are just one person. They are not drawing on the expertise of multiple experts (the more experts who have studied a particular issue that can weigh in on the topic with generally similar advice or information, the better; that’s science. Science is coming up with hypotheses, testing those through rigorous experiments/studies, and then publishing results and having those peer-reviewed. These videos with a single so-called “expert” do not have that weight of science to back them up.

Another problem that comes up with these videos is that the “experts” have already been shown to be extremists with no evidence to back up their claims or their past claims have been debunked time and time again by scholars in the field who do have the weight of science behind them. No, I’m not going to watch a video made by an extreme anti-vaxxer. I do not agree with those who are anti-vaccination in general and who think that children should not be vaccinated for standard diseases that have in the past wiped out millions and millions. The science does not support anti-vaxxers, and I will not waste time watching a video made by one of them.

Last little point: If I already can see I’m very unlikely to be interested in the videos, I’m not going to click and thereby contribute to these people’s paydays (yes, this is just one reason it’s not “going to hurt anything” if you check some things out that you may initially already be a bit skeptical about).

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To those who are saying their freedom of speech is being taken away/violated when these videos are removed from certain platforms, I say: Freedom of speech means the government cannot infringe on what you say. Even that, however, has some limitations: not all speech is protected, such as threats, child pornography, plagiarism and defamation. Private individuals and entities may, however, choose to limit your speech. Facebook and YouTube can do what they please in limiting what we share or post. That doesn’t mean that either won’t face consequences for limiting too much, such as if enough of us customers raise a ruckus about it and it makes a difference to their bottom line; it also doesn’t mean the government won’t look into some of these entities’ practices and establish some laws/rules about how these entities must move forward.

But for the moment, if FB or YouTube is removing a video time after time, those entities have reasons for doing so, and those are outlined under their terms and conditions. Facebook, for example, after being investigated by the government (various times about various concerns), has supposedly set out to do better by its users in terms of what information it allows to be disseminated quickly on its platform. It’s set up fact checks to pop up in response to certain popular videos or articles that keep getting shared that have been debunked thoroughly by reputable sources. It’s also reserved the right to remove some. It’s theoretically trying to at least provide some real news so that FB users who hop on quickly to look at their feeds don’t see something shared and hop off FB without at least having a chance to see the “other side” or the facts. I welcome seeing this kind of give-and-take, so at least some of the information that’s been vetted by professionals is quickly available. I also do try to do due diligence myself when I see something that just seems a bit fishy by searching Google for some related information, ideally multiple news articles from trusted media.

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News media are an important part of our democratic republic and are protected right after free speech, and they do perform a vital role in our country. We need to be able to trust that someone is looking into the facts. (That’s another note for another day, but let’s just say for now the “mainstream media” are still the best source we have to look to for the “truthiest” facts. 😉 )

Social media is pretty dangerous when it comes to “facts” because everyone is on the same level. Anyone can say anything on social media. It’s not backed by science, it’s not the opinion of more than one person, it’s not vetted by anyone trained in anything (let’s just say the “average user” here). And any comment, anything you say, will be out there in seconds. Social media, in this case, are the opposite of news media: any news story takes time. It takes time for a trained journalist to track down the facts, to research, to interview experts. It takes time to put the story together. It takes training to know how to sift through that information gained through research and find what’s at the heart of it, the facts/truth as well as they can be found at that time. It takes a good eye and ear and experience that becomes almost a sixth sense (an earned one) of knowing what’s truth and what’s hooey or even just half-truth.

That being said, you have every right to watch any video you want, wherever it is on the scale of facts or expert insight or science. You have every right to demand that a platform not take down what you want it to keep up. You have a right to gather information any way you see fit. This is such a fascinating beauty of our democracy: you can do what you want most of the time, whether it’s great for you and others or is ill-advised, and anywhere on a spectrum of truth/falsehood. You are very welcome to research any topic you want more information about, whether it starts on Facebook with someone linking to an article or YouTube video, or you go to pretty much anywhere on the internet. You are free to do so in our free country! Go USA!

I may at times watch some videos or read some articles or links to blogs because I think they bring up some important points that maybe we haven’t considered or that haven’t been explored enough in the media yet, and I know a lot of my friends have been watching various videos now for that very reason; I support you as you have mentioned this. There may be some considerations we need to think about that just haven’t been discussed enough in “mainstream media.” And I will draw my own conclusions from what I read/watch according to my own life experience and journalism training. My opinions will be similar to others’ and be something plenty of others disagree with. I’m pretty much moderate-to-conservative politically and socially, and a lot of what I conclude will likely align with my views on that kind of scale. Sometimes not.

The novel coronavirus is sometimes exacerbating our political and social views and exposing how many people just don’t trust the media anymore, which I consider pretty sad, in part because I know that most journalists are still doing the best they can to deliver news in the way it’s supposed to be delivered, and in part because television cable channels have distorted what “the media” look like (the endless hours of very wide spans of opinions and heated arguments on cable news have, in my opinion, sullied the important profession of news delivery, making many people in general just have a sour taste in their mouths when they think “news”). And the most important reason I’m sad about that lack of trust is precisely because our great free country needs a functioning media more than it ever has, and ironically, those who are most vocal about the Bill of Rights and other amendments tend to forget that the press is in that set of amendments for vital reasons.

I do get it, though. Our political parties and leaders have become divided by a huge chasm, and we the people are getting sick of it. Most of us want to see our politicians do what we voted them in to do, to work together, to hammer out solutions to problems, to enact laws, that will benefit all of us in some way because they have been crafted by consensus, collaboration, compromise, and even (gasp!) selflessness. And our media have to report on what’s happening. That’s what’s happening, folks. And in a time that’s uncertain and even the experts tend to be sharing information that comes from a lot of different angles, with plenty of differing conclusions and even statistics, we’re going to turn to information that just makes the most sense to us.

Days and weeks matter in this time of COVID-19. A lot can change in understanding of the virus, in reactions and actions, in policies, in the science, because it’s so new, and in science, more time and more data equals better and more accurate conclusions (and consensus with peer review). The media is reporting on all that, too.

In short, we’re confused, we’re exhausted, we’re strung out, we’re frustrated. We sometimes don’t know exactly whom to trust. Eventually, things will change in this time of novel coronavirus. But I hope that our leaders, the media, and we the people will learn from this experience, because all of us can do better, in either a small degree or larger degree (yes, I’m looking at you especially, politicians). We can be a little smarter about what we share and what we say when we share it. Some healthy skepticism is good, and even some healthy trust is good.

 

 

Call me pro-people

We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.

Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.

I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.

I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.

It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.pep rally

Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”

Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.

I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.

Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.

This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.

When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?

When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?

I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.

Here’s something radical: We disagree. We can still be friends.

Civil discourse. Sometimes it seems like an impossibility, a utopia, a thing of the past. In the age of instant publication of everyone’s thoughts to a potentially huge audience, and with no way of taking back a rash, thoughtless statement once it’s escaped one’s texting or posting fingers, it feels as if cyberspace (and, thence, real space) is clogged with outrage, name-calling, and sometimes straight-up mean-spiritedness, all because we are drawing battle lines over a variety of hot topics. New blog posts that go viral, legislation, personal experiences all get hashed out in great detail as toes and fingers dig into the lines in the cybersand.

Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?
Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?

Again, though I don’t write about the really controversial topics on this blog or go into detail about my opinions on some of them, it may be fairly simple to figure out where I stand on certain things. I am religious and conservative. As I said in my previous post, about body image and “feminism,” sometimes people’s conclusions about what I think might be different from what I actually believe, but in general, they’re probably going to be mostly right. But the reasoning and the emotion and compassion and time I’ve taken to draw my conclusions are almost NEVER going to be as cut-and-dried and automatic as some might assume, which is a point I’d really like to make clear.

The past years, for instance, have brought same-sex marriage to center stage in the national consciousness and in legislation. And it’s been interesting to have discussions with friends (and acquaintances and their acquaintances) about the various issues that tie into that hot topic. Various states are still in the process of approving or banning it (or having their voters’ decisions overturned); attorneys general are weighing in; states are introducing legislation that deals with related issues to gay marriage (Arizona’s current potential law trying to safeguard business owners who would like to exercise religious opinions on it is a biggie this week). As all these legalities make their way through the various systems to some kind of eventual, kind-of-final resolution, many still have mighty strong opinions about all the ins and outs.

Again, I won’t talk about all my opinions on this topic. There are some truly good sites out there that do better than I could for all the sides. What’s interesting to me, however, is HOW we present these ideas. And in many ways, it is NOT a pretty picture. It’s ugly out there, folks. Discourse is so far from civil it’s not even on the spectrum sometimes (is it DATcourse? ha ha).

But when I’ve talked about this topic, for example, with friends I adore and respect and think the world of in cyberspace, mostly Facebook, I’ve found that though the discussion can still get a touch heated, it’s still pretty respectful. And so far I’m talking about people who are all of my same religious persuasion and similar backgrounds, I’d roundly say. And we still have very different and strong opinions about all the issues-within-the-issue. Here’s what I love, though: that it stays respectful and devoid of name-calling or (mostly) generalizing. I’ve not changed my mind, and I am sure they haven’t, but we’ve had some interesting discussions and even insights and ideas that were generated. And we walk away still liking and loving each other.

I think about this when I drive sometimes: when there’s a driver who’s been doing something that’s “making me crazy” on the road, it’s once or twice been someone I ended up knowing! And when I know who it is, then my frustration just dribbles right out of me. I think twice now when someone’s really going slowly or ___(fill in the blank) because I wonder, “Could it be someone I really like?”

I wonder if it’s possible to do this more in public discourse. Could we imagine that the people we’re “talking” with in cyberspace, for example, are decent human beings, ones we might be friends with in real life? Can we treat them with the respect due to that kind of relationship? This isn’t a new idea: it’s all about not de-humanizing people. (In extreme situations, severe de-humanization — or objectification, if you will — has led to slavery and genocide.)

I’ve been taught from these discussions and hope I’ve said something that might give someone else “on the other side” a new insight or understanding. And if we were all together in person, I imagine us smiling, shaking hands, and heading out for a nice dinner together, laughing, joking, and just enjoying time together as friends. Now THAT’s pretty radical.

Hair-raising school policies

Photo from Fox 23 News
Photo from Fox 23 News

So I saw this Yahoo news item about a little black girl whose parents withdrew her from a charter school whose dress and grooming policy forbids dreadlocks. Here’s what happened: Tiana, age 7, sometimes wears her hair styled in short, skinny dreadlocks. The school told her she didn’t look “presentable.” She cried on camera about it. The parents chose to take her out of the school and send her to a different neighborhood school, where there is no policy against dreads.

Of course, as the parent of a little 6-year-old black girl, I had some immediate knee-jerk reactions: “How dare they?!” “They must not know how difficult it can be to style black hair.” “That poor little girl!”

But here are the facts: the school is a charter school, which can set whatever policies it feels are best. The policies have been in place for a while, and parents have read them and are aware of them. According to comments from other readers, the school has mostly black students, as well as an “all-black” school board.

So that rules out racism, as well as school leaders not understanding what it’s like to style black hair. What this boils down to now is a parent knowing full well what the policies are (ludicrous as some seem to many of us, including me), ignoring them, and throwing his child to the wolves. When he sent his daughter to school in violation of the rules, he was the one who exposed her to school leadership telling her that she couldn’t wear that hairdo and it wasn’t “presentable.” His actions led to her crying.

Also to note: the school didn’t toss her out; her parents chose to withdraw her because of that hair policy.

Honestly, I don’t quite understand what the school board’s problem is with that particular way of styling hair; it seems neat and not “faddish” to me (a big “fro,” however, I can see as being faddish and more likely to attract attention and therefore distract from schoolwork). But the board must have some reasons for the decision they made. If Tiana’s parents disagreed with the policy, their first responsibility was to go discuss it with the board and even rally support to possibly have that particular part of the policy changed. Then, if the board still stood its ground, the parents would have had a decision to make: either follow the policy, disobey it, or leave the school. In this case, they just went straight to disobeying it.

Schools can be crazy, and school policies can seem completely random. And so many things about rules and school leadership can make ME crazy. But the only thing we as parents can do is to address the policies we disagree with with school leadership and try to make change. If the problems are bigger, we can address those with political leaders. We can then try to raise awareness in the community, in part by bringing the item to the attention of news outlets.

I think in this case, the parents went straight to disobedience of a policy and then whining to the media. I definitely understand their concerns, but they didn’t handle them well.

If breast is best, why do we never see anyone actually feeding their babies?

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Courtesy of Twitter/News 6, via Yahoo

So a few hours after reading this news item on Yahoo, I find myself not being able to keep quiet about it: once again, breast-feeding moms are finding themselves being asked to stop feeding their babies in a public place. This time, it was at a Chick-fil-A in Tennessee. Honestly, though, the location is pretty much not important. What is important is the fact that it keeps happening.

Disclaimer: I am not a breast-feeding activist. I only gave birth to three daughters and breast-fed them all up until they were about a year old. I adopted one daughter after them and just bottle-fed. I enjoyed nursing my girls, but it was a heck of a lot of work and was literally draining. It was really, really tough to be THE on-call food for the babies. And my girls didn’t nurse for 20 or 30 minutes every four hours, giving me a solid break in between. They would nurse for a shorter time every two to three hours, making it feel as if they constantly needed me, just for sustenance (let alone all the other needs an infant has). It was exhausting and a HUGE invasion of my personal space. It made me kind of crazy. Even so, I breast-fed them. It was healthiest for them, which was important to me, and it was nearly free, whereas formula is super-expensive.

I never went to a La Leche League meeting or consulted a lactation specialist or read a book about breast-feeding or anything. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just fed my babies. And here’s why I feel the need to weigh in on this news item: it is a pain in the rear to breast-feed a baby in public. My oldest child is 17 and the youngest that I nursed is 11, so it’s been a decade since I’ve been in the situation of needing to feed a fussy child while out and about. No matter how well you plan and feed a baby before leaving the house, etc., there are darn sure going to be times that baby has to eat while you are outside of your house. And here’s the plain truth in our society even now: you almost never see a woman publicly nursing her baby, whether it’s at a store of some type, a restaurant, or a park. But that doesn’t mean they’re settling in to a nice, quiet, private room designated for nursing at any of these places, because VERY FEW public places have rooms for mothers to feed their children. There are more and more family bathrooms available different places, at least, which is definitely helpful, but still not a lot of spots for nursing.

What does this mean, then? There’s nowhere to go to “privately” breast-feed a baby. Restaurants, especially not fast-food restaurants, do not have somewhere to go if a baby gets hungry fast. So you either pack up and leave, with the baby wailing all the way home, before you’ve gotten to eat yourself, or you stay and feed the baby.  But since we still so rarely do see anyone else breast-feeding in public places (whereas you can see plenty of women and men handing babies their bottles out and about), none of us feel comfortable with the notion, even breast-feeding moms themselves, in many cases.

Now that’s plain ridiculous. But here’s why: people who’ve either not been around breast-feeding mothers very much or who have absorbed our upside-down society’s notions that baring a little portion of breast while getting a baby latched on or off is somehow public indecency either outright make comments or ask women to leave or “cover up” or they stare or make weird faces at them because they are uncomfortable.

The problem is not that women are being inconsiderate and not “covering up”. The problem is that in our backwards, inside-out, upside-down society, it’s somehow acceptable for women to wear teeny tank tops and blouses that are so low-cut they show a solid third of a breast, and no one bats an eyelash. No one asks a woman showing a ton of cleavage to leave a public place. But if a woman doing her best to “discreetly” breast-feed her baby happens to show for a split second a good portion of her breast (maybe even her nipple, for heaven’s sake!), then it’s lewd.

And that’s what has my hackles up. Because when I see other people posting about this topic, and still so many people, EVEN WOMEN, EVEN MOTHERS, comment that they think these women should be more careful about “covering up,” I know we have a big problem in our culture. Women stage “milk-ins” to raise awareness whenever these news items pop up. A lot of commenters say these are unnecessary. I’m thinking, however, they’re still very necessary. We need men, women, and children, of all ages, to see mothers breast-feeding their children, enough that they become comfortable with it. Because most people clearly aren’t comfortable with it. And it’s not because it’s dirty or lewd or filthy. It’s because they just don’t see it happen often enough.

If nursing moms still need to stage “milk-ins” or “nurse-ins” to finally get our generally very-non-prudish society comfortable with a really healthy and natural activity, then I support them all the way.

Sure, the new prince is getting attention, but so is the royal post-baby belly

royal baby bumpYes, the world has gone crazy over the royal baby. And people have plenty to say about how this very soft news has eclipsed some other very important news. I could say lots about that, being a journalist myself, but for right now let me just say that even as a journalist who does like to stay informed about vital news events, who doesn’t like to take a little break from all that is depressing and frustrating to enjoy a cute little baby? My own four daughters are now getting sadly far past the baby stage, the youngest now going into first grade (!), and I find myself missing a little bit those sweet days of their infancies. So yeah, I’m feeling a little nostalgic and enjoying the baby photos.

A secondary focus of talk around the blogosphere has been Kate’s post-baby belly. There are many who are applauding her willingness to just let everyone see the reality that is a woman’s belly right after birth: it’s still quite large. I remember looking down at my own belly after giving birth each time and thinking it looked like a huge lump of bread dough (enough for probably four loaves) that had risen for hours and then just been punched down. Soft, squishy, lined and utterly non-sexy. I honestly have to join in and say, thanks, Kate, for not trying to hide that belly. I’m sure with all her resources, she could have minimized its size or shape by dressing a certain way or wearing Spanx or… something. But she didn’t.

On the other hand, other observers have noted it’s sad any of us are focused on the Duchess’s appearance at all. The fact we’re applauding her for her “honesty” just shows we’re still focused as a society on a woman’s appearance rather than other much more important attributes. And I have to say I agree with that as well. (Another point made within this same observation is that aside from the belly, Kate looks pretty darn good: her hair and makeup look great. And not many new moms get that kind of beauty treatment the day after giving birth. Sure, that’s true. But at the same time, how many of us have to step out of the hospital a day after giving birth to show off our baby to billions of people? The fact is, Kate and the whole royal family have a role to play, and when it comes down to it, she’s doing it with a lot of grace. So if she gets stylists to spiff her up a bit for photo ops, so be it.)

But my conclusion is this: we still live in an appearance-obsessed society. I think most of us would like to see that change. I know I would like to make people more aware of just how much we all think about looks, so that’s why I write occasionally about the topic. But I don’t think our society is going to change overnight. I’m OK with “baby steps.” And if Kate, playing the role she does in British society and even on the world stage, feels best about fixing her hair and donning nice makeup and a pretty but simple dress to show off the newest heir to the throne, even while feeling comfortable enough to show off the reality of the post-pregnancy belly, more power to her. The belly is a baby step. I say, focus on the ways we’re making progress, celebrate and applaud those, and then still remember that we can make more progress in the future.

How did this tragic news item slip by me?

It’s been six months since this incident but somehow I have managed to miss any news of it. And it’s certainly the type of story that should have lit up my Facebook newsfeed and the blogosphere: a man in his 20s with Down syndrome died of asphyxiation after a scuffle with off-duty sheriff’s deputies who tried to forcibly remove him from a second showing of a movie. Just reading this makes my heart seize up and fall a few inches within my chest and makes me want to scrub the knowledge of it from my mind.

Robert Ethan Saylor is the young man with Down syndrome who died after an encounter with off-duty deputies; this family photo ran in the Washington Post.
Robert Ethan Saylor is the young man with Down syndrome who died after an encounter with off-duty deputies; this family photo ran in the Washington Post.

How is it that in the intervening months this hasn’t been passed around more? How did I miss it? Somehow I know that Kanye and Kim named their baby girl North West (just confirming yet again why I do not watch their shows/buy their products or support them in any way, monetarily or with my viewing/listening time), but I didn’t know that a young man with mental disabilities who idolized the police died because of people’s lack of training or sensitivity or understanding or … I don’t know what. I love this editorial from the Washington Post: where’s the outrage, indeed?

As the mother of a nearly-15-year-old daughter with Down’s, who is getting to be a full-size adolescent (still quite short, which isn’t unusual, but a solid 85 pounds), and who certainly has her own opinions and desires that sometimes don’t quite mesh with mine (which isn’t unusual for an adolescent, either!), I am honestly just sickened by this.

I can totally see this happening to her if she were in the same situation: went to see a movie she really liked, decided to just stay seated for a second show, makes a bit of a fuss about being asked to leave. Even if I have explained to her some of the societal norms and expectations for this, she either may have forgotten, not understood, or just chosen to forget. So she stays. Some security officers at the mall who happen to also be sheriff’s deputies or police officers (who in this case aren’t even in any kind of recognizable uniform) tell her to leave; she stubbornly digs in her heels and stays. They pick her up and she resists (wouldn’t you?), and she somehow ends up asphyxiated. It’s a nightmare scenario, all the more so because it’s so easy to imagine happening.

What’s more sickening is knowing that if just one of those officers/deputies had any experience spending time with someone with a mental disability, they might have just simply quietly sat and waited. Waited for someone in uniform, talked to someone who knew the young man, taken a moment to make a phone call, just waited for him to stop panicking or being scared, throwing a fit, whatever. Even just let it pass; was it worth tossing him out of the theater? My daughter, even in situations at home where she’s throwing a little tantrum, tends to recover within a couple of minutes and then just nicely go about doing what I’ve asked, as if she never resisted. So simple, so safe.

So, as the Post asks: Why did Robert Ethan Saylor die? Where is the outrage? Here’s the Post’s editorial on the topic that just ran a couple of weeks ago: I know I’d like to make this news more widely known.

If you love Goodreads, what do you think about Amazon’s buyout?

Amazon-Goodreads comboSo I learned the other day through a publishing-news email that Amazon.com is buying Goodreads. Since I read voraciously and use Goodreads as a simple way of keeping track of what I’ve read and want to read, this news popped out at me. On one hand, I thought, yes, it will be handy to be able to tie together some information from the two places because, yes, I do use Amazon a lot and I have a Kindle. But on the other hand, I did have to agree with some writers, like Rob Spillman on Salon.com, that this is not necessarily great news. As much as I do like using Amazon, I concur that I don’t want it pushing its way into the Goodreads community. Because that’s what Goodreads feels like: a cozy little reading community. It’s a library in which we can all mosey in and out, chatting quietly with each other about what we’ve read recently and getting and giving feedback. Now, it’s indeed going to feel like the Big Brother of Book Sales is going to be looking over our shoulders the whole visit, listening in and taking notes

truman show angles

(well, really, more like recording all our interactions via cameras on every wall, maybe in all kinds of other places, “Truman Show”-style).

 

 

Nope, I’m not thinking I’m liking this. Sometimes it’s still nice to have neutral places to visit and gather information (and people have to ask why I don’t watch any television news! ha!). And Goodreads has been great for that. Now, not so much. What’s also a little disturbing is that I don’t see any mention of this looming takeover anywhere on Goodreads. You’d think that the site would be sharing this news in a clear, obvious spot on its site, but nope. So I’m guessing most Goodreads users still have no idea this is happening. And that doesn’t seem quite right, either.

So. Time for someone to start up a new site that is actually neutral again? Any takers?

Speak up about the real value of women

It would be difficult for anyone to argue that women aren’t being demeaned as objects in pretty much every single corner of society. It happens so much and is such a thoroughly pervasive message in media that we’ve almost forgotten to be angry about it. We just take for granted that it’s happening.

Well, I think it’s time for women — and men — to stand up and show some anger about this phenomenon. It’s time to stop the saturation of our culture with images of sexualized women.

You can’t slap a pink ribbon on everything and say it’s “supporting” women.

I’ve been writing off and on about this topic, and I’ve nearly finished the book I’m writing, which focuses on the topic from a faith-based angle. But nearly every day, I see something else that makes me want to shake my fist and just DO something, SAY something. Yesterday it was a USA Today article about how breast cancer is being sexualized. Wha?? Yep, it’s true. I suppose I’d already kind of subconsciously noticed it myself, but the article really clarified the point. I also had just noticed a full-page ad in an in-flight magazine when I was traveling over the weekend: it showed a photo of a very trim, fairly young woman with smallish but nice breasts (a point I feel inclined to note, since most of these kinds of photos show women with larger-than-life breasts) dressed in an itty-bitty white bikini. Flat abs, no fat, no cellulite, no blemishes. And the ad had the nerve to have been run by plastic surgeons touting the message that they can do great reconstruction on women who have had breast cancer. Aaaaiiiieee!

Let’s think about this honestly. Is the average survivor of breast cancer going to look like a 20-something model? Ah, nope. She’s going to have scars, could be some pretty big and ugly ones, depending on how much surgery had to be done. She might be thin (thanks to not being able to eat much during chemo), but not necessarily in the “attractive” way. It might not even be possible for reconstructive surgery to get her back to “normal.” A friend in her 50s recently told me about her experience with breast cancer, and she said that after having a double, radical mastectomy, she was told by surgeons that the process for giving her breasts would be lengthy and, as she put it, “barbaric.” And then she wouldn’t even be able to have normal-looking breasts: they wouldn’t be able to give them nipples. She turned down the surgery; no point in going through all that to have substandard breasts.

Nope, these kinds of demonstrations of support for breast cancer aren’t help. They are simply marketing opportunities painted in pink. The article quotes Karuna Jagger, executive director of advocacy group Breast Cancer Action, as saying, “The implicit message in these campaigns is that it is breasts that are sexy; sexy is what is important; and we should care about breast cancer because it takes those lovely, sexy breasts out of the world . . . Every October, the stunts just gets more bizarre and further removed from what’s needed for this epidemic.”

Why can’t we just stand up and say, ENOUGH, ALREADY!? Sexy, young, thin, well-endowed female models are used to sell almost everything. I work out at the gym every day and can see a bank of about five TV monitors showing different networks while I exercise. I read or listen to music, but I can’t help but glance over at the monitors and see what’s going on. At any given time, I see several images of unrealistically-shaped young women, on commercials or the news or various programs. The anchors on news networks are thin and usually young (at least in comparison to the men, who can be any age). Innocuous game shows feature models showing off the prizes. Soap operas feature cute young girls and some older women who have often had various work done (at the very least, Botox and injections to plump up their lips or cheekbones). All the commercials feature women. Products for men and commercials aimed at men feature sexy models, scantily clad. Products for women and commercials selling those products for women feature women; most of them are for hair color (get rid of gray) or skin creams that aim to reduce wrinkles and make skin look younger and fresher. Car commercials even mostly feature women: young, trim models.

It’s all about sexualization. When will all women say, Enough. No more. I refuse to be sexualized, to be objectified, any more. It starts at home and with our circle of friends, even just on Facebook or Pinterest. Stop pinning the “fitspiration” pins. I don’t. I like to exercise, and it’s a vital part of my daily routine. But I refuse to put another photo in front of me that has a ridiculously skinny teen or 20-something clad in a sports bra and tight boy shorts, touting her amazing workout that will make all of us look just like her. It’s ridiculous. We should be laughing, not trying to emulate those girls! Stop posting about how you feel fat or ugly or that you look old. Don’t expect yourself to look your regular self two weeks post-baby, either. Stop focusing on how you look, period. And don’t focus on how your friends look. Support them as they do great things with their lives, as they work on being their best selves.

Women’s important body parts aren’t our breasts or backsides. They’re our hearts and hands.
Photo by Louise Docker, via Wikipedia

Focus on YOU, women. Allow the men in your life to focus on who you are inside, too. Teach your daughters to be who they are, and teach your sons positive language about women and not to focus on appearance. Yes, be healthy. Try to eat mostly well. Exercise regularly. But don’t make how you look the end-all, be-all. Don’t let yourself be objectified. Don’t let the media and the marketers and the porn producers dictate how you feel about yourself or how society views you. Gently remind friends that they are “more than eye candy,” as Beauty Redefined enshrines in billboards, or that they are more than just numbers on a scale.

We women are amazing creatures. We nurture future generations. We lead society. We do great things. Let’s show ’em what we’ve got! We’re not about our body parts, unless we talk about our brains, our hearts, or our hands. Let’s join those hands and speak up.

Down syndrome discrimination in the skies

I’ve concluded that I’m not really much of the litigious sort. When I fell down and broke my foot on the DMV sidewalk, I didn’t immediately figure out some way I could sue the state. Whenever I get the little postcards or emails about class action lawsuits involving some company or other I have patronized, I don’t just jump on the bandwagon to “get mine.” Most of the time, those suits seem pretty petty, and I haven’t had any problems with those businesses.

But once in a while, my “sue-’em-for-all-they’ve-got” side gets incited. Yesterday, my husband told me about a story that got me fired up. And it even involves a family in a town near us. The short story is that a teenage boy with Down syndrome was refused access on one airplane and on another wasn’t allowed in first class (which his father had upgraded to), instead being forced to “the back of the plane.” The airline even kept other passengers away from the family, keeping two empty rows between the teen and his parents on the back row and the rest of the passengers.

WHAAAAAT??

Yep, my girl is a great traveler.

As some of you may know from reading my blog, I have a 14-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. I wrote a post about her on World Down Syndrome Day. I’ve also, incidentally, written about traveling with kids and how airlines have been making it more and more difficult. I am quite sure airlines would be very happy to only allow business travelers to fly with them. They’d make more money and have no delicate issues to deal with. But they still do allow everyone to travel, so for now they’re stuck with families and people with disabilities. SORRY, poor little airline businesses. Boo-hoo. So I know what it’s like to be a parent and have to fly with a posse of little ones. It can be tiring and annoying on the best of days and absolutely crazy-making on the worst. I have flown a number of times over the years with all my children, including my child with Down syndrome.

I have also been able to get to know lots of great families with children with Down’s over the years, and I know that parenting a child with DS can sometimes pose some extra challenges. But I have not found the kids I know with DS to generally have lots more behavioral issues than other kids. I know that mine doesn’t. She is extremely eager to help and listen to instructions, sometimes more so than her siblings, and is really well behaved. I’ve been blessed over these years of travel to have other passengers on airplanes gush over how well-behaved she and all my kids were (at the end of a flight).

So it just rankles me to hear that an airline and pilot had the nerve to discriminate against this young man. If people with Down’s really had a known history of having behavior problems, and if this young man had truly been extremely disruptive in the gate area, then maybe I could see their concern. But I know the first isn’t true, and it doesn’t sound as if the second is true.

Yep, if it were my daughter in this situation, I’d be out at my lawyer’s office at dawn the day we were back in town, chomping at the bit.

I hope this family does pursue the case, not to make money, but to raise awareness. I’m all about raising awareness about all kinds of things, and it’s just the principle of the thing. Someone who has a disability (and in this case, what I consider to be a fairly “minor” one) is and should always be protected under the law against this kind of knee-jerk reaction. From this mama bear to another, go out there and show ’em how great our DS kids can be!