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Standing Moderate

  • Posted on January 8, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Across the U.S., we’re being inundated with immoderate views. Recently, three men died instead of being taken into police custody. The issues are poignant: racism, police relations, recognition of authority, delegation of authority, and acceptability of subculture, to name a few. None of these issues usually appear on this blog.

I don’t write about racism or racial subcultures. But these events concern everyone, because the results of these events have included riots, public demonstrations, the assassination of police officers, and, of course, a whole lot of public commentary. Much of the latter involves individuals or organizations trying to use these “current events” to bolster their own positions by taking an immoderate stand for or against something pertaining to these tragedies.

I’ll take a stand, too. I believe people shouldn’t die because of their skin color. I believe police have a responsibility to protect themselves and others while on the job, because that is their job. I believe neither stand is the antithesis of the other.

There’s nothing extreme about my position; nonetheless, it’s controversial. One might assume that I believe the three men that died instead of being taken into police custody died because of their race. I don’t. In regards to the first two events, people came to these conclusions before the facts were made publicly available. They did so for two reasons: first, the media incited the public to believe that race was a factor in these events; and, second, people believed the claims purported in the media because they were inclined to believe them. Now that more facts have been made publicly available, the facts don’t seem to support the conclusions so many people reached directly after the incidents; yet, it’s easier for them to continue to believe in some great conspiratorial cover-up than to admit they were wrong. The truly sad and unfortunate part of this is that this country, this supposedly “free nation,” has a history of cover-ups just like the ones they suspect, so their positions aren’t implausible or even irrational. (In regards to the third incident, when you pull a gun on a police officer, you can expect to get shot—that’s what they’re trained to do!)

One might also assume that I think how the police handled these events was above reproach. I don’t. There is always room for reproach. But there is a difference between reproach and threatening their lives. There is a difference between reproach and rioting. There is most definitely a difference between reproach and assassinating random police officers. There is also a difference between reproach for its own sake and effective protests.

One person was sharing with me their take on the “die in” at the Mall of America. Yes, these people trespassed. Yes, they demonstrated on private property. Yes, it was disruptive. It was supposed to be disruptive. It was supposed to get attention. It was supposed to make the news! That’s what peaceful protest is all about!!! From everything I’ve read and everything I’ve heard, nobody got hurt, nobody was violent. They got their message across in a way we should be able to support.

Black lives matter. There’s nothing extreme about that statement. Police lives matter. There’s nothing extreme about that statement either. All lives matter. (Oddly enough, I’m told that that statement is very extreme. Go figure!)

Liberals, particularly extreme liberals, want to turn this—and have achieved some success in this regard—into a race war. Conservatives, particularly extreme conservatives, want to turn this—and have achieved some success in this regard—into a culture war. In the midst of these extremes, moderates (regardless of the way they lean) are most often silent; but, it’s not because they’re not talking, it because they’re drowned about by the loudness of the extremes.

We could all spend a lot of time pointing fingers and accomplishing nothing. For the most part, that’s what people have been doing. A riot will destroy lives and businesses, but it will go down in history and change nothing. Distorting the views of opponents, as many conservatives seem inclined to do, will create talk, sway the unwary, but will inevitably change nothing. We create change when we sit down, figure out what went wrong, and fix it.

That’s what moderates do. They try to find middle ground. They try to create solutions. They work with people who are different from them. They try to implement solutions. At least, that’s what they do when they have a chance to try.

This society that revolves so much around hits and likes and viewership doesn’t condone “moderacy.” In fact, “moderacy” isn’t even a recognized word. But immoderacy is. And that’s what we get, because that’s what bolsters ratings.

We don’t need ratings. We don’t need pundits. We don’t need riots. What we need are solutions.

Soldiers & Disabilities

  • Posted on December 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

If you’ll recall, when the wars first got going, there was a significant amount of attention paid in the U.S. media to the needs of soldiers who had children with disabilities. Programs were created. Problems were solved. Families were taken care of while soldiers went off to war.

Now, as our soldiers are returning from those wars, there is a significant amount of attention being paid to the needs of soldiers who have acquired disabilities while in service to our country. Some of these disabilities are physical in nature. Others are psychological or mental-emotional in nature. Some are both. Programs are being created. Problems are being solved. Our soldiers are being taken care of.

One could easily argue that we, as a nation, don’t do enough for our soldiers. I agree, but that’s not my point.

Both times, people with disabilities and people who had children with disabilities, people in the general population, were hopeful that the experiences of these soldiers would translate to more awareness, more support, and more help for people with disabilities who are citizens but not soldiers. Both times, people have been woefully disappointed. Before now, I never got why these incidents of increased awareness were never generalized.

The public administration perspective, I’m learning, is a rather peculiar worldview. The way working with government agencies shapes ones outlook on the world and its programs is somewhat surprising. After a while, though, it makes sense. As I have interacted with my instructors and my fellow students, I’ve noticed that most of them, with very few exceptions, are far more invested in the PA worldview than I am. I’m not just an outsider looking in; I’m an outsider that is privy to a very intimate look at the worldview itself and how it is shaped.

Despite the natural efforts to pull me into the group, I am most definitely an outsider. My purposes for being in this program are different than the common purposes shared by most of my peers. I have never worked for a government organization and I don’t really intend to do so. That’s not why I’m in the program. I’m not getting this degree to further my career. I am here to learn how to (and how not to) design and build nonprofit organizations that work. This program does serve that purpose—I’m learning, especially with the addition of my independent studies, what I need to learn, even when I didn’t realize I needed to learn it. My unique perspective is also valued—I’m not being forced to conform (not that that works well with me anyway), nor am I being excluded. But I’m still an outsider. I don’t share their worldview, but I’m starting to understand it and even appreciate it.

From a PA perspective, meeting the needs of soldiers during the war helps us succeed in our war efforts. It may be a relatively small contribution, but these small contributions can add up to make a big difference. After the war, meeting the needs of soldiers is both a matter of duty and an investment in our ability to attract new soldiers for the next war or the next deployment. This forward-thinking focus is something I can appreciate; it shows that they recognize the impact their positive and negative actions have, which is very important. Unfortunately, that focus has side effects; the reason this attention to our soldiers’ needs is not generalized to the non-military public is because the attention isn’t really on the needs, but on the soldiers.

For example, there is an effort in our government to help soldiers (with disabilities or not, but especially those with disabilities) obtain government jobs. They’re given a priority in hiring and it’s not only legal, but the requirement to do so is written into our laws. It is considered very important to give qualified veterans an especially good opportunity to work for the federal government and to benefit from support services and training to qualify for a position and to benefit from advancement opportunities once a position is obtained. There is also an effort in our government to help people with disabilities in a similar fashion. They also enjoy certain privileges in hiring that aren’t available to the general public, and may even benefit from non-competitive hiring. BUT while the goals are similar and the methods are similar, the programs aren’t linked. I can find little or no evidence in the consciousness of this worldview that there is a clear and discernible interconnected relationship between these two programs. We have soldiers (with or without disabilities) and we have people with disabilities. There is no recognized overlap.

As an outsider, this is mindboggling. But as an outsider with an intimate view into how this worldview is formed and how it operates, it makes a “common sense.” I’m not saying that it makes sense; just that it makes the kind of sense “they” hold in common.

Our government recognizes that we do not treat our soldiers as we should, and they’re trying to do something to fix that. Our government recognizes that we do not treat people with disabilities as we should, and they’re trying to do something to fix that. But they see both groups as distinct, separate demographics. They treat them as distinct, separate demographics. They address their needs as distinct, separate demographics. And, in doing so, they miss the point. It seems to me that they’re so worried about missing the forest for the trees that they’ve failed to understand that the trees aren’t the forest. They don’t realize that they can “save” the forest without really helping the trees.

College

  • Posted on May 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I want my children to be able to go to college if they want to go. This makes me more optimistic.

Twisted Pleasure

  • Posted on April 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I admit I read and watch fiction that creates traumatic events for characters to experience. From thrillers to Christian dramas, almost every story has some kind of trauma which characters are forced to endure.

Yet, when the news media has a feeding frenzy on the latest real-world traumatic event, I avoid it. I have seen one video of the towers falling during the 9/11. The video was only a few seconds in length and I watched it the day of the attack. I’ve seen one video of the aftermath of Katrina and a handful of pictures taken by someone who was on-site within the first few weeks of the storm.

I didn’t watch any video footage of subsequent disasters. Not the mass shootings. Not the storms. Not the endless wars across the world. And not the recent bombing in Boston.

I read about the news. I try to stay abreast of the events that shape our world. But I don’t gorge myself on the violence “Mother Nature” and our fellow human beings are capable. I don’t find real-world suffering to be entertaining. In fact, I find this trend (both on the part of the media and on the part of the viewers) to be very disturbing.

What twisted pleasure do people get from watching the real-world suffering of others that they watch it over and over and over again?

There are unfortunate parallels throughout our contemporary culture. Reality television is a profit-driven example. I don’t watch it. I don’t understand it. I mean, really, The Kardashians?!? Admittedly, I saw a few Jerry Springer episodes when I was a teenager, which was the precursor to all of this as far as I can tell. I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t get it now. I really, really don’t get why our culture makes celebrities out of people like that.

And then there’re those activities that aren’t driven by profit. I admit I find real people inspiring. People can do some pretty amazing things. And, yes, some of the people that I admire are people with disabilities. I just don’t see why people with disabilities living ordinary lives should be inspiring. I mean, shouldn’t that be the norm? After all, statistics indicated that 1 out of 5 people have some degree of disability.

Granted, I’m well aware that our society throws up a lot of barriers that keep people with disabilities from living ordinary, fulfilling lives, and that those who persevere to do so are admirable in that they don’t give into our cultural stereotypes. But that’s not the implication associated with these images and messages that are shared through so many social media sites. It’s more like, “Look at this person with this terrible disability [look at these people who have suffered this terrible disaster/war/attack], what’s your excuse?”

What twisted pleasure do people get from watching real-world suffering (or what they assume must be suffering)?

It makes me think back to ancient Rome. I think back to our fascination with Roman gladiators. I think about the twisted pleasure the ancient Romans took in watching people hack each other to death. Rome ended. Instead of learning from it, it seems we’re determined to repeat their vices and share their fate.

Happy 2013!

  • Posted on January 2, 2013 at 9:00 AM

All around the world, people have suffered through the lingering financial crises that have been hitting us all for several years in a row. We have also been hit by natural disasters, man-made tragedies, and upheaving (or not-so-upheaving) election cycles that have left some of us writhing in the aftermath of way too much politics.

All this makes the relatively small problems of my family look, well, relatively small. And yet, we’re all impacted by these events, as well as our own hardships. So, altogether, 2012 was a rather difficult year and I’m glad to see it go.

Now, it is 2013: Like every other year before it, 2013 is full of unknown possibilities. It could be worse than 2012, but it could much better. Of course, I’m hoping for the latter.

So, Happy New Year!!!

I hope we all can strive for the best of our possibilities and work cooperatively for a better world that all of us can enjoy together.

Touched By Touch

  • Posted on November 5, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Fox’s new show Touch just started its second (hopefully full) year. When it was first introduced, there was some early buzz due to Touch’s autism connection. I watched the show and enjoyed it, even after the supposed autism connection was dispelled.

Now, with the first new episode of the season available online (I don’t actually watch television, at least not on purpose), I wanted to take a moment to comment once again on this show.

First, if you want to watch the show for anything resembling a realistic portrayal of autism, don’t. Jake is not autistic. The creators of the show didn’t want him to be labeled (whether that’s out of respect people with disabilities or out of fear that such a label would be “bad” is unclear) and the show has stated quite clearly that he doesn’t fit autism criteria. Furthermore, watching a show for a realistic portrayal of anything is rarely a good idea. Whatever they’re showing, they have an agenda. Agenda, perception, and other human traits skews the “realism” shown with any art in favor of the worldview of its creators.

If you don’t want to watch the show because the show is related in some way to autism, then I strongly suggest you reconsider. The concept behind the show is basically this: Human beings (yes, all of us) are connected with each other and the world around us in ways that most of us don’t see, but in ways that cause “distress” in the world if they’re set awry; there are a limited number of people who are gifted with the ability to see these connections and manipulate them to set things that have gone awry to rights; Jake is one of those people, which forces Martin to cope with having a truly extraordinary (much more than he ever knew) son.

Here are a few reasons not to watch the show:

  1. You thought Friends was an emotionally deep and intellectually stimulating portrayal of life in the big city.
  2. You think Family Guy is wholesome, family entertainment.
  3. You’re the kind of s.o.b. who wants to cling to your prejudices with your very last breath.
  4. You think American shows should be exclusively about Americans.
  5. You absolutely abhor subtitles.
  6. A story with more than five characters per episode confuses you.
  7. Wrinkles offend your aesthetic sensibilities.
  8. You often wonder if Nikita couldn’t be a bit more action-packed.
  9. You reject anything that questions reality as you know it.
  10. You honestly believe reality television is the best thing on the tube.

Touch demonstrates an incredible belief in the potential of humanity and an inspiring belief that what is wrong can be set right. If you enjoy heart-warming (and occasionally heart-wrenching) drama and can juggle multiple storylines in your mind across multiple episodes, then I suggest giving Touch a try. Be warned: It’s not for the vacuous.

On Politics & Autism: Presidential Style

  • Posted on April 18, 2012 at 8:35 AM

I have a great deal of respect for President Obama.  He is the most dignified person we’ve had in the Oval Office is my life time.  From everything I’ve seen, he’s a good man.

His accomplishments in regards to autism are, in my opinion, mixed, reflecting the mix we see in the greater autism community.

One example is the reauthorization of the Autism Act, which is a start but doesn’t do enough for those living with autism versus those researching autism.

Another example is World Autism Awareness Day, which sends a more positive, people-oriented message.

In regards to fiscal matters and the scope of government, I lean much more towards the conservative.  While I do not affiliate myself with any party, I vote for Republicans more often than Democrats.  (I prefer candidates who challenge the two-party dichotomy without going to the political fringes, but they are unfortunately rare at the state-wide or federal level.)

It’s like this:  Big government, overregulation, and elaborate social support systems don’t work.  They don’t produce a strong economy, a safe and prosperous populace, or social equality (three of the responsibilities I attribute to a federal-level government).  Ineffectual government, underregulation, and inadequate social support systems don’t work.  They don’t produce a strong economy, a safe and prosperous populace, or social equality.  Jumping back and forth between these two extremes doesn’t work, either.

It is my hope that the “flip-flopping” Mitt Romney would strike a moderate balance that blends the best of the liberal with the best of the conservative to produce something that might bring us closer to achieving those three goals.  Thus, my vote is Mitt’s to lose, assuming he actually wins the Republican nomination.

But autism is a big part of my life and social equity is a big part of what I expect from the federal government.  So, this worries me:

 (See this article for more information.)

Supporting research is all fine and good.  Putting the research decisions in the hands of the scientists (with appropriate checks and balances, which would be a key issue) might be fine, and certainly would be better than having politics drive researching decisions.  But autism isn’t a science, it’s a disability.  Autism isn’t a disease (Ron Paul’s video), it’s a difference.  It affects people.  These people are alive and living now.  And they need support.

As the sitting President, Obama has the advantage.  I don’t expect any candidate to be fully versed on all the issues that are thrown their way.  Much of the “common knowledge” about autism is, unfortunately, the drive for research.  President Obama has the advantage of needing to be better informed in order to make the decisions he’s made.  But still, Romney has to show the willingness to be informed.  This is promising, but is it enough?

Awareness

  • Posted on April 16, 2012 at 8:00 AM

April is Autism Awareness month.

April is also Child Abuse Prevention month.

This coincidence doesn’t have to be ironic.

Autism Abuse from Luis Blanco on Vimeo.

Prevalence Rising

  • Posted on April 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

According to the CDC, 1 in 88 children in the US have been identified with autism spectrum disorder.  These numbers come from 2000 and 2008 (i.e., they’re already old in comparison to some more recent studies using different, more timely methodologies in other locations), and are compared with the 1 in 110 that dates from 1998.  While none of the prevalence estimates I’ve seen have lined up exactly, this trend towards more people with autism (versus less people with autism) seems consistent.

To my knowledge, there’s no one way to account for the increase.  Increased awareness and assessment is certainly part of it.  Parents are able, without as much difficulty, to persevere until they get a diagnosis, which wasn’t always the case.  How much awareness and access to diagnostic assessment impacts these numbers is beyond my skill to deduce, but I doubt it can account for all of it.

Theories to account for this increase have included environmental and other man-made variables, such as vaccine poisoning.  Vaccine theories don’t hold up with the continued increase, however, which suggests a combination of environmental and genetic causes.

In the past, I’ve made it clear (or tried to) that I’m not overly interested in the causes of autism.  This doesn’t change that.  Whatever the cause or causes, my children are who they are, and they deserve to be treated as human beings, and they deserve to be accommodated and accepted as who they are right now.

They are not broken.  They don’t need to be fixed and they certainly don’t deserve to be devalued because they don’t measure up to some misguided perception of normal or perfection.  I know the research into causation will continue.  I know that we will look for the environmental triggers and genetic factors that may align in such a way as to cause autism.  However that manifests, we must not forget that 1 in 88 isn’t just a statistic.  We’re talking about people.

What Can We Do?

  • Posted on February 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM

On January 31, the Autism Society of America and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network issued a joint statement condemning the proposed changes to the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in the DSM-V.  Along with this united statement, I’ve read articles, posts, and other statements that have convincingly implied (or stated outright) that the proposed changes are motivated by politics, not science.

I’m not going to rehash these arguments in an effort to try to convince those who support the proposed changes not to do so; nor am I going to try to convince those who are undecided to stand against these politically-motivated changes.  Plenty of people are doing that already.

What I would like to do is act.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure what can be done.  So, instead, I’m going to ask:

What can we do about it?