Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Your Fault and My Fault - We All Share Responsibility

The recent influx in gun violence is our fault. We are the true problems - a culture so lost, so self absorbed we cannot see the trees through the forest. It's not just the guns. It's not just the mental health system. It's not just bad luck. It's us.

Science has known for years that guns are the leading cause of death among children and youth. Having a gun in a home increases the likelihood that someone will unintentionally die by that gun. Science has also know for years that violence in the media, including video games, increases the likelihood that someone will become violent. Exposure to pretend and real violence desensitizes us.

But science is lost on our culture. We have regressed into a nation that prefers to watch toddlers prance around in evening gowns and tiaras instead of learning. Then, we blame school systems for educational failures. We believe each of us is the center of our own universe. We falsely claim immunity to nature.We have regressed to a time when society blamed bad luck on witchcraft and where demonic possession is what caused people to behave poorly.

Today, when something awful does happen, it must be someone or something else's fault. We wield our religious values as a shield of immunity. We scapegoat in order to relieve us of our individual responsibility. We find answers that absolve us and incriminate others. And this, is indeed, the reason things do not change in our society. Our culture has been soiled by extreme egoism.

If we truly want to end the senseless violence like that in Newtown, Connecticut, we must look within ourselves. We must question our belief systems. We must accept that humans are part of a natural order and not exempt. We must understand that no one is an island and our individual behaviors affect many others on this planet. We must understand that our religious beliefs are values to live by - not shields of exemption.

Finally, we must be willing to make self-sacrifice for the greater good. We must be willing to alter our thirst for violence in our entertainment, concede our unlimited access to to weapons of war, and we must demand better health care options from those who control access.

Until we are willing to make self-sacrifices, this sad history will continue to repeat.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Return of the Salem Witch Hunt

Mass Hysteria: Anyone with Mental
Health Issues is a Dangerous Killer

I couldn't help this week but to draw a parallel to the witch trials with the mass hysteria caused by the irresponsible and unethical media. The people are now shouting from their social media rooftops - "hang them - they are killers!" If that were not enough, hate mongers posing as religious zealots are lighting other's torches preparing for the hunt.

Much like the days of the Salem witch trials, people want a solution to end the wickedness (violence) society has brought upon itself. And our sensationalized media has been delivering by offering a scapegoat - people with developmental disabilities and mental health disorders. Let the burning and hanging begin.

No amount of real data can deter these convinced witch hunters. No, anecdotes and speculation are all the proof they need. "My friend's sister's cousin works with these people and she says they are just dangerous." So it must be true. And then of course, some Bloggers also chime in with their pained stories of how hard it is to parent these awful children - "don't you feel sorry for MEEEEEEEEEE?" I mean, if it's on the internet, it must be true, right?

(The answer would be no. No, it's not true. Data doesn't lie - but people do.)

Ironically, those with mental health and other developmental disabilities are less likely to commit violent crimes than typical folks. But you've heard this before. Yeah, I know - your BFF's dogsitter's sister-in-law said....

Some statistics from the American Psychological Association regarding the mental health of the United States:

  • Published studies report that about 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. (CDC)

That's a lot of people who are potential killers. And well, 50% pretty much means either you or someone in your home will eventually have a diagnosable mental health disorder if not already. That number doesn't account for the developmental disabilities also being accused. Better take cover or warn your spouse - you might be living with the Devil's Spawn!!!

In all seriousness, this hysteria must stop. Remember what happened to a society who bought into the witch trials? It is happening again for people with disabilities. Real people are being targeted this week. They are being told they are killers, and worse - that they should be killed. Children are shouting horrible things to their disabled peers in school. People in store check out lines are viciously discussing how we need to lock them all up.

Each one of us is susceptible to being labeled with a mental health disorder in our lifetime. That does not make us more likely to commit premeditated murder. In fact, it makes us all the more likely to become victims by the hand of an otherwise sane individual.

This is not to say that mental health should be ignored. Far from it. Our society is less likely to seek help for mental health issues because of the stigma associated with a diagnosis. That needs to change. People should not fear seeking help from a psychologist anymore than they fear obtaining an eyeglass prescription from an optometrist. As the statistics show, half of us will need to seek help for our mental health at some point in our lives. HALF. Though I'd guess more than half need eye correction, that's still a lot of people.

Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. We don't need to figure out why this happened. We do, however, need to take active measures to stop it from happening again. But that doesn't start with creating mental health concentration camps or institutionalizing people based on labels. It starts by changing the way we as a society tolerate violence for entertainment. It starts by rethinking weapons laws and accessibility. It starts by realizing we are all human and not infallible. And it starts by letting the families in Connecticut grieve without fear that their loss started the biggest witch hunt since 1692.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Using Tragedy for Personal Gain

What a few days of utter hell! Advocates all over the country have been attempting to extinguish fires set by the media. It seems the media's mission has been to out-sensationalize tabloid journalism. Highly emotional, the public is outraged and rightly so - too many innocent people are dying by the hands of gun owners with deadly assault weapons (people kill people, right?). The media knows that the public wants immediate answers and solutions that point the blame away from gun restrictions. And so they deliver.

While there was some talk about gun control, the new focus has become mental health. The headlines began to read the "Killer may have had [insert mental health diagnosis]." Thanks to this media hype, the dismayed public is now asking, why aren't these "dangerous" people with mental health issues being helped? Adding more mental health stigma to an already terrible situation, enter the opportunistic vultures.

Over the weekend, a blogger (whom I refuse to name in effort to prevent feeding her more media attention) created a blog post under her real name (no pseudonyms for this one). This blog openly discussed her child's dangerous mental health issues. Most disturbingly, the headline compared her thirteen-year-old child to a murderer. The blog post went viral. People all over applauded her bravery for sharing her story - a story that led the public to believe she was in danger and that her son might be the next mass murderer -a Michael Myers meets Jason of Friday the 13th waiting to happen. She used fear and panic to add more stigma about people with mental health disabilities. And the public was buying it.

One only had to dive deeper into this woman's blog to see that there was indeed a very troubling history. Her child was allegedly sexually abused by her x-husband - a story in which she tells of a court hearing where alleged-molester-daddy-dearest gives the boy the cold shoulder causing the kiddo to break down. Later we read Daddy has joint custody. But that's not all, no. Daddy has supposedly had this same 13-year-old child "incarcerated" four times!!!  Is it any wonder this child might have mental health issues? Mom also claims her boy threatened suicide to police and was hospitalized in a mental health facility on at least one occasion (we presume during jail time).These grandiose stories were starting to be over the top.

Did I mention Mom is a writer? She's been interviewed by several local media outlets in the past - never discussing this crazed life she lives.  She has, however, given interviews on a local radio station about using Facebook as a tool to build an audience as a writer. She also worked for a time as a magazine editor. She even tells us on her personal blog about using Facebook to create a persona - someone she "wanted to become." Hmmmmmm.

There are some very troubling parents who think they are helping their children by posting personal information. I won't deny that I have seen it. But typically, these parents are "green" when it comes to social media. They don't realize what they post on Facebook today ends up in Google's search engine tomorrow. This mother, however, is not green. She's a college art instructor who writes professional articles and erotica novels in her spare time. She expertly blogs, tweets, and Facebooks til the cows come home and advises others on utilizing these tools for self promotion.This mother did not inadvertently give out personal information that could harm her child without knowing she did so. No, this was contrived. Which leads me to my main point.

I don't believe her story. Her child may indeed exist - she has his and the family photos on the blog for all to see. He may even have an un-diagnosed mental health disorder. But I am unconvinced that this educated and savvy writer would willingly expose her child risking adolescent bullies and public retaliation. After all, she did not hide her identity (though supposedly changing the child's first name). No rational parent throws their kid under the bus like that. Mom has seemed to find a lot of time to blog, write books, and tweet. I would think she'd be able to find time to get her child some appropriate help, should he really need it. Our mental health system is far from perfect. But there is help for those who have means. One would think a college instructor has the means. Are we to believe that rather than privately seeking help for him, she blogged about it?

No, I don't believe that this woman has a child who is dangerous and has driven her to the brink as she'd have you believe. She is someone who saw an opportunity to get her name known. Perhaps this was her chance to get a real publisher to look at her work. Whatever the motive, I firmly believe that this was all about her and never about a social mental health crisis. Because all this woman did was make it worse. She helped link people with mental health issues to violent murderous behavior. I anxiously await the publication of her autobiography.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Broken Back

After a week of illness I informally deemed "the new black plague" and end of semester finals, I thought Friday's tragedy was the straw that would break this camel's back. You see, I loathe guns. I will not have them in my home, regardless of their purpose. I'm not exactly sure when I formed this strong opinion, but know it began at least by my adolescence as I remember having this debate in civics class. Ironically, I grew up in a home with handguns and hunting rifles. I have no traumatic stories to tell that explain my great dislike of guns. Yet I do, very strongly, dislike weapons and see no sign of changing this perspective.
So when I finally came out of my cave of academic study and heard the news, I thought I would crumble. More senseless death, of children no less, in the name of someone's barbarous argument that it is their "Constitutional Right" to carry and stockpile these killing machines. I have grown weary from the argument. Little did I know, however, that this story would become personal and downright paralyzing.
The media, in effort to sell the story, figured it had better give us the big answer: Why? Why would this young man have done such an unspeakable thing? In reality, because the shooter is also dead we will never know. But let the speculation begin. The media was going to give us that BIG answer, though completely unfounded.
ABC was the first news network to start the rumor. An anonymous relative supposedly said the killer was autistic and had a personality disorder. Within moments, that misinformation went viral. ABC had "dirt" it so desperately needed to stand out from its competing networks. Soon after, ABC removed that information from their website - presumably it was misinformation. But it was way too late. Other news media, bloggers, commentators, you-name-it stumbled on that misinformation and had begun to spread it like wildfire. There would be counters to this misinformation, but it would fall on deaf ears. You see, saying "we don't know why" doesn't sell papers or increase sponsorship. People want answers. And they are ready to accept those answers regardless of who gets hurt in the process. They are especially ready to point blame at something other than "the gun."
Today, I continue to read the horror stories. Not the shooting details. I simply refuse to patronize the sensationalist news media with their nonstop speculative commentary. The families deserve much better. No, I am reading about the "witch hunt" demonizing autistics - the ongoing pleas to stop autistics from hurting others - to limit autistic rights - the nonsense connections from someone who knows someone who knows someone with an autistic family member who was "just like" the shooter. The well-meaning bloggers who plead for better "mental health" for people "suffering from autism."
Autism, though still in the DSM, is considered a neurobiological disorder by the specialists and researchers who are forefront. It is a different wiring system in the brain that causes the individual to process differently than what is typical. Symptoms of autism do not include premeditated violent behavior.
Autistics and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Attributing autism as a motive to this heinous crime is no more valid than attributing Adam Lanza's maleness, human-ess, or the fact that he lived in Connecticut. Though all of these things are true, they do not motivate one to murder.
Today I live in fear because of a rhetorical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. I fear that I cannot safely go Christmas shopping without the possibility that a "legal" gun owner might go on a killing spree. Leaving our home increases the likely-hood my family will die by gunfire. I fear my family may end up collateral damage so that gun enthusiasts can continue to stockpile assault weapons.
But I mostly live in fear for my autistic child. A victim of abuse by the hands of "typical" people, my child, who values life above all, is now the target of a media frenzy.
Today my back is broken and it is difficult to have hope.

Friday, December 14, 2012

ASAN Statement on Media Reports Regarding Newtown, CT Shooting

Media outlets were quick to disseminate misinformation in regards to today's tragic shootings. ABC originally reported speculation that the gunman was "autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a personality disorder." but has since removed that story. Sadly, other media outlets picked it up and within minutes, this potential misinformation went viral.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network released this statement.
In response to recent media reports that the perpetrator of today’s shooting in Newton, Connecticut may have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with a psychiatric disability, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) issued the following statement today:
“Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and their families. Recent media reports have suggested that the perpetrator of this violence, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or with another psychiatric disability. In either event, it is imperative that as we mourn the victims of this horrific tragedy that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between autism or other disabilities and violence. Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Should the shooter in today’s shooting prove to in fact be diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with another disability, the millions of Americans with disabilities should be no more implicated in his actions than the non-disabled population is responsible for those of non-disabled shooters.
Today’s violence was the act of an individual. We urge media, government and community leaders to speak out against any effort to spuriously link the Autistic or broader disability community with violent crime. Autistic Americans and other groups of people with disabilities persist in facing discrimination and segregation in school, the workplace and the general community. In this terrible time, our society should not further stigmatize our community. As our great nation has so many times in the past, let us come together to both mourn those killed by acts of heinous murder and defend all parts of our country from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.”
Media inquiries regarding this shooting may be directed to ASAN at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


"to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."
The above is a powerful selection from Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that applies to all public schools in the United States who receive federal funding.
"The School Board of Hillsborough County, Florida, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, disability, or age in its programs, services, activities or in its hiring and employment practices. School Board Policy 1122 ensures equal opportunity for all in its personnel policies and practices" (emphasis added).
The above is an excerpt from the Hillsborough County, Florida school district website. It is, in fact, listed as a disclosure on the homepage of their website, found here.
Henry Frost
“I am Henry, a self advocate. I want the same rights as everyone.
Today I read about Martin Luther King.
The worksheet said because of Dr King’s work, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave equal rights to all people.
I am a person.
I want these rights.
I want to go to school in my neighborhood.
Why can’t I”?
The above is a plea from Henry, a thirteen year old autistic self advocate. Henry is a resident of the Hillsborough County school district. Henry uses assistive communication software on his tablet computer to communicate. He also has hearing loss and relies on special hearing-aids.

As you likely realize from Henry's plea, the Hillsborough County school district has refused to allow Henry access to the least restrictive environment. In fact, Henry isn't even allowed to go to the same school his neuro-typical sisters attended (edited 2:55pm) - a school which is across the street from his family home. Hillborough County has decided unilaterally that Henry isn't capable enough to attend their educational program.

Henry's school district has, to date, not held an appropriate IEP meeting. Instead, they have created an internal "good old boy" court in which Henry cannot give input and which his parents are not allowed meaningfully participation. At Henry's last IEP meeting there were 18 district staff members present.(edited 2:55pm) Henry and his family were put on trial in attempt to convince the school of Henry's rights. Instead of allowing the IEP "team" to discuss the goals and accommodations for his educational plan, the school unilaterally determined Henry cannot attend without passing their proprietary "tests" to prove he can cope. Tests of these sorts are not legal.

"Wait. What," you say? Isn't Hillsborough County discriminating and breaking the law? How can a school discriminate like this and not be sanctioned? Yes they are discriminating and the reason is simple.

Every single case of discrimination is processed separately through expensive and stressful due process. Families must hire attorneys at great costs and file discrimination suits. Schools routinely retain attorneys for all their legal troubles. They have lawyers at their beckoned call who stand ready to defend. Schools like Hillsborough County know they have the upper hand. They know that resources are scarce for most of the families they discriminate against. They gamble on the fact that most families do not know the law or do not have the financial or legal resources to fight back. The system is broken.

What Hillsborough County is doing is not uncommon. This is a systemic problem in the United States. Schools know the law better than the families. School districts have legal know-how to continually break the law with little worry. The students who suffer are collateral damage so that the schools can keep the status-quo; that is, to only properly educate the students who are easy - the typical, average student.

What Hillsborough County school district fails to realize, however, is that Henry and his family are not alone. Thousands have taken to blogging and social media to make sure this story is heard. It is only a matter of time before Hillsborough County school district begins to feel the sting of their actions.

I stand with Henry. Won't you?

Edited 2:55pm- originally stated a regular education teacher was not present. This may be the case but has not been confirmed. & The student's sisters no longer attend the same school building as they now attend high school which is a different building.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Stand With Henry

On the tails of my last entry - how functioning labels are harmful, comes young nonverbal autistic, Henry. Henry wants to be treated like a human being. He wants people to stop talking in front of him - about him - like he's not there. He wants to go to his neighborhood school. Not in some self contained segregated classroom. He is smart and wants to be treated with dignity and respect. Henry is not an anomaly and we must stop thinking that he is. Many autistic people with communication differences are labeled with low IQ and lack of potential -  inappropriately so. We must STOP. NOW.

I stand with Henry because every student and every human should be afforded equal rights and respect no matter. Only when society stops sorting and valuing people based on labels will society truly be free.

[edit 9-14-2012] Stand with Henry on Facebook at

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

School House Rock and Autistic Labels

"Conjunction junction, what's your function" is still running through my head after whipping out the School House Rock DVDs to supplement my kid's grammar lesson yesterday. Whatever happened to that priceless educational Saturday morning cartoon extravaganza? I can still recite the preamble to the US Constitution (there's some useless trivia). School House Rock just rocked. So today when I stumbled on yet another tireless debate about autistic function levels, I thought,
"Hey! Conjunctions have functions. My child is not a conjunction!"
(side note, I totally used an "Interjection, for excitement or emotion - generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feelings not as strong..." carry on).

The old school lingo of high functioning and conversely low functioning autism has been wrought with problems. First off, who wants to be given a function level? Am I a high or low functioning writer (wait - don't answer that)? Are you a high functioning or low functioning reader? How about my music skills in which I'm a tad prideful? Should I refer to myself as a high functioning musician or a low functioning musician? You get my point. These labels are subjectively defined and have no real definition.

What makes someone "high functioning" as an autistic? Does that mean they must communicate verbally with average to high intelligence as based on standard measures? Or does it mean, they can speak their mind through writing even when they cannot speak verbally? Or is it based on some wacky formula for calculating potential? Furthermore, who sets the bar on what potential even is? 

Many autistics cannot communicate verbally or struggle to do so. If a person cannot communicate their needs undesirable behavior ensues. If someone were to take away the average person's ability to communicate, we can imagine that frustration would overtake and undesirable behaviors would result. It's really not rocket science (for that we need Interplanet Janet).

A good many of autistics who cannot verbally communicate, are extremely eloquent with the written word. A good many outperform typical people in academics. But here's the thing. Someone had to recognize these autistics had potential. Functioning labels prevent us from recognizing potential.

Every child should be given and taught to use tools for communication. I don't mean PECs - I mean real techno-savvy language tools. Word processing, Ipads, whatever we can find to help these people get their voices heard. With today's technology, there is little excuse for a human to be kept from communicating. 

So the next time I hear someone use a function label to describe a human, I'm going to relentlessly sing School House Rock songs until they recognize how harmful those labels are. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Using Our Children for Perks

The universal accessible parking sign is well known to most folks. Certain parking spots in the United States have designated signs that indicate only those with valid passes can use these spots to park their vehicles. Though states differ on qualifications and fines for abuse, each state seems to offer either a license plate or hanging placard that grants the vehicle close access.

We often find ourselves making quick judgments on those using these passes at local establishments. Many times, seemingly "typical" people walk exceptionally well across the lot to the store and we think "abusing the system." But in reality, we cannot and never should judge a persons abilities by their looks. Many of these folks may have invisible disabilities that do require shorter walks (asthma, emphysema, or neurological disabilities come immediately to mind). So today when I stumbled on an blog promoting the use of such cards for families with autistic children, I thought, "what a great idea!" Some autistic children do have difficulties with parking lots (mine is one of them).

When my kiddo was younger, one of these passes would have prevented much anxiety for all of us. But as I read on, the tone of the blog took a turn for the worse. Language such as "playing the A card" and "perks of Autism" paint a very different reason for obtaining the pass. This language indicates that parents should take advantage of the system because of their burden autistic child.

This blogger may have had well-meaning intentions. It does, indeed, sound like his child benefits from having such a pass. But the language used in this article gives justification for systemic abuse that helps foster resentment of our children by society, in general.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day Two of Voter ID Trial - Stats

Highlights from the ACLU Blog:
The full version of the study is available to the public here.
"Less than 86% of eligible voters in the state hold a form of ID that will qualify them to vote."  
"Roughly 379 thousand Pennsylvanians currently have no valid ID for voting, and no ability to obtain one. 174 thousand of those people voted in 2008."
  • 17.2% of women lack valid ID, compared with 11.5% of men
  • 18% of Latino voters, compared to roughly 14% of black or white voters
  • 18% of voters ages 18-34, or age 75+
  • 18.5% of voters with less than a high school education
  • 22% of voters earning less than $20 thousand per year
"42% of voters who said they had no access to regular transportation also had no ID that would permit them to vote. Remember, please, that polling places are frequently within walking distance of an individual's home - PennDOT licensing centers are generally not."
"Baretto remarked that any voter who has an ID with a name that is not an exact match with his or her name on the voting rolls is "at risk" come election day."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PA Voter ID Debacle

Pennsylvania's voter ID law is under high scrutiny right now. After the ACLU found that more than 1,000,000 voters in PA were without the proper ID, Harrisburg started scrambling. Even more troublesome is that some older folks were not going to be able to obtain an ID due to lack of official documents that were not available. So this week, presumed to curtail the lawsuits and dispute the intention is voter suppression, the Corbett administration unveiled a new Voter ID that is obtainable with much less stringent conditions.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,
"PennDot requires Pennsylvania residents seeking a nondriver ID to provide a Social Security card; a birth certificate with a raised seal; a certificate of U.S. citizenship or naturalization, or a valid passport; and proof of residency, such as tax records, lease or mortgage documents, a firearms permit, or utility bills."
Guess what...those forms of ID are the same exact forms of ID voters have always had to show at the polls in order to vote in a precinct in Pennsylvania the first time. In the past, voters could not vote in a precinct until their identity was confirmed via the same IDs that will be required to obtain a new Voter ID. This was only required the first time they voted in that precinct. However, if a voter moved, they would be required to show ID again.

So let's walk through this. According to the Inquirer article, instead of showing the acceptable forms of ID to say three poll workers when a voter signs into to vote, the voter now shows the IDs to one PennDOT employee. This employee then uses the given identification to create a Voter ID with photo that is good for ten years.

Let's presume for a moment, that voter ID fraud actually happened in PA (there is no evidence that is has). How did it happen? Well, since people who have not voted at a precinct before had to present a form of ID (as stated above), the fraudulent voter would have had to stolen or borrowed someone else's social security card, utility bill, birth certificate, etc. etc. The voter would then have presented these IDs to a poll worker while at least two more poll workers looked on. If a poll worker, or anyone else for that matter in the polling location, suspected this person was not who they claimed to be, the vote could be contested and the precinct judge would be required to fill out paperwork.

Now let us look at how this new ID will prevent such fraud from taking place. A potential criminal looking to obtain a fraudulent voter ID will have to steal or borrow someone else's social security card, utility bill, birth certificate, etc. etc. The criminal would then present these IDs to one Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employee. This employee would then create a photo ID that  has the mug shot of the criminal on a legal voter ID that will allow the criminal to commit voter fraud for ten consecutive years until the ID expires. 

Wait...that doesn't seem to prevent fraud at all, does it? 

No, it does not. While many people do have a proper form of ID to present at the polls, requiring a photo ID does not prevent fraud. Ask any underage drinker who cons his way into bars with Fake IDs how easy it is to obtain fraudulent ID. And well, I think this new Voter ID just makes it so much easier to commit fraud because you only have to fake it one time to obtain a ten year ID. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

When Did Football Become God (or My Diatribe about PSU Scandal)

Anyone who knows me well is familiar with my distaste for American football. It’s not exactly the sport itself that I loathe, but its profane power over our culture. I despise how society notoriously reveres the sport with the same devotion as religious convictions. Coaches and talented players are placed on untouchable pedestals for all to idolize.  They are society’s “heroes,” yet so often are perpetrators of criminal and distasteful acts –making more money than Nobel Peace winning scientists. So one can imagine that the Penn State scandal, involving years of an inside cover-up of unspeakable child abuse, simply reaffirmed my disdain for the sport. A lesson learned, I thought perhaps this scandal could redirect the focus back to what universities are truly for – obtaining a quality higher education.

Today, however, another demigod-like supremacy determined the fate of Penn State. The NCAA sanctioned the university with fines to the tune of $60,000,000 and placed limits on athletic participation in the collegiate realm. In addition, PSU has been denied the ability to distribute scholarships. At the time of this writing, it is unclear what kind of scholarships, but the sanctions are presumed to affect only students in the football program.

One might think I am okay with these sanctions. After all, I loathe the fact that football has become more important than education in our society. But what do these sanctions mean for current and future students of Penn State? One can speculate that 60 million dollars is enough to affect tuition rates. This alone is bad for all students, like me. But even more pervasive is that many talented future athletes may no longer afford or desire an education at Penn State. And let us be realistic for a moment. Penn State has notoriously drawn talented musicians into their University because of the infamous Blue Band. Athletic gymnasts have attended PSU because they want to cheer on the Nittany Lions teams. Some students do come to Penn State to play football. But these students are not necessarily tomorrow’s Mozart’s, Mary Lou Retton’s, or Joe Namath’s. Many are tomorrow’s scientists, writers, teachers, therapists, business leaders, and more. These current and future students are the ones who stand to lose the most. What right does the NCAA, an athletic organization, have to punish students of an entire university? Once again, sports – especially football – seem to be in complete control.  How dare an athletic organization take away opportunity for innocent students because of some very bad administration?  The students and current staff and administration of the university do not condone the behaviors of the past football administration. But we certainly are going to pay for those behaviors.

It seems more fitting that the NCAA should take over sports programs when its ethics rules are broken – not destroy programs in their entirety. This punishment is going to trickle down to everyone who attends the university. And the actual criminals, who will surely receive due punishment by the court systems, will be the least affected by the NCAA sanctions.

It seems that the NCAA’s announcements today only strengthen my disdain for organized sports. Way to go, NCAA.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pennsylvania Unite Against the War on Women

April 28, 2012 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
Pennsylvania State Capitol Steps Harrisburg, PA

Help defend women's rights and pursuit of equality. Join Americans all across the United States on April 28th, 2012, as we come together as one to tell members of Congress in Washington DC and legislators in all 50 states, "Enough is enough!"

All Americans have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, including contraception, without interference from government, business or religious institutions.

Everyone is invited to join, plan, and rally as we unite to demand that every person be granted equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal representation.

RSVP on Facebook

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fighting the War on Women with Facebook and Philosophy

Within the past week, I have been privileged to be part of a growing movement. Facebook can be a wonderful thing for organizing political movements. And this week, I have seen it in action.

The National March Against the War on Women is currently a Facebook initiative that can be found here:

Women and men all over the United States are banding together for Statewide marches on Saturday, April 28, 2012. We are mad as hell about the current agenda to reduce women to second class citizenry by denying us civil rights - our liberty. Please click the link and join us!

Coincidentally, I had an ethics paper due this week and found a way to work in the subject of employer paid contraception insurance coverage. Below is why the argument on Religious Freedom, doesn't fly. Enjoy.

Contraception and the Liberty of Society

The United States is now embroiled in a battle over government mandated health insurance coverage for contraception. On one side are conservative religious employers claiming a breach in constitutional religious freedom. On the other side is a majority who believe free contraception will benefit society. Both sides claim the opposing stance will cause harm. In his work, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill explains that a person’s behaviors and actions should be allowed so long as they do not cause harm to anyone but the individual, themselves. The problem, however, seems to be determining whom, if anyone, will be harmed. Who, in the battle over contraception, stands to be harmed the most should either side prevail? Using Mill's argument of a person's right to act on their own accord, it is clear that society is at most risk for harm, should the religious employers prevail.

Catholic and conservative religious leaders assert that paying for employee health insurance, that includes free contraceptive services, goes against constitutionally granted freedom of religion. They claim that offering contraceptive coverage to their employees is  against churches’ stance on the use of contraception. On the other side, proponents argue that mandated insurance coverage does not equal mandated use. Furthermore, they state that offering free contraception will have positive social consequences. Proponents cite that increased accessibility will help prevent unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortions. In addition, they posit that free contraception will decrease the number of children unintentionally born into poverty. Both issues have extreme social costs.

John Stuart Mill affirms that liberal freedoms are central to achieving happiness. Mill’s reflections propose society must allow individuals to make personal decisions, even if the decisions cause self-harm. “The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself” (Mill 5.2). Mill further expresses that we may counsel or advise against behaviors, but that ultimately, society should not impose restrictions or inflict punishment on the behaviors. “Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct” (Mill 5.2). In the case of the insurance contraception coverage, it would seem the proponents perspective on free contraception leaves conduct up to the individual, which is in line with Mill’s thinking. On the other hand, the religious employers cite that governmental force to offer coverage would cause harm by limiting religious freedoms. Using Mill's thinking, one must determine how freedom to practice religion is limited or harmed by this mandate. Would an individual following conservative religious beliefs be forced to use contraception if their employer paid health insurance offered it? Would religious employers and their staff be limited in any way from practicing personal religious freedoms should their insurance coverage change?

When it comes to arguments such as this, we must decide if harm is imminent. Mill says we should look to “… distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter” (Mill 4.2). This suggests we must determine which option has the potential to provide the most good and which has the potential to cause the most harm. In the case of contraception coverage, the task is to determine which decision will ultimately be better for the good of society. Mill also states that we must be certain not to impose our values on others behaviors, no matter how immoral they may seem. “But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it” (Mill 4.2). It seems Mill has given us clear guidelines on individual behavior and conduct that does not harm others. We must decide if the churches’ followers, including employers, stand to be harmed by a coverage mandate, as they lay claim. Will conservative church members (some of which are likely employees) be inclined to go against churches’ and their own belief systems? Will otherwise devout people be forced to relinquish moral principles because of health insurance coverage? Mill also says we must decide which act stands to do the most good. We next must then resolve whether free contraception will benefit society. Will reductions in national abortion rates and children born to poverty be good for society? Likewise, will society benefit by allowing religious conservatives to opt out of this coverage mandate? Finally, we must decide which option provides the greatest potential to do the most good for society.

Who, in the battle over contraception, stands to be harmed the most, should either side prevail? It seems clear, using Mill’s rationalization. When one looks at the conservative religious stance, it is difficult to comprehend how anyone could be harmed by a coverage mandate. The mandate does not order people to use contraception. It does not ask religious employers or persons to judge contraception as morally correct. On the other hand, society has nothing to gain and potentially much to lose by allowing employers to opt out. This could set a very dangerous precedent for limiting any medical coverage based on employers' belief systems. An employer, who believes that only prayer can cure cancer, could eliminate cancer treatment coverage. An employer, who believes immunizations are immoral, could refuse coverage causing eradicated diseases, like polio, to become commonplace. The options to limit health insurance coverage based on personal belief systems, are nearly endless.

It is obvious that society will receive the most benefit from free contraceptive coverage. By offering free contraception through employer paid health insurance, fewer burdens are placed on public welfare systems, thus reducing government costs. Rates of children born into poverty, which contribute to many future costs including public welfare, penal systems, and long-term health issues, will decline. Abortion rates will decrease due to better accessibility of contraceptives - a valuable benefit for religious conservatives who speak out against abortion. It appears that conservative religious employers against coverage are merely attempting to impose their own morality on others. Even if the person who chooses to use contraceptives is morally harming themselves, according to Mill, the conservative employers should only attempt to counsel or express dislike for the behavior. If Mill was part of the conversation today, he most certainly would agree; conservative religious employers should not attempt to limit a person's liberty when the choices clearly only affect the individual, themselves.

Works Cited
Mill, John Stuart. "Chapters 4 and 5." On Liberty. 4th ed. London: Roberts & Green, 1869. Web. Retrieved: Feb. 24, 2012.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Autistic Hoya: Tired

Autistic Hoya: Tired: Trigger warning: This is mostly about ableism and a response to other, very triggering things, as well as including lots of direct quotes of...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Emergency Care Centers - Keeping our pets healthy and safe or abusing our furry loved ones?

After experiencing a rather horrible day at a regional emergency care veterinarian's office, I've been thinking about how our pets have no guaranteed quality emergency care options. While most local veterinarians are good doctors, they are not usually available for after hours or holiday care. And when the vets are closed, we have to turn to urgent care centers that seem to have little in mind, other than charging triple and even quadruple fees. 

Why aren't there better options for our beloved pets? No pet owner should ever have to make their pet suffer and die painfully because they can't afford the entire cost of treatment that day. These centers will make no payment arrangements - such as a percentage now, a percentage later. Nor will they consider knocking off a few dollars to save a pets life. They will point you to a credit company who, if approved, charges to the tune of 30% interest. But a lot of people in this economy, don't get approved.

Physician's take the Hippocratic oath. Hospitals generally guarantee emergency care treatment even to those who can pay nothing. But when it comes to our pets, it seems Veterinarian's have no responsibility. We are given no options - pay upfront in cash or watch your furry family member die in agony. And when you cannot pay 100% of the bill, they tell you that there is nothing they can or will do for your pet.  It seems to me this is a form of extortion bordering animal abuse. 

Today's animal advocacy organizations (such as spay and neuter and adoption agencies) should also work towards better and more cost-effective urgent care for our pets. While it's understood medicine costs money, there is very little reason these centers cannot work payment arrangements for a pet who without care, will die. But they won't. And those pet owners must walk away with their suffering pet in hand and watch them die in a cruel and heartless way. 

That is just so wrong.
anecdote: Our cat Morris had a urinary obstruction - which is fatal within 12-24 hours. We were told that it would cost nearly $2000 for treatment, payable immediately less than one week after Christmas. When I tried to explain we didn't have that much cash on hand, I was told "You need to pay for the procedure or he will die a painful and horrible death." They refused to work out any payment arrangements. They told me I had to "decide" what I wanted to do. But there were no choices given as we simply didn't have that kind of money available. In the end, they agreed to do an outpatient treatment for nearly $500. But they were very sure to tell me multiple times that this would probably not save his life. He is still kicking today. I'm hopeful he will recover albeit touch and go. But I will never ever forget the horrible way I and my beloved, Morris, were treated that day.

1-2-2012 Update - Morris is doing pretty well today. Going to his regular vet for some REAL care at 3:15 EST. Will keep you posted.