Yanking the Lasagna

I have a personal relationship with the Boston Red Sox, the team that is seemingly on the verge of winning its second World Series in four years after having gone without for the previous 86 years. This relationship has endured for more than two decades now, ever since I first made New England home. Lest you think me delusional or psychotic, please rest assured that I do not hear the voice of Yaz or Papi in my head and have not been seeing ballplayers in my shower or toaster oven. I would like to think I have a beautiful mind but not that beautiful.

In any regard, my relationship with the Boston Red Sox is strictly as a baseball fan. I have been enamored of our national pastime since the age of 10 or so, when I used to listen to broadcasts of Atlanta Braves games on my radio and root for my favorite player, Henry Aaron. Back then, in the suburbs of Miami where I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, the Braves were the nearest home team. And I was their fan, which was more than a little challenging given their chronic lack of success in those days. Still, I cheered the team on and grew somewhat accustomed to their inability to contend. Although it was disappointing, it was also predictable. The Braves rarely tormented me with near-success.

I cannot say the same for the Boston Red Sox. Ever since the 1986 World Series, when they were one strike away from winning the championship and then collapsed, the BoSox have annually tantalized and tortured me. The disappointment that I have felt at their hands (or mitts) is nothing compared to what I felt as a youth rooting for the Braves. It is one thing to go hungry. It is quite another to go hungry but have someone put a plate of steaming lasagna before you and then, just as you are prepared to sample a cheesy morsel, yank it all away, leaving you with nothing more than the promise of its rich, garlicky scent. It is painful.

Even after the Red Sox improbably came from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the hated Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, I still expect them to yank the lasagna from me. I find it difficult to trust them. The memory of their many near misses over the years and my subsequent heartache remains more powerful than the positive regard engendered by their more recent successes. My beloved BoSox have scarred me.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, such scars are ever so modest. But I am nonetheless aware of them and the ways in which they shape my attitude and behavior. Last night, for instance, I sat before the television watching Game 3 of the 2007 World Series. In the top of the third inning, the Red Sox scored the first 6 runs of the ballgame and seemed well on their way to victory. However, in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Colorado Rockies rallied. With nobody out, Matt Holliday hit a three-run home run, the third straight hit of the inning, and the score was suddenly 6 to 5. After the BoSox reliever gave up a single to the next batter, I shut the television off and scooted to bed. I could not watch anymore. I could not bear witness to the team I loved letting me down once again. I preferred to push away from the dinner table before the lasagna could be yanked from me. I felt sick and slept fitfully.

When trust has been breached repeatedly and one has been helpless to prevent such occurrence, when certain meaningful assumptions have been turned upside down and no longer seem safe to hold, it is psychologically damaging. It compels adaptation, healthy or not, to preserve the battered psyche. Early and chronic violations of trust and safety invariably color or distort in some measure all future actions and interactions. This is what happens to children who are raised in environments in which abuse, neglect, family violence, substance abuse, or mental illness are prevalent. They learn not to trust or to trust warily. They learn not to rely on their needs and wants being met with any consistency. They learn to resist the temptation to believe in others or believe in their own self-worth. They learn to associate love and trust with disappointment and pain.

In my career as a clinical social worker, I have regularly seen the damage wreaked upon the most vulnerable members of our society. I have borne witness to their struggles and suffering, which often persists even after their environment has improved or stabilized. It is ever a shame—one that makes my own disappointment and pain over a baseball team’s performance pale vastly by comparison. For, in truth, my relationship with the Boston Red Sox is very different from a child’s relationship with their parents or caregivers. I am not (or should not be) dependent upon these ballplayers for anything of substance. Their successes are, at best, a proffered side dish. The real lasagna is the trust and safety that should be every child’s birthright.

By the way, last night, the Red Sox defeated the Rockies 10 to 5.

When Is a Sex Offender Not a Sex Offender?

Justice delayed is certainly better than justice denied, but it would be preferable if travesties of justice could simply be avoided in the first place. The case of Genarlow Wilson—about whom I have posted on this site before—and other teens like him should serve as a cautionary tale for those who create and enforce the law. Mr. Wilson’s case amply demonstrates what happens when (a) legislators write laws in a reactionary and hysterical manner that blinds them of common sense and foresight and then (b) prosecutors don their own blinders and apply those laws with the fervor of the recently converted. Fortunately for Mr.Wilson, after serving nearly three years in prison for committing the egregious offense of engaging in a consensual sexual act with another teenager, cooler and wiser heads prevailed. But others still await their justice, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out:

Genarlow Wilson is free … but others are not

Several months ago, Genarlow Wilson was not optimistic Georgia courts would ever rule in his behalf. Interviewed in June at the Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, he pondered his chances.

“I’m really praying for the best, but at the same time I’m expecting the worst,” he said.

On Friday, Wilson got the best. He won his freedom after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that “… Wilson’s sentence is grossly disproportionate to his crime and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under both the Georgia and the United States Constitutions.” Later that day, Wilson left the prison, flanked by his attorney, B.J. Bernstein, and his mother, Juannessa Bennett.

Wilson, who served nearly three years of a 10-year sentence, may be the most extreme example of a teenager entrapped by the state’s regressive sex laws. The conduct that led to his felony conviction took place at a sordid 2003 New Year’s Eve Party, when he was 17 and the girl just two years his junior.

But Wilson is not the only young offender caught in a maze of draconian sex laws. Many young people are trapped on the state sex offender registry for nonviolent and consensual sex acts as teens.

The registry is a prison sentence in its own right, fencing even low-risk offenders off from most of society. Georgia law bars offenders from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, parks, rec centers or skating rinks. Last year, the General Assembly added churches, swimming pools and school bus stops to the list, and, for the first time, placed limits on where offenders could work. Now, sex offenders can’t hold jobs near schools, child care centers or churches.

In his long journey toward freedom, Wilson turned down plea deals that would have sprung him from jail because he felt that he’d never be free if he were on the sex offender registry. “I just don’t feel I’m a sexual predator,” he said.

Those sweeping limits have stranded other young offenders with virtually no place to go. Also convicted at age 17 of having oral sex with a 15 -year-old, Jeffery York, 23, of Polk County has resorted to sleeping in a camper van in the woods to comply with the registry. When she was 17, Wendy Whitaker, 28, of Harlem had oral sex with a teen about to turn 16; her sodomy conviction landed her on the registry and forced her and her husband to move twice already.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued a common-sense ruling that sex between teens is not the equivalent of adults preying on children, it’s the Legislature’s turn to act on reason. Lawmakers must amend the sex offender registry law so that it distinguishes between two immature high school kids hooking up at a party to a pedophile molesting the toddler next door. [full text]

Ministry of Truth Tells Us All We Need to Know

I guess even Fox News couldn’t be trusted not to ask an inconvenient question, so FEMA made sure they had control of the message…

FEMA scheduled an early afternoon news briefing on only 15 minutes notice to reporters here Tuesday to talk about its handling of assistance to victims of wildfires that were ravaging much of Southern California.

But because there was so little advance notice for the event held by Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy FEMA administrator, the agency made available an 800 number so reporters could call in. And many did, although it was a listen-only arrangement.

At the news conference itself, some FEMA employees played the role of reporter, asking questions of Johnson– queries described as soft and gratuitous.

“I’m very happy with FEMA’s response,” Johnson said in reply to one query from a person who was an agency employee, not an independent journalist.

Even a small-town radio talk show isn’t afraid to take live questions over the phone. This isn’t crisis mode, this is standard operating procedure. Our government has been using our tax money for years to make commercials for itself — disguised as news. Then we vote them back in because we heard on the news what a great job they’re doing. Pretty circular, huh?

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.

Sometimes the administration uses real people instead of actors, but that can be expensive, as seen here…

U.S. communications regulators cited conservative commentator Armstrong Williams on Thursday for violating a ban on “payola” in promoting the Bush administration’s education plan.

After investigating for more than 2-1/2 years, the Federal Communications Commission concluded that Williams and his firm violated agency rules by promoting President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy on television without disclosing they had been paid to do so…

Williams was not immediately available for comment. He has denied any wrongdoing but has acknowledged that the Education Department’s outside media firm paid $240,000 to promote No Child Left Behind during a television show he owned and hosted.

They haven’t neglected our print media, either. Remember ‘Jeff Gannon’? He was the fake reporter with the fake name who tossed softball questions to the President in the White House press room. And don’t think they’ve failed to take advantage of the propaganda value of our troops.

Letters from hometown soldiers describing their successes rebuilding Iraq have been appearing in newspapers across the country as U.S. public opinion on the mission sours. But many of them are the same form letter.

Religious programs like the 700 Club run segments formatted to look exactly like network news. If you switch the channel to Fox you might find they’re singing from the same hymnal.

I am scared because the fact is, we only catch them when they are inept. Several years ago, when urban legends were going around like the common cold, I learned to recognize them by the rhythm of the narrative. Lies are nice and neat, truth is messy. Do we have the patience to hear the whole story?

Drinking the Laffey Sand

Geoff Schoos has a review of Steve Laffey’s book in this week’s Cranston Herald. From the column:

Being a U.S. senator means being a leader. It means doing things instead of just saying things, it means persuading colleagues when you think they’re wrong, and sometimes it means rocking the boat. –Former Mayor Steve Laffey

This definition of leadership appears in Steve Laffey’s book, Primary Mistake: How the Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign). In so many ways, this book is quintessential Laffey — blunt, boisterous, egocentric and, for the most part, superficial.

When I read this book, it quickly became evident that Laffey confuses bluster with leadership. Like his tenure as mayor, it seems he can only build himself up by tearing down others. Too often, Laffey seems to live in a one-dimensional world of absolutes. In his world of absolutes, Laffey is always right and those who have other opinions are subject to his scorn and derision. As demonstrated over his four years as mayor and reiterated in his book, Laffey’s style is closer to demagoguery than it is to any definition of leadership. [full text]

Be Fair to Those Who Care

A lot of us in health care are part-timers for various reasons, and it’s not unusual to have two or three jobs. I have a supervisory position, which is nice, although on a bad day I tell myself that I couldn’t supervise my way out of a paper bag. I enjoy having the corporate jet whisk me in to work where I sit behind my mahogany desk receiving gifts and sharing power lunches with other nurses on expense accounts.

Okay, actually I drive from home to home and look at skin rashes or take client’s shoes off to see if they need a podiatrist. Their small dogs yap at me. But I like my work. I know what home health care workers do because I started out as a nurse’s aid.

It’s a job that requires trustworthiness, good judgement, clinical skills and endless patience. Everyone doing it should be paid better than they are, but the flexibility is good for mothers and people whose own elderly parents need them. It can be very rewarding emotionally.

I don’t think a job that is so labor and time-intensive is ever going to earn a large hourly wage unless the old people pull off a revolution. It is more concerning that so many workers are delivering health care when they themselves lack benefits.

I was talking to a home health aid and we discovered that we had both worked at the same nursing home. She was there for fifteen years and receives a small pension because she belonged to Health Care Workers 1199. It got me thinking of the typical situation of workers needing to put in a minimum number of months before they can even sign up for the company health plan. Small employers struggle to keep up with the rising costs of insurance, even as workers see the deduction from their paychecks go up. I hadn’t even thought about the post-retirement. There are quite a few people I work with who are over 65. Much as we all love our work, I’m sure they need the paycheck.

As a mature person I appreciate how much Medicare and Social Security helps me by helping my parents. I can go to work knowing that even though my parents invested more in us than in growing their wealth, they can live in dignity.

Everyone should have security in their old age. We need advocacy, from unions and lawmakers, for home health workers. The Supreme Court recently decided that employers do not have to pay minimum wage or overtime for workers in the home. If home care can be designated as a category of work that does not get the protection that most other workers take for granted it makes sense to organize.

Throwing the Book of Mormon at Mitt Romney

GREENWOOD, S.C., Oct. 23 Barack Obama rallying a global terror movement? Mitt Romney might have still been a bit bleary-eyed on Tuesday morning when he twice confused Mr. Obama with Osama bin Laden when referring to the latter’s new recorded message for jihadists to fight in Iraq.

Mr. Romney should stop using those Gideon Bibles to fall asleep after a hard day of campaigning. The Bible is too darned stimulating. He should read the Book of Mormon instead. It rambles on for endless pages of King Jamesese that make the Bible seem like a racy page-turner. I know, because I tried to read the Book of Mormon once. Not a waste of time though — I came across this interesting passage from 2 Nephi 5, verses 21-24:

“Wherefore, as they were white, and exceeding fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23. And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

–Book of Mormon Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1977

Although Sen. Joe Biden once got in trouble for calling Barack Obama ‘articulate’ I have to say that Sen. Obama has managed to run his campaign without making embarrassing verbal slips or reckless statements that he has to disown. When he was running for the Senate against Alan Keyes all he had to do was make sense and he came across as a statesman. Keyes was not above race-baiting either, accusing his opponent of taking “the slaveholder’s position� among other crazy, spit-spraying statements.

Seeing as politics is ruthless, and Obama, at least, manages to get his opponent’s names straight, I can’t rule out the possibility that Mitt Romney deliberately took a verbal jab — a little cut at Obama’s race, ancestry and family — just to test him.

More likely, it was a ‘Barney Fag’ kind of mistake. A private joke coming out in public. A moment of confusion because Mr. Romney has a mental file drawer for terrorists, Democrats, and dark-skinned guys with ethnic names. He’s going to win one for the values people and everyone else had better take a step back.

Politics is ruthless. I think it’s fair to ask Mitt Romney how he interprets that passage from the Book of Mormon. And it’s fair to ask him what in his record he can show to assure us that if elected he will respect every American as an equal citizen.

Blood on Their Hands

With the misbegotten war in Iraq dragging on, it seems perfectly appropriate for those protesting U.S. policy to step it up a notch and engage in some good, old-fashioned guerrilla theatre / civil disobedience, as occurred today on Capitol Hill, per Reuters:

Protester waves blood-colored hands in Rice’s face

An anti-war protester waved blood-colored hands in U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s face at a congressional hearing on Wednesday and shouted “war criminal!”, but was pushed away and detained by police.

Rice, an architect of President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, appeared unfazed by the incident, which occurred when she entered a House of Representatives meeting room to testify at a hearing on U.S. Middle East policy.

“Out!,” shouted the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, Rep. Tom Lantos, as police moved in to hustle the woman protester away.

Lantos, a California Democrat, also demanded the removal of several other demonstrators from the Code Pink organization, an anti-war group that often disrupts hearings on Capitol Hill.

“What are you doing, what are you doing?” the protesters screamed as police dragged them away.

Capitol Police said later three people were arrested and charged with disruption of Congress. [link]

The irony (and tragedy), of course, is that those with fake blood on their hands are held accountable for disrupting Congress, while those–such as Bush, Cheney, Rice, et al.–who have real blood on their hands and have deceived and flouted Congress remain unaccountable. Go figure.