Sunday, August 24, 2008

Full Metal Tropical Retard

Big flap from many quarters over the use of the words “retard” in the satirical movie, "Tropic Thunder.” Yesterday, I believe, Maria Shriver, Mrs. Terminator, had an op ed piece in the paper, and Becky Crowe of Nipomo sent in a letter to the Tribune, “ Say no to ‘R-word,’ saying that “Those who know [her daughter] would not equate the word “retard” with [her].”

Ms. Crowe noted that “The word hurts, even if it is not directed at a person with intellectual disabilities.” Actually, it’s one of those words that hurts only because it has been directed at a person with intellectual disabilities and/or then hurled at people to imply they have intellectual disabilities or any other intellectual or physical failings. Like the word “dunce,” which originally referred to the wrings of John Duns Scotus, of all people, “whose once accepted writings were ridiculed in the 16th century and now refers to one who is dull-witted or stupid.” (Interesting to note that next to dunce and dunce cap comes dunderhead in the dictionary.)

In short, “retard, retarded” was a perfectly good word, descriptive and useful in many ways – retardare, to slow up esp. by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment, impede, to delay academic progress by failure to promote, etc. and it isn’t until you get to the 4th listing under “retardation,” that you get to “less than normal intellectual competence usually characterized by an IQ of less than 70," and so forth. In fact, for years it was part of the professional lexicon of educators, medicos, re-hab specialists, appearing in their various texts and official forms. Until “political correctness” arrived – along with new information as to just how “unretarded” so many “retarded” people actually were – and it fell out of use. Oddly, a friend who worked for years with the profoundly handicapped children for the school district told me that the word has recently reappeared in some of the official paperwork. So, perhaps it’s back in its descriptive form again.

But no matter, used as a sling and an arrow, it is intended to be offensive. Ironically, the use of the word in “Tropic Thunder” is not directed at developmentally challenged people – it’s directed at a developmentally challenged Hollywood mind-set that milks tragedy and disability and human suffering for the Oscar gold, but . . . not too much . . . just enough to garner the prizes by demonstrating great acting chops, but without disturbing the great haircut and beautiful make up.

Interestingly, this movie and the ker-fluffle it kicked up certainly presented an opportunity to educate the public about a few things: Stereotypes blind us to a far more amazing reality on the ground, (what we are learning about our capacities continues to astonish); even when it hits its target, satire will likely have collateral damage for those looking for it; and mean people will always figure out a way to corrupt perfectly good words and use them as weapons to hurt other people.

It’s what mean “retarded” people do.

Oh, My God, Hide The Silverware! The Swiftys are BAaaaacccckkkkk

Newspaper notes that “Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who helped pay for the devastating attacks on the military record of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004, has paid for a television ad that assails Barack Obama over his ties to a founder of a violent radical group.

“Simmons, who is also a major fundraiser for John McCain, donated $2.87 million that a newly formed nonprofit group, the American Issues Project, has used for the ad, a report filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission shows.”

Conflation and false conclusions, here we come. Again. Last time it was, among others, T. Boone Pickens shelling out his gazillions to fund the Swift Boaty Boys (now he’s drilling for ways to tap the taxpayers for his wind scheme, which will make him more gazillions. Also, if I understand correctly, he offered a reward of a million bucks if the “facts” in the Swift Boat ads he helped finance were wrong and when those facts were indeed proven wrong he reneged on the bet. So much for honor among thieves.)

So put on your Crap Hats and get ready for it to rain bull pucky.

Well, this election is a watershed moment in Corporate America, so this battle will get really, really nasty. And, no, it’s not about Freedom and Democracy or any of that ridiculous stuff. It’s about Money and who gets to stay at the trough until the last dog dies and the last bit of grub is swilled up and the husk of the country is left sucked empty and discarded. That’ll bring out the big hungry boys so this mud fest will get really, really vicious.

The only question is this: Are the American people dumb enough to fall for it . . . again? We’ll see.

Yes, Your Honor, I Promise To Tell The Half Truth, The Partial Truth and Nothing But Only Some Of The Truth, So Help Me God.

In this weeks Bay News ( Editor Neil Farrel’s opinion piece, “Why No Compassion for Charles Lynch?” – Lynch was convicted in federal court for operating a legal medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay – in which Neil asks where, in this particular trial, “whole truth” went to. Notes Farrell, “How could the jury deliver a just decision when they were denied hearing ALL the facts? What would it hurt for jurors to hear that Lynch was not some sleazy drug kingpin but was instead a respectable, taxpaying businessman, operating in compliance with city and state law and in plain sight at a storefront in downtown Morro Bay? That doesn’t sound like a drug dealer to me.

“This is not Carlos Escobar, the infamous Columbian cocaine cartel leader (and terrorist). Charles Lynch is not the Mafia. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Indeed. Well, for all of you, I have two words: “Jury Nullification.” I refuse to serve on juries of cases dealing with drug use. (If there are other crimes, drunk driving, robbery, violence, whatever, yes, but drug use itself? No. Refuse.) Our “war on drugs” is one of the most incredibly insane wars we’ve every waged and the fact that it’s still going on in the face of both increased medical knowledge and facts on the ground means that the war isn’t about “drugs,” it’s about money, power, politics – lots of stuff but not “drugs.” And it makes about as much sense as putting people in prison who have diabetes – THAT’LL TEACH ‘EM NOT TO ABUSE INSULIN!!!

And For More On Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Glen Starkey’s latest New Times lead story, “May I have some more, sir?” in the August 21 New Times ( is a doozie. Prison rehab. Here’s Starkey: “Currently, nearly two-thirds of the parolees sent back to prison are sent back not because they were convited of a new crime, but because of a technical violation – usually a failed or missed drug test. Two-thirds of California’s prisoners have substance abuse histories, but because drug addiction – unlike alcohol addiction – is considered a crime and not a disease, we’ve created a revolving door in our prison system.

“Here, the experts say, is the crux of the problem. The CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] can only play the hand its dealt . For real change to occur, the people of California and their representatives in state government need to have the political will to change the justice system, fully fund rehabilitation programs for all prisoners, and lower the prison population by better assessing who should and shouldn’t be locked up. Only then will a bill like AB900 have a chance to succeed. Otherwise we should expect more of the same failed system.”

A failed system creating massive amounts of wasted lives and human suffering and – here’s the kicker – costing the taxpayers a bundle while doing nothing but costing taxpayers a bundle.

And there’s the sick irony. Ask the shrieking anti-tax types, let’s spend $6,000 per child in kindergarten forward to ensure their reading problems are caught early and fixed and any other learning disabilities are corrected for, and the answer will be NO!!!! But ask the same shrieking anti-tax types for $40,000 a year to keep a drug addict (who was dyslexic and started failing early in school because of it and wasn’t helped because there was no program to catch him as a kid) and you’ll hear SURE!!!! Pure nuts.

Starkey’s article is excellent. Check it out.

And Now Your Sunday Poem

Library of Congress’s sixteenth Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, from her book of collected poems, “Say Uncle”

Don’t Look Back

This is not
a problem
for the neckless.
Fish cannot
swivel their heads
to check
on their fry;
no one expects
this. They are
torpedoes of
compact capsules
that rely
on the odds
for survival,
unfollowed by
the exact and modest
number of goslings
the S-necked
goose is –

who if she
looks back
acknowledges losses
and if she does not
also loses.

1 comment:

Bev. De Witt-Moylan said...

I haven’t seen the movie, so haven’t had the opportunity to be offended or amused. For what it’s worth, though, I have also seen that what goes around does come around. In 1980 as I completed my master's in special education, the designations for cognitive functioning were "Educable Mentally Retarded," "Trainable Mentally Retarded," "Severely Mentally Retarded," and "Profoundly Mentally Retarded.,” determined and delineated by IQ scores. Prior labels had been "moron," "idiot," and "cretin.”

These labels gradually morphed through incarnations like Mild, Moderate, and Severe Developmental Delay to what became, just before I retired in 2007, "Mental Retardation.”

Sometimes it is quite obvious to an outsider who the special ed kids are, and sometimes it is not. But in the school setting everyone knows. With integration in schools and businesses the name calling and hazing have become less socially acceptable, but in true Darwinian fashion the strong still often ignore the weak completely or sometimes peck at them with epithets and hazing to demonstrate to the rest that they should be kicked out of the flock.

Even in "regular ed" every first grader knows that no matter how they label the reading groups, they can't hide who is in the top group and who is in the bottom. But calling someone a Blue Jay or a Tiger doesn’t have the wounding impact of "Retard.” That word stands the test of time.

Years ago someone said to me in disgust, "Her son is a Mongoloid Idiot!" Down Syndrome, just doesn't carry that same air of disdain.

In our culture being cognitively impaired seems to be about the worst thing in the world, worse than blindness, worse than deafness. Many parents of special needs students have told me that their doctors recommended they put their child in an institution, forget about them, and "try again." As though this was a puppy that hadn't worked out. One of those students graduated from Atascadero High School in 2001.

I once had occasion to assess a young girl for vision impairment. Between my own assessment and a few consultations with her ophthalmologist, we determined that the child was not vision impaired, but rather that she had problems with her visual perception, a brain related cognitive function (for which she could learn compensations), which would put her in the category of learning handicapped. I called her mother with what I thought was the good news that her daughter wasn’t vision impaired. She hung up on me. She was willing to have a vision impaired daughter, but not a learning impaired one.

A teacher in a North County school district who resisted providing any accommodations for a quite gifted student with learning and vision impairments told me indignantly that she had raised five children and none of THEM needed SPECIAL accommodations.

The mother of one of my former students is vision impaired herself and is an activist for her and her child's rights as handicapped persons. She is very sensitive to every slight or any discrimination her child might receive as a middle school student with a handicapping condition. One day at her home, however, I heard her call her border collie a "retard." When I called the mother's attention to her language in light of the modeling she was providing her children, she smiled as though I must be kidding.

How very encouraging it is that an internationally recognized figure such as Michael Phelps is willing to talk about his struggles as a person with a learning disability who walked a difficult road being bullied and sneered at in school. He provides a stunning model for others who struggle with our culture’s difficulty accepting those who seem different.