Monday Morning Masculinity: Wiping Bottoms

When my son was born, I processed the words “Down syndrome” in part by starting to write. First it was Livejournal, then Facebook, then a few op-eds, and now my current combination of Facebook, Twitter, published Op-Eds, and periodic re-posts to other sites. I decided to make “Lollardfish,” a name I used on early online spaces, a public name associated with “David Perry.” But I also made a vow as I became a “baby-blogger.”

I would not write about poop.

I have mostly kept that vow.

Last week, among other outrages, a “real housewife” published a book called Love: Italian Style that seems to feature every stereotype about gender, marriage, and Italians that one could invent. I have not read the book, but because of my interest in marital and parenting norms, I did follow the reviews. Here’s Gawker.

The amount of sexism, gender essentialism, and caveman logic within its pages is so appalling that it’s difficult to believe that her book is anything but a cry for help.

The worst passages are on marital rape, followed by a whole host of other abusive passages. But I focused on this one.

Joe, the housewife’s husband, says: “I don’t feed babies, or change the diapers. My father never wiped my ass, and I don’t wipe my babies’ either.”

I feel sorry for men who have this attitude towards caregiving. While the other egregious excerpts from this book are not, I hope, typical, I think this one is.

It’s true that I didn’t especially like changing diapers and feeding was often messy and a chore, but caring for my son, first, and then my daughter, changed me as a person. When you are responsible for all the basic bodily needs of an infant, this intensifies the bonding between the two of you. I’ve never forgotten those early weeks and months of learning to read the signals coming from my children, assessing their input and output carefully, trying to predict and meet their needs. It changed my relationship with my wife, too, as caregiving became a new aspect of our partnership.

I was very hesitant, at first. I loved kids, but had not spent a lot of time around babies, and used to have quite the weak stomach when it came to diapers. Even the smell from someone else’s kid would make me leave the room, and I was nervous about failing this test when Nico was born.

I think his diagnosis played a role, here, as the words “Down syndrome” shifted us into a new world and made new demands on us. We met those demands, I think, with as much grace and love as we could, because we had no real choice. There was a baby. We loved him. He had needs. We tried to meet them. And we changed.

By the time my daughter was born, caregiving was just a normal part of being a father; of being a man. I’m grateful to my children for the depths they have helped me discover.

My son is six and a half and mostly potty trained, though he still has accidents. Still, he doesn’t really know how to wipe his own bottom, so he gets off the potty and calls for help. I lean down to clean him and he leans in to me with his head, holding still, waiting, close. These are not my favorite moments with my son, but they are part of whole package of fatherhood. I’m looking forward to the day when he can do it himself, but I never mind. I’m glad he lets me help him. I’m glad he trusts me. I’m glad I’m his dad.

Ricky Gervais and the Angel/Retard Dialectic

Apparently there’s a new show on Netflix called Derek. I haven’t watched it. Who has time to watch that sort of thing in between parenting, working, writing, cooking, cleaning, gardening, sports, cooking shows, and all the other things that fill up my life.

Apparently, though, it features a lead character who is unbelievably good and presumably has a disability. It falls into the “angel” side of what I like to call the “Angel/Retard Dialectic” (discussed in this CNN essay). I’m very interested in the way that positive stereotypes, as nice as they can feel, are just as limiting as negative stereotypes.

Here’s a review, then I’ll offer a few comments at the end:

Derek, played by Ricky Gervais, is an incredibly nice person who may or may not have a disability. 

Derek is what his friends and co-workers euphemistically refer to as
“different”: He walks with a shuffling gait, he has a chronic underbite,
and he is unable to maintain eye contact with others. His physicality
has led the show’s minor characters (and its audience) to infer that he
is mentally disabled (Gervais, who created the character in 2001, insists that he is not).
Whether or not he is, however, is secondary to the fact that he is
clearly differently abled in some way, a distinction that the show’s
creators conflate with kinder, better, and more generous than the lion’s
share of humanity.
[my emphasis]

The author continues:

With his near-divine capacity for goodwill, Derek is exemplary of
Hollywood’s tendency to canonize the differently abled. Like Forrest
Gump or Chance the Gardener or the title character from I Am Sam
before him, Derek is an MPDAP (Manic Pixie Differently Abled Person).
MPDAPs don’t drink, smoke, or have any sexual desires; they exist solely
to stand in contrast with the callousness and cynicism of the
“mainstream” world ….The MPDAP change the lives of those
around them by the force of his decency and goodness — and, perhaps,
teach us audience members a valuable life lesson or two in the process.

Well, that all sounds charming, so what’s the problem, you are undoubtedly asking. I’m glad you asked:

The problem is that, like most generalizations about marginalized groups,
it perpetuates misconceptions about disabled people. Take, for
instance, the stereotype that people who have Down’s Syndrome are more
likely to be indiscriminately affectionate than those who don’t. While
objectively speaking, there are far worse stereotypes for a marginalized
group to be saddled with…such a trope dictates how other
members of society see these groups, thus depriving them of their

 The review then tracks the MPDAP, as they have called it, through other iterations: Corky (Life Goes On), Cousin Geri (Facts of Life), and even the literal appearance of people with Down Syndrome as Angels:

There’s 7th Heaven, where the Camdens habitually refer to
characters with Down’s Syndrome as “angels” (a designation that was
rendered literal by the show Touched By An Angel, featuring a
performance by Burke as a “guardian of faith”). At no point do these
MPDAPs exhibit any human emotion other than pure decency, neither anger
nor frustration nor sexual desire. They might as well be inspirational
posters or cardboard cutouts in a middle school guidance counselor’s

Really, you should just read the whole essay, which then turns to think about more complex portrayals recently – Glee’s sassy cheerleader with a gun, The Secret Life of an American Teenager and its engagement with Down syndrome and sex drives, Family Guy, and even South Park. I decided I had to stop watching South Park at one point, but the author makes the argument that:

The characters of Timmy and Jimmy, while subject to the same level of
scathing mockery as all other marginalized groups on the show, don’t
exist as objects of pity or fetishization: they’re well-assimilated into
their social circle, they’re capable of feeling emotions other than
Derek’s brand of unconditional love and decency, and they pursue their
interests while rebuffing anyone who attempts to valorize them for doing

 I’m not sure I can watch Timmy and Jimmy anymore, but it is true that they fall outside the “angel/retard dialectic.”

I’m going to give Derek a pass – again, who has the time? But it’s worth thinking about the “super-crip,” the MPDAP (it refers to the Manic-Pixie Dream Girl TV trope), and all the complex forms of inspiration porn that shape disability and representation. In my original essay on the dialectic, I wrote:

Symbols, labels and representations — in media, literature and our
daily conversations — shape reality. The words “retard” and “angel”
represent images that dehumanize and disempower. Both words connote
two-dimensional, simple or limited people. Neither angels nor retards
can live in the world with the rest of us, except as pets, charity cases
or abstract sources of inspiration.

I stand by that. The key is to represent people with disabilities as people – or better yet to let them represent themselves – so they can live in the real, complex, often inconsistent, real world with everyone else. That’s the pathway to inclusion.

Weekly Roundup

Every Sunday, I offer a round-up of the links I posted this week. It’s been a good week with lots of interesting comments, RTs, Facebook replies, and other interaction. I love comments!

New feature: Under-read post that I really like – Please read: How to Write an Opinion Essay in 63 Easy Steps. I just think it’s funny, and I don’t do funny that often.

Last week:

  • Sunday Cardinal’s Law: Thinking about the metonymy between “catholic” and “sex abuse” in internet comment sections. 
    • Speaking of comments, Popular Science shut down theirs,
      citing a study that polarizing comments can be bad for knowledge and
      accuracy. I believe it. But if you dig into the study and responses to
      the study, you’ll see that the real conclusion is that a heavily
      moderated comment section is the best option. It’s just not an option
      that big websites with tens of thousands of comments can afford to do.
      But I can! 
  • Monday – I linked to a friend’s brilliant post on #JusticeForEthan and her reaction a bright yellow t-shirt that says: I have autism. Call 911. It’s very troubling. My friend writes: “It is not an individual’s responsibility to wear or show evidence of
    his or her diagnosis in order to remain safe and retain their basic
    civil rights
    .” I want us all to remember that.
  • Tuesday – provided the links to my latest piece on Pope Francis for context.
  • Wednesday turned to a bizarre story of a cap on bottle of Vitamin Water that read, “You Retard.”
  • Thursday was my 100th blog post. I asked for good stores about police and people with disabilities. The response was minimal and my effort was a failure. I’m going with new strategies, as I think these stories could be very important.
  • Friday was my most-read piece of the week – Barilla and Bigotry (and a Down Syndrome diet). We’re going to finish the boxes in my pantry then start trying new things. I’d really like the company to come out and issue a fulsome apology, a promise to try to be more inclusive in the future, and otherwise completely change their tone. The current non-apology apology doesn’t cut it. Of course, if Nico can’t shift textures, we will stick with Barilla. Nutrition trumps politics.
  • Saturday – Finally, I blogged about the latest piece on boys and gender from the great Soraya Chemaly. You should just read everything she writes.

So – disability, gender, popes, and noodles. A pretty typical week. Later, I’ll post about Ricky Gervais and his new show Derek.

Boys in Crisis? Try empathy.

My first widely-read essay was last May, for CNN, on my daughter’s “best-dressed” award. I argued:

Our culture constantly projects the message that only appearances
matter, and this message is aimed squarely at our children. We can fight
this only by working against the grain, resisting gendered language and
emphasizing the internal over the external.

I received many comments, some hilarious (accusing me of being parts of the gay, Jewish, sharia, communist conspiracy to destroy America), some inspiring, and some very thoughtful. Among the last, many people asked me to write about how sex stereotypes hurt boys.

My relationship with boy-culture is complicated by my son’s Down Syndrome, but it’s been on my radar, and something I’ll turn to in time. In the meantime, though, Soraya Chemaly has been doing great writing about the ways in which our patriarchal culture hurts boys. Last May she wrote, “The Problem with Boys will be Boys,” for HuffPo,  and this week Salon published a new essay: The Real Boy Crisis. Chemaly writes:

The ability to feel what others feel has many well-documented benefits,
including, for empathetic people, greater psychological and physical
health. The real and socially significant positive impact of empathy,
however, is the ways in which it affects behavior toward others. People
who are empathetic are less aggressive and prone to denigrate others;
they are predisposed to act with care and compassion; they have
increased egalitarian beliefs and act with less prejudice and
stereotype-based hatred. Empathetic behaviors, however, are associated
with being female. And weak.

The stereotypes that plague our lives
teach that the characteristics of empathetic understanding are
feminine: listening, sensitivity, quiet consideration and gentleness. 
Empathy is feminized and boys learn quickly that what is feminized is,
in a man, the source of disgust. While parents, teachers, coaches,
grandparents and others whose ideas shape children aren’t sitting around
telling boys, “Don’t be empathetic!” they are saying, in daily
micro-aggressive ways, “Don’t be like girls!”  The process of “becoming a
man” still often means rejecting almost any activity or preference that
smacks of cross-gender expression or sympathy.

She then lists five clear ways in which boys are taught not to be empathetic. She concludes:

And restrictive boy codes turn into restrictive man codes. Forcing
boys to reject all “feminine” aspects of themselves means not teaching
them to be fully human. It reduces their ability to be flexible,
adaptable and nimble when encountering new situations. It reduces their opportunities for happiness.

Empathy is essential to changing this. Boys with sisters in households where gender roles are stereotypical are far more likely to grow up to be conservative men with a similar reliance on stereotypes. They end up, often, as benevolent sexists out of sync with
the reality of women’s lives, but, worse, actively involved in making
sure they are not successful in the workplace.  One of the things that
challenges their beliefs as adults, interestingly, is having daughters,
something researchers call a “warming effect.”

who claim to have egalitarian ideals while wringing their hands about a
boy crisis in education are all the while advocating the exact course
of action that limits boys in the first place: a greater emphasis on sex
segregation and debunked, essentialist ideas
about brains, gender and roles in life.  The boy crisis we should be
focusing on is how “boys will be boys” ideas and sexist media leave boys
ill-equipped to function in diverse societies.  School aren’t emasculating boys, American masculinity is dehumanizing them.

She’s writing this in the context of the constant worry about a “crisis” in education for boys. And it is a problem. Fewer and fewer boys are doing well in school say some of the data, and Men’s Rights Activists blame feminism (Chemaly has actually written widely on this). Chemaly is saying the problem is patriarchy.

I largely agree with Chemaly. Most of the time, when men are complaining about a problem that we face as a gender, the solution to the problem, I argue, is more feminism. More feminism leads to an expansion of the possibilities of masculine expression. More feminism enabled boys to function in different environments. More feminism leads to more room for fathers to be involved in the emotional life of their children.

And empathy is vital. In my post on bullying, I aligned myself with Chemaly, writing about the crucial task of parents to teach empathy to their children. Gender norms stand in our way, and that’s a crisis.

Barilla and Bigotry (and a Down Syndrome Diet)

Here is a complete list of the foods my son eats:

Preferred foods: Pretzels,
Cottage Cheese, , Craisins, Fig newtons and similar cookies, noodles
(penne and rotini)
, blueberries (his favorite thing!), cheerios (honey nut),
applesauce, oatmeal, yogurt
Emerging foods:
Saltines, Graham crackers, cereal bars, melon.

Of those, only oatmeal and noodles are “hot” foods. And only noodles are what anyone else would call a “main dish.” He eats them plain, without cheese or butter. He eats them every day for lunch. He eats a lot of them. And he only eats Barilla. Oh, sure, we’ve managed occasionally to convince him that other brands are edible, but he’s very picky about texture. Deviate too far off texture, and you end up with a bowl of noodles in the garbage (or eating a lot of noodles yourself).

Fortunately, Barilla has made good products for us – protein enriched, extra fiber, infused with veggies, whole wheat. He’s getting great nutrition from them.

We used to work very hard to push new foods on him, but: 1) it didn’t work 2) he would rather cry himself sick than eat something he doesn’t want 3) he’s more willing to go without food than we are willing to let him starve, and 4) most importantly, we decided it wasn’t one of the battles we needed to fight.

You see, parenting a child with special needs requires, in a way more acute than other parenting, deciding which things you want to work on. You can’t work on everything all the time. Nico could have in 5 different private therapists, but even if we had the money, we don’t have the time, and Nico needs time to be a kid anyway. So we pick (in consultation) the things that are most important. When he was 4, we decided food variety wasn’t one of those things. The exact quote was, “If he eats cheerios four times a day, so long as he takes a vitamin, so be it.”

With this new mantra in mind, our lives improved. Mealtimes relaxed, and gradually his foods moved back from about 4 things to the current list. Also, our stress level went down. Stress is bad for you. Parenting is stressful. Parenting kids with special needs is more stressful. Stress levels for primary caregivers of children with autism has been compared to deployed soldiers (it’s a different kind of stress, but the levels are comparable). If you can find a way to de-escalate and keep doing the important things, I’m all for it. That’s what happened to us with food.


If you’ve been following the news on noodles, you know where this going next.

Gay rights activists in Italy
have launched a boycott of the world’s leading pasta maker after its
chairman said he would only portray the “classic family” in his
advertisements and, if people objected to that, they should feel free to
eat a different kind of pasta.
Guido Barilla, who controls the
fourth-generation Barilla Group family business with his two brothers,
sparked outrage among activists, consumers and some politicians when he
said he would not consider using a gay family to advertise Barilla
“For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the
basic values of the company,” he told Italian radio on Wednesday
evening. “I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for
homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering
others … [but] I don’t see things like they do and I think the family
that we speak to is a classic family.”
Asked what effect he
thought his attitude would have on gay consumers of pasta, Barilla said:
“Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they
don’t like it and they don’t like what we say they will … eat another.”

It gets worse:

He added: “Everyone has the right to do what they want without
disturbing those around them”. But then the pasta magnate upped the ante
by attacking gay adoption. “I have no respect for adoption by gay
families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose,” he

So now we have moved from casual bigotry and the decision not to depict a homosexual family in advertisements, which doesn’t bother me as much, to advocating against gay adoption. This takes it from a semi-passive bigotry (not hiring) to active.

Of course, he offered an apology. The first version said the following:

“Regarding my comments at the radio program La Zanzara, I [apologize] if
my words generated misunderstandings or controversy or if they hurt
some people’s feelings. In the interview I just wanted to underline the
centrality of the woman’s role in the family. To be clear, I just want
to specify that I do have great respect of every person, without any
kind of distinction. I do respect gay people and everybody’s freedom of
expression. I also said I do respect gay marriage. Barilla in its
advertising has always chosen to represent the family because this is
the symbol of hospitality and affection for everyone.”

“Highlight the centrality of the woman’s role in the family.”

Oddly enough, that sentence has been cut from the version currently on their Facebook page, because perhaps someone realized that leaping from homophobia to sexism wasn’t the way out of this mess, but the damage has been done.

And as my friend Fred quotes: “Apologies offered too glibly … can be a sly way of asserting one’s own moral superiority while reifying the victim status of the group to whom apologies are offered. This is especially so if the structures of that victimization remain in place.” (From James Carroll, Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform). It seems to me that’s pretty much what we’re seeing here.


I cannot purchase products from a company that endorses bigotry. I am an active supporter of equality of all kinds – gender, race, orientation, ability, religion – you name it. The ways to support equality, especially when rights seem to conflict, are not always clear. But I try. This path, though, is clear. No more Barilla.

Here are five pasta brands sold in the U.S. that (I am told) do well on gay rights. It includes Target’s brand. Target does not, I think, make veggie enriched noodles, but I think I’ll write them a letter and talk about eating into Barilla’s market share (which is very high, a quarter of the US market and half of Europe’s).

But let’s end on a lighter note. Bertolli, a competitor for sauces and other products (but not dried pasta), has put out this add.

Buon Appetito!

Wanted: Good Stories about Police and Disability

This is my 100th blog post. Thank you for reading and all your comments and ideas and criticisms.

Today, I need your help. I want some good news.

I am looking for stories about interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities that go well.

They are hard to find, because such stories, by definition, don’t make the news. But we need these stories as antidotes to the abuses, the brutality, and the deaths. We need to see what it looks like when police do well, extract lessons from these events, publicize them, and pressure the abusers and the ignorant to learn.

PLEASE SHARE THIS POST. I don’t usually ask you to share (although I always like it!), but I’m trying to get this request into disability and law enforcement communities around the country.

More context below.


I’m a little resigned about the chances of getting an impartial and thorough investigation leading to #JusticeForEthan. I’m assuming that most people who read this post will know about the case, but here’s one of my articles about it.

Since I wrote, the Saylors delivered 340,000 signatures to Governor O’Malley, he’s agreed to call for a commission to study police-disability interaction (or, as he puts it, “Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Development Disabilities”), but has said that he is not inclined to call for a new investigation. He wants to look “forward.”

I can’t really explain why. O’Malley isn’t answering questions, but is communicating through statements (watch his staff help him dodge a local news team). Mark Leach writes that the Governor has alluded to a conversation with the pathologist
which, if made public, would give Saylors closure (anyone have a source
on this?). So maybe he just doesn’t believe the police did anything wrong. He’s not alone.

He’s also wrong.

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last two weeks looking at police training. I’ve interviewed trainers. I’ve interviewed Maryland police officials. I think I have a good grasp of how the police were trained, why they responded the way that they did to Ethan, and that they were following procedure as they understood it.

It’s just that the procedure was wrong. Moreover, patience and common sense should not require extra training. More on this in coming days, weeks, and even months (I’m taking a long view here).

My basic thesis is this: You cannot fix a problem you do not understand.
I am not convinced that anyone really understands what happened that
night with Ethan Saylor. Therefore, the commission and new training is
unlikely to fix it until that changes. In the absence of a true impartial investigation, how do we get there?

My current approach is to find the good stories, stories in which police demonstrated awareness, patience and common sense when interacting with a person with an intellectual disability. Stories in which there’s no news because everything went smoothly. These are hard to find, much as it’s hard to hear the dog that doesn’t bark. So I am asking for your help.

Yes, I have calls in to various professionals and have some leads, but I’d really like to harness the power of social media to find stories.

Therefore, dear Readers: Please send me any positive stories about police interactions with people with disabilities, especially (but not exclusively) developmental disabilities.

Send them to, message me with them on Facebook, post them here, tag me on twitter, anything. If there is a news story, send a link. If not, please get whatever contact information you have so I can talk to both people with disabilities (and their caregivers) and, ideally, police. I bet I can get police on the record to talk about good stories.

Please share this post. Share is on twitter, on facebook groups, on mailing lists, in your communities.

We need to provide positive models to hold up against Ethan’s death, against the Antonio Martinez beating, against the constant cases of taser abuse against the deaf, autistic, or mentally ill.

Thank you.

Coke cap to teenage girl: “You retard”

In Canada, a few weeks ago, a girl opened a bottle of Vitamin Water (owned by Coca-Cola). The cap had two words on it, reading: “You Retard.”

She took a picture of it and showed to her father, who immediately contacted the media and wrote to the company. The girl has two younger sisters (age 11), both disabled, one of whom has Cerebral Palsey and is significantly delayed in a number of ways.

I read the story when it first came through and was thoroughly baffled. How could any company possibly think this is ok? An explanation has now emerged:

The messages were part of a Coke promotion in Canada that randomly
paired English and French words that together were supposed to make up
funny gibberish phrases. But the words were only vetted in French, not

“Retard” in French means “late.” But Doug Loates, who does not speak French, didn’t see the humor.

Is what we have here an example of the problems of randomized computer-generated promotions Is this another example of failure related to the exclusion of the human element? Would a real human scanning the list have caught it? Coke’s answer is not clear.

What does it mean to vet them in French but not English? Was there an actual human who sat down with all the words and read them and just skipped over “retard” as “non-offensive?” Or did they run some kind of script to check for offensive words and “retard” passed? If an actual human was involved, were they just unaware of the double English/French meaning to “retard” or did they just not care?
The relevant Coke VP says:

“We have learned from this and it was a mistake,” he said. “At no point
in time did we intend on offending anyone by any stretch and we have
cancelled and moved on and have dealt with this as soon as possible.”

I believe him that no one meant any offense. But I wonder what, exactly, they have “learned.” Have they learned to be careful with their tech? Have they learned something about offensive speech? Have they developed “awareness?”

Hopefully, they’ve learned just to pay a little closer attention to language, because you never know who is going to open your bottle and read the cap.

Sourcing Francis

I am an academic. When I write scholarship, I use footnotes. When I write op-eds, I use links. Links make me feel more confident as a writer as they leave my sources transparent. Sites like CNN use the links for fact-check, but then the editors often remove some or all of them. This is fine – the statements I am saying are accurate (to my knowledge) and the links are not exhaustive. In fact, they are often self-referential in an entirely non-reliable way: I link to my own writing as examples, so if I was wrong once, I just replicate my wrongness (I’m not wrong!).

So here are all the Francis links from my latest CNN piece.

The New Franciscan
It’s time to stop being surprised by Pope Francis. 

  • His tweets echo around the world.  
  • He eschews the fancy trappings of office favored
    by his predecessor, from the pope-mobile to the red shoes
  • He washed the feet of prisoners, including a Muslim woman, on Holy Thursday. 
  • He telephones ordinary people who write to him.
  • In Rome, he called for “revolutionaries
    to leave the comforts of their home and bring the word into the streets. 
  • In
    Rio, he told the gathered youth to “make a mess” in the dioceses as they help the church shake
    off clericalism. 
  • He has sought to create a “culture of encounter” in which atheists and Catholics might
    come together. “Do good,” he said memorably, “we will meet each other there.”
  • When he announced that he would canonize Pope John XXIII, the great
    reformer, on the same day as John-Paul II, he emphasized continuity among all
    Catholics, even those of different factions. 
  • When asked about gay priests, he
    replied, “Who am I to judge?” 
  • Most recently, he gave a long interviewin which he articulated a new vision of the church that does seem
  • As repeatedly
    stated by commentators and church officials, he has not changed anything.  
  • Traditionalist
    response to Francis has concentrated on his personal charisma while emphasizing
    the orthodoxy of his doctrinal positions (I could have linked Donohue here).
  • In a recent interview with the New Catholic Reporter,
    Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, talked about the new pope. He said that in
    the wake of Francis, he found himself, “examining my own conscience … on style,
    on simplicity, on lots of things.” The Cardinal wondered whether his living
    arrangements, in the historical residence of the archbishops of New York, were
  • Pope Francis, on the other hand, might have a plan for an
    empty Archbishop’s residence if Cardinal Dolan wanted to downsize. After all,
    he did recently suggest that empty church property should be used to house refugees.

 Happy reading!

T-shirts and civil rights

Over the last week, news and reaction about the Ethan Saylor case continued to unfold. I want to use my Monday morning blog to highlight an especially important response from The author is also a parent of a child with Down syndrome and wrote in response to this story from Maryland.

In the story, we are shown a bright yellow t-shirt that says, “I have autism. If I am alone please call 911.”

I know the creator of the shirt wants to do the right thing here. She is trying to solve a problem.

Never mind the slippery slope argument that leads to institutionalization (a road we’ve been down before in this country). Never mind issues of agency and representation.

I just want to quote the blog author, Jisun:

It is not an individual’s responsibility to wear or show evidence of his or her diagnosis in order to remain safe and retain their basic civil rights.

Read the whole entry. Share that entry.

I’ll weigh in with more thoughts as the week progresses. But that one sentence says enough for me.

The solution is to change the cult of compliance and to build inclusion into our society. Not to label in bright yellow.

Cardinal’s Law (A corollary of Godwin’s Law) – The Church, Sex Abuse, and Online Discussion

Every time I write about Catholicism, a certain set of commentators immediately invoke the child sex abuse scandals regardless of the issue at hand. This is particularly true if you say something positive about any aspect of the church. Given Pope Francis’ well-publicized and generally well-received comments, especially by people generally opposed to the church hierarchy, this has happened a lot to me lately. Just peruse the comments of any CNN thread on Pope Francis and you’ll see it instantly.

I see two ways of thinking about this:

First, there are people for whom Catholicism simply equals the pedophilia scandal. It’s genuinely impossible for them to think about the word Catholic without thinking about child rape. This is a serious problem and an understandable one. These scandals are so horrific, the reactions of the hierarchy over the years so unacceptable (and often criminal), and the media coverage so widespread, that forming a metonymy between Catholicism and pedophilia in the public consciousness is natural. That said, the kind of positive publicity that Francis is generating threatens that metonymy, which brings us to the second mode of discourse.

Second, some people hate/fear organized religion in general or Catholicism in particular to such a degree that they want to derail any conversation that might lead in a positive direction. Saying, “child rape” is the nuclear option that ends any possibility of discussion. If you are trying to talk about Catholicism in all its complexity, and someone says – “they are child rapists” or “covering up for child rapists” or “it doesn’t matter what Francis says, because child rape” or “every child rapist and everyone who covered for them must be in jail” or any iteration of this kind of thing – the conversation ends.

It thus functions in the spectrum of Godwin’s Law, a well-known assessment of internet discussion in which people use comparisons to Hitler/Nazis to derail/end conversations.

In (dis)honor of Cardinal Bernard Law, I have decided to name this corollary Cardinal’s Law:  Here’s my proposed text: As an online discussion about Catholicism grows longer, the probability of the conversation becoming an argument about pedophilia and culpability grows larger.

Any friendly amendments/edits?


One manifestation of Cardinal’s Law goes as follows: Maybe Francis has said good things about topic X, but he’s done/said nothing about child rape, so it’s all meaningless.

As a counter, here are some of the things that Francis has said/done about the sex abuse scandals. Is it enough? No. Can there ever be enough? Probably not. I’m not interested in defending the Church on this issue and I think Francis needs to do more. But until we agree on what he has done, what the facts are here, then we can’t really know what needs to happen next.

(Reuters) Mueller is head of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department which includes the office
of the “promoter of justice”, or sex crimes prosecutor, which
investigates cases of sexual abuse and decides if priests are to be

Francis said the
department should continue to “act decisively as far as cases of sexual
abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors,
help for those who have suffered such violence in the past (and) the
necessary procedures against those who are guilty
,” a statement said.It
said the pope wanted Catholic bishops around the world to promote and
put into place “directives in this matter which is so important for the
witness of the Church and its credibility”.
victims’ group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)
said the statement did not go far enough and criticized it for saying
that the Church’s stance against sexual abuse was “a continuation” of
the line wanted by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict.
“Action, not discussion, is needed,” SNAP said in a statement.

  • 4/24/2013 – Criticism of the “transfer” policy (Christian Science Monitor)
    • This is actually from a series of writings published before he was pope, including from his authorized biography. He talked about the common practice of transferring priests accused of abuse, often putting new children at risk.

CLERGY ABUSE: Francis says punishing the priest is more important than protecting the church’s image.
must never turn a blind eye. … I do not believe in taking positions
that uphold a certain corporate spirit to avoid damaging the image of
the institution. That solution was proposed once in the United States:
they proposed switching the priests to a different parish. It is a
stupid idea
; that way, the priest just takes the problem with him
wherever he goes.”

  • 7/28/2013 – Press Conference, Papal Flight 
    • Francis was asked about Monsignor Ricca’s alleged history of consensual homosexual behavior in the past. Francis wanted to distinguish between consensual homosexuality and pedophilia. Given the link made between homosexuality and pedophilia (a major trope in Russian discourse on homosexuality is that it leads to child rape), this is a vital distinction.
    • It’s a really important quotation in other ways, as I argued in The Atlantic, because he’s saying the problem with the alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican is not that they are gay, but that they are a lobby. I argued that  Francis has made strides in the normalization of homosexuality as something other than an intrinsic evil. 
Ilze Scamparini
I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been
going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private
life.  I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this? 
How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront
the whole question of the gay lobby?
Pope Francis
About Monsignor Ricca:  I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary
.  And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had
been alleged.  We did not find anything of that.  This is the response.  But I
wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above
this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for
example, and then publish them.  They are not crimes, right?  Crimes are
something different: the abuse of minors is a crime.  No, sins.  But if a
person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a
sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord
forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we confess our sins and
we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right
not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not
forgetting our sins.  That is a danger.  This is important: a theology of sin. 
Many times I think of Saint Peter.  He committed one of the worst sins, that is
he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope.  We have to think a
great deal about that.  But, returning to your question more concretely.  In
this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find
anything.  This is the first question.  Then, you spoke about the gay lobby.  So
much is written about the gay lobby.  I still haven’t found anyone with an
identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it.  They say there are some there. 
I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish
between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby,
because not all lobbies are good.  This one is not good.  If someone is gay and
is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?  The
Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying …
wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these
people for this, they must be integrated into society”.  The problem is not
having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and
there is this one and there is that one.  The problem is in making a lobby of
this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so
many lobbies.  For me, this is the greater problem.  Thank you so much for
asking this question.  Many thanks.

 So – What did I miss?