Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hate Speech

I am trying to maintain some sense of perspective at the moment, but actually I am seething. I cannot believe what I have just read on the Internet. Anybody who knows me knows I love kids, particularly kids with disabilities – probably because I was a kid with disabilities. I have a soft spot for them, and really rejoice when they achieve something which previously that had struggled with, even if that achievement may be mundane for other children. I also know that by and large children with disabilities have the most generous spirits and are,for want of a better word, more loving and accepting of others.

This is why when I read the words of a savage, I mean of Dr. Savage, I am shocked to the core. Before I continue, I need to point out that I had never heard of this Dr. Savage previously, and so I have no axe to grind. Well, I didn't but now I do. You bet, I do. Before reading on, I need to say that the following quote contains language that is defamatory and unkind and is sure to upset many readers. If you choose to read on, do so, knowing that the author of this article distances himself from it entirely and only quotes it in order to give the reader some context. If you have read his words before, I suggest you jump over it and read after the quote.

Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99% of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.... What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot.' Autism—everybody has an illness. If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, 'Don't behave like a fool.' The worst thing he said—'Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry.' That's what I was raised with. That's what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You're turning your son into a girl, and you're turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men. (The Savage Nation: 16 July 2008)

He speaks as though illness were a fashion accessory. Whichever way you turn it, Autism is an illness – and it is a widely researched illness, with sufferers all over the world. People do not generally go shopping for an illness, as Dr. Savage implies. Even if they did, I doubt that Autism would be the “illness of choice” as he implies. From the testimonies of many parents of children with Autism, one learns that the arrival of a child with autism in the family results in one's life being turned upside down. Friends desert you because they can't handle it – and why should they? – It's not their kid. The child is emotionally very disturbed and needs lots of patient and loving reassurance even after the parent is at the end of their tether. One can't leave the child with a babysitter – or drop him off at Granny's because he will be too traumatized by the separation. Who in their right mind would wish that on themselves, to say nothing of the kid.

He asks “You know what autism is?” Sure – I think I have a better idea than you, Dr. Savage. I would however not claim to have encyclopedic knowledge of the condition, although I have done quite a lot of reading on the matter. As a teacher, I had to work with a lad with Autism. It was not easy, but he was in his teens and so, despite his intellectual challenges , I guess he was easier to deal with than a younger child. From his comments, it is clear the Dr. Savage has little understanding or exposure to children with Autism.

His claim that 99% of cases where the diagnosis has been made, it was a “brat” who was acting up just leaves me cold. I think that the specialists should take him to task and sue him for slander – he has quoted a 'statistic' which he should therefore be able to prove statistically. i.e. He should be able to prove with actual case histories that 99% of diagnoses are incorrect. If he can't then he should be sued until he has to sell the shirt on his back and live on food stamps. Making a statement you cannot back up with fact is called slander and when you slander somebody or a group of people, you cannot say it is “free speech” - it is lies and you are responsible for your speech and the consequences of that speech.

Dr. Savage should be held accountable and made to pay for this deep deep insult to already hurting people. I don't know how much he is worth in terms of his personal wealth but I reckon it must be a six-digit figure. I reckon that since he sucked this percentage (99%) out of the air, he should be required to pay 99% of his personal wealth to an organisation that will fund research into autism and help families who are battling because of the financial burden of Autism.

Let us look at some of the inflammatory language employed by this public speaker.

BRAT: an ill-mannered child. What can be more ill-mannered than the incendiary statements made by this man. Polite people do not use the words that he used. He has no right to make blanket generalisations about people he does not even know.

MORON: interesting that he should use this term – it actually is an obsolete term for a mentally retarded person with a mental age of between eight and twelve years old. Given that many autistic children are also developmentally delayed, it is like insulting a blind person by saying “You blind idiot” - nice one.

PUTZ: I dare not put the meaning of this word in this blog – it is so obscene. Look it up if you must – but I am completely gobsmacked that he would dare use such language – I can only think that he never bothered to find out what this word actually means – if he did, and his father really called him that, I would say, he would hate his father. I hope his father is not still alive because he is probably mortified by his son quoting him in this way. Well if he is embarrassed he should be. What a terrible thing to say to one's own child. I can only guess this affirming speech is what set the young savage on his way – like father, like son.

IDIOT: No need to look this word up, it is all too common in daily use, but I must admit, it is not the sort of word I associate with fathers speaking to their children.

FOOL: Well this is giving us an interesting insight into the father-son relationship in the Savage household.

GIRL: (directed at a boy) Well, Savage must have been crying and in the book of social conservatives like Savage, “Boys don't cry!” and so to cry is to be effeminate? This gives us some insight into the emotionally stable Mr. Savage.

THAT'S WHAT I WAS RAISED WITH. THAT'S WHAT YOU SHOULD RAISE YOUR CHILDREN WITH. Really? And so on what basis should we choose to model our parenting on that of your father, Mr. Savage? I know you have a high opinion of yourself, but this arrogance takes the biscuit. If anything, you are proof that that parenting style is bad for children.

LOSERS AND BEATEN MEN: You are a loser, Savage. You have nothing better to do than attack defenseless people who have done nothing to deserve it.

While I believe that appropriate discipline is necessary when bringing up a child, and where a child throws a tantrum in order to get his or her own way, that child should be disciplined, with a smack if necessary. Even in cases where parents have to take a strong hand with their children, the parent should definitely not sink to the level of that child with the name calling and general nastiness and vindictiveness that Savage is suggesting is proper parenting. They say a child learns a lot from what they see their parents doing. When children see their parents modelling good behaviour, they tend to behave well themselves. Equally a child sees his father behaving inappropriately, and children tend to see a lot more than parents often realise, that child will behave inappropriately too. “Daddy smokes, so I will smoke.” “Daddy gets drunk and hits Mummy, so I will drink and hit people” “If Daddy wants something he shouts, so if I want something I should shout too.” However, I am speaking about rearing children without the challenge of Autism – when this comes into the picture, child rearing is a completely new ball game, and basically each parent has to work it out for him- or herself. However yelling at the child is probably the one thing every parent of an autistic child will say does NOT work. It is akin, in my book, to beating and shaking newborn babies because they cry too much or because they mess their nappies/diapers.

Not surprisingly, Savage's words gave rise to a howl of protests. One advertiser has wisely withdrawn their advertisements from stations that air the program and there are calls for Savage's dismissal. I tend to agree that such a malcontent needs to be silenced, or at least have his megaphone taken away. However what is fascinating is this numbskull's defense of words that he spoke and are indefensible. He said,

It is The Savage Nation. The autism controversy is very important because true autism is extremely heartbreaking. I have devoted my entire life, even as a child, to defending the helpless, mainly the helpless children because of a tragedy in my own family, and it's ironic that people who hate families and children -- a group called Media Matters, filled with anti-family individuals who do not marry; they're men who like men -- would take out of context comments that I made last week directed at the misdiagnosed, the falsely diagnosed, and the outright fakers in the autism field and try to make you, the parents of the truly autistic, attack me.1

This man is in the media – he knows, or should do anyway, that what he says on his show becomes a matter of public record. Anybody can get hold of the broadcast in which he spoke those words and see if indeed Media Matters took his words out of context or not. If they had taken an excerpt where he was quoting some other idiot and then cut it off before he has the chance to say that those are idiotic words I would have to say, his words were taken out of context, but as far I can see, those were his words and the only “context” was that they were part of one his “Savage nation” commentaries – he said 99% - not Media Matters – He said that they were brats, morons, etc. He, as a person in media himself, must be held accountable for his own words. His judgment of Media Matters personnel is clearly an attempt to cloud the issue and to distract from the issue at hand. He said that his words were directed at the “misdiagnosed, falsely diagnosed, and outright fakers” which Savage had himself had attributed to 99% of the cases. I'm not saying that there are NO misdiagnoses, or even fakers, though, as I said I find it very hard to see why a parent would put himself and his family through such a trauma. However to suggest that this comprises 99% of the cases is ludicrous.

All Media matters had to do was say, “Listen to this!” – and anyone with half an ounce of brain in their head would realise that what this guy is saying is complete and utter garbage. What's more, I don't think it was ONLY Media Matters who objected to the commentary.

I try to give a balanced outlook on this matter and therefore include the following excerpt from the Emaxhealth website:

Dr. Savage has clarified that his July 16th statements concerning autism were not directed at those who are in fact challenged by this horrible affliction, but were instead addressing efforts to broaden the concept of autism beyond those who truly are autistic to a broader "autistic spectrum" of behavioral symptoms which are also manifested by persons who do not suffer from autism, and his concern that many children are being misdiagnosed as autistic due to the subjective nature of autism diagnosis (due to the lack of known biomedical indicators, such as blood tests, to definitively confirm or deny the actual existence of autism). Dr. Savage has also explained his belief that there have been efforts by certain professionals and professional organizations to expand diagnoses of autism more broadly, for various reasons, and his concern that this victimizes and stigmatizes children who are misdiagnosed as autistic. On multiple other occasions Dr. Savage has expressed his concerns that other conditions, such as ADD and ADHD, are overdiagnosed and result in improper medication of young children, which Dr. Savage regards as abusive.2

Dr. Savage claims that his words on July 16th do not constitute his whole opinion on Autism, but this I'm afraid does not absolve him of the responsibility for the hurtful words used in that broadcast. If anything, his admission that he knows more about autism than we previously had suspected, makes the utterance on the 16th more odious. Just because a biomedical test, such as a blood test or an MRI cannot define Autism does not mean that the condition is imaginary. I am not a medical man, but from what I have read about autism, it is a very complex process that involves not a single doctor but a team of specialists over a period of time to conclude that a child is Autistic.

Whether Dr. Savage likes it or not – there is an “Autistic Spectrum” and and it is for this reason that diagnosing Autism is very complex, it does not manifest in only one way but affects different individual differently.

I have just discovered that Michael Savage is not his real name. His real name is Michael Weiner, which sounds like whiner – no wonder he changed his name – though his choice of “Savage” is mystifying – it is obviously how he charaterises himself – though if you ask me – he sounds more like whiner.3

I wondered what kind of doctorate Weiner has – it turns out it is a doctorate in “medical botany and medical anthropology.”from University of California, Berkley.4 That certainly qualifies him to address the highly complex field of Autism. I'm sure the university is proud of its proud of their alma mater. It seems he is nothing more than a homeopathist – in Africa we call them n'angas or sangomas.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"He turns our mourning into dancing"

Today, 20 July 2008, in the Jewish Calendar starts a three week period of mourning. Today marks the anniversaries of three significant, but sad days in Jewish History.

On this day, Tammuz 17, according to Jewish tradition,

* Moses smashed the tablets of Stone that had the Ten Commandments written on them when He saw the people of Israel worshiping the golden calf idol. (1491 BC)
* Service in the first temple was disrupted on Tammuz 17, and this preceeded the destruction of the first temple that took place on Av 9. (423 BC)
* The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans on Tammuz 17, and three weeks later on Av 9 the the second temple was razed to the ground when it was set ablaze. (AD 70)

All of these events were devastating for those Jewish people who experienced them and even successive generations felt the impact of these events. So this period is indeed a time of mourning.

However, we read that this state of mourning is not and never was intended to be permanent.

In Psalm 30 we read about the the transformation that takes place:

I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
O LORD my God, I called to you for help and You healed me.
O LORD you brought me up from the grave; and you spared me from going down into the pit.

Sing to the LORD, you saints of His; praise His holy name.
For His anger lasts only a moment but His favour lasts a lifetime;
Weeping may remain for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said, "I will not be shaken."
O LORD, when you favoured me you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

To you, O LORD, I called; to the LORD I cried for mercy:
"What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness?
Hear O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help."

You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD My God, I will give you thanks forever.

If God has turned (past tense) our mourning - or as it is in this version - wailing - into dancing, then how did he do this?

Let's look in brief at the three events that Jews commemorate today, and see how each one was turned around to represent something wonderful:

1. Moses breaks the tablets of stone.
Moses had ascended Mount Sinai and spent 40 days in the presence of the Lord. He received from God the Law that he was to teach the people. This is summarised in what we call today "The Ten Commandments" - God did warn Moses that things were not good amongst the people but still, his rage resulted in him throwing the tablets of stone down on the ground and their being broken into pieces. What made him so cross? The first commandment says "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." Before they got past first base - they had broken that one already for they were bowing down like a bunch of ignorant pagans, to a gold statue of a calf. No wonder Moses lost it! God had, at that point every right to destroy the entire nation and start over. However, the story works out differently - we read on to see that Moses returned to the mountain and got two new tablets of stone, and again the Law was carefully written down. We see from this that our God is merciful - the God of second, third, fourth, etc. chances.

Jesus said: "Blessed are they that mourn; for they will be comforted" (Matt 5:4)
Jesus was not speaking about mourning the loss of a friend - but He was talking of those who mourn about how they have sinned. When we are truly penitant, God comes along side and says, "Cheer up - that sin is dealt with - no longer to be counted against you. That debt, that is beyond your ability to pay, has been paid in full, by my Son, Jesus, when He died on the Cross."

In the Psalm we read that His anger lasts only for a moment - yes - God was very angry that day - so angry that all those who were directly responsible for the worshipping of of the calf were annihilated that day. However, His favour lasts a lifetime. God didn't wipe out the entire Israeli race. His favour was with them through their wilderness wanderings. He provided them with food and drink and their clothes and shoes did not wear out.

2. The destruction of the First Temple and the exile into Babylon.
Because the nation of Israel had forsaken the way of the Lord and was worshipping the gods of the nations around about, God used Babylon (and later Assyria) to punish it by taking its people into captivity and exile from their land. In the process their centre of worship - the Temple, where sacrifices to God were offered, was destroyed and left in ruins - and for a period of 70 years the Jewish people were again enslaved and forced to serve foreign masters. The exile was as a result of the chastisement of the Lord, but out of it, we got Daniel; Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego; Mordechai and Esther; Jeremiah; Ezra and Nehemiah, to name a few shining examples of faith.

We learn that "the Lord disciplines those he loves" (Prov. 3;12, Heb 12:6) "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it." (Heb 12:11) Ask any little boy or girl who has been spanked by their parent, and I'm confident that at the time when the discipline was administered there was "much wailing and gnashing of teeth"! It is not likely that at that time, the child would have the maturity and presence of mind to be thankful for the loving discipline being applied. All that child knows is that "It's sore" and tears flow. However, if the discipline has been applied appropriately and justly, the young person will learn that the behaviour that induced the discipline was inappropriate and thus, the discipline, as the scripture says, will produce a "harvest of righteousness and peace." We know that the season of harvest follows a season of sowing - and so - if we are to we are to enjoy the harvest that is promised, we have to endure the sowing (which also involves ploughing and breaking up of fallow ground.) So as Jewish people remember the exile, they can have a "godly sorrow" for the behaviour, the idolatry, that resulted in the exile, while at the same time, they can look up to their Heavenly Father, and say, "Thank you for caring enough to discipline us."

After the exile, the people returned to Israel, and under Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of the city, and rebuilt the temple, and under Ezra, re-established the worship of the Lord.

3. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second temple by Rome, in AD 70.
The core of Jewish life and worship was the Temple. Almost two thirds of a Jew's religious duties were contingent on the existence of the Temple. The whole sacrificial system fell into abeyance when the temple was destroyed. It is believed by Jews that the Messiah will come and rebuild that temple. The destruction, in the words of one Jewish website, is regarded as "the greatest tragedy of our history." The ground on which that temple stood is a flash point in modern times in the middle east, with the "Dome of the Rock" a mosque built on that very place held most sacred by Jews. Right next to it, is the "Western Wall" - (or the "Wailing Wall" This term is not used by Jews themselves) is the place where Jewish men come to pray. It is what remains of the Second Temple, a retaining wall, built by Herod the Great, in about 19 BC.

On the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av) Jews mourn the destruction of the second temple and look forward to the day when the Messiah will come. Now, as I said before, what seems like disaster to a person when going through trouble, is often "for the greater good" - though people going through it at the time may have a hard time seeing it. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, puts it this way: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28)

For the Christian, the sacrificial system that was disrupted by the fall of Jerusalem in AD. 70 had already been made redundant by the one death of Jesus Christ, when He was crucified some 40 years previously. What is more, just as, from AD 70, Jerusalem ceased to be the centre of Jewish spiritual life - prior to that, it was the duty of every Jewish person, if at all possible, to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the major feasts and for Yom Kippur.

The centre of religious life for the early Church also started in Jerusalem, but in accordance with Jesus' words to the disciples before he ascended, that "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth," (Acts 1:8) the Church spread out beyond Jerusalem, to Antioch, and then into Asia Minor (Turkey) and into Europe and other parts of the world. The destruction of Jerusalem aided in the dispersal of the Gospel.

Finally, as to the destruction of the Temple: The physical edifice that was in Jerusalem, was a copy of the actual Temple that is in heaven. Also, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16 "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's Temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" - We are not constrained and confined to a single geographic place to meet with and worship our God, but wherever we are, we can worship Him, and give Him a sacrifice of praise. Also, the good news is that this Temple is open 24/7/365 so that whatever the hour we can give him thanks and praise for all His goodness to us.

Personal mourning
Finally, I titled this message "He turned my mourning into dancing." I have focused on the Jewish three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, but I feel it is appropriate to share some personal mourning that I have done recently. A very close friend of mine, Joann, went to be with Jesus, after a bout with cancer. It is hard for me to put briefly how close and special she was to me. I have many precious memories of my times with her - when the news reached me that she had died I was deeply saddened for myself. It so happened that she passed into glory the day before she was to turn 60. I wished I could have been in Zimbabwe to hold her hand and to say goodbye - that was not to be. Well, I was sad to hear the news, especially since I had not known she was ill, and in the past couple of weeks I did mourn, but God has even turned this mourning into to dancing, when I heard an account of her last few moments on earth. She was lying in bed, and suddenly she looked up with wide open eyes and exclaimed "Oh that's great, that's wonderful!" and with that word, "wonderful" on her lips - she died, as peaceful as ever, with the smile that so often characterised my friend. So while I surely will miss my dear friend, I know that we will meet again someday, when I go to be with Jesus.

The death of a friend or a family member is a hard thing for us who are left behind to endure - especially when that person is very young or their death occurs in an unnatural way - e.g. as a result of crime, but we can know that God is still sovereign and He still has everything in His control, so even these terrible things will be worked for good for those who love Him. Hard as that may be to understand, it remains the truth. So I rejoice and yes, dance to celebrate that my friend is with Jesus!

So brother or sister - are you mourning? God will turn that mourning into dancing - in due course. He will help you make sense of everything that has happened.

For much of my information about the Jewish observance of these days I referred to this Chabad webpage.