Monday, February 24, 2014

Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

There are days when I think the United States is just a larger version of Chelm. Now, some of you will automatically chuckle at that reference, others will scratch their heads, so let me clue you in're supposed to chuckle.

The town of Rogers, Minnesota, will forever be remembered as the town that suspended an academic, athlete, all-star kinda kid over a tweet. An anonymous tweet said that said senior had kissed a teacher. And said senior, in a typical teenage response, replied, "Actually, yeah," believing that in cyberspace people could see his eyes rolls and hear the sarcasm in his voice. Unfortunately, they did not and what happened next defies parental imagination. 

Several days later, the kid, Reid Sagehorn, is hauled into the principal's office:
He said he had no idea why he was called to the school office, where the principal, athletic director and police liaison officer were waiting for him. A parent had called the office, he said he was told, upset about a possibly inappropriate relationship between Sagehorn and a teacher.
Asked how he felt leaving the principal’s office, he said, “Not really scared. Shocked!”  
Paul Levy - Star Tribune - February 24, 2014
Chief Beahen
The kid wrote a letter of apology to the teacher. The kids who posted the original anonymous tweet came forward to apologize. The teacher herself came forward to say nothing happened. But that didn't stop the crack local chief of police, Jeff Beahen, from telling the kid...and the world....that he might be brought up on felony charges. Of course, he backtracked later and said the most would be a gross misdemeanor. But really, how could that have even come out of his mouth? 

Where was the superintendent of schools, a guy who as a superintendent of schools oughta know better? All Superintendent Mark Bezek can come up with is, "I feel bad for everyone." ???????

Look, Reid's tweet was a stupid way to respond to the anonymous tweet, but we're talking about a teenage boy here:

  • Was there any inappropriate touching? According to the teacher, no. 
  • Was there any bullying? No. 
  • Were there any weapons involved? No. 
  • Was there a bomb threat? No. 
  • Was there at any time a threat to commit bodily harm? No. 
  • Was there intent to commit any harm whatsoever? No. 

Picketers outside the school
What is the matter with those people? Are they so stupid that they let this explode into an international incident with teenagers across the globe signing petitions to Free Reid? Are these people suffering from some sort of dementia?

We cannot manage to pass school policies to deal with guns or bullying ....but we can throw a teenager out of school for saying...not actually kissing.... a teacher.  Wow.

Hey! I survived two teenage sons. I know how this works. There are times they're gonna do and say stupid stuff; it comes with the territory.

However, two things come immediately to mind: the press and the government. 

The press gets a hold of something like Reid Sagehorn's tweet and runs with it. It gets magnified, amplified, and gives a whole lotta people their very own 15 minutes of fame...which turns into a whole month load of for the police chief who was gonna charge the kid with a felony. That is going to follow Chief Beahen around for a long, long time. Instead, there are headlines like "Minnesota high school student boasts about teacher sexual conquest on Twitter" (Star Tribune) and what should've been quietly handled in the principal's office with the kid, the parents, and the teacher is now a cautionary tale on what not to do.  

As for the government...well, in this case it's the local version of government - the school board. The Elk River Area School District has some serious thinking to do about not only how this escaped into cyberspace, but perhaps more importantly how they are going to respond to social media and the problems that come with it. The district has not been immune to those issues; there have been suicides in the past and they have worked hard on suicide prevention. But these are still teenage students who are going to act like teenage students.

But even with all the serious stuff that comes with a being teenager, there is also a pretty good dose of the ridiculous that comes with age, hormones, and breathing. Teenagers say stupid things and just because stuff falls outta their mouths, it doesn't mean the kid is all evil. No one is suggesting that Reid Sagehorn shouldn't write an apology to the teacher, but throwing him out of school for this? It makes no sense. 

And it sends all the wrong messages. It drives kids further underground. They stop expressing themselves out of fear. You want kids with no sense of humor? No ability to laugh at themselves and then know how to recognize when stuff crosses the line? 

How do any kids ever learn about right and wrong, self-editing, and social interaction unless they are allowed to make mistakes? That's not to condone bullying, but kids need to say stupid things to each other...and then apologize for it. Teachable moments are important and kids have to have them. 

Police chiefs, superintendents, and parents really need to recognize them and use them appropriately. This was not appropriate use of a teachable moment. 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Never go in the water unless you've already learned how to swim.
                                                                                     Kuni of Chelm

Monday, February 17, 2014

Women Matter

Today is President's Day.

When I was a kid, we had two days off in February: the 12th for Lincoln's birthday and the 22nd for Washington's. I remember being pretty amazed to hear that people in the south didn't get off for Lincoln's birthday, and it wasn't until I was in junior high that I fully understood the reasoning behind that. I understood it, but I sure didn't like it. My theory was that after the Civil War, we were all one country and we should be celebrating the same Federal holidays.

Martha C. W. 
Besides, I had another issue with all holiday nonsense: where is First Ladies Day? I mean really, our First Ladies were a pretty remarkable lot. Martha Custis Washington disapproved of George's decision to become president, but she was a renowned hostess for the new government at their temporary digs in Philadelphia and in New York. Abigail Adams brought panache and style to the new capital, Washington, when the government moved in 1800. The title First Lady probably originated with that never-say-die Dolley Madison... when President Zachary Taylor used that title in her eulogy. Mary Todd was a bit off, but hey! she held séances.  No presidency was complete without a First Lady. And if you didn't have one of your own, like James Buchanan, your niece Harriet Lane stood in nicely as a replacement. Who wouldn't want to celebrate the life and times of Edith Wilson who probably ran the government after President Wilson had a stroke in 1919. How about Eleanor Roosevelt who had her own diplomatic life after FDR died? The women of the White House brought, class, color, and conviviality on the exterior, and dogged determination on the interior.

(L-R) Nancy, Lady Bird, Hillary,
Rosalynn, Betty, and Barbara.
Quite a club. 

[William J. Clinton Presidential Library]

These days, the role of the first lady is significant. She gets press, she does stuff on her own, she sets an agenda...and she gets pilloried for whatever it is from whatever direction. Comes with the job. But one of those ladies is about to launch in her own right despite having been a First Lady. Whether she wins of loses...or even runs, Hillary Rodham Clinton has changed the game...and done it on her terms. 

We could use a few more women who decide doing stuff on their own terms can be a reality. And we just lost one of them this past week. 

My friend Linda Brodsky left the building.

Linda and I met in Hebrew school and went through Jerusalem Avenue Junior High and Wellington C. Mepham High School together. We weren't close friends, but we were social enough. We argued in English class, but she was much better in math and science than I would ever be. She went on to become a doctor, a pediatric ENT. 

Being a doctor wasn't enough for Linda. She girded up her loins and went after gender equality in medicine. A federal anti-discrimination lawsuit ended with settlement, but that wasn't enough: 
“I spent the next 10 years fighting in order to right what I learned is a pervasive and pernicious problem for many women in medicine. I became a litigant in a federal lawsuit against my employers, two large and powerful institutions. My journey of litigation has come to an end, but I want to make sure that what I have learned will benefit those women with dreams but who are faced with problems of pay inequity, gender stereotyping, 
and gender discrimination.”
Linda founded Women MD Resources in 2009 to help women in medicine “deal with unexpected career challenges and get the jobs they want, be paid fairly and live as a happy and successful women physicians.” She was a Lilly Ledbetter for women doctors who were being paid at a significantly lower rate than their male counterparts. 

Since I'd fallen off the face of planet North Bellmore, it took Facebook to put us back in touch. I found her blog just as I was starting this one. She had lots of things to say about how to write a blog and I patiently explained I was already a writer and had a pretty good idea how to put a cogent sentence together. That didn't slow her down for a minute.  We took to debating on the blogs and in emails. I think we annoyed the shit out of each other, but that wasn't a big enough reason to stop arguing. And then, right after last Rosh HaShanah, she went silent. No Facebook, no blog, no comments.

I posted on her FB page asking if she was okay. No response. A few days later, one of her friends messaged me. There had been an accident and Linda was in placed in a medical coma so they could perform surgery to stop bleeding in the brain. She never emerged from that coma. 

The accident, I would come to learn, happened at a friend's house; she fell backwards down a flight of stairs and hit her head. 

Such a simple misstep and the world stopped for Linda...for her family, her patients, the women she mentored....and in a small but profound way....for me. A renewed friendship halted, a debate stopped, and no backsies. I am the poorer for it.  

May her memory be for a blessing for all of us. 

[Late addendum: Linda's daughter, Rebecca Greenfield, wrote an excellent piece on her mother's quest for gender equality. Advice to Jill Abramson From My Mom. Definitely worth reading, and a lovely tribute to a woman who lived according to her beliefs.]

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen
If you will it, it is not a dream
                        Theodore Herzl - 1902

Linda coulda said that, too. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Facebook, Junior High, and Bald Faced Lies

What is Facebook? It's the place where people can bully you and say nasty things, even if they don't know you. Or they can share their good times and accomplishments with you or commiserate if things don't go well. You can find out who your real friends are. Or you can find out about parties so-called friends threw and didn't invite you. You can see another side of people you thought you knew, for good or bad. You can sometimes learn something that will make you laugh...or cry. You can test the waters. You can realize the destructive power of lies and rumors and how easily they spread. It's the place where you find out how stupid and petty people can be, but there is often a flash of intelligence, caring, and understanding that salvages the whole experience. So what is Facebook? It's the biggest junior high school in the world. --- Tracey Simon (February 2014)

 My cousin Tracey, a comic who moonlights as a mild-mannered librarian on Long Island, periodically... amidst her more acerbic observations of life on this planet....not to mention life in this family....comes up with a classic gem. This snippet definitely qualifies. Of course, she posted it as her status on Facebook.

Seems to me we haven't progressed much past junior high over all, that time when life was black or white/right or wrong/perfect or disaster. There was no middle in junior high which really cracks me up since most junior highs have been replaced by middle school.....which seems to be a total misnomer when you think about it. Few people remember junior high with undiluted pleasure; most people would rather forget it altogether. Strange things happened to our bodies; girls were dealing with stuff they couldn't talk about and boys were talking too much about stuff they had no clue about. People did mean things to other people just because they could, and social stratification blossomed (if one could call the development of elitist society a blossom.)  In the final analysis, we were all pretty goofy. And pretty mean.

Just think of this as Adventures In Lunchroom Etiquette.

Tracey's right about this. Social media gives mean a bigger stage and a wider audience. Post something on Facebook and you're up and running. You don't have to tell the truth, you just have to post it and someone will believe it. How many completely absurd ONION or DAILY CURRENT stories have been shared as "evidence?" Amongst my friends, I'm know as the "vetter." I vet every damn one of those I see, and I post the debunking links beneath the most egregious examples. I am sick to death of doing other people's homework. What? They never heard of Snopes

These days, it's not just little toasty-posty fake news things we're talking about any more. The big boys are involved, and the dirty tricks division of the GOP has started putting up bogus candidate web sites. These web sites look just like the real thing and encourage you to donate cash to the cause...only it's not necessarily the cause you think you're supporting. Now, I'm not so sure the the Dems wouldn't have done this if they thought of it first, but they didn't and the GOP seems to have glommed onto this new, low rent methodology. It's not nice. 

And that's what reminds me of junior high. The mean streak is out in force and the concept of good sportsmanship has been submerged. Translated into 21st century politics, the GOP preys on the fears of those least able to defend themselves and sets them up to be the butt end of their policies. 

I'm not so naive as to think politics and fair play can exist in the same sentence, but this is so far below fair that it comes out as just plain evil. Very public, very intentional, very deceptive, and no amount of "read the fine print" is gonna make this ever seem like anything but evil. This will spill further into social media in new and more abusive formats, finding more ways to bully the weak into believing a higher minimum wage is bad for them, spread lies to make people believe that illegal immigrants prevent Americans from working, sell snake oil to those who can't afford to pay attention much less for their meds with a single share click because gee, who ever really read the whole post anyway? 

That still doesn't make it okay.

The reason I liked Facebook so much is because it lets me communicate with my cousins scattered across the country with more regularity than I've ever had. It lets me, who hates talking on the phone, know what's going on in my world without having to spend the whole night with that thing attached to my head. This is okay for me. My kids may tell me it's on the way out, but for the moment, FB is better than sitting in the cafeteria with my friends. This way I can multi-task and still know what Tracey is thinking in Oceanside and what Barry is pretending to think in Michigan. Which is how I got my opening quote. 

The pictures, of course, are a bonus. 

 Wifely Person' Tip o'the Week 
Valentine's Day is Friday  
If you're going through VD alone for the first time....
it's hard, but you will get through it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Truth and Memory - When It's Not The Same

Memory is a funny thing. We all remember selectively. What I remember about summers at the beach club is different from what my brother remembers. And when I think about my high school years, it’s pretty much a jumble of youth movements, rallies, dances, and "if it's Tuesday, it must be Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza.” We were protesting a lot of stuff in those days.

But I also remember vividly three separate but very equal occasions when my world was rocked for all the wrong reasons.

Let me stop right here and state very clearly: this is NOT a compare and contrast with Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen.

My experience is nothing even close to what Ms. Farrow describes in her open letter. But I have something to say on this topic and since this is my blog, I get to say it. 

The great Shlomo Carlebach was a bump‘n’grind groper. 

The first time was backstage. I thought I was imagining things…even though someone else said the same thing. I mentioned it to my mother who took it seriously. In the course of discussion asked me what I thought happened. I told her I was sure I was mistaken; he was a famous rabbi. He was Hassidische. They don't touch women not their wives. It must've been an accident. I said that. I believed that.

The second time, at event I was chairing, Carlebach came up from behind and ground himself into me. I jumped, and he grabbed my breasts. I elbowed away and yelled, "Don't touch me!" Turned out I was not the only one he grabbed. We went to our youth director and to our rabbi. His manager was pulled aside. He said we just misinterpreted the rebbe’s "exuberance." We told him that wasn't exuberance...that was forbidden touching. "Well, oh, you know, he gets all excited...." We already knew that part. Obviously, this was not news to the Carlebach people.

The third time I was trying to avoid being near him back stage. He came at me, but I was prepared. "You touch me again,” I yelled,  “and I will scream rape so loud every cop in the county will come.” It was the last time he was booked for our events. We knew our adults were involved at that point and frankly, I didn't wanna know what happened next. It was over as far as I was concerned. That was in 1969.

Fast forward 39 years to October 2008. Hadassah Magazine arrives in the mailbox and there is Carlebach on the cover. I went berserk. It wasn't like his pedophilia was a secret; it was so out in the open. I fired off a letter to Hadassah immediately. The response was less than satisfying. Apparently mine was not the only letter. There were a lot of letters. 

But Carlebach's music is the soundtrack of 20th century Judaism. It's in every shul. It's on every playlist. It's ubiquitous. And it's nails on my blackboard. 

It was only groping, but I get it. And in that small junction of two very different lives, I want to be supportive and sympathetic.

So why am I unable to stand in solidarity with Dylan Farrow? 

Two words: Jordan, Minnesota. 

About ten years before the charges were leveled at Woody Allen, an overzealous prosecutor name Kathleen Morris unleashed on this town and this state a witch hunt worthy of old Salem. Watching it unfold...with young children of our own...was a nightmare come to life. Children were coached. Lies were accepted as gospel. Lives were destroyed, families torn apart, and a town devastated.

When the allegations against Woody Allen were first revealed in 1992, Steve and I were horrified. We were Woody Allen fans. We knew he was weird but this was beyond that. Not that Mia Farrow was the poster girl for stable thinking. But both of us had the same Miss Clavel in the MADELINE stories would say, "Something is not right."

Whether it was Mia Farrow ardently defending her friend Roman Polanski when he was accused of pedophilia, or that the tape she produced was not a single shot, but a stop, go, stop go, kind of thing. There were statements from examining doctors that did not support the abuse allegations. There were too many unanswered questions, too many inconsistencies. And more than enough doubt to keep either of us from jumping on any bandwagon.

This is such an emotional and volatile topic that it seems there is no middle ground. You are either for Ms. Farrow or for Mr. Allen. There is no middle ground, no grey area.

But there is and it’s huge. We’re not seeing the whole picture. And I’m not about to condemn either of them based on the evidence as presented. And if this all stands as a cautionary tale, then so be it.

Truth is a funny thing, too. Memory isn't always reliable, it's subjective. Unless you were in the room, you’re hearing someone else’s version and someone else’s spin. Unless you are directly impacted by the events that family is living, you don’t get to have an opinion on their lives. You can discuss and dissect, but you cannot be judge and jury. 

The instant news cycle is not our friend. We are jumping to conclusions faster than a frog from Calaveras County. This is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for this family. It’s not a good thing on the broader stage of this nation, and it’s not a good thing for the planet.

The next time you’re faced with raging news hormones, take a moment to think before you speak or write or broadcast. Consider what impact your words have on your world and the world around you. And then, promise yourself that you won’t spread any more innuendo.

That would be a great place to start.