A Duggar Finally Admits Josh Broke the Law

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On June 3rd, Megyn Kelly dedicated an entire episode of her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

There weren’t any particular surprises that turned up, except maybe that Jessa and Jill Duggar, two of the daughters who now apparently admit to having been victimized by Josh, were also interviewed by Kelly. But that interview is being aired later.

Aside from that, Jim Bob and Michelle did little more than reiterate that “as parents” (a phrase that was uttered constantly throughout the show by both interviewer and interviewees—part of the battle cry of Duggar supporters who feel the state should stay out of family business) Jim Bob and Michelle did the best they knew how. They also insisted that they were the real victims in all this, because some people with “an agenda”—a “dog-whistle” phrase for Fox News viewers that indicates the LGBTQ community—are trying to tear the Duggar family down.

Oh yeah, and, in reference to Josh Duggar, Jim Bob actually uttered the phrase, “he’d broken the law.”

"I didn't just say my son broke the law, did I?"

“I didn’t just say my son broke the law, did I?”

I’m guessing Jim Bob didn’t really mean to say that. After all, the interview was clearly coached, if not at least roughly scripted, and none of the participants referred to any of Josh’s actions as crimes or sexual assaults.

Jim Bob, instead, called Josh’s crimes “choices,” “unwise choices,” “decisions,” “very bad things,” “a bad thing,” “improper touching,” “what he did,” “the act,” and “stuff that happened 12 years ago.” When asked about the particulars of the crimes, Jim Bob could not help but minimize Josh’s actions, saying that Josh was “curious about girls,” that he “touched them over their clothes,” that there were “a couple of incidents where he touched them under their clothes—but it was like a few seconds,” that the crimes involved only “a real quick touch while they were asleep for most of them; and there were two other incidents that were when they were awake,” and best of all, that it “was not rape or anything like that.” (I don’t know, Jim Bob, some of those actions are about as “like rape” as you can get without actually meeting the legal definition of rape). Getting religious, Jim Bob said his “son’s heart had gone astray” and that Josh had “violated God’s principles.”

Doing her part, Michelle called Josh’s actions, “mistakes,” “wrongdoing,” “wrongdoings,” “really bad choices,” “improperly touching a young one,” and “some very bad things.”

At the outset, it seemed like Megyn Kelly might actually attempt to provide some clarity about the crimes, stating in the opening to the show that Josh had “forcibly touched at least five girls.” But, while she was talking with the Duggars, Kelly helped them along in their minimization, referring to Josh’s crimes as “this problem,” “testing,” and “a fondling.”

Perhaps even more disgusting than minimizing the sexual assaults Josh committed by using rather soft language to describe the crimes, was Jim Bob and Michelle’s repeated insistence that the assaults were of little concern to the victims, because in most of the incidents, the girls were asleep and “didn’t even know he’d done it,” or “weren’t even aware.” And, in those cases where the girls were aware of what had happened, the Duggars suggested that the girls “were confused” by the actions or “didn’t understand” what happened anyway.

So, y’know. No big deal for the girls–and, yes, I’m guessing that being sexually assaulted by your big brother is probably confusing and hard to understand.

Strangely enough, though, the Duggars said multiple times that they had talked to their girls about improper touch, so that the girls would understand what it was, and so that the girls would let their parents know if it happened.

Even when Kelly directly asked Jim Bob what it was like to have to worry about the sexual abuse “as a father of daughters,” Jim Bob was able to make only the most cursory of remarks about his daughters before fixing his attention elsewhere. His exact response was, in what may have been an unintentionally revealing look into the community to which the Duggars belong, “I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we talked to other families who’ve had other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”

So, again, no big deal. I mean, everybody’s doing it. Right? And a lot of them are doing worse stuff.

Beyond that, the Duggars provided many other tortured and defensive responses to the most common criticisms that have been leveled against them. For instance, they admitted that the man in Little Rock Arkansas, who Josh went to for ‘counseling’ really wasn’t a counselor, but “was running a little training center” (Jim Bob’s words).

Still, Michelle insisted that, “all of our children received professional counseling,” with Jim Bob adding, “from an accredited, professional counselor.” Now, there are scenarios where this could have happened. For instance, if the parents put the children into counseling sometime after the report that triggered the investigation had already been made, then any further reporting by actual counselors would have been redundant and made little difference in the progression of events. Getting the kids into counseling at that time would also make it appear as if the parents were trying to do the right thing by taking appropriate steps to address the situation.

Aside from that, though, any counselor who had any information about Josh’s crimes, and knowledge that Josh was still in the home with numerous other children, would have had to make a report to Child Protective Services. And unless CPS completely dropped the ball, Josh would not have been able to make it out beyond the statute of limitations that kept him from being prosecuted. But Kelly did not ask them to clarify anything about the “professional counseling” at all.

Kelly also let Jim Bob go unchallenged, as he spun his version of events regarding the “report” made to an Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who later ended up going to prison for possession of child pornography. (It was during this portion of the interview that Jim Bob actually admitted that Josh had “broken the law”). Still, the main point of Jim Bob’s story was that they told the police about Josh’s ‘mistakes’ and the police didn’t file a report with CPS, so that’s on the police. Or, as Jim Bob said, Hutchens “violated the law himself by not reporting this incident.”

In addition, Jim Bob asserted that, “The last jurisdiction of who he (Josh) needed to make things right with was the law.” It all sounds something like the Duggar version of ‘f*ck the police.’

Jim Bob’s explanation of events also suggested it was only by chance that the report was made to a trooper that Jim Bob knew personally (although Jim Bob implied he only know Hutchens incidentally because of a towing business Jim Bob had in the past), and that a “witness” went along to make sure it would be clear what Josh said to Trooper Hutchens. Jim Bob neglected to mention that the “witness” was actually multiple church elders.

It was, one can safely assume, by design that Jim Bob never said “church elders,” even though they had been brought up several times in earlier Duggar family accounts of events—including when Jim Bob Duggar met with the church elders to discuss Josh’s ‘choices’ before he was sent off to that “little training center”—all because one of the church elders allegedly advised Jim Bob not to send Josh to “one of those juvenile youth sex offender facilities” because “the success rate is not very good.”

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Kelly let the “success rate” statement slide even though at the conclusion of her show, she explained that, according to Department of Justice Statistics, “85 to 90 percent” of juvenile sex offenders “never are arrested for sex crimes again.” Kelly did not point out that those juveniles who receive treatment specifically for sex offense behaviors have lower rates of re-offense than those who do not.

At any rate, in the version of events doctored for the Kelly Interview, the elders have now been transformed into Jim Bob’s “good friends.” The reason for the elders now simply being good friends is probably because, in the state of Arkansas, clergy members are considered mandated reporters. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to the law’s language about what constitutes a “clergy member”—but not so much that the church elders want to go on being identified as people who were aware of Josh’s crimes, yet didn’t bother to make a report. That fear of attention would be of particular concern for any pastor who was aware of Josh’s actions. There’s no fuzziness about the legal language regarding the obligations of pastors to report incidents of child abuse.

Rest assured, though, Jim Bob is most certainly not a mandated reporter. He boldly declared that, “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”

That is, to be sure, a rather broad reading of the law. Parents are not mandated reporters in Arkansas (but they are in several other states). However, the law isn’t exactly set up so that parents can “do what they think is best” without any consequences. There are, for instance, laws against child endangerment—endangerment like keeping your sexually abusive son in the home with the victims of his sexual abuse, as well as numerous other potential victims (which is, if I remember correctly, a big part of the reason TLC claimed they cancelled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’)

But the Duggars really only want us to know that they did everything as best they knew how, and tried to do right, and that they are now being victimized.

They are being victimized by the Children’s Safety Center and the police, even though the Duggar children “shared everything” with investigators—or maybe not, and even though Jim Bob tried to keep Josh away from those investigators.

They are being “victimized by people with an agenda” (wink, wink, dog whistle, dog whistle). Kelly had to repeatedly ask a question about the appearance of hypocrisy—feeding Michelle Duggar a line about Michelle’s robocall that said transgender people are “child molesters” before Michelle finally remembered to start down the right road that would allow (or rather require) Jim Bob to point out that Michelle had really called them pedophiles—and Josh is not a pedophile (although he is certainly someone who engaged in sexual assault as a minor, including incestuous sexual assault).

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

And Kelly further helped with the appearance of victimization by asking if the Duggars are being “slandered” because of their Christian beliefs. One would think that Kelly, as an attorney, and working for a news organization, would be able to apply the term “slander” correctly—but I guess not. And then there’s the matter of what “Christian” actually means.

To the Duggars, Christianity means something far different than what most Christians believe, and is extremely distant from what most other Christians practice. In addition to their bizarre emphasis on sexual purity, the Duggars also apparently view humility, contrition, and truth-telling as optional elements of their beliefs. And, where that doesn’t violate the law, that’s their right as citizens of these United States.

But the Duggars want to have it both ways, proclaiming the greatness of God while indulging in the rites of Mammon. They want to have a hand in crafting the laws of this country, and in having laws enforced against others—but they don’t want the laws of the country being enforced against their family. And contrary to what the Duggars said about doing their part to deal correctly with the sexual abuse that Josh committed, they did not engage in any kind of legitimately legal process for addressing it—which is a stereotypical thing for politicians to do when their children get in trouble—pull a few strings, ask a few favors, keep it all hush hush, and lawyer up when necessary.

And if the interview with Megyn Kelly demonstrated anything, it’s that Jim Bob Duggar is, first and foremost, a politician—intent on crafting a message and maintaining an image. For her part, Kelly is complicit in that image-making, including the part where sexual abuse is minimized—and all for the same reasons as Jim Bob—ratings, money, and influence.

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Yes, Gina, There is a Bipolar Disorder: Tom Sullivan’s Pretend Apology

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

I have a hard time believing anybody really cares about anything Fox News Radio Host/Fox Business News Anchor Tom Sullivan said two weeks ago, or a week ago, or ten minutes ago. But, after a segment on his radio show, wherein Mr. Sullivan expressed his belief that Bipolar Disorder is a made up malady, Mr. Sullivan got a bit more attention than he maybe wanted.  And then he apologized.

I feel compelled to share Sullivan’s apology in all of it’s glory, because it is such a perfect example of a non-apology, the kind that one writes when one is drunk, and mad at the people to whom one is being made to apologize–the kind of apology that would properly elicit a playground response of “If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t have said it in the first place.”

You can hear the questionable five minute clip of Mr. Sullivan’s rant–mind you, on the web site for his own show–here: Bipolar “not a problem” and “not a disability” says Tom Sullivan.

To access his apology, you need only scroll down through the Facebook-linked comments on the same page.

Sullivan’s apology starts off thusly: “Gina, Thank you for your email.” From the get-go, it’s just plain weird. Sullivan is apologizing via Facebook to an (alleged) email that nobody can see. I’m not sure if Gina’s email is presented somewhere on Sullivan’s Facebook page, or elsewhere. I have the feeling he doesn’t want anybody to see the alleged email he is pretending to respond to, because Sullivan isn’t actually addressing any concerns that any real person has about what he said. He’s interested in presenting himself as the victim in the ruckus he started, as a means to reiterate some of the same obnoxious points he made in his original rant.

He continues: “May I tell you I have received a number of similar messages but usually laced with profanity. Your message stood out for the kindness of your words.” Oh, poor Mr. Sullivan, bombarded with bad language from nasty people. But, lo—here is one kind soul, just one person moved to express words of concern and seek clarification about just what happened in this horrible controversy that was visited upon the abused Mr. Sullivan.

“First,” Mr. Sullivan goes on (in sharp contrast to his original words for which he is now apologizing), “I need to tell you I do believe in bipolar disease.” I won’t hammer on Mr. Sullivan too much for not using the proper term “Bipolar Disorder” rather than “bipolar disease.” But I do have to question what he means when he says that he ‘believes in’ Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder isn’t some mythical creature like the Yeti or the Easter Bunny to entertain or scare people or to serve as a fun part of some childhood tradition. It’s not, as Mr. Sullivan says in his audio clip, some disease made up by pharmaceutical companies and the mental health industry for the purposes of financial gain. But, I suppose when you work for a network that promotes the idea that climate change is a hoax, and white privilege is mythical, your sense of reality can get knocked out of whack.

And speaking of having problems with reality, Sullivan then writes, “There is a two minute clip going around of my comments out of a two hour discussion. It is easy to take comments out of context.” Sullivan’s complaint of a two-minute, out-of-context clip is just a few scrolls down from a five minute clip, again, on the web site for his own show, in which he says he does not believe Bipolar Disorder is a real thing, but a ‘created’ illness.

He then repeats his newly-found belief system: “Of course I believe bipolar is real and is a mental illness that needs to be treated.” Well, of course, Tom! Why would anybody think you would have any other view–I mean, aside from the five-minute (not two-minute) clip where you repeatedly say that Bipolar Disorder didn’t even exist 25 years ago, and is completely made up?

Sullivan does a 180 and becomes a champion for those with mental illness--asks why people think he said things he plainly said.

Sullivan does a 180 and becomes a champion for those with mental illness–asks why people think he said things he plainly said.

Sullivan clarifies: “The program began with the subject being the huge increase in disability claims made to the Social Security Disability Fund which is going broke in 2016.” Never mind that what Sullivan means is that the Social Security Disability Fund could be insolvent as early as 2016 if changes aren’t made to the structure or funding of benefits—saying it is going broke in 2016 is much more alarmist and easier for his audience to understand, so that they can get angry like he wants them to.

Then, explaining (well, sort of) why he chose to target people with Bipolar Disorder, Sullivan writes, “The increase in claims is startling and the number one reason for the big increase in claims is mental illness and a subset (according the way Soc Security categorizes) of mood disorder.” Sullivan doesn’t bother to explain that what now comes under multiple categories of “Mental Disorders” used to be categorized as two separate categories: “Mental Retardation” and “Neuroses and Psychoses.” It wasn’t until 2010 that Social Security broke down those two categories any further, to include numerous items, including the “mood disorders” that so irk Sullivan.

Sullivan pouts, “All I was trying to do was to point out that out of that big increase I suspect there are people who are not sick but looking for a disability check.” Yes, “all” Mr. Sullivan was doing was accusing people on disability of trying to cheat the government. No big, deal. Everybody likes to take pot shots at people on disability, right? But Mr. Sullivan didn’t just voice his ‘suspicions.’ He outright said that Bipolar Disorder is “not a disability.” In other words, Mr. Sullivan said that anybody receiving disability payments due to a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is cheating the government. In fact, the title of the same page of Tom’s website where he posted his pretend apology is “Bipolar Woman Says She DESERVES Disability Benefits. Tom Tells Her She’s WRONG!”

The pout goes on: “My further point was by doing so, those people were hurting those who really are sick and need help, i.e. funding, treatments, etc.” In other words, people who get disability payments for mental illness are not really sick—people who can’t walk, or who have cancer are sick!! This is perhaps the best part of Sullivan’s whole apology—the part where he truly demonstrates that he’s learned nothing from the reaction he provoked with his ignorant comments by engaging in the exact type of behavior/speech/thinking that demonstrates classic stigmatization of people with mental health issues: the ‘you don’t really have an illness, you just feel bad’ way of thinking.

And then comes the righteous indignation of a true champion for those with mental illness: “I have for years advocated on my program for more funding and insurance coverage of mental illness. Too many have ignored it and as a result our jails are now the ‘mental institutions’ where the people get zero help.” First of all, if you have advocated so long for “more funding and insurance coverage of mental illness” but are now mad that there is more funding and insurance coverage of mental illness, what is it you really want? Where is this funding and insurance supposed to come from? What form is it supposed to take. Oh…I get it. You mean that when there have been mass shootings, you’ve complained that we do not need gun control, but we need more funding for mental illness. Got it. The jails…right. So, yeah, more mental health funding to stop people who might go on a shooting rampage—but anybody else can step off. Way to advocate, Tom.

Sullivan then writes, “I apologize to those who were hurt by the clip of my comments.” I think he might be apologizing to himself right here, as he seems to think he’s the victim in all of this, and the only one who was really hurt by the unfair “clip” of his comments—which he maintains is all out of context. It’s one of those classic ‘I’m sorry you got upset about what I did’ apologies. He doesn’t actually say he’s sorry for what he said—he says he’s sorry if you had a stupid reaction to it.

Mr. Sullivan then explains that he is just misunderstood: “I am a somewhat jaded person who thinks some people are gaming our system due to their greed.” Yes, plenty of people are out there pretending to have Bipolar Disorder because of their all-powerful greed–the kind of greed that drives them to want to live off of an $1100/month disability check. I can see how life as a corporate accountant and media figure has caused you to see the true evils in life and become hardened by them, Tom.

“But,” he goes on, returning to his sensitive side, “I also believe mental illness is a very serious problem that is ignored by too many.” Well, at least you aren’t ignoring it, Tom, like those “many” others.

Quick switch back to victim: “This episode shows how easy it is to distort a persons (sic) comments, especially when the subject is very important.” Wait, where’s the distortion, Tom? You do realize that there is a five-minute audio clip of you talking smack about people with Bipolar Disorder and mental health professionals, right on your web page, just slightly above your apology—don’t you?

Then, he brings the powerful close: “It will and has reinforced my commitment to making mental illness on a (sic) equal par with physical illnesses instead of the stigma it currently receives. Again, thank you for your email and your concern, Tom Sullivan.” Well, it’s a good thing Tom’s had his commitment reinforced, because in that five-minute clip there, it sounded a whole lot like he was super-supportive of stigmatizing people with mental illness—especially phony mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder. And, really, could that sentence about stigma be any worse? It’s like somebody read over the rough draft and said—‘Not bad, just make sure you add in some bullshit about stigma and how mental illness is just as important as physical illness in there at the end,’ but Tom wasn’t quite sure how to properly use the word “stigma” in a sentence, and didn’t feel like taking the time to look it up.

In the end, Sullivan wants to be viewed as someone who is just the victim of vicious attacks, with his words taken out of context. Unfortunately, it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone claiming his words were taken out of context when, well, they weren’t, but also when he made no effort to provide any context for anything he said in the first place, such as by touching on the way Social Security disability operates, the different categories now used, and why those changes were made. The simplest explanation (although there are a wide range of factors) is that there has been an evolution in the way “disability” is viewed and understood—in terms of both physical and mental illnesses. And, in terms of Social Security disability, there have been changes in the ways statistics have been kept and various issues have been categorized.

To give some credit, there is support for Sullivan’s complaints that the number of disability claims for “mood disorders” is increasing substantially. However, that increase is not grossly out of proportion to the increase in overall numbers of disability cases, particularly when one considers that mood disorders such as Bipolar Disorder and various forms of Depressive Disorders are more widely understood today than they were 25 years ago (when Mr. Sullivan apparently thinks the mental health community, in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies, fabricated the idea of Bipolar Disorder as a way to make money).

So, as I said in an earlier piece about Sullivan’s original comments (which you can read here), we can either find legitimate ways to address issues like the funding of Social Security disability, and support those suffering from mental illness, or we can demonize them and…uh…let them…er…receive stigma like always. And now, at least we all know where Mr. Sullivan stands—right, Gina?

Bipolar Illusion: Tom Sullivan, Rand Paul, and the Economics of Disability

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Back on Wednesday, January 28, in a discussion of Social Security disability benefits on his Fox News Radio show, Tom Sullivan, who also serves as an anchor for Fox Business Network, said some incredibly stupid things about Bipolar Disorder. Sullivan, or whoever is responsible for the content of his web page, then proudly promoted Sullivan’s ignorance by posting what I can only hope is the worst part of that day’s show in a brief written piece, and a 5-minute audio clip, which you can see here: Tom Sullivan argues that Bipolar Disorder is a myth.

Among his statements, Sullivan called Bipolar Disorder “the latest fad,” adding, “We all have good days and we all have bad; and I don’t consider that an illness; and I don’t consider it a disability.”

Sullivan said plenty of other amazingly idiotic things, like suggesting people are talked into thinking they have Bipolar Disorder, and that it is a “made up” condition, as well as vilifying the entire “mental health business” and “big pharma.” (Wait–I thought Fox “News” liked big pharma.)

Broadcasting live from the Fox studios in the depths of hell, it's the Tom Sullivan Show.  Today's topic: Yes, you should hate and fear your neighbors.

Broadcasting live from the Fox studios in the depths of hell, it’s the Tom Sullivan Show. Today’s topic: Yes, you should hate and fear your neighbors.

On top of that, Sullivan asked a question that anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of psychology, or the skill to do an Internet search, could answer: “What were these people called 25 years ago before they came up with this Bipolar diagnosis?”  (He didn’t mean that as a question that had an actual answer, but in the sense that he believes Bipolar Disorder was dreamed up by psychologists and drug companies 25 years ago).

I could let Jimi Hendrix answer Sullivan’s question in a song from 48 years ago, but I’ll let the good people at Healthline take this one.  Read their answer here: Bipolar Disorder just may have been recognized more than 25 years ago.

In case you didn’t bother to check the Healthline article, it basically notes that the first modern diagnosis of the illness that was eventually deemed “Bipolar Disorder” was first established in the mid-1800s, but that the basic condition was recognized in one form or other going as far back as the time of Aristotle and even before.  And prior to the Bipolar Disorder moniker, it was common to call the condition Manic Depression or Manic Depressive Illness, among other, similar things.

Sullivan’s staggering ignorance of mental health issues (and classic rock) aside, the truly insidious question that he asked in all of this was, “So what are you going to do when the money runs out?” By “the money,” Sullivan meant the Social Security disability fund, which he claimed will be bankrupt by 2016.

Beyond the more obvious stigmatizing of people with mental health issues, Bipolar Disorder in particular, Sullivan’s big question, and his chosen targets, may just be another entry into the vast library of right-wing fear-mongering about Social Security, and why it needs to be privatized. I’m sure it is. But it’s also part of a discussion that’s (once again) rumbling up about “entitlements” and poor people defrauding the government.

In fact, it appears Sullivan’s ill-informed rant about Bipolar Disorder may have been inspired by earlier comments from Rand Paul. As “support” for the items on Sullivan’s show that day, Sullivan’s website features a clip of Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky/compassionate ophthalmologist, speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire about how at least half the people on disability payments are collecting those payments fraudulently. You can see the clip (from CNN of all places) on Sullivan’s website here: Rand Paul is a medical expert who knows you’re not hurt, you crybaby!

Paul tells the (New Hampshire) crowd that, “everybody in this room knows someone who’s gaming the system.” Now, I’m not the kind of person to show up at a Rand Paul event, but I have to wonder about the people who do, if they all know somebody who is “gaming” the disability system. Then again, maybe Paul is just jaded, since his home state of Kentucky ranks third among the states in terms of the percentage of total population collecting disability payments. (I got that information from looking at the actual source of some of the Social Security Administration stats that were posted in an incomplete image on the same page of Sullivan’s website with the Rand Paul video) One might also ask what those stats, and Paul’s claims of fraud, could possibly say about doctors in Kentucky, who are signing off on all those disability claims.

Among those actually deserving of disability payments, Paul counts only paraplegics, quadriplegics, and the “horrifically disabled,” noting that “half the people on disability” are no worse off than anyone else, only “anxious, or their back hurts.” Paul’s standard for not deserving any kind of disability payments: “if you look like me and you hop out of your truck.” So, I guess a whole lot of white males with trucks are headed toward losing their disability payments, unless they’re careful to avoid getting caught hopping out of said trucks.

One would think that Paul’s background in medicine, as well as his position as an elected official might lead him to realize it’s his job to productively address problems with the way government systems work—particularly if those systems are tied to an area of his expertise. Likewise, Sullivan’s background in economics, along with his national platforms on both radio and television, should mean that a discussion of how to fix the Social Security disability system’s funding problem might be in Sullivan’s wheelhouse.

But rather than seeking out ways to tackle, say, the potential of those receiving Social Security disability payments to find work through job training programs; or promoting ways of obtaining additional funding, like removing the income cap on Social Security taxes, we get more condemnation of the poor–calling them lazy thieves.

Instead of having an informed discussion about the needs of those on disability, and why somebody who doesn’t “look disabled” might actually be struggling with things that many of us take for granted, we get accusations that people coping with mental illness are faking it and claiming to have conditions that don’t even exist.

Hell, Sullivan and Paul could even look into ways to make the disability system more functional by addressing the ways disability payments are established and rewarded.

But, no—we get wealthy white guys complaining that people with disabilities are a bunch of cheats, stealing from their neighbors. We get those with tremendous privilege trying to pit the poor and middle class against those with disabilities—’Hey! Let’s all pile on people who’ve been injured! Let’s knock down those who suffer from mental illness!! Get ‘em!!’

There are plenty of other things absent from these discussions of the Social Security disability system, like that those receiving the payments have to periodically have their status as “disabled” validated by doctors or mental health professionals, or that many of them end up assigned to a “payee” who controls the way their money can be spent, or that they have limits on things like what portion of their disability check can be used for housing. They are often confined to extremely limited options for government-approved housing, where their homes are subject to inspections, including being warned with ‘corrective actions’ if they aren’t keeping things clean enough.

Perhaps Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Paul think that those taking in, say, $1100 a month for being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (which is roughly the average monthly payout) are scamming us all, and stealing our tax dollars because they’re lazy. But the amount of money one can earn is hardly worth the effort that goes into obtaining it in the first place, or keeping it over time.  It might be a fun and entertaining exercise to have either Paul or Sullivan attempt to live on that amount of money for a month, and under the same restrictions.

Yet when one is so completely ignorant or out of touch as to think that Bipolar Disorder is make believe, or that we are surrounded by people stealing from the government through the Social Security disability system, then one has given up any credibility in the discussion of how to address the problems of vulnerable populations in our society–or even the discussion of how to address the possibility of fraud in the Social Security disability system.

Demonizing fellow citizens by claiming they have phony injuries or fabricated mental illness is a great way to stir up righteous anger among the poorly-informed. It may even achieve the goals of getting votes, or making disability requirements even harder to meet, or of having Social Security privatized or partially privatized.

So, don’t be surprised if you start hearing more and more about scammers bankrupting the Social Security disability system, or even more about mental illnesses being phony. Even if Sullivan did attract the ‘wrong’ kind of attention with his obnoxious comments, all he needs to do is get the poison in the stream. Then, Rand Paul and his ilk can still seem educated and rational and folksy enough that they appear sensible by comparison.

Suey Park Out of Context, or How a Bunch of (Liberal) White Guys Proved #CancelColbert was Necessary and Didn’t Even Realize it. Part 4: Colbert Gets Snarky, Dodges the Issue

With Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling grabbing the headlines for their overt, easily-condemned racism, I really should have cranked out these Park/Colbert-related posts a lot quicker. After all, in the U.S.A. we can’t go all that long without another disturbing, race-related story coming to light. And so long as we have people like Bundy and Sterling saying such outrageous things, we can go along ignoring more subtle examples of racism, which really aren’t that subtle at all, as we pat ourselves on the back for not being as bad as those guys.

Still, when I started these posts calling #CancelColbert necessary, the underlying idea wasn’t that it was necessary to cancel “The Colbert Show,” but that the discussion that arose out of the #CancelColbert campaign was necessary, especially given the rather harsh, negative reaction to the campaign, not by the usual hard-right, proud racists, or even the Fox News fan base of racism deniers, but by a large group of people who count themselves among Colbert’s enlightened fans, those people largely being liberals or progressives. The necessity for the discussion was furthered by the severe freak-out aimed at Suey Park, the person behind the #CancelColbert campaign, and the avoidance of actually talking about whether it is okay for white people to use racist language targeting one group in order to criticize/satirize white racism against another group.

“It was a joke,” or “It was satire,” is simply not an adequate answer. It is exactly the kind of thing that Rush Limbaugh fans say anytime anybody criticizes him for his vulgarity and stupidity—“It’s just a joke. Get over it. Why are you so sensitive?”

The underlying debate is, arguably, another version of whether it is okay for white people to use “the n-word,” in any of its variations, and if they can expect that people will take it in the way they intend—or if it’s just plain offensive regardless. If you want to get down to finer points, it is possible to argue that Colbert’s language wasn’t specifically a racial slur against people of Asian descent, in the same way that “the n-word” is a slur against people of African descent. (Of course, maybe “people of African descent” isn’t the best description, since that includes everybody on the planet–but I think you take my meaning).  Still, the language Colbert used was not innocuous.

Consider it: “The Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Just imagine you heard this language, or more specifically, the “Ching Chong” or “Orientals” part, coming out of the mouth of a white person in a restaurant, or a bank, or pretty much any other public setting. Would it strike you as odd? Offensive? Would it seem perfectly okay? If one of your white friends used this language, would you call them on it? Ignore it? Analyze the context to determine if it was an acceptable use of those words?

My guess is that, unless you’re cool with racist digs at people of Asian descent, it might seem more than a little ‘off.’

Yet, despite the clearly offensive (sorry if I’m making assumptions) nature of the language, when Park called Colbert on the use of this language, a bunch of people attacked Park as lacking a sense of humor and failing to understand the context of the joke.  Rather than an exchange of reasonable viewpoints, the ugliest garbage the Internet can produce came flooding out—including targeting Park with unquestionably racist and sexist language, rape threats, and death threats. There was an all-out effort to tear Park down, without ever giving any real consideration to whether the language is, at base, offensive.

Several people, including Park, have noted that Colbert chose to craft the joke with offensive language targeting Asian people rather than other ethnic groups, exactly because it was accepted that the “Ching Chong” language would be seen as an obvious joke, whereas other racially-charged language wouldn’t be so readily viewed as ‘satire’—one underlying message being that Asian people are in on the (white people) joke, and cool enough not to get all freaked out about white people saying racist things in service of satire. Such a belief falls into ideas of Asians as the “model minority”—willing to go along to get along. When Park raised an issue by objecting to the language, fans of Colbert immediately shifted the issue away from Colbert using the language, and on to Asian people who “can’t take a joke.”

Now, I get that Colbert is arguably painted into a corner in that the character he plays on “The Colbert Report,” and the kind of person that character represents, would never issue an apology or acknowledge any kind of mistake or wrongdoing. And given that he is playing a character, it is more than difficult to say anything that would be taken sincerely, or really understood as him breaking character. Still, Colbert’s response, which notably did not refer to Suey Park by name even once despite showing a picture of her, was sadly lacking. It never once addressed the use of the particular language, or why it might be offensive, and instead, chose to repeat the language multiple times, while saying “not my fault” and “don’t take jokes out of context.”

You can watch the whole piece here:  Colbert’s Dodgy Response

Colbert’s response can be summed up in the following points (now drained of humor, sorry):

  1. I am playing a character.
  2. I was mocking Dan Snyder.
  3. The joke was repeated several times (reruns and social media) with no reaction.
  4. Somebody other than me sent the problem tweet.
  5. The tweet did not provide any context for the joke.
  6. The news media blew this out of proportion
  7. Michelle Malkin attacked me over this, and she is clearly worse than me.
  8. This took the attention off Dan Snyder and put it on me.
  9. I’ve done a number of other pieces involving race issues that would seem really bad out of context.

So much of this response seems as if it were crafted by handlers following social media reaction, who then ran it by a focus group just to make sure it would resonate with Colbert’s adoring public. It was a joke/satire—check. You’re taking it out of context—check. Don’t you get it?—check. Why now?/Why this?—check. Snyder is the issue here—check. This was blown out of proportion—check. Michelle Malkin sucks—check.

Colbert’s response, by failing to name Park, implies that Michelle Malkin—someone many Colbert fans despise—is the person most associated with the #CancelColbert campaign. It also has this creepy mythological undertone of refusing to name one’s enemy—“She Who Must Not be Named” in Harry Potter Parlance. Or, if you want to go into a history of racial issues involving naming and claiming, Columbus declaring, well, everything for Spain while refusing to acknowledge or accurately identify those he was claiming it from, or even concern himself with whether they were speaking the same language…

Okay, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic, but why couldn’t Colbert say who started the campaign, or even identify what she said was the underlying point? Don’t want to add any more to her (as every hack has written) 15 minutes of fame? Sorry, I don’t think Park is going away that soon, unless it is by her own choice. (And, btw, you don’t get to claim somebody and her particular form of communication is insignificant while also blaming her/it for allegedly derailing an important national conversation. Calling attention to a joke, thereby creating a national conversation is not the same thing as derailing a conversation that was already taking place). Don’t want to direct any attention toward her because then people might see that she has already engaged the same kinds of “hashtivist” campaigns in service against racist mascots? I guess it really doesn’t serve your attempt to tag someone as ‘anti-First-Nations’ if she’s shown support for First Nations people. Don’t want to answer the question regarding the use of particular forms of language? That sounds more like it.

I’d have at least a little more faith that Colbert’s audience is laughing at the sophisticated satire and context of the joke if they didn’t all giggle each time he used the “Ching Chong” language, as if they were toddlers hearing someone say “poopy.”

I’ll concede that Colbert isn’t the poster boy for racist comedy.  He’s been a voice for progressive causes, and has called out hypocrisy in politics, religion, and the media for a good long while.  Still, if someone questions something he does, it doesn’t speak highly of his audience if they are going to react with anger and hate–regardless of who is asking the question.  If someone asks whether Colbert’s language was racist, supporters of Colbert replying with name-calling, particularly grossly racist name-calling, doesn’t really lead to the conclusion that they are enlightened consumers of sophisticated comedy.

And when those supporters, and Colbert himself, dodge the actual question that was raised, they don’t appear to have some amazing sense of humor that the questioners lack.  They just look like they’re afraid of the question.

I’m still not sure why it was so impossible for (white, liberal) people to have this conversation in particular. I’m still not sure why Park had to be attacked by Colbert fans who were unable to accept the idea that maybe this kind of language should be dropped. After all, when Rush Limbaugh mocked Chinese President Hu Jintao with a ridiculous verbal stream of mock-Chinese “ching chong” talk, plenty of people rightfully criticized him.

Some have said the use of the language comes down to intent—that Limbaugh was talking in ignorance, while Colbert was talking with satire in mind.  And, sure, there’s a difference there. But isn’t that just a way of saying that we are laughing with Colbert, and laughing at Limbaugh? Or that Limbaugh was laughing at Asian people, while Colbert was laughing with Asian people?  But, then, where does that leave you when you find out that not all of the Asian people are laughing with you? Or at you? Or at all?

At base, it’s the same language. It’s the same stupid joke. Whether someone is laughing at or with somebody, they’re still laughing at the idea that all that “ching chong” talk is the basis of a good joke.

And when Colbert fans start decrying the people who questioned the use of the language in the first place, and acusing them of being anti-white, they sound an awful lot like those racism-denying Fox News fans—you know, the ones who think that the real race issue in America is that non-white people dared to admit that they aren’t all that happy with the way white people treat them—or talk about them.

GUN CONTROL OR PEOPLE CONTROL? Part Two: Psych Beds and Psych Meds–Faster Than a Speeding Bullet?

As we pass the 13.5-month anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, and approach the 15-year anniversary of the Columbine school shooting (or, hell, pick a school shooting and do the chrono-math) we find ourselves struggling with the idea of stigmatizing people with mental illness in order to support easy access to guns and ammo—okay, not so much struggling as having to have a really stupid argument with people who love guns and people who know better than to engage in such a dangerous form of Objektophilie at the expense of fellow citizens, and while demeaning a particular group of citizens.

In an opinion piece that was posted on the Fox News web site just before the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, “Medical A-Team Member” Dr. Keith Ablow once again lends his severely-compromised credibility to the issue of gun control versus mental-health-system-blaming in order to craft an argument where fewer people would die if only there was increased access to psych beds and other psych services, and just as much, if not more, access to guns.

You can read the piece (all puns intended) here… http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/12/12/on-newtown-anniversary-america-mental-health-system-still-mess/

Dr. Ablow fires out a random assortment of gun- and mental-health-related ideas with the precision and deadly accuracy of a single blast of #9 shot, aimed to take down the elephant in the room—that no meaningful action has been taken to reduce access to unnecessarily powerful weapons and massive amounts of ammunition.  Of course, as with trying to take down an elephant with a single blast of #9 shot, all that Ablow does is irritate the elephant—or exacerbate the problem—by claiming that it is mental illness that is the real problem.

Ablow starts off by listing five mass shooters from recent years, and remarks that we “now know” that they were all severely mentally ill.  Ablow then abruptly shifts to talk about Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds, whose adult son, Austin (aka Gus), slashed/stabbed the Senator (with a knife) and then committed suicide (with a gun) in November.  (Note: this crime did not involve mass killing).

Prior to the stabbing and suicide, Austin was under an emergency custody order for a psychiatric evaluation, which expired before a psychiatric bed was secured for him.  Multiple hospital officials in Virginia later stated that they had open psychiatric beds at the time Austin was turned away.  It’s unclear exactly how things fell apart in this case, but it wouldn’t be impossible for a six-hour hold to expire while an overwhelmed staff at one facility needed to present the case for, and secure a bed for, hospitalization at another facility.  It is also possible that Austin did not meet grounds for (mental health) detention.

Dr. Ablow states that Austin was “discharged from an emergency room where he complained of severe psychiatric symptoms.”  But there are a number of problems with this statement.  For one, it comes in the context of one of Dr. Ablow’s “We know” statements—and “we” do NOT “know” what Austin may or may not have said or “complained” about.  Also, given that Austin was under an emergency custody order, chances are that he wasn’t voluntarily seeking help.  If Austin was willingly seeking help, and considered competent to do so, then the order wouldn’t have been necessary.

Unfortunately, if a client is not a clear threat to self or others, or in danger of harm due to being incapable of caring for him/herself, the client (generally speaking) cannot be detained.  Senator Deeds stated, after the incident, that while he expected conflict with his son, he did not expect his son to turn violent.  And in Virginia (mental health evaluation and detention procedures differ from state to state) a person cannot be detained if the emergency custody order expires before a psychiatric “bed” is found.  By contrast, in a number of other states, if a person is viewed as detainable for mental health reasons, they can be held (for example, in an emergency room) until a psychiatric bed becomes available or the client is stabilized.

At any rate, Dr. Ablow devotes a one-sentence paragraph to greatly simplifying what happened in the Deeds case, and ensuring that nobody who reads his column would understand anything about how laws related to mental health treatment operate, or what is required of patients and evaluators in detaining a person for mental health reasons.

As a bit of an aside, I routinely speak with people who think that all it takes for the state to send out an ambulance with a couple of guys and a straitjacket to cart away a loved one is three people who will pinky-swear that a relative or close friend needs to be “locked up.”  This is the kind of information that comes from old movies involving a group of people conspiring to get a relative “committed,” so they can usurp the family fortune.  As another bit of an aside, think of how much you agree with the idea that it should be legal for the state to lock a person up based on a consensus among three people that the person is “crazy.”

But Ablow’s interest is not in creating greater understanding, or making any kind of appeal to anybody based on, say, critical thinking skills.  It’s in telling us how guns are not a problem when it comes to people being shot.

Strangely enough, to make his pro-gun argument, Ablow then discusses Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut mass-shooter, in deeper detail.  Lanza, Ablow explains, was “allowed” to “learn how to shoot a firearm” by his mother, Nancy, who was the first victim of Adam’s shooting spree.  Dr. Ablow apparently hopes that readers don’t remember/can’t do an Internet search to find out that Lanza’s mother had numerous guns and a great deal of ammunition in her home (where Adam also lived), all purchased legally, and, shortly before the killings, had even written a check to Adam so he could go buy his own gun.

Also, as with the Deeds case, Lanza’s mother indicated that she did not fear violence from Adam, despite his statements and behavior to the contrary, and despite the large number of weapons she kept in her home.  Nancy Lanza’s sense of safety in opposition to all signs to the contrary is not unusual.  Most gun-rights advocates seem to suffer from some sort of collective delusion that they cannot be harmed with their own guns, although statistically speaking, gun owners and their family members are much more likely to be shot with those guns (accidentally, self-inflicted, or otherwise) than any bad-guys.

While ignoring Nancy Lanza’s love of guns, Dr. Ablow notes Adam’s obsession with mass murder, his playing of “violent video games (including one about school shootings)” and that Adam lived in the basement of his mother’s home, where he had covered the windows with trash bags and only communicated with his mother via e-mail during the three months before the shootings took place.  Dr. Ablow mentions Lanza’s Asperger’s Disorder diagnosis, and posits that he “may well have merited other diagnoses.”

Well, given that most people with Asperger’s Disorder don’t take up arms against grade-school children, I’d guess Dr. Ablow might be right about that diagnosis piece.  Lanza had also been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (neither of which tend to lead to mass killing), and had been prescribed medications related to his various diagnoses, but there was little follow-up by Lanza or his mother with regard to the psychiatric care.

This leads to another point regarding how pointless it is to claim that the “mental health system” is to blame for the problem of gun violence.  If the family members of someone like Adam Lanza did little or nothing to get him help, and actively encouraged his access to guns, it seems rather ridiculous to think a psychiatrist would be able to correct that situation with a few days in the hospital and some medications.

Strangely enough…whoops, I mean, “of course,” Dr. Ablow doesn’t mention where Lanza got any of the weapons and ammunition, but instead highlights just how weird (he assumes his readers will believe) it is that Lanza lived in his mother’s basement, and spent time on computers.  Remember, kids, video games kill.  Living in your mother’s basement kills.  Having a massive arsenal of weapons in the home is NOT the problem.

Getting all compassionate, Dr. Ablow goes on to say that “untreated or poorly treated mental illness is” a problem.  He even italicizes it.  Oh, wait, let me back up off of that statement a bit, so that we can see that what he actually says is that (and let this soak in), an “anti-gun agenda misses the point: Firearms aren’t the responsible variable in mass killings: untreated or poorly treated mental illness is.”  (His italics)

Well, I don’t know, Dr. Ablow…I’ve got a weird feeling that there are a lot of people out there with untreated or poorly treated mental illness who don’t commit mass killings, at least in part because they don’t have access to a bunch of guns and ammunition.  (My italics)

After his impassioned, italicized plea that guns don’t kill people, people with mental illness kill people, Dr. Ablow awkwardly segues to a brief mention of the 1927 Bath School disaster as the example of the “worst episode of school violence ever” and notes (italicized and underlined) that it “involved no gun.”  (Yes, his underlining and italicizing).

The Bath School disaster is one of those weird things that pro-gun folk like to cite as a reason why school shootings really aren’t all that bad.   Unfortunately, it kind of undermines their argument if you actually look at it—because the Bath School disaster was committed using dynamite and incendiary pyrotol—substances that are not generally sold in your local Walmart.  Those explosives in particular aren’t actually available much anymore, pyrotol having been banned for sale to farmers in 1928 (the year after the Bath School disaster—committed by a guy who owned a farm), and dynamite having largely gone off the market due to the availability of more stable explosives.

Another fun fact is that explosives tend to be rather heavily regulated by the government.  After that whole episode of Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, a whole lot of regulations got slapped on the seemingly innocuous components of his fertilizer-truck-bomb.  So, if you want to make a connection about the appropriate action to take after somebody uses a certain kind of “tool” to kill a lot of people, bringing up explosives isn’t really helping your case.  After all, we don’t encourage people to go buy more explosives to make sure the good exploders can explode the bad exploders.

Ablow also forgets to make any relevant connection between Andrew Kehoe, the man responsible for the Bath School disaster, and mental illness.  Certainly, given that Kehoe was homicidal and suicidal, he could have been detained by today’s standards if his intentions were at all known.  But from all accounts, he was a rather angry, vindictive individual, like a lot of people who commit gun crimes.  Ablow fails to delve into the possibility that Kehoe was constantly playing Grand Theft Auto XIV, eating Cheeto-and-kale sandwiches (on Dave’s Killer Bread), and drinking Baja-Blast Mountain Dew, while masturbating to animated monster porn.

In another odd turn that undermines his argument, Ablow then chooses to discuss untreated mental illness, saying (in relation to suicide of all things) that, “shooting victims don’t come close to the body count from untreated mental illness in the United States.”  Apparently, Dr. Ablow,  thinks that “shooting victims” who shoot themselves don’t count.  Because suicides make up about two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the U.S.  And suicide by firearm makes up about half of all suicides.

To give some nice, round numbers, there are over 30,000 firearm deaths per year in the United States, with about 19,000 of those due to suicide.  There are about 38,000 suicides total.  The next-highest category of suicides is suffocation, which accounts for around 9,500 deaths.  But “suffocation” includes a variety of things such as hanging, cutting off one’s air with plastic bags over one’s head, and using one’s car exhaust to deprive an enclosed space (and, hence, oneself) of oxygen.

Along with failing to mention that suicides by gun account for the lion’s share (sorry lions) of suicides, Ablow also neglects to mention that a big piece in risk assessment and suicide prevention involves removing firearms from the homes of suicidal (and homicidal) people.  After all, why would anyone take the guns away from people who are suicidal or homicidal (or who are so paranoid as to think that the government is coming to take their guns away)?  Why would anyone take guns away as part of “fixing” the mental health system?

Dr. Ablow then makes the tragi-comedic statement that he wishes that in the year since the Newtown shootings the Surgeon General would have, “declared war on mental illness.”  I suppose Dr. Ablow means a declaration of war on mental illness—like where a lot of resources are committed to treating mental illness and maybe to getting rid of the stigma associated with mental illness—as opposed to declaring war on those with mental illness.  Because, in effect, blaming mental illness and the failures of the “mental health system” for mass shootings, instead of viewing easy access to the tools for killing (guns and ammo) is a rather shaky position to take.   As a general rule, “untreated mental illness,” which covers a huge range of possibilities, is not the vehicle by which metal projectiles end up penetrating children’s skulls.

Ablow goes on to compliment the Obama administration for providing additional funding for mental health care through the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. No, really, a guy on Fox news said the Obama administration kinda-sorta did something good.  But he then condemns the Obama administration for undermining mental health care by trying to ensure access to mental health care via “Obamacare.”  He says that insurance companies do nothing but try to block access to mental health care, and because Obamacare tries to bring down costs, it sucks that people are going to have access to mental health care and the insurance companies that want to deny them care.

So, I think Ablow’s point is that Obama tried to do some good, but failed because he didn’t devote enough resources to it.  Increased access to mental healthcare is good, but failure to provide enough money for the highest levels of mental healthcare is bad?  What’s the remedy for that?  Dr. Ablow apparently thinks the remedy is mental health spending in whatever amount is necessary to put all people dealing with mental illness of any kind into the ongoing care of a psychiatrist…because we all know that what helps people diagnosed with a mental illness…any mental illness…is somebody who prescribes them the right medications.  Right?

Let’s do it, then, Dr. Ablow: provide unlimited funding for unfettered access to psychiatrists for all people who are diagnosed with a mental illness.  What does that entail?  Monthly check-ins with a psychiatrist?  Weekly check-ins?  Daily check-ins?  It’s hard to know what Dr. Ablow is talking about, because he states that MDs need to be in charge of the care of any person who needs mental health care.  But unless we increase spending on mental health care by billions, and find a gusher of a grad school, spewing psychiatrists, his ill-defined proposal isn’t going to work.

What Dr. Ablow (very vaguely) proposes is sheer fantasy.  And the reason he proposes fantasy to deal with a real world problem is that if a real world problem has a fantastical answer, then that real world problem never has to be solved.  We can keep saying, “Fix the mental health system,” or, “Make sure the mentally ill can’t get guns” all while we ignore the fact that we have no intention or way to fix the mental health system in the fashion proposed.

Maybe a better solution is to allow mental health professionals to evaluate people who want to buy guns.  If you meet certain diagnostic criteria, you are not allowed to own a gun.  If you own a gun, everybody in your house must undergo annual psychiatric testing.  But, then, wouldn’t the desire to own a gun be an indication of mental illness, since the intent to own a gun to protect oneself from bad guys would indicate an intention to shoot somebody?  Well, nevermind, it would all be rather expensive anyway.

Dr. Albow leans toward closing his piece out by claiming that “We haven’t done anything to meaningfully coordinate police departments and the courts with the gutted community mental health system.”  Aside from the idea that the mental health system has been “gutted,” I think those involved in dealing with the “mental health system” might find Dr. Ablow’s statements false and offensive.  Because, despite massive budget cuts, and childish blame-cops-judges-and-mental-health-providers arguments like Dr. Ablow’s, numerous police agencies, court systems, and mental health agencies have been doing their damnedest to coordinate care, and provide community education into how to navigate the complicated legal knots of the system. They’ve also been doing what they can to get guns out of the hands of people who are potentially suicidal and/or homicidal, despite the best efforts of the NRA to make sure that everyone, regardless of mental health status, has access to guns.

Dr. Ablow actually closes out his piece by claiming that the Newtown school massacre was “entirely preventable”—which I guess it was, but not by anything that would happen in Dr. Ablow’s fantasy world where psych beds and psych meds negate bullets.  He states that the real surprise in the year since the Newtown school massacre is that there wasn’t “another” Newtown massacre.  But I’m guessing that the parents of the children who were the victims of the 27 school-shooting deaths and 35 gunshot injuries committed in schools in the year following Newtown might disagree with the idea that there was not “another” Newtown.   Sure, there wasn’t a single incident where the same number of people were killed and injured. But what kind of world is Ablow living in where he is willing to excuse even one person being shot at a school in a given year, and to blame mass shootings on mental health providers and people with mental illness, while choosing to support the right of gun manufacturers to continue to provide just about anyone with access to firearms and ammunition designed specifically for killing people?

THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS AND THE FIGHT AGAINST COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus points out to Charlie Brown that he has taken “a Wonderful season like Christmas, and turned it into a problem.”  And while I would never compare a beloved figure like Charlie Brown to ridiculous cartoon characters like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin, the people who push the idea of a “War on Christmas” are engaging in that same mindset of turning a wonderful season into a problem—and all allegedly because they love it so much.

When Charlie Brown complained about Christmas, it was because, “I know nobody likes me.  Why do we need a whole holiday season to emphasize it?”  This is what we in the therapy business might call examples of thinking errors, or cognitive distortions.  Look beyond your pantophobia.  Challenge those thoughts, Charlie, and what do you arrive at?

“I know nobody likes me.”  That’s what we might call “All or nothing thinking.”  As a little hint, almost anytime you say that everybody or nobody is doing something, that’s pretty much a distortion—a false statement.  What would a challenge be to that thought, Charlie Brown?  I bet Linus might feel a little offended at being considered a “nobody,” as I doubt he would say he doesn’t like you.  He’s a pretty good friend to you, offering support at every turn.  So, there are people who like you, and you know that.

Now how about the idea that there is “a whole holiday season to emphasize” that nobody likes you?  Well, since we’ve already successfully challenged the idea that nobody likes you, the argument is already flawed, but what else?  Might we call this magnification?  It’s definitely an exaggeration, as if an entire season was there just to make you feel bad.  Is it everybody’s desire to make you feel bad that drives the holiday season, or is there something else going on?  I think your good friend Linus hits on at least one different explanation.  Lights please.

So, now it’s your turn Bill and Sarah.  How about the phrase, “War on Christmas”?  Are there any problems with this phrase?  How about magnification?  Blowing things out of proportion, kind of like Charlie Brown did?

First of all, “War” is a pretty harsh word.  In the most real sense, it means organized, focused acts of aggression and violence.  People get killed.  Property gets destroyed.  So, certainly, in the United States you can’t mean that there is, properly speaking, a war going on with Christmas as its target.

Even in its more hyperbolic meaning, as when it’s applied to a concept, the word “war” is usually attached to actions that have a demonstrable, negative impact on the thing against which the war is being waged.  For example, the “War on poverty” was intended to have specific impacts that “damage” poverty or put an end to poverty.  One might fight poverty by trying to increase employment, reduce hunger, and ensure adequate access to housing.  There is a coordinated plan of “attack” with goals to be achieved and measured.

So, maybe instead of saying that there’s a “War on Christmas” you could say, there’s a “Push for recognition of non-Christmas holidays” or maybe a “Movement to make participation in Christmas celebrations elective.”  Sure, those phrases aren’t that catchy, but they also help steer away from connecting anger and violence with Christmas, which really seems like a great goal, don’t you think?

“But…but,” you may be saying, “the War on Christmas has a demonstrable, negative impact on Christians!”  Careful, now, we don’t want to get into emotional reasoning, believing something is true just because you had a feeling related to the thought.  Let’s look at the impact the war on Christmas has on Christians in the United States.

In order to measure the tangible impacts, we would have to have some specific examples of what this War on Christmas involves.  Let’s see—there’s the matter of some stores having employees say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and utilizing the same language in their ads.  But does that really hurt anybody who is filled with Christmas spirit and good will toward all her/his fellow human beings?  Or does it actually make sense, in the United States, a pluralistic society which was in no small part established by people looking for freedom to worship how they wanted, to expect that people will celebrate whatever holidays they want in whatever way they want?

It is hardly an insult to say “Happy Holidays,” unless you consider referring to Christmas as one of multiple holidays (which literally means “holy days”) insulting. So, what is it about “Happy Holidays” that is so offensive?  Isn’t it more offensive to establish an atmosphere in which people think that “Merry Christmas” might be a challenge—a test to see if they’ll say “Merry Christmas” back in order to avoid a fight?  What is it about Christmas that makes anyone want to start an argument, especially anyone who views Christmas as a positive thing?

So what else have we got?  Public schools deciding not to include specifically religious (Christian) songs in their “holiday” (not Christmas) music programs?  Does it really hurt you if the kids sing “Frosty the Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland” rather than “Greensleeves” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”?  Well, how about this—how many of the “War on Christmas”-endorsing crowd would be happy to find out that all the kids in the local public school had to learn a specifically Muslim song for, say, a concert in honor of Ramadan?  Or if they had to learn a Jewish song that was more religiously-based than the Dreidel Song?  Or maybe the Dreidel Song is offensive enough to anyone who actually believes that there is a war on Christmas.

So, let’s stack up the allegedly negative impacts of the “War on Christmas” against what goes on in the United States every year during the “holiday season.”  Christians, and many people who celebrate Christmas out of tradition rather than out of religious conviction, decorate their homes, and often various community gathering places.  Churches have one of their busiest times of year, including plenty of singing, praying, and programs wherein children perform religious songs and plays while dressed as shepherds, wise men, and the Holy Family.  Stores certainly decorate and make a variety of specifically Christmas-related items available.  I know I can walk into almost any major department store, and even a huge number of specialty stores and find nativity scenes of various sizes, Advent calendars, Christmas tree ornaments, Christmas cards, and on and on.  Where’s the real damage?  The destruction?  The horrible losses?

Acknowledging that other people in your community don’t share your same traditions and religion does not mean you are under attack, and definitely does not mean you are involved in a war.  To believe as much is a massive cognitive distortion, a mental filter siphoning out the good of Christmas in search of a reason to be angry rather than to be filled with joy, love, and the Christmas spirit.  People asserting their right not to be Mannheim Steamrolled by Christmas excesses are not armies or even shoe bombers, just people saying, “Hey, we’re not all like you.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Therapists and mental health professionals of various stripes are not automatically opposed to religion.  (And, contrary to popular belief, the holiday season is not the time of year with the most suicides, at least not the most completed suicides).  I have seen firsthand, and participated in, some of the incredible good that people of faith can accomplish.  And I think various expressions of faith and spirituality are wonderful when they are used as part of a person’s support system and coping skills.  Plenty of people derive great strength from their faith, rely on it to provide meaning in their lives, and engage it to look for the good in others.  And I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about being able to tell Christians by their love, and not by the ludicrous complaints they make in an effort to sell books.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe spirituality is not intended as a source for expanding one’s view of the greatness of all creation, and one’s place in, and connection to, it, including one’s ties to one’s fellow people.  Maybe spirituality is the best tool for narrowing down one’s focus to the pettiest things one should really be angry about.  Hunger?  Economic injustice?  War?  Violence?  Why bother with addressing any of that when you can get angry about City Hall having a “holiday tree” but no manger scene, or perhaps a manger scene, but also displays for Chanukah, and Kwanzaa?

What does it do to a person when she/he uses spirituality as a source for anger at those who don’t express their beliefs in the same way she/he does?  What does it do to a person to make Christmas a source of personal anger at other people, not because she/he despises Christmas, but because she/he claims to love it?

Linus, engaging a pure sense of Christmas spirit, shows that love is transformative and life-giving.  It brings people together, and challenges their notions of separateness, selfishness, and persecution.  So, take a cue from Linus this…ahem…holiday season and engage that sense of love and joy.  You may just end up feeling less like “nobody loves me” Charlie brown, and more like “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.”

I WAS A MERCENARY IN THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS

I fired the missiles at the exhaust port then yanked on the reins of the goats that were pulling my sleigh, steering them up and away from the trench (goats being the sleigh-pullers of choice due to their magic-corn-induced ability to fly in space, not because of their association with certain dark lords).  They flew hard, keeping us just inches ahead of the debris from the explosion of the Christmas Star.  It was a direct hit!  We had destroyed the Christmas Star!

We knew it was just one battle—a minor setback for an enormous holiday—that another star would almost certainly be built.  But, still, we flew back to our secret outpost and had a ridiculously ornate awards ceremony at an ancient, abandoned, pagan temple.  As the Princess slipped a medal around my neck, I swelled with pride.  I thought, “Take that, Christmas!!”

* * *

Many years have passed since that first assault on the Christmas Star.  I won’t detail all that has happened in the time since, only say that I am a changed man.  Now my days of rebellion are behind me.  Still, ever a mercenary at heart, it only makes sense to go where the money is.  And the real money is on the side of Christmas.

Plus, all I have to do on this side of the war is sit around and whine and complain that people are attacking Christmas, despite the fact that it is ever-present from early October until sometime in January.  But as a white, American male, that is my birthright—to complain that traditional values are coming under attack, just because there are people in this county who don’t do the things that I do, and fail to honor my traditions while I berate theirs.

Take that, Christmas, indeed.

Dr. Keith Ablow’s Political Hero, the Unabomber

On June 25, 2013, Dr. Keith Ablow, rogue psychiatrist and resident Fox News psychobabbler, desperate for attention, published an article on the Fox News website entitled “Was the Unabomber Correct about the Horrors of Technology Combined with Government?”

Apparently, the main basis for Dr. Ablow giving an Internet-based high-five to Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, is that Kaczynski’s Manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future” is critical of “leftists” and the “politically correct.”  Dr. Ablow’s support would appear to come under the concept of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if the enemy of my enemy is a murderous psychopath with rambling, incoherent ideas that only partially coincide with my own ridiculous beliefs.’  Or perhaps Dr. Ablow just recognized Kaczynski as a fellow traveler on the road of ill-defined political positions using shallowly-explained psychology in an attempt to justify paranoid delusions.

Dr.  Ablow acknowledges at the outset of his article that we may not have had access to Kaczynski’s delightful little thesis if Mr. Kaczynski hadn’t demanded its publication under threat of blowing up more people if he didn’t get his way.  Yet, while Dr. Ablow’s article states repeatedly and in bold that blowing people up is not good, and Kaczynski really shouldn’t have blowed those people up, and No!! I really, really mean it!!  Blowing people up is really, really bad!! he still insists that Kaczynski’s ideas “are increasingly important” and “cannot be dismissed.”  I assume the bolded statements exist so that there is a legal wall shielding Dr. Ablow and Fox News if anybody takes Mr. Kaczynski or Dr. Ablow all that seriously and decides that blowing things up is actually a useful solution to whatever-the-hell it is that either of them are talking about.

Of course, taking Dr. Ablow seriously in this (and most other) case(s) is rather difficult for any rational person—which includes a whole lot of people who don’t need bolded statements telling them not to blow people up.   But perhaps Dr. Ablow just plain doesn’t realize that what generally happens with the manifestos of psychopaths is that they are dismissed, except by other psychopaths.  Instead, Dr. Ablow elevates Kaczynski’s explosives-backed malarkey to the heights of time-honored literature, saying it “deserves a place alongside” Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.

What is truly adorable in Dr. Ablow’s column is how he imagines Ted, sitting in his cell, recognizing just how correct (not politically correct) he is (as opposed to the type of psychopath who would acknowledge that maybe he had gone a bit too far) all because people use Twitter, Facebook, and GPS too much.  Dr. Ablow even imagines engaging in a mind-meld with Ted where they jointly recognize the evil caused by the Internet (President Obama used it to get elected) and engage in paranoid delusions about President Obama “making a play to disarm” American citizens.  Yes, there’s nothing that shores up your argument quite so much as being in (pretend) agreement with somebody who hid out in a shack in the woods and planted bombs in alleyways so that he could defend, as Dr. Ablow says, “individuality and autonomy” or what “constitutes the core of a human life.”

Never mind that Kaczynski’s work, among other things, indicates his support for radical environmentalists, as he tries with much confusion to explain why they aren’t really leftists.  Never mind that Kaczynski advocates the destruction of technology and the collapse of the economy, stating, “conservatives are fools: They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth,” which “inevitably break down traditional values.”  Never mind that Kaczynski ridicules Constitutional rights as bourgeois tools for enforcing control.  What’s really important is that either Dr. Ablow hasn’t actually bothered to read Kaczynski’s work, that Dr. Ablow is counting on anyone agreeing with his ridiculous column to not actually read Kaczynski’s work, or that Dr. Ablow actually suffers from a reading comprehension disorder and didn’t understand Kaczynski’s (largely incomprehensible) work.