Monday, September 22, 2014

Should I Die At 75? Oh, Wait. Too Late.

On September 17, the very day--I mean, the exact day I turned 77, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel's essay, "Why I hope to Die at 75" appeared in The Atlantic magazine.   You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Really?  (We old people say, "really?" while you say, "seriously?".  There's one difference right there.)

Emanuel is a bioethicist and breast oncologist who is for Obamacare and universal health care and against euthanasia for the aged.  Nevertheless, he apparently believes that because most people over 75 are no longer as vibrant as most people under 75, and many of them have insurmountable health issues, there should be an arbitrary cut-off date after which any reasonable human being would do humanity a favor and go find themselves a nice iceberg somewhere and float off into the darkness. Singing.

I have admired Zeke Emanuel for. . . I don't know. . . a long time now. I can't remember.  (Don't kill me!)  I always thought that of all the Emanuels, he had his head on straightest.  But it could be that on the very day I turned 77 my brain read Emanuel's piece, took notice that I was exactly two years past the cut-off date, and got confused about what it was supposed to do now.  Whatever happened, I don't get this guy.  Not this time.

He said:
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
Ooooh. . . weeping here.  So sweet!  (Except for that part about "dying at 75 will not be a tragedy".   Easy for him to say.)

And then he said:
. . .the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. . . This age-creativity relationship is a statistical association, the product of averages; individuals vary from this trajectory. Indeed, everyone in a creative profession thinks they will be, like my collaborator, in the long tail of the curve. There are late bloomers. As my friends who enumerate them do, we hold on to them for hope. It is true, people can continue to be productive past 75—to write and publish, to draw, carve, and sculpt, to compose. But there is no getting around the data. By definition, few of us can be exceptions. Moreover, we need to ask how much of what “Old Thinkers,” as Harvey C. Lehman called them in his 1953 Age and Achievement, produce is novel rather than reiterative and repetitive of previous ideas. The age-creativity curve—especially the decline—endures across cultures and throughout history, suggesting some deep underlying biological determinism probably related to brain plasticity.
Hold on a minute.  Old Thinkers.  Processing. . .

. . .

Okay, we'll move on now.

There are people who are still brilliant--or at least special--long past the time most of us would have given up and moved on.  They're Emanuel's exceptions and the older these people get the more they become potential national treasures.  It's because they've beaten the odds and are living proof that, even at such an advanced age, they still have much to contribute.  It's also true that younger admirers have put themselves in their place and feel better about their own chances of making waves for that long.  But too often they stop celebrating that person's achievements and begin celebrating their longevity.  Any mention of them from then on ends up being a eulogy. As if whatever they were is in the distant past and now they just are.  This sort of thing doesn't help.

A cut-off date of, say, 75 when even Emanuel, the chooser of the cut-off date, admits that nobody ages in the same way during the same time-frame, is so dumb all I can figure is that he needed an attention-getter to make a few points about how terrible it will be when he's no longer at the top of his game.

Take it from me, Zeke.  You'll get over it.


(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland.  Featured on Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Excuses For Spanking: Adding Insult To Injury

Every few months--sometimes less--a story about child abuse hits the airwaves and everyone takes it to the top and talks about it.  Everyone agrees that child abuse is bad.  How could they not?  Child abuse IS bad.  This time it's an NFL player who admitted to switching his four-year-old until the welts rose and the blood flowed.  His excuse was that it was a spanking and it's how he knows to discipline his kids because it was how he was disciplined.  Until he agreed to therapy he saw it as no big deal.  He honestly seemed not to get it that raising welts on a child and drawing blood was not the way to parent.

While all this was going on, NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter took to the cameras on ESPN and talked emotionally about our entrenched but wrong-headed views on discipline.  (Thank you, Mr. Carter. You have my eternal respect and gratitude) :
"This goes across all racial lines, ethnicities, religious backgrounds. People in disciplining their children. People with any sort of Christian background, they really believe in disciplining their children," Carter began. "My mom did the best job she could do raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong. This is the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me. And I promised my kids that I won't teach that mess to them. You can't beat a kid to make him do what you want to do."

Let's be honest:  spanking is just a fancy word for hitting.  The word is kind of cute. Spanking.  It's used to make the actions of the hitter seem more benign, but hitting is hitting and when there is hitting, someone is going to get hurt.  That's the objective.  Behavior modification by inflicting pain. 

Spanking is what parents and caretakers do to kids when they've lost their tempers and the only road to relief is to hit somebody.  Sometimes it's instant and spontaneous, but sometimes--this makes me shudder--it comes after a delay; a cooling-off period when the adult about to do the hitting would have time to think about it and just not do it.  Then it isn't a matter of losing control, it's a matter of gaining control by hurting someone.

Kids get spanked or switched or whacked or smacked all the time.  We brag about it, joke about it, and make excuses for it:  It's part of our history, our culture, our destiny.  A good spanking never hurt anybody.  Or so we would like to believe.

I have smacked a padded butt or two, pulled on a little arm, and forcibly, not gently, removed a child from a situation that was dangerous or had gotten out of hand.  We parents are not perfect; nor, you might have noticed, are our children.  Obedience is not something that comes naturally to them.

Every new parent wants to believe from the get-go that they've got this--all it takes is smarts and patience and a loving heart.   Every new parent learns quickly that whatever assets they thought they were bringing to this whole parenting thing are just so much oatmeal when it comes to applying them to real, live kids with minds of their own.

So because we all know that kids don't always cooperate when it comes to guidance and discipline, and because nobody seems to know which method, if any, will work, we tend to want to stay out of other peoples' parenting efforts.

It's far easier to believe that spanking is okay while hitting isn't and not recognize that the two are one and the same.  Whatever you want to call it, kids are being hit by adults.  Some of them are beaten, bruised and bloodied to the point where even seasoned spankers are horrified. But that's the problem:  There is no clear definition for spanking.  We can use the word without really knowing what we're talking about.

The term "child abuse" is out in the open now.  That wasn't true even 30 years ago, when the first child abuse hotlines began to appear.  We're better informed and we know abuse when we see it, but we're still not willing to include spanking in the "abuse" category.   It needs to be there.  We can't control the methods or degrees of spanking.  There is no effective way to monitor spanking to make sure it doesn't go too far.  The way to control it is to make sure it doesn't happen.

Every adult who spanks is not a child abuser, but every adult who spanks has to recognize that spanking is intended to hurt, and hurting a child, any child, is something a healthy society needs to address.  We can't talk out of both sides of our mouths.  Either we believe children need to be protected from deliberate hurt or we don't.

(For further reading, an earlier post:  "A Simple Plea:  Do Not Lay Hands Upon Our Children".)

The National Child Abuse Hotline number is:
1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and Dagblog. Linked at Mike's Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

He Hit Her. And She Went Down.

The big domestic story this week is the suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after a video surfaced showing him inside an elevator punching his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, so hard he knocks her out cold.  She falls on the floor, unconscious, and when the elevator door opens he is seen dragging her out of the elevator, kicking her to get her dead weight away from the doors, never once seeming to worry about the fact that she is not moving.

This happened months ago, in February, and when the first video came to light--the one where he is seen dragging her out of the elevator, kicking her, etc.--the NFL gave the bad boy a slap on the wrist; a two-game suspension.  Yesterday a new video came out showing the actual knock-out punch.  Now it's a fact.  This guy, Ray Rice, hit a woman--the woman who loves him--so hard she fell to the floor, unconscious.  He hit her that hard.

Let me repeat:  He hit her hard enough to knock her out.  And then he dragged her--dragged her--out of the door.  He did not try to awaken her or comfort her or appear to be the least bit concerned.

That's the story we should be talking about, but instead the big story is that, even after that, the woman who says she loves him went on to marry him and is now defending him and blaming the media for ruining their lives.  She has a problem, no doubt, and every one of us hopes she comes to her senses and leaves this jerk right now.  But it's her abuser who has the bigger problem.

He can't get away from who his is.  He can make excuses and promise never to do it again.  (Which, in Rice's case, he hasn't done--at least not publicly.  At his press conference, he apologized to the NFL, to his fellow players, to his fans, to everyone except his wife--the woman he knocked out cold in the elevator.) He can agree to some sort of counseling and he may even do it.  But in the end, he is in charge of his ability to care enough about another human being so as not to do her harm.  He, and only he, can control himself.

Nearly everyone who has been involved in abusive relationships--the victims themselves or the clinicians who care for them--have said, on seeing the tape, that this is not a one-time "mistake".  Rice's careless disposal of this woman, his fiancee, rendered unconscious by the application of his fist to her face, indicates a history of violence.

He is the problem.  She is the victim.  If she decides to seek help, there will be many experts ready to help her.  If she's lucky, she'll break the bonds that attached her to a violent abuser and her life will take a new and better turn.

But Ray Rice will still have to live with himself.  He will either have to come to terms with the horror of what he has done or he will go on insisting, even to himself, that he didn't mean to do it, that they were both angry, that she lunged at him, she spit at him, and what could he do?  That for that split second he was out of control and it'll never happen again.  That this isn't who he is.

Every abuser believes this.  Every abuser has to believe this, because anyone who systematically uses fists or a weapon to injure someone weaker is living in the body of a monster.  And nobody wins when the monster wins.

(Cross-posted at Alan Colmes' Liberaland and Dagblog. Featured on Mike's Blog Roundup on Crooks and Liars.)