Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get your boycott shoes on

“The mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

WE'RE already boycotting all things Indiana, right? As you probably have heard, the Arkansas State Legislature just passed a similar "religious freedom" law, and Republican governor Asa Hutchinson has indicated he will sign it. If he does, I recommend a no-holds-barred boycott of WalMartEven though its CEO, Doug McMillon, is urging the governor to veto the bill, as the big gorilla in the state, the more pain WalMart feels, the more they'll hammer the legislature. 

(It will difficult for Paul and me to boycott WalMart cuz' we already don't shop there in protest of the crummy way the company treats employees.) Below find a New York Times article from today.

Bills on ‘Religious Freedom’ Upset Capitols in Arkansas and Indiana
By Campbell Robertson and Richard Perez-Pena
March 31, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas legislature on Tuesday passed its version of a bill described by proponents as a religious freedom law, even as Indiana’s political leaders struggled to gain control over a growing backlash that has led to calls to boycott the state because of criticism that its law could be a vehicle for discrimination against gay couples.

The Arkansas bill now goes to the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who expressed reservations about an earlier version but more recently said he would sign the measure if it “reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states.” But the bill already faces a significant corporate backlash, including from Doug McMillon, the chief executive of Walmart, the state’s largest corporation, who said Tuesday afternoon that Mr. Hutchinson should veto it.

In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence was in a difficult spot trying to satisfy both the business interests that have threatened to punish the state for its law as well as the conservatives who fought for the measure and do not want to see it diluted.

Mr. Pence has said he wants to modify the law, but he has not indicated how he could do so without undermining it. He rejected claims that it would allow private businesses to deny service to gay men and lesbians and said the criticism was based on a “perception problem” that additional legislation could fix.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to discriminate against anyone,” Mr. Pence, a Republican, said at a news conference in Indianapolis.

He acknowledged that the law had become a threat to the state’s reputation and economy, with companies and organizations signaling that they would avoid Indiana in response. Mr. Pence said he had been on the phone with business leaders from around the country, adding, “We want to make it clear that Indiana’s open for business.”

The bill in Arkansas is similar to the Indiana law, with both diverging in certain respects from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That act was passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, Arkansas’s most famous political son.

But the political context has changed widely since then. The law was spurred by an effort to protect Native Americans in danger of losing their jobs because of religious ceremonies that involved an illegal drug, peyote. Now the backdrop is often perceived to be the cultural division over same-sex marriage.

Both states’ laws allow for larger corporations, if they are substantially owned by members with strong religious convictions, to claim that a ruling or mandate violates their religious faith, something reserved for individuals or family businesses in other versions of the law. Both allow religious parties to go to court to head off a “likely” state action that they fear will impinge on their beliefs, even if it has not yet happened.

The Arkansas act contains another difference in wording, several legal experts said, that could make it harder for the government to override a claim of religious exemption. The state, according to the Arkansas bill, must show that a law or requirement that someone is challenging is “essential” to the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest, a word that is absent from the federal law and those in other states, including Indiana.

The Arkansas bill was passed by the state legislature on Tuesday and now goes to the governor. Sources: Human Rights Campaign; National Conference of State Legislatures; American Civil Liberties Union

“It has way too broad an application,” said John DiPippa, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school, who had spoken before the legislature in 2011 on behalf of a narrower and ultimately unsuccessful version of the bill. “I never anticipated or supported applying it to for-profit companies and certainly never anticipated it applying to actions outside of government.”

Though Arkansas has now joined Indiana as a target of criticism from businesses, condemnation of Indiana’s law continued to grow.

Days before the N.C.A.A. is to hold the men’s basketball Final Four in Indianapolis, the group’s president, Mark Emmert, said Tuesday that the new law “strikes at the core values of what higher education in America is all about.” The city’s mayor, Greg Ballard, a Republican, and the state Chamber of Commerce have called on lawmakers to change the statute.

Business executives, notably leaders of tech companies like Apple and Yelp, have spoken out against the law, and Angie’s List cited it in canceling plans to expand its facilities in Indianapolis. Entertainers have canceled tour dates in the state, a gaming convention is considering going elsewhere and the governors of Connecticut, New York and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana.

On the other hand, likely Republican presidential contenders — prominent among them Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — have supported the law.

Even the White House joined in. “This piece of legislation flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all across the country strongly support,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday at his daily briefing.

Mr. McMillon of Walmart, in a statement, said the bill in Arkansas “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state,” while the chief executive of Acxiom, a marketing technology company based in Little Rock that employs nearly 1,600 statewide, described the bill as “a deliberate vehicle for enabling discrimination.”

Representative Bob Ballinger, right, was among the Arkansas bill’s sponsors. (Hey, they look like a wise and thoughtful bunch, don't they? Redneck yahoos.)

Governor Hutchinson, a pragmatic Republican who ran on a jobs platform, said in an earlier statement that he was “pleased that the legislature is continuing to look at ways to assure balance and fairness in the legislation.”

But with the votes on Tuesday, the decision now lies with him whether this balance has been effectively struck. His office was quiet on Tuesday, with a spokesman declining to comment, though the governor did meet in the morning with Democratic legislators who had concerns about the bill.

The future of similar measures elsewhere remained unclear. In Georgia, where the legislature will adjourn for the year on Thursday, opponents of a pending proposal rallied Tuesday outside the State Capitol. Although the bill’s path has been turbulent — a Monday committee hearing about the measure was canceled — supporters and critics alike said it could be approved in the session’s final hours. North Carolina is far earlier in its debate. Religious freedom proposals surfaced last week in both the House and the Senate, and neither has faced a vote at even the committee level.

In Indiana, lawmakers are expected to go to a conference committee as early as Wednesday morning. They are likely to use an unrelated bill as a vehicle to create the clarification Mr. Pence has requested. Aides to lawmakers said they expected passage to happen as early as Thursday, but it is not certain that a measure acceptable to the legislature will be acceptable to critics.

And supporters of the laws urged political leaders not to bend to pressure. Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said he feared “a capitulation that enshrines homosexual behavior as a special right in Indiana.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “The government shouldn’t force religious businesses and churches to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs.”

Proponents of Arkansas’s bill insisted that there was no intent to discriminate against gays and lesbians, pointing out that there had been several previous attempts to pass such a law well before same-sex marriage came to be seen as nearly inevitable.

“The whole gay issue really was not a big discussion four years ago,” said Jerry Cox, the president of the Family Council, an Arkansas-based lobbying group. “It wasn’t discussed that much two years ago but for whatever reason that has been the focal point of the legislation this time.”

Critics of the law countered that the same legislators who presented this bill sponsored another law earlier in the session that forbids towns and cities to pass their own anti-discrimination ordinances, a law that scuttled ordinances that would have protected gays and lesbians. Mr. Hutchinson did not sign that bill when it came to his desk, but allowed it to become law.

As late as Tuesday afternoon, legislators who opposed the bill in Arkansas were trying to add amendments clarifying that it could not be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians, similar to what political leaders in Indiana are considering. But the sponsors of the legislation refused those amendments during the legislative process and on Tuesday dismissed them as last-minute efforts to kill the bill.

“All the way through this I thought it was unnecessary because of the fact that it didn’t do everything that everybody was saying it was doing,” Representative Bob Ballinger, a Republican and the chief sponsor of the bill, said in the minutes after the bill’s successful passage. “In hindsight maybe I would have done it to maybe avoid all the pain.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

Norway's Halden prison

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." — Fyodor Dostoevsky

I'M SHARING this article from the March 26, 2015 New York Times Magazine in its entirety not because I'm advocating a viewpoint, but as a means of contributing to the discourse about crime and punishment in this country. I'll be honest about a personal bias, though; my fear is that incarceration in the United States is a for-profit industry with so much money at stake that decisions in the best interests of society are unlikely to be made when they run counter to profit-driven motives.

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

By Jessica Benko
March 26, 2015

Like everything else in Norway, the tw­o-­hour drive southeast from Oslo seemed impossibly civilized. The highways were perfectly maintained and painted, the signs clear and informative and the speed-­monitoring cameras primly intolerant. My destination was the town of Halden, which is on the border with Sweden, straddling a narrow fjord guarded by a 17th-­century fortress. I drove down winding roads flanked in midsummer by rich green fields of young barley and dense yellow carpets of rapeseed plants in full flower. Cows clustered in wood-­fenced pastures next to neat farmsteads in shades of rust and ocher. 

On the outskirts of town, across from a road parting dark pine forest, the turnoff to Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

Smooth, featureless concrete rose on the horizon like the wall of a dam as I approached; nearly four times as tall as a man, it snaked along the crests of the hills, its top curled toward me as if under pressure. This was the outer wall of Halden Fengsel, which is often called the world’s most humane maximum-­security prison. I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

The treatment of inmates at Halden is wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life after they get out. Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years — even for Anders Behring Breivik, who is responsible for probably the deadliest recorded rampage in the world, in which he killed 77 people and injured hundreds more in 2011 by detonating a bomb at a government building in Oslo and then opening fire at a nearby summer camp. 

“Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this, and spending on the Halden prison runs to more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 for prisoners in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

The ceramics workshop at Halden Fengsel.

It is tempting to chalk up all this reasonableness to something peculiar in Norwegian socialization, some sort of civility driven core-­deep into the inmates since birth, or perhaps attribute it to their racial and ethnic homogeneity as a group. But in actuality, only around three-­fifths of the inmates are legal Norwegian citizens. 

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cat facts

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud

A NEW Facebook friend hipped me to this list from BussFeed Animals. Since we have FOUR cats (yes, we are certifiably insane), naturally I'm a fan.

FYI: All four are rescues. Shye and Shiva were adopted from the ARL; we got those two on purpose. We lived-trapped Boy Boy and Anaya. I guess the case could be made that we acquired them on purpose since it took a considerable effort to trap them, but we didn't start out with the intention of adding to our cat family members. We did it to save their little lives, and naturally we believed and told ourselves and each other that we'd find them "good homes." And we did. Ours.

62 Astounding Facts About Cats
As if we needed more reasons to love them.
By Chelsea Marshall  
March 26, 2014

1. Cats are the most popular pet in the United States: There are 88 million pet cats and 74 million dogs.

2. There are cats who have survived falls from over 32 stories (320 meters) onto concrete.

3. A group of cats is called a clowder.

4. Cats have over 20 muscles that control their ears.

5. Cats sleep 70% of their lives.

6. A cat has been mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, for 15 years. His name is Stubbs.

7. And one ran for mayor of Mexico City in 2013.

8. In tigers and tabbies, the middle of the tongue is covered in backward-pointing spines, used for breaking off and gripping meat.

9. When cats grimace, they are usually “taste-scenting.” They have an extra organ that, with some breathing control, allows the cats to taste-sense the air.

10. Cats can’t taste sweetness.

Sweet Shye.

11. Owning a cat can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by a third.

12. Wikipedia has a recording of a cat meowing because why not?

13. The world’s largest cat measured 48.5 inches long.

14. Evidence suggests domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2,000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

15. A cat’s purr may be a form of self-healing, as it can be a sign of nervousness as well as contentment.

16. Similarly, the frequency of a domestic cat’s purr is the same at which muscles and bones repair themselves.

17. Adult cats only meow to communicate with humans.

18. The world’s richest cat is worth $13 million after his human passed away and left her fortune to him.

19. Your cat recognizes your voice but just acts too cool to care (probably because they are).

20. Cats are often lactose intolerant, so stop givin’ them milk!

21. Basically all cartoon cats lied to us: Raw fish is off the table for cats as well.

22. The oldest cat video on YouTube dates back to 1894 (when it was made, not when it was uploaded, duh).

Beautiful Shiva.

23. In the 1960s, the CIA tried to turn a cat into a bonafide spy by implanting a microphone into her ear and a radio transmitter at the base of her skull. She somehow survived the surgery but got hit by a taxi on her first mission.

24. The technical term for “hairball” is “bezoar.”

25. Female cats are typically right-pawed while male cats are typically left-pawed.

26. Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10.

27. A cat’s brain is 90% similar to a human’s — more similar than to a dog’s.

28. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

29. A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons, compared with a dog’s 160 million.

30. Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

31. Basically, cats have a lower social IQ than dogs but can solve more difficult cognitive problems when they feel like it.

32. Cats have 1,000 times more data storage than an iPad.

Lovable Boy Boy

33. It was illegal to slay cats in ancient Egypt, in large part because they provided the great service of controlling the rat population.

34. In the 15th century, Pope Innocent VIII began ordering the killing of cats, pronouncing them demonic.

35. A cat has five toes on his front paws, and four on the back, unless he’s a polydactyl.

36. Polydactyl cats are also referred to as “Hemingway cats” because the author was so fond of them.

37. There are 45 Hemingway cats living at the author’s former home in Key West, Fla.

38. Original kitty litter was made out of sand but it was replaced by more absorbent clay in 1948.

39. Abraham Lincoln kept four cats in the White House.

40. When asked if her husband had any hobbies, Mary Todd Lincoln is said to have replied “cats.”

41. Isaac Newton is credited with inventing the cat door.

42. One legend claims that cats were created when a lion on Noah’s Ark sneezed and two kittens came out.

43. A cat can jump up to six times its length.

44. A house cat is faster than Usain Bolt.

45. When cats leave their poop uncovered, it is a sign of aggression to let you know they don’t fear you.

46. Cats can change their meow to manipulate a human. They often imitate a human baby when they need food, for example.

Adorable Anaya.

47. Cats use their whiskers to detect if they can fit through a space.

48. Cats only sweat through their foot pads.

49. The first cat in space was French. She was named Felicette, or “Astrocat.” She survived the trip.

50. Cats have free-floating clavicle bones that attach their shoulders to their forelimbs, which allows them to squeeze through very small spaces.

51. Hearing is the strongest of cat’s senses: They can hear sounds as high as 64 kHz — compared with humans, who can hear only as high as 20 kHz.

52. Cats can move their ears 180 degrees.

53. They can also move their ears separately.

54. A cat has detected his human’s breast cancer.

55. A cat’s nose is ridged with a unique pattern, just like a human fingerprint.

56. Cats have scent glands along their tail, their forehead, lips, chin, and the underside of their front paws.

57. A cat rubs against people to mark its territory.

58. Cats lick themselves to get your scent off.

59. When a family cat died in ancient Egypt, family members would shave off their eyebrows as they mourned.

60. They also had elaborate memorials that included mummifying the cat and either burying it in a family tomb or pet cemetery.

61. Cats were mythic symbols of divinity in ancient Egypt.

62. Black cats are bad luck in the United States, but they are good luck in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Son of Bat-shit-crazy runs for President

“I get sad with the people that go around bashing this country and speaking against this country. Perhaps we ought to send them for a month or two to some place that is out of this country, to realize what it is to live without freedom and without liberty. But you know what happens is, we take freedom for granted in this country. And perhaps we say: ‘Well, it could never happen in America.’ Well, it is happening in America.” — Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father

RAISE your hand if you think Joe McCarthy look-alike, Ted Cruz, is nutty. 

Obviously Ted's dad is bat-shit crazy — and not smart enough to recognize the irony of proposing that Americans be deprived of liberty for exercising the constitutionally-guaranteed liberty of freedom of speech. 

Remember boys and girls, this is who raised TedHands up yet?

March 23 Mr. Cruz announced his presidential candidacy, and as Addicting Information said in a post on the same day, the internet did what it does best — mocked him incessantly. 

"Twitter hashtag #TedCruzCampaignSlogans quickly filled with helpful suggestions for the Presidential hopeful’s campaign one-liners.”

Here are some of the best suggestions the site compiled. Please feel free to contribute your own.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gail Collins calls it a new Senate low

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain

YOU KNOW what an admirer I am of New York Times writer, Gail Collins. In her March 19 column she describes how the Senate boldly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by bungling the almost sure-fire passage of an anti-human trafficking bill. 

FYI: Despite the fact that by sponsoring this bill in the SenateJohn Cornyn managed to (nearly) do one right thing, I am not an admirer of his. By way of explanation, below Gail's column I've attached a screen cap of Mr. Cornyn's voting record on one particular issue. It may suggest to you what some of his transgressions are IMHO.

Oh, No! It’s a New Senate Low!
By Gail Collins
March 19, 2015

The United States Senate is worse than ever.

I know this is hard for you to believe, people. But, really, this week was a new bottom. The Senate found itself unable to pass a bill aiding victims of human trafficking, a practice so terrible that it is one of the few subjects on which members of Congress find it fairly easy to work in bipartisan amity.

“This has got to get done for me to continue having faith in this institution,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who’s particularly concerned about sexual exploitation of Native American women. She has always struck me as one of the more cheerful members of the Senate, so this seems like a bad sign.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed twelve bills against human trafficking already this year.

Wow, the House is doing great! If you overlook the introduction of a budget that features terrible math and many assaults on hapless poor people, the lower chamber has been on a roll lately. Speaker John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, rescued the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, and now they’re working out a plan to avoid the next fiscal cliff, which involves keeping Medicare running.

Plus, this week, the Republican majority got rid of disgraced Representative Aaron Schock, who decorated his office as if it was a scene from “Downton Abbey.” In the wake of questions about his mileage reimbursement requests, Schock announced his resignation. Since he had never successfully sponsored any legislation in his six-year congressional career, his greatest legacy may be a reminder that members of the House of Representatives should avoid brightening the workplace with vases of pheasant feathers.

So the House is working on a new fiscal-cliff plan, passed 12 human trafficking bills and subtracted Aaron Schock. Maybe it’s going to become the center of bipartisan cooperation the nation has been waiting for!

O.K., probably not. Anyway, it’s been doing better than the Senate.

At the beginning of the month, the Senate was working on its own anti-trafficking bill, sponsored by Republican John Cornyn of Texas, with several Democratic co-sponsors. The idea was to fine sexual predators and give the money to groups that help sex-trafficking victims.

Sounded promising. The Senate Judiciary Committee had easily approved Cornyn’s bill earlier this year. Then before it reached the floor, someone discovered that it had acquired a clause forbidding the use of the money to provide victims with access to abortions.

“They’re putting poison pills in their own bills!” said Senator Chuck Schumer in a phone interview.

Before we discuss how badly the Republicans behaved, we need to take time out to note that none of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to have noticed that somewhere along the line, this change had been inserted in the bill. (One senator acknowledged that an aide knew, but never shared the information.)

It was easy to miss, the Democrats contended, being very oblique and supertiny. “Out of a 112-page bill, there is this one sentence,” complained Democrat Dick Durbin.

I believe I speak for many Americans when I say that missing a change in important legislation is excusable only if the Senate Judiciary Committee is suffering from a shortage of lawyers.

No one seemed clear on how the new language got there in the first place, but abortion restriction is not something you casually toss into a bill that you want to pass with support from both parties. It would be as if the Democrats had quietly added a stipulation requiring all trafficking victims be barred from carrying a concealed weapon.

Cornyn argued that it made no difference whatsoever because there were plenty of exemptions that would allow any sexually exploited trafficking victim to qualify for an abortion anyway. That was a good point, except for the part where you wondered why he was so insistent that this allegedly meaningless language be preserved at all costs.

“My wish is that we hadn’t junked that bill up with abortion politics,” said Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican who has to run for re-election next year in Illinois. Many Republicans agreed with him, but in public they dug in their heels. In retaliation, the Democrats brought all progress to a halt with a filibuster.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who thought he was going to show how to make the Senate work, was irate, and said there would be no vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, until Democrats gave in.
Possible theme for the session: “Republicans who can’t lead meet Democrats who can’t read.”

Lynch did get some support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who penned a letter urging Republicans to get behind her. When Giuliani is the most sensible voice in the room, there’s not much farther down to go, unless they start bringing in pheasant feathers.

John Cornyn's record on key votes concerning guns compiled by Vote Smart — Just the Facts.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Perfectly perfect

“Love cures people — both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” — Karl A. Menninger, American psychiatrist and a member of the family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic

TODAY is World Down Syndrome Day. In recognition of it, NBC News published this story about a couple who chose to adopt a Down Syndrome newborn. It's a beautiful story.

On World Down Syndrome Day, One Mom Shares Her Journey to the Perfect Child
By Holly Graham
March 21, 2015

Holly and  Alex Graham and baby Jaxson at five months.

We have so much to celebrate and be thankful for on World Down Syndrome Day 2015.

A year and a half ago my wife Alex and I decided that it was time to start our family through adoption. We dove into the adoption process head first and never looked back.

As part of the initial adoption application we got to "choose" our child — race, gender, birth parent history, religion, abilities and on and on.

Of the many options that we could have ticked off, we had one single box checked. It was that one single box that described our perfect child to a tee.

Our perfect child has upward slanted almond eyes, and a little button nose that perfectly accentuates his flawless round face. He may have a single crease on the palm of his hand that will hold tightly onto your pinky finger.

He may be born with congenital heart defects, thyroid issues and chances are will have issues with his eyes or ears as he grows. That’s fine though, we can tackle those obstacles when we get to them. He will also have low muscle tone ('floppy baby'), which means when you hold him close to you, his little body will just melt into yours. He will take longer at hitting his developmental milestones, but he will get there will a little extra help.

Speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy will give him the tools he needs to achieve these milestones. We know that we will also have to do lots of work at home outside an official "therapy" setting, we can handle that. Our child will go to school and be in a classroom with your perfect child. He will be friendly, caring, and compassionate, and I hope your child is as well! 

He has a lot to teach us, his siblings and the rest of the world about acceptance and unconditional pure love. He may drive a car, but maybe not, there's no rush to worry about that quite yet! He will graduate, maybe not with a GED, but he will wear a cap and gown and celebrate this huge accomplishment alongside his peers. He may want to attend some form of post-secondary education, we will definitely encourage it but at the end of the day it will be his choice.

Jaxson at five months old.
We would love for him to experience living on his own, maybe with a bit of help. Then again, why worry about this so soon? He will have a fulfilling job that he is happy to wake up and go to every morning. He will get married if he chooses to do so. Most importantly our perfect child will be happy, and content with life. He will be loved and cared for no matter what.
We had checked the box beside the words Down syndrome.

When I was around the age of 5, my neighbor and best friend Mandy had Down syndrome. As a child this was something I never thought twice about. I knew that Mandy was different than I was, I didn’t know why, and it didn’t matter. Mandy was happy, she had an infectious smile and a zest for life. I loved being around Mandy.

My mom recently told me that I came home one afternoon when I was a little girl and declared that I was going to be a mommy to a little baby just like Mandy. What a self-fulfilling prophecy that turned out to be! I will forever be grateful to have found a partner in life that saw my dream and chose to share it with me.

Fast forward 25 years, to the day we got the call to inform us that our perfect child was ready to join our family. We were in the middle of a vacation but had seats booked on the next flight home within an hour of “the call.” A whirlwind 48 hours later, we were sitting in a hospital room, rocking our son Jaxson, and totally head over heels in love.

Jaxson and his parents at 10 months old.

Jaxson is now about to turn one, and I can’t even begin to describe the love, joy, comedy, and sheer delight he has brought to our family. Jaxson has been an easy, content, happy baby, and has made the transition to parenthood easy and seamless. Anyone that has had the opportunity to meet Jax can attest to his already infectious personality and the immense love that radiates from him.

Our days may not be filled up with play dates, swim lessons, and mommy groups like they may be with a typical baby. Instead we spend time at various doctors' appointments, and bouncing around from one therapy session to the next. However, we quite enjoy being a part of his therapies and we burst with pride when he learns a new skill and crushes a new milestone.

That is not to say that we haven’t had trying times this year. In July 2014 Jaxson underwent open heart surgery at 11 weeks old to repair a congenital heart defect, followed by a couple more hospitalizations from minor complications and illness. We have learned to take everything in stride and deal with his health issues one day at a time.

We don’t know what the future holds for Jax. We don’t know what obstacles and trials will be thrown our way, but we do know that Jaxson is every single thing that we wished, dreamed and hoped for, and so much more.

He is our perfection. And he has Down syndrome.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poster project

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” — Vince Lombardi

AS MANY of you know, Paul and I own Brainstorm Iowa, an advertising, marketing and creative house. We work for a variety of clients in a wide range of fields around the state and country. 

Recently one of our clients asked us to design a poster tracing the steps in the gene-sequencing processes in which our client's instrument plays an important role. We hired an illustrator, and over the course of a month, the three of us figured it out together.

Here's a screen capture of it. It goes to press Monday as a 2' X 3' poster.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Debtors prison: circa 2015

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” — Aristotle

MORE AND MORE municipalities have turned back the clock to the 18th and early 19th centuries and the era of debtors prisons. Chilling. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has long since earned my permanent admiration and gratitude for the work they do, in this case suing to stop this abominable practice.

The story from NBC News is below. And here's a link to the SPLC in case you feel moved to support their moral mission. 

Probation Firm Extorted Money From Poor in Alabama, Suit Charges
By Lisa Riordan Seville and Hannah Rappleye
March 13, 2015

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by a civil rights group alleges a private company used the threat of jail to extort money from poor residents in rural Alabama who did not keep up with court fines.

The Southern Poverty Law Center's complaint accuses Judicial Correction Services, the largest private probation company in Alabama, of violating federal racketeering laws during its efforts to collect fines on behalf of the Clanton, Alabama municipal court.

"We're bringing this lawsuit because this simply has to stop," said Sam Brooke, an SPLC attorney. "JCS cannot be permitted to continue operating this racketeering scheme that is extorting money from the impoverished individuals under the threat of jail."

The practice is not new. In 2012, an NBC News investigation found the court in Augusta, Georgia, routinely jailed those who failed to pay their fees to a private probation company.

But the SPLC lawsuit comes amid growing scrutiny of the practice of issuing arrest warrants for failing to pay court fines, which was heavily criticized in the scathing Department of Justice report on Ferguson, Missouri released last week.

In addition to finding a pattern of racial bias by police and officials, the DOJ said the Ferguson municipal court routinely issued arrest warrants "not on the basis of public safety needs, but rather as a routine response to missed court appearances and required fine payments." The report found the court "made this penalty even more onerous by only allowing the suspension to be lifted after payment of an owed fine is made in full" and "added charges, fines, and fees for each missed appearance and payment."

Advocates and attorneys say the growing for-profit probation industry encourages similar practices in municipal courts across the south.

"Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled very clearly that a person's probation can't be revoked and they can't be locked up simply because they genuinely can't afford to pay fines, let alone private probation fees, that's often just thrown to the winds," said Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which issued a 2014 report on the probation industry.

Probation companies contract with courts to supervise people convicted of low-level fines and insure they pay court debt. On top of their court fines, probationers must pay a "supervision fee" to the company, typically between $20 and $40 per month. Though often attractive to cash-strapped municipalities, many say this "offender-funded" model traps poor defendants in a cycle of debt, and can land them in jail if they do not pay.

Suits against JCS and other probation companies are ongoing in several municipalities, including DeKalb County, Georgia and Shelby County, Alabama. JCS did not immediately respond to request for comment from NBC News.

Georgia could soon force a change to the industry. A bill currently moving through the state legislature would impose widespread reforms on the industry in the state, where 80 percent of people on probation for a misdemeanor conviction are supervised by private companies.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

For once, good sense prevails

“Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.” ― Joseph Stalin

BE STILL my heart. Something actually went right. A victory for inclusiveness and sense has taken place in my home state of Iowa.

The vigilante quest of former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been stopped cold. And here's what I have to say: Praise the lord and pass the voter registration forms. 

In the two years that Mr. Schultz chased apparitions he spent $250,000, resulting in "fewer than 10 convictions." BTW: Can't either this reporter or the Office of the Secretary of State count? What the heck does "fewer than 10 mean"? Nine? Eight? Seven? 

Since we can't have, say, 9.5, the most it could be is nine cases. That means Mr. Schultz spent $27,777 for each incidence of voter fraud he found.

As fate would have it, Paul and I worked for the three previous Secretaries of StatePaul Pate (in his first tenure as SOS), Chet Culver and Michael Mauro — prior to Mr. Schultz occupying the office. Our company designed a state fair exhibit for each as well as assorted other educational collateral material, and we liked working with all of them. 

Then Mr. Schultz was elected. Let's just say he wasn't our cup of tea; he came across as monomaniacal, xenophobic and power-hungry. Since he knew we really liked his predecessor, I don't think he was that crazy about us either, and by what I'd call tacit mutual agreement, we did no work for Mr. Schultz.

Below is a Des Moines Register article about the end of his quixotic quest.

Controversial Iowa voter rules will not take effect
By Jason Noble
March 13, 2015

Voter registration rules enacted by former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz that critics said threatened to disenfranchise eligible voters will not take effect, after a long-running lawsuit was resolved on Friday.

The Secretary of State's Office — now held by Paul Pate — voluntarily dismissed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court that was initiated by Schultz last year following a loss at the district-court level.

"This is an important victory for the protection of voters' rights in Iowa," American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis said in a statement. "It means that Iowans will not have to worry about the voter purges we've seen take effect in other states with a disastrous impact, especially for new U.S. citizens and Latinos."

By declining to continue the appeal, the state has effectively concluded the lawsuit and allowed the lower-court ruling to stand. That means the rules will never take effect.

In a statement, Pate said he voluntarily declined to continue the appeal after consulting with the Attorney General's Office and will focus now on "building the most accurate voter registration list for Iowa."

"I will use my authority to the fullest extent of state and federal law to ensure accurate voter lists," Pate said. "There are other ways to accomplish the same goal without pursuing a course with significant legal hurdles."

The rules, written in 2012, had set out a process for identifying and removing noncitizens from Iowa's voter registration list first by screening registered voters against state and national lists of noncitizens and then running suspected foreign nationals through the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database.

Voters identified as ineligible would then be referred to their local county auditor, who would initiate a challenge to their registration.

Schultz's office argued the measures would make Iowa's voting system more secure by closing loopholes that could allow noncitizens to vote.

That process was challenged almost immediately by the ACLU of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and never actually took effect. They likened the rules to "voter purge" efforts seen in other states and said reliance on out-of-date databases could disqualify eligible voters.

Last March, a Polk County judge ruled that Schultz exceeded his authority in issuing the rules, invalidated them and assessed costs associated with the lawsuit to the Secretary of State's Office.

"The Court finds that the Respondent lacked the statutory authority to promulgate Rule 721-28.5 as it conflicts with Iowa Code section 48A.30, and a rational agency could not conclude the rule was within its delegated authority," the judge wrote in the 2014 ruling.

LULAC of Iowa State Director Joe Enriquez Henry called Friday's development "a huge victory for voters in Iowa."

"We've been able to achieve here in Iowa what others have failed in other states, and that is to protect our right to vote on Election Day without intimidation from state elected leaders or fear of consequences," he said.

Both Pate and Schultz are Republicans. Schultz made voter fraud his signature issue during his single term in office from 2011 through 2014, pressing for tighter scrutiny over registration, pursuing criminal investigations into suspected voter and championing photo-ID requirements at the ballot box.

In perhaps his highest-profile effort, Schultz contracted with the Iowa Department of Public Safety to assign an officer full-time to investigating voter fraud allegations. That two-year effort cost nearly $250,000 and resulted in fewer than 10 convictions.

Schultz ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, and was elected instead as Madison County attorney.

Pate, in his statement, added that he remains committed to ballot security.

"I will not tolerate diluting the power of the vote by allowing ineligible people to participate at the polls," he said. "We are continuing efforts that ensure verifiable voter identification."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pug pees

"I wonder what goes through his mind when he sees us peeing in his water bowl." — Penny Ward Moser, American journalist

I'VE BEEN pretty serious for a while. Here's something that's insanely funny. And talk about talent! This guy's amazing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Recovering from chronic shame

"Children with too much shame grow up to be adults who can no longer sense their inner experiences. They learn not to feel, and they lose the ability to use their emotions as a compass for living." — Hilary Jacobs Hendel

SOMEDAY I'll tell the story of my own life-long struggle to overcome chronic shame. For now, I offer you an insightful article from The New York Times written by Hilary Jacobs Hendel who is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York and a clinical supervisor with the AEDP Institute. I suspect there are more than a few of you who will know exactly what she's talking about.

It’s Not Always Depression
By Hilary Jacobs Hendel 
March 10, 2015 

How can it be that a seemingly depressed person, one who shows clinical symptoms, doesn’t respond to antidepressants or psychotherapy? Perhaps because the root of his anguish is something else.

Several years ago a patient named Brian was referred to me. He had suffered for years from an intractable depression for which he had been hospitalized. He had been through cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, supportive therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. He had tried several medication “cocktails,” each with a litany of side effects that made them virtually intolerable. They had been ineffective anyway. The next step was electroshock therapy, which Brian did not want.

When he first came to see me, Brian was practically in a comatose state. He could barely bring himself to speak, and his voice, when I managed to get anything out of him, was meek. His body was rigid, his facial expression blank. He couldn’t look me in the eye. Yes, he seemed extremely depressed. But knowing he had been treated for depression for years without good results, I wondered about the diagnosis.

Even though we were together in my office, I was struck by a strong sense that Brian was elsewhere. I asked him what percentage of him was with me in the room.

“Maybe 25 percent,” he said.

“Where is the rest of you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but someplace where it is dark and I am alone.”

“Would you like me to help you get you a little more relaxed?” I asked.

He looked a bit surprised but said yes, so I grabbed a small cushion off my sofa and tossed it to him. He caught it and smiled.

“Toss it back,” I playfully commanded. And he did. His body loosened perceptibly and we talked some more. When I asked, after several minutes of tossing the cushion back and forth, what percentage of him was now with me, he responded with another smile. “I am all here now,” he said.

That’s how it went for several months: We played catch while we talked. Playing catch got him moving, relaxed him, established a connection between us — and was fun.

During our initial sessions I developed a sense of what it was like to grow up in Brian’s home. Based on what he told me, I decided to treat him as a survivor of childhood neglect — a form of trauma. Even when two parents live under the same roof and provide the basics of care like food, shelter and physical safety, as Brian’s parents had, the child can be neglected if the parents do not bond emotionally with him.

This I suspected was the case with Brian. He told me that his parents were both “preoccupied” with the heavy burdens of a family that “could barely make ends meet.” While his mother never called herself an alcoholic, she drank to excess, and his father was often emotionally checked out as well. Brian had few memories of being held, comforted, played with or asked how we was doing.

One innate response to this type of environment is for the child to develop chronic shame. He interprets his distress, which is caused by his emotional aloneness, as a personal flaw. He blames himself for what he is feeling and concludes that there must be something wrong with him. This all happens unconsciously. For the child, shaming himself is less terrifying than accepting that his caregivers can’t be counted on for comfort or connection.

To understand Brian’s type of shame, it helps to know that there are basically two categories of emotions. There are core emotions, like anger, joy and sadness, which when experienced viscerally lead to a sense of relief and clarity (even if they are initially unpleasant). And there are inhibitory emotions, like shame, guilt and anxiety, which serve to block you from experiencing core emotions.

Not all inhibition is bad, of course. But in the case of chronic shame like Brian’s, the child’s emotional expression becomes impaired. Children with too much shame grow up to be adults who can no longer sense their inner experiences. They learn not to feel, and they lose the ability to use their emotions as a compass for living. Somehow they need to recover themselves.

I specialize in something called accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. After being trained as a psychoanalyst, I switched to this approach because it seemed to heal patients who hadn’t gotten relief after years of traditional talk therapy.

Many psychotherapies focus on the content of the stories that people tell about themselves, looking for insights that can be used to fix what’s wrong. By contrast, accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy focuses on fostering awareness of the emotional life of the patient as it unfolds in real time in front of the therapist. The therapist is actively affirming, emotionally engaged and supportive. She encourages the patient to attend not only to his thoughts and emotions but also to the physical experience of those thoughts and emotions.

In the first year of our work together, during almost every session, Brian would plummet into states that I can describe only as wordless suffering. I tried during those fugues to bring him back to the present moment with firm commands. “Plant your feet on the floor,” I’d say. “Press your feet against the ground and sense the earth underneath you.” Sometimes I asked him to name three colors in my office or three sounds he could hear. Sometimes he was too emotionally out of reach to comply. In those instances, I just sat with him in his distress and let him know that I was there with him and wasn’t going anywhere.

In Brian’s second year of treatment, he became more stable. This allowed us to work with his emotions. When I noticed tears in his eyes, for example, I would encourage him to inhabit a stance of curiosity and openness to whatever he was feeling. This is how a person reacquaints himself with his feelings: to name them; to learn how they feel in his body; to sense what response the feeling is calling for; and in the case of a grief like Brian’s, to learn to let himself cry until the crying stops naturally (which it will, contrary to a belief common among traumatized people) and he feels a sense of visceral relief.

Brian and I worked together twice a week for four years. One by one, he learned to name his feelings and to listen to them with care and compassion. When he did feel the urge to “squash himself down,” he knew what was happening and how to manage the experience. He learned to express his feelings and assert his needs and wants. He took risks, made more friends and engaged in meaningful work. There were no more hospitalizations. His shame dissipated. Most important, he felt alive again.