The Machinery of Cowardice Fails the Children of Rotherham

policeMy children once heard someone address me as “Doctor,” and so they asked me if I am the kind of doctor who helps people. I told them no, I have a PhD. I told them I’d studied why smart people do dumb things in groups. It interested me at the time, but when I see the headlines coming out of Rotherham, England—hundreds of children systematically raped and otherwise brutalized while authorities did nothing—I think the problem isn’t smart people collectively behaving like fools, but decent people becoming cowards.

The details of this tragedy are varied enough to whet any axe: the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators; their targeting of impoverished children; fear by authorities that cracking down would lead to accusations of racism; the notion among police officers witnessing gang rapes that the victims—some of them as young as eleven—were willing participants; the concurrent persecution by child welfare authorities, even as they ignored these crimes, of foster care families whose political activities were deemed unsavory. The entire story sparks rage and it invites despair.

I am always curious about the decision processes of authorities in the midst of such atrocities. How can an infrastructure of ostensible protection become so dysfunctional that it overlooks mass rapes of children for a dozen years? [Read more...]

How to End an Era

runyanWe’re supposed to shake our heads when Daisy Buchanan, considering a summer solstice celebration on her East Egg porch, turns to Nick Carraway, and asks, “‘What’ll we plan? What do people plan?’” But I get her helpless bewilderment all too well.

I grew up in a family that doesn’t mark life’s transitions with much ceremony. My mother visited a courthouse for all three marriages, no pictures to show for it. When her parents died, she and an uncle or two I’d never met threw ashes in the ocean. Funerals were silly when a person’s spirit no longer resided in the body.

As if funerals are for the dead.

Even my move to college was completed without fanfare. I packed my car, drove to campus by myself, and set up my bed and shelves in less than an hour. When I watched the other students emerge from the dorm lot flanked with camera-toting parents and siblings, I smirked. You can’t even move into a small room without your parents’ help? I thought. This is college!

It wasn’t until I talked with a therapist ten years later that I understood I was the odd one. “It’s not that they couldn’t move into a room themselves,” she explained. “The parents came to mark the event.” I stared at her. Moving into the dorm was supposed to be an event? That had never occurred to me. [Read more...]

Songs Dead Men Sing

Guest Post Scott Warner headshotby Cathy Warner

In the backseat of our minivan I swig an individual serving of white zinfandel to numb myself from the terror that is I-5: long sweeping curves, cement barricades, and massive trucks pulling two and three trailers that sway and rattle.

When I’m in the passenger seat, my husband can’t help but react to my cringing, so we agree a sleeping pill and $1.49 bottle of wine are reasonable for the five-hour trip from Eugene, Oregon where our daughter attends college, home to Puget Sound.

Ten years ago, living in San Francisco’s Bay area, I tried therapy. “You’re afraid of death,” the counselor said as if I thought being plowed into by tons of steel would result in a chipped tooth. I wanted driving—and life—to be predictable and safe.

Tonight, when I awake after two drugged hours, my husband’s brother serenades us from the grave. Scott died eleven years ago yesterday of liver failure at age forty-five, the slow suicide of an alcoholic. [Read more...]

Slogans in Ruins: Land for Peace, Two State Solution

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“Hope lost and fear won,” said Udi Segal, the diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2 News. Referring to Secretary of State John Kerry’s nine-month negotiations whose collapse in April contributed to the escalation, Mr. Segal added, “I don’t think the people in Palestine or in Israel feel more confidence in those Western, American Kerry-like ambitions to solve our problem with those peace slogans.”

New York Times, 8/29/14

This week, again, the news fills me with despair. But on Shabbat I recover hope. Is this a two-state solution to the problem of being human: six days, despair; on the Sabbath, hope?

This summer I flew in turbulent weather. I gripped the armrest, squeezed my eyes shut, and visualized: land, land, let me stand, once more, on solid ground for peace.

At night, when I’d prefer to be sleeping, my perseverating mind goes to war with my worn body. I need a two-state solution: one that will allow me to sleep when I sleep, one that will allow me to work when I work.

I am not a gardener. I am not a weeder. I am not a pruner. I am not a fertilizer. I am not a tender of soil. I do not turn to land for peace.

My problems are real. My problems are white and American and Jewish and middle class and academic and male. My problems are nothing compared to the problems of others. Reading and watching and thinking about theirs, the problems of those who are walking targets, those who are working poor: could this be the one- state solution to my problems? [Read more...]

My Garden, the Book of Joel, and God’s Plagues

il_340x270.624628888_ss6oFirst came the vine borers. These are moths. The females lay their eggs inside the stalks of squash plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae start to eat. They eat so greedily, the larvae can easily kill the entire plant.

I learned that you must split the vines open where you see gunk building up on the outside of the vine. Then you stick in your finger until you feel a grub and pull the little wriggler right out.

After the vine borers came the cucumber beetles, of the family Chrysomelidae. We had two types: spotted and striped. With cucumber beetles, it is not the beetle so much as the bacteria they carry with them. Bacterial wilt makes all the plants in your garden look so very yellow and sad.

The kale was being ravaged by two kinds of caterpillars. One sort was lime-green in color; the other a striped, fast-growing, slightly fuzzy little sucker that replicated at a rate faster than my wife and I could keep up with or understand. The fuzzy crawlers seemed to generate spontaneously. [Read more...]


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