The trauma of child separation

A recent dream was the impetus for this post. While I pretty much never want to hear about someone’s dream, against my better judgment, I’m going to begin with it:

I was doing some kind of an internship and was tasked with detaining children alone. I showed up to an apartment. I had some kind of miniature truck that had a flat tire and I was frantically trying to use my phone to call for help. A woman helped, and I slowly realized this was the mother. I took out a crinkled sheet of paper with scribbles on it and asked if this was her. She said yes and I told her I had to take her kids. She sadly acquiesced and started getting them ready. At this point, the large, angry dad started berating me. I remained calm, and tried to reason with him. I exhorted him to be friendly to social workers, case managers, and judges. Be nice to the system – for they can make your life even worse should you choose to direct your venom at it. While this was happening, the kids escaped and I began freaking out over this. Usually, once I start to panic in a dream I wake up.

I’ve never worked at a job that detained children, but I’ve worked directly with those who are actively in the process of doing so. I’ve worked directly with families navigating the messy aftermath. Even today, though my job is more administrative-focused, there are still a few functions I perform which entail seeing frustrated clients stuck in the labyrinthine child welfare system.

One of things I periodically do is administer family court-mandated drug tests. This is not something they generally like having to do several times a week. Sometimes they vent, and I let them – often this is about their shitty case managers, an asshole judge, or how difficult it is to make time for the tests –  and I sometimes find myself giving the same advice I gave in my dream: no matter how much you think the system is bad, be nice to the people in it because they can make things much worse. I don’t know if this is good advice. Warring inside my head are thoughts of “yes, I would hate it if I were treated like this” (which is what I verbalize), and “well, you brought this on yourself,” or “maybe you should have thought of this before you did whatever it was that endangered your kids and brought state involvement into your life.” Also in the back of my mind is the ever-present aversion to bootlicking.

Some may choose to ignore the litany of nuances related to American children being removed from their homes and say “fuck these child abusers,” a condemnation that parallels a common conservative response to the immigrant crisis: those parents are endangering their children by breaking the law – they have no one to blame but themselves. If you are one of those people I have sad news for you: uncompromising measures like locking up parents, or less restrictive measures, which are still formidable obstacles, all prolong the time kids spent in out of home care. This is usually very bad, and we aren’t remotely close to having an effective system in place to manage such massive amounts of human misery. The end result is that many children lost within the child welfare system – whether it’s for a few weeks or a few years – grow up facing even more hurdles than before they were detained.

***

In many, probably most, experiences I’ve had in child welfare, children love their parents, no matter what they’ve done. I’ve worked on many cases that ended in sobbing which continued until the children were dropped off at their foster homes. I can’t stress this enough. As bad as child abuse and neglect is, the trauma of separation is not to be dismissed or trivialized. This has historically been largely invisible to the general public (as I’ve stressed in other blog posts, most people give next to no passing thought to child welfare).

On the other hand, child welfare as it related to family separation at the border has rightfully gained visibility. ICE scumbags are fucking up an entire generation of children:

“It’s not like an auto body shop where you fix the dent and everything looks like new. We’re talking about children’s minds,” said Luis H. Zayas, professor of social work and psychiatry at the University of Texas at Austin.

[…]

Children who have undergone traumatic separation often cling desperately to their parents after they are reunited and refuse to let them out of their sight, say therapists and child psychologists. Many suffer from separation anxiety, cry uncontrollably and have trouble sleeping because of recurring nightmares.

Others develop eating disorders, problems with trust and unresolved anger, in some cases against their parents.

“You see some children even strike out at the parents. They don’t always understand why their parents abandoned them and sometimes blame them. So they have difficulty reattaching,” Zayas said.

[…]

Left untreated, such trauma can lead to deeper problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, alcoholism and even suicidal behavior, said Jodi Berger Cardoso, an assistant professor at the University of Houston who studies the effects of trauma on immigrants.

Children intercepted at the border are often especially vulnerable to developing PTSD and other disorders because their families are fleeing violence and catastrophe.

[…]

Studies have shown that boys held in detention, even for short periods of time, such as two or three weeks, can develop anti-social behavior, violence and substance abuse problems. Teenage girls more often show depressive disorders and substance abuse.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is very prevalent among and greatly inhibits a person’s ability to form positive relationships

Much of this is also applicable to American children that have been separated from their families.

***

Of late, I’ve often found myself thinking, in one regard, like the xenophobic nativists that I revile. In the halcyon days of the George W Bush era, I recall having arguments about how I felt far more affinity to Iraqi civilians than American soldiers shooting at them. At the root of this sentiment is the simple idea that there is nothing inherently better or worse about people born in the same geographic area as I.

With that in mind, it is jarring how I reflexively respond internally to the recent outcry against U.S. immigration policy. People are (justly) moved to tears and anger over non-American children experiencing trauma at the hands of their government, but I can’t help but find myself thinking “what about actual American children who are going through this?”

As I noted above, American children separated from their parents deal with much of the same traumas as immigrant children, though they broadly occur within in different historical contexts. American children are subject to varying degrees of the structural issues underpinning their specific situations: suffocating economic inequality, institutionalized racism and all that these paradigms entail. The families arriving at our border contain in their very being the ongoing legacies of European colonialism, American imperialism, and more recently, neoliberal capitalism and its continuing devastation of the developing world.

Though every family separation is a veritable snowflake where no two are the same, similarities abound in the results. Some children will never find a stable home and, if they are not deported, age out of the system:

  • More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year.
  • After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.
  • Only 1 out of every 2 foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.
  • There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.
  • 7 out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.
  • The percentage of children who age out of the foster care system and still suffer from the direct effects of PTSD: 25%.

More generally, childhood trauma related to separation increases

the risk of alcohol use by age 14 and illicit drug use by age 15. Childhood trauma also contributed to the likelihood of adolescent pregnancies and adolescent suicide attempts.

But the story doesn’t end there. ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] were also found to be associated with multiple adverse outcomes in adulthood, such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suicide attempts, alcohol dependence, marital problems, intravenous drug use and many more.

If there is one common thread to many of the preventable diseases we face in the U.S., why are we not paying closer attention?

An excellent question really, but with an obvious answer [1]. Victims of child abuse and neglect are mostly poor and disproportionately children of color. We as a society don’t really give a fuck about them, unless they rise from their racially and economically segregated neighborhoods to become worthy of notice and acclaim – perhaps as an athlete, entertainer, or business mogul. Then we can collectively valorize the Horatio Alger-like elements of their life – in the land of the free and the home of the brave anyone can make it if they just work hard enough.

Just as good, if not better, is when a white family shepherds them to the promised land. Consider the popularity of The Blind Side. Briefly, the movie is based on the true story of Michael Oher, adopted by a saintly white family after bouncing around foster homes, and eventually making it to the NFL. This is widely thought of as a feel-good story, at least for white people who relish any opportunity to view themselves as benevolent forces for good.

Or perhaps they’ll commit crimes and become noteworthy that way. Perhaps, their childhood will provide context for whatever it is that they’ve done. But whatever the crime is will almost always override their upbringing. Whether that’s fair or not depends on the situation and the eye of the beholder.

***

In the end, it’s hard not to feel that the advice from my dream rings hollow, even if there’s a degree of utility to it. Because the social/economic/political systems that these families exist within have set them up to fail and are ill equipped at mitigating the fallout. The well-to-do within those systems are likely to feel the consequences of those failures – perhaps by tax dollar, perhaps by crime. Perhaps they’ll feel rage, and perhaps that misguided rage will lead to health problems.

The following is particularly apt:

To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.

One should keep in mind the sheer breadth this sentiment encompasses: refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America fleeing violence; First Nations children of Canada; children in the enlightened social democracy of Norway; and, of course, children in the belly of the world-eating Leviathan that is modern-day techno-industrial society.


[1] I understand one of the reasons why: there is an unending churn of terrible things – contemporary and historical – in the world. With only a finite amount of time and energy to dedicate to learning about such things, it’s silly to think everyone will expose themselves to the same horrors as I. So, while I lament the (what I regard) as fact that people don’t give much thought to American child welfare, I get why this is.

The pope should shut the fuck up about indigenous resistance

[Note: I wrote almost all of this blog before learning of Caine’s passing. I only interacted with her a few times, but I was repeatedly struck by how fierce she was in her writings. She will be missed.

Some months back, she had written that she’d like to see her fellow bloggers write about indigenous issues and we had a little back and forth about it. A coincidence, then, that it is the topic of this post. Condolences to those who knew and loved her best, and anyone else who’s enjoyed her work on FtB.]

Via The Onion:

In a historic admission of the Catholic church’s complicated and often shameful history, Pope Francis admitted in an informal public statement Thursday that “like, 97 percent” of Catholic leadership are “probably burning in hell right now.” “Believe me, contemporary Catholics are quite familiar with our legacy of murder, rape, cultural exploitation, and thievery on every scale from splitting up South America for silver rights down to just stealing stuff—make no mistake, most of those holy men were simply terrible people who deserve to fry in their own considerable fat for eternity,” said His Holiness, who took time during an informal lunch meeting with interfaith leaders to deliver a capsule history of manifold crimes committed by Vatican higher-ups, complete with a running commentary on the church’s long tradition of manipulating and mistreating its devotees. “Keep in mind this was just the stuff they did to other Catholics—at least, they were Catholic when those vicious scoundrels were done with them. Well, they’re paying for it in searing pain and screams now. Oh, and if someone wouldn’t convert, or couldn’t be converted by force? That’s when we get into Crusades, the Inquisitions, Spanish and others, the name of Christ invoked in the slaughter of native peoples, which is why their eyes will forever boil from out of their roasting skulls.

This is one of the many times I lament the fact that The Onion is #fakenews. What a welcome sentiment this would be in light of the Cool Pope’s somewhat recent shitty comments on the Mapuche conflict in Chile (this is something I meant to write about way back in January). First, though, who are the Mapuche and what made Francis think he had the right to tell them what to do? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

[T]he arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century seems to have triggered the amalgamation of several indigenous groups and the forging of closer social and cultural ties, all of which is part of what we know today as the history of the Mapuche identity. The Mapuche people rebelled against Spanish subjugation and burned the cities built by the European colonizers south of the Bío Bío River. This rebellion marked the beginning of the Arauco War, in which Spain was forced to maintain a professional army to guard its territorial borders and to recognize Mapuche autonomy within indigenous lands. The Mapuche people did not submit to outside rule until 1882, when the Army of the Republic of Chile began its campaign for the “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” The campaign came in response to the urgent need to conquer usable land and was driven by an ideology that sought to eliminate indigenous groups by “civilizing” them. After the Chilean military victory, the process of colonization by European and local mestizo settlers was facilitated by restricting local indigenous inhabitants to small plots of communally held land. The direct consequences of this process for Mapuche society included a drastic decrease in their territory through reiterated, large scale usurpation, dependence on the Government as an external agent, and the breakdown of Mapuche society due to the loss of authority of the lonkos or chiefs.

The struggle has continued in fits and starts to the present day, with different groups pursuing different ends with different means – some are peaceful and some engage in property destruction (what the state and media refer to as terrorism) [1].

Their current adversaries are the usual suspects: a panoply of different entities including the state and military, non-indigenous landowners, the Catholic Church, and, of course, foreign & domestic capitalists:

Today, the Mapuche people are fighting to recover their territorial rights in the Araucanía Region. In these efforts, they confront forestry companies as well as the military. The consequences of the conflict are dramatic. Levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy in this region are the highest in the country.

Moreover, the mass media labels Mapuche protests as “terrorist,” misleading the general public and encouraging the spread of violence. The economic consortiums that control the forestry industry in the region also own the national mass media. This relationship fuels the conflict, protects specific economic interests, and validates military intervention against the Mapuche.

As for Cool Pope, he became upset because churches were burned in Mapuche territory. But, why would such things be done?

Between 1818 and 1950 during the first stage of Chilean colonization, the Chilean State used methods of evangelization [that] were used to submit and dominate the Mapuche People.

This meant the internal plunder of the self or person (what the Chilean government and the bishopric class calls the desecration of faith). Our Machi [Medicine Healers]  were demonized, and their rewe [medicines] plundered and destroyed. Our sacred spaces (tren tren, trayenco, mawizantu) destroyed and eliminated, and among the ruins they planted pine and eucalyptus, houses and churches were built, and we were confined to spiritual and emotional imbalance.

In the definitive occupation of our territory, the Catholic Church played an outstanding, even military, role, acting as the vanguard in the displacement and occupation of Wallmapu [Mapuche Territory]. They were not only the transmitters of dominant norms and values, but also controlled and punished indigenous transgressors, prohibiting the continued belief in their traditional ways, imposing determined values of resignation, obedience and respect to so-called superiors.

Currently, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church owns all educational facilities in the Araucanía Region, and that every school serves as its economic bastion.

So into the fray he descends, bestowing these words of wisdom:

You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division [actually, one can definitely do that – Christians were able to assert themselves all over the fucking world by destroying others and their culture. Also, burning churches isn’t the same as destroying others]. Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”[By that logic, wouldn’t violence perpetrated by Christians in the name of Christianity turn Christianity into a lie? Nah – how silly of me to apply his own words to his religion] [2]

Anyways, the pope is an asshole. That he’s apologized for Catholic complicity in the horrors of colonialism (which, next to absolutely nothing, is the bare minimum the Catholic church should have done a long time ago) certainly doesn’t grant him moral high ground – especially when the legacies of those horrors are ongoing and still perpetuated by members of his flock.

You don’t get to tell people who have been oppressed for generations by adherents of your religion how to resist their oppressors. Although, far be it from me to tell the infallible messenger of God what to do – but the Mapuche are eminently justified in telling him to fuck off.


[1] There was an incident in 2013 where white landowners, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, were burned alive in their home by Mapuche protesters. I was only going to briefly mention this, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole. The details are sketchy, but this occurred on the five year anniversary of a Mapuche activist shot by police on Luchsinger’s property. Both situations, the shooting and arson, were preceded by conflicts/arguments that lead to death.

There was one conviction for the arson. Most recently, 11 other defendants were acquitted, with the ruling stating there was “not enough proof to support the prosecution’s allegation that it was a terrorist attack or a premeditated plan to stir fear and pressure farmers into leaving their land.”

To give more context, the Luchsinger family

arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government’s colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The nephew of the deceased couple stated that “with this attack it seems that my prophecy was being fulfilled that the region is suffering attacks to empty farmers and entrepreneurs.” So long as the farmers and entrepreneurs remain, his prophecy may continue to be fulfilled on a somewhat regular basis.

[2] I don’t really consider burning churches as violence. One can’t commit violence against a non-sentient object. I used to think this without qualification, until I considered domestic abusers and their victims – an abuser using property destruction as an intimidation tactic certainly qualifies as violence, not to mention it being unjustified and reprehensible.

To me, when the power disparity is such that those with far less power commit property destruction against individuals or entities with far greater power, I’m not inclined to view it as violence (whether or not I agree with the cause will ultimately influence if I see it as warranted or not). The burning of Catholic churches in indigenous territory may cause psychological harm to Catholics who work there, but I don’t really give a shit – the enormity of the historical and contemporary crimes & injustices perpetrated against the Mapuche by the entity they freely chose to join utterly dwarfs destroyed property. But that’s just me.

Richard Dawkins continues to be an embarrassment

Yes asshole, obviously it is indeed your cultural upbringing. Or at least the bigoted cultural aspects you’ve consumed and, at times, vomit into the ether.

The comparison itself is disingenuous as fuck. Church bells are far more analogous to the Islamic call to prayer than someone saying something in an aggressive manner. I suppose he could actually be referring to that, but it really doesn’t matter – the point of the tweet was to trigger the snowflakes and do a little Islam bashing.

Maybe it’s the more open-minded portions of my cultural upbringing talking, but I very much enjoyed the Adhan when I heard it in Turkey and Egypt. Or, maybe I’m just a sniveling SJW that’s too much of a coward to denigrate Islam and embrace my superior Judeo-Christian heritage.

Whatever, fuck Richard Dawkins.

 

Disjointed musings from the sidelines of atheism’s internal culture wars

“The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. [T]herefore, it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.

– Antonio Gramsci

I can’t decide if my presence on this network makes me part of any kind of movement. I liked reading things on FTB. I asked if I could blog here. They said yes. I’ve written only a bit about religion/atheism and, when doing so, it has mostly been about the lulz involved with Christianity, which is ever a rich vein to mine.

For most of my life, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like I’ve belonged to any group or movement. I view this as a consequence of my inherent discomfort of being around large amounts of people. For atheism in particular, I’ve never been to a convention, never been part of a group, and have never been one to seek debate or argue publicly about it on social media. At most, I’ve surrounded myself with friends who happen to be irreligious, none of whom are in any way part of a larger movement.

I wouldn’t even say I ever had a “new atheist phase,” at least in the pejorative sense. In the mid 2000’s I read Dawkins and Harris. They were fine – at least most of The God Delusion and the first and last parts of The End of Faith. I had already been agnostic since the late 90’s, and I was receptive to their critiques of religion. Nevertheless, I had long known about much of what they wrote, though their abilities to provide cogent critiques far surpassed my own. But it was nothing earth shattering to me – by the time I read them I had long considered religion to be a metaphorical house of cards which is easily dispersed with the merest breeze.

It was nice and interesting that atheism became more prominent during that time-period. But, again, at no point did I ever consider myself to be a New Atheist, a term I associated with a particularly arrogant and in-your-face brand of atheism. That was never my thing – I’ve always skewed more towards self-loathing than arrogance, which I think made me a bit less susceptible to becoming an anti-religious evangelist. To me religion was always personal, and I had no interest in persuading others to adopt my point of view. However, I’ve never really had a problem outing myself as an atheist.

***

Backing up a bit – before the rise of the New Atheists, I rejected the religion in which I was brought up. In rejecting Catholicism and their God, a process commenced where I questioned other powerful things – after all, if the most powerful entity imaginable was little more than a boring fairytale in a boring book, what else was utter bullshit?

To me, it followed that other powerful ideas and entities were worthy of skepticism. Culture, nation-states, capitalism, civilization – all were deserving of scrutiny. And all have in common the fact that, like all the gods ever hypothesized, they are socially constructed and therefore eminently fallible, both in theory and practice. These considerations led to my belief that our world is one of unequal access to opportunities to both meet basic needs and flourish. With every person confined to one life – and no paradisiacal afterlife waiting for us upon death – it is unconscionable that so many, through little to no fault of their own, have numoerous odds stacked against them to merely exist, much less flourish. I think this best describes the base of my worldview from which the rest of my beliefs/opinions flow. I credit atheism with playing a foundational role in this.

Of course, many object to this line of thinking. To them, how “good” one’s life is is a result of the consequences of their actions – success or failure is relatively independent of social and environmental circumstances. This provides justification for systemic disadvantages (if they are even recognized at all) while at the same time allowing for self-congratulation for whatever success one achieves. For such people that are nonbelievers, their non-belief is grafted onto their pre-existing, or developing biases. Here, atheism is weaponized to war against and belittle opponents, to reinforce existing hierarchies, and to blame the unfortunate for their struggles – all under the guise of their superior reasoning and logic which spreads from their disavowal of non-natural phenomena.

I guess I just don’t fully get atheists who prostrate themselves to the powerful. They have cast aside deities who would be content to torture them for eternity, but exhibit little interest in scrutinizing earthly authorities and hierarchies. The broad reason is easy to see. Many of them have, or desperately want power and privilege. It is then in their self-interest not to dig too deep into how various distinct and overlapping power structures might reify, systemize and reproduce oppression – it’s much easier to place responsibility squarely on the shoulder of those that struggle within these power structures.

I understand selfishness. I understand an inability or unwillingness to cultivate empathy for the less fortunate. But I scorn both – especially when they’re used in the service of upholding the status quo under which they benefit.

***

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to come to the same conclusions as I. The intellectual path one takes using atheism as a starting point can lead to many ends. And much of the time, one’s starting point isn’t necessarily even atheism-adjacent. But it’s pretty depressing that the popularity of reactionary atheism appears to be so ascendant.

I often wonder what the neutral observer thinks of when they think of atheism. With my family and coworkers in mind, I would bet a lot of money that precisely none of them have ever heard of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Mythcon (funny, since the latter occurs in the state in which I reside). And I think that generally holds true among the general populace. At a shopping mall, sporting event, or fast food restaurant, most know nothing of the battle for the soul of atheism.

Perhaps they know Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, though I’m not sure how much nonbelief is associated with them. Who they might know, though, are outspoken, shitty atheists like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais. The thought of those two coming to the front of the average person’s mind when the term atheist is brought up makes me cringe.

***

I see religion as one of the “traces” described by Gramsci that is deposited into the recesses of our psyches. Its size and intensity necessarily varies from person to person, family to family, and culture to culture, but it is only one of the infinity. While atheists of all stripes excise religion’s metaphysical components, there are varying amounts of its framework left behind. These shards can all too easily be reorganized into a toxic brew of human supremacy, bigotry of all flavors, slavish obedience to authority, and magical thinking (not that religion is necessarily the origin of any of these).

Again, it’s not that I think everyone should think like me or arrive to the same conclusions as I, but I don’t think the SQW/Alt-right atheists really put in the work to adequately examine their inventory. Or, if I’m being more charitable than I should be, I suppose they do and I guess I just don’t agree with the conclusions that justify their beliefs.

I only have so much time in this world. With an ocean of information that is continuously increasing exponentially, it would be impossible to examine each and every point of view on atheism or any topic for that matter – even those that touch on issues I care about. I recoil at adding Fox News, or Info Wars, or Breitbart to my daily information consumption. The thought of slogging through Enlightenment Now makes me ill. I look at Twitter wars and am unable to comprehend how arguing on it is in any way worthy of time – and marvel at how extraordinarily complicated topics can be argued 280 characters at a time.

Or, restricting this solely to the Atheism Wars. Am I going to spend hours watching the various garbage YouTubers? Or listening to Sam Harris’s podcast? The answer is no, but it is a conclusion I’ve reached because of desire. I think about the ills of residing in my own echo chamber, but am too selfish to really venture too far outside it. For justification, I rationalize that most of the media I consume contains written or unwritten ideas that I object to – but the specific items listed in this and the prior paragraph are too much.

Life’s too fucking short and I don’t wish to waste large chunks of it on the Sisyphean task of confronting ideas I’ve long since decided are misguided, wrong or abhorrent (at least in terms of religion and the reactionary wing of atheism – there are, of course, other things I’m more interested in thinking and writing about ad nauseum). But such is the world we live in where it is apparently still necessary to have discussions about things like race science, Confederate monuments, and whether or not trans people should be able to live how they wish (the answers are, respectively: it’s bad and wrong, tear them down, and of course).

All of which brings me back to my presence here. I’m glad the fine folks at FtB put in so much time and effort combating the rot in atheism. It is a large reason I’ve been a longtime reader. But I’m admittedly too selfish to join in and will most likely continue to leave the heavy lifting to others. I don’t know to what extent it matters, but I think atheism is a good enough thing (due to the omnipresence of religion and its ill effects) that the task of constantly flushing the turds down the toilet is eminently admirable and worthwhile.

The people in ICE are scum

A month ago, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that children of parents illegally entering the US would be “put into foster care or whatever.” It’s almost certain he neither knows nor cares what foster care even entails for children who are actual citizens, and the trauma involved. To me, out of all the horrible things said by members of the Trump White House, this is one of the more reprehensible. That someone could be so cavalier in the face of unimaginable suffering is the sign of someone who should be cast out of whatever society he happens to reside in. But ours is one that rewards such inhumanity.

Just what “whatever” referred to remained uninvestigated at the time. But now we know that one of the forms it can take is separating families and putting children in cages.

So Kelly is scum. And so is everyone that does any kind of work for this multifaceted, grotesque leviathan, from administrators in cubicles to the jailers – or to put another way, from those giving orders to those following them:

The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

A few weeks ago, Trump correctly pointed out that a viral photo of children in cages was actually taken during the Obama administration. So it’s not like this is exactly new:

The U.S. government operates hundreds of immigration detention centers — generally, extensions to or repurposed prisons — to hold non-citizens in the deportation proceedings. But a policy decision by the Obama administration to put newly arrived Central American refugees on the fast-track for deportation rather than on a path for asylum protection has filled these centers to the brim, creating pressure to deport individuals as quickly as possible and to build even more of these human warehouses. But as more and more refugees arrived with young children in tow, the administration realized that detaining kids in prisons would put them in violation of established legal standards.

So in the summer of 2014 the Obama administration began its program of “family detention” in Artesia, New Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security’s detention and deportation apparatus, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), converted a federal agent training facility into a secured unit to hold, process and deport hundreds of Central American mothers and their children. “Family,” as defined by DHS, did not include fathers, husbands or adult brothers who were forcibly separated from their children, spouses, and sisters and detained in “regular” detention facilities elsewhere. The administration argued that the “camp” was not a “prison,” and, therefore, could be used to confine the otherwise un-confineable children. The government had managed to figure out how to account for their human spillover now that they had run out of detention cells.

They had successfully built “baby jail.

The facility was constructed and operated with no public oversight for several weeks (a black hole period during which an unknown number of families were deported) before a few public-interest immigration lawyers got word of what was going on. The advocates described arriving to a scene of utter despair: refugees caged in trailers, their movement restricted, denied adequate food, and pressured by immigration officials to sign deportation orders even though they had the legal right to seek asylum protection. In a November 2014 statement, DHS maintained that, “ICE ensures that these residential centers operate in an open environment, which includes medical care, play rooms, social workers, educational services, and access to legal counsel.”

The subtext of the DHS statement was that in constructing a facility hours away from the nearest large city, let alone major media market, it was not very feasible for anyone to investigate the validity of their claims or suggest otherwise.

Trump held up a mirror to mainstream liberals – what their reactions were I do not know. This very obviously transcends centrist Republican/Democrat ideologies, and points to something far deeper.

As Crip Dyke noted, this is exactly who we are, and this is who we’ve always been.

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Content Warning: suicide.

I was dicking around on my phone before showering last Friday when a news pop up alerted me to Anthony Bourdain’s passing. At that point I knew roughly two things about him: he was some kind of bad-boy chef on cooking/traveling reality shows, and he said the following about Henry Kissinger:

Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.

This was in 2001. The quote was unearthed this year, went viral and, once it caught his attention, Bourdain refused to back off statements made so long ago:

As someone who thinks things like this about any number of US war criminals, I thought this pretty awesome.

In regards to the second thing I knew about him – his “bad-boy image – it seems he had recently done a little introspection and critiqued the macho culture he participated in:

To the extent which my work in Kitchen Confidential celebrated or prolonged a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently is something I think about daily, with real remorse.

(I should note I have no idea how his specific behaviors manifested within our toxic patriarchy and how much he contributed to it)

Up until this weekend, I had no grasp of the extent of his popularity. Friends and acquaintances of mine, writers, bloggers, journalists, athletes, comedians, and people from all across the political spectrum expressed their sadness at his passing. Even America’s beloved president was shockingly able to muster a semblance of humanity by not saying terrible things about Bourdain, which is hilarious because he had “utter and complete contempt” for the dear leader, and joked about wanting to serve him hemlock.

***

Had he not died by suicide, I’m not sure this would’ve affected me as much as it has, and I wouldn’t have written anything about it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a morbid interest in suicide. That’s more or less because, at several points in my life but thankfully not in the recent past, I’ve wanted to die, or wanted to hurt myself. The former was a distinction I made between wanting to actually kill myself and merely not wanting to live or not caring if I died. This all feels really weird to actually write.

What had always kept me from walking further down that path was a combination of what I perceived as a lack of courage to go through with it and knowing what it would do to the people who loved and cared about me (apologies if anyone is offended by seeing suicide discussed in terms of courage – in my case it’s just a recounting of how I felt when I was younger). I don’t know if any of this necessarily counts as being suicidal, but it is suicide-adjacent.

For me, underlying everything it all was (and sometimes still is) a lack of self-esteem and outright self-hatred. This has been more difficult to banish. That sentiment is liable, at any time, to bubble to the surface and spew its noxious fumes all over my psyche. Even now, there’s a small voice in my head saying “why the fuck would anyone want to read anything you have to say?” (this is far from the first time; the answer is usually “I don’t know, fuck off.”)

It’s incredibly irresponsible for me to sit here and speculate about the specifics of why someone I’ve never met chose to end their life. But with the amount of Bourdain-related media I’ve recently consumed, I can’t help but highlight part of an episode of Parts Unknown from 2016. In it, he went to a psychotherapist, because he “need[ed] somebody to talk to”:

Bourdain admitted to his therapist that he felt like “a freak,” further explaining that he felt isolated. “I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible with communicating with people I care about,” he said. “I’m good with my daughter. An eight-year-old is about my level of communication skills, so that works out. But beyond, that I’m really terrible.”

[…]

Bourdain also revealed to his Argentinian therapist that he believed the likelihood of him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder was high. “I tell stories for a living. I write books. I make television,” he said. “A reasonable person does not believe that you are so interesting that people will watch you on television.

***

This past rainy weekend, my wife and I watched a lot of Parts Unknown. Normally I have a reflexive antipathy to all reality shows, but I found it pretty enjoyable. Though, in light of the circumstances of that led to us having an interest in watching, it was hard not to watch without a sense of melancholy.

His desire to show Western audiences places that they’ve never thought about, and in many cases couldn’t place on a map, was extremely admirable and, I would argue, important. He displayed a preternatural ability to both empathize with and humanize people featured on the show. It’s not surprising that so many with roots in the places he visited were affected by the news of his passing:

In our hyper-connected, late capitalist hellscape where so many have neither the desire nor the disposition to regard the Other as worthy of any modicum of compassion, the loss of a person who had ample amounts of it and went to the trouble of sharing it on such a massive scale is pretty fucking sad.

Not sure how else to end this except to say that The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours/day at 1-800-273-8255.

 

The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

60 Gazans murdered, 2000+ injured

While scumbags celebrated the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Gaza burned, with 60 dead, and 2200 injured. If there were any Israeli casualties, I haven’t seen the numbers – surely it is much, much less.

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Making this even more cruel and indefensible, the embassy opening was scheduled one day before Nakba Day, a “day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.”

Setting the geopolitical ramifications of the embassy move aside, what kind of person, when considering the vast power disparity between the state of Israel and those forced to live in what amounts to a literal open-air prison, would side with the gaolers?

How can anyone feel that, were they in Palestinian shoes, that they wouldn’t be seething with rage at the power structures that dominate and kill them with impunity? And, no less, a power structure that is composed of people that fucking hate them. I wonder if they celebrated as they did in 2014:

“Die! Die! Bye!” laughing teenage girls shout at the celebration in Tel Aviv. “Bye, Palestine!”

“Fucking Arabs! Fuck Muhammad!” a young man yells.

“Gaza is a graveyard! Gaza is a graveyard! Ole, ole, ole, ole,” the crowd in Tel Aviv sings as it dances in jubilation. “There is no school tomorrow! There are no children left in Gaza!”

For context, this is what was the cause for such jubilation:

Palestinian militias, armed with little more than light weapons, had just faced Israeli tanks, artillery, fighter jets, infantry units and missiles in a 51-day Israeli assault that left 2,314 Palestinians dead and 17,125 injured. Some 500,000 Palestinians were displaced and about 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

[…]

Terrified Palestinian families huddled inside their homes as Israel dropped more than 100 one-ton bombs and fired thousands of high-explosive artillery shells into Shuja’iyya. Those who tried to escape in the face of the advancing Israelis often were gunned down with their hands in the air, and the bodies were left to rot in the scorching heat for days.”

I hope I’d have the courage to stand against tanks, bombs and armored soldiers with nothing but a rock in my hand and a t-shirt wrapped around my face. But maybe I’d work within the system, repeatedly smashing my head against a metaphorical wall that shows no signs of breaking. Or maybe, with or without hope, I’d do nothing and just try to get by. I don’t know.

But I do know that I would hate my oppressors with every ounce of my being. There would be no hope for reconciliation, except in a fantasy-world where they would beg for my forgiveness. In the real world, of course, the Israeli state wants nothing more than docile obedience. Ideally, this would be without any form of meaningful resistance. Resistance is tolerable more or less – surely Israel knows that without changing strategies the status quo will continue. But better for the subjugated to live with their tails between their legs in fear of overwhelming, state-sanctioned violence, though it doesn’t appear that this will occur anytime soon.

This shit’s been going on for far longer than I’ve been paying attention. And I, living a relatively comfortable life get fatigued with what amounts to being a spectator. That’s pretty fucking selfish, but I don’t know how else to process so much human misery for which I have no means of lessening.

 

A palate cleanser for that terrible NYT piece about the “Intellectual Dark Web”

A recent episode of Revolutionary Left Radio (which I’ve previously fawned over) takes a deep dive into the commonalities and differences between three of the Status Quo Warrior’s described in the NYT: Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker (whom only makes a brief appearance in the article).

To me, it’s refreshing to listen to them being discussed in this format, because they all cater to different types of reactionary audiences coagulating around the center of the political spectrum that is ever shifting to the right: Peterson for the sad and lost, Harris for the arrogant, and Pinker for the starry-eyed optimist.

But! Know that by listening to Rev Left’s critiques you are contributing to the tragic misunderstanding and ultimate silencing of these precious, delicate snowflakes. If you don’t mind having that on your conscience, perhaps give it a listen.

Oh hey, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) released a new video!

I tend to dislike adding my voice to the deafening chorus of those critically acclaiming or universally reviling something, but Childish Gambino’s new video is fucking incredible. If the song is any indication, it’s plausible the forthcoming album might actually top the phenomenal “Awaken, My Love!”.

It’s hard to put into words how I feel about the actual video, which I think is kind of the point. The content is so multifaceted and open to interpretation that I’m thinking the authorial intent was pure provocation – I mean, he mows down a church choir in a hail of bullets. Here’s a couple thinkpieces

The season finale of Atlanta, the best show on TV, in on Thursday

This summer, he’ll appear as young Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and is virtually assured to outshine his pitifully forgettable co-star playing the titular Solo.

He’s come a long way from mediocre at best rap and kinda shitty stand-up. As many have noted, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like what he’s doing.