Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Word Power and a Plea for Thoughtfulness

A while back the phrase of the day to describe something distasteful, weak, or out-of-style was "that's so gay." A movement started to stop people, especially kids, from saying this, asking them to think and realize that by saying such a thing, they were equating gay people to something worthless and distasteful, something gay people hardly needed more of in their ears and thoughts.

On Monday night, Ann Coulter tweeted the following: "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." By calling the President of our United States a "retard," she quite understandably ticked some people off, most notably John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger who happens to have Down Syndrome.  His response to Ms. Coulter is respectful, brief, and profound and I strongly suggest you read it now.

In addition to using words like "retard(ed)" and "gay" to insult people, I have another personal pet peeve in the word "fit" to describe an epileptic seizure.  Yes, it's still described that way in the Merriam Webster dictionary.  But there is so much cultural context behind the cold, mathematical meaning we read when we look words up.  To me, a 'fit" is something a three-year-old might throw in the middle of Target's toy aisle when his weary parents refuse to buy him another toy.  It's an irrational, over-the-top, chosen pattern of behavior.  A seizure or paroxysm is not chosen.

We call people all sorts of unbelievable ugly names throughout our days, especially our bad days, or at least during bad traffic.  Do I really think that driver that pulled in front of me just a tiny bit too closely to me is an "idiot" or an "asshole?"  Or maybe if I take a breath I can analyze a bit more, like Mr. Stephens did, and think of other reasons why it might have happened.  For all I know that driver just got fired.  Or is on his way to a hospital for an emergency.

It's not easy and I'll never achieve perfection in this area, but I will be more responsible for the words that come out of my mouth - even - especially - the words their targets never hear.  It is better for my own attitude and helps other people's ugly words roll off my own back too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Is PBS Funding Really That Important?

A lot of jokes have come up since Wednesday's fist presidential debate in which Mitt Romney said that as much as he likes Big Bird, he would cut funding for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).  Facebook is full of pictures of angry Muppets, comedians are laughing about Sesame Street's revenge, etc.  To me it is no joke.

I learned how to read by watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company.  I was the target audience, an urban lower-class dweller whose parents couldn't afford preschool.  Sesame Street was designed to look like my neighborhood instead of Mayberry.  I felt comfortable there and on days when I didn't have anyone taking care of me, I didn't feel alone.  It was an important connection for me with real people, as well as imagination-concocted ones, because my parents were either working too much or too tired to read to me or spend quality time with me.  These days even the best-intended parents, and their kids, can identify with that.

Today I don't have television broadcasting in my house because I am in a rural area (a whole separate issue of government funding for public benefit), but when I am able to access and control a TV, I watch PBS frequently.  I know that programs I watch will have their funders clearly stated, that most programs will be scientifically accurate and educational, and that bias will be more limited than it is on other channels.

It's up to us what we spend our tax money on.  Such a budget change would have to be approved by Congress, but Romney is telling us what he will push for as president if he is elected. PBS is not a God-given right like some other issues in this election.  But I think people who agree with Romney think PBS is a luxury or some frivolous thing we don't need because we have the Internet now.  

PBS is educational access for people with no other options, no transportation to libraries and no expensive Internet access.  When you hear about iPhones and websites all over the media every day, it's easy to think everyone has them, but millions are still offline completely.  And who are the groups most at risk for not having access to information online?  Surprise!  Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities (

I don't know all of the political and funding issues of PBS.  I do know that current funding for PBS is about one-tenth or one percent of the current budget and thus would not make a dent in our economic crisis.  That's the entire PBS budget - not just the subsidies Romney wants to cut.  So it won't help boost the budget; it will only hurt education in this country.  Romney has also sworn to cut subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, etc. (, still a tiny fraction of our spending, but a big and painful cut to those Americans who need and benefit the most from them.

In my household, this would be like addressing my debt and spending problems by swearing off shoelaces.  Yes, it would reduce the amount of money I spend on shoelaces, but it would be an unnoticeable financial benefit.  The thing is, when you need shoelaces, you really need them.  There really is no substitute for them, unless you are wealthy enough to purchase fancy shoes with Velcro closures or the like.