ebd-records-bullshit-updateI think it’s really bad form to start off a post with a dictionary definition, but unfortunately there seems to be a lot of people out there who are obviously not clear on the basics.

human rights, pl.n. The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled…

There’s that word in the middle: “all.” Human rights, if they are rights, apply to all people. A simple concept, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the world of adoption, various camps – primarily, the institutions that make up the adoption industry itself – have a lot to gain from complicating the simple things.

Let’s take Adam Pertman as today’s rather timely example. Pertman is the Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, which I’ll call “EBD” for short. What is this “Institute?” Take a look at their own website, and you’ll see what spawned it – an adoption agency, Spence-Chapin. Heck, the “Institute” is even named for the onetime president of this adoption agency:

The Adoption Institute was established in 1996 through the initiative of the Board of Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, which saw a need for an independent and unbiased adoption research and policy organization. Evan B. Donaldson was a member of the Spence-Chapin Board of Directors continuously from 1977 on, serving as president from 1986 until her death in 1994.

I think it’s quite appropriate to laugh at those words, “independent and unbiased.” The EBD’s sole business is the promotion of adoption, providing backing for adoption agencies in general, while Spence-Chapin is still featured prominently on the front page of the EBD website as an “organizational partner.”

As for Adam Pertman, his book and his rhetoric hammer the same themes over and over, that the practice of adoption “for growing a family” must be somehow considered completely normal, societally normalized. His function is that of advocacy from the point of view of the satisfied customer. The problem with this is that such advocate-customers often seek to validate their past decisions by preserving and promoting the business that supplied them with a product or service. It is secondary to advocate-customers if the business is found to be doing harm in the process of providing that service, or is detrimental to the people who are integral to that product, only that the business continue to function to serve even more customers just like Pertman. Such advocate-customers can also be completely without a clue about details that are vitally important to others affected by such a business – in this case, Pertman ignores the actual details and history of the process of actually opening birth certificates to adoptees through legislation.

That the “product” here involves real live human children should in itself raise a few red flags. That Adam Pertman, an adopter and adoption promoter, is barging in and opportunistically seizing upon the language of adoptee rights that has historically been primarily the domain of adopted people themselves, crafted by the adoptee rights movement, should also raise some red flags, particularly among exactly those adoptees.

Adam Pertman has had a decade or so to appropriate the language of adoptee  rights for his own uses, making some inroads among some adoptees and adoption-related groups who are, inexplicably, supporting the latest spectacle created by Pertman and the EBD, including the AAC and CUB. Problem is, every time Pertman opens his mouth, he takes a simple issue – access to birth certificates for all adopted people, no exceptions – and complicates it beyond all recognition, subverting it so that, in practice adoptees end up being left behind. Pertman does not act as if he was concerned with a matter of gaining civil rights for each and every member of an affected group, which is not resolvable through legislation that makes that civil right conditional on the permission of others.

His lack of concern for actual rights is necessitated by his role as a marketer. His role is to promote the EBD and adoption through a number of methods. The promotional method that most clearly hampers adoptee rights is through EBD’s repeated practice of submitting and presenting testimony to state legislatures whenever legislation involving access to birth certificates is being considered.  Unfortunately, Pertman and EBD never address the merits or faults of the particular proposed legislation, but have merely carried and repeated from state to state the same canned presentation for the past five years or more. Testimony by Adam Pertman does not accomplish the actual work of convincing legislators to open birth certificates for all, but is primarily to raise his image and that of the EBD as “experts,” as providers of marketing-survey-based position papers that uniformly prop up adoption, which he repeatedly calls a “wondrous institution.”

The restoration of rights to adoptees is unrelated to this kind of glowing, and unwarranted, description of the adoption industry. Instead, it’s that kind of exaggerated language, the vague promise that adoptees might know the facts of their origins, and the outright confusion of birth certificates with seldom-specified “medical records” that complicate, if not sabotage, the relatively simple matter of restoring a basic civil right and equal protection under the law to adoptees. No one should be compelled to disclose personal medical information to others, even family members – in fact, it’s against the law – but the repeated, and completely irrelevant, pounding on the availability of medical histories is not germane to restoring the basic civil rights of all adoptees by restoring access to original birth certificates.

What, then, is Adam Pertman actually doing? Having been exposed to his empty rhetoric for years now, and his most recent endorsement of legislation (“we urge swift passage”) such as that now under consideration in New Jersey (A1406) which would permanently create sealed birth certificates for some individuals (link from June 2010), I’d say that Pertman isn’t interested in “rights” at all. What he’s pushing is what I’ve come to call openness™ in adoption, which is, first and foremost, a marketing position taken by the adoption industry, which is why I sarcastically add the italics and trademark to the word.

openness™ is not focused on individuals, so it actually doesn’t take the fact that individuals have rights that apply to everyone as a fundamental basis for policy. openness™ is, instead, primarily about preserving and growing the institution of adoption, through rehabilitating the public perception of adoption through marketing the idea that everyone involved in adoption will come to feel good about it, and about each other. It is about the relationships among the people involved with adoption, mediated, if not being the outright puppets of, the state and the institutions of adoption, including agencies and attorneys involved with adoption. All of this is to grease the rails so that more and “better” adoptions occur: parents, particularly mothers, must give up their children and their privacy of medical information, adopters get assurances that they’re receiving a quality product, and adoptees… well, if everyone else thinks it’s okay, they might get access to, perhaps, some portion of an official record of their origin, to which they have, under the openness™ model, no absolute right, merely the possibility of an arbitrary privilege of access.

It’s not surprising that self-described “Bastards,” with knowledge of history and experience with adoption politics, have a problem with this. Members of Bastard Nation, the adoptee rights organization, have successfully worked to open birth certificates to all adoptees in several states including Oregon in 2000. Recently BN helped hold the line against proposed legislation in Oregon that would have reversed that ten-year-old victory, limiting birth certificate access only to those adoptees “whose birth parent has filed a Consent to Release of Original Birth Certificate,” to quote from the proposed legislation. It is this kind of threat to the fundamental rights of adoptees that is enabled by the openness™ regime; when the right to access is not taken as absolute and inviolable, virtually any trivial objection by anyone else who was involved with or once participated in an adoption may be allowed to take precedence over that right.

This week, Adam Pertman and the EBD will be hosting an event in New York that they call “For The Records.” As with Pertman’s other activities, from reading the invitation on the EBD website, it’s not altogether clear how anything about this event will actually support advocacy of legislation that opens birth certificates for all adoptees. It’s more about the vague language of openness™, which is all about marketing the institution of adoption, not the reality of effective advocacy for open records legislation. And since it’s all about the marketing of openness™ and promotion of the institution of adoption as clean, wholesome and desirable, the event takes on the form of some kind of bizarre corporate promotion, complete with musical and comedic entertainment:

  • Oprah Winfrey, who is not going to be present, nor, as far as I know, is in any way substantially connected with Pertman or EBD, is named on the invite through reference to an “Oprah Winfrey Reunion Story” that we’re all supposed to already be familiar with. Those of us who aren’t completely transfixed by celebrities or who consider following the details of Oprah Winfrey’s life a waste of time might find this reference a bit mystifying, but I suppose such contortions on the part of this event’s promoters are absolutely necessary, lest they miss the opportunity to associate their brand with a public figure loved and followed by millions.
  • Appearances by two celebrities, rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Zara Phillips
  • The “world premier” [sic] of the two-year-old music video featuring McDaniels and Phillips that’s all about openness™ but that fails to convey the basic fact that opening birth certificates is a matter between adopted individuals and the state, not between them and their parents
  • Book signings of allegedly “just published” books by Adam Pertman  and Zara Phillips. Pertman’s book is a “revised and updated” edition of his “Adoption Nation” from 2000, Phillips’ is the US edition of her 2008 UK release. Like any other marketing-focused event, there are books and videos to be promoted.
  • A video by comedienne Alison Larkin, who likewise has a book to promote and a career to keep afloat.
  • Video from, and appearance of, filmmaker Jean Strauss, who is best known among some for her involvement with California CARE, and an abortive effort to introduce a bill there that would have taken a bad situation for adoptees in California, and made it much worse.  Strauss, author of a “guide to search and reunion,” likewise has a  number of DVD’s and books for sale on her website.

So if you’re keeping score, you’d know by now that of all the announced guests, only one has been involved with spearheading an organized legislative effort: Jean Strauss. But Strauss, in the course of organizing that doomed effort, has explicitly denied that open birth certificates are a civil right of adoptees. Regarding the advocacy of her organization in California, she wrote,  “… this is not an effort to ‘right a wrong’ or a ‘fight for our Constitutional rights’.” This exactly matches the model of openness™ which likewise deliberately evades the fact that individuals have rights with respect to the state, that should apply to everyone. In the same letter, Strauss threw some unknown number of adoptees overboard, announcing that their goal was only “of providing access to original birth records for as many California adult adoptees 18 and older as possible.” From the looks of the proposed legislation, that would have been very few California adoptees indeed.

Adoptee rights activists who have successfully organized legislative efforts in states like Alabama, New Hampshire, and Oregon – where birth certificates are open without conditions – are nowhere to be found on this stage. That is as it should be, because what this event is about is marketing of everything else about adoption, particularly the mystique – to those who aren’t adopted –  of search and reunion necessitated by sealed records. The substance of equal rights for adoptees cannot be found amidst all the pontificating about how wonderful adoption is, and the selling of products. The language of equal rights may appear there, but only in service to the industry, and to the marketing: of videos, of books, of celebrities and their careers, of the position papers and testimony offered by Adam Pertman and his organization.

There’s a hint of where this leads, right there in the description of the event on EBD’s page, where they claim the event is about “the need for states to restore adult adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates” (my emphasis). This language is disingenuous with respect to human rights, as it points out a need for justice, but is not attached to an exact definition, a concrete plan,  demonstrated actions, or an organizational history that shows how those rights might uniformly be gained for all people. A perpetual need, never fulfilled, for such access may well fill a particular marketing niche among the promoters of the institution of adoption; it provides a subject to talk about, to gain entry into the halls of legislatures as well as the media, through a never-ending series of search-and-possibly-reunion stories made possible by the inaccessibility of birth certificates that document the historical fact of one’s birth. openness™, and its cousin, conditional access legislation, might grant birth certificate access to only a very privileged few adoptees. The passage of conditional access legislation is the legacy of EBD’s vague, unfocused advocacy and self-promotion.

A genuine initiative that actually worked to grant open birth certificates to all adoptees, across the board, would speak with clarity to act as a civil rights movement for adoptees. (Such a movement has long existed, but it won’t be participating in EBD’s spectacles.)  The vagueness and ineffectiveness of openness™, with much obfuscating talk of search, reunion and medical histories, builds upon ongoing, continued injustice, and mere talk of rectification, as a framework for perpetual marketing of the institution of adoption.  That is why Adam Pertman’s adoption marketing poses an ongoing threat to human rights.

The letter I sent this morning to all Illinois Senators with regard to HB5428, legislation which purports to open birth certificates but in reality creates bureaucratic and statutory blocks for many if not most adoptees. Access to birth certificates must be unconditional.

Dear Senator:

I am writing to urge you to vote NO on HB5428, which is NOT an adoptee rights bill, nor is it an open records bill.

This bill – far from opening records or preserving rights – instead creates new statutory and bureaucratic roadblocks between adoptees and their unaltered birth certificates.

Unlike all other citizens, who may simply request and receive a copy of their birth certificate, adult adoptees are regularly treated unequally and are denied their civil right to equal access to government-held records simply as a consequence of their personal circumstances as a minor.

HB5428 does not correct this fundamental injustice and unfairness. While giving lip service to “the basic right of all persons to access their birth records,” the bill’s provisions do not give access to “all” persons. It sets up a bureaucracy that, among other things, would make that access conditional to the whims of others, and conditional on the date of the adoptee’s birth.

If birth record access is a “basic right,” why is an 80 page document required to set forth all the conditions negating that “basic right?”

I would suggest instead that an effective, uncomplicated, inexpensive and non-bureaucratic means to restore this basic right to adoptees may be stated in a single sentence. This is the entire text of the Oregon ballot measure which proposed releasing birth certificates to adoptees. Adoptees in that state have had unconditional access to their birth certificates since 2000.

“Upon receipt of a written application to the state registrar, any adopted person 21 years of age and older born in the state of Oregon shall be issued a certified copy of his/her unaltered, original and unamended certificate of birth in the custody of the state registrar, with procedures, filing fees, and waiting periods identical to those imposed upon non-adopted citizens of the State of Oregon pursuant to ORS 432.120 and 432.146. Contains no exceptions.”

Certain parties may claim that there are other conflicting interests that somehow demand that access be made conditional upon the whims of others. Courts have held that those who have relinquished or have lost custody of children no longer hold any rights concerning the adoptee upon relinqishment. The state’s impoundment of birth certificates, denying access to adoptees, is a completely separate matter that has become an unnecessary aspect of the adoption process.

It is long past time that the relationship between the adoptee and the state be recognized to be the same as that of any other citizen. Like all other citizens, adoptees must have these unconditional rights restored to them: the right to obtain government records pertaining to them, and the right to demand that secret, inaccessible files not be held by the state that pertain to them, that document the facts of their birth and early childhood.

Please vote NO on HB5428. Thanks for your consideration.

Mike Doughney

American citizens pose for a photo at police headquarters in the international airport of Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. Associated Press photo/Ramon Espinosa.

In my earlier post I suggested that the overwhelming demands to move children out of Haiti for adoption elsewhere were in a way a twisted expression of American consumerism. I wrote, “It…. matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.”

I didn’t quite expect that in little more than 24 hours, events, driven by a founder of a company that sells consumer products online, would serve to drive home that point and others I was trying to make. It’s the mythology of international adoption that is driving American prospective adopters, politicians and Christian organizations to organize the exporting of Haitian children to the United States, amid calls for legislation to simplify adoptions for prospective adopters by creating a dedicated office for it at the State Department.

Central to those calls was the demand for rapid visa approvals from the State Department. Seldom heard from this crowd was any mention that the Haitians, assisted by aid organizations, might have some interest in monitoring, or even restricting completely, the flow of unaccompanied children out of their country, making the issue of the State Department’s speed rather moot.

Most American churchgoing suburbanites are unable to drop everything, get on a plane and run off to Haiti and see if they can, for themselves, run their own version of what some of us are calling “Rendell’s Raid,” in which the governor of Pennsylvania flew to Haiti, twisted the arms of various politicians, put pressure on what was left of the Haitian government, and finally, packed more than 50 of Haiti’s children on a U.S. military plane. But inevitably, someone with some means and willing accomplices, if not connections, would actually make such an attempt – this time, ending with ten Americans being arrested by Haitian police. At this writing it’s very likely that they’re sitting in jail cells in Port-au-Prince.

It’s clear from all the documentation available online that one of the primary people involved with all this is Laura Silsby, the founder and CEO of PersonalShopper.com, an online gift shopping service based in Boise. Through a bit of digging online, mainly on Facebook, its obvious that there are numerous connections between Silsby and the others arrested, including Paul Thompson, the pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.

It’s on Thompson’s church website where the “smoking gun” can be found, a document completed on January 19 which outlines the entire plan, for a so-called “rescue mission” to Haiti, to scoop up 100 children, some unspecified portion of them directly off the streets of Port-au-Prince, and to transport them to a temporary headquarters in a newly-rented hotel in Santo Domingo. But the whole document reads like a bit of a pipe dream; it has that feel of a lot of evangelical writing, where the expectations of the writer aren’t quite connected to the physical realities of the planet.

Silsby lists herself in this document as the “Executive Director and Founder” of “New Life Children Refuge,” a brand-new nonprofit organization which filed its incorporation papers with the state of Idaho just two months ago. Interesting, that the incorporation papers read “Personal Shopper” at the top of every page, suggesting they were sent from a fax machine at the PersonalShopper.com office. There isn’t any evidence of this “Refuge” having even so much a website or a telephone number, much less any substantial tangible resources, but that didn’t stop Silsby.

From their “Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission” plan (local copy here):

The Plan:

Rescue Orphans from Port au Prince, Haiti

  • Friday/Saturday, Jan 22nd : NLCR team fly to the DR
  • Sun Jan 23rd: Drive bus from Santo Domingo into Port au Prince, Haiti and gather 100 orphans from the streets and collapsed orphanages, then return to the DR
  • Mon Jan 24th: Bus arrives in Cabarete, DR at New Life Children Refuge

The obvious problems with this “plan” are numerous, from even just these few lines. The trip from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, as can be easily learned through a brief online search, is over six hours by scheduled bus under normal conditions. Were they serious about making a daytrip out of this run, it would have been little more than a snatch-and-grab of whatever kids they could have found on the streets over a few hours.

For whatever reason, they didn’t finally attempt to return to the Dominican Republic until January 29, almost a week later than they planned.  Regardless, this plan made their intent very clear: they thought they could just show up in Port-au-Prince unannounced, pick up some kids from some unspecified place that they couldn’t identify beforehand, and drive them back across the border.

As if this complete cluelessness about the conditions under which they could legitimately pick up and transport Haitian kids wasn’t enough, their facilities in Santo Domingo didn’t exist. They were going to rent a hotel for the Haitian children to land in, until they could implement the rest of their “plan” of building their own facility.

  • Interim New Life Children Refuge Location: NLCR is in the process of buying land and building an orphanage, school and church in Magante on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now vs. waiting until the permanent facility is built. He has provided an interim solution in nearby Cabarete, where we will be leasing a 45 room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building of the NLCR is complete. This interim location will enable us to provide a loving environment for up to 150 children, from infants to 12 years old.

It’s not clear where the expectation that building a new orphanage for 150 children in the Dominican Republic would be something that a bunch of suburbanites from Idaho without extensive experience with such a project, and considerable resources, could pull off even over the course of many years. There’s no evidence that anyone involved with this little operation was in any way already familiar with Haiti or the Dominican Republic, except perhaps from some short-term visit as a missionary tourist. Often, when browsing people’s profiles on Facebook, their previous experience and interests are obvious, and when someone is actually familiar with things like international adoption, relief work, or long-term missions – which is clearly what’s intended in this description – it shows. But not here.

Nobody in this crowd seems to have any international experience at all to speak of. When, for example, you look at their Facebook profiles, like that of Laura Silsby, you’ll see things like the fact that they’re a “fan” of Sarah Palin, or a “fan” of the Manhattan Declaration, the anti-gay, anti-abortion, statement issued by a bunch of prominent evangelical personalities including convicted Watergate felon Chuck Colson. Others are “fans” of things like the local anti-abortion groups, or maybe, the Southern Baptist disaster response organization. Anything that might indicate an in-depth knowledge of the task and that part of the world that would be necessary to accomplish that sort of mission? It’s just not there.

There’s another peculiar aspect to this “plan” document. In the “Prayer Requests” section, which often summarizes the things that the writer either doesn’t know or hopes won’t go wrong, are these entries:

Prayer Requests

  • For discernment of God’s will and direction throughout this trip and for Him to prepare the way before us
  • For God to continue to grant favor with the Dominican Government in allowing us to bring as many orphans as we can into the DR
  • For God to guide us to the children He wants us to bring to NLCR and for their physical, emotional and spiritual healing

The second of these reflects the same kind of myopia often seen among adopters, and currently, American politicians, extending to the State Department, when dealing with international adoption. Emphasis is always placed on the receiving end, while any concerns on the part of the family or country of origin of these children is completely disregarded or viewed as false or illegitimate. Here, Silsby only cares that the Dominican Republic grant permission for them to bring in the children they’ve already collected. Even after all the recent press coverage that’s been given to the problem of child trafficking in Haiti, and the work by the Haitian government and NGOs to require full documentation of the status of each child departing the country, Silsby seems to think that that concern does not apply to her.

This became clear after her arrest, where she repeated her claim that approval from the Dominican Republic was all that was required:

But Laura Sillsby from the Idaho group told Reuters from a jail cell at Haiti’s Judicial Police headquarters, “We had permission from the Dominican Republic government to bring the children to an orphanage that we have there.”

“We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic,” Sillsby added.

“I was going to come back here to do the paperwork,” Sillsby said. “They accuse us of children trafficking. This is something I would never do. We were not trying to do something wrong.”

As I wrote previously, when examining the world of international adoption, there’s this element of oscillation between the global and the personal. If you grow up into a privileged, successful, entrepreneurial suburbanite in a country where people you respect are going around saying things like, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” perhaps when you find yourself in a “crappy little country” you might think you can do whatever you want without being suspected of something heinous like child trafficking. Silsby and her entourage seem to have found out otherwise, the hard way.

Also telling in this section is the part expecting “God” to “guide” them “to the children he wants us to bring” to their vaporware orphanage. Prayer requests are often very telling in this way; clearly, they didn’t know what they were doing, down to the basics of understanding that the only children that they might be able to take out of the country, already in the approval process for adoption, would have been identified long before they arrived in Haiti! When I say Silsby was planning a “shopping trip to Port-au-Prince,” clearly, as with other kinds of shopping, she didn’t quite know what she would be getting until she saw the merchandise.

How can someone expect to go to Haiti, do these things, and not understand that they would clearly be suspected of trafficking children?

That kind of expectation – that child acquisition and international transport by Americans can never be questioned or challenged – on the part of people like Laura Silsby is exactly what I was working to explain in my last post, where I wrote:

Television provides an illusion of participation, that by simply watching a moving image the viewer feels that they’re somehow involved in events in a far away place. But because merely being a television viewer is unsatisfying in such times, many feel moved to act in some way. The things that an average American can do with respect to such huge tragedies are few; often the only answer is to send money. The popularization of international adoption, even when the practice is overwhelmingly corrupt and may violate human rights, seems to me to fill exactly this void; the impulse to get one’s hands on the children of an earthquake-ravaged country is created by these media portrayals of external calamity interacting with the cultural predisposition that it’s the American national mission to save the rest of the planet.

This self-defined role of planetary savior, that through adoption almost anyone can indulge in, a romantic and ostensibly altruistic myth, is exactly that: role-playing. It exists independent of the actual children and people of Haiti and their realistic needs. It’s the extension of the American exceptionalist myth, expressed through its military and foreign policy of planetary enforcer and order-keeper (regardless of actual results on the ground after billions of dollars are spent), made accessible to any citizen who’s willing to meet the most basic requirements, and who can afford the fees. It also matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.

The solution for the children of Haiti, created by those who see the world through these lenses, is simplistic, crude and appeals to the acquisitional American who thinks they can buy or trade for anything and by doing so will do no harm, to the point that we now see suggestions like this one: “What if….we could find a plane that had just dropped a load of humanitarian aid and load it up with orphans?” There’s no hiding that the writer of that sentence, a professional promoter of adoption in the Christian context, thinks it’s a fair trade: he drops off aid, he extracts “orphans” to satisfy the enormous demand he’s been helping to create in his subculture for adoptable children. If the “orphans” don’t actually exist, they would have to be manufactured, through the endless redefinition of the term, “orphan,” which today seldom means what people think it means.

When I say that evangelicals (and not exclusively evangelicals) regularly seek to strip-mine less fortunate countries of their children, I’m not using that terminology for its shock value. People like Laura Silsby are seeking to establish an industry of extracting Haitian children for adoption by Americans. The third page of their so-called “rescue mission” lays out a long-term plan – hopefully permanently derailed – to create a fully vertically-integrated industrial operation in Santo Domingo to obtain and prepare Haitian children for export, into international adoption.

Future Buildings and Plans for NLCR in Magante

  • Nueva Vida Refugio de Ninos: Provide a loving Christian home‐like environment for up to 200 children, both boys and girls, initially focused on ages 0 ‐ 10 years old, later expanding to include teens up to age 16.
  • Nueva Vida Escuela Cristiana: Provide a solid education for children in the refuge as well as in the local community if have sufficient space/resources. Plan to begin with PreSchool/Kindergarten up to 6th grade, teaching English/Spanish, Reading, Math, Science, History, Geography, Health, Music/Art, as well as Christian values/truths. Plan to add higher grades and courses on vocational skills when needed.
  • Nueva Vida en Christo Capilla: On site Chapel for the children from the refuge and the community
  • Sick Bay/Medical care: for incoming children that are in need minor medical care
  • Greenhouse/Livestock: Provide for nutritional needs of the children by growing fruits and vegetables and raising cows/chickens for milk and eggs
  • Seaside Villas at Playa Magante*: Villas for adopting parents to stay while fulfilling requirement for 60‐90 day visit as well as Christian volunteers/vacationing families.
  • Provide opportunities for adoption through partnership with New Life Adoption Foundation which works with adoption agencies in the U.S. to help facilitate adoptions and provide grants to subsidize the cost of adoption for loving Christian parents who would otherwise not be able to afford to adopt.
  • Seaside Café at Playa Magante*: small beachfront restaurant serving the community and adopting parents

Looked at from the point of view of an entrepreneur, what are these things? First, establish a warehouse for the merchandise, and processing facilities to make the merchandise suitable for the customer. Second, expedite the process of governmental approval which customers must obtain, making them as comfortable as possible while they fulfill the government’s mandate of a 60-90 day stay. Third, provide financing for the customers. Fourth, provide food and refreshment to the customers, which along with the lodging provides a “bubble” in which customers need not interact with the locals.

But as a business plan, there’s nothing to it, if the people putting it forward can’t seem to grasp the basic illegality of its initial premise. The children of Haiti are not theirs to process and export, to satisfy the endless demand for adoptable children without history, a demand their mythology creates.

I made some observations on my “About” page, some years ago, about the relationship between the practice of adoption and the way in which many Americans view the rest of the world. In recent days, that relationship has become quite obvious in the media coverage that has followed the earthquake in Haiti, and the subsequent actions by organizations, politicians, and prospective adopters in this country.

baltimore-sun-website-201001221610Unlike the self-described “bastards” I know, love, and work with, my personal interest in these matters is a little different, as I have no direct personal involvement with adoption beyond the fact that I live with a “bastard.” For me the subject connects with my interests in understanding how people handle information. Having had a tiny hand in popularizing the Internet years ago, how has the ‘net, and the concurrent growth of 24-hour television news, improved, or warped, how people view the world around them? Of course, one of the primary interests of “Bastards” – obtaining unaltered birth certificates that disclose historical facts of their origins – is likewise tightly connected with this issue of how people handle, or mishandle, or can’t handle, information, or construct elaborate structures of misinformation. Recent events are more about the global than the personal, but still these realms overlap, or oscillate from second to second, from the international to the individual.

I summed it up in a recent one-liner: “A city of millions of people leveled, and what’s on ABC tonight? ‘Is the baby I ordered still on its way?’” I was referring to a multi-night series of stories on Nightline, a program that’s been completely worthless ever since Ted Koppel retired. Days later, the habit continues, as with the Baltimore Sun website pictured. It’s all adopters, all the time. From the looks of it you’d think there have regularly been thousands of adoptions out of Haiti every year, and this vital flow was in danger of being interrupted.

Facts are, that’s not the case. There it is, on the U.S. State Department’s website: “The Total Adoptions from HAITI from 1998 to 2009 is: 2712.”  Twelve years, averaging two hundred twenty six every year. That is all.

Throw “haiti adoption” into Google News right now, how many hits do you get? “About 6,102.” That’s not counting the ads for international adoption and adoption agencies that will also show up on the search results. “Adopt from China, Russia, Haiti, Guatemala, and more!”

It doesn’t help that elected officials here in the U.S. don’t seem to have more important things to do with their time, and hop on the adoption bandwagon while it’s in the media spotlight. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, his Federal judge wife, and U.S. representative Jason Altmire fly to Haiti on a chartered plane to transport over fifty children from an orphanage run by two Pittsburgh suburbanites. It doesn’t matter that the Haitian government hadn’t signed off on letting 26 of those children out of the country. Two American women pitch a hissy fit, Rendell and Altmire work the White House to pressure what’s left of the Haitian government, and the next thing you know all 54 children are on a U.S. military plane.

When those children got to Pittsburgh – transported on the pretense that they were “already in the pipeline for adoption” – the truth comes out: seven of them hadn’t even been matched with adoptive parents. They ended up in a faith-based residential treatment center that had only 24 hours to prepare for their arrival.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of needy kids here in America, and in Pennsylvania. Eventually, that fact merits a small mention, here in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

But social service providers – and the Rendell administration – have a message for the families willing to open their homes and hearts: Don’t forget the 3,000 Pennsylvania children waiting for permanent homes.

“While the plight of the Haitian orphans has attracted much attention, it is important to recognize the many other children for whom we are always working to find a supportive family and safe home environment,” said Harriet Dichter, acting secretary of the state Department of Public Welfare.

Child advocate Cathleen Palm said that when she heard about the rush to adopt the Haitian children, she wished there was a way to assemble all the needy Pennsylvania children in a stadium and have the governor rescue them.

“We want to make sure people aren’t losing sight of the fact that kids are in crisis in Pennsylvania, too,” said Palm.

Why is it, when Pittsburgh has its own share of needy children, many in foster care, that all this attention – and the involvement of state and federal politicians – has been focused on Haitian children, attention that has as its goal, moving large numbers of them out of their country?

Perhaps a small hint of what might actually be going on here comes from this comment I saw go by on Facebook: ”I saw the little boy that Cooper Anderson helped pull from the rubble and he looked good, but you could tell he is still shell-shocked. That’s the one I would take home with me for a while…”

Television provides an illusion of participation, that by simply watching a moving image the viewer feels that they’re somehow involved in events in a far away place. But because merely being a television viewer is unsatisfying in such times, many feel moved to act in some way. The things that an average American can do with respect to such huge tragedies are few; often the only answer is to send money. The popularization of international adoption, even when the practice is overwhelmingly corrupt and may violate human rights, seems to me to fill exactly this void; the impulse to get one’s hands on the children of an earthquake-ravaged country is created by these media portrayals of external calamity interacting with the cultural predisposition that it’s the American national mission to save the rest of the planet.

This self-defined role of planetary savior, that through adoption almost anyone can indulge in, a romantic and ostensibly altruistic myth, is exactly that: role-playing. It exists independent of the actual children and people of Haiti and their realistic needs. It’s the extension of the American exceptionalist myth, expressed through  its military and foreign policy of planetary enforcer and order-keeper (regardless of actual results on the ground after billions of dollars are spent), made accessible to any citizen who’s willing to meet the most basic requirements, and who can afford the fees. It also matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.

The solution for the children of Haiti, created by those who see the world through these lenses, is simplistic, crude and appeals to the acquisitional American who thinks they can buy or trade for anything and by doing so will do no harm, to the point that we now see suggestions like this one: “What if….we could find a plane that had just dropped a load of humanitarian aid and load it up with orphans?” There’s no hiding that the writer of that sentence, a professional promoter of adoption in the Christian context, thinks it’s a fair trade: he drops off  aid, he extracts “orphans” to satisfy the enormous demand he’s been helping to create in his subculture for adoptable children. If the “orphans” don’t actually exist, they would have to be manufactured, through the endless redefinition of the term, “orphan,” which today seldom means what people think it means.

Here again the hiding of information, and the contrast between “orphans” acquired outside the United States, and the reality of children in genuine need who might be available for domestic adoption, becomes clear. The imperative to hide information about the actual origins of children put up for adoption is one of the reasons international adoption exists. With the barriers of distance, international boundaries, and language, the entire history of what happened to these children may disappear, or be made inaccessible. The same goes for their biological parentage.

Couple that need for information hiding to a catastrophic natural disaster, and the resulting chaos and actual elimination of records, the entire history of where these children came from may be destroyed.

Contrast how that history can be hidden or destroyed in this international situation, with the prospect of domestic adoption out of foster care, where past history cannot be eliminated with such ease. This is, I think, why the governor of Pennsylvania isn’t spending the same amount of time and energy doing something for his state’s own needy kids. The facts about those kids’ lives can’t be wiped out with a plane ride, it lives on in files and records and the memories of people who might be neighbors, instead of being physically separated by thousands of miles.

After more than two weeks have passed since the earthquake, two camps have clearly emerged. One is driven by American foreign policy and all its concomitant myths and baggage as I’ve described them. Faced with a bonanza of the newly-opened opportunity to strip-mine Haiti of its children, American politicians are now calling for the State Department to set up a separate office to make sure that absolutely nothing stands in the way between American prospective adopters and Haitian children. Gordon Duguid, a deputy spokesman for the State Department, is quoted as saying, “we will send no child out of Haiti who does not have cleared, vetted and accepted parents waiting for him or her in the U.S.”  Interesting redefinition there of what a “parent” is, equivalent to “adopter,” a redefinition that’s not necessarily shared by the rest of the world. As is to be expected, there’s no mention of how the U.S. will confirm that children arriving in the U.S. from Haiti will be shown to be genuine “orphans” without any parents or family remaining in Haiti, or even relatives here.

All that matters to the State Department is satisfying the needs of prospective adopters, and all the intermediary organizations that stand to benefit by facilitating such a mass migration.

The other camp, of course, is that of UNICEF and other aid agencies that have placed a priority on the reunification of children with their families.

Meanwhile, the government of Haiti has reportedly halted the departure of so-called “orphans” from the country, for among other reasons, concerns that children might be removed from the country while they still have relatives there who could care for them.

As can be expected, the whining of a relatively tiny number of prospective adopters may now be occupying a disproportionate amount of the time of many American politicians. One example of many is this story from Terre Haute, Indiana, where a prospective adoptive family is “on an emotional roller coaster ride.” As usual, such prospective adopters, by whatever means, believe that the child they visited in some far-off country is already theirs, it’s just a matter of finishing the paperwork. Never mentioned is the possibility that the so-called “orphan” they expect to arrive any day now may not, in fact, be an orphan. Inevitably, increased scrutiny of the cases of children about to depart Haiti, on the part of government and aid organizations, will leave some American prospective adopters empty-handed.

It is in these situations where the fallout from the promotion of the mythology of romantic, altruistic, child-saving international adoption by Americans, will at least be a bit more evident. Children in poor, disaster-ravaged nations are reduced to a mere natural resource, who could easily fill that role if they could only be stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in aircraft headed back toward the United States. Their transport here serves to appease those who never question that myth and who often see their actions as heroic. It’s up to those on the ground without such an agenda to challenge that myth, to put forward the idea that adoption is not a solution to poverty, and to work toward the reunification of families separated by disaster.

For more reading:

Baby Love Child

The Daily Bastardette

Haiti Statement by Adoptees of Color Roundtable

Update: This quote was in the “sidebar” of this blog from February through September of 2008. It’s still relevant when considering the efforts of UNICEF in Haiti today.

If justice comes (and I have serious doubts that it will), it will come from the International community and NOT the United States.

- MichiganGirl, February 5, 2008

Sarah Palin: McCain strategist: Palin thought candidacy was mapped by God

Schmidt, McCain’s chief campaign adviser, said he asked Palin about her serenity in the face of becoming “one of the most famous people in the world.” He quoted her as saying, “It’s God’s plan.” Palin has not ruled out a run for the presidency.

John Edwards: Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster

There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.

Edwards swooned. He spent hours talking to Hunter, listening patiently to her ideas about the state of American democracy and advice on media strategy. (She had intuitions about Chris Matthews.) He ate every meal with her, sat next to her on the plane and in the car, offered to wheel her bags through airports. He told the staff to treat her like a principal. He behaved as if she were a combination of an adviser and a spouse. If Baldick suggested that she not take a trip, Edwards would resist. When Hunter wanted access to some event that Brumberger thought she shouldn’t attend, Edwards would order, “Let her do it.” Or plead, “C’mon, just let her do it.” Or whisper conspiratorially, “Just let her do it this one time.”

Ronald Reagan: Reagans reported to use astrology in governing U.S.

WASHINGTON (KNT-Special) – U.S. President Ronald Reagan has made key decisions, including the scheduling of major events, based on advice his wife [Nancy Reagan] got from an astrologer, sources close to the couple say.

The closely guarded secret about the Reagans’ fascination with astrology will be detailed in a few weeks in a new book by former White House chief of staff Donald Regan, the sources said yesterday.

Other sources close to the Reagans confirmed that the first lady has a keen interest in astrology and has used it to shape the president’s schedule and influence decisions. They declined to reveal the California astrologer’s name.

Originally posted at the TM-Free Blog

Today I thought I’d juxtapose two items that recently came to my attention; two items that serve to illustrate the great gulf that can sometimes open up between the undeserved, glowing, fawning, uncritical (add more adjectives here) representation of Transcendental Meditation and the organization that sells it in the press, and the ongoing reality of what that organization is actually in the business of teaching, and what its goals are.

First, there’s the horribly mistitled New York Times article that showed up on the Times’ website this past Friday. In a skeptical world, with editors and reporters who actually worked to dig up the facts and put the claims made for such products into context, there would be something more in this article than a regurgitation of the same old things we’ve seen in TM movement press releases for the past few decades, and quotes from both TM salesmen and specially selected consumers of their product.

The title, “Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?” is one of those leading questions that snake-oil salesmen love, since they can then respond with the answer they’ve already prepared. In fact, that’s the strategy of the TM sales pitch for decades, as founding TM salesman Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once stated during a TM teacher training course: “Every question is a perfect opportunity for the answer we have already prepared.” The New York Times has set the stage, creating a vacuum into which the following stage-managed presentation perfectly fits. A better title might have been, “Vedic theocrats claim introductory technique of their faith curbs heart attacks.” It would have from the beginning clarified who’s making the claim, and the nature of the organization that’s making the claim. Unfortunately my expectations of New York Times reporters aren’t likely to be fulfilled in my lifetime; this is a sad benchmark of how poor the reporting is in one of the nation’s leading newspapers today.

But wait, there’s more! Featured at the top of this slightly rewritten press release masquerading as a New York Times story is an account of a 70 year old woman with high blood pressure who meditates. Clearly, meditating isn’t the only thing she’s been doing about her high blood pressure. See, it says so right there in the article:

Could the mental relaxation have real physiological benefits? For Mrs. Banks, the study suggests, it may have. She has gotten her blood pressure under control, though she still takes medication for it…

I think the cause of her blood pressure being under control is rather obvious, and it isn’t the practice of TM. But that didn’t stop the TM salesmen from putting one over on this reporter, claiming that instead of the scientifically proven benefits of those nasty nasty “pills” from “allopathic” doctors (the words that some TM devotees use for scientifically-validated medications and medicine), the magic words in somebody’s head were the real cause of their lowered blood pressure. The best they can come up with, as a clear statement of TM’s efficacy, is “could have;” those of us familiar with the ineffectiveness of the whole “health” regimen sold by the Transcendental Meditation organization would say, “probably not.” The rest is just a tornado of blowing smoke, leaving the reader with an illusion that TM is proven to be something of value when the evidence, after decades of trying, is just not there.

Mentioned nowhere in this story is a connection, obvious to knowledgeable observers, that takes the sheen off this glowing report alleging TM effectiveness: the lead researcher, and the primary person quoted in this article, works for the same organization that sells the TM program. The reader can certainly tease it out if so motivated, since the researcher, Robert Schneider, is a medical doctor who’s identified as a director of a “research institute” based at Maharishi Institute of Management. But not everybody knows that “Maharishi” is the founder of the organization that sells the TM program, and that should have been made clear to readers. Also evident is another of the TM movement’s habits, of giving grandiose institutional names to various elements of TM promotions and assigning “directors” to them. While its name may create the impression that the “Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention” is a large imposing white-columned building full of top-notch scientists working on the latest cutting-edge discoveries in their fields, the fact is that this “Institute” is probably just Schneider and a few associates, and the only means of “prevention” they’re researching, or even the least bit interested in, are those things that are part of the faith-based, allegedly “Vedic” stable of “Maharishi” branded products and services.

Meanwhile, as the TM organization, with yet another uncritical promotional piece successfully placed with a prominent newspaper, makes another mark on its proverbial bedpost, there’s the reality of what the less-obvious structure of this organization is up to. But here, the story is nowhere near as simple to tell. It’s full of websites and e-mails full of language that makes the eyes of most readers glaze over; a lot of it is completely incomprehensible. Perhaps, then, a little explanation of what I think is happening here, and what the organization can be likened to, is in order, which can be summarized in a few sentences:

The Transcendental Meditation organization is a millenarian movement. That is, the main core belief of the organization centers on its particular concept of a future transformation of society and the planet.

While many people automatically assume that such movements center around Christian concepts of the “end-times” or similar ideas, movements based on other theologies, and other scriptural works, also exist. I would suggest that the underlying notion of massive social change put forward by the TM movement to various degrees in past decades finds a resonance, and a willing audience, in American culture because the idea of some future mass transformation is so common in religious culture here, and because of that, the idea is not automatically seen as strange or out-of-bounds.

The Transcendental Meditation organization is a Vedic revivalist religious movement. Similar to many other millenarian movements, it seeks to remake the world in its own image, based upon its contemporary interpretation of ancient scriptures. There is, of course, no previous thing to be “revived” since that is merely a myth of a glorious past; as with other such movements, the notion that all the movement is actually doing is putting things back to how they once were can be a motivator for some to work toward the movement’s goals.

The organization works toward transforming all aspects of society so that society reflects its values, language, symbols and rituals. The TM movement thus has always had various subgroups seeking to gain entry into various fields; the “Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention” I pointed out above is one such subgroup focusing on medicine. It has, through other small front groups, focused on other areas such as law, athletics, education, psychology and neuroscience, and of course it once sought direct involvement in government through its establishment of Natural Law Parties in a number of Western countries.

Perhaps the most audacious, or ridiculous, example of how the TM movement today is clearly a millenarian Vedic revivalist movement is its proposal that all existing cities be torn down and reconstructed to its proprietary designs based upon its version of Vedic architectural standards. Yes, it’s true, they want to tranform the world so much that, given the opportunity, they’d probably bulldoze your house.

The Transcendental Meditation program is the point of first contact between this millenarian religious movement and the outside world, serving to recruit individuals to perpetuate the movement. Of course, if you were to walk up to someone and invite them to join a movement based on scriptures from some other part of the world, in a dead language that is certainly not their own, and that you wanted them to help take over and reconstruct everything, there would be very few takers. Instead, Transcendental Meditation is the means by which recruits are eventually introduced to all those things, and also, how the organization attempts to gain legitimacy in the surrounding culture. It is a product with a certain amount of value and utility in Western culture – that is, if the claims made for its benefits could be shown to be based upon something a bit more substantial than “the relaxation response” and the placebo effect.

The process by which an initiate learns TM includes some references to those religious and millenarian sorts of things, but they’re couched in different terms. The Vedas are mentioned in passing as some vague source of where the knowledge of meditation came from, and the tradition in which TM’s founder learned about meditation. The idea of a greater movement is introduced through references to “world peace” that, according to the movement, would result if only enough people meditated. Who could be against a movement that’s working toward world peace? But that’s merely a vehicle to eventually introduce the more esoteric parts of the TM belief system that certainly aren’t going to be mentioned to a reporter writing about the alleged personal benefits of the movement’s flagship product.

Because of this clear separation between inner and outer doctrine, any one person who starts the TM program may never come face-to-face with the weirdness and religiosity of the organization’s belief system. Depending on how and where any one individual is initiated, and the degree to which they become involved in any of the other programs offered – advanced lectures, residence courses, and the like – such details may simply slip by in the torrent of information included in the process of learning TM. While many who learn TM may never have any further involvement with the organization, a few people will devote a significant portion of their lives to it, and it is those people on whom the movement will rely to perpetuate itself.

The TM movement, like many other movements of its kind, has always piggybacked on other trends in popular culture to legitimize and promote itself, most famously through its association with the Beatles. Today, that piggybacking continues in other ways, as with the example above where TM is styled as some kind of “alternative” offering in the healthcare field. Other contemporary attempts by the organization include the repositioning of its university as a center for learning in the fields of sustainable living, organic agriculture, and renewable energy. Again, the clearly religious and devotional aspects that are easily findable by various means on the Internet, and have long been discussed by those previously involved, are kept in the background if they are generally visible at all.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the e-mail that John Knapp posted here earlier today. I’ve extracted one paragraph, and bolded and italicized some parts of it in the light of the points I’ve just discussed.

The spiritual counterpart for your country lies in India. Each country is connected to one of the twelve jyotir lingas in India, the seat of Shiva, the eternal silence at the basis of creation. Reviving the age-old knowledge about the spiritual connection of every country with the Jyotirlingas in India and the creation of 48 Brahmananda Saraswati Nagars is Maharishi¹s greatest gift for humanity. The following website gives you more information about Maharishi’s global plan to transform every country into a Vedic country:

So there it is in their own words: “Reviving the age-old knowledge” as part of a “global plan to transform every country into a Vedic country.” The TM organization is a millenarian religious cult, and that’s just from taking their own words at face value. There’s this whole other world in the organization that teaches TM, and it’s probably not anything like most people who read one of these recent newspaper articles about TM might expect.

A young Maharishi Mahesh Yogi posing with an unidentified Shiva lingam. Photo from maharishiphotos.com

Perhaps the weirdest part of this, to Western sensibilities, are the references to “jyotir lingas.” I’d written last year in some detail about how the movement’s fascination with such lingas was involved in a since-abandoned project to immediately build “Maharishi Towers of Invincibility” around the world, including one in the Washington DC area. Simply put, a lingam is a symbol for the worship of the Hindu deity Shiva; the Jyotir linga are 12 temples in India where Shiva is worshipped. While the TM organization attempts to ascribe a scientific motivation for these references to deities, there is no way that a lingam, and the references to the Jyotir linga, can be taken in anything other than a religious context. In recent years an image of a lingam has been broadcast between programs on the Maharishi Channel, the movement’s worldwide television channel.

Taken together, these references to religious symbols and places of worship, and the announced intent of the TM organization to “transform every country into a Vedic country” clearly indicate that what is being proposed is some kind of theocracy, where every aspect of life is lived in accordance to a particular interpretation of Vedic scripture. While some may assume that the movement’s previous methods of getting as many people as possible to meditate would cause some kind of spontaneous transformation of society into one conforming to Vedic standards, the means or the specifics are quite irrelevant.

What I want to know is, why is an organization that clearly and ultimately wants to bring the entire planet into compliance with its religious beliefs getting free and unquestioning promotional assistance from the New York Times and all sorts of other media outlets?

Here’s what I want to see. I want to see some enterprising reporter out there go do some digging, spending a little time and energy getting fluent in the subject, and eventually writing about how all those people you thought were laid-back former hippies now want to bulldoze the planet and remake every aspect of it conform to their crazy ideas, based on scriptures and beliefs which are clearly religious in nature.

Anything would be better than yet another rehash in print of the same old claims that the movement’s been trying to make stick for over three decades now.

baltimore sun selfserviceadvertising-1-DassDIY234This is fascinating. The Baltimore Sun now allows anyone to advertise on their website. And it’s absolutely free!

All you need to do is insert your ad in any comment thread, and it’ll stay there forever.

Every single story I’ve read on their website over the past week or so has at least one ad in the comments promoting a Chinese website selling dubious brand-name clothing, handbags and shoes. In many cases there are no other comments!

Is it still “spam” when the site’s management is doing absolutely nothing to squelch this use of their website? The only thing I can gather from their inaction is that it must be okay.

If they act like the value of space on their website is so low that they let it fill up with crap (whether that be the comments or the spam), why should anyone spend money to advertise on it?

EDIT: It’s gone, but this is the first time I’ve noticed anyone cleaning up.

In a comment thread over at the TM-Free Blog, where I’m a contributor, a reader recently quoted Sam Harris, from his book, “The End of Faith:”

“A nuclear war between India and Pakistan seems almost inevitable, given what most Indians and Pakistanis believe about the afterlife.”

Quite possibly the scariest thing I have ever read.

That’s because Harris wants you to be scared. It sells his books.

The problem I have with Harris is certainly not his atheism (which I share). The problem is that he can write most of a book that I would otherwise largely agree with, and then come along and play the American exceptionalist game, which is just a slightly modified rehash of imperialistic, colonial rhetoric in which those brown savages elsewhere on the planet must be tamed and placed under an appropriate boot heel. He used similar tactics in the one book of his that I read, “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

Equating the governments of India and Pakistan with rioting mobs there is part of the slight-of-hand Harris uses. I find it disgusting.

Worse, Harris ignores the plain fact that his own country, the United States, has done very much the same thing, if not much worse given the comparative scale: armed itself with nuclear weapons enough to wipe out the planet several times over, in an “arms race” and “cold war” with the Soviets that in the end was rather pointless as it became a race to see whose system would be bankrupted first. With all those decades filled with militant rhetoric, “mutually assured destruction” and incidents like the Cuban missile crisis (how well is that history taught to young people today?), nuclear war was not inevitable as we’re still able to sit here and talk about it.

He also ignores the obvious, that for eight years the U.S. President was largely beholden to religious interests, largely of the Pentecostal signs and wonders and prophecy variety, while controlling some thousands of nuclear weapons that could have been accurately delivered on a few minutes’ notice. A portion of that arsenal still exists and is still very much active, and the same is true of that of the former Soviet Union.

For all the rhetoric and hardware, in reality the “inevitability” of nuclear war is not as great as Harris would like us to believe, regardless of the religiosity of those in power, perhaps because the tendency toward suicidal action is really not that great. The big problem, as I see it, is the slow grinding away at knowledge and education by the actions of religious groups over time, which is a process that’s well under way here in the United States. Harris would do better to address that immediate problem rather than manufacture and/or exaggerate external threats to the U.S. in the same way religious factions regularly do here. He should also be wary of always taking the statements of those he considers adversaries at face value.

There are some days when I think it should be obvious, that the whole subject of “meditation” has been pretty much exhausted and is now entirely the realm of quacks and snake-oil salesmen. But, to continue the theme of worthless corporate media that I was working with in the last post here, “meditation” is one of those background puff-piece staples of the media, kind of like how every single PETA stunt or press release will get prominent reporting all over, no matter how gross, nonsensical or just plain stupid.

“Meditation,” of course, could mean almost anything. In a lot of cases, I think it’s just a means by which people get permission to take a break from all the things they think are more important in their lives, if only just to take a short nap, or even close their eyes for a bit.

Certainly “Transcendental Meditation®,” the form of meditation I’m personally most familiar with, sometimes seems to be nothing more than a means by which an exotic authority figure plays the role of cosmic daddy and tells his charges to go take a nap twice a day. It might not be just a nap, with all the fabricated exotica of mantras and mental states and all the rest of that baggage. But it seems to me that somewhere around the core of what TM is about is both the exercise of that kind of authority, and the narcissism of the meditator, who often believes that whatever they’re doing makes them healthy, pure and special. With that narcissistic specialness, and the mystique that meditation still seems to carry in Western culture, comes the need to inappropriately proselytize and advertise whatever they’re doing between their ears to the outside world.

Tonight someone tried to post a comment on my previous blog entry. As you can see, I’d made no mention of meditation, breathing exercises, blood pressure, or any of those topics; it was about as far away from that as I could get. The last time I wrote about meditation here was last May! But that didn’t stop the commenter from attempting to post the entirety of a recent New York Times article to the comment thread, without a link to the source. The article, “Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?” is the latest in a very long string of promotional pieces that have appeared in the Western press over the last few decades. The subject, as usual, is a research study or two that supposedly supports the claim that Transcendental Meditation® provides unique benefits.

The problem with these claims is that these research studies inevitably involve individuals from the TM movement’s university, the Maharishi University of Management. Every time I see one of these stories go by, I’m reminded of what a TM movement lawyer, Stephen Druker, once told me in person thirty years ago:

We want to make sure that they’re going to protect the integrity of our subjects, because one’s in a very delicate state when one is practicing these. And also that they’ve designed the experiment so that they won’t disturb the meditative state and test something other than what they’re supposed to test. But once the experiment is designed properly, we’re all for as we’ve been for every other phase of the TM program, extensive scientific research.

The research he was talking about at the time was on the TM movement’s claims that they were teaching a method by which people could levitate at will, but what he said, I think, applies to all research in which the TM organization is involved. What does “test something other than what they’re supposed to test” actually mean in practice? I take it to mean that researchers aren’t allowed to design a study that might in the end cast TM in a negative light, or that might even show that TM isn’t everything its promoters say it is.

This particular New York Times article, which unlike a lot of articles on the subject does point out that the researcher quoted in the article is associated with the Maharishi University of Management, still avoids pointing out the obvious: the researcher is a promoter of the very product he’s researching! He himself has been a  meditator for almost two decades, probably three! He is not in any way an objective observer! Here he can be seen in the TM movement’s trademarked beige suit, sporting  the TM movement’s trademarked male-pattern-baldness haircut!

So with that in mind, and understanding that when I see reference to yet another fine batch of in-house TM research in the press, I know I’m looking at a form of spam; spam that’s getting reported all over because the average reporter seems incapable of digging up the obvious fact that the TM organization has been trying to make these sorts of claims stick since the early 1970′s. The claims don’t stick because whatever effect they’re claiming exists is down in the noise, and all the studies claiming such effects almost always involve long-term TM devotees, some of whom have likewise been banging their heads against this wall since the early 1970′s.

So, let’s see. I’m looking at an attempted comment which is clearly, technically, a copyright violation, the full text, beginning to end, of a NYT article; the commenter couldn’t be bothered to simply excerpt the story and provide a link; it’s a comment that’s completely off-topic relative to the entry it’s attached to; and the content is yet another article I’ve seen a hundred times or more. If the commenter thought it was so important that I see yet another instance of the TM organization successfully spamming the media PETA-style, they could have e-mailed me. My e-mail address is in the obvious place if you really have the burning need to serenade me with more of the same-old, same-old.

What’s this? The commenter has signed it with a valid name and e-mail address, so off to Google we go, where I find a reference to the commenter, identified as a “retired VP of Microsoft.” The sender’s IP maps to Bellevue, Washington. I do believe we have a match.

I normally don’t reply to such attempts, but tonight was an exception.

Subject: Re: [Mike Doughney] Please moderate: "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again"
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 2009 22:22:38 -0500
From: Mike Doughney
To: minyeesr@gmail.com

Somehow I would have thought a retired VP of Microsoft would know better
than to try to post off-topic spam to a blog comment thread. Then again,
maybe that explains a lot about the state of the web today. Then again,
maybe TM just helps you lose your mind. In any case, your submission is
being ignored.

WordPress wrote:
> A new comment on the post #206 "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again" is waiting for your approval
> http://www.mikedoughney.com/2009/11/22/wtop-radios-drinking-out-of-the-toilet-bowl-again/
> Author : Min Yee (IP: , c-76-22-63-203.hsd1.wa.comcast.net)
> E-mail : minyeesr@gmail.com
> URL : http://none
> Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=
> Comment:
> NOVEMBER 20, 2009, 12:47 PM
> Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?
> Richard Patterson for The New York Times Recent research suggests transcendental meditation may be good for the heart.
> When Julia Banks was almost 70, she took up transcendental meditation. She had clogged arteries, high blood pressure and too much weight around the middle, and she enrolled in a clinical trial testing the benefits of meditation.

Seconds later, I get a reply:

Subject: Re: [Mike Doughney] Please moderate: "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again"
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 2009 19:28:57 -0800
From: Min Yee
To: Mike Doughney

I've not done TM but yoga breathing techniques have helped.
And it has brought down my high blood pressures.
Anyways, its your website.



No mention of having spammed, no attempt at an apology, no nothing other than “Look at me! I do breathing exercises and my blood pressure went down! Ain’t I special! I don’t even do TM!”

So I hope you’ll cut me a little slack if my frequent dismissal of all things related to “meditation” gets under your skin. Incidents like this just reinforce my impression that meditation tends to be the realm of the clueless and socially inept. Even among former vice-presidents at Microsoft. Maybe that explains Windows Vista. Or not.

This past Saturday afternoon I was reminded again why I haven’t been listening to this station for a while.

For the past year I’ve actively avoided listening to this station; for those of you who aren’t Washington DC locals, it’s the all-news station. I finally stopped listening almost completely about a year ago, after the voter passage of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state constitution to eliminate all possibility of the recognition of same-sex marriage there.

The Mormon Church openly supported this amendment to the California Constitution by sending a letter supporting the measure to be read before all church congregations. The Church also owns WTOP as well as other broadcast stations. It is one of the ways in which it seeks to legitimize its role in local communities; by owning prominent media outlets, the Church benefits by avoiding the appearance of insularity, or as I’ve once heard it put, of appearing to be “the great American religious cult.”

But it wasn’t just this one episode of the Mormon Church, the station’s owners, issuing political dicta that caused me to avoid listening to this station. Time after time, all of the stories I’d hear I’d already read online earlier that day. There was also this “national security correspondent” I’d hear from time to time, who could always be counted on to faithfully regurgitate the paranoid imaginings of the American insecurity of the day. There’s also the fact that this station runs the rants of Cal Thomas, a prominent evangelical wingnut, during morning drive time every weekday. Thomas is usually heard on stations like this one, not on major-market secular all-news stations, and one of his other roles is as a fill-in host on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program.

All I really used WTOP for was traffic reports, and now I have two other options – looking at Google Maps before I leave the house, or satellite radio, through which I wouldn’t even have to wait as long for the next report.

So for the past year my total listening time to WTOP Radio probably totals less than an hour, during times when it just couldn’t be avoided. Yesterday I was out running errands and it was one of those times, when I’d had to remove the satellite radio from the car I was using. I punched up the button for WTOP on two occasions an hour or two apart. Keeping in mind that I’m working from memory, here’s what I heard.

The first time I heard a reporter going on at length about “Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Not Iran’s alleged or suspected nuclear weapons program, which is the way this subject is generally reported, even in the Associated Press stories on WTOP’s own website. No, the existence of this alleged “nuclear weapons program,” in the context of an imminent threat that might justify bombing Iran, was reported as undisputed fact.

The second time I heard a teaser that went something like this: “Coming up next, John McCain says political correctness is to blame for the massacre at Fort Hood. WTOP news time…”

Who the hell cares what John McCain has to say, particularly when it’s a matter of trying to come up with a rationale for mass murder. Is that a subject on which he’s some kind of knowledgeable authority?

The fact of the matter is that, if I turn on this station for just a few minutes of the day and I find that most of what I’m hearing has basically zero value, I’m not going to listen.

Anyone can play stenographer, finding somebody somewhere that said some thing and putting it on the air as if it’s fact. I expect something better. I don’t need “journalists” to carefully assemble two equal piles of opposing views and call them equal, when clearly one is a pile of shit (generally, lies and propaganda that defend the indefensible) and the other is not.  I can do without the nonsense and the inside-the-beltway militaristic spin.

I’ll be sure to put the satellite radio back in my car soon.

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