Friday, May 20, 2022

Hate is not a mental illness? It sure as heck is not a sign of mental health

This poster is popping up all over my Facebook feed the last couple of days. The logo on the poster suggests that it was put out by Mental Health America, an orginazation that is, according to its website, "the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all."

And, from what I can see, everyone who has posted it garners lots of "likes" and even "loves." Comments to these posts tend to be of the "Amen" variety.

But I'm really not so sure.

I completely and totally agree that "mental illness" can never be a justification for the murder of innocent grocery shoppers, such as happened in Buffalo this past Saturday. It is certainly not any sort of excuse.

Legally, it may be a defense to the crimes for which the shooter now stands charged. But I have no opinion on the viability of the insanity defense in this case. Anyway, whether or not the Buffalo shooter is legally insane probably just bears on the question of where the shooter spends the rest of his life, whether in a mental institution or a jail.

But hate is not a mental illness? Before last weekend's massacre, the Buffalo shooter apparently posted rambling screeds online, spewing hatred of Blacks, of Jews, of large corporations. Surely irrational hatred of various groups is not normal. Surely we have not yet sunk that low.

And -- even if you are one of those who thinks that those with whom you disagree -- you know, the other half of the country? -- are motivated by irrational, unfounded group hatreds -- even you must admit that most of these -- the vast majority of these -- do not act on their irrational racist beliefs by acquiring semi-automatic weapons and body armor and searching for and shooting up a 'soft target' like a grocery store.

The unreasoning, unyielding hatred of persons for merely being born Black -- or Jewish -- or Taiwanese (the victims in a California church shooting last Sunday) -- is not normal. It's not healthy. It may not itself be a mental illness.

But it sure is a symptom.

In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, Lt. Cable sings "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," a song that argues racial and ethnic hatreds are not hard-wired in children, but have to be learned. Someone has to teach a child to hate.

I don't pretend to know where the Buffalo shooter learned to hate as he did. But I can be pretty sure it was not an official part of his school curriculum growing up. I am equally sure that there are dark corners of the Internet, equally accessible to you and me as well as the Buffalo shooter, in which all manner of hatreds can be sampled. But why does it take such deep root, and produce such lethal fruit, in the case of the Buffalo shooter, when so many of us can ignore and dismiss it for the garbage it is?

Hate may not be mental illness, no more than a skin rash is chickenpox. But that rash may suggest the presence of chickenpox, and unreasoning hatreds may likewise suggest the presence of mental illness.

The alternative is too chilling to contemplate.

Monday, May 16, 2022

When a play camcorder is not a play camcorder

Those of you old enough to find this site on your own will no doubt recognize the object pictured above as a toy camcorder, complete with a toy cassette.

This was not one of my kids' toys when they were growing up; at least, I don't remember it. I suspect it came from the Abuela Collection: When she passed we brought over a lot of the toys she had available in her rec room for visiting grandkids and great-grandkids.

Whatever its true provenance, the object is a favorite among my younger grandkids.

But it isn't always a camcorder. Which is understandable, inasmuch as none of them have actually seen a real camcorder. I suppose it's remarkable that some of them recognize that it is some sort of camera at all -- usually more like a Polaroid than a camcorder, though: One of the kids will take my picture by pressing the big yellow button that opens the cassette door and, voila, there is my picture. (I don't really look that much like Cookie Monster, but I always agree that it is a good likeness.)

The other day, my three-year old granddaughter (Grandchild No. 8) decided that this object was not any sort of camera... but that gets ahead of the story.

Let me back up, just a bit.

Middle Son and his wife Margaret have been over quite a bit recently, which is nice.

But the reason for the increased frequency of their visits is not so nice. At least, not so nice for Long Suffering Spouse and me.

Margaret has accepted a transfer to Detroit. She works for one of the Big 4 accounting firms. In my day, it was the Big 8. I remember when it was the Big 6, too. But, as I understand it, it's down to four now.

Anyway, she's in line to be a partner in the firm -- but there is no partnership slot available for her in her tax specialty in the Chicago office. There are opportunities in San Francisco, Miami, and Detroit. Middle Son and Margaret, both CPAs, promptly vetoed San Franciso (no one was offering a $5 million housing allowance, they explained, and they'd need at least that much to purchase a home similar to their far less pricey home just in the next parish). I might have considered Miami for a bit, if I were in their shoes, but they claimed to be uninterested in that possibility, too. They have no connections there.

But Detroit was another story. Margaret grew up in Michigan, not far from Detroit, and she has lots of family in the area. And Middle Son initially had visions of getting a gigantic house in the Detroit area with the proceeds of the sale of his Chicago-area home.

And then he started looking.

Yes, there are now working farms in Detroit, but housing costs in the more desireable suburbs are at least comparable to anything around here.

Now that their house is up for sale, they have noticed it is better to be away from the premises when it is shown -- and they find it is much easier to keep the house ready to be shown if they keep their three children (4-year old Grandchild No. 5, one-year old Grandchild No. 10, and the aforementioned 3-year old, Grandchild No. 8) out of the house as much as possible.

So we're seeing a lot of them, these days, and we are doing our best to be grown-up about it, and supportive, and encouraging, and helpful... even though it also makes us very sad.

Middle Son was not here on this particular visit a week or so ago; he's working on an MBA now, too, and he was doing something in connection with that. (What's that list of most-stressful life events again? I think he's got most of them currently ongoing.)

But Margaret and Long Suffering Spouse were conversing in the living room. Grandchild No. 10 was clinging to his mother. We'll refer to her as Mom now, for the duration. Grandchild No. 5 had some toys in which she was very engaged. Grandchild No. 8 seemed likewise engaged, I thought, as I surveyed the peaceful domestic scene from the comfort of a recliner.

I must have looked too comfortable for Grandchild No. 8's tastes. Perhaps she thought I might doze off. (I do that, now and then.) In any event, Grandchild No. 8 announced that she was going grocery shopping and, moreover, I would go with her.

I suggested that we would drive -- I was already seated, of course -- but this suggestion was rejected.

No, Grandchild No. 8 announced, we will go to the grocery store and, wherever that might be, it was not in the living room. I got up as ordered.

Grandchild No. 8 has a very vivid imagination. My only question about her is which is better -- her imagination or her vocabulary? When she starts imagining things, she tends to supply all the dialog -- hers and anyone else who participates. And she does not always appreciate improvisation: If she has given me a line, I must recite it as directed.

So she took my hand and started leading me around the house. The grocery store was not in the dining room. It was not in the old den either. But, as we went into the new den, and she saw the Sesame Street camcorder sitting on the kitchen table there, she announced that we had arrived.

The Sesame Street camcorder turned out to be an apple dispenser -- her words -- did I mention she has a great vocabulary? -- and it turned out we needed an apple.

But how to make it dispense apples? Grandchild No. 8 -- who knows perfectly well what button to push to open the cassette door -- insisted on pushing every other button first. "How are we going to get our apple from this dispenser?" she asked with every successive button-push.

Let's try the green one, she said. No, not that one.

Let's try the blue one. No, not that one either....

Finally, having exhausted all other options, she pressed the big yellow button. The cassette door opened -- and out popped the apple.

Hooray! We have our apple!

Now you may think that our apple looked suspiciously like a Cookie Monster videotape. But you are not 3-years old. That was an apple, right enough.

Well, I inquired hopefully, now that we have gotten our apple, shouldn't we go back to the living room and tell Mom and Grammy about our shopping trip? (And, maybe, allow Grampy to take his place again in the recliner?)

Grandchild No. 8 saw right through that one.

No, she said. We have more groceries to get. We need an orange.

"Where will we go for that?" I asked, mostly because I, too, am not 3-years old and don't remember how these things work.

Grandchild No. 8 popped the cassette back in the camcorder. The camcorder/apple dispenser at once became a camcorder/orange dispenser.

And, funny thing, as smart as this child is, she could not remember which button to push to get the orange out! We went through each button again, one by one, before -- finally -- on the last possible try -- the orange popped out.

Said orange did bear an uncanny resemblance to the apple we'd so recently acquired but, it turns out, there was a crucial difference: This orange could fly! And it started flying away immediately.

What could we do but chase it?

We chased it into the kitchen, but it was too fast for us. We chased it into the dining room but we could not catch it. We chased it into the living room where Mom and Grammy looked up from their conversation to inquire what the heck we were doing. I explained as best I could -- but there was no time to dawdle. We had to catch that orange before it got out the front door.

And we did. We wrestled that runaway orange back to earth on the landing going upstairs. What an exhausting grocery trip! I was now standing next to the recliner and I could hear it call my name -- but Grandchild No. 8 said we were not yet done shopping. We needed a banana.

And back we went to the camcorder/banana dispenser.

Once again, we had to press every single button except the one that would give us our banana. I challenged Grandchild No. 8 about this, pointing out that she has a tremendous memory and surely she could remember which button to push without trying all the wrong ones first.

But that was one of those improvisations of which Grandchild No. 8 does not approve. We kept pushing buttons.

Let's try the green one, she said again. No, not that one.

Let's try the blue one. No, not that one either....

Finally, on the last possible try, the banana popped out! Hooray!

Admittedly, this banana looked exactly like the orange and the apple but -- what was more important -- this banana behaved just like our wayward orange: It flew away making a beeline for the front door.

We gave chase, of course, but the flying banana got through the kitchen and the dining room and into the living room again. Mom and Grammy weren't quite as suprised this time when we came rushing in, but they offered no assistance either. We had to use our last burst of speed to capture that banana in the exact same place where we'd run that runaway orange to ground.

Surely by now we must be done with our shopping, right?


We also needed a pear.

Well, I told Grandchild No. 8, as she began pushing every button but the right one on the newly repurposed camcorder/pear dispenser, this had better not be a flying pear. I'd had quite enough of flying produce for one day, thank you.

Grandchild No. 8 would make no promises. You never know, she said philosophically as, for the fourth time now, the green button did not open the dispenser. And the blue button did not open the dispenser. And so on.

But, finally, we reached the last possible button.

And guess what?

The pear popped out -- and promptly flew away!

Who would ever have expected that?

OK, admittedly, I was a little suspicious that this might happen -- but it did me no good. Even though I was prepared for this eventuality, the pear got through the kitchen and dining room and into the living room, just like the banana and the orange, before we could capture it, in the same place where we'd snagged the other flying fruits, seconds away from their getting out the door.

I think Grandchild No. 8 might have had a longer shopping list, but by this time Mom had received a text from the Realtor. The coast was clear. The family could return home.

And so they did.