Monday, June 10, 2019

Raised Professionally

Andrew Cunanan never had a chance.

Raised by a deranged, abusive father and a feckless mother, Cunanan was, no doubt, going to turn out badly.  And, as brilliantly recounted in the second season of FX’s true crime anthology, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” he ended up murdering Versace, as well as Jeff Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, and William Reese.  Clearly, Modesto “Pete” Cunanan, Andrew’s father, and Mary Anne Schillaci, his mother, had no business having children.

The thing is, one doesn’t have to raise a serial killer to be an inadequate parent.  The horrifying statistics on child hunger, child abuse, and child sexual abuse clearly demonstrate that as much as most people consider (somewhat irrationally, in my view) that having and raising children is a necessary, even obligatory, part of life, a shocking percentage of us are either unqualified, incapable (for financial, emotional, or other reasons) or unwilling to do the things necessary to raise children to be happy, well-adjusted adults.

Furthermore, raising children prevents adults (women in particular) from reaching their potential, not only with regard to their careers, but as human beings.  Children wreak havoc with relationships. And if it weren’t demanding enough to raise healthy children, many parents, through no fault of their own, are faced with the challenge of raising children with diseases or genetic conditions that  render them helpless to ever fend for themselves. Good parents make all sorts of compromises, sacrifices and allowances in order to provide children with what they need.  But many (if not most) parents don’t, resulting in neglected children, disturbed adults, and all sorts of mayhem.

I know what you’re thinking.  Raising children doesn’t prevent parents from reaching their potential; in fact, the opposite is true: raising children is the ultimate human endeavor, and nothing fulfills people more that parenting.  Sorry, I’m not buying it. I’m a parent, and I love my children, but, by any objective standard, humans in general are doing a horrible job of raising their own offspring.  If it were so fulfilling, we would be, in the aggregate, doing a better job.

Of course, there are many people in the world that are amply qualified, willing and able to raise children, and some of them actually do so, as parents themselves, or as proxies for parents who delegate some, or most, of the parenting.  What if, instead of allowing people to spew out children willy nilly, whether qualified to raise them or not, we restrict parenting to those exceptionally qualified for it?

Imagine a place where…

The word “parent” has no meaning.  All children are born in specialized institutions.  Their care, from conception to adulthood, is handled by specialists, specifically trained for their role at each stage of the child’s development.  “Gestation” is a career. So are infant care, toddler care, child care and adolescent care, along with the appropriate education every step of the way. And yes, this includes wet nursing, since “there is no medical reason why women should not lactate indefinitely or feed more than one child simultaneously” (Dr. Gabrielle Palmer, quoted by Wikipedia).

OK, let’s start from the beginning.  How are the babies conceived? During the “adolescent” stage, the children's education obviously includes topics dealing with sexuality.  During this period, eggs are harvested from each young woman, and each young man contributes sperm. There are double-blind procedures in place so that the donors are in no way associated with their donations.  Random samples are picked to be combined in-vitro, and presto! Gestation begins, handled by women who have chosen to carry babies to term as their career.  And so it continues; the children are cared for and educated at every stage of their lives by qualified, caring professionals.  

These professionals are people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to caring for, educating and, yes, loving children.  Many people would take issue with my contention that someone other than a biological parent can give a child the same love and tenderness, but, again, I’m not buying it.  Examples abound: adoptive parents, nannies, foster parents, nurses, social workers, etc. The difference is that these professionals are caring for children because that’s what they want to do.  They are fulfilling what they perceive to be their calling.

Shortly after each adolescent makes their “donation,” they are sterilized.  They have provided their contribution to species procreation, and can now complete the last stages of their education, and, indeed, the rest of their lives, unencumbered by worries of unwanted pregnancies.  Once they complete their college education they are inserted into the adult world, ready to lead happy, fulfilling, productive lives. No compromises, sacrifices or allowances. No children around for predators to abuse.  No parental responsibility, no parental guilt. Each adult is responsible for themselves, no one else. People can choose to share their lives with a partner, but if things don’t work out they will not have to “soldier on” for the children’s sake.  No need for anyone to care for aging parents either; specialized institutions would exist for that, just as they do today, except nobody would feel guilty about their parents being there, since nobody is anybody’s parent.

According to the venerable Childhelp, this is the world we live in today:

Every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children (a referral can include multiple children).

The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.

A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.

The world I describe will sound utopian to some, dystopian to others.  But can it possibly be any worse?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Better to Forget

I can’t help it.  I grew up in the 1970’s.

Whenever I hear a German accent, my first thought is, whoa, bad guys.  Totally unfair, for sure, but so many of the movies I grew up watching featured German villains that the accent has lots of baggage.  Not only were there plenty of war movies, like Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and Victory, but many more of all sorts of genres featured Nazi villains, like The Boys from Brazil, and Sophie’s Choice.

As Paul Attanasio wrote for The Washington Post in 1985:

Over the years, the German has become etched in our imagination as a signifier of pure evil. "It's become a convention," says screenwriter David Freeman. "In the Elizabethan theater, a character would come out with a kind of mask on his face -- that would mean he was invisible, and everyone in the audience accepted it. We've done that to the Nazis."

No question, Nazis make great villains, and, obviously, justifiably so.  Their incarceration and systematic murder of millions of innocent people stands out as one of the most horrific chapters in human history, and the extent to which Germans are self-conscious about it is evidenced by the existence of a German word, “vergangenheitsbew√§ltigung,” which “refers to embarrassment about and often remorse for Germans' complicity in the war crimes of the Wehrmacht, Holocaust, and related events of the early and mid-20th century, including World War II.”

But the Germans are hardly alone in having embarrassing chapters in their history.  Please consider this:

The first English settlement in North America was founded in 1607, on the banks of the James River, in what is now Virginia.  Just twelve years later, in 1619, slavery began in America, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves to the Jamestown settlement.  Slavery didn’t end in the U.S. until 1863, when President Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  So, for 244 years, innocent people were captured in Africa and brought to North America as property. As chattel. For 244 years.  After slavery was abolished, these innocent people went from being slaves to being officially considered second class citizens and, unofficially, subject to horrible abuse.  From emancipation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these innocent people were legally discriminated against.  Legally.  For a century.

[As an aside, we don’t see as much embarrassment and remorse about this in our country as we should.  In fact, there’s controversy regarding monuments to and symbols of the Confederacy.  Controversy, meaning there are people who have no problem with those monuments and symbols.  Imagine if there were people in Germany favoring the display of Nazi symbols, which would be quite equivalent, in my book.  But that is a topic for a whole other essay.]
Let’s go on to consider another matter:

The indigenous people of what is now the United States are thought to have arrived here approximately 15,000 years ago.  And they were doing generally well. Until the European colonization of the Americas, that is, which began in the 1400s. After that “their population declined precipitously mainly due to introduced diseases as well as warfare, territorial confiscation and slavery.”

When you read “introduced diseases,” I’m sure you assumed the Native Americans got sick because their immune systems were not equipped to handle the diseases brought to their home by the Europeans.  And you would be right. But what you may not have thought of is that  (emphasis mine):

… there are a number of documented cases where diseases were deliberately spread among Native Americans as a form of biological warfare. The most well-known example occurred in 1763, when Sir Jeffery Amherst, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces of the British Army, wrote praising the use of smallpox-infected blankets to "extirpate" the Indian race.

Perhaps the best way to succinctly describe the effect the arrival of the Europeans had on the Native Americans is to simply state that, although estimates vary widely, it is thought that approximately 10 million pre-Columbian Native Americans lived in what is today the United States of America, but by 1890 the Native population had declined to 250,000.  

So, the Europeans arrived in North America and decimated the continent’s innocent indigenous people.  They then abducted millions of other innocent people from another continent and brought them here as slaves.  

Obviously I could go on ad nauseum.  There is probably no civilization on the planet that can look back on its history without cringing at some of the chapters.  Yet we are constantly reminded that we must remember.  Remember the Holocaust.  Remember the past.  Because, of course, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

I don’t think so.

It seems that we are condemned to repeat the past whether or not we remember it.  Remembering the past makes us understand that we, as a species, have done horrible things to each other, but it doesn’t stop us from continuing to do those horrible things, over and over again.  The problem is not that we don’t remember the past. The problem is that remembering it just shows us who we are, but doesn’t give us the power to change who we are.

Maybe the answer is the opposite.  Maybe the answer is to forget. Maybe If we all wake up tomorrow morning knowing nothing of the past, we would mistake ourselves for a better species, and finally start acting like one.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An Open Letter to Derek Jeter

March 30, 2019

Mr. Derek S. Jeter
Chief Executive Officer
Miami Marlins
501 Marlins Way
Miami, FL 33125

Dear Mr. Jeter,

I write this as someone who has attended Marlins games since the very first one in 1993, and  wants, very much, for you to succeed in making the Marlins a successful, sustainable baseball franchise.  I’m all in with your rebuilding strategy, and look forward to seeing it develop. In the meantime, though, I have some constructive criticism (or “feedback,” in today’s corporate-speak) regarding ballpark operations.

I realize that you feel that reaching the Latin market in general, and the Cuban market in particular, are keys to the success of the Miami Marlins.  I don’t dispute that. What I do take issue with, though, is the way in which you are attempting to reach those markets.  Bilingual slogans and hashtags (#OurColores, #JuntosMiami, Party en el Parque, etc.).  Sixth inning “cafecito.”  Obscenely loud salsa bands walking around the concourse.  All of those things are transparently patronizing and condescending.  How is handing out “cafecitos” to acknowledge Cuban-American fans different from handing out watermelon to acknowledge African-American fans?  Not different at all. Both are patently offensive, shameful and repulsive.

Celebration of heritage should not be about stereotyping. I was born and raised in Colombia, but when I think of the times I’ve been to the ballpark on so-called “Colombian Heritage Night” I cringe with embarrassment.  And I’m the intended target of that awkward spectacle.  And, of course, you also have Cuban Heritage Night, Dominican Heritage Night, Venezuelan Heritage night, etc.  Let’s do away with “Heritage Nights” altogether. Let’s not focus on what makes us different from each other. Let’s instead focus on what makes us the same.  And let’s not forget that not everyone in South Florida is of Latin heritage.  If I’m offended by the incessant pandering, how do you think fans who are not of Latin heritage feel?  Insulted, I’m sure. Excluded as well, no doubt.  

One more thing.  I’m appreciative of the new food options at Marlins Park.  However, I believe it’s far more important to get the basics right than to offer all sorts of alternatives.  Mr. Jeter, I’m sure you’ve enjoyed a Dean Dog at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Have you had the garbage that passes for a hot dog at Marlins Park?  You can offer ceviche, sushi, pulled pork, etc. That’s fine, but before that, have a great hot dog. It’s a baseball game, after all. How can it be that the hot dogs are great at Roger Dean, but lousy at Marlins Park?

Come to think of it, it’s not only the hot dogs.  The baseball experience is better in almost every way at Roger Dean than at Marlins Park.  At Roger Dean, there are no stereotypes, no pandering, no DJs, no salsa bands, no incessant noise.  It’s a classic ballgame experience, enjoyable by everyone, regardless of background or culture. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that the Marlins organization considers Roger Dean attendees serious baseball fans, but Marlins Park attendees rubes that need to be pandered to.  

Mr. Jeter, the potential fans you seek are better than you give them credit for.  They don’t want to go to the ballpark to listen to loud DJs, dance to salsa, drink cafecitos, or see slogans like JuntosMiami, which I cannot believe you don’t realize is, in comical irony, tremendously divisive.      

I hope you take my comments in the positive spirit in which  they are given. My wife, son and I will be there, supporting you, every step of the way.

Go Marlins!


Jack Azout