Friday, May 22, 2015


I have a complicated attitude toward Arkansas's Largest Family, the Duggars, made famous by their profligate reproduction habits and their TLC "reality" show, 17 18 19 Kids and Counting.

On the one hand, I don't care how many kids people choose to have, as long as they are able to provide (with or without help) what their kids need to live happy and healthy lives.  For me, it's a matter of personal choice that should be respected even if it stands outside the mainstream.

On the other hand, I'm not sure it's a good idea to hold up people as paragons of virtue, as models to emulate, simply because they profess certain religious beliefs and are very public about how they go about practicing them.

And on the third hand--yes, there's a third hand--I can't imagine being bored enough to watch their show voluntarily. Since I'm not in the habit of complaining about television that I don't care about, and since there is no shortage of other shows, some excellent and some the same kind of dreck the Duggars are peddling, it's not like the presence of their show on television somehow makes my life less bearable.

The problem I have with the Duggars, primarily, is in the way they are revered by a certain segment of the population, to the extent that they have a certain political influence that they are willing to use to implement a programme of hatred toward those who don't make the same choices they do.

Case in point:  Last year, the Fayetteville City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of a long list of characteristics--the usual suspects, including race and religion, but some that are somewhat novel in Arkansas:  sexual orientation and gender identity.

Michelle Duggar recorded robocalls against the ordinance, making ridiculous and offensive claims that the provision about gender identity was designed to allow male child predators to dress as women to gain access to young girls in female-only locker rooms.  Never mind that behavior of that type, regardless of the gender identity of the individual involved, is a criminal act that would ordinarily* garner serious prison time for the offender.

* - More on that in a moment.

Of particular importance in Mrs. Duggar's robocall was this statement:

I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child.
The Duggars are famous for the rules they impose on their children regarding dating.  One of those rules is that unmarried persons are not allowed to touch members of the opposite sex in most of the normal ways that teenagers who are dating touch each other--no kissing, no hand-holding, and certainly nothing more aggressive than that.

In my opinion--and it's only my opinion, of course--it is unrealistic to expect teenagers not to engage in any such activities.  By 13 or 14, and in some cases earlier, most teenagers have the physical maturity (though not the emotional maturity) to engage in sex.  Forcing teens to repress their natural physical urges creates emotional problems that manifest in a variety of different ways, many of which are extremely negative.

It would be one thing if the Duggars' attitude worked to produce happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids and, eventually, adults.  If so, the argument might be made that their attitude, their policy, is one of many reasonable choices.  And until yesterday, that argument had at least some validity.

Then it came out that the Duggars' eldest son, Josh, now 27 but then 15 or so, molested at least five younger girls, at least some of whom were family members.  The molestation involved the touching of unclothed breasts and genitals.  Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were aware of the molestation and sought to cover it up.  It was only when an outsider inadvertently discovered a letter about the molestation, and reported it to the Oprah Winfrey Show (which was about to do a feature on the family), that the police became involved.  Unfortunately, the statute of limitations applicable at the time had already run by the time law enforcement was notified, so no charges were filed.

I have seen the police report, which was heavily redacted to protect the identities of the minor children involved.  Despite the redactions, it is clear that the suspect, Josh Duggar, engaged repeatedly in this sort of behavior.

Josh Duggar resigned yesterday from his position with the Family Research Council, a DC-based hate group focused on opposing equal rights for homosexuals.

I take no glee in reporting these matters.  What happened to these girls was unfortunate and likely criminal, at least to the extent that it was not consensual (which would also depend in part on the age of the girls).  I have no idea what Josh Duggar's true heart is regarding sexual activities with young girls.  This may have been a poor choice driven by sexual confusion, or it may have been part of a proclivity toward this sort of behavior.  Hopefully we'll never know--because knowing for sure would mean that there were others.

But one thing we do know is that the Duggars have no business lecturing anyone about sexual matters.  The hypocrisy of their political positions regarding the Fayetteville ordinance and other matters is apparent and appalling.  That Josh Duggar could, with a straight face, lecture and lobby against homosexuals and equal rights--against people who are far better than he is, apparently--while knowing what he had done, knowing that he was a sexual offender, would in an ideal world be simply astonishing.

Of course, we don't live in an ideal world.  And neither do the Duggars.  It's time to stop acting as though they do.

UPDATE I:  TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting from their schedule.  I don't know if they were making new episodes, but I'd be surprised if the show returns.

UPDATE II:  My friend and neighbor Matt Campbell, who runs the excellent blog Blue Hog Report, notes the following in a Facebook post:

Let's do some math, just to really put a spotlight on how creepy and awful this Duggar stuff is.  The police report, dated 12/7/06 says that he touched the girls "about 3.5 years ago." Taken at face value, that puts it in June of 2003. There are also references to March 2002 for some of the actions as well. The court order from yesterday says that the victim who requested destruction of the police report is still a minor. To be a minor on May 21, 2015, the absolute latest she could have been born is May 22, 1997. Which means, of course, that at least one of the girls was no older than six when this occurred, and could have been much younger. Yet...the family just conveniently waited until after the statute of limitations on all of the crimes ran out before they went and told police about it?
 Creepy, indeed. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Darling, you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be there till the end of time
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

- The Clash

About three years ago, Michelle and I saw an opportunity to return to Arkansas after a 15-year absence, and we took it.  North Carolina never really was a good fit for us.  Although we enjoyed some aspects of living there, it wasn't home, so we returned to Arkansas.

Coming home has been, on balance, a good move for us.  We've grown closer to our family.  We've renewed old friendships and started new ones.  As much as we love it here, however, something's missing.

I have spent most of my adult life thinking about the concept of possibility.  I have always trusted that things would work out, even when it wasn't easy to see how they would. That has put me into difficult positions at times.  But I have always stood on the "why not?" side of the "why/why not?" dichotomy.

There are many, many people in this state who are dedicated to the possible, to dreaming and planning for a future of prosperity.  Sadly, however, there are many, many more who aren't.  I have a hard time dealing with people who don't dream or think or hope for something better, who don't believe in self-empowerment and striving, who are content with the way things are--and who perhaps even prefer them.

It has saddened me to realize how many people believe that $13 per hour is a good wage in Arkansas for a person who has a college degree, something to be grateful for, when the economic reality is that it's barely a living wage.  It's appalling to hear people who are in a position to influence children--teachers, day care workers, social workers--say that they don't like reading or that math is hard.  And this state's obsession with superstition, such that it pervades all aspects of life, is puzzling.

At the last election, a majority of those who chose to vote flipped the R lever, favoring candidates who are heavily aligned with the moneyed interests--the Kochs, the Waltons, and so forth.  I will confess to being congenitally unable to understand how it is that people who have so little can believe that their lives will be made better by giving more to those who have the most already.

It doesn't make sense.

Are they hoping to survive on crumbs?

Yesterday, voters in my hometown declined to raise the property tax by 3.8 mills to fund construction of a new middle school, teacher salaries, new vocational training programs, and new athletic facilities.  If you live in that district and your house is worth $150,000, your property taxes would have gone up by about $9.50 a month--a very small increase, all things considered--and would have resulted in first-class educational facilities and programs.  The "anti" arguments mostly boiled down to "what we already have is good enough," something that's demonstrably false.

But even if it were true, I'm tired of "good enough."  I'm tired of swimming against the tide of mediocrity.  Maybe one day I'll come back.  But for now, I need something different.  So sometime in the next couple of months, Michelle and I will pack up our house and our dogs and head to Texas, specifically Dallas.

In many ways, it won't be any better than here.  There will still be those for whom education is an afterthought at best, who are religious nuts, who are Republicans. But I've spent a lot of time in Texas in the last few months, mostly for work, and what is clear to me is that there are an awful lot of folks who believe, as I do, that we can do better.  I've spent a lifetime resenting the arrogance of Texans, but the one thing you can say about them is that they don't believe in mediocrity.

Arkansas will always be home.  I will always be from here.  But I'm no longer of here.  I don't have the time or the energy to change the attitudes of people who, for better or worse, don't believe in themselves.