dear readers, this is a serious post. It concerns a serious subject,
and one which has been in the news lately in a number of contexts – child
Child abuse is a difficult topic to discuss, both because it makes
many people uncomfortable and also because it is not easy to define.
The Dowbrigade learned a valuable but painful lesson about classroom
topic treatment when he started what he though was an enlightened discussion
of child abuse with an advanced ESL class and a young woman burst into
tears and rushed from the room, never to return.
But in addition to obvious physical and sexual child abuse, there are
many more subtle and insidious behaviors which can be equally damaging,
and constitute psychological abuse. Continual shouting, berating
and insulting, denial of affection and emotional abandonment fall into
this category. Then there is the category of exposing your child
to unnecessary and foreseeable danger.
This is the area where there is almost universal agreement on Michael
Jackson’s lack of parenting skills. Now the Dowbrigade knows not
whether Jackson is an innocent crackpot who sincerely enjoys the company
of children or a dastardly sex fiend facilitated by pop stardom. At this
stage, that’s for a court to decide. But anyone who saw the video
of him dangling his baby over the balcony has to ask, "What was he thinking?"
Was it child abuse? We would have to see a pattern of this kind of behavior
and have not so far in this case.
How about Steve Irwin, the famous Crocodile Hunter. This guy
kills us. His schtick is so good he’ll probably be selling us stuff ("Crikey,
mates, you gotta have it") til he’s ninety. So he goes into his act baiting
a hungry crok with a plucked chicken in one hand, and his baby in the
other. Lucky he’s not dyslexic, like the Dowbrigade (still can’t
remember which one’s the hot water).
What was he thinking? Obviously the guy has become addicted to
the camera, it seems he’s on TV somewhere 24-7. Anything to keep
those lenses fixed on him, apparently. Plus, he’s obviously been
out in the sun too long.
brings us, somewhat reluctantly, to one of our personal heroes. Nicholas
Kristof is an eminent author of books and a regular columnist
in the New York Times. He’s a terrific writer, and enjoyable to
read whether you agree with him or not. Plus, he knows more about
his area of expertise, primarily China, than just about anyone else we
However, on a recent trip to China, he pulled a move that made me shout,
"What was he thinking!" Determined to test the bounds of the Chinese
government’s much ballyhooed loosening of the reins on public protest,
went for a very public visit to some dissidents he knew the authorities
didn’t;t want him to talk to. All well and good. But, knowing
there was a good chance he would be arrested, or at least detained, he
brought along, From "China’s
Velvet Glove", the New York Times, Dec.
17, 2003 (fee required).
I had come to this gritty industrial city, 375 miles northeast of Beijing,
to investigate labor unrest, potentially one of China’s biggest challenges.
Last year, thousands of workers from 20 factories took to the streets
in Liaoyang, protesting official corruption and demanding unemployment
payments, pensions and back pay.
Last May, the authorities sentenced Mr. Yao to seven years, and another
protest leader, Xiao Yunliang, to four years. Presumably because of beatings,
Mr. Xiao appeared to be blind at the sentencing and was unable to recognize
So I dropped in to visit the families of Mr. Yao and Mr. Xiao. But the
wives are apparently kept under some kind of house arrest. When I arrived,
I tried phoning Mr. Xiao’s wife; she spoke one word before a man took
the phone and hung up. A few minutes later, the three officials nabbed
me outside Mr. Yao’s home.
To their credit, they were very polite. I was traveling with a colleague
from The New York Times on the Web, Naka Nathaniel, and my intrepid 9-year-old
son, and we were all taken to a nearby hotel. They let us use the bathroom
— under careful escort in case we tried to break out.
"China is a country of laws," the leader explained, after offering
us cigarettes. "So your interviews must go through State Council
rules and local officials. You must go through the procedures for this
to be legal. So interviews now are impossible. But you are welcome
to come back to Liaoyang any time as a tourist."
"Well, then," I suggested, "I’ll go and talk to Yao Fuxin’s
family about the local tourist spots."
They didn’t even crack a smile. Instead, they put one goon in my taxi
and sent another carload to escort us to the Shenyang airport and wait
there until we boarded a plane to Shanghai. My son was tailed in the
airport as he went to get an ice cream. (For a Web accompaniment to my
China trip, go to www.nytimes .com/kristof.)
Scary stuff. Can’t say as we approve of taking your kid to work
with you when you have an inherently dangerous job to do. For what?
Cover? Can being detained and interrogated by Communist authorities be
construed as educational? We wonder if Mr. Kristof has had second thoughts
about his behavior after returning to this country.
Finally, we have the case of the Dowbrigade himself. As revealed
last month, 14 years ago the Dowbrigade was kidnapped by South American
guerillas, together with his then 9-year-year old son. Did this, in a
twisted way, constitute child abuse, taking said son to Peru and putting
him into danger? Well,
considering Joey was born in Peru and lives there today, that we were
on the Pan-American highway, which passes in those parts for the beaten
path, on the way back from an academic conference, and had no warning
that it was a dangerous trip, we don’t feel too guilty. But we’re
glad to finally get it off our chest.