Douchebag of the Day Award

This was going to Walt Baker, the CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, who sent his close friends an email joke the punchline of which is that Michelle Obama is actually Tarzan’s monkey, and then defended himself by saying, “It’s not a political statement.” As Trace Sharp says, “Alright Baker, we will call it what it is and that is racist. Either way, the bottom line is by him even defending it is as baffling and not very good business for the state.”

It raises a lot of questions–does Baker not know that black people go on vacation and might like to come to Tennessee to see some stuff? Does he not care that likening a black woman to a monkey is not going to make black people feel predisposed to spending money in ways that will benefit Baker? Does he really not get that it’s racist? And, if he doesn’t, how nice must that be to be able to live your whole life and rise to considerable power in your community without having to learn any history?

But just when you think there cannot be any bigger a douchebag in this state today than Walt Baker, along comes Preacher Jonathan Hatcher whose Conner Heights Baptist Church over in Pigeon Forge is distributing literature that claims that the Pope is an anti-Christ and that all Catholics are going to Hell. When made aware of local priest, Father Jay Flaherty’s concerns that this kind of material could instigate anti-Catholic violence, Hatcher replied, “This is an isolated event where just one believer had an obligation to share with a Catholic friend, in a difference of what we believe.”

An obligation?! An obligation to distribute literature designed to make Catholics in your community hated and feared?

“Jesus commands me to instigate violence against you while at the same time renouncing violence.”

Nice loophole you’ve managed to create for yourself to relieve yourself of any moral responsibility, Mr. Hatcher. I’m sure that loophole will be very comforting to you if you end up getting someone hurt.

And it is because of the very real possibility of violence instigated by the widespread distribution of this nonsense that I have to give Hatcher the top spot as Douchebag of the Day. You’re lucky, Baker. Any other day and it’d be you.

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What If the Numbers are Wrong?

I have done my fair share of alarm-raising over the infant mortality rate in this state and I, too, have spouted the “You’d be better off being born in bosnia than Memphis” line. So, I am kind of at a loss about what to do with this story.

“The bottom line: Is infant mortality a problem in Memphis? Yes. Is it probably any different than in any other metro area? No,” said Williams, who also taught at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center and spent three years on the Health Department’s Child Fatality Review Team.

Well. Um. Shit.

So… does that mean that infant mortality rates in the rural counties are similarly inflated? Do we have a problem that needs to be fixed or do we have an almost unfathomable problem that you can barely wrap your head around?

Here’s what the issues seems to be. Say that your first year of life is a racetrack. What Williams is saying is that “infant mortality” is normally defined as kids who get out of the starting gate, but, for whatever reason, don’t make the whole loop. And that kids who made it to the track (in other words, they were born alive) but never made it out of the starting gate (dying soon after birth, because they never were going to be viable) are normally not counted as part of “infant mortality” because they’re counted as miscarriages.

Now, I’m not a mother, but I imagine this distinction, for a mother, sucks. If you give birth to a live child, even if that child died minutes or hours later, even if that baby had no chance of living, who cares that it didn’t make it out of the gate? It was still an infant and it still died. That sounds like infant mortality.

But science isn’t designed to give a shit about feelings and, if Dr. Williams is right, and the reasons infants can’t get out of the gate are very different from the reasons that infants can get out of the gate but don’t make it to their first birthdays, it might actually be important, from a policy point of view, to acknowledge a distinction between the two types of infant mortality and treat the root causes of both, in an effort to reduce instances of both.

But here’s the other thing. Even if it sucks for families who have lost non-viable kids, if the standard across the nation is to NOT count those as instances of infant mortality, even if we’d like to change the standard, we need to count infant mortality the same way everyone else does or else there’s no use in comparing and we can’t actually get a picture of how bad our situation is.

I’ve lived in Tennessee a long while now and one trait Tennesseans have is to assume a posture of “Yeah, things suck and why we do things might not make sense to you, but fuck you” and then heels are dug in. This is a fine and distinctive quality, don’t get me wrong.

But what if things don’t suck? I mean, what if the infant mortality rate in Memphis, tragic as it is, is pretty average for a city its size? What if the infant mortality rates in these rural counties aren’t that unusual? What if, in one instance, instead of struggling up from the bottom of the pack, we’re squarely in the middle, just working to improve?

And what if there are a lot of families in other parts of the country who are grieving lost infants and those infants aren’t being counted? Could it be that our method of accounting for dead babies is more humane than what’s being done in other places?

I mean, what if we’ve discovered that other places are cooking their numbers to look better than us?

Could we even recognize that? I don’t know. Maybe this question doesn’t make sense in writing, even though what I’m trying to get at in my head is clear, but I wonder if we’re so used to a position of recalcitrance and hostility, if we even know, as a state, how to stand up and be a graceful leader.

I don’t know.

And I have to say, it kind of shakes me to realize that I am so accustomed to “Tennessee sucks” and “Memphis, especially, sucks” stories (even though I love Tennessee and Memphis a lot), that I never questioned whether those numbers were problematic. They told a story I was prepared to believe and so I did.

It never occurred to me that other places might be using different numbers.

I don’t know. I’m going to try to figure out who I can ask about how other places measure infant mortality.