Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Here in the New Orleans area, it’s Fat Tuesday: Mardi Gras. When I was growing up, the news director of WWL television, an imposing gentleman by the name of Phil Johnson, gave editorials on the air. His editorial on Mardi Gras was always the same. He simply stated that the station reserved the right to be serious tomorrow, but that was just not possible on Mardi Gras. Of course, that was before Katrina changed so much.

Today, my wife was one of the unlucky people who actually have to work on Mardi Gras. So my son and I took in the parade in Covington, with its decorated trucks and worn-out floats that were handed down from a third-rate parade of years gone by. The small-town festivities are a far cry from the parades on St. Charles Avenue I have known my whole life. But low key can be good sometimes.

This afternoon, we took Captain Percival (that most noble of Cairn Terriers) to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, where people gathered in the informal Mardi Gras celebrations that are as much a part of the day as the parades or the craziness in the French Quarter. Yes, low-key can be good sometimes.

Last night ⎯ Lundi Gras as it’s called around here ⎯ was our real carnival. We drove into New Orleans to catch a couple of the better parades of the season: the old-line Proteus with its beautiful wooden-wheeled floats and the newer “superkrewe” of Orpheus, a star-studded extravaganza with giant floats and the best bands.

Driving into town, we passed through neighborhoods that were hit hard by the storm and the subsequent flood. The water line was still visible on many buildings that were no longer usable or habitable. Spray-painted on the outside of nearly every structure were the signs left behind by the search-and-rescue squads from the National Guard. The symbol they painted on each building consists of a large “X” with information painted into each quadrant, including the date the building was checked out and the unit that was there. On one quadrant of the “X” is entered a digit: the number of dead found inside. Most of the buildings we passed were marked with zeroes, but we saw the occasional “1” and one house with a “5.”

Passing through the devastation, I had to ask myself the same question that so many people have asked: why is New Orleans actually staging Mardi Gras at all this year? Then we got to The Avenue (as we know it locally), and only then did it make sense. The combination of the floats, the bands, the flambeaux, the beads, and the crowds made it impossible not to get lost in another world for just a brief time. It’s a world where hurricanes don’t exist and where autism truly is just a difference and not a daily struggle.

Yes, that world faded somewhat as we drove home through the rubble. But I was comforted by the knowledge that New Orleans is still New Orleans. Mardi Gras is not something we do; it’s who we are.

The fleur-de-lis has been the symbol of New Orleans ever since there was a New Orleans. It now graces various logos and flags noting our region’s determination to rebuild. More than one outlander has noted the similarities in outlines between the fleur-de-lis and a hand with one finger raised in “salute.” Those wags say it symbolizes our telling the world to go to Hell while we go our own unique way. That’s not quite right.

The fleur-de-lis is the representation of a flower. It’s our way of giving you a gift as we invite you to spend some time with us as we shout out in unison: “Laissez les bon temps roulez. Enjoy the way we are different from you.”

Contrary to what some seem to think about me, I am not frightened by differences in people. I celebrate diversity. But different is not always better.

Life in New Orleans is not all crawfish and beads. We had problems with crime and poverty before Katrina. Traditionally, our governments have been as corrupt as any in the United States, and we’ve been too lazy or ignorant to do anything about it all. And now, we wonder if a lack of vision on the part of our leaders will prevent this area from rebuilding. Sometimes being different is good, and sometimes it’s just plain dysfunctional.

Today the difference is good.

Sometime in the next week, I’m going to pick up the conversation where we left off. But not today: today is Mardi Gras.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


A story was reported recently in the Canadian press that was of interest to me as it involves Michelle Dawson. It has been quite some time since Ms. Dawson left any comments on this blog. She is well known in the autism world as an extremely high-functioning adult autistic with very strong opinions. Although I disagree with many of those opinions, the intelligence with which she states her views is undeniable. And intelligence is what the recent story is all about.

An article in The Globe and Mail discusses a recent study released by a group of researchers led by Dr. Laurent Mottron, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal. Despite having no college education, Ms. Dawson has become an integral part of Dr. Mottron’s team researching autism. Their most recent published study indicates that autistic children who might score in the retarded range on the standard Wechsler I.Q. test actually score closer to the level of a college student on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Their conclusion is that autistic children tend to be more intelligent than once was thought.

It’s nice to know that science is finally catching up to what most parents of autistic children already know; our children are smart. That point is a rare point of agreement between both sides of the needless conflict between so-called neurodiversity advocates and those of us they refer to as “curebies.” The issue that leads to disagreement may be summed up by questions posed by Dr. Mottron in the article: “What do we do with that intelligence? How do we let that person achieve his potential?”

If Dr. Mottron’s research leads to increased opportunities for autistic individuals ⎯ without regard for their level of “functioning” ⎯ I would be happy indeed. How can anyone really argue with that goal. But Ms. Dawson has other goals as well:
She makes no secret of the fact that her participation in the research is guided by self-interest, that it gives her more credibility when she is fighting other battles — of which there are many.

In much of the autistic community — support groups dominated by parents of autistic children — Ms. Dawson is public enemy number one.

“They want autism to be a sickness that needs to be cured,” she said. “They say horrible disgusting things so they can get more money for their lobby groups. They make me sick,” Ms. Dawson said.

Personally, I have never considered Ms. Dawson an enemy, much less “public enemy number one.” I’m not a part of any “lobby group,” nor do I raise any money for a “lobby group.” I respect Ms. Dawson and agree with much of what she says. And yet there is so much with which I disagree.

If Ms. Dawson has become controversial, it has much to do with her crusade against anything that might smack of labeling autism as a disability. She famously intervened in the Auton case, in which parents went to court to get the British Columbia government to fund ABA for their autistic children. The catch was that it had to be established that ABA was a medically necessary treatment. There were certainly arguments to be made in the case; I certainly wouldn’t argue that treating autism as a mental disorder is factually incorrect. But Ms. Dawson’s Factum to the Supreme Court attacks the morality of intervention:

Ms Dawson submits that if the Respondents’ position is adopted, autistic people will not have the same equality rights enjoyed by non-autistics. Autistic people will be seen as unworthy and undeserving of equal protection and benefit of the law. Their equality rights will amount to an obligation to be or to act much less autistic or not autistic at all.


Further, accepting the Respondents’ position will have the direct effect of demeaning all autistic individuals and rewarding those who have chosen to demean autistics in order to fulfill their goals.

I wish Ms. Dawson would stop seeing people like me as the enemy. Most of us have no intention of forcibly making every autistic individual undergo any particular intervention, be it ABA, RDI, biomedical, or anything else. But many autistic children need some form of intervention. Not all of them are destined to find ways to meaningfully utilize their intelligence in the way Ms. Dawson has without intervention.

The arguments about the nature of autism and whether it acts as a disability so often center on the issues of intelligence and pure science. To be sure, it would be stupid to summarily dismiss the value of studies like that which Dr. Mottron’s group has given us. I can’t help but think, however, that we err by concentrating on simply the question of intelligence, while we ignore the social and cultural questions that also define dysfunction.

Ms. Dawson correctly argues that autistic individuals should not be forced to think or act like so-called “normal” people. Nevertheless, the human race has a social construct that favors those that are able to use their individual gifts in ways that benefit society as a whole. We may struggle to change the negative views that have traditionally been assigned to autism, but humankind’s basic social nature will not change. Even for someone like Ms. Dawson, who has overcome adversity and prejudice to a remarkable extent, making a contribution is not easy. Again, from The Globe and Mail article:
. . . Like many autistics, Ms. Dawson has reduced social skills and, while she can put forward brilliant ideas, she is incapable of managing simple tasks that are essential to the research process.

“I have some spectacular deficits,” Ms. Dawson said matter-of-factly.

Nevertheless, Dr. Mottron said “she is changing the way the world views autism and that will have a lasting impact.”

I don’t dispute Ms. Dawson’s positive impact on the way autistic individuals are viewed by the neurotypical world. I only wish she would not judge us ⎯ and especially not judge our children ⎯ based solely on her own experience. For that, too, is stereotyping.

Finally, a different perspective on this same subject, see this recent post at Ballastexistenz.

Monday, February 13, 2006


In the last week, the internet world of autism has gone a little crazy reacting to comments made at a film festival in Berlin. The comments were made by the people responsible for making a new movie called Snow Cake. Apparently the main character is an autistic adult (played by Sigourney Weaver) whose daughter is killed in an accident after hitching a ride with an ex-convict (played by Alan Rickman). It sounds like an interesting little movie with two of my favorite actors.

Most of the present controversy stems from comments made in Berlin by Ms. Weaver, who reportedly spent several months researching her role:
“I think we have to begin to see it as a gift,” she told a news conference. “We may not understand what it's there for, but if you're in the presence of someone with autism you learn so much. You learn how to play, you learn how to see things, you learn how to experience things and how jarring the world is.”

The reference to autism as a “gift” seemed to push a button for a lot of people, but to a limited degree, I can agree with that characterization. Responding to my little one’s autism has made me learn to exercise patience beyond what is required of other parents. It has opened my eyes and made me a better father to all my children. Part of the “gift” is being able to celebrate little milestones each day that other parents take for granted: for example, that first three-word sentence, years after other children of similar age.

But sometimes a gift comes with a catch. The “gift” of autism has a lot of catches. It not only keeps on giving; it keeps on taking. There are the countless trips to doctors and therapists, the endless fights with the health insurer to get even some of the “mainstream” treatments covered, the constant fights with the local school board to get services for your child that are needed for a “free and appropriate public education,” and the sleepless nights spent worrying about what’s to become of a child that might never be able to function independently.

Most of all, though, watching one’s child grow progressively frustrated over the years as he grows intellectually but not emotionally, and as he can’t find the words to express what he is feeling, makes it a gift that one wishes could be returned.

I think the part of Ms. Weaver’s quote that caught me most off guard was the reference to learning ‘how to play.” One of the challenges that face most autistic children is that they really don’t know how to play; her comment seemed incongruous at best. Then I came upon other comments Ms. Weaver made in Berlin, and it started to make a little sense. In another interview, the actress said, “It took me a long time to even understand how to prepare for this part because every person with autism is so unique, and to find someone like Linda [her character in the movie] took a long time.”

Even the realization that autism is unique for every person, however, does not seem to have completely kept Ms. Weaver from overgeneralizing our world. The following is from an interview in the ABC online site called Articulate:
Q. . . . what’s been your most challenging film part?

A. I have to say maybe this one because I so felt a responsibility to get it right: the physical behaviour, the sense of when you have and don’t have control. I felt a big responsibility not to do anything general and that’s really what I was thinking about ⎯ that and how to interact with the other actors without interacting with them, without any eye contact at all.

Q. For a lot of people, Rain Man is the classic film about autism. Was that an obstacle for you in making Snow Cake?

A. Our story is so different. I think they made a wonderful movie but one of the frustrations I heard expressed very often from anyone on the spectrum [of autism] was they’re tired of Rain Man being the definitive expression of what it is to be an autistic person since every autistic person is so unique… I just think it’s such a big subject. There can certainly be plenty of different stories that reflect on that and there’s time for there to be more. I don’t think it intimidated us because it’s not about autism and that’s not our focus. But I did want to be as accurate as I could be and I was lucky to have a lot of people help me and to find a couple of people who were very like the character.

Q. In the film, your character seems at first to completely lack a sense of grief for her dead daughter. How did you deal with that?

A. I think there’s a real lack of sentimentality about death in the autistic community… it’s not a lack of feeling but it is a kind of acceptance of it as a fact. It’s not something get, I can’t really understand it, but I tried to play it as accurately as I could. I can’t really get it because in my experience, people with autism do make connections. I have a couple of autistic friends and I talked to one of them yesterday and she said, ‘It’d be really great to get together for a weekend or something,’ and I said, ‘yeah it really would,’ and she said, ‘yeah, and do some serious playing’. And I thought that was so cool because I miss playing ⎯ you don’t get a chance to play, you have to really consciously play. That has to be a priority and that isn’t for most neuro-typical people.

Although Ms. Weaver understands how unique and individual each autistic person is, she bases her perceptions of autism on people she met who are most like the role she played in this movie: high-functioning adults. Unfortunately, not all autistic children grow up to be like that.

I suppose I should be happy that the entertainment industry is beginning to learn that all autistics are not like the little boy who dreamed up several seasons worth of St. Elsewhere or Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. That those stereotypes are harmfully ingrained in the public’s consciousness is shown in an early review of Snow Cake, in which the character’s autism is dismissed as being “the kind of literary autism that allows her to make sagacious observations and funny remarks.” Obviously, that critic’s exposure to high-functioning adults with autism or Asperger’s has been limited.

So yes, I’m happy that we’re starting to see characters that show another side of autism. My concern is that we may replace old negative stereotypes with new but equally unrealistic ones if statements like those attributed to Ms. Weaver are taken as showing the whole picture.

It certainly doesn’t help that the film’s writer, Angela Pell, has a particular viewpoint that seems to exclude any other experience of autism:
Pell was inspired by her own autistic son Johnny, who like Weaver’s character in the film loves to eat snow and bounce up and down on a trampoline.

“I wanted to write a film that showed that sometimes living with autism can be harrowing but that actually most of the time it’s really good fun,” Pell told reporters.

Did she really say “good fun????” I’m not sure if Ms. Pell is referring to living as an autistic or living as the parent of an autistic child. But my experience is that the joy in life I see my son express is too often overshadowed by the frustration of trying to deal with everyday life. Likewise, my own joy of being around my little boy ⎯ and it is great joy indeed ⎯ is tempered by the pain of witnessing his frustration. I would never say that “most of the time it’s really good fun.”

In the end, what might make this film palatable for me is the viewpoint of the film’s director, Marc Evans, as stated in the Articulate article:
You know, I don’t think Rain Man was solely about autism. It was about the 80s, it was about Tom Cruise’s character and his greed. Although, in the same way, autism plays an important part in Snow Cake, it’s not about autism. It does seem to be about grief and dislocation, which seems to be a sort of theme that penetrates a lot of films now. I think it’s to do with our generation not being so hopeful or not having things to hang on to which get you through life, so when something like grief or depression or divorce or any social problems come up, there seems to be less of a network, either social or familial, to get you through it … I think in our end of the world, where you’re not dealing with more visceral problems like poverty or war at the moment, these are concerns of the way that we live our life right now.

. . .

. . . this film is really off the radar for an American studio ⎯ it’s about somebody with a mental illness, it’s about somebody who’s grieving, it’s not satisfyingly redemptive at the end . . .

Maybe Mr. Evans’ outlook on autism is not as upbeat as Ms. Weaver or Ms. Pell, but he seems to be telling us that autism is not the be all and end all of the movie or of life itself. That view does not really comport with the reality my family lives with on a daily basis: a life where autism does dominate our lives. Still, I still find Mr. Evan’s words more comfortingly positive than the stereotype of a happy and playful autistic that is too far divorced from reality.

I want to see Snow Cake before I judge its worth. As for Ms. Weaver, I plan to go on enjoying her work regardless of my opinion of her comments or the film itself. I just won’t be referring to her as an expert on autism. I’m reminded of what our friend, Mary Webster, wrote in talking about the absurd notion that the autism world, and the biomedical community in particular, needed a celebrity to tout the cause: “Do we want to live in a society where an issue MUST be addressed on a certain talk show or touted by a celebrity to facilitate social change? Gads!”

I really don’t believe that many people let celebrities form opinions for them. The most that might happen is that a celebrity’s words or presence may draw attention to an issue. As wrong as any of the particular statements are that have been made by the film’s principals, this film may draw attention to our world so that we (meaning parents and autistics of various opinions) can help better inform those that just don’t know. At least, that’s what I hope.

Friday, February 10, 2006


[Note: This post discusses issues that arise in the debate over the safety and efficacy of chelation. I am not advocating chelation, nor am I even saying that we have chosen chelation as an appropriate intervention for our son. My point in writing the following is to illuminate the hypocrisy of one side in this biomedical debate.]

The Associated Press reports that an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration recently decided that Ritalin should carry a “black box” warning because of a risk of death. At least 25 people ⎯ including 17 children ⎯ have died after taking Ritalin or similar stimulants that are commonly prescribed for ADHD.

What does this have to do with autism? Well, a lot actually. Specifically, this story helps to highlight the hypocrisy of one group of people who dare to criticize parents who attempt “alternate” biomedical interventions.

Let me note that this is a debate among those who acknowledge autism spectrum disorders as being medical conditions that, at least in some cases, require some form of medical intervention. Those who might argue that all forms of autism are nothing more than a cognitive difference not needing any medical intervention are certainly welcome to keep reading this post, but they might get a tad bored by this debate.

In essence, I am writing about the difference in approach between physicians who utilize methodologies such as the DAN! protocol on the one side, and physicians who would identify themselves as being “mainstream” doctors who recommend more “traditional” treatments on the other.

Most of us first heard the diagnoses of our children from the lips of mainstream practitioners. My wife and I had the experience of first hearing the diagnosis when our son was four years old. A self-described developmental pediatrician told us the situation was dire and we needed to immediately place our son in a special autism school, and that he needed to take Ritalin.

We were not too keen on that first doctor’s advice, although we did at least look into the school. My relentless wife, though, kept searching for better answers, and we wound up dipping our feet into the alternative biomedical waters by starting our son on a gluten-free/casein-free diet and supplements. But we didn’t completely abandon seeking more conventional solutions.

At great expense, we had a multi-disciplinary evaluation performed, including a pediatrician, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist. The pediatrician and neurologist, in particular, were distressed that we would even consider “altie” remedies. The pediatrician opined, in no uncertain terms, that we were wasting our money at best and, at worst, we were risking our child’s well-being. His recommendation was that we get our four-year old son on Ritalin immediately.

It’s possible that the two “mainstream” physicians we spoke to were unusual in their advocacy for Ritalin, but I don’t think so. I’ve heard from too many other parents who had the same advice thrown at them to believe these doctors were unusual.

The doctors who recommended Ritalin are part of the same group that shout the loudest about chelation being a deadly and unproven intervention because it has never undergone safety trials for autism, and off-label use of medications and procedures is inherently dangerous. Yet what is it they wanted to prescribe?

The Associated Press story I mentioned above quotes one of the FDA committee members as saying “it would be ‘inappropriate, unethical behavior’ not to disclose that there was uncertainty about the safety of the drugs.” To me, that raises the question of whether adequate long-term safety testing has ever been conducted on these drugs.

Then, there is the issue of off-label Ritalin use. I know that many of us see autism and ADHD as being possibly related, but the mainstream medical community tends to consider them as totally distinct issues. Moreover, the warnings for Ritalin, even for its use in ADHD cases, include the advice that it “should not be used in children under six years, since safety and efficacy in this age group have not been established.”

So let me get this straight, reputable doctors tell me that I should not use any modalities that have not been proven safe, and yet they want to prescribe dangerous pharmaceuticals that are specifically contraindicated for young children.

I keep thinking about the 17 children who reportedly died while on Ritalin. I wonder how many other children died in cases where the connection just wasn’t considered. And I wonder how many of the dead children who were taking Ritalin got their prescriptions for autism. All that makes me wonder where the voices are of the self-appointed “quackwatchers” who screamed so loudly about the death of a child due to a botched chelation procedure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


In the relatively brief time Sym and I have been a part of this world of autism, certain people have been inspirations to us. Alan and Lujene Clark are high on the list.

Dr. Alan Clark’s curriculum vitae appears similar to those of countless other physicians we all grew up admiring. His distinguished career in emergency and forensic medicine, together with his community involvement, made him a leader before autism came into his life. With his son’s diagnosis, he found a different outlet for his talents ⎯ an outlet he shared with his equally impressive wife, Lujene.

Last June, Dr. Clark wrote the following. It’s excerpted from a blog post, in which he responded to a certain skeptical blogger, who happens to be a surgeon holding a far more mainstream opinion of the hypothesized link between mercury-containing vaccines and autism:
I suspect many physicians, like you and I, might be in denial at the thought of inadvertently poisoning an entire generation of children. It’s not our fault. We were misled and we did what we thought was best for our patients.
. . .

Our son was 7 1/2 years old when he reached his “toxic tipping point” with mercury after he received two doses of Thimerosal-containing influenza vaccine in November 2002 and December 2002 (approximately 30 days apart per the ACIP/CDC guidelines). Within a matter of weeks he experienced dramatic changes...he suffered severe neurodevelopmental changes, neurobehavioral symptoms, exacerbated allergies, asthma, eczema, etc.

Within 10 months, he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Only when we identified mercury as the culprit and started to remove the heavy metal from his system, did he begin to recover.

Until October 2003, I, too, was “blissfully ignorant” of the acute toxicity of Thimerosal much like most other physicians. We were never told our son’s vaccines contained mercury, a known neurotoxin, in levels that exceeded EPA safety guidelines. It never occurred to us to ask. Because of my medical background, I thought physicians could trust the CDC, the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry. I must hope that no one else should reach this epiphany at so high a price.

Along with working to heal their son, it became Alan and Lujene Clark’s mission to bring their epiphany to the rest of us. Together they founded No Mercury, educating the public about the very real dangers of injecting mercury into our children.

During these last two years, Alan Clark brought intelligence and dignity to the thimerosal debate. It was far too short a time. This evening’s Schafer Autism report brought the news that Dr. Clark passed away after fighting cancer for the last several months.

I have no doubt that Lujene will ably continue the work to which she and Alan dedicated their lives. But that will have to wait. First, we all need to mourn a great loss.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Clark’s hometown paper published an obituary that gives us more insight into this remarkable man. This is how it ends:
Clark’s varied interests and talents — publishing an online novel, an online medical column, writing music, playing piano and his medical career — earned him the nickname “Renaissance Man,” said his friend and St. John’s coworker Cora Scott. Clark only laughed, she said.

Among her lasting memories of Clark, she said, is this quote by an unknown author that he used to close his e-mails:

“Don't tell God how big your storm is ... tell the storm how big God is.”

I like that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A HOUSE MAY NOT BE A HOME (Even if it has Cable TV)

A story from Elmont, New York caught my eye the other day. The county opened a new group home for adults with autism. For me, this story brought a lot of feelings to the surface about why so many parents of autistic children ⎯ including me ⎯ insist on using various interventions to [choose one: cure our children; heal our children; alleviate negative dysfunctional aspects of our children’s autism; ameliorate the comorbidities associated with our children’s autism].

In the last six months or so, I have heard from so many adults on the spectrum that live full and meaningful lives. So I realize that the interventions my wife and I elect to use with our son are not necessary for all autistic children.

I hear time and again how “all” children eventually improve and learn to communicate and interact with the world around them. I want to believe that so much, but there often seems to be a question about how far any particular autistic child can go without interventions designed to counteract a probable trigger of the autism.

The story from Elmont focused on one family of a 24-year old man who moved into the home with great excitement. His mother noted that the residence “looks like a real home.” She didn’t say it was a real home: only that it looked like one. The young man’s father made a comment that made me wonder how he views the limitations on his son’s life: “He’s got cable, everything he needs.”

This is going to sound harsher than I really want it to, but I want my son to grow up with more to look forward to than something that looks like a real home with cable television. I want him to build his own life and to have his own home, not just be able to live in a house.

Am I making a value judgment? Absolutely! And I would never presume to make such decisions for that young man in New York and his family. This home will probably serve his needs quite well, and it may even be the best solution for his family. It will provide a modicum of independence. For my son, though, I want nothing less than full independence. I want him to have the freedom to tell the entire world, including me, to shove it.

The decisions my wife and I make today on our son’s behalf may well determine whether he achieves that full independence. In making those decisions, we have to carefully consider both physical risks, and the risk that we may be altering his human uniqueness in some way. It is an awesome responsibility that is not to be taken lightly. But making those kinds of decisions is what parents do.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.

— attributed to Voltaire

Last night, something happened that has me writing about something other than autism. Two women were ejected from the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives shortly before President Bush gave his State of the Union address. Both committed the crime of wearing t-shirts with messages.

One of the women was Cindy Sheehan, who has famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) protested the ongoing war in Iraq by demonstrating outside of just about anywhere the president happens to be. Ms. Sheehan was sitting in the gallery as the guest of Representative Lynn Woolsey of California. The t-shirt she wore depicted a number: the number of United States military personnel that have been killed in Iraq, one of whom was Ms. Sheehan’s son.

The second woman was Beverly Young, the wife of Republican Representative Bill Young of Florida, who happens to be chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Ms. Young’s fashion faux pas was wearing a t-shirt reading “Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom.”

According to the Associated Press, Ms. Young was told that “she was being treated the same as Sheehan.” That’s not entirely accurate, in that Ms. Young was merely escorted out into the hallway where she argued with the Capitol Police. Ms. Sheehan, on the other hand, was handcuffed and booked with something called “unlawful conduct.” But the disparity in the treatment is unimportant. A wrong was inflicted upon both women, and through them, upon the nation.

Ms. Young is understandably upset at being asked to leave for silently proclaiming what she considers to be a positive message. And Ms. Sheehan maintains that she had no intention of being disruptive.

Predictably, the politicians closest to the incidents are squawking, and missing the point. Rep. Woolsey issued a statement decrying the action against Ms. Sheehan, and opining that the arrest was simply because of a disagreement with the Administration. That, of course, ignores the ouster of Ms. Young. For his part, Rep. Young spoke from the House floor, stating that his wife was taken away because “she had on a shirt that someone didn’t like that said support our troops.” That misses the point that two women, espousing different views, were escorted out of the House Chamber — a place that should not only tolerate, but encourage freedom of speech — because they engaged in non-disruptive acts of political speech.

The one thing said by any of the politicians with which I can agree was spoken by Rep. Young during his diatribe from the floor: “Shame, shame.”

The war in Iraq divides this country. Like most of you, I have strong opinions about the matter, but those opinions aren’t important to this discussion. Likewise, the substantive opinions of neither Ms. Sheehan nor Ms. Young should make a difference when deciding whether you feel their ousters were appropriate. All Americans should be angry about this.

The State of the Union, as political as it may be no matter which party is in power, should be considered a celebration of our constitutional government and the freedoms we are guaranteed as citizens of this most wonderful country. The First Amendment protects all speech — political speech in particular — without regard to how offensive some may find it. Of course, no freedom is absolute; that is, a distinction must be drawn between “freedom” and “license.” If the physical security of an event is actually threatened, there is no question that speech can be curtailed. And arguably, an event like the State of the Union should be free of disruption. But sitting quietly in a t-shirt threatens neither safety nor decorum.

That no real crimes were committed is evident by the charge entered against Ms. Sheehan: “unlawful act.” By definition, committing an unlawful act requires that another law be broken. Yet there was no other charge entered except of an “unlawful act.”

This may sound extraordinarily trite, but it bears saying anyway. Clamping down on constitutionally protected free speech, regardless of the content, is a slap in the face to the men and women who sacrifice themselves while serving this country. On that, Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Young should both agree.

About a week ago, I took Camille Clark to task for what I considered to be a tasteless and cruel post on her blog. To her credit, Camille left comments on the post trying to explain her intentions. Although I appreciate and respect her willingness to offer that explanation, I strongly disagree with Camille. But that being said, I will gladly take on anyone who would deny her the right to speak her mind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Post Script:

The Capitol Police have apologized and acknowledged that the ejection of these women should never have taken place.
“The officers made a good faith but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.

“The policy and procedures were too vague,” he added. “The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine.”

Chief Gainer’s explanation confirms my opinion that the crimes committed by Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Young were non-existent. Having the chief fall on his sword before the press may forestall any real debate about the incident, and that’s too bad. I would still like to hear why the police seemingly all believed that wearing t-shirts with messages on them deserved arrest.

The State of the Union address is not something new; it happens every year. And every year it seems that there is some issue that draws fire upon whatever Administration is in office. I find it hard to believe that no thought has ever been given to making the “policy and procedures” a little less “vague.”