The quiet

enjoy_the_silence
(Image courtesy of CrossPointMinistry.com)

Today I was noticing the quiet.

I have unusually acute hearing. When I was last officially tested in my teens, my dad was still in the Navy and they used one of those soundproof booths where you face the wall, put headphones on you, and have you raise and lower a finger when you hear and stop hearing a sound. My hearing was charted as above average in most ranges and, literally, off the charts in some frequencies. That is, I was hearing sounds before you were supposed to be able to at certain frequencies. And at other frequencies I could hear sounds humans normally couldn’t. Not a dog levels, of course not, but an unusually broad range, and unusually acute through that range.

Mostly, this is an annoyance. It makes it hard to hard to sleep. It makes concentrating difficult, especially during tests. I’ve (unfortunately) passed it on to my daughter, who had to be tested for her dyslexia in a room lit by natural light because the humming of the fluorescents distracted her. I tend to speak so softly sometimes people say I “mumble.” Warning sounds and signals cause my actual physical pain. And so on.

Now sure, this has changed over the years. For one, loud music has dulled my hearing somewhat over time. And of course I’ve learned to live with it. Sami and the kids encouraged me to speak up. You can’t mumble in meetings if you want to be heard. You learn how to deal with ambient noise if you want to sleep. The invention of the Walkman and later things like the iPod was a godsend. But a world filled with a monstrous amount of noise pollution is kind of tough on those of us—for I’m sure I’m hardly alone in this—who have sensitive hearing.

And now, everyone’s quarantined-in-place.

Have you noticed the quiet? The streets are almost empty. Planes are hardly flying. Fewer buses, fewer cars, fewer trucks. Fewer people driving. No teens driving around in big trucks with spinning rims, windows down, blasting out their favorite music turned up to 11. (“Why do they do that, Dad?” Joseph asked me once. “Some of them are just being jerks, honey,” I said. “But some of them just love their music and are wanted to share their joy.”) It’s a lot quieter. Everywhere.

I didn’t really notice that until I went out today to pick up some meds and continue my (still fruitless) effort to buy more eggs. Sure, I had been turning the sound down on my headphones and small speaker that I listen to music on, but I hadn’t been thinking about it consciously. It was when I got into my car for the first time today and my iPhone automatically connected and the next song on my playlist queued up and I actually winced that it made me think.

We all know what it’s like to have been listening to music on the freeway and then the next time we get in the car to have to turn it down. But this wasn’t one of those “turn it down a couple of notches” type deals; I had to cut it in half. I had to turn it from 18 to 9. And even 18 is low for my car. I know these numbers mean nothing, of course, but I usually listen to music with the volume set to 20, sometimes up to 24 depending on road noise, whether it’s raining, or whatever. This would be wimpy by a head-banging metalhead with leather ears, who would crank it to 35 or more on my system. But even so, driving down the freeway on an ordinary day, I would find anything below 16 essentially inaudible.

Today I couldn’t bear to set it above 10. 12 actually hurt my ears.

It’s the quiet, you see. I’ve gotten used to the quiet. To quiet streets, quiet skies, a quiet house. Quiet music on my headphones, quieter shows on my speakers, a lower volume of life. Living in a quieter world. Even the dogs in the neighborhood seem quieter, seem to be barking less. It’s as if my—as if our—collective ears have unclenched from the ambient noise and are able to hear soft voices easier than shouts again.

In amidst the loneliness and fear and incompetence and panic-buying and worry, some amazing things are going on around us. Today, I noticed the quiet. Maybe you noticed it, too. And if you didn’t, maybe now you can, and it will give you a little boost during this tough time.

We’re not so distant as you think

74624338
“Social distancing” doesn’t have to mean actual distancing
(photo courtesy of Times of India)

As a rule, I’m a pretty upbeat, happy person. You might not get that impression from reading my blog posts, in which I tend to rant, but it’s true. My friends and family sometimes describe me as a goof, or a dork. I like to joke. I like to deal with difficult situations with humor, defuse tension with comedy. That’s the way I am.

Here in my blog, you’ll see my more serious side, even my angry side, some of my frustrations. Right now, when the world—I mean, jeez, the world!—is facing a deadly pandemic, I want to share more of my upbeat side in the hopes it’ll help.

People talk a lot about how technology atomizes society, how it creates a distance between people. How Millennials are always on their phones instead of talking to each other. How couples go out to dinner and are checking their Twitter feeds instead chatting about their day. How offices are filled with folks with headphones on instead of chatting with each other at the water cooler. And so on. I personally think this is overstated, but I understand the fears.

newspapers
Technology atomizing society—in the 50s

Now we’re in a situation where not only are people needing to be careful with their physical contacts, but are actually being urged by government entities to engage in “social distancing.” This can be difficult if you’re like me, and a lot of your loved ones—your family, your friends, your family of choice—are hundreds or even thousands of miles away. I’d like to hunker down with my beloveds, but they live in San Francisco and Oakland and Olympia and LA and New England and Georgia and Maryland and Colorado and Montana and England and Vallejo and Santa Cruz and Lake Charles and all kinds of other places not exactly two streets over.

But you know what? We have cell phones with video capability. We have Skype and FaceTime and Zoom and Webex. We have Kik and Google Hangouts and FaceBook Messenger and WhatsApp. We have blogs and FaceBook and Twitter and Twitch and Instagram. We have MMORPGs and online DnD via Roll20 and virtual bridge and chess and backgammon and every other virtual interactive game you can imagine. I played Gō with a guy who lives on the shore of Lake Baikul, for the love of Pete! The very technology that everyone has complained has been atomizing and isolating us can be used to help us stay in contact, can be used to draw us closer together.

Yes, we are in a crisis. People are out there hoarding paper towels, TP, and vegetables (what they’ll do in three weeks with 200 rotting onions and potatoes I don’t know). But we don’t have to be isolated completely just because we’re forced to be isolated physically. Gather together around our technological fire with me and warm yourselves. Share our collective company through this amazing miracle we have wrought together. It is ours to share and celebrate. So let’s do so.

Let’s share it. Together. Because that’s how we survive.

Capitalism and the beer virus

13Mar_editorial_AE
Image courtesy of NewFrame

For several years I’ve been making the point that capitalism is amoral. Not from a Marxist, “evil, evil!” PoV, but merely as an opening observation to help explain why so many rich people (and the politicians who serve them) are evil. I want to be clear that I mean capitalism is not immoral, but amoral. Capitalism has no moral code, good or bad. It is solely about the accumulation of capital, ie money. You can go about that in moral or immoral ways, but the system itself has no moral code. We—the human beings using the system—have to impose that. (Side note: Communism is the same.)

The weakness of that kind of system is when a person or group of people become rich, they become powerful. And if they are evil/immoral, the system becomes immoral, and good/moral people are screwed. Why bring this up (again) now? The pandemic, which I call the beer virus. Yes, it’s a bad joke, but it’s my nature to joke about serious things, and in this case the topic is, quite literally deadly serious, and all the more reason to joke.

At times of crisis, the flaws and strengths of any system (and it’s leaders) are magnified. Right now the leaders of our country are selfish, immoral, power-hungry Republicans. And they are reacting in demonstrably evil, selfish, immoral ways. They have demonstrated this in multiple areas, more happening every day, but for me the classic and most telling is the response of the Federal Reserve Bank, or “the Fed”.

For years progressives have proposed various programs Republicans & “moderate” Dems have insist are “too expensive”. Better healthcare coverage. More generous care for the elderly, poor, homeless, & jobless. Etc. The programs have always been deemed “too expensive.” “Where will we get the money?” “We can’t possibly afford those programs.” “We have too much debt already!” And other similar excuses. (Which always fall by the wayside when they need to finance another war, but let’s set that aside.)

Currently, of course, the world is experiencing a pandemic. China, where it began, has a bizarre mix of a Confucian, authoritarian, pseudo-capitalist system. They are making progress in fighting back the disease. We on the other hand are the most capitalist country in the world, with the most capitalist-friendly government in 100 years (since just before the depression, ironically). And in our response, we’re flailing. Badly.

At first, Trump, his Administration, the Republicans, and his backers on Fox News declared the pandemic a hoax and a plot to throw the election to the Democrats, and the federal government did nothing. Until the stock market dropped a huge amount in a few days. Then the government took action. Not when people were dying in China; of course not. Not when deaths started occurring in Europe. Not even when they started happening here. No; they were bestirred when plutocrats and oligarchs started seeing their funds shrinking. And what did they do?

Trump announced several absurd measures (such as closing the boarders to people traveling from Europe; a textbook case of “closing the barn door after the horses have escaped”), including a tax cut. In other words, he wants a monetary solution to a health crisis. As if you went to the doctor’s office for a measles vaccine and he gave you a Starbucks gift card.

The Fed, meanwhile, promised to pump $1.5 trillion into the economy to bolster the stock market. Again, during a health crisis. People are having to stay home from work, yes. They are being forced to stay home, actually. Will this money help them? Um, no. Again, this is like you going to your boss and saying, “Boss, I need money to tide me over for the next three weeks,” and her saying, “I’m sorry, Nahrain, but the Fed decided to give that money to your bank to keep them afloat instead.” I mean, nice the bank’s still afloat, but doesn’t help you too much in paying the electric bill or buying bread at the grocery store.

So to repeat: Rather than address a health issue with health measures, Trump did so with money. And while insisting we can’t afford to help the sick, the poor, the jobless, and the elderly because “we don’t have the money,” we somehow found $1.5 trillion for the stock market. When the choice came down to helping your elderly mom, or your granny, or your sick cousin, or your brother-in-law with the missing leg who’s homeless because of PTSD after his six tours in Iraq, Trump and the Republicans decided the stock market needed it more.

And the stock market went down the next day anyway.

And this is what happens under a capitalist system. And how it infects and warps everything. It puts thoughts of money first, and of people last. By design. It’s there on the tin: “Capitalism”. “Capital”, ie money, is right there on the label. Sorry to bang on this so hard, but right now we are seeing an extremely stark example of exactly what this kind of amoral system, when left in the hands of immoral, selfish, evil people, can lead to.

Trump and the Republicans have shown the ugliest side of capitalism. They have shown their preference when it comes down to it, down to the basics: Your family, or the stock market. It’s clear by how he’s panicking over perception (instead of the citizens of the country) that Trump is petrified over how people are thinking about his and the Republicans choosing stocks over people.

So ask yourself: Who do you want to live through the next few weeks: Your mom? Or the stock market? I know what my choice is.

Nervous Male Managers

For months I’ve seen a lot of media pointing to the statistic below, almost always in alarm, with the subtext of “How can we expect these poor nervous men to do their jobs?” And my first though is always the same: “Good; let’s go for 100%”

There’s a few things here to consider about these poor nervous men.

First, it’s a *good* thing they’re nervous, not a bad one. It means when they’re dealing with women, either in groups or 1-1, they’re *considering their behavior*. And when the problems happen is when guys thoughtlessly assume their behavior is *just fine*. When they think “Of *course* I’m not doing anything wrong! I’m a feminist! I’m a good guy! WTF are you talking about?” If they’re watching their own behavior, they’re a lot less likely to behave inappropriately.

That’s why I say we should go for 100%, and why I don’t get why the media always cites this stat as if it were bad. It’s *good*. Making managers more self-conscious is *a good thing*. So let’s see more of it!

Second, they’re managers, not delicate, emotionally fragile kindergarteners. They’re not teen boys worrying about how to ask someone out on their first date. Nor are they gay teens dealing with the agonies of coming out. These are grown men in a position of authority in business. Some of them have partners at home, kids, mortgages, bills to pay. Heavy work responsibilities. Are we really worrying about *making them “nervous” because they have to leave their office door *open* rather than closed for their weekly 1-1 with Jane? Seriously? Get over it.

Finally, have some perspective. When you’re marching out to your car in the middle of a dark parking garage one January night, consider Jane trying to do the same thing. Jane is clutching her keys in her fist as a weapon. Maybe her other hand is in her bag, finger on the trigger of some pepper spray. Or maybe she waited to leave until Sarah could walk with her. Or she car pooled so she wouldn’t have to be alone in a dark parking garage at night. I assure you Jane is way more than “nervous” about being assaulted—possibly by a co-worker!—than Joe Manager is about meeting with Jane tomorrow 1-1.

I just mention this because yesterday I again saw this 60% figure mentioned as if it were some horrible thing and I was disgusted. I’ve been a manager. And in my area of tech, tech writing, I work with a lot of women. I’ve had far more women managers than men. I’ve had more women reporting to me than men. So if you’re a man with women reporting to you and you’re “nervous”? Good! Use it as an goad to examine your behavior and make adjustments. Ask your direct reports if they have any suggestings. And above all FFS quit whining.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/17/60percent-of-male-managers-now-say-theyre-uncomfortable-mentoring-women.html

Sketch of a Moment

Sometimes an image flashes just for a moment, a lucky instant, and gets captured there in your mind. Mostly not, mostly they float away, but sometimes the beauty that is all around us, unnoticed usually, hits us suddenly, is noticed, and is remembered.

She was just six, maybe, or seven, and I was pulling over to get the mail. She lives down the block; her name is Zoe and she’s a delight. I see her in front of her house when the evenings are fine, with her mother, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk or being pushed on her swing. My puppies love her, and I try hard to show a level of interest that’s not too creepy; hard in a middle-aged man in these suspicious times.

And now there was Zoe, moving towards the street! I’m driving! Uh oh! And snap, a moment:

I look over, concentrating hard, because I don’t want to hit her. But she’s not running into the street; she stands, one foot on the curb, right hand outstretched, left hand back for balance, fiercely focused on something just in front of her, not moving.

They float there, three shimmering, translucent spheres, almost invisible, hanging in the air. Zoe’s mom, a big smile on her face, stands with the big bubble paddle still extended and dripping on the sidewalk, watching Her Girl trying to pop the bubbles before they do it of themselves.

The moment is frozen in my mind; just a moment, ordinary and beautiful. The bubbles glittering in the setting sun; her mom’s smile; her intent expression and outstretched hand; my worry turning into pleasure. Only a moment.

My mind is already trying to turn it into a picture, wishing I could draw, or paint. Wishing I could freeze time like a speedster superhero like the Flash or Quicksilver so I could whip out my phone and take a picture. Wishing I had the drawing talent of my friends like Paul or Becky and could take the image in my head and set it down on paper, unburdened by my nerve damage and shaky, poorly-coordinated hands.

All I have is words. Words to convey to you her brown-blonde hair frozen as she moves towards those three bubbles hanging in the air, stops on the curb, weight held on that one front foot as she reaches forward towards the shimmering bubbles. The tables of the two observers on either side: Her mom who initiated the moment, and the lucky man who got to observe it my merest chance and bring it to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, and let you fold it into your mind.

It’s not a painting, or a drawing; it’s my sketch, in words. I hope you liked it.

An election case in point

Unknown-1

Well, it wasn’t a blue wave, but it wasn’t a total flop, either. This mid-term election of 2018 restored a tiny bit of balance to the political terrain of the country, with Democrats taking back the U.S. House and some Governorships (I’m particularly pleased by Kansas rejecting the vote-suppressing Breitbart jerk-weed), but Republicans keeping the Senate, other Governorships, and of course lots and lots of members of the court.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a very, very minor but critical wave that I think has turned during this election: The progressive wave.

(Yeah, yeah; I know it sounds hopelessly vainglorious. Sorry about that.)

Lots of folks—I hope—will be talking about the large (but still IMO insufficient; we have to keep fighting until it’s more than 218!) numbers of women going to the House this year; more than 100. And that’s awesome. But the one I want to focus on is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just elected as the representative for New York State’s 14th Congressional district.

Unknown

Why make a hoorah about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez? Well, she’s the youngest woman ever elected to congress, for one. She’s Hispanic, for another. But for me the biggest issue is she’s an unrepentant, in-your-face, vocal progressive. She even has the juevos to call herself an American Socialist, in the mold of Bernie Sanders.

Aside: An “American Socialist” is not someone who advocates total statewide socialism, but rather a mixed system more in the European model. Think Sweden. I will continue to call her a progressive because that’s what I call myself, and because her positions are so close to mine. But if you prefer to think of her and me as “American Socialists”, go ahead. But do not think of either one of us as “socialists” in the mold of Stalin, because that is a canard designed solely to denigrate.

That’s significant all by itself, of course. Because as you might imagine, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took no end of abuse for her positions from the right-wing media, right-wing politicians, and plenty of sneering, inside-the-beltway and NorthEastern media outlets as well.

The “common wisdom” with this latter group, which has ruled the Democratic Party since the Clinton years, is that you simply can’t win by being too liberal. “New Democrats,” “Neo-liberals,” the folks that used to make up the old “Democratic Leadership Council”…it is an article of faith with them that the progressive base is a bunch of unruly, long-haired, wild-eyed hippies who don’t understand how politics really works, who propose totally nutty ideas, and who don’t have the slightest chance of winning. Only the “adults”—i.e. themselves—understand the “game” of politics, know how to play it, and know how to win.

Of course, the positions of the dirty hippies—higher minimum wage, better healthcare coverage, legal marijuana; that tax cuts for the rich increase the deficit and the debt and don’t help anyone but the rich; that global warming is a catastrophic problem; that tearing down regulation on the financial industry will lead to serious trouble (remember 2008?); etc—have been shown to be right over and over again.

But that hasn’t mattered. “Mainstream” Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and Chuck Shumer and their ilk (and yes Barack Obama and very much Hillary Clinton) have spent decades making fun of the progressive base. Have colluded with the mainstream press at “hippie bashing,” a favorite Washington D.C. sport. Being right apparently doesn’t matter when you’re on the left (a topic I’ve touched on previously).

Which brings us back to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She espouses a lot of classic progressive positions from which the “moderate” Democratic Party leadership recoils, and touts them proudly: Tuition-free college; transitioning to renewable energy; single-payer healthcare. Positions that many Americans support, and are only “radical” to Republicans, Democratic politicians, and the mainstream press. (Also on the list: Gun control, and raising the minimum wage.) But Common Wisdom demands you not mention such heretical notions during your campaign, and glory above, Ocasio-Cortez championed them. She highlighted them.

And by doing so, in the face of a total lack of support by the party, she booted out a 10 term incumbent and entrenched party apparatchik who had the support of all the Democratic elected officials in the state, just about. She was outspent by 18-1. The Democratic establishment did all but publicly sneer at her. And not only did she win, she crushed her opponent by 15 points. A 10 term incumbent.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t have a Wikipedia page until after her primary victory. She was basically ignored by the press. No money? You’re a full-throated progressive? Must be a loser!

Well, now that loser is going to DC.

And this is why I’m talking about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She is the acid test for the proposition that people don’t want “real” progressives, they want moderates. That people don’t want anyone young, don’t want women, don’t want people of color. That Democrats should only offer up bland, middle-of-the-road white guys who are essentially Rockefeller Republicans because no one will ever vote for a real progressive.

Guess what, Democratic “leadership”? We will. And we did. And now some of them are going to Washington to hopefully kick some of your entrenched waffled butts into gear. Because we have had more than enough of being condescended to, being sneered at, and being told we were “too leftist”. We’re winning, we’re going to keep winning, and you better get used to it.

Media Framing

When folks talk about how important it is to keep an eye on how media “frames” the news, I can understand people’s eyes glazing over. But let me present a good example here, and maybe it’ll be both clearer, and unsoporific. Consider this article from Wired about high tech contributions: https://www.wired.com/story/tech-workers-overwhelmingly-support-democrats/
 
What’s the headline lead you to believe? If you’re me, it’s that tech folks spend the majority of their contributions on Democrats, right? “Overwhelmingly” would imply a *huge* proportion. But look at the chart below.
Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 1.26.56 PM
What’s the actual breakdown? Tech folks spend 1% of their contributions on Republican candidates/causes, 9% on company PACs (which is a whole different post), and 23% on Democrats. So yes, 23% is “overwhelmingly” greater than 1%, sure. But the thing that genuinely surprised me was we spend 67% on non-partisan groups.
 
67% is a huge amount, nearly 3 times what is spent on Democrats and far more than all other categories combined. And *that* is the real piece of news here. A much more accurate, less deceptive headline would be “Tech Workers Overwhelmingly Support Non-Partisan Causes.” That’s the actual news here.
 
Is it a surprise that tech people vote for Democrats? No, of course not. So why trumpet it? Why to throw fuel on the partisanship fire and sell more magazines, obviously. Highlighting the findings differently wouldn’t cause that frisson of anger in Republican readers that drives clicks.
 
And the thing is, IMO the chart shows you how tech workers think better than, “They’re all Democrats!”, which is what the headline implies. We’re not all Democrats. We may be massively progressive—I believe we are—but not to the point where we think our money is best spent by a party that is only nominally progressive and is entirely too close to Wall St., too hawkish, too wimpy to fight for the causes we believe are important.
 
What would be far more interesting, WIRED, would be if you broke down that other 67% and showed just which non-partisan groups tech workers contributed to. Because that would show what we care about, and that might even show the hidebound Democratic Party what they might actually want to spend their time and efforts on if they want to attract tech workers.
 
This is IMO deceptive news framing in action, and it happens all the time. (And I know for a fact that reporters are frequently driven crazy by headline writers, who are a different group entirely.)
 
Do better, media. The friggin’ country is at stake.
 

Why Pro-choice/Pro-life will never see eye-to-eye

abortion
Image courtesy of Mashable

For a long time, I totally didn’t understand the anti-abortion folks.  Yes, they believe a fetus is a person, but the underlying assumption that women can’t be trusted to make this decision, or that women cavilierly just walk into a clinic and use abortion as birth control, just sickened me, honestly.  How could a rational person actually believe that?

And then I realized that it’s because they believe a fetus is a person. I know you know that, but let me break it down a bit.

I think pro-choice people make a big mistake in how they frame the issue.  “It’s about women’s health!” they say.  “The health of the mother!  Do you want to force a woman to bear the child of a rape, or incest, or that might kill her?”  All those arguments make perfect sense to me, but they’re falling on deaf ears.   Because from the moment it is created, the fetus is a person.  Don’t you see?  It a human being, with rights and privileges.  And an abortion is, literally, murder.

So arguing that they shouldn’t force their beliefs on you strikes these folks as absurd; this is murder.   Surely murder is one of the few areas where the rights of the state to enforce laws over-rides everything else?  This is not (as Rachel Maddow puts it) “Wanting the government to regulate every woman’s uterus;” this is merely a logical extension of the government acting against a heinous crime, i.e. murder.

In this context, Roe v. Wade is immaterial; this is murder.  Murder shouldn’t be allowed, period.  Saying that if you support capital punishment but are against abortion is immaterial to these folks; capital punishment is the rightous punishment of the state for committed crimes.  Abortion is murder, and shouldn’t be allowed.  And any danger to the mother, or forcing her to carry the child of rape, or incest?  It’s completely beside the point; killing that fetus is murder, so if a woman has to suffer to save that life, so be it.  If the woman’s life is at risk to carry that pregnancy to term, that’s a risk they should be willing to take to save a life.  That microscopic multi-celled creature is a personto these people, and aborting it is murder, and murder is evil.  Period, end of discussion.  Do you see?

And when you toss in that a good percentage of these folks believe that any sex not focused on procreation, any sex that is engaged in for pleasure only, is genuinely evil, well, it’s an easy call for them.  (And clearly if non-procreative sex is evil, any woman who engages in it is clearly a whore, and deserves what she gets.  I don’t think all anti-abortion folks think that, but I bet plenty of them do.)

Now as we saw in Mississippi in 2012, these folks are not even a majority of the population in one of the reddest states in the country.  But they’re a loud minority, and one which is never going to change their point of view, and which is (as we seen with the heinous murders of abortion doctors) very dangerous.  I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I do know two things:  we’ll never see eye-to-eye with them, and arguing about “women’s health” as a way to change their minds is simply going to fall on deaf ears.  We need to start thinking outside the box.

Yeah, it’s a bummer of a post; it’s a bummer time for our country these days.  I’ll try to be more cheerful with the next one.

The “Opioid Epidemic”, a contrarian view

Tags

, , , ,


I suffer from chronic pain.

It’s important for you to know this so you have context for my current leery attitude towards the vehement, almost-religious hysteria about our current “opioid epidemic”.  In 2000, I blew out a disk in my neck, which bulged into my spinal cord, causing some pretty excruciating pain.  This was only allieved by removing the offending disk, taking a chunk out of my hip (which hurt every bit as much as it sounds like it would), filing it down, putting it in place of the disk, and clamping it all together with a titanium plate so it can “fuse”.

Like most surgical procedures, this had some unintended consequences, like lack of mobility in my neck, and a moratorium on any “violent” activities that might hurt the neck.  (Which basically amounts to anything more “violent” than “walking”.  Even swimming is out.  No biking. Or racquetball. Or skiing.  Or soccer.  Or running.  Or disk golf.  Or regular golf.  Or bowling.  Or…well, you get the picture.). But the worst of which is I have pain at the base of my skull on the right-hand side all the time

To a non-chronic-pain sufferer, it’s almost impossible to get this point across.  I hurt all the time.  There are no times when I don’t hurt.  Some days I’m lucky and it doesn’t hurt much, but it never doesn’t hurt.  If I try to turn my head all the way around, it not only hurts, I get faint.  This is my cross to bear, and it sucks.  I don’t like to talk about it because for one, who wants to hear someone whine about their pain, but for another I mostly control it with meds.  Including opioids.  I take two: Tramadol (which is partially an opioid) and time-release morphine (which is the full, extra-strength, no-kidding king o’ opioids).  I’m not happy about this, and I’m especially displeased by some of the side-effects, but I’d much rather deal with a bit of constipation than constant, mind-numbing pain.

It’s important you understand just how severe this pain can be before I get on to the supposed “epidemic”, so please forgive the following bluntness.

Take a butter-knife, a dull one, and press it to the soft part of your head just under the base of your skull.  Gently.  Maybe with, oh, 5 pounds of force.  Annoying, but not debilitating.  Certainly you’ll notice it almost all the time, but it won’t keep you from doing daily activities.  (Unless you turn your head past 75 degrees or so, at which press down harder on the knife, and twist.)

That’s the case on my meds.  With the opioids.

Remove the meds.  What’s the pain like?  Remove the knife and replace it with a drill press, which punches in through your skin and all the way down into your spinal column with 50, 60, 100 pounds of force.  Over and over and over again.  If lucky, it’s synchronized to your heartbeat, so you can at least anticipate the pain.  If you’re unlucky, it ebbs and flows and thrusts to its own internal, unpredictable rhythm, causing the pain to intensify or decrease with no warning.  The pain is so intense it creates “referred pain” in other parts of your body; in my case the shoulder.  It also often triggers my migraines.  I “only” suffer from “common” migraines, the least painful.  Combine these migraines with the neck pain, and it’s . . . 

Let me put it this way:  The last time my pain peaked (I call them “pain flare-ups”), I was in the shower at 3am, in the dark, crouched on the floor with the water pounding down, weeping and wondering if I shouldn’t just kill myself to end the suffering.  If you know me, I’m a basically positive person.  It’s hard to get me down, and harder to keep me down.  

That’s pain: Weeping and suicidal in the shower on the floor in the dark, because you can’t stand it.  Cursing an unfeeling God for bringing this upon you.  I honestly don’t know how people who suffer worse than me—and there are many!—don’t become atheists.  Or simply kill thesmelves.

Which brings us to “the opioid epidemic”.  There’s been a number of articles in various papers and magazines talking about the “scary increase” in opioid addiction and overdose numbers. (Look at this one, or this one, or this one; and that’s just for starters.)  More people dying or ODing from prescription opiates, and what to do about it.  And the alarmist language is impossible to miss, with the proposed solutions almost always being more draconian restrictions.  (Honestly it reminds me of the Reagan era “war on drugs”.)

Let me say a few things about this.  

First, I don’t know how many of these “overdoses” are from people just like me who decide they’ve dealt with it long-fucking-enough and the time has come to give the karmaic wheel a turn.  In other words, how many of these alleged “overdoses” are actually suicides? Has any effort been made to find out?  Because if it’s a significant percentage (as I suspect), it’s not an “opioid epidemic” so much as a “chronic pain and suicide” epidemic.  And creating more restrictive and draconian laws to restrain opioid prescriptions won’t help.

I also wonder how many of these supposed overdoses, or the people who go to multiple doctors to get extra doses of opioids, are simply suffering severe pain

Now don’t get me wrong: I know there are people who use the medical industry and the holes therein to get drugs to sell to other people for profit.  No question.  Not arguing.  Not do I argue that people don’t get addicted.  

But what percentage of the “getting more than they should” are actually criminals, and which are simply desperately in-pain people looking for help?  What people are actually not addicted to opioids, but addicted to not being in pain all the damn time?

The reason I think these distinctions are absolutely critical is because in the current (and coming escalating) war against “opioid abuse”, people like me are going to be collateral damage.  A quick story to illustrate what I mean.

When my doctor prescribed morphine for me—which I objected to, but he insisted was the next step—I had to sign a multi-page waver agreeing I would never take any more than he prescribed, that I understood he would drop me like a hot rock if he discovered I was getting meds anywhere else, that I had to submit to random urine tests, and that he could have my first-born for all I know.  It was unbelievable, and I don’t think my continued use of the word “draconian” is over-blown.

Then I had the aforementioned flare-up and suicidal contemplations, during which I took the other meds (Tramadol, Exedrin) I was “allowed” to at my discretion, but out of desperation took one—ONE—extra morphine tablet.  When I told my doctor at the next visit, I was punished.  And there’s really no other word for it.  I was lectured.  I was told I needed to call in first.  (At 3am from the floor of the dark shower?)  I was told I would need to come in every two weeks rather than every four for the next six weeks, at any visit of which I was going to have to have urine samples.  I was threatened with dismissal as a patient if I ever did it again.

ONE EXTRA TABLET.

Even at the time, my doctor admitted I was a “model patient,” that I had always done as they asked, gotten blood work when they asked, always been straight with them.  And now a “model patient” was being punished for, in his agony and desperation, taking a single extra tablet.

I think about this every time I read a call-to-arms for making our laws even more draconian than they already are.  And I think about the fact that these more draconian laws will inevitably hurt the people most who are following the rules.  If I, a model patient, have to go in every four weeks for a “med check” visit, am subjected to random urine tests, and treated like a criminal when I take a single extra morphine tablet, how much worse are they going to make it for me and the other, non-model patients?

So please, do me a favor when reading about this “opioid epidemic”:  Bear in mind people may be overdosing not because they’re drug addicts, but because they’re in such massive pain they’ve become utterly desperate.  And remember what one “model patient” has to go through and think how much harder it will be.  

And have sympathy for us chronic pain sufferers.  Because sometimes, I’m telling you: Opioids are all we’ve got.

The Dangerous Self-Delusions of Some Hillary Supporters

Tags

, , ,

image
Like these here folks

As we’re in the home stretch (fucking finally) of the 2016 election cycle, and Hillary Clinton is now the official nominee, there are some trends that I’ve been seeing for a long while that, in the big picture, are kinda scary, and I wanted to talk about.

First the obvious:  In the abstract, it is absolutely amazing we finally have a woman at the top of a Presidential ticket.  Women are woefully, absurdly under-represented in the public sector (outside of folks working as administrative assistants, I would imagine), and it is far past time we had a woman at the top of the ballot.  And I think the excitement among many women generated by her candidacy is pretty damn understandable.

Still in abstract mode:  It’s good we have a qualified candidate on our ticket.  No matter what you think of her, Clinton has been involved in politics for a long, long time, had an intimate look at how a Presidential administration works, and has accumulated some good legislative and diplomatic experience since Bill left office.  No matter what the right-wing nut jobs (RWNJ) say, this lady is qualified.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Hillary Clinton is a terribly-flawed candidate, something that caused me to vote for someone else in 2008, and made me lament this election season, “Does it have to be this woman?”  Even more unfortunately, expressing that kind of thought has been, if not exactly dangerous, a good path to get inundated with charges of sexism and misogyny.  Pointing out her very real non-progressive policy problems doesn’t seem to help; if you were for Bernie against Hillary, you must be a sexist, patriarchical pig (in some quarters).

But now I’m seeing some genuine delusional thinking among Hillary supporters, and it’s kind of scaring me.  It’s scaring me for Hillary, because she might actually lose to Trump and, despite my dislike of her as a candidate, she is so much better than him it’s scarcely worth talking about why.  But I’m also worried that by allowing themselves (and this includes the folks inside the campaign) to continue on with these delusions, they’re going to endanger a very real chance of taking over the Senate or House.

There are two main delusions working here:

She is being unfairly treated by the press, but once people “really” get to know her (or “once she gets her message out”) they’ll see she’s great.

And the response to this is a simple negative: No.  No they won’t.  Hillary has been in the national public eye for more than a quarter-century, and a plethora of polls show that people have made up their mind about her.  Another huge set of polls show her negatives are higher than her positives; ignoring Trump, she is the most widely disliked candidate to ever run for President since polling started.

Lots of people hate Hillary, everyone has made up their minds, and that’s not going to change for many people, if any.

And the dangerous delusion is that this will change.  That people will actually give a shit about her “official policies”, or listen to her speeches, or be convinced by the endless articles about how unfairly treated she is by the press.  Or by going to her rallies.  Or by anything.  People’s minds are made up, and the best thing her folks can do is work hard to get people to the polls.  Not just to save us from Trump, but for the down-ballot folks who can benefit from a higher turnout.  Higher turnout, Dems win.  It’s that simple.  And this leads us to the second, even scarier delusion:

There’s no ‘enthusiasm gap’.

Again, a simple response is available: Yeah, there is.  It’s very real, and there’s been a ton of polls and articles that support this.

This delusion was displayed in stark terms today with dueling columns in the New York Times, where Paul Krugman pooh-poohed the idea there’s an enthusiasm gap (with a pointer to an article by Michelle Goldberg from April, aeons ago in political time), and another article talking about how Millenial black women are indeed very unenthusiastic about Hillary’s candidacy.

I’m a very leftist Progressive, one who has advocated for GLBT equal rights for decades, who believes we need single-payer healthcare, who thinks the government needs to stop financing monogamy, etc. etc.  Hillary is a New Democrat Apparatchik who is a war hawk (Henry Kissinger, FFS!), has close ties to Wall St., and has followed her husband’s trailblazing path by not just ignoring her base, but (with encouragement from the Beltway press) actively and publicly scorning them and their policies.  That she has now paid us lip service by including some of our policies in the party platform is nothing but window dressing, given no one really pays attention to the party platform after an election.  (Note none of this has anything to do with her gender.)

One might argue I’m an outlier.  But in addition to the Bernie folks, you’ve got plenty of Progressives who distrust Hillary because of her defense policies, her Wall St. ties, and other issues where previously (as a Senator or Secretary of State or even early in the campaign) she said and did one thing, and then (mostly after leftward pressure from Bernie) she changed her tune, or seemed to.

There are also more than a few people with Clinton Fatigue.  Almost all these folks  are well aware she is treated unfairly by the press, that her reputation for lying/sneakiness/whatever is something the RWNJ press has been hammering into the public consciousness for decades.  And they don’t care.  They’re sick of hearing about Benghazi, emails, Vince Foster, lame jokes about Monica, and on and on and on.  And the only way they’re going to be relieved of that fatigue is by the Clintons stepping away from public life.  So you can imagine that looking forward to another 4-8 years of Clinton nonsense feels these folks (and yes, I’m one of them) not with excitement, but a fatal combination of dread and ennui.  These are the people who saw her lose in 2008 and breathed a sigh of relief.  One that was premature, as it turned out.

This is a group that includes people like my mom, whose feminist cred dates to the early 70s and indoctrinating her son with Ms. Magazine and Our Bodies, Our Selves.  My good bi friend who actually worked with Hillary in the mid-90s.  My wildly progressive friend in Portland.  My ex-gf, who applied to be a Bernie delegate at the convention.  And on and on.  This is anecdotal, of course it is, but it’s backed up by plenty of polling data.

But Paul Krugman and other Hillary boosters seem to want to deny this is an issue.  They have a double-barreled strategy:  1) There is no enthusiasm problem, and 2) Even if there were, what are those whiny progressives going to do about it anyway?  Vote Trump!  Ha ha ha ha ha!

It’s a problem.  And not just for Hillary, but for the down-ballot folks so important to getting any of the progressive agenda into the conversation.

Personally I don’t understand Hillary’s whole candidacy.  We found out from the whole DNC/Debbie Wasserman-Schulz debacle that what most progressives suspected was true: “The Establishment” had put their thumbs on the scale in favor of Hillary.  But why?  Aside from her high negatives, she has a terrible relationship with the press, is a desperately boring (or annoying, depending on who you ask) speaker, scorns her base, and has negative numbers that strongly suggest winning would be a very difficult, uphill battle.  Why did everyone decide she needed what amounted to a coronation rather than a primary season?  Why did so many other, very qualified women (Elizabeth Warren leaps to mind) decide to stay out of the race?  Hell, why did so many men decide to stay out?  WtF kind of party decides even before the primary season that there’s basically only going to be one candidate?  What the hell?

And The Democratic Establishment wonders why so many of the “rank and file”, so many of the progressives, so many of the millennials, so many African-Americans, so many college-educated men, weren’t all immediately sold on the Hillary narrative.  Why people keep saying their out of touch.  Well, duh!

So I hope to God the Hillary boosters’ delusions are either popped (though I see no evidence that’s going to happen any time soon), or it ends up not making a difference because Trump is so awful he drives people away and into voting for Hillary and the other Democrats.

I hope.