CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

Hobby Lobby hypocrisy: 401k plan invests in contraception

HobbyLobbyEverydayObamacare litigant secretly profiting from the very immorality it publicly opposes.

The story by Molly Redden in Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers,” is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. In short: three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan investments are in funds that invest in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby’s owners object to having covered by their insurance plans: Continue reading

Africa

Tackling poverty means that there will be more KFCs in Africa

Photo credit: CIMMYT.

Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya

Gates Foundation and KFC initiatives are better news than many understand.

Rural villages in Africa are not just poor, their demography is hollowed out. Continue reading

Health

Infographic: Commuting can be hazardous to your health. Fatal, even.

One in six Americans commutes an hour and a half a day. It makes us more angry, less happy, increases back pain and triples our risk of heart attack.

I hate commuting. Hate. It. Not only is it simply no fun sitting in a rush hour parking lot, I’m stingy about my time. Even if I’m wasting it sitting on the couch, it’s my time. If I have to commute an hour or two a day, that’s time devoted to work that I’m not being paid for. Continue reading

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAW

Tuesday Morning RAW: WTF is WWE Creative thinking?

Sometimes I have no clue what the WWE Creative team is doing. Which is appropriate, because I don’t think they do, either.

Case #1: Recently the WWE made a token donation to Chris Nowinski’s organization, which is dedicated to studying and preventing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

The gift is being made to the Sports Legacy Institute, a Boston non-profit with a mission to advance treatment and prevention of the effects of concussions in athletes and others, such as soldiers concussed by blasts. The Sports Legacy Institute has a pro wrestling connection: Co-founder Chris Nowinski played football at Harvard but also wrestled in the WWE under names that included Chris Harvard.

Nice gesture, and one that’s potentially even more powerful if Creative can put a storyline behind it. Almost immediately they had HHH, aka Paul Levesque, the company’s COO and one of its biggest stars, sustain a storyline concussion in a pay-per-view match with Brock Lesnar. Excellent, I thought – they’re now going to use this to illustrate the dangers of messing with a head injury.

Well, not exactly. They had HHH attempting to get back in the ring immediately, where his symptoms manifested in a match against Curtis Axel and he was unable to continue. So far, so good. But then they trot out his wife, VP of Creative Stephanie McMahon, and his father-in-law, CEO Vince McMahon, to explain that he was being withheld from further competition in the interests of his health. Great.

Except that they played Vince and Stephanie as heels and HHH as the good guy for wanting to come back and endanger his physical and neurological well being. They worked the angle so as to incite the crowd to scream for HHH’s return.

WTF? Do these people even read the company’s own press releases?

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAWCase 2: In another extended program, Creative pitted Sheamus against the Intellectual Savior of the Masses, Damien Sandow. If you don’t follow WWE, Sandow plays an insufferable elitist snob and Sheamus is the lovable rough-and-tumbler from the mean streets of Dublin. In show after show, Sandow attempted to outsmart Sheamus and to make him look foolish in the process. Each time Sheamus comes out on top via a boot to the face.

Now, there are a couple of issues here. First off, Sheamus was being played as a straight-up schoolyard bully. And second, he’s the face. The storyline set the smart kid up as the smarmy asshole, the bully up as the good guy, and the payoff was when the bully beat up the brainiac.

The crowd goes wild!

So yes, WWE Creative concocted a program where the bully was the hero. Well, so what, you say? You don’t necessarily expect pro wrestling to be a font of intellectual enlightenment, right?

No, but it might not be unreasonable to expect better of a company that’s explicitly pushing a goddamned no-bullying initiative!

Be a STAR (Show Tolerance And Respect) was founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE in April 2011. The mission of Be a STAR is to ensure a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness. Be a STAR promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect because everyone is a star in their own right.

Currently, Be a STAR has 58 alliance members, including National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN), GLAAD, STOMP Out Bullying, The Ad Council and the United Federation of Teachers all partnering together to take action against bullying.


Furthermore, The Alliance debuted Be a STAR Chapter Toolkits to help schools and communities start their own Be a STAR chapters. The free kit includes a guide on how to start a Be a STAR chapter, suggested activities, resources, a poster and other useful tools to combat bullying. The chapter toolkit has been downloaded by more than 4,000 students across the country.
Through the Be a STAR website, over 30,000 people from all 50 US states and from 91 international countries have taken the pledge to end bullying through WWE’s Be a STAR program.

In an ongoing effort to spread the word about tolerance and respect, WWE Superstars and Divas visit two – three schools or community centers per month to speak with students about bullying issues including sharing their own personal stories.

I repeat, WTF?

It’s like Creative is somehow engaged in a battle for the soul of the organization. By golly, corporate and diversity can go out and fund all the prosocial bullshit they like, but tune into Monday Night RAW to see us undermine every bit of it. Take that, goody-goody bitches.

If we ever see the company unveiling an anti-racism campaign, I guess we’ll know to expect an R-Truth heel turn where he’ll team his Negro Drug Dealer persona with “The Minstrel” Cody Rhodes (wearing blackface, of course) in a program against a fan favorite Ku Klux Klansman character. And since he speaks German, maybe you add in Antonio Cesaro as The Midnight Rider’s cool Nazi sidekick.

It makes every bit as much sense as some of the other angles we’ve seen lately…

CATEGORY: Komen

Komen Foundation circling the drain? Good riddance, and good news for cancer research

CATEGORY: KomenThe Susan Komen Foundation announced this past week that it’s slashing the number of cancer walks it stages in half.

In a decision “not made lightly,” the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure announced Wednesday that it was canceling seven of its signature three-day fundraising walks next year.

The decision comes about 18 months after the organization stoked considerable rage from some supporters when then-Komen Vice President Karen Handel pushed the organization to end funding for Planned Parenthood. Komen eventually reversed the decision, angering some other supporters.

Leaving aside for a second that the last sentence there is fundamentally incorrect – Komen did not reverse the decision and everyone, including the usually on-the-spot Ragan.com staff and, I don’t know, seemingly every news organization in America, fell for the PR misdirection – this is dire news for the foundation and good news for everybody else, including those who lives depend on finding a cure for breast cancer.

If you recall, S&R was brutally critical of Komen’s decision to put social conservative ideology ahead of women’s health, and until such time as the organization is fully rid of those responsible for the Planned Parenthood decision (primarily founder/CEO Nancy Brinker and, one assumes, all of her close associates), the conviction here remains the same: burn it to the ground, scrape the lot and dedicate our resources to those whose commitment to curing breast cancer has as its top and only priority, you know, curing breast cancer.

In this light, Komen shutting down half its events strikes us as good news, but the job is only half done. And don’t be fooled by the foundation’s slickly-crafted official statement, which is, not surprisingly, more PR smoke and mirrors:

“Many participants have reported that enthusiasm for the series remains very high, but it is more difficult for people to donate at levels they had in the past,” she said in a statement.

Yes, it’s more difficult because millions of former supporters are now done with Komen because of its conservative religious agenda.

But wait – it gets worse. Komen has been dinged a couple other times in recent months, as the Ragan article notes.

First, Komen has cut the proportion of its revenue that goes to actual research by half, with only 15% of the cash it rakes in finding its way into actual cancer research programs. That may not get them on the 50 Worst Charities list, but it has them closer to the neighborhood than a prospective donor might like.

Second, many potential supporters couldn’t have been happy to learn that Brinker’s salary jumped. Boy howdy, did it jump.

The embattled former CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure made $684,717 in 2012, Dallas News reported.

That’s 64 percent more in 2012 than she earned from April 2010 to April 2011.

Maybe this, plus the decision to hire a high-profile PR firm, helps explain why they had to trim their proportional commitment to research funding.

As I say, this is all potentially very good news for cancer research. There are a lot of very good cancer charities out there, and 11 of them earned an A- grade or better from CharityWatch.org. At least three of their top-rated organizations are explicitly dedicated to breast cancer, including the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund (A) and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (A+). The latter says it dedicates more than 90 cents of every dollar it collects to research and awareness programs, and while I’d like to see the details on the “awareness” component, which might well include the in-house marketing and development budget, the available evidence suggests that their on-point expenditures come in well north of Komen’s.

Let’s do a little math here. The Reuters article says that Komen spent $63M on research in 2011, and that this represented 15% of the donations they received. Which means their total donations were roughly $420M, right? Let’s be extremely generous and take Komen at their word about their expenditures. If we do, and if we attempt to parallel them with what BCRF’s “research and awareness” probably entails, then we get to around 75% of Komen’s total spend on education, research awards and grants, screening and treatment.

Now, say that instead of all that money going to Komen, it went to the BCRF. And let’s suppose that the BCRF managed those funds the way they manage the ones they already take in. Komen’s theoretical 75 cents on the dollar vs. BCRF’s 91 cents on the dollar adds up to a difference of $67M and change, if my calculations are accurate. Again, this is being as generous to Komen as we can possibly be.

So let’s not lament the Komen Foundation’s self-inflicted downfall. Their demise doesn’t hurt our search for a cure in the least – in fact, if all that energy and enthusiasm that Komen so effectively harnessed is simply redirected toward better organizations, it should actually be a good thing.

Seven down, seven to go.

A surprise at the urologist’s office #NSFW

NOTE: “NSFW” isn’t quite right. Not Safe To Read, period, is closer. WARNING: This article contains depictions of a doctor inserting a hypodermic needle into a man’s penis and may leave readers lying in a fetal ball on the floor.

_____

by Patrick Vecchio

The local urologist is a nice guy, but I wish he and I had not come to know each other so well over the past months. I’ve learned about his personality, sense of humor, professional demeanor and medical acumen. As for what he has learned about me—well, let’s call it inside information. Three times, he has slipped on a latex glove and lubricated his index finger for what I call the “Star Trek procedure.” That is, he boldly goes where no man has gone before. He was almost apologetic the third time and laughed when I shrugged and said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
He and I met about a year ago after a kidney stone sent me to the hospital pleading for industrial-strength pain medication. I knew what I was dealing with; X-rays simply confirmed it. I was hospitalized for two days, spending the first in a narcotic fog. He discharged me after the pain inexplicably vanished the second day and said if the stone didn’t pass in a week, he’d go in after it.

After a week, I didn’t need more X-rays to tell me the stone hadn’t budged. I’ve passed somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen kidney stones over the years, and as they scrape their way to the outside world, the stone-passer is in what I’ve seen referred to as “exquisite agony.”

 

The last half-inch of the stone’s journey is particularly unpleasant. I force myself to drink lots of water so my urine stream can blast the stone out. When a stone shoots out, it announces itself with a little “tink!” when it hits the porcelain of a toilet or urinal. During the week after I was discharged from the hospital, none of those things happened.

So the doctor booked me for surgery. There is, of course, just one open passageway from the outside world into the kidney, and he took that path while sliding a minuscule camera inside me to find the kidney stone. Fortunately, I was blissfully anesthetized.

After the brain fog lifted, I asked him how big the stone had been. He said he didn’t find one. “You must have passed it,” he said, to which I replied, “I’ve passed kidney stones before, and believe me, I know when they pass.” And the X-rays showed this one was the size of El Capitan.
The only trouble with my theory was that I had been pain-free after being discharged from the hospital, and considering that this particular stone announced itself by putting me in the hospital in the first place, my argument didn’t hold. So I went along with the urologist: I had unknowingly fired an asteroid through my apparatus. “You’re not a doctor,” I reminded myself. “Stranger things have happened.”

Earlier this month, strange things started happening again. My first signal something was amiss came when I was standing at a urinal at work and noticed not one, but two colors: the usual mellow yellow, and red.

Blood in the urine is a tad unsettling. Nonetheless, I tried to rationalize it away. “It must have been my workout on the treadmill last night,” I thought. “I really pushed it. I probably just banged up my guttyworks a bit.” And sure enough, the next day the blood was gone. I congratulated myself for the self-diagnosis.

A week later the bleeding resumed, this time after I’d spent the day mowing my lawn. With a riding mower. Workout? Strenuous? Probably not. I went to bed hoping the situation would again resolve itself overnight.

The next morning, after I had finished peeing, it looked like somebody had poured a carafe of Merlot into the toilet bowl. I couldn’t see to the bottom. This was more than a tad unsettling. As the week passed, so did more blood. Clots, too. I looked into the mirror. “‘Tis but a scratch,” I said. “I’ve had worse.” The guy in the mirror didn’t believe me.

I called the urologist, who ordered a whirlpool of tests. I had blood drawn for analysis so often that I felt whiter than the Pillsbury Doughboy. Soon, just one procedure remained. I had been X-rayed. I had been ultrasounded. This time, I was CT scanned. Immediately after the scan, I had an appointment with the urologist so he could discuss the fresh images with me.

I checked in at his office and waited a few minutes. The usually crowded waiting area was vacant. Then the nurse showed me into what I thought would be one of the routine exam rooms where the doctor and I had met before. But I knew something was amiss when she left the room saying, “Take off your pants and underpants and lie on the table on your back.”

Hmmm, I thought, lying on the table and studying the ceiling tiles. This is a change in the routine. I figured she had told me to take my pants off because the starship USS Enterprise was on its way. But a nagging little voice in my brain told me I was wrong.

I sat up and looked around. I saw strange machines with weird knobs and baffling gauges. I saw mysterious instruments and vaguely menacing medical accessories. The inside of my mouth started to feel like I had eaten a tablespoon of flour. Thinking back to the empty waiting area, I hoped for a moment that I was in this room because the other rooms were full—but the moment passed. My anxiety started to spread like bacteria in an infected urine culture. I had the caffeine shakes even though I hadn’t had any coffee. Trying to breathe was like inhaling cotton.

My adrenaline surged, but before I could flee, the urologist wrapped on the door twice with his knuckles. He and the nurse came into the room, and he said, “You have a bladder stone.” It sounded benign, considering the other possibilities, and relief washed over me like a cool sheet on a July night. I sat up and started to step off the exam table so I could start putting my pants back on.

Then he asked me to lie back down. The nurse was still in the room. She drew a curtain so that nobody opening the door could see what was going on. The cartoon thought balloon over my head was filled with three letters and a punctuation mark: WTF?

And then he started swabbing the tip of my—well, let’s just say he wasn’t swabbing the tip of my big toe. I bolted half-upright, elbows on the table.

“You’re not going in, are you?”

 

“Yes.”

Male readers—and female readers, for that matter—have no doubt begun to wince, shudder, make horrified faces or cross their legs—maybe all four. I say this because I was doing the same thing. And I was doing the same thing because I immediately remembered being in the exact same situation with a different doctor many, many years ago. It had not gone well—at least until they gave me an IV shot of something; I think it was Valium. Once it kicked in, they could have been going in with a chain saw, for all I cared.

As the doctor continued swabbing, there was no talking my way out of it. Couldn’t I get a shot of something first? Did we have to do it today? Before long, the urologist demanded that I lie back and relax because the more I moved and the more I resisted, the more uncomfortable I was going to be. I tried to relax, but it’s never a good sign when doctors use words like “uncomfortable.”

So I tried not to pay too much attention as he began slipping what felt like a needle into me. This was to numb me—or a particular part of me, anyway. “You may feel some discomfort at first,” he said in an all-business voice. Given what I was feeling and where I was feeling it, I wasn’t sure the word “discomfort” was appropriate, but at the time I couldn’t describe exactly how it felt as he was treating my equipment like it was a pincushion.

Next, he threaded one of those tiny cameras inside so he could take a look around. “I’m inside your bladder now,” he said in a voice that sounded like it was coming from another room. “You have a bladder stone.” After a pause, he said, “I don’t see any tumors.” At that moment I realized why he had looked inside instead of simply relying on images from X-rays and ultrasound and the CT scan: He wanted to see for himself. He was finished moments later. I was dazed but grateful.

We met a few minutes later in his office, where he showed me the pictures from the test earlier that morning. “There’s the stone,” he said. “This is causing the blood in your urine.” It looked like it was the size of a black bean. Clearly, it wasn’t going to go anywhere.

For the briefest of moments, I considered asking him whether this was the missing kidney stone. Had it dropped from the ureter into a bladder backwater—and no farther—where it had rolled around and accumulated a mineral coating like a peanut inside an M&M? At that point, though, I only wanted to get out of his office as quickly as possible, so I didn’t ask. I suspect there’s no way to know, anyway.

So now he’s going to go back in again with a laser to break the stone into small enough pieces to pass. Before the surgery, I am flying to Florida for a family get-together. I am not a good flier. At the slightest bump in the flight, I start death-gripping the armrests and watching the flight attendants’ faces for signs of alarm.

But if the ride gets at all choppy either on my way South or on my way home, I’ll simply think of my reaction when the urologist began swabbing me down. That should take my mind off any bumps in the air.

I just hope the passengers next to me don’t freak out when I start wincing and crossing my legs.

CATEGORY: Health

Angelina Jolie and a brave, terrifying decision

Dice (representing probability)

At what odds would you want someone second-guessing you?

Subjective rant in 3…2…

This one’s for those with opinions about Angelina Jolie’s boobs, especially those who don’t have ‘em. Sadly, it seems even some women don’t get this. Generally, I couldn’t give less of a crap about celebrity anything, but I’ve got a soft spot for her. I respect her for the difficult decision she made. I mean, seriously…you think it was an easy decision? Step into her mind for a moment (at least as I imagine it…you might imagine it differently).

“Hey, there’s this part of me I’ve been fretting about since I was a pimple-faced kid, that society says is more important than my brains, talent, or character, that I get judged by more often than not, and that, when dealing with men, probably has a huge effect on how much money I make, and when dealing with women probably causes all kinds of catty unspoken criticisms for being either too big or not big enough or being the real cause of any success I have, like *I* didn’t have anything to do with it. Oh, and it’s surgery, so this shit is gonna hurt. And I’ll never get to see myself in the mirror again like I used to. And I might have to second-guess whether I’m more important than my boobs to a guy who could have his pick of other women.”

Other than that? It’s none of my damned business. I know this, though. If a doctor said I’ve got a significant chance of being killed by crotch cancer, and we agree on the essence of significant, that shit’s coming off. My manhood and my humanity are defined by who I am and what I show everyone, not by a bit of extra meat-baggage. Would I be scared and probably have issues forever? Sure. But I’d be alive to have those issues. As for anyone that dared to fucking[1] question that decision?  That’s the moment that person stops mattering even a little.

[1] Any question, even hypothetical, of my possible castration or anything approximating it merits an f-bomb in my book.  If there were an even worse word to use for amplification, I’d use it.

Here’s Rosalarian‘s take on the matter.

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Image credit: John Morgan.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Funny

Death to Stabby, or couldn’t we all use a little schadenfreude right about now?

Kiwi slices

Ohhhhhhhhhh. Huh?

Today’s adventure involves scalpels.

It seems Universe is getting back at me for all the times I’ve called someone else a boil on the ass of society, except that Universe either has really bad aim or a sense of humor. In a place that um, shall we say, affects my mobility, there arose a boil a couple days ago. Not only did a hot compress do diddly, I managed to piss it off something fierce somehow. Yesterday it told me how angry it was with a hot, stabbing pain any time I (pick one/mix and match): bent down, turned, twisted, knelt, squatted, climbed, or carried. Luckily, that was only the last half of the day. Before that it was just mildly uncomfortable. If this doesn’t cause at least a little schadenfreude from some quarters I’ll be both mystified and disappointed.

This morning it was bad enough that I decided it was a fine day to visit the ER. I’m not generally one for polite euphemisms, but when standing at an ER desk populated with 3-5 people paying attention at any one time, and passers-by, it’s a delicate matter to state one’s reason for being there. “I’m here because um. I have this, erm.” *cough* Even if I’d whispered this, it had to sound like, “I’VE GOT AN INFECTION THAT’S GOTTEN OUT OF CONTROL IN A RATHER DELICATE PLACE AND IT’S AFFECTING MY MOBILITY!”

Naturally, the first step after that was to have a seat and answer questions for intake.

*stab*

Of course, it is only then that it occurs to me that I might wish to have my insurance card handy. As it happens, it was conveniently tucked away in my wallet. In my back pocket. I can have either a twist and a *stab* or a stand *stab* and sit *stab* Decisions, decisions. I opt for the solo *stab* and twist to reach my wallet. I forgot about the twist to right myself after that. *stab* I got two bonus *stabs* for putting wallet back. “Oh, my ID?” *stab* *stab* *stab* *stab*

When they wanted emergency contact information, I gave them my significant other’s. Having given me a ride there, she was standing right behind me. Name? Check. Address? Check. Phone? Check. Relationship? Check. *typetypetypeclickclickclick* And how long has this been going on?

“Oh, about three years.”

A look a shock from the clerk. A pause.

“Oh, you mean the infection! 2-3 days!”

A round of laughter rolls through ER, thankfully including my significant other.

I was joined by a young man in the examination room. Judging from his clothes and the fact he was sent in by the others, I can only assume he belonged there. I don’t think I ever saw his nametag or learned what his role was. What he did says, “medical assistant” or “nurse,” but his clothes said, “EMT.” He’s got plenty of other medical history questions, and I let him know from the start that I only shared part of the story out there, given that there’s um, delicate areas involved.

I let him know the full extent of the reason for my visit. After writing it all down he agrees. “Yup, ‘delicate area’ works for me.”

I figured as long as we’re talking about my horrid deformations I’d bring up the sebaceous cyst on the back of my neck. It’s been sitting there, out of sight, out of mind (mostly) for a fair bit now. I had one there a few years ago that finally got to the size of a peach pit before I finally considered it sufficient reason to lose several days pay. Apparently the first surgeon missed a spot, because by fair bit I mean more like a year and a half, and in that time it’s grown to about the size of an almond. When asked, it’s just my CIA implant. It was almost worth having just for the looks, but what the hell. May as well cut out all the things, right?

He takes my blood pressure and my temperature. The waiting begins.

Eventually a kindly older man came in and introduced himself. We’ll call him Bill. When addressed by anyone, either by EMT-Nurse-Strangerman or someone peeking in to speak with Bill about medical things, it was always, “Bill.” Not doctor. Oh, did I forget to mention the bit where I’d already changed into the Buttless Robe of Medical Shame? Sitting or lying, there was no way I couldn’t help but to go all Sharon Stone on my hapless audience.

Luckily for me, there were no precog psychic grammar nazis there. Not near the scalpels, at least.

EMT-Nurse-Strangerman took off. Bill had a good, thorough look over the Occupied Territories. Upon spotting my friend Stabby, he proceeded to press it like a patient pushing the call button for more morphine. Yes, that was an 8 on the 10-point scale, thank you. The one on my neck got the same attention, but that one wasn’t sore, so nyah.

We agreed to take care of the CIA implant first, then get around to Stabby. EMT-Nurse-Strangerman returned for the procedures. The only thing that sucked about getting the CIA implant sorted out was the lidocaine shot. Those bastards hurt a bit. After that, the only thing notable was the amount of gunk that came out. Turns out it was a peach pit after all. It was just playing a friendly little game of Iceberg.

It was all downhill from there.

Let’s just say that Stabby was Vastly Unamused by the lidocaine needle. I went all Spinal Tap and declared it an 11.

After all the preliminaries had been seen to, Bill turned to the tray.

“Doc, do me a favor will you?”

“Yeah?”

“Once you’ve got the knife, don’t sneeze.”

“You don’t either.”

Bill and EMT-Nurse-Strangerman seemed to appreciate my sense of humor.

Finally, Stabby was drained by the turn of events and stopped being a huge pain. A bandage was surgically taped in place, a promise of fun to come tomorrow. And Friday. And Saturday. And Sunday. I’m thinking of starting a new grooming trend and calling it a Montanan.

Much aftercare was discussed, many good-natured jokes of the “let’s not embarrass Sharon Stone here any more than we have to” variety, and I vigorously agreed to follow all of the directions. “After all, last word I want to hear from you is ‘gangrene.” Pause. Bill: Amputation! For comic effect, EMT-Nurse-Strangerman even flicked open his pocketknife, an impressive piece with a nice combination blade. Most awesome ER moment I’ve ever had. Comedy genius!

I ditched the Buttless Robe of Medical Shame once they cleared out, put my clothes back on, headed out, wrapped up paperwork, and got my prescription for antibiotics and pain killers as well as a return to work note.

Might I say I’m extremely glad to be surrounded by kind, thoughtful, tactful, and considerate folks here. The person to receive this documentation at work also happens to be the boss’ wife. She didn’t even bat an eye at the words presented to her on the return to work note.

“Frank has had minor surgery on his neck and groin, should work in a clean environment until Monday.”

Considering I basically cover myself in filth for a living, whether it be dust and dirt and chaff, or grease, new and old, or any of no less than four different species of poo, she was quite amenable to letting me run a deficit on my sick time.

And this is how I got a five-day weekend.

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Image Credit:

Kiwi slices by Dan4th @ flikr.com, licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Sports

Hey, Chicago Bulls fans: I’m starting to worry about Derrick Rose

Starmelo is in the news today telling everybody to LEAVE DERRICK ROSE ALONE!

“I wish y’all would stop rushing Derrick back,” said Anthony, whose Knicks, winners of 13 straight, play the Bulls on Thursday night. “Please. He shouldn’t come back until he’s about 110 percent ready. I don’t think he should come back if he’s not ready to go out there and play. If he can’t compete at a high level, then what’s a couple more months going to do? What’s two more months going to do? I don’t think he should come back, and that’s just my opinion.

“I really don’t know where he’s at with his rehab and stuff like that, but I feel bad for him because I know he’s got to deal with that every day, he’s got to deal with that question. And nobody really knows on the outside what he’s really going through, what his body is going through. So until he’s 100 percent right, I would hope he would sit out.”

Anthony probably has a point, although he also has some vested interest in Rose not rushing back. Heck, sit out next season, too, just to be safe, you know?

But then we get to the thing I find myself pondering on: “A source told ESPNChicago.com in early March that Rose has been medically cleared to play but needs to regain his confidence in his left leg before he will return.”

Fact 1: Rose is medically cleared to play. For a month, and counting. Given how valuable Rose is to the team, I’m guessing the docs are being pretty conservative in their diagnosis, too.

Fact 2: Despite being physically okay, Rose is refusing to play.

I’m sensitive to the psychology here because, as the kids these days are fond of saying, “I been there.” In January of 1998 I destroyed my left knee playing hoops. It sounds, from all I can gather, like Rose’s injury was pretty similar to mine: torn ACL, torn meniscus. I promise you, he has my full and unconditional sympathy. I have never felt pain like that and the whole surgery and rehab process never stopped sucking.

But … Rose is reluctant, whereas I couldn’t get back to playing fast enough. Rose had surgery on May 12, 2012 – 11 months ago to the day. I was back playing baseball – with limited activity – in four months. I was back on the basketball court in six months.

I hear you laughing. You’re thinking “bitch, please – you ain’t never been Derrick Rose.” Which is true. At no point was I placing my knee under the kind of competitive stress that that Rose sees every trip down the floor.

On the other hand, I was 37 by the time I had surgery and was well past my physical prime, whereas Rose is a superhuman elite athlete in the heart of his healing peak years. So, to some extent, maybe we’re talking six of one, half dozen of the other?

I don’t know Derrick Rose, but I know why some are questioning him. He doesn’t want to come back until he’s 100%. He wants to be mentally confident. He has no interest in returning until he knows he can be a premier contributor to his team. I get all that and I respect it.

But if it were me, I’d have been back on the floor the second the physicians cleared me. I think that’s probably true of a lot of pro athletes. And while you don’t hear his fellow players calling him out, I guarantee you that a lot of them are questioning his courage in private. You’re medically cleared. Your body is ready. Your team needs you. And you’re sitting it out down the stretch because you want to make sure you’re 110%? Derrick, at 85% you’re still one of the best players in the league. Right now, you’re a difference maker.

And yet … he isn’t playing. He hears the whispers, he hears the veiled implications in the punditry, so he knows he’s being talked about. He knows people are questioning his courage, his commitment, his cojones.

I’m worried about Rose because I know what it’s like that first time you step on the floor. The first time out on the break. The first time you make a pivot in a crowded post. You cannot help being afraid. You can’t. Your body is ready to dance, but your mind remembers the pain of the injury and the months of instability as you rehab. You remember vividly being unable to do a single revolution on the exercise bike because the knee is still too swollen. You remember the first few nights after the surgery, when you have to sleep strapped into a machine that flexes your leg – 45% to -5% and back again. You remember how hard it is to sleep with that damned thing. You remember how something as simple as taking a shower or fetching a soda from the fridge becomes an ordeal. You remember being helpless.

I remember these things to this day and I promise you, Rose does, too. And right now, his fear is winning out over his desire to compete.

His fear is winning out at a time when many of his colleagues and who knows how many weekend warriors across the country would be battling their orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists demanding that they be allowed to play.

I don’t know what this means about Rose long-term. Maybe he’s back on the court and playing like the injury never happened a week fro now. Maybe he never again, ever, reacts in a way that would tell you he was ever hurt in the first place.

Maybe. But right now, he’s telling us something about who he is.

I’m the last guy in the world to advise someone coming back from injury to push it, to take chances. I don’t want you back until the experts say you’re ready. But once your body is ready, I can’t help noticing when the mind lags behind.

And I can’t help wondering what this means about your commitment down the road.

mississippi-smith-fat

Mississippi is fat and wants to stay that way

mississippi-smith-fatMississippi Republican State Senator Tony Smith, who, as a restaurant owner as well as a state senator, conceivably profits from the poor nutritional choices of his constituents, has proposed a piece of state legislation being dubbed the “anti-Bloomberg bill.”  The act’s official title is “An act to reserve to the legislature any regulation of consumer incentive items and nutrition labeling for food that is a menu item in restaurants, food establishments and vending machines; to specify that the act would not affect the federal regulation of nutrition labeling under existing federal law; and for related purposes.”

The purpose would be to prohibit cites or other entities in Mississippi from enacting legislation like that in New York banning enormous sodas (which was recently derailed by a judge). It would also prevent bans on the plastic chachkes that fast food loves to include in its kids’ meals – “Hey kids, collect all 6 and get fat in the process.”

The bill passed 50-1 in the Senate.

Lest you think that the drive to remain the most obese state in the union is somehow partisan, I offer the following. The bill’s sponsor in the House, Democratic Representative Gregory Holloway, explained “We don’t want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of food and any organic agenda.” That’s right, organic food has its own agenda. It’s right up there with the feminist agenda and the homosexual agenda in its threat level to Mississippians.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mississippi also gets another prize: worst state for math and science education.

For years, Mississippi has been awarded the “fattest state in the US” prize. If the legislature has its way, they’ll continue an unbroken streak for the foreseeable future. Go Mississippi!

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in slices

The U.S. military, “witch burning,” negotiations with Iran, among other affairs.

Emphasis, as always, added.

A “fundamental problem with COIN.”

Where foreign forces go, violence follows.

. . . a wave of “insider-attacks,” perpetrated by members of the Afghan security forces, has killed 60 coalition troops this year (compared with 35 last year). Leon Panetta has described these killings as “kind of a last-gasp effort” of the Taliban to resist their inevitable demise. He also remarked, “It’s near the end of their effort to really fully fight back.” It’s hard to say which is worse: our president and defense secretary deliberately misrepresenting the situation in Afghanistan to such a degree, or our president and defense secretary genuinely misunderstanding it to such a degree.

The Last Men, Luke Mogelson, The New Republic

“Milicrats”

The promotion system reinforces professional ignorance. Above the company grades, military ability does not count in determining who gets promoted. At the rank of major, officers are supposed to accept that the “real world” is the internal world of budget and promotion politics, not war. Those who “don’t get it” have ever smaller chances of making general. … Its result is generals and admirals who are in effect Soviet industrial managers in ever worse-looking suits. They know little and care less about their intended product, military victory. Their expertise is in acquiring resources and playing the military courtier.

Rank Incompetence, William S. Lind, The American Conservative

The UK’s National Health Service: “a benevolent deity”

By now I am convinced that the NHS – and I hyperbolise, but only slightly – is the greatest achievement of humankind, the nearest we get to a benevolent deity, a goddamn superhero. It is an imperfect manifestation of a beautiful ideal – free care based on need, free care for all, without judgement, without reservation.

However long this [the author's father dying] goes on for, they’ll continue throwing resources at this individual and never show a single sheet of figures to any of his relatives.

This Is How You Healthcare: American Death in London, Sarah C. R. Bee, NSFWCorp

To Netanyahu, Syria Just Another “reason to blow Iran to smithereens”

Netanyahu can’t unring the bell in Syria either, but there’s little doubt that he’d like to. The Israeli prime minister remained suspiciously silent during the Syrian uprising’s first 90 days but then, as if testing the wind, began to cautiously support the rebels. By July of last year he was all in, but only after his silence bordered on the embarrassing. Even then, he characterised the May 2011 Houla Massacre (in which a reported 108 Syrians were slaughtered by Assad’s henchmen), as being carried out primarily with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. It was almost as if the Syrian military was a bystander.

This was all part of the same sad drumbeat, as if Netanyahu feared that (in the midst of the Arab Spring), we’d lose sight of the real agenda — which was finding a reason to blow Iran to smithereens. It wasn’t so important that the Houla Massacre was evidence of the Syrian government’s hate of its own people, (you see), it was important that it was carried out by people who hate Israel.

Israel’s democracy myth, Mark Perry, Al Jazeera

Protecting Papua New Guinea’s “Witches”

Even assuming the political will emerges to invest in stronger policing and community protection, it will be years before the terrorism fades in communities like Simbu, an epicentre for violence.…

Bishop Anton Bal, the Catholic bishop of Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu … argues that the catch-22 with sorcery is that the more it’s talked about, the greater its power and allure. So his programs include training up networks of local parish volunteers as a kind of resistance movement. Operatives deflect and douse conversations about blame as soon as a death in the community occurs. They go to the funeral and when someone brings up the question of sanguma they shift the topic — talk about the weather, shut it down. Or raise the alarm.

It’s 2013, And They’re Burning ‘Witches’, Jo Chandler, The Global Mail

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Urgent: stand up for a rapist’s right to choose [trigger warning, as if that's not obvious]

Paul Manship's bronze, Eve (#1)

Seriously, how could you not “rape” this?

The Sanctity of Human Life Act is back.

In a new year only 3 days old at the time, Rep. Paul Ryan, fresh from seeing his chances at VP aborted, wasted no time trying to breathe life back into the Sanctity of Human Life Act.

As reported by Laura Beck at Jezebel:

But now it’s baaaaack, which is scary because not only is the above terrifying, there’s all sorts of other creepy shit hidden in this monster. Like, if a woman who was raped in a state that banned abortions went to a state that didn’t ban abortions and had an abortion? Her rapist could theoretically sue to stop the abortion from happening, and probably win. And it doesn’t stop there with the reproductive weirdness, if passed, it’ll probably make many forms of IVF illegal.

As of today he has sponsored zero bills and has only co-sponsored this one according to the data available at opencongress.org.  We can see where his priorities are, and they clearly aren’t focused on the economy, thank goodness.  I can understand, however much I may disagree, how pro-life/personhood advocates are so zealous on the issue.  As a matter of faith, I’m sure it’s of paramount importance to them.  But seriously, the assault on the other rights of women really needs to come to an end.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume for a moment that even when a woman becomes pregnant from rape she shouldn’t have any say, legally, morally, ethically, or otherwise over the fate of her body or the undesired progeny of a rapist, replete with all of the possible genetic predisposition to sociopathic traits it may have instilled in it by the rapist’s insinuation of DNA into the mix.  How in the ever living fuck does this translate into a violent criminal’s right to intervene in the legal proceedings involving his victim’s rights, or lack thereof, before the law?

Stop.  Right there.  Let’s cut right to the chase here.  When a rapist decides to obstruct his victim’s access to abortion, let’s be really clear about what’s happening.  This isn’t a morally ambiguous character in some graphic crime drama generated by Hollywood.  We are talking about a man who, for a host of pathological reasons, takes it upon himself to overcome a woman’s objections by spewing his diseased sperm into her body.  Suddenly we’re to believe that this paragon of virtue is only interested in preserving the life of a zygote he created without the consent of the incubator he raped?  No.

Whoever may have standing in such a case, the rapist is the very last person who should have it.  This is not about fatherhood.  This is about a violent sociopath asserting more power over his victim, but this time, to compound injury with injury, it is legal power, the power to have his victim faced by police with guns, the power to have his victim caged like an animal, the power to potentially ruin her finances, her self-sufficiency.

Think that far-fetched? Then I humbly submit that you are not following the ramifications.  A rape victim, served with a subpoena or an injunction, runs afoul of the legal process stacked against her by not playing according to the rules established for her by people more sympathetic to the rights of a rapist than they are to her suffering as a victim.  At some point, a police officer will be involved.  Should she resist enough, she faces the very real and tangible risk of being tased or looking down the barrel of a drawn weapon, to say nothing of charges ranging from resisting arrest to assaulting a police officer, depending on just how adamantly she defends herself from this incursion by the state into her womb, all because a man forced his semen into her against her will.  Taken into custody, she will most certainly be behind bars, whether for an hour, a day, a week, or longer.  Getting out under any circumstances other than solely on her own recognizance will result in costs.

So, again, assume that the birth of the child is the singlemost important outcome in your worldview.  Just how many other ways do you feel it necessary to violate this woman’s person?

Of course, it’s not just Paul Ryan who, one might imagine, feels that his inner Fortress of Rectitude looks suspiciously like the walls of a vagina defended by the pristine Gates of Labia, both major and minor.  He is but one knight at this round table, lance at the ready.  King Arthur, in this demented twist of chivalry, is Paul Broun of Georgia.  The other knights that stand tall and proud in their desire to plant flags for Christendom in vaginas across the country are: John Carter (TX), Michael Conaway (TX), Blake Farenthold (TX), John Fleming (LA), Trent Franks (AZ), Bob Gibbs (OH), Phil Gingrey (GA), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), John Kline (MN), Stephen Palazzo (MS), Stevan Pearce (NM), Martha Roby (AL), David Roe (TN), Harold Rogers (KY), Lee Terry (NE), and Lynn Westmoreland (GA).

What fevered impulse puts one token woman on the side of the rapist is beyond me.  Try as I might to put myself in the shoes of a pro-life zealot, I just cannot fathom this.  Maybe, in this worldview, the victim always has it coming, what with being the spiritual heir of Eve, first temptress, and bearer of a foul cesspit of wanton promiscuity.  No cry of “rape” is ever true and just.  To be cursed with a vagina is to be subject, forever, to the caprices of men.

So, since these political knights (and their fair lady) fail to see just how very personal this is to the women they prefer to beat into submission with sociopaths’ penises, let’s turn the tide for just a moment and flip their script.  Let’s make the same kind of horrid assumptions about them and their characters as they clearly make about rape victims.  It’s okay for Rush, right?  And we’re not ones for double standards, are we?

With her espousal for absolute subjection to men, one can only wonder just how lucky Ms. Roby is to not have an extensive brood of rape babies.  Has she never been alone in the presence of a man (or men) before?  Surely her vagina is clearly labeled “open for business,” right?  After all, if the “rapist” is to have the kind of rights she sponsors in this bill, we’re not actually talking about “legitimate rape” and we are indeed talking about the prerogatives of genuine and authentic fatherhood.  That kind of willingness to fully embrace the personal responsibility for what goes into her vagina, even without her express consent, must be an aphrodisiac to every swinging dick within 500 feet, and who is she to say no or allege rape, after the fact?  With that kind of spiritual purity, one might be led to think that her well-trafficked bed is the best kept secret in town.  Just how did she fund her election, anyway?

As for the men in this Society for the Creative Protection of Rapists, we may be led to wonder as to the ultimate source of their defense.  Could it be that each and every single one of these gentlemen has a problem with understanding the nature of consent?  Could it be that, according to the definition of rape as updated by the FBI, every single one of these men is a rapist with a vested interest in protecting the rights of their kind?

As long as people of this particularly troglodytic bent keep calling the shots, we may never, ever know for sure.  Me?  Were I to have a daughter, I think I’d make sure she gave all of these politicians and their associates a wide berth.

—-

Image credit: Photo of Paul Manship’s bronze, Eve (#1) by cliff1066, licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: LeisureTravel2

Uganda Journal: a walk to the well

The well at Nakagongo sits in a low valley, with a web of trails that lead down to it from the surrounding hillsides. It’s not an especially grueling walk and not especially steep, but it’s a five-minute hike downhill from the road. On days like today, when it rained for a couple hours in the morning, the dirt path gets muddy. We also have to step over a pretty angry stream of ants.

Well01

About three hundred adults and eight hundred children are serviced by the well, which is nothing more than a clean natural spring surrounded by a cement basin. The basin seems to be draining well today–the water at the bottom is only ankle deep, although Deb has seen it back up almost to the output pipe. The ground around is a mucky mess.

Well02

Families have to walk from as far as forty-five minutes a day to collect water in five-gallon plastic containers. Once someone arrives, he or she might have to wait as long as half an hour before they have the chance to fill up. The villagers may then balance the jugs on their heads so they can carry jugs in each hand, too. Enterprising boys have set up a business where they’ll load their bikes with water and take them to the houses of people who can afford to pay for delivery.

At home, villagers use the water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

WaitingForWater

During the dry season, when the well dries up, villagers have to walk to another water source that’s an additional hour away.

To say I am thankful for indoor plumbing seems like a trite understatement. Seeing the well might be the most profound reminder of just how different life is for much of the world than it is for us in America and in other developed nations. This is everyday life for these villagers, and yet it is so far removed from my own life that it might well as be a different century or a different planet as a different continent and country.

Certainly America has its share of drought–I think of the summer of 2011 when much of the cornbelt baked–but water generally flows pretty freely…at least freely enough that most of us still take it for granted, although climatologists could offer some disheartening insight into that, I’m sure. I can walk into three rooms in my home that have running water, and that’s not counting the baseboard heat I have. Some of these people have to walk for forty-five minutes.

Think about that when you turn on the tap.

CATEGORY: LeisureTravel2

Uganda Journal: the double tragedies of Kasensero

Memorial01The Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kasensero sits high atop a limestone bluff that overlooks Lake Victoria, which shimmers gray-blue against the horizon a half-dozen kilometers away. In 1994, the bodies of more than 10,000 genocide victims washed up on Victoria’s shores after floating nearly a hundred kilometers downriver from the killing grounds in Rwanda.

The village of Kasensero itself remains hidden from view, as though villagers intentionally buried the bodies just beyond the crest of the hill, where it begins its downward slope, out of horror or fear or maybe even willful forgetting. Or, as one person has suggested to me, as a way to cut down on the smell.

FishingBoatsKasensaro is no stranger to tragedy, though. It was here where the AIDS virus first appeared in 1982. “Fishermen come in with their catch and get paid. They have a lot of money, and they want to show off for the women,” explains Herman, who has brought us to the village’s fishing center along lakeshore. All that hooking up and sleeping around—and then going home to their wives—meant residents of Kasensaro had an infection rate of ninety percent by the time health officials had any real grip on the situation.

“At first, people thought they were being bewitched, so they went to the witch doctors instead of the real doctors,” Herman says. “Ninety percent. Whole families, wiped out.”

And from there, the disease spread.

Today, seventy percent of the residents of Kasensaro are infected with HIV—compared to a national average of around six-point-five percent—although a look around the lakeshore would suggest nothing’s amiss aside from the weather. Most of the fishermen have grounded their boats for the day because of the severe chop on the water from the wind that has blown in a dark gray cloudbank.

KageraRiverA couple miles outside of town, past the fish factory, past the thatch-roof huts occupied by descendants of Rwandan refugees, the road terminates at the Kagera River. The current runs swift and mocha-colored, and clots of water hyacinths flow past. “This is the river that carried the bodies,” Herman tells us—just before he gets harangued by a police officer who’s lazing about on a motorbike. Ostensibly, the policeman is there to prevent smuggling, but just a few yards away, smugglers are happily packing a boat full of ice to take goods across the river to Tanzania.

That’s when I realize, Hey, I’m looking at Tanzania. It’s less than a hundred feet away and looks just like this side of the river, but it’s a different country, so I still think it’s cool.

Police in Uganda get paid poorly and infrequently, so it’s little wonder they look to make a few extra bucks on the side. What’s a little corruption. After twenty minutes, thirteen-thousand shillings—about five bucks—buys this officer’s silence, and he goes back to watching the smugglers who’ve also bought him off.

In the meantime, I’ve been talking with Elijah, the student from the Bethlehem School I’d worked with earlier in the week in Nakagomo. He’s on the trip because he comes from this area. His mother was Rwandan and had fled here to escape the genocide. Shortly thereafter, Elijah was born. Although his mother later died of AIDS, Elijah’s grandfather told him the history of his family and of the genocide.

The Hutu majority, in political power at the time, conducted an orchestrated campaign to slaughter members of the Tutsi minority. Animosity between the tribes, simmering for ages, erupted into Civil War in 1990, although it settled into a stalemate after three years. However, the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana of April 9, 1996, sparked renewed violence. In the course of 100 days, some 800,000 Tutsis were murdered, although some estimates place the number as high as a million—twenty percent of Rwanda’s population. Moderate Hutus who called for peace were also killed.

In the fifteen years since, the Rwandan government has aggressively worked to commemorate the genocide. Eight majors memorials, and more than 200 sites, exist in Rwanda, and three memorials exists in Uganda. Terry Tempest Williams’ Finding Beauty in a Broken World chronicles her work helping to build one such memorial in Rwanda. The memorials exist, says author Andrew Rice, “because remembrance serves the political interests of Rwanda’s present rulers, who came to power by defeating the genocide’s perpetrators in a civil war.” Rice’s book, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget, recounts Uganda’s own history of internal violence under Idi Amin.

MassGraves&MarkerWhen Herman takes us up to the cemetery on the hilltop outside of town, we have to haggle with the caretaker for admittance. Ten thousand shillings buys our way in. “Come in,” the caretaker says. “You are very welcome. Be at home.”

In the cemetery, 2,827 victims of the genocide are buried in eight mass graves. One trench, perhaps sixty feet long, runs parallel to the front wall; three similar trenches run perpendicular to the first. Two other mass graves are located in the front corner of the cemetery, and two more are located in the opposite back corner. On an upper plateau beyond the caretaker’s house, there are yet two more. Workers used a backhoe to dig the pits, which are now entombed under concrete slabs inset with flagstone and adorned wide, light-orange stripes and diamonds. At the center of each, flower arrangements struggle to grow, but I’m not convinced the caretaker has been taking much care of the place.

ElijahMemorialSmall rocks are scattered over the tops of the slabs, too, and at first I wonder if the rocks have some symbolic significance. Then I see a trio of young children outside the caretaker’s house: one of them throws rocks at a chicken in a tree while another throws rocks down the hill.

While the memorial needs care, it’s still a contemplative space, and it’s easy to envision its potential for beauty. I see Elijah, who leans alone against the monument that sits in the front of the cemetery. “How does it feel to be here where your people are buried?” I ask.

I see him grope for words, but all he can do is shake his head. “It is something I cannot describe,” he says. As someone who spends a lot of time on Civil War battlefields and who has lived in a National Cemetery, I know what it’s like to be among the dead of your people and how powerful the experience can be.

I leave Elijah to his contemplations and follow the flagstone steps to the upper plateau. In the distance, Lake Victoria looks calm. The sun has come out.

MarkerOverlookingLake

lanza

How can we sleep?

lanzaby Patrick Vecchio

I watched President Obama’s emotional remarks Friday in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. I was glad I had a box of tissues nearby. I suspect millions of us have had the same reaction.

A story line that surfaced yesterday and will linger for weeks is the inevitable question of motive. What could have prompted such evil acts? The question, though, seeks a rational answer for irrational deeds. No answer will ever be found. The same question is asked about people who commit suicide. The question goes unanswered then, too.

While we’ll never be able to point to a single instance that leads to horrific decisions like the one the gunman made yesterday, we can realistically put these instances into a broader context — mental health. People with mental health problems are among our nation’s most seriously under-served population. Take a look around the place you live and count the agencies serving people with mental illnesses. You’ll be able to count them on one hand and have fingers left over. Ask people who work there about the burgeoning need for mental health services. Ask them about financial trends; I don’t think you’ll find any of the agencies have more money at their disposal than they had five years ago. You’ll find staffing levels have dropped. In short, you’ll find fewer resources. How can mental health professionals hope to help ticking human time bombs if they don’t have the resources to find them and provide them the care they need?

The same is true of schools. How many students does each guidance counselor serve now, as opposed to five or ten years ago? There’s a hugely important related point here: Ask counselors how much of their time is spent dealing with students who are angry to a degree that is beyond comprehension for those of us who don’t see it? The home lives for many children are the exact opposite of the word “nurturing.” Taking care of these children has fallen on the school districts for the same reason that schools now serve breakfast to students — because they’re not getting it at home. Think of what this does to children’s self-esteem. As my wife, a retired elementary school principal, used to repeatedly say, “For many of our students, school is the best part of their day.”

Could mass shootings by people who are barely adults, age-wise, be averted by providing much more comprehensive mental health services in schools, by working with students steeped in anger to subdue their rage and their growing sense that their lives are valueless? I don’t think we’ll ever know. For one, continuing government funding cuts to education show just how valuable education is to our society. We should individually and collectively shame our elected officials for not fighting like alley cats to reverse this trend. We should shout at them to provide money to give our kids the care and nurturing that my generation received in school. Maybe now these things will happen. Maybe now there is cause for hope.

This is the only area where headway can be made. The National Rifle Association will once again trot out its well-worn arguments, some of which I agree with: for instance, the truth that only law-abiding citizens will comply with new government restrictions on firearms. There are, though, gun-control ideas worth discussing: for example, should people be held more accountable for crimes committed with their legally obtained weapons? Should people be held more accountable if their legally obtained but unsecured firearms are used during the commission of crimes? However, the NRA’s unwillingness to even consider whether people really need military-grade automatic weapons for self-protection or hunting signals that this organization isn’t going to come up with constructive ideas for mitigating the firearms avalanche.

And so, unless we as a nation are willing to recognize the need for a massive investment in services for people with mental health problems, slaughters like the one in Sandy Hook will emerge from the headlines with chilling frequency.

Santa Spendalot

Affluenza: Black Friday is America’s new high holy day

Originally published on 11/23/2012. It’s worse this year.

Black Friday is under way – has been since midnight, in fact. In many places around the country, retailers started kicking off the festivities at yesterdayover a quarter of Americans said they planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving. Or, as it will soon come to be known, Black Friday Eve. Or Black Thursday, maybe.

Want to hear some fun statistics?

2,470,000
The number of Google News results at press time for “Black Thursday,” the term for stores starting Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving instead of midnight after Thanksgiving. The general mood in the media is that Black Thursday is a terrible idea because retail workers should be able to spend the holidays home with their families (and potential shoppers should be home eating with their loved ones instead of out buying stuff). Black Thursday is already getting pretty ugly, with workers at stores like Walmart — where Black Thursday begins at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving — and Target threatening to strike. A number of petitions to stop the madness are also going viral online.

4,000
The number of Walmart stores that will have extra security measures in place on Black Friday. “Nobody wants to go into an event when they are risking injury for a video game,” Josh Phair, Walmart’s public affairs and government relations director told the Arizona Republic. Well at least they figured that out this year!

225,000,000
The number of people who shopped on Black Friday last year.

11,400,000,000
The number of dollars spent on Black Friday last year.

Imagine the stress on the workers who have to ride herd on these “doorbusters.” Imagine going to work – on a holiday - worrying that you’ll have to break up a fistfight over a toy. Or that someone might get trampled to death. Literally.

How about some breaking headlines?

What the heck. Let’s watch a video, while we’re at it.

No, folks, this isn’t a Mad Max movie. It’s Christmas shopping in America. Christmas. You know, birth of the savior. Peace on Earth. Three Wise Men, star in the east, baby in a manger, all that. I wonder if this year’s misbehavior will match last year’s carnage.

(A friend of mine works at Target. At 11:20 last night he reported that only one F-bomb had been lobbed at him so far. Of course, he still had over six hours left in his shift.)

[sigh]

America has a social disease

Have you read Affluenza? You should. This fantastic book examines, in uncomfortable detail, our culture’s pathological need for stuff. The editor’s review at Amazon sums it up this way:

The definition of affluenza, according to de Graaf, Wann, and Naylor, is something akin to “a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” It’s a powerful virus running rampant in our society, infecting our souls, affecting our wallets and financial well-being, and threatening to destroy not only the environment but also our families and communities. Having begun life as two PBS programs coproduced by de Graaf, this book takes a hard look at the symptoms of affluenza, the history of its development into an epidemic, and the options for treatment. In examining this pervasive disease in an age when “the urge to splurge continues to surge,” the first section is the book’s most provocative. According to figures the authors quote and expound upon, Americans each spend more than $21,000 per year on consumer goods, our average rate of saving has fallen from about 10 percent of our income in 1980 to zero in 2000, our credit card indebtedness tripled in the 1990s, more people are filing for bankruptcy each year than graduate from college, and we spend more for trash bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend for everything. “To live, we buy,” explain the authors–everything from food and good sex to religion and recreation–all the while squelching our intrinsic curiosity, self-motivation, and creativity. They offer historical, political, and socioeconomic reasons that affluenza has taken such strong root in our society, and in the final section, offer practical ideas for change. These use the intriguing stories of those who have already opted for simpler living and who are creatively combating the disease, from making simple habit alterations to taking more in-depth environmental considerations, and from living lightly to managing wealth responsibly.

Grist notes that in the wake of 9/11, affluenza seems to have evolved from social disease into official policy:

In each of the past four years, more people declared bankruptcy than graduated from college. On average, the nation’s CEOs now earn 400 times the wages of the typical worker, “a tenfold increase since 1980.” Although the United States makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, we produce 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions; since 1950, we “have used up more resources than everyone who ever lived on earth before then.”

Many of us also know that bigger houses, bigger cars, more gadgets, and more expensive clothes do not make us more content, despite the glossy promises of advertisers. Yet consumer spending has long been used as an indicator of both the national economy and the national mood. The more we spend, the better off we are — or so we’ve been told. This mantra has been particularly insistent in the past year, as the great blooming bubble of stock market riches began to deflate and the Bush administration chose instant gratification as an economic strategy. Since Sept. 11, national leaders have been telling us with ever-increasing urgency that consumer confidence must and will rebound. While confidence — as an indicator of our faith in the future — should return, it’s equally clear that the past few decades’ rate of consumption is neither sustainable nor desirable. Moreover, we must assume — and hope — that tragedy has made us wiser, and tempered the impulse of so many Americans to affirm their existence with a pleasing new purchase.

To be honest, reading Affluenza is one of the hardest things I’ve done in some time. I not only saw the moral emptiness of my society laid bare, there were entirely too many pages that described my own life. Even in instances where I feel like I’ve won the battle against consumerist addiction, I still had to acknowledge that once upon a time I was eaten up by a craving for material things that not only couldn’t have made me whole, they would have made the hollow space even larger. I had to slog through passages that seemed specifically written about people I know, people close to me. Worst of all, the book flogged me relentlessly with details about how our obsessions with status and toys are annihilating the physical world that sustains us … for the moment.

Affluenza ripped at my guts in ways that brought me literally to the brink of illness. Or maybe past the brink. I’m currently battling at least a couple of medical conditions that may ultimately be the result of affluenza. One of them is certainly a product of the American food complex: if you drink, on average, a liter of soda a day for the better part of 25 years, how many milligrams of high-fructose corn syrup have you strained through your body? I’m not blaming anybody for my stupidity, which was considerable, but let’s not pretend that our consumption patterns exist in a vacuum, either.

The physical impact pales next to the psychological, though. I grew up desperately seeking the sort of validation that comes with success in America, and if you aren’t careful you can fixate on all the wrong goals. Is success a certain income level? Is it a house in a trending neighborhood? Is it the security that comes from knowing that your children have newer, cooler and more expensive basketball shoes than their friends? Is it a Lexus or Beemer or Mercedes? Is it having a particular number of people reporting to you?

Is it the satisfaction that comes from working so many hours your wife doesn’t recognize you when you come home? Is it the number of ulcers you have? Is it having a physical stress level so consistently high that your body is more or less always sick in some way?

Affluenza made me think about the lies we tell ourselves about success. About happiness. About the “American Dream.” We grow up enculterated into a consumerist assumption (unless our parents raise us in the woods, miles from the nearest television – and then we have a whole ‘nother set of problems). At some point we realize that we’re not happy (although “realize” may be the wrong word – one thing affluenza seems to do is systematically kill off our self-awareness – in any case, we aren’t happy). Everywhere we look, though, we see happy people (they’re in these things we call “advertisements”), and the happiness we see always – always - emanates from a thing. A car, a haircut, a shirt, a house, an iPhone, a gaming console, a next-generation tablet…whatever it is, it’s something that can be purchased. So purchase it we do. If this means we leave the family on Thanksgiving (or worse, bring them with us) to queue up around the block at Best Buy so we can be ready to kick the door at 8pm, so be it.

We never seem to notice that after a few minutes, we’re not happy all over again. Clearly, we need to go buy something else.

I once watched a young boy on his first big Christmas morning. The monetary value of the presents he had under the tree was probably triple the value of all the presents I’d ever had under all the trees during my entire life. I mean this literally. He was the first child of affluent parents and everybody they knew was competing to outspend each other on this precious little boy.

He ripped into the first present with gusto – it was spectacular. He looked at it for a few seconds, then dropped it and ripped into the second one. Then the third. And the fourth, and fifth, and so on. He never paused to play with any of them. The holiday experience wasn’t about having or enjoying, it was only about more, more, more. When there were no more, he still didn’t sit down to play with them. I will never forget the look on his face at that moment: it was as profound a disappointment as you’re ever likely to see in a child. There were no more.

I had never seen anything like it, and I was as horrified as he was unfulfilled. That boy is a teenager now and has had many more Christmas mornings since then. As best I can tell each one has been little more than a ritual re-enactment of that first one, only with escalating price tags. He’s a smart kid and a very good kid in many ways, but I shudder to think of the hollowness that now threatens to consume his entire life.

I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that he’s one of the millions and millions out shopping today – assuming he didn’t make it to the stores last night.

Can I complain about the parenting decisions that have been made in this child’s life? Well, I could, but in truth the significance of the story isn’t what happened to him, it’s that what happened to him happens millions of times a day all across our consumerist nation. The more we have, the emptier we are. We’re a nation of addicts, and all the stuff that we’re Jonesing for is a million times more addictive and destructive than crystal meth.

What happens when we run out of fantasies?

We are the age of insubstantiation,
a generation of digital bells,
loose change on the sidewalk.

Our days are loops,
our nights tight spirals,

and if the virtual is
even better than the real thing

it’s only because the real thing is so goddamned empty.

So here’s my theory/hypothesis/question. We’re a hollow nation, a society that provides nearly all of us with rampant access to more material goods than we know what to do with. But we cannot find happiness in the material because there is not happiness in it. On the contrary – it’s a system that’s rigged to feed us a shiny, pretty lie that hollows us out some more, all the while whispering that only more of the lie will make us happy. Our consumerist society is a church that, instead of communion wafers, dispenses crystal meth. This is my body, broken for thee….

Welcome to the American reality: We have everything that this world can offer and we’re bored to tears.

Black Friday is our new high holy day. We’ve always looked at Christmas, the most sacred of holidays for a majority of our citizens, as our most important cultural celebration. Whether we’re reveling in the unbridled secular glee of exchanging gifts or ranting about the “war on Christmas” and the ways in which everyone has lost sight of the “true meaning of Christmas*,” December 25 has been our unquestioned national holiday.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink things, though. In truth, it’s Black Friday that most typifies the American pathology. Christmas is the big reveal, to be sure, but in a culture addicted to acquisition, the day that matters most is the one where we camp out, line up, bust doors, fight each other and trample each other to death – both figuratively and literally – in order to buy. To throw money at the retail giants that are our true church, to beseech the managers and cashiers, priests and acolytes, in the name of commerce, to fill the sucking holes in our souls with stuff so that we might at last be happy.

Thanks, but I’ll pass. I like playing with fun toys, too, but I’ve long since realized the truth about them. I won’t be venturing out to shop today and I salute those of you who are boycotting the madness, the utter sickness, and the corporations who promote it. To hell with Black Friday, Black Thursday, and the retailers who are cranking up the Christmas shopping music before Halloween.

My friends and family will be receiving what I think are some really nice gifts this year, but none of them are coming from Target and Walmart and Best Buy, and I’d encourage them to do the same, especially when it comes to getting me something. In fact, if you’re having a hard time deciding what to do for those you love, how about a gift that makes a real difference in the lives of people who need help the most: think about donating in their name to Heifer.org. If my friends are family are reading this, know that there isn’t much you could do that would make me happier than to give some chickens or a goat in my name.

I wish everyone a happy holiday season. And when I say “happy,” rest assured that word has nothing to do with stuff.

*That, of course, would be the imperial Christian appropriation of pagan solstice celebrations.

Portions of this article were adapted from a post that originally appeared on Sept. 9, 2009.

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. UnskewedPolls.com performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:

*sigh*

The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

Yet another "study" telling me organic food isn’t any better for me than the usual crap

Jeez, how many of these are there going to be? Several months ago, recall, we had a large study under the aegis of Stanford University, that told us in no uncertain terms that organic food wasn’t any better for us than the ordinary industrial agriculture garbage that litters the aisles of American supermarkets. Well, to be more precise, the study claimed there was no additional nutritional benefit from organic food. This, as is now pretty clear, is a worthless claim.
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Elections are educational! 14 things we wouldn't have known without Campaign 2012

Everybody seems to be so negative about campaign season. They hate the ads, they hate the mudslinging, they hate the lying, they hate the candidates.

Not me – I LOVE campaign season. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to learn stuff that not only didn’t I know before, but that I’d never learn any other way.

For instance, look at some of the Science lessons I’ve learned in the past few months:

And what about History? I’d never have learned this one:

  • Slavery was a blessing in disguise for black people. (Granted, in parts of the country students can learn that most slaveowners were kind and that many blacks preferred being slaves, but it’s nice to have this kind of high-level, official validation.)

Many schools have slipped in their responsibility to teach Civics, but our candidates for public office are doing what they can to plug the gap:

How about Economics? God knows we need to learn how to be more fiscally responsible.

Then there’s Engineering:

And Behavioral Psychology:

And, of course, Political Science:

Finally, Geography:

  • You don’t have to share a border with a nation that has coasts on three large bodies of water in order to be their gateway to the sea.

We’ve got a couple weeks left and I’m carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go.I feel certain that I’m not through learning interesting and important lessons about our wonderful world.