Archive for August, 2009
A fellow blogger and frequent reader/poster to this site posed a question back in November 2008 — it’s a pity that I just now found it — but the essence of the question was this: What should the government’s role be when it comes to certain issues of our day, including drugs, abortion, gay marriage, etc. When I read it, I then replied on his site that I implied that each issue could be taken in turn because each, I think, is unique. In other words, I don’t know that the role of government would be the same in each case. Here is his original post for more information.
Given that he lists these specific issues — drugs, guns, gay marriage, abortion, welfare, war — let me begin with the first, and perhaps, in subsequent order, I will take the others one-by-one. At the risk of clogging up his blog with a 5,000 polemic, I suggested a piecemeal approach. So here we go.
I don’t necessarily side with Libertarians on all points, but on the War on Drugs, I certainly do. As the indispensable “Drug War Clock” tell us, the country has funneled $34,008,082,858 into this pretend, metaphorical war, a number that is growing daily, this year alone. Like the failed Prohibition of the early 20th century, I think this war breaks down at, not only the constitutional level, but at the practical level. From the 18th Amendment, we have these words:
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
But after organized crime rose and after legislators, and surely the country, realized that A) prohibiting substances that folks will consume with or without government approval is a waste of time and energy, and B) organized crime tends to rise when said substances are driven underground to the black market seem to me to be salient points, which can carry over to other substances. Let’s take the case of pot. Marijuana has been shown to be at least as destructive to the body as nicotene, if not less destructive, because regular users don’t consume as many joints as nicotene users do cigarettes in one day. Needless to say, inhaling smoke is a bad idea whichever way you slice it.
In all honesty, I think drinking alcohol is at least as dangerous to society and individuals as smoking pot, if not more. It impairs users more than marijuna does, and this fact is undeniable. I know this from research and from past personal experience. According to this Time magazine article, one in 25 people worldwide die from alcohol-related deaths. How many die from marijuana use? That number escapes us. We don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t kill people who overdose, as does alcohol, heroin, cocaine and others. To the contrary, there is no such thing as overdosing on marijuana.
So, to come back around. Constitutionally, what should we do about drugs from the governmental level? Clearly, there is nothing in the country’s great, foundational works about substance abuse that I’m aware, so Prohibition was purely a conjured, and probably unconstitutional, scheme that did not work, unless we want to summon the “promote the general Welfare” statement in the preamble. We do know that drug use in America was rampant before the powers that be decided to put a clamp on it. It’s clear that we had opium, laudanum and others users in the 19th century and before.
I think I would fit the War on Drugs in the unconstitutional category with regard to the powers granted the federal government. Education about the dangers of drug use and the ill effects in schools and other civil areas seems to me to be the best approach, for when you prohibit something, anything, we might as well bank on the fact that people will try it … simply because it’s prohibited. In fact, the Obama administration represents a shift on the “War on Drugs.” This camp has said it would not refer to it as such, and the new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, would not refer to it as thus, according to The Wall Street Journal. I feel this reader comment by David Dimston should be lauded for its truth and frankness:
That the War on Drugs has been a complete failure is not even a question anymore.
Thus, the folks who have addictive tendencies, will, of course, become addicted, but those who don’t may try it once or twice, and probably conclude it’s not for them or that it’s hard to function in any “real” life using such substances. There’s no sense in jailing non-violent offenders, at all. And this is a gross misuse of public resources. Indeed, as Prohibition shows clear as day, violent crime actually increases when governments intervene and attempt to legislate the usage of substances that folks will use, one way or the other, legal or not.
In response to a reader request, I have added a plugin to this site which will allow you to receive an e-mail notification if someone replies to one of your comments. As you see, the “subscription” via e-mail is already available for the site from the link in the top right portion of the page, just below the Technorati link. But to receive a notification about a specific comment, simply click the box below your comment.
As always, thanks for reading!
What is with the propensity to come up with comic book, superhero names for political factions, politicians and generals in Washington? Down through history, we have:
- “Old Rough and Ready” (Zachary Taylor),
- “The Railsplitter” (Abe Lincoln),
- “Old Hickory” (Andrew Jackson),
- “Young Hickory” (James Polk),
- “Sage of Monticello” (Thomas Jefferson),
- “Sons of Liberty” (anti-Loyalist group in American Revolution)
- “Copperheads” (anti-Civil War, pro-peace and possibly slavery faction of the old-school Democrats)
- “Blue Dogs” (current right-wing faction of the modern Democrats, once known as Dixie-crats”)
There are actually many more of these sorts of nicknames. The most recent to my knowledge has been this anti-health-care reform faction of Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition. The Copperheads, or the Peace Democrats, actually strike me as a similar group to the Blue Dogs. Although the party today and the party in the mid-19th stood for vastly different ideals, I see similarities. As we know, the Republicans in the mid-19th century were the more progressive, generally anti-slavery faction, while the Democrats were generally in favor of the South and for maintaining the institution of slavery.
The Copperheads wanted to the Civil War to end and blamed it on the abolitionists. They wanted peace, to their credit, but that would be at the expense of allowing the institution to continue. They said Lincoln was abusing his powers as president. Bizzarely, the most prominent Copperhead faction was the Order of the Golden Circle (the Golden Circle being the perceived and wished for circle of slavery extension from the southern United States around through a portion of South America back around to the South), and its most prominent politician was Clement L. Vallandigham, who was exiled in Canada for awhile.
The Blue Dogs, thus, are the fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party, as it exists today, but they are also, to their discredit, the more lobbied group by the health care industry:
… more than half the $1.1 million in campaign contributions the Democratic Party’s Blue Dog Coalition received came from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations. — Democratic Underground
and, like the Copperheads, are speaking out against the president taking too many liberties to expand federal power.
Given their ties to the health care industry, the Blue Dogs have largely adopted stances against health care reform. Go figure.
In news earlier this month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America moved to allow people to serve as pastors if they are in “faithful, committed same-gender relationships.”
The pivotal question on othis issue immediately struck me, as it apparently did the USA Today column writer of “When it comes to gays, what would Luther do?”
Mary Zeiss Stange, in the above article, generally surmised that, given how the man’s “theological mind worked,” Martin Luther would not take a negative view of homosexuality were he around today, as have other evangelics, themselves products of modernity. As Stange writes,
Like his role model Paul (presumably, the one from Tarsus), Luther was a product of the social prejudices of his time and culture: a time when the concepts of homosexuality as an “orientation” or a “lifestyle” were still unheard of. But would the man whose break from Roman Catholicism involved a revolutionary rethinking of the role of sexuality in human relationships take such a negative view of homosexuality today? Most probably, given the way his theological mind worked, he would not.
But as the referenced article, “Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600″ notes,
And, from the early stages of the movement, German Reformers, like Luther, used these “polemics against sodomy” as a weapon against Rome, which in turn led to “an almost exclusively Protestant discourse” about the spiritual profit of marriage (p. 177).
Yet, I’m not convinced these “polemics against sodomy” were used as anything other than rhetorical tools against the Catholic Church and sincere arguments for loving, same-sex relationships. As Stange says, the concepts of homosexuality as some sort of “orientation” or “lifestyle” were not in public thought. But, it does seem that Luther was fairly silent on the topic, if not altogether mute. I own a 506-page book entitled, “Martin Luther: Selections from his writings edited and with an introduction” (by John Dillenberger, Doubleday, 1961) and there is not one word on sexuality or homosexuality. There does appear a few words on the town of Sodom, which I will recount here:
I have truly despised your see, the Roman Curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godlessness. (page 45)
Wherefore even by this we may plainly see the inestimable patience of God, in that he hath not long ago destroyed the whole Papacy, and consumed it with fire and brimstone, as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. (pages 115-116)
Stange does note that in the Augsburg Confession of 1530, Luther said that
biblical references that depart from New Testament inclusiveness — abstaining from eating pork, for example, or requiring male circumcision — not only can but should be set aside.
Stange also makes the claim that a
21st century Luther would affirm the ordination of such persons, as in line with his theology of the “priesthood of all believers.”
I feel compelled to address the anachronistic problems with such a statement. Luther is only important to us in his historical context. Were he alive today, he would not be Martin Luther, the renowned church reformer, he may be some important church figure, but he would be altogether a different person. We can make conjectures about how he may feel about current topics of the day, but we cannot resurrect him and then juxtapose modern-day topics or issues onto the man. I feel we can only deal with his works as they appear in his time and no other. So the question, “What would Martin Luther do” only works if we assume he’s still Luther, the historical reformer, not Luther, the modern day reformer. Thus, we can only work from the man’s own writings in his day and try to come to some sort of conclusion about how he might have felt. But it goes without saying, we certainly can not presume a modern-day incarnation.
His opinions on the Old and New testaments (the former more accurately titled the Hebrew Bible) are quite interesting, as he seemed to give preference to New Testament teachings of the new law versus the old. Given that, were we to take the “new law” as the one to be followed, Christ himself doesn’t say a word about homosexuality, while the old one says much about sodomy. Further, if homosexuality is innate in some people, what does that say about God, who apparently created the same folks he would come to reject? (As a side note, the point about homosexuality is undebatable at this juncture.) If homosexuality is not innate at the gene level, it is at least innate at the hormone level, where a meager amount of testosterone in some guys could trigger sentiments toward gayness, while a small amount of estrogen in females could render the same. Regardless, even if that isn’t true and something else is the cause of gayness, there is no reason to believe gayness, with all the prejudice and mockery gay folks must face, is desired by them. Indeed, if I thought I was gay, but if I knew I would face the loss of my family and friends for “coming out,” I would pretend otherwise. So, there is no great joy or freedom in “coming out.” Actually, there is much hardship in doing so. Thus, arguments that claim folks prefer to be gay (I can’t imagine why) break down.
With major newspapers struggling to stay afloat these days, I thought it might be interesting to briefly take a look at a specific segment of the media: that of sports journalism, and attempt to figure how that branch of journalism is faring and the implications on the craft in general.
I was listening recently to the radio interview of an ACC Sports Journal writer, who mentioned that one reporter, previously working as the beat writer for an ACC school at an independent newspaper, had recently taken a position to be the official “vessel,” as it were, for that school’s football coverage. I wish I could remember the reporter’s name who took the position. I think it was for Virginia Tech. The fellow interviewed on the radio was making the case, I would say quite ably, that the face of sports journalism was changing toward more, not less, bias. That’s to say that, while you still have independent media organizations covering college and pro sports, you also have many schools (and, obviously, professional ball clubs now hiring reporters, i.e. Zach Eisendrath with the Denver Broncos) to come on staff and be the “official” voice of the Hokies, Cavaliers, Broncos or whatever. The person interviewed said this practice, in ways, presented challenges to independent news organizations because, while the independents fish for information, colleges or professional clubs have their “inside men” (my quote) who, at times, have unrestricted access to practices, the locker rooms and have no trouble getting news because they are employed by the school or ball club. Thus, the news we have coming out of those ball clubs, at least from the “filtered” reporters, is largely positive, at least upbeat, and never scandalous, is a far cry from the scrutiny to which these clubs should be subjected.
Ball clubs and colleges are well within their rights to hire journalists to attempt to “control the message,” as it were, and journalists are well within their rights to seek greener pastures. As the person interviewed from the ACC Sports Journal said, some consumers care about the distinction between beat reporters employed by the teams and writers from independent sources and some consumers don’t. But there is an important distinction, and it creates the issue of bias regarding the out-feeding of sports news that comes out each day. That’s why seeking information from multiple sources is important to getting the truth of what is really happening. While there is much truth coming out of denverbroncos.com on rote football topics like who’s impressing coaches in practice or which quarterback is likely to get the starting position, other topics get more complicated. For instance, how the official Broncos Web site handled coach Mike Shanahan’s ouster after the lackluster 8-8 season in 2008. I attempted to find old articles from the official site about the story, but came up empty.
The four major U.S. sports now have their own cable channels and Web sites and contracts with television networks. All major colleges have communications departments, which issue press releases with their “messages” via their Web sites or hard copy releases.
Some major newspapers also cast a suspicious shadow over their sports writing with their various interests in sports teams:
Several prominent teams are still owned by media companies; Cablevision owns the Knicks and Rangers, The New York Times owns nearly 18 percent of the Red Sox, and the Tribune Company, pending a sale, still owns the Cubs. The relationship between teams and the sources covering them has unsurprisingly led to suspicions of bias. — “Examining the Future of Sports Media,” July 2, 2009
It’s a fair question to ask, as this story does, “What happens when the people we cover start to control the news?”
This makes the idea of independent journalism all that more important, and quite unfortunately, as big newspapers continue to struggle, less and less space is available for that coverage. This is compounded by the fact that newspapers are still the best source for detailed news about topics of the day. Or, as The Times’ magazine article (linked above) puts it,
Newspapers remain the primary source of news-gathering in America. And unlike so many Internet “sites,” they are firmly grounded in a geographical place. To read a newspaper is to know what town you’re in.
We can know this to be the case when we find Sean Hannity (CNN is guilty of doing the same, wham-bam-style interviews and news pieces) and Christopher Hitchens debating God in a five-minute segment. Two hours of discussion could not do that particular topic justice, but such is the world of television and radio news. “Just give us the talking points and no details so we can all get on with our lives,” seems to be the rallying cry. Newspapers, and to some degree, magazines, depending on the publication, compel us to sit down and spend time with the news and with the issues facing us today. Newspapers in hard copy form will one day go the way of the dodo, but I think it’s important for us to recognize the service they provide in holding those in high places accountable for their actions with our tax dollars. It’s important, at least to me, as it should be for anyone who appreciates and loves information, that they continue as long as possible. Or, if not, at least their online counterparts. Sports journalism, perhaps, doesn’t hold the same immediate consequence as, say, government beat writing, but the trend toward closer relationships between sports teams and the organizations covering them is troubling, and it makes the work of The Associated Press and others more laudable. Here is a detailed study of four newspapers regarding bias compared to the AP.
The “Twisted Metal” (A PlayStation game) fan inside me loves this video, but I wonder what these fun-loving folks are planning to do with these trashed clunkers once they are catapulted off the land-ramp. While the school bus and the wrecker probably won’t qualify, a few of the other vehicles they wrecked may have qualified in the, admittedly, complicated system. Are the owners of the wrecked vehicles going to take them to the salvage yard or simply leave them sitting on some plot of land to let nature do the rest? Who knows, but an entertaining video nonetheless.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. — II Kings 2:23-24 (KJV)
Obviously, as I’ve said, I find many parts of the Bible troubling and altogether running contrary to the acceptable, supposed character of God, not the least of which is the above passage. I point it out because frankly, I think about this particular cheery tale often. In his book, “Godless,” former evangelical pastor Dan Barker notes:
A moral and wise adult knows that children are sometimes ornery — kids will be kids. But God seems not to understand this.
After quoting the above passage, he continues:
This sounds like an R-rated version of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs, but true bible believers are forced to pretend that this nonsense is historical as well as moral.
He’s jesting, obviously, but this is an example of one of the many passages that I would once read — for I did at one time make a serious attempt to read the Bible end-to-end — and literally cringe in disgust. Believers will likely state the case of this Web site, that God, not Elisha really summoned the bears to kill the children, and that God, in his sovereignty, could do as he pleased:
A second possibility (the option the writer accepts) is that Elisha’s curse was not what led to the death of these children. As it says in Romans, “Do not take vengeance. It is mine to repay.” God has every right to judge those who disrespect him. When these children hurled insults at Elisha, they were guilty of disrespect, not only for a prophet of God, but disrespect against God himself. The Old Testament has some very strong words against such youthful rebellion against God and against adults. I believe that what happened here is that God, in his sovereign place of power, chose to make an example of these out-of-control, rebellious children.
In his conclusion, the writer even admits that he’s not terribly comfortable with the actions taken by God (italics mine):
Elisha probably sinned when he called curses on these children. However according to this view, it was not Elisha who had them killed by the bear (sic … bears). It was God. This appears to us to be a harsh judgment. In fact, if I were perfectly honest, I would admit that I am personally uncomfortable with what God did to these children, but I accept that God is soveriegn (sic). In the end, he will judge all sinners. What happened to these boys is but a dim foreshadow of final judgment.
The children, it seems, might have been part of the idol worshippers in Bethel. There is some dispute as to the age of the kids, as if it matters how old they were. Is killing an 8-year-old better or worse than killing a 15- or 16-year-old? I’m not sure. Regardless, here’s a brief run-through of the varying translations.
- KJV: “little children”
- New American Standard: “young lads”
- The Message: “little kids”
- New Living Translation: “group of boys”
- New KJV: “some youths”
- Revised Standard Edition: “small boys”
Speaking of children, I was even able to find a Bible study for children on this very story, replete with a connect-the-dots section of the bears and a coloring page! I’m not sure at what point we made death and suffering such household topics of discussion and even glee, but it was long before video games and movies were ever invented, and that day should be mightily regretted. But back to the serious question with which we are faced. The paradox is this: God, by proxy through Elisha, uses one of the Ten Commandment prohibitions to enforce another. The children, if they were supporters of the idol worship in Bethel, and, indeed, this was probably the case — this point aligns with why they were mocking Elisha in the first place — were violating the first and/or the third commandments. God, in turn, through Elisha, summons bears to kill the children, thus violating the sixth.
It doesn’t matter to me that God is sovereign. He gives us commandments (Do not murder), yet refuses to follow that particular one himself. This would place limits on an all-powerful God, one might say. I would retort: Sure, he’s limitless, but does he also have no constraint or no sense of ethics? Tell us not to kill, and then kill yourself? That’s immoral, disengenuous and hypocritical. This is like a human father who might say, “Yeah, I get wasted most nights, but little Susie or Billy, when you guys grow up, don’t follow your old man’s example.”
One writer has even attempted to put a number of how many human beings are dead on God’s watch. The stifling estimate is 33 million. Remember, that’s 33 million unique creations, each with a set of God-given spiritual gifts, assuming the persons may have to come to a belief in Him at some point in their lives, were they given their full lives to choose. But they were not given that choice.
Indeed, if we followed God’s example all the time in every instance, I dare say the world would have already self-imploded by now via a holy war of the most catastrophic kind. The endless dust-ups we see in the Middle East today between Palestine and Israel don’t compare to what could be if believers of the major three religions really believed. Radical Muslims do their best to follow their teachings, and if there was no Islam (And there shouldn’t be, since it’s a counterfeit religion based on the two that came before [Judaism and Christianity]), the Twin Towers would still tower above New York City, 3,000 dead may still be alive and it would be a more peaceful world.
I have more to say on this story. For instance, on the significance of the number 42 and about the actual bears themselves, which might have been of a variety of Syrian bear. But I will leave all that for a future post. Hopefully, I’ve given readers enough to chew on for one post.
The following is authored by my friend, Corey Rotella, of Wilmington, N.C., (once a resident of my hometown, Greenwood, S.C.) in which she outlines her struggle with alcohol addiction, subsequent AA meetings and her better life outside the bottle:
By Corey Rotella
And so it begins … the unwinnable battle with the alarm clock. I hit the snooze button one more time, debating whether 10 more minutes of sleep was worth it. Finally, I muster up the energy to swing my legs around and hop down from the top bunk. I guess I should clarify, at this point, that I am not a 10-year-old kid, but a 32-year-old woman (although this is, admittedly, debatable).
I try not to wake my roomates as I stumble clumsily into the bathroom. I wonder if Congress will ever consider passing a law forbidding people to work before dawn. Doubtful. Oh well, at least I’ll get to see the sunrise. That’s something for which to be grateful. Gratitude is very big in recovery. It’s the alcoholic, and it’s addicts’ chemotherapy. All these thoughts filter through my mind as I brush my teeth. I throw on my life-affirming Charlie Brown scrubs and make my way to the kitchen for a cup of joe and some much-needed nicotine (two more items to put on my gratitude list). Meditation time. Time to embrace my inner zen. This is a work in progress. My mind and serenity go together as naturally as Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley, but I do my best.
I live in a recovery house. This is not as glamorous as it sounds: five emotionally fragile women living under one roof and sharing two bathrooms. My best friend here has been here the longest and is the house manager. She somehow manages to deal with all our bullshit, work a full-time job and go to school without messing up her hair or chipping a nail. Now that’s talent. It’s not always a pretty life, but it’s very rarely boring.
I work in an assisted-living facility that will remain nameless to protect the innocent as well as my job. Officially, my job title is personal-care assistant, but due to my blatant inability to say, ‘No,’ sometimes I’m a housekeeper, sometimes I sit with residents in the doctor’s office, sometimes I’m in laundry and sometimes I’m the resident toilet plunger. The sanest thing about the facility are the residents, and some of them are diagnosed schizophrenics. I’d thought I’d seen it all in my 10 years of active addiction, but I was mistaken. Life is just as bizarre when I’m sober. The fire alarm randomly goes off, and we have to evacuate 70 people, some with severe cases of dementia – no easy task – and the whole place is run by a 24-year-old, who is probably still doing keg stands at sorority parties. That being said, I love my job. I get to leave work exhausted in a good way. I have the privlidge of being in these people’s lives, and when I leave for the day, I may be messy and frustrated, but I’m also fulfilled.
So how does a girl, who hid for years in the back bedroom of her grandmother’s house drinking cheap vodka and watching bad TV, who was shot at looking for crack in a shady neighborhood at 4 in the morning, who was also arrested for being an accessory to shop lifting (I was a get-away driver, a different story for another time) now have an interesting, frustrating, bizarre, fulfilling, confusing, fun, sometimes, lonely, but always sober life?
Well, there’s no easy answer, or I’d be making the talk show circuit. I come home from work to whatever drama is going on at home: who’s eating who’s food, who hasn’t done their chores, yada yada yada, which, in turn, makes my small, annoying headache become a brain-buster.
Whining in my head is one step away from whining out loud, and I’m not about to take a trip to self-pitysville: population one. I know too well where that road leads, and really, I have nothing to be upset about. I have a job I love that never bores me. I’ve been reintroduced to my sense of humor, and I am learning not to be afraid of hope. Don’t get me wrong. I still have my shitty days, where I freefall through fear, loneliness and anxiety (my nuerotic suit of armor, and man, is it heavy.) That’s OK though because the house I live in, all the women in it, and all the people currently in my life, act as a safety net, a trampoline, and that makes free-falling a little less scary.
Time to call my sponser, Linda. What can I say about Linda? She has a lot of sobriety, and it’s good sobriety. There is a difference. I learned that in my first few meetings. She is smart, funny, down to earth, unpretentious and human. There are a lot of reasons that I like her as a friend, but my reason for loving her as a sponser is a selfish one. She makes me stop apologizing for being who I am and does not try to force me into a box. God, Buddha, Muhammad, Gus … whatever artist created this abstract painting called life put her in mine, and for that, I will be eternally grateful because without her, I would still be in that back bedroom, drinking, God knows what, and hoping it’s not poison. I was a coward. But not today.
I tell Linda that I’m feeling good, and I’m going to my home group and everything’s groovy. It really is. I don’t even have to convince myself. Somedays are easier than others. Reaching out is my home group, and it is my idea of Utopia. Black people, white people, young people and old-timers all getting together to talk about our joy and triumphs and pain and loss, the extraordinary and the mundane and how we deal with all of this without the use of alcohol. As crippling as alcoholism is, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t my greatest blessing. Where else can you find such a cross section of society working toward a common goal?
When I arrive at the meeting, I see the usual crowd. Bonnie, impeccably dressed as usual, Ammie, my big-hearted, enthusiastic Republican friend (Come on, everybody has one), Sydney, a spiritual, funny guy with his wife, Kathleen, and Sandi, whose sardonic wit would make Dick Cheney laugh, with all standing around smoking and chatting and laughing. There’s a good crowd tonight, and I remind myself to listen to what people share and do my best not to let my mind wander. If I share, I try not to pick apart what I say and critique the meeting like the Siskel and Ebert of AA. Some days, I’m better at this than others.
After the meeting, I go home and take a hot shower and wash away the negative and focus on the positive. I change into my pajama bottoms and my ninja monkey T-shirt (ninja monkey T-shirts promote good dreams) and climb back onto my top bunk. I think about my life now and breathe a sigh of relief tinged with a little fear. A few good people, a little faith and a series of seemingly unfortunate events led me out of that back room and into my life. I have work to do, amends to make and people, including myself, to heal. So much change is exciting and terrifying, at times, but life’s a balance. I’ve come to believe that those of us who have such depths of emotional pain have an equal capacity for joy, and I would rather live life on life’s terms than exist on my own. I close my eyes and say, ‘Thank you and goodnight to God, Buddha, Mohammad, Gus,’ … whoever created this crazy mosaic that is my life. I’ll sleep well tonight. Tomorrow a new adventure begins.
For the first 30 days or so of recovery, I thought the work involved was simply not drinking. Every conflict, triumph, mini-crisis and bad hair day I faced, I chose to deal with soberly. Of course, this was not without its drama.
“To drink or not to drink, that is the question.” Whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune …” The lights were up on the stage in my mind, and anytime I faced any emotion without the help of liquid courage with it’s comforting numbness, I was more than happy to take a bow for an audience of one, namely, myself. Little did I know that putting down the booze was merely the interview process in this job called life. There are no days off.
For me, it is absolutely necessary to know why I want to remain sober. Avoiding jails, institutions and death is a great fringe benefit, but it is not enough to keep me sane. Why? Because, without purpose, living sober is more frightening than death. I’ve tried to quit drinking to avoid the consequences of my actions to no avail, so it is time to change my perception.
In order to understand where all this Yoda-like enlightenment came from, I have to go back a-ways. I found myself in treatment, after calling the police to help me get my car out of a ditch that I drove into … while drunk with an open container of vodka in my car. Needless to say, that offense landed me in jail again. Ironically, I was in a community theater production at the time with two defense attorneys, the town magistrate and a judge. No one said that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. Anyway, that was how I wound up at Hope Valley treatment center. I went there with the vague notion that I didn’t want to wallow in the futility of life anymore. I didn’t want to hide from everything and everyone anymore. I didn’t want to hide from myself. These were vague, abstract thoughts that were shrouded in fear, and they were nothing more than notions that floated through the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I was there a few days that I had, what they call, a moment of clarity (Yes, they do exist, and I was a skeptic, so trust me). I was standing on the porch of the treatment house not thinking of anything in particular, when I was struck by a feeling of such hope and love that I was filled completely. It was the feeling that I would get every spring when I was a kid, only much more intense, and it was in that moment that I decided that if a 100 percent effort could keep me sober, than I was willing to try my best. This was a huge deal for me, since I have never tried my best at anything in my life to that point. That moment is one of the few events in my life that I do not analyze; I just accept it because it gave me my hope back and therefore it gave me a life.
So for the rest of the day I was happy; genuinely happy, which is not something I had felt in a long time. Happiness, though, comes with its own special brand of anxiety. Joy, like all emotions, is fleeting, so, rather than go with the flow and enjoy the moment I was worrying about when it was going to end and how I was going to screw it up. That’s insanity, but I didn’t know how else to be.
What I had when I left treatment was determination, hope, a ton of information about alcoholism, and a bed in a recovery house. It was enough. After years of drinking and hiding and watching Dr. Phil, I probably would have gone into sensory overload if I had anymore on my plate when I was introduced to reality.
I was told to go to meetings, and I went, willingly enough. A lot of people I know in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymus will tell you that their first reaction to meetings and the people was based in anger. Anger that they had to be there, anger that they couldn’t drink and anger that they were surrounded by welcoming, happy people who would smilingly call them on their bullshit. I wasn’t angry when I first started attending meetings. I was dubious. While I appreciated the smiles and the welcoming vibe I felt in the rooms, it all seemed a little too “Kumbaya” to me. Even as I heard parts of my own life story being told by others, who have had similar experiences, I was skeptical. The idea of following what I considered to be rules barely disguised as suggestions did not particularly appeal to me. I thought admitting powerlessness was a way of avoiding responsibility, and that made no sense to me because I did that for 10 years in my active addictions. All the talk of God made me uncomfortable. It seemed a little cult-like.
The truth of the matter was that I was afraid of the unknown. As pathetic and weak as I felt in the alcoholic haze that had been my life for the past 10 years, at least I knew what to expect. It was familiar. There’s a certain amount of comfort in familiarity, no matter how masochistic it may be.
Fear or no fear, I made myself a promise that I intended to keep … a 100 percent effort. I knew that if I wanted to stay out of that back bedroom, I was going to have to readjust my thinking. So I began to listen, to really listen in the meetings. I realized that AA is a truly successful democracy and everyone has a voice. Admitting powerlessness does not negate accountability. Rather, it makes us focus on the only thing I have control over: my own behavior. Those “suggestions” my sponser gave me are not only designed to help me stop drinking, but also to teach me how to be a decent human being. The program embraces empathy and love, healing and hope, and it does not discriminate. It is because of this that millions of people, myself included, have discovered that we don’t have to face recovery alone.
I say “face recovery” because my real work began after I had around 30 days of sobriety under my belt. The fog cleared enough for me to feel emotions that I had long buried. Years before, I picked up my first drink. I used to visualize putting whatever negative emotion I was feeling in a big, black chest, chaining it and dropping it down a very deep well. I felt everything so intensely: joy, pain, fear, loneliness. As a child, I wanted so badly to be an adult because I thought they didn’t feel pain since I never saw them cry. I had definate fears of abandonment. I wanted to be “good” but never felt that I measuered up. At 19, I got drunk for the first time. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “So, this is what it feels like.”
In my early twenties, alcohol was helping me cope. By my late 20s, I was trying to cope with alcohol. By the time I got into treatment, I had lost the only thing of value I have ever had: myself. Alcoholism and addiction had taken me down dark and twisted roads into a barren, apathetic, deadly hell of my own design. I’ve taken the leap of faith necessary for my sobriety. No one tells me what to believe. I am only asked to believe in something greater than myself. I can do that.
Without alcohol, I am forced to face my fears, pain and anger head on. That’s OK because wherever I’m headed is better than where I was. Without alcohol, all those emotions and baggage that comes with my past can become my guide for my present and lessons for my future. Without alcohol, I can walk through all that I’ve buried, sometimes painfully, and embrace the Me that was always there underneath.
Just because I felt like writing tonight, and really for no other reason, I scooted over to Michelle Malkin’s oh-so-learned attempts at commentary (http://michellemalkin.com/), on which I found the lead “story” to be about an 11-year-old girl, Julia Hall, who asked President Obama a health care question during a recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire. From The Boston Globe:
A girl from Malden asked President Obama a question at Tuesday’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire about the signs outside “saying mean things” about his health care proposal.
Eleven-year-old Julia Hall asked: “How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can — that help more of us?” — The Boston Globe, Aug. 11, 2009
As it turns out, Julia’s mother was an Obama supporter during the 2008 election and a donor to the campaign in Massachusetts. Malkin, however, with her sardonic, “As we always like to point out: There are no coincidences in Obama world,” seems to suggest the girl was “planted” by the Obama administration to ask the question in order to make a point it felt needed making. The girl also queried Obama about the signs outside the town hall meeting “saying mean things” about Obama’s health care plan. Obama’s reply, which Malkin fails to include in her clunky polemic, was this, from The Globe:
“Well . . . I’ve seen some of those signs,” prompting laughter. “Let me just be specific about some things that I’ve been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here. The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for “death panels” that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various — there are some variations on this theme.”
According to a White House transcript, Obama continued:
“It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.”
“The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of “death panels.” I am not in favor of that. So just I want to — (applause.) I want to clear the air here.”
“Now, in fairness, the underlying argument I think has to be addressed, and that is people’s concern that if we are reforming the health care system to make it more efficient, which I think we have to do, the concern is that somehow that will mean rationing of care, right? — that somehow some government bureaucrat out there will be saying, well, you can’t have this test or you can’t have this procedure because some bean-counter decides that this is not a good way to use our health care dollars. And this is a legitimate concern, so I just want to address this.”
“We do think that systems like Medicare are very inefficient right now, but it has nothing to do at the moment with issues of benefits. The inefficiencies all come from things like paying $177 billion to insurance companies in subsidies for something called Medicare Advantage that is not competitively bid, so insurance companies basically get a $177 billion of taxpayer money to provide services that Medicare already provides. And it’s no better — it doesn’t result in better health care for seniors. It is a giveaway of $177 billion.
“Now, think about what we could do with $177 billion over 10 years. I don’t think that’s a good use of money. I would rather spend that money on making sure that Lori can have coverage, making sure that people who don’t have health insurance get some subsidies, than I would want to be subsidizing insurance companies.
“Another way of putting this is right now insurance companies are rationing care. They are basically telling you what’s covered and what’s not. They’re telling you: We’ll cover this drug, but we won’t cover that drug; you can have this procedure, or, you can’t have that procedure. So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies make those decisions, rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care and providing that information to you as a consumer and your doctor so you can make the decisions?
“So I just want to be very clear about this. I recognize there is an underlying fear here that people somehow won’t get the care they need. You will have not only the care you need, but also the care that right now is being denied to you — only if we get health care reform. That’s what we’re fighting for.” — The Boston Globe, Aug. 11, 2009
It is, indeed, “fishy,” as Malkin states that town hall meeting participants were “bussed in” to the event, as reported by WMUR of Portsmouth, N.H. But there is no proof these folks were bussed in specifically by the Obama administration to the town hall meeting to pad the seats, as it were. Actually, it would seem very likely that the folks who would be interested in attending town hall meetings would be supporters of the president. Would I, for instance, be eager to listen to Mark Sanford, the governor of my home state of South Carolina, talk about his opposition to the bailout funds and whine about how he’s sorry for having an affair with Maria BeLen Chapur with his four kids sitting at home? I think I would rather stay right here where the walls and this computer screen are more entertaining. The same, thus, likely held true at Obama’s town hall meeting. Boston is a hop, skip and jump from New Hampshire, so it’s not unlikely that Julia and her mother were in attendance. Plus, there is no rule that I know of to require a president or elected official to randomly, as if from a hat, select one questioner over another. My point is clear at this point: Malkin’s claim, and others’ is flimsy and unquantifiable.
But, for the fun of it, let’s examine a few of the comments given in the WMUR report by folks actually protesting, or not, outside the event. Here’s a small selection:
“… And I earned my health insurance. I paid for it with my money that I work very hard for.”
“Capitalism is America”
“A little rain for health care reform? Hey, I’ll do it.”
“They didn’t fix GM. They just propped them up with our money.”
“No profits, no health care.”
On the “capitalism is America” point, a co-worker of mine wrote a good piece recently in which he detailed a few irrevocable facts, which deconstruct this claim down through history: slavery is as anti-free-market as it gets, monopolies destroy the idea of capitalism and so does deregulation.
On the “earned” health insurance argument, I would say that many, who are not in as comfortable a position as the speaker, also pay for their own health insurance and still can’t afford their medical bills. Here is the crux of the entire argument. Let’s ignore for a moment (but certainly only for a moment), the millions of folks who do not have any type of coverage. Members of, what I would call the middle class or lower middle class, may have coverage (or once did but found it too expensive), but when something arises beyond their control, the coverage they have simply is meager. We don’t have to search long and hard to find examples:
The majority of the uninsured are neither poor by official standards nor unemployed. They are accountants like Mr. Thornton, employees of small businesses, civil servants, single working mothers and those working part time or on contract.
“Now it’s hitting people who look like you and me, dress like you and me, drive nice cars and live in nice houses but can’t afford $1,000 a month for health insurance for their families,” said R. King Hillier, director of legislative relations for Harris County, which includes Houston.
Paying for health insurance is becoming a middle-class problem, and not just here. “After paying for health insurance, you take home less than minimum wage,” says a poster in New York City subways sponsored by Working Today, a nonprofit agency that offers health insurance to independent contractors in New York. “Welcome to middle-class poverty.” In Southern California, 70,000 supermarket workers have been on strike for five weeks over plans to cut their health benefits. — The New York Times, Nov. 16, 2003
So, here’s the thing: the modernized countries who have some form of universal health care all are healthier than this country of dullards who would rather die under crushing debt and medical bills than adopt policies that may help, not just a few or some or half of our citizenship, but all of our citizenship. England, which even today, is still healthier than America on the whole, has full, universal coverage and has for more than 50 years (Private insurance is used by less than 8 percent of the population there)! As my cohort notes, Japan has no bankrupties caused by medical bills, while half of the bankruptcies in the U.S. are medically related. Some system, huh?
No one in this country knows what the final form of health care reform will look like, but I side with this commenter, who said, “A little rain for health care reform? Hey, I’ll do it.” As the saying goes, “If the system ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But it is broken. This country’s average life expectancy and health care, money-grabbing track record prove as much. The insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies have one thing on their collective, rabbit-ass minds: money, and the health and well-being of those riddled with illness, who can’t afford treatment even with insurance, be damned. We can only hope the reckoning will come soon.
The following is a report by the Tampa Bay, Fla.-based St. Petersburg Times about alleged abuses and violences inside the Church of Scientology, stemming and following the untimely death of Lisa McPherson. The church was charged with abuse/neglect and practicing medicine without a license in the death of McPherson, who died Dec. 5, 1995 of pulmonary embolism under the care of the church’s Flag Service Organization. The church was dropped of charges after the cause of death was changed from “undetermined” to an accident on June 13, 2000. The church later settled on a civil suit in 2004. On further allegations of physical violence inside the church, here is the Times’ report:
David Miscavige, the church’s leader, e-mailed the Times after the story was published that he had agreed to an interview, but could not conduct the interview in the time frame requested by the Times. (There is, indeed, a wonderful invention called the telephone that allows interviews to be conducted at anytime, day or night, whenever said busy person gets some spare time.) Thus, the Times continued on with the story, as well it should have. So often, government entities and different organizations, arrogantly, think the press should work within their time frame rather than the other way around. While equal respect should be fostered when possible, the press is certainly within its right to publish a story as long as it has made due effort to contact the other “side.” Here is Miscavige’s letter to the Times after the story was published. I thought this statement was meaningful in understanding the shear mindlessness of the religion with which we are dealing:
I am at a loss to comprehend how the St. Petersburg Times can publish a story about me and the religion I lead without accepting the offer to speak with me, on the pretense that you cannot wait until after I have fulfilled my religious commitments. — David Miscavige, letter to the St. Petersburg Times
Note his words: “the religion I lead.” Not, the religion some god leads. Not the religion the pope leads. He readily admits it’s a man-led religion, and that is to say, a religion led, as readily, by you or I, which renders it no more or no less irrelevant than Mormonism, which, as we remember, sprung up from Joseph Smith’s claim that he had received a word from some angel named Moroni to translate some tablets he had found around 1830. (As I noted here, Scientology, is as incredibly fantastical and ridiculous as anything one could imagine. It saddens me, as it should anyone, that folks whose reason is intact in every other area of their lives, can be so diverted to dabble in the abject foolishness dreamed up by a mammal in just this century (L. Ron Hubbard) to let it control their daily lives. Tom Cruise, for instance, is a gifted actor but is drinking from the crazy juice when talking about his zany religion.
Let’s even ignore the fact that this St. Petersburg Times report doesn’t give a reason why these folks were allegedly abused. Who cares. The question I’m interested in is this: Why do people surrender their entire lives to a belief that is unquantifiable only by claims of personal experience (In this case, the claims of Hubbard and other supporters)? Why are people willing to surrender their entire selves (We only have one, after all) to a belief or unequivocally manmade doctrines like with no proof whatsoever that the founders are not self-ingratiating lunatics, notwithstanding the fact that Scientology’s brand of religion is particularly bizarre.