Tag Archives: Rants

What has been happening. . .

What has been happening. . .

And why I’ve been away so much. This started about three weeks ago, when my Mom went in to see the oncologist for her biopsy results, and the staff didn’t think that her shortness of breath and loss of consciousness was simply stress. They sent her to the emergency room, and I got a call that if I didn’t come to pick up my Dad, he’d be picked up by a long-term care facility and they might not release him to my Mom because she was so sick. Talk about incentive. I hadn’t finished doing laundry, so I went down with whatever I had to wear, my medications, and an aerobed.

Turns out, she’d been having these problems for a while (and, of course, downplayed them so nobody would be concerned) and it was a pulmonary embolism. A small one, but I don’t think size really matters much. Thank goodness they insisted. But here’s where the fun begins. You see, Dad has been declining mentally for several years, and his condition is another thing Mom has been downplaying. The reasons are numerous and complex, and I’m not going to get into too much detail because that’s outside of this narrative. Since Mom’s got atrial fibrillation and has been on blood thinners, which she stopped so she could get her biopsy (Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, treatable with chemo) it became kind of complex to get her clotting factor right at the same time as they broke up the clot in her lung – and while she was there, they wanted to install a chemo port and give her her first treatment.

This meant over a week in the hospital for her.

This meant over a week of caring for my Dad by myself.

At this point, my new meds had not kicked in, I was still having panic attacks, and I was trying to process a whole bunch of information without the benefit of Adderall, either. And my Dad’s dementia is. . .bad. Looking at the description of a seven-stage progression, he’s between five and six, and awfully close to entirely stage six. After just a couple of days with him, taking him back and forth to the hospital and then being yelled at later for not having told him Mom was in the hospital, not being able to do anything except have the same conversations with him over and over without him getting upset that I wasn’t engaging him, being awakened at all hours of the night and early in the morning either because he was wandering the house (sometimes on his way outdoors) or waking me up to ask where Mom was, I was really on edge. I texted my sister and asked if she could relieve me for the weekend, and, bless her heart, she showed up on Thursday night. Not only did it help me out enormously, but I now had someone else to corroborate my story about his condition.

Things were relatively OK, but then Mom called me on a Saturday to tell me that Dad was in the hospital – this was his second time, but his first one (a couple of weeks prior to Mom’s for the embolism) she didn’t tell me anything until he was home. This time, she really shouldn’t have been driving, but she would have if we hadn’t come down, so hubby and I headed down on Sunday to take her to visit Dad. We got her a wheelchair to take her around the hospital, because she needed it. Dad was really out of it, sleeping slouched in a chair when we arrived, so we went and got lunch. When we came back, nothing had changed, and Mom found that she couldn’t wake him up, that he muttered a few incoherent things, and we realized that his arms and legs were ice cold.

When we called the nurse and they realized that they couldn’t get his blood pressure, we were shooed out of the room, and soon there were more doctors and nurses than could even fit. They moved him to the bed, and tried to get a chest x-ray, but he was uncooperative and physically fighting them off. They figured that in addition to the one infection he had, he probably also had pneumonia, so they began an IV drip of antibiotics for that. He was conscious when we finally got back into the room, but nothing he said made any sense.

Once we knew he was out of danger (because we were pretty worried for a while) we brought Mom home. I called her the next day, and she had spoken to him, and he was doing better, but still thought he was being held in a jail for something. She had no idea if she actually had someone to give her a ride to her second chemo appointment, so I figured I would drive her myself and then go to the hospital to see if they could just care for him for a couple more days – because even this had not been enough for her to actually get a home health aide or a visiting nurse. I knew that there was no way that she could care for him and keep him out of danger while recovering from an infusion.

So this is where it gets dramatic.

I slept badly, of course, and set off a little before 6:30AM to pick her up. I went in with her to speak with the oncologist and we discussed, frankly, the reality that she would not be able to care for Dad by herself, and I think that hearing it from the doctor lent it credibility that it didn’t have coming from me. She agreed that as much as she wanted Dad to be able to stay at home with her, it was in her best interest that he be cared for around the clock somewhere else for at least a little while when she was feeling like crap.

I got Mom settled in with her pillow and blanket and book, and headed out to the hospital. I went to the nurses’ station, trying to keep out of his sight so I could speak to them without upsetting him. They shocked the heck out of me by announcing that they had been calling all morning because it was time to release him! I explained that this was really, really, really bad timing, because my Mom would be hooked up to chemo drips until at least 4PM, and I couldn’t take him to the oncologist’s office OR leave him home alone. Well, they told me, the papers had already been signed, so I’d have to take him and do one or the other. No room for negotiating.

The social worker was at the desk, and I asked her if he could stay. No. Are there any short-term places he can go? No, he doesn’t qualify for short-term rehab, so he’d have to go into long-term care, and then he’d be there permanently. I didn’t want to place him somewhere permanently, and I especially didn’t want to be the one responsible for placing him permanently, against my Mom’s wishes. I asked if I could speak to the doctor who signed the release. (n.b., at this point, my Dad has not seen me, but he no longer has a guard in the room – he’s all by himself, seated on a pad that sounds an alarm every time he gets up, at which point, nurses rush in and make him sit down again.)

The doctor comes out, and I have to say, I have not been treated so condescendingly or disrespectfully by a doctor in close to 20 years. I’m not naming the hospital or the doctor – I’m going to write to them, I don’t need them to have a bunch of people descending angrily upon them, because my anger should be just about all they can handle! I tried to explain to him that Mom was getting chemo all day, I live an hour and a half drive away, Dad’s dementia makes it impossible for her to care for him while she’s dealing with her own treatments, and isn’t there some way he can just keep Dad there for even one more day? He gives me the same line about either I take him home, or he gets committed permanently and there’s no way he’ll ever come home, and he’s a professional gerontologist and I should know that Dad’s mental condition will decline rapidly if he goes into a home and I’ll be responsible for giving him a death sentence.

That’s when I threw out the names of the other doctors with whom I had consulted who agreed that he needed nursing care while mom was sick (GP as well) and suddenly he’s all “Oh, I know them. Good doctors. Well, I wish you luck,” and then walked away with a smile as if he had not just implied that I don’t care if my father dies in a nursing home.

Believing I had no choice and needing to do something quickly, because Dad was beginning to get really angry with the alarms and the nurses and such, I arranged for a liaison from the home closest to my parents’ house to start the admission process. Dad had seen me at this point, so I had to sit with him for a bit, but I needed to call Mom and it’s impossible to make a phone call with Dad there because he gets upset if you’re talking but not to him. Of course, he tried to follow me out, and the alarm went off, and the nurses came, and he was fighting and yelling.

Down the hall, I tried Mom’s cell phone, but she didn’t have it or it wasn’t on, so I called the main number for the oncologist. The receptionist passed the message, and shortly after, I was talking to Mom about what I had been forced to do and why – then she passed the phone to one of the nurses and the oncologist’s social worker. They were pretty furious, because I’d been lied to. Yes, my only option was a nursing home, but it wasn’t a prison. We could take him out any time.

Trying to explain this to my Dad was an awful experience. He didn’t get the concept – of anything. He forgot who I was. He was angry because he’d been kept alone in this room for so long and didn’t understand why this alarm kept going off and why nobody would let him walk around. He was tired of waiting around to go visit whomever he thought he was visiting, because he didn’t remember that he was the patient. When the rep from the nursing home arrived, she was wonderful. It was obvious that she understood how to handle people with memory issues, and had the patience of a saint. She figured out the one thing that caught my Dad’s full attention – he wanted to take care of Mom. She told him that he was going to need to build up his strength so he could do that, so he was going to stay in this place and do physical therapy every day until he was ready to be Mom’s caregiver. And when she saw that I would tell him what was happening and then he’d get mad because nobody had told him this was happening, over and over again, she told me that the hospital social worker needed to see me so I should say goodbye to him. It got me out of the room, and Dad accepted it – but nobody actually wanted to talk to me. She just knew that was the only way to disengage.

I went back and stayed with Mom until her chemo was done. I hadn’t had anything to eat, so I was given some crackers and coffee by the oncology nurse. When the chemo was done, I went out to pick up Mom’s prescriptions while she packed clothes for Dad. I got back, and she was on the phone with Dad, explaining to him that he needed to get strong so he could take care of her. The moment they hung up, my sister called. I may have been a bit abrupt (sorry, Jen!) but I had been up since 4:30, had eaten nothing but those crackers since 6AM, and still had to drive to the home and drop off the clothes and pick up dinner from the diner.

The home was nicer than some, not as nice as others, but the staff was good, and nobody was restrained. Dad wanted me to take him on a tour, and this was just not an option at this point. Fortunately, a staffer was approaching us, and I asked her if she could show him around. She agreed, and I said my goodbyes. Picked up food. Ate. Drove home, got there about 10:30.

A couple of days later, I called Mom. She’s talked with Dad, and he thinks this place is pretty luxe, and he’s doing physical therapy so he can come home. She, meanwhile, has been able to sleep whenever she needs to and for as long as she wants, and get sick without Dad trying to “help” her. She didn’t want him to be taken away from home, but for the moment, things seem to be working out, and that takes a huge weight off my mind.

While You Guys are Writing Anti-Abortion Legislation. . .

While You Guys are Writing Anti-Abortion Legislation. . .

I make no secret of the fact that I feel that abortion should be a choice made by a woman and her doctor (and in some cases, her partner.) I find none of the reasons provided by anti-abortionists to be rational or compelling enough to justify sweeping legislation that impinges on the rights of women whose lives may be lost or destroyed by these limitations. Some of it is insulting to women’s intelligence; some of it is representative of medical ignorance; all of it is based in religion, which should not be influencing government in the first place.

Let me say, though, that the most abhorrent reasons are the ones that portray children as “punishment” for a woman in one way or another. Some state this overtly, some with a bit more circumlocution, but they all boil down to the woman shouldn’t have engaged in sexual intercourse if she didn’t want to have a child, so now she’s just going to have to deal with the consequences of her actions. I can’t even begin to plumb the depths of the awfulness of this argument. There are so many levels of wrong here that it would be impossible to address them in a single blog post.

What I can do is suggest a way that this attitude can be expressed legislatively in a far less discriminatory fashion.

You see, if a child is punishment for having sexual intercourse, then the punishment should be equally distributed between both parties involved in the punishable act. Legislation that prevents access to abortion should not affect only the mothers, but the fathers as well. Much of this might not be necessary, as in the case of faithful married couples who will already be legally obligated to share the financial and other burdens of having a child, but there’s no reason to leave them out completely, either. I’ll get to that.

Include something in this legislation that creates a record of women who request abortions, just to establish a paper trail for legal purposes. If a woman seeks an abortion and is denied it or cannot afford it, the state will perform DNA tests on both the child and the father named by the mother. Just as the ultrasound costs are paid by the mother in these legislative acts, the DNA testing cost must be paid by the father. Once paternity has been established, a judge will decide the best punishment for the father – in some cases, marriage to the mother may be ordered, but mostly it will involve lifetime child support and regular visitation. If the man didn’t want to be a father, then he shouldn’t have had sexual intercourse, after all.

If the father is already married to the mother, DNA tests should also be required, just to make sure that the right father is being punished. This would make having even wanted children more expensive, but we want to be absolutely sure that the right person is being punished for every child that’s born. Some states might even want to do this retroactively, DNA testing every man who, say, applies for public assistance or disability or unemployment, since those are obviously the selfish, irresponsible people who’d go around having recreational sex in the first place, amirite?

This way, states wouldn’t have to limit the procedure to only women seeking abortions, but to all the leeches on society making babies they can’t afford. Oh, yeah. But start with the abortion-seekers. That way the wording that punishes fathers with children can be included in the laws that punish mothers with children. If you want to be taken seriously when you say that you’re not anti-woman when you propose this stuff, then you shouldn’t be leaving fathers out of the picture. Of course, it’s hard to take you seriously when you talk about living, breathing, dependent little human beings as “punishment,” but at least this way you’ll appear a little less disingenuous.

Expert Opinions

Expert Opinions

Somewhere in the wilds of the INTARWEBS, I had the audacity to suggest that the opinions of experts actively practicing in a specialized field probably were things we should pay attention to – especially if they were held by a majority of these experts. Well. . .someone whom I would never, ever be so insensitive enough to characterize as dumb as a bag of hammers took great offense at this. His argument, which boiled down to telling me I was a poopy diaper head, was that if several people were strongly invested in an opinion that gave them emotional satisfaction, it should be held in the same high regard as that of a phalanx of well-educated, well-respected researchers whose opinions were informed by well-supported evidence.

Taking this tack would mean that at the next major convention of geologists, the guy who disproved continental drift by taping cut-out paper continents onto a balloon and blowing it up should be sitting at the table for the panel discussion on plate tectonics or continental drift. His opinion is just as valid!

It would mean that the guy who “disproved” that a plane hit the twin towers by hitting a stack of plastic inboxes with the side of his hand was just as credible as a professional engineer with specialized knowledge of airplane technology or the structure and construction of the towers.

Robin Ince posted a much better rebuttal to this idea in his blog entry “The Fascism of Knowing Stuff.” He’s more articulate about it than I could hope to be. He covers a number of reasons why these beliefs are held mostly by people who don’t know stuff, and people who are not afraid of what is known, but how it will be used. Some of his commenters “got it,” as well – it’s much easier to condemn specialized knowledge that you don’t actually have. It’s comforting to see your beliefs confirmed because you don’t understand the much more complex factual information that challenges them.

One expert, one “guru,” isn’t enough to hang all your understanding upon. Believers tend to believe a source and all those who agree with that source regardless of whether or not they themselves have any expertise. But when all or pretty much all the specialists in a field of knowledge say one thing is the most likely explanation, and the only people who challenge them have no background in that field, you really should have some confidence in the experts.

The Heritage Foundation, among other things, is a big anti-global-warming promoter. I sucked it up and watched one of their videos so I could have a cogent argument with a climate change denialist, and the one thing that every single speaker had in common was the admission that he was not a climate scientist. In fact, most of the speakers weren’t scientists at all. One former astronaut claimed that since he had seen the earth from outer space, that was proof enough to him that the earth looked just fine.

The things we know now are far more complex than the things we used to know. They consist of many more specialized pieces. There are few areas in which a general knowledge is sufficient for understanding. One expert can have a different view, or not really be much of an expert at all – but when an opinion is held about a piece of specialized knowledge and is the consensus among the other people who are actively working in that specialized field, it’s a safe bet to take their word over something some guy said on the internet.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Chiropractors playing to a parent’s deepest fear – SIDS. We don’t know what causes it, we know little about how to prevent it, but Chiropractors lay claim to secret knowledge and take advantage of new parents’ willingness to do anything for their children by lying to them.

Ed Yong tells an inspiring story of a triumph in genomic medicine. Lilly Grossman carries a gene mutation that fills her nights with shaking and seizures instead of sleep, but finding it delivers the treatment she needs to live an almost normal life. Grab your hankies.

This won’t make a lot of sense to many people, but an abstract that shows a possible neurobiological connection for skin picking and hair pulling (dermatillomania and trichitillomania) makes me think how nice it would be to eventually find a way to fix it.

Take this, people who think diet can prevent all disease. So there.

This may seem like a wonderful advancement in prosthetics, but can you say. . .mind control?!?!?

Recognize a pattern? Republican sticks to party platform, opposes gay marriage. Republican offspring comes out as gay. Republican weasels out of original stance.

I can’t say this where it’s appropriate, but you can tell when someone thinks he knows more than he actually does when he’s not even wrong. Unfortunately, the Dunning-Kruger effect means it will be impossible to educate him as to why this is so. He does not experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance and learns only what strengthens his confirmation bias. Worse, this is willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty. Rationalwiki is an appropriate source of information to reflect my repressed snarkiness. Enjoy.

Bookmark this site for when you need a good laugh or a healthy dose of schadenfreude. There is simply too much here for me to give it to you a bit at a time. Bask in its guanophrenic glory as it slowly loads the page bit by bit up to the top. If you really want to get in the spirit, go to the pantry and get some tinfoil to make yourself a party hat first.

AWWW!! ELEPHANT BAYBEEE!

The Problem With Science. . .

The Problem With Science. . .

Just venting here in response to seeing these horrible arguments concentrated in a heap somewhere else. There may be others, but these are the ones that make me particularly irritated.

1. “Science doesn’t consider the bigger picture!” This implies that there is a “bigger picture,” and that science should concern itself with researching only what fits into it. This isn’t science. Science is not designed to confirm what we want to know, but to find out what we don’t know, whether it comes out the way we want it to or not. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that comes in a giant plastic garbage bag. We don’t have the big picture. Even if we start working on putting together just the edge pieces, we might find some edges are straight, some are curved, some of the angles are acute and some are obtuse. We can gather together all the pieces that have the same shade of blue, but that doesn’t mean those pieces will fit together. You can’t consider a “bigger picture” unless you already know what the picture is, so science works on putting the pieces together and building from there.

2. “Science doesn’t answer questions about the soul/mind/spirit/etc.” Science is the study of the physical world. It is a method by which we can observe and study objects and phenomena that exist in, affect, and are affected by the physical world. Complaining that science is flawed because it doesn’t study the supernatural is like complaining that a bicycle is flawed because it doesn’t fly. It does what it is designed to do. Just because it doesn’t do what you want it to do doesn’t mean it’s broken. In fact, it means it’s working.

3. “Science is inaccurate because it’s being done by humans.” First of all, science has methods of self-correcting. Evidence has to be predictable, repeatable, and falsifiable. Human error might result in flawed evidence, but the scientific method provides a way for other humans to verify or overturn that evidence. Second of all, this complaint comes most frequently from people who tout ideas that are built on anecdotes and wishful thinking, promulgated by charismatic leaders of cults of personality. Magical thinking is fraught with human error, yet its proponents are the quickest to complain about human error in science. The mind boggles.

4. “Science is being financed by big business, so scientists don’t really care about discovering the truth!” There are certain problems that arise from what research is financed and what research flounders. But this doesn’t mean that science is corrupt. Scientist is not a glitzy, high-paying position, even if you’re doing pharmaceutical research. Again, though, this view is expressed by people who believe in things that are being sold by companies that make broad, sweeping statements about the efficacy of their products without having to worry about regulatory oversight, and individuals profiting from the sales of these products, or non-evidence-based practices, whose faces you see on book jackets and TV talk shows. The hypocrisy seems evident only to people who haven’t been taken in by the purveyors of anecdotal proof.

5. “Science says one thing one day, and then something entirely different later.” Part of that is the nature of science. Remember that mention of falsifiability? The idea is that you don’t close off your options by setting something in stone. The knowledge we have and the tools to gather that knowledge are constantly improving. If we learn something new, and it disproves the old idea, we let go of the old idea. The other part is the dumbing down of science for the layperson that happens in the media. New evidence is presented by journalists as proof of one thing or another – when proof is only for math and whiskey, and when the studies they’re pointing to actually say nothing at all like what they say in the news. Remember that big picture reference? The scientists finish a corner, and the journalists declare the puzzle complete. That’s not a problem with science.

A Modest Proposal of My Own

A Modest Proposal of My Own

Thanks to the sheer number of bills proposed by Republican elected officials across the country, their convoluted justifications for those bills, their “misstatements” about those bills, and their ignorance about existing laws and medical reality, I think we can all agree that the primary focus of all of this is that they don’t want women to have intercourse. They especially don’t want poor, non-white, non-Christian women to have intercourse. And while they’re OK with well-off, white, Christian women having intercourse, they want them to have it only with their husbands and only for making babies – even these women are not allowed to (ooh, fetch me my smelling salts!) enjoy it.

The whole problem with this is that they’re focusing on the girls and women. Last time I checked, humans don’t reproduce by parthenogenesis, so there has to be a male participant in there somewhere. And if you think about it, this is where the problem lies. The female of the species does not have to be an active or willing participant in this process in order for it to occur, so these legislators are simply taking the wrong approach.

In fact, no matter where you look, from ancient history to today, not a single attempt to eliminate non-procreative sex by restrictions on women has had more than a marginal effect. This is due to the flawed perception that somehow women, by their sheer presence, render men slaves to uncontrollable desire. No matter how much boys are taught that girls are wretched and unclean, they still want to see them and touch them. No matter how much modest, concealing clothing you put on girls, boys still think about what’s underneath. No matter how much you keep girls’ and women’s mobility restricted, they sometimes have to leave the house – and a boy or man can find them there. Or, having no restrictions themselves, get in to wherever the women are confined. If the boys want to have sex with girls, they have the ability to do so with a willing or unwilling partner, and always seem to find a way.

Clearly, hiding the womenfolk and making them fully responsible for and ashamed of causing male arousal is just not cutting it. Giving women yet another burden, that of forced childbearing, as a “consequence for their actions,” won’t be any more successful. Women have an incredible number of deterrents against sexual intercourse as it is. We’re really doing our best, guys, but we need some cooperation here.

So my feeling is that a completely different approach is needed. It is boys and men who need to be the focus of curtailing the immoral practice of recreational sex. If they do not experience arousal in the first place, then intercourse simply will not take place! No more sex ed classes, no more birth control controversy, no more unplanned pregnancies, no more need for moral outrage directed at women! Problem solved!

Perhaps some of the money being taken away from organizations that are involved in women’s health and family planning could be diverted to researching a treatment that would eliminate male sexual arousal. Certainly, some of the money being spent on all those unneeded ultrasound machines in abortion clinics would help, since they would no longer be used. No religious organizations would be forced to cover contraception in their employees’ insurance policies, so I’m sure they’d gladly lend financial as well as moral support towards this research.

Imagine it – a world in which men would be capable of sexual arousal only when they and their legally married spouse decided it was an appropriate time for procreation! Not only would it solve all the problems our lawmakers are trying to legislate away, but some of the problems they themselves cause by engaging in non-procreative intercourse outside of marriage! No more adultery, because it wouldn’t be possible, and absolutely, positively, none of that yucky boy-on-boy buttsecks. EWWW!

I can’t think of a single reason why the folks who want women to stop having sex, stop using birth control, and stop having babies, would object to a plan like this. It’s incredibly sensible, and bound to work. Don’t you agree?

CAM is Chewing Gum.

CAM is Chewing Gum.

CAM stands for “Complementary and Alternative Medicine,” and it is none of the above. CAM is to Health what chewing gum is to Diet.

Complementary, as CAM proponents would have us believe, means: “Completing; forming a complement,” or “Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities.” What they would like us to believe is that these various nonscientific, evidence-free practices somehow complement actual medicine, when in truth, not only is medicine fine without them, but that in order for them to work, real medicine is necessary – making medicine the complement to CAM, not the other way around.

Chewing gum is not a complement to Diet in the same way. It adds nothing to a healthy, well-balanced diet in any nutritional sense, and provides no benefits whatsoever unless you are already meeting proper nutritional needs.

As a complement, chewing gum and CAM have a similar effect. If you’re attempting to lose weight or stave off hunger, a stick of gum creates an illusion of eating – the flavor and chewing motion stimulate the salivary glands, swallowing saliva puts some liquid in the stomach and creates a small amount of digestive activity, and mentally it provides a distraction from hunger. Sometimes hunger is emotional or triggered by habit or an outside stimulus, so chewing gum gives us something to do while we wait for the need to pass. Without the gum, this kind of hunger would pass on its own, but chewing the gum makes the waiting easier. We may think or fool ourselves into thinking that it’s actually responsible for the abatement of the hunger, but it’s really not.

CAM does the same thing. That is, it does nothing but give us the feeling that we’ve done something to help the problem and distracts us while we wait for it to resolve on its own.

As an alternative, they both fail completely, because chewing gum is no more a food than CAM is a medical treatment. As I just said, they let us put off eating or seeking medical help while hunger or illness resolve on their own, but not all hunger or illnesses do that. If we’re truly hungry and try to placate that hunger with chewing gum for long enough, we become more vulnerable to binge eating. We’ll eat whatever we come upon, whether it’s good for us or not, and eat more of it than we would have if we’d attended to our hunger properly from the start.

When CAM is used to treat an illness that doesn’t get better with time, we end up delaying the start of evidence-based, efficacious treatment, which means that we are much sicker and harder to cure than we would have been if we’d addressed the illness properly from the start.

As medicine, CAM is to it as gum is to food. Many forms of CAM rely on untestable elements, and those that can be examined in a clinical setting consistently perform no better than placebo. Chewing gum can be tested, and shows demonstrably negligible amounts of carbohydrates, and nothing else. Calling any type of CAM medicine is just as ludicrous as calling chewing gum food.

We don’t allow chewing gum to label itself as part of a well-balanced diet, so we should start coming down on practitioners of CAM who want to label their practices as medicine. Put up or shut up. The gum has a nutrition label. You want your stuff to be called medicine, show that it works like medicine. When the gum has the nutritional qualities of food, then they can call it food. When your modality has the evidence of medicine, then you can call it medicine. Until then, stop calling it that.

Fuck Alternative Medicine.

Fuck Alternative Medicine.

I’ve held that in for a long time. For all the things I’ve said about it, there have been dozens that I haven’t, and I no longer feel obligated to tippy-toe around it. Fuck Alternative Medicine, its proponents, practitioners, and profiteers.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t criticize because it somehow “works”. No, it doesn’t. Even setting aside the fact that not one single modality is capable of producing anything more than placebo effects, and that only in a clinical rather than a research setting, it doesn’t work. It keeps people focused on their problem by making them perform repetitive behaviors and thoughts that keep their attention on the problem. When the problem doesn’t go away, it makes them continue to put thought and effort into focusing on their problem for significantly more time than it would have taken to do something that would actually help solve their problem. So no matter how many qualifiers you put on it, it doesn’t work, so don’t tell me anymore that it does if you don’t want an argument.

I’ve been told that it’s important to its adherents to respect their right to believe in it. Fine. You have the right to believe whatever you want, but when it’s patently ridiculous, shown to have no basis in reality, or tested consistently false, I’m not going to respect your belief. Your right to believe something ridiculous, unreal, and false won’t be compromised, but you’ll have to accept that my disrespect of your belief has nothing to do with disrespect of your right to believe it. If you don’t want me to be disrespectful of your belief, don’t give me the opportunity.

I’ve been told that I’m unsympathetic or even cruel for expressing my disdain of this crap. I’ve been told that it’s so important to people’s senses of self-worth that any negativity I express towards the belief is tantamount to an attack on the person who holds it. Bull. Alcohol, recreational drugs, promiscuity, and any number of things that people do and claim they consciously choose to enjoy have a lot of parallels. If I tell you to lay off the sauce, go to rehab, or quit whatever else it is that’s not doing you any good, I’m not calling you names. If you believe some kind of crazy that sets you apart from other people, and I tell you it’s fake, I’m not calling you crazy. I’m saying this thing you’re doing, this thing you’re believing, is a big minus in your quality of life.

I’ve been told I’m close-minded for not entertaining the possibility of these things working. Well, my time and my neurons are both limited commodities. There are a lot of real things that are worth knowing and learning about, and I’m not going to toss those aside and make space in my schedule and my brain for pondering things that have no rational reason to be considered possible. They didn’t get closed out; they set foot inside and then got kicked out. Mind stays closed after that unless there’s a preponderance of evidence.

I will not pretend that there is even the slightest possibility that something that has no rational reason to work might somehow, someday, turn out to work. If it can’t be tested, it’s because there’s nothing to test. If people push it even though it can’t be tested, they can lie with impunity and pass the onus of its failure onto the consumer – as if he or she didn’t feel bad enough as it was. If you got sick, it’s not because you did or didn’t do something, and if you don’t get better, there had darned well be a reason other than not doing a ritual right or following a protocol to the letter. A doctor can tell you that a treatment or medication works or doesn’t work based on your condition, co-existing conditions, other medications, and work out a best-case plan, and alternatives. An alt-med practitioner can tell you you didn’t believe hard enough, or you must have done something wrong, but can’t even come close to reliably predicting outcomes. They’re making it up as they go along, using anecdotal evidence and confirmation bias to make it look like they know what they’re doing, but they don’t. What they do know is that they can tell people all kinds of crap, cover up failures with hand-waving and excuses, and still get their money.

I will not pretend that a belief should be treated with respect simply because it is held by someone who should be treated with respect. You can love and honor someone and still think they have an idea that’s batshit insane. And I think that the only people who benefit from Alternative Medicine are the people who are selling it – so buying into it is batshit insane. Did I say you were batshit insane? No, I did not. There’s a difference.

I will not feel bad about challenging your cherished belief if I can see the harm it’s doing. If you think I’m being mean for trying to steer you away from something that’s going to hurt you somehow, so be it. Keep it secret from me, or cut me out of your life. I’ll deal with it a lot better than holding my tongue and seeing the very aftermath I anticipated.

I will not pretend that there are possibilities when the overwhelming evidence shows there are not. I don’t take things at face value, and I feel that wishful thinking should just be a party game. Show me consistent, reproducible, predictable results that support your claim, and I’ll gladly admit I was wrong, but don’t ask me to indulge in magical thinking because it feels nicer than reality.

So from now on, I’ll deal with the backlash from speaking my mind, because being uncritical and respectful and sympathetic hasn’t helped. If I’d been forthcoming, either things would have turned out differently, or I’d have been ostracized and not known how they turned out.

I haven’t said it enough in the past, so I’ll be making up for lost time. Fuck Alternative Medicine, up, down, backwards, and sideways.

The Fall of the American Empire?

The Fall of the American Empire?

I hope I’m being alarmist. I hope I’m unduly concerned. I hope that this all is just a hump we’ll get over after a few difficult years. What I’m thinking here is that there are people alive today who will witness the decline and fall of this country.

I was thinking pragmatically when I voted for Obama. I expected that he was not going to be able to live up to his promises, or find that his ideas were unrealistic once he was in office, and chose him not because I had any faith in him being the hope and change he promised, but because he was better than the alternative. I also expected that the GOP was going to continue to oppose any efforts of the Democrats and the Democratic Party regardless of their merit simply for the sake of opposing them. What I didn’t expect was that the President and what’s close to every elected Democrat in this country would cave to a slew of destructive Republican demands so that the Republicans would agree to one or two inconsequential concessions.

All I can see now is that both Obama’s budget proposal and the Republican cuts are going to fast-track our country into a third-world standard of living, if not actual third-world status. At first, all I objected to was the short-sightedness of politicians at all levels all around the country – did they not think about the greater implications of the changes they were proposing? Some ideas impacted quality of life by removing or restricting services, some by taking away funding or re-allocating it misguidedly. Bit by bit, the picture began to emerge that one side had a clear agenda for a new social structure, and the other had only a few pet ideas that it would half-heartedly defend.

Yes, a lot of things should be cut. A lot of programs spend more money than they should. A lot of programs don’t generate results that justify their budgets or their continued existence. Looking at a list, I can see some things that could be consolidated, managed better, or yes, even eliminated. What I don’t see, though, are cuts to things that could manage just fine without government assistance, like corporate welfare and tax credits, and tax structures that benefit the wealthiest individuals in the country. Instead, what’s being taken away in these proposals are programs that help those without the money or power to help themselves, or programs that protect them from abuse by the people and entities in power. Almost all the proposals coming to the table from both sides increase the gap between the haves and have nots, push the middle class and working poor closer to the latter category, and erode the quality of life for all those who can’t buy their own luxury and peace of mind.

At the state level here in NJ, we’re seeing this on a much more obvious level, since there are fewer places to hide waste and favoritism. When Governor Whitman eliminated state pension contributions in order to cover budget deficits, and then (of course) never quite got back to putting that money back (nor, to be fair, did Corzine) we of course ended up with not enough money to pay pension benefits to retiring state employees. Contrary to what politicians would like us to think, most of these employees are not lazing about the public trough, living easy at the cost of our tax dollars. The bad apples are held up as examples of how undeserving these people are, but the truth of the matter is that the ones who are getting hurt have worked hard, many of them dealing with the hardship of low wages in exchange for benefits, and have put in their time. They signed contracts that made specific legal promises, and planned their lives with those promises in mind. At retirement or close to retirement age, they should not have the rug pulled out from underneath them because someone else didn’t plan as well as they did.

At the same time, people higher up the food chain are not being asked to make the same sacrifices. Small pockets of outrage have erupted over double-dipping politicians, patronage jobs that pay six figures for showing up a few hours a week, and contracts that allow certain elected or appointed individuals to collect the full salary for their term of employment and keep generous retirement benefits even if they’re booted out early. The problem is, I think, that your average Joe who votes sees the “lazy government workers” in his daily life, is affected personally by the “bad kids produced by all the rotten schools and overpaid teachers,” knows people who “get off easy” or “get screwed over” by “corrupt cops”. . .ask anyone to provide examples of how any state or local employee is getting more than he deserves from our hard-earned tax dollars, and you’ll get tons of anecdotal evidence. Ask him what’s in the contract for his school superintendent, or how many duplicate jobs exist at the upper levels of state administration, and all you’ll get is a blank stare.

So rather than making good on the debt, Governor Christie comes out like a raging bull, demonizing public employees so that he can cut their salaries, benefits, and numbers with impunity, and further the disconnect between budget problems and excess at the higher levels. Not only does he effectively swell the ranks of the poor and impoverished, but he also proposes cuts to things that benefit all of us. Public programs that house the mentally ill will lose funding, putting more of them out homeless on our streets – your streets, if you don’t live in a gated community. Funding cuts for schools that result in fewer and less qualified teachers and fewer extracurricular opportunities will give us bored, uneducated, disaffected young people, rather than future leaders who contribute to society – the kids down the street will be robbing and vandalizing your house rather than, say, shoveling your driveway or watching your kids, because what else is there for them to do? And if you call the cops after they do this (or the fire department, if they get a little too enthusiastic) you’re going to have to accept that they might not be able to get there, sorry, because they’re understaffed and haven’t been able to afford to fix some of the broken equipment.

Open spaces aren’t being preserved, so if you don’t own your own pristine recreational acreage, you’d better be happy with the view out your window. Other agencies and organizations that preserve history or provide recreational opportunities are closing up shop, so the field trips that got students excited about learning just won’t happen, and you’ll have to come up with your own ideas for things to do with the family on weekends. Yahtzee and Monopoly will wear thin pretty quickly, and you won’t be able to go to the local library, because the special programs will be gone and the hours will be cut, if it even manages to stay open.

Horse racing, however you feel about it, takes up a lot of space and doesn’t contribute as much as casinos, so the entire equestrian industry in the state is taking a hit. You might not think much about it, but once those horse farms become new housing developments, it’ll be too late to realize you didn’t want to lose them.

And speaking of casinos, you get to buy those whether you like it or not. Revel paved the way – they began construction and then threatened to leave the rotting hulk if they didn’t get the funding and tax breaks they wanted. New Jersey caved on that. Since you paid for it, you should probably go visit it. While you’re there, take a tour of the sparkling gem that is Atlantic City. The casinos got incentives and breaks from the state because they promised to give back – specifically to the town in which they operated. What you actually see, though, is a microcosm of our future as planned by lockstep Republicans and weak-kneed Democrats. The haves – the casinos with their flaunted wealth, taking in money from working people and keeping most of it through special arrangements and creative accounting, and the have-nots – the people of AC, most of them at or below the poverty line, in decrepit housing with inadequate public services, whose future generations will not have received the education or assistance to rise above it and make a better life for themselves or their families. Keep your car windows rolled up and your doors locked, and don’t depend on the police showing up if you need them.

As Atlantic City is a smaller version of what may await us as a state, it is also a smaller version of where our country may be headed if the budgetary efforts to increase the class divide succeed. Nothing anyone has done has been able to counteract or slow this process in that city. If that’s what happens on a local scale, I don’t have high hopes that it will be different in a state or regional or national level.

Nebraska Abortion Laws FAIL

Nebraska Abortion Laws FAIL

So, Nebraska has passed a couple of laws to ban abortions. I cannot believe how patently ridiculous and short-sighted they are. Strike that, I can. Behind each and every law passed to restrict abortion is the religious intent to punish women for having sex. No other thought process would allow people to pass these laws completely ignorant of their consequences and outright irony.

For example. . .the first one “bars the procedure at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain at that point.” So, after 20 weeks, an ultrasound and/or genetic testing determines that the child has, let’s say, a severe case of spina bifida or a congenital heart defect. As soon as the child is born, it will be whisked into surgery, and hooked up to tubes and wires. As soon as it has healed from that surgery, it will probably face more surgeries, quite possibly a lifetime of surgeries. If it survives, it will live a life full of pain. If it does not survive, which a doctor looking at the prenatal testing results would be able to predict with some accuracy, it will have lived its entire brief life in pain. So in what way does this bill show a merciful compassion for a freedom from pain? Late-term abortions are painless, since they are induced by anesthetic injected into the fetus. Just the way a merciful vet puts our pets to sleep – one shot to put the animal to sleep, a second to stop the heart. How is that more painful?

The second “requires women be screened before having abortions for mental health issues and other risk factors indicating if they might have problems afterward.” So, if it looks like a woman is so mentally fragile that she might flip out and go postal after an abortion, she’s a perfect candidate for motherhood. I sure as heck don’t want to be living in Nebraska about 15 years from now, because it’s going to be full of teenagers who were raised by mentally unstable women who didn’t want them in the first place.

Way to go, Nebraska!