Catholic Church Flexing Muscle in U.S. Hospitals

According to Wikipedia:

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 per cent of them located in developing countries. In 2010, the Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of the world’s health care facilities. The Church’s involvement in health care has ancient origins.

What a sweet bunch of guys, huh? Actually yes, I’d say.

But check this out:

US Bishops Working To Ban Hospitals From Providing Women With Common Form Of Birth Control

Last month, seemingly without notice or reason, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops changed its policy and banned Genesys Health System, a Catholic medical center in Michigan, from performing tubal ligations, the second most common form of birth control for women in their 30s and 40s in America. Upon a woman’s request, immediately after she had given birth, doctors would “tie her tubes” to prevent future pregnancies. 700,000 are performed annually across the country.

According to ProPublica, quoted in the article, “Ten of the 25 largest health systems in the nation — and four of the five largest nonprofit networks —are now Catholic-sponsored.” This is important, as the article says, because Catholic Bishops control policy in Catholic hospitals in thousands of communities across the United States.

It matters what’s legal, and we’re all behind maximized access to reproductive care for all women. But what’s LEGAL and what’s AVAILABLE are unfortunately two different things. And may soon be even more so.

The Catholic Church of course believes it has the right to limit health care to women according to various tenets of its core doctrine. But isn’t this the same thing as a cab driver in Alabama refusing to pick up a black man, or a bakery owner refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding? The driver and baker have every right to their private views, but out in the public sector, they MAY NOT USE THOSE VIEWS as grounds for refusing to provide full and equal service to members of the public.

If these are public hospitals — and they are — this policy is intolerable.




conspiracyLet me toss some sentences at you.


But what if the real sentences, the complete sentences, were these?

I’M GOING TO HIT YOU … up for a favor.
BOB HATES THE HOMELESS … policy in this town.
JOHN KILLED THOUSANDS … of hours playing videos games.
KARL ROVE SUCKS DICK … Cheney into his arguments every time.

I sort of cheated you with those half-sentences, didn’t I? If each of those pieces was a factual news item, and I told you half the story like this, you’d trust me less, wouldn’t you? Because you’d know, on some level, that I had done something to you deliberately. If you sat and thought about it, you’d realize I’d done THREE things to you.

1) I told you half the story.

2) In telling you half the story, I got you to accept something that was not simply  incomplete, but perfectly false.

3) In telling you half the story and getting you to believe something false, I manipulated your emotions, making you angry, disturbed, or otherwise outraged, with messages of violence, hate, murder and sexual innuendo (*).

Stated as they are, each half-sentence leads you deliberately in a certain direction, not only misleading you but manipulating you.

Those sentences could extend into paragraphs, whole lengthy articles or televised “news” pieces, each one of which could lead you in a certain direction, each of which could cause you to reach conclusions which were not only divorced from the true story, but that made you angry, furious, dismayed.

But why would anybody do that to you?

Okay, you know that Fox News is a type of entertainment, right? It broadcasts entertaining fictions for well over half of its content. Only instead of making viewers happy and content – or, you know, INFORMING them about things they need to know –  their type of entertainment makes people angry, scared and unhappy.

But hey, no biggie, right? Their audience is those right-leaning, brainless Teabaggers. Sure, we have to deal with the way they vote and stuff, but at least it’s not US out there sucking up those manipulative lies.

But let’s talk about Fox News for a second. Why do you suppose they exist? They exist to do what they do, don’t they? They get large number of people to believe certain things – lies – and THEY MAKE THEM ANGRY ABOUT IT.

And they keep them angry and scared, keep them in a state of mind in which it is very difficult to think objectively about things. Believing what they’re being fed, trusting that this reputable person on TV or radio has done the research, they do almost no fact-checking to verify or disprove what they’re being told.

Those people are controlled. They’re puppets. They are sheep who run to and fro at the will of the bosses who own and control Fox News and other such outlets – people who know exactly what they’re doing, and are masters at it.

Do you believe that? Do you really believe it? Then here’s what you believe: There is a CONSPIRACY to brainwash conservative voters.

Wait … really? You really believe in a conspiracy? You? Haw, haw, haw! You’re a CONSPIRACY THEORIST!! Haw, haw, haw!

Except in this case it’s no theory, is it? The lies and half-truths and false stories happen on Fox News, all the damned time. If you watch it over a period of time, it will be impossible to conclude anything but that it’s deliberate, and part of a larger campaign. Powerful right-wingers, billionaires and GOP officials, hugely and shamelessly MANIPULATE their own conservative people with half-truths, falsehoods and deliberate, breathtaking lies. Through a concerted, planned effort, an advertising campaign that runs 24/7 on conservative media, and so closely coordinated that scores of different voices use the same words and slogans in each and every day.

Are there a handful of fat cigar-smoking billionaires who meet in an exclusive resort and decide what lies are going to be told on-air to their viewers and followers? You want to really hope not, don’t you? But however it happens, the effect is the same as if they did. They conspire to keep their conservative audience afraid, angry, confused and CONTROLLED.

Where else have we seen something like that?

I’ll suggest the Catholic Church is exactly that sort of creature. If the RCC didn’t originate it, they certainly perfected the successful model that allows large numbers of people to be frightened into obedience, angered into wars, and outraged into … anything. Betraying neighbors into torture and witch trials. Looking away when priests molest children. Opposing their own best interests, and the best interests of their families and loved ones. And the funny thing is, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, there ARE a handful of what amounts to fat, cigar-smoking string-pullers who meet in an exclusive resort – the Vatican – and decide things for their billions of followers.

You think what happened with all those molested children, where the church silenced or shamed or paid people off, in recent history but also for generations prior, is some sort of clumsy accident? Did it just sort of happen that almost nobody went to jail? That all those molester-priests retired safe and happy on comfortable pensions?

I can’t even begin to believe that the whole response to the situation wasn’t some sort of coordinated, deliberate campaign, directed from the top office at the Vatican itself. It just worked too well, while so many of us looked on in disbelief.

But all this is not really my main point. It’s a preface to this other thing:

I’ve been worried for some time at how my own people are falling for a sort of mob hysteria, something that makes THEM afraid, angry, confused and controlled. What if we on the Left are just as susceptible to half-truths, lies and manipulative emotional stories?

The Fort Lauderdale story is just one instance, but it seems there are one or more stories every day that sends me – and a lot of others like me over here on the left – into an instant, all-consuming emotional state that is interested in reacting rather than fact-checking and thinking.

Wait, WE are subject to manipulation? No way! We’re the People of Reason! We THINK about stuff, we LOOK INTO stuff! And besides, who would manipulate us? That’s crazy talk!

There’s plenty to be angry and upset about, I’d be the first to tell you. But at the same time, I worry that we’re focusing on silly side-stories, things deliberately created for us, a sort of red-meat Outrage Bait cast in our direction every day to drum up audience.

The truth is, we’re humans, no less susceptible to this sort of stuff than the winger-sheep on the right.

That’s something worth thinking about, all by itself.

And even though there’s no obvious collection of billionaires meeting and deciding which way to herd us today, just the deliberate effort to increase views or hits or clicks can create substantial effects all on its own. (Among bloggers, by the way, if you can keep readers excited / enraged /engaged, it translates into money. I know a few who specialize in stoking constant outrage; whether that’s their main mission or a side-goal to their main mission, I couldn’t say.)

I do think there are forces interested in maintaining the status quo, in keeping reasoning people from thinking very deeply about so much that’s happening, but I can’t say it’s something central.

My own approach, in dealing with outrage stories, is to look past the anger I feel, to see if each story or situation I come across feels too pat, too perfectly outrageous, to be real, or complete. To research it if I can, and to reach my own conclusions.

This can be surprisingly hard to do, especially when some of the people you ordinarily trust are caught up in their own emotional storm, and don’t want you to question or discuss anything beyond their own quick conclusions. I’ve gotten flamed more than once – by my own people – while trying to expand a conversation into areas I felt were ignored.

I suspect this very idea right here, that liberals and science-minded people are susceptible to manipulation, that it happens all the time and that most of us probably seldom even notice, and that this is a bad thing to allow to continue, is going to spark ridicule rather than thought.

Because hey. It’s US.



(*) Okay, I’ll admit “Karl Rove Sucks Dick” isn’t really ‘innuendo’ – it’s more a flat-out accusation. I still wonder … Remember when that mysterious guy Jeff Gannon got admitted to White House press briefings, and he tossed up those softball questions for Bush and the press secretary? And it turned out he was a buff-bodied gay male escort? SOMEONE got that guy a press pass, and entry past the Secret Service. I’m not the only one who suspected it was Karl Rove, and done for Rove’s own personal reasons as much as public ones. “Secret Service Records appear to show that he checked in, but never checked out on many occasions, and visited the White House on several days during which no press conference or other press events were held.” ~ Wikipedia  The story vanished, and the supposed left-wing media let it, when it should have been major front page national news. But hey, there’s no such thing as a conspiracy.



fl-homeless-feeding-citations-foloI’ve been reading this business about ‘90-year-old arrested in Fort Lauderdale for feeding the homeless!’ and I keep thinking something isn’t quite right with the story.

I commented on a couple of Facebook threads, suggesting that what was happening was probably not what was being reported. MAYBE nobody was getting arrested for “feeding the homeless” and maybe the law, and the arrest, was about something else.

After looking into it, it appears that this might be the case. I’ll tell you some of what I’m discovering and what’s going through my mind right now.  I know you’ve seen the stories:

90-Year-Old ‘Chef’ Continues Feeding Homeless Against Fort Lauderdale Law

First off, look at this map. Looks like it’s got chicken pox, doesn’t it? Each one of those red dots is a church.

FL Map 2

Now look at the red outline, showing the city limits of little Fort Lauderdale. Near as I can gather, there are 208 churches within this boundary line. Hell, just in the Baptist denomination alone, there are 34 listed churches.

Ft. Lauderdale has a population of 165, 521 and a surface area of 38.57 square miles. That means there’s an entire church for every 168 people in the city, an average of 5.4 churches every square mile. Which means that wherever you are in Fort Lauderdale, you’re less than a mile from SEVERAL churches.

Here’s the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale: “While the ordinance regulates outdoor food distribution, it permits indoor food distribution to take place at houses of worship throughout the City.  By allowing houses of worship to conduct this activity, the City is actually increasing the number of locations where the homeless can properly receive this service.”

Which means: On the grounds of every one of those 208 churches, it is legal to feed and shelter the homeless, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

But what a bunch of assholes, right? They won’t allow anyone to feed the homeless!! Why does Fort Lauderdale HATE THE HOMELESS!!?

Worse than that, the people feeding the homeless have to provide restroom facilities and places to wash hands. To make matters worse still, the temperature of the food has to be regulated for safety.

Restrooms? Safe food? A place to wash hands? Dammit, why shouldn’t a homeless person be able to pick up a sandwich after a morning of sorting through trash cans for recyclable bottles, and enjoy a bite of room-temperature egg salad that’s been sitting in the sun for a few hours?

My god, it’s like Auschwitz.

I’m not saying Fort Lauderdale’s mayor and council that passed the ordinance are harmless fluffy little bunnies. The city was previously criticized for giving one-way bus tickets to homeless people (but then again, that was only half the story; not only was it voluntary and there were a limited number of tickets, plus a waiting list with over a hundred names on it of people who eagerly wanted them, those who qualified had to have family at the other end willing to pick them up at the bus station).


What the city intends, from what I gather, is that the homeless can be fed, will be fed, in places other than public parks and beaches.

Why? Why shouldn’t the poor, disadvantaged homeless people eat anywhere they want?? Well, that’s the thing – they can. They can eat anywhere they want. Just like Christian children can pray in school anytime they want. What the city hopes to do is discourage these feeding missions from attracting homeless people to parks and beaches, to instead provide for their needs at churches and private sites – which are already providing, or are able to provide, food and shelter.

Again, why? Why marginalize these poor, disadvantaged people? It might be because “the homeless” are not, each and every one, harmless fluffy little bunnies either.

You may have a totally different take on this than me, but if you focus your compassion only on the homeless (and yes, I know there’s a MUCH larger story here about the economy, the destruction of the middle class, homeless veterans with PTSD, etc.), you may be failing to notice Fort Lauderdale’s other residents.

I can’t help but have a certain amount of compassion for some of those other people at city parks and beaches, and the picture that springs to mind is young mothers with children, or tourists out for a carefree day. Does their right to enjoy an untroubled day at the park or beach, unharrassed, unfrightened, unworried for the safety of their kids, come second?

I’m a fairly healthy, fairly muscular man (and not a rich one, either, I might point out) and I’ve been to cities where the panhandlers were three or four to a block – enough that I would actively avoid those particular streets in future. I confess, as a hypersensitive introvert, some days my compassion on the street is sky-high, and some days it just isn’t.

Think for a second about the catcalling video you may have seen recently, where an attractive young woman walks city streets and gets harassed almost continuously by lurkers along the way. Now picture that same woman with a 3- and 5-year old in a stroller, headed for the playground in a nearby park for a carefree hour out of the house. Should she have to worry about her safety, or that of her kids? Should she and her children face panhandlers and harassers and lurkers in the park?

Everybody’s got their rights, even the homeless. But given a choice of ATTRACTING the extremely varied group we refer to as “homeless” to the park alongside that mother, and encouraging them to gather instead at a nearby church – I say again, NEARBY church – I don’t have great objections to that second option. Even the 90-year-old man retreated from the park in question to his church, the 5th Avenue Temple of God, about 3.5 blocks away, after being notified.

It may be that the city council of Fort Lauderdale are raging assholes who’d like nothing better than to eliminate the poor, wretched homeless from a visible presence on their precious goddam streets. Hell, it may be that my innocent young mother is instead a rich white bitch who shoves homeless veterans off the sidewalk and into traffic as a regular thing.

But it also may be that this ordinance is a reasonable guideline intended to make the city livable for everybody.

Given the available facts – somewhere distant from the shouting and wailing about the rights and dignity of the homeless – to me it looks like the city is trying to balance the concerns of several different parties. I don’t see how giving food to homeless people at churches – rather than in parks and on beaches – is any great abrogation of anyone’s rights or self-respect.

(I also sort of wonder why the rest of those 208 churches aren’t pitching in to solve the problem, but maybe that’s just me.)

But there’s more to this, too, another thought I’ve been having recently, and I’ll bring that out in Part 2.

The Wrong Answer on Race

race copyThis is my second Charles Barkley-inspired post. You can find the first one here – Assholes and the Umbrella of Safety – but I’ll echo the quote from that first one:

When asked about a report that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t seen as “black enough” by some of his teammates, the NBA Hall of Famer went on a rant about how “unintelligent” black people believe they have to hold successful African-Americans back.

“For some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough,” he said in an interview on CBS Philadelphia 94 WIP’s “Afternoons with Anthony Gargano and Rob Ellis.” “If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent, and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person.”


Wrong answers persist.  When we “learn” something, either a folk belief at our mother’s knee or a fact from a cutting-edge scientific experiment, we hold onto it. We repeat it to others. We automatically defend it against those who question it. And we pass it on, sometimes for generations. (Achoo! ~Bless you!)

We like to think we’re beyond hanging onto silly stories, wrong answers, but I think we’re still deeply immersed in it. The only way we get beyond such wrong answers is to actively work to disprove them, and that’s not something we’re willing to do with any speed.

Here’s something that seems silly and wrong to me: Our understanding of race.

Let me start explaining that by talking about something else:


I drive a van for a rehab facility, and I rub shoulders daily with drug and alcohol abusers.

Disclaimer: I learned quickly that most of the people I deal are not the cartoon drug fiends most of us would imagine, but rather ordinary, average people with this … problem. A housewife with anxiety issues finds herself dependent on Xanax. A middle-aged professional electrician develops a drinking problem that begins to affect his work. A young man has a motorcycle accident, and by the time he’s recovered, is addicted to painkillers. A suburban middle-class teenager dares to try heroin with friends, and soon finds himself with a $300 a week habit.

But among this population of drug users, I occasionally meet up with some who are NOT just “ordinary average people.” Some of them are very different from anything in my experience.

Making conversation with a client one time, I asked what he did for a living. He waved the question off with casual disdain. “Oh, I’ve never worked a day in my life.” He looked to be in his 40s. I kept any reaction to myself, but inside I was gasping. How can you not work? Yes, he might have had some invisible condition, mental or physical, that prevented him from working, but the dismissive reaction to the IDEA of having a job was something I’d never come across.

A 23-year-old man shared that he had 5 children. “How many kids do you have?” he asked me. “None!” I said, to his astonishment. “How can you not have any kids??”  I joked “Well, you used up my share.” Another client casually confided that he had 12 children by three women, none of whom he married, and none of whom – kids or women either one – he lived with.

On one trip up from New York City, I stopped at a roadside rest stop to give the clients a bathroom break. The rest stop had a McDonald’s, one of those with the drink fountain out where customers can serve themselves. I watched one of the clients, a young woman, beg a soda cup from the girl at the counter, so she could get some water. The counter girl gave her one of the small water cups at first, but the client asked for a larger one. “Oh, please, can I get one of the bigger cups? Because I’m really thirsty and I can only be here a few minutes!”

Back in the van, I listened to her telling the tale of how she filled the cup up with ice and soda, and the entire group had a big laugh at how she’d gotten a free soda.

This wasn’t a huge crime, just considering the value of the property involved. The cost of the cup and soda – mostly water and sugar, after all – was probably a few pennies.

But it was a pretty profound moral crime, in my view, in that one person did a generous, compassionate act for another, and that other instantaneously and automatically repaid the generosity with theft. And then laughed about it, and encouraged others to laugh. She could conceivably have gotten the counter girl fired.

To put it in blunter terms, she fucked over somebody who did her a favor, and this was not only okay with her, it was FUNNY.

Culture vs. Race

Can you tell the race of any of the people in these stories? No, you can’t.

If you come from the American South as I do – a place and a culture that has deeply entrenched views about race – the unmarried man with 12 kids will probably map out to “black man” in your head, but in fact there is nothing in the story – or in real life – that says it must be.

The color of any of the people described above is irrelevant to the REAL difference between them and me. The real difference is one of culture. Their cultures teach them certain values that are different from the values of my culture, or any culture I’ve lived in.

It’s a common social trope that all cultures are equally to be respected, but I don’t feel that way at all. For instance: Any culture that says women should not have full rights and equality with men (and vice versa), that’s an inferior culture, in my view.

The young woman who laughed about the free soda, I can say without doubt that she comes not just from a different culture, but a lesser culture, a culture that does not deserve equal respect. Any culture that encourages casual theft, especially from someone who helps you, is inferior to my culture, which says you NEVER do that. If you disagree, I think you’re just wrong, and it drastically lowers my respect for you.

I say “culture” in these cases rather than individual values for two reasons: One, the value demonstrated was casual and confident, obviously something of long familiarity and without any qualms of conscience. And two, even if I’m misjudging the individuals described, I’ve been in this business long enough to know the values demonstrated are out there in a cultural sense. They are common among large numbers of people, accepted and even admired, and definitely propagated – taught – from one person to another. There IS a culture of “fuck over other people and laugh about it” out there.

Let me toss another issue of culture at you. When famine in Ireland sent great numbers of Irish immigrants swarming to the United States, their reception was not uniformly warm. I’ve seen pictures of window signs that said “Help Wanted – No Irish Need Apply.”

Here’s British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli from 1836 :

The Irish hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.

Anyone steeped in the idea of prejudice based solely on race would find anti-Irish sentiment mystifying. Reading about it in 8th grade World History, I remember wondering “How could anyone not like Irish people? They’re nice. Besides, how could you even tell they were Irish? They’re just another type of white people, aren’t they?”

The answer must be that you could tell they were Irish because of their culture. Other than red hair or the occasional wearing of green, we the U.S. today have no idea whether someone is Irish, but back then it must have been blatantly obvious, and in ways more profound than mere accent. Work habits, dress, accent, religion, family size, the part of town they lived in, ‘clannish broils’ … plenty of indicators that made it easy to pick them out from the larger population of white people, and discriminate against them because of it. White skin and all, you could probably have spotted an Irishman, or an Irish family, a block away.

What was different about them? Culture.

What changed so that they are today invisible in the social larger pool? Culture. They gradually adapted to the American overculture – they acculturated – and became ordinary Americans.


Here’s something I know about me: I’m not white. I’m not. I’m pink and tan and even a little bit blue and sort-of-yellowish in places. My ancestry is mostly (there was this family story) or wholly Caucasian, but I’m not “white.”

In fact, there are no “white” people. (If you bring up mimes, I’ll have to hurt you.) There just aren’t. NONE OF US IS WHITE.

Likewise, I doubt there are any “black” people. There are a lot of different shades of brown, is what there are. NONE OF US IS BLACK.

Look at the “black” people around you, and note the variety of skin tones. Line up a random bunch of humans from New York City and you’ll notice that some of the “black” people are lighter-skinned than some of the “white” people. (And yes, I know I’m not the first to point this out; hopefully you’ll hear it here without the smug tone often associated with it.)

In deference to the difficulty of relating to skin color, plenty of people would talk about Black Culture rather than just Black People. But they’d still likely be talking solely about black people, in that black culture relates to “white” people only in the broad sense of culture and not in the specific sense of individuals. No matter how many “black” cultural attributes a “white” kid adopts, he never becomes “black” … to either side of the color divide. The closest he might come is the unflattering “wigger.” If he checked “Black” on the Race question on some official form – say to get an affirmative-action-based scholarship – he might even face prosecution.

In common usage, “black” is therefore probably not culture. It is color. Race.

And yet, as I said before, there aren’t any black people. Even scientists agree: “Race” does not exist in any definable sense. It’s a pleasant – or unpleasant – social fantasy.

What we’re really doing when we discuss race is attempting to figure out which of the people around us are “my people” and which are “those people.” But the answer to the question of how you do that is CULTURE. Not race. Not color. “My people” – your people – are the ones who share some large part of your values, customs, aspirations and view of life.

There are plenty of “ black” people with whom I have more in common than certain “white” people. Considering the fact that I dropped out of college and have done blue collar work most of my life, any particular “black” man stands a chance of being my better in education and career, income and sophistication. I not only consider an educated “black” man or woman my equal, I go farther in that I know any social inequality between us is likely because *I* don’t measure up to THEM. If I ever managed to meet them, I doubt I would offer a high-five or a fist bump to Barack Obama, Neil deGrasse Tyson or Morgan Freeman. Lurking in my mind is the feeling that I don’t deserve to be taking up the time of these accomplished, admirable men.

And yet I consider them “my” people … because self-respect, knowledge, achievement, honesty, decency, a reverence for reason and science, so many other social and personal traits of they and the people like them, are what my people – the sociocultural group I most identify with – does.

My Somewhat Sloppy Conclusion

There should be a punchy ending here that ties up what I’m saying into one simple, understandable package. But I’m finding it difficult to end this, because … well:

One of the ways I write is to flow with my main theme along the path that maps itself out before me as I write, but to fairly often space down far below the main body of text and add in side thoughts as they occur to me. Later I read through them and see if they fit into the main body, and then try to insert them where they seem to go.

But in thinking about this subject – race, color and culture – it continues to open out in front of me, illuminating and disturbing me at every turn. I realize no single essay can cover the subject. Considering the wrong answer we’ve been living with, and the cost to everybody suffering under it for so long, it’s obvious that a book – or a lifetime – would be too short to deal with it fairly.

There is an infinite amount more that could be said.  (And I know it. I hope the fact that I’m only saying this little bit of it appears to readers more as “incomplete” than as “wrong.” In thinking about this huge subject, you have to start somewhere, and this was my Somewhere.)

For instance:

With the majority of us still keying on skin color, every “black” person in America lives in a state of siege – constant mental and sometimes even physical abuse – by “white” people. It involves cops and courts at the extreme end, but the near end includes co-workers, store clerks, teachers, government, even people just walking by on the sidewalk … and hundreds of things I know I can’t even imagine.

There has to be an entire personality-shaping stage every “black” kid goes through, a minute-to-minute, years-long dismay that amounts to “What the fuck have I done to deserve this?”

Surviving that and staying sane is … well, it’s not something I think I would have gotten through. Pondering it, I have to wonder if pretty much ALL of the “black” people I know aren’t better people than I am. Like human icebergs, I see only the top part of them – the ordinary guy / nice lady – but underneath is an immense mass of forbearance and patience and strength of character that I never had to develop, making me a simple-minded lightweight in comparison.

And for instance:

This generational siege has been a powerful shaper of a black culture (notice I say “a” and not “the”), such that one key attribute of it is the understandable Not White: “If they’re going to treat us like enemies, fuck it, we’re going to BE enemies – to every value they hold.”

Barkley and others like him – trying to live their lives as best they can – suffer not only the siege from the “white” side of the thing, but this other siege from that “black” side: “After all this has cost us, how can you let yourself be one of THEM? How can you not be Not White?”

Paraphrasing Barkley, those who catch crap for not being “black enough” have greater values and aspirations than mere blackness, the desire to operate on a broader social landscape than that bounded by skin color, or a culture based on it. Barkley asserts that the stereotypical and limiting street culture can’t work for him, nor for so many others who want a larger landscape on which to live their lives. In his success, he’s saying he won’t be limited by “white” people, but he’s also saying he won’t be limited by “black” ones.

In the end, my only conclusion is that “black” and “white” are huge mistakes. EVERY discussion of race starts from this mistaken first principle. A racial view of the people around us is false, incomplete and damaging. What separates us, or joins us, is culture.

Culture is not race. It has nothing to do with race. Race is something you’re born with, culture is something you DO. It’s that body of values, attitudes and behaviors you were either taught as a child or adopted somewhere along the way and now practice in daily life.

Realizing all this has been a final illumination for me in how to think about and treat other people. Having grown up in the Deep South and learned racism from my earliest conscious moment, it’s taken me way, way too long to get to the point where I begin to be able to see people as people, and not as races or colors. I like to think I’m there at last.

One more side issue comes to mind, something that feels both disturbing to realize and necessary to say:

There is a ruthless fairness within giving up the idea of race, something that argues against my staunch liberal tendency to believe that in every disagreement between a “black” person and a “white” one, it must be the “white” one who is in the wrong, that in every news story of “black man and cops,” it must be the cops who are the source of the problem.

Instead, it turns out I’m going to have to THINK about every situation and instance, to evaluate the thing based on known facts, and not racial sway. (Without, of course, losing sight of the fact that plenty of “white” people and cops – and the system they serve – really can be viciously racist.)

Hopefully I now have one more good mental tool for doing that.

Assholes and the Umbrella of Safety

Retired NBA star Charles Barkley said something recently, something probably reported with the intention of shocking readers, but actually fairly tame, all things considered. Here:

When asked about a report that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t seen as “black enough” by some of his teammates, the NBA Hall of Famer went on a rant about how “unintelligent” black people believe they have to hold successful African-Americans back.

“For some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough,” he said in an interview on CBS Philadelphia 94 WIP’s “Afternoons with Anthony Gargano and Rob Ellis.” “If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent, and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person.”

I thought about this for several days, and two different ideas for blog posts came out of it. Here’s the first, addressing some part of what Barkley’s saying:


Statistically, there must be a regularly-distributed concentration of assholes in the world, wouldn’t you say? (Of course, this is ignoring those philosophies and cultures that produce them in high concentrations as a matter of course.)

Oh, wait. I guess I need to define “asshole.” As I’m using it here, an asshole is a person who lives in his own little world and who really doesn’t give a shit what effect he has on others. A self-involved jerk, in other words.

There are assholes driving on the roads. Assholes riding motorcycles. Assholes in the theater flashing their cellphone screens while you’re trying to watch the movie. Assholes who park next to you at the gas station and leave their music blaring while they get out and go into the store. Assholes at your party. Assholes in public service. Assholes in the military. Asshole co-workers. Asshole employers. Asshole upstairs neighbors. Asshole parents and asshole kids departing the public park in a blizzard of left-behind trash. Asshole “friends” who borrow your stuff and break it, and then just hand it back to you as if it’s your responsibility. Assholes who inevitably show up on the ski slopes, in the stadium, and on the lake. Assholes sleeping through their own car alarms at 3 a.m. Assholes who call you late at night to try to sell you stuff. Assholes who spit on the sidewalk, or throw their sandwich wrapper and soda cup down in front of you.

Assholes in bars? Oh, yeah.

Assholes on the Internet? Oh hell yes.

Assholes in politics? Sweet Baby Jesus, YES!!

It is an observable fact that assholes can come from any demographic. A lot of us don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. I have met both religious and atheist assholes. Male assholes. Female assholes. French assholes, Mexican assholes, Arabic assholes. Handicapped assholes. Minority group assholes. Homeless assholes. Hell, I’ve met asshole dogs and cats.

(Possible exceptions: I have never met a Humanist asshole, or an Australian or New Zealander asshole. I have a hard time imagining the first; the second two may be an artifact of my limited experience.)

You can expect to meet them on a fairly regular basis. We all know that most people are NOT assholes. It’s just some people, some small percentage of larger society. And certain other people SOME of the time. (Who, me??)

But assholes exist, and we all know it.

Another thing, though, is that assholes get feedback that keep them somewhat in check. The police get called. Their girlfriends/boyfriends ditch them for someone nicer. They get publicly shamed. They get voted out. A little old lady shoots them the finger and they get laughed at. Their friends tell them to grow the hell up. They get their comeuppance on YouTube.

But then again, there are certain safe havens where they are protected. Where they almost never get called out.

I’m not talking about positions of wealth and power. Although those are certainly good insulators for assholes, they’re not impenetrable. Even rich, famous assholes can suffer if they go on long enough, if enough of their fan base catches on, if they make that one critical mistake the public can’t tolerate. And when they do fall, they get no sympathy. Everybody loves ‘just desserts’ in action.

The safe haven I’m thinking of occurs – disturbingly enough – in an atmosphere of social activism. There are assholes both among the downtrodden and among the champions of the downtrodden. And they have an umbrella of safety – our own caring and compassion – that protects them from being called out. The worst part is, they know it, and use it.

Think about this for a bit before you reject the idea. The fact is, it’s not something we’re comfortable admitting, even to ourselves in private. But don’t you really know of assholes who find safe haven in certain movements, or certain social situations, because nobody calls them out?

Ever met a black asshole? Someone that you didn’t dare say anything to – or about – because you were afraid you’d be called a racist?

Ever met a feminist asshole? Someone you didn’t dare confront because you knew you’d get attacked as a mansplaining woman-hater?

In both cases, I have. (And so has Barkley, but even he will get sniped at for saying something about it.)

Right now in your head, I’d bet you’re saying “But white people can be assholes too! And men are the worst assholes of all!”

I absolutely agree. But then again, at least in the social circles where I live and work, racist white assholes and misogynist men catch shit by the shovelful when they act out their assholiness. There is a LOT of backpressure on majority-group assholes.

By contrast, some time back I had a run-in with a Hasidic Jew who deliberately parked directly blocking the walkway into a highway rest stop. When I told him mildly there was an entire parking lot out there where everybody else was parking, his response was essentially “You’re only treating me like this because you hate Jews, you bastard!” In fact, he went one freaky-racist step farther by saying “Look at my face! If my face was black, you wouldn’t have said anything!”

Plenty of people walked around his car without complaining. But to me it looked like he was being a bully. Not a bully that would beat anybody up, but the small bully who makes people walk around him, just because he can. In short, an asshole. But an asshole with an umbrella of protection, the protection of the rest of us who didn’t dare look like Holocaust-loving monsters. The best I could muster at the moment was “You’re being rude and inconsiderate.”

Those of us in the liberal camp are so focused on the concept of “the downtrodden and disadvantaged” that we sometimes miss out on realizing that among the people we defend and campaign for, there are a certain number of assholes. Some of whom are there – who concentrate there, in numbers greater than in the general public – because they are SAFE.

And here’s the thing: Whatever movement they find shelter in, they weaken it. They USE the movement as cover for their own petty bullying, and even sociopathy. They create enemies for the movement – for the people who truly do deserve special caring and consideration – by turning people outside the movement, who can’t distinguish the few specific assholes from the larger downtrodden population, against it.

They also drag down those in that population who are working by their own efforts to overcome the problem. This is pretty much what Charles Barkley was saying.

You might argue that such people have reason to be offensive, that their treatment somehow justifies them being assholes. You might even be right. But you might also be helping to create that umbrella of protection that allows them to continue to operate. Regardless, we’re still left with the effect they have on everybody else, even others in their same demographic. If nothing else, this is reason enough to think about the fact that they exist. To SEE them, and what they do.

If you’re in the social justice movement – as I am – look around you. If you see one or more people who seem to be having a little too much fun busting on others, those who are working a little too hard at coming up with the perfect cutting remark, the most stinging put-down, the most vicious dismissive comeback, people who are putting in extra effort to create enemies rather than to create understanding and sympathy …

… you may be looking at assholes.

And you may be better off without them.

The Other Side of ‘Poor Robin Williams’

Robin WilliamsSome part of this is probably gonna make you uncomfortable, but I’m gonna just toss it out here anyway:

Robin Williams died today, of an apparent suicide. It’s strange how much it affects me. Years back when I was on vacation and Stephen Jay Gould died, I called home crying. That guy MATTERED to me. He was one of my people, a smart man and a scientist. The world was a colder, dumber, less interesting place when he died.

And now Robin Williams is gone.

On Facebook, a lot of people are posting and talking about this, and most of them are saying how great he was — as a comedian, a dramatic actor, a humanitarian, so much more.

But I’m also seeing a number of posts about depression and mental illness, along the lines of “Anyone can suffer from depression, etc.” About how terrible it is. About how none of us really understands what people with depression and mental illness are going through.

And yes, I agree with that. Hey, I had it. There was a year, back in about 1985, when I got so far down I felt … nothing. No feelings at all. I didn’t even feel suicidal, because that would have taken effort, and I just didn’t have the juice.

There is a depression beyond anything normal people know about. It’s like a black beyond black, a whole new spectrum of darkness that opens up once you get past all the colors and the light goes out. It’s the depression of no energy, no emotions, a place where even pasting an expression on your face is something like lifting heavy weights.

I was there for most of a year.

And then I got better. Part of it was getting a dog, something I had to rouse myself to care for. Another part, a big part, was I had my supportive, patient Cowboy Dad. (If you don’t know who that was, it’s a whole other story.)

But another part of the healing, I’m pretty well convinced, was because I got out of the family situation, and home culture, that put me there. Honestly, I haven’t felt a day of depression since then. I’ve long since concluded I wasn’t the type of person who simply has unworkable brain chemistry or whatever. I was depressed BECAUSE OF STUFF THAT WAS DONE TO ME. And once I got away from it, I started, and continued, to get better. There were definite lasting effects of the whole mess, but whatever problems I have today, depression isn’t one of them.

Anyway, here’s what I want to talk about:

I’d characterize Robin Williams as a certifiable genius. I don’t mean “genius” in the general fluff way, or as some sort of pun on his role of Genie in the Aladdin movie. I mean GENIUS. Fantastically, unbelievably brilliant. A 200-watt creative intellect in a world of 100-watt (and below) standard human duffers. A guy so energetic of mind and body he gave off HEAT when he entered a room, and everybody turned to see.

It’s genius I want to talk about. Because I don’t know anybody else’s experience, I’ll have to talk about mine:

I am NOT a genius. But my IQ is pretty high. Though I’ve dropped out now, I was a Mensa member for five years or so. Mensa is the worldwide high-IQ society, and I qualified from the time I was in the 6th grade. I didn’t actually join until decades later, but my IQ score was, as my 6th grade teacher told me, the highest he’d ever seen. (Ha! Bear in mind this was Houston.)

Guess what that’s like.

On the plus side, the journey of my life has been a very cool one. I feel that I’ve gotten to see things most of my friends and family didn’t see, couldn’t see, gotten to understand things they could never understand. Of course, I also got to make some rare mistakes, mistakes they never would have made, doing things in ways that never would have occurred to them. (And sadly, some of the things you see – things that other people blithely miss – are scary and depressing.)

On the minus side … Growing up in Texas, my closest friends were rodeo cowboys, and we lived in a backwatery country culture that prized cleverness but not intelligence. Hell, I had people on my back all the time because I read BOOKS.

Here’s my stepfather from when I was 15 and on: “Yuh ort to git yer nose outta them books, Boy. Quit that goddam school and go git chu a job.”

Yes, this is me saying it, but the fact is, I was a LOT smarter than every one of my close friends. But I expended a great deal of energy at masking it. Every once in a while, I’d slip up by using a big word, or by expressing an unapproved interest or an unusual viewpoint. I would forget where I was and just be myself for a moment. I would think about stuff and then tell people what I’d thought. Or they’d catch me writing – WRITING!! – in my Journal. And damn, if your home culture doesn’t value intelligence and thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or writing (!!), you don’t want to do any of that.

Which means exactly this: It was lonely. And boring. (There was a price on that last bit: Because I almost never needed to study, I ended up developing very bad study habits that would cost me dearly in later years.)

I must have thought a thousand times over the years, “Where are the classes that would be exciting and challenging? Where’s the school that I’d fit in? Where are MY people, the people who think about things? Where’s MY world?”

In every school I attended, there were special programs and classes for the slow and mentally handicapped, but nothing for the gifted. It goes without saying that any normal class you were in usually moved at the speed of the slowest kids in the room. The speed of glaciers, it seemed to me. Some of my teachers would even stop calling on me, so the other kids could have a chance to answer questions or go the board and work problems. I took to sitting in the back of some of my classrooms, sneaking in novels to read. By my senior year in high school, I was skipping an average of one day a week, forging notes from my mom that said, literally, “Please excuse Hank for missing class Friday as he did not feel like coming to school.”

[ All those teachers that covered for me, if you’re still out there, thank you soooo much. You rock.]

The obvious assumption by the people who plan classes and academic help is that the bright kids don’t need anything, that with limited time and money, it’s the slow kids who should get the help.

Outside school, there were social things that happened. I learned that boy, oh boy, you definitely didn’t want to toot your own horn in the field of brain. If the subject of your musical ability came up in conversation, people would chime in with compliments. If it was your athletic ability, people would gush about it, with admiring comments and even envy. Your artistic or performing gifts – rave reviews.

But your INTELLIGENCE … no. Nothing. You didn’t even dare bring it up. You might brag about your other gifts, but damn, you did NOT want to say anything about your intelligence. Because while some of the guys might be jealous about your athletic ability, they didn’t dare be too critical, for fear of turning the spotlight back on their clumsy, wimpy selves. But one and all, they could – and did – make fun of your brains. “You dumbass! For somebody so smart, you sure are stupid.”

It got to where I was hiding everything I could, never letting on that my friend’s interests and topics of conversation bored the hell out of me (Race cars? Shooting pool? Soupin’ up your truck? Coon huntin’? Coon huntin’ DOGS? Gah.)  I liked THEM, but not a lot of what they did or said.

So: Lonely. Boring. For years and year and years.

The best thing I ever did was when I was 22, I lit out for California, settling in a little ski resort town, where I made new friends, found a whole new world of interests and activities, and met my Cowboy Dad.

Witness the fact of the Tea Party here in the U.S., as a data point for the argument that intelligence is not much prized. Even among some fairly bright people, talking about your intelligence is not something you do. Again, you might actually brag about being a great tennis player, or an accomplished cyclist, or even just play up your handsome/beautiful looks, and people will agree with you. People will admire you. But if you say anything about your brain, much less your GENIUS, it’s embarrassing to everyone in earshot.

You simply DON’T talk about your own intelligence. Not at any time, not in any place. Instead you make jokes. You self-deprecate. You act goofy. You distract from the subject. You laugh at yourself. In a way that you never would with any other gift.


So here we are talking about Robin Williams. And yes, some of us are talking about his genius. But at least as many are talking about his depression, his Mental Illness.

Poor Robin Williams was MENTALLY ILL. We should do more for the MENTALLY ILL. We should be more sensitive to the needs of the MENTALLY ILL. Oh god, most of us have no idea what the MENTALLY ILL are going through.

And I’m all for that sort of discussion, every bit of it.

But I’m going to suggest that there’s this other thing we might think about, talk about, at the same time.

Let’s talk about the needs of the MENTALLY GIFTED.

Let’s notice the kids with extraordinary gifts. Notice the young adults of quiet intelligence, and do something for THEM. See if they need anything. Set up programs to feed them, nurture them, value them, challenge them. Value the bright adults in your life. Tell them, show them, that they matter to you, and that they matter because of their gifts.

Because some of those brilliant people who suffer depression, maybe they don’t suffer depression because hey, those creative types are always on the edge of suicide, aren’t they bro? Maybe they suffer depression because, to them, they live in Bizarro World, a place that runs a half speed too slow, that delivers a constant stream of depressingly dumb social and cultural whitewash, a place that can never value them, can never give them the same sort of welcome it gives the average and the less than average, a place that forces them, as the price of acceptance, to make jokes about their own best attribute.

Maybe they suffer depression because there is no place for them here, and they know it isn’t going to get any better. Because we’ve never built a place for them, and indeed, can’t even talk about them without qualifying every sentence with “Well, you know, INTELLIGENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING. And besides, IQ IS JUST A NUMBER.”

Maybe people like Robin Williams aren’t mentally ill. Maybe they’re so good, so bright, so creative, so sensitive – all of this in a world that can’t give them what they really need, a sense of being SEEN, of being VISIBLE (and no, being on screen is not, or may not, be that), of being known and loved for being their brilliant true selves, and by people whose opinions they value – that they eventually run out of steam and just … die.

Please Don’t Plan to Picket Fred Phelps’ Funeral

Word is that Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, is dying.

His estranged son Nathan Phelps, reported on Facebook:

I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

There’s been a lot of talk about protesting at his funeral, and I approve of the sentiment but not the action.

Funerals are private family affairs, in my view, and I’d never show up at one to cause some kind of fuss. Of course I can’t advise the ones who have been directly harmed by his funeral protests; it may be those people — the families of deceased gays and dead soldiers — have every right to come back at him and his family in like manner. But I sort of hope they don’t, and I don’t think any of the rest of us should.

I want to say clearly that I limit this sentiment of non-interference, non-commentary, to the funeral alone. The shitty human being who created the cesspit that has now cast him out — Ha! Apparently some turds are so bad even the toilet rejects them! — is fair game for replies in every other avenue of speech. Whatever general “don’t speak ill of the dead” respect one might normally owe a person simply doesn’t apply in some cases, and this is one of those cases. (For instance, I don’t mind saying the world will be better off without this creepy, hateful bastard in it. )

His public actions and attitudes SHOULD be replied to … but in public places (Twitter, Facebook, TV interviews, talk shows, podcasts, blogs!) rather than in the private space of a funeral. The fact that he gleefully breached the privacy of so many during a time of grieving was one of the things we so hated about him, wasn’t it?

I have a hard time imagining anyone actually loving him, and that seems to be borne out by reports that he’s dying alone in a hospice, unattended by family members. But however they want to play it, the time before and after his death is his family’s private choice.

As for me …


Grieving Mother Mistreated by Heartless Atheists

Here’s this article: Atheists Fight With Grieving Mom Over Roadside Crosses.

Son dies in a auto accident at the age of 19, grief-stricken mother erects a memorial of crosses and flowers on city property, humanist group asks city council to disallow it.

Good call? Bad call? Commenting on Facebook, Sinis Tergrin weighs in:

I think it’s pretty mean spirited to target a grieving mother. What kind of person complains about this based on the “separation of church and state”?? I thought we in the atheist community were supposed to uphold certain values, compassion being one of them.. Ridiculous. I can think of better fights to take on than this.

Yeah, nice Christian mom puts up a religious monument on public land, and the wicked mean atheists ask for public land to NOT be used for religious monuments. How could they be so SELFISH?

But another commenter agrees with Tergrin:

For sure. This is the sort of thing that makes people hate atheists before they even know them. I don’t like all the wind blown half ass memorials thrown around, but I would never remove one out of consideration to the family.

As someone who has experienced death of beloved family members, I understand grief. Oh boy, do I understand it. But look, people die every day, in horrible ways. EVERYBODY you know is a family member of someone, EVERYBODY you know feels such grief at one time or another.

And as far as I know, every single person in the humanist and atheist community respects the rights of family members to express that grief in any way they care to, and as long as they care to, privately, among their friends and family, and on their own property. Additionally, they can carry out ceremonies in their church ranging from simple to extravagant.  They can participate in funerary processions along public roadways, and most of us will respectfully give way. They can place monuments in cemeteries that will last hundreds of years. They can even travel to the public site of the loved one’s death, and linger there in respect and sadness.

We all understand that every grieving person, mom or not, shares those same rights. But no matter how much you’re hurting, your private grief is not acceptable justification for using public land for a private religious display. No single one of us, not a hundred of us, not even a million of us, can eclipse public land for permanent, visible expressions of our own private grief. As the story says:

The council conceded that the large, handmade plywood crosses violated the separation of church and state.

The principle at stake here is bigger than one grieving mother. It’s about equality, equal protection on the public stage. The fact is, the mother has no legal right to put a cross there. She never did. It was against the law from the beginning. It was only because this was an expression of the Christian faith, and because of our innate respect for mothers, especially in this tough situation, that it got a pass as long as it did. The authorities deliberately looked away … until they were reminded that we can’t afford to allow our government to play favorites based on private religious principles, even those of grieving mothers.

… Ann Marie Devaney [mother of 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, killed while crossing the street], tearfully removed the crosses white crosses (sic) she had placed near the spot where he was struck after the decision came Thursday.”It’s like I’m losing my son again, pretty much,” Devaney said. “It hurts when you lose a child.”

“It’s so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross,” she said. “It’s his personal preference that he was Christian. What’s wrong with having a cross up?”

I think I’m as compassionate as the next guy, and probably more compassionate than most. Speaking just for myself, I’d be inclined to look away too. Hell, what’s one little cross given a pass to salve the feelings of a grieving mom? But the thing is, it never stops with just one grieving mother. It never stops with just one cross:

Immediately after she removed them, another group came and replaced the crosses with six more.

In your face, hateful atheists! Screw that separation of church and state that benefits people of every faith, and no faith at all. These are Christians we’re talking about, and THEY have a right to have crosses on public land. They will dang-sure demonstrate that to the entire world.

This time because it’s a grieving mother, next time because a vocal majority of Christian locals agree, the time after that because they damned well feel like it and the rest of us can just shut the hell up.



Feeling the Pain of the Rich and Famous

Apparently actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died. He ROCKED “Capote,” but hell, I liked him as far back as “Boogie Nights.”

There seems to be some doubt about his death:

Yep, dead: Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead with needle in arm

Nope, alive: Philip Seymour Hoffman Death Hoax

… but his Wikipedia page lists him as deceased, so I’m going with that.

Considering it a “teachable moment,” I said something unflattering about Whitney Houston back when she died of an overdose: “Whitney, you idiot.”


Well, yes I do. Everybody does. Nobody has a lock on pain. Everybody loses people, loses life opportunities, goes through agonizing shit at some point in their lives, or all their lives. I went through years of abuse, and I’ve lost people who meant more to me than I can ever express. Just like everybody else.

No, dear shrieker, my pain isn’t the same as yours, but don’t ever imagine it’s less intense, less hurtful to me. Don’t you dare say that.

Besides which, I wasn’t – and am not now – talking to addicts. I’m talking to all those people who are NOT addicts, the ones who are not yet users.

To them I say: Drugs don’t help. They don’t solve anything, they don’t improve anything. And no matter what the people around you are doing, you can live your whole life without them, and never miss them. Millions of people do.

I work with drug and alcohol abusers. I’m not a counselor or therapist, but I do get to see and talk to the demographic pretty much every day. And damn … it’s disturbing as hell to see what drugs do to people. Looks to me like they make you feel good – temporarily, VERY temporarily – while they suck every last drop of real goodness out of you, destroying every positive thing about living until nothing is left, not even the “living” part.

According to the users I’ve spoken to, it’s s0000o goddam easy to slide down into it, but you never really get out. Even if you stop using, even if you “beat” addiction, you will never be free. The rest of your life will include all the struggles that other people go through, but added on will be this additional struggle, the struggle to stay clean and sober. For the rest of your life you’ll walk around with this evil monkey whispering in your ear, “C’mon, it’s not that bad. You remember how good we used to have it. Just a taste won’t hurt. Besides, your Gramma died, and your car won’t start. You’re devastated. There’s no way you can cope with all this. No human can. Let’s have just a little bit to get through the next few days, then you’ll feel all better and you’ll never have to touch the stuff again.”

All of you out there considering trying the substance du jour, it’s probably a really good idea if you don’t. If a rich, famous person can get hooked and die in this stupid, futile way, don’t think for a second YOU will beat the odds and get some better result.

So I say again, with the name of a different victim: Philip, you idiot.



And no, I’m not talking about pot. But I don’t think that’s a good idea either.



Killing People, With Kindness

Watch this video of a 94-year-old man in an epic 65-meter footrace last year.

Would it sadden you to know the winner, European masters athletics champion Emiel Pauwels, is now dead? And that he deliberately ended his own life a week or so ago?

95-year-old ‘Belgian Bolt’ holds big party before ending life by euthanasia

In his hometown of Bruges he held a big party with friends and family two days before his death – and even downed two glasses of champagne for the occasion.

Pauwels looked like he was ready to run another race but wanted to end his life before the cancer really got a hold of him.

His son Eddy told Belgian television that he ‘agreed 110 per cent’ with his father’s decision to end his own life.

Pauwels had been bedridden the past couple of months with stomach cancer. His choice was based on the certain knowledge that he wasn’t going to be getting well, and that whatever discomfort he was experiencing was only going to get worse.

(I chuckled at one indelicate but somewhat humorous headline: Emiel Pauwels, 95-year-old sprinter, euthanized after winning gold medal. Sounds like he broke a leg in the race and had to be put down like a horse.)

I am much in favor of every individual retaining the power to end his own life, and I like to know there are sane places in the world where such a choice is respected, even honored.

I don’t live in one of those sane places, and it saddens me to think of the people who might exercise this freedom, who might NEED it to escape intractable pain and progressive indignity, but who cannot. Over the final four days I sat with my Dad, a strong-willed, wonderful, much-loved man who refused all intervention beyond morphine, I watched him suffer at length and die slowly.  I asked the hospital staff at least twice if there was anything more that could be done, and the people I talked to slid away from answering, as I know they had to.

I wish I could say something more profound about it, but … lives end. They do. Where I live they end all too often with all dignity and individuality stripped away by a system that insists we do not have this choice, should not have this choice.

I see this as an avoidance of clear thinking on the subject, and I see that as the direct result of religion.

Once you get religion out of your head, once you step outside the religious paradigm and start looking back at what’s there, it’s obvious that the socio-cultural EFFECTS of god-belief persist, even in societies that don’t see themselves as powerfully religious.

Here in the U.S., one of our socio-cultural remnants is the idea that “suicide” is a sin, that “God’s will” must be respected to the bitter, painful end, even for those we already know — who they themselves already know — will die in medically-extended agony.

I’d like to see that change.

Belgium has a fairly sane view of the thing (story):

Euthanasia, for medical reasons, has been legal in Belgium since 2002 for people over the age of 18. More than 1400 people a year choose to be euthanized. Last year, the Belgium senate voted to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children as well. The vote passed overwhelmingly in the senate and is now being hotly debated in the lower house of parliament. If the bill passes, Belgium will become the first nation in the world that legally allows people of any age to be euthanized.