Monthly Archives: February 2015

Like Raindrops on Cobblestones

I used to live in the Republic of Ireland, in Dublin.

Nearly every day that I lived there, I would stop and deliberately commit something to memory, because I knew that at some point, I would have to go back to the US.  And I didn’t have a camera.

Even if I had had one, I don’t think I would have been able to capture what it was I was seeing and feeling.  Certainly there is no camera that can reproduce the scent of burning peat on a winter’s morning (in Dublin), and contrast that with the scent of burning coal on a winter’s morning (in Belfast).

At any rate, some of the things I loved were the cobblestones in Dublin.  And the rain, which, after years and years, made the cobblestones worn with an indescribable patina.  Slowly, drip by drip, the rain changed the face of cobblestones without erasing their very nature.

And so it is with people, I think.  Experiences that, over time, change our faces – not just our physical ones – but hopefully not our natures.

From Ireland back to Memphis, and then to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania…where I live now.  Where I came to find a better life (healthcare), and ended up in a nightmare from which I finally escaped.  I have been healing, and trying to decide where to go next.

When I have the funds to do so (or win the PA Lottery heh).

This doesn’t feel like home to me.

And I had an experience last week that I would not wish on anyone.   It was in the grocery store.  It put me in mind of raindrops, but not because of the weather.

I use foodstamps, in the form of an EBT card.  That morning, I had checked my EBT balance to make sure I had enough for food – having bought the bulk of my food that previous Saturday – and then paid $6 to go to the grocery store.  $6, to someone who is on disability, is a lot of money.  In my case, it was my last $6 until the next check.

But I needed meds, and milk, so I went.

I carefully counted up the items in my cart, in order to make sure I didn’t go over and have my card declined.  You know, I am that person who tries to stay out of your way while I am parked to the side of an aisle, staring at my cart and counting in my head.

That person to whom you say “excuse me!” in a rather loud voice, to make me move, even if you can get around me anyway.   Because I just happen to be standing directly in front of that exact item that you need right now dammit.

Heaven forbid you do what I usually do, which is either wait, or get something else and come back to the item I need.

Drip, drip.

I am that person in the check-out line who buys organic food, you know the kind of food you claim you cannot afford.  To whom you say nothing, but loudly comment to the person you’re with that you wish you could afford organic food but your paycheck won’t cover it (with extra emphasis on the word “paycheck”).

Drip, drip.

And last week, I was that person whose EBT card was declined.  With 5 people in line behind me.

That is one of my big fears – having my EBT declined.  It is one of the most embarrassing things a poor person can have happen to him/her at the grocery store.

So, in addition to the ‘normal’ indignities that come with being a foodstamp shopper in the grocery store (in the suburbs), I had the additional horror of a declined EBT card.

My EBT card has not swiped in years.  Meaning that cashiers have to key in the numbers.  My speech is always the same to them, “I’m sorry but my card won’t swipe and you have to key it in, and they won’t send me a new card, I’m sorry.”  (My previous caseworker had told me that, no, I can’t have a new card because mine won’t swipe.)

So the cashier, who I think was new, keyed it in.  A screen I had never seen before popped up, and I won’t go into detail but I am sure it’s not the right one, so I mentioned that to the cashier, who just looked at me blankly and said, “Put your PIN number in.”

I did.  And it got declined.

“But this can’t be,” I protested to the cashier, “as I just checked my balance and it is $33.56!”

Cashier hands me a receipt that says “0”.  It has the last 4 digits of my EBT card number, but not the whole thing, so I have no idea what he keyed in.

I asked him to try it again.

“Your balance is 0,” he said.  “You don’t have any left on your card.”

I showed him the store receipt from the last time I was in the store, a few days earlier, that said $33.56.

“You must have spent that between then and now,” he said.

He wouldn’t try it again, he just kept repeating that my balance was 0.  And then called a supervisor to void the transaction.  By now, my face was bright red.  Could it be I was mistaken?

(You may recall that I did check the balance right before I went to the store.  This story just shows that, when treated like a less-than-human, you begin to doubt yourself.)

I went to the front of the store, sat down on a chair, and called the EBT hotline.

“Your foodstamp balance is $33.56.”

Now I was angry.  Clearly the cashier had not keyed it in correctly, or had pushed the wrong button, or something.  So I went to the customer service desk and tried to explain.

I say “tried”, because they just. wouldn’t. listen.

The front end manager took my card, stared at it, then did something with the keypad on her phone.  It wasn’t to key in the number, because she wasn’t looking at it while she messed with whatever it was she was doing.

“Your balance is 0,” she stated, looking at the 2 receipts I showed her (one from that day that said 0, and the one from the previous trip that said $33.56).

“But I just now called them, ” I replied, “and the recording said my balance is $33.56. Either your cashier keyed in it wrong, or something’s wrong with your system.”

“There’s nothing wrong with our system,” she shot back, rather disdainfully.  She continued, “Our system goes directly to the Dept of Welfare,” she explained.

“No, I’m quite sure it doesn’t,” I replied, getting irate now. “Your store probably has a system that connects to something, but it doesn’t go directly to the EBT place.  I just called them.  Want me to call them again so you can listen?”

“Your balance is 0,” she said.  I guess she thought if she kept repeating it, it would somehow be true.  Or she thought I was lying.  Or both.

“So you’re telling me that, somehow, between the time I just called them, to just now, you guys lost $33.56 of EBT credit?” I asked, trying to get them to see how stupid they were being.

“We didn’t take your foodstamps,” another woman who works there, who suddenly appeared to butt in, told me.

I knew it was hopeless so I just told them that I was an uppity foodstamp recipient and would be complaining to their corportate headquarters.  I left, red-faced and very upset.  And out $6 that I couldn’t afford to just throw away like that…or, rather, that I couldn’t afford to pay for the priviledge of being treated like dirt.

Drip, drip, drip….

I got home, called around and found out that, no, their store doesn’t connect directly to the EBT place, they contract that out to some other company.  And that, yes, EBT cards do often get declined if the cashier keys it in wrong.  And, I was surprised and angry to find out, it’s very easy for a caseworker to order a new EBT card for someone if that card won’t swipe.

Which my (new) caseworker did.  So now I can’t buy any food until 10 days from now or so when I get my new card, but at least I won’t have to put up with idiot cashiers who treat EBT customers like they’re the stupid ones.

I sent a long, irate email to the corporate offices of Martin’s Foods, and got a call from the manager of that store the next day.  He asked again what happened (sigh), and then apologised.

“We were wrong,” he said.  He asked for descriptions of the employees, and I am sure they will get written up or at least get yelled at – I used to work in a grocery store, and I know how the managers are.  He asked me to come in again and ask for him personally, so he could apologise in person.

I don’t know if I am going to do that.  I have not felt that rotten in a very long time.  I felt embarrassed, and ashamed, and I wasn’t even in the wrong.  I don’t think I can handle entering that store again.

And, like the rain on cobblestones, the drip drip drip of those little humiliations, those attitudes that treat you as “less than”, they can wear on you.  Day after day, year after year, they can change the face you show to the world, or even to yourself.  They leave a patina that isn’t attractive – it’s a tarnished patina, worn down to the point where the substance of who you are is barely visible at times.

I am not writing this looking for pity.  I write this to remind people that it’s often those little things, those snide remarks, those allusions to “those people on foodstamps”, those sly and dirty looks that you think we can’t see, those assumptions that people on foodstamps will do anything to “get over”, the complete and utter lack of understanding and empathy…these things take a toll.

They take a toll on us, in the form of stress and all its consequences.

They take a toll on you, by hardening your heart, thereby making you the one who is “less than.”

Be kind.  Please, please, be kind.   And may you never, ever be in the situation I find myself in today.   Because even if you have an advanced degree, a good job, and a decent life, something can happen to change all that in the blink of an eye.   Like it did to me.

Tragic circumstances happen to everyone, if they live long enough.  So treat other people as if they were you, or related to you, and cut them a break.  I know this sounds corny but…

Be the sunshine, not the raindrop.






Marijuana Update: February, 2015

Haven’t had an update since I wrote the first post about marijuana, so here ’tis.

Here is the state of legislation/laws in the US…

Pennsylvania – After letting the last piece of legislation die, nothing’s coming up for PA.  The legislation that was proposed was so watered-down, however, that I’m not all that mad that it didn’t pass.  Now that we have a reasonable governor, though, if anything ever does pass, he won’t veto it.

Alaska – Became the third state to legalize small amounts of pot for recreational use (“Alaska Allows Recreational Marijuana as Legalization Campaign Spreads”, Reuters website, 2/24/2015).  The other 2 states are Colorado and Washington.   In July, 2015, recreational marijuana becomes legal in Oregon.

My daughter lives in Washington.  Hmmm.  Maybe I need to move out there.

States with medical marijuana (only) laws: (From Wikipedia)

Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

States that have decriminalized marijuana (recreational):

California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi*, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

*Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves, Pennsylvania?  Always making fun of Mississippi and their pot laws are more liberal there!

States where marijuana (recreational) is a misdemeanor:

Alabama (first offense is a misdemeanor, after that it’s a felony), Arkansas, Florida (20g or less), Georgia (1 oz or less), Idaho (3 oz. or less), Indiana (up to 6 months, $1000 fine), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky (less than 8 oz), Missouri, Nevada (but only for people under 21, for those over 21 it’s decriminalized!), North Dakota, Pennsylvania**, South Dakota, Tennessee (less than 1/2 oz., first or 2nd offense only), Utah, Virginia, W.Virginia, and Wyoming.

Straight-up illegal/felony: Alabama (after 1st offense), Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.

**What they don’t tell you is, in Pennsylvania, when they bust you, they charge you with criminal use of an electronic device (cell phone) and a bunch of other stuff so that, by the time it gets to court, you’re facing multiple charges.  Pennsylvania has a rampant heroin/oxycontin problem, and the legislators here cannot tell the difference between those drugs and marijuana.  They still believe in gateway drugs etc.

Some interesting articles:

“Comparative Risk Assessment of Alcohol, Tobacco, Cannabis and Other Illicit Drugs Using the Margin of Exposure Approach” (Sci Rep. 2015; 5:8126, 1/30/2015).  Basically, this report states what we already knew – that there really is no ‘lethal’ dose for pot.  Alcohol is the most lethal.  Everyone’s making a huge deal out of it, but I don’t know why.  To stick it to the drinkers who oppose marijuana legalization, I guess.

The last issue of “Toke of the Town” was published online in December, 2014, but the site is still up and it has interesting articles such as:

“Study Shows Marijuana Helps Shrink Certain Severe Brain Cancers”, 11/19/2014.

“Big Pharma is Working on Medical Marijuana Gum”, 12/4/2014.

“Take a Cooking Lesson from Vice’s Grandma of Ganja”, 12/19/2014.  Damn, I would love to be known as “the grandma of ganja”!

So, that’s the latest.  More as things develop oh, say, in 2020 when they finally legalize the gum form of pot, for people over 80 with rare disorders, in Pennsylvania.  Screw the kids with seizures.





Ellos están aquí.* Get Used To It.

* “They’re here”.

I left another forum yesterday.   I seem to do that, a lot.  I find a forum with which I can distract myself, usually without controversy, and I end up leaving…due to controversy.

I don’t like doing it.  I marvel (and kind of envy) people who can just join a forum (or anything, for that matter), make friends, and have this nice hobby, perhaps for years.  They make new friends and enlarge their social circles.

I can never do this.  I have been kicked out of every organization I have ever joined, in real life, and/or fired from nearly every job I have ever had, and I have to say I am not particularly proud of that.  And not even for what I would consider “normal” reasons, such as substance abuse issues, breaking the law, arguing with people, and so on.  No, it’s never that.  It’s just because I am me, and I am different, and I can’t be any other way.  And I can’t keep my mouth shut.

But I quit this forum before I got thrown off (I can honestly say, I have never been banned or kicked off a forum, probably because I quit before that happens).  And it was because something got to me and irked me until I felt the need to write something.

So I did.  And then I left.

It was a forum about a TV show (ok, yes, it was General Hospital).  I liked the forum because it has, for the most part, intelligent commentators who snark about the show and its writers.  I found I agreed with what people wrote, most of the time.  If I didn’t, it was still ok, because it wasn’t anything but differences over creative content.  Big deal.

But every once in awhile, someone would comment about an actress named Teresa Castillo, and occasionally about her male counterpart in the show (Carlos, played by Jeffrey Vincent Parise).  The comment would be short, and it would be this:  “Carrrrrrrlos!  Sabrrrrrrina!”

Those are the names of the characters.  And those two names, repeated often, sometimes with the warning “if they say that ONE MORE TIME…”, confused me at first.  Sometimes it didn’t even have a comment with it, just the names with the multiple r’s.

It finally occurred to me that these posters were angry at this actor and actress because of their accents.  When either one of them says the other’s name, it is with a light accent, as one would expect someone to say it in their cultural context.  Trill?  Well, yeah, there is a slight trill, but that’s how you pronounce the names.  And that’s what these two do.  They say, “Carlos”, and “Sabrina” as they are supposed to be pronounced.

But I was still at a loss as to why this text, meant to symbolize “exaggerated trilling”, was being written. It’s not as if the actor and actress were drawing out the r in an exaggerated way (think stereotypes) for some strange reason.  It wasn’t the trilling, per se, that people found annoying, it was clearly the accent.  Why would an accent make people angry?  I know, I am naíve.

Then came the violent comments about what people wanted to do to the characters/actors when they said those two names (or any words that might have had accents to them, as the actor sometimes calls the actress terms of endearment in Spanish on the show, as per his character, who is from Puerto Rico).  They wanted to punch them, or kill them, or get them thrown off the show.

I was getting whiffs of racism now.

Now I know some of this is hyperbole.  But then they started in with the personal attacks, calling the actress a “Disney princess who can’t act” – referring to Ms. Castillo being cast as Princess Jasmine in a stage version of Aladdin when she worked at Disneyland (“General Hospital’s Teresa Castillo is Pregnant – Boy or Girl?”, Soap Opera Digest website, 12/31/2014), many years ago, a fact that ‘Teresa-bashers’ won’t let go of.

But I don’t see that as a bad thing.  Apparently some do, or are jealous.  The woman is stunningly beautiful.

Then they started in on how she can’t act.  On a soap opera, of all places, where Daytime Emmy winners routinely chew the scenery at an annoying frequency.  This actress doesn’t do that.  She makes do with crappy dialog and stupid storylines, neither of which is her fault.  Yet she gets dumped on, on a regular basis, by some of this crowd on the forum.

As for her male counterpart (“Carlos”), I have seen some posts about him needing a shower.  This is when it began to dawn on my pea-brain that these people were, in fact, being racist.

Mr. Parise has a dark look to him that I, for one, think is very attractive, and his hair is thick and wavy.  But because these idiots perceive him as Latino, he is also perceived as dirty and needing a shower.  (It sickens me to even write this, I must admit)

Side note #1: There is no information on the internet on Parise’s cultural heritage, Latino or not.  He was born in Indianapolis, and that’s all I could find out.  But it’s the perception that he is Latino (Puerto Rican, I guess) that’s important here.

There are African-Americans on this show, but you would never see anyone writing that “they need showers”.  That would be seen for what it was, and called out, as it should be.

These people were being picked on simply because they are, or are perceived as, Latino.  Ironically, I am sure many of these creeps would be shocked to know that there are other Latinos on this show, one of whom is playing an Italian, for instance.  But hey, those other Latino actors do not play Latino characters on the show, so therefore they are, in these fools’ minds, not Latino.  Or maybe it’s ok to be Latino as long as you don’t show it.  Sheesh, such bigotry!

The defining post, for me, came soon after I had realized what these people were saying, during which time I was formulating a response that would make a point without enraging everyone so that the charge of racism would be lost in a sea of personal attacks in response to whatever I would say.  It was a guy complaining about, again, how this actress couldn’t act, and then he ended it with: “If she trills the r in ‘Tracy’, I am going to punch a wall.  Carrrrrrlos!”

How ignorant can you be?  For one thing, anyone who knows any Spanish at all, or even who has listened to any Spanish-speaking people, would know that the r in that name (“Tracy”) would never be “trilled”.  He just said it because he doesn’t like the actress, because she is Latina.  And making fun of the way she speaks is a hidden way to express his contempt for Latino people.

That was the straw that did it.  “Carrrrrlos!  Sabrrrrina!” was short-hand for, “I dislike Latinos so I am going to make fun of how they dare to speak in a way that identifies them as such.”

That is, it would be if the people writing it were that well-spoken, but they’re not.  I am not going to spell out the hateful way they would explain their behavior, because, sadly, everyone who reads this knows what I mean.

So I wrote that I hoped the two characters would actually speak in Spanish at times, when they didn’t want the other characters to know what they were saying (trust me, it fits their storylines).  Then I stated that perhaps if a storyline was done that addressed the racism against Latinos then maybe, just maybe, people wouldn’t make hateful, veiled racist comments about how Teresa Castillo (“Sabrina”) speaks.

Then I left and never went back to see the backlash, if there was any.  Since one of the most offensive posters is a moderator, I would be surprised if I even still had my account.

Maybe it will make people think.  I hope so.  I could have stayed and argued endlessly in some stupid ‘forum war’, but that would have diluted the message I was trying to get across. It isn’t about me, it’s about their ignorant, hateful attitudes.

Now I have to find another place to lighten my mood.  Maybe I will just stay with watching kitty videos or something, thereby completely avoiding any site that could possibly upset me.

Is there no place on the internet where sane, intelligent people can just have fun while expressing themselves?  Or have all the sites been hijacked by hateful, stupid, bitter people?

I read an opinion piece on the CNN website called “My Encounter with Anti-Latino Racism” (Nick Valencia, CNN website, 11/3/2011).  In it, the author describes being yelled at and taunted by a white woman** while he was waiting to get into a music festival in Atlanta with some friends of his from Mexico. The woman makes it very clear that she doesn’t like Latinos.

**In this context, I will refer to white people of European descent as just “white”, for simplicity sake.  I can’t think of how else to phrase it but, if you know, please tell me.

Side note #2: It’s an all-too-common attitude, this woman’s, and I ought to know because other white people make the mistake of talking shit like that around me just because I look similar to them, so they think I share their bigoted views.  “We need to keep those people out!  Blah blah racist vile words blah blah idiotic right-wing claptrap blah blah.” 

I usually wait until they run out of steam, and then say something to them in Spanish.  And then lecture them in English about their hateful thinking.  Hey, if someone starts, I will finish it.

Mr. Valencia’s friend’s response to this bigoted woman was the inspiration for the title of this blog post: “Estamos aquí.”  (“We are here.”)

And since the piece also mentions Cesar Chavez (in the context of the UFW motto “sí se puede”, which by the way was many years before our president hijacked it for his own political gain), I am reminded of another quote by that great man:

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” – Cesar Chavez

I wish all people would take that to heart.

Anyway, I know I can’t do much, I just do what I can.  It just seems like it’s never enough.

This blog entry is dedicated to Señor Cesar Muñoz-Plaza, who taught Spanish at McKinley Grade School – the Burlingame, California school I attended for 2 years.  He is responsible for my love of the language, and the reason why I continued to study it all through my school years, including college.  I wish I could thank him but I am unable to locate him.

This week’s recommendations…

This is a funny website – it kept me giggling, anyway.  If you liked the “Headlines” segments when Jay Leno was on the Tonight Show, you will love this site.

In the “why would anyone do this?” category, is the story of what scientists found in an ancient statue of the Buddha:

“Scan Reveals Mummy Hidden in Buddha Statue”, Huffington Post, 2/23/2015.

I don’t have any books to recommend because, after reading at least parts of 10 e-books this week (all free, thankfully), not one of them was good enough to make the cut.  In fact, I have learnt that “with over 150 5-star reviews on Goodreads!” usually means “this book is loved by people who wouldn’t know a good book if it fell on them”.

And..the only good thing I saw on TV this week was Lady Gaga’s performance at the Academy Awards, singing songs from The Sound of Music.  Here it is on YouTube.  I have to admit, I was surprised and delighted at her performance, having never actually heard her sing before.

My only comment is that I don’t know why these obviously stellar singers feel they have to have weird names and do outrageous things.  Most of the time, their talent can carry them without any of this stuff.  Gah, I sound like I’m 102!

What a pity that so much talent goes unrecognized when artists choose not to play these kinds of games.  I’m sure there are more talented people out there who are not famous, than those who are (I know some personally).  Sigh.

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t let anyone stuff you in a statue.



The Struggle for Health: Battleground or Middle Ground?

I talk to a lot of people who are in contact with the healthcare system – either as patients or as providers.  I talk to them on the van, in waiting rooms, during tests, and so on.   And I feel sometimes as if I am in the middle of a huge conflict where, increasingly, there are two very stubborn sides, both of whom think they are right.  (I won’t call it ‘war’, as that minimizes actual war and the horror that comes with it.)

On one side you have:

~ cyberchondriacs/hypochondriacs, who are clinically known as people with somatic symptom disorder (“Somatic Symptom Disorder Fact Sheet”, American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013),

~ anti-conventional medicine activists (all doctors are wrong because we have a profit-based healthcare system),

~ ‘alternative medicine’ practitioners (this includes those who do chiropractic and homeopathic so-called treatments),

~ anti-vaxxers (these people’s ignorance puts everyone at risk),

~ con artists,

~ anti-education ‘experts’ – this is my name for people who do not have degrees in anything so they have a disdain *cough jealousy cough* for those who do and they claim they have figured out some medical mystery all by themselves using unconventional means (read that as, “not using common sense or the scientific method”),

~ people who, usually due to a personality disorder, just like to stir shit up and upset people by taking ridiculous positions on all things medical,

and on and on.  You can probably think of others.  So, that’s one side.

On the other side we have:

~ doctors and nurses,

~ insurance companies,

~ pharmaceutical companies,

~ hospitals and other institutions,

~ healthcare ‘systems’ (a network of hospitals or clinics)

~ the CDC and the WHO etc,

~ government agencies such as the National Institute of Health,

~ “pro-medicine advocates” such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (“just take your meds and everything will be a-ok” – if you can’t tell, I don’t like them),

and others that probably come to your mind right now.

Then, stuck in the middle, you have the patients.  The regular, med-compliant, majority of patients who generally trust the medical profession to provide decent healthcare.  After all, doctors and nurses went to school to learn how to diagnose and treat illnesses.  It’s normal and reasonable to expect that they know what they’re doing.

Most people get their checkups and are fine.  But at some point, many patients will find they have ‘something’ that needs fixing, in some form.  They rely on their doctors to help them.  They are ill, and not in a position where they can advocate for themselves, nor should they have to.  They are at the mercy of the medical profession, and I think a lot of times that works out well – the doctor knows what’s wrong, treats it, and everyone’s happy again.  Or, at least, better.

That’s how it should be.

Then there are patients like me, who are sick and unable to get well, because no one knows what’s wrong.  The tests are not helpful, and the problem persists as a chronic condition of…well, something unknown.   The primary care doctor is stumped.  The specialists send the patient back with a note indicating that, whatever the patient has, it’s nothing in their specialty.

Back to square one.

And that’s when the struggle begins.

When patients are ill and no one can figure out what’s wrong, they end up in the middle of a battle between conventional medicine and “everyone else”.  And when someone is ill, it’s hard to get up the strength to stand up for yourself and attempt to become a ‘partner’ in your own healthcare.

There is a trend here, of doctors wanting patients to be more proactive and vocal in their role as patient, more of a partner in a treatment team, actually.  I think that’s good, as long as the patient realizes that he/she does not know as much as the doctor does (it would be scary if the doctor didn’t know more than the patient, after years of medical school!), and also as long as the doctor is aware of how vulnerable and scared the patient is (and treats him/her kindly and with respect).

But our healthcare system, and American attitudes towards medicine (and I can only comment on American stuff), both have big problems.  In my opinion, the overarching contradiction, from which most of the problems stem, is “Patient vs. Profit”.  Then there are all the contributing factors, such as stoicism, cynicism, elitism in all its forms, and the right to express oneself (free speech, that term so often bandied about by Americans) – and the magnification of all that by the internet.

I have seen the problems our healthcare system has, and have blogged about them, and will continue to blog about them.  On any given day you can find a story about how the healthcare system has failed patients in some way, sometimes killing them.  If you remove the few incidences that are due to human error (errors made in spite of the best intentions and care), it always comes down to money.  I am not going to address that today.

I just want to talk about people, regular people who are lost in the quest to find out what in hell is wrong with them.

I have searched and I cannot find any statistics about how many Americans are sick but cannot find a diagnosis for what ails them.  My thought is that they either just give up, get better on their own, or someone convinces them it’s “all in their heads”.  So, naturally, there would not be a whole lot of reporting on this.

So I don’t really have a handle on how prevalent this problem really is.  And “anecdotal evidence”, found widely on the internet, is often a product of people who take the anti-medicine stance.  It’s biased.

And one side of this topic – patients who cannot find a diagnosis – is, for lack of a better term, “anti-medicine”.  There are lots of problems with anti-medicine activism.  I have seen the damage caused by quackery, by people with untreated mental illness who play the role of activist, and by people who comprise groups that are on the fringe of rational thought – all of whom cause harm to patients who are seeking to understand and deal with an illness for which they cannot find treatment.

The harm is to credibility, mostly, though in some cases it, too, can result in death – from treatment delays caused by reliance on pseudoscientific “cures”.  And it’s too simplistic to categorize everyone who is anti-medicine as mentally ill, because there are some intelligent, relatively stable folks out there who, in this case, are just plain wrong.  They either misunderstand or misinterpret science, or they know someone (perhaps themselves, even) who was ‘cured’ using unconventional means.

Be that as it may, they cause just as much harm as, for example, the pharmaceutical company that releases a drug that they know isn’t safe.  The results are similar, they just come from different points of view and/or different motives (sometimes…though there is profit in alternative medicine, too).  Similar economic classes, though, and I won’t go there today.

I did, however, find statistics on hypochondriasis.  According to the most recent stats I could find, the prevalence in the US is anywhere from 4-9% (Carson RC, Mineka S, Butcher JN (eds.), Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life (11th edition), Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000).

They are a very vocal group.  I would put them in the ‘untreated mentally ill’ category of anti-medicine activism.   My guess is, if you add these folks to the other categories of anti-medicine activists, including (as I do) chiropractors, maybe the whole bunch of them would be close to 15%.  But I can’t say for sure, because I don’t know.

Further clouding this issue is the report by the National Institutes of Health Pharmacy and Therapeutics Journal, stating that “nearly 40% of adults in the US use some form of complementary and alternative medicine therapy, including dietary supplements.” (“Current Issues Regarding Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the United States, Part 1: The Widespread Use of CAM and the Need for Better-Informed Health Care Professionals to Provide Patient Counseling”, C Lee Ventola, P.T. 2010 Aug; 35(8): 461-468).

The bolding of the phrase “including dietary supplements” is mine, because I think this is important.  This article basically makes no distinction between vitamins (which appear to have some health benefits in many cases), meditation (which has limited benefits for relaxation etc), and homeopathic treatment/Ayurvedic/Chinese folk medicine (which are all complete nonsense).  While it states that more people use supplements than homeopathy, it’s not clear at all which supplements they are, and so on.

So it’s really not clear at all what percentage of Americans choose quackery as their ‘go-to’ strategy when they become ill.  So, let’s go with the high end of percentage of hypochondriacs (9%), add the 8% of adults who go to chiropractors (Ibid.), and so far that’s 17%.

If you add in all the other misc quackery, let’s be conservative and put that at 1%, ok?  So, minimally, we have 18% of adults who do not, in some form or another, trust conventional medicine.

And a lot of them, particularly the hypochondriacs, are very vocal in their mistrust.  Since most of these people will, at some point or another, become patients, there’s a decent chance that your doctor has run into at least one during his/her practice.  Certainly emergency room personnel have, as any of them will gladly tell you if you ask.

So when someone comes along who actually does have an illness, and the tests do not show anything amiss, it’s understandable why many doctors would refer the patient to a psychiatrist, or advise a lifestyle change that includes diet and exercise.  Some doctors, in their frustration, merely attribute the problem to aging.

While I think it’s reasonable to, say, advise a dietary change to someone who has diabetes, it’s not necessarily appropriate for someone who is exhibiting non-diet-related symptoms (for example, ‘fever of unknown origin’, which is, according to Dr. Wonderful, one of the most vexing symptoms to confront a physician).  Yet, one gets the feeling that, when a doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong, “change your diet” is the default when dealing with someone who also happens to be overweight.

The response, “it’s age” is such a cop-out I am not even going to comment.  Suffice to say, I have heard people complain that this is their doctor’s explanation/excuse for everything, as if being older means you just have to accept whatever’s wrong with you and “live with it.”

And what is a patient to do when the doctor, frustrated by the inability to come up with a diagnosis, then decides the patient is either faking or is a hypochondriac?  Some trust their doctors and toddle off with their referral to a psychiatrist, who then will probably prescribe medication for anxiety and depression – as most people with chronic illnesses are vulnerable to both those mental illnesses.

Some will reject this idea, and go find another doctor.  And another, until someone finally figures out what’s wrong, or the patient runs out of money/time/energy.

Some will reject this idea, and give up, reasoning that, since no one believes them anyway, why waste the time and energy?  “They’ll figure it out when I either die from this, or get so sick I end up in the hospital and they will HAVE to figure it out.”  That is a common reaction.

And if the symptoms persist?  There’s the problem.

Where is the middle ground for these patients?  Disappointed by their doctors, they search for the answers themselves.  And then, disgusted by the pseudoscience, hype, lies, and attempts at being ripped off by the alternative medicine crowd, they wonder where to turn to next.

They are alone, in the middle of two sides which are so limited (each in their own way) that the patient has completely run out of viable options and has nowhere to turn.

And they are still sick.

I don’t have any answers.  Perhaps someone will read this and think of one or two.

Today’s weirdness comes from The Daily Beast, and it’s a doozey!  “Bin Laden’s Minions Posed as Women”, The Daily Beast website, 2/18/2015.  There is a trial going on in Brooklyn that accuses a man of conspiracy to bomb several sites as part of an Al Queda plot.  It would be funny if it weren’t so horrible.  Just goes to show the lengths terrorists will go to, to engage in their heinous activities.

On a lighter note, I found this website: Shame Your Pet.  This link has pics of cats, but there are pics of dogs, too, on this site.  So now you have your puppy and kitty cuteness for the week!

TV Tropes, Violence, and the Online World

I want to start by stating the obvious.

General Hospital in Port Charles is NOT real life.   The Facebook General Hospital page is NOT real life.  Oh, it has real people expressing real opinions, alright, but most of them (myself included):

DO NOT know the other fans.  DO NOT know the producers.  DO NOT know the actors.  DO NOT think the characters are real people.

This last one is important, because there is a large and very vocal minority on Facebook (and on forums) who do not seem to understand that General Hospital is a fictional show with fictional people.

Why is this important?  Well it’s not, in the grand scheme of things.  But I have noticed something and it bothers me a great deal – not only do some fans think the characters are real, but they condone things the characters do.

Like physical violence and murder, emotional/psychological abuse, and running organized crime syndicates.  Along with the usual soap opera staples like blackmail, kidnapping, and adultery.

I have got to wonder why it is that these folks defend these characters, particularly one named Sonny Corinthos.

Sonny Corinthos is a mob boss.  His character has been on the soap opera for a little over 20 years (no, I have not watched all that time, having better things to do).  In that time, the character has:

~ murdered many people,

~ threatened to kill numerous others (including his current love interest),

~ blackmailed people into doing various awful things,

~ owned a stripclub that was a front for prostitution,

~ held a pregnant character against her will and theatened to kill her once she gave birth,

~ drugged another female character and raped her,

~ seemed to get a kick out of emotionally torturing people, mostly the women in his life.

He is the head of a crime syndicate that “imports coffee from Colombia” (which confuses the fans because it is never stated what illegal things he actually does import – oh, except the character claims he would NEVER deal drugs, so it can’t be that).

He is basically a completely immoral, cowardly, violent, and heinous character.

His recent escapades?

Shooting and killing his adopted son’s biological father (because he mistakenly thought the man had killed one of his many girlfriends). for which he went to prison (for about 2 weeks)…

Escaping from prison (in a hail of gunfire, of course), after finding out about a plot to bomb a party on a houseboat (which his adopted son was on)…

Running over to said houseboat where he ran into his adopted son (who had found the bomb and was carrying it outside with the intent to toss it overboard), grabbing the bomb and jumping into the water with it…

It exploded, and of course they dragged his body out, where his current love interest performed CPR on him (the cops having walked off and left him, and who could blame them really?) and revived him.

Sonny gets taken to General Hospital, and when he is being wheeled back out to be transferred back to prison, the governor of the state (New York, I guess…kudos to the real governor for not letting himself be cast in that role) walks up and pardons him.

For escaping from prison and jumping into the bay with a bomb.  A bomb that probably wouldn’t have been there if he wasn’t a mobster with equally evil enemies.

So, the character gets away with murder… again.

The fans?  Wow I have never seen such weirdness on Facebook, ever.  When Sonny was in the water, many fans were crying (really!  they wrote, “I’m crying”) and generally freaking out. Despite the many reassurances some sane fans were making (the actor had just re-signed, his character wasn’t going anywhere), there was a mood of hysteria on the page.

When he was revived, some were STILL crying.  Others made comments like, “My man Sonny!  Way to go!”   When pardoned, many fans expressed disgust at the writers for, once again, making sure this character didn’t pay for what he did (my thoughts, exactly).

Then it really got ugly.

Pages and pages of fans name-calling, writing long paragraphs explaining why this character was justified in murdering another character (the character he murdered was an alcoholic, I guess that’s a capital offense in soap opera crazyland), and referring to the character as “my Sonny”, or “my Dimples” (the actor has dimples, apparently this is a mitigating factor when committing crimes).

These, for the most part, are young people (by “young”, I mean 20-35 or thereabouts).  The reasons behind the justification for this character’s latest actions were mainly of the “you have to kill people who kill someone you love” variety, though it was usually written in language I will not repeat on this blog.

And they were serious.

That’s what bothers me.  They are serious in that they really, truly believe that.  I think about all the violence in this country that is a result of this twisted way of thinking.  “He did x, so I am gonna kill him.”

I spent a fair amount of time in psych hospitals running anger management class once a week.  Most of the hour was wasted in the neverending quest to convince people of 2 things:

1.  You do not have to react to negative things with violence.

2.  Your actions are under your control, no one else’s.

It was a losing proposition.  Patients would look at me as if I had lost my mind when I told them that yes, it is possible to go through your entire life without throwing a punch at anyone, or getting into any kind of physical altercation.

They didn’t believe it.

It was always, “He/she MADE me angry”, “he/she LOOKED at me, I knew what he/she was thinking”, and “everyone acts like this when _________ happens.”

No amount of examples could shake these ideas.  I would, for example, pick someone out and ask, “What would you do if someone walked by you on the street and called you a bitch?”

Of course, the answer would be some sort of violent reaction (hitting, shoving, etc).

I would then say, “Ok well if that happened to me, I would just wonder what their problem was, and walk on.  Then I would forget it.  So, tell me, what’s the difference?”

Crickets chirp.

Continuing on (I knew it was hopeless but I had to see it through), I would say, “The common thing here is what the person said.  But there were two different reactions to what was said.  The difference is NOT what was said, but how the other person looked at it.”


Sighing…”No one can MAKE you do anything.  You CHOOSE to respond violently, or not.”

“You’re wrong.  You’re lying.  You would hit them.  If you didn’t, no one would respect you.”

That was nearly always the response from the room.

Anger management does NOT work, precisely because the people who use violence to deal with things do not believe that they are responsible for it.

And so it is with the soap opera character and his legions of fans.  He wasn’t responsible for shooting the other character because it was his right to get revenge.  Even though he was wrong about who killed his girlfriend, he still wasn’t responsible – the character who led him to believe that the alcoholic killed his girlfriend was.

In other words, SHE made him do it, by lying to him.

In fact, this whole trope called “mobster with a heart of gold” is so prevalent in this show that nothing will ever shake it.  Ok, fair enough.  But it seems to be something people believe IN REAL LIFE.  And that’s scary and disgusting.

Knowledge from a Vending Machine

You pay someone, you get knowledge/enlightenment.  Wheee!

Something that people my age say a lot is, “The older I get, the more I realize how little I know.”

I mean, people my age who are not pompous asses.

Today, I am thinking about…thinking.

I got an email today from a website called “ESkeptic”, announcing their conference in southern California.  Well, sure, I know I can’t possibly go but I thought I would see what they’re up to, anyway.

The first thing that caught my attention, actually, wasn’t even the conference itself.  The item above the announcement did: “Waking Up” with Sam Harris.

I don’t know who Sam Harris is.  I do know that “waking up” is a common phrase used amongst people who want to promote self-awareness, myself included.  I ran a group whose main focus was self-awareness, and on the chalkboard in the room I had written, “Wake Up!”  So I am familiar with this concept.

I have never, however, heard a skeptic use language like that.

I would love to tell you what he meant by that, but I am not paying $4.99 to rent his lecture, the full title of which is “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”  The description reads as follows:

“In these talks, Harris discussed a range of experiences that have traditionally been considered “spiritual”—in particular the phenomenon of self-transcendence. Although such experiences tell us nothing about the origins of the cosmos, they confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and serenity, are teachable skills; and the way we think can profoundly influence our lives and the lives of others. (This video consists of a one-hour lecture and an hour of Q&A.)” (email from Skeptics Society, 2/4/2015)

Our conventional sense of self is an illusion?  That’s a truth?

Sounds to me as if the skeptics are kind of desperate for members, and are resorting to promoting their own special brand of woo.  Tsk tsk.  And charging for it.  Just like they scream at others for doing.

So then I went on to read about their conference.  It costs a lot of money to attend.  Even just the open bar and lecture session is $75 (I assume the bar is extra).

I don’t see any difference between this conference and the myriad of UFO/Bigfoot/Enlightenment conferences that are held on a daily basis somewhere in the world.  Except I think the UFO and Bigfoot conferences might at least have entertainment value for the money (and they are usually cheaper).

Nope, the skeptics are after the same snob-appeal crowd that the modern-day gurus are after, except they talk about different subjects.

Do I hate skeptics? Noooooooo.  Most of my family are skeptics.  Some of my friends are skeptics.  I am occasionally skeptical about a great many things, which is why I refer to a lot of things as “woo”.

No, I just hate elitism in any form.  I don’t like anyone who thinks he/she has the market cornered on “the truth”.  Because, to me, unless you are referring to relating testimony (telling the truth about something/someone), I don’t think ANYONE knows “the truth”.

There are scientific principles, to be sure, and I do not argue against those.  I guess that’s “truth” in a sense.  But the word “truth” has almost a moralistic ring to it.  I would rather say, “It is likely that…”, or “It most probably is….”, or even “with a 95% confidence level” (as is written in peer-reviewed journal articles).

When I see someone charging for content that I often have taught for free, or blog here for free, it makes me mad.  Could I ever go on a lecture circuit and talk about things I write about here?  Not likely.  I could make money at it, for sure.  But it would be hard for me to do that without feeling like I was ripping people off.

Self-awareness et al is easy to teach – that part of the quote about Mr. Harris’ lecture is quite accurate.  In fact, you can teach it to yourself (in the 60s and 70s, lsd/peyote/psilocybin were used for that sometimes).

You do not have to pay $4.99 to rent a lecture (gee, you can’t even own it, what a ripoff), or pay $20.00 for a book (oh, it’s autographed, I know, but still…), or attend a $75 dinner party, or pay $225 for a Saturday conference session ($199 for Skeptic Society members) in order to become self-aware/learn about pseudoscience/be entertained by magicians with agendas.

If people pay for that, I think it’s much more likely they are paying for the chance to be around others of like-mind, so they can all feel smug and smart.  It’s really not like you would learn anything, like, say, you would at an academic conference.  And I guess you need to be a certain kind of person to enjoy a smug-fest. *cough* elitist asshole *cough*

What’s my point today?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am just fed up with people ripping off the public.  Maybe I am disgusted by elitism in its many forms.  Maybe I am appalled that someone would have the nerve to charge for something that’s so basic and so obvious.

Maybe I just feel that, with all their protestations that they are skeptics in order to advance science and educate people, they are still basically people out to make a buck.  And these folks do not live at subsistence level – they make quite a wealthy living from this.

I just think that’s shameful.

This week’s weirdness comes again from Gizmag, that wonderful website that clues you in on all the latest technological advances in all kinds of different areas.  This article is called “Fungi Mutarium Fuses Plastic and Fungi into Foodstuffs”.  Oh, those wacky Austrians at Livin Studios!

And…a recommendation from Hulu.  It’s another Hulu-produced series called “The Booth at the End.”  A man sits, well……….in a booth at the end (of a diner).  People come see him, tell him what they want, and he has them perform a task – then they come back and tell him about what they did and how they got what they wanted.  Is he a bad guy?  Seems so, at first, as he has people kill other people and what-not.  But sometimes people don’t do the task and they get what they want anyway.  So is he a good guy who makes people consider their actions and how those affect others?  I don’t know yet.  But it’s entertaining.

Be good.  Be kind.  Teach someone something…for free.