Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Late and Heavily Medicated

Ye gods, two weeks without a blog post.  You'd think I'd run out of things to say.  But hey, with Teddy Cruz running for President and various state legislatures trying to pass the usual batch of wacky stuff, there's no chance of that.  Here in Texas, for example, first-time legislator Molly White introduced a bill that said if the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage had to be allowed, it just wouldn't apply in Texas.  Yes, she really did that.  I'm not sure how anybody who didn't pass high-school civics got elected to public office, but hey, this is Texas.  Remember Molly Brown?  As in "the unsinkable" Molly Brown?  Well, some of us on Facebook have decided that anybody named Molly should have a nautical nickname.  So she's "Shipwreck" Molly White from here on out.  And Ted?  Maybe we should call him "Cruz the Canuck."  O Canada, our home and native land...

No, the real reason there hasn't been a blog post in two weeks is that I'm just tired.  For the first time in my life, I managed to come down with a simple cold (it usually morphs into a sinus infection, or sometimes bronchitis, and once pneumonia, just for variety).  So far this cold is staying a cold.  The other thing it's doing, though, is staying around.  I've had it for almost three weeks now, and yes, I do feel better every day, mostly, but it ain't gone yet and I am more than ready for it to go.  Couple that with some of the most stressful days I've ever had at work in my life (besides the Trial from Hell; there's some small comfort in knowing that it'll never be that bad again) and I'm ready to crawl under a rock and never blog again.

Of course my screaming fans, both of them, wouldn't stand for that.  So here I am.  And I need to spew about something, so tonight I'm going to spew about prescription drug prices.  Yep, prescription drug prices. No, I promise, this isn't on C-Span.  I take, let me see here, seven prescription drugs every day.  There are also two I take occasionally.  It's a very good thing I have insurance, because one of these suckers runs $981 a month without it.  Some of the others clock in at $385, $425, and one (this one I can't figure out) is only $2.42.  But what I'm saying is, they're pricey.  In fact, without insurance, if I were to add all the prices together, the total would be more than my take home pay.

More than my take home pay.  I kid you not.  Without insurance, I could not afford to live.  Even with insurance, it tops out around $250 a month, which is more than my gas bill, my water bill, my electric bill and a week's worth of groceries combined. It used to be even more than that, but I finally had The Talk with my doctor where I told him, "I can afford two of the three of these.  Pick two and I'll take those two."  And it's not like what I've got is ever going to go away.  Yep, I'm one of those Americans with a Chronic Condition.  Two of them, actually.  And if I were straight, I'd probably need birth control pills, on top of all of that.

People, chronic conditions are expensive.  Besides the cost of the drugs, which is by far the largest share of my health care expenses, I gotta see my doctor every month (at $50.00 a pop) and sometimes another doctor ($90.00 a session, but not every week anymore, thank God).  My wife, on the other hand, is taking five drugs that together run about $100 a month--after she meets her $750 deductible.  So hers are a little cheaper.  But we still add up the whole big ugly total at tax time to see if any of it comes back to us.  Guess what.  This year we made too much money.

Yeah, yeah,  I know.  Some cancer drugs run $100,000 a month.  When a new drug comes out it's gotta pay back its development costs.  If prescription drugs weren't so expensive, the entire U.S. economy would fall down a well.  But I get tired of hearing that.  Nobody asks to have a condition like this.  It's just fate, DNA, the dancing radiation in the air.  You're not a bad person if you come down with cancer, have a stroke or a heart attack, You healthy people out there, beware.  You're one car accident away from monthly trips to the pill mill.  So have good insurance. And don't vote for Ted.  Who, ironically, signed up for Obamacare today.  No, it's true. I saw it on CNN.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Whiplash, Part II: Is This Any Way To Run A Music School?

Spoiler Alert: I will be talking about the outcome of Whiplash somewhere in this post.  Where, I can't really say, but I'm sure it'll come up.

In the last two weeks, I've missed three days of work due to inclement weather.  Namely ice storms, which is the Texas term for when the heavens open and dump tons of snow and sleet on the city, and then the temperature rattles down to way below freezing so that everything for miles around is evenly covered with a solid sheet of ice and it's basically impossible to leave your house without falling on the steps.  Now, I spent a goodly chunk of my formative years in Salt Lake City, where the whole valley fills up with clouds around about November 1 and just pretty much stays solidly socked in until March.  That's bad, too, but these Texas winters are just amazing.  The whole thing may sound like not so much if you live in Buffalo, New York or North Dakota or something, when you get seven feet of snow every time the governor sneezes, but when an ice storm like this hits, everything just grinds to a halt.  It has to.  You literally can't leave your house.

Fortunately, the power has stayed on the whole time (knock on Formica) and I have software that will let me load into my work computer, so I can get a few things done while I'm sitting in my kitchen.  Unfortunately, a lot of things I need to do my job are on my desk, or in the file room, or otherwise inaccessible.  So I end up working on stuff I need to do, but have been trying to avoid, like populating this table in Excel that lists and catalogs about 30,000 pages worth of documents generated by a certain business.  Or reading hundreds of pages of somebody's medical records and breaking them down into three talking points for a lawyer who's writing a complaint, Fun stuff like that.  All good, all important, all gotta be done, but not really the sort of thing I feel most proud of when somebody asks me why I do what I do.  Or whether or not a college degree really does any good in the long-term prospects for a job and a career.

Which brings us back to Whiplash (told you we'd get there), and the whole reason anybody goes to music school, vs. medical school or law school or guitar building school or any other old school, in the first place. (Like what I did there?)  About 2/3 of the way through Whiplash, after he's been thrown out of music school and Fletcher, the instructor, has been fired by the same music school, our protagonist meets up with Fletcher once again at a little jazz club where Fletcher is playing the piano.  Fletcher sees him, waves him over, buys him a drink, and there's some actual conversation, during which Fletcher explains himself, somewhat.  And what he has to say is actually very interesting.  He tells a few stories about legendary jazz artists and road blocks they hit along the way.  About how they screwed something up, made mistakes, were otherwise not at their best at this thing they were best at.  About how each one swore that whatever just happened would never happen again, and because of that, they became legendary jazz artists.  Fletcher says something like, "Do you know how Miles Davis got to be Miles Davis?  Because he never again let his horn be flat when he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie," or something like that (and yes, I know I just mixed up two eras, not to mention two instruments, but hey, jazz is not something I know a lot about, okay?)  Fletcher saw his role as a music teacher to be the obstacle, the guy everybody's afraid of, the guy who yells at you when you screw up so that you solemnly swear to yourself that it will never, ever happen again (and thus, later on, you achieve greatness).  He finishes his soliloquy by adding that the most ruinous words any music teacher ever speaks to a student are, "Good job."

And really, being on the receiving end of this speech, it sort of makes sense.  Does his classroom behavior discourage students?  Maybe, Fletcher says, "but Miles Davis wouldn't have been discouraged."  Maybe not, but we can't all be Miles Davis.  Still, as I mentioned in my last post on Whiplash, if you're not going to be Miles Davis, there's really no point in going to music school.  It's the non-Miles Davises among us who get kicked out of music school for failing piano.  Only the Miles Davises of the world are going to graduate, go into the performance world and get good jobs.  The rest of us are going to become music teachers.  Or lawyers or engineers or construction workers or whatever else pays the bills, and maybe play a little music on the side.  Is that fair? No. But lots of things aren't fair, and music school is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, we hear this speech, and sort of come to understand Fletcher a little, before we find out he's completely sociopathic and probably a little bit crazy.  The next thing we know, Fletcher's entered a major music contest with a new ensemble and then proceeds to throw the entire ensemble under the bus to get even with one guy.  Let me explain to you how often that Just. Doesn't. Happen. Music teachers live and die by the results of these contests and what Fletcher does here is, well, just crazy.  Yet the whole thing ends in a way nobody saw coming.  Well, I didn't see it coming, anyway, and I quit reading murder mysteries quite a few years ago when I realized I usually knew murderer, motive and method before anyone had even died yet.

So we're left with this question:  Is being an asshole ever justified?  Buddhist-y speaking, the answer is no.  Good behavior toward others is basically required as a condition of being human.  But, if being an asshole is what's required to fix a given situation, or to save a few lives we do it, and then we tell everybody we're sorry after the fact.  If, for example, the only way to get proper medical attention for your significant sweetie, after the pre-surgery unit has already screwed up three times and is about to do it for a fourth, is to raise your fist and yell about the standard of care and how they're not meeting it, then you do it.  (Not that that's ever happened to me, or anything.) And you come back afterward with a box of chocolates for the staff and explain you were "under duress" at the time and you're really a nice person and they're all just fine, fine doctors and nurses who were evidently having a very bad day.  And maybe they believe you. Or maybe they call security.  Anyway, it's a good way to avoid eating a box of chocolates by yourself.

In any case, I think most of us are nice people and are trying to do the right thing most of the time,  But then, some of us are Fletcher.  Maybe the important thing is to be able to tell the Fletchers of the planet for what they are, and if we can't beat them, find a way around them.  At least before you're part of the ensemble that gets thrown under the bus.

By the way, in case anybody missed my "adults only" post last week, here's a picture of a big, throbbing cock.

Cheers, all.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mini-Post: "Adult Content"

In case you missed it, Blogger has been cracking down on unrestricted blogs that have "adult content."  The email looks something like this:

We do allow adult content on Blogger, including images or videos that contain nudity or sexual activity. If your blog contains adult content, please mark it as 'adult' in your Blogger settings. We may also mark blogs with adult content where the owners have not. All blogs marked as 'adult' will be placed behind an 'adult content' warning interstitial. If your blog has a warning interstitial, please do not attempt to circumvent or disable the interstitial - it is for everyone’s protection.

So just to be sure my blog makes the "adult content" cut, here is a steamy pick of a hot babe flashing some fine pussy.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thinking Long Term

Yeah, I know I gotta get back to Whiplash. I've got a whole second blog post pretty much mapped out in my head. For the moment, however, I have something much more critical on my mind: This whole lack of ability on the part of the human species to think long term.

Seriously, this is and has been a real issue for most people, and it seems to be standing in the way of our ability to deal with some of our most important problems.  We don't seem to get that putting money in an IRA will lead to a better standard of living when we're older; we want to spend the money now. We don't want to consider whether the guy waving the flag up on the podium is going to be good or bad for the country over the next four years; we just want a new president now. We don't grasp the whole global warming thing, because that's hundreds of years in the future (or maybe only fifty, but we don't grasp fifty any better than we grasp hundreds).  We want to dig all the oil up and burn it now.  Screw the atmosphere, the grandkids, the environment and the eventual fate of humanity; what are we going to tell our stockholders?

Evolutionarily speaking, though, long-term planning really isn't hardwired into us.  Why should it be? We need solutions now. As cave people, we hunted mastodons because we were hungry at that moment.  It never would have occurred to us that we'd eventually drive the mastodons to extinction because of overhunting.  Why should it? That didn't matter today, in this moment. (Sorry, mastodons.) Really, if you look at this on a global scale, it's kind of amazing that we ever managed to invent farming at all. Dig furrows? Sow seeds in a field?  Water them, keep pests away? So they'll grow over the next four or five months into edible plants? What for? (Of course, the invention of pancakes followed soon after, which made the whole thing worthwhile, but we hadn't thought up the pancake when we first sowed the seeds.  How we invented farming without knowledge of pancakes is a great mystery.)

Which brings us to the present moment, a very important concept in Buddhism generally and the philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh in particular. If you're not in the present moment, you're not experiencing life. Which means millions upon millions of people aren't experiencing life, because I dunno about you, but I can't focus on anything for more than a few minutes without wondering how this came up in the first place and where it's eventually going.  (Yes, meditation has helped; it used to be a few seconds.) Distractable? Oh yes. Which is why I say I'm a bad Buddhist.  If you keep your focus on the present moment, do what you need to do next, and do this consistently, you end up a lot happier.  And why not?  Mulling over the past or fearing the future isn't exactly good for being happy in the present.

What I can't figure out is where long-term planning enters into the picture. One of the things I do at work is long-term planning, where the term is anything from a few months to three or four years.  I draw maps and charts and determine the critical path between here and there, where "there" is anyplace we want to be and "here" is what we have to begin with.  (And you know, figuring out the actual "there" is usually the hardest part.  Everybody has an idea of where we're going, and sometimes they clash rather violently with each other.  Just pinning people down as to where they want to end up is half the battle.) So if you're planning in the present moment, I guess you can put all your focus on planning. But that seems kind of following the letter of the law and not the spirit. By definition, planning means you're not in the present moment.

I'm just guessing here, but I imagine there are not many mindfulness-meditation focused Buddhist chess grandmasters.

So okay, if we're supposed to focus on the present moment, and if human beings are hardwired not to do long-term planning anyway, how are we supposed to solve problems like global warming? That calls for serious long-term planning. If I were going to draw a critical path between here and there, it would have things on it like increasing the number of solar, nuclear and wind powered energy plants. Phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric ones.  (My boss has a Tesla. I got a ride in it yesterday. Awesome.)  But it would also, by necessity, have to have things on it like, reduce the oil companies' influence on politicians. Convince Exxon and Shell and BP that they need to diversify into renewable energy. Oh, and avoid the coming economic crisis that may hit when oil companies realize they can't pull the rest of their future holdings out of the ground, which is what they base their value upon, which would of course crash their stock prices, which--well, it would be ugly. I can imagine how popular this critical path would be in Washington right about now. And here we come back to the hardwiring.  Politicians want to know how to curry favor with their major constitutents (like oil companies) today. They really don't care who's going to vote for their grandchildren, if there are grandchildren, fifty years from now.

Anyway, if anybody has any ideas, let me know.  For now I think I'll focus on the grandkids.  Even right-wing nut jobs want their grandkids to have good lives, don't they? (Oh God, I'm echoing Sting: "I hope the Russians love their children too...")

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Whiplash, Part I

WARNING: THIS IS A LONG BLOG POST.  If you get tired, please move to the rear of the blog, where cake will be served.

People have had occasion to ask me what the hell I’m doing, working at a law firm.  Why aren’t I a great fiction writer or something, swapping yachts with Stephen King for the weekend or partying all night with J.K. Rowling.  Well, firstly, I get seasick.  Secondly, you might not believe this, but it’s actually very hard to get a novel published, especially if you’re not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  (Who owes me five bucks, now that I think about it.)  I’m speaking as one who has tried.  And one who currently isn’t trying.  I dunno if that means I’m done trying, exactly.  Come back in a year and ask me again.  And yes, I’m Working On Something right now, even if it’s spasmodic weekend work at the local Half Price Books while my idiot neighbor is throwing a birthday party for his twelve-year-old granddaughter and the dance tunes are making my house vibrate.  (My house vibrates all the time.  We have a trainyard nearby.  But still, kinda different when it’s vibrating to Can’t Stop Till You Get Enough.  Michael Jackson, unlike the Burlington Northern, is usually in tune.)

But here’s the thing.  I actually like working at a law firm.  I’m good at it, for one thing.  Litigation is a strange and hairy beast, but I’ve gotten to know it pretty well and at least when I’m around, it only bites occasionally.  There are certain things that need to happen in a certain order and certain problems that are bound to crop up needing to be solved.  I’m good at solving problems, and the larger and more complicated, the better.  I also know a lot of stuff about the law.  Not necessarily the theory of the law or why such and such judge did such and such thing (though I know a little bit about that, too), but other stuff.  Important stuff. Like, for example, if you’re electronically filing a document in the state courts of Texas, you have until midnight to do so, not just ‘til five o’clock.  Like if you need to file anything with the appeals court, you need to send paper copies to the court as well, one for each justice.  Yes, it may sound like useless trivia, but its important stuff, folks.  This is all about getting your case heard or not heard, and if you want your case heard, you need a good paralegal.  I am a good paralegal and I will get your case heard.  And these skills, nifty as they are, just really don’t have a place outside a law firm. 

But that’s not to say I have always worked at a law firm.  Au contraire, I actually worked in a law library for ten years first.  And before that I was in music school (!).  The plan at the time was to become one of the great bassoonists.  (Have you ever met a great bassoonist?  No?  How about you?  No?  You?)  So, okay, great bassoonists don’t exactly set the world on fire. They don’t do solo concertos in front of the orchestra very often and honestly, I don’t think many of them make like Kenny G and record New Age albums. I have never seen one win a Grammy or shake hands with Nelson Mandela or get invited to North Korea to play for the despot-in-charge-at-the-moment. But they do have nifty jobs playing with major orchestras.  Because who wouldn’t want a job playing music all day long?  That would be a great job.

Where you run into trouble here is that there are only about 17 major full-time orchestras in the United States, and each of those probably have three or four bassoonists apiece. There are something like 1,200 other orchestras, which makes up another 4800 jobs, but those jobs are part-time and usually don’t have any benefits. So maybe 4,868 jobs for professional bassoonists of any sort in the United States.  And when you figure that most of those jobs are already occupied to begin with, and there are probably at least another 1,000 brand-new bassoonists graduating from music schools every year, you can see how the math might maybe start to work against you there. In short, if you’re not one of the very, very best, you’re not going to be able to swing it professionally.  And I was not one of the very, very best.  I was good, though.  I won awards and stuff.  And a college scholarship.  Ask anybody.

The reason I bring all this up is that I just saw “Whiplash” with Joan and a couple of friends. As it turned out, three of the four of us had been to music school.  There are two kinds of music students: The very, very best and everybody else.  Everybody else are the ones that eventually get ground down by the machine and pitched out to find other careers as librarians or district managers or, I dunno, paralegals.  This could have led to a fascinating discussion, but all four of us were so stunned by the movie that nobody really talked about it afterward, except for saying how accurate they thought it was to his or her experience of music school. And for the record, I think it’s pretty fucking accurate.  I never had a teacher as bad as Fletcher—nobody ever hit anybody, or threw things at people, as far as I can recall--but I had plenty of instructors who did their share of yelling in people’s faces and hurling insults as fast as they could think them up. And, I mean, I could tell stories all night long.  Here’s two.  There was this one piano teacher that we called the Dragon Lady.  She had this thing about people with long nails—girls, mostly, but I knew my fair share of male guitar players with long nails on their right hands.  Anyway, if she thought your nails were too long to play the piano properly, she would chop them off.  With this pair of industrial-strength sewing scissors she kept in her purse.  I am cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die serious. And the scene where each kid got to play exactly one measure to prove they belonged in the ensemble?  That happened daily.  I saw people sent from first chair to the bottom of the section—or worse, out of the room for all time--because a reed squawked or a string broke or something, and I mean to tell you I saw it more than once. 

So why do it at all, you ask.  Why go to all the trouble and expense and take the abuse and spend four years cutting the throats of your fellow students in any way possible only to get out and start cutting throats all over again to find a job, any job, while trying to keep your own throat in one piece in the process?  I mean why does anyone do it?  Well, I’ll tell you why.  Ask a mountain climber why he climbs mountains.  Ask a paramedic what it’s like to save a life.  Ask a lawyer what it feels like to put the perfect argument to the perfect court on the perfect day and come away from it knowing not only that you won but that everything is going to change now, today and into the future, because of the words you just spoke.  The answer is that you can’t help it.  The answer is that it takes you over.  Because every now and then everything all comes together and everybody spectacularly plays the right note at the right time and the sound just detonates around you like a hydrogen bomb, and you and the group and the audience and the music all turn into one single organism, and people, if you’ve ever been there, you will know what I mean when I tell you that it’s better than drugs, it’s better than sex, it’s better than true love’s first kiss.  And once you’ve had that, all you want is more of it.  And so it’s worth all the abuse and the backstabbing and the constant sniping. 

I regret to inform you that, although I like being a paralegal and what I do is sometimes pretty cool, I have never had a moment like that at a law firm.  Nor do I ever expect to.  The best thing that ever happened to me as a paralegal is when a judge quoted one of my paragraphs from a motion in his ruling.  I had the ruling framed.  But was it the same as being at a Ground Zero detonation of sound and light and the entire meaning of the universe coalescing into one final E-major chord?  No.  It was not.  And while I personally never had a choice between staying in music school and finding something else to do with my life (they really, really don’t like it when you fail piano), I sometimes wonder if I sold out.  Gave up.  Took the easy way out, though it wasn’t easy then and it still isn’t now.  I have a steady job and a regular paycheck, which especially with my Delicate Medical Condition is probably the best possible outcome.

But still.  That whole detonation of sound thing. It’s pretty awesome.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pregnant Or Else

So let's say you think you're pregnant (or you know it for a fact, but of course you're not "really" pregnant until your doctor "says" you're pregnant, so just humor me for a second here) and you go see your doctor. He/she congratulates you all over the place and hands you a packet of literature, probably paid for by a diaper manufacturer.  Among the brochures about morning sickness and nutrition and whether or not you should drink coffee, I think there should be a flyer that says this in bold caps:  "ATTENTION LADIES: NOW THAT YOU ARE PREGNANT, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TIMELY PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING.  DO NOT HAVE A MISCARRIAGE.  DO NOT HAVE AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY.  FURTHER, DO NOT TAKE ANY DRUGS WHATSOEVER AT ALL.  DO NOT DRINK.  DO NOT SMOKE.  DO NOT BREATHE POLLUTED AIR.  DO NOT DRIVE TOO FAST OR GO SKIING.  DO NOT GO SKYDIVING OR ROCKY MOUNTAIN CLIMBING OR 2.7 SECONDS ON A BULL NAMED FU MANCHU.  UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS STATE, YOU CAN AND WILL BE PROSECUTED AND POSSIBLY JAILED FOR LIFE IF YOU FAIL TO PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING NINE MONTHS FROM TODAY, AND/OR IF THERE'S ANYTHING AT ALL WRONG WITH THE LITTLE HUMAN BEING YOU DO PRODUCE, INCLUDING A BAD ATTITUDE.  IF YOU CANNOT AGREE TO ALL OF THE FOREGOING YOU ARE ADVISED TO HAVE AN ABORTION IMMEDIATELY, EXCEPT YOU CAN'T IN THIS STATE BECAUSE WE SHUT ALL THE CLINICS DOWN.  HAVE A NICE DAY."

For the life of me, I don't get where we got this idea that pregnancy terminates a woman's civil rights.  But apparently some people think it does, including the twelve people on the jury.  I'm talking, of course, about the case of Ms. Purvi Patel, who was just simultaneously convicted of fetal homicide (killing a child in the womb) and neglect of a dependent (neglecting an alive child) in Indiana.  There's some pretty good coverage here, and also here. The first of the many, many things wrong with this case is the fact that you cannot logically both kill a child in utero and then neglect it once it's born alive.  One or the other would work, but both are impossible.  So Ms. Patel was convicted of crimes that can't exist. You'd think the prosecutors would be able to pick one, but apparently they were too busy designing the flyer to read the case facts.

I mean I could go on and on about how the medical examiner couldn't prove that the child was born alive and that Ms. Patel had no drugs in her system and how it's pretty obvious that she had a miscarriage at 28 weeks, which does happen, but as usual, That's Not The Point.  The point is that women, mainly women with brown skin with no money, are being held legally and now criminally responsible for the results of their pregnancies when there's no precedent whatever in law or in fact that we can even constitutionally do that.  And when I say women with brown skin and no money, I mean I haven't once come across a news story about a well-to-do pregnant white woman with an OxyContin or cocaine habit getting arrested or losing custody of her newborn.  Maybe it's happened, but I sure don't know about it.  And, um, I know about this stuff.  Mainly because people tweet it at me on Twitter and I Can't. Not. Read It.  It would be like driving past a car wreck without looking.  Yes, I'm sure some people do that.  I am not one of them.

So check out this story here.  A well-to-do pregnant white woman attempted suicide at seven months. She had been complaining of depression, had been vomiting several times a day, and just generally not having a good time.  In fact she had a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, an occasional complication of pregnancy, but her doctors never got around to figuring that out. They just told her to buck up and get over it.  Instead she took a huge overdose of pills.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (basically getting addicted to Mom's antidepressants in utero) and needed medical treatment. She was treated in a hospital, as the sick woman she obviously was, 

Contrast that with the story of Bei Bei Shuai, an unrich unwhite unwed Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide at eight months.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby died four days later of undetermined causes.  Bei Bei spent over a year in jail and was prosecuted for fetal homicide.  For a suicide attempt. People, if you are attempting suicide while pregnant, something is seriously wrong with you.  Did this woman ever get any treatment?  Yes.  Four days as an inpatient in the psych ward of the hospital.  From which she was arrested and taken to jail.  

 For more fun and excitement, check out the state of Tennessee, which has arrested about 130 mostly poor, mostly minority pregnant women with drug addictions on the grounds that they have "harmed" their infants (neonatal abstinence syndrome again--which, by the way, is very treatable).  Besides going to jail, most of these women have lost custody of their infants to CPS.  Now, one could point out that the Supreme Court decided (in 1962, brothers and sisters) that being addicted to drugs is not in itself a crime.  And yet, that's what these women are being arrested for.  

Look.  I want every pregnant woman everywhere to have a healthy pregnancy and a cute, wiggly healthy infant at the end of it.  I want kids not to be born addicted to drugs or harmed by substances the woman took while pregnant. I want pregnant women not to kill themselves, their fetuses or anybody else for that matter. I'm sure we all want those things, but these policies that lock up pregnant women are not the way to accomplish it.  For one thing, the policies themselves are illegal under various permutations of the right to privacy (see, e.g., 410 U.S. 113, 381 U.S. 479, 370 U.S. 660.)  For another thing, you can't be dividing people up and saying that certain behaviors are legal (or at least not jailworthy) for one class of people but illegal for another class of people. That pesky Fourteenth Amendment.  And you can't be calling CPS because a mother tests positive for a controlled substance at the time she delivers the baby.  HIPPA.  In short, you just can't do this shit.  And sooner or later a court is going to say so, therefore giving rise to a whole bunch of very expensive judgments against, say, the state of Tennessee, which last time I checked didn't have a whole lot of money to be issuing I'm-sorry payments to pregnant women. 

But besides all that, these prosecutions do one thing without exception: They keep women from getting prenatal care.  If you think your doctor is going to rat you out to law enforcement or CPS, are you going to tell him or her that you have a drug problem?  That you might be suicidal?  No.  You just won't go to the doctor.  Or if you do, you'll lie a lot.  This article talks about women having babies at home unassisted and leaving the state to give birth.  I can't imagine that's anything we want to encourage.  

Incidentally, most inpatient drug treatment programs won't take pregnant women because of the liability (stopping or tapering off drugs can be very dangerous for pregnant women; withdrawal sickness can sometimes cause miscarriage, among other things.  See above re: the consequences of miscarrying.)  The state of Tennessee has 159 inpatient drug treatment centers.  All of 15 of them accept pregnant women.  In light of the obvious "babies born addicted epidemic" that lawmakers are so certain is happening, I'm sure that's plenty.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Under The Rocket's Red Glare

The other night, Joan and I went to a classical music concert.  Well, technically I guess it was a romantic-modernist music concert, if you understand that the romantic period in classical music began in the 1830s and died about 1940, and everything after that is modernism.  (Otherwise we'd be in post-post-post modernism by now, and that could get confusing).  Anyway, the ensemble is called The Dallas Winds, and they're pretty amazing.  At least, I think they are.  Another thing about romantic-modernist music; sometimes it fails to sound like music and just sounds like--sound.

But they seemed like they knew what they were doing, so I'm going to just say they were pretty amazing.  They get paid for this, after all.  To get paid for playing an instrument--any kind of orchestral instrument--you have to be pretty amazing.  There's only so many jobs, and all of them are filled, and the music schools churn out new kids every year, all young and eager and out for blood, and you have to sort of wait for someone to die to get a chance to audition for one, and if you ever wondered why clarinet players turn up dead at such an alarming rate, well, now you know.

Incidentally, and this actually does bear on what I'm going to tell you, Joan's been having a lot of trouble with her knee.  The one she had the surgery on back in 2009.  It's got permanent arthritis in it now, there's not a whole lot anybody can do about it apart from replacing the knee, which is just Right Out, and some days she just sort of limps around with a cane and hopes she doesn't have to stand up too fast, or without help.  Naturally, the day of the concert was one of those days. I dropped her off in front of the venue and went to park the car, then walked back through a maze of twisting streets, positive I'd lost the car for all time.  Turned out I'd also dropped her off in front of the wrong venue, so she'd had to walk down to the right venue, with the cane, and--yeah.  This evening was not starting off well.

But we got inside, and we had pretty good seats right near the stage, and the seats were comfortable and kind of fuzzy.  Upon sinking into hers, Joan said, "I hope you're going to help me up."  Yeah, sometimes if the seats are too low it's hard for her to struggle back out of it again.

Which was just about the time that the wind ensemble struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner."  Of course.  We're in Texas; it's probably a state law that every concert starts with "The Star-Spangled Banner." And by this time, all the other seats around us were filled in, so in order to get over to where I could pull Joan up out of her seat, two or three people would have had to move.  So Joan didn't stand up for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Which I didn't think was a problem at the time.  I mean, it's probably not a state law that you have to stand up for "The Star-Spangled Banner" if you can't get up.

Unfortunately, there was this guy behind us.  I think you know the type.  Old and loud.  Well, in his seventies, anyway, and he'd been expounding at a pretty high volume about a number of things before the concert started.  Of course he was right behind us.  And of course he took issue with Joan not standing up.  And of course he had to yell, loud enough to be heard over very loud music, "What's the matter with you?  Won't you stand up for your country?"

Or words to that effect.  And Joan said, "I can't."  And he didn't hear her, of course, what with the shouting and the music, so I stuck my head between them and said, "She can't stand up without help, sir."  And he grunted something that I'm sure wasn't terribly complimentary, and by then the song was over and we all got to sit down.  And so the concert started.  And I miss most of the first piece because I'm wondering how I'm going to get Joan out of her chair now.  If she manages to get on her feet without help, am I going to have to lean over and explain to this guy about her arthritis and the cane and so on?  Is that any of his business?  Or should I just let him yell, "Oh hey, you can stand up now..."

Well, as it turned out, he didn't.  We snuck out early and missed the last piece (by some guy named Hindemith).  But really, the whole thing was kind of disturbing.  I can't imagine that anybody in a wheelchair ever gets asked why they aren't standing up for "The Star-Spangled Banner."  Or anybody with crutches for that matter.  But a cane--well, it's not very noticeable, I guess.  And the whole thing got me thinking about people with invisible disabilities.  Take, for example, people with disabled placards in their cars.  Not all of them are obviously disabled.  Some of them look perfectly fine, but they probably have something wrong with them that you can't see.  Nerve pain, maybe, or multiple sclerosis.  And they have trouble getting around.  You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get those placards, figuratively speaking (if memory serves, they didn't want to give Joan's mom one because she didn't have a driver's license and therefore, according to logic, never got in a car.  I guess it didn't occur to anybody at the DMV that somebody else might pick her up and take her somewhere once in a while.)

Take people who are mentally ill.  You may not be able to tell who they are, because they look just like everybody else, but there are some people who have a lot more trouble getting through the day than the rest of us.  They probably don't have disabled placards, but some of them have mornings where they can't get up and nights when they can't get to sleep.  They may have wildly fluctuating energy levels and some days they just hide in the house because they can't cope with the human race.  I don't think most of y'all would yell at someone for not standing up for "The Star-Spangled Banner."  Well, maybe you shouldn't give somebody a hard time and call him or her lazy if he can't make it in to work today.  Maybe that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway, I'm sure there are classical concerts that don't involve having to disclose your entire medical history to a complete stranger.  And I'm sure we'll go back for one of those.