This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, July 24, 2016

That's show biz

One of my theater profs, back when I was majoring in something even more useless than English, told story about Ed Wynn. Ed Wynn was an old man in the twilight of his career. He'd started out in vaudeville, made a name in Hollywood, but these days it was mostly television and voice acting. One day he was invited to give a lecture to a bunch of young theater students and during the break, he gave them a rare treat - with the grace and agility of a much younger man, he performed one of the physical comedy routines on which he'd built his name. He played a man trying, and failing, to climb a free-standing ladder - up a few steps and back down, climbing and sliding and falling as the students laughed and clapped. When he finished, one student noticed that Wynn was crying. When asked why, Wynn replied that the routine only worked if the audience believed his sorrow.
That story is almost certainly made up, but the message behind it rings true: the things that capture audiences the most are the things that come from artists' deepest pain. Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole, just a few months after he severed his ear in a violent psychotic break.
Ludwig van Beethoven's string quartet number 15 was inspired by the month he spent bedridden by disease in 1825. Though not an old man, he must have known, by his ever more declining health, that he was reaching the end of his life. He was deaf, in pain, and probably a fairly severe alcoholic by then. The piece marks the triumph of his recovery, but is among the last he wrote - he died, slowly and painfully, two years later.


I've just read Lindy West's Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which I plan to write more about soon. In one chapter, she writes about her father, saying "I sometimes told people my dad reminded me of Robin Williams, and they would assume I meant the drive to entertain... but really it was that ever-present Pig Pen cloud of kind-eyed sadness." It's funny - there were performances of Williams' - his stand-up in particular - that I simply couldn't stand to watch. All I could see in him was this impossibly infinite well of sadness boiling over into some manic purge - words that brought abject joy to everyone except the one saying them. I could not understand how other people didn't see it - I could not understand how other people could laugh at someone so obviously in agony. Now I know the only reason I could see it was because I was just the same. 
I tell people Springsteen's been my favorite musician since I was five, but that's probably not entirely accurate. The truth is, I don't remember ever not loving him. I've loved Bruce since the first time my sister put on one of his records for me. So many of his songs are so big, so joyful, but he once said that his career has been driven by "pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred." Bruce has been really forthcoming in recent years about the depression he's lived with all his life - he's been in treatment for the disease for the past 30 years. I used to kind of wonder what drove a kid like me to worship this old man who sang about cars and sex and working for the man, and other stuff I wouldn't understand for decades. But I think that somehow that piece of him reached out to that piece of me - that little germ of madness that would grow one day into pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred. I think that's why he's been a light for me in my darkest times.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 1

This is the first time I've started a first day of school, far as I can remember, without a torrential downpour of tears. The first time I get to see a college campus through something other than a crippling haze of anxiety. It's not entirely fair to say that my faulty brain wiring is what cheated me out of enjoying school - there was plenty of faulty decision making going on there as well. But I'm just so grateful to get to see college with sane eyes. Relatively. 



Saturday, July 9, 2016

Black and blue

Black Lives Matter protesters say that before the shooting started, before the massacre that left five officers dead, police and protesters were laughing and talking, shaking hands and snapping selfies. Police weren't wearing riot gear, and, as Eugene Robinson put it in a Washington Post article, "there was anger, but no rel tension. Certainly there was no sense of danger." 
That was no accident. Ever since David O Brown took over as chief of police in Dallas in 2010, the city had been proactively working to correct the relationship between police and the community - had taken big, bold steps away from the city's racist past. While other police forces defended indefensible violence against minorities, Dallas police officers underwent extensive training in nonviolent crisis intervention, as well as crisis prevention. The Dallas police force is one of the most transparent in the country. In 2012, there were about two dozen police shootings; in 2015, there were less than a dozen. Seven months into 2016, there had been only one police shooting. 
Leonard Pitts, Jr. writing in the Miami Herald had this to say about the violence:
The usual voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.
But that argument flies directly in the face of what the DPD has worked so hard for over the last six years. The DPD has been striving to prove that police can do better to respect the lives of the people they serve and protect, that the community and the police can have dialogue, cooperation, and mutual respect. Those brave DPD police officers, those who died and those who live, flew right into the line of fire to protect those protesters, to prove that black lives do matter.
Within hours of the vicious attack, videos and other accounts began appearing online of police getting protesters to safety before running right back toward the gunfire. Pictures show police officers and protesters standing together to shield small children. Those cops died proving that we are so much more than us and them, that what unites us can be so much bigger than what divides us. 
Brent Thompson, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, and Patrick Zamarripa gave their lives to protect and serve their community. Obviously, nothing we can do, no amount of money can truly repay them for their sacrifice, but if you want to help the officers and their families, you can donate to Assist the Officer. Since Brent Thompson was a DART officer and not a DPD officer, you might consider a separate donation to the GoFundMe account his employers set up for his family. I hope that the BLM movement rallies behind the DPD. I really hope that we all do. 
In Leonard Pitts' Miami Herald article, he quotes Bobby Kennedy in a speech he made just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
In honor of the fallen DPD officers, and in honor of the too many lives lost to this conflict, let us make this a turning point. Let us make this the event that inspires us to unite instead of factionalize, to embrace love instead of fear, to be one as Americans. It can be done. The DPD and the BLM movement have been working to prove it. Let's all do the same.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Justice for all

Imagine you live in a town of about a thousand people, where about a hundred and thirty of the residents are your relatives. Your family's got a long and bitter history with the local police, and while things have gotten better, maybe, you still know that your family's more likely to be stopped by cops, be searched by cops, be arrested by cops, be killed by cops, than people outside your family, even if they were committing the same crime.
Imagine one day your uncle gets killed by a cop. Your uncle wasn't a perfect man, he committed some crimes. But on the day he died was guilty of a tiny, non-violent misdemeanor. Some guy took a video of your uncle's last moments on earth as he begged for breath, a cop crushing the life from him using an illegal choke hold.
Imagine not even a month later your own brother gets killed by the cops. You grew up with him, you loved him. You sat by his side while you got The Talk from your mom - always be polite, don't run, keep your hands in sight. Your brother didn't have time to do any of that as he stood inside of a suburban shopping center, talking on the phone to his mom, holding a toy gun he'd picked up off the shelf. You watched your brother die in a grainy security camera video, saw how he didn't even have a moment to react to the cops' arrival before they opened fire and shot your brother dead. Your mom listened to his last fading breaths over the cell phone. Cops detained and verbally abused your brothers girlfriend for hours. Those cops didn't even get a slap on the wrist.
Imagine your cousin gets shot for stealing some cigars, and imagine a whole lot of witnesses say the cop who shot him wasn't telling the whole truth. Imagine they left his lifeless body in the street like garbage, like a warning to others, not even allowed the dignity of a sheet or a body bag. Imagine his mother, your aunt, standing on the perimeter, not allowed to see her boy, not sure it even was her boy until she saw a picture on some gawker's phone. 
Imagine your unarmed niece's head split open on the pavement. Imagine your nephew getting shot when cops mistook a pill bottle for a gun. Imagine your god father getting shot in the back as he fled from an officer. And imagine all this time people are coming up with the most outlandish excuses for the cops who treated your relatives like their lives didn't matter. 
Now imagine your son's out playing in a park. You told him not to take that BB gun to the park, but he's 11 and a knuckle-head. The cops give him two seconds to comply before they shoot him dead. One heartbeat he's playing with a toy gun and he's got two heartbeats left to live. The media, the country says your son deserved to die for brandishing a toy. Imagine your little girl sitting handcuffed in a cop car staring at the dead body of her brother laid out like roadkill, like a warning to others. Imagine the media saying your baby boy's death is your fault because you let him have the very same BB gun a million other boys his age have. Your baby boy came out of you, he nursed from you. You walked the floors all night with him while he was teething, you celebrated the As on his report card. You did everything, sacrificed everything so he could have a happy life and a cop - who had been deemed unfit for duty by his previous employer - took it all away in two heartbeats.
Imagine that white America doesn't just refuse to see, doesn't just refuse to act, they say it's your whole family's own fault - because some of your family members are deadbeat dads and a couple of your family members are criminals. Imagine white Americans shrieking about how their lives matter too, white Americans who never got The Talk, who can almost always count on cops to be a force for good, to save the day. Imagine white America accusing your family of hate speech when they dare to speak up against this violence. Imagine their moral outrage as they sign a petition trying to get a guy fired for saying that black lives matter. Even as your sister broadcasts her husband's murder at the hands of cops live over Facebook and white America scrambles to explain why it's okay for a cop to shoot a black man who put his hands up and offered up the information that he had a legally obtained firearm and legal permission to carry it. 
We white folks can imagine, but we'll never truly understand what it is to live in brown skin, but we should damn well try. 

Please check out Campaign Zero, who are trying to fix the problem on every front - from demanding better training for officers, ending stop-and-frisk, demilitarizing, and more.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

As promised: The truth about The Truth About Cancer

In online discussions of the evils of Big Pharma, a documentary series called The Truth About Cancer comes up frequently. The Truth About Cancer is a documentary series in which Ty Bollinger talks to alternative cancer practitioners about the conspiracy to keep the truth about natural cancer cures from the public.
The logical bottom line of the series is this: there is a conspiracy to hide "natural" cancer cures, even though the cures are safer and more effective, because medical science cannot make money from natural cures. It's a tempting theory, but if you dissect it logically, it starts to fall apart.
Proponents of natural cures claim that Mother Nature is always better for curing what ailsyou. I get this; I really do. When managing my various health woes, I always try the natural stuff before I go to the pharmaceuticals, provided there's actual evidence that the natural stuff can work. But the notion that the more natural option is always safer is pure fallacy. The Plague is all natural, and it killed half of Europe. Ebola's natural. You know what else is natural? Cancer. Cancer has been around as long as people have, and although prescription medications are responsible for 1% of cancer cases, the biggest offender by far is all natural, fresh from the farm tobacco. Sunlight causes cancer, genetic predispositions cause cancer, viruses cause cancer, and all of these things are all natural. So it is simply not logical to conclude that natural is better. 
I wrote a post some years ago about a doctor named Linus Pauling who thought he'd found the cure to cancer in vitamin C. The research was promising, but didn't stand up to scientific rigor. In The Truth About Cancer, Pauling's disciples claim that the research was covered up because Big Pharma couldn't profit off of it. But Big Pharma does profit from vitamins, and not just because most of the big drug companies also have vitamin brands (like, Wyeth, who make Centrum, for example).
Take retinol. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that the body makes naturally, but when synthesized in a lab and delivered in large doses, it has a number of therapeutic effects. Like treating cancer. Endo Pharmaceuticals makes Nascobol, a form of vitamin B that treats anemia, and tons of drug companies make vitamin D supplements for stuff like rickets. Big Pharma can, and does, make money from vitamins and such.
The fact is that this David and Goliath narrative that The Truth About Cancer sells is nonsense. The cancer industry may be worth billions, but so is the natural supplement industry. And they don't have the pesky overhead of having to prove their products work. Thanks to an incredibly powerful lobby, not only do supplement and natural remedy manufacturers not have to prove to the FDA that their products work, they don't even always have to prove that their products don't kill people.
The makers of The Truth About Cancer claim that oncologists are motivated by greed, that they get kickbacks for prescribing their death drugs. But ironically, the gurus featured in the documentary series are very rich men who almost certainly make a hell of a lot more money than the $300,000 an oncologist makes every year. Mike "Health Ranger" Adams makes probably millions plugging thoroughly disproved disease cures (like homeopathy for freaking Ebola), accusing the FBI of conducting mass killings, and claiming that the government is planning gunpoint quarantines of the un-vaccinated (yes literally). 
Another expert featured in the documentary series is Joe Mercola who makes millions a year selling supplements, despite his website, Mercola.com, having an F rating from the BBB. Among the products for sale on his site: a $10,000 contraption that vibrates to absolutely not give you a total body workout, $300 blankets that are absolutely not "naturally thermoregulated," and a god-damn-will-straight-up-kill-you-dead tanning bed.
As for host Ty Bollinger? I tried to find out his net worth and I simply couldn't. His website makes it seem as if proceeds from his books and videos go to cancer charities, but TTAC LLC, the company that owns the site, is for-profit. They do, according to their own press, donate to some charities, but none, as far as I can tell, are tracked by any charity rating site or are registered with the BBB. I couldn't find financial information about these charities - some don't even have websites. And I'm out of my depth. I don't know how to investigate businesses or follow money trails, but it is deeply suspicious that I shouldn't have to. In a world where I can find out the net worth of any major business or charity's CEO with a simple Google search, how come I can't find anything on this guy?
Oncologists on the other hand? Like I said, they make about $300,000 a year, which is a lot of money, but doesn't even crack the top ten highest paid medical specialties. Yes, there are horrible, greedy people in every profession, but I have an extremely hard time imagining why a horrible, greedy person would choose to specialize in oncology. Not when specialties like plastic surgery and dermatology make a hell of a lot more and are a hell of a lot less depressing. 
The Truth About Cancer accuses doctors of being in the business of death - of letting patients die for fun and profit. But the people propagating that message are profiting a hell of a lot more. And while Ty Bollinger and the "experts" he interviews have little, if any real education, oncologists go to school for the better part of a decade, and keep on going to classes and conferences and reading literature to keep up on the latest developments. They took an oath to dedicate their lives to the care of others, and they spend their every day surrounded by the sick and dying. I'm not saying they're all saints, but I am saying that they aren't the ones looking like the villains here. 

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