Friday, December 28, 2007

you can't see the thin air

I had a medical appointment today. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be a referral for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so I went in all ready to explain that techniques for correcting irrational beliefs in order to improve one's outlook on life are all well and good, but if my beliefs are rational CBT isn't going to be helpful. I firmly believe that my expectation that my health is not going to significantly improve in the future is realistic, and furthermore, that accepting this hard truth is more helpful and healthy than continuing to deny it in the hope that positive thinking will magically cure me.

Turns out this referral wasn't actually for CBT, it was for drugs. The doctor I saw wasn't at all interested in hearing about my memory, concentration, or comprehension problems, and she wasn't at all interested in my history of extremely bad reactions to ridiculously low doses of various medications. What she was interested in was writing me a prescription for Prozac.

I'm not excited about the prospect of taking Prozac, although I agreed to it, of course; I don't ever feel comfortable not agreeing to a suggested course of treatment, because I'm very afraid that if I am ever the least bit non-compliant, for ever after every doctor will point to it and say "Well, it's too bad you didn't agree to this treatment, or you'd be well now. It's your fault you're ill." I'm not sure how rational this fear is, although it has some basis in how I was treated in the Army. Anyway, taking Prozac isn't that big a deal. I am fairly certain it will make me ill just like Effexor did, and I will vomit for a few days, lay about in bed feeling like I'm dying and then I'll recover and not take it anymore. I just wish that I could hurry up and get past the phase of treatment where doctors insist that making me more ill is the best way to treat me.

When going through my medical history with this most recent doctor, we discussed previous medications' lack of benefit on the pain relieving front. She was concerned that I may not be taking medication with the right attitude; her worry is that my cynicism is actually preventing the medication from working like it's supposed to, causing medications that would otherwise relieve my pain to do nothing.

This philosophy that attributes supernatural powers to my emotions is, I think, the worst thing about going to the doctor. I'm not a religious person, nor am I superstitious. I let go of my childhood faith when I could no longer convince myself to pretend to believe in a gigantic Santa in the sky causing good things to happen to good people and bad things to happen to the bad; I couldn't even believe in fate. Things happen because they are caused to happen by real things that exist in the real world, not because you wish they would happen, or pray for them to happen, or believe that they will happen, or deserve for them to happen. This is true of disasters and good fortune alike, and it's true whether I like it or not. It's also true whether you like it or not, which is why mostly I don't give a crap what other people believe about the world. I recognize that there is a human inclination to assign causation to things, and as this seems to be a fairly universal trait (that even I haven't missed out on) I might as well accept it.

It does get to be a problem, though, when it interferes with my health care. I wish I knew how to change things.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Whenever someone asks me how I am, I am reluctant to lie and say that I am doing well, but I am also reluctant to lay bare the truth; I am afraid if I mention constantly how much pain I am in, people will see me as nothing but a whining hypochondriac. So in order to keep people asking me how I am, I don't tell them how I am. Instead, I tell them that I'm cold. It communicates that I am clearly miserable, and yet it's not so negative that no one wants to hear about it. In fact, in the current situation it's interpreted as a reaction to my first winter in the Midwest, and so people are eager to tell me all about how cold its been and how to stay warm and about their thyroid problem that made them always cold.

However, for Christmas this year, I got: a sweater, a down coat, slippers, a hat-glove-scarf set, long underwear, and the most fabulous electric blanket.

I'm going to need a new strategy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-W.B. Yeats

the Evil Hermit

It's 3am Christmas Eve, and I'm sitting awake contemplating the merits of consuming large quantities of energy drinks and coffee tomorrow so that on Christmas morning I will be vomiting my guts out. I wouldn't have to go out and be cozy with people whose names I can't remember. I wouldn't have to smile and nod and say "thank you" when people give me things I don't want and pretend like I feel like family. I could stay home in bed alone, ill but at peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation—it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages—all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers—yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders—everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn’t they?

They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered.

They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket—that and nothing else.

- "War is a Racket", Major General Smedley Butler, 1935

Monday, December 17, 2007

Too scattered to blog, but I thought I'd preserve this link. It's a good post: You Don't Have to Be Pretty.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Til we crack the code

Mitt Romney gave a speech today somewhere in Texas, purportedly to rescue his campaign from the rise of Mike Huckabee, who is a Southern Baptist preacher. Romney is, of course, a Mormon, and he gave this speech hoping to calm fears about his religion among the evangelical base. I remember, when I was young, seeing books and pamphlets and videos that warned of the Evil Cult of Mormonism and equated it with Satanism and the Heaven's Gate cult (I really think that in some ways Heaven's Gate was preferred, as at least they had the decency to off themselves and save Good Christians the trouble), and so it amazes me that he thinks he ever had a chance of getting elected in 2008. The idea of the fundies being forced to choose between the Evil Cultist and Hitlery is amusing, but I really think they would mostly just stay home instead of voting.

Religion is a terribly political issue in this election, right up there with gender and probably more so than race. I've seen people freaking out because Obama's middle name is Hussein, which means he's a Muslim, never mind that he's a member of the United Church of Christ (I think). I've read at least three or four different articles about how the Democrats, those filthy atheists, have suddenly discovered the religious voter. Issues are cast in religious terms; even global warming is 'stewardship of the earth,' health care laws are moral because Jesus said to take care of the poor, and of course the War on Terror is an apocalyptic battle between Islam and Christianity.

While I've known enough religious people who are genuinely good to believe that religion in the public square is not necessarily pernicious, I think that it often can be. Christianity in the form of modern evangelical millenialism has influenced American public policy in subtle ways; I think it was at least partially responsible for the invasion of Iraq, it is certainly responsible for our support of Israel's rights over the rights of other countries and peoples, and it's responsible for things like abstinence-only sex ed and reduction in government support for contraception. Religion can be very very harmful.

Which is why it irritates me that the current electoral climate requires Presidential candidates to say things like this:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

like Romney did today, in order to reassure voters that they're electable.

Contrast this with someone who did, in fact, get elected to the Presidency of the United States:

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

(Ok, so maybe "elected to the Presidency" is a simplification, but he was Vice President and then President and, of course, wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a genuine Founding Father, and so maybe he ranks a little higher than Mr. Romney in the conservative hierarchy of political thought.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Torture and Blubber

While looking for the quote in the post below, I spent a fair amount of time browsing quotes from Kurt Vonnegut's books, as I was under the mistaken impression that the neon-tubes in the forehead idea was Vonnegut's. This is actually one of my more reasonable recent memory glitches; I mean, really, that sounds like something Vonnegut would write.

Anyway, I found this interesting little essay written by Vonnegut in 1971, titled "Torture and Blubber", which apparently was published in the New York Times. It was written about the war in Vietnam, but it applies to the war in Iraq equally well. A few gems from the piece:

I am sorry we tried torture, I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we will never try torture again. It doesn’t work. Human beings are stubborn and brave animals everywhere. They can endure amazing amounts of pain, if they have to.

The American armada to Indochina has been as narrow-minded and futile as the Spanish Armada to England was, though effectively more cruel. Only 27,000 men were involved in the Spanish fiasco. We are said to have more dope addicts than that in Vietnam. Hail, Victory.

Never mind who the American equivalent of Spain’s Philip II was. Never mind who lied. Everybody should shut up for a while. Let there be deathly silence as our armada sails home.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"And don't tell me God works in mysterious ways," Yossarian continued, hurtling on over her objection. "There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else, He's forgotten all about us. That's the kind of God you people talk about - a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a supreme being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when he robbed old people of their power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?"

"Pain?" Lieutenant Schiesskopf's wife pounced upon the word victoriously. "Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us about bodily dangers."

"And who created the dangers?" Yossarian demanded, He laughed caustically. "Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! Why couldn't He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead? Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn't He?

"People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the middle of their foreheads.

"They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupified with morphine, don't they? What a colossal, immortal blunderer!"

-Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Monday, December 03, 2007

Social Safety Nets in Action

Gary Farber is just some guy. I don't really know him; he has a blog, but I don't read it, and he comments on Obsidian Wings, which I read, and maybe a few other places but I've never really talked to him. He has health problems that keep him from working, that have kept him from working much for years and years; because he's been ill for so long, he doesn't have enough credits in the Social Security system, and so he is not eligible for Social Security Disability. He's applying for SSI, which he's been denied and is appealing, but even if he does get approved for that, the maximum amount he's eligible for is $623/month. It's been a year since he applied, and best case scenario is it'll be another year before he knows if he's eligible or not for any aid.

In political circles, people talk about welfare like it's easy to get on, and once you get on you're set because the government pays for everything you need. In reality, if you're poor and ill in America, the government would really rather you just lay down and died. I am not sure if its really true that society has some sort of obligation to the weak and ill and poor. If there is no obligation to help your neighbor, what's the point of society? But I'm hesitant to say there is an obligation, that anyone is owed anything. Prescriptions for the behavior of others are always dangerous.

However, even if it isn't necessarily morally wrong not to help those who genuinely need it, it would still be neat if we could figure out a way to structure society so that the ill, the disabled, and the needy were treated with dignity and respect, and were provided for when they can't provide for themselves. The only other options are what Gary is facing: eviction, hunger, medical needs going unmet, homeless in the winter in Colorado, death by freezing under a bridge somewhere. Maybe there is no moral obligation for society as a whole to help the people who face these things, but it would sure be nice.

And it's not like anyone reads this thing, but still, Gary has a set up for donations and subscriptions to his blog so that maybe he can keep living indoors.

Also on the social justice front, a Lt. in the US Army, Elizabeth Whiteside, is being court-martialed for attempting suicide while in Iraq. Its a complicated story- what suicide attempt isn't- but the bare details are these: she was in charge of a trauma team in Iraq, working nonstop in the middle of the results of war; she became more and more depressed about the situation, which included a senior male officer who harassed his female coworkers and subordinates; she regularly received very high marks on performance evaluations and was loved by the team she led in Iraq; she had a dissociative panic-attack-type episode and shot herself in the abdomen, but hurt no one else; charges against her include "wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service;" if convicted, she may be put in prison for life and will absolutely be ineligible for any kind of veteran's benefits, including physical and mental health services.

This unhealthy impulse to blame victims for their circumstances in order to deny them any help scares me. I don't want to live in a world that is so heartless and difficult, and I don't understand the people who work to make things this way. I mean, I get that if you have compassion for someone, that means empathy creeps in, which means you start to imagine what life would be like for you if you were in that situation, but I don't understand the depth of cowardice that refuses to face that fear and instead chooses to deny all possibility that disaster could befall Our Kind of People.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Its just as cold and dreary as it looks.


Hairy-legged bra burner

Walking about with bare legs while warm air blows through the house from the heat vents is an incredibly different experience when one's legs are covered in hair. The sensation does tend toward the creepy-crawly, but it's mild enough that I have yet to experience it as pain, and after much thought I have to say I kind of enjoy it. Being able to feel the air currents with your legs is neat, and its still so unexpectedly noticeable a feeling that it resets my expectations about life.

Not shaving my legs is one of the things that has led me to re-think feminism. I don't remember ever calling myself a feminist seriously, although of course I believe women are equal with men in all important ways; I grew up knowing that I was perfectly brilliant enough to do anything I wanted to do, and it never occurred to me that anyone would think my gender had anything to do with that. Although I did encounter people who believed that a woman's place is in the kitchen, this idea was completely foreign to how I viewed myself and the world, and so I never took them very seriously. They were infuriating, but it was so clear to me that they were wrong that I never invested much time in the philosophical objections to their point of view.

Ceasing to shave one's legs, though, is for some reason almost a capital crime in this patriarchy-influenced world, and nevermind that I did it mostly to reduce the amount of pain in my morning routine, the reactions that otherwise rational people have had to my decision to do this have drawn me to feminism. I've started reading a selection of feminist blogs on a daily basis (Echidne of the Snakes, Figleaf, Shakesville, and Feministing among others); I came across this article in the New Statesman, entitled Is feminism dead? via Figleaf, although it was written by one of the contributors to Feministing, Courtney Martin. Martin's description of feminism is one that I can really get behind, particularly this part:

Radical authenticity: This facet of feminism gets talked about far too little in my opinion. A visionary twenty-first century feminism should aim to support both men and women to be their most authentic selves in the world, shedding prescribed gender roles and really getting in touch with their authentic desires, passions, and ethics. Feminist workplaces, for example, would nurture both men and women having present relationships with their children and fulfilling work lives. Men should be empowered to express a complex range of emotions, just as women must learn how to handle conflict healthily and assertively and take care of themselves, not just everyone else.

Figleaf's commentary on what feminism means for men has also been great; as a man, he focuses more on how anti-feminist worldviews hurt men. Which maybe reveals something about me, that I think including men in feminism is a big priority, but really his feminism is humanism, concerned with everyone's happiness, which I think is something to strive for. Like he says, "radical authenticity and not some kind of made-up crap about how women are just life-support systems for pussies and men are just wallets with feet" leads to more satisfaction with life for everyone. Changing our cultural story about gender is not a zero-sum game where women gain at the expense of men; we can all gain.

I'm still not sure I'd call myself a feminist, at least not primarily. Feminism intersects with a lot of things in my life, not just civil rights causes like disabled rights but also my personal search for who and what I am, now, what my life should be and what is most worth doing when the resources I have are so limited. I've always tended to the philosophical, but lately I've been forced to become a little monk, not really able to move and so I do nothing but sit and think. The feminist paradigm is an interesting one, and it rings more true the more I learn about it, but I'd rather have a term that includes feminism as part of a comprehensive human rights worldview. I suppose humanism might the term, but I don't know. Maybe there isn't a term like this yet, but there ought to be.