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Friday, July 31, 2020

Johnny Thunders May Have Had A Substance Abuse Issue (Half Summer Check-In 2020)

A few things I've learned and have had confirmed over the half of the summer(1) that technically isn't really a "half-summer". 
  • Adrift:  As a nation, we are sadly adrift morally, ethically, and politically.  We have a good third of voters who basically feel that there is no set of standards by which to hold elected officials.  None.  These folks will continue to blindly follow a leader no matter what he tweets.  Many also view needless cruelty as now being somehow a virtue (along with serial marriage, vanity, and business bankruptcy), to be emulated.  If we don't hold a president to a basic set of standards of conduct (i.e., no rage tweeting, no name-calling, no bearing false witness against others, no pushing conspiracy theories as facts), then how can we hold anyone else accountable?  We're currently in a race to the bottom, and there will be no winner.
  • Conduct:  I don't want police officers killing people needlessly and with no accountability.  I don't want protesters to burn down businesses within their own communities. The solution to the former is actually pretty simple in my book...the police must never be in a position whereby they have sole authority to investigate themselves.  There needs to be a non-partisan, non-political, non-labor focused vehicle for civilian police oversight.  Going back to my first sentence, the good cops deserve this, and if we do the former well, it's likely that it will help the latter.
  • Re-Fund the Police:  I don't want the police de-funded.  Instead, I want their funding moved away from military purposes and towards helping people.  I think that's actually what the vast majority of police officers actually want to do as well, by the way...namely to actually help others.  As an example, many police forces have military-style "SWAT" teams; maybe we need less of that and more people & training designed to help those in a mental health crisis.
  • Racism:  There is systemic racism in this country, and I am not sure that will ever change.  You can see this in the many Confederate tropes are still glorified in the United States (ref. HERE).  This noted, the solution to it is to not deny its existence, as the Attorney General recently did during Congressional testimony (ref. HERE).  I view racism as being a blanket problem that can probably only be solved one person at a time.
  • Economy:  Nowhere is the out-of-touch nature of our federal government more on display than when it comes to current economic conditions.  The current debate about how some folks may be making more money by not working (between unemployment compensation & a temporary federal subsidy) than actually having a job is a great example.  If you take that idea at face value, does it not beg the following question - Doesn't this mean that we don't economically value work enough?  Maybe the solution here isn't to reduce the helping hand provided during the time of a crisis but instead focus on actually increasing the economic value of work in our economy.  Put another way, it's not that the subsidies are too's that the pay is too low.
These are not fun times, by any stretch.  Maybe, ten years from now when I look back at this posting(2), this will be the bottom of a kind of curve that will start swinging upward in the not too distant future.

We are all in the world, by the way, so none us escape the kinds of things that are noted above.  In fact, they are a kind of background for our main gig, namely our lives.  Here's where my "main gig" stands.
  • surprisingly hard for me these days, much more so than at any other point in my life.
  • Reading...ditto on reading, at least as it applies to books.  I think it's a case of over-compensation in my own head, whereby I feel the need to be constantly "productive", and I don't always value reading for pleasure through that lens.
  • Job...I'm still in job search mode, and saying that this is a "difficult time to be looking for a job" is like saying "Johnny Thunders(3) may have had a substance abuse issue".   
  • Health...physically I'm doing okay, although spending 2 hours a day during 90-degree weather working outside probably isn't always the best of ideas.  My personal goal is to fight the very idea of getting physically older for as long as possible.  Mentally?  Not working creates a mental conflict for me in the sense that I feel a need to always be productive.  As it stands, I'm still too young to retire, and I've personally invested so much in my professional life to date (for example, the time, effort and money required to earn a Masters degree) that it doesn't make sense to just say "to heck with it, I'm going to work in a QuickieMart"...not that there is anything inherently wrong with working in a QuickieMart.  My only to just persevere on, knowing that something will happen career-wise.  
On that note, it's time to wrap this posting up.  Here's to the balance of the summer of 2020 being a bit less dramatic for all of us.

* * * * * *

(1) As kids, we all experienced this:  Summer started when schools let out, and by the time late August came around, it was more or less time to start thinking about the school year starting again.  Hence, mid/late July = Half Summer.

(2) Not so far fetched, as I've been writing this blog since October, 2008.

(3) Former lead guitarist for the punk bank The New York Dolls.

Friday, July 17, 2020

COVID-19, July 2020

So here we are, several months after the start of the pandemic, and where do we find ourselves?  There is far better and insightful stuff written on this topic, so I'm probably not going to add much to the conversation.  That noted I'm going to try.  Here are two things that are pinging around in my head related to these days we all find ourselves in:
  • The Politicization of a Pandemic
  • How COVID-19 is harming mental health
On to the stuff.


My intent is not to make this an overly political posting...there will be time for that as we get closer to November...but one basic fact strikes me about the current administration's approach to the pandemic:  They treat it primarily as a political, rather than a medical, problem.

Let that sink in and then ask yourself how many times the current administration has released commentary supposedly about the pandemic but which actually seemed more about things other than the health of Americans?  Yes, we all want a thriving economy.  Yes, we all understand that unemployment creates a tremendous amount of stress for folks (I can personally testify to that fact).  Yes, kids learn best actually in school, and I mourn for those kids who need extra help in school but will likely not get it because of COVID-19.  But consider, for example, that it was only a few days ago from the writing of this posting when the president was publicly shown wearing a mask (thank God, as he was at Walter Reed Medical Center).  Couple that with the legion of comments he has made over the past few months about how the pandemic was going to disappear very soon and you get a distinct impression that actual fact-based medical concerns are not driving public policy.

No more is this self-evident than the president actually re-tweeting a one-time game-show host spewing conspiracy theories about COVID-19.  Not an epidemiologist.  Not a micro-biologist.  A game-show host.  You can link to that HERE, as I'm not going to give it any of my space.  Again, let that sink in:  The president is actually taking the word of a game-show host over that of medical and scientific experts at the Centers for Disease Control (reference HERE).

All of this is even more remarkable when you consider that the first non-politician president in a very long time is probably the most politically focused president in my lifetime. Nixon's obsessions about his re-election have nothing on this guy.

Lastly, the best example of the sum of these actions has been the refusal of some on religious and/or supposed freedom grounds to wear a mask while in an enclosed public place.  I've personally witnessed confrontations in stores about this very topic.  It takes all of my self-control to not walk up to someone not wearing a mask and ask them the last time they fought against the tyranny of having to wear a shirt or shoes while in a grocery store.  And that comes from someone, me, who has asthma.

Here's my sad prediction:  As long as White House decisions about COVID-19 continue to be driven by politics and political optics geared towards the president's "base", rather than the actual health of all Americans, we will continue to see cases roller-coaster across the country.

I was talking to my wife about how many obituaries there seem to be for younger people these days.  Maybe that's not supported by actual data, but it seems to be the case as I observe it.  That conversation then went down the road of how difficult these times can be for those who are already struggling with their mental health.  It's a kind of parallel health crisis track that doesn't seem to be getting much in the way of press.  Call us, as a culture, consistent though in that actually talking about mental health isn't something we do nearly enough of in this country.  The media, in particular, needs to elevate this conversation.

On a related note, as I was planning this posting, I had the opportunity to talk to an actual mental health professional the other day about this topic.  This person is an experienced, licensed clinical social worker.  One issue that they raised was the fact that with so many patients being "seen" via phone call appointments, mental health professionals miss out on a key data point, namely the facial expressions and body language of patients.  So now we have the under-care of mental health being exacerbated by the pandemic.  Make this reason number 987 why we need a decisive, national strategy to deal with COVID-19.

* * * * * *

Here's to hoping that a vaccine is ready by the end of the year.  Then we can start fighting the "anti-vac" crowd.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Life with Walleye Vision

I've always been this way.

(Guess which one is me, pre-eye surgery)

The comment "Walleye Vision" came in jest from a co-worker in the early '90s.  I didn't actually mind.  In fact, though, Walleye Vision is a real medical term that refers to something called "exotropia".  More on that in a moment.

I speak, of course, about my eyes.  My peepers.  Make that my "admittedly malfunctioning" eyes.  I was born with a condition that basically prevents me from focusing both eyes at the same time.  The diagnosis of it all breaks down something like this, from general to specific:

(literally "to squint")

("lazy eye")

("eyes pointing outward")

Just to make things even more interesting, one of my eyes is near-sighted and the other is far-sighted, which I understand is not uncommon in cases such as mine.

So, how is my vision anyway?

Well first the bad I really can't see out of both eyes at the same time, and as a result, I have poor depth perception.  Where "bad" means that, for example, as a kid, I would occasionally walk into parking meters in downtown Scranton.  3D movies?  They just look dark and blurry, even with the glasses on.  Suffice to say, having a backup camera on my truck is a godsend.  If you want to get a sense as to how I actually see the world, this is something of an approximation:

The not so bad?  My eyes, individually, have fairly good corrected vision.  As in they work individually well when I am wearing my glasses.  They just don't work well together.  Kind of like the Beatles, circa 1969.

Music references aside, I can sense that my non-focusing (at the moment) eye sees things, but that visual is almost not there.  It's easy to tell which eye is the "working" one, by the way, as it will be the eye focusing forward; the other eye will have moved off to the side somewhere.  It may appear that I am looking sideways, but the reality is that the sideways looking eye can't see (much of) anything.

There are some additional things that go with this whole hot mess, including:
  • A strong propensity towards vision-induced headaches*
  • Near constant eyestrain (see the first bullet)
  • Chronic bloodshot eyes (no, I have not been drinking)
  • Not the best nighttime vision (I'm not sure why)
  • Blurry vision when I am tired (not all that uncommon)
  • A complete and utter inability to draw a straight line (I have a lot of company)
  • On rare occasion, double-vision (not fun when you are 5 years old; see below)
(*) Basically, I take enough in the way of painkillers that it's a small wonder my blood clots at all. 

Growing up I knew my eyes were different.  Having had two surgeries (at about ages 5 & 6) and occasionally having to wear an eye patch provided me with that clue.  There was also the time when I was pretty sick with a fever and a bad case of double vision, with objects being distorted, seeming to move towards me, and then fall into the background.  That particular episode was horror-movie quality, at least for a 5-year-old.  For the most part though, I didn't catch much in the way of grief from other kids.  Oddly enough, as someone who was self-conscious about almost everything, my eyes didn't cause me all that much stress.

As I got older, it wasn't until my 30's that I actually began to find out what was medically wrong with my eyes.  Not that it mattered all that much by that point.  My main concern was that my vision not get any worse, which thankfully has not been the case.  Technically speaking, my vision has gotten better over the years.  Individually.  In each eye.  These days, my primary vision concern is the fact that I have a freckle inside my left eyeball (a Choroidal Nevus) that needs to be monitored.  Worst the tune of about a less than 1% that I end up with eyeball cancer, but there's a silver lining with that one:  I'd lose the eye, but gain a really cool pirate eye-patch or, even better, a glass eyeball that I could take out and amaze grandchildren with when that time comes.  Needless to say, I've already had plenty of practice when it comes to only looking out of one eye.
In the end, well, we all have these little (and not so little) idiosyncrasies that make us unique.  There's no sense wishing that we were somehow not so different because the wisdom of getting older teaches us that we're all the same in being different anyway.  And that's okay.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Sheep and the Goats (a tale for our modern age)

There's a lot of talk these days about wearing masks, individual freedom, etc.  Some of that talk comes most loudly from people who identify as Christians.  Given that point, maybe a reading from the Gospel would be a good idea.  Hi-lights by me.

* * * * * *

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
(From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31 to 46; NIV edition)
* * * * * *
In today's world, the "least of my brothers and sisters" could be the poor, the immigrant (legal or otherwise), the minority, the Muslim, the mentally ill.  It could be that person fighting cancer who risks their own health to get to the supermarket once a week, relying on others to also wear a mask to keep them safe.  It's anyone and everyone on the margin and in need of assistance.  It's a bit of an inconvenient truth really in this day and age of the "me":  The duty of every Christian is to see God in "the least".  Furthermore, if we truly want a "Godly government" and "Godly leaders" maybe these entities should spend less time catering to those who have (and who coincidentally donate campaign cash) and more time leading by example and taking care of those who do not other words, the "least of my brothers and sisters".

Now, is it truly that much of a burden to wear a mask at the supermarket?