A sorry situation in Baltimore

Rioters hurt the cause because they harden the common perception among whites that blacks are prone to criminality. Why does this matter? It matters because blacks need the support of whites today just as they did during slavery times. Besides, rioters aren’t idealists who care about creating a better world; rioters are opportunists who, I believe, should be shot down in the streets and fed to zoo animals. It’s too bad that if you’re an intelligent, rational black mayor (see photo) who is doing your best to protect your city, you’ll only get ten seconds of air time for every ten minutes that black criminals who are running from burning stores carrying stolen property will get, but such is America’s love for drama over substance.

But what if I’m wrong, and rioting works? Will we all be safer if cops come to live in fear that if they harm a black man, any black man, they will be dismissed from their jobs—if not sued and prosecuted—and their cities will be burned and looted? Let me illustrate why I worry about this.

Until she retired last year, my wife was an obstetrics’ nurse, and people who work in obstetrics tend to get sued a lot. When caregivers live in constant fear of lawsuits, it doesn’t make them better caregivers. One reason is that it puts them on an adversarial footing with the very people they’re trying to help. Another is that avoiding lawsuits comes to take precedence over patient care both for the people performing the care and for their employers. For example, one-third of births in America is now by c-section. A c-section is major surgery with a great many risks, but if there is even the tiniest chance that it can avoid some problem at birth, and a doctor doesn’t do it, that doctor will look bad in court. The same is true with continual electronic fetal monitoring. It is feared that blips in the fetus’ condition might lead to potentially harmful interventions that wouldn’t have occurred if the fetus was only monitored periodically, but the problem is that if you’re taken to court and you can’t say that you did “everything possible,” you’re likely to lose. The public demands perfection, so when something goes wrong, they start looking for someone to blame, and they tend to blame those whom they perceive to be in control, people like doctors and cops.

This is what I fear about the recent pressure upon cops. They have to make split-second life-and-death decisions, and being fallible, they will most certainly err at times even with the best of intentions. So is it to anyone’s benefit for cops to be distracted by the fear that, even if their judgment is right, they’re going to pay dearly if the person they shoot happens to be black, as was the incident in Ferguson, Missouri, that started all this brouhaha?

Freddie Gray, the Baltimore criminal who died of a broken neck was called a martyr at his funeral. I remember when you had to do something noble—remember Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman?—to be a martyr to the cause of Civil Rights. Now all you have to do is to be a career criminal who comes to a bad end while resisting arrest. Die by the hands of a cop, and 2,500 people will come to your funeral and talk about what a exemplar of virtue you were. This is what remains of the movement of Martin Luther King. Where blacks once had a champion, they now have buffoons like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama who, come to think of it, has been awfully silent of late. Rationality has been thrown out the window, and I see no end in sight. All I see is that every time a black criminal dies, a cop will be blamed, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, and few demonstrators will care which.


As for the Oxycontin, I took the prescription to Hirons Drugs on Wednesday, but when I went to pick it up, I was told that they didn’t have the pills in the prescribed strength (30 mgs), but only in fives and tens. I said, fine, give me enough tens to equal a month's worth of thirties. As I suspected, the pharmacist said she couldn’t do that without a phone call from the doctor.

The doctor's office was closed by then, so the next day, I called and left a message for him to call the pharmacy. Three hours later, the doctor’s nurse called me and told me to come and pick up a new prescription for the tens. I said that the pharmacist said that a phone call would suffice, so the nurse called the pharmacy, and then called me back to say that everything was good to go.

I called the pharmacy twice over the next several hours to see if the prescription had been filled. The second time I called, I was told that the pharmacy would need to fax a request form to the doctor, and that the doctor would need to fill it out, fax it to insurance, and wait for their approval, or else I would have to pay for the prescription myself. I asked how much it would cost if I paid for it myself, I was told $425 a month.

I then said—in a very nice way of course—fucking great, fax the goddamn form to the goddamn doctor. Then I called the doctor to verify that they received the fax, and the insurance to ask why, when my doctor had already written a prescription for the drug, he would need to send a separate request for the same drug to them and wait days for their approval before the pharmacy would fill it. Insurance said he wouldn’t because they weren’t going to pay for the drug anyway. I asked why, then, they had asked that the doctor submit a request, and was told that they hadn’t, that the pharmacy had misread the return code when it submitted the drug to insurance.

The lady at insurance did say that there was an appeal process the doctor could go through if he really, really wanted me to have the drug, but that the drug would still cost me a lot (although she had no luck in determining how much), and the success of the appeal was in doubt. I asked about substitutionary drugs and was given two options, oxymorphone and morphine. My payment for the first would be $95 a month, and for the second, $16 a month. I called the doctor back (this was yesterday), left a long message explaining all this, and never heard back. I just called again at 2:00 p.m. on a Friday, and asked to speak to a nurse rather than to voicemail. I was sent to voicemail, so I called back and again asked to speak to a nurse. No nurse was available, but the receptionist said she had spoken to one and that the doctor had started the appeal process. This means that I won’t be getting any pain relief for who knows how long. I'm about to call insurance to see if I can hurry things along, but I'm not optimistic.

I live with fear that if the doctor gets weirded out for any reason, he might refuse to give me any narcotics, much less the strong stuff, because he lives with his own fear, i.e. a raid from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) if they think he’s prescribing more narcotics to more people than they, in their non-medical wisdom, consider appropriate. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is now suing the DEA because the DEA is requiring pharmacists to turn over records to them regarding who is getting narcotics and how many narcotics they’re getting. This is in violation of the Patient Privacy Act, but the DEA does whatever it damn well pleases, and Congress doesn't care.

Getting narcotics is an endless hassle. To give another example, last year I was getting them shipped to me via UPS once a month on a given day. I had to be here to sign for the shipment, but I never had any idea what time of day it would be delivered, so I had to stay in the house or front yard until it came, which was usually between 6:30 and 9:00 in the evening. I wouldn’t run a vacuum or do anything else that might keep me from hearing the door-knocker because if I didn’t answer the door, I would have to start the wait all over again the next day, and after three days, UPS would return the prescription to the pharmacy. One month, the shipment wasn’t delivered at all on the appointed day. When I called UPS to complain, I was told that it had been delivered, that I had signed for it, and that their new GPS system verified as much. This was just bullshit, so I concluded that the driver had stolen the shipment. If I hadn’t complained to the DEA, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten it, and part of it was still missing.

When, before UPS "found" the prescription, I called the pharmacy thinking they could turn up the heat on the UPS, they told me they wouldn’t be shipping me any more narcotics, implying that maybe I had stolen my own drugs in attempt to get the prescription filled twice. Well, I hadn’t even asked them to replace the narcotics because I knew they couldn’t do it without a new prescription, and I wasn’t about to ask the doctor for a new prescription, because I didn’t want him to think I might have stolen my own drugs.

Is it any wonder that so few doctors want to go into primary care medicine, and that one-third of the money that this country spends on medical care goes to insurance companies, companies that make money by refusing to pay for services and putting every roadblock possible in front of people who are suffering?

P.S. I've since talked to insurance twice and the doctor's office once. Insurance says the appeal process will take at least until next Wednesday, and they can't tell me what my copay will be. The only good thing I can say about all this is that I have been through many hassles with so many health insurance companies over so many years that I have come to expect that everything, every time will go wrong, at least for me. For the insurance companies, it's another story.

Why I pulled this post and why I put it back

Much of what I am, I tell myself I shouldn’t be. Much of what I’m not, I tell myself I should be. Some examples: I shouldn’t be in a cage about religion; I shouldn’t live in physical pain; if I must live in physical pain, I should be a man about it and not take drugs; I shouldn’t ever feel lost, despairing, angry, helpless, or depressed; I should be a published writer; I should relate to people more lovingly. I should do more good in the world; I should be an example of wisdom, maturity, stability, and integrity; I should present myself so that all who know me will love and admire me; I should live so that there will be standing room only at my funeral.

Despite all this, I love myself and have a good sense of whom I am, but I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before, and it woke me during the night: I pulled a post because I was ashamed of it. I pulled that post almost on the spur of the moment. I told myself that people get tired of reading this shit; that I’m too old to have this problem, that I must once and for always not have this problem; that it’s degrading to tell people about this problem. When I woke in the night, I realized that if I start holding back out of shame, I’ll give up blogging because I wouldn’t find it meaningful to write posts that don’t represent the true currents in my life. I decided to put the post back:

I went back to high mass (Episcopal) on Saturday for the first time in six months because I happened to be in the area. That might sound like a piss-poor reason, but I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I must report that I enjoyed it thoroughly, and that (Father) Brent seemed glad to see me. He suggested that we get together and talk, a proposal that I met with ambivalence because I fully accept that no one can help me unless it be through books or at least letters, and Brent is no writer.

I surely have an emotional problem because why else would I, an atheist, keep going to a church where I don’t even feel welcome except by the priest. Then again, how can I really know if I have an emotional problem? I mean, so what if I don’t fit, does that mean there’s something wrong with me or something wrong with those by whom I feel rejected?

A few years ago, a reader wrote, “You have nothing to teach the church, the church has everything to teach you.” He thereby succeeded in succinctly summarizing the common Christian belief that truth and virtue belong to the speaker’s private theology, and that anyone who doesn’t agree would do better to stay away.

“American churches exist in a buyer’s market. Customers must be kept happy. However, by playing to the segment of the population which has long since abandoned the search, ministers, priests, and rabbis drive away many thoughtful people who are turned off by unsubstantiated promises of pie in the sky… Tragically, these are the people who are often most capable of giving religious institutions new vision…

“Worship is a preacher-choir performance for passive spectators. A conspiracy of niceness pervades the congregation in which everyone is smiling, everyone is friendly, happy… Talk appears to be about everything except what really matters. Deep, honest, open discussions of meaning are avoided. ...a recovering alcoholic said that after his life-changing experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, his local church was unbearable.

“‘After I had at last been a part of a real community where we loved each other enough to be honest, to sacrifice our time and energy to aid others in the struggle…the sweet superficiality of my church was repulsive. When I tried to share with them some of the insights gained from my own struggles, they looked at me like I was crazy, like my struggle was a purely personal problem.’”

from The Search for Meaning by Naylor, Willimon, and Naylor

I relate to every bit of what I just quoted because churches are unlike any other place in that they profess to be loving, yet they operate like social clubs and their preachers are like insurance salesmen whose only interest is to bring in financially contributing members.

“...there’s the temptation to suppose that people will be interested in...what one has to say. They won’t—because the Church is not and perhaps never was chiefly for people who have a deep and serious intellectual interest in religion. On the contrary, the Church is for people who…want a feeling of reassurance and self-righteousness, and are happy to live by a ready-made Truth… They want to be delivered from the extreme terror and joys of real religious thought, and nothing is so effective a protection against religious terrors than conforming church membership. At least ninety-five percent of the hierarchy and church members alike will never see the radical theologian as a liberator and rebuilder, they will always see him as a troublemaker, a nuisance, an irritant who should be got rid of….

But he (Don Cupitt) also writes:

“At least since the time of Hegel, liberal theology has been…saying to the honest fellow travelers: ‘Nowadays the Church is no longer so rigidly supernaturalist and authoritarian as she was in the past. You don’t have to be a theological realist…the modern Church…sincerely cares for freedom of thought… So we truly think a person like you doesn’t have to live in self-imposed exile. You can honestly belong to the Church.’”

from Radical Theology

The last two sentences were what Brent tried to tell me, yet he doesn’t appear to feel safe in sharing his whole person, and this puts me in the same old bind of knowing that my acceptance depends upon my willingness to remain silent in the presence of supernaturalist beliefs that I do not and can not accept. Conformists are allowed to speak openly because they can be trusted to never say anything unsettling, but the only way I can be accepted is if I keep my mouth shut. Still, I go because I don’t know where else to go. Sometimes, I think that I have a more idealistic view of what religion should be than do most churchgoers. As Alfred North Whitehead put it:

“…religion is a vision of something that stands beyond, behind, and within the passing flux of things; something which is real and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and yet the hopeless quest.”

from Science and the Modern World

I would guess that most atheists would consider this bullshit, and maybe they’re right, but it changes nothing because I’m as stuck as an elephant in quicksand, and no one can get me out.

Some medical news

Electrical Implant
My back and shoulders pain has been bad enough lately that I went through my entire 30-day supply of oxycodone (a strong narcotic) in 19-days, after which I upped my dosage of Neurontin (a nerve-pain pill) and started taking Ambien, not that either helped much.

I’m to see a new pain specialist (my third) next week, but I was hurting so much this morning that I called my internist and got a late appointment. He changed my oxycodone prescription to a much higher dose of Oxycontin (time-release oxycodone) and nearly doubled the Neurontin. He also suggested that I might be an candidate for a TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) or an electrical implant. I already have a TENS unit, but I never used it much and would greatly prefer an implant anyway because that way I wouldn’t have to change out pads, snake wires through my clothing, position the leads, and so on. Besides, one TENS unit wouldn’t be enough. By comparison, an implant would be worry free except for having to go in to have the batteries replaced.

I didn’t initially tell my internist about the new pain specialist because I was afraid he would want to hold-off on increasing my narcotic dosage (as he was, he gave me so much more than expected that I could have kissed him). After my internist left the office, his assistant started talking about the pain specialist he wanted me to see (for the TENS unit or implant), so I told her about the one I’m already supposed to see. She said she would ask the internist whether to cancel the referral he was going to make, but I asked her to put it through anyway because it takes months to see one of these guys, and since I don’t know how I’ll like the one I’m to see next week, I had just as soon have a replacement lined-up.

I chose next week’s pain specialist based upon the fact he used to inject steroid shots into my osteonecrotic (as in dead) neck vertebra. This was a big deal requiring a twilight sleep anesthetic and a fluoroscope, and since he struck me as competent and kindly, I had my back surgeon in Portland (the one I saw in February) refer me to him. Still, he wasn’t a pain specialist when I last saw him, and I haven’t been impressed with pain specialists. You would think that, if there’s one kind of doctor who would be compassionate, it would be a pain specialist, but that hasn't been my experience.

I get so tired of living in pain (having been doing it for around eight years now), yet I came home with a small degree of renewed hope. So many people don't have a doctor who gives a rip, and at least I have a good internist. The problem is that he's my age, so he'll probably be retiring before too many more years.

Who said what?

(Quotations are from the 1960s and '70s. Choices and answers at bottom)

1) “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood—if it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.”* 
2) “The atheist religion don’t believe in the Bible.”
3) “I say violence is necessary. It is as American as cherry pie.”
4) “The male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion…maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.”
5) “Women, er, women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence.”
6) “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore. It’s already overcrowded from your dirty little war.”
7) “Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.”
8) “First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate’s stomach! Wild!”
9) “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”
10) “Cop pulls me over says, ‘You’re eyes look red, you been smoking weed?’ I replied, “Your eyes look glazed, you been eating donuts?’”
11) “Avoid all needle drugs, the only dope worth shooting is Richard Nixon.”
12) “When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.”
13) “Come to the Florida sunshine tree. That’s where you get a glass of energy.”
14) “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
15) “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”
16) “Let it fly in the breeze…And get caught in the trees…Give a home to the fleas…”
17) “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”
18) “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock—that rock landed on us.”
19) “It’s naturally sweet taste reminds me of wild hickory nuts.”
20) “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”
21) “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.”
22) “Suffering succotash!”
23) “That’s part of American greatness, is discrimination. Yes, sir. Inequality, I think, breeds freedom…”
24) “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
25) “There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part. So just give me a happy middle and a very happy start.”

Edward Abbey, Muhammad Ali, H. Rap Brown, Archie Bunker, Anita Bryant, Cheech and Chong, Bernardine Dohrn, Euell Gibbons, Germaine Greer, Hair, Abbie Hoffman, LBJ, JFK, Henry Kissinger, Timothy Leary, Lester Maddox, Richard Nixon, John Prine, Valerie Salano, Shel Silverstein, Sylvester, George Wallace, Dr. Strangelove, General William Westmoreland, Malcolm X

*In the many Virginia Slims commercials of the era, Big Tobacco congratulated women for having “come a long way” yet persisted in calling them “Baby.”

1=Germaine Greer 2= Archie Bunker 3=H. Rap Brown 4=Valerie Salano 5=Dr. Strangelove 6=John Prine 7= General William Westmoreland 8=Bernardine Dohrn 9=Edward Abbey 10=Cheech and Chong 11=Abbie Hoffman 12=Richard Nixon 13=Anita Bryant 14=Muhammad Ali 15=JFK 16=Hair 17=George Wallace 18=Malcolm X 19=Euell Gibbons 20=LBJ 21=Timothy Leary 22=Sylvester 23=Lester Maddox 24=Henry Kissinger 25=Shel Silverstein

How many do you know?

My mother often talked about people who were famous when she was young during the 1920s and ‘30s. They were mostly names that I didn’t know or care about. Now, my memories are heavily composed of trendy people from the ‘60s and ‘70s whom the young and middle-aged of today might not know or care about.

The following is necessarily a personal list that reflects my age, nationality, and interests, yet everyone on it should be known to every American of the era who kept abreast of current events. Some were so famous that a person would have needed to live in a cave to avoid them, but my goal wasn't simply to list famous people but to give preference to large forgotten people who contributed to the unique zeitgeist of the era.

Give yourself two points (100 being a perfect score) for each person about whom you can name at least one thing that they were famous for. It might be a catch-phrase, or something they did, or something that was done to them, but try to be specific. Hint: two people were famous under more than one name, and several were famous before and/or after the era.

Leo Buscaglia, Angela Davis, Patty Hearst, Tiny Tim, Lenny Bruce, Steve Allen, Gloria Steinem, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Alan Watts, Benjamin Spock, Rod McKuen, Alan Ginsberg, Sharon Tate, Wavy Gravy, Marabel Morgan, Sam Sheppard, Larry Flynt, Martha Mitchell, Sidney Poitier, Ross Barnett, Dick Martin, Huey P. Newton, Rachel Carson, David Brinkley, Betty Friedan, Abbie Hoffman, David Crosby, Art Linkletter, Cassius Clay, Jimmy Hoffa, Charles Whitman, Joseph Fletcher, Walter Lantz, Sirhan Sirhan, Richard Alpert, James Pike, Robert Crumb, Ed Sullivan, Tom Smothers, Flip Wilson, Truman Capote, Eugene McCarthy, Dick Gregory, Billie Jean King, Linus Pauling, Jane Fonda, Anton LaVey, Milton Friedman, Tommy Chong, Daniel Ellsberg, and for extra credit, Euell Gibbons and Julian Bond.

Larry Flynt photo © Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com