Monday, September 1, 2014

What's Worse? Yelling or Spanking?

A friend and fan asked me to write about this a while back, and I've been meaning to get around to it. I'm crazy busy right now, and almost entirely distracted at the moment, so I apologize for taking a bit to do it.

She asked me this question without giving much indication of which way she would answer it herself, so I'm just going to bite the bullet here and tell you what I think. (not that you guys would honestly be expecting anything different anyway...)

First, let me just say this. Parenting is hard. REALLY hard. It's not at all what you think it is going to be like in the days before you had kids. Your vision of what the future would be like probably included the high points, like the breezy afternoons pushing entirely contented toddlers on the swings at the park and Rockwellian family photos and perfect birthday parties.

Then you got here, with the kids you have and realized that those moments, though they happen, are few and far between.

It's not to say that parenting isn't amazing and awesome and rewarding and fulfilling. It is absolutely all of those things, but it is absolutely not all of those things all of the time.

Unless you're slightly delusional, that is.

I wonder and worry sometimes about the people who always say that being a parent is bliss.

It can be bliss, but it's also the polar opposite of bliss too.

It is episodic. It has crazy highs and lows. It is filled with struggles and triumphs. It's not always rainbows and glitter.

Hell to the no.

If you have a particularly difficult child, for one reason or another, you likely already know this truth. I was lucky, soooo lucky with my oldest. He really is the mellowest human on the face of the Earth, given to me first to break me in gently. He does his fair share of driving me nuts at times, but is nothing compared to what came after him.

I have kids with high anxiety levels and attention problems. I have kids who internalize every single thing that happens in the universe, where it sits and festers (usually not for very long), then gets projected back out into the world. I have yellers with anger issues who lash out at others. I've quite literally sat on my own kids to keep them from hurting one another at times.

And I know people who deal with far more than I do.

Parenting any child is hard, parenting one with more struggles, harder still.

Which brings me to the question I was asked. Which is worse, yelling or spanking?

I think that ultimately, this is one of the most fundamental issues with parenting that we have to be conscious about from the time our children are very young. We should make conscious choices about what kind of parent we want to be. I think there are three basic types of parenting.

1. Do we want to rule from the mountaintops, declaring what is right or wrong?

2. Do we want to guide our children, equip them with the tools to make their own choices, correct when necessary?

3. Do we want to let them figure it all out on their own and in their own way?

If I made a guess, most of us strive to be type 2 parents. I know that has always been our goal. The type 3 parents tend to be the ones who place more value on their friendships with their kids than parenting them necessarily. This conversation might not even hit their radar because they don't engage in a whole lot of discipline. (Like the kids who looked at me like I was insane one day for placing my daughter in a time out for throwing sand at five years old. They'd never heard of such a thing. Don't ask how that's worked out so far...)

Many of us were probably raised in type 1 homes, though. I know that I was. Though there were certainly times that I was given a little more leeway as a young child, for the most part things were pretty structured. Within those homes, whether in our generation or the one we are raising, there is probably more spanking and yelling going on than in the other types, because spanking and yelling are ways to force compliance, to demand attention, to communicate authority.

They are also ways to punish kids for doing things we don't like.

They are also, probably too often, ways for parents to vent their frustrations.

Spanking is one of the great debates in the realm of parenting and has been for decades. I don't for one second think that there is any way that debate will end anytime soon. It is something that has become publicly unacceptable even though I'd venture a guess that more parents still spank their kids than will ever admit to it.

Personally, I don't see a problem with it in a very narrow set of circumstances. When a young child puts themselves or someone else in serious danger because of their actions, when there is an immediate need to get their attention, when it is absolutely imperative to communicate the wrongness of the action and the danger involved, a light swat on the behind might be just the thing that is needed (not more than once, and not hard enough to leave a's more about getting their attention). In my personal opinion, it should only be used when absolutely necessary in that narrow set of circumstances, and really only for a child too young to reason with in any other way (think toddlers as really the only time this would even come in).

An example of this...a two year old running out into the street.

There is certainly an argument to be made that a two year old running into the street is the far more the fault of the parents, not the child anyway, though.

Outside of those kind of circumstances, I don't generally support spanking...which means that I choose not to do it. This isn't to say that I haven't had to restrain my children. I have, a great many times. I have had to grab arms and physically contain children, I've had to hold arms and legs down, I've even had to sit on them at times.

I can't get behind spanking being used as a punishment, or any other type of physical harm. Essentially, this means that even in the times I'm personally okay with a spank (like the kid running into the street), it happens right at that moment or it doesn't happen at all. The idea of threatening a kid with violence later on in the day, or when the other parent gets home, or any of that....not something that sits well with me.

Then again, I was raised in the generation that routinely heard, "wait until your father gets home...."

My father didn't often actually hurt us when he got home, but we lived with that threat all the time. As in almost every single day. Forcing compliance purely out of fear doesn't generate a secure home environment for a kid.

The reality is that spanking, as it occurs in most homes, is really more about the frustration of the parents than about the lesson the child is supposed to be learning. If you can't control your anger and lash out at them, how are you supposed to believe that you are teaching them to control themselves? Walk away, count to ten, put yourself in a timeout until you can calm down. Do whatever you need to do in order to get back to a point of balance before you confront your kid with what happened.

Trust me, you don't want to regret how you behaved fifteen minutes from now...and that's just the immediate effect of physical punishment. Think about how they are feeling. Think about how your reaction to this one episode of anger and frustration might be something they remember for the rest of their lives.

And trust me, they'll remember it.

If you were a kid in those homes, you remember.

Yelling, in my opinion, is actually worse than spanking. Spanking has gotten the attention because of the physical nature of the harm, but yelling is just as bad if not more damaging.

I work really really really hard not to yell at the kids, but it happens sometimes. What I've found is that it doesn't make things better. Ever. Then I feel worse.

If I yell, they just tune me out. Or they yell back. It doesn't ever do anything to resolve the underlying conflict or issue, it doesn't make anyone feel better, it just makes it all worse.

As a society, we are conditioned to try and calm ourselves down so we won't physically harm our kids, but how many of us use those same techniques to avoid yelling?

I'd guess not too many.

I've locked myself in the bathroom more than once just to breathe for ten seconds. I've refused to engage them when they scream at me, because I know that if I yell back, it could spiral out of control. I know that if I yell back, I'm not being a good example for them. I'm not being consistent. I'm not being mature. I'm letting my frustration get the best of me. I'm not being the adult in the situation.

There are times that I have videotaped the kids to show them how they treat me.

If they did the same to me, would I be ashamed of how I acted?

If I would, then I'm doing something wrong.

I force myself to be as consistent as I can, which is a struggle at times. They all have different personalities, they all push different buttons. Staying consistent, though, it helps them to understand that my boundaries are firm and my limits aren't negotiable.

What I have found that works light years better than yelling is just talking to them after I calm down. Getting down to their level (okay, so this works when they are little, but now that one of them is taller than I am, I make him sit down with me...) and talking in a calm, controlled voice.

Whispering tends to get their attention more than anything else, honestly.

Done right, it also freaks them out a little bit.

I kid, I kid. Sort of.

They know I mean business when I start whispering. For real.

The main reason I try not to yell, aside from the fact that it just doesn't work, is that it can do some serious damage to my relationship with my kids and harm their self esteem, among other dangers. I've been a victim of emotional abuse and words stick with you a whole lot longer than bruises do. It's not just about the tone of voice you are using, but about the words you speak.

Focus on the actions, not the person.

In other words, say this was a bad choice, not you are a bad kid. That kind of thing. It seems simple enough, until you're caught up in the moment. Those are the times that stepping away and calming down is best for everyone involved, and I'd encourage all of us to do it. Including me.

What do you think? Is yelling worse or is spanking worse? What alternatives do you use in your homes? How do you calm yourself down?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Normal Heart, AIDS and what we should have learned but didn't

If you haven't seen The Normal Heart yet, go watch it now. It was deserving of every single nomination it received at the Emmy's this year.

I had been meaning to watch it for a while now, but was fighting with our satellite provider. I finally got it recorded and had a few hours to myself yesterday to sit and just be with it.

I mentioned watching it on the almighty book of face, and most people talked about how sad it was. And it was. God, it was.

Mostly, though, it made me angry and reminded me of all the things I saw, the places I went, the people I tried to help, the stories I heard.

I grew up in the 80s, about a decade too young to fully grasp what was happening in real time in the early years of the epidemic. I remember hearing things on the news about people who were sick, about strange cancers and mysterious diseases that otherwise young and healthy people were dying from.

Then Ryan White hit the scene. He was a kid with this disease that, up until that point, had mostly been one that infected gay men. He was a kid, shamed and attacked because of the assumptions people made about him and who he was and what his family was like.

All because people didn't know.

No one really knew what was going on at the time.

What had been happening, for years by that point, was that gay men all over the country were becoming sick and dying. Their stories didn't make it into the news. They were refused treatment by far too many within the medical community. They were shunned by their families.

Misinformation spread like wildfire, but at the same time the story didn't really hit the mainstream until a little boy in Indiana got sick too.

Thousands of gay men were dead by then.

It wasn't until a couple years later that President Reagan finally said the word AIDS in a press conference. Years.

Then he pledged to help find the cause and a cure, but cut the meager funding the disease had been given.

By the time Magic Johnson announced his HIV status in a press conference, we knew more about the disease, but the stigma was still there. It was still largely a disease of gay men, but we knew by then that it was transmitted by blood and through sexual activity. We knew that hemophiliacs like Ryan White were at risk. We knew that IV drug users were high risk. We knew that women could get it and transmit it too.

By then, there were some treatments, not for the virus itself so much as for the side effects. AZT was the first and it often did more harm than good. Later on down the road there would be antivirals and more medications aimed at not just lessening symptoms but extending life. There are now people (those with the financial means to afford the treatments in the early days especially) who have lived for many decades with the virus.

I remember standing in the garage with my father watching Magic's press conference. I knew then, at the age of 14, that I had to do something.

I'd attended fundraising walks and done tons of research on the condition in college, reached out to AIDS Project Los Angeles. I volunteered in area hospitals caring for babies born to HIV positive mothers. Even then, in the mid 90s, there were volunteers who were afraid to touch the babies.

It wasn't until I was in law school though, that I really began to understand what this disease had done. I started working in a pro bono capacity with an AIDS clinic. To qualify for our services, clients had to be HIV+/AIDS diagnosed and meet income requirements. While most legal clinics helped with specific issues, we helped this specific population. By then, that population included women and men, young and old, gay and straight.

Most of our clients were still gay men. They taught me so much more than I could have ever hoped to help them with.

If I had to guess, the average age was about 40.

They had for the most part been modestly wealthy, or at least financially stable before this disease invaded their lives.

They'd spent every penny they had on treatments, on traveling to Mexico seeking alternatives.

They'd spent whatever was left of their life savings on the assumption that they were going to die.

They ran up credit card debt because they figured their days were limited.

They were fired from their jobs, they were shunned by almost everyone who knew them.

If they hadn't been fired, they quit because they were too sick to work.

If they applied for Social Security Disability, they were fairly often denied.

They were denied the chance to rent property, landlords tried to evict them.

They were disowned by their families.

They were unable to stay in the closet when the lesions started to show up, because everyone assumed that they were gay. Even if they'd been hiding that for their entire lives, the lesions outed them.

They'd lost friends, lovers, companions. Some had lost almost everyone they knew.

By the time these men came to me in the late 90s, this disease had stolen just about everything from them, left them financially ruined, without families, without the friends who'd already died, without jobs, without housing.

We helped them with all of it, the aftermath of what this virus had done up to that point. We fought landlord/tenant disputes. We referred employment discrimination cases. We filed Social Security appeals. We had lists of medical resources. We dealt with a ton of debtor relief issues, helped them file bankruptcy.

We helped some of them as they tried to get back up on their feet. Healthier now because of the treatments, they wanted to be able to work again. They wanted out of debt. They wanted to find jobs. And no one would hire them. They were so far in the hole that they couldn't get out.

A few of them told me they wished they had just died when everyone else did.

We wrote advance directives and wills. So, so, so many of them came to us for that. I couldn't even tell you how many interviews I did, how many wills I drafted. The vast majority of them had nothing left, almost no one to leave it to, but they wanted to take care of whatever they could ahead of time.

I'd get calls to revise wills when those who were chosen to inherit things died first.

I brought a will to a man, a boy really, on the morning of his death. He was 22 years old without a penny to his name, but I did what I could to ease his worries in those last moments. I'll never forget his face, his eyes.

That scene in the movie with the Rolodex. That awful scene. The phone call telling you someone else was gone. Damn. That one brought out the deep visceral sobs in me because I've taken those phone calls.

It happened. By then the deaths didn't happen constantly, but they happened often enough.

My most memorable client was a man, in his mid 30s. He was HIV+ and had managed to keep his viral load low through meds. He wasn't sick, he wasn't dying, but he wanted to get his will done because he just wanted to make sure it was taken care of.

I sat him down to do the intake interview, and within minutes he was sobbing. He didn't have much, but he didn't have any family to leave it to. He came out when he was diagnosed. They'd disowned him, saying some horrific things in the process. He'd not spoken to his father in years and it broke him. He was carrying this burden and he hated every moment of it, he knew that it wasn't his fault, but it still felt like it was.

He said something to the effect that he wished he'd been born to a different family. I told him that although I couldn't make that happen, there was something that I could help him with. If he was interested.

I was totally talking out of my ass at the moment, if I'm being honest, because I had never done a petition like this before and didn't have any clue how to do it or what it entailed.

I told him that he could change his name. Legally. He could reinvent who he was, be a man of his own. It ended up being a fairly simple process, actually. There were a couple of forms, a notice requirement and a hearing and it was done.

He was so grateful and in that moment I really began to understand what life was like for these men. I'd visited them in their homes, seen them in the hospital, talked to them for hours and hours. That day, though, it really hit me.

He'd lost everything from this disease even though he wasn't sick yet, but I'd helped him get a little bit of it back.

Seeing the movie yesterday brought it all back.

I haven't been working in that capacity for years, and I wonder all the time what things are like for those living with HIV and AIDS now. Is it different? Is it better? How many of my clients are still here?

When the news of Ebola started to hit the news, I saw the same irrational paranoia begin again. The transmission methods are very similar between the two diseases. The stigma is there all over again now. The misleading reports on the news. The people who live insulated lives convinced that others present a threat to them.

It broke my heart because we should have learned. We should have, and we haven't remembered those lessons nearly as well as we should have.

Partly, in fact primarily because of HIV and AIDS, we have universal precautions now...the very strategy that will serve as the best defense we all have from Ebola. We're better equipped to fight Ebola because of AIDS, not in spite of it. 

I hope that we don't make the same mistakes over again. I hope that we can use our hearts and our minds to help others who need it, not lash out against them in irrational fear.  I hope that the government directs the necessary resources in a timely fashion, that it refuses to brush this under the rug for years and years. I hope that things are different this time around.

I hope.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Conscious Avoidance

At some point in this whole adding another member to the family process, we realized that we were going to have to rearrange almost all of the house. The kids have moved rooms, we've walled in the loft, regaining some of the spaces we had lost to them before. It's been a long undertaking, and it's almost done.

One of the final bits of it all involved moving the entertainment center and television back into what should be the family room, but has mostly been wasted space for five years or so because it was beneath the loft...the loft that we were using as a bedroom even though it didn't have a wall. Consequently, we always had to be quiet after the kids went to bed and the room became the place old toys and furniture went to die.

Somehow in the process, my husband sweet talked me into a new tv. Which we needed, and I know that we needed. The old one didn't have the proper connections for any of the devices or blu ray players we use these days, so it really was a rapidly aging dinosaur.

We got a new one. The enormous old tv that doesn't work with anything anymore is still sitting in my family room until I can figure out a way to get rid of it. The other tv that had been down here, even older than that one, migrated up to our room.

We finally have a grown up tv in our room. We've been married for 16 years. Not in a hurry around here. Nope.

The problem with moving it up there is that it was too big for the space we had in the armoire. To make it fit, my husband had to take out the shelf that was in the armoire.

That shelf.

The one that collected all of the things that I couldn't deal with.

Some of them had been there for a very long time.

This shelf, full of things that I put there because I couldn't read them or sort through them or look at them, it's sitting on my floor at the moment. The contents piled up in the cradle because he had nowhere else to put them.

This shelf, it was full.

There are the trinkets the kids have made over the years, tiny baggies of lost baby teeth. Notes from friends who'd been in the places I'd been, carrying words of wisdom and understanding. Containers of things my mother sent when she was frantically cleaning out the house after my father passed away, when she was in this bizarre phase of purging and buying and purging and buying. Every bit she discarded or mailed to me was replaced and then some, so she never made any actual progress. Containers I haven't opened in over three years.

There is a stack of cards from when my father died, some of which I still haven't been able to read. The rough draft I hand wrote of the eulogy I gave at his funeral is in there. Notes from the people who came to the funeral tucked into my hands as they said their goodbyes. Boxes from his dental lab full of random pieces of who he was. A gift bag stuffed with pictures...

The bag of pictures.
Moments like this make me so insanely
grateful for the existence of digital photography.

Leaking out little pieces of the things that happened, I am. Bit by bit, it comes out.

When he was in the last days, we all sensed it, him more than us. We followed his lead. We let him sleep when he needed, we made him all the margaritas he could have wanted. Ran to get whatever food sounded good to him. We rearranged furniture almost constantly and adapted medication schedules every single day. We knew the time would be soon, though I don't think any of us had any real idea of how close it was.

Mom, though, she was lost. Manic is really the only word that could describe it. She couldn't deal with the fact that he was dying or that she couldn't dictate how it was going to happen. Perhaps if we hadn't been there, things might have been different. I don't know and guessing about things like that does me no good.

She compulsively had to occupy her time in whatever way she saw fit, even if it wasn't productive or useful. Even if it was destructive.

In those last days, she became very destructive.

There are moments from that last week that I've tried to block from my memories because they were so awful.

This bag of pictures, part of it all.

At some point in the last month of his life, she decided that she needed to make a scrapbook. I'm not sure who it was for, honestly. He could not possibly have cared less. He was too busy dying to be bothered with anything like that, and he knew that he wouldn't be around to ever see anything completed anyway.

She said she was making it for him, but I think that's just how she rationalized it all.

We all knew she was doing it for herself. To stay busy.

In the process, she was making a huge mess almost constantly. Scraps of paper everywhere. Tables completely taken over by it all. I don't know how many of you have scrapbooked, but it's not a contained and tidy hobby. Combine that with a house full of medical equipment, people coming and going, a dying father, and the general chaos of all that she wasn't pleasant.

We tried, oh how we tried, to just let her be. Clearly this was her coping mechanism, even if it didn't make any sense to any of us, and so we tried to let her be.

We tried. We tried until one night when we saw what she had begun to do in the construction of this scrapboook. She'd started to disassemble all the photo albums in the house and cut up old pictures.

She was cutting up wedding pictures and the only remaining copies of pictures of them from when they met in high school. She was cutting people out of pictures, destroying the images left from our childhoods. She was even, gasp, cutting polaroids. You can't cut polaroids without completely ruining them.

We all stood there, shaking our heads in disbelief.

And so when she went to bed that night, we sorted through what wasn't glued into the scrapbook already. We chose carefully, selecting the most important pictures to us, taking enough but not too much. We didn't want her to realize that some of the pictures were gone, but we had to try and salvage some of it. We couldn't let her ruin it all.

Those pictures. They've been sitting in that bag ever since.

I'm not even sure what I grabbed anymore. I have never been able to bring myself to look in the bag.

And now it is time.

I have to sort through it all, I can't avoid it anymore. The shelf that used to hide all these things from me is gone, and they're filling the space that I need to clear for the baby to come home.

I don't have a choice anymore.

I can't avoid it.

This has been bothering me since the weekend, bothering me more than I realized. Last night, several vivid dreams of everything that happened back then. It's coming back and I have to deal with it now.

Conscious avoidance has served me well thus far, but I can't do it anymore.

Confronting the past is awful sometimes, but right now it's my reality.

These are the things the living are left with when the dead are gone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Post Partum Depression and Placenta Encapsulation

Yesterday, I finally asked the question that I've been meaning to ask my obgyn for months and had been putting off. I needed to know whether the hospital I will be delivering at releases placentas to patients. I need to know now so that I can get the things ready to take it with us and set up a person who will be processing it for me.

In the days leading up to the appointment, I had to actually tell my husband about my plans too, assuming that the hospital would let us take it home.

You should have seen his face. The abject horror.

I think maybe he thought I was going to make him eat it at first.

He's heard me talk about things, you guys. The dangers of living with a doula.

While I marvel at the magnificent wonder of the placentas I've seen, while to me they are easily the most fascinating organ that exists, while I could stare at them for hours with each opportunity I get to see them...he sees them as the same thing that most people see them as. A byproduct of birth that goes in a bowl over there, and then they throw it away or incinerate it or whatever they do with it because it's bloody and gross and looks like a slab of raw meat.

This is why I'm the doula and he isn't.

Incidentally, when I told him why I was having it done, he was 100% on board with the idea. I would process it myself, but I don't have all the necessary equipment here to do it.

Anyhow, I'm bringing the placenta home from the hospital, and I am having someone (not sure who yet, still working on that part) encapsulate it. Essentially, it is processed by drying it and grinding it into a powder that is then put into capsules that I will have to take as needed after delivery.

Every batch of capsules, necessarily specific to each mother/child combination.

I'm not frying it up in a pan or planting a tree or any of that stuff. I absolutely do not have any issues with anyone who does any of those things with theirs at all. I know women who have eaten them. I know quite a few women who still have theirs sitting in their freezers.

Placentas are not gross. They are ridiculously cool. End of story.

Let me tell you a little bit about them, and hopefully it'll be enough to turn some of you out there reading into true believers.

The placenta is the only organ that ever spontaneously arises. It has one goal and one goal alone, which is to connect one life to another. It doesn't actually belong to either the mother or the baby, it belongs to their union. Somehow our bodies figure all that out, and escort the placenta right on out shortly after birth barring any complications.

If you ever have occasion to attend a birth where you aren't the one delivering, ask to check out the placenta afterwards. I can promise you that it is way cooler than you think it is. Umbilical cords are just as awesome, and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. A dear friend of mine delivered a child with a true knot in the cord, and we all gasped in the delivery room when we saw it, knowing how lucky she and the baby had been. A client of mine once had a twin gestation that ended with only one baby. The placenta, though, it held all the evidence we ever needed that there had once been two babies attached.


The reasons for placenta encapsulation are a few. For my purposes, I am having it done in the hopes that it will help me to avoid and/or manage any symptoms of post partum depression. I have a history of developing the condition, and have chosen to be pro-active about it this time. I don't want to sit here and wait to see if it manifests, I want to know that I'm doing what I can to avoid it.

Placenta capsules can help increasing both the volume and quality of a mother's milk supply, can help ease the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. They are said to assist with pain relief and anxiety, to help rebalance hormone levels, help with physical recovery, reduce bleeding and more.

Many cultures around the world recognize these benefits far more than we tend to, and in most instances women will consume the placenta immediately after birth.

Encapsulation allows the benefits to be spread out over a longer period of time, on an as-needed basis.

In addition to trying this strategy, I'm also working on being a lot more open about my history. Part of that means telling all you guys that I've dealt with it before, that I'm afraid of it coming back this time, that if I start to sink into my hole, hopefully someone out there reading will pick up the subtle cues if I fail to admit it again.

Part of it means that my husband is totally aware of what is going on with me now. PPD was something I managed to keep from everyone, including him, for over a year. A flipping year. I fully anticipate that he'll be all up in my business this time around, mostly because he has learned the hard way just how stubborn and secretive I can be, and how dangerous that is.

Part of it means that I have a therapist all lined up in case I need to go there.

Part of it means that I have to talk about this stuff, not just with medical professionals, but with friends, with family, with other moms who've been to this dark nasty place.

Part of it means that I have to force myself to face it, because I know how bad it can get if I don't.

So, yeah...I'm bringing a baby and a big bag of human meat home from the hospital. On purpose. Then it's going to help me heal.

Don't make that face. 

Honest. As a doula, part of what I do is educate people, women in particular about the benefits of all this stuff. Our bodies are pretty freaking amazing and they can help in so many ways that we may not even know about because of societal biases against them.

Birth isn't supposed to be sterilized and clean and neat and tidy, even if we've been conditioned to believe that.

Birth is messy and real and bloody and gross.

It changes us, and it isn't something that ends the moment the baby is born. The postpartum period is as important as whatever happens before then. We need to come around, as a society, about this truth. We need to teach moms to take better care of themselves, and we need to start by doing it ourselves.

Maybe that means we encapsulate our placentas, stick them in the fridge and pull out a few on a rainy day.

Postpartum healing.

This time around, I'm going to kick it's ass.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the welfare drug testing, NFL bans and medical research edition

Seems like there is a lot to be pissed off about this week. Could just be me I guess.

I do generally avoid the internet during the weekends, and even with a few days of that, I still have a very long list.

I guess we should just get to it.

All The Wasted Money
It never ceases to amaze me that there are all these states filled with all these people who are hell bent on drug testing welfare applicants even when the evidence keeps coming back very clearly that it is a waste of money. 

These programs are failing miserably to reveal what those who advocate for them seem so sure they will...the testing isn't at all allowing programs to refuse aid to people on the basis of drug use. It's revealing that welfare applicants use drugs at a far lower rate than the general public and the amount being spent on the testing programs is vastly more than any savings that can be identified.

The naysayers are quick to find some fatal flaw with the programs. That people are cheating on the tests or lying or they're all smuggling in clean urine or whatever. Why? I don't know. I honestly think it is because people have become so convinced that those in need are mooching off the system and abusing it that they can't wrap their heads around the truth that might not be the case at all.

Are there people who abuse drugs on welfare? Of course there are. Are there people who abuse the welfare system? Of course there are. Are those people enough of a reason to humiliate every person who comes into the system? Hell no.

We'll forget for the moment all the constitutional arguments that render these testing systems illegal, we'll forget for the moment that the vast majority of adults on welfare are caring for hungry kids, we'll ignore the fact that many of the elected representatives pushing for these tests can't keep their own noses clean....let's just rely on assumptions that keep being proven incorrect to embarrass those in need. Sure. That makes sense. While we're at it, let's waste tons of money too.


Profiling is a real thing.
The events in Ferguson and St. Louis have placed the issue of profiling and how race is handled by the police in the spotlight again. A story that I first saw a few days ago is picking up more traction now, and it's one that everyone who tries to claim that profiling doesn't happen needs to read.

Seriously, go read this.

How mental illness is handled (or not) by the police
There was a shooting in St. Louis that brought up not just profiling but how mental illness should be handled by police last week. If you've not seen the video, I have to tell you that it is tremendously disturbing. In it Kaijeme Powell is seen behaving erratically. He'd been stealing from a small store in the vicinity. Police showed up on scene, shot him to death and released statements about what happened. They initially said that he was coming towards them in a threatening way with a knife over his head and that he was within a couple feet when the shots were fired.

Then the video came out. It did not line up with that story at all. His behavior was unusual to say the least. His arms were not raised over his head. He was at least 6 feet away from the officers. They shot him ten times.

It seemed pretty clear to me that something was "off" about Powell. The unfortunate reality, though, is that in cases like this one, the police don't seem to be equipped to try and diffuse the situation without the use of lethal force. What happened to tasers or disarming suspects? Why are they just being killed?

The issue isn't something that is happening only in Missouri, either. It happens far more often than most people realize, mostly to young men, all over the country. It happened again in Kansas this week when police shot an unarmed white suicidal teenage boy 16 times.  

My personal opinion here, one that I don't believe anyone has to agree with, is that these incidents are being exacerbated by the militarization of the police. I have friends and family in law enforcement, many of them in the generation ahead of us. They were trained to use their voice as their first weapon. They were trained to take down suspects. They were trained to diffuse situations. They were trained that for every action taken by a potential suspect, there was probably a reason.

They weren't trained to shoot first and ask questions later. Some of them, with decades of experience, almost never drew weapons. Ever. Even working in some of the most violent areas of the country.

As a society, we need to figure out how to stop these gut reactions and start talking to people again. We need to diffuse volatile situations instead of making them worse...and it's not just the police I am talking about anymore.

There is absolutely a time and a place for police force. There are absolutely situations where there is no other option, but I refuse to believe that those times and places exist as often as we are seeing them.

Medical Research Funding
One of the unintentional side effects of the ice bucket challenge has been that it revealed the drastic cuts in federal funding to the NIH. Budgets have been slashed year after year. The ugly truth is that we'd need ice bucket challenges to be this successful constantly to even have any hope of making up for the amounts cut.

I shared a story about this harsh reality, and realized that I needed to write a little bit more about research funding because it is something that I don't think most people really understand. Some think that we can reasonably rely on the private sector and the goodwill of people like those involved in the ALS fundraiser to adequately fund medical research.

We can't, and I'll tell you why.

There are several reasons.

The first is that biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies, and all the related incarnations, are only going to bother doing research on conditions they have a chance to churn a profit from. Meaning, they want to make a profit because that is their ultimate goal. We may want to believe that they are do-gooders and want to cure disease to save the day, but it couldn't be further from the truth. They want to make a pill, preferably a really expensive pill that they can score a patent on, that they can sell to a lot of people and make a boatload of money on.

The profit incentive is what makes the industry go around, which is why it is so rare to see any research in the areas of rare disease. There aren't enough people with ALS or (insert any other rare disease here) for them to bother. So they don't. There has been ONE cancer medication approved for children in the last 30 years. ONE. There have been an abundance of drugs for all kinds of lifestyle issues and for conditions that people live for decades with, though.

Diabetes is one of the areas that hits home for me, because every time someone shares a story about possible cures, I read up on it. It's not usually a cure, but some new treatment or medication, possibly something that can buy T1 kids a few years at a time without insulin. It would be huge progress, but it's not a cure. Because no one has a financial incentive to find a cure. They have a financial incentive to manufacture new treatments and drugs for all the patients with these conditions because they make a fortune off of us caring for ourselves and our kids.

Remove the profit incentive, and you get essentially no research at all for most rare diseases, which is exactly why the federal government needs to do the underwriting of it. And, for a long time, the federal government did just that. They sponsor what is primarily known as basic research, or huge undertakings that have multiple applications. Think human genome project stuff...and there is a huge wealth of information as a result of that program, which is then made available to all those who want to take that basic research further to find treatments, discover causes, etc. It was an insanely expensive undertaking that no private company could have or would have ever underwritten...and if they had, they would have tried to protect proprietary rights to that information.

Pull that basic funding, and all that is left are the profit motivated conditions.

So, we get meds to grow longer eyelashes while people dying of ALS get nothing.

Before you get mad at anything about the ice bucket challenge, email your representative and tell them to go back to funding research. We ALL need the basic research to be funded adequately and we absolutely cannot rely on private industry to do it.

The NFL and it's assbackwardsness
Matt Prater, kicker for the Denver Broncos, was suspended by the league for four games this week. The reason? He violated their substance abuse policy...tenuously. He has a prior DUI and they found out he'd had a few beers on vacation. (oh! the horror!) Apparently, the powers that be wanted to suspend him for the entire season, but settled on four games as a compromise.

Prater is pissed, and rightfully so.

Most of the suspensions handed down so far this year have been for substance abuse violations, but most of which have to do with off field behavior, not use of banned performance enhancing ones. That's a whole new can of worms, and they just don't want to go there...

What has people like me the most upset right now, though, is the fact that Prater is being forced to sit for four games for reasons that don't actually seem to make that much sense. I mean, yeah, he's had problems in the past. He didn't this time. He was on vacation.

Meanwhile, Ray Rice was forced to sit only two games, in a suspension that actually generated MORE controversy when he was charged with domestic violence. Rice was seen on video dragging his then-girlfriend out of an elevator, arrested and charged.

Let's just make this clear.

Drinking a few beers on vacation is worse than beating your girlfriend.

Bangs head on wall again.

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