Readers’ Favorite Awards Jellybeaners the Bronze Medal

Haven’t written much the last seven weeks due to a trip to the northern climes,  but I did enter Jellybeaners in several indie book contests.

Here is the first result and a link to more reviews.

Am contemplating changing my name to Eugenia Scottochi and placing a bodice-ripping stud-hoss on the cover.

Right.

Seriously, hats off to the winners.

We live in an interesting time, when excellent writers [seem to] outnumber addicted readers.

Bizarre.

But great in the sense that a deep record of humanity and its travails will be an open book for future generations, with talent to equal the giants of the past.

Who started the bodice ripper, anyway?

https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/jellybeaners

 

Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal.

Crawling Out of Health Care Hell

Our current health care mess is more a political debacle than a substantial challenge to the intellect when it comes to solvency.

Morally?

We can do better by providing excellent health care to all Americans while lowering the overall cost, though it may slightly burden the wealthy and middle-class folks in order to reach the prize of truly affordable health care for all.

U.S. Ranks Second to Last in Child Poverty

In the 90’s I taught at a local community college and one of my students – who was abused as a child and neither fully-supported nor fully-educated – struggled her entire life with health issues, racking up hundreds of thousands of tax-payer-swallowed medical bills over the course of her too-short life.

Multiply this situation by millions – many citizens are now hooked on opiates – and one can see how this particular demographic could force a single-payer Medicare expansion into near-future reality.

The benefits of a healthy society are astounding.

The elephant in the room:  personal responsibility.
But we’re a capitalistic society and the dollar reigns supreme.

Furthermore, the concept of personal responsibility never gets addressed.  That fact coupled with the current opioid epidemic begs the question:

Is the practice of medicine really about health?

Source

While I was researching this article, it was obvious that
the “facts” coming from sites linked – in one way or another – to private insurance companies were quite different from those emanating from neutral sources.

The insurance-linked information sites apprised the cost at $32 trillion while the neutral sites announced it would actually lower costs.  The truth often lies at the midpoint, a hefty sum indeed.  But our current direction, and the soon-to-be-announced Obamacare Lite  are simply untenable.

Limiting Congressional health-care benefits to their own
plan for the rest of us
would be a start. But don’t expect a sitting Congressman to write that bill. And now Republicans are replicating the major mistake Obama committed in his first term, which was to push a secret backroom inviable bill into law while briefly holding the majority and babbling they’d better pass it first so “you can see what’s in it” later.

Hello?

Fast forward to today and it turns out that the ACA is actually a step above what the current Trumpcare plan offers the truly needy, a plan that boils down to “the rich get richer”.

Imagine that.

An alternate path – leading away from the debacle of Obamacare/ Trumpcare – is fairly simple and workable: expand Medicare using a single payer plan while dropping Medicaid altogether.

Drew Richardson, a columnist for The News Leader explains the concept: 

“So what is single-payer health care? Essentially it involves expanding the present Medicare system to cover everyone and eliminating private insurance (with the claimed accompanying savings of hundreds of billions of dollars). 

"Additional features would include the absence of means testing, no concern for pre-existing conditions, the restoration of independent doctors and hospitals who negotiate with Medicare and would be chosen freely by consumers and one public agency processing and paying bills.

“Because it would be unneeded with this system in place, the present Medicaid program for the indigent and its associated administrative costs would be eliminated. Proponents suggest that costs could be contained and quality maintained through more efficient review by the single insurer. Costs would be financed through a progressive income tax.”

Sounds good, aye? Well, unless you’re a millionaire and break in to a cold sweat at the clause “costs would be financed through a progressive income tax”.

Like me, you’re probably reading between the lines here.  When “eliminating private insurance” pops out, one’s mind – if the slightest bit of pragmatism is embedded there – questions the odds of cash actually drying up in the UnitedHealth, Kaiser, Humana, Aetna, and Cigna Rivers.

That’s doubtful.  Why?

According to the non-partisan, independent, and non-profit Center for Responsive Politics:

“In the 2012 election cycle, the insurance industry contributed a record $58.7 million to federal parties and candidates as well as outside spending groups. Of the nearly $55 million that went to parties and candidates, 68 percent went to Republicans, who have long been the recipients of most of this category's giving.”

Imagine that.

Admittedly, private insurance companies may suffer at first with a single-payer plan, but people with cash would buy supplemental insurance beyond Medicare basics and sustain the industry;  jobs would shift to government positions aimed at administrating the new system and would therefore mitigate unemployment.

With the GOP in power, we’ll likely get Obamacare Light if they can scrape up the Senate votes, which fattens the coffers of the already-wealthy while neglecting the truly needy.

However, the worm may turn in 2018, and if a new Congress actually functions, we’ll be able to bring down costs and increase quality with a single-payer Medicare expansion while simultaneously closing the income gap.

Source

The average citizen thinks the U.S. should turn to Medicare expansion: 58% back the idea, as well as most physicians.

A moral victory, indeed, if we hang tough and remain vigilant a few months while champagne flows from above and the neglected search for cake in the green dumpster marked US HEALTHCARE.

When the Internet Disappears: The Future of Networks

Dear Readers,

This piece is a reprint from the distant past:  2003.  Its prescience equals a second look as readers are signing up for this blog at an average of four per day, which is humbling, and much appreciated.

***

As an aging baby boomer, my dissolving memory is often re-composed by the likes of Thesaurus.com, Dictionay.com, Refdesk.com, and other repositories of “facts” that can be instantly consulted. Reflecting on the implications of the reliance on this digital crutch, I sought out and read articles based on the future of networks, and found that the societal implications for what-is-to-come is not only fascinating, but frightening.

And perhaps I am already damaged by relying on a network outside the one that connects my own brain cells:

[Studies now indicate that] current technology such as PDAs are causing some deterioration in the memories of those who rely upon them to track important dates, phone numbers, addresses, and events rather than storing at least some of that information internally (“Omnipresent and Omnipotent,” 2002).

The Dissolving Memory

My original idea and title for this exposition was Will Hard Drives Be Replaced by Networks? But after researching the topic, that question became moot as it is just a matter of time before optical networks offer applications and services that will supersede our need for localized storage.

“You ought to have worldwide storage,” says Culler (David Culler, a Berkeley computer science professor and an expert on computer architectures and networking).

“The idea of having your disk and backup and remembering where your files are that’s baloney. In the future, you’ve got one great big ocean: All the data is out there” (Johnson, 2000).

We have already seen a trend where computers are physically getting smaller. Eventually, this will cause a decline in the “desktop” as we know it, and applications will move off the hard drive and onto networks.

Regarding the decline of the desktop, we might see an increase in wearable computers and a decrease in OS-based desktops. This follows from a move to networked systems, where PCs could be simple, stripped-down network computers that rely upon network operating systems and network software to run. PCs may no longer be filled to the brim with various software applications, but may be specific, toolkit-oriented machines that serve a few functions, hence the movement towards smaller computers.

This is seen with Microsoft’s recent introduction of its .Net software, which automatically determines what software you need and downloads it from a server on the Internet and/or from your hard drive. There would be no need for stand-alone software, and having a full-blown desktop would not be necessary (Purola, 2000).

The cloud is already de rigueur in 2017
The cloud is already de rigueur in 2017

Reading topical articles led me to explore this expansive view of future networks, one that includes the concept of the Internet “disappearing” altogether from the standpoint of its total integration into our daily lives, when “computation and connectivity become so pervasive that you forget they are there” (“Omnipresent and Omnipotent,” 2002).

The focus of this exposition will be to give an overview of what future networks are predicted to be like and their ramifications not only on the future of computing, but on our individual and collective lives in a society interwoven with networked technology.

The ocean metaphor with plankton serving as a minute basis for the entire food chain encompasses how future networks may actually be modeled. Computer scientists envision an evolutionary world of computing, where systems begin at the microscopic (or even the atomic) level and change by the minute, constantly reconstructing and reforming connections as new information and growing databases feed the entire network structure new information.

This “biological” or as some call it a “DNA” like network will be amorphous, constantly evolving, and part of all we do in our everyday lives.

An ongoing project at Berkeley named Endeavor (after Captain Cook’s first ship) touts the ocean comparison in their public relations material:

“The sea is a particularly poignant metaphor, as it interconnects much of the world. We envision fluid information systems that are everywhere and always there, with components that flow through the infrastructure, shape themselves to adapt to their usage, and cooperate on the task at hand'” (Johnson, 2000).

Oceans of Data
Oceans of Data

Furthermore, basing the invention and application of new machines on animal or human processes has precedent.

Although I have never seen it written down anywhere, it seems to me that the computer is based on the Atkinson/Shiffrin Memory Model, with the sensory registers corresponding to input devices (keyboards, mice, and microphones), the short-term store being analogous to random access memory, and the long term store equaling the hard drive.

In fact, when explaining how computers work, I have found that the memory model analogy is easily comprehended by people with scant knowledge of how a computer actually functions. And to extend the Atkinson/Shiffron example, these future networks will also be based on qualities of the human brain.

The Atkinson-Shiffrin Memory Model
The Atkinson-Shiffrin Memory Model

“People can take a bullet through the brain and still have the ability to have thought processes,” Katz says. “The super complex system of the future has to be able to organize itself so it can be more robust in its behavior, deal with failure, and then pick up the pieces and move on.”

So the Net will be like an ocean, the air, a biological system (Johnson, 2000).

Now that Michael Crichton’s new book Prey has been released, the news magazines are running stories on nanotechnology (technology based on the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules to build structures to complex, atomic specifications), which will be the “plankton” piece of this network, evolving in the new sea of atomic-level technology that will eventually become a part of our lives, though it is my feeling that the speed of the process will be determined by consumer demand.

Telephones, for example, were around for a long time before they became an integral part of human activity.

Telephones have made a huge difference in our lives, but the change didn’t happen all at once. The advent of the first telephone in your home town might have made front page news in the local newspaper, but didn’t significantly change the way you conducted business or lived your life. But now that the telephones are essentially ubiquitous, they’ve become part of the way we work and live. The point is that it’s the density, not the number of connections, that makes a real difference. The same is true of computer networks (Poor, 1997).

This statement leads me to ask: what is the level of computer “density” at this stage of technological history? It is my belief that they are much more prevalent that the average person realizes. For example, if I asked the question “how many computers do you own?” most people would count the PCs or Macs in their possession. A few would count their PDAs if they owned any. But in actuality, we probably own dozens. Computers now regulate the fuel and electrical currents that power our automobiles.

They run our kids’ gaming machines, supplement our thermostats and heating/air-conditioning units, power our digital watches (some of which have wireless connections to radio waves that update them with regularity to atomic clocks), run our microwave ovens, and even power “singing” greeting cards.

One thing that is hampering their dramatic growth at the moment is the fact that we are still relying on wires. But when wireless technology becomes as practical and “dense” as telephones, we will literally be covered up in computers:

Well, a wireless world does foreshadow the next prediction that computers will be everywhere in the future. Since with wireless you can communicate from any place (and thus, take computers everywhere), computers will be miniaturized and possibly used for specialized functions, including; personal identification chips, heart rate monitors, networked appliances, and miniature pagers and cell phones connected to an ear piece that plays voice messages or an eyepiece that displays text (Purola, 2000).

And once again, like the memory model comparison to computer functionality, the concept of “networking” itself relates directly to human physiology and social activity. As far as the former is concerned, we are from brain to nervous system to the skeleton a network.

“Our human bodies are the most efficient, mobile wireless network of all” (Purola, 2000). Although we are not plugged into an outlet, the fact that our brains run on electro-chemical energy and our synapses are powered by the same belies the “wireless” statement, but I understand Purolas contention.

John Guares play Six Degrees of Separation pointed out our social networking scheme by showing how each of us is connected to every other human being on the planet by no fewer than six mutual acquaintances. “Networking marketing” and getting business or jobs through “networking” are so commonly used they are passé.

Social media is now woven into our daily lives ...
Social media is now woven into our daily lives …

Therefore, it is “natural” that networks will begin to follow a biological direction as we tend to build things resembling or selves or our theories. For example, the Bible says that God created man in His image, but perhaps like ancient Greeks (Judeo-Christians) created God in our image, lacking the ability and imagination to create being incomprehensible to us.

What will this “biological network” look like? Walter van de Velde, in a piece entitled “A Tail [sic] of Parallel Worlds and Parrots” (1997) likens it to an electronic jungle:

“Imagine a world parallel to this one and populated by numerous digital creatures. It is a society much like ours – a virtual one, yes – but as large, dynamic and varied as this one.”

Some of these creatures are your friends, some others you may like or not, many of them you don’t even know. You couldn’t care less if only there was not this one annoying thing: they want you to listen to them as the clever ones spit out their information – useful or not – offer you some service – need it or not -want to ask you something, or tell you the story of their daytime.

You’re imagining the future of computer networks: a huge collection of active software agents, each of them pushing to do their thing with you. How to deal with this? After all you don’t need everything and your attention is limited.

He goes on to imagine a new species of (digital, I assume) “parrot” that rides on your shoulder and whispers into your ear the things you need to know to get through your busy day. Connected to other parrots and networked beings in this digital jungle, your mascot is constantly being updated with facts and information as it learns your “personal context” and gives you “leads” that are “useful to you at the moment” because it not only shares your reality, it is a “personal lens into the virtual world.”

Digital Creatures
Digital Creatures

Software agents, otherwise known as “intelligent agents” scan your habits, likes, dislikes, attitudes, purchasing decisions, ad infinitum, and help you make decisions.

If you’ve read Phillip K. Dick’s short story “Minority Report” or have seen the Spielberg movie of the same name, then you are already familiar with intelligent agents. As the main character walks into a mall of the future, a loudspeaker pipes up: “Mr. Anderton, would you like to buy a pair of pants like you purchased the last time you visited the Gap?”

My imagination of this networked world does not include parrots, but something like a pair of stylish glasses with a transparent monitor for lenses that you can scan with your eye and, at the rudimentary stages say five years from now you can either whisper, blink, or think “open browser, go to half.com, scan trouser sales, size forty waist, herringbone, cotton and poly mix 60:40, compare prices, output store name and nearest directions, I don’t like to buy clothes without trying them on” and the computer built into the eyeglass frame flashes out the information while you are driving to the daycare to pick up your child and so you stop at the store on the way home and make your purchase after the nanny-bot bounces your kid on its fake-flesh-covered knee while you are zipping up in the dressing room.

Google glasses failed, but they will return.
Google glasses failed, but they will return.

Later, when your brain is implanted with a wireless receiver, you will not have to wear glasses, unless you want some respite from the “Omninet” (a word describing the Internets successor).

As the Internet of today is absorbed by some barely imaginable Omninet of tomorrow, scientists at places like Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and other technological powerhouses have come to believe that a better-wired world will require a communications web as intricate, powerful, and malleable as its living ancestors. While biological networks are fine-tuned by the algorithm par excellence called Darwinian evolution genetic variation and natural selection the clunky, human-made networks of today are built top-down in the creationist mode, engineered not by omnipotent gods but by mere mortals. If the next few decades unfold as the more visionary computer scientists expect, the line between the natural and the artificial will blur, then fade away (Johnson, 2000).

These scientists imagine computers becoming an integral part of our material world: “Your environment will become alive with technology, says Leonard Kleinrock, the UCLA computer scientist responsible for setting up the first Arpanet node three decades ago. The walls will contain logic, processors, memory cameras, microphones, communicators, actuators, [and] sensors” (Johnson, 2000).

I guess that means you could tell your wall what color you wanted it to be on a particular day, and it would change to suit your mood. When we discussed these possibilities, my wife became wildly optimistic, speculating that my bathroom would one day be clean at all times if the walls and floor could suck up male crud minute by minute as nano-bacteria eaters chomped happily away twenty-four seven, creating an anal-retentives heaven-on-earth.

As the theory goes, when the Internet morphs into the Omninet and becomes a part of everything we do, we will not even notice it anymore:

The [Berkeley Endeavor] project leader, Randy Katz, imagines a day, maybe even by the end of the decade, when the Internet disappears, when computation and connectivity become so pervasive that you forget they are there. No longer will the network simply be a vast expanse of nodes strung together with dark, gaping holes in between, but rather an all-pervasive presence firmly entrenched into our culture and society. According to another Endeavour leader, this Information Utility will eventually become a giant, largely invisible infrastructure that makes your life better (Johnson, 2000).

That is the part I seriously doubt. I would certainly enjoy the extra time I would have with my wife if she were freed from cleaning chores (I am not considered thorough enough), and it would only take me only a nano-second to turn lawn care over to the mowbot, but the aspect of having virtually everything we lay our hands on being tied to an Omninet is frightening.

Concerned about intruding hackers, I installed a Netgear router for my home network. How would I cope with constant surveillance?

Also, my brain appears to be shrinking now because I rely on the Internet and spell checkers and computerized calendars. If every decision from the trivial to the consequential were turned over to intelligent agents, how long would it take before I became a drooling, slouching (sieg heiling!) member of the Omninet human corps?

After all, once the all-pervasive network is in place, those who control the “facts” would be in control of the population’s hearts and minds.

Controlling hearts and minds.
Controlling hearts and minds…now dilutes the truth on a daily basis in 2017.

And what if these networked parrots and intelligent agents and other artificial life forms start taking on a consciousness of their own, ala HAL in 2001 A Space Odyssey? If the network is truly “biological” and evolves on its own, who is to say it will not morph into a collective force that is not only omniscient, but omnipotent, and beyond our control?

If we are to proceed with the development of such potentially overwhelming technology, we must be tentative at every step and spare no expense in risk management in order to guarantee the security of individuals, nations, and entire cultures. Unfortunately, based upon our track record thus far, we have not yet developed this precautionary attitude in the software and technology industry. The current practice is to get it out quickly and fix the mistakes later, an attitude we can ill afford to maintain as the technology we develop has a dramatically more significant impact on our very existence (Johnson, 2000).

I do not doubt that these new technologies are possible and are on their way to fruition.

But unless we think through the consequences of our decisions and proceed with caution by building in redundant checks and balances, a self-perpetuating and constantly evolving network of machines will compete for control of our humanness and dominion over the planet that provides for our existence.

© Michael “Gene” Scott 2003
[email protected]

References

Johnson, George (2000). From swarms of smart dust to secure collaborative zones, the Omninet comes to you. Issue 8.01, Only Connect. Retrieved November 8, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.01/nets.html

“Omnipresent and Omnipotent,” 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cs.usask.ca/undergrads/smm735/490/490a2.htm

Poor, Robert D. (1997). High-density networks. MIT Media Laboratory. . Retrieved November 22, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.media.mit.edu/pia/Pubs/HyphosSlideShow/index.html

Purola, Jeremy (2000). The Future of Networking :A sequential look at DNA, quantum, and optical computers. Retrieved November 28, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ashtabulaart.com/jp/Papers/NResearch.htm#shape

van de Velde. Walter (1997). A tail of parallel worlds and parrots. Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved December 1, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

http://www.i3net.org/ser_pub/services/magazine/november97/comris.html

The Two-Tailed American Taliban

The polarization of America continues at a rapid pace, but we weren’t always at each other’s throats.

Following WWII, soldiers of both political parties returned home to marry, buy homes, spawn babies, and pursue careers. My great uncle William Plum grew up dirt poor in Minnesota where his large family regularly snared deer and headshot rabbits to survive the Great Depression before losing their farm.

Uncle Bill joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor, reached officer status, and returned to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and earned a Ph.D. in physics – at the University of Missouri – before joining the fledgling NASA program. Showing promise, he was assigned to the team building the lunar rover. Here’s a picture of Astronaut Charles Duke standing next to Plum Crater with the lunar rover and earth in the background.

Plum Crater
Plum Crater

I have no idea of Uncle Bill’s political leanings. It doesn’t matter; we’re proud of him.

***

Soldiers returning from battle worked together and built America into the greatest nation in history.

They socialized, drank, attended church together, and cared for each other’s families.

Republican Hillary Rhodhams married Democrat Bill Clintons, Donkeys hooked up with Elephants, and thought little of political boundaries.

There were setbacks (The Cold War, McCarthyism), but centrist America held firm.

Soldiers covered each other’s six during the war; they realized the value of compromise.

Republicans backed LBJ and pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law despite little help from the Democrats, who later voted in large numbers for George Wallace, though he represented the American Independent Party.  Reagan Democrats shoehorned The Gipper into the Oval Office.

Fast forward to 2017.

Congress is totally dysfunctional – each side refusing to employ compromise and address the growing needs of its representative constituency – while the majority of voters remain solidly in the middle, holding fast to traditional values.

The far right / far left have morphed into close-minded self-aggrandized (nearly) identical twins of dysfunction … forming a virtual rope of the proverbial dog’s tail, now shaking the whole animal into paralysis.

These combined extremes embody The Two-Tailed American Taliban.

The far left became fascistic by embracing extreme political correctness and by ripping down statues devoted to American history. For example, Charlottesville is about to spend $300,000 to destroy Robert E. Lee’s statue.

I can already hear the bitching: Lee led the pro-slavery South!

True.

But here are other facts about Robert E. Lee you may not know.

First, he was offered the Generalship of the Army of the Potomac by Abraham Lincoln because he was a faithful Federal officer, the best in the land.

After wringing his hands for a few days, Lee concluded he could not destroy his native state. Then he worked his way up to leadership of The Army of Virginia with brains and audacity on the field. He treated everyone – black and white alike – with respect. There is a case to be made that Lee was to Davis what Rommel was to Hitler.

Secondly, he exhibited grace and forgiveness after the war. “Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian. After the war I became an American“.

Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was the only religious institution left standing in the Capital of the Confederacy following the national conflagration. One Sunday at the beginning of peace, Lee sat in the pews at the end of a service, waiting for communion.

At that moment the large double doors flung open and a black vagrant appeared in the portal. When the man walked to the front and kneeled at the altar, an audible gasp filled the room.

How did Lee react?

He stood up, let his reputation be damned, walked to the altar, knelt, then prayed beside the freed Negro shoulder-to-shoulder, announcing to the world its need for grace and forgiveness.

This is the man whose statue needs to be ripped asunder?

The latest far-left craze is to shell out what would amount to billions of dollars in reparations to the descendants of black slaves. Not indentured servants. Not yellow slaves. Certainly not the race of millions already living in North America who were cut from their mother’s wombs, crammed into concentration camps — an Andrew Jackson invention — death-marched to Oklahoma, systematically annihilated or liquored into submission.

Never-mind the descendents of 600,000 Union soldiers who fought to end slavery.  My relatives Michael and Jonathan Batdorf from Neponset, Illinois ended up in Andersonville after their capture at the battle of Lookout Mountain. Michael’s grave marker is #4618. Thirty-thousand-one-hundred-ninety-two Union soldiers died inside Confederate prisons during the war.

They don’t count.

Similarly, far-right-wing-alt-conservative-nationalists don blinders.

For example, our local state representative panders to Bible thumpers and gun enthusiasts. The remainder of his constituents count for nothing.

Micah Van Huss’s idea of legislation is allowing parents to carry guns to soccer games, defunding diversity grants, establishing the Bible as the Official State Book, granting college students the right to pull pistols on campus, and allowing the ownership of pet skunks.

One cannot make this stuff up. Look for yourself.

Furthermore, modern American far-right-wingers want to eradicate public education, ignore climate change, openly grab women’s genitals and toss pregnant women back into back alley coat hanger abortions.

They want to send hard-working tax-paying Catholic conservative Hispanics back to Mexico after dumping American corn on their market, stealing their agricultural livelihood, and forcing them to migrate to keep their families alive.

Modern far right-wingers want to imprison millions – mostly black males – for using street drugs … while simultaneously chomping opiates … and renaming the WAR ON DRUGS … now that it’s a white problem … “a terrible disease”.

Therefore it is incumbent upon the majority – those of us still banking on commonsense and unity of purpose – to ignore this vicious intertwined tail, bob it, or outvote it.

Voting in large numbers — and bringing our majority to bear — is the only practical choice.

Extremists of both colors appear deaf to fact and blind to logic and run almost entirely on emotion and news slanted to their personal preference.

Historically speaking, the last war the US fought over minority power took more lives than all other US wars put together — until the middle of the Vietnam War.

The majority of sensible Americans retaining principled integrity and common purpose cannot afford one more election thrown to either extremity of the Two-Tailed American Taliban.

Voting is a chore, but it beats the hell out of Civil War.  We need to cover each other’s six once again.

Opioids in the News

Dear Readers,

Today I’m simply re-posting recent articles — written by others — directly related to the opioid epidemic, which is the subject of my recently published novel.

New readers are signing up almost daily to receive this blog, and many are medical students or political science majors interested in the topics and the accompanying research. Perhaps this will help.

Look for original pieces arriving in the next few days.

First, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4/3/17:

Social change and economic disappointment create an epidemic of ‘deaths by despair’

st louis pd deaths per 100kScreen Shot 2017-04-11 at 2.34.51 PM.png

Two years ago, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton disclosed a shocking finding: Between 1999 and 2014, middle-aged (45-54) white Americans with a high school education or less died at a rate never before seen in a modern industrialized society.

Alone among every other demographic group they studied, this group’s life expectancy was shrinking. The group’s annual mortality rate jumped from 281 per 100,000 to 415 per 100,000 during the 15 years studied.

Big reasons: Striking increases in the number of suicides, drug overdoses and liver disease caused by alcohol poisoning. Case and Deaton called them “deaths by despair.”

Now the two scholars have returned to try to explain why this is happening. In a report published by the Brookings Institution, they suggest that while income inequality and wage stagnation may play a background role, a lifetime of “cumulative disadvantage” catches up with this demographic.

They are the slice of the population who hit the job market as low-skill jobs were being mechanized, computerized and globalized. They grew into adulthood as cohesion-building social institutions like marriage, family and churches became weaker. Often they didn’t have spouses, pastors, work buddies or kids to back them up.

They did have opioid painkillers, which Case and Deaton say “added fuel to the flames, making the epidemic much worse than it otherwise would have been.” They cite a study from the Boston Federal Reserve that found that among men not in the labor force, nearly half are taking pain medication, most often by prescription.

Case is a professor of economics and public affairs; Deaton, her husband, was the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics. They admit their research is not a “smoking gun,” but it has ominous implications:

“This account, which fits much of the data, has the profoundly negative implication that policies, even ones that successfully improve earnings and jobs, or redistribute income, will take many years to reverse the mortality and morbidity increase, and that those in midlife now are likely to do much worse in old age than those currently older than 65.”

Obviously the same forces affecting low-income middle-aged whites also affect poor educated middle-aged blacks and Hispanics. But mortality rates are decreasing among those groups and they don’t suffer high rates of deaths by despair. The authors speculate that expectations may be higher among whites, leading to greater disappointment when things don’t work out.

Many of these folks put their faith in Republican promises of help, and the GOP owes them something. Addressing opioid addiction is a place to start. So is keeping the social safety net intact. GOP politicians can boast about bringing back jobs and passing right-to-work laws, but voters must hold them accountable if they make things worse for the people the corporate economy has left behind.

***

Dallas Morning News 4/6/17

At the heart of our opioid crisis: the doctors who overprescribe them

President Donald Trump held a “listening session” about opioids and drug abuse at the White House last week. The gathering included former addicts, parents of children who had overdosed, top federal officials and others. Trump vowed to make drug treatment more widely available — a worthwhile goal with bipartisan appeal. He also spoke of strengthening law enforcement and dismantling drug cartels.

But there is a cheaper, low-risk tactic for curbing some opioid misuse that was neglected: changing doctors’ prescribing habits and better educating patients. A recent study found that for every 48 patients who receive an opioid prescription in the emergency room, one will likely become a long-term user. A more cautious approach to prescribing could save lives.

Across the United States, health care professionals wrote 249 million prescriptions for opioid pain medicines in 2013. In 2015, about 22,000 Americans died after overdosing on some form of opioid drug, legal or illicit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those deaths, 15,000 were attributed to prescription opioid overdoses. In fiscal 2015, Texas pharmacies dispensed almost 7 million prescriptions for the opioid painkillers hydrocodone or oxycodone alone.

There is no medical explanation for the rise in opioid use. Sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, even though Americans don’t report having more pain now. Prescribing rates vary widely among states, even though health conditions don’t. Even among doctors working in the same emergency room, some prescribe opioids much more frequently than others.

some states have more opioid

The federal government — along with some states and professional associations — has produced extensive prescribing guidelines. Opioid medications are not the preferred option for managing chronic pain; doctors and patients should try other approaches first and carefully weigh risks before starting prescription opioids. For acute pain, such as after surgery, doctors should prescribe the lowest possible dose of opioid for the shortest duration. Prescribers must be especially careful with older adults because opioid painkillers can put seniors at higher risks of falls and fractures.

Pharmacists and patients have an important role. In Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill, SB 316, which tightens the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. The bill would make it easier for pharmacists and regulators to quickly spot patients who fill multiple prescriptions for addictive medications and doctors who prescribe inappropriately.

And the public can help, too. How do most people who misuse prescription pain medications get them? One large study showed that about half obtained them free from friends or relatives. So, if you have pain pills left over from surgery or dental work, drop them in the toilet. Really. These medications are so dangerous when misused that the FDA recommends flushing them down the sink or the toilet if you can’t find an official drug take-back event. That will keep everybody in your home — you and your friends, relatives, kids and pets — safe.

What you can do

April 29 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which aims to provide a safe, convenient and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while providing education about the potential for abuse and medications. To find a drop-off location near you or to learn more about the program, visit dea.gov or call 800-882-9539.

(Verify the original piece)

***

Associated Press 3-10-17:

Workers comp programs fight addiction among injured workers

This article is protected, but the link is worth reading!

***

Fourth, the Kingsport Times-News 7/3/16:

Endless prescription: Suboxone, Subutex plaguing region

Suboxone. Subutex.

For many, they mean nothing. But they are at the heart of a disturbing trend which has seen people move to the area just to obtain them, caused doctors to leave other jobs to prescribe them and left hundreds of drug addicts with an endless prescription.

It is a problem law enforcement has seen explode in the last five years.

“We routinely arrest people for drug offenses and find them in possession of both buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex) and some other powerful narcotic (heroin, opiate-based pain pills, etc.) that buprenorphine is supposed to be weaning them off of. This phenomenon directly contradicts their intended purpose,” said Kingsport Police Department Public Information Officer Tom Patton.

“In an ideal world, buprenorphine could arguably serve a legitimate purpose. But we do not live in an ideal world, and we are probably seeing more harm than good out of these drugs at this point.”

The intended use of buprenorphine, the main ingredient in Suboxone and Subutex, is to help people addicted to pain pills achieve sobriety by providing an alternative to their drug of choice. Counseling and therapy are supposed to be provided along with the prescription.

Over time, the dosage should be reduced gradually until the patient is completely drug free.

That is not happening.

“I started going to a doctor in 2006 or 2007, somewhere around there,” said a Suboxone patient who wished to remain anonymous. “The first time you take it and the second time you take it, it feels great. Then it just turns into maintenance.”

He said he is disappointed because he was told by a healthcare professional that a tapering off would occur, but never did.

The patient, who is currently homeless, said he spends $160 a week to visit a doctor and fill his prescription. He readily admits he could spend that money on an apartment if he were not on Suboxone.

It is a cash-only business because his doctor, like many buprenorphine prescribers, does not accept insurance.

And cash only not only applies to patients, but to everyone, including law enforcement agencies that buy the drug for use as health maintenance for prisoners.

“All clinics do cash only,” said Christy Frazier, the health administrator for the Sullivan County Jail. “The ones I worked with here only take cash, even from us.”

Frazier said in just one week, approximately 75 percent of those coming into the jail had abused Suboxone or Subutex. She said at least two inmates told her they moved to Northeast Tennessee for the express purpose of obtaining the drugs.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said almost every single drug case before a recent grand jury involved the selling of Suboxone or Subutex.

“It’s a real danger to the community,” he said. “I attribute that to overprescribing.”

Patients are not the only ones getting in on the act. Doctors are reportedly leaving their current work to start prescribing buprenorphine.

“Greed is taking over,” said Dr. Randy Jessee, senior vice president of specialty services for Frontier Health. “We are hearing stories about doctors quitting their ER work, quitting their practice and going into the Suboxone business.”

According to the Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, there are 94 buprenorphine prescribers in the greater metro areas of Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol. And that number could be an underestimate because prescribers decide whether they want to be listed in the DSAMH locator, according to the 2015 DSAMH “Medication-Assisted Treatment Substance Use Tool Guide.”

It would never be obvious to anyone driving around town that so many buprenorphine prescribers exist. There is a reason why.

Many of the clinics or prescribers do not advertise the prescribing of Suboxone or Subutex. They also have unassuming names, calling themselves a rehabilitation center or family treatment center. Many users find out by word of mouth.

The Suboxone patient who talked to the Times-News was handed a card directing him to a clinic by a friend nearly 10 years ago.

“My friend at work gave me a card that was $25 off the first visit,” he said. “At my first visit, he (the prescriber) gave us cards to give out. We were pretty much advertising for them.”

He said he’s gone from being able to see the doctor at any time to having to wait up to two hours for a visit. Suboxone and Subutex are being prescribed so much in the area that pharmacies are either running out or reaching their federal limit on buprenorphine.

The patient said he’s had to drive to every Walgreens to try to get his prescription filled, only to be declined. Many smaller pharmacies refuse to accept new patients who are being prescribed Suboxone.

Once someone is given a prescription for these drugs, it becomes very hard to stop using them without tapering off because the withdrawal symptoms are worse than with regular opioids.

The Suboxone patient is stressed out because he was robbed of some cash and his entire prescription four days ago. He has not had Suboxone in three days and is starting to feel the effects. He has experienced withdrawal before and is not looking forward to going through it again.

“I feel like I woke up with the flu,” he said. “For 11 or 12 days, I feel really, really bad. Then I won’t feel right for about 30 days.”

He said he is currently $35 short for his next doctor’s appointment, meaning he needs to find the money so he can get his prescription. That means borrowing money from someone, usually with the promise of giving a pill or two in return.

Subutex is more popular on the street than Suboxone because it does not contain the overdose drug Naloxone. Users can take Subutex and get higher than they could with Suboxone.

Suboxone is going for about $25 to $30 per dose on the street while Subutex is selling for between $40 and $70.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill in 2015 that said only pregnant women and those allergic to Naloxone can get it. Frazier said this had led to women getting pregnant on purpose just to obtain Subutex.

Subutex and Suboxone use on the street has become a huge problem and many blame the prescribers. The patient interviewed by the Times-News called it legal drug dealing.

“We’re giving doctors the money instead of drug lords,” Frazier said.

(Verify the original piece)

***

And last, from ClarksvilleNow.com, December 2016, which pertains to the characters and situations in Jellybeaners:

Tennessee sets new record in drug overdose deaths in 2015

This page is protected, but the link and information will open eyes.

***

Thanks for subscribing to Gene Scott Books, and please forward any pertinent opioid information to [email protected] you feel may help our readers.

Lamar Alexander: Listening with a Robotic Ear

We all knew the Betsy DeVos nomination was a done deal before the excruciating hearings confirmed our fears and made it clear she held no real experience in the arena she’ll now control.

After all, she’s a member of the billionaire class who bought her ticket the same way many in the cabinet have elbowed past the better qualified.

Listen to that swamp drain … gurgle gurgle.

Here’s my personal story.

One of our US senators, Lamar Alexander, once ran for governor and won the hearts of Tennesseans by walking across the state — from Mountain City to Memphis, over a thousand miles — wearing a red and black flannel shirt and meeting with and listening to folks along the way.

Abe Lincoln, reborn.

But now after fourteen years in Congress he replies to personal letters with pre-programmed robot mail because the office in question — secretary of education — was pre-sold to the highest bidder.

A friend of mine wrote and asked me to pen a note begging LA to rethink the DeVos nomination. So I took several hours, researched a bit, and produced a letter.

For security, I cut and pasted the letter into his website, the current way he’s receiving public mail.  The paper letter never garnered a response.

And his team was smart enough to not send their robot letter back a nano second after my personal letter hit the server.

Their response drifted back the next day. Savvy. As if they’d read it.

Anyway, it’s interesting to follow the order of events. Here they are: the original letter, the robot response, and my follow up at the end. Let’s set this down for posterity, as Lamar Alexander’s legacy rides upon the way our government is behaving at the moment.

***

Dear Senator Lamar Alexander,

My favorite American, Ben Franklin, perhaps the most inventive and prescient of us all, made it clear that he trusted neither the elite, nor the rabble. [1]

You, sir, sit in control of present day American history. With your influence and pen, you may turn a pillar of America freedom – public education – into a pile of desecrated ash.

Or, you may preserve a way of life that has successfully blended the melting pot into the powerhouse of capitalism, prosperity, and equal opportunity known as America, a richly diverse mix of blood, religion, creed, and ambition – all imbued with a love for family and civic pride that sweeps the nation while transcending political parties and narrow ideology.

Ben Franklin Jr High 9th Grade 1955-1956

The egalitarian principle upon which we’ve built our culture – that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and equal opportunities – already cost us the inestimable blood-soaked trauma of the most horrific of all wars, a war where only Americans perished, a war that came to a head at a wall on Missionary Ridge.

And yet, we sit looking on while another wall is erected, a wall pitting the resources of the private education scheme against traditional melting-pot public schools in a land already seething with a discontent for the unending privileges of few at the expense of many.

Senator Alexander, Betsy DeVos is unqualified to serve as the Secretary of Education for three reasons. First, she is a member of the billionaire class who has never worked in a public school, has never earned a degree in education, and never saw her children attend a public school. Experience? Zero.

Second, Betsy DeVos advocates “school choice” privatization schemes. When schools become business-driven for-profit entities mainly rewarding stockholders, they’ll immediately drain resources from public schools, which will wither and become “alternative schools” or in other words, a well-oiled feeder system for the burgeoning for-profit prison system even more than the outrageous present – where 40% of our prison population is comprised of a single racial group equaling only 13% of the general population. [2]

Which rewards for-profit prison stockholders.

prison stock graph

The vicious cash-churning cycle may buy yachts and classy real estate for a few, but it certainly poisons millions of youth while darkening our moral landscape to the point where civil-rights-rebellions are glimpsed on the mall the day after inaugurations.

womens march npr
Read more

Lastly, Betsy DeVos is unqualified for the post because she threatens the loss of civil rights and opportunity for those who won’t be able to scale the elite-inspired walls erected by private for-profit schools.

And once schools are effectively re-segregated, the elite will be ensured a never-ending supply of government-created-Soylent-Green-cash in the form of education-deprived public school self-created “rabble” permanently excluded from the egalitarian dream of equal rights, equal opportunity.

There is precedent. [3]

Following the Civil War, lawmen in the South rounded up black “vagrants” and funneled them through the penal system and instantly regenerated the once-lost-now-found system of slavery-by-another-name. Incarceration.

So the choice is yours. Ben Franklin’s history is set. Yours is about to be written.

The future of the nation depends upon your decision. May God guide your hand in egalitarian Christian [4] love for those whose destiny will be determined by that act.

Respectfully yours,
Michael “Gene” Scott

____________________________

[1] Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, (Simon and Schuster: 2003), p. 112.

[2] Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/rates.html

[3] T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas, And the Texans, p. 629.

[4] Christian egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level), also known as biblical equality, is a Christian form of egalitarianism. It holds that all human persons are created equally in God’s sight—equal in fundamental worth and moral status.

***

Senator Lamar Alexander’s Robot Letter Response

Dear Mr. Scott,

Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding President Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to become the next Secretary of Education.

Betsy DeVos is an excellent choice. The Senate’s education committee will move swiftly in January to consider her nomination. Betsy has worked for years to improve educational opportunities for all children. As Secretary, she will be able to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new law fixing No Child Left Behind, just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers, and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities. Under the new law, the federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt any particular standards, including Common Core.

I also look forward to working with her on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, giving us an opportunity to clear out the jungle of red tape that makes it more difficult for students to obtain financial aid and for administrators to manage America’s 6,000 colleges and universities.

Improving our schools has been one of my top priorities in public service, both as a U.S. Senator and during my earlier service as governor, president of the University of Tennessee, and U.S. Secretary of Education. Better schools mean better jobs, which is why I have worked to support states and school districts in improving education so that our students have the tools they need for success.

We are unleashing a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement—one that recognizes that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is classroom by classroom, community by community, and state by state—and not through Washington, D.C. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know where you stand. I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as this issue is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.

Sincerely,

Lamar
LA/BM
***

Thanks, Lamar. You’ve effectively trampled American-forged melting pot education with your Almighty Buck boots while sporting an old flannel shirt turned inside out.

Your legacy is now set in cement for those future Americans who can afford to read it.

 

http://www.startribune.com/sack-cartoon-betsy-devos-confirmed/413094453/
Cartoon by Steve Stack


An Open Letter to Lamar Alexander Concerning the Betsy DeVoss Nomination

Dear Senator Lamar Alexander,

My favorite American, Ben Franklin, perhaps the most inventive and prescient of us all, made it clear that he trusted neither the elite, nor the rabble. [1]

You, sir, sit in control of present day American history. With your influence and pen, you may turn a pillar of America freedom – public education – into a pile of desecrated ash.

Or, you may preserve a way of life that has successfully blended the melting pot into the powerhouse of capitalism, prosperity, and equal opportunity known as America, a richly diverse mix of blood, religion, creed, and ambition – all imbued with a love for family and civic pride that sweeps the nation while transcending political parties and narrow ideology.

Ben Franklin Jr High 9th Grade 1955-1956

The egalitarian principle upon which we’ve built our culture – that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and equal opportunities – already cost us the inestimable blood-soaked trauma of the most horrific of all wars, a war where only Americans perished, a war that came to a head at a wall on Missionary Ridge.

And yet, we sit looking on while another wall is erected, a wall pitting the resources of the private education scheme against traditional melting-pot public schools in a land already seething with a discontent for the unending privileges of few at the expense of many.

Senator Alexander, Betsy DeVos is unqualified to serve as the Secretary of Education for three reasons. First, she is a member of the billionaire class who has never worked in a public school, has never earned a degree in education, and never saw her children attend a public school. Experience? Zero.

Second, Betsy DeVos advocates “school choice” privatization schemes. When schools become business-driven for-profit entities mainly rewarding stockholders, they’ll immediately drain resources from public schools, which will wither and become “alternative schools” or in other words, a well-oiled feeder system for the burgeoning for-profit prison system even more than the outrageous present – where 40% of our prison population is comprised of a single racial group equaling only 13% of the general population. [2]

Which rewards for-profit prison stockholders.

prison stock graph

 

The vicious cash-churning cycle may buy yachts and classy real estate for a few, but it certainly poisons millions of youth while darkening our moral landscape to the point where civil-rights-rebellions are glimpsed on the mall the day after inaugurations.

womens march npr
Read more

 

Lastly, Betsy DeVos is unqualified for the post because she threatens the loss of civil rights and opportunity for those who won’t be able to scale the elite-inspired walls erected by private for-profit schools.

And once schools are effectively re-segregated, the elite will be ensured a never-ending supply of government-created-Soylent-Green-cash in the form of education-deprived public school self-created “rabble” permanently excluded from the egalitarian dream of equal rights, equal opportunity.

There is precedent. [3]

Following the Civil War, lawmen in the South rounded up black “vagrants” and funneled them through the penal system and instantly regenerated the once-lost-now-found system of slavery-by-another-name. Incarceration.

So the choice is yours. Ben Franklin’s history is set. Yours is about to be written.

The future of the nation depends upon your decision. May God guide your hand in egalitarian Christian [4] love for those whose destiny will be determined by that act.

Respectfully yours,
Michael “Gene” Scott

____________________________

[1] Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, (Simon and Schuster: 2003), p. 112.

[2] Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/rates.html

[3] T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas, And the Texans, p. 629.

[4] Christian egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level), also known as biblical equality, is a Christian form of egalitarianism. It holds that all human persons are created equally in God’s sight—equal in fundamental worth and moral status.

Opioids and Obituaries

The motivation behind Jellybeaners — to shine light upon the opioid epidemic taking Americans at the rate of fifty per day — remains front and center in the news, and burns painfully in our collective hearts.

 Logically, one should abstain from indulging in news the first thing in the morning.

Soaking up death, stabbings, arson, child neglect, fracking, meth-lab explosions, sex slavery, environmental disasters, racist cops, neglected infrastructure, enduring slave wages, endless CEO profit raking, idiotic politicians blubbering pie-in-the-sky promises with no intention of following through … mixing all those nauseous facts with prodigious amounts of caffeine … well.

That can’t be good for the psyche.

But the routine never varies.

Out of bed, slurp coffee, devour news, cautiously turn to the obituaries, brace for the blow.

This week?

A recent law-school grad with a long history of academic success, a loving family, and a promising future. Twenty-seven-years-old.  Here’s a brief paraphrase from the obit:

God protected him many times when his parents were unable.  His earthly life ended unexpectedly but his everlasting life has begun.

We’ve watched the font-size of our local print paper decrescendo for thirty years to the point where it’s barely readable.

After all, they have our subscription money, and we’ve read the news on our iPhones and  internet feeds, old print news takes up valuable paper and ink, so we’ll minimalize it, shrink it with a pissant font, and look for other revenue streams.

To balance the loss of readership and revenue to online outlets, our local newspaper doubled the size of its obituary text,  colorized large head shots of the recently-deceased, and unknowing created a daily parade of local folk now leaving eternal digitized images. 

If you plan ahead, love to scribble, and can afford to throw even more cash at a local newspaper publisher, up goes your twin column half page manifesto, a.k.a. bird-cage lining.

Follow the money.

We’ve known for decades that newspapers and other media leverage sex and death to sell products.

Obituaries sell local papers. Furthermore, the family of the deceased wanting to run an obituary is billed up to $600 — approximately five times an annual subscription price — to purchase the publication of their loved one’s death notice.

And newsprint corporations will continue to milk grieving readers until obituaries naturally migrate whole herd onto the “everlasting” cloud — which is subject to evaporation any second of any day.

***

So we slurp coffee, wipe crust from our eyes, and suffer the dark parade of endless young-people obituaries — two or three “mysterious passings” per week — digitized head shots projecting health, vitality, and promise … while the shocking dissconnect of truth and image confounds the thoughtful reader.

Cancer victims either declare outright the nature of their earthly battle, or direct donations toward eradicating the scourge, which indicates the cause of their passing.

But prescription or illegal opioid drug deaths — cloaked in self-painted societal shame — lie hidden between the lines of the family-or-funeral-home-produced death notice.

We’re talking perhaps 2-3 opioid-connected deaths per-week in a region supporting a newspaper circulation of 43,000.

National statistics suggest nearly fifty-two Americans perish every day from prescription opioid overdoses — eighty per day if you figure in heroin — so two-or-three deaths a week in such a tiny demographic seems outrageous.

Heroin deaths are linked to the pill trade because recently skyrocketing street-prices of prescription opioids allow cheap heroin to flourish across the land, hitting rural states and Appalachia especially hard due to decades of high unemployment and a culture slow to raise education standards, though the epidemic appears to cross all lines, racial, religious, geographic, and socio-economic.

Many of our locals succumb to fentanyl, fifty times more potent than typical street heroin. They go to a party, try a little, forget how much they’ve taken, dab a little more, and before the dawn appears …. the sun sets on their precious lives.

The alarming potency of fentanyl — and even more horrendous Chinese exports washing ashore — steals our best and brightest, the folks we’re staking our future upon.

Opioid availability first soared (in recent history) after 26 states and D.C. legalized weed in some form and jerked market out from under Mexico, who made up the loss by dumping cheap heroin and opioid-laden chemicals on an already addicted North America poised to dull the pain with ever increasing amounts of opioids, a class of drugs that has debilitated us since the Civil War.

***

One family, six months ago, actually came clean in the second paragraph of their boy’s obituary, saying that the deceased fell victim to prescription drugs after losing his father two years prior. The son couldn’t bear the loss.

That’s the only self-admission I’d seen in thirty years of obituary reading, though I must confess that for twenty-eight years I only skimmed obits for astounding stories of WWII vets who’d conquered the world and returned home to build new lives.

***

The truth remains:  we all wear a mask.

mask
The Coalition for Positive Energy

This concept came home to me thirty years ago when I taught Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil to a class of honors English students in a suburban Chicago high school.

A small village church must deal with their minister, Mr. Hooper, who takes a notion to don a black veil covering his upper face — much like a widow would wear at an old-fashioned funeral. Everything goes south when he chooses to leave it on.

Permanently.

He becomes a better minister after this decision, ironically, and though his fiancé breaks off their engagement, she watches his entire life and comes to be with him on his death bed, where he admits all of us wear a mask.  Upon his death, Mr. Hooper is buried with the veil in place.

Let’s look into the mirror.

 When we’re at Sunday school, we wear the Sunday school face. Job interviews conjure a competent strong obedient flexible yes-sir face. Thursday night dollar-draft-beer Raccoon Club meetings at the local sports bar requires a special façade.

And since random acts of unprovoked violence occur in this crazy world  — say the unexpected death of a child through accident or SIDs — well, that means perhaps even God wears a mask.

No one is immune from the natural instinct to project a happy face while masking reality through omission.

Facebook is simply a party-line on steroids, a party line with enough bandwidth so a billion users may share photos, text, videos, music, and fake news.

For whatever psychological reason, the vast majority of us prefer to keep the laundry in the closet and to project the shiniest image of ourselves and our loved ones, clean photo-shopped textually-tweaked  images of success and prosperity.

Under this unspoken societal code lies a message

Vitality, good luck, success, look-what-I’ve-done, look-where-I’ve-been, see-where-I’m-going … that’s what’s important.

Let’s face it, we’re all the billboard producers of our archived lives, turned digital and pulsing across the electronic social universe — Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, et al. — social media entwined through massive servers grown muscular through carrying an ever-increasing crescendo of porn to the sex-starved masses.  Thirst begets thirst.

Irony. Cleanliness afforded by dirt.

As a result, we can now Photoshop and video-edit our pimples and purple lives while projecting sanitized, filtered, smiling, I’m so happy, self-assured-selfies, eternal masks frozen in digital clouds of memories, gigabytes juggled in “perpetuity” for dollars a month.

Even when people freak out, breech social barriers, and reveal their dark sides on social media, it’s often ignored until the post mortems roll in.

dylan roof
Dylan Roof

When an individual’s mask slips down,  the tribe doesn’t WANT to look, or doesn’t want to acknowledge some of us actually DID look and failed to respond.

Which brings us back to the Double-O-Demons.

opioid deaths 2015
opioid deaths 2015

Jellybeaners is a topical novel about opiates and obituaries, and the fact that shame drives many of our decisions.

And until we supplant shame with grace and help people recover from addiction through counseling, financial incentives, and work opportunities, well.

Jellybeaners will remain topical in perpetuity.