The Perfect Prison

When I was twenty-three, I found myself unemployed, and living in my girlfriend’s room in her parents’ beautiful brick house on the South Side of Chicago in an affluent white neighborhood slipping into descent after the M.L.K. riots of 1968. They kept me upstairs and visible, with girlfriend relegated to the basement.

Chicago during 1968 M.L.K. riots.
Chicago, summer of 1968.

I remember wandering the streets day-after-day-week-after-week begging for work, sliding in and out of tawdry bars – sticky-floor flyblown dives I’d never venture into for a drink on my own – but places I now prayed would hire me because I’d just spent my last $250 attending “Professional Bartender’s School” and earning a “Professional Bartender’s Certificate” after spending a week pouring colored water out of fake liquor bottles into appropriate glasses.

Armed with this “certificate”, I wandered into dozens of Chicagoland watering holes, but no one would hire me. Sheila’s Puke Shack owner S. Hardnutter threw me the stink eye when I dangled the Professional Bartender Certificate in front of her narrow eyes, then pointed toward the door.


Each night I’d limp home on sore feet and sit on my girlfriend’s bed and despair.  I remember a lone tear running down my cheek one night, followed in a few seconds by spontaneous laughter because Iron Eyes Cody – a pure-blood Italian, we found out later – currently starred in an environmental television ad as an American Indian saddened by the rape of the land, a single tear running down his cheek, which miraculously prodded Americans into picking up trash.

Iron Eyes Cody
Iron Eyes Cody

Swinging for the fence the next morning, I took a train downtown and hit all the major bars on Michigan Avenue, earning a ubiquitous thumbs down. Fingering the last $10 in my pocket, I stood at the corner of Walton and Michigan Avenue, eyeballing The Drake, where visiting Queen Elizabeth bedded down.

Too classy for my zero experience.

Looking farther south, across the street in the old Palmolive Building, the Playboy Club‘s lights flashed at passersby. Shrugging off the gut instinct to stop wasting my time, I walked inside and told the smiling bunny at the door that I needed to see the human relations rep.

Who turned out to be my girlfriend’s sister’s best friend.

“You’re in luck!” she smiled. “We need a bartender pronto, and you can start Monday morning. Get here at ten for an orientation on lunch, which starts at eleven.”


The Playboy Club turned out to be a mixed blessing. Although I was able to rent my own place and start saving, the nature of the business fired up already simmering jealousies.

I’d graduated from college the previous December with an English degree and accepted the only job I could find – once again through nepotism – when Future-Mother-In-Law told me about a job opening at her school, a junior high in Chicago Ridge.

The permanent teacher was taking a year off after giving birth, and a succession of substitutes tried and failed to make a stand with her students, kids from blue collar families with moms and dads who worked long hours and didn’t have much time to spend with their offspring, so they threw money at them instead. Blue collar kids accustomed to bullying each other in the absence of parental guidance.

At six-foot-four-two-hundred-twenty-pounds I became substitute number seven immediately following Christmas break. That semester – my first in a classroom by myself – gave me the confidence to carry through the rest of life.

Years later I chatted with a man at the airport as we waited for a plane, and during the conversation we uncovered the fact we’d both taught junior high English on the South Side of Chicago.

“How long did you last?” I asked.

“One year,” he said.

“What did you do after that?”

“I quit, joined the Marines, and went to Vietnam for a vacation,” he said.


That semester I taught English to kids with names like “Toots” and “Doobie” and was required to coach 7th grade girls’ basketball; unfortunately, the 8th grade girls’ basketball coach was a conniving blonde bombshell who sensed the unease in Future-Mother-In-Law and went right to driving her nuts by sitting next to me during games, flirting whenever FMIL was in eyesight, and wearing a string bikini to the Indiana Dunes when the three of us accompanied a busload of kids at the end of the school year.

FMIL hadn’t really taught long, this being her second attempt. She’d left the profession in her early twenties to raise four children through high school while her husband, a prince, worked at US Steel.

During her free time all those years she soaked up daytime television, eventually becoming brainwashed by sexy-soap-opera-actors teaching her to trust no one – especially me – while the hot blonde simultaneously poked out of a white see-through hand-crocheted bathing suit on blazing Indiana beach while Little Richard sang Tutti Frutti from the top of a telephone pole.


When the junior high job ended and the bartender’s school landed me in the Playboy den of iniquity, my days with girlfriend dwindled.

A clean-cut Iranian floor manager named Sami started me off in a service bar out of sight from the public with liquor bottles in overhead racks, a double-sink, an ice machine, mixers, and a cash register at the end of the stainless-steel counter. The bus boys were Palestinian, the cooks Mexican. If you learned early on to treat the women right, all worked smoothly.

Bunnies would approach this portal with drink orders, and I’d pile beverages on trays before they sashayed on high heels and kidney-pinching bunny suits back to thirsty Joes elevated to Playboy Key Holders with an annual credit card fee.

The bunnies were kids like me, trying to eat under roof while putting themselves through school, putting together a stash to make a move in life, trying to survive the dollar-draining nature of the big city. There were long ones, tall ones, big ones, brown ones, black ones, round ones … crazy ones.

We were kids.
We were just kids. Laurie Proffitt, center, has enjoyed a successful photography career for decades.

And although I stayed true, my girlfriend came to visit during lunch one day — at my request – and stood in the doorway of the little service bar as I mixed drinks and piled them on bunny trays. As each female appeared, we talked business, and I often called them by name. The window I pushed drinks through revealed bunnies from their waists to their chins. Neither girlfriend nor I could see hip-tags or faces.

“How do you remember their names?” asked girlfriend as she gazed open-mouthed at the exposed set of breasts arching into the bar window.

“See that mole?” I said as “Carla” arrived with an empty tray. Having grown up on a hog farm in Western Illinois, I was not especially enamored with big breasts, though I admired their magnetic ability on the average Joe’s iron head.

Blood boiled up the chin of girlfriend’s face, onto her cheeks, then up her forehead, and with a turn of her heel I was suddenly alone in the Windy City, bereft of my only reason for being there in the first place.

The Mole
The nefarious mole.

Several months later, I’d worked my way up to the “night shift” at the main bar and enjoyed meeting out-of-town folks in the midst of convention bacchanals, though many of the women — upon reaching alcoholic euphoria —  lashed out with tongues more lascivious than any deranged Roto-Rooter man ever wagged.

One night, just after midnight on a slow shift with few people at the bar, management uncloaked in their black suits and fired every bartender on the floor.

Except me.

“You were the only one not stealing,” said Sami. “We’d been sending in people to sit at the bar and observe for two weeks now. What these dirt bags do is ring up a lower amount than they sold, then put the remainder in their pockets. Oldest trick in the book.”

One of those rounded up and kicked out of the revolving door was Howie Wong, the first bartender Hugh Hefner picked for the original Chicago Playboy Club on Walton, not far from his mansion on North State Parkway. Howie was taciturn and unfriendly, so I never knew him well.

But three months later I was walking down a side street and above a newly-painted door an electric sign flashed:  Howie’s.  Taken aback, I stepped inside and there were the six recently-fired bartenders, along with Howie at the cash register, preparing to open their new digs. Turns out they’d pooled their purloined cash – Howie dipped for decades – and opened this business. Together.

“How’s this going to work?” I asked. They just smiled and shrugged their shoulders. Six months later Howie’s was history, naturally.

Which brings me to the point of this essay.

Prisons would be more effective if we piled like-minded criminals atop one another.

As the world lurches toward nationalism and the rule of authoritarians, we need a way to deal effectively with run-away dictators.

Imagine islands – the Aleutian archipelago comes to mind with its Alaskan fresh air breeziness – islands exclusively housing like-minded criminals. Redneck Racist Island harboring Dylann Roof wannabes. Female Redneck Racist Island next door, ten thousand Rosanne Barrs separated by churning seas and hungry flesh-eating fish.

The Aleutians
The Aleutians

Black Racist Island covered with Al Sharpton wannabes. Criminal Mexican Island.  Catholic Priest Pedophile Island. White Collar Embezzler IslandWhite Collar Money Launderer Island. Rapist Island. Man-Trapping-Liar-About-Rape Island.

Ad infinitum.

The unending torture of individuals imprisoned under these conditions would test the “cruel and unusual” clause under the Eighth Amendment, but this treatment would be justified due to its effectiveness and ultimate benefit to society.

Can you imagine a self-aggrandizing, constantly lying, narcissistic blowhard in a green parka – absent makeup – wielding a hand-ax, a book of matches, and some fishing gear, and marooned for life on a frozen slag heap in the middle of an ocean with hundreds of other convicted narcissistic blowhards and a few Kodiak bears on Russian Money Laundering Island?  A pleasing and peaceful thought, indeed.

Perhaps the perfect prison doles out the perfect punishment.

For those of you who bless your children by reading to them, check out “The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s the story of a girl who loves pulling the wings off of insects, but her bullying comes to a bad end:

An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge, and carried her to a still worse place, in which she saw crowds of unhappy people, waiting in a state of agony for the gates of mercy to be opened to them, and in every heart was a miserable and eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to describe the various tortures these people suffered, but Inge's punishment consisted in standing there as a statue, with her foot fastened to the loaf. She could move her eyes about, and see all the misery around her, but she could not turn her head; and when she saw the people looking at her she thought they were admiring her pretty face and fine clothes, for she was still vain and proud. But she had forgotten how soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman's brewery, and that they were covered with mud; a snake had also fastened itself in her hair, and hung down her back, while from each fold in her dress a great toad peeped out and croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the terrible hunger that tormented her, and she could not stoop to break off a piece of the loaf on which she stood. No; her back was too stiff, and her whole body like a pillar of stone. And then came creeping over her face and eyes flies without wings; she winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their wings had been pulled off; this, added to the hunger she felt, was horrible torture.

"If this lasts much longer," she said, "I shall not be able to bear it." But it did last, and she had to bear it, without being able to help herself.

The perfect ending for a bully’s sad life.

Similar to an immortal history book full of verifiable facts, I reckon.

Tribal Connections

Whenever my life begins to feel too “cushy” – which is often since I’m a spoiled American Baby Booming corpulent white male with a loving/doting wife, a squared-away son, a reasonably functional family, early retirement, and a supportive church family – I sign up for a mission trip, foreign or domestic.

Which cures the spoiled-brat syndrome pronto.

If you embark on such an adventure, expect:  crushed legs on long flights, strange food clogging the septic system, strange water unplugging the septic system, flat-hard hotel beds, endless oversize bags full to maximum 49.9 pounds of cement-grade calcium carried up and down steps via human chain, sleepless nights filled with the cacophony of poultry crowing contests and spontaneous dog fights, mission beds made of burlap and two-by-fours, water-less showers until Angel Plumbers work their magic, twelve-hour days spent mostly on the feet, the ringing sound of eighty voices banging around the cement walls of the clinic, three languages bouncing in a Babel of towering intensity.

So, why do we subject ourselves to that?

Probably for the same reason soldiers return to Afghanistan seven-or-eight times.  Why firefighters rush into burning buildings.  Why doctors continue to practice medicine into their eighties, serving a network of friends they’ve made over a lifetime.

My personal physician, Paul Brown, Jr.,MD., has lead a mission team to Mexico for over thirty years.
Paul Brown, Jr., MD., leading missions for 30+ years.

They do it for the tribe.

Opinion:  we are designed by the Creator to function in small groups, say twenty-to-sixty people – all carrying different abilities (spiritual gifts) – a tribe where everyone has a job, everyone is respected for their contribution, and everyone is connected to a purpose outside their own agenda.

“In 1753, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend about a curious phenomenon in the American west. White prisoners rescued from Native American tribes were seizing the first chance they could to flee into the wilderness and rejoin their captors. There were no reports of native warriors migrating in the opposite direction. Perplexed, Franklin concluded that the errant whites must have become ‘disgusted with our manner of life’ despite being shown ‘all imaginable tenderness’ on their return.” (Source).

Sebastian Junger, author of Restrepo and The Perfect Storm, recently penned a book titled Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which focuses on the War in Afghanistan and veterans’ mental health.  Junger writes:  “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.”

Instead of focusing on job training and social re-conditioning, we treat vets like pariahs and load them up on drugs while ignoring the root cause of their distress and side-stepping psychiatric care, which is expensive and time consuming.  We treat veterans as if they aren’t worth our time and effort after they return with lost limbs and shattered psyches.  The suicide rates for white males over sixty-five, many of whom are Vietnam vets, bears witness to these unresolved issues.

“In 2008 active duty and veteran military personnel abused prescription drugs at a rate that was more than twice the rate for the civilian population. In 2009, the VA estimated that around 13,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from alcohol dependence syndrome and require veteran mental health treatment for this problem.” (Source)

After listening to Junger’s podcast, it occurred to me that we are indeed better beings when connected to a well-functioning small group, which is why churches, synagogues, mosques, Boy Scouts, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Crips, Bloods, and Hell Angels exist.

The last three will probably lead to harm, but the call of the tribe is embedded into our nature, and that is why making a conscious decision to serve on a positive team is a healthy choice.

Let’s take a look at contemporary suicide rates

White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2016; and, the rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular (The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).

Sadly, suicides in all demographics have risen dramatically since 1999, though Hispanic males are much lower than white males.


The March 2018 medical mission I joined to Ixtepec, Tatoxcac, and Xochiapulco, Mexico offered unending examples of a high-functioning tribe  than I can list (starting with the angel who swapped her airline aisle seat twice for my leg-killing window view); furthermore, this team comes together bi-annually to bring medical care to under-served residents in the rugged mountains northeast of Puebla, Mexico. Nearly half of the folks treated were indigenous, speaking Totonaca, a native language “not closely related to other native languages in Mexico.”

Which required three levels of translation:  English – Spanish – Totonaca — and back again.

This year I was the “optometrist” which meant that I helped 320 folks find workable reading glasses over four days using two Bibles (the KJV, and a Totonaca New Testament), a spool of thread, a needle, a flashlight, and a pocket knife to cut plastic.  The spectacles were donated by the generous Lion’s Club Tribe.

The will to work is unshakable in this ninety-year old.
The will to work is unshakable in this ninety-year old.

My Spanish interpreter – Fany (pronounced Fanny), from the Methodist College in Puebla – was coming off a semester of concentrated French, so the combination of suddenly switching to English while simultaneously deciphering an unknown indigenous tongue wore on her along with all the physical challenges, yet she hung on to gain a second wind and finish the week admirably.

Local teens connected to the Ixtepec Methodist Church also saved the week by giving fully of themselves, obviously loving and cherishing their elderly by listening carefully to their needs, then translating them into Spanish, where Fany would pass it to me, and then back again.  Three hundred twenty times in four days.

Multiply that by the entire cohort of volunteers (approximately 120), and you begin to perceive the amount of coordination it takes to make this mission work.

Plus eleven months of planning and preparation up front.

Sebastian Junger claims that we need three essentials to live healthily and harmoniously: 1) we need to feel competent at what we do; 2)  we need to feel authentic in our lives; and, 3)  we need to feel connected to others.

Looking back at the suicide statistics, it must be noted that the Hispanic males take their own lives in much fewer numbers than Caucasian males.

“White men over the age of 65 commit suicide at almost triple that overall rate.  These men are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than are women of the same age group, and have almost twice the rate of all other groups of male contemporaries.

Disparities along ethnic lines for elderly males are also substantial. Compared with white males ages 65 and older, African American males (9.2 suicides per 100,000), Hispanic or Latino males (15.6), and Asian or Pacific Islander males (17.5) in the same age range had significantly lower suicide rates.”  (Source)

Research on the “why” is thin, but after spending a week in Ixtepec, casual observation of the culture exposed a deep connection to family, community, nature, and God:  all characteristics of a healthy tribe.

In contrast, the phenomenon of disconnected angry white American males sitting in dark rooms drinking alcohol and absorbing CNN or FOX is ending badly.

Imagine that.

Our Mexican patients exhibited a wide range of physical needs – missing teeth, scabies, parasites, allergies, an entire gamut of untreated ailments testing the knowledge and experience of the mission doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – but the local populations’ connectedness to the spirit, energy, patience, and genuine good nature lifted the hearts of all servants, Mexicans and Americans alike.

Pablo, a minister from another province, traveled to Ixtepec with his teenage son, both patiently washing, drying, and treating foot ailments.  Ricardo and LuLu traveled from Nicaragua to lead the translating team, and three other college students traveled with Fany from Puebla to sacrifice their free time and comfort to serve their country.

Foot Care
Foot Care via agape.

The exact ratio of Mexican-to-American servants on this mission is unknown, but it seemed like 3:1 as local teens, the church pastor’s family, and other Mexican missionaries – plus half the congregation – pitched in to make it work. Villagers lined the street to tote heavy bags down to the church the minute we arrived, and waited patiently for hours on end — often in the rain and wind – to receive their annual medical care.

We didn't ask for help, but we received it with joy.
We didn’t ask for help, but we received it with joy.

The Ixtepec-Tatoxcac-Xochiapulco clinics succeeds because everyone has a job – or three – everyone is valued for their contribution, and all are connected through Jesus Christ.

No matter where our travels take us – Johnson City, Ixtepec, Tasmania, wherever – if two-or-more are gathered in His name, we are connected. We are also connected by our willingness to serve, to share that last full measure of devotion that propels The Tribe.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1 NASB

My two previous mission trips to this beautiful mountainscape northeast of Puebla occurred in the late Nineties, and I must say there is a noticeable improvement in infrastructure – the highway from Puebla to the mountains is new and modern – plus the thirty-two years of medical mission work is revealed in the faces of the people, who look much healthier. Even the dogs show fewer ribs.

Waiting for the clinic to open ...
Waiting for the clinic to open …

The visiting team stood in awe of these patient, hard-working, community-loving, God-present, spiritually connected folk – The Tribe – functioning as it’s meant to be.

Meanwhile, reality-show Americans continue to back-stab each other on social media, ignore common values, highlight differences, suck down opioids and alcohol in record volumes, endlessly eyeball the latest fear-mongering headlines slanted to feed personal preferences, and commit suicide in record numbers.

Simultaneously, church attendance in North America is dropping like a rock.

Suicide stats don’t lie. Broken lives parading past our eyes don’t lie.

"How do you become an adult in a society that doesn't ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn't require courage?"  -- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

You don’t.

Those who serve rely on the tribe:  church family, Sunday school classes, spouses, and relatives, all connected through Christ – who finance our way, who donate medicine, eyeglasses and crutches, who pray for and bless our service with their love.

We certainly relied on the tribe in Mexico who fed, housed, worked diligently beside us, and have served faithfully for over thirty years.

From desert wanderers seeking the Promised Land … to disciples sharing the Good News … to medical missions serving the needy in foreign lands … The Tribe functions with efficiency through its unselfish connection to The One.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with The Tribe.


Note:  More pictures here.

Trash Talk

You can’t make up this sort of thing.

People would laugh and throw disgusting objects at you for inserting blatant — although natural — irony into fiction.

Talking Trash
The Republican Plan

Trash talkers blocked every good thing President Obama tried to do for eight years, and beyond, regardless of how their obstruction negatively impacted the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised.

***

Obama picked Janet Yellen to lead the nation out of the an economic depression caused primarily by greed, which the present Orange Tweeter drinks with a ladle.

Regulations continue to die by the handfuls as we drive the economy right back into the 2008 hole hedge fund managers drove us into, a hole now ready for a second suck since we’ve already forgotten the purpose those regulations had in the first place.

Janet Yellen, first female federal reserve director and the leader of the rebound, lost her title to a Trump appointee despite the fact that previous presidents — who  exhibited real patriotism — retained successful federal reserve chairman regardless of party. She’s declining her seat on the reserve now that a sacred white male wears the crown.  If it ain’t broke, Trump’s bound to fix it.

Trash talkers assailed Michele Obama because she’s healthy and eats well, yanking veggies from school cafeterias in a fit of misplaced revenge — who needs health care? — while their corpulent spawn returned to the trough, happily sucking pizza and inhaling grease to their diseased hearts’ content.  At least they can’t talk trash with their mouths full.

The Plan
The Plan

Trash talkers so lazy and greedy they couldn’t drive to their fabulous oaisis, paying Amtrak to haul their sorry butts over to the Greenbrier, lying just a day’s drive from Washington, all transportation and lavish opulence foisted onto the backs of Everyman tax payers.

Greenbrier
— from the Greenbrier website

Enter trash truck.

Note: it was nice to see Republican office holders attempting to revive (unionized?) trash truck employees forking over payroll taxes for fully-subsidized Congressional health care and luxury trips.

This writer salutes all manual laborers across America run over by the government train in uncountable ways each and every day, just as  I mourn those lost in the tragedy.

Which is one more reason this monstrous irony requires a spotlight.

***

You have to hand it to the Grand Old Popinjays.

They’re organized.

Democrats remain rudderless because they lack a true leader.

Democratic Congressmen make “suggestions.”

Here's how weak Democrats are at the root level:  one of the first things President Obama did after his inauguration was speak to all the school children of America.  At the time I taught black and Hispanic high schoolers, so I projected the speech on the big screen and said when it was over:  

"I know it's not a level playing field yet, but this has to be encouraging."

After a short pause, one of the black males in the back yelled in reply:  
 
"He ain't black!"
Black enough?
Say what?

***

The reason Republicans dominate?  They have a simple plan and they are entirely unified around it.

Destroy anything Obama ever did.

(Regardless of the needs of fellow citizens).

It’s something small, and completely contrary to their own perception of patriotism, but at least it’s a semblance of organization, a mighty weapon in the face of none.

Midwestern Lake Tour: Superior, Michigan, Dale Hollow (Fall 2017)

Following a two-month visit to Western Illinois this fall – helping my active mother recuperate from hip surgery – my wife Lana and I were free to drive back to Tennessee any way we chose.

Near my hometown of Sheffield, Illinois
Western Illinois in late August

Pumped up on Jim Harrison’s “Brown Dog” novellas set in Upper Peninsula Michigan, we needed to lay eyes on this special place, and as always, interesting characters popped up along the way. Even Brown Dog uncloaked in Paradise, Michigan.

Furthermore, Lana’s college friend Donna and her husband Phil enjoy a condo jutting out off a basalt platform overlooking Lake Superior at Two Harbors, Minnesota, and they had previously invited us for a weekend, so we wandered home across America’s stunningly beautiful heartland lake country.

31 August 17

The drive from Sheffield, Illinois to Galena – where U.S. Grant briefly resided – is usually delightful:  endless cornfields rolling north in static undulations of unglaciated hills  snaking beside the Mississippi River.

But this time drifting Canadian wildfire smoke hung trapped above the ground in the ghostly-still air, reminding us that California simultaneously roiled in flames, and that Grant loved big cigars.

Ironically, Ron Chernow (author of Hamilton) recently released a biography of the 18th president, which appears to lift him out of the scandal and booze for a bit and focuses on the advancement of racial equity.

Normally we take time to wander the streets of the Galena – lowercase galena in science textbooks – with its wonderful shops and picturesque hillside quaintness, but we decided to turn in early. The next morning we rolled into Wisconsin, emboldened with sunshine and covered with breweries.

***

1 September 17

Meandering north through corn-beans-corn, we arrived at the Potosi Brewery, home of Snake Hollow IPA, a wonderful beer if you like yours hoppy.  Then the Great River Road north sent us toward Pepin as we enjoying seeing the well-decorated laid-back small towns along the way.

Our 1950’s era Pepin hotel lacked everything except two sleep-able beds and a bathroom, but a walk down to the dockside found us at the Harbor View Café where the motto is best from scratch.  While dining we overheard customers say they drove down from Minneapolis twice a month to enjoy the always-changing but consistently-good fare. The spicy lamb cassoulet was tasty, indeed, washed down with the mandatory local craft beer.

Lake Pepin, a man-made reservoir on the Mississippi River west off Wisconsin’s Route 35, provided a lovely backdrop as we after-dinner strolled the top of the levee surrounding a harbor filled with people cooking and drinking on sailboats while the hardier rolled out into the sunset with fishing poles lashed to down-riggers.

US Conservancy picture of the North Mississippi in Wisconsin
US  Nature Conservancy photo of the Mississippi in Wisconsin

3 September 17

We stopped at Duluth on our way north to Two Harbors, and the old downtown manufacturing center was covered with tourists strolling the promenade, enjoying the Portland-ish rose gardens, dozens of thriving restaurants and shops sporting sunny views of the lake.  One gentlemen mentioned that locals were soaking it up because they knew what lay ahead. Short-sleeved walkers all around us belied the coming white season, the majesty of Lake Superior’s shining blue soon turning to the leaden-grey gales of November.

Duluth roses
Duluth roses

A couple of hours up the Bob Dylan Way (Highway Sixty One) we arrived in Two Harbors, Minnesota,  a quaint village on the western shores of Lake Superior where our friends Phil, Donna, and Moses – a charming three-year-old cocker spaniel – accepted us graciously into their spacious condo filled with glass facing the ever-changing “Gitche Gumee” (the great sea in Ojibwa).

Driving to Two Harbors, MN
Lake Superior off Phil and Donna’s Porch

Clouds, sun, radical shifts in color and mood, moon, clouds, lake, the ever-changing kaleidoscope of God’s artistic capacity happily traipsing past each day … our friends have delighted in this gift – both physical and spiritual –  for over twenty years and are still mesmerized.

Our gracious hosts
Moses maintains control.

4 September 17

After rising early and dining on Phil’s hearty eggs and sausage, we toured Highway 61 north with Phil behind the wheel of the family van, Moses sitting on my lap peering out the windshield, and the women happily reminiscing in the passenger seats as we tooled up to Grand Marais, Minnesota with an extended side-trip on the Gunflint Trail to snatch a peek at the Boundary Waters, a treasure both Phil and I have fished on separate occasions, an astounding  1,090,000-acres of fresh water lakes covering both shores of the US and Canada.

As we looked northwest into the horizon, loons spontaneously serenaded, a bald eagle passed at eye level yards in front of our rock overlook, wheeled, and fell into the abyss.

Earlier in the day we’d visited Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche State Park, known for its rock climbing.  All of these worthwhile stops appear along Highway 61 on western shores of Lake Superior between Twin Harbors and the Gunflint Trail.

5 September 17

The next morning we drove down to the docks to see iron ore loaded onto a massive lake hauler, but we arrived a few minutes late only to witness it steaming away toward Sault Saint Marie where we’d soon visit and watch similar ships pass through the locks.

Parting with good friends and carrying wonderful memories, we thanked Phil and Donna for their grace and hospitality, talked of future visits, then headed south to the Wisconsin state border – then east – with a glimpse of Apostle Islands passing by the driver’s side window as we cruised down Highway 13.

6 September 17

Between Bayfield and Marquette we passed iron ore mining towns – Ironwood, Bessemer – then lunched on remarkable onion soup at the Portside Inn at downtown Marquette on a bright fall day filled with tourists and shoppers.

Near Marquette, MI
Abandoned iron ore docks near Marquette, MI

Following Route 28, we stopped in Munising, Michigan to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with its spectacular cliff and rock formations, but it was socked-into-the-fog so we headed to Whitefish Point where we thoroughly enjoyed the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Whitefish Point Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Whitefish Point Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Endless rounds of Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (warning: if It’s A Small World still rings in your head, you may want to don ear plugs) lead you audibly through an excellent display of nautical science, specialized equipment, geographic explanations, descriptions of shipwrecks and stories of real-life derring-do that will spin your head.  The bravery of those masters of the Inland Sea is legendary, while technology has kept more Edmund Fitzeralds from finding the bottom of its inhospitable depths.  The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point is a must-stop, indeed.

***

A lovely drive down Highway 28 to Paradise found us at the end of the day inside the Magnuson Grand Lakefront Hotel with a balcony view of the ever-changing face of Lake Superior, and evening of sun, clouds, mist, and shifting light.

Lake Superior at Paradise, MI
Lake Superior at Paradise, MI

***

If you are a reader, then it’s possible you have met or have at least seen a character step out of the pages and cross your path.

This has happened to me twice.

Two years ago, when I was writing Jellybeaners, Lana and I passed through Tellico Plains, Tennessee on a motorcycle trip.  Tellico Plains is actually renamed “Kituwah Falls” as the novel’s fictional setting.

While eating a light lunch at a local restaurant, I witnessed the main character walk in – a six-foot wiry raven-haired half-Cherokee beauty – look at me, pull herself to her full height, smile, then back out and stride off  down the street.

Now two years later we stumble across Brown Dog, the part-Ojibwe hero of Jim Harrison’s UP novellas, a character here described by the New York Times’ Anthony Doeer:

Brown Dog has no other name. He’s simply B. D., a scoundrel, a “backwoods nitwit,” a “kindly fool,” a goof as lovable as Sancho Panza and a libertine as promiscuous (if not as discriminating) as Don Juan. Picture a smuttier, older and alcoholic Huckleberry Finn, who happens to be Native American.

The long-haired whiskey-soaked half-Indian Brown Dog – or his doppelganger – stumbled into the Little Falls Inn while we soaked up burgers, but he was much longer-in-the-tooth than the 49-year-old protagonist, which made sense because Harrison published the last Brown Dog novella in the early 90’s. Our BD paid us no mind and remained in character, affixed to a female, a second muscle-bound hand wrapped around a beer mug.

***

7 September 17

After breakfast we drove to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, amazed at the size of the falls and the water’s brown color, the effect of tannin in the soil that’s swept downstream.

Gooseberry Falls
Tannin colors the water at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

8 September 17

Ambling south, we arrived at Sault Saint Marie (sue saint mah ree)  mid-morning and happened to walk up to the locks just an iron ore ship Herbert C. Jackson, a seeming identical twin to the Edmund Fitzgerald, slipped through, then slowly descended to Lake Huron below as the life-sized crewmen we just chatted up minutes ago morphed into miniature Toy Story characters hauling string-ropes.

http://www.saultstemarie.com/attractions/soo-locks/
The Herbert C. Jackson

“The Soo” is an American city past its prime, though its Canadian twin appears to thrive, and there’s new talk of widening the locks to accept heavier commerce, which may bring a new financial spring for both as the Great Lakes eternally serve our distribution of goods with an efficiency outstripping trucks pounding interstates into oblivion and high-sulfur Wyoming coal trains hogging rail lines as commuters sit fuming on overcrowded expressways.

A friend of mine from high school moved to Seattle after college, loved his IT job at Boeing for nearly thirty years, but retired the day after his work buddy suffered a heart attack on a traffic-blocked expressway, expiring in his car, unable to exit, unable to receive help from outside the blocked lanes.

We can do better.

Spending the night in St. Ignace, Michigan – located on the north end of the Mackinac Bridge – we ran across another novel-worthy character who’d literally built his own functional tractor out of an assortment of parts-on-hand:  a straight six Ford motor, a massive steel u-bar for the frame, used wheels and tires, a drive train constructed of welded bolts and assorted gear drives from the parts bin. You can tell you’ve encountered a “character” when their spirit shows through … brightly.  It’s an experience beyond words, but you know it when you see it.

This wiry retired farmer dressed in oil-soaked overalls and reeking of knowledge gained from life experience, travel, and wide reading told us we’d just missed a parade of 2,200 antique tractors crawling over the Mackinaw, and that there were such annual parades for motorcycles and semi-trucks covered in lights.

We bid adieu after two beers and several enjoyable stories, then drove down to the waterside where antique tractors glowed in the orange-red sunset of a near-perfect fall day, Lake Huron shimmering in the background.

9 September 17

The next morning we paused at Bridge View Park, a memorial to the iron workers who built the Mackinac Bridge and enjoyed outstanding views bathed in warm sunshine, cumulus clouds reflecting on still waters, and then crossed the Mackinac Bridge onto the Lower Peninsula, where we meandered along the western shores of Lake Michigan.

The sculpture is a composite of a typical ironworker, said the Grosse Point Park artist, typical of the men who began building the Mackinac Bridge May 7, 1954, 53 years ago.
The sculpture is a composite of a typical iron worker

Spending the night in Ludington, we watched the sun set on a ferry stuffed with tourists as it pulled out for Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a system of conveyance allowing travelers to avoid the clogged arteries surrounding Chicago and Gary and enjoy themselves with brews and views instead of fumes of doom.

Luddington, MI
Ludington, MI

10 September 17

The next morning we eased out of Michigan on a cloudy day and transitioned into yellow-corn-sandy-soil northern Indiana, something I noticed having grown up in black loam Illinois where thick green stalks stand 6’ by the 4th of July.

The immaculate farms throughout Indiana, however, thrive under Amish and Mennonite ownership.  We made a mental note to return to this pristine countryside on a slow motorcycle ride.

Buggies clogged the roads...
Buggies clogged the roads…

11 September 17

During our last day on the road we slipped through Indiana into Kentucky and decided to spend the night at the well-designed Dale Hollow Lake Inn on the Tennessee / Kentucky border, where we enjoyed one last night of changing lake scenes while deer munched grass below our veranda.

Dale Hollow Lake
Dale Hollow Lake

***

Even with the exquisite scenery, renewed friendships, outstanding food, unexpected delights and character revelations, we realized our quick week in the UP was simply a training mission for longer, more laid-back excursions to come, perhaps by motorcycle or camping trailer because …

Midwestern lakes always leave you longing for more.

One Lake Superior Mood
A Superior Mood

 

Jellybeaners Receives Four Stars from Foreword Clarion Reviews!

Review by Aimee Jodoin (November 8, 2017)

Jellybeaners
Jellybeaners Reviewed by Foreword Clarion

Commonsense Frugality Applied to Run-Away Government

Have you ever noticed that Trump-Era right wing American gun toters desiring a continuing global military presence are often the same folks wailing for limited government?

Hello.

Ike warned us fifty-six years ago about the burgeoning military-industrial complex, the Orange Tweeter ran his presidential campaign on “draining the swamp”, the supposed budget-minded Republicans are now in charge, yet the national debt is projected to grow 10 trillion in the next decade.

Benjamin Franklin had his faults — ask most conspiracy theorists — and it was a known fact that he admired young women.

Imagine that.

But when it comes to having a clear vision on accruing wealth, Poor Richard nailed it:

There are two ways of being happy: We may either diminish our wants or augment our means -- either will do -- the result in the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest.

If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means.

If you are active and prosperous or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants.

But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

-- Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)

First, Franklin starts the “American myth” that happiness is tied to the pursuit of property.  We have more stuff therefore we win begins here. But it is true that we decide our own financial fates, and Americans differ widely on their pursuit of savings.

Franklin’s second paragraph thrusts a stick in the eye of the lazy man, but through today’s lens the idle appear to be on the same plane as the sick and poor, with 95 million able-bodied-men and women currently not seeking employment. They augment their means in various ways, but the underground economy / drug market is staggering, and recent consumer spending shows that the shadow economy is a beast.

The advertising industry raises its ugly head in paragraph three, making stuff a “need” in the hearts of North Americans and fanning the fire of  want. Ironically, one of Franklin’s many nicknames was The Patron Saint of Advertising, which he mastered early on.

Apply the last paragraph to your life and its ongoing change of circumstances and good things will happen.  The Millionaire Next Door hit home with many who’ve since reaped the benefits of Franklin’s (and Stanley’s)  advice. There are now more than twice as many millionaire households than there were in 1996, and 10.1 million US households now report a million dollars worth of assets.

But the typical Trump voter is not the millionaire next door:   cultural anxiety, not economic anxiety, drove lower-income voters toward Trump.

***

Here’s how to apply Franklin’s commonsense rules to runaway government spending.

Global Military Expenditures 2012

We have to ask ourselves, do we need to police the globe? Has doing so improved world peace? Or has it fired up the military-industrial complex to thrive in a Brave New World of Endless War?

It’s obvious that our military wants exceed our taxpaying grasp, especially with new cuts about to favor billionaires and corporations. But does the average American really want to police the globe?

Since endless wars come at such a high cost, shouldn’t we fall back, assess the hot spots, employ better technology — in terms of rooting out evil, not nuking the earth into oblivion — and emasculate the bad guys with focused strikes?

Are all the big toys effective military assets in the fight against global extremism?

Nope.

How can a $730 million B-2 Spirit keep a hothead from renting a truck and running over bicyclists?

I’m all for rooting out the bad guys, both foreign and domestic.  But instead of spending on R&D for pinpoint technology, we’re filling our docks with billion dollar warships and our airfields with million dollar airplanes to fight conventional wars that no longer exist.

On the Other Hand

Here’s how we relate to a few other countries when it comes to saving cash:

Domestic savings …
What’s made America uniquely bad at saving? Perhaps America’s mix of wealth and diversity, the very staple of the American identity, is the culprit of its spending habits. In 2008, several researchers studied the stereotype that minorities spend more than whites on “visible goods”—like clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, salons, health clubs, and car parts. They discovered that, even after controlling for income, minorities save less than whites and spend more on such conspicuous consumption goods. But the story wasn’t just about race. White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.

The Atlantic, 2016

Let’s look at that again:  ” White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.”

Benjamin Franklin trusted neither the elite nor the rabble.

The sitting president, however, is all about lifting up the elite at the expense of the rabble.

The Orange Tweeter, exhibiting bouts of sociopathy mixed with narcissism, seems incapable of focusing on any issue longer than a nano-second, and his sinking popularity now represents roughly 31% of the electorate.

Draw your own conclusions on what percent of this group falls into the “rabble” category (those still smarting from the deplorable slap), and what percent of Trump supporters are billionaires wanting to rake in more loot in the short term.

My personal guess is that moderate Republicans hoping to work across the aisle to solve the many pressing issues of the day would be a minority within that 31%.

Just a guess.

Yet the nation continues to treat world and domestic affairs like a football game — we win, you lose — without considering the simple fact that we’re actually all on the same team.

Hello?

Yes, we can nuke any nation on earth into oblivion. Then the fallout blows over on us.

Yes, we have conventionally bombed nations into near-oblivion, but then they thrive after we go home, though most of the cash ends up in the hands of the upper-class.

Imagine that.

You can’t enjoy small government and big military simultaneously.

But Trump voters aren’t interested in logic. The rabble still believes they’ll grow fat on the scraps tossed down from the elite’s tall table of big tax cuts and military-industrial-complex stock-and-bond windfalls.

They’re throwing commonsense to the wind, these lower-middle-class lovers of commonsense.

Just like their morals.

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.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.

Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal. Click to read the review.

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.