More (Functional) Government, Please

Parks, bridges and streets. Social security, medicare and libraries. Police officers, teachers, the armed forces… the list could go on… it’s comprised of things that have traditionally been provided for by the government. That list is shrinking, and here’s why you should care:

Since 2008, ambulances and fire departments that have been run by private equity firms show longer responses that in some cases resulted in undue death. Just as alarming, for-profit prions have taken cost-cutting measures (decreased mental health services, reduced pay for guards) that have led to more dangerous conditions for both the inhabitants of prisons and those who staff them.

Yet, some welcome the demise of government in favor of privatization. I will concede that state control over the entire economy does not lead to the best outcomes. I will also concede that at times government can seem opaque and outside our influence. However, there are certain services that we all rely upon which, when corrupted by the profit motive, turn to shit. In fact, even conservatives in Kansas are waking up to the fact that by re-branding public schools as “government schools” (a semantic ploy meant to impede supposed governmental overreach), they are now putting their children’s intellectual and vocational development at risk.

All of this came home for me recently when I took two subsequent trips on the interstate, requiring a stop to pee in each instance. The first time, we stopped at the Lake Forest Oasis. This is your typical oasis, replete with McDonald’s, Sbarro’s Pizza, and the toxic odor of Cinnabon buns. The bathroom was crowded, the floor covered in piss, and when I got back into the car I just pretended that the soles of my shoes weren’t, too.

In contrast, on the second trip we stopped at the Wisconsin I-94 Visitor Information Center. A government-run institution. The restrooms were as spotless as they were spacious. A family enjoyed walking their puppy on the verdant lawn outside. A special nozzle allowed me to fill up my water bottle with filtered water for free. Granted, there weren’t any restaurant chains to visit. But in their place, there were pamphlets for local restaurants, tourist attractions, and public parks and forest preserves. I also met a state employee by the name of Ted, who told me about his five grand-kids that he enjoys watching growing up.

Here’s the thing: most services provided for by the government are like that second rest-stop. They are so understated, so matter-of-fact, and so taken-for-granted that you don’t even realize how functional they are until they’re gone and you’re left standing on dry piss waiting for an ambulance that won’t come in time because it’s not fiscally advantageous to save your ass.

Sigh.

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770- 1831) argued that the first step in achieving freedom is what he called “negative freedom,” that is, overthrowing oppressive government. But that’s only the first step. He called the second, more arduous step “positive freedom”: establishing government that actually works for the people by the people. Hegel wrote about this in the wake of the French Revolution, where he saw the revolutionaries take the first step (overthrowing the monarchy) but failing to take the second step (the best Rule of Law they could establish was the guillotine).

A more tangible metaphor might be the prototypical teenager. They rebel against their parents, but give them actual freedom and they don’t know what to do with it.

I feel the same way about conservatives whose only task for the past eight years has been to obstruct good orderly direction, whether it’s not conducting hearings for a Supreme Court Justice nominee, failing to pass a state budget for more than a year, or refusing to fund basic services such as our nation’s infrastructure.

Admittedly, Democrats need to compromise when it’s politically and humanely necessary. But one thing I refuse to compromise is this idea: private interest does a worse job than collective action when it comes to certain issues such as parks, bridges and streets. Social security, medicare and libraries. Police officers, teachers, the armed forces… stuff that shouldn’t be tainted with the scent Sbarro’s, dried piss, and profit.

Whatever this means to you: Vote positive.

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WTF, Wisconsin?

Which of these doesn’t belong: Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia. On Wednesday, these 11 states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its directive to public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. This follows the lawsuit filed by North Carolina earlier this month in defense of HB2, a bill that effectively legalizes discrimination against the LGBTQ community, especially the T.

The wave of discriminatory legislation is couched in the premise that girls in bathrooms need to be protected from “men masquerading as women”. For one, this reveals an ignorance of the fact that trans people exist; they are not pretending. And two, this argument bears a striking resemblance to the discredited assertion that gay men are more likely to molest children than straight men. Also not true. Moreover, it’s been well-documented that a large majority of rapes are committed by people whom the victim knows- not a stranger.

The individuals who need protection right now are trans students. They are statistically more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted, and in some cases murdered. As my friend Nico Lang recently reported, some teachers are even encouraging non-trans students to carry pepper-spray to use on trans students. Not to mention, more than 50% of transgender youth will attempt suicide before the age of 20. This last statistic has everything to do with being told they don’t exist, as is the case with the HB2.

Another argument made by the plaintiffs is that the Obama administration is conducting a grand “social experiment”. If this were true, then the same could be said about the integration of schools in the 1960s. A lot of people back then, too, screamed that the sky was falling when all that was falling was their right to dominate, denigrate, and discriminate against minorities.

The Obama administration is not conducting a social experiment. They are protecting those who require legal protection. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in filing a counter-suit against North Carolina, essentially said one thing- Dear trans youth, we know you are there, and we will do everything we can to protect you.

I am sorely disappointed in Wisconsin, particularly Attorney General Brad Schimel for conspiring with Scott Walker to join the other 10 persecutors masquerading as victims.

A third argument by the gang of 11 is that their religious liberties are being trampled upon. Well, if you follow Jesus, read this and tell me where you think he would stand:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It may be the case that some people who resist making accommodations for trans students are motivated less out of hatred than a lack of understanding. In such an event, one can start reading here or add this book to your wishlist, which outlines nature’s propensity for creating more than two genders. Then, dear Wisconsinites, hopefully you’ll elect a new attorney general in 2018.

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What Might This Be? Two Aliens Giving Each Other a High-Five.

two aliens

This semester I learned how to administer the Rorschach, the famous inkblot test. Disbelief that the test is still used in psychiatric settings is entirely appropriate. Nevertheless, it’s a useful instrument for gathering data about how a person interprets the world because the images are ambiguous, requiring one to ‘project’ what they see onto the inkblots.

Thinking it unfair to administer a test I myself haven’t taken, I asked a colleague to administer it on me. I recorded my responses and turned them over to the Screaming Stars who added ambient backing, resulting in this song: Two Aliens Giving Each Other a High-Five.

Unless you think you’ll ever take the test, you can see all ten cards here.

 

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Trump Rally Cancelled at UIC Pavilion

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Last night my partner and I attended the protest of Trump’s rally planned at UIC pavilion. As you may know, the event was cancelled. I collected interviews with protesters, Trump supporters, and specators. It was a vivid experience. Please give it a listen.

The song playing in the background is ‘Anxious and Mortified’, written and performed by my dear friend, Mike Glader.

Should you have any thoughts or feedback, please feel free to share your comments below.

Thanks
– Ben

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The Post Modern Landscape: a view from the parking lot of the largest Cabela’s in the world

Back in 2012, I had a hunch to take my audio recorder and visit Cabela’s and REI, two outdoor sporting goods stores. I thought that the two businesses do a good job highlighting the divide in America.

pic4

 

On the one hand you have REI: individualistic, urbane, and environmentally conscious. Liberal. On the other hand you have Cabela’s: large, sells guns, family-oriented. Conservative. Both companies idealize nature and believe in conservation. REI thinks of nature as a place you go to have an exhilarating, extraordinary experience- just make sure to ‘leave no trace’. Cabela’s thinks of nature as a place to go hunting and fishing- and, continuing the tradition of conservation started by Theodore Roosevelt, believes that nature is best preserved by hunters paying their hunting license fees.

picBoth businesses had giant, fiberglass mountains inside. REI’s was a rock-climbing wall. Cabela’s was covered with taxidermied animals. Both, in their way, represent human kind’s will to overcome and dominate nature.

My project never came to fruition. Nevertheless, I went to the archives and found some audio recorded during my visit to the largest Cabela’s in the world, which is located in Hamburg, PA. I collaborated with the Screaming Stars, who recorded the ambient music on this track. If you have trouble hearing my improvised poem, you can read the transcript as you listen along:

The Post Modern Landscape: a view from the parking lot of the largest Cabela’s in the world

Fresh, black top, parking lot. Huge.
Section A, B, C… you know the rest.
Section for RV, for trucks.
There’s a horse corall. A “pet exercise area”.
A woman plays fetch with her dog.
A Cross, across the way: the Appalachian mountains.
separated by
six lane interstate
mcdonalds
lowes
long john silvers
burger king
pizza hut
shells… shell

Looks like it would be hard to go there by foot
and once you’re up there, what’s there?
Nothing but disease, trees, threat, danger.
Better to stay here in the car and drive over there.

The actual town of Hamburg, Pennsylvania
is on another hill
across the valley
across the intersate.

It looks like from here we could lob canons
onto Hamburg and from there they would
launch canons onto here.
But I think there’s more guns in Cabela’s.

Standing on opposite hills like this is greater
than a mere town, greater than democracy.
It’s even rivalling the mountains with its presence.

 

pic3

Wherever you fall on that divide, I love you.

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Heroin

When Republicans are talking openly about this country’s problem with heroin, as both Jeb Bush and Donald Trump did last night after the NH primary, you know we’re getting somewhere. But their logic was absurd, for different reasons. Jeb spoke personally about the addiction problems in his own family, before sharing an anecdote about a craft beer entrepreneur who is unable to succeed because of red tape in Washington. Schizophrenic, no? Trump I won’t even spend any time on, except to say No, Mexico is not to blame for America’s drug problem. In fact, a compelling argument has been made that over-prescribing doctors have contributed to the problem.

But that’s neither here nor there. I want to introduce some talking points to all of you so that you can share them on Facebook or around the dinner table or whatever, because a national conversation is actually happening and it must include data that challenges our assumptions about what addiction is and how it should be handled.

  1. There is a magical medication called Naloxone (commonly known as Narcan) that has a 99+% success rate at reversing opiate overdose. For a long time, it has been illegal to carry Narcan (and in some states it still is) on the premise that giving heroin users an OD antidote would be ENABLING their drug use. The only thing it enables them to do is live! Naloxone must be available in pharmacies w/o a prescription.
naloxone

Naloxone selfie

 

2. Detox can increase the risk of overdose. The regular heroin user has a natural tolerance for the drug. Detox eliminates this tolerance. If they renew their use at their former levels, they are at an increased risk of overdose (Denning, 2004). The counter argument to this may be that detox isn’t the problem, but that people who use drugs after detox are the problem. I disagree, for two reasons (1) Many individuals never really wanted to be abstinent in the first place, but were coerced/pressured/shamed into recovery; (2) Even individuals who DO want to quit for good may go through detox dozens of times. Let’s quit freaking out about how people need to stop doing heroin, and instead take simple precautions to reduce the harm of their use (stop overdoses).

3. Relapse prevention and overdose prevention are not necessarily the same thing. Of course, the safest way to prevent an overdose is to not take a drug. However, if we’re pragmatic, we’ll recognize that people are going to take drugs for a variety of reasons. Once we accept that fact we can start talking about tangible ways to prevent overdose. There are a variety of techniques:

a) inform people about their loss of tolerance after detox
b) encourage people to use in the company of other people and have Naloxone on hand
c) “taste” a shot before injecting
d) increase knowledge, not fear, of drugs
e) decrease stigma around drug use

Overdose prevention should come before relapse prevention, because recovery is impossible once someone is dead. If you know someone who has a problematic relation to heroin, don’t shame them. Learn how to administer Naloxone and tell them you would rather save their life than have them die in private. Recovery is a long, non-linear process. 

If you want to learn more, here are some helpful resources:

An 8 minute video that shows you how to use naloxone

Illinois needle exchanges

Wisconsin needle exchanges

A good definition of harm reduction

Good book

Good book number two

 

References:

Denning, Patt, Little, J., Glickman, A. (2004). Over the influence: the harm reduction guide for managing drugs and alcohol. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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How to humor your inner critic

frames

Isn’t it interesting that we have the phrase ‘inner dialogue’ and not ‘inner monologue’? You’d assume it would be the latter- that the voice in your head is a soloist. But there’s an audience, too. As the inner voice speaks, we also listen… and respond.

The Buddhists have a phrase, ‘monkey mind’ which refers to the incessant chatter of the inner dialogue, the voice that says “Do this. Do that. Get this. Avoid that”. The aim of meditation is not to have this voice shut up for good (although that does sometimes fortuitously happen, albeit briefly); the aim is to simply get the voice to quiet or tone down.

How, if possible, can this be accomplished? The answer is NOT by attempting to suppress, repress, or ignore the inner voice (for that just leads to more anxiety about it coming back, and sometimes causes the voice to become louder), but rather by listening to what the voice has to say, taking note of it, and moving on without confirming or denying anything it has to say. This is harder to do than it sounds, because my (our) tendency is to engage the inner critic, taking its claims seriously.

But arguing against the voice just makes it even louder and harder to escape. That’s a debate you can never win, because the opponent is yourself!

One solution I’ve come across is to simply change the tone of the argument. Here’s an example dialogue:

“You really screwed that up”
“Yeah, I guess so”
“You’re not taking my claims seriously”
“Oh no” (in a sarcastic tone) “I’m so sorry”
“…”

Conversation over.

color skyII

And if that doesn’t work, just hum or do something with your body, to get out of your head. And, ultimately, there is no once-and-for all solution, because the inner dialogue, monkey chatter, and distress are all symptoms of that thing called life.

Photos are of Lake Michigan at Berger Park, in Chicago.

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Winter Walk, 2015

Went on a walk around the neighborhood. 2015-12-08 15.44.202015-12-08 16.00.152015-12-08 16.04.382015-12-08 16.09.142015-12-08 16.14.222015-12-08 16.16.372015-12-08 16.19.212015-12-08 16.30.082015-12-08 16.30.472015-12-08 16.40.002015-12-08 16.39.292015-12-08 16.44.082015-12-08 16.44.322015-12-08 16.45.452015-12-08 16.49.422015-12-08 16.51.172015-12-08 16.52.062015-12-08 16.55.122015-12-08 17.03.002015-12-08 17.05.052015-12-08 17.11.53

Vote Democratic.

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The 16th annual Windy City Times ’30 Under 30′ recipient, Julia Napolitano


Every year the Windy City Times– an LGBTQ newspaper based in Chicago- releases its ’30 under 30′ which recognizes 30 individuals under the age of 30 who are doing great work in service of the community. Lovely Julia was a recipient of this year’s award! See the article here:

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/16th-annual-30-Under-30-Honoring-the-best/51922.html

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Dormant We Grow

Dear Readers,

I’m taking a break from Underspecialized. A while ago I started this blog in order to do two things- write consistently, and do so publicly. Having stuck to that method, I’ve explored hundreds of topics, had lots of fun, and hope you have too. Thank you for all the support. I know reading’s hard, especially on the internet. And whether you did it because this was actually interesting or because you didn’t want to feel awkward next time I saw you and asked what you thought, Thank You.

Although it may be undue, I feel the need to give an explanation. In raw terms, I’m going back to school, working full-time, and have little energy to spare. Artistically speaking, I find having to write every week, nay, having to share what I write every week, constraining. Some things need to be incubated for longer periods of time in order to properly develop. But if I go down that line of thought, then there’s pressure for me to top Underspecialized with something even more ambitious. That may happen. But it may not happen (and that’s OK, too). It’s empowering to let something go without conditions, and to wait and see what happens (or doesn’t happen) organically.

Of course I’m afraid of stopping. But I’m also excited to see what happens when I do. This might be the end, or it might be a hiatus before returning in different form. We shall see. Hiatus, incidentally, comes from the Latin word hiare, which also means to yawn. Who knows, maybe it’s contagious?

Just the other day I was sitting under a tree when one of its leaves fell on me. Dead. Bright yellow. I felt sad and thought: it’s not a seed, why does it have to fall? (Because all summer this leaf was receptive to the sun). Its job is over, now it falls to the ground… maybe it will become compost for further growth.

Thank you from all my heart,
Gopher Padfoot

PS- in one last act of shameless self-indulgence, please look to the right at the archives for any posts you may have missed. : D

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