Thursday, February 16, 2017

Going ape in the Oval Office

By Bob Gaydos
Ham the chimp
I started writing a column a few days ago by likening what is happening in the White House these days to a chimpanzee jumping up and down on the furniture and throwing feces at the walls. A group of white men, I said, stood by with thin smiles as if approving the actions. When the chimp left the room to watch television, the men went about rearranging the furniture and cleaning the walls the best they could. A thankless job, I wrote, but it pays well. That should tell you all you need to know about those men.
I didn't get very far with the column because I soon realized it was terribly insulting to chimpanzees. They are, after all, our closest cousins, sharing 98 percent of our genes. They are intelligent creatures who enjoy people and know how to behave appropriately in their environment. In the jungle, act like a hunter. In the Oval Office, act presidential. In a space capsule, act like an astronaut.
As fate would have it, 56 years ago on Jan. 31st, a chimpanzee named Ham became the first "American” launched into space, Sub-orbital. The historic event was captured nicely in the movie version of "The Right Stuff.’’ As the seven Mercury astronauts compete to be the first, the movie dramatizes the launch and splashdown and reveals America’s first astronaut to be … a chimp.
Ham’s flight from Cape Canaveral to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean lasted 16 minutes and 39 seconds. Ham wasn’t just a passenger in the capsule. He pulled the appropriate levers at the appropriate times and performed perfectly. He suffered only a bruised nose for his efforts. His flight paved the way for Alan Shepard’s flight in May later that year. Second American in space. That makes Ham an American hero in my book.
I doubt the current occupant of the White House could be trusted with such a mission as Ham’s. For one thing, it required focus. Also, discipline. Spurred on by Ham’s story, I did a little more research on chimps. It turns out they share a lot of traits once supposedly reserved for humans. They enjoy friendships. They have strong family bonds. They can show empathy. They can make and use tools. They can remember distant events. They've been observed showing regret and exercising self-restraint and wouldn't that be welcome in the White House today.
Some observers say chimps can even understand when other creatures know or don't know something. That's another way of saying they have a realistic assessment of whomever they are dealing with. No guesswork. And yes, being almost human, they can be violent. Usually it's because there are too many alpha males in a group and not enough females. Most violence that occurs is between groups of chimps rather than within a group, although one group recently was said to have killed a  former leader who was described as a tyrant. Maybe a brutal form of justice?
Really, the only negative thing I learned about chimpanzees in my brief research is that they are endangered. Of course. Their population has been eliminated everywhere except central Africa where they are poached for food. Man apparently cannot bear to have other creatures alive on this planet without killing them for sport or commercial gain or, in this case, an exotic source of food. Unfortunately, respect for other living creatures Is just one of many positive traits that seem to be lacking in the current White House occupant.
So I apologize humbly to chimpanzees for even considering such a comparison as mentioned at the top of this article In the first place. I further encourage all compassionate human beings to contribute to such organizations as the World Wildlife Federation in their efforts to save these wonderful apes.
As for those clowns in suits in the White House, he's your wild creature. If you can't make him behave, you've got to get rid of him. After all, the house belongs to the American people. The previous tenant left it in beautiful condition. Clean that crap off the walls and find someone who knows how to act in public.

bobgaydos.blogspot.com

Monday, February 6, 2017

Tom Wolfe, LSD, Orange Hair and Me

By Bob Gaydoskool-aid-book

I have been in a funk since Nov. 9. That’s the day I woke up with the realization that millions of Americans had lost their minds, if not their souls, and elected a man who is morally, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually unfit to be their president. The dumbest thing that has happened in my lifetime.

I stopped writing.

Finally, in desperation for inspiration, I turned to sports and that great philosopher, Reggie Miller (older Knicks fans can boo now.) For younger fans of the National Basketball Association, think Steph Curry. Shooters. Scorers. What do great shooters do when they are in a shooting funk, when everything seems to clang off the back rim or fall inches short of the basket? They keep shooting. They don’t pass the ball to someone else. They shoot themselves out of the funk.

Swish!

Now, I am not saying I am in the same class as a writer as Reggie and Steph are as shooters, but I have been writing for a long time and I think I have some skills so I figured the instincts would kick in once I started.

So instead of writing, I started reading. Tom Wolfe. Purely happenstance. I picked up some used books at the library because my son, Max, was looking for reading material. Short stories. He wasn’t interested in Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” and I had never read it, but had really enjoyed his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” So I ventured in. I quickly remembered why I liked him.

Then happenstance melded into serendipity. My partner and I watched “The Right Stuff,” the movie based on Wolfe’s book. Enjoyed it. There’s more. The last essay in “Hooking Up” detailed Wolfe’s assignment, with Jimmy Breslin, as the first writers/reporters for the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York.

My favorite newspaper as a teenager and my favorite magazine. I grew up reading Breslin and, as it turns out, Wolfe. After a brief, there’s-no-way-in-the-world-I-want-to-do-this-the-rest-of-my-life flirtation with engineering, I started writing. In more than 50 years, I have only stopped for brief intervals. Going with the universal flow, I went back to the library and picked up a couple more used Wolfe books, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “A Man in Full.”

By the way, this is by way of answering those sympathetic friends who have asked me what I’ve been doing since The Dumb Event. For one thing, I’m trying to do things that make me feel better, things I can control.

… But let me digress.

To all those who pooh-pooh the Russian election connection, who doubt the Kremlin hacked into Democrats’ e-mails and released them in an organized effort to elect You Know Who and who further doubt that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with it, I turn again to sports and the biggest story that got lost in the election -- Russia’s decades-long government-sponsored program to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by virtually all its Olympic athletes.

A report recently released by a Canadian lawyer, Richard H. McClaren, who works for the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed it all. McClaren and his team made short shrift of Russian denials. Medals were repossessed. Athletes were banned. A Russian official involved in the program said the direction came from the top. In Russia, there is only one top. This is the Russian way, or at least the Putin way. Of course he knew about the steroids. Of course he knew about the hacking. No Russian would dare do either without his approval. Not if he didn't want to wind up with poison in his vodka.

… So where was I? Right, reading.

I’m learning much more about Ken Kesey and the acid/pot/speed hippie freaks of the ‘60s than I ever intended to. The meaning of life on LSD.  It’s a good read. I found it especially interesting how Kesey came to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” Nothing like first-hand experience. I just started the book, so there will likely be more on this later.

What else? I started looking for local issues I might be able to help out with since I believe change starts close to home. I’ve also recommitted to my off-and-on interest in photography. Living in an especially scenic area of the Hudson Valley, it works well with my inclination to report on what’s going on around me. On my travels the other day, a farmer walked his cow across the road right in front of me, casual as could be. Nonchalantly, I missed the shot. But I know where he lives. Gotta keep shooting.

… Speaking of nukes, Putin recently said he wanted to beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability. Our soon-to-be Twitter-in-chief knee-jerkedly responded that he planned to do the same with the United States’ nuclear armaments and that no one would be able to keep up with the U.S. in a nuclear arms race. Be still my patriotic, tax-paying heart. Robert Reich, a voice of sanity on social media, reported the above and asked, “What do you think?”

Robert, I think Putin is playing his puppet for the fool he knows him to be. I think all the Republican officials who applaud every time their “king” says something insane are shameless toadies. I think Putin is setting Orange Hair up to act like a big hero at a summit conference in which Russia and the U.S. decide to stop the war of nuclear words and de-escalate, rather than escalate, the nuclear arms race. In exchange, of course, for U.S. concessions. Drop those sanctions for grabbing Crimea. Hold back support for NATO countries that don’t pull their own weight. Let Russia handle things in Syria. Buy some Russian goods (whatever that might be). Don’t retaliate for Russia’s hacking. Stop criticizing Putin’s treatment of dissidents. Give him the respect, he deserves. “Da da, you understand that, my presidential friend, I’m sure.”

I think Putin wants to increase Russian influence over the world, not destroy it. He knows he can do that by pushing buttons and pulling strings.

I also think it would be beneficial to Americans if Ivanka revoked Daddy’s Twitter privileges and read some history to him every day and tested him on it the next day.

And finally, I think maybe I’m feeling a tad better, but the funk is not defunct. Sorry, Reggie, I may have scored a couple of points, but I think I have to keep on shooting.

bobgaydos.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Addiction and Recovery
It’s a disease, not a moral failing

By Bob Gaydos
Dr. Benjamin  Rush

There’s a week for everything in this country, some serious, some not so: National Handwashing Awareness Week; Celebrate Your Name Week; Fix a Leak Week; Mental Health Awareness Week; Freelance Writers Appreciation Week; Nurses Week; National Kraut Sandwich Week; National Indoor Plant Week.
One of the more serious ones -- National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week -- recently passed with little notice. However, there was a useful, informative blog about the week on the recordonline.com news site. It was written by Dr. Judith Branche, of Cornerstone Family Healthcare’s Center for Recovery in Newburgh. Dr. Branche is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine.
One paragraph in the blog especially struck home with me: “(A) significant problem is the lack of understanding of the problem for what it truly is. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to explain what a substance use disorder really is. Addiction is a chronic disorder of the brain which affects brain chemistry in a significant way. This may be a new concept for many who believe that drug addiction is no more than a moral failing or a character defect that a person should be able to overcome if he or she puts their mind to it. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Amen, amen, amen. I’ve been writing on this topic for about a decade. In my opinion, this remains the biggest problem with regard to alcoholism and addiction -- that many, probably a majority, of people do not buy the disease concept. This includes  many government officials who are in a position to help lessen the harmful impact of the disease. They look upon it as a law and order issue, rather than a health issue.
So we declare a war on drugs and throw the addicts in prison along with the pushers. Diabetics don’t get locked up for being victims of sugar. More to the point, executives of food companies who load their products up with sugar under dozens of other names don’t get arrested for fraud or posing a public health risk. They get bonuses. Their customers who wind up addicted to sugar get insulin and a new diet plan. Follow it, or get sicker.
Addicts, alcoholics who want to fight their disease have to first fight insurance companies to get coverage for treatment, probably have to “fail” at outpatient treatment if they want in-patient rehab and then hope they are lucky enough to find an in-patient slot. Winding up in prison is a whole lot easier.
The tricky thing about the disease of addiction is that many of those who have it do commit crimes while under the influence or in search of money to get more drugs. Alcoholics do drive drunk and kill or injure others. This is where moral judgments take over, understandably. But while their disease may explain their actions; it does not excuse addicts from the consequences. Still, in paying the price, addicts should at a minimum also be offered a chance at treatment. It’s possible to get clean and sober behind bars.
Of course, much of the damage addicts do is not of the criminal variety. It is of the personal variety, often directed at those who care most about them. Living with an active alcoholic can be like living in a volcano -- unpredictably eruptive. Indiscriminately destructive. Loving the addict and hating the disease, as Al-Anon suggests, is excellent advice, but no one says it’s easy. It takes a lot of practice and patience and it does not mean accepting or enabling unacceptable behavior. But if more people tried it, I believe the disease concept would become more real and the stigma attached to the disease would lessen. That would help those seeking recovery and the people closest to the addict would be better able to deal with life, regardless of whether the alcoholic/addict was active or not.
Of course, the addict has to accept the disease concept as well if he or she hopes to having meaningful recovery. Simply abstaining from using through will power often makes for a more miserable person who is just not drinking. Rather than saying, "I'm an alcoholic and I can't drink for the rest of my life," the alcoholic can say, "I have a disease that makes it mentally and physically impossible for me to drink safely." Obviously, the alcoholic can drink anytime he or she wants, but the treatment for the disease is abstaining and finding some other source of solace, serenity, strength to deal with the rigors of life.
That's not an easy decision either. But the more society talks about addiction as a disease, not a moral failing, the sooner, I believe, we will see more positive results in fighting it.
(Author’s note: While the opinions expressed are solely mine, they are based on discussions with hundreds of alcoholics, addicts and professionals in the substance abuse field.)
bobgaydos.blogspot.com


Who says so?
  • American physician Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), who signed the Declaration of Independencence, is often cited as the first who understood drunkenness to be what is now called a "loss of control" and possibly the first to use the term "addiction" in connection with this meaning. He wrote: “My observations authorize me to say, that persons who have been addicted to them, should abstain from them suddenly and entirely. 'Taste not, handle not, touch not' should be inscribed upon every vessel that contains spirits in the house of a man, who wishes to be cured of habits of intemperance.’” He said, "Habitual drunkenness should be regarded not as a bad habit but as a disease," describing it as "a palsy of the will."
  • Between 1980 and 1991, medical organizations, including the AMA, established policies on the disease theory. These policies were developed in 1987 in part because third-party reimbursement for treatment was difficult or impossible unless alcoholism were categorized as a disease. The policies of the AMA, state, in part: "The AMA endorses the proposition that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice." In 1991, the AMA endorsed the dual classification of alcoholism by the International Classification of Diseases under both psychiatric and medical sections.
Source: WIKIPEDIA

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some random thoughts upon awakening on Nov. 9

By Bob Gaydos

I know it happened, but it feels surreal. We just gave a petulant child control of the most powerful military machine ever assembled. Here’s the key to the nuclear weapons closet. Don’t use it. Not sure he has heard that last part. ...

Remember when all those people thought it would be 
 funny to vote for Sanjaya on “American Idol”? He couldn't sing worth a lick, but he made it to the finals, all the way to number 7, thanks to Howard Stern and a joke website. Lotsa laughs. Sanjaya might have won if there weren't some people with real talent on the show. … That's it for now. This has to be a mental health day. ...

OK, I'm back. It’s Thursday. Still surreal. Can’t think about it for too long. Deepak told me this morning – well, not me personally – that if I change, my world will change. Intellectually, I get it. My perception of reality depends on my intent and my awareness. if I want to remain sane and live with a modicum of serenity, I need to focus on things that I can do something about that will also provide some positive feelings  and shut out things that will do the opposite. Take care of my world. ......

I read that California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana. That ought to boost the U.S. economy. Did you know California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world? Maybe it will put some DEA agents out of work, but that war on drugs hasn’t worked anyway. It could make that wall on the Mexican border unnecessary. ...

wish I could say I'm sorry to see Hillary go, but I'm not. Worst campaigner ever.  She should've gone to Standing Rock. She should have fired Debbie Wasserman. If I  were a millennial, my intent and awareness would be totally focused on Elizabeth Warren in 2020. ...

My friend, Ketchup Bob (he counts ketchup as a vegetable), told me over coffee Wednesday morning that at our age if we woke up in good health it was a good day, even if it was raining. That's the kind of uplifting message he gives me: You’re old, but you're here. Drink your coffee and be grateful. … Intent and awareness. ...

I'm a few months older than Bernie Sanders, so I don't think he's got another run in him. But I think he’s going to be keeping tabs on a lot of people's intent in the Senate for the next four years and that is a source of hope. Take your vitamins, Bernie. ...

I'm not reading any political stuff on Facebook for a while because obviously nobody knows a damn thing. And it is not exactly a wellspring of sanity and serenity. …

Oh, I erroneously reported a couple of weeks ago that Soupy Sales had died. Well, he had, but he did so in 2009. Sorry about that. Sloppy reporting. Got it off Facebook. …

Moment of clarity: There's no cure for stupidity. ...
Starting to feel a little better.

bobgaydos.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The hidden disease: Addictive gambling

Addiction and Recovery
The hidden disease: Addictive gambling

By Bob Gaydos
It is estimated that about 9 million adults
 in the U.S. have a serious gambling problem.
Mary (not her real name) discovered gambling about 40 years ago when she started going to casinos with her husband. Last January, now a widow, she self-excluded herself from the Monticello Casino and Raceway (also known as the racino), near where she lives. She can be arrested if she tries to get in. She did this because, despite her Social Security check, her pension and half of her deceased husband’s pension, “I had no more money to write a check.”
Mary is a compulsive gambler.
Her story is not unique. Seniors, especially senior women, are major players at racinos. “It’s a social outlet,” she says. And a convenient way to gamble. Of course, her gambling addiction didn’t just materialize overnight after 40 years. There was bingo in addition to the casinos. And lots of lottery tickets. It finally became obvious. When her husband was alive, she explained, “He controlled the money.” Lonely, and without any restrictions, her gambling progressed.
“What really killed me,” she says, “is that I lost more than I won and still had to pay income tax.”
Joyce, who doesn’t mind using her real name, has been addicted to drugs for 35 years. “I didn’t realize I had a gambling problem,” she says. “I kept buying Lottery scratch-offs, hoping to get enough money to get more drugs. I stopped using drugs January 15. I realized in talking to Carol that I had a gambling problem, too.”
Carol Ingrassia is coordinator of the Bettor Choice program at the Catholic Charities Monticello Campus (formerly the Recovery Center). She is the only counselor with Catholic Charities, at all its campuses, currently credentialed to deal with addictive grambling.
Jeff Skaar, director of operations at the Monticello campus, says five staff members are enrolled in credentialing classes at SUNY Orange, with five more to follow, so there will be trained gambling counselors at each Catholic Charities location. The state requires credentials as an Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) to add a G for gambling to the title.
This effort to add trained gambling counselors to the staff is a response to the much-anticipated opening of a casino in Sullivan County. But the Bettor Choice program, which Mary and Joyce utilize, has been around for 10 years. In that time, the state has added more Lottery games (the number one problem with problem gamblers), Quickdraw has become a staple in bars and diners and sports gambling has become increasingly popular. OTB has had its heyday.
With all that enticement to gamble, one might think there would already be a good supply of gambling counselors, but Skaar says, “Gambling counseling didn’t take off like the state anticipated, so it cut the funding.” But it kept adding Lottery games and now has approved five new casinos. “We’re hoping,” Skaar says, “that the state will recognize its role in providing local services near local gambling sites,” That’s key, he said, because, while people will travel to casinos from everywhere, services for problem gamblers won’t be available everywhere.
The Bettor Choice program currently has 10 clients. They have weekly individual meetings and one group meeting, as well as lectures. Mary heard about the program in a talk at a local health fair, part of Catholic Charities’ public outreach to let people know what help is available. She said the program worked for a while, then she went on vacation and gambled again. That prompted her to ban herself from the Racino and reacquaint herself with Bettor Choice.
Joyce, 55, is from Newburgh. She is in residential treatment in Monticello for her drug addiction, a three-to-six-month program. “Gambling is a trigger for my drug addiction,” she says. Such co-existing addictions are not uncommon. In addition to learning the triggers for their gambling, participants learn tools to help them adjust their behavior. For example, Joyce says, “Don’t carry money. Or, walk with friends to go past stores selling lottery tickets.” These are especially key at the beginning of recovery. Mary has had to find other activities with friends and at church to fill her time.
Catholic Charities gives a gambling screening test to all persons who come to its residential treatment center. “Lots of people who come to rehab are reluctant to admit to a gambling addiction,” Ingrassia says. “There’s a hierarchy of addictions. The legal ones -- alcohol and gambling -- are at the bottom. Addicts are less likely to admit to them.”
In fact, gambling is referred to as the “hidden addiction.” It’s legal. People like it. No one wants to admit he or she can’t handle their money. Compulsive gamblers tend to look down on people with other addictions, even though the damage they cause can be catastrophic to those close to them.
“It’s an immediate rush,” Skaar says. Even when they lose, “they feel there is one thing that will save them and the one thing is money. In gambling, there’s the belief that I’m going to get even and my troubles will be gone.”
The reality is that, too often, money doesn’t save them and, instead of their problems being gone, their family and their family’s money are.
Unfortunately, the “hidden addiction” also has a not-so-easy-to-find solution. Skaar says he has met with the people who run the Racino to let them know the Bettor Choice program exists. The state has a hotline that appears on every lottery ticket (Look hard; you’ll find it) and is included in every Lottery commercial. It’s also on every machine at the Racino. Still, Skaar hopes the state will do more, notably make facilities available statewide to help problem gamblers.
“People suffer in silence,” Ingrassia says. “Their bottom is lack of money.” She adds, “There’s a very high suicide rate among problem gamblers.”

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer and editor. rjgaydos@gmail.com





FYI
-- Definition. Those who study and classify such behavior use the terms: Problem gambling; Compulsive gambling; Pathological gambling; Gambling disorder; and Gambling addiction. It’s all a matter of degree and whom you ask.
-- The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 2 to 3 percent of adults in the United States (about 9 million people) have serious problems with gambling. Another 3 million meet the criteria for “pathological” or “compulsive” gambling.
-- 48 states have some form of legalized gambling; 43 states have lotteries.
-- Catholic Charities (Recovery Center): 845-794-8080.
-- Gamblers Anonymous: Ingrassia says the 12-Step group has had difficulty keeping a meeting going in Sullivan County. The only meeting in the immediate area is at Vails Gate 4 Corners (next to the Firehouse). Mondays, from 7 to 9 p.m.
-- Gamblers Anonymous info: www.newyorkga.org;
or (855) 222-5542
-- New York State Hopeline: 1-877-8-HOPENY; for help with gambling and substance abuse problems. Under the auspices of the State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services: https://www.oasas.ny.gov/Gambling/index.cfm
-- New York Council on Problem Gambling: http://nyproblemgambling.org/.




Gamblers Anonymous 20 questions


1.
Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Yes
No
2.
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Yes
No
3.
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Yes
No
4.
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Yes
No
5.
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Yes
No
6.
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
Yes
No
7.
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
Yes
No
8.
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Yes
No
9.
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Yes
No
10.
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Yes
No
11.
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Yes
No
12.
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Yes
No
13.
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Yes
No
14.
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Yes
No
15.
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss?
Yes
No
16.
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Yes
No
17.
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Yes
No
18.
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Yes
No
19.
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Yes
No
20.
Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
Yes
No

According to GA, most compulsive gamblers will answer 'yes' to at least 7 of these questions.

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