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.

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.


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.

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 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.)

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.