Don’t Subtract; Add

I have stayed silent on the removal of and proposals to remove statues and names of historical figures from landmarks around the country, New York state, and NYC, among them, Robert E. Lee, Christopher Columbus, and now, Peter Stuyvesant. No doubt these people are controversial today, and, given their actions, rightfully seen as symbols of hate by some.

However, removing these names and statues is only cathartic to us in the short term, and thus short-sighted. In the long term, we prevent future generations from remembering WHY the actions and beliefs of these figures were problematic in the first place. By removing them, we are also, at the same time scrubbing their legacy clean, a kindness which they do not deserve. For what do any of them have anymore BUT their legacy?
I would never want the concentration camps in Poland to be destroyed, because then we certainly WOULD forget, and even begin to doubt that the awful events they remind us of ever happened in the first place. Like Auschwitz, these statues and street names represent shameful moments in our history, and that is precisely why we MUST remember them, so as not to repeat the mistakes of our past. 

In reality, we should not be looking to subtract, but instead to add. Don’t remove the statues; add prominently-placed placards detailing their legacies of hate to all who visit them, sparking the conversations we all say are desperately necessary in our country today. 

We should never let ourselves be in danger of forgetting, of letting these figures off the hook for their hateful behaviors and beliefs that ought to define their legacy for all time. 

Follow up: The importance of doing research before speaking is important, and I did not do that this time. I stand by my position not to destroy these statues or remove names, but I have been informed that the proposal seems to have beem moving the statues from their current locations, not destroying them. Moving the statues (along with adding information about why they were moved) is a great idea, since their original locations were often a conscious decison designed to facilitate continued oppression. 

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Fantasy Island

As a species, we like order, always trying to cram everything into boxes with neat little labels, even those things that don’t quite fit. Like other humans. In politics, in particular, we do one of two things. We either stubbornly ignore the multifaceted humanity in all of us and insist that people can be nothing but their overly simplified character, which means ignoring anything and everything that falls outside the lines. Or, we get outraged when naturally complex and perpetually learning and changing beings won’t stay inside the ridiculous Stepford categories we’ve created.
And of course, by “we”, I mean primarily the political news media, their leagues of “analysts” (and other talking heads), and uber-committed political junkies.
There sure is a lot of fantasy and general fiction in something that is supposed to be real life. I’m beginning to understand more and more why most Americans don’t follow politics to the extent academia would like them to.

Respect yourself.

(Note: The following concerns heterosexual relationships, since the focus in this post is on the male-female dynamic)

Rape culture. Misogyny. Entitlement. Respect.

The words have been flying ever since the May 23rd shooting in Santa Barbara, motivated ultimately, according to the Shooter (whose name I refuse to mention here, since doing so will only contribute to his disgusting bid for posthumous notoriety), by a hatred of women for being sexually interested in everyone but him.

At the root of this issue, Arthur Chu argues is that our culture falsely teaches men (and nerds in particular) that sex with beautiful women is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the payoff for all their hard work. And I agree with him. How many ads have we seen where the product being sold is simply a means to get more women (the ads for Axe products being some of the most obvious of these)? And when this prize doesn’t materialize, even when a man has mastered every other challenge, and performed all the correct “courtship” moves he has been taught, he can develop an anger and resentment towards women for rejecting him when he so rightfully deserves their admiration and sexual attentions. This kind of anger kind of makes sense, when you consider its source: to a man thoroughly immersed in the cultural narrative, his needs are paramount, and women are living, breathing objects designed to be possessed, used, and collected, like action figures or sneakers.

This is characteristic of the typical response to violence against women: blame a misogynistic, patriarchal culture where men have no respect for women.  However, I don’t know if I fully agree with this position.  When something awful happens in our society, we like to have a specific target to blame, because being able to pinpoint a tangible cause provides a convenient solution for future prevention.   Violent media, bad or absent parenting, neglectful teachers are very popular scapegoats. But so are men (in general) and the “patriarchal” or “misogynistic” society that spawned them.

Violence and sexual abuse against women are some of the most extreme outcomes of the cultural narrative described by Chu, but in most cases, such extreme reactions are the result of a long history of more common difficulties experienced in male-female relationships and interactions. Any self-help author, entrepreneur, ad executive, screenwriter, personal trainer would agree, successfully linking your product to an increase in romance, sex, or both in the customer’s life means big bucks.  In our society, the male-female dynamic is believed to be difficult, if not impossible. Some even go so far as to say men and women are completely different species.  If we want to prevent the extreme outcomes, we need to understand the origins of the more benign ones.  And this, in my opinion, requires a closer look at the ailing Mars v. Venus dysfunction.

The cultural narrative of being male is definitely a key element of this problem. But ignoring the role of female culture in this situation implies that women are just innocent, disinterested bystanders being subjected to the oppressive desires of the entitled male. This is disingenuous to say the least, because it suggests that, in the natural order of things, the needs or desires of women would prefer to have nothing to do with men or sex. We can argue about why women participate in sexual activity until the end of time, but one thing that we must agree upon is that women are sexual beings.  Please note: I’m not suggesting that women deserve to be treated misogynistically (nor would I ever suggest that); rather, that the Mars v. Venus dilemma we continue to experience is not only the fault of a misguided patriarchal society.

So the male cultural narrative is one part of our relationship dysfunction. But the female cultural narrative must be explored as well, since it provides the other half of the formula. Far from innocent bystanders, women play a part in the relationship dysfunction we as a society continue to experience.  A fulfilling and loving relationship (if not marriage) is our pot of gold. There are a number of ways to reach this pot, but the outcome is always implied to be an experience in which the woman is the center of the man’s life. But this portrayal objectifies men in exactly the same way the cultural narrative from the male perspective objectifies women. The cultural narrative for women teaches that a relationship will give us all that we deserve as women. We deserve to be loved, to be taken care of, to feel appreciated, to be desired, and being in a relationship will provide us with all those things. In this scenario, the woman’s needs are paramount, and a man is nothing more than a living, breathing accessory, albeit a permanent one.

This actually reminds me of the movie Don Jon (2013).  In this really interesting film, the protagonist Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds sex to be much better when he is alone and watching porn. Even though he gets tons of hot women and has sex a couple times a week, and even when he has a regular girlfriend, he continues to prefer porn and masturbation. An older woman (Julianne Moore) he meets articulates the argument of the film: that Jon prefers porn to actual sex with a woman because he’s entirely focused on his own needs and desires. His only interest is in what the experience (whether in the flesh or on a screen) can do for him. So of course he gets more pleasure out of porn than real women, since porn is entirely about pleasing the viewer, and consensual sex with a real live person needs to be a give and take situation.

What’s really interesting about this movie is that it doesn’t just take Jon (and, I guess, men in general) to task for his selfish approach to sex, but it also reveals the same selfishness in his girlfriend Barbara’s (Scarlett Johansson) approach to relationships. Jon is obsessed with the high he gets from pornography and is perpetually disappointed when the real thing doesn’t live up to the fantasy. Similarly, Barbara is obsessed with the fantasy of the one-sided relationship depicted in romantic movies.  “When a real man loves a woman,” she explains to Jon, “he doesn’t mind doing things for her.  All right? He’ll do anything for her.”

Barbara’s character represents all women who subscribe to that familiar “someday my prince will come” fantasy we continue to teach our girls to this day.  I actually knew a woman who believed this fairytale wholeheartedly. She was forever single and couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t find “a good man”.  In reality, though, I suspect she probably came across lots of good men in her time, but she held them up to a standard that only existed in romance novels and romantic comedies, just like many men hold women up to a cultural standard that exists only in pornography and buddy comedies.

I’ve come across tons of opinions, from women I know, articles geared towards women, and fictional representations in the media, that are presented as characteristics necessary in a “good man” and to lead to a “good relationship”.

A good man:

  • takes care of himself (i.e., has a good body, dresses well)
  • is capable of taking care of the woman (physically and financially)
  • possesses amazing sexual prowess
  • is in touch with his emotions
  • is self-confident, and always calm, strong, and direct in his behavior
  • will take charge in difficult, stressful and/or dangerous situations
  • has a variety of interests, including the standard “manly” ones (sports, technology, and/or the great outdoors), but also some conventionally “feminine” ones (i.e., fashion and/or cooking).
  • likes children and plans to have a family (and help take care of the kids once he does)

In a good relationship, a man

  • pursues or chases the woman, even if she acts uninterested
  • treats the woman like a princess (i.e., anticipates her needs and fulfills them without being asked)
  • listens to the woman and is interested in everything she has to say
  • does whatever the woman asks, even if it’s difficult and/or involves changing fundamental parts of himself
  • wants to spend all his free time with the woman, regardless of the activity
  • loves the woman, no matter what she does or how she looks
  • is forever loyal and monogamous, even if denied sex and even in the face of temptation
  • will always drop whatever he is doing to be available whenever the woman requires, even if it is something “important”
  • is always honest and never lies to the woman (though lying to others doesn’t seem to be a problem)

The first problem, of course, is that the perfect man and perfect relationship don’t actually exist. I’ve only listed a few characteristics here, but many woman have lists that are even more comprehensive (and even less realistic) than mine, and refuse to compromise.  I’m not arguing that these qualities don’t exist or that women should dispense with standards altogether. Some of these qualities are important and attainable. But there some that contradict one another (a man should be strong and confident in himself, but also willing to completely change if the woman asks), so they cannot coexist in the same individual, others that sound nice in theory, but in practice create monsters out of men, and even others that only exist in fictitious characters, and not actual humans.

But more important is the absence of the role of the woman in such a relationship. If you look at the ideals presented to men about women and relationships depicted in traditional media, and of course, porn, you’ll find (as Chu did) that according to the cultural narrative, the man does not need to do anything in order to expect these things from women and/or relationships with women. None of these ideals listed above explore the role of the woman either, implying the exact same thing: that she does not need to do anything in order to expect these things from a man or a relationship.  Such ideals in both gender narratives ignore the fact that a real relationship is something that is constructed out of the efforts made by two individuals, not a set of benefits to which participants are entitled.

And that sense of entitlement is exactly the problem.  Chu hit the nail on the head right from the start (the word “entitlement” is even in the title of his post). But what he doesn’t discuss (and what very few people seem to even acknowledge) is that this sense of entitlement is found among women as well.

The Santa Barbara shooting may have spawned discussions about respect for women, but much of it seems to have missed the big picture, in my opinion. A prevalence of misogyny or an absence of respect for women might a primary cause of violence against women and sexual assault, but the misguided and self-centered cultural narratives surrounding male-female relationships are the original, and very potent, sources of these feelings.  They teach men and women alike that the objective of relationships is in what the other person can do for you, what they can give you, how they treat you. The other person only matters insofar as their contribution enhances your life.

But that’s the American way, isn’t it? The individual is paramount. Now, please don’t take that statement to mean that I am against individuality as a social concept, because that is not the case at all. But life requires balance and moderation in all things, and personal relationships are no exception. It’s no wonder so many of us can’t make relationships work when we’re taught to entirely focus on ourselves, and that relationships are all about US.  But self-centeredness cannot engender love, nor can it sustain love. It is impossible to truly care about someone who cares only for him/herself (unless you have convinced yourself that one day, your feelings will be returned and your efforts rewarded. Sadly, this outcome only happens in the movies, which leaves a lot of people discouraged, angry, and bitter).  At the end of the day, real love only develops as the result of the dual contributions of both parties to the relationship. It cannot exist as a one-sided emotion, and it is not something to which any of us are entitled (except, perhaps, in the case of parent-child relationships, but even that kind of love can eventually erode if not properly nurtured).

In the same way, respect must also be earned. That is, human beings, whether male or female, deserve to be treated with a certain, basic level of dignity and respect, regardless of whether they are known to you personally. But any higher level of respect once you are acquainted with another person must be earned. Regardless of your gender, being in a sexual relationship with another person doesn’t entitle you to their respect any more than being in a platonic or business relationship. Your behavior and actions create a feeling of respect in the people around you. Treating your mate like garbage will earn you exactly the same amount of respect as you would by treating an employee, friend, or child like garbage.

I guess my point is that I don’t believe that talking misogyny and “respect for women” is the conversation we ought to be having. It’s like giving someone morphine to make their pain go away instead of trying to figure out what’s causing it in the first place. I mean, sure, it makes us as a society feel better, feel more progressive and enlightened, but without finding the root of the problem, the disease will remain.

The Dermatological Scam – Take II

“No news is good news.”

I’ve heard this before, from doctors, when ordering a lab test.  Essentially, they are telling you that if you don’t hear from them, everything is fine.  I understand the need for this policy, and I have no problem with doctors using it.  In fact, I prefer it.  Otherwise I’ll be waiting on pins and needles for a phone call that might turn out to be nothing.  This way, I don’t waste precious time and energy on worrying until I know there is actually something to worry about.  So when I got a phone call yesterday from the DermOne pathology department, I was understandably terrified.

Allow me to backtrack: At the same appointment I was having my face examined from a distance by the nurse practitioner at DermOne earlier this month, I also asked her to look at this bump I had developed on the knuckle of my first finger.  It was small, round, and hard, but wasn’t painful.  It had been there for a few weeks, and I had no idea what it was.  I just wanted her to look at it.

She looked at it, and within five seconds, decided it needed to be biopsied, because she didn’t know what it was.  Now, I have a birthmark on my knee that I’ve had since childhood that I’ve had biopsied twice.  It’s not irregularly shaped; just larger than normal, so I’ve always tried to err on the side of caution.  Basically, this wasn’t anything I hadn’t had done before, so I was not really scared at all at the prospect.

Stupidly, I explained this to her, more to make conversation than anything else.  She took one look at my birthmark and suggested that she biopsy that as well.  I was hesitant, since I have this weird sentimental attachment to this birthmark.  It’s round, about the size of an eraser on top of a pencil, and it’s positioned just to the side of my knee.  When I was a kid, I used to pretend my knee was the head of an elephant, with the birthmark as the eye and the rest of my lower leg as the trunk.  I’d also make the standard elephant noise when I straightened my leg.  I believed that this elephant was my friend (I’m sure that right now, you’ve got the same look on your face that everyone always gives me when I tell them this story; it’s the look of confused concern that the person you’re talking to might actually be an escapee from a mental institution).

The previous two biopsies had cut away so much of this birthmark that it was no longer round, but more ameoba-shaped.  I was worried that one more biopsy would get rid of it completely.  So you can understand why I was not all that interested in getting another biopsy of this birthmark (or maybe you can’t…).  At the same time, I monitor this birthmark for changes all the time (and yes, play with my elephant friend while I’m at it), and I haven’t noticed any changes in size, shape, color, or texture since the last biopsy.  So I didn’t see a reason to get one done just that second.  True, I’m not a doctor, but then I could argue that neither was this woman.   But at the end of the day, if I’m going to let someone cut away the defining feature of my knee-elephant, I’m not going to do it as a spur-of-the-moment procedure; I need some time to get used to the idea first.

So I told her thanks, but no thanks.  To her credit, she didn’t give up.  She kept badgering me about getting it done, even as she came in to do the biopsy on my finger, she asked me one more time if I was sure I didn’t want her to do another biopsy.  This is the point I started realizing that the policy of this place is to get the patient to do as many procedures as possible.  Or maybe it’s a quota system; she needs to perform a certain number of procedures each week or else she doesn’t get paid.  Whatever it was, she was pushing this second biopsy as if her paycheck depended on it.

I didn’t cave, and so the knee-elephant lives on for now.  But the biopsy of the thing on my hand was still happening.  To her credit, instead of delegating the biopsy to her assistant (who had injected the lidocaine), she performed it herself.  It was the only time she actually came close enough to touch me during the entire appointment.  She cut most of the bump off, and put the piece in a little vial.  She informed me that the test will take about two weeks, and afterward, I’ll get a phone call if the results require my attention.  “No news is good news,” she finished, and then she was gone, leaving her assistant patch me up and give me instructions for how to care for what was now a hole in my skin.

So, here we are, three weeks later, and I get a phone call from DermOne pathology.  I wasn’t home at the time, but they left a voicemail, which told me to call them to discuss my results.  Most people don’t know this, but I happen to have a degree in unnecessary anxiety, so of course, upon hearing this message, I proceeded to freak out.  I tried to calm myself down by reminding myself that they are a business first and a medical practice second, and that it is far more likely that there’s nothing wrong with me and they’re just trying to get me to call so that they can push more treatments and expensive drugs on me, neither of which I really need, so I don’t really need to call.  But then the little voice in the back of my head squeaked, “but what if it IS something serious??  Or what if it’s the start of something and you don’t treat it now and it gets worse, and then is entirely untreatable??”

I went back and forth like this for hours.  I gotta say, for such a little voice, it has tremendous influence.  The little voice won out in the end, and I managed to work myself up into such a frenzy that I practically had myself convinced that this little bump on my finger meant I only had six months to live.  I could barely function the rest of the afternoon I was so stressed, and I realized I couldn’t teach my class like this, so I finally bit the bullet and called DermOne.

A woman at the pathology department answered and I explained that I was calling for my test results.  I gave her my name and she put me on hold for an agonizing thirty seconds.  When she came back, she says, “it’s a wart.  You need to come in so the doctor can freeze it off.  When can we schedule you?”

I politely declined to make an appointment, but in my head, I’m cursing like a sailor.  A wart.  A wart.  All that, for a friggin’ WART????  What the hell happened to “no news is good news”??  Why are you trying to scare me half to death for something that is as harmless as a wart??

I mean, fine, maybe they wanted to tell me what it was.  Great.  But “it’s just a wart” was information that could have been left on my voicemail.  I actually remember checking a box on a consent form that specifically said “I give DermOne permission to leave information about my care on the voicemail attached to this phone number” (or something to that effect).  But maybe they didn’t want to leave that information on my voicemail.  Maybe they thought it was embarrassing.  I mean, warts are associated with toads and witches, so I guess there is some kind of stigma attached.  But this wart was tiny.  It is the first and only one I’ve ever had.  And it wasn’t bothering me in any way, not physically nor psychologically.  It was just there.

But I’m pretty sure that the logic I was using to try to calm myself down from full panic mode was actually correct: The only point of a special phone call and a cryptic message from the pathology department was to frighten me into calling so they could pressure me into more expensive treatments and drugs.

Think about it – on average, half of warts eventually go away on their own.  So they don’t all necessarily require treatment.  But even if you decided that you wanted it to be gone in a hurry (since it could take months or years until you learn whether your wart is one of the ones that will disappear), there are plenty of over-the-counter treatments available that are cheaper and more convenient than a visit to the dermatologist.

In addition, common warts are not associated with cancer.  So technically, if a person doesn’t treat a wart, it’s not going to adversely affect their physical health.  I’m no doctor, so I can’t be sure, but it seems that warts are more of a cosmetic problem than a serious medical one.  Which means I don’t need to treat it at all if I don’t want to.

Essentially, I’m not a patient to DermOne.  I’m a cash cow.  And they just can’t wait to milk me some more (because it would be me they were milking, not my insurance company, who is more than happy to let me foot the bill for anything “cosmetic”).  I mean, from what I’ve read, most dermatologists can tell a wart just by looking at it.  Biopsies are apparently rare.  But either this nurse practitioner had no clue what a wart looks like, which is a problem all its own, or she knew exactly what it was, but she’s been trained to ignore her eyes in favor of doing things that bring in the bucks.  The mantra at DermOne must be treat, cut, and prescribe first, ask questions later (preferably after you count the cash).

In this situation, there was no medical urgency at all, yet their phone call and message was designed to be misleading; they were hoping I would think there was something seriously wrong with me.  And I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted my cell phone minutes on calling them.  At the end of the day, though, this was just a common wart.  I really couldn’t care less about it.  This wart was barely noticeable, and now, thanks to the biopsy, it’s pretty much gone.  If it comes back (as my research tells me it might), well, I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it.  And if I want to get rid of it then, I’d try some OTC options first before resorting to an expensive and time-consuming appointment with the doctor.  But I may not even need to make the effort to get rid of it; it might just eventually go away on its own.  But if I decide I DO want a doctor to treat it?  Well, you can bet I won’t be asking DermOne to do the honors.

The Dermatological Scam

My brain is a cacophony of images, sounds, and information. Not just right now; always. And my schedule these days (actually, for the last few years) looks like a piece of paper attacked by an angry child with fingerpaints.  So I haven’t been posting. I have neglected this site, and my vow to try and write something every day. I could renew my vow, but I doubt it will have any effect.

Instead, I’ll lower my expectations. I can’t write anything near as often or as long as I would like, simply because I lack the time. But I will try to write something.  And more often than just once a year.

I can start by writing about my visit today to the dermatologist. Well, actually, that’s inaccurate. I didn’t see a dermatologist today. I saw a nurse practitioner. Who took electives in dermatology.  Who is listed on the practice’s website as “Ms.”  That’s never a good sign.

I’ve got nothing against nurses or nurse practitioners. I have friends who are nurses, and they work very hard and know their stuff.  I’ve had really great, positive experiences with nurse practitioners in the past.  And I also happen to believe that eventually, nurse practitioners will replace GPs altogether, and medical school will be reserved for those interested in specializing.  But seeing a nurse practitioner at a practice that is already specialized is kind of annoying to me.

I get it, I get it.  I’m a new patient, and most patients are idiots.  So why waste the real dermatologist’s precious time dealing with hypochondriac patients swearing their zit is skin cancer?  An NP can tell a zit from skin cancer (at least, I hope) just as quickly as a specially trained doctor can, but for much less money, so it makes sense to funnel all new patients through the NP first, just to filter out the ones that really need specialized help.

But I’m not an idiot.  I hate going to doctors, and more often than not, I’ll do a ton of research to try and figure out what’s going on and try to treat things myself first.  Basically, if I’m actually taking the time to go to a doctor, it’s usually because I believe I’m dealing with something here that requires more than just icing and elevating or steaming and neti pot-ing.  I’m willing to concede defeat and defer to the superior knowledge of someone who’s actually been through medical training.  In effect, I’m ready to (not-so-humbly) admit that someone might know more than me.  In this case, I needed to know whether the red bumps popping up on my chest and face for the last few years (seasonally at first, but now more frequently and more severe) are acne, a form of eczema, or something else entirely.  I wasn’t looking for a quick fix; just some information, so that I would know the proper way to go about treating my skin.

But the extent of the “examination” consisted of me explaining my concerns while this woman listened from a few feet away, as if I had some kind of contagious disease she might catch if I breathed on her.  She did come a few steps closer while I was talking, but she was peering at me with a look of disgust on her face, as if she was seeing redness and bumps on human skin for the first time in her life and was utterly repulsed by it.  As if she didn’t choose to take an elective in dermatology, but somehow ended up here anyway, against her will.

After a minute or so of me talking and her keeping her distance, she announced that my problem was acne.  Really??  Unless she had some kind of telescopic vision built in to her corneas, how in the world could she tell??  Since a lot of different skin conditions look similar, in my opinion, a proper examination should bring a dermatologist close enough to be able to count my eyelashes if s/he were so inclined.  But I’d be very surprised if this woman could tell whether the things on my skin were pimples, birthmarks, nesting insects, or just figments of my imagination.

I would have liked to question this conclusion, or at least discuss it with her, but I didn’t get the chance, because in the very same breath as her revelatory “diagnosis” of garden variety acne, she immediately prescribed me two types of topical medications.  I was a bit concerned when I realized she was giving me prescription-strength acne medication.  I had stopped using stuff designed for treating acne awhile ago, because I found that all it did was dry out my skin and didn’t help the problem at all.  In fact, a different doctor (granted, not a dermatologist) had told me that my problem looked to her like eczema, which doesn’t respond well to being dried out by acne medication.  I brought this up to the NP, just to make sure that she had considered this possibility before advising me to undertake a course of action that could make my skin worse.

“You don’t think it’s eczema?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “It could be.  But let’s try this first and see how it looks when you come back next month, and we’ll go from there.”

She doesn’t know??  So what, her diagnosis was just a shot in the dark?  Or was I in the twilight zone?  Because I’m pretty sure I’d already told her that I’d stopped using OTC acne medication because it was too drying for my skin and making the problem worse.  Yet somehow, she’d come to the conclusion that I needed acne medication that is harsher than anything I could get without a prescription.  Which she admitted to me, by the way.  Said I might need to moisturize three times a day with this stuff because it was so drying. 

At first I was kind of shocked at the speed with which she had assumed that I wanted prescription medication, without any kind of discussion, or giving me the chance to ask questions.  I mean, she hadn’t even really looked at my skin, nor, for that matter, did she seem to be listening to anything I was telling her, yet within minutes she conveniently seemed to figure out exactly which prescription medications would be best for my problem.

After I thought about it, though, I wasn’t so shocked after all.  Suddenly it clicked (after I had left the building, naturally).  This woman (and probably the corporate entity that is Derm One), doesn’t give a crap about helping me.  It’s all boilerplate, all part of the standard formula.  The more visits I make there, the more (undoubtedly expensive) drugs she pushes onto me, the more money she, and the practice in general, makes.  She had even tried to push some kind of retinoid cream on me “to help lighten the dark marks.”  I don’t know how she could have seen any dark marks, standing all the way over there in Siberia, but I’d never seen any such marks on my face, and I look in the mirror every day.  Sometimes even twice!

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this probably would still have happened if I had seen the actual dermatologist  (maybe only if you’re fish boy will they break with protocol and actually try to fix your problems, I don’t know).  And in fact, I’ve had really positive experiences with nurse practitioners in the past.  So my problem this time is not really with nurse practitioners in general, but rather that the entity known as Derm One is more interested in my money than my skin.

So I wasn’t really shocked in the end.  But I was annoyed.  First of all, I’m going to be on the hook for the cost of these medications, because student insurance won’t pay for anything it considers “cosmetic” (and apparently, nothing is more cosmetic than acne treatments).  But more importantly, I didn’t make this appointment because I wanted a prescription.  I generally dislike jumping to prescription medication without exhausting all other treatment options first.  I had actually been hoping that after this appointment, I would have some idea of what was going on with my skin, and what kind of OTC, or (even better) at-home treatments might be most effective.  Because I’m pretty sure that the problem with my skin right now is that I don’t know what’s wrong, so I’m throwing everything I can think of at it, all at once, which of course, isn’t working.  What I needed was information and a thorough inspection of my skin by someone who was actually interested in helping me, not a five minute discussion with someone who has a prescription pad and a compulsive need to tear paper.  It does me no good to see any medical “professional” who, without discussion of all my options, without even examining my skin, tosses out prescriptions as if she were one of those street corner people who only get paid when they finish handing out all their flyers (insert commentary on our blighted and unnecessarily expensive healthcare system here).

If I follow through with the NP’s “treatment” plan, I know exactly where I’m going to be next month: sitting in that office, with empty pockets and skin that is basically unchanged, or possibly worse.  And that’s right where DermOne would want me to be.

An Argument for Rational Gun Regulation

So many people have used the horrible tragedy in Connecticut last week to argue that this ought to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back; the event that forces the government to take action and tighten gun control laws.

I am not a gun owner, and in the past, I would have been one of those loud, shouting anti-gun activists.  But as things stand today, I’m not convinced that gun control, in the form of governmental restricting of gun ownership, would really be effective here.

The only exception to this would be my agreement that civilians have no business acquiring military-grade weaponry (automatic or semi-automatic sniper rifles, machine guns, armor-piercing bullets, and the like).  Acquiring this type of fire-power doesn’t indicate to me (or anyone else in the civilized) that you’re just trying to protect yourself.  Scaring away intruders or killing dangerous predators on your farm can be accomplished with a pistol or a shotgun, and don’t require military-grade weapons.  Instead, these kind of guns state that you don’t really want to scare intruders or predators, but rather that you want to, and fully intend to, obliterate them by putting as many holes as possible in their bodies.  So I completely favor a ban on civilian purchase of those kind of guns, on a broad, federal level.

But as for gun control in general, I don’t believe that more of it would really help our current situation.  I don’t believe there should be a federal law governing weapons (outside of perhaps military-grade weaponry, discussed above), because each area of the country is different, and requires/desires guns for different reasons.  In urban/suburban areas, people want guns as a form of protection against criminals, either on the street or in their homes.  In more rural areas, criminals are also a fear, but they have the added danger of wild animals that could threaten their lives or their livelihood (i.e., livestock).  Rural families are even more at risk, since the amount of time it take for police (or animal control) to show up to a 9-1-1 call could be up to 10, 15, or 20 minutes, which makes wanting to own a gun seem a lot less like just the desire of a screaming irrational redneck, and a lot more like a logical, realistic request.  So gun laws are, for the most part, best left up to the states to determine, since a one-size-fits-all policy just can’t work in a country as wonderfully diverse as ours. 

In urban areas in particular, there’s an important problem with tighter gun restrictions, and that’s the fact that the criminals will always be able to find a way to get their hands on illegal guns.  So, just like most Digital Rights Management technology on media products like DVDs and e-books, these restrictions end up punishing the law-abiding citizens instead of the media pirates they are aimed at stopping.  But in the case of guns, law-abiding citizens are frozen out from being able to protect themselves with a gun if they so choose, and that creates a slight imbalance in society where all the cops and criminals have guns, but none of the potential victims do.  And even in urban areas, police aren’t always hanging out on every single corner, and so it can still take time for a 9-1-1 call to yield armed police saviors, assuming that someone actually calls 9-1-1 (screams and calls for help can go unheeded by passersby, depending on the neighborhood and/or time of day).  In the meantime, the victim is terrorized, and unable to defend his/herself.

But now I come to the heart of my rant: more laws restricting gun acquisition and/or ownership don’t really get at the main problem here.  It isn’t simply a matter of making it more difficult for people to buy guns.  The killer of 6 year olds like Noah Pozner, Jack Pinto, and Jessica Rekos actually tried to buy a gun several days prior to his disgusting act, but was refused because he didn’t want to wait the required 14-days. 

Instead, let’s look at it this way: you can buy a car, (in theory) even if you don’t have a driver’s license.  But you can’t operate that car without a license.  In contrast, you  need a license to own or carry a gun, but you don’t require a license to actually operate one.  Some people let their kids go down to the shooting range, in order to teach them how to use a gun, or to teach them respect for guns.  But no one in their right mind would let a child operate a car by themselves.  There are hoops teenagers have to jump through in order to operate a car, because in the wrong hands, it CAN become a deadly weapon.  With guns, they are deadly weapons in themselves.  So why is it legal to let kids handle them and to teach kids to use them without a license? 

Basically, my point is that whatever laws exist governing gun ownership, what is missing are laws governing gun USE.  As a gun USER, you should be required to go down to the shooting range and learn how to handle your weapon, not just stick it in a drawer in case it is needed.  And you should have to do it on a regular basis (at least twice or three times a year).

If you want to teach your kid how to use a gun, letting them use yours is not the way to go because there’s no guarantee that this would teach them respect for the power of a gun. Once they became desensitized to guns, kids are more likely to develop less respect, not more.  Making them jump through the same sort of hoops they have to in order to get a drivers’ license (age restrictions, courses in use, safety, and storage, written and practical exams, permit before license, a certain number of hours required at the shooting range, and so on) might instill an extra level of appreciation for the activity and the weapon itself. 

There should also be regulations governing how you store said gun, especially if you have children and/or other non-licensed users living in your household.  All members of said household should be required to go through a safety course initially, and then a refresher course every other year.

One more requirement, I think, should be a psychological evaluation, both as part of the background check for purchase and/or use licensing and at various intervals thereafter.  I mean, take a look at this map of some of the most recent mass shootings around the country.  Most of the perpetrators showed signs of prior mental illness, and nearly all of them committed suicide after committing their horrible deeds.  To me, that suggests not that we need to curtail gun ownership across the board, but that we need to pay closer attention to people who are mentally/psychologically unstable or suicidal who own, use, or have access to guns.  Especially since people like that will find a way to do what they want to do, even if we do cut off the public’s (and therefore their) access to guns.  Only instead of shootings, we’ll be reading about these people accomplishing their sick objectives through suicide-bombings, or driving their car into a building, or maybe using a more arcane form of weapon, like a crossbow.   

I’d like to close by making what some might see as a bit of a radical proposal, but first a bit of history:  In the 1930s, the motion picture industry was facing a whole host of problems, owing to the public’s concern over the content of popular films being too risque, violent, or just plain inappropriate for children and young people.  There were threats of boycotts and calls for government regulation, right when the box office was beginning to feel the sting of the great depression.  Instead of arguing about free speech (though technically, the first amendment had not yet been extended to cover film) or trying to lobby or pay off politicians, Hollywood chose to regulate themselves instead, implementing the Production Code, which was more or less successfully enforced for more than thirty years.  Had this move not been able to satisfy the public, it’s very likely that the government would have stepped in.  In fact, the fear of government intervention was so great that Hollywood used the code to align itself with US foreign policy as well (which is why there were (almost) no films made in the US that attacked or criticized the Nazis until 1941, when the US entered the war).

My proposal is that perhaps the NRA should (working with local law enforcement and government, of course) not only to make, but also to enforce regulations concerning gun ownership, storage and use, since they are typically the ones who claim that guns are perfectly safe when handled correctly and responsibly.  If this is the case, they should have the opportunity to prove it, by being responsible for the entire population of gun users in the United States.  Just like the state medical boards works with local government to regulate the practice of medicine, the local chapters of the NRA should work with local government to regulate the licensing for the legal purchase, storage, and use of guns

If the NRA’s tactics are successful in reducing (based on standards that will be determined before beginning the “experiment”) the occurrence of senseless, ostensibly preventable gun violence, then we’ll all be better off for it.  But if they are not successful, then their failure will be the strongest evidence for government intervention on a much larger scale, and they will have no more legs to stand on in this arena.  My theory is that the threat of definitive and invasive government intervention could motivate the NRA to actively police their own.  They will have to make sure that people who own guns are appropriately licensed to use and store them responsibly, and those whose gun ownership represents a danger to society at large are appropriately prevented from accessing guns.  This would be undertaken in the name of proving their position to the rest of the country. 

The argument that anyone could be a potential gun-toting maniac, so we need to prevent all people from having guns is simply a manifestation of the wistful-but-deluded hope that guns will just go away if we wish hard enough.  Guns aren’t going away, and preventing rational people from using them to protect themselves can (and does) still lead to harmful consequences, which, as others have pointed out, may have been prevented by the presence of a responsible civilian gun owner. 

But on the other side, the claim that gun ownership requires no authoritative oversight is the equally ludicrous call of the utterly self-centered gun owner who thinks that his personal freedom is paramount, even at the expense of the public interest.  Our first amendment rights are limited by certain key public interests, specifically the possibility that speech can directly or indirectly lead to harm to others.  If that is the case, how much more so should our second amendment rights be limited, when guns can lead to harm to others in a much more direct and palpable way than speech?

Essentially, gun regulation needs to be a balancing act, with the rights of responsible gun owners on one side and the safety needs of the public on the other.  It’s true that guns don’t kill people; people kill people.  However, the fact that people frequently use guns to kill people (either accidentally or purposefully) cannot be ignored.  The trick is to craft and execute regulations that actually get at the real heart of the problem, not just satisfy one irrational party over another.

These things always happen to me

I’m here in my hotel room, the last night of a conference, trying to enjoy my big soft bed for the last time. Some time after I’ve fallen asleep (after 9:30pm for sure), I am woken up by loud voices out in the hall, laughing and shushing one another. Ok, I think, some drunken people coming back from a fun night out. Annoying that I was woken up, but it’s bound to happen in a hotel in the middle of downtown Chicago.
Or so I thought. All night long. These people have been awake all night long, shouting at the top of their lungs. The only people I can think of who are so inconsiderate are teenagers, and I seriously considered walking over and knocking on the door to tell them to just shut the hell up. Or banging on the wall. Or just calling down to the front desk. Because I was woken up something like six times last night, and each time it was the sound of loud-yet-muffled shouting that woke me.
At about 5 this morning, I heard one of them come into the hallway. It sounded like a kid; not a little kid, mind you, but an older kid, possibly even a teenager. The kid was crying, and I distinctly heard her say “I’m sorry daddy.” It seemed that what I thought was a room full of teenagers was just a family having a noisy domestic squabble. All night long.
All of a sudden I felt bad about being angry at them. I don’t know why I felt bad, since they HAD been waking me up all night long, but I did. Maybe it was the crying child. I never could see a crying kid and not start to cry myself.
But then the kid and the father went back inside, and the shouting resumed, from the kid, whose voice kept getting shriller as she got more upset, and the father, his deep bass tones rumbling like a truck going by.
Still I did nothing, but at this point, I wasn’t really sure what I COULD do. I couldn’t very well go over there and knock on the door anymore, or bang on the wall, not without making the situation worse.
In a little while, I didn’t have to worry anymore, because it seems that I wasn’t the only person being bothered by their noisy family drama. The cops appeared, knocking on their door, and telling them, in that Chicago drawl, to get their stuff together because the hotel was throwing them out (but first they told the father to “put some clothes on, sir, for crissake”).
They waited there until their bags were packed and then escorted them down the hall to the elevators. The entire time the women (the daughter and another woman who I can only assume must have been the mother) were packing up, the father was talking to the cops. Though, when I say talking, I’m being generous. The man was RANTING about how he wanted a refund and protesting how it wasn’t his fault. The cops at first tried to calm him down, tried to keep him quiet, explaining that it’s not their decision, it’s what the hotel wants. Soon, however, one of them became fed up, as the man’s words became more belligerent, and more accusatory toward them. The back and forth kind of went in cycles, as the man kept throwing out the same complaints, prompting the officer’s progressively irritated response.
“It’s not my fault, the kid wouldn’t shut the fuck up!”

“I have kids too, sir, and when I tell them to shut the fuck up, they shut the fuck up.”

“This is about racism.”

“No, this is about respect for other people who are trying to sleep.”

“Stupid rookie-ass cops; I live in the real world; I’m not going to the pen; grumble grumble white people grumble grumble”
I’m not sure what the cop’s response to that last one was. At this point, the man was just throwing out a string of random bitchings, one of which I can’t remember his exact wording, but I can roughly translate into something about a daughter (either his own or referring to the cop’s) being a prostitute.
At this point, the man’s ramblings and the cop’s replies were the only sounds. They were loud, of course, but the daughter and mother weren’t making a peep. Now I REALLY started to feel bad for them. Not for the father, who didn’t show any kind of humility or recognition that his and his family’s actions were inappropriate. But the daughter and the mother were clearly embarrassed beyond belief. Not that they hadn’t been making any of the noise up until this point. They most certainly had. But the anger and shame of being thrown out of a hotel was palpable, and they were also clearly ashamed of the way the father was continuing to behave, the daughter at one point telling her father to calm down, but to no avail.
As a white Jewish girl, I can hardly relate to the kind of racism people of color must experience at least once, if not many, times in their lives. And since I wasn’t awake the entire night with my ear pressed to the wall (I’m not THAT big of a yenta) I can’t really say what the exact progression of events was that led to the hotel’s decision. Were there visits from hotel staff or phone calls to the room from the front desk warning them to keep it down? And if so, how many warnings did they get before they were just thrown out? Or did the hotel simply decide to throw them out without any warning, just because they were black? Both are a possibility, and it’s not for me to speculate.
What I can say, however, is that I couldn’t care less who they were. White, black, brown, purple, orange, green, who gives a damn. I just don’t understand anyone who thinks that it’s appropriate or acceptable to pay to stay in a fancy hotel and scream at the top of your lungs, all night long. It’s a very selfish mentality, borne of complete ignorance of or lack of regard for the existence of people around you, and one that, in my experience, is not limited to a particular race, religion, or class. I’m hardly a “let’s-all-join-hands” type, but why isn’t being considerate of other people a top priority in our culture? We’d certainly all be better off for it.