Category Archives: Current Events

Opiates: Crisis du Jour

Opiate abuse is the crisis du jour in the medical and psychiatric world.  I’ve seen reference to it in the psychiatric journals, in the New York Times, and in the Summer, 2017 issue of Utne magazine.  There are Continuing Medical Education credits available for it.

Do I believe opiate abuse is a new problem, or that it has suddenly grown into the gigantic epidemic the “authorities” claim?  I know there is a push for funding for substance abuse treatment.  Other than that, I believe the “crisis” is fueled by enablers who need to be needed.

First, the literature I read makes no distinction between heroin, which is an absolutely illegal drug in the US, and the other opiates.  There’s a vague claim that the heroin is coming in from Mexico, but I wonder if it’s coming home with troops from Afghanistan, too.  No one has asked that question.

The legal-with-a-prescription opiates are presumed to be used for pain, and apparently there is a growing trend to abuse prescription opiates.  Doctors who prescribe too many of them fall under the DEA’s watchful eye, so I wonder how many doctors are willing to risk their licenses to support an abuse habit.  There are pain clinics sprouting up around the country, specialty clinics in which opiate use is standard.  These are carefully monitored by the DEA, as are pharmacy records that show which docs are prescribing controlled substances.

A large number and variety of substance abuse treatment methods and facilities exist, but effectiveness over the long term is poor.  Most studies into substance abuse treatment only follow patients for a year.  Long term studies are rare.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its spin-offs, like Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous—with their reliance on the 12-Step Program—have remained the standard since 1935.  These are free programs, peer supported, in which names and paperwork are not required.

My questions about this new “crisis” stems from my cynicism about our current drug-centered world.  The difference between “good” drugs and “bad” drugs is only a matter of legality, according to me.  Drug laws confuse the issue and create problems that needn’t exist.  Even the Psychiatric Times is beginning to take a fresh look at substances such as marijuana, looking to explore its potentially therapeutic effects.  There was a recent article suggesting hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin might deserve more attention as therapeutic agents, under controlled conditions.

Unintentional injury from accidents and drug overdoses, according to one Continuing Medical Education (CME) course I took, is now in the top five causes of death.  The course didn’t distinguish how the overdoses occurred, but my experience tells me a surprisingly large number of people take ten or more medications, don’t know what they are taking, how to take them, or what they are for.  They don’t know about side effects, and their doctors don’t explain.  They take them “when I feel like I need them.”  or don’t take them at all if they can’t afford the cost.

Direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies has grown exponentially since it was approved by the FDA in 1997.  Pharma spent less than $800 million/year on advertising in 1996, but by 2000, that sum grew to $2.5 billion.  Of that, 20 percent was for psychiatric medications, and these constituted 10 percent of the top 100 selling drugs.

Obviously, there is a great demand for “feel-good” drugs, either over the counter or under the counter, and I have to wonder why.  From what I’ve seen, none of these drugs satisfies the long-term cravings of those who have lost their way.  The psychiatric drugs, like antidepressants, are not proving themselves over time, so there is a constant turnover of medications used to treat depression.  Yet advertising, the “health care industry,” and the world at large seems to believe there is a quick fix to problems, lifestyle problems, relationship problems, financial problems, employment problems, health problems, loneliness problems, and all the problems people’s fantasies tell them should respond to drugs.

As long as people put faith in solutions outside themselves, they will be disappointed, I believe.  Maybe a pill can help, temporarily, but there is no pill for financial problems, unless you’re selling it on the street.

That, in summary, may be the underlying impetus behind the “opiate crisis.”

Involuntary Manslaughter?

Twenty-year-old Michelle Carter was convicted last week of “involuntary manslaughter” for encouraging the suicide of her friend Conrad Roy III, in July, 2014. While I’m not surprised by the outcome, I’ve always wondered if anyone should be held responsible for another person’s actions, up to and including suicide and murder.

The law says they should.  Psychiatrists, in particular, can be held liable if their patients–present or past–kill themselves or anyone else.  A mere hint of “suicidal ideation” in an emergency room is enough to get someone committed to psychiatric hospitalization, at least for an observation period of up to 72 hours.

That homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, and those escaping the law or outside enemies use this ploy to obtain “three hots and a cot” on cold or stormy winter nights is common knowledge in the medical world.  There are also the drug seekers, who hope to receive controlled substances to alleviate their pain.  While others want to blame the patients, I look to the crazy-making system itself. Those who learn to “work the system” are only doing what they believe is necessary for survival.

The professional’s challenge and dilemma is always to determine intent to act. Psychiatric evaluation is meant to assess the seriousness and immediacy of the threat.  It includes questions about access to weapons, past attempts, serious stressors (like medical diagnoses, relationship breakups, financial crises, for instance), level of intoxication (if any), mental stability (such as psychosis) and other possible contributing factors to the person’s distress.

In most cases, a 24-hour hospitalization is enough to alleviate the symptoms and allow a person to be discharged safely.  By morning, most people have changed their minds, at least until the next time.  Those who are truly suicidal can remain in the hospital for weeks, months, or even years, although this is becoming rarer. Psychiatric hospitals are so crowded that there’s constant pressure to discharge as soon as possible, or at least as soon as insurance coverage ends.

Bottom line is potential suicidality is taken very seriously in the medical and psychiatric world, and each case is different.  Although it is an ethical no-no for psychiatrists to diagnose or analyze people they have not personally examined, I deduce from news reports that there were a number of factors playing into the Carter case, including the un-examined belief that anyone can prevent anyone from doing what they intend to do.

News sources say Mr. Roy had attempted suicide four times in the past.  Ms. Carter met him in 2012, had emotional and mental problems of her own, and needed to be needed.  She fancied herself a helper, and up until the last two weeks of his life, she tried to convince him not to kill himself.  Then she suddenly changed tack and began encouraging him to act on his threats.  She even ordered him back into the carbon-monoxide filled vehicle when he became scared and got out.  Most of this was done long-distance, say the reports.

Witnesses for the prosecution claimed her motive was attention, as she was communicating various moves in this two-year dance to a variety of other people. It’s not clear whether anyone intervened or tried to break up this dangerously destructive dynamic.  Was this so-called need for attention a desperate cry for help by Ms. Carter herself?  Apparently Ms. Carter at one point encouraged Mr. Roy to seek professional help, but did she consult anyone herself about this problem? Chronically suicidal people can be exhausting, even for professionals, when they begin to manipulate for sympathy, attention, or to control the relationship.  At what point does the helper give up and say (or think), “Quit talking about it and just do it.”?

I don’t mean to excuse Ms. Carter for her actions.  She apparently gave a lot of bad advice over a long period of time, and she was way out of her depth.  Who can ascribe motive? For all anyone knows, Mr. Roy may have killed himself sooner if not for Ms. Carter’s friendship.  I happen to believe suicide is a personal choice.  I don’t recommend it, but I also believe we all choose our time to die, on some level.  We only differ in how we do it.

The “Health Care Industry” is Sick

THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTH SCARE-SNARE RACKET

Saturday, March 25, 2017—Trumpcare, the Republicans’ answer to Obamacare, failed this week.  Predictions abound about what the government will do next.  It appears Obamacare is imploding, and the media expects it to be saved or replaced.  My right-wing conservative friends declare government control of health care is unconstitutional.  My left-wing friends believe Obamacare needs to be fixed, not replaced.

I’ve been opposed to government and insurance-controlled medicine since graduating from medical school and psychiatry residency.  Back then, it was Hillarycare, which was trounced initially.  During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillarycare began being implemented piecemeal through bureaucracy.

For me, the issue then and now was freedom, including freedom of choice about everything from practitioners to types of treatment.  Government-controlled health care translates into a guaranteed captive market for insurance companies, in which the healthy subsidize everyone else, especially the “industry” itself.  Doctors and patients must kowtow to government and insurance rules.  Out the window go confidentiality, honesty, and compassion, since symptoms must fit a diagnosis code to insure payment for treatment.  In psychiatry, this means the psychiatrist must come up with a diagnosis which goes forever on the patient’s record and can interfere with everything from self-esteem to employment.

AND, SEVEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH . . .

CURRENT EVENTS:  OBAMACARE

Wednesday, March 24, 2010—Everyone is talking about Obamacare, which passed over the weekend.  Everyone knew it would, but nobody knows what it means except more taxes.  The boat is sinking, but we’re afraid to rock it.

VIGNETTE:  OBAMACARE

Friday, March 26, 2010—I met a 35ish guy in line at Starbucks yesterday.  I was standing at the cash register when Sean mentioned something about Obamacare.  I said Dr.Obama needs to write his own prescriptions.  The guy behind me, a big, burly fella with motorcycle helmet and a completely tattooed right arm but untouched left arm, thick dark hair two-three inches long, eyes brown and intense, said something about economics, bankers, the Fed, or a related subject that tipped me off.

I realized he is an awakened soul, sees things as I do, and so we stood there agreeing with each other until both got coffee and moved out of the way.

Tee hee.  I had told the boyfriends the other day there is no gold in Fort Knox, and the levels of security exist to protect the void.  My new friend, whose name I didn’t ask, agrees there’s no gold in Fort Knox, but for fools’ gold, hahaha.  I told him his generation is much smarter than my generation and got a laugh out of someone behind me in line.

On the way out, my new friend mentioned the book, Creature from Jekyll Island, and said he learned on the net that the US has been selling gold-plated tungsten bars to China and I think France as if they were gold, and the deception has recently been discovered.  Apparently it began during the Clinton years, and the cost was something like $50,000 per bar to produce.

Later, Sean said we were two peas in a pod, an unlikely pair, the two of us, but what the hey.  These younger folks are expected to cater to all these old coots who were gullible enough to trust the Woodrow Wilsons, FDRs, Lyndon Johnsons, and other paternalistic exploiters, and I don’t blame the younger set if they believe Boomers are dispensable.  Why should they support us?  I told my friend he is under no obligation to make good on the government’s promises.

TEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH:

MEDICAL SCHOOL ATTITUDES

Monday, March 26, 2007 – I’ve been thinking about my medical career.  Starting in medical school, I was appalled by the attitudes, and they got worse in the hospital in our third year.  M. was a good study companion the first two years, but his old girlfriend and the vicious, cut-throat, warfare in the hospital in our third year edged me out.  He played the politics and kissed up to the residents, but he also loved doing the procedures, and was like the rest of them, eager to compete for opportunities to do lumbar punctures, draw blood, drain fluid from lungs and peritoneal cavities, deliver babies, run codes.  While I wanted the experience, too, I wasn’t willing to elbow my way into the situations that offered them, and the rush-rush mentality rattled my confidence and made me afraid to touch the patients.

I was horrified at the frenzy of my classmates when it came to procedures, and the careless disregard for the patients they were so eager to practice on.  I wasn’t willing to follow residents around, hoping for chances to draw blood or run errands or otherwise do their bidding.  They perceived my attitude as insolence, and the OB-gyn boys took it more personally than the others. No one ever told me directly, so I was flabbergasted when Dr. S said they complained and almost failed me for the OB rotation.  I only remembered they wouldn’t let us do much, because they wanted to do it, and they kept medical students in a room together entire afternoons while they saw the patients alone.  I spent my time studying, so made the highest grade in the class on the written test.  I thought the OB-gyn material was the easiest.  Everyone else was bragging about how many babies they were “catching,” as if it were a disease.  I only “caught” one baby, that the chief OB resident helped me with, but he was the first baby with congenital syphilis the attending physicians had seen in ten years.

THE MD ROLE

Monday, March 26, 2007 – My no-frills trappings and simple, ascetic life – which it is – runs counter to the doctor stereotype, into which other doctors pour money and pride.  I’ve never felt comfortable in the doctor role.  It belongs to someone else, a non-being, a stereotype formed by others’ expectations, divorced from my self-perceived style.

But I’m good at it, among the best I know, which makes it all the stranger, because it comes so easily.  That I don’t put much faith in the pills I prescribe, the system I represent, the beliefs believed “normal” by today’s standards, ekes out in passing references.

No, I don’t believe in war, competition, health care insurance, the federal government, marriage, or that churches should be property tax-exempt, unless everyone is property tax-exempt.  If I pray directly to god, without need for a priest or rabbi to intercede, why should I pay property taxes when they don’t?  Who’s to say god listens more to them than me, and why should that give them a material advantage?

DRUG AND ALCOHOL LAWS

Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Drug and alcohol laws represent a major human rights violation–as the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion foretold–and should be abolished.  No one has the right to restrict another’s access to her own body.  The key to better health is better education and a free range of choices.  No one feels my pain like I do.

I believe drug laws set the frame for the sadomasochistic power struggles we call addiction. Drug laws are a means by which government seeks control over taxpayers.  Laws put government in a moralistic, paternalistic, top-dog position over the taxpayers who pay its way.

Laws and other social engineering tactics restrict the productivity of the very individuals who support them, and the entire society loses.

CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PRESCRIPTIONS

Monday, March 12, 2007 – Doing child and adolescent psychiatry means prescribing drugs I don’t approve of, because the teachers dictate medical care for unruly kids.

No, we won’t give them physical education, home economics, shop, or any incentive to behave, nothing that will interest them during the long hours they must sit, while some harried, bored, and boring teacher parrots an agenda designed to stifle curiosity and make children hate education.

No, we will diagnose them as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and put them on amphetamines to control their behavior, because what we’re really doing is cultivating the next generation of slave labor for the imperialists who formerly were industrialists but no longer even produce meaningful industry.  They produce paperwork, insurance, stocks, cash, and debt, using their forebears’ reputations as collateral, generating paper profits on Wall Street, while product quality and workplace safety plummet.

 

Eminent Domain: That Itchy Spot Below the Belt

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By Katharine C. Otto
February 1, 2017

 On January 25, The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article claiming “Trump Revives Pipeline Projects.” The article states that President Trump gave a thumbs up to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both stalled by former President Obama.

The WSJ is all for this, as noted in its editorial “No More Keystone Capers” the same day, which asserted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are good for “the economy.”

The WSJ says those in the industry are divided about whether the pipelines are needed.  Some say they are not needed yet. Other sources indicate energy use is declining worldwide, there is a glut of oil, and prices are down.

The WSJ’s slant is well known.  It supports Wall Street, assuming that what’s good for big business is good for the country.  It glosses over the long term costs of large-scale industrialization, manufacturing and exporting of natural resources.  The cost effectiveness of pipelines (and other large projects that benefit big business at the expense of residents) rides on the use of “eminent domain,” the government’s self-proclaimed right to confiscate private land for public purposes.

The Dakota Access pipeline is at the hub of the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the US government.  The Sioux claim the pipeline, slated to run under the Missouri River, endangers sacred ancestral and hunting grounds, as well as their drinking water supply (and that of others downstream).  Their resistance has drawn support from other Native American tribes, numerous environmental, other land-friendly and taxpayer-friendly groups.  The group is staking out its territory through the winter, justifiably worried that bulldozers will move in as soon as protesters look the other way.

While eminent domain has been in use over a century, it got a jump start forward in June, 2005, with the infamous “Kelo decision,” in which the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the New London, Connecticut City Council to eminent domain Susette Kelo’s neighborhood to build a convention center.  Pfizer, the massive pharmaceutical company, was a heavy hitter behind the move, as it had promised to build a $270 million research facility next door.

It was a bitter fight, as several of the neighbors had lived in their homes in the Fort Trumbull area for close to 60 years, paying property taxes all that time.  After the Supreme Court decision, Kelo’s neighborhood was razed.  Four years later, when Pfizer’s tax credits expired, it announced that it was abandoning the project, not to return.

Meanwhile, the precedent-setting decision by the Supreme Court has had devastating consequences, including using eminent domain to condemn property for oil pipeline construction.  It reaches deep into the pockets of all property owners and taxpayers and raises questions about what, exactly, is guaranteed by land ownership.

Shortly after the Kelo decision, there was a stampede by municipalities and other government entities across the nation to confiscate private land on the flimsiest of pretexts.  It got so bad in Georgia (and over 40 other states) that the state legislature put brakes on it, much to the dismay of our city and county governments.

In Savannah, title searches were being conducted by city officials to determine which properties the city might claim.  It was irrelevant to them that property taxes were being paid.  Now municipalities are lobbying the state legislature to remove the limits and maybe expand them, too.

Worse, eminent domain is rearing its ugly head in ever more ominous guises.  President Trump has said he would like to expand the its use.

This power of the state to confiscate private land for corporate cartels has run amok.  In Georgia, the latest assault on private property comes from corporate giant Kinder Morgan (of Enron heritage), which is lobbying the Georgia government for direct eminent domain rights.  There is a newly formed legislative committee studying how to slip this egregious theft past taxpayers and still get re-elected.

Meanwhile, multiply-subsidized Southern Company (a Fortune 500 company), has recently paid $1.5 billion cash for a stake in Kinder Morgan’s future.  Never mind that Georgia taxpayers, energy users, and captive SoCo market customers are already paying for two unneeded nuclear power plants upriver from Savannah.

I contend the industrial age has peaked.  Long term costs, like widespread contamination of shared resources, are becoming increasingly apparent, yet these are not factored into the government or corporate prognostications.  The “global economy” works when you’re talking about electronic money.  It’s a different matter when you’re exporting valuable natural resources and leaving the waste behind.

Eminent domain cuts both ways.  The impact of the Kelo decision has been for government to determine what is in the interests of “the public good,” to the great indignation of “the public.”  Remember that property owners pay property taxes every year to secure their protection from land confiscation, among other things. Guarantees such as water quality come with property tax payments.

By comparison, in the mid 1800s, much of the US rail system was built on government granted land, acquired by the government by “treaty” with natives, ”purchased,” as in the Louisiana Purchase, or presumed US territory because no one contested it.  Abraham Lincoln and his successors, such as Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, gave 10-mile wide swaths to private rail companies.  During the War Between the States and during Reconstruction, the North was desperate to insure a food supply for the cities, since it had eviscerated the South’s agricultural economy.  Let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln was a corporate railroad lawyer before he was president.

So the race to link the continent’s coasts as quickly as possible gave rise to government bonds and favors, and railroad stock speculation, with the so-called “Robber Barons” like John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie playing both ends against the middle and profiting on all sides.   They skillfully manipulated the government and stock markets to do their bidding, at maximum public cost.

Immigrants from China, Ireland, and other places were tricked into leaving their homes to come to the “land of the free” to do the grunt and dangerous work, like laying the tracks.  They were now destitute, unable to return home, and forced to do maximum labor for minimum wages and the worst possible living conditions.

Back to the 21st century, the most outrageous difference between the rail and the highway systems now is that the highways are owned by the public, and the rail lines are owned by corporate rail giants, like Norfolk-Southern, CSX, and Western Pacific.

To allow the rail infrastructure—an invaluable public resource–to languish in corporate hands distorts US perceptions so badly that we lose track of the obvious.  Rail is the most efficient, enjoyable, and effective land transporter of goods and people ever devised.  Rail has versatility, accessibility, and practicality that pipelines can never provide.  It’s out in the open, so people can see what’s broke and fix it easily.  Best of all, the infrastructure is already in place, just needs a little of The Donald’s magic wand in terms of claiming it for the public good and using some of that infrastructure funding to spiff it up and make it safe for all.

If the new President wants to use eminent domain for the public good, he would do well to look at the rail system, but don’t expect him to think of this on his own.  It is in every citizen/taxpayer’s best interest to look at who benefits from eminent domain as it is currently wielded.  Once again, it favors large institutions over individual taxpayers, while taxpayers suffer the costs.

And now the world knows my solution to the pipeline problem.

Coming soon . . . my solution to the health care problem.

 

 

 

 

For Better or Worse

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In late 2006, ten years ago, I started reading an abridged (317 pages) version of Democracy in America, the classic work by French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville.  It took several years to finish it, but I noted de Tocqueville’s observations and my reactions along the way.  Below are my comments at that time, along with my retrospective on the 2016 election and its implications so far.

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA – ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE – 1832

             Democracy in America, the much quoted tome by French aristocrat and dilettante Alexis de Tocqueville, was written after a nine-month tour of the United States in 1831-2.  This 317-paged abridged version was edited by Richard D. Heffner, who wrote the introduction.  It was published in 1956.

Even in 1831, apparently, de Tocqueville recognized attitudes that have led to today’s problems in America, such as the driving greed of all layers of society, and the work-driven ethic.  At that time, class distinctions weren’t so clear, but this is shifting, and the oligarchy today consists in large part of so-called “public servants” who have commandeered public property and cordon it off against the public.

De Tocqueville also astutely observes that a comfortable populace will not revolt.  He didn’t anticipate they would not work, either, if the government makes life too comfortable, as is presumably happening now.

It bugs me that he calls this “democracy,” but I suppose it’s the closest form anyone in recent history has known.

De Tocqueville is optimistic and extremely perceptive, recognizing trends that have become so pronounced now that they are almost pathological, as the preoccupation with material things, for instance.

He was struck even then with the American love for money.  He did not see then the gradual centralization of power, but we didn’t have a democracy, either.  Slaves, Native Americans, and women were irrelevant in the political paradigms.

De Tocqueville’s observations provide perspective on America’s early ideals.  They show to some extent where we went awry.

He distinguishes, for one thing, between centralized government and centralized administration.  He says we have the former but an absence of the latter.

No more, I claim.  De Tocqueville wondered about the wisdom of the arrangement.  He said centralized administration saps initiative from local communities.

THEN AND NOW

            Democracy in America points to US priorities in the 1830s, and they are becoming ever more obvious today.  The fixation on material wealth and status stand out.  The idea that we have centralized government, and now centralized administration, too, seem particularly relevant with the president-elect’s cabinet and administrative picks.

I was one of those who stood aside during this 2016 election year, a part of the process by default but as removed as I could get.  My general belief is it doesn’t matter who the president is.  The machinery of government grinds on as if leaderless and, according to me, has been cruising downhill throughout my life.  That the pace has picked up recently, since the tech explosion, perhaps, or since 9/11, has less to do with the presidency than with general mass awareness and passive collusion with hitherto unseen forces.

Blame social media, “fake news,” the widespread sense of betrayal, and the general—albeit semi-conscious—preoccupation with money and status at all levels of society.  Blame the dissolving faith that government has answers, the disillusionment with delegated power and authority.  Passive aggression and passive resistance make for a general sense of social malaise that leads to personal and social stagnation.  What is left?

I’d like to believe we are undergoing a revolution in consciousness, a period of confusion in which we re-assess what we have believed and whether it remains valid. We are all—all of humanity and other life and non-life–in this stew pot together, for better or worse.  The fortune tellers on the payroll are busy trying to predict what disasters a Trump administration can wreak.  Even his supporters seem disgruntled over his choices of advisors and cabinet heads.

I say we got what we deserved, for better or worse, and, in retrospect it seems we have been heading along this path at least since de Tocqueville visited in 1831.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake News and George Orwell’s 1984

There’s a lot written lately about “fake news,” the widespread dissemination of misinformation.  This is nothing new.  Fake news has been around at least as long as gossip and probably longer.  No one can know more than her own perspective, and to presume otherwise leads to trouble.

Seven years ago, I re-read George Orwell’s classic dystopic novel, 1984, published in 1949.  In this book, history was deliberately re-written on a regular basis by the Party of the infamous Big Brother.

1984 opens with protagonist Winston Smith going home at lunch to write in the secret diary he bought on the black market.  He works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying old news accounts.

Author George Orwell gets right to the point and packs the desolation of the times into the first few pages, describing the old, worn apartment building Winston lives in, Victory Mansions, with elevator that rarely works, the smell of boiled cabbage, the leaky roof, suspicious, deadened people.  We hear about Hate Week and Two Minutes Hate being a part of the daily routine.

The telescreen in his living room transmits both ways, and you can’t turn it off.  Smith lives in the world of the eternal present, in which the past is continually re-written  People disappear, and all record of them expunged.  There is perpetual war.  Smith lives in Oceania, which is currently at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia, but despite obliterated history, Winston remembers only four years ago, Eastasia was the enemy and Eurasia the friend.

Posters, stamps, coins, cigarettes and myriad other things bear Big Brother’s face and the ominous “Big Brother is watching you.”  We have Thought Police.  We have the party’s slogans:  “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”  News is so disconnected from what’s really happening that it is a farce, yet no one remembers clearly whether things have ever been different.

Language defines thought, and 1984 speaks to this more succinctly than anything I’ve ever read.  The point of Newspeak was to reduce the number of words, to constrict thought, render it homogeneous and controllable.

Midway through the novel, Smith is having an affair with Julia, a Party member who passed him a note saying “I love you,” when she fell in the hall and he helped her up.  She is 15 years his junior and content to live a double life of hating the Party while pretending to be a model member.  She is purely sensual, uninterested in politics except as it affects her life.  She believes war is frustrated sexual desire and that sexually satisfied people have no need or desire to fight.  This, she says, is why the Party outlaws it except between husband and wife, and only for the purpose of having children, and providing no one enjoys it.

Winston knows from the beginning he is doomed, just doesn’t know when his time will come.  Every move is watched, every facial expression, every sound transmitted over the telescreen.  Solitude is suspicious, as is unaccounted-for time.

Smith eventually takes Julia to meet with O’Brien, an inner party member he believes is a member of a subversive organization, the Brotherhood.  This organization is reputed to be headed by an Emanuel Goldstein, the demonized “Enemy of the People.”  O’Brian says he is indeed a member of the Brotherhood and enlists Winston’s participation, exacting promises to do whatever is necessary, on command, without asking questions, and expecting no rewards or acknowledgement.

 

Smith loses my allegiance when he says he is willing to abase himself to defeat Big Brother.  He dehumanizes himself with that commitment, and becomes no better than those he condemns.  He is willing to trade one overlord for another, perpetuating the cycle.

After meeting with O’Brien, Winston gets the forbidden Goldstein book and begins to read it, but he is then arrested in his hideaway just before reading the “Why?” of the party’s obsession.

The rest of the book is about Winston’s capture, imprisonment, torture, and re-education by O’Brien.  O’Brien says the party decides what reality is, and a lone individual like O’Brien cannot contest it.  The party is immortal.  He says the party did not make the mistake of previous dictatorships, (thereby admitting a past before the Party):  socialist governments that pretended to claim power merely long enough to establish justice and equality.  No.  The party wants power for its own sake, and it wants to use that power to crush all individuality and potential resistance. But even Winston Smith, during his interrogation, protests that such a brutal power structure as O’Brien describes could not sustain itself and would self-destruct.

In the end, of course, when O’Brien threatens to put a rat cage over Winston’s face, he commits the ultimate betrayal:  he begs to have them sick the rats on Julia, instead.

And, of course, the final two sentences—which I’ve remembered for 30 years, verbatim:  “He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother.”

Although George Orwell is uncannily prescient in some of his observations, like the muddying of language, the telescreen, and the homogenization of individuals into a mass mind where individuality is a crime, he cannot account for factors that make totalitarianism unsustainable.  We are now seeing the disintegration of the power structure that bleeds individuals to support itself.  It boils down to the simple fact that armed or violent resistance only reinforces the power structure, but non-participation and withdrawal deplete it.  Orwell is looking at an urban population dependent on infrastructure and easily controlled supply chains.

Also, while Orwell claims history is being wiped out by revisions in books, statues, streets, churches, and newspapers, he overlooks the fact that the dilapidated architecture itself bespeaks a more competent society, because those buildings were once new, with roofs and plumbing in good working order.

Orwell also deprives his characters of any curiosity outside politics or basic amenities.  In his first rendez-vous with Julia in the country, Winston is transfixed by the song of a thrush.  There is no other evidence of anyone doing anything useful, and the appreciation for the bird is an exception.

The characterization of perpetual war merely for the purpose of destroying excessive production, the three entities perpetually at odds with each other, the control of people by controlling their minds, is uncanny.  There’s a reference to 1914 as the turning point in history.

Doublethink, the ability to hold two mutually exclusive views at the same time and believe them both, is crucial.

 

But men have always thought in terms of violent revolutions that are manipulated simply to switch one power elite for another.  They do not recognize that these systems disintegrate from within because those in power can’t trust each other.  I believe the violence comes later, once people see how weak the structure has become.

I say you control by controlling the food and water supplies, and the product lines, a much more fundamental and practical method, if power is your aim.  Of course the power brokers know that, and all this talk about controlling minds is intellectual camouflage.  It’s hard to imagine Big Brother having much power in a rural area where people have more resources at their disposal.

George Orwell, pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, died a year after 1984 was published, at the age of 46.  He had lived through both world wars, the Depression, and had lived in poverty through much of his adult life.  He foresaw much of what is happening now, and he was discouraged about the future of mankind.  But in the final analysis, 1984 is a masterpiece of tight prose, excellent descriptions, good character development, and interesting plot, well worth reading.

Revive Passenger Rail

traintraincommi20896November 11, 2016

Now that we have a Republican president-elect, one who some say will support infrastructure re-building, I’d like to put in my bid for passenger rail.  This is not a new issue for me.  In fact, I wrote President George Bush a letter about it in December, 2005, posted it on my now-defunct website, and sent copies by snail-mail to multiple players on House and Senate committees.

As I see it, the primary reason passenger rail has given way to the private automobile is that the roads and highways are under the public domain and maintained by various Departments of Transportation, but the rail lines are owned by private corporations, like CSX, Norfolk-Southern, and Western Pacific.

President-elect Trump has indicated he wants to expand eminent domain, but no one has suggested eminent domain should be used to acquire corporate land, especially land that holds such a nationally valuable asset such as rail infrastructure.

For a little background on this particular subject, I’m posting below the un-edited letter I wrote to President Bush in 2005.  I have not followed Amtrak since but still believe the passenger rail system deserves careful consideration in light of the energy crisis, global warming, oil pipelines, fracking, automobile congestion, traffic fatalities and and other unhealthy and energy inefficient practices that we have inherited.

 

December, 2005

All Aboard for
DAVID GUNN
 former CEO of Amtrak

A Voter-Citizen-Taxpayer  Apology  For the way he was treated by
the United States Government

George W. Bush
Chief Executive Officer, USA Corporation
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear George:

The jig is up, Prez.  The plutocracy can no longer hide the garbage it has dumped in our laps, and the “oil crisis” is the pivot point. This latest ploy to churn public assets into private friends’ hands is the last straw.  Let’s compute taxpayer costs of the artificially created markets, fake wars, price supports, subsidies, duties, tariffs, and taxes, at every step of the exploration-to-drilling-to-gas pump vampirism.  Let’s add up the costs to voter-taxpayer-citizens of US government spending to assist US corporations engaged in domestic and foreign oil exploitation, and all the political “friends” who are selling war machines to every country with the money to pay for them . . . and then explain why you want to starve the US public transportation system.

Yes, I am talking about Amtrak. I last traveled Amtrak in May, 2004.  When was the last time you did?  Even though the House last week has tentatively approved $1.315 billion for Amtrak, your original budget provided no money for passenger rail service.  Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership has grown for three straight years, reaching 25,374,998 in FY 2005.

I learned a lot on my Amtrak trip.  Bureaucratic red tape delayed my Silver Star five hours.  I know, because I spent that time shooting the breeze with off-duty conductors and engineers.  They told me how much they respected David Gunn.  They said he’d made a monumental effort to locate un-catalogued warehouses full of parts, supplies, tools, and other equipment that had been lost for decades.  By indexing these supplies, he made it easier for Amtrak employees to find the items necessary to fix problems quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively.  They said Amtrak employees at all levels of the system respected and liked him.  Their attitudes showed it.

You might understand why I was horrified to learn the Amtrak Board Chairman David Laney, Esquire fired Mr. Gunn November 9.  It doesn’t make sense to this aging Boomer, who believes I’m more competent to provide for my future than you are. How, in this “oil crisis” can you justify disabling the most efficient and time-tested use of transportation energy ever devised?

Are you crazy?  I must be crazy to subsidize this incompetence.  So I work and spend as little as possible, to reduce my taxes legally.  The best things in life really are free, so far. Meanwhile, this is how I vote my tax dollars:

DEFENSE – 0%
AMTRAK- 100% of my tax dollars for the rest of your term
(except for 2005, which I’ve already promised to West Central Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, GA)

One citizen = one vote

Here’s what we need to do.  Eminent domain all the intercity train tracks back.  Passengers have priority over freight, because the passengers pay the taxes and buy the freight.  If the United States Supreme Court can take Susette Kelo’s neighborhood for Pfizer Corporation, the US government can nationalize the rail lines and maintain them as part of the transportation grid.  Link them to the interstate highway system under the Department of Transportation’s maintenance budget, and voila, Amtrak begins to look a lot more attractive.

This cost-saving move will liberate Amtrak to run a user-friendly railroad passenger and freight service. First, we fire the idiots who are quibbling about food cars.  Can’t the US government make a profit on a food monopoly in a hungry, captive, market, with money to spend, on a long distance trip?  Lease me a franchise food car on any Amtrak train, and I’ll show you how.

Better still, lease me a franchise cyber café car with a liquor license.  Think you could pull some strings and get me one of those?  Solar panels on the roof, and an outdoor smoking patio at the back of the car?  Did you know the government gets $3.50 for every legal fifth of liquor sold?  And the tax on cigarettes was 76 cents a pack, last time I checked.  It stimulates the economy to encourage these vices.  Why fight it?  If you want to privatize government, let’s do it in style.

As for Express Trak Freight . . . Do UPS and FedEx pay you to lose money?  They’re getting good value for their shareholders.  I wish the CEO of the USA Corporation could claim as much.

I believe the USA has the worst public transportation system in the world, but I haven’t been everywhere you’ve been.  Tell me, does anybody have worse public transportation than us? Not counting Iraq?  I’d love to see some pictures.  Remember, I pay your travel expenses, but you don’t pay mine.  I stay home, monitor the domestic front, and write letters.  Lots of them, as you probably know.

So George, ask DOT Secretary Mineta to look into that fancy Japanese railroad technology, but make sure he understands we don’t want the equipment unless they teach us how to install and service it.  The technology is worthless if you don’t have local skilled labor to keep it running right.  Besides, if China blows Japan out of the water, we lose if we can’t maintain our own stuff.

This way, we could bring soldiers home and put them to work on the transportation infrastructure. Same salary and benefits.  Help local communities upgrade local systems, so people who can’t afford cars can still work.  I’d support that taxpayer expense.  Help them help themselves, and all that.  Teach a man to fish.

Speaking of the Department of Transportation, what is that $1.1 billion federal grant to Georgia’s DOT for?  Our local legislators plead ignorance.  Is it to promote this Interstate 3 idea between Savannah, Augusta, and Knoxville, Tennessee?   I hear you want to cut a wide swath with barricades at eye level along the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.   I can understand why you’ve kept this funding bonanza quiet.  It appears you don’t want Americans to know how you’re spending our money here.  We live here, George.  We have a right to know.

Now, if you want to allocate that $1.1 billion to reviving the Nancy Hanks passenger train between Savannah, Macon, and Atlanta, I’ll be happy to help, if you’ll  re-hire David Gunn.  I would eagerly support that taxpayer expense.  Mention it to Governor Sonny Perdue, if you think it’s a good idea.  I write letters to him, too.

You and I begin to speak the same language if you talk about an environmentally friendly passenger trains through our lovely country.  Train travel takes us beyond media hype, to the America that exists in three dimensions.

Next question.  I’ve been doing research on the National Rail Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) Board of Directors.  Let’s see if I have this straight.  The board is supposed to have seven members, but it only has four.  As a member of your Cabinet, DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta holds one seat.  Of the three remaining members, all are Bush appointees, but only one of them has been confirmed by the Senate.  This gentleman is David M. Laney, Esq., Chairman of the National Rail Passenger Corporation Board of Directors and the man who fired Amtrak CEO David Gunn on November 9, 2005. The other two members, Enrique Sosa (announced April, 2004), and Floyd Hall (announced August, 2004), were recess appointments and were never confirmed by the Senate.  Not only that, but their terms are due to expire this month.

Of course everyone questions whether Mr. Gunn’s firing was legal, a point raised by Transportation & Infrastructure RR Subcommittee Chair Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and echoed by others.  What, exactly do the NRPC’s by-laws say about this?  We need to clarify them so this doesn’t happen again.  In fact, I believe the NRPC should be scrapped, and the Department of Transportation should embrace Amtrak under its protective funding umbrella.  This would elevate passenger rail to the same status as the private automobile and dramatically reduce our perceived dependence on foreign oil.

In any case, George, which member of the current board represents any opinion but yours?  And who gave David Laney that $100,000 for your election campaign?  What do these mysterious benefactors say about Amtrak?

I longer feel obligated to put up with this.  As government costs more and more to do less and less, I begin to wonder what I need government for. Not just you, George, but the entire federal government, including the Legislature and the Supreme Court.  Especially the Supreme Court, after the Kelo decision, but I can deal with only one problem at a time, since don’t get paid for this and have to make my time count.

You made a big mistake firing Mr. Gunn.  He came out of retirement to work for you in May, 2002, so what changed?  Makes you look awfully wishy-washy. I vote for you to offer him an apology and a raise, and beg him to come back.

That he had to fight the US government to protect the US public transportation system was a pathetic waste of his talent.  Government isn’t supposed to make a profit.  That’s why it extorts taxes to support inherently unprofitable services.  Like the presidency, for instance.

This taxpayer wants someone who can get the job done right, on time, with a minimum of hassle. How much does he need?  Give it to him, Prez, then get out of the way. That’s my vote.

Government has a public obligation to insure good value for our taxpayer money.  Its primary responsibility is to pay for the infrastructure that ensures a smoothly functioning society.  By doing this, it shifts larger costs to the larger group, which maintains the balance by using the services.  This makes it easier for individuals and businesses to profit from genuine free-market capitalism in a social context.

Sincerely,
Katharine C. Otto, MD
President, Chair, and CEO
Psychiatrists for Sanity
(and so far, the only member)

cc:

David Gunn
Former CEO of Amtrak
Wherever You Are

National Association of Railroad Passengers
(NARP) www.narprail.org
Another great source

David H. Laney, Esq.
Chairman of the Board
National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC  20002

Secretary Norman Y. Mineta
US Dept of Transportation
400 7th Street, SW
Washington DC  20590

US Rep Don Young (R-AK), Chairman
Transportation & Infrastructure
2111 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5765
Fax:  202-225-0425

US Rep Steven LaTourette (R-OH)
Transportation & Infrastructure
RR Subcommittee Chair
2453 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5731

US Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
416 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-3521

US Sen Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
120 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-3643

US Sen John McCain (R-AZ)
Commerce, Science & Transportation
241 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-2235

US Rep Jack Kingston (R-GA)
2242 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5831
Fax:  202-226-2269
Savannah office:
1 Diamond Causeway, Ste 7, 31406
Phone:  912-352-0101

US Rep John Barrow (R-GA)
226 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-2823
Savannah office:
400 Mall Blvd, Ste G, 31406
912-354-7282

US Rep Charlie Norwood (R-GA)
2452 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC  20515
202-225-4101

 

Friends of Amtrak  www.trainweb.org/crocon
A great resource for Amtrak information

US Rep Corrine Brown (D-FL-JAX)*
Transportation & Infrastructure
Ranking Member of RR Subcommittee
2444 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-255-0123
Fax:  202-225-2256

US Rep Joe Schwartz, MD (D-MI)
128 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC  20515
202-225-6276
Fax:  202-225-2681

US Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Commerce, Science & Transportation
324 Hart Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-3224
Fax:  202-228-4054

US Sen Trent Lott (R-MS), Member
Commerce, Science & Transportation
487 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington, DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-6253
Fax:  202-224-2262

US Sen Conrad Burns (R-MT)
187 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-2644

US Rep Mike Castle (R-DE)
1233 Longworth HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-225-4165

US Rep James Oberstar (D-MN)
2365 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-225-6211

US Rep Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-GA)
Transportation & Infrastructure
1118 Longworth HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5901
Fax:  202-225-2515

Justice Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street NE
Washington DC  20543
202-479-3211

Justice John Paul Stevens
Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street NE
Washington DC  20543
202-479-3211

Harold Linnenkohl, Commissioner
GA Dept of Transportation (GDOT)
2 Capitol Square SW, Room 102
Atlanta, GA  30334
404-656-5206
Fax:  404-657-8389

*Our sister to the south, US Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL-JAX), is the ranking Democratic member of the Railroad Subcommittee of Transportation & Infrastructure.  She is also a strong Amtrak advocate and supporter of re-hiring David Gunn.  See her press release at http://www.house.gov/corrinebrown/press109/pr051109.htm.

On November 9, 27 members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure sent a letter to Mr. Laney, expressing their “outrage” at David Gunn’s  dismissal.

Voter-citizen-taxpayers who support apologizing to Mr. Gunn, offering him a raise, and guaranteeing him as much money as he needs to get the job done right, please send a train to the Prez.  I don’t believe he’s ever had one.

President George W. Bush

United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Phone:  202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461
e-mail:  comments@whitehouse.gov
Congressional switchboard:  1-202-224-3121
Senators:  www.senate.gov
Representatives:  www.house.gov
A public service initiative courtesy of  www.mhconnections.com

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