Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kvetching toward Bethlehem, or Slouching toward Extinction?

How the history of courage, rage, and change got lost during the Democratic National Convention

      Hillary Clinton had some nerve, harking back to the civil rights and women’s suffrage struggles in her speech before the Democratic National Convention—as if she and the Democratic Party were today’s party of the people, as if she were in a position to equate herself, her Party and the teachers, nurses and police officers she referred to in her speech with those activists of the past! Sorry, Hillary—it’s a specious comparison, and shame on you for your dishonest exploiting of history to propagandize your audience.

      “These women and men looked into their daughters' eyes, imagined a fairer and freer world, and found the strength to fight. To rally and picket. To endure ridicule and harassment. To brave violence and jail...This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.”

      This, while outside the convention Cindy Sheehan, Ward Churchill, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and thousands of true activists —today’s equivalents of those who struggled for equal rights and the vote in the past— faced the oppressive forces of Homeland Security, FBI, and nunchuck-carrying, CS gas-spraying, unidentified Denver police—and Hillary ignored it all, making nary a peep about Denver’s “free speech” zones, nor about harassment of dissenters, nor about protest cages...not to mention torture for detainees, secret rendition, illegal wiretapping, violations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, or any of the other crimes of the Bush Administration.
      Regardless, you would think Barack Obama was the second coming! This, despite the fact that both he and Hillary Clinton have supported “free” trade, with its nasty effects on the human rights of indigenous people and the economic lives of millions of American workers. This, despite his rhetoric in support of “clean” coal, as if there is such a thing, as if the coal industry, “clean” or otherwise, does not damage the environment and the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans every day; this, despite his intention to send more troops into Afghanistan, kowtowing to the delusion that military force and occupation can ever bring peace there; this, despite his support for Israel, which has become what it —and we— despised during the Second World War, that is, a right-wing occupier and human rights abuser of people it doesn’t honor, whose land and property it wants to own.
      Sure, it was wonderful to see an American candidacy for president represented by a black man. This is great. It heals deep wounds. Still, it does not erase certain facts, and Obama’s skin color is less important than his allegiances. And we now know what those are, given his dishonorable and corrupt betrayal of the American people and the 4th Amendment to the Constitution with his Yes vote for the FISA bill, which gave immunity from prosecution to At&T and other telecom companies, for illegal wiretapping of American citizens; At&t, which was one of the corporate hosts of the Democratic Convention. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
      Millions of Americans are snagged on Obama’s gossamer threads of rhetoric about hope and change, and from there are taken on a heady ride, where all things become possible. The problem is, that’s not how change, the kind of change that will turn this empire back into a democratic republic, usually happens. It’s not happy, hopeful thoughts, or some supernaturally endowed, great leader, that will get the job done. The powers that be do not care about your hopes, your dreams, or what your charismatic leader thinks would be a damn fine thing to do; it is not by the goodness of their hearts that anti-democratic forces in culture change their ways. No. Change happens when ordinary people get damn angry enough to demand it, and demand it in loud, kvetching, furious, complaining tones.
      The women who fought for the vote did not wait for an Obama, nor did they worry about being labeled as extremists, or radicals, or commies, or socialists, or threats to the all-American, patriarchal family. Nor did they feel they needed to couch their demands in nice, lady-like, diplomatic terms, to avoid seeming like angry hussies, which I’m sure they were called. Instead, their Declaration of Sentiments has a list of seventeen complaints, each beginning with “He has”, and so forth, a list of human rights abuses done for so long by men against women that anger had to be the only proper tone of their declaration.
      We face equal and worse threats to human rights, democracy, economic security —the life of the planet!— today. You would think the people would wake up, as Dennis Kucinich’s clarion call at the Convention so eloquently urged us to do— and take to the streets, or at least support those who do put themselves at risk there. But no. To the average American, to conservative Democrats, which includes Hillary Clinton, and to Republicans in Congress, those activists are “extremists,” “radicals,” “persons of interest,” persons to put on a list of possible terrorists, persons to violate. And so we get the same ol’, same ol’, crap—politicians posing as sweet-talking progressives, likening themselves and their supporters to heroes of the past, who then make a sharp turn to the right, as soon as they’ve nailed the election. Thus, nothing changes, and here we go again, seduced and abandoned, slouching toward extinction.
      I am going to remember that anger over injustice is not a sign of depression or some sort of new psychological disorder needing the latest pill; remember what St. Augustine said: “Hope has two children, anger and courage; anger at the way things are and courage to make them better.”

—L.M. (and please feel VERY free to make a comment)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Waking Up Radical

Nightmares during the Bush Administration, a first person narrative

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal.” —Abraham Maslow via Viktor Frankl

      One morning last week, I broke out of a dream in a panic, breathing hard and fast, as if I’d been running, as if I couldn’t get enough air. Of course, I hadn’t been running; I was in bed asleep, stuck there motionless, like in the dream, where I tried to run for help but couldn’t, while a fish I loved (!) began to drown in the bowl of tap water I had put him in. Unable to get help, or to find the de-chlorinator that would enable him to breathe in tap water, I gathered him in my two hands, where he fit snugly, and began the dream-state option of artificial respiration, compressing and releasing his rib cage, and watching his gape and bulging eyes for signs of recovery. It was almost working. But then I began to internalize his struggle—I couldn’t breathe either, and my panic set in.
      This was not at all like my usual experience of waking, where the mixture of dream and reality is so lovely I want to prolong the event, finding powers there I never have when I am awake. Instead, it was a desperation to breathe, while realizing, gratefully, it was only a dream.
      Then, as I recovered my breath and woke up, I began to think about the part that was not a dream, the part about the tap water, the sad reality that we have so badly contaminated our environment, we need to put chlorine in the tap water to make it safe to drink; but, in the process, we have made this water unsafe for fish. You do not want to put your goldfish in a bowl of chlorinated tap water, not in Southern California. You either need to let the water sit for a day and let the chlorine evaporate, or you have to add de-chlorinator to it, which neutralizes the chlorine, so that delicate cells in fish gills do not die.
      I don’t want to start sounding like Grandma, but, back in the day —let’s say, in the 50’s— you could fill a fish bowl with tap water and plop your guppies in it, no problem. And the water tasted like water is supposed to taste—yummy. Now we have to filter it to get a tolerable taste, or we opt for bottled water, which isn’t any safer than tap water for drinking.
      This situation, our plight, is normal for us now, while the memory of what used to be our blessing —clean water brought to us from far away— fades from consciousness, and we accept this lesser life without question.

      Leaving aside the basic symbolism of my fish dream, where perhaps I expressed fears for myself after breast cancer, and considering the possibility that the dream arose during a sleep apnea incident, I wonder about this fish—how I loved it, how it was about to die, how I was losing it, how nobody could be found to help, how nobody cared, how it was terribly important, how I couldn’t save it, and how its life was slipping away. Isn’t that how I feel about so many things these days—the life of the planet, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, democracy, the balancing power of Congress, the Supreme Court and Justice Department, accountability, a free and independent press, the rule of law...peace...even a president I can believe in? (Now we see Bush exposed as a relapsed alcoholic, and Pelosi still makes no move to impeach!) Isn’t a dream like that the natural consequence of the frustration, helplessness and oppressive quality of life during the Bush Administration? That is, it’s not as though politics, and the public values I love, are external to my life. I don’t think so. They are central.
      Just before I woke up this morning, an old Asian woman in my dream, a shopkeeper, shook her fist at me and demanded, “What about Iraq—how do you like that? And Gaza, what is it? It is nothing but a concentration camp!” and on and on. It was as if she held me responsible, as if she took me for a Republican, someone she had a right to rail at. I felt embarrassed and offended to be taken for a conservative, and yelled back, “Hey! I’m not the enemy! I hate the war! I hate the occupation! I hate George W. Bush...”
      Even in my dreams...

      I also wonder about the panic and urgency expressed in these dreams. It reminds me of an old advertisement I used to see in the New Yorker. Each month, a stylized cartoon would depict a frantic character racing around a room, desperately trying to arouse the attention of the other characters in the cartoon as to a fire, or some other dire threat, while being totally ignored, because everybody is reading the paper. I believe the caption was, “Everybody Reads the Post,” but my memory is fuzzy on this. (and Google search fruitless) In any case, a lot of us feel like that frantic character. Amazing bad things are going on, but most Americans are too busy with their favorite diversion, or entertainment, to notice. Many of us are too somatized (remember Brave New World?) to have the energy and passion to stage a protest, let alone start a revolution—or, better yet, restore the meaning of the first revolution.
      I wish I could say the optimists, all the hard-working people out there who are trying to bring about progressive change, all agog for Obama, are helping. It amazes me how many Democrats prefer not to know what is going on, choose not to question reality or authority, do not search voting records, refuse to listen to outside voices and alternative news programming, prefer not to read about politics, fail to connect the dots, abandon the notion of ethics and accountability in favor of “forgiveness” and “looking forward,” and manage to float happily through life, being nearly as uninformed, conforming and brainwashed as the conservatives they feel superior to. Apparently, it is best to tip-toe around the doggy-doo of doubt, dissent, and dread, that is, the truth, so as to keep the tidy shoes of denial stink-free. One does not want the odor of negativity, which has come to translate as depression, even insanity, following oneself around. It’s just so off-putting, you know? You don’t ever want to smell like a “conspiracy theorist.” For example, so what if nothing makes sense about the official theory of the collapse of the World Trade Center and building #7, like NOTHING; better to scoff at the unbearable alternative, so as not to look like a nut. Well, you’re an American—gotta be chirpy; gotta be up-beat.
      I used to wonder how the German people allowed Hitler and the holocaust to happen. Were they also averse to thinking the unthinkable truth about their government? Did they also engage in a reflexive denial that said, “Oh, that’s impossible.” But now that I have watched Democrats veer farther and farther toward the right, working so hard to avoid being stigmatized —extremist, left-wing radical, commie, conspiracy nut, hippy, unpatriotic, anti-semitic, terrorist sympathizer— that they abandon true democratic values, liberal values, in favor of conservative values, I understand. The labeling is out there; they hear it, and they resist, not by exposing it as shaming, as a manipulation, but by being manipulated, by identifying themselves as “centrist,” to ensure they are not a member of that outside, “dishonorable” group, by moving to the “center,” which today is, in actuality, a right-wing position. I do believe this is self-inflicted social control. Rather than fighting back, by coming up with rhetorical jabs in response —conformist, sheep, fascist, naive sleep-walker, corporatist, unpatriotic, oppressor, torture lover— the timid among us say, “We are above such negativity. We are peace-loving, caring, people, and we will not stoop to their level.” Nonsense. Such talk is a rationalization, where fear, brainwashing, and powerlessness have taken hold. Nor do they defend democratic values in the George Lakoff manner, through better framing, to claim they are: Jeffersonian democrats, critical thinkers, free thinkers, patriotic, human rights advocates— and to stand up for liberal values, to educate others as to what those liberal values are.
      And so, America continues to inch toward a third-world reality with a dwindling middle class, a huge gulf between rich and poor, as, far away, polar bears are drowning, and war is waged forever on behalf of power, wealth and empire.
      All the clichés —outrage fatigue, learned helplessness, crisis of courage, failure of imagination— are true, and here we are, stuck, unable to do what needs to be done to rescue ourselves, from ourselves.

      In the meantime, the circus plays on at the Democratic National Convention, where there’s a lot of rhetoric about change, while nothing changes, except the gradual move toward a police state in the streets of Denver, where the real heroes of democracy are protesting. Unfortunately, we cannot find their point of view in the coverage of the mainstream media. We do, however, have alternative sources of information —clean, uncontaminated, pure, oxygenated good journalism! Dive in. I promise— the water’s fine.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Trekking through Disease Capitalism Where, "Oh Well, Everyone Dies."

“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.” —Albert Einstein

      Losing body parts to breast cancer was pretty much the opposite of fun. Nevertheless, in 2001 I had a partial mastectomy on my left breast, and in 2007 a full mastectomy of my right breast—two different kinds of breast cancer.

      My current oncologist suggested awhile ago that I go on the drug Aromasin, now that I am done with chemo and radiation for the second time in my life.

      In 2001 my first oncologist wanted me to take Tamoxifin and became incensed when I told him I didn’t like the idea and would be getting a second opinion. The second opinion agreed I should go on Tamoxifin. I said, “But the drug is a carcinogen.” She answered, “Oh don’t worry about that. We’ll keep an eye on it.” I thought to myself, “What does that mean? You’re going to know the day before I get endometrial cancer?”

      The next oncologist wanted me to take Arimidex; yet another suggested the drug Femara.

      I cannot help wondering why each doctor has a different plan for me—could it be they just don’t have any idea what they’re doing? Naw-w-w...

      Tamoxifen has a black box warning label now and is listed as a carcinogen. The other drugs are “aromatase inhibitors,” and whether or not they are carcinogens has yet to be determined. My understanding is that these new drugs are supposed to limit the body’s production of tumor-feeding estrogen by “deactivating the aromatase enzyme,” an enzyme that converts androgens into estrogens, a perfectly normal aspect of my body’s functioning, one that protects me from osteoporosis.

      Aromasin does something the other drugs do not do, that is, the deactivation it performs of a cell’s aromatase enzyme is irreversible—what is morbidly referred to as “suicide inhibition.” Add to that a myriad of bad to worse side-effects, which my oncologist didn’t mention but which I found in reports on the internet, such as hot flashes, severe joint pain, painful feet, sleeplessness, increased aggressiveness, and on and on, meaning that a strong percentage of patients decide the fear of a recurrence of breast cancer is worth enduring, if only to have a return of the quality of life, and freedom from the miseries caused by this pill.

      What ever happened to “first do no harm?” I already have hot flashes, joint pain, sore feet, and occasional insomnia—how would taking a pill that causes more of such misery be harmless? Also, it turns out Aromasin is used by body-builders. It’s a steroidal drug! So, besides the sweat, pain, sleeplessness, and hostility, I should go Arnold too?

      Doctors sometimes get frustrated with me. I am supposed to ignore facts and trust them. I am supposed to have a flat learning curve and just go along with the program. I am not supposed to connect the dots, not supposed to think critically about their treatment plans.

      I used to trust my doctors. Then began my journey through menopause. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this natural transition of womanhood, but apparently my primary care doctor, an internist, was hugely disturbed by it. It was as if not to go on Hormone Replacement Therapy, specifically estrogen, was to wither away from true womanhood toward something unspeakably hideous and diseased. He had just the thing to fix me. He even called me at home to advocate on behalf of Premarin, going so far as to argue with me about it.

      Eventually, I gave in, and once I was “addicted” to the pill, every subsequent doctor over a ten-year span gladly filled my prescriptions, and I unknowingly became a guinea pig in what one author referred to as The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women. No proper studies had been done on HRT at the time I first began taking it, no randomized trials, but, based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence, all the doctors went crazy for it. Only recently have we have had the proper studies, and the results were not good:

According to the Million Women’s Study, for one (The Lancet):
• Estrogen-progestin use increased breast cancer by 19 per 1,000 women.
• Estrogen-alone use increased breast cancer by 5 per 1,000 women.

      Regardless, in the year 2000, according to IMS Health, U.S. doctors wrote 23,454,000 prescriptions for Premarin.

      Okay, correct me if I'm wrong: 23,454,000 @ 5 per 1000 women = 117,270 extra cases, among the prescription holders who will get breast cancer, assuming the group stays on Premarin more than five years—this, from the use of Premarin alone.

      But physicians and gynecologists are still prescribing it, still advertising it in their offices, and still lamely defending its use, as if they don’t look like ethical morons to claim that stopping hot flashes is worth the risk of developing breast cancer. The FDA still has not banned this horrible drug, nor limited its use.

      So there I was: I had been using Premarin for ten years when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a shock I still have not recovered from fully. Certainly, it was something I never anticipated: no woman in my family had ever had breast cancer; I have two older sisters who are breast cancer free (they never took HRT); I was not a drinker nor a smoker; I didn’t eat red meat—heck, I was a vegetarian. Did any of my doctors apologize for this medical atrocity, which left me missing body parts and bereft of confidence in my future? Nope. Not one word of remorse. In fact, one charming oncologist, upon hearing my complaint about being robbed of my golden years by HRT, said, “Well, everyone dies.”

      Let’s face it: we live in a culture where greed is good and the profit motive is sacrosanct. As patients we like to think the pharmaceutical industry that instructs and assists our hapless doctors in treating us are good people who would love to rid us of our diseases. But the reality is that breast cancer is an industry, a cash cow for the entire medical industrial complex; and, whether those who profit from our sickness admit it or not, they don’t want to find a cure for cancer— think of the profit losses, were a cure to be found!

      Paranoia? Conspiracy theory?

      Consider this example: DCA, dichloroacetate, is a drug that shows real promise as a cure for many kinds of cancers, including breast cancer. Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a professor at the University of Alberta Department of Medicine in Canada, is currently researching this “inexpensive, relatively harmless,” drug. Has the pharmaceutical industry rushed to fund this research, or to do the research itself? Gosh O golly, NO! Don’t you know DCA is not patented—there’s no profit to be made off the drug? Did you think the industry would be interested in finding a cure anyway, for the sake of humanity, for the sake of you and me? Are you dreaming? As reality has it, Dr. Michelakis will just have to scrape up the funds for his research from independent donors. The big guys just don’t care.

      Consider another example, as a clue to the moral character and motives of the corporate owners and managers who bring our world of chemicals and pharmaceuticals to us:

• In 2000, Novartis —insecticides, the herbicide, atrazine— and AstraZeneca —agro-chemicals and pharmaceuticals— formed Syngenta through the merger of their agricultural divisions.
• Syngenta makes and sells both aromatase promoters and inhibitors, both atrazine and Arimidex, for example.
• Atrazine, a widely used weed killer, is an aromatase promoter, an endocrine disrupter. Atrazine was denied regulatory approval in the European Union—it’s banned in Europe. It CAUSES breast cancer.
• The United States uses about 80 million pounds of atrazine every year. It is in the water, folks.

      How tidy is that vicious cycle? With one hand, they cause breast cancer, by contaminating the environment with atrazine; with the other hand, they treat the breast cancer they caused in the first place, with aromatase inhibitors, to the tune of billions: “Worldwide sales of aromatase inhibitors have increased from approximately $340 million in 2001 to more than $1.2 billion in 2004, representing an annual growth rate of 52%.”

      Of course, Syngenta denies that its product causes breast cancer and has bribed researchers and quashed the findings of honest researchers, using the full force of its power to attack the truth about atrazine. You would think, if the CEO’s and managers at Syngesta cared about the health and safety of people and the environment, they would listen to bad news about the dangers posed by their product and remove it from the market. You would think...but that would be in a world where people come before profits. This, clearly, is not that world.

      You would also like to hope that Syngenta, and companies like it, would not want be responsible for contributing to an epidemic of breast cancer. But that would be a world where corporations were peopled by folks with consciences, where corporations are not peopled by sociopaths. This is not that world. Instead, this is a world where killing people for profit isn’t personal— it’s business, so that, if people die, well, “everyone dies”. Why not make a profit, while the gettin’s good?

      Just between you and me, it seems to me that if corporations insist on being legal “persons,” with all the rights afforded to persons in the Constitution, then they ought to be judged as persons in the criminal justice system—that is, if they kill people for profit, then try to suppress the evidence, they should be prosecuted for murder. The CEO’s, managers and boards of directors of these criminal entities need to go to prison. Enough of this lawsuit crap; they just count those losses as part of the cost of doing business. (Although verdicts can serve to validate the common sense finding of damage done.) No. They need pay a real price for first contaminating the environment, then, when we get sick, profiting again from our sickness.

      I discussed a few of these facts and issues with my oncologist the other day. I asked him how oncologists decide which aromatase inhibitor to recommend. Quite honestly, he said there was no logic to it, no evidence of one drug being any better than any other; sometimes the decision is based on whether or not a drug company has charity programs for patients. He laughed: “We just don’t know!”

      He also listened to my complaints about drug companies and agreed with me. He took notes on my information about DCA and web sites devoted to patient experiences with aromatase inhibitors. Best of all he didn’t push Aromasin on me. Then he kissed me on the cheek, when we said good-bye.

      I do think he is one of the good guys. Some do care, some are as frustrated as their patients with the industry, the system. I want to think I am in good hands, but I hesitate.

      Ralph Nader said, “The profit motive corrupts all things." Sadly, trust is among the casualties, as in, collateral damage.