29 May 2008

Spiral Culture

Recently, while I was at the local drug store acquiring some prescriptions, I saw a woman walk up to the pharmacy counter, and begin speaking with the pharmasist. I'm not normally one for prying into things that are, to be sure, not any of my own business, but the manner in which this particular individual conducted herself was, to be blunt, rather attention-getting. She appeared to be somewhere in her 50s or older; it was tough to tell, partly because it was obvious from various pock-marks, skin discoloration, and general demeanor that she was what folks around here call a "tweaker" -- a methamphetamine user. She was at this particular pharmacy seeking to find refills for a series of potent painkillers -- Soma, Oxycontin, Norco, to name a few of the ones she rattled off -- which she's been prescribed.

Now, don't get me wrong. If someone is in pain, and they've got coverage, they should be able to get pain medications. However, I could tell from the course of the conversation several key facts. First, this was not the first pharmacy she'd been to seeking to acquire these refills; that's a red light in my book, simply because I figure if anyone has turned her down, it's for a reason (perhaps one beyond the fact that the refills weren't yet due -- another revelation she was happy to admit). Secondly, she's been using a collection of more and more potent painkilling pills for quite some time, and is accustomed to "pharm-shopping" to get what it is she's after. Third, she was getting all of these things through some sort of state or federal medical coverage -- that is, the taxpayers of California, or of the U.S. in general, are paying for this woman's continued consumption of these powerful -- and expensive -- drugs.

Living in a place dubbed the "meth capital of the West" by some, I'm more than familiar with the effects that methamphetamine can have on a person. These include joint and bone troubles, shooting pain through the veins, and other, more serious, medical conditions, many of which are extremely painful; a pain that can only be silenced through intensive drugging and, shockingly, discontinuing the use of meth altogether so that the problems don't persist once the drugs have run their course. Otherwise, all that ends up happening is an increased tolerance to the prescriptions that are handed you, and an increased level of pain as the twisted wreckage of your body tears itself apart -- literally -- from the inside, trying to expel from itself the lethal poison that keeps it standing upright despite itself.

If she'd been on private, or work-offered, insurance coverage, I wouldn't really see an issue here; she's paying, one way or another, for the whole of what's happening. But she wasn't. She was getting these benefits, these drugs, at the expense of the population, whose money also goes to fund the war on drugs, the anti-meth task force that the local law enforcement has set up. You'd think that if she has to go through the rigors of getting these benefits -- it's not easy! -- that somewhere along the line, one of the dozens of government agents she'd have to speak with over the months, years, or decades would think, "Hey, maybe this lady is using illegal drugs!"

I'm not saying that suspicion alone is enough to toss someone out on their ass when they're trying to get the help that they need; that's ridiculous, and prone to endemic systematic flaws throughout. However, would it be so difficult to, say, administer a simple urine- or folicle-based drug test to people applying for some sort of government aid? By supplying people like this anonymous woman with coverage, we're wasting taxpayer money, while at the same time encouraging them to pile on the prescriptions, often just as (if not more) addicting than the illegal substances they're already using, thereby compounding the problem in over itself and bringing the whole affair to a screaming speed-race to see who can get higher faster cheaper longer and ride the intoxicating wave of tax dollars put to work to keep all the wheels spinning, and these lives collapse underneath the weight of their own desire to keep on going further, getting more, expanding upon increased drug tolerance with voracious desire, pharmacy-hopping to get their next fix to even the keel that was tipped off-balance by their existing addiction-condition.

Why isn't this being done? Why aren't there regulations that keep this from happening? Simple -- because as long as people like this woman fuel the pseudoeconomy of both the medical companies and the government agencies pouring the dollars of hard-working Americans into the collective coffers of greed. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost; keep the people so full of painkillers that they can't feel themselves dying, can't feel the strain on their own bodies, their own societies, their own cultures. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost; keep the money flowing so far and fast that it can't be tracked, and proselytize your supposed efforts to squelch illegal drug use, even as you ensure that those who come clean from things such as meth are forced to feed a new, more powerful, addiction inspired by the professionals to whom they turn when there's nowhere else to look for some kind of comfort. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost.

How long can any institution fuel itself on the fumes of a faltering base? How long can an entity consume before there's nothing left?

Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost ...

22 May 2008


I've heard that the best things in life are free. For the life of me, I can't rightly figure how this has been decided; nothing, truly, is free -- monetary cost is only one consideration which, for many Americans, sits at the forefront of all other components of existence, fuelling the need to enrich their lives through a cycle of purchase and consumption, purchase and consumption, purchase and conundrum.

The best things in life are free of direct monetary subsistence; those things which truly mean something to us are much greater than the slips of paper and metal scraps that seem so important by their form and purpose; intent is the only thing which creates a value system around these units of exchange -- the sole bestower of worth is perception, and insofar as we percieve objects or experiences to be valuable, so they are, if only to ourselves. When you take into account the multitude of intent and perception all bent towards believing in the value of a certain anything -- in this instance, money -- then it becomes more valuable in a societal sense than anything else; consentual reality is a self-correcting system, wherein that which the masses deem as most important to the masses becomes most important to individuals seeking to acquire greatness above the masses; the real goal, I think, is to make a name for yourself through establishing greatness by excelling at the things valued by society until you've reached the point where your own preferences -- the things that you, personally, value -- can be brought to the front and inserted into the consensus; that is to say, although society will only recognize those who achieve their definition of value, the definition of value is easy to change once one has established a mastery of the existing infrastructure.

This is why our celebrities are wealthy, and why they proselytize their pet causes. World hunger, global warming, foreign wars; these become the flagship causes of a population enamored with a god-king of the silver screen who speaks to his people and commands respect be shown for these efforts. Most people refuse to create their own sense of worth; they follow the trends, the latest new hot thing being touted by the emergent American Idol champion or whichever female celeb is willing to strip her clothes and let her airbrushed, ever-so-perfect looking flesh advertise a cause; this is the new disease of a nation which denies its own responsibility to itself through vicariously existing as the select few elite, the banner-waving people who were willing to adhere to their own structure of worth -- to a point -- and now champion their endeavors with zeal and gusto, like only a true dreamchaser could do.

We seek to find solace in something. Those who are leaders among us imagined a goal, or saw something which they felt was desirable, and they achieved it; the dejected hordes who have surrendered their thoughts to these avatars of nationalism seek that same fulfillment of desire through accomplishing tasks on behalf of the Ba'alesque beings that straddle the sky from their glass and steel towers; we serve their causes so as to feel that same sense of worth, as if we have done something, and it mattered -- a legacy can be built on nothing more than charity if the spin is right and the cause is popular.

When you chase a dream, are you certain it is your own?

13 May 2008

Inspired Lyrics

A second of reflection can take you to the moon; The slightest hesitation can bring you down in flames.
- Covenant, "Call the Ships to Port"

None can change in me these things that I believe, but I don't know what happens now; I am too scared to close my eyes.
- VNV Nation, "Legion"

None of us will go unscathed by private battles we have braved.
- Assemblage 23, "Anthem"


I think that blog posts centered around repeating the words of others have little to no value; even so, I feel compelled to do this, not because I cannot find words to echo these same emotional imprints, these imperatives, but because I feel I honor the intent of that poetry by allowing it to breathe in places where it normally would not.

I've selected each of these in particular for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, probably, is the fact that I've been inundating myself with these artists, and similar, over the past couple of weeks. My musical taste travels in waves, and I'm on this kind of kick right now; it's also serving as a replacement for the philosophical conversations I haven't been having, something which I examine perhaps more carefully than I would otherwise so as to engage my mind in something more thought-provoking than data entry and video games.

Second, though, these choices all share a common thread above and beyond the simple musical cohesion that brings them together; they speak of hope, and of fear, and of how we strive to make ourselves more than what we have been in the interest of achieving those hopes and dreams despite the fears and the wounds which we inevitably bear coming through those things which force us to hesitate, to consider, to imagine the possibilities of what may come should things all fall apart.

But there's another sense, and I think it's more important; the push that, while we fear, we should not hesitate. While consideration, of course, is a part of everything we do in life, I find that the things which are the most monumental, which are the most life-altering for better or for worse, are those things for which we allow ourselves to cast aside the depth of our trepidation and plunge whole-heart into the abyss, praying for the best and realizing that we don't care if it kills us, because the other side of the darkness holds so much more brilliance. It is those moments in which we allow ourselves to be more than Man, to transcend the shackles which hold us to life as we know it, and thrust the very essence of our being against the ocean of chance, struggling even as we let our bodies falter and the tides of time and fate swallow our reality.

When was the last time that your dream became yourself?

08 May 2008

Missin' Formation?

Thinking about the various concepts I've tried to address in the last couple of posts has got me, well, thinking. Why aren't these the sorts of things that I ever hear people discussing? Why is it that I never find myself debating the truths of life, the philosophical ramifications of our ideas and ideals, the metaphysical exploration that validates our sense of self against a waning interest in the soul and its final resting place?

Religion, philosophy, and the pursuit of higher thought used to be at the core of many a conversation, not just for me, but for many men in ages past; where has that gone? These days, the theme of everything I see is things which don't seem to matter, the trivia of life; we're more concerned about the soles of Lindsay Lohan's shoes than about the souls -- or lack thereof -- within us all. Religious debate is all but out the window as everyone is so certain that they've figured it out for themselves, and they wouldn't want to risk alienation or controversy by attempting to convince others that they're right; those few who still hold to the idea of pushing their ideology on the masses are the likes of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist "fundamentalists" regarded as freaks, bigots, and the target of ridicule, derision, and the savage vile attack of those who think differently; now, I'll be the first to admit that I disagree with every bit of dreck I've heard attributed to Mr. Phelps and his church, but they do, if nothing else, seem to have something that I see as lacking in almost everyone else around me: conviction. The strength (or stupidity) to stand before the world and scream their beliefs as long and loud as they can through megaphones of hate.

I'm not defending what they say, to be sure, but I'll damn well defend their right to say it, and I'll applaud their sheer indomitable ability to weather the storm of retributive mudslinging sent (rightly) back at them; even those who loathe everything they say and do can grasp that this unique group of people is willing to get themselves out there and, through their own actions, spur thought and debate. I've seen their methods and messages decried by people who, nominally, agree with some of the concepts that they're pushing -- this, to me, is the spirit of debate in its finest form, the naked sense of human belief laid bare before the masses in such a way as to open the heart of the matter, unrepentant about the bruises that they leave on the souls of those who are the targets of their vicious campaigns.

We're all so concerned with popularity, with being liked and accepted, with appealing to a broad audience, with not hurting the feelings of our friends, with being politically correct that even the counter-culture refuses to pander to the hurtful means of being open, forceful, and thought-provoking with their message for fear that some portion of the populous who would never be swayed might use those words as fuel for messages that argue against the points being made on hippie-held signs on the roadsides of San Francisco and the beaches of Cuba. Where's the sense of real discussion, the meat of what it is that makes us able to form these opinions? When did the point of debate become trying to sway the sheepish masses to agreeing with you? From what I recall, the real reason that such forums were held in ages past was not to convince the public that you were in the right (or the left), but to elicit the thought, to force people to use their own minds and examine the cases and come to their own decisions.

I don't care if you, the reader, agree with anything I say. That's not the point. I'm here to say what I feel like saying, without apology, because it will make you think. Because whether you like what I've got to say or not, you come through the experience of examining these words with a clear sense in your mind of whether I'm a genius or a lunatic. To me, I'm both, and neither. If everyone agreed with the way that I see the world, then it wouldn't be an interesting place. Conflict breeds strength, disparity breeds community; differing opinions, moreso than necessity, are the mother of invention -- that's why the production machines run doubletime during wartime, after all! Of course, violence stems from such fundamental disagreements, but that's the human condition as well; we must be willing to accept the consequences of what we say, and that's what I think the real thing that drives us to idle conversation and careful tiptoes around meaty subjects is -- fear. We're afraid of being rejected, of being ridiculed, of being harmed. We're afraid that our worldview will clash with others, and that we're putting ourselves at undue risk by truly speaking our minds.

If we wouldn't take a bullet to defend what we believe, then do we truly believe anything at all?

06 May 2008

Armed to Bear Rights

I recently came across a message I wrote to some friends; it's a bit old, but I think the content is still fairly relevant. The crux of the diatribe was some activity on the part of local high schools, who had just begun a program utilizing a third-party company that supplied drug-sniffing dogs. It began with this quote:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

This friendly little tidbit comes from the United States Bill of Rights, which grants various "unalienable" rights to our citizenry and all that. It's a good little bit of paper, and it's had extremely good uses throughout its lifespan. That said, it's also quickly fading away into a memory as the government elects to rewrite, reinterpret, or revise portions of it here and there.

On to the case in question. The idea behind the drug dogs was a simple one; a random number of times through the school year, the dogs would be brought to a random handful of classrooms. At this point, the students would be asked to vacate the room while the dogs and their handlers searched their collected belongings, going from desk to desk and checking backpacks, purses, and other personal effects. They would also take the dogs through the parking lots, so as to provide a means of searching student's vehicles.

I'll take this moment to explain that I believe that anyone who brings drugs of any sort on to a school campus is a moron. There's a time and a place for everything, and that is certainly neither of those in this instance. However, that doesn't change the fact that this amounts to illegal search and, presumably, seizure -- unless, of course, they just wanted to know who has the drugs so they can keep an eye on them (not likely, my friends). Therefore, the implication here seems to be that being a high school student serves as probable cause to search for contraband. While this may, in many cases, be true -- after all, we all know what terrors we were as teenagers! -- it simply does not follow, and it absolutely does not conform to the letter or spirit of the above laws which were meant to govern our nation in such a way as to ensure the peace and security of all its citizens.

But wait, there's more! One of these students refused to allow her effects to be searched. She was suspended from school, which lasted as long as it took for a lawyer representing the American Civil Liberties Union to contact the school district. I'm not a big fan of the ACLU in most of their cases; they represent a certain sort of pandering to causes that oughtn't be secured, however, insofar as they defended a damn good document in this case, and rightly so I'd say, I have to throw 'em a bone and say that it was a good move. I'm not sure how the case ended up panning out (as I said, it was a while ago), but I do remember that the student, a female who was getting good grades, returned to school, and also did eventually allow her bags to be searched on the day that the dogs came in; she wasn't carrying anything illegal. That, to me, speaks volumes about her character -- that she was standing up against this incursion not for personal gain or for the protection of her own illegal activities, but on the very principle that what they were doing was, well, wrong.

The thing that irked me the most in this case was user-submitted responses to the article in the local newspaper online. One person suggested that the proper recourse was to call the police, citing that -- and this is a kicker, folks! -- her refusal to submit to the search translated to "just cause". In short, this person believes that if you do not allow law enforcement to search everything you own, your house, your vehicle, your pants pockets, whatever ... then you're up to no good; basically, refusing to allow yourself to be searched means that you're no longer protected, because you've given them reason simply by saying "no". Have they even read the same Bill of Rights as I have? Another gem of a user posted something to the effect of, "The next time you see a group of Middle Eastern people getting on the plane behind you, you'll think differently about what 'just cause' means." Horrendous racism aside, this message seems to forgo the decades of work put towards redefining the essence of "all men are created equal" and the entire history of cultural tolerance, civil rights, and global community that the United States has, as an entity, attempted to embrace.

That there are still people out there holding the flaming sword of this bigotry sickens me. What sickens me more, I think, is the passivity of most of those around us, those who sit on the sidelines and accept that "that's just how things are now". Of course that's how things are, if you let them be that way! Defiance of authority, as in the case of the young girl who refused to be searched, is the very basis of our country. We were founded by free-thinking rebels who rose up against oppressive regimes, banded together in their cause, and collaborated in peace and in war to fight for the very freedoms we see slipping. The founding fathers were proponents of frequent and complete revolution, of standing against any government who did not allow its citizens to be free, of raising fist and flag and never standing idly by, watching the very essence of their beliefs be stripped to nothing as the malcontents stand back in apathy.

I know that posting this to a blog doesn't accomplish much, but it gets a message out. It makes it accessible, and it lets others know that they're not alone in being sick and tired of the recent trends. The purpose of this is to stand on the hilltop and shout, however far it may be to the next set of ears. I am here as a representative of the malcontents whose apathy has grown stale and, if nothing else, I can refuse to be silent.

Here's a link to the article I was referencing. It took some digging to find, but it's worth a read.


A few gems from the content:

'Trott said she emptied her bag to reveal there was nothing illegal in it but still took the suspension.'

'But based on surveys that found a significant number of students in the CUSD had tried or considered trying drugs, the district is able to establish a blanket suspicion of an entire campus.'

'When Trott told P.V. Principal Michael Rupp that she was defending her rights, she said he responded with, "You don't have those rights."'

01 May 2008

Indulgence by Proxy

I should probably preface this by saying that I don't intend to downplay the plight of poor nations. I should probably say something about the value of altruistic behavior. I should probably even say that I sympathize with the starving peoples of Africa, with the war-torn nations of the Middle East, with the oppressed majorities of Asia.

But I won't do any of those things.

What is this force that drives nations like our own to overextend themselves in the global community? Our own national debt rises as the economy crumbles beneath us; homes are being taken out from under the people who lived in them and resold as rental properties to cater to the slightly-less-desperate Americans who've managed to scrape together the funds to be able to afford the ballooning costs of living, and still we're focused on the global good, the humanitarian principles of serving our fellow man? Droughts and food shortages plague our own neighborhoods as the dejected starve in the streets, looking for someone to lend that same hand that's been chopped off and mailed to Darfur where things are obviously so much worse as to eclipse our own slow descent into the third world.

Faltering markets are pushed aside by rising consumption of useless consumer goods, and we're still trying to convince ourselves that buying a $600 video game system is better for the environment than our hybrid cars with their lowered carbon emissions and aesthetic appeal taken straight from the runway models who look as rail-thin as the cocaine they shove up their nostrils to support the drug lords funded by our own dollars in decades past, now forgotten until their disenfranchised slave-labor forces are found drowning like rats in the oceans between us and them as they seek rabidly to find the wealth that's promised by the images in the media of the final consumers of their own products, and still the best we can do to fight against anything is ship billions more dollars overseas to try to feed the world's growing population while we bicker about whether a black guy, or a woman could fill the captain's cabin.

It makes me sick to call myself an American sometimes, but I still call myself by this term with pride not because I think it's something to be proud of, but because the label bears a sense of difference and distinction promoted by our own advertising campaigns which fall flat on the ears of the global community, who is only now beginning to think that JUST MAYBE the average person over here is just as tired of the way our society tears shambles across the landscape of human history, ravenous to devour any legacy we might have once held close in order to shed a new light on the life and times of every single person, exemplified in the celebrity cries to turn off the cameras, give peace a chance, and free Tibet at the cost of our own self-indulgent suffering.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the only reason things won't change is because we've all decided long ago that fatalism is the way of truth, that manifest destiny has us beholden to nothing more than screaming silent whispers through online posts, empty promises for a Brave New World, and lip-service funeral processions for the way things Should Have Been; they'll never get there, of course, because we all believe that none of us can change all of us, that no ONE man can make a difference despite evidence to the contrary, and even those few who've figured out that the change CAN be made are self-restrictive to the point of being wholly ineffective, shadows of the great men of the past who, in their time, were radicals and outcasts that have been painted in new light by the lens of the passage of time.

When history writes of this era, who will our heroes have been?