Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Prevalence of Teacher/Student Sexual Relationships

Though I left Alabama eight years ago, I still check in periodically with the news from home. In the past several years I haven’t been able to avoid a distressingly persistent and viscerally disturbing set of related stories. Seemingly every few weeks or so a fresh set of allegations are raised. Another teacher has engaged in inappropriate and illegal sexual acts with a underage pupil. Most of these crimes are said to have occurred between high school students and their instructors. Women are charged as often as men, which challenges many easy assumptions.

To backpedal a bit, I should state for the record that I’m a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s. What is reported today with zest once took the form of rumors and whispers only. When I was in ninth or tenth grade, it was believed, quietly, that one of the alternative school teachers had engaged in a lesbian relationship with a student enrolled in her class. The matter was quickly hushed up and somehow never made the papers or the local newscast. That the tawdry details didn’t get out is due to the diligence and acumen of the district’s administrative staff. Damage control is one of the unwritten skill sets of every administrator.

It was only later, much later, that we learned, without much shock or surprise, that the allegations were entirely factual. School systems and private schools try to avoid negative publicity like the plague, and it’s curious to me how such a formerly ironclad code of silence has fallen by the wayside now. The process of firing and dismissal is usually done very quietly, and those who have their employment terminated are often not told the reasons why. According to the rules, they can’t be. The process is meant to save face for everyone. In extreme cases, of course, no amount of concealment was sufficient to keep a lid on tawdry, shocking stories.

Nearly twenty years ago, my middle school choir teacher was accused of molesting a fourteen-year-old student. After the news was made public, two or three other young men, former students themselves, came forward with the same charge. Birmingham media dutifully reported the crime a couple of days later. The accused looked haggard and desperate in his six-o-clock news mugshot, as though he hadn’t shaved or slept in several days. And he probably hadn’t. This was quite a contrast to his usually impeccable personal hygiene and grooming.

A trial followed not long afterwards. The case was, it appeared, fairly open-and-shut. A guilty plea was recorded. He was required to formally register as a sex offender and did a two year stint in jail before being released. Back at his former place of employment, everyone acted as though he had never existed. His name was never mentioned again at any time, for any reason. Sometimes the truth is too terrible to recount. And, as I began, situations like these are neither unusual, nor rare.

In my own life, I can think of only one circumstance where I might have been a potential target. I was too young to realize what was going on beneath the surface. Until I thought about it more closely in my adulthood, I merely perceived I’d run across a unusually curious person. For half of high school, I was a varsity athlete. My father paid for private workouts in a gym that catered exclusively to adolescent jocks of both sexes. One of the trainers on staff was a man probably in early middle age, with a ratty blonde mustache. He hung on every word that I said, making full eye contact, a smile forever on his face, and the effect was a little uncomfortable. I was only fifteen at the time, and assumed only that he must find me very interesting.

What I’ve stated are the details and effects, not the causes. A very conservative argument proclaims that the frequency of such regrettable offenses are evidence of great moral decay. Sexuality is much more pervasive and less stigmatized then in years prior, but I’m not satisfied that this is sufficient evidence in and of itself. One could always blame the Internet, but I credit it here mainly with showing direct evidence of how commonplace such crimes really are.

When I was in college, I knew of several professors who conducted flagrant affairs with their students. Several of them believed that such things were the fringe benefits of the profession. Though unethical, the practice is not illegal. Several of my female friends and classmates were impressed and wowed by intelligent, worldly older men. There’s a reason why this phenomenon is almost cliche and quite familiar.

All of the stories I’ve read about taboo sexuality and clandestine relationships like these have one thing in common. They don’t bother to explain the circumstances. We, the audience, are informed of the What and Where, and occasionally the How. Details denied to us always take the form of the crucial question Why.

Are these relationships a product of failed marriages? Untreated mental illness? Substance abuse and drug addiction? Was this outcome the product of simple opportunism and exploitation? I really don’t know. If I sat on any jury where cases like these were being decided, I’d need to let the facts speak loudest. But if we’re discussing matters of opinion only, I think secret affairs like these have been going on forever. How we stop them is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quote of the Week

Terror consists mostly of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.-Friedrich Engels

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Video

Good morning, good morning

Nothing to do to save his life call his wife in
Nothing to say but what a day how's your boy been
Nothing to do it's up to you
I've got nothing to say but it's ok
Good morning, good morning

Going to work don't want to go feeling low down
Heading for home you start to roam then you're in town

Everybody knows there's nothing doing
Everything is closed it's like a ruin
Everyone you see is half asleep.
And you're on your own you're in the street.

After a while you start to smile now you feel cool
Then you decide to take a walk by the old school.
Nothing has changed it's still the same
I've got nothing to say but it's ok
Good morning, good morning

People running round it's five o'clock
Everywhere in town is getting dark
Everyone you see is full of life.
It's time for tea and meet the wife
Somebody needs to know the time, glad that I'm here.

Watching the skirts you start to flirt now you're in gear.
Go to show you hope she goes.
I've got nothing to say but it's ok.
Good morning, good morning

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Legalizing Pot: What to Expect Next

The perpetually frustrating conflict between government mandates versus private rights has shown up in the latest Supreme Court deadlock over Obamacare contraception. The latest case put before the highest court in the land shows a clear divide in interpretation between liberal and conservative viewpoints. Government is granted authority over private property in some respects, but individual rights are sacrosanct in others. Imminent domain has been invoked, but so has right of privacy. This critical conflagration shows up in situation after situation, statute after statute.

In November 2014, District of Columbia voters overwhelmingly agreed to further decriminalize pot. But the statue itself was worded strangely and somewhat disingenuously. Straight from the DC government’s own website, Initiative 71 made it legal to:

  • Possess two ounces or less of marijuana;
  • Transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person who is at least 21 years old, so long as there is no payment made or any other type of exchange of goods or services;
  • Cultivate within their residence up to six marijuana plants, no more than three of which are mature;
  • Possess marijuana-related drug paraphernalia – such as bongs, cigarette rolling papers, and cigar wrappers – that is associated with one ounce or less of marijuana; or
  • Use marijuana on private property.

However, private owners of rental properties still have the right to ban marijuana smoking and growing. In the apartment complex where I live, new residents assume that they are allowed to smoke pot in their apartments, often unaware that their lease prohibits it. In an old, drafty complex, the smell fills hallways and adjacent units until the offending party is told to cease and desist. Apartments are often revolving doors, so this point has to be constantly invoked and reinforced with every new resident who enters.

Only publicly owned buildings must follow the law as written. But it’s more complicated than that. The law itself invokes magical thinking. It’s legal to possess a certain amount, but not to buy it. Furthermore, it’s okay for a buddy to give you an ounce for free, but there’s no litmus test besides one’s own word to prove that money did not exchange hands. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

The odd phrasing is mostly directed towards people who grow their own pot for private usage. It’s curious to note that six and only six marijuana plants are allowed; half that number are allowed to be reach harvest stage. I don’t think police are going to the trouble to count marijuana plants one by one. Big growers clearly cultivate far more than the allowed amount, and their trade is still illegal.

A person can still be arrested for:

  • Selling any amount of marijuana to another person;
  • Possessing more than two ounces of marijuana;
  • Operating a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana; or
  • Smoking, eating, or drinking marijuana – or holding or carrying a lighted roll of paper or other lighted smoking equipment filled with marijuana – in any public space, such as:
               On any street, sidewalk, alley, park, or parking area;
               In a vehicle on any street, alley, park, or parking area; or
               Any place to which the public is invited.

If a person can’t smoke their private stash in a home or residence, he or she will have to go to someone else’s place. This can limit consumption considerably, preventing one for partaking at all unless one uproots and goes elsewhere. One could make a case that personal rights are being violated by exclusionary language. Examining the law more closely, it’s clear that legalization was not put in place in any enthusiastic, affirming way. Instead, it was enacted grudgingly. The politicians who drafted the language appear to be saying, like some acquiescent parent, “Well, I guess if you’re going to do it anyway, just don’t be sloppy about it...”

It will be interesting to observe how committed legislators and individuals are in getting legalization propositions in front of voters. Each one will reflect its locality and the political makeup of its citizens. Standardized laws and statutes are likely a long way off, and might never come to pass. In this matter, courts appear to give greater heft to the Tenth Amendment. Smoking pot is not considered a universal human right on par with marriage equality. Until then, the patchwork system of Federalism will lurch along at its own methodical pace. Don’t expect the United States to be like Amsterdam..

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Call Your Name

I call your name
but you're not there
Was I to blame
for being unfair?

Oh, I can't sleep at night
since you've been gone
I never weep at night,
I can't go on

Don't you know I can't take it?
I don't know who can
I'm not going to make it
I'm not that kind of man

Oh, I can't sleep at night
but just the same
I never weep at night
I call your name

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Slimy Underbelly of the Anonymous Collective

The Anonymous Collective, for those unaware, are a loose grouping of activist hackers. Their vigilante-style justice, while superficially appealing, leads to heavy-handed, self-righteous attacks against sworn enemies. Once, I held I kind of grudging admiration for the work that they did, as it agreed with my sensibilities. In particular, the protracted attacks against the supposed Church of Scientology won my respect and stoked my curiosity. If I had to describe the basic composition of the group, I'd ask my audience to imagine the creators and the sardonic humor of the abrasive animated comedy television show South Park.

More recently, Anonymous hacked into Donald Trump's files, a move that might be satisfying until we contemplate the legality of its stated aims and tactics.

The collective “Anonymous” claimed on Thursday that it had hacked GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, releasing what it alleged was his Social Security number, cell phone number and other personal information. The decentralized group of international activist hackers has been linked to numerous high-profile incidents over the years, including Internet attacks on governments, major corporations, financial institutions and religious groups.

I bring this subject up because, seven months ago, I too was a target.

In August of last year, I began investigating the fascinating legal case of an anti-Scientology protester and Anonymous hacktivist. I know his pseudonym and real name, but to spare myself from further headaches, neither will be mentioned here. As the story went, the man's vociferous, noisy protests outside of a Washington, DC, Scientology church ended up getting him eventually sent to jail. He had been a Scientologist earlier in life, dropped out altogether, and then became a constant, energetic protester outside the Dupont Circle-area center.

His accused crime was that of stalking, a District statue that was only on the books as a way to more effectively protect women from potential assailants and harassing behavior. The Church of Scientology, out of fear and likely to even the score, twisted the legal language in its favor, sending Anonymous to prison for a time.

The legal wrangling resulted in a trial some months later. The judge hearing the case dismissed all charges in utter dismay, stating that the law as intended simply did not apply in this context. Anonymous was freed and then left Washington. He may have believed that his cover was airtight, but I will say that it was relatively easy to trace him. In hindsight, I learned a hard lesson from the nastiness, namely that I should never play into the paranoid fears of a potentially unstable person. If I had it to go over again, I would never have sought to pursue the story.

Working with a lawyer who had observed the legal proceedings in DC with rapt interest, we tracked the hacker to his current location, several hundred miles north. My intention, I cannot emphasize enough, had only been to interview him, to give him a chance to plead his case in a public forum. The attorney who directed me to this assignment wanted to know more to satisfy his own curiosity, and felt also that he was giving me work. I should have known better; my naivete was showing. It was like interviewing a kleptomaniac and being surprised, by the conclusion, that a few possessions of mine had mysteriously disappeared.

The hacker's story was unique, but everyone I consulted who was attached to the case, even his lawyer, declined politely to provide any additional information. My partner had a knack for locating missing persons, which is how I stumbled across the hacker’s tracks. If I had it to go over again, I'd ask why it was so easy for him to locate a person who clearly did not want to attract any attention from anyone, for any reason. This is a truism for anyone in the Anonymous Collective and if I’d done my research properly, I’d never have sought to engage.

I made two or three direct requests to interview Anonymous, responding by way of a form e-mail on his webpage. My mistake was being persistent. All I did was stoke the fears of someone who was already justly paranoid. Three or four days later, I logged into my computer one morning, only to find that I was no longer in control of it. Instead, he was, and to punish me for my efforts in trying to find him, he decided to terrorize my life for most of a week.

Anonymous gained access to my e-mail account and my cell phone. The latter has never been the same, as he deliberately damaged a few features here and there. Friends of mine in my address book and e-mail account were sent threatening, nonsensical text messages and e-mails. I still have never determined what precisely was written and sent along, as I have no record of it myself. My Sent Mail folder is no help. I was told latter that the messages were rambling screeds, full of unconjugated verbs. It was a curious move by someone surely articulate enough to speak the Queen's English, but much that transpired in that stressful week will never be known to me.

I filed two charges against him. One was for identity theft, as he had gained access to my bank account and opened a second account under my name, just to prove he could do it. I swiftly reported the crime and a fraud investigation commenced. About two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail confirming that, as I knew beforehand, I had not opened the account myself and was not at fault. It was fortunate that he'd chosen to steal a few dollars from me, because identity theft cannot easily be prosecuted unless theft has taken place. Those of us who have been victims of crimes like these can attest to how impotent laws on the books can be.

Anonymous was clever. I'll give him that much. I had to replace a cable modem, close an account in one bank, open a new account with a new bank, change about twenty passwords, and gain access to my own information in a sneaky sort of way. I deliberately stayed offline for three days solid, then made my changes swiftly before he recognized what was happening and tried to keep me from regaining control. It's terrifying and traumatic to know that your personal data is in the hands of someone with nefarious, uncertain intentions. His hacking skills were refined enough that he even tracked my internet activity to a local library and prevented me from accessing the Internet. This kept me from logging into my e-mail account for almost a week, which is practically everyone's lifeline these days.

After much research, I determined a way to get around the cyber-blockade. Anonymous had discovered my IP address from the e-mails I'd sent and had proceeded from there. That is how he gained access to my files and my information. I don't want to spell out directly what I did to regain access, for fear that Anonymous members might take note of it in the future. What I will say is that, after installing a program, I was at least able to read and respond to my electronic correspondence and the inevitable backlog. The next morning, I observed with pleasure that Anonymous had tried for hours to take apart the program I'd installed, unsuccessfully. After that, he either gave up or determined that he was through punishing me.

Local law enforcement worked with me and I'm thankful for their efforts. Along with identity theft, I had him charged for making harassing statements. He made threats against my personal safety, which I retained on my laptop and then presented in front of a sympathetic police offer. The law has not always kept pace with the new reality of internet-based crimes, which hampers prosecution. Though mostly successful in covering his tracks and clinging to a grey area in the law, Anonymous went too far. This proves to be the undoing of most criminals, and here was no exception.

When I tried to appeal to a higher authority up the food chain I had no success. A brief talk with the FBI got me nowhere. I spoke with a very condescending officer who, in our one and only phone conversation, impatiently asked me a series of patronizing questions. Eventually I gave up. In her eyes, I merely needed to take my laptop into the shop or consult with an IT specialist. Helplessly, I tried to explain my situation again, but, for the most part, Anonymous had been careful to not directly incriminate himself.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that Anonymous wanted to scare me, to show me how easily he could gain access to my data. He wanted to teach me a lesson, which I received loud and clear. I'm grateful that he hasn't resumed his attacks, though I am now much better prepared for the next one, if it arrives. In this post, I could have revealed his real name, his location, and the tactics he used, but I fear further reprisal and don't want to be sued for libel. I don't want to stoop to his level. Let this post be a warning to everyone.

Anyone who has been a victim of online crime recognizes how imprecise and inexact a process prosecution can be. The Internet has given rise to a new Wild West, which we embrace at our own risk. Crimes of passion seem appealing. Something must be done, we assert. I once felt the same way, but no longer. I am no anarchist. My new goal is to improve enforcement and strengthen the rules that govern our society. That happens through direct participation in the process, not standing outside of it and resorting to criminal means. I hope my case will serve as an example to ensure that my story will never be repeated to anyone, at any time.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Quote of the Week

"Religion begins in mysticism and ends in politics." Charles Péguy

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Final Post

Friends, I tried eight sessions of TMS and found I could not tolerate any more than that. The experiences of nine days ago were too frightening. Simply put, there isn't enough research data and aren't enough recorded anecdotal studies to give anyone a good idea of what to expect from treatment. I'm disappointed in the end result. It's taken me several days to fully recover from the process, which is why I haven't written about it until now.

I had plans to blog extensively throughout the whole of the 36 scheduled sessions. Now it's back to the drawing board. I am going to have to switch antidepressants again, as medication is currently the only option now available to me. Some people I consulted before I even started the treatments felt that my move was one of desperation. This is partially true, but if TMS was not FDA approved, I wouldn't have proceeded any further.

My psychiatrist feels that I should have never been cleared to participate in the first place. As I noted in an earlier post, I feel that business was favored over safety. TMS is indicated to work only for unipolar or major depressive disorder, not bipolar disorder. Had I continued onward, the doctor feels that I might well have been thrown into a very destructive manic episode or even borderline psychosis. In this situation, I may well be the outlier, but I suspect my symptoms are not unusual.

When TMS is used more regularly, I know other patients will experience similar side effects. Speaking of medication, about twenty years ago I was placed on a now regularly prescribed antidepressant called Effexor. I was one of the first patients tried on the drug, which has absolutely horrible discontinuation symptoms, should you need to be taken off of it completely. It took years for psychiatrists and researchers to realize how severe the side effects really were. I suspect the same will be true with TMS. Once again, I'm the guinea pig for cutting-edge procedures that are dubiously safe.

Saturday Video

They stumbled into their lives
In a vague way became man and wife
One got the other
They deserved one another

They settled in a brand new town
With people from the same background
They kept themselves busy
Long hours left them dizzy

Now when
He's in
She's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away
He's not making plans
'Cos now they understand
All you ever do is fade away

He noticed he had visible lines
She worried about her behind
Their birth had been the death of them
It didn't really bother them

Now when
She's in
He's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away
She's not making plans
'Cos now she understands

All you ever do is fade away

When he's in
She's out

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away
They're not making plans
'Cos now they understand

He must learn to forget
'Cos this is all you'll ever get

All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away
All you ever do is fade away

They're not making plans
'Cos now they understand
All you ever do is fade away...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Be Cautious with Revolutions

Written for a Quaker audience.

A study of the past shows that times of great societal reform often come only from armed combat. This is a disquieting thought to those who espouse non-violence and peaceful reconciliation. The English Civil War led directly to the formation of the Religious Society of Friends. The Puritan Revolution, it is sometimes termed, was a grand and dramatic epoch where, as the saying goes, the very world turned upside down. A nation with a long tradition of separated powers, espoused by the Magna Carta in 1215, rejected monarchy and committed regicide. It even tolerated a few crucial years of Cromwellian military dictatorship. Though we oppose wars, we must admit the irony that war led to our formation.

In American history, the Civil War nullified slavery. A series of desperate compromises delayed the inevitable for decades. Even though black citizens were not yet granted full civil rights in practice, it took the death of hundreds of thousands on the battlefield to establish full abolition. Prior to that point, completely doing away with slavery had been a minority view. It was a view shared only by around a third of the country's population. Most Americans in the North wanted to restrict the spread of the peculiar institution or to relocate slaves elsewhere, but they weren't ready to go any farther than that. Some historians think that slavery would have eventually died out on its own, but others aren’t quite so sure.

Wars are destructive to human life and property, but they are also enormously profitable to a fortunate few. The profit is not always measured in monetary value. Wars create mass suffering. However, to the leaders who seek to define the conflict on their own terms, they retain a terrible but yet redeemable quality in spite of the horrors they produce. This was Abraham Lincoln’s view shortly before the American Civil War ended. God willed it, Lincoln believed, and the brutality of involuntary servitude was payment in blood for mangled corpses and mass funerals. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Most people are consumed with fantasies of retributive justice at the beginning of a war. But as time progresses, soldiers die en masse, grief and pain permeate to every corner, and a growing majority of people eventually want an endgame. To delve back further into the historical record, the Crusades were initially a success for the Western Europeans who stormed the Holy Land, but they found quickly that serving as an occupying force grew tedious. The brave fantasy gave way to the monotony of guard duty. Eventually the cursed Muslim hordes recaptured what had been lost, resulting in the need for another Crusade, and another following it, and still another.

Recently, I’ve heard calls for revolution coming from all corners. Even when they are short on specifics, the idea itself sounds thrilling enough to our ears. If you believe the grandiose rhetoric, it will take nothing less than superhuman, bold efforts to save us from ourselves. The problem with genuine revolutions, of course, is that they are impossible to predict and hard to contain once they have started. The American Revolution was a highly conservative one compared to the radical excess of the French Revolution that took place only a few years later. Each could have easily gone in different directions.

Once the bonfire is lit, what happens next is often completely out of our hands. As religious pacifists, we know this intrinsically; we proceed with caution and tread lightly. Not everyone responds to war with hungry fervor. Some of us take entrenched positions outside the fighting, embracing pacifism even more. The bloody Civil War battle of Antietam occurred on the site of a Dunker church. The Dunkers were a German pacifist sect with whom Quakers share an ancestor, the Anabaptists.

If we, as Friends, find war offensive in any form, then we must accept incremental change. Incremental change insists upon unsexy constructs like diplomacy, carrots and sticks, and other methods of working from within the system. Revolution often destroys from the outside in, and like a swiftly progressing wildfire, the bonfire quickly blazes too hot. For example, in the modern day, the revolution in Syria is only superficially like the one in Tunisia, or the one in Iraq.

Be careful what you wish for, Friends, as you may well get it. No messiah from the outside will give us eternal life or eternal closure. The only real messiah died a criminal’s death on a cross, not swept into power by an adoring mob. Those who cheer you on Sunday may turn against you in a matter of a few days. In a leaderless faith, we are not absolved of responsibility. We deserve the lots we have cast. God help us.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bottom Rail on Top: Today's Political Fearmongering

In times of great political uncertainty like today, we often look to the past to see if it is any balm or comfort. Those of us who are very troubled by today’s political landscape can be comforted that now is not the worst it has ever been. A faithful and truthful study of what came before us is the responsibility of those who compile such a record, but sadly partisan politics and spin creeps even into what is supposed to be objective fact. A period that noted Southern historian C. Vann Woodward sagaciously proclaimed had too much irony mixed in with the tragedy to be anyone’s Golden Age is front and center once again.

Eric Fonter’s 2004 book Forever Free is a study of a highly misunderstood period of American History known as Reconstruction. Most of us have been taught that it was an effort undertaken to rebuild the former Confederate States following the Civil War. It was designed to give recently freedmen and freedwomen the right to vote and to build a lasting society based on egalitarianism and racial uplift. It failed miserably, as the conventional narrative goes, whereupon white Southerners reestablished a society based on white supremacy.

The conclusion is more or less accurate, but it overlooks substantial reforms that even resentful whites couldn’t fully roll back. State-funded public schools are one legacy of Reconstruction, though from their outset they were always kept strictly segregated. Northern reformers (carpetbaggers) and their Southern compatriots (scalawags) pushed for necessary changes, but rarely with one voice. A Republican Party divided into moderates and self-proclaimed radicals rarely agreed on much.

The past doesn’t really repeat itself. That’s a particularly persistent historian’s fallacy that usually passes unchallenged by most Americans. But it is true that reform measures of any flavor always face a stiff headwind and are frequently opposed by a stultifying combination of political action and individual sentiment. These polarized times are not unique, but they are no less troubling.

The Presidential Election of 1872 was a referendum on the nation-building effort in Dixie.

[Newspaperman Horace Greeley] was certainly an odd choice as the reformers’ candidate for President. Greeley had a history of erratic judgment. Realizing that the Republicans’ split offered them a golden opportunity to repair their political fortunes, Democrats endorsed Greeley (a difficult decision, since he had spent much of his political career denouncing the Democratic Party).
Many Democratic voters could not stomach their party’s official candidate, who, at one time or another during his long career, had referred to Democrats as “murderers, adulterers, drunkards, cowards, liars, and thieves.”
The difference between those times and our own is that we are not, strictly speaking, in the midst of a revolution. Wars of any lasting duration turn societies upside down. Though it would still be a stretch to proclaim, these crazy days might be better termed a period of counter-revolution. The candidacy of Donald Trump has brought to the forefront once more the disenfranchisement fears of whites wary of losing their political power. This is not a new concept, as it dates back more than a century and a half and arguably from the beginning of our country. Regardless of whether or not these anxieties are grounded in sanity, they are very real to those who fear change and progress. Perception, once again, is reality.

One-hundred years ago, a blockbuster film was released to the public. It was entitled Birth of a Nation, and despite the archaic construction and rudimentary film grammar that might bore today’s audience, it encapsulated the fears of White America. Black elected representatives forced down the throats of Southern whites were autocratic, buffoonish, incompetent tyrants. These representatives of color defiled the decorum of political civility, locking the “helpless” Caucasian minority completely out of the deliberative process of governing.

History proves this characterization as patently false, but it is a particularly persistent myth. Even in the Reconstruction South, whites kept most of the reins of power. It is true that black citizens were given the rights of franchise, but only a few Southern states like South Carolina were comprised of black majorities. If we fast-forward a century, we find in Trump supporters a severe fear of bottom rail now on top, of subjugation by those previously enslaved. Today, every black or brown person who profits from Affirmative Action or preferential treatment in some form is an easy target of white hostility.

These fault lines are carved into the American character, no matter whether they are invoked directly or by dog-whistle. Mutual trust and understanding are the only way this latter-day Apartheid will ever be set aside forever. The North failed the entire country by inaction, by withdrawing troops and resources when a weary public wanted normality.

And, even more paradoxically, the North tried to make the South into its own imagined image of perfection without doing the same for itself. A single standard that included every American was needed then, and it is needed now. Until it does, the words on parchment paper that speak about equality are merely unfulfilled rhetoric. We can do better.

Quote of the Week

You're going to see a lot more of that sort of thing in the picture. I don't want to say too much, don't want to spoil it. I'll just say one word: 'Icarus'. If you get it, great. If you don't, that's fine too. But you should probably read more.

-from the film 24 Hour Party People

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Video

I am a back door man
I am a back door man
Well the men don't know, but the little girls understand

When everybody's tryin' to sleep
I'm somewhere making my midnight creep
Yes, in the morning when the rooster crow
Something tell me I got to go

I am a back door man
I am, a back door man
Well the men don't know, but little girls understand

They take me to the doctor, shot full o' holes
Nurse cried, please save the soul
Killed him for murder, first degree
Judge's wife cried, let the man go free

I am a back door man
I am a back door man

Well the men don't know, but the little girls understand

Stand out there, cop's wife cried
Don't take him down, rather be dead
Six feets in the ground

When you come home you can eat pork and beans
I eats mo' chicken, any man seen

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Part 4

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I had a major incident yesterday immediately following the latest procedure. Depending on how one looks at it, it can optimistically be considered a bump in the road or pessimistically deemed a holy terror. It's been years since I've felt that afraid for my physical health and well being. I pause from bed rest to update the blog, to steady my shaky nerves. These developments are worth noting but are also very scary. Today I still am not 100% yet, but at least I woke up this morning feeling an improvement.

Five minutes after my session, I walked back to the public transportation rail. The intent was to head back into the District and run other errands. Nothing seemed amiss. All of a sudden, with no advance warning, I felt a burning, jarring pain in my forehead. What started as fear became somehow impulsive and even mildly psychotic. Like usual, my anxieties led me to muse upon what would happen if I accidentally fell onto the tracks. Then I felt a strong compulsion to throw myself bodily over the edge.

Those thoughts probably lasted no more than fifteen or twenty seconds. Defensively I turned around a full 180 degrees, facing the opposite direction. I didn't want any additional temptation. A train arrived a few seconds later, and I boarded it, trying to keep calm and not attract attention to myself. My new plan was to get back home at any cost. While the train was still above ground, I contacted my outpatient psychiatrist and my primary care doctor, leaving a message with both of them.

The psychiatrist got back to me quickly and told me to proceed directly to the Emergency Room. Upon arrival, I consulted with a doctor, two mental health social workers, nurses, and other staff. They administered a mild tranquilizer by mouth and kept me for observation for the next three hours. I made it clear that I didn't want to be hospitalized and didn't think it was necessary. Then I went home and collapsed into bed.

I'm not sure whether or not to resume my sessions. I had every intention of undergoing all 36 of them. Now I've made a decision to try one more tomorrow and reevaluate from there. I have options. I can be switched to a second machine on site that isn't as powerful. I can also consult with the psychiatrist in a few days to discuss the situation in depth. As is probably quite understandable, I don't want to feel anything like I did yesterday.

I'm very nervous. My worst fears have been realized. This procedure is brand new, and there hasn't been a lot of medical research or case studies on record yet. Accordingly, I had to explain the procedure, what it did, and how it worked to at least five people when I was in the ER. Though the side effects are relatively uncommon, they are not beyond the realm of possibilities. My brain chemistry and neurological makeup have always been difficult to diagnose and treat. Perhaps I'm an outlier once again.

I'm disappointed more than anything. I'm in too much pain to be angry. One of the social workers seemed to feel that I had every right to be mad, and I suppose once I have some distance from this event, that might be my reaction. Tomorrow might be my final treatment, and I'm putting some safeguards in place in case I have a similar reaction. I won't walk to the Metro rail and I'll take a taxi, regardless of how much it costs.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Part 3

The effects I have experienced in the past few sessions have been very strange. They are easier to intellectualize than they are to describe in detail. The treatment onset isn't always felt as soon as the procedure ends. Last night around 8 pm my brain felt intensely fatigued, in a way I can only compare to taking classes in grad school. I went to bed early, unable to even watch television or read. I'll be curious to know if the impact of today's procedure will be felt the same way today. Immediately as soon as each course of treatment ends, I concede I do feel somewhat cognitively tired. Writing this out today takes more effort than is usual for me.

Thoughts usually run in logical fashion, even with what we refer to as stream of consciousness. If you wanted to chart your own mental banter over the course of a few minutes, you'd likely find there is some basic underlying thread that runs between supposedly separate thoughts. Now my mind bounces around from idea to idea without much in the way of common thread. I've begun to remember submerged recollections from years ago. Most of them are banal, few of them are hurtful. This is interesting to observe passively, as long as they remain curiosities and not sources of pain.

I've experienced a substantial antidepressant response, but depression alone is not the sole source of pain. The blanketing social anxiety I've felt since birth has taken longer to combat, as it is the bigger challenge. Every day, a bit more of it melts away. Today was session number seven. I have twenty-nine more to go. Thus far, I'm sold. No treatment before has ever thoroughly targeted the maladies from which I suffer. My optimism persists.

The workers at the treatment center have been intensely helpful. They provide one-on-one attention and talk to me for the duration of the TMS session. We are contemporaries, which means conversation flows easily. I can understand why people enjoy luxurious things, why they delight in being waited on hand and foot. The Quaker in me finds this exclusivity somewhat disconcerting, but I enjoy the company and the attention. To cite but one example, there's a particular blend of coffee that costs $65 a pound, known as Jamaica Blue Mountain, and I know I would drink nothing else if I was wealthy.

I'm well-liked by the staff, half of whom are native Southerners like myself. Small world. I miss the casual small talk of my place of origin, even with other aspects that offend my sensibilities. The secretary and I have divergent political beliefs, but manage to steer clear of the topic. This is how it should be in an ideal world, away from the needless complexities of insurance companies and sullen, resentful employees. It's unfortunate that the ideal requires a vast amount of money to be fully realized. Socialists wait in line. Capitalists never have to wait for anything.

Tomorrow is another day. I remain hopeful.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Quote of the Week

Tolerance? What does that mean? I am a very tolerant and hospitable person, like you. Would you accept 12 illegal immigrants moving into your flat? You would not! On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper! Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalise your wife. You would not accept that! Consequently, we are hospitable, but we decide with whom we want to be.

- Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Far-Right Front National party

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Saturday Video

I will
Lay me down
In a bunker

I won't let this happen to my children
Meet the real world coming out of your shell
With white elephants
Sitting ducks

I will
Rise up

Little babies eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes
Little babies eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes
Little babies eyes, eyes, eyes...

Friday, March 04, 2016

Tell Her No

And if she should tell you "come closer"
And if she tempts you with her charms

Tell her no no no no no-no-no-no
No no no no no-no-no-no
No no no no no
Don't hurt me now for her love belongs to me

And if she should tell you "I love you"
And if she tempts you with her charms

Tell her no no no no no-no-no-no
No no no no no-no-no-no
No no no no no
Don't hurt me now for her love belongs to me

I know she's the kind of girl
Who'd throw my love away
But I still love her so
Don't hurt me now, don't hurt me now

If she tells you "I love you"
Just remember she said that to me

Tell her no no no no no-no-no-no
No no no no no-no-no-no

No no no no no
Don't leave me now for her love belongs to me

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Name the Trump Quotation

For the sake of something different, let’s play a game. The name of this game is called “Pick the Donald Trump quotation.” I will caution those who want to participate that this contest may be more challenging than it seems at first.

I’ll begin with a familiar theme. Examine the ten direct quotations to follow. Name the speaker.


1. Tolerance? What does that mean? I am a very tolerant and hospitable person, like you. Would you accept 12 illegal immigrants moving into your [home]? You would not! On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper! Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalize your wife. You would not accept that! Consequently, we are hospitable, but we decide with whom we want to be.

2. I am a conservative. I intend to give the American people a clear choice. I welcome a fight between our philosophy and the liberal left-wing dogma which now threatens to engulf every man, woman, and child in the United States. I am in this race because I believe the American people have been pushed around long enough and that they, like you and I, are fed up with the continuing trend toward a socialist state which now subjects the individual to the dictates of an all-powerful central government.

3. We have places in London and other places that are so radicalized that the police are afraid for their own lives. We have to be very smart and very vigilant.

4. You will never learn what I am thinking. And those who boast most loudly that they know my thoughts, to such people I lie even more.

5. If I'm the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium, and I say, "Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead.

6. I don’t want to see this country resemble or look like or become like Mexico. Mexico is great to visit, I’ve been there a few times. I respect all peoples of the world.

7. These are people that are outside the country, so we're really not talking about the Constitution. And it's not about religion. This is about safety. This has nothing to do with religion. It's about safety.

8. There must be an authority, and we believe that the most qualified authority in a household is the man's.

9. To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing.

10. If you can't get rich dealing with politicians, there's something wrong with you.

Answers (Don’t Peek)

1. Marine Le Pen, current leader of the French Far-Right party, Front National

2. George Wallace, former Alabama governor and third-party Presidential candidate

3. Donald Trump

4. Adolf Hitler

5. Bill O’Reilly, conservative talk show host

6. David Duke, Neo-Nazi

7. Donald Trump

8. Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of Front National

9. Adolf Eichmann, ex-Nazi executed for war crimes

10. Donald Trump

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Part 2

Everything is becoming routine. My teeth chatter and jerk downwards with every pulse of magnetic force. Each burst lasts for twenty seconds, followed by a minute's pause. Contract, relax. Contract, relax, repeat. My teeth grind and my jaws ache with muscle soreness a little for a while afterward, but nothing too bad.

I'm offered a mouth guard to keep from biting my tongue but I decline. The procedure is a little bit uncomfortable, but it's not painful. My brain continues to adjust to the sensation, which is now more annoying than troubling. I monitor my progress day in and day out, but know I won't really be able to separate success from failure for another three weeks. Cautiously optimistic, I hope that these sessions will boost the effectiveness of the antidepressants which have never worked with any great consistency.

While seated in my chair, my mind begins to wander. I wonder how much each machine costs. The one used on me is likely worth tens of thousands of dollars and maybe even more than that. I don't think many of them are made. The center has two. The one used on me had to be shipped specially over from Israel, and there's no telling how much the cost ran to in total. Aside from specialty centers like these, I don't imagine they're found in very many places yet.

I could watch television for twenty minutes during the process, because every testing room is equipped with one. I prefer talking with the employees of the center. They are all young women in their twenties, which reminds me yet again that I'm not a Millennial. The doctor who evaluated me on my first day is not much older than they or me. Everyone I encounter is young, middle class, and highly educated. I'm curious as to why this is. The suburbs remain lily white, even in the DC Metro area. I'm not really that surprised.

My usual experience in a medical setting involves a diverse set of people from every race and age range. This is more or less true when one considers who lives in the District, rather than in outlying areas of Virginia or Maryland. I wonder if the location of the clinic is a reason why its demographics look this way. The center is brand new. It can be found on the ground level of one of those faceless office parks. The local area mass transit has just expanded in that direction, which usually means that growth isn't far behind.

I conclude for now. More updates to follow.