Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mini-Post: "Adult Content"

In case you missed it, Blogger has been cracking down on unrestricted blogs that have "adult content."  The email looks something like this:

We do allow adult content on Blogger, including images or videos that contain nudity or sexual activity. If your blog contains adult content, please mark it as 'adult' in your Blogger settings. We may also mark blogs with adult content where the owners have not. All blogs marked as 'adult' will be placed behind an 'adult content' warning interstitial. If your blog has a warning interstitial, please do not attempt to circumvent or disable the interstitial - it is for everyone’s protection.

So just to be sure my blog makes the "adult content" cut, here is a steamy pick of a hot babe flashing some fine pussy.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thinking Long Term

Yeah, I know I gotta get back to Whiplash. I've got a whole second blog post pretty much mapped out in my head. For the moment, however, I have something much more critical on my mind: This whole lack of ability on the part of the human species to think long term.

Seriously, this is and has been a real issue for most people, and it seems to be standing in the way of our ability to deal with some of our most important problems.  We don't seem to get that putting money in an IRA will lead to a better standard of living when we're older; we want to spend the money now. We don't want to consider whether the guy waving the flag up on the podium is going to be good or bad for the country over the next four years; we just want a new president now. We don't grasp the whole global warming thing, because that's hundreds of years in the future (or maybe only fifty, but we don't grasp fifty any better than we grasp hundreds).  We want to dig all the oil up and burn it now.  Screw the atmosphere, the grandkids, the environment and the eventual fate of humanity; what are we going to tell our stockholders?

Evolutionarily speaking, though, long-term planning really isn't hardwired into us.  Why should it be? We need solutions now. As cave people, we hunted mastodons because we were hungry at that moment.  It never would have occurred to us that we'd eventually drive the mastodons to extinction because of overhunting.  Why should it? That didn't matter today, in this moment. (Sorry, mastodons.) Really, if you look at this on a global scale, it's kind of amazing that we ever managed to invent farming at all. Dig furrows? Sow seeds in a field?  Water them, keep pests away? So they'll grow over the next four or five months into edible plants? What for? (Of course, the invention of pancakes followed soon after, which made the whole thing worthwhile, but we hadn't thought up the pancake when we first sowed the seeds.  How we invented farming without knowledge of pancakes is a great mystery.)

Which brings us to the present moment, a very important concept in Buddhism generally and the philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh in particular. If you're not in the present moment, you're not experiencing life. Which means millions upon millions of people aren't experiencing life, because I dunno about you, but I can't focus on anything for more than a few minutes without wondering how this came up in the first place and where it's eventually going.  (Yes, meditation has helped; it used to be a few seconds.) Distractable? Oh yes. Which is why I say I'm a bad Buddhist.  If you keep your focus on the present moment, do what you need to do next, and do this consistently, you end up a lot happier.  And why not?  Mulling over the past or fearing the future isn't exactly good for being happy in the present.

What I can't figure out is where long-term planning enters into the picture. One of the things I do at work is long-term planning, where the term is anything from a few months to three or four years.  I draw maps and charts and determine the critical path between here and there, where "there" is anyplace we want to be and "here" is what we have to begin with.  (And you know, figuring out the actual "there" is usually the hardest part.  Everybody has an idea of where we're going, and sometimes they clash rather violently with each other.  Just pinning people down as to where they want to end up is half the battle.) So if you're planning in the present moment, I guess you can put all your focus on planning. But that seems kind of following the letter of the law and not the spirit. By definition, planning means you're not in the present moment.

I'm just guessing here, but I imagine there are not many mindfulness-meditation focused Buddhist chess grandmasters.

So okay, if we're supposed to focus on the present moment, and if human beings are hardwired not to do long-term planning anyway, how are we supposed to solve problems like global warming? That calls for serious long-term planning. If I were going to draw a critical path between here and there, it would have things on it like increasing the number of solar, nuclear and wind powered energy plants. Phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric ones.  (My boss has a Tesla. I got a ride in it yesterday. Awesome.)  But it would also, by necessity, have to have things on it like, reduce the oil companies' influence on politicians. Convince Exxon and Shell and BP that they need to diversify into renewable energy. Oh, and avoid the coming economic crisis that may hit when oil companies realize they can't pull the rest of their future holdings out of the ground, which is what they base their value upon, which would of course crash their stock prices, which--well, it would be ugly. I can imagine how popular this critical path would be in Washington right about now. And here we come back to the hardwiring.  Politicians want to know how to curry favor with their major constitutents (like oil companies) today. They really don't care who's going to vote for their grandchildren, if there are grandchildren, fifty years from now.

Anyway, if anybody has any ideas, let me know.  For now I think I'll focus on the grandkids.  Even right-wing nut jobs want their grandkids to have good lives, don't they? (Oh God, I'm echoing Sting: "I hope the Russians love their children too...")

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Whiplash, Part I

WARNING: THIS IS A LONG BLOG POST.  If you get tired, please move to the rear of the blog, where cake will be served.

People have had occasion to ask me what the hell I’m doing, working at a law firm.  Why aren’t I a great fiction writer or something, swapping yachts with Stephen King for the weekend or partying all night with J.K. Rowling.  Well, firstly, I get seasick.  Secondly, you might not believe this, but it’s actually very hard to get a novel published, especially if you’re not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  (Who owes me five bucks, now that I think about it.)  I’m speaking as one who has tried.  And one who currently isn’t trying.  I dunno if that means I’m done trying, exactly.  Come back in a year and ask me again.  And yes, I’m Working On Something right now, even if it’s spasmodic weekend work at the local Half Price Books while my idiot neighbor is throwing a birthday party for his twelve-year-old granddaughter and the dance tunes are making my house vibrate.  (My house vibrates all the time.  We have a trainyard nearby.  But still, kinda different when it’s vibrating to Can’t Stop Till You Get Enough.  Michael Jackson, unlike the Burlington Northern, is usually in tune.)

But here’s the thing.  I actually like working at a law firm.  I’m good at it, for one thing.  Litigation is a strange and hairy beast, but I’ve gotten to know it pretty well and at least when I’m around, it only bites occasionally.  There are certain things that need to happen in a certain order and certain problems that are bound to crop up needing to be solved.  I’m good at solving problems, and the larger and more complicated, the better.  I also know a lot of stuff about the law.  Not necessarily the theory of the law or why such and such judge did such and such thing (though I know a little bit about that, too), but other stuff.  Important stuff. Like, for example, if you’re electronically filing a document in the state courts of Texas, you have until midnight to do so, not just ‘til five o’clock.  Like if you need to file anything with the appeals court, you need to send paper copies to the court as well, one for each justice.  Yes, it may sound like useless trivia, but its important stuff, folks.  This is all about getting your case heard or not heard, and if you want your case heard, you need a good paralegal.  I am a good paralegal and I will get your case heard.  And these skills, nifty as they are, just really don’t have a place outside a law firm. 

But that’s not to say I have always worked at a law firm.  Au contraire, I actually worked in a law library for ten years first.  And before that I was in music school (!).  The plan at the time was to become one of the great bassoonists.  (Have you ever met a great bassoonist?  No?  How about you?  No?  You?)  So, okay, great bassoonists don’t exactly set the world on fire. They don’t do solo concertos in front of the orchestra very often and honestly, I don’t think many of them make like Kenny G and record New Age albums. I have never seen one win a Grammy or shake hands with Nelson Mandela or get invited to North Korea to play for the despot-in-charge-at-the-moment. But they do have nifty jobs playing with major orchestras.  Because who wouldn’t want a job playing music all day long?  That would be a great job.

Where you run into trouble here is that there are only about 17 major full-time orchestras in the United States, and each of those probably have three or four bassoonists apiece. There are something like 1,200 other orchestras, which makes up another 4800 jobs, but those jobs are part-time and usually don’t have any benefits. So maybe 4,868 jobs for professional bassoonists of any sort in the United States.  And when you figure that most of those jobs are already occupied to begin with, and there are probably at least another 1,000 brand-new bassoonists graduating from music schools every year, you can see how the math might maybe start to work against you there. In short, if you’re not one of the very, very best, you’re not going to be able to swing it professionally.  And I was not one of the very, very best.  I was good, though.  I won awards and stuff.  And a college scholarship.  Ask anybody.

The reason I bring all this up is that I just saw “Whiplash” with Joan and a couple of friends. As it turned out, three of the four of us had been to music school.  There are two kinds of music students: The very, very best and everybody else.  Everybody else are the ones that eventually get ground down by the machine and pitched out to find other careers as librarians or district managers or, I dunno, paralegals.  This could have led to a fascinating discussion, but all four of us were so stunned by the movie that nobody really talked about it afterward, except for saying how accurate they thought it was to his or her experience of music school. And for the record, I think it’s pretty fucking accurate.  I never had a teacher as bad as Fletcher—nobody ever hit anybody, or threw things at people, as far as I can recall--but I had plenty of instructors who did their share of yelling in people’s faces and hurling insults as fast as they could think them up. And, I mean, I could tell stories all night long.  Here’s two.  There was this one piano teacher that we called the Dragon Lady.  She had this thing about people with long nails—girls, mostly, but I knew my fair share of male guitar players with long nails on their right hands.  Anyway, if she thought your nails were too long to play the piano properly, she would chop them off.  With this pair of industrial-strength sewing scissors she kept in her purse.  I am cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die serious. And the scene where each kid got to play exactly one measure to prove they belonged in the ensemble?  That happened daily.  I saw people sent from first chair to the bottom of the section—or worse, out of the room for all time--because a reed squawked or a string broke or something, and I mean to tell you I saw it more than once. 

So why do it at all, you ask.  Why go to all the trouble and expense and take the abuse and spend four years cutting the throats of your fellow students in any way possible only to get out and start cutting throats all over again to find a job, any job, while trying to keep your own throat in one piece in the process?  I mean why does anyone do it?  Well, I’ll tell you why.  Ask a mountain climber why he climbs mountains.  Ask a paramedic what it’s like to save a life.  Ask a lawyer what it feels like to put the perfect argument to the perfect court on the perfect day and come away from it knowing not only that you won but that everything is going to change now, today and into the future, because of the words you just spoke.  The answer is that you can’t help it.  The answer is that it takes you over.  Because every now and then everything all comes together and everybody spectacularly plays the right note at the right time and the sound just detonates around you like a hydrogen bomb, and you and the group and the audience and the music all turn into one single organism, and people, if you’ve ever been there, you will know what I mean when I tell you that it’s better than drugs, it’s better than sex, it’s better than true love’s first kiss.  And once you’ve had that, all you want is more of it.  And so it’s worth all the abuse and the backstabbing and the constant sniping. 

I regret to inform you that, although I like being a paralegal and what I do is sometimes pretty cool, I have never had a moment like that at a law firm.  Nor do I ever expect to.  The best thing that ever happened to me as a paralegal is when a judge quoted one of my paragraphs from a motion in his ruling.  I had the ruling framed.  But was it the same as being at a Ground Zero detonation of sound and light and the entire meaning of the universe coalescing into one final E-major chord?  No.  It was not.  And while I personally never had a choice between staying in music school and finding something else to do with my life (they really, really don’t like it when you fail piano), I sometimes wonder if I sold out.  Gave up.  Took the easy way out, though it wasn’t easy then and it still isn’t now.  I have a steady job and a regular paycheck, which especially with my Delicate Medical Condition is probably the best possible outcome.

But still.  That whole detonation of sound thing. It’s pretty awesome.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pregnant Or Else

So let's say you think you're pregnant (or you know it for a fact, but of course you're not "really" pregnant until your doctor "says" you're pregnant, so just humor me for a second here) and you go see your doctor. He/she congratulates you all over the place and hands you a packet of literature, probably paid for by a diaper manufacturer.  Among the brochures about morning sickness and nutrition and whether or not you should drink coffee, I think there should be a flyer that says this in bold caps:  "ATTENTION LADIES: NOW THAT YOU ARE PREGNANT, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TIMELY PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING.  DO NOT HAVE A MISCARRIAGE.  DO NOT HAVE AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY.  FURTHER, DO NOT TAKE ANY DRUGS WHATSOEVER AT ALL.  DO NOT DRINK.  DO NOT SMOKE.  DO NOT BREATHE POLLUTED AIR.  DO NOT DRIVE TOO FAST OR GO SKIING.  DO NOT GO SKYDIVING OR ROCKY MOUNTAIN CLIMBING OR 2.7 SECONDS ON A BULL NAMED FU MANCHU.  UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS STATE, YOU CAN AND WILL BE PROSECUTED AND POSSIBLY JAILED FOR LIFE IF YOU FAIL TO PRODUCE A PERFECT LITTLE HUMAN BEING NINE MONTHS FROM TODAY, AND/OR IF THERE'S ANYTHING AT ALL WRONG WITH THE LITTLE HUMAN BEING YOU DO PRODUCE, INCLUDING A BAD ATTITUDE.  IF YOU CANNOT AGREE TO ALL OF THE FOREGOING YOU ARE ADVISED TO HAVE AN ABORTION IMMEDIATELY, EXCEPT YOU CAN'T IN THIS STATE BECAUSE WE SHUT ALL THE CLINICS DOWN.  HAVE A NICE DAY."

For the life of me, I don't get where we got this idea that pregnancy terminates a woman's civil rights.  But apparently some people think it does, including the twelve people on the jury.  I'm talking, of course, about the case of Ms. Purvi Patel, who was just simultaneously convicted of fetal homicide (killing a child in the womb) and neglect of a dependent (neglecting an alive child) in Indiana.  There's some pretty good coverage here, and also here. The first of the many, many things wrong with this case is the fact that you cannot logically both kill a child in utero and then neglect it once it's born alive.  One or the other would work, but both are impossible.  So Ms. Patel was convicted of crimes that can't exist. You'd think the prosecutors would be able to pick one, but apparently they were too busy designing the flyer to read the case facts.

I mean I could go on and on about how the medical examiner couldn't prove that the child was born alive and that Ms. Patel had no drugs in her system and how it's pretty obvious that she had a miscarriage at 28 weeks, which does happen, but as usual, That's Not The Point.  The point is that women, mainly women with brown skin with no money, are being held legally and now criminally responsible for the results of their pregnancies when there's no precedent whatever in law or in fact that we can even constitutionally do that.  And when I say women with brown skin and no money, I mean I haven't once come across a news story about a well-to-do pregnant white woman with an OxyContin or cocaine habit getting arrested or losing custody of her newborn.  Maybe it's happened, but I sure don't know about it.  And, um, I know about this stuff.  Mainly because people tweet it at me on Twitter and I Can't. Not. Read It.  It would be like driving past a car wreck without looking.  Yes, I'm sure some people do that.  I am not one of them.

So check out this story here.  A well-to-do pregnant white woman attempted suicide at seven months. She had been complaining of depression, had been vomiting several times a day, and just generally not having a good time.  In fact she had a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, an occasional complication of pregnancy, but her doctors never got around to figuring that out. They just told her to buck up and get over it.  Instead she took a huge overdose of pills.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (basically getting addicted to Mom's antidepressants in utero) and needed medical treatment. She was treated in a hospital, as the sick woman she obviously was, 

Contrast that with the story of Bei Bei Shuai, an unrich unwhite unwed Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide at eight months.  She and her baby both survived, but the baby died four days later of undetermined causes.  Bei Bei spent over a year in jail and was prosecuted for fetal homicide.  For a suicide attempt. People, if you are attempting suicide while pregnant, something is seriously wrong with you.  Did this woman ever get any treatment?  Yes.  Four days as an inpatient in the psych ward of the hospital.  From which she was arrested and taken to jail.  

 For more fun and excitement, check out the state of Tennessee, which has arrested about 130 mostly poor, mostly minority pregnant women with drug addictions on the grounds that they have "harmed" their infants (neonatal abstinence syndrome again--which, by the way, is very treatable).  Besides going to jail, most of these women have lost custody of their infants to CPS.  Now, one could point out that the Supreme Court decided (in 1962, brothers and sisters) that being addicted to drugs is not in itself a crime.  And yet, that's what these women are being arrested for.  

Look.  I want every pregnant woman everywhere to have a healthy pregnancy and a cute, wiggly healthy infant at the end of it.  I want kids not to be born addicted to drugs or harmed by substances the woman took while pregnant. I want pregnant women not to kill themselves, their fetuses or anybody else for that matter. I'm sure we all want those things, but these policies that lock up pregnant women are not the way to accomplish it.  For one thing, the policies themselves are illegal under various permutations of the right to privacy (see, e.g., 410 U.S. 113, 381 U.S. 479, 370 U.S. 660.)  For another thing, you can't be dividing people up and saying that certain behaviors are legal (or at least not jailworthy) for one class of people but illegal for another class of people. That pesky Fourteenth Amendment.  And you can't be calling CPS because a mother tests positive for a controlled substance at the time she delivers the baby.  HIPPA.  In short, you just can't do this shit.  And sooner or later a court is going to say so, therefore giving rise to a whole bunch of very expensive judgments against, say, the state of Tennessee, which last time I checked didn't have a whole lot of money to be issuing I'm-sorry payments to pregnant women. 

But besides all that, these prosecutions do one thing without exception: They keep women from getting prenatal care.  If you think your doctor is going to rat you out to law enforcement or CPS, are you going to tell him or her that you have a drug problem?  That you might be suicidal?  No.  You just won't go to the doctor.  Or if you do, you'll lie a lot.  This article talks about women having babies at home unassisted and leaving the state to give birth.  I can't imagine that's anything we want to encourage.  

Incidentally, most inpatient drug treatment programs won't take pregnant women because of the liability (stopping or tapering off drugs can be very dangerous for pregnant women; withdrawal sickness can sometimes cause miscarriage, among other things.  See above re: the consequences of miscarrying.)  The state of Tennessee has 159 inpatient drug treatment centers.  All of 15 of them accept pregnant women.  In light of the obvious "babies born addicted epidemic" that lawmakers are so certain is happening, I'm sure that's plenty.