Life and Death Decisions Made Beneath the Pedestal

The other week when I posted my rant-o-rama about the misuse of the label “amazing,” John Hathaway went right to work at the blog discussion group pulling out of me the what’s really going on here??  We managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and below I’m going to explain what I think is the biggest, most deadly part of going around thinking other people are “amazing.”

But first, a few side issues that deserve some resolution:

  • We quickly agreed on the usual explanation for surly bloggers: I was being cranky.
  • I do concede that the word “amazing” has shifted to take on a second, diluted meaning of generally “nice” or “good.” I’ll spare you a long talk about how we already had words that meant those things.  (To wit: nice and good are still around.)
  • Furthermore, I generally don’t care if other people have the odd shoddy linguistic habit — don’t we all?  If you’re itching for a fight, you’ll get more fervor out of me if you bring up the Oxford Comma.

(Yes!  Even though I am a convicted comma abuser!  We pundits would have nothing to do all day if we sat around waiting for our holiness to arrive before we opened our mouths.)

Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.

Superman is Amazing

Let’s talk about Superman.  He stops speeding bullets.  He leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  He’s the guy you look for when you need something done that ordinary people just can’t do.  He’s called “amazing” because he does things you and I never could.

Ordinary people of course are “amazing” in the sense that we are each the precious and intricate handiwork of God.  Spend half an hour learning about the things we’ve discovered to date about, say, the way a human nerve cell functions, and you’ll be rightly amazed.  Furthermore, our loved ones bring all kinds of invaluable gifts to the world simply by being themselves.  Despite my cantankerous headline the other day, your children are in fact amazing even when all they’re doing is drooling over their baby food.  There’s that.

But sometimes we call someone “amazing” not out of simple wonder at the marvel of human worth and dignity, but more in the Superman-sense of amazing.  We have gotten to where certain classes of people who happen to be doing hard things are given the Superman label.

Doing this isn’t just over-enthusiasm.  Such labeling actually causes humans to die.

Hard Things Don’t Require Superman

Life is hard.  Humans — all of us — are called to do hard things.

When somebody is dealing with some tremendous difficulty, they aren’t being Superman. They are experiencing human life.

Lately though, our society has gotten that idea that difficulties are only for Very Special People.  We consider suffering to be the sole province of amazing superheros, and do all that we can to excuse everyone else — people who are “like us.”

If you have a baby with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and you don’t choose to abort that baby, people call you “amazing.”  Only special superhero people can do that; ordinary people would have to abort, because they just can’t take it the way Amazing SuperParents can.

Thus it follows that if you happen to be raising a child with a serious illness or disability, or you happen to be such a person yourself, surely you are “amazing” for experiencing such a life.

If you reach a point where your family member’s illness or disability becomes overwhelming, you’re “amazing” if you continue to care for that person rather than opting to go ahead and put the sufferer to death.  If you yourself are the one directly suffering and you choose not to commit suicide, again you are “amazing” for enduring what “ordinary” people just couldn’t do.

No! No! No!

Not Killing Innocent People is an Ordinary Person’s Job

There’s just nothing “amazing” about not committing murder.  Ordinary old you is a person who is called to man-up and do your best to muddle through difficult circumstances.

Some people endure their hardships with admirable fortitude and good grace, while others of us aren’t winning any prizes for Sufferer of the Year.  But all of us, by mere dint of our humanity, should anticipate the time when we, too, will bear our share of hardship.  We don’t have to seek it out; it will find us.

When it comes, we will not be Amazing Supermen.  We’ll feel the sting of the bullet and the penetrating wound and the leaking of life from our bodies in an unstoppable river of blood.  Suffering hurts.  Suffering is difficult.  Suffering eventually robs you of this mortal life.

Death by Admiration

The going expression is that if you put someone on a pedestal you’ll see their clay feet, but I don’t think that’s the gravest risk anymore. Anymore, the pedestal is where we put people we want to admire from a safe distance.  If you keep far enough back from someone who’s working through a difficult part of life, and you squint so you don’t see the messy parts, you can convince yourself you’re looking at Superman.

You can say to yourself, “I could never do that.  I’m not Superman like that person is.”

You can say to other people, “I don’t expect you to do that difficult thing, because if you’re not Superman it’ll be just too hard for you.”

You can say, “Well, they are the ones who chose not to abort or euthanize — if they’re having a hard time, it’s not my fault they tried to act like Superman.”

These are lies.  The people you know who are doing hard things right now? They are ordinary people.

If you admire someone’s fortitude or good grace, don’t say, “Wow you are so amazing!” as if your friend were from another planet, possessing super-human attributes.  Rather, say, “Wow. When my time comes to face some similar trial, I hope I’ll have learned enough from your example to be able to do you proud.”

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By Matrakci Nasuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What Happens When You Go Out to Eat on Sundays

Before we begin, let’s clear something up: Sometimes I go out to eat on Sundays.  Credible witnesses can attest to this fact.

***

A friend recently shared St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy).   It’s a long, rich exploration of the what’s and why’s of Sundays, so naturally I just skimmed it and made a note to come back later and read it more carefully.  But I link to it now because I’ve been meaning to write about the restaurant problem since last summer.  Here are some pertinent quotes:

65. By contrast, the link between the Lord’s Day and the day of rest in civil society has a meaning and importance which go beyond the distinctly Christian point of view. The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God. . . .

66. Finally, it should not be forgotten that even in our own day work is very oppressive for many people, either because of miserable working conditions and long hours — especially in the poorer regions of the world — or because of the persistence in economically more developed societies of too many cases of injustice and exploitation of man by man. When, through the centuries, she has made laws concerning Sunday rest, (109) the Church has had in mind above all the work of servants and workers, certainly not because this work was any less worthy when compared to the spiritual requirements of Sunday observance, but rather because it needed greater regulation to lighten its burden and thus enable everyone to keep the Lord’s Day holy. In this matter, my predecessor Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum spoke of Sunday rest as a worker’s right which the State must guarantee. (110)

FYI, Rerum Novarum is no commie pinko manifesto.  Actually it’s an anti-communist manifesto.  [And some other things, too.] Go read it sometime, it’s really fun.  If you’re local, you can bait me into a conversation (bring the text, please) basically any time you want.

Anyway, the point for today is that Sunday rest, worship, and Christian fellowship are so important it just keeps coming up and coming up century, after century, after century.  It’s like the Church just. won’t. shut-up. about it.

So let me tell you about my kid.

Woohoo! Gainful Employment!

I have this boy who can cook really well.  Just last night I came home with a tray of chicken, pointed him to the grill, and he caused there to be dinner an hour later.  So last summer we sent him out to find a job, and yes we all considered it providential when he got hired by the local sandwich shop.  A few weeks of doing dishes and then on to cooking and he’s never left the kitchen.  He’s still working there and everyone’s happy.

When he interviewed, he said up front that he had to have Sunday mornings off.  Non-negotiable.  Since this place gets most of its traffic on weekdays, the boss was good with that.  But the restaurant is open Sundays, and so he does get assigned his share of Sunday afternoon-evening shifts.

As a result, he misses out on a lot of the Sunday-afternoon Christian fellowship activities that happen in our area.  He can’t do Sunday afternoon youth group events, and he ends up leaving early to get to work if a friend hosts, say, a relaxing family get-together.  We have some Christian friends with a pile of kids who are getting trained now to cut the birthday cake by 3pm so Mr. Boy can sing, eat, and run.  Everyone else can stick around for hours of heavenly conversation and camaraderie, exactly like St. John Paul II writes about, but the boy gets to go to work.

How Do You Use Your Servants?

The reason he gets to go work is because other people want to eat.

People need to eat.  Every single day, even multiple times a day.  There are situations in which people have good reasons to need to hire someone to prepare food for them on a Sunday, and many more situations in which people have good reasons to want someone to prepare that food.

There are other services we likewise avail ourselves of on a Sunday, for various good reasons.  I do this.  You’re not the only one.

When we do this, it causes the people we hire to work for us to lose a bit of their Sunday.

This is an Evangelization Problem

There are people like my boy who aren’t under a ton of pressure.  Sunday is not a high-traffic day for his restaurant.  He is only working part-time, and if he were fired for not being available when the boss wanted him, he’d still have his parents at home gainfully employed.  He’s not supporting himself, let alone a family, on this job.

Other people aren’t so lucky.  If they are Catholic, they end up scrambling just to find an hour to run into Mass sometime during the weekend.  If they aren’t Catholic and you tried to invite them to join you for Mass, or RCIA, or that fun thing you do on Sundays, they’d chuckle-cough and say, “Yeah. Sure.  I’ll let you know when I get an opening.”

It is extremely difficult to evangelize someone who literally cannot go to church.

You Only Control a Slice of the Problem

There are parts of this problem that you can’t control.  Some services (medical, police) are non-negotiables.  Unless you’re in charge of the hospital or what have you, you don’t decide what the shifts will look like; unless you’re in charge of the parish, you don’t decide whether Mass times will line up with the local police and hospital and pharmacy shifts.

If that’s not your responsibility, it just isn’t.

Likewise, you probably don’t set restaurant hours.  You’re not the one who decided to keep the amusement park open until midnight and then re-open at 8AM.  To a certain extent, you can’t control whether the worker-bees get an opening for Mass or not.

But you do control a small slice.

When you make the decision to go out to lunch after Mass, you are making the decision that two or three people will report to work a couple hours before you arrive, and they’ll stay on a couple hours after you leave.  What does that do to their day?

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Photo: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Movies for Grown-Ups: Room

People will tell you that this or that deplorable book or show or song requires depraved content in order to explore “mature” themes.

So here’s a tip: Watch the film Room.  (Wikipedia has the full plot synopsis here.)  It’s the story of a teenage girl whose kidnapper keeps her in a storage shed for years, and visits nightly to rape her.  We meet her as the twenty-something mother of a five-year-old son, still locked in that shed and now raising her child in captivity.  Movie topics don’t get a whole lot darker than that.

Do not watch this film when your little kids are home.  (Do watch it with your teenagers – parental guidance required).

But guess what?  In the hands of a good director, you can swim deep into some very nasty, brutal crimes without anything of the gratuitous voyeurism that so many lazy producers lather on like cupcake frosting.   You can have your (plot-essential) rape scene without actually having to watch someone get raped.  You can show terror, desperation, and suicidal depression without morbid violence. The very light touch on the use of foul language is a textbook case study in when and how such words might properly belong in a script.

***

In addition to being a study in How to Handle Extremely Dark Topics, the film is also, as any good film should be, about the true, beautiful and good.  If you are a writer, you should watch this film for its genius use of the breadth of the English language.  For any human, the very last lines of the film are stunning in their ability to sum up one of the greatest struggles of the human heart with piercing simplicity.

FYI – It was streaming for free on Amazon Prime when we watched it.

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Film poster via Wikimedia, used per fair use guidelines.

The One Good Thing Trump Did Sunday Night

Among evangelical Protestants and Catholics (and perhaps a few Orthodox), there’s a line of thinking about Donald Trump that goes about like this: He’s got his flaws.  None of us are perfect.  Anyhow, let’s leave the past in the past.  He’s a Christian now.

At the opening of the debate Sunday, Donald Trump was asked directly about the recordings (over a decade old) of him bragging about committing sexual assault.

Now here is what any good politician, honest or a liar, would say if they were courting the Christian right:

Oh, yes, that’s a very shameful part of my past.  I have repented of those sins, and I regret every day that I ever said or did such things.  By the grace of God I’m trying to become a new person.

I know many Christians who’ve sincerely expressed that sort of repentance; I’ve also seen bona fide psychopaths spout the lines.  Saying the words isn’t a measure of sincerity, but it is a measure of knowing the words.

Trump went nowhere near those lines.

What he did was justify his recorded words by sticking to his argument that it was just “locker room talk.”

It was a good service he did, because now we don’t have to wonder whether he was lying or not.  We can be confident that:

  1. He is not sorry for that behavior.
  2. He doesn’t really think there’s anything wrong with it.
  3. He doesn’t particularly care what you think.

His conscience is wickedly deformed, but logically consistent.

Two Related Topics:

Here’s an article on sex-trafficking in the Myrtle Beach area, with a few comments from an assistant US Attorney who works on prosecuting such cases.  I had not considered it until this very moment, but I am now asking myself: To what extent would a President Trump cooperate with such investigations if his own businesses were implicated?

We do know that Democrats have repeatedly made abortion a litmus test for which organizations can receive grants to help victims of human trafficking.  We can reasonably assume Clinton will continue with that approach.  On the other hand, at least in this part of the country, under the present administration federal prosecutors are plenty active in shutting down what they can of that business.

Lest you think I overreach, keep in mind that Trump’s lack-of-repentance concerns non-consensual sexual acts.  That’s what human trafficking is about. The difference is degree, not kind.

 

Second topic, here’s Julie Roys’ op-ed at the Christian Post “Evangelical Trump Defenders Are Destroying the Church’s Witness.”

But let’s face it. This election presents us with a Sophie’s Choice. There is no moral vote. Only when compared to Hillary Clinton can Donald Trump come even close to resembling a decent human being. But, let’s be honest, that’s like saying I’m better-looking than Quasimodo. However, if we choose not to vote, or vote for a third party, then we can legitimately be accused of helping Hillary win the presidency (unless you live in a blue state like me where a vote for the GOP candidate doesn’t count anyway).

So, let’s stop claiming a moral high ground in this election. There is none. These are the two most morally depraved, power-hungry, and unfit candidates ever to win the Democratic and Republican Party nominations. They are a reflection of the moral bankruptcy of our nation. And, rather than waiving a party flag, every honest person of faith should be mourning the truly pathetic state of our union.

She’s writing to her fellow Evangelical Protestants, but her comments apply to Christians of every stripe.

 

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Artwork courtesy of Tim Green from Bradford (facepalm) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dysautonomia Awareness: You’re Not Insane, You Just Feel That Way

It’s Dysautonomia Awareness month, and I’m hereby aware.  Dr. Google can tell you all sorts of things, but my favorite link is to Living with Bob, FYI slight language warning (which I don’t approve of), but I like the assortment of information.  When you visit Dr. Google and the major advocacy organizations, what you mostly hear about is POTS, to the point that some outfits equate the two.  That’s sort of like equating “leg pain” with “broken femur.”

[FYI: You don’t want POTS.  Or a broken femur.]

Dysautonomia, aka Autonomic Dysfunction, is when your autonomic nervous system doesn’t work right.  That’s the part of your nervous system that does all the things you don’t have to think about and really don’t control.  Any underlying illness or injury that affects the nervous system can cause autonomic dysfunction (MS, diabetes, lupus, spinal cord injury, etc.), and there are an assortment of disorders that have autonomic dysfunction as their chief complaint.

Since blogging is all about self-absorption, let’s talk about me.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

The most dramatic and pressing element of my dysautonomia is Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, which drama longtime readers know all about, check the archives.  What happens is that on exertion my heart rate accelerates excessively, which leads to dramatic shortness of breath and an inability to do, well, anything.  Conveniently I’m one of the people who responds very, very well to a low-dose beta blocker, so the symptoms are under control.

Curiously, this study from 1966 recreated exactly what my heart rate does.  The difference between the “control” and “parasympathetic blockade” heart rates is pretty much me before IST vs. with IST. “Double blockade” is what I look like with IST controlled by a beta-blocker.

In everyday terms: One day on vacation last spring I forgot to take the beta blocker.  After a leisurely breakfast, about noonish I started getting ready to go out and do something fun.  Brushing teeth? HR of 120.  In the shower? 140.  In contrast, on the beta blocker, 120 would be my heart rate having just jogged up two flights of stairs carrying a full bookbag.

On the vacation story, once I noticed I’d obviously forgotten something, I went and took the beta blocker and was fine to go out and be a normal active person traipsing around the city all afternoon.

One of the things that people will say about these kinds of idiopathic tachycardias is that they must be due to “deconditioning.”  When I first started with severe shortness of breath on exertion, I had just gotten home from a trip up north where I’d spent one morning climbing up and down a snowy hill sledding with the kids, no problems.  You don’t decondition that quickly.  Likewise, once I was diagnosed and treated, I went in the space of an hour (time it takes to make propranolol start working) from unable to walk an 1/8th of a mile slowly to doing laps at the school walking track as quickly and for as long as I liked.

I assure you that if you are so deconditioned that you can’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, the lowest available dose of a beta blocker will not instantly improve your conditioning by a factor of twenty. Dysautonomia is not deconditiong.

Stupid, Annoying, Incurable

Because the tachycardia responds so well to treatment, it’s not a significant problem as long as I’ve got access to the drugs.  I would say the most debilitating and limiting symptom I have is that I will, intermittently, get lightheaded when talking.

It’s a sensation a lot like hyperventilation, and the effect is similarly cumulative — you can handle some amount of it, but eventually you have to quit.  It’s a fairly common complaint among people who have POTS (which I don’t have, but which is a different tachycardia), and one that there is basically no discussion of in the literature that I can find.

I manage this symptom by daily reconsidering whether maybe I should have been a Carthusian.  Just kidding.  I’ve never even had chartreuse.

What really happens is that if I’m particularly feeling it, I just avoid talking to people.  This is a tad socially awkward.  Alternately, I talk to people and secretly resent them for being a person that I’m talking to (tad immature); or I feel guilty for making my brain hurt having so much fun (tad scrupulous), because it does take a toll on my ability to do other things as the day wears on.

Much like the way people who get migraines or stomach aches don’t necessarily have those symptoms 24/7, sometimes I’m just fine.  So that’s even more socially awkward, because one day I might be, say, subbing teaching a class with no difficulties, and another day I might want to hide from people because they persist with this crazy idea about talking to each other.

On a medium day I can get away with pacing myself.  I do better if I’m the one choosing how quickly I talk and if I’m alternating with someone else. So a phone call to my grandmother works great; group Rosary not so much. On a medium day I might sing most of the best two hymns at church, but with a certain amount of lip-syncing interspersed because the pace is still more than the brain can take.

Simple, Manageable Paths to Insanity

The reason I’m writing today, mid-awareness-month, is not just because I’m procrastinating on other work (true) but because I was made suddenly re-aware of one of last year’s most interesting developments.

What’s happened is that we are now, thank you Hurricane Matthew, having beautiful southern autumn weather.  Lows in the 50’s, highs in the 70’s, huge clear blue skys, low humidity, you can’t ask for anything more idyllic.  This morning I dropped off the 5th grader at school and then picked up a few groceries on the way home, perfectly comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.  Sitting in the shade in the early morning, you wanted a flannel shirt — remember it was in the 90’s a week ago, so we southerners get a flannel shirt pass, thanks.

But let me emphasize: This weather is PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE.  Important to the story.

So anyway, later in the day I laid down for a quick nap (because: procrastination makes me sleepy, ha).  The bedroom was a comfortable 70 degrees.  I’m wearing jeans, socks, long sleeve t-shirt, flannel shirt.  All clothing is that perfect fit for temperature regulation, not-to-tight-not-too-loose.  No gaps at the waist or ankles or anything.  On top of this, because we humans cool down when we sleep, I pull on blankets.

Not just any blankets: A down comforter, and on top of that a synthetic comforter.  You are now thinking to yourself this girl’s going to wake up a sweaty mess in half an hour.

Nope.  It’s fall!  We’re down to a brisk SEVENTY DEGREES!  So it’s time to resume . . . the thing where we wake up shivering immediately upon falling asleep.

No, Really, I Can Do Winter

I spent many decades camping in the winter.  When the huge ice storm hit twelve years ago, and we had no power for a week and the house was 45 degrees inside?  No problem.  I won’t say I enjoyed it, but we all slept great.  I know how to sleep in cold weather.

What’s happening with the dysautonomia is that my body temperature drops too quickly when I fall asleep.  In the summer, it’s not a problem — hence the fact that I had two comforters on the bed even though it was in the 90’s last week.  Humans intuitively grab the amount of bedding they need, that’s a basic survival instinct.

I don’t have persistent hypothermia (which happens to some people).  My body will eventually warm up the clothing and bedding and I’ll be just fine all night.  But because of the steep temperature drop on falling asleep, I’ll go through three or four attempts at sleeping before I can stay asleep.

This will make you feel like an insane person.

You will remember that sometimes when it’s very cold, people will wake up in the middle of the night looking for more blankets.  And then you will have to remind yourself: Those people aren’t going from perfectly-comfortable to body-shaking-shivering in the minute it takes to drift off to sleep.  Under a lot of blankets.  When it is seventy degrees in the room.

The Insanity of Dysautonomia

The maddening part of autonomic dysfunction is that every thing that happens is something that your body might also do under normal circumstances.  People get hot or cold.  Heart rates go up or down.  Something like getting dizzy talking or singing?  Hyperventilation happens.  You have to remind yourself that gosh, no one else in church is begging the organist to slow down so we don’t all pass out.  Every. Single. Hymn. in the hymnal isn’t some manic composer’s effort to see how many people have the breath to pull it off.

It’s not normal for an ordinary Sunday service to feel like some kind of survival-themed reality show.  Last Congregant Standing — Do You Have What It Takes To Sing All Four Verses?!!

But humans adapt marvelously, and this only makes you feel crazier.  You get used to the idea of needing an external heat source* in order to not be shivering on a seventy degree day.  You get used to the idea of assessing how much conversation your brain can take before you really have to stop.  You lose track of the fact that other people aren’t constantly managing all this weird stuff.

There’s more to complain about, but I’ll stop there.  To summarize: Dysautonomia is a condition whereby your autonomic nervous system has gone off its rocker and is trying to take you with it.  The end.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

 

*For an external heat source, think electric blanket or heated mattress pad.  Basically it converts your autumnal weather back into summer in the area adjacent to your body.  If you also happen to need an extra two hours of sleep in the winter months because of the energy it takes to keep your body warm, if you religiously use such a heat source whenever you are sitting or lying still, it can buy you a couple more hours of wakefulness.

Related: Inside Tired World

50 Shades of Donald Trump

Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target.  The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.

Rebecca Bratten Weiss responds to another variation — same argument, different famous incident:

“But Bill Clinton…”

Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.

Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.

Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large.  I said so here.  This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.

Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you?  You can change that.

You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself.  You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin.  You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.

You can stop that now.  You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.

***

Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves.  There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy.  When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.

I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.

I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.

Food stamps don’t cause abortion.  Adultery? That causes abortion.

***

Quick aside on modesty.

When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing.  That matters, of course.  But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy.   He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.  

It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters.  Not so.  It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.

Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons.  But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.

***

Link Round-up.  Here are all kinds of loosely related links.  At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.

Timothy Scott Reeves, an evangelical Anglican philosopher with strong ortho-catholic leanings writes on our tendency to rely on chariots and horses instead of trusting in the Lord.

Simcha Fisher has an excellent piece on why consent alone is not sufficient.

Nathaniel Peters at Public Discourse writes:

Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.

Faithfully Catholic, orthodox, conservative Katie O’Keefe catalogs her series of encounters with so called “locker-room talk” sexual abuse, and how she learned from an early age that protesting was futile:

5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .

12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .

Father Longenecker has sensible, hard-nosed advice on what to do after the elections, which promise us four years of disaster no matter what.

And here is a short, heartening story on seminarians already following that advice.

Erin Arlinghaus writes about:

Mary Pezzulo writes about the bad news for feminism that will come with the election of our first female president.

To which end, here’s a refreshing antidote: Watch a conservative, pro-life female governor in action, successfully managing a natural disaster. I don’t know how long the SCETV archives will be up, so here’s a link to the governor’s YouTube channel where you can find most of the videos.

(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners.  And that’s just a beginning.  Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)

Here’s Meg Hunter-Kilmer saying what many of us are saying:

A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.

To round out the reading, from a man who’s no slouch on Catholic faithfulness, Archbishop Chaput shares his thoughts on faithful citizenship:

But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along.  And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.

This is depressing and liberating at the same time.  Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become.  Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.  I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season.  Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.

And finally, a few links from my own archives:

Adultery is Not the Only Option: Five Things You Can Do to Keep Your Vows Intact

Here’s a patron saint for those who’ve fallen for the idea that Catholics need to be all sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:

In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing.  The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness.  The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .

. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?

You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.

There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.

 

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Photo Collage by DonkeyHotey (New York Primary 2016) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Presidential Candidates, Internet Life, and the Company You Keep

The latest on Donald Trump’s lewd exploits have unleashed a flurry of “all guys talk that way” defenses from desperate supporters.  When it was Bill Clinton extorting sexual favors from interns, we heard roughly the same thing.

All men are not like this.

While every one of us sins, there are differences in behavior among persons.  That’s why some people can be trusted to watch your children, or your money, or your new car, and other people cannot be.

As voters, it is our job to be discerning.  The right sinner for the job is the order of the day, as I discussed on a different but related question of fallen men and women in positions of authority.

Here is a related fact: Not everyone on the internet is a pompous boor.  I have a fairly active presence on Facebook, and my friends list runs the gamut politically, religiously, and socially.  I have friends who, in this election, are posting strong political opinions that also happen to be terribly, terribly wrong.  (They feel the same way about me.)

I have friends on the internet who promote the products they sell to make cash on the side.  I have friends on the internet who post endless pictures of their crafts or their kids or their favorite inspiring-quote-du-jour.

None of these people are narcissists.  None of them are bent on stirring up drama.  All those horrible things you hear about, and perhaps experience, in social media relationships?  Not happening among my friends.

Another related fact: This doesn’t happen among my real-life friends either.

It isn’t because I live in some special protected bubble.  It isn’t because fairies and unicorns circle around me every day, keeping out the criminals and crazy people.  Real world nasty situations find me just the same as they find anyone else.

And yet I and other men and women I know manage, all the same, to avoid surrounding ourselves with toxic, dangerous people as a matter of course.

What’s the secret?

Refuse to cooperate.

That means you can’t be so concerned about your career that you’ll tolerate the lewdness of a Bill Clinton or a Donald Trump because you desperately hunger for the glamour or the promotion that comes with it.  When someone behaves badly towards you, that’s on them.  Your virtue will not deter someone determined to violate you.  But when you realize someone is a dangerous person, you can make choices about how to respond.

You can choose to resist and to avoid.  You can choose to cultivate an awareness of warning signs so that you are less likely (not guaranteed — just less likely) to be preyed upon in the future.

You can choose not to be friends on social media with that toxic drama queen.  When some guy thinks he’s got a right to grab your genitals?  You can show him what knees are for, thanks.

Yes, I said that.

I didn’t just say it, I’ve done it.  I don’t tell a lot of personal stories, but here’s one: I was staying with another family as a teenager, and the teenage son, same age as me, got the idea that he should to come to my bedroom and inform me he’d arrived for intercourse.  The tone was a little difficult to read — was he joking? He claimed afterwards he was.   But the words were not difficult to understand at all, rather unequivocal, so I kneed him in the groin.

(The fact that he was close enough to be on the receiving end of that response tells you a little more.  I didn’t have to disturb myself and cross the room to carry out the counter-offensive.)

He proceeded to get upset at me for doing that, and to inform me that I needed to be more careful, as such behavior on my part could cause serious injury.

Well, darling, that behavior on your part is what got you injured.

Another word was never said.  I’m sure I immediately garnered the reputation among our mutual friends as the resident prude.  I also never had another untoward advance during the time I was staying with that family.  Guess what?  My reputation was deserved and earned.  Call it prudery or call it clear communication, do not present yourself in my bedroom even jokingly soliciting sexual favors.

Nothing I did brought on that advance.

Whatever caused that young man to think he could get away with that behavior, it wasn’t me.  Not every intern who’s been groped by a Clinton or Trump was “asking for it.”  People who want to get away with deviant behavior aren’t sitting around wringing their hands waiting for an invitation.  You cannot control the fact that there are people like Trump out there in this world.

You can control whether you tolerate their behavior.

Your options may vary, but you can choose to use the ones you have.

There’s not always a quick, easy way to stop an aggressor.

You have to assess the situation and do the best you can.

But among your limited options, choose to resist in whatever way you can.

Don’t settle for excuses.

People who make themselves lists of the reasons they need to tolerate bad behavior are people who invite continued bad behavior.  Don’t act so shocked you’re surrounded by evil when you keep choosing to surround yourself with evil.

You do not have to cooperate with the people who want you to put a crude, immoral, inept candidate into office.

If your state’s ballot includes third party candidates, vote third party.  If there is no moral choice on the ballot, write-in a moral choice.

As a last resort, if your state offers neither of those options, protest by going to the polls and participating in all the elections that have moral options, and abstaining only from those races where there is no moral choice.  Follow-up by publicly voicing your opposition to the slate of candidates and pointing to the better options.

There Exist Decent People in the World

There are men who treat women decently.  There are women who stand up for the lives and rights of all women, even the very young ones. There are politicians who follow the law in all matters, and do their best to act in the interest of the public good.  There are principled men and women who would go into politics, or go farther into politics, if they knew they were wanted.

There are even unprincipled people who would back any likely winner, and so if they knew that what it took to win the power game was an honest candidate, they’d back an honest candidate.

Stop shutting up and putting up.  This year and every year, refuse to be screwed.

 

File:Stamp US 1977 2-cents Americana.jpg "Freedom to Speak Out - A Root of Democracy"

Image courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

 

Top 5 Predicted Evacuation Warnings at Governor Haley’s Next Press Conference

At this morning’s press conference, Governor Haley had to start getting stern with Charlestonians, who are being a mite sluggish about evacuating.  In light of the category 4 hurricane predicted to hit the coast Saturday morning, staffers are preparing a set of stronger warnings for the governor’s next press briefing.

5. “It’s not just gas stations and pharmacies that are closing.  Waffle House is closing.  And Bojangles.  This is serious, y’all.”

4. “Tennessee is filling up, and then you’re gonna have to drive to Kentucky to find a room.  Is that what you want?  I didn’t think so.”

3. “Don’t make me come down there and show you pictures of Hugo.”

2. “Greenville County school buses are now leaving the Charleston Coliseum, and they will be honking outside your house, whether you got your lunch packed or not.”

1. “Okay, that’s it.  Every road east of I-95 is now officially a westbound one-way street.”

Officials denied rumors that the delay in announcing the fate of Saturday’s Carolina-Georgia game is a ploy to improve evacuation rates, but conceded, “if only it were the Clemson-Carolina game, we’d just paint tiger paws on I-26 and be done with it.”

 

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Photo: South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley (Flickr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Free & Fascinating: Watch the SC Evacuations Stream Live

A little living history: You can see the I-26 lane reversal in action by going to http://www.511sc.org/ and selecting the traffic camera you’d like to view. Each camera icon will pull up a list of nearby camera locations.  Click on the location you’d like to see, then hit the “play” and “fullscreen” icons.

I’ve noticed some of the locations are a little glitchy — I assume everyone and their brother wants to see I-26 westbound at I-526 (except, of course, the people who have to be driving there), so that one’s not functioning at this writing. But there are other locations of interest.

Admit it: It’s pretty crazy seeing the westbound traffic on the eastbound side of the interstate.  Quit acting all nonchalant.  Just because we make it look easy doesn’t mean it isn’t epic.

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SC State Flag courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Related . . . My comments at the blorg on why SC takes a holiday anytime the weather gets mildly interesting.  If you fail to click through, here’s the essential part:

. . . remember kids: The South is terrible and backwards.  Stay away.  You’ll hate it here.

I’m thinking we should start a partnership with Rust Belt cities to encourage northward migration.  Detroit: Everything the say about the South, only more of it! And snow every year!

 

Physician Assisted PTSD – When Bad Medicine is Disguised in a Mental Health Diagnosis

Rebecca Frech wrote last year about her doctor-induced case of PTSD:

And in that moment, I can tell by her face that no one has updated the chart. It still says Conversion on the line for diagnosis. Nobody has put in the test results and new diagnosis from last October. I can see it as plainly as I can see that her eyes are brown. We’re still suspect, and this still isn’t over.

This week she updated with the news of the definitive diagnosis for the medical reasons behind her daughter’s paralysis.  It would be easy to think that Ella Frech’s case is an anomaly.  We might think that it’s unusual for a serious medical condition to be dismissed as a pscyhological disorder.

It isn’t.  It is woefully common, and there’s a reason for it.

The Diagnosis that Doesn’t Discriminate

It isn’t only Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy that gets the nutcase treatment.

Stephen Gaudet writes here about being accused of faking his severe asthma:

Feeling proud about what I had accomplished through daily exercise, I shared my marathon story with one of the intern doctors who was assigned to me. Rather than congratulating me, he basically accused me of faking my asthma. His words were ” There’s no way you could’ve walked a marathon if you have severe asthma.” I found out later that in my chart he actually wrote, “patient presents with factitious asthma, claims he walked a marathon“. That probably explains why some of the nurses were treating me so strange during the hospitalization. A rumor had spread that my asthma was very mild and probably psychosomatic in nature. I remember some of the medical staff trying to convince me that my breathing difficulties were all in my head and that I had some kind of generalized anxiety disorder. Are you freaking kidding me! And even scarier, this happened at a well respected teaching hospital.

That incident caused me a lot of grief and took over 3 years with lots of letter writing by my pulmonologists to have that false information removed from my medical record. The reality is that these are the kinds of screwy preconceived generalizations that people have about the way sick people should look and behave. And if I want to be completely honest here, there have been times when I’ve guilty of the same.

For background: Gaudet is a respiratory therapist who is treated by one of the top pulmonologists in the nation.

Here’s Dr. Michelle Roger, a neuropsychologist, writing about the mental health misdiagnoses of patients with dysautonomia:

Just about every Dysautonomia patient with whom I’ve spoken over the last few years has, at one time or another, been told that the symptoms they were experiencing were all in their head. Diagnoses such as Anxiety disorders, Depression, Conversion or Somatoform disorders, and even Bipolar disorder are haphazardly applied to patients when no clear aetiology can be discovered to explain their symptoms. Normal reactions to abnormal situations, and purely medical/physiological symptoms are over-pathologised or misdiagnosed with alarming regularity, and to the detriment of the patient.

When unfounded these diagnoses leave a mark on the patient, a wound which if left untended will follow and influence all future relationships with the medical professionals. It also leaves a glaring mark on medical records that will be incorporated into future investigations and the overall diagnostic process. Even when unsubstantiated or proven to be untrue following psychological assessment, it can prove extremely difficult to remove such diagnoses from a patient’s medical file.

Here’s a summary of Dr. Alex Flore’s presentation on the problem of mitochondrial disease being misdiagnosed as Munchausen syndrome by proxy:

It is possible that what may be interpreted as “red flags” of Munchausen’s may alternatively  be attributed to the demands and anxiety related to care of a very sick child.  For example, anxious parents may not give a good history, or may “doctor shop” because they are unsatisfied and may be unhappy with the care their child is getting, especially when they feel that no one can actually diagnose, treat or understand the problem.  Certain conditions, especially mitochondrial disease, will present with intermittent symptoms, and it will take a skilled and patient clinician to arrive at the right diagnosis – one that is an illness not Munchausen’s by proxy.

Psychologists have described that the population of patients and parents of children with Mitochondrial Disease are much more vulnerable to a false Munchausen’s by proxy accusation simply due to the nature of the disease.  In fact, a hallmark characteristic of mitochondrial disease is the presentation of several unrelated symptoms that together, “don’t make sense”.  Clinicians who feel that a parent is intentionally making symptoms appear, is behaving to insure that the illness continues, and consults multiple physicians may suspect Munchausen’s – but should still “trust, then verify.” In other words, believe the parents, run appropriate diagnostic tests, seek the input of every part of the child’s team, and take very seriously the responsibility to the child to act as an advocate and do no harm.

Non-psychiatric misdiagnoses happen, too, of course.  It is frustrating when a physician (or team of physcians) flubs a diagnosis through honest error — we humans aren’t ominiscient, so it’s bound to happen.  It’s galling when the misdiagnosis involves dismissing serious serious symptoms as some much more benign illness that doesn’t fit with the case history.  But pushing off a poorly-substantiated mental health label on a patient with an atypical presentation is both physically and emotionally harmful to the patient.

Unfortunately, this dangerous habit is actually enshrined in medical practice.

I Guess You’re Just Nuts, Then?

Many misdiagnoses are just idiocy.  Some popular lazy-diagnoses include fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety disorders.  All of these disorders have specific criteria you can use to evaluate yourself (or your patient) and see if they apply.  It’s almost helpful when a physician throws out with confidence, “I think it’s probably just ________” and inserts some illness utterly outside his or her specialty, and which a quick Google search would immediately rule out. Then you know you have a stupid doctor, done.  It’s wearying, and can put you off the medical profession for a while, but it’s possible to come to a definitive conclusion one way or another.

There’s at least one mental health diagnosis, however, that can’t be ruled out by logic and good medicine.

Conversion Disorder, which is what Ella Frech was persistently misdiagnosed with (despite presenting with symptoms of a known side effect of one of the medications she was taking), is where modern medical practice bares its hubris.

Here’s the Mayo Clinic describing how Conversion Disorder is diagnosed:

There are no standard tests to check for conversion disorder. The tests will depend on what kind of signs and symptoms you have — the main purpose is to rule out any medical or neurological disease.

In other words, and you can read the whole page and see for yourself, if you’re definitely sick but no one can figure out why, then conversion disorder.

That’s it.

Dr. Allen Frances writes at Psychology Today about the failed effort to get the DSM to attempt even a modest stab at valid diagnostic criteria above and beyond heck if we know:

Many of you would argue that I didn’t go nearly far enough- that there should be no ‘Somatic Symptom Disorder’ at all in DSM 5 because there is no substantial body of evidence to support either its reliability or its validity.

. . . I am sympathetic to this view, but realized that it would have no traction with the work group and chose instead to lobby for what seemed to be clearly essential and relatively easy changes that would solve most, if not all, of the problem.

. . . My letter cautioned DSM 5 that it was invading dangerous territory. Here was my warning to the DSM 5 work group:

• ‘Clearly you have paid close attention only to the need to reduce false negatives, but have not protected sufficiently against the serious problem of creating false positives. You are not alone in this blind spot—in my experience, inattention to false positive risk is an endemic problem for all experts in any field. But your prior oversight needs urgent correction before you go to press with a criteria set that is so unbalanced that it will cause grave harms.’

• ‘When psychiatric problems are misdiagnosed in the medically ill, the patients are stigmatized as ‘crocks’ and the possible underlying medical causes of their problems are much more likely to be missed.’

• ‘Continuing with your current loose wording will be bad for the patients who are mislabeled and will also be extremely harmful to DSM 5, to APA, and to your own professional reputations.’

I also raised the point that this could lead to a boycott of DSM 5. Pretty strong stuff, I thought. But totally ineffective.

Somatic Symptom Disorder (which is the umbrella term in the current terminology under which Conversion Disorder falls) is thus a particularly hazardous diagnosis because it has no symptoms of its own.

It is literally a disorder whose defining symptom is, “We the physicians don’t know what you have.  Therefore, it must be psychological.”  This is an awkward assertion for a profession that has evolved more in the past century than any other field of human endeavor.  The developments in medical research just in the past twenty years are astonishing and marvelous.  My children’s high school biology textbooks are utterly different than mine, because the depth and scope of our knowledge about human cells and the chemistry of the human body is orders of magnitude past what we knew a generation ago.

It seems, therefore, ludicrous that any sane person could hold that our knowledge of medicine is now perfectly complete.  But this is the implicit assertion of somatic symptom disorders.

***

I sometimes joke that idiopathic means that you and your doctor both agree the other person is an idiot.  But really it just means we don’t know.  That happens.  Humans aren’t all-knowing.   What is the sane response to ignorance?  It isn’t to fabricate some fanciful explanation to cover over your lapse.  The sane response is to humbly admit, “I’m sorry I don’t know.”  And, where the stakes are high, the sane person adds, “And we should keep investigating until we get a solid answer.”

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Illustration contains a bit of humor in the fine print, [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.