Friday, July 26, 2013

Loudoun County: Bravely Protecting the Rich from the Sight of the Poor

Loudoun County, Virginia, has the highest median household income in the United States, thanks in no small part to its proximity to Washington, DC and the plush tax-funded government contracts therein. Loudoun County has also decided to outlaw panhandling.
The Town of Leesburg has joined the Loudoun County government in outlawing roadside solicitations.

The Town Council Tuesday night unanimously, with Councilman Dave Butler absent, adopted a new ordinance that prohibits individuals and organizations from asking motorists for contributions. Loudoun supervisors adopted a similar law in March.
 The prohibition applies along public roads and in median areas.

Violations will be considered traffic infractions and carry a fine of up to $250.

Councilman Kevin Wright said the action addressed a “clear safety problem.”

Town Manager John Wells agreed. “We don’t want people stepping into lanes of traffic to get donations from passing cars. This is a safety concern for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians,” he said in a statement about the change.

Of course, stepping into traffic is a definite safety risk--and it's already illegal, whether you're begging for money or not. This new law has nothing to do with protecting beggars from being run over; it's about protecting inflated property values from the sight of beggars.  

I've lived in Loudoun County for a little over a year now, and for all the tangible, material advantages it offers compared to my old decaying postindustrial-impoverished New England neighborhood, I still feel somehow "off," here. Perhaps because it annoys me greatly, to drive past all those expensive glittering glass skyscrapers festooned with names like "Booz Allen" (which has two huge buildings near each other on the same stretch of highway) and other sleazy overpaid welfare queens sucking up a fortune in tax money whilst actively working to harm the taxpayers who provide it. 

And snob-zone anti-poor laws like this do nothing to improve my opinion of my new hometown. Panhandlers might be annoying, but at least I have the right to refuse their requests for money. I have no such right to refuse to pay Booz Allen and Rapi-Scan and all the other federal contractors whose job description actively requires them to do far more harm to me and mine than any poor low-rent panhandler in America's richest county could ever dream of doing, whether I give them money or not.

The Deep Dark Fears of a Redhead

Interesting and apparently random fact: among anesthesiologists and other professionals whose jobs entail managing other people’s pain, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggesting that red-haired people are either more sensitive to pain or less sensitive to painkillers—for whatever reason, we tend to need more painkiller than a non-redhead under the exact same circumstances.

Based on my own experiences, I’d say there’s definitely something to that theory. As a child, I made regular dental visits every six months, and not until age seventeen did I suffer my first cavity in need of a drill-and-fill. And something went wrong. The anesthetic definitely had some effect on me—my face grew numb enough that I couldn’t even properly close my mouth until the novocaine wore off—but it was not enough to completely kill the pain of a drill boring into my back molar.

I recall a few other incidents where it’s possible my red hair made me experience more pain than usual. For example, when I had my first attack of kidney stones, the powerful narcotics I was prescribed were not sufficient to make the pain vanish completely; the best they could do was move the pain from the forefront to the background of my consciousness. (My second attack, when I was in graduate school, was even worse, because I had no health insurance and the inner-city emergency room I visited avoided prescribing narcotics or any drugs with recreational potential and a resale value on the street.)

Anyway, I went to the dentist earlier this week and spent a few hours sitting in his chair while he used his dental drill and dental hacksaw and other scary-looking devices to file away at my four front teeth (which, for reasons too complicated to explain here, needed to be topped by “crowns”). If you ignore the cost of the prescription eyeglasses and various vision exams I’ve needed since age fourteen, my dental visit this week cost me more money than all of my previous adult out-of-pocket medical or dental expenses combined.

But I’m not writing to complain about the massive hit my savings account took this week. I’m writing to complain about the pain.

When I went to the dentist’s office, I told him and his assistant about my fear that maybe the standard dose of novocaine wouldn’t be sufficient. (And the hygienist mentioned a former doctor-boss of hers who’d made a similar observation: redheads seem to need more painkiller than others.)

Most people suffering through the same procedure I did need only two doses of novocaine—one dose while the dentist works on the first two teeth, a second dose for the second two. I needed either eight or nine doses (I lost count). And the whole time, I kept thinking “Thank Zod novocaine has no street-corner resale value; if it did, the dentist would be legally forbidden from giving me as much as I need.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration absolutely hates painkillers and the people who use them. According to the DEA, letting a bone-cancer victim die screaming in agony is preferable to running the risk that said cancer patient (or relatives with access to her medicine cabinet) might spend her final days a little bit high. And I will share with you readers a deep dark secret, one of my great fears which, before today, was known only to my closest and most trusted friends and the NSA sociopaths who read my emails: I worry that I will suffer a painful medical problem which modern medicine knows exactly how to treat—but is legally forbidden from doing so thanks to DEA agents who refuse to entertain for a second the possibility that drugs with “fun intoxication” potential might have legitimate medical uses as well.

My last dental visit for anything more than a cleaning and checkup was in 2006, when I had a wisdom tooth coming in at a bad angle. And the drug laws made the experience far worse than it had to be. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote seven years ago while half out of my mind with pain:
Christ, it’s not you guys, the CIA or even the codeine that need to get the hell out of my head lest I go insane — it’s the pain. How can I make it go away right now, without breaking the law and risking a long term in prison? I can’t.

My government is legally requiring me to suffer pain. I haven’t even committed any crimes, and my government is legally requiring me to suffer pain. If I try to escape it tonight I can only do this by breaking the law. I mean, yes, I’ve got those old pills left over from my last wisdom tooth extraction. But I took them more than an hour ago and I don’t think they’re working. They're making me pretty tired, I'll admit, but my tooth feels exactly the same.

Most galling of all: the laws requiring me to experience every bit of this pain are justified with the excuse that they protect my health.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin and the Eternal Present

You've surely heard by now that George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of any crime in the death of Trayvon Martin. The Martin/Zimmerman case seems to assume that we all exist in an "eternal present" -- I can menace and threaten you all I want, but the second you get scared and fight back, none of my prior behavior matters -- only that one second in the present, where I feel endangered, is worth considering.

I support the personal right to gun ownership, the right to self-defense, but "self-defense" does not entail stalking and shooting unarmed kids on the street. No, not even if those kids are black.

I will freely admit I sympathized with Martin from the get-go because I often do the exact same thing he did on the night he died -- leave my house after dark, buy something innocuous at the corner store and then return home. And the idea that my doing so gives any random gun-toting stranger the right to assume (sans evidence) that I am a dangerous threat, stalk me through the streets and then kill me if I get defensive ... holy crap.

Except that's not true. No gun-toting stranger (unless he's a cop with a badge) has the legal right to assume the mere sight of me is a threat -- when an unarmed middle-class white woman is shot dead in the street, the cops will immediately investigate with the assumption "A crime has been committed."  But when an unarmed black man (or teenager on the cusp of becoming one) is shot dead, the cops won't even bother collecting evidence from the scene--just take the word of the shooter when he says "Oh, yeah, he was totally a threat."

I have a friend who takes a different view; she said "I think if my head had been scraped against the concrete and my nose had been broken I'd want to defend myself too by any means necessary." Which is true IF you focus on the eternal present -- ignore completely the fact that YOU initially decided the guy was a threat, YOU called 911 to growl about those "fucking asshole punks" who "always get away," YOU followed the guy first in your car and then on foot ... and YOU have the legal right to be afraid of him and behave accordingly, but HE, apparently, does not have the legal right to be afraid of you.

It's similar to how YOU have no right to take umbrage if TSA wants to give you a freedom fingerbang, but the TSAgent is justified in having you arrested for assault if you slap her filthy paw away from your genitalia -- the only thing that matters is what the TSAhole is thinking, NOT anything he or she did leading up to that. Except the TSAhole can at least cite the crappy Nuremberg defense "I was just following orders." George Zimmerman can't even claim that.

I remember once, when I was a kid, reading a book of Family Circus cartoons -- the cover showed one of the cute little FC boys crying and pointing his finger accusingly, and saying "Jeffy [or Billy or Dolly, one of his siblings] hit me back!" That's the attitude I get from Zimmerman and his defenders -- of course I had to shoot and kill the unarmed kid, because Trayvon threatened me back!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Government's Cock WIll Not Suck Itself; That's What a Free and Independent Media is For

I've complained here before to ask what the hell is wrong with my colleagues and compatriots in the American media profession. The media is supposed to expose government wrongdoing, not justify it, yet if you read mainstream coverage of the ongoing Edward Snowden saga, the overriding theme is "It's okay for the government to violate the constitution and break the law, but beyond the pale for anyone to expose this."

Over at Anorak I discuss this problem in detail, and explain to our British cousins across the pond exactly why this is so creepy from an ordinary American's perspective:
... the bulk of America’s professional pundit class considers Snowden a spy, a traitor, or worse.

What’s weird about this is that American journalists—especially old-guard types who’ve been in the news biz long enough to work their way up to the highest ranks of the pundit class—love to wax poetic about the importance of the First Amendment  and the Fourth Estate, and every newsroom in America has at least one editor who keeps Thomas Jefferson’s quote tacked above his desk: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

So I don’t know when the hell all these patriotic American journalists decided the purpose of the Fourth Estate is to make the other three look good, nor who the hell told them “Government’s cock will not suck itself; that’s what a free and independent media is for” ....
Is it even realistic anymore, to hope things will get better?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Independence and the Mother Country

A few months ago I watched a documentary about the Revolutionary War and reached a disconcerting conclusion: had I lived back then--assuming I had pretty much the same values and beliefs I do now, or at least their closest 18th-century equivalent--I probably would've been a Loyalist rather than a Revolutionary, not because of any fondness for entrenched authority but because of the slavery issue: the British offered freedom to any slave who fought for them, while the Americans turned slaveholders into generals and, after early skirmishes involving the like of Crispus Attucks, wouldn't let black soldiers fight at all.

But I guess it all worked out in the end, some 225 years later. And today is Independence Day, when we Americans are supposed to celebrate sundry ideals like "freedom." I chose instead to spend the day writing for two different British publications about various problems in my own country. At the Guardian, I deplore how the TSA and NSA make unconstitutional searches the new status quo, and at Anorak I spend a few paragraphs facepalming over the Washington Post's angry old man Robert Samuelson, who thinks the real problem facing modern America is ... this newfangled Internet contraption.

Happy Fourth of July. I'd love to come and visit you but that would require me to fly, which I still can't do thanks to TSA playing grab-hands and insisting it's for my own good.
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