OTC medicine shortage

It turns out there’s currently a shortage of children’s over-the-counter (OTC) medications in the U.S., including common medications like children’s Motrin, Tylenol, etc.

Why? Because of the large number of children coming down with flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID.

Yet another reason to wear a mask in public places. Yes, probably kids are picking up most of these illnesses at school. But I’d just as soon not pass on whatever infections I may have to vulnerable children.

Land acknowledgements

I’ve been trying to find out if the Quonahassit people, when they were pushed out of Cohasset, Mass., joined up with the Wampanoags or the Massachusett, or some went to each. I started out assuming that since they were Massachusett, they would have joined up with that nation. But I can’t find a definitive answer. Another possibility is that a Christian Quonahassit could have joined the Brothertown Indian Nation, which kept relocating westward until they wound up in Wisconsin. (And it’s possible there were at least a couple of Christian Quonahassits, since two Native people joined the Cohasset church in the 1730s.)

In any case, sometime during the course of this research, I ran across a statement by some Native person who said that a land acknowledgement is meaningless unless you have a relationships with the people whose land you’re acknowledging. While this is one Native person’s opinion, this makes sense to me: if you don’t have that relationship, a land acknowledgement can come across as empty words.

World AIDS Day

Wear your red ribbon, it’s World AIDS Day.

(Actually, I always forget to get a red ribbon for World AIDS Day. But that’s because I’m the kind of person who forgets their spouse’s birthday.)

Founded in 1998, World AIDS Day was a response to the big pandemic before the COVID-19 pandemic. World AIDS Day is “the first ever global health day.” Even if you don’t know anyone affected by AIDS, any day that highlights public health is A Good Thing. So yeah, wear your red ribbon.

On this World AIDS Day, I’m thinking about Isaac Asimov, who died of AIDS back in 1992, twenty years ago this year. At that time, Asimov’s family had to remain silent about the cause of his death because of the stigma associated with AIDS. Too many people still think of AIDS as the “gay disease,” or the “addict’s disease,” or the “unprotected sex disease,” or they somehow associate AIDS with some behavior that is somehow perceived as being immoral.

Isaac Asimov reminds us of all the people who get AIDS through some other more of transmission. Asimov got AIDS through a blood transfusion. There are first responders who have gotten AIDS while dealing with an emergency situation. The virus that causes AIDS pays no attention to human morality; it simply takes advantage of whatever means of transmission it can.

This is also a good reminder that trying to impose human moralities on transmissible diseases does not make sense from a public health standpoint. Forget the morality, and treat the disease. It’s equally silly to impose human politics on transmissible diseases, as we have seen during the COVID pandemic (e.g., a recent study sadly concludes that more Republicans died of COVID than Democrats).

So wear your red ribbon today. We still need to fight this major public health problem.

Finding common ground

In the May, 2022, issue of “St. Anthony Messenger,” a publication of Franciscan Media (Roman Catholic), there was an article by Mark P. Shea titled “I’d Like To Say: Stop Weaponizing the Eucharist.” For those of us who take a pro-choice position, this article contains some observations that we could perhaps agree with. Like this:

“Our [U.S.] abortion policy is, in fact, a triumph of libertarian thinking and the free market. Women can abort or not as they wish…. What drive abortion is not the state but economic pressure. Abortion is primarily pursued as an economic relief valve by women who feel they cannot afford to raise a child. The number one abortifacient in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is poverty.”

Those of us in the pro-choice camp who are uncomfortable with libertarianism can find a lot to agree with in this statement. Obviously, we want to include other, less common, reasons for abortion (rape, non-viable foetus, extreme birth defects, etc.). But if we want to work towards finding common ground in a polarized political landscape, this would be a good starting point — provide adequate economic support for all pregnant women, and adequate economic support for all families with babies and children and teenagers. The libertarian, free-market approach to raising children is not working.

To prove his point, Shea goes on to note:

“There came a precipitous drop in abortion rates in the 1990s. The reason had nothing to do with the [U.S. Supreme] Court. It was due to Clinton-era policies that took economic pressure to abort off lower-income women. Far from ‘promoting’ abortion, the goal during the Clinon years was, in the words of the administration, to make abortion ‘safe, legal, and rare.’ And the numbers show that Clinton’s policies, in fact, achieved the pro-life goal of reducing abortion.’

I am no fan of Bill Clinton, or his administration. But I agree with Shea that this Clinton-era policy was a good one. This could serve as a common policy goal that could be supported by pro-life and pro-choice advocates together.

Unfortunately, now that Roe has been struck down, I think there may be less incentive for pro-life advocates to work together with us to develop public policies that support families with children. Nevertheless, I feel this is an area where we should be working hard to find common ground in our polarized country. I hope we can make the case that libertarian, free-market policies are not good for children, regardless of the legal status of abortion.

Yet another holy book

Rodney Kennedy, in an opinion piece on Baptist News Global, says:

“I’m attempting to wrap my mind around the idea of a former Army general telling me I should preach from the U.S. Constitution. I mention this only because Michael Flynn has been occupying American pulpits, recommending the Constitution as a second holy book for preachers. ‘What (preachers) need to be doing is they need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible. They have to do that,’ Flynn has said.”

Kennedy calls Flynn’s remark idolatrous. From his Christian point of view, the Bible stands alone and does not need to be propped up by any other texts.

I don’t know if Flynn actually believes what he said, or if he just said it to draw audiences. (Time reported that Flynn made $150,000 in 2016 for speaking engagements, a strong motivation to say what his audiences want to hear.) But I do know Flynn is giving voice to an opinion genuinely held by many people in the United States. These folks genuinely believe that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, just like the Bible, and thus should be treated as a sacred text. These folks use short passages from the U.S. Constitution as proof texts, just as short passages from the Bible are used as proof texts, to prove the truth of a certain theological opinion or doctrine.

What a fascinating historical moment. We seem to be watching a sort of new Great Awakening, a movement which curiously adds the U.S. Constitution as a sacred text co-equal to the Bible. Like previous Great Awakenings, these folk are vibrant and adventurous and enthusiastic. My Puritan forebears would have said that enthusiasm results from excessive religious emotions that come from a deluded conceit that one is specially favored by God, and I’m still enough of a Puritan to agree. Nevertheless, what a fascinating historical moment.

Why you should seek out a nonprofit hospice provider

It turns out private equity firms are buying up hospice providers. And it turns out the for-profit hospices do not, in general, provide as much care for dying patients as the nonprofit hospices, according to Kaiser Heath News:

“Patients in nonprofits had more nursing, social worker, and therapy visits. For-profit hospices, the report found, had longer lengths of stay by patients, discharged more patients before death, and had profit margins nearly seven times higher. Other studies have found that for-profit hospices have higher rates of complaints and deficiencies, provide fewer community benefits, and have higher rates of emergency room and other hospital use.”

Why are private equity firms buying up hospices? Obviously, they want to make money, and they are not particularly concerned with the details of providing hospice care:

“With the U.S. population rapidly aging, hospice has become a boom industry. Medicare — … which pays for the vast majority of end-of-life care — spent $22.4 billion on hospice in 2020…. That’s up from $12.9 billion just a decade earlier. … But with limited oversight and generous payment, the industry is at high risk for exploitation. Agencies are paid a daily rate for each patient — this year, about $200 — which encourages for-profit hospices to limit spending to boost their bottom lines. For-profit hospices tend to hire fewer employees than nonprofits and expect them to see more patients.”

Read the article, and I think you’ll be convinced that if you ever need a hospice provider, you’ll really, really want to find a nonprofit.

Gen Z activism

BBC News has an article today on how Gen Z is an activist generation. The article has the usual platitudes, like Gen Z activists are different because they’re digital natives — um, we’ve heard the same thing about the Millennials. And Gen Z activists are different because they feel like there’s not much hope for the future — um, when I was a teenaged peace activist in the late 1970s, there was a high level of hopelessness among my peers around the high probability of a nuclear holocaust, and the certainty of environmental disaster. So yes, there are differences between Gen Z and previous generations, but I think journalists are playing up the differences more than reality indicates.

One thing I think the BBC piece gets absolutely right is that Gen Z is energizing older generations. I feel energized by Gen Z activism. And not internationally famous Gen Zers like Greta Thunberg, but rather the Gen Zers I’ve met face to face. Like the teens I got to know in California who organized Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action. Like the college music major I met this summer who’s using their music to promote activism. On the other hand, I’m not so thrilled with, for example, Gen Z anti-abortion activists. Yet I have to admit that those Gen Z anti-abortion activists also energize me, by making me more committed to regaining legal access to abortion.

Happy Watergate Day

Long-time friend JB (no, not that JB, this JB) just reminded me that on June 17, 1972, 50 years ago this Saturday, undercover police arrived at the Watergate Complex to investigate a possible break-in. The police arrested five guys wiretapping and burglarizing the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee there. These five hapless idiots actually had a lookout across the street who was supposed to keep an eye out for police, but he got hooked watching a B-movie, “The Attack of the Puppet People.” Ultimately, it turned out the president of the United States, Richard Nixon, had authorized the break-in, and the subsequent cover-up. Nixon would famously declare on national television, “I Am Not a Crook.” Very few people believed him.

Please do not draw unhealthy parallels between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Trump had nothing to do with the storming of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Nor has Trump tried to cover up his involvement in that armed insurgency. The big difference between Trump and Nixon is that Trump is actually in fact and really truly the lawfully elected president of the United States. He won the 2020 election. Trump is not a loser like Nixon. He is a winner. Therefore, everything he does is lawful, by definition. Donald Trump Is Not a Crook. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (no parallels between Nixon and Trump! none!), let us continue.

I was in middle school when the Watergate break-in happened. The subsequent Watergate scandal and the eventual melt-down of the Nixon administration had a big impact on people in my age cohort. I was in high school on the fourth anniversary of Watergate Day, and six of my friends and I decided to engage in some political theatre: we would “break in” to the main office of the high school, and plant some bugs (dead insects we found lying around school somewhere). Then we would ask the secretary to sign a document we prepared in advance, attesting that we had “bugged” the office.

We were all about 14 or 16 years old, and both disgusted and fascinated by the spectre of the American political system as it unraveled before our eyes. We could barely keep from giggling as we carried out our plan. As the secretary willingly signed our “Certificate of Veracity,” the assistant principal, the man in charge of discipline at the high school, walked in. He barely restrained his own laughter, and at the bottom of our “Certificate” wrote: “I caught these buggers,” then signed his name.

This story of political theatre is primarily aimed at today’s middle school and high school students. Perhaps it will serve as inspiration for you on the fourth anniversary of the storming of the Capitol building.

Happy Watergate Day.

Thanks to J.B. for sending along this photo of the Certificate of Veracity

“Whitened Buddhism” and the opiate of the masses

Carolyn Chen, a UC Berkeley sociologist who studies religion, spent the last few years studying religion in Silicon Valley. She’s especially interested in the way work has become a religion for the tech workers of Silicon Valley — and in the way tech companies use religion to keep their workers in line.

Not surprisingly, given the stark realities of Silicon Valley, Chen finds that White supremacy is alive and well in this toxic mix of work, religion, and corporate control. In her book Work Pray Code, Chen writes about how tech companies co-opt Buddhism in service of making workers compliant and more productive:

“Most White Westerners don’t realize that the Buddhism they know is a particular brand of Buddhism that has been repeatedly altered and adapted to appeal to them…. This brand of ‘nonreligious’ Buddhism, however, has racial implications. It associated Asian Buddhism’s ‘rituals, robes, and chanting’ with ‘the complications of religious tradition.’ It dismisses the religious reality of most Buddhists who are Asian and is therefore a form of White supremacy….”

For this last insight, Chen cites Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation by Joseph Cheah (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011); looks like I’ll have to add that book to my reading list. Chen then goes on to detail the ways in which Whitened Buddhism ignore the religious realities of Asians:

“For the vast majority of Buddhists who reside in Asia, Buddhism is a devotional faith that involves the veneration of deities and beliefs in the supernatural. For example, in Chinese, the phrase that describes practicing Buddhism, ‘bai Buddha,’ translates to ‘worship Buddha.’ Most lay Buddhists in Asia orient their devotional practices — offerings of incense and fruit, ritual chanting, praying, bowing, donating money to temples and monasteries — to the attainment of merit or a favorable rebirth….”

Of course, for Silicon Valley tech companies enamored of Buddhism, what Buddhism is really all about is things like meditation. And meditation is supposedly a value-neutral “technology,” not a religious practice. Whitened Buddhism focuses on things, like meditation, that can increase worker productivity and worker compliance. Whereas non-White Buddhism is deliberately ignored:

“Whitened Buddhism tends to protray the ‘religious’ Buddhism of Asians and Asian Americans as burdened by unnecessary accoutrements — ‘complications,’ ‘culture,’ ‘folklore,’ ethnicity,’ baggage’ — that distract from the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. For example, Mandy Stephens, whose company runs a meditation app for corporate clients, explains that they distill medication to ‘the fundamentals,’ ‘the part that isn’t religious or spiritual.’ Her company gets to ‘the fundamentals’ by getting rid of teachers who are ‘zany gurus’ [i.e., non-White] and replacing them with ‘strait-laced [White] trainers’ in [Western] business casual clothes. The chanting at the local Asian temple is ‘folklore,’ says former tech executive Pierre Beaumont, irrelevant to ‘what’s good for me in meditation.’ Mandy and Pierre dismiss the very elements of Buddhism that tens of millions of Asians hold most dear.” [my comments in brackets]

Because if you’re White, it’s apparently OK to co-opt whatever you want out of other religious traditions, and use it for whatever you feel like. And then you can say it’s not even really religion: “This Whitened Buddhism becomes a ‘universal philosophy’ and ‘science.’ It become ‘White’ — floating above context, invisible, and normal….” [Chen, excerpts from pp. 165-167]

I find the entire Silicone Vally Religion of Work to be repellent. But I find this especially repellent: co-opting a non-White religious tradition, perverting it from its original purpose to stop the endless cycle of rebirth, and instead using broken bits of it to control workers.

Indeed, as Chen notes elsewhere in her book, when tech companies offer things like meditation and mindfulness training to help tech workers deal with the overwhelming demands of Silicon Valley overwork, these companies are merely offering “therapeutic interventions, Band-Aids lovingly applied to deep and gaping wounds. Their programs might not be too distant from the ‘opiate of the masses’ that [Karl] Marx wrote about.” [Chen, p. 85]

Phone privacy and abortions

Now that Roe v. Wade is likely to fall, we all have to think carefully about electronic privacy and abortion. Big Tech is already tracking everything you do. The data they steal from you can easily be used to find out whether you (for biological females) or your partner (for biological males) is pregnant.

The Digital Defense Fund (DDF) has created a “Guide to Abortion Privacy” showing how to maintain your reproductive privacy. The DDF guide is focused on phone privacy, but similar principles apply to computer privacy; make sure your laptop is as secure as your phone.

DDF also provides a poster and an infographic about abortion privacy. DDF appears to give permission to repost these graphics freely, so I’ll include the infographic below. (Image alt text can be found here.)

Digital Defense Fund infographic “How your phone documents your abortion experience”

Actually, anyone wanting to maintain online privacy should study these guides. We live in a world where increasingly individual behavior is subject to outside control. Big Tech wants to control your behavior as a consumer. The Religious Right want to control your religion, gender, sexual orientation, and pregnancy. Big Business wants to control your ability to organize for better working conditions. And so on…. If you want to retain some small amount of control over your life, you need to do whatever you can to maintain your online privacy.