Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 32 of 52.

Exhausted and sedated. Me in bed, 1999, trying to wake up

This post continues last week’s. That entry covers how when I was younger, suggestions for good sleep seemed few and far between, and psychiatry provided no help — in fact, the conventional mental health industry just made things worse, as in this very sad story, published Friday and written by a third-generation Chinese-Malaysian woman living in Kuala Lumpur: after Grace Tan developed insomnia brought on by understandable worries over her right eye’s inflammation, the prescription of twelve different sleep and other psychotropic drugs in a single year, including recommended force-feeding of pills, disabled her, a multilingual translator, world-traveler, and marathon-runner, to the point she’s now diabetic, jobless, and bedridden. There are better ways; perhaps we could pursue them.

Here in the United States, people — even many nominally “progressive,” thinking of themselves as imbued with correct politics — thump their chests and insist they’re fiercely independent rugged individualists who don’t care what others think or feel, but clear-eyed observation is enough to show that they’re, or we’re, stuck in comfort zones and at the mercy of predatory employers, landlords, politicians, and the rest; what’s more, the apotheosis of creating wealth for the wealthy (“work”) maintains a fearful climate in which USians, scared of what bosses think, don’t address their problems aloud, and instead, Gollum-like, quietly recast them as unique and innate specialnesses. The reality is, some 20% of USians take psychiatric drugs (estimates vary), so whatever the particular demons — opioids, alcohol, gambling, the list goes on — it’s likely neighbors and friends are in the same or a similar storm. Rather than die by keeping romanticized pain secret in order to uphold fake pride, let’s learn to enjoy strengthening ourselves, together.

Last week, I advised developing three skills for falling asleep: two related to mindset, and one, the information that’s helped me most with falling asleep, related to lighting. Now I’ll continue with a grab-bag of additional sleep suggestions, mostly revolving around falling asleep, but still touching on staying asleep and waking up promptly. After that, two very quick news blasts on Haiti and Serbia.

Ya gotta knows how to doze

The F&SF issue. Interesting reviews on Goodreads.

Lighting, extra. I discussed lighting and sleep in my 6 August ’21 post, but since then, I chanced across something neat on the topic. SF writer and amateur astronomer Jerry Oltion’s science column in the May/June 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction covers, in a quick six pages titled Let there be light, the history of humanity’s lighting inventions. He starts with the naked eye and proto-humans gaining control over fire an estimated million years ago. Oltion then blazes through (see what I did there) the subsequent history: torches, animal fat lamps, vegetable fat lamps, the central draft fixed oil lamp in 1780 and the hunting of whales for it, candles (including some using beeswax and then paraffin), gas lighting in the 19th century, incandescent electrical bulbs, fluorescents, phosphorescent coating, sodium vapor streetlights, electroluminescence and various light emitting diodes (LEDs), and predicted future improvements to LED technology. There’s no tip in his text directly tied to falling asleep, but I think Oltion’s article is a handy, compact overview to have around on the subject for anyone wanting to delve in deeper.

Caffeine-laced tights. Not necessary, not revolutionary.

Ban caffeine. I don’t mean governments should ban caffeine necessarily (although they have before, and the FDA and US state governments have called or made caffeinated alcoholic drinks, blackouts in a can, illegal), but rather, you should ban caffeine from your own life — save for emergency use. Using a dramatic term like ban in my head helps me stay on the no-caffeine wagon. The very first posts to this blog, nearly thirteen years in the past (see here and here), focused on my trying to quit caffeine after admitting my life was to a great extent controlled by the stupid chemical. Really, it took me a decade of on-again, off-again to cut it out permanently! I basically never have caffeine nowadays. Imagine you’ve never had caffeine before. You’re at a baseline level of wakefulness as a result, assuming all else is equal. Now you have coffee. This is great! Enhanced energy is yours. You keep downing coffee each morning. After several mornings of this, you’re dependent: in the morning, prior to caffeinating, you feel miserable from withdrawal. Caffeinating no longer even brings benefits; merely deceptive pleasure that’s actually from just removing the withdrawal. That’s a theory of caffeine-researching scientists in a May 2008 New York magazine article, and it holds true in my experience. The journalist summarizes the scientists: for habitual users, the “positive feelings we associate with drinking coffee don’t represent a net gain in energy or alertness; they’re really the result of withdrawal maintenance.”

From what I’ve seen, only rarely using caffeine brings three amazing boons. First, you can keep some around for an emergency situation, or maybe for something like a job interview where you need to appear peppy. You can sip the caffeine once, reap real benefits, then immediately quit it again without suffering withdrawal. Second, whenever you wake up, you’re instantly ready to go without having to toddle to the beverage and drink it for permission to start your day. Third, cutting out caffeine helps tremendously with falling asleep. The New York article quotes psych professor and coffee researcher Laura Juliano: “You have people drinking caffeine all day and taking sleeping pills at night.” That’s madness! The article also quotes the director of a sleep lab, Charles Pollak: “We routinely ask patients who are insomniacs to discontinue the use of caffeine, or reduce it” But I say quit it entirely. It’s a physiological stressor, contributing hugely to the total amount of stress paralyzing whole populations. Consider that, maybe, you’re not a born failure with a broken brain; it’s pouring corporate sugar-caffeine junk down your throat daily that has a harmful effect on your mental state.

Uhura has had it. Via @swear_trek.

Yet there’s one barrier I haven’t been able to talk people trying to quit it through. Namely, they quit caffeine, then notice no improvement in their sleep problems, and then use that as proof that caffeine-drinking or lack thereof is irrelevant to their issues. They begin drinking it again (like I did during a decade of struggle). So once more: imagine. You’re onboard with Captain Kirk & co., flying through a gaseous planet’s unruly atmosphere. The Enterprise is struggling with five lightning bolt-crazed nimbus clouds, four tornadoes, three hurricanes, two dust devils, and a partridge doing LSD. Despite the dire situation, Spock, in the science officer seat, manages to take out one of the five nimbus clouds with a mighty volley of technobabble. “We’re down to four nimbus clouds, but it’s not any better,” Chekov complains. Then Kirk makes an astonishing decision. He says, “I can’t tell much difference either” — he raises an executive forefinger — “Spock, bring the fifth nimbus cloud back.” Spock narrows his famous brows. “Captain, I find your order illogical.” Kirk shrugs and says, “What is truth?” Surely now Uhura must lay down the law: In the quest to remove difficulties, fewer problems are better for the Enterprise than more, so regardless of the men’s foggy perceptions, there’s no good reason to resurrect the dangerous cloud. Don’t give up after overcoming just one threat; before it’s smooth sailing, the journeyers have to eliminate most or all of the weather hazards. In other words, to improve your sleep, you have to overcome multiple factors — caffeine, glowing screens, tobacco use, lack of exercise, ignoring routines and rhythms, and on and on — before noticing improvement and succeeding.

No more nicotine. Another stimulant to eliminate. As Madness Radio host Will Hall likes to point out, humans have been altering their states forever: it’s a major part of life and presumably always will be. So I don’t mean to be a prude. But coffin-nails should be for special occasions, if at all, and certainly abandoning your natural energy rhythms for cigarette boosts is a bad move. Anarchists buying corporate poison … shaking my damn head.

Avoid alcohol. A depressant to eliminate. To quote from the appendix of Dr Matt Walker’s excellent book Why We Sleep: “Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep […] Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.” Again, I find alcohol to be a special occasion thing. It does help me loosen up and play guitar better, especially around other musicians, yet the long-term solution to that is to figure out how not to be so stiff emotionally in the first place. When I go months and months without alcohol, I perform better in life overall, including for falling asleep.

Herbal tea to the rescue. To replace caffeine at coffeeshops, or “decaf” coffee which still has a bit of caffeine in it, order herbal tea. It’s caffeine free. There’s a variety of tasty types that offer a range of benefits for different ailments. Some herbal teas induce sleep, so they’re good to add to wind-down rituals. For that, I like Yogi Tea’s soothing caramel bedtime tea and Traditional Medicinals’ Nighty Night Extra.

Miss large meals and beverages late at night. A long-time practice of athletes. To stabilize sugar levels after the fast of sleep, have a little protein immediately upon waking and immediately before bed (almonds work for me). Following morning exercise, eat a huge meal, then taper the portion sizes down as the day progresses. Digesting large meals during sleep distracts the body from, well, sleeping. Too many fluids = gotta pee. However, if it’s really hot, be sure to drink enough water to protect against heat exhaustion and other heat hazards. With the conventional mental health system focusing on Are you still taking your meds? it might seem strange to emphasize so strongly what food and beverages we ingest and digest. But think about it. With arms and legs like rays off to the sides, the gastrointestinal tract is centrally located in the body, suggesting its central importance. The thermic effect of digestion burns lots of calories, i.e., the body expends massive energy on digestion, because it’s crucial. You are what you eat.

Stick to a schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Otherwise, it’s like giving yourself jet lag. Monday through Thursday, you’re in a particular city; then you stay up on the weekend, as if flying to a different time zone. The weekend woefully ends, and it’s back to the first city, or maybe even off to a third time zone. No wonder people feel like garbage. When I’m arising at the same time each day, if one night I have to stay up late, then even if I procure only three or four hours of sleep total, I still manage to wake up and drag myself (without drinking caffeine!) to wherever on time. Walker says in his book’s appendix that sticking to a sleep schedule, to the point of setting an alarm if necessary for initiating wind-down, is his single most important tip.

Exercise, cardiovascular exercise in the mornings, do it. Professional athletes aside, don’t exercise hard in the evenings, as the energy can keep you up. In contrast, morning cardio, in my experience, is great for stabilizing someone and their sleep schedule. I like running, but some like swimming, others bicycling. In the past few months, I’ve been learning to jump rope, which is time-saving compared with distance running.

u/gogumara turns jump-rope into artful dance and makes it look easy

Cool temperature in the bedroom. Global warming heat-domes and wildfires don’t help, but if you can, keep your bedroom slightly cool, for instance by sleeping nude or nearly nude, perhaps with sweat-absorbing bamboo sheets (cooler than cotton). Also bamboo pillows and bamboo mattress protector. The ones linked are the ones I use and like.

Hot bath with magnesium flakes before bed. A warm bath is obviously relaxing, including for muscles and sinew. A bath slows you down, necessary preparation for entering and engaging in that enormous eight-hour task of sleeping, one-third of your life, take it seriously. Moving out of the bath means stepping into cold air, and that sudden temperature drop assists with inducing sleepiness (just like the cool temperature in the bedroom). Magnesium flakes are friggin’ expensive, but putting them in the bathwater will help with relaxation, muscle recovery following exercise, and falling asleep. Topical magnesium lotion for massage, same thing. I hear from my awesome primary care physician that there’s a lot more to the magnesium stuff; I just haven’t read much about it yet.

Sleep at night, not during the day. I try to always avoid napping. If I get little sleep on a night, I’ll still drive myself to endure till the next sundown, to keep my sleep schedule intact. That’s served me well. Some cultures have siestas; and admittedly, brief naps can be nice. Elders tend to nap because as people age, bodies apparently produce less melatonin, resulting in trouble with falling asleep, something Walker goes into in great detail about in his book (along with the connection between sleep loss and dementia). In the Why We Sleep appendix, Walker says not to nap after 3 p.m. Stay diurnal. Working at night especially wreaks havoc on humans. One of my favorite bands, R.E.M., conveys the hell of nightshift work in their fantastic 1998 song Daysleeper (“I see today with a newsprint fray / My night is colored headache gray / Don’t wake me …”).

It’s in 6/8 time, which unlike 4/4, somehow makes me think of sleep…

Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t fall asleep. There are two biological systems governing sleepiness that operate independently of each other. One is our circadian rhythm, where, a little like a sine wave graphed across time, you involuntarily have more or less energy in cycles throughout the day. For instance, it’s well known that people have a slump in the early afternoon (when siestas are generally scheduled in some countries). Similarly, people sometimes get second-wind energy boosts if they stay up super late, as their rhythm fluctuates. Distinct from these circadian waves is adenosine. It’s the “sleep pressure” molecule that simply accumulates in the brain the longer we go without sleep, making us tireder and tireder as time goes on, a positive linear slope, until we finally collapse. Thus, getting in bed for sleep right when your circadian rhythm starts supplying you with a natural energy boost might prevent you from falling asleep. Lying there for hours won’t help; it’ll make you only more anxious about sleep. So get up, keep the LEDs and loud music off, and do something simple like sit in a warm bath reading something not too thought-provoking. The adenosine will add up, and the circadian crest will eventually turn toward a trough, and you’ll be ready for nighty-night. Even fungi and cyanobacteria have circadian rhythms; you can’t fight millions of years of Nature’s rhythms, so learn them and work with them. For instance, I believe there are distinct names for the various cycles in a human’s daily circadian rhythm. I don’t yet know the names; learning them would be a good first step toward being able to identify which precise phase I’m in as I go throughout my days and nights.

What kind of globetrotter wants to carry this CPAP crap around the world with them? Image source.

Sleep position. When I was very little, I decided to sleep on my back. I reasoned that if I slept face down, the additional weight from my body would push my heart to beat faster, tiring it out sooner and leading to an earlier death. For some reason I don’t remember, I didn’t consider sleeping on my side, maybe because I found it uncomfortable. Fast forward to my thirties, when now I snore some. The medical industry would want to throw a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine at me (pictured) to combat the apnea/snoring, which is literally gasping for air. That gasping seriously disrupts sleep quality and in very bad cases, it can even kill people in the night. See for instance Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for whom — in addition to cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs — sleep apnea was a contributing cause of her 2017 death. Well, you know me, I want solutions to increase, not decrease, autonomy. I learned that relative to sleeping on your back, side-sleeping, especially with your head propped up by a big pillow and a hand or two, increases airflow. You want to sleep on your left side because, among other reasons, your small intestine empties to the left, meaning if you sleep on your right side, you’re asking your digestive tract to work uphill for eight hours. I started sleeping on my left side. My sleep quality increased dramatically — I was far more rested the next days — and a co-sleeper confirmed the snoring decreased significantly, enough so she wasn’t bothered. But then I had another problem! My left arm felt tingly during the days, asleep along the left side and left pinky, some sort of odd nerve problem. Via online forums, I learned this is actually a common complaint people have when they start side-sleeping. Maybe the additional body weight newly pressing down on the left side all night long? I asked a sleep doctor about it and predictably, the professional knew not a damn thing. Like a knee hit with a hammer, the doc just spat out predictable responses to whatever I said, no better than if I’d simply searched WebMD.com. Anyway, after an MRI ruled out certain serious worries, I had a nerve test done, where they stuck needles into my left arm and sent electrical jolts into it to move my fingers, just like how in ordinary life, the brain sends electrical jolts to do the same. It was pretty cool! This neurology test identified the problem as originating in my left elbow. So, they narrowed it down. I then adjusted how I splay my arms as I’m falling asleep. I continue putting my right hand sandwiched between the pillow and my head, raising my airway. But I stick my left arm out in such a way as to keep pressure off the elbow. That approach reduced the tingly, arm-asleep issue somewhat. Yet during the night, I sometimes move my arms around involuntarily, meaning it’s unpredictable how much pressure the left arm will get and how much it’ll tingle the following day. The neurologist also gave me a pad to wear around my left elbow during sleep, but I haven’t experimented with it yet, my bad. I do hypothesize that perhaps the whole problem is due to being slightly overweight, and that fixing that by continuing to taper off the psych drugs would help restore normal sleep, maybe making the left arm issue less of a deal somehow? We’ll see.

Sounds like bedtime. Some find that playing white noise or other soothing sounds helps them fall asleep. It can smooth out the random jarring sounds from the outside world, like dogs barking or cars backfiring or, heaven forbid, gunshots, screaming, etc. Luckily, I tend to automatically tune out urban noise, at least here in Seattle, when falling asleep. I know some people find success with earplugs. I used to co-sleep with someone who played ocean sounds when falling asleep, and it was nice because I started associating the ocean sounds with her. That was years ago. Experiment to find whatever works…

Me reading in some bed or other, 1999. Oops.

Use the bed for only sleep and…? If you read advice on sleep, there’s a standard phrase advising readers to use the bed for only sleep and sex. The idea is that mentally associating the bed with non-sleep activities makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. But why use the bed for sex, then, since sex isn’t sleep? I asked a sleep doctor the question once, many years ago. He admitted there’s no reason other than convenience. So ideally, partners or someone engaging in solo-sex would use a separate location (such as another bed if there’s one available, or more creative ideas), keeping the sleep-bed dedicated to just that one purpose. Many will read for prolonged durations in bed, but that can be problematic, associating the bed with mental effort instead of with chilling and slowing down. This also means leave your glowing gadgets out of the bedroom. Remember, sleep is a major component of your life, so it makes sense to have an area dedicated exclusively to it.

Run away from psychiatrists. Getting hooked on sleep-inducing psychopharmaceuticals is, well, a bad idea, as Grace Tan’s story linked in this post’s first paragraph illustrates. Scary articles about bizarre Ambien behavior pop up regularly. If I use an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine to aid in falling asleep, the next day my mind usually feels fragmented, like all the pieces of memory and emotion from the previous day haven’t been sorted by sleep, giving me no fresh start. A little melatonin is not too bad to take sometimes, especially to cope with unavoidable problems like jet lag. It’s a naturally occuring endogenous hormone. But if you’re doing well with sleep overall, a mere two or three milligrams of melatonin in rare instances is definitely enough — I’ve seen melatonin for sale in stores in single pills of 10 milligrams each, which is crazy excessive, and I can picture people sadly taking it daily after drinking corporate sugar-caffeine all hours.

In Why We Sleep, Walker writes in chapter 14:

“Results, which have now been replicated in numerous clinical studies around the globe, demonstrate that [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] is more effective than sleeping pills in addressing numerous problematic aspects of sleep for insomnia sufferers. [The therapy] consistently helps people fall asleep faster at night, sleep longer, and obtain superior sleep quality […] More importantly, the benefits of [the therapy] persist long term, even after patients stop working with their sleep therapist. This sustainability stands in stark contrast to the punch of rebound insomnia that individuals experience following the cessation of sleeping pills. So powerful is the evidence favoring [the therapy] over sleeping pills for improved sleep across all levels, and so limited or nonexistent are the safety risks associated with [the therapy] (unlike sleeping pills), that in 2016, the American College of Physicians made a landmark recommendation […] Published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the conclusion from this comprehensive evaluation of all existing data was this: [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] must be used as the first-line treatment for all individuals with chronic insomnia, not sleeping pills.”

Ergo, the funny little men in white coats aren’t the answer, as the popular two-minute novelty song from 1966, embedded below and created by one-hit wonder Napoleon XIV, hints (“the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time…”):

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia strives to alter basic behaviors and beliefs around sleep. I’m not sure individuals actually need such therapists, though. Therapists can get their clients confined in mental hospitals or hooked on drugs. Maybe just read this post, or Walker’s book, or similar, and implement the ideas yourself? You likely gain more confidence and autonomy that way, anyhow.

Wind-down ritual. It’s good to have a soothing evening ritual that you do daily to slow down and prepare for bed. Mine basically involves checking in with my logbook followed by a hot bath with herbal tea. I’ll read something non-challenging while bathing, to take my mind off things. Nowadays, as night approaches, I really look forward to my wind-down ritual.

Variety, spice, life. Some things I recommend might not work for you; your mileage may vary. For instance, sleepers seem to differ greatly when it comes to napping or preferences for soothing fall-asleep sounds.

Horror stories. Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep is packed with terrifying facts about just how badly living short on sleep screws up your physical health, your mental health, and your performance on tasks, including intellectual and creative ones. Consider the harm bad sleep inflicts on physical health (chapter eight in his book): scientists conducted

“carefully controlled experiments with healthy adults who had no existing signs of diabetes or issues with blood sugar. In the first of these studies, participants were limited to sleeping four hours a night for just six nights. By the end of that week, these (formerly healthy) participants were 40 percent less effective at absorbing a standard dose of glucose, compared to when they were fully rested. To give you a sense of what that means, if the researchers showed those blood sugar readings to an unwitting family doctor, the GP would immediately classify that individual as being pre-diabetic. They would start a rapid intervention program to prevent the development of irreversible type 2 diabetes. Numerous scientific laboratories around the world have replicated this alarming effect of short sleep, some with even less aggressive reductions in sleep amount.”

Or the harm bad sleep inflicts on mental performance: “Sleep six hours or less and you are short-changing the brain of a learning restoration benefit that is normally performed” — a big reason why early school start times impair young learners. Also drowsy-driving car accidents: “This coming week,” Walker writes, “more than 2 million people in the US will fall asleep while driving their motor vehicle”, usually micro-sleeps, such that per car, “there is now a one-ton missile travelling at 65 miles per hour, and no one is in control” even if only briefly. He adds, “Shamefully, governments of most developed countries spend less than 1 percent of their budget educating the public on the dangers of drowsy-driving relative to what they invest in combating drunk driving.”

At the end of the book, Walker concludes:

Within the space of a mere hundred years, human beings have abandoned their biologically mandated need for adequate sleep — one that evolution spent 3,400,000 years perfecting in service of life-support functions. [… This] is having a clear [negative] impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children. This silent sleep loss epidemic is one of the new public health challenges we face […] a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur. I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality […] Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake

Good news. If you prioritize sleep, you now have a secret weapon. You’re no longer a sleep-machismo type, self-sabotaging by needlessly burning the candle at both ends and bragging about how few hours you sleep. Instead, you’re stronger and healthier, more attractive, more productive, and more creative! Walker makes up a fictional advertisement for sleep:

Amazing breakthrough! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

“The ad,” he explains, describes “the proven benefits of a full night of sleep.” Imagine doctors putting that on a prescription pad!

Brick by brick. If this all feels overwhelming, simply pick one bullet-point to experiment with and implement in your life. Baby steps. It’s better to spend a month mastering a single improvement than it is to not do anything or try to do everything at once and fail. And remember, if you implement simply one little thing, you, like Chekov and Kirk, might not notice improvement. You just have to keep going, adding more bullet-points until you finally do succeed. Good luck!

News blasts: Haiti and Serbia

Haiti. My posts two weeks ago and last week discussed the assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse just a little over a month back. As recently as June, intense gang violence in the capital city was displacing thousands and contributing to buildings being burned down and to rape. The assassination then added more instability in a place already suffering from famine. Now, on Saturday morning, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck western Haiti. The prime minister Dr Ariel Henry said on Twitter the Haitian government will declare a state of emergency. While the earthquake this morning, because of its location, isn’t as devastating as the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that destroyed critical infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands, today’s disaster has killed hundreds so far and significantly adds to the chaos in the country. On August 2, the UN Security Council said the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been formally raised; this morning’s earthquake increases the odds that will happen, I suspect. I’ll continue news-blasting about the unsolved assassination next week.

Update Sunday August 15: More than 700 deaths in Haiti due to the earthquake now, according to the Haitian civil protection office, which also notes nearly 3,000 injured and nearly 7,000 homeless. The tropical storm Grace is hitting the country, too, with heavy rains forecast for Monday, further complicating relief efforts. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states in a 3-page PDF report from today that the “quake could not have come at worst time for Haiti, which is still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July and escalating gang violence which has resulted in the internal displacement of around 19,000 people in the country’s southern peninsula, greatly worsening an already precarious humanitarian situation, with some 4.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance prior to the quake.” The report also says their Emergency Operations Centre “has been fully activated and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing with support from international partners. Preliminary assessments are being carried out under the leadership of national authorities, but it will likely take days, if not weeks, to fully assess the scale of damages and humanitarian needs.” The most urgent humanitarian needs are likely to be for medical assistance, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Here are photos from the earthquake compiled by NPR.

Badassery in Serbia. Yesterday the AFP published this fun article: Cave hermit gets COVID-19 vaccine, urges others to follow. Below, I embed a photo from the article and the 90-second video the AFP posted on twitter.

70-year-old Panta Petrovic: “The coronavirus does not pick. It will come here to my cave, too.”

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Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 31 of 52.

The photo shows a child in bed reading. The child is me.
Me in bed reading, 1988

From my teens until my early thirties, the whole ordeal of trying to fall asleep was a nightmare for me. I was frequently late for high school; a gruff principal, patrolling the hallways, would bark “Why are we late!” at me as I dragged myself into the prison-like building. I never had an answer for him. Subsequently, paid-jobs were a challenge back then too, as a result of the sleep problem. Psychiatrists generally said there was little to nothing I could do about it, besides swallow their pills and pay their bills. Many people, not just psychiatrists, told me I was defective and needed to get on federal disability. There seemed to be no answers anywhere.

Later I learned a lack of skills was a common issue among prep-school graduates. I think the private K-12 idea was that youth needed to be taught to decline Latin nouns in all five declensions (poeta, poetae, poetae, poetam …), but the very stuff making up much of life — cooking, cleaning, and or even readying to fall asleep — didn’t need to be taught. Instead, it was to be dispatched by paid caregivers in the shadows, so the soon-to-be adult aristocrats, for their careers, could rearrange paperwork abstractions for banks or thinktanks or their parents’ businesses. Though I use the words tips and suggestions below, I really mean skills, abilities people have to learn or figure out; humans aren’t born knowing these things, so if they aren’t taught them and are too short on time or too weakened by corporate destruction to discover them for themselves…

As regular readers of this blog (or my twitter feed) know, across the last six or so years, I’ve intensely studied various health topics and dramatically changed my health practices accordingly. Nowadays, I’m able to fall asleep fine and get up regularly at, say, 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., to go jogging and then work public school substituting assignments lasting a month or more. Just this past workweek, I had to stay up till 4 a.m. creating detailed lesson plans — a requirement for a course I’m taking to get certified in teaching English to speakers of other tongues — yet after finishing, I was able to nab three, four hours of sleep and still trust myself to wake up in time to start, at 9 a.m., teaching the language learners from around the globe with the instructor watching, grading my performance. Clearly I’ve figured out some things about sleep.

I wish I’d learned these sleep skills earlier in life — as many do, especially those with strong employment histories — so in case others haven’t yet, below I provide tips for falling asleep. I don’t directly address the challenges of staying asleep or waking up promptly, though my suggestions will also aid individuals struggling with those two issues. I should note this post is written from the perspective of a single guy in his mid-life. I’ve occasionally had noisy roommates nearby, or partners with whom I’ve co-slept, but I can’t tell you the first thing about what it’s like to simultaneously deal with sleep and an infant, or other parenting circumstances.

Below I discuss three skills for improving sleep, especially falling asleep; next week I’ll finish up with additional ones. After the three sleep-improving suggestions, I’ll provide a news blast for the assassination in Haiti.

How to catch Zs with ease: three ideas

Recognize sleep’s importance. Imagine you spend a third of your life practicing the saxophone. Every day, for approximately eight hours total, you play scales and arpeggios, rehearse great saxophone songs, improve your sight-reading, learn how to repair the instrument, and more. Then a wild jerk appears and jabs his finger at you, saying, “If you dedicate a third of your lifespan to the saxophone, you should simply ignore the details and let whatever happens happen.” Obviously, the dude’s line of thought is ridiculous. Becoming an excellent saxophonist requires developing many different skills, planning and carrying out practice regimens, identifying and pursuing specific artistic goals, and so on. Ignore all that and your saxophone dream is over. Yet people with trouble sleeping often treat their problem the exact same way as the jerk. I did; confronting the challenge was too overwhelming: I was so far behind my peers that it was easier to make up postmodern reasons for why falling asleep well supposedly wasn’t worth worrying about (and I didn’t understand it was a skill I could study and develop). Almost everyone on Earth is going to spend a gigantic chunk of their lifetime asleep, maybe even a third of it, plus the time spent arranging sleep. So, sleeping is one of the biggest components of being alive. Therefore treat it as such, respectfully: read about sleep, experiment with different sleep practices, talk with friends about sleep, etc. Educate yourself on the topic.

To get good sleep, you have to fight for it (gently) every single day. Embedded immediately below is a 23-minute youtube video titled “Good Sleep — A Key to Good Mental Health: Ideas of a Former Therapist” by Daniel Mackler. The video has lots of helpful tips for good sleep, particularly in terms of mental health and psychosis. I really recommend watching it. The best concept I personally took away from the video is his idea that daily, you have to pour effort into ensuring you’ll get good sleep that night. He puts it like this: “The conscious part of me has a job, has a responsibility to set up my life so that I can sleep well.” To put it my own terms, each day, including each evening, the world will conspire to keep you up late or to otherwise ruin your sleep. For example, friends/family/telemarketers/spammers will call or message, enticing you to stay up and talk instead of winding down for bed. Capitalism will insist that resting is weak and that strength is burning the candle at both ends, as with the leech (“middleman”) company Fiverr’s advertisement from New York City subway cars, pictured above. Frightening or distracting noise might pollute your environment, preventing you from calming down for sleep. If you don’t battle these things daily, if you just ignore it all and let whatever happens happen, the myriad enemies of good sleep will completely take over. You have to battle for your sleep; for instance, by the late afternoon, start thinking ahead about how to ensure you’ll get enough good sleep that night.

Lighting and glowing screens. Cutting out light, especially glowing screens, as the night approaches has been the single biggest improvement for my sleep — ever. Quoting from chapter thirteen of the excellent book Why We Sleep by neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker:

“Before Edison, and before gas and oil lamps, the setting sun would take with it […] daylight from our eyes, sensed by the twenty-four-hour [circadian] clock within the brain […] tiredness, followed by sleep, would normally occur several hours after dusk across our human collective. Electric light put an end to this natural order of things. It redefined the meaning of midnight for generations thereafter. Artificial evening light, even that of modest strength […] will fool your [brain’s] suprachiasmatic nucleus into believing the sun has not yet set […] Sleep in modern humans is delayed from taking off the evening runway, which would naturally occur somewhere between eight and ten p.m., just as we observe in hunter-gatherer tribes. Artificial light in modern society […] tricks us into believing night is still day […] Artificial evening and nighttime light can therefore mimic sleep-onset insomnia — the inability to fall asleep within twenty-five minutes. By delaying the release of melatonin, artificial evening light makes it considerably less likely that you’ll be able to fall asleep at a reasonable time […] Just when things looked as bad as they could get for the suprachiasmatic nucleus with incandescent lamps, a new invention in 1997 made the situation far worse: blue light-emitting diodes, or blue LEDs […] evening blue LED light has a more harmful impact on human nighttime melatonin suppression than the warm, yellow light from old incandescent bulbs, even when their lux intensities are matched [… humans] stare at LED-powered laptop screens, smartphones, and tablets each night, sometimes for many hours, often with these devices just feet or even inches away from our retinas […] It has a very real impact on your melatonin release, and thus ability to time the onset of sleep [… in a study,] Compared to reading a printed book, reading on an iPad [glowing screen] suppressed [sleep-inducing] melatonin release by over 50 percent at night. […] iPad reading delayed the rise of melatonin by up to three hours […] Unsurprisingly, individuals took longer to fall asleep after iPad reading relative to print-copy reading […] individuals lost significant amounts of REM sleep following iPad reading […] the research subjects felt less rested and sleepier throughout the day following iPad use at night [… also there was] a lingering aftereffect, with participants suffering a ninety-minute lag in their evening rising melatonin levels for several days after iPad use ceased — almost like a digital hangover effect.

Emphasis added

Occasionally people say “dark mode”-type settings on digital devices help, but I doubt they help very much, since the problem existed severely enough with mere incandescent bulbs prior to 1997 and the invention of blue LED light. And it’s an option provided by the foxes who are guarding the henhouse.

Ideally, as the evening ends and night arrives, I shut off all glowing screens — hopefully around 8 p.m. — though sometimes paid or unpaid work requirements interfere. I use either natural light from windows, and/or soft warm yellow light from incandescent bulbs, to conduct my night-time routine (e.g., reading a non-challenging book in the bathtub prior to bed). As soon as I can, I turn off those incandescent bulbs, too. I make my bedroom as pitch-black as possible. And, right before bed, I don’t take one last quick look at my email: even a few seconds of that artificial glow is enough to falsely tell your brain it’s suddenly daylight.

Recently, when I was visiting Texas, I stayed in a motel room with a smoke detector on the ceiling straight above the pillows. A little green light on that smoke detector glowed all night long above my eyes. So the next day, I obtained duct tape and covered the light up. Elsewhere in the motel room, I used handtowels to block various lights, such as the glowing display on the air-conditioning unit. A pitch-black bedroom helps hugely.

From time to time, I go to one of West Seattle’s beaches in the evening to watch the sunset, which seems to help regulate sleep.

The sun is wonderous, gifting us all life free of charge (yep, everything in life is free), but artificial light pollution, particularly in urban environments, is an under-discussed problem. I really recommend, from Adam Kendall’s blog Ideas for saving the world, the post “Fixing light pollution.” I’ll excerpt it:

I think every street light should have a lid on top of it, so the light doesn’t go up into the sky. I think every building taller than 10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 10pm to 6am every night. I think every building between 5-10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 11pm to 5am. I think every street light except for those at crosswalks and street intersections should be turned off from midnight to 4am every night. I think every household should get four to eight free trees to plant around their house, so that the tree cover blocks household light from escaping into the sky. I think every street should be lined and covered with trees too, to help block the light from escaping into the sky. While doing all of that wouldn’t eliminate all light pollution, it would reduce it by a lot, enough to be able to go to a city park at night and see a night sky filled with stars as if you’re in the wild. Our cities should be lit up at night by the stars in the sky, not our artificial light. Turning cities dark at night would be good for the environment too. Our light pollution is drastically harming the lives of nocturnal species. It effects the migration patterns of birds. Cities are basically dead zones for all non-human species, and as cities continue to grow and take up more land, it’s creating the next great mass extinction period. Also, seeing the night sky is spiritually and mentally beneficial to people, it helps us connect with the earth, it helps us to connect with life and the universe when we’re able to see the night sky.

Next week I’ll continue with my remaining tips for falling asleep; for now, I’ll conclude with a fun, memorable quotation from sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement: “Sleep is delicious!”

News blast: Assassination of Haitian president

The color image is a screengrab from Al Jazeera. It shows the Haitian president boasting, with the translated caption: "I don't see how there is anyone, after God, who has more power than me in the country."
He finally saw

Today’s news blast continues the news blast from last week, which discusses the 7 July ’21 assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. Unless you’re really familiar with this situation, you might consider reading or re-reading last week’s news blast before continuing to my next paragraph. Also, the 4-minute “Start Here: Murder in Haiti” segment from Al Jazeera, embedded below, is useful for catching up on the basics of what happened, though the video is from July 8 and thus quite old, in relative terms.

The day Moïse died (with twelve gunshot wounds and an eyeball gouged out), the United Nations Security Council condemned the assassination and then the next day privately met at their in-NYC-but-not-in-NYC (extraterritorial) headquarters to hear from the representative of Haiti. Don’t you wish we all had a transcript and footage of that opaque meeting?

I wonder how little or how much the United Nations Security Council (which includes such unlovely permanent members as the Chinese government) understands about the assassination — on August 2 (just a few days ago), the Security Council president said:

“the issue of a possible peacekeeping mission in Haiti has formally been raised and discussions are ongoing.  The main concern right now is the safety and security of the United Nations mission currently operating in Haiti.”

On July 8, UN special envoy Helen La Lime told reporters that Haiti made a request for security assistance from the United Nations. That same day YAC.news commented bluntly: “A UN-styled military intervention may be considered, however, the [capital city’s] ongoing gang war that’s displaced 14,700 people make[s] the prospect challeng[ing].”

Seemingly no one among the worldwide public fully understands this assassination for sure, but without knowledge of the setting, nobody can get very far in figuring it out. Agence France-Presse news correspondent Amélie Baron, located in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, describes the context of the country in her passionate 24 July article “Asking the right questions in Haiti.” I’ll excerpt parts of her lengthy, amazing article:

“These days, my phone rings off the hook. “Why was Jovenel Moise assassinated?” […] The country is effectively missing from French history books. Despite listening to hours of lectures about the Napoleonic wars during my time at university in the French city of Nantes, I never heard the names Toussaint Louverture or Jean-Jacques Dessalines — heroes of Haiti’s independence movement against France, the colonial power […] the idyllic beaches of Haiti that were swamped with high-class tourists in the 1970s were no longer featured in tourist guidebooks – while tourism is all the rage in the Dominican Republic […] Because contemporary history cannot be learned in books, I decided to head to Port-au-Prince in February 2005 — my first trip on my own, and my first time out of Europe […] The country is seen as one of the most corrupt in the world […] Today, prisons [in Haiti] are massively overcrowded, full of men who are too poor to pay for a lawyer that could or would even want to take their case. Housed in dire conditions, they wait months, sometimes years to see a judge […] Funnily enough, only in rare cases do people with money end up in prison. They never even get arrested […] Why do some media outlets choose to call Haiti the “poorest country in the northern hemisphere” (debatable) rather than “the first black republic in history,” which is a more lasting and positive truth?

Regarding Haiti and its independence movement which concluded in 1804 and yet is missing from French history books — and history books here in the United States — an intriguing fact is that Bug-Jargal, first published in 1826 and one of the early novels of the late writer Victor Hugo, better known today for his novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, is set during the Haitian revolution. There are translations into English, but I’ve never read them (nor the French original).

So who were Moïse’s assassins, and who were the masterminds? Interpol, the United States including the FBI and Homeland Security, Colombia, and the Haitian police have all been investigating. On July 9, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Haiti requested security and investigative assistance from the United States and claimed “the investigation is being led by Haitian police forces on the ground.” With the reputation the FBI has for overpowering investigations by local and state cops in the US, I find that hard to believe. Haitian police did engage in a firefight with some of the suspected killers on July 8, so I imagine the Haitian cops have been mighty pissed off about the assassination.

Haiti elections minister Mathias Pierre, in a July 10 interview with the Associated Press, said the Haitian police force is weak and under-resourced, and “small troops” are needed from neighboring countries to prevent chaos. In that article the AP journalists write:

“The stunning request for U.S. military support recalled the tumult following Haiti’s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation — which lasted nearly two decades — as a way to avert anarchy.”

The Haitian police identified the suspected gunmen as either 26 or 24 Colombians and two South Floridians originally from Haiti but US citizens: 35-year-old James Solages and 55-year-old Joseph Vincent. Haitian police also said three of the assailants were killed in a shoot-out, but that might have been seven of the assailants; I don’t have the original source material and apparently there’s information discrepancies from the Haitian police anyway. The supplied details of the situation have been unclear and shifting.

That’s enough for today — I need to take my own advice and go to sleep — but next week, I’ll resume news-blasting about the Moïse assassination, including some discussion of Colombian paramilitary groups, the environment from which some of the suspects came. If you want to continue reading about the assassination yourself, I suggest these links: here, here, here, here, here.

James Solages, viewer’s left, Joseph Vincent, second left, paraded before the media by Haitian police on July 8. Photo by Joseph Odelyn for the Associated Press. Does anyone have the names of the four other men?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/06/fall-asleep-skills1-news-haiti/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net

COVID-19 update: masks, Delta mutation, evictions; news blasts: Haiti and United States

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 30 of 52.

Comedy and tragedy masks at Wilton’s Music Hall in London, photographed in 2011 by failing_angel/B

This past week in Washington state, where I live, the governor has recommended people in high transmission areas resume wearing masks for indoor public settings. His change comes along with more news about the novel coronavirus’s highly contagious Delta mutation, and along with the federal government ending the countrywide ban on evictions. Since June 28, the number of new cases in King County, home of Seattle, has quadrupled, according to county public health officer Jeff Duchin in an hour-long July 30 video embedded below. Some Seattle restaurants/bars just started requiring patrons to provide proof of vaccination. In light of all this, here’s a COVID-19 update — including a look at larger, systemic forces at work — followed by news blasts for Haiti and the U.S.

Masks 101 still missing

Many in the United States — typically rightwingers, but not always — see government advice or mandates to mask against the novel coronavirus as tyranny, imposed suddenly, ex nihilio: out of nowhere, without precedent. Such a belief betrays the country’s overall ignorance of history and the wider world.

Imagine someone coming to dinner at your home. Everyone is seated around the table. Diners are passing around a dish of sweet potatoes. One person, holding the dish, sneezes directly into it. The other diners drop their jaws. “Cover your nose when you sneeze!” someone says. But the same person responds by simply coughing into the sweet potatoes. “What the hell?” another diner protests. The sneezer-cougher explains: “It’s my freedom to spread my germs where I want. That’s individual choice. It’s what makes our country great.”

For good reason, it’s a strong social norm to cover your mouth/nose when coughing/sneezing (use your inner elbow, not your palm, since you might soon after touch others with your hand), so the sweet potatoes scenario depicted above is rather unlikely — but masking against COVID-19, a respiratory illness, is the same idea.

Consider too how surgeons mask, to protect against exhaling germs into a patient’s exposed body, and how masking has been used for decades in various countries across the world to guard against spreading contagious respiratory diseases, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a type of coronavirus first identified in 2002. SARS, and headlines about it, proliferated around the globe until the syndrome was contained in 2004. One of the ways it was stopped was — you guessed it — masking. From the article linked in this paragraph:

Japanese wear masks when feeling sick as a courtesy to stop any sneezes from landing on other people […] The SARS outbreak was a “turning point,” for Asia, said Chen Yih-chun, director of the National Taiwan University Hospital Center for Infection Control in Taipei. Before that, she said, Taiwanese saw masks as a stigma marking them as severely ill. “Why we always mention the SARS matter is because during SARS and before that to wear a mask was impossible and patients didn’t want to cooperate,” Chen said […] Japanese had worn them even in the 1950s as a safeguard against rising air pollution, a byproduct of industrialization. Now people who feel just “under the weather” in Japan wear them

I’m surprised how rarely analogies to everyday sneezes and coughs, and how rarely other countries’ histories, have been discussed by those trying to educate USians on coronavirus prevention. Instead, all too often, the commentariat got bogged down in the weeds of complicated scientific studies, partly to demonstrate their fealty to conventional science, which the public has lost a lot of trust in, understandably. It’s great, of course, to talk about whatever interesting topics online. But I think supplying the simple information above would have been more effective than the corporate media obsessing over studies. And still would be.

Scary new study on the Delta mutation

The image shows the Lollapalooza bill modified: the long list of band names has been altered such that each "band" is now simply named The Delta Variant
This year’s Lollapalooza lineup looks sick. By Eric Downs.

Speaking of scientific studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new one Friday that the New York Times reported on the day before.

The scary research says asymptomatic vaccinated individuals are spreading the Delta variant, a more contagious mutation of the novel coronavirus that grows faster in respiratory tracts, and it says Delta is causing symptoms in, and hospitalizing, even vaccinated individuals (“breakthrough” cases, as in the virus ‘breaking through’, or not being stopped by, vaccine-produced antibodies).

Over Twitter, I asked Dr Bob Morris, a Seattle-based epidemiologist, about the new study (who needs to wait around for official interviews and official articles, nowadays?). Dr Morris said the research is important in drawing attention to Delta’s high infectivity, but also that it should be interpreted with caution. The study is titled: “Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021.” In other words, the research focuses on large public gatherings, such as festivals, which cautious individuals have been avoiding for over a year now. Specifically, the study looks at an outbreak precipitated by Provincetown, Massachusetts’ Bear Week (bear as in queer slang for a lover with lots of body hair). That’s tons of people getting together in person to kiss and do additional naughty things, thus passing on the Delta version of the virus.

To say a study should be interpreted carefully isn’t to say the study is irrelevant; after all, plenty of huge public gatherings — superspreader events — are ongoing or upcoming in the United States:

The color image is a screenshot of a Chicago FOX News television affiliate showing an aerial view of the huge Lollapalooza crowd this weekend.
Friday’s Lollapalooza crowd. Source.
  • Happening now, the four-day Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, 100k people. While concertgoers must present vaccine cards or masks (which they might not actually wear), there’s also an exception for individuals who present a negative test result from the prior 72 hours (which with 100,000 people won’t stop some infected people from attending).
  • Happening Aug 6 – Aug 15, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, half a million to three quarters of a million attendees expected. No masks, no vaccine proof required.
  • More…
The color photo shows the cover of the novel Mutation by Robin Cook. The cover shows a strange boy, suggestive of genetic engineering.
This schlocky medical thriller scared me as a kid. Source.

Like the missed opportunities in explaining masking, another messaging error has been emphasizing the word “variant.” A variant can be made up of multiple mutations, so the words aren’t interchangeable (and ultimately there are no synonyms). But for popular contexts such as headlines, “variant” sounds neutral, probably harmless, whereas “mutation” has frightening connotations. I recommend using “mutation” frequently when explaining this stuff to everyday non-specialist audiences.

Eviction cruelty

The color photo shows the two suits at some event or other. McHenry, wearing glasses, is smiling huge, probably showing his pleasure at being near one of the top dogs, George W. Bush. Bush II looks like it's just another day on the job of mugging for photos.
Patrick McHenry with Bush II in 2005. Source.

In September 2020, the CDC implemented a countywide ban on residential evictions — but it ends today. The federal House of Representatives didn’t extend the moratorium; the final scene of the drama included a last-ditch effort by Dem legislators being blocked by North Carolina Republican Patrick McHenry. An estimated 15 million-plus tenants in the U.S. are behind on their rent and thus at high risk of getting kicked to the curb. Many of these at-risk tenants are planning to live in their cars, a common thing here in Seattle. However, some local and state governments, including Washington state, maintain their own eviction bans, independent of the federal government, continuing to provide protection against evictions.

The worsening poverty in the United States, and the slow-mo trade economy collapse worldwide, makes me think of teenagers at Seattle Public Schools or teenagers from around the world in Zoom classes I’m currently teaching in. Faced with impossible pressures emanating from the world of biz, they’re resisting quietly by setting boundaries with knowledge-hoarding institutions and credentialing authorities. They don’t ruin their health to show up early, or even on time necessarily, nor do they meekly obey demands that they silence their home environments or do this or that with their computers (factors over which they might not have control anyway). Boomers wail and gnash their teeth, telling each other that their power over trade should be absolute and that such boundary-setting heralds the End Times, but connecting survival to moneytokens and their silly institutions is the real insanity.

It’s sad to live in a world where millions agree: “Don’t have enough moneytokens? No food, clothing, shelter for you! At best, rely on shameful charity. You’re awful!” Sometimes capitalists argue for this system by saying that policies such as a ban on evictions enslave businesspeople. To some extent, as one of the billions of rats running through the maze of capitalism daily, I can sympathize with related concerns: nobody likes bureaucratic paperwork or edicts, when they’re stupid or illogical, and businesspeople have to feed their families too, and don’t necessarily have time to be a therapist/socialworker for particular tenants who disrespectfully and dramatically wreck buildings, which does happen sometimes. But rather than get caught up in myopic, stale metaphors like “It’s a balancing act!” or advocating for the low, low bar of tacking social welfare programs onto a sadistic economic system, I think it’s far better to point out history and the wider world, to indicate possible paths to a better future.

Color photo shows amazing sagebrush beneath an idyllic blue sky, mountains and hills in the distance.
June 2021 photo by me near East Wenatchee in central Washington state, where the Wenatchis/P’squosa were forcibly displaced by white settlers

For most of human history, and in civilizations such as the Indus Valley one, trade, biz, exchange — whatever you want to call it — existed, but minimally, relative to today (or that’s my understanding!); it wasn’t considered the epitome of life to which all else must be sacrificed. And more importantly, just look at a child drawing stick figures on a piece of paper, free of charge, and sticking it on the family refrigerator, also free of charge. The kid is motivated to do such things for fun/curiosity, to enjoy drawing, to share social approval with their family, etc. In a world without money, and with a public data commons for arranging details (such as transporting cement long distances), it should be fairly straightforward (versus for instance the sprawling social services industry cursing people as defective and needing drugs) for people to build houses and help those who live in them manage the various equipment (e.g., plumbing), free of charge for the same reasons as the kid drawing on a piece of paper. If you wouldn’t want your children abruptly demanding five dollars and seventy-six cents from you to stick their drawings on the fridge, why do you want adults to do the same for the housing system, plus lifelong debt etc.? A good system would be like: “Oh hey, that’s Latisha, she works on the plumbing around here, she’s awesome!” And Latisha walks up to the house and tells the residents about the cool new wrench she got that helps with fixing pipes. It’s really not that difficult to fathom, it’s similar to volunteering, and again, my understanding is, most humans have lived their entire lives in such a manner. (Guaranteed basic essentials would help the misfits/dissidents survive/thrive without having to pander for popularity.) When people hearing about this scornfully retort That’ll never happen, they’re likely expressing their contempt for multigenerational effort or their inability to withstand criticism for saying challenging things (like advocating for a world without a financial system), which — like a sole individual loudly coming out of the closet — has more power than people typically realize.

Ending the pandemic

A generic image.
First aid kit by dlg_images
Piccini kneeling on the sidewalk, hands in the air, as the riot gear cops surround her and gesture at her.
Shayla Piccini, pro-BLM protester who sued the City of San Diego over her arrest. See linked article below.

To help end the pandemic, I think individuals should get vaccinated (as I did) — the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine, not of mRNA design, likely will be very impressive, too. In the video embedded above, King County public health officer Jeff Duchin says:

“Do vaccines work against Delta? The answer is unequivocally yes. Although there might be a slight drop-off [decrease] in protection, vaccines offer excellent protection against Delta, particularly against serious infections, hospitalization, and death. And if you aren’t vaccinated, you’re at high risk of becoming infected and spreading infection to others.”

Dr Duchin also says, in the July 30 video, that 81% of King County residents ages twelve and up have received at least one vaccine dose, 75% of residents ages twelve and up have completed the vaccination series, and 65% of all King County residents (of all ages) are fully vaccinated. King County is one of the most highly vaccinated regions in the United States. Over the past thirty days in King County, 81% of COVID-19 cases are not fully vaccinated, 89% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are not fully vaccinated, and 91% of COVID-19-related deaths are not fully vaccinated. Most cases in King County are Delta mutation cases. Vaccination is the single most important thing a person can do to protect themselves and others; vaccination makes it much less likely, though not impossible, that a person will catch and spread COVID-19.

I also think individuals should mask, though it’s sometimes hard to be certain when exactly with the shifting public health messages. Prior to Delta’s spread, some doctors told me that with vaccination, I shouldn’t worry about masking or asymptomatic transmission. But now with the Delta mutation, I think I should. And what about elderly individuals, or those who are invisibly immuno-compromised? Not masking places them, and others, at risk. Masking doesn’t hurt anything (it’s just annoying to do); those calling it tyranny might consider what real tyranny looks like: the military dictatorship in Myanmar, for instance, is outright killing medical workers and attacking their facilities, exacerbating COVID-19’s spread to aid the junta in maintaining power. Yes, the United States has its horrors too, what with pro-Black Lives Matter protestors arrested by plainsclothes cops in full combat gear and hauled off in unmarked vans, or thousands of massage parlors in U.S. strip malls acting as fronts for billion-dollar rape trafficking. The list of nightmares goes on. Asking the public to wear masks so they don’t spread germs during a pandemic is not among them.

Dr Bright testifying at a Congressional hearing. He looks righteously angry, or at least emphatic.
Whistleblower Dr Rick A Bright. Source.

We’re now at 629,115 dead from COVID-19 in the United States — that official number is probably lower than reality, and it doesn’t include the frightening suffering of Long COVID (unless there’s death) — and blaming Trump for the toll will also help end the pandemic, so people don’t fall for the crazy snake-oil cures his administration was selling, and more. It’s not “political” or “annoying” to say 2 and 2 make 4, or that Olympia is the capital of Washington state, or that, instead of damning themselves, individuals should instead correctly accuse Trump & co. for calling coronavirus a hoax in February 2020 and for retaliating against Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower Dr Rick A Bright for his insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” and “a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” I mean, it might not be something to bring up to a partner while the two of you are trying to fall asleep, but I mean generally!

Finally, consider the fundamental role of corporate control and disinformation in our lives, and how to combat it. Read this 26 July ’21 YAC.news article — How corporations are choosing profits over life with COVID19 medications — or watch the four-minute video version, embedded below right before the news blasts. In short, governments across the planet are permitting Big Pharma monopolies to make decisions based on profit, not need. Only 1% of individuals in low-income countries have received a vaccine dose. That’s unfair, and for those who don’t care about fairness any longer, bear in mind it also allows more mutations to develop and proliferate to your doorstep. A stronger response, ideally a zero-COVID strategy, would stop a new permanent paradigm of unending mutations. The article concludes:

The CEOs of pharma corporations attributed the speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines to the [intellectual property] system, disregarding the contribution of public funding (paid by everyones taxes), people’s volunteering in clinical trials (risking their lives) and regulatory support (by professionals focused on saving lives). Millions of people are still waiting to benefit from the important medical innovations of the past year and half. Thanks to profiteering corporate leeches and the archaic intellectual property laws millions of poor people are being sentenced to death.

To fight Big Pharma’s hoarding, an idea, encouraged by YAC.news and others, is to support a proposal initially made by South Africa and India in October 2020: waive certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the sake of preventing, containing, and treating COVID-19. In October 2020, Doctors Without Borders gave five reasons people should support the #TRIPSWaiver to weaken Big Pharma’s power to hoard so-called intellectual property. Briefly, the waiver would benefit everyone, accelerate the COVID-19 response, include not just vaccines but also essential equipment such as ventilators, make needed COVID-19 medications and vaccines more affordable, and reduce corporate power. Six steps to support the #TRIPSWaiver:

Step 1) On this Google Map, click on a country’s X (not supporting the #TRIPSWaiver) or question mark (undecided). Clicking will give you pro-#TRIPSWaiver text to copy that includes the twitter handles of the country’s relevant authorities.

Step 2) Paste the copied text into a tweet draft, customizing it if you like.

Step 3) Attach to the tweet draft this graphic.

Step 4) Post the tweet.

Step 5) Suggest others do the same.

Step 6) Check out the #NoCOVIDmonopolies tweet storm here.

News blasts: Haiti and United States

Thanks for the map showing Haiti, Wikipedia!

Haiti, 1 of 2. Often when people think of North America, three large countries quickly come to mind. But there are hundreds of islands and multiple countries in the Caribbean, too. One of these is Haiti. (Another is Cuba, which I discussed in last week’s news blasts.) I first started thinking about Haiti as an adult when I was writing for the alumni magazine of the university I graduated from. In October 2013, I wrote an article for that magazine about an alum, Dr Ric Bonnell, who initially in 2007 went on missionary trips to provide altruistic medical care to Haitians, but then by 2009 decided he could provide better help by training native Haitian doctors and nurses, including assisting them remotely via Skype. I quoted Dr Bonnell as saying: “Providing unneeded or unwanted ‘help’ causes harm […] Always ask yourself, ‘How do I work myself out of a job? How do I make it so that my help is no longer needed?'” After putting together that piece, I’d perk up whenever I heard some friend, or some newscaster, mention Haiti, but I sadly didn’t know all that much more about the country. Fast forward to July 7 this year when, early in the morning, in an attack on his home in the capital city Port-au-Prince, US-backed Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. According to the country’s constitution, Moïse’s term of office ended February 7, but he ignored the law and remained in power, causing mass protests (see three-minute Al Jazeera video embedded below). U.S. mercenaries were spotted during these protests but apparently were limited to protecting Moïse. He’d already dissolved the country’s parliament — not a good sign. As Foreign Policy magazine explained on February 10, the State Department of the Biden administration along with the Organization of American States (OAS) endorsed Moïse’s prolonged presidency, pitting the David-size Haitian opposition against the Goliath-size United States et al. Haiti was already battered by the 2010 earthquake that destroyed infrastructure and killed an estimated quarter million people. Famine, as well: a 9 July ’21 Oxfam report, The Hunger Virus Multiplies, discusses crisis-level famine in multiple countries, including Haiti, where starvation has been a long-standing problem (as Dr Bonnell also noted). Making matters worse, the illegitimate Moïse apparently kidnapped opposition leaders and acted as a tyrant, saying bluntly in a February 7 public address: “I was supposed to leave, I’m still here. If you guys keep fighting me, I guarantee you that I will win.” Nerds can debate in prolix prose the legal or “foreign policy” angels dancing on the heads of courtroom pins, but demagogues boil down their dictatorships to such frank statements, titillating fascist crowds and terrifying their negative images (the ones they dislike). Back to Moïse’s July 7 assassination. YAC.news wrote an article that very day (talk about timely) titled “Haiti’s US-backed president Jovenel Moïse assassinated” (the source for much of this news blast item). The article states: “Prime Minister Claude Joseph said highly trained assassin[s], some speaking a mix Spanish or English with a US accent, assassinated the president at his home. The assassins yelled, ‘DEA operation! Everybody stand down! DEA operation! Everybody back up, stand down!’ Residents reported hearing high-powered rounds being fired and seeing black-clad men running through the neighborhoods, they also reported exploding grenade and drones buzzing overhead […] Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., described the attackers as ‘well trained professional commandos’ and ‘foreign mercenaries.'” This whole saga goes on, but I’ll get to it in next week’s news blast, as it’s too much to summarize here, plus I also want to look at more recent news on the assassination. But if you want to continue yourself, read this and this.

United States. Two news items in my home country. First, the January 6 coup attempt is the subject of ongoing hearings in Congress. In late June, the New York Times published the 40-minute video resulting from their six-month investigation piecing together radio transmissions, social media video uploads, police bodycam footage, and other sources to show what happened that day. The NYT summarized their key findings here. Of course, they’re too co-opted to use terms like “coup attempt” or “demagoguery,” but the astonishing video is definitely worth the watch. It will happen again; there will be another coup attempt. Second news item, Putingate whistleblower Reality Winner, whose August 2018 sentencing I reported from in person (the only highly descriptive article that goes into detail about both the document she gifted the public and the scene at the courthouse that day), was released June 2 from full federal prison, FMC Carswell in Fort Worth Texas (where she and other prisoners contracted COVID-19), to a halfway house, and a week later, to home confinement. Below I’ve embedded some recent Winner family photos. Here’s her support website; you can follow her mom, Billie J. Winner-Davis, on twitter. As her sister Brittany Winner explains in a July 20 article, and as her lawyer Alison Grinter explained on Democracy Now! on June 15, Reality Winner still needs a full pardon to ease her felony conviction, remove the continuing plea deal-based censorship of her (preventing her from telling her story and sharing more information about the leak), and to promote healing for the country. On July 30, Winner accepted the Government Accountability Project’s Pillar Award. What’s really worth checking out in that regard is what Reality herself said when accepting the award. The 12-minute acceptance Zoom video is embedded below; she talks from 9:25 to 11:27. I especially like this part:

“there’s life with purpose and meaning and dignity […] Everybody who didn’t look away when the government called me a terrorist, people who wanted to find out who I actually am, I can’t thank everybody [enough …] when I’m ready, I’m going to be seen, I’m going to be heard.”

Reality reuniting with her dog on 3 July 2021 in Kingsville, Texas. Photo by Chris Lee.
Reality Winner with her new niece; sister and mother at her side. Source.
The image shows Reality Winner on home confinement, sitting on a recliner smiling and playing acoustic guitar. She's wearing an ankle monitor. She's not using a pick, but her bare hand, to strum.
#PardonRealityWinner. Source.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, COVID-19 update: masks, Delta mutation, evictions; news blasts: Haiti and United States, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/31/covid19-masks-delta-evictions-haiti-us/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 29 of 52. All photos were taken by me on 23 July 2021, except the small one identified in the caption as from my 2009 post. I took that photo then.

Note: See last week’s post for a reply by me to a reader’s question in the comments.

Texas Native Forest Boardwalk at Fort Worth Botanic Garden

More than a decade ago, in June 2009, I wrote a blog entry titled “Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW” (Dallas/Fort Worth). From my recent IP addresses in North Texas and Seattle at least, if you google “What’s the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW?” my writing comes up as a “featured snippet” search result. As strange as it is to be honored by Skynet, I’m glad the Google algorithms prioritize the post.

Anyway, Friday afternoon I visited — just before flying back to Seattle on Saturday — the hometown tree, which I hadn’t seen in years and years. I discovered some things have changed, not only the TexasTreeTrails.org webpage I cite in my long-ago entry for facts on the champion plant. (That webpage has moved here.)

You’re probably familiar with the structural device of dividing a topic into the good, the bad, and the ugly; let’s do that in reverse order, to end on an upbeat note before plunging into news blasts for Cuba and the Lone Star State.

The Ugly

The color photo shows the Cityview Car Wash building in Fort Worth, Texas. The Cityview Car Wash sign is partially burnt out. No people are visible; things seem a little decaying.
The world has moved on

On Friday I stopped by Fort Worth’s Cityview Car Wash too, because in the past few years, from a distance, I’ve often thought about this odd antebellum-esque store — in some ways, an opposite of the grand Southern Magnolia — where I took family automobiles as a prep school teen, not knowing any better. While the globe continues to warm (see my recent post on the Pacific Northwest heat-dome), it’s possible such expensive car washes in the South will keep going till the last possible moment, so rich white men can take their antique Mercedes and Jaguars there, and sit inside, having their shoes shined by elderly black men, or sit outside, watching their vehicles be towel-dried, by not-so-rich, not-so-white young men.

A streetside sign for Cityview Car Wash advertises monthly carwash plans
Your monthly car wash bill awaits

Along with the global weirding of weather we in the U.S. are already witnessing, my understanding is that water crises will be among the earliest and most salient enduser-facing problems of the coming climate change disasters. Of course, the outlandish car wash shops rely heavily on large amounts of water. I called Cityview Car Wash on Sunday to ask if they use recycled or reclaimed water. The low-level employee who answered the phone frankly said No, they use fresh water.

Picture it like a movie. Even as, by 2040, pollen counts double, and even as, by whenever, Fahrenheit temperatures in the 120s and higher become the norm, sweaty, sneezy Texans will still be sitting at Cityview Car Wash. The TVs will be blasting Fox Weather; security for the business will be provided by militarized police-tanks. The old white men will keep on watching teens haul huge long hoses to the parked Porsches. Close-up on a hose-sprayer held in a dark-skinned hand: the water is only dribbling out… only barely dribbling out… Close-up on a spigot valve being turned hard by a brown hand again and again. Another close-up on the hose-sprayer: it’s waterless now. It’s futile. With itchy eyes, the old Texan men look at each other. The South will not rise again.

But can the City of Fort Worth control such non-essential water usage during droughts? After all, they sell water to businesses in their jurisdiction, sourcing much it from the Trinity, the river discussed in my post last week.

Such local government regulation has had an effect on DFW car washes before. Due to dry spells in recent years, car washes in Witchita Falls, a corner of North Texas, have been required to change procedures when water conservation regulators threatened to shut them down. A City of Fort Worth drought contingency and emergency water management plan, effective May 2019, says (to oversimplify) that when a dry spell gets bad enough (“Stage 3” in the document),

“Vehicle washing … [at a] commercial car wash […] can only be done as necessary for health, sanitation, or safety reasons […] All other vehicle washing is prohibited.”

Note: According to City of Fort Worth water conservation manager Micah Reed in an email reply to me on Monday July 26, the emergency plan is updated every five years. The 2019 one I link and excerpt is the one that would come into effect in a qualifying emergency. I bet Micah Reed would make an interesting interviewee on this topic.

In short, the forthcoming water crises might bring power struggles between the Texan-beloved auto industry, and governments, not so beloved by Texans except when their business gets a gub’ment handout. Everyone underfoot getting stomped on by the two hierarchs going at each other, if they do, hopefully will intensify their growing interest in self-governance, taking care of themselves, each other, and the land as the giants continue their slow implosion.

Let’s turn to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to see an example showing how power struggles between local government and industry typically go down. This weekend was the first time I’ve visited the Garden in something like seven years.

The Bad

The Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, now chained off. Signs read: “Do not enter” and “Please do not climb in the trees. Thank you!”

Not far from adrenal-fatigued Texans and their thunderous, wastefully washed SUVs on one of the city’s busiest streets, University Drive, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, 109-something acres nowadays and the oldest major public garden in the state, grows peacefully. Depending on how you slice it, construction began on the Garden, then smaller and known as Rock Springs Park, in 1921, followed by, in various phases, early construction continuing on the area, renamed the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in 1934; some of that labor was part of FDR’s New Deal. The park debuted in 1935. However, none of the 750-or-so poor laborers from the earliest construction days were allowed to attend the opening ceremony, because the authorities wanted present only those who could afford fancy clothes. With limited exceptions, the Garden was also segregated, banning humans with dark skin, until roughly 1961 (more sources would help; anyone?). In 2009, the National Park Service (well, a bureau of the NPS) listed the core portion of the Garden on the National Register of Historic Places. The 111-page registration form can be found here; that certifying document and the 2010 Fort Worth Botanic Garden Master Plan (put together by various stakeholders including the city and a high-priced consulting agency) supply a great number of details on the Garden that this paragraph skips over for the sake of quick summary.

Same mighty plant, from my 2009 post. Note absence of chains. Neither a “do not enter” sign, nor a “do not climb” sign, back then.

The City of Fort Worth has owned at least some of the underlying land since 1912 and still owns all the Botanic Garden land today, but while I was happily living in Seattle, a bigly change transpired. In October 2020, the City of Fort Worth transferred its management of the Garden to the Botanic Research Institute of Texas, the BRIT nonprofit among whose board of directors — according to a 2019 tax filing — sits Ed Bass, of the billionaire oil-rich and locally powerful Bass family.

BRIT’s nonprofit structure notwithstanding, the management of the Botanic Garden has been privatized; the immediate ire the public has felt regarding the new biz centers on the Garden replacing the free admissions policy, more or less upheld continuously since 1935, with an in-real-life paywall. BRIT, on Saturday, charged me the $12 per adult fee to get in. (I was able to pay at the entrance; maybe tickets sell out sometimes, I don’t know.) Judging by a search of the #fwbg twitter hashtag, I’m by no means the only person frustrated about very rich, very faraway people putting a fence around local native trees, hoarding an imaginary right to visit them, then charging everyone to do so.

The local alt-weekly, the aptly named Fort Worth Weekly, tracked the City’s giveaway to BRIT with multiple stories, rightly troubled about the public getting dispossessed of the nearly century-old treasure. Lon Burnam, a longtime Democrat in the lower half of the Texas state legislature (not currently), a former executive director of the Dallas Peace Center, a Quaker, and a member of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, co-authored a May 2020 piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that warned the City of Fort Worth was giving BRIT a “sweetheart deal” (a yearly $3.35 million management fee the City pays to BRIT, separate from a one-time $17 million from the City to BRIT for repairs), unless specific steps are taken to protect the commons. A month later, Burnam told the North Texas NPR/PBS member station: “Basically, the city has abdicated a lot of control and a lot of their responsibility for managing the gardens.” Vaguely citing to the station some unspecificed “plans in progress,” BRIT didn’t even deign to be interviewed.

Friday photo of DFW’s biggest Southern Magnolia, leaving out the signs/chains

What I dislike about BRIT’s very-Texan management of the Garden isn’t just the admission costs, but also the practice of blocking patrons from the trees, further dissociating humans from Nature. I do remember, especially as the years went on (say, circa 2000-2015), that disrespectful people would trash the park and hurt plants (for instance by walking over them), but improving norms around respect for Nature would be the best solution, and could be implemented immediately by hiring knowledgeable employees who, in a manner similar to the best Park Rangers, would politely patrol the Garden and teach guests not to dishonor or disrupt the plants.

Ignore expired metaphors about balancing govs and biz; above, the true power structure (Source)

Instead of gentle monitoring and education done by live humans, BRIT opts for the economic efficiency of brute force: chain the trees away, stop humans from touching them. For decades no chains locked up the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW. If you look at my 2009 post’s comments, you’ll see youth climbing Southern Magnolias, including the grandest one itself, is quite ordinary. Tree-climbing (and tree-hugging!) should be encouraged along with respect for Nature. BRIT’s attitude reminds me of the Fort Worth Zoo, also a place dirtied by the oily hands of the Bass family. In December 2007, the Fort Worth Weekly discussed how Lee Bass and Ramona Bass led the creation of the Fort Worth Zoo’s Texas Wild! exhibit, falsely “showing how wildlife — mostly dead, stuffed wildlife — could exist in harmony with oil and gas drillers.” Reading any decently curated list of news articles from any day of the week should disprove that. I wonder if the new BRIT boardwalk at the Garden, pictured at the top of this post, so resembles the boardwalk I remember at the Fort Worth Zoo because of some Bass family contractor connection.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden giveaway suggests the regional government hierarchs, supposedly protectors of the public, will work hand in glove with the auto industry hierarchs when the forthcoming water crises fully arrive. Maybe any battling on our behalf will be, already is, and always has been, very minimal. Instead of abdicating oneself and begging intoxicated rulers to do something, we could try something else. What’s to be done?

https://twitter.com/fabianacecin/status/1394633434610511874

The good

Another Friday photo: the biggest Southern Magnolia tree in DFW

I did enjoy some aspects of the new BRIT-era Botanic Garden. The Texas Native Forest boardwalk is nicely done; I’m referring to the actual physical boardwalk, which is well-built and fun to walk on. It’s clearly good to protect against some of the trash and decay that had built up over the Garden’s long years (the myriad disrepair was cited as a main reason to give the management to BRIT); of course, rather than the helpfully educating employees I proposed above, it seems the same strategy has been used as with public schools: governments underfund schools/parks, then victim-blame schools/parks for the resulting problems (e.g., trash build-up), and finally give them away in sweetheart deals to industry as the supposed saviors. Anyhow, this is supposed to be the good section!

Regarding governance, whether of car washes and parks or anything larger or smaller, it’s sad that large-scale democracy — clearly better than outright fascism — similarly turns, eventually, into oligarchy (rule by the few): remember that 2014 study by Princeton University and Northwestern University professors who found the United States to be an oligarchy? The Italian sociologist Robert Michels’s infamous iron law of oligarchy from 1911 states: “He who says organization, says oligarchy.” In other words, Michels argues that oligarchy can’t be avoided. Refuting such dark fatalism is the goal of philosopher Heather Marsh’s Binding Chaos books, so I recommend those thought-provoking texts to readers.

As for reconnecting with Nature, consider this menu of options:

  • Go vegan or close to it, which I’ve found helps build interest in, and empathy with, animals and their ecosystems

  • Learn orienteering (using a map and compass well). It helps individuals perceive and identify landforms and direct travel safely. In contrast, I’ve found relying on GPS blinds me to my environment. I have the third edition of champion orienteer Björn Kjellström’s book Be Expert With Map & Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook, but have sadly yet to read it. Looks really good though. Surprises me that most locals in Washington state and Oregon cannot name the various mountain peaks visible in the distance. Compare that with the worldbuilding/setting in better fantasy novels, as in Le Guin’s and Tolkein’s, in which you have a sense as you read that certain differing, named mountain peaks are northward while such-and-such plateaus are in this other compass direction, etc.

  • Use field-guiding books to identify plants and animals. Field-guiding improves visual ability overall and helps you learn names of plants and animals, in whole but also their various parts, as well as their ecosystems and the dependencies within those ecosystems. There are also ways to learn about the medicinal benefits of various plants, such as books or communities around such topics. Wandering around peering at birds or plants, a field guide in hand, also makes a good cover story for sneaking around to spy on what resource corporations are up to.

  • Read Ursula K. Le Guin’s middle and later fiction, which stresses the importance of leaving hyped-up “heroic” (adrenalized?) states, or just using them temporarily, and appreciating, and usually residing in, a calmer, seemingly slower approach to life. For instance, her 2000 Hainish science fiction novel The Telling describes the protagonist’s preference for conversation topics: “She heard about them, their cousins, their families, their jobs, their opinions, their houses, their hernias […] These dull and fragmentary relations of ordinary lives could not bore her. Everything she had missed in Dovza City, everything the official literature, the heroic propaganda left out, they told. If she had to choose between heroes and hernias, it was no contest.” The protagonist prefers to hear not about puffed-up heroes, but about everyday struggles with hernias. (Perhaps an exaggeration to make the high-contrast point, as the protagonist is heroic herself, as are her comrades, in a good way, unlike the official heroes of the state propaganda.)

  • For me, outdoor camping is intimidating for a variety of reasons, several of them irrational. But baby steps such as visiting parks, or going on day hikes (or running mountain trails!), can lead down the road to more challenging adventures. There are tons of websites and online communities around camping, but also around the simpler excursion styles. Even walking or jogging city trails can be adventurous. For instance, Seattle has a Seattle Trails Alliance; maybe an urban location near you has similar. I usually prefer going alone, but some enjoy having a travel buddy.

  • Somebody could make it a goal to liberate the Fort Worth Botanic Garden plants and figure out the steps to achieve it.

Any or all of the above have more “political” implications than might seem evident at first glance. Because a healthy society is made up of heathly individuals.

Compare liberation — such as reconnecting with Nature — with the practice of taking cold showers. I have two friends in Seattle who take cold showers every morning. At first, they told me, it was miserable. But soon after, they acclimated, got stronger, and the cold showers became enjoyable. Feeling their vitality in the morning became enjoyable. Strengthening yourself should feel good. If it doesn’t, or if it seems an abstract duty to be fulfilled like an awful chore, maybe you’re still heavily weakened by the wider world, and need to piece together the baby steps for escaping the damage and the comfort zones. Given the way things are going, the sooner each person improves how harmoniously they interact with Nature, the better. Nature isn’t going anywhere, and as time goes on, She’ll have more and more blunt things to say to us all.

Perhaps a resident of the nearby lagoon, a duck, or maybe a mud hen, takes a stately, solitary walk across Cityview Car Wash

News blasts: Cuba and Texas

Cubans protesting, 11 July 2021, Havana. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Cuba) More than six decades ago on the Carribean island of Cuba, the U.S.-backed right-wing Fulgencio Batista military dictatorship, which accommodated U.S. organized crime and human trafficking, was overthrown, resulting in the rise of leader Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. Prior to that leftist revolution in the fifties, the United States murdered thousands of Cubans. Since Fidel Castro took power and continuing today, the United States has harassed Cuba, including via an ongoing economic embargo/blockade (called by Cubans “el bloqueo“) enforced not by navy, but by law and sanctions. The embargo is an effort to collapse the Cuban trade economy. It causes much poverty there. Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has voted in favor of resolutions calling for an end to el bloqueo, the most prolonged embargo in modern history. Even recently, the United States made it difficult for expatriate Cubans to send money (“remittances”) home to the island, where some 11 million people live today. However, Reuters reported this month that the Biden administration might ease those remittance restrictions soon, and might also lift the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation that Trump hurled at Cuba like a curse days before he left the White House. These hints by the Biden administration are likely trial balloons, a way for the Biden admistration to test the waters by observing others’ reactions, and were publicly made probably due to the protests in Cuba earlier this month — I’ll get to those in a second. Another way the U.S. has harassed the country has been via a travel ban that has at times prevented ordinary US citizens from going to Cuba as tourists. There are many nuances of this ban, which has thickened or loosened with time and different White House administrations, which I won’t get into the weeds of here. The ban has served to keep USians ignorant of Cuba, as they are of most countries and most of humanity currently alive. The ban has also served to sabotage Cuba’s tourism industry. Cuba initially closed its borders for the pandemic, which also hurt its tourism industry severely. An additional item that should be mentioned as background before getting to the protests: the very high-quality Cuban healthcare system. At a former web directory for criminology professor Dr. James Unnever, there’s a short paper on that system, I believe written by Dr. Unnever, though I’m not exactly sure who wrote the paper, nor when. The paper more or less fits with what I know from others who have told me about their experiences in Cuba. Further, a YAC.news article from 12 July 2021, “Why are Cubans protesting and how can you help?” (the source for much of this Cuba news blast) states:

The small island nation of Cuba has one of the world’s best healthcare systems even after an ongoing embargo and sabotage campaign by the United States […]

In Cuba, there is a health center per 25,000 [people], neighbourhood clinic per 5,000 people, and a personal family doctor per 500 people. In [the capital city of] Havana alone, there is a clinic in virtually every street corner, each with a family doctor and nurse. Health workers nationwide have been out in full capacity visiting patients at every home. They have been educating residents about the new Cuban-made coronavirus vaccine [called “Abdala”] and informing them it has arrived while setting up appointments for vaccination. 

Throughout 2020 Cuba largely kept the [novel corona]virus beyond its shores, [but] the number of infected patients is […] now rising fast, with a record-breaking 2,698 new daily cases on Saturday [July 10], and a seven-day average now above 2,000 [as of July 12]. Cuba is facing the biggest known surge in the Caribbean. Critics of the Cuban government’s failure to contain the virus point out the government’s approval of foreign tourists, according to sources on the ground, specifically Russian tourists. They claim that the virus was allowed in despite warnings from the healthcare community. [Meanwhile] the island is undergoing an economic crisis and healthcare emergency as inflation and COVID continue to rise.

In Cuba, all citizens receive health care free of charge. According to the YAC.news article, “In the past several years, [Cuban] health workers have eradicated polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. The amount of malnutrition among 1-15 year olds is 0.7%, compared with 5% in the United States. Initially based in hospitals, the Cuban health system evolved into a primary care system that is based in communities”. The Cuban medical system prioritizes preventive care, public participation, community interventions, and a very high ratio of primary-care doctors to citizens. With those priorities inexpensively driving their health care system, the Cuban population scores very high on health measures. Yet I’m curious to know 1) Aside from human health, what was the strategy around the Castro government making medicine a sort of “unique sales point” in the international trade economy, and 2) how does the Cuban healthcare system approach severe mental health problems?

Color photo shows masked Cuban protestors marching, sometimes with their hands in the air.
Havana, 11 July 2021. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

That finishes up the background on Cuba. Now, to the protests, which made news in mid-July.

Earlier this month in Cuba, thousands of protesters hit the streets countrywide, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down; Sunday 11 July was one of the biggest protests the country has seen in more than two and a half decades. Diaz-Canel angered the protesters because of Cuba’s growing inflation and other trade economy woes, plus his government’s failure to contain COVID-19 since it let infected travellers in. These are legitimate local grievances. Reuters reported some violence by security forces against protesters, and notes that mobile internet (and thus widespread social media) was introduced to the country only two-and-a-half years ago, a huge factor in prompting civil unrest of whatever sorts.

While the protestors correctly have a point, the U.S. media megaphone, along with U.S. thinktanks and others, have used the local anger as a way to boost unhelpful voices calling for serious destabilization of the Cuban government in such a way as to benefit foreign interests, including United States interests. This has made following the protests online, via the #SOScuba hashtag for example, a bit confusing.

The YAC.news article also says:

Due to the lack of resources on the island an international campaign has been launched to supply the island with the materials needed for syringes. The campaign is being led by Cuba’s diaspora and international solidarity movements. Global Health Partners (GHP), a New York-based non-profit, has launched a campaign to address a shortage of 20 million syringes. Bob Schwartz, GHP’s vice president, told international media, “To date, we’ve purchased four million syringes. We hope to purchase an additional two million” 

Those who might wish to help with the GHP syringe collection campaign for Cuba’s vaccine rollout are directed here. I’ll note that a shortage of syringes in the United States federal stockpile was a problem noted early on in the U.S. response to novel coronavirus by Health and Human Services Dept. whistleblower Dr. Rick A. Bright. It’s mentioned in his whistleblower complaint from May 2020, in which Dr Bright explains how he was retaliated against by the Trump administration for insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19″ (among other related reasons).

Havana, 11 July 2021. Plain clothes police blocking a road during protests. Photo by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters

Back to Cuba, the twitterati also verbally sparred over blaming the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which is only one member of the U.S. “intelligence community” (a pro-spy rebranding of the more exact descriptor “spy agencies”). No smoking gun has surfaced proving meddling by specifically the CIA in these July Cuban protests. Surely the CIA is interested in Cuba, and history gives many examples of CIA-sponsored assassinations and coups in the Central and South Americas, see for instance Operation Condor and Operation Northwoods. But the twitterati spoke as if CIA meddling had already been definitively proven. It costs nothing and takes little effort to tweet opinions; investigation to find proof takes serious time, money, and effort.

Last time I checked, the U.S. has 16 or 17 (depending on how you count) spy agencies on the federal level. For instance, the FBI, the Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, and many other federal agencies all have spy bureaus that are part of the so-called intelligence community. There’s also the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and still others. Maybe the newly minted Space Force, the fifth Pentagon branch, has a spy agency component; if so, that would bring the total up to 17 or 18. And that’s just one country, the United States. There are nearly 200 other countries. I’d wager almost all of them have at least one spy agency; most probably have many more.

The tunnel-vision focus of twitterati on the CIA would be like — let’s assume the demons of Abrahmic religions are real for a moment — Christians, hooked on televangelists, seeing Satan behind every misfortune, and refusing to consider what roles in the misfortune might have been played by the Ifrit of Islam, or Samyaza from the Book of Enoch, or hundreds of other demons. With hundreds of spy agency opponents to choose from, it’d be best to find evidence, set goals, and execute, rather than compete to see who can yell “CIA” the loudest, which ultimately just ends up advertising the spy agency that the activists say they hope to obliterate. (Something JFK also hoped to do!)

The Cuban authorities admitted in tweets that a government website had been taken down by denial-of-service attacks. Anons participating in #OpCuba claimed responsibility. More on that in a 14 July 2021 YAC.news article.

https://twitter.com/YourAnonOnline/status/1415263475169906692
Translation: “We denounce that the website of our foreign relations chancellery has received a denial-of-service cyberattack since 11 July 2021. This attack generated false accesses in large quantities, compromising our servers.”

Texas) Some concluding thoughts about my approximately two weeks in North Texas. My trip improved as time went on, though the humongous Nissan Armada the rental car company stuck me with (see last week’s post) did start to sink: the check engine light came on some 48 hours prior to my flight home departing. But I turned the gargantuan vehicle back in at the airport no problem. No harm, no foul, I suppose. As my trip continued, I discovered more research data (for family and personal history) than I expected, including some fascinating and healing revelations that are too private to share on a main channel like this. Catching up with friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a long time was beneficial as well, and sometimes revealing about both sides in the interactions, in expected ways, yet also in unexpected ways. Bottom line: people are always changing, even if slowly; there’s no stasis outside abstraction; the only question is, will the changes be for the worse, or for the better? The changes are more evident when you haven’t seen someone offline in eight or so years. Three additional observations about North Texas in July 2021 might be of general interest. First, as at some Seattle places, multiple restaurants in Fort Worth are doing away with paper or laminated menus altogether, forcing customers to scan QR codes. Are laminated menus environmentally friendly, or are they plastic? Either way, you can’t even obtain a regular menu by asking, since they’re all gone. What about customers who don’t have phones, or who use their devices atypically? Avoiding needless paper is great, but everyone carrying around EMF-generating phones to scan QR graphics isn’t my preference: here are thousands of categorized studies showing EMF harms. I solved the problem by looking at the menus the stores had pasted on the windows. Or just using the blasted QR codes, if I had a phone handy. (In Colombia, where protests against president Iván Duque’s narco-state are ongoing, the cops are considering replacing their badge ID numbers with QR codes, which are small and difficult to scan for those with phones and impossible for those without; making matters worse, the public still has to know the cop’s badge ID number to get from the QR code to the actual identity, meaning, I think, the cop’s legal name.) Second point: I heard more Spanish spoken in North Texas than I used to hear, this trip. Maybe it’s a change in me and what I notice, but it could be (or could also be) Spanish speakers feeling safer or more comfortable asserting their primary language. That’s a change for the better. Finally, I got a chance to try out Belently’s Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant on Blue Bonnet Circle. Their all-vegan menu offers many gluten-free items, and their walls, painted wonderful colors, include delightful murals. That’s opposed to the default no-color beige walls that white people in the United States typically have in their homes and stores. Vegans, including those who also avoid gluten as I do, now have three strong vegan-specific options in Fort Worth that I can highly recommend: the long-standing Spiral Diner (largely comfort food and thus not the healthiest), the new Boulevard of Greens with organic juices (including beet juice!) and bowls (including broccoli and quinoa!), and Belently’s Love. See, even Texas changes.

Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW, still bearing fruit in 2021

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Revisiting the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW; news blasts for Cuba and Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/24/revisiting-biggest-southern-magnolia-dfw-cuba-texas/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This is entry 24 of 52.

Note: Readers of last week’s post might enjoy seeing some of the revisions I made to it, such as the addition of subheads.

Note (added 9 July ’21): The argument in the last paragraph of this post is that psychiatrists’ dehumanization of their patients is revealed by psychiatrists not putting in effort on things like compounding pharmacies that would benefit their clients, but instead paying attention to those they do regard as valuable humans, such as their colleagues or Big Pharma representatives/ghostwriters.

Bottle of compounded quetiapine/Seroquel for custom dosage of 290 mg per night

When I lived in Texas during my teens and twenties, a decade or more ago, I’d not yet encountered a lot of high-quality information countering psychiatry. Here and there a friend might say something, or an unusual news item might flash across my radar, causing me to briefly question the psychology industry, but although these blips of knowledge did help dent my confidence in the mental health system subtly, I still remained, overall, a believer in and user of conventional psychiatric services. But there’s one very clear exception to this.

Even early in my experiences with the prevailing mental health system, I did realize the unavailability of psychopharmaceutical dosages in any increment desired was a red flag signaling that Big Pharma shouldn’t be trusted. If the pill-makers truly cared about the well-being of patients, they’d sell the psychopharmaceuticals in pretty much every dosage possible. For instance, AstraZeneca would offer quetiapine (Seroquel) at 300 milligrams, 299 mg, 298 mg, 297 mg, 296 mg, and so on, as well as at 301 milligrams, 302 mg, 303 mg, and the rest. That way prescribers and patients could select the dosages that would provide the precise antipsychotic effects supposedly needed (the distress the diagnosed experience is real and at times strange, but the chemical lobotomies, to use the term Big Pharma initially employed to introduce the pills to psychiatrists, aren’t long-term solutions). And simultaneously, the psych drug consumers could take as little of the psychopharmaceuticals as possible, in hopes of dodging or minimizing adverse effects including but not limited to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, tardive dyskinesia, fatigue/tranquilization, brain shrinkage — the list goes on and on.

On the familiar commercial market today, Big Pharma supplies the drugs only at certain dosages — in the United States, quetiapine/Seroquel can be filled in the 200-300 milligram range at a regular pharmacy only at 200 mg, 225 mg, 250 mg, 275 mg, and 300 mg — but patients deserve custom dosages of any increment, especially for the sake of tapering down or off the drugs. Helping a patient taper down or off, increasingly referred to as deprescribing, is just lately penetrating the consciousness of conventional medicine, since the pill industry planned patients to be on the drugs for life; doctors who aren’t up to speed on the topic are seriously behind. See for instance the amazing 16 March 2021 article in the peer-reviewed journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology by Adele Framer (aka Altostrata), founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, with the in-your-face title “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants and other psychotropic medications.”

Sometimes patients without compounding pharmacies attempt to break or cut their pill tablets at home, but this often doesn’t work well. For starters, a jeweler’s scale used to measure the cut tablet might not register small weights accurately or precisely. Making matters worse, if the individual at home tries to cut a tablet and screws up (little tablets can be slippery, among other reasons), they don’t get a second chance, since the monthly bottle contains only 30 pills. The psych drug consumer now has to try to pick tiny tablet shavings up off the floor where they fell and figure out how many of the crumbly shavings to swallow, along with whatever grody grime from the floor is sticking to the shavings. It isn’t convenient to weigh and cut pills yourself if you’re travelling, either. And how does anyone know if the chemical is evenly distributed across the total volume of the tablet? Breaking, say, a 25 mg tablet in half to obtain a 12.5 mg dosage won’t work if the chemical is mostly on one side of the tablet due to vagaries of the corporate manufacturing process. If the tablet is scored, that can help, but not enough for precision necessarily, and it doesn’t feel very encouraging when the regular pharmacist promises you the tablet will be scored and when you get home, it turns out it isn’t. Patients whose pills come in capsules, such that they can unscrew the capsules and count out each bead of the psychopharmaceutical to reach a custom dosage, may have better luck — I have no personal experience trying to customize capsule dosages at home, only tablets — but not all psychopharmaceuticals are available in capsule form.

Enter compounding pharmacies

Two compounded pills of quetiapine/Seroquel in my hand

Compounding pharmacies are your way to hack the problem of prefab dosages so you can obtain custom ones. Tons of USians taking pharmaceuticals have never heard of compounding pharmacies (which is why I’m writing this). To compound simply means to make a medicine by combining ingredients such that the result is tailored to the needs of a specific patient. For example, someone might need a particular medication, yet have an allergy to a dye ingredient used in the versions made at large by Big Pharma, so the patient goes to a compounding pharmacy to have pills created that are without the dye but otherwise the same. Shouldn’t all pills be tailored to the needs of each patient? Anyway, in the United States, compounded drugs are not FDA approved, but they or the compounding pharmacies are typically subject to other oversight, including state-level regulatory agencies. Compounding pharmacies work by basically doing similar weighing and cutting procedures as patients might try to do themselves at home, but the compounding pharmacists have at their disposal much better equipment and expertise to bring to bear on the task. I don’t know the history of compounding pharmacies versus the “regular” ones typically found in corporate drug stores like Walgreens, but I bet it’s fascinating.

To get started, the two things a patient mostly needs are an unconventional psychiatrist who will agree to prescribe at a compounding pharmacy (maybe they’ve already done so for other patients), and health insurance that will cooperate if the custom pills are expensive (compounded quetiapine/Seroquel is merely $40 USD per month out of pocket in Seattle). Finding such a doctor is easier said than done, but it’s definitely possible, especially nowadays with the widespread use of telemedicine. Health insurers sometimes cover compounded drugs; check their policies and fight with them if necessary.

Custom dosages are especially needed for reducing or eliminating dependence on psychopharmaceuticals. If a person diagnosed with severe manic-depression and psychosis has been on a dopamine antagonist (an “antipsychotic”) for decades, stopping cold turkey, or decreasing the dosage by 50% for two weeks and then quitting, can itself trigger psychosis — and sadly, psychiatrists will then claim it’s the “underlying disease” acting up, rather than admitting that the huge jumps in dosage via regular pharmacies, or via conventional psychiatrists, could have been at fault. In my case, in my quest to get off this crap, I recently went down from 300 mg quetiapine/Seroquel per night to a compounded 290 mg, a decrease of merely 3.3%, whereas going down to the next dosage AstraZeneca offers, 275mg, would have been a decrease of 8.33% or approaching 10%. That’s quite a difference that can have dramatic implications for whether an individual going down on such drugs remains safely functional or not. I’ll quote Framer’s article on the subject of protracted small, gradual tapers (I removed the footnotes; see the link above for the full info):

For decades, in both psychiatry and addiction medicine, there have been calls for research into tapering protocols for psychotropics so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms, with little result. We have found that very gradual dosage reduction at an individualized pace minimizes the emergence of withdrawal symptoms. Years ago, inundated by people with severe withdrawal symptoms from the “half, and half, and then off” reductions recommended by their prescribers, patient peer support groups propounded reductions of 10% per step, as suggested by many sources. Since 2011, SurvivingAntidepressants.org has advocated a conservative 10% reduction per month of the most recent dose – an exponential taper, the size of each reduction becoming progressively smaller, approximating the hyperbolic method endorsed by recent research. These gradual tapers to minimize withdrawal symptoms typically require the creation of customized dosages and take many months to several years, depending on individual tolerance for dosage reduction.

Some, like me, are in situations where even a 10% decrease might be too much too fast.

It’s astonishing how many conventional psychiatrists I’ve had to see, and maybe you’ve had to see, who never mentioned compounding pharmacies, for I certainly brought up my desire for custom dosages to them during face to face appointments. These were docs in corner offices packed with awards. Based on exposés I’ve read about the medical industry over the years, I’m guessing in medical school, doctors maybe hear about compounding pharmacies once or twice tops, and then go on to forget all about them. Too busy, I suppose: after all, the psychiatry industry invented the disease of drapetomania, which diagnosed as insane slaves in the United States South who thought they should be free; psychiatry decided homosexuality was a mental illness and then finally un-decided that by vote as recently as 1973 (that’s when 5854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the system of diagnoses, while 3810 were in favor of keeping it in); and lately, the psychology industry has been criticized for assisting the United States military and spy agencies in committing torture. Hmm, too busy to learn about the compounding pharmacy down the street. I had to quit going to a mental health center here in Seattle (for refills of the pills I’m still physiologically dependent on) because the psychiatrists there would work only with that center’s regular pharmacy. I suppose the effort to set up prescriptions with a compounding pharmacy was just too much for these precious lightweights.

Ultimately, this isn’t about science. (Refuting what studies supposedly show about psych drugs is too much to include in this single post; check the links in the first sentence for more on the topic.) What psychiatry is really about is name-calling, pointing fingers, damning or cursing some as official less-thans. Just like many cults, as this book analyzes in great detail. Reflectors/fans of psychiatry might feel this post has disrespected doctors and their diplomas, which they probably idealize, and they probably believe those diagnosed have all this stuff (nightly tranquilizer pills, lobotomies, electroshock, etc.) coming to them anyway, just because the docs said so, and well, maybe someday a third party messiah will come along and improve the mental health system or something, but eh. I actually had a conventional psychiatrist in Seattle tell me that in the past few years: Okay, she conceded politely, the mental health system might have some troubles, but “we just have to do the best we can” until some outside factor slowly reforms things realistically and all that. Thankfully, out of the 1-in-5 or 1-in-4 USians on psych drugs, with COVID’s psych drug shortages having provided a scary reminder of what’s happening behind the scenes of the industry’s shiny happy commercials, many, many, many people are no longer asking the hierarchical white coats for permission, and are busy horizontally helping each other improve their situations.

The colorful photo shows the Columbia River with a boat in it and a bridge across it. Hills on each side with a bird soaring overhead.
Easier to feel sane out in Nature, such as here, the Columbia River, seen from Grant county in central Washington state. (Photo by me, 18 June 2021)

News blasts

Belarus. There’s still a dictator in Europe: Alexander Lukashenko (alternate spelling Alyaksandr Lukashenka), protected by the Vladmir Putin regime in Russia. Lukashenko took office in 1994 amid the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In what would be hilarious were it not for the human rights violations under his rule, Lukashenko is really into the aesthetics of Soviet communism, wearing a decades-out-of-style uniform with a silly hat pictured in the video below (it’s a bit like George W. Bush’s fascination with official dress of station). Belarus is a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament and all powers centered on the president. Belarus keeps the Soviet-style KGB for spying on dissidents and arresting Lukashenko’s enemies. Lukashenko dictates all industry, major media, and education in Belarus. He claims to provide stability in Belarus, but he’s a chief cause of instability, and a puppet of Russia (which might sound familiar to US readers). Lukashenko jailed one of his major political rivals, banker Viktor Babaryko, and also jailed Sergei Tikhanovsky, a vlogger in his forties whose youtube channel “A Country for Life” was growing in popularity as Tikhanovsky interviewed members of the Belarusian public about the situation in their country. Tikhanovsky’s channel, started in 2019 and still active thanks to his allies, aims to show ways to a better Belarus by featuring everyday Belarusians’ stories and examples of entrepreneurs. But when in May 2020 Tikhanovsky was announcing his candidacy for president — Lukashenko has controlled that office since 1994, amid accusations of fraudulent elections — Tikhanovsky was detained supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, previously an English teacher and human rights activist, stepped in to replace Tikhanovsky in the presidential candidacy; they’re spouses. Her platform similarly emphasized human rights, democracy, freeing political prisoners, reinstating term limits (as opposed to Lukashenko’s dictatorship), and getting away from the union treaty / integration with Russia, viewed as an infringement on Belarusian sovereignty. She received many votes in the August 2020 election; some reports says she won, but according to leaked audio recordings involving poll workers, the dictator continued electoral fraud. He remains in power today. Soon after the election, the dictator’s regime threatened Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s young children, and she was thus forced to flee the country to Lithuania. Her twitter is here (in English) and here’s her English website. Allies of the couple have also faced intense political repression. Meanwhile more general mass arrests of dissidents took place in Belarus; plus, widespread organized crime and trade economy troubles are ongoing. Yet the largest pro-democracy march in the country’s history took place on 16 August 2020, with more than 200,000 people rallying. Pro-democracy protests continue even as these activists are assaulted, raped, and tortured by police. Lukashenko plotted assassinations of political opponents living in Germany (including via explosives and poison): a 24-minute excerpt of a bugged recording of Lukashenko’s then-spymaster was published by EUobserver in January 2021 here (see also the 12-page English transcript or the 8-page Russian transcript; this DW article in English too). The bugged conversation occurred in April 2012. At one point in the conversation the Belarusian KGB discussed killing a Belarusian-born journalist, Pavel Sheremet, who was living in Russia at the time and under constant surveillance. The spymaster wanted the assassination to send a public message, explaining to officers of the KGB’s Alpha Group: “We’ll plant [a bomb] and so on and this fucking rat will be taken down in fucking pieces — legs in one direction, arms in the other direction. If everything [looks like] natural causes, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way.” Pavel Sheremet was eventually murdered in a car explosion in Kiev in July 2016. Lukashenko’s forces currently use beatings, rape, and torture to maintain power, as well as fake rallies and Putin’s protection, but Belarusians keep demanding free elections, release of all political prisoners, and the fall of the dictatorship. Embedded below is a video, just under six minutes, from YAC on 25 May 2021, titled “How Belarus Is Being Held Hostage.” It is the source for most, though not all, of the information in this Belarus news blast.

Ethiopia. In 2019, after ending two decades of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Within a year, Ahmed nevertheless launched a brutal military attack on Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia. This is a bit like former U.S. president Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and within two months sending a 30,000 troop surge into Afghanistan, except domestically. Ahmed attacked Tigray after he received criticism for postponing elections (he claimed COVID-19 concerns). Many, including the corrupt and long-standing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Ahmed was postponing elections to seize more power. Then Tigray held regional elections in September 2020 anyway out of defiance. Things escalated from there, including (in chronological order) the Ethiopian parliament blocking funds to the regional Tigrayan government, the TPLF attacking a federal military facility, and Ahmed sending into Tigray a heavy military force accompanied by airstrikes. The Ethiopian federal government is falsely calling it a “law enforcement operation,” but it’s a full-scale invasion. There are more historical factors and multiparty tensions underlying the Tigray War, but the preceding gives some of the absolute basics. Most importantly, the two sides described are both accused credibly of atrocities, though most of the evidence points to the Ethiopian federal forces along with their Eritrean and Amhara allies. The civilians are being trampled underneath all these fighters, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities taking place. These include mass killings, abductions, daily rape and gang rape of civilians as collective punishment, and other horrors. In some cases, men are being forced to rape their own family members, and in one instance a mother was forced to watch the execution of her twelve-year-old son prior to being taken to a camp where she and other women were raped. The threat of famine is currently rising due to interrupted food shipments. It has also been reported that Amhara forces are committing ethnic cleansing. Multiple countries globally have condemned Ahmed’s invasion of Tigray, the United States has declared sanctions on Ethiopia and its leadership, and human rights defenders and investigators are demanding access to the region. World governments are urged to stop doing business in the area, particularly the telecomms industry, but I’m not sure what the current status of that is, anyone know? It would be amazing to see activists in the United States transform from ignoring the brutal conflict to pressuring the unfortunately mighty telecomms toward ceasing collaboration with Ahmed. Many interesting things come from Ethiopia, such as injera bread (made of gluten-free tef, the world’s smallest grain, and very healthy too) and the music of the krar instrument, both found here in Seattle. Below is embedded the following recommended videos (the ones from YAC are largely the sources for this Ethiopia news blast): The first video, from YAC on 3 June 2021, is “Ethiopia’s Descent Into Darkness In Tigray,” at just under six minutes long, with the transcript available here. The second video, from YAC on 24 April 2021, is “The Ongoing Nightmare Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Genocide” at two minutes long. The third video, from YAC on 13 March 2021, is “World Governments Urged to Stop Doing Business With Ethiopia” at about a minute long. The fourth video, uploaded to youtube on 2 November 2017, is some Eritrean folk music, singing accompanied by the krar.

Does anyone have more information on this performer and song?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/19/how-why-compounding-pharmacies/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Review of education books, part one of two

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 15 of 52.

The image shows a tank pointing its gun barrel at a child sitting in a school desk. A soldier's head is poking out the top of the tank's hatch, and the soldier is yelling: "Learn!" The tank has a U.S. flag.
Compulsory education, imposed by nearly all governments

Currently my day job is substitute teaching in public education, something I did previously in Texas, too. Mostly known for popping into rowdy classrooms for a single day at a time, substitutes sometimes work long-term assignments also, effectively replacing the regular teacher across multiple weeks or months, as I’m doing now. There’s a lot I could say about schooling, especially this spring as students in the United States are encouraged to return to poorly outfitted classrooms against the advice of epidemiologists. I worry some of the innovations (to use bizspeak) hit upon during the struggles of remote learning might be forgotten in the rush back to so-called normalcy — for instance, teaching to the test and one-size-fits-all attitudes were thankfully dropped in the last year, but they’ll presumably return soon unless there’s a fight to stop them. Recently I sent many freelance pitches on the subject out to corporate media, nonprofit news, and literary magazines; we’ll see if I get a commission. In the meantime, I thought something quick and focused on the topic might be nice to self-publish here.

There are four books on education that have had an impact on me. What follows is a short review of two of them. In the near future, I’ll blog about the other two. (I’m just cutting in half what would otherwise be a review of four books, in the interest of saving time.)

By Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, 1995. I read this roughly a decade ago, around the time I was first going into teaching in Texas. I no longer have a copy of the award-winning bestseller on hand, but I remember the book was very much a tearjerker. It describes public education in the poorest U.S. congressional district then and now, in the Bronx. Kozol exposes in great detail the poverty, racism, and other injustice of public education there, telling the stories of individual students and families. I strongly remember how he very effectively depicts, as the New York Times review puts it, “the hypersegregation of our cities [that] allows whites to maintain physical as well as spiritual distance from complex and daunting urban problems.” Kozol describes the heroic effort put in by many school employees, and the ways employees, students, and families supported one another. In the wealthy private schools I experienced, something like a diagnosis of severe mental illness (whatever that means) would serve as pseudo-justification for ostracizing and making fun of a troubled kid. But I’ve seen firsthand in public schools, otherwise beaten down by a lack of resources and care from the surrounding world, how some students will of their own initiative provide unpaid support to diagnosed kids, just to aid them — something the upper, upper middle, or intelligenstia classes will completely forget exists, erased in their addiction to comfort. I also remember a friendly coach who collected donated clothes and stored them in a portable for poor students to have. I could tell those stories and many more in great detail, some other time. It’s just to say that the contrasts between fancy-pants private schools and worn-down public schools are very striking. The latter aren’t utopias to be romanticized — many bullies and awful, fatalistic teachers, along with other problems, fill public schools, but with 50+ million people in the public education system across the United States, they deserve more attention than the intelligentsia usually deign to give them. You can find out more about Amazing Grace on Kozol’s website. As the book’s subtitle suggests, that the well-off let most public schools rot, shows the low approval given to children, compared with, say, the high approval given to video games (gauged by discrepancy in amount of time individuals devote to each). Thankfully in many areas that’s been changing dramatically in the past few years. I should conclude with the caveat that since I haven’t read this book in a very long time, I don’t know what all I would make of it now were I to re-read it.

The image shows the jacket cover of the Homeroom Security book. In addition to the author's name and book title, the jacket shows five helmeted cops with pointed guns sweeping a school hallway

By Aaron Kupchik, Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, 2010. This book, published by NYU Press, I also read roughly a decade ago — due to a very good review of it at Salon. Homeroom Security combines two topics I follow, education and authoritarianism (surveillance, cops everywhere, crushing of dissent, etc.). Like the Salon review says, the sociology/criminology professor wrote it in such a fair way that doubters who read the book can really be won over to his “radical” thesis: social support and participatory environments make schools safe, not the battle-zone mentality. I remember also (I haven’t read it in a decade, so again the same caveat as with Amazing Grace) that the academic Kupchik very effectively integrates both quantitative methods (statistics regarding money, measurable outcomes, and more) with qualitative ones (interviews, visiting the campuses for long durations like an an anthropologist, and so on). Most importantly, the book discusses how the armed cops, surveillance systems, and other military-like features lately ubiquitous in schools condition kids to believe those elements are just normal in life, to be expected always, rather than only sensible as rare emergency measures (i.e., humans have unfortunately set up the endo-realities of our our social/governance systems as if we’re experiencing permanent nonstop emergency, with all the health-destroying stress that entails). I’ll let the excellent Salon review — which is mostly an interview with Kupchik — finish up my work for me: below, Kupchik talking with the Salon interviewer:

We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years. […] As part of my research, I interviewed students, and one of the questions that seemed like a good idea at the start was asking them whether they liked having the SROs [school resource officers] in their schools. For me, having gone to public schools without cops, this really seemed odd to me, to put police officers in peaceful schools. And the students were puzzled by this question, and I quickly realized that it makes no sense to them because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s completely normal. It makes about as much sense as if you asked them, “Should your school have a principal?”

The two books above, I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about public education. The other two I’ll post about in the near future.

In conclusion

For now, let me conclude by saying that what I’ve found most important as a substitute teacher in a long-term assignment is just showing up, being truly present, for the kids. So they know they have someone consistent, there each school-day to greet them, who won’t be a mean-spirited dictator. A simple example: if students are marked repeatedly tardy or absent, there can be a variety of unfortunate repercussions for them. If they’re a few minutes late, it’s safer to just mark them present than it is to force them into a show-down with the quasi-legal system embedded in the schools, when the real problem might be a late bus or a domestic crisis or lack of nutrition/sleep or any number of other things that may be no one’s fault. Having a teacher they can count on not to be a threat, is important, in this otherwise stressful, endosocial world of permanent nonstop emergency that we’ve built for ourselves. And then, I can teach students about geometry and whatever else. Student challenges with, say, math, are often simply troubles with English language learning for migrant/refugee kids, or students understandably feeling miserable with, and resistant to, compulsory education in the first place. It’s helpful when school settings permit teachers to pick just one little piece of the math puzzle that students are struggling with, and break it down, teach it slowly, to make sure everyone understands, while meanwhile giving the advanced students enrichment books to pursue on their own. With the likely return of teaching-to-the-test pressure (or the school loses funding when students don’t pass) and one-size-fits-all in the name of efficiency, not to mention grief and stress in connection with the pandemic — and the poverty, racism, and authoritarianism Kozol and Kupchik document — I fear there are dark days ahead for U.S. public schools. But with the Internet encouraging people to become more outspoken about everything, to stick up for themselves and others, there’s also a lot of room for hope.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Review of education books, part one of two, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/17/education-books-review-1of2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How and why to make a beet root smoothie

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 14 of 52.

The image shows a metal cup containing a beet root smoothie (which is dark purple). The metal cup is standing on a countertop.
My beet root smoothie!

Okay, there are many ways to make a beet root smoothie. But here’s how to make mine. For the past two and a half months, I’ve blended one of these just about every single day. And why, you ask?

I like beet root smoothies because of the multiple health benefits not typically provided by other foods. Beet root is a favorite ingredient of vegan athletes, including but not limited to vegan bodybuilders. It contains nitrate, which dilates blood vessels, improving athletic performance. It also contains boron, which increases testosterone. It helps with estrogen regulation as well. Then, the vegetable enhances reaction time, balance, and cognitive performance, apparently by improving blood flow to brain areas related to executive function. Beets even help with neuroplasticity for changing brains in adults. A 16-video series by nutritionist Michael Greger (who unfortunately endorses gluten) looks at conventional science studies showing various benefits of regular beet root consumption. I’ll embed immediately below two of his short beet root videos that I find most interesting:

You might ask, what’s the difference between beets, beet roots, and beet root powder. A beet plant has an aboveground leafy portion that’s edible and can be prepared like kale. But the beet root is the plant’s underground taproot. Beet root powder is made from grinding up, dehydrating, and/or otherwise preparing this taproot.

Below, the recipe for my beet root smoothie; after that, walking through the process step by step. The ingredients can get expensive. One trick is to call or email companies and ask about sales, discounts, etc. Sometimes you can get really lucky!

For one person and a 2 cup / 500 mL smoothie, put these into a blender:

1 cup almond milk
About 8 ice cubes
About 8 raspberries
4 scoops of beet root powder (about 20g or the equivalent of two beets)
1/2 teaspoon of yacon syrup (about 2.5 mL)
1 tablespoon of maqui powder (about 15 mL)
1 tablespoon of almond butter
A little less than 1 scoop (i.e., about 20g) of your fave vegan protein powder

Blend it all up and drink

Now let’s go step by step, commenting on the different ingredients. It’s important to get strong and healthy to live an empowered life… if you eat like Donald Trump, you’re going to act more like Donald Trump: you are what you eat. In an academia/intelligentsia world that tunnel-visions on abstract concepts created by unhappy philosophers, it can be a shock to realize that eating different foods actually yields different beliefs. Imagine using nutrition to alter your hormones, and you can see how eating differently might powerfully change what you’re telling yourself is or isn’t the case. Syllogisms, sadly, don’t generally include recipes. (That’s somewhat a joke.)

The photo shows a Vitamix blender atop my kitchen counter. In the background are various kitchen items, such as colanders and bags of quinoa.
My kitchen

Step one, start with a blender. Pictured left is my muscular Vitamix. It’s a Professional 750 model. I got this particular model because unlike other Vitamix models, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles crap (like Bluetooth) seemingly affixed to every commodity nowadays to make it a “smart” EMF-generating member of the Internet of Things/Shit. As I recall, the 750 comes with a 20-ounce container, but you can also optionally add the 32-ounce one pictured here. The bigger size works much better since it gives the container a lot more breathing room for ingredients, even if you’re just a single person making a meal by himself. But, you don’t have to go with the spear-famed Vitamix company necessarily. Cheaper blenders may get the job done also.

It's just a photo of a white and green container of Califia almond milk.
I love this stuff

Step two. Get thee some almond milk. I really like the Califia brand. It doesn’t have carrageenan (a kind of binding element that isn’t helpful nutritionally), but isn’t as odd-tasting as the Malk brand (which has just three ingredients: water, almonds, and salt). Make sure to get the unsweetened variety of almond milk, since as the book The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes explains, there’s no good reason to add sugar to everything, not just in terms of long-term adverse consequences, but even in terms of your day-to-day life, such as your sleep and your mood.

Step three. Fill up the blender container (most have measurement amounts marked on the sides) with one cup of almond milk. Then throw in approximately eight ice cubes from the freezer, if you have one. If you don’t, go get some ice from Wim Hof.

This is a photo looking down into a blender container from above. In the blender container is almond milk and ice, as per the recipe.
Peering down into icy almond milk

Step four. Now it’s time to add the beet root powder. First, let me say, some people find food powders irritating to their GI systems. Others, including me, get along fine, or seemingly fine, with food powders. I asked my awesome general practitioner for her thoughts. She said that exceptions aside (such as people really affected negatively by powders), powders are definitely good enough for the busy person, though technically using raw whole foods is always better. Her take accorded with my thoughts. As for choice of beet root powder, the more common ones sourced from China are generally a less vivid color and do not taste as intense. I really like the Koyah brand from the U.S., which you can see in the photos is a deeper and more vivid purple. The Koyah taste is much more intense than the China flavors, so it might take a few smoothies to grow on you (don’t give up quickly if at first you don’t like something!). Beet root powder can be a little challenging to find, so try health food stores, grocery co-ops, etc., or order off the Internet. The “tubs” (as the small cylindrical containers of beet root powder are typically called) come with a scoop inside. Occasionally the scoop will get buried in the powder, meaning you have to dig around for it. Four scoops is what my recipe calls for. Usually, the scoops are about the same size, regardless of brand. Below, an image of an open beet root powder tub that’s sourced from China, so not Koyah.

The photo shows a succulent plant in a container, and then an open beet root powder tub atop an Ursula K. Le Guin paperback novel
Not Koyah. Note lack of vivid purple relative to next image
Another photo of a succulent plant, a paperback novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, and a Koyah tub of beet root powder open for inspection from above
Now this is Koyah. Much more vivid purple than China-sourced tubs
Like the caption says.
Koyah beet root powder, next to my succulents and above a Le Guin novel
Like the caption says
Blender with almond milk, ice, & Koyah beet root powder
The photo shows the smoothie in progress. The photo shows my hand dumping a bowl of eight raspberries into the blender container.
In you go, raspberries

Step five. Add eight raspberries. Nothing particularly complicated here. I don’t know much about raspberries’ nutritional status. They just go well with the taste and color of the rest of the smoothie. I will say that as a fruit, raspberries add (natural) sugar, so it’s usually best to have the smoothie earlier in the day, far away from time to go to bed. That’s because sugar winds up adults just like it does kids. Adults just so often think they’re too special to be affected by mere food, what with all the important paperwork they’re filling out each day or whatever, checking those endless Microsoft Teams notifications from co-workers and whatnot.

The photo shows a bottle of yacon syrup and, in a white pot, a snake plant
Yacon syrup with my snake plant named Philosophy

Step six. Add 1/2 teaspoon (about 2.5 mL) of yacon syrup. Yacon syrup is a sweetener — you can use it where you might have used honey or maple syrup — that’s low on the glycemic index (a ranking of how various foods affect blood sugar, which impacts mood and affects falling asleep, sleep quality, and energy levels in general). For me, yacon syrup was really hard to find. In fact, I couldn’t find it anywhere in Seattle, and that’s after trying a handful of grocery and health food stores. Nobody had even heard of it. I had to order it online.

The photo shows my hand pouring, from a filled teaspon, yacon syrup into the blender container
Adding yacon syrup to smoothie

Step seven. Add one tablespoon (about 15 mL) of maqui powder to the smoothie. Yes, that’s maqui powder, not maca powder nor maca root powder. Like yacon syrup, nobody I asked had ever heard of maqui powder, and I couldn’t find it in any health or grocery stores in Seattle. Not even the (excellent) World’s Healthiest Foods website discusses maqui. I had to order it online. Maqui powder is from the maqui berry, a purple-black medicinal fruit that grows in Chile and Argentina. It’s sometimes called a wineberry. I don’t know as much about maqui as I should. Apparently, among other benefits, the wineberry is very high in antioxidants.

The photo shows a bag of maqui powder standing next to, in a white pot, my snake plant named Philosophy
Maqui powder hanging out with Philosophy

If you have only one tablespoon measurer like I have, then after using it to portion out your maqui powder, be sure to wash it before employing it to scoop out a tablespoon of almond butter in the next step.

The photo shows the smoothie in progress. At the open top of the container, a tablespoon packed with maqui powder is poised to dump it in.
Pouring maqui powder into smoothie

Step eight. The next item to add is a tablespoon of almond butter. Most USians are very familiar with peanut butter. Sometimes peanut butter is sold in plastic jars with various crap ingredients added. It’s much healthier to purchase nut butters raw from the bulk section of a good grocery store. You pull the lever of the machine that grinds up the nuts, turning them into the butter. And you catch the descending butter in a plastic tub (provided by the store) and take that tub home, sometimes taping it shut (or the cashiers will tape it) to prevent the tub from spilling during the trip. All else being equal, almond butter is a pretty healthy snack, in the raw form, not the plastic jars. You can store the raw nut butter in your refrigerator for quite some time. I really like almond butter, shown in the photo below.

The photo shows, on a countertop, a tub of almond butter. In the background are the blender, red potatoes, and garnet yams.
Measuring out a tablespoon of almond butter

Dump the tablespoon of almond butter (perhaps using your finger to unglamorously extract it from the tablespoon) into the blender. We’re almost finished!

The photo shows a close-up of almond butter exiting a tablespoon and entering a blender container.
Smoothie-in-progress, meet almond butter
The photo shows a scoop of pea protein powder being poured into the blender container.
Pouring in pea protein powder to GET STRONG RAWR!

Step nine. The last item to add to the blender is vegan protein powder — whichever kind is your favorite. I like pea protein. (As the T-shirt says, Keep calm: plants have protein.) The Orgain brand suits me fine. Make sure to get whatever the vanilla or “plain” flavor is; it’s easy to overlook the tiny flavor marking and accidentally grab the chocolate variety off the shelf. Most big ol’ tubs of protein powder have a scoop included, and as with the (smaller) beet root powder tubs, sometimes the scoop sinks to the bottom and you have to dig it out. Scoops for different brands of protein powder are roughly the same size, usually. I find a little less than one full scoop works well for this smoothie. Measure the protein powder out and dump it in, perhaps while thinking funny thoughts about Arnold Schwarzenegger or Popeye.

The photo shows a close-up of the Vitamix Professional 750 area of dials and switches.
Set phaser to snowflake

Step ten. Be sure to fasten the lid solidly into the container’s top, then blend. For the Vitamix Professional 750, power it up (the switch is to the side of the machine) and next, set the dial to the snowflake-lookin’ icon. That’s the best pre-programmed setting for making an icy smoothie. After finishing, don’t forget to power off the Vitamix.

The photo shows the blender with the lid atop the container. It is blending the completed smoothie, which is a very purple-dark color.
Smoothie gettin’ turnt

Mission complete. That’s basically everything. When pouring the smoothie out of the container into your glass, be sure not to make a mess, because this stuff (like turmeric) can create some difficult-to-remove stains. It’s best to ASAP throw the blender, lid, tablespoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and anything else into the dishwasher (if you have one), drink the smoothie up, and then add the smoothie glass to the dishwasher and start that thing so you can easily make another smoothie the following day. Like I said, I’ve been drinking these for 2.5 months now, and I’m still really enjoying them and looking forward to my beet root smoothie each morning (and even while lying in bed the night before). Soon I’ll get my testosterone levels checked, because I’m curious if regular beet root consumption has upped my testosterone. Of course, I won’t much be able to disentangle the effect of beet root consumption from the effect of my increased regular exercise (which now also includes core strengthening and other physical therapy), but the testosterone levels will be extremely interesting to look at nonetheless.

Don’t wait too long after pouring the smoothie out of the blender to drink it. If you wait a long time, the smoothie will sort of clot and taste not as good. And again, the taste is pretty strong (especially if you use the Koyah brand I recommend), so keep trying it daily for about a week until the taste grows on you. I hope someone out there enjoys this smoothie!

The image shows a completed beet root smoothie in a metal cup atop a wooden dresser.
The prize at the end

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How and why to make a beet root smoothie, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/10/how-why-beet-root-smoothie. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Antipsychiatry playlist

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 13 of 52.

Here’s a playlist of thirteen songs I like with antipsychiatry themes. If you aren’t familiar with the topic, this post of mine from two weeks ago is as good a place to start as any.

I ordered the playlist not in any ranking, but in a sequence I find enjoyable for listening, akin to a mixtape from the days of old. I added very broad genre tags to each title; such categorizations are infinitely debatable, which can get boring. I simply put the tags there to aid hurried people who might prefer not to invest a lot of time trying out a type of music they hate.

After each youtube embed, you’ll find the song’s lyrics and then a paragraph from me commenting on the music. If you can suggest any additional entries for the playlist, please do so in the comments. Enjoy!

1. Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” live in Seattle 1989, originally from their 1986 album Master of Puppets. Genre: Heavy Metal

Welcome to where time stands still
No one leaves and no one will
Moon is full, never seems to change
Labeled mentally deranged
Dream the same thing every night
I see our freedom in my sight
No locked doors, no windows barred
No things to make my brain seem scarred

Sleep my friend and you will see
That dream is my reality
They keep me locked up in this cage
Can't they see it's why my brain says "rage"

Sanitarium, leave me be
Sanitarium, just leave me alone

Build my fear of what's out there
Cannot breathe the open air
Whisper things into my brain
Assuring me that I'm insane
They think our heads are in their hands
But violent use brings violent plans
Keep him tied, it makes him well
He's getting better, can't you tell?

No more can they keep us in
Listen, damn it, we will win
They see it right, they see it well
But they think this saves us from our hell

Sanitarium, leave me be
Sanitarium, just leave me alone
Sanitarium, just leave me alone
 
Fear of living on
Natives getting restless now
Mutiny in the air
Got some death to do
Mirror stares back hard
Kill, it's such a friendly word
Seems the only way
For reaching out again

I must have listened to “Sanitarium” a million times in middle and high school. (I’ve never heard a metalhead call this song “Welcome Home”; everyone just calls it “Sanitarium,” an old term for psychiatric hospital.) The live footage above is from Metallica’s peak period, no doubt accelerated by, not psych drugs, but the recreational kind. It’s nice to see Lars Ulrich putting in effort on the drums, unlike in recent decades. The lyrics portray well how psychiatrists typically just make things worse, leading their locked up patients to resent them and fire back, a doomed dance so long as genuine help remains drowned out by corporate volume. But it’s a little silly to imagine hospitalized patients staging a rebellion; realistically, people confined in in-patient settings are far too drugged and beaten down to resist much, and meanwhile, getting with the program, or pretending to, is how patients get discharged. I once saw a tall, muscular black patient repeatedly insist, for days, to the staff that he didn’t like how he was being treated. He talked with other patients, suggesting that they too speak up. The other patients kept their distance; plenty of patients in general nowadays say their hospitalizations are helpful, comparing them to worse family/friend situations instead of to what’s possible if people just tried. Anyway, the staff kept giving the outspoken black man Thorazine pills, and as far as I ever saw, he was made sluggish, tamping down on his efforts. Back to the song, I like Kirk Hammett’s melodic guitar solos early on. The fast section ending this tune, like the equivalent fast section ending many metal songs, sounds good, though a bit generic to me. A frenzied solo plays and cymbals bang, as more or less as expected. Thankfully the underlying chord progression is dramatic and enjoyable.

2. Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” the single from their 1983 self-titled debut album Suicidal Tendencies. Genre: Metal/Punk crossover

Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn't work out the way I want it to.
And I get real frustrated and, like, I try hard to do it and I, like, take my time and it doesn't work out the way I want it to.
It's like I concentrate on it real hard but it just doesn't work out.
And everything I do and everything I try, it never turns out.
It's like, I need time to figure these things out.
But there's always someone there going: "Hey Mike, you know, we've been noticing you've been having a lot of problems lately, you know? Maybe you should get away and, like, maybe you should talk about it, you'll feel a lot better."
And I go: "No, it's okay, you know. I'll figure it out, just leave me alone, I'll figure it out, you know. I'm just working on myself."
And they go: "Well you know, if you want to talk about it, I'll be here, you know. And you'll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it. So why don't you talk about it?"
I go: "No, I don't want to, I'm okay, I'll figure it out myself."
But they just keep bugging me, and they just keep bugging me, and it builds up inside.

So you're gonna be institutionalized
You'll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
You won't have any say
They'll brainwash you until you see their way.
I'm not crazy — Institution
You're the one that's crazy — Institution
You're driving me crazy — Institution
They stuck me in an institution,
Said it was the only solution,
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

I was in my room and I was just, like, staring at the wall thinking about everything,
But then again, I was thinking about nothing.
And then my mom came in and I didn't even know she was there.
She called my name and I didn't hear her and then she started screaming: "MIKE! MIKE!"
And I go: "What, what's the matter?"
She goes: "What's the matter with you?"
I go: "There's nothing wrong, Mom."
She goes: "Don't tell me that, you're on drugs!"
I go: "No Mom, I'm not on drugs, I'm okay, I'm just thinking you know, why don't you get me a Pepsi?"
She goes: "No, you're on drugs!"
I go: "Mom I'm okay, I'm just thinking."
And she goes: "No, you're not thinking, you're on drugs! Normal people don't be acting that way!"
I go: "Mom, just get me a Pepsi, please. All I want is a Pepsi."
And she wouldn't give it to me.
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
Just a Pepsi.

They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
Tied around you're back, you're treated like thieves
Drug you up because they're lazy
It's too much work to help a crazy.
I'm not crazy Institution
You're the one who's crazy  Institution
You're driving me crazy  Institution
They stuck me in an institution,
Said it was the only solution,
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in, and they pulled up a chair and they sat down.
They go: 'Mike, we need to talk to you."
And I go: "Okay, what's the matter?"
They go: 'Me and your mom have been noticing lately that you've been having a lot of problems, and you've been going off for no reason and we're afraid you're going to hurt somebody, and we're afraid you're going to hurt yourself! So we decided that it would be in you're best interest if we put you somewhere where you could get the help that you need."
And I go: "Wait, what are you talking about, WE decided!? MY best interests?! How do you know what MY best interest is? How can you say what MY best interest is? What are you trying to say, I'M crazy? When I went to YOUR schools, I went to YOUR churches, I went to YOUR institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I'm crazy?'

They say they're gonna fix my brain
Alleviate my suffering and my pain
But by the time they fix my head
Mentally I'll be dead.
I'm not crazy  Institution
You're the one who's crazy  Institution
You're driving me crazy  Institution
They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

Doesn't matter, I'll probably get hit by a car anyways.

Unfortunately I never really checked out Suicidal Tendencies besides this one particular song, an MTV hit in its day. The lyrics are probably pretty relatable for many teenagers even today. One of the interesting facts about severe mental health problems is that they usually begin — plenty of exceptions, but usually — during adolescence, when people are expected to transition from childhood to “adulthood,” which is what we call complicity with corporations and their ancillaries (such as the education system) and the adoption of non-philosophies like Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job. There are a lot of ways to bail on this “adulthood,” and one of them is to develop the semi-involuntary, semi-voluntary capability to escape into altered states, especially when suffering extreme emotions, a kind of “non-compliance” with the corporate/military world that surrounds everyone. Thus fittingly, the lyrics of “Institutionalized”, and many other songs on this list, portray characters’ teenage years. I don’t know much about singer Mike Muir, who formed the band as a teen himself, but his vocalizations of the run-on sentence lyrics sound like he lived something like the lyrics describe, see for instance his use of psych industry jargon with the phrase “institutional learning facility.” Musically, I like the dramatic tension created by the chromatic chord progression in the chorus, chords going up and down over and over by just a half step. There’s also a neat bit on the electric guitar that’s easy to miss between about 1:34 and about 1:40, palm-muted arpeggios, I think in the middle of the guitar neck, that sound really dissonant and abnormal/deviant (insane) for a song’s verse section. I also like how in the music video, Muir’s bandmates in their eye-catching white car function as his rescuers; Muir’s existential answers rest with them, and at the video’s close, in the front passenger seat, he rides off with his comrades into the night.

3. Dead Kennedys’ “Insight” from their 1987 album Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death. Genre: Punk

Who's that kid in the back of the room?
Who's that kid in the back of the room?
He's setting all his papers on fire
He's setting all his papers on fire
Where did he get that crazy smile?
Where did he get that crazy smile?
We all think he's really weird
We all think he's really weird

We never talk to him
He never looks quite right
He laughs at us, we just beat him up
What he sees escapes our sight
Sight!

We never see him with the girls
We never see him with the girls
He's talking to himself again
He's talking to himself again
Why doesn't he want tons of friends?
Why doesn't he want tons of friends?
Says he's bored when we hang around
Says he's bored when we hang around

We never talk to him
He never looks quite right
He laughs at us, we just beat him up
What he sees escapes our sight
Sight!

We're all planning our careers
We're all planning our careers
We're all planning our careers
He says we're growing old

I really like this song. It’s short, like so many Dead Kennedys and punk songs in general are. Having grown up on metal, I’m always like, “Where’s the guitar solo?” Anyway, check out the lyrics: they’re told from the perspective of the conformist teens at school, who can’t fathom someone who gets “bored” with them and doesn’t need “tons of friends.” The chorus has some good musical humor that matches the lyrics, not just singer Jello Biafra’s goofy modulation of the word “sight” (right after “escapes our”), but that bass line too. I’m not sure how to characterize it, except both the bass line and the guitar chords in the background are really Beginner 101 stuff musically, and that serves to highlight the stupid conformity of the song’s narrators. Jello Biafra dancing around like a goofball on stage makes it even more indicting somehow… a little like their improvised(?) live song “Night of the Living Rednecks” from Portland Oregon in 1979 — which also mentions pretending to be a mental patient. Back to “Insight,” a quick dissonant chord progression ends the song, with Biafra’s lyrics hitting a usual point for him, the barrenness of careerism.

4. Daniel Mackler’s “The Psych Med Song” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

Prozac Buspar Xanax too
Haloperidol for you
Zoloft Zyban Trazodone
Antabuse and Methadone

If neuroleptics make you shake
then Benztropine you must take
They profit from the drugs they sell
From the side effects as well

Thorazine Amphetamine
Luvox Carbamazapine
Clozapine and Stelazine
Protripyline lamotrigine

Valium and Ativan
viagra for the modern man
But now some ladies take it too
Off-label is good for you!

Abilify and Mellaril
Klonopin Anafrinil
Naltrexone oxazepam
Rozerem triazolam

Celexa went generic, oh
So let's brand name it Lexapro
Tweak the formula a touch
Sells for thirty times as much

Venlafaxine Doxepin
Benificat and Ambien
Cymbalta and Adderall
Serzone and Propanolol

Bupropion does not sound fun
So market it as Wellbutrin
If its drug name makes you chafe
Change its name so it sounds safe

Effexor and Vistaril
Lunesta and Tofranil
Librium and Nembutal
Zeldox Phenobarbital

It takes a town to raise a kid
But barring that there’s Ritalin
Pills are good for kids I know
The FDA it told me so

Topomax and Trilafon
Depakote and Geodon
Methylin Modafinil
Dexedrine and Dogmatil

Lobotomy has since evolved
Nowadays there’s Risperdal
Zyprexa shrinks a monkey’s brain
You tell me now who’s insane

Nardil Paxil Elavil
Prolixin and Seroquel
Moban Marplan and Navane
Benadryl and Loxitane

Lithium will soothe your mood
If it doesn’t poison you
If you think they’re danger free
Buy the Brooklyn Bridge from me

Mirtazipine Nortriptyline
Procyclidine fluphenazine
Eldepryl and Loxapine
Flurazepam Desipramine
Symmetrel Reboxetine
Halcion Trimipramine 

La la la—la la la
La la la la la la….

“The Psych Med Song” is quite charming, the lyrics and the video both. The rhythm guitar parts are simple and clean, and over them the song has that little silly cute melody on the thin strings (reminding me somehow of the goofy beep melodies in Kraftwerk’s 1981 song “Pocket Calculator“). “The Psych Med Song” really shows what a musician can accomplish by merely using a flawless, even if simple, chord progression chugging away in the background, a nice memorable melody on the guitar repeating a few times (toward the end with harmony), and then clever lyrics with quality singing. The subject is something Mackler knows intimately from over a decade of experience as a therapist and documentary filmmaker, so that clearly touches his singing, and you can hear it in his voice.

5. Daniel Mackler’s “Bullshit” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

They tell me my problem’s genetic,
I'm born with a flaw in my brain
They tell me I need medication,
and force me to bury my pain

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

Their pills make me shaky and sweaty,
I fear that they’re breaking my will
They told me that this is quite normal,
and added another new pill

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They put me inside a straitjacket,
they locked me inside of a cage
They inject me with Haldol to calm me,
yet wonder why I'm full of rage.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They give me a shrink I can talk to,
but she is just spiritually dead.
She only repeats the same question:
“Are you still taking your meds?”

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They forcefed me E. Fuller Torrey,
But he is sadistic and gross.
I asked them about Peter Breggin,
They replied by increasing my dose.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

Their studies are so scientific,
and based on assiduous work.
But they don’t share their affiliations
with Lilly and Janssen and Merck.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They absolve all of my traumatizers,
the horrors that they did to me.
They tell me to put it behind me,
and say that I need ECT.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

I said I think I can recover,
And taper off all of these meds.
They tell me that’s just my delusion,
An illness that lives in my head.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

A very combative song here from Daniel Mackler. His three songs in this playlist are all available on his 2009 album, which I still need to purchase myself. The rhythm guitar on “Bullshit” plays along steadily in the song’s background, like in “The Psych Med Song,” except instead of 4/4 time, “Bullshit” is in 6/4, sounding akin to a music box. I like the descending scalar runs from the lead guitar; it fits the 6/4 time somehow, like we’re placed into this dreamy world, except it’s not a good one; it’s the rose-tinted glasses dreamy world of conventional psychiatry, where if you just keep taking your “meds,” everything will be fine, no need to question or research who came up with the chemical imbalance theory and what the arguments for and against it are. The lyrics do a great, concise job of explaining why just going along with everything is bullshit and what’s really at stake.

6. Daniel Mackler’s “Little Bottles” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

Little bottles in the cabinet
Little bottles full of chemicals
Little bottles from the doctor
Little bottles for your head.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

There's Zyprexa and there's Prozac
And Ritalin and lithium
And Xanax and Risperidal
And the MAOIs
They're for depression and bipolar
And anxiety and schizophrenia
And for panic and for smoking and PTSD.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

But the people who take them
Often get all sorts of funny side effects
Like twitching and weight gain
And some things that are worse
Like loss of feelings
And loss of passion
Loss of focus and no erections
And addictions and heart disease
And sometimes suicide.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

Yet the shrinks all recommend them
With their thousand-dollar consultations
But you should trust them
Because after all, half the shrinks take them too

Numb the symptoms, ditch the therapy,
Support the pharmaceutical industry
Deny the traumas that caused the misery
And pass them all on to your kids.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

“Little Bottles” is very sad… It’s amazing how much can be accomplished with that simple rhythm guitar in the background (now mostly in 3/4 time), a singer singing of something he’s very experienced with and passionate about, and that repetition of There’s a green pill / And a pink pill / and a blue pill / and a yellow pill. When all is said and done, when all the fancy corporate science studies and voted-into-existence diagnostic codes and abusive legal jargon are over with, once we’ve finally finished hearing the multisyllabic vocabulary from above, then the traumatized person is left alone in the bathroom with a bottle of green pills, pink pills, blue pills to swallow… a ritual that says, You can’t take care of your mind without these, plus all the adverse side effects and no understanding of why extreme, altered emotional experiences are happening to the patients and increasingly more and more of humanity. Continuing to “Deny the traumas that caused the misery” will have really bad long-term consequences for everyone. Thankfully via Twitter and other sources, everyone can see people really risking themselves to improve the world, from climate activist Greta Thunberg to the numerous examples amplified by @YourAnonCentral (see also @yaccreate for solely good news). We can learn things to try out ourselves; we can empower ourselves.

7. Daniel Johnston’s “The Story of an Artist” from his 1982 album Don’t Be Scared. Genre: Lo-fi, outsider

(I don't know.
It's like when you go to read your own poetry
And you get all choked up.)

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

Everyone and friends and family
Saying, "Hey, get a job!
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?"

"We don't really like what you do
We don't think anyone ever will.
It's a problem that you have,
And this problem's made you ill."

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old.
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

The artist walks alone
Someone says behind his back,
"He's got his gall to call himself that!
He doesn't even know where he's at."

The artist walks among the flowers
Appreciating the sun.
He does this all his waking hours
But is it really so wrong?

They sit in front of their TVs.
Saying, "Hey, this is fun!"
And they laugh at the artist,
Saying, "He doesn't know how to have fun."

The best things in life are truly free.
Singing birds and laughing bees.
You got me wrong, says he.
The sun don't shine in your TV.

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old.
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

Everyone and friends and family.
Saying, "Hey, get a job!
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?"

"We don't really like what you do
We don't think anyone ever will
It's a problem that you have
And this problem's made you ill."

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others just like to watch the world.

“The Story of an Artist” is the only song I know by Daniel Johnston. He died in 2019; he was diagnosed with manic-depression and spent time in psychiatric hospitals. There’s a documentary about him that I haven’t seen. The lyrics are great. They make me want to spend more time outdoors instead of at my day job… The music, well, it reminds everyone that technical ability — so often prioritized to the exclusion of everything else by music teachers, music schools, etc. — is really not that important compared with creating/performing from the heart.

8. The Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” from their 2000 debut album Since I Left You. Genre: Electronica

(Mr Kirk:) Is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill today?
(Ms Fishborne:) Mr Kirk, Dexter's in school.
(Mr Kirk:) I'm afraid he's not, Ms Fishborne. Dexter's truancy problem is way out of hand.
The Baltimore County school board have decided to expel Dexter from the entire public school system.
(Ms Fishborne:) Oh Mr Kirk, I'm as upset as you to learn of Dexter's truancy.
But surely, expulsion is not the answer!
(Mr Kirk:) I'm afraid expulsion is the only answer.
It's the opinion of the entire staff that Dexter is criminally insane!

That boy needs therapy, psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy, purely psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy
Lie down on the couch! What does that mean?
You're a nut! You're crazy in the coconut!
What does that mean? That boy needs therapy
I'm gonna kill you, that boy needs therapy
Play the kazoo, let's have it tune
On the count of three.
That, that, that, that, that boy...boy needs therapy
He was white as a sheet
And he also made false teeth

Avalanche is above, business continues below

Did I ever tell you the story about—
Cowboys! Mi—mi—midgets and the Indians and frontier psychiatrist
I, I felt strangely hypnotized
I was in another world, a world of 20,000 girls
And milk! Rectangles, to an optometrist, a man with a golden eyeball
And tighten your buttocks, pour juice on your chin.
I promise my girlfriend I'd—the violin, violin, violin

Frontier Psychiatrist.
Frontier, frontier, frontier, frontier
Frontier, frontier, frontier, frontier

That boy needs therapy, psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy, purely psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy
Lie down on the couch, what does that mean?
You're a nut! You're crazy in the coconut!
What does that mean? That boy needs therapy
I'm gonna kill you, that boy needs therapy
Ranagazoo, let's have a tune
Now when I count three
That, that, that, that, that boy...boy needs therapy
He was white as a sheet
And he also made false teeth

Frontier Psychiatrist

Can you think of anything else that talks, other than a person?
Uh um, uh um, a bird? Yeah!
Sometimes a parrot talks
Ha ha ha ha ha !!!!
Yes, some birds are funny when they talk...
Can you think of anything else?
Um, a record, record, record?

“Frontier Psychiatrist” is an electronica collage of surreal samples and lyrics set to a hypnotizing drum beat and a repetitive chromatic progression (up and down a single half step) with various melodies coming and going on top of it. Kind of like how in psychiatric hospitals, patients are recommended to create collages with glue sticks, infantilizing, as if they’re elementary school students. The song, especially with the extremely surreal music video (be sure to watch it!), captures the weird insanity of Freudian philosophy. The video shows old white psychiatrists in suits jabbing their pointing fingers and saying over and over “That boy needs therapy!” while bizarre mental health memes float by: patients lying on a couch, odd references to sex, the repetition of “What does that mean?” (something you must pay a psychoanalyst to find out), depictions of legal power (expelling Dexter from the school system), and more. The song sounds like the internal world of someone dreaming or being psychoanalyzed. Regarding the infectious music (see what I did there), it’s amazing what artists can create when they follow their own curiosity instead of others’ expectations. This song isn’t something generic you’d expect from commercial radio or similar safe sources, but surprisingly, the song did well commercially, including on radio.

9. Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” single from their 1982 album Call of the West. Genre: New wave

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older.
I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber.

I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product but never use it.
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand, just what does he say?

I'm on a Mexican radio
I'm on a Mexican radio
I dial it in and tune the station
They talk about the U.S. inflation.
I understand just a little
No comprende--it's a riddle.

I'm on a Mexican radio
I'm on a Mexican radio

I wish I was in Tijuana
Eating barbequed iguana.
I'd take requests on the telephone
I'm on a wavelength far from home.

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand, just what does he say?

Radio radio…

It might be a little off (deviant, abnormal) to consider Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” an antipsychiatry song, but to me it counts as one somehow. The singer’s radio tuner-like vocal modulations, the persistence of the hyped-up electronica beat (resembling radio equipment or medical machinery), and the mind-bending bleeps at the start and following the choruses, sound like a depleted mental state feels, everything stressed, tense, and crazed… The lyrics express the info-junkie’s addiction to unusual sources of information, whether the border blasters (unregulated radio stations) that inspired this song, or the less known corners of the Internet today; and, some degree of that info-addiction appears common in people with severe mental health problems, in my experience. Perhaps too much of our technology just makes our mental lives worse. That being said, “Mexican Radio” is a very fun song, and without strong conduits to important knowledge (including contemporary samizdat), people just stay stuck in the default corporate/military echo chamber. The character in the lyrics is “on a wavelength far from home.” That’s similar in feel to the pursuit of unusual interests often wrongly categorized as characteristic of mental problems instead of as healthy curiosity. I guess the question is, will the character’s hobby/passion hurt or help the person? The character remains dedicated to radio regardless.

10. Nujabes’ “The Sign” from his 2005 album Modal Soul. Genre: Nu Jazz

Do we wanna watch it fall apart?
Every time I walk, I watch
I look, I notice, I observe, I read the signs
And the signs are pointing in the wrong direction
The signs are not naming the streets
Or leading me to the highway
The signs are naming names.
Tombstones to mark the death of children not even born
And I don't mean abortion, I mean what is to come
The signs are telling me to turn back around
The signs are telling me to research my past
The signs are telling me to learn from my mistakes
The signs are asking me questions.
Do you wanna watch it all fall apart?
Do you have any control?
Is there anything that you can do?
Time is not a nice person
I know because the sign said it
Time can be generous but ultimately time is indifferent
Time does not give two damns or a fuck
So what will you do?
What will we do?

So I'm in the middle of the street talkin' to the signs
And people are lookin' at me pointing and laughing
Like, "This mothafucker's crazy!"
But do they not see the signs?
Do you not see the signs?

If there is one thing in this world
That you can depend on
That you can bet your last dollar on
It's the ignorance of the American people
But still I have faith
And still I read the signs
And they are indeed there
Some of us are lost and will not find our way
No matter what the signs say
Some of us do not see the signs because we are too busy shopping
Some of us do not see the signs because we can't help but stop and look at the accidents and stare
We are in a daze, we are amazed by the world's displays
Some of us do not see the signs because we are giving spare change to the homeless
We are getting gas, we are volunteering for duty, and we are watching television
We are driving around in circles on spinners and we are working eight to six
We are on our way to the club
We are high, we are drunk, and we are sober
And we do not see the signs
We are listening to a moron babble
We are listening to tongues that lie
We give them an ear, we give them a hand, we give them both eyes
So we cannot see the signs.

Slow, there are children playing in the streets
And they cannot read the signs
They are only children.
Stop. Stop!
I fear there is no U-turn
And that this road dead-ends
Because we cannot read the signs
Do you not see the signs?
We must read the signs
And we must turn around
We must turn around
We gotta turn this shit around
And we gotta read the signs

We must read the signs...
We must read the signs...
We must read the signs...
We gotta read the signs...
We gotta turn this shit around...
We gotta turn this shit around...
We gotta read the signs...

The late Nujabes’ song “The Sign” has some really chill music. It’s great to hear an upright bass after all the fretted electric basses in the previous songs on this playlist. The piano is very pretty, and the rain stick (I think that’s what’s used) provides a soothing rhythm throughout. In front of this calming instrumental backdrop, Nujabes collaborator Pase Rock gives a strong, slightly abrasive spoken word performance. The lyrics express frustration with conformity, ignorance, and just going along with things, while at the same time valuing persistence (“And still I read the signs”) and some degree of optimism, that things might could be turned around. The subject of the lyrics is evocative of the delusions of reference experience in altered states, in which everyday perceptions seem to present exaggerated personal meanings, or grandiose personal salience, like supranormal stimuli does in various addictions (e.g., amphetamine seems to reveal that you’re special…but actually you’re just high).

11. A Tribe Called Red’s “We Are the Halluci Nation” from their 2016 album We Are the Halluci Nation. Genre: Electronica

We are the tribe that they cannot see
We live on an industrial reservation
We are the Halluci Nation
We have been called the Indians
We have been called Native American
We have been called hostile
We have been called Pagan
We have been called militant
We have been called many names
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the human beings
The callers of names cannot see us, but we can see them
We are the Halluci Nation
Our DNA is of earth and sky
Our DNA is of past and future
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the evolution, the continuation
Halluci Nation
The Halluci Nation
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the Halluci Nation

The private school, Western philosophy, pro-psychiatry world I grew up in would call it a stretch to suggest that it could have a serious harmful effect on a person’s mental health to walk around where genocide happened while not caring or taking action about it. From all I’ve learned in the last half decade, it’s really obvious such things do have effects on us. Just like savants can memorize mass amounts (or some people can’t forget anything), it’s completely sensible to suggest that regularly driving past First Nation centers or reservations would stir up the subject in people’s minds, even when they try to ignore it. Not in the sense that psychiatrists might accept, as if a little imaginary particle (say) floats from the reservation and penetrating an individual’s barriers and lodging itself into their psyche, causing abnormality. But rather, that we’re all trying to live in this weakened, self-destructive web, surrounded by pollution and other corporate-caused problems, while psychiatrists lecture us about and drug us into showing up for corporate work (or for corporations’ ancillaries) while maintaining a “good work ethic” and being “realistic” and all that, while our human needs are very, very different than our day jobs. If we don’t meet our needs, and instead file bureaucratic paperwork all day in some office job like members of the Imperial Civil Service, we might space out enough to forget our pains, but they’re still there along with the unmet needs, and rear their heads eventually. I like how early on in the song, the lyrics list various insults First Nations peoples have received, and then the song says: “The callers of names cannot see us, but we can see them.” Since their pseudo-scientific justifications are garbage, psychiatrists (after bullying or intimidating patients into not researching for themselves), basically are just name-calling others. You’re an autistic, you’re a bipolar, you’re a schizophrenic, you’re a this, you’re a that. And patients sometimes get so into becoming “consumers” of products produced for their particular label-from-above that they (in one case I saw) tattoo their DSM code on an ankle — the patient I knew who did that, later committed suicide, sadly. People forget the “earth and sky,” the “past and future.” Sure, people might pay some quick lip service to Nature and interconnected, transgenerational history, but when you look at where most of their time/effort goes, psychiatry focuses on maintaining the status quo and telling you it’s “unrealistic” to resist/replace the system in your own life. Ask your psychiatrist/therapist if you should quit your job, sell your possessions, and go defend natural resources with other water protectors as people I’ve known personally have done at great risk to themselves, and see what your mental health professionals advise you to do. So the real hallucination is replacing living in harmony with the environment, with driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic to weekly psychiatrist appointments to find out what you’re permitted to believe to stay “realistic.” And people (for a while anyway) “cannot see” this, but those underfoot “can see them.” And with those underfoot is where “the evolution, the continuation” lies, not in gated communities. As for the music, I like the keyboard’s tone, the reverb and vibrato on the notes. The driven drumbeat is also powerful and declarative.

12. David Rovics’ “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” from his 2007 live album The Commons, originally from his 2004 album Songs for Mahmud. Genre: Folk

Alex is a member of my record label
Teenager though he is
He joined Ever Reviled Records
And the indie music biz
His parents didn't like such turns of events
So they called up a couple of thugs
Send him back to Utah, lock him up
And pump him full of drugs
They say he's got problems with authority
Yes this is what they claim
And their psychiatric analysis
Has even got a name

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

If you think George Bush is a moron
And Tony Blair's a liar
If you fantasize about setting
Your local Wal-Mart on fire
If you don't like Tom Brokaw
And you think he's full of it
If you feel a Rush Limbaugh punching bag
Might be kinda fun to hit
If bombing other countries
Makes you feel appalled
You have got a problem
And this is what it's called

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

If you think school is boring
And your teacher is a fool
If you don't like your Congressman
And you called him a corporate tool
If you were not standing
To sing "Save the Queen"
If you turn down hamburgers
And eat rice and beans
We've got a diagnosis
No matter whether you agree
Just do what the doctor tells you
Thank god for psychiatry

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

“Oppositional Defiant Disorder” is only the second David Rovics song I’ve known; the first was “I’m a Better Anarchist Than You,” on youtube here live in Seattle 1995. When I used to write music, I’d have multiple parts going at once, threaded together, more than I could play singlehandedly or even with a second bandmate. So I’m very impressed when much is done with little, as in “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” just acoustic guitar and vocals. The rhythm guitar is pretty straightforward. The lyrics are clever and fun. A little formulaic compositionally, but a nice, enjoyable song on topic.

13. Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” from their 1983 album Metal Health. Genre: Heavy Metal

Well I'm an axe-grinder, piledriver
Momma says that I never never mind her
Got no brains, I'm insane
The teacher says that I'm one big pain.
I'm like a laser, six-string razor
I got a mouth like an alligator.
I want it louder
More power
I'm gonna rock ya till it strikes the hour.

Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad

Well I'm remonstrated
Outdated
I really want to be over-rated.
I'm a finder and I'm a keeper
I'm not a loser and I ain't no weeper.
I got the boys to make the noise
Won't ever let up
Hope it annoys you!
Join the pack
Fill the crack
Well now you're here
There's no way back.

Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Metal Health'll cure your crazy
Metal Health'll cure your mad
Metal Health is what we all need
It's what you ought to have

Bang your head
Wake the dead
We're all metal mad 
It's all you have
So bang your head
And raise the dead
Oh yeah!
Metal Health
It's not too bad, bad, bad

Bang your head! Metal health'll drive you mad
Oh get your straitjackets on tonight, oh
The bad boys are gonna set you right!
Rock on, Rock on, Rock on
Bang your head!
Metal health'll drive you mad
Bang your head!

This anthemic song is pretty cheeky. “Get your straitjackets on tonight”? Rudy Sarzo plays his loud bass lines with massive staccato, emphasizing the separateness of each individual note, the way a lot of ’70s and ’80s metal bassists did. “Metal Health” was probably intended to simultaneously get radio play (it’s easy on the ears, nothing complicated structurally or with the notes) — the album was the first in heavy metal to top the Billboard 200, displacing the Police’s Synchronicity record — and piss off worried parents, thus appealing to “non-compliant” teenagers. The album cover art (shown in the youtube thumbnail embedded above) has a guy in a straitjacket next to the words METAL HEALTH. I think that speaks for itself. Hey, gotta rebel somehow.

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This blog post, Antipsychiatry playlist, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/03/antipsychiatry-playlist/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week. Here’s entry 11 of 52.

Image shows a small gray notebook. On its front, the notebook says "notes" and "Cambridge edition."
The journal I use for logging my day. Available at that bastion of high culture, Tarjay, at least here in Seattle.

I used to not believe in trauma anniversaries, the distress a person can experience when a calendar date lines up with a past violation of their well-being. To my perspective back then, steeped unawares in the default corporate values, trauma anniversaries seemed too fantastical: how could a person’s nervous system remember all that, and how could it be tipped off that the fateful date was approaching? More importantly, multiple well-paid psychiatrists for decades, their corner offices fancy with diplomas and oak desks, never mentioned trauma anniversaries to me a single time, and consistently portrayed the mania I sometimes experienced as a meaningless, causeless brain fart. But during every April and May for seven straight years, indeed usually on the very date of May 31, I’d experience severe, hospitalizing mania. Despite the timing being as dependable as the Old Faithful geyser, the psychiatrists displayed zero curiosity about it, whereas friends would sometimes ask natural questions (“Why do you think it happens then?”). Unanimously, the psychiatrists told me (not so forthrightly of course): Just take these tranquilizers (“medicine”), these dopamine antagonists, pay up, and you might be able to have some sort of meager life over there in the corner, if you’re lucky. They didn’t say, while the psych pills shrink brains and tardive dyskensia looms at your door.

The image shows a black-and-white page from an academic catalog. It's a full page photo of six old white men in garb that is religious or academic or both: black robes, large crosses on necklaces, and so on. They are walking in a line, most of them smiling.
Page from UD catalog back then. Pies Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Also.

It wasn’t fun. The stigma has been perhaps worse than the mania. I’ll give two examples of hundreds. In 2000-2001, I attended the University of Dallas on a full scholarship to study philosophy and classics (Latin and ancient Greek). It was a small Catholic school, and I was an atheist fish in the wrong, small pond. U.D., as it was called for short, made it a selling point of their school that students would all take a trip to Rome together sophomore year, and I was really excited about it. After mania prevented me from participating in classes for roughly three weeks — this was two decades ago, before psychiatric diagnoses were so common that universities created more explicit policies for mental health emergencies — U.D. informed me I wasn’t going to Rome with everyone else. (Not long after, I dropped out.) Their decision made some sense: what the hell would you do practically with a student suffering manic psychosis, in the hotel, in the airport, etc.? In some cases, it makes sense to give a manic person a tiny bit of benzodiazepine, to help them sleep, and once they wake up, everyone together figure out what’s going on using a process like Open Dialogue; but, colleges weren’t and aren’t prepared to intervene that substantially (although you can imagine it someday, what with K-12s employing special staff to attend to some students’ medical needs, and now campuses outfitting themselves for the horrible idea of in-person classes during coronavirus). Undergraduates in their twenties, with private school backgrounds, haven’t lately been expected to be adults capable of handling themselves. The whole setup was paternalistic to begin with: the U.D. authorities were to watch out for our well-being in these scary foreign lands filled with terrorists or whatever. Bottom line, they looked at me and said No. Just as my K-12 considered kicking me out for the same reason (manic episodes), in a dramatic meeting with my family. The unfortunate “help” I was given for the whole dilemma, the answer from Texas in general was, go to psychiatrists, who will say there are no causes you can do anything about, and take your piece off our game board, get out of everyone else’s way. A very few years later, one of my best friends was going to Japan to teach English (and then went to India for six months); I was going in and out of psych hospitals. It was really discouraging, and I routinely used an imaginative, puffed-up, hypomanic grandiosity to sustain myself, to not think about (to dissociate from) my problems and keep writing music/words and pursuing all my other interests in rude opposition to “having a good work ethic” since I didn’t want to go along with seemingly everyone else’s philosophy of Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job.

Example number two. Here in Seattle, I went to a party for Clarion West Writers Workshop (which I completed in 2008), sometime between 2016 and 2019, honoring an author whose name I can’t remember (she was writing fiction about presidential assassinations, if anyone recalls…to be clear, that is people assassinating presidents, not presidents assassinating people). A random party guest was an employee at Navos, a greater Seattle mental health clinic, as a therapist or some related occupation. I happened to be standing in the small group to whom she was talking, merely happenstance party conversation, people holding drinks and the like. She asked if anyone was familiar with her workplace, this entity called Navos. I said yes. She blinked and said, “Wait, you volunteer there?” And I said, “No, as a patient.” She then literally raised up her nose in disgust and turned away from me. The other surrounding partygoers followed suit, showing disgust and turning away from me also. The look of disgust is a common expression made at someone slotted into a negative image role. Before the pandemic, once patients were called up the stairs from the waiting room at brick-and-mortar Navos, where the security guard watches them from his desk, the therapists would use key cards to let them through locked doors, under the rarely correct assumption that these medicalized humans might act out dangerously. It felt like being a zoo animal. A zoo animal in the social services, mind-twisting, smiley face version of a prison.

Reasons for admission to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1864-1889. (Source)

It’s taken several years, but I’ve made a deep study of the extensive decades of literature disputing the genetic theory of manic-depression, how the twin studies are used, the chemical imbalance theory, and other falsehoods, plus participating in a Hearing Voices Network chapter and devouring multiple books, podcasts, and documentaries detailing the success stories of psychiatric survivors (the secret that people have made full recoveries from repeated bouts of psychosis and tapered off their drugs is slowly becoming more widely known). I’m still studying this material and related helpful information, much of it published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not that practicing psychiatrists read those (they’re busy going on ski trips with the money, possibly bringing their manipulated patients along for sex, too). But for those who might be unfamiliar with this vast literature, let’s just take the chemical imbalance theory briefly, a widely advertised theory which lately mainstream psychiatrists have had to start backpedaling. Millions upon millions of people in the United States today swallow psychopharmaceuticals daily, often antidepressants or sleeping pills; taking “meds” for the psych diagnoses considered less severe has become ordinary, a recommended way to survive the impossibilities of paid-work, while those with the harsher labels (schizophrenia, psychosis, etc.) are considered an abnormal, bad underclass. These millions and millions of people, whether with the “normal” labels of depression etc. or the more severe ones, are commonly told they “have” chemical imbalances. Which I suppose is like “having” a pet rock, only it’s invisible. The mystique of the doctor in the white coat can take over, preventing patients from asking obvious questions. How often do we hear, in place of evidence and logic, about a doctor, politician, or other idealized figure: I trust him; he’s a good guy? Yet we don’t need to feel an affinity with a prescriber; we need to ask the prescriber questions obvious to an impartial observer and verify what’s going on. Which chemical is imbalanced? How much of that chemical per microliter is too much? How much of that chemical per microliter is too little? What’s the safe range, per microliter, for that chemical, whichever one it might be? Who invented the chemical imbalance theory? When was it invented? Was it initially published in a scientific journal, and if so, what’s the citation for that article (and obtain a copy)? These very basic who what when where why and how questions are too often not asked, among other reasons because patients sometimes outright fear their doctors, their legal powers, and their way of snapping back at questions they dislike. The patients’ brains are being dramatically altered without enough questioning from the patients, as if psychopharmaceutical treatment is simply taking clocks to repair shops, to use sociologist Erving Goffman’s analogy in his 1961 book Asylums. With no time or motivation for curiosity, customers taking broken clocks to repair shops do not ask the repair-workers, Who invented clocks? Why do clocks need springs? The customers simply expect the gadgets to be fixed, then they pay the fee and bring the clocks home. People treat their own brains just like that. The error is supposed to be from birth — but sorry, there are no blood tests to prove it (no answers to the microliters questions), and all the vaunted genetics has persisted at a research level for a very long time, scrutinizing without holism people crammed into pidgeonholes, nothing definitive found — and you are to take the pills to remediate your inherent wrongness and then get back to the miserable paid-work for evil corporations and their ancillaries. Mental health suffering is increasing, understandably because humanity, in big picture terms, is seconds from self-caused extinction; watching humanity kill itself and many other species, psychiatrists do not have much to offer for explanation or success stories, but their industry does have criminal convictions at Nuremberg for enabling genocide, and see also the American Psychological Association’s more recent participation in CIA torture. Trusting these people to make dramatic alterations to your brain without asking questions isn’t a good idea. It isn’t mental health.

The image is a popular meme of Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It shows him in his captain's chair, hand on forehand, exasperated. The image has text at the bottom reading: So much fail.
Shy? Correct that chemical imbalance, too little alcohol, by drinking daily!

The chemical imbalance theory came about because scientists began noticing that when people were given certain pharmaceuticals for unrelated physical conditions, they would also act in different ways, so if it was considered good for them to act in those new ways, then they must, the scientists thought, lack enough of that chemical supplied by the pharmaceutical, and therefore they need to swallow some of it regularly to act right. In other words, if you aren’t doing such-and-such, but this other thing makes you do such-and-such when you swallow it, you must have a deficiency of that other thing. This is very bad reasoning. It’s like saying, imagine a shy person. The shy person is at a bar, they’re nervous about their clothes and hair, and they don’t know what to say to the other patrons, to the bartender, etc. But when at the bar we give them alcohol, they suddenly start talking more! Therefore they must need alcohol supplementation, a bit of booze each day, to correct their alcohol imbalance and act with the proper gregariousness. This specious reasoning — X makes you do Y so not doing Y must be caused by a lack of X — fits multiple types of causal logical fallacies. Imagine a psychiatrist in a critical reasoning class! You’re not lying on the floor currently, however when I punch you in the face, you fall to the ground; so, if you need to lie down, the obvious solution to your postural imbalance is to have me regularly punch you in the face a little bit each day for ongoing maintenance against your being-punched deficiency!

The trauma anniversary I was experiencing was combined with dissociation. Dissociation is tuning out in the face of overwhelming emotion. For instance, families in hospital rooms of a dying family member will too often largely, or almost completely, ignore the dying person, and stare at their phones to distract themselves and prevent themselves from experiencing the intense emotions and meanings regarding the impending death. After all, why say goodbye to grandpa when you can scroll instead? Anyway, I did many things to help overcome dissociation to some extent, mainly noticing when I was doing it and then slowly testing out feeling and expressing the emotions instead, which by the way, has physical analogues: feeling and expressing emotion isn’t just rearranging your internal world (like most of psychoanalysis is), but action-y, doing things outwardly, like cursing and kicking a trash can across the room if you’re really, really upset. This took me several years to get comfortable with; I still have a lot more to go. Further, the mania was dissociative in itself: escaping from overwhelm into delusional, grandiose fantasy. Sometimes it seems many people do not even know when they’re overwhelmed, since psychological education is insufficient or nonexistent, not to mention people understandably have blocks against considering what these terrifying topics mean for them. Even though for years and years, April and May meant mania for me, especially May 31, the calendar date of May 31 would roll around and I wouldn’t even know it was May 31. You would think, this most consequential date in my life, that sent me to in-patient lock-up over and over, would register on my radar as it neared. But it was too overwhelming, so I by habit didn’t even realize when it was coming. Among PTSD there are two types (I didn’t learn this from any psychiatrist): the popularly known one where you can’t stop thinking about the trauma, and the other type there’s less awareness about, mine, where you don’t think about the trauma at all. Not being able to find what was causing the trauma anniversary was as habitual as putting one foot in front of the other while walking: something I later was able to focus on starting a little at a time (baby steps), but for decades was more comfortable just going about on the autopilot approach, not thinking about it. Even if I tried to think about it, I could never pin down any specific trauma that happened to me during any long-ago April or May. My mind wouldn’t surface images or facts about any long-ago events in connection with the April/May period. Plus, it somehow didn’t seem “scientific” that something might have happened during those months in my past, a specific example of corporate propaganda (corporate portrayals of science) obscuring a person’s life from him. To top it all off, psychiatrists repeatedly found nothing about any of this worth talking about, same as the instance when an orderly physically assaulted me in a hospital, knocking me to the floor violently just for making a sarcastic comment, and multiple psychiatrists (attending and out-patient alike) said not a damn thing when I mentioned it. In fact, they used what educators call extinguishing. This is the classroom management technique where you ignore a student’s minor misbehavior, not reinforcing it, hoping it’ll disappear on its own, as it usually does (if indeed it is misbehavior; why should students be compelled to sit in cramped desks all day and penalized for “misbehavior” if they refuse?). Whenever I brought these reasonable topics up to psychiatrists, they used extinguishing. They’d just be silent. And then they’d change the subject to something comfortably medical in vibe, like dosages or the side/adverse effect of hives I got from neuroleptic. The psychiatrists felt far more comfortable talking about little checkbox algorithms for physical symptoms. Like eliminative materialists in academic philosophy departments insisting that minds don’t even exist, the psychiatrists kept diligently away from topics such as dissociation, which are actually decently understood by trauma experts. But again, practicing clinicians don’t read that material; that’s why they bully you instead if you ask too many questions, a trick they probably pick up from grand rounds questioning in medical school among other sources. In Fort Worth around 2002 or so, I once saw an orthopod with a sign in his waiting room that said something to the effect of, Any material patients talk about from the Internet will be ignored. Before the widespread adoption of the Internet and especially social media, medical professionals could easily tell each other at conferences how much their patients loved them (perhaps mistaking fear for respect or love), but now I think they’re slowly seeing the pitchforks approaching their insular world. Though some of them still talk blithely on youtube’d recordings of their conventions, making fun of their patients (accustomed to what they are doing, the psychiatrists might consider it merely analyzing their patients for their colleagues’ benefit), maybe unaware that those outside their myopic cult hear them and disagree. If you show your psychiatrist recent articles like this one from earlier this year — “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants & other psychotropic medications” by Adele Framer/Altostrata, the founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, published in the peer-reviewed Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology journal — it’s not like the psychiatrist is going to say Thank you, and I think we all know that. Maybe it’s time for people to stop identifying so dogmatically with psychiatric labels (voted into existence by psychiatrists at conferences) and obsessing over the band-aid commodities sold for those labels (marketing categories), as if it’s the patients’ fault rather than corporations’ for wage-slavery, widespread pollution, and the rest.

The image shows a page from my logbook. The page shows my writing as described in the post, and the month and date circled. A portion of the page is redacted for privacy.
Captain’s log, stardate March 8, 2021.

Trying to figure this stuff out, I went to a Seattle psychologist who was very knowledgeable about alternative views, and understood that emotional distress is a human problem, not a chemistry set or test tube problem. I gained some very good information from him, although I wasn’t really ready for it until later in my life. One thing he did with me was called brainspotting, an offshoot of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I’ve heard the psychologist Daniel Mackler (different person) describe EMDR as a way to helpfully shortcut someone toward discovering what might be causing a traumatic reaction, though not something that heals the psychic injury on its own. A discovery tool, not the cure. So this other, Seattle psychologist pointed a red light at my eyes in accordance with the brainspotting procedure. It caused me to blurt out a single word. I won’t specify it here for the privacy of myself and others, but it was a proper noun, let’s call it R. A few years went by before I recognized the significance of it.

In the meantime, I decided the best way to engage with this mysterious trauma anniversary was to always know the calendar date, so I’d be prepared to use grounding techniques and anything else I needed when April, May, or May 31 arrived. I found a very helpful type of journal, pictured above left and at the start of this post, that lets you circle the date and month. That physical action (as opposed to, say, the endless musings of psychoanalysis) of finding the month and the day on the horizontal lists and circling them helps me always know the current calendar date. Before the logbook, when I was picking out a box of fresh spinach at the grocery, I’d have to check its expiration date against the date on my wristwatch. But now I always know the date and no longer need to do that. Whereas previously, the April/May, and/or May 31, time period would stay in my subconscious, below awareness, too scary to be confronted, I was now bringing this feared problem into my awareness every single day, and I still do this daily. (Makes me think of Jung’s shadow concept or Le Guin’s novel A Wizard of Earthsea.)

I also use the logbook for other purposes too, most importantly to center my life on my calling of writing, which I’ll get to in a moment. I use the logbook to record my dreams each morning, if I remember them, and each night I use it for two exercises psychologist Terry Lynch recommends (his psychology courses are the most helpful material, bar none, that I’ve come across for understanding mental health issues). The exercises are writing down three things I did well that day and three things I’m grateful for from that day. The did-well exercise definitely makes me less susceptible to angry thoughts about how I’m supposedly no good at anything and the like; the exercise encourages me to have my own back, to defend myself from occasional automatic thoughts that are really internalized oppressions, not truths. The gratitude exercise makes me more optimistic in general. However, the benefit from both exercises has started to wear off somewhat, because over time I’ve reached the point that, seeking to go to bed quickly, I just scribble down the six things quickly like rushing through a crap homework assignment. I’ve started reading the six things aloud to combat the unthinking, rushed behavior. Finally, I use the logbook to check off certain foods I try to eat each day for nutritional purposes (a large navel orange for myo-inositol, pumpkin seeds for zinc, and so on), plus certain tasks, a.k.a. areas, I attempt to work on daily: writing fiction (it’s set in 2036), nonfiction (a book about hacktivism), and self (journaling and reading psychology stuff or books that teach practical skills). In years past, when I tried to keep a record of what I was up to, I’d give up after a day or three. But now I’ve been using the logbook consistently for months and months (and I always know the date!).

Two principles have helped me stay consistent with using the logbook daily. One I call “focusing.” I looked at myself and thought, what do I really want to focus on with my life? Do I really, truly want to be investing free time in playing Dungeons & Dragons with online friends, or rehearsing Spanish vocabulary flashcards? Those would be nice to do, but I’m actually here to accomplish various specific writing work. Thus I made a powerful commitment to spend my time actually doing that, not distracting myself with secondary goals that might be nice someday (such as more Spanish skill). Implementing that helps with mental health, too, because I’m not hiding from the challenges of writing by doing something I deep down know is less important to me. I vigilantly circumscribe who I spend (very limited) time with, because all sorts of friends and frenemies habitually criticize me and how I spend my time, or tease me at length as to why I should be playing Dungeons & Dragons with them or coming to this or that offline event, maybe because what kind of weirdo writes longform blog posts anyway, who does that? But I have to protect my availability, especially since writing is exceptionally time-consuming work, particularly when I prefer a thorough and research-intensive style. Second, I jettisoned the idea of deadlines or pressuring myself to write however many words daily. Instead of trying to fit those perfectionist demands, I decided to follow my own curiosity and work on the projects however that curiosity leads me. I still task myself with, besides my day job, spending at least an hour a day on three writing areas — fiction, nonfiction, self — plus doing some form of exercise, so four or five hours total, but since all that is frequently not possible every day (yet), I came up with a simple solution, a way to look at the situation with compassionate objectivity (to borrow Hillary Rettig’s phrase). My real task every day is just to to write on different lines in my logbook Exercise: Fiction: Nonfiction: Self: in case I complete any of the areas and can check it off. That simple chore, which takes perhaps 15 seconds, means that I’m still focusing on these three/four primary areas of work. I’m still caring about and trying to do them, even if it’s just writing down those four words in my logbook. If I don’t work on, say, fiction some particular day, well, life is life, just do the best you can. So I jettisoned all the crazy stress about deadlines and words-per-day, which really came from other people’s expectations, like a lady who once randomly lectured me for not writing as fast at a writing workshop as she thought I should, even though she wasn’t even part of the writing workshop! (She was there hunting for business intelligence for her company, I think.) When you really look for it, and aim to stick up for yourselves and others consistently, you realize there are many people circling around the world, prodding for weaknesses that they can mock you for if you’re vulnerable like a sitting duck, not skilled with firing back counter-insults or leaving the situation. I’ve learned to try not to ask others for their thoughts on these provocative topics too much offline, because bringing up a trouble or curiosity or passion I have all too often gives them an opening to mock or assert superiority without providing any sort of expertise to justify it. So over hanging out, I much prefer writing down the four areas in my logbook, working on them if I can (longhand feels so much more connected and channeling than typing!), and then checking them off one by one. If you’re thinking about trying this logbook technique, it might help to recall that you don’t have to do it the exact same way as I do. Over time, you can learn to trust yourself and your judgement, if you don’t already (many people with mental health problems don’t, though they might not admit it, not even to themselves, like political radicals asking their psychiatrists for permission, or oh excuse me, if the psychiatrist would think it’d be a good idea, before becoming a water protector or the like). You can vary the logbook as you see fit.

Back to the trauma anniversary and R. The idea for the self area — for journaling every day for some 30-90 minutes — came largely from Daniel Mackler’s thought-provoking youtube videos and Terry Lynch’s amazing book Selfhood. I won’t here describe how precisely I do my journaling, as that’s enough to fill a whole separate blog post. The point is, when I first purchased my blue journal (pictured below to end this blog entry), I immediately had the thought come to mind that I should use the journal to write about R. A powerful felt sense told me that doing so was going to be extremely helpful, and I no longer needed anyone else to confirm this for me or debate it. As Lynch says in this hour-long video on recovery from bipolar disorder (where he also mentions how important it is to take baby steps out of comfort zones; and, how important it is for people with manic-depressive tendencies to notice when, in a precursor to psychosis/delusion, they start using grandiose fantasy, such as daydreams of being a superhero, as a coping strategy for avoidance anxiety / putting off addressing problems), when people have severe mental health diagnoses, a crucial piece of their trauma history might not be the big trauma everyone’s looking for, the really obvious horrible thing that happened to them that everybody knows about and talks about. It could be some event that seems small in comparison, or even mundane from a very macroscopic perspective, something that commonly occurs in most people’s lives. But that “small” traumatic event could still be very meaningful yet unresolved for the particular person; usually, it’s events in childhood or adolescence, through which later life can be filtered. That’s how it was for me with R. Over the next several months, working diligently and just about daily, I filled up the entire blue journal with my thoughts and feelings and notes, almost completely about R, sometimes using investigative journalism techniques, researching public records and maps and so on to ensure accuracy (it needs to be a story with personal meaning, but also a story with factual currency in the social world).

Guess what I discovered! The boiling point of the R situation happened in April 1997, and just days later, I exhibited strange emotional distress, something I’d never done before. (I obsessed over packing and unpacking a bookbag and couldn’t respond in conversation with my family, as if I couldn’t even hear them, when they were asking me from across the bedroom what was wrong.) I was that exact month sent for the very first time to a mental health provider. Putting together these pieces wouldn’t be challenging for an impartial, outside observer with skill; in fact, they could probably do it in just a few minutes if presented with enough raw material about a client. But because I had/have the form of PTSD where I tended not to think in any detail about the trauma (except perhaps to haughtily dismiss its relevance), and because psychiatry was of no help (and in fact, with their extinguishing and their dodging subjects like dissociation and abuse by orderlies, psychiatry made matters worse), solving this has taken me decades. It’s no longer difficult for me to acknowledge that people remember, even if only subconsciously or somatically, what happened to them long ago (see savants’ feats of memory for instance, or the fascinating book The Woman Who Can’t Forget by Jill Price), and that something like glancing at the clock at the corner of a laptop screen might inform the subconscious that the date is May 31, even while the conscious mind is running madly away from the trauma anniversary. There’s actually another trauma anniversary for me in August, of lesser strength; on August 24th, 1998 came my second incident of psychosis. It was August 24th 1998 that got me put on psychopharmaceuticals. Second only to the April and May months, August has statistically been the next most common time period for the mania episodes. Tomorrow I’ll start filling up my new, second journal about that August trauma anniversary, and that August 24th 1998 event, whatever it was: I currently and for the last decades have had only a single image of it accessible in my memory. So I’ll have to piece it together, with investigative journalism-type research, looking at archived computer files, finding old school yearbooks in libraries, and so on, as well as by describing and narrating that one single accessible memory-image in such immense detail that additional memories begin surfacing. I’m glad I filled up the blue journal about R; now I no longer fear the April and May time frame, and indeed, I’ve made it through April and May unscathed recently, with the seven year nightmare stretch receding into the past.

Rather than psychosis, we should actually say extreme emotional distress. Whereas the word “psychosis” makes a person seem different, nonhuman, a deserving target of stigma and shunning, extreme emotional distress can happen to anyone, and it does. The handwaving about genetics and chemical imbalances, from which no conclusive evidence or tests have ever been provided, papers over the reality that millions upon millions of people are diagnosed with psychiatric labels and put on mind-altering brain-shrinking drugs, some of which already went into shortage during the pandemic and might go into shortage again (there will come a day when these pills are no longer readily available in this or that region, and patients are left to dangerously cold turkey off them), that elders are being force-drugged with neuroleptic in nursing homes (to make them easier for staff to manage), and that any calamity, from another coup attempt in the United States to a hurricane or an earthquake to the loss of a beloved pet, can be the last straw that causes your mind to snap if you don’t know how to address the psychic violation, and sometimes even if you do. You’re not immune from humanity, and along with so many other psychiatrized people, I am not excluded from it, try as some might.

I hope this post helps someone else suffering from trauma anniversaries and/or the PTSD where you don’t or can’t think about, where you dissociate from, can’t even remember, the specifics of the trauma.

The image shows a blue hardback journal. The cover has impressionist-style art flowers, a tree, and a bay of sea.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/20/trauma-anniversary-curiosity/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net

Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 5 of 52, just something simple and fun.

Last weekend, I departed from Seattle with some friends and went up to Snoqualmie Pass, just an hour’s drive outside the city. There I snowshoed on the easy Gold Creek Pond trail. It was my first time to ever snowshoe. The path started at a trailhead by a street, continued through a valley, and reached the snowed-over Gold Creek Pond. Other paths progressed past the pond, but I didn’t get a chance to check them out. Except for the final pic, I took the following DLSR photos of the snowy surroundings. I had a great time and plan to go again.

Right by the trailhead for Gold Creek Pond path. Some wore masks; others didn’t

A valley the trail passes through

Looking back at Summit East from the frozen-over Gold Creek Pond

Amazing how far you can see, out in Nature

Makes me think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness

Part of Gold Creek Pond wasn’t frozen over

On the shore, a shirtless guy after diving in the icy lake

Until next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Photos from Snoqualmie Pass’s Gold Creek Pond trail by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/05/photos-snoqualmie-pass-gold-creek-pond-trail/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.