The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

Social credit…

China is rolling out a system that assigns a “social credit score” to its citizens based on a wide number of factors, most of which are explicitly designed to influence citizen behavior. That is to say that the Chinese Communist Party wants to incentivize “proper” behavior and disincentivize whatever they decide is anti-social and intends to back it all up with the surveillance authority of the state. Their stated intend is to roll out a system “making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

It’s an interesting goal, to be sure. I mean who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone is trustworthy and acts in a reasonable, controlled way? Even if the ends are somehow noble, the means should send a chill down all our backs – not just those of use who may for whatever reason find themselves traveling or doing business with China. Most of the major news sources I’ve seen are rightly calling the project Orwellian.

We’ve got plenty of surveillance going on right here at home of course. Most of us are willing participants in building out an extensive surveillance network of our very own. We all carry around a tracking device in our pockets, roll up and down the interstate with toll-paying transponders, and even stock our homes with security cameras. It’s not particularly hard or far fetched to imagine a day when we too are assessed a social credit score based on our level of compliance with the expectations of whatever powers may be at any given time.

I don’t think the future is necessarily some kind of dystopian hellscape where everyone we pass on the street can “down vote” us a la Black Mirror – although following the China model, such a world wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to achieve… and does give me at least a moment’s pause to wonder who’s watching me watch my cameras.

However, if this is the way we’re going, go ahead and put me down for a score of zero point zero because I absolutely do not have the time or patience for that level of douchebaggery.

OK, Boomer…

There are currently entire “news” articles posted on major media outlets debating the validity of using the phrase “OK, Boomer” to dismiss an individual, a group, or an entire conversation.

In these articles they’re worried that such phrases are ageist… or some other kind of -ist that’s perhaps more or less fashionable. There’s outcry in the comments that the same people who decry internet bullying have picked the same kind of bullying up to swing as their own cudgel. All around there is clutching of pearls and faux outrage.

Except here, of course. There’s no outrage here, either faux or real, because of the words people use. There’s no outrage here because I’m a gown adult who doesn’t derive my self worth or intrinsic value based on what the People of the Internet say. Although I often enough find the Boomers and the Snowflakes obnoxious enough, neither seem to rise to the level of something that’s worth paying all that much attention to – and certainly don’t pack the power to send me scurrying for the protection of a safe space.

Somewhere in the last couple of decades we’ve collectively lost the innate ability to muddle through the day without needing coddled. It’s a personal failing that we seem determined to celebrate. The catch is, the world doesn’t give two good shits about your feelings. It’ll steal your lunch money, make you cry, and then come by and kick you in the jewels at dinner time.

My immodest advice to both the Boomers and the Snowflakes who both seem stuck on the notion that simply existing makes them special? Toughen up, Susie. The sooner we all remember the world doesn’t owe us a goddamned thing the better off we’re all going to be.

A cause for celebration…

Ah, it’s Columbus Day again. The day of the year when revisionists and apologists whine most loudly that we should all be wearing ashes and rending our garments and begging forgiveness for because of things men did more than 500 years ago at a time we’re no longer supposed to call the Age of Exploration.

As always, I cheerfully encourage the apologists to bugger directly off with that nonsense. I don’t judge historical events or figures through 21st century morality. They were men of their own age, with strengths and weaknesses, who achieved greatly and committed grave sins.

The age of exploration was an age of heroes. We don’t remember them because they spent their often short lifetimes boohooing the world around them, but because they dared to do what was hard and dangerous. They’re derided in the modern world, I suspect, because so many now live lives that are unfathomably easy and safe based on any measure of historical precedent.

In this household, Columbus and all the men who set out in fragile wooden ships from the old world to explore the wonders of the new will always be celebrated.

In support of natural consequences…

October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.

Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.

So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.

At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.

Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.

Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.

Here I stand…

September 17th. It’s Constitution Day. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last half decade pondering the Constitution. That doesn’t make me a scholar or imbue me with expert status on the topic by a long stretch. I still like to think between reading and thinking and trying to digest just what the founding generation were up to, it gives me a better than average perspective on the fundamental taproot of our government and laws.

In my estimation, the men who wrote, argued over, and eventually signed the Constitution were a mountain taller than even the best politician serving in office today. The fact that the system they designed is able to even creak along under the guidance of the hacks we’ve collectively elected to office in Washington speaks to their ability to design a system that could be operated even by this bunch of strutting and preening empty suits.

Not so very long ago I was accused of “worshiping at the altar” of the Constitution, with the implication being that doing so was somehow “un-Christian.” I’m sure it was meant to imply something negative in my character, but in my mind the truth is precisely the opposite. I don’t propose to be governed any more by Christian theology any more than I’d accept being ruled by extremist Islam. You can bugger right off with that nonsense. A moral compass is a fine thing to have, but I’ve never found that you need to be overtly religious to have one of those in your kit bag.

I was raised and protected and have grown and prospered under the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. As an adult I swore an oath to support and defend those rights and liberties against all enemies… and there’s not a force on earth or in heaven that could compel me to go back on that long held promise. I will walk this world cloaked in the protections and liberty afforded me as an American citizen and defined by the Constitution and its amendments.

Here I stand. Come and move me.

Blaming “Big Pharma”…

So Johnson & Johnson just got bitch slapped by the State of Oklahoma for creating a pain reliever it turns out has some addictive qualities. A fair portion of the interwebs are cheering this development.

I’m a contrarian, though. There are some fine points that I don’t quite understand. I have questions.

Opioid pain relievers are, obviously, considered pretty good at what they were designed to do. Without deep diving into the science of how and why, my assumption is they were created principally to reduce / manage pain. It occurs to me, a guy with no medical degree or scientific training, that there are a lot of ways to get after that goal other than opioids depending on the severity of the pain in question.

So now, the question is, what, if anything, is available that’s just as effective at revealing pain as a standard opioid? Then, the question becomes, what role do doctors have in determining the most effective treatment? Finally, we get down to brass tacks and ask what responsibility does the general public have in terms of being informed about what these options are and what they are putting into their own bodies?

You see, I don’t blame the drug companies here – at least not to the level of holding them out as the ultimate bad guy. I suspect in developing bigger and better opioids they were simply responding to a demand signal in the marketplace. That is to say that when given an option, people tend to want to reduce the pain associated with medical conditions or procedures as much and as quickly as possible. I don’t blame them. I’m less than heroic under duress. I don’t want to be in pain any more than is strictly necessary. I wouldn’t do well if it came to holding up under torture. What can I say, I’m a man who knows his own limitations.

With that all said, I’m also a guy who makes his own decisions. I’ve been prescribed opioids on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, the level of pain involved was such that I could manage with a few hands full of 800mg ibuprofen and go on about my business. Even though it was readily available, I opted to bypass the higher powered pain killer because I didn’t really need it. A lot of other people would have made different assessments of their own needs under the exact same circumstance. But everything starts with that choice… and then consequences follow.

But, this is America in the 21st century, so we have to have someone to blame for every bad thing that happens. “Big Pharma” is an easy and tempting target when it comes to who caused the opioid problem. It is their product, after all… even if that product only exists because we collectively have demanded a better and faster painkiller. They gave us a hell of a product. Maybe in the future we we should be a bit more thoughtful about what we ask for and noggin through some of the second and third order effects it might have.

Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. Never as long as we have a convenient scapegoat to relieve us of the burden of our own responsibilities.