Thursday, September 3, 2015

Confession: I'm a sinner. And guess what, #KimDavis... so are you.

It's true. I've sinned a lot in my past. I'll likely sin a great deal into my future. And after four decades of Bible study, I know the sins I commit, from the secret thoughts I've harbored to the actual harm I've done to myself and others. I'm particularly aware of how I've violated the big ones, namely The Top Ten. You know the ones I'm talking about. Do not have any other gods, do not use the name of the Lord in vain, do not steal, murder or commit adultery, yadda yadda yadda.

Of ALL the sins in ALL the Bible, these were gathered and placed in the Top Ten. They're repeated in the Old Testament and in the New, by Jesus himself. There's no way to miss them. There's also no person alive who hasn't broken at least one of them, whether in thought or in deed. Jesus said if you even think such thoughts, you've committed the act. So if you've wished for anyone's death, or even *hate* another human being... well that kinda counts. In a big way.

When I divorced my first husband, Dan, and married my second husband, Steven, it didn't really feel like THAT big of a sin, certainly not worthy of the Top Ten. I was in love. He made me happy. The choice of mate I made at 30 was much better for me and my future than a choice I had made at 17. I had grown up a lot along the way, and I realized that Dan and I were better friends than spouses. Even he would have told you that. He wished nothing but the best for me and for Steven, and supported the new family we were creating. It was all above board and on the up-and-up, condoned by my family and Steven's, even the religious ones, even though-technically speaking, from a Biblical standpoint-what we were doing was a big ol' undeniable irrefutable Top Ten Sin. I was committing adultery every single day I was with Steven and not Daniel. I had made my vows before God to be faithful and true only to Daniel, and I didn't make good on that promise.

Sure. I could make a lot of excuses or provide a host of reasons why I was better off in marriage #2, but if we go by Biblical law, there were a lot more Scriptures to denounce what I was doing rather than anything written to support it. Gay folks have this same probably usually, only, for some silly reason, theirs is the binding standard and mine... well, not so much.

Yes, I was happier, in a stronger and healthier relationship and even brought Steven into the faith (he was agnostic when I met him, and became a Christian while we were dating-even though dating me made HIM a sinner as well,) but if we go by strict black and white translations of the Bible, my being with Steven made me a sinner all the way until Daniel died.

It's one of the MANY reasons that I don't stand in judgment of another person's particular proclivities. The way I see it, we all have our dirty little secrets and sinful thoughts and desires to manage and reconcile (or renegotiate) with God in our own ways. Every single one of us has done this on some issue from the Bible, whether we dismiss the "old" rules as useless and unnecessary, or we fill in the vague peculiarities of those things that we *think* might be sinful, but we're not exactly sure because the things we face in the modern world were strangely left out of Scripture.

It's inevitable that we're going to sin, and inevitable that we find a way to live with that. God didn't create us to be perfect, and in fact constantly used imperfect people in the Bible to teach great lessons of empathy and compassion. Per the Bible we ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and none of us are perfect enough to stand in judgment of another master's servant, which is why we're told again (Matthew 7:1-5) and again (Luke 6:37-42) and again (Romans 2:1-3) and again (James 4:11-12) and again (Luke 6:31-36) and again (James 4:11-12) not to do that very thing.

But Ginger, it is our job to judge the unrighteous. Most of those scriptures only apply to other believers.

I'm so glad you bring that up, since it's the only exception to my no-judgy, live-and-let-live rule. If someone is going to use the Scriptures to judge, then they sorta kinda really have to actually, y'know, live by the scripture. Otherwise they're just beating someone ELSE over the head for their sins, as if their ledger is cleaner from having done so.

Newsflash:NONE of our ledgers are clean. HENCE WHY WE SHOULDN'T JUDGE ANYBODY.

Pretending otherwise actually dilutes the message when the people we're trying to reach see through the hypocrisy. You can't teach a message of perfect obedience and screw up, which is why we *should* be teaching perfect grace instead, since it is by that we're all saved anyway. (Again, according to the Bible. These aren't my rules and words so don't send me ugly comments about it.)

This is the issue I take with Godly-folk being judgmental, hateful, unyielding jerks.

I'm sure, then, it should come to NO surprise to you that I have a problem when a *thrice-divorced* elected official has suddenly "found Jesus" and feels it is her sole duty to administer her limited and short-sighted view on what she believes is a "central" issue of the Bible. You might understand then why I might feel compelled to point out the hypocrisy of this. Sin is sin is sin, we've all done it, I don't care. But the hypocrisy of caring about sin when it comes to everyone else? Nuh-uh. I can't let that slide, especially when everyone involved is getting the message horribly, comically, totally wrong.

There are a handful of verses in the whole Bible mention/refer to homosexuality, but there are also those verses that speak about the consequences of adultery... and of the two, only the latter was significant enough to include in the Top Ten. Also of the two, only the latter was spoken against by Jesus.

That means Mrs. Davis doesn't have a leg to stand on in her argument, and as such needs to sit her silly self down because she's making a mockery not ONLY of her particular beliefs, but Christianity itself. When you get saved, it's not so you can "join the club" and clobber others for not believing the same things as you. It means that you own that you're not perfect, and learn how to love perfectly as a response.

In case you need a refresher of what that love is supposed to look like:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

By beating someone over the head with your double-handled judgment stick, making light of what you've done to divert focus on something else, everyone from Jesus to the heathen next door (i.e., me,) can see that you're doing it wrong.

But Ginger... she was only saved four years ago. That means all her sins were "washed away" with Jesus's forgiveness and grace.

So I guess that a gay person in a loving, committed relationship, who wants to marry his partner and live a life devoted to the teachings of Christ, can be forgiven his dirty, wretched, lascivious past and reconcile with God on a brand-new basis starting with the point of salvation.

Well, sort of. In the Bible we're supposed to turn from sin, not keep committing it. He'll have to "straighten" up and fly right to be *truly* forgiven and washed clean. In other words, as long as commits homosexual acts spoken against in the Bible, he's committing sin.

That makes sense, I guess. So then I assume Mrs. Davis ceased having sexual relations with Husband #4 the second she was saved... because she, too, would need to turn from her adulterous ways, and per the Bible, that is what divorce/remarriage is. I mean, divorce was given almost exactly the same treatment in the Bible as homosexuality (punishment = death, God hates it, etc,) EXCEPT that adulterers were actually included in God's Top Ten List of Big No-Nos.

I should also point out that Husband #4 has publicly said he has no problem using his Second Amendment right to take care any threat to him or his wife. Remember... thought OR deed. Being prepared to kill is the very same thing as killing someone, or so Jesus said anyway. That's two out of the Top Ten, I'm just saying. These are not necessarily the kinds of poster people you want for your cause, when your cause is to obey the law to the letter.

To edify for those not "up" on religious laws regarding divorce and remarriage, divorce was only sanctioned in instances of adultery. You didn't get to change your mind because you fell in love with someone else, or leave someone when they were sick, or trade in your older models on a younger version-repeatedly-you weren't even allowed to divorce if your spouse wasn't 'of the faith.' The only reason you could divorce and remarry, i.e., the original marriage was invalidated, was if her first husband had committed adultery. But it would appear that Kim herself was the one who committed adultery, since she had the babies of ANOTHER man five months after she divorced Husband #1. Husband #2 was not the biological father of these babies, either. No, that was Husband #3, whom she married and divorced before she re-married Husband #2.

And yes, all those things were sins she committed prior to being born again. But strictly speaking, if they are following the letter of the law, she's an adulteress every single day forward, regardless of how many of her past transgressions were "washed away" when she was born again. That clean slate only covers past deeds, remember? In the future she's required to turn from and not continue in what she knows is sinful behavior, which would include sexual relations with a second/fourth husband, with whom an argument could be made that she is in a continuous state of adultery.

Now you're just being silly, Ginger. The Bible doesn't make an explicit case against remarriage as an ongoing state of adultery.

So you're saying that something defined as sinful in the Bible (i.e., adultery,) can actually be permissible and acceptable once we toss it in the gumbo with a couple of other issues, just because those dots were never officially connected in Scripture. Remind me to remind you about this precedence you're setting when it comes to gay marriage, marijuana, gambling, masturbation and abortion, ALL of which were never specifically stated against in the Bible, and as such... by your own argument... are permissible and acceptable as a result.

I know I'm steaming a lot of your shorts out there. Rest assured, I'm not willing to get all up in your bidness to tell you what you can and can't do, any more than I want to peak into her bedroom and see if she and her current hubby are breaking any Biblical rule. That's not my job, and I really don't care. That's between God and the person in question.

BUT...(and it's a big but,) even if she and her husband don't have a physical relationship, per her own standard, she's sinning if she doesn't deny marriage licenses to those couples seeking remarriage. Per her own rules, she is violating a much more "central Biblical issue" than homosexuality. You don't see groups gathering around to protest dead soldiers holding "GOD HATES DIVORCE" signs, but he kinda does. He made the point repeatedly, much more so than the whole gay thing. In fact, a couple of the "gay verses" lump adulterers in with homosexuals, which means Biblically speaking, those two sins are on the same level. You can either accept both, or dismiss both. Picking and choosing your outrage is a matter of convenience.

But she doesn't treat them even remotely the same, does she? She doesn't have her Christian laundry list to check off to ensure that the couples who come before her seeking a marriage license *deserve* to get one, per her own rigid religious standard, otherwise we would have heard about it by now. Seems to be that she lets sinners like herself off the hook in a non-judgy, live-and-let-live, it's-not-her-job-to-condemn-another-person-because-it-actually-might-cost-her-something kind of a way just because she wants the same kind of pass for HER sin.

Therein lies the hypocrisy. You can't be rigid about the sin you don't do and give wiggle room on the sins you do. What she truly wants is a that free pass, to live her life on her terms and fit God into it in ways that truly cost her nothing.

But Ginger, she could lose her job based on her religious beliefs.

Why would she want this job if it so clearly violates her beliefs? Evidently it's morally taxing to be the ultimate authority on marriage. She's going to have to really grill every single person who comes through her office to see if they, too, should be getting a marriage license, otherwise she too will be held accountable for their sin, which she feels will damn her straight to hell.

But here's the thing: it's *not* violating her religious beliefs to issue marriages to gay couples. That's the law of the land. Per the Bible, in a passage written when Christian law was NOT the prevailing authority, she was instructed to obey governing authorities in submission to her faith.

Romans 13: 1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.

Many vocal, outspoken people of faith also overlook verses 6 and 7 as well, so it's understandable that she might have missed this chapter, but it's in there, and carries as much weight as the other verses she's leaning on hard to make her case.

So which verse should she follow? The one where she's told to obey the laws of the land? Or the ones where she's told not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

I'll give you a few minutes to find the verse for the latter, because of all the darned luck I just couldn't find it. And remember: specificity counts.

Modern Christians are spoiled, entitled children, who forget that early Christians didn't have a culture built around them to sustain their beliefs. They were bucking the norm to believe the way they believed, it wasn't protected by, condoned by, sanctioned by, supported by law. That was why they were persecuted and *truly* martyred... by the religious authority of that time, no less.

In case you need a refresher for what that means:

And Jesus told them to welcome that persecution in His name, that it was inevitable. Again it's that "free pass" thing, and she just doesn't get one. Sorry. Not from the heathens, not from the Christians, not even from Jesus himself.

Do you *really* think Jesus would treat Mrs. Davis any differently than the faithful masses who dragged an adulterous in front of him, demanding that he state outright she must die for her sin per literal translation of scriptural law?

What did he say instead? Come on. You know the verse. Say it with me now...

Remember this was an adulteress that was dragged before Jesus to judge, something Kim Davis was, something I was, and yet Jesus showed her mercy, like he would show her, or show me. And by his grace we were spared, and saved. Freely you have been given, so freely give.

But Ginger... aren't YOU throwing stones at HER?

No, I'm taking the stones from her hands. There's a big difference. How she lives and what she does in her spiritual walk is between her and God alone. I'm not preoccupied with how she sins, because I accept that she's going to. It's inevitable. It's inevitable for all of us.

I'm just not going to let her use God as an excuse to be a hateful hypocrite, because frankly speaking Jesus has enough of these jokers running around mucking up his PR. Christianity is not the problem. How people misinterpret it so that they can have an excuse to hurt others IS.

Basically I'm revoking her free pass.

I recently answered a 40-question survey how a Christian could support/celebrate marriage equality. I started it with a lot of confidence that I knew what my beliefs were, and that I could defend those beliefs even against those who might question it. (Personally I don't think you can truly know what your beliefs are until you've HAD to defend them, when you have to support your arguments with facts and evidence and experience, rather than just spouting off at the mouth whenever something tickles your tongue.)

In doing this survey, however, I made a rather shocking discovery about my core beliefs. Despite my rigid upbringing in a Southern Baptist church, I don't really care too much about sin. I don't care about defining it. I don't care about avoiding it. It really doesn't register on my daily list of priorities at all. Like I said, it's inevitable that we all will. I gave up on being perfect years ago, it simply wasn't going to happen. It won't happen for any of us. We're going to mess up because we're human. There's no way around it. We'll be faced with and even succumb to many temptations in our path. We always have, we always will. If our faith could be managed by some hard and fast rules of do's and don'ts, we wouldn't have needed Jesus's grace in the first place. We've been getting it wrong our entire existence as a species. My guess is that an omnipotent God would understand this. I'm a creator too, so I know how those little buggers can go off script and do their own things sometimes. Honestly, that's my favorite part of the creation process.

If I'm truly made in God's image, then I'd like to believe he's like that too. If he knows every hair on my head, and everything that will happen to me from birth until death, and still loved me anyway... then I have to believe that he accepts my sin as inevitable and even valuable. Just like every other powerful character in the Bible who got it wrong, from adulterers (David,) frauds and liars (Jacob,) and murderers (Paul, hello, who-in his religious fervor-actually martyred early Christians) we're going to make mistakes that can and will hurt other people.

Instead of using our faith as a Free Pass to hate those who sin differently than we do, we should use our faith as an excuse to love other people, because they're no different deep down than any of us. THAT is how you avoid true sin, because that's all sin really is-the absence of love, empathy, grace and charity. THAT is how you build a bridge instead of burning it. THAT is how you preach a message of good news... that you may be rotten, miserable excuse for a human-but God still loves you anyway, enough to send his son to die for you because you OBVIOUSLY can't get it right on your own.

If God can do that, then Kim Davis can issue a marriage license. She just has to figure out a way to do what Jesus did... to walk in love and not judgment. That's what it means to be Christ-like, and would be a much better use of her newfound celebrity than petulant defiance that she can't have things her way. "I have an $80K-a-year job that I don't want to lose, even though I know I can no longer do it. But I should be able to avoid doing said job, because I'm a Christian and I get special privileges."

Yeah... no. That's not Christian. That's self-serving and ego-driven. This, by the way, is what it *really* means to take the name of the Lord in vain, when you're doing it for your own self-serving purposes, not just letting an expletive fly when you stub your toe. And if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that those who are terribly concerned with pointing out the sins of others, conveniently invoking God's name to do so, are usually harboring some salacious sinful secrets of their own.




Pointing out the sins of others doesn't diminish your own sin, not in the eyes of God, not in the eyes of anyone. There is no free pass here, just because you wave Jesus around like your own personal Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

Do your job and stay. Don't do your job and be removed. The rules aren't special just because you think you are. So put down the stones, Kim. They have never been yours to throw.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A "Good Guy" with a gun vs. a "Bad Guy" with a gun. Who can tell?

On Wednesday, in the relatively sleepy burg of Abilene, Texas, Open Carry advocates staged an impromptu protest of sorts to reiterate that they had a right to carry assault weapons on their backs in public. It didn't go over as well as they'd hoped, I reckon. When they were approached by equally armed police, it resulted in a "tense standoff," where these OC advocates felt as though they were being treated, unfairly, as terrorists.

I mean, he's just your ordinary, average American toting a high-powered weapon to celebrate his Second Amendment rights... what's the big deal?

“I got my gun behind me and you guys are coming over here with your hands on your rifles like I’m a threat,” Grisham exclaims. When police attempt to speak with Grisham, he announces, “I want your hands off the rifles before I get comfortable.”

Comfortable. Hum. Interesting notion.

Wonder how "comfortable" they would feel if it was an armed Muslim standing on the corner with a high-powered weapon on their backs to "make a point"? Would they be OK with law enforcement treating that person, or any person of color, like a "terrorist" for having the pressing need to openly carry an assault weapon to intimidate anyone they might encounter? In many cases in recent memory, all it took was for a black youth to carry a soda and candy while wearing a hoodie to be treated as a threat. Wonder how it would go down if an AR-15 wielding black man was innocently walking around his neighborhood in a state where it was perfectly legal to open carry? Would these same OC enthusiasts, who felt so indignant for how they were treated, stand behind the police for enforcing the law, using the threat of force to do so, crediting them as "heroes" for keeping us safe from clearly dangerous individuals? No one would blink an eye, would they? "They broke the law," we would say. "They deserved to be treated like criminals."

Don't start nothin', it won't be nothin'.

We're so used to seeing minorities as a threat, but not the good ol' white boy. We're supposed to look at this guy and see a God-fearing, gun-toting American in full control of his own impulses, to carry a gun without worrying it would all go horribly wrong.

Here's the thing, though. It can and does go horribly wrong on a regular basis. That is why what you carry on your back has any impact. We see a gun and we know at that point, "Don't fuck with that guy. He can blow your head plumb off!" In other words, if we thought you WEREN'T going to use it, there would be no need to carry it. Seeing that weapon has the immediate reaction of fear... backing people off because they are now afraid of you. They won't fight you as much. They'll let you do what you want to do. I mean, that IS the reason that these guys were pissed, right? Why does this cop have any right to interfere? Why does this cop have any reason at all to approach, weapons drawn?

Here's the reality, sugar dumplin. If you DO need to have an assault weapon present on your body in times of peace - like say, loitering around on private property, where the only real threat is the police officer who has to match you weapon for weapon to make sure that if anything goes down, HE is protected - then you ARE the terrorist. You're saying, "Look at my gun. See what I can do to you if I choose to, and there's not one damn thing you can do about it even if you have a gun yourself." That is using fear and intimidation to make your political point... the very definition of terrorism.

We live in a world where one crazy gunman CAN shoot up theaters or malls or schools, and you can go from law-abiding gun owner to mass murder in the time it takes to squeeze a trigger. And we really won't know who is who until it does. A white guy toting a gun could actually be profiled as a possible, serious threat. That cop, who has training to carry his weapon, is using the gun the very same way you are... to protect against an unknown threat with the suggestion of matching you bullet for bullet.

If you feel "discomforted" and "threatened" by that, how do you think the rest of US feel around you?

(I'd also like to point out that Tuesday was National Gun Violence Awareness Day, which makes his timing for his Wednesday protest either a painful exercise in irony OR a willfully defiant gesture that spits in the face of the fallen. My gut says it's the latter, not the former.)

But "Guns are not designed to kill," he says. IT'S AN ASSAULT WEAPON. Its purpose is built right there in the title. It's a weapon of WAR. We're not talking about a rifle you keep on hand to go hunting, or a pistol you can use for self-defense. These are weapons that can, AND DO, cause a great deal of carnage in a short, very short, period of time, *because that is what they are created to do.* Even if you're pro-gun, you have to see that yahoos like these hurt your cause.

(Bet you dollars to donuts he's a Christian, too. Somehow they always skim the part where Jesus said if you live by the sword, you die by the sword... words he uttered to his own disciple *while he was being arrested,* because Peter lopped off the ear of one of the Romans in Jesus's defense. Even in that moment, Jesus was an advocate for peace. The raddest hippie this world has ever known. Just sayin.)

Look, I'm from Abilene. That's my hometown. Church on every corner. The kind of place where people still wave and say hello. The type of place where you go to raise your kids, because it's supposedly a safe and wholesome environment. Yet in recent memory, while I lived there, a guy shot up a pit bull that simply showed up on his property... wasn't hurting anyone, wasn't a threat to his children, but he went after that poor animal with AN ASSAULT RIFLE, despite the fact he had at least four other guns at his disposal. There were also the two guys who got into a tense standoff at a traffic light, where one younger man waved a gun to make his point and the older man SHOT HIM DEAD to make his.

Guns ensure a polite society? Really?

"A study by two New York City cardiologists found that the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people - more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied.

Japan, on the other hand, had only .6 guns per 100 people and .06 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, making it the country with both the fewest guns per capita and the fewest gun-related deaths." - ABC News.

Some fast stats for you...

"Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent." - Salon, citing Harvard study

Of the women murdered by men, over 90% of them knew their murderer, and in a majority of cases, the weapon used was a gun.

We're steadily creeping towards triple digits in the number of school shootings since Sandy Hook in December of 2012.

In the three decades between 1982 and 2012, there were 69 mass shootings in America, occurring in 30 states. "Of the 143 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally." - Mother Jones

Gun violence is one of the leading cause of death in children - resulting in more fatalities than cancer.

Gun suicides have now surpassed gun homicides. “Bringing a gun into the home substantially increases the risk for suicide for all family members and the risk for women being murdered in the home,” Dr. David Hemenway, Harvard School of Public Health

And most importantly... an overwhelming majority of gun owners WANT and SUPPORT sensible gun laws. They're the ones who actually have respect for the weapon and the responsibility carrying one demands.

Not every gun owner looks like this OC yahoo - but thanks to him and guys like him, it shades the argument to make you all look unreasonable and a little touched in the head. I'm all for responsible ownership. Have a gun if it makes you feel better. But if you need to wave it in my face to support your rights, we're going to have a problem. If you're a complete stranger with a gun, how am I supposed to know you're qualified to carry it and you're not a complete and total nut job ready to throw it down because your ideals feel a little threatened? Sometimes a person only gets mere seconds to figure that out before all hell breaks loose. What you're really asking me to do is barter my peace for your paranoia. YOU may feel "comfortable" with everyone walking around with semi-automatic rifles strapped to their backs, but I sure as hell don't.

And guess what? As a God-fearing, law-abiding American, *I* have the right to feel comfortable, too.

So slow your role, Rambo. There is room for compromise. If you truly have respect for the gun, you have to know that not everyone should be able to get their hands on one, much less carry it around as some non-verbal threat. Accountability and responsibility should ALWAYS go hand in hand. So please... for the love of God and country, stop playing the victim when you have to show any kind of accountability for using fear and intimidation as a tactic.

If you want to be able to own an arsenal, it's a reasonable fucking request.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Whatever, USA

So apparently one of the top trending topics on Twitter today is about that alcohol-sponsored "town" to promote beer, because as we ALL know, beer is sorely in need of constant promotion. Cuz... y'know... it just wouldn't sell if there weren't at least ten commercials a night wiring our brain to buy it.

Here's the thing, though. I read the #WhateverUSA in a different context than the way it was intended.

Nothing makes me side-eye glare the media as much as their treatment of alcohol versus marijuana. In this country, we can both be madly in love with alcohol and vilify marijuana (or shame its enthusiasts) in the very same breath without a hint of irony. (Jon Stewart knows what I'm talkin' about.)

"Is pot bad for you? Tonight at 11! Meanwhile, here's a word from our sponsors..."

Aww, look at that. Isn't that sweet? Cute puppy. Emotional sentiment. Beer stands for what 'Merica stands for, ammirite? Who *doesn't* want a refreshing cold beer right now? Let's be honest.


But I'm not bitter. Certainly no more bitter than the beer they're promoting.

As an "intoxicant," study after study has shown marijuana to be the more benign substance.

Now before my drinkers out there get their knickers in a twist, I am not out to dis alcohol. I imbibe occasionally myself, and have for three decades. I'm Irish, fer God's sake.

But let's be real. If you're going to extol alcohol to the extent that we do in this country, it's moronic to downplay its more mellow sister as the root of all evil.

Not only will marijuana NOT send you to pray to porcelain gods if you overindulge (and, in fact, *eases* nausea,) you can actually function the next day with more manageable side effects (minor headaches, dry mouth) IF you have any at all. Some studies show it is safer to drive, and it doesn't make people as aggressive and dangerous as alcohol. According to the Rape, Incest, Abuse National Network, 30% of sexual offenders are under the influence of alcohol, compared to 4% of other drugs. Per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol factored into 40% of all violent crimes. The commercials, oddly enough, don't factor into that when you're "up for Whatever."

But weed? Man, oh man. That's some dangerous shit right there. Isn't that right, Detective Jones?

Oh wait. My bad. Let's get some input from other officers of the law.

Best of all - it is virtually impossible to kill yourself with an overdose of pot. Meanwhile, per the CDC, an average of 6 people die from alcohol poisoning *DAILY*. Hence the term "toxic." It can literally poison you. But there are no commercials showing that, are there? No, just a little disclaimer at the bottom of every alcohol ad warning you to "drink responsibly."

Apparently only those who drink are capable of imbibing responsibly. For everyone else, we melt into the f*cking couch.

In fact, if you dare to proclaim any love for this little, natural, beautiful, God-made plant, especially how good it makes you feel, you're somehow some burnout who is "stupid" or "lazy." If you didn't catch that golden nugget from the last anti-pot commercial I showed you... here's another thrown in for good measure. An oldie but a goody, one that scared me off of pot for the same thirty years I was happily drinking like any proud American.

Effective little ad. Too bad it was bullshit.

But the stigma remains. Even if you have a legitimate medical condition that is eased by this miraculous little plant, you're automatically regarded by many as a liar who "just wants to get high," even when this substance has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

And pot should be legalized for medicinal use. That much is a given. That argument ended in 1999, when the very same government that schedules cannabis as having *no* medicinal value *patented* cannabinoids as antioxidants and... wait for it... *neuroprotectants." (Bet you didn't see that one coming.)

Apparently their get-out-of-hypocrisy-jail-free card is that they patented the non-psychoactive properties of cannabis, i.e., the non-high part of it. Because getting high is bad. Really bad. Super bad. The baddest of the bad. The worst. I mean, you might, like, melt into the couch or something.




Just sayin.

I, for one, think pot should be legalized for recreational use as well, far and wide, and yesterday.


Because we can make a town about alcohol and everyone's fine. We can turn every holiday into an occasion to drink, and nobody bats an eye. Bad day? Have some wine. Wife on her period? Have lots of wine. After all, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere!"

Yeah. It's 4:20 first, bubala.

Pot prohibition is backwards and hypocritical in a country like the USA, where drinking is part of the national identity of who we are. If you enjoy drinking, where's the moral high ground that pot is the debble? (And no, it's not a gateway drug. My gateway drug was Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, which I drank at 14 - at the height of the "Just Say No" movement in the 1980s. Every single person I know who partakes smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol FIRST.)

I bang this drum a lot because the unfairness of it is mind-boggling to me. While pot is legal in some states, it's federally illegal overall, so we have to fight to have the very same rights as the martini drinker to our left and the beer guzzler to our right. In doing so, it inevitably comes with this insta-judgement that has been ingrained for decades. It affects where you live, it affects how you make a living. You can drink like a fish for a month solid and still get hired for a job, but if you dare smoke any pot in the same month, you're regarded as an employment liability.

And here's the hilarious part... if you drink, you should be fighting for pot's legalization more than anyone. In California, booze is actually cheaper because they have to compete with the marijuana market. When people have options, it creates competition, which drives down prices. It's a win/win for everyone... except for the drug cartels. And the for-profit prison behemoth. And Nancy Grace.

So today, I challenge everyone who is on the fence to watch The Culture High ASAP. It's a wealth of information on the topic of legalization, one that puts my modest little blogs to shame with the intelligent and amazing contributors who *nail* the prohibition argument down to its fundamental uselessness (if you don't count irony.)

The great news is you can legally enjoy all the beer you want as you do so. If you're toking, well... better hope you're in the right town.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go get medicated... because all this hypocrisy has given me a migraine. It's 4:20 somewhere, y'all.

Take us out, Doug.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marijuana, the "Gateway" Myth and Why We're Voting Green in 2016

New Jersey Governor, and presidential hopeful, Chris Christie doubled down on his battle against drugs by digging out that trusty lil nugget that marijuana is a gateway drug.

“Every bit of objective data tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs. And it is not an excuse in our society to say alcohol is legal so why not make marijuana legal. …Well … why not make heroin legal? Why not make cocaine legal. You know, their argument is a slippery slope.” - Chris Christie

Too bad for Christie that his paper-thin argument is about ten years too late, which could very well cost him any real chance at the White House.

There is no "objective data" when it comes to the "gateway drug" myth, because it depends on correlation, not causation. They basically took a group of addicts and asked them what was the first drug they took, which doesn't really give you the whole story. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the world, therefore it stands to reason that addicts would have started there. But it doesn't always end up there, not by a long shot. And that's an important distinction. All heroin users have used pot, but not all pot users have used heroin. All heroin users have likely eaten sugared cereal, eaten cheese or drank soda too, but no one is calling these substances, which are known to alter mood or make the body mentally or biologically respond as an addiction, "gateway" substances. So you have to dig a little deeper and ask the *right* questions. I would bet money that alcohol and cigarettes preceded marijuana in all cases.

"A new study in mice shows how tobacco products could act as gateway drugs, opening the door to use of illicit drugs. Nicotine, the researchers found, makes the brain more susceptible to cocaine addiction. The finding suggests that lowering smoking rates in young people might help reduce cocaine abuse." - National Institute of Health

We start with weed because it's the first *illegal* substance they used to get high, but it's not truly where addiction starts, which has more to do with the user than the substance itself. (Imagine that.) I personally think people are hardwired for addiction thanks to things like sugar and caffeine, and even certain foods, because we are constantly reaching for (often destructive) outside sources to calm ourselves down, rev ourselves up or generally make ourselves happy.

*Probably* not a high wire for someone like Christie to walk. (Just sayin'.)

That aside, the argument isn't that we should make pot legal because alcohol is legal. The argument is that we should make pot legal because alcohol, a *more harmful substance,* is legal, which makes the prohibition on the basis of public safety unfounded. There is no slippery slope to heroin and cocaine - that's ridiculous. (About as ridiculous as saying that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin, which is what the government tells us when it continues to classify marijuana as a highly addictive Schedule 1 substance without any medical benefit. Anyone who can read can spot the gaping holes in that argument.)

Honestly, this bluster isn't to gain any ground whatsoever for a national run for office. In reality, it hurts him in many ways with would-be voters. Given the case of Brian Wilson and his daughter, Vivian, Christie's stubbornness actually makes him appear belligerent and hardhearted.

A hard line like this one might have earned him some votes in and even around his base five or ten years ago, but things a lil different these days. If there's one thing that the 2014 elections taught us, it's that voters want reform on marijuana, even if conservative politicians prevail. We are getting more and more educated on the pros and cons of this substance, and the tide has turned with the majority of voters now in favor of ending prohibition, and that's a upward trend unlikely to reverse. In other words, the number of those who think pot should be legal is higher than it's ever been, and likely to get higher. And that's not just young stoners and burnouts, by the way. Breaking that down: 65% millennial, 54% Gen X and 50% Boomer now favor legalization, so almost all age groups, with the elderly showing the least support. But the younger generation is the one to watch in this debate, particularly since the youngest voters have seen a surge of support for marijuana legalization in the recent past, up from only 36% in 2008. And they're not afraid to get out and vote, either, even in mid-term elections they'd normally skip. In DC in 2014, where legal marijuana was on the ballot, voters between the ages of 25-34 surged past any other demographic, including the seniors politicians love to court.

So who are your decision makers now?

(Don't be scared. We're a chill group who generously share all good things and always have the best munchies.)

The door to progress is open and more and more people are filing through, abandoning old, baseless propaganda in favor of actual facts. I predict that the candidate who has the balls to come out in favor of ending prohibition will be the one who gains the most traction, and will see a swell of support especially among younger voters. (Keep in mind how this worked out well for Clinton and Obama in the recent past.)

So what happens when we trade the green influence of politics from money to weed? Grab your popcorn, folks. This could get interesting.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bipolar Disorder, the latest fad.

Tom Sullivan, a Fox News Radio host, has a bone to pick, namely with all you who claim to be mentally ill. He asserts that this is how savvy folks can game the system in order to get a disability check, and even asked a caller if she had been "talked into" a bipolar diagnosis, because it's some hip new fad. "What were these people called 25 years ago?" he asks.

While I'm not entirely sure why Mr. Sullivan, a business correspondent, would be making such definitive claims outside of his professional expertise, I do have an answer for his question. I'll tell you what these people were called 25 years ago:


It may sound like a new thing because we're hearing more about it, but the actual illness itself reaches all the way to ancient Greece. Karl Leonhard coined the term "bipolar" to differentiate it from unipolar depressive disorder in the 1950s, and by 1980, "manic depressive disorder" officially changed to "bipolar," which more accurately describes the swing of these mood changes from one extreme to the other.

While Mr. Sullivan seems to think that people diagnosed with bipolar disorder only have a case of the sadz, simply having a good or bad day like the rest of us, the term "bipolar" is an important distinction in how patients behave and are treated for their illness. The defining difference between bipolar disorder and unipolar depression is the element of "mania."

Unlike the symptoms of major depressive disorder, which include fatigue, isolation, hopelessness and a loss of interest in those things a patient loves, the manic phase is defined by a marked increase in energy and excitability. Someone in the manic phase is often highly productive and feels as though nothing is wrong, despite increased irritability or sleeplessness. Mania often gives illusion of wellness. This is why those afflicted generally don't head to the doctor, or even talk to the doctor about any manic episodes, which makes diagnosing the disorder more challenging. Doctors don't draw blood or do X-Ray scans to diagnose this disorder. The most effective tool is simply talking with your doctor about it. The reason Mr. Sullivan thinks "everybody and their brother is getting diagnosed with bipolar," is simply because of awareness. The more we know about it, the more we know what to look for. This conversation is critical because despite what Mr. Sullivan thinks, it isn't a rare condition. It affects 5.7 million American adults.

Historically, it has been a hard diagnosis to pinpoint. People don't seek help those days when they felt on top of the world, like they can do anything. Many sufferers can go for a decade without having their specific disorder properly diagnosed, which can lead to self-medication, often resulting in some form of addiction. When left untreated, bipolar disorder can lead to self-harm, the harming of others, incarceration and institutionalization. And it gets progressively worse, as the untreated illness begins to damage the brain.

This is way more than a case of the sadz.

Maurice Benard, who plays Sonny Corinthos on General Hospital, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after his first breakdown in the mid-1980s. He speaks about the internal war he felt, like the devil and God himself were battling it out in his brain.

I know for a fact that bipolar disorder is a real illness and that destructive, and not just because I could pull up some cursory research with a simple Google search. (Which, btw, is something Mr. Sullivan most definitely should have done to prepare himself properly to discuss the topic. Otherwise how can anyone take his masturbatory rant seriously?)

No, I lived with bipolar disorder every day from 1987 to 2003, and saw it all happen first-hand. On the front line, as it were.

My first husband was bipolar. I didn't know that when I met him. He didn't know that when I met him. I was seventeen at the time and chalked his mood swings up to an abusive childhood that left him in and out of foster care from the age of eleven. By the time I met Dan, he had been incarcerated, and in fact was on probation. I know all too well about that rage that Mr. Benard discussed. I know all about the internal fight with the devil, and often saw the devil in Dan's eyes when his mood darkened to abuse and intimidation. Dan called it his "Shadow." For eight years it was often an emotional roller coaster through hell, which was not as hyperbolic as it might sound - or as much as I would like it to be. His disorder confused me just as much as it confused him. On most days, you would never meet someone kinder than Dan. I have seen him give his very last dime to someone in need. The reason we met was because he had befriended my mother when she worked at a convenience store, and he was down there every day just to look after her. He'd walk her to her car when the pavement was icy. If he heard a car backfire, he'd run all the way there to make sure she was okay, ready to tear anyone apart who might do her harm.

Talk about your romantic heroes. And that was what he was to me, almost from the moment we met.

But there was a darker Dan, one that I only got glimpses of until I got pregnant with our first child, when episodes of abuse started to happen more frequently. There was always a reason in my head. Well, he's stressed. We're going to have a baby. Well, he lost his job again. Money, inlaws... you name it, I entertained it. I was pretty young and naive back then and thought I could save him if I just loved him enough. There was a lot of amazing raw material there to mold, and I knew I was strong enough, and loyal enough, and brave enough, to stay in the fight until the war was won.

There's nothing quite like the optimism of your early twenties.

But his poor choices and destructive, impulsive behavior often had devastating consequences that affected relationships with family, friends, employers and society at large. He scared people. He hurt people, including me and our kids. And, again and again, he hurt himself. By 1994, I no longer romanticized this struggle. I knew, of course, I was in an abusive relationship, one I attributed to the way he was raised, and I knew it wasn't going to get any better. Though I had sworn all my teen years *never* to get involved in this kind of relationship, I felt stuck. I was at the mercy of the Shadow Dan who would show up without warning. I worked to support the family because I had to, with his anger issues he couldn't hold a job for very long. There were days I'd go to work and he'd be fine. By the time I got home I walked right into the lion's den.

After a while I could recognize when those scary episodes were coming. He wouldn't sleep much, and generally focused on working out obsessively to build himself up. Looking back I see this was the manic phase. Those would quickly escalate into episodes of psychotic rage. Just one wrong word and the switch was flipped. And lemme tell ya, when it flipped, it flipped. I was terrified to stay, I was terrified to leave. At one particularly low point I called the police and told them, look. I want to leave. I want to take my kids and just go, but he says if I do he'll kill everyone I know, my mother, my best friend, anyone who meant anything at all to me. Please help. Their advice? The next time it got bad, call 9-1-1 and let the dispatcher hear the fight.

I told them I'd be dead before the police arrived. And I believed that 100%. By this point I had been burned with hot coffee, had my hand broken, been choked and nearly stabbed running up the stairs to get away from him. I didn't tell anyone what was going on, I was much too scared to, which made it one of the loneliest, darkest periods of my life. I both loved him and hated him. I was terrified of him, but I was scared for him. I ended up trying to shield him almost as much as the world around us, because I had no idea what his next episode of rage would cost him.

In 1990, he landed in jail for threatening a cop with nunchucks. We had been separated and he was trying to find me and our 5-month old son, but the police wouldn't tell him where we were. It resulted in an angry outburst and he took off from the police station, followed by several cops as he zig-zagged through Amarillo, until it ended in a confrontation. Dan told me later that he felt in that moment he had nothing to lose. He had hoped that when he got out of that car and held up those nunchucks that they would open fire and shoot him dead.

They didn't, they simply arrested him and put him in jail for eight months. Like me, they thought this was a moral failure on his part, crossing a line he knew better than to cross. He was released and things were better for a while, but then life happened and he didn't know how to handle it. And each altercation got increasingly worse. For eight long, scary years, I kept expecting him to turn it all around - to find a reason, either with me or the kids, to overcome this Shadow.

Finally, in 1995, we sat across from a doctor who slid the missing piece of the puzzle in place. By then Dan was more open to discussing his feelings with doctors. Thanks to his stints in jail, he really had no choice. But the recent (natural) death of our newborn son rocked him to the core. Simply put: he wanted help and he finally realized he couldn't do it on his own.

I remember how stunned I was as I stared at that doctor, thinking to myself, "Wait a second. You mean he CAN'T control these things?" He wasn't a bad man. He was a sick man. It was revelatory.

It was also the start of an entirely new journey, one just as confusing, stressful and frightening.

The official diagnosis was "bipolar depression with psychotic episodes" coupled with schizophrenia. They put him on strong medication right away, including Haldol. The side effects were devastating. This once healthy, active, fit man began to deteriorate in front of my very eyes. His hands and head would shake with tremors he couldn't control. He would drool, unable to communicate with those around him. I would have to help him dress or put on his shoes, often even turn him over in bed. Eventually he ended up hospitalized - twice - after slipping into a catatonic state. Because there is no one-size-fits all treatment for mental illness, it was all trial and error. Eventually he would have to leave the home entirely or else I'd permanently lose custody of my kids. One of the hardest days of my life was dropping him off at a halfway house so he could learn how to reintroduce himself into society, self-sufficient and on his own. It was the day I told him we had to end the marriage for the sake of our children. I'll carry his heartbreak with me until the day I die.

Fully immersed in the court system by that point, several social workers were overseeing our particular case. Eventually his hard work and his determination to be better won them all over. By 1999, I had begun a relationship with Steven, who would become my second husband, and we were all a weird sort of family that looked out for each other and cared about each other, though I'm sure no one around us understood what the heck was going on.

I came as a package deal. I had spent all of my adulthood taking care of Dan, and that was a role I couldn't just abandon. I knew without me and the kids, he could end up on the streets, in worse shape than before. So Dan was a big part of our lives, even living with us when he couldn't support himself. Though he desperately wanted to, he couldn't do it on his own. The medication took care of the rage, but it ravaged his body and aged him quickly.

A major heart attack took him September 13, 2003. When he died prematurely at age 43, we were all devastated. We knew that the heavy medication he took, which had him vomiting violently every single day, had taken its toll. I thought, briefly, about filing a claim against Big Pharma, but that involved disturbing his grave to scavenge his remains for evidence of what we already knew. None of us could bring ourselves to do it. When we walked into that funeral home and saw him lying in that coffin, there was almost a smile on his face.

It was over. His torment was done. From the moment he found out it was an illness, he had fought the good fight and now could finally rest in peace.

This makes Mr. Sullivan's heartless, ignorant comments even more offensive. He alleges that money-hungry doctors are just throwing the diagnosis around willy-nilly to create a continuous customer base, and in doing so it allows these poor, deluded individuals free access to disability they don't deserve. None of that was true in Dan's case. He did get on disability because he deserved it. He had worked and paid into the system, so when he found himself unable to work, it helped provide for our family - doing what it is there to do. We didn't get a whole lot in cash benefits, certainly not as much as if he could work, but the medicare took care of his hospitalization and his medication so that it wouldn't further burden our family.

Regardless of what Mr. Sullivan thinks, doctors aren't sitting around doling out disability diagnoses for kicks and giggles. The government doesn't just say, "Oh, you're depressed? Here's free money." He has no idea what an uphill climb it was first to get the diagnosis, and then to get the help afterwards. He has no dog in the fight. If he had ever been touched by mental illness, having to live with it day after day, forced to do the research because his very life depended on educating himself as much as possible on these things, he could never make these outlandish and inflammatory comments. Which makes everything he says shock-bait to get his name out in the stratosphere.

I know I'd never heard of him before.

Because of tools like this guy, the stigma for mental health persists. We don't "think" someone is sick because we can get sad or mad or depressed or hyper without it tearing our lives apart. How hard is it to just "get over it?" I mean, they "look" normal, so their actions must be a result of their own moral weakness or laziness, right?


I firmly believe that undiagnosed mental illness results in many societal ills, including crime, addiction and even homelessness. That means we're going to pay for it in some way, treated or not. Prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. Without Dan getting help, I could have easily been a statistic, as could our children - as could family, friends and strangers on the street. Now is a time for compassion and education, to help those who need it the most (even if, especially if they don't even know it.) I was witness to Dan's story so that I could share it, in hopes that the torment he suffered served a greater good. I know that's the way he would have wanted it.

If you feel like you're going under, don't let assholes like this one stop you from talking to someone and getting the help you need. Regardless of what the most ignorant in our society believes, you are not defined by your condition. You are defined by how you choose to fight. There is hope. There is help.

For those who agree with Mr. Sullivan, and think that bipolar disorder is some new fad created by Hollywood, perpetuated by greedy doctors and taken advantage of by lazy freeloaders, I have just one thing to say to you. Thank whatever higher power you believe in that you never had to find out how real it is face to face. You're part of the problem, and believe me - that is nothing new. For those of us who have danced with the devil and fought in the trenches, you have no authority whatsoever to tell us it isn't/wasn't real. Shut your mouth, open your ears and learn something.

Ignorant FOX Host Says Bipolar Disorder is "Made Up" - Demand an Apology and Retraction - sign the petition.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs
8 Bipolar Myths

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Nancy Grace from a Pothead

Dear Nancy Grace,

It has come to my attention that you really, really, really, really, really don't like pot. You use your trademark rage and indignation to wave the banner for the Anti-Marijuana camp whenever possible because you really, really, really, really, really think making marijuana legal and accessible is a huge mistake.

In fact, the more strides we make towards legalization, the more the whole thing really seems to stick in your craw. I'm worried that your head might actually explode if marijuana is made legal across the board, taking its place among nicotine and alcohol as a stimulant of choice for all the wayward degenerates who might support it.

As one of those wayward degenerates, I'd like to take this opportunity to connect with you - human to human - to make this transition a little easier for you.

Truth is I was once like you.

I grew up in the Just-Say-No-Dare-to-Keep-Kids-Off-Drugs 80s. I was 12 years old when the nation's First Lady, Nancy Reagan, appeared on Diff'rent Strokes to drive the message home how drugs were a bad idea, using pot as the example. I was taught all the dire warnings of how it killed off brain cells and was a gateway drug to other, stronger, more harmful drugs.

And I waved the banner of pot prohibition much like you do, without all the TV lights and corporate paychecks n' stuff. When I was 14, and a friend smoked a joint in my bathroom, I was ready to tear the walls down, much like you, in righteous indignation how she could bring that harmful, dangerous, useless substance into my house and put me at risk.

Whenever I'd hang out with another friend, whose husband and dopey, pothead friends would smoke right there in front of us while we abstained, we'd simply sneer their direction in how they could be so weak and stupid to partake in such an activity.

As my teen years passed, I'd staunchly refuse whenever other friends would offer me a joint. I already had impulse control issues with sex, alcohol and food. I just knew one hit would turn me into some crackhead, begging for money out of some little cardboard hovel.

The examples were everywhere. By the time I was coming up in the 80s, we had lost Hendrix, Janis, Morrison, and Belushi. Richard Pryor and Robin Williams famously did comic bits on their brushes with drug addiction. Everywhere I looked there was a message to keep me off drugs, no matter who might be influencing me.

By the time I had children of my own, I was a fire-breathing mom who drilled this anti-drug message into my kids. When my son was 14, he was caught carrying weed for one of his friends. I was called from work to go get him and the minute he saw me I knew he was hoping they'd lock him up in jail because it would have been safer.

Had he not tested clean, he honestly might have been.

I picked him up from detention with this playing on the car radio, to drive the message home that this one infraction was only a tip of the iceberg of all the horrible, awful things that could happen to him if he did drugs.

So how did someone like me, a successful product of the anti-drug campaigns of my youth, come to support, and embrace, legalization?

Honestly, it probably started in the 1990s. I was living in California when proposition 215 was on the ballot. I voted for the legal use of cannabis, provided it was medically necessary and regulated by a doctor. It's all part of being a liberal, in that I favor more options, not less. If someone dying of AIDS can find some relief in the use of a plant, then hey... I was all for it, even if I didn't use myself or support/condone recreational use of the drug.

Like you, I thought it was much too dangerous to be in the hands of just anybody.

It was a mindset that worked well for me up until the 2000s, when I started the metamorphosis to "pothead" courtesy of the biggest, most dangerous drug-pusher in America: Big Pharma.

In 2005, my back "went out" for the first time. I bent to clean a lower cabinet in the kitchen and that was all she wrote. My whole body was locked solid as waves of white-hot, electric pain shot through my entire nervous system. I hobbled to my bedroom, bent like the letter L, where I collapsed sideways and stayed there for days, riding out the storm.

After that, I could predict my back going out at least once a year. In 2006 I lucked out, getting a job at an insurance company, where I was able (well, forced, really) to get to the bottom of this recurring pain that debilitated me on a regular basis. I don't know if you know this, but back pain affects 80% of us over the course of our lifetime. I was one of more than 100 million people who struggle with chronic back pain, which is more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.

Back pain is a leading cause of disability for people over 45, which is exactly where I was heading. This is a blog I wrote about it in 2012, after seven long years of battling the condition. As you can see I felt frustrated and hopeless.

Between 2005 and 2013, I saw countless doctors, took endless tests, went to chiropractors and physical therapists, and - inevitably - took scores of very strong medication to fix the problem. After eight years, I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, with no firm diagnosis on what the underlying problem might have been (bone spurs, compressed disks, SI dysfunction, you name it - I've heard it.)

All I knew for certain was that another back episode was inevitable, and I had to plan my life around it. I fluctuated in between pre-pain, pain and post-pain. In pre-pain, I felt pretty normal. I took advantage of these periods by easing into physical activity because I was told that losing weight would help my back problems tremendously. I'd even start jobs with all the enthusiasm in the world that I could stand/sit/walk, even carry, if I just treated my chronic back problem like a feral cat.

Get around it, no sudden movements, and I'd be fine.

Inevitably, though, no matter how carefully I treated my particular affliction, or how many allowances I made or how much help I had to avoid the really heavy lifting of life, my back would go out. If I bent, stooped, turned at the waist or even took a deep breath, I'd end up right back in bed, in agony, and completely useless. Those pre-pain periods got shorter and shorter. By 2010, my back was laying me flat up to three times a year. I wasn't able to hold a job and I briefly contemplated suicide because it just didn't seem like it was going to get any better.

The only thing I could count on was that my back would lock up and I'd be forced to take handfuls of very strong medication that basically checked me out of life for weeks at a time.

I hated taking drugs, but it was the only way to find any kind of relief. But I was scared to death. Did you know that pharmaceuticals are responsible for over half of the drug overdose deaths that occur each year? Of the more than 22,000 deaths in 2013, 71% were caused by painkillers.

I felt like I was aiming a loaded gun at my face every single time I took my legally obtained, socially acceptable, doctor-approved medication. If the only reason I was afraid of pot was that it could kill me, how does that not translate to other, stronger drugs that actually do?

The one good thing that came from my chronic back pain is that I was forced to make a living from home, which meant I finally realized my dream of being a working writer. Even if I was laid up in bed, I could "clock in" and bring some kind of income into the home. It started with freelance articles, where I was forced to research tons of topics I might not have cared about or concerned myself with ordinarily. One of those topics was Uses for Hemp. I didn't know much about hemp going into it, but I found what I learned completely fascinating... and infuriating.

Here is this amazing plant that has tens of thousands of uses, that could totally revitalize several industries, and its use is stymied by legislation, unfairly lumping it in with its sister plant, marijuana, in the ongoing (and notably failed) War on Drugs. Why on earth would a crop that our very founding fathers widely supported, that could do so much good for our planet, vilified and made illegal?

Why, indeed.

The more I researched it, the more the stickers began to peel on the marijuana propaganda machine. I got a glimpse of the "man behind the curtain," if you will. This research then branched off into the "real" story behind pot prohibition as well, since the two plants are intrinsically linked. The more I learned about it, the less frightened I was of it. I began to see it as a benign plant with far more practical uses than potential dangers.

The most jaw-dropping of all the facts I learned was that no one had ever overdosed on marijuana. Ever. Like, in ten thousand years. In fact, here's a list of things that have killed more people than marijuana:

Prescription pain medication
Gun violence

By 2013, I felt informed enough to dip my toe in the water. Because I live in the great state of California, I was able to get my medicinal marijuana card and buy it legitimately. Because I don't smoke, I've never smoked nor do I ever wish to start smoking, I purchased edibles at first. I started slow and eased myself into it. Because I have an anxiety disorder, I didn't want to trigger any negative or unpleasant experiences. In other words, I approached it thoughtfully and deliberately, like I would any kind of strong medication. I use it at night, when my work is done. I never drive a car or operate heavy machinery, and I generally stay as far away from Facebook as possible.

And I'll admit that I liked the effect of the "high" - just like I enjoy a good buzz when I drink. The only difference is that with pot, I don't wake up the next morning praying for death as I worship on my knees in front of a porcelain god.

The more I used pot, the less I drank. And I gave up prescription pills entirely. Instead of taking narcotics for pain, muscle relaxers for muscle-relaxin', anti-depressants for depression and anxiety and sleep aids for insomnia, I just take my "herbal remedy" and it's one and done.

And guess what? It did the job.

In the two years since I've been using marijuana, my back hasn't gone "out" once. It's tweaked, granted. But I'm back on my feet in a day or two, rather than the weeks it used to take me before. My work output has doubled, which means my income doubled. I'm, like, a productive member of society n' stuff. Not only that, but I've managed my depression and anxiety, made worse by that bitch menopause looming on the horizon, and I don't struggle with insomnia. That meant goodbye Ambien, which, by the way, was the only substance I've ever taken to actually produce hallucinations as well as severe anxiety when I quit.

I got my life back. And it's a happier, better place to be. Even more surprising, I have no interest in doing anything else. Why would I? Pot does it all with very minimal risk.

In fact, the only bad thing about pot is that it makes me a criminal depending on where I happen to be. If I go back to my home state of Texas, I'm SOL. I can't bring it, take it, buy it or use it, no matter how good it has been for me or how much it helps me. If I fly on a plane, I can't carry my infused candies or handy-dandy vaporizer pen (I call him Bruce) to curb my anxiety, though anyone around me could be taking doctor-prescribed sedatives or drinking socially approved booze to handle their jitters.

I'm treated with disregard or disdain that I might support such a thing. "Oh, you just want to get high!" Yeah, I want to get high. Getting high feels good. Have another box of wine on me and STFU.

In a culture where we can't even be bothered to be civil until we have a cup of coffee, where chocolate is sold to improve your mood and keep you "happy," where nobody even thinks twice about ending their day with a glass of wine or two, where there's an ad on TV pimping prescription drugs for every affliction/inconvenience one might possibly suffer, no one really has the moral authority to look down on marijuana enthusiasts for trying to "feel good."

The pothead you think you know is now the business-casual stranger sitting next to you on a plane, wanting to shove your teeny little bottle of gin where the sun don't shine.

You ask how I might support legalization. The answer is simple: prohibition is bullshit. The only people who have benefited from anti-pot legislation are the big industries that hemp would undermine, Big Pharma, which develops drugs that create customers, not cures, and prisons for profit, which take mere potheads and spew criminals back out into society.

Anti-pot had its heyday when all the fears had no practical evidence to contradict them. They said pot was evil and then made it illegal so no one could prove it wasn't. That was a genius plan until Colorado, which proved the sky wouldn't fall if pot was legalized just like alcohol. We have more information available to us than ever before, which means our (arguably) informed populace can see through the propaganda. This is why pot measures were the biggest winners in November 2014. A majority of Americans have favored legalization for years, and that number is only going to grow - kind of like a weed. That means you're going to have to board the train eventually, just like I did.

You know, when I was eight years old, my family went to visit some relatives where we stayed overnight. I was in a strange room that was completely dark, not a fave when you're an impressionable child with a vivid imagination. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what looked to be half of a person hovering in the corner. The whole room was pitch black, except for that eerie, glowing vision that wouldn't go away no matter how many times I blinked. I threw my covers over my head and huddled there, shivering and terrified until morning.

When the sun came out, I eased the blanket down and glanced into that scary, scary corner only to find a white shirt hanging off of a closet door. I spent my whole night fretting, tossing and turning, paralyzed with fear to the point I wouldn't even leave the room. And all that time it was just a shirt.

That's how fear works. It keeps you paralyzed, frozen where you are based on the worst scenarios you can imagine. Much of the time they are baseless, as benign as a shirt hanging on the back of a door. But you're never going to know which is which until you muster the courage to throw off the covers and turn on the light. There is another way to approach it. Consider the evidence from both sides. Actually listen to those of us who offer a different view. We're not all potheads melted onto the sofa. We're not all slackers who live in our parents' basement, pissing away the hours eating Cheetos and playing video games. We're not all gangbangers, drug-dealers and addicts. We're from every walk of life, and many of us have approached marijuana with more consideration than someone boozing it up on Spring Break just because it remains some weird right of passage in our culture.

If you put your agenda aside and listen, really, really, really, really, really listen without prejudice to what we have to say, I'm pretty confident that you'll find all this energy you're throwing into fighting your paper dragons would be better served elsewhere. Take it from someone who has been there. It's not the scary, painful journey down the rabbit hole you think it is.

In the bright light of day you'll see it's just a plant. And for many of us, it is wonderful.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

McDonalds, Visa, and the Reality of Economic Slavery

In order to help their employees, McDonald's partnered with Visa to show how it was possible to have $27 daily spending cash working minimum wage. The problem with this is they actually proved it wasn't possible, demonstrating how little they "get" how hard it is to make ends meet when you're struggling on minimum wage.

Here's their sample budget:

Anyone who has ever actually done a budget, especially someone that had lived on minimum wage, would have a brain meltdown with the creative math that is presented here. Forget for a second that this budget doesn't allow for heat, or that they think there's a chance ANYWHERE you'd get health insurance for $20 a month. The fact that they would only allocate 5% into savings of this fantasy budget, allowing - and encouraging - the worker to spend $800 indiscriminately instead, proves that consumer glut is more encouraged among the poor than financial stability.

For the income they suggest, we're looking at approximately 60-70 hours per week. So basically you're working your ass off in order to piss your money away as a faithful consumer drone. In fact, we're looking at approximately 40% of that income as "spendable."

Let me say that again... they're encouraging you to work 2 jobs so that you can spend nearly half of your income, and save - for a rainy day, for your future, for your education, for your family - only 5%.

The only plus side of their message is that what they propose simply isn't possible. The reality is, you're going to be working 60-80 hours to barely scape by... forget about saving ANYTHING for your future. The budget simply doesn't allow for it, despite working way more than 40 hours a week.

Let's look at a real budget, shall we? Since that first number for Job #1, the primary job, breaks down to essentially $8 an hour (though the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, making a "net" monthly total somewhere around $1000 once you take out taxes,) we'll use the great state of California as our guide, since California has set $8/hour as its minimum. In California, though you get paid more, the bills are a lot more. (This should be red flag #1: they use the highest wages with the lower costs of living. It doesn't usually work out this way.)

So we're going to base this budget on my local area in Orange County, California. We've given our ambitious worker a full-time and a part-time job to pay for his (or, if we're being real here, HER) $900 studio apartment. If she's wise, she'd want renters insurance to protect her belongings, since she's never really going to be home to protect them, and odds are her apartment won't be in the best area of town. It's only $12 or so dollars a month, it's a smart investment. Odds are she's going to spend about $50 a week on food/groceries and her discounted McDonald's meals, which will add the VERY necessary budget item of "groceries" onto the list (noticeably absent from the sample above.) In addition to the electric bill, we've given her other utilities like gas and water, which come in handy if you want to take those hot showers to get ready for work. We've given her a car, which is going to be a bit higher considering that, with her job and likely her lack of credit, she'll pay a higher interest rate. I've also included gas/fuel into the equation, also noticeably missing from the above. (Heat? Water? Gas? Food? Apparently these are not deemed "necessities" by our Wizards of Timey Wimey Wibbly Wobbly Economics.) We gave her a cell phone, the cheapo, $50 a month unlimited plan, but for cable/internet she's likely to pay closer to $100 a month. Our wise worker will know to save 10% of her income at the minimum, and of course her health insurance will be just a teensy bit above $20. In reality it'd be closer to $200-300, but I used the eHealth lowest average of $2.73 a day touted on the first page. What this number is, really, is irrelevant. You'll see why in a minute.

As you can see, our wise worker will not, in fact, have $27 a day to spend. In fact, she won't be able to survive on this prototype at all, sinking her into debt the very first month. So that means instead of a full-time and a part-time job, she's going to need a two full-time jobs.

This would give her a whopping $1.43 a day to spend, doing everything else completely right and giving her a little bit of a buffer should her car break down or she need new shoes or clothes or something. But that's really kind of it. She's going to work 80 hours a week just to scrape by. She might have the money to pay for community college, but when is she supposed to go? She's also going to need birth control so that there are no unplanned pregnancies, because God knows on $1.43 a day one is in no financial shape to have kids. If certain folks had their way *cough*Rush Limbaugh*cough* she's should to have to pay out of pocket for that too, even with health insurance.

Another option is that she could get a roommate and split the bills. Odds are she's going to dump some of the expenses that don't necessarily have an immediate impact, such as renters or health insurance. She'll still need the car, because she's still working at least 60 hours a week, but she'll be able to split the electric bill, the cable bill and her utilities. The rent will go up, because she'll need a 2-bedroom apartment rather than an efficiency. Her groceries will roughly stay the same.

This will give her about $6 to spend on herself a day, IF she decides not to set anything aside in savings. That's right. No savings and essentially no future, as long as she's stuck in this minimum wage job.

A lot of folks have this misconception that these types of jobs are mostly intended for the young and never intended for people to support themselves - and that might be true in theory. However the budget presented by McDonald's and Visa is that of someone living on their own. If you're paying for your rent and electric, car, phone and cable - then odds are you're not a pimply-faced teenager, living at home, working at Mickey D's for some spending cash for that new One Direction CD. The reality is that the young are not the ones who are working these jobs. When you need a job immediately, you take what you can get, especially if you have mouths to feed. I raised my kids for the first five years I had them on a fast food job, back when that minimum wage was less than $4/hour. These jobs are easy to get when you need them, and as such there are a lot of hard-working adult women whose primary income comes from a minimum wage job with questionable advancement and typically no benefits. (And, once the health insurance provision goes through for full-time employees in 2014, could see their hours reduced dramatically by those employers who have made it clear they do not want to pay.)

Tthe reality is that many of these workers are single mothers who are trying to make ends meet for their kids. On a budget like this, it's impossible. This is where government aid comes in, and even then it can't patch the hole in the dam.

As you can see in this budget, we've traded health care, which will likely be covered by Medicaid, for child care. In doing so, our single mom only works 40 hours, because every hour she works she's paying someone else to look after her children. *Maybe* she can fit a part-time job in during the school year, but even another full-time job won't do much to help her AND, depending on how many people are in her family, could knock her off her benefits entirely, eliminating that "buffer" zone from supplemental income. She *might* get some aid in the form of additional food stamps and provisions for child care, but these are bandaids only. Even doing away with "unnecessary" expenses such as cable/Internet, and she won't be able to save anything... for her education OR her children's. As you can see there is no surplus, no funds to clothe her children or pay for school supplies.

Don't even get me started on child support from the missing parent.

And this is the reality for many, MANY people. According to the Economic Policy Institute, nearly 90% of minimum wage workers are over the age of 20. As you can see from the sample budgets above, any hope of paying for college, any hope of pulling oneself out of these hamster wheels is nil, especially for the people who need it the most. (i.e. single parents.)

There's this idea that people who are poor are there by design. They don't work as hard as the rich, so they deserve to be scorned for the choices that keep them impoverished. As you can see, working a minimum wage job, which is the go-to job for those who are unskilled and uneducated, means you have to work at least two jobs to even make your expenses. This means you will likely not become skilled or educated, you'll barely be able to keep afloat at all. That's not because these people are lazy. They are a product of a system of economic slavery which is set up to keep them exactly where they are.

Our intrepid workers cannot afford to live in more desirable areas with better schools, so their children do not get the same opportunities as their counterparts, and ultimately tend to follow their parents' footsteps, by focusing more on survival than advancement. Honestly, how much hope can there be when they've watched their parent(s) struggle so hard and barely keep their head above water? Forget a college degree and a six-figure job. They're lucky to get out of adolescence with any kind of diploma at all, not to mention any kids of their own. They become reactionary rather than proactive. They make poorer decisions that keep them slaves to the grind, they tend to drop out of school, leaving them uneducated and unskilled and without a whole lot of choices how to make ends meet. It's a cycle that perpetuates itself infinitely so that there will always be people to fill these shit jobs for pitifully low wages way behind where they should be. It causes the chasm between the classes to widen, not narrow. This benefits greatly the Haves, while punishing the Have Nots for their misfortune, and I believe is the root of many of the problems we face in our society.

We have to take down these road blocks and resist any legislation that would deny the opportunity for lower-income people to be financially independent. Having to work two jobs to have "just enough" to cover all the necessities of life with little wiggle room and fewer options is not financial independence.

It's economic slavery, a system with chains that only we can break. We've done it before, giving a leg up with education and financial aid to benefit families and children, affording opportunities that promoted a stronger, better workforce. It only took one generation from GI bill to land an American on the moon. The sky literally was the limit. Over the past three decades, the wealthiest one percent saw their income skyrocket to the tune of a 281% net increase as adjusted for inflation. The bottom fifth? Only 16%. Coincidentally, over the last 30 the price of college tuition has climbed over 1100%. This means that the bottom five percent are where they are, not because of a lack of effort or ambition, but directly due to a lack of opportunity, denied by those who have the most to gain out of limiting our successes. That's why education isn't included on that fantasy budget above, passed down no doubt by people NOT in the bottom 5% or working for minimum wage. That's why spending is favored over saving. This is a deliberate system sold to us as what we deserve. If we fail to launch out of a starting gate, even with someone's hand on our faces holding us back, it is our fault alone to be disadvantaged, and as such we should rightly be left to fall all on our own.

Despite what you've been told, we're not in this alone. We belong to society... to each other. We are all equal links in the chain, dependent upon each other to be stronger and more successful. Business provides jobs, which gives funds to the consumer to pump money back into the economy, which ensures more jobs and more businesses. Without one, there isn't the other. That $8.75 million dollar paycheck that a CEO of McDonald's makes isn't built solely on his merit or contribution. It's built upon the backs of the working poor, whose hard work result in a 135% profit growth for the company between 2007-2011.

Let's play a game and guess which paycheck is going to be the one pumping money into that profit growth. Is it the executive worth millions of dollars, who can afford a steak in the finest restaurants in the world? Or that struggling single mom who needs to feed her tiny family as cheaply as possible?

The pay gap is real. Poverty, and its subsequent lack of opportunity, is real. The American Dream is only a dream, especially if you need creative math to make it work.

Let's pull out heads out of the sand and address this problem in a way that benefits the whole of society, not just a fortunate few. The numbers don't lie. Isn't about time we stop trying to make them?