Sunday, June 30, 2013


Most NFL fans know of Gary Myers; he has been a newspaper columnist and talking head on television for three decades, currently for the Daily News in New York. So I was pretty excited to see Coaching Confidential at our library, Myers' take on several members of the NFL coaching fraternity. And I wasn't disappointed. There are chapters about most of the bigger recent names in coaching, along with two of the more interesting owners, with events of their tenures explored in depth and without being fawning or shying away from controversy. The Sean Payton chapter is brutally frank regarding the Saints' bounty problem that led to Payton's suspension, for example, and Myers openly says that he finds Payton's version of events impossible to take at face value. The chapters on Bill Parcells, Tony Dungy, and Andy Reid are particularly revealing, and the one on Dick Vermeil perhaps the most interesting. Any NFL fan is going to enjoy this book.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


My home group had its annual celebration last night. Once A Dream, Now A Reality, or informally "The Candlelight Meeting," has been in existence for twenty-six years this month, and has undergone several incarnations over that time frame. The last three or four years, it has evolved from one of the smallest to one of the largest meetings we have in the area, as evidenced by the fact that our chosen format of celebration--each home group member speaking for a few minutes about the importance of home groups and why they belong to this one--ended up taking the entire 90 minutes last night; we now have twelve home group members.
Last night was more or less usual, in that there had to be seventy people there. Our meeting space is relatively large by the standards of this area, and we can actually accommodate a crowd of that size. One drawback is apparent in the summer months; it was extremely hot and stuffy in the room, even though it is the basement of the building. I don't think I've ever been so grateful for the end of a meeting to come as I was last night, simply for a chance to run upstairs and outside for some (cooler, after the rain) air. But there is an unappreciated benefit to a crowd of that size every week, too, one I didn't fully understand until last night, in a flashback to a television show, of all things.
I know I'm showing my age here, but what the hell. The best show on television when I was in college and just entering adulthood post-college was Hill Street Blues. I don't watch television hardly at all anymore, and I have no idea of whether there is real quality out there in television programming or not. But I will say that any show on the air today would have to be pretty damn good to be as good as Hill Street was; even at this distance, it remains the standard by which other cop-show dramas are measured against. And one of the most enduring memories of Hill Street, the signature moment during its entire run on the television, was the way it opened every week: roll call for the day's shift. The sergeant would run down a list of announcements, congratulate members of the force on accomplishments, give news of developments in other members of the force's lives, all amid a roomful of people with a common purpose engaging in a lively, often funny banter with one another. Often raucous, often hilarious, what showed through every week was the sense that the Hill Street station force was a mini-community, a fellowship of men and women deeply intertwined in each others' lives both on the job and away from the job, and that this room full of people deeply cared about and even loved one another despite whatever individual differences might exist. And the parting words of Sergeant Esterhaus every week-- "Hey! Let's be careful out there"--were a national buzz phrase for a time in the mid-1980's.
There is a period in the format of our NA meetings when announcements are made, and in a large meeting like ours, in a fellowship where more is going on than ever before in terms of both events and upcoming anniversaries of clean time, announcements can often take five or more minutes. There are a couple of members of the fellowship who have taken the responsibility of noting and then announcing at every meeting they go to the upcoming celebrations of clean time, and our fellowship has grown to the point where there are now two to five celebrations occurring every week somewhere in the area. And last night, as various upcoming celebrations were announced, and with several of the prospective celebrants in the room, the crowd cheered and clapped and shouted more or less with every name, and I was suddenly deeply struck by the similarity to the Hill Street roll call. There were some of the same good-natured barbs, a lot of the same heartfelt pleasure, a lot of the same unspoken recognition of hard times overcome to reach those milestones. And most of all, there was this charged atmosphere of belonging, that the people in the room, whatever and whoever they go home to, have a shared aspect to their lives that they are indelibly a part of--the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous. And I felt a bit of an involuntary jolt as I realized it, that on a hot June night in a town where there are a million "reasons" to get fucked up, seventy people ranging in age from teenagers to seventy were gathered together in a shared enterprise, everyone in there a part of the larger whole. No, we don't wear uniforms and we don't have badges--but we are as much a community-within-a-community as a police force would be, with the same mix of young and old, experienced and inexperienced. And listening to the clapping, the razzing, spoke of how deeply involved in each other's lives we are, how much we have banded together to combat the darker forces of a world that has proved, often, to be hostile and alien to those in the room.
The moment passed. And it doesn't happen in every meeting, to be sure; the meeting I was at Thursday night had ten people in it, of whom about three were paying attention during the announcements. But for those couple of minutes last night, it was a life-imitates-art moment not often experienced. It's against our traditions, but I would love to film this period sometime at the Candlelight. It's really special, and it gives a sense of how a fellowship ideally can be, a group of people dedicated to each other's well-being, every one there as welcome as everyone else, and everyone there belonging to the larger whole in a way that hardly anyone in the larger world ever gets to experience. It's a great feeling.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fighting The Bastards

I opened my mail the other day, and found a collection notice regarding a medical bill. This is not an unusual occurrence in the United States of America these days, but I hasten to add that I figured this one was coming, and the amount of money involved is rather small compared to the astronomical sums that drive many people into bankruptcy. Instead, what it represents is the callous mindset that Big Health Care exhibits toward the people forced to use its services, the total inability of huge health care conglomerates to scale back a process once it is in train, and the general level of incompetence up and down the line in such an organization.
And in the interests of honesty, there is a small portion of the bill that will be paid over the weekend; it is a co-pay for a doctor's visit that is separate from the contested portion of the bill. It would have been paid sooner if United Health Services had sent me an itemized bill that didn't have five hundred entries dating back to 2011 on it and including literally dozens of partial payments by my insurance company on it, I asked, twice  on the phone and once in writing, for a simple explanation of charges, and never received one. The collections outfit had no problem doing it, I noticed. They will get their forty dollars for that.
The rest of it... it is for a couple of tests I had to take as a result of my annual physical in January. My insurance covers my annual physical in full, including all associated procedures resulting from it. The coding for the billing needs to be done correctly to reflect this, however, and it was pointed out to my doctor, to the nurse checking me out the day of the physical, and to the nurse doing the coding in the lab the day I had the tests to make sure that it was coded correctly to reflect that this part of the annual physical. Not sure who screwed up (although I would bet money it wasn't my doctor), but someone did, and I have been getting billed for the tests since February.
I'm not paying for United Health Services' inability and/or unwillingness to do their job correctly. As I stated, they were told what the situation was, and some dope didn't do it correctly. The amount of money involved isn't huge, but it isn't quite trivial, either; it would be a hit out of a weekly paycheck that I don't particularly want to take. But I wouldn't have had the damn tests if I was responsible for paying for them; all they revealed is that I am not diabetic and that my cholesterol is borderline high, facts that have been true for my entire life and since about 1993, respectively. I don't need to shell out $213 to find that out.
But what I am finding most annoying is UHS' lack of interest in discussing the bill. Every time you do to a doctor's appointment at a UHS office, there is a booth or separate office with a "patient rights" or "billing" representative that is supposed to deal with issues like this. As I mentioned, I called twice and sent a letter after getting bills for this procedure all winter and spring, asking to talk to someone about this matter; the only responses were to send more bills, then a notice that the matter was going to collection. UHS has rapidly expanded the last few years, so that they are far and away the largest health care provider in the area now, and there has been a direct and disturbing decrease in the customer services department over that time frame. You used to get a phone call from a real live person reminding you of a doctor's appointment; now you get two or more auto-calls, often at ridiculously inopportune times--I have gotten calls at 8:30 PM on Friday nights-- that you have to listen to two minutes or more of recorded message to get to the option you need to respond to; if you just hang up, they will continue to call you again and again. Rescheduling for any reason has turned into a gigantic hassle, and there is one nurse in particular at the office my doctor is a part of who is surly and bitchy every time you talk to her, but especially about rescheduling. My doctor has moved offices four times in eleven years, each time to a more opulent surrounding; the new palace in Vestal is nice, but 1) across the road from the goddamn sewage treatment plant, which means that throwing up in the parking lot is a distinct possibility should your appointment fall on a humid summer morning, and 2) so large that at least two people are employed giving directions to people walking in the door as to where they need to go.
But its the arrogance and lack of accountability that gets to me. They fucked up, and I end up in collections. I can only shudder as to how badly people with no insurance or people with really big medical bills get screwed over by billing departments in outfits like this, and I am sure there are a fair number of people who pay rather small bills like this without investigating or questioning them. But I'm not most people, and before they get paid for something they are not entitled to, I am going to actually have someone at UHS verbally explain to me why they think they are entitled to be paid after they did not do what they were supposed to. And the chance for a simple fix is gone, because my employer is switching insurance carriers come July 1. I'm not terribly concerned about damage to my credit rating; it's not good to begin with.
Medical outfits are notoriously slow to rectify billing problems, anyway. The other major provider in the area is one I don't normally use, because their quality of care is generally worse (see "Quacks and Carpet Rides" in this space, February 4 2011) and because their hospital is notorious for harboring VREs (one almost killed my mother eleven years ago, and several people who had stays there have had infections that simply will not heal), but I have used their walk-ins on occasion, and there have been three separate occasions where I have received checks in the mail as rebates for overpayment at least two years after the doctor visit in question. And this is all happening before Obamacare becomes the law of the land. I can't wait to see what a clusterfuck this all becomes after it is implemented.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nightmare In Progress

I dreamed last night.
I dreamed of years ago. When it was all fresh and new; when, having survived a catastrophe of unbelievable intensity, hope grew, tentatively at first like a tender green shoot on an island recently hammered by a volcanic explosion. When I was younger and she was young, when my baby was a baby, when all things seemed, despite the magnitude of the journey ahead, possible.
Much has happened since those days, for both of us. The toddler adding dozens of words a day to her vocabulary just finished the eighth grade. The man on probation and trying to make a legitimate living for the first time in his life has now been one of the good guys for over a decade. The apartment in the dream is a distant memory; the car in the dream made by a company that has been out of existence for a decade now; the faces flitting out of the dream either lined with age themselves now or long disappeared, some in the ground, some reclaimed by their own demons.
And the journey I was sure we were going to take together to Happily Ever After never happened, not as a team, anyway. I accepted the situation for what it was, and moved past the disappointment and, yes, hurt fairly quickly. New trials came quickly enough, new experiences added to the matrix, new ground broken, new pleasures felt. The promises of recovery, available to all who are willing to work for them, who are willing to face the reality of what was and what is, who were willing to have and practice faith in a process that worked for countless others--they've come true for one of us, because one of us stared down our fears of changing, was willing to accept that needing to change was not a fatal admission of terminal weakness and lack of innate goodness.
In many ways, the last thirteen years has been like watching a forest fire from afar, of watching the peculiar horror of someone once (hard to believe now) young and beautiful, full of unharnessed power and life, unable to resist looking backward and turning into a metaphorical pillar of salt. Of watching someone gradually, inch by inch, day by day, time after time, turn destructively against everyone around her and, more terribly as time passed, herself. Even as the tableau wilted., even as it became clear that recovery was not in the cards, there were glimmers on occasion of what was once possible, of the potential, of the person she longed to be but could never quite find the courage to become. The last several years have become an obscene parody of that hopeful spring.
I dreamed of her, of us, last night.. Of a time when  I was the one who seemed more fragile, of a time when the one who seemed stronger and full of more promise was her.
But she only seemed to be.
I have dreaded this day for at least four years, since it became clear that the disease had returned in its virulence within her. The symptoms were different, but somehow, I knew, like elephants returning home to die, that this day would eventually come, when the summons of the seductive first destructive love would be finally be obeyed and it would be invited, like a vampire, across her threshold. I have prayed for her, for me, and most of all for our shared child to be spared this cup, to not have to go through this--to no avail, I now know. We cannot beat back the disease without help, and even God Himself cannot intervene if not asked to. It was a concept she was never able to understand, an idea that held no appeal for her, a fear that she was unable to face up to.
Even if it takes half a lifetime, if nothing changes, nothing changes. You end up going back to where and what you know.
The last thirteen years, for me, have been full of varied and mostly pleasurable experiences, even if I would not have been willing to sign up for the journey had I known what was coming. But there are some parts of it that I do not wish to experience ever again. Watching someone once vibrant, beautiful, full of promise, sliding inexorably back to the grip of that which almost killed her, tops the list. I do not carry a torch for her, have not for a long time--but the love of my life sleeping in the next room is as much hers as mine, and it is more for her sake than mine that I feel this awful, empty gnawing this morning.
But I have to say that I feel some of it for me. Of a dream first deferred, than dying, and now mutated into a nightmare that has returned, like a cicada, after an impossibly long time. I have recently been telling a friend of mine repeatedly that we do not mourn the absence of people in our lives as much as we mourn the fantasy that we had constructed around them. I stopped wearing black for this particular fantasy long before the Twin Towers fell--and yet, much to my surprise and horror, I found that it had not been disposed of, only buried, and that, drilled into with the right equipment, it would surface again. I long ago accepted the reality that the dream was not to be. Four years ago, when the disease became undeniably active once more, I thought all there was left of the dream had surfaced and been dealt with.
But now, with the return of the particular symptom, I find I was wrong. And time and distance have not dulled the ache, and the pain.
I've written I-don't-know-how-many times in the last few years that I have seen this movie before, and the ending is always terrible. The credits are not rolling, but the last act has been entered into. I am not particularly interested in seeing what new depths can be sunk to. I certainly do not wish for my daughter to experience first-hand, as an adolescent, the nearly indescribable pain that awaits if the progression is not arrested.
But that is out of my hands.
I dreamed of her, of us, last night. And felt, as I never have before, the peculiar horror of the disease of addiction upon waking. Saying the Serenity Prayer is routine, but there is nothing in it that says that being granted Courage and Wisdom has to feel good.
And it doesn't. Not this morning.


Playing For Keeps is another older book that I meant to read at the time it was new but never got around to it. David Halberstam is one of the nation's more acclaimed writers, and he has written a few of the best basketball books of the past forty years (his forays into other sports have been sloppy and maudlin). This book is a chronicle both of the final Chicago Bulls championship season in 1998 and a review of the entire career of Michael Jordan. But it's not only about Jordan; it is about everyone else remotely connected with him, from his childhood through his college and pro careers, but especially his Bulls teammates. As always when Halberstam takes his subject material seriously, this is a riveting and amazing read, and even though the subject has somewhat withered away in fifteen years (and Jordan has tarnished his legacy both by an ill-advised comeback with a terrible team a few years after the book came out and now as the owner of the worst team in the league), there was a lot of information contained within that was new to me. I had no idea that Dennis Rodman's schtick was a complete put-on, for example, or the true story of Scottie Pippen's refusal to enter a playoff game, or what a schmuck Bulls general manager Jerry Krause really was.
This book isn't quite as good as Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, which is probably the best sports book ever written. But it's close, which means it's a great book.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

And Justice For... Some

Yesterday, there were three news articles that I found deserving of attention. One received some decent and positive press coverage, and provided proof that if your state has 34 million people living in it, not all of them are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals glad to be represented by morons like Louie Gohmert in Congress. The other two were infinitely more depressing, and more signs that the United States of America is in irreversible motion toward becoming a banana republic.
First, the (relatively) good news. The Texas Senate was scheduled to vote on an extremely restrictive abortion bill, one that would have made it extremely difficult to get an abortion in the state prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy and prohibited them for any reason afterwards. The Texas House had, needless to say, already passed it, and the governor, the hideous and loathsome Rick Perry of "Niggertown Ranch" fame, was certain to sign it should it get to his desk. The Senate was certain to pass it, too, should it come to a vote, but a Fort Worth Democratic Senator, Wendy Davis, undertook a heroic filibuster to delay the vote. When she was finally successfully challenged about ten minutes before the legislative session ended, the gallery--full of activists opposed to the bill--managed to create enough noise and bedlam so that a vote was not undertaken in time. The bill was not passed.
My own views on abortion are rather mixed. I am not in "favor" of it by any means, in the sense that the decision to terminate the possibility of a human life should not be undertaken lightly or casually, and there are a few supporters of abortion rights out there that do seem to regard as merely a form of birth control. But I am also aware that in some cases, an abortion is the least objectionable, in the long term, of the choices available to some women, and I am aware that there are occasions when it is a medical necessity. I have a personal litmus test for gauging the motivations of abortion opponents: whether they are in favor of widespread availability of contraceptives or not. If they are, then I accept that their motivations are largely legitimate; they are not simply sticking their head in the sand and ignoring the reality that ours, for better or worse, is a sexually active society. If not, then I write them off as intellectually vapid, narrow-minded flat-earthers who are blind at best and hypocrites at worst. I am not personally comfortable with the idea of abortion on demand, but I also realize that it is a question where there are a number of legitimate views, and that I believe that it is better to have it readily available. The last I knew, life begins on the day a baby exits the womb; my birthday is the day I started independently breathing. As I said, I am not comfortable with the idea of terminating a pregnancy just because it is inconvenient, but I do not buy into the "murder" argument, and I will never presume to be able to say with certainty where the moral line is on a question like this. If God truly has an issue with it, then God will take care of the people who engage in the practice in some point. It isn't up to us on earth to take matters into our hands, and I am instantly and terminally suspicious of those who would do so.
 Places like Texas are full of the latter kind of people. I freely admit that I personally believe Texas is proof that hell is full; I lived there a quarter-century ago for a short time, before it become as bad as it is now, and I found it so alien to my values that I left even though I was experiencing rapidly expanding material success, as virtually anyone with problem-solving and analytical skills will experience in an environment full of ignorant and stupid people, of which Texas has a huge abundance of. (in some areas, it's reputation for out-sized excess is accurate). But I digress... some other people I know that have lived in Texas tell me that not all is lost, that some pockets of relative sanity remain, especially around Austin. This particular Senator is from Fort Worth, and looking at her biography, I notice she has narrowly won two terms. I suppose that the general adage about urban dwellers being more liberal holds true to a small degree even in a place like Texas.
But the bigger lesson out of what happened in Austin is that the progressive, liberal forces among us have to take matters into their own hands. If not for the gallery, this bullshit would have become law. And when the political process is stacked against the right thing, when the law has been hijacked by the forces of repression, bigotry, religious zealotry, and ignorance--then it is time to go outside the political process, as the crowd did in the gallery yesterday. And this is the only way, the only hope we have, of reversing the trends toward oligarchic control of our governing bodies in the United States of American. I personally believe that a revolution is necessary to really bring about wholesale change, and I have no real confidence that a revolution would result in a better way--revolutions tend to subsume their initial ideals as they progress. But meekly submitting to the forces of kleptocracy and repression shouldn't be the norm, either. You have to fight the madness, and if it takes drawing outside the lines on occasion--so be it.
The second news item was the Supreme Court deciding, by a 5-4 vote, that parts of the nearly-fifty year old Civil Rights Act are unconstitutional. The practical effect is that it gives states with a historic record of discrimination against minorities in regards to allowing them to vote the ability to do so legally again. If there is any doubt that the system is fucked up beyond repair, this is it. How anyone could intellectually justify striking down a law that rectified the blatant injustices of the pre-1965 Southern states is beyond me; you either have to be in agreement with racist forces or have your head so far up your anus as to make you intellectually useless. Needless to say, the five justices that voted for the majority were all Republican appointees. I am not a rabid Democrat; there are so many problems with the Democratic Party that I am very often disgusted with it. But if we only have two real alternatives, it's the one I can live with. Republican ideology simply is not tolerable to me, and people like Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Altio, and John Roberts are, in a sentence, what is wrong with this country today. The term "conservative" is far too generic (and inaccurate; they are as "activist" as liberal icons William Douglas and William Brennan were in their day) to describe them; "Fascist" is much more accurate. Never mind asking "Why did we fight the Cold War?"; with some of these guys, the more germane question is "Why did we fight World War II?"
And the last development in the news yesterday was the announcement by the Justice Department was that they intend to file civil charges against Jon Corzine. Jon Corzine is a former Democratic governor of New Jersey (by general acclamation the most corrupt state in the Union) who went on to head the ironically-named MF Investment Fund. Those with a good memory may recall good ol' MF as the outfit that managed to "lose" or "misplace" a couple billion of its' investors money. Apparently, not being able to account for a over two billion dollars of other people's money is not considered worthy of filing criminal charges... Class A Grand Larceny, in the state of New York, is crime in which taking one thousand dollars from someone else can be punished by up to twenty-five years in prison.
 Two billion plus gets you civil charges; a thousand dollars can get you a quarter-century behind bars. As George Carlin used to say, "It's a big club, and you ain't in it." Or even more relevant, his take on what the American Dream has become, from which that quote comes:
But there’s a reason. There’s a reason. There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never, ever,  EVER be fixed.
It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you’ve got.
Because the owners, the owners of this country don't want that. I'm talking about the real owners now, the BIG owners! The Wealthy… the REAL owners! The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.
Forget the politicians. They are irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice! You have OWNERS! They OWN YOU. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought, and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls.
They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying,  lobbying, to get what they want.  Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I'll tell you what they don’t want: 
They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. Thats against their interests.
Thats right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!
You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security money. They want your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later cause they own this fucking place! It's a big club, and you ain’t in it!  You, and I, are not in the big club.
By the way, it's the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe. All day long beating you over the head with their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy. The table has tilted folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cock suckers who don’t give a fuck about you….they don’t give a fuck about you… they don’t give a FUCK about you.
They don’t care about you at all… at all… AT ALL.  And nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. Thats what the owners count on. The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick thats being jammed up their assholes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth.
It's called the American Dream,because you have to be asleep to believe it.
Unfortunately, I'm wide awake. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Putting My Foot Down

One of the interesting little sidelights of my extended discussion last week with the Mother Of The Year was her continued belief that I don't have any rules or boundaries for my daughter, and that somehow I'm a marshmallow and a pushover who has bought my daughter's affection by letting her run rampant. It's true that I don't have a huge number of rules and am not a hard-ass about some things that many parents can be. On the first point, I have always thought that few things, rigorously and without fail enforced, was a better way to go than trying to enforce a lot of small, petty rules; the likelihood that inconsistency in applying consequences shoots through the roof, and my own experience from my teenage years tells me that the most common result is that the kid learns, above all else, how to deceive. And on the second point, I try very hard not to discipline or punish Sabrina for engaging in behavior that I model. Her mother has always complained that Sabrina has an "attitude." Leaving aside the question for the moment whether she actually does have one, MOTY is one of the most surly, defiant, and willful people I have ever met; if Sabrina was attitudinal on occasion, it would be absolutely no surprise. That's not really what MOTY was referring to, to be sure; Sabrina does have a healthy sense of herself and a low bullshit tolerance, both of which have been directly passed down from me. She is not one to meekly accept commands because I don't meekly accept commands. I do not feel that asking "why" is a problem, and if I feel that I am entitled to explanations better than "I say so," I'm not going to hold my daughter to task for exhibiting the same tendencies.
I said all that to say this; when one of my boundaries is crossed, the response is clear and concise and consistent. There are several of Sabrina's friends that have spent the night here over the years. In grade school, Hailey was here a lot; in middle school, it's been Makayla for the most part, with others on occasion. One of those occasional visitors came Sunday; the kid attends another school district, so Sabrina and this kid hadn't seen each other for some time. While this kid obviously didn't set off any red flags for me (or she wouldn't have been here to begin with), I do make myself aware of a kid's background and traits. This kid's family is split; the mother seems rather self-centered, the father seemed rather feckless. The kid's demeanor was nice enough, but she seemed to have a bit of player to her, a sense that she kept much hidden from the adults in her life. I can be aware of things without passing judgment, and the kid has been here several times over three years without incident.
Until yesterday. When the arrangement for the sleepover was made, I conditionally agreed, but I made sure that the kid's parent knew that I was planning on working all day Monday, and so no adult was going to be present here much of the day. My eyebrows went up when this elicited a "no big deal" response; the father was going to pick her up at 4:30. I thought, "It's not your kid... and you know yours well enough to trust her," but let's just say I wouldn't have done that... anyway, Sabrina texted me when they got up in mid-morning, and I came home at lunchtime to check on them. They told me they were going to Rec Park in early afternoon, and would be back here around 4; Sabrina had a scheduled softball game at 6 and the kid's dad was supposed, as I mentioned, pick her up at 4:30.
Sabrina texted me when they left the house and when they got to the park, and then sent me a text from the kid's phone about 45 minutes later because her phone was almost dead, and that I should call the kid's phone if I needed to reach Sabrina. Fair enough; that's exactly what I have taught her to do over the years. As the afternoon progressed, the weather grew threatening. I left the office at 3 (in the summer, my normal hours are 7 until 3, as I do not have to hang around the house waiting to take Sabrina to school) and, after the thunder and lightning became close and loud, called the kid's phone to make arrangements to bring them home.
No answer. No reply to the text message, either.
Now fuming, I drove the several blocks to the park. I found Sabrina immediately, sitting by herself by the carousel. She was waiting on the boy she is currently "friends" with, who was supposed to come to the park after his soccer practice was concluded. I asked her, when she came to the car, where the kid was, and was told she and another one of their crew who had met them at the park, along with their boyfriends, were somewhere else in the park. I was instantly suspicious; the crew member's boyfriend is a little piece of shit, for starters, and something just didn't smell right about this. With the sky growling louder every minute, I wanted to get this kid and take everyone home; as far as I was concerned, she was a guest in my home and therefore was my responsibility until she was picked up at 4:30.  So I drove around to the other side of the park looking for her.
And found her walking up Laurel Avenue, with the other girlfriend and two boys. I pulled over, and the kid refused to get in the car. I couldn't believe it. She was quite clear that she was going to hang with her boyfriend, and that was that; she also said that she would pick up her clothes "later." Nothing to do but drive away, I guess. And when we got home, the power went out, which was the only thing which kept me from bagging her belongings and putting them on the front stoop... the power came back after 90 minutes, and the kid eventually came for her clothes around 8 o'clock, on foot; apparently she was going to inflict herself on the other crew member, who lives a block away, for another evening. Whatever. What I do know is that she is never setting foot in this house again. I told Sabrina that I can't stop her from being friends with the kid, but I didn't want her here, that I would be super pissed off if Sabrina stayed at another kid's house and the alleged adult supervising them let her do whatever without, apparently, caring. Although, if it had been me, there is no way she would have been allowed to stay with another kid all day in that circumstance without me picking her up after she woke up.
The great thing, from my perspective, was that Sabrina didn't really argue with me. She wasn't as upset as I was, but I could tell that her friend's refusal to get in the car shocked her, and she could at least see my point, especially since I didn't blow a gasket over it after the initial "she's never f****ng coming here again" curse in the car. Sabrina was much more concerned, in any event, about making sure the boy knew where she was, which happened after we went back to my office (which had power) and she could plug her phone and computer in.
This is a prime example of what I was referring to in the first couple of paragraphs. I know kids grow up. I know that at 14, social groups mean much more to kids than anything else. I know that infatuations and relationships are now a fact of life, and that they matter just as much or more to the adolescent than to adults.  But there are boundaries and common-sense limits, and in my mind and in Sabrina's, not being in a huge public park in the middle of a thunderstorm overrides time with a boy and friends. I guess other kids and other parents don't share that perspective. They don't have to--but I will never again accept ultimate responsibility for the care of those kids on behalf of those parents ever again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: NAPALM

There aren't many books about weapons that would make interesting reading, but Robert Neer's Napalm is one of them. Written like a traditional biography, the book traces the development, initial deployment, widespread use, and then (largely successful) measures to ban it over the last sixty years. The end of the book drags a little bit, as the treaties and multilateral agreements are gone over in excruciating detail, but overall this is an excellent story, and a chronicle of how values and ideas have changed over the years.
It's my generation that is the most aware of napalm's destructiveness. There are two images most associated with napalm. One is the news picture of the Vietnamese girl that was burned in a napalm strike in 1972--a girl who survived, now lives in Canada, and is my age. I was nine when I saw the photo in the newspapers, and I definitely remember it, and thinking that somehow kids my age shouldn't have to worry about getting in the middle of a war zone. I was not aware of it at the time, but the manufacture and use of napalm had been controversial for years; it was the main factor in boycott of Dow Chemical that was mildly successful in the 1960's. What I remember most about this picture is my father's reaction; he was visibly affected by it, and although he was usually not terribly open about his political views, especially about Vietnam, he did quietly start saying it was time to end the war. His views were colored by his Korean War experiences; he hated the Chinese until the day he died, and I found out later in life the reason why--he had been a POW during the Korean conflict. One of the things I remember about watching the news as a kid is that my father generally talked back to the talking heads on the television in support of the war, and he certainly had no patience for anti-war protesters at that time--until that iconic photo went, as we would say today, viral. (Ironically, one of the weapons that helped the United Nations immensely during the Korean War was napalm; my dad was a POW for much longer than he was a combatant, and I am now convinced, all things considered, he had no idea of the role napalm played in the conflict, or the photo would not have affected him as much as it did. It's hard at this distance to know his thoughts; he's been dead for thirteen years and his Korean War experiences were a subject I heard him talk about once in my life. But I can connect a few dots more than I could when I was a kid).
The second is the famous Robert Duvall scene from Apocalypse Now (the "smells like...victory" scene). The scene is one of the most surreal in a movie that is dedicated to showing the surreal aspects of Vietnam. And yet the version in the theatrical version was truncated; in an extended scene in a re-release years later, that entire point of the napalm strike was rendered meaningless by its use--the vortexes and inferno caused by the conflagration it unleashed made surfing on that beach impossible. The biggest long-term effect of the movie was that it showed, for the first time publicly, what napalm in action looks like--a sudden wall of flame a half-mile long. It was a remarkable piece of film, something that anybody looking at it never forgot.
The United States has ostensibly signed on to agreements banning the use of napalm, but it was certainly used in Iraq: true to form, the Bush Administration just called it something else. And it is too effective to think it will ever be entirely dispensed with. But it is one of the most unique and horrible ways to fight one another that has ever been devised.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

We Lost the Cold War

For those of us between, say, 45 and 60 years old, the Cold War was our reality growing up. There were two major blocs of nations firmly aligned with one another, with the rest of the world playing them off one another to their perceived advantage. But even more than the division of the world into essentially two armed camps--power blocs, after all, have defined geopolitics since Egypt and Akkad five and a half thousand years ago--, the defining characteristic of the Cold War was the open and furiously fought war between two competing ideologies. And for those of us who were resident in the leading country of the so-called Free World, we not only got the full monty as far as the rhetoric, we also got to experience a life in which the walk largely matched the talk. There was not only incessant talk about "freedom;" it was the law of the land, rigorously enforced and taken seriously by those holding power. Equality of opportunity was the guiding principle of most domestic policies. When powerful interests broke the law or ignored the ideals that were part and parcel of the national interest, they paid consequences. And most of all, life in the United States of America was lived, and intended to be, a stark contrast to life in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries.
It has been nearly a quarter century since the Berlin Wall came down, and over twenty years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And the great event of my lifetime has turned into the Grand Disillusionment. The country I grew up in no longer exists. The ideals that were instilled in me by our political culture have turned out to be empty, mere words that served a purpose at the time and have now been largely abandoned  now that there are no clearly defined external alternatives. And most disheartening of all, we are rapidly becoming like the enemy that we vanquished... one of the commitments that American society made during my youth was to making sure its population was educated. I, and most of the people in my age demographic, not only completed high school, but had at least some college education, and that was possible because higher education was an open policy aim of those governing us. The state I live in, New York, has one of the most extensive state higher education systems, and it was proposed and enacted into law by a Republican governor who was one of the wealthiest people in the country. Can you imagine any Republican politician of consequence making that sort of commitment today? Can you imagine any of these wealthy jackoffs prominent in the news actually running for office today, people like the Koch brothers or this Sheldon Adelson guy? And my degree, at this publicly funded state university (which is one of the best colleges in the entire country, consistently ranked in the highest levels by those who make these rankings), was in political science, with a concentration in Eastern European politics--in other words, the Communist Bloc. So I know very well what our former adversary had to offer--and how shockingly similar this country has become to it since the Wall came down:
1) A might vs. right foreign policy. We have become the bully of international affairs, using raw naked force to intervene in many places and using the threat of force in many others.
2) We have gone from aiming for equality of opportunity to institutionalizing massive inequality of condition. Privilege and wealth have never been more concentrated at any point in the 240 years of this nation's existence. The great mass of the citizenry of the Soviet Union had no hope of advancement beyond employment, and that is becoming more true by the year in this society now, as well.
3) The great feature of Communist society, one that provided the great contrast with the United States of the time and place, was a pervasive security apparatus. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that the people in charge of this country--and note I did not say "governing"--would like to install a security apparatus at least as strong and prevalent as those that existed in the Communist Bloc.
4) Communist ideology was locked into a world view based on the societal model that arose out of the Industrial Revolution. Our current ideology is locked into a world view based on the societal model that has arisen out of our ubiquitous use of fossil fuels. The Soviet Union was still basing its economy on steel and heavy industry well into the 1980's, along with military armaments. We are now basing the dynamic part of our economy almost entirely on making sure we continue using gasoline at the levels we have been for decades. We are destroying not only our environment, but with climate change picking up steam, we are actually destroying the habitat that all of us live in, to the point where we are devoting farm acreage to growing grain to convert to fuel at ridiculously high costs and driving up the price of food in the process. Endemic shortsightedness and a refusal to adapt to a changing world eventually ended Communism. That will eventually be our fate as well.
5) In Communist societies, the middlemen were the only people, apart from the elite, who lived comfortably. In our society, it is the "financial professionals" who are benefiting from the current order the most, people who contribute nothing of value to the great majority of us and yet who continue to make more and more money by looting the great majority of us. The bankers, Big Insurance, and the upper levels of Big Business are living large even as the vast majority of us slide backwards. The person selling you insurance you don't need, the person "investing" other people's money in the stock market, the person inventing all sorts of fees on your credit card account--they are nothing more or less than the equivalents of the  apparatchiks of the Soviet system. And about as useful to the general health of society. A better name would be the parasite class.
6) And the Snowden case is merely the most visible manifestation of sneaky, under-the-radar repression. Spying on communications of citizens is something the KGB did each and every day on a massive scale (and "security" was always the rationale for doing so). I was just reading today that government employees are being encouraged to turn each other in for "disloyal" sentiments expressed--not just in the security agencies, but in bureaucracies like the Department of Education. Really? Last I looked, the First Amendment was still the law of the land. If you Google your own name, you will find numerous links, even if you don't have much or any of an online presence. Your wonderful computer-in-your-palm iPhone has a tracker implanted that you can't turn off; if you have one and someone is determined to find you, you will be found. For a long time, this trend, although worrisome, didn't bother me as much as it should have because I figured that there was no way all this stuff could be done efficiently. To a degree, that's true. But as the Snowden and Bradley Manning cases demonstrate, there is a shocking casualness to all this that can't help but make me wonder just how deep this goes, and to what purpose.
I have long been convinced that, should American democracy throw up an actual alternative to the kleptocracy, that if somehow enough people get in office that would actually change the way things are run, that would be the moment that "democracy" would end, that the pretense would be dispensed with and raw repression would be installed. I still think that's true, but I also think that it isn't going to ever become necessary. For all our vaunted talk about "freedom" and "rugged American individualism", the past thirty years have really brought home the fact that this nation's population is 90% sheep, that they are too unmotivated and ignorant and blase to fight the madness. The public reaction to the Snowden case points this out; there is a significant number of people who refuse to even consider the idea that massive surveillance is not only wrong, but against the fucking law. They have bought into the "there's towelheads everywhere looking to destroy the 'merican Way of Life" bullshit being shoved down our throats so completely that they fail to see that it's our own (unaccountable) power brokers who are actually doing the destroying.
My adult life has been one long process of disillusionment. And it's not getting better.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Not Pretty

In the last couple of years, I haven't written a whole lot in this space about my dealings with the mother of my daughter. There are several reasons for that, but the biggest one has been that as Sabrina has matured, she and her mother deal directly with each other most of the time. I pay attention, of course, but Sabrina is perfectly capable of dealing with most situations on her own, and in any event she is only in the care of her mother for about forty hours a week. MOTY is also now 39 years old, has been unemployed for nearly two years, and very little has gone right for her for a long time; there's a part of me that really takes the notion that I should practice kindness in my dealings with the less fortunate very seriously, and even though most of MOTY's dire situation is the result of her being utterly unable to make good decisions, even by accident, there has been no reason for me to add to her general misery.
I'm not without issues with her, to be sure. I haven't received even the reduced amount of child support she is supposed to give me in months; part of me dearly would love to break her chops about it, but the bigger part of me realizes that it's not going to be any great windfall even if I do pursue the matter legally, and that doing so would cause more friction between Sabrina and I than any satisfaction that would come from the courts. MOTY does not share information about what happens in her household because it's "my business," but I am reasonably sure that her two main sources of income are low-level drug dealing (prescription pills) and the man she's been allegedly "dating" for months (not all forms of prostitution occur on the streets). The older son in that house shipped off to Ohio some months ago to live with a friend and work in some Toyota factory out there, and after he departed, I was told by my daughter that his drug and alcohol use when he was living in her home in Endicott was rampant, and that he had been badgering Sabrina to get high with him. That she refused is to her credit, to be sure, and it really shook her up, too, to the point where she said she didn't want to be around him anymore, but I can't say I was pleased to hear of this. There are other issues, too, that date back well over a decade. MOTY's ideas of parenting can be boiled to one essence: to force obedience to her will at all costs. She is inconsistent, has indescribably bad judgment abilities, is stupendously unable to learn from experience (she has literally made some mistakes dozens of times in her life without even dimly understanding that if she wants different results, she ought to try other strategies), and remains The Perpetual Victim--the world always has it out for her and is solely  responsible for all the bad things that happen to her.
As Sabrina has aged, I've found that I have no real need to deal with her mother much; Sabrina loves her mother on some level, but is, to be blunt, absolutely repulsed by the life her mother leads. Sabrina has told me that if not for the dogs and cat her mother has, she really would not bother to even go there. For several years, she has either invited friends to stay over on Saturday nights there or gone to friends' homes, and she has told me that she has little interaction with her mother in most circumstances. She also has had no compunction about calling me when she is not liking what is happening over there; I have been asked to pick her up early several dozen times in the last couple of years.
With school out, the normal routine is likely to change. I am aware that my daughter is 14, and that to most 14YOs, their friends are much more important to them than their parents are; it is a normal and healthy part of adolescent development, a necessary part of establishing her own identity. There are times when I get annoyed with minor aspects of this, and I certainly monitor whom she spends her time around, but I do not take her reluctance to spend all her time around me personally. She is not the Daddy's Girl that she used to be, she never will be again, and I don't want her to be. I want her to be an independent, strong kid--and woman, eventually--with a healthy sense of herself. I do not want her emotionally dependent on me well into her adult years. I do not want her to have stilted or nonexistent social skills with her peers because she feels like she needs to tend to her parent's emotional needs above all else. And I certainly do not make blind, unquestioning obedience to my every whim and directive the litmus test of whether I consider her a "good" daughter.
I'm not going to go into the sordid details of the conflict Sabrina had with MOTY last night. But enough of the same themes were given voice as to make me despair that anything is ever to change with her. The proximate cause is that no communication was given to either Sabrina or me regarding what MOTY wanted from Sabrina today until the last minute (consistent long-term trend exhibited: trying to impose obedience to her will, expecting everyone around her to accommodate her desires at a moment's notice without any discussion or input). Sabrina was having no part of it, both because she had made her own plans with her friends (and she is becoming deeply infatuated with a boy; I have met him and he seems to be a rather decent kid, as teenage boys go, and I'm not overly concerned about it) and because her brother has returned in disgrace from Ohio--apparently, he was arrested last weekend for being drunk and disorderly, and for acts of vandalism committed while in that condition. He is out on bail provided by the loathsome former sister-in-law of MOTY, and that creature's involvement in any aspect of life that even remotely touches my daughter is going to draw immediate and intense attention on my part; that person is the most toxic individual I have ever known of in my entire life. As this matter unfolded last night, it became very clear to me that Sabrina wants no part of her older brother because she finds his behavior not only repellent, but endemic; she does not believe that either the pot-smoking or the drinking is going to stop, and she wants no part of anyone who does either, brother or no. MOTY's responses to those concerns were 1) "I've got this under control; it's a condition of him being here that he can't do that in this house" (ummm.... why is this something new?), and 2) Sabrina's concerns were merely "sibling rivalry" manifesting itself (I actually dropped the phone). I was eventually treated to more of the same themes I've been hearing for years: Sabrina's alleged "attitude" (which, upon digging, is merely that she does not show blind, instant obedience to directives coming from MOTY each and every time. I'm sorry, she's been raised that way by me; obedience is not the sole determinant of character. If I felt that way, I'd still be attending Mass every Sunday) the most prominent. I ended up telling MOTY that her daughter gets great grades, has a lot of (good) friends that are good kids, and is extremely accomplished and has no worrisome behaviors or tendencies. I have very few problems around the house here with her. Her teachers report without fail on every report card things like "a pleasure to have in class" and "an excellent kid!". Every coach she has ever had in any sport has marveled at how coachable she is, how hard she works to improve herself, and how much of a team player she is and what a good example she sets for others on the team. Her aunts, grandmothers, and other relatives all think she's a great kid, especially for an other words, the only one--the only one--who has problems with Sabrina is MOTY. I suggested that she might want to reconsider her own part in her relationship with her daughter.
I got hung up on.
And that is the most endemic and frustrating aspect of MOTY of all: the total inability to consider the idea that it might be her and her behavior that needs to adjust or change. It must be awful to live one's life at 39 years of age with the mindset of a toddler, that life sucks if she does not get her way in all areas. You'd think, after all these years of misery, anger, drama, and chaos, that the light switch would go on, even for a few moments, and some change might occur. But I really don't think it's going to happen. I'm not worried about Sabrina's safety any more. But I do worry that she has lost respect for her mother, and about the long-term emotional damage that results from knowing that your own parent does not unconditionally love you, that your mother is so self-centered and self-absorbed--so selfish--as to truly believe that her child is not worthy of love unless said child is willing to completely subordinate all aspects of her own individual identity to the mother's wants and needs. I get more annoyed than anything else when MOTY's either/or, black-and-white mindset is displayed. But Sabrina gets hurt by it; she really does not understand why her mother makes everything a contest of wills. It has gotten to the point where she only goes there on weekends because she has to.
She will be, after all the sound and fury, going there today around five o'clock. And I fully expect a phone call or text long before noon on Sunday asking me to come get her.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


The Ghost of Christmas Present is a recently published novella by Scott Abbott and Amy Maude Swinton that brings to mind a Hollywood movie more than anything else. The premise is clear, if somewhat farfetched: a man whose wife has died now has a deathly ill son, and the grandfather of the boy, who never got over the death of his daughter and held the son-in-law responsible, is trying to take the boy away. There is a fair amount of attempted subtle social commentary--the hero, an actor and drama teacher, loses his job and spends most of the book trying various ways to make his acting skills relevant, and there is a fair amount of ink on the values of society expounded upon. Doing what I do for a living, I was also rather irritated by one of the main pillars of the story as constructed--the manipulation of the social service system by the grandfather, and the way that court dates are moved around like chess pieces. I don't care who you are and how big your bank book is, Family Court proceedings never get moved up on a calendar. The 8YO boy is also drawn very unrealistically; no third grader is going to be quoted reams of Shakespeare. All this said, the narrative does move right along, and there is a happy ending, so I can't say that I didn't enjoy the book. But it could have been a lot better.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Long Day/End of School

I had to go out of town for a training yesterday, to what sometimes seems like my second home in our agency's Schenectady office (I've been there fifteen times in the last three years if I have been there once). I don't particularly mind this training--the subject matter is something that I actually both need and can use, and the presentation isn't half bad (yesterday dragged some, more than the first session did, but it still was all right). The drive is normally second nature to me; Interstate 88 is one of the most boring roads in the entire country, and it's pretty much a straight, uneventful shot to the Thruway from Binghamton. Except that yesterday it wasn't so uneventful.
I have had dozens of traffic tickets in my life; for about twenty years, I never had less than seven points on my license, and was often one infraction away from losing it or at least having to take a five-hour course. I was aware of this, in one of those strange maybe-not-coincidences, yesterday morning because I mailed in my annual insurance premium--a little over $450. It's that low both because I have an awesome insurance agent and because I have had one ticket (for driving while on the phone) in a decade, and none in six years. It's been one unforeseen benefit of having four-cylinder cars; I simply cannot get over 65 MPH in my car now, and the Subaru I used to drive was also speed-challenged. And having accepted that the seat-belt law is not going to change...not speeding and wearing the belt covers 90% of the tickets I've ever had. We do have an agency vehicle that is capable of going more than 65 MPH, to be sure, and most of the time when I go out of town, I take that vehicle. But given that it is not my car, and that the agency takes malfeasance when driving their equipment very seriously, I rarely go more than a few miles per hour over the limit when driving the agency van; tickets and, God forbid, accidents would just be hassle on a scale I do not feel it is worth taking a chance on.
But yesterday I almost had no choice. Going northeast on 88, a few miles past Cobleskill comes the village of Schoharie and the Schoharie Creek valley (it's a small river more than a creek, and it has gained national notoriety twice; it washed out the bridge on the Thruway that it crosses under in the 1980's, and in 2011, a couple of weeks before Tropical Storm Lee hammered our area, Tropical Storm Irene caused the Schoharie to go amok in its valley. Our agency's Schoharie office was wiped off the map two weeks before our Binghamton office was). Just over the bridge, the terrain immediately rises what seems to be at least a thousand feet, and 88 accordingly spreads to three lanes. We were chugging up the passing lane, looking at a tractor trailer in the middle lane about a hundred yards in front of us going quite a bit slower--when all of a sudden, the truck just goes in my lane. He wasn't passing anybody or avoiding something, either, as it turned out; the driver just  wasn't paying attention. And for that brief moment when he was in two lanes, I suddenly had to brake. Hard. And skidded for a bit. I never lost control, didn't fishtail or wobble it, and let off the brake as soon as I stopped rapidly closing ground with it, which helped keep it under control. Of course, once the driver saw me, he moved back into the middle lane, which could have made matters worse, but I was down to a manageable enough speed to avoid him and, in a minute, get around him and go on our way.
The passengers were semi-impressed--when all this was going on, I didn't even pause in my sentence, for some unknown reason, even as they were freaking out--and truth be known, I was a little, as well. I think I was a little lucky, but it was also because I've driven long enough to know not to lock the brakes in a situation like that.
But it was a closer call than I ever want to have. A mini-van is generally not going to get the worst in any prospective accident with a car--but a tractor-trailer is a different story. And once by the errant driver, my heart did flutter a little. But only a little, because basically I passed the test--I wasn't doing anything I shouldn't have been doing, and as a result there was no major accident, because I was able to react in time and handle the vehicle effectively. At fifty, experience helps immensely; I doubt I would have been going 70 even ten years ago, because no cop is going to be sitting in a speed trap going uphill.
I didn't even get to relax when I got home; it was right to Booth Field on the South Side for the twice-delayed City League opening game. The weather has been playing havoc with the team, and we had had only one practice to date--but there is enough talent that the comment of one of the returning players that "Hey! This year we might not suck!" has served as a bit of a rallying cry. For years, this particular team has been a doormat, mostly because no one has been able to pitch. Sabrina ended up pitching in the last game of last season because, even though she doesn't throw flame, she does throw the ball over the plate. This year, the head coach proved he had not forgotten that game; he handed her the ball from the beginning of practice. One of the oddities of City League is that kids from certain families often end up on the same team for a decade of more, and because of this, in a league where several of six teams have to improvise to find a catcher, somehow Sabrina's team ended up last season with four kids who have caught for either school teams or All-Star teams. One of them is not playing this year, focusing on lacrosse, and another hurt her leg catching on Modified two seasons ago and will only be behind the plate in a dire emergency now. But this year's primary Modified catcher is on the team, and I would prefer that Sabrina save wear on her knees if she could by playing elsewhere on the field, and so she was on the mound last night.
And she did damn well. The team won 12-1; the score was misleading because we scored eleven runs in the last two innings. Sabrina doesn't throw smoke, but she does put it over the plate, which on this level is beneficial beyond words; she didn't walk a single batter and only went to a three-ball count on one. The infield on the team is very good, especially with Sabrina on the mound (even if she does field the position with her catcher's glove); she made a half-dozen excellent plays on the mound, and her infield only made one error behind her. And you could see their confidence growing by the inning; good play breeds good play, just as sucky play is contagious as well. By the end of the game, when the other pitcher got tired and they were smoking the ball, it was fun to watch true belief dawn in their eyes and faces: "Hey, we REALLY don't suck this year!" There are seven kids on this team that suffered through last year's 2-8 debacle, and three of them suffered through the 1-9 debacle the year before that; to win a game by eleven runs is something that has not happened to them in literally years (and several kids of the team have been on Modified the last two disastrous years, as well). They play again tonight, against a team that was playing at Booth in the game before them last night and that they know they are as good or better than. If they don't get cocky, a 2-0 start is a possibility--and who would have thought that?
City League comes in for a lot of crap from the school coaches; I heard the varsity coach, especially, make a number of disparaging remarks about the quality of play in it during practices during the season. And he has a point in some ways; the quality of play certainly is variable, and for the better players, the ones with a future on school teams, it probably doesn't help them get better in many ways. But for a kid like Sabrina, that isn't a scion of one of the South Side Wealthy families, it's a nice little diversion to keep playing in the summer, and it's also a chance to develop other skills that might come in handy in years to come--like a catcher learning how to play positions in the field--without having to drop four or five thousand dollars on a travel team. And my suspicions about the supposed Plan B--the BAGSAI league team that the JV coach was supposedly going to try to put together--are coming true. Not only has the coach not gotten hold of Sabrina in three weeks, but the kid's mother that was going to help him, whose kid has designs on becoming a catcher because she's proving to be too damn slow to play anywhere in the field, has also disappeared from view. I was talking to the parent of a kid who had to stop playing travel team this year because of the cost; he was interested in also having his daughter on the proposed BAGSAI team, but is finding it frustrating that the curtain of silence has descended. I also found out, taking in the game before ours last night, that one of the kids on her JV team got selected for travel team; she's not a bad player by any means, but her primary qualification for inclusion on that level sure seems to be other considerations than ability. As George Carlin used to say, "It's a big club, and you ain't in it." I was talking with our head coach before the game, and asked him why Sabrina's former City League co-stars, sisters that are the daughters of a rather prominent West Side citizen, aren't on the team; he said he tried to get them to come out (and back, in the older kid's case) but was told that they were, at 14 and 13 years of age, tired of the nonsense and politics surrounding the softball scene in this area. Already. And truth be known, their family is a lot closer to the top of the status/financial ladder than ours is. What a sad commentary on what is supposed to be a recreational activity
Today is the last day of middle school. The occasion will not be marked by any kind of ceremony in either Binghamton middle school. Part of me is in agreement with it; I think there is too much emphasis on this sort of "accomplishment" in general in today's society. On the other, middle school is literally the end of an era and an accomplishment that deserves to be recognized; more changes take place in the three middle school years than at any other time in a kid's life other than infancy to four years old. Kids arrive in the sixth grade as children, and leave as full adolescents and even mini-adults. There really ought to be at least a small acknowledgement of that process taking place. But more to the point, it means that life changes for both of us for the next ten weeks. She will be going to bed later, waking up later, which means I will be going into work earlier, and this will likely be the last summer when she is not fettered by looking for work or being part of some programs. I don't know what her grades are yet, but she should be on high honor roll again (French is the wild card), which would make all twelve quarters of middle school for Sabrina. Regardless, I am very proud of her, and pleased at how her pleasant and basically industrious nature has remained intact during a time when it irrevocably changes for many kids. She won seven awards from her teachers and school this year. So even if there isn't going to be a full assembly to brag on you, Sabrina--I'm doing it here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: JULY 1914

I am a World War I buff, and generally read everything I can get my hands on regarding it. It has become a bit of the "forgotten war" among historians, although that is changing somewhat as the hundredth anniversary of its outbreak approaches. I've read a lot of books about the circumstances that led to it, but July 1914, by Sean MacMeekin, was that rarest of animals for me, a book that told me some new things about a subject I thought I knew a great deal about.
While much historical focus has centered on the Germans and their blank check to Austria, and Austria's determination to fight Serbia, as the main causes of the catastrophe, MacMeekin has made a very convincing case that the most duplicitous actors in the drama were the Russians, who managed to keep the fact that they had begun to mobilize for war secret for nearly five full days in the midst of the crisis, a fact that, when it came to light, realistically did not leave Germany a lot of choice other than to follow suit. But none of the actors covered themselves with glory; the French also were something less than open with their actions, and the British showed an amazing lack of interest in the proceedings until the very last few days before they entered the war. What is generally true is that the more glaring errors and stupid moves came from the Central Powers--Austria's declaration of war on Serbia came two weeks before it was ready to begin operations (an action undertaken with the express aim of shutting off any further negotiations aimed at ending the crisis short of war), and of course the German violation of Belgian neutrality, compounded immensely by the German prime minister admitting in parliamentary session that Germany was in violation of international law  by doing so.
And while they have come in for a great deal of blame over the decades, the two people least responsible in their respective countries for the outbreak of war were Wilhelm II and Nicholas II. Wilhelm suffered from incompetent help in his government, and Nicholas did manage to keep his country's war hawks in check for some time.
For readers interested in the Great War, this is an excellent book to check out.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wingnuts on Parade, Part Two

One small solace of the weekend is that there are fewer stories in the news about arrests and other legal issues. I don't mean to imply that less happens on weekends, only that the reporting of such things is less immediate and thorough than during the week. And with less media attention paid, that means there are fewer comments posted about the articles online, which means I get fewer reminders of just how many absolute, irredeemable, total assholes there are in our community.
It's always been easier to be a jerk in a crowd, and one of the advantages of the Internet is that anyone can say virtually anything they want with a fair amount of distance from their target. In many cases, people are able to use names other than their own in an online forum, as well. But the news article commentator is in a special category, one that I find disturbing. At least in our local news outlets, you have to post comments as part of your identity of a larger social media community (usually, but not always, as your Facebook profile), which means most of the people who post comments have a face and name attached to the comment. And a good portion of those who do post put things up there that they really ought to be completely ashamed of. You name an objectionable, horrible trait that people exhibit, and you can find it in the comment sections. Openly racist comments are published, as long as the n-word is not used. The comments section is the last refuge of the homophobe. Religious bigotry is de rigueur. Generally ignorant and hateful speech is so prevalent as to not even stand out anymore.
It's sickening to read, and very disturbing to know that there are many people out there who are willing to be publicly identified as saying these things. This is actually a nationwide phenomenon, and it has a name--"trolling." It is socially awkward, intellectually challenged people who get off by sowing discord and controversy with inflammatory comments. It is nothing more or less than infantile attention-seeking behavior--only that most of the people doing so are very much adults. I don't usually check the comments sections of national new outlets, because I am well aware that places like Texas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky are full of people like this. But for some reason, I cannot resist stabbing myself in the eyeballs by reading the comments section of our local media. It bothers the hell out of me knowing that these sort of people share this community with me. I can live with honest disagreements on political and societal matters--but the sort of crap that these people espouse is both way over the top and steeped in ignorance and meanness. They are the last people on earth I would choose to spend time around, and I cannot believe that they are positive influences in anyone's lives.
And I am going to name a few names. Tom Hunter, you are a disgrace to human beings everywhere. Jamie McBride, you are a racist homophobe who should be quarantined. Nancy Dean Derosa, you are perhaps the most openly unpleasant human being I have ever seen. I am as absolute a defender of the First Amendment as it is possible to find--and one reason why I am so passionate in defending it is that it allows us to expose vermin like these people. Maybe people like this are not quite so bad in person--but I think it's more likely that they are worse, because there are some things that can't be said online that can be said verbally. What hateful, miserable excuses for human beings they really are. And it's sad that responsible, sober-minded, thoughtful people end up refraining from commenting on most news articles because they don't want to deal with the personal attacks and horrible views espoused on a daily basis by these poor imitations of human beings.
I cannot fathom having such limited social skills and such poor ability to relate to other people that I would feel the need to express such garbage for everyone in the world to see. It is nothing more or less than the equivalent of masturbating in public, of exposing one's self in front of a crowd. It's a gigantic temper tantrum by emotional toddlers who are trying to force others to pay attention to them, because they have no positive attributes that earn legitimate respect and affection from others. What a sad and pathetic way to live one's life.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Wish

I am not normally passionate about golf. I haven't played in many years, and aside from major tournaments and things like the Ryder Cup, I won't watch it on TV, except perhaps to find out who's ahead. But this week is the United States Open, one of the most prestigious events in the world and often the hardest test of golf that professionals face during the year, and I was going to pay attention for a number of reasons even before it started Thursday. One is that the big news in the golf world this year has been the resurgence of Tiger Woods, who has already four times on the tour this season; the press has all but forgotten about what a jackass he really is (proving only what frontrunners we in American society really are) and instead have been trying to guess when he will surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. Woods has been stuck on 14 for five full years now, and my personal opinion is that he isn't going to catch Nicklaus, and in fact may not ever win another one. There are some courses in the majors' rotation that he will always play well--Augusta National, St. Andrews, Congressional, Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach--and there might well be a week in the future when someone else in the field isn't going to be playing well. But it is increasingly obvious that under really bright lights and pressure, Woods cannot put together four solid enough rounds--mostly because of an affliction that affects almost all golfers as they age: putting woes. Woods has lost several majors on the greens in recent years, and in a US Open, where the greens are always a difficult proposition, Woods is bound to have at least one round where he won't be able to make a putt. I can't stand Woods (few athletes have ever gotten away with being such a dick in public for such a long time, and his private life implosion a few years ago made it clear that his general dickiness extends off the course, too), and take perverse pleasure when he fails in a major championship. And I was sure it was going to happen this weekend.
The second reason I wanted to watch is that for the first time since I was finishing high school, the Open was returning to Merion, a course in Philadelphia that has hosted Opens in the past but is considered to be far too short to be a test for today's players. But I knew the United States Golf Association would make the course a test, and indeed it has turned out to be. Heading into the final round today, only one player is under par, and short as Merion is by modern standards, there's a real basic reason why; there isn't a flat section of ground on the entire golf course. Every single shot I have seen on television over three days is either from an uphill or downhill lie, and no golfer is going to hit twenty-five or more perfect shots from uneven lies, even the best players in the world--more so since none of them are used to such conditions. The rough is monstrous, too, as is typical for most US Open courses, and Merion has acquitted itself wonderfully as a golf course. As the week has worn on, the real reason why this is likely the last Open that will contested here has been openly admitted: it won't make enough money. Merion's grounds can only hold about 25,000 people (most Open courses admit 40,000 or more on the grounds), there isn't hardly any parking in the vicinity, and the player accommodations are quaint but truly inadequate. My house appears to be bigger than the clubhouse, and the pro shop looks indistinguishable from the one at Ely Park, the municipal course here, except for all the historic memorabilia on display.
The third, admittedly odd, reason I wanted to watch is that it is in Philadelphia, a mere four hours away. I will  actually be going to Philadelphia in late August for the NA World Convention for at least one day (I'm still working on going for more), and a number of people I am friends with have strong Philly ties. I've also been there a few times (my ex-wife has family that live there) and liked it as much or more than I like Brooklyn and Queens, where I was born and where my extended family lived when I was growing up. Except for the Flyers, I don't dislike any of the Philadelphia sports teams, and tickets for games in Philadelphia are less of a hassle to get than any of the tickets for the New York teams (except for the Bills). Philly has an undeserved reputation as an urban hellhole, and it's been nice to see positive press put on the Northeast for once.
The last and most compelling reason is that every year, I am hoping that the quixotic quest of Phil Mickelson to finally win the US Open comes to an end without a victory. I like Mickelson as a golfer and for the most part as a man (I didn't particularly care for his anti-tax remarks earlier this year, but to his credit, he didn't back away from them when it became a flap earlier this year); his family has always come first, which got proven this week when he literally stepped off a plane to tee off Thursday because his daughter was graduating the eighth grade on Wednesday night (can you imagine Woods doing that?). I have an affinity for the nearly-always-left-at-the-altar types, and Mickelson has spent his career in the rather large shadow of Woods; he's picked up four majors in his career, but has finished second in the US Open five times without winning, and at 43 he is running out of chances.
So, of course, he is the one guy under par going into today, with a one-shot lead over several really good players. But I like his chances today. There are only ten players within five shots of him, and almost all of them have as much baggage or more than he does regarding winning this or other major championships. The only one who has won even one is Charl Schwartzel, the 2012 Masters champion (a tournament Mickelson lost after leading after three rounds), and I am sure Schwartzel is his major competition today. Hunter Mahan has some quality but is looking for a first major; Steve Stricker is older than Mickelson and has never won a major; Justin Rose has blown up in major final rounds several times; Luke Donald has a deserved reputation for winning when it doesn't count for much; Billy Horschel is very inexperienced; Michael Kim is a 19YO amateur; and while Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are going to win majors some day, they are 8th and 9th on the board and have a lot of bodies to pass. If Mickelson is ever going to win this championship, today is the day. And he can't repeat his meltdown of 2006 at Winged Foot, when he hit a driver when he didn't need to on the last hole; he left the driver out of the bag this week. He is playing all this great golf teeing off with a 3-wood.
Woods is ten shots back, and will be on his last few holes by time Mickelson tees off. I love when that happens. And it would be very fitting if, on Father's Day, a guy who was iffy for making his Thursday morning tee time because he put fatherhood ahead of his livelihood ended up winning. It would be a compelling story line even if it were not someone who has been close without winning, and the fact that it is Mickelson makes this, even for golf, a must-watch. And I actually have come to appreciate NBC's golf coverage; I think Johnny Miller can be overbearing with his "pressure" comments at times, but at least he addresses the issue that most announcers won't go near. Roger Maltbie is probably the best course reporter on TV, and Dan Hicks is, for those who have grown thoroughly disgusted with Jim Nantz' near-total presence on CBS, a wonderfully understated anchor of the coverage. And it will be rainy here today; I won't even feel guilty about neglecting yard work while watching today. My personal Father's Day wish is that Mickelson finally gets the trophy today. Go Lefty.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Disease Is No Joke

When I got home last night after the meeting, I checked out Facebook, as I normally do. And almost as soon as I did, my friend Mike, whom I used to work with at Fairview and who was once married to Lila's sister (making us part of the select group of "Layton survivors"), posted online. Mike now works in one of the prisons the state has near Utica, and lives in Utica with his third and, from the looks of it, final wife (she is a great woman), so I don't hear from him at all except online any longer. He had contacted me in the late winter about his oldest son, who was going through a rough time with drug addiction, asking me for meeting information and if I would look out for him should he show up. I told him absolutely, and I did look for him for several weeks at the candlelight meeting. But Joe never showed up.
And now he never will. Mike posted last night that the disease of addiction had claimed Joe, who was, if I remember right, 29 years old. The pain he must be feeling at this time is nearly indescribable. Burying a child is perhaps the most painful experience in the realm of human existence, and I honestly cannot imagine doing so with any of my three daughters without going to pieces. Of course my heart goes out to Mike and his family, and my condolences, and I hope that he has a functional support network in Utica to help him get through this terrible time.
And it is the latest in a series of reminders I've had this week that the disease of addiction is no joke, that it can and does kill people. One of the reasons I switched home groups years ago from the one that meets in Binghamton General Hospital that is the one NA group that the local in-patient rehab brings their clientele to is that, after helping start it and being part of it for two years, it got very hard for me to see how casually many of the people who went through the rehab took their chance at putting active addiction behind them. In two years, there were at least four people that had been admitted more than once, and hardly anyone we saw there ended up staying clean for more than a few months. Over the time I have been clean, I have seen, conservatively, fifty people who had more time than I did when I got clean relapse, and hundreds if not thousands more come and not stay. And it bothers the hell out of me sometimes, because most if not all of these people have the notion, and some actually say it out loud, that they can choose to come back to the rooms of recovery at any time.
Except you're not guaranteed another chance. Not at all. I've seen dozens of people pick up serious jail time on relapses. I've seen some do irreparable physical damage to themselves, from contracting the Virus to losing part or all of their mind. And some die. I think about my first home group in this fellowship, about where we've all gone over the years; Dawood and Luis have gone into the ground on relapses. There are others who have died while chasing the next one. It's one of the reasons that has kept me here all this time; now that the genie is back in the bottle, I have discovered that breathing matters a great deal to me--and I can also remember at the tail end of active addiction, when existence was so painful that the ability to continue breathing wasn't quite so much of a priority. I don't ever want to be in that place again.
The reported death of Joe was the third brush with relapse I've had in less than 48 hours. My distraction of a couple of years ago called me Thursday; having long ago decided that she wasn't going to, in her late twenties, going to stop drinking or smoking pot, she eventually went full bore back into the lifestyle she led that landed her in jail and recovery a few years ago, and has now given back all that she so painstakingly gained--kids are gone again, education stalled just short of a degree, and now the inevitable legal issues have returned, which led to the return of the dope. She tugged on my emotions a bit, but it was still relatively easy to stay on the sideline. There is nothing I can do there.
For several weeks, an old flame, someone I dated briefly between Shannon and Lila for several weeks in the summer of 2000, when both of us were young(er) and in recovery, has been walking the streets of the neighborhood my office is in. I have been watching in increasing horror as her physical deterioration and emotional degradation have been accelerating on a daily basis. She's known where my office is for months, and sometimes comes by to talk--she knows better than to ask me for money or for the chance to do what she does to support her habits--about how she is reaching the end of her rope. But yesterday was the worst; this once-vibrant and extremely attractive woman now looks like a walking corpse. She hasn't slept in a week, her body is covered in bruises and sores, and the lights in those unbelievably baby-blue eyes have just about gone out. She kept saying how she is so ready to stop, but can't find the ability to go for help, feeling like she will be looked down upon by those who have put it down, years ago... to be more afraid of "dying" of embarrassment than actually dying seems incredibly stupid, and to most people I'm sure it is--but to those of us who have been there, I know how real the feeling is. That tattered and shredded tiny bit of pride is about all that is left of the people we want to be and wish we were, and it is incredibly difficult to let go of even as all available evidence tells us, loudly and profanely, that we are embarrassing ourselves all day every day by the life we are leading. I told her to come to the meeting last night, being she lives around the corner from it, but she didn't show. And I have no doubt that I will see her doing the Walking Dead number for some time. I hope that final surrender comes. But it's more likely that she's going to pick up another charge, or a bad bundle, or she's going to get in the wrong car and end up beaten or dead. It isn't like I still want to be with her or anything; it was a long time ago, and what appealed to me about her then is not part of my emotional makeup now. But I have to tell you that it eats at me to see, with a front row seat, someone you once cared about, someone you woke up next to a few times, killing themselves.
And that's the ultimate destination. I don't know how Joe met his end, and I'm not going to push Mike for details. I know he died as the result of his addiction, and that's more than enough to know. This disease is progressive, incurable, and fatal if allowed to run its course.
I know I'm going to die some day. But I really do not want to die from this disease of addiction. And one day at a time, I can keep that from happening. I feel like a ghost at times, flitting in and out of some post-apocalyptic hell as most of the people I have come into contact with over the last 15-20 years end up broken. I really wish everyone would get this, that they could understand that this is no joke. But I also know that some must die in order for others to live.
It just sucks when those that die are those you know. Their pain may be at an end, but for those who loved them, the pain merely intensifies. God bless you, Mike, and may God give you solace that I and all those who wish we could cannot. And if you are reading this this morning, please say a prayer for Mike and his family.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wingnuts On Parade, Part One

Wednesday was quite a day in the news cycle. I've been processing it for a day, and I am still overcome with revulsion and, yes, wonder that such general moronickety is this pervasive in our world today. I am generally pessimistic about humanity, and this is the first in a five-part series that is going to be my part in fighting the madness.
I am too young to remember Robert Kennedy, and from what I have read about it, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have voted for him in his time and place (today, warts and all, would be another matter). But there is a general expectation that someone bearing the Kennedy name will not be an idiot or a crackpot, even if there is a expectation of a certain level of arrogance and entitlement. But RFK Jr. has been in the news recently because he is the most well-known advocate of one of the more dangerous fringe movements out there--these absolute morons that are against mandatory vaccination for children. Most of the arguments against vaccination come down to one thing--that a preservative used in some vaccines in the past has been linked to autism in children. The arguments have been debunked long ago--the original study showing the link was shown to be falsified, and in any event the preservative in question (thimerosol, which is also present in most standard contact lens solutions) is no longer used in any vaccines given to children in the United States. But Kennedy is very aggressive in promoting this crusade to this day, and unfortunately the movement has gained enough traction that there are a small but significant portion--about 5%--of American kids not getting standard vaccinations as babies. Which is simply a travesty in this day and age. I would rather not have to concern myself with things like whooping cough, measles, and polio if I don't have to--and I don't have to. I notice all these "concerned parents" that aren't allowing their children to be vaccinated 1) received them themselves and 2) don't appear to be autistic.
Unless stupidity is a characteristic of autism.
Autism is, while not quite on the level of ADHD as a catchall, nebulous condition, nonetheless is becoming one of those afflictions that is less prevalent than claimed. It is defined as a "neural development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive, or stereotyped behavior." I am not saying that it does not occur in many cases organically. But I am saying that much more than many conditions, symptoms like those outlined above can appear in toddlers and preschoolers as a result of--wait for it--bad parenting. I have seen far, far too many parents that simply do not put the effort into stimulating the growth process of very young children for me not to think that the symptoms described are not the result of that lack of effort. If you stick a baby or a toddler in front of a television all day, how good are its social interactions going to be? If you ignore a toddler for minutes or even hours on end, how good are its communication skills going to be? If you don't pay any attention to a child, how is it supposed to learn non-verbal communication? If you do not monitor a child's behavior, or place it in situations where stimulation and growth occur naturally as the result of reactions to its environment, how wide is its range of behaviors going to be?...I don't deny that autism exists. I am sure that many autistic children have very concerned and involved parents. But I also know that parenting plays a role in many children that do develop these symptoms. There is a narrow developmental window for children, and if the development and growth process is not stimulated or properly nourished during that time--well, the results aren't good. And I would look at parenting before vaccines as a cause. Actually, I would look at a bunch of other things that have become common over the past forty years or so as more likely to be an organic cause of increased autism than vaccines--the overwhelming prevalence of plastics would be the first place I would look, and indeed there is increasing evidence that plastic molecules are having an adverse effect on our children's development in a whole lot of ways.
But vaccines? Vaccines are the single biggest reasons that infant mortality rates in half the world are less than half of what they were a hundred years ago. Vaccines, for better or worse, are the single biggest factor in the population explosion the world has seen since 1900. For adults to actively discourage children from getting vaccinated is nothing more or less than child abuse, and prima facie evidence that said adult shouldn't be entrusted with the care of a plant, much less a juvenile human being. I don't bear any special animus toward Kennedy for being a Kennedy; he can't help who his family happens to be. I don't think he's entitled to any special respect for his name, either. But along with fame and fortune comes, or should come, a certain level of responsibility--and to use that name recognition to push this agenda is simply mind-boggling. There was a certain trauma that comes with growing up famous, and in his case it was immeasurably added to with losing his father by assassination when he was a teen. He also, somewhat understandably, ended up with a drug habit as a young man. I am not suggesting that his mind was addled by his drug use and his background. But his espousal of bullshit like this sure makes one wonder whether some lasting damage occurred.  And as a recovering addict myself, I can attest that the insanity of the disease of addiction can often make us hold onto strange and wrong ideas for a long time in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
That supposition has a lot more evidence going for it than that often cited for any link between vaccination and autism.