Archive for July 23, 2007

Medical Ethics? What are Those?

July 23, 2007

From TPM Muckracker, questions about the role of medical doctors in all the torture that’s been going on under the US flag.

For me, this is a no-brainer: Doctors who advised anyone on torture methods should lose their licenses, permanently and everywhere. Same goes for psychiatrists. Not only is that a proper response, I think it’s in the self-interest of both professions.

Though I imagine that one rationale used to justify the participation of medical professionals is that “national security” or the “threat of another terrorist attack” trumps everything else. It’s been a tried and true talking point for conservatives for some time, and I can see it getting into the head of people who are nominally professionals.

A much harder question to answer is whether or not doctors and psychiatrists should make themselves available to treat victims of torture, since they stand a good chance of becoming enablers.



The Country Fair

July 23, 2007

I know, I know, this post is way out of date. So it goes.

A few weeks ago – or was it really last weekend? – I went with friend Matt to the Oregon Country Fair.

The Country Fair has been going on for years. Close to 40, I think. Despite that, and despite the fact that it’s in Veneta, which is close to where my dad grew up – and where both my parents lived for a bit – they never said anything about the country fair while I was growing up. I’d never gone, and when Matt mentioned over lunch that he wasn’t going this year because he couldn’t find someone to go with, I half-assedly jumped at the chance. Matt, of course, had been for several years running.

Sunday morning came, we got tickets, we left, I drove. The fair normally runs Friday-Sunday, so we were going the last day. Even so, I expecting it to be busy….I just didn’t know how big the CF is.

We got there maybe 30 minutes after they opened, and there were already hundreds, if not thousands, of cars there. That was weird, though given that it’s significantly out of town and people come from all over the state, I should have known better. By the time we left, there were three large fields full of cars. I’d bet there was 100+ acres of car parking. (There was also tent camping on the property.)

Matt and I went in, and wow. Genius – the place was a veritable maze of trails lined with shops, eateries and various other stalls punctuated by small and large stages, plus some other random stuff thrown in. Matt and I walked for three hours and never retraced our steps (though we did cross our path once, maybe twice). And we hardly ever left the shade of the trees. It was an absolutely brilliant design, especially compared to most other fairs and carnivals.

According to the website, the location is almost 400 acres and takes year-round care. I believe it. The stalls were mostly wood and blended in well (some even appearing to be permanent or semi-permanent), and the whole thing had the feel of something slightly magical (and no, I was not inhaling anything). Matt decided to let me lead the way, and we wandered more or less aimlessly (I never got a map, though Matt’s came in handy when we were looking in vain for the exit) for a bit. Pretty soon after we got there, I saw a musical theatre performance making fun of the idea of a revolution that’s too serious and doesn’t allow juggling (it featured, by the way, a juggler’s remix of Gangsta’s Paradise – classic!).

Let me tell you, I almost died right there. It’s like someone actually produced culture with my values in mind. I could have listened to that show for the next three hours and not felt like I was missing anything, I was in such a state of bliss.

Instead, we kept wondering…and wondering….and wondering. We saw a few people we knew, though not many, and Matt got a burger (there was far more meat available than I’d expected). Other than that, we just walked around for slightly over three hours, occasionally stopping to listen to a few minutes of performance or the guy who talked about the War on Drugs, or the guy who was talking about clean energy. The stalls fell mostly into the following categories: eateries, with few to no chains and almost all local food (Nearly Normal’s from Corvallis was there); shops selling hand-crafted, small items, or perhaps T-shirts (there was an iron-forged goods shop, which I am to this day amazed and delighted by); stages of varying sizes, shapes, and styles for all kinds of performances; and a few stalls with services like astrology, massage, etc. And, of course, there were people at just about every major intersection playing music.

So: location, fantastic. Stalls, pretty darn good, though too oriented towards selling for me. People?

Here’s where it gets odd, or at least it got odd for me.

The people were a mix of people you’d stereotypically expect to find – old, white (almost all white, by the way…what’s up with that?), grizzled, topless/nude (men and women), aging or aged hippe-types, etc., but there were also a lot of folks my age who I suspect wear designer clothes during the week…they just left them at home to blend in.

This is not, oddly enough, me trying to disparage those folks. I was happy, if confused, to see so many people my age, and of a type (there was far more dyed blonde hair there than I would have expected) I wouldn’t normally associate with something my family would call HippieFest. I was just surprised to see them there, and wondered why they feel the need to wear designer clothes during the week (hey, it’s an expression) but also felt compelled to change their presentation for this event.

I wore a blue T-shirt and dark tan cargo shorts, and holy shit was I out of place. I needed a piercing, or tatto, or something. The beard was not enough.

The other thing I noticed about the people was the fact that they all appeared to be zombies, with the exception of the parade that came through. It was led by what appeared to be a shirtless, grizzled, bearded, hat-wearing, wand-waving sorcerer/warlock looking guy who danced the way (he was fabulous). Oh, and a dragon.

But everyone else was a zombie. This was due to at least two factors, as far as I could tell:

1) It was Sunday, and after two hot days and two nights of hard partying, people were fucking exhausted. Can’t blame ’em.

2) The trails between the trees and stalls were actually kind of narrow for how many people were there. I suspect they’ve cultivated the place for years to create the paths they have, so I find it more likely that the number of people is hitting capacity. Still, it led everyone to sort of shuffle along between the stall like a large pack of, well, zombies.

The other thing that’s still rattling around in my head is something Matt mentioned a few times: He’s heard lots of folks complaining about how much the CF has changed and become more capitalistic, more selling-oriented, in the last few years. I certainly saw a lot of stalls, but with no reference point, I can’t really comment much on that aspect…I will say I suspect he’s right. It’s awfully hard to hold a counterculture event like that without getting some bleed from the mainstream. Oh, and the tickets were $21 apiece. Multiply that by the rough figure of 100,000 visitors (supposedly the CF becomes the second-largest city in Oregon over the weekend), and you’ve got $2 million. Subtract volunteers from the visitors, of which there were a lot, and you’ve still got a ton of money.

I wonder where it all goes?

Finally, my inner sociologist couldn’t stop thinking about Renaissance Fairs. A stereotypical Ren Fair is one in which people from the local community and surrounding countryside come to town to show off their talents and sell their goods. Out of this tradition have come modern carnivals, I am sure (and plausibly even theme parks). It was interesting to see something resemble a classic Renaissance Fair so closely, from the amount of green space to the hand-made nature of many of the items (there was a lot of art there) to the amazing variety of performances (juggling, musical theatre, kid’s theatre both for and by kids, spoken word, bands that used electric guitars and those that didn’t, traditional theatre, etc etc). It simultaneously made me glad it existed and annoyed at things like the Strawberry Festival even more.

Overall, I had a good time. It was a good experience to have, even though I really struggled to take off my damn sociologist hat, and I think if I go next year I’d like to go with W and maybe go on Friday. I’m tired, so this post is ending here. Good night.

Quotes from Graeber

July 23, 2007

So I was rereading David Graeber’s Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology the other day, and two passages caught me eye. The latter was found on page 73, and it said:

Contrary to popular belief, bureaucracies do not create stupidity. They are ways of managing situations that are already inherently stupid because they are, ultimately, based on the arbitrariness of the use of force.

This makes so much sense to me on an intuitive level I wonder if I’d just normalized this claim, and the reason it caught my eye is simply that I was made consciously aware of it.

Needless to say, writing the above sentence has also made me aware of just how much differently than other people I view the world sometimes.

So the next time you get stuck at the DMV, or at the Registrar’s Office, just remember that if you misbehave, somewhere nearby there is a large man with a big stick who will come use it on you.

So! On to the second quote, this time from page 53:

“It is almost impossible to find an example of an American who was born rich and ended up a penniless ward of the state.”

Not as, um, intellectually deep, but still a damn good point. It’s a bit of commentary on the American Dream – we can’t all become rich, can we?

The context that Graeber places it in is one of class mobility. When asked about it, he says, most Americans just think of people who get rich, and never of those who get poor. Pretty telling, I’d say.

Oooh….I just found a GREAT review of Graeber. I will try to blog on it later, I promise!

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I am agreeing with the idea that basing anything on the arbitrary use of physical force is, indeed, stupid.

Sometimes I think I need to be as clear as possible and not trust people to read between the lines. Yes? No?

Invisible Tension

July 23, 2007

I spent a few hours Sunday at the house of a relative in Salem. Some folks from back east were there, along with with my immediate family and the kids and grandkids of the host.

The host is in his late 70s or early 80s, and his grandkids are between 8th grade and 20 or so years old. The host – let’s call him ‘M’ – had two kids there, a son and a daughter. The son, M Jr., is a very, very successful consultant. He has three daughters of his own – M, M, and M – and a wife, M. (I am not making this up. Their names all start with the same letter. It would be hilarious except of how friggin’ pretentious it is.) They live in the greater Portland area, and the kids attend a private school. The wife/mother M is very, very used to being rich. The husband drives a Ford Excursion, which is second in size only to a Hummer.

The daughter of the original M, S (making the kids S & M), has two children, a son (A) and a daughter (B), one of whom is 18 and the other 20 or so. The daughter, who is the oldest, works at one location of a chain of Shari’s-like restaurants in the greater Portland area. A and B, and their mother, S, are pretty damn working class. The mother works at a retirement home, the daughter, B, lives with her Mexican boyfriend, J. The father is in and out of prison and hasn’t lived with them as long as I can remember.

There were lots of other people, including some of my dad’s cousins, but the ones mentioned are the ones relevant at this point. Oh, and the other people are almost all either working class or lower-middle class. Most are conservative, some very much so, and pretty much everyone else is well over 40 or even 50.

In other words, there is a strong family history with being working class or identifying with working class behaviors and desires, even if it’s not a conscious one; the one son, M, has broken the chain by being pretty wealthy.

When I got there, a bit late and sunburnt due to the Kinetic Challenge (I was an offishul), I grabbed some food ham, potato salad, deviled eggs, bread, and too-sugary lemonade, avoided the crowd, and found a chair. As I sat and ate, I tuned into the conversation happening between – sort of – one of my cousins, B, and the three M’s, who are all sisters. The mother of the M’s was also sitting in. When I say ‘sort of’, what I really mean is that one cousin, B, was talking at the M’s at a very rapid pace (A had disappeared with my brother).

As I listened, I noticed that B was talking about her everyday life – her very, very dramatic life. I would say she used some sort of bubblegum/pop/slight Valley Girl speaking style (quick, lots of filler words, injections of perceived drama). She talked about pretty normal stuff: Babysitting a Mexican child (who I think is related to her boyfriend) and how much the child likes her (and how much she likes the child), working at the restaurant (and how much the milkshake machine sucks), hitting her regular customers, a few stories about how people she knew had been really drunk (but, of course, B thinks alcohol is gross) and various other pretty typical adventures she’s had while working and living on her own at age 20. It seemed like a pretty typical retelling of her life, made hyper-dramatic.

However, according to the faces of all the female M’s – mother and all three daughters – it was anything but normal. No, I think the three rich daughters had barely heard anything like what she was saying before (though I could be wrong, of course). To the best of my knowledge, the three sisters have never had jobs, all go to church, vacation in Italy, etc, etc…they are practically living caricatures of rich people for how much they have been trained to emote in public. The mother was also listening, I suspect for two reasons: First, because those were stories she had never heard before (I’ve never actually met anyone this bourgeoisie in the flesh before – it’s awkward and crazy-intense), and half because she didn’t want her daughters hearing anything “inappropriate.”

It seemed to me that what other people were seeing was four teenage girls talking, even gossiping. What I saw was a living, breathing collision between two very, very different social classes. I don’t think B really understood that one of the reasons her audience wasn’t talking back was because they were in the midst of being exposed to a bunch of stuff they’d never really heard before due to their sheltered, private-school, upper-class upbringing, nor do I think the M’s really understood that as far as I saw them, they might as well have been staring and drooling (that pretty much includes the mother).

The whole thing was made funnier by the fact that B would ask for the time every 15 minutes and, upon hearing it, shriek that she was going to be late for work, only to resume her story without moving an inch. I honestly don’t think the M sisters had ever seen this before, even though I would consider it almost normal behavior for someone who doesn’t want to go to work.

So yeah – I was sitting there, my sociologist tri-fold hat glued to my head (with a philosophical feather attached), trying not to laugh at how wrapped up each participant was in their part of the interaction. I was almost afraid to open my mouth because I wasn’t sure what would come out.

Was this mean on my part? Maybe. Hilarious? I thought so. Infuriating? Only because the family of rich M’s either isn’t fully aware of the class difference or, far more likely, is doing their best to bury it to avoid feelings of guilt, because it’s written all over their faces that they are slumming whenever they visit the rest of the family and no one ever talks about it.

Addendum: Despite the fact that my immediate family is probably the only real middle-class family that attends these gatherings (in terms of cultural values), I identify far more with the working-class side of things (given the choice between the two present), even though I abhor their politics and occasional outbursts of racism and sexism. Life is some complicated shit, let me tell you, and as the dude said, you don’t get to choose your community.

QUICK UPDATE: I don’t mean to imply that the M’s were malicious or anything towards the rest of the family (with the possible exception of the mother, yikes), but more that their privilege came across in the way they acted.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention about this little family reunion was something the rich lady M said. She was, I think, talking about either a person who was going to rent a room in her mother’s house or maybe be employed by here mother. In either case, her mother is undoubtedly into her 70s, so I can understand her paranoia about wanting to find someone trustworthy.

Turns out, though, that she gets their Social Security with their application and then proceeds to run the name and information through all sorts of online private-eye sites. She was bragging about how detailed they were (“they even found a ticket she got for wearing earphones in the car!”) with absolutely no idea that what she was doing was weird, or wrong, or even creepy. She was elated that she got to run her own background checks on people and spy into their private lives (all known addresses, all schooling, names of relatives, credit ratings, basically any time one has an encounter with the law or anything “official”).

Am I the only one who finds that behavior repulsive?