Not so fast, Nurse Jackie

30
Aug
2010

Before heading off to the airport in an hour or so, I thought I would commit to blog something interesting that happened to me a few days ago. You may remember that I will soon be getting surgery on my rapidly deteriorating shoulder, and that I have been in a great deal of discomfort. That being the case, I asked my doctor for some pain medication to help me get through the next few weeks. He prescribed me a couple of things (an anti inflammatory and some vicodin) and I got the prescription filled about a week and a half ago. Since I had so much work to do and the vicodin tends to make me a little loopy and therefore not the most productive, I had held off taking it. But a few days ago the pain was enough that I felt I needed one. I popped open the bottle and looked inside to grab a pill, and then thought to myself, “That doesn’t look like 30 pills in this bottle”.

I looked at the prescription again, and sure enough it said 30. Then I looked at the bottle again, and it didn’t look right. So I poured out the contents and counted them. Sure enough, there weren’t 30 there, there were only 20. So I called up the pharmacy and explained to them that the prescription I had filled several days past was missing pills. I should stop here and note that it is in my nature to feel guilty for pretty much anything whether I am to blame or not (thanks mom), and I have to admit to feeling a little like a drug addict for calling them on this. Then again, something had gone wrong and I had after all paid for the medication and wanted to make sure I had it with me while traveling.

The woman on the other end icily told me that this was a controlled substance, and that I would need a new prescription from my doctor if I wanted to get 10 more pills. I explained to her that these weren’t 10 more pills, these were 10 missing pills. She got a little huffy and said there was nothing she could do. Then I got a little indignant myself and told her that it wasn’t my fault that someone in their pharmacy had sticky fingers with certain medications, and that it wasn’t my habit to count pills every time I filled a prescription. I then told her in no uncertain terms that I wanted my 10 pills and was not going to call my doctor to get them. I asked to speak to her manager about this, and then all of a sudden her voice got quiet and she said, “Ok, come in anytime today and I will give you the 10 vicodin”. That was all I wanted, and I didn’t really care what had happened to the pills, whether she was selling them or using them or what-have-you. It turned out I didn’t have time to make it that day, so I swung by the next. When I got to the counter and gave my name, the woman started over to the main area where all the prescriptions are kept, and then paused, looked around and asked me in a low voice if I was the one who was here to pick up the vicodin. I nodded, and she went over to a drawer to the side, pulls out the bottle and handed it to me. I said thanks, and walked out.

Viaje por carretera

30
Aug
2010

I leave tonight for a multi week road trip across Spain (with 2 brief stopovers in Paris going and coming). I will be blogging along the way, so stay tuned for some fotos y comentarios. Roughly speaking, Josh in I will start in Madrid and end in Barcelona. More or less here is our ruta:

Should be fun. Hasta pronto!

Me, Moi, Yo

29
Aug
2010

The NY Times has a fascinating article this morning on a subject that I have given some thought to in the past, and have discussed with my polyglot friends at length. Namely, does language shape how we think? The author gives many compelling examples (and some counter examples) but the upshot is that yes the structure and vocabulary of our language can indeed influence to a significant degree how we see the world. One of the things I love about language is how lyrical and fluid it can be. Learning other languages, I have noticed how different we can be as people in those languages. It is as if we are playing the role of a Frenchman or Spaniard, and with friends of mine who speak multiple languages, we can confirm that the personalities we have in one language do not always line up so neatly with those in others and our native tongues. This is due to so many things. When we learn a language, we are very much influenced by those around us who are native speakers, and we pick up many of their mannerisms and choice of vocabulary. We also are in a different time and place in our own lives when first mastering communication in another tongue. And then there is the image of how we should speak floating in our heads, as imaginary and subjective as could be, but still an ideal we fix upon. Tie all these elements together and you have the making of a personality. And that personality may not always agree with your other ones. In some ways we are living in another world when we speak another language well, and that is quite a feat of magic, to be able to live several lives. One becomes most aware of these differences when they are pointed out by others, or when we need to translate something that really has no good equivalent in the other language. Sometimes I will be deep in a conversation in another language, and catch a glimpse of my other self. I sense the difference, but not necessarily how it “reads” to other people. For me the greatest value in learning other languages is that it forces us to conceptualize outside of our normal headspace, and expands not only our understanding of what is possible, but our connections to other people. It allows us to erase the hard edges of “other” and break down the fictitious wall between “us” and “them”.

Timid.

18
Aug
2010

The New York times has an article today discussing why the president is suffering from fading popularity. As with most of the “mainstream” media outlets, I think they are DC focused and really miss the point. Their argument is that he has been focusing on a legislative agenda to the detriment of  getting his message out.

Hogwash.

Here is the reason I, and many other people, are disappointed in the President, and it boils down to one word: timidity. The President has never missed an opportunity to water down any and all of the bold promises he made during the campaign. Either he negotiates away things before ever pushing for them (public option, financial oversight), says he will fight for/against things and then doesn’t (don’t ask don’t tell, executive branch abuses), or just outright gives up on things started (Guantanamo, second stimulus). These are but a few examples, but it boils down to something pretty simple. This President eloquently argued that he stood for all sorts of things during the campaign, and once in power promptly forgot about a lot of them. Plain and simple, people voted for something better. They voted for the “fierce advocate” who never was, and seems to have never missed an opportunity to compromise on his “bedrock” principles. I am really shocked that the mainstream press seems so clueless about this. Obama was voted in on a wave of hope for a better future, and the power of all those young people, all those progressives, all those common sense conservatives was targeting the same idea: To put behind us the abuses of the past 8 years and try to rebuild trust in government. Are we better off than under Bush or than we would have been under McCain? Absolutely, not a shred of doubt there. But just being better off than we would have been makes for a pretty lackluster argument, and doesn’t speak to the huge drop in enthusiasm. If the democrats lose a lot of seats this fall, it will be due to a lot of factors (the state of the economy, obstruction by republicans, etc). But it will also be due in large part to the fact that the President refused to stand up for what he (supposedly) believed in.

Someone is playing a very, very mean joke on me.

13
Aug
2010

Just as I had begun to come to terms with my impending surgery, and getting happy with my upcoming trip, THIS happens. It started innocently enough, I went downstairs to check for today’s mail. I opened the mailbox, and started leafing through the contents. Oh good, there is that check from a client, I thought….and there is the umpteenth credit card offer I don’t need…and there is my latest netflix disc…and…what’s this?? Something sent to me from Amazon in a white plastic envelope about the size of a DVD. I shook it, and sure enough it sounded like a DVD. But…I didn’t order anything, not that I could remember anyway. I went ahead and opened it, and to my absolute HORROR, I discover this:

Now, I don’t know what kind of sick motherf#$&%@ out there want to harass me in this way, but I will not be cowed! Show yourself, you…you…MONSTER!

Stephen hits the road, before it hits back.

13
Aug
2010

For some months, I have been planning a long trip to Spain with my cousin Josh. And as you might remember, I have had this ongoing shoulder problem as well, which nothing has seemed able to ameliorate. In fact, it has really taken a turn for the worse recently, and I was worried that I would have to cancel the trip. I finally got in to see (yet another) specialist yesterday (much nicer than the last one btw), and finally accepted that I will indeed need surgery. The recovery for this type of thing is awful. It involves several weeks wearing a sling, sleeping on your back in a particular position (something I am not at all good at), lots of pain, and 6-8 months (yes, MONTHS) of physical therapy until one is back to “normal”. And oh yeah, thousands of dollars b/c my health care plan covers so little. I told the doctor of my desire to go on my trip and he said it wouldn’t hurt anything to go and then do the surgery upon my return. And since I will be basically immobile for months after this, I want to make the experience a last hurrah of sorts before entering the convent. I say “entering the convent” b/c let’s face it, it will probably be the equivalent of taking a vow of chastity for several months. (Not that the last few, with all my aches and pains, has been any great shakes, but still.) I asked the doc for a cortisone shot for my shoulder and he said it wasn’t a good idea, and that he would prescribe me some pain meds. I hope that will be enough, because it has been pretty damned uncomfortable recently. On the plus side of all of this, I am happy to be returning to Spain after so many years away. 1996 was the last time I was there, I think.

Being Evil

5
Aug
2010

“Don’t be evil.”

This was long Google’s motto, and one I quite admired in a large company. This meant that every potential action taken by the company should be considered against whether this was something that would cause harm or not. And for the most part, despite some privacy concerns, I have felt that on balance what Google has given the world was indeed on the side of the good, and sometimes even the amazing. This was a company that I felt by and large deserved their great profit. But if this New York Times article is to be believed, Google has abandoned that motto and their own previously stated positions.  Google has abandoned the idea of net neutrality, a cornerstone of the Internet. In a nutshell, net neutrality says that any content on the internet, whether produced by you or I or the White House or Google or Apple, will be on a level playing field with regard to the connections to it. Think about how important this principle is. It is what makes a great democracy of the internet. It is what allows anyone, anywhere to publish a web page that can be viewed by the entire world. According to The NY Times, this agreement will allow Verizon to play traffic cop with the content, and deliver it more reliably and faster for those willing to pay more (or less reliably and slower to those who pay less). When companies as large as Google and Verizon collude in this way, it becomes fait accompli across the spectrum. Other companies will follow suit, and because a Bush era court has struck down the FCC’s power to enforce net neutrality, only Congress could pass legislation to ensure fairness. And that doesn’t seem very likely since so many there are in the pockets of their major corporate sponsors.

Imagine if your phone service calling worked better if you paid more, that for a certain price companies would connect you first or without dropping calls. Or that by charging more you could call more numbers instead of dialing anyone you like? How about electricity that comes to your home? How about for a greater fee you could guarantee that when power had to be cut to the system, that yours would not be, or would be cut last? How about police and fire protection? How about, for a fee police and fire services would give you priority over other victims? How about voting? If you paid a greater amount of taxes, you would get more votes or your vote would have more weight, how does that sound?

The internet ushered in a world where everyone is a potential publisher, everyone has a chance to be heard. The idea that at a company’s whim or by what they charge you they can decide who gets to see your content and how fast, is anathema to democratic ideals, poison to the idea of free speech. It puts control of the internet in private hands, where it was never meant to be. The internet is a public resource in the public sphere, and it must remain equal access.

Can’t we all try just a little harder not to be evil?

UPDATE: I hope reports like these contradicting the NYT are correct.