Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Just Like Bogey and Bacall

We Have It All
©2013  Ross Williams

I spend some amount of time online discussing pleasure cruises with those who have gone, or will go, on a pleasure cruise.  I’ve been on a dozen or so cruises myself, I tend to pay attention to a lot of what goes on around me, and I’m able to explain quite a lot of what a novice cruiser will encounter so that the young padawan can stop fretting. 

Many people about to embark on their first cruise panic when they suddenly realize that they are going to leave the country.  They need to be talked in off the ledge when they realize that they’ll not only be leaving their country, but they’ll be in a foreign country on top of it.  Why didn’t anyone tell us that?!?

I wish I had a dime for every novice cruiser I helped talk down from the ledge only to have him [or, typically, her] come back to the discussion forum dispensing the voluminous wisdom the one cruise imparted upon them.  They open up discussions they title “Back from my first cruise, I’ll answer all your questions”.   I usually ask them if the Dolphins are ever going to get a decent quarterback.

I recently had the … um … pleasure of encountering one such one-time cruiser who attempted to inform all and sundry of the dangers of porting in Roatan Honduras.  Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras which caters nearly exclusively to the pampering of its tourists – which primarily come from cruises.  Two years ago when they had issues with the electric company that resulted in nationwide riots, protests and blockades, the island of Roatan was very careful to schedule their spontaneous brick and bottle throwing contests to days when cruise ships were not in port.  When a cruise ship was in town, they all had better things to do … like hoover rich American wallets.

But this young woman declared that Honduras – including Roatan – was very dangerous, and every novice cruiser needed to take it from her: be extra, extra, extra careful when you’re there.  Um, okay, so what are the particular dangers on Roatan, again…?  She elaborated in a generic description appropriate to any large American city – such as Chicago.  And I told her so.  I also told her that she was doing no one any favors by being an alarmist, and a dishonest one at that, who fails to understand that every sin she was trying her best to foist onto a foreign country was equally valid to apply to anywhere in the US with a population of more than a thousand.

She accused me of “attacking” her, and called me a hypocrite for asking her a question simply so I could jump all over her answer.  No, sweetie, that’s not hypocrisy; that’s baiting a trap.

Apart from those who want to paint Honduras with the crime-and-political-corruption brush while dismissing Chicago, and DC, and Los Angeles, and Boston [etc], I encounter many Americans who don’t mind leaving home and being in a foreign country so long as that foreign country is just like home.  When they get to ports like Belize City, and Progreso in Mexico’s Yucatan, and find that they are not indistinguishable from a strip mall in Roanoke Virginia they become highly indignant and spend far too much energy demonstrating why so many from other countries despise Americans in the first place.

Since the majority of my career has been spent working for the people who have to deal with foreign countries which act on their despising of Americans – by attacking us for our greedy, corrupt ways and our sneering snobbishness – I am particularly keen on not having those attitudes proliferate on my watch: I am unkind, in somewhat of an extreme, to those who cannot go to a foreign port in a foreign country for as many as eight hours and not be congenial about what they find there.  Yes, you’re right, they often don’t have air conditioning or even flushing toilets; deal with it.  Buy your trinkets, drink a beer, smile, and pretend you’re a decent human being.

The United States has so much more than most other places have; besides plumbing and climate controls, we have dentistry, refrigerators in even the poorest of neighborhoods, paved roads everywhere, the world’s highest [to the point of being obscene] wages at every skill level, and – I am reminded of this as I open up a package of “gluten-free” ibuprofen – a whole hospital’s worth of diseases, syndromes and disorders that the rest of the world could only dream of having. … if they particularly like nightmares.

…which brings me to a discussion I had with another young woman who was trying to navigate the dining room dress code on board.  She has a child who is autistic – which is one of those many medical issues found only in the United States in any significant amount – and he’d have a meltdown if he had to wear anything other than the flip-flops that are not allowed in the ship’s dining room.

Autism, as of late 2012, is no longer recognized as a legitimate diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association; it has been replaced by “autism spectrum disorder” for the purpose of incorporating the giggle-inspiring “Asperger’s Syndrome” which, under the new classification, is considered “autism-lite”.   Yes, this is mainly a semantic reclassification.  The symptomology for all variants within the spectrum includes attachment security, the inability to adopt social norms, impulse control issues, and delayed motor-skill development.

In other terms, autistic people are introverted, nonconformist act-outers who wet the bed until the age of 7.  Or in my case, they are introverted, nonconformist act-outers who didn’t learn to talk until his younger brother blazed the trail.  I could very, very easily create a “disability” for myself – without an ounce of exaggeration – by having my mother and other family members tell a shrink what I was like as a toddler; I’d be post-diagnosed with Asperger’s.

…or, in modern terminology: “autism spectrum disorder”.  Or, in current pseudo-medical shorthand: autism.

The “developing world” doesn’t see autism – their rate of diagnosis is one in a thousand.  Literally: 0.1%.  The rate of diagnosis of autism in the US is twenty in a thousand – 2%; one-in-fifty.  One order of magnitude – doubled – greater.

There are two explanations for this wide disparity.
1] they don’t look for autism in the third world; or
2] the occurrence of autism above the baseline rate of 1::1000 is due to the environmental conditions found in the United States and other first world countries.

There is no evidence that doctors in the “developing world” don’t look for autism; there is, however, a great deal of evidence that environmental factors unique to the industrial world – such as the United States – play a crucial role in the creation of excessive rates of otherwise rare medical conditions.

Crohn’s Disease, and other inflammatory bowel disorders, is virtually unheard of in the third world … where they often don’t have clean water or working toilets; it was exceptionally rare even in the United States until the early 20th century when we implemented widespread water treatment.  The explanation for this is the hyper-sanitation found in the industrialized world and the subsequent idleness of our immune system in dealing with the nasty critters we’d drink.

Without anything to do, our immune system invents things to do … such as attacking the linings of our intestines, making them inflamed, raw, and painful, and giving Dr Crohn a place in the diagnostician’s Hall of Fame.  Crohn’s disease is currently being [experimentally] treated with a slurry of parasitic flatworms – “helminthic” treatment it’s called, from the genus “platyhelminthes”, or flatworm.  Complete remission is common after a single glassful.  Recurrence is treated by another glassful of worms.

Peanut allergies are exceedingly rare in the third world but far too common in the first – to the point where schools and airlines are “peanut-free” …  just in case.  And it is certainly not for lack of looking.  Peanut allergies result in severe anaphylaxis – your throat, tongue and lips swell up, you stop breathing, and you die.  It’s very difficult to mistake this for anything – or nothing – else.

Allergies in general are a severe overreaction of the immune system to non-threatening compounds.  … again with the immune system.  An immune system with nothing to do will invent things to do, even if it is to irrationally pick on the poor ol’ goober pea.

Along the same lines, asthma is another first-world condition, as is the “seasonal allergies” that so many of us suffer from.  American doctors have known for almost a generation that these allergies, as well as asthma, are significantly more rare among Americans who have pets – particularly dogs.  Pets are dirty, unsanitary creatures, and dogs – and you can trust me on this since I have both ends of the equation – think nothing of chowing down on a lump of horseshit and then display their gratitude to you for supplying them a horse … by licking you from chin to eyebrow.   Yummm…

Dogs also seem to think chicken shit is tasty.

So … many diseases, conditions and syndromes are environmentally inspired by our living conditions: we are clean.  To the point of being too clean.  A little dirt is good.  It keeps our immune systems occupied.

Other medical conditions are seen only in the first world because we choose to see them; in the third world they’re invisible.  I am thinking primarily, here, of ADD and ADHD.  These designer pathologies are more a result of our society’s thoroughly unnatural social order than anything else.  Some people simply need to burn off energy and sitting with hands folded on a school desk while absorbing a tired sermon on the political indoctrination du jour doesn’t cut it.

We did this to ourselves because we chose to.  A schoolboy in China who doesn’t want to listen to the taped messages from Chairman Mao on the evils of capitalism? there’s a perfectly good job in the shoe factory waiting for you; some people simply don’t do well in scholastics – they need to be active.  In the US, that child is drugged into a stupor and forced to listen to the evils of capitalism anyway.

And somewhere in between both these, probably, is autism.  Autism is certainly real, especially in its more pronounced versions; it’s basic mental retardation.  What we used to call – when I was a kid – “slow”.  “Slow” people grew up to be well-suited to a variety of meaningful and remunerative activities.  When I was a kid, the notion of exempting them from reality was unheard of.  Sure, their parents can shield them now, but what happens when parents die or become too feeble to do the shielding?  The “slow” kid is going to be in a world of hurt.  

In its less pronounced versions, though, autism is little more than an explanation for why Johnny doesn’t make friends easily, plays by himself in his room, delights in defying convention, yells at the TV [or the computer mouse], and was slow to potty train.  …which I find interesting in our society that thrives on diversity and individualism; all these are what make us unique.

We are browbeaten on a constant basis to embrace such diversity without prejudice or judgment, yet any time a child is shown to be “different”, which is a code-word for “less than average”, in socialization or motor-skill development, we mustMustMUST find an excuse for it.  We cannot tolerate “he’s simply less than average”.  That is the same as “failure”.  And we throw diversity under the bus.

Autism – in its less pronounced forms – is that excuse.  

“My child screams when he doesn’t get his way – he’s autistic.”

“My child still wets the bed – he’s autistic.”

“My child is painfully shy – he’s autistic.”

“My child stays in his room constantly – he’s autistic.”

Autism is, in large part, an excuse to be exempted from the same rules that everyone else has to comply with.  “My child will have a meltdown if he cannot wear flip-flops in the dining room … he’s autistic,” was the theme of the discussion.  Okay … and others will have meltdowns if people show up in flip-flops making the disgusting “pssshLOIK pssshLOIK pssshLOIK” sound of cows pulling their feet out of ten inches of mud and cowshit.  So what?  Why does one excuse for a meltdown outweigh another?

The autism is either severe enough to be considered legitimate mental retardation in which case taking that child into public is most stressful on the child and thus grossly inappropriate for the child’s parents to do, or it is simply being used as an excuse by those who are tired of dealing with a child who is shy, iconoclastic and self-involved.  Mild degrees of autism can be outgrown, or dealt with, as long as it’s not being infinitely babied.

And the way to prove me wrong is to keep the severely autistic child out of the public where his severe autism will not be the center of controversy, or to not use mild autism as an excuse to get away with defying the rules everyone else has to comply with.


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