Tag Archives: Current Events

The Circus is In Town – Ferguson, MO

After a seemingly endless stream of news articles, Facebook posts, and other forms of media coverage regarding the last week of events in Ferguson, it was finally time to sit down and hopefully expose some of the truth that has been washed out by glare of the lights of national media. There is more to this story than most people realize, and there are so many issues I want to address that I am going to go through this whole thing chronologically, supplementing with Facebook posts from my own news feed. I have also included several videos in this post, which you should not watch if you are offended by violence, language, or poorly shot iPhone footage. I will warn you again before we get to those videos. This post is also long, because this whole thing makes me angry. Grab a drink and let’s get started.

1) The Shooting

We all know this part of the story. Last Saturday, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. I won’t rehash this, because we all know what went on that day and everyone has their own opinion. I’d like to point out a few facts that people seem to be missing. First of all, the robbery that went down immediately before he was shot happened at 11:50am on a Saturday. How many crimes are committed before lunch on a Saturday morning? This guy walks into a convenience store, grabs some Swisher Sweets, and walks on out in broad daylight. 

So when he is confronted by an officer just moments later, something happens that results in him dying from multiple gunshot wounds. The preliminary story is that he is shot multiple times in the back, with a final killing shot to the head. Some witnesses report that he was even on his knees in surrender, and the cop executed him right on the sidewalk, because that sounds like something most cops do on Saturday before lunch. Despite the obvious problems with this story, it was nevertheless the story than ran during the early parts of last weekend. Michael Brown, a gentle giant, a boy scout volunteering for his community, mercilessly murdered by evil cops.

brown robbery stroe

Then other parts of the story started coming out. We saw the photos of him robbing the store (above). We heard that he had marijuana in his system (that fact doesn’t really matter, actually. Marijuana is metabolically detectable for weeks after use, and the swisher sweets he stole are very commonly used to roll blunts, so that’s all fairly straightforward). Then we heard the cops side of the story, and realized maybe he was being attacked. In fact, maybe his orbit was fractured during the encounter. Then the autopsies came out and showed that he was shot in the front, not the back. 

Of course, this all happened days later. While we waited for all of this, we had to deal with:

2) The Protests

Ferguson is a rough part of the world. Poverty, crime, gang and drug violence are all unfortunately common. So immediately following the shooting, we saw the beginning of the protests, with the familiar “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” chant that became so popular. This is the part of the story where I can really understand the protests. This young man is shot, and it symbolizes the harsh and unjust realities of their lives, so they start protesting. This is a community mourning the death of a young neighbor and protesting against the circumstances that brought it out. 

Then things got crazy. National media start showing up. The protests turn violent, with people looting their own businesses, burning down the convenience store that was robbed, and the whole environment turns dangerous. This is the part I don’t understand. If you are angry enough to go out and protest, why would you ever begin to loot and destroy your own city? There’s a video linked farther down in this post, where a man sits outside a business and tries to dissuade looters by saying “I need to live here. My son needs to live here. Why do we need to do this?” Days later when the initial autopsy comes back and the world realizes that Michael Brown wasn’t exactly a boy scout and maybe we should think about this differently, the protests continue regardless.

So there’s a few things I want to mention here, at least regarding the autopsy. The first autopsy was performed by Dr. Mary Case, the St Louis County Medical Examiner. To say she is a capable professional is a gross understatement of her abilities. She is a well respected physician, both nationally and internationally. Her autopsy was the first to reveal that he was shot in the front of his body. The family requested another autopsy, and the government wants a third. This won’t change the findings at all. If Dr. Case said six wounds, the man had six wounds. The second autopsy came out and confirmed. This isn’t a game of interpretation. Medical pathology is pretty precise. If they continue to request autopsies, the body will decay to a point where by the 15th autopsy the quality of the exam will be so low that some schmuck will come back and say “You know, there could be 10-20 shots here, but it’s hard to tell because he is actively decomposing in my morgue”. The only pertinent part of this story we are still waiting on is medical toxicology, which should be another 4-6 weeks. It would not surprise me at all if some Doc comes out in six months at a trial and tries to sell us some alternative story, but it will basically be fiction at that point.

So back to the protests. The news channels are showing everyone pictures like this. 

And not showing you clips like this one (don’t watch if offended by language). That’s the kind of unrest that is happening every night. 

3. Where We Are Now

So my nightly routine of watching Jimmy Fallon has been interrupted by the Ferguson coverage, so I’ve seen essentially every single minute of local news on Ferguson. First of all, the number of protesters over the last few nights is very small, and they are dwarfed by the swarms of media members lined up on the sidewalks. In fact, last night each reporter probably could have been assigned their own individual protester to interview, with a few left over to film the police. 

Second, we’ve got all of these people from out of town. Al Sharpton is here. The New Black Panthers are here. A group of Tibetan monks is here and actually helping out. New Communist Party members are here. Why is everyone here? Because the circus is in town. Every night the police gear up, the protesters head out to do their thing, the media turn their cameras on, and the stage is set for a lunatic to do something really dumb and create a bunch of headlines. None of this is about Michael Brown, at least not anymore. How do I know? Because kids in Ferguson can’t go to school yet. Because Ferguson is getting lit up by news cameras every night so that people can throw rocks, yell and shout, and get arrested, all on camera. I bet you all of the money in my wallet ($4.75) that if the press goes home, the violence goes away.

4. Everyone Has Their Thing

So everyone reads this story, or sees the video, and uses it for their own thing. Even this article from Time manages to slip the racial factors in this case into the very first sentence. I have a friend on Facebook who posted stuff like this for days after the shooting, because his “thing” is hating the police.

Photo: "There's a reason you separate the military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people.  When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people." - William Adama http://illmethodology.com

“Pictures with quotes them form the backbone of intelligent knowledge.” – Me

Based off of his news feed and the opinions of many, the problems in Ferguson are entirely the fault of the police. The only reason a cop would shoot a person is because they are mindless, barbaric, and also have a quota to shoot people to keep the population repressed, because that’s a thing. 

Remember that picture from earlier? Did you see how big Michael Brown was? Can you see why Officer Wilson might have felt threatened? If not, try to stop picturing a cruel hearted officer with a gun that he uses to cap thugs on the weekend, and instead picture him as a normal guy with a wife and kids and a job that makes him work nights and weekends. He probably has a dog and a lawn to mow. 

I’m purposefully not answering the question “Why did he have to use his gun? He should have used his taser! Or his nightstick.” I’m not answering that question specifically because I’m not in that position. I am not going to indulge in the intellectual ignorance it takes to sit on my couch and write on the internet about how that cop made the wrong decision, in the heat of the moment while Michael Brown came at him. Here’s the facts that matter though. Most cops go through their entire career and never shoot anyone. If a cop does shoot someone, he is immediately placed on administrative leave and an investigation is conducted. Even if he shot a serial killer that was actively threatening a troop of girl scouts, they still do an investigation. As a society, we have decided that our officers can carry firearms, so it should not be a surprise that they occasionally use them. As Kevin Hart so brilliantly explains, your risk of being beaten by the police can be easily modified by your own actions (don’t watch if offended by language or hilarious comedians). I am well aware that cops are capable of going too far, I’m trying to illustrate that this is an exception rather than the rule.

The police are also not militarized. Thinking that they are is just ludicrous. Let me show you a picture that popped up when I Googled “Ferguson Police”.

Looks like they’ve got some pretty crazy stuff there, right? I mean, those aren’t police cars. That’s some gear! They are militarized! First things first, this isn’t their stuff. It belongs to the county of St Louis, which got it from the Pentagon, who gave it to them because of a grant program that provides equipment to cash strapped police departments who may at some point need to respond to masses of potentially violent people while keeping their officers safe. Ironic, right? At least they can use it. The alternative is a mob of protesters actually succeeding in injuring or killing an officer, causing the cops to get angry and fight back, creating an actual Battle of Ferguson. At the left we see a converted ambulance, and some sort of tactical Jeep looking thing on the right. The officers are all protected by Kevlar vests and helmets, and armed with Airsoft guns (not all of them, calm down and don’t email me). The man in the front is armed with a menacing row of zip ties. The point I’m making is that they have acquired a bunch of specialized equipment whose purpose is to NOT KILL PEOPLE, making them the least effective military group in the world. If you get bombed with tear gas, you will not like your life. It is a severe irritant to your eyes and throat, and it will very much make you want to leave and rinse your eyes. Just like it’s supposed to. My same friend who graced the world with that picture up there also posted a status about how the world had somehow banned tear gas use in armed conflicts because it was inhumane (it made no sense, so I can’t really help explaining that). It was not long ago that Syria used Sarin gas on its population. Sarin gas will make you die a painful death. Keep things in perspective here people. There are people who legitimately want to kill cops, so this stuff is as much for their protection as ours. Second, they don’t cruise around on Sunday evenings in this stuff. They only drag it out when, for instance, crowds of angry people are throwing broken glass bottles at them.

military soldiers in combat

I included this image, which popped up when I googled “combat soldiers”, to contrast with the picture above. You will notice significantly more ways for them to kill people, and significantly fewer zip ties.

On to the next thing that makes me mad. Apparently I committed a crime earlier in my article. Indeed, by showing you the picture of Michael Brown robbing the convenience store, I am participating in the character assassination of Michael Brown. Yes. The Ferguson police are staging a campaign to make Michael Brown seem like a bad guy, some sort of evil human being. This isn’t character assassination, it’s evidence. Let’s flip this situation around and look at it the other way. Video surfaces of Officer Wilson beating up a kid a few days before the shooting. What happens now? When that video comes out, is it character assassination? NO WAY. Now all of the news channels (and CNN) are running stories on how this sets up a pattern of behavior for Wilson. Maybe he was unstable, but either way he was prone to violence. Also, news coverage is always leveraging their choice of words to insinuate different ideas. When USA Today reported that “….Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot an unarmed black teenager six times…” they are shaping the way you read that. First, is six an unreasonable number of times to be shot? Nope. If you think yes, you need to spend some time around people who actually know about guns. There is no “bullet quota” for officers. The algorithm is simple. If you need to shoot, you shoot until you don’t need to shoot anymore. That could be 1 bullet, or it could be 10. Also, that headline adds the angle that somehow the fact the Brown was unarmed means he was not threatening. There are many reasons why Brown, who was a pretty hefty man, could possibly make a police officer feel threatened (especially if he fractured his orbit)

The last thing that annoys me here is the media coverage. This isn’t about Michael Brown anymore. This is about agendas, and the truth that will surface in six months doesn’t matter nearly as much as the angle that can be spun to advance an agenda today. The faster the news is breaking, the more likely it is to be wrong. I can’t even begin to count the tweets that have prematurely reported more people shot, stabbed, killed, arrested, or looking weird that ended up not being anything. This is an issue bigger than Ferguson, or even bigger than just our generation. The conflict brewing in Ferguson is deeply rooted in history, and I don’t trust a journalist with an iPhone and 140 characters to accurately tell me anything except whether or not the sun is shining.

Finally, the ultimate message here. Nobody is winning. Do you understand that? You may be on Michael Brown’s side, convinced he was executed in broad daylight for being black. You may be convinced he was a some sort of lowlife that somehow deserved what he got. Either way, the resolution of this issue isn’t ever going to be “my side won”. At least it shouldn’t be. Before Michael Brown was Trayvon Martin, and there will be another after Michael Brown. We live in a broken world and we have to deal with a broken system, but it’s the best system anyone has come up with for a long time, so let’s try to make the best of it. I doubt that this tragedy will somehow singlehandedly fix the problems in Ferguson and America, but I hope that this horrible event becomes a defining moment in someone’s life. I hope that person dedicates their life to their community and through their leadership changes the world as we know it. 

Thanks for reading.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

 

The Hardest Day

Second year has started off with a bang. If you are paying attention, you’ll see some crazy stuff in any medical school. Whether it’s an official lesson, or people watching, or patient encounters, or something you learn on accident while researching something else, there will surely be something to learn. Recently we had a deep lesson that I wanted to share, but first I need to set the stage.

All of the MS2 students are packed into our lecture hall. This isn’t the nice, new lecture with comfortable chairs that we used last year. This is the older lecture hall that doesn’t have enough seats for the whole class, the one with the terrible chairs, and the one with not enough room for your laptop and anything else on the desk. There are students standing in the back, and everyone looks sharp because we all are wearing our white coats and professional clothes.

On stage are six people. Standing at the podium is a Pediatric Hematologist who is running the event. She has a very serene demeanor, but seems to radiate strength from her small stature. Sitting at the table on stage are 5 others. There is a couple in their 40’s. He is lean and tan, with the muscle tone and hands of a construction worker. She sits next to him, well dressed and confident, if somewhat anxious. Another lady sits next to them. She is African American, somewhat heavyset, with a joyful face, floral blouse, and somewhat excessive afro. Next to her is an elderly little lady with thin gray hair and a stooped posture, and she is in deep conversation with the woman beside her, who is wearing scrubs and has two phones and a pager.

This is a lecture panel on handling the death of patients, specifically children. The couple on the end lost twin boys, their 5th and 6th children. The first died before being born. The second lived for 10 months, but had a debilitating matrix of health problems and lacked any ability to develop. The lady next to them had a daughter who developed bone cancer at age 11, which metastasized to her brain and took her life when she was 13. The older was a chaplain, and the last lady was a NICU nurse. Everyone was there to talk to us about handling death.

Most learning in medical school is very clinical and sterile. We learn about our bodies from distinguished looking old professors who wear white coats and use technical language to describe anatomy and physiology of organs and diseases, of which they are experts. That approach is obviously not practical when talking about handling death, so we learned from “experts” in their own way, people who had gone through this and were willing to talk to us about their experience.

I don’t like thinking about death, and I don’t think many of my fellow students do either. We are all young and vigorous, filled with the energy and optimism of youth. In my mind, death is something far off. It’s not that I’m scared of it, I just prefer not to think about it. I have been very fortunate to have made it this far in my life with living parents and grandparents.

This forum was not the first time that I had focused my heart and mind on this idea of death, and current events will tell you why. On Saturday evening the violence in Ferguson, MO erupted after a young man was shot and killed by police. Even as I write this tensions remain high, with protests and heavy police presence keeping the conflict in the national spotlight. It was only a few days ago that the world was shocked to discover that Robin Williams had ended his own life. Violence in Iraq and the Middle East have created a summer that will go down in history as a violent, restless summer.

I don’t want to talk specifically about any of those subjects listed above, at least not in this post. Instead, I want to talk about dying. The way someone reacts to death will tell me a lot about the way they view the world.

Death is a part of life, just like birth. Everyone is born, and everyone will die. What we do in between is what makes the difference. Death is also a great equalizer. I learned this lesson at a young age helping my dad clean our boat after a day on the lake. He always said that the boat ramp was the great equalizer. At the end of the day, everyone comes back to the ramp and goes home after a fun day of boating. It doesn’t matter how big your boat was, how big the truck you used to tow it, or how many fun inflatable things you could pull behind your boat. At the end of the day everyone comes back to the ramp sunburned and tired, and everybody had fun.

So when we die, as we know we will, we are all equalized again. Your influence, your money, and your responsibilities are all lost and left behind. What happens to you after you die? What or where do you think you will be after you die? Some believe that death causes you to cease to exist, but I find that hard to accept and impossible to believe.

The hardest part of the last few weeks has been actually organizing my thoughts on this matter. It’s not easy to do, when my cell phone keeps ringing, emails keep arriving, and the world flies by on my laptop screen. It’s easy to ride the wave of now, caught up in an endless progression of thinking about what happens next. Thankfully, I found the time to take my dog to a local state park and hike. So it was there that I hiked miles from any road, on trails not commonly traveled, and sat down for a water break. The sun was high in the sky, coming through the trees to turn the world green. Except for my trampling feet, the world was perfectly still. So I sat there for a long while, and I’m glad I did, because that’s how I was finally able to write this.

Lastly, I wanted to leave with the words to a poem. It was written in the 1600’s, but people then died at the same rate as they do now, and the words speak to people today just like they did 400 years ago.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Thanks for reading!

Is It Getting Warmer, Or Is It Just You?

Summer has, thus far, been everything I hoped it would be. I have watched copious amounts of Netflix, played with my dog, caught up on jobs around the house, and I only study very infrequently when I am feeling especially lazy. In addition, an imminent job opportunity looks to provide additional income (lunch money) and a chance to review some basic topics in disciplines in which I should be familiar. Another hobby of mine, when I have the time, is reading. I have read several excellent books so far, with a few more still to go, and I also try to read up on current events. Because I am a dork, I often end up reading recently published scientific articles, as opposed to entertainment or political news. This week I ran across an article that affirms a point I have often had to make to classmates/people who email me to tell me how wrong I am about something. So today the topic is Climate Change.

To start, we have to go way back. I was a sophomore in college, and my political science professor offered extra credit to any students who would attend an evening presentation on climate change. It ended up being not very informative, since it was given by an organization pushing the “Cap and Trade” legislation that floated around during the early years of the Obama administration. They bombarded us with scientific evidence, convincing us that not only was the Earth heating up like a large terrestrial oven, but we were the tasty human pizza rolls about to get toasted unless we did something very very quickly.

As I sat in this room with hundreds of other college students, I realized what a sham this was. Their evidence was thin and poorly presented. Graphs were engineered to make minute differences look enormous. Statistics that were right on the edge of significance were presented as gospel. Everyone soaked it up. When they asked for questions, I hoped to hear some good ones, but instead they fielded questions like “Whose fault is it that this happened, George Bush or the pharmaceutical industry?” (Okay just kidding, but you get the idea). I had sat through the same lecture, I even took notes, and no one was asking the questions I wanted to ask. 

Background: I NEVER ask questions in class. I prefer to sit in my seat, learn what I need to learn, and maybe play Flight Control on my iPhone if things get boring. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and I don’t usually need to ask any clarifying questions. On this night, however, I came out of my shell. One of their findings they kept referencing was this chart that showed global increase in temperature over the span of years. I did some quick math on my paper and jotted some notes, then raised my hand and waited to answer my question. When they called on me, I stood up in front of several hundred people and said:

“In your previous statements, you referenced the Earth being at least 6 billion years old. Seeing that the oldest temperature recordings you have in your presentation come from 1892, how can you be sure that your sample size accurately reflects the actual trends in climate change?” 

See, from 1892-2014 (I am being generous and giving them 4 extra years) is 122 years. 122 / 6,000,000,000 is .000002%. In English, that’s a completely meaningless amount, similar to trying to draw conclusions about the current population of the Earth by sampling about 150 people. The Earth might be warming up, but does it matter? Maybe it was cooler, so this warming trend is getting us closer to normal. We have no way of knowing. There were several other good questions I could have asked, but I went with this one because it was quick and easy.

So you know the response I got from this lady? She laughed it off. She said that it was a “silly question” that “didn’t address real science”. We hadn’t even gotten into the science of climate change, I just asked about some simple math from her own results. It’s this mockery of skeptics that drives me mad, and it happens all the time. If you have questions about climate change, you must be an idiot. Just look around man, it’s like crazy hot, so duh, climate change. 

Well when I call shenanigans and say that we don’t really know what’s happening with the climate, I am totally right. Here is an interesting magazine cover.

This is from the 1970’s, when concern over global cooling was a huge problem. Then we started worrying about global warming, and now we are just worried about climate change in general, because we weren’t even sure about the warmer or colder part.

The best paper I wrote in my “Composition” classes in college (I use that term loosely because the teacher was terrible and I learned nothing about composition) was a short paper on a “controversial current event”. I picked the climate change/cap and trade issue because that presentation had happened not long ago and I wanted to dive in a little deeper. I put together a fairly cohesive argument, and all I said were a few key points. First, there is a good reason to doubt the human impact on climate change. Second, even if human activity were, at present, causing this climate change, it would require drastic interventions to have any impact. Third, there is not an effective way to plan and implement these interventions, or to address their (probably severe) consequences. I had several pages of bibliography, and I knew I had written a good paper. The professor just wrote “C-” on top of the page without reading any of it. 

One of my pet peeves is word usage. Words mean things, and using them incorrectly really messes things up. So even this idea of climate change is silly to me. Climate change could include changes in everything from sunshine, rainfall, or wind. Is the climate changing? Undoubtedly. Does that mean that man-made carbon emissions are creating a greenhouse effect and warming the Earth? Whoah. Calm down. Our understanding of weather is primitive enough that local meteorologists are still uncertain whether or not it will rain on a given day (I live in the Midwest, where the weather is made up and the forecasts don’t matter).

So here is a recent news story covering this phenomenon. Here’s the President of the United States openly mocking skeptics. I’m all for good humored joking, but this is a prevalent strategy to prevent actual discussion on the topic. Discussions we really should be having.

Speaking of discussions, I love it when I get emails from my readers, especially readers who disagree with me. Please don’t be vulgar or nasty, and please don’t say:

Well you just don’t really know any science, obviously. All research points to climate change, you just want to ignore it. 

While I am sure you will find scientists who will support your claims, that doesn’t mean asking questions is unscientific. Especially if you plan on sending me links from eco-earthnews.com. I mean, here is a recent article published in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (a group that dabbles in science, by the way). Researchers from Texas did some measurements in Antartica and realized that there was a strong correlation between ice sheet melting and subterranean magma. I know it’s crazy, but it’s possible that volcanoes could cause increased rates of ice melting. 

I need to be done for now. Thanks for reading.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Winning The Lottery

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at a trivia night, a fundraiser for a local church. Our group lost the overall competition pretty handily, but we managed to score a 4-way tie for first in one of the other mini games. It was decided that each group would send a representative to the front of the room and draw a card from a deck, highest card wins. I was chosen from my group, walked up to the front, and promptly drew the ace of spades, winning gift cards for everyone in my team.

The best part of this is that I never win anything. When it comes to raffles, drawings, or anything that has an element of luck to it, I generally don’t win. That’s also why I hate playing Yahtzee and poker. Full disclosure: I should point out some amazing luck I’ve had lately:

– I passed my first neurology exam by 1.3% I’m happy with that 🙂

– While running last week, my phone fell out of my pocket and landed on the only six inches of grass in a park that was otherwise mud puddles or soggy gravel (it’s been raining a lot).

None of this compares to the luckiest moment of my life: when I was born. The moment I was born I effectively won the lottery. By being born in a middle class family, I became statistically more likely to achieve higher levels of education and income. By being born in America, I became a citizen of a country that values freedom and expression. By being born in the 20th century, I am able to enjoy modern luxuries like air conditioning, automobiles, indoor plumbing, and the internet. My life at this instant is more comfortable than the lives of kings and rulers from history.

No AC, way too many clothes.

Several weeks ago we had a required lecture, which I diligently attended. It wasn’t so much of a lecture as it was a “in-class exercise” where we played a game called Oppression Monopoly, invented by someone at Harvard. It’s Monopoly with four players, each with the following rules

Player 1: Plays normal monopoly

Player 2: Starts with half the normal money. Moves half the distance rolled. Starts with a railroad, but can’t buy any property valued at more than $100. Must pay double any time he lands on another players property. If he rolls more than a seven, he must go to jail.

Player 3: Starts with the cheap properties (the brown ones) and half the normal amount of money. Most of the rules above applied to him as well.

Player 4: Starts with double the normal amount of money and all of the green properties. Moves double the roll, collects double when passing go. Must pay double taxes, and has 4 get out jail free cards at the start.

To further emphasize the direction this game was going, our instructor asked to make sure any people of ethnicity or women didn’t end up as players 2 or 3. Awkward.

I was Player 2. Because I had no money and the board was a dangerous place, I played along with the game and purposefully spent the first 30 minutes mostly in jail. After 30 minutes the rules above were lifted and normal rules applied for everyone. Since it was now significantly harder to stay in jail, I promptly landed on park place and went bankrupt.

We then had a “group discussion” to talk about what we learned. Because my class is full of medical students, when she asked for any impressions from the group, she got an immediate “I felt crushed and marginalized by the combined weight of society attempting to repress me” from the back row.

The obvious point here is to demonstrate a simple fact. There is disparity in this country and in our city. I live in one of the most racially polarized cities in the country, and it’s a problem. A serious gap in income, healthcare, and quality of life exists, and I appreciate the effort they have taken to make us aware of it (although we are getting tired of hearing it).

I don’t appreciate the victimization that occurs in this process. Many are often quick to point out that men make more than women, or that whites tend to make more than blacks, and that somehow that is something to be ashamed of. Years from now I will be a practicing physician, hopefully making a comfortable salary and taking care of my family and community. Maybe my birth or family’s status gave me opportunities others wouldn’t have had, but I put in the work to make those opportunities a reality, in an attempt to create a better life for my family and those in my community that weren’t born with that opportunity available. That’s the way it should be.

There will always be income gaps. That’s the way our country is built. People who work hard and have great ideas will go make a gazillion dollars. My favorite headline is “the rich get richer”, as if this is bad. I like to add to it. “The rich get richer….and good for them.” As long as rich people can get richer, that opportunity still exists for everyone else, including me.

The ironic part of this is we get this talk every other week at medical school. Despite my schools best attempts at creating a diverse student body, many of us come from “privileged” backgrounds, and not all of us are white males. Most of us are at this junction of opportunity, privilege, and attempting to do our part to make those opportunities reality. That’s exactly what you do with opportunity.

The differences in these lectures comes down to motivation. If the theme of the book/lecture is informative and neutral, then we are engaged in the kind of productive conversation I would like to have. If there is intent to victimize, slander, or make accusation against some specific group, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. This isn’t a zero sum world.

I need to wrap this up and study now.

Thanks for reading.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

 

 

4 Kinds of People Who Must Love/Hate the Internet

We all live in a new age. Since the Internet has connected all of us in ways previously thought impossible, our very culture has changed in so many ways. Some companies have profited greatly from the rise new technology (Google), while others have been ruined (Blockbuster). Some people, however, have a mixed bag. These people include

1. Photographers

Despite my own complete artistic ignorance, I am aware of the fact that there is a group of highly skilled artists who take pictures. They understand concepts like lighting, focus, mood, color, and other artsy words to create pictures that are dramatic and inspiring. I think about guys like Robert Capa, who covered five wars. He was quoted as saying “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. To put that in perspective, this is the same man who covered relatively dangerous situations like…oh, D-Day.

Doesn’t get much closer than this.

These kinds of people still exist today, I am sure of it. The problem is that they are completely overwhelmed by millions of teenagers with Instagram. Having an iPhone and access to the internet virtually guarantees pictures with sepia filters will be posted #nofilter to Facebook at some point in time.

The upside to being a photographer nowadays is also the internet. Building a portfolio, maintaining a website, and social networking give easy access to potential employers and give an aspiring photographer more exposure than was possible years ago. It’s also possible to edit all of your pictures with photo shop, but that’s an entirely different story. In college I had a roommate who was a photographer. He would shoot weddings and senior pictures, and actually rented out a studio in his hometown (which was ~2 hours away). He was very talented, and would upload his pictures directly to an iPad so his clients could see them immediately after he took them. Keep in mind he was about 20 at this point. He made thousands of dollars in cash every weekend (which he unwisely decided to keep in his desk drawer for a long time), and he now works for ESPN, shooting college sports and parts of their annual swimsuit edition. He relied absolutely on the internet and 4 different computers to keep all of his projects straight, but he was very successful.

2. Cable Companies

Cable companies want you to buy their big cable packages. That’s where they make their money, and it’s also why I get ads in the mail every week to upgrade to cable and phone. It is becoming increasingly common for people (like me) to skip out on the cable part and just pay for monthly internet. Cable costs about triple the price, and I know we won’t watch it, so we don’t pay for it. From their perspective, they just lost a significant part of their “income” from me, their customer, while still having to maintain the infrastructure necessary for me to have that service. Netflix, YouTube, and medical school suck up huge amounts of data, and the race is on to keep up with society’s insatiable need for bandwidth (upgrading to fiber optic cables, for example). This is expensive for them, but it might also save them in the future as more people ditch the traditional cable packages but remain customers for the internet access.

3. Actors

Admittedly, celebrities have always had many people paying close attention to them. In fact, there are other people paid to follow them around and report on what they are doing, which is ridiculous, but whatever. This applies mostly to people who are already rich and famous, so it isn’t the worst thing that could happen, but it must certainly be annoying. They used to run the constant risk of having unattractive pictures taken and then finding those pictures on magazine and newspaper covers everywhere.

Now things are much worse. Paparazzi still follow celebrities around, like those little fish that attach themselves to sharks, but now they can post things to the internet. Once things hit the web, they will never ever go away, just like when you eat a single piece of pizza for lunch and you can still taste it two days later. Instead of having yourself on a magazine cover at the grocery store checkout for a week or two, you now have thousands of copies of that picture or news story circulating on the internet. Forever. Awesome. Paparazzi are also assisted by people who attempt to hack cell phones, Facebook accounts, and laptops to produce scandals and generate publicity for themselves, and they do it for free.

Most celebrities are also benefiting from their ability to use the internet to generate positive publicity. They can maintain an online presence and still generate attention, even if they aren’t in any upcoming movies or TV shows. I follow a few celebrities on Twitter just because they are funny (I have absolutely no idea if they are in any recent movies).

4. Musicians

Becoming a professional musician that makes a gazillion dollars is a lot like becoming a professional athlete. At one point, most boys in this country played baseball. Only a fraction of a percent of them ever sign an MLB contract. Tons of kids learn to play the piano, guitar, or drums. Very few of them ever play for Maroon 5 and make tons of money. Becoming a successful musician isn’t always about talent. Certain Disney stars have turned into “musicians” and continue to make money and sell songs despite their (sometimes) questionable musical ability.

I would hate to be a professional musician. It’s one of those fields where, no matter how good you are, there is always someone better than you. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, those people can be anywhere on Earth. Even when popular mainstream bands create good songs, it won’t be long before some talented teenagers with good equipment make a cover that is better than the original song.

One more thing. Remember when we bought actual CDs? From music stores? From the perspective of the band, that’s actually a good thing. How many times did you really like 4 (or less) of the songs on the CD, but you ended up buying the whole CD for those 4 songs? That created a good margin for groups, who got a whole CD of sales, even if they only had a single good song. Now nobody buys CDs. Instead, we buy music on iTunes, if we buy it at all. I haven’t bought music in years, I just listen to Pandora, YouTube, and the radio and I’m fine. Even if there was a song I absolutely had to buy, I’d get it on iTunes for $1.29. That doesn’t work out nearly as well for the band, since I am no longer paying $12 for the CD.

I could add to this list, and you probably could too. Authors lose money from illegally downloaded PDF copies of their hard work, but the Fifty Shades of Grey series started out as a PDF and that lady made a gazillion dollars. Many doctors who lecture at medical school complain about patients who are convinced they have cancer (thanks, WebMD), but huge advances in electronic health records have changed the way we do medicine. I’m convinced that an internet outage at my medical school would cause some students to have serious anxiety attacks. I am on the internet for hours and hours every single day, and many of my hobbies (like writing this blog) rely on the internet. I love it, but I hate it.

Thanks for reading! Thanks to a recent guest post featured on Student Doctor Network, I have had a huge influx of new readers from more than 15 countries, which is awesome. Thanks for the emails and comments, it’s been a lot of fun.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Let’s Talk About Getting Pregnant

I was so tempted to title this post something more search engine friendly. “Contraception, Birth Control, Natural Living, Sexual Health, and Gender Inequality” has enough buzzwords for several posts. Instead, I have this idea for a series called “Let’s Talk About _______”, which is convenient for me because I get to fill in the blank with whatever issue has been on my mind lately. And by that, of course, I mean whatever I have been forced to memorize by my medical school overlords. First things first. If you are my mom, my wife and I are not pregnant.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this. We live in a sad world where unwed teenagers drop out of high school to have kids after the father bails on them, while older, wealthy, loving couples are unable to have kids and so spend TONS of money on fertility treatments. Some of the most pertinent subjects of women’s rights involve access to birth control, abortion, and equality in the workplace. I want to talk about at least two of those before I have to study again.

First up is birth control. The Catholic Church is well known for drawing criticism on this subject. Since I attend a Catholic school, I have heard the reasoning behind their stance at least once (sex is about babies and bonding, and you shouldn’t have one without the other). As much as I like to support the church, I think they have missed the mark here. First of all, the Bible doesn’t speak directly against birth control. Yes, there are verses about the blessings of having children, but no direct instructions about how many kids to have or the manner in which they should be conceived. The guiding principles from the Bible all stem from its constant theme of the sanctity of each life. Some birth control medications have an effect that could potentially destroy a fertilized egg. There are those who consider that destruction of a life, and so they can’t support taking birth control medications. This is an argument I can understand, but don’t entirely agree with.

A few days ago I sat through a lecture on FAM: Fertility Awareness Methods. The idea of FAM is for women to track their cycles, knowing when they are infertile or potentially fertile, and taking appropriate reproductive measures. This is a system used by couples who won’t or can’t use hormonal birth control for religious or health reasons (people unwilling to use synthetic hormones in their bodies, adverse reactions to the medication). There are a number of ways this system can be implemented, of which I will spare you the details (I have found that when I describe things to others who aren’t immersed in bodily fluids each day, I should usually stop right before I say the word “mucous”).

Fundamentally, hormonal birth control and FAM are the same thing: attempts to not be pregnant. I don’t have problems with either of them. Frankly, they are both good ideas. There are a lot of advantages for me, my wife, and our future children if they aren’t born for a few more years. It’s not that we are afraid to have kids (ok maybe a little), it’s our goal to love them and give them our best, so we want to wait. For that reason alone, and for couples like us, I like birth control.

Like most things in medicine, we discover that we CAN do things way before we talk about whether or not we SHOULD do them. There are scenarios that made me question the concept of birth control. Examples: government enforced birth control (China). The Catholic Church said long ago that the widespread use of birth control would lead to increased promiscuity. Why do we place the burden of birth control on the woman? (The answer, of course, is that women are the ones who get pregnant, but stick with me here). Why don’t men have that responsibility? Why make everyone wear Kevlar instead of making the guns shoot blanks? At the end of the day, birth control is a tool, and it’s one worth using. Side note: I have a friend in medical school who is Catholic and did the FAM thing after they got married. Their baby is due next month.

The sad part about the whole lecture I attended was that we forget about how incredible children are. The whole discussion treated kids like a chore, some sort of duty imposed on people to attend to eventually. Having children is a huge event, something that we celebrate every single year.

This brings me to the last subject, one that I have meant to write about since the State of the Union. Obama said that “Women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes”, implying of course that women are somehow unfairly paid less for doing the exact same thing as men. When you compare all men and all women that work 30+ hours a week in the United States, you will reach the shocking conclusion that men do, in fact, make more than women. Is this a vast sexist conspiracy to degrade women, or is it a reflection of our workforce? Consider this. Men are more likely to be CEO’s, neurosurgeons, or to work in high paying but dangerous or remote jobs (oil drilling). Women have significant presences in those fields (CEO of Yahoo, for example), but are more likely to own small businesses or work part time. So in that “fact” we go thrown in our face, we had 80 hr/wk neurosurgeons and executives being evenly compared to elementary school teachers. There’s no gender inequality there, that’s just economics. Also, we don’t value a woman’s work at home in terms of income. If a woman stays home to take care of their two young children, she won’t get a W2, but has done some inherently valuable work. If she were to get a job, they would have to pay for childcare, increased living expenses (gas, food, clothes) and account for the decreased time with the kids. There’s huge value associated with a “Homemaker”, and no way to measure the value of a woman who brings new life to the world.

There are even indications that a “gap” is beginning to form the other way. Girls tend to do better in math and science than boys, and have brains that mature much more quickly after puberty (up to several decades, some say). I was lucky to be a guy during medical school admissions. My class is 50/50 male/female, but the applicant pool was 40/60 male/female. It seems as though men are becoming progressively dumber, while women become smarter.

That’s probably where I should stop. I think I can pick up here when I start my next post. Judging by my schedule, I should have that up by May.

Thanks for reading! Sorry for no pictures!

/

Everything Wrong With College

It’s been another busy week of medical school for me. We are preparing for our comprehensive pharmacology exam, along with finishing up final exams in toxicology and microbes. There is plenty of studying to be doing, and I have also been busy working on a final presentation for my clinical elective. Yesterday, in fact, I spent my last day at the dermatology clinic. It just isn’t a Wednesday until I help the resident freeze genital warts. Too much info? That’s medical school for you 🙂 Thankfully, I gave an “superb” presentation (on a subject that isn’t even a tiny bit interesting, so I’ll leave that part out) so it’s safe to assume I earned at least a letter of recommendation from her. Sweet. I take the time tonight to write about education, specifically college, so that I can piece together a short narrative describing not only the problems with college education today, but also what it means to Americans as a whole.

Like most twenty somethings, I grew up with a pretty clear picture of what success in life looked like. It came from teachers, parents, school counselors, and other adults, but the message was the same: successful people went to college, got a degree, and then earned more money and were happier because they did. The not-so-subtle indication was that I, too, should go to college if I wanted to be happy in life. Smart people went to college, I was told, or at least college made people smart. I don’t know when this idea was perpetuated on Americans, but I suspect it was around my parents generation. My dad didn’t go to college, although the pressure to get a degree certainly existed when he graduated high school.

I played the game very successfully. After graduating top of my high school class, I took a full ride scholarship to a good state school. According to the “rules” I was taught when I was younger, I had won the game. I was virtually guaranteed four years of education and a degree of my choice (with no debt upon graduation). Of course, I started college in 2009. This was not a good time for the economy, and college graduates suffered for it. I spent my college years reading news stories about how hard it was for grads to find a job, and feeling secretly glad that I had a few years for the economy to turn around before I graduated. Despite this, my university set enrollment records for all eight semesters I attended. Of course, now I am in medical school and have nearly a decade of school still ahead of me, so take that with a grain of salt.

So now I wonder why people still rush to take out loans and attend school for degrees they may never use. I watched many friends amass huge debts and drop out after 3 years. I saw people waste huge amounts of time, money, and energy, and now they have nothing to show for it. I saw friends take a semester off and 4 years later wish they had stuck with it. So here are some of the things I wish people would really know about college.

1) Colleges Are Businesses

dollar for dollar

We are coming up on the time of year when high school seniors everywhere begin posting acceptance letters on Facebook, listing the college/university they plan to attend. That’s great for them, but it perpetuates a myth that sucks people in every year: that colleges are somehow exclusive. To put it another way, University of _______ actually wants you to attend their school. There are a small handful of uber elite schools that are competitive to gain admittance (MIT, Harvard, etc). The other 99% of schools want you to attend because they need your tuition to make money. It doesn’t stop there, either. They need your fees, parking passes, textbook purchases, and other expenses as well. I’m not saying that these schools aren’t trying to give you a stellar education. Just know that they want to give you a great education and also make money. But mostly the money.

2) College Is Not About You

This will be shocking to anyone who has seen any marketing materials for any school anywhere, been to college, or even heard anything about college, but I think it’s crazy that it goes unrecognized. Think about any university advertisement, and it’s usually some combination of the following ideas:

“Follow YOUR passion, pursue YOUR dreams”

“Create YOUR OWN major”

“Classes that fit YOUR schedule”

This was the third result after Googling “University Brochures”.

It’s like the whole school is expressly designed to help you along in life. False. The school wants you to pay money to them, or at least do something awesome later so they can get the publicity. Of course they’ll let you take a semester off. Of course they’ll let you do your degree in six years instead of four. Of course they offer online classes. They are a business and they’ll do what it takes to earn your tuition dollars.

If the version of success I learned in school is to be believed, your degree should show that you are qualified, diligent, hardworking, ambitious, or some mixture of those. If your degree is four years long and you are going to “normal” college (not night school or a non-trad), get it done in four years. Chances are that a marketing degree is not your passion, so don’t pretend like it is. Work hard, get your degree, and spend your extra time pursuing your other hobbies and interests. Those are also qualities that define your character, and while they may not be on your CV they will certainly impact your chances at landing your job/achieving your goals after school. This leads me to…

3)  College Can Be a Huge Waste of Time

College is not hard. You may hate me for saying that, but I’m telling the truth here. My degree was in Molecular Biology and a little bit of Chemistry, and I know that my four years of college were significantly more difficult than any of my peers. How do I know that? Well, I lived with them, and I know I spent way more time in class and studying than they did. So how hard did I work during school? Not that hard. Each semester I attended class for 20 hours a week and studied about 10 hours, sometimes 15 hours. That adds up to less than a normal work week. Also take into account that I lived on campus, so I had no commute. I also ate dorm food from a cafeteria that was 30 seconds from my room. We also went to school for 32 weeks of the year. I spent lots of time exercising, playing video games, and doing lots of whatever I wanted. It was great.

Fact is, college classes should not keep you busy. My class schedule was about as bad as undergraduate schedules can get, and I still managed to work all eight semesters, get married, earn my EMT certification, and complete an Ironman triathlon. My most memorable moments from college have nothing to do with school.

In this sense, I think college is actually bad for many young adults. As a country and a society, we are taking our most energetic young people and forcing them into a 4-year holding pattern. The 18-24 age group is full of young, talented, motivated, technologically competent, people who are the future of our nation. We are bright enough to have terrific ideas, and naive enough to not know when something can’t be done. But we have to attend classes for just long enough each week to not actually get a real job, but not enough class that it’s truly “full time”. Those classes can range from being interesting (wine tasting) to being totally useless (most of my humanities courses), and after 4 (or more) years of sitting through classes, they will finally graduate into the real world, often with crippling debt.

This is the hardest part for me. I am (or at least I was) a perfect candidate for college. I’m naturally curious, enjoy learning, and am prone to obsessively mastering new hobbies and subjects. Yet after four years I had only one or two good professors who actually made the class worth attending, and honestly I was a little burned out. I have thought long and hard about what I could have done with those four years if I could have them back.

4) You won’t learn much during college

This might seem like a continuation of my last point, but it’s not. College classes are still largely taught in a lecture format, often in huge lecture halls. One of the few things I remember from Abnormal Psychology was that students typically remember only 5% of the material presented in lecture format (10% if multimedia graphics are used). This is a bad situation, even if you assume that the professor is awesome and the students care. Small wonder that employers are struggling to find qualified applicants among graduates that they interview. What happened? I thought that undergrad degree was the key to landing a good job? Now that everyone seems to get a degree, I guess not.

College has become like bonus high school. More and more people seem to be going to college, and it hasn’t been working out like we thought it would. Maybe this trend will reverse itself in the next few decades. I will certainly think long and hard before I help my future son finance a $80k degree. I get that college will always be required for some professions (hello medicine, law, etc), and that makes sense (sort of, I will someday write about that too).

It’s not that I’m too good for college, or that our generation is too good for college. It’s just that college isn’t good enough for what it costs. It’s not just the huge debt, it’s the years and time being lost as well.

If a college degree is the vehicle for success, it’s a taxi. It works great for getting you directly from one place to another, but if you just jump in and ride around for four years you’ll be broke and lost.

I need to stop writing now, and this seems like a good place to do it.

Thanks for reading!

As always, feel free to comment below or directly to my face at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

/