Friday, July 3, 2015

I Write Less When I'm Happy

I am quickly closing in on another birthday. And another prime number. But, for the first time in a long, long time, I am feeling...

I have a hard time identifying what I am feeling. Hopeful? Energized? Could it be? Could this be what it feels like to be happy?

One thing that is contributing to this foreign sense of smiley-ness is that I am loving my job. I love it. It engages every part of me. My analytical side, my creative side, and even my anal-retentive side. I get to make art and checklists. I get to work along side some truly brilliant people, building things for hugely important companies.

I don't remember ever liking my job like this before.

And one thing I get to do a lot in this job is write. Lots of different writing about lots of different things. I do think that is the source of my extended blogging vacation. So I owe you all a nice, long blog post.

And I will continue to owe you that. But here is one big brain dump. We can unwind it together later.

Since we last talked, I have been to San Jose, New York, and Orlando. The first two for work (but I got to visit friends in both places!). The last was for a family vacation. Which was both hugely fun, debilitatingly exhausting, and the last time that I will ever cross the Mason-Dixon line between them months of February-December. So I owe you a travel blog post.

Here is a little list of the other posts I owe you, complete with an executive summary of each:

Gay marriage: I am so happy that--for once--this Supreme Court is on the right side of history.

Obamacare: Those Supremes were on a roll!

Confederate flags: You don't have to agree that displaying this flag is racist. But you have to admit that it takes a very special type of asshole to want to fly the flag of the losing side.

Twitter improving my writing: Something about summing up a thought in only 140 characters is really making my writing tight. Twitter is a bit like a puzzle. And it is also an exercise in letting go the rules of grammar, if only for 11 seconds.

My new best friend Rosie O'Donnell: Anyone who is a woman and anyone who loves a woman should find an hour of time to watch her HBO Stand-up Special. She talks about the symptoms of a heart attack for women. I absolutely know that she is saving lives with this information. Oh, and she follows me on Twitter.(Spoiler alert. Rosie does not yet know that we are besties. But I'm sure she will be exited about it.)

Shaving my head (Half of it, at least):  I'm trying to figure out the best way to stay cool this summer. My mother commented that I looked "tough." I'm pretty sure she meant lesbian.

Another summer with MS: It is so fucking hot. I am spending my free time shopping for property in Alaska.

The stupid fucking Duggars: I don't believe in hell. But stories like the one of Josh Duggar molesting children make me wish I did.

Harry Potter World: It's like stepping right into the books. It is truly magical.

And just so you know that my blog has not been hijacked by some spliced together version of Pollyanna and Ellen Degeneres, I am fully anticipating that my grasp on this small slice of happy will soon slip through my fingers. But, what the hell. For now? Drinks are on me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I Will Never Understand Us

My best friend is waiting to hear if she has breast cancer.

In the last few months, people very dear to me have been forced to stare down their own mortality. Heart attacks. Heart valves. Neonatal units. Rehabilitation centers.

Every six months I have to record magnetic images of my brain to count the holes forming among the lobes. All I can think of as I am slid into the MRI machine is, "This is probably what a coffin feels like." Which is why I will someday be cremated.

Life is scary. And dangerous. And random. And fragile.

So why do we humans insist on doing things that threaten our tenuous grasp on life? I will never understand that.

In 1997, I read Jon Krakauer's book detailing what was--at the time--the most deadly climbing season on the Earth's tallest mountain. At 29,029 feet, the summit of Everest reaches as high into the stratosphere as a commercial airliner. Reading that book was the catalyst to my ongoing Everest fascination. I have memorized posters detailing the routes up the mountain. I have read books, watched documentaries, attended lectures. All because I just want to understand.

I do not possess even the slightest desire to climb Everest, although I would someday like to see it, if only from a distance. The story of Everest is a fascinating one. The history is the stuff of Arthurian legend. But that is not where my fixation is rooted.

I will never understand why someone would risk everything they are, everything they have, everything they hope to be to stand on a 3 foot by 3 foot square piece of rock that cuts into the sky.

I don't get people. I don't get this impulse. But not for lack of trying to understand.

Straddling the border between Tibet and China, Everest is the elder statesman of the Himalayas. And until 1953, that mountain bested every attempt to climb her. Then New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stepped onto her summit.

That climb I understand. There had been several attempts on Everest before Hillary and Norgay conquered it.

Aside--Neither Hillary or Norgay ever disclosed who actually was the first one of them to step into that last foot of the 29,029 they had taken. They knew that it was only by combining efforts that they could reach such heights. I have to wonder... Would that level of nobility and teamwork have been possible today? Or are we now living in a world where the first to post a photo to Instagram wins?

In 1924, an attempt on the summit was made by British climber George Mallory. Mallory will live forever in our lexicon because of his answer to a reporter's question about why he was going to climb Everest.

In response, he famously quipped, "Because it's there."

Indeed it was. It still is.

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine were last seen from a Base Camp telescope, about 800 feet from the summit. Mallory's body was discovered on the mountain in 1999.

I think I understand Mallory, Hillary, and Norgay in the same way that I understand Armstrong and Aldrin. We went to the moon because it was there.

But I just can't wrap my admittedly mottled brain around why humans are still climbing Everest today.

These days, for the sum of the average middle class annual income, you can pay to be guided to the summit. You will be shepherded up the southeast ridge, hooking your climbing line into ropes that have been fixed by Sherpas prior to your arrival. You are lead over aluminum ladders pre-placed over great cracks in the icefall. Your Sherpa will haul your tent, your gear, your supplemental oxygen as he climbs by your side up the steep rock faces and through the dangerous, hovering seracs.

These days, you can buy your way to the top. But even though you have parted with $50,000 and have taken two months from your work and your family, you still have no guarantee that you will make it to the top. And even if you do, there is certainly no guarantee that you will get back down. At least not before you sacrifice a couple toes to frostbite.

I know that the adrenalin rush is real. That is why we bungee jump or sky dive, or SCUBA deep into sinkholes. I know that there is no feeling quite like conquering your fears. I know that there is a power in belonging to an elite group of people that share a common experience. I understand that. I get it.

But here is where you lose me. Doesn't the brotherhood of Everest survivors become diluted with the growing foothold of Everest tourism? Has a novice climber, who was pulled up the mountain, truly earned his way into that fraternity?

Everest has been conquered. At this point, the summiting of Everest has become--if not quite routine--within the grasp of a mere mortal, given enough disposable income and free time. Over 3,000 summits have been recorded. And more than 250 deaths. The number of dead Everest climbers is greater than the number of summits of Everest's sister mountain, K2. That peak, reaching 28, 251 feet, has claimed 55 climbers. Are those K2 expeditions not somehow more noble than the guided tours up Everest?

And then there is Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan. That 24,836 peak has yet to record a successful summit attempt. Isn't that mountain the embodiment of "because it's there"?

I just don't get it.

Aside--I am perfectly aware that there are similar risks in other extreme pursuits. In 2004, technical diver Dave Shaw became one of 11 people to have reached depths of 800 feet using SCUBA gear. In 2005, he died at that depth in Bushman's Hole, South Africa while trying to recover the body of another diver who died trying to reach that depth. But for reasons I haven't quite defined, I don't feel the same puzzlement about these divers. Perhaps only because the deaths from these adventures go relatively unnoticed and therefore not sought after by those seeking no more than bragging rights?

For the last 15-some-odd years, I have been following the annual May pilgrimage up the face of Everest, noting the success-to-death ratio. It isn't morbid curiosity. Or, at least it's not only morbid curiosity. I just keep trying to understand this amazingly human--and oft-amazingly stupid--quest.

There is a line of demarcation marking the breathable (although painfully thin) air below 8,000 feet above sea level and the deathly lack of oxygen beginning at 8,001 feet. They call it the Death Zone. Nothing living exists there. At least not for long. No birds. No insects. Not even vegetation. The longer you are in the Death Zone, the greater your odds of remaining there forever. Because, as it turns out, getting up above 8,000 feet is the easy part. Coming down from that height alive is where most of the danger is found.

And if you do suffocate or freeze or fall into a crevasse at that altitude, your body will lay there for all eternity. The air is too thin to allow a helicopter to maintain flight. No one will risk their own life in the Death Zone to bring down your lifeless body.

I don't understand it. To reach the summit of Everest, you very literally have to step over the bodies of fallen climbers.

Take Green Boots, for example.

Green Boots is a nickname given to the unidentified corpse of a climber that died curled up in a slight alcove that had been eroded into the mountain. Since his discovery in 1996, Green Boots has become not so much as a cautionary tale, but a mere trail marker on the path up Everest. Climbers trudge past his frozen body both on the way up and on the way back down from the summit.

Of the more than 250 Everest casualties, approximately 200 of their bodies are still up on Everest.

I just don't understand it.

Since I first started to learn about how the desires to climb Everest can overpower caring about the dangers involved in that act, I have thought that urge to be not-just-a-little crazy. But since last spring, I have realized that it is also not-just-a little selfish.

2014 was--to that point--the most deadly year in the history of the mountain. In an avalanche, 16 Sherpa guides were killed. Here is why I find that is so troubling. These Sherpas are not men that have giant bonus checks or can take work sabbaticals. These are the workers that are risking their lives to make going up the mountain more attainable for the people actually on sabbatical.

And these Sherpas earn only a tiny percentage of the fee a client pays to be guided up Everest.

But this year's climbing season has already dethroned 2014's Deadliest Year title. The devastating earthquake in Nepal triggered violent avalanches that swept through the camps of the climbers. So far, 18 climbers have been confirmed dead. Between 20 to 30 more are missing. And dozens have been injured.

This is the selfishness I mentioned before. Because, now, these climbers who, very deliberately, put their lives in danger are using valuable time and resources being rescued. While there are still victims buried under a crumbled brick temple or flattened schools and shops. The climbers on Everest are not victims. At least not in the sense of the people of Kathmandu, who are being pulled from
the rubble. The climbers aren't victims, they are volunteers.

I think that part of the social contract that should be agreed to before anyone straps crampons to their hiking boots is that they waive the right to be rescued. Climbers need to agree not endanger another person who risks his own life to extract that climber from a situation that they very purposefully put themselves in.

I just don't understand people.

Isn't life dangerous enough? What are we trying to prove? And to whom are we trying to prove it? Can anyone explain this to me? Please?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Something or Nothing

I have got to quit watching the news. It has become an exercise in frustration. For that matter, I need to stay off Twitter too. I have to make myself stop checking the trending #Blackfish tweets. I have to accept that I can't free the orcas. I can't make Israel deal with Iran. I can't prevent tornadoes in the Midwest and I can't keep Chris Christie from tossing his extra large girth into the next Presidential election.

But two news items--running in strangely parallel tracks in my (admittedly perforated) brain--are occupying more that a fair share of my thoughts today.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Michael Slager are both facing the death penalty. The Boston marathon murderer and the cop that shot Walter Scott in the back eight times might both be on that Green Mile in the very near future.

I can't think of another issue that I feel so equally passionate as I do impotent. But we need to stop allowing our government to kill its citizens. You know what other countries have the death penalty? China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. Aren't we in good company?

Aside--To those people who claim that they are restricting women's rights in the name of the sanctity of life, you better drag your ass out to protest the next government-sanctioned execution in your state. Because a life is a life, no matter how small. Right? Isn't that what you keep screaming in front of woman's health clinics?

Now, hear me out on this one. Let's knock out a couple of the common arguments for those that support executing the worst criminals.

Logistics: It costs the government exponentially more money to shepherd a felon through the appellate process than to house him for life. And speaking of him, capital punishment application has huge disparities when it comes to race or gender. If you are a black man who kills a white woman, you can count on a death sentence.

And then there is the lethal cocktail of drugs that are used to end a convicted felon's life. They must be concocted by compound pharmacies. These drugs do not exist in a single shot or pill. They must be brewed up from a combination of drugs invented to serve other purposes. Invented to benefit humans. Not to kill them. And as it turns out, these compound pharmacies are no longer eager to serve as the mixologists to the prison wardens. We are, very literally, running out of lethal injections. It's back to firing squads and electric chairs. Personally, I think we should return to the days of public hangings. I think we should all have to see what we, as a society, can do.

Ethics: Studies show that the long legal battles granted to a death row inmate will, very likely, extend the suffering and grief of the victim's family. And many families report that, after witnessing the execution of the felon that victimized them, they do not find the immediate peace or closure that they anticipated.

Study after study have also confirmed that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent. In one survey published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology reported that 88% of criminologists do not believe that capital punishment serves as any form of disincentive. So once again, I am pleased to report that George W. Bush was wrong again. The death penalty does not save lives.

I think the death penalty is only a few steps beyond catching a child hitting his sister and spanking him while you are telling him not to hit.

Mistakes: It must be the very definition of hubris to think that our legal system makes no mistakes. We have, in fact, executed men who were later exonerated. Since the early 1970s, more than 150 people have proven their innocence and were released from death row. Our justice system--while being the best in the world--is still susceptible to the very human condition of occasionally making mistakes. Mistakes happen. But should we, as a country, be meting out punishments that we cannot undo or make right?

And none of those things are why I am against the death penalty. It's because of this:

There are only two things that can happen to us when we die. There are only two things that can happen to the criminal after we execute him. Only two. It's a binary state. Only one of two things can ever happen.

Something or nothing.

Maybe something happens to us when we die. Maybe some form of a soul or spirit can leave this world and move on. To whatever on that might be. Maybe all of our energy floats away into the stratosphere and we dance in the stardust until what's next. If that is the case, why are we so eager to release the souls of forces that do humans so much harm? What is the rush to grant them release?

Maybe we have a soul that gets measured and judged based on what we do as we occupy our earthly bodies. Maybe those people who irreversibly harm other people will be plunged into an eternally fiery pit. Here's the thing about eternity. Eternity minus 50 years is still--magically--eternity. So what is the harm of letting a murderer sit in a prison cell until he dies from some reason other than a lethal injection.  Let him sit on his metal toilet, thinking about what he has done, until he is an old man.

Maybe nothing happens after we die. Maybe we are just gone. And if that's the case, are we not cheating victims, families, and society of the knowledge that the perpetrator that caused us harm has been spared the remaining years of his punishment?

Tsarnaev and Slager are both monsters, in their own ways. But what will we serve by executing them other than a fleeting feeling of vengeance. Are we really that small?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sands and Hourglasses

OK, so I finally power watched the new season of House of Cards. Some call that binge watching--when you don't leave the couch until all 13 episodes have been consumed. But I prefer to classify it as an exercise of endurance. It takes real strength to ignore the dishes stacked in the sink with every fork you own buried somewhere under that mess. It's not easy to ignore the loud ding of the dryer when it begs you to remove your clothes before those sweaters become irreversibly wrinkled. Thanks to my dedication and years of training, I made it through Season 3 in one weekend.

There was one tiny thread of a story line that caused a flood of memories for me. Don't worry, there are no spoilers in this post. (But what the hell are you waiting for? Watch the damn show!)

One episode featured a group of Tibetan monks creating a sand mandela in the halls of the White House.

If you haven't seen one of these masterpieces up close, you should most certainly put it on your bucket list. Watching the monks create this magnificent display of colorful sand quite literally a few grains at a time is really something to see. Witnessing the process draws you in with a kind of hypnotic calm.

This Tibetan art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor and it takes these monks weeks of bending over a table to fill in the geometric shapes and religious symbols. Each monk holds a metal funnel called a chak-pur in one hand and a metal rod in the other. He runs the rod down the funnel, which causes the sand to flow out like ink.

But here is the most amazing part of the creation of a mandela. Shortly after the monks complete their masterpiece, they destroy it. They carefully sweep together the sand, mixing the colors into indistinguishable mounds. They collect the sand and take it to a river, where they release it back into the world.

Because the monks know this. They embrace this. Nothing in life is permanent. Everything is transitory. And the more that we accept that, the more at peace we can become.

When I saw that mandela being created in House of Cards, I had such a flood of memories. I once had a very close encounter with this intricate sand art.

When I was a senior in college, back in the Grunge Age, I got an amazing internship with the public relations office of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office. It was filled with experiences like nothing in my life would ever match. I saw my first dead person. I was held out the side of the Snowbird Tram by some members of the SWAT team so I could take photos of them doing their free rappelling drills. I was working there when they lost an officer in the line. And I was running information between the command center and the press when Lloyd Prescott happened.

In 1994, the Sheriff's Office was located in a building adjacent to the Salt Lake City Library.  Lloyd Prescott was off duty that day, only in the office to catch up on some clerical work. Someone ran into the Sheriff's Office frantically yelling that a man was in the library with a gun and a bomb and was taking hostages. Then Officer Prescott did something quite amazing. He ran into the library, in his plain clothes that hid his service weapon, and joined the group of hostages without the man waiving a gun taking notice.

Officer Prescott waited with the group of terrified hostages for more than 5 hours. He was afraid to take a shot on the chance that the dead man's switch being held by the gunman was really connected to a bomb. As Hour 6 approached and the gunman told the hostages to draw straws to see who would be shot first, Officer Prescott decided to risk the bomb detonating because he saw that there was a thick wooden table between the bomb and the hostages. He shouted to the hostages to drop to the floor as he pulled his gun and shot the man who was--in one way or another--changing all of our lives. If you are curious, here are more details of the incident.

As the dust of this event was settling, I was tasked with fielding the press inquiries, which included the LA Times, Good Morning America, and Newsweek.

But the thing I remember most about those couple days is the mandela. You see, in the library when this hostage crisis began, there was a group of Tibetan monks meditatively vibrating their chak-pur to fill in the intricate design they had laid out on a table. None of the monks were taken hostage. But they all had to flee the building.

If the story had a different ending, maybe the monks wouldn't have returned to finish and then dismantle their mandela. But it didn't end differently. And only hours after the SWAT team had cleared the building and allowed people to re-enter the library, the monks went back to work on their mandela.

I was lucky enough to observe how those monks--after being interrupted by a frightening, life-threatening situation--returned to their art. All the while reaffirming that all life is transitory. I think everyone involved that day came a bit closer to learning that for ourselves.

It was such a gift.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Because It Still Matters

I have been in a bit of a blogging slump in the last couple weeks. So I was feeling quite good that I had not one but two great ideas for posts. But those got bumped when I heard a news story today. So Tibetan monks and beating the chimps will have to wait.

I’ve pretty much decided that I am an atheist. I guess I just need to emerge from the atheist closet and be out and proud. But strangely, I find the need to label myself an Atheist Jew. Because being Jewish is deeply rooted in my genes. I have people who share my DNA that died in concentration camps. I am in a great deal of karmic debt to those relatives.

I guess I am Jewish in my heart and Atheist in my head. This news item certainly struck both heart and head.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich died yesterday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Last month, Schweich announced that he would seek the GOP nomination for the 2016 Missouri gubernatorial race. Before taking his life, Schweich had been talking to a reporter, alleging that Missouri Republican Chairman John Hancock was telling Republican primary voters that Schweich was Jewish. Although Schweich had Jewish grandparents, he himself was Episcopalian. In his final message to this reporter, he asked that someone come to his home for an interview. In his message, Schweich says, “To me, this is more of a religion story than a politics story, but it’s your choice on who the reporter is.”

It is a religion story.

Why would Hancock be telling people that Schweich is Jewish? Because he is a political rival of Mr. Schweich. And there are only two reasons to mention someone’s religion in anything other than a first date situation: to assign it as an asset or attach it as a liability.

Why would Schweich care? Because he knows that being labeled as Jewish—whether true or not—will impact the votes of many of his constituents.

Because—still today—being Jewish matters. It’s a religion story.

In elementary school, my sister lost a perfect attendance award because she missed a day to attend Rosh Hashanah services. (I was never in danger of receiving a perfect attendance award at any point in my life.) I've been called a kike a few times in my life. My aunt once told me that I should take a beautiful stained glass Star of David from my front window so strangers wouldn't vandalize my house.

I took the stained glass down. But I have a mezuzah on my door. I had a Jewish wedding. In fact, I had a Jewish divorce. I take buckets of plastic dreidels to my son’s school Christmas party. I have already started fretting about that kid’s Bar Mitzvah. Oy gevalt. It’s in two years!

I did none of those things because of any sense of faith or belief. I did them from a strongly-ingrained sense of solidarity. From an obligation to every person that ever died because he or she was Jewish. From a stubborn tenacity to shame anti-Semites as the racists they often tell themselves that they are not.

Hancock, the originator of the “whisper campaign” that Schweich was alleging, has stated that he only mentioned that Schweich was Jewish as a fact similar to “he was from St. Louis” or “he went to Harvard Law.”

Here is the thing, though. Schweich was running for Governor of Missouri. So being from St. Louis is important because he grew up in the state he wanted to govern. Having gone to Harvard Law School speaks of an important credential of any elected officer.

How does “being Jewish” fit in? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Because it doesn’t fit in.

I hated Mitt Romney’s politics and choice of a running mate. I couldn't disagree with him more when it came to most of the things that came out of his mouth during his Presidential run. I was (and still am) a fervent supporter of Obama. And every time I saw or heard someone bring up Romney’s religion, I cringed. If I could, I replied. As often as I could, I would loudly shout (in all CAPS if necessary) that his religion doesn't matter. His qualifications matter. His plans matter. His politics matter.

While Romeny’s Mormonism certainly and necessarily shaped his thoughts in secular life, they did so with no more strength than any other person and any other person’s thoughts. If I were somehow miraculously elected President, my atheism would most certainly influence my thinking. We all have some form of framework for our ideas to build on. But that is all that it ever is. A latticed scaffold erected to stand upon as we build ourselves.

Aside—If I did somehow get elected to anything, I think I would have to assign that victory as a burning-bush-level miracle. Which, I would imagine, invalidates my atheism. Ahhh…. irony….
If you don’t think that anti-Semitism is still deeply rooted in our society, read the comments section of this People magazine article about Tom Schweich’s suicide. In those comments, no one gets called a dirty Christian.

Stay tuned for monks and monkeys.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Presidential Muppets with Brain Lesions

I think that it has been well established that I am a complete geek. So none of you should be shocked to learn that I have a Presidents’ Day tradition. I marathon watch the West Wing and let myself believe—if only for a few brief hours—that I could live in the America of Josiah Bartlet as painted by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin.

You will now be granted a brief pause to make a single comment about my nerdishness.

Anyway… This year I watched the West Wing through a new lens. The MS lens.

Just to recap, it is revealed after President Bartlet is shot in the Season One cliffhanger that he has MS. This diagnosis is important for the anesthesiologist to be aware of as he preps the President for surgery. And that is the last we hear about it for a while until—and stay with me here—one of his senior policy advisers think something is fishy with the Vice President (who knows the President has MS and is not planning to run for a second term).

Still with me?

This year as I was watching the MS storyline unfold, I found it interesting to see the character’s reactions to hearing about President Bartlet’s MS.  At the time the show was on the air, The West Wing was both lauded and criticized for its portrayal of MS. But I hardly gave it a thought back then. It’s all different now.

Having once been pregnant, I am always skeptical when I hear a story about a woman who gave birth to a healthy baby while never having known she was pregnant. That gives me pause. I can’t imagine feeling someone playing football with my bladder going unnoticed. I can’t wrap my brain around someone feeling a fetus swimming around her stomach and NOT thinking that—at the very least—she probably should address that sensation with a doctor. I would certainly want some medicinal reassurance that my appendix hadn’t become sentient.

I feel the same way with the West Wing MS President. I just don’t buy it.

Aside—Yes, I am well aware that we are talking about a work of fiction. Written by one of the most gifted writers alive right now, but fiction nonetheless. But like all art, Sorkin’s writing can only be interpreted by me through my own experiences.

Back to the Bartlet administration.

The MS Society reports that four out of ten people with MS have either failed to disclose or outright lied about their diagnosis to friends, family, colleagues, and their employer.  The same study reported that 36 percent of MS patients feel it has a negative impact on their inter-personal relationships.
I’ve certainly noticed that it has impacted my relationships. So I will give President Bartlet a pass on this one. I get it. And no one—not even the President—is under any obligation to disclose their MS (or any other health conditions) to their employer.

Bartlet’s choice to not disclose his MS is not where I stumble. I have a hard time with his ability to manage both his MS and the business of the country.

Let me expound.

MS advocates loved that Sorkin gave MS to the President. They saw it as an endorsement that a person with MS can do anything.  Yay. Go MS peeps.

Except, I don’t buy it. The symptom that people with MS feel is most debilitating is fatigue. Extreme fatigue. Our country has seen President’s with disabilities before. FDR was in a wheelchair. JFK was in chronic back pain and needing medication and a brace. I don’t think Bartlet’s need for an occasional walking aid is any problem at all.

But the soul-crushing fatigue? That is where I think MS would defeat a President. POTUS has to spend 10 to 12 hours at work each day. No weekends off. No vacations away from responsibly. No time for a nap. I can barely make it through my 8 hour day without having to put my head on my desk because I don’t have the energy to keep holding it up.

Oh, and let’s not forget one of the things that exacerbates MS symptoms. Stress. But the President never has to deal with that, right? Yeah, I’m not buying it.

I think we should reboot some other TV series and give the main character MS. Then depict these characters with an accurate portrayal of life with MS. In Breaking Bad, let’s take away Walt’s cancer and give him MS. Trouble finds him when he falls asleep in his motor home, ruining his latest batch of Meth. Which is bad, because he needs the cash to pay for his Avonex.

Or maybe Ross would dump Rachel forever after her MS diagnosis because he doesn’t want to deal with a lifetime of disabilities. He has overlooked the benefits of being able to jump the lines at an amusement park or park close to the door at a sporting event. So the rest of the Friends series can follow Rachel as she navigates Manhattan with a cane, endlessly having first dates.

Or even a colorful, fluffy character on Sesame Street that just randomly falls down and can’t keep her hand from shooting forward and punching people. Actually, someone needs to make me that puppet. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Football and Dead Kids?

I was up late with Kidlet, who was upset and crying because of the Super Bowl. Not because of the last 3 minutes either. He had really lost interest in who won after the Saints were eliminated from contention. But I spent an hour last night trying to convince Kidlet that he was safe and he wasn’t going to die. Because, once again, the NFL has failed him.

OK, actually, this time it was Nationwide that was most certainly not on his side. I wish so much that I had a Nationwide insurance policy so that I could cancel it today.

Kidlet had seen the Nationwide ad using the story line of a dead child telling football fans all about all of the things he would not be doing in his life because he had died in a household accident.

For the love of all holy fucking hell. Really? Did that really happen in the middle of a football game watched by so many children?

I was so prepared for the post-Super Bowl discussions I thought I might have to participate in. Cheating, fighting, sportsmanship. I was ready. Then the dead kid showed up and I felt like I had been placed into the middle of The Sixth Sense. I was in no way ready for that one.

Nationwide paid somewhere around $8 million to air this ad. I don’t hate it because it was depressing. Make no mistake, it was. I hate it because of these two reasons:

  • It was created to make us feel fearful and inadequate and therefore buy insurance. No matter what Nationwide is saying. They didn't create and air this spot out of the goodness of their heart. They want to sell you insurance.
  • It was completely chicken shit.

To the first point, Nationwide is insisting to anyone who will listen that they both knew that this ad would be controversial and that their sole intention was to save children. Make Safe Happen depicts an adorable grade-school boy listing all of the joys of life that he never reached due to his death in an at-home accident.

And the Internet lost its shit.

A Nationwide spokesperson released the following comment:"Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don't know that.”

Well, thank you for educating us all Nationwide. I know we must all feel so much safer. Well, Kidlet doesn’t, but he doesn’t really count, right? I mean, it’s not like he can afford to buy a policy.

The spokesman continued: “The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.“

So I have to ask…  If it isn’t to sell insurance, why bother including your logo? Just asking.

There are several industries that depend on our fear, and insurance has to be at the top of that list. Do you really think that this ad was an act of kindness? It was not. It was to instill a fear in us that might be soothed by purchasing a new insurance policy. Because if we have that extra insurance, nothing bad will happen, right? We live in a country where insurance is something we must all have. It is just the reality. And I certainly do not fault an insurance company for seizing on that need and building a business model around it. Well, I don’t completely fault them.

And the message of this ad is both meaningful  and important. But, to be delivered in such a manipulative way--by a company that will see increased profits the more that we worry--invalidates the message entirely. Nationwide could give a flying fuck about my Kidlet. That is, unless I would like to increase my life insurance on him. You know, because accidents happen.

But only if you are a terrible parent. of course. Those terrible things that killed the ad’s narrator happened because of his woefully neglectful parents. The ones who left the top floor window open, forgot to check on him while he was in the bath, or strap down their giant TV. The one they bought instead of putting money into the little man’s college savings account.

Make no mistake. This is an advertisement for insurance. And it is feeding on all our insecurities as parents.

Nationwide Chief Marketing Officer Matt Jauchius justified the ad, saying, "Since 2007 we've made use of other media partners to get our message across, but when we were thinking of launching Make Safe Happen, creating awareness, and showcasing our brand, the Super Bowl is a great media platform to achieve those goals.”

The emphasis is mine. But the truth is all his.

But here is the other thing. The ad was total chicken shit.

I feel like this entire ad was written by 5 white guys at Ogilvy & Mather agency that Googled “How do children die?” Then they picked the deadly sins committed by parents, but only the non-political ones.

By that, I mean, where was the image of the accidentally-fired handgun?

The ad was so fucking chicken shit. You want to preach to us about accidental injuries sustained by children in the home, but only those that won’t piss off the gun-loving Tea Baggers.

Is there anything more preventable than my toddle finding and shooting my loaded gun? But Nationwide wants to make me feel like shit for having bleach or a bathtub in my house. And how dare I open that window.

And you know what? Forgetting my two bullet points of contention, it is just a really badly written ad. Nationwide wanted to be edgy and spur discussion. But they failed so huge on execution.
Let me ask you this. What do you think the response would be if the ad went something like this?

1. Ext. FRONT YARD. day.
The LITTLE BOY rides around on his tricycle.
dissolve to

2. Int. KITCHEN. day
The MOTHER kneels before her sink, securing a cabinet lock then testing the doors to make sure they cannot be opened.

I almost didn’t get to learn to ride my bike. Or get kooties.

3. Ext. OUTSIDE. day.
The LITTLE BOY is piloting a bi-plane with his dog in the second seat.
dissolve to

4. Int. DOCTOR’S office. day
The LITTLE BOY frowns as he gets a shot, then smiles as he gets a lollipop.

What if I never got the chance to learn to fly so
I could explore the world with my best friend?

5. INT. CHURCH. day.
The LITTLE BOY straightens the bowtie of his tuxedo.
dissolve to

6. Int. BEDROOM. day
The FATHER unloads the bullets from his handgun and locks the gun into his gun safe.
What if I never got to be married? Or have kids?
Or protect them from preventable accidents
and illnesses?

7. EXT. Yard. day
The LITTLE BOY addresses the camera.
I get to do those things because my mom and dad
know how to protect me from the things most likely
to cause me harm. You can learn more about how you can help keep
 your kids safer by logging on to (whatever random address
where you will find tips and insurance agents). Together we can
make safe happen.

Then it fades out.  No logo. No Nationwide. No “brought to you by”. Let the world uncover who produced the ad. You know they are going to find out. And that will be very good for business.