Freedom, friends, and owning responsibility

I found this in the archives, and thought it worth resurrecting. It’s from my more active days, about 5 years ago. It addresses the meme of personal responsibility, and I’m still a huge fan of that.

I was an ER nurse and, regarding seatbelts — not to mention motorcycle helmets — I can say that those of us on the front lines know that sometimes the seatbelts cause a death. It’s in roughly these proportions, if you like to gamble with money, too:

You place a bet that can go only two ways, so it’s a pretty straightforward bet. You can bet between 50% and 100% of your lifespan’s worth, including house, car, future houses and cars, your, your spouse’s, and your children’s potential lifetime earnings, everything. Lots of money on the line. When these magic 2-sided dice roll, here’s the breakout:

Betting against seatbelt/helmet, odds of winning are maybe 1 in 3,000. Losing, which 2,999 times out of 3,000 is what’ll happen, means you lose 50-100% of your and your family’s lifetime worth. Gone.

Now, personally, I’m a huge fan of personal responsibility — a HUGE fan. Pre-injury, I used to ride a motorcycle, and I longed to take my helmet off.

My pretty ride overlooking the Monterey Bay. This picture doesn’t show the full-faced helmet and full leather I rode in.

The only reason I didn’t do so on public roads is because I really couldn’t provide for all that protection. I was a stellar rider, but I had no reason to suppose I’d be immune to the bad driving of others! And I honestly thought I had no right to expose my family, neighbors, and colleagues at the hospital to the huge potential for supporting the direct and indirect costs of my possible accident.

I never did well with the assumption that what I did occurred in a vacuum. I’m very connected to others and they to me, and as far as I can tell, most humans are.

So I had this great idea about 20 years ago, which has never come to pass: Special license plates!

If you have

  • full catastrophic coverage,
  • comprehensive long-term-care coverage,
  • adequate liability insurance,
  • complete prescription coverage,
  • a completed will, and
  • a life insurance policy that would make sure your children, pets, crippled aunt, and other dependents would not become wards of the state …

… THEN you get the special plate, and everyone knows you can leave off any protective devices the law would otherwise require.

It’s only fair: it alleviates the cost to the state, which would pay for the program right there; it affords that liberty to those who are mature enough to fulfill their responsibilities to the rest of their world; and it lets the other drivers on the road know that you’re more vulnerable than they are (mostly) so they might cut you a break. Or not. But that’s their call — their responsibility.

Similar thing for smokers. The bans started after the passive-smoking reports were published, not before. I have no problem with grownups buying and using their own drugs, but it’s important to take responsibility for the whole shmear, not just the part you like.

In short, smoke all you want, but keep the poison to yourself. Ride or drive as naked as you want, but don’t make the rest of us pay.

I’m not a scientist or a policy wonk, I’m a frontliner with the scars to show for it. I passionately believe in rights — but not without responsibilities.

Just a thought.

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A gift to share

I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Dr. Adams, who (among other things) teaches clinical at UCSF Medical School. He provided me with a brilliant overview of the recent history of public health.

“Remember [the federally mandated public health targets called] Healthy People 2000 and Healthy People 2010? We missed those goals by miles. We don’t even _have_ a target program now. The next one could just be: Breathe. And I’m not too sure we could even hit that!”

He kept me spellbound for half an hour. I don’t think I got a word in edgeways, but he must have liked the quality of my listening, because he gave me this book off his shelf as a gift:

He said, “Be calm when you read it. Sit down, breathe, and take it easy.” Caveat emptor.

This doctor uses the (numerous!) expensive letters after his name for something besides paying the mortgage … He and his posse sent a copy of this book to President Obama, with a cover letter explaining the devastating consequences of a profit-driven health care system. 

They heard back from a medical advisor: the President put the book in his Presidential Library, but the advisor had to state that the for-profit industries had their influence so well laid in that, if the President breathed a word about single-payor care, it had been made clear to the White House that he would be abandoned by both sides of the aisle.

Abandoned. Completely. For standing up for the American people. The same American people who let those pikers into Capitol Hill in the first place.

You’ve been bought & sold. We all have.  Weren’t you looking? I’m not sure I was. 

The industries speak for us because we haven’t spoken up enough for ourselves. Politicians are nervous, ego-driven creatures desperate for a good image, and we’ve let the moonshiners polish their images — and their apples — while we bitch about the rent. 

The rent matters. Lots. Sadly, signing Internet petitions does not. 

Is it too late?

Well, you’re still breathing, aren’t you? So am I. Emigrated yet? Me neither. Guess it’s not too late, then. 

Be heard, unfiltered. Call. Fax. Write. Put a stamp on it. Letters matter. Phone calls matter. These represent a big hurdle in people’s minds, and politicians know it. They weight them accordingly. 

Paper, three sentences, stamp and envelope are not really that hard to do … just slightly strange to think about. Try it & you’ll see what I mean. 

If you have expensive letters after your name, this is an excellent way to get more mileage out of them. Your words are weighted more heavily still. 

Let your politicians feel insecure about their policies, where they don’t serve you or those you care about. Let them feel watched.  Let them get nervous and worry about their hair; it means they’re procrastinating about changing their minds, even as their minds are changing. 

Call. Write. Use stamps. Fax. Be seen. Be heard. Vote. And monitor voting. 

It’s surprisingly little trouble after all.

To find your reps and congress-critters, choose the category and plug in your zip code here:

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Because things change anyway

As I rebuilt my posture this morning per usual, I remembered a conversation I had in my 30’s with my Shaolin teacher. I was sorting out knee issues, and after a week of working on something I hadn’t thought much about in several decades, I said in a ‘pity me’ voice, “I’m relearning how to walk.”

He shrugged, too distracted by the picayune-ness to notice the self-pity: “I’m always relearning how to walk.”

That was one of those moments that made me go away and think all the way up the thought, all the way down the thought, and all the way across it, too. (A good Sifu/sensei can do this to you, sometimes in even fewer words than that. Ted Mancuso in Santa Cruz; look him up.)

So here’s today’s update from the Department of the Blitheringly Obvious, which does a brisk trade because we are so good at not connecting the dots … Or I am, anyway:

1. Time moves.
2. We go with it.
3. Things change.
4. Our bodies alter, and take us with ’em.
5. We are always relearning, whether we know it or not.


I might as well pay a bit of attention and relearn better, instead of slipping off into relearning unconsciously and making things worse.

My posture is definitely improving. Core strength is damn good. Pants fit and my low back is MUCH better.

I haven’t worried much about my knees in ages. … Hunh.

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