26 year old Anthony Carbajal, just recently diagnosed with ALS, pushes the cause well beyond the ice bucket challenge

    What tends to get lost in all the fun of the ice bucket challenge is the fact that ALS is a truly horrific disease. As I mentioned a few days ago, in my post about this current fundraising and awareness campaign being waged by the ALS Association, my grandmother suffered from ALS. What I don’t think I mentioned in that post, though, is that she took her own life rather than see the illness through to its conclusion.

    For those of you who might be unaware as to how the disease works, death by ALS, which is one of the more prevalent neurodegenerative diseases, is slow and painful. It typically takes years for a person suffering with ALS to die. Day by day, their muscles waste away until they’re no longer able to fill their lungs with air, at which point they suffocate. Early on, a person with the disease might lose the ability to twist open a jar of peanut butter, or turn the ignition of a car. Within a year, that same person may have lost their ability to walk without falling over. Ultimately, if you follow it through to its conclusion, you lose the ability to swallow food. And, after that, you lose the ability to inflate your lungs. That’s not the worst of it, though. The thing that makes it truly hideous, is that your mind stays sharp throughout, even as everything else slowly starts shutting down. Your brain stays active, as the rest of you withers around it. And it’s this fact, I suspect, more than the physical pain, or the thought that she would be a burden to those of us that she left behind, that led my grandmother to take her own life while she still had the strength to do so.

    My grandmother, I’m almost certain, suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I, of course, didn’t know what OCD was back then, years before I was diagnosed with it myself. But there were things about my grandmother that I knew were odd, and recognized in myself. We both suffered from irrational worry. We both hoarded items, worried that we may one day need them. We both did things that did’t make sense to those around us. At the time, I remember my parents telling me that her behavior was due to her having lived through the Depression. Years after her death, when I finally figured out what my issue was, though, her behavior started making sense, as did her decision to end her life.

    We’ll never know what she was thinking at the time, but my sense is that the thought of being trapped inside her own body, with just her thoughts, and no way to lessen the anxiety by engaging in certain behaviors, was just too much for her. It’s difficult, I know, for people without OCD to understand, but the thought of being unable to do whatever it is that you do in order to keep the all-consuming anxiety at bay, is far worse than death. Let’s say, for instance, that someone had to check the lock on their front door several hundred times a day, for fear that something truly awful might happen if, by some chance, said door wasn’t properly locked. Now, what happens to that person when she can no longer act on that compulsion? What happens when, overcome by panic, you feel the overwhelming need to straighten a number of items on a shelf in front of you, but your arms no longer function? I know it may seem silly to many of you, but the pain is real. And, it’s for that reason that I don’t think there’s anything worse that could happen to a person with OCD than ALS. It truly is a fate worse than death. And I think that was illustrated in my grandmother’s decision to take her life.

    Sorry for the tangent, but I felt compelled to share that after watching the following video by 26 year old Anthony Carbajal of California, who was diagnosed with ALS in January. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a very long time.

    That’s what the ALS challenge is all about. It’s not about the Foo Fighters being brilliant or 5o Cent using the platform to settle scores. It’s about real people, like Anthony and my grandmother, and their families. It’s about the frailty of human life, and the ability of motivated, kind-hearted people to come together to offer at least a glimmer of hope.

    If you haven’t done so yet, and would like to, you can donate to the ALS Association by clicking here.

    Posted in Mark's Life, OCD, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

    Are you afraid to visit Ann Arbor?

    POLL: Are you afraid to visit Ann Arbor?

    A-Yes
    B-Somewhat
    C-Not really, but some concern
    D-No

    annarborfear2

    update: For those of you who didn’t get the reference, this post was inspired by something put out by the Ann Arbor News this afternoon on Facebook. Essentially it’s the exact same poll, only with their ruin porn images of Detroit replaced by equally terrifying images of Ann Arbor. You can see their poll here.

    Posted in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

      See how many military surplus grenade launchers and assault vehicles your local police now have at their disposal

      This past May, the New York Times requested an accounting from the Pentagon of all the military gear since 2006 which had been transferred from our military to police forces around the United States. What they received in response was a staggering list, including “tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” And, now, the New York Times has made that data available in a searchable online database, where you can see, broken down by county, what high-tech, war-fighting gadgetry your local police forces now have at their disposal. Here, for your consideration, are the results for Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties.

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      And, speaking of military-grade urban assault vehicles, did anyone happen to see today’s SWAT training in downtown Ann Arbor? In light of what’s going on in Missouri right now, the timing seemed odd to me, but I guess they don’t have to worry too much about public sentiment, seeing as how they make all of the rules and have all of the weapons.

      [Click here for more information on the militarization of America's police.]

      Posted in Civil Liberties | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

      I’m happy for everyone in the ALS community, but the “ice water challenge” has to be one of the most poorly thought out campaigns in history

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      I should start out by saying that I love the ALS Association. Having grown up with a grandmother who suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, I cannot express how thankful I am that there’s an organization out there successfully raising money to fund research. It’s not a disease that many people have direct knowledge of, and, in a world filled with pink ribbons, it’s nice to know that, on occasion, people can be persuaded to fund organizations that address something other than cancer. It’s also nice to know that the ALS Association is one of the best run, most efficient non-profits out there, and that the money they raise really does go toward research and programs to benefit the ALS community. (Sadly, that’s not always the case with non-profits such as these.) With all of that said, though, I’m finding their recent “ice bucket challenge” campaign to be completely bewildering.

      Never before in my life can I recall such a confusing campaign gaining so much traction. I mean, the whole idea at the outset was that, if you were challenged by someone, and chose not to give $100 to the fund ALS research, you’d have to dump ice water over your head, right? In practice, though, that’s not what’s happening at all. People are dumping ice water on their heads willy nilly. Sure, some of them are giving money to the ALS Association, which is great, but, for the most part, the premise seems to have been totally abandoned. I’ve been trying to come up with a suitable analogy and the best I can come up with is this… It’s like if someone says, “I’ll bet you five dollars that can’t get that girl’s phone number,” and you respond by just handing over five dollars, getting the girl’s phone number, yelling “Whooooo!” triumphantly into your iPhone, and posting the whole thing to Facebook. (I know that’s a terrible analogy, but it’s late and I’m tired.)

      Maybe they knew it would play out like this from the very beginning, and that the premise wouldn’t matter. I mean, they must have known that people who refused to give them money weren’t likely to get on YouTube, announce “I’ve got better things to do with my money than give it to ALS research,” and have a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads, right? But, if they knew that, why’d they bother with the premise at all? Why didn’t they just say, “We want really cool people to show how much the support ALS research by sending us a check and then dumping a bucket of ice water over their head”?

      It just doesn’t make sense to me. But I’m not complaining. They’ve obviously tapped into something, and it’s paying off for them. As I understand it, they’ve already taken in over $14 million since the start of the campaign, compared to just $1.7 million during the same time period last year. And that’s incredible. I guess they found the perfect, relatively easy, mildly uncomfortable, somewhat funny thing that would allow regular folks to be the center of attention for a while on social media, and lots of people, understandably, have jumped at the opportunity.

      You hear the term “slactivism” thrown around quite a bit these days, but it really seems to ring true here. People who might not have the gumption to actually learn about ALS, and ask their friends to donate, are more than willing to whip out their cell phones, make a short video of their being doused with ice water, and then challenge their friends to do the same. The barrier to entry is super low, and it syncs up perfectly with the wave of widespread narcissism we’ve ben riding as a culture since the launch of Facebook.

      If there are any academics out there who study such things, I think this would make a fascinating research project… Among the questions I’d like to have answered… How many people who publicly participated in the challenge actually followed through afterward and wrote the check to the ALS Association? Of those that did, how many are likely to give to the charity again in the future, when ice water isn’t a factor? How many people who participated actually know what ALS is? And, most importantly, what motivated them to actually do it? Was it the peer pressure, the idea of being publicly challenged by a friend? Was it the desire to feel as though, for a moment, they were a part of a community? Was it a genuine desire to stop ALS? There are so many awesome questions that could be asked.

      Again, this isn’t criticism. I think the whole thing is great. I just don’t really understand it, and I’d be fascinated to know why it has caught on the way that it has.

      update: When thinking about an image for this, I settled on Carrie White getting pig’s blood dumped on her head, as I found the idea that someone would do that for charity to be kind of funny. Now that it’s up there, though, I’m thinking that I should have approached it differently. I should have, for instance, had her charity be the Telekinesis Foundation of Maine… Oh, and before settling on Carrie, I thought about drawing a comic with a person dumping a bucket either full of lice or red hot embers on their head. That turned out to be too hard, though. I do, however, really like the idea that another charity, hoping to get in on the action, might try to up the ante a bit. And I love the phrase “Lice Bucket Challenge.”

      update: With out without ice water running from the tip of your shivering nose, you can give to the ALS Association here.

      Posted in Mark's Life, Other, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

      What I learned from Ferguson: Now’s the time to get the tanks off our streets and the money out of politics

      As the story in Ferguson continues to evolve, one thing has become clear to me… Now is the time to move against the increasingly militarization of America’s local police forces. The public awareness has never been higher, and, for the first time, I feel like momentum is on our side.

      Before we get into that, though, quite a bit has happened in Ferguson, Missouri since we last discussed the killing of Michael Brown. Not only do we now know the name of the officer who shot and killed the unarmed 18 year old, but we also have an increasing number of firsthand eyewitness accounts of the shooting. And, as of this morning, we have an autopsy report, which says that Brown was shot at least six times from the front, with the last shot entering through the top of his head, likely as he fell forward, toward the officer who was shooting at him.

      We also know from preliminary autopsy reports that Brown had marijuana in his system. In and of itself, that may not mean much, but, taken together with the fact that surveillance camera footage has surfaced which appears to show Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store and roughing up one of the store’s employees just prior to his altercation with police, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a growing acceptance of the fact that he wasn’t just a good kid walking to his grandmother’s house a few days before heading off to college, as we’d originally been led to believe. This isn’t, of course, to say that he should have been shot down. It merely adds a level of complexity to the story, which didn’t exist late last week, when the people of Ferguson began to rise up, only to be beaten back down by a police department equipped for war.

      As it stands, at least from my perspective, it would appear that the officer in question, Darren Wilson, likely acted out of anger, chasing Brown, and shooting at him, in spite of the fact that he was not in any immediate danger. (According to witnesses, Brown was fleeing the scene when the officer, who had been fighting with him through the window of his squad car, exited his vehicle and continued shooting, causing Brown to turn around, at which point he was shot several more times in the head and neck. (The shots to his arm, which can be seen in the medical examiner’s drawing below, were likely received as the two men fought through the window of the car.)) Of course, as of right now, no one really knows what happened. Hopefully, however, the investigation will be both thorough and transparent, and we’ll soon have a better sense of what took place that afternoon, and why. In the meantime, there are a few things that we know right now to be true.

      We know that a young, unarmed, black man has died at the hands of a white cop in a city that, despite being 67% black, only has three black police officers on a force of 53… a city in which 47% of young black men between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed. Furthermore, we know that the police of Ferguson, Missouri have been known to abuse black men in the past. And we know, since the shooting, that Ferguson’s police force has been hostile to outside observers, first keeping news helicopters from areas of citizen protest, and later going so far as to arrest reporters without cause and fire tear gas at news crews. Oh, and there are also the stories of the police threatening violence against reporters and denying access to reporters of color. And it’s all of these things, in my opinion, that are keeping the grass roots movement in Ferguson going. It’s not just about a young, unarmed black man being shot anymore. It’s about the growing income inequality in in this country, the growing disenfranchisement of the urban poor, the rise of the American police state, and any number of other things. Brown’s death may have been the spark, but it’s not what keeps the fire burning. If this were just about Brown’s death, I doubt we’d be reading today about how Amnesty International, for the first time in their history, made the decision to deploy trained observers within our country. This could well be the start of our Arab Spring, and the folks in power know it. And that, I suspect, is why the National Guard was called to Ferguson today.

      Here, with more on the broader context of the uprising in Ferguson, is a clip from the New Yorker.

      …The conversation here has shifted from the immediate reaction to Michael Brown’s death and toward the underlying social dynamics. Two men I spoke with pointed to the disparity in education funding for Ferguson and more affluent municipalities nearby. Another talked about being pulled over by an officer who claimed to smell marijuana in the car as a pretense for searching him. “I’m in the United States Navy,” he told me. “We have to take drug tests in the military so I had proof that there were no drugs in my system. But other people can’t do that.” Six black men I spoke to, nearly consecutively, pointed to Missouri’s felon-disfranchisement laws as part of the equation. “If you’re a student in one of the black schools here and you get into a fight you’ll probably get arrested and charged with assault. We have kids here who are barred from voting before they’re even old enough to register,” one said. Ferguson’s elected officials did not look much different than they had years earlier, when it was a largely white community.

      …More than one person in the streets of Ferguson has compared what is happening here to the chaotic days of the Birmingham desegregation campaign in 1963. And, like that struggle, the local authorities, long immune to public sentiment, were incapable of understanding how their actions reverberated outside the hermetic world where they held sway—how they looked to the world. That incomprehension was the biggest asset the protesters in Birmingham had. Michael Brown was left lying in the street for hours while a traumatized community stood behind police tape in frustration, grief, and shock: an immobile metaphor for everything that was wrong in Ferguson, Missouri…

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      Everything came together in Ferguson. To use a much overused analogy, it was the perfect storm. When you have an increasingly poor and desperate community under the authority of an increasingly militarized police force, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a clash. And, given the shifting demographics of America, it’s something we’re likely to see more and more of in this country. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to make that less likely in the future. First, we can ensure that working people make a living wage. Second, we can roll back the tax breaks on the wealthy so that we can once again make education a national priority. Third, we can enact laws that incentivize companies to stay in the United States and create jobs here. And, fourth, we can stop our local police forces from becoming quasi military units. And, here, with more on that last point, is a clip from Vanity Fair.

      …As protesters around the country march in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, politicians and the media are suddenly railing against the long-developing militarization of the American police force. But a revealing vote this past June shows just how uphill the battle is to stop the trend of turning police into soldiers. On June 19, progressive House Democrat Alan Grayson (FL) offered an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would block the “transfer” of “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles” from the Department of Defense to state and local police forces.

      The amendment attracted the support of only 62 members, while 355 voted against it (14 didn’t vote). Included among those voting against it was Rep. William Lacy Clay (D), who represents Ferguson. Clay was joined by every senior member of the Democratic Party leadership team, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (CA), Steny Hoyer (MD), and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC). Democrats did form the bulk of support for the amendment (with 43 votes in favor), with 19 Republicans supporting as well—led by libertarian-conservative Rep. Justin Amash (MI), who lamented that “military-grade equipment . . . shouldn’t be used on the street by state and local police” on his Facebook page…

      Biden was the author of the 1994 crime bill, which vastly increased the numbers of police on the streets, eliminated Pell grant access for prisoners, expanded the death penalty, and increased Border Patrol presence. This criminalization and militarization of Americans’ public-safety concerns has continued under President Obama. As Radley Balko writes, the Obama administration has increased the budget for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne grants, both of which finance local police departments in their efforts to wage heavy-handed drug and crime war operations.

      All of this provides a windfall for both security and arms companies and police departments, who are often enormous spenders against reforms that would curtail the militarization of public safety. Hoyer is one of the two members who have received thousands of dollars from the National Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) in this campaign cycle. As tensions continued to mount in Ferguson, F.O.P.’s executive director Jim Pasco defended the militarization of police officers. “All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street,” Pasco told The Hill on Thursday…

      Fortunately, we may have another chance to do the right thing. Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) is presently drafting a bill that would limit the transfer of military goods to America’s police forces. Here’s a clip from the Associated Press.

      …Johnson said city streets should be a place for businesses and families, “not tanks and M16s.” He said a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement has led to police agencies resembling paramilitary forces.

      “Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said. He said his bill would limit the type of military equipment that can be transferred to law enforcement, and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.

      The bill targets a 24-year-old military surplus program that transfers equipment from blankets to bayonets and tanks to police and sheriff’s departments across the country. An Associated Press investigation last year of the Defense Department program found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed since 1990 went to police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime…

      Maybe I’m naive, but this seems to me like something that the Liberals and the Libertarians of America should be able to come together on. I know our politicians like the financial contributions that keep coming in from the military industrial complex, but I’d like to think that even they can look at the events in Ferguson and see that a line’s been crossed… No one, regardless of party affiliation, should want to see an America that looks like this.

      ferguson-missouri-9

      I know it’s a tall order, but it all comes back to campaign finance reform. That’s the key to it all. Until we can get the money out of politics, the heads of the Hydra we’re fighting will just keep growing back. For now, I’d be happy to have legislation passed that keeps military grade hardware out of the hands of America’s local police forces. In the future, though, we need to aim higher. We need to remove the money from American politics so that our elected officials begin to legislate with our interests in mind, and not those of the ruling 1%, who have an interest in selling military arms, closing down public schools, killing unions, and all of those other things that we’re so used to discussing on this site. I know it’s difficult, but we need to step back from the fight for a moment and focus on the money that keeps the Hydra alive, and not just the immediate threat posed by each of its heads. To you the analogy of Grover Norquist, we need to take a page from the conservative play book and starve the beast.

      Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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