Tuesday, July 23, 2019

This is the Most 1970s Man Author Description of a Female Med Student Ever

I’ve been so busy torching our trash government and crumbling democracy both online and IRL, that it’s been awhile since I reviewed a book. 

Having now read 15 pages of the 1976 medical thriller, Coma, by Dr. Robin Cook, I feel well qualified to embark on some more amateur literary critique.

I’m on vacation with my extended family in Maine, and I plucked this off the shelf of the VRBO we’re staying at, because I needed to cheer myself up after absorbing the shock of the impending climate apocalypse in The Unhinhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells. 

I vaguely recognized the cover of Coma from my parents’ collection of late-70’s mass-market garbage, and was hoping that between those covers would be an instruction manual for how to enter a DIY drug-induced coma in the event of an unbearable reality.

No such luck. 

The title, it turns out, is a self-referential one about the author, who I can tell you from my quick perusal is quite possibly the least woke man ever to pen a female character (which is saying a lot). Just to orient you, here’s the summary of the novel/“sensational MGM movie starring Genevieve Bujold (‘scuse me who?) and Michael Douglas!”:

They call it “minor surgery,” but Nancy Greeley, Sean Berman, and a dozen others, all admitted to Memorial Hospital for routine procedures, are victims of the same, inexplicable tragedy on the operating table: They never wake up again. 

So far, so good.

Some untraceable error in anesthesia has caused irreversible brain death, leaving each of them in a hopeless coma.

Cool cool.

Something is very wrong here. And Susan Wheeler, a beautiful young medial student, hazards her life to uncover the horrifying explanation — a plot so ghastly, so far-reaching, so terrifyingly incredible yet so nightmarishly possible, it will leave you suspended in a state of fear.

Putting aside the fact that “never waking up again” sounds like a pretty turnkey solution to the Trump years, the scariest thing about this book is the rendering of main character Susan Wheeler, who—you may have deduced by now—is the young doctor version of “sexy librarian.” 

I was thinking about my mom, who had graduated from medical school about five years before this book was written, and the descriptions of Susan being the lone woman at the front of the classroom rang true. 

What did not necessarily ring true were the rest of the descriptions of Dr. Wheeler.

When she gets up for work one cold morning: “her circulatory system dissipated her body heat into the cold room, making her nipples rise up from the summits of her shapely breasts,” and “goose pimples appeared out of nowhere along the insides of her naked thighs.” 

This happens while Susan is “wearing only a thin, worn-out flannel nightgown she had gotten for Christmas when she was in the fifth grade.” She only wore this comfortable garment when she was “sleeping alone” and was partial to it because it “had always been her father’s favorite,” a man she had “enjoyed pleasing from a very early age.”


The human physiology 101 factoid about the circulatory system embedded in cocky graduate student juvenile Daddy erotica is typical of Cook’s style, which name-drops shitloads of technical medical jargon amid mundane descriptions of unrelated circumstances: 

“With well-rehearsed adeptness, [the anesthesiologist] attached his Pentathol syringe to the three-way valve on the I.V. line” on another young, beautiful female patient who is receiving (what else) a D&C under a surgical gown that barely reached “up to her hard nipples.”

And that, dear readers, is as far as I got in Coma.

Friday, July 19, 2019

They Should Not Have Come for Me

They were told. Repeatedly. 

They were told I was an invaluable employee and a top-performing attorney, and that it would be a big, BIG mistake to unconstitutionally fire me. They didn’t listen. It took me six months, but now, they will feel the wrath of my words and my influence and my activism indefinitely.

They could have had me there, working quietly and diligently to defend their shitty policies to the best of my abilities within the bounds of the constitution. But because they violated the constitution immediately upon taking office and continue to, I will joyfully use my substantial and highly effective platform and all of the intellectual and educational privileges available to me to call out their egregious malfeasance every single fucking day of this disastrous administration.

At first I was devastated. I was ashamed. I missed my job and my colleagues. I wanted my job back. Now I know they got rid of me *because* I am not a yes-woman and was not about to perform legal gymnastics with our democratic institutions in service of their sadistic, unconstitutional bullshit. I could never work for them in a million years.

So yeah. It took six months and I still wish I had their health insurance, but I would happily go into medical bankruptcy if it meant I could play even a small part in yanking the state back from the wildly unpopular and extremely dangerous course they have us on.

Their sadism is unreal and sociopathic. They WANT people to suffer. They WANT to see people hurt. They WANT to damage our constitutional democracy and drive out arts and intellect so that all that’s left of Alaska is a smash-and-grab resource colony. They WANT to punish the sick, the poor, and the elderly for being poor, sick, and old.

And oh wait...they still haven’t gotten us our big fat PFD.

So let me be clear: I worked in government for over 12 years, and I am not afraid of you amateur hour shitgoblins. I did not come to play with you trifling hos. If you come for me, you’d better come correct.

Unlike you, I actually know how to use social media and I have good, longstanding relationships with almost every reporter in the state. I don’t care about your job or your money and you have zero leverage over me. If you so much as lift a finger to retaliate against other state employees for “resisting” your cockamamie ineptitude I will put you on blast like the Fourth of July.

I may have lived my adult life in Alaska but I was born and raised in NYC and you should not have squared up with this bitch.

Friday, July 12, 2019

It Always Matters: The Importance of Bearing Witness

There will be a "Lights for Liberty" vigil at the Whale statue in Juneau tonight at 7:00 p.m. This is a national action occurring in 700 cities nationwide today, to protest the inhumane conditions in detention camps at our southern border. I was asked to give a few brief remarks on why this matters.

I was asked to speak tonight on why this matters. 

I know that many of us in Alaska, particularly here in our Capital city, are acutely attuned to local politics right now. The governor's budget vetoes have left us reeling in a state of shock and uncertainty. But these two fronts of the war on American liberty, safety, and democracy have more in common than you might think.

Robert Kennedy said that "every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and democracy and justice."

What Kennedy was describing is the profound value inherent in the act witnessing. That is what we are doing right at this moment, both with respect to our State and more broadly with respect to the unconscionable, inhumane and un-American conditions in which our fellow human beings are being warehoused like animals:

Children in standing-room only cells with no blankets, soap, or toothpaste. Families separated from one another indefinitely. Toddlers representing themselves at immigration hearings. Lice and disease infestation. Sadistic border agents. A lack of basic medical care. Freezing cold or broiling hot temperatures.

Dehumanization of our fellow men, women, and children has caused the abhorrent conditions at our southern border and is a precursor of much worse to come. Those who would abet and enable this conduct aren't monsters. They are your neighbors. They walk among us. But this is nothing new. There have always been victims, bystanders, and those who refuse to be either.

We need to be the refusers. We need to say no. We need to say enough. And we need to act and implore our elected officials to act to put this to an end, lest we repeat the lessons of history--learned the hard way--again and again.

It is incumbent on each of us to witness what is happening; to refuse to tolerate what we know to be wrong; to open our eyes and ears to corruption and inhumanity; to find the time and the courage to speak up and speak out. 

It's easy to question why this matters, standing here around a whale statue in Juneau, Alaska. What good does it do, because tomorrow will be exactly the same, and it all feels futile and pointless. Again, the answer can be found in the act of witnessing and its inherent value. 

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in Night: "for the dead and the living, we must bear witness." He could not stay silent. Sharing his experience in the Holocaust was a catharsis, but also a historical record. Sometimes all we can do is make a record, so that regardless of the outcome, future generations know we did not go gently into that night.

It may not feel like much, but simply standing up, naming this for what it is, and refusing to condone it matters in and of itself.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Why I Stay Part II (Crisis/Mantra Edition)

One of the most-read O.H.M. blog posts of all time was this one from February 4, 2015, called "Why I Stay." 

About 20,000 people (mostly Alaskans, I assume) read and shared this post, presumably because they could relate to the reasons I cited for wanting to live, work, and raise my kids in Alaska. Among the reasons listed there, two continue to resonate: that my kids are rooted here, and that Alaska is big enough to get lost in, but still small enough to make a difference. 

Obviously a lot has changed since 2015. But these two reasons for sticking with Alaska amid the current political/fiscal gyre are deeply intertwined, and they ring truer for me now than they did even four years ago. 

Life in Juneau is the only life my kids have ever known: they were born here, they love it here, all of their friends are here. And while I know they would probably thrive anywhere, I don't want to uproot them in the middle of their childhoods just because few powerful men who don't endorse my constitutionally-protected speech illegally fired me from my job. I'm determined to stay put and get beyond that, for my kids, if nothing else.

Which brings me to the next reason I stay: that Alaska is big enough to get lost in, yet still small enough to make a difference. 

Even as the state bakes under a heat greater than any in recorded history, the result of decades of slavish devotion to nearly unfettered resource extraction, I am still awed by the landscape here. The glaciers are smaller, the fish are less abundant, and the sky is hazy with wildfire smoke. Even the loudest climate change deniers cannot plausibly dismiss these realities any longer. 

Yet we still go out on the water, bike to the glacier, or hike into the alpine just to get a little bit lost.

It's in these places that I do my best thinking, and I consider the cost-benefit analysis of continuing to stay somewhere that I am clearly not wanted by a lot of powerful people. 

I have watched with grief and dismay the flagrant violations of constitutional doctrines, ethics, and norms that I previously took for granted; the deliberate starving and purging of intellect and expertise from our state because critical thinking and ethical conduct pose an existential threat to vested corporate interests. The persistent effort by our national government--mimicked now quite aptly at the state level--to make Alaskans meaner, dumber, sicker, more afraid, and gone. 

Yes, the budget vetoes will do more than hemorrhage jobs and brains, disappearing people in that way; they may actually kill people like seniors, the homeless, and Medicaid recipients--disappearing them not just from Alaska, but from life altogether.

Living here is a conscious decision every day. It's hard on many levels. I have to revisit that choice periodically. I've revisited it repeatedly over the past few months and I still want to call Alaska home, because I believe Alaska is a unique place that is worth fighting for. 

I strive to remain kind, smart, healthy, fearless, and rooted precisely because I am being pushed to the brink of the exact opposite of all of those things, and because I want to set a good example for my children and at least try to leave them a state and a planet that I feel okay about.

It is deeply draining, depressing, tiring, and unnerving to live under the normalized cruelty and sadism we have experienced since 2016. Nothing makes sense anymore. We don't know who to trust or what information is real. Some of our closest relationships have fractured, perhaps irreparably. Empathy feels more endangered than winter. And so I have a new mantra that I am applying not just to my choice to stay in Alaska, but to my life in general:

Take care of yourself because they want you to be sick. Read because they want you to be ignorant. Be kind to each other and seek common ground, because they want you to be mean and divided. Be brave because they want you to be afraid. And stay and fight for the place you want to live--whether that's Alaska or somewhere else--precisely because they want you to retreat and disappear.

Doing those small things alone, I think, can make a big difference.

Herbert Glacier, Juneau, AK, July 2019