Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Was Great

As predicted, everyone's complaining about how awful 2017 was. We're like Anne Frank's family, hiding behind the damned bookcase or something. What's to celebrate here at the low ebb of human existence?

Just as a reality check, let me point out that:

I have a stent in my heart keeping me alive and 100% active and healthy (if I'd been born a decade earlier, I'd be dead or incapacitated).

I have the entirety of human knowledge plus infinite free communication with anyone on earth on a <$500 piece of glass in my pocket.

Not one passenger jet crashed anywhere this year.

Cars never stall anymore. When you need to go somewhere, your car will virtually never fail to take you there. We don't even consider other outcomes.

I haven't heard about a mugging, car theft, or house or car break-in among anyone I know in America in a decade. I realize these things are still happening, and that I'm privileged to live in a middle class enclave, but I remember when nice middle class enclaves offered no protection from violence, and a trip to NYC meant a decent chance of returning to your car and finding a shattered window...and, possibly, a hard smack to the back of your head, as well.

2 million Americans confined to wheelchairs are can go virtually everywhere thanks to assertive federal laws that, in retrospect, seem incredibly unlikely to have ever passed.

Gay people, until only a very short while ago, were engaging in an illegal activity. Like junkies or saboteurs, they needed to skulk around in the shadows.

I can't remember the last time I heard someone complain about a headache (I'm not talking about migraines, a separate thing). Thank god for bottled water!

People live into their 90s, and remain young well into their 70's. I remember when 65 year olds stared at the walls!

I remember when it was weird to favor peace. There was a name for such weirdos: pacifists (one imagined flower children and Amish). No one uses that word anymore, because it's the default setting, while warmongers are considered crazy and dangerous. A tectonic shift!

I remember when it was taken for granted that politicians would be slightly (or more than slightly) racist know-nothing blow-hards, and we rolled our eyes at their stupid pronouncements, understanding that, sure, they'd screw things up somewhat, but life would go on. Things have improved so much that we find outselves in a position to find this sort of thing intolerable. Ass-grabbing, too!

We're enduring the latest in a long string of crusty leaders dog-whistling anti-semitic tropes (e.g. the entire "War on Christmas" thing is 100% about those damn Jews, though it's hopeful that I need to point this out). But this one actually has a Jewish son-in-law and daughter. What were the odds of a Richard Nixon - much less Teddy Roosevelt or James Garfield - letting a Jew marry into the family, and not immediately disowning their kid?

I've flown around the country and the world in the last few years like a billionaire, nearly always for less than the $250 my parents paid to fly me to Miami in 1975, thanks to the various cheap travel tools enabled by the Internet. I was in frickin' Singapore for a week last month (photos soon) for well under $700 including airfare and lodging! And that was by far my biggest travel splurge ever! I am living like a billionaire for pennies!

Great beer is everywhere.

So why do we feel so miserable? A collision of two phenomena:

1. As situations improve, dwindling remnants sting disproportionally (this is why Stephen Pinker's observation that violence is decreasing feels so counterintuitive; the remainder feels increasingly intolerable). So brace yourself. The better things get, the more sensitized we'll be, and the worse it will feel. Prepare to hate the rest of the ride up the curve of declining results to perfection.

2. One can understand American behavior much more clearly by recognizing that we are a bunch of horribly spoiled rich assholes. America has always been called a rich country, despite the poverty. But these days, even poorer Americans are ridiculously wealthy by world standards, and downright regal by historical world standards (just try to get a non-immigrant American to do anything for fifty bucks). And rich people are best characterized as princesses interminably vexed by their mattress peas. (Read the part about the "cheat codes" here.)

I'll give the last word to Louis CK - a non-person damned to crawl up and die and neither support his family nor ply his trade due to his icky-seeming consensual sexual practices. Take it away, Louie:


Neal Parmesan said...

Jim Leff said...

Reads like a pile of muddled, smeary, fuzzy-minded bullshit. Scraping at bits of non-optimality, commerciality, and random new age anti-med yadda yadda to conjure up the illusion of some sort of coherent upshot.

Not every patient needs or is improved by any given treatment, duh. Antibiotics helped humanity beyond reckoning, and we've gone downright berserk with those (which should in no way cast doubt on their usefulness). But to dispute the efficacy - the miraculousness - of stents and angioplasty is too dumb for even most dumb people to swallow.

Neal Parmesan said...

Jim Leff said...

That's better written, thanks. But I'm someone who was at death's door, and who now runs up steps without a care in the world. So there's nothing that can make me come around.

Over-prescribed? Well, sure. What medical miracle isn't? Side effects? Yes, but remarkably rare. Perhaps I simply happen to be the best-case scenario for this treatment. Cool by me. You can't imagine how grateful I am to have had it.

Meds may indeed be actuarily more useful for non-emergency cases (i.e. cases less suited for stents than mine was). But even there, the feeling of NOT KNOWING if your heart works - whether it will support a given exercise load, whether a bit of angina is actually infarction, whether you're going to DIE if you run for a bus - is very, very bad psychologically. And your heart is way more important than your spleen or femur, so this really COUNTS.

My heart's fricking bulletproof. I'm vastly less likely to have a heart attack than the average person on the street, including highly-trained athletes. I'm not just patched up, I'm superman. Without this confidence and security, I'd feel like a medical victim. It would deeply affect my life and perhaps even my health. The confidence is not represented in actuarial data, but it makes a diff, not just to emotional well-being, but physical, as well.

Anyone who's had any scary heart stuff will tell you: not trusting your heart is a bad way to live. And, conversely, being 4 years post-stent and feeling great and symptom-free and running up steps like a gleeful child is un-fricking-believably great and miraculous.

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