Monday, February 24, 2014

Corrupting the Word

I was raised in a medical family;  my father and uncle had a clinic attached to the house, my mother was their first assistant/secretary, and most of their friends were doctors or dentists or nurses.  I grew up reading medical journals and medical texts, and learned quite a bit thereby.  I might have gone into medicine myself if I hadn't been so bad at mathematics.  One thing that came to annoy me considerably was the misuse of medical terms, ignorant or otherwise.

I am very tired of people misusing the word "addiction".  "Addiction" is a precise medical term describing a specific physical phenomenon -- namely, the body's adjustment to regular doses of a foreign substance, to the point where removal of the substance causes a painful readjustment back to normal.  In other words, there is no such thing as a "mental addiction", regardless of what ambitious politicians and their flacks may say.  You can become addicted to morphine, cocaine, alcohol, and even caffeine;  you can not become addicted to marijuana, sex, or video-games.  The mental phenomenon whereby people lust madly after such items or actions is properly called "obsession".  Yes, obsession can also be joined to addiction, which is what really makes the addiction hard to break;  there are countless cases of non-obsessed patients walking away from addictions without a backward glance, but any doctor can tell you the difficulty of weaning a patient away from an obsession.

So why has the term "addiction" been used so sloppily?  My guess is that the accurate term, "obsession", implies that the problem is all in the patient's mind -- which is true -- and that s/he could free themself from it if they really wanted to (which is also true).  In other words, a person with an obsession is responsible, while a person with an addiction is a victim.  Everyone knows that responsible people get sued, while victims get to do the suing.  In our present lawsuit-mad society, this is a serious consideration.

But more to the point, an obsession is a personal problem while an addiction can be manipulated into a social problem -- and from there into a political one.  You can stump up more than money by declaring war on an addiction than an obsession, and the more addictions to raise hysteria about the better.  You can get yourself a political reputation as a great moral crusader by going after a so-called addiction, and ride that hobby-horse into high political office.  Or you can ruin a businessman's product, or a whole industry, by calling it "addictive", thus clearing the market for your own -- or your cronies' -- product (for which the cronies will be grateful at election time).  This is exactly what happened to marijuana, originally called hemp, which was a major industry prior to 1932.

This is why corrupting language is so useful to politicians, big businessmen, and their assorted minions.  Hitler and Stalin were far from the first practitioners of this trick, and our current crop of VIPs will certainly not be the last.      

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Police Pity-Parties

I've known a few honest cops in my life -- a city cop here, a sheriff's deputy there -- and 90% of them quit the job and took up other work instead.  I've also -- having lived in central New Jersey, Chicago, and northern California -- had a thwacking acquaintance with a good many dishonest cops.  I'll admit that 90% o them were not crooked for money but for power, for the fun of making civilians "show proper respect".  I also must say that the ones who were crooked for money often got it by politicking rather than suborning bribes.  For that reason, I'm rather cynical about police department spokesmen and their various claims at budget-review time.

I'm exceedingly tired of hearing police whine about how dangerous their jobs are, and that old cliche about how they have to go down dark alleys at night where Dangerous Criminals might be hiding.  Tsk.

When I hear that hoary old tale, I can't help thinking about the people who have to walk down those same dark alleys -- with no gun, no club, no taser, no tear-gas, no armor, no partner, and no back-up troops waiting in the wings -- every night of their lives, because they live there.  I've lived in poor-working-class neighborhoods like that.  Believe me, the police were very slow to come when called for emergencies there.  Instead, we relied on our neighbors for help, and those neighbors did a damned good job of it -- for the simple reason that they knew it would be their turn to need help soon enough.

As for the fearful-terrible danger of police work, any insurance company can list for you at least ten jobs that are more dangerous -- jobs that are more likely to leave you dead or permanently injured -- than being a cop.  These include:

Farmer (farm machinery and large farm animals are not safe)
Coal Miner (they've died on the job at the rate of one man per shift, per day, per year, for the last century)
Sandhog ('nuff said?)
Hire-Iron Construction Worker (")
Chemical Plant Worker 
Heavy Equipment Repariman
Professional Football Player  (no kidding!)
High-Wire Electrician
Timber Worker (including sawmill worker and lumberjack)

A little searching can add several more to the list.  I've deliberately left out military jobs, such as paratrooper or Explosive Ordnance Disposal worker;  we're just talking civilians here.  On occasion the media will carry stories of workers at these various jobs going on strike or otherwise agitating for higher pay, or better health insurance, or safer working conditions -- and the tales are inevitably accompanied by the usual grumbles about the greed of uppity workers, and how this will raise prices/taxes/insurance payments for everyone else.

You don't see those grumbles when police departments agitate for higher pay, better benefits or bigger/better equipment, and the reason given is that police work is necessary and -- of course -- dangerous.

Why don't jobs that are equally  necessary (except maybe Pro Football Player) and provably more dangerous get at least the same respect?