Mr. Christian, Front and Center!

February 8th, 2018

Sometimes, when a soldier is ordered to do something that violates his or her oath to defend the Constitution, the soldier refuses to obey.  When a group of soldiers receives such an order, mutiny can result. 

There have been published reports that the current commander-in-chief Donald Trump is considering a military attack on Iran. Not only would this be contrary to Trump’s constitutional obligations, it would be career suicide for the military brass that would be charged with carrying it out.

Theirs is an army that has been kicked out of Iraq, defeated in Afghanistan, discredited in Libya and ignored in Syria. To fight another war 7,000 miles from home with that sort of army plus a quarter million green recruits and zero support from the nation at large would be about the dumbest mission an officer could undertake. If Trump is in fact determined to attack Iran, we can be confident that there is at least one general or admiral who is now considering the possibility of mutiny, and some may even be plotting it.

The landscape surrounding Iran is dotted with outposts where U. S. forces are stationed–or maybe stranded–many within easy range of Iranian missiles. On their own turf, Persians are know to be formidable fighters, and, as victims of unprovoked attack, they would have world opinion on their side. Iran’s rulers, who enjoy widespread approval among the general public, wouldn’t abandon their posts because of a few drone attacks. As our intelligence sources tell us, Iran is pretty well armed and may be able to call in assistance from erstwhile allies to the East.

There can be no general officer who believes, in the exercise of sound professional judgment, that war with Iran is winnable or in any way a good idea. On the contrary, all evidence indicates that this war would be launched solely for the glorification of the commander-in-chief, whose recent command to organize a military parade for his personal aggrandizement must raise concerns among members of his staff. At least one of them found the plan sufficiently alarming to disclose it to the media, an insubordinate act in itself.

If this commander-in-chief were to issue an order to attack Iran, and a general officer declined to obey, what might happen? Trump would probably order a sergeant to take the general out and shoot him, and the sergeant would probably obey out of fear for his own survival. This possibility leaves responsible general officers with a conundrum. What do you do about a deranged commander-in-chief with the power of life and death in his hands? In the past, assassination has been considered for such leaders, and it’s occasionally succeeded. If real life were a work of fiction, high-ranking military officers would today be plotting the assassination of their commander-in-chief as a preemptive measure to avert a catastrophic application of armed force.

Trump, a paranoid fellow to begin with, might sense a mutinous atmosphere among “his” generals, even if it’s not there. After all, he’s known to be a voracious consumer of fiction, and, as a creation of the mass media, is essentially a fictional character himself. That may be why this all sounds so much like the plot of a Shakespeare play. The tendency of absolute power to transform narcissistic people into tragic, destructive characters is a recurring theme, in history as in fiction.

If it’s plausible that a deranged president might suspect his generals of plotting his assassination and take some sort of action to forestall any such plot, it’s also plausible that putative plotters might act preemptively to save themselves. So if you read that Trump or one of his generals fell down a flight of stairs or succumbed to indigestion, your skepticism will be entirely justified.

Taking Sides

February 7th, 2018

If you’re uncertain which side to favor in any of the myriad conflicts raging in these complicated times, you’re not alone. Here in the USA, we’re picking up debris left over from an election contest between two of the least popular celebrities that ever adorned a magazine cover. Which one do you hate less? Which political party should we repudiate, considering that, in tandem, Pubs and Crats gave a us a choice between crime families? Suppose you had to select the lesser evil from these two choices: the Trump Administration and the FBI. It’s almost a joke. Public policy as situation comedy. Are you obliged to hate Assad and love Netanyahu? Can you honestly detest Nunes without also gagging on Schiff? Is it really treachery to be rootin’ for Putin?

If we wanted to assess our potential allies and adversaries on the basis of merit, we might start with a list of virtues and vices that institutions and nations typically exhibit. Most Americans would probably favor humane, fair-minded, egalitarian systems over brutal, arbitrary, autocratic ones. Whether we’re talking about nations, businesses, political parties, or even families, we like to think of ourselves as caring and generous folk. Our actions as a nation say we are nothing of the sort.

With the approval of both political parties and big swaths of the mass media, our government displays armed force in over 100 foreign countries and has killed people in dozens of them as a matter of course. We have been bombing Afghans for 17 years, and we have no plans to quit. We deny education to poor children and we deny health care to their families. We incur debt like the most desperate of degenerate gamblers. We give our law enforcers the power of life and death. We imprison people without charge for indeterminate periods. We reject science and worship fame. We consume advertising like candy. Among endorsers of this system–employers, members of Congress, rich people–fair-minded egalitarians will find few allies.

On the theory that an enemy of your enemy is your friend, good citizens of the USA might reasonably express approval of adversaries of their own government and condemn its allies. You might resist the urgings of Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Donald Trump and simply repudiate their ally, Israeli leader Netanyahu (who bombed some Arabs this week), but embrace their mortal enemy, North Korea’s Kim Jung Un (who has initiated diplomatic contact with his nation’s long-time enemy and US proxy to the South). If Democrats tell you Russians are bad, and the CIA is good, Russians are probably good, and the CIA isn’t. If Republicans tell you immigrants are not to be trusted, but Fox News is, it’s probably the other way around.

This analysis will require a bit of adjustment when both parties to a conflict are equally corrupt. Consider issues of war and peace as addressed by the US government. Republicans express their approval of armed force with displays of weapons, military parades, and F-16 fly-bys, while Democrats do it by spending tax dollars with local arms dealers and pledging allegiance to the flag. The two parties claim to disagree on key issues of what they both call “national defense,” even as both subsist on rich peoples’ money, much of it derived from weapons sales.  Who you gonna favor in that staged and scripted showdown? You might as well try to choose between Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Sometimes you can’t even figure out which side is which. Turkey is in an alliance with the USA. Turkey is also fighting a rebellion by Kurds, members of a distinct ethnic group that reside in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The USA has been arming Kurds for over 20 years in an effort to destablize governments in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Lately Turkey has been in close consultation with its neighbors Iran, Syria, and Russia, in hopes of mitigating some of the bloody conflicts on its borders and beyond, even as it’s dropping bombs on Kurds armed by the USA. In the meantime, Israel, the UK and the USA work tirelessly to keep the armed conflicts going, even to the point of arming combatants on both sides. Sometimes it looks like the object of all this is to shed blood, destroy property and expend munitions, a highly profitable enterprise for those who can afford to invest in it.

Your safest bet in taking sides may simply be to oppose the interest of the rich in every conflict. By this standard, you’d have to repudiate both Democrats and Republicans, both NPR and Fox News, both Lockheed and the American Red Cross, all funded and controlled by wealthy interests. Rich people don’t want us to know that economics is a zero-sum game in which their gain is our loss, but you can do the math and maybe discover who’s on your side and who’s not.

A. S. S.

February 1st, 2018

Geeks engaged in the creation of artificial intelligence may be tempted to abandon that slow-moving effort in favor of the latest cyberfad, artificial stupidity. It’s a much more complicated field, in that accuracy and precision, the focus of artificial intelligence, typically produce a single “right” solution to a particular problem, whereas artificial stupidity must take in a wide range of “wrong” answers, all of which must be evaluated and digitized. The object, of course, is to find the answers that are least likely to solve the problem.

You might think that wrong answers have no practical use, but you would be wrong. Consider, by way of example, the problem of what’s popularly known as wealth inequality. The disparity in wealth and income between people at the top of the economic scale and people at the bottom is widely believed to be the source of numerous social problems. It would seem that a straightforward redistribution of resources could relieve some of the distress, but that might present a risk to the fragile economic structure we all depend on for sustenance. With never-ending trials of solutions that are certain to fail, we can preserve inequality even as we condemn it. Today, the patently ridiculous prescription for wealth inequality is tax relief for rich people. When that proves a demonstrable failure, artificial stupidity will provide us with new suggestions for futile initiatives to mitigate wealth inequality and allow us to continue the fight against social evils like war, racism, domestic violence, suicide and drug addiction far into the foreseeable future.

Artificial stupidity may also someday yield a social gullibility inventory, possibly as a by-product of its search for ineffective solutions to solvable problems. The high hurdle for nonsense explanations of conditions, events and phenomena is social acceptance. If the artificial stupidity community can find a way to mimic the process by which large numbers of people come to reject, for example, Darwin’s theory of natural selection in favor of divine planning, it will be a huge break-through. Even now, computers are buzzing, as scholars try to compile and collate instances of foolishness with brain scans of idiots, imbeciles and schmegeggies. The object: an Artificial Stupidity Scale (ASS), to serve as a compendium of 21st Century inanity.

ASS may be able to tell us why people get all worked up over their favorite sports team but couldn’t give a crap about the honesty or decency of their leaders.  With ASS we’ll have no further need to fret over why a motorist risks life and limb to gain a car length.  We’ll be able to stop wondering how two skyscrapers could be demolished in New York with people in them and the guys who did it still be walking the street. ASS will give us answers. Wrong ones, but answers nonetheless.

Television is certain to emerge as a principal element in the stupidity of humans, but its role in ASS is still in doubt. TV programming and advertising reduce humans to a state of reeking stupor, but they seem to have no such effect on digital processers of any kind. The machines just don’t respond to the “I’m worth it” and “Win/Win” principles that infect human viewers. Research might take a big leap if the machines could compile an exhaustive inventory of human stupidity simply by watching TV, but that seems unlikely. ASS developers may have to enter the various instances of idiocy one by one.

It may well be impossible to document every moronic move made by every person, and so ASS is programmed to focus only on the most grievous failures of cognition. Even at that, the ASS inventory is running to about 250 volumes, and the inanities keep on coming.

S - - T

January 12th, 2018

My mother didn’t use the word “shit.” She never hesitated to use other expletives, but this one she found offensive and avoided. She changed five kids’ diapers, but she didn’t like what she found there, and fecal references were frowned on at our house. I once asked her if we could get squeeze bottles for mustard and ketchup like they had in restaurants, and she said the sound disgusted her, and, no, we’d have to struggle with jars and bottles as long as we were in her house.

My father wasn’t quite so delicate. He would tell us about using the outhouse in winter, and also about digging a new hole and relocating the shack every so often. I don’t remember any explicit references to shitholes (Should I slip a hyphen in there, for pronunciation purposes?), but that’s what he was talking about. The President’s reference tells us, among other things, that he’s not familiar with outhouse culture and really doesn’t know what a shithole is.

Trump will be remembered as the man who made “shit” a household word. You might hear the word uttered on TV now at any time of day, and it’s likely to be there from now on. Mothers of young children may be concerned, because the little lads and lasses tend to pick up naughty words as readily as candy. So it looks like we either have to censor news about the commander-in-chief or corrupt the language of our children.

Here’s a possible solution. We substitute the word Trump for all fecal references. So when little Johnnie complains that his spinach puree looks and tastes like shit, Mama can tell him, “Don’t say shit. It’s not nice. Say Trump.” Dogshit becomes dogtrump. “Do you have to pee or do Trump?” mothers will inquire.  Bulltrump, ironically enough, is the president’s stock-in-trade. “Lying sack of Trump,” will be heard regularly. Diapers could become known as trumpsacks. Then there’s the Shite House over on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I could go on, but nature calls. You might say I have to take a Trump.

What’s the Official U.S. Religion?

January 1st, 2018

“(N)either a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church,” declared the U. S. Supreme Court in 1947, citing the ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment. “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.” 

In fact, the United States government does prefer one religion over others, and that religion is Judaism. Our government’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as territory of the Jewish state of Israel amounts to an establishment of religion, in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Defying United Nations resolutions explicitly forbidding the annexation of Jerusalem by any nation, the announcement is accompanied by billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Israel, a nation that accords preferential status to people of Jewish ancestry and maintains, on religious grounds, a permanent state of war with its non-Jewish neighbors. The obvious focus of U. S. policy is to preserve the Jewish character of Israel and, eventually, to establish Jewish dominion over all of Palestine.

The United States government also gives tacit approval to the Jewish nation’s arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, at the same time as it condemns the state of Iran for developing nuclear capacities that could eventually produce a nuclear weapon. Today, the U. S. government tolerates threats of armed force against Iran by the Jewish state–adding its own threats of violence as an Israeli proxy–even as it tries to disengage from a war that killed and uprooted millions of Iraqis because of unfounded suspicions about that nation’s nuclear capacities and the potential threat it posed to the Jewish state. The U. S. government nods with approval at Israel’s importation of Jews to displace Palestinians from Jerusalem and other annexed territory.

Not only does our government give direct aid to the Jewish religion through the Jewish state, it persecutes people of Arabic extraction here and abroad on behalf of the Jewish state. Members of Congress are lobbied incessantly by Jewish interest groups to adopt resolutions meant to punish and humiliate Arabs, Persians, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. Candidates for high office single out the Islamic religion for condemnation.

In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the United States government rounded up Arabs, even as it arranged for the destruction of critical evidence of involvement in the attack by the Jewish government of Israel. Since 1967, out of special concern for the Jewish state, the U. S. government has been engaged in a systematic cover-up of events surrounding the sinking of the intelligence vessel U.S.S. Liberty, whose crew was nearly eradicated by fighter jets of the Jewish state of Israel.

At this moment, Muslims across the country are under special surveillance by state and federal law enforcement authorities. Police agents have infiltrated mosques and local Muslim groups, and Federal agents have targeted Muslims for phony terrorist plots. Hundreds of Muslims have sat in U.S. captivity in the years following 2001 without charges, and thousands have been subjected to torture. No other religious groups are represented in any numbers among these prisoners.

Does anyone doubt that there would be no conflict between the United States and the Islamic faith but for the preservation of a Jewish (and altogether European) state on the eastern Mediterranean? Does anyone doubt that our military adventures in that region are prosecuted on behalf of the Jewish state? Are we not as a government promoting an establishment of religion when we hold prisoners without charges, administer torture, subvert the rule of law, encourage the illegal annexation of territory and wage war to preserve the religious identity of a foreign nation?

In the Event

December 5th, 2017

We probably should be encouraged by the news that North Korea has successfully tested a missile that’s capable of hitting any target in the USA. Previously, the range of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon delivery systems limited its destructive capacity to targets on the Pacific Coast of the USA. Now that Washington is within reach, maybe San Diego and L. A. can be spared.

Heeding the lessons of our adventures in Baghdad, we should not assume that there will be dancing in the streets if Washington is vaporized. It does seem unlikely, however, that our outside-the-beltway population would opt for the total annihilation of humanity if the capitol were our only loss.

If you haven’t been through D. C. lately, it’s definitly worth a trip. The decadence is, in the overblown jargon of D. C. neojournalists, “stunning.” Even from the beltway you can smell the money. Corruption so infuses the atmosphere that it’s easy to doubt whether the roads and overpasses will support the weight of the traffic.

The people who dwell there aren’t aware that most of the rest of us tend to gag at conspicuous displays of wealth. As you pass the bling-studded edifices that clutter the landscape, you might wonder how people get so rich on the doings of a debt-burdened government. Wonder on. Wonder how a legislator becomes a multimillionaire after 20 years in Congress. Wonder how news reporters bring down six-figure and seven-figure salaries. Wonder who keeps the principal players in office year after year, decade after decade. Wonder why ordinary people aren’t trampling the mall bearing torches and pitchforks.

We tend to forget that a state of war continues to exist between North Korea and the USA, despite repeated attempts on their part to negotiate a peace. We destroyed their country when I was a child, and they’ve been worried that we would do it again ever since. And now we have a government that’s threatening to do just that.

We all have friends and associates in Washington, D. C., so there will be grief if the North Koreans attack. And you hate to see all that alabaster pulverized. On the other hand, if we have to sacrifice a few buildings and our member of Congress and president to ensure the survival of the rest of us, is it really such a high price to pay?

Collusion

October 31st, 2017

If we look critically at the story propounded by the embedded mass media as “Russian meddling in the 2016 election,” it looks like most of the collusion is between news reporters and political manipulators in this country. Object: to sell the meddling story to a gullible nation. 

The media don’t seem to find the idea of meddling preposterous. If the minions of the Democratic party couldn’t swing the election, financed to the tune of billions of bucks and supported by nearly every newspaper editor in the country, what might Russia expect to accomplish with a few pathetic trouble-making items on Facebook and Twitter? Are the news-mongers serious when they try to sell this as meddling? Israel meddles. At best, Russia merely dabbles. Most likely, the motives of the parties involved were altogether commercial and not at all political. There’s a lucrative elections industry here, and there must be Russians who would like to feed at that trough, alongside our own mass media.

Both politically and journalistically, there’s nothing like the denunciation of an enemy to attract an audience. As denouncers, the candidates Trump and Clinton were in fierce competition, assigning hostile intent variously to Iranians, Arabs, Russians, Koreans, Venezuelans, Chinese and lesser powers, even to the ends of the Earth. Neojournalists from Washington to Honolulu joined the scapegoating mob, and the populace is now expected to take up torches and pitchforks against the named enemies. Tested by the atrocities of September 11, 2001, the people were found sufficiently gullible to cast blame on just about anybody but their own corrupt leaders in politics and the media. It is the collusion between these powers that we should worry about, but don’t rely on the media or government for warnings.

Kneeling for La Borinqueña

October 20th, 2017

My city is likely to receive a bounty from the hurricane that trashed Puerto Rico. Hartford is home to tens of thousands of people with roots in the island culture. Over the coming days and weeks we should expect many hurricane evacuees to arrive here, where they can find friends and relatives. People from the Caribbean have enriched our city in my lifetime, and a wave of new arrivals is an occasion. Let’s hope our community can come up with a coherent strategy to accommodate them.

In the wake of the hurricane,you might have expected our national government to be at work on a coherent strategy for Puerto Rico. We hear that “the island” borrowed billions of dollars and can’t pay them back. To judge from published reports, the money didn’t go to “the island” or to most of its residents. Rather, it seems to have ended up in the pockets of rich people, who got richer in proportion to the money that was advanced. Poor people got poorer, but they’re the ones whose pockets will be emptied to pay the money back. No coherent strategy has been suggested  to deal with that situation.

Even though it’s part of the USA and its residents are American citizens by birthright, Puerto Rico is administered as a colonial possession. It’s subject to special federal laws that facilitate the exploitation of labor and natural resources for private profit. For a hundred and some years, capitalists have seen to it that the status of most islanders hovers slightly above that of livestock. Roads, bridges, utilities, schools, and public amenities of every kind are denied proper maintenance, making the entire infrastructure delicate and vulnerable to destructive weather.

Don’t look for a coherent strategy to deal with destructive weather. With the island reeling from two storms in quick succession, causing unprecedented damage, you might expect some suggestions for what to do when the next one strikes. Because forecasters say it will. I haven’t heard a thing. It appears that some residential neighborhoods at low elevations will have to be abandoned permanently. What will happen to the people who lived there isn’t discussed. By anybody. How and when normal commerce will be restored is anyone’s guess, and we hear no plan of action from any source. Here’s a place that ought to be a tropical paradise, and yet its future is bleak. Why?

Some think the problem is political. Puerto Rico isn’t a sovereign but a possession of the US government. Public policy for Puerto Rico is made not in San Juan but in Washington, DC. Given a chance, the people of Puerto Rico might achieve a better state of preparedness than the coalition of bureaucrats and businessmen that govern today and that have failed the people so grievously. This compact island could be generating electric power to a modern grid entirely with inexhaustible solar and tidal resources, if only the oil and gas industry were willing to give up the island’s lucrative market. It’s an island with ample high ground and no system to relocate people threatened regularly by flooding, which is predicted to get worse with each passing year.

Puerto Ricans will probably achieve some sort of equilibrium as they cope with the devastation. Many will leave the island. Many who are here on the mainland now will find ways to aid those who remain. Government and the mass media will almost certainly hinder efforts at recovery, as they maneuver to create opportunities for rich people to profit from the disaster. Because of the corruption of these institutions, Americans have no reliable knowledge of what sort of future Puerto Ricans want or need, further impeding progress. In places like Hartford, support for the recovery will be strong across all segments of the public, but Puerto Rico will soon be forgotten by most Americans. The resolve and resourcefullness of its people will determine the island’s future.

Nine to Five

October 18th, 2017

In the struggle against sexual harassment in  the workplace, the first step must be accountability for notorious, justice-evading, serial sexual predators Clarence Thomas and  Bill Clinton. Thomas, whose victims were attacked by the  political establishment of both parties as liars and  opportunists, sits on the Supreme Court of the United  States. Clinton, whose victims were branded sluts by his  loyal wife, continues to draw enthusiastic applause from  Democrats of all sexes. Every honor we bestow on these  two is an endorsement of sex crime.

Notice how elegantly the mass media manage to talk about  sex harassment without mentioning either Clinton or  Thomas. In defiance of logic and the weight of available  evidence, the media decided to vindicate these two. It  was a cynical decision, but it enabled reporters to  avoid pointing out from time to time that an author of  historic court decisions and a much applauded president  are sex fiends. A reporter can’t pay proper respect to  these two without lying to himself and his readers.  Better just omit these two successful sexual predators  from the discussion.

We should note that there was no such thing as sexual  harassment until fairly recently. It was taken for  granted that men in positions of authority had absolute  power over their female subordinates. If your sister’s boss was a gentleman, it wasn’t because he had any legal  obligation toward her. I had a boss–a well-known  attorney placed in a position of authority over a staff  of young lawyers–who ordered one of my colleagues, a  shapely woman, to turn around to be displayed to a  visitor. She reported it, but in those days it was  considered harmless and trivial. Still is. We have legal obligations now that we didn’t have then, but they’re  weak, as the elevated status of Clinton and Thomas (not  to mention Trump) attests.

Almost 30 years ago, I was invited to coach a high-school mock trial team representing my alma mater. The  case involved a woman who was propositioned by her boss.  The common law was just then beginning to recognize that  employees ought to be protected from such abuses of  authority, and there were a few new cases that were meant to do just that. Sexual harassment was a  new legal term of art. Since then, I’ve represented several victims of workplace sexual abuse. In every case, the culpable party was the boss, and every one of these guys thought he was doing the woman a favor by paying attention to her. Like Clinton. Like Thomas.

Our clients showed great courage in taking their bosses to court, especially considering how things turned out for victims of celebrities like Clinton and Thomas. The fact that these two men still command respect puts a chill on any victim of workplace abuse. Weinstein, Cosby and Trump are beneficiaries of the lax-enforcement doctrine adopted by the media to accommodate these two. The cost is placed on working women, millions of whom, ironically, voted last year to put a sex fiend and his enabler back in the White House.

If we were living in a work of fiction, Clinton and Thomas would both have broken noses. Fiction can return us to an age when our value system included an  inclination to protect the weak from the strong. We  abandoned that value when we became what we  euphemistically call a “superpower.” As a nation, we’ve  destroyed some of the weakest peoples on earth, yet  we’re unapologetic, even boastful. Like Thomas. Like Clinton. Like Trump. Can’t maintain that  attitude and a binding moral code at the same time.  Victims of bullies are left to sink or swim by people  like us. If we lived in a work of fiction, the victims  would band together and buy some muscle to inflict  retribution, and values would be restored by force.

But we don’t live in a work of fiction, and in real life there’s no security for working women until we insist on justice for the sex criminals that walk among us. We can’t excuse our sons for their sexual misconduct and affect shock when our daughters are molested.

Ope Springs Eternal

October 9th, 2017

I had a call from a doctor conducting a study of Veterans Hospital patients who had been prescribed “opioids” for pain. Two years ago, after some major surgery to my digestive tract, I got a big bottle of oxycodone, which is a tiny pill that kills pain like magic. It mimics the effects of heroin and is every bit as addictive. The researcher wanted to know who had prescribed the drug and how much warning I’d received about the risks. I didn’t have much to offer in the way of details. I’d spent a month in intensive care with 20 different nurses and a dozen doctors, and they all merged together. I’m sure somebody told me about the risks of the pills, but I already knew about addiction, which I’ve seen at pretty close quarters. 

The interview, which was recorded, went on for about 15 minutes with questions probing how much I knew about opioids and what I might recommend in the way of precautions, counseling, intervention and other possible means of reducing risk. I told her she might want to consider calling the drugs “narcotics,” which they are, instead of “opioids,” which might not be so readily recognized as addictive. I suppose that’s just what the drug-dealers intended, to disguise the addictive potential of the drugs our doctors are giving us.

I was a little surprised that in 15 minutes my interviewer never asked about the euphoric effects of the drug I’d taken. Did she think I hadn’t noticed that two pills not only relieve your pain but also get you high? Take two more in two hours and double your pleasure. No VA doctor or nurse ever talked to me about that, and this researcher seemed to be censoring it out of our conversation. I suggested that patients probably ought to get at least this warning: “If you want to get high, don’t use this. Use something else. Unless you’re dying, in which case addiction’s not a worry.”

Instead of probing that subject any further, my interviewer veered off to ask the question that made her regret she’d called me. “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that relates to your experience with opioids?”

“Duh! Cannabis! Ever hear of it? Legal in my state, but not for VA patiens. It’s a pain killer. It’s a euphoriant. It’s not habit-forming. In fact, it cures addiction in many cases. Doctors and nurses won’t even talk about it, even though most of you use it.”

She stammered out a few expressions of surprise. I asked her directly if she used cannabis. No answer. Totally discredited. So be on the lookout for a study of veterans prescribed “opioids.” Whatever they tell you, stay skeptical.