Another Pep Talk. This One To A Conservative

In reply to my recent “Pep Talk” piece, a local conservative wrote in with a bunch of really depressing things to say. Here is my attempt to help him out:

1. My post was not a “statement of despair.” Quite the opposite. The Resistance to Tr-mpism is strong. Your post, though, is full of despair. You sound weary and discontented. Even for a conservative.

2. I will skip some of the things you wrote in order to first deal with something I find central to the differences between you and me, between liberals and conservatives, and, I suppose, the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Here goes:

You want to emphasize “terrible choices” that people make “that result in woe for sure.” You then call on Americans to “take more responsibility for their own conditions.” Hmm. Let me see now. People, as far as I know, don’t get to pick their parents. Thus, they didn’t make a decision as to how they would be raised, what kind of conditions they were raised in, what kind of economic advantages or, more often, disadvantages they had, and so on. Add to all that the fact that none of us got to pick our brains, which includes not only the quantity and quality of intelligence we have or don’t have, but other things in the chemistry of our brains that shape who we are.

In this vein, you decided to pick “the problem of drugs and alcohol,” saying I haven’t tried to “tackle” it. You mention the current opioid crisis. It’s a funny thing about that crisis. It wasn’t on most Republicans’ radars until it started affecting rural white people. Now that it is affecting such folks, Republicans have decided they want to “tackle” it. A generation ago, when black folks in cities were having a hard time with drug addiction and all the problems that go with it, the response typically was “let’s build more prisons.” That response wasn’t just limited to Republicans; some Democrats responded that way also (think: Bill Clinton). But despite all that, I am glad Bill Clinton apologized and I am ecstatic that Republicans have decided people actually need help, rather than incarceration. That’s progress.

That leads me next to the idea that drug addiction is a “choice” people make. Well, I suppose there’s no use telling you, since you seem to be set in your ways, that doctors these days see it as a chronic disease, a disease of the brain. I don’t know anyone, perhaps you do, who chose to have a brain disease. So, you can stop with the “terrible choices” argument. Because if you persist I will simply ask you why do they make those terrible choices? And if you say because of this or that I will ask you again, why are they this or that way? You get the idea. People don’t wake up one day and decide to be a drug addict. They don’t wake up one day and decide to be sick in other ways. Nor do they hop out of bed on a sunny morning and say, “I think I’ll be poor!” It’s utter nonsense. People do make lots of bad decisions, like voting for Republicans, but it is usually because they have faulty decision-makers in their skulls.

Next, you are skeptical about how successful drug treatment programs are. You wrote,

“Treatment” for addiction is a facade, pure and simple. It doesn’t work. There must be a fundamental change within each addicted individual and the medical profession has yet find a way to promote such changes.

First, notice how you contradicted your earlier claim that drug addiction is a “choice.” Here you say there “must be a fundamental change within each addicted individual.” That is a claim that there is something wrong inside that person, something beyond that person’s control, something like a disease. Yes! And, thankfully, there are professionals, like those at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a government research institute), who disagree with your depressing claim that treatment “is a facade, pure and simple.” Here’s what the NIDA says:

Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on the brain and behavior and to regain control of their lives. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse is not only possible but also likely, with symptom recurrence rates similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses—such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma (see figure, “Comparison of Relapse Rates Between Drug Addiction and Other Chronic Illnesses”)—that also have both physiological and behavioral components.

I have high blood pressure. My doctor told me I will always have it, despite the fact I take medicine for it. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t choose to have it. Some days, despite the medicine, it is higher than others. Hopefully, it won’t kill me anytime soon, but who knows? The point is that chronic diseases are difficult to deal with, and drug addiction is especially tough to deal with. Not all treatments work for everyone. I know this from personal experience.

A relative of mine was a severe drug and alcohol abuser. She had all kinds of help and support available. She went to rehab several times. I remember giving her a ride to my mom’s house one weekend on the day she finished a stay in rehab. She had a pint of whiskey with her when I picked her up. So, the treatment she got didn’t work. Nothing eventually did. Drugs and alcohol killed her. She died when she was 40 years old.

Now, does that mean all is hopeless for everyone with a drug problem? No. Listen again to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Unfortunately, when relapse occurs many deem treatment a failure. This is not the case: Successful treatment for addiction typically requires continual evaluation and modification as appropriate, similar to the approach taken for other chronic diseases. For example, when a patient is receiving active treatment for hypertension and symptoms decrease, treatment is deemed successful, even though symptoms may recur when treatment is discontinued. For the addicted individual, lapses to drug abuse do not indicate failure—rather, they signify that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed…

Look at this graph:

If more of us began to see drug addiction like we see diabetes or high blood pressure, perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick to go to our ideological corners and argue about “personal responsibility” and all that. Maybe we would be able to agree that all chronic diseases are a problem and the people who have them, whether they live in our cities or in rural areas, deserve our compassion—and our help.

3. Like many conservatives, you attacked government employees. Mercilessly. You said they lack “spirit,” you said, “They are there only for the paycheck, the benefits and the retirement package with no consideration whatsoever for the ‘services’ they are suppose to provide.” As a former government employee, I can tell you that you are quite wrong—at least as far as the agency I worked for. And my guess is that civil servants in other agencies are like the ones I worked around: mostly hard-working, dedicated professionals who go to work to serve the public. Not all, mind you. But most. And do they do their work for the paycheck and benefits and retirement package? You’re damned right they do! Is that a problem for a conservative? Is working and expecting just compensation for your work a sin?

Oh, as a preface to your attack on government workers, you wrote about some of the problems you imagine are wrong with us as a people. You then said:

Government can no more fix those issues than fly to the moon.

Image result for July 20, 1969Huh? Were you awake in the 1960s? The government did in fact fly to the moon. And on July 20, 1969, three government employees not only flew to the moon, two of them landed on the damned thing, got out and walked around on it, then poked an American flag in the powder. They did that because of the hard work and dedication of countless government employees, or contractors hired by the government. And, yes, they all got a paycheck. And bennies. (Except for the moonwalkers.)

4. Finally, you said my “spirit” was good. You said you admired my “spunk” in fighting for what I believe is “right.” Thank you. But you said something else. You said “I will never change him or he change me in our fundamental beliefs.” You speak for yourself here. I don’t have a “you’ll never change me” gene in my body. How do you think I went from a raging right-winger to a sober liberal? So, I suggest you not project on me your own unwillingness—or inability!—to change, spunk or no spunk. If you want to change my mind, produce convincing arguments, offer irrefutable evidence, and otherwise behave rationally.

For now, though, cheer up and join the Resistance! We have a madman in the White’s House!



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  1. Thanks, Duane. I needed that. You hit pretty much all my thoughts when I read Anson’s post.

    I was a government contractor for the last 27 years of my work life. (As a matter of fact, that was where I came to know Anson.) I can tell you for personal experience that government employees are pretty much like any other segment of the population. Some of them are outstanding, and some of them are terrible, with a sort of gaussian distribution in between. If Anson would stop and think about it, he knows that, too. It doesn’t really matter which government agency or department you work in, you always have good and bad people that you must deal with, just like anywhere else.


  2. King Beauregard

     /  June 30, 2017

    Every time Anson posts another of his Walls Of Text, it’s always at heart a restatement of his principles (such as they are), rather than an exploration of the problems of the day. We can talk about how the Republicans are trying to take health care away from people and Anson’s response will be about how freedom is good and tyranny is bad.


  3. Anonymous

     /  June 30, 2017


    You are too kind in your rebuttals to such a dishonest man. You well know if such an obviously mentally unstable Democratic President exhibited behavior similar to Trump, the criticism from the left would be “fast and furious” in response. Anson has not offered a scintilla of criticism for his party supporting a man who absolutely cannot let any perceived slight pass without a full out assault against such.

    Anson’s party supports a lunatic that will undoubtedly repeat his base instinct to strike back against Korea or freaking Australia if Trump is offended sufficiently. If my party was not critical of such a threat to national security, I would not be a member of such. Anson cannot justify such support logically, so he hides behind, admitting to some of Trump’s flaws, but not criticizing his own party enabling a lunatic to lead the free world.

    Anson should be ashamed of himself for not calling out his own party’s dangerous support of a pyschological case study that is Trump. He is smart enough to realize this, but hides behind debating policy while the lunatic is running the asylum, and the other lunatic inmates cheer him on. I can only describe a person that is mentally competent and exhibits such behavior an asshole, so you are a kinder person than I. I wouldn’t respond to his queries, I would only ask him why the silence on his entire party’s support of a lunatic.


    • I can think of worse things to be accused of than being “too kind,” but I know what you mean.

      I have wondered all this time (after predicting correctly that Anson would not be a Tr-mp fan) why he does not just openly and loudly condemn the Republican Party for its aiding and abetting some dangerous shit. I’ve even asked him and sometimes scolded him for it. But then I remember: he doesn’t consider himself a Republican and I suppose he doesn’t consider it his job to criticize the party all that much. He seems, at present, to be in “f**k both parties” mode, which I find ridiculous. The Democratic Party has acted with restraint, considering what we have seen and are, as I write this, seeing by the hour. We are in dangerous times and it won’t do to equally blame “both parties” for the fix we’re in. No, no, no. I’m with you. Not just Anson, but all thinking people, from any political party, ought to be, day after day, calling out the Republican Party for supporting a disturbed and dishonest grifter like Tr-mp.

      Think about this. Right now, no Republican is calling for the revocation of the security clearance of Jared Kushner—who, among other things, met with someone thought to be a Russian government operative who had some dirt on Clinton. Not one. At least that I have heard. Imagine if things were reversed. Patriots, indeed.




  4. ansonburlingame

     /  July 2, 2017

    To all above,

    I expected (and appreciate) a strong response to my comments by Duane. But first a couple of other observations.

    Until encountering him in this blog I have no recollection of every knowing Michael Gaden But it seems he knows me from the past based on his comment above. Based on timing (last 27 years) I suspect we crossed paths during my civilian career, probably at Rocky Flats, or may Nevada Test Site. Certainly we have a common background in matters nuclear.

    I freely admit that during the time frame 1990 until 1997 I was a controversial figure in the DOE former nuclear weapons sites business (when it was trying to keep producing weapons and then radically moved to environmental cleanup). I was amazed at how dysfunctional that “complex” had become or always was as far as I could tell. I rattled a LOT of cages, egos, etc. and did my best to implement fundamental changes to conducting nuclear operations within DOE facilities. Some thought I was right, others thought I was wrong and some thought I was ………. (put in any four letter words you like). Michael may have observed that process. Bottom line, he probably thought of me as a “typical Navy Nuc” and he would be correct in that assessment. But remember, this was a national effort to produce nuclear weapons, yet not a single facility therein (in 1990) even had a Radiological Controls Manual, or standardized DOE program to properly deal with radioactive material, as just an example. That changed and some ranted for sure. Today I don’t defend or promote what I did but remain at “peace” knowing I gave it my best shot.

    As for defending Trump, horseshit is all I can say as well as any relationship with “my party” (the GOP) They are as bad as Democrats and you are correct Duane, I “despair” over the state of politics in America as a result.

    But the real point of this response to Duane and others is my view on the situations related to controlling (mitigating) the effects of addiction to drugs and alcohol. I have personal experience with such efforts for the last, yep, 27 years Michael, ever since 1990. I know what has worked (and NOT worked) for me and many, many others. And yes, my views can be called controversial as well.

    “Treatment” for such addiction must implement a new and life-long process within individuals, period. And it is by far the most difficult thing I have every encountered, personally and observed in others. It must be a day to day exercise. Let up for a moment and all hell can (and has for me) break loose.

    I repeat that “treatment” is in fact (for me and many others) by itself a facade. It can help for sure but ……… I met a superb alcohol counselor one time that had been in 27 DIFFERENT “treatment programs” before he got it right. That man knew what he was talking about!!! And no, he was not a failure. It just took unbelievable personal effort over years and years of hard work to reach a point where he had something worthwhile to teach others.

    If anyone reading this thinks that a $30,000 – $50,000, 30 day rehab is the solution to addiction, then read no further. About 95% of people attending such programs relapse if more, much more is not undertaken by such individuals. Professional mental health treatment for addiction by itself will not yet cure, or even mitigate, such addiction unless more, much more is undertaken, one patient at a time, for the rest of their lives, period (in my view at least).

    I offer one pertinent observation to support my contention, an observation heard many times in various “treatment programs”. If a drunken horse thief stops drinking but does not stop acting out his inclination to be a horse thief, he will in almost all cases drink again, someday. If one is an alcoholic “just don’t drink” will prevent further escapades of drunkness. But if he does not control his other erratic behavior, well you can bet he will drink again, someday and he will be right back where he started as a drunk maybe decades ago.

    “Treatment” will provide every good reason in the world to never drink or use drugs, again. But controlling the personal choice to just say “fuck it and drink or use again”, for whatever reason, must ultimately come down to each individual fighting those demons and then making the right choice, in the middle of a dark night when one’s ass is simply “on fire” for whatever reason. No pill (or treatment protocals) has been developed to negate that simple fact. Maybe someday, but the mental health profession has yet to find it today.

    Finally, on that same topic, when I hear of calls for massive funding of more treatment programs and then see unbelievable misuse of such massive funding by the “treatment industry” I just roll my eyes and say here we go again, throwing money at something that money will never fix on a societal scale. In that regard, I have the same views about throwing money at the issue to “fix” public K12 education. Pay every elementary teacher in America a minimum wage of $100,000 per year today and we will still graduate many, many students that lack the academic and behavioral skills to be productive citizens in America. Yes, a “good teacher” is worth that salary today. But how do you pick the good ones and get rid of the bad ones? Who can and should make such decisions?



  5. Anson, after these many (7 ?)years of communication I note a consistency to your arguments. You typically set up a straw-man condition and then attack it. Case in point, the addiction issue. Apparently, from your point of view, treatment programs are pretty much worthless and yet, as Duane’s statistics show, they do in fact succeed about half the time.

    Nobody in this post has argued that an individual will to succeed is not a necessary component of treatment, yet you write as though that is the case. Nobody in this post has argued that treatment is a panacea, but only that it is worth the expense, an expense which you term “massive”, but which is only one component of a healthcare system which ought in the 21st century to be a right of citizenship and which other industrialized countries have proven to be affordable.

    I am glad that you perceive fault with the GOP but that is tempered by your consistent embrace of its ethos, that society’s problems are not deserving of a systems approach because people lack sufficient will to improve themselves. You have a lot of company in this because of our culture. That’s why Americans are the most incarcerated people of any industrialized nation in the world. It ain’t working. And by the way, speaking of cost, the average cost in 2010 of incarcerating an addicted felon ranges from $31,000 to $60,000 a year.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jim,

      Thanks for this nice summary of Anson’s general tendency to assault, sometimes with inexplicable fury, straw men. I don’t think he does it on purpose, though. I think he just has certain pre-conceived ideas about liberals and misses what may be an unfamiliar or nuanced point or two. Or three.

      I do think you are absolutely correct about his “consistent embrace” of the Republican ethos—that people generally suffer because they’re lazy or simply not good bootstrappers—no matter how critical he may be of its application. Over all these years (it’s been more than 8 now!) his embrace and defense of that ethos has been the most frustrating part of our interactions. I am confident that in his “normal” life he helps people who need it. But he just can’t seem to translate that personal ethos into a larger ethos in which we have what you called “a systems approach” to the problems many folks have. Very, very frustrating.



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