Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Face of God

Had a conversation yesterday with an old man who has lived here for 50 years.  He told of working with a well driller back a few years who was a genius at finding water.  He was so good, in fact, that they would arrive at a site in the morning, he would decide where to drill, they would set up the rig, and have water by lunchtime.  A quick bite, a pee, maybe a smoke and then off to drill another well before dark.  


The old man said he had thought long and hard about God in his life, and had learned working with the driller that Water is the Face of God.  Nothing lives without water, Water is the trinity: vapor, liquid, solid.  We are composed of Water and a few other chemicals, everything you see outside your window contains Water.  He said he goes to church for the music and the food sometimes, but when he wants to feel the presence of God, he goes for a walk.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Get Your Act Together Before It's Too Late

An acquaintance back in New Jersey has been involved in a volatile, often abusive, relationship with one of those striking Italian brunettes that are native to the Jersey Shore.  He has threatened more than once to pack up his van and get out of Dodge (or Little Egg Harbor, in this case).  But, like in the Sopranos, every time he's almost out, "they pull me back in." And off he goes on the roller coaster again.

Recently, however, there was a new twist to the soap opera.  The Jersey girl was hospitalized with an aneurysm.  Her brain was swelling so that the doctors had to remove half her skull.  She has been in a coma for three weeks now.  Of course, Jersey Boy has been distraught, fearing that his sometime wish to have her out of his life might really be granted.

The feeling of helplessness he's experiencing has expressed itself in the decision to have her name tattooed down his arm from shoulder to wrist.  A friend who obviously knows the history of this on-again, off-again love affair posted on Facebook: "And nobody ever regretted a decision like that."  I wonder if Jersey Boy even got it.

I have walked around this planet with my eyes and ears open long enough to have learned a few things, and here is one of them.  You spend the first 18 years just growing up, going to school, rolling along to adulthood.  Then, you spend from 18 to about 30 figuring out who you are and learning what not to do.  This is also when you pair up with someone and pass on your genes to the next generation.  From 30 to 50, though, is when you actually get your shit together.  Your career is established, you accumulate assets, you realize your parents aren't going to live forever and you will step up to the plate, and you learn to take comfort in good friends, beautiful sunsets, and the fact that you have only put on an extra 15 pounds since your college days.

Now Jersey Boy is pushing 50, so it's beyond time to break the addiction to drama.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

House Sitting in California

Ron and I are trying an experiment:house and pet sitting for a couple in Shingle Springs, California.  They are interesting, well-travelled folks who have a house on the beach in Costa Rica and they are headed there for a month.  So we are getting out of the heat in Phoenix and spending this time in the gold rush country.  There are other creative ways retirees are using their time to travel and experience new places.  This article from the NY Times is chock full of ideas.

Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road
By DAVID WALLISAUG. 29, 2014

SOME call themselves “senior gypsies.” Others prefer “international nomad.” David Law, 74, a retired executive recruiter who has primarily slept in tents in several countries in the last two years, likes the ring of “American Bedouin.”

They are American retirees who have downsized to the extreme, choosing a life of travel over a life of tending to possessions. And their numbers are rising.

Mr. Law and his wife, Bonnie Carleton, 69, who are selling their house in Santa Fe, N.M., spoke recently by phone from a campground in Stoupa, Greece, a village on the southern coast of the Peloponnese. He explained that they roam the world to “get the broadest and most radical experience that we can get.”

They recently decided to fold their tent. “Hey, we’re getting to be too old for this,” said Mr. Law about camping out. But they intend to continue what he termed their “endless holiday” in a more comfortable and spacious recreational vehicle.

Between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of all retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent, according to the Commerce Department.

About 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier. An informal survey of insurance brokers found greater demand by older clients for travel medical policies. (Medicare, with a few exceptions, does not cover expenses outside the United States). While many retirees ultimately return home or become expatriates, some live like vagabonds.

Lynne Martin, 73, a retired publicist and the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World,” is one. Three years ago, she and her husband, Tim, 68, sold their three-bedroom house in Paso Robles, Calif., gave away most of their possessions, found a home for their Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, and now live in short-term vacation rentals they usually find through HomeAway.com.

The Martins have not tapped their savings during their travels, alternating visits to expensive cities like London with more reasonable destinations like Lisbon. “We simply traded the money we were spending for overhead on a house and garden in California for a life in much smaller but comfortable HomeAway rentals in more interesting places,” Ms. Martin said by email from Paris.

On her blog, Barefoot Lovey, Stacy Monday, 50, a former paralegal and mediator who lived in Knoxville, Tenn., wrote: “I used to dream about all the places I would go as soon as I was old enough to get away. But then ... life happened.” On May 1, 2010 — like many itinerant baby boomers Ms. Monday can quickly recall the date her journey started — she embarked on her dream trip. She “crisscrossed the U.S. three times” and visited Mexico, Ireland, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and many other countries.

“I sold everything I had,” Ms. Monday recalled earlier this summer from San Francisco before she headed to Las Vegas, Dallas, Memphis and Knoxville. “I paid off all of my debt. I have no bills and no money.” She estimates that she now spends $150 a month — sometimes less if she is saving up for a flight — and earns a modest income through “odds-and-ends jobs,” as well as the tip jar on her blog.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
To stick to her tight budget, Ms. Monday volunteers for nonprofits and organic farms in exchange for room and board or finds free places to stay through Couchsurfing.org. The company puts its membership of people 50 and older at about 250,000.

Ms. Monday monitors ride-share boards at Couchsurfing and Craigslist for free or inexpensive transportation, and she travels light. “I get away with a couple pairs of jeans, a pair of shorts, a skirt and four or five shirts and a pair of pajamas,” she said.

When she answers the ubiquitous question, What do you do? Ms. Monday notices that most women respond with encouragement, while many men are less supportive. “They say: ‘You should be home. That’s not safe. You are old.’ I get that from a lot of the men,” she said.

Hal E. Hershfield, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies the influence of time on consumer behavior, observes that many “pre-retirees” still assume retirement is a “decrepit, sitting on a porch, maybe playing golf, ice-tea type of life.”

But current retirees are “changing the way they think,” he said, “because they are still healthy and sort of young at heart.” In the last 50 years, retirement “wasn’t this period that we spent years and years in,” Mr. Hershfield continues. “It really, truly was the end of life.”

Galit Nimrod, a research fellow at the Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Aging at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, says an extended postretirement trip can assuage a sense of loss from ending a career. Travel can “act as a neutral, transitional zone between voluntary or imposed endings and new beginnings” and “serve as a healthy coping mechanism,” Dr. Nimrod said by email.

Gary D. Norton, 69, acknowledges that he felt “afraid of retirement” when he left his job of 34 years as a science professor at a South Dakota community college.

In 2002, he and his wife, Avis M. Norton, 67, a retired farmer, sold their house, bought an R.V. and started volunteering full time for two nonprofits: Nomads on a Mission Active in Divine Service, orNomads, and RV Care-A-Vanners, an initiative of Habitat for Humanity.

The couple typically rebuilds houses damaged by natural disasters, projects that usually last several weeks. Mr. Norton, who now specializes in drywall finishing, and his wife, who studied carpentry, say they cherish the chance to give back to society while seeing the country. “Now what we’re doing is so satisfying and fulfilling, even though we have some health issues, we say we don’t want to quit,” said Mr. Norton, who estimated that he and his wife had repaired damaged homes in 28 states.

The chance to volunteer on international conservation projects and the opportunity to live like a local inspired Danila Mansfield, 58, and her husband, Chris Gill, 64, to sell their house in San Jose, Calif., last year. They got rid of nearly everything they owned — the exceptions being two suitcases, clothing and a pair of guitars (Mr. Gill’s prized Gibson ES-335 electric guitar is stowed at a friend’s house, but he totes around a travel guitar) — and do not even rent a storage space.

The purge of possessions was “a little nerve-racking” at first, but ultimately “hugely liberating,” said Ms. Mansfield, who is currently in South Africa. She and her husband plan to volunteer on game reserves to protect endangered species and then study great white sharks.

So far, their travels have surpassed expectations. They drove from San Jose to Florida over five months, before cruising to Europe. High points included meeting a judge at a bar in Amarillo, Tex., who invited them to visit his drug court, catching crawfish with locals in Louisiana’s bayou country and making new friends in Austin, Tex., who invited the couple to stay with them in South Africa.

But Ms. Mansfield has also hit bumps in the road. In Galveston, Tex., and New Orleans, an acute respiratory illness required three visits to urgent care centers. “It was really dragging me down,” she recalled. At one point she cried for home, but then managed to brighten her mood. “I kept telling myself, ‘This is home,’ ” Ms. Mansfield said. “Where I am is home.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Call Target and tell them you don't want to be one!

I just called Target headquarters and asked them, politely, to adopt sensible gun policies.  I don't want to take my grandchildren into a store where guns are allowed.  Tomorrow is Target's shareholder's meeting.  Let's see if they take action, and if not, then refuse to shop there.  The most effective way to effect change is through their profits.  If they do nothing tomorrow, I urge everyone to dump their Target stock.


Saturday, June 07, 2014

NOT ONE MORE

FYI

There are bumper stickers on both Zazzle and Cafe Press that simply say, "Not One More."  Buy it here:

Richard Martinez pleaded with a do-nothing Congress to act so that "Not One More" person is suddenly taken away by a gunshot.

Mr. Martinez, Gabby Giffords, Moms Demand Action, and others, like Jon Stewart, who are simply fed up with the daily shootings in this country, should make their voices heard in every way they can.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Is There a Right to Life? And I'm Not Talking About Abortion


Guns and Mental Illness
Editorial Page New York Times
Joe Nocera 


It is difficult to read stories about Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old man who went on a murderous spree in Isla Vista, Calif., last month, without feeling some empathy for his parents.

We know that his mother, alarmed by some of his misogynistic YouTube videos, made a call that resulted in the police visiting Rodger. The headline from that meeting was that Rodger, seemingly calm and collected, easily deflected the police’s attention. But there was surely a subtext: How worried — how desperate, really — must a mother be to believe the police should be called on her own son?

We also learned that on the day of his murderous rampage, his mother, having read the first few lines of his “manifesto,” had phoned his father, from whom she was divorced. In separate cars, they raced from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara hoping to stop what they feared was about to happen.

And then, on Monday, in a remarkably detailed article in The New York Times, we learned the rest of it. How Rodger was clearly a troubled soul before he even turned 8 years old. How his parents’ concern about his mental health was like a “shadow that hung over this Los Angeles family nearly every day of Elliot’s life.”

Constantly bullied and unable to fit in, he went through three high schools. In college, he tried to throw a girl off a ledge at a party — and was beaten up. (“I’m going to kill them,” he said to a neighbor afterward.) He finally retreated to some Internet sites that “drew sexually frustrated young men,” according to The Times.

Throughout, said one person who knew Rodger, “his mom did everything she could to help Elliot.” But what his parents never did was the one thing that might have prevented him from buying a gun: have him committed to a psychiatric facility. California’s tough gun laws notwithstanding, a background check would have caught him only if he had had in-patient mental health treatment, made a serious threat to an identifiable victim in the presence of a therapist, or had a criminal record. He had none of the above.

Should his parents have taken more steps to have him treated? Could they have? It is awfully hard to say, even in retrospect. On the one hand, there were plainly people who knew him who feared that he might someday harm others. On the other hand, those people weren’t psychiatrists. He was a loner, a misfit, whose parents were more fearful of how the world would treat their son than how their son would treat the world. And his mother, after all, did reach out for help, and the police responded and decided they had no cause to arrest him or even search his room, where his guns were hidden.

Once again, a mass killing has triggered calls for doing something to keep guns away from the mentally ill. And, once again, the realities of the situation convey how difficult a task that is. There are, after all, plenty of young, male, alienated loners — the now-standard description of mass shooters — but very few of them become killers.

And you can’t go around committing them all because a tiny handful might turn out to be killers. Indeed, the law is very clear on this point. In 1975,the Supreme Court ruled that nondangerous mentally ill people can’t be confined against their will if they can function without confinement. “In California, the bar is very high for people like Elliot,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center. In a sense, California’s commitment to freedom for the mentally ill conflicts with its background-check law.

Torrey believes that the country should involuntarily commit more mentally ill people, not only because they can sometimes commit acts of violence but because there are far more people who can’t function in the world than the mental health community likes to acknowledge.

In this, however, he is an outlier. The mainstream sentiment among mental health professionals is that there is no going back to the bad-old days when people who were capable of living on their own were locked up for years in mental hospitals. The truth is, the kind of symptoms Elliot Rodger showed were unlikely to get him confined in any case. And without a history of confinement, he had every legal right to buy a gun.

You read the stories about Elliot Rodger and it is easy to think: If this guy, with all his obvious problems, can slip through the cracks, then what hope is there of ever stopping mass shootings?
But, of course, there is another way of thinking about this. Instead of focusing on making it harder for the mentally ill to get guns, maybe we should be making it harder to get guns, period. Something to consider before the next mass shooting.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

WHAT ARE THOSE NRA BOYS AFRAID OF? NERDY SCIENTISTS?

We see once again with more dead students, this time at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that gun violence in America is an epidemic.
This is a fact of life seen everywhere except the National Rifle Association, the most dangerous lobby in this country or any country, and by the elected officials who regularly pimp themselves out to it.

We are talking here about all those in the Senate and in the Congress who represent gun companies even more fiercely than they do their states or their districts, those who hide behind the Second Amendment, something conceived and written for a world of muskets, the way cockroaches hide in similar dark places.

These are people who do not only fight what they call “gun grabbers.” They also fight any legitimate research into the whole complicated subject of gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is only allowed to spend around $100,000 a year because the NRA and its tame politicians act as if education is some kind of threat to our basic freedoms, instead of a way to understand the connection between the insane number of guns in this country and the people who keep dying as a result of them.

Nobody is saying that the NRA, or legitimate gun owners — you must differentiate between them and the gun nuts who act as if the government is about to roll into their driveways with tanks and take their rifles — are responsible for what happened this weekend in Isla Vista, Calif., or at Fort Hood last month, or Virginia Tech, or Newtown. But to ignore the growing problem of gun violence, to resist thoughtful and scientific — and nonpolitical — research into its causes, is no better than looking away when more innocent people are gunned down.

It reminds you of the old story, told by Jimmy Breslin, about when F. Lee Bailey was defending a New Jersey doctor named Carl Coppolino, accused of murdering his wife. At some point in the runup to the trial, Coppolino told Bailey one day that he hadn’t killed his wife.
And Bailey said, “Well, yeah, Carl, but it’s not like you did very much to keep her alive.”

Now Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York are introducing legislation that would give the CDC $10 million a year “for the purpose of conducting support or research on firearms safety or gun violence protection.”

They will be fought, certainly, by the NRA and those in Washington who provide cover for the gun manufacturers and their lobbyists. We will once again be told they are just preserving and protecting the Second Amendment, even as these people constantly shame the Second Amendment, as if they’re all knuckle-draggers like Joe the Plumber. But it is Markey and Maloney who are fighting an honorable fight here, in the shadow of another mass shooting in America.

“In America,” Maloney said in a statement the other day, “gun violence kills twice as many children as cancer, and yet political grandstanding has halted funding for public research to understand this crisis.”

She is already being called a grandstander by the NRA and the bullhorn media that too often genuflects in front of it. So is Markey. But maybe this will be a time when they can actually get something done on responsible research into this subject for the first time in 20 years.

Reasonable people know enough to be afraid of a gun in the wrong hands in America. But ask yourself a question: Why is the NRA so afraid of research on gun violence unless it is afraid of what that research might tell us? Even since Newtown, any kind of gun control has been fought in Washington by gutless politicians, so many of them from the right. Now they act as if they have to go get a gun to protect themselves from research, in what is supposed to be the most enlightened country on Earth.

Just not when it comes to guns. Those who scream about gun grabbers aren’t protecting the Second Amendment, they are protecting gun money. They act like Americans who look in horror at the number of gun deaths in America are like tree huggers, or those who want to save the whales, or members of the Flat Earth Society.

We are constantly told by the people who think the current gun laws and gun culture are just fine the way they are that they need their guns to protect themselves. But more and more you wonder who protects the rest of us from them?

The Centers for Disease Control sponsors all sorts of programs to prevent injuries and diseases, spends money on cancer and HIV, on brittle bones for the elderly. Then they get shamefully nickel-and-dimed on studying an epidemic like gun violence. We know we’re afraid of guns. What are the gun lovers afraid of?


Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/research-shed-light-gun-violence-article-1.1809288#ixzz33EHBAqsn


Keep Handguns Away From Teenagers
By TERESA TRITCH MAY 30, 2014 4:23 PM 
In response to the Isla Vista rampage, legislators in California are introducing a bill that would let the police and private individuals ask a court for a restraining order to deny guns to those who pose a threat to themselves or others.

The bill would be an advance in gun-control legislation. Before now, the notion of gun restraining orders had mainly captured the attention of mental health experts and academic researchers, but not legislators.

Still, there is another step California has already taken to keep guns out of the wrong hands that should be emulated elsewhere: setting the age to buy and to own a handgun at 21.

Currently, federal law and most states  let 18-year-olds purchase and own handguns. That flies in the face of research and common sense.  Studies have documented the prevalence of heightened risk-taking among teenagers.  Statistics show  that homicide rates risein the late teens and peak at age 20. A Justice Department studyfrom 2012 found that many young gun offenders incarcerated in states with the weakest gun control laws would have faced bans on gun ownership in states with the strongest controls.

Raising the handgun ownership age would not apply to rifles and shotguns, and would not prohibit parents and children from going hunting together with a long gun. (Most of the states that limit handgun sales to those 21 and older allow 18-year-olds to buy and possess long guns.) Handguns, however, are the weapon most often used in gun shootings and deaths.

Pro-gun lobbyists will invariably point out that rampages like the one in Isla Vista have been committed by people over the age of 21. That is willfully off-point: The idea that gun control shouldn’t respond to obvious gun dangers because they didn’t play a central role in a particular crime amounts to fatal abdication of adult responsibility.

They also say that setting the age at 21 for handguns, as California, New York, New Jersey, and 10 other states have done, punishes law-abiding 18- to 20-year-olds for the transgressions of the few. But all 50 states have set the drinking age at 21 out of concern for increased risk-taking by teens and the threat that poses to them and the public. The same concern applies to gun ownership, and the solution is the same. Raise the legal age for handguns to 21 in every state.

To the Editor:

In “Why Can’t Doctors Identify Killers?” (Op-Ed, May 28), Richard A. Friedman argues that it’s extremely difficult for prospective mass murderers to be identified and stopped before they kill.

Although Dr. Friedman presents a convincing case, the regular occurrence of horrific killings cries out for drastic changes in the way the psychiatric community and the public treat even the slightest oddity in behavior that they observe that might signal a proclivity toward violence.

Virtually every mass killing has been carried out by angry young men, thus significantly limiting in scope the population of people who need to be identified.

The nightmares of Columbine, Aurora, Newtown and now Isla Vista require a nationwide effort to train thousands of people in ways to identify these angry young men and report them to local authorities before they kill more innocent people.

Nothing less is needed if this spate of murders is to be stopped before these mentally ill men kill again.

ALAN SAFRON
Woodcliff Lake, N.J., May 28, 2014

To the Editor:

Re “Campus Killings Set Off Anguished Conversation” (front page, May 27): Counteracting misogyny is a very worthy goal, but it is not likely to have a direct impact on mass shootings and gun-related violence in the United States — nor will the intense focus on one individual’s psychopathology.

The best predictor of violence is a history of violence, and a recent study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns finds a strong correlation between mass shootings and domestic violence. Of the 93 mass shootings between 2009 and 2013 in the United States, 57 percent involved the killing of a spouse, family member or intimate partner, and in at least 17 instances, the shooter had a prior domestic violence charge.

Closing loopholes in current laws prohibiting gun sales to people convicted of domestic violence, as proposed in a bill by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, would be one small but useful step in reducing gun-related killings.

RONALD PIES
Cazenovia, N.Y., May 27, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A WAY AROUND "THE CRAVEN"


Chicago Mayor Proposes Restrictions on Gun Sales

By JULIE BOSMANMAY 28, 2014

CHICAGO — Calling gun violence Chicago’s “most urgent problem,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel outlined a proposal on Tuesday that would make it harder to buy firearms in the city.

The proposal would restrict gun purchases for individuals to one a month and would mandate that all gun sales be videotaped, an effort to deter buyers from using false identification. Under the proposed ordinance, employees in gun stores would be required to undergo background checks and complete training to help them spot the common signs of gun traffickers. Retailers would be subject to a quarterly audit of inventory in an effort to reduce theft. In addition, the plan would impose a 72-hour waiting period to buy handguns and a 24-hour waiting period to buy rifles and shotguns.

Mr. Emanuel planned to introduce the report at a City Council meeting Wednesday morning.

“Chicago’s violence problem is largely a gun problem,” the report said. “Every year, Chicago police officers take thousands of illegal guns off the street. But, despite these efforts, it remains far too easy for criminals to get their hands on deadly weapons.”

The proposal is the latest attempt by the mayor to restrict firearms in the city, a response to intractable gang-related violence. In January, a federal judge ruled that an outright ban on gun shops in Chicago was unconstitutional, citing “the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense under the Second Amendment.”

Mr. Emanuel has tried to tamp down violence in Chicago since taking office in 2011, pushing for tougher rules on gun retailers and stronger federal laws on firearms. Chicago’s rate of gun-related violence is three times that of New York.

The report blamed states with weaker gun laws for most of the illegal guns in Chicago, saying that from 2009 to 2013, 60 percent of guns used to commit crimes in the city were originally bought out of state, mainly in Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Did the Framers Really Intend?

I hope that New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wins a Pulitzer Prize someday for all his hard work regarding gun violence in the United States.  Here is his column published on May 26, 2014.




Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that its final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.”

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.
“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Friday, May 16, 2014

At Least I'm Not Nurse Jackie




There are days I am not the woman I would like to be and when I am very lucky, they coincide with a new episode of “Nurse Jackie.”

Here are a few of the things Jackie, a pill-popping addict played by Edie Falco on Showtime, has done lately: Lied to her 12-step sponsor that she stopped taking drugs. Lied to her cop boyfriend that she stopped taking drugs. Had sex in a bathroom with a drug dealer to score free drugs. Stole the ID of a doctor she works with to write prescriptions for drugs. Borrowed a snazzy leather jacket belonging to the drug dealer’s girlfriend without the girlfriend’s knowledge.

That, to me, was hitting bottom: It would be like putting on the wife’s bathrobe, if you were fooling around with a married man. It is something the Other Woman is not permitted to do, even if you are naked and the house is on fire. You stay in there and die.

I, too, have days where I behave badly: Dodging a call from an old friend planning to renew her marriage vows. Telling another friend how self-congratulatory and obnoxious marriage renewal ceremonies are. Covertly checking my email while a friend talks about the imminent death of her dog.
When they’re done, I can settle back with Showtime and I think, “But, at least I’m not as bad as Jackie.” I have these delicious waves of moral superiority like you cannot believe. It may be better than sex.

But there is one thing about the show that confuses me. Despite all her drug habit, Jackie is such a great nurse, I keep thinking, so what’s wrong with drugs? It’s having to sneak around that makes Jackie do bad things like lying, having sex with drug dealers, and stealing other people’s IDs.
True, I am usually in the dark about what drugs Jackie is taking and their side effects. It would be helpful if there were a crawl on the bottom of the screen: Nurse Jackie is now taking three 10-milligram tablets of OxyContin. This substance has been proven to enhance one’s ability to balance on a counter in a club bathroom while having sex.

It should be noted, however, that Jackie confines her bad behavior to herself and her family — her patients are spared. She destroys her marriage, messes up her two young daughters and ruins romantic relationships. And she does this with a complete lack of guilt, a state I have sought to achieve my whole life, much as a Buddhist monk seeks bliss.

I think that is why the show is such a hit. With “Nurse Jackie” you do not have a heroine who is smarter, nicer and more emotionally evolved than you, but whose behavior makes you feel so much better about yourself. I could steal a cab out from under the nose of a guy on crutches and still go back to my mantra: “At least I’m not Nurse Jackie.”

You sure didn’t find this kind of behavior in the TV heroines of my youth. Lois Lane, while she hankered after an unattainable guy from another planet, remained perky and indefatigable — she didn’t do shots in the bathroom of The Daily Planet when Superman didn’t call. Mary Tyler Moore worried so much about doing the right thing she had anxiety attacks. Lucy might have a horrible day, say at a candy factory, and she never even smoked a joint — and she was married to a band leader.

I don’t find a lot of heroines that make me feel better by comparison now. Alicia, in “‘The Good Wife,” with her unswayable moral compass who always knows the right thing to tell her children? Peggy, the secretary turned chief copywriter on “Mad Men,” who while lately short-tempered with her staff, takes coming up with those stupid ads seriously? The Mother of Dragons in “Game of Thrones” who’s so impressively decisive?(Crucify them! Invade that! Put those heads on a spike in that corner of the living room! No, not there, that’s too close to the dragons’ scratching post!)

I can take three days deciding whether to buy a pair of shoes.

But Jackie? Where are we in her life? She makes it with the drug dealer, then, about two hours later, jumps into the boyfriend’s arms and tells him how happy she is to see him. She yells at her ex-husband’s new fiancĂ©e for taking her daughter shopping because she has no impulse control, then learns they were buying a gift for her. She attends her one year of sobriety party stoned.

And, she has yet to return that snazzy jacket she never should have touched in the first place.

Really, I can’t get enough.

Joyce Wadler is a humorist and writer in New York. Her books include “My Breast” and “Cured: My Ovarian Cancer Story.”

Follow Joyce Wadler on Facebook: facebook.com/joyce.wadler and on Twitter:@joyce_wadler.  Previous “I Was Misinformed” columns can be found here.



Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Another TED Talk from Ken Robinson

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Gun Violence is a Public Health Emergency


It took only eleven minutes to transform a quiet elementary school into the scene of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary with a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle. He used the weapon to murder twenty school children and six adults. One state trooper warned the medical personnel who arrived at the school to formally declare the victims dead: “This will be the worst day of your life.”
The Sandy Hook shootings prompted an outpouring of national grief and outrage. Yet sadly, this tragedy—while especially shocking and visible—only represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deaths from gun violence. Every day in the United States, friends and family must make funeral preparations for an average of 86 peoplewho were intentionally or unintentionally killed with a firearm.
If measles or mumps killed 31,672 people a year, we would undoubtedly consider the situation to be a public health emergency. And indeed, gun violence shares many characteristics with other widespread safety threats that have been framed as public health issues.
In a Q&A published in a 2008 bookThe Contested Boundaries of American Public Health, epidemiologist Mark Rosenberg recalls early efforts to frame gun violence as a public health issue in the 1980s. Finding that the burden of deaths from guns in the United States was similar to those of cars, he realized that gun violence was an area where public health could “make a big contribution and save lives by applying the same kind of science that had been applied to road traffic crashes.”
Indeed, like motor vehicle deaths, gun fatalities result from a consumer product that is integral to many Americans’ lives. Yet both cars and guns can be made safer with technology and engineering—air bags in cars and loading indicators for guns.
But efforts to frame gun violence as a public health challenge have met with considerable resistance, most notably from gun lobby groups, such as the NRA.
The NRA is a powerful force in American political life that attracts many supporters, not only with its ideological positions, but with its message of self-empowerment. And the organization has long and vociferously opposed the framing of gun violence as a public health issue, portraying research on the subject as biased and misguided. For instance, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, told the New York Times that the CDC was guilty of publishing “political opinion masquerading as medical science.”
The NRA has worked to translate their objections into policies that circumscribe public health research on the effects of gun violence. In the mid-1990s, after a failed campaign to eliminate the CDC’s National Center For Injury Prevention, gun lobbyists helped persuade Congress to include language in its budget stating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  (If the NRA is right about everything they preach, why are they so afraid of the data?)
Despite this limitation, the agency has since developed other mechanisms to study causes of violent deaths, notably the National Violence Reporting System. But to this day, the CDC’s funding level for research explicitly devoted to gun violence prevention remains at $0. And according to Dr. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, due to fears of getting attacked by the NRA lobby, many foundations have avoided funding such research. (Do you think Bill and Melinda are afraid of the NRA?) “It’s one of the reasons that there’s been relatively little gun research compared to other research in public health,” Dr. Hemenway says.
More recently, the NRA succeeded in adding a provision into the Affordable Care Act to limit doctors’ ability to gather data about their patients’ gun use. The Washington Post dubbed this provision “a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.”
Then, in 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a “docs vs glocks” bill, which banned physicians from asking their patients about gun ownership. In 2012, a federal judge permanently blocked this NRA-backed law because it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors. Nonetheless, such laws and provisions indicates the extent to which policymakers have attempted to limit medical and public health conversations and research on gun safety.
Despite this already remarkable influence in setting and limiting the terms of public health research, this year the NRA has wielded its power in an extraordinary new way by obstructing President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy as U.S. Surgeon General. The organization opposed Dr. Murthy’s characterization of gun control as a health issue and his support of regulatory measures, such as mandatory safety training for gun owners.
But by blocking Dr. Murthy’s nomination, the NRA prompted prominent medical and public health voices to take a stand. In a remarkable op-ed, the New England Journal of Medicine stated that “the NRA is taking its single-issue political blackmail to a new level.” And in April 2014, Michael Bloomberg took a bold step into the ongoing debate, announcing that he would donate $50 million of his own money to counter the NRA.
The New York Times describes how Bloomberg intends to restructure current gun control advocacy efforts to more effectively counter the NRA. Part of the idea is to combine forces and model advocacy efforts on the success of other safety-related groups, notably Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The resulting new group, Everytown For Gun Safety, has already produced an ad that directly challenges claims made by the NRA.
Whether these new strategies and influx of money can promote effectively a public health perspective on gun violence and safety interventions remains an open question with high stakes. In fact, even after the Sandy Hook shootings of 2012, many states have been loosening their gun restrictions. Georgia, one of the most prominent and recent examples of this trend, recently passed into law a bill that allows licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in schools, churches, bars, and airports. The public is often unaware of the extent to which gun owners may legally carry and display their weapons in public spaces across the country.
What policy changes do gun safety advocates seek? A recent Massachusetts report identified 44 strategies to reduce gun violence that all committee members, including public health professionals and gun owners, endorsed. Of the range of possible strategies to reduce gun violence, strengthening the existing background check system has the most public support. In fact, although the NRA as an organization does not support universal background checks, a 2013 poll found support among 74 percent of NRA members. (The NRA doesn't even support their own members!)
This approach is also supported by public health research. As reported by Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Republic, a 2014 study found that the murder rate in Missouri jumped 16 percent after the repeal of a state law that required anyone purchasing a handgun to obtain a permit indicating a background check had been passed.
Safe storage practices and more safely designed guns would also likely make an impact on reducing the number of unintentional gun deaths among young children. As Dr. Hemenway told WBUR’s All Things Considered“We have childproof aspirin bottles; we should have childproof guns.”
Yet entrepreneurs seeking to market and sell “smart guns,” or weapons which can only be fired by authorized users, have encountered harassment and outrage from gun enthusiasts. This month, a Maryland gun dealer who had intended to sell the nation’s first smart gun backed down after enduring protests and death threats. And fewer than 20 states have enacted laws to hold adults criminally liable if they fail to safely store their gun, enabling children to access the weapon.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Julius Richmond and medical economist Rashi Fein have proposed three essential factors involved in addressing a societal problem: scientific data, a social strategy guiding the pursuit of public health goals, and political will. Public health researchers have sought to collect data on the effects of gun violence despite the obstacles, and gun safety advocates are currently seeking new strategies.
But ultimately, it seems that whether gun violence can be framed as public health problem will come down to political will. A public health frame for this fully loaded American issue can only be effective if it is built on a narrative of shared American values. These must include not only the second amendment, but also protecting our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, May 05, 2014

A New Epidemic is Targeting Good Kids


This story is playing itself out all over the country.  There is no community that isn't being effected by the heroin epidemic.  The difference in this epidemic from any other is that it is targeting the "good kids."  The "bad kids" are dealing, not using.

Heroin’s New Hometown

On Staten Island, Rising Tide of Heroin Takes Hold


The obituaries have a certain sameness to them: full of praise and regret for lives cut short, marked by telltale details and omissions. The deaths occurred at home, or at a friend’s house elsewhere on Staten Island. The mourned were often young and white, and although how they died was never mentioned, nearly everyone knew or suspected the cause.

A 23-year-old man, a cello student in high school and the son of an elevator company vice president died in March. A former high school hockey player who delivered newspapers died in 2013 at 22. Another 23-year-old man who was working construction died at home in July 2012. Family members and autopsy reports revealed that they died from heroin or combinations of drugs including heroin.

Staten Island, long a blue-collar bastion of police officers and other New York City workers, is confronting a heroin epidemic.

Thirty-six people died from heroin overdoses in 2012, the highest number in at least a decade, according to the most recent available city health department records; the death rate was higher than the city’s other four boroughs had seen in 10 years. The amount of heroin seized by the Police Department on Staten Island has jumped more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2013, and this year shows no sign of abating: Through April 13, officers seized roughly 1,700 glassine bags of heroin, up from about 1,200 bags over the same period in 2013. That number does not include the 347 bags seized on Wednesday in raids at an auto-repair shop and its owner’s home.

Drug treatment facilities and addiction programs teem with patients; informal support groups for addicts’ relatives have had to find larger meeting spaces. And last month, the city authorized nearly all Staten Island police and emergency medical workers to carry naloxone, a drug to counteract heroin overdoses.

“You’ve got kids falling apart. You’ve got families falling apart,” said William A. Fusco, the director of Dynamic Youth Community, a drug-treatment center in Brooklyn whose clients include many young Staten Islanders. “You’ve got people who have got no idea what to do, and they’re all saying the same thing: This was a good kid. This was a good kid.”

For decades, heroin was mostly found in the urban sections of the island’s north, where the ferry docks from Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge touches down from Brooklyn. It afflicted the borough’s poorest areas, with sales concentrated in open-air markets at a few notorious housing developments like Stapleton and Park Hill.

But as in towns and cities from Vermont to Washington State, heroin’s new surge on Staten Island has ravaged primarily its working- and middle-class communities, especially in the borough’s south.
Numerous heroin addicts and dealers said in interviews that the drug was usually purchased in bulk elsewhere in New York City or in New Jersey, then resold on Staten Island. Law enforcement officials back that account, noting that they have not found any heroin mills in the borough, requiring the police to fight an army of small-time dealers.

“They hide in plain sight,” Detective Ray Wittick said on a recent Wednesday as he steered an unmarked police minivan through a Waldbaum’s grocery store parking lot in Princes Bay, where drug deals are not uncommon.

Some parents have taken to sending their children for treatment in Brooklyn, in part to avoid the glare of those who would recognize them at facilities on Staten Island.

Candace Crupi said she did not want to leave any mystery about her son’s death. The obituary in The Staten Island Advance in March said Johnathan Crupi, 21, had been overwhelmed by addiction. He died at home of a heroin overdose.

“I wanted people to know that I wasn’t ashamed of him,” she said. “People are so ashamed of addiction. There’s such a stigma, and it’s just not right.”

On the family’s kitchen table, among funeral bouquets of red and yellow roses, sat a photograph of Johnathan. It had been a formal occasion, the young man in a tuxedo, his hair closely cropped in a Caesar-style cut.

In a back bedroom, where his body was found on March 28, the smell of cigarettes still lingered 10 days later.

Since the obituary appeared in late March, Ms. Crupi, 60, said she had been approached by people she knew well, and those she only barely recalled, offering condolences and praising her bravery. At Johnathan’s funeral, hundreds showed up, including many strangers who described their families’ own struggles with heroin.

“People that I never knew were going through the same thing,” her husband, Barry Crupi, said. “It was so many people. So many people.”

Spread across an island more than twice the size of Manhattan, Staten Island’s 470,000 residents live in a collection of small communities often arranged around short main streets, the neighborhoods bearing the names of early residents — Tottenville for John Totten and his family — or for the industries once prevalent, like Graniteville for the quarries once active there.

Until 1964, when the Verrazano Bridge opened, Staten Island had no physical connection to the rest of New York City; older bridges led only to New Jersey. That long separation gave Staten Island its own sense of identity and culture, from the centrality of the Staten Island Mall to the wooded brush vulnerable to fires set by bored teenagers.

There is also a sense of continuity: Staten Island’s demographics have not greatly changed since the 1970 census. In contrast to the rest of the city, the borough’s white non-Hispanic residents outnumber minorities, accounting for about 64 percent of its residents, according to the 2010 census. Most homes are owner-occupied, and unemployment is below the city average.

“When I was growing up, you’d see people riding horses on Hylan Boulevard,” Detective Wittick, 45, said. “You felt like it was something out of a movie, you know. These little towns with the perfect life. You knew all your neighbors.”

That familiarity still exists, but now it carries a burden when drugs are involved.

For a time, a culture of recreational prescription pill abuse seemed like just the latest way for many on Staten Island to deal with weekend boredom. Pills could be found at the cafeteria in Tottenville High School, or at local bars where older men sold their medications, like Roxicodone, Vicodin or Percocet, for a healthy profit. A young barber on Amboy Road said some customers asked to pay for their haircuts in pills.

“You could make money off it,” said Andrea, a 21-year-old recovering addict from Great Kills. “It didn’t seem like there were any consequences.”

Or, in the words of a local rap song from 2012: “Pain killer paradise, Staten Island.”

Pills began showing up in drug seizures around the island, often traced to doctors whose offices were flooded by users seeking illegal prescriptions. One such physician, Dr. Felix Lanting, was 85 when he pleaded guilty to distributing oxycodone in 2012.

His arrest caused a momentary jump in prices, recovering addicts said, but he was just one source among many, including a Lickety Split ice cream truck where 30-milligram oxycodone pills were sold on the side.

An Inexpensive High
Gradually, dealers and users switched to heroin. Some opioid addicts found that their habits required 20 or 30 pills a day, an unsustainable proposition at as much as $30 each. Heroin, already available around New York City for about $5 to $10 for a single glassine, became a cheap alternative.

Brandon, 22, of the south shore town of Eltingville, remembered when the police arrested a group of young men in 2012 for selling pills around Tottenville. His supply dried up.

Then a fellow addict took him over the Goethals Bridge to an open-air heroin market in Newark. “It was so much easier, it’s $6 and it’s always there,” said Brandon, who is now in a 12-step recovery program. “I’ve done one pill since I got introduced to heroin.”

Another recovering addict, Nikki, 29, said she began each day with 15 or 20 Vicodin pills. “I would take them in one shot,” she said.

The daily hunt for money to buy more, usually raised by finding and selling scrap metal with her boyfriend at the time, finally became too much. One day in 2009, the boyfriend came home with something new — 50 little bags of heroin. “I told him, ‘Once we go this way, there’s no going back,’ ” she recalled in an interview. “This is the beginning of the end.”

She said she got hooked.

Four years later, Nikki said, she was clean but admitted that there were lapses. During a recent period of recovery, a friend of a friend asked her to deliver some heroin to a buyer. She agreed but was subsequently arrested. She is now out on bail, raised through pawnshop proceeds from her jewelry. She is also pregnant: The baby is due in July and, once born, will immediately require detoxification from the methadone that Nikki takes every day. She and her new boyfriend will remain on methadone for the foreseeable future, but Nikki said heroin and pills are behind her.

“I’m going to become a mother,” she said.

Most of the addicts interviewed for this article passed through the Dynamic treatment center in Brooklyn, a Y.M.C.A. on southern Staten Island or a Pills Anonymous group that has expanded to include heroin addicts; all requested that they be referred to by only their first names as they rebuild their lives.

Nearly all began by sniffing heroin, much as they had sniffed crushed pills. Soon many sought out the greater high that a needle provided. For Brandon, his first time shooting up was in January 2013, with a fellow addict in the bathroom stall of the Wendy’s on Richmond Hill Road. “I’m thinking, I could be dead in 30 seconds,” Brandon said of his mind-set at the time. He did it anyway.

Mike, 23, of Tottenville said he could find bundles of glassine bags in Newark for as little as $3 or $4 apiece. What he did not use, he sold on Staten Island for $10. Other recovering addicts described similar trips to East New York, Brooklyn, or Elizabeth, N.J. Any profits would go straight back into buying more heroin.

Although deaths from heroin are apparent here, evidence of the drug on the streets is less so. Sales take place by arrangement over the phone, a quick stop in a shopping center parking lot or in the house next door.

For instance, Angelo Gallo and his father, Ugo Gallo, pleaded guilty to selling heroin last year out of their two-story detached house on David Street in Eltingville. A city sanitation worker now rents the home, a few doors down from a police officer.

In the similarly sleepy bedroom community of Oakwood, police officers caught Frank Monte, 47, in the act of selling 300 glassine envelopes in a white plastic bag for $1,320 in cash.

Mr. Monte, who pleaded guilty to felony drug possession, denied any involvement in the sale, saying his previous time in prison for selling drugs had biased the officers. “When you go to jail on Staten Island, you’re labeled for life with these cops,” he said in a phone interview in March.

A few days after that conversation, he was arrested in a car near Clove Road and the Staten Island Expressway with 531 bags of heroin, according to the arrest report. He pleaded guilty, this time to a higher degree of felony possession.

Sabrina, a recovering addict, remembered telling her parents she was going out for ice cream only to go see a dealer by the public pool near her family’s Woodrow home. The dealer took her $100 and drove off.

Desperate for a hit and out of cash, she returned home and told her mother she had been robbed. Her mother questioned why she needed so much money for ice cream. Incensed, Sabrina began tearing apart the home. In the struggle, she shoved her mother, breaking her ankle. Soon after, Sabrina, 25, checked into rehab.

Difficult to Police

Unlike more established drug markets that predominate in other areas of the city, those running heroin here are mostly independent and deal in small quantities. Narcotics officers on Staten Island who have worked in other parts of New York say that dealers and buyers here tend to be even more suspicious of outsiders than elsewhere in the city.

That complicates catching dealers here, as the Police Department has had more difficulty conducting the sort of buy-and-bust operations that are the baseline of narcotics work in other boroughs. “There are those inherent challenges because of the closeness of Staten Island,” said Capt. Dominick D’Orazio, the commanding officer of the borough’s narcotics squad.

Most heroin gets to Staten Island by car and is delivered that way by the dealers who crisscross its neighborhoods, officials said.

“They’re not coming down with a kilo,” said Daniel M. Donovan Jr., the Staten Island district attorney. “They’re going uptown and getting an ounce and then breaking it out.”

Prosecutors and the police said they have noticed that violent drug gangs who have long operated on the north shore of the island — selling mostly crack and marijuana — are switching to selling heroin, where the profit is.

New York City authorities are moving to track the incoming, often prepackaged heroin. Investigators have had some success in turning small-time players to catch those coming onto the island with greater quantities. The goal is to follow the trail back to the major suppliers in the city, who are believed to be primarily in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, where the police have discovered the city’s largest heroin mills.

That many middle-class Staten Island families send their kids to Brooklyn for treatment speaks to the pervasiveness of the problem and the shame it carries in an insular borough. “Families generally feel better when their child is out of the community,” said Karen J. Carlini, the associate director at Dynamic.

Last year, parents began gathering informally in the backyard of Alicia Reddy’s home in the Huguenot neighborhood. A registered nurse with experience in detox, Ms. Reddy, 44, had been fielding so many calls from parents about addiction, she said, that she decided to hold a monthly meeting to provide information.

“A big factor was that parents were ashamed,” she said.

As the problem worsened, the gatherings quickly outgrew her yard. They are now held at a nearby school, attached to Our Lady Star of the Sea, a Roman Catholic church on Amboy Road, two miles down from a tight cluster of businesses — a decorator, a barber shop, a bagel store — tied in recent years to illegal pill sales, guns or heroin.

Nearby, in the basement of the church rectory, a Pills Anonymous group meets. On a recent Tuesday night, 36 people gathered, describing feelings of helplessness, as well as the strength they found in one another. The program’s 12 steps, written out by hand, hung on a table at the front.

Brandon told his story of repeated episodes of treatment and relapse. In an interview after the meeting, he said that he has been clean for nearly a year, since June 16, 2013.

He counted at least 10 people who he knew had died from pill or heroin overdoses, including an acquaintance from high school he saw again while in treatment for heroin. The classmate died last month.

“There’s no reason that I’m different from Adam,” he said. “I should be dead too.”