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10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America – Mark Manson

9:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

I got this link to an essay by Mark Manson from a Facebook friend. One of the best assessments of America and Americans I have read so far. I myself have never been to Europe or any other country but I have talked with people outside this country on My Amateur Radio, and at length sometimes.  In over 200 countries in fact. I have found them to be kind, patient, for the most part humble, sincere and polite. Not what I would say about more than a few American Amateurs. I have lived in the north and south and visited a number of states but not many west of the Mississippi, so I do confess my experience in that respect is limited.
Even though I find the appraisal to be pretty much on the mark.

Imagine you have a brother and he’s an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don’t mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don’t want to be around him.
This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don’t want to be near him at the moment.

I know that’s harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That’s not a socio-economic statement (although that’s on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it’s going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with an analogy:

You know when you move out of your parents’ house and live on your own, how you start hanging out with your friends’ families and you realize that actually, your family was a little screwed up? Stuff you always assumed was normal your entire childhood, it turns out was pretty weird and may have actually fucked you up a little bit. You know, dad thinking it was funny to wear a Santa Claus hat in his underwear every Christmas or the fact that you and your sister slept in the same bed until you were 22, or that your mother routinely cried over a bottle of wine while listening to Elton John.

The point is we don’t really get perspective on what’s close to us until we spend time away from it. Just like you didn’t realize the weird quirks and nuances of your family until you left and spent time with others, the same is true for country and culture. You often don’t see what’s messed up about your country and culture until you step outside of it.

And so even though this article is going to come across as fairly scathing, I want my American readers to know: some of the stuff we do, some of the stuff that we always assumed was normal, it’s kind of screwed up. And that’s OK. Because that’s true with every culture. It’s just easier to spot it in others (e.g., the French) so we don’t always notice it in ourselves.

So as you read this article, know that I’m saying everything with tough love, the same tough love with which I’d sit down and lecture an alcoholic family member. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome things about you (BRO, THAT’S AWESOME!!!). And it doesn’t mean I’m some saint either, because god knows I’m pretty screwed up (I’m American, after all). There are just a few things you need to hear. And as a friend, I’m going to tell them to you.

And to my foreign readers, get your necks ready, because this is going to be a nod-a-thon.

A Little “What The Hell Does This Guy Know?” Background: I’ve lived in different parts of the US, both the deep south and the northeast. I have visited most of the US’s 50 states. I’ve spent the past three years living almost entirely outside of the United States. I’ve lived in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and South America. I’ve visited over 40 countries in all and have spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans during this period. I speak multiple languages. I’m not a tourist. I don’t stay in resorts and rarely stay in hostels. I rent apartments and try to integrate myself into each country I visit as much as possible. So there.

(Note: I realize these are generalizations and I realize there are always exceptions. I get it. You don’t have to post 55 comments telling me that you and your best friend are exceptions. If you really get that offended from some guy’s blog post, you may want to double-check your life priorities.)

OK, we’re ready now. 10 things Americans don’t know about America.

1. Few People Are Impressed By Us

Unless you’re speaking with a real estate agent or a prostitute, chances are they’re not going to be excited that you’re American. It’s not some badge of honor we get to parade around. Yes, we had Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, but unless you actually are Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison (which is unlikely) then most people around the world are simply not going to care. There are exceptions of course. And those exceptions are called English and Australian people. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.

As Americans, we’re brought up our entire lives being taught that we’re the best, we did everything first and that the rest of the world follows our lead. Not only is this not true, but people get irritated when you bring it to their country with you. So don’t.

2. Few People Hate Us

Despite the occasional eye-rolling, and complete inability to understand why anyone would vote for George W. Bush, people from other countries don’t hate us either. In fact — and I know this is a really sobering realization for us — most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us. I know, that sounds absurd, especially with CNN and Fox News showing the same 20 angry Arab men on repeat for ten years straight. But unless we’re invading someone’s country or threatening to invade someone’s country (which is likely), then there’s a 99.99% chance they don’t care about us. Just like we rarely think about the people in Bolivia or Mongolia, most people don’t think about us much. They have jobs, kids, house payments — you know, those things called lives — to worry about. Kind of like us.

Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world either loves us or hates us (this is actually a good litmus test to tell if someone is conservative or liberal). The fact is, most people feel neither. Most people don’t think much about us.

Remember that immature girl in high school, who every little thing that happened to her meant that someone either hated her or was obsessed with her; who thought every teacher who ever gave her a bad grade was being totally unfair and everything good that happened to her was because of how amazing she was? Yeah, we’re that immature high school girl.

3. We Know Nothing About The Rest Of The World

For all of our talk about being global leaders and how everyone follows us, we don’t seem to know much about our supposed “followers.” They often have completely different takes on history than we do. Here were some brain-stumpers for me: the Vietnamese were more concerned with independence (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), there is evidence Native Americans were wiped out largely disease and plague BEFORE Europeans arrived and not just after, and the American Revolution was partly “won” because the British invested more of their resources in beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here?

(Hint: It’s not all about us. The world is more complicated.)

We did not invent democracy. We didn’t even invent modern democracy. There were parliamentary systems in England and other parts of Europe over a hundred years before we created government. In a recent survey of young Americans, 63% could not find Iraq on a map (despite being at war with them), and 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa. Yet, somehow we’re positive that everyone else looks up to us.

4. We Are Poor At Expressing Gratitude And Affection

There’s a saying about English-speakers. We say “Go fuck yourself,” when we really mean “I like you,” and we say “I like you,” when we really mean “Go fuck yourself.”

Outside of getting shit-housed drunk and screaming “I LOVE YOU, MAN!”, open displays of affection in American culture are tepid and rare. Latin and some European cultures describe us as “cold” and “passionless” and for good reason. In our social lives we don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.

In our culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely. Consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” is empty now because it’s expected and heard from everybody.

In dating, when I find a woman attractive, I almost always walk right up to her and tell her that a) I wanted to meet her, and b) she’s beautiful. In America, women usually get incredibly nervous and confused when I do this. They’ll make jokes to defuse the situation or sometimes ask me if I’m part of a TV show or something playing a prank. Even when they’re interested and go on dates with me, they get a bit disoriented when I’m so blunt with my interest. Whereas, in almost every other culture approaching women this way is met with a confident smile and a “Thank you.”

5. The Quality of Life For The Average American Is Not That Great

If you’re extremely talented or intelligent, the US is probably the best place in the world to live. The system is stacked heavily to allow people of talent and advantage to rise to the top quickly.

The problem with the US is that everyone thinks they are of talent and advantage. As John Steinbeck famously said, the problem with poor Americans is that “they don’t believe they’re poor, but rather temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” It’s this culture of self-delusion that allows America to continue to innovate and churn out new industry more than anyone else in the world. But this shared delusion also unfortunately keeps perpetuating large social inequalities and the quality of life for the average citizen lower than most other developed countries. It’s the price we pay to maintain our growth and economic dominance.

In my Guide to Wealth, I defined being wealthy as, “Having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” In those terms, despite the average American having more material wealth than citizens of most other countries (more cars, bigger houses, nicer televisions), their overall quality of life suffers in my opinion. American people on average work more hours with less vacation, spend more time commuting every day, and are saddled with over $10,000 of debt. That’s a lot of time spent working and buying crap and little time or disposable income for relationships, activities or new experiences.

6. The Rest Of The World Is Not A Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared To Us

In 2010, I got into a taxi in Bangkok to take me to a new six-story cineplex. It was accessible by metro, but I chose a taxi instead. On the seat in front of me was a sign with a wifi password. Wait, what? I asked the driver if he had wifi in his taxi. He flashed a huge smile. The squat Thai man, with his pidgin English, explained that he had installed it himself. He then turned on his new sound system and disco lights. His taxi instantly became a cheesy nightclub on wheels… with free wifi.

If there’s one constant in my travels over the past three years, it has been that almost every place I’ve visited (especially in Asia and South America) is much nicer and safer than I expected it to be. Singapore is pristine. Hong Kong makes Manhattan look like a suburb. My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston (and cheaper).

As Americans, we have this naïve assumption that people all over the world are struggling and way behind us. They’re not. Sweden and South Korea have more advanced high speed internet networks. Japan has the most advanced trains and transportation systems. Norwegians make more money. The biggest and most advanced plane in the world is flown out of Singapore. The tallest buildings in the world are now in Dubai and Shanghai. Meanwhile, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

What’s so surprising about the world is how unsurprising most of it is. I spent a week with some local guys in Cambodia. You know what their biggest concerns were? Paying for school, getting to work on time, and what their friends were saying about them. In Brazil, people have debt problems, hate getting stuck in traffic and complain about their overbearing mothers. Every country thinks they have the worst drivers. Every country thinks their weather is unpredictable. The world becomes, err… predictable.

7. We’re Paranoid

Not only are we emotionally insecure as a culture, but I’ve come to realize how paranoid we are about our physical security. You don’t have to watch Fox News or CNN for more than 10 minutes to hear about how our drinking water is going to kill us, our neighbor is going to rape our children, some terrorist in Yemen is going to kill us because we didn’t torture him, Mexicans are going to kill us, or some virus from a bird is going to kill us. There’s a reason we have more guns than people.

In the US, security trumps everything, even liberty. We’re paranoid.

I’ve probably been to 10 countries now that friends and family back home told me explicitly not to go because someone was going to kill me, kidnap me, stab me, rob me, rape me, sell me into sex trade, give me HIV, or whatever else. None of that has happened. I’ve never been robbed and I’ve walked through some of the shittiest parts of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In fact, the experience has been the opposite. In countries like Russia, Colombia or Guatemala, people were so honest and open with me, it actually scared me. Some stranger in a bar would invite me to his house for a barbeque with his family, a random person on the street would offer to show me around and give me directions to a store I was trying to find. My American instincts were always that, “Wait, this guy is going to try to rob me or kill me,” but they never did. They were just insanely friendly.

8. We’re Status-Obsessed And Seek Attention

I’ve noticed that the way we Americans communicate is usually designed to create a lot of attention and hype. Again, I think this is a product of our consumer culture: the belief that something isn’t worthwhile or important unless it’s perceived to be the best (BEST EVER!!!) or unless it gets a lot of attention (see: every reality-television show ever made).

This is why Americans have a peculiar habit of thinking everything is “totally awesome,” and even the most mundane activities were “the best thing ever!” It’s the unconscious drive we share for importance and significance, this unmentioned belief, socially beaten into us since birth that if we’re not the best at something, then we don’t matter.

We’re status-obsessed. Our culture is built around achievement, production and being exceptional. Therefore comparing ourselves and attempting to out-do one another has infiltrated our social relationships as well. Who can slam the most beers first? Who can get reservations at the best restaurant? Who knows the promoter to the club? Who dated a girl on the cheerleading squad? Socializing becomes objectified and turned into a competition. And if you’re not winning, the implication is that you are not important and no one will like you.

9. We Are Very Unhealthy

Unless you have cancer or something equally dire, the health care system in the US sucks. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th in the world for health care, despite the fact that we spend the most per capita by a large margin.

The hospitals are nicer in Asia (with European-educated doctors and nurses) and cost a tenth as much. Something as routine as a vaccination costs multiple hundreds of dollars in the US and less than $10 in Colombia. And before you make fun of Colombian hospitals, Colombia is 28th in the world on that WHO list, nine spots higher than us.

A routine STD test that can run you over $200 in the US is free in many countries to anyone, citizen or not. My health insurance the past year? $65 a month. Why? Because I live outside of the US. An American guy I met living in Buenos Aires got knee surgery on his ACL that would have cost $10,000 in the US… for free.

But this isn’t really getting into the real problems of our health. Our food is killing us. I’m not going to go crazy with the details, but we eat chemically-laced crap because it’s cheaper and tastes better (profit, profit). Our portion sizes are absurd (more profit). And we’re by far the most prescribed nation in the world AND our drugs cost five to ten times more than they do even in Canada (ohhhhhhh, profit, you sexy bitch).

In terms of life expectancy, despite being the richest country in the world, we come in a paltry 38th. Right behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and slightly ahead of Slovenia, Kuwait and Uruguay. Enjoy your Big Mac.

10. We Mistake Comfort For Happiness

The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.

Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations.

Comfort equals sales. We’ve been sold comfort for generations and for generations we bought: bigger houses, separated further and further out into the suburbs; bigger TV’s, more movies, and take-out. The American public is becoming docile and complacent. We’re obese and entitled. When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.

Depression and anxiety disorders are soaring within the US. Our inability to confront anything unpleasant around us has not only created a national sense of entitlement, but it’s disconnected us from what actually drives happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-validated, achieving personal goals. It’s easier to watch a NASCAR race on television and tweet about it than to actually get out and try something new with a friend.

Unfortunately, a by-product of our massive commercial success is that we’re able to avoid the necessary emotional struggles of life in lieu of easy superficial pleasures.

Throughout history, every dominant civilization eventually collapsed because it became TOO successful. What made it powerful and unique grows out of proportion and consumes its society. I think this is true for American society. We’re complacent, entitled and unhealthy. My generation is the first generation of Americans who will be worse off than their parents, economically, physically and emotionally. And this is not due to a lack of resources, to a lack of education or to a lack of ingenuity. It’s corruption and complacency. The corruption from the massive industries that control our government’s policies, and the fat complacency of the people to sit around and let it happen.

There are things I love about my country. I don’t hate the US and I still return to it a few times a year. But I think the greatest flaw of American culture is our blind self-absorption. In the past it only hurt other countries. But now it’s starting to hurt ourselves.

So this is my lecture to my alcoholic brother — my own flavor of arrogance and self-absorption, even if slightly more informed — in hopes he’ll give up his wayward ways. I imagine it’ll fall on deaf ears, but it’s the most I can do for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some funny cat pictures to look at.

 

Silence Of The Lambs

7:42 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Clinical Waste

TEPCO is to begin removing spent fuel rods at Fukushima reactor number 4.

A large mound of toxic trash was reported to be headed our way from there, though NASA has since said most of it has sunk.  That’s reassuring that this trash is now on the bottom of the ocean rather than on top floating. I guess ocean currents only exist on the top.

Alternet has an article on the The 10 Most Toxic Cities in the World and none of them are in the US or Europe. Isn’t that amazing.  I’ll bet at least one city here could make runner up, though.

But this diary is NOT about pollution.  No…it is about health care. And it is not about health insurance. It is about the health care industry. And mark my words, it is an industry. It is considered the largest growing field in the US right now.

My mother was an RN for a number of years. She got her nurses training at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Not a small hospital even when she was there in the early 1940s just before WWII. During WWII she was stationed at a large army hospital in France.  My mother and I would talk quite a bit about her experiences as a nurse and her time at St. Luke’s and in the army. She would talk of the the patients and accident victims from Bethlehem Steel. How there was no treatment at that time for “Blue Babies”.  She would tell me how rare it was to have a cancer patient. So rare in fact that only those nurses in the top part of their class ever got to see one. She herself in fact got to see a cancer patient exactly once in all the time she was at St. Luke’s.

I will admit though that diagnoses of cancer is an order of magnitude better now than at that time.  But has it improved so much that now cancer treatment is one of the most lucrative areas in medicine? That even central Florida – the Orlando area – has so many treatment centers I have lost count. I know personally of at least 6.  But I know personally of 5 people who died from cancer within 10 years.

And there are still a large number of situations that unless your doctor or nurse practitioner has some reason to look for it, cancer can – and often does – go undiagnosed until it is too late. One would need a head to toe exam every year or  6 months to find most of these. Even  Medicare would balk at that.

The medical profession is loath to point out the biggest reasons for the increase in cancer unless it’s politically correct to do so, like tobacco or now air pollution. And they will not say – but they know – that the chances of it being detected early enough to actually cure it are very small. This goes for many of the circulatory problems as well.

The situation is this. The health care problems in this country are not with insurance specifically.

It is with the heath care system itself.

Which is good at diagnosing problems that are obvious but only fair to poor at treating these problems. And poor to horrible at actually curing them. Yet the media and Hollywood and the medical profession publicly would like you to believe otherwise.

They know this but are either unwilling or unable to say so.  They know that supplements can in a lot of cases do a better job of keeping you blood sugar low, you BP on track and you triglycerides down than pharmaceuticals. Few – if any – will tell you so. I know however that they do know. My own health care provider just smiles and says “what every your doing, keep it up.”  But for some reason they cannot say. Not publicly and sometimes not privately.

But like George Carlin has said, “you don’t have to die. You’ll just expire like a magazine subscription.”

And the medical profession will not tell you that the longer you stay in a hospital, the greater you chances are of contacting a hospital bacteria that there a fewer and fewer antibiotics to fight. Or that unless you get your head blown off, drown or drop dead of an aneurysm or something similar – you will not die peacefully in you own home but in some medical facility all drugged up.

Yet they have the gal to charge the outrageous fees for all of this. The Hippocratic oath says “First do no harm.” I’m guessing this does not apply to your bank account or your psyche.  But they will not say anything about this either.

The health care profession in this country is an over priced comedy act in an over priced club that tells very bad jokes. When they say any thing at all.

My Mom passed away this morning

9:32 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Hospital Corridor Bio-hazard - flickr

She did not die of cancer or a heart attack or a stroke. She did not have diabetes or any other disease. Some high BP but that is all. And she did not die of natural causes.

NO she died from the most likely cause these days after entering a hospital. She died of a hospital acquired infection.

Most likely CDIFF. She went in for a hip fracture. A common enough situation for an elderly person. But the out come has become far, far too common these days. As you can see from this piece from The Atlantic, you have a 1 in 17 chance of dying from an infection in a hospital.

The Health and Human Services department’s 2009 quality report to Congress found “very little progress” on eliminating hospital-acquired infections and called for “urgent attention” to address the shortcomings — first brought to light a decade ago.

Of five major types of serious hospital-related infections, rates of illnesses increased for three, one showed no progress, and one showed a decline. As many as 98,000 people a year die from medical errors, and preventable infections — along with medication mixups— are a significant part of the problem. MSNBC

And according to this report in WEBMD, the incidence of CDIFF is reaching epidemic proportions. And hospitals a loath to report this and that this particular bacteria has become more deadly and harder to treat each year.

C. diff disease can range from mild diarrhea to life-threatening colitis. The bug produces toxins that destroy the mucosal lining of the gut.

There are many different C. diff strains circulating in the U.S. But since 2000, one of these strains has gone from a minor player to become the most frequently isolated C. diff strain. The strain has several names. Referring to its genetic fingerprint, the CDC calls it NAP1. In Europe and Canada, it’s often called the 027 or BI strain.

The NAP1 strain of C. diff took off shortly after it acquired resistance to fluoroquinolone antibiotics. There’s some evidence it may also have acquired some resistance to Flagyl, one of the two antimicrobial agents used to treat it (the other is vancomycin).

Antibiotic resistance isn’t the only worrisome thing about NAP1. C. diff normally makes two toxins. The NAP1 strain makes 16 times more toxin A and 23 times more toxin B. And it also makes another toxin, called binary toxin, although it’s not yet clear how this toxin affects humans.

To date, the NAP1 strain has been reported in 37 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia.

A recent report shows that adult C. diff hospitalizations doubled between 2000 and 2005 to about 300,000 hospitalizations a year. That’s more hospitalizations than are seen with MRSA, which sends about 126,000 Americans to the hospital each year.

The CDC’s C. diff expert, L. Clifford McDonald, MD, tells WebMD that if you count pediatric C. diff cases and cases in the community that do not enter the hospital, there are probably half a million U.S. cases of C. diff infection each year.

And yes, it is an epidemic: The infection rate is going up by about 10% a year. But the death rate is going up even faster, says Marya Zilberberg, MD, adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and president of the EviMed Research Group. WEBMD

And for my mother it was pure torture the entire time:

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