Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monday November 29th At Noon Pacific Standard Time

Dear Friends,

Literally. This was started at the Friend's Meeting (unstructured Quakers) this morning at about eleven thirty in Tacoma, WA. A small group of us eating waffles and discussing the state of the world decided to start a peaceful revolution. We have decided that as many people as possible need to breathe as deeply as possible at noon Pacific Standard Time on Monday November 29th. Why would we suggest this? Well, read on.

Breathing is underrated. In this culture of speed, texing, Facebook, cellular phones, consumption and general stress we forget the simpliest of things. Breathing, drinking fluids, eating right, etc. We believe this could catch on sort of like "Hands Across America" caught on in the 1980s. And we're not claiming it will make a tremendous difference nor change anything. As we sat eating waffles and then breathing inbetween bites though, the five of us felt better. And a good thing is no one choked either. There were more people at the meeting this morning than the five of us, but there are several tables at the meeting house. We didn't have time to share this with the entire group.

So, it's a simple thing really. Take a deep deep breath and pull it to the bottom of your lungs. Do it several times. Change your world. Then, in a state of relaxation, change the world around you. Light One Candle Rather Than Curse The Darkness (Amnesty International). -Alison Whiteman (just the messenger for the message)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The TSA: Keep Calm And Stop Whining

I don't mind high security. This may confuse some, but I am half English. Why does this matter? Well, from the time I was a little girl our trips to England to visit family and our time living overseas taught me many things. One is that people sound different from one another in different parts of the world. Another is Germans love beer. But a most compelling lesson I learned was unattended packages are very dangerous.

England has been hit with the terrorist stick so long it doesn't phase the population. It dates back to 1066 when they had that horrid invasion. You know the one if you went to high school. The subsequent invasions have been horrific to say the least, which I think explains their incredible sense of humor. It's amazing really. People who have been subjected to a tremendous amount of trauma either become complete whack jobs or comedians. There seems to be no middle ground.

From the time I was a little girl there were signs all over England about unattended packages. It has been their ongoing battle with the Irish Republican Army. I don't understand terrorists. I have particularly never understood this terrorist group since England has spent so much money keeping Northern Ireland's economy going. My grandmother had some extremist beliefs about this dilemma. She said England should have pulled the British troops a long time ago and allowed the people to slaughter one another. I disagreed and read the novel Trinity while on a long visit to England the summer of 1983. I read it on the subway or tube as they call it in England. I was too naive or brazen to realize reading this in public was probably endangering my personal safety. I was seventeen. That explains a lot right there.

England has had to beef up security for seemingly forever. I think there is nothing more sobering than looking at pictures of London citizens hiding in the what they call the tube and we call a subway during World War II Nazi raids. Also disturbing is the book my mother told me to get entitled "The Day They Took The Children. My mom was one of the hundredds of thousands of children evacuated from London during the blitzes. Fortunately she had family in the countryside. Many were sent to complete strangers. I am not certain anyone complained much, the Brits just don't complain that much really. My grandmother, for instance, was blown up the staircase after opening her front door during World War II. After that, she dusted herself off and went shopping for groceries.

On Saturday November 20th, 2010 I entered Sea-Tac airport fatigued. As you may or may not know, I have multiple sclerosis. I needed a wheelchair that day to get through the airport. The policy of patting down or scanning people had just been implemented by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). First came the trauma of getting a wheelchair. They were in short supply for some reason. Next came waiting in the wrong line to get patted or scanned. The scanners are too narrow for wheelchairs. I was whisked from one location to the final destination where I met the Nurse Ratchet of TSA agents. She ordered Jay to vacate the area. She left me within a half inch of a cloth strap barrier which for some reason I did not back away from. She was so nasty I started to cry. There's a pill out for MS related crying and laughing which I refuse to take lest I have to get a new liver to deal with the side effects. I plan to laugh and sob my way to my grave thank you very much.

After I began to cry, she eased up. She patted me down, then said she had to go test her latex gloves. I presume this was for residue of some sort related to bombs. The thing is, I am okay with all of this. As long as we are safe flying it's okay with me. The outrage at this in this nation is linked to how recent terrorism is to immigrants. I say immigrants as most of us are the immigrants. The Native Americans were the original inhabitants of this nation. Terrorism is not new to them. A wise poet and Native American once told me there are as many ways to view a circumstance as there are points on a circle. Perhaps my view is not the popular one right now. I just feel lucky my family was never blown up in downtown London by the Irish Republican Army or the Nazis. We were all extremely lucky considering my grandfather, uncle and aunt and others worked in downtown London. I can think of better ways to die than on a plane with a bomb. I think we all just better step up and stop our whining. -Alison Whiteman

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Goodbye To Journalism 101, Hello To Voo Doo

A panel at The University of Colorado in Boulder is considering shutting down the school of journalism? Say it ain't so! Have we become so addicted to Facebook, Twitter and Texting that actual writing is going out of style? In 1984 I was admitted the the CU school of journalism. Instead, I came to the Pacific Northwest to major in Communications and then against the advice of my advisor, made my way over to the English department. Someone should have told me what unemployment is really like. Surely someone should have told me what writing for such low pay that you qualify for food assistance is like. Oh well. The probable demise of the journalism school strikes me as strange, but not as strange as the next story I read today.

Seventeen girls presumed possessed by the devil in Trinidad? Priests called in to get a probable voo doo hex off the girls who are all speaking in tongues? It's the Exorcist times seventeen. Did their heads twist around as well? When do we get to view the YouTube video? I cannot wait to see this one. Given the demise of at least one journalism school and perhaps many others to follow, I was surprised to read this story at all.

The Pierce County Auditor in Tacoma wears one latex glove, spends twenty minutes a day at a shredder and shouts at employees one day and says he has found God the next? He sounds like my editor at my former newspaper in Colorado Springs who sang show tunes one minute and screamed at the reporters within minutes. I don't recall anything about God coming out of that editor though. Maybe we needed priests in the newsroom to get the hex off of him. It's voo doo all around lately. -Alison Whiteman

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

OMG! I Have A Tenth Follower!

Dear ten or so readers, welcome. I sense my blog influence expanding into an everlasting universe of blogsville. I am so not famous like my big brother Michael who seems to have a zillion followers.

If you like, you can check out his blog at: He is hilarious and receives personalized rejection slips from The New Yorker. Do you realize what a compliment that is? It means he is being read! My goodness! I aspire to receive a personalized rejection slip from someone besides Demos, the health information publishing company. They sent me a handwritten note. Oh, and I got one in 1976 from Dell Publishing too. LOL Oh bless you my dear ten! -AW

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Free Santa Portraits For Special Needs Children

Saturday December 4th The Tacoma Orthopedic Association (TOA) and the Lisa Anne Viafore Guild is sponsoring free Santa portraits of special needs children from 10a.m. to 4p.m. The event will take place at the St. Patrick School on North 12th and "J" Street.

Portraits are by appointment only so call TOA at 253-381-0260 or contact them via e-mail at  The web site for the organization is

Also, check out the TOA thrift store on Tacoma Avenue North across and down the block from Ranko's Pharmacy. They have exceptional used clothing and wares all for a good cause. -Alison Whiteman

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Thin Sane Line

A strange thing happened when I was in my early twenties. I found myself at a local psychiatric hospital eating lunch on the lawn with patients. I was an employee with a newly minted degree in English and an absolute inability to find a writing job that paid enough to feed me. I was fortunate to find a job as a clerk typist at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom, Washington. I was hired as a temporary during an interim search for the retiring clerk typist. During lunch on the lawn one afternoon, something dawned on me. I am not so different from the patients. None of us are.

Police often speak of the "thin blue line." I think we ought to think of mental health as "the thin sane line." It's not that uncommon that normally healthy people get pushed over the edge by life events and find themselves at the mercy of our mental health system. Lately that system is pretty fractured nationwide. The resources for those who have mental health issues have declined severely. The number of assaults against homeless mentally ill people are at an all time high. In Pierce County, Washington, the solution has been to bring in the HMO of mental health, Optum Health. While Optum promises to make improvements in our mental healthcare system, one hundred and thirty county mental health workers have lost their jobs. Some have been hired by Optum, but at a fraction of their previous salary. One might say Optum is the WalMart of mental health.

Optum's "recovery" model of mental health is a bold one. It's based on the model brought forth by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The premise is this: employ those who have battled mental health issues to assist those who have mental health issues. It's a great premise, but one that if examined carefully is honestly based on economy. You no longer have to have a degree to be a mental health professional in any county that uses Optum as their mental health provider. You only have to have one year in recovery from a mental illness. Then, after taking a forty hour course you must pass a test to become a "peer specialist." Again, this system has benefits and pitfalls. Like AA, it is likely true that the best people to support anyone with a mental illness are those who have suffered one themselves. If we are honest, that surely includes most of us. Who hasn't suffered a depression after a loss of some kind? But the pitfalls are numerous.

First, the wages are significantly lower for those without degrees. The starting pay for a peer specialist is thirteen dollars per hour. That's actually not bad considering you don't even have to have a high school diploma. However, this has put those with degrees out of work. It has also placed those with high skills out of the profession of mental health care entirely. The impetus for this change has been a national campaign from the President's New Freedom Commission On Mental Health which states the system should be consumer and family driven. Again, this is a fine premise, but the reality is hitting our county quite hard. There is not a psychiatrist in the county that will accept Medicare or Medicaid for psychiatric treatment. Pierce County, like many others, has medication management teams only. Consumers go into these agencies and discuss medications only. So, like our nation as a whole, we have become a pharmaceutical dispensary machine. Even these dispensary agencies have had it with the Medicare and Medicaid billing issues. Some have gone out of business.

I went to the forty hour training to become a peer specialist. There were so many positive things about the training. Gone is the idea that some "expert" tells you as a consumer what to do. Instead, consumers have a say in their own treatment. That's not so bad unless you are in such denial about your condition you cannot make decisions about your treatment. Alas, Optum has a system for that as well. Consumers draft their own plan about their own treatment should they become incompetent. Again, a fine premise as long as you know how to write and articulate such a complex matter.

What bothered me about the training though was the complete and utter disdain for those who have become trained experts in the field. There was a collective anger in the room against anyone who has obtained post high school education. This anger led to my removing myself from the room as if I was some sort of alien being. I have a master's degree in education with emphasis in special education and psychology. Does this mean Optum will shun me? Well, certainly this company would not compensate me for my educational level if ever hired. And what about my colleagues? Would they also shun me as I walked along the hallways of their new facility?

It seems to me we have a dumbing down going on in this nation as a whole. Education is not really valued. I have heard tea partiers rage against our President calling him an elitist. There is no doubt our President is an articulate and educated man. I am not certain why this is held against him. The last time this country held collective anger against the educated was during the McCarthy era when those deemed "intellectuals" were literally stripped of citizenship. I see it going on again. Like others, I am alarmed.

I stayed at my job at the psychiatric hospital until the union made it clear I was not welcomed. The then director welcomed my skills and was heartened I had a college education. The union did not share this enthusiasm. I was told I was displacing other people from the job. I was pulled into a bizarre conflict going on with the union and the state. I also found this later as a teacher. While standing in the staff lounge at the school where I taught, I began to recite a poem. My then colleague said, "I had no idea a special education teacher would know anything about poetry." It dawned on me that I was a stranger in a strange land: America the dumbed down nation. We still don't invest in public schools to the degree we should. We still don't hold our children up to the standards of other nations. And now we have a much more poorly funded HMO running our local mental health care system. These are strange days indeed. -Alison Whiteman

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why We Need To Fear The Fringe More Than The GOP

I don't know about you, but the past year or so has scared me. I have always been an activist, but did not realize how much so until some very troubled classmates attempted to send me a package from a militia headquartered in Oregon. One of them was just stupid enough to give me a heads up prior to the incident. She said she was contacting Oregon.

When I got notice of two packages from Oregon, I traced the origin of the package to a city in Oregon which happens to be headquarters for a nationwide militia movement. I guess it was the nearest one to Tacoma. I quickly made some additional phone calls. I had already been making reports about threats to my physical safety these three former high school classmates had made to Colorado and Washington officials, the Tacoma prosecutor's office and the FBI. Why was their rage targeted at me? There were a couple of reasons.

One is that I am disabled with MS. Despite this, they feel I am a burden to the system and should basically be eliminated by either violent means or an absence of any government resources to assist me. The other was outraged to find out one of my brothers has not died from AIDS complications. Her brother and my brother dated in high school and her brother passed away from AIDS complications some years ago.  I cannot fathom this logic.

All three of my classmates were victims of child abuse. All three have obviously never addressed their own issues and their hate level, much like the untreated Beck and Hitler take it out on those they perceive to be weaker than them. In this case, it was me, an MS patient.

By the time I got to the post office to retrieve the package, it had been taken by the postal inspector. I high fived the postal clerk informing him this was the best course of action as I did not need to see the hate literature or threats they had sent to me. I hope they are all now on the FBI watch list. They are troubled. But worse, they are violent and troubled. And this is what scares me the most. Untreated survivors of troubled childhoods unleashing their wrath on others. This is what Hitler accomplished. This is what we should fear as Americans. This is why we need to encourage those we know to address any painful personal issues before they become entrenched in fringe politics.- Alison Whiteman