Sunday, August 20, 2017

Regular Boys, House Paint and Dead Baby Jokes

"Life's been treating you nice
You better be wise - and enjoy your moment
Take one look at yourself through your eyes
How you treated your life it wasn't wise
'Cause it's getting closer"

Infected Mushroom - The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Heparin's a very common blood thinner, routinely prescribed in hospitals. If necessary, it can be neutralized with protamine sulfate. <- Important plot point.

Back in 2007, some babies died due to overdoses of heparin, which is supposedly not uncommonly administered in very small doses to support some neonatal procedures like intravenous lines. They were mistakenly given dosages from the wrong bottle at 1000 times the concentration and promptly expired, not very painfully one should think, but still rather gruesomely.

Us plains apes being so parentally invested by nature, dead babies are just the sort of tearjerker which gets multimedia corporations salivating. Still, probably nobody would've thought much of it if a Hollywood actor's progeny hadn't narrowly escaped the same fate a couple of months later, by which expedient the usual three-ring circus was erected, complete with televised performances by random schlubs and ditzes on the street agreeing that babies bleeding to death was a bad thing, very bad, yes, very bad. Something had to be done! Won't somebody pleeeaase think of the children?

At the time, yours truly happened to be working as a temp for a pharmaceutical company supplying some of those midwestern American hospitals which found themselves under baby-bleeding scrutiny when the pitchforks and torches came out. Oh, I wasn't doing anything fancy, call it warehouse work, except unlike most of the other warehouse workers I occasionally read those little fine-printed leaflets full of instructions we put into medicine cartons so you can toss them out when you get home without even unfolding them.
Yeah, that's right. You're not fooling anyone. We were on to you all along!
Thanks to my unusual reading habits, I recognized the name protamine sulfate when it rather abruptly replaced much of our work schedule, bumping such trivialities as chemotherapy drugs to the back of the line.

How about your reading comprehension? Can you tell what had happened? What the moral of the story is, or at least what it was from the lofty viewpoint of a pharmaceutical corporation executive?
Phase 1: dead babies
Phase 2: media frenzy pushing hospitals to do "something" about that evil, evil heparin, like buying the antidote
Phase 3: profit!
My bosses' bosses' bosses knew they could strong-arm hospitals into buying completely superfluous overstocks of medication as a show of compliance to outraged watchdog groups. Note this step makes no damn sense in the context of the accidents, which were caused by indirect miscommunication between the hospitals' ranks of technicians and some perhaps too similar labels on the heparin bottles. Nobody had complained of a lack of protamine sulfate. They weren't sitting there twiddling their thumbs watching babies hemorrhage to death for lack of an antidote. There was no threat of a sudden increased rash of heparin-related baby deaths, especially after the scandal had hit the media and every hospital's staff was already on high alert. It was, un-intuitively, a non-sequitur, and who the hell knows in what ways hospitals' services suffered to the effect of causing other accidents while they were distracted by all that bullshit?

But my pharmaceutical company knew it could bleed (pun intended) hospitals for some extra cash, with your public outrage to cudgel administrators into submission. Ever wonder where all those prohibitively high hospital costs come from? Sometimes even a simple story takes a page to tell and involves TV actors and your own ignorance. Nobody remembers the big heparin outrage of aught-seven a decade later, but the panic had practical repercussions at the time, offered the big dogs a chance to take a few more bites out of the public. This is how empires fall: a tiny self-serving exaggeration, a contract on false pretenses, a cheat at a time, a thousand times a second, from every industry and school and media outlet. Rot. Auto mechanics overcharging, headshrinkers prescribing an unnecessary bottle of pills, high school students cribbing final projects, construction companies opting for the cheap plywood. Dead babies, and the profit to be made thereupon. All of Rome, fiddling in tune with Nero.

I won't pretend I quit my job over that event. It was monotonous and potentially hazardous to my health and an entry-level career dead end and my boss was an asshole and my co-workers idiots and I wanted to go back to college, etc., all the usual litany of motivations played a bigger role. But it was always in the back of my mind, along with all the rest of the villainy we've come to expect from big pharma. The actual baby deaths were excusable by human imperfection. Hospitals don't go out of their way to get sued, but they deal in life and death and even the smallest mistakes can have massive repercussions. Shit happens, and when it happens in a hospital, it's always a massive pile of shit.

What I could not excuse was the behavior of my superiors, who took a positive step toward a negative outcome and consciously made a bad situation worse for their own profit, feeding on public fearmongering and disinformation. And I was in on it. In a very minor way, sure, qualified flunky, but I was as culpable as any of Goldfinger's minions working the big laser. For an entry-level job it paid pretty damn well, but I've always felt a bit guilty for doing their bidding.

On the other hand, I feel no guilt as to my "privilege" in being middle-class, for not being forced to work a grunt job for Bond villains my entire life. I owe the world nothing for what I have - only for what I do.

This brings us, weirdly enough, to page 3550 of the webcomic Questionable Content... but then if you've read any of my posts you know I'm all about the long-winded, awkward segues. An artificial intelligence gets a shiny new humanoid body as a present from his human companion, who happens to be filthy stinking rich. He runs around bragging to all the other robots until one of them verbally bitch-slaps him for rubbing his good luck in her face (which she recently had to get re-upholstered as it was falling apart; she's broke) and then he spends a couple of pages sulking over his white hetero male guilt (note the author made his new body at least two of those, for extra pedantry - and his antagonist nominally female) in tune with the mandatory self-flagellation of the contemporary left wings of Western politics. How can you live with yourself, being all... regular deluxe, like that?

"What utter bullshit" thinks I, before realizing how similar it was to an e-mail exchange from a couple of months ago in which someone (a "regular boy deluxe" in his own right) bemoaned his guilt at worrying about what color to paint his house "in a world full of people who can't afford a house in the first place" and I told him off, possibly a bit too forcefully, as is my wont. Then again... remember the horse from Animal Farm, T?

Is your car larger than utility and physical comfort would dictate? Does your fruit come from farther away than it should? Are you throwing out your old phone for no reason other than Apple's advertising? All these are potentially negative actions in and of themselves, and should be judged individually, but the simple fact that you can afford a car, or fruit or a me-myself-and-I-phone is not in itself an ethical quandary. Guilt over "privilege" is that protamine sulfate being shoved down your throat, the unnecessary antidote to an illness already past, a pretext for others to control you, to use you to prop themselves up as moral dictators. Fuck 'em. Shit happens. If you think yourself responsible for others' poverty, then are you doing something to make them poor? Are you making them put their trust in primitive superstitions, and breed without limit? Are you the one spreading the lies that "all's fair in love and war" or "you can't argue with success?" Are you the one teaching them how to emotionally manipulate each other? Are you advertising the latest quack nostrum? Are you spreading moral panics and fomenting witch hunts? Are you promoting irrationalism?

Or are you just a crumpled caryatid beating yourself up for not doing enough to prop up a civilization being torn down by that very same vulgus who have convinced you that you owe them something just for existing?

How much money you have is not the issue. How you got it is. Are you henching for Goldfinger?

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