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December 2015
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May 2016

Tiny Improvements Are Good

K., my neurologist, scolded me. Gently. He never stops smiling, the chiding is in his eyes.

"Once a month isn't enough."

"I know. My goal has been once a week, but I haven't been able to manage it."

"Busy at work?" One eyebrow up slightly.

"That, and the holidays. And all of the usual excuses that one comes up with." He grins. Point made. I will redouble my efforts to get to the pool once a week.

This was my six month assessment and it confirmed my subjective impressions. Improvements in strength and sensation. Slight reduction in spasticity. I'm bending at the knee more when I walk. Tiny, tiny improvements. This is good.  He thinks the lower back and hip pain that bedevils me periodically is sacroiliitis, brought on by the awkward way I've been putting weight on the right side these three years. An injection of corticosteroids should help.

That it's not a direct effect of the transverse myelitis is a great relief.  One of the constant dangers of a chronic condition is that you start to see it as the cause of every difficulty you're having.  Lynn cautions me about not identifying myself with my condition.  It affects every moment, but I can't let it be the substance of every moment.  The pain in the hip is suddenly easier to bear when I no longer worry that it's a manifestation of the damage in the spinal cord.

Since the spasticity and the spasms are improving, I'm going to start to cut back on the baclofen a bit. I'm hoping that will reduce the slight fogginess, the mental heaviness I often feel. It's a sensation of my head being encased in some kind of translucent capsule. I can think my way through it, but it can require considerable effort. Less baclofen might help. But it might also increase the spasticity, so I'll need to monitor that. Adjust as necessary.

K. continues to present cautious optimism. "Given the likely extent of the damage to the spinal cord, you're not going to regain full function, but improvements should continue."  As long as we're trending in the right direction, I'm happy with the tiny steps.  "Take your time," people tell me as they hold a door open for me.  I always do.  I have plenty of time.

Daily exercises.  More physical therapy.  The pool.  The things I do, not the things I am.


Voting in Alabama

One of the advantages of voting in Alabama is that you can vote your conscience without worrying that you're going to tip the election in an undesirable direction. When I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, my liberal friends in other parts of the country, who might have preferred Nader over Gore but were frightened at the prospect of a Bush presidency, were torn. I had no such dilemma. W was clearly going to take Alabama no matter what I did.

I was convinced by Nader's argument that there was so little difference between the Democrats and Republicans in the degree to which they are beholden to the moneyed oligarchs that neither Gore nor Bush would effect the kind of changes the country needed. It was an idealistic, impractical way of looking at the choice but it didn't matter. I happily voted for Nader, secure in the knowledge that my vote would make no difference whatsoever. (As it turned out, Nader's argument was deeply flawed. Correct he may have been at the macro level but it's hard to imagine Gore making the kinds of horrific foreign policy blunders W did).

Despite the lack of effect, I always vote in the election. I don't always vote in the primaries and I don't know if I will this time, although Sanders vs Clinton at least seems to have elements of a real choice. I'll vote for somebody next November. It won't be the Republican nominee, although that's who will take the state.

I am eager to see how the primary voting starts to play out. It's certainly been the most entertaining run-up to the actual voting that I've ever seen. I haven't looked at any recent Alabama polling but it's not too hard to predict. Trump is wildly popular.  Cruz will do well because of the evangelical streak. Bush will do better here than his national polling indicates. The traditional Republican establishment remains very strong in Alabama.

Whether Trump holds at his 30-ish percent of likely primary voters probably depends on how he does in the earlier contests, and how many candidates are still standing. Despite the state's reputation, the racist, nativist streak that is so appalling in a segment of Trump's constituency isn't dramatically worse here than in other parts of the country. When I moved from St. Louis 20 years ago I found it refreshing that racial issues were explicit, compared to the covert and deeply entrenched institutional racism of Missouri. The crowds and the fervor that Trump sparks all across the country (not to mention the various hot spots of civil unrest that we've seen in the past couple of years) make it clear that hatred of the "other" and a manipulation of the power structures to keep "them" out are not restricted to any particular locale.

It's a mistake to think that Trump's support is restricted to that racist, nativist subset. That element of the population has always been there. If you break down the numbers Trump's supporters represent a minority of a minority of likely voters, which is already barely a majority of eligible voters. What Trump has done is give those people permission -- indeed encouragement -- to vent. It makes them feel fabulous and hopeful and deludes them into thinking they are more numerous than they actually are. Deep in the core of those numbers are the people who genuinely believe that they speak for a vast unheard majority of Americans who will sweep Trump into the presidency, to the shock and awe of mainstream politicians and media as well as the hated liberals.

More interesting to me than those flag-waving idiots are the more thoughtful supporters who rally around Trump because they have become disgusted with the compromising, corrupt and ineffectual politicians that, they feel, have abandoned the real promise of America in order to serve themselves and their masters. In their view of the American political system they are not so different from those Nader supporters of sixteen years ago. The system is corrupt and has utterly failed. It needs to be torn down and President Trump is the guy to do it. The fact that he has no remotely coherent plan to replace it is beside the point. He has fabulously satisfying slogans. He's successful in the ways that matter the most to Americans and he's beholden to no one.

What fascinates me about this element of Trump support is how little these people are interested in the practicalities of government. But maybe that's part of the point. The voter's job isn't to figure out how things should be improved and then identify a candidate who seems best able to carry that out. The voter seeks to identify the candidate who most explicitly speaks to their fears, frustrations and desires, put that person into office and trust them to figure it out. And among the Republican herd, Trump has been touching that nerve much better than anyone else. I've always said that the democratic electoral system that we follow always gives us the president we deserve, and I'm confident that will be the case this time. It still seems highly unlikely to me that Trump will be the Republican nominee, and the electoral map is such that it'll be very hard for a Republican to win the election in any case. But the next few months will clarify things. Carson, Fiorina, Kasich will all be out soon. Huckabee, Santorum and Paul were never really in it in the first place.

Whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be, they'll carry Alabama by a huge margin. I wonder who I'll vote for. Maybe Nader?