Saturday, February 20, 2010

Odds or Ends

Various thoughts today that I'm not quite thinking enough about for a separate post, but they're crossing my little mind...

= the Dutch government has collapsed, because the two parties couldn't come to an agreement. Here in America, we call that "status quo".

= a famous golfer admits to multiple sexual affairs, and it's the most important news in the world. I really wouldn't care, but I have to admit that I'm jealous.

= Alexander Haig has died. He was the slimy weasel who orchestrated the pardon of Richard Nixon, and Reagan's SOS, but he actually looks rather sane compared to today's conservatives.

= the US men's and women's curling teams finally won one each yesterday. The men should really thank Vernon Davis. More curling today, so I am happy.

Any odd things on your mind today?

Medical Marijuana Works

Finally, some real science to back up what many of us already knew; yes, medical marijuana really does work:

With the results of a medical study summarized by a new report delivered to the California state legislature, the California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) claims it has established scientific proof that inhaled cannabis holds medical value at or above the level of conventional prescription medicines used for a variety of ailments.

"As a result of the vision and foresight of the California State Legislature Medical Marijuana Research Act(SB847), the CMCR has successfully conducted the first clinical trials of smoked cannabis in the United States in more than 20 years," the group said in the study's conclusion summary. "As a result of this program of systematic research, we now have reasonable evidence that cannabis is a promising treatment in selected pain syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, and possibly for painful muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis."

"'There is good evidence now that cannabinoids (the active compounds in the marijuana plant) may be either an adjunct or a first-line treatment for … neuropathy,' said Dr. Igor Grant, Director of the CMCR, at a news conference at the state Capitol,'" according to Salem-News. "He added that the efficacy of smoked marijuana was 'very consistent,' and that its pain-relieving effects were 'comparable to the better existing treatments' presently available by prescription."

One of the most infuriating parts of the whole medical marijuana debate was that opponents could argue that "there's no scientific evidence", because of the reality that almost no research had been conducted. The political and legal restrictions prohibited it. So the evidence for the efficacy of medical marijuana was purely "anecdotal", even though there were many thousands of people reporting relief for a variety of symptoms. As more states have legalized medical marijuana, more and more patients have found it effective. Funny how that works.
I've said many times that while you could have a reasonable debate about recreational marijuana (though I'm for legalization), but that human compassion dictates that medical marijuana should be legal. I know that it works for me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beyond Politics: Mental Health

By now, you're all aware that one Joseph Andrew Stack flew a plane into the Austin IRS office, after setting his house on fire and leaving behind a lengthy anti-government screed. And around the blogosphere there's extensive speculation about the "politics" behind the act. Was he a "tea partier" or a "terrorist"? Can we use him to score political points? The same dynamic occurred after the Alabama university shootings, the Ft. Hood shooting, and pretty much every other case of senseless violence in recent years.

But I'm seeing this from a very different perspective. For my newer readers, a bit of background: I was a mental health counselor for about 15 years, working primarily with extremely disturbed and violent individuals. A lot of my work focused on violence prevention, anger management, and suicide prevention (which are usually intertwined), so I'm inclined to look at incidents like this in a different light.

The general narrative when something like this happens is that the person "snapped", and they "snapped" because of "XYZ". It's a narrative that completely misses the actual problem. Almost every time, after further investigation, others reveal that the person had been "increasingly withdrawn", "acting strangely", "expressing paranoia or delusional", or exhibiting other behavioral changes prior to committing the violent act. Signs that, in hindsight, the person was about to snap.

Which brings me to a greatly under-reported problem: our current mental health treatment system is in shambles. Clinics are grossly under-funded, counselors are overburdened with huge caseloads, and treatment rarely goes beyond prescription medications. Counseling often isn't covered by insurance, and only rarely available to the uninsured.

Here's a simple exercise: imagine that someone close to you, a friend or family member (or even acquaintance or coworker), began exhibiting symptoms that had you worried that they might be about to do something extreme (even merely suicidal). Where would you turn? Assuming that you could get the person to agree to "get help"(involuntary treatment is a whole separate issue, so I'm not addressing it in this post), is there any real treatment available? Unless the person is fairly well off, the answer is probably "no". Community mental health centers are grossly under-resourced and overburdened, and are generally limited to crisis intervention, not prevention.

While better treatment won't eliminate all acts of senseless violence (human behavior is not an exact science), could some of these be prevented? I believe so. In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, what few mental health records that were released revealed that the shooter exhibited multiple warning signs, but that the treatment was woefully inadequate. A prescription for an anti-depressant, but no follow up counseling. And a lot of dead innocent people.

Sadly, incidents like this are going to continue to occur. Nothing is being done in the current system to prevent them. Regardless of the politics of the person who "snaps".

A Boobie in the Morning

Friday morning, looking up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Converations in My Life

So I'm having a conversation at my favorite pub with a woman who's been a friend for many years, but who I hadn't hung out with for a while. As follows:

Woman friend: "I'm sick of reality TV. If we're going to have reality entertainment, I wanna go full Roman. I want 'Christians versus lions' in 3-D"

Me: "We're gonna need a hell of a lot more lions."

Her: "Yeah, that could be a problem. We'll probably piss off PETA if we do that."

The rest of the conversation will not be posted, on advice of our favorite lawyer, who was on the next bar stool. But I do think that a lot more lions are needed.

The Dark Lord and the Minions

The crazies at CPAC got a surprise visit from their evil master. Dick "the dick" Cheney was greeted with cheers:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney just made a surprise appearance at CPAC after his daughter, Liz Cheney, finished her speech.

The crowd went wild, standing up and cheering for several minutes before he began talking. One man yelled, "Four more years!"

"Knock it off!" Cheney said. "A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again. But I'm not gonna do it."

He spoke briefly and offered his predictions for the November mid-terms.

"2010 is going to be a phenomenal year, and I think Barack Obama is a one-term president," he said to wild applause.

These people are seriously nuts. The man is a self-admitted war criminal who did more damage to America during his eight years in office than any other individual in history. The man who came right out and said that he wanted more waterboarding (in clear violation of international law), and that shrub was "too soft" on terrorists.
But I shouldn't be surprised; the CPAC people are merely better organized tea partiers. They started their conference off with jokes about Obama's use of a teleprompter...being read from a teleprompter.

Marcio Rubio with a teleprompter

Yet another reason for health care reform: maybe we could get some of these barking loonies on the proper medications.
Added: Damn, why is it that almost every time I write political snark, Rachel Maddow riffs on the same topic...she does it so much better than I do.

The Dalai Lama's Visit

President Obama will be meeting with the Dalai Lama today, although the meeting will be kept rather low key in order to avoid offending the Chinese:

President Barack Obama plans a muted meeting with the Dalai Lama on Thursday in deference to Chinese anger that he is welcoming the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader into the White House at all.

What the Dalai Lama and Obama say to each other behind closed doors will matter less than how the White House portrays the president's symbolic meeting with the Buddhist monk considered a separatist by Beijing.

Chinese officials will be watching closely to see how great a stage Obama offers to his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The Chinese want to know: How long will the meeting last? Will the first lady attend? Will the White House put out a written statement or answer questions about the visit at daily press briefings? Will cameras be allowed to film any part of the encounter?

"The optics of this thing are incredibly important to the Chinese," said Michael Green, former President George W. Bush's senior Asia adviser. "The Chinese government is preoccupied with protocol and how things look."

China's feelings matter because the Obama administration needs Beijing's help to confront nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, to fight climate change and to boost the world's economy. U.S.-Chinese relations have been strained, most recently because of the Dalai Lama's visit and the Obama administration's approval of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.

With China in mind, the White House appears to be opting for a low-key meeting. There is unlikely to be a joint public appearance or photo opportunity before reporters. Instead, the White House will release an official photo. The visit will take place in the Map Room, where presidents stage private meetings, not the more stately Oval Office, where Obama frequently meets with world leaders.

The Dalai Lama's envoy, Lodi Gyari, said even a private meeting with Obama is a boost for Tibetans feeling marginalized by China. Green said just the "fact that they spend time together in an intimate setting means everything for the Tibetan cause."

Although the Dalai Lama is revered in much of the world, Beijing accuses him of seeking to overthrow Chinese rule and restore a feudal theocracy in the expansive mountainous region. The Dalai Lama and analysts say that is untrue.

The Dalai Lama has met with U.S. presidents for the past two decades, but mostly in private encounters.

George W. Bush also met behind the scenes with the Dalai Lama. Bush broke with tradition in a big way, however, when he appeared at the public presentation in 2007 of a Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland to India in 1959 with members of his family and fewer than 100 other Tibetans during a failed uprising against China. Chinese troops had taken over Tibet in 1951.

It's sad that America finds itself so dependant on China that meeting with a great humanitarian must be done quietly, instead of being celebrated. Tibetan autonomy should be a cause that human rights advocates could embrace, and America could endorse in the name of "freedom". But economics and geo-politics allow China to dictate the terms of engagement; our economy is dependant on Chinese investment.
I'm actually quite glad that Obama is going ahead with the meeting, even in the face of certain repercussions. Sometimes, humanitarianism should trump diplomacy.
Oh, and here's a picture of one of my favorite 'odd couple' meetings:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Option

So maybe, just maybe, the public option is back through reconciliation. 11 senators (Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Pat Leahy (D-VT), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and now Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) just signed on) are on board.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) became the 11th Senator to sign on to a new effort by Democrats to press Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass a public option for insurance coverage using reconciliation, her office confirmed to the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

What I'll be watching is to see if Leahy and Kerry can bring more of the old dem votes in. Health care reform has been up and down like a kangaroo in the mating season, but at least it isn't dead yet.

I actually doubt that this will work, but I support trying it. I'm rather cynical, at this point. If nothing else, it's a major bargaining chip leading into the "bipartisan" summit next week.

The Curling Report

The first day of Olympic Curling is in the books, and it was a really bad day for the Americans. In the first round of round robin play, the Men's team had two stones in the house in the 10th end, but the German's skip was perfect, knocking both out for the win. Final: Germany 7, USA 5.
The first round of the Women's competition pitted Japan against the USA, and while the final score was fairly close, Japan winning 9-7, the match wasn't. The Americans made multiple strategic mistakes and shot poorly on crucial skips. I think they're going to have a really tough time in the next two days, as they play Germany and Denmark; both considered much better than Japan.
And last nights men's second round brought us Norway. The picture above shows the Norwegian argyle pants...I don't think the Americans ever stood a chance, faced with those uniforms. But the match was much closer than I expected, and was tied 5-5 at the end of the 10th end. So it went into an extra end (like extra innings in baseball), but the US's final throw was long and Norway got the win, 6-5.
The biggest news of the day was Sweden's upset of reigning champion Great Britain, a huge surprise. Also, the Canadians won both their matches and have a bye today.
Now for a brief rant: NBC's network of stations coverage really sucks. If I get the chance, I'm going to try to watch today's matches online.
Added: Ten more days of curling until all the medals are settled. I doubt that I'll do daily reports, but expect at least a few more curling reports ahead. Everybody needs a hobby, and I need something to keep me sane until baseball.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Quick Thought

On corporate "personhood": you can't have sex with them...but they can fu*k you.

The Workout

Under the heading "aging ain't for sissies", I've been working out to strengthen my damaged shoulder in preparation for the spring river season. I had been consistently doing my physical therapy exercises since the surgery a year ago, but now I'm cranking it up a couple of notches. And it's not a pleasant experience. Having just finished a 45 minute workout focused on my right shoulder, it's now 'barking' back in pain and soreness. Not that I'm going to let a 'little' pain stop me, but, damn, it was so much easier when I was younger.
But this is something I must do. There are rivers to row, and I must be ready to take up the oars. I basically lost most of last season to the broken shoulder; I refuse to miss another.

(photos from the San Juan River, 2008)

Monday, February 15, 2010

My World (and you're welcome to it)

(apologies to James Thurber for the title. graph from What Would Jack Do)
So I'm having a beer with my favorite 'tea party libertarian' and we're arguing about whether the government should fund "research" if there might be doubts about the "return on investment" (he also wants the government out of education), and I (as the 'socialist') favored more money for the research. Kinda like throwing out a net in the sea: you might catch something good. We agree on alternative energy, but disagree as to whether government should push the agenda.
And that is the philosophical difference. Just as I don't mind being called a "liberal", I don't really mind being called a "socialist", because of my view of the world. See, we are just humans. We are a social animal. We live in societies. We band together to do more than we can individually (I couldn't build an internet by myself; could you?), so we have a set of social rules. And that includes a certain amount of "sharing" resources. We always build some sort of structure (call it "government") to achieve a social norm for the good of the majority of us. Even the most tribal society is 'socialist' if you want to see it that way.
My 'libertarian' friend gave a number of 'free market' examples (proving nothing) why 'government is the problem', but kept saying "need more research" when I questioned his examples. I called this the "Unicorn Petting Manuel" view of the world. You want "more research" but "less government" at the same time. And then you pet the Unicorn.
I may be somewhat extreme in my opinions, but I usually try to be realistic; you want "better", you will have to pay for it. There are no Unicorns to pet. But I do believe that some amount of "socialism" is worth paying for a better life for all of us who live in a "society".
(added: as I'm sitting here blogging, Grizelda (my bird) is singing along with "Oh, Canada" as best she can. Yes, we're watching the Olympics)

Now That It's Official

(pic from Fearguth at Bildungblog)

I've posted a couple of rants about him before, but it's now official: J.D. 'the eggplant" Hayworth is mounting a primary challenge to St. Sleazy McCain:

J.D. Hayworth, a former Arizona congressman and radio host, is scheduled to formally announce Monday that's he's challenging Republican John McCain for his U.S. Senate seat.

Hayworth, who served for six terms in the House before losing his 2006 re-election bid, stepped down last month as host of his conservative talk radio program in Phoenix. While he says he respects McCain's service, he says McCain's been in Washington too long and isn't conservative enough.

"We all love and think the world of John and John's place in history is secure," the 51-year old Hayworth told CNN correspondent Casey Wian on Friday. "But John no longer represents the common sense conservative philosophy that most Arizonans share."

Hayworth's Web page bills him as "The Consistent Conservative," challenging McCain on health care reform, the national debt and illegal immigration. And a Hayworth press release from Friday mentions that McCain "voted for the massive bank bailout bill in 2008, which included $150 billion in earmarks."

I refer to J.D. as "the eggplant" because he is, in my estimation, dumber than an eggplant (although I can't find any reliable IQ estimates for an actual eggplant, I'm fairly confident in my opinion). I had to suffer through having him as my congress critter up to the redistricting in 2000, and have met him. He was over-achieving in his previous career as a TV news sports reader, and was grossly incompetent while in congress.

Let me be clear here: I really, really dislike St. Sleazy McCain. But I fear that Hayworth would be much worse. I've heard the argument that a lack of seniority would minimize J.D.'s impact, but it's a risk to let him have any impact.

Here's a very simple example: On his radio show, "the eggplant" has advocated deporting "all Latinos, legal or illegal" in Arizona...which was originally part of Mexico. "Latinos should get deported, all of them , legal or not , any jose or maria should leave... The blacks are guilty , and are using the system , they dont work , they use tax money for a living... All muslims are terrorists" etc., etc., etc. (in short, he's beyond Lush Rimbaugh extreme).

Do we really prefer an idiotic racist blowhard, or a corrupt cranky senile war 'hero'? That is a hell of a bad set of choices. And, sadly, there's no sign of a democrat who has a realistic chance of defeating either one.

Presidents' Day

Today is a holiday for a lot of folks. But us oldsters can remember when there was more than one holiday to commemorate presidents. We had Lincoln's birthday and Washington's birthday as separate holidays. Back in 1971 (another thing I blame Nixon for), the federal government decided to combine them into one holiday to honor all presidents. In other words, to celebrate Benjamin Harrison and Calvin Coolidge (and even Nixon himself) to the same degree that we honor Washington and Lincoln.
You may consider this the grumblings of a grouchy old man, but not all presidents are equal. Damn few of them deserve to have their birthday celebrated. Most were mediocre, some were actually terrible, and a very few achieved greatness.
Example: How many of you recognize the president pictured above?
Added: there's a fun presidents' day quiz here; it's all modern presidents. I got all 10.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cheaper Solar Cells

Another nice technology advancement, courtesy of IBM:

IBM researchers have recently published a paper in the journal Advanced Materials about a very promising breakthrough in solar technology. How is it different from existing solar technologies such as silicon-based solar cells, or CIGS thin film? The main thing is that it's made from earth abundant materials that can be found in large quantities relatively inexpensively (not quite dirt cheap, but cheaper than what we have now), making it easier to scale up and drive prices down.

The layer that absorbs sunlight to convert it into electricity is made with Copper (Cu), Tin (Sn), Zinc (Zn), Sulfur (S) and/or Selenium (Se). This is pretty abundant compared to the Copper (Cu), Indium (In), Gallium (Ga), and Selenium (Se) that GIGS thin film cells use.

The beauty is that it has a "conversion efficiency of 9.6 percent, which is 40 percent higher than previous attempts to create a solar cell made of similar materials." But this is just a start. More improvements to power conversion should be possible.

This could be a really good innovation. But I was also struck by the last line of the article:
Now how about working on cheaper and efficient ways to store large quantities of energy? That's the missing half of the puzzle that would make solar power more practical on the very large scale.

Dear IBM, can I introduce you to the article I cited in this post: pygalgia: A Major Battery Breakthrough?

British scientists say they have created a plastic that can store and release electricity, revolutionising the way we use phones, drive cars - and even wear clothes.
It means the cases of mobiles and iPods could soon double up as their power source -
leading to gadgets as thin as credit cards.

Seems to me that in the spirit of Valentine's Day, perhaps an introduction should be facilitated.