Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fit For Duty

After his annual physical exam on July 30, George Bush's doctors proclaimed him "fit for duty." I say if he is "fit for duty," then he should be sent to Iraq to fight along side the young men and women he has comitted to risking their lives for no good reason. This would give him a chance to make up for evading service in Vietnam.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Define Quagmire

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld stated that the Iraq war has not become a "quagmire." Quagmire is defined as "an awkward, complex, or hazardous situation." Perhaps the Secretary should consult a dictionary.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Recognize This

An AP science story titled, "Brain Cells 'Recognize' Famous People," reported on a study in Nature (see also the story "Jennifer Aniston strikes a nerve" at news@nature.com) by researchers at Cal Tech which showed that individual neurons in the medial temporal lobe of epileptic patients respond to specific pictures of celebrities. For example, they found that individual neurons in different patients responded to pictures of Bill Clinton, Halle Berry, and Jennifer Aniston. In fact, in one person, the cell fired when shown different pictures of Jennifer Aniston, but not to pictures of her with her ex Brad Pitt.

So, what are we supposed to make of this? On the one hand, it is interesting to find single cells that fire in response to pictures of specific individuals or objects. On the other hand, is it really that surprising? It is clear that such object- or person-specific cells are not pressent at birth, so they must be "created" as a result of specific learning experiences of which each one of us has our own unique and idiosyncratic collection.

Simply going into each individual's brain and finding such cells would be nothing but a more technologically advanced form of phrenology. Moreover, finding that such cells exist tells us nothing about how they are involved in the actual behaviors of perceiving.

The researchers admitted that particular persons or objects are not recognized and remembered (of course brain cells don't "recognize or remember"; these are metaphors) by only one brain cell, or that a brain cell will react to only one person or object, because some cells were found to respond to more than one person, or to a person and an object.

According to the article, scientists are unsure about "how our brains extract meaning from an image." That's because our brains don't "extract meaning." Brains are not entities that do things; they are collections of nerve cells that either fire or don't. In fact, meaning, whatever that is, isn't extracted from an image. Rather we learn to respond in various ways to images, for example, by saying, "Hey that's Jennifer Aniston; boy I'd really like to . . . uh . . . meet her." And that's all there is to the meaning of an image.

The really pertinent questions to ask are, How are our responses (perceptions) to various objects and people learned and How does the brain mediate those responses? The researchers of this particular study may have begun to answer the second question.

I'm not really arresting anyone here, except perhaps the "cognitive paparazzi" who should be more careful in how they report these types of studies.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

1714

As of today, that's the number of U.S. military deaths Bush is responsible for since he began his war in 2003 to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (remember those?). And that doesn't include the thousands of U.S. personnel who have been seriously wounded, injured, and crippled or the tens of thousands of Iraquis who have been killed. Is it possible that more Iraquis have been killed or injured under Bush than under Saddam?

When will a majority of American people stand up and say, as Peter Finch did in Network, "We're angry as hell and we're not going to take it anymore"?

So I arrrest all Americans (including Democratic congresspeople) who allow Bush and his cronies to continue to inflict such pain and suffering on our soldiers and the people of Iraq and who don't demand that we get the hell out of there.

Frist Backpedals

Frist: Schiavo Autopsy Results Ends Case

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a surgeon who had questioned Terri Schiavo's diagnosis during the intense national debate on whether to remove her feeding tube, said the autopsy documenting her severe brain damage brings ``a very sad chapter to a close.''

``She had devastating brain damage, and with that the chapter is closed,'' Frist said Thursday on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

Really? That's not what he said when he was trying to earn points with the Christian Right during the fiasco that her parents and those compassionate Christians turned Terry Schiavo's case into.

In fact, contrary to Frist's claims that at the time there wasn't enough information about Schiavo's condition to justify allowing her husband to remove her feeding tube against her parents' wishes, numerous physicians and courts had determined there was enough information. But that didn't stop him and other Republicans from pushing through unprecedented emergency legislation, signed by President Bush, aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life by allowing the case to be reviewed by federal courts. But federal courts rejected the parents' request to have her feeding tube reinserted.

So what did Frist do at the time? Did he, as a physician, go to Florida and examine Schiavo ? No, he questioned the diagnosis of the court-appointed doctors, by viewing video footage provided by her family that seemed to show Schiavo responding to people around her.

But now what does he say? ``The diagnosis they made is exactly right. It's the pathology, I'll respect that. I think it's time to move on,'' Frist said on CBS' ``The Early Show.''

Yeah, time for him to move on so he doesn't have to really explain and be accountable for his unconscionable behavior.

So I arrest Bill Frist, as a Senator, a physician, and a Christian, for his purely political, and unethical behavior with respect to Terry Schiavo .

Monday, June 13, 2005

Cruising for Scientology

Apparently, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise's latest girlfriend (after two marriages and a relationship with Penelope Cruz) is embracing Scientology and is "really excited about it." Cruise said, ``Listen, the thing you've got to know about Katie is that she's an incredibly bright and self-determined woman. She makes her own decisions.'' Yeah, incredibly bright people are often drawn to a religion based on science fiction novels. Of course, if anyone can recognize an incredibly bright person I'm sure it's Tom Cruise. If Tom and Katie marry, it will be his third marriage. Pretty good track record. Maybe he needs another audit with an E-Meter to detect any areas of spiritual distress that might be causing him to continue to have failed relationships.

So, I arrest the two rocket scientists, Katie and Tom . . . well, you know for what.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Philosophy According to George Carlin

When asked who his favorite philosopher was, our educated, quick-on-his feet President, aswered, "Jesus Christ."

Well, if you ask me, I'd probably say, "George Carlin."

Okay, maybe he's not a real philsopher, but he probably counts as much as Jesus, although I don't think George ever turned water into wine (or was it wine into water?), although I know he's done his share of wine drinking, but that's another story.

Anyway, I thought I'd reprint an excerpt from the Preface of his book, Brain Droppings, because it pretty much speaks for me too. So, here it is.

I frankly don't give a fuck how it all turns out in this country -- or anywhere else, for that matter. I think the human game was up a long time ago (when the high priests and traders took over), and now we're just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing: the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy, ever-more-desperate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of "American Dream," which has merely been misplaced.

The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it. I have always viewed it from a safe distance, knowing I don't belong; it doesn't include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood improvement committee; I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Junk Medicine

The headline in a recent AP story read: Schools Opening Up to Alternative Medicine

According to the report, "doctors at . . . " the University of Pennsylvania Medical School "are working with Tai Sophia Institute, an alternative medicine school in Maryland, on a program to teach medical students about herbal therapies, meditation and other approaches that are increasingly popular with the public but largely exist outside the realm of mainstream medicine."

What are the "other approaches"? Massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy, prayer!?

Hell, while they're at it why don't they try leeches, psychosurgery, magnets, and incantations?

What is with these physicians? Is there something wrong with their medicine and the science behind it? No. So what's the deal?

Well, let's face it, many physicians and hospitals are wilting under the presssure of an ignorant public flocking to junk medicine -- they call it "complementary medicine" (used in conjunction with real medicine, or "alernative medicine" (used instead of real medicine).

For example, according to the AP report summarizing a 2002 government survey of 31, 000 people, , "More than a third of American adults have tried alternative therapies - including yoga, meditation, herbs and the Atkins diet."

Apparently Georgetown medical students work with a massage therapy school and Tufts University medical students work with an acupuncture school. Dr. Alfred P. Fishman of U. Penn's medical school, co-director of the collaboration with the Tai Sophia Institute said, ``We thought, why start from scratch? This is a very respected organization with 30 years of hands-on experience.''

Yeah? Respected by whom? And what does hands-on experience mean? Well, it probably literally means hands on, as in giving massages.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, more than 95 of the nation's 125 medical schools now require some kind of complementary and alternative medicine coursework.

What's wrong with us? Are we going back in time?

The new partnership between U. Penn and the Tai Sophia Institute will offer a master's degree in complementary and alternative medicine. The degree will come from the Tai Sophia Institute and the schools will exchange faculty members and students. Not only that , but one program will teach doctors about herbal medicines so they can better serve their patients who are already taking them. And, more alarmingly, cardiologists at Penn's Presbyterian Medical Center are being taught how to develop personalized therapy plans - including everything from meditation and massage to reflexology and aromatherapy.

Yeah, I would want my cardiologist spending a lot of extra time learning reflexology (What the hell is that anyway?) and aromathearpy.

According to the Tai Sophia Institute’s web site, All member of the Tai Sophia community – faculty, staff, administration, and students will

1. Operate from a Declaration of Oneness, a unity with all creation.
2. Use nature and the rhythms of the earth as a guide in teaching our students and each other.
3. Have an awareness of and teach the sensory skills that will allow us to observe phenomena and effectively create
movement in ourselves and others.
4. Ground ourselves in the understanding that healing occurs in relationship, and is not just the implementation of a
treatment technique.
5. Continue our learning in the presence of each other, acting not as truth-tellers but as guides for self-discovery.
6. Honor the individual gifts of each member of our community, and hold each other in the highest possible regard.
7. Value diversity within all healing traditions, and build upon that which joins the community at the deepest level.
8. Cultivate the next generation of teachers and leaders within the community to serve the ongoing life of the Institute.
9. Make all judgments and decisions in the context and light of the seven (past 3, future 3, and present) generations.
10. Have all of our actions be grounded in honesty and integrity.
11. Cultivate the observer in ourselves and each other, thereby fostering individual responsibility for learning and well-
being.
12. Be coachable, able to give, receive, and effectively respond to feedback.
13. Take the time to listen deeply to each other – making sure we hear each other and are being heard.
14. Consciously use our words, presence, and touch as instruments of healing – with deep respect, thoughtfulness, and
compassion.
15. Hold healing in partnership with illness and death. Embrace all aspects of life as a part of healing and health.
16. Create an institutional culture in which we learn from and support each other.

Now with the obvious exception of taking "the time to listen deeply to each other – making sure we hear each other and are being heard," and creating "an institutional culture in which we learn from and support each other," the rest of this stuff is just verbal bull shit.

Fishman said. ``Today, we're moving away from being completely focused on preventing disease and toward looking at what it takes to (achieve and maintain) wellness. ... I think patient care will improve enormously.''

Well, what does it take to achieve wellness? People need to get off their butts and start exercising, stop drinking 80 ounce Cokes and eating McDonald's french fries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and, yes, reducing stress in their lives. I'm not saying that meditation is bad, and who doesn't like a nice massage once in a while? But, calling these things medicine and offering university degrees to people who learn to do them is ridiculous!

Apparently, Dr. Steven Barrett of Allentown, a Columbia University-trained psychologist, a clear-headed thinker, who runs the Web site Quackwatch.org agrees. Alternative medicine programs are finding their way into mainstream institutions not because there's proof the therapieswork, Barrett said, but because skeptical voices are squelched and``administrators see it as a way to jump on the bandwagon and get grant money.''

So, I arrest all the physicians and hospitals who pander to this bull shit and then rationalize their decisions by pretending that the complementary and alternative treatments, if they ever produce any results, and that are legitimized by the medical establishment, are anything more than placebo.