Sunday, February 29, 2004

Review of "The Passion of the Christ"

I saw Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” on Friday night. Normally, I don’t see R-rated movies because usually I feel I have nothing to gain by seeing them. They usually contain too much violence, nudity, and profanity, which irritates me rather than entertains me. I have made a few exceptions when I felt that the movie would be inspiring and enlightening in spite of the R rating. I saw Schindler’s List and Saving Private because I wanted to better understand the experiences of Jews during the Holocaust and American soldiers during D-day. In seeing “The Passion of the Christ,” I desired to better understand the Catholic view of the Passion and also to be uplifted by the reminder of Christ’s atonement for mankind.

This movie was an outstanding work of art in my opinion. It was spiritually very moving, beautifully filmed, and the actors’ performances were remarkable. I found myself thinking about what I had seen all day yesterday and today, pondering its message and analyzing its symbolism.

As far as anti-Semitism, I could detect none, but I am not Jewish and I therefore can’t say what a Jewish person might have thought. There were examples of both Jewish villains and Jewish heroes, and not all were followers of Christ, e.g. Simon of Cyrene. In my opinion, anyone that finds the central doctrines of Christianity and the Gospels offensive would be offended by this movie. I don’t think this is a movie that everyone should see, especially children under the age of 18. I would only recommend it to those interested in Christianity from a theological and philosophical standpoint. It’s not a movie that one would see in order to have a good time at the movies. It is a “thinking” movie, full of Christian doctrines, allusions to religious art, and symbols. It also helps to have a good understanding of the New Testament. Afterwards, I found I didn’t want to talk about it, but wanted to quietly ponder the meaning of what I had just seen. After digesting it for 48 hours, I now am excited about discussing it with my friends that also saw the movie this weekend.

As far as the historicity of the film, it is not really a historical film. Most of the comments from historians that I have read or heard complain about various non-historical aspects of the film. The movie follows the Gospels pretty closely, yet also adds in some Catholic traditions, such as St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he carries his cross to Golgotha. Many Biblical scholars claim the gospels aren’t historical for various reasons, but usually I tend to take their pet theories with a grain of salt since history and archaeology are inexact sciences where theories are constantly being revised based on new evidence. Several historians said that they felt Pilate was portrayed too sympathetically, since he was a harsh ruler that executed thousands of Samaritans and Jews during his rule, and thus would not have balked at condemning Christ to death. However, I disagree. As procurator, Pilate’s primary roles were to maintain order in the province, collect taxes, and issue judgments. Just because his punishment of criminals was harsh, does not mean he was unjust. The individuals he executed were primarily criminals or those involved in acts of treason. Jesus had not broken any Roman law, and Pilate, probably not realizing how serious an offense blasphemy was to the Jewish leaders, did not think he merited the death penalty.

The penalty Jesus received, scourging, was brutal. From the account of the Gospels, it appears Pilate wanted him to be beaten and then released. I’m not sure the scourging would have been as severe as it was depicted in the film. If Jesus had already been condemned to death by crucifixion, then I think such a severe beating would have been more expected. But I think that Gibson wanted to show that Jesus was pushed to the limits of human endurance and beyond. I think most people, after been tortured like that would have lain down and died, but Jesus was not like most people. The scourging scene was too gory for my taste, but I don’t think it was as outrageous as a lot of critics made it seem in their reviews. Of course, we’ll never know how severe the actual scourging was.

I really liked the fact that the characters spoke in Aramaic and Latin. It gave an authentic feel to the movie, like I was right in the crowd along with Jesus’ mother and his disciples. It was also fun to recognize a few of the words that Jesus would have heard and spoke such as his Aramaic name, Jeshua, Adonai (Lord), and Abba (Father). I also enjoyed hearing some of the familiar Latin words spoken by the Romans, although a lot of the Latin spoken by the Roman soldiers was untitled and probably consisted of crude jokes and epithets.

Gibson used symbols quite effectively in my opinion. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan appears in the form of a woman, a corrupt counterfeit of his mother, Mary. A serpent slithers from under his robes and Jesus crushes it under his feet, symbolic of the triumph of the atonement over Original Sin. Jesus’ blood is also used symbolically throughout the movie. In a flashback scene while Jesus is on the cross, John recalls the Last Supper where Christ tells his apostles to partake of the bread and wine that symbolize his body and his blood. As John watches Jesus’ blood drip down his body, he finally begins to understand what Christ was referring to the night before. Mary also kisses the feet of her son as he suffers on the cross and some of his blood stains her lips, symbolic of partaking of the Eucharist or sacrament.

After Jesus dies, there’s also a great earthquake which splits the temple in half. Although in the Gospels, only the veil is said to be torn, the destruction of the temple is a metaphor of the death of Jesus’ body, his temple that he said he would destroy and rebuild in three days. It could also foreshadow the complete destruction of the temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D.

The imagery of the movie was also like viewing many classical Christian works of art. The demons that tormented Judas after he betrayed Jesus reminded me of paintings that depict the torment of souls in hell. A bleeding Jesus standing before the crowd in a red robe at Pilate’s palace is reminiscent of many different renaissance paints on the subject. The scene where Mary is cradling Jesus on her lap after removing him from the cross evokes Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Apart from an appreciation of the artistic beauty of the film, I was also deeply moved emotionally by several scenes. The scenes that affected me the most included Peter’s denial of Jesus and several flashback scenes that depict the close relationship between Mary and Jesus.
At times I felt helpless, probably like his mother Mary felt and wished that Christ could die quickly (as morbid as that sounds) so he could be free of his pain and suffering. And the resurrection was a powerful scene, although too short for my taste. I felt intense joy at seeing Jesus’ face whole and peaceful once again. He did not linger in the tomb, but upon rising immediately strode out into the sunlight almost as if marching off to fight his next battle.

The only criticism I have is that beating and scourging of Christ was excessive. I was disappointed that one of Jesus’ eyes was swollen shut for most of the movie because I thought that Jim Cavaziel’s eyes have so much power, especially as he gazes on Judas and Peter in rebuke, and his mother and John in love. That power was diminished by only one eye being visible. But I think Gibson was probably “keeping to the script” as found in Isaiah 52:14.

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:

As a believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ, this movie was an important reminder to me of how imperfect I am and how much harder I need to strive to be a better follower of Jesus. The doctrines of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Mormonism differ somewhat, but this movie emphasized how much we have in common. We all believe that Jesus Christ suffered and died for the sins of all mankind because He loves us. Mormons do not wear crosses or crucifixes because we prefer to focus on the atonement as a whole to include his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, rather than one aspect, the crucifixion. Mormons are also often classified as non-Christians, which is silly because the proper name of our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What people really mean when they accuse Mormons of not being Christian is that we’re not their kind of Christians. But the key doctrine of Christianity, that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, is what unites us and “The Passion of the Christ” bears this out.

Update: Here's an article discussing the portrayal of Pilate in "The Passion of the Christ" by NRO's John O' Sullivan. Basically, he says that Pilate, as portrayed in the film, is worse than Caiphas because he believes Jesus to be innocent, yet does nothing to save him. Caiphas believes Jesus to be guilty of the sin of blasphemy, which was an offense punishable by death. Pilate, in essence, is a coward and does what he thinks is politically expedient.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Our Right to Remain Mentally Ill

I received weekly news updates from the Treatment Advocacy Center. Most of the time, they contain editorials regarding the challenges of getting treatment for loved ones or articles about individuals with mental illness killing someone or being killed by cops. Sometimes I just skip the whole issue because it's too depressing. But this week there's a great article that discusses the challenges of treating the mentally ill in Florida. Several groups, including law enforcement, have been trying to change the laws in Florida to make it easier to involuntarily commit, and thus get treatment for, the mentally ill. This article spells out the key problems with the mental health system in Florida.

TAMPA TRIBUNE, February 21, 2004

[Editor’s Note: This starkly compelling piece by psychiatrist Nestor Milian reads like a hypothetical in a graduate school exam; it just lays out the facts. One difference from a test question: in the last line Dr. Milian gives the answer, an answer now moving through the Florida legislature.]


By Nestor E. Milian

Nestor E. Milian, M.D., is a Tampa-based general psychiatrist.

The mentally ill have gained much in the way of their rights and personal liberties in the last 25 years. What they have lost on the way is the possibility of reasonable treatment when they become so ill that they do not realize they are in danger.

Consider a hypothetical patient, Frank. Frank, who is chronically and severely mentally ill, has been violent and has difficulty caring for himself. The few members of his family who were willing to help him have given up because of his violence, repeated hospitalizations, repeated incarcerations or self-negligence.

Today, Florida Statutes do not provide for adequate involuntary outpatient treatment of patients such as Frank. Our societal pendulum has swung too far to the patients' rights side. For instance, Frank has the right to not take his medications as soon as he is discharged from the hospital. He has the right to be discharged if he is able to demonstrate the capacity to remain calm and cooperate with hospital staff. Indeed, Frank can do this for short periods when taking his medications in a controlled environment. If the attending psychiatrist and hospital do not discharge him, Frank has the right to sue the physician and hospital for illegally holding him against his will. So Frank is discharged when he is "safe enough" to leave, and within days, he has stopped his medications. Sooner or later, his paranoid thoughts will overwhelm him, and he will begin to act on them. His violent or bizarre behavior will be reported to authorities and he will be back in jail or, more appropr!
iately, back in the hospital.

Patients Are "Too Sick'

When Frank is admitted to an acute care facility awaiting state hospitalization, then, and only then, will he be considered for involuntary treatment in local residential treatment centers. These centers are funded by the state of Florida and Hillsborough County to "divert" the severely mentally ill from state hospitalization. Frank must be "assessed" by local residential treatment centers while he is still in hospital. In the majority, patients like Frank are turned down because they are "too sick" for these diversion programs. Since space in these programs is severely limited, they can choose the patients who will participate most cooperatively. Once turned down, Frank must be treated in the acute care setting until stable enough to be discharged to an outpatient program, unless transfer to the state hospital can be arranged. People like Frank are very sick and need not only medications and safe environments, but also months, possibly years, of closely monitored psychiatri!
c care in order to even begin to see a change.

The Florida Assertive Community Treatment teams are an example of outpatient programs for the mentally ill. FACT teams are state-funded groups that include psychiatrists, social workers and mental health counselors, geared toward the close outpatient monitoring of severely mentally ill Florida residents. These teams will send representatives to the patient's place of residence and attempt to help these patients take their medication and get appropriate education and counseling. However, even these teams are powerless to help patients who refuse to open their doors or simply refuse to take their prescribed medications. Once one of the clients refuses medications, the FACT team must wait until there is an "imminent risk" to the patient or others before it can invoke Florida laws to take the patient into protective custody and then to an acute care hospital for involuntary examination.

If Frank seems to improve enough to be discharged to an outpatient setting, he will not be able to see a psychiatrist in the community mental health system for months after discharge. Even with a two-month prescription from a hospital psychiatrist, Frank may not have enough to last until his appointment. No wonder Frank soon is off his medications and on the street again, looking fearful and hearing voices.

Need Involuntary Treatment

Frank has the right under Florida Statutes to continue to be psychotic. He has a right not to be given reasonable outpatient treatment against his will. This is true even if he has broken the law or violated another person's safety in the past as a consequence of his illness. Next time you read about a tragedy perpetrated on an innocent by Frank, do not wonder why "these people aren't given treatment." Frank has rights.

A message to the Florida Legislature: We need involuntary outpatient treatment laws in the state of Florida before the rights of the mentally ill render them hopelessly mentally ill.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Nature Magazine Bias Watch

A sentence in a news feature about developing more environmentally friendly munitions caught my eye as I was thumbing though the Feb. 12, 2004 issue of Nature.

Collateral Damage by John Giles.

Even munitions that are never used in anger can have a long-term impact on the environment, and the military is anxious to minimize the risks.

Now, I'm all for reducing the environmental impact of military munitions, but what exactly does the intent of the person using the munition have to do with anything? And plus, wars nowadays are not fought because Joe Schmoe is ticked off at some rude neighbor down the street. I mean, what is up with that? Are the coalition forces in Iraq shooting at Al-Qaeda and Fedayeen operatives because they are mad at them? Or could it be because they don't want to be killed, they don't want their buddies to be killed, they don't want nearby Iraqi civilians to be killed, and they don't want Iraq to be destabilized and thus cause a whole lot of civilian deaths in a civil war?

I'm not saying that soldiers never get personal because they have feelings too, and I'm sure I'd be angry if someone had shot my buddy. However, our soldiers (and I'm sure other coalition soldiers) are well trained and disciplined so that they do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The author, a writer from London, just effectively insulted his own military and the militaries of the British allies. A simple word change would have solved this issue and would not have made Nature's anti-war bias show through so clearly. All Mr. Giles has to do was substitute "combat" for "anger" and the sentence would have made perfect sense.

Even munitions that are never used in combat can have a long-term impact on the environment....

Gee whiz, show a little professionalism. Please!

Monday, February 23, 2004

And Now For Your Blue Monday Amusement - A Satirical Political Beliefs Assessment Test

Here's an entertaining political test by Don Hagen to see if you are an leftwind wacko, antigovernment libertine, archconservative, or commie sympathizer, or a bit of them all.

Here's some choice excerpts:

The most egregious example of government waste is...

CONS: the Department of the Interior's $600,000 outhouse.

LIBL: the Department of Defense's $600 toilet seat.

LBRT: the $100,000,000 in emergency funds to buy air conditioners for poor people during the blistering heat wave of 1998. Although, I'm sure there are people who honestly believe that if all those air conditioners saved just one life, then it was indeed a small price to pay.

COMM: the Department of Commerce's entire budget.

The Center for Public-Health Dietary Self Control releases a study that says eating just one jelly donut is as harmful to human health as smoking 10,000,000 cartons of cigarettes. Do you...

CONS: keep eating jelly donuts.

LIBL: demand that jelly donuts be removed from vending machines, and public school cafeterias.

LBRT: hoard jelly donuts before they are regulated off grocer's shelves.

COMM: hoard jelly donuts so you can sell them on the black market.

The proper response for jelly donut manufactures regarding the public's concerns over jelly donut's deleterious health effects is to...

CONS: hold a televised press conference, wherein the manufacturers eat jelly donuts, and feed them to their children.

LIBL: institute a nationwide jelly donut recall.

LBRT: let any consumers worried about eating jelly donuts simply stop eating them.

COMM: give total control of jelly donut manufacturing to the government.

Well, according to these questions, I'm part anti-government libertine and part archconservative. There's no way I'll give up donuts.

BTW, Don hasn't finished his web site yet, but once it's up, I'll add him to my sidebar. Also, blogging this week will be light because I have 2 presentations to do and I got a wicked case of food poisoning or something last night. Bleck!

Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Hollywood Love Affair With Paris

Last night I saw "Something's Gotta Give." I'm not a big fan of either Jack Nicholson, or Diane Keaton (although I hope my teeth look as good as hers when I'm that age), but overall I enjoyed the movie. I couldn't help laughing whenever Keanu Reeves, who played an ER doctor, was on screen because he's just so stiff and Theodore (Ted) Loganesque.

The most interesting thing about this movie was that I thought it was a perfect advertisement for vacationing in Paris. Hollywood seems to have a thing for Paris, exhibited by its use in romantic comedies and the stars that live there (e.g. Johnny Depp?). After the whole Freedom Fries and boycott France uproar last year, I though this was a more subtle and therefore effective vehicle for trying to convince people to go to Paris than Woody Allen's condescending and creepy ("I want to French Kiss my step-daughter/wife") ads. I actually caught myself wanting to visit Paris. On screen, it seemed romantic and sophisticated. The waiters and doormen were charming and polite (the "smile campaign" must have been on then), the food was delicious, and the streets were snow-covered and magical.

I took 4 1/2 years of French in school and always dreamed of going to Paris and visiting the Louvre, the Arc de Triumphe, and the palace of Versailles. But lately, reading the French press, I don't think I'd feel comfortable there. Parisians seem to hate Americans. I was especially hurt by a poll taken during Operation Iraqi Freedom where the majority of French did not want the U.S. to win. To lose means U.S. soldiers are slaughtered and until recently, I thought the French and the U.S. were on the same side. It was somewhat of a shock to me to realize that the French government is actually an adversary of the U.S. Well, I reacted the way someone does whose best friend has stabbed them in the back: snarky French jokes, and boycotting French yogurt ( can't boycott wine since I don't drink.

I think a lot of Americans felt and still feel the same way. Perhaps we Americans were naive to think that the French would think well of us since we were on the same side in two World Wars (three if you include the Cold War). But to me and others it was a genuine shock to have our European "friends" protesting the "imperialistic" USA and our President "Bush-Hitler" after 3000 of our citizens had been slaughtered in one day on our own soil. I mean I expected Russia to oppose anything we proposed in the UN and also sell anything to anybody for a quick buck because Russia has always been like that, even after the Cold War. But coming from the French and Germany, it was the ultimate betrayal. I don't know if the relations between our countries can ever be repaired.

So, I briefly considered visiting Paris under the influence of the "magic" of Hollywood, but on second thought I'd much rather visit Italy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

That's My Rummy

As an admirer of both Donald Rumsfeld, the John Wayne of the DOD, and martial arts, I bring you 1000 Fighting techniques of Rumsfeld (hat tip Instapundit). My favorite? Hidden Monkey Hands, of course.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Beautiful Minds Part 2: Legal Issues Regarding the Mentally Ill

Over the weekend, a news event perfectly illustrated the major legal issues faced by those that suffer from mental illnesses and by their families.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A suspected gunman who told a reporter he was battling "alien clones" during a 6-hour standoff at his home was charged Saturday in the deaths of his wife and a female firefighter.

Patrick Hutchinson, 45, surrendered Friday night, hours after fire and police crews converged on his house in southeast Lexington following a report that a woman had been shot.

At one point during the standoff, a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader accidentally called Hutchinson while trying to reach his neighbors, officials said. An editor alerted police, who asked the reporter to end the call.
The reporter said Hutchinson made doomsday proclamations, calling the standoff "Armageddon" and rambling about the CIA and a conspiracy.

"We're going against the evil alien clones," the Herald-Leader reported Hutchinson as saying in its Saturday editions. "I started with my wife."

His wife, Elizabeth Fontaine Hutchinson, 60, died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Fayette County coroner's office.

Hutchinson also faces attempted murder and assault charges, and was being held at the Fayette County jail. Police have not commented on his mental status.

Clearly, unless this man is feigning insanity, he suffers from, paranoid schizophrenia or psychosis associated with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. The questions I have about this case are these:

1. How long had Mr. Huchinson exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia and how long ago was he diagnosed?

2. Had he been receiving treatment for his condition before this incident and if so, for how long and what was the treatment?

3. Had his wife attempted to get treatment for her husband’s condition before this incident and what was the result?

4. Was there any indication that Mr. Huchinson might act violently before this incident, and if so, what steps were taken by Mrs. Huchinson?

I tried to find more information about this case, including Mr. Hutchinson’s previous mental health history, but nothing has been released yet. Since the typical age of onset of schizophrenia for males is late teens or early 20’s, I’m guessing Mr. Hutchinson had a previous history of mental illness. Unless this was his first psychotic episode, most likely his wife knew about his condition.

To see what actions Mrs. Hutchinson could have taken to help her husband, let’s take a look at the Statutory Assisted Treatment Standards for the State of Kentucky.

For both inpatient and outpatient:

KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 202A.026. No person shall be involuntarily hospitalized unless such person is a mentally ill person:
(1) Who presents a danger or threat of danger to self, family or others as a result of the mental illness;
(2) Who can reasonably benefit from treatment; and
(3) For whom hospitalization is the least restrictive alternative mode of treatment presently available.

KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 202A.011(2). "Danger" or "threat of danger to self, family or others" means substantial physical harm or threat of substantial physical harm upon self, family, or others, including actions which deprive self, family, or others of the basic means of survival including provision for reasonable shelter, food or clothing;

It’s not clear what “substantial physical harm or threat of substantial physical harm” means. Does this include verbal threats or only attempts at physical violence? In the state of Utah, until the law was recently amended, the wording was “imminent danger” to self or others which pretty much meant that the person had to have the gun to their own head or someone else’s or have threatened violence in the presence of a police officer. Now the wording is “substantial physical harm” and takes into account past mental health history, and also whether that person will experience deterioration of his ability to function without treatment.

Also, what is meant by “basic means of survival?” Does that mean that the person must be employable or that they are at least able to walk over to their local homeless shelter and grab a meal?

According to Kentucky law any interested party, including family can petition the court for a 60 or 360 day involuntary hospitalization. So what evidentiary standard is used to determine whether a person present a danger or threat of danger to self or others? The statute says:
For preliminary hearing: § 202A.051(6). “probable cause”
For final hearing: §202A.076(2). “beyond a reasonable doubt”

So for the preliminary hearing which occurs within 6 days after a person is involuntarily committed, the standard is “probable cause.” This would include testimony of family, and friends regarding the behavior of the person in question and possibly his mental health history. The person may or may not be held in the hospital during this time, and if there is probable cause, then the person would be examined by 2 mental health professionals. The findings of this examination would then be used to establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” if involuntary hospitalization is necessary.

So the process for involuntarily committing someone seems pretty straightforward, but what happens at the end of the 60 or 360 days after the person is released? In Kentucky (and most states) there doesn’t seem to be an outpatient program that requires a patient to keep taking their antipsychotic medication without going through the whole petition process again and again. It can take weeks to days for the effects of antipsychotic medications to wear off. The newer ones can wear off faster because they have a higher off-rate (pharmacological term meaning they fall off their target receptors faster).

So Joe Schmoe could be released from the hospital after 60 days of treatment and then decide to stop taking his meds and suffer a full blown psychotic episode in days or weeks. I would guess that this might have happened in this case in Kentucky. And then before Mrs. Hutchinson can get him some help and get him back on his meds, he’s killed her and a firewoman. I’d be interested to know if Mrs. Hutchinson had filed a petition for involuntary commitment of her husband or if she had previously called the police or his doctor asking for help in dealing with her husband. I hope the papers in Kentucky will keep tabs on this case, so it can be determined if this tragedy could have been prevented by pre-emptive action.

This is going to sound harsh, but people with schizophrenia or similar disorders must take their medication for the rest of their lives, unless they have a lengthy remissive period and their medication has been tapered off. It’s too dangerous to them and to the public to allow individuals with schizophrenia to go unmonitored. About 1000 homicides a year are committed by people with severe mental illnesses and this is a tragedy because these illnesses are treatable. Antipsychotic medications work, and when someone with a severe mental illness commits murder or suicide, it is almost always because they stopped taking their medication. Severe mentally ill individuals that are taking their medication are NOT more dangerous than the general population, but those that go untreated are MORE dangerous.

Civil rights advocates are always protesting that no one should be forced to take medication involuntarily and propose that more education and outpatient services will help . The problem is, people suffering a psychotic also exhibit impaired awareness of illness or anosognosia. They do not know they are sick and thus cannot make proper decision regarding their own medical care. They can’t choose to not be sick! About 40-50% of all people with severe mental illness go untreated. And the number one reason for this is anosognosia.

The irony is our society lets people with severe mental illnesses wander around homeless or severely impaired where they can commit petty crimes or become victims of crimes themselves, while Alzheimer’s patients are cared for so they can at least die with some dignity. But both groups suffer from diseases that affect the same organ, the brain, where our memories, reasoning, and personality are housed. The city of San Francisco hands out $300 every month to their homeless and calls that compassionate. For those of the homeless that are mentally ill, it would be more compassionate to help them get treatment so they could find a job, draw a salary, and live in their own home with their families.

Another big problem is that our prison system has become the dumping ground for the severely mentally ill. One group estimates that 16-20% of the inmate population are severely mentally ill. Most do not receive adequate treatment and are repeat offenders. It’s also 2-3 time more expensive to treat the mentally ill in prison than in a mental health facility.

One answer to this problem is a new system being tested by various states, mental health courts. When a mentally ill person commits a petty crime, instead of being incarcerated, the individual is brought before a judge and a treatment plan is worked out. The individual is then released on bond with the stipulation that the treatment plan must be followed. Figures in Atlanta, where this program was introduced showed a 60% drop in recidivism. A similar program known as “drug court” also works well for non-violent drug offenders.

Timely intervention and increased funding for outpatient mental health treatment are needed to prevent tragedies like the murder of Mrs. Hutchinson. If you are interested in helping make treatment more available to the mentally ill, contact the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Next: Beautiful Minds Part 3 - Religion and Mental Illness

Update: Thanks to my husband Randy for clarification of some of the legal terms contained in this article.

Evidentiary standards (or standards of proof) from weakast to highest are:
-reasonable suspicion;
-probable cause;
-preponderance of the evidence;
-clear and convincing evidence; and
-beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some lawyers will quantify the standards to give an idea of how strong the evidence must be to meet the standard. One quantification of each of the five standards might arguably be: 10%, 30% >50%, 80% and 90% respectively.

For a principal to check a student's locker, he must have reasonable suspicion. For police officers to get a warrant or arrest someone they must have probable cause. In a civil trial if the evidence supports the plaintiff's case (a preponderance of the evidence) over the defendant, the plaintiff wins and vice versa. In most states, a petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a person is incapable (e.g. schizophrenia or alzeheimers) in order to take over their personal and financial affairs and involuntary commit them to a hospital. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty in order to convict the defendant of a crime. The standard for convicting some one of a crime used to be clear and convincing evidence but that changed over time.

For whatever reason, the standard of proof is harder to commit a mental ill person in Kentucky than in other states. Its preliminary standard (probable cause) to bring some one in, however, is the norm.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Beautiful Minds Part 1: An Introduction to Schizophrenia

I’ve thought about blogging on this subject for some time now, as it is close to my heart for personal reasons. But I’ve been unsure how to approach the topic. I want to inform and uplift, but also I don't want to share too much personal information and sound like "poor me." Anyhoo, I thought I’d dive right in tonight since I’m an X-box widow (Halo, anyone?) on a Friday night.

You may have noticed the links to several mental illness advocacy groups I’ve listed on my sidebar under “Pet Flies.” The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Treatment Advocacy Center both focus on legal issues concerning those afflicted with serious mental illnesses and their families. is a great resource for information on schizophrenia if you don’t know anything about it and would like to know more. One of my goals in life, after I graduate, is to become more involved in these groups so that I can help effect positive change as far as awareness of and public policy regarding mental illness.

One of the reasons why I decided to study biology, particularly neuroscience, is that I wanted to understand the causes behind serious mental illnesses. And I also wanted to educate others on schizophrenia and help work towards a cure or prevention of it. Schizophrenia is a disease that has drastically affected my life. I am the person I am because of my experiences with schizophrenia, and I want nothing more than to help ease the pain of individuals and families that suffer because of it.

My mother, a kind and religious woman, has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for most of her adult life. I was about 6 years old when I noticed her symptoms. Of course, at the time I did not know what was wrong with her. I just knew that something wasn’t right. I was also afraid a lot because she would tell me about scary things that she had seen or somehow knew about. I didn’t know what schizophrenia was until I was in high school and then I read everything I could about it. I currently give lectures on antipsychotics to the physician assistant students at my school and take every opportunity I can to educate others.

Schizophrenia is a biological brain disorder that results in a disconnect between sensory input and the brain’s interpretation of that input. I like to say that in schizophrenia, the brain is “short-circuited.” For instance, the auditory centers of the brain malfunction and cause a person with schizophrenia to hear someone talking to them in their head when no one in their actual environment is speaking to them. There are several types of schizophrenia, but the paranoid type is the most common. Symptoms include delusions of grandeur, auditory or visual hallucinations, feelings of persecution, and disorganized thinking. Schizophrenia affects both sexes equally, although the age of onset is earlier for men, usually late teens or early twenties.

Not much is known about what causes schizophrenia. Although it clearly has a genetic component, it has been weakly linked to genes on almost every chromosome rather than a single gene. Environmental factors also play a key role as shown in studies of identical twins where only 50% of twins have schizophrenia when the other twin is affected. My chances of getting schizophrenia are about 10-15%, but I’d say my chances are even lower since I’m pretty much past the age of onset (over the hill).

Many of you have probably seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe. Some critics panned it as being overly sentimental and unfaithful to the true story of John Nash, thus undeserving of an Oscar. But Oscar or not, this movie was incredibly important to me because finally someone was bringing the skeleton of schizophrenia out of the closet. This is the family secret that no one talks about, that everyone is ashamed about. When most people think of schizophrenia, they think of their local bag lady that mutters to herself while pushing a cart of junk or a psychotic murderer that gets gunned down by the police on the evening news. But “A Beautiful Mind” showed that schizophrenics are human beings: a son, a friend, a colleague, a father, and a spouse. Schizophrenics can be average Joes or brilliant like John Nash.

The point of “A Beautiful Mind” was not so much to document every single event of John Nash’s life, as it was to get inside his head and let you feel what it is like to be schizophrenic and what it’s like to love someone that is schizophrenic. I think the movie succeeded in that respect. The only problem I had with the movie is that it oversimplified his “cure” of his illness. In the movie, he decides to just ignore his delusions and hallucinations. In reality, it wasn’t so easy. He was in and out of treatment centers for years and years until he finally stabilized. He was lucky in that he was able to eventually conquer schizophrenia. Many aren’t so lucky. About a third recover almost completely, a third improve moderately, and a third never recover. There is no cure at this time for schizophrenia and many must take medication to prevent “episodes” of psychosis for the rest of their lives.

Beautiful Minds Part 2: Legal Issues Regarding the Mentally Ill

John Kerry, Who's that?

Yes, I'm ignoring the whole flap about Kerry and his adventures in intern land. Ignore, ignore, ignore, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, I can't hear you! If you must have yet more commentary and speculation about this, visit instapundit. I couldn't care less about this. I wasn't planning on voting for a Democrat anyway. May the best dwarf win!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Social Darwinism at Its Finest - Teachers Use Boy's Deformity As Class Lesson

When I heard about this story on the radio here in Dallas, I was furious. Two 4th grade teachers pulled a 5th grade boy out of his class so they could display him in front of their 4th grade classes as a genetics "lesson." The full story is here: Teachers Use Boy's Deformity As Class Lesson.

Robert Will (Willy) Harris has Stahl's ear, which causes points to form on the ears. He and family say two fourth-grade teachers at his school in Rice, Texas, used his deformity to teach a lesson in genetics.

The boy says the teachers pulled him from his class twice in one day and took him to their classrooms to show his ears. Officials with the Rice Independent School District acknowledge the incidents happened, but say the teachers meant no harm. They say the teachers were simply trying to teach genetics and family traits.

The teachers meant no harm, eh? They pulled a kid out of class and paraded him in front of younger students like a circus freakshow without the consent of his parents. Did they even stop to think how this 11-year-old boy felt as a result of this treatment? His mother said on the radio that her son now wants plastic surgery to correct the problem and she will do anything to make that possible, including flip burgers. Willy's mom, by the way, is a reservist that just returned from Kuwait after an 8 month tour.

And secondly, AP didn't get the story completely right. According to his mother, who I heard speak on the radio, the teachers claimed that he had "Darwin's Points," i.e. vestigial organs. They couldn't correctly state that his ears were a family trait because no one else in his family has Stahl's ear. His family also said that Willy's ear deformity has nothing to do with genetics. Most likely it was a developmental defect. It might have been good for the teachers to do a bit of research first, for example, speaking with his parents. And here's a shocker:

His parents say they no longer want their son used for show and tell.

In every medical textbook or genetics textbook I have read, the privacy of the patients is carefully guarded. Their faces are never shown, or they are masked. These teachers had no concern for Willy's privacy at all.

I don't think that the teachers should be fired, but they should definitely be reprimanded. Perhaps they should take some "sensitivity training" or be assigned to work with disabled kids after school so they can learn that kids with handicaps or deformities have feelings too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

So MOVE ON Already! Bush Served Honorably in the Air National Guard, OK?

I'm so sick of that tired liberal meme that Bush was AWOL during his stint in the Air National Guard. The short answer to these spurious charges is HONORABLE DISCHARGE. The long answer is this letter to the Washington Post from a 33 year Air National Guard veteran, Col. William Campenni, who served with Bush. Some excerpts:

It is quite frustrating to hear the daily cacophony from the left and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, et al., about Lt. Bush escaping his military responsibilities by hiding in the Texas ANG. In the Air Guard during the Vietnam War, you were always subject to call-up, as many Air National Guardsmen are finding out today. If the 111th FIS and Lt. Bush did not go to Vietnam, blame President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, not lowly Lt. Bush. They deliberately avoided use of the Guard and Reserves for domestic political calculations, knowing that a draftee only stirred up the concerns of one family, while a call-up got a whole community's attention.

The mission of the 147th Fighter Group and its subordinate 111th FIS, Texas ANG, and the airplane it possessed, the F-102, was air defense. It was focused on defending the continental United States from Soviet nuclear bombers. The F-102 could not drop bombs and would have been useless in Vietnam. A pilot program using ANG volunteer pilots in F-102s (called Palace Alert) was scrapped quickly after the airplane proved to be unsuitable to the war effort. Ironically, Lt. Bush did inquire about this program but was advised by an ANG supervisor (Maj. Maurice Udell, retired) that he did not have the desired experience (500 hours) at the time and that the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers.

So no points for LLLs sarcastically saying that Pres. Bush defended Texas from the VC. His squadron was involved in defending the entire U.S. from the Soviets. It also might be hard for some folks to understand that one can rapidly travel across the country (i.e. leave Texas) when flying at Mach 2 in a fighter jet.

Sadly, few of today's partisan pundits know anything about the environment of service in the Reserves in the 1970s. The image of a reservist at that time is of one who joined, went off for six months' basic training, then came back and drilled weekly or monthly at home, with two weeks of "summer camp." With the knowledge that Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNamara were not going to call out the Reserves, it did become a place of refuge for many wanting to avoid Vietnam.

There was one big exception to this abusive use of the Guard to avoid the draft, and that was for those who wanted to fly, as pilots or crew members. Because of the training required, signing up for this duty meant up to 2½ years of active duty for training alone, plus a high probability of mobilization. A fighter-pilot candidate selected by the Guard (such as Lt. Bush and me) would be spending the next two years on active duty going through basic training (six weeks), flight training (one year), survival training (two weeks) and combat crew training for his aircraft (six to nine months), followed by local checkout (up to three more months) before he was even deemed combat-ready. Because the draft was just two years, you sure weren't getting out of duty being an Air Guard pilot. If the unit to which you were going back was an F-100, you were mobilized for Vietnam. Avoiding service? Yeah, tell that to those guys.

The Bush critics do not comprehend the dangers of fighter aviation at any time or place, in Vietnam or at home, when they say other such pilots were risking their lives or even dying while Lt. Bush was in Texas. Our Texas ANG unit lost several planes right there in Houston during Lt. Bush's tenure, with fatalities. Just strapping on one of those obsolescing F-102s was risking one's life.

I used to live a few miles away from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. There were many Air Force and Air Force Reserve pilots in my church. Most of them got called up to go to Iraq during Desert Storm. I remember one pilot, after returning from Iraq, recalling the flak hitting his F-16 as he flew one of his missions. And every year there were at least 1-2 pilots killed while doing standard drills at home. I could see Kerry et al. mocking Bush's military service if he had been a desk jockey, but a fighter pilot? Come on guys! Is that all you got?

Critics such as Mr. Kerry (who served in Vietnam, you know), Terry McAuliffe and Michael Moore (neither of whom served anywhere) say Lt. Bush abandoned his assignment as a jet fighter pilot without explanation or authorization and was AWOL from the Alabama Air Guard.

Well, as for abandoning his assignment, this is untrue. Lt. Bush was excused for a period to take employment in Florida for a congressman and later in Alabama for a Senate campaign.

Excusals for employment were common then and are now in the Air Guard, as pilots frequently are in career transitions, and most commanders (as I later was) are flexible in letting their charges take care of career affairs until they return or transfer to another unit near their new employment. Sometimes they will transfer temporarily to another unit to keep them on the active list until they can return home. The receiving unit often has little use for a transitory member, especially in a high-skills category like a pilot, because those slots usually are filled and, if not filled, would require extensive conversion training of up to six months, an unlikely option for a temporary hire.

My father, who was in the Army Reserve until he retired recently, had a full-time job in addition to his part-time service in the reserves. His schedule was fairly flexible and he could make up drills that he missed for family or employment reasons.
Finally, the Kerrys, Moores and McAuliffes are casting a terrible slander on those who served in the Guard, then and now. My Guard career parallels Lt. Bush's, except that I stayed on for 33 years. As a guardsman, I even got to serve in two campaigns. In the Cold War, the air defense of the United States was borne primarily by the Air National Guard, by such people as Lt. Bush and me and a lot of others. Six of those with whom I served in those years never made their 30th birthdays because they died in crashes flying air-defense missions.

While most of America was sleeping and Mr. Kerry was playing antiwar games with Hanoi Jane Fonda, we were answering 3 a.m. scrambles for who knows what inbound threat over the Canadian subarctic, the cold North Atlantic and the shark-filled Gulf of Mexico. We were the pathfinders in showing that the Guard and Reserves could become reliable members of the first team in the total force, so proudly evidenced today in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It didn't happen by accident. It happened because back at the nadir of Guard fortunes in the early '70s, a lot of volunteer guardsman showed they were ready and able to accept the responsibilities of soldier and citizen — then and now. Lt. Bush was a kid whose congressman father encouraged him to serve in the Air National Guard. We served proudly in the Guard. Would that Mr. Kerry encourage his children and the children of his colleague senators and congressmen to serve now in the Guard.

In the fighter-pilot world, we have a phrase we use when things are starting to get out of hand and it's time to stop and reset before disaster strikes. We say, "Knock it off." So, Mr. Kerry and your friends who want to slander the Guard: Knock it off.

U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard
Herndon, Va.5

Amen to that! My father, while in the Army Reserves, served in the first Gulf War. Many reservists served in Vietnam and are serving in Iraq and Afganistan today. Kerry and the Dems would do well to stop denigrating those who served in the ANG and other reserve forces. It won't win them any points with independents. Seriously, no matter how Pres. Bush served, the Dems would still criticize him for it (unless he got the Congressional Medal of Honor). Now it's time for them to cease and desist, and start addressing real issues, like the WAR ON TERROR.

Update: Here's yet more evidence that Bush did in fact show up for duty in Alabama. But I don't expect that an apology from Michael Moore et al. will be forthcoming.

Update: Many in the blogosphere has addressed this topic. I like this article by NRO contributing editor Mackubin Thomas Owens. The most important point, I think, is this:
One cannot be AWOL while a reserve or Guardsman in a drill status. One is meeting the required number of drills (one weekend per month and two weeks active duty training some time during the year) or he is not. If one is in an unsatisfactory drilling status, the commanding officer of the drilling reservist or Guardsman can notify the individual that he will be separated from the service after 12 unexcused drills. Once notified, the individual can make up the unexcused drills and return to a satisfactory drilling status.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Global Warming Advocates - Let Them Confess Their Faith

I found a great opinion piece at Tech Central Station regarding the "religion" of global warming. It's written by Dr. Roy Spencer, a meteorologist at the University of Alabama, and addresses many of the same problems I have with the whole global warming debate.

TCS: Tech Central Station - Let Them Confess Their Faith

It wasn't long after I became a research scientist that I learned that scientists aren't the unbiased, impartial seekers of truth I always thought they were. Scientists have their own agendas, philosophies, pre-conceived notions, and pet theories. These views end up influencing their science. Nowhere does this have a greater impact on the science than in global warming theory.
Exactly! Scientists are humans after all and it's impossible to be perfectly objective. I wish scientists would acknowledge this instead of acting like the Sophists that Socrates debated.
When confronted with a new, policy-relevant science problem, there are always scientists that will immediately rush to judgment about a "possible" environmental catastrophe. In the 1970's it was an impending ice age. In the late 1980's it was inflated global warming predictions. Most recently both extremes have morphed into the possibility that global warming will actually cause an ice age for Europe. In an age when popular culture helps to blur the line between science fiction and reality, our imaginations are fired by the thought of an ice sheet advancing on a city, or unexplained increases in severe weather.
Yep. When I saw the previews for the "The Day After Tomorrow," I rolled my eyes and thought, "Great. More global warming propaganda from those global science 'experts' in Hollywood."
On February 4 I testified in a congressional hearing that was held to explore the role that science plays in public policy formulation. I tried to explain that science always involves assumptions, and so scientific conclusions are only valid if the assumptions hold up. And there are always additional, unstated assumptions that the scientist isn't even aware of!

For a complex problem like climate change, assumptions abound. Early in the climate modeling days, confidence was high as physicists used to working on well-defined problems with a limited number of variables thought they had the answer. We meteorologists (by training) were always more skeptical because we understood how complex weather is. Enter the scientist "heavy hitters" that are savvy public speakers, maybe a Nobel laureate in some unrelated field of science, all having strong opinions about what the government should be doing to help "save the Earth" and you have a recipe for bad policy. Now, the climate modelers are learning how complex the climate system really is (surprise!). The tendency for scientists to rush to judgment isn't the fault of science -- it's just human nature.

Yes, it never fails for proponents of controversial theories to round up a bunch of Nobel Laureates or members of the National Academy of Sciences that support their cause. Never mind that molecular biologists (I include myself here) don't know diddly squat about climate modeling. But some of them may be very persuasive speakers (I include my mentor here) and could sell snowshoes to a tourist in Hawaii.
Even though I love details, I also am constantly striving to understand the "big picture." We have pretty high confidence that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations have a warming tendency. The Earth's natural greenhouse effect, mostly due to water vapor, keeps the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere warmer that it would otherwise be, and the extra carbon dioxide adds to this effect. But about 75% of that surface warming is never realized. All that water vapor represents huge amounts of heat that have been removed from the surface of the Earth, in a very real sense "air-conditioning" it, keeping the surface over 100 deg. F cooler than if weather systems did not exist. All weather systems act to redistribute heat, carrying it from where there is more to where there is less…the energy contrast is what drives them. So, the real question is, how will weather systems adjust to the warming tendency? Will they change their cloudiness or precipitation processes in such a way to amplify (positive feedback) the warming or suppress it (negative feedback)?

Our knowledge in this area of precipitation and cloud microphysics (which control the equilibrium amount of water vapor in the atmosphere) is so meager, that I would argue that it is a matter of faith to believe that the Earth will respond by amplifying the warming tendency. If the response is simply benign, then about 2 deg. F warming is about all we'll have to contend with in the next 100 years or so. But in the meantime, I wish all those global warming extremists would simply confess their faith -- and stop giving science a bad name.
Amen to that. Before bodies like the U.N. start drafting drastic proposals like the Kyoto Treaty, which could do severe damage to the international economy, they should make sure the science behind global warming is sound. I don't think we're there yet.

Update: Curse Google ads! So I write a post on how the dangers of global warming are exaggerated and Google ads displays ads for environmental newsletters and "one solution to stop global warming." YEEEARGH!

Saturday, February 07, 2004

U.S. to Canada: Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Darn, Eh?

The most of useless of useless polls has determined that only 15% of Canadians would vote for George W. Bush as President. Well, golly. I don't remember asking the Canucks Canadians if they approved of my President. I certainly don't remember being asked if I approved of Prime Minister Cretin, er Cretien. Are we Americans supposed to vote for only those candidates of which the rest of the world approves? I suppose Kim Jung Il favors Dennis Kuchinich with his Department of Peace and President Chirac favors John Kerry for obvious reasons. I hope Pres. Bush wins again just to tick off our "allies."

Update: A polite Canadian visitor reminded me that I shouldn't lump all Canadians together. Fair enough. To all those Canadians that still consider Americans their friends (and those 15% that would have voted for Pres. Bush), I apologize. I also apologize for using the term Canucks. For the rest, I don't.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Happy Birthday to the Gipper!

President Reagan was the POTUS I remember the best when I was a kid. I admired him immensely with the kind of hero worship that children have. My grandfather donated a small amount of money to his presidential campaign in my name and I proudly displayed the certificate of appreciation I received. I didn't understand the political issues of the 80's, but I sensed that he was a man of integrity, a person I would be proud to have as a grandfather. I feel sad that he and his family are suffering through his battle with Alzheimer's. My great-uncle died from the disease last year. But let us remember the good things President Reagan did during his life. National Review Online has a touching tribute to this great man by Peter Robinson, author of "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life," called Between Him and the Kids. Check it out.


Thursday, February 05, 2004

Evil British Scientists Decide Not to Build Torture Chamber for Chimps

Here's another topic that really irritates me: radical animal rights groups like PETA that would rather people died from curable diseases or conditions than use even one animal for research.

From the journal Nature: Animal Rights Activists Prevent Opening of Primate Research Center.
Animal-rights protesters have helped to end plans for a primate research centre at the University of Cambridge. But despite the activists' triumphant soundbites, their victory is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.
Let's hope not, or else biomedical research in the U.K. is doomed. And we've got more than enough post-docs from Europe over here at the moment. I don't understand why a small, but vocal minority is allowed to dictate public policy.

It doesn't make pleasant reading, but the gloating should come as no surprise. When the University of Cambridge decided last week to scrap plans for a primate research centre, animal-rights protesters who campaigned against the facility were in bellicose mood. "An important message has been sent out to universities across the UK," activists' group Stop Primate Experiments at Cambridge said in an e-mail to supporters. "If the mighty Cambridge can only put up a pathetic fight, then they have no chance if we were to turn our attention to them."

I suppose by "turn our attention to them" he means blow up their facility, and harass and assault workers at the facility.

For any university that conducts animal research — not just the small number that use primates — this sounds like a worrying challenge. Activists clearly helped to derail the Cambridge centre. Fears about protests prolonged the planning inquiry. The need for security at the site bumped up running costs. Concerns that building workers would be threatened led some to wonder whether it could be built. When costs jumped by £8 million (US$15 million) to £32 million, the university had to pull the plug.

But that does not mean that the protesters are guaranteed other victories. Primate research is already being done in Britain, and does not need to be moved to centralized facilities. The activists also ignore public and media opinion towards animal experiments, which is more positive than they dare acknowledge. Universities and funding bodies should not prepare for war with animal-rights activists, but continue with the lobbying that is winning people round.

Good. Ignore the protestors and focus on the general public. My university gets its share of animal rights protestors every year, but so far this hasn't seriously affected research here. Usually they just march around the front entrance with their signs and their dogs on leashes. I guess that they haven't figured out that the technology that keeps their precious little Fidos free of rabies and heartworm is based on animal research.

Some universities will nevertheless decide that centralized animal facilities are the best way to improve animal care. They are likely to face threats of violence, but there is every reason to think they can resist. Opinion polls suggest broad support among the public for strictly regulated animal research. And the reaction of the media towards the Cambridge decision has been overwhelmingly pro-science.

Threats of violence? So an ALF "activist" would consider harming a human to prevent animals from being used in legitimate biomedical research? Inconceivable! At least the general public seems to have good sense.

Good public relations could head off future protests. The Research Defence Society (RDS), for example, regularly discusses animal experiments with the public and explains why they are needed. This must be a better way forward than one option considered for the Cambridge facility — retreating to a fortified lab at a secure but secretive site such as Porton Down, owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Sheesh. You'd think they were researching ballistic missile technology or anthrax or something.

Contrast this with the situation in the Netherlands and Switzerland, where animal researchers sometimes show members of the public round their lab during open days. No university in Britain could risk running such events. But unless we pursue a policy of openness, such events will never be possible, and the Cambridge decision will not be the campaigners' last victory.

I'm all for public relations. We need more of it. The general public should be aware of how much research using animals has advanced medicine and made our lives easier. There's not one drug, one treatment that has not gone through at least one round of testing in animals for safety and efficacy before it is tested in humans. It would be irresponsible not to go that route. Who wants to volunteer themselves or their children to be guinea pigs.

So yes, it's sad that some fluffy little critters are stuck in a animal facility instead of frolicking in the wild, but eliminating animals entirely from biomedical research would freeze further progress. And keep in mind, 95% of all animals used in research are rodents i.e. mice or rats. I'm not too sad that there are fewer of those critters running around free, although my cat might disagree.

Update: Here's a great article on the same subject by Wesley J. Smith from the National Review. Money quote:
Tremendous human suffering can be eliminated as a result of the proper and humane use of animals in medical research. Of necessity, this must in some cases include primates, which are indispensable in the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine, research into malaria, hepatitis B and C, and the development of promising therapies to treat devastating neurological conditions.

But animal liberationists could care less. And it isn't just about monkeys. As far as they are concerned, better your grandmother die slowly of Alzheimer's disease than allow any animals to be used in crucial medical research.

Whiny Whiners and the Whiners Who Whine

Apparently, the staff at the journal Nature isn't happy that the U.S. government isn't increasing the amount of funding for U.S. science research as much as some would like.

Bush's belt-tightening budget offers science slim pickings

I love that title. It implies that science in the U.S. is really getting squeezed by that neanderthal, Bush eh? Yeah, those cowboy Americans don't care much for science. Just look at how they're cutting the funding for critical scientific projects! Uh huh.

A decade of strong growth in US research funding came to an abrupt halt on 2 February, when President Bush released a budget proposal that attempts to confront the nation's massive financial deficit.

The budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October, offers little new money for researchers. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) would struggle to keep up with inflation, and programmes at most other major agencies are cut.

Ok, they key here is little NEW money for researchers. Ergo, funding for the NIH and NSF will not be cut, but the increase in funding is not as much as is desired from the scientific community. But if you were to leave it up to the scientists, they would want infinite increases in funding. In fact, one of my thesis advisors who is a Nobel laureate met with Vice President Cheney and other Nobel laureates to talk about sustaining the increases in funding for NIH. When asked what programs should be cut in order to meet their request, " unanimously rejected the premise."

Administration officials put a positive spin on the numbers. John Marburger, the president's science adviser, told a briefing at the National Academies in Washington DC that the budget allocates a record $132 billion to research and development in 2005 — 5% more than last year.

But science advocates point out that almost all of that extra money goes to evaluating military equipment. The budget for 'federal science and technology' — the definition set by the National Academies as the measure for innovative research and development — would be $60.4 billion, 0.5% less than 2004 (see chart). "This is a slight, across-the-board cut for science," says Mike Lubell, director of public affairs at the American Physical Society.

Sure, why increase funding for important stuff like military equipment when that money can be used to research the brains of London taxi drivers and the effects of pigeon droppings on bronze statues.

At the NIH, which funds most biomedical research in the United States, funding would increase by 2.6% to $28.6 billion. Much of the new money is directed at biodefence research, which would grow by 7.5% to $1.7 billion. NIH director Elias Zerhouni called the current budget climate "difficult" because the agency must contend with bioterrorism, while continuing to fund multi-year research grants. The NIH plans to fund only about 250 new research grants in 2005. "They are spreading resources more thinly," says Pat White, head of federal relations at the Association of American Universities.

Come on folks. We have to prioritize here. I mean it's sad that some budding scientists won't be able to fund their project to map city noise like the French do, but in this post-9-11 world military and bioterrorism research, and homeland security technology do take precedence. And there are plenty of private sources of funding. Not all scientific projects are worthy of funding with tax dollars. If a researcher is having problems getting funding, then chances are the project is not that interesting and not that important.

Please drop me some fruit!

So I switched commenting software because I hated the stuff I was using before. So drop me a comment or two and I'll see if this new system works better. Unfortunately, all the comments left previously were lost. Sorry.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Ah, Schadenfreude, How Sweet It Is!

For those of you paying attention to the Democratic primaries, I was pleased to see that Democrats weren't so foolish as to back the far-left leaning candidates, such as He-who-shall-not-be named (starts with a D) spaceman Kuchinich. However, I was disappointed to discover that Democrats aren't wise enough to back the candidate that takes the War on Terror most seriously, Joe Lieberman. I felt bad for Joe, the now sad-faced benevolent twin of Emperor Palpatine. Here he is, a faithful Democrat and a member of the Jewish faith who knows what it means to be targeted for death because of one's nationality and religion, and according to Kerry, the primary issue for Dems is affordable healthcare. Hello, Earth to the Dems! There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that want to see the U.S. and Israel completely destroyed and millions more that could care less if it happens. And you guys are worried about whether your prescription Viagra will be affordable?

Anyway, these past few primaries have shown that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is totally out of touch with the average American. One of his comments the other day illustrates this perfectly. Regarding the incident with She-Whose-Exposed-Body-Part-Shall-Not-Be-Named, he said according to a Reuters report:

"I find that to be a bit of a flap about nothing," the former Vermont governor said. "I'm probably affected in some ways by the fact that I'm a doctor, so it's not exactly an unusual phenomenon for me."

This quote reveals just what an elitist jerk this guy is. Yes, we're all just a bunch of redneck, fundamentalist Christians that can't take a little nudity, Doctor. Never mind that I (along with about 50% of the world) see breasts, my own, everyday. The point is when watching the Super Bowl with our families, we don't want to see other people's privates! Those that don't care are more than welcome to go join a nudist colony. And frankly, I think Americans in general are tired of the entertainment industry continuously pushing the envelope and trying to be shocking. This is not Europe and I could care less what the Europeans do on their own public stations.

I mean it would make as much sense for Dr. D to say in response to some yahoo at the Grammys exposing himself on public TV, to say, "Oh well, what's the big deal? I'm a DOCTOR you know, and I see THOSE all the time." The issue is context and Dean seems to have a problem figuring out what is and isn't appropriate in certain contexts. So please, keep opening your mouth, Dr. D, and sticking your foot in it. Then fire a bunch of staff members because you can't figure out why you haven't won a single primary.

On the FCC's response to the fiasco he said,
In general, I think the FCC does have a role in promoting some reasonable standard of decency," Dean told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "However, considering what's on television these days, I think the FCC is being pretty silly about investigating this.

Dean, who does not have cable television at his home in Burlington, Vermont, said Americans could inadvertently turn on "far worse things" while "cruising through cable at regular viewing hours."

So he agrees that part of the FCC's role is to regulate the content of TV and radio, yet he complains when the FCC actually tries to something. And apparently, although Dean does not have cable, he knows what's on cable TV. But this incident was not on cable, so his point is well, pointless.

"I don't find it terribly shocking relative to some of the things you can find on standard cable television," he added. "I think the FCC probably has a lot of other things they should be pursuing."
Like what, Dr. D? One of the reasons why public TV stations are in the sorry state they are is because the members of the FCC haven't been doing their jobs. Once a certain taboo is broken e.g. nudity it's very difficult to go back. And the FCC has been notoriously complacent about enforcing broadcasting standards. Just take Bono's little F bomb at the Grammy's for instance. It took thousands of irate Americans to get the FCC moving on that one. So keep thinking public decency is all a big joke, Dr. D. Or possibly try moving to France if there isn't enough skin on TV for you.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Taking Geekdom to a New High (Low)

Here's an example of what bored geeks do in their spare time. My bay buddy (student who shares the same lab bay) Rohit and I decided to graph how much time it takes our uber-uncool lab technician, Mike, to flip on the dreaded classic rock (i.e. lame 70's) music station every morning after he walks in the door. It usually takes him 5-10 seconds after he puts his stuff on his desk before he starts assaulting our eardrums with endless Lover Boy and Peter Frampton. Today I clocked him at 3 seconds flat. Each day before Mike comes in, Rohit and I will make our predictions and then see how close we came to Mike's actual behavior. We stuck the graph on the wall next to our desks. Then we can discern if there are any patterns to Mike's madness. Does it take longer on Mondays than on Fridays because he's caught up in looking at the Mars photos or reading the Gray Lady? We shall see.