Saturday, September 19, 2009

Deyz in yur government mezzin' up yer medizin!

My dear congressional Republicans, there is a problem in this country which needs your action. Right now, Federal bureaucrats are preventing doctors from making medical decisions regarding their patients. A specific treatment which has proven beneficial and cost effective is being blocked by big government, and some committee which thinks it know better than physicians how patients should be treated. Seeing as how that's one of the major arguments Congressional Republicans have against the Public Option, I am looking forward to seeing some brave Conservative get up and say it:

It's time to repeal the Federal ban on medical marijuana.

Seriously, regardless of my Centrist views, I also do NOT want some committee deciding who gets particular treatments. However, if we're not going to let a death panel decide an 80 year old can't have a new liver, then why are we still allowing the FDA to say doctors can't prescribe marijuana? I am not talking about legalizing it for recreational use (that's another argument). I am talking about a doctor prescribing to his or her patient who is undergoing chemo, or suffers from glaucoma, or has breast cancer, or even as some studies show, Alzheimer's- a natural remedy which is easy and cheap to produce, and has far less ill effects than the pharmaceutical alternatives.

I'm talking about a treatment supported by the American College of Physicians, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Psychological Association, and of course Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes.

I'm talking about an easily delivered treatment which some evidence shows may treat or alleviate up to 250 different ailments.

Now, let's be fair- this list was assembled by a doctor who may not be totally objective about this subject, but if it works for even ten things on this list, isn't it worth using? Five? Even one, if it can bring relief for a single ailment, and doctors want to use it, why are we letting the Federal government say otherwise? They're the doctors right? And not just some quacks, but real doctors (see the list above).

So, what is the government's argument against it? The hazards of smoking. No really, you can't have relief for your nauseous reaction to the chemo you have treating your cancer because the period you smoke the MJ might give you lung cancer. Well, what if it becomes a gateway for the patient? According to the Rand Corporation, the Gateway concept is bunk, and so say these doctors.
Even the 1999 study the FDA cites on usage in general only says:

"The gateway analogy evokes two ideas that are often confused. The first, more often referred to as the 'stepping stone' hypothesis, is the idea that progression from marijuana to other drugs arises from pharmacological properties of marijuana itself.

The second is that marijuana serves as a gateway to the world of illegal drugs in which youths have greater opportunity and are under greater social pressure to try other illegal drugs." (Institute of Medicine in its Mar. 1999 report titled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base")

Not really a damning statement. Here's how Lynn Zimmer, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Queens College at the City University of New York put it:

"In the end, the gateway theory is not a theory at all. It is a description of the typical sequence in which multiple-drug users initiate the use of high-prevalence and low-prevalence drugs.

A similar statistical relationship exists between other kinds of common and uncommon related activities. For example, most people who ride a motorcycle (a fairly rare activity) have ridden a bicycle (a fairly common activity). Indeed, the prevalence of motorcycle riding among people who have never ridden a bicycle is probably extremely low. However, bicycle riding does not cause motorcycle riding, and increases in the former will not lead automatically to increases in the latter.” (his 1997 book “Marijuana Myths - Marijuana Facts”).

More than that, 13 States have voted to use medical marijuana- aren't the Republicans the party of State's Rights? Why aren't Republicans screaming about the Federal Governments insistence on imposing their will over these States' decisions? Who's going to be the brave Republican to get up and call for the end of these laws? John McCain, whose state is one of those who passed a local proposition? Sarah Palin, who is vehemently against Federal controls and bureaucratic interdiction in medical decisions? Joe Wilson, who obviously feels very passionately about health care. Who?

I am not trying to be a smart ass here- this is exactly WHY I want to see two parties in government. Any argument however must follow to the logical consequences. Opposing Government Health care on the grounds of bureaucrats not being allowed to countermand doctors has to apply to any reasonable medical decision. The facts are in- MM is reasonable, with the FDA's stats being spurious at best. Further, wanting to shrink Federal power in favor of State power means allowing States to make certain decisions on their own. The tenth amendment says they can do that, if there is not an existing Federal law- Federal Laws came from the control of recreational use- you know what? I can't use Vicodin for recreational use either, but no one in the Federal Government is asking to ban it as medicine.

So as a citizen, I ask a Republican to take advantage of the argument about health care right now and do the right thing. You would have doctors, States, facts, and logic on your side. Be the party of Smaller Government and put this tool back in the hands of doctors.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anthropomorphism: A Love Story

The above picture is of Helena and I. You probably know by now about my recent purchase of a 1985 Pontiac Fiero, but let me go into some detail here.

I have been driving a 98 Honda Civic we bought new in, well, 1998. It is a great car and has served us well. When we came back from Europe in 2006, we bought Jennifer a brand new Accord V6. It's a spiffy thing, with plenty of zoom-zoom. Again, a great car, and it serves us very well.

With all of us going different directions all week long, we knew we needed a third car. The initial intention was to pass the Civic on to The Boy, and buy another new car. Then we thought about the fact we didn't really want a new car payment, so we thought we'd buy something used, and maybe pass it to The Daughter in a couple of years, and THEN buy something new. So, we looked all over. We almost bought a Prius, but they weren't able to come down where I wanted to spend. We almost bought a 2000 Civic off Craig's List, but then when the shifty bastard selling it pulled out the title, there was someone else's name on it, and some weird document with his first name and his wife's maiden name. Rather than buy his stolen car, we moved on.

The search wasn't going well. Couldn't find what we wanted which would fit our needs. Then, in my office, a guy put up a picture of this little yellow car in my price range. The pic was really fuzzy, so I asked him about it.

“It's a Fiero,” he said. Now, I knew I didn't want to pass a Fiero on to The Daughter, but at least I worked with this guy, and knew he wasn't going to sell me a stolen car, so I got his son's contact (that's who's car it was) and called to see if I could go look at it. I drove out to see it, and finally finding the street, came around the corner...

Our eyes met, and I was smitten. She sat there gleaming, and I felt something I hadn't felt for a car in a long time- adoration.

When I talked to the guy, I could tell he loved the car, but he was a bit of a motorhead, and had a lot of projects. He had to find her a new home, but he had also been very reluctant to sell her. We realized we were both referring to the car as “her” about halfway through our talk. I won't go into more details on this part, but obviously she came home with me, and I am still madly in love with this car. It's been a long time since I was in love with a car. Probably since I was 16 and had a little '76 Honda CVCC which I kept running with spit, bailing wire, and affection. Some might say it's a midlife crisis thing, but let me debunk that. The midlife crisis is a function of evolutionary psychology- the male making himself more attractive to younger breeding stock by actively demonstrating virility and the ability to provide for offspring. As much as I love this car, let's face facts: girls born the same year or after my car was made are not swooning for the bald dude in the Fiero. That's cool though, I don't need them, I have Helena.

How is it we fall in love with automobiles? They are just machines, bolted together bits of rubber and metal, burning gas to move, pumping oil to keep its engine moving. Yet, we ascribe quirks and personalities to them. We give them names (don't tell me you haven't) and use personal pronouns to refer to them. We talk to them and cajole them when they don't run properly, and smile at them when they corner well.

You ever buy your car presents? A new steering wheel cover perhaps, or find a replacement for some little tweaked component? And we hope they like it when we put them on. Now, intellectually I know it's a car, just a machine- yet in my heart, I know she is happy we found each other.

You know, just to go off on a tangent here, I look at the potential technology and artificial intelligence around us and I wonder: if we can love cars, what will happen when we make androids? Suddenly, those Cylons seem a lot more plausible.

So, here I confess my love of this car. I don't know why, we just clicked. Kind of like when you get along with a person, or meet that special someone. I love driving this car- and due to people on the road I've hated driving for a long time, even when I liked my cars. I really like having that feeling again.

Here's what's interesting. I liked the old Civic a lot. Good car, always dependable. We had a long partnership. The Civic belongs to The Boy now; he tells me he loves her. I guess they clicked.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Happy 43rd, Star Trek!

Yes indeed, it is that time of the year again. The Great Bird of the Galaxy has let our planet revolve around the sun one more time, and we again find ourselves on Trek Day! To celebrate Trek day this year, I made a custom Mirror Universe Sulu based on the new movie, and wanted to share a special Trek story with you as we all huddle around the glow of the intermix chamber and quietly sip our Saurian Brandy.

Once when I was but a young inquisitor for my firm, I was working for a pretty cool boss who was going to go have a nice little meet with a member of one of our competing firms (we were trying to get that firm to work with our firm, so it was actually a friendly conversation in a Neutral Zone!). We went to pick that guy up, when suddenly, he was joined by a DIFFERENT member of his firm, who was there to make sure he didn't say too much to my boss. In the old days, some people would call that guy a “political officer.” So, my boss asked me to distract the Political Officer so she could speak freely with the Officer she actually wanted to butter up and question.

We went to a cafe in the Eastern European city we were in, and we all ordered our food and “kava c shlagam” (coffee with cream) and sat down to chat. I immediately went to work trying to get the attention of the political officer, and was having a poor time of it. What does a 25 year old American, still just an E4, have to say to a 50 year old Eastern European political officer wearing Colonel rank? While fishing for subjects, I mentioned that back in the days before I joined my firm, my friends called me “Spock.” He immediately turned to me, his eyes wide.

“Spock like 'Star Trek'?” he asked. I confirmed that and told him I was a huge fan.

So was he. We spent hours mulling over the fine details of “The Corbomite Manuever” and “Balance of Terror” and since he'd never had a chance to see it, I was able to fill him in on the Next Generation, and first couple seasons of Deep Space Nine. He was enthralled. We were still talking Trek long after my boss had finished doing her thing with the guy who was actually the objective.

When we started to leave, this former Communist Political Officer- enforcer of his Empire's will, gave the young American his address and asked if he would send some Trek his way if he ever got the chance. I had to tell him there were rules which prevented that, and he obviously understood, though was a bit sad. Still, he thanked me, and asked if it was OK if we met again when my boss met with his friend again. Just to talk. He wanted to show me his Trek scrap book.

Mission constraints quite unfortunately prevented me from seeing him again. What an incredible experience though to be able to reach out and find camaraderie with a man who should have been an enemy. Knowing that for those three hours we were just fans discussing our beloved Star Trek meant a lot to me, and was a lesson on how to deal with other cultures and countries. I think it would have made Gene Roddenberry proud.

Here we are in the 43rd year of Trek, and it is stronger than ever with a new lease on life in the terrific new film. May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless our planet for another year (at least until New Trek 2 comes out!).

And of course, goodnight Jolene Blalock, wherever you are...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Compare and contrast...

...the two most recent films you saw in a theater. Show your work. Be as spoiler free as possible.

Cost of production:
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra- $175 million.
District 9- $30 Million

GIJ- Sienna Miller! Dennis Quaid! Channing Tatum! Marlon Wayans!
D9- Sharlto Copely? Jason Cope? Nathalie Boltt?

GIJ- Stephen Sommers (previous work “The Mummy” and “Van Helsing”)
D9- Neill Blomkamp (previous work... none, directorial debut)

GIJ- Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Michael Gordon, and Stephen Sommers
D9- Neill Blomkamp

What the films have in common:
Both feature extensive action sequences involving explosions and gunplay. Both feature a character going through a strange metamorphosis. Both show weapons tech ahead of its time.

Domestic profit as of 06 September:
GIJ- Still $40 million in the hole (Current domestic earnings around $139m, versus production cost).
D9- $71 million profit (Current domestic earnings of $101 Million, versus production cost).

Current Rotten Tomatoes ratings:
GIJ- 37% fresh
D9- 89% fresh

Lessons which will not be learned by Hollywood:
A smart director with a project he personally loves can make a more emotional, intellectually stimulating, and remarkable film with less money than the make up budget of an overblown piece of fluff there to do nothing beyond sell toys and distract an apathetic audience for two hours. The studio will make money on a smart film, and the critical review will be better. Relatively unknown actors who actually believe in the work they're doing will deliver better performances than big names who are just checking the "I need a blockbuster" block.

In the end, regardless of the money the smaller, less expensive film makes or how much people agree its a good film, the toy and merchandise sales will out-earn the smaller film at every turn. G.I. Joe is also and easier film to make, requiring no sense of art or plot. It is also an easier film to watch, asking only that you turn off your brain, even if you are a long time fan of the characters (who are barely shadows of their much better conceived former selves). District 9 asks you to immerse yourself in a world perhaps too similar to our own, and watch as a lead character develops from hate-worthy to sympathetic to hero. It asks you to think about where you fall in it's allegory. It's a genuine fine piece of film, that may expend as much ammunition as G.I. Joe, but also tells you why.

Can you guess which one I liked better?