Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nationalized Health Care

So all the talk lately has been of the "single payer system" - basically, that one party centralizes all the cash and pays out from there for health costs. The idea being that there are great efficiencies and a greater average quality of care to be had from this. The argument includes things such as that Europe does this and all that.

I won't go through the horror stories of people who actually live in those countries. I know them. I've lived in those countries. I've experienced the waits, the poor quality, I've watched friends' family members die due to lack of care. I know the liberals don't want to hear it, but it's true.

My issue is this: currently, I have a mediocre but relatively speaking decent health care program. That's a judgment based on an absolute basis. That is, I can't get myself into Mayo to get things treated but I can get into the best local hospital and get treatment that doctors generally agree is appropriate. Not great, but things could (possibly, who knows really) be worse. I would prefer to be able to go to Mayo and lay out my health issues and have someone bloody fix them, but fine, whatever, save that for people who have specific issues (this is a very odd quirk of the modern incarnation of Mayo: you can only really go if you already know, more or less, what's wrong with you - I find this odd as the whole point of really quality health care has to include being able to diagnose really obscure things - like, if not Mayo, where do I go for a proper diagnostician? am I meant to track down House in the mythical Princeton Plano medical center?).

But here's the important part: I in no way question that we will have at least a delay in deaths due to cardiac failure, an increase in health maintenance, so on and so forth. And that's all good and well. But someone, someone, just someone, absolutely must acknowledge that this gain will indeed come at the expense of people like myself who fall somewhere on the other side of the bell curve but not far enough to pull strings to get the best treatment.

The reprise to this is what I began with - that really health care will go up. Sure, if you currently don't bother to see your doctor and whatever, yes, your quality of health care will go up. Of course, that's sort of irrelevant. The beauty of America, as I understood it, was that you fight for yourself, tooth and nail. Around every corner people are going to be plotting against you, not because they have issues with you, but just to benefit themselves. And to the winners go the spoils, quality health care included.

So my question is this: where do I move to once socialized health care kicks in so that I can still get the top quality health care and not have to wait in line behind people who haven't bothered to have a physical in 20 years? I simply am not willing to have my health care go the way of the industrialized american worker, whose job was exported in the name of "globalization" and with the horrifically ill-applied economic argument that this was better for everyone - I should clarify that this argument succeeds because it confuses people by mixing up two notions of "everyone."

On the one hand, the logical one, one would think "everyone" meant just that - every person. However, there is another way in which "everyone" is used as a shorthand and in fact, by "everyone" it is meant that you take all people and aggregate them and that average person accounts for "everyone." It is in this sense that the proponents of universal health care move forward.

Of course, I recognize the argument that it is selfish etc. and I do indeed think that people should have health care. And in all likelihood, if I were asked to voluntarily contribute for universal health coverage, I would actually contribute quite a lot. However, the idea of forcing me to give my money for this purpose is simply un-American. Moreover, the problem with this is that it won't just expand care - it will serve to limit care.

While initially it will not have this impact, long-term the economic pressures will be such that prices will fall at certain levels, service will fall at certain levels, and that pesky reality that a different type of person will be attracted to medicine and research will begin to take shape. It's not a scare tactic - it's just another reality of economics. Perhaps we prefer the people who choose a profession because they want to help people but I'll be honest, I don't.

People who choose a profession to "help" other people tend (please note that this is not all inclusive) to really be boosting their own egos in some way by denigrating people who actually work towards goals. Again, generally speaking, they tend to be lazier, richer, sort of high on themselves. They tend to think they are better than everyone else. As a result, they are significantly less efficient, taken less seriously, less savvy in world affairs and, most importantly, are not overcome with the sense of neurotic focus on a specific task. Of course, some have motivation, but I've never had a not-for-profit party follow-up with me within even a week of a call, which I find maddening and confusing and simply cannot work with as I exist in the real world where things happen in real time. I really really want absolutely neurotic doctors who will keep searching and searching, quickly and with a sense of urgency, to figure something out. I don't want to wait 6-8 months for a follow-up - I want an answer now. Or as soon as possible.

Anyways, I suppose I'll need to take over a country or something to get proper medical care. Any suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wait Panetta, what? You DON'T want to assassinate terrorists?

The NYTimes has done it again today by laying out a continuation of its annoying obsession with not knowing everything. I am pretty sure this is what it comes down to, that NYTimes writers and editors feel they are better than everyone else and that they should be controlling the country and, gosh darnit, how can they do that when secret information isn't shared with them on a regular basis so they can publicly broadcast it and wreck havoc on our nation's security policy?

Thank you, again, for clarifying why the liberals will destroy the earth - see "C.I.A. had Plan to Assassinate Qaeda Leaders"

To the extent this is true, that Panetta canceled this program, that the CIA couldn't figure out how to carry it out (??), that miscellaneous Congressmen feel they have a right to know the goings-on of the CIA, that the CIA really isn't committing covert assasinations because of something Ford of all people put forth, this is an absolute disaster.

Panetta was obviously a terrible choice for this position, except as a useless figure-head - he is weak and extremely liberal to a point where his lack of international experience can only spell disaster for this position (liberals, especially those terribly concerned about relative nonsense like the environment, tend not to understand how violent and ruthless our enemies are). What's the point of canceling the program? Because we caught all the leaders? Because we've successfuly killed them? Because we've ended the source of their frustration and extremism - the cruel and oppressive poverty put upon them by their leaders (whom we fully support, without ever acknowledging that we're doing this) and the mass psychological brain-washing by extremists that is possible only because of these dire circumstances? When did we fix all those problems? Was it before or after Joe the Plumber came along to share his infinite wisdom about political policy?

As to the CIA being unable to figure out a tactical way to enact this, well, I just find that absurd. Whoever the undercover source is used here clearly isn't part of an elite corps, or at least, I certainly hope not. If we can't logistically figure out how keep intelligence on the ground that can kill at notice, we're dead in the water. Who is this character who says they couldn't figure out where to keep the people who would go in and kill the Qaeda leaders? I don't know, I mean, pretty much anywhere? Has our intelligence and technology fallen so far behind that we can't keep ahead of people living in mountains who are traveling around the world to kill our citizens and allies? If so, and I've said this many times over the past few years, we need to seriously recalibrate our funding and absolutely plow money into international undercover missions and programs which are accountable to no one but the Agency. This is why I am a citizen of a nation - it is to be protected. Everything else is a burden to me, but the protection, that's important.

Finally, the last thing I want is for Congressmen, who are just random people who earn a pittance and whose obsession in life is being the center of attention, is to be fully briefed on CIA programs. I want them briefed on absoutely nothing the CIA does. They don't know enough to comment, can't be trusted to secrecy and if they could be useful, they'll be sought out by those in power. Just seeing part of these Sotomayor hearings is enough to convince me that there is very little intelligence in either of those chambers and to the extent it does exist, it is being used for personal or political gain and not for the betterment of our nation.

Apart from being a non-story, this doesn't begin to address the major issues, such as why Panetta has this job, what he's accomplished, whether Congress should be informed about these things, and why this information is being publicly broadcast. New York Times: Please stop already with the publishing of information about secret programs etc. There's a reason they're secret. I promise. Grow up already and learn that someone may actually know better than you and stop putting national security at risk and encouraging those who do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bring on a Class War Already and Let Us Create our own Country!

I have no idea how I came across this opinion piece but I nearly gasped out loud when I got to the interesting points.

Judith Warner, whose pieces I do not read and do not care about because I find it dull to read about women writing about being parents, horrifically dull, did something that I appreciate much more than anyone else who bothered to comment on her piece. She took a random news article, extrapolated out, and used it as a basis for discussion of a much more relevant issue. She even took it to tandem warp speed. And for that, I must say thank you.

I've been saying the same thing she's been saying for a while, although not with the same angle or with the same stories. Mostly because there are certain things you know to be true and when you know something is true and you're just ranting to your friends, you don't need to provide historical evidence. Also, I tend not to focus terribly much on women v. men in terms of this particular issue.

The issue being: people who are less-educated, feel like they are blue collar, salt of the earth, country-bumpkin, regular folks, honest workers, part of the working class, part of the middle class, pretty much the vast majority of the nation, are incredibly, horribly, disgustingly jealous of and rude to and about anyone who they consider "better than them."

How do you end up being the focus of their ire? There are many many ways, very few of which you will ever have control over. You can be born a certain race. You can attend certain schools. You can be naturally intelligent. You can be genuinely interested in learning. You can have a natural disdain for unintelligent people and their activities. You can be born with money. You can be born with connections. You can possess the ability to use words that have more than two syllables. The list goes on.

A corollary of this is that those people who are naturally more intelligent and don't feel horrifically insecure about their places in the world and don't feel the need to prove themselves and fight to show that they are just as good if not better than people who have things naturally, have a very different take on life. As a general rule, they are looking to be happy. They do things that interest them, they enjoy their lives, they go on vacations when they feel like it, they explore new things, learn foreign languages, read books and newspapers, and do any number of other things they happen to find enjoyable. Because the others are so caught up in their obsession to have a certain type of job and own a house (lord knows why) and have a brood of children, they spend all their resources on these things. As a result, they can't go on vacations and don't have the time and money to read books or learn new things or do anything that, in my opinion, makes life worth living. And then they act like everyone should have to live the miserable existence they've created for themselves.

I don't deny that for some people there is simply more money, it is easier to get a job, so on and so forth, but everyone makes choices and everyone has talents and deficits and you work with it. But at the end of the day, you make the choices for yourself.

I know exactly what Ms. Warner is at least trying to say here in terms of discrimination against certain types of people. I am very familiar with consciously avoiding naming schools I've attended, degrees and honors and publications of mine, places I've visited, people I've met, and especially, of launching into any discussion that would be vaguely interesting to me. Since if I do engage in such a discussion, it will be seen as a display of intellectualism that will be the basis of attack. Sometimes people will tell me I am "showing off," which is obviously just a means of saying that if they were able to say something like that, they would do it to impress people. Other times, people stare at me blankly. Other times, they're simply hostile and try to attack everything I say by reference to matters that have nothing to do with what I am talking about, but this somehow makes them feel better.

For me, the result is that I don't feel comfortable living in this society. I shouldn't have to worry, in a way that is very similar to this story, that if I end up in front of a jury I will lose regardless of the merits of my case simply because I don't come off as sufficiently average. As though I should aspire to be average in lieu of being myself. I don't know that women specifically are targeted in this, but I do agree that they are more viciously targeted than men.

My solution is simple: all the interesting people can migrate to part of the world, people there who do not qualify can move, and we can all be happy together being ourselves forever, without the fear that a policeman will treat us worse because we take the time to dress nicely (have experienced that at least 15 times) or that a prosecutor will choose to pursue a case against us because of who we are or what we've accomplished, or that people will feel they have a right to take our possessions simply because they don't have them (constant issue). We currently live in a society in which there is indeed an unspoken understanding that the culturally poor have a right to attack the culturally rich in whatever form they can.

I am far past the point of caring about people who want to attack me or belittle me or drag me into their dramas. Far past. But I am also done with being subjected to their petty personal issues, which inevitably find their way projected onto me. When I was younger I didn't understand it and that was terrible. Knowing now, as I do, why people are more aggressive to me, why they give me the looks they do, why they won't help me out when they would help out anyone else in the same circumstances, it does somehow make it slightly easier. But it doesn't make it right.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New York Times Reports Shocking News that CIA Keeps Secrets....

Today, the New York Times took the opportunity to let America know, for the first time, that the CIA doesn't always tell everyone everything. More specifically, Leon Panetta saw fit to announce that Congress had been directly lied to in the past.

Why is this a non-story, you may ask? You may think that the people, via their representatives embodied in Congressmen, have a right to know what the nation's entities are doing. And you would be right. If Americans were utterly and totally different. Like basically if we were martian versions of ourselves.

Americans (you could say people in general, but there are significant cultural differences) have the unfortunate personality combination of being chatty cathys and having a lack of natural intelligence. The kind of natural intelligence that tells you that if your government's spy agency isn't sharing information with you, it's probably best to let it go. Which, of course, brings in their third major personality flaw, undaunted confidence in their positions. Americans will believe that things don't exist when one is standing right in front of them. And they will fight to the death over the fact that the item doesn't exist.

To summarize, Americans can't keep secrets, don't understand the consequences of their actions, and insist that their personal opinions are correct regardless of the presence of irrefutable proof. I challenge you to find any online newspaper with a comments section that doesn't definitively prove this.

Enter the analysis of the CIA as to whether this group of people should be informed on a regular basis about undercover missions. The answer: a resounding no. Which is why, historically, the CIA as well as other nation's secretive agencies, have kept information from their citizens.

Yes, it does require that you trust someone you don't know and can't fight with to make decisions that are best for you, and if not for you personally, than for the country as a whole. But, get real. You do that every single day, whether you acknowledge it or not.

Today, again, they found e coli in commercial food. Three types, in fact, in nestle cookie dough. The stuff kids eat raw out of the refrigerator. Somehow, magically, the otherwise impeccable FDA missed that. Again. As they have, over and over again. And yet, for some reason, all these Americans actually believe their food is safe.

They believe, because they find him charming, that they are somehow able to communicate with the president and that he is telling them everything that is going on. Think about it. As an american, you probably instinctively believe this. Then step back and think about how absurd and naive that is. He can't tell you everything because you would tell everyone else and we would never be able to engage in any form of stratagem or even organized action. There would be constant chaos because everyone would be looking to respond first to whatever was announced.

Back to the CIA. I have enormous respect for the CIA. Respect and gratitude. I think even if I found out they killed my grandfather (which, just for the record, they didn't, just theoretically) I would lose none of my respect or gratitude. The CIA represents what we really need in this nation and in our lives - a pillar of responsible organization that makes the best decisions it can at the time given the knowledge it has. The types of decisions that weaker people can't make because they focus too much on the trees and miss the forest. Decisions that require a knowledge of the potential depth of human cruelty that many Americans ignore.

I think, perhaps, our nation has been sheltered for too long and as a result, we forgotten how much of the rest of the world lives. You would think that people would still remember, as we've recently had terrorist attacks showing exactly this thing, but people are quick to try to read in "difficult childhoods" and "brain-washing" and any number of other things that would somehow make these horrific incidents one-offs. People do this as a means of feeling safe. It's a very false sense of safety, but for many people, it works. Imagine if you lived the other way, constantly assuming anyone could turn on you. Anyone could commit the most unimaginable horrors or betrayals. Then, I would feel comfortable with having you make decisions on my behalf as part of the CIA. You would then "get it."

Under that scenario, not only would I not need updates from you, I wouldn't want them. The beauty of having other people do the dirty work for you and you never having to know about it is just that; you can live in denial that any acts were perpetrated for your good that caused others to suffer.

For me, the CIA does the work the military branches largely can't achieve because they're too transparent. If the army goes and openly kills the leader of a country or a foreign spy, the president will have to talk about it and there will be a world-wide uproar with attacks on americans and american assets. If it's done covertly, everything can hum along as it's meant to.

Built into this, again, is something that many people ignore - this is work that has to be done. We need people protecting us in a much more substantive and secretive manner. These people TRULY give their lives. They give up their identities, their ability to communicate freely, they give up everything they've known. And then Congressmen who sit in their fluffy chairs in their tacky dull 80s style suits want to complain? Why don't they get out in the field and do the work and then they can talk about it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


State drug laws that impede the lives of the most needy

I'm only going into Schedule II drugs here even though I think everything in the DEA schedules should be reviewed. The reason for the focus is that a great number of people for what the government has classified as, "legitimate medical reasons," regularly take Schedule II drugs. Like multiple times a day, for years and even lifetimes and generally so that they can function within society. Ergo, excessive restrictions on the ability of individuals to get these drugs that they need run counter to their purpose and much more likely to put an impossible strain on these people than on others who need drugs that are less interesting to the feds.

As a bit of background: the DEA has broken what it considers to be "dangerous" drugs into 5 categories. Schedule I drugs are the worst and Schedule 5 drugs are the least bad of of the bunch. Like Robitussin falls in 5 and Ecstasy falls in 1. My use of "dangerous" in quotes and "bad" were intentionally demeaning as the standards used by the DEA are at best, random. The issue isn't whether you're going to die from ingesting the substance (in which case, rat poison, for example, should be on here) but rather whether it's addictive and then as a mitigating factor, whether it has any "accepted" (also a defined term) medical use. Such that things that are extremely similar end up in different categories. That's a huge 30K miles above view, but it will do for now.

To give you a sense of what we're working with on the federal level, you should know that Congress actually took the time to set out requirements for anti-drug ads to be placed on NASA websites. I kid you not:
"Anti-drug Message on Internet Sites
Pub. L. 106-391, title III, Sec. 320, Oct. 30, 2000, 114 Stat. 1597, provided that: "Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act [Oct. 30, 2000], the Administrator [of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration], in consultation with the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, shall place anti-drug messages on Internet sites controlled by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.'' Your tax dollars at work.

So back to Schedule II drugs. These are the real bug-a-boo for both regulators and patients. Schedule II is basically made up of what would be Schedule I drugs but for the lack of a direct path to the Schedule I drugs (a bunch of the items in Schedule II are necessary precursors to creating Schedule I drugs but will not, in and of themselves, produce Schedule I effects) and that they have, at this point in time, an accepted medical use, however limited. For example, Cocaine and Coca leaves are on Schedule II because, despite what the media would have you believe, both have consistently throughout history had very important medical uses. Coca leaves, for example, are used the way Americans use coffee in many parts of the world and without any particularly interesting effect. Cocaine was regularly used until it, like most of the other drugs on this schedule, became the subject of some xenophobic crackdown and it became politically popular to put people in jail for using it. (see "Prohibition" in the link for the cocaine-specific story, although Marijuana ended up on Schedule I because of racism against non-Europeans as did Opium)

But other Schedule II drugs include amphetamines, drugs like Ritalin and Dexedrine and Adderall, which are used by adults and children with ADD/ADHD, fatigue disorders, and other illnesses whose symptoms can be improved through the addition of a stimulating medication. The latter category is vast, often including diseases whose definitions are constantly changing and that 10 years ago didn't even have a name, but also include certain degenerative diseases and even depression. Many people who take these medications are not taking them for a month, like as a dose of antibiotics, but often for an extremely long period of time. Moreover, the type of people who need these drugs are often less mobile, less able to communicate their needs and problems, less able to go through the hoops of doctor approval, followed by insurance approval, followed by the horror of trying to actually get your medications from a pharmacy, followed by figuring out why it's all costing you so much. They are some of our more vulnerable citizens.

As a corollary, Schedule II also contains some of the stronger painkillers available by prescription. These include OxyContin, Demerol and Percocet. Obviously, these are potentially dangerous and not to pop the DEA's bubble or anything, but I've had to bring several people through what would have been a lethal Robitussin overdose, so I'm not entirely clear on why there is a distinction here. In any case, people on these drugs are typically in very severe pain. The type of pain that makes life unbearable and even impossible. Other prescription painkillers are further down on the list (Vicodin, for example, is a Schedule III drug) and you can safely assume that if Vicodin addresses your issues, you have no idea what kind of pain the people who OxyContin is prescribed to are going through. Thus, they experience the same, if not to an even greater degree, problems that those on amphetamines face. Mainly that it is very difficult for them to jump through the hoops the federal government, insurance companies and doctors have created. And again, imagine your elderly grandmother with a broken hip and a bad back. You really don't want her having to jump through hoops.

So why am I so whiny about this? 21 USC 829 (regarding distribution of "controlled substances") provides with regards to Schedule II drugs that "Except when dispensed directly by a practitioner, other than a pharmacist, to an ultimate user, no controlled substance in schedule II, which is a prescription drug as determined under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.), may be dispensed without the written prescription of a practitioner, except that in emergency situations, as prescribed by the Secretary by regulation after consultation with the Attorney General, such drug may be dispensed upon oral prescription in accordance with section 503(b) of that Act (21 U.S.C. 353(b)). Prescriptions shall be retained in conformity with the requirements of section 827 of this title. No prescription for a controlled substance in schedule II may be refilled."

Okay. So 1) you need a physical written prescription. It cannot be called in or faxed to the pharmacy or any of those permutations. So as someone in severe pain or suffering from any number of debilitating maladies actually has to go and pick it up and physically transport it to a pharmacy. And 2) no refills. So that's the real stinger. When you combine the two, it means that effectively, you have to go to your doctor's office every month and get a new prescription even if you're in a stable condition with regards to your malady and there's no need for you to see your doctor.

Luckily, I am not the only person who thought this was offensive and outrageous. To be honest, it's rather lucky that medications that people considered by society to be worthy of concern are actually being hurt by arcane, racist and illogical drug laws. There is at least a chance that the drug laws will be reformed.

The DEA first publicly responded to this issue in August 2004 by posting on its website under a frequently asked questions section stating that with regards to Schedule II pain medication, that doctors should issue multiple post-dated prescriptions during one visit to make the process less arduous. This was removed from the website in November 2004 and specifically interdicted as a practice. But, obviously, that didn't solve the problem.

So the DEA began, in a most un-DEA move, liberally interpreting the law. Basically, the DEA concluded that the reference to "refills" not being allowed didn't really mean "refills" in the traditional sense, like when it says you have X refills left on your prescription bottle. In fact, it never really explained what "refill" would mean that would distinguish it from what they've allowed as of the end of 2007. But I'm ahead of myself.

The DEA issued final rule-making in late 2007 providing that doctors could write sequential prescriptions during the course of a single visit with a patient and give these to the patient, and that in sum, the prescriptions would account for a 90-day supply of the medication. To be clear, you still can't fill them all at once. It's not a 90-day prescription. It's pretty much exactly what the FAQs section of the DEA website said you could do in August 2006 and then very forcefully said you couldn't a few months later.

What's really interesting about this particular story and why I wonder very much why it hasn't gotten much (if any) media play, is that it indicates that the radical insane period of the war on drugs may be coming to an end. I can absolutely positively understand the issues governmental leaders have with having Columbian or Mexican cartels creating horrible violence across the country. But to put those people in the same category as citizens who are going to their doctors to get prescriptions for medical conditions and then going to a pharmacy to fill them is absolutely cuckoo. What's a bit sad is that the lawmakers couldn't come to this rational conclusion on their own. They had to wait until a critical mass of citizenry came forward to express their distaste. Our lawmakers should do more than that. They should critically analyze laws and their laws should be cleanly targeted. And as a final point, it shouldn't be that you can only get these things fixed when people with diminished abilities due to illness are affected. This should apply to anyone and everyone who is a citizen. We all deserve to have not just a responsive government, but a proactive one.

More on the issue with divergent state laws later.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Catholic Church is Full of Insane Annoying People

Obviously, I state the above due to some form of involvement with the church. It's difficult to state that level of rancor when you are not personally involved in some way with the subject. I don't really feel I was raised catholic, but somewhere along the way I learned the mass, went to sunday school, participated in the traditional rituals and had nuns scream at me and watched them hit and emotionally scar others. And I'm pretty young. And I didn't go to catholic school.

I never believed any of it. I realized when I was very young, about 4, that it couldn't possibly be true. That it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Furthermore, as I grew older, I realized that I couldn't possibly care less if it were true as it had no impact on my life and what difference did it make whether I spent eternity burning in flames and being tortured or in heaven dancing around with angels? As anyone who has been under continuous stress and strain can tell you, at a certain point you adapt and it is what it is and you move on and you won't even recognize it as a difficult period unless you go through it again. So if you're stuck in hell for eternity, who cares? After a while, heaven and hell are essentially the same (part of why life is a bore, but for another time).

Part of the confirmation ceremony, the one that supposedly brings into the church as an adult, i.e., of your own right, will and volition (in like 8th or 9th grade - as if you have any idea what you're doing at that age - what a ridiculous anachronism that we treat that as the advent of adulthood) requires that you state that you renounce the devil, something along those lines. There are a series of statements about your involvement in the church and your acceptance of church beliefs and in response you are meant to say "I do" and I simply said "I don't," to negate any legitimate effect the ceremony might have. I'm not sure if I did it consistently or just for the, I renounce the devil's teaching-type one (i had a friend around that age who was a satanist and it seemed equally valid so I couldn't legitimately state that I would forever renounce satan, although of course, I only did it to assure that if this were some sort of legitimate ceremony, I would have failed to be swept into the flock).

I never attended church after that date, apart from being dragged there for relatives' religious affairs, and can't imagine willingly going apart from an interest in seeing different churches when you travel, like visiting museums. But I lacked a lot of the anger and antipathy for the church that so many older people I knew expressed and I wondered why. Today, the vatican clarified and know I actually strongly dislike the church - see, U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny.

In my opinion, at best, nuns are weird and creepy. They're a little too new age and they're just the type of people that give me an icky feeling on the inside when I'm around them - at worst, they're those crazy self-absorbed virgins who hit and scream and demean others. Either way, I have no interest in them, no respect for them, and absolutely deplore the fact that they exist in my society. However, given that apparently of late they're given to doing good in society, great. Let them do it. Who cares.

And I'll admit that people who can step back (or fall within their religious beliefs) and say the church can do what it wants, it's a religion etc. etc. have a point in terms of freedom of association. But let's just pick one little piece from the story - the church wants to make sure (i.e., doesn't believe) that it's interdictions against the support of (or rather, failure to attack) homosexuality are being upheld.

So yes, they're right. They aren't being upheld. I know this for a fact b.c. I've been in multiple churches across the country hearing priests rail against the attacks on homosexuality. Because it's offensive and gross and wrong to tell people they can't do something that they feel is entirely right and natural, not to mention, incredibly ironic considering the penchant of male american priests to engage in homosexual acts (total side-bar, but priests are totally creepy or really tight-ass regardless of whether they've got something on the side, which is perhaps a different study). The rub being that while the catholic church has its own little pseudo-city-state in Italy and doesn't have to pay taxes here, doesn't mean that they're allowed to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation.

Response: it's a private entity, you aren't forced to take part, etc. At what point does a private entity take on the responsibilities of everyone else in the nation or even a public entity? Here's a great one: so in Connecticut, they are requiring businesses to go along with the same-sex marriage act. The catholic church has gotten into the act, claiming that "florists," for example, should have a right to object to providing services for a same-sex marriage. I love when people do stuff like this and the catholic church has it down to a t. Basically, what you do is point out to those in power, government officials, the populace at large, just how radical you are and how wildly out of touch you are and it gives governmental entities and representatives free reign to absolutely annihilate anything you send forward. Florists can refuse to offer services to someone because that person is gay? Are you kidding me? Of course you can't do that.

It doesn't matter what your religious beliefs are, just like it doesn't matter that you personally don't believe that birth control should be used. Great, I couldn't care less, hand over my pills. Do pharmacists also get to object to other medications that you take? What if they feel that you've had enough pain killers, do they get to decide not to give you anymore? Or what if they personally think antidepressants are wrong, like the person in question is a scientologist - can they refuse to give you your prescription? No, they can't. So why would anyone think they could object to birth control or the morning after pill? It's absurd, illogical and wrong. And again, discriminatory.

Point being that in the United States we have laws that trump religion. As another example, some mormons believe that their religion requires them to take on multiple wives, often under the legal age of consent - two illegal matters, both of which have been prosecuted. And those laws should FULLY trump religion, including its ability to engage in and promote discriminatory practices that result in illegal and often violent acts against minority groups. Essentially, what the church does, when it follows vatican rhetoric, is to engage in hate speech. Pure and simple. And they should really be sent to jail, en masse, every time one of these things comes up. Children simply don't grow up hating people and disrcriminating against them. Someone teaches them this behavior and not at all infrequently, what would otherwise be an uneducated bias against people who are "different" becomes socially-acceptable and passed on through generations when sanctioned by a church, leading to the massive social disorder we witness today.

But back to the nuns, I think it is a huge blessing for the church and for society that you don't have a bunch of people sitting around in a convent figuring out the best way to humiliate youngsters or otherwise terrorize adults. It's a sick notion that that's ameliorative. And for those of you for whom it was or would be, you need to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. Why do all these people rely on others to tell them to do what they already know? My best answer is rather simple and is that men tend to respond better to these extreme treatments than women and men generally ran these absurd organizations and just did things in line with how they think. They're immature and as a result, frequently do not take responsbility for their actions and respond very well when someone yells at them and engages in corporal punishment if they forget their homework. It's the type of thing where you hear a man recounting the story and saying, I never forgot my homework again. If some nun/teacher did that to me, well to be honest I'd probably destroy that person's life, but I can assure you that I would regularly not turn my homework in on time and would completely disrupt the class and refuse to take part in any aspect of it. And I think it's because I'm a girl. I don't respect people who disrespect me. Period.

The vatican's involvement just shows, again, that this group of supercilious white men running a "religion" need to be thrown on their asses. Enough is enough with this tyranny and the return of the inquisition to attack females who don't follow their homophobic, gender-biased and otherwise dated notions of how people should behave. Just imagine you had a business that would not promote women to manager positions because they were women. Pretty straight-forward case. But if you're a "religion," you're free to do it. Does that make any sense at all? No, absolutely not. I could call myself a religion, call myself a saviour, take a book and claim god had spoken to me and I'd written it all down in this book. People have done it many many times. How many times do you honestly think that god speaks to people and gives them contradictory messages? Probably never. And why in the world do you think that you're part of the one group that actually got a message and got it right? Doesn't that seem extremely unlikely?

A final example, scientology. Scientology is not treated as a religion for federal income tax purposes in the united states (this was true in a number of other countries before the U.S. took this position and indeed, in some places is officially considered a cult and in in others, illegal). So who gets to decide? And why do religions get tax exemptions anyways? Couldn't I just do whatever I wanted to, link myself up with a church, and never have to pay taxes because in some way, it would be related to their church income? Yes, of course I could. That's what attracts many people to a religious vocation, the freedom to do whatever you want without economic burden or obligation to society. That's cute and nice, but explain to me again why as a taxpayer I should underwrite the ability of racist, homophobic, misogynistic and all-around nutcases to engage in their work, when they aren't doing the same for me?

I say, end the religious exemption for taxes and/or force the catholic church to engage in hiring and policy practices that mirror those for other publicly-supported organizations. It's completely outrageous and I honestly do think there is a case that it is unconstitutional, to say that religious organizations are free to disriminate when they are effectively getting taxpayer money by virtue of not having to pay taxes. By taking the exemption they make themselves subject to federal law and therefore, should have to abide by those laws or lose their exemption. At the least. I would prosecute but I'm not a district attorney or someone else who could engage in that behavior.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

FDA attempts to assist idiots who can't read bottles while destoying lives of those in chronic pain

Yesterday, an FDA-panel voted to advise the agency to adopt rather idiotic standards with regards to acetaminophen, the generic for the medication in tylenol. They are lowering the amount of the drug that is in a maximum "dose" and then looking to ban prescription medications that mix acetaminophen with other drugs.

1) the "dose" is totally irrelevant to most people and probably why they're having what they claim are "accidental overdoses" of acetaminophen - people don't pay attention to the dose - they take what they need to get rid of their pain. Moreover, it's really not at all easy to overdose on acetaminophen, as most people know. A doctor in an old Associated Press article claims that 16 extra-strength tylenol pills taken in a day can kill you. This, is completely false, I can tell you from extensive personal experience. Depending on your condition, it may have little to no effect on you. You absolutely can cause yourself serious damage taking acetaminophen, but it isn't easy and the notion that people are following the instructions and such and "accidentally" overdose is absurd. If you're taking cold and flu pills 6 times a day, as suggested towards the end of the article, you're already taking WAY more than you're supposed to. Not to mention if you start popping other things on top of that - if you have a "nagging headache" on those many meds, you should go see a dr stat b.c. you shouldn't be able to function, let alone feel anything, under those circumstances. I still can't put my head around how you could accidentally put yourself in that situation without being an idiot.

What they're really talking about here are irresponsible people who don't follow instructions and get themselves sick. The warnings about liver damage are ALL OVER every single product with any acetaminophen in it. Everybody knows about the potential liver damage. Great story. But what in the world is that supposed to have to do with my life and my ability to take as much tylenol as I feel like?

But the good thing about the "doseage" issue is that it really doesn't matter at all because you can just take more pills. I find it offensive, but it will have no impact on my life and my untreatable migraines that occasionally respond to massive doses of tylenol. Which brings me to issue number 2, which does matter:

2) Eliminating prescription meds that mix in acetaminophen: This is horrifically, unimaginably offensive. Here's the issue - I never liked that there was acetaminophen in this stuff because of the fact that it causes liver damage and doesn't really do much for pain, so it's a bit annoying and actually dangerous when you have to take them for injuries, surgeries and chronic pain issues. But the FDA hasn't approved alternatives that would be readily available for patients (who are already stymied in their ability to treat their conditions due to antiquated drug regulations that place their chronic pain medications in the same class as cocaine) that do not have acetaminophen. Indeed, I read somewhere along the way that the acetaminophen was purposefully put into the pills to prevent people from taking too much - basically, I have to assume, your liver would go into failure before your heart would, which seems like a great plan....oh wait, no, it doesn't seem like a great plan at all. It seems incredibly idiotic.

But what about people who need real pain medication? I'll assume, for the sake of argument, that low doses of acetaminophen do something, which in my opinion is false, but let's assume. Regardless of this, it is clear that many many people have pain that is much greater than anything that tylenol can tackle and cannot function without medications to reduce the pain. Importantly, we have these medications and the world has had and used them for millenia and remarkably enough, there are still human beings. Yes, fascinating that everyone didn't become addicted to opium and decide to sit around all day and never eat or procreate to build or do anything. Shocking, really.

Hmmm. Or not. Maybe the issue is that some people can control themselves and other people can't. Some people get addicted and can't stop. Some people get addicted and don't want to stop. It's not any different than alcohol. Some people drink casually or daily and they're fine, no issues. Some people start drinking and get this addictive rush and can't stop and destroy their lives - that group should be out of the running for future genetic pools. Some people start drinking and they absolutely could stop when things get out of control, but hate their lives and don't want to stop. I am sad for those people because society has let them down and left them with a world that will never reach their expectations, but unfortunately, they also have to be left behind. Both groups are extremely self-involved, require a great deal of personal attention that is inappropriate and unreasonable, and generally have psychological issues that they need to deal with but have chosen not to.

Who's left on the island? People who can consume drugs, both for medicinal and recreational purposes, with a reasonable amount of care. These are the people we want in our society, these should be our leaders and role models etc. If you're taking 20 times the amount of tylenol that's prescribed because you can't stand a little bit of pain, you're in one of the former categories and you're off the island. But your idiocy should not cause people who otherwise should be on the island to be kicked off because they've broken a leg or have slipped discs or other ailments that require pain treatment. Nor should it impact people who want to slip away and feel absolutely nothing recreationally for a period of time. These people are causing no damage to our society and their actions, if anything, should be lauded. They represent how man has functioned since he became predominant on the planet and how he has continued to control it. It's a system that works.

3) FDA please leave me alone: I am very very tired of the FDA and various other governmental agencies trying to move us closer to an Orwellian socialist society. It's inappropriate for America to succumb to these temptations to expect constant nannying and the ability to blame others for the actions of individual decision-makers. The argument that society as a whole pays for these things is largely false: it only pays for the groups who cannot or choose not to control themselves. The rest of us who can control our use, do have to pay for those people, but why not weed those people out rather than force everyone to live with draconian rules? It isn't my fault or even my problem or even something I should have to know about that someone took too much tylenol and got sick. Or mixed too much tylenol with too much vicodin and killed themselves. They're idiots and however you look at it, they meant to die or they needed to die because they were a social burden, in every sense of the word. I refuse to lose my right to relieve pain as I see fit because some people didn't get enough attention as children and are requiring it now through desperate actions as adults. It's enough.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chiago News Outlets Obsessed with Fact that Important People call Schools re: friends' children

For what seems like months now, an absolutely endless time, the media outlets in Chicago have positively obsessed over the admissions process at the University of Illinois (it's never clear from the stories whether their issues with it apply to the entire system or just to the main campus and I won't speculate but just leave it at the U of I). Some sort of magical practically mythical creature came across the positively shocking fact that admissions at the undergraduate level were not solely based on test scores and GPA. Actually, I don't know what all these people think admissions are based on and hence, why they're terribly upset, but I haven't laid out the story yet.

Issue here being that U of I had an identified class of applicants, something along the lines of, Class I, or something, that meant that someone someone cared about had inquired or written on their behalf. So the Tribune started with politicians, then looked at Trustees, has now gotten itself to faculty members and will eventually get to the heart of the issue, I must assume, which is that the only people who can really guarantee their children a place in college are people who can donate lots of money. The rather odd part about this, and something that was really only discussed in a table format in a Chicago Sun-Times interactive piece, is that we're not talking about a 100% acceptance rate. It's not as though you write a letter and you're someone important and this student is accepted. When I saw the acceptance level I was a little surprised actually at how low it was, since as a general rule, people don't call on behalf of people who are totally unqualified as it undermines their ability to recommend candidates in the future (see earlier, only rich people can really guarantee admissions - everyone else is just recommending that the admissions team review the documents again based on additional information about the candidate).

An alternative the school has would be to go to a strict GPA/ACT (because this is evidently the test the school accepts, which is odd just because it's sort of a ridiculous test, but whatever) standard. Of course, that's ridiculous, and something I've often had an issue with since comparing the GPA of someone who went to a good school to someone who went to a bad school is insane. They release these statistics saying X% of students were in the top 10% of their class. Which is totally irrelevant, since the entire population of some schools could outperform that 10% with a hand tied behind their individual backs. There's also the matter of complete disparate grading systems and the reliance on the "admissions team" (very very often, graduates of the school who could not get other jobs) to identify the academic strenousness of the individual schools and somehow rank them.

Of course, step back a moment and ask whether grades and test scores have anything to do with actual academic achievement, let alone life achievement (the latter, I believe it is a given, is unconnected). I've interacted with many extremely intelligent students who could have blossomed at a good school but who couldn't be bothered to prepare for a standardized test. I would even estimate that the majority of children who would do well in such an environment never even try. Some would blame the children for this, I assume they're idiots who've never left their middle-class suburban semi-gated communities and are themselves extremely unremarkable, but they need to recognize that a child of around 16 did not become disinterested in performing well on a standardized test as a result of a lack of effort or intelligence. The child either, doesn't live in a society that values/respects/understands the potential utility of this or is himself more or less alone and simply reacting to the negative influence of tyrannical teachers who would do anything to keep control over their classrooms and prove they are more intelligent than everyone else.

Yes, I went after the teachers.

Teachers, as a class, are people who think they are terribly important and deserve to be in charge of large numbers of people. Because they are unable to do this in reality, they become teachers so they can enforce their will on children and thereby reinforce their weak egos. Essentially, because they cannot be superstars among their peers, they look to the adulation of children to supplement this and treat it as though they were adults.

The rub is, the very intelligent child who actually is much smarter than the teacher. Or, moderately intelligent. Or, even, who will get a decent job and doesn't have significant control and ego issues. Teachers totally flip out on these children. They beat them down, grade them down, grade them disproportionally, and will even place them in remedial classes in an effort to minimize their ability to undermine the need for the teacher to feel superior. It's really extremely tragic.

There is also a tendency for teachers to engage in "relative grading," in which a student is not graded objectively, based on his/her abilities against say, someone with a 100 IQ score (also totally flawed and irrelevant test, but just to use as a basemark) but rather against what the teacher believes the student is capable of doing. While that is charming and could potentially have some motivational benefits assuming the student cared at all what the teacher thought of the student's work and was thereby motivated to work harder to improve grades, it completely obliterates the utility of the GPA as a way of measuring a student's ability to contibute to a school and gain from its opportunities.

These are a few things I've observed in schools over the years and the ways in which I have seen some of the brightest minds go off to do absolutely nothing with their lives.

But back to U of I, why this extended tirade above? The problem isn't so much that an important person called on behalf of an applicant but rather that all applicants aren't getting the second review that comes to such an applicant. It isn't the case that there is automatic admission (as is shown in the data) but rather that the admissions' team actually looks at what the grades the school gave mean, what other things the student does, where the student excels, and, to be controversial, how the student has interacted socially with people who know how to engage others and be successful in business even before the student attended college. That last one is not something to scoff at, not in the least. If you have an 18-year old that someone is willing to call on behalf of, that 18-year old left an impression. And that's a special kind of spark that no test will pick up and only a rare teacher will admit in a recommendation.

At the end of the day, U of I is simply too big. It needs to engage in a significantly more individualized process that has little to nothing to do with GPAs and standardized test scores. It also doesn't matter what grades the student gets in college (or now graduate school, as the Tribune continues its grueling investigation...) - no one can claim with a straight-face that those are a proxy for success. If newspapers would return to their obligation, investigative and informative journalism not based on sensationalism, then perhaps we could move forward as a society and recognize the gifts and values of what should be the top 10% of our country, almost all of whom are no where near that. It is terribly complex, but this nonsense about politics is not at all where the problem is.

NYT downplays disrimination against whites, highlights potential impact on Sotomayor

This morning, I scanned the Chicago Tribune and saw the following headline: "Ruling for White Firefighters May Alter Hiring," the article itself having been taken from the L.A. Times.

I was very interested in this case the first time I heard about it because it was an actual live breathing version of what semi-privileged white people generally refer to as "reverse-discrimination" and I was deeply curious to see how it would turn out. Not just for the effect it would have on the ability of the European-descended neither rich nor poor nor connected to continue to claim discrimination had occurred in the attempt to eliminate discrimination, but more importantly, to see what the courts would do in the face of something that clearly was discriminatory. Courts play games with the law, especially at the highest levels, and usually these games have more to do with public sentiment and wordsmithery than what the "law" actually is (while a fervent supporter of the impact of Roe v. Wade, please see said case for an example of a total invention of legal rights from whole cloth to effect social change).

As a very simple summary, in New Haven a number of years ago, firefighters were given the opportunity to gain a promotion based on the taking of a test. They took it very seriously, studied very hard etc. When the results came out, it turned out that white (and hispanic, although only one hispanic was among the plaintiffs) people had done much better than other people and the fire department, fearing a lawsuit based on action taken based on the results, threw out the test and no one got promoted. The firefighters who had done well eventually found out (if you know any firefighters, you'll understand why that was inevitable and whoever threw out the results should have known that too and just hired and lawyer and taken a leave of absence until this as all straightened-out) and then sued based on discrimination. Which makes sense, since they were denied promotions they were told they would be entitled to based on their performance on a test merely because of their race.

The Supreme Court ruling was close, 5-4, but the white firefighters won, seven years later, which isn't bad, really, in terms of time (which says a lot about our justice system, but that, for another time). Now that alone is a huge story. Absolutely fascinating. What it means for our country, our society, our culture, it's huge.

Here is where the media got interesting.

Yesterday afternoon I was scanning the New York Times home page and saw under the new important news section among one of four links, Supreme Court Justice Nominee's Decision Overturned. I saw that, and like any rational person familiar with Sotomayor and the current make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court, I totally ignored it. I would expect the Supreme Court to overturn a decision of hers. It's totally uninteresting. It's only interesting it you note that it's the white firefighters case. So why did the New York Times do that?

The major stories on the case came out in today's newspapers, so it wasn't that the decision had been sufficiently analyzed on its own merits and it was time to delve into related consequences. That would have been reasonable. Like, for example, when the news mentioned yesterday, several days after his death, that Michael Jackson's children were temporarily going to be in custody of his mother. A few days later, delve into related consequences, that's the main story. But not on day one. Imagine if instead of the headline saying "Michael Jackson dead" it said "Michael Jackson's children temporarily going into mother's custody" - first, you wouldn't have read the story right away, if at all, since it's totally logical (just like the Sotomayor thing) but second, that isn't the story at all. And to write it that way shows a very weird bias. So what is the NYT's bias here?

Let's imagine you're a reporter for the New York Times. This decision comes down. You've presumably lost what you were going after, since white people can't be obviously discriminated against anymore and this is all the more galling since as a New York Times journalist, you probably have no respect for decent working class people like firefighters and think they're racist and that this is why they brought their suit. So that's a write-off. But then you're like, but oh no! this was Sotomayor's opinion, so not only will white people have established rights, this is a strike against her potential rise to the role of justice. Ergo, the news bulletin I saw. That's the best I can figure, since it's extremely bizarre.

I likely would have forgotten or not even noticed this, but for the fact that at dinner last night, someone mentioned that Sotomayor's decision had been overturned. Everyone had exactly the same reaction as me - of course it was, it's a conservative court, what do you expect. But no one knew what the case was. And it gives me a bit of an icky feeling as I can't help but feel there is an undercurrent of what I outlined above in our society, at least the educated urban-sphere - that middle-class working white people really do deserve to be treated poorly in some ill-devised attempt to straighten things out, but really, it's a form of xenophobia directed against people who are most innately American. Who get up every morning and work hard and struggle to raise families and put food on the table and give their children the best future they can. I don't claim that these people don't have flaws; I know nothing about them, but I have to assume they do, since we all do. But do they really deserve to be completely written-off in this way by society, such that they are a punchline in jokes and a mockery for those who were lucky enough to know how to get into good colleges and find cushy jobs and who had a support network that told them how to do it?

The New York Times continues to disappoint me. Although I imagine that what I am really disappointed with are Americans who should know better than to be so close-minded.