Sunday Reads: Time Lapses

71d3459140005b43af4c275172f1a4d9Good Morning

Time lapse photography is something that fascinates me, I think we can look at a picture of a time lapse image and see a metaphor for life. Movement, continuous and repetitive.

There are a couple of types of time lapse photography….the short exposure kind which 63c58031b4a2abf282b982963ab1e3dbtakes a normal exposure of sequential pictures over many hours or even days and edit them into one photograph.

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(Like the sunset images you see by artist, Matt Molloy. )

 

Time lapse of moths in the porchlight - photographed by Steve Irvine for National Geographic

Time lapse of moths in the porchlight – photographed by Steve Irvine for National Geographic

Or the long exposure method, where the camera shutter remains open for a long period of time and exposes the film to the image it is photographing.

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These particular long exposed photos are blurred in appearance.  Creating a glowing, disoriented, disturbed, ghostlike, or drugged feeling when you look at them.

It seems as if we are living in a time lapsed state of mind, as you have been reading the Boston Boomer’s and Dak’s coverage of late, the mess in Missouri is just the result of what has been building over time. Like the images you will see below throughout the post…the same scenarios have been played out all over the US. The actual persons involved may be different, but the general characteristics are the same. When we see the reports of racial violence play out on the news, we feel that repetition. Like the time lapsed images, the scenes become blurred. Yet we know what happens at the end of the shot. There is a good example of the differences in media treatment of violence here by the way: When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims be sure to look at that….No need to belabor the point, I will just let this op/ed by Farai Chideya from the Guardian do that for me.

Waiting in Grand Central Station by James Maher, time-lapse picture. Prints available on his website.

Waiting in Grand Central Station by James Maher, time-lapse picture. Prints available on his website.

(One note however, it makes a uncomfortable point when Rand Paul gets a pat on the back from a black woman…considering the neocon racist misogynistic shit he usually spews…but you’ll get the point the author is making.) On race, America has far to go. Ferguson won’t be the last flash point

 

I spent my very early years in New York, living a very multiracial Sesame Street life, a big swinging bellbottom of a childhood. And then our family moved to Baltimore and the iron curtain of the “colour line” fell. I felt that I had moved from the 1970s through a time warp where black and white were the only two colours and never the twain shall socially meet.

 

I grew to understand what the 50s were actually like in Baltimore, when my mother, for example, was permitted to buy clothes from the major department store but not try them on. (Heaven forfend some black lady should be in the dressing room, right? You know they leave a residue of blackness on the clothes.)

4cadbc8a7518db67eab58c6dd7091105

America has never had one racial reality, but a series of them strung together from San Antonio to Pittsburgh to Appalachia. What we are seeing in Ferguson, Missouri, is the result of life in a specific type of heavily racialised zone. Yes, a city such as New York, where a black man was recently choked to death by police officers, has its own very clear forms of racialisation and it’s a national issue. But the police killing, last week, of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen in Ferguson has sparked national protests because it represents a specific type of racialisation. This is of the majority black city, big or small, with a white economic and political power structure.

Read the whole opinion piece. This is the part about Rand Paul though, it comes in comparison to Obama’s reactions to Ferguson’s Police Departments militarization:

After the killing of another black youth, Trayvon Martin, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a seminal piece for Atlantic magazine called “Fear of a Black President”, describing President Obama as “conservative… in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity – race.”

Two years later, with Ferguson, the president still holds tight to that caution about addressing racial inequality. In terms of day-to-day Washington governance, there is no fear of a black president. Congress fears him not, certainly not the Republicans and not even some members of his own party. And now, with a particularly tepid and circular statement on Ferguson, the president has gone even further.

He seems obsessed with convincing white Americans he is not some goblin come to take their privilege away, rather than recognising that, pragmatically, America still has enough deeply held racial biases that he will be perceived as a race man by some, no matter what he does. (Black Americans learned his political strategy on race early in his first term, as a group of leaders of African American organisations came to ask for more White House focus on jobs in black communities and were rebuffed. They held their televised press conference outside the White House in a snowstorm, a nature-made bathetic fallacy.)

L2e1618565958e4f6a151a0d71c18debeast week, the president delivered a speech that seemed to weigh police intimidation and harassment of protesters and press with acts of vandalism almost equally. “Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority,” he said. “Let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family.”

In this diffuse speech, the president could have spoken out more forcefully against the militarisation of local police forces, as Republican Rand Paul has done. He could have tackled the unacceptable level and variety of unwarranted stops, searches and frisking of black men in particular. For bonus points, he could have gotten into black incarceration rates or, as author Michelle Alexander puts it, the “New Jim Crow”.

You can read the rest at the link.  That is something…when an asshole like Rand gets kudos from a black woman who has the phrase “New Jim Crow” in the same paragraph.  But I think I get her point….yes? I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with her, but she could have pick a different politician to highlight…am I right? Let’s not forget that Paul is the dude who didn’t support the Civil Rights Act…no matter what shit he says now: Wash. Post Recasts Rand Paul As Civil Rights Ally, Forgetting Their Own Reporting | Blog | Media Matters for America

Anyway…I need to move on.

In another Op/Ed, this one from the Sprinfield News-Leader, which is quoted as, “This editorial is the view of the News-Leader Editorial Board, Linda Ramey-Greiwe, President and Publisher, Paul Berry, Executive Director, Cheryl Whitsitt, Managing Editor.” Our Voice: Rights lost in Ferguson riots

It is very good, and I feel it is too important not to quote the entire thing:

On Aug. 9, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson at 12:01 p.m. in Ferguson. A vigil on Aug. 10 turned violent.

The situation deteriorated from there.

10a05408d491d190dbe05b7c71e4d0bdRiots and arrests. Tear gas and rubber bullets. Real bullets, riot gear and military-grade displays of force. Injuries to both protesters and police. Looting and needless destruction of property. For four straight nights, the clashes escalated, the national media descended, and still, no clear information was put forth about the death of a young, unarmed black man. After a day of relative calm gave hope that the situation was beginning to defuse, tempers flared again Friday.

As unrest continues, the blame game is already underway. At this point, it would be easy to join in on the finger-pointing based on half-truths.

It would be easy join the chorus of voices calling out our elected leaders, Gov. Nixon, U.S. Sens. McCaskill and Blunt and President Obama, for waiting so long to intervene.

It would be easy to place blame on the protesters for turning violent and rioting, citing the need for peaceful assembly.

It would be easy to hoist the burden of responsibility onto local authorities in Ferguson for their poor handling of the situation, inciting protesters to riot rather than bringing calm.

It would be easy to join in blaming the media for stirring up the situation by giving attention to it.

It would be easy to, as some are now doing, blame the young man himself for allegedly participating in a theft prior to his altercation with the police.

But there is nothing easy about the situation in Ferguson. A solution for the community will take doing the hard work.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is doing the hard work. Rather than waging a battle, Johnson is working to open the lines of communication and erase the artificial boundaries between authorities and protesters.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and St. Louis alderman Antonio French are doing the hard work. Providing on-the-ground leadership, standing up to rioters, calling for peaceful protests and documenting events on Twitter, their work is reason to hope that the community will make it through this crisis.

There is no shortage of people being thrust forward to take the blame for what has happened in Ferguson. But at this moment, as the nation watches a community teetering on the edge of chaos, we must take the time to examine exactly what we are losing.

1d1f05280a72b879b2cde8a62e3a0275An unarmed young man was shot and killed by police. His right to due process was violated, which demands an explanation. With an investigation underway, it is our duty as citizens to care as much about the process and outcome of the investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice as we do the riots.

As the black community in Ferguson protested, it was met with aggression, intimidation and eventual force from authorities. Some people rioted, which cannot be condoned in our society and should be dealt with. But many assembled peacefully, and were met with the same treatment. Peacefully assembled crowds had their rights violated as well. We must seek answers as to why.

Two reporters, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, were taken into custody as they tried to follow police orders to leave a McDonald’s restaurant, where they were working. Other journalists were specifically told to stop reporting what was happening. Again, rights were violated, this time in an attempt to silence the press that is promised to remain free.

Blame is as easy to assign as it is to dodge. At some point, someone will “take responsibility” for what happened. Over the past several years, this has come to mean little more than an acceptance that people will think poorly of the person for a few weeks.

5723b558462f2f1cacf666aeb4593696Or until the next big outrage comes along to distract us.

As Americans and Missourians thankful for the rights afforded to us by our Constitution, we must not lose interest in these events because the spectacle stops. Now is the time to wade through the rhetoric in order to hold our government and society accountable for what is happening in Ferguson.

It’s the only way we’ll manage to restore those rights.

Good for the Springfield News-Leader! Damn glad there is a press out there near the heart of the situation that is keeping check on things.  The News-Leader is a Gannett newspaper…

As I was getting ready to shut down the laptop, these headlines caught my attention:

It’s around 4:00 AM btw.

Ferguson On Edge On First Night With Curfew Huffington Post

Clusters of Protesters Defy Night Curfew in Ferguson – NYTimes.com

Police enforce curfew against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri | Reuters

Police deploy tear gas to impose Ferguson curfew – Nation – Boston.com

 

Okay. Next up, another op/ed, a link from last week: Rekha Basu: Iowa summit serves reminder of why religion, politics don’t mix | Opinion | McClatchy DC

Of everything coming out of this year’s Iowa Family Leadership Summit, the fear factor is what stayed with me.

It was a constant, discomfiting undercurrent, like a loose nail poking up in your shoe. It was organization President Bob Vander Plaats declaring this a time of “spiritual warfare,” and speaker Joel Rosenberg announcing America is “on the road to collapse” and “implosion,” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, warning grimly, “We are living in some very dangerous times.”

The third year of the event sponsored by the self-described Christ-centered organization that seeks to influence policy and elections, brought big name politicians Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry to Ames, Iowa, this past weekend. They were there to rally the Republican base in the lead-off caucus state. But the upbeat, love-God-and-country tone of previous events appeared at times to have been replaced by a somber, calamitous note of foreboding. Even Satan got a few mentions.

2535da149fb4be80aa512412356bb63dProjected onto a giant screen to punctuate Vander Plaats’ remarks was a video filled with haunting images of Osama bin Laden, Adam Lanza and the Boston marathon bombings. It depicted a rising national debt, marijuana, Boys Scouts, gay rainbow flag and a woman holding up a “Keep abortion legal” sign. It ended with someone yelling, “God is dead. Hail Satan!”

Sponsors and speakers still exalted matrimony and procreation in heterosexual relationships, called for putting God back in the classroom and government, and called abortion murder. But this year’s message was: The nation is in moral decline. Ignore it at your own peril. That was even carried into foreign policy.

 

I am telling you all, I live in the bible belt. I see these assholes everyday. They are powerful. And they vote.

Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian born to a Jewish father, said the United States must not support a two-state solution in Israel because a sovereign Palestinian state “defies the biblical mandate.” Interesting that a Christian American would presume to tell Palestinian Muslims they don’t deserve a homeland because of what the Bible says. This follows an evangelical belief that Jews from around the world will gather in Israel, where the second coming of Christ will occur and – though Rosenberg didn’t spell this out – be converted to Christianity.

“God loves you but if we don’t receive Christ, there are consequences,” Rosenberg warned.

e90122b747c138a358eb49854f70d5b8Is fear a new strategy for the Family Leader and its affiliated Family Research Council and Focus on the Family? Is it a response to flagging interest and political losses? Organizers said there were 1,200 attendees, and that there has been steady growth in three years. But many seats were empty. Is it a concession they’re losing the battle over abortion and gay rights? Abortion has not been completely outlawed, even under a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. Having succeeded in getting three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court voted out over same-sex marriage, a few years ago, the Family Leader failed in its more recent campaign against a fourth. Same-sex couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries with children and grandchildren, and the planet has survived.

What the planet might not ultimately survive – global warming – wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, if this were a true gathering of faith leaders, one might have expected some commitment to keeping the environment healthy, some compassion for the poor and immigrants. There were calls for abolishing the entire tax system that sustains the poor in times of need. There were calls for boosting border patrols to turn back young asylum seekers before their cases are heard. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, boasted of having cut 1,400 state employees and cut property taxes, which fund education, more than ever in Iowa history.

b31a8821deca5cc1cf34fe447a61cb1eBut if it were a political forum to vet candidates, a Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist one would have had no place there. In one video, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, said, “The only place you get right with God is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

 

As with the other links, I urge you to read it all. That blurred scene that distorts and disturbs….you can feel it!

On the ridiculous notion, I must say this could have been me: South Carolina Mom Arrested For Cursing In Front Of Her Kids

Parents, it looks like it’s time to be ever-vigilant about your choice of words. Dropping an F-bomb in front of your kids can land you in jail.

Mom Danielle Wolf was grocery shopping at a Kroger store in North Augusta, South Carolina when she was arrested for disorderly conduct after cursing in the presence of her two daughters, WJBF News Channel 6 reports.

According to the incident report from the North Augusta Department Of Public Safety, Wolf yelled at her children, told them to “stop squishing the f*cking bread,” and used “similar phrases multiple times.” Another woman at the store then approached the mother and asked her to stop using that language with her children.

 

7b0dd5e4b1f9666ab1d32a8c1f72e475But Wolf insists this is not what happened. “She’s like, ‘you told that they were smashing the bread’, and I said ‘no’ I said that to my husband, that he was smashing the bread by throwing the frozen pizzas on top of it,” she told WJBF.

But the woman, who was referred to “Ms. Smith” in the police report and later identified as “Michelle” by NBC affiliate WAGT, reported Wolf to the authorities, leading to the mother’s arrest for disorderly conduct.

“He was like, ‘You’re under arrest’… right in front of kids, in front of my husband, in front of customers,” Wolf told WJBF of the officer who approached her in the store. She added, “I didn’t harm nobody. I didn’t hurt nobody. The lady said she was having a bad day. So, because you’re having a bad day you’re going to ruin somebody’s life.”

Well, fuckadoodledoo!

Perhaps arresting the mother in front of her kids was more traumatic than telling the dumbass husband to stop “squishing the fucking bread.”

In the world of Amazon and the Washington Post, a buck is a buck: Bezos-owned Washington Post now inserting gross Amazon affiliate links into news articles | PandoDaily

Six paragraphs into the story, we find this…

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 6.32.53 PM

…a “buy it now” button, wedged into editorial copy and linked to an affiliate account of Amazon.

1eaa186b6b4ccd5bd8c7bca64ace6628A quick skim around the WaPost site suggests this is something the Post is doing with all of its book reviews now, as well as on news items and even letters to the editor. The link to the Roald Dahl book links to the Amazon affiliate ID “slatmaga-20″ (presumably short for Slate Magazine, per the Post’s ties with that publication). That ID can also be found in a link within this letter to the editor. Meanwhile, this music book review links to the Amazon affiliate ID “thewaspost-03″.

Despite the various IDs being used, one thing is very clear: The Washington Post now sees reviews of books, and even news reports about books, as fair game for selling those same to readers, editorial independence be dammed.

Shit. What do you think will come next?  Brought to you by Carl’s Jr. 

(Hope you get that commercial reference.)

 

This post is getting real…real…real long so let’s just link dump for a bit. After the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Reads: Snow Rage!

sick of winter smack a snowman

Good Morning!!

A few days ago, I posted a link to an article about a phenomenon brought on by the horrible winter of 2013-14–“Snow Rage.” I’m going to post the story again here, because this shocking behavior seems to be spreading. People who are disgusted and overwhelmed by endless snowstorms followed by shoveling have begun taking their anger out on snowplow drivers.

CBS Pittsburgh: ‘Snow Rage’ Pits Storm-Weary Residents Against Plow Drivers Just Trying To Do Jobs.

Eric Ramirez, a snow plow driver on Long Island, said an irate man went so far as to rack a shotgun Sunday and threaten to shoot him because he was piling snow in front of the man’s Manorhaven home.

“I see the guy is coming across the street; is coming to me. I say, ‘Hi.’ He talked to me,” Ramirez said, adding the man responded by saying he was coming to shoot him.

Raymond Hounigringer, 48, was charged with menacing in the incident.

In another example, “in Norwalk, Conn., Tony Thompson, also 48, was charged with assault for allegedly attacking a plow driver with a shovel.”

“They yell. They curse at you. They do all kind of stupidness,” said driver Zaheer Hussain. “They make snowballs and throw them at you.” ….

“It started with snowballs, and worked its way to branches; lids, anything they can find and now it’s to weaponry,” said Aero Snow Removal supervisor Sergio Vasquez.

Snowdrifts in North Dakota

Snowdrifts in North Dakota

CBS Pittsburgh also reported on a snow rage incident in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania: Man Puts Gun To Snow Plow Driver’s Head Over Snow Removal Dispute. According to the police report, Richard Eckert, 64, was arrested after he threatened a snowplow driver with two guns.

Police say Eckert became angry when the self-employed driver, John Abraham, accidentally pushed some snow into his yard while cleaning a neighbor’s driveway.

“I went like this to put it in park and there was a gun right here in my face,” Abraham said.

Eckert is then accused of taking a .22-calibur pistol out of his coat, and pressing it against Abraham’s cheek, telling him to remove the snow.

“He said, ‘what the (expletive) are you doing?’” said Abraham. “And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘you’re going to get a shovel and you’re shoveling that snow out of my yard and putting it back in the street.’”

Abraham says Eckert grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of his truck when he says Eckert put the gun in his face when he refused to get out.

As I’m sure you know, Boston is a very old city with many neighborhood that predate cars. People who live in the older parts of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, for example, have to park their cars on the street–there are no driveways or garages. Where I live now, everyone has driveways, but when I lived in Somerville in the 1970s and ’80s, parking spots were hard to come by after a snowstorm. It’s still that way today. Once people dig out a spot, they are understandably very protective of it. They leave old folding chairs, trash cans, and other large objects in the space to let people know not to park there; and if you dare to take the spot anyway, you’re likely to get a tire slashed or worse.

I had friend back then who was living in East Cambridge. One day she moved someone’s chairs out of a shoveled parking spot and proceeded to leave her car there for several days. I warned her when she first park there that she was asking for trouble, but she didn’t believe me. Even after the “owner” of the space left a not on her windshield telling her to move her car, she did nothing. When she finally wanted to drive her car, she found it with four slashed tires. She had to hire a flatbed truck to haul it away. I guess people do the same thing in other places.

Snowdrift in Minnesota

Snowdrift in Minnesota

From the Lehigh Valley News: Tires slashed in Allentown snow rage incident.

Following the recent surge of wintry weather, some Allentown residents have started using household items, like trashcans and chairs, to reserve parking spots they shoveled clean. An Allentown woman, who lives in the 400 block of North 10th Street, said she parked in one of those spots this week.

“I parked right next to the chair, I moved it and placed it on the sidewalk and parked there and went inside the home,” she said.

Really bad idea.

When she returned to her car the following day, she learned someone had taken it too far. “I jump in my car and start driving. Within four blocks from my house I feel that my car is driving funny,” she said. Her tires had been slashed. She said it was revenge for parking in a spot that she believes was fair game.

Sorry, lady. Shovel your own spot. Just read the comments on that story. That’s Snow Rage. There’s even a #SnowRage hashtag on Twitter now, and at the Boston Globe there is a Snow Rage Gauge to measure your level of anger.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Patrick Jonsson wrote about the #SnowRage phenomenon and attempted to explain why this winter has been so awful: While Atlanta adjusts to snow, Northerners shake fists at another winter storm.

At issue is a systematic barrage of so-called long-wave weather systems sweeping more deeply into the South than usual, creating a seemingly interminable run of weather across massive swaths of the land to the east of the Mississippi.

If Southerners – at least Southern schoolchildren – are growing used to this strange thing called snow, many Northerners are fed up. “Snow rage” is beginning to appear in tabloid headlines, amid news of shotguns being pulled on snowplow drivers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio complained after shoveling three times during last week’s storm that “the snow is getting really obnoxious.” ….

“Another week, another major winter storm. Literally that’s been the case in 2014, a year that is exactly six weeks old,” writes WPIX-TV reporter James Ford in New York. “The storm offers a chance to challenge some long established winter weather records. That’s small solace, however, for a metro area that’s grown weary of getting battered again and again by weather that’s severe, even for this season that’s supposed to be cold and snowy.” ….

The core engine of this storm pattern is a constant pumping of “long wave” weather systems pouring down out of Alaska every three to five days, pushing along cloudy low-pressure systems.

The trouble in particular has been a once-in-a-decade “statistical improbability” of cold and wet air that’s common in the snowy Midwest pressing more deeply than usual into the South, says National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Leary in Peachtree City, Ga.

As those storms move up and berate the North, the cycle continues. Rinse and repeat.

“These long waves are about three days apart, just a little more, and when that long wave moves down, there’s a pretty good jet of winds associated with it that push it along, and that’s when you get the weather,” Mr. Leary says.

Polar vortex of 2014

Polar vortex of 2014

The article also notes that many cities and states are running out of money to pay for snow removal. In addition, supplies of road salt are running out in a number of places.

That every three days thing is definitely happening here in Massachusetts. We had a huge storm on Thurs. Feb. 6, and another big on on on Thurs. Feb. 13. In between we’ve had smaller snowfalls every couple of days that are still enough that you have to shovel. Another storm is scheduled for this afternoon and overnight, and another is predicted for Tuesday. I don’t know how much more I can take.

It really hit me yesterday, because I had paid some guys $50 to shovel me out the night before. When they finished, I asked them to pile up the snow a bit more at the end of the driveway because I knew the snowplow would be coming during the night and would push a big pile of snow that blocked my car from getting out. This guy argued with me about it and they wouldn’t finish the job. I just didn’t have the strength to stand up to them.

Sure enough, I woke up yesterday morning and there was a foot of wet, packed snow at the end of my driveway. Not only that, more snow was coming down! I actually started to cry. I’m never hiring those guys again. I really hate being bullied; I’d rather shovel the damn snow myself.

Snowdrift in Antarctica

Snowdrift in Antarctica

I felt really down all day yesterday, and that’s when I started thinking about Snow Rage. It’s a real thing, and I’m going to have to deal with. I worked out some of my anger by shoveling most of the pile at the end of the drive way–enough so I can back over it. But I really need to be aware that this kind of weather creates a lot of stress. If you’re aware of it, you can work on your self-talk and counteract the depression and overwhelmed feelings.

Of course Snow Rage is not new. I found a Canadian article from 2008 that described incidents similar to those we are seeing this year.

Quebec City police say they received more than a dozen calls this winter from warring neighbors upset that snow was being shoveled onto their driveway or sidewalk by the folks next door.

The city was buried this winter in a record 460 centimeters (183 inches) of snow, and is running out of places to put the fluffy white powder until spring arrives and it melts.

In nearby Montreal, where residents are recovering from a ninth major snowstorm this season, a man was charged this week with threatening a fellow motorist with a toy gun over a rare parking spot on a snow-clogged street.

And in likely the worst case, an elderly Quebec City man pulled a 12-gauge shotgun on a female snowplow operator on Sunday for blowing snow onto his property, after warning her.

Even a psychologist weighed in:

“I’m seeing so much white that I’m seeing red,” echoed psychologist Luc Tremblay. “At some point, people feel overwhelmed, crushed. It’s playing on their morale and their nerves,” he told the Globe and Mail.

Yup, that’s the feeling: “overwhelmed, crushed,” and beaten down.

That’s all the news I have for you this morning, folks; snow has taken over my world. I’m depending you you to let me know if anything else is happening out there. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread; and if there’s snow in your future I hope you stay safe and warm.


Christmas Eve Reads

Christmas tree on Boston Common, 2013

Christmas tree on Boston Common, 2013

Good Morning!!

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. I’m not religious, so I can’t see the day as anything more than a secular holiday tradition when families get together. I do have happy childhood memories of the holiday; but like many other Americans, I find the excessive commercialization of the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day terribly annoying and depressing. I wouldn’t even mind if we could just celebrate the each holiday for a day or two, but instead we’re inundated with “the holidays” for more than a month.

At one time I liked listening to Christmas carols, and watch Christmas movies, but these days I try to avoid them–they’ve both been done to death by the media and corporations intent on grabbing as much of our money as they possibly can at the end of each year. I’ll be very glad when this week is over and we can get back to “normal.”

So . . . I’ve dug up some articles on the pagan origins of Christmas–I know you guys are aware of the history of the holiday, but it’s still fun to look at how our current traditions developed.

From TheStar.com (Canada) — Christmas traditions unwrapped: What do candy canes have to do with Christmas? Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? We get to the bottom of these yuletide customs. This article gathers together brief explanations for many of the common Christmas traditions and symbols. For example:

Why is the candy cane a symbol of Christmas? Legend has it that in the 1670s, the choirmaster of a cathedral in Cologne, Germany distributed candies shaped like a shepherd’s staff to children during the Christmas season. The idea was that the kids would make less noise if they were eating the large sweets. Their shape also enabled the candies to be hung from Christmas trees. SOURCE: The World Encyclopedia of Christmas

Why do we sing carols at Christmas? In the 13th century, Francis of Assisi, (who became the saint of animals and the environment after his death), wanted ordinary people to joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, so he added religious lyrics to popular tunes of the time. These energetic tunes were in sharp contrast to the solemn hymns sung by the priests at Christmas services. The word “carol” itself reflects uninhibited expression, deriving from the French word “caroler,” which means “dancing around in a circle.” SOURCE: How Stuff Works

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Mistletoe is a symbol of virility, but the tradition of kissing underneath it is believed to have its roots in a Scandinavian myth. Jealous of Baldur the Beautiful, the god of light and spring, Loki, god of mischief, used a dart poisoned with mistletoe to kill the unsuspecting Baldur. Distraught by the death of her son, Frigga, the goddess of love, decreed that mistletoe would never again be used as weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the British started hanging mistletoe at Christmas, hoping to bring Frigga’s good luck to anyone who kissed underneath it. SOURCE: Mental Floss

Next, a very cynical and snarky article from 2007 from Cracked.com — Pagan Orgies to Human Sacrifice: The Bizarre Origins of Christmas. Just a sample:

The Bible doesn’t give a lot of clues as to what time of the year the birth of Jesus happened (i.e., “… they met many travelers along the way, for it was just three days before the final game of the NFL Season…”) So, why December 25th? No one knows for sure.

One likely explanation is that early church leaders needed a holiday to distract Christians from the many pagan revelries occurring in late December. One of the revelries was The Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the Romans’ favorite agricultural god, Saturn. From December 17 until December 23, tomfoolery and pagan hijinks ensued, and by hijinks we mean gluttonous feasting, drunkenness, gambling and public nudity….

Our favorite morbidly obese, undiagnosed diabetic trespasser is actually a bastardization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, which was actually a bastardization of Saint Nikolas, the holier-than-thou Turkish bishop for whom the icon was named.

The actual saint was not, in fact, famous for making dispirited public appearances at shopping malls. Rather, he was known for throwing purses of gold into a man’s home in the cover of night so that the man wouldn’t have to sell his daughters into prostitution.

That should help you decide if you want to read the whole thing.

Finally, a short piece at Guardian Media on some individuals who have “opted out of Christmas.”

Television producer and writer Paolo Kernahan said life in the media forever ruined Christmas for him. He said: “Working as a journalist, I often had to work many Christmas days. It was very difficult to see other people and all of their merry-making while I was stuck in an office or, worse, forced to do stories about how people celebrate the season.” Kernahan, who is Catholic but “not particularly devout,” has nothing to do with it any more. “Now I cannot bear to hear any Christmas music and typically change the radio stations playing any sort of seasonal music. I don’t put up Christmas trees nor any other decorations. I certainly don’t do any shopping. A life in the media unfortunately ruined this time of year for me.” Before feeling this way, Kernahan said Christmas was a time to lime with loved ones.“Christmas for me was principally about spending time with friends and family. There is something very unique about the way in which Trinidadians celebrate Christmas. It is difficult to describe but the sort of vibe you get when you are mixing with friends and family is very special.”

I can identify with that. The weird thing is that, even though I find Christmas irritating, I’m also capable of getting sentimental and weepy this time of year because of the many memories I’ve stored in my subconscious over the years.

I’ve probably mentioned in the past that anxiety and depression run in my family. I was very anxious as a child and through much of my adulthood. Now, after years of therapy, I don’t experience a lot of free-floating anxiety, but I can still get anxious over problems and when anticipating social situation. I recall being depressed and having thoughs of suicide as early as 12-13. I was really depressed as a teenager and battled depression for many years. Frankly, Prozac saved my life.

That’s why I was fascinated by this article in the latest Atlantic by Scott Stossel, Surviving Anxiety: I’ve tried therapy, drugs, and booze. Here’s how I came to terms with the nation’s most common mental illness. It’s a long read, but here’s just a short excerpt:

I wish I could say that my anxiety is a recent development, or that it is limited to public speaking. It’s not. My wedding was accompanied by sweating so torrential that it soaked through my clothes and by shakes so severe that I had to lean on my bride at the altar, so as not to collapse. At the birth of our first child, the nurses had to briefly stop ministering to my wife, who was in the throes of labor, to attend to me as I turned pale and keeled over. I’ve abandoned dates; walked out of exams; and had breakdowns during job interviews, plane flights, train trips, and car rides, and simply walking down the street. On ordinary days, doing ordinary things—reading a book, lying in bed, talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, playing tennis—I have thousands of times been stricken by a pervasive sense of existential dread and been beset by nausea, vertigo, shaking, and a panoply of other physical symptoms. In these instances, I have sometimes been convinced that death, or something somehow worse, was imminent.

Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances; about work; about the rattle in my car and the dripping in my basement; about the encroachment of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing. Sometimes this worry gets transmuted into low-grade physical discomfort—stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, pains in my arms and legs—or a general malaise, as though I have mononucleosis or the flu. At various times, I have developed anxiety-induced difficulties breathing, swallowing, even walking; these difficulties then become obsessions, consuming all of my thinking.

I also suffer from a number of specific fears and phobias, in addition to my public-speaking phobia. To name a few: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and, naturally, vomiting while flying (aeronausiphobia).

Anxiety has afflicted me all my life. When I was a child and my mother was attending law school at night, I spent evenings at home with a babysitter, abjectly terrified that my parents had died in a car crash or had abandoned me (the clinical term for this is separation anxiety); by age 7 I had worn grooves in the carpet of my bedroom with my relentless pacing, trying to will my parents to come home. During first grade, I spent nearly every afternoon for months in the school nurse’s office, sick with psychosomatic headaches, begging to go home; by third grade, stomachaches had replaced the headaches, but my daily trudge to the infirmary remained the same. During high school, I would purposely lose tennis and squash matches to escape the agony of anxiety that competitive situations would provoke in me. On the one—the only—date I had in high school, when the young lady leaned in for a kiss during a romantic moment (we were outside, gazing at constellations through her telescope), I was overcome by anxiety and had to pull away for fear that I would vomit. My embarrassment was such that I stopped returning her phone calls.

Now that’s a serious anxiety disorder! The Atlantic article is an excerpt from Stossel’s new book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Coincidentally, Scott’s sister Sage, a cartoonist for The Atlantic, also has a new book, a graphic novel called Starling. Here’s the description of the book from Amazon.

For Amy Sturgess, life in the big city comes with trouble. Her marketing career is being derailed by a conniving coworker stealing her accounts. Her family crises range from her down-and-out brother running afoul of the law to her mother’s growing affections for the house cats. And Amy’s love life just flatlined thanks to an unexpected reunion with the one that got away–who’s now engaged.

When Xanax and therapy fail to relieve her stress, Amy does what any young woman in her position would do: She uses her superstrength, speed, flight, and ability to generate 750 volts from her hands to fight crime as the mysterious masked vigilante Starling. But while Starling is hailed as a superhero, will Amy remain a super-zero?

Apparently Sage also has psychological issues, according to The New York Times. They have a long family history of psychological disorders:

Scott’s book, published by Knopf, is a mix of memoir, medical history and modern manual of anxiety disorders. It traces six generations of family history brimming with nervous stomachs, depression, alcoholism and possible Oedipal complexes. His great-grandfather Chester Hanford, once the dean at Harvard College, was admitted to a mental institution in the late 1940s after experiencing acute anxiety. Twenty years later, his wife died from an overdose of scotch and sleeping pills.

Scott Stossel’s mother suffered from panic attacks and is afraid of heights, public speaking and vomiting. (His wife, Susanna, is an elementary-school teacher who is not prone to anxiety.)

Sage Stossel, who is 42 and married, said that, as a child, she was shy and socially anxious. She recalls becoming “utterly fixated” on a classmate’s criticism of her for being quiet.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, Scott and Sage’s uncle (their father’s brother) is the infamous right wing nut and Fox contributor John Stossel.

I’m out of space, but I’ll post some headlines in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same if you happen to stop by today. Have a wonderful holiday, no matter how you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate).


Lazy Saturday Afternoon News Reads

michael caine reading

Good Afternoon!!

It’s a perfect day to curl up with a great detective novel. As you can see, Michael Caine up there is deeply engrossed in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. Chandler is terrific for those of us who are connoisseurs of the hard-boiled school of mystery writers; I think his masterpiece was The Long Goodbye. I’ve read it multiple times. Here are a few great one-liners from the book:

“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.”

“The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.”

“I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”

“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little.”

Years later, another hard-boiled detective novelist, Ross MacDonald, wrote a kind of paeon to The Long Goodbye called The Goodbye Look, which I also enjoyed and have read more than once.

These days I tend to prefer female detectives and women writers, but I still prefer the hard-boiled types over the “cozy” ones.

There’s not a whole lot of exciting news out there, but I have a variety of recent reads for you to delve into today if you choose.

I wish John Boehner and Mitch McConnell would read this article in today’s New York Times, although it probably wouldn’t begin to melt their cold cold hearts: Restored Payroll Tax Pinches Those Who Earn the Least.

Jack Andrews and his wife no longer enjoy what they call date night, their once-a-month outing to the movies and a steak dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse in Augusta, Ga. In Harlem, Eddie Phillips’s life insurance payment will have to wait a few more weeks. And Jessica Price is buying cheaper food near her home in Orlando, Fla., even though she worries it may not be as healthy.

Like millions of other Americans, they are feeling the bite from the sharp increase in payroll taxes that took effect at the beginning of January. There are growing signs that the broader economy is suffering, too.

Chain-store sales have weakened over the course of the month. And two surveys released last week suggested that consumer confidence was eroding, especially among lower-income Americans.

While these data points are preliminary — more detailed statistics on retail sales and other trends will not be available until later this month — at street level, the pain from the expiration of a two-percentage-point break in Social Security taxes in 2011 and 2012 is plain to see.

“You got to stretch what you got,” said Mr. Phillips, 51, a front-desk clerk and maintenance man for a nonprofit housing group who earned $22,000 last year. “That little $20 or $30 affects you, especially if you’re just making enough money to stay above water.” So he has taken to juggling bills, skipping a payment on one this month and another next month.

Don’t I know it!

President Obama used his Saturday radio address to once again poke Congress to deal with the upcoming “sequester” cuts.

“If the sequester is allowed to go forward, thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or energy are likely to be laid off,” he said. “All our economic progress could be put at risk.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks echoed a statement issued by the White House Friday that warned the sequester would “threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class.”

But, as usual, Republicans are blaming Obama for the problem.

“We know the President’s sequester will have consequences,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement this week. “What we don’t know is when the President will propose a plan to replace the sequester with smarter spending cuts and reforms.”

Sigh…

I hope President Obama reads this op-ed in The Washington Post by Georgetown constitutional law professor David Cole. Cole is the author of the recent book The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable.

There are plenty of problems with President Obama’s targeted killings in the war against terrorism: The policy remains secret in most aspects, involves no judicial review, has resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, has been employed far from any battlefield and has sparked deep anti-American resentment in countries where we can ill afford it.

But when it comes to the particular legal issue raised in a recently leaked “white paper” from the Justice Department — namely, whether it is legal to kill Americans with drones — one problem looms largest: The policy permits the government to kill its citizens in secret while refusing to acknowledge, even after the fact, that it has done so.

There may be extraordinary occasions when killing a citizen is permissible, but it should never be acceptable for the government to refuse to acknowledge the act. How can we be free if our government has the power to kill us in secret? And how can a sovereign authority be accountable to the people if the sovereign can refuse to own up to its actions?

Cole likens Obama’s assassination policy to the “disappearances” in Argentina in the 1970s.

When Argentina’s military junta secretly abducted and killed its citizens during that country’s “dirty war” in the 1970s, the world labeled these acts “disappearances” and condemned them as violations of human rights. A disappearance is not just an abduction or killing, but an unacknowledged abduction or killing. To “disappear” citizens not only deprives them of their liberty or life without fair process but is deeply corrosive of democratic politics, casting a shadow of fear over all.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

I liked this piece by Gary Gutting at The New York Times, despite my initial hesitation to read anything by a professor at Notre Dame. I finally decided I shouldn’t condemn him by association over the ND football team scandals. Headlined “Depression and the Limits of Psychiatry,” it’s a philosophical discussion of the upcoming changes in the definition of depression in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Reads: Pardons and Prozac

Good Sunday Morning

I hope your weekend has been a happy one.

Today is one of those days that makes me want to relax. I really don’t want to read anything that will get me depressed, or angry. My guess is there are many readers who feel the same way I do.

So….this morning I have some interesting links for you, think of it as a taking a break.

First, I would like to send a message to one of our readers, she calls herself a lurker…but she is way more than that. ;)

Picture by Green Renaissance, click photo for link.

HT, I saw this photo on Kathy’s, aka Delphyne, Facebook page and immediately thought of you. Your personal strength far outshines the massive force of nature this image represents. Woman, you are amazing and I am very lucky to know you.

Actually, there are so many strong women (and men) who are part of the Sky Dancing family, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this blogging community.

Alright! Now for your morning reads, it seems that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has granted a pardon to a man who was scheduled for execution this month. Remember as you read the next couple of articles, this is the same board that refused to grant a pardon or commute the death sentence for Troy Davis.

Pardons board grants clemency to condemned Ga. man

The Georgia pardons board made the rare decision on Friday to spare the life of a condemned man who was set to die this week for the 1991 murder of his ex-classmate.

The move by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reduce Daniel Greene’s death sentence to life in prison without parole came days after the board stayed his execution. Greene was initially set to die on Thursday for the murder of 20-year-old Bernard Walker, who was fatally stabbed as he tried to help a store clerk attacked by Greene.

This is the fourth time the board has commuted a sentence of death since 2002. What could be the reason for this pardon?

…it came after an outpouring of support for the Taylor County man by community members, a change of heart by the prosecutor who tried the case against him and a powerful plea for mercy from the condemned man himself.

“I think Daniel’s remorse is very apparent. He’s led an exemplary life before and since these incidents,” said his defense attorney, Jeff Ertel. “It was an aberrant act surrounded by 20 years on each side of an outstanding life.”

Let me say I am against the death penalty. (Personally, living a life out in a small prison cell without a chance for parole is punishment enough.) So anytime a death sentence is commuted, there is only one response…this is a good thing.

My only thought is why could they not do this for Troy Davis? (Click this link to some of our previous posts on the topic of Troy Davis: troy davis —SkyDancingBlog.com  

Anyway, here is more background for you:

Greene, 42, has been on death row for almost 20 years. His crime spree began on Sept. 27, 1991, when he robbed clerk Virginia Wise at her Taylor County convenience store and then stabbed her through the lung. She survived the attack.

Moments later, Walker entered the store and tried to help Wise. Greene stabbed his former classmate through the heart before fleeing, leaving Walker to die in the store’s parking lot. Greene then went on to attack an elderly couple in nearby Macon County and another store clerk in Warner Robins before he was arrested.

A standout defensive lineman in high school, Greene had to be tried in Clayton County because of all the media coverage in his hometown. He was convicted in December 1992 of murder, robbery and assault and was sentenced to death.

This “crime spree” was attributed by Greene supporters as a…

“…drug-crazed transgression.”

Former Taylor County Sheriff Nick Giles called him a “beloved son” of the community, and a former corrections officer who knew Greene in prison said he was “as fine a man as I have ever met in my life.”

Greene also sent in a letter to the board expressing his remorse for the pain and suffering he caused Walker’s family.

“I was on drugs at the time, but I took the drugs with my hands, and I take the responsibility. That choice to do drugs and what I did after were the worst mistakes of my life,” he said in the letter. “I do not blame the drugs. I blame myself for everything.”

Again, I am happy his sentence was commuted…but there is a bit of something in the pit of my stomach…this board pardoned a man who admitted his crime, and is remorseful, yet they approve killing a man who protested his innocence and who was convicted of the crime by eyewitness testimony from a witness who may have been the actual murderer.

From another article, Georgia pardons board spares condemned killer Daniel Greene:

Greene

“We want to thank the board so much for their courage in this case,” one of Greene’s elated attorneys, Lindsay N. Bennett, said in a phone interview from Atlanta.

Greene, who had spent two decades on Georgia’s death row and already ordered his last meal, received the news Friday and appeared to be in shock, Bennett said.

There have been many reactions to the board’s decision.

Bob Bacle, the former Reynolds police chief who addressed the paroles board on behalf of the victims and planned to attend the execution, condemned the decision, saying justice had been subverted.

“What good was it to have a trial 21 years ago and then 21 years later five folks on the board of pardons can second-guess a jury?” Bacle said. “That’s what we’ve got a system of justice for. What does this tell criminals out there coming along now?”

Former Taylor County Sheriff Nick Giles offered a more neutral reaction.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Giles, who had advocated capital punishment in the case when Greene was arrested. “The parole board, they know more about what the past 21 years has been like than I do.”

Bacle obviously does not hold the same opinion as many who read this blog…and we heard lots of similar arguments when Troy Davis was hours from death.

Mark Shelnutt, a Columbus attorney who helped prosecute Greene, told the paroles board on Tuesday that a key factor in seeking capital punishment against Greene had been that life without parole was not an option for Georgia juries at the time.

“Obviously, life without parole is no slap on the hand,” Shelnutt said. “He’s never going to get out of jail.”

So, the board made the right decision this time. Good. I am glad. But why could they not make the right decision with Troy Davis? We cannot forget him…or forget the fact that a man was sent to death strictly on the basis of witness testimony, and without physical evidence that he was involved in the crime. No, let us not forget.

Sigh…

Moving on, there have been some recent studies regarding breast cancer that I feel is worth writing about. First we have an article that discusses how scientist have genetically mapped the disease which can lead to more accurate diagnoses and treatment. Breast cancer treatment gets boost

The treatment of breast cancer could be revolutionised with patients offered more accurate diagnoses and better-targeted treatments after a study in which scientists genetically mapped the disease.

The research found that rather than being a single disease, breast cancer can be classified into 10 distinct types. It also identified several new genes that determine the aggressiveness of the cancer.

The breakthrough had been hailed by charities as a step towards the “holy grail” of tailoring treatments to the needs of individual patients.

The findings of the research, in which scientists examined 2,000 tumours in the largest ever genetic study of breast cancer tissue, could help predict patients’ chances of survival more accurately and lead to the development of more effective drugs for each cancer type.

Exciting huh?

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a landmark study that really changes the way we think about breast cancer – no longer as one disease but actually as 10 quite distinct diseases, dependent on which genes are switched on and which ones aren’t for an individual woman.
“What this research will help us to do is make a much more accurate, much more precise, diagnosis for every patient with breast cancer in the future.

“That will enable us to make sure that we really target the right treatment to the right woman based on those who are going to benefit, or if they’re not going to benefit, not exposing them to the side-effects associated with those treatments.
“That will enable us to make much more progress in breast cancer in coming years.”

Another link from Guardian describes the possibilities of new drugs for the fight against breast cancer.  Breast cancer study could lead to new generation of drugs for the disease | Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK  This article is written by Dr. Kumar, which was quoted above. He begins his essay with the advances we have seen in Breast Cancer survival rates and treatments.

Scientific research has been at the heart of this progress, and much of this improved survival is due to drugs that have emerged from laboratories worldwide. Hormone drugs like tamoxifen, and targeted treatments like trastuzumab (better known as Herceptin), have saved thousands of lives.

At Cancer Research UK we’re proud to have supported the clinical work that refined tamoxifen use, and the laboratory work in the 1980s that ultimately led to the development of Herceptin.

However, these drugs don’t work for some women: their tumours lack the molecules that make them susceptible. And others, whose tumours look like they should respond, don’t – and we don’t know why.

Clearly, our classification of breast cancers as hormone-positive or negative, and Her2-positive or negative, is far too simplistic.

Which brings us to today’s landmark announcement. Our researchers, working with colleagues in Canada, have completely redefined breast cancer into 10 entirely new categories. To achieve this, the METABRIC team, led jointly by Prof Carlos Caldas from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and Prof Sam Aparicio from the British Columbia Cancer Centre in Canada, analysed tumours from nearly 2,000 women.

What makes METABRIC such a game changer is that they analysed so many different aspects of the tumours – gene mutations, gene amplifications, gene activity and more – and linked this information to the women’s treatment history, and their clinical fates. This is the first study of this level of detail and scale in the world.

And these results have significant meaning in the fight against breast cancer.

First, they confirm that our existing “breast cancer map” is outdated – there should be 10 “countries”, not four “continents” – and this is now territory we need to urgently explore. For example, one of the newly discovered types consisted of women with apparently aggressive cancers who actually did very well. Closer inspection showed that these women were rescued by their own immune systems. We urgently need to know how.

Second, the study identified a slew of new cancer genes, which will make excellent targets for a new generation of Herceptin-like drugs. We hope that, one day, drugs will exist for all these subgroups, so no woman will ever have to be told she has the “wrong” type of breast cancer.

And finally, the results suggest that some women have such a good prognosis that they could potentially be spared chemotherapy after their surgery.

Kumar continues to stress the need for more research, and the time involved in developing new treatments. But the over all feel is a positive one, in that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to breast cancer research.

I’ve got one more link for you about another study involving breast cancer. This time from my alma mater University of South Florida: Cancer therapies affect cognitive functioning among breast cancer survivors

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center and colleagues at the University of South Florida and University of Kentucky have found that breast cancer survivors who have had chemotherapy, radiation or both do not perform as well on some cognitive tests as women who have not had cancer.

They published their study in the April 1 issue of Cancer.

“Survivors of breast cancer are living longer, so there is a need to better understand the long-term effects of cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation,” said study lead author Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D., associate center director for Population Sciences.

To carry out their study, the researchers recruited 313 women being treated by either chemotherapy or radiotherapy for early stage breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. Those who had undergone treatment for cancer were tested six months after treatment and then tested again 36 months after having completed treatment.

They also recruited a control group of women who did not have cancer. These participants were also tested at six months and 36 months.

Participants in all groups were within five years of age, and breast cancer patients were matched with non-cancer patients who lived in their same ZIP codes. Participants were tested cognitively with respect to processing speed (quick task completion under pressure), executive functioning (ability to shift cognitive sets and solve novel problems), the two domains expected to be most affected by chemotherapy. They were also tested with regard to verbal abilities.

“Our findings were partially consistent with prior research,” explained Jacobsen. “We found that chemotherapy-treated patients performed worse than non-cancer controls in processing speed, executive functioning and verbal ability. These domains may be the domains most affected by chemotherapy.”

Just a side note, Moffitt is an excellent research facility. My father was part of a study there when he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 1991, at the age of 44.  Anyway, back to the study:

The also found test results for the radiotherapy group to be similar to the results of those in the chemotherapy group. Additionally, they discovered that the non-cancer group improved in these cognitive abilities over time while the chemotherapy and radiotherapy groups did not. There were no differences in performance between the radiotherapy and chemotherapy groups, noted the researchers.

The researchers commented that they were fortunate for having included the radiotherapy groups because their results were so similar to the chemotherapy group. Had that group not been included, conclusions could have been drawn to suggest that the cognitive differences between the non-cancer group and the chemotherapy group were specific to chemotherapy.

“Since patients report cognitive problems that interfere with their daily activities, early workups should include tests to determine cognitive functioning prior to treatment,” concluded Jacobsen. “Future research also needs to investigate factors that may affect both chemotherapy patients and those receiving radiotherapy. Providers may wish to communicate that such effects can accompany chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”

Just a few more links for you this morning, and since this is becoming a rather long post we will make them quick ones.

I am going to stick with the health issues theme for a little longer. Two articles for you from the New York Times.

The Science and History of Treating Depression -

Few medicines, in the history of pharmaceuticals, have been greeted with as much exultation as a green-and-white pill containing 20 milligrams of fluoxetine hydrochloride — the chemical we know as Prozac. In her 1994 book “Prozac Nation,” Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote of a nearly transcendental experience on the drug. Before she began treatment with antidepressants, she was living in “a computer program of total negativity . . . an absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest.” She floated from one “suicidal reverie” to the next. Yet, just a few weeks after starting Prozac, her life was transformed. “One morning I woke up and really did want to live. . . . It was as if the miasma of depression had lifted off me, in the same way that the fog in San Francisco rises as the day wears on. Was it the Prozac? No doubt.”

Like Wurtzel, millions of Americans embraced antidepressants. In 1988, a year after the Food and Drug Administration approved Prozac, 2,469,000 prescriptions for it were dispensed in America. By 2002, that number had risen to 33,320,000. By 2008, antidepressants were the third-most-common prescription drug taken in America.

Fast forward to 2012 and the same antidepressants that inspired such enthusiasm have become the new villains of modern psychopharmacology — overhyped, overprescribed chemicals, symptomatic of a pill-happy culture searching for quick fixes for complex mental problems.

Take a look at the rest of this interesting article by clicking that link above.

Here is another link about mind altering drugs, this time the discussion focuses on How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death and how a study being performed by:

…Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center who was administering psilocybin — an active component of magic mushrooms — to end-stage cancer patients to see if it could reduce their fear of death. Twenty-two months before she died, Sakuda became one of Grob’s 12 subjects. When the research was completed in 2008 — (and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry last year) — the results showed that administering psilocybin to terminally ill subjects could be done safely while reducing the subjects’ anxiety and depression about their impending deaths.

Grob’s interest in the power of psychedelics to mitigate mortality’s sting is not just the obsession of one lone researcher. Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School, used MDMA — also known as ecstasy — in an effort to ease end-of-life anxieties in two patients with Stage 4 cancer. And there are two ongoing studies using psilocybin with terminal patients, one at New York University’s medical school, led by Stephen Ross, and another at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where Roland Griffiths has administered psilocybin to 22 cancer patients and is aiming for a sample size of 44. “This research is in its very early stages,” Grob told me earlier this month, “but we’re getting consistently good results.”

Again, I urge you to read the entire piece.

This next link is from Time magazine…VA to Add 1,900 to Mental-Health Staff that is good news, however bittersweet…good news for soldiers returning from war, they will get the care they so desperately need…but with a touch of sadness that there experiences could have been avoided in the first place.

And now, we get to enjoy a couple of items from…

Minx’s Missing Link File: Okay, these are a bit on the “old” side, I had bookmarked the following articles before my surgery. However, they are still damn good. Just a tease from each…you can click the links to read further.

From Their Graves, Ancient Nomads Speak an article from the New York Times:

Z. Samashev/A. Kh. Margulan Institute of Archaeology, Almaty

PRESERVED Some of the most illuminating discoveries dispelling notions that nomadic societies were less developed than many sedentary ones are now coming from burial mounds, called kurgans, in the Altai Mountains of eastern Kazakhstan, near the borders with Russia and China.

Ancient Greeks had a word for the people who lived on the wild, arid Eurasian steppes stretching from the Black Sea to the border of China. They were nomads, which meant “roaming about for pasture.” They were wanderers and, not infrequently, fierce mounted warriors. Essentially, they were “the other” to the agricultural and increasingly urban civilizations that emerged in the first millennium B.C.

British postwar design: Immaculate conceptions –  an article from The Independent:

 How much has British design changed since 1948? The poster for the so-called Austerity Olympics in London that year showed a statuesquely naked athlete, coiled and about to release his discus towards Parliament. In 2012, the Olympic logo is designed to allow sponsors’ corporate colours to be used in the symbol. How did we get from a broadly civic, welfare-minded postwar design culture to 21st century design industries whose essential purpose is to make as much money as possible?

It’s a complicated story and the V&A’s new blockbuster show, British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, is timely and ambitious. Its 300-plus exhibits sample the genetic material of design through this 64-year period, and Christopher Breward and Ghislaine Wood have curated a series of overlapping windows on tradition, modernity, subversion and latter-day innovation.

And finally…

Your Easy like Sunday Morning link of the week: This too is from a couple of weeks ago. The artist Tashi Mannox, who has graciously allowed us to use his painting of Clouds as our blog’s banner, is also well-known for his calligraphy. Specifically the kind of art that expresses itself as tattoos. I recently commissioned a tattoo design from Tashi, and as I await the fun that is involved in the design process, I wanted to share with you a link to Tashi’s blog. He recently traveled to the Middle East to participate in an exhibition of Calligraphy artist.

RELATED TIBETAN SCRIPTS: Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial

Every two years the government of Sharjah holds a prestigious event called the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial. For the second term running Tashi Mannox has been invited to exhibit his contemporary Tibetan calligraphy along-side not only Islamic calligraphy works from across Arab world but from other international destinations.
This year Tashi attended the opening celebrations where he met with eminent Sheikhs and other participants from Japan, Morocco, Norway and the USA.
More than a 100 works by 160 artists is showcased during the month of April 2012 at the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial that is located at the Calligraphy Square Museum and the Sharjah Art Gallery.

There are some cool pictures at the link, and Tashi has some wonderful observations he has written about as well…so please head on over and check it out.

Well, that is one hefty post for you…I am sure you can add more interesting links to articles you are reading about today….so, enjoy your Sunday morning and I will catch you later in the comments below!


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

We’ve had some cold gloomy weather down here in New Orleans.  I hope all those bowl game tourists brought their coats. It’s made for a depressing weekend.  It seems like most of the news I’ve been finding matches the weather too.  Another presidential election year is upon us and we’re looking at the Grinch getting the Republican nomination. Soon, all poor children will be required to mine the coal so the Grinch can place them in every one’s stockings. Well, that’s the east coast poor children.  Those poor children in the middle of the country will be fattening up turkeys for the 1 percent to eat.  I’ll bet Mitch can make a $10,000 bet on which of the kids will have it worse!

First up is an interesting read from the Business Insider that once again shoots down the meme that the rich create jobs.  There are so many economic fairy tales around these days it’s hard to know which one to shoot down next. The bottom line is pretty much something we’ve talked about for some time.  If you build it and no one comes, you don’t create anything but one more bankruptcy.  It’s the consumer demand that creates economic growth.

The most important reason the theory that “rich people create the jobs” is absurd, argues Nick Hanauer, the founder of online advertising company aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6.4 billion, is that rich people do not create jobs, even if they found and build companies that eventually employ thousands of people.

What creates the jobs, Hanauer astutely observes, is the company’s customers.

The company’s customers create demand for the company’s products, which, in turn, creates the need for the employees to produce, sell, and service those products. If those customers go broke, the demand for the company’s products will collapse. And the jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneur does.

That’s actually some good common sense but it’s backed up by economic theory.  Supply without demand just rots in the fields and molds in the warehouse.  Which brings me to Paul Krugman who says it’s time to call this economic situation a depression.  That’s also something we’ve bandied about here.  I’d say skydancers are pretty prescient, wouldn’t you?

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.

On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it’s important not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unemployment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn’t be dismissed just because there’s no Hitler in sight.

Krugman takes the rest of the column outlining some of the abysmal politics and economics in Europe.  I just keep checking the calendar to see if we some how time tripped back to the 1930s and some how forget what we learned the last time out.  Looking at things from a war build-up point a view, there’s this link to “Obama Raises the Military Stakes: Confrontation on the Borders with China and Russia” from Global Research. This is how some leftwing thinkers see the latest in US outreach in Asia.

November 2011 is a moment of great historical import: Obama declared two major policy positions, both having tremendous strategic consequences affecting competing world powers.

Obama pronounced a policy of military encirclement of China based on stationing a maritime and aerial armada facing the Chinese coast – an overt policy designed to weaken and disrupt China ’s access to raw materials and commercial and financial ties in Asia . Obama’s declaration that Asia is the priority region for US military expansion, base-building and economic alliances was directed against China , challenging Beijing in its own backyard. Obama’s iron fist policy statement, addressed to the Australian Parliament, was crystal clear in defining US imperial goals.

“Our enduring interests in the region [Asia Pacific] demands our enduring presence in this region … The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay … As we end today’s wars [i.e. the defeats and retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan]… I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority … As a result, reduction in US defense spending will not … come at the expense of the Asia Pacific” (CNN.com, Nov. 16, 2011).

The precise nature of what Obama called our “presence and mission” was underlined by the new military agreement with Australia to dispatch warships, warplanes and 2500 marines to the northern most city of Australia ( Darwin ) directed at China . Secretary of State Clinton has spent the better part of 2011 making highly provocative overtures to Asian countries that have maritime border conflicts with China . Clinton has forcibly injected the US into these disputes, encouraging and exacerbating the demands of Vietnam , Philippines , and Brunei in the South China Sea . Even more seriously, Washington is bolstering its military ties and sales with Japan , Taiwan , Singapore and South Korea , as well as increasing the presence of battleships, nuclear submarines and over flights of war planes along China ’s coastal waters. In line with the policy of military encirclement and provocation, the Obama-Clinton regime is promoting Asian multi-lateral trade agreements that exclude China and privilege US multi-national corporations, bankers and exporters, dubbed the “Trans-Pacific Partnership”. It currently includes mostly smaller countries, but Obama has hopes of enticing Japan and Canada to join …

Obama’s presence at the APEC meeting of East Asian leader and his visit to Indonesia in November 2011 all revolve around efforts to secure US hegemony. Obama-Clinton hope to counter the relative decline of US economic links in the face of the geometrical growth of trade and investment ties between East Asia and China .

Pakistan is threatening to shoot down all US drones. Tis the season to be jolly!!!

According to the new Pakistani defense policy, “Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down,” a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.

The policy change comes just weeks after a deadly NATO attack on Pakistani military checkpoints accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, prompting Pakistani officials to order all U.S. personnel out of a remote airfield in Pakistan

I wonder if people in North Dakota have the same option?  Here’s the Daily Mail headline on your Daily Moment of Orwell: Local cops using Predator drones to spy on Americans in their own backyards.

One of the only confirmed uses of predator drones by local law enforcement came in June when a sheriff near Grand Forks, North Dakota, went looking for six stolen cattle.

When he arrived at the farm of Rodney Brossart, he was threatened by three men with guns and forced to retreat.

The Brossarts were known for being armed, anti-government separatists. So Sheriff Kelly Janke, who patrols a county of just 3,000 people, called in a Predator drone to look out over the 3,000-acre farm where the family was armed with rifles and shotguns.

With the help of a drone, summoned from nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base where it was patrolling the US-Candida border, the sheriff was able to watch the movements of everyone on the farm from a handheld device that picked up the aircraft’s video footage.

He and his deputies waited until they could see the Brossarts put down their weapons. Then they stormed the compound and arrested Rodney Brossart, his daughter and his three sons on a total of 11 felony charges. No shots were fired.

And he recovered the cattle, valued at $6,000.

The sheriff says that might not have been possible without the intelligence from the Predators.

‘We don’t have to go in guns blazing. We can take our time and methodically plan out what our approach should be,’ Sheriff Janke told the Times.

All of the surveillance occurred without a search warrant because the Supreme Court has long ruled that anything visible from the air, even if it’s on private property, can be subject to police spying.

Back to the Grinch that’s stealing Willard’s inevitability.

The NBC News-Marist polls showed Gingrich leading Romney in South Carolina by 42 percent to 23 percent. An October poll by the same organizations showed Gingrich at 7 percent in the Palmetto State. In Florida, Gingrich leads Romney 44 percent to 29 percent. There Gingrich has gained 38 percentage points since October.

The rapid movement highlights the remarkable rise of Gingrich as the caucuses and primaries near. Republican voters have shifted allegiances repeatedly this year and a number of state polls have shown that they are not firmly locked in behind any candidate at this point.

In New Hampshire on Sunday, Romney picked up the endorsement of Manchester Mayor Ted Gastas. But he was the target of a scathing editorial in the Union Leader, which earlier endorsed Gingrich. The headline read “Romney’s desperate hours.”

January’s coming and sooner or later, some of these folks are going to run out of money.  There seems to be quite a few irrelevant candidates in the race right now.  Maybe super Jeb is waiting in the wings? So here’s a good way we now MIttens is tres desperate.  Here’s the TPM headline: Romney Presses Ann Coulter Into Surrogate Duty.

Turn on the radio here and you’re going to get a taste of how hard Mitt Romney is working to stamp out Newt Gingrich’s support with conservatives.

In a new radio ad launched by the Romney campaign in Iowa last week, Romney turns to conservative fire-breather Ann Coulter to make the case that he’s the most electable candidate in the Republican race. Having made a living off saying things that no politician would likely wish to be closely associated with, it’s an interesting choice — and a sign that Romney is going all out to cast himself as the more pure conservative choice to Gingrich.

Coulter endorsed Romney a month ago (after dissing him before that) and the Romney ad grabs a clip of her talking up her candidate on Fox and Friends in November.

Here’s a ghost of nightmares past.  Noriega has been extradited to Panama for trial. The link goes to a BBC TV report.

The former leader of Panama, General Manuel Noriega, has returned to his home country 22 years after being forcibly removed from power by the US.

The 77-year-old was extradited from France, where he had been in prison on money laundering charges.

He is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail after being convicted in absentia for murder, corruption and embezzlement while he was in power.

OOOH, baby it’s cold outside.


What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Nicholas Kristof Suddenly Discovers the Unemployment Crisis

I probably shouldn’t pick on Nicholas Kristof, because I guess as media elites go, he’s one of the least offensive. But really, his latest column just about sent me out into the street screaming and tearing my hair out. The piece is titled “Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment?”

WHEN I’m in New York or Washington, people talk passionately about debt and political battles. But in the living rooms or on the front porches here in Yamhill, Ore., where I grew up, a different specter wakes friends up in the middle of the night.

It’s unemployment.

I’ve spent a chunk of summer vacation visiting old friends here, and I can’t help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — that’s more than 16 percent of the work force — but jobs haven’t been nearly high enough on the national agenda.

Duh! I have a question for Captain Obvious Nick Kristof: Is the Pope Catholic? Here’s another one: Does a bear sh*t in the woods? Yes, Nick. You and your pals dropped the ball, missed the boat, and every other metaphorical cliche you can think of. Yes. And it’s way too late for your mealy-mouthed *concern* to make a difference.

What is wrong with these people? Kristof goes on to provide a few examples of people he knows in Oregon who are suffering from joblessness and hopelessness. Frankly, I found his little anecdotes rather patronizing. Maybe I’m being too hard on him, but really, if this man claims to be a “journalist,” why didn’t he recognize years ago that unemployment was a huge problem for the American people and for the economy as a whole? Kristof’s half-hearted prescriptions for solutions aren’t much better than Obama’s:

There are no quick fixes to joblessness, but Washington could temporarily make federal money available to pay for teachers who are otherwise being laid off. We could increase spending on service programs like AmeriCorps that have far more applicants than spots.

We could extend the payroll tax cut, which expires at the end of December. Astonishingly, Republicans in Congress seem to be lined up instinctively against this basic economic stimulus. Could the Tea Party actually favor tax reductions for billionaires but not for working Americans? Could we have found a tax increase the Republican Party favors?

Mr. Obama, with 25 million Americans hurting, will you fight — really fight! — to put jobs at the top of the national agenda?

Give me a break! Obama isn’t going to fight for anything except his own reelection and keeping his wealthy donors happy. And Nick Kristof, after tossing of a facile column in which he pretends to care about struggling Americans, will return to Washington and New York, smile his self-satisfied smile, and continue to ignore the depth of what is really happening to our country.

Why doesn’t The New York Times hire Jeffrey Kaye, who writes about important topics like torture? Joblessness can be a kind of torture too, and a couple of weeks ago, Kaye wrote a fine article about the links between unemployment, depression, and suicide.

When considering the effects of unemployment, and the desultory, really uncaring response of the current Democratic administration, as well as Republicans in Congress, to the human devastation of joblessness, it is important to consider the terrible emotional and psychological effects of such unemployment. Such effects are well-documented, but rarely mentioned in articles or blog postings.

A well-regarded 2010 study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, “The Anguish of Unemployment,” quantified the tremendous emotional suffering engendered by unemployment. “‘The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally,’ wrote one respondent to the survey.” ….

Just last April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study that showed that suicide rates rise and fall in tandem with the business cycle.

Kaye, a clinical psychologist actively working with clients, says he has seen the devastating effects of joblessness in his own practice since the financial crisis. He writes:

Unemployment is deadly. The effects of the capitalist boom-and-bust system seriously damage millions of lives. But with an almost daily bombast of propaganda about terrorism, the populace lives in fear, while wondering how they will make their bills, ground down between anxiety over ghostly terrorists and eviction, or how to put gas in their car, or afford a bus pass. Hopelessness stalks the land, not Al Qaeda. And yet the politicians in D.C. care little or nothing about the suffering their policies cause. Indeed, their pockets are lined with campaign donations from corporations that routinely layoff hundreds of thousands, and ship many thousands more jobs overseas.

Callous disregard for human lives is what links the terrible policies of war and torture with the policies of neglect and indifference towards the jobless. Such callousness is the by-product of a get-rich-quick ethos that worships profit over all else, over worship of a capitalist system that has brought about terrible world wars, massive depressions, colonial atrocities, and even genocide. U.S. society awaits its turn through the meat-grinder of history.

That is the kind of writing I’d like to see on the op-ed page of the NYT. Of course I know it will never happen. The elite media, the out-of-touch political class, and their wealthy enablers must not be made to feel even slightly uncomfortable about the effects of their actions–not even for the few minutes it takes to read a newspaper column.