Writing, Books, Painting, Politics, Neuroplasticity

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How To Defeat The Drug Lords That Control Afghanistan and other related issues

This is going to be pretty short, actually.

Afghanistan is controlled by drug lords.  Thugs.  They get their power from money and they get their money from selling poppies. 

Money can be removed from the equation by legalizing drug use.  You are saying, but this opens an even bigger can of worms. 

In the short run, perhaps.  But an addiction is an addiction.  People did not stop drinking alcohol during prohibition; they just made bootleggers rich or moved to Europe for the duration. 

Our tender children might be exposed to drugs?  They already are.  Alcohol is quasi-controlled by age.  A certain percentage of humans do have a propensity to alcohol addiction, and it is dreadful, but can be avoided by not drinking.  This is difficult, I know, but it is doable.  I believe that it is medically possible to function as a heroin addict, when heroin is legally available, than it is to function as an alcoholic.  Here is a link about legal heroin use in Switzerland, which took me a second to find.  I am sure you can find more just as quickly.  http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/563/switzerland_heroin_prescription_marijuana_vote  And more on various aspects of this approach, socially or medically oriented. 

Are bootleggers making a ton of money now in the U.S.?  No.  But they did spawn organized crime.  I suppose that would continue to exist in Afghanistan if drugs were not a revenue. 

Certainly, the education and empowerment of girls and women are the primary issue, here.   My forthcoming novel, THIS SHARED DREAM, which won’t be out for a year or so, describes one possible approach to furthering this goal. 

But for now, why must the world throw money at these people?

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October 6, 2009   No Comments

Getting To Kalalau: What Really Happened, and The Mechanics of Writing

In 1988, I published an aticle in the Washington Post about a hike my husband and I undertook in the spring of 1988 on the famous Kalalau Trail.  It is posted in the travel section of my web site, www.goonan.com, and many tourist sites in Hawaii have linked to it.  I therefore still get about one letter a month asking my advice about Captain Zodiac, etc.  It was also picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle, a nice surprise, which I only found out about when I got a check in the mail for it.  A friend of ours read it, but since I never changed my name, and she only knew my husband’s last name, and because the photo of me was from behind, she never knew it was about us until we visited her ten years later.

The Kalalau Trail is almost twelve miles long, up and down.  The up traverses, sometimes, those clear, high, oceanside cliffs that are bare of vegetation.  Wild goats?  High winds?  I don’t know.  But this is also within a mile or two of the rainiest place on earth, which is not very accessible.  When we lived in Honolulu in the early sixties, a friend of my father’s had the job of parachuting into that place, once a month, to read the rain meter, and then hiked out, to be picked up by a boat. 

These cliffs don’t have much of an angle to them.  They are almost straight up and down, and weave in and out along the coast.  There are no roads to Kalalau.  After the trail ends, there is another long stretch of coastline before a road, which, I think, ends at Barking Sands, where there was, in the eighties at least, a military installation.  Yes, when you ran across the hot sands, they barked beneath your feet, something about the size of the grains. 

The down part of the trail often crosses one of the infinite number of creeks or waterfalls that drop to the sea, hundreds of feet below.  Verdant, lush, rainforest, big-leaved plants, tropical flowers a-g0-go, the whole nine yards.  Wilderness. 

I broke my legs on one of those little incurves.  We were about five miles from the end.  Pre-cell-phone.

We’d walked the trail the previous fall, and this time, we had made reservations to be zodiaced in.  You have to get a permit to camp on the beach, and just to be there, but there were and probably are plenty of squatters back in the Kalalau Valley, home of ghost groves of breadfruit, fruit trees, and other food sources planted by previous long-time squatters, some of them famous. 

I had an agreement with the editor of the Aloha Airlines In-Flight magazine to hike up into the valley, take some photos, and do a piece about it–about the famously prosecuted leper back when all Hawaiians with Hanson’s Disease were rounded up and quarantined for life on Molokai.  He refused to leave his wife and family, and hid out there.  He shot–and killed–a sheriff who was after him, and after that, he was left alone.  Of course, Hawaiians had lived there at one time, and the valley was probably terraced taro fields and the narrow coastal area laced with fish-farming pools.  But tsunamis are not uncommon there, and even a normal winter storm can whip up sixty-foot waves.  When they rush up a narrow valley bounded by sheer cliffs thousands of feet high, there’s nowhere to go. 

On that morning, Captain Zodiac cancelled because of high surf.  One of his services was dropping off packs at the beach so that hikers could get there unencumbered, but we became aware that there were people there with no food, etc., because they were without their packs.  I wanted to hike in anyway; I had a story to write.  but we got a late start and decided to camp near the trail when night fell.  It really does fall, at that latitude, suddenly.  No problem.  The next morning, about ten minutes after we set off, my foot rolled on a twig or rock on the trail and I fell.  I heard the bone snap as I went down.  I was in pretty good shape; I’d been running four miles a day for well over a year, but I had pronated a few months earlier, spraining my ankle.  The runners among you will understand that being unable to run filled me with great anxiety, but actually, healing is faster if one continues to use the ankle, which I did, aided by an air-splint.  So I knew my left ankle was weak, and I think that my left leg is shorter than my right anyway. 

I dusted myself off.  There wasn’t much we could do.  I could wait there to be carried out on a litter or something equally extravagant, but it was just the fibula, I learned later, and it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as the sprained ankle had.  My husband fashioned me a strong hiking stick, shouldered both our packs, and I hobbled along behind him.  There is something about looking out at the vast, blue  Pacific from hundreds of feet above that takes one’s mind off anything minor.  It was a pleasant hike, and it’s all in the article. 

Once we got there, we found a group of rangers who had helicoptered in cases of beer.  They had spent the night partying with a crowd of nurses from a Honolulu hospital and–oh, yes, checking permits.  Their pickup was due in a few minutes, and they told me that they could fly me out, and if my leg really was broken, the state would pay for it.  If it wasn’t, it would cost $500.00.  The nurses all said, oh, you couldn’t walk if it was broken, and so on, but I knew it was; I’d heard it snap. 

I decided to stay anyway.  I didn’t know when I’d be back, and I haven’t been back since.  I was unable to hike back into the valley, which was disappointing, but it was stunningly beautiful there anyway.  I had some motrin. 

The next morning, the surf was still plenty high, but the zodiac boat showed up.  I think they sent in a small boat with the packs, which got upset, and we who were leaving had to swim out to the boat, which I did.  A lovely swim; a tremendous ride back along the cliffs, during which the pilot took us through a few caves.  In the article, I wrote about the legend of the woman who had lived at Kalalau but then swam back to Honalei, twelve miles, through shark-infested waters, towing her two kids on a surfboard.  I got an email a few months ago from someone who said that was true; he used to date the woman.  I told him I’d post it here, and I will, when I get around to it.

I didn’t mention the broken leg in the Post article.

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September 28, 2009   2 Comments

A Plan for Afghanistan

Here’s my blueprint for change in Afghanistan. 

And for everywhere, to tell the truth.

Let’s spend our money creating Internet access everywhere, and give it away, free, to everyone.  Let’s spend our money to create non-indoctrinating content that is useful to toddlers all the way to deep age/wisdom/continued mental growth and sharpness. 

For toddler content, embed feedback that mimics a learning environment designed to sync with every minute stage of the continuum through which all of us have passed to reach the place where we can read this, and where I can write it.  This involves spatial, directional (left-right or right-left, or up-down); concrete to abstract, perhaps tangible objects that a toddler might assemble from any environment–stones to count and add and manipulate; objects with their  names in the native language that echo pronunciation and help language to emerge, a wealth of stories if adults are working or absent, and music, music, music.  A portable, durable, cheap, replaceable, easy-to-use interface holding a universe of complexity.  And go from there. 

If we must have troops, those troops guard the right to use one’s own computer, to question freely, to grow according to the developmental program inside every human that loves and demands to learn.  We are facile, plastic, powerful.  Girls do not differ from boys in this regard.  I’ve been reading a lot of primatology books, and of course we also share the violent, power-seeking thread of all the other living creatures with which we share this planet, from bacteria to elephants.  Yet, we can control and shape our environment in novel ways.   (Sometimes I wonder.  Swift philosophised that if horses ruled the world, everything would be much nicer.  I philosophise:  what if horses had hands with which to manipulate matter?  How would their particular brains then lay down pathways?  What if we had more eyes; back and front and side; how would we lay down pathways.  Hands are good:  how about four?  And so on.  Fun?  I don’t know.  Dr. Moreau was horrified, but he was using primitive means.  What if we could try out different options and run them and if we did not like the results, modify, reset, keep the original, try something else?  Model.)

Communication and being connected is at the heart of our humanity and of our human power.  We can give access to and guard and nurture content that is free of ideology, certainly when it comes to number/spatial understanding and manipulation.  Language is another animal; each word is deep-laden with emotional content, and we learn to play our manipulative puzzle-games in rearranging these emotion and emotion-modifying packets when we learn language. 

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Here in the United States, we are mere decades ahead of Afghanistan, for instance, in guaranteeing educational and civil and property rights for women.  That’s all. A blip, a nanosecond in time.  If some men are ready to fight to the death to guarantee the ignorance and powerlessness of the women that they “own,” then we must guard the right of those women, and, for that matter, those men, starting with boys, who do want to learn and change.  We are not doing such a great job here; the barrage of commercials in which women seem inextricably linked to housework has never changed.  Women are supposed to be pondering which soap to use, and then use it; men are not to waste their time on these trivial matters. 

Education need not mean indoctrination, although it can and usually does.  But once a child has the basics of language, rooted in manipulation of the physical world, which is the activity that lays down pathways in our brains, the world opens up. 

So, it is simple.  If we want to fight for something, fight to educate; fight to keep communication and education and the internet in the hands of every child in the world, in Aftghanistan and in Africa and in our own rural and inner-city spaces.  Combat those who come to blow up the schools, or to bully children going to school, as we did during the sixties in the south–not so long ago, eh?  Guarantee freedom of education. 

I think this approach would be more effective, cheaper, cost fewer lives, and would show concrete results in ten years or less.

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September 20, 2009   No Comments

Health Care After WWII

It has occurred to me that the countries in the world that, ostensibly, have the best health care (and the best educational systems as well?  I don’t know if they correlate, but I would bet that they do) are those that, after WWII, were helped enormously by the United States’ influx of money and expertise. 

Japan, denied militarism, eventually began to flourish.  I’ve seen news snips about how good their health care system is.  (Education in Japan is undergoing “reform,” but I don’t know much about that system except that it is rigid and exceedingly competitive.)  Switzerland, which remained neutral, saved a heck of a lot of money thereby, and has a good health care system.  France’s health care system is highly rated.  Perhaps, after the devastation of the war, and released from the necessity of spending most of their money on fighting, France concentrated on more important things:  health and education (as well as food and wine, of course).  I don’t know.  I’m just wondering.  After their “triumph” in WWI, what happened to the following generation?  Why were they not able to better defend themselves against the Germans?  One answer is they put all their eggs in one basket–the Maginot Line, a series of sophisticated bunkers which skipped the Ardennes Forest and the Belgium border, which is where the Germans entered.  The system itself is pretty cool–take a look on Wikipedia.  A survivalist’s dream.  It was just focussed on how fighting was done in WWI.   Another problem was that all the deaths in WWI depleted the numbers of the next generation, but one assumes that happened all over Europe. 

At any rate, when nations are forced to take a breather from war, and especially when the “winners” are as wise as the US was in the aftermath, rebuilding the infrastructure and trying to oversee everything–we still have US troops in Germany and in Japan–more resources are available for the important things.  Like health care and education.  I recently read that health care in France is partially paid for by taxes on alcohol and tobacco.  That’s good, but how about going one step further, here, byalso taxing the foods that make us obese, like sugar and flour and hydrogonated oils?   

Meanwhile, because of the undeniable militarization of our culture, a huge portion of our taxes and resources are devoted to developing new weapons, maintaining the old ones, deploying forces here and there.  The Soviet Union bankrupted itself during the cold war and dissolved.  Why won’t this happen to us?  What makes it necessary that we police the entire world with troops and weapons?  There needs to be a middle ground.

We need to make a huge, wrenching effort to change direction in this country.  The elements that constitute a good education are constantly shifting as new facts about how we learn are discovered.  We need to spend our money in this area rather than on weaponization.  Enemies in video games are simple, faceless, evil.  Humans are not.  Just killing lots of other humans does not solve problems.  We don’t get to the next level.  There is only this level.  We need to look around and really think about how to use whatever it is that makes us human to enable us all to have optimal lives.  Whatever that means to the individual. 

I know this sounds simplistic and ignores the huge swath of weirdness that runs through humanity–our sociopaths, our habitual criminals, those of us impaired by schizophrenia or other brain-related problems.  But we have to start somewhere.

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September 3, 2009   No Comments

The Diamond Sangha, Robert Aitken, and Elizabeth Bishop

In 1987 my husband and I moved to Honolulu.  I’d lived there as a child, so living in that intense and fluid beauty was like reliving a marvelous dream.  The ever-changing clouds over the Koolau Mountains, the lush, ever-present gardens rich with the haunting scent of plumeria,memories of driving over the Pali on the old highway, all merged powerfully with the present.  I visited Punchbowl, where my best friend James, our next-door-neighbor in Ohana Nui III, who died of kidney failure soon after we moved–his mother’s kidney didn’t help–is buried.  I never wondered why this nice half-Japanese boy was interested in playing Monopoly with an eight-year-old girl day after day, but it was because he was sick.  The old road down to Haleiwa on the North Shore was the same, rural and friendly.  I’d always imagined that it was named after my loved grandmother, Eva, as it is pronounced “Holly-Eva.”  Every weekend we would drive around the island, stopping to picnic and play along the way, often at Kaaava Beach Park, with its reef-protected flat water; my sisters were three and four years old.  When I say “drive around the island” I really mean it.  You could drive out to Kaena Point on the Farrington Highway on the northwest shore.  That part was pretty flat.  But once you round the point, you’re on a cliff.  Back then, the road from the point to Makaha was still intact enough to travel on.  My sisters and I would look out the car window at huge waves smashing against the cliff twenty or thirty feet below the potholed dirt road, which ended inches from our tires, and see the rusted carcasses of cars, which we imagined had crashed there, full of families like ours, who became food for sharks, but Dad told us that most likely they had been stolen for joy-riding and then pushed over the cliff.  We didn’t believe him.  We preferred to relish our terror, and scream.

In 1987,  I walked out to the end of the point to relive this–the salt smell, the crashing waves, the small reef-pools ebbing and flowing–took pictures, wrote a piece about the railroad that ran out there, for a short time, from Honolulu, and published it in the Aloha Airlines magazine.  All of the lovely photographs that I took in Hawaii, Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong that year are on slides.  Used to be, you’d send several plastic-pocket pages of slides along with your travel pieces.  I sold many articles and photographs back then.  Now, of course, I will have to, at some point, get around to scanning all those slides.  I’d like to see them again.   

Those of you who have met me in the past fifteen years might be surprised, but back then I got up before the sun came up–around 5:30, perhaps–to sit.  Or meditate, as they say. To be honest, because Hawaii is six hours earlier than on the east coast, it was not difficult, and anyway, I was used to getting up at six in Knoxville to open my school.

One morning a week I walked downhill a block to sit with some truly old Japanese Zen monks, who spoke only Japanese.  I had to find an interpreter to ask permission to sit with them.  They never seemed to notice me, and they probably didn’t, actually, being deep in zazen.  Some mornings, I drove over to Manoa, near the University of Hawaii, and sat at the Koko An Zendo.  I had read several of Robert Aitken’s books, and he was the Roshi there.  The Diamond Sangha was mostly students, and they all revered Aitken.  He was then in his seventies, and they took care of him.  They spent weekends caring for his house and yard, and so on. 

Finally, I asked for an audience.  If you read a lot of Zen texts, the concepts of transmission (of the Dharma), enlightenment, and so on, come up often, and usually take the form of a solved koan. 

Well, Aitken’s koan for me was:  “You’re an English major.  Have you read Elizabeth Bishop?”  Aitken’s undergraduate degree is in English; his MA is in Japanese Studies. 

“No,” I said.

His eyes twinkled.  Really, they did.  He is a good-humored man.  “You should.”

Twenty-um years later, I am.  I have two copies of Bishop’s ONE ART, her letters, a Collected Poems, and, just lately, I bought LIFE and the Memory of it, a biography by Brett C. Miller. 

I have discovered several things.  Her poems, which appear to be artless to my relatively uneducated eye, are not.  She worked on most of them for months; sometimes years.  She had deep formal training and was befriended by all the major poets of her time–Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, to name two.  Her first book of poetry was not published until she had been writing poetry, and had been a professional poet and almost nothing else, for twenty years or so.  She suffered from severe asthma, depression, and alcoholism.  Her father died when she was young of Bright’s Disease, and soon thereafter her mother was committed to a mental institution and was institutionalized until she died, so, essentially, Bishop was an orphan from then on.  I am about two-thirds of the way through the book.  I am reading her poems, many of which I have read before, in a new light.  I’m not a newcomer to poetry by any means; most of my college education was in English Literature from the Middle Ages until the early Nineteenth Century.  Bishop would have been decidedly too contemporary to be studied at Virginia Tech in the early seventies.  It  seems that most of her breakthroughs came after she won the Pulitzer, for her first book of poems, and came about precisely because she was then able to break the rules, knowing what she was doing, which increases the tension as well as the impact–even if the reader is not really aware of what is going on beneath the surface. 

I’m also reading what I think of as books related to one another–THE PHILOSOPHICAL BABY, THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF ANIMALS, THE ELEPHANT’S SECRET SENSE, which have to do with my studies in neurology/behavior/brain development.  And in human development, and how Montessori education relates to and enhances it. 

And one more book, THE JAZZ EAR, by Ben Ratcliff, interviews with lots of jazz musicians.  Very good. 

Aitken’s communities have set up a page for him at http://aitkenroshi.org/about.html to help with his ongoing medical expenses.  At age ninety-one, you have a lot of them.

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August 27, 2009   3 Comments

Migraine, or, “I know you’re in pain!”

Several years ago,  I sat on the bare oak floor of what was soon to be my former living room, exhausted from a week of packing, watching movers hauling the last cartons of books out to join our furniture in their boxy moving truck. 

Late-afternoon sunlight washed across the polished boards, caught the swirling ridges of the stuccoed walls, and stood on the threshold of the beautiful green-tiled porcelain kitchen counter, the brave flying flowers of the wallpaper I’d chosen, and the ice-cream-parlor tiled floor.  I had worked as a packer for a moving company in my twenties, and since then have approached my many moves head-on (even after the time, during college, when a friend with a pick-up declared that it was the last time he’d help me move, as I had way too many books), packing and sorting and readying for whatever new adventure beckoned. 

But now, as I sat on the floor, aching all over, listening to the phone ring in another room, I realized that those days were long gone.  I saw my husband’s feet approaching.  He said, holding out the phone, a puzzled look on his face, “This woman thinks you’re in pain.”

I took the phone, laughing, wondering who in the world would be asking for money with such a ploy.  Evidently, she’d gotten past my skeptical husband.  “Hello?”

The woman said that she hoped she wasn’t bothering me, but that she had called because she knew I was in pain, and wanted me to write about it.  I laughed even more, telling her that I was, indeed, in terrific pain.  I’d been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, had osteoperosis, chronic bursitis, and who knows what all, which had been exacerbated by my recent extreme exertion, though I didn’t mention any of that.  She continued, serious.

Her name was Lenore Dunsing, and she said that she was the editor of THE PAIN PRACTITIONER, a quarterly put out by the American Association of Pain Practitioners.  What really hooked me was that she said that she knew that I was in pain because she read my novels, and that she wanted me to write about it for the journal. 

“I know you have migraines because you write about them so accurately,” she told me. 

Indeed, several of my characters in CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY and LIGHT MUSIC have severe migraines, which begin when they are children.  The migraines are a symptom of greater changes in the environment, as well as of the exact time of their conception, but that is fictional.   I’d never said anything about myself, personally, but she saw through the fan dance and realized I couldn’t be making the up the descriptions.

That was the very last phone call we ever recieved in the house.  Fifteen minutes later, we unplugged the phones, went to a nice hotel for our last night in town, and I, for one, became extremely irritated when they would not serve us dinner in their dining room because we did not have the proper attire with us, despite my telling them that most of our clothes were fifty miles down the road, en route to our next abode.   

I continued to correspond with Lenore, who was fascinating, by phone and email, and finally produced the piece for her, which appeared in THE PAIN PRACTITIONER, Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 2006.  The journal is an artistically beautiful magazine, and Lenore chose some of Cara Weston’s beautiful black and white photographs to illustrate “The Headache, My Unwanted Companion.” 

You can read “The Headache, My Unwanted Companion” by clicking on http://www.aapainmanage.org/literature/PainPrac.php and then on the cover of the Fall 2006 issue, HEAD PAIN, and scrolling till you come to my piece.  You can see more of Cara Weston’s stunning photographs at http://carawestonphotography.com/ .  Lennie Densing is now the Executive Director of AAPM. 

A very pleasant postscript to this is that about a year ago the headaches that had plagued me for ten years suddenly vanished.  I no longer worry, when I step out of the house, whether I have some medication with me.  Don’t know why, but I am happy.

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August 21, 2009   1 Comment

Money-Driven Medicine

Bill Moyer’s show next week (August 28th) is going to excerpt parts of this documentary.  I have not seen it, nor have I read Maggie Mahar’s book, MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE.  http://www.moneydrivenmedicine.org/ has links to her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, and other interesting links.  I’m going to get the book, and I’ll report back.

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August 21, 2009   No Comments

Don’t Back Down!

I’m afraid that I have always thought of Republicans as bullies.  I voted the first time in 1972, for McGovern, from New Hampshire with a not-easy-to-get absentee ballot from Virginia.  Actually, I thought of Nixon as being Evil.  Kind of weird, I suppose.  He was just human, and continued the war, resigned in shame (after his Vice-President, Agnew, also got the boot for being a crook).  Republicans, especially recently, seem to embrace the tactics of lying, exaggerating, ridiculing, and other bullying behaviors.  I realize that old-time Republicans think of their party as merely being fiscally conservative, but they have gone far beyond that in the past forty years. 

Now they are employing the same tactics to bring down a popular President and all of the Democrat members of Congress.  I’ve written to the President and to my Congresspeople about the need to stand firm on a public option for health care. 

An apropos piece in the Washington Post today:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/19/AR2009081901773_2.html?wpisrc=newsletter  Howard Dean is a physician; he knows about health issues, and is aware of the ridiculously high amount of money that hospital corporations, physician provider corporations, HMO’s, and pharmaceutical companies drain from our health care economy.  The amount is staggering.  These companies have plenty of lobbying money to toss around.  As for the public, all we have is our vote, and our big mouths.

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August 20, 2009   No Comments

Time to wake up!

This from Robert Kuttner at the Washington Post:

“It is private insurance companies that ration care by deciding what is covered and what is not. Private plans limit which doctor and hospital you can use, define “preexisting conditions” and make insurance unaffordable for tens of millions. For many, all this can cause suffering and sometimes even death. Our one oasis of socialized medicine, Medicare, has the most choice and the least exclusion.”

I haven’t a clue as to why people believe the opposite.  Haven’t they been dealing with HMO’s for years, wrangling about which meds, docs, hospitals, etc. they are “allowed” (after paying their high premiums) to use? 

In the 1980’s, when I provided very good health, dental, and eye insurance for my employees, one of them asked if we could not join an HMO, which, she believed, would be so much better.  It would provide “preventative medicine.”  At the time, I looked into it, and found the opposite to be true.  People who had and who have no choice, since they either cannot afford health insurance or must take whatever their employer dishes out, have little choice, in most HMO (“Health Maintenance Organizations,” rather an oxymoron–often they are LDO’s–life-denying organizations) about whether or not a certain option is “approved.”  As a patient in dire trouble gets worse by the minute in emergency rooms, paid intermediaries, often the doctor, must haggle with the medically untrained bean-counter at the insurance company who has no idea of the stakes or what they are or are not approving.  And none of what the bean-counters are doing is in the interest of the patient.  It is completely and absolutely in the interest of the CEO’s of the HMO.  It all comes down to whether or not the CEO will be able to buy a timeshare in a more upscale “personal jet,” or especially cool and impressive six-thousand-dollar shower curtains. 

Remember all those labor issues in the United States–or worldwide, for that matter–in the thirties, when mine owners and factory owners worked their employees to death in unsafe conditions while they feasted in top-of-the-hill mansions?  Well, maybe you don’t.  Neither do I, actually, but I have learned about them second-hand, by reading history and seeing films and listening to records.  Look it up.  Listen to a few Pete Seeger or Woodie Guthrie tunes.  Read some nineteenth century English Literature.  Or a little bit about the worldwide Communist revolutions, and, on their heels, the Fascist alternatives the fearful moneyed class–including our own Kennedys, a whole lot of Upper Crust Brits, and Industry Magnates in Germany supported wholeheartedly–or, should I say, without any hearts at all.   Some of you–even Sarah Palin–might have heard about the two World Wars that used up a lot of lives, time, and energy during the last century.  What was all that ruckus about, anyway? 

Oh.  To get back to health care.  I’ve actually never left it.  Why shouldn’t our abundant tax dollars go instead to helping ourselves, with stellar health care and stellar education, rather than used to develop meaner weapons and send young people to their death?  Hmmm.  That’s a hard one, isn’t it?  Even though it seems so obvious.   

To read the rest of Kuttner’s opinion piece, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/17/AR2009081702363.html?wpisrc=newsletter

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August 18, 2009   No Comments

The Wauchula Woods Accord by Charles Siebert, or, Spindle Cells and TSD in Mammals

Or, Are There Autistic Whales?

Last week, I finished reading THE WAUCHULA WOODS ACCORD by Charles Siebert.   It is an essay-type book that revolves around Roger, a chimp recovering from his life with Ringling Brothers at the Center for Great Apes near Wauchula, Florida.  The Center is a state-of-the-art facility designed for Great Apes who have been traumatized by humans in one way or another.  Siebert drops in references to many other such sojourns in Africa and other parts of the world where he has observed other animals in the same situation.  He is interested in Roger because Roger prefers to live alone, unlike any of the other apes in the center, and because he seemed to recognize Siebert. 

The book is interesting for many reasons, but one thing that jumped out at me is the mention of spindle neurons, which have so far been found in many kinds of whales, in elephants, great apes, dogs, cats, and other mammals.  (I have tried to find a comprehensive list, but haven’t succeeded so far.)

Spindle neurons appear to be at the root of the emotional life of these animals.  They (or their lack of them) have been discovered to be related to autism as well as emotional responsiveness. 

Siebert brings up many interesting facts.  For instance, in several parts of the world, young and adolescent elephants have witnessed the death of their parents by poachers.  That is traumatic enough, but adolescent male elephants deprived of models for behavior form gangs that rampage through villages (Siebert writes about this at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/magazine/08elephant.html?_r=1&ei=5070&en=c4fe2178b292ff78&ex=1166763600&pagewanted=all  )  and also rape and kill rhinocerosus.  A solution to this was found when mature bull elephants were introduced to the gangs; this behavior then abated. 

I like learning about how we are similar to other animals.  Short take:  I enjoyed this book, and if you are interested in human and animal intelligence and emotions, it is illuminating.  [Read more →]

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August 5, 2009   No Comments