Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Dental Insurance

I broke a tooth yesterday. This is the third time I have broken this same tooth. I am at the point where it is nearly all filling and very little tooth left. So, I was off for a quick trip to my dentist to get the rough edge knocked off until he can get around to fixing it on February 7.

Since I retired I no longer have dental insurance. The cost to fix this tooth is $500. I know that from the first time I broke it. Knowing I do not have insurance, however, the dentist discounted the repair down to $250. The second time it broke he repaired it for free and he has said he will fix it for free again this time. I have known my dentist for a long time. He is a good guy. It's a good thing. I can't afford an extra $250 right now.

While I was sitting in his chair yesterday he advised that I should get another filling redone. I had chipped it a while ago and he had just ground off the rough edge when I had. Now he thinks it should be replaced.

No insurance. I just looked at him.

He did a rough calculation and told me that replacing that one would be about $300 but he would discount it down to $155.

My parents are retired also so they have no dental insurance either. Two years ago my mother required some extensive work. She went to the dentist my sister works for. After doing up the work order for her he announced it would cost just over $7,000 but because she didn't have insurance and because my sister worked for him, he would see the work done for $3200.

In both cases, roughly a 50% discount of dental services because neither of us have dental insurance. I also know from my sister that both dentists routinely give discounts to people who do not have insurance. A good deal, you think?

I think not.

I can assure you that neither of these dentists are going broke. I know both of them well and they both are swimming in more money than anyone I know. You can also bet your ass that even giving a 50% discount that neither of them are losing any money.

So, while I 'get' by being offered a discount, I also lose as does every other person in this province. This also means that employers who pay the cost of dental insurance for their employees also lose on the huge premiums they are forced to pay. In short, dental insurance is not anyone's friend except the dentists who are able to inflate the cost of services far in excess of their worth and make a killing by doing so. Dentists in this province routinely make more than twice what the average family doctor makes and one way or another, every single person in this province winds up paying for this. Most dental insurance coverage only pays for 80% of treatment. The patient must pay the other 20% and the higher the cost a service is, the more money that 20% takes out of the consumer's pocket.

Several years ago our then left leaning New Democratic Party government introduced universal dental coverage that nearly bankrupted the province. The cost of dental work immediately took a huge increase. The program was then scaled back to include only children under 12 and even that proved too expensive and the entire program was eventually scrapped when a new government was elected.

That was when private dental insurance stepped in and became big business here. The cost of dental procedures went even higher and dentists became rich. You can rest assured that the insurance providers didn't lose money either. Everyone made money except for the consumer and their employers.

The price of dental work has become so terribly expensive here that many people simply cannot afford it. Dental insurance has legalized what used to be a crime. While it sounds nice, and I often hear our American cousins to the south applaud it, believe me, Dental Insurance is not a friend.

There is only one solution to this problem. Dentistry needs to somehow be brought into the National Health Act and be provided free in the same way as medical coverage is. The government needs to step in and regulate the price of dental work as it does in health. Costs need to be reduced. Controls need to be put in place. Until then the insurance companies will continue to be part of the problem and dentists will continue to become richer on a system that is completely broken. Just as broken as my tooth.

(Originally posted to Multiply on January 23, 2008)

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

BlinkBlink by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Social Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman was the most exciting and amazing book on the advances in in psychology and neurobiology I have ever read.

I read "Blink" as a result of reading a review elsewhere on Multiply. While written before "Social Intelligence" it is good complimentary reading to Goleman's work.

We all like to think that we are calm, cool, thinkers who make decisions on a rational basis. In fact, nothing could be further from truth. Humans 'think' on two levels: the low and quick road of emotion running directly to the amygdala and the high and slower road to the neo-cortex. Intelligence is marked, in many ways, by the ability to wait that extra half second for the neo-cortex to over rule the amygdala's automatic response.

"Blink" is about subconscious reasoning. How we often know things without being able to articulate how it is that we know them. "Blink" also shows how the world of advertising can subvert our subconscious reasoning to manipulate us into making decisions we might not otherwise make. It is also about both the power and the dangers of this process and what we can do to enhance and unleash the intuitive.

Anyone who is interested in social psychology will love this book.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 22, 2008)

Psychological Manipulation

When Christian Brothers Brandy began losing market share to upstart bottler E & J a fortune was spent of market analysts and research firms. When taste testing revealed that people preferred Christian Brothers over E & J another fortune was spent to determine why people would purchase a product they did not prefer. It turned out that it was all in the bottle. E & J sold their product in a bottle befitting brandy while Christian Brothers brandy was sold in packaging that looked like a wine bottle. When Christian Brothers repackaged their product in a fancy new bottle they resumed their dominate market position.

A few years ago the manufacturers of 7-Up added more yellow to the green on their packaging they were inundated with complaints from consumers who insisted that 7-Up now had more of a lemon flavor. The formulation of 7-Up had not changed at all. Only the package had been changed.

When Pepsico began running the Pepsi challenge which showed that consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi over market dominate Coke the good people at Coca-Cola went into a panic and reformulated the taste of Coke only to see their market share erode further until they were forced into reintroducing 'Classic Coke' which allowed them to return to their overwhelming market dominance. What had happened? If people preferred the taste of Pepsi why had they rejected the new Coke?

It turned out that the Pepsi Taste Test had completely fooled consumers. Consumers did prefer the taste of Pepsi but only on the first two or three sips. After that the sweetness of Pepsi became too cloying. If drinking a full bottle, people preferred Coke.
A report in the news last week gave the results of market analysis done on wine. Taste tests were conducted where consumers were only allowed to know the price of the wine they were drinking. Unknown to them, however, bottles of wine that sold for $90 a bottle were marked as $10 a bottle and $10 wine was marked up to $45 a bottle. Consumers overwhelmingly chose the $10 wine now marked at $45. In subsequent tests the same wines were tested again but with the $90 a bottle wine now shown with its correct price. Perhaps unsurprisingly testers now chose it as the best tasting wine in the sample group.

Wine drinkers have been subconsciously conditioned to expect that better wine is more expensive but what this testing reveals is that their subjective determination of 'better' is determined solely by price and not by taste.

This is not new news. Product testing has often shown that consumers will not buy a good product that is priced too cheaply while inflating its price will result in a large increase in sales.
In other words, we don't purchase based on best price. We don't purchase based on taste. We don't purchase based on reliability or durability.

When you walk into a department store or a supermarket you have walked into a psychological warfare zone. Madison Avenue has become far less about advertising and far more about psychological manipulation of the consumer. More psychologists are employed by the marketing strategists than any other sector of society and the manipulation of consumers is one of Madison Avenues worst kept secrets. It is a secret they do not have to keep. So strong are the psychological motivators to buy a particular product that even knowing our heads are being twisted we still respond like Pavlov's dog.

This psychological manipulation extends across the entire spectrum of a consumer's life to what movies we like and go to, what television shows we watch, which newscast we prefer, and which newspapers and magazines we read.

With this manipulation comes terrible danger. Companies like CNN are no longer content to report the news, they attempt to make it. CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and all the major cable outlets deliver news to us in thirty second sound bytes. The bytes they deliver are tailored specifically to their audience and designed to keep and increase their market share. The news you are getting may not be the important news or even the real news and yet, for example, we all make political decisions, to one degree or another, based on what we see and hear on television. Very scary stuff.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 20, 2008)

Book Review: Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the WarriorShambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"There is a basic human wisdom that can help solve the world's problems. It doesn't belong to any one culture or region or religious tradition - though it can be found in many of them throughout history. It's what Chogyam Trungpa called the sacred path of the warrior. The sacred warrior conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. The warrior discovers the basic goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others."

Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche was, of course, the reknown Tibetan Buddhist founder of Naropa University best known for his "crazy wisdom."

I had a difficult time reading this book. It was very understandable. It made sence. It was just difficult to read and the difficulty took away any enjoyment.

I have found this happening many times when I read something by a Tibetan writer. I have no difficulty in reading books in the Tibetan tradition if they are written by someone whose native tongue is English like Pema Chodron who was a student of Rinpoche's but to read their material directly is a struggle. I can only assume it is the way they handle English or their inability to find an English cultural comparison.

It is still worth reading. I hope you do not struggle as I did.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 18, 2008)

Depression Myths

If I have heard it once from people who are suffering from depression, I have heard it a thousand times. "My doctor says I have a chemical imbalance. I am not making enough Serotonin."

Of all the myths that surround depression, this is the most common. And it is absolutely false so lets dispel it right now.
Firstly, when a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or a pharmaceutical company talks about "chemical imbalance" they mean something quite different than people assume it to mean. In fact, the term chemical imbalance is a bit deceptive because none of these professionals really knows quite what is going on in the brains of people who are suffering from clinical depression. At best, they have a working hypothesis for which the best way to describe them is "chemical imbalance."

Secondly, serotonin is only one of several neurotransmitters involved in regulation of mood. Dopamine, gabapentine and norepinephrine are three others that neuro-biologists know effect mood. When you present to a mental health professional they have no idea which neurotransmitter is at play in your particular presentation. At best they make educated guesses based on your symptomology to attempt to narrow it down. Do you sleep more or less? Do you eat more or less? Do you feel better in the morning or the evening? There are flowcharts for this although they have proven less than accurate and remain really little more than a starting point in a course of treatment in which your medication may be changed several times until the magic bullet is found.

During my first major depression the only medications available were MAO Inhibitors and tricylic antidepressants, the so-called dirty drugs that took a shotgun approach to depression and which had horrible side affects.

Now doctors have an entire arsenal at their disposal which include SSRI's, NNDRI's, NDRI's, SARI's, SNRI's and a host of others. Each works on a specific neurotransmitter or on more than one and they work in different fashions, either as inhibitors or antagonists. Where an SSRI (working with serotonin) might work with some patients it might not work with another who does respond to an NDRI (working on norepinephrine and dopamine).

SSRI's were the first of the new class of antidepressants and they were akin to a miracle drug when they were first introduced. Drugs like Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, and Zoloft. These are often the first drug a doctor will turn to. There actions are well known, they are safe, and they are often very effective. Very effective, that is, if your depression requires tweaking of serotonin otherwise you are probably in for several weeks of changing drugs as your health professional tries to narrow in on which is going to work for you. As my psychiatrist has told me many times, "If you thought psychiatry is an exact science, you are wrong."

In any event, and to get back to where we started, depression is not the result of not having enough serotonin in your system. Quite frankly, if you did not have enough serotonin in your body you would be dead. Or very close to it. Antidepressants do not work by making more serotonin. More serotonin will kill you at worst or make you very, very sick at best. (Ask me. I've been there when one drug inter acted with another to actually increase serotonin in my system.)

SSRI is shorthand for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and that is exactly what it does - inhibits the reuptake of (existing) serotonin in your brain making it available for longer periods of time. Or, at least, that is the working theory. Biologists and pharmacologists aren't entirely sure what is happening but they do know if is not producing more serotonin. Just making what is available work better.

Some would argue, I suppose, that it does not matter if a patient misunderstands what is meant by "chemical imbalance" or even if they mistakenly believe that serotonin depletion is the cause of their depression but I have always believed that knowledge is power and that the more you know about your illness the better your chances are for recovery.

Now, I can hear the hue and cry now. "But my doctor said ... " "But I read it on this web page..." I'm sorry. I don't care what your misinformed doctor said and most G.P's are notoriously misinformed when it comes to depression. Nor do I care what you have read on a web site. Not enough serotonin equals dead and that is a medical fact. Read books. Read lots of them on depression. Knowledge is power.

Incidentally, if you wish to know what would happen if you did suddenly lose some of the serotonin in your brain then drop a tablet of LSD. LSD is a serotonin antagonist and all those 'enlightened' trips some of us took in the 60's were actually temporary psychosis.

Knowledge is power and one of the best ways of arming yourself is to read the best book on depression available: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
.
And remember. Take your medication. It doesn't help you if you leave it in the bottle.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 17, 2008)

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

A recent news item in the Vancouver Province caught my eye. The title read: B.C.ers The Biggest Book-Readers in the Country.

The story concerned a country-wide Ipso-Reid poll commissioned on behalf of Canwest News Service and Global Television. The results of the poll revealed that 31% of Canadians had not read a single book in the previous twelve months but the remaining 69% had read an average of twenty books. The poll concluded that people in British Columbia were the heaviest readers in the country having plowed through 33 books on average.

Someone please help me here.

There are roughly four million people living in British Columbia. From the poll results we can expect that 31% of them (the average for the country) did not read a single book. That leaves 2,760,000 people to pick up the slack for those who did not read at all.

If the average British Columbian read 33 books in a year that would result in 132,000,000 books being read in this province in this previous twelve months but because 1.240,000 B.C.ers didn't read a single book the rest of us would have to have read an average of 48 books a year to make up for the non-readers and reach the overall average of 33 books per year read.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

I read more than anyone I know. My friends and acquaintances will tell you that I read more than anyone they know and all my acquaintances are readers. I am retired. I don't like television. I seldom watch movies. Books are somewhere between a passion and an obsession with me. Some years I read more and some years I read less but I am always reading. I have the time and the consuming passion to read. Yet, last year I had only managed to work my way through about 55 books by years end.

Reading 55 books in a year I kept up my end of getting through 48 books a year to maintain the provincial average and I managed to reduce another readers load by 7 volumes. But, I am unusual. Most people work. They have family obligations. They perhaps have larger social circles. On the whole, I suspect most people have many more things going on in their lives that would cut into their available reading time.

In short, there is no way in hell that I am going to believe that 2,760,000 British Columbians read an average of 48 books last year. There is no way anyone is going to convince me that four million people, 31% of whom did not read a single book last year, read an average of 33 books.

Does anyone actually exercise credulity when they are given poll results?

Of course, if we were to actually believe polls then Obama beat Clinton in New Hampshire by double digits.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

(Originally posted to Multiply on January 15, 2008)

Focus

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
(Martin Niemoller)
I seldom watch television and I watch very few movies but yesterday evening I grabbed an older movie from the video store for something to do for the evening and found myself watching one of the best movies I have ever seen.
Focus, directed by Neil Slavin and starring William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Paymer, Meat Loaf, and Kay Hawtrey and based on the controversial Arthur Miller novel is sheer brilliance.

"In a small Brooklyn neighborhood towards the end of World War II, an ordinary man named Lawrence Newman and his wife live a good and quiet life. Once he happens to get eyeglasses, however, his neighbors begin to perceive him differently through that subtle change in his appearance, and soon he and his wife are mistaken for Jews. Finding themselves suddenly aware of their anti-Semitic neighbors, they befriend a local Jewish immigrant and struggle for their dignity and survival."

Racism is a disease that dehumanizes not only those whom it is directed at but those doing the directing and the cure is to have the courage to stand against it. A bold, dramatic fim.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 14, 2008)

Book Review: The Coldest Winter and the Korean War by David Halberstam

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean WarThe Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To this day most Americans have no idea how close Gen. Douglas MacArthur's defiance of President Truman brought us to WWIII or how many lives MacArthur's incompetence and arrogance cost. While MacArthur preened for a selected audience American troops bled and died in their thousands in a war that quickly became a war of attrition on both sides and where the winning objective became simply to inflict as much horror on the other side as possible while knowing all along that the only solution would have to be political.

The arrogance, racism, and hubris of the military combined with an unwillingness of the U.S. population to properly fund the military after WWII nearly resulted in a crushing defeat at the hands of Communist China. The lessons of the Korean war were not learned in Vietnam and they still haven't been learned in Iraq. The U.S. military still suffers from the same ineptitude that has haunted them since the end of 1945.

David Halberstam was arguably the United States' greatest historian before his untimely death last year and this superb account of the Korean war, completed just a week before his death, was his magnum opus.

(Originally posted January 9, 2008)


Two Out Of Three

Yesterday morning father developed a medical condition that we fully expected would require a rapid trip to the next city and emergency surgery as has twice happened in the past. Today, after a battery of tests he has been pronounced good to go and told to merely take it easy.

Yesterday morning I took the dog, on her last legs, to the vet and fully expected to have to have a faithful companion put down. Once again the Vet was able to pull a miracle drug from his arsenal and today old dog is scampering about like a puppy. Well, like a puppy who is very lazy and likes to sleep a lot. Yet another last minute reprieve.

Yesterday morning I awoke with a headache that was so blinding I would have gone to E.R. if there had not been so much suddenly thrown on my plate. Today the headache is still with me. I have been unable to shake it at all.

Still, any time you can win two out of three is a good day.

Stopping for coffee this afternoon while going to the drugstore for more T-1's I noticed a subscription blank to The New Yorker laying on the table I sat at. A year's subscription for only ninety dollars? Are they kidding? Ninety dollars? Jesus H.. Christ on a pogo stick. I remember subscribing to The New Yorker when it was twenty five dollars a year and thinking that was outrageous. Hell, I remember when it could still be bought at the news stand for thirty five cents an issue.

Then again, I remember Coke, the real stuff in the thick, heavy green bottles that burned on the way down, not the sugary concoction they pass off as Coke today, costing five cents a bottle. Fountain Coke, which you can no longer get, was also five cents for a glass. For an extra two cents they would put in a squirt of real vanilla. Ten cents and a trip to Ziney's Candy Store would get me an entire bag of penny candy and selling that penny candy, along with giving the world's worst fifty cent hair cuts, provided Ziney P. Merry and his wife with a living. Scallops, which sell for over twelve dollars a pound here now, were considered a trash food and were ten cents a pound when I was a kid.

Starting Rick Atkinson's latest book today I read where in 1942 the newly completed Pentagon served 55,000 meals a day at thirty five cents a meal.

I also learned that bikinis were the result of a 1942 government directive that mandated that clothing manufacturers had to reduce the amount of material in women's bathing suits by ten percent to conserve fabric for the war effort. This was the same directive that virtually eliminated pleated skirts and raised hemlines overnight.

So there you go. Bikinis, an end to ugly fashion, and raised hemlines were the result of war and prove that sometimes good can come out of global conflict.

Rising prices, however, are simply the result of corporate greed that is destroying us. Corporate greed is the real terrorism at play in the world.

(Originally posted to Multiply on January 9, 2008)

Imaginary Friends

Until I was eight years old and my sister came along to ruin what up to then had been a spoiled existence, I was an only child. We lived in the country and there were very few other children around. But, you see, I was never alone because Jim and Nancy went everywhere I did and did everything I did. Jim and Nancy were my constant and faithful companions. They liked the games that I liked, they liked the food that I liked, and they liked the people that I liked. The only fly in the ointment was that occasionally Jim and/or Nancy did something naughty that I wound up getting blamed for.

Jim and Nancy were, of course, my imaginary friends and two finer friends one could not have asked for.

I do not remember much about Jim and Nancy any more. I remember their names, of course, and a couple of stories I have been told about them and one or two vague memories. I think Jim and Nancy 'ran away' about the time I started kindergarten. I do remember my parents being concerned about the friends I was hanging out with and talking to my doctor about them, in my presence, and remember feeling both relieved and smug when Dr. Andrews told them that it was quite natural and there was nothing wrong with me and, he added at my insistence, there was nothing wrong with Jim and Nancy either.

I also have one particular vague memory that has become family lore although how much I remember and how much is lore I cannot tell.

Great-grandmother Griffin (Nana) was a big woman (that is being polite as she was actually huge) with the disposition of a rattlesnake. On one occasion when Nana was visiting my grandparents we all piled into my grandfather's woody station wagon to go somewhere or another and as Nana got into the back seat with me I suddenly yelled at her to be careful and not to sit on Jim and Nancy. Nana jumped like she had been shot, not an easy feat with her bulk, and then proclaimed she was not going anywhere with that strange child.

My brother had an imaginary friend named, queerly, Seanjeans which sounds slightly French to me and all the odder since there were no French within a hundred miles of us.

Once you grow up you no longer have imaginary friends although I have found as an adult that there have been a number of occasions where I have had people in my life I only imagined were my friends.
Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stweart) had an imaginary friend who was a six foot tall white rabbit named Harvey. Well, actually six foot three and a half inches to be precise. Let's stick to the facts.  For those of you who have forgotten Harvey, or perhaps never knew him,  I will introduce you to him below (bottom).

We are not so strange, those of us who had imaginary friends. A. A. Milne immortalized 'Binker' in "Now We Are Six." I include that below also, especially for all of you who ever had an imaginary friend so that you may relive that magic and wonder once again.

Binker-what I call him-is a secret of my own,
And Binker is the reason why I never feel alone.
Playing in the nursery, sitting on the stair,
Whatever I am busy at, Binker will be there.
Oh, Daddy is clever, he's a clever sort of man,
And Mummy is the best since the world began,
And Nanny is Nanny, and I call her Nan-
But they can't See Binker.
Binker's always talking, 'cos I'm teaching him to speak
He sometimes likes to do it in a funny sort of squeak,
And he sometimes likes to do it in a hoodling sort of roar...
And I have to do it for him COs his throat is rather sore.
Oh, Daddy is clever, he's a clever sort of man,
And Mummy knows all that anybody can,
And Nanny is Nanny, and I call her Nan-
But they don't Know Binker.
Binker's brave as lions when we're running in the park;
Binker's brave as tigers when we're lying in the dark;
Binker's brave as elephants. He never, never cries...
Except (like other people) when the soap gets in his eyes.
Oh, Daddy is Daddy, he's a Daddy sort of man,
And Mummy is as Mummy as anybody can,
And Nanny is Nanny,and I call her Nan...
But they're not Like Binker.
Binker isn't greedy, but he does like things to eat,
So I have to say to people when they're giving me a sweet,
"Oh, Binker wants a chocolate, so could you give me two?"
And then I eat it for him, COs his teeth are rather new.
Well, I'm very fond of Daddy, but he hasn't time to play,
And I'm very fond of Mummy, but she sometimes goes away,
And I'm often cross with Nanny when she wants to brush my hair...
But Binker's always Binker, and is certain to be there.

Thank you, Mr. Milne.

And thank you. Mr Stewart.




(Originally posted to Multiply January 4, 2008)

An Election Fable for Iowa Caucus Day

Ed the farmer was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young layers (hens), called "pullets", and ten roosters, whose job it was to fertilize the eggs.

The farmer kept records and any rooster that didn't perform went into the soup pot and was replaced. That took an awful lot of his time, so he bought a set of tiny bells and attached them to his roosters. Each bell had a different tone so Ed could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing. Now he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report simply by listening to the bells.

The farmer's favorite rooster was old Butch, a very fine specimen he was, too. But on this particular morning Ed noticed old Butch's bell hadn't rung at all! Ed went to investigate.The other roosters were chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing. The pullets, hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.

But to Farmer Ed's amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring. He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one. Ed was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.

The result? The judges not only awarded old Butch the No Bell Piece Prize but they also awarded him the Pulletsurprise as well. Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making: who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.

Vote carefully...the bells are not always audible!

(Author unknown)

(Originally posted to Multiply on January 3, 2008)

Suicide By Cop

An item in the newspaper caught my eye yesterday.

It seems the RCMP were called to deliver a mental health warrant at the home of a man who was suicidal. Arriving at the man's home they were met with resistance when they attempted to serve the warrant and transport the man to a psychiatric hospital. The individual started to brandish a knife at the police officers who tazered him. The tazer, it seems, either did not work or didn't subdue the gentleman as he continued to threated the police with the knife so they drew their weapons and shot him to death.

There have been several high profile cases here in B.C. lately of people dying when they have been tazered and the public outcry has been huge with repeated calls for an inquiry into the use of tazers by the RCMP. I add my voice to that demand. In the cases in question the individuals, while certainly resisting arrest, offered no threat to the officers who had responded in overwhelming numbers. These people were not armed and yet the police chose to tazer the victims. Call me crazy but I always thought that a certain amount of physical restraint came with the job of being a cop. I was foolish enough to believe that using a tazer was reserved for those situations where someone had a weapon of some kind and the use of a tazer was a non-lethal way to deal with it. And certainly, after so many high profile deaths one would think that police would think twice before zapping someone with 50,000 volts unless they had to. Unless the person had a weapon.

Now in the case of the mental health patient there was a weapon and that surely constituted a threat to the officers responding. To me the use of a tazer in that instance was reasonable.

For whatever reason it had no effect or not the one they wanted and the man continued to wave a knife at them. However, that certainly did not require that they shoot him to death. What the hell was in their heads? Did the thought of leaving and coming up with Plan B not enter their heads?

Have these morons never heard of suicide by cop?

It is time for a public inquiry about police tactics in the Province of British Columbia. Things have gotten way out of hand and police tactics have become way too heavy handed.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 31, 2007)

Book Review: The Solitude of Emperors by David Davidar

The Solitude Of EmperorsThe Solitude Of Emperors by David Davidar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a beautiful book by yet another excellent Indo-Canadian author.

"Suffocating in the small-town world of his parents, Vijay is desperate to escape to the raw energy of Bombay in the early 1990s. His big chance arrives unexpectedly when the family servant, Raju, is recruited by a right-wing organization. As a result of an article he writes about the increasing power of sectarian politicians, Vijay gets a job in a small Bombay publication, The Indian Secularist. There he meets Rustom Sorabjee — the inspirational founder of the magazine who opens Vijay’s eyes to the damage caused to the nation by the mixing of religion and politics.

A year after his arrival in Bombay, Vijay is caught up in violent riots that rip though the city, a reflection of the upsurge of fundamentalism everywhere in the country. He is sent to a small tea town in the Nilgiri Mountains to recover, but finds that the unrest in the rest of India has touched this peaceful spot as well, specifically a spectacular shrine called The Tower of God, which is the object of political wrangling. He is befriended by Noah, an enigmatic and colourful character who lives in the local cemetery and quotes Pessoa, Cavafy, and Rimbaud, but is ostracized by a local elite obsessed with little more than growing their prize fuchsias. As the discord surrounding the local shrine comes to a head, Vijay tries to alert them to the dangers, but his intervention will have consequences he could never have foreseen.

The Solitude of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about modern India, about what drives fundamentalist beliefs, and what makes someone driven, bold, or mad enough to make a stand.

'I thought about the taxi driver who had been murdered. Deepak hadn’t said whether he was young or old, but I imagined him to be as young as I was, and there was a good chance that he, like me, was a recent immigrant to the city, perhaps from Hyderabad, or some smaller place that did not have enough work or resources to hold on to its young. He would have come here hoping to make his fortune, and maybe in time he would have.

Why had he worn the badges of his faith to the very end, I wondered. Even when his life was at stake, why hadn’t he thought to take them off? Maybe they were so much a part of him, he hadn’t even seen them as symbols to be discarded. They would have helped him link himself to a community, of course, until he had saved enough to bring his family over from his home town because it was likely he had married young. Until this fateful day, his religion would have saved him from the loneliness of the room in the chawl or slum. He would go to the mosque, meet others as lonely as he was. They would do their namaz together, celebrate the great festivals of Id and Ramzan with feasts of biryani on Mohammed Ali Road. Yes, his religion had been good to him, until the day it had devoured him.' " —From The Solitude of Emperors

(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2007)

Book Review: God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingGod is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In the flyleaf to "God Is Not Good" it says of Hitchins, "He was named, to his own amusement, number five on a list of the 'Top 100 Public Intellectuals ...' "

One suspects that Hitchens was not only amused but absolutely delighted for it seems that there is nothing Hitchins loves quite so much as himself.

From beginning to end this book is an endless parade of the horrors inflicted on friends and foes in the name of religion and while it probably compiles more of them in one place than has ever been attempted before there is nothing here that is original in fact or thought. In fact, given the invective used by Hitchins, the vituperation running throughout this book, there is little to distinguish Hitchins from those he opposes in this polemic in either substance or in deed. Where Hawkins' sarcasm can be truly funny and intellectual, Hitchins is just nasty. What good can be found in the few arguments he makes is lost in the pejorative manner he writes.

And often he is just wrong. In what seems to be a desperate need to tar everyone with the same brush he goes after Buddhism with a very weak case, painting all Buddhists with the sins of militant Zen in Japan during WWII.

There are far better books to be read. An Archie cominc to name but one. Unless you are merely looking for a new nastiness to add to your own repertoire, you can avoid this book. It could have been a lot better. It could be little worse than it is.


(Originally posted to Multiply December 28, 2007)

What's In Your Wallet?

When I went out to the garage this morning to have a smoke I looked out the window and saw a Jersey cow standing on the other side of the fence. Now that was quite a curious thing because there are no cows within five miles of here and I found myself wondering where this one had come from. When I looked out again the cow was still there in the same spot. I had to look twice more before I realized it wasn't a cow but a dirty snowbank that I was looking at and in that moment I ceased looking at a cow or even a dirty snowbank and was looking directly into the human brain.

For all its complexity, the human brain is no more and no less than a vast pattern recognition machine. It takes in input from our six senses and tries to place them into patterns that we recognize as having seen before. Our six senses are, of course, sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and mind. At breakneck speed our brains sift and sort and try to make patterns from the input it is receiving but it is in this process that mistakes get made.

Clearly a dirty snowbank cannot have a great deal of resemblance to a Jersey cow and just as clearly my brain was having difficulty organizing what it was seeing into something recognizable and latched onto the Jersey cow as being the closest to what it thought it was seeing based on Jersey cows I have seen in the past.
Now, I can hear some of you laughing but this happens every day to all of us to one degree or another whether we notice it or not. In fact, in one aspect it happens to all of us to a great degree every moment of every day.

While proponents of Intelligent Design like to use the eye as an example or irreducible complexity, the human eye is an engineering nightmare. Unlike the more advanced eyes of some of the less evolved species, our's contain an engineering error. The nerves that connect to the collection points of the 120 million rods and cones in out retina are in front of the retina between it and our lens. This means we actually look through a haze of nerves. In order to pass through to the optic nerve these nerves pass through a hole in the retina. This hole actually creates a blind spot in our vision that we never see or notice. Why? Because our brains fill in the hole in our vision with material it sees in the surrounding area. It is like a computer program filling in pixels of a missing digital photo from the surrounding shades and hues. If some action takes place in the blind spot, we miss it entirely. Our brain doesn't register it. This is why, on some occasions, eye witness accounts do not match. What one or two people may actually see are missed entirely by others because the relevant action took place in the blind spot in their vision.

But, back to the point of pattern recognition and where I was going with this.

From the moment we are born we begin taking in information from five of our six sense organs. As babies we pretty much lack anything in the way of the sixth - mind. Babies simply observe. Or, better, they simply experience without judgement because they lack a language to make judgement. There is no good or bad to an experience as their brains lack that construct. They simply experience.

But from the moment a baby begins to learn language judgement begins. Good, bad. Hot, cold. Up, down. Sweet, sour and all the rest of the judgements that we all make thousands of times a day and this is where all the problems in the world start. A process that continues to the day we die.

Now, instead of directly experiencing what our senses deliver to our brain, we first filter them through our learned language constructs. Instead of directly experiencing 'cow,' the cow gets filtered through the language in our neo-cortex and 'cow' becomes 'Jersey cow,' or 'dirty cow' or 'holy crap, who let their cow into our residential neighborhood.' The vast pattern recognition machine now not only processes what we see, hear, and feel through its store of similar patterns, it also passes them through our language constructs for further filtering and from that point we never really see either a Jersey cow or a dirty snowbank again. From that point on no matter what our brain is scanning and recognizing we never really see anything as it is. We see it only after it has passed through our hopes and fears and prejudices that have accumulated over a lifetime of the incessant verbal chatter that runs through our heads.

So what are we to do if we ever wish to see things as they really are? There are two practices that we can use. The first is to practice silence, to spend periods of time using our language facilities as little as possible and then only for essentials: "Please pass the salt." By remaining silent we begin the process of reversal where we stop judging every experience we encounter and when we stop judging we can begin to experience the cow again.

But this is just the first step because while we can practice silence and non judgment we can never really be successful at it. Language has gained the upper hand and it is very difficult to keep language out of the driver's seat. This is where zazen, or, meditation comes in and we learn to focus our minds to where we can get beneath the language and beneath the judgements and eventually see our original mind pure and free from the accumulated concepts that keep us forever locked in samsara.

Stop and think about it for a moment. Have you ever wondered how many wars there would be if no one ever spoke? How about if everyone learned to speak without judgment?

Okay, everyone, the bell is about to sound. Face your cushion and bow. Now turn and face the cow and bow.

(Originally posted to Multiply on December 2007)

Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge

Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge device, or BOOK

The BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, not batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover.

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere - even sitting in an armchair by the fire yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. Here's how it works:

Each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder that keeps the sheets in their correct sequence.

Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheets, doubling the information density and cutting costs in half. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increase in information density: for now BOOKS with more information simply use more pages. This makes them thicker and harder to carry and has drawn some criticism from the mobile computing crowd.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into you brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it, it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet and to move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optical "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session - even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous bookmarkers can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optical programming tool. the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Stylus (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, the BOOK is being hailed as the entertainment wave of the future. The BOOK's appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform Look for a flood of new titles soon.
(author unknown)

(Originally posted to Multiply on December 13, 2007)

China. Does This Scare You? It Should!

While the Bush administration has been nearly completely focused on the non-threats of Iraq and Iran, the real threat to the western world has been largely ignored except where it has been a threat to our dog food supply.

Within five years China's economy will outgrow that of all of North America and that is their stated goal. China spends more of their budget on the military, 20%, than any country in the world and some of their abilities are now greater than that of the west. European countries have recently warned the United States about cyber warfare being waged right now on the Internet with a high percentage of new viruses being programmed by China's military. China's aim is to become the world's first super superpower and at the moment little stands in the way of their assuming total world domination.

China's industrial growth has reached the point where they no longer need to import any products from the west. Indeed, few in the west have any realization of how much of our industry is now in China and subject to Chinese control. From time to time I hear well intentioned people mouth the sentiment that we could not purchase products that are made in China but while we were not looking we are past that point. There is one shoe company left in the United States. There are no clothing companies left. Nearly all of our computer and hi-tech toys come from China. Now we are at their mercy for medicines.

The ramifications of the the following article should scare the shit out of you.

Security concerns raised as China fills U.S. medicine chest
By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers
Thu Dec 6, 6:00 AM ET

BEIJING — The medicine cabinet in the average U.S. home is filling with drugs made in China , and some experts say that could be a prescription for trouble.
 
China's booming pharmaceutical industry has doubled exports to the United States in the past five years, undercutting competitors and making American consumers reliant on the safety of Chinese factories and captive to any disruptions in Sino-U.S. commerce.

It might seem like merely a trade issue. But industry experts in Europe and the United States say national-security concerns are edging into the debate.
Consider this scenario:

If a major anthrax attack were to occur in the United States — larger than the one in 2001, when five people died— pharmaceutical companies that make the two antibiotics most suitable for treatment, Cipro and doxycycline, would have no choice but to rely on China or India for key ingredients once American stockpiles were exhausted. Those ingredients no longer are made in the West.

A Portuguese company that ramped up doxycycline production in 2001 at Washington's request said China now controlled the flow of its crucial drug component.

"If we were asked to do this again, we would be dependent on China providing us with key starting materials that are unavailable in the rest of the world," said Guy Villax, the chief executive of Hovione, a Lisbon -based fine chemicals company.

The spectacular growth of China's pharmaceutical industry coincides with some equally huge problems. A kickback scandal ensnared China's State Food and Drug Administration and its chief in charges that they gave approval for bogus drugs, including a counterfeit antibiotic that left 13 people dead. Wary of rising public anger, the state issued a Draconian sanction: It executed the agency chief in July.

Cases of tainted toothpaste, toys and pet food that have made global consumers wary of the "Made in China " label added urgency to a high-profile drug agency purge.

Even so, China's $65 billion pharmaceutical industry is galloping at an annual growth rate of 24 percent in the first eight months of this year. Competitors say China's drug companies not only have low-cost advantages but also get a nearly free pass from U.S. drug regulators, who hold the screws to American companies— raising their costs significantly— but rarely inspect in China .

China says it's a reliable source of safe medicine for its own citizens and export markets. At a news conference this week, the deputy drug agency chief, Wu Zhen , called on countries to work together to ensure a safe global supply chain of medicines.

"To solve the drug safety problems, we need international cooperation," Wu said. "We hope to have . . . more cooperation, and less finger-pointing."
China dominates more than just antibiotics. U.S. regulators license 714 plants in China to produce ingredients for over-the-counter, generic and prescription drugs for Americans. China has snagged a major share of the global sales of many vitamins, antibiotics, enzymes and painkillers. It makes a third of the world's acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain medication. Acetaminophen is sold under many brand names, the best known of which is Tylenol, though Tylenol itself isn't made in China .

This brings up another possible scenario:

"Just suppose you are taking some cholesterol drug, and its intermediates or active ingredients are made in China . Then there's some conflict with Taiwan . Will your drug still be available?" asked Joe Acker , the president of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers' Association , a trade group in Washington . "The whole drug supply could be in jeopardy in these kinds of situations."

Acker noted that he thinks that the United States could rebound from disruptions in the increasingly globalized supply chain for drug components, in which materials are bought from a number of low-cost countries.

"I'm not a Chicken Little type of person," Acker said. "However, if there were to be a major problem, and we could not source material from China , we would have to gear up production very quickly."

The anthrax scare jolted the United States just a week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 . Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to news organizations in Florida and New York and to the offices of two U.S. senators. Authorities don't know the source of the letters, and no arrests have been made.

Because of the attacks, the Health and Human Services Department increased stockpiles of antibiotics and vaccines against anthrax.
"We have enough antibiotics . . . to treat 40 million Americans," Bill Hall , a spokesman for the department, said in an e-mail, adding that the government also has 28.75 million doses of anthrax vaccine.
Bayer, the German health-care giant, held patent protection until 2004 over the antibiotic known as ciprofloxacin, which it marketed as Cipro. That antibiotic now is mass-produced by generic firms, which get a key ingredient, dichloro fluorobenzene, from one of four Chinese companies or two Indian firms.

The Chinese and Indian companies are all but exempt from oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration .

"Only 13 inspections were conducted in China in 2007," Rep. John Dingell , a Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said at a hearing Nov. 1 . "At this rate, it would take the FDA 55 years just to clear this backlog."

By giving China a virtual pass on FDA inspections, Acker said, Chinese firms get a cost savings of about 25 percent above American companies, which face unannounced on-site inspections at any time.

Since European pharmaceutical companies also face tougher standards, they too have stopped producing some basic drug ingredients, ceding production to Chinese and Indian companies that face less scrutiny and have lower costs.

On both sides of the Atlantic, manufacturers say they fret over the national-security implications of the massive off-shoring of production to Asia .
"If there is a peak in demand triggered by a pandemic or a terrorist event, there will be little domestic production capacity to meet public health needs," said an August 2006 white paper by the U.S. chemicals trade group in conjunction with the European Fine Chemicals Group , its counterpart.
Chinese chemical companies that sell ingredients used by foreign pharmaceutical firms also shield themselves from the news media.
Sun Dongliang, the deputy chief of the chemical industry chamber under the powerful China Council for the Promotion of International Trade , refused a request for an interview.

"He thinks that your interview has nothing to do with the chemical industry. It's about pharmaceutical things," said an assistant who gave only her surname as Guo.

All four Chinese companies that manufacture the key ingredient for ciprofloxacin declined requests for interviews.

China offered foreign journalists a tour of two model pharmaceutical plants in Hangzhou on Nov. 23 . The plants were spotless. Workers in face masks toiled in jumpsuits on assembly lines. Polished machinery gleamed. One factory made Chinese medicines to treat prostate ailments. The other made herbal remedies.

Outsiders say Chinese drug plants run the gamut from First to Third World.
"You will see some companies where you can eat off the floor. They are state of the art," said Acker, the U.S. trade group chief. "I hear other stories of places where people are making chemicals while wearing flip-flops."
Despite multiple requests over a two-week period, McClatchy was unable to gain access to any drug ingredient-manufacturing facilities other than the model firms presented by the Chinese government.

Although Chinese authorities warn against foreign finger-pointing, the government's own reaction to the scandal over bogus and substandard drugs earlier this year was extremely harsh.

After drug chief Zheng Xiaoyu's execution, the state began a vast housecleaning. This week, it said it had shut down 300 drug and medical-device makers, convicted 279 people of irregularities and prompted drug companies to withdraw 7,300 applications for drug approval, indicating more rigor in the approval process.

Such actions left doubt whether consumers ought to be reassured by the factories shut down or alarmed at the state of the industry. Wu, the deputy drug chief, said he hoped to restore faith in Chinese drugs after the kickback scandal.

"The corruption case . . . has tarnished our image," he said. "One of the targets of this campaign is to clean up the legacy caused by this corruption case."

Still unclear is whether increased self-policing is sufficient given the magnitude of China's production and its rising share of global medicine chests.

Villax, the Portuguese executive who's a board member of the European Fine Chemicals Group , said some Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturers were cutting corners and that unless enforcement tightened "people will die."

"It's not low-cost labor that concerns us," Villax said. "What we're saying is there are a lot of people not playing by the rules, and not getting caught."
A sign of the troubles that can occur in the pharmaceutical industry came at a plant that was manufacturing a key ingredient used in ciprofloxacin.
A deafening blast ripped through the Fuyuan Chemical Co. plant in Jiangsu province on July 28, 2006 . Once the smoke cleared, 22 people lay dead and another 29 were injured. China's State Administration of Work Safety later issued a report charging the plant with ignoring safety rules, adopting low construction standards and operating without permits.

( McClatchy special correspondent Fan Di contributed to this article.)
(Originally posted to Multiply December 6, 2007)