Grunion Moon (grunionmoon) wrote,
Grunion Moon
grunionmoon

Sick as a dog / Three grumbles


Early this morning I took one of my remaining Adderalls, and I've now taken an aspirin, an acetaminophen, and a cup of coffee in the hope that one of them will tee something up. This dreariness is disgraceful; somewhere underneath it all I am thinking too much to feel this helpless to do anything about it, and, if I try to do nothing, that's no good either: a day of total downtime/loafing is wasted if it's just dysphoric rotting.

Avaunt, damn it. .... And I just tried saying "avaunt" aloud, and this toneless croak emerged. Let's try that again. Is you a marine plant or is you a mouse?

Excedrin is a mix of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine, right?

***

I went out to check the mail: the air is gorgeous and rushing in the yard, cool but not far from warm, the breeze breathing through the leaves, wind-chimes tinkling somewhere. I came in and turned off the heat and left the front door open for a bit to air out the house. I'm going to feel lint-lunged regardless, but the world out there feels much more alive.

I have tomorrow off too. I should make an excursion on the bus tomorrow - I need a copy of Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe, have been needing it for some time for material. Powell's should have a used copy. A miserable journey, but I could use the time out of the house.

Not your usual winter overcast anymore. More glowing white than gray, and a hint of actual blue over there, and some clouds are clumped into springlike cumuli. Actual sunshine in between, now and then.

***

I can think of three main grouchy, curmudgeonly things I should write, about news stories and editorial essays. I think they're worth writing something about. Readers who happened by might find their time thoughtfully spent. But my vanity grumbles. I actually look like (or feel like I look like) an ugly curmudgeonly fart at the moment. Who wants to play such a part? Yucch. (It's way easier being a responsible ugly curmudgeon at moments when I feel like a hopeful handsome devil. Then I can feel like a bright spark contrasting with the downer. Yes, superficial ego nonsense infiltrates everything...)

The heck with it. I want to leave a record that I wasn't totally brain-dead today. And if I don't do it I will succumb to the general body mood that is waiting for me.

So:

***

1. GRUMBLE ONE - this headline annoyed me: Canada judge: Man not responsible for beheading

It wasn't just Yahoo News' headline. If you type "judge says not responsible" into Google today, you'll see that lots of different news outlets headlined this story in this way. I'm guessing that's the basic headline that came down the line from AP.

What I don't like about the headline is that it sounds outrageous - and that it steps past the nature of the decision, as if what Jack and Jill Average should understand is something different, this outrageous-sounding phrasing. The trouble is that what's being stepped past is at the base of Western law and of morality related to the law.

It's the theory of desert. People are punished when they deserve punishment for their actions, and they deserve punishment for their actions when those actions are illegal and harm other people and infringe their rights - and, crucially, when the people deliberately chose those actions, or when they could have avoided those actions and deliberately and knowingly chose not to do so. Like, if you run someone down with your car, you are punished if you aimed the car at the victim and floored the accelerator, and you are punished if it happened because your brakes were completely worn out and you ignored the situation and just kept driving and driving until someone died.

You're not punished for things that you could not have avoided. You are not punished for things you didn't and couldn't know or understand that you were doing. And you are not punished for things that you were incapable of understanding in such a way that avoidance could come into play at all. In the U.S. the case law goes back to a Civil War veteran on a train who, asleep and dreaming, strangled a porter. It has continued in the countries of the West through the difficult questions of mental illness.

In the story itself, it is revealed that both the prosecution and the defense are agreed that the man was totally cut off from reality - and both are agreed that he should not be sent to jail; he needed to go to a hospital. That's the law - and it is also the recognition on both sides that this man wasn't able to clear-headedly choose a thing. He was completely insane - and he did not choose to be insane.

I can certainly understand lack of full public clarity about this. The subject has been stained in the public mind by TV presentations of lots of deliberately evil people trying to "get off" through false insanity pleas. (This is much rarer in real life. People trying to avoid prison usually don't want to go to a mental hospital either.) And it is never simple territory in its own right. When a drunk driver kills, we punish hi/r for the witting crime, no matter how drunk s/he is, because s/he chose to "put an enemy in hi/r mouth to steal away hi/r brains" and to worsen hi/r judgment enough to get in a car and end up plowing into someone. But what of a mentally ill person who goes off hi/r meds? It's not as simple a question: how clearheaded and foreseeing is the mentally ill person when s/he goes off hi/r meds? This has been answered either way under various circumstances. (And there can be circumstances that make things even worse. I remember, awhile ago, a case of neglect-to-death of a newborn by a extremely schizophrenic woman who may not have even comprehended that it was a baby or that she had even been pregnant - she just left it and wandered away. I believe she had been mishandling her meds... but it turned out that different doctors had carelessly prescribed for her eight different psychoactive medications! With the number of pharmacological interactions involved there, it is extremely doubtful whether she was remotely hinged or capable of responsible maintenance at all when she took everything. A criminal look at the doctors would have been appropriate.)

But the story's headline is something else again. The judge wasn't doing something wacky and beheader-forgiving, the judge was doing what he should have done under the law. And I can't see the headline just as an inadvertence, because it would have been easy to say it clearly. Encouraging the public not to understand it and not to want to understand it, in favor of a short-hand for a rage-summary... going straight to the mother's perspective, with the mother not wanting to understand any reasons why the man was not guilty of his actions any more than if her son had died in a rockslide - wanting him to be responsible anyway, regardless, or else he's "getting away with it"...

This is irresponsible. And the other possible reason for it - an assumption that that level of things is lawyer- and judge-stuff, and that the headline should present the story on a different level of understanding, "the average person's point of view" or some such... that is just as irresponsible, and has the journalist acting like a know-nothing populist talking to a mob: "those eggheads have their gobbledygook, but WE know what to think, don't we?" The basics of legal decisions, in a story about a legal decision, are not "someone else's problem."




***



2. GRUMBLE TWO: In Newsweek, I was reading this essay in Newsweek, an excerpt from a book about the economic meltdown, and it made me really wonder just how intelligently those who should be deeply involved in learning lessons from our present meltdown are learning anything.

Possibly I am underrating the substantive recommendations in the article, although they don't seem to me to quite attack the meat of the problem except in an indistinct way. But as I neared the end of the article, I encountered this:
Finally, we have to be a little more willing to be stupid during Dumb Money eras, to leave money on the table, to forgo the easy returns our friends and neighbors are making. Of course, that's difficult. "When we see other people around us making money, flipping houses and tech stocks, we feel that we need to go into it as well," said Dan Ariely, author of "Predictably Irrational." "To minimize the regret, you join the bandwagon." To avoid this, we have to recognize the patterns of bubbles. We have to learn not to conflate a few random occurrences with a streak that can be extended into the future.

... You've got to be kidding. So the problem was that there was a lot of greed and hope flavoring our perspectives - and, if we learn the right chorus of "Kum Ba Yah" we will be better? People have always been hopeful and/or greedy for their own reasons, and they always will be. And - even if that bit is only advice about keeping your own marshmallows from burning to cinders in a general bonfire - the problem with this advice is that "it'll always look good or possible when it looks good or possible". (One might also make a subtheory that people who go into financial and investment institutions are likely, as a group, to always be more all about pure money opportunities than people in general.) The problem is the incentives that balance people's hopes, greed, and fears. If we fix the incentives, so that the actors own and worry about the risks they incur, the same spectrum of people won't enter into the same pattern of making as many unsafe decisions as they can pass onward while laughing all the way to the bank, and we won't again find a marvelous market-powered way to rot the entire banking system from the inside out like a bad pear. If we DON'T fix the incentives... Really, is the proposed cure really supposed to be that we are all supposed to remember to be virtuously wiser than it looks wise for us to be at the moment? In the stock market and investment cultures? In a gigantic society, with "higher responsibility" diffused across lots and lots of other people and onto the society at large? Spread things out far enough, and our desires and family responsibilities and etc., etc. can make us ALL watchers of Kitty Genovese. We are going to stay biologically and psychologically the same people! Diagnose the problem and suggest cures on the basis of that!

Sometime I should transcribe into OD a gigantic rant I wrote Sarah - massive, it was, with operatic multi-sized and multicolored type - about popular environmentalism and the self-castrating self-trivializing pits it falls into. Somewhere in there I believe I derided the bright saying, "Awareness is the first step", and substituted "Awareness can be the first step toward nothing at all." Particularly in regard to the above, I could add, "... especially if you don't even figure out what it is you're supposed to be aware of."

That quotation is scary gauzy loopy talk to read by someone who is deep into this subject! I wish I could be sure that he was only talking about personal prudence, but I'd be more reassured if his other recommendations cut to the quick on the incentive problems. They didn't. (I think it's a saying by John Gall, one of his maxims, or a close relative anyway, that those who are most deeply involved in a System become less and less able to evaluate it and its workings...)




***

So far so good. I feel better that I'm not just lying down, anyway. :o/

***



3. GRUMBLE THREE: The drug MDMA, used in conjunction with psychotherapy, is being looked at, with some good results so far, in treating people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.

It is with some knowledge of the history of such research that I say that the following bugs me:

Ecstasy Pushed As PTSD Treatment

Partly it's that "Ecstasy Pushed" headline/title, but what really tears it is the photo you'll find with the story. Feast your eyes.

Look, I can split the difference between whether I should "really" be madder at NIDA and the DEA over the years or at Timothy Leary who took an extraordinary class of clinically significant drugs out of academia and terrified middle America with them, but research on therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs has been mostly in the deep freeze for forty years, mostly for political and thematic reasons. Doctors and scientists have had great difficulty getting approvals for studies - or just haven't gotten them. Research of any kind slowed to a trickle, and mostly did not continue at all.

This while the conditions that they might help with are intractible and severe. PTSD or "shell shock" is one example. (Another example is cluster headaches, with psilocybin. If you have a friend or family member who gets cluster headaches, I know you just understood me.)

Here is a Scientific American piece on some of the recent research. In regard to PTSD, by the way, Ecstasy isn't the first psychedelic drug to show promise in treating it. I remembered this doctor in the Netherlands who used LSD with psychotherapy to treat shell shock in concentration-camp survivors.

But all this is still Deep Weird - and news coverage tends to push that angle, to reconfirm initial expectations. "Look - fringe weirdness."

Ecstasy? Show a pile of dissolute ravers with lascivious tongues! One goes with the other in average people's minds, so let's show our readers we're "with it" and right with them.

... while, right at the moment, we happen to have a sea of people returning to the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In light of which, headlines and choices of photos like that aren't just frivolous. They are dangerous, because they might have an effect. Because it is very far from certain that investigation of this line of treatment is going to be able to go ahead. As the story says, for one thing, neither the VA or the DoD are on board yet.

A general note: Use by doctors for medical treatment is a quite separate question from use under other circumstances. (For anyone who doubts this: yes, it is possible that these questions can have blending at the edges; medical use of morphine and other opiates is not unconnected to addictions, especially among doctors; people have been known to sell the Adderall I take on the street; medical marijuana may be diverted to recreational use widely and even flagrantly, although when you don't allow pharmacists to be the dispensers of medical marijuana I'm not sure what else you were trying to aim for. But the use of these drugs to help patients is a separate question from recreational use.) The trouble is that the latter can affect the former, in idiotic ways - as if, because people shoot heroin, a burn victim doesn't need morphine. Of a number of quotations I remember, the freshest in my mind is connected with that doctor in the Netherlands. A British professor of clinical psychotherapy was advising the Dutch government and speaking disdainfully of trying to use LSD therapeutically in such a way - and this sentence from him sticks in my head: "The continuation of apparently legitimate therapeutic uses of LSD detracts from the work of people trying to contain the enormous drug problem." ... Ah. As a statement of priority - when it's a question of people recovering from horrific trauma as in Auschwitz, or else not recovering from it - I myself would talk a little less sweepingly about what's being "detracted" from, particularly when the "enormous drug problem" is not actually coming from their treatment. ("But, see, that gives the idea that morphine helps you!")

This looks like something important, and indeed it has looked like it for quite a while. If the sense of the expected gets in the way of finding out, then the sense of the expected is not worth protecting in this area.


***

Oh, that's enough. My appetite for sitting up is wavering. Woozy.
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