Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Confronting the Cancer Demon....Full Speed Ahead!

 Being taken through the ins and outs of a prostate biopsy result, clinical all the way, is a weird experience. Weird because for the first time, in living color, you're coming "face to face" with what is growing - otherwise unseen - inside you. Something that if left to itself, will surely kill you and as totally, painfully and miserably as almost any other cancer.....maybe just short of the misery of pancreatic cancer. But there it was, one photo-micrograph specimen of two 'cores' (in glaring reddish stain, with menacing looking, ragged cell borders)  bearing Gleason scores (3 +4 = 7) . The two most malignant "fragments" occupied the mid lobe and apex, respectively and with 20% extent meaning the tumors in those areas are now 6mm (or a quarter inch wide) and growing.

(Aside: Btw, the nurse gave the Gleason scores incorrectly: There were actually SIX of twelve sample cores with abnormal cell manifestation, and five identified as malignant. Two samples had 3 + 3 = 6 Gleason total, and the other two (noted above) had 3 + 4s. )

When I asked the urologist if there was any option for "watchful waiting" he said that based on his 20 years experience, including at Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic, no. The tumor doubling time for a 20% volume wasn't known for certain but he didn't leave out a potential of once every six months in which case the whole prostate might be occupied by tumor in 2 years and might break out to the lymph nodes and bones in three. In other words, discomfiting or not, it was a damned good thing I did get the biopsy done and didn't hesitate any longer.

I was also frankly amazed that when I mentioned my preferred choice of treatment (HDR monotherapy) the urologist didn't express dismay. As he put it: "Unlike some docs who get their noses out of joint because a patient chooses a treatment outside their own specialty, I don't!" That was very satisfying, also when he volunteered his assistance in case any problem arose in the aftermath.

By the way, the use of "seeds" is not where the UC- San Fran. monotherapy is at. They now have a method of HDR treatment planning in which nothing - no seed - is left inside ....for its radiation to decay. Instead, the needles are themselves radioactive - each bearing a designated, pre-computed dose - and are inserted into the affected areas of the gland (through the perineum) then removed daily. The treatment for needle insertion is generally done over 3 sessions, occupying two -three days depending on one's tolerance for the pain, discomfort. (You are also given control of the pain, according to wifey, by being allowed to squeeze a morphine drip to get relief any time needed. I've never taken morphine before but be assured if I need it I will use it! I ain't worried about "addictions" like so many are in this country and why many drs. are pain amelioration averse.)

The urologist will be sending all the biopsy results and slide histology over to SF today or tomorrow, and on calling my Medicare Supplement insurance company - found out they are A-ok with going out of state for treatment. So, depending on how soon the clinical assessment is done, and the availability of seats (using accumulated  free miles), we will be on our way. I always wanted to see the Redwood forests and Golden Gate Bridge....as well as Haight-Ashbury!

More than likely this won't happen before September, maybe the first or second week. We will probably miss the start of the NFL football season for our teams (Ravens and Packers) but hey, that's what DVRs are for.

Am I looking forward to it? Not all of it, but then you gotta do what you gotta do. Guys, here's another object lesson for you: When wifey nags you to go in for that PSA test or biopsy do not fob her off. She has your best interests at heart. Yeah, the biopsy was bloody uncomfortable in parts, but tolerable and no where as bad as the outcome had cancer taken over everything.

Do what you have to do!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Verdict Is: Prostate CANCER......So Now What?

Well, 12 days had elapsed and to be truthful, I had been living in a "fool's paradise". I believed the old saw that no news was good news, and that with almost 2 weeks gone past the prostate biopsy the only reason the urologist hadn't called by now was the result had to be negative. Wrong conclusion! The urologist was actually out of town on an 'emergency' for a week so was incommunicado. But he did call today, actually his nurse, and informed me that 5 of the 12 extracted tissue samples were positive for cancer - with two of the samples displaying high Gleason scores, of 6 and 7. That means the malignant cells are aggressive. The good news is they're contained and relatively localized.

I am scheduled to meet the urologist tomorrow at 10.15 a.m. and he will discuss my options at this point. I do know he is a Da Vinci robotic procedure specialist so will be eager to go that route. However, my reaction will be 'Not so fast'!

After reading the account  ('Hello, Prostate Cancer') of Dr. Steven B. Mason in the latest issue of the Region VII Intertel Newsletter, I definitely do not want to go that way. Not with excruciating pain, with 12 weeks of post-op recovery and being basically hobbled to the point of a cripple. Mason noted that one ("not uncommon") complication he had was a "pelvic abscess" and having to go back into the hospital after 8 weeks "with a drainage tube poking out of my belly a second time".   At the end of his 12 -week ordeal (which he says he'd never have gotten through without a mate) he states he retained urinary control, but many sources suggest rates of incontinence approaching 50% after Da Vinci robotic surgery. It ain't as neat and straightforward as many have been led to believe.

The options? Well, proton beam therapy (which is VERY expensive, averaging $48,000 a treatment) and HDR brachytherapy - for which my wife was an expert treatment planner before retiring. The HDR stands for "High Dose rate' and it entails a procedure in which radioactive seeds (usually of Iodine) are implanted into the prostate by way of hollow needles through the perineum. The implanted seeds then release specified doses of radiation to the affected region and thereby kill the cancer cells. (This is also the method that Warren Buffet has elected to use in treating his own prostate cancer.)

We just talked on the phone to a guy (who used to work with wifey)  and had HDR monotherapy done last year, at the Univ. of California - San Francisco, and he said it entailed just three sessions - each in the hospital - over 5 days total, and there have been no side effects, whether to urinary function, inflamed  rectum or other. He said the only incidental discomfort was from a reaction to the local anesthetic but that this was unusual. The great thing is he was up and about in just a week as opposed to being laid up like an invalid on pain killers for 12 weeks.

Of course, negative nabobs note that if the radiotherapy doesn't work then your pelvic area will possibly be too damaged to then have surgery. But hey! Them's the breaks of the game! Nothing is assured, as I am finding out. Even PBT or proton beam therapy can have its nasty side effects including the need for resection of intestines or even needing evacuation (ostomy) bags worn permanently if the treatment goes awry. Surgery meanwhile invites high rates of infection, including from prolonged use of catheters, as well as possible strokes. Not everyone walks away from it unscathed, or clean as a whistle.

You basically take your pick of treatment, go with it, and (hopefully) live with it without regret. But there are no ironclad guarantees. Anyone who wants such guarantees has no business living. Life is a crap shot each time you wake up in the morning. Ask those people still recovering after going to the Batman midnight movie premiere in Aurora, CO ten days ago.

So I will let blog readers know what the upshot is from the meeting tomorrow. In any case, I also have other medical issues to deal with as well including a possible perforated eardrum. (For which I have to see an ENT specialist on Thursday).

When it rains, it pours!

The Problems With E-Books

With five e-books (including two 'Nook' books) available in the commercial market I probably ought to be the last person to complain about how they are handled, especially in terms of library lending (alas, many people don't even know that e-books are available to borrow at public libraries).

What are some of the problems?

First, is probably the rationing of e-books for lending purposes by publishers. Let's face facts here, as noted in a recent issue of The Economist (July 28th, p. 60) publishers are "wise to be nervous" say if borrowing instead of purchasing becomes the norm, since "owners of e-books are exactly the customers they need: book lovers with money (neither the devices or broadband connections come cheap)"

Hence, a borrowing norm doesn't redound to the benefit of publisher profits, or to quote The Economist (ibid.):

"If these wonderful people switch to borrowing e-books instead of buying them, what then?"

Indeed, and so to try and postpone any such switch of reader habits, publishers normally ration e-books for lending at libraries. In most cases then, no more than 200 e-copies can be made available for lending at any one library. (Harper Collins limits libraries to lending its titles 26 times.) Also, unlike normal paper books, strict rules apply and an e-book borrower can't simply lend it to another.  This rationing problem came to the fore some weeks ago, when it was pointed out in the Sunday Denver Post Book Section that female borrowers were left stranded at Denver Public libraries: they were unable to find enough e-books to borrow of 'Fifty Shades of Gray'. (Hey, ladies! You can always borrow my e-books if you can't find that pot boiler! Mental edification also works!)

Now, before going on to more problems there's a big advantage: borrowing e-books is super convenient! Instead of having to actually physically travel to a public library to check out a paper book, the would be borrower can simply scan digital library catalogs from a sofa. Also, the e-books don't have to be physically returned like paper books, they simply disappear from the device when they are due. Hence, no late fees, fines etc.

On the other hand, as The Economist observes (and awkwardly for publishers):

"Buying an e-book costs more than renting one but offers little extra value. You cannot resell it. Lend it to a friend. ...or burn it to stay warm. Owning a book is useful if you want to savor it repeatedly, but who reads 'Fifty Shades of Grey' twice?"

In terms of e-book lending-borrowing, the 'fly in the ointment' in terms of the ease of process, is the interjection of a company called 'OverDrive'. This is a global distribution company that is in charge of securing the rights from publishers and providing e-books as well as audio books in different formats. In 2011, 35 million titles were checked out via OverDrive. Despite the company's essential monopoly, however, little has been done to rectify the varied and often incompatible e-book formats.

Some blog readers may (or may not) recall the not too long ago kerfuffle when OverDrive teamed up with Amazon, makers of the Kindle. (As The Economist article notes, Kindle readers who wished to borrow an e-book were first redirected to Amazon's website where they had to use their Amazon account to secure a loan.  When the book became due, Amazon notified borrowers they could "buy the book".)

This cozy relationship "nudged Penguin to end its deal with OverDrive earlier this year".

Penguin's new relationship is with 3M a distributor that doesn't support the Kindle.

Interestingly, none of these bothersome issues trouble me, since I remain a confirmed "real" book reader who prefers the feel and smell, not to mention page texture, of actual books. Plus, when I am finished I can always lend them to a friend, or sell them on Amazon if I wish.

No hot shot publisher, distributor or other wheeler-dealer can tell me that I don't really "own" the book, despite having paid a lot of good money for it!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What has Mitt Got to Hide? Ans. His TD-F 90.22.1

We have Mitt Romney's 2010 tax forms, and maybe 2011, and we know he's put money in overseas accounts, namely in the Caymans and Switzerland. Though Mitt believes he's done "God's justice" by providing these two years of basic tax files and account locations, he really hasn't because he's never supplied the ancillary TD-F 90.22.1  form.

Note that from the information: "Each U.S. person having a financial interest in, or signature or other authority over, any foreign financial accounts with an aggregate value exceeding $10,000 at any time during the calendar year must report such relationship by filing Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBAR”). "

The key informational part of the Form for each section of each of his accounts we'd like to see is No. 15: "Maximum value of account during calendar year period".  Leaving out all the other dross, this information would tell us precisely what Romney's worth is for any calendar year for which this "F-BAR" form is filed. Is it more than $500 million? $300 million? Is is $250 million in each of his offshore accounts?

We don't know, and Romney won't say, because although he gave up his 1040s he's not given up the ancillary form (which must be separately filed with the Dept. of the Treasury) that gives that information.

Would so many American voters (45% by some recent polls) be willing to vote for this Bain Wheeler-Dealer if they knew how much he was really worth and where the bulk of his money was parked? I somehow doubt it. But that's why he's not making the information known, hence only provided an incomplete picture of his taxes.

I believe the Dems and Obama need to start banging on this theme, not just his tax returns for 10 or 12 years, but releasing the all important Form TD-F 90.22. 1 for the years (just two) he HAS released his regular 1040s. Only then will Americans be able to see how rich this character is and why he can't possibly have their interests at heart!

Is the Psycho Gaming the System? Could be....

James Egan Holmes: The 'Butcher' of Aurora. Is he gaming the system?

The blogosphere buzz now is that the Aurora Mass Murderer (let's cut the crap here, and leave out all the "alleged killer" BS - he surrendered to the police decked out in his bloody kevlar and other gear) is gaming the justice system. This meme has arisen in the wake of the discovery that he sent a notebook bearing all his massacre plans to a therp that was treating him at the University of Colorado-Anshutz. Evidently, this therapist - Lynne Fenton- had been treating the guy for schizophrenia .

Left unresolved, especially after a judge has sealed further records disclosure from the university, is whether Holmes knew in advance how this would unfold. It is possible that he deliberately decided to seek therapy services from this senior person in the hope that it might later be exploited to make the basis for an "insanity" plea.  Leaving out all the other distractions, I simply believe Holmes - if this was indeed his plan - made the wrong choice of illness. He is definitely (ok, let's say instead with 90% probability) not schizophrenic - since his behaviors don't fit that cluster of traits as defined and explicated in the DSM-III and IV.  To recall for readers, The DSM-III, IV (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) provides a classification of personality disorders and identifies 'clusters' within which specific disorders can occur. These include:

(A) Schizotypal, paranoid and schizoid personality disorders ('odd, eccentric' cluster)

(B) Borderline, narcissistic, histrionic and anti-social personality disorders ('dramatic, emotional, erratic')

(C) Submerged: Avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, passive aggressive personality disorders('anxious, fearful')

Each Cluster has discrete tendencies within itself:

(A) -> withdraw (no wants from others)

(B) -> exploit (want from others without seeing or responding to what others want from them)

(C) -> comply (want from others, but yields only to others' wants to avoid conflict)

As I showed in my several prior blogs, beginning with Deconstruction of a Psycho Holmes' profile and attributes (as we have assimilated them from sundry reports) fit in with the tendencies in the last (C) ensemble and hence fit the profile of a submerged personality, not a schizophrenic. Also, I have had the experience of observing paranoid schizophrenics at the Black Rock (Barbados) Mental Health Sanatorium in the 70s, and NONE of them demonstrated any capacity for mega-violence of the form James Eagan Holmes manifested via his aggressive pseudo-ego,  the Joker.

Now, let us bear in mind another critical aspect as this case slowly wends its way to trial (which I am now informed  may not be for two years):  A person cannot be tried for a crime unless he is competent to stand trial. To be competent, he must be oriented as to time and place, comprehend the charges against him, appreciate his legal peril, recall the events that caused him to be charged, and be able to communicate with and assist their attorneys to defend him.

It is not, at this time, evident that Holmes meets any of these criteria.  Indeed, according to the (UK) Telegraph, Holmes claims that he does not recall the incident. If that is true, he is incompetent to stand trial.

Why should he not recall it? As I explained in my 'Parsing of the Submergent Psycho- Part II  his incarceration "has torpedoed the 'Joker' (the aggressive pseudo-ago) who is thereby rendered impotent and inactive. What we are seeing is the first emergence of Holmes' authentic self and the expected SHOCK because frankly, HE doesn't know what the hell happened! After all, it was the pseudo ego 'Joker' that did the deed, then vacated or was vacated. Now, the authentic or previously submerged ego is left to wonder what the hell is going on."

So no wonder he has that vacant, million light years distant stare on his face. I also added (in the same blog):

"His self has been dissociated, and the guilty perp -ego is now gone, fled the coop as it were, to leave the authentic 'James Holmes' ego and self to bear the cost"

In other words, to spell it out, Holmes as his authentic (earlier submerged) self, truly can't recall the incident or what he did. He can't because a distinct, different ego (self) perpetrated it. This aggressive pseudo ego masterminded all the planning, as well as execution, while Holmes' submerged self was unavailable and 'out for the count'. His contact with therapist Lynne Fenton may actually have been a last ditch desperate effort to contact the mother-pseudo ego for some kind of relief. (With Fenton embodying the mother ego). We may never know.

The other real horror (apart from the lives shattered and lost at the theater) may be that the authentic self - who had no clue what was transpiring - will be executed for what his alter ego ("Joker")  did to those 70 people at an Aurora movie theater.

An Investment Test - for Karen Klein....Or Anyone Else!

Karen Klein in recent press-media reports, has stated she's thinking of making "investments to make my money grow". This may be unwise given the current volatile, low demand environment - but just in case she intends to go forward here's an investment test to ascertain if she's truly ready to go that route - or (as I suggested) stick to immediate fixed annuities. The test is also useful for anyone else considering plowing money into the markets, now that the magic DOW is heading up toward 13,000 to perhaps stay.....or maybe crash 5,000.

TIME: 45 Minutes: NO GOOGLING!
1) What is a P/E ratio?

2) What is the maximum tolerable expense ratio, beyond which an investor shouldn’t invest in a mutual fund?

3)Distinguish between front and back loads.

4) Joe has $10,000 to invest and the fund is front loaded at 5%. How much is he really investing? How much must he gain the first year to reach break-even? How much must his fund earn to achieve a REAL 5% gain. (Assume the expense ratio is 2%)

5) Distinguish between bonds and bond funds?

6) How would you recognize collateral debt obligations (CDOs) in a bond fund? Interest only strips? Inverse floaters?

7) When investing in stocks, one of the worst tricks used by brokers or managers is collusion using ‘micro caps’ to keep their clients buying and selling stocks within a closed artificial market. (Source:‘License To Steal: The Secret World of Wall Street Brokers and the Systematic Plundering of the American Investor', page 211). Explain.

8) Small, individual investors in stocks are usually fleeced by brokers through “crossing”, “churning” and “parking”. Explain how each of these would work.

9) Why can’t you trust a “financial advisor” to really handle your money in YOUR best interest?

10) Why, if you do – is the ADV form Part II essential? What is an ADV form?

11) Hidden commissions using transactions between brokers is another way to fleece stock investors. (‘License to Steal’, p. 212). How exactly would it work, referencing two brokers you can call “A” and “B”? (E.g. what exactly would A and B each do to make it work, using any stock price you want)

12) Fund managers like derivatives because they can artificially inflate a fund's return numbers to attract more buyers. They are risky and unregulated devices. They are usually not specifically reported in any portfolio. How would you know if your investment has derivatives?

13) Joe and Mary Schmoe are within 6 years of desired retirement. They estimate they need at least a $300,000 nest egg along with their Social Security. In order to ramp up their savings they put $100,000 of their $200,000 so far saved into equity and bond funds in their 401ks. After three years, their total loss is $30,000. Assuming average 5% gains per year afterward, how long will it take them to make back their original investment? Assuming similar performance, how long will it take them to reach $300,000 in their nest egg? (Assume 15% capital gains taxes per year).

14) Distinguish between money market accounts and money market funds. Why are the latter always riskier?

15) Sally has $250,000 inheritance to invest. She doesn’t want to play the market directly, so opts for what she believes is a diversified portfolio of stock (equity) and bond funds. All the stock funds have derivatives. All the bond funds have either IOs, CDOs or inverse floaters. Despite her rigid attention to what she thought was “diversification” she loses $20,800 in the first year – half from the bond funds, and $40,900 the second year.

a)What should Sally do at this point?

b)Explain why her funds are not really diversified.

c) How can she ensure a relatively SAFE portfolio in a low demand environment without going to a financial advisor?

Marks allocation: 1-3, 5 and 9 (5 marks each), 4, 6- 8, 10, 12, 14 (10 marks each), 11 and 13 (15 marks each), 15 (20 marks)


Over 85% - Ready to invest or meet with financial planners ...without risking a life of catfood

70- 85%: You might be ready but be sure if you do you have the ADV form pt. 2 for the FA, and know what you're getting into.

50-70%: Stay out of the investment game and stick with  safe fixed income devices.

Below 50%: You may want to ask a kindly relative to manage your money for you!

Karen Klein About to Retire? Maybe!

Bullied Bus Monitor Says She Isn't Retiring Because of Bullies (ABC News)Karen Klein: Let's hope she really retires and doesn't change her mind!

Three cheers for former school bus aide Karen Klein, who after a nasty bullying incident back in June (in Greece, NY)  made international headlines, and has since collected over $703,000 in a special fund set up on Indiegogo.com (by Max Sidirov, 25, from Toronto). Sidirov initially set up the site to raise just $5,000 to send Klein "on a much deserved vacation". that threshold was quickly passed . Given the new total, Karen now evidently plans to finally retire.

I had actually  advised her do just that when the total was barely  three-fifths of what it is now. I also noted in that situation she could go on vacation just about any time she desired.. Therein also I emphasized she could have a comfortable retirement using only a portion of her money to fund immediate fixed annuities which would provide her a steady, safe income for life. I even gave the website to go to: http://www.immediateannuities.com/

The above site is really useful for anyone 62 or over, who doesn't wish to risk money in the stock market, and for which different annual income amounts can be generated based on location, age, and the duration of the annuity. (Shorter annuities, e.g. 10, 15 years, are available which will generate more income per month - assuming you will only live that much longer or can find supplemental income down the line.)

Given her whopping new total collected, and what she plans to do with it all, Karen has stated that:

I want to save some, I want to invest in some things to make it grow, and donate to a couple of groups that I have in mind,” according to The National Post

I would at this point, just warn her to beware of "investing to make it grow" when the economic climate we inhabit is not one to support that. Sadly, every type of financial huckster will also want to share in her new found riches, and that means promising her almost anything - but which is likely fraudulent - given today's low demand environment. Hence, I advise Karen again, as I did before, to put away the "growth" game - say for stocks (phantom money)  or even CDs promising 5-6% per annum, and stick to the tried and true immediate annuities - which will assure that she won't have to come back at any point begging for her job.

Charity donations, up to a point, are fine and we know Klein has a granddaughter with Down syndrome and a grandson with autism, ensuring she will likely use some of the money to donate to organizations that help those causes.

Karen denies in the sundry press reports that she's retiring because of the odious kids that harassed her on the bus, including sarcastic and nasty comments about her son who committed suicide. Maybe this is so, but I'd warrant - given the accounts heard from many similar people who've retired from analogous positions, that the nature of the job just lost its appeal. The incident on the bus was then simply a "bridge too far" or the "straw that broke the camel's back". Pick whatever hackneyed, recycled saying you want. Karen, bottom line, had reached her 'nuff of this shit' limit - which all of us have. So no, it probably wasn't that single incident but the cumulative toll of lots of minor incidents culminating in that one.

In the end, the reason doesn't matter, what matters is that she's really going to retire. To that end, may I also offer one more piece of advise?

Please complete the paperwork that makes it official! According to the same press reports, Karen has dilly-dallied and still has not submitted the paperwork up to the time of this blog. This isn't sanguine, and makes me wonder if in fact Karen hasn't truly finalized her decision or cut it in stone. Leaving a loose end, and such a glaring one, is not a good omen.

Go for it, Karen! Get the damned paperwork done and make that retirement REAL! The last thing we want  is to see you sitting on that bus again, taking crap from a bunch of diminutive congenital losers! And - if you allow yourself to do that- there won't be much sympathy next time.

So - TWO things:

1) Get yourself several laddered immediate fixed annuities and forget those "growth" investments (by the way I will offer you a test to see if you are really ready to make stock, mutual fund investments)  and

2) Complete the paperwork and get it submitted to make the retirement official.

You now have the time and moola to go to Hawaii where you indicated an interest for extended vacation. Take it and don't step back into that school district with those ingrates!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

'Muricans Need to Wake Up About Military Spending!

TOP GRAPHIC: The Proportion of Military Spending in this Country Now: With Foreign Aid, Infrastructure, Alternative Energy Research, Scientific Research, etc. occuping the minor 'slivers'.

Even as Repups bellyache to the high heavens about the coming "sequestration" and the "untold damage" (sic) to their precious military (while Mitt Romney promises to double the Pentagon budget- never mind the Pentagon still can't account for $1.2 trillion from 2002), most Americans when questioned or polled still have defective notions about the proportion of the budget sucked up by military crap. However, thanks to the National Priorities Project, they ought to get at least a graphic idea from the attached image. (Note: Fiscal Year 2013 has already commenced (in June), so effectively the pie graph gives a projected proportion, albeit not significantly differing from this year's distributions)

Still, we need to count 'blessings' that not all our citizens are so dumb struck that they actually believe the military needs more moola, and feel sympathy for poor widdo Leon Panetta when he weeps that our miltary will "suffer permanent damage" if not pumped up more. (Even at the expense of critical domestic programs).  So, it's gratifying that about 10 percent of voters-citizens have it down that we spend more on military bunkum and toys than the next 25 nations together. What may not be known, alas, is that the military budget has been growing continuously for the past 15 years, despite some arrant media reports it's "shrinking". (I believe most of those media reports were sown by Neoliberal punks, poltroons and misfits as distorted PR to try to get voters to oust or cut critical domestic social programs in favor of growing the military. These wombats need to know a lot of us are on to them!)

What does this steady growth and the current "sequestration" translate into? Only that the alleged forthcoming "automatic cuts" - which have all the Pentagon lubbers pissing and moaning- are really NOT cuts at all, but merely slight decelerations in the RATES of growth! There is a vast difference there, and this is what our fellow citizens need to process.

Further, while the 'bought and paid' for Office of Management and Budget can soon be expected to recycle the baloney that the military budget is "small relatively as a percentage of GDP", the true fact is that it has more than doubled since 2000, from 2.4 % of GDP to nearly 4.9%. This uptick in GDP percentage led former Pentagon Analyst Chuck Spinney (the same person who exposed the unaccounted for $1.2 trillion) to remark that the increase was nothing less than "a war on domestic programs, including Social Security and Medicare". So true! Because if they protect the miltary budget and keep feeding its pork barrel coffers on behalf of congressional maggots around the nation, it will mean that domestic social spending will have to be capped or more likely decreased.

To fix ideas and eyeballs even more, consider that over the past decade this GDP metastasis translates into a pure growth factor of nearly $2 trillion. Thus, Repub Tom Coburn (OK) was correct (even a year ago) when he averred that Pentagon spending today "is higher in constant dollars than at any time in the last 60 years, including the Korean War, Vietnam and all the Defense Dept. spending during the Reagan years ($2.2 trillion)".

Why don't more citizens know this? Maybe because the Corporo-Media's 24/7 Wurlitzer and mind manipulators - Bernaysian PR generators don't want them to!

As for capping social domestic programs, one plausible method that the Neoliberal pawns would love to see is changing the Social Security COLA (cost of living adjustment) to one based on "chained CPI" rather than inflation. This would translate to a loss of one whole year's benefits every ten years for most beneficiaries. It would also make Medicare much much more expensive, and consequently send many seniors - our elderly parents and relatives - over the real fiscal cliff (as opposed to the fantasy one the Neoliberal rascals and rodents have created to further their Pareto- based economic utopia).

As assorted voices in the media start shouting in the coming months about "protecting our military from sequestration" - take them with the proverbial grain of salt. Better, email, phone or write these assholes and tell them to STFU. The truth is we are on the cusp - unless something is done- of approving a massive  undermining of our domestic security in terms of health, infrastructure and national welfare, at the expense of padding the pockets of the defense contractors, their lobbyists and all the whore congress critters that support them!

Meanwhile also, pay attention as the yen to further bloat the military curries more favor from political Jacobins, traitors and numbskulls, and their fellow travelers- the austerity hawks -  continue to target "entitlements". They won't be satisfied until we're all homeless, sick, dead or maybe ....walking dead. We the rational and sensible need to be aware the 'body count' is right here at home, not off in Afghanistan - which is already a lost cause, and has been for over five years.

A country in decline or not?  You figure it out!


Footnote: Adjusted for inflation, today’s national security-defense  budget is nearly double Eisenhower’s when he left office in 1961 (about $400 billion in today’s dollars) — a level Ike deemed sufficient to contain the very real Soviet nuclear threat in the era just after Sputnik. By contrast, the Romney-Ryan version of shrinking Big Government is to increase our already outlandish warfare-state budget and risk even more spending by saber-rattling at a benighted but irrelevant Iran.

Planetary Boundaries: Defining Our Critical Limits for Survival

We now are much more aware of the fact that humans can't do anything they want to their home planet and survive. Beyond certain critical limits, humans "pushing the envelopes" of any of nine critical physical boundaries - and we get flushed into extinction.

Before the fall of 2009, virtually no one other than an elite core of environmental and climate scientists too the notion of natural boundaries seriously. Even now very few in the general population are informed about them and the consequences if humans play the fool.

But in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, a group of concerned scientists working under the auspices of the 'Stockholm Resilience Center' in Sweden, published a paper in Nature that got on their peers' radar. The paper essentially spelled out nine areas of concern which one might say "parameterized" the safe operating and living space for human development: nine limits beyond which humans ought not push their luck or their planet.  These nine areas are:

-climate change

- ocean acidification

- intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth)

- the conversion of wilderness areas to farms and cities

- extinctions of fauna with which humans share planetary space

- accumulation of chemical pollutants

- the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere

Though nine critical boundary areas were given, the authors felt confident enough to actually put numbered limits on seven areas for which they believed incursions and excesses were most critical. They deferre judgment for the chemical pollutants and level of particulates (though we now know the latter have played a role in masking about one third of actual global warming, in a phenomenon we refer to as "global dimming'. )

Since the Resilience Group's breakthrough paper, the notion of planetary boundaries has taken root, as it were. For example, it repeatedly crops up in the UN's Environment Program's GEO-5 assessments of the world. Pride of place actually was conferred by the high level Panel on Global Sustainability which reported recently to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Meanwhile, a group called 'Plan Under Pressure' (a powerful scientific conference held recently in London) made the boundary concept central to the message it conveyed to the Rio+20 Earth summit that opened on June 20th.

Though there have been the inevitable criticisms (i.e. from the likes of the "Breakthrough Institute" - a contrarian think tank), to the effect the limits pay too much attention to effects during the Holocene - or the epoch since the last Ice Age- defenders note it really only takes one critical arena for human life to unspool on this planet. Many also argue for a more concerted effort to constrain the Anthropocene (the truly human-domiated era) within the norms of the Holocene.

Climate change immediately comes to mind, what with more than 9,000 heat extreme records broken in the U.S. this summer alone. Then add to that the apparent total melting of Greenland's ice cover - recently captured in satellite photos by NASA and the next phase of ther elevant  tipping point (ice sheet collapse, melting of permafrost ) becomes easier to process.

Note that skeptics (as usual) have pounced on the NASA "unprecedented melting" claims and trotted out a number of "glaciologists" and "climatologists" who've insisted the massive melt is part of a "natural 150-year cycle". Even if so, these "experts" have not properly factored the melt into the Jökulhlaup phenomenon of massive glacial outbursts in the Greenland ice which are NOT part of any natural cycles and which lead to a forcing event. (See, e.g. 'Jökulhlaup Observed in Greenland Ice Sheet', in Eos Transactions of the American Geophysical Union', Vol. 89, No. 35, 26 August, 2008).

Indeed, the boundary research groups note that of the nine putative boundaries, three apply to systems where there is a clear global threshold: the aciditiy of the oceans (now 30% more acidic than at the outset of the Industrial Revolution),  the climate and the ozone layer. Some of the other six surely have local effects but for the most part the "global" ones are just aggregations of the local effects.

One thing we do know is that there isn't much more leeway in pushing the CO2 concentration (now at just above 390 ppm) before a "runaway greenhouse" effect sets in which will truly destabilize the planet. Currently at the rate we're consuming carbon based fuels, we are adding about 2 ppm per year and enhancing the solar insolation at the same time as a result of radiative forcing (because of the vibrational properties of the CO2 molecule - contributing to its heat -trapping propensity).  Thus, if the threshold for the onset of the runaway greenhouse effect is 470 ppm, then we may be only 40 years away. Once it begins, all bets are off and we'll be on the way to becoming a second Venus.

Optimists - for which we always have a surfeit- insist (as in the book Superfreakonomics) that "practical solutions" can always be found, such as reining in the greenhouse gases' effect on radiative forcing. But this is easier said than done. 'Solutions" like injecting massive SO2 (sulphur dioxide) clouds into the atmosphere, or injecting 12 quadrillion reflecting particles into low Earth oribt,  create more problems than they actually solve.

The simplest solution - to avoid the imminent runaway boundary - may simply be to stop using so much carbon based fuel. To do that, of course, we shall first have to get the expanding human population to "plateau" - since the more people the more CO2 generated. Once we can stabilize the population, we can perhaps entice the existing population to impose less of a carbon footprint!

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Terrific Way to Introduce the Younger Generation to Solar Physics!

Tuesday - Solar Close-Ups
Activities on Solar Week are set up for each day of the week.

I am writing of the web site, solarweek.org, e.g.


Which provides a cornucopia of scientific information about our Sun, the nearest star, and on which all life depends. On this site a middle school student, for example, can learn about the energy driving solar prominences. A curious, young female middle- schooler can ask a female solar physicist about everything from solar storms, to the origins of the solar dynamo and the behavior of charged particles .....without being drowned out by catcalls of "NERRRD!"

Established in 2000, 'Solar week' was the brainchild of David Alexander, who began the website as part of the NASA Yohkoh mission education and public outreach program. His vision was to inspire more girls to want to study science and become scientists and to help banish the stereotype that only males do science. (He also implemented his site without having to appeal to 'lipstick', fashionista sense, dancing, or other superficials like the EC Science bunch tried a month or so ago, see e.g.  http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/06/want-to-get-girls-into-science-dont.html).

 Solarweek retains that aim as well as serving as a general online resource mainly for middle and lower high school students, to learn more about solar science - but I would say it can also serve to introduce the workings of the Sun to anyone without a physics or astronomy background who just wants to satiate natural curiosity about the nearest star. The site is very hospitable in this respect, and the individual learner is limited only by his or her imagination, and energy. 

Solar Week is sponsored by the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The site's primaary goals are to educate students about the Sun and solar physics and to encourage future careers in science - especially for girls - who remain (sadly) only marginally represented in the hard sciences, at the highest levels.

Two distinct sides comprise the website:  One is a set of curricula, times and activities for classrooms (including a page of science career resources available throughout the year), the other is an interactive bulletin board that goes live twice a year for a week (once in the fall, and once in spring) allowing middle school classrooms to pose questions to a dozen leading solar scientists who volunteer their time and expertise, to educate, inspire and entertain the kids.

Generally, three fourths of the questions posed are (naturally) about the Sun- Earth connection, but many are also 'curiosity' questions pertaining to the specific path that brought the scientists from childhood to their present stations. Students also want to know what inspired and challenged them along the way....and what really turns them on about their day. This role model approach has been built into the web site.

Teachers recently polled on why they bring their classes to the site respond that they want to excite a general interest in science and astronomy, and entice specific interest in Sun-related science. Students themselves affirm that participating in Solar Week increases their enjoyment and interest in science and even their interest to become a solar astronomer.

Let us sincerely hope the hopes and dreams of many of these budding solar astronomers are not snuffed out by antsy budget cutting, austerity mavens. We know that a sophisticated solar probe is already being readied to penetrate the solar corona (to within 8-9 solar radii of the photosphere) in 2015. It would be a damned shame if a number of the kids got their hopes up to participate in the data analysis, only to (later) find the project was cut owing to the fetishism of deficit mongers - who already allowed trillions to be blown on useless, wasteful "wars".

Here's hoping these kids that are coming into the field and aspire to new solar discoveries will get their wishes fulfilled, as opposed to a lump of coal from budget cutting maniacs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

God was "Holding You In His Hands?" Don't Think So!

Nearly twenty years ago, after a US Air (Flight 405) crash in New York, where there were a number of survivors (27) - but many died (24) - I wrote an article that appeared in the (then ) Baltimore Evening Sun warning of "survivor hubris" and "beliefs in divine exceptionalism",  after a number of the survivors appeared in the media bragging that 'God saved me!' or "God heard my prayers!' or some such rot. While it is understandable that in the wake of a major trauma and near escape with one's life (I had my own in May, 1971, from a head on car collision near Avon Park, FL) people would believe they are special on account of having lived, they need to process that this take essentially spits on the lives of those who didn't make it - and may have prayed just as hard!

So, I make some allowances for harried or traumatized brains that have 'run off the rails' (such as those of 18-year old, home-schooled Southern girls)  who may have expressed such misbegotten beliefs personally and "off the record". Where I take objection is when such wayward beliefs are given major press space such as in today's Denver Post piece by a Lynn Bartels, recounting how survivor shooting victim Bonnie Kate Pourciau claimed "God was holding us in His hands" as the shooting unfolded - and hence, she and her friend (Elizabeth) managed to walk out  of the Century 16 cinema with Bonnie only having one gunshot in her leg. (One wonders, of course, if God really was holding her so fast, how in His infinite power he could have allowed that stray gunshot to hit her. But again, we must bear in mind this is a home-schooled 18 year old from the Deep South - and yeah, I have been to Baton Rouge, so am aware of the culture there.)

My point is that such publicized blarney essentially disrespects, albeit indirectly, the lives of those who didn't make it and who had every right to have lived - just as much as Bonnie Kate Pourciau. Now, maybe as my wife has opined, she -  like some others spouting special divine dispensation -  are "brainwashed" and hence their only recourse is to barf up the sort of specialized pap they've been fed over the years by their Sunday Schools,  ministers or padres. Fair enough. That still doesn't mean The Post has to print it and thereby give wide circulation and credence to such whacked out beliefs.

A question here for Bonnie Kate and other Personal Divine Exceptionalists: How is it that you couldn't have extended your God's power (in your prayers beseeching His Presence) to the others under fire or running for their lives? How is it that He would have allowed little 6-year old Veronica Moser-Sullivan to die? Didn't that child deserve life, survival as much as you did? Didn't Caleb Medley, husband and father, who now is in an induced coma because of a shot to the head - and facing $2 million in hospital bills - merit a better outcome? Inquiring minds want to know!

Could you not, in your desperate moments, have tried to extend the 'umbrella' of (presumably) infinite divine power and protection to all and sundry - instead of only you and your friend?

In the end it really matters not, except again, the Post giving credence to such shallow views and beliefs by their publication. The truth is those like Bonnie Kate and her friend simply lucked out. There was no real "divinity" clasping her hand except in her mind. It was a case of pure dumb luck that her seat wasn't more directly in the gunman's line of fire.

Just as in the case of those US Air Flt. 405 survivors back in March, 1992, who survived simply by the good fortune of being in the right seats. No divine intervention, no individual specialness.

And if survivors, whether of that crash, or the Aurora theater massacre, insist it was divine intervention that spared them, then they need to cut the crap - come clean- and explain logically and completely why a little innocent 6 year old wasn't also spared, or the other 11 now dead victims who might also have been praying as fervently as Bonnie Kate, and have believed just as intensely that their lives were in "His hands" until the last fatal gunshot.

In the meantime, it's best that major news organs,  if they run stories of human interest on the survivors, stick to the facts as opposed to wishful thinking "divine saving" fantasies that indirectly smear and demean the lives of those who perished - implying that they were not good enough, or devout enough to make it!  For myself, as a non-theist, I am at least glad I can provide a rational response to people who ask: "Why was I saved and not  (fill in name)?

Basically, pure dumb luck! Much preferable to a misbegotten species of personal idolatry!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting a Grip on "Temporal Illusions" and What They Mean

Ever since a 6 -year old video emerged of (then) Salk Institute intern James Holmes giving a 10 minute talk on "temporal illusions" - which can currently be viewed in toto at the website of the San Diego Union Tribune - the blogosphere has gone nuts with what this means. (Never mind Holmes' mentor at Salk, John Jacobson, told reporters that despite the presentation, Holmes' didn't appear to understand the basic science behind the work.)

Some bloggers have surmised the research meant that Holmes intended to "go back in time" and change the past so he could change the future or some such rot. Or, that he intended to alter his memory of what he intended to do in the future. When one watches the video one beholds Holmes waxing on about "subjective time" but in fact subjective time is a well known phenomenon not requiring peculiar neuro-science degrees, insights or computations. For example, G.J. Whittrow in his 'The Nature of Time' (Pelican Books, 1972, p. 103)gives a good account (with examples) of what is meant by "subjective time".

All it means is that the passage of interior time for a person, anchored in his particular consciousness, passes - or appears to pass - much more slowly depending on the event. If I am sitting in the dentist's chair and waiting for a crown to be fitted, this time will pass much more slowly, as compared to a delightful family occasion or party that appears to pass excessively fast. In more than one sense, then, subjective time is a psychological time for the person - but is not necessarily an "illusion", since by all accounts objective time (as recorded by the person's watch) still tells the true story. There is no contradiction or subversion of causality, in other words.

In a previous blog  I cited Alex Rosenberg's book The Atheist's Guide to Reality and pointed out that perceptual systems are defective in the sense of being hindsight-biased: due to the finite speed of signal transmission, and delays due to neural processing,  so changes in our immediate environments do not register in our experience instantaneously.  Rosenberg bases all these on documented experiments, such as those by Lüder Deecke and Hans Helmut Kornhuber in 1964, showing that all human actions precede conscious decisions to perform them. For example, Rosenberg observes (p. 152) that: "On average it takes 200 milliseconds from conscious willing to wrist flexing and finger pressing".

Thus, to the ordinary (sensory deluded) human it appears as if he's willed and initiated the action, but he really hasn't. It's all an illusion. As Rosenberg goes on:

"But the cortical processes responsible for wrist flexing started 500 ms earlier. "

In other words, 500 ms before a test subject depressed a button to indicate when he felt the actual conscious act of willing was initiated. As Rosenberg concludes (ibid.):

"In other words, wrist flexing is already set in motion, and everything needed to complete it has already taken place 300 ms before the subjects are conscious of deciding to flex the wrist and press the button"

Rosenberg then goes on to argue the basis for "free will' is destroyed if the causality presumptively underlying it is a fiction. If the outcome has occurred before your actual intended action to effect it, there is no "free will" involved, the action was essentially done for you.  Rosenberg then adopts this as a grounding for his notion that we are beings entirely governed by "blind sight". (I.e. p. 155, `Driving Through Life with Both Eyes Fixed on the Rearview Mirror').In other words, all our sensory outputs are based on ex post facto- conducted neural process corrections to much earlier sensory inputs that, for lack of a better term, need to be transduced.

The point is we aren't equipped to gain real time access to anything in our world.

The obvious implication? "Consciously deciding to do something is not the cause of doing it"

Cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett in his paper : "Temporal anomalies of consciousness: implications of the uncentered brain" provides a more technical cognitive analysis of how subjective time can be a victim of the sort of delayed neural processes discussed by Rosenberg and others. Dennett begins by focusing on “macroscopic time intervals” as he writes:

“This picture of how conscious experience must sit in the brain is a natural extrapolation of the familiar and undeniable fact that for macroscopic time intervals, we can indeed order events into the categories "not yet observed" and "already observed" by locating the observer and plotting the motions of the vehicles of information relative to that point. But when we try to extend this method to explain phenomena involving very short time intervals, we encounter a logical difficulty: If the "point" of view of the observer is spread over a rather large volume in the observer's brain, the observer's own subjective sense of sequence and simultaneity must be determined by something other than "order of arrival" since order of arrival is incompletely defined until we specify the relevant destination. If A beats B to one finish line but B beats A to another, which result fixes subjective sequence in consciousness? (cf. Minsky, 1986, p.61) Which point or points of "central availability" would "count" as a determiner of experienced order, and why? "

This, of course, is based on Dennett's model of consciousness explicated in his book, Consciousness Explained. in which he uses the concept of "multiple drafts". That is, a given conscious manifestation, of word or action, is the end product of editing and selection from amongst a raft of  potential "drafts". Just as writers go through dozens of drafts before a final product emerges, so the individual consciousness edits and refines many drafts before its product is released to the external world of perception. The Multiple Drafts model thereby avoids the tempting mistake of supposing that there must be a single narrative (the "final" or "published" draft) that is canonical--that is the actual stream of consciousness of the subject. There is scope for perceptual as well as temporal variation....and illusion.

In the case of the latter, retroactive “editing” can occur that removes at various points of the “memory arcade” those incidents, verbal outbursts and confrontations the self may not wish to recall, or "own".  Voila! One gets a temporal re-constitution of events, or what may be called a “temporal illusion” .  The author describes  the process thusly:

“Consider… a Stalinesque mechanism: in the brain's editing room, located before consciousness, so there is a delay, a loop of slack, as it were, like the "tape delay" used in broadcasts of "live" programs which gives the censors in the control room a few seconds to bleep out obscenities before broadcasting the signal.  . In the editing room, first frame A, of the red spot, arrives, and then, when frame B, of the green spot, arrives, some interstitial frames (C and D) can be created and then spliced  into the film (in the order A,C,D,B) on its way to projection in the theater of consciousness. By the time the "finished product" arrives at consciousness, it already has its illusory insertion. “

So, for example, if  I am aware of the visual delay effect for most humans and insert an altered image or action in the delay space, I can essentially game the subject's reality and incept a temporal illusion. "Wait a minute! I could have sworn that lady had dark glasses on! Now she doesn't!"

This is the actual meaning and context for temporal illusions. So no, we need not worry that at any time Holmes will suddenly materialize into the past - and escape the not so nice future that awaits him!

Alexandra Petri's Millennial Problem

Alexandra Petri is an able WaPo columnist and blogger who has produced some quality articles, but doesn’t gain many kudos or creds after recently tagging “Boomers” for her Millennial issues (‘Millennial Doesn’t Mean Miserable’ in Denver Post, July 22, p. 5D) She whines (perhaps in jest, but as we know, many a true sentiment has been expressed in jest):

“The Boomers keep leaving me with large bills –the kind that I am expected to pay after they die after receiving decades of the Most Expensive Care Available, because the Boomers have been coddled and told over and over they are the All-Singing, All-Dancing, Most World Defining Generation ever…”

Well, not quite, Alexandra!  At least try, if you make an earnest attempt at being facetious (when you lampoon my generation), to get basic facts straight. First, we Boomers are not leaving you with any large bills you will “be expected to pay” and certainly not from a necessary medical insurance program that is no freebie (it costs us thousands a year in premiums and supplemental expenses, doesn't cover dental, or eyesight). It’s actually been your half-assed, brain dead government that has amassed over $3.2 TRILLION in TAX CUTS the past eleven years that haven’t been paid for – and hence will have to be by future generations like the Millennials or their progeny.

And compounding that: initiated two prolonged and costly occupations (in Iraq and Afghanistan) at the same time as the tax cuts were in place, thereby bleeding down the national coffers another $2.8 TRILLION at a time of null revenue increases.

Oh, and one more item, babe: passing (under the gubmint of Bush II aka, Dumbya) the “Medicare Modernization Act” (that which created the donut hole) in 2003, which we never asked for - certainly in the way it was germinated, at the behest of PhRMa lobbyists like Billy Tauzin. And which added another trillion in debt with benefits mainly accruing to medical insurance corporations, including BIG PhRMA. Can you say or write: "Corporate Welfare"?

No wonder that my great niece Shayle (a savvy Milliennial) bemoans that so many of her generation are “dumb”, “politically inept”, "disconnnected" and “economically uninformed”. Do you hear or see Shayle whining and blaming other generations like Petri does? Fuck NO! Because she knows ultimately that what debts have been incurred were not the part of those past generations but of a blinkered, misguided government that hasn’t understood that unpaid for tax cuts and “wars” do not redound to the benefit of future generations!

Petri does manage to get one thing right, and that is the inconsistent level of participation of most USA Millennials in the election cycle – which also accounts for why other generations’ interests are more attended to – because they VOTE! She blabs with more truth than she reckons:

“We may be footing the cost for the generations who remain more politically active than we are, but on the bright side, keeping politically active required then to pay attention when Newt Gingrich said something.”

Yes, well….maybe because we recognized if that pig was ever elected his mammoth tax cuts and attendant cuts in domestic programs would put all of us in the poor house! Taking Petri’s logic to another level, The Third Reich may never have emerged had more people – when needed – paid more attention to the words of a howling madman named Adolf Hitler, as opposed to writing him off as a bore and refusing to vote.

In Petri’s Millennials’ case, their absence in the 2010 congressional elections allowed the Tea Party fruitcakes to gain a foothold in congress and Repugs to gain a gubernatorial stranglehold in 16 states. These states, including Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, have now passed stringent Voter ID laws which may see the voting rights of many Milliennials denied, as well as those of oldsters and African-Americans. I do hope Petri’s ilk are proud of their righteous disdain and the likely cost it will have on all Americans, especially Millennials.

The funniest trope is the one Petri saves for last:

“We have things under control. We are, as Nielson repeatedly reminds us, the only demographic that matters.”

Yes, indeed you are. So enjoy that TV and the ads directed at you and inflating a kind of virtual Nielsen import, while the Reep Tea Baggers employ austerity measures (and high student loan interest) to keep you from actually realizing the “American Dream” as opposed to watching it on the tube.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now is NOT the Time to Go Gun Crazy!

 While it is fully understandable people exposed to the Theater massacre story would get anxious about their future safety, it is somewhat unseemly to behold the haste with which many embrace more guns as the solution. Indeed, I've even beheld commentators - in the Miami Herald forums- asserting that if they only had been in that theater with their .44 Magnum or Glock 9 or whatever, "There's no way that punk would have gotten away with it!"

Oh yeah? Dream on, sonny! You think simply by having a carry permit and packing a piece you would've stopped the guy? You likely would have added to the body count! Number one, you're talking about a DARK theater interior with the perp himself all in black plus wearing Kevlar and a mask and other body armor. Two, you're talking about people jumping over seats to get to safety and others swarming in all directions. Fact is, you'd have had no clear sight lines, and that's assuming the perp psycho even remained stationary! Letting loose a shot in such conditions would have certainly ramped up the odds of collateral damage from "friendly fire". But these are the sort of feverish fantasies of retribution the gun crazies trot out in the wake of such events.

They'd do better to chill out, grab a straight java, and seriously ponder the hidden folly behind their suggestions.

But that doesn't appear to be happening. According to a front page story ('Gun Sales Up Since tragedy') in today's Denver Post scared shitless citizens are going ape shit in their yen to pack heat. According to the story, "background checks in Colorado jumped more than 41 percent after Friday morning's shooting at an Aurora movie theater." 

In the words of one employee at Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo quoted in the article:

"It's been insane!"

He added that when he arrived at work first thing Friday morning there were already 15-20 people "waiting outside the door", and averred that Monday was probably the 'busiest day all year'. (Most people in this country, btw, have no clue that there are actually 9,400 more gun outlets than there are McDonald's).

The employee added that he heard a common refrain from purchasers:

"I didn't think I needed a gun but now I do".

Really? And what are you going to do with it? Shoot a bad guy at the exact instant the bad guy pops up? Alas, despite NRA propaganda the stats don't bear this myth out. In more than 60% of cases it is the homeowner, gun owner or one of his family that gets shot in the heat of the moment. To even have a remote chance of being able to negate a surprise attack (which 90% of the time is how it'll unfold) you already need weapon in hand and the safety off. Time is of the essence.  Then, you need to reckon he will also be armed and plausibly with more firepower than you - and he may have an accomplice equally armed. So what're you gonna do?

The other fact is, most would -be gun owners are family men, husbands, dads and they know they have to keep the heat locked up or junior or missy may get to it, play act....and we know how those incidents unfold. But being locked up, you're already at a decided disadvantage when the bad guy bursts upon your world.  .You'd virtually have to sleep with the weapon under your pillow as I used to do when I lived in a not so hot area of New Orleans when it was murder capital of the world in the 60s.

Now, if you're out in public packing, many of the same limitations apply. If and when the lurking psycho strikes or other bad guy or sociopath,  it will almost always be in a packed, public place as when Jessica Ghawa (another Aurora victim) was almost caught in the Eaton Center shooting in Toronto on June 2nd. Jessica left about a minute before the firing broke out, and blogged about how she intended to live life to the fullest after that.

But ok, Mr. 'Gunman to the Rescue', say you were sitting where Jessica was when the bad guy arrived, what would you have done? Take out the heat and fire? Again, there was chaos already erupting and you'd have had to use precious time to find clear lines of firing. Any haphazard or reckless shots would have added to the body count.  But these are the sort of ill-conceived notions of retribution we find in hysterical or panicked minds, spooked by the theater shooting.

A far more rational solution, one advanced in today's Editorial in the Post, is to have our lily-livered law makers grow a pair for once and implement a full- scale ban on large capacity magazine clips, of the type Holmes used in his murderous rampage. This alone - applied throughout the nation, including to online sales - would have a chilling effect. Make the initial penalty a $10,000 fine for each violation, then follow it up with 2-3 years in the pokey for each  subsequent violation.

And don't tell me such a blanket ban "can't be enforced" because the powers-that be "can't know what's going on everywhere."  Right now, we have an established national security state, based at the NSA, that knows everything including which specific bugger you picked from your nose on which day. Moreover, they're adding to their intimidating spook power by constructing a 2 million square foot operation in Utah. Given that Holmes' act was certainly a terrorist act - never mind committed by a white male- the NSA could easily extend its broad reach to all national gun sales if it brought such transactions under its purview as potential terror contributors. Obviously, there's enormous impetus to do so, since there's little activity with the foreign terr'ists, so why not focus on the home grown, psychos in waiting, lone wolves and the like?

A political mandate to do this could easily be fashioned, as easily as calling down remote drone assassinations and strikes on suspected villagers in Pakistan or Afhghanistan. Or......expanding the provisions in the Patriot Act to allow "black bag" searches of likely terr'ists homes. In other words, political will of the same type that launches those remote drone hits or black bag searches is all that's needed. We already have the national security infrastructure in place, let's put 'em to work to earn their $60 b a year keep!

But don't anyone try to tell me that more gun sales and more people packing heat when they enter the cinemas will solve our problems. If anything, they will make them all much worse!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Will ONE Billionaire Step Up to Help Caleb Medley?

One of the saddest stories in the horrific Aurora Theater massacre is that of husband and father, Caleb Medley. (Photo Below)

Caleb - who lacked health insurance-  is now fighting for his life in intensive care, and the tragedy is that - even if he pulls out of it - his family will likely be left destitute because of $2 million dollars in medical bills, according to the report on CBS Evening news tonight.  That is a level of debt dozens of times the magnitude of the largest college debts and one which NO innocent victim ought to have to bear! Nor should this be the burden imposed on a young dad in the richest country on Earth.

We understand that there are dozens of billionaires in this country, will one not step forward to pay off Caleb's medical bills? To at least set his family free of the onerous financial burdens incepted by the malevolent actions of a lone psycho in a movie theater? (And please do NOT tell me that helping Caleb out by paying all his medical bills would amount to "moral hazard". No, it would not!)

Someone, any one - any billionaire (or even high powered multi-millionaire like Mitt Romney)- for whom the $2 million would be pocket change! Bill Gates? Or the illustrious Facebook wizard Mark Zuckerberg?  Or even the guru of Omaha, Warren Buffet?  Caleb's family needs assistance, and should not be hit with a monstrous, ruining medical bill atop a vicious, vile assault!

In the meantime, the rest of us can contribute whatever we can to help Caleb through this financial morass. If you can contribute, as I have, go to this website:


The story of the murdered victims is horrific enough, at the hands of a psycho. Let's not add more to this victim's burden via financial assault as well!

Step up, Mr. Billionaire! (Or Multi-Millionaire) Help a hard working guy who has come onto terrible luck no one should have to face. Give up a measly $2 million and feel like you've really done something worthwhile!

Parsing the 'Submergent' Psycho (Q&A): Part II

The malevolent punk, James Eagan Holmes, in court today


We continue now with more questions, answers:

Q. I am still not clear on where all the rage had to come from to fuel the Joker persona. Can you give the psych background?

A. Okay, first from the time the child had to sacrifice his authentic persona, he had to expect something back in return. A quid pro quo for his self-sacrifice. This includes “positive mirroring”, e.g. the mother smiling back at him when he smiles at her, and some degree of “empathic attunement”, i.e. when he skins his knee or otherwise hurts himself, his mother responds in an empathic way (putting a bandaid on) and doesn’t ignore him.

But in the most wretched cases for genesis of the submerged personality, this quid pro quo is not met. The mother’s (or other dominant parent’s) expectations are such that virtually nothing the kid does merits compensation, so the kid ends up giving away his self essence for nothing. According to Michael Lindenmann (op. cit., p. 89):

“There is a three-part strategy for defending against loss of empathic attunement and positive mirroring (the child’s early requirements for unrestricted emergence of authentic – if grandiose- ego) . The three elements are: 1) reactive rage, 2) repression of grandiose strivings of the authentic ego, and 3) accommodation to external requirements. “

Lindenmann goes on to note these elements form the basis for an unconscious mode of transaction. He goes on to emphasize:

“ This mode of reaction, thoroughly reactive and defensive in character, may be assumed whenever there is a perceived threat, in fact or fantasy, to the strivings of the narcissistic ego or its demanded narcissistic supplies. With enough reinforcement over time this will become the habitual of relating for some individuals.”

Q. Can you put the last part in context for Holmes?

A. Again the 3 elements must be understood in the context of the unconscious mode of transaction, especially the first two: reactive rage and repression of grandiose strivings. These were evidently fed since Holmes’ childhood for whatever reason. However, as long as he received positive ‘strokes’ – whether for his academic performance or other achievements (e.g. making Phi Beta Kappa)  the reactive rage was held in abeyance since his grandiose strivings were being addressed and didn't have to endure repression. This was so even if the authentic ego that demanded the grandiose strivings was submerged.

The problems would have really begun when the grandiose strivings were denied or impeded, so the narcissistic component of ego was starved.(I.e. when Holmes Ph.D. aspirations came crashing down in tatters.) At this point the reactive rage would have been monstrously fueled, though its seeds were germinated years before, perhaps by some perceived slight from peers or professors. However, since the authentic ego was submerged, and the parent pseudo ego was the cause, a rage-reactive alternate pseudo ego ('Joker') had to be created wherein the reactive rage would reside, with potential use later ....say if external conditions warranted it in the pseudo-ego's mind.

Thereby all the cumulative frustrations of the authentic ego would be transferred to the pseudo ego or what Holmes called the Joker. It’s important to grasp that neither Holmes’ authentic ego or the parental pseudo-ego was capable of the reactive rage displayed in the Aurora massacre. This had to be carried out by the rebellious, pseudo ego. This was the one created (we know not exactly when) explicitly for the purpose of harvesting all past slights whether from parents, peers, or other authorities and integrating them, before energizing the reactive rage from that basis.  Then acting on that rage, by emulating the vicious, fictitious persona he'd chosen.

Q. So, is this the idea behind the orange hair and Joker type get up seen in the recent TV news pieces?

A. Exactly! Since there is no way Holmes’ in the guise of his (submerged) authentic ego could have carried out this vicious mass murder, he in effect had to physically confect an entirely distinct aggressive alter-persona. This persona had to be radically different from the Ph.D. student and even manifest a different “strange, guttural,  cackling” voice. (The latter was reported coming through Holmes’ answering machine when a local gun dealer phoned regarding Holmes’ application for membership in a Byers gun club. Holmes' application was rejected by the club simply on the basis of the insane phone voice, as reported in today's Denver Post.)

In this aggression-laced pseudo persona, it was possible for Holmes to carry out his foul deed, since in his submerged psyche it wasn’t him (James Eagan Holmes) committing the crime, but the evil  “Joker”. Note also the “Joker” was –is the sworn enemy of Batman (see the previous film with Heath Ledger in the name role as "the Joker", and note also the eerie resemblance of the character’s hair to Holmes'). Hence, one can surmise “Batman” represented all normative successful society which Holmes’grandiose ego core now despised since his own failure (at Ph.D. level) to be an academic success. The authentic ego realized, perhaps from 3-4 months ago,  the only future on offer would not satiate the grandiose, narcissist needs. A future of working in the despised, low-wage service class sector would then emerge as the realization of  the "perceived threat, in fact .....to the strivings of the narcissistic ego".

One can conjecture that the transference of reactive rage extended well beyond the abstract, target  “superhero” (the ultimate success) of Batman to all those humans who idolized that success, hence the choice of the theater audience. (Though in truth we may never know why he selected Theater 9, as opposed to say 8) These attendees by definition were all Batman- success ‘groupies’ and (in the warped mind of Holmes’ aggressive pseudo ego), were the chosen proxy as the alternative to eliminating the superhero himself;  the embodiment of public accolades, societal-cultural success, ego mastery and adoration by the non-submerged populace.

I surmise the "Joker" was also unconsciously selected (bear in mind according to Lindemann we are talking of "unconscious modes of transaction" ) which also conforms to the need for "accommodation to external requirements". For all we know, it was selected not only to be an embodiment of evil - to carry out what Holmes' planned - but also as a kind of unconscious mockery of his own (authentic-submerged) ego's failure to gain the Ph. D.

Q. You do realize that the FBI Behaviorists will likely have a different view?

A. Oh, for sure! And more power to them! I say the more analyses we have on this creepazoid the better, to perhaps profile likely suspects before it happens again. (Though hopefully, the analyses will eventually boil down to one  unifying theme or profile! ) Think of this logically: If the gun lobby and its hacks, puppets prevail - as we are almost certain they will (despite Mayor Bloomberg's courageous pleas) - and no limits are imposed on the purchase of assault rifles -guns or multi-capacity clips, then the only option is to pick out the plausible mass murdering perps before they carry out their fell deeds.
As to having a different view, I would not be surprised since as I noted in an earlier blog, e.g

psychology is still an "immature" science, by which I mean there are no firm quantitative models by which to make predictions -say like in physics - then most interpretations, results and empirical findings will remain subjective. On the positive side, this is also why almost anyone willing to devote himself to the research aspect, can make a valid contribution. Much like the amateur astronomers did before astronomy emerged as a mature, quantitative science in the late 1800s.

This is also why I have no qualms about putting in my 0.02  (if someone asks what gives me the "right" to offer an analysis of Holmes) despite psychology not being my speciality area. It doesn't have to be given it's still a "squishy", subjective science with no really formal quantitative basis - - apart from the occasional statistical models and formulae, and we're well aware of the defects in those! Thus, I maintain that just as in the other subjective science of economics, anyone willing to put in a decent research effort is entitled to have his input taken seriously. In the sense of immature, subjective sciences, all inputs are to a degree, relative. The professional psychologist, psychiatrist, may attract more gravitas within his peer-reviewer, publication  community, but this doesn't disallow inputs from outside, say of non-specialists. Further, I don't offer my conjectures as any firm "theory" about Holmes, only a feasible hypothesis based on my research! Hence, people are free to consider it or reject it as they wish.  I do this because I understand many people are desperate to have the 'why' addressed, and no one in the media seems to be doing that other than incidentally. Worse, most of the analyses thus far given appear to be overly generic.

Q. Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado has said the shooter's aim was not just to kill innocent people but to try to kill or eliminate our joy at going to the movies, say for escape. Do you agree?

A. Yes, I do. Given that this forlorn creature (refer to my blog 'Deconstruction of a Psycho') was "developmentally stymied" and hence whose life was not "available for rich and authentic experience", his aggressive pseudo-ego would naturally want to extend this miserable condition to all other humans. So in the warped consciousness of the Joker pseudo-ego it would have been believed that killing so many at an innocent venue would extrapolate to people not wishing to put themselves in possible harm's way at such a venue.

Hence, the best whack in the face for this creature would be to go to as many movies as you want, especially midnight premieres!

Q. DO you worry about your blogs giving too much publicity to Holmes?

A. No. Because the rationale isn't to confer any "publicity" but to provide a psychological profile and features by which to recognize the next wacko before he or she acts! And yes, that means people must come forward, even if it means that they might be proven wrong!

Q. Can you explain the loopy, vacant stare of the guy as captured in the booking image (above - top of blog) and in court?

A. Of course! The Submerged Disorder model easily accounts for the look! Clearly, the capture of the guy and his enforced isolation (solitary at the Aurora Jail)  has torpedoed the 'Joker' (the aggressive pseudo-ago) who is thereby rendered impotent and inactive. What we are seeing is the first emergence of Holmes' authentic self and the expected SHOCK because frankly, HE doesn't know what the hell happened! After all, it was the pseudo ego 'Joker' that did the deed, then vacated or was vacated. Now, the authentic or previously submerged ego is left to wonder what the hell is going on.

Is he insane? Of course! His self has been dissociated, and the guilty perp -ego is now gone, fled the coop as it were, to leave the authentic 'James Holmes' ego and self to bear the cost. Authorities would be advised not to let this dude alone for a nanosecond, because he will kill himself at the first opportunity - once he fully recognizes his situation.

Q. Don't you feel bad at "medicalizing" his condition using these psych models? Why not just admit the guy is pure evil and leave it at that? Most Americans don't wish to see all this psych medicalizing mumbo-jumbo!

A. Tough shit. I do not process 'evil' other than as a word. 'Evil' is the realm of religious ideologues, and extremists who see the world and experience only in black-white terms, as if they themselves could never ever remotely do such a deed. But the shock experiments of Philip Zimbardo back in the 60s-70s show any of us is capable of expressing what is called "evil" by the hoi polloi. Also, any of us - if enough pressure is brought to bear - can crack given the critical catalyst. So, with this in mind, I opt to use psychological referents as opposed to 'evil', 'evil doers' and oh, ...no doubt 'Demons', and 'Satan' and ancillary hogwash and figments of the derelict, uneducated mind. If people want THOSE sort of explanations, let them go to the Vatican - the same bunch that allowed the rape of thousands of kids by hiding the perps. I am sure they have plenty of "evil" to spout off about!

Q. What do you think will happen to Holmes?

A. I think he will end up at the "Supermax" facility in Canon City, Colorado, along with Ted Kascinszki and assorted terrorists. This may be the best retribution for the guy, as opposed to gassing him. This way, once the pseudo ego dissolves, as it must in prison isolation-confinement, he will be left with nothing but the charred remains of his life's regrets, and the acrid realization of all the unmet potential he still could have achieved......for the rest of his days.