Friday, January 21, 2011

Faith in god

I am often told to get a faith in god. Well I finally got one.  I think I will wear it on my sleeve!

Faith in god medal

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Service Mission

My commute for work is so scenic that when the season’s slight lengthening of days touches it with sunlight a worn creation filmstrip is run through my head. The early days of the earth’s wobble slants the sun’s rays into improbable color patterns. This morning I see reds and purples blending into the day’s choice of pastel blue. The moon is quite nearly full, and bright with detail.

The commute’s path around the recently dried lakebed saw the moon popping out from threadbare portions of a pockmarked cloudbank. The translucent portions of the sky would glow with exertion as they failed in blotting out the moonlight. Thicker portions of the cloud would permit the sky to pretend that it was night. Then, after a bend in the road or a wind in the sky, the moon would jump out through a hole in the cloud. Just before I became hypnotized by the headlight’s tunnel the full force of the moonlight would send actual shadows scurrying across the road in front of me. I imagined hearing the “thump-thump” as I ran them over.

Last weekend I was shoehorned into a conversation about Kim Kardashian’s boob job. Someplace in the conversation, after I had suggested that the time a woman spends basking in the attention of someone who examines her every curve and fault for comfort and familiarity is better invested than those spent under a knife, I was told that I could not appreciate beauty due to my atheism.

“Everything to you is ‘just’ science” I was told.

So this morning I ‘just’ surfed the electromagnetic wave-front of my planet’s mad dash through the galaxy. Moonlight glinted from my teeth as I ‘just’ smiled at the imperceptibly waning moon. Spring taunted me from ‘just’ south of the equator; promising warm days of relaxed company.

Perhaps I cannot appreciate beauty, but this may not be as unfortunate as it sounds on first blush. A tactile appreciation as a woman unfurls her beauty to the gentle exploration of my caress may, by definition, be unknowable to me. The sensation I can detect pulsing from her fresh-kissed lips and cheek is simple warmth reduced to some message-less Morse-code of pulse. My own pulse is ‘just’ an anomaly hinting at coronary blockage. If I think I am experiencing beauty it must be a simple delusion; words describing it are just a confusion of empty sounds. If I speak of my delusion in a whisper, just close enough to her ear that my words drip with the humidity of passion, there is a chance that she might harvest another reason to appreciate her own beauty. So at least I can try to be of service to others; despite my handicap.

Shouldn’t we all try and help the other members of our species?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kewky Kropp

I am often wrong, but this is not for lack of trying to be correct. In fact, if my observations are true, my trying has greatly increased the frequency of my being wrong. I have been wrong often enough that I have become a Connoisseur of the incorrect.

I have preferences in the way that I learn about my mistakes. One of my favorite type of discovery is of the type that might spawn the phrase “I think I understand what you mean, and I believe you are incorrect.”. This would be a thoroughly enjoyable statement if the assertion of incorrectness could be stripped from it. Communication has occurred, and there is a feeling that information was accurately exchanged. Whatever the outcome this statement suggests that a framework for discovery, human advance, and culture exists.

One of my least favorite ways to learn about being wrong could be summed up with the following hypothetical phrase: “I don't understand what you are saying, therefore you are wrong.”. I casually picture the speaker of that phrase as a snot-nosed kid with his fingers firmly implanted in his ears. He spits out the phrase -breathily- in between loud stanzas of atonal “LALALALALALALA”.

Unfortunately there is the well fit converse ignorance; the person who wishes to appear correct by being incomprehensible. I recently picked through a load of that stuff while browsing some intellectual property. I quickly became more interested in the properties of the intellect that produced the intellectual property.

I discovered a patent published by one Konrad E. Werner Kropp (5012110) that defied logical understanding. I was amazed that something that was so densely bizarre and flawed could be the product of a literate person. I formulated bad puns using Mr. Kropp's last name: “this is total Kropp”, or “ What a load of Kropp”, or “this is Kroppy”. The patent had so many layers of strangeness that I had read it through a couple of times before I realized that Mr. Kropp's initials were “KEWK'. Imagine my many minutes of amusement thinking of “Kewky Kropp”.

As far as I can tell Kewky's device is a wooden box with a bunch of magnets in it. In the center there is a coil of wire (it sounded like he used an old coil AM radio antenna with the solid core removed) where a bottle of pure water (or saline, or oil) is added. Then Kewky whistles at the water and magically transforms it into a curative liquid. The liquid is so magical that it can apparently cure just about anything. There is no definitive guidance concerning which tune should be whistled for any particular ailment.

I have known people who grasped portions of complex topics with amazing tenacity. In undergraduate physics and chemistry I befriended a fellow student (lets name him Clyde) who had suffered significant brain damage as the result of a motorcycle crash. Clyde was a affable enough fellow, but he responded to mundane conversational cues a couple of beats late. Whenever one of the great constants of nature (like Planck's constant = 6.626068 × 10-34 m2 kg / s) was mentioned (the first time in a day, Clyde would only do this once per day for each constant) Clyde's hand would slowly go up. If the professor called on him Clyde would recite the value of the constant to seven or more significant figures and put down his hand. If the professor did not call on him Clyde's hand would remain up throughout the rest of the lecture. Sometimes, if my mind was wandering away from the lecture, I would play a silent game of “guess which constant Clyde caught” when his hand was going up.

The values and units of the great constants describe how the technology of mankind weaves the concepts of science into a working tapestry of understanding. The significant digits of the constants illustrate the greatest resolution with which we can project our understanding onto what really is. The constants are very cool, but I have never bothered to memorize them to nine significant digits. On a great day I might be able to tell you that Planck's constant was a little less that seven times ten to the minus thirty-fourth power. On a typical day I could say that it was “really-really-really small”.

Regardless of the precision or familiarity with the constant it's use in a conversation draws upon allusion to those theoretical constructs that use it. The gravitational constant assumes gravity, and acceleration, and inertia, and may even inspire thoughts of gravity waves and black holes. I do not hear the term “gravitation constant” and think that it would be nice if someone decided that it was actually orders of magnitude smaller that I had grown up believing so that interstellar spaceflight could become routine. If someone told me a profoundly specific value for the gravitation constant I would assume that they could answer a question like “how did you come up with that number?”. I would also think the answer would be something like “I read it in a book” or “I performed a series of mind numbingly sensitive experiments”; not “I ate some bad cheese and it just came to me”.

Homeopathy is supposedly derived from the theories of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann who died in 1843. Hahnemann lived during a period where medicine often was more harmful that no treatment at all. Offering patients elixirs that would at least not kill them must have been a significant leap forward in medical technology. His theory was to treat “Like with Like”. Somewhere he got the idea that highly diluted materials would do this best. Certainly if the material was highly toxic better medical outcomes would be expected if it was highly diluted.

Typical homeopathy  uses dilutions in the range of ten to the minus sixty. These magnitude of these dilutions make Pklanck's constant look unbelievably huge. At such phenomenal dilutions it would be nescesary to consume a vial containing an amount of fluid equal in mass to the entire plannet to have a descent chance to consume a single molecule of the material. For some reason these lavels are too concentrated for some pratitioners who believe they can achieve the same effects without ever touching the original material.This is where Kewky's invention, and the dozens inspired by it, come into play.

Kewky's patent is almost impenetrable. There are many areas where he simply assumes knowledge. For instance: “The information energy may be imparted to the substrate ...with frequencies which differ according to the desired character of the transformed properties”. I read phrasing like that and my immediate reaction is to say: “I don't understand what you are talking about, therefore you must be wrong.”. How embarrassing! If I take a couple of minutes to stop my bile from spinning I can fashion a more constructive criticism. I prefer something like: “How do you know the frequencies associated with the character of your transformed properties?” I like that question because it sounds like one that might have an actual answer.

The process of imparting “informational energy” on liquids by waving magnets around them is an entire field of research in homeopathic practice. The effectors, which can be magnets (or moonlight, or sunlight, or sound waves, or laser beams), are called “imponderables”. I had previously thought of an imponderable as a philosophical question which could not be answered, and where the examination of the question raised more questions (Like: “if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”). In the practice of homeopathy the imponderables apparently are effectors whose activity is unmeasurable and unknowable. Yet despite the fact that one cannot know about them there are folks that can design complete apparati to utilize their effect for maximum potential. But what do the imponderables effect?

Kewky injected (IM) a 0.9% saline solution that had been magically transformed in his apparatus to 'normalize' a woman's gut flora. This is an interesting claim, but the wonders of the internet provide long lists of health benefits possible through the use of magically-transformed water. One malady that can supposedly be treated with magnetically “altered” homeopathic fluids is prolapsed rectum. I would think that a prolapsed rectum would be an easy thing to demonstrate the healing of. Even if a person began feeling better you could visually decide whether they had been cured.

There is also the problem of negative effects. I found it difficult to get information about magnetically transformed water ever causing harm. If a special waving of the magic wand creates a rectum de-prolapsing fluid shouldn't there be a wand-waving sequence that causes prolapsing. Perhaps warnings should be placed on all items that have any magnetic field “Danger rectums may prolapse while using this device”.

Songs transmitted on the radio have electromagnetic informational energy. What if Justin Bieber records a song whose very transmission over FM radio causes entire market areas to suffer prolapsed rectums?

The Earth itself has a magnetic field.  What if just visiting certain locations caused a prolapsed rectum?Kurt Vonnegut called Ithaca New York “The country's rectum”. It would be uncomfortably ironic if visiting Ithaca caused prolapsing of a visitor's rectum.

Strange as the imponderables are there is an even weirder branch of homeopathic medicine. In this one the vial of water is just placed next to a material whose properties it is supposed to take on. Kewky references this approach in his patent. In some cases one need only write the name of the substance on a scrap of paper and store the vial of water near it.

There should be some measurable effect other than the magical cure. There should be something to tell if anything is going on. One of the important aspects of Kewky's patent is that it actually provides a bit of intermediate evidence. Kewky provides actual spectrophotometric data showing that his water has been altered.

Kewky ran his samples on a Perkin Elmer Lambda 3 UV-Visible spectrophotometer, and noticed differences. Here is a bit of real data. I can look at this and formulate a conclusion.

For those of you not familiar with spectrophotometers; these are common laboratory instruments. They basically shine a beam of light through a sample and then run the sample attenuated beam through a prizm. The resulting rainbow (which extends into the invisible UV and IR ends of the spectrum) is measured for intensity with a photocell. The spectrophotometer can produce a plot of the frequency of light vs the signal intensity through a sample. It is important to note that the darker the sample the more sensitive the spetrophotometer needs to be in order to produce an accurate spectrum. Some samples are dark to light outside of the visible spectrum. Water, for instance, is very dark to light just a little into the UV end of the spectrum. Here is a plot of the absorption spectrum of water (notice how the line shoots up just to the left of the rainbow designated visible light spectrum).

Kewky used a solid instrument for his measurement, but for some reason decided to use a strip-chart recorder for his output. By 1991 (the date on the patent) it would have been difficult to find a strip-chart recorder in most laboratories. More difficult still would be finding someone who could run one accurately. One of the problems with strip-chart recorders is that they do not accurately designate the X axis. On a sample's spectrum that axis would be the frequency of light. The deviations on Kewky's spectra that do not look like simple table bumping blips (a problem with strip-chart recorders) occur right at the beginning of the trace. This is the zone closest to the darkest portion of the water's native absorption spectrum.

So, as I see it, Kewky's only real data was produced on an instrument rigged to be highly inaccurate in a portion of the spectrum that would be the most sensitive to machine inaccuracies. Kewky could go to almost any laboratory in the world and have this data reproduced with much greater sensitivity.

My friend Clyde would listen to lectures till the name of a constant leaped out for his attention. I poured through thick layers of apparently purposefully misleading Kropp and found data. This blog entry is me slowly raising my hand. I can thankfully now say: “I think I understand what is being presented in this, and they are wrong”.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wavy Hair

Although there are many cherished moments of contemplative introspection I have enjoyed in my bathroom I can remember none that have occurred in the pre-dawn moments of hygienic confusion that start a typical workday. There must be an invisible thought sucking field that is generated by the interaction of my toothbrush, the metal toilet paper holder, the sun and moon, and (as I now suspect) certain haircare products. To be truthful, I am only really sure about the haircare products.

A couple of days ago I noticed the following equation on a bottle of shampoo:

Which I think is a relation between Energy(E) and Magnetic flux(β) through a medium(µ). This is a strange thing to see on a shampoo bottle. At the bottom was a notation describing the MDL as being at 5. After some searching I found that MDL is an abbreviation for “Magnetic Density Level”. I was intrigued. Just what is a Magnetic density level? How are they measured in shampoo? What are the MDLs of other haircare products?

It turns out the MDL denoted the amount of –get this- magnetite (an iron oxide) that they put in the shampoo. Sure enough the shampoo was silvery in color; just like you would expect if it had bits of metal in it. Later I went to the Giovani cosmetics (the makers of the magnetic shampoo) web site and this is what they had to say about magnetite:

“Magnetite! Its result is total domination over the negative electrical charges that have left hair desolate and bleak.”

Magnetism is often accurately described as action at a distance. This is the essence of magic. Why not put it on your hair. It does not take a very in-depth search to find multiple magic effects of magnets on health and wellbeing:

“Magnetic therapy is a non-invasive remedy that addresses both prevention and treatment of chronic ailments with an impressive success rate”

“There have been years and years of research to prove that people can benefit from this new technology. Today, millions of people around the world are feeling better because or health magnets.”

“Dr W Philpott MD, a practitioner of magnet therapy for over 40 years explains that negative magnetic fields oxygenate and alkalise by aiding the body's defences and helping to relieve pain. Further, they combat inflammation and infection and enhance deep restorative sleep.”  

You can also strap magnets onto your car’s fuel lines to improve gas mileage. Strapping them onto your home’s water pipes reduces “effective hardness” of the water. If you did not know that waving, strapping, or implanting magnets will make everything better it only requires a small amount of research to find out that it would.

Magnets actually have easily measurable effects. Strong enough magnets can alter the growth of cells, or the shape of crystals, or even change the ionization of salt solutions. Waving magnets over copper wires can produce electricity; this is the way almost all of our commercial electricity is produced. Magnets are awesomely interesting, and their effects (especially on complex systems like the human body) are far from simple.

One would think that, with both magnetism and therapeutic value being measurable quantities, that there would be loads of clinical studies proving the effectiveness of magnets. One would think that the abundance of claims for “significant successes rates” would point to an entire body of therapeutic literature. One would think that, with over a century of development and billions of dollars in sales, that magnetic therapies would culture their own engineering and development communities. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most magnetic therapies enjoy less developmental thought than the logic that went into the Heidelberg Electric Belt that was very popular around 1900 (electricity is also magic).

“For weakness in men and women, personal exhaustion bringing back lost strength and power, over brain work, vital , impotency, rheumatism, sciatica, lame back, railroad back, insomnia, melancholia, kidney disorder, Bright's disease, dyspepsia, disorders of the liver, female weakness, poor circulation, weak heart action and almost every known disease and weakness.” -- Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue 1900

The way that most magic magnetic devices are designed is through inspired insight. This is a wordy way of saying they are simply made up. I do not want to use terms like “intelligent design” or “invention” when refereeing to the creation of magnetic therapy devices as both terms insinuate a thoughtful process derived from cause and effect. There is no apparent structure in the development of magnetic therapies. If any magnetic therapies actually worked at all there exists no system to tell if one therapeutic device works better than another.

Many of the magic effects of magnetic therapy devices are fraudulently conceived. If any working magnetic therapy device were ever conceived it would be impossible (using the means by which the benefits of magnetic therapy are currently examined) to see this. The interest by the distributors of magnetic devices in a patient’s outcome appears to be significantly diminished once the patient is separated from the purchase price for the magnetic device. I have not heard stories of magnetic device distributors dancing around a hospital bed wildly waving their magic electromagnetic wands over a stricken patient, and this is not because they have yet to invent suitable wands.

Beside the sink AYD had left her newest hairbrush. The handle of the hairbrush proudly announced that it was made with both ceramic and “Ion Technology”. Since charged molecules (ions) are affected by magnetic fields a magic wand for magnetic therapy should conceivably have something like an “Ion Technology”. Certainly practiced waving of a hairbrush-wand around a bedridden patient could, if nothing else, arrange their hair so they looked a little less ill in photographs.

AYD’s hairbrush was a marvel of thoughtful design. It was honeycombed with holes, and the body was hollow. The handle contained a large removable hidden aluminum pick; like a giant version of the toothpicks on old Swiss-Army knives. I pictured the “Ion Technology” existing as some battery-driven transmitter whose antennae were embedded wires in the complex pattern of perforations in the brush’s body.

Unfortunately the “Ion Technology” consisted of tourmaline. Tourmaline is a complex silicate crystal. There was no word as to how they applied the magic stone to the brush. I imagine they simply added some tourmaline dust to the molten plastic before they poured the brush. I wondered what would happen if they forgot to add the magic dust to a batch of brushes. Would anybody ever notice?

“Negative ions generated by the high quality tourmaline have positive effects on health.”

Apparently negative ions are another source of magical health benefits. Somply by putting a little tourmaline crystal into water you can purify the water, kill bacteria and remove chlorine smell (which is interesting since the chlorine in the water kills bacteria). I was particularly interested in the chlorine smell reduction. The chorine smell in chlorinated water is caused by hypochlorite ions, which are negative ions. Apparently increasing the number of negative ions actually decreases the number of negative ions if it is done right.

The shampoo was supposedly designed to “dominate” negative ions in the hair. Perhaps one needed to generate negative ions with the hairbrush so the shampoo could properly exert its dominance?

Needless to say I was a bit confused. I decided I needed to go to the source of the magic haircare products. I ran AYD down and tried to initiate an over-breakfast haircare de-briefing session.

“Dad!” exclaimed AYD “You don’t think anyone actually believes that stuff do you!”

I asked why she purchased the material if she so thoroughly thought the magical claims were false. Apparently a product with obviously false claims to magical benefit is superior to one that lacks such claims. I attempted to extract more specific detail on this phenomenon. AYD said something about shoes that I did not follow at all.

I attempted to steer the conversation towards things I could get a handle on. I wrote some of Maxwell’s equations on the whiteboard we usually use for messages and grocery lists. I diagramed the square/cube effect of magnetic flux on ionized particles in a conducting medium. I asked her about the beta-pleated sheet protein structure of hair fibers.

Breakfast went quickly. Between bites AYD clipped answers to algebraic questions I fired at her. Finally the clock ran out, and it was time for her to leave to catch the schoolbus.

I hit her with one last question as she was putting on her boots to leave: “So… Are you going to keep your shampoo and stuff in your own bathroom from now on?”

“You know it!” she replied.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hey Joe

Yesterday’s post attracted a long and thoughtful comment from Joe Pomykala that I think is too hidden as a simple comment, so I have reproduced it as the majority of this post. I performed a few edits in transforming it to prettier html, but due to my lackadaisical editing skills I am sure that any typos and all of the original content are preserved intact (I may even have accidentally added a few typos).

Joes’s comment is well thought out, well referenced, and worth a read. He is the curator of a page on Behavior Economics which I have frequented several times for interesting references. I am not surprised by Joe’s insight as he is a wickedly intelligent, thoughtful, caring (father of two awesome kids), and dynamic individual.  If he were just a tad more charming and attractive people would mistake him for me (Just kidding Joe).   

Joes Comment:
I am totally against the widespread overuse of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors unless the patent has a diagnosed genetic condition (they did a DNA analysis) missing the enzymes which code the serotonin (5-HTP) or dopamine receptors in the brain (7 receptors types for serotonin, 5 for dopamine) Ok for prescription reuptake inhibitors if the patent is missing one, if you want a list of chromosomes to look at, see NIH study of DNA of criminal offenders as if the gene HTR2B which encodes one serotonin receptor is knocked out of turn off, then such deficient serotonin levels can lead to impulsivity and violence, also see Study: PET imaging shows fewer dopamine receptors in drug addicts “found that people with [drug] addictions in general have 15-20 percent fewer dopamine receptors than normal subjects” - question is if those lower levels are natural by lower receptors by DNA in those persons, or if drug usage destroyed receptors.).

They want to block reuptake of serotonin to raise levels in synapses, problem is that at higher than normal levels leads to shutting down natural production - thus when people stop taking the drug, their serotonin levels will (temporarily - maybe a few months for full recovery) fall to below what they were prior (similar to heroin and normal beta endorphin levels). If low serotonin and dopamine levels are the cause of depression or what is diagnosed as hyperactivity disorder, then such illnesses would become worse when going off the reuptake inhibitors, since the body shuts down natural production, sometime permanently to a lower level. Too high levels of these neurotransmitters can also lead to the body literally burning out the brain receptors, thus leaving the patient with permanently lower natural levels making things worse. Extremely high levels of serotonin and dopamine are toxic. “There are a total of 10 billion total cells in the cerebral cortex alone, there are only one million dopaminergic cells in the entire brain.” That is just one out of 10,000 brain cells with a dopamine receptor. The illegal drug ecstasy is similar to serotonin and dopamine reuptake inhibitors raising the levels of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and also hormones prolactin and oxytocin, but the levels are much much higher, the body reacts and some of the few brain cells with serotonin and dopamine receptors being permanently destroyed (to much fuel, they blew up). Lower levels of elevation with legal drugs could do the same. There are few studies of the impacts long term use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

For Utah and high antidepressant use, I would not necessarily blame the LDS church. But for the LDS defense cited, Judd is a BYU professor ancient scripture which is crap and biased. What is needed is cross-sectional data and proper multivariate regression analysis. Maybe LDS drink less alcohol and have fewer other vices leading to higher antidepressants use as a substitute for all we know. Saying Utah has higher antidepressant use and 58% Mormons does not say anything about causality. Utah had the highest per capita bankruptcy rate in the nation, but and also highest antidepressant use - does that mean bankruptcies cause depression? Not necessarily, there are allot of other factors.

Some articles picked up the data by gender with women in Utah having double antidepressant use as men and blamed the lifestyle of the typical LDS woman. However, that’s also a bunch of garbage. Note “Gender differences found in brain's serotonin system,”, so natural gender differences in brains impact serotonin levels (as well as a whole lot of other things). And also see
Nat. Center for Health Statistics and Centers for Disease Control “Health, United States” (2009), page 347,Table 94, “Selected prescription and nonprescription drugs recorded during physician office visits and hospital outpatient department visits, by sex and age: United States, 1995–1996 and 2004–2000" where nationally for all ages, Antidepressants (depression and related disorders) recorded per 100 population by patent visits to their physicians is:













So national antidepressant use is a tad more than double for women than men, so not unique for Utah, but jezz - one third of the population had a prescription for some antidepressant over the last two year period? It tripled over 9 years? People have not changed that much over the last 9, or 90, or 900 years, now one-third of the population has a mental disorder necessitating antidepressant use? Mental illness spreading like a plage? Give me a break, over-prescriptions by a bunch of doctors, psychologists, etc., after a 10 minute interview, “try this, see if it works,” again long term effects unknown. I feel sorry for all the children on such for years because their parents could not deal and zombied out their kids or trusted an “expert” opinion by someone possibly with no medical training or just a psych degree which can be a wish washy a social science.

Note, the perfecter of the lobotomy operation, ice pick through eye socket and a simple twist scrambling the brain’s frontal lobes “fixing” things, Egas Moniz, thought damaging the brain would then let it heal for a normal condition fixing mental illness, won the 1949 Nobel Prize in Medicine for: "his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy[lobotomy] in certain psychoses" and lobotomy operations quickly increased in popularity and usage. At the Nobel Banquet (Dec. 10, 1949) at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm when Moniz was awarded the prize in absence, in his address Carl Skottsberg, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said:
"Professor Moniz was a notorious savant in various fields when, accidentally, he came to the conclusion that the surgeon's knife would bring relief or even recovery to patients suffering from certain serious psychic disturbances. Boldly he went to work. He was 61 when he made his first brain operation for this purpose. Today his method is practiced everywhere with very good results. We regret that he has been unable to come, for we would have loved to meet this wonderful man, a famous scientist, a writer of historical books, a politician, statesman and diplomat, all in one person, .. whose career is crowned with a Nobel prize."
The award for the lobotomy operation is considered by many as the worst mistake the Noble committee has ever made.(hey, they also gave the prize to Paul Müller the year prior for his discovery of the now banned pesticide DDT.) What we could be seeing now is modern slow chemical lobotomies with selective serotonin and dopamine reuptake inhibitors, wait to see long term effects. But in any case, some people have normally low levels due to genetics where they miss genes which code for one of the receptors, in that case prescriptions are OK.  Just for a misbehaving kid - no, or for adults and the antidepressants usage - call the same an alcohol substitute with a prescription, or maybe the soma envisioned form Huxley’s Brave New World. Never trust the experts.

There are several places where I would not interpret the data in the same way as Joe. Most notably in the detail with which he infers serotonin levels from serotonin receptor prevalence, and the prescription amplitudes he pulls from the CDC data. I think inferring fine detail about the serotonin levels from the serotonin receptor data is like inferring traffic patterns from prevalence of garages; real information can be gleaned from these data, but both the time and concentration resolutions are limited. I suspect the CDC data because I am confused about how they estimated their numbers; the CDC methods may be better described in companion publications.

What really struck me was that this discourse is one of ideas and consideration. As an “OUT” atheist I am used to my communications attracting the same tired questions about my core understanding of the universe. I’m not really interested right now in telling anyone “How there could be a clock without a clockmaker” again; there is little gained by remarking that trail (Maybe I’ll change my mind and do a couple of posts on it one of these days). In Joe’s discourse there are actionable ideas with consequential impacts. Notice how he starts off with identification of real diagnostic tools for mentally ill folks. This is followed by a discussion of the arenas of impact for incorrect diagnosis, and then real numbers about the prevalence of these diagnoses. The discussion is then tied up with a bit of interesting historical context.

Thoughtful communication provides a context for disagreement. It would be ludicrous to invalidate this information by insisting that mental illness was due to: demon-possession, and that by masking the symptoms with drugs we are allowing Satan to gain the upper hand in the battle for souls as we approach End-Times. If you are heavily invested in the Satan theory I suggest that you personally try some of the real diagnostic tools for mental illness that are being developed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ice Fishing

The days between Christmas and New-Years are the season of gift returns and after-Christmas sales. Many people casually discard their holiday congeniality during this time. Some people suffer from the boxer-day blues. Some people give way to Seasonal Affective Disorder when they realize that the days may be getting longer, but are doing so at an incredibly slow pace. Whatever the reason, agitation is palpable at some venues. 2010 provided both seasonal agitation and snow during this time.

Snow is more lovely when it is not seen from a moving vehicle. Footfalls are muffled in fresh snow. As snow gets older it crunches like some delicate confection. In a parking lot snow becomes a grayish slippery insult. Slipping wheels whine. Shoppers trudge awkwardly using wet flop-slop-fop for footfalls. There is a little bit of sublime agitation available for anyone who visits a slush coated post-holiday shopping-center parking lot.

I received a gift-card to a national chain of recreation equipment stores and ventured forth into this madness to score a big sale-fueled discount on something I could not live without. All I had to do was to figure out what that something was, and get myself safely in and out of the store.

In Utah there is a popular way of dealing with agitation. Here we use antidepressants; lots of antidepressants.

Utah leads the nation in antidepressant use. The antidepressant use per capita here is three times higher than some other states. Doctors had reported higher than normal rates of antidepressant use in Utah for years, but when Express Scripts published their prescription drug atlas for year 2000 drug prescriptions the suspicions were officially validated. We use a truly phenomenal amount of antidepressants in Utah.

When the prescription drug atlas was published there was quite a bit of speculation about what effect the Mormon church had on the high rates of antidepressant use in Utah. Some statistics from the Mormon church set the percentage of Mormons in Utah at 70% of the state's population. There was rapid response from the Mormon church.

A “sociologist” from Brigham Young University by the name of Sherrie Mills Johnson apparently presented data gleaned from “national” surveys to show that Mormon women were  “less likely to be depressed than American women in general”; she was widely quoted for this work.  Daniel K. Judd (also from BYU) was also widely quoted as stating that Mormons are better off than anyone else. Other experts were trotted out to provide Mormon-supportive data.

Just who are Johnson and Judd? Just what authoritative works on the demographics of mental illness have they penned when not responding to information the owners of BYU might find inconvenient? There might be something, but I have not found it.

I did find the study by the National Mental Health Association (now called Mental Health America) that raked Utah as “the most depressed state”.

So either Mormons are somewhat more depressed demographically or those people living amongst the Mormons are almost universally depressed. However you slice it there is some heavy-duty correlation happening here.

I know that correlation does not equal the causation I imagine when dealing with other drivers in a icy post-holiday parking lot. I ultimately did not discover the item I could not live without, and so I was attempting to leave the parking lot empty-handed. The fellow in the BMW who was idling just behind my Corolla's parking space was talking on the phone. I think Mr. Parking Vulture was calling the pharmacy to order up a jumbo bottle of Prozac.

I have seen a truly jumbo bottle of Prozac once. The previous owners of our house had dropped one behind the kitchen stove. The bottle was as big as a gibbon's head and could not have fallen behind the stove without first pulling it out from the wall a bit. The cap was off the bottle when we found it. Several dozen pills had spilled out.

I picture the bottle being lost in the confusion of a spirited breakfast ritual. Mom is shaking the stove in her furious attempt to pump out pancakes for her enormous brood (there were 11 resident people in the family that sold us the house) . “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” she lovingly calls to her children. Suddenly she hits upon an idea, but should she open up the little green and white pills to invisibly blend their contents with the pancakes or should she just throw in a handful and tell the kids they are “special blueberries”? I think she just throws a handful in. Then, without noticing she has pulled the stove away from the wall in her energetic pursuit of breakfast, she tries to place the bottle on the back of the stove, and it falls.

I often find a breakfast of warm waffles is comforting, but I just can't get them made with the love Mom put into them.

After I carefully examined my apparently blocked-in situation in the parking lot I realized that I could leverage the amazing turning radius of my tiny sensible Toyota and squeak out. Sure enough I was able to pull out of my slot with way more than six inches to spare. Mr Vulture noticed my driving skill, and it looked to me like he was telling me something about it.

Unfortunately it did not appear that he was impressed by the slim margin which I had missed hitting his BMW by. With phone still held to ear it looked like he was yelling. I could not make out what he was saying. Maybe it was in French? Perhaps he did a mission for the LDS church in France. Elizabeth Smart is doing a mission in Paris. Maybe they know each other.

I did not notice Mr. Vulture's hypothalamus pumping out oxytocin and vasopressin. It is very difficult to determine the amounts of neurologically active hormones produced by a living brain. Much of what we know about the chemical nature of emotion or mental illness lack good empirical corroboration. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had known about the state of Mr. Vulture's glands.

Several pshcyo-active chemicals are prescribed because they have a known effect on some of the neurotransmitters sloshing around in our skulls. Prozac affects the amount of serotonin. We think that incorrect serotonin levels contribute to clinical depression. We confirm this by giving serotonin modulating chemicals to people who are experiencing the symptoms of clinical depression (interestingly enough rage is a symptom of clinical depression) and seeing those symptoms decrease in intensity. Unfortunately the chemicals sometimes increase the symptoms.

Michael McDermott was calmly sitting an a chair on boxing day (December 26th) 2000. Three weeks earlier he had increased his Prozac dose by a factor of two, and had finally been able to contact god. God had told Mike that he had no soul, but that he should not worry because he had a plan for Mike to earn one. All Mike had to do was travel back in time -with his AK47- and kill Adolf Hitler (and as many other Nazis as he could find). God would take care of the pesky time-travel details. All Mike had to do was gather his weapons and enough ammunition.

Eventually the nice people explained to Mike that Hitler and the six other Nazis looked a lot like his co-workers at Edgewater Technology. They did not understand the divine transformation Mike had undergone.

I was not understanding the transformation the Mr. Vulture was undergoing. The oxytocin was stimulating his pituitary to release large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone.

Since my conversational French is embarrassingly poor I chose to simply drive away from the now gesticulating Mr. Vulture. I may have reached a top speed of 5MPH when Mr Vulture shot out past me, and made as if to cut me off. The slick surface of the parking lot made the “cut me off” move more of a “Slide a little sideways” move, but I got the gist. I cranked down my window to get a better understanding of what he wanted to say. His passenger-side window rolled down automatically; the BMW had electric windows.

It Seemed that Mr. Vulture wanted to discus my parents for some reason. I responded with my best “I feel your pain” look and said: “You know, if you did not try to talk on the cellphone and drive at the same time you might be a competent driver”.

Mr Vulture lapsed into French again. I think his adrenal cortex was now busily pumping out corticosteroids in response to his pituitary's messages.

Perhaps he thought I could understand his French better without the car in the way. Whatever the reason Mr. Vulture decided to exit his car. I pulled a bit forward.

“I would be happy to get out and discuss your poor driving habits with you, but I am sure you will not like what I have to say” I told him calmly.

I then drove off.

I was not yet out of the parking lot when I began to wonder if Mr. Vulture's car had one of those little fish icons on the back of it. A couple of months earlier I had been confronted by a wildly gesticulating angry person in Washington DC; they had a little silver fish outline with cross-eyeballs on the back of their car. I decided to see if Mr. Vulture's BMW was similarly decorated. Instead of pulling out onto the feeder road I circled back through the parking lot.

Mr. Vulture was already back in his car, and he was maneuvering into a couple of spaces. I think he was going to do one of those “park a little skew in two spaces so nobody will park too close to me” parking jobs.

I pulled up close enough behind him to see if he had a fish.

I think he noticed me in his rear-view mirror. Instead of taking the two spaces he simply sped off and left the entire parking lot, and me, behind. Maybe his prescription was ready?

I did not see a fish, but he did speed off pretty fast.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


2011 invites a new decade-like time-span into history. It will be called the “twenty-teens” even though it will not really be "teens" for another two years. Because history requires punctuation as much as English composition there will be an apparent pause in events as 2011 begins.

Some historians will refer to the proper decade as the “twenty-tens”. They will do this because of a misguided desire to cover all of the 21st century in similar-sounding precisely-defined increments of time. They will do this because they are insufferable dweebs.

By calling the time-span from 2011-2019 the twenty-teens one gleans the delicate fruit of psychological allusion.
“The twenty-teens behaved like its eponymous ill-mannered child”. “The twenty-teen neo-cons became the teen-mom to the teabagger love-child that someone else would have to raise”. “The developed world’s twenty-teenage experimentation with geo-engineering became an addiction whose grip proved almost impossible to break”.
 Much will appear to happen in the next nine years simply because it will be cool to blame it on the twenty-teenage years.

That is, of course, if we make it to the actual twenty teens. I allude to the “End of the World” which is supposed to take place on December 21st 2012. I love it when the world ends; I got way too much enjoyment out of Y2K. I have a special project I am working on to mark the last days. It will involve my penchant for snide historical commentary, and I will reveal what it is just before December 21st of this year.

This past year I was wildly successful with all of my characteristically feeble New-Years-Resolutions. I planned on posting at least once-a-month to this blog, and instead I posted over a hundred times. I resolved to write a poem and read it to an audience of strangers, and I wrote several and read four. It is true that my audience consisted of only three people so my hand-waving beat-poet-at-the-lectern image of myself dissolved in a puff of disillusionment, but the audience made up for their small numbers in their crowded strangerness.

For this next year I’ve decided to bring in more readers to this blog. I've become part of  "The Atheist Blogroll" and "Planet Atheism". You can see both the Atheist Blogroll and Planet Atheism badges in my sidebar. The Atheist Blogroll is like any other topical blogroll; basically a list of topically-related blogs.  Planet Atheist is a aggregator blog which publishes topically-related feeds from a number of blogs; this makes it a convenient place to read a bunch of atheist blogs at once.

The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

If you would like to join Planet Atheism you can find more information on how to do that by clicking on the Planet Atheism badge in the sidebar.

The blog has been very successful in bringing in readers this past year. Thousands of people have read this blog, not counting some who get it on direct feed. They have clicked in from every continent, and every state of the union (except Iowa).

Readership stokes more than just my ego. When people click on the automatically-generated advertisements on the side panel I make money. This year I made more than a dollar and seventy-five cents. I am going to blow the entire wad of cash as a partial sponsor of a racer in the 2011 Los Angeles marathon. I should be able to buy him at least two gels with the money (to be consumed at mile 7 and 14). If I can find a sharpie on March 20th he will be sporting “Adult Onset Atheist (” somewhere on his running outfit.

Ego-stroking was accomplished in spades by another project which I will cryptically call “PTIP”. A collateral yield of PTIP was the contacting of a couple dozen folks I had not seen in decades. I was reminded again and again how very awesome people can be. Sometimes it is easy to get a distorted picture of the Human species when looking at it as an amalgam. Time had worn down some of the people to shiny stubs which sparkled in amazing intensity when they even mentioned the people they loved. Some had diffused into the very structure of their surroundings; when they smiled everything around them smiled just as brightly. Some had risen through adversities so sublime they empathized with unique authority. With some I discovered strange new friendships and converse with them regularly about profound interests. Only one retreated into a passive aggressive cave with a sign reading “I did not even return his last e-mails” nailed above its gaping mouth. Most filtered through our brief time together, and left an amazingly optimistic sweetness in their wake.

I feel like the year called twenty-ten left an optimistic sweetness in its wake. I can’t add up some score value, and say it was a positive year on average. I can’t look at an emotional tide-chart, and say it has ended on a high note. I can say that I cared about some people in 2010, and it feels very likely that I will do so even more in the future. I can say that I loved some people in 2010, and it feels more than likely that I will do so even more in the twenty-teens.