Friday, June 17, 2011

Locus of....

Philip Deitiker, Wikimedia Commons


© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Socialized Medicine....Ooooooooh! Bad!

My Darling In-Laws!

So my Mom canceled her surgery. Kind of behind my back, too. She did it when I went off to Atlanta for a friend's wedding. She's very, very afraid of scarring, since she has a tendency to form keloids. Keloids across joints can be disastrous. Of course, not being able to move her finger much at present isn't too good either. I'm not sure what we'll be doing with that. She's seeing an acupuncturist, who told her they can reduce the swelling from her synovial fluid filled cyst/tumor. I'm unconvinced. Well, highly skeptical, at a minimum.

On a brighter note, we potentially have identified a new doctor. It was through the wonderful system called "pulling strings" and "calling in favors". We got the name of several people from wonderful friends and several converged on a gerontologist on the faculty of the Medical School at UM. I've never been so grateful of my husband's present job as I am now. We're trying to get that appointment scheduled tomorrow. But it's been something of a struggle to find a doctor who was taking patients and who came recommended. So imagine my amazement when my husband called his parents in Spain yesterday and I heard this little tale of terror about their social security health experience. Man that socialized medicine is scary stuff, let me tell you. 

Okay, to set the tone, you need scary theme music, 'Kay?

My father-in-law (who is every bit as merry and mischievous as he looks in that photo above) wasn't feeling well at the end of last week. He's 84 years old and has had some health problems in recent years, but over all the guy is as healthy as the proverbial horse. On Friday morning, he was really feeling ill, was feverish, and in general was giving my mother-in-law something to worry about. Since she doesn't drive, and he was not well enough to drive, she called a general assistance number for a doctor to come visit on Friday in the morning. Mind you, they were not in the capital, Madrid, but were in their little apartment in a suburb of  Alicante called Playa de San Juan, where they spend the summer, and often part of the winter, to avoid the intense heat or intense cold of those seasons in Madrid. She called for a house visit? Oh, come on! When is the doctor going to show up, in November? Well, a few hours later, the doctor arrived and after doing a fairly thorough exam decided that really, my father-in-law should go to the ER for further testing. *Groan* you say, I say, we all say... how on earth is he going to get there? The whole point was that my MIL doesn't drive! Well, they had a solution for that. Yep, the ambulance the doctor called arrived a short time later and took them to the nearest hospital, where my FIL was indeed examined further. After some routine testing, they decided he probably has a urinary tract infection. He was prescribed medication and they dispensed it right there at the hospital. But, when he was being released four (oh my gosh, so long!) hours after he arrived, they discovered that my MIL couldn't drive and they needed assistance getting home. So the hospital called the ambulance guys back and had them take them home. Total cost to the in-laws: $0.00. Yep, free care under social security and socialized medicine. I shudder, and I do mean shudder to imagine how much the entire enterprise would have cost here in the US. If you could even get a doctor to make a house call and decide you were sick enough to need to go to an ER. But can you imagine the getting home part? Call a cab, Lady!

My FIL is feeling much better today. They're going to Madrid tomorrow on the AVE. (Rapid train) But just to go to some other appointments and file their tax return and stuff. Then they'll head back to Alicante for the summer. It's much cooler than Madrid. I'm just glad that he'll be better and that the healthcare is as good as when they're home in Madrid. Because if Seattle seems far from home, all points Spain seem even farther somehow.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

A Video Some People Don't Want You To See

Once upon a time, in 2008 a French documentary filmmaker by the name of Marie-Monique Robin made a film about a biotechnology company. Robin is an award-winning filmmaker of exposé documentaries on diverse subjects like organ theft, the French secret service practices that include death squads and systematic torture of Algerian dissidents, Cuba, false accusations of pedophilia on teachers and most recently a film on US practices of torture. Needless to say, given her topics, her films have not been the most popular ones on the top 10 lists. However, her 2008 outing, which was about an American multinational corporation which is one of the largest in the world, attracted a Rachel Carson Prize (Norway), the Umwelt-Medienpreis (Germany) and and best film at the Ekofilm Film Festival in 2009. An unrelenting documentary that systematically rips the curtain off the hangers, allowing you to see in full light the man(ufacterer) behind the curtain, the man pulling the levers of regulatory, legislative and scientific spheres, you will be surprised (You are, right? Sure you are!) to hear that this film, shown at a number of prestigious film festivals and venues in Europe and in Latin America, barely made a blip here in the US. In spite of the fact that a good fraction of it is in English (the rest is subtitled, don't worry) and that it actually had to be dubbed or titled back into French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian, Czech, Portuguese, Greek and quite a few other languages (and it was!) in order to be released elsewhere. You also can't find this film to rent on Netflix and such. Nope. Not there. So, since I was advised that I really had to see this film, I set out looking to buy a copy.

What do you see when you go to purchase this film on Amazon? If you're an Amazon Prime customer, looking for your free shipping and your nice little Amazon guarantee, you see the image above, leaving you wondering... hey, is it really the right film? If you want to see the image of the DVD, you have to go with a third party vendor, which is what I ended up doing, paying for postage, after confirming that it really was the film I wanted, but hey, look at that- the DVD is actually cheaper? Hmmm. Of course, there's the nice picture of the French language version of the film. But that's not a DVD for our Region. Well, no matter, I bought the less expensive, third-party DVD, (it arrived just fine) and I watched it. And I showed it to my skeptical husband and my bright children and a slew of other people that I know. I found out after discussing things with a reader of the blog that the film was now up on Google video (yay for Google! Yay for BBC!) and hence I can post a link for readers to stream the video.

I really think that this is one of the most damning documentaries about a company I've ever seen. It cuts to the heart of the harm done to the biotechnology, and specifically the GMO industry, by suspect or downright corrupt practices. There are things that I think are a little slanted, and one thing that I think has been somewhat disputed since 2007-8 when Robin was filming it. But overall, this film is an indictment of the capitalist agenda when married to, or more accurately dominating, science. There are aspects of this film that literally made me tearful, given the noble ideals that scientists are supposed to aspire to in their research and with respect to the idea of peer review and the underlying purpose of, and public trust in, regulation.

So, I'm not naming names here. Promised my husband I wouldn't. But I am telling readers that they really ought check out this link and watch a movie that summarizes all the worst that you have ever heard or feared about GMOs. In spite of the fact that I'm still pro-GMO when appropriately studied, peer-reviewed and marketed responsibly, I think there are things in this film that every responsible citizen of every country should see and be aware of. The practices, as far as weakening regulatory agencies, or even, as many would suggest, infiltrating regulatory agencies and legislative lobbying that further weakens regulation itself, are important to consider.

The amazing science of GMOs, and probably the entire biotech industry, are harmed by practices that ultimately backfire and then make the general public distrust science. It is a vicious cycle. As people distrust science more funding basic science is threatened. As a result, scientists may become more reliant on private funding and specifically corporate funding, in lieu of steadily diminishing federal (public) funding. And how much more likely are you to skew your results, or just... not ask the hard questions, if you will lose your corporate funding stream?

This video will show you everything that can go wrong with GMOs and this way of doing business.

It shows you ways in which the ability to do good, novel science can be harmed by the bad practices of a few, powerful companies.

Please watch it?

I'll be back later in the week with more information on the good that GMOs can do, an assessment of the water crisis (have you been reading the NY Times on the subject this past week?), and more about the coming realities of growing food on a warming, drought-ridden planet.

GMOs. They can help this planet. 

If we allow people to have the funding and research time to get it right.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vigilante Sharia or Mental Illness?

Katya Koren

This is Katya Koren, a Crimean 19 year old. She is stone cold dead. 

A reader of the blog sent me links about her, because of the stoning issue and Sakineh Ashtiani.

According to the original report in Daily Mail in the UK, Katya, who liked fashionable clothes (see above) and had competed in a beauty contest in Ukraine, had purportedly, in the eyes of three youths who knew the direct will of Allah the Most Merciful, committed a grave sin in flaunting her assets. So they decided to stone her to death and bury her battered body in a forest.

There are, however, conflicting reports about her death. Huffington Post is reporting that she may not even have been Muslim (although I'm not exactly assuming that would have let her off, you know?) and that the arrested youth, a classmate, may have kidnapped her, raped her and killed her as a result of some sort of obsession. The Mail has published an update on their original report here. 16 year old Bihal Gazhiev may be mentally ill and might have been rambling about Sharia Law.

Given the way mental illness is viewed in some areas of the world, it's not hard to envision how the information might have come to be distorted, if indeed, it was distorted. While I am no fan of Sharia justice (an oxymoronic term, if ever there was one...), I wouldn't want to be claiming that Sharia was to blame if it really wasn't. When the story first broke over the weekend and there were few bits of info, I didn't post on it. Now I'm glad I didn't. 

No matter why or how Katya Koren died, it was a horrific fate for anyone. 

Jared Lee Loughner in Court
(Chris Morrison for the Associated Press)

Meanwhile, on the topic of murder and mental illness, I want to mention that while I was on hiatus, on May 25th,  Jared Lee Loughner, the Tuscson shooter who killed six (including Judge John Roll and a 9 year old elementary school student government representative, Christina Taylor-Green), wounded thirteen, including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was ruled incompetent to stand trial by Phoenix Federal Judge Larry Burns. I got quite a bit of critical mail about my post on Loughner, and the fact that I felt sympathy with his family's plight in dealing with his mental health issues and that he had refused treatment but they allowed him to remain in their home. While many viewed the 22 year old as "just a bad kid" and "drug addict", Jared Lee Loughner has been diagnosed with (paranoid) schizophrenia. Loughner was carried from the courtroom at his most recent hearing, where he was ruled incompetent, after an outburst. He will remain in a psychiatric facility under treatment. If he recovers sufficiently, he will be tried for his crimes. Still psychotic, Loughner fervently believes that he killed Ms. Giffords. Ms. Giffords continues her rehabilitative treatment for her serious brain injury in Houston, Texas. She continues to make progress in her recovery.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

GMOs: A Silent Forest- David Suzuki's Take

Many watchers of PBS will remember Dr. David Suzuki's balanced and wonderful series, The Nature of Things. Suzuki, a geneticist by training, produced this cautionary video explaining his concerns about GMO trees. This is an articulate and eloquent 'discussion' about the need for clear scientific exploration of GMO science and technology. Suzuki touches on an issue that we'll explore later this week, the issue of the effects not just of superbug emergence, but the business practices involved. He also mentions the introduction of a termination gene (the so-called 'suicide gene' which prevents replanting) and the potential for grave problems from it. Later this week, I'll be posting a damning video about one of the largest biotech companies in the world by documentary filmmaker Marie Monique Robin, but I wanted to post Suzuki's video because it is an excellent visually accessible introduction to the controversies around GMOs from a scientifically credentialed and highly regarded figure.  This video is worth your watching time. 

From the Google posting of the trailer for Suzuki's video:

A Silent Forest - The Growing Threat of Genetically Engineered Trees (GE/GMO)
15:46 - 2 years ago
A SILENT FOREST: The Growing Threat of Genetically Engineered Trees (GE/GMO) This award winning documentary film explores the growing global threat of genetically engineered trees to our environment and to human health. The film features renowned geneticist and host of PBS' The Nature of Things David Suzuki, who explores the unknown and possibly disastrous consequences of improperly tested GE methods. (Emphasis Marzie's) Many scientists and activists are interviewed in the film, which serves as an effective and succinct tool for understanding the complex issue of GE trees. The film includes the testimony of many experts on the subject and serves as a valuable tool to inform students and those interested in environmental issues. The film has been well used in public forums, government as well as college and high school classrooms. The film includes an interview with Percy Schmeiser, who lost the rights to his own crops to Monsanto, when Monsanto seeds contaminated his fields. As Schmeiser says in the film: "It doesn't matter how it gets there, destroying your crop. All of your crop, becomes Monsanto's ownership and they can lay a lawsuit on top of it against you. Even if the contamination rate is 1%, all your other 99% of your crop goes to Monsanto. And that's what startled the world, how farmers can lose their rights overnight, an organic farmer can lose his seeds and his rights overnight, and get subject to a lawsuit." The film shows how farmers like Schmeiser and indigenous people may lose their way of life and belongings in the face of new biotech friendly science and legislation. A Silent Forest won first place in the EarthVision Environmental Film Festival and a First Place in the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. The film is created by award-winning director Ed Schehl who has been making and promoting documentaries on environmentalism and social justice for 15 years. As new crucial forms of legislation and urgent needs for action arise, this film makes information available to the general public. You can order the "A Silent Forest" video from: Thank you.«

The valid questions raised in the video above, and by other eminent scientists who, make no mistake, are not reactionaries against GMOs, are profound ones that involve serious ethical issues and equally serious scientific ones. Neither Suzuki nor any of the other major players in the area of the GMO debate (Dr. Ignacio Chapela, for example) are suggesting that we cease genetic engineering. In fact, what they propose is quite the opposite. What they are suggesting is that we do more research and stop the rush to market items when we have little understanding of their broad impacts. Remember all the studies on Golden Rice that Thelma Lee told you about? That was not just politics, but science at work. We need thorough studies on GMO crops. Golden Rice is an example of a GMO that has been thoroughly studied and whose impact is better understood. Also note that Golden Rice is a crop that most third world farmers will be able to afford and reseed as they wish, royalty free.

Think of it this way: would you want to have a rush to market a vaccine, for yourself, for your children, if we had no firm idea of what its longitudinal (horizontal) effects are? If it could make you, or someone of a different ethnic background, sicker rather than better in the end,  as intended? If it could protect you but sicken your cat or dog? As I said in last week's posts the broad reaction against GMO science is ignorant and fails to address the fact that the science that allows creation of GMOs is both amazing and useful. Like anything else in nature, science gives us tools which require considered handling. When handled with full understanding, we have eradicated diseases like smallpox, almost eliminated diseases like polio, have developed medications to help us fight tuberculosis or HIV, and we have learned much about agriculture and propagation. Give science time, and scientists the time and ability to do thorough research, is Suzuki's message here. It is a message that the world must listen to if we have a hope of overcoming some of the aspects of climate change that cannot be ignored any longer.

After you have watched this video, ask yourself why companies feel encouraged to develop GMOs with the wrong goals and why corporations are getting away with insufficient testing of these organisms, which will not likely be giving us what we will need in the future. Instead of focusing on making plants more drought resistant, more heat tolerant, more saline tolerant, providing successful and safe means of vaccination against the tropical diseases that will work their way into temperate climates (as vectors like mosquitoes spread encephalitis and malaria at more extreme northern and southern, formerly temperate, latitudes) we sadly largely hear about products that, in the end, are not only generating stronger pests and potentially damaging the integrity of heritage species which are a resource for future development, but which spread GMO genomes that are proprietary? Why are these the GMOs dominating our market, our media, and our the ag world? How will we, as citizen voices, change the practices that have allowed corporations to dominate the GMO field in such deleterious ways? How can we keep the baby when we discard the dirty bathwater?

There are no easy answers here and the stakes, within the next 20-30 years, will be high. As columnist Tim Lang asked just yesterday in The Guardian, "where is the 21st century approach to feeding the world?" This was in response to yesterday's Oxfam report Growing a Better Future, which finds that presently, one in seven people on the planet (925 Million, soon to be 1 Billion) are hungry and which suggests that the cost of many staple foods (wheat, rice, corn etc) will triple by 2030. Some raise the prospect of food riots. In the complex interplay between biofuels vs. edible crops, we have the overlay of looming climate change and what effects it may have on our food crops. Without direction, these issues will only worsen. Oxfam's new report contemplates these issues and poses a warning about where our efforts with respect to agriculture must be focused.

It is my feeling that Suzuki is right: we are wasting valuable time by allowing corporations to streamline and release GMOs that have been inadequately tested or perhaps tested under biased conditions. Not only do we risk tampering with the environment in ways that we cannot fully understand, but we are hampering the ability of scientists who are studying GMOs appropriately, by ruining the public perceptions and the political will to fund this type of science. As some (though not all) comments on Thelma Lee's blog posts on GMOs have shown, many people now regard GMOs with blatant negativity. The science is considered flawed and damaged, the products deleterious to public and environmental safety. Sadly, the effects of corporate greed and the rush to approve products that perhaps should have had much more thorough testing, are damaging the credibility of the science itself. 

Like any tool, genetic engineering can have positive or negative results and consequences. Without demanding better testing, supporting publicly funded, independent research, and fostering development of GMOs that address looming issues like climate change and disease, we are, as Tim Lang so accurately says, 'squandering the scientific possibilities'...

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

First Do No Harm

Attribution unknown

I've slept badly (not that I ever sleep all that great) with thoughts of Mom's impending surgery but even more than that, with thoughts of things that have gone on in the past year with a friend that I'd fallen out of touch with. Her privacy was violated in just unbelievable ways by someone who was supposed to be helping her.  As my husband has observed more than once in the past year, the term "mental healthcare" appears to be something of an oxymoron, perhaps better replaced in this instance with the term "mental health violation". Anyway, as soon as I'm done reading "The Hippocratic Myth", I want to renew the discussion on healthcare, with particular focus on mental healthcare.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011