March 29, 2014

Race, addiction, science, public policy: Carl Hart writes an oversold book


I just got done reading a pretty new addiction-related book, and no, it's not (yet) that hot new book by Dr. Dodes, profiled on Salon, The Atlantic and NPR. Rather, this is "High Price," by Ph.D. neuroscientist Carl Hart.

Carl Hart is good on the basics of what we know, and don't know, about addiction and neuroscience. He's decent on telling the story of his life, and on public policy, minorities and the "War on Drugs." However, where parts 1 and 2 intersect, he sometimes seems to soft-pedal part 1 for the sake of part 2.

Basic point 1 is that he is African-American, and grew up in lower-class neighborhoods in greater Miami, and therefore in a unique position to talk about race and addiction, race and other races' beliefs about addiction, etc.

But, that's not my first primary point. Rather, per ideas I've heard from people who think that AA is unscientific, it's about "following the science" on addiction. More specifically, it's about updating one's scientific knowledge of what may cause addiction, the little knowledge we have, being updated rather than being 20 years old. More specifically yet, that involves moving beyond simple, or simplistic, ideas that we can reduce addiction to a matter of brain neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters and neuroscience

And, specifically, addiction is NOT "All about the dopamine," or anything similar. I quote from his book:
When dopamine's prominent role in reward was first proposed, there were only about six known neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, glutamate and GABA. Now there are more than a hundred. Furthermore, we now know that there are specific receptors -- or specialized structures that recognize and respond to a particular neurotransmitter -- for each neurotransmitter, and most neurotransmitters have more than one type of receptor. For example, dopamine has at least five receptor subtypes -- D1-D5. We also now know that hormones like oxytocin and testosterone can act as neurotransmitters.
But despite these ever-intensifying complexities, our theory about dopamine's role in reward has not been appreciably revised since it was first proposed [in the early 1990s]. And, as you will see later, a growing body of evidence casts doubt on this simplistic view of reward.
I knew a fair amount of this before I read Hart's book. But, his directly applying it to addiction, combined with his ethnicity and sociological background, gave me the perfect excuse, or reason, to blog about it more directly.

For more on neurotransmitters, which may, depending on how widely the term is defined, include a variety of peptides and even minerals like zinc, see Wikipedia. I mean, histamine and products related to several amino acids are neurotransmitters. It's much more than the few neurotransmitters that health-food stores, and Big Pharma, try to pitch us on. More on that in a minute

And, folks, that's why addiction isn't all about the dopamine. And why truly understanding addiction will proved to be more complex than current ideas.

Related to this is why an anti-craving drug like Naltrexone doesn’t work equally well for different addicts with different addictions and never will.

And bingo on who might be behind the “cravings” idea. Per Wikipedia, anti-craving drug Naltrexone's first clinical trials? 1992. And, also per Wiki, all the different addictions it's now possibly supposed to help on cravings? I think we've struck Big Pharma gold, or at least silver.

Also, while Naltrexone is an opiate receptor antagonist, Campral, also marketed as an anti-craving drug for alcoholics, works, or “works,” as a GABA receptor agonist. Different mechanism entirely than Naltrexone. Campral was first approved, in Europe, in 1989. That’s a bit earlier than the 1990s, but still in the same framework. Don’t let the European start fool  you, though; Western Europe is at least as Big Pharma friendly as the US. And Wellbutrin, marketed to help smoking cravings as well as being a non-SSRI antidepressant? It targets, in various ways, dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. And, its actions on dopamine don’t seem  to be enough to explain its alleged effectiveness. (All three of these may target neurotransmitters beyond members of the “original six,” which Big Pharma hasn’t looked for. Material on Campral and Wellbutrin is also from Wiki.)

There’s more, just from basic browsing of Wiki. We’ve long known that nicotine is an agonist for certain acetylcholine receptors and triggers the release of sever al “old” and “new” neurotransmitters; why would we focus on dopamine?

And, even if dopamine has a fair role to play in addiction, Wellbutrin alone shows that it’s not a primary role.

Oh, and substitute "serotonin" for "dopamine," and what's said above about addiction is just as true for depression. And, the "serotonin deficiency causes depression" idea was proposed at the same time as the "dopamine shortage causes addiction" idea. Yet, despite early hype, we still don't know a lot about depression, other than knowing SSRIs often don't work a lot better than older anti-depressants.

Beyond that, other neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine, have various types of receptors, too.

Hart himself addresses the issue of “craving” near the end of the book. He says that for apparently non-addicted but regular users of various drugs, as tested in laboratory settings, “craving” did not seem to be a significant concern, on average. I question that. Also, given some libertarian-type political "connectedness" the book and Hart apparently have, I also "question" that he did not spell out how much of the "low dopamine = addiction" idea, like "low serotonin = depression," was pushed by Big Pharma. And, that may be why he doesn't talk about anti-craving drugs that much, and minimizes the issue of craving.

Unfortunately, Nora Volkow, head of the US government's National Institute on Drug Abuse, is one of the biggest pushers of the dopamine theory. I'm not sure if I would go so far as to claim this is a new version of the "disease theory" of addiction, though, as Stanton Peele does. Especially given that Peele is one of the most tireless promoters of theories of addiction that largely deny the existence of addiction, one can usually depend on him to overswing, and therefore, take what he says with a 1/3 off grain of salt.

Now, public policy issues in the book

Hart, as noted, is a black male, of about the same age as I am, who grew up in greater Miami in the late 1970s and 1980s. As such, he remembers the Reagan-era paranoia about crack cocaine vs. powder, which he covers in detail, including showing no difference in addictiveness levels, just as other researchers have done.

From there, he looks at what he sees in many ways as being a very similar alarm over methamphetamine, or “meth,” in the past decade. He notes that the number of meth users is much lower than cocaine users, first. Second, most stories about superhuman strength, etc. of alleged meth addicts are anecdotal, he adds. Third, and to the point, he notes how there is little chemical difference between amphetamine, the main ingredient in Adderall and other anti-hyperactivity drugs, and methamphetamine. After all, per basic chemistry, methamphetamine is just a methylated version of amphetamine, with a single methyl radical added. Or, in other words, it’s like Celexa and Lexapro. But, both of them are legal and heavily prescribed. On stimulants, Adderall and Ritalin are legal and heavily prescribed; meth isn’t.

Skepticism of some of his claims

I don’t totally agree with Hart. I think he tilts the scale toward “abuse” rather than “addiction” at times, and doesn’t allow for even people who are addicts, not just abusers, still having enough self-control to moderate their behavior in lab settings. I mean, the stories of alcoholics and addicts trying to pull one over on people are legion, and at some point, per the old cliche, "anecdotes" become "data." Hart talks about how some of his test subjects appeared intimidated about getting to the lab, but doesn't ask if any were still intimidated later.

Nor does he seem to ask himself if he’s over-reacting to some of his own personal, and his larger background as an African-American’s, take on things like the “crack menace” or “reefer madness” long before that.

Related to both points, he doesn't ask, as a very rare minority Ph.D. neuroscientist, if some of his test subjects are "trying to help a brother out." I hate to stereotype, and I'm not a minority, but, I've been around a boatload of drinkers and users. I'm liberal enough to know the War on Drugs is a crock, but I've been plenty a person be sober or clean for years, even a decade or more, "slip," and not be able to get back on track.

Nonetheless, he’s right indeed, in my opinion, that addiction is a complex issue. And why should this surprise us?

Some “purely physiological” issues are far more complex than originally claimed and even than some claim today. Cancer immediately comes to mind. Fifty years on, we’re not close to “winning” a “War on Cancer.”

At the same time? His wanting to make it look like addiction isn't that common approaches simplicity itself. I gave this three stars on book review sites. It's barely that, I think.

Political issues, of his own

Finally, I raise at least a partial eyebrow at his crediting Maia Szalavitz for helping get the book done. Szalavitz at least has a few of her toes in the pool of right-wing funded journalism, or "journalism," or is at minimum a "fellow traveler." Her association with places like STATS.org, which, per Wiki, has connections with Scaife money, American Enterprise Institute, etc., and is affiliated with George Mason University, is a red alert right there. That would probably explain, per some Amazon reviewers, Hart visiting Fox News, and ... more than once! I suspect, per those Amazon reviewers who would be clueless as to why, this was to get "in" with libertarian Fox watchers, not the religious right. Hart explicitly calls for decriminalization, which is neither neuroscience nor memoir.

Related to that, I'm tired of libertarians, starting with Glenn Greenwald, talk about what a success drug decriminalization is in a place like Portugal when most of them know that Portugal has a better "safety net" than we do and spends more government money on it than we do now, and than many libertarians here are willing to pay.

Greenwald, and Hart here, if they want to propose this, then fine ... be honest with how much this costs. And, if you're either too lazy to have researched that, or are afraid to tell people that, or else are a committed enough economic libertarian that you don't want the government paying that price, then shut up about the "Portugal solution."

Summation

You can find the neuroscience work, including on neurotransmitters and related issues, from other neuroscientists, or else from psychiatrists doing research work. In many cases, it won't be explicitly tied to the decriminalization issues, and possible peddling of harm reduction over abstinence, which reportedly Hart has done on some of his TV appearances.

This is a book that has more froth than substance, after a first look.

There is a sort of political silver lining. Maybe the US needs a few more black libertarians of prominence, if that's what Hart is becoming, as well as black social conservatives.

March 28, 2014

New MLB-players roiding agreement even better than I expected

When Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the MLB Players Union, first announced the idea of toughening sanctions to 100 games for a first offense and full season for the second, instead of the current 50 and 100 games, I was in semi-agreement; I liked that, but only without the loophole of just 25 games for an inadvertent test.

I worried about Barry Bonds, who alternated between saying he didn't know what was in the "clear" and the "cream" and that flaxseed oil did it? And Manny Ramirez claiming he had no idea how a woman's fertility drug got in his body? Or Ryan Braun and "chain-of-custody" claims on his first positive test. If a player sees a loophole, he's going to try to drive a Mack Truck through it.

The ESPN link provides two more such examples:
Philadelphia infielder Freddy Galvis was suspended for 50 games in June 2012 for a Clostebol Metabolite, which he later claimed was contained in a foot cream he used. Reliever Guillermo Mota, then with San Francisco, was suspended for 100 games in May 2012 after taking a cough syrup with Clenbuterol.
And, I'm sure we could get more with easy digging.

But ...

The new agreement is in, and it looks like we won't have to worry about "inadvertent" testing.
  • Random urine samplings will more than double;
  • HGH testing will increase;
  • First suspension will be 80 games, second one a full year.
As for the "inadvertent"?

Players will get a chance to appeal on grounds that they weren't seeking a competitive edge. I guess this would be something like Andy Pettitte's use of HGH for healing? Because, with him, what he said rang at least halfway true. That said, per discussion at the NBC link, we don't know that HGH does that much for healing, anyway. And, it looks like, instead of a 25-game ban, it's half of the original.

And there's this:
Additionally, the league and the union are creating a safe harbor of sorts: they have established a program in which players will have year-round access to supplements that will not cause a positive test result. This should reduce confusion on banned over-the-counter substances and reduce the use of the “I got this from GNC and thought it was OK” defense many have raised in the past.
Agreed. Let's hope the commissioner's office pushes this hard, especially in Spanish and outside the US, for Caribbean players to be clean, and to not have excuses.

At the same time, per the full agreement, there's this twist. Even if you don't have a full-year suspension, you're banned from the playoffs for that year. And, lose postseason money; you can get a partial share, but you can't get a full player's share of money. And, can't vote in distribution of postseason shares. (In other words, a suspended Roger Clemens couldn't vote Brian McNamee, or some late-year call-up player, etc., a full World Series share.)

Craig Calcaterra doesn't like it at all. I think it's great, and will make teams be more serious about what individual players are doing. In other words, managers and GMs ... that's you in the Oakland dugout, Tony LaRussa, and you in New York, Joe Torre, and you in Atlanta, Bobby Cox, have one less excuse now, too. Managers can't ignore Jose Canseco and the infamous Canseco milkshakes.

Maybe you can't patrol everywhere, but, if you think you need to tighten up dugout access, that's what you do.

David Schoenfield likes the idea, too.

Finally, new items may be added to the prohibited substances list next week. Stay tuned.

Tigers overpay for Miguel Cabrera at an Albert Pujols and A-Rod level

Speaking of that, congrats to Miguel Cabrera and his agent, firm SFX. With a 10-year contract worth nearly $30M per year (and, with two vesting years, I'm counting this as a likely 10-year contract AFTER the buyout of the two years remaining on his current/old contract1), he's now officially passed Alex Rodriguez in the payroll pantheon.

And, per the "Insider" head-scratchers on the sidebar of the ESPN piece, yes, Dave Dombrowski, you've joined Hank Steinbrenner and Arte Moreno, on the Albert Pujols contract, as "biggest bonehead overpay."

Let's look at it the way I laid it out. I've not seen details of the vesting options, but, given how dumb this was in general, I'm assuming they are player-friendly, and my general scenario holds.

The new contract starts when he's 33. That's one year older than when Pujols was at the start of his current deal and also one year older than A-Rod was at his 2008 extension. Miggy's less of a fielder, even at first, than Pujols. Certainly less in the field than A-Rod was at the start of his contract, and arguably less than A-Rod was at the time of his extension. Even without the two vesting years, this would be an overpay. With them, it's a massive one.

As for the Tigers? I was willing to consider that Dombrowski was still a smart GM after the Doug Fister trade, and definitely after he refused to meet Scott Boras' price on a Max Scherzer extension. No longer. Trading Prince Fielder to save and free up money, then blow it like this?

Per this Twitter pic, unless Miggy has the Honus Wagner, or Mel Ott, or even Frank Robinson fountain of youth somewhere, it's a huge overpay. Not just an overpay, but a huge overpay. And, I doubt it. Wagner and Robinson were both known for defense, one indication of why they aged better. Ott was playing his older years against undrafted "leftovers" during WWII. (Related: This Dave Cameron piece at Fangraphs.)

And, speaking of, Pujols can probably still log at least three more years as a first baseman first without any serious defensive loss. By the time he's 36, Miggy will almost surely have to be installed as a DH first.

Plus, per this blog, what if Miggy pulls another David Freese move behind the wheel? He's been sober a few years, but, still ...

1 — Update: Dombrowski says each of the two additional years vests only if Miggy is in the top 10 in the previous year's MVP voting. So, given Pujols' and A-Rod's track records, it may turn out to only be eight years after the two "eaten" years of Cabrera's old contract have passed.

That said, I still think this is a bad contract. Another reason why? Jon Heyman likes it.

March 27, 2014

Lesser prairie chicken — Time for more batshit-crazy Rick Perry et al vs. Fish and Wildlife

Lesser prairie chicken/Texas Parks and Wildlife photo
Remember a few years ago, when the dunes sagebrush lizard was listed as environmentally threatened? Little lizard, meet the lesser prairie chicken. (Oh, and lesser prairie chicken, get ready to meet Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and members of the Texas Railroad Commission.)

Because your habitat, like the lizard's, is in oil country. And, because Kenny Boy Salazar, like Dear Leader, has the environmentalism backbone of a chocolate eclair, the dunes sagebrush lizard didn't get an Endangered Species Act listing after all. And Combs bamboozled the feds to make that happen.

Given that the lesser prairie chicken's protection isn't supposed to start until May, I'll not take your bet that it stays protected, even if you give me odds. It's time for Greg Abbott to go to his office and sue Obama again, obviously.

Looks like Bill Self has plenty of #Jayhawks hoops rebuilding to do

Joel Embiid/New York Times photo
I am assuming, like just about every other college and pro hoops fan, that Andrew Wiggins of the Kansas Jayhawks will be a one-and-done player.

Meanwhile, unless he changes his mind before the cutoff period, center Joel Embiid, with his back stress fracture and all, has made it official that he's coming out.

Everybody has said that Embiid could go No. 1, but they said this before the phrase "back stress fracture" came out.

(Update, March 31: Wiggins is joining him.)

That said, pro teams will draft "tall" even if they know a player will miss most his rookie season. Right, Nerlens Noel? Or if they know you have legs of different length, enough different to cause other problems. Right, Greg Oden? Or, if they know that you've got two knees bad enough you're ice-bagging both. Right, Bill Walton?

On the other hand, Ben Medro at this medical website says his injury isn't that big of a deal, if he's careful:
Making the diagnosis in the early stage of spondylolysis is important because the injury is treated with time and rest allowing bones to heal. Patience is needed because it can take 12 weeks or more and there are complications to be had if the athlte rushes back to activity. If there are bilateral pars defects or fractures, there is a possibility that the vertebral column might slide forward potentially causing irritation and inflammation to the nerves leaving the spinal canal. This slippage is called spondylolisthesis (listhesis=dislocation). Should this occur,, CT or MRI imaging may be required for diagnosis and surgery needed to stabilize the lumbar vertebrae.
Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are common injuries that afflict young athletes. Population studies show that 3-4% of the general young adult population will have spondyloysis, but up to 15% of athletes will have damage that can be seen on plain x-ray. Of those athletes with spondylolysis, almost half will have spondylolisthesis. Athletes increase their risk of developing a stress fracture if they have poor technique, poor posture, lack core stability, strength and flexibility and are guilty of overtraining. While it is a medical mantra that most overuse injuries can be prevented, it’s tough understanding the mechanical stresses that are placed on the lumbar spine of a seven foot tall athlete. With time, Joel Embiid will likely heal nicely and by next fall will be playing in the pros instead if college.
So, there we go. So, if Wiggins also comes out, and Jabari Parker as well, it's probably a three-person race between them for the No. 1 pick. And, per Medro, it sounds like "rest" is the best prescription. Unfortunately, since Kansas is now out of March Madness, he doesn't have to worry about being tempted to not follow that prescription.

As for his potential? Maybe a few people would call him a junior Dwight Howard. Actually, I'd call him a junior Hakeem Olajuwon. I see a lot of the same type of athleticism.

And, the New York Times is certainly high on his NBA potential, too. though I can't believe it when it says Wiggins could fall as low as No. 7.

High speed rail in Texas? #HSR before California?

Jeff Turretine says that the Pointy Abandoned Object State could zip past the Leaden State (California, y'all) on high speed rail. A Texas consortium is organized to back HSR to connect the Texas Triangle.

I've long said that Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio/Austin are perfectly situated for HSR. There's cities of big enough size to justify it, cities that are connected to each other for business reasons (or politics, with Austin), and just the right distance apart that HSR can easily compete with planes, especially with airport parking and boarding times, etc., on travel time.

The Texas group is also pitching this as a totally private issue, no "gummint" involved.

Flip side? Beyond the eminent domain Perry mentions (he'll have an update tonight or tomorrow) as part of his take, along with the conservative politics of the no "gummint," will be related issues. Among them, I'm sure, will be attempts to railroad through (I see what I did there) all the environmental parts of the permitting process. We've already seen that if it's oil vs. lizards, or water vs. cranes, we know who wins, damn the paperwork and damn the feds who are part of that "gummint."


Anyway, since the biggest push right now is coming from H-town, go back to Perry's website and look for updates. Or click this link; it's a fairly detailed update from him, linked to one from another Houston blogger.

March 26, 2014

Baseball looks to toughen roiding penalties

I agree with the general idea of toughening sanctions to 100 games for a first offense and full season for the second, instead of the current 50 and 100 games.

But, with the loophole of reducing an inadvertent test to 25 games? Nuh-uh.

But ...

Update, March 28: The new agreement is in, and it looks like we won't have to worry about "inadvertent" testing.
Random urine samplings will more than double;
HGH testing will increase;
First suspension will be 80 games, second one a full year.

Players will get a chance to appeal on grounds that they weren't seeking a competitive edge. I guess this would be something like Andy Pettitte's use of HGH for healing?

Beyond a current case, like the Cardinals' new shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, there's been plenty of other players who originally claimed his bad test was inadvertent. Remember Barry Bonds, who alternated between saying he didn't know what was in the "clear" and the "cream" and that flaxseed oil did it? Remember Manny Ramirez claiming he had no idea how a woman's fertility drug got in his body? I'm surprised that Roger Clemens didn't claim that Brian McNamee mistook his butt for his wife's, as part of his claims. Sammy Sosa suddenly lost his command of the English language before Congress; would have made a good excuse as to not understanding his "personal trainer."

The ESPN link provides two more such examples:
Philadelphia infielder Freddy Galvis was suspended for 50 games in June 2012 for a Clostebol Metabolite, which he later claimed was contained in a foot cream he used. Reliever Guillermo Mota, then with San Francisco, was suspended for 100 games in May 2012 after taking a cough syrup with Clenbuterol.
And, I'm sure we could get more with easy digging.

Look at Ryan Braun and "chain-of-custody" claims on his first positive test. If a player sees a loophole, he's going to try to drive a Mack Truck through it.

That, in turn, leads to the question of burden of proof. Will an individual player have to prove his use was inadvertent, or will MLB have the burden of proof in showing it was deliberate?

As it is, all major sports have too liberal of loopholes for Adderall.

So, if that's the official "tradeoff" on the issue, unless the "inadvertent" is league-friendly, no thanks. Let's keep the current agreement.

Texas GOP politicians respond to Houston Ship Channel oil spil

Rick Perry says this will create new jobs in Texas. In case it won't, he offers Texas Enterprise Fund millions to whoever can pretend to actually make that happen.

Ted Cruz blames Obama and says that worrying about oil spill cleanup is socialism.

John Cornyn repeats what Ted Cruz said because, per LBJ, Cornyn has voluntarily put his pecker in Cruz's pocket.

Louie Gohmert says that Obama hired nude gay Satanists to cause this, because Gohmert is tired of Cruz inhaling all the nutbar oxygen.

Greg Abbott says he'll sue Obama over it, because it's been a week since he threatened to sue Obama. When asked how he can stand this happening, Abbott says that's a PC dirty trick, to ask him to stand for anything. He then says he can get women to do the cleanup for 30 percent less, because they're not good negotiators. He also said it was untrue that he had heard that Barbie hair was an effective oil sponge.

Dan Patrick says he can get some Ill Eagles to clean it up for cheap, as long as none of them wants to return home then come back, or put anything in writing.

David Dewhurst says he agreed with all of the above in spades, because Ted Cruz put the Dew's pecker into a pig in a blanket 2 years ago.

Jerry Patterson whips his hogleg out of his boot and starts shooting at the oil spill.

Joe Straus says to himself that he sure hope Democrats unite with the few non-nutbar GOPers in the House to re-elect him as speaker.

John Carona says to himself that maybe he should be thankful he lost his state Senate primary to Don Huffines.

Obama can thank Putin for one thing: Syria

It's clear that rebel groups in Syria are becoming more fractious and fractured than ever. So much so that even the Arab League doesn't know who to support.

Remember when Dear Leader was ready to go into Syria, guns and drones blazing like Shrub in Iraq? Remember how Putin saved him with the joint chemical weapons disposal plan? Remember how, like Iraq, exile and non-exile groups of Syrians had a falling out?

We're more fortunate than ever that Obama's red line was drawn in lands far more shifting than those that received William B. Travis' sword point at San Antonio de Bexar.

March 25, 2014

#NPS starts centennial planning

I've been worried that the Obama Administration, with an administration whose interest in environmental affairs is hit and miss, and whose interest in natural scenery is much more miss than hit, would totally blow the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

Well both the Park Service and its nonprofit private-sector partner, the National Park Foundation, have up centennial pages. That's a start. But, the real part of what worries me is how corporatized a neoliberal like Obama will have the centennial observances become.

Stay tuned.

#Cosmosfail, part 2

Edmund Halley and Isaac Newton, fit for Saturday morning
and kiddie cartoons. / Fox via Mother  Jones.
"Imagine" ... a TV show that gives you a full five minutes of dialogue before running more commercials! But doesn't have more money for either better animation or live actors to recreate ancient science. Maybe Ken Burns will do HIS version of Cosmos some day.

I hadn't planned on doing another blog post about Cosmos after my post-opening night one. But, after getting teased by a second episode that was seemingly better overall, per that paragraph above, about the Isaac Newton episode.

Besides, if you were able to do, and you had money for, the CGI dinosaur in the first episode, couldn't you do a CGI Newton and Halley rather than the Saturday morning cartoons?

Next complaint? The kid looking at the sky for comets at the end of the main Newton segment.

Oh, lordy, is that a paid product placement for Google Glass? That little clip was totally unnecessary in general.

As for Halley? People who know why the comet is named after him know he didn't discover a comet. A bit of a straw man there, though it was nice to see him otherwise get his due. That said, I know that the people is invented for people, especially children, with less science knowledge.

But, if you're going to give people their due, why not mention Leibniz's independent invention of calculus at the same time as Newton? For that matter, why not take a 2-minute digression to go from science to math to talk about how calculus, as much as Newton's laws of gravitation, were the start of modern science?

Oh, I forgot. It's been five minutes and we have to run another commercial. No time for calculus!

Nor did we have time to spend more time on Kepler as the world's first science fiction writer, which would have been another great sidebar.

Or to actually get past Cosmos' myth about "evil Robert Hooke" stifling "saintly Isaac Newton" and look more at reality and learn about Hooke. And, since Newton made the "standing on the shoulders of giants" quote, elevating him to a science rock star has extra irony. On the other hand, Newton's famous quote, per this io9 piece, may have been an early modern era example of heavy sarcasm.

And, if we want to talk about "major league asshole," per W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Newton was just as much of one to Leibniz on calculus as Hooke was to Newton on gravity, if not more so.

As for the final section of this week's episode, I don't think all astrophysicists are sanguine that life on a planet in one of two colliding galaxies would be in no danger.  After all, just a small gravitational tweak could produce an orbital change of note. I mean, if Earth were just 10 percent closer to, or further away, from the Sun than it is, or its orbit were just 10 percent more elliptical than it is, the history of life here would be far different than it actually is.

Maybe it's not so much the cartoons (though I still find them cheesy) as the cartoons versus CGI represent a diversity in styles. Or even a mish-mash. Or even a clash.

I'm thinking that it's also an audience focus issue behind that. A number of people have said how they like that this one seems pitched even to kids at times. While Sagan wasn't trying to talk over anybody's heads, he seemed to have a more consistent focus as far as target audience.

That said, some of the CGI is better and some is worse. The comet brightening from this episode was cheesy within the CGI. And, it's not like we couldn't, instead, start from stills of actual comets, whether Halley's or Ison, or use clips transmitted from the Rosetta or Deep Space satellites.

But, Tyson wants the graphics, to pull at heartstrings.

I guess this can now extend to a gripe about the CGI dinosaur. In the original episode, I questioned why Tyson didn't go filming something in the actual Burgess Shale, or find clips of a field crew at work there. Ditto on planetary astronomy. I want actual pics and video, not graphics, whether CGI or cartoons. What's the point in talking about science if you're not showing the actual science?

Yasiel ... could rhyme with a**hole

I'm not saying this just because I'm a St. Louis Cardinals fan who got tired of the schtick of Yasiel Puig during last year's playoff series. I'm saying it because, per ESPN, outrightly refusing to participate in a pop-up drill is a routine that got manager Don Mattingly and teammate Adrian Gonzales both pissed at him too.

And, rightly so. Especially since, per Mattingly here, Dodger management has a two-tier system and is giving star treatment to Puig even though he was just a rookie just a year ago.
Back in October, Mattingly said he had a different vision of handling Puig than the rest of Dodgers management.

"Leave it to me, it'd be one way, but that's not necessarily the way the organization wants things to go," Mattingly said at his famous end-of-season news conference. He wouldn't elaborate much, but he said, "I just think there has to be a development system that we adhere to with Yasiel, along with all the other guys."
Add in reporting to spring training overweight, and you're going to piss off the boss man even more.

We're now at the level of someone having a Deion Sanders ego dunked in a vat of steroids even if, unlike Deion, he's only been up one year, and unlike Deion, doesn't also play football. Or, we're at the level of a twice-as-insufferable Aroldis Chapman.

And, it is something that will get you benched by Donnie Baseball, especially if your stats otherwise warrant it. And, looking not only at his teh suck in spring training of this year but also his split stats from last year after his hot June start, he could be closer to being Pine Time [snark] than he might think. Batting .270 with an .850 OPS+ is far different than .436 and 1.180.

Good luck, Donnie, with a kid not yet 23. Have fun, Dodgers management, if this scenario turns out to be real and at some point, you even start thinking trade. Andre Ethier, might get more takers. Even, with the right trade, Carl Crawford, or Matt Kemp, might be more valued. Per some of ESPN's other anonymous polling, I wonder how the rest of the Dodger clubhouse feels about him at times. And, yes, chemistry still matters. Even more so if you're not contributing with the bat or glove. And beyond the slump in the latter part of last year, we already know that Puig's contribution with the glove/arm is often "indifferent." Per the first link, at the start of this year, just like most of last year, we also know that Puig's speed does not translate into baserunning smart.

Update, a day later: Donnie Baseball says "we're good." Yeah, and California's not in a drought. Also, no, ESPN, he's not the 31st-best player in baseball. He might make the bottom edge of the top 50. And might not.

Speaking of Puig and Chapman, I sure hope Cardinals GM John Mozeliak did due diligence on the head, as well as bat, feet and glove, of Cuban prospect Aledmys Diaz.

Is it something in Fidel Castro's water supply? Has he taken a Jack D. Ripper clue about precious bodily fluids, water, and defecting baseball players?

March 24, 2014

Dietary supplements: myth vs reality (updated to included actual diet types)

If dietary supplements cause as much as 20 percent of severe liver damage cases in the US, why do people keep taking them?

Good question. 

It relates to the myths of the supplement industry vs. those of traditional "western" medicine, especially the pharmaceutical business.

Myth/reality No. 1: Big Pharma is big business. Yeah, and so is Big Supplements. Indeed, so big of a business that we are led to ...

This reality:
Americans spend an estimated $32 billion on dietary supplements every year, attracted by unproven claims that various pills and powders will help them lose weight, build muscle and fight off everything from colds to chronic illnesses.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/22/3832809/spike-in-harm-to-liver-is-tied.html#storylink=cpy
That ain't chicken scratch. And, so, because these $32 billion of claims are unproven, we're led to ...

Myth/reality No. 2: Big Pharma is poorly regulated. Big Supplements is even more poorly regulated, and officially so by federal law that officially prevents tighter regulation. Add to that the fact that for supplement diehards, many of your products are made in China, the same country where food factories put melamine in dog food and human infant formula, and that 20 percent of severe liver damage may just be the tip of a supplements damage iceberg.

The reality?
(A)  federal law enacted in 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, prevents the Food and Drug Administration from approving or evaluating most supplements before they are sold. Usually the agency must wait until consumers are harmed before officials can remove products from stores.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/22/3832809/spike-in-harm-to-liver-is-tied.html#storylink=cpy
And, Big Supplements is big enough, and aggressive enough, to make sure that that supplements law is currently safe from tightening, or even from being fully enforced with the few teeth it has.

Thus, this further reality:
The FDA estimates that 70 percent of dietary supplement companies are not following basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products. Of about 55,000 supplements that are sold in the United States, only 170 - about 0.3 percent - have been studied closely enough to determine their common side effects, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert on dietary supplements. 
And, because the way the 1994 law is written, all the FDA can do is "estimate."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/22/3832809/spike-in-harm-to-liver-is-tied.html#storylink=cpy

Myth/reality No. 3: If there is any harm from bad supplements, or misuse of them, it's only to me. Well, no, not if you're an anti-vaxxer who thinks supplements are the answer to measles or whatever. If you think Supplement X prevents you from Illness Y, and said illness is readily transmittable, and you have other options that would do better against that illness, then you're hurting others.

Beyond myth vs. reality, Americans have always had a strong strain of the Ptolemy vs Euclid issue: The desire for, and the belief that they deserve, a royal road to something. (That's despite, or maybe because of, other Americans preaching the myth of the Calvinist work ethic.)

Result? This:
While many patients recover once they stop taking the supplements and receive treatment, a few require liver transplants or die because of liver failure. Naive teenagers are not the only consumers at risk, the researchers said. Many are middle-aged women who turn to dietary supplements that promise to burn fat or speed up weight loss.
That said, there are naive, or similar, teens who get their supplements for muscle building or whatever from dietary drinks, etc.

Now, there are some studies that show that modern Mass Agriculture has produced foodstuffs with less amount of vitamins and minerals per serving than in the past. However, those differences, which are likely at least somewhat valid, aren't so severe as to require megadoses of vitamins and minerals. And, claims such as "stress," re water-soluble vitamins? Our ancestors, trying to escape lions on the savannah, faced stress themselves. On fat-soluble vitamins vis-a-vis cardiovascular disease or other things? Many of the original claims for them have been shot down; taken in megadoses, even low enough to not be directly and acutely toxic, they can still be harmful.

And, that said, vitamins and minerals do have recognized nutritional value. And, they're inexpensive. That's not true of what most people think of when we talk about supplements. In general, they have no recognized value. And, per my Big Supplements phrase, they're as expensive as hell, in many cases. And, no, that's not hyperbole. For depression, for example, SAM-e can definitely cost more than a generic version of an old tricyclic antidepressant, and possibly more than a generic SSRI. Beyond that, what I said above? The claim of Big Supplements and their touters that any supplement offers a royal road to health, overcoming an illness or syndrome, etc.? It's a lie.

Meanwhile, let's not forget the myths about certain types of diets, above all, the "paleo diet." Dr. David Katz says that no specific diet is perfect, but that Michael Pollan's ideas are a great general guide. In other words, a high-carb diet is fine, as long as it's not processed, i.e, white flour and white rice and white flour noodles. Whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta, plus no canned veggies (way too much sodium), other canned or processed foods (sodium and sugar), and you'll be fine. The Mediterranean diet, as long as one uses whole-wheat pasta, is a good approximation.

As for the paleo diet, well, Katz notes that modern meat not only isn't an ancient mammoth, but it's "refined" with a grain diet (oops, how many paleos miss that) plus an overload of antibiotics and growth hormones. Plus, some meats are themselves "refined," like meats that are preserved with salt, sugar, or both (not to mention nitrates, etc.).

Paleo fail.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/22/3832809/spike-in-harm-to-liver-is-tied.html#storylink=cpy

Flight 370 update — likely correct, surely a week late

I agree with Malaysia's prime minister that Flight 370 is likely at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Or, technically, depending on how far south it flew, it may be at the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

Good luck finding wreckage. Anybody who's seen the Antarctica specials on PBS, March of the Penguins, etc., knows what the currents in the Southern Ocean are like. South of both Africa and Australia, with nothing to block their circumnavigation but Cape Horn, southern currents, like the winds, are fierce. Wreckage could be hundreds of miles away from being directly above where the wreck likely went down.

Here's the details:
The aircraft’s last known position, according to the analysis, “is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” (Prime Minister Najib Razak) said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.” 
The new analysis of the flight path, the prime minister said, came from Inmarsat, the British company that provided the satellite data, and from Britain’s air safety agency. The company had “used a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort,” he said. ...
(Chris McLaughlin, a vice president at Inmarsat) said that Inmarsat was confident enough in the new analysis, which it reviewed with Boeing and with a number of independent aviation experts, that it submitted its findings on Sunday to the Malaysians by way of the British safety agency, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
Per the currents part, even before you're out of the Indian Ocean and into the Southern Ocean?
Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales who studies and has conducted experiments on the flow of water around Australia, said currents in the southern Indian ocean could scatter floating debris in very different directions.

“The whole ocean down there is like a pinball machine,” Dr. van Sebille said. “It is difficult to track or predict where water goes, or do what is really important now, which is to backtrack where water came from.”

Dr. van Sebille described the conditions of the southern Indian Ocean as “extremely hostile,” with large waves, swirling currents and winds that are among the strongest on the planet.

“The longer it takes, the harder it will be to backtrack those pieces of debris,” he said.
Yep. And, thus, harder to find ocean-floor wreckage, and the black boxes that could tell us why this happened.

And, on that front:
The United States Pacific Command said on Monday that it would move a Towed Pinger Locator System, capable of locating a black box to a depth of 20,000 feet, into the region. “This movement is simply a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area, so that if debris is found, we will be able to respond as quickly as possible, since the battery life of the black box’s pinger is limited," Cmdr. Chris Budde, a Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in an email statement.
That said, contra Faux News' wingnuts, and somewhat contra Ted Rall, we can probably rule out terrorism but not absolutely. A cockpit hijack attempt, with a struggle between captain and first officer, is possible, but even then, even if we do find the black box, it can tell us only so much. Unless Malaysia is more forthcoming about its search of the home computer and flight simulator of Cpt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, we won't know much on motive, if this indeed is what happened.

And, if Malaysia could have done anything sooner to speed up Inmarsat's work?

That's the "week too late" part. Without various forms of Malaysian obfuscation, we probably could have had Inmarsat get crunching numbers, and spitting out results, sooner than it did, and focusing the wreckage search earlier, before it got scattered from here to hell and back.

Anyway, I'll stand by what I said a week ago; I expect it to take much longer to find floor wreckage from this flight than the Air France flight of 2009.

Wrong pitching decision, #Cardinals

Do the St. Louis Cardinals really need that much bullpen help that Carlos Martinez is getting stuffed in the pen, while Joe Kelly, whom I see as, well, as junior Lance Lynn, is the fifth starter? Even if the team theoretically needs that help now, April has a number of days off. Plus, Jason Motte, aka Yukon Cornelius, could be ready for a bullpen slot by the end of May.

And, if John Mozeliak really, really believes the value of an eighth-inning setup man is more important than a starter, even a No. 5, he needs to hand in the "Sabermetric Genius" badge he found in his box of CrackerJack.

True, per Strauss, this will limit Martinez' innings pitched, as the team wants and it is a case where missing Jaime Garcia hurts. But, if you want him to start later in the year, if we're past early May, then he theoretically has to go down to Memphis to get back into "starter mode." (Also, even though he pitched much less than a full year in St. Louis last year, Michael Wacha is not on an innings limit this year.)

I would rather he'd start from the start, that Kelly would be used to "spot" him on occasion early in the year to stretch out Martinez's 170-inning limit, along with "pulling" him early from some of his stasrts and we go from there. 

Or, if not, I'd rather that, if Mozeliak and Mike Matheny, for some strange reason, don't want to start Martinez right now, they send him back to Memphis, and then bring him back up.

This isn't a horrible decision. It's not a fantastic one, though. And, no, I don't totally believe Mo that this decision was the result of "healthy debate." It may have been the result of Matheny actually doing some head-scratching, but not vigorously enough to change Mo's mind, or Mo's eyeballs on Martinez's arbitration clock or whatever.

And, per Bernie Miklasz, this wasn't a real competition in the first place. Whichever one of the two, Mo or Matheny, was most pretending it was? Now, we're at last year's "Where's Shelby Miller" postseason contretemps. Once again, you have a manager and a GM who are proving themselves to simply be untrustworthy on the field of public relations with personnel decisions, at least pitching ones. And, speaking of Bernie, is this too part of the "Cardinal Way"?

And, speaking of Lance Lynn, as I've blogged before, I really wish Mo would make him part of a trade package for David Price.

#Cosmos, creationists and Fox

I love it that creationists continue to whine about Cosmos (even as host Neil deGrasse Tyson blew it on Giordano Bruno).

That said, creationists, as part of the Religious Right, getting taken for a ride by Fox, aka Faux, and owner Rupert Murdoch is nothing new; just this round of complaining is.

Hasn't "The Simpsons" been a bastion of anti-authoritarianism for more than a decade? For several years, wasn't "Married with Children" arguably one of the best anti-family arguments you could have, not to mention one of the earliest entrees in Faux's general degrading of commercial network TV with yet more T&A suggestiveness, a bit more lewdness in language, and other things?

And, where was the Religious Right then? They were already mute, for the most part, even before Faux News made their wet dreams come true by slanting news the way they wanted.

So, suck it, creationists. This time, Murdoch's ride to the bank with your money is a bit more blatant, but not at all new.

Besides, creationists, Comedy Central's got your airtime right here.

That said, Fox is also laughing at you Cosmos geeks, rooting for "Team Science" in a knockoff of the original that apparently isn't sure whether children or adults are its primary target (the original was adult-focused), all while Fox, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or both, are laughing to the bank with a boatload of commercials and cheesy animation that's riding your tribalism for all it's worth.

#ExxonValdez — remembering 25 years

One dead whale in Prince William Sound, 1989, via Exxon.
AP photo via Houston Chronicle
In the spring of 1989, I was in the first full year of graduate divinity school. I still belonged to, and believed in the tenets of, a fundamentalist Lutheran church. (No, family and friends, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod doesn't fit a narrower definition of Christian fundamentalists, but it does fit nicely in a broader sociology of religion definition.)

Anyway, I digress.

I was also, for the most part, still steeped in my parents' political beliefs, between my dad's Eisenhower-Main Street conservativism (with his twinge of Eisenhower-Main Street racism), and my mom's "None Dare Call It Treason" moving to Art Bell-listening Tea Party progenitorship (as I know with that anecdotal proof positive that the Tea Party idea is nothing new).

Anyway, again I digress.

I was already a bit of an environmentalist, at least in the sense of believing that Christian creationism did imply some sort of "good stewardship." And I was moving a bit beyond that, even.

Then, a seemingly drunken captain, Joseph Hazelwood, sailing a past-its-due-date, environmentally inadequate oil tanker, ran it aground on Alaskan rocks. And caused a massive animal die-off and other problems for which eXXXon (that's the correct spelling, folks) still refuses to admit full responsibility today.

That includes full financial responsibility, getting punitive damages cut to 10 percent of the original award due to "quirks" in maritime common law, per Wikipedia. And, since then? I've not seen either major party make major changes to environmental civil law to increase punitive damages for "takings" of reducing environmental and scenic value.

As for me? I took the next steps toward becoming a real environmentalist. (In the next five years, I took a chunk of steps toward becoming a real secularist [I avoid the Big A label, as much at times due to some Big As as well as Christian fundamentalists] and becoming a real liberal. By the end of the 1990s, I had moved beyond the Democratic Party, in fact and fortunately.) As part of that, I also became even more of an environmentalist, and a more activist one.

Indeed, while I had the pleasure of living in the Dallas area for most of the first decade of this century, I even "visited" a couple of eXXXon's annual shareholder meetings, as you can see. 

And, per the poster, we had even more to protest against eXXXon by 2008, or earlier. Since then, eXXXon has continued to be just as responsible of a corporate citizen on global warming and climate change, and now on oil and gas fracking, as it was on the Exxon Valdez. So eXXXon is the gift that keeps on giving.

And, in more ways than one. Per Wikipedia's story on the disaster, when in the original suit, eXXXon was hit with $5 billion in punitive damages, it got a $4.8 billion line of credit from J.P. Morgan. To insulate itself, Morgan created the first modern credit default swap.

In other words, eXXXon's Alaskan oil slick helped crap on the American economy nearly 20 years later. That said, why would anything about any unholy alliance between Wall Street and Big Oil surprise you? See: "Bros., Koch" for more.

Meanwhile, as High Country News notes, eXXXon's "cleanup" wasn't. There's still officially 21,000 gallons of oil in Prince William Sound and unofficially, much more.

===

And Perry reminds us, in light of the Houston Ship Channel collision over the weekend, that things haven't changed a lot. That includes the damage to wildlife, not just the inconvenience to the modern economy.