Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I try not to have many political/social comments, mostly because it's something of a cesspool of negative thoughts, but I find OWS interesting, in that it doesn't seem to have a coherent message, or maybe it only seems so to some.

This isn't to say that everyone involved in it has the same idea of what OWS should accomplish, what its message should be, but there is some intelligence in not forcing that to happen. It's a complex intelligence that even though I might have dissatisfactions with the high-living economic world, it's not flavored by going through a foreclosure, unemployment, or various other disasters others are going through.

It's interesting to compare OWS to the Tea Party, as many have done, but the TP was long ago abducted by the rich to serve their needs. A Libertarian approach to things is great when you talk about not paying taxes, allowing anyone to make as much money as they possibly can, but it seems that strictly speaking, a true Libertarian would say that there is no reason to save the financial system, no reason to save the auto industry, anymore than we want to save someone from not having health insurance.

The message I think that OWS has to offer that needs to last is that it's time to temper the greed. It's time to not measure success based on how much money one can accumulate in the shortest amount of time. It's time to believe that, when you manage to benefit from wealth creation, that there is some payback to society for having a system that allows that to happen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


There seems to be an increasing number of doctors carrying around iPads for various reasons, one being that they can connect to the hospital's system to get patient information. Our hospital has free wireless.

I carry around a laptop for the same reason, and while I have considered getting some sort of tablet, so far it doesn't make sense. There are a number of things I can do on the laptop that would not be feasible with a tablet. I have some custom software, like a database for example, that I would have to find some substitute for, and really don't want to bother.

The overriding issue, though, is that I have begun to see connectivity in the same way I saw TV some time ago: a great way to waste a lot of time, and realize hours later that you haven't seen anything worth remembering and have accomplished nothing.

This isn't some abstract mental exercise. It comes from having one or more computers running in my house so that I can as often as I want step up to and look up something, browse for random information on selected sites, check out blogs, or whatever. In the end it's not any more interesting, mostly less interesting than flipping through the hundreds of channels I could see on my cable TV, and I've already decided TV is mostly a waste of time. If I lived alone, I probably wouldn't have cable, and maybe not even a TV at all.

Here we are, in the 21st century, bombarded with uninteresting stuff, much of it propped up with advertising dollars to get us to go out and buy something we'll be unhappy with after purchase.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

eReadings 3

History of the Plague in London
Daniel Defoe

The first thing to realize about this book is its chronology. This is a "first person" narrative of the plague in late 17th century London, and if you check out the vagueness of Daniel Defoe's lifespan you realize he was at most a few years old during that time. His father is alleged to have kept some notes, perhaps a diary of the plague, so some have proposed that may have been in part the basis for this book. Others have suggested that Defoe used some other literary sources regarding the plague in other parts of Europe for his material.

So what you have is at best a second-person memoir, and when you consider the leeway one might see with a first-person memoir, at the outset you realize that there may be any number of distortions or exaggerations.

For a medical person, this is nonetheless an interesting book, showing as it does the profound effects on the infrastructure and the psyche of a large city faced with some medical epidemic for which no cure is known, yet a number of superstitions existed as to how to manage it, prevent it, most bordering on voodoo from a modern perspective.

Aside from the dubiousness of the factual information, this certainly seems more plausible than various movies about contagion we have seen. Some of the quite believable features are the accounts of people who took great precautions to avoid the plague only to succumb, and some who took none yet survived. Of course, there is ample evidence that taking unnecessary chances was generally a bad and fatal idea.

Will we ever face something like this again? The doomsayers predict it with regularity. If you ever wanted to think about coping with a very real disaster, this book is worth reading, and offers the safety of the distance of a few centuries when there was great ignorance about the cause of infectious diseases.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

eReadings 2

Howard's End
E M Forster
I had not seen either of the movies made from this story, so I had no idea what it was about. For the most part, it focuses on two reasonably well-to-do young sisters living in London, due to an inheritance from their father, so neither they nor their younger brother would ever consider working. Nonetheless, the setting of the story is pre-WWI, at a time when at least some women are getting ideas about getting the vote, and speaking their minds even in the company of men.

Howard's End is a place which figures pretty early in the story, then manages to fade to the background until near the end. Meanwhile there is an interesting weaving in and out of various characters, with untoward if not disastrous consequences for some of them.

I found the story line the best part of the book. It's perhaps expected that one might have trouble connecting to the thoughts of young women about that time, but it seemed there was something missing in their characterizations. There certainly was a effort to show them as quite unsettling to the gentlemen of the time. I certainly would recommend the book as well worth the read.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

eReadings (1)


Ever since I've had my Kindle, I've been doing more reading that I may have done all my life, perhaps excepting when I was going to college or medical school, but required reading is quite different. 

The Kindle or some other e-reader lends itself, of course, to frequent reading, since you can switch it on and pick up where you last left off. It also allows you to easily skip from one book to another. At first I started out just reading a book, finishing that, then starting another. This is okay for some riveting novel like Moby Dick or Tale of Two Cities, but there's is only so much I can take of some others, with their thick prose, heavy ideas, or maybe they're just not so interesting.

Project Gutenberg
This is my main source of books. I've bought a couple from Amazon, but my personal view is that there needs to be a pricing shake-up with eBooks. They're way too expensive. These days they're hardly less expensive than a physical book, and all I really have is a license to read them. I can't give them to someone else or sell them, at least legally.

The good thing about Project Gutenberg is that there is a very large number of books to be had, and another good thing is that Kindle versions exist. On the other hand, unless you're looking at list arranged by author, you are staring at a veritable sea of titles. There seemed to be a fledgling effort by PG to make an area for book reviews, but it looks dead, with no updates since 2006. You are of course not getting recent books with PG, since they are by definition out of copyright.

The Magic Catalog
Until I found this, I was looking at books in HTML, then downloading the Kindle version, then uploading to my Kindle. With the Magic Catalog, I can turn on the wireless on my Kindle, then go through the catalog like any other book, click on a title, and have it directly downloaded to my Kindle (only take a few seconds at most). Usually I download them in bunches. This way I worry less about whether I might like them. If something is uninteresting, I delete it and move on to something else. The Magic Catalog is searchable, but in its raw state is a quite jumbled up list of books. At first I found this bothersome, but for someone who doesn't have such a command of information about authors and books, it's not actually bad on a practical level, but you do have to cultivate a sense of adventure and just try things out.

A Couple of Reviews

What I want to begin is to give some of my own impressions of things I have read, partly for my own interest, but also in case someone else might find these reviews helpful in some way.

The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
I knew roughly what this was about, but since I never had it as a requirement in college I never read it. Back in the 60s there were a lot of references to it on campus, probably largely by those who hadn't read it either.

It's a book full of jargon, and I have to confess it took me a while to understand the bourgeoisie (bad guys) as what we might call the upper middle class, the shop owners, and in general those who were making the capitalist system work for them. The book is of course addressed to the proletariat, the peasants, the manual laborers who were paid and treated poorly, who generally had no property, living in some place owned by their masters/employers, with no hope of ever being able to climb out of this.

I suppose it's possible to read this book word for word, but I certainly found the repetitiveness led to tedium, and I could get the message scanning and skipping along. It's easy to see the appeal of the idea for its intended audience, the proletariat, even allowing for the fact that many of the proletariat were illiterate. The message was, "You have nothing, therefore you have nothing to lose. We will take the property and riches from the bourgeoisie and give it to you."  Also quite specifically spelled out is that replacing capitalist institutions will be The State, and now that we have a century of Communism to look at, we understand all too well what The State became. Left out is any mention of what you might be allowed to do with your land once it's "yours".

Ten Days that Shook the World - John Reed
This was a serendipitous selection, picked out some weeks after The Communist Manifesto. I thought the title sounded interesting, so I downloaded it.

This is a first-hand account by an American Socialist journalist, who happened to be in Russia in late 1917 when dramatic upheaval there culminated in the Bolshevik revolution. Something which becomes readily apparent is the shallowness of the history of the Communist revolution as taught in this country. The number of different people, the number of factions involved, the number of plots and subplots, attempts at subverting someone else's plan are quite astounding. One can also see that a big part of what fuelled the revolution is that 80% of the Russian population were peasants. This is of course an outsider's point of view, but the access that he had to factions and leaders on various sides of the evolving quest for power is rather amazing. There is also a great battle of propaganda going on, which I suppose now we see as puny in comparison to what goes on with the media and the internet, but clearly one sees how absolute control of the press came about in communist Russia. We also can see the transition from the ideas the Bolsheviks had to have a peaceful transition of power led to armed conflict and bloodshed.

One of the things I've taken to doing, and that I would recommend, is online research about authors, usually after I've read their work. John Reed was born in Oregon, eventually sent East for his education, and became involved with the various unions' struggles of that time, in the process becoming a Socialist. Like a number of people in the Socialist movement, and the Russians themselves, there was this abiding idea that sooner or later workers of the world would rise up and follow the Russian communists' example. Even though ostensibly one needed governmental approval to travel abroad, especially during WWI, it apparently wasn't so hard to simply find a way to travel to Europe and go wherever you wanted. Finland was a way to get to Russia, and even though he was periodically held in custody on the way back, eventually someone would get him released and he'd be back in the US until the next time. All this travel through impoverished areas led to his death at 32 of spotted typhus. He died in Moscow and is buried in the Kremlin.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Exercising will delay cognitive decline, or maybe not

We're seeing this sort of statement all around. Consumer Reports has said it. When I just updated my Epocrates, there was a little news item about this.

Here's the problem. This is not accurate. It's not necessarily wrong, but has yet to be proven, and this is a kind of research that many people don't understand, at least in terms of how to understand it.

What we actually have are a number of population studies, in which someone looks at a variably large number of people, and then analyses them by collecting data. One kind of data will be who has cognitive impairment and who doesn't. But also various lifestyle things might be looked at, like amount of exercise, how regular it is, etc.

So it has become clear that there is something of a match up between those who exercise and those who retain cognitive function better than their peers. So obviously, exercise causes a retention of cognitive abilities, right? Not necessarily.

All this really says is that there is some commonality, and it might work in the other direction, in other words, maybe people who exercise do so because they are more cognitively with it. How can that be? Well, why do people exercise? Have they been exercising because they knew it would keep them more cognitively fit too? Seems unlikely.

We actually already know that an early sign or marker of dementia can be social withdrawal.While I suppose that there are those who exercise in social isolation, exercising is very much a social sort of thing for the most part. At any rate the reasons why people exercise are not simple, and while there may be many who would like to exercise, there is something different about those who actually end up doing it.

The real answer to this question of the cognitive benefit of exercise would have to come from some controlled experiment, where you take one random group and force them to exercise, and another group where you prevent them from exercising. And I might as well add that we're not likely to see that happen, since you also have to do this for a number of years, since this isn't something that happens in 6 months.

So I'm not making an argument against exercise, I'm just trying to clarify some misimpressions that are floating around about it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Now that we're bathed in frequent if not continuous commentary regarding 9/11, it continues to be noted that we see little indication of any effort to reduce anxiety about terrorism. I guess it's because it doesn't sell advertising space.

What is terror about?
Terrorism is about inducing terror. Let's face it, this isn't so hard, and it's  made easier in a world of instant, 24 hour news access, where one of the leading concerns is that if you're going to have news broadcast 24 hours a day, you have to have something to say, even if you have to manufacture it to some extent. Any time you don't have to manufacture news, you have a gold mine to use for content.

Terrorism is cost efficient. 

This is true. You don't even have to actually do anything. All you need to do is create anxiety about what you might do, based to some extent on things you have done, but you can also benefit from some cockamamie thing that someone thinks you were trying but didn't happen. Look at that poor schmoe who sets his pants on fire on an airplane -- terrorism for Dummies -- but it works!

Really, this is a matter of dealing with the fears that we all have, that some have more than others, that some have so severely that there are psychiatric DSM-IV codes for. But what value is there in engendering fear? Very little. Even though there are logical, scientific explanations (not opinions) that the energy that a cellphone can generate, in the radio frequency energy level, are quite impossible of causing changes to DNA, we will probably never quash the idea that cellphones cause brain tumors. The main risk of cellphone usage comes from using it while you're driving down the road.

So the same people that have some abiding concern about some Islam-inspired terrorist continue to yack on their cellphone as they drive down the street.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Out of Office Reply

Why is it that people think these are needed/useful? They are annoying on so many levels.

First of all, they're counterintuitive to the whole idea of email. I don't expect you to read and respond to my email instantly, it's the nature and the blessing of email.

Secondly, they're generic, meaning that most have no useful information. So what if it says, "I will be out of the office from X to Y"? Should I expect a reply on day Y+1?

Further, some of these people belong to mail lists. On a busy mail list, one getting a dozen or more emails a day, a dozen or more of these generic responses go back to the mail list. Just for one person.

Just because your email client has the capability of Out of Office replies doesn't mean you have to use it. Let's face it, you're not really that important to me, and if you were, I'd expect something more personal.
Restaurant Cleanliness

One of the things I would like to see some day is that restaurants, like hospitals, like some hotels I've been in recently, like an airport I have been in recently, install hand sanitizers for their employees' use. They could, just like in my hospital be there with an invitation for patrons to use as well, but I would really like to see the day when, just before my server comes up to the table, they go to the sanitizer and rub their hands with alcohol gel before they touch anything on my table or take my order.

There is no reason not to do this, and I think the public esteem for restaurants who do this would surely improve. Maybe some employees use a private sanitizer already, but making it a public event says more than the same act performed in secret.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Decline and Fall

One of the things I'm reading now on my Kindle is Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", the original written in the 18th century. It's a long story, with plenty of ups and downs, but overall one gets the sense of the decay of governmental institutions and secondarily of society as a whole. I've started thinking about some parallels with current times, not so much anticipating the total collapse of the United States as one might be tempted to propose, but certainly connecting with various ugly aspects of how our governments come about in succession.

I am not intending to be partisan with what I have to say, since to me the most worrisome features of our time affect whoever is in power and simultaneously whoever is not.

If there were some Roman times which seem exemplary, it was when there were monarchs who were simultaneously authoritarian in some way(s), yet saw the value if not need for there to be a diffusion of power, not just to the Roman senate, but also to the people. In those days, much like our own, the power the people enjoyed was a sense of security so that they could be productive, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. When times were good, there none the less came about great envy of various members of the nobility to have themselves elevated to being emperor, Augustus, or Caesar. But then as now power corrupts, and the some of the loudest voices against absolute power were from those who wished that same power for themselves.

If there was anything the Romans excelled at, at least in the early stages of the empire, it was in having a highly developed military machine. At first, the military was made up largely of those who had some ancestral connection to Rome and its central territories, but with time they became increasingly mercenary, with troops replenished with the youth of conquered territories, the creation of soldiering as a career, and these soldiers willing to fight for whoever paid them best. As time went on, more of the wealth of Rome came from pillaging. Agriculture, the main source of value at the time, became more fragile when faced with sequential conquests from barbarians, then recapture by the Roman empire.

And so productivity declined, with the result that the quickest way to riches was to steal from your neighbor. This happened both between the empire and surrounding non-Roman empires, but also internally, where one looked for a way to discredit some noble (or simply assassinate him -- and it might even be someone in your own family) and alleviate him of his wealth.

One might easily argue that assassination became part of the fabric of Roman society, with some Roman emperors lasting only days or weeks before they were killed and replaced by their assassins. The key to survival turned out to be some form of military might, either the "loyal" support of your own Praetorian guards, or the backing of your legion. So various emperors, anticipating real or imagined danger, found temporary safety in exterminating real or imagined enemies. But this loyalty of the troops quite depended on what you were willing to pay your troops, both now and later. Your so-called loyal troops might easily go to the highest bidder now, only to be swayed by some other higher bidder later.

The Roman senate, fearing for their lives, made it a practice to serially hail the new leader while condemning the last. Outside of brief exceptions, any power the senate enjoyed quite evaporated.

Here and Now

We have seen in our time assassinations and attempted assassinations, but my view is that while we have avoided physical bloodshed, we have adopted character assassination as the preferred mode to accomplish the same ends. The same motives are in the background, a mix of power and the riches associated with power, but instead of taking an opponent's approach and reasoning some improvements, it seems more expedient to attack the opponent, in some no-holds-barred attack on their character, their personal lives, their associates, any way to characterize them as evil personified. Afterwards, we elevate someone else to their status, and our opponents assassinate their character in turn.

Just as in Roman times, the reaction of the populace in general is a progressive loss of respect for anyone in the political realm. Yes we can be swayed by our own optimism and hope that this time it will be different, but as we see a series of contemptible politicians come into focus, we can only generalize that contempt for the whole mass of them. And always, the mercenaries, in our time not so much the miltary, but more likely the wealthy, will espouse their loyalty to the highest bidder.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sorry, Supplement Takers

The International Stroke Conference was on this week in LA, and I attended. One of the talks I went to was entitled "Is There Any Value in Vitamins, Fish Oil, or Food Supplements for Secondary Prevention?" (of stroke).

A raft of data was shown from various studies, but the end result: beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin A, fish oil, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium supplements, all show no benefit in stroke prevention. Calcium may even increase your risk of cardiovascular events.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Some years ago, I had an opportunity thrust upon me which has forever flavored my sense of the political process.

By some sort of default, I was suddenly a local representative to attend something called Buckeye Boys State (BBS), in which high school aged students came together, converged on Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (in the year I attended) as some sort of way for young people to gain some experience, some taste of the political realm. I can't recall how I got there. Since I don't remember my parents taking me, it must have been by bus, as intra- and interstate travel seemed to go at the time.

There was a Buckeye Girls State, too, so this was about separation of the sexes, not inequality of opportunity. The idea of sending a mixed-sex group of adolescents to some university campus for a week was not going to happen at that time.

So there I was, thrust into this, not really understanding it since I'm not sure I ever paid attention to anything about BBS before or after. It immediately became apparent that what we were there for, what we were supposed to do, was to set up a pseudo-legislative/executive body, and afterward make some attempt to fix the world as we saw it, at least on a state level -- we were charged with creating a state government. Since we were only there a week, the timetable was short.

So immediately it became apparent that certain individuals were primed, one might say pumped, for this. Immediately campaigning was going on, some identifying themselves as candidates for governor and other elected offices, and the guys vying for governor had their cronies to assist the process. There were two parties to which one might be assigned. I can't recall the other, but I was in the Federalist party (aside from the name, there was no assignment of ideology). So we had a party convention, selected candidates, I picked out some low-level office to run for, made some weak campaigning attempt, and lost the election.

After that, I managed some governmental appointment that in a week's time had no meaning, since it had no particular duties.

What I can still recall is the sense that I got of the political process, in which promises were made as if one were broadcasting wheat in a field of asphalt, more promises than could ever be kept as a whole since many were contradictory, but somehow people captured these promises, thinking that the promises they got personally were going to be kept. So in return for backing some particular governor candidate you were going to get support for someone/something else, but of course it didn't happen.

Then, as now, I see this as how government works. Those with influence can manage to convince others that if you do this for me, I will do that for you, but they have already made some other conflicting promise to someone else.

This probably wasn't the intended result (or maybe it was), but forever I will think of politicians in this way. Once you decide that for whatever reason you wish to pursue politics, you must work in this realm, in which handshakes, and tacit agreements, and understandings aren't really any of those, and not binding in any way.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Electronics, Part 4

This continues to be a good thing, generally working well. I find that in spite of the wireless capability of the phone, I'm better off not turning on wireless connectivity at work. This is because, although the hospital has free wireless, the hospital's wireless connection is dependent on opening a browser, trying to use it, after which you have to "accept" the terms of use.

Not such a big problem, but if I forget to do this, I am not getting emails, since internet connectivity is blocked until I accept those terms. Best to stay on 3G and not have to think about it. There's hell to pay for missing pages for hours on end.

I have cut back services as promised. Since I was using something like 75MB of the unlimited internet usage, I cut that back to the lowest possible, 150MB per month. Also cut back on unlimited texting, since I was texting maybe 20-30 times a month. A $5 plan works well. And finally cut back on call minutes to the lowest number -- hardly ever use it for calling/answering a call.

I've started using my phone as my alarm clock when my little battery-operated one died. Very easy to set up, and I could find a quiet little tune to wake up to. A nice thing is that it can be set to work once, M-F, or 7 days a week.

I've fallen off in use, but have read a few things since Moby Dick, like The Importance of Being Earnest, a quite funny play by Oscar Wilde. Am currently working on a German classic, Effi Briest to try to brush up on my German (slow going). I actually paid for a book from Amazon, Crucial Conversations, which I would recommend. I also have A Tale of Two Cities, The Time Machine, and an Agatha Christie novel lined up -- all downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Lenovo Laptop
This continues to work well. Recently the hospital shocked (yes, shocked!) me by suddenly announcing that remote access to the system was now going to be through a Citrix client, and (drum roll please) there were clients available for Linux and even Android phones! I thought I was going to have to start breathing into a paper bag. As you might imagine, accessing a computer hospital chart on a phone is a bit cramped, but for selected situations, it could be useful, since I virtually always have my phone with me.