Thursday, March 26, 2009

Now you listen here, MSNBC.

I have ADHD. I was diagnosed at three years old, long before anyone in the media had ever heard of it. I know several things for a fact:

1) ADHD is a real disease that affects about 2% of the population. We've gone absolutely crazy in the last ten to fifteen years diagnosing kids inappropriately with it left and right, which has left those of us who actually do have ADHD in a rather difficult position - defending ourselves from those who say it's not a real disease while fighting the tide of inappropriate and reckless diagnoses.

2) ADHD causes inattention, disorganization, impulsivity, recklessness, procrastination, distraction, hyperactivity, forgetfulness, and...oh look, a chicken. These are real symptoms that cause real problems in daily life. For kids, it can make sitting in a classroom an exercise in torture, and make learning really difficult, even if the kid is really intelligent. For an adult, like me, it can make for an extremely difficult workday - especially in a job like mine that requires the ability to organize tasks, manage large amounts of paperwork, complete complex tasks, and stay focused for hours at a time.

3) These symptoms do not go away. They do not fade, you do not grow out of them. They change in character as one's personality develops. Hyperactivity that may cause a child to run around screaming and being disruptive can evolve into fidgeting and social awkwardness as an adult. Still, the symptoms are there, they're real, and they are caused by chemical deficiencies in the brain.

4) ADHD medications, like Ritalin, can mitigate the symptoms of ADHD. The stimulant effect of Ritalin and the other ADHD medications help to kind of kick start the brain and focus it, reducing distraction, impulsivity, and the other symptoms that can make life with ADHD so difficult. These medications work for more than two years. I've taken ADHD medications my entire life, and they have always helped me. Right now, I take Concerta. Without it, I would not be able to function at work. Period. With it, I can focus, I can organize, I can do what needs to be done. That's real. That's measurable. And that's been the case all of my life.

5) ADHD medications do not necessarily stunt growth. I'm nearly six feet tall, and I've been taking ADHD medications my entire life. Do I know whether I would have been taller had I not taken Ritalin as a child? No. Do I feel like my growth was stunted? I don't know, but I'm not worried about it.

This study stinks. It stinks of the kind of anti-psychiatry propaganda spewed forth by the Scientologists and their ilk. Psychiatric medications work, for lots and lots of people with lots and lots of different conditions. They work because they fix, or mitigate, or otherwise deal with, the chemical imbalances in the brain caused by whatever psychiatric disorder someone might have. They work for people with ADHD. They work for people with bipolar disorder. They work for people with depression. They work for people with schizophrenia. They work.

So, MSNBC, and whoever published this "study," go do some more homework. You'll find that there are lots and lots of people out there with ADHD, like myself, who have found great benefit from medications, and who continue to find great benefit from medications, and who have taken them for much, much longer than two years. Meanwhile, ...oh look, a chicken!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sinister Weekly post delayed.

I'm having a hell of a time figuring out what to write in these things. I'm so used to just spewing forth at the exact moment that something catches my brain that by the time I get around to doing my weekly posts, whatever has caught my attention is long since over. I need to kind of retool and figure out exactly what to do with this blog now. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sinister Weekly - Week of March 8 to 15

Part 1: Validation.

It was an eventful week in Sinister land, dear readers. Monday marked my partner's birthday, and for the occasion, we had our Oregon domestic partnership certified. For the first time, we live in a state where we have legal protection and recognition of our relationship. It's a very nice feeling. It means that if I have to go to the hospital, I won't have to worry about whether my partner can get in to visit me. It means we can file our state taxes jointly, though our Federal taxes will still have to be filed individually, thanks to that unconstitutional travesty known as DOMA, which our current President has promised to repeal, hint, hint.

So it's not marriage, and it can't be in Oregon, because the bigots got their little marriage protection amendment passed in this state as well, but it's not nothing, either. It's validation.

Part 2: Credit.

We drove to Portland in a rented moving van and a Saturn station wagon that was all paid off and we thought would last us another 50,000 miles. Well, ever since we got here it's been having problems, and the money just kept adding up, until it was essentially "totaled." The last straw actually happened on Monday, when we found out that one of the coil packs, which controls when two of the cylinders fire, had gone bad, which was causing the car to, well, not go. My partner picked me up from work on Monday and we drove straight to an auto dealership - hoping to God the whole time that the Saturn would make it there. We traded it in and bought an adorable little Volkswagen Rabbit.

And we financed it. Now, this is not remarkable in itself except that every economist has said that credit markets are locked and nobody can borrow money for anything. But if two shlubs like us with average credit can waltz in to a dealership and finance a nearly new Volkswagen at a non predatory lending rate, then surely the credit markets can't be that bad. What I'm saying is this - if we want to get the economy moving again, then we as consumers have to start moving in the economy again - getting credit, borrowing (responsibly) and buying stuff. Consumer spending drives a lot of this economy, and it's a real Catch-22 that one of the best ways to stimulate the economy is the very thing that's dragging it down.

Part 3: Food poisoning.

Portland is known for its food carts - little trailers parked in parking lots selling hot, greasy deliciousness from all over the world. And you takes your chances.

On Thursday, I ate a delicious Peruvian lunch from one of these food carts, and immediately began to regret it. I won't disgust you with the details, but suffice it to say that I won't be going back there again. I'm just now really starting to feel like myself again, though I'm still weak from the dehydration and exhaustion of the ordeal. That's actually the first time I've ever had serious food poisoning - it was not an experience I'd like to repeat.

That's all I've really got this week. I'd like to salute the protesters who have persevered year after year and keep marking the anniversary of the ridiculous debacle in Iraq - I'm sorry I've been a slacker in that regard; I still want the troops home, I still want us the hell out of there, but I just haven't had the energy to protest. The other problem is that those protests tend to get lumped in with the anti-Israel crowd, and I'm just not in agreement with those people and I don't really want to march with them. Anyway - keep up the good work, peaceniks - we'll get the troops home soon, I hope.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sinister Weekly - Week of March 1 - 8

It seems like the answer to all of our economic problems is the same: nationalize it.

The car industry is tanking. If it fails, millions of jobs will be lost. We have two possible solutions: 1) let it fail and just eat the economic damage. 2) nationalize GM, fire the management, restructure the company to produce plug-in hybrids and, you know, decent cars that don't break, and then re-sell it back to the private sector. Option 2 is cheaper and less painful in the long run - by a long shot.

The banking industry is tanking. Nationalize the big failing banks, lump them together into one big National Bank, force them to start lending again, and use that power to jump start the economy like a big set of economic jumper cables. Voila. Cheaper than just handing them money and watching it disappear.

The health care system is in crisis. Private insurance is a tangled web with gaps as wide as the Grand Canyon, and other mixed metaphors. The solution is to nationalize it. Expand Medicare to cover everyone - one payer, one plan, take the cost off of businesses and free them up to start hiring and compete with foreign companies who already have the freedom of not having to shoulder their employees' health benefits.

Am I preaching "European welfare state socialism," whatever that means? Yes, probably. So what? It works there - really well, in fact. I posted about this last year.

Look, laissez faire capitalism is a massive, giant, huge, festering failure, and it's time for us to face up to that fact. The only solution is to use the power of government to fill in the gaps, shore up the faltering foundations of the system, and pray to God that it's not too late to avoid total collapse.

Though, to be honest, part of me is rooting for the total collapse of capitalism. Though it's not a very nice part.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Twittister.

If there are those among you who crave more Sinister goodness than I can provide during my weekly posts, you may also find me at the following URL:

http://twitter.com/sinisterblogger

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Turtle Moves.

Sinister Weekly for the week of February 22 - March 1.

I'm reading a book by Terry Pratchett called Small Gods. If you're not familiar with Terry Pratchett, he writes a very funny series of comic fantasy books that take place in the Discworld, a flat circular world that rests on the backs of four elephants who are standing on the back of a turtle. If you enjoy Douglas Adams, you'd enjoy the Discworld series.

Anyway, I won't get into the details of the book, but there is a passage in it that struck me, and it puts me in mind of people who try to discredit scientific fact by equating it with religious belief. People who accept the reality of evolution are called "evolutionists," who "believe in evolution." Scientists who use hard data to describe the effects of human activities on the climate crisis "believe in global warming."

I'll quote a short passage from this book, which I think illustrates the point quite well. In this scene, a philosopher is trying to convince a crowd of people who are used to being told to believe things and have faith that the fact that the Discworld rests on the back of a turtle swimming through space isn't something worthy of belief, because it's just fact.

"Sir, surely only things that exist are worth believing in?" said the enquirer, who was wearing a uniform of a sergeant of the Holy Guard.
"If they exist, you don't have to believe in them," said Didactylos. "They just are." He sighed. "What can I tell you? What do you want to hear? I just wrote down what people know. Mountains rise and fall, and under them the Turtle swims onward. Men live and die, and the Turtle Moves. Empires grow and crumble, and the Turtle Moves. Gods come and go, and still the Turtle Moves. The Turtle Moves."
From the darkness came a voice, "And that is really true?"
Didactylos shrugged. "The turtle exists. The world is a flat disc. The sun turns around it once every day, dragging its light behind it. And this will go on happening, whether you believe it is true or not. It is real. I don't know about truth. Truth is a lot more complicated than that. I don't think the Turtle gives a bugger whether it's true or not, to tell you the truth."


It struck me that in this passage, Terry Pratchett is really illustrating the essential conflict between science and faith - science is, whether you believe in it or not. Religions, gods, require people to believe in them in order to keep existing. Without belief, religion dies. Yet gravity wouldn't stop working if everyone on the planet stopped believing in it. Evolutionary processes would continue to happen even if nobody was paying attention. Even when everyone was convinced it was the other way around, the earth continued to revolve around the sun.

Thus, the anti-science crowd has got it backwards. Scientists don't believe in evolution, or gravity, or global warming. Scientists see data, analyze it, and come up with a theory that fits the available facts. If the available facts don't fit the theory, then the theory has to change. There's no belief, no faith, no stubborn refusal to accept new information that contradicts a central dogma. Science is. The Turtle Moves.

This is not to say that there's no place for religion and faith in the world. Science has nothing to say about anything that it can't test, measure, or analyze. If you believe that there is more to the universe than can be tested, measured, or analyzed by science, then that's where faith and religion can fit. It's when religions try to take the place of science that trouble arises - because religions, by their very nature, don't apply the same rigorous scientific standards for analysis, study, and the willingness to accept all possibilities based on the available data. And religion's inherent tendency towards the utter conviction of its own infallibility is the reason it can and should never be used as a substitute for science.

The Turtle Moves, and it doesn't care whether you personally believe that it does.