Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why This Cynic Doesn't Smoke Pot

This diatribe, written under the influence on an unspecified date, should make the headline fairly self-explanatory:

Addiction is a disease.  From alcoholism to narcotics addiction.

Perhaps the most effective treatment regiment, to date, is participation is 12-step programs, such as AA.

It is upon making this point that I now make a radical proposal: Problem solving and innate curiosity are, themselves, a product of addiction.

At the root of these problems are two addictions that, once afflicted, can be several orders of magnitude harder to break than a nicotine habit.  I am speaking of course of the two drugs that have debilitated intellectuals for millenia: observations, and creativity.

Abuse of these two terrible drugs has already infiltrated the impressionable minds of children as young as 10.  While under the influence, students abusing this drug have been scientifically demonstrated to be more disruptive in class (by incessantly asking insightful questions) and threatening to the delicate, Abercrombie wearing, social order of their school culture itself.

Surely, something must be done to keep these strung-out, (suspiciously) eager, young minds from winding up in the impoverished gutter that is academia--forced to live off of public money for their minimalistic sustenance!

Far from suggesting that we outlaw these two heinous drugs (although, historically, we have tried), I submit here that a compassionate hand be extended to those suffering from their "experimentation".

I propose that, upon diagnosis, all sufferers shall be forced to partake in a 12-step program, custom tailored for their terrible affliction.  Working the steps of this program is, by necessity, a drawn out process.  Sufferers and baffled caregivers alike have termed this process the "scientific process".

For those perhaps, unfamiliar with this process, I will outline the scientific process, step by step below:

Step 1: Observation.  The first step to any recovery is the addict admitting that he or she has a problem.  It is in this phase that the innately curious problem solver realizes that a process they can observe does not mesh with extant paradigms.  The binge of lit-review and head-scratching that ensues can only be stopped when the sufferer admits that their own curiosity has become unmanageable.

Step 2: Realization that a higher power may restore sanity.  It is in this step that the sufferer realizes that pubmedcentral or even, some experimental data, may cure their curiosity and return them to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn their lives (or, at least, their notebooks) over to this higher power.  It is here that the afflicted may humbly submit to the search results on pubmedcentral or, perhaps, the outcome of a well-designed experiment to restore order in their minds.

Step 4: Made a fearless mental inventory of themselves (and reagents).  It is here that the addict will search frantically through their notebook, print off every PDF on their back-up hard drive, and wonder if they have any antibody still kicking around in their freezer.

Step 5: Admitted to themselves, their PI, and their labmates, the nature of their intellectual quandary.  In this step, the recovering person admits to that additional set of primers they need, or that piece of equipment that they'll need to hog for the next two weeks or so.

Step 6: Mentally prepare to ask PI to pay for the experiments that they wanted to do.

Step 7: Humbly ask the PI to order the necessary reagents.

Step 8: Make a sign up sheet for that ELISA machine they've been hogging.  Begrudgingly agree to let other people use it.

Step 9: Actually share the damned machine.  Leave dishes in sink for a month just to make a point of it.

Step 10: Run experiments, re-run experiments, actually obtain useful data, and interpret it to reject or support the hypothesis.

Step 11: Sought, through diplomatic conversations with their PI, to run more experiments and write a paper to publish their data.

Step 12: Had their paper accepted in a good journal.

Obviously, this is an imperfect process.  For most sufferers there is a sadly high rate of relapse.  Often, these poor individuals will find themselves right back at the first step after only completing one or two steps.

Unfortunately, for the pathologically curious, it seems that the scientific process is the best cure!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Re-re-inaugural Post: A cynic explains his long-time absence.

I had originally intended this to be a Facebook note, but it seemed more appropriate to make this a blog post.  This is an explanation of the personal struggles that I have been facing over the past few years.  It is my hope that, in publishing this, I may be able to do my part to help bring some light to those who may be similarly struggling.  Furthermore, it is also my hope that I may, in some small way, raise awareness of how these issues affect both myself and other members of the larger community.

I have an eating disorder.

On December 16, 2010 I was admitted to the eating disorder center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  By that time, I had struggled with my eating disorder, in some form or other, for seven years.  As the eating issues consumed me, they came to affect every aspect of my life.  From the way I dealt with people and the relationships I formed, to my ability to progress academically and professionally.  All the while, I lied, pretended to be okay, and avoided admitting that I needed help.

I avoided seeking help for a variety of reasons.  Early on, I was paralyzed by the myth that “men don’t get eating disorders”—I felt that admitting to having an eating disorder would somehow compromise my masculinity.  Later, I clung to it, for the fear of the physical changes that good health might bring.  In my head, the eating disorder was empowering; in truth, it was robbing me of my life.  Seeking help and truly committing to recovery required facing all of my deepest insecurities and surrendering my delusion of self-control.  It also took a support network willing and able to provide the help that I desperately needed.

Since getting back in mid-February, I have primarily focused on rebuilding my life.  Having such a second chance is a very rare privilege--one that I do not intend to waste.  But it is a second chance I would rather not have needed in the first place.

Clearly, there is much more to this story than I am capable of (or comfortable with) publishing on here.  It would be counter to the premise of this blog for me to make an entirely autobiographical post going into the details of my own challenges.  Needless to say, I have been very lucky to have received the help and support I needed (and still need).  There are countless others who are not so fortunate.  The purpose of this cynic "coming out" as having an eating disorder is to, at least among those few who deign to read my blog, increase awareness and encourage discussion of those people who are not as fortunate in getting the help that they need, with whatever challenges they face, as I have been.

Back Again

The last time I revived this blog, I managed to post a single entry before the forces of life kind of got away from me.  However, the state of current events being what they are and the state of my life being what it is, it seems appropriate to once more attempt to update this on a semi-regular basis.

Those of you who know me, know the reasons that I have not been able to update this regularly--that said, stay on the look out for more to come.  This cynic is back in business.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Brainwashed into pleading guilty: rights denied to one are denied to all.

This has been all over the news, but it's enough of an outrage (and gross violation of human rights) that it seemed the perfect opening salvo for this born-again cynic.

Omar Khadr was arrested in 2002 as a fighter for al-Qaeda after killing an American soldier with a hand grenade at the age of 15.  He has spent the majority of the last eight years imprisoned at Guantanamo bay--over a third of his life--and, having plead guilty, is facing at least another eight years behind bars.

As a fighter for a "terrorist" organization, the United States government does not consider Khadr to be a prisoner of war.  According to international law, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and may not be prosecuted by their captors for legitimate acts of war (e.g. killing an enemy soldier in combat).  It is only Khadr's extra-legal status that allows the United States government to prosecute him.

The question of Khadr's status hinges on whether captured al-Qaeda fighters are to be considered (in the eyes of international law) "lawful" or "unlawful" combatants.  On the one hand, terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, are large multi-national, non-sovereign, criminal (therefore, unlawful) organizations; on the other hand, the organizational structure and tactics of certain pockets within these organizations mirrors that of "lawful" guerrilla movements--entitling captured fighters to POW status per article 4 of the third Geneva Convention.

Obviously, the senior leadership of al-Qaeda is responsible for atrocities that lie far outside the legal definition of "acts of war".  Indeed, in addition to international terrorism, there is evidence that al-Qaeda is engaged in international drug smuggling, money laundering, and weapons dealing.  However, the persons involved in these activities are in violation of international law and, as such, may legally be prosecuted (for these activities) upon capture regardless of POW status.

Additionally, it is highly unlikely that the average al-Qaeda fighter on the ground in Afghanistan is even aware of, or (if they are aware) even peripherally involved in, the global crime syndicate they claim to represent.  In the most reductive sense, these fighters represent a militant organization that, at least in Afghanistan, finds itself in direct conflict with the military of a sovereign nation--a military opposing them under the auspices of war.  It is, therefore, not unreasonable to consider fighters captured in such conflict prisoners of war entitled to all the rights guaranteed by that status.

As for Omar Khadr, it is unlikely that a fifteen year old boy would be fully cognizant of the potential ramifications of joining al-Qaeda.  Furthermore,  given his age and stated family history, it is likely that he was coerced into joining al-Qaeda and was not affiliated with that organization entirely of his own free will.  When he was captured, he had been wounded in a gunfight between US forces and other al-Qaeda militants; when Khadr threw the grenade that killed a US soldier he was under fire--thus, killing the soldier was not an act of cold-blooded murder, but an act of self-defense against an armed attacker; an armed attacker acting as a combatant in the execution of a declared war.

Considering the length of Khadr's captivity, and the conditions of his captivity, his guilty plea is nothing more than a surrender.  He is a victim of circumstance who poses no real threat to the people of the United States yet the people of the United States have ruined his life.  Regardless of his statements in court, he was branded with the identity of a terrorist during his most impressionable years--any ideological statements he makes now are not the product of al-Qaeda, but the product of the ordeal he has been through in the past eight years.  This man's life now amounts to nothing more than that of a political pawn who's rights were disregarded in the name of "freedom".

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Cynic Returns!

After a three month hiatus from blogging (necessitated by school, MCAT, med school apps, etc.) I have decided to return to the world of blogging!

Having received constructive feedback about my previous entries (thanks to all of you who, at my incessant urging, read them), I have decided to institute a few changes in the way that this blog is kept:

  • Rather than long-winded, technically worded, entries, the entries posted will be shorter, and more numerous.
  • There will be fewer entries babbling about science, and more about politics and recent events.
  • As always, so long as they do not contain obscenities, comments will never me moderated.
That said, let's get cynical!