(Part Two of Data Today – Better Tomorrow)
Could this be you? Creating a better tomorrow through brain research??
It turns out one does not have to be a pro football linebacker to have a brain worth studying. One does not even need to have a brain like Albert Einstein’s, Steven Hawking’s or any of those scientists/exceptionalists/geniuses whose brains would seem worth figuring out.
One only needs to be 18 or over and willing to be studied, and then to go sign up on the Brain Health Registry. This entitles you to sit back and wait for your brain to help discover a cure for Alzheimer’s or ADHD or depression, or perhaps help find better ways to treat traumatic brain injury. Not bad, for just having a brain and investing a little time (no money.)
This writer got off to a sluggish start as a Brain Health Registry member. Signed up early on because it sounds like such a great endeavor, but then I ran into a few off-putting instructions like “This will take about 20 minutes. It is best done in a quiet room where there will be no distractions or interruptions.” Twenty minutes, quiet rooms and absence of distractions are three things hard to come by around my house.
Eventually, however, the requisite conditions were found, and I was off to create a better tomorrow – well, in partnership with a few thousand other participants and some very smart neuroscientists – by finding out stuff about the human brain. And this is one fascinating journey. The neuroscientists find it fascinating because they really are going to figure stuff out. But for participants, the fascination is in the process.
Participants enter a little basic, very general data about medical/family history etc. Then the fun begins. We have two sets of ‘Cognition’ tests aimed at assessing our memory, attention and other cognitive characteristics. “These tests give us a sense of how your brain is currently functioning,” the screen says. This participant can only wonder what the Brain Health assessment people think about how her brain is functioning. The ‘Cognition’ tests are computer games on steroids. For a while you try to remember and replicate the pattern of dots, and then you go to the card games. The card games require Yes or No answers about what the cards are doing, press D for Yes and K for No. My brain kept trying to tell me what the cards were doing, while my fingers tried to remember that K was not for Yes.
It is, all in all, a lot more fun that the computer games the rest of the world is playing.
In another three to six months, the BHR people will be reminding me to go back and do it again, or do something else, to see how the brain is getting along. Perhaps they will flag my entry and advise me to check myself into an institution. But more likely they will just combine my data with the data of a zillion more or less anonymous others – and find a cure for Alzheimer’s! Or depression! Or improvements in treatment of traumatic brain injuries! All with the help of my weary, aging brain. Plus, when the survey was completed I got an email from UCSF professor Michael Weiner, MD telling me I am a medical hero. “You’re helping to make brain research faster, better and less expensive – and ultimately that gets us closer to a cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain disorders that strike tens of millions of Americans every year.” Who could resist?
You may want to go straight over to the Brain Health Registry and join the fun.
Some of us are suckers for studies: clinical trials, focus groups, surveys – whatever promises to shed a little light on the human condition, or possibly make that condition a little better.
This writer is a hopeless volunteer.
I have had my knees examined by MRIs, perhaps studying why I still have the originals despite a long history of abuse. I have had blood drawn for a study of celiac disease by someone who came to the house as part of the deal but unfortunately was not trained to find veins without causing excruciating pain. I have filled out lengthy surveys about addictive behavior – which may include addiction to study-participation (though that was not among the category choices.)
Currently, I am proudest of being an original part of the Women’s Health Initiative, which launched in 1993 with more than 160,000 postmenopausal women including this writer. In 1993 this was a Very Big Deal: studies had been made for all sorts of things with all sorts of participants, but finally there was a study of WOMEN. It sought to discover links between cancer (imagine! Studying women and cancer!) medical protocols, diet and other factors. Being a congenital wimp, and knowing I wouldn’t change my diet or stick to other proscribed regimens, I just signed up for the control group… but still. Even we control groupies are useful.
Over the years, WHI has developed a huge amount of useful data, probably the most beneficial being the finding that (imagine! Studying women!) hormone replacement therapy was not the be-all and end-all we had originally thought, but actually not such a good idea. (Read all about it.)
WHI has published over a thousand articles, approved well over 300 ancillary studies, and twice conducted extension studies. Findings have been about links between age, daily activities, diet etc and things like body fat, omega oils, heart disease, endometrial cancer – there is a list of useful discoveries resulting from this one large and ever-growing study project that boggles the mind.
Some – though surely not all – of this data is collected through regular survey forms received every year by WHI participants in addition to the annual birthday cards that by now this writer accepts as a “Congratulations! Are you’re still alive?” greeting. They seek data about lifestyles and life changes along with the traditional general health issues – and sometimes make one wonder what the next findings may be. My personal favorite question was, “When you enter a room full of people, do you often imagine they are talking about you?”
Paranoia after mastectomy? Who knows.
It is fascinating to be on the questioning end of tomorrow’s answers. Next blog: The Brain Health Registry. Assuming my closely-watched brain is still functioning.
Remember when Isis was just a Greek goddess? The goddess of – among other things – health and wisdom?
Not many people today would know the goddess, but there are few who don’t know ISIS. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, people in the U.S. consider ISIS a greater threat than Iran, Russia, North Korea, China – or probably even the economic woes of the earlier Isis’ native land.
In an effort to increase understanding of the situation, Celia Menczel of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Middle Eastern Affairs group recently assembled a panel of experts to discuss the issue in both human and political terms. Moderated by Media Analyst Dina Ibrahim, the program was titled The Islamic State. Panelists included Honorary Consul General of Turkey Bonnie Joy Kaslan; Kurdish human rights activist Karaman Mamand; University of California, Davis Professor Karima Bennoune, author of the irresistibly titled Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here; and Jordanian academic Maher Kalaj.
Panelists were invited to give a brief overview of their perspectives. This unfortunately was an impossible assignment; though several panelists made valiant attempts, it turns out that expert views and insights on the Islamic State simply cannot be condensed into ten minutes – if, indeed, a day. The issue is too vast, too complex, too fraught and too weighted with centuries of conflict.
But on one issue there was emphatic agreement: ISIS is not a state.
Kaslan led off her summary with that declaration, and concluded by stressing the importance of this distinction: ISIS, ISIL, SIC, IS, Da’ish is many things, but not a state. Among the many things it is? A terrorist organization; an amorphous group of men who commit unspeakable acts of violence and brutality; a sprawling movement that condones and conducts beheadings, kidnappings, mass executions of religious groups, absolute subjugation of women.
A state, most would argue, involves more than territorial control – which ISIS surely has, in constantly shifting areas – and more than the declaration of power. A state exhibits some degree of care and concern for its people – and the rest of humankind.
Many diverse elements of the troubling terrorist movement were illuminated by members of the distinguished panel, but this was perhaps the key:
Whatever ISIS is, it’s not Islamic to the vast majority of believers in Islam…… and hopefully it will never become a state.
At the end of a long-anticipated visit from across the country, this writer’s family – west coast grandmother, east coast son and daughter-in-law, granddaughters 11 and 13 – was invited to go sailing on San Francisco Bay with a close friend who owns (and carefully operates) a 36-foot sailboat. After showing us around – it sleeps seven, with almost all the comforts of home – our captain delivered a safety lecture, explaining things like where the life jackets are, and the way the boom can swing quite suddenly and one is advised to stay out of its way. He went into some detail about what to do if he fell overboard: a safety device attached to the stern contains rope and flotation collar, so all that’s required is to keep circling until the man overboard can grab the line. He then issued life jackets to the girls and offered them (this boat has life jackets for about a dozen) to the grownups. I declined, knowing full well that I would last about five minutes max in the chilly waters of the Bay; go figure.
For the next several hours we had a glorious sail, under the Bay Bridge, around the back of Alcatraz, nearing Angel Island, swinging parallel to the Golden Gate and heading back to meander homeward along the city’s edge. Picnicking in the sunshine and taking advantage of spectacular photo ops. I had one scary moment on the turnaround; it’s been a long time since I last sailed. Almost home we were stopped by the bay patrol and told not to sail back below the bridge for 10 minutes or so. Once we were cleared they explained to boats waiting on either side that Vice President Biden had been driving across the bridge. All in all it was a glorious day. In looking back, though, it’s hard to miss the basic messages:
1) Let the kids explore the universe, but keep the life jackets on.
2) White caps and turbulence make things interesting, and are seldom fatal.
3) The vessel with more power is supposed to get out of the way.
4) You can circle around someone who’s sinking, but he has to grab the lifeline himself.
5) On the other hand, when the sinker is you, be grateful for those circling around.
6) When you think the world’s going to keel over, there is ballast that brings it back to steady.
7) Sometimes the vessel with more power claims the right-of-way. Chill.
8) Wear sunscreen, and bring extra layers.
9) Don’t miss the scenery while you’re looking at your camera phone.
10) Life’s a breeze.
Bernie Sanders, the feisty Vermont senator introduced as “Independent in every sense of the word” isn’t likely to change if he runs for President. And if he does run – a suggestion that brought the evening’s loudest applause during a recent appearance at the Commonwealth Club of California – it should not be dull.
Within the first several minutes of his talk Sanders had ticked off a list of reasons he might indeed be tempted to enter the presidential fray: “Income inequality, planetary challenges, growing disillusionment with the establishment, massive greed, reckless and illegal behavior on the part of Wall Street resulting in millions of people losing their jobs and homes, a corporate establishment that cares only about its own interest…
“The American middle class,” Sanders says, “has been disappearing for the last 40 years. Forty-five million Americans live in poverty. Despite the Affordable Care Act, 35 million are still uninsured. The U.S. is the only major country that does not guarantee healthcare as a right.”
Sanders deplores what he sees as a movement toward oligarchy, with a handful of very rich holding the reins of power. Within that handful are the Koch brothers. Citing their 1980s Libertarian campaign goals, Sanders lists a few expectations of what oligarchic control would bring: abolition of Medicare, Medicaid and the postal service, abandonment of all government welfare, abolition of the minimum wage…
Sanders’ rapid-fire listing of grim possibilities ahead, shared in both his prepared remarks and in the Q&A moderated by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, had more than an occasional campaign-speech sound. “It would be a very sad state of affairs if Hillary (Rodham Clinton) ran without serious opposition,” he said. Nor does he have much enthusiasm for likely Republican candidate Jeb Bush. “There clearly is something wrong with the political system if we’re not seeing dozens and dozens of vibrant young leaders whose dad wasn’t president or whose husband wasn’t president.”
His own platform would likely have the overturning of Citizens United and movement toward publicly funded election as a primary plank, a change Sanders sees as necessary to restoring democracy to our democratic system. Sharing the top would be fixing income inequality, an injustice he terms obscene and grotesque. “Between 2013 and 2015,” he said, “the 14 wealthiest people – Gates, Kochs, Buffett – saw their wealth increase by $157 billion. Not what they’re worth; increase. That $157 billion is more wealth than is owned by the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family, the Walton family, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.” Sanders on income inequality is Sanders in a rage against injustice.
The senator also has solutions: make public colleges free, weatherize houses, invest in solar, build a national rail system. Overturn Citizens United.
“The issue is not what happens in Congress,” he says; “it’s what happens in the grassroots. You’re going to have to start listening to the working class, not just billionaire corporations. Mobilize young people to say ‘stop spending billions on the military, spend on education.’
“This stuff is not easy,” the possible-candidate adds. “These guys who have got it all want more.” And Sanders is quick to say that he has few friends on Wall Street, in corporate America or in the military-industrial complex. “But I have seven beautiful grandchildren,” he adds, “and I’ll be damned if they’re not going to live in a country we can be proud of.”
Which sounds a little like he may run for President.
Suppose, just for a moment, you are a 13-year-old girl who has been trafficked in America, the land of the free.
You’ve been brought to the U.S. – kidnapped, sold by your impoverished family, picked up from the streets of some land where girls have no value – and prostituted. Or more likely here, you’re a very unlucky American child victimized by traffickers. As a result of this tragic history, you are pregnant. Or, you survived God knows what only to become a 20-something victim of human trafficking – which now leaves you pregnant.
You should be forced to carry this pregnancy to term? Excuse me?
This is the human face of the human trafficking bill currently being held up in the Senate. Texas Senator John Cornyn’s “Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking” bill would “boost support for and protection of victims of human trafficking” – unless they happen to get pregnant. Once they become pregnant, that support and protection disappears. Tucked away within the multi-page piece of legislation is a stipulation that abortion could not be paid for with these funds.
It’s the old Hyde Amendment thing – the bill passed late in the 20th century that sent women’s reproductive rights straight back into the 19th century with the stipulation that never a federal dollar would be paid to help them end unwanted pregnancies.
Some young trafficking victims might still seek help, since there are now exceptions in cases of rape or incest. But the fact that the victim herself would bear the responsibility for proving the circumstances of her pregnancy is an insult added to egregious injury.
Human faces get lost in congressional rancor. Senators accuse one another of subterfuge and betrayal. Republicans accuse Democrats of one thing, Democrats accuse Republicans of another. Very little gets done. And in it all, the human faces disappear: faces of mere children who never had a break, of women of every age who deserve a life.
If they had voices, those faces might say, “Remember me?”