Archive for January 3rd, 2007|Daily archive page

Mental ‘Issues’

I was going to write a warm, fuzzy post. Something encouraging, happy, Something to bring a smile to your face and spring in your step. It didn’t pan out – my evil twin – the helpful web surfer won out. The result follows.

While I don’t fall for most political slogans, there are some measures I do think need more attention. Thus, while I’m not really falling for the 100 hours thing (100 hours would be like half the time the previous congress actually worked. Right?), according to ABC News (Hat Tip: Pete Abel/Moderate Voice) , the Democrats will finally get around to actually admitting that mental disorders are equal in severity to physical problems and need to be treated appropriately.

After years of trying, advocates think they have a good chance of getting Congress to pass legislation next year that would require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, if their policies include both.

The legislation, named for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat who championed the cause, has strong support in Congress but has run into GOP roadblocks. In the last congressional session, 231 House members more than half of the chamber signed on as co-sponsors. The GOP leadership, which in the past had expressed concern that the proposal would drive up health insurance premiums, wouldn’t bring it up for a vote.

In 2003, Senate Democrats tried to win passage of the bill as a tribute to Wellstone, who died in a plane crash the previous year. Republicans blocked an attempt to pass it by unanimous consent.

While this type of legislation might backfire, health insurance companies might just stop covering mental health, it is probably a step forward. It is arguable that this indeed would be a step forward because the Republicans fought the bill. That means someone (possibly the insurers and by inference the lobbyists) will be making less profit, something that is near and dear to Republican hearts, and thus the opposition.

I was going to urge you to contact your Congress person to encourage swift passage of this measure.

But then my evil twin surfed in.

You see. I wanted your life to be easy. Foolish mortal that I am, I thought with approximately 430 Congressmen and 100 Senators, there would be a simple list of email addresses. Not. So. Fast. Buster.

I quickly found this page, the stupidity of which leaves me reeling. So I need to enter my full zip code in order to find my representative. OK. It would be foolish to think that one could simply list alternative representatives associated with the 5 digit codes and list the possible 4 digit ranges if appropriate (Is it that big a problem? Is there that much overlap?). I could understand that. But why do I need to enter the STATE first. Isn’t the complete 9 digit zip-code enough? Shouldn’t that route mail basically to my door step? With 300 Million people in the US, doesn’t that mean that there is one nine digit zip code for every 300 people? Are they spread out that much? Like in different states?

Thus, I ask you to do two things, dear readers. One. Please e-mail or conact your local congressperson and request the support of this bill. That’s the Wellstone Act, sponsored by Patrick Kennedy (even more info here).

Second, please write this brain-dead pagef*cker (it is Congress after all). This is the person responsible for the wonderful contact your congress person page. Ask this individual (nicely), just why in God’s /Allah’s /Jehovah’s or Gaia’s name do I need to enter my state to find my congressperson if I have to enter the nine digit zip-code ANYWAY? ISN’T THAT ENOUGH?! Why isn’t there a list of Congress people by state. Why can’t you legislate the postal service into giving you a web service to let people look that information up directly without redirection and warnings? Why does this service need to be obfuscated to the point of silliness? Why Mr/Ms Write Your Representive Admistrator? Why?

Bad programming! Get’s my panties in a bunch every time. Gee – do you think I have ‘issues’?

Maybe the Wellstone Act might help.

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The New Economy – Asleep At The Wheel

The LA Times had a sobering piece about the price people are willing to pay to have a job.

It’s 2 in the morning, and the lines of cars waiting to cross the border have already grown so long that they are snarling the streets of this city’s downtown nearly half a mile away.
[…]
But most of the lines at the border crossing aren’t moving. Car engines are turned off. Motorists are literally asleep at the wheel. Some rest their heads on their steering wheels, others against the glass of the car windows. A chorus of snorts and whistles drifts out the open windows of a Volkswagen Jetta in which four men snooze. In a Toyota Corolla, a man has tied a towel around his eyes to block out light.

The slumberers don’t have to be in San Diego until the workday begins hours from now. But night after night, they queue up in the area leading to the border inspection lanes — with pillows and blankets as well as packed lunches — because of a twisted sort of logic.

If they show up at 4 a.m., when 20 of the lanes leading to the San Ysidro Port of Entry open for the day, they could find themselves in stop-and-go traffic for up to two hours. Four other lanes are always open, but if the crossers try to get through those lanes at this hour, they’ll have to stay awake in line for at least half an hour — and then find somewhere to sleep in San Diego before work starts.

The piece discusses both the types of people crossing the border each day, America citizens and resident aliens (that phrase always makes me think of E.T.) and their reasons for doing so. Many living south of the border do so because the price of housing in the San Diego area is too high to continue to live on the pay offered. The vocations listed, construction worker, painter, delivery driver, show the types of people still needed for society to function. People who are to be used but not seen. Like the slaves in another time, another place – Rome.

In the wake of 9/11, the increased border security and the Republican misuse of the hot button immigration issue, has changed a morning commute into a nightly ordeal. In order to assure a timely presence, people are willing to disrupt their lives, their sleep and their health simply to make a necessary pilgrimage each day.

Of course not all sleep commuters are workers. The article also described the life of two kids.

College student Michael Gonzalez, 23, does homework while his sister Sarah, 10, sleeps in the back seat. Both are U.S. citizens who moved to Tijuana five years ago to be closer to an ailing relative. When they first began this routine, drowsiness would overcome Sarah at school, Gonzalez said. But she adjusted and now slumbers soundly in the car until they arrive at a friend’s house, where she sleeps an additional hour before her fifth-grade class.

One has to wonder what effect this kind of life-style will have on that girl. What will her chances be in an increasingly competitive job market? In a job market where people are willing to spend up to 5 hours sitting in a plastic/rubber/steel contraption waiting for a chance to get to the golden zone, the weekly pay check, the chance at luck.

Is this the American fantasy, dreamt while asleep on the way to work or school? Is the American economy literally asleep at the wheel?

The Fallacy of Fear

Anita Huslin from the Washington Post has an article about the problem with motivating people to live healthier. The facet? Telling people that they live unhealthy lives, that certain foods will lead to health problems, that more exercise and less Play Station might extend life simply doesn’t work.

Is it possible that we’re missing a self-discipline gene? Unlikely, though recent research synthesized by the National Academy of Sciences suggests there may be combinations of genes and environmental factors that make it hard for some people to maintain control over their habits.

And every year, as if we had learned nothing from our past, we renew our vows to change. Then we crack open our wallets. In recent years: $63 billion on low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie foods; more than $1 billion on smoking cessation products and programs; $46 billion on diet and fitness programs, drugs and surgeries. At the same time, the nation’s health-care industry spends hundreds of billions to treat preventable illnesses in a process that H.L. Mencken recognized decades ago: “The true aim of medicine,” he said, “is not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices.”

In the end, what doctors and studies and experts have pointed out is that the thing that really helps to change behavior is something hard to measure but ultimately powerful.

Change comes from the heart, not the head.

She goes on to discuss both the problem and some of the ideas towards solutions.

The problem is twofold. She turns the phrase “As a motivator for personal change, fear is a poor performer.” I suspect this has evolutionary causes. Reacting to immediate threats – the rather grumpy lion looking for a snack – was evolutionarily far more important than worrying if your butt was getting too big. (Although considering the number of women people who ALWAYS stop in front of mirrors to check said butt (Does this make me look fat? No…you look fat no matter what you wear.) does seem to make this argument less strong than one might believe. Butt = evolutionary advantage? Hmm…) Realistically scientists have increasingly shown that long term threats with a reasonably high probability of occurrence (think dying in an automobile accident) tends to worry people less than low probability, high profile threats (terrorist attack or airplane crash).

The long term problems associated with bad habits is not an immediate threat and even having a short term scare isn’t enough to change the bad habits. As a haven’t-smoked-in-four-years smoker, I understand the mindset. For me the change didn’t come because I suddenly understood the long term threats involved. I was fully aware of those. For me the change was entirely mental. I just wanted to stop. I had had enough. Literally like stepping through a door, one day I was a smoker, the next day I was a former smoker. My body fought this for a couple of months and even now I manage to occasionally fire up the remaining neural centers and create a major craving. But I don’t give in because I Just. Don’t. Do. That. Any. More. I suspect its like being born again, one day fun loving party mammal, the next fundamentalist fish. Poof.

But training people in the technique of mental switching isn’t really practical. Many will give in to the stress, they will eventually use whatever ‘feel good’ mechanism that worked well in the past. That’s why stopping smoking, diets or exercise are so difficult to keep up as an individual. If you’re the only person pushing, the only person ‘suffering’ it is far more difficult to change.

In step the lawmakers, the Twinkie Taxers, the Fat Nazis – those people that make libertarians foam at the mouth. While having good intentions is OK, having someone slap your hand is better. Returning to the Post article,

Despite several years of public education campaigns and outreach efforts to discourage smoking in public places, there was little impact on the rate of smoking, according to the city health department. But starting in 2002, the city imposed an all-out ban on smoking in public places, and, according to the department, some 200,000 people quit within the first two years. Now, of course, the city is after trans fat, in hopes of giving its residents a leg up on their diets. And the District ushered in its new smoking ban yesterday.

In other areas, like company cafeterias charging more for ‘unhealthy’ food as a stick to subsidise carrots or companies refusing to employ smokers is a step towards forcing people to follow what is conceived as a better path. The insurance companies are stepping in to increasingly lobby for more front end control. They are going up against those who make money using emotion to make that momentary pleasure desirable.

As long as there is money to be made giving people the instant gratification, the quick sugar high, the perfect couch potato chip, the ideal mocca-caramel-crunch, people will be unlikely to change. There will be people willing to deep fry that snickers bar to make your life that much better.

Until the short term price of the instant feel-good lifestyle is raised above the long term consequences, change will never occur. But perhaps the question is completely different. Do we really want to live in a highly regulated health food, exercise ridden police state? Or will we simply re-engineer our internal flora to ‘correct’ for bad behaviour?

I don’t know. But since this post was so pointless, so depressing, I think I’m going to go make some hot chocolate, hug a teddy bear on the couch and have some chips. Fear is a fallacy. Perhaps more importantly, do you think this post makes me look fat?