Saturday, April 20, 2013
I have recently finished reading a book by Nick Turse, entitled Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. For some very good reasons, this has made me want to recall thoughts of how that war determined many things in my life. I grew up in a working-class family that had achieved middle-class economic security in the 1950s and I came of age in the 1960s. My family lived in northern New Jersey and we had access to New York City, to Broadway, the great museums and universities. My family emphasized education as the way to achieve a better life, and I understood that this was probably true and pursued that path. I had a number of deviations, but none that crippled my ability to achieve a better outcome for myself and my family, and even that which my undeniably successful father and mother had achieved for themselves and their family. One thing was a constant during my childhood and transition into adulthood, and that was the background of war.
Many school children who could do so in the 1950s were encouraged to pursue a life of science. We were encouraged to view our own careers as an opportunity for contribution. Money was secondary, which is understandable since there was great prosperity in the land, or at least the part of the land from which I came. I saw my own future as involved with science from very early age. Science was in the air, the Russian satellite Sputnik was there too. I was enraptured by the part of the very small that I could see through my own laboratory grade microscope, and of the universe that I could see through my 6 inch equatorial mount reflecting telescope at night. I read science fiction, attended science-fiction meetings, got autographs from accomplished scientists who wrote science fiction, and I attended meetings of the Bergen County Astronomical Society Some of the speakers we heard included former Nazi rocket scientists who now worked for the United States government, and were also part of the national message to young students that science was the way to hasten the future. I still have some of those books and autographs.
In the background at all times, however, was the idea of the possibility or the presence of war. Our father's, and the many of the fathers who lived next door, were veterans of World War II or Korea. They had been able to buy houses and start businesses because of the G.I. Bill. They were proud of their service, although we heard very little detail about the war in which they had been involved. Korea was something bad that had happened more recently, the children my age in the early 1950s had very little awareness of it. I knew the American people had elected a great war leader, Gen. Eisenhower, to be president, and that he wanted me and my classmates to study science and make achievements as startling and is important as the satellite that circled above the earth but that had been put there by Russians. Finally, of course, we were afraid of the Soviet communists who wanted to conquer the world by blasting the great city that stood only 8 miles as the crow flies from the hill on which my home was built. Every so often, at my grade school, all of us hid under our desks and contemplated the Sirens that would sound the warning of attack by thermonuclear tipped bombs and missiles. I imagined my silhouette imprinted upon what remained of the wall after the bombs fell and my body had been vaporized sometimes when I looked out the window of my fourth grade classroom.
Having looked through optical instruments to see what was hidden normally to the human eye, I had an intuitive understanding of an empirical approach to finding answers. Mathematics, as manipulation of numbers held no interest to me. I suppose my visual motor skills were somewhat relatively deficient. I read voraciously, both fiction in huge quantities and nonfiction. I read philosophy as a 13-year-old and enjoyed talking about superstition and false belief with other cognitively advanced and economically comfortable children with whom I came in contact because of my specialized interests. Most enjoyed science, science fiction, and did well in school. But when it came time to go to college, there was also the realization that by going to college we would be exempted from the military draft and, temporarily at least, from the raging war in southeast Asia.
Naturally the Air Force took his musical talent and made him a photographer and film processor, mainly because this had been his (and my) hobby and part-time moneymaking activity in high school. I can still remember the confusion I felt as I ran up to the backdoor stairs to enter my home after school in junior high as my brother stood in the door to go down those stairs with his pressed uniform clothing him and his huge green duffel bag over his shoulder. He had been on leave. He had been expected to stay a week or more, but here he was leaving early and everyone else had a very grim, tense, look about them. There was no attempt to explain things to me, but later I found out he had been ordered to make haste to Florida where there was top secret work for him. He had received a top-secret security clearance. Later I discovered his job in Florida was developing U-2 photographs of the deployment of Russian missiles in Cuba as well as other air reconnaissance connected with the Cuban missile crisis. We watched the Cuban missile crisis on TV and it wasn't hidden from me that my brother was down there at what we thought of as Ground Zero.
At the end of four years of service my brother was suffering from some mental illness that everyone attributed to his experience in the Air Force. He had subsequently served in Guam and South Vietnam. He had been stationed at a small NSA base a few miles outside Siagon, and had processed air reconnaissance data, while spending his free time at bars playing the piano and courting one of the bar girls. He took snapshots of Buddhist Monks self-immolating in protest of the growing American presence and the American support for the corrupt Diem regime that held the government in the South. During his last year, stationed at an Air Force Base in New Jersey, he began to take long weekends, that stretched into days that he was required to be at work. He talked of suicide, even with me, when he was home. He never told me why. Ultimately the local representatives of the Air Force, with help from people who had known my brother during his formative years made the decision to give him a medical discharge as opposed to court-martial him for taking long weekends. He was very confused. Later he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was treated, as most such patients were in those days, with psychotropic drugs that eventually resulted in tardive dyskinesia and that made playing any sort of musical instrument basically out of the question for someone with high-level skills. He was disfigured by tremors and tongue rolling and always looked dull and almost menacing from the medication. Despite occasional periods of florid symptom expression, in subsequent years he managed to complete a bachelor's degree in history, became fluent in French, and settled down to a very sad existence with his family in northern New Jersey. He was treated at a VA, was involuntarily hospitalized a few times, and dissipated himself and my remaining family. He ruined my mother and her sister financially, and racked up more than a hundred thousand in credit card debt n travel, cloths, and prostitutes before he died. He died young shortly after our mother died, and from what I would characterize as the effects of his psychosis in that he was not taking his medication, although the immediate cause was congestive heart failure that was untreated because he did not seek medical care. He is buried in a Veteran's Cemetery in Monmouth, NJ. But I digress....
Meanwhile I was in college beginning in 1966 and became convinced that the only science in which I could actually contemplate success was a behavioral science, and I was in luck because I got opportunities to work in laboratories as an undergraduate that few others even knew might be available. My faculty mentor at Rutgers was kind and forgiving of my many indiscretions as an undergraduate, and as a WW II bomber pilot veteran, he probably wanted to help me work out my problems by making it possible for me to get a scientific education. As I often say, I went into psychology because it was interesting, I loved experimental science, and it seemed to me that I could get answers for the question that most troubled the background of my thoughts as I grew to manhood, that of 'why war?' I had no desire to work with people, just interacting with my brother gave me a sense of hopelessness and butterflies in my stomach. I rarely went home when I was an undergraduate, taking summer courses every year and going directly to Vermont to graduate school immediately after finishing my bachelor's degree. In Vermont I studied experimental psychology and ended up specializing in what we came to call "learning and behavioral development." I was so lucky in my choice of universities, advisors, and the opportunities I had. I graduated with 10 scientific publications and numerous conference presentations on my CV. I was able to move into an apprenticeship called a postdoctoral Fellowship and then on to full-time jobs the gave my career a very secure trajectory. I always had the good fortune to find mentors and sponsors who were tolerant and superb scientists and humanitarians.
While I was able to study aggression throughout my schooling and early career, that interest eventually became a sideline. I learned there were differences between immediate causes and ultimate causes. I came to understand the immediate causes of violent behavior very well. The ultimate causes, those related to the entire context of socialization, growth and development, education, and culture remain an area of interest to this day, although I do not now engage in scientific work that often touches on human or animal conflict.
I was not drafted, and I was able to complete graduate school and move into my career without having to spend time in military service. It turned out that some of the opportunities I had during my studies were funded by the Department of Defense. That, however, is a long story and not really relevant here. What is relevant is that Vietnam loomed as the background of my high school experience, my college experience, and my graduate school experience. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, despite my background, and despite my access to resources, painted a picture for me that went well beyond our worst imaginings about what my age peers and their leaders had perpetrated in Vietnam.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Sunday, January 27, 2013
A handout photo shows the skeleton of a young man, found in northern Vietnam, who lived 4,000 years ago and suffered severe paralysis. His paralysis and age at death indicate others cared for him for years before he died. (Lorna Tilley, The New York Times)
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Reposted from: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Great_Britain/_Periods/Roman/home.html
Thayer's Note: Stevenson's "translation" of Ptolemy, to which this page belongs, is abysmally bad. It should not be used for any serious purpose. For details and correctives, see Ptolemy homepage.
Penelope's notes on the map: No information has been added to Ptolemy's text as I have it, so there is almost no topographic data; the courses of the rivers also remain unmapped.
The interesting item is of course one of Ptolemy's biggest mistakes: Scotland is rotated clockwise by about 90°. The error occurs at a very specific place, which I've marked by a red line on the map, extending from the Solway Firth to Newcastle. No coincidence at all that this is almost exactly the line of Hadrian's Wall: all of a sudden the Roman geographer loses all his land data and has to rely on pilot's accounts, with choppy seas and strong currents accounting for the bad data. Ptolemy may well have had only a single report for the navigation of the top of Scotland; what else could he do? (For an alternative and vaguer explanation — I'm not in the least convinced by my own — see John Ward's The Roman Era in Britain, p14; for yet another explanation, far more convincing and detailed, see Thomas G. Ikins' Roman Map of Britain. There are, out there, many other diagnoses of this error by Ptolemy and of his other errors, limited only by human ingenuity expressed in shelves full of books and a passel of webpages. None of them is to be trusted, probably.)
This map, when examined together with Ptolemy's maps of Belgica and Cimbria (now the Low Countries and Denmark), reveals something important about the sources of error in the Geography. In Book II, Chapter 8 we see the Dutch coast correctly placed; navigation thence along the coast ought to have showed Denmark to be, in terms of absolute coördinates within his own system, where Ptolemy puts northern Scotland, and the positions on the map of Britain would have been provided with cross-checks.
What happened instead is that in Book II, Chapter 10 we do indeed see Denmark: similarly tilted by a same large clockwise angle. I haven't yet figured them exactly, but Ptolemy's distances from Scotland to Denmark appear to be roughly the same as ours. He did his cross-checks all right, but both Scotland and Denmark were beyond the pale of Roman dominion. He is relying on sea data.
To me this suggests that Ptolemy kept two sets of data, obtained by land and by sea; that he cross-checked each internally; that he favored the land data because he knew they were more accurate; and that for the sea data he knew they weren't good, but at least he made them consistent. But once again, don't believe anything you read about Ptolemy, not even my own stuff — it's all theories and smoke.
Monday, January 07, 2013
There aren't any biomedical treatments for autism as such. It is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder, or group of disorders, that reflect unusual growth patterns in the brain and neuroendocrine system.The cause(s) could be prenatal and almost certainly are epigenetic (altered gene expression as a result of mutation or exposures), but once symptoms are present, the best treatment is still behavioral because the changes have already occurred.The brain is programmed and physically altered during early child hood in very dramatic ways by BEHAVIOR. Early behavioral and neural plasticity is much greater during infancy and early childhood that it is during later life. This is the window of opportunity. Treating comorbid illnesses will always make a person feel better and often feeling better improves behavior that previously expressed or was enhanced by discomfort. Don't get sucked into the people who make a living by promising cures with no scientific validity. They are legion. In 50 or a hundred years, the epigenetic processes involved may be directly and efficiently modulated by biomedical treatments, but at this point we do not know enough. Any biomedical treatment should be regarded as completely experimental, if not an utter shot in the dark.