Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Opioid Numbers

            A Chicago Tribune editorial reprinted in my local newspaper as "How to halt deadly toll of opioids" (Nov. 13) says that in 2016, "64,000 people died of drug overdoses," generally opioids. In 2014, there were 207,400 drug-related human deaths, so it's safe to assume there were more than that in 2016; 64,000 is for the US.
            It is a number that needs to be put in context and analyzed.
            In 2014, there were 2,624,418 total deaths of Americans, nearly 46% of them from heart disease and cancer. The 64,000 figure would put the US death rate from drug overdoses between those in 2014 for diabetes (76,488) and influenza plus pneumonia (55,227).
            What makes the 64,000 newsworthy — aside from money, politics, and the good old American obsession with drugs — is that such deaths are largely preventable.
            The Trib editorial suggests some ways of prevention, but we need more detailed numbers and analysis.
            To clarify a related discussion, I've suggested that the most direct way to decrease gun deaths in the USA would be to provide old men like me ways of killing ourselves more elegant than blowing out our brains. How many of those drug deaths are relatively nonmessy suicides? We might have less an opioid crisis than one of despair; and the responsible social answer to despair is psychological intervention and helping people achieve lives worth living.

            Are many of the deaths from accidental overdose? We keep down the rate of overdose deaths for legal drugs by regulation of purity and labeling. A direct way to reduce deaths by accidental overdose would be similar supply of FDA-approved illegal drugs, dispensed by responsible people. If we refuse to supply drugs of certified purity and dosage, then we need to make that decision consciously, and tone down laments about the horrors of overdose as such: we clearly have other priorities.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Climate-Change Revisited: Thought-Experiment (20 Nov. 2012)

            I've got a thought-experiment for you: "Let's pretend" for grownups.

            Let's pretend our sun is moving into a cycle of greater output of energy trivial for the sun, but important on Earth since we get a period of warming, what looks to be a long period. And the question would be what humans could do to moderate the effects of this sun-caused climate change.

            Some astronomer might note the "greenhouse effect" on our neighbor Venus, whose surface is very hot not just from Venus's nearness to the sun but also from its (mostly) carbon dioxide atmosphere, which efficiently traps heat.

            One thing we might try to slow down the heating of the Earth would be to reduce the carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.
            One way we could do that is to do some things we should do anyway to reduce our use of fossil fuels and leave some oil, coal, and natural gas for future generations, along with an infrastructure that runs well and fairly directly on what in human terms is the virtually unlimited power of the sun. We could leave a legacy of power from wind, water, geothermal sources, and focused sunlight, photovoltaic cells — etc.

            Got it?

            As a practical matter, for policy decisions, it's not crucial what the source is of long-term climate change, including the source of net global warming. If net global warming is occurring, we can help cool the planet by reducing carbon emissions.

            So stop already with arguments that human-released greenhouse gasses don't cause climate change! Reducing greenhouse gasses can help reduce the risk, and we owe it to future generations not to gamble with their planet, and try.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Patriotism, Teams, and Tribes

I've got three stories for you, one I've told before.

A decade or two ago, I complained to the manager of the Aerobics Area of the Miami University (Oxford, OH) Recreational Sports Center that the Muzak was too loud (getting through both ear stopples and heavy-duty hearing protector muffs). Among other things, he asserted, "But it's your music, meaning classic rock, which was the general soundtrack for the growing up of my generation. I responded that "My music is music I can turn off."

Possibly also at the "RSC," a colleague sort of trapped me for a mild rant on his sense of betrayal by his team, the Cincinnati Reds, whose manager and upper-echelon coaching staff he believed incompetent. Eventually I smiled and asked "Then why don't you fire the manager and the least competent coaches?" He said, "I can't do that; only Marge Schott can do that." "Then it's not your team," I said; "it's Marge Schott's team."

Long before that, when I was in high school in Chicago, the senior class advisor accused me with, "You never take part in school activities." I told her that I was in Key Club, actually, and that she was angry with me because of something I'd done working for the senior class; but, okay, I did put most of my effort into non-school activities (I was an officer of a freaking charity and that was a serious commitment!). "I can never be elected principal," I finally told her, "and I put most of my efforts into groups where I have some influence ... the possibility of clout." (Offered a choice, I never wanted to be the president of an organization but a VP or secretary or such: someone with access to the president, someone who'd be consulted.)

I'm at an extreme here, growing up political in Chicago, and in the Cubs neighborhood to boot (where many became either fanatical fans or learned to enjoy Wrigley Field without getting emotionally involved with that baseball stuff we viewed from cheap seats). Movies I liked greatly, but otherwise I wasn't much into being a spectator.

Most Americans, I suspect, are mostly fans of the American Nation: what Trey Parker and Matt Stone called "TEAM AMERICA" (WORLD POLICE). Part of Tribe America: or a subgroup felt to be the real America. A minority of Americans, I think, want, primarily, to be citizens of the Republic, with at least the possibility of at least a tiny bit of influence. These are overlapping groups and don't have to be opposed. But those on the other extreme from me, people who identify with Team America as "one Nation, under God, indivisible" and monolithic — these folk are right to see small "r" republicans, Americans who want to be citizens of a republican state and not members of a tribe as competitors for the soul of America and deeply opposed opponents.

We are in one of those "hearts and minds" struggles, and it will not be pretty.