Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taxing Marijuana

Dear friends,
California's state budget is in big trouble, because we have huge numbers of kids who need to be educated, and huge numbers of poor people who need health care, and no long-term solutions to our budget have appeared in a very long time. The largest cash crop in the state is Marijuana. Humbolt county is full of it. There was a great article in the New Yorker about the shadow industry that it has become. So I am delighted that 2 hours ago, Tom Ammiano, a Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, introduced a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana. It would give our state a BILLION dollars in much-needed tax money.
I am really of the opinion that alcohol is probably worse for the human body than is marijuana, in terms of medical illness. Liver disease, esophageal varicosities, and all the other ramifications of cirrhosis are awful, terrible, and lethal. So if we permit alcohol, and are aware of its addictive and destructive potential, and are taxing it, we should also do the same for this drug.
I am very aware of the issue of addiction, and I do believe the addiction problems are immense. But I believe that jail is not an appropriate answer. There was a good article about addiction and jail in the JAMA last month, and there is a lot of data that punitive behavior does not solve or improve addiction recovery. We need to really enhance and enforce addiction medicine and therapy, and psychiatry and counselling.
I am a believer in the 12-step approach. I believe that doing the 12 step programs voluntarily will probably give the best results to addicts. Doing them under court-order may not be as helpful, but at least there is the beginning of a structured approach, and there is some data that it helps promote and attain recovery status in many addicts. If we have the tax, we can use it for treatment programs, too.
So I am going to send letters to my local legislators, asking them to support this bill.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Greater Pox, by C.B. Mosher

The book I mentioned in the previous post about syphilis spreading with the French troops as they marched around the northern Mediterranean to fight a war with Naples, is called A Greater Pox. It is available on Amazon.com

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Dear friends,
This weekend I have been completely absorbed with the work of Thomas Ball. He is a film maker, and has a blog, in which he reflects with great insight about the work he does. The issues of sound within film, and peripheral vision, and design itself, are part of his interests. He did a marvelous film about Frank Gehry, the architect, called "A Creative Madness". I loved how this movie showed the progression of Gehry's thought, and the architectural work, and architectonics. One of the most fascinating parts of it was the use of the Bach Goldberg variations for piano. The film shows how the melody is contained in the bass, not the treble line, and how it comes out in the variations within the fugue. I have loved Gehry's work, and it was interesting to find out he is really a Goldberg, so it is resonant with the Bach!! In one of the photos on the blog by Mr. Ball, there is a man playing a harp in an all-stone courtyard in Barcelona, in front of a church with an arched doorway, and surrounded by stone buildings. The harpist has a harp which looks like a Paraguayan harp, and when Mr. Ball was kind enough to send me the recording of the music he was playing, it sounded like Paraguayan harp music! Today I have been thinking all day about the amazing serendipity of how the Paraguayan musician is playing it in Barcelona, in front of a medieval church, such as may already have existed when the first world-travellers came back from the new world, bringing exotic birds, and gold, and Native Americans, for the Europeans to gawk at. My friend Charles B. Mosher, who was in Paraguay with me as the doctor, from 1972-74, wrote a book a few years ago, in which the opening scene takes place in such a courtyard, with these sorts of characters, to celebrate the arrival from the New World of the sailors. The story which is couched in the book is about syphilis, which spreads from the sailors and dock-folk, to the French army which was marching to Naples, to fight the king there. The main character, an ebullient girl who is in love with one of the young knights in the army, is quite wonderful. I am not sure whether Chuck's book has acquired much of a following, but it was fascinating to me, to see this Paraguayan man playing the harp in that courtyard, and thinking about the way the old world and the new world have interacted, interwoven, over all these centuries, since. And, how the Latin Americans have needed to see and grow from the relationship with Spain. I hope that Paraguayan harpist is happy to be there!
Last night, my husband had me watch the movie "Bottle Shock" which was about a contest between French wine connoisseurs and Napa Valley California's wines, pretty much unknown outside of California until that time, in the late 60's and early 70's when the California wines won the contest. Since then, many wineries have taken off, both here, and in Chile, and Australia, and so many other places. Today in the paper, I read that some unknown filmmakers were winning the film awards in Berlin-- one was a Chilean woman. Her film was about the daughter of a woman who had been "disappeared" and killed, after breastfeeding her baby on her tears and sadness. The daughter tries to bury the mother, and tell her story.
If you are interested in film, it is certainly worth watching the movie "Creative Madness", and thinking about Frank Gehry's development in architecture, as it is portrayed in this film. I am so wanting to go see the new Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. It is also interesting to me that my great-great grandmother came from Bilbao. I have been wanting to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for several years now, and this path goes through Bilbao. If you are interested in the art of film-making, I highly recommend reading Mr. Ball's blog.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Childhood poverty and the "common good"

I want to say something about "common good, common values"-- since so much of the economic stimulus package goals has to do with recovering responsibility and laws for systems of accountability and oversight. There was an article in JAMA on 1/28/09, about "relative child poverty, income inequality, wealth and health." by Eric Emerson, PhD.
The article said that there is data that there is an association with adverse health outcomes, including:
"poorer overall child well-being, infant mortality, low birthweight, not having polio immunizations, child mortality due to inintentional injuries (in Paraguay, little toddlers would fall into the cooking fires and get burned), juvenile homicide, low education attainment, dropping out of school, nonparticipation in higher education, aspiring to low-skilled work, poorer peer relations, having been bullied, teenage birth rate, physical inactivity, childhood obesity, not eating breakfast, feeling lonely, and mental health problems."
In addition, "low socioeconomic means in childhood was associated with increased adult morbidity-- increase in "stomach, liver, and lung cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, nervous system conditions, diseases of the digestive tract, alcoholic cirrhosis, unintentional injuries, and homicide."
The article stresses that for these reasons it is logical for nations to center on helping to reduce the relative child poverty, as a way to increase the health of the nation, and also health between nations.

For most of us women, our lives and jobs have focused on helping children make it to adulthood, and to grow up in as healthy a way as possible, and so these are intuitive truths, which we are likely to agree with. But for the military and industrial systems and political persons, these goals may seem as nebulous as "apple pie". And there is still a disgruntled and strong undercurrent which I feel, that helping the poor is not the right thing to do with "my taxes". So I am mulling over this list, and thinking about the despair and helplessness of the women I know who are trying to raise children with too little income. Chronic exhaustion, working two jobs, up early and late trying to do housework around the main bread-winning jobs of the daytime hours, worrying about what the children are doing in school and after school, and feeling unable to stop the bad influences from the pornographic media, and stupid advertising for greed on tv, and altogether too few good role models in the daily lives of the children. So this article is an interesting "lens" for this problem. And makes me happy that the President seems to "get it" and want to help us with the structural systemic changes which are needed to correct it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Other Blogs


For some of us, finding silence and wild places to become more peaceful and contemplative is very difficult now. The world is full of junk and noise. And too many human artifices. So I love to get this free newsletter, called Heron Dance, and "A PAUSE FOR BEAUTY". I am happy to give you the link, so you can watch it, too.

The Writer's Almanac is another daily help, for reading a great poem, and some interesting literary news.

The Composer's Notebook gives a musical reference for the day.

And Sacred Space, by the Irish Jesuits, is a great resource for daily prayer and reflection.

Monday, February 9, 2009

a poem in honor of Paul Farmer, MD

Paul Farmer is a physician who has managed to keep the patients he takes care of foremost in his mind, even as he confronts all the difficulties of 3rd world health care in Haiti, and elsewhere. He has made perhaps the greatest difference of any physician I know, in confronting the insufficiencies and inequities of care, and saying in outrage, that it is not enough, and that we can do better. He has fundamentally changed the way care is given for Tuberculosis, AIDS/HIV, malaria, and other diseases which are consequences of dire poverty, all over the world. Please see more in the book "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder, about Dr. Farmer's life. And then go online to Partners in Health, and see what he is accomplishing now-- I hope you will become a supporter of this model of care-giving! This poem was accepted and published by the Meridian Anthology. It is also in the second book of my poems.

(for Paul Farmer MD)

All the ladies in the little overturned truck
Spilled like mangos onto the road,
Though they were also carrying the mangos to market.
The mangos, in rainbow sherbet colors,
Like sunrise and sunset in Haiti,
Spilled out all over the road,
Spilled and splattered open,
Their soft apricot and coral juicy flesh
Sweetening the dust,
A whole month’s wages lost.

“Grangou, grangou”; hungry children
Scrambled to retrieve the salvageable ones.
The mango ladies,
Holding their moaning mouths,
Watched the truck driver
Lay a piece of cardboard
Over the body of their friend,
With her legs and feet still uncovered.
Squatting by the roadside
Surrounded by mangos,
Like an altar offering--
Fruit of the world,
Suffering of the world,
Women on their way to market
Waylaid by death.

Watched by the hungry children,
The incessant scramble;
Stopping to grieve,
Broken open
Like sunrise and sunset,
All over the dusty road.