succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, December 20, 2004

Censorship in America

Is it getting better, worse, or just different? I heard Nirvana's "Rape Me" on the radio today, uncut, and it didn't strike me as odd at all until I remembered that at one of the VMAs Mtv was totally freaking out that Nirvana might try to play the song live, thus getting them into huge trouble with the censors. On the other hand, the Smothers Brothers were saying how their politically charged variety show would have lasted even fewer episodes in today's political climate than back in the 60s. So is it a difference between television and radio? Or is it just arbitrary the things the FCC gets all worked up about these days? Or something else entirely? Discuss.

Ok, back from my long hiatus just in time to take another one (I'm off to Florida tomorrow for about 12 days; I'll pretty much be incommunicado, with the exception of the cell phone, which is just the way I like it).

So, where to start? Ok, I'll start with the story I alluded to earlier which prompted my initially incredibly pissed off self to say I would be writing a letter to the editor, for which many of you thoughtfully contributed. And in the end, I'm probably just not going to do bupkis. Anyway, here's the deal - my good friend Sameera is a fellow PhD student in the biostatistics department and he just left on Friday to go back to Sri Lanka. As he informed us right before he left, he might not be able to come back. Not for personal reasons or financial reasons, but because his visa may be (arbitrarily) denied. This wouldn't be an issue if he just stayed put, as his visa is good for more than enough years to get his PhD. It's merely because he hasn't been home in 18 months and his mom is sick and he's being a good son and going home to visit the family that this becomes an issue. Which is just total crap. I had no idea that once you had successfully jumped through hoops to gain permission to go to school here, you could be arbitrarily made to jump through more, simply because you had the audacity to want to go home. Couldn't we be spending our governmental/homeland security dollars more effeciently than pestering a legitimate student who will make a significant contribution to public health, if, you know, he were only allowed to finish his degree?

Ok, other things that piss me off/make me want to cry: "A soldier who allegedly had a relative shoot him so he wouldn't have to return to Iraq could face military discipline." Call me crazy, but maybe this guy needs help more than he needs military discipline? Hell, for that matter, maybe our military doesn't need to be sending guys who are this desperate back into action. I mean, do you really want to put your life in the hands of some guy who shot himself to avoid going back?

Along the same lines, Bob Herbert has a fantastic editorial in today's Times. You should really go read the entire thing, but here are some pieces:

Troops approaching the end of their tours in Iraq are frequently dealt the emotional body blow of unexpected orders blocking their departure for home. "I've never seen so many grown men cry," said Paul Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader who founded Operation Truth, an advocacy group for soldiers and veterans.

"Soldiers will do whatever you ask them to do," said Mr. Rieckhoff. "But when you tell them the finish line is here, and then you keep moving it back every time they get five meters away from it, it starts to really wear on them. It affects morale."

We don't have enough troops because we are fighting the war on the cheap. The Bush administration has refused to substantially expand the volunteer military and there is no public support for a draft. So the same troops head in and out of Iraq, and then back in again, as if through a revolving door. That naturally heightens their chances of being killed or wounded.

A reckoning is coming. The Army National Guard revealed last Thursday that it had missed its recruiting goals for the past two months by 30 percent. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who heads the National Guard Bureau, said: "We're in a more difficult recruiting environment, period. There's no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard's participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult."

Just a few days earlier, the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, told The Dallas Morning News that recruiting was in a "precipitous decline" that, if not reversed, could lead to renewed discussions about reinstatement of the draft.


Through the end of September, nearly 900 troops had been evacuated from Iraq by the Army for psychiatric reasons, included attempts or threatened attempts at suicide. Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, an assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from 1994 to 1997, said, "I have a very strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical story of this war."

Please, please, please, can we once and for all agree that the argument that supporting our troops means supporting this administration is complete and utter bullshit? I can think of very few Americans who have treated our troops worse than this administration.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here's more about the FDA sucks when it comes to respecting science.

Almost one-fifth of the Food and Drug Administration scientists surveyed two years ago as part of an official review said they had been pressured to recommend approval of a new drug despite reservations about its safety, effectiveness or quality.

The survey of almost 400 scientists also found that a majority had significant doubts about the adequacy of federal programs to monitor prescription drugs once they are on the market, and that more than a third were not particularly confident of the agency's ability to assess the safety of a drug.
In the survey, 63 of 360 respondents -- 18 percent -- said they had been "pressured to approve or recommend approval for a [new drug application] despite reservations about the safety, efficacy, or quality of the drug."

Similarly, 21 percent of survey respondents said the work environment at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research either allowed little dissent or stifled scientific dissent entirely.

I've been celebrating the gloriousness that is being done for the semester. Perhaps celebrating a little too much. Saturday night reached new heights (depths?) of ridiculousness. But all was good, safe, responsible fun. Finished up my holiday shopping and mailed out some cards and slept and am trying desperately to finish getting ready to leave town, but it just seems so hard to get motivated to do anything that resembles productivity. Clean the apartment, try not to traumatize Cleo too much, mail packages, etc. etc. Anyway, whine whine whine. Enough. That'll do me for the next week or two. Sorry Steve, still haven't gotten back to that whole Capitalism, I'll leave you with a teaser - it's not economics that I have a problem with (though the subject isn't my personal cup of tea), it's consumer culture that troubles me. And my interpretation of the article I excerpted so many moons ago was that schools were teaching kids how to be consumers, not necessarily the useful nuances of economics. Also, my argument was not that we shouldn't teach these things at all, but more my own personal shock that these things took priority enough to be taught in first grade, before other things that they were lamenting having time to cover. Like reading. It seems reasonable to postpone economics for a couple of years, after, I don't know, kids have a rudimentary understanding of math.