Saturday, July 26, 2008

Keepers - Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac

In an emergency:

[Karl Menninger] often said that it would help anyone "to be getting three square meals a day and to know that there is opportunity ahead—things to be done, land to be turned, things to build." Once, when someone asked him what to do if a person feels he is about to have a nervous breakdown, Menninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them."

* * *
This blog is something of a journal and one thing I do with my journals is use them, in part, as scrapbooks. What follows are some recent additions, excerpts from Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac:

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). His first important book was the collection of short stories In Our Time (1925), and he followed that with The Sun Also Rises (1926) and the book that most critics consider to be his greatest novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929).

Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

* * *
It's the birthday of the man known as the "dean of American psychiatry," Karl Menninger, (books by this author) born in Topeka, Kansas (1893). His ideas about mental illnesses and how to treat them were revolutionary for his time—and many of the approaches he advocated and developed became instituted in modern psychiatric treatment centers.

Menninger built on some of the foundations that Freud had established, and some of his achievements rest in explaining Freud to the general population through magazine articles, books, and letters. But he also diverged in many ways from the founder of psychoanalysis. Where Freud believed in treating individuals through set therapy sessions, the Harvard-educated Menninger advocated a total immersion experience to help mentally ill individuals get well. He-co-founded with his father and brother, who were also medical doctors, the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. It was inspired partially by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which Karl's father had visited many years prior and had come home to report, "I have been to the Mayos, and I have seen a great thing."

The Menninger Clinic started in a farmhouse with only 13 beds for patients. At first, local citizens sued to stop the opening of a "maniac ward" near them. The clinic expanded greatly and eventually grew to 39 buildings on 430 acres—and to a staff of 900 people.

In addition to disagreeing with Freud on the best approach to therapy, Menninger had differing notions as to what caused mental illness. While Freud attributed mental illness largely to conflicts within a person's mind, Menninger thought that societal influences played a large role in an individual's mental health. He believed strongly that mental sickness often came about because of a lack of parental love during childhood.

Also, he thought that criminal behavior was often a stage of mental sickness and that it should be treated accordingly. He was a lifelong advocate for prison reform, believing the current system did nothing to help stop antisocial behavior. He told Congress in 1971: "I sometimes feel as if I would like to scream out to the American public that they are squirting gasoline on the fire. The prison system is now manufacturing offenders, it is increasing the amount of transgression, it is multiplying crimes, it is compounding evil."

[Karl Menninger] often said that it would help anyone "to be getting three square meals a day and to know that there is opportunity ahead—things to be done, land to be turned, things to build." Once, when someone asked him what to do if a person feels he is about to have a nervous breakdown, Menninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them."

He wrote more than a dozen books, including several best sellers. His works include The Human Mind (1930), Love Against Hate (1959), Man Against Himself (1956), Whatever Became of Sin? (1988), and The Crime of Punishment (1968).

* * *

Cormac McCarthy wrote in All the Pretty Horses: "They ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eucalyptus--California Fires Rage On

Santa Cruz weekly "Good Times," runs cover story, "Eupocalypse Now, California FIRES rage on, so why are eucalyptus trees still the city's most protected menace?"

Ron Oliver, Fire Chief, is quoted as saying, "Eucalyptus are more dangerous because of the resins and oils, so they burn hotter than other trees. But in Santa Cruz they've been declared a heritage tree so we can't do much."

How do you define a "heritage tree"? Well, it "has a trunk with a circumference of 44 inches (approximately 14 inches in diameter or more), measured at 54 inches above existing grade..."

Why this arbitrary designation? Why this "circumference of 44 inches"? One of the city's arborists swears it's true: 44 inches was the waist size of the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time the heritage tree ordinance was written.

Fact: "Hummingbird nests are lost at a rate of 50 percent in eucalyptus, as opposed to 10 percent in native trees."

"Species diversity drops among the trees by about 70 percent, according to bird experts at Point Reyes Observatory."

For more, see the Good Times, July 24, 2008. GTWEEKLY.COM

Solid, well-researched article by Good Times News Editor, Chris J. Magyar, who quotes our neighbor David Zicarelli, "I have no sympathy for people who think of them as natural here. I've never met anyone who actually has these trees on their property who wants to save them. They're all people who look at them from afar. I like to call that sentimental environmentalism."

And, later in the story, a neighbor nods and remarks, 'After the atomic apocalypse, there will be nothing but cockroaches and eucalyptus."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sonoma Book Festival, Sat., Sept. 20 - Santa Rosa

P.O. Box 159
Santa Rosa, CA 95402


Electronic Art Available 707-527-5412

The ninth annual Sonoma County Book Festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 20, 2008, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. It is the oldest general interest book festival in Northern California.

The square will be transformed with the white canopies of more than 70 booths, showcasing writers, independent booksellers, publishers and other literary exhibitors. Over 60 authors from the Bay Area and across the country read from their published works and participate in discussion panels and workshops.

Admission is free and includes readings, panels, and activities for all ages. Among the broad range of topics and genres represented are mystery, thriller, nonfiction, debut fiction, poetry, self-help, travel, children’s and teen/young adult.

For a full list of authors, panels, and other information visit


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pill-Popping Pets, S.S.R.I.'s for dogs

Home-Alone Dogs. -- 42% of American dogs sleep in the same beds as their owners...

Excerpted from James Vlahos' Pill-Popping Pets in NY Times Magazine, 7.13.08.

Lead: "Americans are spending millions on mood-altering drugs for their cats and dogs. Is it because we've driven them mad?"

1. Dogs too suffer from separation anxiety and compulsive disorders like hours and hours of tail-chasing.
2. More than 20% of American dogs are overweight.
Slentrol, approved by the FDA in 2007 is the country's first canine anti-obesity medication.
4. Aging dogs can become absent-minded ("where did I put the dog dish?").
Anipryl "treats cognitive dysfunction" to help absent-minded dogs remember...
5. "For lonely dogs with separation anxiety, Eli Lilly brought to market its own drug
Reconcile last year. The only difference between it and Prozac is that Reconcile is chewable and tastes like beef."

6. Dogs develop mental illnesses "that eerily resemble human ones and respond to the same medications."
7. "Marketers have a new name for the age-old tendency to view animals as furry versions of ourselves:
'humanization,' a trend that is fueling the explosive growth of the pet industry and the rise of modern pet pharma.
8. Americans forked over $49 billion for pet products and services last year, up $11.5 billion from 2003; other than consumer electronics, pet products are the fastest-growing retail segment...
9. The market expansion is being driven both by more pets and by more spending per pet, esp. by affluent baby boomers whose children have graduated from college..." the fastest growing category is health care, with treatments formerly reserved for people--root canals, chemotherapy, liposction, mood pills--being administered to pets.
10."...77 percent of dog owners and 52 percent of cat owners gave their animals some sort of medication in 2006, both up by at least 25 percentage points from 2004. 'Owners want their pets to be more like little well-behaved children.'"

11. Darwin's theory is that evolutionary continuity applies not just to bodies but to brains. "The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind," Darwin wrote.
12. "In laboratory experiments and field observations, practitioners have presented evidence of analogical reasoning by apes, counting by rats
and the capacity of pigeons to distinguish the paintings of Picasso from those of Monet."
13. "Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.), prolongs the effects of that neurotransmitter to reduce impulsivity, stabilize moods and lower anxiety, [Dr. Nicholas] Dodman says. He is friends with the noted Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, and they once compared the drugs they employ to treat violent people and animals. 'You superimpose my portfolio on top of his, and it's the same thing,' Dodman says."
14. "There is evidence that animals experience auditory and visual hallucinations and can temporarily enter deluded states in which they attack... 'By engaging in and winning aggressive encounters, dominant animals drive up serotonin levels and gain in composure...' Prozac can boost the effects of the neurotransmitter.
15. "Archaeologists and geneticists estimate that the domestication of wolves (Canis lupus) into dogs began at least 15,000 years ago." See Jack Page's book "Dogs: A Natural History."

16. "Many dogs, 42 percent, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association) now sleep in the same beds as their owners.
Extreme attachment to people is one of the defining traits of dogs."
17. "Extreme attachment, unfortunately, also causes some dogs extreme suffering when deprived of their owners' company...
an estimated 14 percent or more of American dogs have separation anxiety. The problem signs include home and self-destruction; prolonged whining, barking or drooling; or simply standing by the front door all day in a lonely, panting vigil. ('Nannycam'-type video recorders have captured all of the above.).
18. "...more than half the dogs on the drug [Reconcile] experienced short-term side effects, including lethargy, depression and loss of appetite."
19. "Modern owners are increasingly trying to 'sterilize' pet ownership [Dr. Dunbar says] ... trying to pharmacologically control dogs so that they don't act like dogs. 'What people want is a pet that is on par with a TiVo, that its activity, play and affection are on demand,' he says, 'Then, when they're done, they want to turn it off.'"
20. "Training is basically about forming a relationship, but for some people, that interactive process is now giving the dog a pill." [Dunbar]

21. "Long before Prozac, Paxil and the like were taken by people, they were tested for safety and efficacy in legions of laboratory creature. You can plausibly argue--and Dodman and others do--that humans are in fact using animal drugs."
a. German shepherds tend to tail-chase,
b. Doberman pinschers tend to suck their flanks
c. Cocker spaniels may have genetic underpinings for what looks like psychotic rage...

23. "...the causes of mood disorders and obsessions in humans and our pets aren't so different--faulty genetics, dreary environments..." [Dodman]

24. "All of the behavioral issues that we have created in ourselves, we are now creating in our pets because they live in the same unhealthy environments that we do... that's why there is a market for these drugs."
[unnamed pharmaceutical company executive]

25. The healthiest dogs in America today belong to homeless men and women, says the "dog whisperer." They're well enough behaved so they can move about without leashes, they get plenty of exercise, forage for food... and, in short, unlike the druggies, they're allowed to be dogs.


"Americans are spending millions on mood-altering drugs for their cats and dogs. Is it because we've driven them mad?"

Pill-Popping Pets, by James Vlahos, NY Times Mag. 7.13.08


father's day image from NY Times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Brain fitness class, neuron

Structure of typical neuron... image from Wikipedia.

Taking a Brain Fitness class. Notes from first three hours... learned that MRIs show "Islands of Inactivity" in the brains of those fried by marijuana.

Twelve or so students show up and, when asked why we are taking the class, one woman says she'd had a brain aneurism (sp?) and wanted "to find out what's left." Another had had electric shock therapy... others, like myself, were having problems remembering names. Insomnia can mess with the brain... poor diet, booze, drugs, trauma... all of us, for whatever reason, sensing some slippage. A loose connection of two...

Learned that there are as many brain cells (billions!) as there are visible (?) stars in the galaxy. That some dendrites are very long. Several inches... That giraffes, so said the instructor, have brain cells that are 6 to 8 feet long and that every cell in the brain is replaced every 7 or 8 years. So you have, so speak, a different brain now than you did eight years ago when George Bush first became President.

Talked to 81 year old man who lives in a Senior Trailer park. "There are funerals every day... they're going like flies... they're going like dying is going out of style."

Just as continents eons ago were once joined in a solid mass, for example, Australia and South America; China, Alaska and North America, so too were our brains once more of a piece, so said the instructor. "You generate new brain cells all the time... right up to the minute you die, you're generating new brain cells." And brain cells travel to where they are needed. The brain of a musician is different from the brain of an athlete. But if an athlete seeks to become a musician, the brain cells begin to accommodate. There's something called brain plasticity... instructor says, Until your last breath your mind can change.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Melancholy, Baron Wormser


by Baron Wormser*

Weakness—the pale succumbing to loneliness,
Refusing to admit anyone else, indulging
The blue perquisites of adolescence
Long past their sensible deliquescence.

He knew it but went on drinking and regretting,
Not calling his friends and regretting,
Making scenes over nothing and regretting.
It helped to make him despise himself,

Which was, he sensed, what he wanted. He was
Then, in his oblique way, at ease to wander
The city's brazen or quiet streets, conjuring
Random lives and how the slim arc
Of emotion was pulverized. Back home, he put
On some Monk, lay down, half-cried.

"Melancholy" by Baron Wormser, from Scattered Chapters: New and Selected Poems. © Sarabande Books, 2008. Reprinted here with permission of the poet.

*Wormser has received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize along with fellowships from Bread Loaf, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2000 he was writer in residence at the University of South Dakota. For eight years he led the Frost Place Seminar at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire.