Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I wouldn't want you to miss . .

This New York Times correction.

An Op-Ed essay on Monday described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish, and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces. (Other birds, like American robins, Eurasian starlings and cedar waxwings, do.)

I'll get back on the GMO thing shortly. But I interrupt that series to note something deeply shameful about the United States. Kurdistan has accepted hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, most of whom are neither Kurdish nor Moslem, despite that (de facto) country's limited resources. Nobody there is visibly complaining about it, and they're doing what they can. As the linked article says, the UN is finally making a major relief effort. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and Syrians, are also in Jordan and Turkey, as well as Kurdistan.

A few tens of thousands of desperate, hungry and frightened children show up on our border and the locals organize demonstrations to prevent them from being sheltered, carrying racist signs, and blocking buses. We are a sick society.

Monday, August 18, 2014

GMO, continued

Okay, back to work. (I did a site visit on Friday and didn't feel like blogging over the weekend.) The GMO Deception is a collection of essays, mostly short, and mostly reprinted from the newsletter Gene Watch. They may date anywhere from the 1980s to the present, and they are in no particular chronological arrangement. This makes it quite difficult for the reader to develop a coherent understanding of the history, or even of the current state of affairs. One must pay close attention to the dates of the various contributions and then try to put things in order. It's always a chore and sometimes impossible. We'll read a passionate polemic decrying the regulatory regime of 1990 or worrying about gaps in knowledge in 1985, and then we're responsible for trying to find, somewhere else in the book, what has become of the situation.

This puts a substantial burden on the reviewer, because I'm not even sure I have everything straight and I've even had to do a bit of independent research to figure out what's going on. I also would recommend that Skyhorse hire a copy editor. There are some serious, fundamental howlers. These include Ralph's introduction which repeatedly refers to the herbicide Roundup as Roundup Ready, which is actually the brand name Monsanto's glyphosate resistant seeds. The error is reproduced in the introduction. Fig. 4 of the introduction is supposed to show the difference between GMO proponents' view of what happens when you introduce a single gene into an organism, and the reality. Unfortunately, both halves of the figure are identical, so there does not appear to be much difference. I won't go on because they didn't hire me to copy edit.

Anyway, Fig. 4 notwithstanding, the argument is sound. As even GMO proponent PZ Myers will not just admit, but enthusiastically affirm, gene effects are "pleiotropic." That means genes don't just do one thing. Some even code for more than one protein, by cutting and splicing at different places. But more generally, they interact with other genes, affect expression of other genes, and their products are typically involved in more than one developmental or biochemical process. So inserting one gene can cause a lot of changes in a plant beyond what is intended. (The process can also cause additional mutations.)

The regulatory regime for GMO foods in the U.S., as I understand it, requires only that manufacturers provide the FDA with a case that the single protein product of an inserted gene is safe to eat. This does not have to be based on any original animal or human research with the organism. In other words, you don't have to feed it to rats or monitor people who eat it, you just have to argue that Bt or whatever is harmless to humans. The editors and contributors to The GMO Deception don't think that's good enough, because the foodstuffs could differ in other ways from their non-modified precursors.

Well, maybe so, but others may find this a bit tendentious. After all, conventionally bred foods often differ in unintended ways from their ancestors. Conventionally bred tomatoes developed to be firmer and ripen more slowly for transport taste like cardboard. Mutations that alter proteins happen naturally all the time. Natural insect resistance, which is enhanced by intentional cross breeding, implies the expression of toxins. (This is a reason why many plants are toxic to humans, including the foliage of tomatoes and potatoes.)

It isn't clear, therefore, that genetic engineering presents any unique dangers to the food supply. We're already eating food that sacrifices nutrition for other properties, food allergies are already common, and completely natural foods contain carcinogens and other harmful substances as well as the good stuff. The fact is we have had 15 years of experience with most of the U.S. population consuming large amounts of GM corn and soybeans, and no sign of any harm except for the low quality diet that comes from eating a lot of processed corn products.

So, this is really the weakest part of the case. Yet it is the one that proponents focus on, as a handy straw man. The other objections are stronger, I think, but don't get as much attention in the political debate. It's easy to scare people with talk of "Frankenfoods," but that's a pretty speculative issue in my view and I find it tendentious. So I'll get to the more persuasive arguments in coming posts.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The GMO deception?

I received a review copy of The GMO Deception: What you need to know about the food corporations, and government agencies putting our families and our environment at risk, Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber, eds. Skyhorse publishing, 2014. $24.95.

Major disclosure: Shelly Krimsky was my master's thesis adviser and I also took his course in environmental policy at Tufts. Ralph Nader, who wrote the foreword, was my employer in my now distant youth and I met him on a few occasions.

GMO means genetically modified organisms, but that's a bit of a misnomer since humans have been genetically modifying organisms since the dawn of agriculture, originally through selection and eventually through deliberate cross-breeding and selection. But GMO refers more specifically to organisms -- most public attention is on food crops -- that have been genetically engineered, that is they have had specific genes inserted into their DNA using modern laboratory techniques. These genes may come from different species or even different phyla or even kingdoms. It is possible to insert animal or bacterial genes into plants.

GMO foods are banned completely in Europe, but are pervasive in the U.S. food supply. Any product in the supermarket that contains corn or soy that isn't labeled "organic" will likely contain GMO products. As you probably know, there is currently controversy about whether manufacturers should even be required to label foods with GMO content. Right now, they are not. The conventional wisdom in the United States, including scientists who you likely respect such as PZ Myers and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is that any objection to GMO crops is anti-scientific nonsense equivalent to climate change denial or creationism.

Krimsky and Gruber and the dozens of contributors to The GMO Deception beg to differ. The objections fall into three major categories.

  1. Has it really been adequately established that GMO organisms are safe to eat, or at least as nutritious and healthful as conventionally bred organisms, and are regulations to insure this adequate?
  2. Are there possible harmful environmental impacts of GMO crops and again, is research and regulation adequate to prevent them?
  3. GMO crop systems are ultimately harmful to the agricultural economy in that they displace farm labor, promote capital intensity and larger scale thereby driving smaller farms out of business, and make farmers dependent on seed and pesticide purveyors at cost to their incomes and independence.
Each of these issues is complicated, and I'm afraid I do agree that they are far more complicated than Dr. Tyson believes. He is an astrophysicist so he has no more expertise about this than I do. The book has some serious shortcomings, which I will address. But first, in the coming days, I will take up the three areas of controversy in turn. There are some additional controversies involving GMO animals, which have a distinct ethical dimension. These are mentioned much less prominently in the book, but I may have a few words to say about this subject as well. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or opinions about these controversies before we begin, please comment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Political Malpractice

No, you probably didn't read it here first, but the RW Johnson Foundation has a new analysis of the fate of people in those states that refused to accept the Medicaid expansion. Since I never know for sure how much readers may already know, I feel compelled to maybe bore and talk down to you about exactly what the Medicaid expansion is.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, in order to be eligible for Medicaid you had to be a minor child, an adult caring for minor children or a pregnant woman, and you had to be disabled. That's called "categorical eligibility." Also, generally speaking, you had to be below the official poverty level. States set varying income eligibility limits and other requirements, but every state provided Medicaid to people with no income --which means that it was the working poor who were left out in the less generous states, even if they were categorically eligible. States are reimbursed anywhere from 50% to 80% of the cost of providing Medicaid for those people, depending on the economic circumstances of the state. That is still true, it hasn't changed. That was a good enough deal that every state took it, and kept taking, no matter how conservative their government.

The Medicaid expansion eliminates categorical eligibility, which means that non-disabled adults without kids can get it. It also raises the income eligibility threshold to 138% of poverty. And it reimburses the states 100% for these newly eligible people initially, falling to 90% by 2020.

In the ACA as passed by congress and signed by the president -- AKA tyranically imposed by the socialist usurper -- states had to accept the Medicaid expansion in order to continue participating in classic Medicaid. But John Roberts, a jurist who only calls balls and strikes and would never legislate from the bench, rewrote the statute such that states can keep classic Medicaid without accepting the expansion.

As a result, 24 governors decided not to allow the federal government to provide health care to their poor and low-income citizens. Also, those people are not eligible for subsidies to buy insurance on their own because the ACA assumed they would have Medicaid. Not that they could afford it even with the subsidies. So they're out of luck. Also out of luck are the hospitals and health care workers who would get paid to take care of them.

As the RWJ Foundation tell us, by the time the dust settles in 2016, 6.7 million people in those states who would otherwise have been insured will not be. The states will forego $43 billion in reimbursement by that year, for which they would have had to spend $291 million in their own money. The main argument the Republican governors make against accepting the expansion is that cost, but accepting the money would obviously boost their economies and tax revenues, while those same states will happily spend $45 billion in incentives to private business during that time. So they are, in other words, total hypocrites. (Hospitals and physician practices are private businesses, by the way. But evidently they don't count.)

There are only two reasons why the Republican state governments have rejected the Medicaid expansion. 1) The president is Barack Obama, and there's just something about him, what could it be? and 2) They want low income working people in their states not to be able to get health care, because they're just takers and the part where they make stuff by having jobs doesn't count. And note that it is mostly working people who are deprived because disabled people and parents without jobs are already covered.

Another way to put this is that they are psychopaths. Nevertheless that seems to be popular with their citizenry and they expect to do well at the polls this November. Explain it to me.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A catastrophe of our own making, and largely ignored

I am a long-time Iraq buff. I contributed to the blog Today in Iraq through most of its existence (it is now today in Afghanistan), and I have followed events in that country closely since then.

The situation right now is appalling. The Islamic State has captured predominantly Christian and Yazidi towns in the north and the inhabitants have fled in panic. (The Yazidi practice a pre-Islamic religion.) The Christians have fled to Kurdistan, while thousands of Yazidi fled to a mountain where they had no food or water. The UN now says that they have been rescued but that at least 40 children died of thirst. Update: It turns out the Yazidis have not been rescued,  but they are receiving airdropped supplies.

IS has captured the Mosul dam, which provides electricity to 3 Iraqi provinces. If the dam is breached, the ensuing flood would destroy Mosul and inundate Baghdad.

So, how did this happen? Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki systematically discriminated against Sunni Arabs, depriving them of government services and jobs, and leadership positions in the military. He replaced competent military leaders with his cronies. The army had a system in which soldiers' pay was given to commanders for distribution, and many soldiers cut deals whereby they would go home, take other jobs, and split their pay with the officer. So, when ISIL swept into Anbar and Ninevah provinces, the Iraqi army collapsed, and Sunni Arab militias joined forces with the Islamists.

The Kurdish peshmerga is a competent fighting force, and they held the dam and protected the Christian and Yazidi towns in the north, simultaneously moving in to territory they coveted for themselves in Kirkuk and environs. But they are lightly armed, and Maliki cut them off from ammunition and military equipment in the possession of the central government. Since Kurdistan lacks sovereignty, they have great difficulty purchasing military goods on their own. So, they ran out of ammunition and were forced to desert the towns they were protecting. They held on at the dam for weeks but were finally overcome. Note that none of this action is inside Kurdistan -- the Iraqi military would ordinarily be responsible for this territory but it is incompetent.

The United States initially supported Maliki's installation as PM, and has continued to support him ever since, despite his outrageous misrule. This is a predictable consequence of invading a country our political and military leaders knew nothing about, smashing the existing order, and grossly mismanaging the restoration.

I don't know a lot about the Islamic State or the socio-cultural forces that produced its genocidal ideology. They appear to have been shaped largely in the crucible of the Syrian civil war and are partly blowback from the Gulf monarchies proxy war with Iran. But there they are, filling the vacuum created by the hubris and evil of Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their weakling tool George W. Bush. Americans appear not to care about the people of Iraq, but this is our fault and our responsibility. Not sure what to do beyond humanitarian relief, but at least we need to be offering that. And we aren't.

By the way, Americans want to turn away a few thousand children who are seeking refuge here, whereas the much less wealthy people of Jordan, Kurdistan and Turkey are doing their best to house millions of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. That's American exceptionalism for you.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

And speaking of theft . . .

Acthar is a drug approved in 1952 for a pediatric seizure disorder. Back then, the manufacturer didn't have to prove it was effective to get approval. But now Questcor is marketing it for multiple sclerosis, even though there is no clinical trials evidence that it works. It's expensive -- Medicare paid an average of $41,763 per prescription in 2012. It turns out that just 15 prescribers accounted for 10% of those prescriptions, and that most of them take money from Questcor.

Apart from human greed, the problem here is that Congress forbids Medicare from not covering any drug which has FDA approval, or from setting prices. This is because drug companies have lobbyists and you and I do not. Also, too, even today to get FDA approval you don't need to prove that your new drug is better than an existing, cheaper alternative. You only have to prove that it's better than placebo. So we finance all these ripoffs. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Christianity is good business

I doubt I've ever linked to CNN before, but this bit on the palaces of the archbishops is worth a gander. As we know the new Pope is getting all humble and poor, but the princes of the church have yet to get the memo. Ten of 34 U.S. archbishops live in houses worth more than $1 million, and some of them a lot more. Archbishop Dolan of New York, one of the world's sleaziest scumbags, lives in a mansion on Madison Ave. that's been appraised for $30 million.

That's just the Catholics. You may have seen, between innings or while you were zoning out to Rachel Maddow, a scam called "Christian Mingle." You can "find God's match for you" but God is requiring you to pay these people money in order to perform the miracle. Now they're letting us know that sometimes we're waiting for God to make the move, but God is saying it's your time to act. They actually know what God is saying to me, even though I can't hear it!

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, does not believe in wealth redistribution. That's probably because he owns $25 million. Can't be redistributing that shit, instead he's been pureeing camels and pushing them through the eyes of needles.

It's bad enough that it's all bullshit. It's also theft. We can begin by eliminating the tax exemption for religious organizations.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up

That seems to be the basic attitude of Americans toward the affordable care act according to Harvard pollster Robert Blendon. The linked Bloomberg article piles another brick onto the now solid wall of Obamacare success -- specifically, that hospitals are seeing fewer uninsured patients and getting paid for their services. That's great for the profits and stock price of for-profit hospitals and for their presumably mostly Republican executives. The percentage of Americans who are uninsured is now 13.4%, probably the lowest ever. And health care cost increases have slowed nearly to the rate of inflation.

The law is actually more successful than even it's most optimistic supporters expected. And yet:

Americans' opinions on the measure may be too hardened for Democrats to see much political benefit this year, or to fight off changes to the act in the future, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health. Recent polls indicate that more Americans remain opposed to the health-care law than support it, although that includes people who think it isn't liberal enough.

I'll tell you why this is. It's because Democratic politicians, as a class, are whimpering cowards who go hide in a corner at the slightest rustle of faux populist disapproval. If they would just stand up and make a full-throated defense of the law, based on the fact that it is a big success, the corporate media would have to stop pretending that it's a disaster and more people might start to figure out the truth. They have nothing to lose -- they did vote for it after all and their opponents are going to try to use it to attack them. Hiding in the corner isn't going to help. But they're just chickenshit. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Deep Thought

Barack Obama will leave office in January, 2017 without having confiscated all the guns, interned the Bible-believing Christians in FEMA concentration camps, imposing Sharia law, or surrendering the United States to the UN One World Government.

What will the wingnuts say then?

Monday, July 28, 2014

I suppose I should say something about the Ebola outbreak

There's been considerable alarm in the blogosphere about the outbreak of Ebola virus in west Africa. Naturally, the occasion for people in the U.S. to take notice is that two U.S. citizens have become infected. It was no big deal that about 660 Africans have died from the disease. Yes, that's a bummer and horrific for the people affected. However . . .

We need to get a grip. The chances that this will become a global pandemic, or even a major cause of death in Africa, are infinitesimal. Why do I say that? Although I have heard the elocutionists on National Pubic Radio call Ebola "highly contagious," actually it isn't. Transmission requires direct contact with bodily fluids.

Yes, that's true of HIV which is a global pandemic but there's a big difference. You can't walk around with Ebola virus appearing to be healthy and unwittingly infecting people through unprotected sex or sharing needles. There is a brief period during which people are potentially infectious but not visibly ill, but during that time you won't catch Ebola by sitting next to the person on an airplane. You'd need to join the Mile High Club.

If someone were to come down with Ebola in a developed country, they would be taken to the hospital in an ambulance by EMTs who already use what are called "universal precautions" to prevent contact with bodily fluids. They would be placed in isolation and cared for by people who are rigorously protected. Any recent contacts they had would be isolated until it was clear whether they were infected, and if they survived (which many will with supportive care) they would remain in isolation until they were not longer infectious.

The outbreak is sustained in Africa because many cases are in remote locations, or if they are in the city people don't get immediate attention from adequately equipped, trained and resourced services. In the remote areas, funerary practices in which relatives wash and otherwise touch the body also result in transmission. With adequate public education and infusion of resources, the outbreak in west Africa can be contained, and I expect it will be. If it continues, it will continue to infect and kill people at a rate of maybe tens per week. That's a drag but it's close to being the least of Africa's infectious disease problems. Really. Hundreds of thousands of Africans die from Malaria, TB and diarrheal diseases every year. We should care about that more than we do, but this is actually much less.

And no, it can't happen here. At least not on any large scale. Now, if the virus should mutate and become transmissible by causal contact, we'd have a problem. But there is no sign of that. So I hope folks will keep this in perspective.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Good News to be Sure

Not sure if you wretched refuse are allowed to read this,  But the American College of Physicians now recommends against routine pelvic examinations. They do recommend that cervical cancer screening continue, but for you guys, that's much less invasive than the pelvic exam. For us, I suppose, the nearest equivalent is the digital rectal examination, which is no longer recommended as part of a routine physical. (In fact, the entire routine physical is no longer recommended, but that will be much harder to get rid of.) So, if your doctor wants to stick his finger up your ass, and you don't want him to do it, just say no.

The ACP says there is no evidence of benefit from an annual pelvic exam, "so the harms of fear, anxiety, embarrassment, pain, discomfort and false positives" mean don't do it. Obviously, if you're pregnant or have symptoms for which the exam is a useful diagnostic, that's a different story. We're talking about the concept of just doing it every year as a screening measure.

Naturally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is still all for it because they make money off of it. And, the ACP isn't sure its recommendation will change practice. It's very difficult to get doctors to give up their bad but profitable habits. Anyway, you can take matters into your own hands and just not do it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reality Bites Denialists

That's the trouble with cynical denial of facts you know to be true, which is what the Koch brothers and their political allies are mostly doing with global climate change denial. We know it's cynically dishonest because they keep changing their premises: it isn't happening, maybe it's happening but people aren't causing it, maybe people are contributing to it but it isn't really bad, maybe it's a little bit bad but it isn't worth doing anything about it . . .

A recent arrow in the denialist quiver has been the claim that the planet has not been warming for 15 years. Either this means the whole claim about climate change is too a hoax, nah nah nah nah nah, or else it means the problem isn't really urgent so we'll just wait for the technology fairy to save us.

More sophisticated climate scientists have been saying all along that this is not true, the global surface temperature has been on a bit of a pause but that's because the heat is going into the oceans. This is kinda wonky, but a new analysis sets us straight. Climate models based on straightforward computation of how heat is trapped by greenhouse gases have tended to overestimate recent increases in global surface temperatures, i.e. they have failed to predict the recent slowdown. This has caused denialists to claim that climate models are worthless. Not so.

All you have to do is add the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon to the models and they fit reality just fine. In other words, for the past decade we've tended to have more La Niñas -- episodes of cool southern Pacific water -- than El Niños. Add that info to the models and they do predict recent surface temperature history. But now that's changing, with an El Niño predicted for later this summer or fall and guess what? We'll have an apparent acceleration in warming. It's already started, seemingly, with the warmest three months on record. Add to that the sparse coverage of the Arctic by weather stations, the Arctic being the region that has warmed the most, and we find the planet is even warmer than we thought. Already.

We're headed for a really obvious hot spell, folks, and the oceans will continue to rise, faster than before, the arctic sea ice to disappear, and the southwest U.S. to parch and bake until cities become uninhabitable. Yes. Then Sen. Inhofe and the Koch brothers will have to eat shit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

AIDS 2014

I'm not there this year, and of course, neither is Joep Lange. The linked remembrance by Laurie Garrett explains why the International AIDS Conferences are really unique. There is a lot of science presented there -- you get the usual PowerPoint presentations with socially awkward biologists droning on about viral lineages and the blood-brain barrier, as well as social science and program evaluations and every other possibly relevant discipline.

But only about half the people there are researchers. The rest are activists and practitioners of one kind or another. And the presentations in the big hall sometimes feature science, (usually in a fairly popularized form), but are just as often political speeches, and even rallies and demonstrations.

Outside of the lecture halls and workshops, the corridors and exhibition halls are constantly enlivened with political theater, music and dance, and mobile polemical exhibitions. The conferences are an immersion into a special universe in which science, morality, and passion all collide, shattering and recombining unpredictably.

HIV is not like other diseases in being so freighted with culture, politics and morality. And Dr. Lange's career exemplifies that complexity. He was a scientist who was also compelled to be an activist and a campaigner. Of course his loss is no more egregious than the death of any other victim of war. As I said last time, I perhaps take it a bit more personally. But as a species, we just can't afford to keep fighting over tribalism. We have urgent work to do. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

MH17 and me, and us

As you likely have already heard, something like 100 of the passengers on MH17 were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Of the names so far made public, I don't know any of them personally. However, I have attended two past International AIDS conferences, in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., and live-blogged them here. It certainly would not be surprising if some of the victims are people I have spoken with, or heard speak, or who have attended presentations of mine. Certainly they would have similar kinds of education, interests, and political and social commitments.

I don't have enough insight to say how this affects my feelings about the incident. I like to think of myself as a universalist humanist and want to claim that the degree of personal affinity I have for the deceased and their colleagues, friends and loved ones is beside the point in how I evaluate this atrocity. We don't yet know all of the facts, so I'll hold off the rant I have saved up for Vladimir Putin and the thuggish morons he is sponsoring in Ukraine. But I will say this.

As a species, we have only a very short time left to grow up, before we do ourselves in. We are now recognizing the 100th anniversary of World War I. Europe blundered into catastrophe due to exactly the kinds of tribalism, instinctive reliance on military technology and prowess, and the view of global affairs as fundamentally and properly a competition among nation states for power and primacy. The catastrophe this time would be incalculably worse.

So, remember that in 1988 a U.S. naval vessel shot down an Iranian civilian jet liner, while St. Ronald Reagan was president. That was just as awful, but unlike John McCain today, nobody started calling for World War III. 

Update: It turns out that 6, not 100 of the passengers were on their way to AIDS 2014. Doesn't affect my point, but for the record. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Black Hole in the East River

The New York Times, for all it's flaws, is still indispensable as one of the last redoubts of journalism. This should make your blood boil. According to an internal study, which the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tried to keep secret, prison guards at Rikers Island assaulted and seriously injured 129 inmates over an 11 month period. That's "serious injuries" only, which means they were too severe to be treated in the prison clinics. More than 3/4 of the victims have mental illness diagnoses.

There have been a couple of recent incidents of mentally ill Rikers Island inmates dying from neglect. One guy cooked to death in an overheated jail cell, another died after ingesting detergent and then being ignored as he begged for medical help. But this is different -- this is guards beating the crap out of people, sometimes in revenge for having urine thrown at them or the like, sometimes to control people who are acting out, sometimes apparently just for fun.

So yeah, impunity for corrections officers, as well as terrible conditions in the jail and terrible working conditions for the officers, is intolerable. But here's the worse problem -- about 4,000 out of 11,000 Rikers inmates are diagnosed with mental illnesses, which exceeds the entire census of psychiatric inpatients in the state. Jail is where we send mentally ill people today.

And this has been building for a long time. Back in grad school I took a course called something like Social Control of Deviance Through the Courts, which was taught by a judge. We took a field trip to the Massachusetts high security prison, and we met with a group of lifers. Most of them were career criminals who had been in and out of jail for much of their lives until they finally got the big ticket. And they told us they had seen the change. You would know the guys, back in the day, one of them said,  but now half of these guys belong in the Pine Street Inn. That's Boston's big homeless shelter.

The judge explained what was happening: mandatory sentencing laws. It used to be he had discretion. Mentally ill people sometimes do things like trespassing, random destruction of property, aggressive panhandling, subsistence theft, inappropriate sexual expression, which gets them arrested. The judge could commit these people to treatment. Now he can't, he has to send them to jail. And that is obviously the worst possible place for a mentally ill person to be. Yeah yeah, criminals get a tautological diagnosis of sociopathy but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about psychosis, bipolar disorder, and the like, combined with social marginalization and deprivation.

It's a crime against humanity.