In the first part of this series, we look at the fastest-growing population in U.S. prisons: women.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
By Jeremy Hsu
posted: 18 August 2008
06:35 am ET
Something beneath the surface is changing Earth's protective magnetic field, which may leave satellites and other space assets vulnerable to high-energy radiation.
The gradual weakening of the overall magnetic field can take hundreds and even thousands of years. But smaller, more rapid fluctuations within months may leave satellites unprotected and catch scientists off guard, new research finds.
A new model uses satellite data from the past nine years to show how sudden fluid motions within the Earth's core can alter the magnetic envelope around our planet. This represents the first time that researchers have been able to detect such rapid magnetic field changes taking place over just a few months.
"There are these changes in the South Atlantic, an area where the magnetic field has the smallest envelope at one third [of what is] normal," said Mioara Mandea, a geophysicist at the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.
Even before the newly detected changes, the South Atlantic Anomaly represented a weak spot in the magnetic field — a dent in Earth's protective bubble.
The Earth's magnetic field extends about 36,000 miles (58,000 km) into space, generated from the spinning effect of the electrically-conductive core that acts something like a giant electromagnet. The field creates a tear-drop shaped bubble that has constantly shielded life on Earth against much of the high-energy radiation flowing from the sun.
The last major change in the field took place some 780,000 years ago during a magnetic reversal, although such reversals seem to occur more often on average. A flip in the north and south poles typically involves a weakening in the magnetic field, followed by a period of rapid recovery and reorganization of opposite polarity.
Some studies in recent years have suggested the next reversal might be imminent, but the jury is out on that question.
Measuring interactions between the magnetic field and the molten iron core 1,864 miles (3,000 km) down has proven difficult in the past, but the constant observations of satellites such as CHAMP and Orsted have begun to bring the picture into focus.
Mandea worked with Nils Olsen, a geophysicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, to create a model of the fluid core that fits with the magnetic field changes detected by the satellites.
However, the rapid weakening of the magnetic field in the South Atlantic Anomaly region could signal future troubles for such satellites. Radiation storms from the sun could fry electronic equipment on satellites that suddenly lacked the protective cover of a rapidly changing magnetic field.
"For satellites, this could be a problem," Mandea told SPACE.com. "If there are magnetic storms and high-energy particles coming from the sun, the satellites could be affected and their connections could be lost."
The constant radiation bombardment from the sun blows with the solar wind to Earth, where it flows against and around the magnetic field. The effect creates the tear-drop shaped magnetosphere bubble, but even the powerful field cannot keep out all the high-energy particles.
A large sunspot set off a major radiation storm in 2006 that temporarily blinded some sun-watching satellites. Astronauts on the International Space Station retreated to a protected area as a precaution to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure.
The Earth's overall magnetic field has weakened at least 10 percent over the past 150 years, which could also point to an upcoming field reversal.
Mandea and Olsen hope to continue refining their model with updated observations, and perhaps to eventually help predict future changes in the Earth's magnetic field.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The Beijing Olympics are underway with the spotlight on China. Unfortunately, our TV announcers are so awed by the grandeur of the spectacle that they are overlooking the country’s authoritarian regime and its stranglehold on free speech.
China now has the world’s largest number of Internet users, having recently surpassed the United States. This number, however, doesn’t account for whether the Chinese government allows for a free and open Internet. So while a record number of Chinese people are logging online, they certainly can’t read or watch anything they choose.
While China had promised to increase Internet freedom during the Olympics, many of those promises have not been kept. The government vowed to relax Internet restrictions for foreign journalists, and finally complied only after intense international pressure, making some previously blocked sites available. Chinese Internet users, however, still face the same firewalls.
China maintains control over Internet users by blocking access to a wide range of Web sites and online activities it believes are a threat to the security of the state. To accomplish this monumental task, the government has created an elaborate system of filters, commonly referred to as “the Great Firewall of China,” using technology called deep packet inspection or DPI.
When an Internet provider installs DPI equipment, it allows them (or a third party) to see everything you do on the Internet. DPI technology has been in the U.S. news recently, as ISPs have begun using it to track customer activities for targeted advertising. But two U.S. broadband providers were using this technology for purposes that mirror China’s to block online content. Which American providers do such a thing? None other than Comcast and Cox, two Net Neutrality violators.
The companies have installed DPI equipment to block Internet communications they don’t like using reset packets (as China does). As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explained, their use of reset packets is akin to “a telephone operator that interrupts a phone conversation, impersonating the voice of each party to tell the other that ‘this call is over, I’m hanging up.’” While legitimate purposes exist for the reset command, only these two companies and malicious hackers use it as a third party to interrupt people’s communication.
Comcast and Cox purchased the equipment from the corporation Sandvine, which hit the “on” switch to let the companies start violating Net Neutrality. Since Free Press filed a complaint with the FCC against Comcast for its illegal blocking, Sandvine has had a tough time. Their stock price has tanked and their biggest customer, Comcast, has had second thoughts.
As long as Sandvine’s business model is violating Net Neutrality, we consider this good news. A couple weeks ago, however, their stock price received a bump. How is this possible after the consumer win on Net Neutrality, with the FCC telling Comcast to stop blocking?
Sandvine simply looked to the Great Firewall of China. Feeling the heat in the U.S., Sandvine struck deals with China and two countries – Qatar and Kuwait – looking to follow China’s lead and prevent their citizens’ access to a free and open Internet.
As you’re watching the Olympics, in the rare instance that an announcer actually brings up the current lack of online freedom in China, remember that Comcast and Cox utilize the same technology to impose their vision of what the Internet should be. Unless we continue to organize and fight for our online freedom, your Internet provider will assert an increasing level of control over what you say and do on the Internet, and Net Neutrality will no longer exist.
Internet, and Net Neutrality will no longer exist.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
This is the second in a three-part series.
Who's Behind Bars?
Morning Edition, August 14, 2008 · The largest mental institution in the country is actually a wing of a county jail. Known as Twin Towers, because of the design, the facility houses 1,400 mentally ill patients in one of its two identical hulking structures in downtown Los Angeles.
On a recent morning, we took a visit to the floor devoted to the "sickest of the sick." As we arrived, a dozen deputies were working to restrain a patient and inject him with an anti-psychotic drug. The entire ordeal was videotaped — to protect the patient as well as the deputies. It was the first hint at the complexities that emerge from creating a mental hospital inside a jail.
The End Of Public Mental Hospitals
Until the 1970s, the mentally ill were usually treated in public psychiatric hospitals, more commonly known as insane asylums.
Then, a social movement aimed at freeing patients from big, overcrowded and often squalid state hospitals succeeded. Rather than leading to quality treatment in small, community settings, however, it often resulted in no treatment at all.
As a consequence, thousands of mentally ill ended up on the streets, where they became involved in criminal activity. Their crimes, though frequently minor, led them in droves to jails such as Twin Towers, says Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
"Incarcerating the mentally ill is not the right thing to do," he says.
But if they are housed in Twin Towers, Baca says he is determined to make sure they are treated for illness.
Waking Up To A Big Bowl Of Ants
Mornings at Twin Towers begin with a meeting of medical staff from the county's Department of Mental Health; case workers and guards, who often function as de facto case workers, sit in a large circle.
An inmate who won't eat is the first order of business on this particular day.
"He says there are ants in his cereal," a case worker explains.
Dr. Arakel Davtian, one of the psychiatrists sitting in this large circle, takes a moment to explain just who they are dealing with; about half those locked up at the Twin Towers are in for serious crimes, he says.
What he finds striking, however, is how little it takes for the other half to end up there: "Indecent exposure, having open containers, something very, very minor — peeing on the street, disturbing the peace."
Often, the crimes these people commit are the result of their mental illness, Davtian says.
He offers the example of an inmate who was arrested for false identity. The police asked him his name, and he gave them a series of different ones.
"In court he does the same thing — he talks gibberish; the judge said [he is] incompetent to stand trial. The next court date is six months from the time he got arrested."
This means at least half a year at Twin Towers. Although being locked up is not the ideal way to enter treatment, Davtian says something good did come out of the altercation: he's begun treating the man for schizophrenia.
In Search Of Treatment
Some of the inmates at Twin Towers say they are glad to get treatment. Scott, 21, was incarcerated for shoplifting. He didn't want to give his last name, but he says he's aware he has "mental problems, mostly caused by life."
"I got ran over when I was 7," he says. "I'm schizophrenic-paranoid. I think everyone is watching me. I think I'm being judged, which is kind of true and kind of not."
Not everyone is so open to treatment. Lawrence Fillmore II says he was picked up for stealing sweaters out of a car on a very cold day.
"In order to get a lesser charge, I pretended I was nuts. So ever since then, I've been hooked up with the mental facilities."
Claiming to be crazy is a problem here. There is a perception that life in the "insane" tower is easier than life in the "sane" one — partly because the cells in the mental health side are newer than cells in the other side. Consequently, inmates are carefully screened before they are admitted to the psychiatric wing.
When I ask Fillmore what he's going to do when he gets out, he offers, "I have some friends, Mr. Carl Icahn, he's a billionaire ... I've got some money, lots of money. I've been working with him since 1968, helping him build his empire, so I'm gonna go back there. Just live good."
Socialization And Suicide Gowns
The "crazy wing" of Twin Towers may look like a greener pasture to those in the other wing, but it's still an unsettling sight.
Walking into the "high observation" area, patients stare out through the glass walls of their cells, many nearly naked.
"They just don't want to get dressed," explains Deputy William Hong.
Across the way, about a dozen inmates are engaged in a "socialization" exercise. Some participants are chained to benches — "for civilian workers' safety," as Hong explains it. Others sit listlessly at tables, in long draping ponchos that deputies refer to as "suicide gowns."
"They can't rip it," explains Hong. Clothes can prove dangerous tools to a depressed or paranoid inmate.
"They've tried to flush it down — clog the toilet, flood the area. Or they've tried to harm themselves," he says.
Suicide gowns are more durable.
It shouldn't be this way, Baca says.
"They're here, and they're going to be cared for, but is this what we want in the way of a policy? Are we saying the legal system is the solution for the mentally ill in L.A. County? I don't think so. I'm saying criminals belong in jail, not the mentally ill."
Baca has been saying this since he took over Twin Towers a decade ago. And the mentally ill just keep coming, filling up the hospital to maximum capacity.
Radio piece produced by Ben Bergman.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
August 12, 2008
Many people with bipolar stop taking their medications at some point in their treatment. This is a reality that patients, doctors, and family members often wrestle with. But it’s important to understand some of the possible reasons why. Understanding that there are often compelling factors in someone’s decision to stop their meds can help loved ones approach the problem without judgment. And for people with bipolar disorder it is critical to honestly evaluate why they want to stop taking their medication, because then they can tackle these issues directly and without judging themselves.
Non-compliance or non-adherence? Anyone who’s ever taken bipolar medication has heard the term non-compliance. It means not doing what your doctor and therapist tell you to do. In most cases, it means not taking your meds as prescribed. Unfortunately, the term carries a subtle connotation that the patient is not being a good little girl or boy. As such, many people with bipolar understandably find it offensive, preferring instead to use the term non-adherence.
Outside observers often seem to think that the main reason people with bipolar stop taking their meds is because these people are just irrational, irritable, and obstinate… especially when they start becoming manic. Although mania could be a contributing factor in some cases, people often have other reasons for stopping their medications, including the following:
- The meds don’t seem to be working or aren’t working soon enough.
- The meds do work – “I feel fine, I don’t need these medications.” Of course the reason someone is feeling fine is often because they’re taking the meds. By the way, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to people with bipolar disorder. Many patients without bipolar disorder who take medications to treat other illnesses stop taking their medications as soon as they begin feeling better even when their doctor and pharmacist instruct them specifically to finish the prescription.
- The side effects are intolerable. Some of the side effects can be scary and things that nobody would want to deal with, such as weight gain, memory loss, fatigue, and insomnia, not to mention potential medical problems like kidney or liver malfunction.
- It’s a real pain to remember to take the meds at the right time, every day; to find a way to keep track of when meds did or did not get taken; to find out what to do if a dose or several doses are missed, even accidentally; to keep the prescriptions refilled (especially if the insurance company is being difficult). The logistics of taking medications regularly – and the cost, too – can create genuine problems with sticking to them. And all of these challenges can be more difficult when someone isn’t feeling well – and can seem unnecessary when someone is feeling fine.
- Psychiatric medications carry a stigma. In our society, there’s a strong undercurrent of belief that medications for treating mental illnesses are only for lesser beings who cannot will themselves out of it. This is a huge issue and one we will discuss in other posts, including “Do You Feel Stigmatized by Your Bipolar Medications?”
- Understandably, many people enjoy the high side of bipolar disorder. They feel that the meds “flatten” them – and take away their creativity and spark.
We cover these “non-compliance” issues in Bipolar Disorder For Dummies and provide some strategies for overcoming the challenges, including the following:
- The most important first step is to be honest about taking or not taking medications and to deal with it as just another challenge on the journey. It is an expected bump in the road and it is not helpful to think of it as catastrophic.
- Honest communication with your doctor is critical – some of these problems can be handled, for example, with dosage or timing adjustments or by switching to an extended release version of a particular medication (if one is available).
- Bringing in other people to help can sometimes ease the logistical burdens.
- Sorting out the stigma and fear will be an ongoing and necessary discussion as part of solving this problem.
There may not always be a simple or obvious answer, but talking honestly and keeping judgment and criticism out of the mix when addressing the issue will go a long way toward finding creative solutions.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Friday, August 08, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Sunday, August 03, 2008
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Today is an historic turning point for Net Neutrality -- thanks to the F.C.C.'s landmark decision to punish cable giant Comcast for blocking Internet traffic. Learn more and take action today at SavetheInternet.com