Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reflections on a Mirror -- 07.09.2010

Do you ever see your own reflected image in a mirror and wonder what made the person you see before you? One morning, in early September, such a thought occurred to me. In a new apartment, looking in a new mirror, I came to wonder at the young man in front of me. Dressed in plain clothes very much after the manner of many young men my age: a slightly-too-small v-neck undershirt, distressed jeans, an old sun-faded baseball hat and glasses with thick, black frames. Just yesterday, and yet across a vast gulf of time, it seemed I was wishing for spiky hair in elementary school, or shunning jeans in favor of khaki slacks to set myself apart in high school, or wearing Converse All-Stars day-in and day-out as a reserved freshman in college.

Only 23 years, 9 months and 18 days have I counted and, yet, the history of my life already seems vast and beginning to lose its clarity in the hazy reflection of memory. So many choices, both willful and unintentional, brought me thus along this path. Some decisions which, at their time, seemed unbearably important and over which I spent untold hours weighing, contemplating, and worrying, have now faded into obscurity, near to irrelevance. I would say 'irrelevance' without qualification, if it weren't for the eerily-subtle complexity with which choices affect our lives. Conversely, some judgments and decisions which, at the time, I paid no more heed than the choice of "soup or salad?" have altogether ruled my intervening years and continue to dominate my actions.

In my current, reflective state-of-mind, I feel overwhelmed by a dual feeling of helplessness and terrifying freedom. The feeling of helplessness, to my mind, comes from the seemingly-impossible task of discerning what choices will lead me to the life I desire to live and which choices will never again trouble my mind, either in reflection or in memory. Freedom, it seems, comes from the vast possibilities that lay before me, even if I cannot know for certain that my decisions will lead me to those that I prefer.

Truly, my first 23 years, 9 months and 18 days have been very formative but, with any luck, my life is less than one-third over. I am at but the mid-morning of my years; sometimes feeling as though I am just arriving to have brunch with this person I've become after a lazy morning of sleeping-in and, at other times, feeling very hungry and ready for lunch after rising to an early breakfast and a morning full of toil.

Almost, I am paralyzed with despair at the seeming-futility of decision and indecision. What strange mysteries and surprises, joys and sorrows, await me in the early afternoon? The evening? At dusk? Or in the nighttime? Words written by Tolkien come to mind: "'How shall a man judge what to do in such times?'" So said √Čomer to Aragorn in Book Three of The Lord of the Rings. The answer: "'As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. 'Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'"

To this, a small part of myself responds; perhaps, that part of every person that drives them forth. That small part seems nourished and renewed by the endless possibilities, and even by the blindness with which I make every decision. Although an illusion Free Will may be, I still desire and struggle to be the master of my own destiny. I think everyone does, in his or her own ways.

Finally, I'll end with words from Richard Linklater's film entitled Waking Life. Words which I seem to carry with me wherever I go.

"The quest is to be liberated from the negative, which is really our own will to nothingness. And once having said yes to the instant, the affirmation is contagious. It bursts into a chain of affirmations that knows no limit. To say yes to one instant is to say yes to all of existence."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Album Review: Man on the Moon: The End of Day

As I said way back when I "reviewed" the Mos Def concert I attended, I'm not sure if this will be a permanent fixture of Gratis & Libre. The major problem is that I have very little motivation to review things I don't like. Anyway...

After acquiring my third song from Kid Cudi's debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, I finally broke down and got the whole thing this morning. Having listened to all of it, I gave my recommendation to my roommate with the description that Kid Cudi comes across as being somewhere between Mos Def and Kanye West. He has the same talent that Mos Def displays to briefly describe feelings and situations in a way which makes you say "I know exactly what he means/feels" as well as a tendency to reference hip hop and it's roots in R&B. His beats and musical quality are similar to Kanye West's, but toned down considerably to match his very introspective lyrics. Speaking personally, as one who is (I think) one of many people who like Kanye but wish he would tone it down or show some more range, I found this to be very pleasing. Add a dash of Daft Punk's spacey quality into the backing tracks and you have Kid Cudi's sound.

The album, which presents itself as sort of opera or Dark Side of the Moon-esque concept album, is "about" Cudi's struggle to find, maintain, and channel his creativity. As a man who admits to enjoy spending time alone (often referring to himself as Mr. Solo Dolo, a term which carries a special connotation to him), he finds his creativity in these moments and struggles to find them amidst his busy life. The story arch of the album, if it really has one, follows his realization of this fact and his eventual acceptance, with rapper Common providing spoken-word style narrative following some of the tracks.

As an interesting side note, I think it's pretty unique for an artist (especially in hip hop) to release an album which, essentially, celebrates being an introvert. It's almost in direct opposition to the mainstream hip hop culture and definitely challenges some cultural ideas about introversion. In our culture, behavior like spending a Friday night inside reading is met with considerable incredulity (e.g., make sure to read the mouse-over text)

Finally, this album shows considerable range as well as interest in different musical forms and beats. From the deep and introspective (Soundtrack 2 My Life, Solo Dolo, Sky Might Fall) to the bouncy and fun (Make Her Say) to the sweet and sensual (Enter Galactic) to the joyous and inspiring (Heart of a Lion, Alive, Pursuit of Happiness) and everything in between. The ups and downs of this album all fit into the same theme.

Needless to say, I really like this album, but is it for you? I'm not sure, but if you like Mos Def but would be into something that speaks more to internal struggle than interpersonal strife, you'll probably like it. If you like Kanye but, like me, would like to see him be less self-centered and superficial, you'll probably like it. If you like Daft Punk but sometimes wish they had less abstract lyrics, you'll probably like it. Finally, if you just like a nice, smooth, thoughtful album which you can listen to straight through, hear some interesting ideas and keep your toe tapping the whole time, then I think you'll love it.

Happy listening and, as always, Share & Enjoy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Medical Marijuana and Ulcerative Colitis

Medical marijuana...medicative mary jane......restorative reefer...curative cannabis...prescription pot...therapeutic THC...with-a-doctor's-note weed. (I could probably amuse myself thinking of this kind of play on words for hours, but since this is going to be a pretty long post as it is, I'll try to contain myself and keep it as brief as possible.)

It seems that the legalization of marijuana for recreational uses may actually happen in California, and legalization for medical uses is just around the corner in many states, including my home state of Maryland. This is, for the most part, what prompted me to write this up. Enjoy.

Part 1 - Why It's Okay for Pot to be Legal

If you want a more comprehensive, funnier version of this argument, I suggest you let Penn & Teller convince you on their Showtime program "Bullshit!" (for free here). In short, though, the so-called "War on Drugs" has failed and continues to fail and is taking millions of dollars in tax-payer money with it. As P&T point out, the "War on Drugs" was concocted by Richard Nixon to, among other reasons, distract the American public from the very real, very controversial war going on in Vietnam. P&T then show similarities between the WOD and Prohibition, which was the result of a movement spearheaded by various Protestants who felt that alcohol abuse was immoral and that, eventually, the only way to stop it was to make the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within...the United States...prohibited" (from the 18th Amendment). Of course, since a 20-30 year movement wasn't going to stop a 12,000 year old tradition of getting hammered, organized crime rings stepped in to provide alcohol illegal. Result: many innocent people died from turf wars, gang violence, and improperly made hooch. Sound familiar? Keep reading. Defenders of the current policy claim a "moral framework" which backs this "tough love" approach to drug abuse. They also claim that the program is succeeding based on their assertion that drug use has gone down. However, as Penn points out, "since 1994, marijuana use is up more than 62% among high school seniors" and cocaine and Ecstasy use is up as well. Well, then maybe we're just trying to lower the supply of "dangerous" drugs so less people have the opportunity to make the "wrong choice" by abusing drugs. Penn's got you there, too. For the same amount of money that it would cost to buy an amount of heroin in 1960 (before the WOD), you could buy 600 times that amount today. It's more available, and it's much much cheaper. But what about this "moral framework" stuff?

As many weed-puffing, beer-chugging college students have noticed, "What is the big fucking difference between marijuana and alcohol?" By any definition, alcohol is a drug and it is Americans' drug of choice. However, it is our right as Americans of legal age to get as drunk as we want, even to kill ourselves doing so, so long as we don't harm anyone else. As it should be. We should be educating people as to the dangers of alcohol abuse, but not telling them how much or whether they can drink. Similarly, there are dangers involved with drug use, but people should be educated as to these dangers instead of told they should "Just Say No", to quote Nancy Reagan. "Say no" to what? To reason? To freedom of choice?

Next we have the "gateway drug" argument, which claims that the first drug many heroin, cocaine, and crack users do is MJ. Well, as anyone can guess, that title falls to alcohol or tobacco. However, since those are legal and a part of our culture, I guess they're considered before the gateway.

Finally, let me say that marijuana is extremely safe (relative to other drugs, psychoactive and otherwise) and non-toxic. Whereas drugs like alcohol and even simple Tylenol will kill you if you take a little too much, this is virtually impossibly with THC (the main psychoactive substance in marijuana). In fact, scientists had trouble determining just how much it takes to kill a rat, monkey, etc. because it's so hard to ingest a lethal amount of THC, unless it is done intravenously. One estimate suggests that a human would have to smoke 1500 pounds of Cannabis in about 15 minutes in order receive a lethal dose of THC. Pay attention now, because this is important: In all of medical history there has NEVER been a single substantiated case of someone dying or sustaining permanent injuries as a result of marijuana overdose. (Check it here and here)

If you accept these ideas, at least as they pertain to marijuana, let's move on. Otherwise, watch the show, then feel free to comment.

Part 2 - Medical Use

First, know that much of medicine and pharmacology is aimed at alleviating symptoms, not curing diseases. With that in mind, I'll get right to the point. Marijuana has been shown to have over 250 medical applications (check out the Wikipedia page, and check their sources). This includes, but is not limited to, treatment of nausea, vomiting, PMS, lack of appetite, neurogenic pain, asthma, glaucoma, fibromyalgia, motor and vocal tics associated with Tourette's, ADHD, rheumatoid arthritis, colo-rectal cancer, Huntington's disease, sleep apnea, depression, autism, hepatitis C, leukemia, and the list just goes on and on. It has even shown to be useful in treating alcohol abuse and ulcerative colitis (more on that in just a minute). Check it out for yourself. This isn't just a small list of obscure afflictions. These are serious illness that cause pain, suffering and death every single day and for which marijuana can be used to, at least, alleviate symptoms and help patients deal with those conditions.

Part 3 - The Obstacles

At least some of the credit for the ideas in this section go to my roommate who first brought them to my attention. The major (non-cultural) obstacles to legalizing marijuana, at least for medical uses, are the interests that benefit from it being illegal. The first is the pharmaceutical industry which makes obscene amounts of money selling us pills. I feel like 95% of the drug commercials I see these days are for anti-depression medications which have a list of severe side-effects a mile long. Of course, depression is a very real problem and medication has helped many people, but the last thing the drug companies want is a single, relatively affordable, non-patentable drug to be on the market that can help treat 250+ ailments. They'd rather sell us a different pill for every problem.

The other group that benefits from the criminalization of marijuana is the current prison system. These days, many prisons are run by companies that contract with the government to hold inmates. There's money to be made (and lots of it) in keeping people locked away; the more people the better the profit. These companies would much prefer to fill their prisons with non-violent small-time users who get convicted on possession charges. Better that than a prison full of murderers and rapists, right? So, although our prison system is bursting at the seams, it's filled with people who don't deserve to be there and who are there for the wrong reason anyway.

Part 4 - My Place in All This

This is the last part, you're almost there.

As my astute readers might guess, I have a personal stake in all this as well. I'm a pretty average college student, I would say, in regards to pot and alcohol consumption. However, what brought this on was not my pursuit of a "good time". It was the realization that I've been dealing with ulcerative colitis (warning: icky) for about 10 years now. I won't go into the details in this post, but suffice to say, it is a somewhat debilitating disease that has no cure at this time, and which has effected my social, active, academic and work life in ways that I'm sure I don't even appreciate, since it's the only thing I really know. There are medications, but unfortunately I'm in a small minority of people for whom these medications actually make the disease worse rather than better. In my recent research on the matter I found testimonial after testimonial of people who have used marijuana to help them lead a more normal life, and indeed I have also experienced it firsthand, albeit illegally. This, along with the many other examples of people treating their pain and suffering and the evidence I have presented above, has convinced me that there is no moral or rational justification for the continued prohibition of marijuana for medical purposes.

If you still don't agree with me, please watch the episode of "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!", then feel free to leave a comment with your questions, concerns, evidence, and whatever else. Please, though, keep it civil. I don't want anyone's mellow to get harshed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wikipedia Wednesdays: Placebo Button

Some of my more anxious and astute readers may notice that this wasn't actually posted until Thursday. I had an extremely busy day yesterday and didn't get finished writing this until the next morning. Anyway, I assure you that the bulk of this article was written last night.

The idea for this post came a good friend of mine. It immediately struck a chord with me, though I still don't know how I really feel about it. Without further ado, the triumphant return of Wikipedia Wednesday with...

Placebo Button

As the article says this is "a push-button that appears to do something, but actually has no effect, like a placebo." A good example of this is a cross-walk button which actually does nothing because the lights always change regularly and pedestrians are allowed to cross during every cycle.

I think I had an experience with what I assume was a placebo button this summer. It was an elevator which was already pretty slow and so I was usually compelled to press the "Door Close" button. However, it seemed to have no bearing on how quickly the door closed, which was painfully slow. This, of course, did not actually function as a placebo because it was even more infuriating than the elevator would've been without the button at all, as you can imagine. Feel free to post any personal experiences you have with placebo buttons in the comments.

Share & Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back from a Long Break

Greetings, courteous reader! This summer was longer and busier than I had anticipated, and I seem to have fallen off the blog wagon (or perhaps gotten back on the laziness wagon). In any case, since school being back in session forces me to schedule my life more rigidly, I'll be doing my best to keep up with this whole endeavor. So that I don't spend this entire post apologizing for being lame, here are some things going on in my life that will probably find their way into a blog post or two:


In the fall semester of my final year in the UMBC American Studies department, I'm doing a lot of heavy stuff. Most of that will be my Senior Seminar, wherein I'll be learning about research methods and academic writing for the purpose of eventually writing a 20-25 page final research paper. The topic of the course this semester is political culture, but I have yet to nail down my specific focus for the paper. Additionally, I'm signed up to take my required Internship Seminar this semester. Again, I'm still tracking down an internship, but once I get started I'll probably start cross-posting items from the blog which I have to keep for the class portion. Finally, I'm taking TV in American Culture. So far, it's a fairly interesting class, and I'll probably be posting my thoughts on some TV Culture-related topics throughout the semester.

My other two classes are in Phys. Ed. (jogging and weight training), so I may bring that up at some point.

Not School

As I said above, I'll be going to an internship, so I might post about this in some sort of non-school context. Also, I may (hopefully) have some sort of job and, depending on what that ends up being, I may talk about that. I'll also be returning to the UMBC Ultimate Team (Booya Ultimate) for my third and final year and probably playing in some other venues as well. I can't say that I foresee a lot of Ultimate-related posts, but I'll keep my ear to the proverbial ground.

Finally, for those of you brave enough to have read all this boring filler, I'm interested in featuring some guest-posts. By now, I think the focus of this blog is pretty well-defined so I think you know the kind of topics I'd be looking for. Of course, I'm also open to new ideas. If you think you might like to contribute, shoot me an e-mail at daniel.paoletti@gmail.com letting me know what you'd like to write about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wikipedia Wednesday: Therizinosaurus

Sorry for doing another biology-related Wikipedia Wednesday. I think that about 70% of what blows my mind on Wikipedia is in the biological fields. The other 30% is mostly to do with technology and theoretical physics, but even I find that a little boring. Anyway,...


This is a dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous Period (about 70 million years ago) and, apart from being another big reptile that could frighten and/or kill us before we could say "life will find a way", it's a pretty average member of the genus Theropoda...except for its massive one-meter-long SCYTHE-LIKE claws. Ahhhhh!!! This thing looks like Wes Craven designed it to haunt our darkest dreams. Don't worry, though: like most therizinosaurs, it was probably herbivorous. Still, meter-long claws? The only practical purpose I can think of for such an exaggerated feature is to make Sam Neill pee his pants in half the time.

Share & Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Point(s) of Order

As some of my more astute readers have noticed, the post-finals content of this blog have been somewhat lacking. This is, of course, due to my laziness and not, in any way, related to the large amount of writing I had to do up until the end of the semester, the four-day trip to Columbus, OH that took place over the following weekend, or the 9- to 12-hour workdays that I am now enjoying.

Right now, I'm trying to work out a schedule that will keep me writing regularly and yet not force me to come up with content just for its own sake. To this end, I think I'm going to be imposing a twice, possibly thrice, weekly posting schedule. The days that I hope to come out with posts will probably be Sunday, Wednesday and (maybe) Fridays. This way, I can keep the Wikipedia Wednesdays going and have all weekend to think of something original and enlightening to say, rather than just copying my content from the backs of cereal boxes. If this goes well and doesn't seem like too much work, I'll start adding days to the schedule.

A Glimpse in the Future: As a means of atonement (or scapegoating) the next few posts will probably deal with the reasons I've been so busy the last few weeks. Therefore, look out for posts on subjects such as the UPA (Ultimate Players Association) College Nationals (which I attended), My New Job with a Moving Company, and The Topics of My Final Papers.