Saturday, February 08, 2014

Fun Photos

I just bought a new Canon 50 mm lens, and am having fun playing with it.  It's a fixed lens, so I'm having to move my feet.  We are leaving for Belize in a few weeks, so I hope to get some amazing shots with this lens.  In the meantime, here are two recent ones.  The first is a shot of our little 4-year-old granddaughter who wants to do everything herself - including painting her toenails.

And this one is of our little calico cat, Baby.  She has taken to cuddling up on my soft throw on the couch at night while we are watching TV.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Gun Report One Year Later

Joe Nocera of the New York Times began working with Jennifer Mascia right after the Newtown shootings last year.  What a grueling task they set themselves!  It must be difficult to read day after day of deaths that occur all over our country.  No state is exempt.  And yet, after all these numbers have been compiled, evidence that cannot be contradicted, absolutely nothing has been done by our Congress.  Years from now, when history looks back at this time in America, I cannot imagine what people will think of our Barbarian society.

Joe Nocera   FEB. 3, 2014
It has been a year since my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I started publishing The Gun Report, an effort to use my blog to aggregate daily gun violence in America. Our methodology is pretty simple: We do a Google News search each weekday morning for the previous day’s shootings and then list them. Most days, we have been finding between 20 and 30 shootings; on Mondays, when we also add the weekend’s violence, the number is usually well over 100.

From the start, we knew we were missing a lot more incidents than we found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after all, says that nearly 32,000 people are killed by guns each year. Slate, the online magazine, which tried to tally every gun death in the year after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., arrived at a number of 12,042, far higher than ours. (We include gun injuries as well as gun deaths.)

Part of the issue, as Slate has noted, is that it is impossible to track suicides using news media accounts — and suicides, according to the C.D.C., account for some 60 percent of gun deaths. But it was also obvious that a Google News search was bound to miss plenty of examples; that’s just the nature of the beast. Comprehensiveness was never really the point, though. Mostly we were trying to get a feel for the scale and scope of gun violence in America. A year later, it seems like a good time to take stock.

First, the biggest surprise, especially early on, was how frequently either a child accidentally shot another child — using a loaded gun that happened to be lying around — or an adult accidentally shot a child while handling a loaded gun. I have written about this before, mainly because these incidents seem so preventable. Gun owners simply need to keep their guns locked away. Indeed, one pro-gun reader, Malcolm Smith, told me that after reading “about the death toll, especially to children” in The Gun Report, he had come to believe that some gun regulation was necessary. He now thinks gun owners should be licensed and “should have to learn how to store guns safely.” No doubt he’ll be drummed out of the National Rifle Association for expressing such thoughts.

Second, the N.R.A. shibboleth that having a gun in one’s house makes you safer is demonstrably untrue. After The Gun Report had been up and running for a while, several Second Amendment advocates complained that we rarely published items that showed how guns were used to prevent a crime. The reason was not that we were biased against crime prevention; it was that it didn’t happen very often. (When we found such examples, we put them in The Gun Report.) More to the point, there are an increasing number of gun deaths that are the result of an argument — often fueled by alcohol — among friends, neighbors and family members. Sadly, cases like the recent shooting in a Florida movie theater — when one man killed someone who was texting during the previews — are not all that uncommon.

Third, gang shootings are everywhere. You see it in the big cities, like Chicago, Detroit and Miami, and you see it in smaller cities in economic decline like Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Drive-by shootings are prevalent in California, especially Los Angeles and Fresno. As often as gang members shoot each other, they kill innocent victims, often children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Among the readers who post daily comments to The Gun Report are a number of gun rights advocates. What has been astonishing to me is the degree to which they tend to dismiss inner-city violence, as if to say that such killings are unavoidable. The code word they often use is “demographics.”

It is unquestionably true that the most gun homicides occur in the inner cities — the anecdotes we collect in The Gun Report are confirmed by such studies as a May 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. And, yes, plenty of them are the result of gang violence. But why should that make them any less lamentable, or preventable?

There are an estimated 300 million guns in America, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But to read The Gun Report is to be struck anew at the reality that most of the people who die from guns would still be alive if we just had fewer of them. The guys in the movie theater would have had a fistfight instead of a shooting. The momentary flush of anger would pass. The suicidal person might have taken a pause if taking one’s life were more difficult. And on, and on. The idea that guns, on balance, save lives — which is one of the most common sentiments expressed in the pro-gun comments posted to The Gun Report — is ludicrous.

On the contrary: The clearest message The Gun Report sends is the most obvious. Guns make killing way too easy.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

CDC Classifies Overdoses From Opiates and Heroin As An Epidemic

It is amazing to me that in the President's State of the Union address, in Jon Stewart's interview with Nancy Pelosi, or in any of the other political coverage recently, not one mention has been made of what I consider to be two of the greatest challenges facing our country today: the number of children and adults who are killed by guns every day, and the heroin epidemic sweeping the country.  I can't understand how our elected officials can keep arguing about everything else and ignore this.

To the Editor:

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death puts a very public face on an epidemic health condition that is ravaging families across New York and the United States (“Actor’s Heroin Points to Surge in Grim Trade,” front page, Feb. 4).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified overdoses associated with prescription opiates and heroin as an epidemic. The loss of life and the impact on communities across the country have been front-page news. There is little debate that there is a significant cause for alarm.

Unfortunately, state legislatures and policy makers have failed to address this public health crisis with prevention, treatment and recovery supports adequate to reverse its impact.

We will make progress only when there is increased prevention and education targeting at-risk populations, widespread availability of Naloxone to reverse the symptoms of an overdose, treatment on demand and services to help people in recovery to stay in recovery. Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont is to be praised for his leadership on this issue. We need others to join him.

Executive Director
Alcoholism and Substance Abuse
Providers of New York State
Albany, Feb. 4, 2014

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Can We Genetically Modify Poppies?

Within 48 hours of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, the police arrested four people with more than 350 bags of heroin.  Is it probable that, prior to Hoffman's death, the police knew nothing about this dealer a mile away from Hoffman's apartment? If a dealer with this much heroin can operate without the police's knowledge, then we are doing a poor job of trying to find and put away drug dealers.  If authorities find the dealer than sold the heroin to Hoffman, he/she should be tried for first-degree murder.  I am so sick of the cops locking up the 19-year-old victim for being caught with a piece of tin foil, and not doing anything about the dealer that is selling to multiple victims. 

Perhaps scientists can develop a genetically-modified poppy seed that will destroy the plant's ability to destroy our children! 

Four people were arrested in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday evening with more than 350 bags of heroin as part of the investigation into the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, a law enforcement official said.

Narcotics investigators executed search warrants in three apartments in a building at 302 Mott Street on Tuesday evening, the official said. Three men and a woman were arrested, and the investigators recovered the bags of heroin inside the apartments.

Information stemming from the investigation into Mr. Hoffman’s death led them to the building, the official said. Mr. Hoffman, widely considered one of the best actors of his generation, died on Sunday in an apparent heroin overdose.

He was found dead with a needle in his arm in a West Village apartment, about a mile from where the arrests took place. Near Mr. Hoffman’s body, the police found dozens of packages of heroin, some branded with the label “Ace of Spades” or with an ace of hearts.
The bags that were found during the arrests on Tuesday did not have those types of labels, the official said. The investigation was continuing, police officials said.

Earlier Tuesday, police officials said that the heroin found in Mr. Hoffman’s apartment did not contain fentanyl, a powerful additive that has been tied to 22 recent fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania. The city medical examiner had not yet reached a definitive cause of death for the actor.

Preliminary tests of the heroin found “no traces of fentanyl,” said Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, adding that investigators had taken a representative sample of the substances found in the apartment in reaching that conclusion.

As the investigation into the actor’s death continued, Mr. Hoffman’s family released a statement outlining plans for a private funeral service for “the family and close friends.”

The statement said “plans were also underway for a memorial service later in the month also to be held in New York,” though no details were provided.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

When Are We Going to Start Doing Something About This Epidemic?

Detectives found dozens of small packages in the West Village apartment where Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor, died on Sunday. Most were branded, some with purple letters spelling out Ace of Spades, others bearing the mark of an ace of hearts. At least five were empty, and in the trash.

Each of the packages, which can sell for as little as $6 on the street, offered a grim window into Mr. Hoffman’s personal struggle with a resurgent addiction that ultimately, the police said, proved fatal. And the names and logos reflect a fevered underground marketing effort in a city that is awash in cheap heroin.
Heroin seizures in New York State are up 67 percent over the last four years, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said. Last year, the agency’s New York office seized 144 kilograms of heroin, nearly 20 percent of its seizures nationwide, valued at roughly $43 million. One recent raid, in the Bronx last week, netted 33 pounds of heroin and hundreds of thousands of branded bags, some stamped “N.F.L.,” a timely nod to the Super Bowl.

From 2010 to 2012, after several years of decline, heroin-related overdose deaths increased 84 percent in New York City to 382, according to the Health Department statistics. Staten Island, where prescription drug addiction has been especially virulent, has the city’s highest rate of heroin overdoses, though a connection has not been established.

Bags bearing different stamps turn up in raids of large-scale heroin mills around the city.
They are named for popular celebrities or luxury products, or the very thoroughfares along which the drugs travel: Lady Gaga. Gucci. I-95. They reflect an increasingly young and middle-class clientele, who often move from prescription pills to needles: Twilight. MySpace. And they often indicate little about the quality or purity of the product, which is diluted with baking soda or, in some cases, infant laxatives, officials said.

To be sure, there is variety, especially in potency and reliability. Recently, 22 people died in and around Pittsburgh after overdosing from a batch of heroin mixed with fentanyl, a powerful opiate usually found in patches given to cancer patients. Heroin containing fentanyl, which gives a more intense but potentially more dangerous high, has begun to appear in New York City, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for Bridget G. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor for the city. An undercover officer bought fentanyl-laced heroin on Jan. 14 from a dealer in the Bronx, she said. The dealer did not warn of the mixture, which is not apparent to the user; subsequent testing revealed it. (The patches themselves had turned up in drug seizures in the city before, she said.)

Ultimately, users have no way to be sure what they’re buying. “There’s no F.D.A. approval; it’s made however they decide to make it that day,” Ms. Brennan said. The same shipment of heroin may be packaged under several different labels, she said. “At the big mills, we’ll seize 20 stamps. It’s all the same.”

Far from plaguing only big cities, heroin has emerged as a grave concern in places like Vermont, where last month the governor devoted his entire State of the State message to what he said was “a full-blown heroin crisis”there.

But almost as long as there has been heroin in the United States, New York City has been its hub. Certainly much has changed since the 1970s, when addicts flooded shooting galleries and flashy drug traffickers like Nicky Barnes, known as Mr. Untouchable, became household names. The drug is still smuggled into the country from faraway poppy fields, still cut from kilo-size quantities in hothouse operations secreted around the city, still diluted in coffee grinders and still sold to needy consumers.

Various brands, too, have been around for decades. “There always have been markings going back as far as Nicky Barnes,” said James J. Hunt, the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office. “Now the difference is that the addicts you see a lot are young suburban kids starting on prescription drugs, and they graduate to heroin.”

The trade has become more organized, officials said, from the top to the bottom. Delivery services abound for those who can afford a dealer who arrives at the door with a grab bag of drugs. Highly organized mills have been found in middle-class city areas like Riverdale, in the Bronx, and Fort Lee, N.J., or, in one case, in a Midtown Manhattan apartment near the Lincoln Tunnel. Such locations draw less scrutiny from potential robbers, and often provide ready access to major roads for deliveries up and down the Eastern corridor.

“It’s like somebody setting up a big production factory in China and the product is going to go out through to the world,” Ms. Brennan said. “That’s how I look at these production mills that we’re seeing in New York. Some will stay here in the city, but it’s mostly intended for distribution.” (A $6 bag in the city could fetch as much as $30 or $40 in parts of New England, authorities have said.)

Some officials fear that efforts to drive down abuse of prescription medications could be contributing to rising heroin use in New York City, as it has in places like Maine.

“What we’re seeing, as pills become more difficult to access, is a shift to the black market and heroin,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation, a drug-treatment center, and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “It’s not easy to get the opioid genie back into the bottle.”

It is a cycle that friends of Mr. Hoffman, who was 46, said may have recently taken hold in his life as well.

Last year, he checked into a rehabilitation program for about 10 days, a move that came after a reliance on prescription pills led to a return to heroin, after what he said had been a clean period spanning two decades.

The Police Department on Monday said detectives were working to track down the origin of the substances Mr. Hoffman used, though a police official conceded it could be difficult to determine. “Just because it’s a name brand doesn’t mean that anyone has an exclusive on that name,” the official said. “Ace of Spades; I would venture to say that someone else has used that name.”

The ace of hearts logo has appeared in at least one case in the city, the police said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it had seen “Ace of Spades” branding in a 2009 drug case on Long Island. It has been seen in photographs of heroin packages at least as far back as 2005.
Investigators will also test the paraphernalia found near Mr. Hoffman, as well as the syringe found in his left arm, to determine whether the mixture he consumed had been adulterated in any way, the official said. Results from those tests were expected sooner than the toxicology tests by the city medical examiner.

For law enforcement officials, Mr. Hoffman’s death was a stark reminder of the dangers inherent in a highly addictive drug that ravaged urban communities in the 1970s.

“People who study drug trends talk about generational amnesia,” said Ms. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor. “We’re now 40 years out from our last major heroin epidemic and I think people have lost their memory of that drug’s devastation.”

Indeed, she said, some of the most common heroin brands suggest as much: Grim Reaper; a skull and crossbones; D.O.A.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Acting Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

It was with great sadness that I read about the death of one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman.  His ability to transform himself into other "characters" (people) may have been what lead to his death.  I have long suspected that playing toxic roles poisons an actor's brain, but until now I have never seen any suggestions in the media that my idea might be correct.  Not that I saw anything like this doctor's conclusions in the news reports about Hoffman; I found this blog by Googling "Actors and Reality."  Of course, I don't want to make generalizations.  Not every entertainer who has died from alcohol or drug overdose had performed in dark and/or disturbing roles.  But two others come to mind: James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, and Nancy Marchand, who played his mother.  For six seasons, Gandolfini portrayed Tony Soprano's painful anxiety attacks and very dark depression.  And Marchand's character, Livia, had narcissistic personality disorder - a fancy term for someone who is evil and wicked.  Is it too much of a stretch to believe that playing these roles could have had a real physical effect on the actors?  I don't think so.  

"A source close to the actor revealed that Hoffman was spending $10,000 a month on heroin and the prescription drug, Oxycontin."  (

Is There a Blir Between Acting and Reality?
Dr. Masha Godkin (Online Therapy with Dr. Masha Blog)

One of the various explanations for why actors often struggle with problems such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse could be connected to the nature of the acting profession. Could there be a confusion between what is reality and what is acting, on  a subconscious level?

Acting ”As If”

There’s a famous expression called “fake it til you make it.” In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), this is called acting “as if.” So for example someone dealing with depression is instructed to act in a cheerful manner ( i.e. pretending to be self-confident by walking with shoulders back, or smiling even when the inclination may be to frown.)

What happens when an actor must dive into a difficult role? Perhaps the character has an addiction or a mental disorder.  A great deal of time is spent filming. During this time, the actor must get into the characters shoes. The actor feels all of the intense emotions of the character. Once filming of the movie finishes, then what?  Is it easy to let go of the emotions accessed for the part? The actor can of course, on a rational level, understand that it was just a role, and not who they are in real life. But what occurs on the subconscious level?  Can the brain become rewired?

Cells That Fire Together Wire Together

Hebb’s rule in neuroscience explains this rewiring. The rule is that cells that fire together, wire together. So if an individual continually tells him or herself that he/she is not a worthwile person,  that will at one point turn into an automatic thought. Or if an individual repeatedly experiences the emotions connected to certain states of minds, those emotions will be felt without conscious awareness eventually.  In other words, act depressed on a consistent basis, feel the emotions of hurt, sadness, etc. time and time again, and a habit can be formed. Those negative emotions will come up without trying. Emotions are a product of thoughts.  An actor may think back to past frustrations, traumas and  disappointments  in order to get into a depressed state of mind. The thoughts that trigger these emotions could include something like : ” I don’t deserve good things, I’m not a lovable person, I’m just going to be abandoned in the end etc.” "What the Bleep Do We Know"

It’s not simple to change thoughts and emotional states.An emotional state can be addictive! It requires consistent effort. I like to use an analogy: an actor may be required to gain a significant amount of weight for a part. Once filming is over, is the weight lost immediately? Or does it require  some effort to lose it with a plan that might include diet and exercise? “Rewiring” brain cells takes just as much hard work.

The Highs and Lows of Being a Perfomer

Performing can be exciting and fulfilling. It can be a great “high” to receive praise for a role well-played. But what happens if it’s not all praise? Or what about when it ends? It isn’t possible to be in the spotlight all the time.  Performers are very creative individuals. They possess a gift. However, with that gift, there frequently comes a price- a level of vulnerability, a sensitvity level that is elevated. A performer may deal with issues related to self-esteem. Being an entertainer involves facing multiple stressors. And for many in the industry, the  maladaptive coping mechanism becomes turning to drugs,alcohol or other addictive behavior.

I welcome any thoughts you may have on this topic.