About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

September 22, 2015

Truth about Vaccines

The candidates have done their best to spread fear and falsehood to serve small political gains, an unfortunate tactic that could eventually account for thousands of deaths.

The truth, written by Michael Specter in The New Yorker and bolstered by what little authority I have as a physician, thus might be worth repeating:
It is sad to have to write this, when it should be clear by now, but here it is: vaccines are the most successful medical intervention in the history of humanity. They have prevented millions of deaths. They are a triumph of human ingenuity and of our desire to alleviate suffering. 
There are not too many. They are not administered too soon. They do not cause autism or allergies or cancer. The only thing “too bunched up” about vaccines, as a matter of fact, are the falsehoods and deliberate misconceptions spread by demagogues and then endorsed by people like Carson and Paul, both of whom should—and almost certainly do—know better.

By the way, for anyone interested in autism, a common and misunderstood condition, NeuroTribes; the Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman is fascinating reading. 

September 8, 2015

The Gretna Shooting

I'm trying to sort out my feelings on the day after a tragic event in Mt. Gretna. 

I didn't know Stacey, an attractive 46-year-old single mother of two teenaged boys. She owned and operated the "Gretna Emporium" and was there every morning of the summer, setting out onto the porch a wide array of statues, yard art, plants, toys, flags, and gifts to tempt the crowds heading for ice cream or just wandering around this distinctive community, many probably on their first visit, astounded by its fairy-tale cottages, majestic trees, or strains of Janáček's music wafting from the Playhouse. 

Stacey joined in Gretna life, especially children's lives as a volunteer for the children's part of the Annual Art Show. She and Chuck, proprietor of the next-door "Jigger Shop" Ice Cream Parlor exchanged morning greetings almost daily as they prepared their businesses for opening. I'm sure some in our audiences have wandered into both of them before or after concerts in the Playhouse about 100 yards up the hill.

Stacey and a boyfriend were seen last summer at real estate Open Houses. They seemed like a "nice loving couple." Because both lived in far eastern sections of Lebanon County, perhaps they were thinking of marrying or living together in a Gretna cottage closer to Stacey's business. 

In December the boyfriend was convicted of domestic violence -- "he beat her up" a neighbor said -- and jailed. Stacey filed a 3-year "Protection from Abuse." Court sentencing was scheduled for tomorrow. 

As I drove back yesterday to Gretna from taking musicians to the train station in Elizabethtown, police cars streaked past toward Gretna, ending up at the Jigger Shop. We soon learned that as Stacey and Chuck were opening their businesses for the last day of the season, a man parked his car beside the Emporium and got out with a 357 magnum. Seeing him coming Stacey ran for help toward the Jigger Shop, only to by followed and shot in the side of her head. After she fell the man shot her again point blank in the face. 

Chuck on the Jigger Shop deck, a mere 10 feet away, shouted to his workers, some of them teenagers, to "get down" and then to run for cover out the back door. As the man headed for another door of the Jigger Shop, Chuck locked it, exited the back, called 911, and watched from cover as the man sat down on a bench. Eventually he arose, pointed the gun at his temple, and pulled the trigger. The ex-boyfriend eventually died at the Medical Center.

Scene of the crime: Emporium straight ahead, Jigger Shop to left. Stacey was shot in front of the bench to the right. The shooter tried to enter the Jigger Shop, then sat on the bench for a minute or two, then stood and shot himself in the right temple.

Since events like this happen up to 80 times each day somewhere in the US, this one probably won't get much more coverage. Just another unfortunate consequence of the 'freedom' we enjoy to "exercise our Second-amendment rights." Indeed, a small price to pay for that freedom, or, as they say around here, "You'll have this." Or we will hear, "We need to do better in treating the mentally ill, locking up criminals, and enforcing the law."

The elephant in the room, however, is the serious infestation of guns in our society, far more serious than in most other countries. If dozens of people died in the US each day from virulent salmonella in Big Macs, you can be sure authorities would take all possible measures to end that, aggressively and immediately. We acted after smoking was revealed as a cause of cancer. We further curtailed our freedom by mandating seat belts, greatly reducing deaths and injury. We require drivers' tests before granting a license.

Gun violence too is a public health problem. The reality that "more guns = more homicides" has been proven beyond any doubt. The idea that the clumsily-written Second Amendment assures individual possession of guns would have been laughable to any pre-NRA Supreme Court. 

In this case I can't imagine any human behavior more selfish or any means to the same end more cowardly than the use of a gun.

Adam Gopnik wrote recently in The New Yorker,
On gun violence and how to end it, the facts are all in, the evidence is clear, the truth there for all who care to know it—indeed, a global consensus is in place, which, in disbelief and now in disgust, the planet waits for us to join. Those who fight against gun control, actively or passively, with a shrug of helplessness, are dooming more kids to horrible deaths and more parents to unspeakable grief just as surely as are those who fight against pediatric medicine or childhood vaccination. It’s really, and inarguably, just as simple as that.