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Magnetic treatment for depression?

May 4, 2010 — A controversial new treatment for depression, rTMS, helps some patients, a rigorous government-funded study finds.

The treatment is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. It’s basically an electromagnet. When applied to the skull just behind the left forehead, the device induces a tiny electric current in a part of the brain linked to depression.

Because the device carries little risk, the FDA in October 2008 cleared the device for treatment of major clinical depression in adults who got no relief from first-line antidepressant treatment. But questions remained about whether the device really helps depression.

Ah, ha, ha!  I’ve seen this one before:

In a fortuitous little follow-on from yesterday’s discussion of the topless young ladies of Maine, my attention was grabbed by this article on the death of embarrassment.  A sample:

Many people see the decline of embarrassment as a good thing. “Why shouldn’t I be able to do X?” people often say after having done something outrageous or transgressive.  But this misunderstands the distinction between embarrassment – a mild but necessary correction of inappropriate behavior – and shame, which is a stronger emotional response usually involving feelings of guilt about more serious breaches of conduct.

Today, what used to cause embarrassment now elicits little more than a collective shrug.  In our eagerness to broadcast our authentic experiences and have our individuality endorsed, we reject embarrassment as if it were some fusty trapping of a bygone age.  But we haven’t eliminated embarrassment; we have only upped the ante.  “Your slip is showing” used to be the most embarrassing sartorial faux pas a lady could commit.  Now we regularly witness “nip slip” from female celebrities whose shirts mysteriously migrate south during public appearances – or during Super Bowl halftime shows. As the boundary between public and private has dissolved, so too has our ability to distinguish between embarrassing and appropriate public behavior.  The result is a society often bewildered by attempts to impose any standards at all.

Unlike many other emotions, embarrassment must be learned.  Infants know nothing of this emotion, and parents often use the threat of embarrassment to teach young children correct and incorrect behavior:  “If you say that in public, you’ll embarrass yourself,” we say to the toddler with a penchant for scatological chitchat.  Embarrassment is also a social emotion; its occurrence requires the real or imagined presence of others. Belch at a dinner party and you will likely feel embarrassed; do it while home alone and you’re unlikely to feel abashed.  Because it is a learned behavior grounded in social relations, embarrassment is a kind of barometer for a society’s notions of civility.

I sincerely hope whoever it was who first came up with the idea of “authentic individuality” (was it Rousseau?) gets his own special level of hell packed to the brim with people being authentically individualistic, and see how much he likes it.

Embarrassment, along with its stronger counterpart, shame, are part of the social fabric that keeps us all from ripping each other to shreds.  Yes, it’s artificial.  Yes, it has to be taught.  But so what?  That certainly doesn’t make it any less valid or crucial.  (The nobility of “Natural Man” is just about the most perniciously fraudulent idea ever to appear in Western philosophy.)  And although whether one belchs at a dinner party may not seem all that great a matter in itself, I think that the more permissive about smaller transgressions a society becomes, the greater the corrosive effect on its ability to take seriously the larger matters.  Lack of embarrassment leads to lack of shame, and eventually, that fellah isn’t going to be belching in front of your dinner, he’s going to be stealing it.

The fact of the matter is that a society cannot survive without these restraints on the individual.  And in this Age of Narcissus, I often wonder how long we can last.

By the way, I’m reminded of that line from Lawrence of Arabia where Alec Guinness’ Prince Feisal says, “With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.”

I don’t believe I mentioned it here, but my little contribution to this year’s Earth Day was to fail my emissions inspection.  I half expected it, as the engine light had been coming on and off since midwinter and she’d started to idle rough.  But being a procrastinator at heart, I put off doing anything about it until the week before my registration expired, hoping the problem might go away on its own.

Although I have had my Jeep for seven years now, she only has 35K miles on her.  Which gives you some idea of how much driving I do in her.  It also suggested both to me and to the garage guy that the emissions code he was getting was due to a sensor fault.

Well, last Friday I dropped the old girl off at the dealership.  Yes, they said after looking her over, it was a sensor malfunction.  They also said something about carbon build up in the throttle control and how it would need to be flushed out.  Bang goes 500 jimmy-o-goblins.  (And you wonder why I waited?)

“Oh, well,” I said, “At least you can go ahead and redo the emissions test while you’ve got her, right?”

“Oh, no,” they said. “We can’t do a new test until you’ve driven around for a while.  Probably about 45 miles or so.  The way to see if it’s ready is to flip on the dashboard signals.  If the engine light starts flashing after a few seconds, that means it isn’t ready yet and you’ll have to drive some more.  But 45 miles ought to do it.”

Now for some reason, ever since I was a little boy I have absolutely loathed the concept of simply “going for a drive.”  To me, the road always represents the line from point A to point B.  Mere meandering or just “looking around” gives me the willies.

Nonetheless, I tried to make the most of it.  Saturday was simply too chock-a-block with commitments to get out on the road, but Sunday morning I chucked my usual blood pressure-spiking session of adult forum at RFEC in favor of a tool down the GW Parkway to Mount Vernon and back.

Of course, Sunday was already the beginning of May, which meant that my registration and tags were now expired, so the whole time I found myself trying to figure out a way to explain to the cop who might pull me over how it was necessary for me to drive on expired tags in order to get new tags.   Fortunately, my powers of persuasion were not put to the test, as I made the trip without incident.

The round trip to Mount Vernon on the GW from the top end is just about 45 miles or so, which I thought the neatest of things.  However, when I got back and went to check on la Jeep’s readiness for her inspection, I got……flashing engine light.

Hmmmm, I thought.

Well, never mind.  It was my job after Mass to go pick up the middle gel from her ice-skating lesson.  The round trip would be another twenty-odd miles in the other direction, and surely that would be enough?

No dice.  Returning to the port-swiller residence, I got…..more flashing engine light.

By now, I was beginning to become irked.

Came yesterday and I was far too busy with filing a pleading to mess about with the car.  I couldn’t park her at the metro, where she’d be a sitting duck for a ticket, so she stayed home while Mrs. Robbo ran me to the metro and back.  (And God bless Mrs. R, who had to violently rearrange her own schedule to come get me late, not only doing so, but also stopping on the way home to pick up food and drink and not uttering a single word of complaint the whole time.)

This morning I was back on the road, making another long loop to nowhere and back, this time fighting commuter traffic on the homeward leg.  However, when I stopped for coffee and a quick check……success!  Immediately, I dashed back off to the gas station, passed the inspection and nipped home to reregister with the DMV on-line.

Total useless miles driven in order to get the sensor ready? About 120.  All in the name of environmental protection.

So where is the Jeep now? At the metro.  I taped a copy of my new, temporary registration to the inside of the windshield.  Hopefully it will be enough to keep Fairfax County’s Finest from dinging me until my new plate stickers show up.

Now if you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “Geesh, Tom, this is one seriously trivial post!”  To which I would answer maybe so, but there is a special kind of satisfaction to sorting out these minor irritants and getting back to normal.  I’ve had a whole truckload of this kind of thing to deal with since Easter and I am finally, finally beginning to see an end to them.

Probably just in time for the next batch, of course.  Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus, except that where he had one big rock to roll up the hill, I have a bunch of little marbles to manage.


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May 2010