Crystal Ball

It is the year 2035, and one court case is receiving a whole lot of attention: Average vs Doe. The facts of the case seem simple. Back in 2020 Joe Average got married to Mary Doe-Average. Just last year, Mary tragically succumbed to cervical cancer. Doctors were able to trace her cancer to Human Papilloma Virus.

When Mary was a pre-teen, her parents John and Jane Doe decided they would not consent to her receiving the vaccine for HPV, despite the fact that her school encouraged all incoming 7th graders to get this vaccination. Their reasoning was that they were not going to do anything that would encourage her to have premarital sex. Unfortunately, Mary was raped as a teenager. Despite the fact that Mary and Joe had a completely monogamous relationship, Mary got HPV as a result of that rape.

Joe is suing the Does for wrongful death and a bunch of other things his lawyers thought up. His reasoning is that his beloved Mary would still be with him today if it weren’t for a short-sighted decision by her parents. The Does argue that they had no control over what happened.

How do you think this will play out?

In Closing: more spying on Americans; a couple of hopefully last words on vaccines.

Music Monday: In which I misuse Tom Petty


There’s been quite a lot of talk about, between, and across those that think vaccinations are wonderful lifesaving technology, and those that don’t. And for those who are saying “What’s the big deal? Measles are just a rash!” Roald Dahl has some words for you. Here’s one of the better summaries.

Let me briefly put my position out there: vaccines save lives; herd immunity saves the lives of those who are too young or sick for vaccines, as well as those for whom the vaccine didn’t work as well as it should. The risks associated with the currently available vaccines are tiny compared to the risks of being hit by lightning. Vegas is uncomfortably close to Disneyland, has its own supposedly unrelated case of measles, and 3 cases of whooping cough in one high school. All preventable.

Today’s latest round — politicians have waded into the fray. Should we then call it Measlesgate? Vaxgate? Maybe just Stupidgate. So the President went on the record as saying the sensible thing: “You should get your kids vaccinated.” The crowd that would argue about the American flag being Red White and Blue if the Kenyan Muslim Usurper President said so immediately swung into action! They couldn’t come out and say “No no no, vaccinations are dangerous,” because that would be too stupid. Instead, two people who want to run for President in 2016, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, said that parents should be able to make the choice for themselves about whether to vaccinate their kids. Dr. Dean is not amused.

Ok, let’s talk about parental choice and child safety. When it comes to keeping children safe, the law doesn’t allow certain choices. Parents aren’t allowed to choose whether to use a car seat for a baby, or whether their older children use seat belts. Parent’s aren’t allowed to choose to withhold medical care they don’t agree with in most states — even when the “child” is the one making the decision. We don’t let parents choose to do things that are known to put a child in danger (except let them play football, of course). The idea that parents should be able to choose to endanger their children (and those around them) is ludicrous.

In short, this is yet another argument where the facts just don’t support two sides to the issue.

In Closing: they hate us for our freedoms; Greece and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; yeah, that ain’t happening; no kidding; stereotypes; and Evangeline.

In honor of flu season…

Ok, so by now everyone knows that this year’s flu vaccine isn’t quite as effective as would be desirable. By the way, that’s because the flu virus changes (read: evolves!) quickly. There’s still a few things you can do to reduce your chance of getting the flu. One of the biggest things is almost free and you won’t even need a doctor: wash your hands regularly.

Hand washing — a controversial yet effective technique since 1846. I wish I didn’t have to point out that it’s a good habit.

In Closing: a few items about terror, the internet, and security; point, partially refuted.



Some years ago, I read a book called the Inner Game of Music. In a manner of speaking, it was about getting out of your own way. Oddly enough, one of the things that stuck with me about this book was a peculiar concept: giving yourself permission to fail. Apparently many people have learned this lesson from many sources.

So yes, it can be a good habit to permit ourselves to fail. And although I am far from the first person to explore the concept, I would like to share why I think it is so.

Paying attention to failure teaches how to succeed. Of course, this only applies when we pay attention, and fail “mindfully.” The truth is that most of us fail a time or two when we are learning something new. One anecdote from the Inner Game of Music relays how when a pair of musicians tried to isolate when their duet went awry, suddenly it was perfect! When we pay attention to how, when, and why we fail, we come up with solutions.

Failure teaches us about ourselves and about reality. How we react to failure can give us insight to who we really are — but again, only if we are willing to pay attention. But more importantly, failure can be the beginning of discovery! Or, as Isaac Asimov put it, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny…'” Consider Alexander Fleming discovering that the “contamination” in his bacterial culture was actually exactly the exact bacteria-killer he’d been looking for. If he hadn’t been willing to learn, he might have thrown away that specimen and never discovered that antibiotic.

Sometimes, our failures fail spectacularly! No, I’m not talking about all those online videos we’ve watched many times of people doing stupid things on skateboards or motorcycles. I’m talking about a failure that turns out for the best. My favorite example occurred in the original Iron Chef series. Chen Kenichi was the chef who specialized in Chinese cuisine (a footnote, his father invented “shrimp in chili sauce”). A French challenger chef decided to take on Kenichi-san rather than the show’s French specialist, perhaps thinking this gave him an advantage. The secret ingredient was yogurt, unused in Chinese cuisine. You can see for yourself: between 8:30 and 9:00 minutes into the video, Kenichi-san gives himself permission to fail. After all, he’s never used this stuff, never even tasted it. But freed from the need to succeed, he experiments and innovates his way into one of his most memorable wins.

There’s nothing wrong with failing now and again, as long as you aren’t doing something colossally dangerous.

In Closing: milk fail; chart fail; vax fail (don’t do this one); wedding fail; jobs report fail; weight loss fail; just, fail; patient confidentiality fail; accidental paleontology win!

Back to School Time is Back to the Vaccine Debate Time

So my local CBS affiliate is trying real hard to do the fair-and-balanced two-sides-of-every-issue thing.

In one corner, we have a highly respected local pediatrician who works in a local hospital pointing out that he’s seen 4 cases of whooping cough in the last 2 months, adding “Vaccines are one of the most important advances in the field of pediatrics in the last fifty years….”

In the other corner, we have a “Holistic Physician” — whose degree, source of expertise, and workplace are undisclosed — saying whoa, just hold on a minute, there are “factors to take into consideration as to if you should vaccinate, when you should vaccinate and what are the alternatives to vaccination.” Apparently “holistic physicians” believe you can prevent measles and other diseases with a proper diet. Seriously.

A little research shows that this “doctor” is a chiropractor, with online reviews that range from good, up to “sounds like it might have been written by a staffer”, down to abysmal. As nearly as I can tell, the scope of practice for chiropractors in Nevada does not include prescribing rights or the ability to perform injections. That would of course include administration of vaccines. At least he’s not a “Naturopathic Physician.” Remember kids, ND means Not a Doctor.

At least nobody brought up that discredited “research” showing vaccines “cause” autism.

Look folks, here’s the alternative to vaccines: your kid could get sick and possibly die from a completely preventable disease. Vaccination doesn’t take long to do, the complication rate is very low, and your kid’s school probably requires it anyway. In this day and age of protecting kids from the imaginary predator around every corner, what excuse is there for not getting it done?

So what’s next, local news? What topic can you pretend there are two sides to present and take up a few minutes of airtime? Here’s an idea for you: Murder! Police and safety experts say it’s bad, but killers say some people just gotta get whacked. You decide!

In closing: “Hey, calm down!”



No Reason to Subscribe to Fortune

Let’s cut to the meat:

[I]f America fails to enact historic, structural reforms in spending, an entirely new source of revenue will be needed. And it’s likely to be enacted in haste and near-panic, as the only option to forestalling a crisis. “The gap between revenues and outlays will be simply too large,” says J.D. Foster, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former budget official under President George W. Bush. “Three points of GDP need to be closed to make budgets sustainable. Either government spending gets back near where it used to be, or we’ll need an completely new type of tax.”

The new levy will need to be big, so big that the most probable choice is a European-style value-added tax or VAT. That looming revenue machine is the phantom in the room, the tax that’s still invisible to most Americans, but that threatens precisely the group that’s supposed to emerge from all the deal-making as the Great Unthreatened, our middle class.

Now then, let me explain why a VAT — particularly a hastily enacted VAT — is absolutely not going to happen. It’s called the 16th Amendment:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Congress has two ways of taxing us. The first is a tax based on the number of people in the state. It should be obvious that it’s not entirely fair to make your tax bill based on state population without regard for your ability to pay (it seemed like a good idea in the 18th century), so the 16th Amendment had to be passed to make income tax legal. I am not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar, but I don’t see a damn thing in the Constitution or Amendment 16 that makes a national sales tax legal.

Anybody who wants a VAT had better start working on an amendment to the Constitution. That cannot be done in haste.

This article is supposed to scare you and I into insisting on austerity rather than implement this improbable, middle class “crushing” tax. Heaven forbid we should raise additional revenue through higher taxes on the wealthy at the rates they were under Reagan, or Nixon, or heaven forbid Eisenhower (all “conservative” Republicans of their day). Nope, easier to frighten you into giving up the things your taxes have paid for: well maintained roads; safe water coming out of your tap and safe food available at your local grocer; police and fire services; public schools that make sure businesses can hire literate employees anywhere in the nation; a minimal retirement income you already paid for. Nope, gotta cut back somewhere.

In Closing: scientific method suggests that when your experiment doesn’t work, you change the hypothesis; what a sleeze; let’s not lock kids up in solitary; wealth gap grows; agreed; women will die because their parents are afraid they will think sex is ok; I find it hard to believe that’s cost effective; “Just how many female-headed single-parent families with two children under 10 are there in the United States making $260K/year, anyway?”; and wouldn’t that be a waste.

Music Monday: PSA

Hi there, dance music songwriters! Did you know that the saxophone can do more than honk like an injured Canadian goose?

First notable orchestral sax solo in the literature begins about 6 minutes in:

Ok, maybe that’s not your thing. How about this?

I think you get the idea. Don’t make me get Bill Clinton out here.

In closing: rejecting science; desperate times; the food pyramid made us fat; I’ve got no idea where JP found this; brilliant headline; um, Nevada has fixed the rich-district/poor-district problem and we still have struggling schools in poor neighborhoods; the problem isn’t only anti-vax nuts, but anti-vax nuts should have to sign a school document saying “I realize that I am putting my child and my community at risk, and furthermore I am an idiot”; inheritance.

International No Diet Day

International No Diet Day is May 6. I know some of my readers practice “No Diet Day” every day, and I mean them no offense by this post. I recognize that there is a small minority of people — mostly people with a decades long history of dieting and failing and/or people recovering from eating disorders — for whom dieting is a detrimental if not downright pathological activity.

I first learned of the existence of this day from this defacement of their Wikipedia entry. As a result, I took a look at their website. It makes my brain hurt. From it’s whimsical use of Comic Sans in a serious document to it’s chronic misuse of scientific information, I just can’t imagine taking International No Diet Day seriously.

One of the goals of the occasion is to “Recognize how dieting perpetuates violence against women”. Excuse me? There are people who assault women over the issue of dieting? Failing to “recognize” that, here! I’m sorry for the narrow-minded viewpoint that “violence” implies “physically hurting someone,” but Merriam-Webster’s got my back on this one. Am I seriously missing news stories about women being beaten up for eating a donut? For not eating a donut?? To add insult to imagined injury, I can’t find any information on their site that would support or clarify this goal. If they want to argue that there are people who make fun of dieters and people who make fun of fat people, I can agree with that. Calling it “violence” undermines their movement.

Let’s move on to their “facts” and figures about dieting. Between “90 and 99%” of diets don’t work forever? Pretty big range there! Sure would have been nice to link to a study or two, preferably ones that use those numbers. There’s reasons for diet failure, of course, and most of them can be controlled. Then “virtually all” dieters gain it back? That’s a big shock to me, my family, my friends, and many people on the internet.

Yes, it’s true that the “diet industry” and diet scams earn a lot of money from people who desperately want to get thin, but can’t get the hang of eating healthy foods in reasonable quantities and engaging in physical activity. Want to have a “Boycott Diet Industry Vultures Day”? A “Say No To Crappy Diet Food Day,” or “No Diet Shakes for Me Day”? Perhaps just simply a “Don’t Waste Money On Stuff That Doesn’t Work Day”? I’m there.

In the end, the “facts” and figures section has a lot of statistics and mentions studies, but provides no data or links or actual scientific papers to back them up. 5% of college aged women are anorexic or bulimic? Seriously? Based on what information? Almost a third of women in their 20s and early 30s have bone mass problems? Really? Tell me, did the makers of Boniva do that study? Where did the data on 9 and 10 year olds dieting come from, a child modeling agency? How hard is it to find citations online? There’s these miracle things called “search engines” now. An English teacher would have a “Field Day” with “International No Diet Day.”

There is one more “goal” that needs mentioning, one apparently too controversial for the frontpage of their site or the Wikipedia entry: “To educate the public about the dangers of weight-loss surgery, diet drugs, and size-biased medical treatment.” By “size-biased medical treatment,” they mean the idea that your doctor thinks you will be healthier in the long run if you lose some weight and keep it off. Here’s the facts: study after study shows that obese people are at higher risk for a variety of cancers (oh look, I used a search engine to find a gaggle of studies!); obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease; obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis in the joints of the lower body; obesity is a risk factor for diabetes (at least one doctor I know insists that if you are overweight, you will eventually become diabetic. Sobering stuff). If it is “size-biased medical treatment” to point these things out, I hope all doctors are so biased.

In Closing: TV ownership in America on the decline, both due to poverty and internet delivery of video; FDA getting ability to do something about food safety; flashmob robbery; waaah; small business hiring disappointing; we’ve all gone crazy; Orwell would be proud indeed; propaganda; “Dude, I need, like, about 250 sliders, man”; thank you, anti-vax morons; and an interesting view of 2012.

Oklahoma Shitbowl

I do try to avoid unnecessary profanity, but what Oklahoma is doing is profane.

Maybe by now you have heard that any woman unfortunate enough to be pregnant in Oklahoma will find great obstacles to her care. For one thing, her doctor is allowed to lie to her about whether he has reason to believe there are fetal anomalies that will become birth defects. After all, she may decide that carrying a baby who will die soon after birth or require expensive, time monopolizing care is not something she wants to do. To some people, that makes her a “selfish slut,” but to most people that makes her “normal.”

Moreover, any woman seeking an abortion in Oklahoma will have to get an ultrasound, look at the pictures, and listen to a description of the embryo or fetus. And fill out a privacy-invading questionnaire. No exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or women who already know there is something seriously wrong with the embryo/fetus.

The ever brilliant (and very sarcastic) Digby points out how this bill will fail:

Sure the dumb bitches can’t be allowed to make their own decisions about taking on a lifetime of care or consider implications for their own health and well being. What the silly little twits don’t know won’t hurt them, right? But you’d think that the important members of society like insurance companies and employers would have a stake in something like this.

Here’s the thing. Failing to note fetal abnormalities on the ultrasound and still billing the insurance company is called fraud. Fraud, unlike medical malpractice, is a criminal offense. Do that to a patient whose care is paid for under a Federal program and it’s a federal crime with federal time. Fine, Doc can’t be sued for malpractice; he can go to prison instead.

Doc is also subject to ethics rules, and those would include telling patients the truth. Doc can lose his license if someone makes an ethics complaint with the state board of medical examiners.

If enough big employers lose enough Edna Employees to the care of severely disabled babies, they will find a way to sue doctors who hid those conditions. After all, big employers often have an entire legal department. And that would fall under general liability rather than med-mal.

So believe it or not, I think the insurance companies will provide the work-around for this. Remember that under the health insurance reform that was just passed, they can’t exclude children with pre-existing conditions. They have a vested interest in preventing severely disabled babies from being in their pool of insureds. What they will do is insist that ultrasounds be done in an independent imaging facility — not the doctor’s office or an affiliated facility — and insist that a full copy of the report be provided both to them and the mother-to-be. This will outrage obstetricians because they make good money on ultrasounds and the equipment is not cheap.

Oh well, maybe they should have objected to this bill before it became law.

In Closing Arizona Update: the smartest thing you are likely to read about illegal immigration this week; let the lawsuits begin; polls, demographics, and the future; boycotts are already underway; even some prominent Republicans think Arizona has gone too far; gee, who could have seen harassment of day laborers coming??; Hispanics vow to fight this law.

In Closing For Real This Time: Tell us what you really think about Goldman Sachs, Barry! (And why doesn’t your blog read like this? Maybe you should dictate your posts); high school graduates going to college rather than competing in the dismal job market, but does anybody really believe that 70% of the jobs that will be available in 4 years needs a college degree?; a security expert from one of the most secure airports in the world calls full-body scanners a waste of money; The Vaccine War; America doesn’t rule the world and shouldn’t be allowed to say what other nation’s product labels can include; reduce the deficit by expanding Medicare; get rid of “too big to fail”; and finally, if you are in a position to do something nice for J.P., please do.