Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Miss Brooks

From the largest manufacturer of well-publicized cluelessness in the U.S.:
For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.
Indeed? Since when was David Brooks a "journalist"? Ellen Goodman, describing what commentators do, said their business was to make sense of all that is happening in the world. Did Brooks ever once accomplish that? All I've ever seen under his byline has been what my dear old departed Dad used to call "popping off"-- bullshitting readers blind about how things are in the heartland, a place he never spent one moment in except to gather confirmation for his indigenous prejudices.

To That Deee-Luxe Apartment in the Sky

The first housing tax credit had its problems, but it was well-intentioned. I felt it was a bad idea to prop up still-inflated housing prices at a time when affordable housing is one of our most intransigent problems, but so be it. Even though some economists worried that it only allowed sellers and realtors to charge more money than they otherwise could have, it was a very limited and circumscribed credit for only first-time buyers with modest incomes.

Well, look out, because we can't just be giving money away to the working class while the rich have their noses pushed up against the candy store window. God forbid we bestow a handful of drachmas to the less-well-off and not give the fat cats get even more. This is America, for God's sake:
Lawmakers announced plans earlier this week to attach the tax-credit proposal to a pending bill on the unemployment benefits. The $8,000 tax credit, enacted earlier this year as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, is set to expire at the end of November.

The lawmakers want to extend it until April 30. Their proposal would also expand it to allow higher-income Americans and some who already own homes to qualify for the break.

Homebuyers who have lived in their prior residences for at least five years may receive a $6,500 credit under the plan, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Also, couples earning as much as $225,000 and individuals as much as $125,000 would qualify for the extended break, Baucus said. That’s up from a $75,000 limit for individuals and $150,000 for couples.
That's the way. Hold the country's unemployed hostage until you can get more money into the hands of the Quarter-Million Dollar Club. And make sure that they can include the money from the sale of a current home in the bonanza.

Is there some reason my taxes need to help some rich bastard move on up?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get A Grip

Mind if I piss in the punch bowl?

While everyone else is wahooing and celebrating the new House Health Care Reform plan, I have to ask: is this really what I'm supposed to break out the champagne for? Limits on premiums that allow insurance companies to gouge people living at 400 percent of poverty for 12% of their income? For a family of 4 making $88,200, that's a yearly total of $10,584 just to pay for the privilege of having something called "insurance". But wait, there's more. Once you've paid to "have" insurance, you may then have to actually "use" it. Now what would you pay??

Well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, my friends. But don't worry! This fabulous bill "prevents bankruptcy" (that's really what it says) by capping total out-of-pocket spending for covered benefits that cannot exceed $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. So our family of 4 at 400% of poverty can look forward to shelling out, at most, no more than $20,584 during the year in a worst-case scenario, provided the medical expenses are ones covered by their policy.

So this means that now our hypothetical family will need to put aside only 23% of their income for medical care. That year. Because, of course, they might have to incur the same amount of debt next year, too. And if someone is hit by a particularly nasty illness or impairment, it could go on that way for years. No worries about bankruptcy now, eh?

And you know what the best part of this culmination of our fight for universal coverage is? It won't even be universal: an estimated 18 million people will remain without insurance. But it's all good. The CBO has given its blessing, and in the end, it's really only the price tag that wags this dog. Parsimony wins the day when it comes to saving lives, because there's lots more money needs to be shat down the Pentagon/contractor toilet to make the world safe for Wall Street. The odd thing is that Pelosi backed off a public option that would dictate fees for providers, and instead went with negotiated fees, which all agree will add expense to the system. And despite all the whinging about how budget-busting a single-payer system would be, there's this:
"The new House bill would expand Medicaid to cover childless adults, parents and others with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty level, or $33,075 for a family of four. This goes beyond the earlier House bill and a companion measure in the Senate, which would extend Medicaid to people with incomes less than 133 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four).

This change saves money. It is less expensive for the federal government to cover low-income people under Medicaid than to provide them with subsidies to buy private insurance."
I tell you, I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning. Smells like...Congress.

Ah, life is good. Now let's see how that financial regulatory reform is coming.

"Where Two or Three Are Gathered..."

The dismaying crowd scenes whipped up by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, the horrendous beatings and rapes that turned into audience participation opportunities for those who were there, all have the element of crowd-intoxication in them.  People have been wondering out loud how others can do such things, but if you read Aldous Huxley, you know.  Nothing drives the reason and humanity out of a man like the comforting anonymity of being surrounded by a crowd.  Here is Huxley, from his epilogue of The Devils of Loudon.  It speaks for itself:
"The professional moralists who inveigh against drunkenness are strangely silent about the equally disgusting vice of herd-intoxication—of downward self-transcendence into subhumanity by the process of getting together in a mob.

"Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In the midst of two or three hundred, the divine presence becomes more problematical. And when the numbers run into the thousands, or tens of thousands, the likelihood of God being there, in the consciousness of each individual, declines almost to the vanishing point. For such is the nature of an excited crowd (and every crowd is automatically self-exciting) that, where two or three thousand are gathered together, there is an absence not merely of deity, but even of common humanity. The fact of being one of a multitude delivers a man from his consciousness of being an insulated self and carries him down into a less than personal realm, where there are no responsibilities, no right or wrong, no need for thought or judgment or discrimination —only a strong vague sense of togetherness, only a shared excitement, a collective alienation. And the alienation is at once more prolonged and less exhausting than that induced by debauchery; the morning after less depressing than that which follows self-poisoning by alcohol or morphine. Moreover, the crowd-delirium can be indulged in, not merely without a bad conscience, but actually, in many cases, with a positive glow of conscious virtue. For, so far from condemning the practice of downward self-transcendence through herd-intoxication, the leaders of church and state have actively encouraged the practice whenever it could be used for the furtherance of their own ends. Individually and in the co-ordinated and purposive groups which constitute a healthy society, men and women display a certain capacity for rational thought and free choice in the light of ethical principles. Herded into mobs, the same men and women behave as though they possessed neither reason nor free will. Crowd-intoxication reduces them to a condition of infrapersonal and antisocial irresponsibility. Drugged by the mysterious poison which every excited herd secretes, they fall into a state of heightened suggestibility, resembling that which follows an injection of sodium amytal or the induction, by whatever means, of a light hypnotic trance. While in this state they will believe any nonsense that may be bawled at them, will act upon any command or exhortation, however senseless, mad or criminal. To men and women under the influence of herd-poison, "whatever I say three times is true"—and whatever I say three hundred times is Revelation, is the directly inspired Word of God. That is why men in authority—the priests and the rulers of peoples—have never unequivocally proclaimed the immorality of this form of downward self-transcendence. True, crowd-delirium evoked by members of the opposition and in the name of heretical principles has everywhere been denounced by those in power. But crowd- delirium aroused by government agents, crowd-delirium in the name of orthodoxy, is an entirely different matter. In all cases where it can be made to serve the interests of the men controlling church and state, downward self-transcendence by means of herd-intoxication is treated as something legitimate, and even highly desirable. Pilgrimages and political rallies, corybantic revivals and patriotic parades—these things are ethically right so long as they are our pilgrimages, our rallies, our revivals and our parades. The fact that most of those who take part in these affairs are temporarily dehumanized by herd-poison is of no account in comparison with the fact that their dehumanization may be used to consolidate the religious and political powers that be.

"... Religious and political ceremonials are welcomed by the masses as opportunities for getting drunk on herd-poison, and by their rulers as opportunities for planting suggestions in minds which have momentarily ceased to be capable of reason or free will.

"The final symptom of herd-intoxication is a maniacal violence. Instances of crowd- delirium culminating in gratuitous destructiveness, in ferocious self-mutilation, in fratricidal savagery without purpose and against the elementary interests of all concerned, are to be met with on almost every page of the anthropologists' textbooks and—a little less frequently, but still with dismal regularity —in the histories of even the most highly civilized peoples....To men and women sick of being their insulated selves and weary of the responsibilities which go with membership in a purposive human group, (a revolutionary leader) offers exciting opportunities for "getting away from it all" in parades and demonstrations and public meetings. The organs of the body politic are purposive groups. A crowd is the social equivalent of a cancer. The poison it secretes depersonalizes its constituent members to the point where they start to behave with a savage violence, of which, in their normal state, they would be completely incapable. The revolutionary encourages his followers to manifest this last and worst symptom of herd-intoxication and then proceeds to direct their frenzy against his enemies, the holders of political, economic and religious power.

"In the course of the last forty years the techniques for exploiting man's urge toward this most dangerous form of downward self-transcendence have reached a pitch of perfection unmatched in all of history....(M)eans of transporting vast herds of them from considerable distances, and of concentrating them in a single building or arena, are much more efficient than in the past....There is the radio, which has enormously extended the range of the demagogue's raucous yelling. There is the loudspeaker, amplifying and indefinitely reduplicating the heady music of class- hatred and militant nationalism. There is the camera ...and its offspring, the movies and television; these three have made the objectification of tendentious phantasy absurdly easy. And finally there is that greatest of our social inventions, free, compulsory education. Everyone now knows how to read and everyone consequently is at the mercy of the propagandists, governmental or commercial, who own the pulp factories, the linotype machines and the rotary presses. Assemble a mob of men and women previously conditioned by a daily reading of newspapers; treat them to amplified band music, bright lights, and the oratory of a demagogue who (as demagogues always are) is simultaneously the exploiter and the victim of herd-intoxication, and in next to no time you can reduce them to a state of almost mindless subhumanity. Never before have so few been in a position to make fools, maniacs or criminals of so many."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Hindsight is Even Better Than 20/20

I remember hating Kubrick's version of The Shining when I first saw it, probably with an extra-special hate because I loved Kubrick and loved King's novel, and imagined that the confluence of the two could not help but create a masterpiece.  What we got instead was a Kubrick ego-trip that destroyed everything elegant and horrifying about the story from which it was born, in a maelstrom of bad acting and over-the-top moog puke that omitted some of the most compelling elements of the storyline.

Well, I just finished watching it again, hoping that time would have mellowed my acceptance of it.  No dice.  It was painful to watch, and even though there were some genuinely scary moments, it fell flat amidst the clown-like performances.  For a textbook example of ham-handedly wooden exposition, nothing beats the first 20 minutes, especially Barry Nelson, whom Kubrick must have slipped Thorazine prior to filming.  Jesus, what a clusterfuck.

Scary Stories, Revisited

As H1N1 plows through the nation, it seemed timely to re-post the science piece below, which I originally wrote in October 2005 when bird flu was grabbing headlines. I imagine swine flu as the logical evolutionary descendant of avian flu, and you'll understand why when you read the post. For an even more interactive picture of a virus in action, you can't beat Robert Krulwich's remarkable video on NPR, here.  In the meantime, ponder the cognitive dissonance in a culture that condemns the vaccine and warns people away from getting it, and then boo-hoos and whines when that same dreaded "killer" vaccine is too slow in arriving.

Scary Stories

flu virus penetrating human cell wallI love this time of year. Time for scary stuff, like more mad cow disease news, and brand-new Supreme Court deliberations, and creepy pictures, like this one of a virus penetrating a human cell. That's right, folks, it’s Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, and that means learning all about how the influenza virus works, what it can do to you when it gets its hemagglutininous hands on your sialic acid receptors, and lastly, getting worried enough to pay attention to what the powers that be are doing (or not doing) about it all.

The synchronicity of this is also fairly creepy. Over the last couple years I've been learning about the great flu pandemic of the early 20th century. Just a few years ago PBS ran a documentary about it, Influenza 1918. Then last week, baited by the Borders' 3 for 2 sale, I picked up a copy of John M. Barry's fine book, The Great Influenza, an account of the 1918 pandemic of the influenza virus known affectionately among scientists as good old "H1N1". And I've been buttonholing friends and innocent bystanders with all the gory details ever since.grim_death_william_strand_20cent

In that exponential way the quest for knowledge expands when a curious reader is exposed to the virus of a fascinating concept, I started reading everything I could find to try to understand what all this was about. I knew something about viruses from the first literary Big Scare, brought on by Richard Preston's The Hot Zone, which gruesomely detailed the habits and effects of the Ebola and Marburg viruses. What I didn't know was that the 1918 pandemic killed "more people than any other outbreak of disease in human history," as Barry put it in his book. And it did it in only 2 years' time. The last two days the papers have been full of the latest Bush talking points about how to prepare for a pandemic. Yesterday, as I was working on this post, I heard NPR announcing that a couple teams of scientists have made a major breakthrough, identifying the 1918 H1N1 killer as a bird flu virus that had jumped species directly into humans. The story has been on the online NYTimes for two days now.

chickenInfluenza virus is believed to have originated in wild birds. The one that particularly worries scientists today is known by the catchy name “H5N1”. You've probably heard plenty about this by now: the intermittent reports of avian flu in Southeast Asia, the slaughter of over a million domestic fowl in Hong Kong, the deaths of a Thai woman and her daughter that pointed to a possible first human-to-human transmission, the surprise deaths in a wealthy Jakarta suburb of a father and his two young daughters who had no known contact with birds.

Why is this so worrisome? While the virus has demonstrated that it can transmit itself bird-to-human, it has not been positively identified as being able to transmit human-to-human (though some circumstantial evidence exists that it may have). And in human-to-human transmission lies the potential for a pandemic. If it establishes itself as a human vector, it can devastate untold numbers of people around the world because, since no such virus has ever attacked the current living human populace, no one now living has developed any immunity to it.

four_skulls_and_an_infant_lucas_kilian_1614Transmission is a tricky business, because viruses have an almost sci-fi ability to mutate. Most of them are species specific; they may only infect horses and birds, or birds and pigs, or humans and monkeys. Some can adapt to leap the species barrier from, say, bird to human, but once into the new species, cannot go any further. Others, though, can adapt to not only leap that barrier, but settle in and spread throughout the new species, and these adaptations are made possible by genetic mutation. But more on that in a minute.

Yesterday Bloomberg reported:
“A 23-year-old Indonesian man who died last week tested positive for bird flu, increasing to seven the number of human fatalities from the disease, a doctor at the Sulianto Saroso hospital in Jakarta said.
death_plays_violin_annymous_britishThe World Health Organization laboratory in Hong Kong will need to confirm the local test results. The UN agency has so far confirmed four human fatalities from H5N1, a deadly strain of the avian influenza virus, in Indonesia....
More than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in Asia because of concern the H5N1 strain of the virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans. As humans are unlikely be immune to such a virus, the World Health Organization is concerned it may trigger an influenza pandemic like the one that led to more than 40 million deaths worldwide in 1918.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 is endemic in poultry in many parts of Indonesia, WHO said in the statement, citing the Food and Agriculture Organization. More than 10 million chickens have been killed by the virus since the outbreak in 2003, Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono said on Sept. 19.
There has been no confirmation of human-to-human transmission of the virus. One case of probable human-to-human infection occurred in Thailand last year, when a mother and her daughter died from the disease.”

No confirmation. But the more recent deaths in Jakarta also occurred where no direct contact with fowl was known to have taken place. Let’s take a few steps back, and see what we’re dealing with.

flu virus cutawayThe influenza virus, like all viruses, has only one known function: to replicate itself. It does this by invading a host cell, hijacking the gene-making machinery inside, and forcing the cell to reproduce so many of the original virus that the sheer number of them finally bursts open the cell and kills it. The newly-escaped brood of up to a million new viruses then sets out to do the same to the nearest suitable cells.

What makes a suitable cell? When a bird gets the flu, it goes for the gastrointestinal tract. In human beings, it attacks the respiratory system, which means the epithelial cells that protect the surface of the lungs and bronchi. (While it may take the virus less than 72 hours to denude the respiratory surfaces of epithelial cells, it will take the body weeks to build them back up again--if it survives). In the meantime, their destruction can allow the virus to penetrate deep into the lobes of the lungs, resulting in viral pneumonia, or let bacteria in, causing bacterial pneumonia. In either case, the resulting war between the invader and the body's immune system can wreak such destruction that, in the worst cases, the capillaries can be destroyed by killer proteins and the lungs fill up with fluid, blood, dead cells, collagen, and fibrin, drowning the victim or causing heart failure or death by exhaustion from the sheer strain of trying to breathe.biohazard

Normally when a micro-organism invades the body, the immune system rallies to attack it, and it recognizes the foreign invader by the antigens it carries. Once it has engaged the enemy in combat, the immune system "remembers" what that enemy looks like because the antigens have caused it to release antibodies specific to those antigens. Thereafter, any further attack will rally the same antibodies, resulting in a response so swift and effective that the body can be said to have developed an immunity to the invasive organism. The principle of vaccination capitalizes on this process by introducing antigens into the body in a controlled way so the immune system can learn to recognize them and create the antibodies that will immunize the body in case of future encounters.

death_and_the_fool_Albrecht_Durer_1507The antigens of the influenza virus consist of two types of protrusions carried like spikes all over its surface: hemagglutinin (the "H" factor), which enables it to bind to the host cell, and once inside, break into the genetic machinery, and neuraminidase (the "N" factor), which destroys the sialic acid of the host cell and allows the newly-created viruses to escape the dying cell and explode into the body. The flu virus' RNA-based genetic code provides no safeguard against mutation as it replicates in the hijacked cell (resulting in the creation of literally millions of different kinds of "quasi-species" in the course of a few hours), and unlike many other viruses, it can survive the mutation of its antigens and continue to function. Worse, it has the demonic ability to mutate not only properties of these antigens when replicating (antigen drift), but even entirely new antigens if it comes into contact with other different types of flu viruses (antigen shift). "Antigen drift" hides a virus from an immune system that once recognized it, resulting in epidemics, which is why flu vaccines have to be constantly changed and updated. But “antigen shift”, essentially the creation of a brand-new type of virus that the immune system has never encountered in any form, is what causes pandemics, the ultimate concern scientists have about the H5N1 virus. This means if a human being contracts the H5N1 virus from a bird, and also happens to be carrying a human flu virus, the two organisms may collide during replication, where the loose strings of RNA genes may come apart and reassort with each other, suddenly resulting in a virus that inherits the human virus’ ability to transmit from person to person. The same can happen when a 3rd party “mediates” the mutation, as with pigs, which are susceptible to both avian and human viruses. If a pig happens to carry both at the same time, it may pass to its handlers a mutant that may go on to infect other humans.

death_snares_the_king_german_17centAt this point there is uncertainty as to whether H5N1 has yet mutated in this way, though if it had, its virulence would have likely begun killing far more people by now. The World Health Organization reports that as of 9/29/05, there were 116 cases resulting in 60 deaths--a mortality rate of 52%. But even if the transmission issue is still uncertain, there is absolutely no doubt among scientists everywhere, from those at WHO to the Center for Disease Control, that it is a very real danger. The announcement yesterday by the teams of researchers at the CDC confirms that the pandemic flu of 1918 developed just as they fear H5N1 is developing.

Here is the paradox: the more virulent the influenza virus, the more violently the immune system reacts, and the healthier the immune system is, the stronger that reaction will be. This is why the pandemic of 1918 killed so many young adults. The deaths of young, healthy people in Asia who contracted H5N1 is a warning signal.

flu campWhat can we do? It's not as if we can get into the lab and whip up our own genetically recombined virus for a vaccine. Mike Davis, author of Monster at Our Door, outlined in Common Dreams last year the many problems that would prevent an appropriate and sufficient response to a pandemic: lack of a vaccine and limited production capacity, lack of a vast-enough vaccine delivery system, and lack of public knowledge or interest. Add to that John Barry's more recent assessment: drug-resistant bacteria, insufficient medical facilities, long waiting lists and insufficient manufacturing capacity for antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, massive economic and social disruption, and of course, the deaths, for which current casket inventories would be completely inadequate, resulting in the piling up of corpses in homes and everywhere else.

How many corpses would H5N1 leave in it's wake? Barry's equation is that a new flu virus will make between 14-40% of the population symptomatic. Using that percentage, and using the mortality rate of 52% mentioned above, here in the United States we could expect from 44 million to 115 million to fall ill, and from 23 million to 58 million dead. We have never, ever experienced that kind of devastation: 20% of our populace dead, and the majority of them, if true to the 1918 virus, young adults.

So now the government has been all over the news the last couple days crowing about all the work they're going to do on this issue.

You saw the Katrina response.

What will you be expecting?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Holding Down One's Gorge Has Become Full-Time Work

Gutless and gutted.

I Got Your Sharia Law Right Here

Michigan legislators decide they want to be clergy instead, but forget to change jobs:
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION II

October 14, 2009, Introduced by Reps. Slezak, Paul Scott, Moore, LeBlanc, Bolger, Green,Rick Jones, Lund, Lori, Walsh, Kurtz, McMillin, Dean, Genetski, Wayne Schmidt, Haveman, Daley, Knollenberg, Kowall, Hansen, Spade, Sheltrown and Mayes and referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution of 1963, by adding section 28 to article I, to establish the right to life of all human beings from the beginning of their biological development.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the state of Michigan, That the following amendment to the state constitution of 1963, to establish the right to life of all human beings from the beginning of their biological development, is
proposed, agreed to, and submitted to the people of the state:

ARTICLE I
SEC. 28. (1) EVERY HUMAN PERSON HAS A RIGHT TO LIFE, WHICH IS THE PARAMOUNT AND MOST FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION AND LAWS OF THIS STATE.

(2) WITH RESPECT TO THE FUNDAMENTAL AND INALIENABLE RIGHT TO LIFE, THE WORD "PERSON" APPLIES TO ALL HUMAN BEINGS, IRRESPECTIVE OF AGE, RACE, GENDER, HEALTH, FUNCTION, CONDITION OF DEPENDENCY, INCLUDING PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DEPENDENCY, OR METHOD OF REPRODUCTION, FROM THE BEGINNING OF THEIR BIOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING FERTILIZATION.

(3) THE LEGISLATURE SHALL IMPLEMENT THIS SECTION BY APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION.

Resolved further, That the foregoing amendment shall be submitted to the people of the state at the next general election in the manner provided by law.
Clearly, these clowns must feel the good people of Michigan have very little else on their plates. The problem with this, aside from that whole "bureaucrats getting between people and their doctors" thing (let's not kid ourselves that this is NOT an attack on contraception meant to be enshrined as state constitutional law), is that it opens up a whole nest of wasps if taken to its logical conclusion. Because as the President's Commission on Bioethics noted in 2003, women lose a whole lot of "babies" every month:
PROF. SANDEL: Thank you. I have two questions about the rate of natural embryo loss in human beings. The first is what percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise lost? And the second question is is it the case that all of these lost embryos contain genetic defects that would have prevented their normal development and birth?

DR. OPITZ: The answer to your first question is that it is enormous. Estimates range all the way from 60 percent to 80 percent of the very earliest stages, cleavage stages, for example, that are lost.

PROF. SANDEL: Sixty to 80 percent?

DR. OPITZ: Sixty to 80 percent. And one of the objective ways of establishing the loss at least as of the moment of implantation, well, even earlier, let's say as of five days because the blastocyst begins to make a chorionic gonadotrophin and with extremely sensitive assay methods, you can detect the presence of gonadotrophins, let me say, first around Day 7. That's the beta of human chorionic gonadotrophin. And if you follow prospectively the cycles that has been done on quite a few occasions in the Permanente study in Hawaii and so on, a group of women, of nonfertility, who want to conceive and you detect the first sign of pregnancy there of human chorionic gonadotrophin, about 60 percent of those pregnancies are lost.

It is independently corroborated by the fact that the monozygotic twin conception rate at the very beginning is much, much higher than the birth rate and then if you follow with amniocentesis, the presence of the two sacs in about 80 percent of cases,the second sac disappears, one of the sacs disappears.

CHAIRMAN KASS: The 60 percent then would be of those that have at least reached the 7 days so that you could trace the – so there might be even greater loss at the early cleavage stage, is that correct?

DR. OPITZ: That's correct. And the earlier the stage of loss, the greater the rate of aneuploidy. There exists sort of a standard, textbook formula whereby 60 percent of spontaneous abortions have a chromosome abnormality. Six percent of all stillbirths and 6/10ths percent of all live born children. Now the latter figure is probably closer to 1 percent if you include some growth variants. So that's sort of a rule of thumb.

In my own lab in Helena where I did all of the autopsies on all pregnancy losses for 18 years, the rate of chromosome abnormalities was a little bit higher.

PROF. SANDEL: So if we take the 7-day stage, it's 60 percent. The 80 percent is if you go back to the moment of fertilization. But if you take just starting at the 7 days, there's 60 percent rate of natural loss. And of those 60 percent that are lost from the 7-day stage, what percentage of those have abnormalities or defects such that they wouldn't otherwise be able to be born?

DR. OPITZ: I would say somewhere around 50 to 60 percent and mind you, many of these are empty sacs, tiny, tiny stunted little embryos, but when you culture the sacs you find a chromosome abnormality, even though the embryo has vanished already.

PROF. SANDEL: So of the 60 percent that are lost at the 7-day stage, 40 to 50 percent did not contain defects or abnormalities, could have been born?

DR. OPITZ: Right.

PROF. SANDEL: And become babies.
Right. So what happens if such a power grab becomes law? Do we track down every woman having a period and hold her under surveillance to determine her pregnancy status post-menses? Do we require her to turn over the bloody discharge in each pad or tampon until her period is done for microscopic examination? And given the 60-80% chance that she was pregnant and lost the fertilized egg, what then? Microscopic autopsies to look for foul play? Forced funeral arrangements and burials? Think of the children!!!

Now I understand that when times are bad those who got shall get and the rest will get got, but just what will it take to satisfy these control freaks who so desperately fear and hate female reproductive power?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jumping At Shadows

Once again, a finely sourced article foreshadowing doom and disaster turns out to be a dud. On October 23, 2009, Brian Buetler at Talking Points Memo posted "Sources: White House Pushing Back Against Senate Public Option Opt Out Compromise," which began with this promising line:
Multiple sources tell TPMDC that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is very close to rounding up 60 members in support of a public option with an opt out clause, and are continuing to push skeptical members. But they also say that the White House is pushing back against the idea, in a bid to retain the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

"They're skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger," said one source close to negotiations between the Senate and the White House. "they're certainly not calming moderates' concerns on opt out."
These observations, no doubt furtively whispered on pain of death in some dripping cavern under the city sewage works into the ear of our intrepid reporter, set off a rash of breathless and increasingly frantic denunciations of the White House by commenters at TPM as well as some verbal knife-wielding between those who were tarred as apologists for the Administration and those who were berated for never having anything positive to say about them. At other blogs where it was repeated without question, the response was also predictably breathless, as well. Discussions about the ethicality of such promiscuous use of un-named sources was birthed in those comments as well, but died an ugly death beneath the flurry of ad hominim attacks that have become the lifeblood of internet dialogue.

What a shame. Once, the use of un-named sources was careful and cautious, and done to protect informants from serious harm, even death. Sources were required to be verifiable prior to their publication, and often, as in the case of Deep Throat, provided information used to verify other sources of evidence of illegal activities. Use of these kinds of sources were a matter of serious debate within the newsroom, because a reporter put him- or herself on the line if it came down to protecting them. As with uncooperative witnesses, there is no time limit to the amount of jail time one may serve for refusing to identify an un-named source. They damned well better be 1) verifiable, and 2) worth it. Here is the current Confidential News Source Policy of the New York Times (in part):
In routine interviewing – that is, most of the interviewing we do – anonymity must not be automatic or an assumed condition. In that kind of reporting, anonymity should not be offered to a source. Exceptions will occur in the reporting of highly sensitive stories, when it is we who have sought out a source who may face legal jeopardy or loss of livelihood for speaking with us. Similarly they will occur in approaches to authoritative officials in government who, as a matter of policy, do not speak for attribution.

In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story.

We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation, unless the very act of speculating is newsworthy and can be clearly labeled for what it is.

We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack.
That last one definitely slipped past Bob Novak. The problem isn't new. As early as 1994, The American Journalism Review was writing that:
"Part of the problem is that reporters and sources have become so comfortable with the arrangement here," says Edward Pound, an investigative reporter for U.S. News & World Report who has worked in Washington for 17 years. "If you call somebody at the White House or in an agency, they almost expect to be anonymous and they frequently won't talk unless they are."...

At the White House, on-the-record sources are rare.

Karen Hosler of Baltimore's Sun covered the White House for five years, serving a term as president of the White House Correspondents Association. Hosler didn't like White House officials' insistence on briefing reporters without allowing their names to be used, but says she was powerless to change the situation.

"For reporters, it's difficult to unilaterally say you won't take advantage of the information," she adds. "A stand on principle just costs the story... The White House is the worst and most difficult place to report about. We as a press corps could change things if we as a group did something. But it's much too competitive and cutthroat to do that."
Imagine a world in which no one went on the record? How soon would the standard for truth go out the window, when accountability could no longer be verified? Even now it seems we're on that road, and people are ready to jump at shadows on the basis of any damned vaporous allegation they get a whiff of. Step back a minute when you hear those words "Sources say..", and ask yourself whether it feels credible, and who could benefit from the story if it isn't. We now live in an age where lies, hoaxes, and bullshit pour into our ears and off our monitors like the blood tides in the hall of Kubrick's Overlook Hotel, and it's time to get a grip and start filtering this muck. Even attributable quotes often turn out to be not worth the snot left on a Kleenex. How much more worthless might be the words of those who cringe behind indiscriminate cloaks of obscurity?

Oh, and that story on the White House? Here is Buetler's update, as of this morning:
Late update: In response to this report, White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer issued the following statement. "The report is false. The White House continues to work with the Senate on the merging of the two bills. We are making good progress toward enacting comprehensive health reform."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Swine Flu: Nothing to Sneeze At

The CDC has a regular posting of updated information regarding all influenza types and subtypes, including H1N1, here. For their purposes, the regular flu season begins at week 40 of the calendar year, and the report I'm looking at right now, for the week ending October 10, 2009, is a real eye-opener. H1N1 has made up fully 60% of all reported influenzas and 90% of all pediatric deaths since August 30, 2009, and the proportion of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza is "above the epidemic threshold":
"From August 30 – October 10, 2009, 4,958 laboratory-confirmed influenza associated hospitalizations, 292 laboratory-confirmed influenza associated deaths, 15,696 pneumonia and influenza syndrome-based hospitalizations, and 2,029 pneumonia and influenza syndrome-based deaths, were reported to CDC."
Compared to previous years, the jump start the flu has gotten on the season, seen here, is sobering. And the number of patients seeking care for flu symptoms this year shows that, beginning in week 33, 2009 saw a rocket-like acceleration of visits so fierce that by week 40 (only just the START of the flu season) the number exceeded those during the heavy season of weeks 7-9 during the epidemic 2007-2008 year.

What this all means to me is that the virulence of the H1N1 virus is demonstrating a stunning ramp-up that is hitting hard and fast, while the witch doctor cohort among us is sneering and spewing dipshit advice about the horrors of vaccination.

Get the fucking vaccine, people. It's not just YOUR life that's at stake.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Stuffed Men, The Hollow Arguments

For all the chin music we've heard over the last 30 years about how important science and math education are, the truth is that, thanks to an array of nincompoops, morons, superstitious cave-painters, religious numbskulls, and opportunistic political hacks, the science education infrastructure in this country has steadily rotted away.  Attacks on scientific veracity have crippled the usefulness of much of what is still being taught.  Fueled by ancient mythological constructs and fear of--well, just about anything that might pop out from behind a rock including one's neighbors, people who went to college, and elected officials, those who are most responsible for the weakening of our scientific tether to reality have wreaked such destruction that now, when faced with a genuine pandemic of deadly proportion, they have managed to convince a sizeable minority of the country that vaccines=death:



Leave no child behind?  Hell, the whole damned nation's still sitting on the launch pad while the rest of the developed world has already made it to Mars.

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Even that damned socialist Hollywood is broadcasting crankfests now.  This is truly a pitiful and shaming development:



Will Bill Maher really expect people to find him credible when he skewers the Creationist Museum, after he has devolved down to the same level of intellectual rigor as his targets?  Too many glass houses, inhabited by idiots telling tales.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Reaping What One Sows

You can cite statistics and empirical evidence till you're blue in the face, but the deadly weapons fans will continue to clamor for unlimited access to armaments.  But still, I can't help myself.  I rest my case, here:

"In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun...

"The research team concluded that, although successful defensive gun uses are possible and do occur each year, the chances of success are low..."

Most people are immune to the sweet reason of facts, and will believe what they want to believe and nothing more, especially the more emotionally they are invested in those beliefs.  And when it comes to guns, no one loves them some emotion more than the arsenal hoarders of the 2nd Amendment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First the Bad News, Then the Bad News

This is what we knew anyway---people are making money by laying off, working the remaining work force harder, and sitting on their investments. In other words, as the article says, "cutting costs". Meantime the unemployment rate goes higher.  While the Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates till it starts to go down, the bad news is that the credit card and banking companies don't give a shit...they are raising their rates to us anyway, while they continue to rake in record profits thanks to infusions of our money and the totally lax demands made on them by Geithner/Summers in exchange for it.

The difference between the anger this has inspired in teabaggers as opposed to the anger amonst liberals is that liberals understand the reason:  not that the government is all-powerful, but that it is now wholly-owned by the all-powerful FIRE sector, and the enemy is not in the White House, it's in the boardroom.

But it's so much easier to pick on the relatively weak, which is why you'll never hear them complain about corporate control.  Gay people and pregnant women can't take away your home.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Extra! Pearls All Over America in Imminent Fear of Crushing

People, please!  Enough with these implications that Obama is somehow complicit in perpetuating some hypocrisy because he received the Nobel while in the middle of 2 wars that he had nothing to do with starting.  All those pearl-clutchers out there forgot, I guess, that Henry Chickenkisser was also a recipient.

Can we think about REAL problems for awhile?

Also, pot-calling contest names a winner!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The World is Not in Them

These people just can't live in a world where people and ideas exist differently from them.  First they didn't trust Wikipedia to be stupid enough.  Now they don't trust the Bible to be hateful enough.  Phyllis Schlafly, who still can't stop hating herself for being born female, wasn't content with unleashing her own mean and petty worldview on the rest of us--she had to train her spawn to carry on in case the Rapture didn't come soon enough:
The folks behind Conservapedia, a right-leaning version of Wikipedia, have launched the Conservative Bible Project, aimed at getting rid of what they call liberal bias, wordiness, emasculation and a general dumbing down of the Old and New Testaments.
A dozen or so users, led by Conservapedia founder Andy Schlafly – the son of conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly – are tackling the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament. Anyone can offer suggested changes.
How about  me?
“The trouble is, new translations of the Bible are done by professors at liberal universities who overwhelmingly voted for Obama,” Mr. Schlafly said. “Their political bias seeps into their translations and we felt it necessary to counteract that with one that uproots and eradicates any liberal bias.”
Clearly, the Obama-Stasi have been inserting their socialist propaganda  for the last 500 years.
In Mark 3:6, for example, they (Schlafly & crew-Ed.) have changed “Pharisees” – the Jews who were regarded as antagonists of Jesus – to “Liberals” though one user helpfully suggested “self-proclaimed elite.”
Nothing biased there.
"Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations," Scott Schlafly says on the project's Web site. Here's one of his examples: "The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:[7]: Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible."
Bring me the proof.  Right here..................................................................no?   That's what I thought.
Schlafly, in an interview with The Star, details examples of what they're looking for: the parable of the adultress in John 8:7 of the New Testament is one, in which Jesus warns about casting that first stone. Not exactly family-friendly.
"This is a permissive story used by liberals to oppose capital punishment," says Schlafly. "It is saying there can be forgiveness without repentence."
So what we have here is the logical outcome of the absurdity that has become modern Christian fundamentalism:  the excision of Christ from Christianity, due to Christ's unremitting liberal bias.  So long, New Testament.  Hello, idol worship.  And the idol is ideology.

But the Good News is found, not in the New Testament (which Schlafly is working to ensure will soon be only a bad memory to the religious fringe) but Google:  in Google, "Schlafly" means that salvation is only an Export Ale away.  In Google, you see, beer is more important than nutjobbery, and that's the way it should be.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Health Care Olympics

If you remember Michael Moore's short-lived television documentary series "TV Nation", you may remember this.  Good to know nothing has changed, eh?  Except, that is, that we've gone from 39 million uninisured, at the time of the piece, to almost 50 million now.



Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tearing Down the Wall of Our Humanity, One Brick at a Time

Chuck Grassley continues to disgrace himself with his petty, opportunistic hatchet blows at what's not going to end up as our health care reform bill anyway:
"Senate Finance Committee Democrats rejected a proposed a requirement that immigrants prove their identity with photo identification when signing up for federal healthcare programs.

Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that current law and the healthcare bill under consideration are too lax and leave the door open to illegal immigrants defrauding the government using false or stolen identities to obtain benefits.

Grassley's amendment was beaten back 10-13 on a party-line vote.

The bill, authored by committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would require applicants to verify their names, places of birth and Social Security numbers. In addition, legal immigrants would have to wait five years, as under current law, after obtaining citizenship or legal residency to access federal healthcare benefits such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program or receive tax credits or purchase insurance through the exchange created by the legislation.

But the would not require them to show a photo ID, such as a drivers license. Without that requirement, the bill "remains dearly lacking when it comes to identification," Grassley said. "Frankly, I'm very perplexed as to why anyone would oppose this amendment," he said."
Well, it's not hard to perplex a man who will parrot any damned crazy crapola his  party's morons make up, and is happy to exploit the nativist panic over our immigrant population.  Why are they always so quick to deny care to the very people who basically wipe the nation's ass for it because white people are too busy?  They may not want to take care of sick immigrant children (and what the hell do the children have to do with it? where is all this "pro-life" bushwa when it counts?), but they don't object to them dying for us in Iraq.
As of February 2008 there were about 65,000 non-citizen and naturalized immigrants in the armed services--people who would have to wait five years under Baucus'  bill before we would deign them worthy of health care.  Here are some stats:
All this whinging about how immigrants are stealing our cheese conjures to mind an image of a chandelier of an old lady, bejeweled about the dewlaps, clasping tightly at her purse as a ragged child in the street tries to sell her a box of matches.  "Oh God!" she shrieks, "Get her away!  She's probably capable of anything!  She'll take everything I have if I let her get any closer! Oh, take me home, James!"  Upon which she's off to her estate for a formal dinner as the child dies in the gutter.

What a disgraceful panorama of hypocrisy and faux-Christianity.  But thank God Max got his.