Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Don’t Run with that Pencil!

Have you ever heard or shouted that warning?

A German woman didn’t heed that advice as a child and as a result spent the next 55 years with about 8cm of pencil lodged in her brain.

According to Spiegel Online,

A woman who lived with an 8-centimeter (3.1-inch) pencil lodged in her brain for 55 years has had most of it removed in a complex operation. She is now looking forward to a life without headaches and nosebleeds and hopes to also regain her sense of smell.

“When I was four years old I fell down in Dessau with a pencil in my hand. The pencil bored its way through my skin — and disappeared in my head,” Margret Wegner, 59, told the mass circulation newspaper Bild. “It was incredibly painful.”

The pencil missed her optic nerve and a major artery by just millimeters. A doctor treated the wound, but no one dared to operate on her brain. She decided to have the life-threatening operation after 55 years, and it was successfully carried out by a surgeon in a Berlin hospital last week.

Most of the pencil — six centimeters of it — was removed but the 2-centimeter-long tip has grown in so tightly that it will remain lodged in her brain.

All I can say? Congragulations. And Blech - brain pencils.

Almost as bad as “Mr. Phineas Gage’s Famous Injury

Mr. Gage was employed as a railroad worker in Vermont and fell victim to a freak accident that involved a long metal rod called a tamping iron. This rod was used to pack sand over an explosive charge, which was used to excavate rock for the building of railroad lines. In this instance the charge exploded unexpectedly and propelled the 3-foot-long rod through Mr. Gage’s head. The 13-pound rod entered the left cheek and exited the midline of the skull anterior to the bregma, resulting in severe injury to his left and, in all probability,2 his right prefrontal cortex. The Gage case, one of the most famous and influential in neuropsychiatry, played a crucial role in the discovery of behavioral syndromes resulting from frontal lobe dysfunction. Readers interested in detailed accounts of the case and its historical context can find excellent reviews by MacMillan3 and Barker.4

By the way, “behavioral syndromes resulting from frontal lobe dysfunction” is just a nice way of saying lobotomy among loved ones and doctors.

Remember that next time you are running down the hallway with a pencil in your hand… or playing around with tamping irons. (Anvils on the other hand. Have a ball.)

If Abortion Were Illegal…

what should happen to the women who have abortions?

That question was asked of a number of abortion protesters. They seemed stumped. From the Anna Quindlen column at Newsweek

Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. “Usually when things are illegal there’s a penalty attached,” he explains patiently. But he can’t get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Here’s that “curious little mini-documentary”

Best exchange.

Q: And what should happen to those women who have illegal abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: Well…
A: I don’t know what should really happen to them. I would hope that they would in time come to see what they’ve done and be sorry for it. But, I think we need to treat them with love.

Q: If abortion is made illegal, should women be sent to jail who have abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: I’ve never really thought about it.

Q: How long have you been working in this movement?

A: A couple years.

Hmm. Does anyone else see a minor disconnect here?

Of course the video, produced by AtCenterNetwork.com, might have cut out all the really amazingly clever answers outlining the exact penalty structure, but if you watch the video, you notice this is not a major theme in rallies. Only one of protesters actually managed to come up with a minorly coherent answer.

According to Quindlen, George H. W. Bush was asked the question over 20 years ago and came up with the answer, “I still haven’t worked out the penalties”. Quindlen’s full column should be read in full and needs more links, blog time and – um – links. A little love thrown at AtCenterNetwork would be nice too. Help me out here folks.

Perhaps this is something the far right needs to work on. Just a hint guys. You can use the prairie dog video for practicing “the look” but you’ll have to get ghetto blasters for the scare music…

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHjFxJVeCQs]

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Who do you trust?

If you don’t trust the government, do you trust the insurance companies more?

From today’s LA Times,

State fines Kaiser again
The HMO’s second such penalty in a year targets its handling of patient complaints at nine hospitals.

Kaiser Permanente will be assessed a record fine today for its haphazard investigations of questionable care, physician performance and patient complaints at its California hospitals, according to state HMO regulators.

The California Department of Managed Health Care said it will levy a $3-million fine against Kaiser, the largest HMO in the state, with 29 medical centers and more than 6 million members. If Kaiser makes necessary improvements, agency director Cindy Ehnes said, she will forgive $1 million of that.

The penalty marks the second time in a year that Kaiser has been publicly rebuked and fined for glaring breakdowns in oversight.

The state’s latest inquiry grew out of its investigation into problems that forced the closure last year of Kaiser’s kidney transplant program in San Francisco. Hundreds of patients were endangered when Kaiser forced them to transfer to its own fledgling program from established transplant centers at outside hospitals.

Last August, the state fined Kaiser $2 million for the transplant debacle, and the HMO agreed to pay an additional $3 million to promote organ donation.

Do you send letters and expect them to arrive? Do social security checks get delivered every month – usually on the same day? Do you expect streets to be cleaned? Garbage to be picked up? Aren’t the mistakes the government makes so glaring because they are so rare? Government works every day.

But the effects are so common place, many choose to ignore them.

Using His Kristol Ball

He’s at it again.

William Kristol, Fox News überpundit and Weekly Standard editor managed to get an Op-Ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. His point, if you have not already guessed, is to point out just how wonderful a president Bush will considered – in retrospect of course.

With current poll numbers in a Nixonian nosedive, one wonders how Kristol manages to come to this rather reality estranged viewpoint. As mentioned, both in the first sentence of the piece and perhaps the only one in the Op-Ed with any relationship to the laws of reality as we know them, Kristol comments that he will “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.”

Why yes, Mr. Kristol, you will; here’s mine.

Kristol starts by looking at the wonderful things that have happened in the years of the Bush presidency. Things like no more terrorist attacks on US soil, a strong economy and * cough * an obviously winning strategy in Iraq.

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

First, the no more terror attacks on US soil. True. The sky also didn’t turn green and the Germans haven’t elected a new Hitler and the 60% of Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government still haven’t left the country either. Funny that Kristol doesn’t assume these to be accolades of the current administration. Perhaps we only have to give him time.

But what about those pesky little terror attacks. Madrid, London, – London again (sort of), Glasgow (sort of). Kristol is right that the US has largely avoided al Quaeda terror attacks in recent years. Of course the same could have been said of Bill Clinton in 1999. But hey, why go there?

There was the largely forgotten and never explained Anthrax attacks that took place – um –after 9/11?

Then there was that pesky little hurricane thingy that destroyed New Orleans and reshaped the Gulf Coast. Not terror but the federal response, lead and coordinated by Bush, was terrifyingly bad.

We could look at last week’s report by the GAO that a fake firm, basically a mailbox and a telephone number, would have been able to purchase the materials for a dirty bomb. No not an attack, but terrifying.

Perhaps the only reason al Quaeda doesn’t attack is because there isn’t any reason. America is doing a just fine self destructing all by itself, thank you. Perhaps that is why Chertoff has a stomach problem. Maybe he was simply eating salmonella infested spinach picked by “undocumented workers” his department seems unable to keep out of the country.

Which brings me to the economy.

What does Mr. Kristol have to say?

After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

What do those pesky facts show?

Well, I’ll just ask the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the yearly reports come out in August, (perhaps the reason for Mr. Kristol writing this Op-Ed now) I have to reach back to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 released in August 2006.

A quick graph of those incomes (adjusted to 2005 dollars) by quintile shows that current income still hasn’t reached the level of 2000. But the rich are still getting richer having increased from a meager 49.8% of the total share of income in the year 2000 to 50.4% by 2005, an all time high. (Click for full size version)

Mean Household Income by Quintiles 1986 - 2005

And a few more tidbits from the report:

  • ”The Gini index, one of the most widely used inequality measures, did not measure a statistically significant change in household income inequality between 2004 and 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469), although the individual annual differences since then were not statistically significant.” (pg. 8 )
  • After 4 years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005— higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available. (pg. 13)
  • “The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. [up from 14,5% in 1999]” (pg. 20)
  • The percentage and the number of children (people under 18 years old) without health insurance increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively. (pg .21)

Then there is the minor fact that gasoline prices have now almost doubled since George W. Bush took office.

Kristol then comments that even progressives would have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive supreme court judges. I’d say no problem Mr. Kristol. I’m sure you would agree that Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chaves are impressive international statesmen. Impressive is such a malleable word, isn’t it? As to making the claim that Roberts and Alito are conservative constitutionalists, I guess I would say that you might think so. Of course, if you assume the constitution is based on enlightenment principles and not on the ten commandments, it could have been worse.

Kristol then moves from domestic fantasies into international ones.

He starts off pointing out that “the war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well”. I won’t even go there except to reference the attack of the 10 foot tall marijuana plants. Something Mr. Kristol is certainly glad to see based on what he must have been smoking while writing this piece.

He then proceeds to wave his hand at any Pakistani problems and assumes that “Bush will deal with them.” Oh. Great.

Generally, in Mr Kristols world everything else is – well…

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We’ve deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we’ve had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we’ve gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

Hmm. The recent Pew report might present reality a bit differently. Let’s see.

In the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. – down from 42% as recently as two years ago – and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

I’m actually surprised Mr Kristol didn’t make more of Americas improving relationship with “Christian” Africa.

That Russian – slippage? I have to admit, that is a neat turn of a phrase. And it is amazing what happens when the Bush White House basically rolls back to pre-Bush positions in order to “contain” North Korea. You remember, North Korea gets heating oil; they shut down reactors. Rocket Science! (Well, hopefully not.)

And then Kristol get’s to the heart of the matter. That teeny-weeny, eensy-bitsy, tiny detail he’d been avoiding the whole Op-Ed: Iraq. Here Kristol starts harkens back to the days of Ulysses S. Grant and pushes Petraeus into the forefront. Bush is no longer Commander in Chief but the guy who picked the guy who’s going to win in Iraq. Or maybe not.

I’m starting to think that Patraeus will be named Patsy by September and it seems I am not alone.

After Kristol wins Iraq, the path is clear for him to move into the Bush library (has anyone agreed to let it be build near them yet?) and start creating legends. Of course, as opposed to most presidential libraries, the George W. Bush library probably won’t be all that interesting to scholars who go to look at the original documents. Those have all been cleverly moved to RNC e-mail accounts that were unfortunately “de-archived.”

Sorry Mr. Kristol, no happiness there. Oh. But then again maybe facts don’t bother Mr Kristol.

You might notice something about my post. I have links to where I got the information to refute Mr Kristol’s “facts.” His Op-Ed is largely – no – completely link free; just like his reality. There is no reason to back up statements with facts. Facts are just so yesterday.

One can only look forward to the days when the Washington Post finally decides to stop publishing this balderdash.

In the meantime. If Mr. Kristol’s last comments are any indication of his betting ability, I’d love to get in a game of poker with him. His crystal ball seems a bit smudged.

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

Sometimes Think-Tanks Should Rethink

The right-wing think-tank, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has put up a study showing the relationship between longevity and “medical innovation” defined as the overall age of drugs being prescribed.

Siting a study prepared by Frank R. Lichtenberg from Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study shows that, surprise, new drugs do increase life expectancy.

Lichtenberg then set out to examine why this “longevity increase gap” exists by measuring the impact of several factors that researchers agree could affect life expectancy. He found that, although some obvious suspects—obesity, smoking, and the incidence of HIV/AIDS—played a role, the most important factor was “medical innovation.”

Specifically, Lichtenberg found that longevity increased the most in those states where access to newer drugs—measured by mean “vintage” (FDA approval year)—in Medicaid and Medicare programs has increased the most. In fact, about two-thirds of the potential increase in longevity—the longevity increase that would have occurred if obesity, income, and other factors had not changed—is attributable to the use of newer drugs. According to his calculations, for every year increase in drug vintage there is about a two-month gain in life expectancy. These represent important findings given the fact that the costs of prescription drugs continue to receive a great deal of attention in the ongoing debate over health-care policy, while their benefits are often overlooked.

Lichtenberg also estimated impacts on productivity and per-capita medical expenditure. He concluded that states adopting medical innovations more rapidly had faster labor productivity growth, conditional on income growth and other factors, perhaps due to reduced absenteeism from chronic medical ailments. He also found that states that use newer drugs did not experience above-average increases in overall medical expenditure, which contradicts the common perception that advances in medical technology inevitably result in increased health-care spending.

I would expect this to be a bit of propaganda attempting to show that big pharma isn’t the global evil everyone seems to think it is. Pharma companies are good and only have your best interests (and sex lives) at heart. Profits? Banish the thought!
But hey, since the graphics the institute put up were a bit dull, I thought I’d go in and do a little paint by numbers.

The paper has two main tables. The first shows the states ranked by life expectancy. I simply colored the chart according to the way the states voted in the 2004 presidential election.

US States Ranked By Life Expectancy

The second table shows increase life expectancy. Here the coloring was a little easier.

US States Ranked by Increase In Life Expectancy

Interestingly, as far as I can tell the measurement being used is the vintage of drugs supplied by Medicare and Medicaid. Strange that there would seem to be that big a difference in how federal programs are being operated at the state and local level. Perhaps all those who decry the evils of Medicare shouldn’t look at the evil heartless Federal Government and spend more time looking a little closer to home at how the federal guidelines are implemented.

But it would also seem to me, that those think-tanks fighting the good fight for Republican values shouldn’t use studies showing how much better life is in Democratic states.

I guess I think they should have rethought their article.

You will waste your cancer…

Carlos Wilton, Presbyterian pastor and cancer survivor, has an excellent post up where he comments an article by a second ministerial cancer survivor. This time the cancer survivor is John Piper, mega-church pastor and Prostate cancer survivor.

Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, lists 10 ideas for using cancer to affirm and strengthen faith. Wilton comments on the 10 ideas, agreeing with 7 and eviscerating the others.

You might want to go read the original first article and Wilton’s response before moving to my non-theist response which you can find after the fold. I am not as nice as Wilton.

Continue reading

Will TB Become the Next Bird Flu?

The Washington Post is reporting today about a man being detained in Atlanta after travelling in Europe, Canada and the US even though he knew he was infected with an antibiotic resistant strain of tuberculosis – XDR-TB.

Although the CDC and the two airlines are attempting to contact the passengers who might have sat near the man on 2 separate commercial flights, health officials are playing down the possibility of transmission. While TB was present, officials are saying the man was not highly contagious.

Nevertheless, he was detained in New York City and then flown in a government plane to be quarantined in Atlanta. He hasn’t broken any laws, he is being forcibly detained and required to undergo treatment.

This isn’t the first time someone has been detained this year for the ‘crime’ of TB. Tara Smith, my go to – um – Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at ScienceBlogs, highlighted the case of Robert Daniels, being held against his will in Arizona because he refused to submit to treatment. From the AP story published in April,

Behind the county hospital’s tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. It is considered virtually untreatable.

County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because he failed to take precautions to avoid infecting others. Specifically, he said he did not heed doctors’ instructions to wear a mask in public.

“I’m being treated worse than an inmate,” Daniels said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press last month. “I’m all alone. Four walls. Even the door to my room has been locked. I haven’t seen my reflection in months.”

The article goes on to mention that Texas has detained 17 persons for TB while California hasn’t detained anyone this year but four persons last year.

While the rate of antibiotic resistant infections in America is still relatively low, about 2 percent of total TB cases, in some countries, such as Latvia, South Korea and South Africa, it is becoming a serious health threat. According to the March 2007 Fact Sheet from the Stop TB web site (WHO) all G8 countries have now had confirmed cases of XDR-TB.

To give you an idea of how serious this threat is, in its coverage of this story, the New York Times echoes Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control, during her Congressional testimony in March,

In one outbreak in South Africa, Dr. Gerberding testified, 41 percent of the 544 patients infected with tuberculosis were found to have multidrug-resistant strains; of those, 53 met the definition of XDR TB.

Of the latter group, all but one person died, on average just 16 days after health workers had tested them.

Finally, for all those wondering whether the federal government is getting the black helicopters out of mothballs to use this to create the New World Order, might I direct them to the oh-so-official booklet The Role of Law Enforcement in Public Health Emergencies ? This outlines just how local police departments should be prepared for these kinds of things.

(If you really want to start a fuss, just call up your local sheriffs department, ask for the PR spokesperson and say, as a concerned citizen, you would like to know what plans your local police have made to combat a local contagious disease outbreak. Then just sit back and wait for the FBI to come knock on your door asking you about your religious affiliation. Want to make a bet?)

Remember, while the bird flu is still spreading around the world on the wings of birds, XDR-TB using jets. Expect to hear far more in the next weeks and years of the comeback of TB. Instead of simply being a possible danger like bird flu requiring a mutation to create a highly contagious human variant, XDR-TB is here. Now.

The lessons the public learns with XDR-TB will help cope with more serious outbreaks of other epidemics and pandemics in the near future.

When Less Is Moore

I am not a big Michael Moore fan.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand what he’s trying to do – balance right wing demagoguery with hard-core, left-wing propaganda. Most of his documentaries leave me sputtering something along the lines of ”But, but, but… of course they did that! They’re scum. That’s obvious.”

But even when Moore starts burning the Bush, I still can’t seem to start waving the flag.

That’s why my ears perked up when a report was aired on German radio about two Canadian filmmakers, Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, setting out to follow in Michael Moore’s footsteps. No, not just the documentary-making ones, the physical ones.

Caine and Melnyk, self admitted Canadian lefties, started out to make a documentary about their hero, Michael Moore. It didn’t go well. John Anderson at the International Herald (or AP?) interviewed the husband and wife team,

“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good she says Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”

But according to Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?'”

Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”

The movie Manufacturing Dissent was born.

Moore’s missteps included faked footage, creative editing (who’d a thought?!) and perhaps most damning, leaving out the interview that was the premise for Moore’s first big hit, Roger & Me. Apparently Moore did actually get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, he just didn’t include the footage in the movie. The Canadian filmmakers swept the cutting room floor and included the ‘lost’ scenes in their documentary. Ouch.

They tried to get an interview or at least a little camera time with the ‘giant’ of documentary filmmaking. But even after staging several Moore-ian stunts, Caine and Melnyk’s efforts were apparently less successful than the supersized, lefty superhero.

Having lefties attack Michael Moore (well, having anyone attack Michal Moore) is a highlight in any Fox “News” cycle. But the filmmakers, after seeing the distortion a few nips and tucks their hero could produce, were marginally sceptical about appearing on an edited Fox broadcast. They did however agree to appear live. The result was – well – interesting.

Even more interesting is the resultant comment produced after they appeared with Martha MacCallum on Fox’s “The Live Desk.”

“We said: ‘This is crap. We do not want to become poster kids for the right-wing media. No, we haven’t seen the light and converted.’ That is exactly what they were thinking,” Melnyk says. “But we were intent on telling them that it’s not only Michael Moore who is lying and cheating, it’s mainstream news organizations and George Bush.”

Adds Caine with a laugh: “I could hear a person in New York screaming into my earpiece: ‘Get that asshole off the air.’ They cut us off.”

The couple, in short, refused to bitterly attack Moore, even though his handlers once had them kicked out of the audience at one of his speeches.

Sicko

Now Moore is headlining again with his newest effort Sicko.

The documentary premiered on May 20 in Cannes to fairly good reviews. According to the Guardian,

Michael Moore’s Sicko, which received its first-ever screening in front of a packed, early-morning audience in Cannes yesterday, is a far more thoughtful and measured piece of film making than his Palme d’Or winning rant, Fahrenheit 9/11It is, however, unlikely to repeat the commercial success and global notoriety of its predecessor simply because its concerns are more parochial, focusing on the American health service and the system’s iniquities compared with those of Cuba, Canada, France and the UK.

The film is a campaigning attack on the profit-driven US healthcare system which, argues Moore, is weighted in favour of the drugs and insurance companies rather than the patients. He begins by saying that 50 million Americans can’t afford health cover and goes on to state that many of the 250 million who do pay insurance are not as well-protected as they might think.

Always good for a controversy or two, Moore filmed  a brief segment, in Cuba with 9/11 responders. This was to highlight the differences in healthcare between the ‘richest nation in the world’ and – well – Cuba.

Unfortunately, or perhaps predictably, this got the US Treasury Department in a huff; Moore might not have gotten the appropriate licenses. (It should be noted that this would have even irritated the USTD under Clinton who famously tightened the embargo in 1996.) One effect the Moore visit to Cuba will likely have is to make the exile Cubans in Florida grumpy. Probably not a good way to get more liberal/democratic support so close to an important presidential election in that swing state. But hey; let’s let embargos be embargos, shall we?

It remains to be seen what effect this movie will have. I’m sure the British will smirk when watching Moore wax poetic on their much maligned National Health System since the NHS is usually described in the British press as one of the roots of all evil. As a matter of fact, some have already started smirking,

Our own dear National Health Service also comes in for lavish praise. There’s a particularly comic sequence in which Moore marches round Hammersmith hospital in London searching for the payments section. Eventually he finds the cashier’s office: much mock incredulity ensues when he discovers its purpose is not to receive money from patients, but to pay out cash to those of them who cannot afford their travel expenses.

I guess I could hope though. I’d like to see Michael Moore’s next effort be about the food industry; a major campaign to get people in America to lose weight.

Then we might finally get what I’d really enjoy – less of Moore. That would be a documentary I’d go watch.

Viral PSA: Bulimia

Campaign for the Organisation Anorexia Bulimia Contact by Grey Stockholm and TCB Stockholm

Pass it on.

Bird Flu in Moscow – Terror at 11:00

Or something.

According to just about every single press agency, the Bird Flu has finally attacked the heart of Putin’s empire, Moscow. From the (very French, probably socialist and likely stylish) AFP,

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed at one of three farms under investigation on the outskirts of Moscow, a veterinary source said in the first outbreak of the disease to threaten the Russian capital.

“We have just received the laboratory results” from the first of the farms, Russian veterinary authority spokesman Alexei Alexeyenko told AFP, “the precise subtype of the H5N1 virus (will be known) by Sunday evening.”

Now this would be bad enough. With spring coming and illegal immigrant migrant birds just crossing borders without passports, or papers or anything, it is clear that the bird flu will start to hit European farms and zoos in the coming weeks and months.

But what you might not have realised is that these illegal immigrant migrant are actually jihadist agents.

According to Interfax

Bio-terrorism must not be discarded as a cause of an outbreak of bird flu at Moscow’s poultry market, but this should be tackled by the Federal Security Service and other law enforcement services,” chief veterinary official of the Moscow region, Valery Sitnikov, told Interfax on Sunday.

The regional veterinary services have almost no doubts that the deadly illness came from Moscow’s poultry market, Sitnikov said.

“The birds that contracted the disease on the poultry market could have infected other fowl. Bird flu symptoms appear two-three days following infection, which can be seen from what is happening. The first decorative hen was bought on February 9. It died on February 11. In the second case, several hens, bought on February 11, died on February 13,” he said.

I wonder if Valery and Tony Snow talk. I mean they would probably get along fairly well.

I think Russia needs to start thinking about put’in up a protective wall, an impenetrable missle bird shield to protect and defend the Motherland. Just wait until the Russian version of Michel Malkin get’s hold of this.

Just wait until the REAL Michel Malkin get’s hold of this.

Bird Flu – Terror at 11:00 * sigh

Cover Your Beak When You Cough…

… or buy Baxter Healthcare stock. It’s your choice.

The past week European new outlets have been highlighting the story of the H5N1 outbreak on a turkey farm in Suffolk. From the AP story as relayed by the San Francisco Chronicle,

Officials confirmed Saturday that the H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in turkeys on a commercial farm — Britain’s first mass outbreak of the disease that has ravaged Asia’s poultry stocks and killed more than 160 people worldwide.

The virus strain that killed about 2,500 turkeys on the British poultry farm was identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to a virus found in Hungary in January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

It was the first time the deadly H5N1 strain was found on a British farm.

This untimely demise of 2,500 turkey led to the even untimely-er demise of the other159,000 turkeys at the protein factory farm ranch. Turkeys which had been slated for the dinner table are now considered a major bio-hazard problem.

Of course officially there was no major health threat to the British population because the risk of bird flu spreading isn’t something to panic about. It’s not like having blinking Moonites plastered about a major city and more importantly plastered about major cable news organisations. That’s when you have to really start panicking. Right?

Not so fast, you might reconsider that.

You see, one of the major areas hit by the H5N1 virus is Indonesia. Up until the beginning of this year, they had shared samples of infected tissues with researchers across the globe. That was until an American company saw cash in them thar samples. From the International Herald Tribune,

Indonesia Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. drug manufacturer Baxter Healthcare Corp. to develop a human bird flu vaccine.

Under the agreement, Indonesia will provide H5N1 virus samples in exchange for Baxter’s expertise in vaccine production. Other organizations would have access to Indonesian samples provided they agree not to use the viruses for “commercial” purposes, said Siti Fadilah Supari, Indonesia’s health minister.

But that is a major departure from the World Health Organization’s existing virus-sharing system, where bird flu viruses are freely shared with the global community for public health purposes, including vaccine and antiviral development. Indonesia has not shared any viruses since the beginning of 2007.

Isn’t that special?

Of course there are two sides to the story. The article continues with,

Indonesia defended its decision, arguing the system works against poor countries. “The specimens we send to WHO…are then used by vaccine makers who then sell to us (at a profit),” Supari told reporters Wednesday. “This is unfair, we have the virus, we are getting sick, and then they take the virus from WHO — ‘with WHO’s permission’ they say — and make it themselves,” said Supari.

But somehow I suspect that, no matter who makes a possible vaccine, Mr Supari would be able to afford it. It is doubtful that a large portion of the Indonesian population would be similarly protected, Baxter or no Baxter.

The nice thing is that if Indonesia decides to stick with this decision, other countries will probably follow suit. This would allow cash strapped third world politicians countries to fill up their coffers with much needed funds. At the same time a pharma company might be getting an amazing gold mine.

It’s a globalization win-win; a humanitarian lose-lose.

Say goodbye to the WHO’s flu-sharing network. Say hello to Baxter’s Best Flu Shots.

And please cover your beak when you cough.

Don’t Eat the Snow

Both the BBC and the Guardian are reporting an occurrence of snow last week in Siberia.

Normally, that probably wouldn’t be news – except that the snow is smelly, oily and orange. From the coverage at the BBC,

Oily yellow and orange snowflakes fell over an area of more than 1,500sq km (570sq miles) in the Omsk region on Wednesday, Russian officials said.

Chemical tests were under way to determine the cause, they said.

Residents have been advised not to use the snow for household tasks or let animals graze on it.

“So far we cannot explain the snow, which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell,” said Omsk environmental prosecutor Anton German, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Thursday.

While the BBC refuses to speculate on the source of the snow, the Guardian doesn’t have those kinds of qualms.

Russian scientists trying to solve the mystery faced a tricky problem. The region is home to so many polluting industries it was hard to identify which one might have been responsible. Could it have been the nuclear plant in nearby Mayak? Or the metallurgy and chemicals factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk? The region is next to north Kazakhstan, a vast area of steppe used by the Soviet Union to conduct its nuclear tests. Or might the rogue snow have been caused by fuel from the space rockets launched in Kazakhstan?

Yesterday environmental campaigners said that Russia had suffered decades of pollution – nuclear, industrial, and radioactive.

I have to admit yellow snow is pretty unusual,” said Vladimir Sliviak, the chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefence. “I can think of only two other cases in the last decade.

What is with the repeated hammering on a nuclear source for the contamination? Chemical contamination is bad enough, Am I alone in thinking Agent Orange? Wouldn’t that do for scare mongering?

Especially the sentence pointing to the nuclear, industrial and radioactive contamination. Being slow and an obvious lover of all things anti-environmental, I have to ask: what, exactly, is the difference between nuclear and radioactive contamination? Is that contamination with chemicals containing nuclei perhaps? Dust kicked up by a nuclear test 30 years ago only now settling back to the same spot? Inquiring minds want to know. *sigh*

Don’t take me wrong. This is a major, abet local, problem. I suspect things like this are also happening in China but we don’t find out about it very often (better censors). Unfortunately, this won’t have a long half-life in the minds of western observers and Russian investigative reporters will probably be – discouraged – from doing a follow-up.

I’ll be rechecking this story in a couple of week and let you know what I find.

I will make a predition though. I doubt I’ll find something about rogue nuclei planning a world takeover.

(Hat Tip: Michael Stickings/The Reaction)

It’s In the (lack of) Marketing

Surrender Hippos…Hmmpf!

This is something I wanted to point out all week.

It seems it will be just a little bit healthier to go to McDonald’s in a couple of months. After the outright ban of trans-fat oils in New York City, McDonalds announced Monday that they have already decided which oil they would use and have started using it. According to the Washington Post on Monday,

McDonald’s Corp. has finally selected a new trans-fat-free oil for cooking its famous french fries after years of testing, the fast-food chain said Monday.

While it has developed a healthier new oil, the company is still not saying when it will be used in all 13,700 U.S. restaurants. It already trails competitors in committing to a zero-trans fat oil.

Spokesman Walt Riker said the oil is currently in more than 1,200 U.S. restaurants after extensive testing, but declined to provide details on timing or locations.

“We can confirm that we’ve got the right oil,” he said. “We’re phasing it in.” [my emphasis]

I find it really interesting that they refuse to tell people which restaurants are using the oil.

I suspect they are trying to avoid the New Coke Catch-22. Do something people would like. The only reason it gets refused is because it’s different not because it isn’t better.

Back when I first started following the tran-fat facts in NYC, I wrote the following,

One of the big defenders of trans-fats is McDonalds. They claim their French Fries will no longer taste the same. The problem is, after 6 months no one would know.

I seem to have gotten it right.

According to the article McDonalds has been testing various oils for the past seven years. Now they have found something but the taste of the fries is probably subtly different. Not enough that you would notice unless you had fries from two different restaurants and did taste testing. You might also need to engage in fry fondling to determine which is ‘crunchier’ but I won’t go there.

Thus, for about 10% of America the good old trans-fatty McD fry is history; gone the way of the Dodo, the Carrier Pigeon, the Fat Guy in The Meaning Of Life.

For once the marketing guys and the science guys got together to make Americas life marginally healthier instead of the other way around.

Now, if they can only start reducing the number of calories in the average McDonald’s hamburger bun, we’ll be on a roll – well – waddle.

Feeding PETA

Sure, like many, I enjoy the occasional Supermodel PETA no-fur-just-skin publicity stunt. But, although I have more hair on my legs than on my head and I have a weakness for grumpy-faced Land-Lobsters, I can’t stand People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – the organisation. I’m sorry but I just can’t go there.Land Lobsters

PETA and their more extreme cohorts from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are now campaigning against Oregon researcher Charles Roselli. The story of misunderstanding leading to distortion leading to lies is being run in today’s New York Times.

Charles Roselli set out to discover what makes some sheep gay. Then the news media and the blogosphere got hold of the story.

Dr. Roselli, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, has searched for the past five years for physiological factors that might explain why about 8 percent of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams instead of ewes. The goal, he says, is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep. Other researchers might some day build on his findings to seek ways to determine which rams are likeliest to breed, he said.

But since last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals started a campaign against the research, it has drawn a torrent of outrage from animal rights activists, gay advocates and ordinary citizens around the world — all of it based, Dr. Roselli and colleagues say, on a bizarre misinterpretation of what the work is about.

The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle.

Perhaps most vile is the article run in the British broadsheet, The Sunday Times, in December of last year. They spun the story not only to include gay sheep but mind control. In what can only seen as a very strange form of journalistic excess, the Sunday Times reporters imagined bizarre experiments on sheep brains.

The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of “male-oriented” rams by studying their brains. The animals’ skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains.

By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes.

Likely the sheep were dead and the sensors were measuring something like hormone levels but that wasn’t important to the reporters at the Sunday Times. Properly packaged anything can be both true and false and sensational enough to sell papers.

Of course the Sunday Times isn’t the institution it used to be. It’s one of the cogs in Rupert Murdoch’s media machine.

Perhaps it’s worst journalistic faux pas was publishing the faked Hitler Diaries ‘discovered’ by the German magazine Stern in 1983. That episode also clearly pointed to the Murdoch philosophy. According to Robert Harris’s Selling Hitler, subscriptions to the Sunday Times rose by almost 50,000 during the early hype. After the fakes were exposed, subscriptions remained 20,000 above pre-hype levels. A win-win situation for Mr Murdoch. (Of course for some reason the Sunday Times never did a book review on the bestselling Selling Hitler. I wonder why?)

Murdoch realizes that sensationalism, true or false sells papers, books and ‘news’ channels. He isn’t concerned with moving information, he is concerned with moving money. And, he does a very good job.

While homosexual behavior in animals is well documented and even the religious right has toned down the “Crime Against Nature” hype in anti-gay rhetoric, the underlying cause for the seemingly anti-evolutionary behavior is still largely unclear. That is the reason people do research.

But there is a language barrier to be overcome. When a scientist talks about discovering the controls for homosexuality in sheep, it doesn’t mean he wants to control the sheep, he wants to understand the mechanism. The activist wants to see evil. The NYT article continues,

In an interview, Shalin Gala, a PETA representative working on the sheep campaign, said controlling or altering sexual orientation was a “natural implication” of the work of Dr. Roselli and his colleagues.

Mr. Gala, who asked that he be identified as openly gay, cited the news release for a 2004 paper in the journal Endocrinology that showed differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual sheep.

The release quoted Dr. Roselli as saying that the research “also has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans.”

Mr. Newman, who wrote the release, said the word “control” was used in the scientific sense of understanding the body’s internal controls, not in the sense of trying to control sexual orientation.

So scientists are “naturally” trying to control Mr Gala. Note some fairly normal people think the government is naturally trying to control our minds, but that’s something for a different post…and wardrobe. People like PETA and ALF want to see evil everywhere. It is how they generate support; it is how they generate funding.

An excellent example of misplaced activism was the attack on a deer farm in Scotland last year when ALF tore down fences to free the enslaved herbivores. The herbivores were quite happy where they were, thank-you-very-much.

Fences were cut in four fields at Reediehill Deer Farm near Auchtermuchty and graffiti including “Scum” was spray-painted on the ground.

However, none of the 50 to 60 red deer tried to escape.

The farm, run by Fletchers of Auchtermuchty, is free-range and Nichola Fletcher, who owns it with her husband John, said the wrong people were targeted.

The couple pride themselves on their animal welfare practices, and Mrs Fletcher said, “These people have made up their minds without coming to find out about us.

“I would love to invite them for a cup of tea and explain to them what we are trying to do here.

Great. Tea with the enemy. Where are all the dynamite carrying owls when you need them?

Although there are many species that exhibit homosexual behavior, for me, I always think ‘lion’ when I think of non-human gays. (I am also not alone.) So maybe we should just bring these two things together, PETA and gay lions. Preferably in a cage.

So, here’s my solution, let’s feed PETA to the lions.

(And yes, this post was totally about reposting the NRA Animal Terrorist picture again.)

Looking forward to the Super-Bowl?

Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh has good news for you if you think football players play with a deck a few cards short (and let’s face it TheSmokingGun would probably be out of work if it wasn’t for sports-person faux pas).

In, what is likely to become a controversial article in today’s New York Times, Dr. Omalu is sited as showing that the November suicide of ex-NFL player Andre Waters is linked to concussions he got during his career.

The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh and a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of a 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Omalu said that brain trauma “is the significant contributory factor” to Mr. Waters’s brain damage, “no matter how you look at it, distort it, bend it. It’s the significant forensic factor given the global scenario.”

He added that although he planned further investigation, the depression that family members recalled Mr. Waters exhibiting in his final years was almost certainly exacerbated, if not caused, by the state of his brain — and that if he had lived, within 10 or 15 years “Andre Waters would have been fully incapacitated.”

This will be bad news for the sports industry because, let’s face it, knowing that you might be basically brain dead at 55 isn’t a real lifetime goal for most people (unless you’re Paula Abdul). This tidbit will line up with all the information about brain damage caused by sports like hockey, boxing, soccer etc. But hey, it’s sport! If you aren’t destroying your joints or obliterating brain cells through hypoxia (oxygen starvation), you’re probably banging your head too much. Since I don’t play sports, my biggest risk is usually listening to George Bush. I often find myself banging my head against something. After six years, I’m probably already hopelessly lost.

The two truly sad things about this story are those effected, cases like Andre Waters; and the fact that the sports lobby will kick into full-speed denial in the next couple of days. I’d keep my eye on Seed’s ScienceBlogs; this right down their alley.

According to the article, Waters was severely depressed before his suicide. He might have seen taking his life as one of the last acts he could manage. I am sure he is not alone; it’s just that other former players simply fade from the limelight.. Mohammed Ali is a pillar of hope despite the damage he sustained at the height of his career. The phrase punch-drunk is no longer often associated with it’s origin, boxing, but the cause is similar to that being discussed here.

The problem isn’t whether some sports cause brain damage, the problem is that too much money is involved to stop playing the dangerous sports. Not only the professional level is important. School sports are designed to encourage team spirit (or break the spirit of the free-willed, depends on the coach I suspect). School sports also generate an amazing amount of income per year; then comes the college stuff, the professional and the semi-professional and amateur stuff.

Band also encourages school spirt. Choir anyone? Chess club? But you’d ban sports because they are unhealthy? It’s not like it’s – um – trans-fats or something!

And let’s face it, how many parents would get fired up to go their kid’s golf match on Friday night? What do you do with the cheerleaders? Would they become golf-clap-leaders and wear baggy clothing? (Highside? No more water-kid; you’d have caddies!) But honestly. I. Don’t. Think. So.

So what will happen? Nothing. Why? Because the danger and the action are too far apart. Humans haven’t evolved to visualise dangers not temporally associated with the cause. (I wanted to use visceral-ise there, but that isn’t a word. It should be!) That’s the problem here (evolution not visceralisation) . It’s the problem with sports. It’s the problem with mass extinction. It’s the problem with global climate change. (It’s either that; or the Land-Lobsters are to blame, but I’m not the NRA.) People don’t have a long term bad feeling. Perhaps a little unease perhaps, but most people won’t get scared enough and therefore won’t care.

They give Super-Bowl parties. For many, the Super-Bowl party today is better than the hangover tomorrow. And football players should worry about reaching fifty? Players be damned.

Total Recall Care

Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a new healthcare package for California. Both the LA Times and The New York Times headline the story.

While necessary, it also points to the rapidly regressing social structure in society today. The reforms that labor leaders fought and died for in the early part of the 20th-century are falling apart in the first decade of the 21st.

The scale of the problem is immense. This from the NY Times coverage,

A total of 6.5 million people, one-fifth of the state’s population, do not have health insurance, far more than in any other state. At least one million of the uninsured are illegal immigrants, state officials say.
[...]
The plan, which Mr. Schwarzenegger estimated would cost $12 billion, calls for many employers that do not offer health insurance to contribute to a fund that would help pay for coverage of the working uninsured. It would also require doctors to pay 2 percent and hospitals 4 percent of their revenues to help cover higher reimbursements for those who treat patients enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. [my emphasis]

Part of Schwarzeneggers motivation might come from his ‘old Europe’ heritage. Maybe he remembers his childhood in Austria where universal coverage is considered normal. I can’t think of any European country that doesn’t have universal healthcare systems. Not that many of those systems aren’t in financial trouble. In Germany, the debate isn’t about whether people should have healthcare or not but that the system slowly is devolving into two class system, healthcare for the rich and life support for the rest.

But from the looks of it, Schwarzenegger really does want the new system to work. He wants to try to attack the problem where it is worst and help those most in need. The LA Times points out

The governor also wants to ban insurers from refusing to offer coverage to some individuals because of their prior medical conditions. Insurers would also have to spend at least 85% of their premium revenues on patient care, a move that would limit the amount companies spend on administrative costs and profits.

In an effort to cover all Californian children, including ones in the state illegally, Schwarzenegger’s plan would expand the state’s Healthy Families program, providing insurance to children whose parents make less than three times the poverty level. That works out to about $60,000 for a family of four.

This will both make lots of people hopeful and probably piss off even more. Fortunately, Arnold has a plan. He has already figured out how to avoid being assassinated. Of course this picture from the New York Times does remind me of a movie…

Total Recall

Brave New World? No. 1984? No. Oh! I remember… Total Recall!

Update: For an excellent overview of the details of the program, you should head over to The Sentinel Effect where Richard Eskow has all the major points in one swell foop.

Mental ‘Issues’

I was going to write a warm, fuzzy post. Something encouraging, happy, Something to bring a smile to your face and spring in your step. It didn’t pan out – my evil twin – the helpful web surfer won out. The result follows.

While I don’t fall for most political slogans, there are some measures I do think need more attention. Thus, while I’m not really falling for the 100 hours thing (100 hours would be like half the time the previous congress actually worked. Right?), according to ABC News (Hat Tip: Pete Abel/Moderate Voice) , the Democrats will finally get around to actually admitting that mental disorders are equal in severity to physical problems and need to be treated appropriately.

After years of trying, advocates think they have a good chance of getting Congress to pass legislation next year that would require equal health insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, if their policies include both.

The legislation, named for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat who championed the cause, has strong support in Congress but has run into GOP roadblocks. In the last congressional session, 231 House members more than half of the chamber signed on as co-sponsors. The GOP leadership, which in the past had expressed concern that the proposal would drive up health insurance premiums, wouldn’t bring it up for a vote.

In 2003, Senate Democrats tried to win passage of the bill as a tribute to Wellstone, who died in a plane crash the previous year. Republicans blocked an attempt to pass it by unanimous consent.

While this type of legislation might backfire, health insurance companies might just stop covering mental health, it is probably a step forward. It is arguable that this indeed would be a step forward because the Republicans fought the bill. That means someone (possibly the insurers and by inference the lobbyists) will be making less profit, something that is near and dear to Republican hearts, and thus the opposition.

I was going to urge you to contact your Congress person to encourage swift passage of this measure.

But then my evil twin surfed in.

You see. I wanted your life to be easy. Foolish mortal that I am, I thought with approximately 430 Congressmen and 100 Senators, there would be a simple list of email addresses. Not. So. Fast. Buster.

I quickly found this page, the stupidity of which leaves me reeling. So I need to enter my full zip code in order to find my representative. OK. It would be foolish to think that one could simply list alternative representatives associated with the 5 digit codes and list the possible 4 digit ranges if appropriate (Is it that big a problem? Is there that much overlap?). I could understand that. But why do I need to enter the STATE first. Isn’t the complete 9 digit zip-code enough? Shouldn’t that route mail basically to my door step? With 300 Million people in the US, doesn’t that mean that there is one nine digit zip code for every 300 people? Are they spread out that much? Like in different states?

Thus, I ask you to do two things, dear readers. One. Please e-mail or conact your local congressperson and request the support of this bill. That’s the Wellstone Act, sponsored by Patrick Kennedy (even more info here).

Second, please write this brain-dead pagef*cker (it is Congress after all). This is the person responsible for the wonderful contact your congress person page. Ask this individual (nicely), just why in God’s /Allah’s /Jehovah’s or Gaia’s name do I need to enter my state to find my congressperson if I have to enter the nine digit zip-code ANYWAY? ISN’T THAT ENOUGH?! Why isn’t there a list of Congress people by state. Why can’t you legislate the postal service into giving you a web service to let people look that information up directly without redirection and warnings? Why does this service need to be obfuscated to the point of silliness? Why Mr/Ms Write Your Representive Admistrator? Why?

Bad programming! Get’s my panties in a bunch every time. Gee – do you think I have ‘issues’?

Maybe the Wellstone Act might help.

The Fallacy of Fear

Anita Huslin from the Washington Post has an article about the problem with motivating people to live healthier. The facet? Telling people that they live unhealthy lives, that certain foods will lead to health problems, that more exercise and less Play Station might extend life simply doesn’t work.

Is it possible that we’re missing a self-discipline gene? Unlikely, though recent research synthesized by the National Academy of Sciences suggests there may be combinations of genes and environmental factors that make it hard for some people to maintain control over their habits.

And every year, as if we had learned nothing from our past, we renew our vows to change. Then we crack open our wallets. In recent years: $63 billion on low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie foods; more than $1 billion on smoking cessation products and programs; $46 billion on diet and fitness programs, drugs and surgeries. At the same time, the nation’s health-care industry spends hundreds of billions to treat preventable illnesses in a process that H.L. Mencken recognized decades ago: “The true aim of medicine,” he said, “is not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices.”

In the end, what doctors and studies and experts have pointed out is that the thing that really helps to change behavior is something hard to measure but ultimately powerful.

Change comes from the heart, not the head.

She goes on to discuss both the problem and some of the ideas towards solutions.

The problem is twofold. She turns the phrase “As a motivator for personal change, fear is a poor performer.” I suspect this has evolutionary causes. Reacting to immediate threats – the rather grumpy lion looking for a snack – was evolutionarily far more important than worrying if your butt was getting too big. (Although considering the number of women people who ALWAYS stop in front of mirrors to check said butt (Does this make me look fat? No…you look fat no matter what you wear.) does seem to make this argument less strong than one might believe. Butt = evolutionary advantage? Hmm…) Realistically scientists have increasingly shown that long term threats with a reasonably high probability of occurrence (think dying in an automobile accident) tends to worry people less than low probability, high profile threats (terrorist attack or airplane crash).

The long term problems associated with bad habits is not an immediate threat and even having a short term scare isn’t enough to change the bad habits. As a haven’t-smoked-in-four-years smoker, I understand the mindset. For me the change didn’t come because I suddenly understood the long term threats involved. I was fully aware of those. For me the change was entirely mental. I just wanted to stop. I had had enough. Literally like stepping through a door, one day I was a smoker, the next day I was a former smoker. My body fought this for a couple of months and even now I manage to occasionally fire up the remaining neural centers and create a major craving. But I don’t give in because I Just. Don’t. Do. That. Any. More. I suspect its like being born again, one day fun loving party mammal, the next fundamentalist fish. Poof.

But training people in the technique of mental switching isn’t really practical. Many will give in to the stress, they will eventually use whatever ‘feel good’ mechanism that worked well in the past. That’s why stopping smoking, diets or exercise are so difficult to keep up as an individual. If you’re the only person pushing, the only person ‘suffering’ it is far more difficult to change.

In step the lawmakers, the Twinkie Taxers, the Fat Nazis – those people that make libertarians foam at the mouth. While having good intentions is OK, having someone slap your hand is better. Returning to the Post article,

Despite several years of public education campaigns and outreach efforts to discourage smoking in public places, there was little impact on the rate of smoking, according to the city health department. But starting in 2002, the city imposed an all-out ban on smoking in public places, and, according to the department, some 200,000 people quit within the first two years. Now, of course, the city is after trans fat, in hopes of giving its residents a leg up on their diets. And the District ushered in its new smoking ban yesterday.

In other areas, like company cafeterias charging more for ‘unhealthy’ food as a stick to subsidise carrots or companies refusing to employ smokers is a step towards forcing people to follow what is conceived as a better path. The insurance companies are stepping in to increasingly lobby for more front end control. They are going up against those who make money using emotion to make that momentary pleasure desirable.

As long as there is money to be made giving people the instant gratification, the quick sugar high, the perfect couch potato chip, the ideal mocca-caramel-crunch, people will be unlikely to change. There will be people willing to deep fry that snickers bar to make your life that much better.

Until the short term price of the instant feel-good lifestyle is raised above the long term consequences, change will never occur. But perhaps the question is completely different. Do we really want to live in a highly regulated health food, exercise ridden police state? Or will we simply re-engineer our internal flora to ‘correct’ for bad behaviour?

I don’t know. But since this post was so pointless, so depressing, I think I’m going to go make some hot chocolate, hug a teddy bear on the couch and have some chips. Fear is a fallacy. Perhaps more importantly, do you think this post makes me look fat?

Quicky: Health and Money

I am not usually as obsessive about health issues as I seem to be his week, but the cool stuff just keeps coming.

Now Kent Sepkowitz has a really good article up at Slate. He discusses the combination of drug companies and doctors. Both why each side needs the other and the risks and evils in the system. He also points to the inherent weakness as he sees it.

It’s a sleazy proposition all the way around. But as Calvin Coolidge once said, the business of America is business. Successful businesses want to sell as much as they can, as fast as they can. So doctors end up with meals and pens and trips and bogus advisory-board positions and, of course, the hordes of fine-looking well-perfumed young men and women—some literally cheerleaders—who hustle their way through physicians’ offices.

Despite its successes, the pharma business model does have a problem. The drug reps, foot soldiers in the mercantile crusade, don’t know what they are talking about. Unlike a shoe salesman or the guy who sold you your laptop, the drug rep is 100 percent lost. Imagine buying a car from someone who’s never had a driver’s license—that’s how the doctor-drug relationship plays out. None of the people trying to convince me to prescribe product A ever has prescribed product A—or product B or product C for that matter. None has ever experienced the elaborate mess that is routine patient care. The freebies seek to redress this imbalance by making the exchange seem worthwhile.

It’s a good article and I advise reading it in full.

The Fat Nazis II – Herman’s Henchmen

Teresa, SAHM aka Kung Fu Goddess (insert appropriate obsequious fawning gesture here – you’ll tell me when I can stop doing this right?),  pointed me to this web page. I won’t even repeat the name here, they don’t need the traffic.

Well if New York is inhabited by Fat Nazis – Trees certainly found the SS. From their article ranting fuming blatantly blathering about the new ban.

In an unprecedented act of legislative hubris and consumer condescension, New York City’s Board of Health and Mental Hygiene banned trans fat from the city’s restaurants last Wednesday. Big-government types across the country have flocked to the nearest microphone in hopes of inspiring copycats (for examples, see here, here, here, here, and here). But fortunately, opinion leaders have fired back, burning up newspaper op-ed and editorial pages with equal parts common-sense and outrage.

They go on to quote all the newspapers and TV coverage (um – well they quote Fox – that’s sort of moving pictures on a small box that is often transmitted by cable which is fairly cool, and well if the TV wasn’t balanced it would fall over – right?) they generated in the last couple of months.  This is pretty good for a lobbying organisation. The quick response of mind bending insanity quickly scattered. Get the spin out quickly before the top stops. Of course the real inanity is in the last paragraph.

The ultimate irony of NYC’s trans fat ban is that it probably won’t make New Yorkers much healthier. This month, a survey of 600 doctors found that less than half (47 percent) think the ban will have a “significant impact on the health of those who eat there.” More than half (53 percent) said they would oppose a federal trans fat prohibition, and 49 percent agreed that the “US government does not have the right to implement such a law.”

The first statistic is probably the reverse side of the survey saying 53 percent say the ban will have “significant impact on the health of those who eat there.”[my emphisis] Probably more would subscribe to the statement that the ban will have an “impact on the health of those who eat there.” (my guess). Then they go from the – um – fat to the fire. No one is actually completely prohibiting trans-fats, they are being LIMITED. There is a fixed amount. Thus 53 percent say of the doctors rightly say that a complete prohabition probably isn’t necessary. And asking doctors whether the federal government has the right to implement a law is like asking the mall Santa if the present will get there on time. They are the wrong people to ask. (Try constitutional lawyers next time guys).

Ick. Ick. Ick. I feel like I just took an oil bath in rancid butter. Bleah! Thanks for the link Trees. It’s good to bath in depravity once in a while.

Meanwhile, give me the Fat Nazis over the brokers of death any day.

Fat Nazis

No. I don’t mean Herman Göring, the fattest Nazi I can imagine.

No I mean those people in New York and other places starting to wage a war on one of the invisible problems with western diets. In an article yesterday, William Saletan talked about the looming ban of trans-fats in New York.

Put your hands in the air, and step away from the cookie.

That’s the message from New York City, where the health department has just ordered the city’s 25,000 restaurants to purge nearly all trans fats from their menus. Restaurant owners are terrified that other cities will follow. In the dough business, like show business, New York leads the way. If you can’t bake it there, you can’t bake it anywhere.

The whole world is engulfed in a war on fat. On one side are health crusaders. On the other side are food sellers and libertarians. Lately, the health costs of obesity have prodded politicians into the war, shifting the balance of power to the crusaders. Still, Americans draw the line at food. You stamped out our cigarettes, you made us wear seat belts, but you’ll get our burgers when you pry them from our cold, dead hands.

At steak stake here are the recipes of approximately 7500 restaurants in New York City. More specifically the regulations won’t completely ban trans-fats, but the amount of trans-fat will be limited. The New York Times coverage from September says a little more about the details of the ban.

The New York prohibition would affect the city’s entire restaurant industry, by far the nation’s largest, from McDonald’s to fashionable bistros to street corner takeouts across the five boroughs.

The city would set a limit of a half-gram of artificial trans fats per serving of any menu item, sharply reducing most customers’ intake. The fats are commonly found in baked goods, like doughnuts and cakes, as well as breads and salad dressing.

Officials said that the typical American diet now contains 5.8 grams of trans fats per day, and that a single five-ounce serving of French fries at many restaurants contained 8 grams of trans fats.

The restaurant owners seem to think that the city is overstepping its bounds. But it’s the lobbyists from the insurance industry that are putting pressure on the politicians to do something. It’s not like the city didn’t ask nicely back in 2005. They tried to retrain restaurant owners. The owners pushed back, the lobbyists pushed harder. The lobbyists are winning. In the Times article one health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden commented, “Like lead paint, artificial trans fat in food is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced.”

Libertarians will claim that people concerned about fats won’t go to fatty restaurants. Let the market decide. This is just the first step on a long war on food. Libertarians want the market to decide. Dear libertarians, the market is deciding. William Saletan gets back to the heart of the issue.

From a libertarian standpoint, the danger is that trans fats, having been targeted because, in some ways, they’re not food, will lay the groundwork for more dietary regulation because, in other ways, they are. Once you’ve banned one kind of fat, it’s easier to tackle another. You start with the argument health crusaders used in Chicago: You’re doing it to help parents protect kids. Then you try the maneuver they used in New York: quantifying now many lives you’ll save. Purging trans fats in New York would save at least 500 lives a year and possibly 1,400, said the health department. That’s more than the number saved by seat belts.

So, what do we have here? Is this a case of ‘You came for my cigarettes and I didn’t say anything, you came for my trans-fats and I didn’t say anything…?” I don’t think so.

This is a case of industrial ‘traditions’ being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21th century. Trans-fats aren’t as necessary as they were 30 years ago when they replaced hydrogenated fats made from liquid oils. One of the big defenders of trans-fats is McDonalds. They claim their French Fries will no longer taste the same. The problem is, after 6 months no one would know. Indeed, as Saletan mentions, McDonalds in Denmark no longer use trans-fats because they are basically illegal in that country of windmills and herring. One wonders if a quiet changeover, simply replacing one fat for another would do the trick. Then do the marketing blitz after the fact – “Look how healthy we are!” Of course after a showy start, McDonalds has slowly been removing healthy items from the menu here in Germany simply because no one bought them. After all, who goes to McDonalds for health food?

Many products are sweetened to improve saleability, done because it is the only way to stay competitive. Whether an all-out ban or simply an increased tax on items using calorific and unhealthy additives to increase sales is the appropriate method is something economists should discuss. New York will be an excellent test case. There are enough people in New York that should trans-fats be one of the major culprits behind heart disease, a change should be noticeable. Then it won’t be the politicians who act first, it will be the lobbyists from the insurance companies. Trying to lower costs while keeping premiums at – well – a premium.

For a strange reason, I have had a lot of health – cholesterol related posts lately. I have repeatedly hammered on the idea of lifestyle change. This is a perfect example of the kind of change I think is necessary. If industry could cut the number of excess calories in prepared foods by 10 percent in 10 years many of the bulging problems in western waistlines would be reduced. I think this is a realistic goal. I also think this is the best method for affecting this type of change.

I feel that the original fat Nazi, Herman Göring, got what was coming to him. (Well not quite, he did manage to avoided his date with the executioner but did ulimately pay for his crimes.) I also feel that the actions of these Fat Nazis need to be successful. Not in banning trans-fats but in changing lifestyles for millions of people, behind the scenes, at the source not the sink. Saving lives and not taking them like the original Nazis did.

Savannah Dreaming

As the sun rose over the dusty savannah, the small group of humans slowly prepared to move on for another day. Food is scarce during the dry season in this Africa 100,000 years BCE and the group is forced to move long distances to collect enough to eat. Meat is plentiful around the remaining watering holes but so are the predators. It is too dangerous to try to kill more than the occasional gazelle. Thus the group lives eating just enough to last to the next day with evolution supporting genes designed to live with little and not plenty. Eventually the ancestors of these people will populate every corner of the world with those genes in each human alive today.

Now, 102,000 years later, those genes designed for scarcity seem to be plaguing mankind. At least that’s what supporters of the so called calorie restricted (CR) movement would like us to believe. Calorie restricted diets basically point to research showing that extremely low calorie intake, coupled with appropriate nutritional supervision, can lead to extremely long lives, good health and a healthy self image. Rebecca Traister wrote a description of calorie reduced (CR) diets in Vanity Fair on the day before Thanksgiving.

Calorie-restricted dieters cut their food intake drastically, to around 1,200-1,400 calories a day for a woman and 1,800-2,000 for a man, depending on the individual’s height and weight. Those meager metrics of tastiness must be further apportioned to constitute 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbs. It’s an eating regimen that is greatly aided by calculators, computer software and postal scales.

Hard-core CR dieters usually lose a good deal of weight, though guidelines suggest no more than a pound a week. Some lose their ability to perform strenuous exercise, some (especially men) suffer from an altered or reduced libido, and women may stop getting their periods. Pictures of the diet’s most devoted practitioners reveal them to be emaciated, like concentration-camp survivors or after-school-special cautionary tales or thinspiration models for pro-ana Web sites. With sunken facial features and hunched frames, these spokespeople hardly look like models of what is generally considered good health.

While it is difficult to determine whether the claims of health benefits of limiting every single gram of food are truly life extending, proponents of the hypotheses do point to an increasing number of scientific studies pointing in that direction. There were for example several articles recently showing how CR rhesus monkeys Rudy, Canto and Eeyore have dramatically out ‘performed’ their similarly aged, normally fed companions Matthias, Owen and Johann. The New York Times had perhaps the most complete coverage (and not hidden behind the TimesSelect wall, wow!).

In the last year, calorie-restricted diets have been shown in various animals to affect molecular pathways likely to be involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. Earlier this year, researchers studying dietary effects on humans went so far as to claim that calorie restriction may be more effective than exercise at preventing age-related diseases.

Monkeys like Rudy seem to be proving the thesis. Recent tests show that the animals on restricted diets, including Canto and Eeyore, two other rhesus monkeys at the primate research center, are in indisputably better health as they near old age than Matthias and other normally fed lab mates like Owen and Johann. The average lifespan for laboratory monkeys is 27.

Traister makes the obvious connection between anorexia nervosa and CR and also immediately points out what every CR supporter will tell you – there is a big difference between CR and anorexia. Anorexia is about self-hate and self-destruction, CR is about self-love. A love of life so great that one hopes it will go on forever.

While I am not convinced that CR is the lifestyle of choice, I would support Traister’s question of whether an extended CR life is a lifestyle worth living.

Perhaps the more important question is if this research is truly effective, why aren’t the insurance companies pushing it? Why isn’t big pharma trying to increase the effects? This is a case where science is starting to show that a lifestyle change is being shown to help, to reduce long term health problems. Is this kind of research worth $1 billion or will people simply want to live to eat and enjoy another day? It is clear that unless more and more products come on the market, products like Quorn, products that allow industry to make money while starving you happy, this kind of lifestyle will have to fight an up hill battle. Can you imagine Saturday morning cartoons without some form of sugar advertisement? Neither can I.

Last week, in what was more an aside than the real point, I said that long term lifestyle change is more important than a single medication. I used the failure of a cholesterol medication to poorly illustrate my idea. One commenter either didn’t understand or decided not to agree with my point. While I do advocate lifestyle changes, I also think those changes must be realistic. Blindly following the science-du-jour will not help. Again Traister makes the point vividly.

Of course, if health research karma is a bitch, then foodies have had a slap coming. For years, medical news has gone our way. Chocolate? Red wine? Coffee? All good for us. Recall the highlight health bulletins of the past few years: Dairy products can help us lose weight, fatty fish helps our hearts, tomato sauce on pizza is full of lycopene. The once reviled egg turns out to be very healthy in moderation. Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids have been the best things to happen to food since the term “al dente” got translated correctly. And can we talk about nuts and avocados? Oh salubrious bliss, found in a notexcessively-large serving of guacamole! Even the dismal pall of the Atkins years has begun to lift, as whole grains make a comeback and people acknowledge that ketosis was great and all until they popped a single cracker in their mouths and promptly gained 20 pounds.

So maybe we got spoiled, thinking we were doing great by our bodies by keeping them active and fueling them through the addition of delicious nutrients — blueberries in our smoothies and $12 pomegranate juice in our cocktails! Our reflex at being told once more that health is about the subtraction — of joy — from our lives feels like a bucket of ice water thrown on us during a comfortable Sunday brunch. Perhaps this unwelcome news explains my general grumpiness not only about the CR diet but also about CR dieters themselves, or at least the ones I read about and see on television. Whether it’s because these people are doing something antithetical to everything I believe is good for you in life — or because they are doing it and yet continue to pass their medical tests with flying colors, my irritation knows no bounds.

The problem is not that long term lifestyle change wouldn’t be good, but the necessary cultural change is very difficult to achieve. There is a pervasive feeling that science ‘solves’ everything. But if the scientific solution is not the solution we want, a solution we can live with, has science really helped? Even worse. Would half a planet full of obsessively calorie reduced scarecrows mirroring the scarecrows inhabiting the other half with the poorest countries in the world be a good thing? Would you like to work until you are 120 because the standard lifespan is then 150 years? Do you punish the doughnut eaters for not appropriately paying the pension piper?

Back on that dusty plain in Africa, the group of humans find a clump of roots and begin eating, sitting under the shade of the solitary tree and relaxing for a moment away from the midday sun. The leader of the group leans back, closes his eyes and dreams of heaven – a world full of food, where all he would need do is hold out his hand and food would appear. Little did he know that his dream would someday come true for many people. But for some – it isn’t a dream – it’s a nightmare.

Of Mormons and Chopsticks – A Stem Cell Story

The other day I posted ranted about stem cell research. Some people thought I hit “enough triggerpoints to start an all-out flame-war if he just had a couple thousand readers.”

Staying on the subject, I may as well post the two interesting discussions I recently found about the issue.

The first is about slug presidential hopeful lame duck governor Mitt Romney’s stand on science and stem cell research. (Note: not only the Pentecostals seem to be batshit crazy on science, Romney shows that Mormons can be just as stupid.) From Matt Nisbet’s Framing Science blog,

The Associated Press reports that outgoing MA Gov. Mitt Romney has appointed Aaron D’Elia, a state budget director with no formal scientific background, to be executive director of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, an agency created by the legislature to distribute state funding for stem cell research.

TPM Cafe notes that in selecting D’Elia, Romney is signalling that he prefers idelogical compatriotism over expertise, pandering to social conservatives in the lead up to his planned 2008 presidential run.

University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson voted against the appointment, saying it was made without a search. The UMass president said during an interview with The Associated Press, “I also feel that when we select leadership for an organization like this that we should use professional procedures, that we should have searches and that we should hire the best available person.” Asked whether Romney was seeking an ideological compatriot in D’Elia, Wilson said: “All I can say is that I think that Gov.-elect Patrick really wants to make sure that there is openness for research in stem cells.”

In other stem cell/Science blog meme-ing, the intelligent and parrot loving science blogger Shelly Bates describes the connection between a bizarre chopstick accident and stem cell treatments.

Reported in this week’s Economist (hat tip Bob Abu for the scan), is fascinating story of science meets serendipity. A Chinese woman was admitted to Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, with a chopstick in her brain (!)—specifically the inferior prefrontal subcortex. The chopstick was removed by a Dr. Zu, who took the opportunity to culture the brain tissue that came out with the chopstick. He wanted to verify whether there existed adult neural stem cells there.

The cultured tissue thrived, and many of the resultant cells contained proteins that were characteristic of neural stem cells. In order to make sure they were really stem cells, Dr. Zu cultured cells in isolation and watch and see if it divides into daughter cells. He found that about 4% of the ‘chopstick cells’ went on to form neurospheres (a ball of daughter cells), indicating that they were stem cells. Inspired, Dr. Zu began collecting tissue for various other patients who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and tried to derive neural stem cells from them as well. 16 out of 22 patients successfully yielded stem cells; tissue from the inferior prefrontal subcortex (the chopstick injured area) seem to be the best source.
[
…] They transplanted cultured neural stem cells derived from 8 patients with brain injuries back into those same patients’ brains. They then asked a separate group of neurologists to blindly examine these experimental patients and compare them with un-treated control patients who also had similar injuries. The treated patients had lower disability scores (a good thing), possibly paving the way for this therapy to be used clinically. And all because of one mis-aimed chopstick!

First I need to admit a Mea Culpa. I said that there hadn’t been any real advances in stem cell research. It would seem this article proves me wrong.

But one sees that the reality of the issue is unimportant in politics. Matt Nesbit is right, there is no reason to fight ideology with reason. It must be shown that other countries are pulling away from the US. Perhaps if fewer and fewer scientists in the US get ‘first patent,’ people and companies will start to wake up.

Or maybe we could just use a chopstick on stupid presidential hopefuls.

Pregnant Pause in Papal Condom Ponderings

In April Pope Benedict ordered a theological and scientific study into condom use.

Reuters is reporting that the initial results of the study have been completed and have been passed on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the spiritual successor to the inquisition) for further consideration and commenting before the report is eventually passed on to the Pope.

A study commissioned by Pope Benedict on the use of condoms to fight AIDS has passed its first hurdle and is now being reviewed by top theologians for possible use in a Papal document, a cardinal said on Tuesday.

“This is something that worries the Pope a lot,” said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

The Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms and teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of AIDS.

While this might mean a shift in the Catholic churches fight against condom use, it is unclear what, if any, effect this report might have. The report will not be made public which is fine, companies aren’t required to publish internal studies and there is no reason a church would need to do any differently. What I find interesting is that this study got commissioned in the first place. The Guardian reported some of the background to the study in April when it was first proposed.

The study comes only days after a contender in last year’s papal elections, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, challenged the Roman Catholic church’s official position by suggesting that condom use was the “lesser evil” in combating Aids.

I wonder if the church leadership in Rome is under pressure from the ‘frontline’ in developing nations. The power of African parishioners is growing both in influence and in raw numbers. The San Francisco Chronicle had a story about this when Benedict was elevated into the papal chair.

The Catholic Church is growing faster in Africa than on any other continent, with almost 150 million adherents in countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Angola and Botswana.

In 20 years, more Catholics may live in Africa than in Europe — a trend that has African Catholics hoping openly that an African will one day put on the papal robes of the Holy See.

Their dreams were not fulfilled last week. How close Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze came to being named pope is a matter of conjecture, but the fact that he was in the running is a sign that the future of the Catholic Church is in Lagos as much as it is in Rome.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also hardest hit by AIDS with UNAIDS estimating (pdf) that in 2006 24.7 million adults and children were infected, and there were 2.8 million new cases and 2.1 million deaths. Although South Africa was eventually able to force pharmaceutical companies to reduce (or eliminate) licensing costs for AIDS medications, all reports show Africa socially and economically collapsing under the effects of the epidemic.

aids_map_adults1.gif

“The Catholic Church is not a democracy” is a phrase widely repeated by bishops and priests. But if the only moral choice is between doctrine and death, I think all but the most calloused, dogmatic believers will come around to realistic, democratic ideas. Science is the ultimate democratic tradition and the science says condoms work.

This is something to keep an eye on. Not only for the theological and moral implications for the Catholic Church but the implications to abstinence only birth control/STD control programs being pushed by the American government and the evangelicals. The approval of condom use by the Catholics, even if only in the context of marriage and to prevent the spread of AIDS, would be a major blow to those evangelicals arguing that ‘abstinence only’ is an effective prevention. The opposite might mean not only the death knell for millions of individuals in Africa and thousands in Europe and America, but also for scientific reason. At least for STD programs in America.

Perhaps all we can do is pray. Somehow appropriate don’t you think?

(Hat Tip: Spiegel Online, German)

Science Becomes Policy. A New Trend?

Both the Washington Post  and the New York Times headline with news that the CDC is recommending routine testing for the HIV virus. David Brown from the Wasington Post ledes with

All adolescents and adults should routinely be tested for HIV infection in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, the federal government said yesterday, signaling a radical shift in the public health approach to the 25-year-old epidemic.

Under the new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients would no longer have to sign a consent form and get extensive pre-test counseling. But they would have to be told they were being tested for the AIDS virus, asked if they have any questions and given the opportunity to “opt out.”

This would mean testing for all individuals between 13 and 64 years old. I’m not sure I understand the upper limit on the cut off due to the risks of sexually transmitted diseases in the elderly, but the CDC probably had it’s reasons. 

This is a major shift in policy and as far as I know the US is the first country to do this.  It will still take several years for this policy to filter down through the highways and byways of the American legal system but it’s a start. And speaking of the legal system, according to the NYT, the ACLU has come down against the measure.

Rose A. Saxe, a staff lawyer with the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said her group opposed the recommendation because it would remove the requirement for signed consent forms and pretest counseling. In settings like emergency rooms where doctors are strapped for time, Ms. Saxe said, “we’re concerned that what the C.D.C. calls routine testing will become mandatory testing.”

Patients, particularly teenagers, she said, “will be tested without an opportunity for understanding the magnitude of having a positive result.” 

I’d have to break with the ACLU on this issue because ignorance in this case is not bliss, it’s deadly. Again from the WP

The benefits of knowing — and the hazards of not knowing — one’s HIV status are clear from studies. Between 54 and 70 percent of sexually transmitted cases of HIV are transmitted by people who do not know they are infected with the virus. [my emphasis] 

With an administration that seems increasingly unfriendly towards science, the move by the CDC will send the Religious Right through the roof. This seems to be is a major shift towards science out of step with the rest of the US government. And that in an election year! What were they smoking?

HIV/AIDS deniers have just suffered a major blow. Keep your eyes on Tara Smith’s blog for her take on this. She’s my one-stop reading place for the arguments from HIV/AIDS deniers.

 For once studies not scriptures seem to have carried the day. Will wonders never cease?

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