April 5, 2008

Rainbows, Kittens and Other Wonderful Things!

New classified NIE out this weekend in advance of testimony before Congress by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker later this week. Looks like everything is freakin' awesome over there.

That document spoke of security gains since the increase in troop levels began in January 2007, the continued high rate of violence and uneven progress on the part of Iraqi security forces.
All that violence over there? Its all progress my friends, a good thing in fact. They're really becoming great friends over there, American, Shi'ite, Sunni, Kurd, Leprechaun etc.
Since the August report, Sunni tribes have solidified their resistance to al-Qaeda-associated insurgents in Anbar and Diyala provinces, which has weakened the movement.
Sounds pretty nice. Where's my travel agents number now? Oh yeah...
The report does not take into account the recent battle in Basra, the unruly Shiite port city in the south, according to another congressional official.

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April 4, 2008

Majority of Physicians Support Universal Health Care

A Universal Health Care Initiative has gained some momentum this week after a survey suggests doctor's opinions have changed substantially since the last survey in 2002. Reuters reports that of more than 2,000 doctors surveyed, 59% said they support a national health insurance program. The report appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine (sub req'd, scroll to page 566).

In 2002 the same survey found that 49% of doctors supported national health insurance. This marks the first time a peer-reviewed study has found that a majority of physicians approve of a switch from our patchwork insurance network to a unified national policy.

Even though this is the first study to definitively survey doctor's opinions, for years now there has been a push for universal coverage. The American Medical Association (AMA) began their "Voice For The Uninsured" program a few years ago to expand health care coverage to all citizens. On their website, the AMA outlines specific details and plans to reach their goal of coverage. The AMA is a large organization with members from the nursing and medical community, as well as students in the medical field.

The American College of Physicians, the nation's largest medical specialty group, last year endorsed single-payer healthcare as a national reform agenda. With 124,000 members, the organization said it is ready to stand behind a single-payer national healthcare system as the "one pathway" to universal coverage.

Groups of physicians and students have even started their own organizations, such as "Physicians for a National Health Program", which holds 15,000 physicians, medical students, and health professionals as members.

The American Medical Student Association also endorses a single-payer system, and these guys are going to be the future of health care in America. I think its time we start listening to the providers because they do have an inside knowledge of the machinery that effects the economics of our health care system. Many of them go abroad and observe the different systems in place around the world to truly grasp where our system stands compared to the world's best systems.

Unfortunately the answer that continues to be found is that we pay far too much for how little care we receive. Most of this goes to cover insurers costs and rising profits and gets passed on to the consumer as higher prices. At some point the public will have to demand access to more fair and affordable care or the prices will continue to rise on the backs of a fractioned patchwork insurance net we employ.

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April 3, 2008

John Yoo, the Thomas Aquinas of Torture

The depravity and criminality of this Administration baffles the mind. Every time I think they've hit rock bottom, it couldn't possible get any worse, someone hauls out the jackhammer and keeps digging.

John Yoo, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department, is emerging as an integral element to the legal justifications of the extra-Constitutional (read: illegal) activities of that Administration. Yoo is the author of one of the most infamous legal memos of the new century, which claims that the President's executive authority in determining whether to employ military force, along with the extent and manner in which that force will be used, in response to the "In'ernational War on Terra'," is unaffected by any resolutions or authorizations Congress passes. In other words, as long as the Preznit really wants to do something, say detain and torture hundreds of foreign nationals without legal oversight, it is all good. This apparently includes crushing the testicles of detainee's children, for Christ's sake.

I'll let that sink in.

But our boy Yoo isn't done. The ACLU has won a suit against the Pentagon over a Freedom of Information Act request, and a legal memo describing the underpinnings for Bush's policies regarding detainee treatment and interrogation. Mentioned in the footnote on page 8 is another memo, written by Yoo for disgraced former AG Alberto Gonzales, titled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States." Apparently, this memo makes the terrifying and outrageous claim that "our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations." This memo remains classified unfortunately, so we cannot wittiness the twisted contortions the Constitution and human decency are put through to justify this. But if this is the assumption Bush operated under for the 16 months after September 11, 2001, that means that for that stretch of time, the 4th Amendment was effectively voided at Dubya's say-so.

So this 4th Amendment thing. Thats the one that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, right? Keeps the government out of your business and what not.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Pretty important, huh? Not to the criminals in charge of our government. According to the legal blasphemy Yoo has spawned, this basic protection of the privacy of American Citizens can be waived at George W. Bush's whim. Sleep tight.

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Manic Moments

Awake! What time is it? 8:15, maybe if I hurry I can only be an hour late to work. Time for breakfast, 100mg of Sertraline, a multivitamin, now wait for it. There it is, that tingling in the back of my head that slowly creeps forward until it reaches my eyes. My eyelids close just slightly and a sense of calm and drowsiness cover me. There it is, that little bit of motivation I have stuffed somewhere in the back of my head. I feel that little blue pill pulling it out of the deepest crevices of my psyche. I've got to get to the car before the full effect reaches me. The drive to work is a blur, bits and pieces of a road I drive everyday, overpasses, exits, traffic, I am a passenger on this journey.

Ok, safe at work, the hardest part of my day is over, lets get to my office so I can lay my head down. Spinning, spinning, stop.

Awake! What time is? 10:30, I wonder how many times Season has come in to get me to finish something for him? Two more hours until I can walk out of here and wipe the guilt from my conscience. The clock doesn't have numbers now, just a countdown until I take those three small yellow pills. Curved just so perfect from the factory that you can feel the machine that pressed them. The machine churns out pill after pill of mind altering bite sized snacks.

Is that machine my new owner? Its hard to tell which thoughts are mine now and which are visions of the pill. Seroquel, what a cute little name. As calm and smooth of a pill name as I've ever heard. But to me it screams bipolar disorder. A constant reminder of the fight I put up with myself, of the efforts and winnings lost to a vicious cycle of self-hate and torment. What else will I sacrifice today in order to fulfill the appetite of discontent? Whose feelings will I feed to the whirlwind of uncertainty and anger? Its sad that I can anticipate these thoughts, once they were simply my reality. My grasp of this cycle continues to fail me.

Here it comes again, that sinking feeling in my chest, the irresistible urge to stay in the sheets. I rather like these black ones, they reflect my mood very well. Of course I know in 6 hours I'll bitch about having to look at these glum, empty, black-as-night sheets and wonder why the fuck I bought them. But right now they offer tranquility, a peaceful break from the anger I'll feel towards them later.

Maybe that's the hardest part, knowing that nothing will ever be comforting to me all the time. Something that enhances me and brings out the best is only doomed to fall in the path of my temper at a later date. I set the dominoes up everyday just so I can walk in and knock them down before I retire. These tiny pillars of self-esteem, confidence, satisfaction, motivation, calm; they all stand on the slightest of edges waiting for me to exhale hard enough to send them crashing to the ground again. And I will...

Breathing is so simple, such an effortless endeavor on the outside, but such a battle on the inside. The cycle is so fine tuned, so right, that it functions even outside of my conscience. I breathe in: hope, certainty, love, like a flood rushing over my mind. But I know that I can only hold that breath for so long. The fresh oxygen that brought so much ability will degrade and my body will expel the waste, exhale: wrath, anxiety, fear, jealousy, like a flood pours out from me.

Why this cycle? It is so easy, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in. Friends fail to see the depth of my heartache, I want to sail on smoother water, know that tomorrow I can reach out and love, not fear waking again to fight back the uncertainty that is myself. But this is the body I was born with. For as much as I cherish my mind and the sharpness and ability it has given me it has cursed me, sent me on this course of ever changing horizons. Time passes in a straight line, but not I, my path is crooked everyday. Its sad to recognize such deep problems, it means I have been but a witness instead of a participant in my time on Earth so far.

I can feel it now, my right leg won't stop bouncing, its only a matter of time before it reaches my head. Those black sheets scream of failure now to see what's good in my life. Creeping slowly up my back, I need to go run around outside and have a cigarette, come on dog, get your frisbee.

What time is it? Only 7, that means I have to wait 3 more hours before my cute little yellow pills can be taken. Seroquel, damn I can't believe it sounds so charming, but every one of them packs a sinister little secret. Nasty fuckers, you hide it so well to. Am I me or are you me? What exactly is it that you do up there in my head? Fucking assholes.

Shit, what time is it? 11? Take 'em now before its too late, they're already gonna knock you out til 9, what will work say? Can you even tell people at work? Fuck 'em, they'll just judge, everyone does. I'm a crazy person, right? At least I'm a damn good looking crazy person, that's gotta count for something. I'll be sure to cash that in on my next downward spiral. Seroquel, what a cute name.

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UPS deploys Natural Gas Trucks

This week UPS unleashed 168 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) delivery trucks. If you live in Texas you'll most likely see some driving around in the near future. Georgia and California are the other two states who received these trucks. The company is making a push toward buffing up its environmental record the past few years. It shifted to dry washing its trucks in Georgia, spent $600M on improving the efficiency of its operations, and outfitted some of their vehicles with a new "hydraulic hybrid" propulsion system.

Of the 168 CNG vehicles deployed, 25 are in Dallas, 42 in Atlanta, and the remaining 100 in 5 California cities: 30 to Sacramento, 14 to Los Angeles, 5 to Ontario, 10 to San Ramon and 41 to Fresno.

There are now over 800 CNG vehicles in use by UPS. They're expected to reduce emissions by 20% and cut fuel costs by 10% over the most efficient diesel engines.

On a side note, these types of engines were made popular in the 1970's and 80's by Mexican drug runners. They would outfit their trucks with multiple CNG tanks and stuff one full of drugs. It was a pretty good plan and Pablo Acosta rose to power through his use of the trucks. He even formed an alliance with the Mexican government and the Colombian cocaine smugglers which made him the most powerful drug dealer in the Hemisphere. You can read about his fascinating life in the book, "Drug Lord: The Life & Death of a Mexican Kingpin - A True Story" by Terrence E. Poppa.

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April 2, 2008

Wal Mart Does The Right Thing

I don't think we've covered it here yet but this is a pretty disturbing story. In short, Deborah Shank was an overnight shelf-stocker at Wal Mart who was broadsided by a semi truck. She suffered horrendous injuries including permanent brain damage. Unable to walk without help, she lost the ability to care for herself or interact meaningfully with her family. Now 52, she lives in a nursing home.

Deborah, through an agent, settled with the trucking company and set up a trust to ensure her long-term care. But Wal Mart lawyers, citing a clause in her health benefits, sued for all money their health plan had covered after her accident. Even though they were technically right, morally it is wrong to take this woman's only means of ensured care. They even sued for court costs and won! The case went all the way to the supreme court and they didn't even hear the case, giving Wal Mart the decisive win.

But today Wal Mart executives say they do not plan to collect on their court winnings
. In a humane and unexpected turn of events the huge corporation has decided to swallow their pride and give this woman a means of survival, hell they even ate all of their court costs. So I guess chalk one up for big corporations, the score should be about 3,945,489,283 to 1 now.

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April 1, 2008

Evocative and Beautiful Before-and-After-Death Photos

Rita Schoffler, 62
First portrait:
February 17 2004
Rita and her husband had divorced 17 years before she became terminally ill with cancer. But when she was given her death sentence, she realised what she wanted to do: she wanted to speak to him again. It had been so long, and it had been such an acrimonious divorce: she had denied him access to their child, and the wounds ran deep.
Second portrait:
May 10 2004
When she called him and told him she was dying, he said he’d come straight over. It had been nearly 20 years since they’d exchanged a word, but he said he’d be there. “I shouldn’t have waited nearly so long to forgive and forget. I’m still fond of him despite everything.” For weeks, all she’d wanted to do was die. But, she said, “now I’d love to be able to participate in life one last time…”

This sombre series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying - and living.

Peter Kelling, 64
First portrait taken:
November 29 2003
Peter Kelling had never been seriously ill in his life. He was a civil servant working for the health and safety executive, and didn’t allow himself any vices. And yet one day he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. By the time I met him, the cancer had spread to his lungs, his liver and his brain. “I’m only 64,” he muttered. “I shouldn’t be wasting away like this”
Second portrait taken:
December 22 2003
At night he was restless, he told me, and kept turning things over in his mind. He cried a lot. But he didn’t talk about what was troubling him. In fact he hardly talked at all and his silence felt like a reproach to those around him. But there was one thing that Peter Kelling followed to the very last and that was the fortunes of the local football team. Until the day he died, every game was recorded on the chart on the door of his room

Edelgard Clavey, 67
First portrait:
December 5 2003
Edelgard was divorced in the early eighties, and lived on her own from then on; she had no children. From her early teens she was an active member of the Protestant church. She contracted cancer about a year before she died, and towards the end she was bed-bound. Once she was very ill she felt she was a burden to society and really wanted to die
Second portrait:
January 4 2004
"Death is a test of one’s maturity. Everyone has got to get through it on their own. I want very much to die. I want to become part of that vast extraordinary light. But dying is hard work. Death is in control of the process, I cannot influence its course. All I can do is wait. I was given my life, I had to live it, and now I am giving it back"

Maria Hai-Anh Tuyet Cao, 52
First portrait:
December 5 2003
"Death is nothing,” says Maria. “I embrace death. It is not eternal. Afterwards, when we meet God, we become beautiful. We are only called back to earth if we are still attached to another human being in the final seconds”
Second portrait:
February 15 2004
Maria’s thoughts on death are permeated with her belief in the teachings of her spiritual guru, Supreme Mistress Ching Hai; she believes she has already visited the afterlife in meditation. What Maria hopes is that she can achieve a sense of total detachment at the moment of death: she spends most of her time in the days leading up to her death preparing mentally for this.

Elly Genthe, 83
First portrait:
December 31 2002
Elly Genthe was a tough, resilient woman who had always managed on her own. She often said that if she couldn’t take care of herself, she’d rather be dead. When I met her for the first time, she was facing death and seemed undaunted: she was full of praise for the hospice staff and the quality of her care. But, when I visited again a few days later, she seemed to sense her strength was ebbing away.
Second portrait:
January 11 2003
Sometimes during those last weeks she would sleep all day: at other times, she saw little men crawling out of the flower pots who she believed had come to kill her. “Get me out of here”, she whispered as soon as anyone held her hand. “My heart will stop beating if I stay here. This is an emergency! I don’t want to die!”

Now if you want to leave comments please do so respectfully as family members may by chance read this.

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We're Going Global!

After a few more hits yesterday I stopped to take a look at where all of our visits have come from. I was amazed at how many foreigners had seen the site. So where have we had visits from?

Czech Republic
South Africa

Pretty crazy how far this material can reach, we hope you keep reading and hope that we keep it interesting for yall (there, I'll keep a little of texas alive here).

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March 31, 2008

Stop With The Sustainability!

In his article, "Screw 'Sustainability' - And I Am Here To Tell You Why", Howard Bloom makes the case that sustainability is the wrong term to use when discussing our future. He argues that the Earth is the mother of catastrophe. She has:
"nurtured brilliant innovations like cells and DNA but she has also given us 142 mass extinctions, 80 glaciations in the last two million years, a planet that may have once been a frozen iceball, and a klatch of global warmings in which the temperature has soared by 18 degrees in ten years or less."

And this argument is very true. Mother Nature has lifted the haven of sea creatures--ocean bottoms--to the mountain tops and sunken the pleasant habitat of land creatures to the bottom of swamps. Throughout history nature has presented challenges to all of her inhabitants and dared them to survive. More properly, she challenges to thrive.

When you really examine the forces involved, evolution is about breaking the rules of nature--defying gravity to stand on two legs, distorting time when a bear suspends metabolism for months, and saying no to gravity when a bird has the audacity to fly. Every niche of life is following a path of the same audacity. To survive in a world that presents challenges. Mother Nature uses this need to survive no matter the difficulties to feel out new paths of growth and radical new possibilities. Birds have been heavily rewarded for their insubordination. There are four times as many species of birds as their are of us land-lubbing mammals. Every species represents a victory over nature, an ability to conquer a set of conditions.

This is the reason 'sustainability' could be riddled with problems. By its very definition it implies the continuation of the status quo. The lowest periods in recorded history have come when societies try to maintain the status quo. Think of the fall of European civilization from 476AD to 1100AD. That 600 year span is known as the dark ages for a reason. The urge to return to an older, simpler time and self-denial of innovation to rather embrace the ideas of the past catapulted European society into self-imposed ignorance and self-inflicted poverty.

The Islamic Empire suffered the same fate starting in 1556. Islam started to focus on the limitations of its society rather than the possibilities. Every new technology was banned, new ideas were shunned, and the culture withdrew into fantasies of a past mistakenly viewed as a paradise. This type of thinking was responsible for the impoverishment of North-Africa and of the Middle East. The very cradle of civilization, which had borne out some of the most important and innovative cultures in history, was plunged into darkness and they continue to feel how that slowdown has effected their development.

Our true challenge is not to maintain our current status, but to outrun nature by inventing radically new ways to deal with change. In the future we will have to be able to raise food in drought, raise a great bounty of fruits, vegetable, and grains in flood or in a new ice age. If we want to make nature proud and be remembered in the history books its time to ride the whirlwind. We must tame the forces that twist tornadoes and hurricanes, we must milk energy from the massive pressures of tectonic plates, we must turn our sewage into fuel, we must take the waste of industrial agriculturists and turn it into a power source, we must see pollution and cosmic rays as a source of something new and wonderful.

Nature commands this of us! The mandate has been set, all that refuse to adapt and innovate will be doomed to a fall. So surely that statement is just bullshit, right? Nature doesn't really give us any hint of what she demands of us.

But the face is she has. If her laws didn't guide us there would be thousands of biochemical systems competing for dominance, a thousand different families of life. But there is only one family, one clan of DNA, the clan of biomass.

The Ultimate Survivors Disdain Sustainability, Where Would We Be If They Didn't?

Bacteria became our foremothers 3.85 billion years ago. Based on DNA, we are all related to the bacteria that live in our gut, crawl on our skin and make our shit stink. All of us, the bees that produce honey, to the corals with their brilliant displays are part of a huge biomass clan, the children of DNA. Our cells are of the same type that combine to make our bodies, their brains operate with the same neurochemicals that keep us worrying, dreaming, and thinking. Our clan has been given an order, and single grand ambition that drives every member of our DNA family.

Reproduce! To recruit every atom on this planet into the DNA system. And to do it frantically enough that the DNA family makes it through the next mass extinction, no matter what dirty punches Mother Nature throws at us. This is where traditional thinking that we are a plundering a fragile Earth, the proponents of a planet with limited resources, the old sustainability folks get it wrong. We are using less than a quadrillionth of the resources of this planet.

There is 1.097 sextillion cubic meters of rock, magma, and iron beneath our feet. That's a one-with-21-zeroes-after-it stock of raw materials we haven't learned to use yet. At some point in our future we will be able to turn stockpile into fuel, food, or energy. We have yet to recruit it into the DNA family.

But that is the imperative of biomass, to take inanimate molecules and absorb them into the system of life. Bacteria have already started to do this. Lithoautotrophs are eating rock two miles beneath our feet and three miles beneath the sea floor. Turning granite into food, raw stone into biomass, recruiting new atoms into the imperialistic project of DNA.

Extremophiles are bacteria who feast on sulfur, live in water hotter than the water boiling in your cooking pot, and bacteria that live in clouds two miles above our head. New Scientist magazine speculates that they may work to change the weather to create the sort of sauna in the sky that they like best. These bacteria are fullfilling their end of the natural challenge, they are adapting and changing the rules. They are changing something old into something new.

Bacteria recraft the water around hot volcanic shafts in the sea and converted them into Club Meds for exotic eco-systems of chemical processing life forms. And they've invented ways to live in the radioactive materials at the bottom of mine shafts and in the radioactive cooling pools of nuclear power plants.

Bacteria are definitely outpacing us at research and development. They have opened new frontiers to the public project of biomass. They are teaching us that the resources on this planet are almost endless.

Our emphasis must switch, we must commit to innovation. The history of this planet offers us too much knowledge to ignore our current challenge. Our own history, which is unique in that we pass it down from generation to generation, is riddled with civilizations who shun change and fall. Those that do survive on the status quo must do so in small scattered villages, a conglomeration of population requires great innovation.

We need to think of solutions and ways to harness the great powers that the sun and our atmosphere create. We must reanalyze our stability as a people. We must realize the challenges we will face in the future, realize that 60% of of the humans on the planet live in coastal areas. Areas that no matter how many Kyoto Treaties we sign will be plunged into the ocean.

We have to have a trick up our sleeve for every curve that nature throws us..because tossing us curves and challenging our creativity is what Mother Nature is about.

This is not an easy challenge. But you and I have to become the ultimate players of Mother Nature's game. And you and I have to be the ultimate educators in the skills of riding nature's challenges, her catastrophic waves of change.

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Jail Is Too Good

They've done it again! Who are these parents? Would they not save their child from a burning building either? Would they just pray for the fire to go out as their children burn?

I am at a loss for words...

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McBush Does It Again

John McCain is freakin’ retarded. This guy has been wrong on just so many things. Then earlier this month, there was this gem off the ironically named “Straight Talk Express.” Johnny Boy again reveals his stunning ability to be both offensive and ignorant at the same time.

Is there anyone left in America who continues to be “stumped” when it comes to the effect latex condoms have on STD transmission? Really, does anyone out there believe that the science is undecided? Or that preventing the transmission of potentially life-threatening diseases is somehow immoral? These are not rhetorical questions, please respond if you believe these things, I’d love to hear the intelligent argument for the moral correctness of allowing the spread of preventable, terminal diseases. Think of it as a challenge. Those issues aside, isn’t McSame supposed to be the guy with the answers? The no nonsense Senator who is just going to tell it like it is or as he believes, and to hell with what everyone else says? Then what is the deal with all this uncertainty?

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”
Why is he blindly co-signing Bush’s policies without even confirming what they are? I think is pretty obvious that the pander-fog is getting a little thick around the McCain campaign. He’s done so much to piss off the Gawd-fearing fundies in his party that now he has to bend over backwards to recast himself as a sheep in wolves clothing, and not the other way around. But just in case those staffers haven't gotten back to the Senator yet, here's a little info, courtesy of the CDC:
Two reviews summarizing the use of latex condoms among serodiscordant heterosexual couples (i.e., in which one partner is HIV positive and the other HIV negative) indicated that using latex condoms substantially reduces the risk for HIV transmission (2,3). In addition, two subsequent studies of serodiscordant couples confirmed this finding and emphasized the importance of consistent (i.e., use of a condom with each act of intercourse) and correct condom use (4,5).

So McDumbass, condoms do help prevent the transmission of AIDS. You know, that disease that has been killing people in Africa? Ok, just making sure your keeping up (and awake).

I’ve never understood this one to begin with. Unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases seem like universal negatives, right? We can all agree, I’m assuming, that these elements are not “good,” in any sense of the word. These are major problems. Do we need to find all the surveys and studies detailing how unplanned conceptions and STDs negatively affect people’s lives? So how can the religious right manage to simultaneously claim to be the manifestation of Gawd’s benevolent love in this world, and then do so much to foster pain and suffering among Gawd’s children?

So the claim, if I have it correct, is that using a condom is immoral because it could prevent a pregnancy, which is Gawd’s Will, and it is wrong to thwart Gawd. Ok, I know, pretty laughable, but lets see this through. So sometimes intercourse results in fertilization, sometimes it does not. So apparently, its not the act itself that is immoral when it fails to produce a baby, but the manipulation of the probability on our part that is the problem. Gawd has set the probability of conception in his Heavenly Ti-83, and mucking about with that number is Wrong. Ok, so now we’ve denounced all fertility therapy as sinful. Oops, I didn’t see that in the “10 Quick and Easy Steps To Salvation” brochure. Is this the argument? Or is it only sinful if you cause the probability of fertilization to decrease? Dang, all you women out there on birth control? Straight to the front of the line for the “Hot Place Express.” Yeah, its a little complicated. If only Gawd had left an instruction manual for all these bedroom rules. The only mention of any type of contraception in the Bible is the story of Onan in Genesis (Gen 38:8-10), where he “pulls out” and is slain for disobeying the Old Testament Jewish Law regarding fathering children for your brother’s widow. Far from conclusive, but don’t tell www.catholic.com.

So the logical arguments for the immorality of contraception is, even allowing Scriptural input, doesn’t exactly hold up. But there is a broader point. HIV/AIDS in Africa is not an issue, not merely another campaign bullet point, it is a damned CRISIS, and anything that can be done to prevent further transmission, should be done. Yes, that does include encouraging people to be abstinent as the most effective way of preventing infections, but it must include instruction on the truth about STDs and their effects, along with comprehensive preventative measures, including condoms. For Christ’s sake, literally, people lives are at stake here. I know their brown people across some ocean McCain, but is appeasing the “agents of intolerance” in your party worth the backslide in awareness and prevention your candidacy is fomenting?

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March 30, 2008

STD Rates Should Embarrass The USA

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are incredibly common here in the US. The frequency of infection was highlighted earlier this month with a study released by the Center for Diseases Control (CDC). In that study estimates that
"one in four (26%) young women between the ages of 14 and 19 in the United Sattes-or 3.2 million teenage girls-is infected with at least one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichonomiasis)."

That is an incredibly high infection rate for a country like ours, we occupy a rather unique position in that few countries have the resources we do to prevent and treat STDs. And honestly there are very few countries who squander such resources so effectively.

Considering the breadth and systemic nature of the problem it makes sense to examine our public policy measures to evaluate just how effective our current plan is at battling the spread of STDs. An effective, sane, national STD-prevention policy will be built on the three pillars of education, vaccination, and testing.

Doctors on the front lines of STD prevention say that they have little hope of effectively stopping the spread of common diseases. One problem is that most visits to clinics about STDs only involve one partner and only in 11 states is it legal to treat the absent partner. Another problem that doctors face in the clinics is that patients will show up to get a short treatment and disappear until their next bout of discharge.

So knowing this information it would make sense that people be educated on infection and disease progression. A large majority of the public doesn't understand the course of disease treatment or transmission risks. Calls for greater public awareness have been called for many times in the past and the Institute of Medicine issued a report on the state of public awareness and STD transmission in 1997. The article cites the need for stronger leadership within the public health policy makers.

We sit 11 years later in a very similar situation and the rates of STD infection continue to rise. In the early 1990's after the HIV/AIDS scare began the rates of all infection dropped, but soon after began to rise again as public awareness of HIV/AIDS died after the initial sensationalism began to fade away.

Knowing that public awareness drops the rate of infection it would seem that the government would be pushing very hard for comprehensive education concerning STDs and sexual health. But in fact the opposite is what has happened over the last 10 years. The idiocy that is "abstinence only programs", a politically popular but scientifically discredited idea negatively affects the public policy. So mark a fail down on the public education pillar. Abstinence-only does not remove the stigma from STDs and sexual health. If anything it creates a taboo around sex which closes the channels of communication between adults with answers and children with uncertainty. This is unacceptable and a comprehensive education program needs to be put into place.

Vaccination has recently become available for one of the most widely spread STDs; HPV. Gardasil was approved last year for prevention of certain cancer-causing strains of HPV. Besides vaccinating against the HPV virus this is the first widely available vaccine aimed directly at preventing cancer (The Hepatitis B vaccine also helps prevent liver tumors). Gardasil can prevent cervical cancer, certain mouth and anal cancers, and maybe other cancers of the naughty bits.

Unfortunately this vaccine has been met with quite a bit of resistance from the religious right. Since the infection that leads to these cancers is usually spread by sexual contact the fundies consider it a big no-no. Some religious groups (Christianity today) favor an "opt-in" policy, while others such as Focus on the Family want a "let the parents decide" policy. The obvious imbalance with those policies are that the parents are not the ones deciding to, or not to, have sex. "The wages of sin is death", and while most Christians don't subscribe to a literal interpretation of the idea, it does infuse the Right's decision-making, perhaps blinding them to the benefits of the vaccine. Nobody likes to think of our kids having sex at 14, it may happen, and to punish them with cancer is excessive.

An "opt-in" policy is not effective to public health. Vaccines work by protecting people before they may be exposed, and by creating herd immunity. Opt-in carries implications that the vaccine is unimportant or of uncertain utility. Opt-out, while less negative, makes it too easy for people to put off a decision until it is too late.

With nationwide vaccination the idea is that the greater good to a greater number of people despite the potential damage to a small number of people. There is little doubt of the value of vaccines and I think it would take a very good spinster to argue that vaccines for polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, the flu, and other illnesses have not benefited society. Millions have lived as a result ,escaping what was many times a certain death. I think if Gardasil prevented ovarian or breast cancer there would be a lot less resistance to its implementation.

To be fair many places, including my home state of Texas, have implemented mandatory vaccination with Gardasil. This should be a good study in caner rates and HPV infection between states in the next 10 years.

The third pillar of STD prevention is mandatory screening. It is very hard to prevent transmission of a disease if you don't even know you have it. Unfortunately that is the story with most teens and young adults. Screening and early testing is the best way of managing already infected populations as well as preventing the spread of diseases. Knowledge only increases the power of prevention and with today's very effective tests there is no reason that we shouldn't require people to at least go find out if they are a carrier to a potential spreadable disease.

Our public policy needs to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation. Education, vaccination, and testing need to become ingrained in our public policy and passed down to future generations. People will always have sex. Always. And as long as they do, there will be STDs. But to live in a rich, technologically advanced nation, and have STD rates as high as we do is not only embarrassing, its a travesty.

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