July 11, 2008

Wow, 10 Years Flew By Fast, Thanks Jenny McCarthy!

Earlier this week I blogged about the U.K.'s return to endemic measles status, which can be traced back to one man, Andrew Wakefield (the U.K. forced him to move, and guess where he ended up? Texas!). At the same time I told Jenny McCarthy to "pack her shit up and head to Europe where people have already decided to stop vaccinating their children," but it looks as if I spoke too soon.

On the back of the 'vaccines cause autism and I don't care what your fucking science says cause moms know best' crusade there has been a decline in childhood vaccination, and guess what happened?

In the U.S. since May, 127 cases of confirmed measles in 15 states has been confirmed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has traced the outbreak to travelers who became sick overseas and then returned to the U.S. and infected others.

This is significant because in 1963 a vaccination campaign began in the U.S. to eliminate measles, endemic spread of the disease was halted in the 1980's and in 2000 the ongoing transmission of the virus was declared eliminated!

But here we are again, because people who have lived privileged lives don't understand the suffering that a contagion can cause. I don't know for sure and I can't look into medical records to prove it but I bet Jenny McCarthy was vaccinated when she was a child. Unfortunately the 250,000 children under the age of 5 that die yearly from measles don't have that same opportunity. And now that the continuity in the vaccination scheme has been interrupted and herd immunity has been undermined the chances for epidemic mechanics to set in have been brought back.

Fox News (of all the places) has a very good report on the situation and a good fact page for Measles. I'll cherry pick a few of the facts here:

-Worldwide, 20 million cases of measles still occur every year, and the disease is a significant cause of vaccine-preventable death among children.

-In 2005, 311,000 children under the age of 5 died from the disease.

-Measles vaccine can prevent this disease.

The most striking fact to me is the 20 million new cases every year. Think of how many personal interactions just one of those 20 million carriers has everyday, how many chances there are to spread to another individual. If the disease is brought back to the U.S. (which it does daily; illegal border crossings, plane, boat, by mail) then those people who were not vaccinated are at serious risk of infection. To a healthy young adult this may not mean much as a healthy body can deal with the infection and treatments rather well, but those who are compromised, in bad health, or who are very young are at a great risk of having their lives put in danger. Even if death doesn't occur, about 1 in 1,000 measles cases presents with inflammation of the brain, a condition which could affect the mental or physical capacities of someone for the rest of their lives.

Some selected quotes from the reports:

"With the whole debate about vaccines — and now parents due to their personal beliefs not vaccinating their children — what we are seeing now is that we are going to have these epidemic outbreaks throughout the country," said Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health at FOXNews.com.

"If this continues, we will see outbreaks throughout the entire developed world — something we have never seen before," he added. "What you have to remember is that 250,000 children die from this virus every year," Alvarez added. "So, vaccinations have to be a priority for parents because at the end of the day if you get measles, you can live through it, but in some particular cases you're going to have complications."

"The primary reason for lack of vaccination is personal belief exemptions," the CDC's Dr. Larry Pickering told a news conference arranged by the National Foundation for Infectious

"Until better global control is achieved, cases will continue to be imported into the United States and outbreaks
will persist as long as there are communities of unvaccinated people," Pickering said.

More After the Fold...


Goodbye From the World's Biggest Polluter Indeed!

Hokkaido, Japan was the setting for a rather unusual exchange between world leaders. As the G8's meetings on climate change and policy were wrapping up George Bush decided he would say "goodbye from the world's biggest polluter" and then pump his fist in the air and smile.

The rest of those in the room sat in silence, shocked that they had just heard that statement on the back of the most important climate talks between nations. And that is a hard thing to do, most of the people in the room were world leaders who have made a career out of speaking their mind. And maybe they were stunned because it wasn't so off-the-wall that he would say something like that.

As The Independent put it, the "remarks were taken as a two-fingered salute from the President from Texas who is wedded to the oil industry. He had given some ground at the summit by saying he would "seriously consider" a 50 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050."

Bush's comment was most likely an attempt at humor after a few grueling days of talks, but I think it speaks volumes about the administration's views towards environmental protection, conservation, and securing the best basis for economic growth in the future. If this was a meeting of the Coalition for Life or MADD I doubt Bushie would've injected levity about those U.S.'s transgressions, but the health of our planet and finding ways to manage it is not out of the realm of sarcasm.

To make the situation more disturbing, Bush probably has the best chance to secure an emissions and trade deal before the new President comes in. Although the Democrats can install a President who will take a more proactive and aggressive stance on environmental issues, pressure to protect American farmers during the election campaign will make it hard to secure a deal after a new U.S. President is in office in January. This fully places the issue of our nation's environmental health (which I stress includes our health, think: rivers, air, soil and crop contamination, ocean pollution, etc) in the hands of someone who has shown little respect, and even contempt, for the environmental pressures we are placing on the planet.

I feel like Bush has check out though and is coasting these last 6 months, he has had a lot of pressure on him and even the record number of vacation days couldn't keep him fresh and interested in issues that will affect his population (that he will leave to his mistake while he sips mojitos and looks for the next business venture he'll run into the ground) and its children.

More After the Fold...


July 10, 2008

What's Wrong With Malay Girls?

And what's so special about Russian girls?

This picture was posted on The Wisdom of Whores, Elisabeth Pisani's blog about "sex and science, HIV and other sundry things."

Pisani also has a book (Amazon link) by the same name about the spread of HIV and how her profession, epidemiology, really works. Pisani, an epidemiologist (PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London), advisor to the Ministries of Health of China, Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines, policy advisor to the World Bank, World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control, etc etc etc...You get the point, she knows what she's talking about when it comes to HIV and its transmission.

She was also a correspondent for Reuters, The Economist, and Asia Times, giving her writing an engaging and personal effect as she unfolds stories from transsexual prostitutes, needle-sharers, and johns. Pisani makes no bones about the fact that she feels political correctness has effectively distracted the efforts to hault the disease. Nobody gets rewarded for helping whores and junkies, but to stop the spread of the disease that is what its going to take.

This may be the first book that rouses the public to understand the spread and chance at containment of a disease that is ravaging other parts of the world. I'm not going to say its The Jungle, but I hope that it can have some of the same industry changing influence.

More After the Fold...


And I Liked You So Much Bill

The latest podcast from Bill Simmons, writer for ESPN, contains an apology (almost) for the article he wrote on why tennis is "boring and sucky", calling it "maybe the dumbest column I've ever written." Yes you are correct Bill, that was one of the dumbest articles of all time, but in your podcast you go on to mention that Wimbledon needs a retractable roof and lights so matches can proceed despite threatening weather.

Here's a little hint, you work for ESPN and probably have huge amounts of fact checking resources at your fingertips. A quick look around the internetz will let you know that next year Wimbledon will be equipped with those lights and roof you think they should consider looking at.

Being a sports columnist I would assume that you're, you know, interested in sports. And if you're going to write about something other than the big 3 (football, basketball, baseball) lose the not-so-veiled disinterest and disdain.

One more thing, if you're going to write about a sport you don't know much about and argue that it needs to be changed in such a way that makes it more exciting for the short attention span generation, you should also be prepared to advocate for the 35-game NBA season, the 60-game MLB season, moving the pitcher's mound back to 65 feet, eliminating charging in the NBA, and 11-on-10 in NFL games.

More After the Fold...


July 9, 2008

The Death of Our Principles

Get out the marshmellows and graham crackers folks, we're burning the Constitution today. The Senate is at this moment striking down the amendments to the new FISA bill which would have removed the retroactive immunity for the telecoms who participated in Bush's illegal wiretapping programs. Our glorious leaders will then pass the bill, vastly expanding the ability of the Bush Cabal to spy on American Citizens, without a warrant or meaningful oversight, and ensuring that no lawsuits are ever brought to any court about the legality of the program.

And so we invalidate the 4th Amendment.

I guess I'll be doing some drinking tonight. I'll pour one out for that quaint old piece of paper, it had a good run.

Edit: It happened. Congratulations folks, your Senators have now guaranteed that we will never know the extent to which we were (and are) being spied upon by our government, and that no court will ever even get a chance to rule on the legality of that spying. The Constitution is officially voluntary at this point.

And Obama? I cannot express the depth of my disappointment. Not only have you failed to raise even the modest opposition to this bill that was well within your power, but you actually voted for it? Official roll call on the vote is still pending, but Glenn is reporting that Barack was one of the "Yea" votes. The betrayal I feel right now is beyond words. I'm going home.

More After the Fold...


July 8, 2008

Texans To Arm Colleges

Get ready to pack some heat!!! That's right, the same legislature that brought you 3 years of refusal to fund state education and runs to Oklahoma to avoid voting is ready to do some actual work and allow Texans to bring firearms onto any college campus.

Apparently the law "addresses personal protection," says state Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, head of the House committee that considers gun bills. "People who do things [like the Virginia Tech shooting] basically know they are walking into a gun-free zone.

"They are cowards...facing people not allowed to fight back."

This sounds like a great idea, providing citizens protection from the crazies out there, and allowing justice to be presented and served from the cold steel of an 18 year old hand. The problem I have is that I already pay for protection on campus, its called the police. And not only do I have the police patrolling the area, there is a whole division, called campus police, that don't even leave the campus. Why would you give students guns on campus and not these guys?

I think there are other issues here as well besides the fact that we already have protective services on campus. One is the inherent irresponsibility of college students, surely a phenomena that transcends most cultural backgrounds. Give an 18 year old his own place with no parents or attendance policy and eventually mistakes in judgment will be made. This same lapse in judgment transforms from a fleeting indiscretion into a lifelong legacy with something as permanent as a gun shot as the vehicle. I don't trust the college kids in my town to drive safely, be able to cross the street properly, or know when their drinking is out of control.

Another concern I have is for the police. If you show up in a classroom with four people in a shootout who is bad guy? Should you just kill everyone who is shooting, or is there one attacker and 3 responders? Imagine being the cop that has to call the parents for that conversation. "Yes ma'am there was a shooting at your son's school today. Our snipers made a tactical decision to eliminate the targets without endangering our ground forces and unfortunately your son was deemed a target due to his possession of a firearm, have a good day."

Also, in my search so far I have found 4 shootings at college campuses since 1995, in that same period I count over 30 shootings at a high school campus. Would the same solution work for high schools then? Just allow all of the 15 year old freshmen to carry and that would end all of the violence at the school. Come on people, you owning a gun isn't going to stop someone who has decided that they are going to end their life and take people down with them. These are special cases, planned out and mapped for execution and the desired outcome. Every one of these shootings has ended in a hail of bullets from the police which ends the life of the shooter, the psychological deterrent that you may die cause other people have guns is obviously not a factor to these people.

For full disclosure I carry a concealed weapon and have been a proud gun-owner for years, but there is a reason we pay the police to protect us, because they have the training and experience to dole out protection in the form of lethal force, the same can't be said for teenagers.

More After the Fold...


Cheney Values Big Oil Over American Lives...Again

Dick Cheney has always been viewed as, well, a dick. He's not a very likable guy, overly secretive, arrogant, and that famous sneer is never far from his faceplate face. Now, there have been plenty of unlikable characters who have wandered the halls of the White House (ahem, Nixon), but come on, this dude shot a man in the face!

Ok, let me say that again. Dick Cheney shot a man, with a shotgun, in the face! And yep, he's still the Vice President. Still blows my mind.

And anyone who has been paying attention is aware that he has no problem sacrificing a few thousand American youths and the country's economy in order to help out his buddies/coworkers at Halliburton. Can we end the bullshit? Call it "energy independence" or whatever you want to, this war was, and is, about getting the oil in the Middle East into American (Corporate) hands. Why do you think John McBush and the other Republicans want to stay there forever?

Ok, I digress...

In another stunning example of, I can't help it, Dick Cheney being a dick (I must be channeling John Stewart today), we have learned that Cheney's office ordered the deletion of testimony to Congress about the effects of global warming on public health. Yes, again, Dick would rather cut his BFFs in the oil industry a break on regulations etc than inform the American Public about the dangers their oil-addicted lifestyles are imposing on themselves and their children. According to a letter in response to an inquiry by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., former senior adviser on climate change to the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Jason K. Burnett, claims that Dick ordered the removal of six pages of testimony
, out of 14, for Center for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding which was to be presented before Congress last October. The pages in question dealt with "discussions of the human health consequences of climate change," according to Burnett. Hmm, might be important information for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I would think.

So Cheney's an asshole, nothing new here, but this manipulation of science and outright reality-denial is an outrageous affront to the dignity and security of the nation. I pray for some sort of accountability for these, and many other actions but the Bush Cabal, because given the spineless wonders with the "D" after their names in Congress, praying is pretty much all we have left.

"I fear for the future of our nation, for God is just."
-Thomas Jefferson

More After the Fold...


July 6, 2008

The Coolidge Effect, Sexual Dysfunction

I'm sure Calvin Coolidge never thought he would be associated with a fundamental tenet of sexual behavior, but a story occurring during the 30th U.S. President's term (1923-1929) on a Midwest farm put him in the sexual behavior textbooks forever.

As the story goes President Coolidge was a visiting a farm with his wife. While the President was elsewhere, the farmer proudly showed Mrs. Coolidge a rooster that "could copulate with hens all day long, day after day." Mrs. Coolidge coyly suggested that the farmer tell that to Mr. Coolidge, which he did.

The President thought for a moment and then inquired, "With the same hen?"

"No, sir," replied the farmer.

"Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge," retorted the President.

So what exactly is the Coolidge effect? An experiment using a furry male rat and a harem of willing females has been used as the classic model.

When you drop a male rat into a cage with a receptive female rat, you see an initial frenzy of copulation. Then, progressively, the male rat tires of that particular female. Even without an apparent change in her receptivity he reaches a point where he has little libido-and simply ignores her. However, if you replace the original female rat with a fresh one, the male immediately revives and begins copulating again. You can repeat this process with fresh females until the rat nearly dies of exhaustion.

Dopamine, a neurochemical which floods the reward center of the primitive brain, reinvigorates the rat when a new female is presented. The reward center is located deep within the limbic system, the center of emotions, drives, impulses, and subconcious decision-making. When dopamine rushes into the reward center the urge to take actions that further our survival or pass on our genes is activated. Eating, sex, bonding with offspring, and taking risks are all actions associated with this response.

In reality we are all addicted to dopamine. It's not that you crave the ice cream, the winning lotto ticket, or a romp in the sack. You crave the dopamine, that short rewarding blast. All addictive substances and activities increase dopamine. It's the whole reason things are addictive (and orgasms are highly addictive, being compared to shooting heroin in brain scans). But like all addictive substances, dopamine doesn't give a lasting pleasure. As soon as dopamine successfully motivates a behavior, it drops off, awaiting the next opportunity to push you around.

This drop in dopamine is a trigger of the Coolidge effect (along with novelty itself). Following orgasm, instead of wallowing in bliss and feeding off of the thrilling anticipation as when your dopamine was high, you now feel flat, even needy. The orgasms themselves trigger this drop in dopamine. While dopamine is low you are very susceptible to anything at all that will raise it again, calorie-rich food, gambling, alcohol, shopping sprees, cocaine, internet porn, or sex.

One of the most effective ways to immediately regain this blast of feel-good neurochemicals is to find a new potential sex partner. Over time this new partner too will lose the shine and novelty is the only way to regain this blast (whips, chains, and handcuffs anyone?).

The Coolidge effect has been observed in all mammals tested and even is observed in females, who will flirt and present themselves more around a potential new male partner.

Evolutionarily, the effect makes good sense. A novel female provides a new set of genes to tap into, and by mixing genes with multiple members of the available gene pool, the male generates more biological diversity in his offspring increasing the overall likelihood of survival of any one group of his kids. Of course the motivation behind evolution is to continue to pass your genes on to the next generation, to survive, but today we don't live in an evolutionarily driven world. Our species has constructed a detailed and highly schematic representation of satisfying life, one that revolves around the pursuits of the individual as well as social acuity.

This leads to an interesting conundrum where our own biology drives and motivates us to perform acts that may cause us social harm, even instability. This sexual driven mechanism does not regard the value of a committed relationship entirely in the interest of propelling your genes onward. Love and intimacy have shown to be a powerful determinant of health, leading to speedy recoveries, longevity, reduced internal stress, and social satiety.  The drive away from love deprives the self of the social satisfaction of love.

The Coolidge effect is strictly a temporary fix that will ultimately leave you feeling depleted, with your new partner not able to satisfy you any more than your previous one. Love, on the other hand, is a long term social bond that should reciprocate satisfaction much more regularly than the chase for another mate. So the biological drive is subverting the social responsibility of monogamy, one that has to be reconciled within the individual. Young adults know this process very well, as they like to call it "settling down." The time when you start feeling the need to find a long-term mate and commit to the emotional rewards of a close partner, while leaving behind the old life of being promiscuous.

I think this is a really interesting feature of society that we have constructed upon ourselves. As we have bred the natural and wild instincts out of our domesticated animals (or muted them to satisfaction) we ourselves are domesticating our own biological mechanisms to fit the rules our society has deemed acceptable. The brain has to deal with this disconnect between pleasing the biological self (by having multiple partners) or pleasing the social self (by having a long-term partner).

More After the Fold...