I just cannot thank Perez Hilton enough

I'd like to thank Miss California for raining on my parade, and Perez Hilton for giving her the opportunity.
The reigning Miss California has gone to Washington to help launch a campaign opposing same-sex marriage.

Carrie Prejean told NBC's "Today" show Thursday that she'll be working with the National Organization for Marriage to "protect traditional marriages."

The 21-year-old says that marriage is "something that is very dear to my heart" and she's in Washington to help save it.

I guess "very dear to my heart" is the new "will let me run out the clock on my remaining minutes of fame." (Really, Perez, I just can't thank you enough for this.) On the other hand, Anita Bryant is probably getting too old for this kind of thing.

This doesn't help, you cretins!!

A couple of days ago, the Times published an eminently reasonable Op-Ed by Maine's own Olympia Snowe, in which she laments the demise of the big-tent GOP.
IT is disheartening and disconcerting, at the very least, that here we are today — almost exactly eight years after Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party — witnessing the departure of my good friend and fellow moderate Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, for the Democratic Party. And the announcement of his switch was all the more painful because I believe it didn’t have to be this way.


There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.

It is for this reason that we should heed the words of President Ronald Reagan, who urged, “We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.” He continued, “As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”

I couldn’t agree more. We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand. Rather, we should view an expansion of diversity within the party as a triumph that will broaden our appeal. That is the political road map we must follow to victory.
Sane, no? Reasonable?

So how do the mouth-breathers at Fox Nation choose to link to it?

Hat tip Washington Monthly.

Literally jumping for joy

From the Kennebec Journal:
The Maine Senate this morning passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in Maine.

The Senate voted 20-15 in favor of the measure.

Supporters say it would end discrimination against gays and lesbians and opponents say the proposal is an attack against the institution of marriage.

This morning’s vote means the bill has cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature. However, it still needs to pass through the House of the Representatives. And if it passes the Legislature, it will need the signature of Gov. John Baldacci, who has not yet said whether he will support it.

Update: Confidential to Sen. McCormick -- you should probably not waste any time campaigning in Hallowell after your vote today.


Callooh! Callay!

One step closer:
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted 11-2-1 today in support of a bill to allow gay marriage in Maine.

Eleven members voted in favor of the bill, two voted against it, and one voted to send it to referendum.

The vote was briefly interrupted when a woman began yelling at legislators because she wanted them to reject the bill. Elaine Graham of Farmington was escorted from the Statehouse by Capitol Police, but will not face charges.

The bill will now move forward to the full Senate for consideration.

On a side note, apparently three people have submitted inquiries to the director of the Maine chapter of the AAP, asking whether I was genuinely authorized to speak on its behalf. We'll see what happens when they are informed that I was.

Curiously bummed out

Well, I certainly didn't see this coming:
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said on Tuesday he would switch to the Democratic party, presenting Democrats with a possible 60th vote and the power to break Senate filibusters as they try to advance the Obama administration’s new agenda.
From his statement:
Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.
I don't for one minute think that his move is primarily philosophical, and suspect (like Josh Marshall and Marc Ambinder) that it has everything to do with the prospect of his getting his buttocks summarily handed to him in a Republican primary. With people migrating to the Democratic party in Pennsylvania, that leaves the die-hard true believers to vote in the primary, and Specter's vote in favor of the stimulus package was probably the last nail in the coffin of their support.

Assuming that Al Franken eventually gets seated (at the current pace, roughly around the time that plate tectonics smooshes the continents back together again), this will give the Democrats the Holy Grail of congressional politics, the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority (cue angelic choir). While Specter seems determined to stay feisty (sort of... maybe), this doesn't bode well for the GOP's ability to obstruct the Democratic agenda.

You'd think I'd be happy about this, but I'm surprisingly ambivalent. Here's Maine's own Olympia Snowe:
"I've always been deeply concerned about the views of the Republican Party nationally in terms of their exclusionary policies and views towards moderate Republicans," said Snowe, who has been approached, she said, by Democrats in the past about switching parties.


"I believe in the traditional tenets of the Republican Party: strong national defense, fiscal responsibility, individual opportunity. I haven't abandoned those principles that have been the essence of the Republican Party. I think the Republican Party has abandoned those principles."
I've said it before, but I'll repeat myself. It does the country no good when one party holds all the power and the other party seems hell-bent on shooting itself in the foot. While I am proudly and contentedly liberal, there are conservative perspectives that bear consideration, and it's good for the country to have intelligent checks on any agenda, lest it get carried away with itself. That the GOP seems content to be represented by lunatics, incompetents, buffoons, Dark Lords of the Sith and worse bodes poorly for both its own prospects and those of a healthy two-party system.

Update:  Seriously, GOP.  Would you please shut this awful woman up?

My nominee for worst poem ever written

I love The New Yorker. I love the articles. I love the cartoons. I love the reviews.

Sadly, all is not wine and roses. Because the poetry is frequently terrible. From their March 30 issue (which I have been flipping through between patients), I give you this year's winner of the Emperor Has No Clothes Award for Epically Pretentious Silliness:
So, So It Begins Means It Begins

by Mary Jo Bang

And so it begins, Mickey, birthday cake (party), special

Night, whoops, and take a box.

So it begins, take a bow, hold your head up,

Scowl now. This is your own guitar.

Stop and see a movie.

Stop and see whether the eagle holds up at the end.

I’m leaving. See how I pull the door to.

The door is the floor and it’s rising up,

Below is a dungeon. It’s all you can see in the dark.

There is graffiti on the wall.

The bugle has ceded its call to power.

It’s the time when we are waiting to be told.

Nothing is getting better. And nothing is getting worse.

A duck and a mouse. A house and a hat.

Having lunch and having a medal of honor.

Let’s put our culture on a cartoon’s.

Why not? Have the mouse answer the phone.

Have the receiver click. Then the real comes to

Its awful end. That point where, as he said, all came in

“With the shoutmost shoviality. Agog” Agog.

My reaction isn't exactly "agog." "Aghast," perhaps. "Agape." "Ague," maybe. But not "agog."

Update: I felt kind of guilty (but not really) slagging on this poem, and I'm pleased to say that I rather liked this one by Ms. Bang.


Well, at least it's not about vaccines

Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects an outbreak of swine flu. That being said, I'm glad I'm not Maine's own Susan Collins just now.
"I think everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu," Collins told MSNBC on Feb. 5 during stimulus negotiations. "But does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No. We should not."
I actually think Collins is getting kind of a raw deal, since (as Collins' spokesman Kevin Kelley put it):
There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds. Senator Collins does, however, believe that it is a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services still do not have top positions filled. She hopes the Senate will move promptly to confirm Governor Sebelius for HHS Secretary.
Fair enough, Mr. Kelley. About that last point, however, I think you should start guarding your right flank. From the Washington Independent:
I was just talking to Wendy Wright, the president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, about the nomination of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kans.) to run the Department of Health and Human Services. The group opposes the nomination, and Wright is raising some questions about the timing of the swine flu crackdown so close to tomorrow’s cloture vote.

“Some people think that declaring a state of emergency about the flu was a political thing to push the Sebelius nomination through,” said Wright. She pointed to news stories that ask whether the slow-walking of the Sebelius choice will hurt the response to the flu. “If there’s even a hint that [Department of Homeland Security] is manipulating the health situation to push a political appointee through, well, it almost defies imagination that they’d be willing to that.”

Wright said that she’d heard the speculation “on talk radio,” and wanted to be skeptical, but “there’s too much of a basis in that argument to easily dismiss it.”

I... see. "Too much of a basis," Ms. Wright? (Why do I suspect that the president of the Concerned Women of America hates to be called "Ms."?) Am I crazy, or is she suggesting that the World Health Organization, along with the governments of Mexico and various EU nations, is part of some grand conspiracy to get Kathleen Sebelius confirmed over her objections?

Wait!! Maybe she thinks Collins cut the funding in the stimulus bill as some kind of prelude to ramming through the Sebelius nomination by weakening our resistance to swine flu! That would be a great conspiracy, pitting die-hard conservatives like Ms. Wright against moderate GOP collaborationists like Sen. Collins. Someone let me know if Glenn Beck rants about it on his show.

Another swing and another miss

Well, you've got to hand it to the anti-vaccine crowd. They're speedy.

Last week, I wrote a post about an anti-vaccine bit of claptrap by Jim Carrey that the Huffington Post had seen fit to publish. In particular, I focused on the link in this bit:
I've also heard it said that no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found. That statement is only true for the CDC, the AAP and the vaccine makers who've been ignoring mountains of scientific information and testimony. There's no evidence of the Lincoln Memorial if you look the other way and refuse to turn around. But if you care to look, it's really quite impressive. For a sample of vaccine injury evidence go to www.generationrescue.org/lincolnmemorial.html.
When I first wrote the post, the link redirected you to the main page of the anti-vaccine group "Generation Rescue." It took a while to find, but eventually I located their "Autism Science" page, about which I wrote my first post.

Since then, they have changed the destination of that link. The new page is titled "More Vaccines -- More Autism." It contains some charts and some figures, but is just as devoid of genuine science as the rest of their site. I apologize for the length of this post, but I feel strongly enough about this to go through their entire page.

First, there is a graph showing the number of vaccines given in the developed countries of the world. The United States, with the most, is listed at the bottom. They move from this to an ad of theirs that informs us that there used to be far fewer vaccines given in 1989, and lower autism rates at that time. They segue from there to statements about how vaccines are added to the recommended schedule, and by whom, and toss in some innuendo about indemnity. This is not evidence, scientific or otherwise. It demonstrates no link between the one phenomenon and the other, and suggests impropriety where there is none.

The next section "Vaccines Can Cause Chronic Illness" is particularly infuriating, in that they are misappropriating and misrepresenting what might possibly be science. Three studies are referenced, and the chronic illnesses in question are asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergy and diabetes. None of these illness are autism. Two of the studies have citations for reference; the study about eczema, hay fever and food allergy has no citation for verification. None of these studies purports to prove any causation between vaccines and the illnesses in question. In keeping with real science, at most they suggest a possible association and recommend further study.

The next bit is about the dearth of toxicologists on the VRBPAC or ACIP (the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, respectively, which they don't bother to spell out for you). This is meaningless noise. The eminently qualified people on the committees are doubtless well aware of the toxicological qualms the vaccination crowd have raised, and have access to toxicologists should their services be necessary. I strongly doubt if having a toxicologist present would have allayed the concerns of Generation Rescue.

The next bit is just rich. In what they are clearly hoping will be mistaken for science, Generation Rescue commissioned a survey (I am guessing in 2007) by SurveyUSA asking households in California and Oregon about their children's vaccination status and whether they had been diagnosed with "ADD, ADHD, Asperger's, PDD-NOS, Autism, Asthma, or Juvenile Diabetes." The questions are here and their results are here. Their results were:
SurveyUSA gathered data on 9,175 boys and 8,499 girls

· After thousands of reports of children regressing into autism after receiving their childhood vaccines, Generation Rescue conducted this independent survey of 17,674 children of which 991 were unvaccinated.

· Vaccinated individuals were reported to be :

a. 155% more likely to have neurological disorders

b.224% more likely to have ADHD

c. 61% more likely to have autism

Their analyses are not provided. The survey was never published in a peer-reviewed journal or presented in a scientific forum. Based upon a one-time survey that was not submitted for outside review, commissioned by an organization with a blatant bias and whose raise d'etre is creating the appearance of a link between vaccines and autism, they felt free to make this claim:
Generation Rescue is not representing that our study definitively proves that the U.S. vaccine schedule has caused an epidemic in neurological disorders amongst our children. That said, for less than $200,000, we were able to complete a study that the CDC, with an $8 billion a year budget, has been unable or unwilling to do. We think the results of our survey lend credibility to the urgent need to do a larger scale study to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children for neurodevelopmental and chronic illness outcomes.
It is good that they are not representing their study as having definitively proved anything, because it has failed to meet any of the basic requirements for being considered valid in the first place. Its methodology and analyses were not reviewed by disinterested parties, so Generation Rescue is in no position to question the CDC, whose studies are peer-reviewed.

Rather than getting bogged down in debunking their non-science, I will move on to their last section -- "They call our community Anti-Vaccine – It is not true. We are NOT anti-vaccine." Apparently, they are "anti-schedule" and "anti-toxin."

On that first point, they say:
"We want to go back to the 1983 schedule + HIB, since autism was 1 in 10,000 then, or use the Sweden, Denmark , or Japan Vaccine schedule which also only use 11 vaccines and those countries have a much lower under 5 year old mortality rate."
Why they support these schedules is not stated, and again they provide no science linking the vaccination schedule and the autism rate in 1983. Further, the point about 5-year-old mortality has no bearing on autism, and probably has more to do with the public health policies in Sweden, Denmark and Japan than their vaccination schedule. In science, this is known as a "confounding variable," which real science does its best to account for.

On toxins, they give us this:


1. Through extensive scientific study, has been shown to be neurotoxin (kills brain cells), is linked to Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

2. There are 19 Studies About Aluminum Toxicity on our website at: http://www.generationrescue.org/autism/08-aluminum-toxicity.htm

Friends, Alzheimer's is not autism. They are neurophysiologically, psychologically and pathophysiologically distinct. No credible neurologist would confuse or conflate them. Further, none of their 19 studies proves a link between Alzheimer's and aluminum, but (in the manner of good science) some suggest that there may be a link, and recommend further study.

They also mention formaldehyde and mercury (by which they mean thimerosal). Since I have already spent plenty of time on this post already, and don't need to reinvent the wheel, I will refer you to Orac's post about formaldehyde, and will refer you to studies on one of Generation Rescue's own pages regarding thimerosal:
2: Andrews N et al. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):584-91.

3: Heron J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):577-83.

[emphasis mine both times]

Both of those studies, by the way, were peer-reviewed.

For those of you that have slogged through this far, you're nearly at the end. All that remains to be discussed is this:
Vaccines are not safety tested for cancer or DNA altering effects (mutanegenic effects), even though they have cancer-causing (carcinogenic) ingredients and mutated viruses in them.

1.) Most Manufacturer Vaccine Information Sheets (VIS) Say, [vaccine name] vaccine has not been evaluated for carcinogenic [cancer causing] or mutanegenic [DNA altering] potential or impairment of fertility

Did anyone else notice the difference in wording between what Generation Rescue says and what the information sheets say? There is a big difference between saying that a vaccine has carcinogenic or mutagenic potential, and saying that they have not been evaluated for it. Generation Rescue is using linguistic sleight of hand to create the illusion of a risk that has not been established. They are, in other words, lying.

I promise that I don't intend to spend all of my time on the "vaccines and autism" question. But this is an issue of tremendous importance to me, my practice, and the health of our society. The specious autism link has led to a lot of needless concern, and lower vaccination rates. This link is flogged by Generation Rescue, an unscrupulous and dishonest organization, and their credulous celebrity flunkies. They have no science on their side, and they must be exposed as the charlatans they are.

Bracing myself

I was a senior pediatric resident at NYU in late 2001. As part of my residency requirements, I had to do a lecture for the other residents, plus any faculty that felt compelled to show up. (I don't think any did, which was their loss -- I gave out chocolate bars.) Whether because of indolent clairvoyance or a morbid streak, I chose to do my talk on bioterrorism, with a particular focus on smallpox and anthrax. Not long thereafter came the September 11 attacks, followed closely by the outbreak of anthrax. (While the child who subsequently developed cutaneous anthrax was admitted to NYU, and I was familiar with his care, I was not directly involved in it.)

This particular sequence of events led to the disorienting experience of making me, briefly, the go-to guy for the department for questions about anthrax. In particular, I found myself answered questions about whether or not anxious parents should be supplied with ciprofloxacin, a potent antibiotic, to have on hand just in case their kid (or, for that matter, they themselves) showed any signs of anthrax. The answer was, of course, no. It would have led to wide-spread treatment of the "worried well," with resultant adverse effects (some of which are nasty) and potential for resistance to a medication whose potency we need to safeguard.

I mention all of this by way of prefacing my reaction to the current swine flu anxiety, which has managed to become Topic #1 on everyone's mind over the weekend. All I can think is "Hoo, boy." Because I know that people are going to want to Do Something, which will probably mean asking for a prescription for Tamiflu should little Caitlyn or Dexter develop the sniffles. Just in case. Side effects be damned. And my poor triage nurse is going to have to explain that we will require testing for flu before we prescribe it, and heaven only knows how many kids with colds I'm going to see as a result.

As a somewhat snarky Jim Carrey vaccine lunacy post-script, I wonder how quickly certain parents' anxiety about thimerosal will evaporate if they develop a swine flu vaccine that contains it. I suspect that their risk calculations will suddenly recalibrate.


A cesspool by any other name

Marc Ambinder is doubtless a very smart man. That's why he blogs about politics for The Atlantic, and people read what he has to say. I read and reread and then refreshed the page and reread again everything he wrote during the weeks and months leading up to the last election, and found his insight invaluable. So it is disappointing to read "analysis" as trite and facile as this:
The Atlantic's coverage of the first 100 days of the Obama presidency begins next week, assuming the geeks don't rise. But this blog will focus on the second 100 days. I've been trying to figure out what the White House is using as an internal frame -- and what they'd like to see as the end result. In the end, it's fairly simple. And it explains why the White House is publicly and privately resisting a new investigation into the past.


Now then -- it's clear why Obama never wanted a torture commission, or some sort of a special counsel for torture -- or anything like that. Wait -- how did I manage to transition to this subject without transitioning? "Unnecessary battles." Obama said it many times during the campaign: as president, he did not want to refight the ideological and policy battles of the past eight years. Obama won't go there. That's not where he's at. He is not sentimental. He does not want Democrats to bog themselves down in an orgy of masturbatory vengeance-- that's my phrase, not his. He is also the president. He cares about precedent. (I'm told that in the internal deliberation about whether to release the OLC memos, Obama asked his interlocutors about precedent -- what future presidents like Mitt Romney (I don't know if he actually used Romney as an example) would do with the secrets of the Obama administration.) [emphasis mine]

I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, and I haven't been present at any high-level meetings amongst the Democratic party leadership, so perhaps my opinion has little bearing on anyone else's motivations, but my interest in investigating the torture policies of the last administration has nothing to do with vengeance, masturbatory or otherwise. It has everything to do with demonstrating to the country, the world, and to the current and future Presidents of the United States that nobody, but nobody, has the authority to disregard the basic human rights of its prisoners, to disregard its treaty obligations (which is what the Geneva Conventions are), or to disregard the Constitution. If Ambinder conflates the pursuit of justice for its own sake with "masturbatory vengeance," then he's a damn sight more cynical than is any good for him. From my perspective, investigating crimes committed by my country's leadership is the very definition of a "necessary battle."

Furthermore, if Obama is worried about the precedent created by releasing the OLC memos, then it would behoove him to avoid making piss-poor policy decisions that would violate the law and cause him to be investigated in the first place. If you do the right thing, Mr. President, then nobody will care to investigate you, and will discover no malfeasance if they do.

Ambinder thinks Obama is trying to side-step the investigation to move on with the rest of his agenda. In response, I quote the indispensible Glenn Greenwald:
Obama's ostensible motives here are no better. The claim that punishing Bush crimes will undermine his political interests is not only false (as Krugman definitively establishes today) but also corrupt. Democrats spent the last several years vehemently complaining about the "politicization of the Justice Department" under Alberto Gonzales. Yet so many of these same Democrats are now demanding that the Obama DOJ refrain from prosecuting Bush criminals based on purely political grounds: namely, that those prosecutions will interfere with Obama's political agenda.
As is so often the case these days, it is a worthwhile exercise to read Greenwald's whole post. He makes many excellent points. One that I cannot agree with heartily enough, and which bears being sung by a full gospel choir in the halls of the White House and the US Capital Building every morning, is this:

It makes no difference which party did the wrong thing, knew about it, went along with it, approved of it, hid it or ignored it. None. If an independent investigation implicates every single member of the Democratic leadership strolling around DC these days, then so be it. I no more wish to shield members of my own party from scrutiny than I wish to convict the opposition out of a sense of retribution. It appears that Speaker Pelosi is agitating for a truth commission, and for that I commend her. But the whole lot of them can go down if that's the price of discovering the truth.

In conclusion, I quote from Paul Krugman's column from yesterday:
[T]he fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.


Another antidote!

Depressed that you live in a country that has tortured people, and seems woefully reluctant to investigate? Bummed out that one of the major players in your country's auto industry is lurching wheezily toward bankruptcy? Frustrated that credulous fans will believe what a man famous for fart jokes says over the recommendations of their own doctor?

Behold -- a reminder of the weird, wonderful, joyful world we live in:

And then marvel that every single one of those beautiful performers is deaf.

(Hat tip Sully.)

Reading this crap, so you don't have to

I think my opinion about celebrities and their opinions is pretty clear by now. I have a special place reserved in the tar pits of my heart for celebrities who do genuine damage to public health by conflating their fame with some kind of expertise. Exhibit A is Jenny McCarthy, who has managed to segue from short-lived MTV and Playboy fame to her new role as aggrieved anti-vaccination crusader without skipping a beat. Unsurprisingly, her boyfriend Jim Carrey has decided to jump onto the bandwagon. He has seen fit to grace us with this shockingly dishonest jeremiad in Huffington Post, your one-stop destination for empty-headed celebrity pontification.
In this growing [autism] crisis, we cannot afford to blindly trumpet the agenda of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or vaccine makers. Now more than ever, we must resist the urge to close this book before it's been written. The anecdotal evidence of millions of parents who've seen their totally normal kids regress into sickness and mental isolation after a trip to the pediatrician's office must be seriously considered. The legitimate concern they and many in the scientific community have that environmental toxins, including those found in vaccines, may be causing autism and other disorders (Aspergers, ADD, ADHD), cannot be dissuaded by a show of sympathy and a friendly invitation to look for the 'real' cause of autism anywhere but within the lucrative vaccine program.


I've also heard it said that no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found. That statement is only true for the CDC, the AAP and the vaccine makers who've been ignoring mountains of scientific information and testimony. There's no evidence of the Lincoln Memorial if you look the other way and refuse to turn around. But if you care to look, it's really quite impressive. For a sample of vaccine injury evidence go to www.generationrescue.org/lincolnmemorial.html.
Friends, I have done you a solid. I have actually clicked on that link. It leads you to the "Generation Rescue" home page, where you can learn all about Jenny McCarthy and how to buy her book. You have to look around for the evidence in question, but eventually you can find this page, supposedly just chock-full of evidence linking autism and vaccines. I sincerely wonder how much, if any of it, Jim Carrey has read, much less understands.

It is full of citations and abstracts, which I have taken the time to actually review. While the overwhelming majority deal with autism (though whole sections have nothing to do with autism at all), almost none of them mention vaccines. As in, well less than 5%. (Yes, I kept a tally.) If you don't believe me, please click on the links on this page and look for yourself. Of particular irony, the Autism and Rubella page references articles that link autism and congenital rubella, which has been all but eradicated since the advent of the rubella vaccine.

Of the few references that do discuss autism and vaccines, many have no abstract for review. One is from some "journal" called Medical Veritas, whose scientific standards one might question. Then, there was this (reference about halfway down the page):
Taylor, B., E. Miller, et al. (2002). "Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study." BMJ 324(7334): 393-6.


Conclusions: These findings provide no support for an MMR associated "new variant" form of autism with developmental regression and bowel problems, and further evidence against involvement of MMR vaccine in the initiation of autism.
Lest you think this is a fluke, on the page of references collected by one Teresa Binstock, there are these, right at the top:
2: Andrews N et al. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):584-91.

3: Heron J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):577-83.

[emphasis mine, in both cases]

Mr. Carrey is guiding you toward a resource he does not understand or has not bothered to review himself, for within it are numerous citations that refute his very argument, and many, many, many more that are totally unrelated to it. (There is also a lot of hearsay, which you are free to review at your leisure.) What is evident from reading through the pages and pages of citations is that a lot of research has been done about autism, and no clear cause has yet to be determined.

Mr. Carrey impugns science he cannot fathom, and organizations who have done invaluable work to make the world a safer and healthier place. His commentary is disgraceful, and he should stick to making mediocre movies and pulling funny faces.

Update: Oh, the glories of the Internet! I've spent the past evening reading numerous incisive take-downs of the anti-vaccination crowd, and they're all excellent. For one particularly fantastic, thorough and well-written piece, click here.

Update #2: Since I originally wrote this post, the Carrey-supplied link has changed destinations. It now leads you to a page titled "More Vaccines -- More Autism," with a bunch of charts. Unsurprisingly, it provides no more scientific evidence against vaccines than does the information in this link, about which the above post was written and about which my opinion has not changed. I will write a new post about the new destination shortly.

The coverage

From the local news source:
An estimated 3,000 people came to the main auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center for a legislative public hearing on L.D. 1020, which would allow same-sex marriage in Maine. Members of the Judiciary Committee spent more than 10 hours listening to testimony from people on both sides of the issue.


Dr. Daniel Summers, an Augusta pediatrician who spoke on behalf of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said quality parenting is the most important factor in raising healthy children.

"Those who claim that children need a biologically related mother and a father to flourish are either ignorant of the scientific literature or are misrepresenting it," he said.

I am, of course, deeply biased as far as this issue is concerned. But, if one is interested in the arguments based on their merits, there was no comparison between the two sides at the hearing yesterday. Proponents made their case based on legal, social, medical, psychological and theological grounds. Opponents appealed to biblical literalism and fear. There were, in the vast number of testimonies, a couple of relatively comprehensible arguments about limiting government intrusion into the sphere of the family and social stability, but they were lost in the wave upon wave of virulent, incoherent and rambling vitriol. (Nobody seemed to note the irony of all the people that stated definitively that they didn't hate gay people, who then went on to say that we are incapable of loving, stable, sacred or healthy relationships. Can you imagine how it would have sounded if, you know, they hated us?) All prejudice on the issue aside, us gay marriage types made a much stronger case. And it was wonderful beyond words to get support from the Speaker of the Maine House, Maine's attorney general, as well as from my own wonderful bishop.

The video on this page can give a small sense of how it felt to be there, if only in the large mass of red-shirted (pro-marriage equality) people in the risers behind the speakers. My rough estimate of the crowd is that it was 60% pro, 40% con.

The only negative reaction I have thus gotten came from one guy who demanded to know if I can prove I was speaking on the Maine AAP's behalf, (in a word -- yes.) and another woman who wanted to know essentially the same thing who said that there would be a "challenge" to what I said. Doubtless meant to be intimidating, which it kind of transiently was, but almost certainly signifying nothing.

So, now we wait for the vote. I think most of the committee members went into the hearing with the minds already made up (probably from political considerations above all else), but if there were any undecided then I feel good about the case we made.

Confidential to John: The weirdo from the "Christian Polygamy" movement didn't do your cause any favors.

Update: Better video here.


My statement to the Maine judiciary committee

Presented at the public hearing today:

Good afternoon Senator Bliss, Representative Priest, and Members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Daniel Summers. I am a pediatrician in Augusta and am here today on behalf of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to express our strong support for LD 1020.

As pediatricians, we observe all kinds of parents everyday, including same-sex couples. We believe that the love, support and devotion of gay and lesbian parents for their children is no different from the love, support and devotion of other parents, and that children can and do thrive in many kinds of families. In our experience—which is backed up by a scientific consensus -- children raised by gay and lesbian parents do not differ in any important respects from those raised by heterosexual parents. Overall, it is the quality of parenting that predicts children’s psychological and social adjustment, not the parent’s sexual orientation or gender. Nothing about having a male and female parent or a heterosexual orientation guarantees successful parenting, and I think we all know that. People of all backgrounds are capable of doing the work to be a good parent, or not.

Those who claim that children need a biologically related mother and father to flourish are either ignorant of the scientific literature or are misrepresenting it. All else being equal, the studies show children do better with two parenting figures than one, even though we all know single parents who do a fantastic job, and that divorce can be difficult for children, depending on how the adults handle it. But it is scientifically untenable to use studies about the effects on children of divorce or being raised in one-parent households to draw conclusions about children raised in two-parent households where the parents are of the same gender. With all respect, people are entitled to their beliefs, and even their biases, but it is plainly wrong to call those beliefs or biases “science.”

Our longer written submission also addresses claims made about children raised with same-sex parents regarding gender role development – it’s fine, and with respect to whether they are more likely to be gay themselves – they are not.

The Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics supports LD 1020 because it has important implications for children of gay and lesbian parents: implications for their financial and emotional security and for their sense of place in the larger community of families. Please do not succumb to the muddying of the waters by those who would purport to protect children by ignoring the fact that their families will remain their families, whatever the outcome of this bill. Let us remember that no good comes to children from denying their parents the ability to marry. Please support LD 1020.


On simple-minded celebrities and lousy ambassadors

Great. Just great.

Miss California, the runner-up to the Miss USA crown, apparently (like the majority of voters in her state) doesn't believe in gay marriage. We know this because one of the judges, Perez Hilton, asked her about it during the pageant. And then she didn't win. And then he went on a tirade on his web site and called her nasty, nasty names. Charming.

This is like a heaping steam tray of crap. A casserole of ugly little ingredients, each guaranteed to give me an ulcer in its own right. A vapid quasi-celebrity with an opinion? Check. Subsequent right-wing cause celebre martyrdom? Yup. An odious, self-promoting non-talent who thrives on scandal? You betcha.

Wonderful. Because just the other day I thought to myself, "If only there were some way for the gay marriage debate to get just a little tawdrier."

Painful to read

I came across this article from New York Magazine about how hard the Wall Street wealthy now have it via Washington Monthly (where hilzoy makes some similar points to the ones I have to share). I don't think anything is served by vilifying the wealthy en masse, but they sure aren't helping their case at all with the griping.
“No offense to Middle America, but if someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco out of a huge, shiny truck?” e-mails an irate Citigroup executive to a colleague.

“I’m not giving to charity this year!” one hedge-fund analyst shouts into the phone, when I ask about Obama’s planned tax increases. “When people ask me for money, I tell them, ‘If you want me to give you money, send a letter to my senator asking for my taxes to be lowered.’ I feel so much less generous right now. If I have to adopt twenty poor families, I want a thank-you note and an update on their lives. At least Sally Struthers gives you an update.”

Well, Mr. Irate Citigroup Executive, part of the problem may be that the restaurant delivery guy is probably totally free of responsibility for our current financial woes, while schmucks like yourself bear a huge, whopping percent of the blame. When most people are involved in something "fumbling" and "mismanaged" they can canned, and nobody much cares about how damn unappreciated they feel. The second guy sounds like such a total [point of digestive egress] that I'm at a loss to comment.
A few weeks ago, I had drinks with a friend who used to work at Lehman Brothers. She had come to Wall Street in the mid-eighties, when the junk-bond boom spawned a new class of globe-trotting financiers. Over two decades, she had done stints at all the major banks—Chase, Goldman, Lehman—and had a thriving career directing giant streams of capital around the world and extracting a substantial percentage for herself. To her mind, extreme compensation is a fair trade for the compromises of such a career. “People just don’t get it,” she says. “I’m attached to my BlackBerry. I was at my doctor the other day, and my doctor said to me, ‘You know, I like that when I leave the office, I leave.’ I get calls at two in the morning, when the market moves. That costs money. If they keep compensation capped, I don’t know how the deals get done. They’re taking Wall Street and throwing it in the East River.”
Huh. Must be nice for her doctor. I also enjoy leaving my office when I leave... except for when I get calls at two in the morning and I have to drag my sorry carcass back in so I can take care of some sick kid. The difference between Madame High Roller and me is that if I screw up that two AM call, some kid ends up sicker (or worse) and I might get sued for everything I'm worth, as opposed to losing a bunch of money and then bitching about how people are suddenly holding me accountable for it. Oh, and also I don't make millions of dollars.
“We’re in a hypercapitalistic society. No one complains when Julia Roberts pulls down $25 million per movie or A-Rod has a $300 million guarantee. We have ex-presidents who cash in on their presidencies. Our whole moral compass has shifted about what’s acceptable or not acceptable. Honestly, you can pick on Wall Street all you want, I don’t think it’s fair. It’s fair to say you ran your companies into the ground, your risk management is flawed—that is perfectly legitimate. You can lay criticism on GM or others. But I don’t think it’s fair to say Wall Street is paid too much.”
Well, first of all I think it's obscene that Julia Roberts and A-Rod make that much money. However, it is arguable they are worth it because they bring in their fans, and they would probably be paid a whole lot less if they stopped doing so (see also: the careers of countless entertainment and sports has-beens)... just like Wall Street types are faced with being paid a lot less because they crapped out on their jobs. Also, the country didn't slide into recession because of Mona Lisa Smile's disappointing box office take. This is a hard concept to grasp? (I'm beginning to think those Columbia and Wharton degrees are kind of worthless, since the people who have them seem kind of stupid.)
“You can’t live in New York and have kids and send them to school on $75,000,” he continues. “And you have the Obama administration suggesting that. That was a very populist thing that Obama said. He’s being disingenuous. He knows that you can’t live in New York on $75,000.”
I would like to thank the elves and leprechauns (also, in the real world, my parents) that helped me survive for six years in Manhattan on a resident's salary, which is substantially less (even with parental generosity) than $75,000. Doubtless the other residents (many of whom with kids) that I worked with had similar sources of magical largesse that allowed them to survive. It also probably helped that they sent their kids to shadowy, mysterious places called "public schools," apparently unknown to the ultra-wealthy.
“These guys will not work on Wall Street,” he says flatly. “People go to Wall Street out of greed. When I was interviewing for jobs, frequently some form of the question came up: How much do you want to make money? If my answer was something like—and it wasn’t—but if my answer was, ‘I’m here for intellectual betterment,’ their response might have been, ‘University is a great place for you.’ They want people who think ‘I’m greedy, I want to be a billionaire.’ That was viewed as a really good thing.”
Wait, what? They won't go to Wall Street? They'll take their big, juicy brains somewhere else? Really? Um... where? If they insist on taking their ball and going home, I am curious where their pique will lead them. If they think they can get to be billionaires some other way, then they're welcome to try. Because I kind of think they're full of crap. Full of crap, and horrible people.

Look, I know that the rejuvenation of New York City was funded in large part because of the success of the financial sector. I know that their contributions supported a lot of charities and public works. I know that they worked in high-stress fields with a lot of burn out. I get it. But they also, in a very costly, public and far-reaching way, failed at their jobs. That they still seem to feel entitled to live in the same manner as they were living before they failed is baffling to me.


Cue contented chortling

I know that I should totally hate the anti-gay marriage lunatic brigade. But seriously, there is so much to love.

To start things off, it seems that ol' Rudy Giuliani (the only national political figure I've ever actually spent any length of time with... he was very nice) has decided to rally against gay marriage.
RUDY GIULIANI is declaring war on gay marriage -- vowing to use his strong opposition of it against the Democrats if he runs for governor next year.


"This will create a grass-roots movement. This is the kind of issue that, in many ways, is somewhat beyond politics," said Giuliani, a two-term mayor who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination last year.

"I think gay marriage will obviously be an issue for any Republican next year because Republicans are either in favor of the position I'm in favor of, civil unions, or in many cases Republicans don't even favor civil unions," he continued.

Giuliani, who is slated to address a Republican fund-raising gala in Albany tonight in what is widely described as further proof of his interest in running for governor, said he's committed to the traditional definition of marriage.

"Marriage, I believe, both traditionally and legally, has always been between a man and a woman and should remain between a man and woman," said Giuliani, who has been married three times.

Got that, America? Rudy Giuliani is the new spokesperson for traditional marriage. You'll excuse me for a moment while I succumb to an uncontrollable attack of the giggles.

Tee, heeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheehee!!!!!


OK, so it looks like America's Doyenne of Anti-Gay Hatred Maggie Gallagher approves:
Note: He's talking about how the issue plays out in New York. A blue state. Call Rudy many things, but dumb is not one of them.
Hmmmm. Fine, I won't call him dumb. I will, however, call him a mind-blowingly bad presidential candidate, whose dunderheaded campaign hardly speaks to his prodigious political savvy. But not dumb.

The Palin Chronicles

Et tu, Reihan?

Dept. of Overpaid Hacks

At the gym yesterday, I saw John King on CNN interviewing his usual panel of talking heads about Obama's diplomatic relationship with Hugo Chavez. The sound was off, and I didn't feel compelled to spend too much time squinting at the closed captioning. However, between David Gergen and some guy with good hair from the Weekly Standard, I got the distinct impression that Obama had made some kind of concession to Chavez (a loathsome and inflammatory character), which is a disappointing prospect. Gergen and the other guy were holding forth on how it was a sign of Obama's inexperience, yadda yadda yadda, so I figured it had to be some kind of actual policy change in question. Then I returned to blasting my lats. (Well, not really, but it's such fun to write.)

Actual policy change? Not so much, it turns out. It appears that the problematic behavior on Obama's part was smiling and shaking Chavez's hand at the Summit of the Americas. From Politico (via Washington Monthly):
Gingrich appeared on a number of morning talk shows comparing Obama to President Jimmy Carter for the smiling, hearty handshake he offered Chavez, one of the harshest critics of the United States, during the Summit of the Americas.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Obama declined to publicly snub the man. Click here to see for yourselves.

I mean, seriously. That??!? That is the sum total of Obama's inexperience-related misstep? Really? Because, if so, then maybe John King should spend next week re-shellacking his hair, which would probably be a more worthwhile way to spend the time than his work as part of the "best political team on television."

Because celebrities are our natural lords and masters

Apparently, Jackie Chan thinks the Chinese shouldn't be too free.
Speaking at the Boao Forum in southern China, Chan said this: "I'm not sure if it is good to have freedom or not. I'm really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."

And this: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."

John Pomfret thinks Chan is merely reflecting the views of a typical rich Chinese person. I have another theory, not unique to either China or the particularly wealthy.

Celebrities are idiots, and we shouldn't care at all about what they have to say about anything. We should ignore what they have to say about health care. We needn't pay attention to their various political opinions on popular websites. We can pat them on their pretty, overpaid heads and watch while they throw balls really far or speak words someone else wrote or parade around being famous for no clear reason. But we shouldn't care any more about their opinions than those of a typical four-year-old. (I say this knowing that the vast majority of celebrities are liberal, and probably support causes and politicians I generally support. This doesn't change the fact that they are idiots.)

There are, I am sure, plenty of exceptions. But, as God is my witness, if I never hear from some of them again, it will be too soon.


Good advice that is sure to be ignored

I am (it's probably obvious to the point of hilarity to point out) pretty liberal. Unapologetically so. I like to tell myself that I'm a moderate, but when I think about just about any issue I end up siding with the liberal viewpoint. I am what I am, it seems.

However, this is not to say that I do not see the merits of conservative thought. The country is poorer when only one viewpoint is heard and only one line of thinking holds indomitable sway. There are valid conservative points of view on foreign, fiscal and social policy. (Yes, even social policy. I know many generally pro-choice people who are still given pause by the reality of abortion, and I respect people whose views differ from my own on the issue.) But the GOP has recently been hijacked by a nativist, anti-intellectual and religiously intractable element that holds its progress and hopes for any kind of return to power hostage.

Thus, it is refreshing to read what Steve Schmidt (a "top McCain advisor") had to say today:
Former top McCain adviser Steve Schmidt is planning to use a Friday speech to the Log Cabin Republicans to urge the GOP to drop its opposition to same-sex marriage.

"I'm confident American public opinion will continue to move on the question toward majority support, and sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up to it," Schmidt plans to say according to excerpts provided to ABC News.


"There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage," Schmidt plans to say. "I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one's liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage."

"It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un American or threatens the rights of others," he will say.

"On the contrary," he will say, "it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence -- liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, I believe, gives the argument of same sex marriage proponents its moral force."

He also had some commendable thoughts on the role of sectarian religious influence (which is what Christian fundamentalism is) on the political process:
"If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party," Schmidt declared. "And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party."


"If you reject [gay marriage] on religious grounds, I respect that," he said. "I respect anyone's religious views. However, religious views should not inform the public policy positions of a political party because... when it is a religious party, many people who would otherwise be members of that party are excluded from it because of a religious belief system that may be different. And the Republican Party ought not to be that. It ought to be a coalition of people under a big tent."
Bravo. Yes. What he said, Republicans. I don't think the Democrats should have a death-grip on power for perpetuity any more than I wanted the GOP to remain in the permanent majority. (Well, OK. Maybe a little more.) Dissent and compromise are vital to a healthy republic, and our country is not well served by having the minority party dominated by lunatics, blowhards and blithering incompetents.

Marc Ambinder is skeptical, and so am I. It's hard to see the GOP breaking free of its most vociferous elements. But, in all sincerity, I hope to see the day when I could actually consider voting for a Republican again.

Please nominate this woman in 2012

Oh, Sarah Palin. Don't ever change. I don't know what I would do without your constant stream of Grade A blogging material.

The kerfuffle regarding her grandson, her daughter and her daughter's erstwhile fiance is unseemly, and not the kind of thing that merits much attention. On the other hand, her choice for the attorney general for her state is fair game.

The charming Wayne Anthony Ross was, perhaps, the wrong choice. I first became aware of him thanks to Andrew Sullivan, and there's a lot of basis for concern. Some of the allegations against him (such as his purported scoffing about marital rape) are a little too close to hearsay to keelhaul his nomination on their own. Other issues, on the other hand, deserve our scrutiny:
But as pro-Palin forces attempted to push back against Ross’s critics, dozens of op-eds Ross authored during the 1980s and 1990s surfaced as key exhibits in the case against his confirmation. Among them is a 1993 piece entitled, “KKK ‘art’ project gets ‘A’ for courage,” in which Ross defended a local college student who had offended an African-American classmate by creating a statue of a Klansman with a cross in one hand and a flag in the other. “It might have been fun to see [the African-American student] try to remove the display,” Ross wrote. “Then she could have been arrested and her future as a student of the university could have been resolved through the university disciplinary proceedings.”


A glance at Ross’s published archive shows he never limited his resentment to minorities. He taunted environmentalists (“It is time we quit crying over the oil spill” was the title of an editorial he wrote in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster); he denounced homosexuals as “degenerates” during a 1993 legal fight over a local gay-rights ordinance; and announced that his final wish before dying was to overturn Roe v. Wade. While rising through the ranks of the NRA’s national leadership in the 1980s, Ross published a piece in the mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune, defending the right to form antigovernment militias.
The KKK thing is appalling. That he doesn't like gays, and wants to overturn Roe is (considering who nominated him) no huge surprise. But what the holy hell is Sarah Palin thinking by nominating as the chief law enforcement officer of her state a man that publishes a defense of anti-government militias in Soldier of Fortune magazine?

Hooray for sanity:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin suffered a defeat in her own legislature today, as her nominee for state attorney general went down in 35-23 vote of the state legislature.

Wayne Anthony Ross quickly lost support after a stream of reports surfaced regarding his past comments about gays and women.

I can hardly wait to see what Gov. Palin has in store for us next!


Submitted without addendum

I have nothing further to add to this:
One thing is also increasingly clear from the torture memos: medical professionals were indeed present throughout the torture sessions, carefully monitoring and measuring the health and suffering of the torture victims. There is no conceivable way in which this is compatible with the Hippocratic oath, or with minimal standards of medical ethics. They were there to ensure that pain was maximized short of death or permanent visible injury. They failed in the score of cases where torture victims died by the Pentagon's own admission - and in the over a hundred deaths-by-torture recorded by human rights organizations. These doctors need to be identified and prevented from ever practising medicine again.

So, um... tea parties, then

I haven't had a lot to say about the whole "tea party" phenomenon, largely because I don't really understand what point they're trying to make. From what I can tell, they don't like massive government spending for the stimulus, bailing out banks, etc. (I don't know what the people getting protesters all ginned up are suggesting as an alternative, but perhaps it's expecting too much to hope for that?) Also, they showed a charming naivety when choosing which appellation to go by. I know there was a protest here in lovely Augusta yesterday, though the article about it only adds to my confusion.

It all seems incoherent to me. Ross Douthat thinks there's an underlying unity of message, but I'm not so sure. Because I would rather pull out the little hairs on my knuckles one by one than watch Fox News, which apparently is the go-to source for up-to-the-minute Tea Party spin, maybe I'm missing something. But, from what I gather, it seems like a great deal of right-wing frothing, signifying nothing. Admittedly, Salon is a liberal source, so it's probably not inclined to be sympathetic, but this is hardly inspiring:
To find extreme sentiments in Lafayette Park, it wasn't necessary to look for the people with the most eccentric tea-bag-themed costumes. You could just pick a protester at random. "I think Obama's plan is to create a catastrophic failure in our economic system, because then people will get desperate, and then you have the ability for a totalitarian government to move in," said J'Neane Theus, 54, who retired from the Navy and now manages investments. She drove about an hour from Clarksville, Md., battling Washington's horrific rush hour traffic to be an official marshal of the tea party (she had a white hat with "marshal" hand-scrawled in red ink to prove it). Her son, a 19-year-old Marine named Galen, stood next to her in a red, white and blue tie-dyed shirt, holding a sign accusing Barney Frank and other Democrats of treason. "I think that sounds very wacko; Americans don't want to believe that. But we've seen this movie before," the elder Theus said. I asked her where. "How about, well, fascist Italy, under Mussolini -- and look at what happened to him, I would remind Obama of that," she said. "Hitler. Stalin. Socialism has been proven not to work."

Another seemingly sedate protester, Brian Smith, a marketer from Greenville, S.C., who was in Washington on business and came by the rally, wandered equally off message. "I love my country and I don't like what's going on," Smith said. "Government -- to be honest with you, and this will probably be misquoted, but on 9/11, I think they hit the wrong building. They should have gone into the Capitol building, hit out, knocked out both sides of the aisle, we'd start from scratch, we'd be better off today." I pointed out that "they" did try to hit the Capitol. "Yeah, I know, they missed," he said. "The wrong sequence. If someone had to go, it should have been the Capitol building. On that day I felt differently, but today that's the way I feel."
The whole article is full of stuff like this. And, while the spirit of fairness inclines me to hope that the people quoted aren't representative of the protest as a whole, the behavior of certain people who really should know better was less than reassuring.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states' rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!"


"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
I... see. I will overlook his use of one of my very least favorite phrases because there are other fish to fry. Secession, eh, Gov. Perry? How'd that work out the last time they tried it?

Am I wrong in thinking these people are bunch of crazies? Are there legitimate points I'm missing? Hello? Anyone?

Update: Oy, vey. Lovely synthesis with my earlier post from today. I suppose "kook" is relative.

Rush Limbaugh, champion of "young black kids"

There's a certain sisyphean weariness to criticizing Rush Limbaugh for being an awful human being. He's just so blatantly, unapologetically awful, that it's rather like criticizing the sun for being too bright or the tides for failing to adapt to your seaside strolling schedule. And maybe my bothering to write about this is due to my needing something jarring to jump-start the blog after my usual mid-week hiatus. But, oh.... this is just so gross. (Via Ambinder):
RUSH: You know what we have learned about the Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers that were wiped out at the order of Barack Obama, you know what we learned about them? They were teenagers. The Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers who took a US merchant captain hostage for five days were inexperienced youths, the defense secretary, Roberts Gates, said yesterday, adding that the hijackers were between 17 and 19 years old. Now, just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas.


They were kids. The story is out, I don't know if it's true or not, but apparently the hijackers, these kids, the merchant marine organizers, Muslim kids, were upset, they wanted to just give the captain back and head home because they were running out of food, they were running out of fuel, they were surrounded by all these US Navy ships, big ships, and they just wanted out of there. That's the story, but then when one of them put a gun to the back of the captain, Mr. Phillips, then bam, bam, bam. There you have it, and three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama.

Oh, my stars and garters. Do my lying eyes deceive me? Is Rush freaking LIMBAUGH trying to paint the pirates sympathetically in order to take cheap political shots at the President?

I may swoon.

It goes on, of course.
Al Sharpton, the head honcho of the National Action Network, on his syndicated radio show yesterday.

SHARPTON: The so-called pirates, they call themselves voluntary Coast Guard in Somalia, which may be more apt.

RUSH: Well, there you have it, from one of America's true leaders of the civil rights movement, the black community, they're not even pirates. They are voluntary coast guards. So in fact what we have here, according to the Reverend Sharpton, these young kids, black Muslim kids, three of which were ordered shot by President Obama on Sunday afternoon, they're just a voluntary Coast Guard trying to protect Somalia, they're just patrolling off the coast of Somalia as sort of a voluntary National Guard, so-called pirates, they're not really pirates, according to reverend Sharpton. He's confirming me, Mr. Snerdley. Don't look so incredulous. They're just community organizers and they have decided to organize out on the high seas as a means of protecting their beloved country, is all this is about.
Confidential to Al Sharpton: When your rhetoric makes you a useful idiot for Rush Limbaugh, you really need to look into retirement.

But getting back to the Corpulent One, he can't even decide what tack to take on this. On the one hand, he's trying to create the impression of a double standard by implying that Obama's ruthless termination of those poor, innocent young boys would never have been tolerated had it been done by a Republican. (And can you imagine what Rush would have said had Obama not used force?) On the other hand, he's trying to wax incredulous at liberal mollycoddlers and racial victimhood, while simultaneously taking a potshot at Obama's community organizing.

Truly, the man is a wonder.


No dice, Mr. President

Everyone who pays attention to politics has an issue or two that motivates that attention. No matter how much we may care about a generally liberal (or progressive, or conservative, or libertarian) viewpoint or agenda, there are a few issues that we pay more attention to, that keep us reading or searching. Some people are big on energy issues, for example. Others care about reproductive rights, or limited government, or school vouchers. There are a lot to choose from, and it's implausible to try to care about all of them equally. I certainly don't pretend to.

Obviously, if you read this blog with any frequency (and may the Lord bless and keep you), you know I care about gay rights issues. A lot. This is due, in large part, to my being gay and enjoying rights. Not a particularly surprising thing. But another issue that I care a whole lot about is executive power. Or rather, appropriate limits thereupon. During the Bush administration, I was horrified by how much power the executive accrued unto itself in the form of signing statements, assertions of executive privilege, and overreaching prerogatives described as war powers, among others. Congress acted like a bunch of whimpering puppies for much of this, and the Democratic party hardly covered itself in glory in its role as Loyal Opposition.

A particular issue of personal concern was the assertion by President Bush that he could lock up whoever he wanted, for as long as he wanted, with no oversight, simply by asserting that the person in question was a terrorist, or enemy combatant, or whatever term of art they happened to choose. It didn't matter if the person was a foreigner captured on the battlefield, a man with the wrong name apprehended in Canada, or a US citizen -- anyone deemed suspect could end up in some dark hole somewhere, cut off from all legal recourse. I found this prospect appalling, and it was one of the reasons I campaigned so vigorously for Obama.

I feel a deep sense of betrayal and disappointment, thus, on reading this:
Back in February, the Obama administration shocked many civil libertarians by filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue -- the Obama DOJ argued, as The New York Times's Charlie Savage put it, "that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team." Remember: these are not prisoners captured in Afghanistan on a battlefield. Many of them have nothing to do with Afghanistan and were captured far, far away from that country -- abducted from their homes and workplaces -- and then flown to Bagram to be imprisoned. Indeed, the Bagram detainees in the particular case in which the Obama DOJ filed its brief were Yemenis and Tunisians captured outside of Afghanistan (in Thailand or the UAE, for instance) and then flown to Bagram and locked away there as much as six years without any charges. That is what the Obama DOJ defended, and they argued that those individuals can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind -- as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantanamo.


In the wake of Judge Bates' ruling that foreign detainees shipped to Bagram at least have the right to a hearing to determine their guilt, what is the Obama DOJ doing? This:

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight. . . .

Read the whole post. It makes it resoundingly, unquestionably clear that the Obama administration is behaving with rank hypocrisy.

As Greenwald notes at the end of the piece (which, seriously, you should read in its entirety), many liberal bloggers are defending Obama for exactly the same behavior that they condemned in his predecessor. They are giving him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that because he is their President, that his motivations must be more noble than the ones that spawned the exact same type of policy from the last President.

No. Absolutely [obscene gerund] not. We do not get to change our standards of decency after we win, in some kind of human rights shell game. We do not get to hold one administration accountable for the same thing we excuse in the next. Obama deserves every last bit of scrutiny and criticism that he gets for this (and I've been looking for clips from Rachel Maddow's show to post, but can't find them -- suffice it to say that I'm glad she's talking about this), and if we on the left wish to maintain our integrity, then we must demand a better answer than the one we are getting.


The high price of keeping you sniffle-free

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
- Voltaire

Megan McArdle was apparently given the daunting task of explaining why health care costs so much over at The Atlantic. While I think the question probably requires more than a blog post can provide, her explanation is pretty good. I have a couple of things to say. First, the quibble:
[D]rug industry profits were a tiny portion of healthcare spending. If we eliminated all profits--hell, double it to account for the much maligned "marketing costs"--we'd possibly push down expenses by another 0.5% of GDP. But as with insurance administrative costs, it's more complicated than that. Without profits, no one would do R&D--and on net, drugs save us money, because they often replace expensive procedures. Years of statins are still cheaper than one hospital stay for a heart attack or stroke. And about half the marketing cost is free samples, which most people would agree are a good and useful device for letting patients see whether a drug works for them.
Well, I don't know about most people, but I am pretty ambivalent about free drug samples. Sure, they're useful for letting patients see how a drug works for them, but often they are expensive "me, too" name-brand drugs, which are no better than older medications that are available as relatively cheap generics. It doesn't help bring down health care costs to start patients on free samples and then prescribe the medication for long-term use. Free samples are given out because they make money for the pharmaceutical industry, and are a mixed blessing at best.

However, what I really wanted to mention is Megan's second of three reasons we pay more:
2) We consume more services. Americans get shiny new facilities--my British colleagues once derisively commented that American hospitals are "like hotels". American hospitals don't have open wards for almost anyone. They staff at very high levels. Doctors conduct an inordinate amount of tests. We use an expensive machine rather than watchful waiting. And often, those expensive machines catch conditions that never would have turned into anything, which we then treat.
This is, frankly, true. Speaking as just one provider, I feel a lot of pressure much of the time to Do Something when some kid is sick. It is hard to explain to distressed parents with an ill child that there is probably not a heck of a lot to be done, and the little guy is just going to have to get better with time. I know the axioms I was taught in medical school about not ordering tests unless there is some specific question to be answered, with an impact on anticipated management. (In other words, don't order tests just because you're shooting in the dark, but only if they're actually going to make a difference in what you're going to do.) But it's hard to tell people to ride things out, and some people are more tolerant of this answer than others. Ordering "screening labs" or chest x-rays gives the impression that you're intervening in some way, even if the expectation is low that there is anything to be found.

This also applies to prescribing medications. People don't like to feel bad, or to have their kids feel bad. And they want you to Do Something about it. While I'm having some success with delaying antibiotics for ear infections, for example, this approach doesn't work with everyone, and it's a hard, hard conversation to try to talk people out of their expectation of leaving the office with a prescription to fix things, even if no such prescription exists.

I think the pressure to Do Something, with its attendant expectations that we should live lives free of every cough, sniffle, ache and sneeze, accounts for much of our health care costs. Add in the mortal fear that most physicians have of missing that subtle finding that revealed the insidious disease, and getting sued back to the Pleistocene by a vengeful patient or family, and you've got a lot of unnecessary tests. Unfortunately, the solution lies in changing people's attitudes about illness, and that's a lot harder to do than vilifying drug companies.