By all means, believe what you like

So, a frequent reader and occasional commenter (who may or may not be related to me) made me aware of a recent column that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (No longer a resident of Missouri, I don't read the P-D with much frequency, so I don't really know the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.) Ms. Campbell thinks those of us who are ready to be rid of the conservative Anglo-Catholics who choose to align with Rome are demanding a tolerance we do not feel for those who champion so-called "traditional" values. She writes:
Responding to a demand from Anglicans who long have sought a way to join the
Catholic Church without abandoning their Anglican identity, the pope authorized
the creation of a new canonical structure that allows these converts to retain
some liturgical riches of their Anglican heritage while uniting with Rome.

The decision buoyed the spirits of many self-described Anglo-Catholics who feel
marginalized and betrayed by the Anglican Communion's willingness to change
age-old Christian teachings to suit contemporary sexual mores. Recent years
have seen fierce debates between Anglicans who support their church's
ordination of women priests, appointment of openly gay bishops and blessing of
same-sex marriages and those who see such innovations as inconsistent with
Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian tradition.


No sooner had the Vatican's decision been announced than critics began berating
Benedict as a sheep-stealer and the would-be Catholic converts as bigots.
Interpreting the announcement through the lens of contemporary sexual politics,
the vast majority of mainstream media commentaries on the subject suggested
that the only reason the Catholic Church would want these theologically
conservative Anglicans, and the only reason these Anglicans would swim the
Tiber, is because of a shared animus toward gays and women and a contempt for
progress and equality.
To which I reply, what other explanation would Ms. Campbell care to offer?

Let us look at it this way -- let us presume that those who are leaving the Anglican Communion truly view women and gays as fully equal to heterosexual men in the eyes of God, and are inclined to include them fully in the life of the church. In other words, let us presume they have no "shared animus." Rather, let us attribute their objection to ordaining women and gays to a love of tradition above all else, or to a belief that God has spoken, and has been heard and understood correctly and definitively for all time, as recorded by Scripture and as understood by church dogma over the past 2000 years.

While this may not translate perfectly as "contempt" for progress, it certainly implies a lack of belief in it. Further, it suggests that those who would cleave to Rome believe God has made it clear that there is something innately unworthy about women or gays, which precludes their full participation in the life of the church. It presumes that God's will has been enacted inerrantly for thousands of years (during which time, coincidentally, straight men have had an essentially unchallenged hold on power), and that no matter how excluded women or gays may feel, it is God's will that they feel so.

Again, perhaps we who celebrate the ordained ministry of women and gays are mistaken when we attribute conservative objection to a collective "animus" or "contempt." But how would Ms. Campbell choose to describe it? How else are we to understand a love of tradition over a willingness to question it, if by questioning it more people are allowed to not only feel, but actually be full members of the church of God? For all her offended huffing about the "heckling of the mob," how would Ms. Campbell choose to describe her beliefs?

I would posit, of course, that Ms. Campbell probably doesn't really think God likes gays (or, dare I say, women?) very much. I would guess, from her adherence to beliefs that exclude these people from ordained ministry, that she is perfectly happy to see them excluded. I am, of course, happy to let her believe what she likes. But I am also perfectly happy to see people who share her beliefs leave the church I love, because clearly their understanding of the love of God harmonizes poorly with mine.

Speaking of despair

It would be lovely to have a word for an emotion, a grief, unique to those living in capitalist consumer cultures. Specifically, the sadness one experiences when one discovers that one's favorite product is no longer manufactured. Yes, I'm thinking of you, my dearest departed Morningstar Farms Thai Flavor Veggie Burgers. And, to a lesser extent, I think also of you, Diet Coke with Splenda. And you, my Slim-fast chocolate chip cookie dough meal bars, who were no mere sop to the dieter, but a treat in and of yourself.

First comes denial: maybe they just ran out! And anger: why don't they re-order? Like, really? Then, finally acceptance.

A related feeling is the pain of discovering that the new and improved version of one's product is not at all improved. Instead it is a lesser shadow of its former glory, tantalizing you with a reminder of what had once been (Yes, you, Prescriptives foundation)

If anyone wants to come up with a name for this emotion, I look forward to reading it in the comments!

I'll pass on the existential despair, thanks

I know nothing about Kierkegaard. Or Heidegger, for that matter. I know a tad about Nietzsche and Sartre, but not much. Or lots of other philosophers who lay people have had some contact with and whose work, they assume, is what philosophy really is. (And I'd rather be gnawed to death by rabid rodents than have to read Derrida). However, they are not as influential in the Anglophone philosophy world today as lay people believe. They certainly have significant pockets of followers, but those pockets tend to be isolated from the dominant strain pf philosophy in the US. I have seriously never even heard Kierkegaard's name brought up in the thousands of papers I've read and the hundreds of talks I've gone to. I've heard Heidegger's almost entirely for mockery purposes. For that matter, some of the most influential recent figures are men (alas, always men) of whom most lay people have never heard: Kripke, Lewis, Carnap, Davidson, Peirce, Quine, etc.

See here for how philosophers voted on the most influential figures of the past 200 years. And here for who philosophers would wish would stop being called philosopher.

Today, the Times has a blog post by a philosopher named Gordon Marino who specializes, apparently, in Kierkegaard. (But ya gotta admit, he totally looks the part. Awesome!) He quotes Kierkegaard:
A human being is a spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation relating itself to itself in the relation.

Ack! With the caveat that this is out of context, I ask: do you know what this means? I don't! It sounds deep and all, but yeesh! How is a transitive relation (I'm guessing he's talking about identity) supposed to amount to a spirit? I mean, my pile of laundry over there in the corner is also self-identical, and I hope it doesn't have a spirit. And forget about the second half of the disjunct.

Aren't philosophers supposed to clarify concepts? (I imagine Marino might say no, but we'll leave that aside.) I worry this gives philosophy a bad name. I assume that Kierkegaard makes himself clearer in other parts of his writing, and that there's a standard interpretation that is not completely silly. But seriously, folks. There is no need to confuse anyone like that.

The blog post also puts forth a false dilemma:
And in an age when all psychic life is being understood in terms of neurotransmitters, the art of introspection has become passé.

But one can understand the mind through methods other than introspection (whose value is uncertain) or neurotransmitters. Lots of kids are doing it! May I suggest cognitive science and psychology as other options?

I'm not sure I get the whole point of his post. He seems to want to distinguish between despair and depression, and to suggest much of what we label depression (and thus understand psychologically) is really a spiritual despair (and thus should be understood philosophically). Then he claims depression is really an emotion, as opposed to a propositional attitude. But I think a major aspect of depression is a lack of will, or lack of ability to act on what one wills. Not necessarily emotion.

And then he seems to suggest that, by contrast, despair is not wanting to be who you really are. It's unclear whether he means we all really are the same self (or kind of self) or each person has her own. But by calling it "despair," one is associating an emotion with it, no? I can have the desire not to be myself, and instead to be a supermodel. Indeed, I have had that desire. But it doesn't occasion despair. At most, it inspires an impulsive skin cream purchase.

And I'm not sure that many emotions can be separated from cognitive content, or that they can be conflated with moods, as he does.

Anyhow, the post is so unclear and all over the place that it's hard to actually address. But I will say that I do indeed believe that much of what people consider to be philosophical despair really is more of a psychological problem. I've always thought that, say, Tolstoy would have done quite well to get himself a prescription for Wellbutrin rather than construe a new place for his life in the universal order (and from what followed, I'm sure his wife and kids would have agreed). It seems to me that there are very few plausible philosophical positions that necessitate suicidal wishes, and few plausible philosophical positions that will remove such suicidal wishes (Tolstoy's suicidal wishes did, unusually, seem to be removed by a new philosophical position, but at the expense of his relationship with (and obligations to) his family). One can be an atheist, one can think that there is no objective morality, etc. etc., and really be quite okay with all of it, still watching movies, reading to your kids, and enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate every so often.

Ask and ye shall receive

Per a suggestion from beloved commenter Charo, I am going to touch on President Obama's signing of the "Matthew Shepard" act, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups covered by federal hate crime laws. I haven't spoken much about it because I don't have much to add to what Andrew Sullivan has already said about the topic.

First of all, as I've discussed before, I have trouble with conflating Matthew Shepard with anti-gay violence as a whole. His case, while tragic, is probably more complicated that the LGBTQ community would like to concede, and making him the Symbolic Martyr for our community means we have to preserve him as an unalloyed victim.

I find myself leaning more toward supporting hate crimes legislation. If a group of people as such is a more frequent target of violence, then I think it isn't a great stretch to provide additional protections for that group. Further, if the crime occurred in an area where state or local governments might be unsympathetic to a gay or lesbian victim (and let's not pretend that this is not a distinct possibility), giving recourse to the federal justice system is a significant improvement.

On the other hand, preexisting statutes already made the crime per se illegal, so to a certain extent this is superfluous. Further, free speech advocates can legitimately decry a potential chilling effect, even if the advocates themselves are [unpleasant word for lower alimentary orifice, plural]. However, unless I am greatly mistaken (and I will sincerely re-evaluate this position if someone has information to the contrary), there has been little impact on freedom of speech thus far from earlier hate crimes law, so I am skeptical that horrible people will be prevented from saying their horrible things.

Finally (and this is a blatant retread of what Sully already said), if you are going to create hate crimes protections, then you need to include gays and lesbians. As he rightly points out, gays are among the most frequent targets of violence, so if you're going to extend protections to particular groups, it is only just that we be included.


"Abilify," Harry shouted.

OK, first, I'm sorry about that ridiculous post title. But, ever since they introduced Abilify a few years back, I've thought that the name sounded like a spell from a Harry Potter novel.

Anyhoodle, today is apparently "NPR Medical Information Day" here at Bleakonomy. From the NPR health blog:
Antipsychotic drugs used in kids can carry a steep health cost. Many children gain an unhealthy amount of weight after just a few months on the medicines.

Research just published in JAMA found the drugs led to weight gains ranging from about 10 to 19 pounds, depending on the medicine, in about 11 weeks. The analysis looked at popular brand-name drugs Abilify, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa.

The findings confirm what doctors pretty much already knew about the medicines. So why bother? For one, to tell doctors exactly what they can expect to see. Doctors have been prescribing these drugs more and more to kids -- not just for schizophrenia and bipolar disease, but also for attention deficit disorder.

As the link (which is from June) in the above quote notes:
Last week, FDA staff members released reports saying the three drugs do help kids, but that there are serious side effects. They can cause sedation, heavy weight gain and other problems that can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

"If these children are starting these medications at very young ages, they're likely to be on them for many years," says Dr. William Cooper, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "So the adverse effects, such as weight gain, increased lipids, increased blood sugar are likely to have potentially long-term and important side effects for these children."

Cooper says bad outcomes may be worse in kids than they are in adults, and there needs to be more study of the side effects in children.

After seeing a lot of kids coming to his clinic who had been prescribed these expensive and heavily marketed medications designed for adults, Cooper did a national survey. He found that the number of prescriptions to children had increased five times over a recent seven-year period.

Over a similar period, another study found, the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder had increased 40 times. Still, Cooper says that doesn't explain all of the increase in the use of antipsychotics among children and adolescents.

Cooper says he was surprised that, in most cases in his survey, doctors weren't prescribing the drugs for serious mental illness. "Only one-third of the use was for bipolar or schizophrenia," says Cooper.

Instead, nearly 30 percent were prescribed to kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; nearly 15 percent went to children and adolescents with no psychiatric diagnosis at all.

I wish I could say that I am surprised by what Dr. Cooper found in his survey. But, sadly, I am not. Atypical antipsychotics are grossly overprescribed. This is due in part to medications like Abilify being marketed aggressively. I remember seeing one of those melancholy "are you depressed?" medication ads on television and nearly having a seizure when I saw that the medication advertised was Abilify. (The Better Half has gotten very good at listening patiently while I rant and gesticulate wildly at the television in such circumstances.) A large part of the fault lies, sad to say, with doctors who are all too willing to cavalierly prescribe new, potent medications with little understanding (and even less discussion) of the ill effects that could be experienced.

I try to prescribe medications of this type very, very, very rarely. (Very.) Sometimes, while my patients languish on interminable wait lists for psychiatric intake appointments, I have little choice. But I can only hope that more study of and publicity for the adverse effects these medications can cause will lead to a lighter prescribing hand amongst members of my profession.

Pots and kettles

Last night, while going on an emergency formula/bum wipe run, I caught an interview on "All Things Considered" with Amy Wallace. Ms. Wallace is the author of an article in the most recent issue of Wired about the anti-vaccine panic, and the ill effects it is doing to the health of the public at large. It's a very well-written piece, and worth reading in its entirety.

Perhaps the most important bit is this:
Consider: In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California’s affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).

That may not sound like much, but a recent study by the Los Angeles Times indicates that the impact can be devastating. The Times found that even though only about 2 percent of California’s kindergartners are unvaccinated (10,000 kids, or about twice the number as in 1997), they tend to be clustered, disproportionately increasing the risk of an outbreak of such largely eradicated diseases as measles, mumps, and pertussis (whooping cough). The clustering means almost 10 percent of elementary schools statewide may already be at risk.

In May, The New England Journal of Medicine laid the blame for clusters of disease outbreaks throughout the US squarely at the feet of declining vaccination rates, while nonprofit health care provider Kaiser Permanente reported that unvaccinated children were 23 times more likely to get pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes violent coughing and is potentially lethal to infants. In the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, Jason Glanz, an epidemiologist at Kaiser’s Institute for Health Research, revealed that the number of reported pertussis cases jumped from 1,000 in 1976 to 26,000 in 2004. A disease that vaccines made rare, in other words, is making a comeback. “This study helps dispel one of the commonly held beliefs among vaccine-refusing parents: that their children are not at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” Glanz says.
Ms. Wallace was interviewed in large part to discuss the reaction she has received since the piece was published. It has been precisely as intelligent and well-reasoned as I would have expected.
"I've heard a lot of anger. I've heard that I'm stupid. I've heard that I'm greedy. I've heard that I did this to get famous," Wallace tells NPR's Melissa Block. "I've heard that I'm a whore, I'm a prostitute."
I will get to a particular reaction in just a moment. But first, let's look at something that Ms. Wallace reported in her piece.
To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”
I have already written about the flagrantly dishonest stance Jim Carrey takes with regard to his own scientific expertise and knowledge about vaccines. I find the quote above nauseating.

Rotavirus is a deadly illness. Before we started vaccinating children regularly, it was an inevitability that every season at least a few children from our practice would be hospitalized (sometimes for a week or more) with severe dehydration and intractable vomiting. We vaccinate children because we do not want them to die, regardless of what the awful Jim Carrey has to say.

But speaking of Fire Marshall Bill, let's see what JB Handley, who founded the organization Operation Rescue (for which Jim Carrey sits on the board), has to say.
Unbelievable. That was my first reaction to reading Wired Magazine’s new cover story on vaccines and autism that you can read HERE. It’s not a thoughtful look at both sides of the debate. It’s not a piece providing a new spin on a well-known conflict. It’s simply a regurgitation of Paul Offit’s talking points that he’s been dishing out to the uninformed media now for years. Ms. Wallace didn’t just drink Offit’s Kool-aid, shit, she scooped the Kool-Aid out of the rusty old bucket to make enough for everyone!
Read the whole piece, I urge you. Look at what this man, who is one of the leading anti-vaccine voices in America today, has to say. Examine the quality of thought of the man who speaks in opposition to the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, and essentially every single reputable scientific body that has addressed the question.

One thing in particular from his screed I would like to highlight, because it sticks so uncomfortably in my craw:
Comment: If 1 in 100 kids have vaccine-induced autism, this may challenge your conclusion about “low-risk,” unless you like those odds. Few parents do, and your article is unlikely to change that.
My friends, this statement is the most unmitigated hogwash I have ever read in my life. I have been a practicing pediatrician for ten years (if you include residency), and have administered vaccines to thousands of patients. I have yet to encounter one single patient with even the faintest suggestion of vaccine-related autism. My colleagues, who have been in practice decades longer than I have, could doubtless say the same thing. If vaccines caused autism in "1 in 100 kids," we would stop administering them. We enjoy no benefit from vaccinating children beyond the knowledge that we are doing what we should to prevent deadly illnesses. If there exists any relationship between vaccines and autism, it is so minute and tenuous that no reputable study has found it. It is so small as to be scientifically, mathematically undetectable.

But charlatans like Handley create the impression of a relationship by spewing forth garbage like this to a credulous public. He has the unmitigated gall to assume Ms. Wallace has educated herself at "Google University," which is exactly where most of his followers get their information. He is a dangerous and misguided (or worse) man, and will be largely responsible for the (mark my words) inevitable re-emergence of diseases that have been unseen in America for decades.

[Ed. If you have a point you wish to make, you are free to offer a comment. Copying and pasting paragraph upon paragraph of selective information does not count as commentary, and will be summarily deleted when I come upon it.]


Effective Wrist-slapping on Connecticut Avenue

About a year ago, I heard an interview on NPR with Jim Webb in his role of prison reformer. He pointed out that less severe punishments more consistently applied were much more effective than long sentences that applied to only a few.

Seemed to make sense to me. And now I have proof, thanks to the police of Montgomery County, MD (my current home, and as an aside, a great place to live).

Connecticut Ave. is a major artery heading into DC. I take it all the time. A few months ago, I received in the mail a lovely photo of the back of my car tooling along Connecticut in Chevy Chase, MD, just at the border of DC, and a speeding ticket for $35. Turns out, although this is a six-lane road, the speed limit for that stretch of Connecticut is 30 mph.

I wasn't the only one. When I go down that stretch now, traffic slows almost ostentatiously slows to 25 mph. Yet there is always someone unfamiliar with the traffic situation who starts weaving in and out, and POP goes the flashbulb, every single time. Apparently, despite people's irritation at the cameras, they have been effective at reducing accidents.

As unrealistic as the speed limit is there, it is clear how much more effective small but widely applied punishments can be. No one plays a guessing game of whether the police are around, or how far above the speed limit they can go without attracting notice. It also strikes me as more fair to have speeding tickets given to everyone who speeds.


Dept. of Questionable Polling

OK, so there's cautious optimism, and then there's all-out whackadoodle nonsense.

From the Kennebec Journal:
A new poll released Monday gives same-sex marriage supporters an 11 percentage point lead over those seeking to reject the new state law.


Monday's poll showing a lead for same-sex marriage supporters was quite different from one released by a North Carolina firm last week.

That poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 likely voters, said the Question 1 race was in a 48-48 percent dead heat. Public Policy Polling, which uses automated telephone surveys, said 4 percent were undecided and that the poll had a 3 percent margin of error.

Monday's poll, by Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland, asked 400 likely voters how they plan to vote on the five major questions.

On Question 1, 53 percent indicated they would vote "no," 42 percent said they would vote "yes" and 6 percent were undecided.

I would love to believe that we are 11 points ahead. If we win by 11 points, God only knows what I will do to express my exuberance. But I think the dead-heat numbers are far more likely to be accurate, and I trust these results about as far as I could throw Mark Mutty. [boo, hiss, *rattles gragger*]

At the end of the day, the last thing we can afford to do is be complacent. It's all going to boil down to voter turn-out, and who has the better GOTV effort. Older voters and social conservatives are well-known to be consistent voters, so hopefully the hot-button nature of this referendum will get our supporters off to the polls in an off year.

You people can't be serious

A couple of days ago, fellow guest poster Jaybird over at Ordinary Gents offered some 12-step advice for the GOP.
2004: 55 Senators. 231 Representatives. 286 Presidential Electoral Votes.

2008: 41 Senators. 178 Representatives. 173 Presidential Electoral Votes.

First, you have to admit that you have a problem.

If you don’t admit that you have a problem, you can expect to find yourself getting even worse. You could shrug off and say, hey, the pendulum swings. (14 Senators, 53 Representatives, and 113 electoral votes over the course of 4 years is a pendulum swing?) If you don’t admit you have a problem, whether you find yourself on top again depends more on whether the other guys can force the pendulum back quickly enough into your side than on any action (as opposed to reaction) you make. Most importantly, if you don’t admit that you have a problem, you will never achieve *HEALTH*.

At this point in the power dynamic, it’s not about maybe winning an election again (though it will, of course, involve that on some level) but it’s about not being sick. You admit that you have a problem when you realize that, hey, you don’t want to be sick anymore. Even if you can’t have the life you once did, you won’t be sick.

Step two. A power greater than your own can bring you back to sanity.

Now, I had a friend who did the program a few years back and he explained to me that it didn’t have to be the Judeo-Christian God, necessarily. It can be Allah, Buddha, and even that doorknob over there (he said, pointing to a doorknob). The point was that the power to help was external to yourself and not something that could merely be brought about with willpower alone.

How does that apply to the Republicans? Well, one great example is the phenomenon that I’m seeing that we’d only be doing better if Republicans-In-Name-Only would stop criticizing legit Republicans, then the party would be hunky dory… and therefore the best thing to do is to criticize those RINOs as hard as we can! Get them out of leadership! Get them out of the party! As if the House/Senate/Electoral Vote numbers were reversed.

What’s the old saw? If you’re in a hole, stop digging! Well, after you stop digging, look around and look at those numbers again. You’re going to need external help to get out of this hole.


When I think of people likely to be accused of RINO-hood, I think of Lincoln Chafee or Olympia Snowe, or heterodox pundits like David Brooks or Ross Douthat. You know who I wouldn't expect to get tarred with that notably broad brush? Newt Gingrich.

How full of surprises is life. From the Atlantic Wire (via Sully):

Newt Gingrich appeared on talk shows this Sunday and flirted with the idea of a 2012 presidential bid. In a glaring example of just how wide the schism between Republican Party moderates and conservatives has become, pundits on the right were quick to shoot Gingrich down. The man who led the GOP to a 1994 revival is now dismissed being by some on the right as a RINO -- Republican In Name Only. Why? In a contentious New York State Congressional race that has split the Republican Party at the national level, Gingrich irked conservatives by endorsing moderate Dede Scozzafava, and urging Republicans not to support the more conservative third-party candidate Doug Hoffman. In the ongoing battle for tomorrow's GOP, the former speaker of the house isn't gaining any ground with grassroots conservatives.

Look at what brilliant thinker Michelle Malkin has to say:
The most prominent GOP endorser of radical leftist NY-23 congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava is openly musing about running for president in 2012.


The conservative base is wising up and pushing back. And constantly invoking Reagan isn’t going to erase the damage Gingrich has done to his brand over the years by wavering on core issues and teaming up with some of the Left’s biggest clowns.

Picture the cabinet:

Al Sharpton as education secretary.

Scozzafava as labor secretary.

Al Gore as global warming czar.

Noooooo, thanks.

"Radical leftist"? "Al Sharpton"?!???!

Dan Riehl (with whom I am thoroughly unfamiliar) asks this:
Newt In 2012: Yeah, But Which Party, Dude?
I just got my H1N1 vaccine (for which, Gadfly, I have sent President Obama a thank-you note), so maybe I'm feverish and hallucinating. But do I actually dwell in a world in which suddenly Newt Freaking Gingrich is too liberal for the GOP base?

I need to go lie down.

Cat's Cry

I hope my co-bloggers do not mind if I point people toward a new blog my husband and I are writing about having a child with Cri du Chat. It's called Cat's Cry. I'm not sure if there's much of an audience for parental and philosophical thoughts on having a child with a disability, but I'm offering the product anyway.

Where posts are of more general interest, I'll cross-post them here.


Dept. of Ever-So-Very-Cautious Optimism

Nate Silver does the numbers on where the marriage-equality money is coming from:
In a fundraising plea to his mailing list this past week, Marc Multy [ed: boo, hiss, *rattles gragger*], the President of the anti-gay marriage Group Stand for Marriage Maine, described his opponents as having "amassed a war chest from the homosexual political elite from nearly every corner of the country to impose their will on Mainers like us."

Indeed, the pro-gay marriage group No on 1 Protect Maine Equality has raised more than $2.30 million in itemized contributions from outside the state of Maine; this is more than the $1.82 million that Stand for Marriage Maine has raised from out-of-state.

However, most of No on 1's advantage is based on its substantial edge in fundraising from within the state of Maine. No on 1 has raised $1.89 million from 3,766 unique contributors within the state, whereas Stand for Marriage Maine has raised just $677,000 from 422 contributors, putting it at nearly a 3:1 disadvantage. All told, No on 1 has raised 43 percent of its funds from within Maine, as compared with 26 percent for the Yes on 1 campaign.


[Protect Maine Equality's] top 10 donors represent just 36 percent of its total fundraising haul, as compared to 91 percent for Yes on 1. Most of its contributions, rather, come from small donors, who account for its 9-to-1 advantage in the number of unique, itemized contributors within Maine, and its 28-to-1 advantage in its number of unique donors from outside the state.
It would be beyond foolish to generalize too much from these numbers. (Pace frequent commenter Uncle Jim, realistic appraisal of our current prospects and a propensity to taking the long view do not a losing attitude make.) However, look at those lower numbers. A 9-to-1 advantage in the number of unique contributors within Maine. Now, it may be that the No on 1 side is more generally affluent than the Yes folks. (By the way, isn't now a great time to make a donation?) But it sure looks like a big, big enthusiasm gap.

Minor editorial note: I have commented rather frequently about my reluctance to let marriage equality just drown out everything else on the blog, and for Bleakonomy to be All Gay, All the Time. That desire remains. However, we are now little more than a week away from a major, possibly landmark vote on a huge civil rights issue that impacts me directly. Thus, I will probably fixate on it a great deal over the next week. If this bores you to tears, please accept my humble apologies. But, frankly, I think most of you will understand.

Your very brief dispatch from the trenches

So, um... the H1N1 flu shot?

It turns out that people want it.

A lot of people want it.

And all of them seem to be calling our office. I know that the phone cannot literally ring off the hook, but I have repeatedly heard the front desk staff take a call about the H1N1 vaccine, hang up, and immediately answer another call about it. All morning.


I submitted this ages ago. I'm glad they finally printed it. From the Kennebec Journal:
Recently, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in opposition to Question 1, which would repeal the state's new Marriage Equality Law.

As pediatricians, we oppose Question 1 because we support families of all kinds, and we know that weakening any kind of family hurts the children in it. Children who are raised by same-gender parents need the same kind of legal and social protections that families with parents of opposite gender enjoy.


The American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading scientific and professional organization of pediatricians in the country, issued a statement several years ago in support of parenting and adoption by same-gender parents.

The decision was based in large part to a significant amount of scientific research that shows that children raised by same-gender parents have, in the words of the Academy, "the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development" as those raised by opposite-gender parents.


Same-gender parents and their families, however, lack the benefits that come from the legal recognition of marriage, with all the social protections that affords. The Maine Legislature took the right step to correct this inequality by enacting the Marriage Equality Law, which the governor signed.

I, like my colleagues in the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, urge you to vote "no" on Question 1 on Nov. 3, to reject the effort to repeal this law. It's the right thing for Maine's children.

It's basically a retread of my testimony at the legislative session before LD1020 was passed. This, however, was for a wider audience, and I'm delighted that it got published. In fact, given the uptick in attention to the issue and the proximity to the vote, it's probably for the best that it got delayed. While I think that people inclined to vote "yes" in a week are doing so for reasons resistant to logic, it never hurts to debunk the common argument that same-gender parents are unfit to raise children.


The madness of George Will

The evidence is in. George Will has completely lost it.


Someone is finally being held accountable for unsupported claims of cognitive development benefits for children. Does my heart good!


Conflating the legal and the moral

Dahlia Lithwick, normally a very smart writer, has a very silly article up today. She claims that Balloon Parents should be able to keep Balloon boy. Forcing a small boy to commit fraud, she suggests, does not warrant removing him from a home. Plausible enough, or at least, I'd like to hear arguments in favor of that position. But her reasoning is silly. The only reason she gives is that what the treatment the Heenes meted out did not meet the legal standards for removal from a home. But surely that still leaves the question of whether those legal standards are the correct ones. There is an independent moral consideration, separate from the legal one, of whether the children belong in that home. And Lithwick does not give us any separate reason why the kids should not be removed.

If the legal and the moral were the same, the segregation was okay before Brown v. Board of Ed, and breaking a zoning regulation is worse than committing adultery.

My Larry David moment

It seems that all the Starbucks around me have a policy of not brewing decaf coffee after 2 pm. This seems insane to me. It is exactly after 2 pm that I want decaf coffee instead of caffeinated. Can anyone think why this policy is in place? Really, I have no idea!

The ethics of institutional care for low-functioning children

My seven-week-old son, regular readers might recall, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Cri du Chat, or 5p- syndrome. Given the size of his particular chromosomal deletion, his disorder will put him on the low-functioning side of mental retardation and psychomotor development. He will have serious medical issues, and requires a g-tube. There's a chance he'll never walk or talk, and if he does talk, he will likely not get past a vocabulary of a few hundred words and two- to three- word sentences. He will likely have behavior problems similar to those seen in autism, such as self-injury and sensory oversensitivity (on the plus side, he will not have many of the social deficits associated with autism -- people with Cri du Chat form attachments to people, are affectionate, and enjoy socializing). He will never be able to live on his own. To make clear his situation, his best case scenario is nowhere near as good as the best case scenario of a Down syndrome patient.

A neonatologist in charge of his case suggested to us that we might be better off never having our son at home. He suggested that if our son had Down syndrome, where the best case sceanrio is quite high-functioning, he would definitely suggest we rear him at home. But since there's less we can do to improve our son's functioning, institutionalization might be better.

I've been poking around a bit, and I've come to see how unusual it is for a doctor to suggest such a course of action nowadays. Indeed, doctors are urged not even to express pity or sorrow in giving a diagnosis of Down syndrome (more on that in a future post).

In the Bad Old Days, people with intellectual disabilities of widely varying degrees were all regularly put in institutions. The institutions were not much more than warehouses. This brought a very welcome backlash against the automatic institutionalization of children, and an improvement of such institutions. The data seem reasonably clear that people with mental retardation do better when reared at home.

However, I do wonder if the backlash against institutionalization has gone too far. It is better for the developmentally disabled child to be reared at home, yes. That is a crucial ethical consideration. However, that may not be what is best for the family. Some families come together and report being the better for having reared such a child. Many, however, do not. In fact, the majority of parents of disabled children experience greater anxiety and depression. It is a huge financial stress. It is no accident that on the "key resources" page of the American support group for 5p- syndrome, there is a link to a suicide prevention hotline. An excellent and well-sourced article (albeit from 1998) about the problems facing families with children with intellectual disabilities can be found here.

It has been suggested to me by disability advocates that what makes the difference is the attitude the family brings to the situation. This does not seem to be accurate - the condition of the child also matters. The more low-functioning the child, the greater the risk of physical and mental health problems for the parent.

Every disability advocate and genetics counselor I have yet talked to has urged rearing at home. Institutionalization has become anathema. This could be because they have more familiarity with the situation. Or it could be because they are thinking in terms of the interests of the disabled person (as they should be). But that may be precluding thinking in terms of the balancing of interests of everyone involved. Interestingly, every philosopher I've talked to has suggested rearing away from home (assuming an institution with excellent care and therapy services, and continued parental involvement). This could be because they do not know what it is like to raise such a child. Or because they are used to thinking about moral dilemmas and the balancing of interests.

Let me be clear that we have not yet decided what to do. My son is still not home for medical reasons.

More government support for in-home care would obviously be helpful. But I also think that the possibility of institutionalization should not be quite as stigmatized as it is. A family who rears such a child at home is viewed as being more moral than one who does not. But it's not at all clear that that is correct way to view things. While it is in the child's interest to be raised at home, it may well not be in the parents' interests. And it is not immediately clear that the child's interest should trump the parents' interests. Whether looked at in terms of a weighing of harms and benefits, or in terms of each party's rights, it is simply not clear what ought to be done, morally speaking. Parents are entitled to consider their own interests and the interests of siblings, too. It depends upon the specifics of the case, and even then, there may be no clear answer.

In an ideal world, children with the potential for higher function should be reared at home with good support services. People with lower-functioning children should have the option, with no moral stigmatization, to place their child in an institutional setting with excellent therapy services and continued family involvement.

Apologies for light posting

I'm at a church convention today, so there won't be much opportunity to troll for snark material. I'll be back at it ASAP.


The GOP doesn't like me enough to give me a gift this big

Oh, please, please, please, please, please. Please.

Via HuffPo:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told the Sioux City Journal this week that she is not pursuing a presidential run in 2012.

Disappointing some, the Minnesota Congresswoman said, "Goodness, I've only been in the House for three years, so, no, I'm not considering anything like that."

Who would she like to see vie for her party's presidential candidacy? Bachmann said that she would suggest that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) seek the White House:

Steve King is mentioned as a potential nominee. I have a very high opinion of Steve King and his ability, so I would encourage him to consider any position for higher office. [emphasis gleefully added]
Bachmann then paused, sprouted antennae, and spoke in an unintelligible language to her home planet's high command.

Of course Bachmann would love King. (I imagine them bonding in the House cafeteria, comparing doses of thorazine.) However, given my own blogging love affair with Steve King, I also would like him to run for higher office. That would be the best gift I've gotten since the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.

On the other hand, having King up on the platform during primary season would have the dizzying side effect of making Sarah Palin appear positively statesmanlike.

Because I am capable of discussing other topics

From the KJ:
Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell is behind a renewed push to require Maine businesses to provide paid sick time to employees, in part because of concerns over the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, is working with the Maine Women's Lobby, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and others to promote "An Act to Aid in the Prevention of the Spread of H1N1 Influenza by Ensuring the Provision of Earned Paid Sick Time."

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Mitchell said she considers H1N1 "a public-health emergency" that demands that workers stay home when they are sick. But it will be hard to stay home for the estimated 47 percent of full-time private sector workers in Maine who don't get paid sick time, she said.


Dr. Daniel Summers, a Winthrop [ed: ARGH! I told them to change this to "Augusta"] doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine and pediatrics, said patients recover faster if they stay home when sick.

"As a pediatrician, I see parents and children everyday who are ill and had to delay coming to see me because they can't get time off," he said.

They edited my quote a bit. I don't know if I can say that this is a daily phenomenon, but it is certainly quite frequent.

Obviously, H1N1 has given this issue greater urgency, but paid sick days are something worth fighting for in their own right. The bill would allow workers to earn 3 sick days a year if they are employed by a small business, and 6 if they work for a large employer. Financially vulnerable workers shouldn't have to choose between losing income they can't afford or coming to work sick.

Those of you who are curious to know what I sound like can listen to the NPR story here.


A surprise to absolutely nobody

From Public Policy Polling (indirectly via the Dish):
Public opinion on Question 1 in Maine, which would reject the state's law allowing same sex couples to marry, is knotted up two weeks before election day. 48% of voters in the state support it and 48% oppose it.
I haven't bothered to post about polls up until now, because I don't put a lot of stock in them. I expected a result very similar to the one above, because the result will be thisclose. (If you live in Maine, please vote No in two weeks. Better yet, why not vote now and get it over with?)

But an event the Better Half, the Critter and I attended this past weekend gave me every reason to believe that, win or lose in two weeks, our side has won the war. The event was a big, joyful rally for the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Portland, which was totally open to the public. Contrast this to the closed-door, no-media-allowed anti-equality rally in Augusta a couple of months ago. A movement that must cloister itself will never win in the end.

I made a similar observation after we left Portland to drive to a family gathering about an hour away, which took us through a rural and conservative area. Though this is obviously an imperfect measure, I counted three "Yes on 1" signs (which are admittedly more clear and eye-catching than ours) in people's yards. I can walk out my front door and find five times that many in Hallowell alone. And I've seen exactly zero cars with "Yes" bumper stickers. Now, obviously this doesn't mean we'll win in two weeks. But it does mean that people are not enthusiastic about publicly opposing marriage equality. A movement that people are unwilling to embrace will fail when it is opposed by people who publicly and proudly fight against it.

I don't know if we'll win on November 3, but I know that we will win eventually.

I had no idea they were still around in the first place

From USA Today (hat tip to my office mate at the computer next to mine):
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican announced surprise plans Tuesday to make it easier for Anglicans to convert, reaching out to those who are disaffected by the election of female and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church's conservative ranks.

Pope Benedict XVI approved a new church provision that will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining many of their distinctive spiritual and liturgical traditions, including married priests, Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican's chief doctrinal official, told a news conference.


The Anglican's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, downplayed the significance of the new provision and said it wasn't a Vatican commentary on Anglican problems. "It has no negative impact on the relations of the communion as a whole to the Roman Catholic church as a whole," he said in London.

The new Catholic church entities, called personal ordinariates, will be units of faithful established within local Catholic Churches, headed by former Anglican prelates who will provide spiritual care for Anglicans who wish to be Catholic.


By welcoming them possibly at the expense of good relations with the Anglican Communion, Benedict has confirmed the increasingly conservative bent of his church. The decision follows his recent move to rehabilitate four excommunicated ultra-conservative bishops, including one who denied the full extent of the Holocaust, in a bid to bring their faithful back under the Vatican's wing.

Levada declined to give figures on the number of requests that have come to the Vatican, or on the anticipated number of Anglicans who might take advantage of the new structure.

One group, known as the Traditional Anglican Communion, has made its bid to join the Catholic Church public. The fellowship, which split from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1990, says it has spread to 41 countries and has 400,000 members, although only about half are regular churchgoers.

What? You're leaving? But what about all those pies I baked for the big "Up with Anglicanism" pot-luck supper we were all going to have at Westminster? (Were you worried that eating them would "give you gay"? Because I was totally joking when I said that.)

Seriously (or as seriously as I can possibly take this), I know I'm supposed to fall all over myself dithering about how awful it would be if anyone left our big, happy, fractious Anglican family. Our whole self-conception is based upon sustaining a common worship and faith community despite strongly-held differences of opinion about various doctrinal and cultural issues. Poor old Ever So Very Reverend Rowan Williams is probably up to his ears in advisors and consultants and the like, all offering their expert and considered opinions on how to keep everyone at the table. It's his job to worry about this sort of thing, which is why he gets to wear all those fancy hats.

But me? I'm just one liberal, gay Episcopalian who won't miss these particular Anglicans when they're gone. Sorry. I'm really not interested in fading quietly into the background and knowing my place, or in trying not to risk offending the conservatives. If they want to take their (no doubt ornate, gilded) ball and go play somewhere else, I will personally chip in for their bus fare. All I heard about General Convention was how much more relaxed, peaceful and convivial it was without the break-away dioceses, and I believe it.

So, aloha. Sayonara. Pax vobiscum. Give my best to your new chums, the Holocaust deniers. Chances are we wouldn't have had a lot to talk about at this point, anyway, so have fun answering to Rome. More pie for the rest of us.

Dept. of Schadenfreude

Via HuffPo:
GENEVA — Roman Polanski suffered another setback in his fight against extradition to the United States on Tuesday when a Swiss court ordered the 76-year-old director kept in jail because he poses a high flight risk.
Really? You think so? I can't imagine where the judge would have gotten that idea.


Annals of the hilariously awful

Oh, my aching sides.

From an Op-ed penned by Edwin O. Merwin and James S. Ulmer, two GOP county party chairs, in local South Carolina paper The Times and Democrat (via HuffPo via Political Animal):
Recently your newspaper published a letter from state Rep. Bakari Sellers attacking U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and his opposition to congressional earmarks.

There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves. By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.
I know I should simply be horrified by this. I know. I know I should. But, sweet merciful crap, can you believe that?!?!? C'mon. That is hysterical.

Back when this blog was in its infancy (a whopping ten months ago), I wrote that I hated "Crash." A major reason that I loathe (loathe!!) that movie is that it is just beyond ridiculous in the way it depicts race relations in America today. Particularly egregious was Sandra Bullock's preposterous political wife, who shrieks anti-Hispanic epithets in front of many, many people. Nobody involved in contemporary politics, thought I, could possibly be so terribly stupid.

It turns out I was wrong.

Because stupid is bipartisan


Oh. Hello. I didn't see you there. I was just pounding my head against a wall.

From Slate:
Swine flu may have an unexpected side effect: political unity. The far left and far right agree that they're sure as heck not getting vaccinated against swine flu.

On the anti-government right, swine flu vaccinations are seen as an example of government overreach. Last week, Rush Limbaugh made headlines by announcing that he would not be getting a shot. "Screw you, Ms. Sebelius," he said on his radio show, referring to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. "I'm not going to take it precisely because you're now telling me I must." Glenn Beck has declined to say whether he's getting vaccinated. But he's made his position pretty clear, suggesting that the vaccine may turn out to be "deadly," raising the specter of mandatory vaccines (they're voluntary), and saying he wants the "U.S. out of my bloodstream."

I don't think I'm alone in hoping that, next, Kathleen Sebelius will issue a statement urging Americans not to drink antifreeze. And trying to counter Glenn Beck by invoking science is like trying to fight a forest fire with a spatula, so I'm not even going to try.

But, lest you think I am going to launch into a lengthy, "those stupid, anti-intellectual Right-wingers" screed (time enough for those, I'm sure), I should point out that plenty of Hollywood types (including [who knew?] self-appointed skeptical smart guy Bill Maher) are anti-vaccine, and I'm willing to bet that Jim Carrey is a Democrat. Indeed, as the Slate article continues:
On the left, there are prominent doctors, lawyers, and Hollywood celebrities skeptical of vaccines in general—and the swine flu vaccine especially. In a September article written for the Huffington Post, Dr. Frank Lipman recommended against getting vaccinated, arguing that the virus seems benign and the vaccine is unproven. Earlier this year, Jim Carrey—yes, that Jim Carrey—penned a HuffPost column reiterating the oft-made (and widely discredited) point that vaccines may cause autism. Robert F. Kennedy made a similar argument in a famous (and also largely discredited) 2005 article that appeared in Rolling Stone and Salon. The anti-vaccination movement is hardly exclusive to the left wing, but declines in vaccination rates have occurred in large part because of affluent parents in states like California.
There aren't enough synonyms for "argh!!" to fully describe my feelings about all of this.

Thankfully, as the phone lines in our office attest, plenty of people aren't paying much attention to either HuffPo or El Rushbo. But it remains monumentally frustrating to see how much opposition there is to something that has done so much good. As Orac at Respectful Insolence put it:
Vaccination represents arguably the single most effective public health intervention ever developed by "conventional" medicine. It has all but eliminated diseases that once ravaged huge swaths of this planet and will to protect billions of people from horrific diseases--that is, unless muddle-headed alties like Bill Maher [ed: or flaming lunatics like Beck and Limbaugh] have their way and persuade people that they don't need to vaccinate their children or themselves.

See?!?!? This is exactly what I meant.

Oy, vey. From People:
Three days after the nation watched the televised image of a silver flying saucer-shaped balloon traveling across the Colorado sky, it turns out the saga of the balloon boy may have been all hot air.

"It has been determined this was a hoax. It was a publicity stunt," Larimer County, Colo., Sheriff Jim Alderden told reporters Sunday. He said no arrests will be made until the investigation is complete.

Alderden said the hoax was hatched more than two weeks ago by either one or both of 6-year-old Falcon Heene's parents as a means of landing their own reality TV show. Authorities are investigating whether others are involved.
Let me get this straight. Two people coerced their young son into abetting their depraved lust for fame, to the point that he was instructed to lie to law enforcement personnel and the media. When asked about what happened, the poor child became so upset he vomited on air. Twice.

What the holy hell is wrong with you awful, awful people?!?

As I've mentioned recently, fame is not good for small children, particularly when it invades and corrodes their families. I don't want to beat a dead horse, so I'm going to stop now and take some slow, deep breaths. But maybe our national craze for cramming television cameras in people's homes has reached kind of a crisis point, and we should look elsewhere for our entertainments.


Think of the children!! *clutches pearls*

So, I see (via the Dish) that the Washington Times still has it in for Kevin Jennings. Kevin Jennings, as you'll recall, is the openly gay "safe schools" czar appointed by President Obama. The Right has been making something of a target of him.
Mr. Jennings wrote the foreword to a 1998 book titled, "Queering Elementary Education." The book he endorsed was a collection of essays by different authors who supported teaching young children about homosexuality. Mr. Jennings' foreword explains why he thinks it is important to start educating children about homosexuality as early as activist-educators can get away with doing so. "Ask any elementary-school teachers you know and - if they're honest - they'll tell you they start hearing [anti-homosexual prejudice] as soon as kindergarten." And "As one third-grader put it plainly when asked by her teacher what 'gay' meant: 'I don't know. It's just a bad thing.' "


"Queering Elementary Education" argues consistently that children should be taught that same-sex-parent families are as normal and common as the traditional two-parent family or single-parent families. But it is one thing to argue certain behavior is acceptable; it is quite another to distort basic facts in an effort to change the worldview of children.
I've not read "Queering Elementary Education." (On a side note, and as I mentioned in a comment thread elsewhere, I am not in love with reclaiming "queer.") I don't know if it claims that same-sex couples are as common as traditional two-parent families. Somehow, I doubt it. However, it might well make the argument that children should be taught that same-gender parents are as normal as other families, and as worthy of our respect.

This notion makes social conservatives ill. What business is it of the schools to teach children about same-gender parents? Shouldn't it be up to parents what biases their children are allowed to hold? Shouldn't children be free to mock the different, so long as the difference is one the parents approve of mocking?

This argument has percolated its way into the fight for marriage equality here in Maine. (And isn't it a great time to make a donation?) If gays are allowed to marry, then schools will force children to learn about it! Bwahhhhhh, ha, ha, ha!! *thunderclap* (Cue opening bars of Bach's Toccata and Fugue.)

Trouble is, there is no law in Maine that would force schools to teach children anything about marriage. Turns out the attorney general of the state (who, full disclosure, favors marriage equality) went to the trouble to check:
The state's same-sex marriage law has no bearing on what can be taught in public schools, Attorney General Janet Mills said Thursday.


"I have scoured Maine laws relating to the education of its children for any references to marriage in the public school curricula," Mills wrote in her opinion. "I have found none."
Well, that's a huge load off my mind. However, as a radical proponent of the Gay Agenda, I actually side with Jennings in wanting to push the envelop.

As I mentioned earlier, the Better Half and I plan to send the Critter to school. And yes, I want the kids at his school to be told that they're not allowed to pick on him because he has two gay dads. I know that your typical social conservative ranks that as roughly on par with sacrificing a goat to Baal, right in the middle of a pot-luck supper, but us gay and lesbian folk just think it's a reasonable part of getting along in a civil society. If that somehow means we're "[teaching] that same-sex-parent families are as normal... as the traditional two-parent family or single-parent families," then I'm all in favor of it. Because we are.


Yesterday, someone in my office made reference to the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the 1980s. For those of you who were not alive (or living in a cave) at the time, those ugly little dolls were everywhere, and everyone wanted one, to the point that there was mass hysteria at various retail stores. (Confidential to The Critter -- there may, one day, be a toy that elicits a similar degree of excitement while you are a small child. I urge you now to develop a sense of Buddhist peace in freeing yourself from worldly attachments, because there is no way on God's green earth that I am going within a country mile of a toy store under those circumstance.)

Anyhow, wanna guess what drew the comparison to her mind? H1N1 vaccines. They haven't arrived in our area yet, and a lot of people want them.

However, despite the urgings of the nation's public health officials, we are also seeing a lot of this (via the Times):
Anti-vaccinators, as they are often referred to by scientists and doctors, have toiled for years on the margins of medicine. But an assemblage of factors around the swine flu vaccine — including confusion over how it was made, widespread speculation about whether it might be more dangerous than the virus itself, and complaints among some health care workers in New York about a requirement that they be vaccinated — is giving the anti-vaccine movement a fresh airing, according to health experts.
I will give the Times credit for laying the reality on the line.
Web sites, Twitter feeds, talk radio and even elevator chatter are awash with skeptics criticizing the vaccine, largely with no factual or scientific basis. The most common complaint is that the vaccine has been newly formed and quickly distributed without the benefit of clinical trials; in fact, the swine flu vaccine was made using the same techniques as seasonal flu shots over the last two decades, and a small number of clinical trials were conducted this year to determine the adequate dose.

There are also claims that the vaccine contains adjuvants — sometimes added to make vaccines more effective — although they have not been used in this one. In addition, there is fear that the vaccine could lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, as was suspected the last time a swine flu vaccine was distributed, in 1976; flu vaccines are now much purer than they were, minimizing the risk, and Guillain-Barré is far rarer.

(Well, OK. I don't know how that elevator chatter is sourced. But you get the idea.)

We're even seeing the appearance of some familiar characters:
Some anti-vaccine groups are also highly organized and quick to respond to openings to promote their message. For instance, this week, an 8-year-old boy from Long Island died roughly a week after receiving a swine flu vaccine, though officials from the New York State Department of Health denied a connection.

Almost instantly, on a memorial page on Newsday’s Web site for the boy, Sean Weisse, a message from an anti-vaccine advocacy group appeared: “We are so sorry to hear about Sean. My understanding, and forgive me if I’m wrong, is that this was a vaccine-related injury. If so, we would like to help you. Best regards, Stan Kurtz, Generation Rescue, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy’s Organization.”

I've written about Jim Carrey's know-nothing stance on vaccines before (at length), so I'm not going to repeat myself. (In a nutshell, Mr. Carrey is neither informed, nor honest about his lack of understanding of the science on his own group's website.) From a public health perspective, I would love to tell Mr. Kurtz where he can stick his best regards.

Since I'm a lazy, lazy man, instead of writing my own response, I will direct you over to Skeptical OB, who has done a lot of great writing lately about the H1N1 vaccine, and why it is so urgent that people get vaccinated as recommended. Given the increased risk from infection for pregnant women, it makes sense that an OB would take the issue so seriously. (While you're over there, you may as well check out her most recent post on breastfeeding, which complements my own philosophy on the subject.) She does an excellent job, in her various posts, explaining the science behind vaccination, and why the CDC has recommended the vaccines with such urgency.

The bottom line is this -- thus far, H1N1 has not been a particularly problematic strain of the virus, though it appears to be quite contagious. However, it is unpredictable whether the virus will mutate to become more virulent. Its novelty also means most of us have not already been exposed, and so there's not a lot of herd immunity. The anti-vaccination crowd, which is always more interested in promoting its agenda than paying much attention to science, doesn't much care about the effects of its voodoo scare-mongering. But you should.


Oh, thank God

It looks like the train wreck is finally lurching to a halt.

From People online:
Jon & Kate Plus 8, which in recent months had become just about as fun as reliving your parents' divorce, will stop filming new episodes next month, according to the New York Post.

After Jon Gosselin, 32, forbade TLC from filming his and 34-year-old estranged wife Kate's eight children for their show, the network will try to squeeze out a couple remaining episodes from existing footage before putting the show to rest, according to sources.
As I've written before, continuing this show after the couple called it quits was one of the more monumentally awful parenting decisions recorded in popular culture. While the show may be no more (mirabile dictu), I'm sure the coming months will offer plenty of tawdy details as Jon and Kate continue to publicly eviscerate each other, sufficient to make me want to gouge my eyes out in the check-out lane of the grocery store.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- fame is bad for people. It makes them do insane things. It demolishes lives. Why some people will stop at nothing to hold onto it baffles me. But people are free to choose it for themselves and see how it turns out. However, they should keep it the hell away from their kids.

Today's dose of awesome

Submitted without comment:

Picture of a bad man

If you didn't read the article in The New Yorker about Cameron Todd Willingham, you should. I've written about it before, but things have progressed since then. Or, more accurately, they haven't.

Willingham was convicted of murdering his three children by arson, and was executed by the state of Texas in 2004. The case against him, as the article makes abundantly clear, had numerous flaws, but he was executed anyway. One of the people who could have saved him, or at least have investigated his case, was Governor Rick Perry. Perry is also in charge of the panel that has since been empowered to look into questions about whether Willingham was innocent and wrongly executed.

Can you see where this is going?

From the Dallas Morning News, dated October 1:
Gov. Rick Perry was blasted Wednesday after he swept three appointees from their jobs just two days before they were set to critically examine a flawed arson investigation that contributed to the execution of a Corsicana man.

The hearing of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, scheduled for Friday in Irving, was abruptly canceled by the new chairman the governor chose, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. He is considered one of the most conservative, hard-line prosecutors in Texas.

From TPM:
Sam Bassett, the former chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, has now told the Houston Chronicle that lawyers for Perry told him the case was inappropriate, and that the hiring of a nationally known fire expert was a "waste of state money."

Over the weekend, Bassett had said he was pressured by the governor's lawyers.

Meanwhile, Perry's GOP rivals are slamming his handling of the issue, and accusing him of a cover-up. As governor, Perry signed off on the execution, despite receiving eleventh-hour documents from lawyers for the convicted man, Cameron Willingham, containing evidence that the original investigation was badly flawed.

Also from TPM, today:
Texas governor Rick Perry has defended his handling of a death penalty case that may have led to the execution of an innocent man -- and launched an extraordinary attack on the dead man himself.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Perry yesterday called Cameron Todd Wilingham a "monster," a "bad man," and "a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that she wouldn't have those kids."

Again, read the article in The New Yorker. Nobody questions that Willingham was a troubled and often violent man. But what remains very much in question is whether he burned his children to death, or whether he was innocent, the victim of a flawed prosecution and a broken clemency system, including an indifferent governor.

Perry has drawn attention to himself for saying some really dumb, inflammatory stuff. He's a politician, so that's pretty much SOP. We can live with that, I suppose. But letting an innocent man die for a crime he didn't commit, flagrantly covering it up, and publicly denigrating him as though your opinion is all that matters? Reprehensible.

Want to know what a "bad man" and a "monster" looks like?


Petraeus for Nominee!

With all the talk about whether David Petraeus would run on the Republican ticket, and whether he'd win, can I just say how nice it would be if he were actually the Republican nominee? We have a well-educated, articulate guy with a doctorate, with a military background, who considers himself an old school Northeastern Rockefeller Republican - remember them? I do, fondly!

I don't know much about Petraeus, but what I do know is far better than any other Republican on offer.

Anyone who wants to nominate a Sarah Palin just so Obama could win has lost sight of the best interests of our country. We would all do better with a good Republican nominee. Moderate right voices would be represented, as they should be. Arguments of left would be sharpened, and, where needed, persuaded to moderate. Right now, arguing against the dregs of the right is shooting fish in a barrel. Reasonable opposition makes everyone more reasonable in the end.


Annals of the blisteringly stupid

OK, really, I don't want to make this blog All Gay, All the Time. Seriously. But over at The Dish, Andrew (who still doesn't know we're on a first-name basis) highlighted a "Dissent of the Day" so epically stupid I just really had to say something.


Geez, you’re a princess. Gay people account for what? 9% of the population? That much? Heterosexual sex is the ability to replicate consciousness. All wonders of the universe are created by the union of sperm and egg. The sperm and the egg have created everything.

I don’t feel that homosexuality is a choice. Why would anyone choose it? I feel that homosexuality is unfortunate, that you drew the short straw. Your love can never reproduce a universe. It can only ever be a ghostly comparison of heterosexual love. Be a conservative, recognize your limitations. Accept your cross, and bear it with dignity.

So, I don't know the genius that came up with this, but my only sincere reaction is -- bah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Wheeeeee!!!! That is some Grade A stupid right there.

How about this, Einstein? The universe is wholly indifferent to you, your sperm or your eggs. Really. The Andromeda Galaxy is ignorant of your procreative efforts. In a hundred years, when you are dead and the products of your transcendent sexual congresses are (at best) aged and infirm (or dead themselves), the Horsehead Nebula will still be lurking darkly somewhere in Orion. Your coital endeavors make no more difference to the universe than mine, numbnuts, and your grandiose pronouncements make me laugh.

On the other hand, during our fleeting, evanescent lives, we have a brief chance to be good to one another. We can choose to create the best collective reality possible, or we can pat ourselves on the back for how awesome we are when we get it on and tell other people to go hang. Either way, the universe doesn't care. But maybe, if we choose to fight for the best and most just world we can get, this little teeny backwater of a planet will be a wee bit better for those of us who inhabit it.

Fighting for marriage equality makes our eensy, weensy corner of the universe a bit better for some of us. But, no matter how friskily you copulate on our little hunk of rock, your love is no more astronomically significant than mine.

We'll see where this goes

From the Times:
Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said Tuesday that she would support the Democrats’ landmark health care legislation.


“The mark before us produces some bipartisan landmark reforms,” Ms. Snowe said. “It bolsters what works in the system and engenders quality and competition.”

Ms. Snowe praised provisions in the bill that would help small businesses, and said it was the government’s responsibility to make sure that insurance was affordable for individuals and families.
I'm not sure how "bipartisan" the reforms are, but the legislation is certainly landmark. I'm still waiting to see what the final bill looks like.

I'm also curious to see how this plays out:
Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) is risking a shot at becoming the top Republican on an influential Senate committee by backing Democratic healthcare legislation, according to senators on the panel.

A Senate Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said Republicans on the panel are threatening to vote against Snowe, who is in line for the senior GOP post that is about to come open.


“A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote,” said a Republican on Commerce, who said Snowe would otherwise be assured of the ranking member post if not for the healthcare debate.
I think Snowe is right to vote for the bill, obviously, since I'm a liberal who supports health care reform. I also think it's smart politically, since Maine is a generally liberal state with an economically depressed population and a weak industrial base. While I'm sorry that obstructionism is the price for a committee chair, Snowe won't be chair of anything if she gets voted out of office the next time around (which is, admittedly, several years off).

Really, Liz Cheney?

Over at Ordinary Gents, Freddie had a ringing take-down of contemporary conservatism. The whole post is refreshingly cathartic, and worth reading in its entirety. One bit, in particular, sprung to mind this morning:
[This], after all, is all you ever hear from conservatives these days. It wasn’t I who sent our soldiers into Iraq, it wasn’t I who left children to drown in New Orleans, it wasn’t I who ordered federal prosecutors fired for failing to politicize prosecution, it wasn’t I who sat idly by as the financial sector plunged itself off of an abyss…. The only consistent definition of conservative I now feel confident in is that a conservative is someone who is not responsible for anything that the Bush administration or Republican congress has done. No, no one is responsible for the Bush administration and its many crimes. No one is responsible for the congressmen who cheered their way along. No one is responsible for the systematic failure of the Republican party machine, which placed such a pathetic, unqualified and ignorant man in the greatest seat of power the word has ever known. No, don’t blame any actual conservatives for conservatism massive failings.
Well, I suppose you have to give Liz Cheney props for stepping up to the plate. From Politico:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s eldest daughter Liz will launch a new group aimed at rallying opposition to the “radical” foreign policy of the Obama administration which it says has succeeded only in undermining the nation’s security.

The new group, Keep America Safe, will make the case against President Barack Obama’s moves to wrench America away from Bush era foreign policy on issues from detaining alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to building a missile shield in Eastern Europe.


The former vice president assumed a high profile role last spring publicly contesting the Obama administration’s move to bring its interrogation policy in line with international law – and defending his own legacy. More recently, he’s faded into the background as Liz Cheney, deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Bush years, emerges as the most visible defender of that administration’s foreign policy and the most vocal critic of Obama’s departures from it.
What's striking is how addle-brained the group's focus will be:
Keep America Safe will focus on issues like troop levels, missile defense, detainees, and interrogation... [Ed. I may have fiddled with that link a little bit.]
Troop levels? Really? Hmmmm... Because maybe going after Obama for troop levels demonstrates a hilarious ignorance of reality. I will leave aside the issue of missile defense, other than to suggest that soothing an increasingly strident relationship with Russia isn't particularly radical.

As far as the treatment of detainees and interrogation are concerned, it simply defies belief that eschewing a practice that has been treated as a crime in our recent history is being described as "radical." Sure, I understand that the daughter of the architect of our horrendous detainee policies has an interest in defending her father. But man is that some morally bankrupt thinking.

Oh, and also? Bill Kristol, you idiot:
“The Left has dozens of organizations and tens of millions of dollars dedicated to undercutting the war on terror,” said Kristol, a seasoned partisan warrior. “The good guys need some help too.”
No, we don't. We have organizations and money dedicated to preventing war crimes and military involvement in countries that are not a threat to us. You aren't the "good guys" when you torture prisoners.