Thursday, April 28, 2005

MedWar: Belgian Doctors Bill U.S. for Treating Iraqi Girl


Doctors brought Kassim to Belgium last year to try to save her left ankle, seriously injured by a cluster bomb that also killed her brother in Baghdad in 2003.

After five operations and weeks of physiotherapy, Kassim is able to walk again, but with a slight limp.

De Belder said he sent the bill to the U.S. embassy because international law dictated that an occupying force was responsible for the well-being of the country's people. U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

Medicine: save us from our sins

Placebo Gazette #33 is up.

Just so you don’t lose hope, I wanted to update you on the state of health insurance in this country. Good news! UnitedHealthcare Group saw its first quarter earnings rise 41% from last year. Yes! And they pulled this off only by increasing premiums and getting more people to join the plan and not by cutting salaries of their executives. Thanks goodness. As the AP reported, Chairman and Chief Executive William W. McGuire told analysts it was "about as good a quarter as we have seen, and the outlook for the future (is) very strong." Later in the article he even admits that medical costs are dropping. Wow! I wondered to myself, with medical costs dropping, maybe they can cut premiums? Then I thought, why should they? They can just keeping raising their rates and make mo’ money, mo’ money and mo’ money. Since this was a business article, by the way, it was intended for stockholders or potential stockholders and not for people who want to make the healthcare system more affordable (like me and you).

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Politics: House GOP yields on ethics rules

So it looks like the Republicans are going to reverse the unethical ethics rules. I'm actually a little disappointed, this is one less issue to unite the Democrats and their base against a power hungry corrupt Republican political machine (not to be confused with the power hungry corrupt Democrat political machine which is currently in the shop for repairs).

Politics: So What's this Filibuster Crap About?

Ever since Jimmy Stewart wouldn't shut up in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Senators have been using the filibuster to prevent the majority party from railroading through legislation and Presidential nominations. Well all of that could change. Democrats in the Senate have blocked about 10 of Bush's nominations and only approved 195 judges, provoking the wrath of the Republicans (and God). The Nation has a nice review of the filibuster issue including the following myths:
Myth 1: Judicial filibusters are unconstitutional.
Myth 2: Judicial filibusters are unprecedented.
Myth 3: Republicans have the moral high ground.
Myth 4: Filibusters are more appropriate for legislation than judges.

Games/Politics: So, you think that you can do better?'s nice to be able to finally stop worrying about the boards. To help unwind, I present to you the free online game of NationStates. The basic premise is simple: You run the government. You set up a flag, a currency, and a name, then fill about a brief survey about your politic opinions. The game then creates a snapshot of what a country run by you would look like. Each day, a new political issue is presented for your government to decide upon, allowing your country to evolve. It's not very time intensive, but it is an interesting experiment in what your utopia (or dystopia) would look like. Cheers to pointless fun!

(In case anyone was curious, The Federation of Krugg is considered by the game to be a "Left-Leaning College State").

Monday, April 25, 2005

MedSchool: Mercy on our souls

Those of you who pray, do so vigilantly for your second year medical students at Sparkgrass, most of whom will be taking the most important exam of our lives over the next few days.

And for you Mormoms who are into that retroactive prayer thing, I think Geoff took his late last week, so ya know. We'll take all the help we can get.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Memorial: RIP Marla Ruzicka

I might just be in an overly emotional mood given a high level of stress induced by an evil medical school test, but the story of Marla Ruzicka really touched me. Ms. Ruzicka had enough courage to go to Iraq and help count the number of Iraqi victims of war - the people we hardly hear about here in the US, and the people of whom the US "officially" does not keep tallies . Her memorial service was held Saturday, and there is more about her work trying to get surgery for a 12-year-old Iraqi boy, Rakan Hassan, who was injured when US troops mistakenly fired on his family's car. I'm not quite sure I was moved to start sobbing while reading this story, but here is one of the quotes that really got the tears flowing:

Rakan said he felt sorry for Ruzicka's parents because "she cared about me. I should care about her family in return."
The simplicity in this young man's statement is breathtaking, and I wish more of us in the world could have this attitude of caring for others. Maybe I feel bad because it's easy to forget or become desensitized to the fact that there are still a large number of people dying in Iraq, both Americans and Iraqis, while I sit here in Ann Arbor feeling sorry for myself. I have the luxury of attending medical school and studying for 12 hours a day, while sipping expensive coffee at Starbucks, safely and securely, while across the world there are people like Ms. Ruzicka and most of our US troops who are risking their lives to help out a citizens of a country in turmoil. This story puts life into perspective, as hokey and blase as that sounds, and the passion that Ms. Ruzicka had for her work inspires awe. May she rest in peace, and may the good works that she started continue on in Iraq.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Medicine: Amish Community Builds Mental Health Home

This is sweet.

The house known as Green Pastures will allow the Amish to live among their own people and maintain a lifestyle that eschews modern conveniences — no television or radio — while receiving outpatient clinical treatment.

Known for their plain style of dress and their use of horse-drawn buggies, the Amish tend to avoid seeking psychiatric help in secular settings, fearing their religious traditions will be viewed as part of the problem.

World: Spain Approves Gay Marriage Despite Church Anger

So Spain has approved gay marriage, but what's really interesting is why this is happening. The Socialists won the 2004 election largely due to the negative impression of the incumbent People's Party. The People's Party lost support due to its backing of the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent bombing in Madrid (click here for more background). The Catholic conservative People's Party backs Bush and the war on terror, alienates its base, and subsequently paves the way for a liberal law that allows gay marriage. What other repercussions will the highly unpopular "War on Terror" have in other countries?

Literature: Novelists to Oprah: "Sell our books for us, please!"

Harry Potter

Caramel Mocha Chip Light Frappuchino (no whip)

Jesus Christ

Oprah Winfrey

No four figures things have made more people visit bookstores.

The starving fiction writers appeal to Oprah, "Save Us!"

Oprah says, "I never knew ye."

So, with all due drama, fanfare, and histrionic personality disorders, we proudly announce the Sparkgrass Bookclub! And our first selection is none other but Samuel Shem's internship epic of comedic proportions, The House of God.

We're guaranteed to sell "the limit as x approaches infinity of 47 / (3x + 1)" books for these starving authors!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

YUM Brands: Balance in the Force

KFC is once again Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Politics: values fight back

John Kerry:

I am sick and tired of a bunch of people trying to tell me that God wants a bunch of conservative judges on the court and that's why we have to change the rules of the United States Senate. I am sick and tired of (them saying) they somehow have a better understanding of Christianity, of the Judeo-Christian ethic, of values. We're talking about values? You show me where in the New Testament Jesus ever talked about the value of having taxes and taking money from poor people to give to the rich people in this country.
I'm not precisely sure what he means by that last statement (the tax is at least progressive in theory), but you've gotta love the spunk!

Update: And a video message from Kerry. Excellent message, if you can stay awake for it. I think I like post-election Kerry much better than pre-election Kerry. He's re-embraced the "most liberal Senator from Massachussets" charge in a push for national health care for children, and can come out and knock on DeLay and Frist unabashedly. And with Hillary shifting from "most liberal" to "most doing-whatever-it-takes-to-try-to-get-elected," I think Kerry can now pick up the "New England liberal" congressional slack.

Religion and AIDS: Does Roman Catholic Teaching Kill?

In the Melbourne Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt challenges the conventional wisdom on AIDS prevention, suggesting that multiple sexual partners, not the lack of condoms, is the real problem in the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

An excerpt:

It is a fact that Pope John Paul II opposed condoms, telling African bishops again not long before his death that "fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside are the only sure ways to limit the further spread of AIDS infection".

So is this the advice that killed millions?

First, to believe that we must believe Africans are so obedient to the Pope that they won't wear a condom, but also so disobedient that they'll still have casual sex.

We’d also have to believe that more were killed by having unprotected sex outside marriage than were saved by doing as the Pope said and zipping up. We must further believe that most or very many Africans are Catholic, and are hit hardest by AIDS.

Naturally, the truth is the very opposite.

The countries with the worst HIV infection rates in the world turn out to be Swaziland and Botswana, where more than a third of adults have the virus -- but only 5 per cent are Catholic.

Botswana, incidentally, is pro-condoms, not that it seems to have helped much.

In contrast, Uganda, where half the people are Catholic, is the one African country that has slashed its rate of infection -- from a devastating 15 per cent of all adults to "just" 5 per cent. And, heavens, it worked this miracle by doing much as the Pope had preached.

Since 1986, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, backed by religious leaders, pushed his ABC program – telling people to Abstain until marriage, Be faithful to their partner, and, if all else fails, to wear a Condom.

This morals-heavy message was not welcomed by the usual condoms-please AIDS experts, many the kind of folk now heckling the dead Pope. Yet it worked so well that Dr Edward C. Green, a prominent AIDS adviser and medical anthropologist from Harvard's School of Public Health, was driven to write Rethinking AIDS Prevention, to warn us to learn this lesson.

"I said it in my 2003 book that the single most important behavioural change (in Uganda) was fidelity, and most of that is marital fidelity," Green has explained.

"The second change is the proportion of youth engaging in sex – that went down in a big way."

Fancy that. Christian morality makes you safer. How scary is that to a progressive? And in case you're wondering, Green says he's a "flaming liberal" who doesn't go to church or even vote Republican. He just follows the facts.

To make things worse, he adds: "Twenty years into the pandemic, there is no evidence that more condoms leads to less AIDS."

If they did Africa, which imports about 700 million condoms a year with the help of international agencies, would not today have 25 million people with AIDS.

Indeed, the University of California's Professor Norman Hearst, who has studied infection rates in condom-happy countries such as Kenya and Botswana, warns that pushing condoms and the safe-sex message so hard encourages people to be promiscuous, thinking they're protected.

They're not, of course. As Hearst says, condoms sometimes fail; so if you have enough sex with enough people enough times, you're flirting with danger.

The moral of the story? The Pope was largely right: saving sex for marriage is the best defence against AIDS. Save sex, not safe sex. We've seen it work, as other leading AIDS workers agree.

Last year, for instance, respected AIDS experts appealed in the British Medical Journal for more to be done to preach faithfulness instead of just condoms.

"It seems obvious but there would be no global AIDS pandemic were it not for multiple sexual partnerships," said the gurus, from groups such as the Global Fund for AIDS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the US Agency for International Development.

Emphases mine. Thanks to Ken’s comment at Kendall Harmon’s blog for the heads-up.

My question: does Bolt set up a straw man? Is the argument he’s answering really as simplistic as “Catholic teaching causes AIDS?” Is it really one of the biggest problems of the developing world that so many of its people are devout Catholics who want to behave and shun condoms, while misbehaving and fornicating constantly? Are those men really going to start using condoms because the church says so? Or is that even the charge?

So much debate over this and every other charged issue gets reduced to polemical soundbites instead of nuanced discussion. Maybe we can see some of the latter in this space...

Marriage: A Personal Observation

Opponents of same-sex marriage accuse legislators and judges of "redefining marriage", but in my personal experience marriage is a reflection of the intimacy a couple has achieved, not a definition of what that couple is. Marriage doesn't hold families together or make people better parents or bring couples closer; the high rates of divorce attest to that. Rather, when a couple have reached a point where they realize that their lives depend on each other and will forever, they decide to recognize that publicly by being wed. My parents were married for 34 years, not because of a certificate or a wedding ceremony, but because every day they made that decision to continue their relationship. Healthy marriage depends on re-affirming that union on a daily basis. Whatever is written in law books or religious texts merely seeks to explain what it is already exists. And so to say that anyone could re-define marriage misses the point. Many same-sex couples have reached that point of intimacy whether or not it's legally recognized, and they merely want to express it like anyone else, in a marriage. To refuse to recognize that, to exclude a couple that has already bound their lives together due to your own moral beliefs, is the redefinition. In our country today, marriage is no longer a reflection of the intimacy between to people; it's a political tool used to oppress those we disagree with.

LGBT: Two steps forward, one step back

Connecticut govenor Jodi Rell signed into law a bill that legalized same-sex civil unions (two steps forward) while "defining" marriage as a union between one man and one woman (one step backwards). While we're certainly making progress here, there's still a hint of fear in my mind.

But I say that first and foremost, lets celebrate this accomplishment and work to preserve it. We know that opponents of gay rights are going to attack this bill like none other. Instead of spending all our energy on pushing for same-sex marriage in CT, let's spend a little time trying to convince the CT public that this bill is good and not a threat to them. Once we've won them over, then we can start thinking about pushing for marriage rights. Let's not get too greedy and end up losing what we've already won.

Medicine: Fat not THAT bad?

A new study from the CDC significantly downgrades the risks of obesity, especially moderately overweight folks with well controlled cholesterol and blood pressure. Under the new study, obesity falls right behind guns and car crashes in the preventable death counts. Could we see the 25-30-35 BMI dogma bumped up a little? Diabetes seems to demand a big "not yet," but stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Politics: Save Phil A Buster!

Save Phil, while simple propaganda, is awfully darn cute.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Medicine: does birth control save lives?

With the election of the new pope, and the use of birth control in the third world a hot topic, I decided to peruse the medical literature to see what I could come up regarding whether it is valid to say that a lack of access to contraception leads to poor maternal-fetal health. Here's a sample of what I've found. Those without Medline access may have trouble with the links.

Women in developing countries suffer considerable morbidity and mortality due to inability to control their own fertility and lack of access to family planning services. Over 500,000 deaths each year are related to pregnancy. Two thirds of these maternal deaths could be prevented by providing contraception to those women who wish to use it in developing countries.
The fifth freedom. Kincaid-Smith P. Bioethics. 1995 Jul;9(3-4):183-91.
Increased use of family planning and safe abortion might avert 100,000 maternal deaths each year due to pregnancy related causes and 200,000 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion.
Curlin P, Tinker A. Women's health. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 1995 Jun;9(2):335-51.
And some info derived from the very important World Fertility Surveys from the early 80s, compiling data from 41 developing countries:
Only about 6000 of the estimated half million maternal deaths each year occur in developed countries. The indirect causes of maternal mortality are related to the unfavorable status of women reflected in poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to health care, and procreation patterns. The World Fertility Surveys indicate that 200,000 maternal deaths would be avoided each year if women not wanting more children had access to contraception. Contraceptive use would also prevent most of the estimated 100,000-200,000 maternal deaths from complications of abortion each year.
Aizenman DE. Impact of family planning on maternal-child health. The future of humanity depends on our children. Profamilia. 1988 Dec;4(13):28-33.
The Catholics for Choice website lists the following information, but there aren't proper citations. However, the information seems very consistent with previously properly cited work.

Access to contraception is proven to reduce maternal and infant deaths, slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, reduce the number and need for abortions, and improve the life expectancy of children. Every year:

Regardless of whether the Catholic doctrine against contraception is consistent or inconsistent with scripture, it is a public health disaster of severely epic proportions that is simply unacceptable to non-Catholics, and should be realized and considered by the Catholic church itself. A ban on contraception may very well be inconsistent with support for a 'culture of life.'

Religion: Now What Could This Mean?

Update: This was posted before the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who is very conservative and probably not a fan of pink smoke. The BBC has described Ratzinger as:
While many theologians strive for a Catholic Church that is more open and in touch with the world around it, Ratzinger's mission is to stamp out dissent, and curb the "wild excesses" of this more tolerant era.

He wields the tools of his office with steely efficiency. By influencing diocese budgets, bishops' transfers and even excommunications, what an opponent calls "symbolic violence", Ratzinger has clamped down on the more radical contingent of the Church.
He has even claimed the prime position of the Church of Rome over other Christian Churches. Although he has apologised for this, he has never been so contrite about excluding liberation theologians, more progressive priests or those in favour of the ordination of women.

Personally charming, quick-witted and fluent in four languages, the Cardinal is a convincing orator. Jesuit Father Thomas Reese calls him "a delightful dialogue partner", but adds that most of the Cardinal's fellow clergy would be too worried about the prospect of excommunication to enjoy talking to him.

Religion and Politics: JPII would have voted for Bush

Want to hear a couple of Republicans talk about how closely the political viewpoints of the American President are aligned with that of the late Pope John Paul II?

When asked whether it was really appropriate for the President to use JPII’s famous phrase, “culture of life” to describe his political stances in light of papal opposition to the death penalty and the Vatican’s descriptions of the Iraq war as a “…defeat for humanity…” “illegal,” “immoral,” and “unjust,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan responded,

I think that the president’s views on the matter are well known; I don’t think now is the time to talk about how they may have differed on one or two areas.

I’m sure the Holy Father thought they were pretty minor as well.

Click here and find “Papal Talking Points” to see the clip from Comedy Central’s Daily Show pages.

Religion: No New Pope Yet

Is anyone else expecting a bunch of British chimney sweeps to pop out and start dancing on the rooftop of the Sistine Chapel?

I think the whole smoke idea is kind of antiquated. How about a ball that drops or flashing lights? Dancing Oompaloompas with their cryptic songs? Do any of you have better ideas for how to notify the world that a new religious leader for millions of people has been selected?

LGBT: Britain's best mum?

Perhaps the most important pageant of them all may be turning LGBT friendly...

The best mother in Britain could be a gay man
Now wouldn't that just blows a conservative gasket to two?

Mebbe I ain't such a suth'ner afta awl, ya thanks?

Your Linguistic Profile:

65% General American English

20% Dixie

5% Midwestern

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Yankee

Monday, April 18, 2005

Religion: pissed off feminist nuns!

Freakin' sweet.

From feministing:

“We have to tell the cardinals this: We no longer want a secret, sexist selection process,” said Sister Donna Quinn of the Coalition of American Nuns. Many of the protesters there said that this message is also directed towards the new pope-to-be.

After the morning mass at Holy Name, the women set off some small smoke bombs (pink smoke, I must add) as a symbol of their movement.

Health Care: Satisfaction Rates

Kevin Drum blogs about a new study from some Harvard policy folks looking at satisfaction rates for heath care in our country and elsewhere.

Interestingly enough, the study finds that the poor and the elderly are, by and large, much more satisfied with their health care experiences than everyone else.

Drum's conclusions:

It's hard to know what to say about this. Americans in general are highly dissatisfied with their healthcare system — the one that's supposedly the "best healthcare in the world" — and yet they've been conned into thinking that a national healthcare system would be even worse. This is despite the fact that people in America who are enrolled in a national healthcare system (most of whom have previous experience with private employer programs) like it better than the working stiffs who have private coverage. What's more, people in other countries that have national healthcare systems report much higher satisfaction levels than Americans do.
Now, I do take issue with the study, since it uses "customer satisfaction" rather than more objective health measures. The elderly and the poor may very well just have different expectations of health care than everyone else, and that could easily explain away any confident conclusion. The "everyone else" category in America expects to receive the best health care in the world. The poor and the elderly, possibly more used to government assistance, aren't quite so hopeful of their treatment. Maybe.

However, a point's a point, and I think this paper makes a pretty decent one that shouldn't be entirely ignored, even if it's ship isn't the most sea-worthy.

The debate really comes down much simpler than this. National healthcare reduces overhead. Dramatically. Absurdly. For real. So the question becomes: can the money saved in overhead translate into better, more equitably distributed health care?

With competent administration, the answer is certainly yes.

But competent administration. Easier said that done.

Politics: much better, Howard

Better. Not perfect.

I think we need to talk about abortion differently. Republicans have painted us into a corner where they have forced us to defend abortion. I don't know anybody who's for abortion.

We can make common ground with folks. The issue we need to debate is not whether abortion is a good thing. The issue we need to debate is whether a woman gets to make up her own mind about her health care or whether Tom DeLay gets to make up her mind.
The issue of course then becomes, why would Dems not be "for abortion," but defend it legally? Wouldn't Dems be defending murder?

Well, if Howard doesn't watch his rhetoric, that's the logical attack to follow.

Of course, the reason why pro-choice Dems shouldn't be "for abortion" is because abortion is a rough thing for a women to go through, physically, psychologically, financially, socially, etc. Nobody wants to have an abortion. But that isn't necessarily because their is some sort of unilateral consensus that abortion is murder. And I think that's the distinction that will neutralize this kind of well-meaning change in rhetoric.

If the pro-lifers think that Dems are still defending murder, for any reason, then nothing has changed from their perspective. There's no room for nuance on the religious right. If the Dem leadership thinks otherwise, maybe they should simply stop thinking at all.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Politics: Michael Savage pissing me off (imagine that)

Why? Because I saw his new book at Barnes and Noble the other day.

The title: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder : Savage Solutions.

Thanks for encouraging the stigma of mental illness, asshole.

I mean, if you're going to write a hack piece of talking point bullshit, at least name it something cool like South Park Conservatives : The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Written by Manhattan Institute wanker Brian C. Anderson, it might not be worth the paper it's printed on. But at least the title is pretty cool and doesn't further reinforce negative images of those who suffer from mental illness

I would consider myself a South Park liberal, even if Matt Stone and Trey Parker are the biggest dicks on the planet. At least they're also the funniest dicks on the planet. So it works out.

Election '08: Wes In

According to Mark Kleiman, it looks like Wes Clark is in for '08. It will be interesting to see him take on (presumably) Hillary Clinton, given that the General was Clinton's private choice for the '04 nomination after Kerry's early primary campaign looked moribund. Personally, I'm interested in hearing what Clark has to say. I was against him in '04, but only because I couldn't be sure this guy was a Democrat. It was, after all, his first political campaign ever. But the man seems to have stuck with it, so I guess he deserves a look.

On a side note, prior to joining the '04 fracas, Clark was seen as a good friend to Dean, a candidate who was disliked by the Clinton wing and now the head of the Democratic party. How that will affect the '08 primaries is anyone's guess.

Politics: Dean Says Democrats Will Make Schiavo Case an Election Issue

For the love of God, please leave it alone.

Did certain Republicans make total asses of themselves on the issue?


Will anything good come of drudging it up again?

No way.

If that's the only way to beat Dr. CatKiller and his minions, Dems should just give up now. If they haven't already.

Politics: John McCain, portrait of right-wing sanity

McCain's comments to Chris Matthews on Hardball Thursday night:

Look, we won't always be in the majority, I say to my conservative friends, someday there will be a liberal Democrat president and a liberal Democrat Congress. Why? Because history shows it goes back and forth. I don't know if it's a hundred years from now, but it will happen. And do we want a bunch of liberal judges approved by the Senate of the United States with 51 votes if the Democrats are in the majority?
The rest of the article is interesting, because it's basically full of folks from the Frist camp taking headshots at McCain. 2008 Electioneering much?

Non-violence: Garrett goes postal

So I felt like getting a little rascally over on Kyle's blog about some nice pro-animal veggie-type treehugging issues. A predominantly Christian, speculatively right-of-center audience will likely not take kindly to my ramblings, but I thought maybe some non-violent Sparkgrassateers might want to peruse the fray, if only to watch me be as squirrely as possible.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Daily Show: You, Your Health, and You

Some funny shit.

MedEcon: The Medical Money Pit

Krugman's latest. Apparently the beginning of a series on how we spend our medical cash.

Politics: at least they didn't have sex with them, too

Just floating around the 'sphere this morning while I didn't study Neuroanatomy, I ran across two articles of animal abuse from two prominent conservatives:

Bill Frist adopted cats from the humane society during medical school so he could sharpen his surgical skills. Psychopathic much? And bonus kudos to Harvard's admissions office, for admitting a nut like that.

James Dobson, the guy that wrote the book on how to raise a child, beat the shit out of his dachsund with a belt because it wouldn't go to bed immediately.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Science: Gotta Love Peer Reviewing

Scientists hail the peer-reviewed journal as the fortress of truth: you do the research, a bunch of people who know what's going on read it and make sure that it makes sense and the experiment was good, you get published, grant money, and the ability to continue to be a scientist. Unfortunately, not all peer-reviewed publications and events are the same. A bunch of MIT students were able to get a paper approved for a peer-reviewed conference via creating a computer program to generate research papers complete with nonsensical text, charts and diagrams.

Imagine, the future of computer science could be in their hands! Not to mention all the politics that surround biomedical research, and therefore the treatments you're going to get when you get sick.

Politics: Tom DeLay's House of Scandal

The DCCC sent out a James Carville-authored email advertising their new site, Tom DeLay's House of Scandal.

If nothing else, it's fun to play with the web'0'badness on the front page.

Politics: Frist Set to Use Religious Stage on Judicial Issue

This is a bit scary. Once again, I find it a bit sad that because democrats are the ones who push more vehemently for the separation of church and state, they then get labeled as anti-religion. Heaven forbid it be possible to be a democrat and be religious!

Senator Bill Frist will participate in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking the president's nominees. Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day "Justice Sunday" and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading "the filibuster against people of faith," it reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."
Update: A little more over at BlueGrassRoots.

Religion: An African Pope?

An African Pope?

For those of you who have wondered about the results of an African cardinal being elected Pope in the next few weeks, Philip Jenkins’ article, “The Next Christianity,” in the October 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (reproduced here) is informative.

Pointing out the great numerical differences and theological perspectives of the “first” and “third” worlds, Jenkins argues that the big issues for Western Catholic Christians – birth control, homosexuality, the ordination of women, et al. – are not such big issues in the minds of Catholics in the Global South.

As a result, the great liberal reform of the Roman Catholic Church that many North Americans and Western Europeans hope for could go the other way altogether.

An ever greater reliance on individual choice, the argument goes, will help Catholicism to become much more inclusive and tolerant, less judgmental, and more willing to accept secular attitudes toward sexuality and gender roles. In the view of liberal Catholics, much of the current crisis derives directly from archaic if not primitive doctrines, including mandatory celibacy among the clergy, intolerance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of women from the priesthood, not to mention a more generalized fear of sexuality. In their view, anyone should be able to see that the idea that God, the creator and lord of the universe, is concerned about human sexuality is on its way out.

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress. Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations — currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America — now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith. The revolution taking place in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is far more sweeping in its implications than any current shifts in North American religion, whether Catholic or Protestant. There is increasing tension between what one might call a liberal Northern Reformation and the surging Southern religious revolution, which one might equate with the Counter-Reformationan enormous rift seems inevitable.


It may be true that from the liberal Northern perspective, pressure for a Reformation-style solution to critical problems in the Church — the crisis in clerical celibacy, the shortage of priests, the sense that the laity's concerns are ignored — seems overwhelming. Poll after poll in the United States and Europe indicates significant distrust of clerical authority and support for greater lay participation and women's equality. The obvious question in the parishes of the developed world seems to be how long the aloof hierarchy can stave off the forces of history.

From Rome, however, the picture looks different, as do the "natural" directions that history is going to take. The Roman church operates on a global scale and has done so for centuries. Long before the French and British governments had become aware of global politics — and well before their empires came into being — papal diplomats were thinking through their approaches to China, their policies in Peru, their views on African affairs, their stances on the issues facing Japan and Mexico. To adapt a popular activist slogan, the Catholic Church not only thinks globally, it acts globally. That approach is going to have weighty consequences. On present evidence, a Southern-dominated Catholic Church is likely to react traditionally to the issues that most concern American and European reformers: matters of theology and devotion, sexual ethics and gender roles, and, most fundamentally, issues of authority within the Church.


Thanks to Terry Mattingly at the GetReligion blog for the heads-up on this.


Captain Sacrament

MedEthics: Executions not as "Humane" as we thought

A recent letter in this week's Lancet demonstrates that victims of capital punishment might not be receiving enough anesthesia.

Unlike in medical applications, anesthesia in executions has not been subjected to clinical trials or government regulation, nor have the practitioners received even basic training to do this," said Dr. David A. Lubarsky, one of the researchers. " This caused us to wonder whether anesthesia methodology in lethal injection might be adequate."

In a study of post-mortem toxicology results from 49 executions in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, they found in 43 cases the concentrations of thiopental in the blood were lower than required for common surgery. In 21 of those cases they found the concentrations "consistent with awareness" -- in other words, the inmates could have been awake.
The ethical dilemma stems from the fact that doctors may not participate in executions, leaving undertrained or untrained technicians to fulfill the role. Would it be ethical for a doctor to participate in lessening a condemned man's pain? Or would this merely be window dressing on an already barbaric practice. Is it progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?

International: Whatever happened with that dead Italian secret service man?

Italian agent Nicola Calipari
Stories like the killing of Italian Secret Serviceman Nicola Calipari by US soldiers always get reported and then dropped from the US papers before anything happens. What's going on now, more than a month after the incident? Mainly US obstruction of the Italian investigation.
Italian investigators have clashed with Americans over plans to absolve US soldiers of any blame for the death of the Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari, killed while escorting an Italian hostage out of Iraq last month.

The Italians are also unhappy that the US will not let them examine the car in which Mr Calipari was traveling when shot. The joint investigation is deadlocked and the dispute is holding up the final report on the incident.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

MedPol: Congress to consider birth control bill ensuring that pharmacies fill prescriptions

One of these quotes was by a sane person. The other was by an insane person. See if you can guess which is which.

1) Let a woman be treated with dignity. When she has a prescription from her doctor, that privacy should be respected. - Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat

2) They'll force women to kill their children ... It will be like China. It's the next logical step. - Karen Bauer, pharmaceutical whackjob
Now, which of these two quotes is by A) pharmaceutical whackjob Karen Bauer, and which is by B) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)?

Update: James Rodgers has unleashed his seering wit (and MSPaint prowess) on Bauer's comments.

Supreme Court: Do you Sodomize your wife?

An article from the New York Post describes what must have been an uncomfortable moment for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Mr. Scalia was at NYU giving a talk, and after a question regarding the Supreme Court's decision in its infamous Texas sodomy case when a student asked Mr. Scalia if he sodomizes his wife. Crude - yes, especially given that Mrs. Scalia was in the room. I know I personally would have never asked such a question. I do get a chuckle of this, though. This just goes to show that what goes on in any consenting adult's bedroom needs to stay in the bedroom, especially if you are a Supreme Court Justice.

LGBT: Christian Groups Fight Anti-Bigotry Day

CNN has an article today about the efforts of some Christian conservative groups to counter the anti-gay bias event known as the "Day of Silence." These groups see the day, where students go an 24 hours without speaking to draw attention to the harassment of gay students, as a way of broadening acceptance of homosexuality. In response, they created what they call the "Day of Truth," encouraging students to wear shirts and talk about their belief that homosexuality is wrong.

You know, there are a lot of things right-wing groups do that I dislike, but very few which outright piss me off. This is one of those few. How can they honestly take a day designed to end bigotry, harassment, and discrimination and decide that it's something that needs to be countered? Their excuse, as the article points out, is that they believe the event is meant to be "cloaking their real message -- that homosexuality is good for society." They also continue their incessant whining that Christian students are being censored as school (despite the fact that they're being censored for prejudice and discrimination). They point to a student who was disciplined for wearing a shirt at school which reads "Homosexuality is shameful." I wonder if they would have thought "rights were being trampled" if the offensive shirt read "African-Americans are shameful" or "Judaism is shameful."

I can understand (even if I do not accept) the belief that homosexuality is a sin. But fighting against a day designed to promote the acceptance of any group of humans as just that, human beings with normal rights and individual dignity is beyond me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Politics: The DeLay Scandal and Councilman Cole

Drop the Hammer, a website encouraging corporations to stop giving money to Tom DeLay's defense fund, obviously is not too popular with some of Congressman DeLay's supporters. One such man, Councilman Kevin Cole of Pearland, TX, shared his thoughts with Drop the Hammer. Here is Mr. Cole's letter to Mr. DeLay's critics:

Hey ass hole [sic]. Tom Delay happens to be my congresman [sic] and I am happy with the job he does for me and my district. Why don't you get the F@&* out of our district and leave us alone. Better yet, come speak to me personally and I will show you what I think of you.

Kevin Cole
Pealrand [sic], TX
[Cell Phone # Redacted]

Since I found Mr. Cole's logic about other people having no right to criticize Congressman DeLay a little flawed, I decided to write to Councilman Cole (his e-mail address is I even BCCed Garret if you don't believe me. We'll see if Mr. Cole responds. Here's the e-mail:
Hello Mr. Cole! I am writing in response to a letter you wrote to I just wanted to inform you that your Congressman Tom Delay affects policy for us all, so I don't think we as Americans have to get the "f***" out of your district and leave Mr. DeLay alone. Your Congressman happens to be a very important and powerful person in Washington, and if he acts unethically, it affects us all, not just those in his district. For instance, his efforts to take the lead on the Terri Schiavo tragedy demonstrate that he has enormous power and influence, and therefore his actions extend far beyond Texas. His attack of our Judiciary is another example of the power he yields. Personally I wish he would just represent you and your district and step down from having such a prominent role in the Republican Party, so that his policies would have a more limited effect on the rest of the United States. I have nothing against you or the great state of Texas (which I recently visited for the first time and had a delightful experience), but I do have big problems with your Congressman, so if your district could work on electing somebody ethical and moral, that would be swell. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and have a great day!


Stephen J. Warnick Jr
2nd Year Medical Student, University of Michigan
I hope I wasn't inflammatory.

Pop Science: Why Adolescent Girls Become Obese

I found this linked off of CNN:

There are lots of reasons why adolescent girls grow obese, but apparently binge-eating and physical inactivity aren't important ones. On the contrary, laxative or diuretic abuse and depression seem to have more major roles in why young girls edge into obesity that lasts into adulthood.
Reasons I hate pop science articles that seek to interpret research:

1) This article suggest that you should be concerned that your depressed patients are at risk of obesity. WRONG. You should be worried that your depressed patients are at risk for DEPRESSION, which is much worse. The day we sit down with Susie and tell her to cheer up or she might get fat is the day I quit medicine.

2) The opening line suggests that food intake and exercise aren't important, but the actual text of the primary resource really says that the studies on this are mixed and limited since people tend to unreliably report food intake and exercise. Laxative use and depression scales are pretty objective though, and more likely to show results.

3) I'm not even going to get into the underrepresentation of African Americans, the exclusion of boys, and the limited geography of the study.

The source of the primary reseach article is: Psychological and Behavioral Risk Factors for Obesity Onset in Adolescent Girls: A Prospective Study. Eric Stice, Katherine Presnell, Heather Shaw, Paul Rohde. Journal of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, April 1, 2005, Vol. 73, Issue 2.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

LGBTPolitics: Fear and Loathing in the GOP

I've been chewing this one over as I eat my yogurt and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and I've decided it's okay if I admit that I'm not quite sure how I feel about Bill Clinton's recent statement (semi-quoting David Brock) that with regards to a GOP political consultant (who recently married his gay partner in Massachusetts and who is organizing an anti-Hillary fundraiser), there might be "some sort of self-loathing" for Arthur Finkelstein, the longtime GOP operative who helped Gov. George Pataki unseat Democrat Mario Cuomo in 1994.
At a news conference Monday about his foundation's AIDS initiatives, the former president was asked whether the anti-Hillary efforts made him angry.

"Actually, I was sort of sad when I read it," he said.

"I thought, one of two things. Either this guy believes his party is not serious and is totally Machiavellian in its position, or you know, as David Brock said in his great book 'Blinded by the Right,' there's some sort of self-loathing or something. I was more sad for him."
And yes, that's David Brock of Media Matters for America.

The expected PC response by a Republican of course followed:
Kieran Mahoney, a GOP consultant who has worked with Finkelstein, said Clinton was "engaging in pretty basic stereotyping by suggesting that because somebody's gay they have to be a Democrat."
Andrew Sullivan endorsed John Kerry in the last election, and the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Bush as well. And of course there's Mary Cheney. And Alan Keyes' daughter.

So is a homosexual Republican self-loathing?

Well, there's certainly a conflict of interest being a member of a party that actively fights against your civil rights. But again, that same statement could be said about women, minorities, the working class, and apparently any person who doesn't want to have her face plastered all over the media as her husband fights for her right not to be a vegetable.

Or anyone with a pulse, in my opinion.

So what would be the alternative for a gay conservative? The Democratic party has certainly become wide open enough to accomodate anybody who could win an election. I'm pretty certain if a gay hispanic totalitarian communist could beat Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, the Democratic party would sign him and run him. If a piece of fruit could beat Santorum, Howard Dean would be making phone calls to its jungle nightly.

There are of course other memberships for conservatives, for wacko religious righters and libertarians. And it's not as if the Democratic party is really the only valid home for a liberal. In fact, it may be the worst home.

But I suppose the issue at hand is really tantamount to whether people can support a political party which acts against their personal or social interests. And resoundingly, that answer seems to be yes. I'm a married white male in medical school. Certainly, the Republican party would better support my heterosexual marriage, my whiteness, my maleness, and my eventual status in the upper middle class. Certainly tax breaks, private accounts, anti-affirmative action policy, and blanket tort reform would bolster my future, even at the expense of others.

But my conception of what the world ought to be for everyone, not just myself, is very dissonant with the policies of the Republican party. And thus, I'm very much allowed to not be a Republican. I voted Green in 2000; Democrat in 2004. And no one would accuse me of being self-loathing.

So if I can be a Democrat, then a gay person can damn well be a Republican without someone, even a very well-meaning demigod of the centrist movement, accusing him of hating himself.

Even if there might be a little bit of truth to it.

Update: Welcome to all of you coming to Sparkgrass Community from AOL Blog Zone.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Economics: A Roshanda by Any Other Name

Interesting entry on the use of unique names amongst the African American community in California is at Slate.

Nearly 30 percent of the black girls are given a name that is unique among every baby, white and black, born that year in California. (There were also 228 babies named Unique during the 1990s alone, and one each of Uneek, Uneque, and Uneqqee; virtually all of them were black.)
The data show that, on average, a person with a distinctively black name—whether it is a woman named Imani or a man named DeShawn—does have a worse life outcome than a woman named Molly or a man named Jake. But it isn't the fault of his or her name. If two black boys, Jake Williams and DeShawn Williams, are born in the same neighborhood and into the same familial and economic circumstances, they would likely have similar life outcomes. But the kind of parents who name their son Jake don't tend to live in the same neighborhoods or share economic circumstances with the kind of parents who name their son DeShawn. And that's why, on average, a boy named Jake will tend to earn more money and get more education than a boy named DeShawn. DeShawn's name is an indicator—but not a cause—of his life path.
Maybe if all of us white med students name our kids with unique black names we can combat this biased name statistic. A new series of Jewish power names: DeShawn Zuckerman has a certain ring to it.

Feuds: The New Hatfields & McCoys

Montagues and Capulets, Hatfields and the McCoy's, and now the Soliz's and Ortiz's. See Family feud erupts after teens date; 6 wounded.

Members of the Soliz and Ortiz families say their feud with the neighboring Riojas family has simmered for more than a year and became more heated when Riojas' teenage daughter started dating Miguel Soliz, 15, who was among the wounded.
Isn't young love sweet? Those of you wondering what ever happened to the real Hatfields and the McCoys can buy merchandise at or attend the annual Hatfield-McCoy reunion June 9-12 in Pikeville, KY. I wonder how long it will be until the Soliz's and the Ortiz's start selling merchandise?

Politics: The Tom DeLay Scandals - A score card

Nicholas Thompson summarizes which scandals will and will not get Tom DeLay into real trouble.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

State Government: The Lesser of 2 Assholes

Many (including myself) have condemned Kansas AG Phill Kline for requesting unedited patient records from 2 abortion clinics, in his crusade to limit a women's right to choose. The clinics involved weren't even permitted to notify patients their records were being requested, nor were they able to respond to press inquiries due to a court gag order. Kline, however, felt the gag order didn't apply to him as he traveled across the state giving press conferences.

However, on another issue, Kline has said that Kansas' new amendment banning same-sex marriage would NOT prevent same-sex benefits offered by any state or local government. This is in direct opposition to MI's AG Mike Cox (aptly named) who gleefully announced that government entities were no longer permitted to offer same-sex benefits in contract negotiations, due to MI's similar amendment.

Now I ask you, who is the lesser of 2 assholes?

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Politics/Religion: Sick and Tired of Being a "Bad" Catholic

Wolf Blitzer, with whom I have never had any particular beef, called out Paul Begala of CNN:

"I'm sure Bob [Novak] is a good Catholic, I'm not so sure about Paul Begala"
as reported on Media Matters for America. This hit a particular sour note with me, since I happen to be liberal and Catholic. I am tired of the right-wing rhetoric that states that one cannot support liberal views and be Catholic. Last time I read the bible, I do remember finding much more on helping the poor, not hoarding your wealth, not judging others, and respecting the life of everybody (not just the unborn).

I'm throwing in one more quote from the Washington Post, this one about Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment."
I did not realize that prohibiting the execution of minors was one of the parts of the judicial "war on faith". I'm glad that George W. Bush, who oversaw the killing of 152 people as Governor of Texas, and the right-wing war that he is leading on America have such a clear vision on what lives God wants them to hold high (fetuses, Terri Schiavo), and which lives are expendable (prisoners, Iraqis, worldwide HIV/AIDS victim). If our country is going to be overtaken by Christian conservatives, I just wish they could respect all human life as instructed by the bible, instead of picking and choosing whose lives are worth their time and energy. I know it's not as sexy to some segments of the American people to be anti-death penalty and anti-war, but I do believe these two attributes are pretty in line with the bible, and are thankfully two of the legacies of our former Pope.

Politics: Conservatives dislike the Constitution

MSNBC has a good article today about why conservative groups are determined to increase congressional control over the judicial branch. Some are calling for the ability to impeach or remove judges who don't hand down decisions that they like.

You know, I remember back during the 2000 election and the start of the Iraq war, when these same conservatives would tell complainers, "If you don't like it, too bad. That's the way this country works, so like it or leave it." Guess what? The Founding Fathers made the judges judges, not pollsters. They interpret and apply law, not figure out how a particular segment of the American population feels about an issue. And if you don't like it, then get the hell out of my country.

Jackass quote of the article goes to (you guessed it) Tom DeLay for: “I believe the judicial branch of our government has overstepped its authority on countless occasions, overturning and, in some cases, ignoring the legitimate will of the people." At least this time he's not overtly threatening anyone.

MedPol: National Republican Congressional Committee Physician of the Year? Yours for only $1250!

I'm not sure whether this is despicable or simply amazing.

But to receive the award in person at a special two-day workshop in Washington last month, Mueller found out that he would have to make a $1,250 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee. It was a disturbing discovery, he said.

"To actually buy your award and it's not from your peers or from your patients or from the community that you serve, it's really deceptive," said Mueller, author of "As Sick As It Gets: The Shocking Reality of America's Healthcare, A Diagnosis and Treatment Plan." "It's not being honest, it's just not right."

To see what the award process was all about, Mueller sent in his $1,250 contribution and ABC News paid for his travel to Washington for the scheduled events March 14-15, which included a tax-reform workshop as well as appearances by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and President Bush.

Mueller soon found he was not the only winner. There were hundreds of Physicians of the Year present, many of whom found the criteria for being selected equally as opaque.

"You know, nobody knows, so don't feel bad about it," Mueller said one attendee told him. "I think that more than likely it's to get us Republicans together under the pretense that maybe you will work a little harder to keep Republicans in office."

Another winner was more blunt. "I don't think it's worth it from the standpoint of your own qualifications, but I think it's worth it to support the party," he said. "Basically it's one big monstrous donation to the party."

"It's like the old diploma mills," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a government watchdog group. "It's the kind of scam that we've seen congressional investigations look at when they take place in the private sector. But here, since members of Congress are doing it, we're not going to see any investigation."

Oh, the irony.

A Republican congressional spokesman said DeLay stopped direct involvement in the program two years ago, but the majority leader was the guest speaker this year at the awards ceremony luncheon, giving a speech that included proposals well-tailored to the doctors' interests...

... Mueller said most of the talk at the sessions was about marketing, lawyers and taxes, and that he was met with silence when trying to raise the issue of the lack of affordable health insurance.

"This is the real crisis," Mueller said he told the congressmen on one panel at the events. "Please, I am begging you."

The congressmen said nothing and quickly called for a question from another Physician of the Year, Mueller said .

And even better:
And some of the other winners told Mueller that his $1,250 fee to the NRCC was a wise investment indeed. He should use the award as a marketing tool, they said, as an impressive honor he could tell patients. And on the Internet, ABC News found physicians across the country doing just that -- listing NRCC's Physician of the Year among their honors and credentials.

Wertheimer warned that the award was misleading and that they should add the award was given "because I paid for this certificate, not for anything else that happened."

A Republican spokesman said there were thousands of doctors around the country content with their Physicians of the Year awards, and that there was nothing about the program to apologize for.

Film: Can the Hitchhiker's Guide get any better?

I just found out that Alan Rickman is voicing Marvin the Paranoid Android. That's so sweet!

Saturday Dog Blogging!

Friday, April 8, 2005

Art: 100 naked women

Conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft is opening her latest work involving 100 naked women in tights in Berlin. Some of my favorite parts about this exhibit:

Their hair colours - red, yellow, and black - were deliberately picked to allude to Germany's flag, Beecroft said.

And: Germans had an "intellectual and philosophical background" which made them more receptive to her work, she said, in contrast to the French, who were mainly interested in the fashion worn by her models.

and by far: "this evening's public performance lasts for three hours. Apart from the odd stretch and yawn, the women are instructed to remain as still and silent as possible. Towards the end they can lie down. Yesterday, at the preview, attended by dozens of journalists and TV crews, several of the "girls" as Beecroft calls them sat down exhausted. Most looked distinctly bored."
Most heterosexual guys don't need to go to a museum to see a bored naked woman.

Health: Cookie Monster No More?

Sesame Street's favorite blue monster (sorry Grover, you're kind of lame) is going healthy and adopting cookies as a "sometime snack". I think that it's great that Sesame Street is trying to incorporate more healthy eating and exercising tips into the show. Cookie Monster will now eat cookies in moderation, so don't be sad - me still want cookies. Even Bill Frist thinks this is a good thing, so I have now officially found one thing on which Dr. Evil and I both agree.

Cats: Azubuike signs with agent; won't return to Kentucky

What a dumbass. I guess that should open up some severe playing time for Joe Crawford, Bobby Perry, or Sheray Thomas. KY has always been the sort of team that could lose its leading scorer and not miss a beat, but the sheer stupidity of this move is amazing.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

LGBT: Wounded soldier wants to keep serving, as long as he doesn't have to hide the fact that he's gay

An Army sergeant who was wounded in Iraq wants a chance to remain in the military as an openly gay soldier, a desire that's bringing him into conflict with the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Sgt. Robert Stout, 23, says he has not encountered trouble from fellow soldiers and would like to stay if not for the policy that permits gay men and women to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

"I know a ton of gay men that would be more than willing to stay in the Army if they could just be open," Stout said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But if we have to stay here and hide our lives all the time, it's just not worth it."
If having big chunks of grenade shrapnel in your body isn't enough to demand some respect, then I think it's pretty clear our military has some severe issues.

LGBT: Conn. Senate Approves Civil Unions Bill

The state Senate easily approved a bill that would make Connecticut the first state to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples without being pressured by the courts.

China: Anger after 'murdered' wife returns

Wife disappears. Chinese authorities "interrogate" the husband until he confesses. Husband is sentenced to death, but only serves 15 years and is released. Now, wife is not really dead. My favorite part: In his first interview after being released, the wronged man said he wanted compensation from the state and to avoid his former wife.

Law: Florida to allow use of force even outside home

Under [the old] law, however, people attacked anywhere [outside of their home or car] are supposed to do what they can to avoid escalating the situation and can use deadly force only after they've tried to retreat.

Since when did de-escalation become a 4 letter word? Police officers are taught to de-escalate; and as a physician I think it makes sense? But apparently in Florida this law allows people who "feel threatened" to shoot first and ask questions later. Oh wait, there's a Bush down there, now I understand. Criminals (and tourists) be warned. My favorite quote though is this:
"I'm sorry, people, but if I'm attacked I shouldn't have a duty to retreat," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Dennis Baxley. "That's a good way to get shot in the back."
Floridians will now be proud to know they have the right be shot in the front.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Entertainment (for me at least): 'Star Wars' fans wait at wrong theater

'Star Wars' fans wait at wrong theater. I don't know what's funnier, the fact that it's the wrong theater or the fact that they refuse to move even after being told it's the wrong theater. And I thought studying for boards was a futile waste of time. Before you Trekkies start attacking me for ragging on the SW fans I just wanna say, "It's just a movie. Get a life."

Medicine: Injectable Long Acting Naltrexone?

Drugs for alcohol addiction have always met significant compliance obstacles. An alcoholic has to choose every day to take a drug like Antabuse, which would make him sick if he drank, or naltrexone, which blocks opiod receptors, which generally isn't the happiest thing you can do to a person.

But now there's an injectable form of Naltrexone that last 30 days! Compliance issues, we hardly knew ye.

Now, instead of making 30 decisions to stop being an alcoholic per month, an alcohol addict need only make that decision once a month. And that sure seems like a good thing.

Ethics: Ethics Panel Finds Conflict With Senator's Job as Physician

The Senate ethics committee has ruled that Sen. Tom Coburn must close his obstetrics practice.

The ethics committee has ruled that his private practice constitutes a potential conflict of interest with his work in Washington, and it has given him until Sept. 30 to close his office in Muskogee, Okla
For nearly two decades, Senate rules have barred members from holding outside professional jobs, such as those as lawyers, real estate agents and physicians, for fear that such services -- and compensation for those services -- might conflict with their role as policymakers.
OK, so this issue seems to have stupidity on both sides. What kind of conflict of interest is he going to have? A bias towards protecting pregnant women? Maybe if all of his patients worked for the defense industry or something I'd be worried, but he's an obstetrician. And after the recent Schiavo fiasco I think Congress could use a few more doctors (or at least better ones they have now). And how old and honored is this law barring him? A hundred years? Nope, less than 2 decades. Yeah, because in this country anything 20 years old is practically pre-historic.

On the other side of the issue I can easily see lawyers in congress making the same claim and then it's s snow ball effect. The easiest thing to do is just to start practicing pro-bono since it's the income that's not allowed, then again, he's a conservative Republican so I don't see that happening anytime soon. Any other opinions?

Medicine: Cognitive therapy vs. Pharm therapy

In another chapter in the most tiresome debate in the world, some UPenn researchers show that cognitive therapy is at least as good for moderate to severe depression (APA guidelines previously said that you had to sell the pharm if someone had severe depression). Maybe most importantly, cognitive therapy led to less relapse.

Oh my gosh, a pop up window just said that I won a free Apple Ipod! Golly Gee! I gotta go!

The next study: free Ipods vs. cognitive therapy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Literature: Saul Bellow, dead at 89

It's a bad year to be a brilliant Jewish author. We've lost Arthur Miller, and now Bellow. Geniuses.

"The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists — William Faulkner and Saul Bellow," Philip Roth said Tuesday. "Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century."

Music: Tally Hall needs you!

Tally Hall, a funky band to which I have a second degree connection, is trying to break through via MTVU's Best Music on Campus contest. Give their single, "Good Day," a listen, and if properly impressed, give these UM kids some votage.

Medicine: kissing cousins

An interesting article on some Pennsylvania folk who had to go get married in Maryland because Penn, like 23 other states, bans marriages between first cousins.

And while most of us still go, "EWWW!," science has taught us that, while it may be kinda gross, first cousin marriages don't present the genetic obstacles that people had long believed:

Robin Bennett, associate director of the medical genetics clinic at the University of Washington, said that laws prohibiting cousins from marrying are "a form of genetic discrimination."

Bennett led a 2002 study on risks of genetic problems in children born in such marriages. The study found that children born to couples who are first or second cousins have a lower risk for birth defects than commonly perceived.

On average, an unrelated couple has an approximately 3 percent to 4 percent risk of having a child with a birth defect, significant mental retardation or serious genetic disease.

Close cousins face an additional risk of 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent, according to the study, funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
I can't find the exact stats to back this up, but I'm thinking from what I've learned that a younger first-cousin couple would have a better chance of producing a healthy child than many older women populations.

Thus, discriminating against first-cousins with regards to marriage seems incredibly unfair. No one bars cystic fibrosis carriers (about 1/25 of the population) from marrying each other or having children, and they have a 25% of having a kid w/ CF.

The article notes that some states do require genetic counseling. That seems fair enough. Genetic counseling might be a good (yet expensive) idea for the entire population. And some married first-cousins might even be improperly afraid of producing an unhealthy child. Having a 95% chance of having a healthy kid might lead a couple to go ahead. And fundamentally, that's their decision.

But I have to say, I'm really glad this article didn't have anything to do with Kentucky.

Pseudoscience & Fads: Got Oxygen?

Studies show today's air contains only 25%-50% of the oxygen that it used to. This is from a link off the local mall oxygen bar. I had no idea there was such a crisis. But seriously, where is this statement coming from? Oxygen levels in the Cretaceous? The bar provides patrons with 95% oxygen (eupho2ria). Not only that, but they sell oxygen drinks and (who knew we had the technology) a shower head that actually mixes air into your water (order now, only 1 left).

They also sell "NEXCITE Aphrodisiac Drink"
Nexcite is a non-alcoholic berry-like flavored aphrodisiac drink that drives women wild. calls it “the king of kinky drinkies…”
Nexcite was also formerly called Niagara, but the little blue drink had to change it's name after it was sued by Pfizer for trademark infringement.

Baseball: Opening Day

The Tigers and the Reds both win their openers? And the Reds against Pedro, no less? Wonders never cease.

Oh yeah. Tarheels still blow.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

MedPol: Women still have a chance in a few places

The Governor of Illinois approved an emergency rule requiring that pharmacies fill birth control prescriptions quickly and the New Hampshire Senate approved a bill offering emergency contraception over the counter with no age limit.

And some the most beautiful quotes from the latter story:

Sen. Robert Boyce argued the bill would promote a “Sex in the City” lifestyle, referring to the popular television program.

“This is saying there is no consequence for sex,” said Boyce, R-Alton. “One of the consequences is conception. One of the consequences is disease.”

Boyce said people must see doctors to get prescriptions for drugs for diseases. He gave strep throat as an example, which drew a response from Sen. Maggie Hassan.

“With all due respect Senator Boyce, an unintended pregnancy is not the same thing as strep throat,” said Hassan, D-Exeter.
“I do not believe the punishment for youthful indiscretion for unguarded sex is to force young women to have an abortion or unwanted pregnancy,” said Hassan.
“The amendment [proposed by Republicans to limit the sale only to those over 18] supposes only women 18 and older might need this in an emergency,” Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen said. “I’d like to live in a world where that’s true.”

Schiavo: a criminal DeLay

If you're like me, you're sorta pissed that Tom DeLay keeps threatening the judiciary for, ya know, being a judiciary that at least attempts to act within the limits of constitutional law most of the time. And more than a handful of people have been worried that his comments about these judges having to answer for their actions could incite violence. But NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg lays it all on the line masterfully:

April 1, 2005

Tom DeLay
Majority Leader
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Majority Leader DeLay,

I was stunned to read the threatening comments you made yesterday against Federal judges and our nation’s courts of law in general. In reference to certain Federal judges, you stated: “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.

As you are surely aware, the family of Federal Judge Joan H. Lefkow of Illinois was recently murdered in their home. And at the state level, Judge Rowland W. Barnes and others in his courtroom were gunned down in Georgia.

Our nation’s judges must be concerned for their safety and security when they are asked to make difficult decisions every day. That’s why comments like those you made are not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous. To make matters worse, is it appropriate to make threats directed at specific Federal and state judges?

You should be aware that your comments yesterday may violate a Federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. §115 (a)(1)(B). That law states:

Whoever threatens to assault…. or murder, a United States judge… with intent to retaliate against such… judge…. on account of the performance of official duties, shall be punished [by up to six years in prison]

Threats against specific Federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a Member of Congress. In my view, the true measure of democracy is how it dispenses justice. Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well.

Federal judges, as well as state and local judges in our nation, are honorable public servants who make difficult decisions every day. You owe them – and all Americans – an apology for your reckless statements.


Frank R. Lautenberg
I wonder where Frank Lautenberg buys his suits. Because I don't think most suits are made to hold the huge balls this guy must have.

Medicine: Bush Order Allows Isolation of Those with Bird Flu

Bush Order Allows Isolation of Those with Bird Flu

I'm all for epidemic containment, but you all know the first time this is enforced will be by some Sheriff in a rural town who arrests a "china-man" because he sneezed loudly on an incoming flight.

That other border

I don't really hear much about deaths along the US-Mexico border much around here, so I thought I'd post some information. INS crackdown in cities has forced immigrants to enter the US through long stretches of dessert, leading to a jump in deaths from Between 1994 and 2003 and estimated 2,600 undocumented migrants died crossing the border. There's a good review of the basic history from National Geographic. There's also a good discussion of the contributions that undocumented workers make to businesses called The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. But in more recent news vigilante citizens groups supported by white supremecists now plan to patrol the border (see KRT Wire | 03/30/2005 | Bush administration unveils plan to expand border patrol initiative. The whole reasoning behind this is that it's a lot easier to patrol the border, forcing migrants into life-threatening situations, than it is to patrol our own country. There are fewer issues of rights violations, and corporations (who might be imposed upon if undocumented worker laws were enforced) have a lot more say over immigration policy than the undocumented workers themselves. The number of citations issued to employers of undocumented workers is dismal. So once again the US chooses to militarize the solution on foreign (or at least border) soil rather than dealing with the options in our own country.

Direct Action: Wal-Mart Fact Checker

Forgive me if this post is not as coherent as it should be - I spent an hour on it earlier today, and then my browser choked on me. Boo Firefox!

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the nation's largest union with over 1.8 million members, often stands up for those in the working class (and the not so working class - for the future residents reading, you can join the Committee on Residents and Interns, one of the main groups helping to enforce resident work hours). The SEIU has a record of pushing for health care reform, such as opposing President Bush's fiscal year 2006 Medicaid cuts (which failed to pass the Senate in a 52-48 vote - thank your Senators, especially the Republican ones, for voting against this cut). One of the SEIU's current campaigns, via its Purple Ocean network, is to spread the facts about Wal-Mart.

Now you can pick many reasons to dislike Wal-Mart, but the one thing about Wal-Mart that really irks me is their continued union busting behavior. I'm coming at this from a biased perspective, as my family is very blue-collar and pro-union, but I personally believe that labor unions are one of the few ways that the poor and the working class can actually achieve "The American Dream" and raise themselves up by their bootstraps. This is my personal beef with Wal-Mart, but there are other cracks in the House that Walton built.

There is actually a great report written by Representative George Miller (D-CA) on Wal-Mart's Labor Abuses and Hidden Costs linked on the Joe Hill Dispatch Wal-Mart Beat. The SEIU has some interesting facts as well, including:

Wal-Mart sales clerks made an average of $8.23 an hour or $13,861 year in 2001. That's nearly $800 below the federal poverty line for a family of three. (Source: Business Week)

In Georgia, Wal-Mart employees are six times more likely to rely on state-provided health care for their children than are employees of any other large company.(Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Reliance on public assistance programs in California by Wal-Mart workers costs the state's taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually. (Source: UC Berkeley Study)

In the first decade after Wal-Mart arrived in Iowa, the state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety stores, 158 women's apparel stores, 153 shoe stores, 116 drugstores, and 111 men's and boys' apparel stores. (Source: Iowa State University Study)

Every year Wal-Mart purchases $15 billion worth of products from China. (Source: Washington Post)

Today Wal-Mart uses over 3,000 Chinese factories to produce its goods almost as many factories as it has stores in the U.S. (3,600). (Source: L.A. Times)

All else being equal, U.S. counties where new Wal-Mart stores were built between 1987 and 1998 experienced higher poverty rates than other U.S. counties. (Source: Pennsylvania State University Study)

So what's a person to do? First, let others know the truth about Wal-Mart. Second, resist the low prices and stop shopping there. Take note that Sam's Club is also owned by Wal-Mart, and shop at Costco instead (they pay their employees better, and if you are a Democrat, they contribute to your candidates). Third, write a letter to Wal-Mart letting them know how much you appreciate their corporate practices (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611 1-800-WAL-MART). In all fairness to Wal-Mart, they also have a webpage listing the good they do for their communities.

Whew - how's that for a first post?