Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Politics: Alien and Sedition Acts II

"The Bush administration agreed Tuesday to release dozens of disputed photographs and videos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib . . . The government's decision ends a nearly two-year legal battle with civil liberties advocates over whether the publication of the material would harm national security."

In a legal filing last summer, Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued that the disclosure of these images would "endanger the lives and physical safety" of U.S. military personnel, aid in the recruitment efforts of insurgent forces, weaken the democratic governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, and "increase the likelihood of violence against United States interests."
This is scary because when I think of national security I think of secret bases, and weapons plans, and the identities of undercover CIA agents. Saying that something can't be published because it will make the US look bad, and that will hurt national security seems to be saying that you can't criticize the US government. And that goes way too far.

Politics: Have you smeared the queer today?

"We need to find ways to bring shame back to those who are practicing and advocating homosexual behavior" Peter LaBarbera, who heads the Illinois Family Institute, at the messianic "War on Christians" conference attended by Tom DeLay, Sen. John Cornyn and Republican Reps. Todd Akin and Louis Gohmert.
Salon has good coverage about the event and some discussion of how (by even having big name politicians hanging out with people who would previously be considered fringe group nut-jobs) America is shifting to religious zealotry. And the zealots are suiting up for battle.

CAM: the fine line between spinal manipulation and tweaking of the nipple

Tweaking of the breasts is apparently not part of any standard chiropractic manipulation procedure approved by any of their nutjob governing bodies. This guy must have slept through that lecture:

Moore's alleged victims -- two of them teenagers -- include a job applicant, an employee and a patient. They claim Moore required them to receive physicals to work there.

And during their appointments, they say Moore would grope their breasts.

"He touched their breasts, saying he had to do it as part of the adjustment and in one instance he said he had to because their breasts were uneven and he had to do something about it," Leyton said.

When these accusations first came out, Moore's license was suspended, but in November it was reinstated. Moore's attorney says he's been back in business ever since.
He should have just bombed a Middle Eastern country for shits and giggles. He would be in less trouble now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Medicine: The doctor said triplets!

Two fetuses grow inside infant. Bi-fetus-in-fetu. Nuf said.

Medicine: Taking a T works for monkeys

In one of the Sparkgrass outtakes from December, I ran across an article in the LA Times (that article seems to be unfindable at this point somehow) about some apparently some gay folk who were a little less than interested in the safest of safe sex practices were "taking a T," or taking prophylactic doses of tenofovir, an NtRTI currently used as part of the HIV prevention cocktail for folks who, say, stick themselves with a needle in a hospital.

Turns out, this approach might actually show some promise.

Of course, the logical debate arises whether the availability of tenofovir cocktails as prophylaxis would lead to an increase in safe sex practices. Given that the target population for this cocktail is a group that already tends to practice lax safe sex practices, I don't think that anti-T argument holds water on a grand public health scheme. Of course, some individuals may choose to forego the condom they might otherwise use, but it sounds like these folks are already planning to address that issue as well as possible:

People like Matthew Bell, a 32-year-old hotel manager in San Francisco who volunteered for a safety study of one of the drugs.

"As much as I want to make the right choices all of the time, that's not the reality of it," he said of practicing safe sex. "If I thought there was a fallback parachute, a preventative, I would definitely want to add that."

Some fear that this could make things worse.

"I've had people make comments to me, 'Aren't you just making the world safer for unsafe sex?'" said Dr. Lynn Paxton, team leader for the project at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The drugs would only be given to people along with counseling and condoms, and regular testing to make sure they haven't become infected. Health officials also think the strategy has potential for more people than just gay men, though they don't intend to give it "to housewives in Peoria," as Paxton puts it.
And then the next issue, drug resistance with monotherapy for prophylaxis. Would taking a T just lead to tenofovir-resistant (and possible multi-drug resistant) HIV strains? Would the addition of more drugs in a cocktail decrease this chance? Given that I'm not particularly educated on the mechanisms of viral resistance in a situation of very low viral load exposure, I wouldn't be comfortable having an opinion either way. But I bet the risk is significantly different that the use of anti-bacterial antibiotics.

It all seems to be working great for the monkeys, at least. God knows we don't need a bunch of HIV-positive monkeys running around.

Further research question: synergy between reverse transcriptase inhibitors and bananas?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Med Policy: The Problem with Otis

Remember, Otis, the friendly drunk who would sleep it off overnight in Andy's jail. Well, now imagine thousands of Otis's throughout San Diego repeatedly getting arrested and utilizing medical resources. An April 2006 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine talked about how offering placement in a halfway house as an alternative to 3 days in jail can result in fewer trips to the ED and the doctor.

This study documents the extraordinary consumption of EMS, ED, and inpatient resources by one city’s population of homeless chronic alcoholics. Assuming an average observation period of 4.5 hours (Dunford, unpublished data) these patients consumed nearly 15,000 hours of ED staff time at 2 of San Diego’s major regional hospitals, which equates to a 34% chance that a Serial Inebriate Program client was occupying an ED bed at one of these facilities at any moment during the 4-year study. These data provide evidence that a relatively small number of individuals can have a large impact on a community’s safety net.

There was a 50% decline in the use of ED, inpatient, and EMS resources for the 156 individuals who accepted a 6-month outpatient treatment program in lieu of custody. Conversely, there was no change in resource consumption by the 112 individuals who elected not to enter treatment. The Serial Inebriate Program’s success derived primarily from its impact on the most recidivist individuals. Those accepting treatment were typically older men who had been transported by EMS and treated in ED twice as often as nonacceptors.

The median number of ED visits declined from 15 to 9 (P<.01), median ED costs declined from $4,124 to $2,195 (P<.01), median inpatient costs declined from $8,330 to $2,786 (P<.01), and alcohol use was reduced by 25% (P=.05). The authors concluded that each dollar invested yielded a $1.44 savings.
That means that the biggest leaches on health services were more likely to accept the program and ultimately end up using less emergency medical services (presumably because they were doing better). This is a great example of how social welfare programs can help people avoid prison, result in improved personal outcomes, and less cost to society. Additionally, it also seems to demonstrate how locking people up for substance abuse may be both ineffective and counterproductive.

Babies R Us: Italian women shun 'mamma' role

A new focus in Europe has arisen concerning their fertility rate. Apparently EU women just don't want kids, resulting in a fertility rate less than the required 2.1 per woman (2 kids per 2 parents + an extra 0.1 for infant mortality).

Ireland: 1.99
France: 1.90
Norway: 1.81
Sweden 1.75
UK: 1.74
Netherlands: 1.73
Germany: 1.37
Italy: 1.33
Spain: 1.32
Greece: 1.29
Before you get too excited about the US being number one, you should know that our birth rate is higher than Europe's at 2.1335, but that's the highest its been in years and "an NPG demographic analysis of age distribution, fertility, and mortality data shows that if there had been no immigration to the U.S. since 1990, the population in 2000 would have been 262 million–19 million less than the 281 million counted. Thus, post-1990 immigrants and their children accounted for 61 percent of population growth during the last decade."

Perhaps our abstinence only education is to blame for the low birth rate.

Damn George Bush for his incredibly effective teen abstinence programs.

For more information on abstinence-only education head to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not to be confused with the Insternational Society of Mad Scientists.

Now, for the bonus prize: Which country has the highest birth rate?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Med Ethics: Why Physicians Participate in Executions

NEJM has a great article this week talking about the conflict between political/legal requirement of physician assisted execution and the cornerstone ethics (and rather clear policies of the AMA, etc) of do no harm that prevents physicians from participating. The article also involves interviews with some medical professionals about why they participated with executions and bit of history about the only legal method of capital punishment, lethal injection.

"I have always regarded involvement in executions by physicians and nurses as wrong. The public has granted us extraordinary and exclusive dispensation to administer drugs to people, even to the point of unconsciousness, to put needles and tubes into their bodies, to do what would otherwise be considered assault, because we do so on their behalf — to save their lives and provide them comfort. To have the state take control of these skills for its purposes against a human being — for punishment — seems a dangerous perversion. Society has trusted us with powerful abilities, and the more willing we are to use these abilities against individual people, the more we risk that trust. The public may like executions, but no one likes executioners."
On a side note, it appears the only medical professional organization that does allow its members to participate in executions is the American Pharmaceutical Association. This, along with their continuined insistence on allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispensence Plan B, further demonstrates that pharmacists are not medical professionals. They're just people making more than minimum wage to count to 30 and put plastic labels on bottles.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Imagine That" trumps "Medicine": Chiropractic has "few benefits"

Just interesting to watch fun ridiculous lines of argument from the Brits. "Waah! You used outdated data!"... "You mean data from 2000-2005?"... "Yeah! Waaah!"

Whiny kids: Personality and Politics

The Toronto Star has an interesting article up discussing a recent Berkley study on politics and personality. For 40 years, Professor Jack Block and his wife followed 95 children from nursery school to adulthood. As it turns out, they found a correlation between children that were whiney and paranoid becoming conservatives and confident, self-reliant kids becoming liberals.

The work is not without its critics. Jeff Greenberg, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona has already begun the charge to discredit the study, calling it "poor science at best." It should also be noted that the small sample size, combined with only a .27 correlation means that the results should be taken with a ginormous grain of salt. Still, it's interesting research. As the article muses:

All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we've reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification. What if personality forms our political outlook, with reason coming along behind, rationalizing after the fact?
So what do you think? How does your personality correlate with your politics?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scientology Blows: Trapped in the Closet

You can totally watch the anti-Scientology South Park episode for free at Excellent.

And the Fox News folks are saying Isaac Hayes didn't really quit as chef; the church quit for him. Maybe the first time Fox News said something cool.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Social Security: Age makes no sense anymore

William Saletan makes an excellent argument for why age is no longer a good proxy for inability to work, and should be replaced by disability as criteria for receiving Social Security. Some amazing stats in this one.

Funny: A moose of a passenger

Imagine driving to work with this guy sitting next to you. I'm just curious to know if he was wearing his seat belt :)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Announcement: We Hate Billy Packer

Sparkgrass does not usually issue unilateral policy statements, because we rarely, as a group, agree on anything enough to do so. While generally we are progressive, pro-women's rights, pro-LGBT, etc., there are few absolute maxims that would cover all of us.

So now we issue our first absolute. Any dissent by a Sparkgrass member would justifiy immediate expulsion from the community.

Billy Packer is a douchebag.

Thank you, and good luck.

(less) Evil Empire(s): Is Whole Foods Wholesome?

I wouldn't be a good Ann Arborite, liberal, or psychiatrist if I didn't say that, yeah, I shop at Whole Foods occasionally, and yeah, I secretly feel like it makes me a better human being than I might be otherwise (because, like conservatives who like to balk at homosexuals, liberals like to balk at neurotoxic pesticides).

But (duh, duh, duh) Whole Foods isn't particularly honest about some of its marketing (imagine that!).

However, don't forget, Whole Foods does pay a living wage and gives good health insurance to its employees and does encourage, though at a price, a healthier lifestyle. They're not evil per se. They just aren't quite as enviro-conscious and populist and supportive of local agriculture as they want us all to believe.

An excerpt from the conclusion of the article, though I'd certainly recommend the whole thing:

Of course, above and beyond social and environmental ethics, and even taste, people buy organic food because they believe that it's better for them. All things being equal, food grown without pesticides is healthier for you. But American populism chafes against the notion of good health for those who can afford it. Charges of elitism—media wags, in otherwise flattering profiles, have called Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" and "wholesome, healthy for the wholesome, wealthy"—are the only criticism of Whole Foods that seems to have stuck. Which brings us to the newest kid in the organic-food sandbox: Wal-Mart, the world's biggest grocery retailer, has just begun a major program to expand into organic foods. If buying food grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has been elevated to a status-conscious lifestyle choice, it could also be transformed into a bare-bones commodity purchase.

When the Department of Agriculture established the guidelines for organic food in 1990, it blew a huge opportunity. The USDA—under heavy agribusiness lobbying—adopted an abstract set of restrictions for organic agriculture and left "local" out of the formula. What passes for organic farming today has strayed far from what the shaggy utopians who got the movement going back in the '60s and '70s had in mind. But if these pioneers dreamed of revolutionizing the nation's food supply, they surely didn't intend for organic to become a luxury item, a high-end lifestyle choice.

It's likely that neither Wal-Mart nor Whole Foods will do much to encourage local agriculture or small farming, but in an odd twist, Wal-Mart, with its simple "More for Less" credo, might do far more to democratize the nation's food supply than Whole Foods. The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.
But Newman-Os do taste better than regular Oreos. Seriously.

At least that's what I tell myself.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Medicine: Mmm... Sleep

This one is just too good to pass up. NYT has a great health article today outlining one of the more unusual side effects of the sleeping pill Ambien: Sleep eating. Apparently an extremely small number of people taking Ambien sleep walk to their kitchen, consume thousands of calories, then go back to bed with no memory of the experience. Some even gain hundreds of pounds before alerting their doctor. Combine this with the known side effect of sleepdriving and suddenly Taco Bell's late night drive thru just got a whole lot more dangerous.

My question is: when can I get a pill that will make me sleep exercise?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sparkgrass NCAA Tourney Bracket

This is the pool set up for the UM Med Class of 2007, but if any Sparkgrass readers want to join, they'd certainly be welcome:

This should be the direct link.

Or go in this way:
Group: Curricular Guinea Pigs
Password: pheoconn

Weird: Nessie revealed!


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Go Cats: yeah, go suck yourselves

While I hardly want Tubby Smith fired, times like this make us all really appreciate sites like

Evil Empire: say it ain't so!

Apparently Ms. Clinton has some rather despicable ties to the Evil Empire, including being on their friggin' board for several years. Ugh.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Medicine: FDA to reconsider Blood Donor Ban

The FDA is scheduled to reconsider a 20+ year ban on blood donations from MSM (men who have sex with men). It's so easy and commonplace to screen for HIV these days that a ban is just not necessary. I, for one, hope they do reconsider and lift the ban. Blood products are too precious and scarce to keep millions of people from not donating.

Testing: Oops, you only got a 2100

Some students got inaccurately low SAT scores due to a computer glitch. Too bad I didn't have the same problem with my Step 1 score. Then again, maybe I'll have that happen to my step 2 score this summer! Gotta think positive :)

Monday, March 6, 2006

Medicine: new SD logo

But at least Wal-mart is carrying Plan B now. One step forward, fifty steps back.


Thought you might be interested G-Funk, yippee for Philip Seymour Hoffman

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Medicine: Ethicists want fake blood study stopped

Because imagine this: it's not ethical to give people synthetic goo that may or may not help them when you've got real blood lying around that you KNOW will help them. At least, not without their consent.

What's a little strange is the study design in general, which seems to have, somehow, somewhere, skipped a few stages, unless I'm just totally missing the point here. Seems like that you could test synthetic blood on somebody other than people that are getting ready to die and prove clinical efficacy. Being as this is a CNN article and I'm tired, I might be behind the times on Polyheme. Polyheme, according to Wikipedia, is a solution of chemically modified human hemoglobin which simultaneously restores lost blood volume and hemoglobin levels and is designed for rapid, massive infusion.

God knows it'd kick ass if this stuff worked out, and it probably will (sometime in the next 20 years, hopefully sooner than later).

And then all the sinners will have to find something else to do instead of donating blood to make them feel better about their wretched lives.

According to its website:

PolyHeme’s characteristics include:

  • Simultaneously restores lost blood volume and hemoglobin levels
  • Universally compatible (does not require typing or cross-matching before infusion)
  • Immediately available
  • Has not caused transfusion reactions
  • Has extended shelf life in excess of 12 months
  • Is manufactured from human red blood cells using steps to reduce the risk of viral transmission.
Cool shit. And notice that the info linked at Wikipedia is directly from the Northfield Labs site. Wiki-abuse anyone?