Monthly Archives: April 2010

Can one communicate in a world of truthiness?

Anonymous Liberal captures the frustration of the current political scene in a post called “An Army of Trumans.”

In this Bubble World, it is an accepted truth that our President is a bumbling ignoramus who can only string together a coherent sentence if he uses a teleprompter (which, apparently, other politicians don’t use). I can understand a world in which Obama’s political opponents mock him as a being too professorial or out-of-touch or arrogant. But unintelligent? Inarticulate? I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s like mocking John Boehner for being pale. …

In Bubble World, cutting taxes actually raises revenue. In Bubble World, “the market” will magically solve all of our health care problems and true “freedom” is defined by one’s ability to be denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions. …

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Links of interest 4/26

Chocolate lovers ‘are more depressive’, say experts (BBC News)

Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children (Current Biology)

Raising a child with Williams Syndrome (NPR)

Andrew O’Hagan on Self-Helponauts: You have only one chance to be happy (London Review of Books)

Harnessing older people as a resource in the coming population crash (Salon – Be prepared to close obnoxious loud audio ad on loading)

Daily Kos interviews Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (Daily Kos)

Hospital patients most likely to carry MRSA: Long-term elder care, HIV-infected, kidney dialysis (HealthDay)

Putting bacterial antibiotic resistance into reverse (Physorg)

Dying man sells ad space on his urn (myFOXla)

Image Source: BBC News

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Pig dignity: Animal welfare in Europe

baby-pigsThe European Parliament, the governing body of the EU (European Union), met last week to consider (among many other things) a new animal welfare action plan. Last December animal welfare became a core value for the EU, right up there with opposing discrimination, promoting gender equality, and protecting human health and welfare. The new animal welfare treaty states that EU members “shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.” How civilized.

BBC News has a lengthy discussion of the implications of the treaty for animal experimentation. And here’s the complete Animal Welfare Action Plan, which was presented on April 19.

Seeking to capitalize on animal welfare sentiment during an election campaign, the UK’s Labour Party announced: “And we will maintain our proud record on improving animal welfare, including the ban on fox hunting.” How British.

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Padded bikini bras for seven-year-olds

Padded bikini bra for kids

Source: Fox News

A UK clothing chain, popular discount retailer Primark, reacted swiftly to criticism of its padded bikini bras designed for girls as young as seven. The product has been withdrawn, and Primark announced it would donate any profits from the inappropriately sexualizing items to a children’s charity. The bikinis were selling for £4 ($6).

The British tabloid The Sun broke the story last week and featured it prominently day after day. It congratulated itself on “a victory for The Sun” when Primark announced it would no longer sell the item. Meanwhile, its front page headlines generated considerable sales and not just among readers who were concerned with protecting the innocence of childhood. More often than not, the headlines drew one’s attention to the “Paedo” (pedophile) angle on the story (as in “Paedo bikini banned” and “Paedo Heaven on High Street.”) The Sun is known for its coverage of issues such as Don’t grow up too soon, Miley, complete with photos that encourage the very behavior the text claims to criticize.

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Why we passed health care: WellPoint and breast cancer

Reuters has a terrific investigative piece on WellPoint’s practice of canceling health insurance, a practice known as rescission. When a woman develops breast cancer, WellPoint immediately flags her for investigation to see if there’s some reason her policy can be canceled. Grounds for cancellation can be anything on the original insurance application that appears to be an omission or misrepresentation.

The grounds for cancellation are often flimsy at best. A 2007 California investigation of a WellPoint subsidiary looked at 90 randomly selected cases of dropped insurance. There wasn’t a single case where the evidence indicated the applicant had intentionally omitted or misrepresented anything.

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Too much sitting? Try the adjustable-height desk

GeekDesk with bike

SOURCE: GeekDesk

Sitting at a desk all day is hard on the body, especially the back. What the body needs is variety and the ability to move. One solution is an adjustable-height desk – one that allows you to alternate throughout the day between sitting and standing.

Farhad Manjoo describes his experience with one such desk in a New York Times article. He tried out the GeekDesk, which comes in two models, selling for $749 or $799 (plus $110 shipping to the 48 states). Not cheap. It includes an electronic motor that adjusts the height with a flick of a switch, from anywhere between 26″ and 46.5″.

You can find inexpensive versions of the adjustable-height desk, such as this one I found at Best Buy, but you have to do the adjusting manually. That means removing your computer and monitor and possibly everything else accumulated on your desktop, then putting everything back after you change the height. Right there, that’s an impediment to alternating between sitting and standing with any frequency.

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Evidence of successful aging

Smiling older womanA personals ad from a recent New York Review of Books:

WOMAN, 79 (LOOKS 78), Upper West Side pseudo-intellectual, Europe 4 years, wants man’s company occasionally for chamber concerts, lectures, meals. Platonic.

I’d love to meet this woman. I imagine her life as a Henry James novel written by Oscar Wilde.

Related posts:
Advertising for love in Victorian times

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Asbestos, anyone?

I live in a building constructed in the 1950s, with asbestos in the ceilings. As is true for some schools, it’s safer to leave it alone than to disturb it and put all those fibers into the air.


Hat tip to a relatively new blog, Medicina – Videos, consejos [advice], material de lectura relacionado a la medicina, which seems to have quite a few posts on mesothelioma, most of them in English.
Related posts:
Where were the melamine whistle blowers?
The persistence of melamine
Melamine, cadmium, and Heidi Montag
Is it safe to take Tylenol?
Not just peanut butter: What’s happening to our food supply?
Paging Dr. Frankenstein
To make more money

Sources:

(Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Video: Old Promotional Film For Asbestos, Medicina, April 17, 2010

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Climate change: A few signs of legislative hope

Climate change sea otter on ice

Source: U.S. News

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the House bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, was passed by the House last June. The Senate bill, called The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, has been languishing in the Senate since its introduction last September. Now that health care has passed, we may see some action.
Steven Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post, points out that the passage of health care reform may have convinced Democrats that the perfect really isn’t the enemy of the good (a Voltaire phrase now associated with Ted Kennedy). Republicans may be ready to acknowledge that if they attempt to kill another piece of important and historic legislation simply to be ornery, they will miss out on significant concessions they could have won. Pearlstein puts the chances of passage at only 50-50, however.

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The health care battle isn't over

Public option health care

Source: About.com

Now that health care legislation has passed, special interest groups — insurance and pharmaceutical companies, seniors, businesses, abortion rights opponents – are gearing up to influence the way specific provisions are implemented.
Agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services need to draft regulations that govern implementation. This is where lobbyists can exert their influence. There’s a summary of this activity in an article today from The Associated Press.
Voters can participate in the action too. Conservatives are pushing for ballot initiatives that will block the individual mandate: the requirement that most people purchase health insurance in 2014. If conservative initiatives draw large numbers of supporters to the polls, the 2010 election may allow Republicans in Congress to scale back the impact of health care reform.

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Andrew Sullivan on the Tea Party

Nice summation of what makes sense and what doesn’t about the Tea Party from Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish. His conclusion:

In my view, this confluence of feelings can work in shifting the public mood, as seems to have happened. When there is no internal pushback against crafted FNC [Fox News] propaganda, and when the Democrats seem unable to craft any coherent political message below the presidential level, you do indeed create a self-perpetuating fantasy that can indeed rally and roil people. But the abstract slogans against government, the childish reduction of necessary trade-offs as an apocalyptic battle between freedom and slavery, and the silly ranting at all things Washington: these are not a political movement. They are cultural vents, wrapped up with some ugly Dixie-like strands.

When they propose cuts in Medicare, means-testing Social Security, a raising of the retirement age and a cut in defense spending, I’ll take them seriously and wish them well.

Until then, I’ll treat them with the condescending contempt they have thus far deserved.

Related posts:
How socialist is the US?
Tony Judt: On the edge of a terrifying world
Obama on race and the Tea Party
Our only language is English
Reaction to health care: A step backwards
The Supreme Court and health care repeal politics
Olbermann on the damage done by “death panels”
Keith Olbermann & the Fight against Death
Health care: Reminding people of death triggers irrational emotions
Were “death panels” a teachable moment for palliative care?

Sources:

(Hover over book titles for more info. Links will open in a separate window or tab.)

Andrew Sullivan, Why I’m Passing on Tea, The Daily Dish, April 16, 2010

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Obesity: Moving beyond willpower vs. the food-industrial complex

the Biggest Loser

Source: The Pilver

Marc Ambinder has written a terrific article on obesity for The Atlantic. It’s comprehensive and insightful, both objective and personal. Ambinder himself suffered from obesity until a year ago, when he went from 235 to 150 pounds following bariatric surgery. The operation immediately improved his severe diabetes, and within months it relieved years of suffering from sleep apnea.
The article includes explanations for the recent increase in obesity, observations on contempt for the obese (including “fat porn” TV shows), acknowledgement that weight loss is not simply a matter of will power, and an assessment of the political obstacles that make solving this important problem so difficult.

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Avoid these OTC drugs

I try to resist writing about health advice, since most health news is designed to increase anxiety unnecessarily. But here’s something I found that’s quite sensible and helpful. It’s a post by Dr. Edward Pullen on over-the-counter (OTC) medications at KevinMD.

Scarring, stuffy noses, headaches, and sleep aids

You might think that products sold without a prescription would have no harmful side effects. Or at least that they’d be useful. That’s not always the case.

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How socialist is the US?

Tea Party believes US is socialist

Source: VotingFemale

The opponents of health care reform lost the battle, but their war is not over. They argue, among other things, that the legislation amounts to socialism.

When Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican Party, was asked if the health care plan represented socialism, he replied: “Yes. Next question.”

In a recent Bloomberg National Poll, 90 percent of those who favor the Tea Party said the US was “verging more toward socialism than capitalism.”
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Sesame Street’s When Families Grieve

Military father and children

Source: Rough Notes

One in 20 American children under the age of 15 experiences the death of a parent. For military families, the rate is even higher.

Tomorrow night (April 14) Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, will present an hour-long special on losing a parent. It airs on PBS at 8:00 PM ET/PT (check local listings).

Katie Couric will host the special. Her daughters were two and six years old when she lost her husband 12 years ago. The program, called When Families Grieve, is designed to aid communication between adults and children on this difficult subject.

Sesame’s outreach initiatives harness the power of the Sesame Street Muppets to aid the communication between adults and children through strategies and language that are child-appropriate and useful for the whole family.

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Civil disobedience and the individual mandate

Health care opposition

Source: SFGate

“Individual mandate” refers to a provision in the new health care reform act that requires all citizens to purchase health insurance. There are exceptions for those who cannot afford to pay and for those who have religious objections, such as Christian Scientists.
Without this provision, health care reform falls apart. If we’re going to require insurance companies to cover everyone, including those with preexisting conditions, then the pool of purchasers must include healthy as well as unhealthy people.

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Obama and health care: Deal making with lobbyists

Frontline has put together a documentary on the passage of health care reform. It argues that Obama caved in to special interests at every step of the way and that this is bad news for Democrats.

Barack Obama promised change. Then he took on one of Washington’s toughest issues: health care. During his first year in office, he found himself making one deal after another with Capitol Hill’s powerful insiders–lobbyists and influential members of Congress. He angered his political base, watched his popularity sink, and nearly failed to pass the bill. In Obama’s Deal, FRONTLINE follows the story of the president’s historic victory and offers the first in-depth look at how the Obama administration operates. Veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk … provides a sobering view inside Obama’s deals and reveals the realities of American politics, the power of special interest groups, and the role of money in policy making.

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Why are there no new antibiotics?

antibiotic-resistance-mrsaWithout new antibiotics, we’re at the mercy of antibiotic resistant bacteria – MRSA, Clostridium difficile, Acinetobacter baumannii, etc. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies lack a financial incentive to develop new antibiotics.

One reason is that most patients get better when they use antibiotics. Many are prescribed for only a few weeks. It’s much more profitable for drug companies to develop medications that will be used by large numbers of people to suppress the symptoms of lifelong conditions: acid reflux, erectile dysfunction, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions.
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Gender and racial discrimination at a Pharma giant

Sexual harrassment

Source: TopNews

We’ll need government financed incentives to push pharmaceutical companies into developing new antibiotics. Just when we need Pharma to clean up its act and improve its image with the public, we have more unflattering news about the industry.

5,600 women have filed a class action suit against the multinational drug firm Novartis, claiming $200 million in damages. The women claim that Novartis discouraged pregnancies and ignored their complaints of sexual harassment.

Plaintiffs plan to tell the jury that they were denied promotions if they became pregnant or if they took their full maternity leave. One of the plaintiffs was “urged to have an abortion.” Another was asked to give the company “two child-free years.”
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The "lie down and die" model of sleep

Child sleeping

Source: Biacustica

Do we need less sleep as we age? Experts differ on this question. Some studies find that older people need 1.5 hours less sleep each night than teenagers. Other studies indicate that our need for sleep does not diminish with age.
One thing experts do agree on is that many older people have more difficulty sleeping through the night – problems with falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. But it’s hard to generalize. There seems to be something highly individual about our lifetime sleeping habits.
I thought this observation on sleep, from Patricia Morrisroe in the New York Times, was both interesting and comforting.

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Tony Judt: On the edge of a terrifying world

tony-judtTony Judt, the historian and author, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2008. He describes his condition as “progressive imprisonment without parole.” The life expectancy of ALS patients is normally two to five years after diagnosis.

Judt, who contributes regularly to The New York Review of Books, has been publishing brief memoirs that touch on the many meaningful aspects of his life. Since he has been passionately involved with history and social democracy, the essays reflect on historical change and what the future will bring.

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Estranged species

I find these drawings by Jason Whitman, with their accompanying statements, strangely moving. The words are so tender. The animals express their complaints and their wonder about living in a post-modern world.

rabbit-jason-whitman

Rabbit with skeleton by Jason Whitman

I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t think we should talk anymore. I’ve gotten to point where there is no point. I think everything is fine until you throw the past before me like some small animal braving a highway. Do I swerve? Do I close my eyes and hope for the better? Oh, man if I do hit it, please please let me go ahead and help cross to whatever is on the other side.

What were we even talking about? When all is said and done I’m left shaking and unable to make sense of what you just said. I just know someone has been hurt. I’m not so certain as to why.

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Obama on race and the Tea Party

Obama with family

Source: The Gospel Blog

David Remnick’s new book, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, deals with the question of race relations in America as seen through a biographical account of our current president.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham offers a quotation from The Bridge, which will be released tomorrow. Here is Obama’s reply when asked about the racial component of opposition to his presidency, including the reaction of the Tea Party supporters: Read more

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Our only language is English

Our only language is English

Source: Teabonics

When President Obama filled out his census form last week, he had to decide how to answer the race question. Even though his selection was only half true, he settled on the “Black, African American, or Negro” option.
I noticed Facebook friends struggling with the same issue: If my father’s parents were born in Central America, but my mother’s parents are from two disparate European countries, what does that make me? This is what Americans are famous for: We welcome the tired, hungry, and poor into the ultimate melting pot.

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Reaction to health care: A step backwards

There have been nasty and violent responses to the passage of health care: Spitting on members of congress; chanting the “N” word at black congressmen on their way to vote; images of Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames; death threats to members of Congress; Republican congressmen on the House floor cheering protesters in the gallery; bricks hurled through Democratic campaign offices; Palin’s call to “reload” and her use of firearm crosshairs to “target” congressional seats; and calls for an armed militia to prepare for the coming battle — labeled “Armageddon” by House Minority Leader John Boehner.
Governors of 30 states were threatened (“resign within three days or face removal from office)” by Guardians of the Free Republics, a group that aspires to “restore the U.S. republic by peacefully dismantling parts of the government.”

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Westboro Baptist Church defeated by tolerance

This is a local story for me: I pass this school frequently and have a niece and nephew who are graduates. It’s also a heartening one that counters some of the more depressing stories from the right end of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, this event seems to have received only local media coverage. The following… Read more

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A raffle for free (human) eggs

Source: Babble At a London seminar promoting American donor eggs for infertile British women, a Virginia infertility clinic offered attendees the chance to win an American woman’s eggs. Also included was a free in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle (a $23,000 value). The reaction, on both sides of the Atlantic, was mixed. According to The Washington… Read more

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Glucosamine/chondroitin no better than placebo, but …

Knees glucosamine chondroitinAn analysis of 10 studies involving more than 3,800 people has found that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for joint pain are ineffective either alone or in combination. … The supplements don’t appear harmful, the authors note. But if people begin to feel better while taking them it could be due to the placebo effect or just the natural healing of joints over time. Read more

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