Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Who's on first?

With the Presidential primaries barely 11 months away, no incumbent, no obvious successor and one pissed off electorate, it seems like the fair question to ask ~ who's on first?

Do we even know who is running for President???

Maybe it would be easier to start with who isn't!

This is my list so far:
George W. Bush
Dick Cheney (although I could be wrong about this one)
Karl Rove
Scooter Libby
Al Gore
That guy from Ohio who just announced that he was dropping out of the race (who knew he was in it????)
Colin Powell
Bill Clinton (in his own name, anyway)
Any of the Kennedys (all of the good ones are dead anyway)
Just about anyone who has any business running this country

Conventional wisdom tells us that anyone who has been spending extra time in New Hampshire is suspect. That would include my Uncle Billy. He, like many other candidates testing the water, has a good cover story. He's visiting his sister and brother-in-law and helping to replace all the plumbing fixtures in their house after they became clogged with sediment when work was done on their hot water heater. Now we don't need Stephen Colbert to tell us how this tale of built up sediment from well water is completely bogus. It comes directly from the ground and there's no sediment there, it's all dirt!! My uncle will, I'm sure, also be making multiple public appearances at Home Depot, Sam's Club, WalMart, the Outback Steakhouse, the only Cracker Barrel in the state of New Hampshire and MaryAnn's Diner (a very popular hot spot for Presidential hopefuls). He'll claim the shopping is related to NH's lack of sales tax, but we'll know the truth. And did I mention his recent trip to Iowa??

But seriously, as a born political junkie, a veteran of SEVEN first in the nation primaries (not being able to visit for 2000 & 2004 made me so homesick), I am disturbed by the lack of information! Gone are the days when no one got elected President without first winning New Hampshire. I believe Clinton ended that streak. (And how proud was NH to be held blameless for that fiasco? Paul Tsongas was a much better man.) And good ol' W. didn't win NH the first time around either. Tell me the world wouldn't be a better place with President McCain!!

And people question the wisdom of New Hampshire having all the political power of the first primary....

In New Hampshire, we take the responsibility VERY seriously. Some people don't vote until they have met every candidate. There's actually a woman who has to dance with every candidate, she a little strange, but you're getting my point. In NH and now on C-SPAN, you see the candidates up close and personal interacting with real people. You see them try to court the truly jaded individuals who received the very first promises and were the first to see their promises broken. You don't get to lie in NH and you don't get to charm the local or schmooze or any of that crap. Folks in NH have been doing this for WAY too long to fall for that crap. They don't vote for the hair. They vote for the mind, the ideas, the plans, the individual. Are you getting why W. and Clinton lost NH now? For every four toothed moron wearing hunting gear in a diner that they seem to pull out for national news broadcasts, there are four well educated (or at least well schooled) individuals, most of whom work in the high tech industries surrounding Boston or the medical systems expanded from Dartmouth or Harvard led programs or for defense contractors or one of the many colleges in NH or MA or one of the green corporations like Stonyfield Farms Yogurt or Life is Good apparel or some other system set up to support everything else.

The truth is, in New Hampshire, they take the political system very seriously. They expect to see their national representatives back in town discussing issues with them. They vote. I worked on my first US senate campaign when I was 13. When I wasn't allowed to help count votes because I was too young, I stayed at the precinct just to watch the process. I registered to vote before I was even 18. (The deadline for the November election was before my birthday, but I would be 18 by election day.) Nobody needed to "Rock" my vote. I had been going to see Presidential candidates since before I could walk and talk. I had well formed opinions on national issues and candidates while I was still in elementary school. And unlike many children, lots of them were contrary to at least one of my parents opinions. (My parents have spent the better part of my life cancelling out each other's votes. The big exception was the senate campaign I worked on. He was MY candidate, so they both had to vote for him.)

So this is why I feel lost 2000 miles away from the Granite State. My favorite season has always been primary season. It's the ultimate circus.

But down here, beyond the spotlights ~ Barrack! Hillary! Mitt! Richardson! Rudy! McCain?

I have no idea who is in the running.

Who IS on first?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ah-HA! Looks like I'll be marrying a younger man....

It's about time men started hearing a biological clock.

FINALLY, researchers (see above link from NYT) are finding that aging fathers can result in complications for children both at birth/childhood and later in life. Every woman has long suspected it. There's no way that just woman have an expiration date on their reproduction and men are pasteurized and need no refrigeration or something. Biology just can't work that way. And if it were the case, why on earth would women consistently have a longer life expectancy? Nature doesn't just screw things up like that.

It's always been a very touchy subject, maternal age. At what point does it become risky? My mother was a maternity ward nurse in the late 60s and early 70s and they used to refer to first time mothers over the age of 35 as "geriatric." Not exactly complimentary. But this came from a generation of women who were finished with their childbearing years before they turned 26, or at least my mother was.

When my sister had her first child at 35, doctors, nurses, radiological technicians, you name it, kept asking her for her age. She became rather miffed as they never asked for her husband's age. Her feeling was they didn't need to write it down, they could just ask conversationally, that it was kind of rude not to ask. They had her completely freaked out about her advanced age and for no good reason.

In public health, we still look at age 35+ as a maternal risk factor, but the data doesn't really back it up. In these days of improved prenatal care and better testing, it seems that 40 should be the age at which we start considering maternal age a potential risk. After all, we have women in their fifties giving birth now ~ why you would want to deal with a teenager in your sixties, I cannot even begin to comprehend, but it happens.

Fertility and maternal health also has a strong genetic component. A woman's likelihood of preterm delivery is doubled if her mother delivered preterm. Simple fertility level and onset of menopause can be predicted from maternal genetic line. A woman whose mother and/or grandmother (most likely both) experienced early menopause, will as well. The same is true of fertility, absent outside factors, like disease or injury.

So what does this all mean? Well, for me it means that having a maternal grandmother who had a child at 39 and a sister who had child (and no trouble getting pregnant) at 38, makes my biological clock a heck of a lot quieter than if I were just comparing my life to my mother's. For other people it's their own history.

Right now they haven't figured out how heredity figures into male fertility, so it's a waste of my time to be scouting fathers and grandfathers. I guess the word to the wise is to lose the father figure issues and marry younger. I'm not saying you have to do the full surgical package like Demi Moore, but she might be on the right track. (But, yes, their still is a certain "ick factor" when you see picture of Ashton with her teen aged daughters...)

Just consider this, it would be an even greater "ick factor" if she had married Dick Cheney...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rights, Rights, Rights!!

There's a point when they become wrong.

Frankly, I'm getting sick about hearing about people's rights.

First, it's gun owners' rights.

Then we're talking about smokers' rights.

Now it's all about parents' rights.

Sure, everyone has rights. I'm all for women's rights, gay rights, children's rights, the rights of the disabled and the rights of the disenfranchised. You have the right to rights just so long as they don't trample on the rights of others. Fair enough?

Now it's only fair that I offer a small disclaimer here: not only am I not a smoker, but I am neither a parent nor a gun owner. BUT, I do aspire to be a parent and I am a highly involved aunt and at some point (hopefully a long time from now) I will inherit a few firearms from my father. I'm also not gay or a child and definitely not disenfranchised.

As far as smoker's rights go: they can go ahead and pour gasoline all over themselves and light a match. The dangers of smoking are just as well established and publicized and we have known them for decades. I'm done with the blame game. If you're smoking in the 21st century, it's all on you. There's no ignorance defense anymore. You'll get your slow and painful death, but you just don't get to take anyone along for the ride, capice?

Now back to the other two. I actually see gun owners' rights and parents' rights as being very similar. If all gun owners were responsible, (using fire proof safes, never keeping weapons loaded, separating weapons from ammunition, practicing gun safety, teaching their children proper respect for firearms, etc), we wouldn't need gun control. It wouldn't even be an issue. But not everyone is the model gun owner. Truth be told, I think my father may make up a significant percentage of that group. And I find that terrifying!

It's the same deal with parents. If every parent put their children's well being and health at the top of their priorities and used common sense, there would be no need for child protective services and no need for the government to have laws to protect children. The good parent doesn't feel encroached upon because they have to use a child safety seat in the car or because they are required to vaccinate their child against diseases that could potentially kill them ~ they would do these things anyway, just as they don't allow their toddlers to play with power tools or stick their fingers in electrical outlets. It's called being responsible. Every child deserves that degree of protection and care regardless of what kind of parent they happened to get. And let's face it, there are people out there who have no business being pet owners, forget parents! And I don't mean to sound elitist. Social services have come a long way in providing parenting classes and support programs for adolescent and single mothers. With that kind of help and support, any woman with good intention and a whole lot of effort can be a great parent. We just need to put the rights and needs of the child before those of the parent. Parenting requires sacrifice, but what you get back is so much more. (And I learned that just being an aunt.)

So in this great battle of rights, this battle of wills, think about who is getting wronged in the process.

How can you possibly support a right that is so wrong?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Right Thing for all the Wrong Reasons

Here in Texas there is nothing more divisive in the world of public health than the issue of the Executive Order for mandatory HPV vaccination of girls prior to entering sixth grade.

People are against it because Governor Perry has personal connections to the lobbyist from Merck, the manufacturer of Gardisil, the vaccine for HPV. People are against it because the three shot series retails at $360. People are against it because it only received FDA approval last June. People are against it because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and vaccination against it may lead to promiscuity. People are against it because the order itself over steps the bounds of what a Governor's Executive Order should concern. People are against it because they just don't like things that are mandatory.

But that's just people.

Welcome to Texas, the gerrymandering capital of the universe. A place where the Democratic minority is not beneath hiding out in a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma to block a vote. Seriously. A place where we can hold our heads high and esteem to become the next Tom Delay, George W. Bush, or Enron-like executive. A place where it's okay to go out to shoot fowl and hit your hunting buddy instead. No fowl, no foul? We used to be our own frickin' country! Don't Mess With Us. We really don't like litter.

But behind all this smoke about nepotism, unsafe vaccines, superseding parental judgement, creating a generation of promiscuous little girls and executives using power they don't actually have, there is truth. And if you stop listening to all the loud voices you might actually hear it.

Gardisil prevents 70% of all cervical cancer. It has been endorsed by both the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), part of NIP (the National Immunization Program.) It is now part of the Children's Vaccination Program, which means that CDC/ the Federal Government purchases it in bulk at a substantial discount and provides it to state immunization programs at that same discount. Any child eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) or who gets vaccinated through public clinics or VNA (Visiting Nurses Association) programs will get the vaccine either for free or at the substantial discount. And, many private insurance companies have already started covering it.

As for the whole mandatory thing, in every state, including Texas, there is a means by which a parent can refuse vaccination (specific vaccinations or all of them). They are just required to contact the state health department and fill out some paper work, sometimes they need a notary signature (which you can get at any bank), sometimes not. Some states require a reason, like a religious belief, some don't. But even those that do, are, for the most part, not allowed to investigate what the parents religion is or whether the parents' religion/faith really does have an issue with immunization. Back in Massachusetts, we used to refer to "the Church of No MMR" because of the number of parents who sought exemptions from the measles, mumps & rubella vaccine on religious grounds. The truth, of course, was that they had bought into a very well publicized, but terribly incorrect, theory that MMR (or one of its components, thermisol) caused autism.

As for vaccinating children against a sexually transmitted disease... Guess what?! We're already doing that! Hepatitis B has been out of the blood supply since the late 1980s. Every organ donor is tested for it before their organs are given to someone else and if they are HepB positive, they're organs and tissue will not be used. Which means... You got it! The only way to contract HepB (unless you're a healthcare worker or first responder) is from sex with an infected individual or sharing needles. Every state in the union vaccinates newborns against this virus. Where's the uproar that we're condoning unprotected sex and intravenous drug use???!! Among toddlers, even! What's to stop 3 year olds from developing a heroin habit, I mean, aside from their lack of mobility. (It is kind of hard to drive the car from the carseat in the back...) And perhaps underdeveloped fine motor skills required to cook the spoon, tie the tourniquet, fill the dirty syringe, find a vein and inject.

Now I don't really care if the Governor overstepped his bounds. I'm actually required by law to professionally agree with him. Not the point. If parents are going to leave their daughters unprotected just because they don't like the governor telling them what to do, what does that make them? Adolescents. Now trust me on this one, because I have decades of experience. No matter how many times you don't do something just because an authority figure (say, hypothetically, your mother) tells you to, you will never "train" that individual to stop telling you what to do. It's a battle you can't win.

But just for fun, lets consider an alternate reality where HPV is something different. Let's say, just for fun that it caused disease in males. If it could be weaponized, we would have already tested it extensively, more than anyone would ever need, since we'd have vaccinated all our troops. Anthrax, anyone? Or what if it caused testicular cancer instead of cervical cancer? (And let's be honest, no father wants to admit that his 11 year old little girl even has a cervix...) Would there be the same uproar? Remember, boys can't be promiscuous, that's a trait reserved for females. Boys are just being boys. The pro-vaccine clamor would quickly outweigh the cautious. We would have Lance Armstrong and ever other uniballed man on earth out fighting for this cause. It would be a no brainer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Is America Ready to Make Nice?

So it wasn't all that long ago that people were burning the Dixie Chicks recordings and sending them hate mail and such. Country music had practically disowned them. Why? Because Natalie Maines had commented on a stage in London (not one of the Axis of Evil, FYI) that she was ashamed to be from the same state as good ol' W. Having since moved to said state, I can't say I exactly blame her. It's a rather nice place to be sullied by such a twit.

So then how did the Dixie Chicks manage to win THREE Grammy awards tonight? Two of them for the song, Not Ready to Make Nice, which represented their non-apology for their comments about the president and the resulting backlash against them.

Has America finally figured out that there's a reason Molly Ivins (may she rest in peace) always called him shrub? Or have Bush's approval ratings (or lack thereof) finally caught up with him? Where was Karl Rove to spin the Grammy voters? He must have been too busy with Scooter Libby's jury...

Seriously, it couldn't just be that a good band won for a great song?

I know, I know better than that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

I've worked in that office....

Watched the superbowl yesterday with a group of friends. After four years of high school marching band, I really hate football, so I was mainly there for the socializing and the ads.

Below are two of my favorites, mainly because they remind me of previous jobs.

After the first ad, I commented "I worked in that office" and one of the other guests (a DellHell employee) responded "I DO work in that office."

Defending the rights of selfish smokers...


With everything that's happening in the world and in legislatures across the country and someone is actually moved to write an Op Ed for the New York Times opposing laws that make it illegal to smoke in a car with a minor. Yeah! Go smokers' rights!! Everyone should have the opportunity to increase their children's risk of asthma, several forms of cancer and increase their susceptibility to upper respiratory infections!! What's a little war in Iraq or an invasion of Iran when we're talking about upholding the rights of STUPID selfish parents???


Give me a break.

Let's just get past this silly idea that the rights of parents should supersede the rights of their children even when the child's welfare is at stake. Just because you can conceive a child does not make you a master of some great domain. If that were the case, cockroaches would rule the world.

Now before you start painting me as some knee jerk liberal, government interventionist, etc, etc, let me offer you a little bit of information. I was born and raised in the Granite State. You know, Live Free or Die, the only state in the union without a seat belt law? Ringing any bells? And I have no difficulty defending that. Why? NH does have seat belt laws for minors and they do have safety seat laws for children. The government may not have the right to tell citizens how to live their lives (they can die if they want), but when parents are not protecting their children, the government has an affirmative responsibility to step in and protect them.

This is where auto smoking laws and smokers' rights (and please, someone point out the Constitutional amendment that protects the right to smoke,) part ways. No one says you can't smoke in your car as much as you want. Hey! Smoke all twenty cigarettes in the pack at once for all I care!! You just don't get to fill a confined space that you're sharing with a child with cigarette smoke. Capiche?

And please! The research that proves second hand smoke is harmful was funded by pharmaceutical companies that make alternative nicotine delivery products?? Get real!! Second hand smoke and environmental tobacco smoke research began years before there even were alternative nicotine delivery products!! And the funding of it? NIH, CDC, good ol' federal tax dollars! And if you don't find this research compelling and proof enough of the danger of secondhand smoke, let me introduce to a good friend, Medline. There is 60 years of medical literature that supports these laws.

Now explain to me again where the right to smoke comes from?