Thursday, April 26, 2007

It was nice while it lasted....

Texas Legislators Block Shots for Girls Against Cancer Virus

So much for Texas being a progressive state...

Granted, I'm no fan of the executive order, but the hair's heart (and who knew he had one??) was in the right place.

But the people they spoke to for this article just KILL me!! (It's like those toothless diner folks CNN digs out for the New Hampshire primary interviews... Lived in the state for 19 years and SWEAR TO GOD, I never met any toothless diner folks!!)

“There was no public testimony — why we were jumping so fast into a vaccine that was not for a true communicable disease,” said Senator Glenn Hegar Jr., a Republican representing a district just west of Houston who sponsored the Senate bill to overturn the governor’s order. It passed 30 to 1 on Monday.

Okay, Glenn Hegar Jr. obviously does not KNOW what a communicable disease actually is. Let me offer up this advice ~ communicable diseases are any infectious diseases that can be transmitted from one individual to another either directly by contact or indirectly by fomites and vectors. An infectious disease is any disease caused by invasion by a viral, parasitic, bacterial or fungal pathogen which subsequently grows and multiplies in the body. Not all infectious diseases are communicable, but sexually transmitted ones are. Get a frickin' dictionary, Senator!! ('cause I'm leaving it up to you to find out what a fomite is!)

“We did not want to be the first in offering young girls for the experiment to see if this vaccine is effective or not,” said Representative Dennis H. Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton, who sponsored the ban in the House.

Dennis H. Bonnen is obviously not familiar with the clinical trial and review process required by the FDA. 'nough said.

So, they've banned any requirement of HPV vaccination until 2011. Over kill? Just a wee bit.

But as pointed out by the solitary voice of reason, Senator Leticia van de Putte of San Antonio, the vaccine is expected to prevent 400 deaths a year among young women in Texas.

I guess those 1200 women will just have to live (or not, as the case may be) with the need for the Texas Legislature to maintain control.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just in case you were starting to feel like the Bush Administration was doing a good job....

When I was an undergraduate studying economics we considered it a joke. What monetary value do you put on a human life? It was a joke to us because of the ridiculousness of the question. You might as well ask a secondary school teacher how many apples equal an orange when they use that age old diatribe about how you can't compare apples and oranges. In our own naivete, we knew the truth. A human life cannot be measured in dollars.

As you get older, you're supposed to mature. You're supposed to learn that the value of objects is inherently less than the value of life, the value of people. When you realize that "things" can always be replaced, but the same is not true for people, you begin to understand how your parents reacted to your first fender bender. Terrified to tell them about the damage you had caused, you were shocked by their reaction. At least you are okay.

On December 29, 1970 President Richard Nixon signed The Occupational and Safety Health Act into law, title 29, chapter 15 of the United States Code. You can read the full statute here.

To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the "Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Part of this act created the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA), whose recent endeavors (or lack thereof) are the topic of the linked NYT article.

A pessimist might argue that this is just another of the Bush administrations all out battle (ban?) on science. It appears since 2001, OSHA has enacted just about no regulations protecting the American workforce. Why? Apparently the science just doesn't back up any new regulations. Medical and Public Health experts beg to differ, but now industry is running the regulatory agency. Surprised? Why on earth would you be? Mike Brown was doing "a heck of a job" at FEMA. That is until the destruction of a certain city made it obvious that he didn't know what the hell he was doing.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told business leader in June of 2002 that “There are more words in the Federal Register describing OSHA regulations than there are words in the Bible. They’re a lot less inspired to read and a lot harder to understand.” Now would that be because of the bigger words and more technical jargon used in the OSHA regulations? And which version of the bible did she compare it to? The number of words is different in each of the translations. And as far as inspiring, I suppose it would depend on who you ask...

OSHA chief, Deputy Secretary Edwin G. Foulke, utilized his position to point out the inherent stupidity and complete disregard for common sense that can lead to workplace accidents. People whose only skill is manual labor should obviously be more intelligent and knowledgeable about the dangers that surround them. Why bring fancy people with fancy medical or public health degrees into the picture? What could they possibly bring to the table with all their scientific research??

What's the real message? People are expendable. American industry must be protected at all costs ~ after all, they did more than $630 million to political campaigns since 2000, 75% going to Republicans. And since all of American business can't fit in the Lincoln bedroom, we'll have to pander to their needs instead. No one considered just sending a thank you note instead?? I should know better. After a few years in Washington, it's all about the money.

Kind of makes you wonder ~ how many lives are worth $630 million?

Friday, April 20, 2007

unintended consequences of biblical proportions

That's an actual quote from a member of the New Hampshire state legislature describing what will happen if NH passes a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.

What exactly constitutes "biblical proportions?" Will the Atlantic part? Or maybe the state flower, the purple lilac, will spontaneously burn while the voice of an angel booms from above? Locusts, that must be it.

I seriously thought NH was free of religious zealots. I really believed that in New Hampshire, Jesus wasn't a charter member of the Republican party. Strange how things can change in only a matter of years.

Still, read the rest of the article (linked above) to learn all the evils that can come from legalized civil unions for same-sex couples.

Karen Testerman, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, a conservative group, citing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, predicted that the law “could promote the acceptance of a behavior that is jeopardizing the health of our children.”

“Multiple partners when you’re doing something unnatural — it’s just not good,” Ms. Testerman said.

It is all about homosexuals. Promiscuity just doesn't occur in the heterosexual population, especially among high school students. That would be why we've never seen outbreaks of STIs among that group. RI-IGHT. And exactly how civil unions cause promiscuous behavior and the acceptance of multiple sex partners, baffles me. The whole concept of the civil union is to allow two people in a relationship to make a formal commitment to one another and to the relationship. That's generally the end of multiple partners, unless you're into threesomes or something, but let's not go there.

The law is expected to pass and the governor has agreed to sign it. I hope these people are embarrassed by their remarks or at least the ignorance they display.

Come on guys, if God was really serious about this mankind not lying with mankind as he does with womankind, wouldn't it have made it into the Commandments, say #11?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mental Health and Guns

The recent massacre at Virginia Tech has brought forth many issues about school violence, mental health and the ability of universities and society at large to protect the public. The above link is to the NYT OpEd questioning whether someone with a history of mental illness, specifically, Mr. Cho, should have been able to purchase handguns.

Let's not make this an issue of mental health.

A single diagnosis or hospitalization should not permit someone from owning a gun if they so desire.

But wait before you group with the NRA and the all the wacky 2nd ammendment advocates. I believe in gun control, but actions, not disease should be the barrier by which we bar some from owning guns and allow others.

I grew up with guns. My father had and has enough weapons to arm a small Caribbean nation. But I grew up with a respect for guns. I learned about the importance of keeping them locked up and away from children. I learned a healthy respect for the damage they could cause.

My dad works in a gun shop now. He's a retired marketting executive and I like to joke that now he's an arms dealer. Not exactly true. My father doesn't believe in gun control by the government ~ he's got a lifetime membership to the NRA. But does he individually practice gun control? You bet your ass he does!!

The store where he works has developed its own reputation. They are loved by the law enforcement entities for whom they procure body armour and other police supplies (strictly controled items, by the way). But they also have a bit of a reputation for being snobby about their patrons. My father has, on more than one occasion, thrown someone out of the shop for goofing off with firearms. The man who pointed the rifle at his female companion was asked to never come back. The people who attempt to go around the Brady laws by having a family member purchase the gun and fill out the paperwork are banned. My dad knows all the state police operators by name from running background checks and anyone who lies on their paperwork can expect a visit from the state police.

But let's get back to Mr. Cho. Should he have been allowed to purchase hand guns in Virginia when he had a court record of involuntary committment to a psychiatric facility? I'm not sure the answer is no.

Let me offer this up instead. Mr. Cho should have been barred from buying hand guns because of his history of stalking. I know, I know, no one pressed charges. But why is it that we can't file for protective orders on behalf of someone else.

Trust me on this one. College students, especially girls, do not want to cause trouble. My first college roommate was a sociopath who decided shortly into the second semester that her life would be much better if I was just dead and she was perfectly willing, according to her own actions and statements, to be the one to make that happen. What did I do? I provided copies of the written material to residential life on campus and asked to move to a different room. Did I get an order of protection? Did I even file charges through the university? No. I just wanted to get out of the situation intact. I wanted it to be over. I could have gotten her expelled. I could have prevented her from ever becoming a physician. I didn't. Do I regret it? Sometimes. A lot. Would it have made my life a lot easier if the university moved forward with their evidence and acted with or without my cooperation? Definitely. I really wish they had. I have a recurring nightmare that I will someday find myself in an Emergency Room with a seriously injured child (Kramer vs. Kramer style) and find myself face to face with this woman. And I know I could have prevented that.

How does this relate to Virginia Tech? If the university had pursued legal action against Mr. Cho for his stalking instead of mental illness, he would never have passed the firearm background check. Any restraining order automatically prevents an individual from being able to purchase a firearm, even in the very lax states like Virginia.

I'm not blaming the two young women who felt threatened by Mr. Cho back in 2005. I would be a hypocrite if I did and I know too well where their refusal to press charges came from ~ it's all about self preservation. They're just kids. But the rules don't protect them or any women on college campuses as much as they need to. Campus police and administrations need to be more proactive. And that's just a general statement, not a condemnation of anyone at VT.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mandatory Flood Evacuation, New Hampshire Style

For all the Live Free or Die bravado, New Hampshire surely takes the concept of "mandatory" quite seriously.

After the recent storms and rain had knocked out power and flooded roads in much of Southern New Hampshire, mandatory evacuations were ordered in a few towns. In Goffstown that meant that law enforcement officials went door to door and arrested anyone who wouldn't evacuate. Now that would be mandatory...

Perhaps Florida, Louisiana and a few other flood prone states could learn a little something from New Hampshire....

Monday, April 16, 2007


My mom emailed me and told me to check the news.

After living in Virginia for more than 7 years, I am stunned, shocked and numbed by what is happening at Tech.

Nearly everyone I knew or worked with in Virginia had some connection to VT.

I have been to Blacksburg, Christianburg, Montgomery County many times. They are places where security has a completely different meaning from the inner city where I went to college. Security is about the strength of the fence surrounding your livestock. You worry about keeping animals in, not keeping animals out.

I learned some ugly truths about humanity while I was in college and I would never wish those things upon others. Today the students at Tech are learning an ugly truth that should never have been part of their life experience. Ever.

Fear should remain conceptual, not become a reality. Especially in a place where safe was the norm.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

20 years and 2000 miles away

So, I'm working on this analysis of binge drinking. (A great thing to be doing since you get to say things like "I'm going back to my office to continue the binge drinking thing.") And in the process of massive stratified crosstabs, I get lost. Am I interested in the row percentages or the column percentages? It's actually unbelievably easy to get lost like this. You find yourself trying to figure out if you want to know the proportion of binge drinkers who own handguns or the proportion of handgun owners who binge drink and not being sure which one is which. It's a zero sum game. The more you think about it, the more confused you become.

It's time to do something brainless; reset that section of my mind so that I can actually look at these tables and make sense of them. I actually used to sleep when I got stuck with math/calculus/statistics problems in college and grad school. I'd wake up with a clear head and sometimes even the solution. But they frown upon sleeping at work. Onto the next best thing ~ playing "I wonder where so and so is" with

That day's contestant was a guy I knew in high school, someone I would describe as a pseudo-friend, but someone who lived on a completely different social plane in high school. After establishing that he is not the professional cricket player in New Zealand or the nationally ranked high school golfer in Tennessee who both share his name, I find him back in my home state. But there's something familiar about the organization he's been working for ~ the name of the town, the zip code and P.O. Box number.

Back when I had just finished college, I got this postcard (c/o my parents' address) with a odd and cryptic message, a single initial and a 9 digit zip code. I got as far as identifying the town with that zip code. (The postcard itself was an antique card from a zoo in another part of the country.)

Now, here was that town. Here was someone with that same first initial. He had been part of the initial possibilities list, but was written off because I couldn't imagine why he would send me anything. The postcard, since I was so annoyed by not being able to figure it out, was still in a drawer somewhere, so I dug it out when I got home. Same nine digit zip code. I'd solved the puzzle ~ ten plus years later.

But here's the jab. The fact that someone who I didn't think even thought of me in high school took the time to send me a cryptic note five years later? Talk about making you rethink your own perceptions of high school and yourself at that time.

First an admission, I had a serious crush on this guy for at least 2 or 3 years of high school. He was one of those people who had a preternatural level of self esteem and a total coolness about him. Add to that the fact that he was very intelligent, funny (wickedly witty, in fact) and someone with whom I really enjoyed talking. He had substance and was actually knowledgeable about things that mattered, unlike the rest of my self-absorbed classmates.

I, on the other hand, was circling the drain in the high school hierarchy. I was too smart, too opinionated, and too absorbed in things that were beyond the scope of what a high school girl should be thinking about. And I actually thought for myself, completely unacceptable in a world full of peer pressure. I had my own group of friends, many wonderful people with whom I am still close, but we were geeks and somehow, I never imagined that I was as important to other people as they were to me. I considered myself relatively expendable in my own social life.

I hated high school. It was no accident that I went to a college that no one from my high school had ever attended before. It was a survival instinct. Once in college I was introduced to a completely different version of myself. I hadn't changed, but the people around me no longer associated me with 12 years of history. Suddenly I was attractive and desirable, two things I had never been before. I hit this weird stride where nearly any guy I showed interest in was drawn to me. And not just people I met in college. When I ran into guys who I had known when I was in high school, but who were not from my high school, they were suddenly showing interest. It was like an alternate reality. It gave me confidence and helped me to rethink my own idea of myself.

Now, after solving the mystery of the postcard, I was looking at my high school existence from a completely different slant. The interactions I had with this guy were suddenly developing new meaning. Maybe I was the "Jenn" he had left something to in his senior will. Maybe he was more involved in our many conversations and running jokes and pranks than I had realized. Maybe the fact that he had come to visit me at a summer prep school meant something. I was putting together time lines. Coincidences were no longer coincident. He and another friend had shown up at that summer school right after I had an enormous falling out with someone I considered to be one of my best friends, a falling out that permanently ended the friendship. That friend was also good friends with the younger sister of one of his friends. Was he aware of what had happened and checking to see that I was okay? When we ran into each other a year after he had graduated at a common friends graduation party and he was happy to see me and we spent an unnaturally long time talking to one another, (the substance of that conversation completely escapes me...), should I have been paying more attention? My assumption had always been that I existed only in the periphery of his life.

What now? I'm tracking him down, of course, if for no other reason than to disclose the fact that I figured out his little message and to convey how irritating and intriguing it had been to me over the last decade. And of course to find out what exactly was going on 20 years and 2000 miles ago.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Realizing that achievement for achievement's sake is an empty pursuit

Last Sunday the New York Times ran an article about the "Amazing" girls of North Newton High School. Young women who had perfect GPAs, perfect SAT scores, multiple AP courses, played sports, volunteered, spoke multiple languages, played musical instruments, basically were model college applicants, and yet were still not getting into the Ivy League.

For those of you not acquainted with Newton, let me give you an introduction. It's a rich suburb of Boston. Very rich. The public schools rival any of the many private prep schools in New England. My parents attended a good friend's grandson's bar mitzvah there last weekend. (They sat at the gentile table with the Catholic grandparents who felt obliged to go out and buy new clothes so as not to appear as "country bumpkins" at the event. Neighbors of my parents, they too live in a Boston suburb, but one with a median household income of only $70K, not $86K like Newton. Whatever.) Anyway, the event easily outstripped my sister's Westchester County wedding, just in hired staff and accoutrement alone. There's easily a cottage industry for Bar Mitzvah's that involves arcade games, make your own tee shirts, dj's with dance instructors and so much more. (The chaos and massive number of 13 year olds was too much for my father, who has sworn off Mitzvahs forever.)

So that's Newton. Massive displays of wealth aside ~ it's also the home of Chestnut Hill and Boston College. They have their very own Bloomingdale's and a good chunk of the Boston Marathon route, including Heart Break Hill.

Anyway, since the article's publication, Judith Warner, author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety", has written about it in her NYT blog. I've linked to that blog entry and quoted it a bit below.

I read her blog entry and loved what she had to say.

I realized pretty early on that I was never going to be my older sister, so there was no point in killing myself trying. I had my moments ~ like when a math teacher told me I wasn't "cut out" to get an A in calculus (I showed him!) or when I received an honors in English at the Advanced Studies Program we both attended, with the same English teacher, even!

...I do think that figuring out at 18 – and not at 28 or 38 or 48, when the stakes are so much higher – that achievement for achievement’s sake is basically a zero-sum game is a very good thing. That is, if they have the eyes to see it.

To me, the greatest achievements were the ones where I made my sister proud of me. My parents were sparse with praise, but my sister knew exactly what my world was like, when she said she was proud, I was elated.

A lot of success early in life can be a real liability — if you buy into it. Brass rings keep getting suspended higher and higher as you grow older. And when you grab them, they have a way of turning into dust in your hands.

I learned early in high school that it was best with a new teacher to submit sub par work for the first few assignments, that way you were guaranteed to show improvement. It was good for the teacher's ego and it spared me the "not working to your potential" comments I hated so much. Who were they to tell me what my potential was? But how is it that at 15 I was working the system? That I knew my own sub par was more than good enough for the beginning of the semester and no one ever caught on?

College was a new story. For the first time, it was hard. I actually had to work. But I realized something very early on ~ as other students jockeyed for favor and made a point of getting face time with the professors and sweated their GPAs and their chances of getting into the top medical schools and law schools ~ for me it didn't matter. Let them squabble. Let them make fools of themselves. My GPA was not that important to me. I could live a very happy life with a diploma and a 3.0.

So, I made friends, I learned, I enjoyed my classes and I stayed out of the insanity. And I had the occasional laugh at the expense of those who were so hung up on their GPAs that they actually would chase down professors to get an A- raised. To me that didn't even seem ethical.

When I remember college, I remember friends and places, the situations I got myself into with my new found freedom. I remember the professors who inspired me and made me think. I remember the late nights, the conversations, the first time I fell in love. I remember the losses, the friend who died, my own realizations about life and other people. I remember growing up. I remember learning much more outside the classroom than inside. I guess it's not until graduate school that it really becomes about the academics.

“The best and brightest” is a concept that really ought to be retired in favor of the good.

That's one thing that I had going for me. My grandmother, who didn't live to see me graduate from college, did instill in me the importance of being a good person above anything else. It was her influence that allowed me to not need to be one of the great achievers.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Whoa, Nellie!

Think about where you're going with this....

About one in four people who appear to be depressed are in fact struggling with the normal mental fallout from a recent emotional blow, like a ruptured marriage, the loss of a job or the collapse of an investment, a new study suggests. To avoid unnecessary diagnoses and stigma, the standard definition of depression should be redrawn to specifically exclude such cases, the authors argue.

Thus begins the article from today's New York Times with above link.

I'm sure they didn't intend this, but they're basically suggesting that developing symptoms of clinical depression as a result of a bad investment should not be stigmatized or seen as a weakness of character, but having a medical condition that causes you to develop those same symptoms should have a stigma?

Say it with me now. Huh?

I'm all for stigmatizing the Wall Street hotshot who falls to pieces when his high risk investment goes sour. It's only stuff, material things. It's part of life ~ they come, they go. Buck up! Deal with it!

But the person who lost the genetic lottery and is stuck with a mental illness. They're the survivor in this scenario. They don't deserve stigma any more that a person with cystic fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis or leukemia. They're doing nothing more (and nothing less) than living with a debilitating disease. They deserve our praise, not our degradation.

Let's just wait and see if anyone else notices that little misstep and reminds that Times that goal was to get rid of stigma all together.