Unite the World Against AIDS

On World AIDS Day, today, please take a moment to remember the people living and those that have been lost to the most devastating plague of our time.

In case you were wondering, here are the latest stats.


The Dark Side of Social Networking

So everyone has heard about the risk people take on the Internet. From female bloggers being threatened, to children being approached by pedophiles, to people encouraging the desperate to commit suicide for their own sick pleasure; what people do in the digital world may very well be more depraved than the one outside our computers.

Throughout history there have always been the dark, horrific corners of human existence, where atrocities are committed in underground circles that would shame our very existence. Then again, we should also be appalled at the things we have done in broad daylight in front of crowds of gleeful onlookers (lynchings, executions, stoning, genocidal mass murders, to name a few...).

But for the average Internet user who checks their email daily, visits a favorite site or two, or peruses eBay, the online world seems no more threatening than a trip to the mall or a conversation with a friend.

But what if the site you were using to share pictures of your birthday party or to look up old high school crushes was deciding what content it felt was appropriate or deserved removal.

"Fine," you'd say. "Seems pretty standard to me. I don't want to see porno or skeezy people on Facebook."

If only that were true. A blogger I know recently wrote about how Facebook banned a woman who had posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her child. Meanwhile, the site continues to allow anti-Islam, antisemitic, and other hate groups, not to mention (thank you DW) more than 350 pro-anorexia groups.

And of course, the "Facebook spokesperson" didn't have any justification for the organization's actions, other than pointing to the fact that the pictures violated the site's Terms of Use.

I can think of any number of dystopian novels that have warned us of the very threat sites like Facebook present to their users.

We are offered a safe, enjoyable environment to pass the time, at the expense of our values. I would rather Facebook did no monitoring at all then focus on "pornography" and allow hate groups to flourish.

You might say freedom of speech and differing opinions, no matter how distasteful, must be respected--that Facebook cannot be held accountable and should not judge others for their views. But Facebook's own terms of use require they enforce some kind of site moderation. And its not what our Constitution views as freedom of speech, its what Facebook does:

A user cannot "upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.” [emphasis added]

So Facebook doesn't mind hating people, but it sure as hell doesn't like the idea of a woman breastfeeding. What balderdash. I rarely use that word, but I think it fits.

But only if you are breastfeeding....


This morning my mom told me that famed Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti has died. He was one of those rare artists that had such a warm vibe about him. I don't think I ever saw a picture or video of him where he wasn't smiling. I don't know much about famous opera singers, but I have loved opera ever since I saw a performance of Puccini's La Boheme on PBS when I was 13. I think I also am rather sentimental about opera because my great-grandfather was a little known opera singer during Caruso's time, and they say, had Caruso's style not been so popular, my ancestor would have been famous.

Pavarotti was one of kind not only because of the sheer drama and power of his voice, but also because he was so charismatic and accessible outside of the opera world. A common criticism of opera in the United States is that it, like classical ballet, or the symphony, is an upper middle class entertainment, inaccessible to most of society due to high ticket prices, fancy dress codes, and in opera's case, whole stories in a foreign language.

There have been many recent attempts to "humanize" opera, if you want to call it that...like adding electronic subtitle screens above the stage, RENT, Elton John's revamp of Aida, or even having free outdoor showings of Metroplitan Opera performances via satellite feed.

Whether any of this will boost a new generation's interest or ticket sales I cannot say. But I can say that unlike Caruso, Callas, Sutherland, or even today's Bocelli, Pavarotti is a name the whole musical world knows. This may be because he was one of the first opera singers to branch out in a major way into collaborations with other non-opera or non-classical musicians.

Looking only on YouTube, I found Pavoratti singing with James Brown, Barry White, Queen, and U2 to name a few. It was Pavoratti's accessibility and willingness to participate in these kinds of musical endeavors (not to mention sing the 1990 World Cup theme) that opened the rest of the musical world to him and opera to the rest of the musical world.

And I give him credit (along with Sarah Brightman though she's not an opera singer) as the reason why Opera Babes, Il Divo, Charlotte Church, and other pop-opera acts have been even possible given the popularity of trash like "My Humps" and Clay Aiken ::shudder::.

I was quite shocked that Pavarotti had died, as all the press about him had said that although he was ill, he was remaining positive. His wife even seemed upbeat and sure about his recovery. Whether expected or no, he will be sorely missed for the international treasure that he was.

Riposi In Pace Maestro.


A Poem by My Friend Tina

So my friend Tina wrote me a poem to cheer me up because I've been so stressed lately. I think it's beautiful....


Your Weekly World News in Public Health

Well, the ceiling's been falling in on me so I haven't been able to update as much as I'd like to, which is even more depressing considering there has been hyperactivity in the world of public health. Here are some highlights:

The Kaiser Family Foundation is every health policy afficionado's bible. It's the first place I look to see if I can find information nicely analyzed and relevant. A couple of weeks ago, they posted KFF's Health'08 site, which details, as much as possible, the health plans of the candidates for the 2008 presidential election. If you don't get information overload just viewing the main page, there's a lot of worthwhile stuff on there.

There isn't a super lot of information available at this point, but I think it is interesting which candidates have come out swinging (John Edwards, Barak Obama) when it comes to health care, and which haven't (Hillary "Once Burned Twice Shy" Clinton, Rudy Guilliani).

In other news, as if avian flu wasn't enough, it looks like we're headed toward a much more prolific West Nile Virus epidemic, so says the New York Times. People tend to freak out nowadays when they hear a mosquito bite could cause a potentially fatal infection. I tend to wonder why West Nile should be so frightening. After all, we've been fighting another, vastly more dangerous kind of mosquito-borne encephalitis for quite a while in the US.

Now, when I was a kid, I vividly remember cleaning out my grandmother's pantry after she died. There were quite a few, very old, and very swollen cans in there--I remember the fruit cans especially were on the point of bursting. At the time I was already morbidly fascinated enough about diseases to know about botulism, and I recall throwing those swollen, seeping cans into the garbage. What I didn't realise is how close I might have come to becoming infected with this disease. So for all you people who have been on Mars this week...for G-d's sake, throw out your cans of Castleberry Chili Sauce.

And you'll never get this in American news outlets, (why I love BBC), but six American medical students have graduated from a special program in Cuba that is free of charge and requires, snidely or no, that the graduates return to their communities to serve the underpriviledged. The program is actually offered to other, more impoverished nations as well. It is kind of ironic that Cuba and the Congressional Black Caucus seem to consider the United States as bad as, oh I don't know, Costa Rica or something.

Oh wait a second... for African-Americans, at least, they're actually right.

And finally, McGruff was right. Just say no to drugs--or a few years later you might be relying on the kindness of strangers when you get older, so says a recent study on how marijuana use increases the risk of psychosis later in life by 40 percent.


iPods--the favorite gadget of Darwin Award Winners

And you thought the dangers of iPods were relegated to listening too loudly or too frequently to Barry Manilow. I've heard of the guy getting hit by a car while texting and listening listening to an iPod, but this is a new one-- iPod induced injury while jogging in a thunderstorm....


Primum non nocere

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, medical errors are now one of the leading causes of death in the United States, higher than motor vehicle accidents or breast cancer. A significant contributor to medical errors in hospitals is the medical residency program.

As an editorial in the June 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine attests, the 30 hour shifts and 80 hour workweeks medical residents are asked to endure does neither patient nor physician any service.

I remember a study that found that the standard amount of sleep deprivation required of medical residents was as impairing as these doctors having consumed three to four alcoholic drinks.

After many late nights in college and grad school, I have, on many occasions, experienced that loopy, intoxicated feeling that comes with sleeplessness after say, a 16 hour day. I can't imagine what I would be like after nearly twice that long. Probably something like this:

And perhaps it would be Ok for me or these blokes to confuse words or names of things, but if someone I loved were about to go under the knife, I sure as hell wouldn't want a physician to be confused as to a surgical procedure or medication regimen--or laugh uncontrollably as we discuss risks associated with surgery.

Of course, I should give physicians more credit. Every medical resident I've ever come in contact with, regardless of their lack of sleep has always treated me with the greatest respect and dignity possible. And so far, thank goodness, I have never suffered irreparable harm due to a medical error in the emergency room.

But medicine is a highly sophisticated and complicated art, that has significant room for error even under the best circumstances.

Last week, a contributor to Slate magazine published a story on what it was like to be a practice patient for medical students, calling herself a human guinea pig. These students were just beginning to apply the knowledge they have been learning to real people, although these real patients or actors are being paid to be examined and, in some cases, asked to pretend they have a specific illness.

Even for Emily Yoffe, a healthy patient undergoing a standard physical exam, the task required of these students was a complex one. These future doctors were being asked to juggle a patient-physician relationship (albeit a one-visit only deal) that involved the examination of 45 different aspects of the body, and apply to living tissue what they have only seen in textbooks or within bodies donated to science. Yoffe had a few students who well exceeded her expectations and others who floundered miserably.

But I can't help but thinking it's these poor students (with the exception of Dr. I) are the real ones being experimented upon.

Somehow, through the rigors of medical school, these future residents may get used to the fatigue and will undoubtedly save many lives. But why should we torture them so?

Despite the many reforms that have taken place to make the situation a little bit better, medical residency programs seem determined to ignore the problem, almost as ill-advisedly as Moliere's Imaginary Invalid employs several doctors to treat his made-up sicknesses.

One of my best friends, currently in her third year of medical school, says that because all the other doctors before them have had to suffer, things are unlikely to change. I imagine its also very difficult for hospitals with limited funds to afford additional placements to handle the extra work.

The financial constraints on staffing hospitals is probably even more serious in disproportionate share hospitals, or those that serve a much larger proportion of charity or Medicare/Medicaid cases than others in their geographic area.

Let's not even mention the fact that physicians, themselves, are putting their health at risk to keep up with this extremely taxing workload. To the extent that some may be even cutting their lives short because of it.

But something has got to give and until it does, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is complicit in breaking the very oath that the students they oversee have been sworn to uphold--"First do no harm."


Megaman Music at the Kennedy Center

I might as well admit it publicly--my boyfriend is an avid, practically obsessive video game music fan and he's slowly starting to convert me. After five years, god knows how many tracks of blips, bloops, midi-rips, and Megaman remixes, I'm starting to appreciate the fact that the soundtracks to games I enjoyed during my childhood are experiencing a renaissance under the hands of some very creative, very talented, and very professional musicians.

Everybody knows the classic Super Mario Bros theme a sort of ragtime/calypso homage with a 6/8 back beat to keep the player moving forward. Well, here is just one example of how the hands of artists are making a more than 20 year-old game come to life again for new and old audiences alike.

What's more, the music produced for video games today is also some pretty sophisticated stuff, capable, in many cases, of standing on its own outside of the context in which the games are played. I remember when, I think it was the Outrun game series, developed an option where you could listen to different music as you played. It was only maybe something more jazzy and something neutral, and something metal rock I think--all the same theme.

Flash forward a decade or so, and Grand Theft Auto had several different soundtracks in the form of discreet "radio stations" you could turn on in your car as you played. Each station had pretty extensive song lists and usually funny DJ and commercial segments. GTA was really seminal, in my mind, of breaking through stereotypes of what kind of background music a game had and for good reason, the general public began to sit up and take notice of just how much an elaborate soundtrack can add to the gaming experience.

But don't ask VGM officionados. They'll tell you that although the memorable tunes may have started with Mario and Zelda, the industry has always pushed the boundaries in what people have often thought of as disposable electronica. Their hard work and some intrepid fan loyalty has paid off. Today, masterworks like those in the later versions of the Final Fantasy series, Halo, or Myst, rival something Ennio Morricone or John Williams might write.

And as filmmakers and video game executives become more and more interdependent, I wouldn't be surprised if one day, after it's finally released, Halo, the movie, actually did get an Oscar nod for best score.

And so we come to me being backstage with some some of the most prominent American video game music composers, Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico during the Video Games Live concert here at the Kennedy Center in our nation's capitol.

The sold-out, two day concert featured the National Symphony Orchestra playing orchestral versions or medleys of some of the most popular video games of all time. Audience members often come in costume for a contest that, at least when I was there, pitted a cardboard, duct-taped, red Tetris block against a blue-spandexed Megaman. Tetris won, and I was just grateful to have my eyesight preserved after Megaman did a few too many revealing poses.

Here's a sample. That's Jack Wall conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

During the concert, montages from the video game featured play in sync with the orchestra. This may not only be a good way to reference how the music augments the game playing experience, but also a fabulous way to promote the games, themselves, not to mention keep the highly ADD audience interested.

There are also segments where audience members are selected to come up and play Frogger or Space Invaders, two dinosaurs of the gaming world that are so kid friendly and simple they'd bring a smile to even the coldest censor's heart. It truly is a show for all ages that doesn't seem to forget its roots, although much of the music from games I didn't know (God of War, Medal of Honor, Advent Rising etc...) sounded very similar in format and style. Maybe it was that all of it was orchestral, maybe it was that the sound mixing was so bad.

It was often hard to distinguish the chorus, female soloist, or Tommy playing his electronic guitar for the finale from the orchestra and that was pretty frustrating. It sounded like a lot of good stuff was going on that just went over my head because of the acoustics.

Given you have Tetris blocks and Megamen running around, you can guess that the audience is usually really enthusiastic, which I think shook a few NSO member's nerves as they were trying to play. On the other hand, they all realised it was probably the first time they'd played to an audience of 2500 (each night!) in many years.

As I sat in the backstage area for the NSO, surrounded by autographed photos of illustrious musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, with the Nat's game blaring on the TV in the background, I spoke with some members of the strings section.

While one violinist was a little bit snobby about it, the other musicians seemed to enjoy playing the music and were pretty generous with their praise. You could tell many were truly enjoying themselves on stage as well. One bassist even started head-banging with Tommy during a piece.

It was at this point, that I realised that when I'm old and my children are going to concerts of music that's probably a-tonal to me, old folks homes and elementary school bands will probably be playing video game music, where they once may have played Superman and Love Story themes.

Let's face the facts. Hollywood is becoming less and less profitable, and films are being released as DVDs more and more quickly. Video games are also becoming an increasingly important component to a film's merchandising offering. Steven Spielberg already knows this and has been getting his feet wet with a few select video game projects, most notably Medal of Honor.

Socially, we're bowling alone on our Wiis, texting instead of calling, chatting on AIM instead of hanging out, and logging on to play video games with people all over the world from our living rooms. Who knows if a few years from now, our trend toward self-isolation and personalization of our electronic world will lead to the triumph of the "choose your own adventure" video game over that of the summer blockbusters.

And the music will be there, bigger, better and more influential then ever, thanks to fans/musicians/artists like these:


Outbreak: Ethical Questions for the Next Great Plague

YiQi asked me to write something about Outbreak. You might have heard of it. The film takes place in Africa where a dreadful disease could be the next great plague of humankind. There are naughty little monkeys in it....and Dustin Hoffman. I haven't seen it in a while, but to be honest, movies like that always make me cringe becuase 1) That kind of thing probably would never happen and dramatizations are always so sensationalistic, and 2) I'm terrified of the off-chance that it could.

The film, to my knowledge, was the first Hollywood attempt at discussing some tough issues related to national security and where the right for the healthy to survive supercedes that of the sick. Outbreak's timing was pretty important too... it came out about 6 years after the US had its own epidemic of Ebola, now known as Ebola Reston.

I was about 8 at the time, so I don't remember much about the mood of the nation or even how the media publicized the fact that the Ebola virus had been imported into the United States from the Phillipines via cynomolgus macaques and infected 12 people (thank you Tara's Ebola Site). The good news is that the version of Ebola the humans caught did not make them sick.

They say there are no atheists in fox holes and I tend to believe there are no atheist virologists. Say what you like, but the fact that the bengin Ebola Reston and wicked Ebola Zaire are virtually indistinguishable under an electron microscope leads me to believe there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

But Ebola's, ahem, fatal flaw is that the virus is exceedingly good at what it does. Ebola replicates too quickly and kills too quickly to have any real staying power. So it comes out every once in a while, takes lives, and goes back into hiding. Even the unfortunate tourist to catch the disease on safari and bring it outside of its natural habitat to Europe or somewhere else in Africa, so far, have not assended to Patient Zero status. They are usually ushered into a cold hospital room, quarantined as much as possible, and most often die.

Let's not forget, while we're talking about this that there are real people faced with the resurgence of this dreadful disease every day. They have lost loved ones to one of the most horrible deaths I can imagine. It's easy to talk about things in such a detached way, living in an industrialized country, as I do, where a victim would have a chance in hell to survive given our excellent acute and infectious disease care.

But Outbreak, and many other films after it, have raised an uncomfortable question about how we, as Americans may be asked to deal with a dreadful plague that could happen at any moment. Now more than ever, as we share airplane rides with patients infected with XDR-TB, clean up cruise ships from norovirus, and pray our spinach is safe from cattle and pig waste, we are keenly aware we may one day need to decide what should be done if an epidemic is serious and pervasive enough to threaten our homeland security.

Most people, when faced with the terrifying threat of your entire body (cells, tissues, organs and all) hemorraghing in one final bloody death shudder--see Richard Preston's Hot Zone--would probably say "Lock them up, kill them! I don't care, just don't let them near me!!"

And if that person clutching at life is your neighbor, your best friend, or your spouse? What then?

Sadly, the United States learned an awful lesson about humanity with the 1918 flu epidemic. Partly becuase Americans had no information about the disease, thanks to gag orders on the press by President Wilson and partly because people were literally dropping dead in the street, many ill people died because their friends and family members literally abandoned them to dehydration and starvation among other things (Thank you John Barry).

Mary Mallon
, doomed forever to be known as "Typhoid Mary" never understood why she was forced to spend most of her life exiled to an island and publicly shamed for the deaths of her employers. Living in the late 19th and early 20th century, when even the greatest scientists had a limited understanding of typhoid, Mary couldn't comprehend how she could carry a disease that made people sick if she wasn't ill herself. Perhaps if her legacy has taught us anything, it's that the same moral obligations and concerns we have about genocide and slavery apply to how we treat victims of disease.

Is humankind really worth saving if we don't value human life? Is one life or a town of a hundred people worth potentially 10,000 of lives? Is the quick and painless death of an innocent at the hands of a well-meaning government, truly in the best interest of the people?

And if we are ever damned enough to one day look at spreading cases on a map and compare numbers with our vaccine or drug stockpile, we will have to ask ourselves the real questions--the ones where statistics and numbers are no longer a useful tool for calculation. Whose lives should we value? Should we save the weakest first, the children and the elderly? Or should we save the ones who know how to turn the lights back on and protect the public?


The Trivial Pursuit for Sick Days

Lately, I've been a little addicted to this site, whoissick. It's like trivial pursuit for epidemiologists, with little multicolored wedges (symptoms) that fill in a round based on who reports what symptoms (fever, headache, etc...) in a given combination. If you look up your own zip code, you can find out who in your general vicinity has a tummy ache or runny nose.

From: http://whoissick.org/sickness

It's not GoogleEarth enough yet to help you avoid these people unless they willingly provide their exact location, but at the very least, if you're feeling poorly, you can easily find out if what you've got is going around. Cold comfort if your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids and get some rest. On the other hand, it is evidence for a skeptical boss: "Oh yeah, it's definitely contagious--look at all the people in Northdale who've got it!"

Some offices are fantastic about employees working from home when they're sick--others are practically glue factories about it. I've noticed it often depends on the industry. Physicians can't/shouldn't work sick and infect their patients. Many teachers come in sick if they can't get a substitute in time.

HR professionals know that allowing employees to take sick days helps the office avoid epidemics of flus, colds, etc...as well as keep up better morale. I knew someone who was poking around the office in between chest x-rays to check up on his pneumonia.

Do we do this to ourselves? This guy seems to think we enjoy working longer hours and taking less vacation and that we're better for it than the Europeans. I blame the Puritans for this delusional sado-masichism.

It seems while family medical leave is fine and dandy, and legally enforceable, paid sick days are not. According a 2004 report, almost half of the private sector or 59 million Americans have no paid sick leave. And even if a firm offers them, employees aren't using the time off.

It's easy to conjure examples of the single mother with a high school degree, working as a greeter at Wal-Mart or in the food service industry--thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich, we know that cautionary tale all too well. Yet, this disparity strikes at the heart of all Americans who thought they were safe becuase they were fortunate enough to go to college and get a white collar job. Even then, you may be afforded no relief if your kids have the chicken pox or your elderly father has regular appointments with his cardiologist.

This isn't ethical and it isn't good business practice, but it's also a tough argument to make when 45 million Americans (many of whom work full-time jobs) are uninsured and employers are dropping health plans like Britney drops her panties. In times like these, it's almost a moot point that we're even talking about expanding paid sick leave.

Yet we should and here's why:

The Urban Institute, recently found that businesses would save about $8 billion a year if they just let people be sick for seven days of the year. The flu can last longer than that and what about doctor's appointments, or a bad experience with fried rice?

Think for a minute what $8 billion could do if the savings weren't stuffed into the pockets of CEOs. Well, heck, it could just about cover the tab for the State Children's Health Insurance Program for one...

But let's get back to actually being sick and what that means to the average employee/patient.

According to the Institute for Women's Research, avoiding office outbreaks of the flu, alone, can save offices more than 2 days of lost productivity and employees would be spared more than $100 in doctor's visits and prescriptions each.

Obviously, those numbers might differ if you don't have health insurance and can't afford to see the doctor or buy the tamiflu.

So whoissick in America? A lot of people. It's really up to us whether we give them the tools to get better. To me, it's all about who's got a piece of the pie.



Political conversations tend to be the most intelligent and thought-provoking late in the evening--lord knows why. Well, I can take a guess. Fatigue mimics drunkenness and we all become suddenly so much more philosophical, impassioned, argumentative when we're impaired. Ironic isn't it?

So, it's 11pm and I'm talking with LT about the '08 battlefield and how its unclear whether Gore will run for President, but that the Hillarites are watching to see if he starts shedding those post-White House pounds--presumably as an indication he is preparing to submit exploratory committee papers.

It should be mentioned here that LT is a devout presidential historian. When he was a child, he preferred shuttering himself in his room reading books on the Presidents instead of playing outside. He knows every factoid, every date of tenure, and more than enough sordid tales of policy and private lives gone wrong.

"I guess the days of William Taft are over," he complained.

"Of course they're over! With the public health crisis we're facing right now? Having a fat President would be a disgrace, not to mention counterproductive to curbing the obesity epidemic!" I relish saying things like the "public health crisis" and "obesity epidemic." They're smart people phrases like "recession" and "gross domestic product."

"But that's ridiculous! It shouldn't matter if he's fat if he's a good leader. Clinton ran to the McDonald's all the time and he did a good job! Polk died three months after he left the White House it took such a toll on his health and he was a great President!"

At this point, I mention that Polk was also ugly and would never have made it through a televised campaign.

"And that's the problem. We don't have good leaders any more because everyone is too busy trying to look good for the public. It shouldn't be about that. Look at Bush, he's an idiot, the biggest idiot for a Chief Executive we've ever had, and he's fit. Does that make him a better President?"

And Obama, dear Obama who is handsome and wise and decidedly unifying for the Democrats. ::Sigh::

If he wants to maintain his edge at the Oval Office he'll have to quit smoking--especially if he receives solicited or unsolicited money from the tobacco industry.

"It would just look bad if he were a smoker and taking money also from the companies that have had to give billions of dollars to most states to make up for the heavy financial burden of publicly funded care for smoker-related sicknesses and injuries--'cause they knew it was addictive and harmful and did nothing."

But would that be damaging enough to Obama's campaign by itself? Naaaaaaaaah. However, he is now in the precarious position of either successfully kicking the habit or suffering the dreaded "flip-flopper" insult from his opponents and flack from the American Cancer Society. The pressure is on, the paparazzi are everywhere, and the opposition is hungry for just one incriminating TMZ photo to make a mockery of Obama.

Smoking has become a moral issue, much like excessive alcohol use in this country. It's something we know is bad for us, but we do it anyway and sometimes are motivated enough to feel guilty about it.

So what if we'd never have to shoulder the burden of Obama's care if he ever got lung cancer or suffered a stroke. It's the principle. As a candidate for President, he must be able to convince us he can embody all that is good about our country--and that leaves no room for vice (well maybe a little private vice here and there).

And then there's the fact that Americans are dropping like flies from largely preventable chronic diseases like heart disease and some cancers.

The '08 elections will be a mandate on Health care and Hillary's got two birds in hand:
her health care reform proposal which would have worked if it hadn't been for Harry and Louise and the fact that the Clintons banned smoking from the White House. Hillary's only real liabilities (aside from ...ahem..Whitewater and the sex addiction of her husband--which let's face it, Bill's just so charming and doing global charity work that nobody cares) appears to be her acrid expression and embarrassing past relationships with hairbands.

Ok, I know it's a cheap shot considering her face is all wonky...but I couldn't resist.

On the other hand, Obama is a very smart man. He knows the risks. It's not illegal to smoke tobacco. If he enjoys an occasional ciggy but doesn't lie to us about WMDs in Iraq, what's the beef?

Maybe the fact that we Americas really are that irrational and superficial.

We love a good smoke screen. It makes us feel safe. Like the world is in control--especially among those who have access to the big red button. So smoke away Obama, just make sure you screen your audience first :).

Isn't it a sad metaphor for humanity?

According to the BBC:
"A pair of Sumatran tiger cubs and a set of young orang-utans, all abandoned at birth, have become inseparable after sharing a room at an Indonesian zoo. But the friendship is not destined to last as tigers start eating meat when they are three months old and will need to be separated from their new playmates."


I get the fact that Daniel Radcliffe (also known as "Harry Potter" ) wants to break out into more intellectual, mature roles. No 10 or 12 year-old actor who takes a role so desired as HP thinks one day they'll want to be seen as something more than their character.

Radcliffe is in his late teens now and he's British, which automatically gives him a penchant for the stage and he's obviously intelligent enough to know he has to start making some serious career changes to avoid the depraved existance of other child stars past their glory.

Yet, MUST we hear of him accepting a nude role? It's bad enough to think he might one day do it for film ala Brooke Shields (note I didn't link here to Pretty Baby and granted in Blue Lagoon most of the time it was a body double--but it was STILL awkward).

If Radcliffe thinks that these kinds of roles might save his acting future, he may be right, but does he have to do it so....well... I'll be delicate here and say...boldly?



Al Gore is Right, We're All Gonna DIE!

Except for the sea cucumbers and this little dude here. They don't seem to be as effected by the melting of ancient antarctic ice shelves...

I'm going to go grab some peanuts. I'll need the salt.

Who else was sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for Good Old Al to announce his candidacy for President?

Even my hero, JC, as I call him (also known as Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) wants Gore to run.

I'll do more on that later. Yes, I love Jimmy Carter. No, I don't think he's antisemitic. And I'm Jewish so I can say that. :)

But seriously folks...that Best Documentary Feature Oscar category was a joke. As IF Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" wouldn't win. They might as well have just handed him the naked gold guy when he was up there with Leo shootin' the proverbial sugar-honey-ice-and-tea.

People used to think that cockroaches would be the only thing to survive if there was a nuclear holocaust. I guess it was a Cold War thing. I wouldn't know. I was too busy watching My Little Ponies and eating Captain Crunch at the time.

But I think Douglas Adams might just be right--the sea creatures will out survive us after all--especially if the polar ice caps melt and none of us can breathe underwater for long periods of time.

Well, maybe this guy has a chance.


Guard Us From Those Who Would Save Us

I always find it mildly amusing that as Americans, we have nothing better to do with ourselves than find things to be afraid of. It is a seductive proposition, or maybe simply a Darwinian prerogative, that we look for the competitive edge in survival. We want to be the person to know that mixing pop rocks and Coca-Cola kills you (for all my lazy readers, there's no truth to that tale), or that Tom Cruise has insider information on how to treat clinical depression.

The truth is, I really want to watch these misled celebrities or extremist hippie activists and laugh at them like I would laugh at bad karaoke or Britney Spears's new buzz cut. I want to enjoy with delicious satisfaction their ignorance and idiocy, but I can't. They aren't messing with Matt Lauer or Mickey from Life Cereal or dihydrogen monoxide. They're messing with millions of Americans who just want to protect their families.

I wasn't scared before, but I'm terrified now that people like Barbara Loe Fisher are allowed to get on national television and suggest that vaccines can cause learning deficiencies and may be responsible for a decreasing national trend in young people's IQ levels.

Everything really stems from the age-old debate: When are children old enough to learn about sex? And if we teach them about it, or let them read books with the word "scrotum" in them, will it mean they are at risk to do more than play doctor behind the bleachers?

The HPV vaccine and a consequent gubernatorial mandate in Texas (and possible mandates in other states) has fueled some parents' concerns that giving their children a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection will make children and young adults ::gasp!:: think about the fact that they may have sex one day--or ::SHOCK!:: lose their virginity before marriage.

And angry, ignorant parents with scaremongering sound bites like "we don't know the long-term effects of the vaccine," or "why should the state be making decisions about my child's health" have forced the very public demise of Merck's lobbying campaign to have state legislatures require the vaccine in 11 and 12 year-old girls.

The area between protecting the public interest and protecting human rights is sometimes blurred in the case of public health. Just ask Mary Mallon, who was imprisoned on an island for years because she was a healthy carrier of typhoid.

That's why vaccine mandates exist. They exist because if you want to protect kindergartners from highly contagious diseases that can kill or irreparably harm them (smallpox, polio, measles, whooping cough), you make it difficult for parents to opt their babies out.

There will always be the parents who fear vaccines will make their children autistic or cause cancer, or multiple sclerosis. These are dreadful diseases, but there hasn't been any definitive proof that vaccines cause any of these problems. In fact, vaccines are being used today to help treat cancer and it's possible new disease targets like Alzheimer's and diabetes are also on the horizon.

Autism is likely to due to several factors--among them a genetic predisposition (as may be the case in Rhett's syndrome), environmental exposure (although not to thermisol--the medium vaccines used to be delivered in as study upon study upon study has shown), or something else. But, contrary to what some devastated parents might think, there has been no evidence that cases of the disease are rising.

In a few years, thanks to recent recent CDC findings establishing a baseline prevalence, we may be able to determine a trend. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more cases now than ever, but that's also a common effect of raising awareness, increasing childhood testing, and expanding the definition of the spectrum of disorders that are conglomerately known as autism.

Yet despite the facts, there are parents still scared enough, still desperate to edge out the rest of the normally distributed crowd, that they will believe anything to the detriment and possible death of their own offspring.

So, here lies Gardasil. A vaccine that promises to prevent some of the most common causes of cervical cancer, and its being bullied away from saving lives.

Why is it so controversial? Cervical cancer has many origins, among them the human papillomavirus. Gardasil protects women from the most common cancer-causing strains. The thing is, HPV is so common, that if you're sexually active, it's pretty likely you've already been exposed and contracted it. Some estimates suggest that 50% of women will be exposed to at least one form of the 30 different HPV strains during their lifetime.

So, the plan is to give young girls the vaccine long before they ever become sexually active so that they will be protected when they do. And yet I didn't see nearly as many parents cry foul when hepatitis B vaccines were required for school entry.

Cervical cancer is one of few cancers that is highly treatable if not curable if caught early. Yet it is the second most common cancer affecting women.

While wonderful preventive measures such as pap smears and regular gynecological exams exist to help detect cervical cancer in its early stages, they are not infallible. In fact, women would still need regular pap smears even if they have been given the vaccine.

Anti-Gardasil parents say they don't want the state to make decisions about their child's health care. But the truth is, they wouldn't have nearly the same number of supporters if a vaccine to prevent breast cancer or diabetes was discovered.

If you're concerned your child, who's probably more interested in High School Musical than American Pie, is going to consider Gardasil carte blanche for sexual activity--maybe it's time you took a sex-ed class.

Let me assure you, from one who took them in middle school--they are embarrassing and gross, and most of my classmates thought the opposite gender was smelly, yucky, and stupid.

The kids at the greatest risk for early sexual activity are those who don't have strong familial influence to guide them through the tough questions and tougher decisions. A mother or father so adamant about delaying sexual debut should be confident in their own parenting skills to prevent it. Or they could just claim that the Gardasil made their kid
do it.


Peanuts, Coca-Cola, and Devolution

A lot of people harbor misconceptions about the South--some are more valid than others. It really can be a different world--or at the least a very unfriendly one in some areas if you're not
Caucasian, Christian, and into Civil War history.

Even in Atlanta, my hometown, history classes throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school ignored the Civil Rights movement, probably our region's greatest, albeit also most highly contested contribution to the United States and the world.

Christian youth clubs at high schools were embraced, but gay pride organizations are contraband. And let's not forget that cops still have to keep watch at synagogues on Saturdays and holidays because somebody once threw a bomb onto the steps of The Temple.

Yet, Atlanta has one of the largest Jewish populations in the South (not counting Florida), is a mecca for the gay community, and is a flourishing center of black culture. She is a fickle animal, Atlanta, a symbol of old southern glory and new southern rebirth. And like Scarlett O'Hara choosing between her many suitors--so far, Atlanta has treated them all with vain indifference.

Sometimes I think we're making more progress than other cities, especially those in the North and then I go and read about a Georgia legislator sending a memo to his fellow politicians in Georgia and in other states to convince them that evolution is a Jewish "conspiracy".

We've been through this before. Even Penn & Teller picked on Cobb County's unabashedly anti-evolution education leaders. And rightly so. But I can't say I'm not heartbroken that my home state is moving closer to the middle ages than the new

Some people say science is just as much a religion as any other....there are fundamental belief systems established to explain the unknown. Nobody can really, fundamentally prove the earth rotates the sun, except for astronauts--and we all know they are paid by the government to lie like everyone else.

But seriously folks. If you've ever really sat down and thought about it, conspiracy theories are so much more complicated than the truth. More importantly, usually the people who come up with them have their own agenda and it may be no better for humanity than what the government or big business, or the public school system allegedly has in mind. Take the guys who jailed Galileo for example.

The big difference between science and many other religions is that science is about testing that which we accept on faith. Scientists who produce tangible, repeatable results to prove centuries-old common beliefs wrong are considered
heroes, not heretics.

Why can't G-d have created all the fish in the sea and all the animals of the earth and ALSO have allowed them to adapt to their environment? And how long is a day in G-
d's time anyway? If He/She/It is omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal then we have to assume that G-d's sense of time would be different from our own in some way. We know that fish existed before land animals and in the Book of Genesis it acknowledges that G-d created sea creatures first. Who knows if a day in G-d's life isn't a million years or so?

But that's not really what Creationists care about. They specifically take issue with the concept that humans evolved from ape-like species rather than from a mystical intervention. After all, if humankind is not made in G-
d's image, than the whole premise that we are meant to be better than the animals falls apart. We are left then with all the sin and temptation in the world and no excuse not to enjoy it.

But in all fairness, let's think for a moment about what we would modern life would be like if evolution were from now on ignored in schools and university systems. There would be no new vaccines, no genetically targeted cancer drugs and an unstable food supply. We'd be back in the era of plague,
pestilence, and war. Starting to sound a little bit like the End Times doesn't it?

That's not to say that things aren't so hot right now. War ravages the earth, HIV/AIDS is killing millions, malnutrition is a leading cause of death among the world's under 5s. But we have the tools right now to feed more people, encourage sustainable peace agreements in troubled areas, and find better treatments for the world's most horrifying diseases. The truth is, we're just not that invested in these lofty goals.

Does it matter if a life is saved, if it isn't
saved? Perhaps I should save that question for another time...

The real choice Creationists have, as I see it, is not that people should believe in every word the Bible says, but that they should put every commandment by G-d (and if you're so inclined, Jesus) to the test.

Where you can, alleviate suffering rather than ignore it. Show mercy and forgiveness to your enemies. And judge not others in a way in which you would not like to be judged yourself. With all the money spent on glamorous Sunday school presentations on why Ms.
Pringle is wrong about evolution, you could be feeding a village in Africa.


Everybody's Perfect, Save Me

It isn't my intention to start this blog off with a pity party...but if a pity party is the source of inspiration to start something like this, I guess its just as good an excuse as any. Don't worry gentle reader, in true rhetorical fashion, I plan to spend more time criticizing others than feeling sorry for myself :)

I was wondering the other day whether I'm the "type" for the city I live in. People moving to
Los Angeles or New York may find the connection more obvious. In LA you should be thin and tan. In New York, you should only wear black and have a desperate caffeine addiction.

Cities aren't built in a day and their mores are equally carefully constructed.

Why then was it so
surprising to me that the hub for all political maneuvering should also be so entrenched in appearance? Really, someone should slap me upside the head for that admission.

Women in politics are not as ransacked for their weight or dress. It's almost expected they project an image of Humble Homemaker Harriet, who's really participating in politics as some sort of grand undertaking to while away the time now that their children are in school.

I used to like to think I could be in politics one day, making speeches to stir hearts and sew justice. Then I realised, I wasn't "perfect" enough.

I'm not a
lawyer. I have bad skin. I'm not wealthy. I used to guest on my boyfriend's college radio show and I'm sure copies of me behaving badly still circulate the Internet.

Hillary Clinton isn't perfect either. There's the Whitewater scandal, the fact that her husband was almost impeached, and of course, she's been criticized for being too "manly" which seems to intimidate a lot of male politicians.

It all started with the pantsuit, and maybe Hillary really ought to consider that one of her shinning achievements for our country--forget the fact that her health care reform plan might have really worked.

After all, if it weren't for
HC, Speaker Pelosi would be forced to employ seriously less fashionable outfits and that would be the undoing of all future female leadership in our country. Case in point--Margaret Thatcher.

Have you ever seen another female PM? No, because Mile-High Hair Maggie ruined it for all of them. It's not like she had much to work with, and she was a Torie, which didn't help either. Yet, ultimately, Maggie failed in the delicate balance between form and function--consequently rendering any little girls who wanted one day to be THE Number 10, not just reside in it, to consider blue hair more pragmatic than

Sadly, women (and Hillary) are held to a horrific double standard. If they appear too feminine, (Laura Bush), we'd never trust them with the decision-making skills to push the red button. If they look too masculine, we distrust their lack of gender conformity.

It's also convenient that most Americans turn a blind eye to the viciousness mothers can employ in the defense of their own children in PTA let alone their country--or the fact that many women in our military and police forces today are displaying tremendous bravery and dedication in the line of fire.

We'd rather think of them as behind-the-scenes samurais like Nancy Reagan...let them pull the strings, just don't tell us about it.

And yet here's Hillary, our first female candidate for President with a chance in hell, and she is already facing tremendous pressure to be considered perfect for the job.

She'll not only have to convince most democrats to vote for her, but now also the disappointed, disenfranchised republicans who want the war to end. Pull those black boot
stilettos out again Hill, it's time you showed those Pentagon pansies who wears the pants in this relationship (and you'd better bring a whip, I hear they like it like that).

But go easy, because if you push it too far, the very women who would put you in office might be turned off by your disconnect with their lives, their dreams, their values. You might just end up being no better than any other man in the Oval Office.

So what makes a perfect President? A perfect woman in Washington?

Well if you're like most women my age (that is in our early to mid-20s) you have at least one roommate, and eat
ramen noodles at least once a week.

You must be well-read, preferably from an Ivy League academic institution, run 5 miles a day or play tennis, and know all the intimate details of Congress.

You must have well-coiffed hair, and appropriately expensive shoes. You must have boyfriends (perish the thought you'd have a girlfriend!) and these people must be doing prestigious things in their own right--preferably with a family house in Martha's
Vineyard or a modest yacht on the Chesapeake.

And the pressure to be the underlings of a powerful, perfect politician is so intense that people don't sleep and do stab each other in the back and lie about their lives if their father isn't a doctor or lawyer.

And little old me? I'm 5'9 and size 12 with perpetually wavy hair. My boyfriend is a different race than me and has no interest in working on The Hill (the Capitol that is). I don't own any shoes worth more than $40 and get the occassional adolescent break-out when I'm stressed.

I'm neither red, nor white. Neither artsy
fartsy nor conservative. I'm just BlueToYou, thank goodness.