Friday, October 30, 2009

H1N1 deaths in the young increase more than expected as vaccine is late


Robert Bazell reports that 22 children died from H1N1 last week, and H1N1 is the only flu circulating (partly because vaccines for conventional flu were available very early). That’s half many as who die in a whole conventional flu season, and the most in a week since the CDC started keeping counts of weekly flu deaths by age.

The CDC’s advice for Halloween (given on Beggar’s Night) is to “stay safe, and have fun.” “Social distancing” rules never went into effect.

But the inability to deliver H1N1 vaccine as quickly as had been promised is certainly an issue.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

DC Council grills school chief Michelle Rhee on teacher firings ("poor classroom management"?)


The Washington City Paper, a popular free weekly available at newsstands and movie theaters, has some transcript of the contentious hearings today, where the Washington DC City Council grilled DC School System Chancellor Michelle Rhee on her decision to fire over 200 teachers at the beginning of October to meet budget cuts, when the Council had asked her to cut summer school instead.

Rhee said that summer school cuts would affect kids’ test scores more, and that teachers let go were underperforming, in terms of test scores and classroom management.

The liveblog entry is here.

As a sub, I was criticized and banned from a couple of schools for "classroom management" because of difficulties with one or two students.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

White House rewards big donors with perks (Washington Times expose)


In a story by Matthew Mosk and S.A. Miller in the Washington Times on Oct. 28, “Republicans seek probe of White House Perks” (link) the Obama White House is presented as having invited big Democratic contributors to parties, bowling, movies and other entertainment at the White House. (I wonder if the movie was “AntiChrist”). Seriously, we see the classic tension in the way a democracy should work. Amatuerism and the “democratization of the web” has its systemic risks, but without it we’re left with the “good old boy” system.

I love the rotating cube on the newspaper’s site.

The story reiterates that even when people "give", they do so for selfish reasons, as recently covered on an ABC 20/20 show recently.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why CFL's burn out prematurely (don't go back to conventional light bulbs, please)


Here’s a tip I overheard somewhere on a news station: Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s) will wear out more quickly than expected if you turn them on and off all the time. Instead of turning them off when leaving a room, turn them off only if you leave the room for more than thirty minutes. There life span is related to how often they are turned on, not how long they are used (as is the case with conventional bulbs).

CFL’s seem to have a power rating of 13W, compared to 40, 60 or 75 as with conventional bulbs.

Another factor that can affect CFL’s may be older light fixtures in old homes. There seems to be more problem with their longevity if the sockets don’t fit properly, or if the insulation is wearing, because past use of bulbs with more power than appropriate (usually 60w). One cause of electrical fires in old homes may be use of conventional bulbs with output rated higher than the fixture was designed for.

All of this from an electrician last week, after a power surge messed up a basement circuit.

I'm still not sure how we are supposed to dispose of "burned out" CFL's. They do contain mercury, a hazardous waste. I just keep them for blog pictures.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"National Walk for Autism Speaks" in Washington DC on Halloween


While leaving the U-Street Cardozo station in Washington DC last night, I saw a poster for the “National Walk for Autism Speaks” next Saturday, Halloween, October 31, 2009, on the National Mall in Washington DC. The link is here. The poster reports the latest numbers” 1 in 94 boys is on the autism spectrum, and 1 in 150 children (although very mild Asperger’s may be a good thing, otherwise we would have no Silicon Valley).

The organization has raised about $527,000 as of early morning Sunday Oct. 25.

On June 8, 2008, on my books blog, I reviewed a book by a young man in Silicon Valley (involved in the founding of Facebook), who described growing up with an autistic younger brother and being very introverted himself. Up to a point, extreme inward-looking in our modern culture can be a good thing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Healthy" people asked to wait for H1N1 vaccine


The AP, in a story by Zenie Chen reprinted in the Washington Times online Saturday reports that Virginia health officials are specifically asking older people to step aside and not go to clinics seeking H1N1 vaccination yet. Because of limited supplies, pregnant women and younger children (6 to 36 months) should be the first to get limited supplies, with older children, teens and young adults next. Is this "rationing"? You bet. However, even vaccination of only the most vulnerable will help everyone with a “herd immunity” effect.

There are wide reports that people over 55 are likely to have encountered the H1N1 novel proteins back in the 1950s, and have partial immunity. Seasonable flu shots seem to improve immunity to H1N1 antigens in people with residual immunity from several decades ago.

However, at least one pharmacy in Arlington told me that it expected H1N1 vaccine availability by the second week of November, and that it would not restrict customers in any way (other than requiring parental consent for minors). I believe it will charge an administration fee.

The Washington Times is also advising against believing Internet scams trying to sell phony anti-H1N1 products over the Internet.

Colleges are using more long-distance learning, and high schools are starting to experiment with “blackboarding”.

Also, the president has declared H1N1 as a national emergency. The Washington Post story today (by Michael D. Shear and Rob Stein, "President Obama declares H1N1 flu a national emergency") is here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Should bikers obey traffic laws for vehicles?


Slate.com has an article by Christopher Beam, “Stop means stop!: How do we get bikers to obey traffic laws?” , link here. Beam admits to violating traffic laws, and it’s not clear that he really feels “guilty” about it.

My mountain bike is broken, so I react to this from the viewpoint of a motorist. I don’t like to have to pass the same bike twice sharing a lane because the bike took the privilege of running a red light. And I don’t like to see bikes on the pavement the wrong way, because in making turns onto streets I may not see them. It presents a liability risk for ME! So I like to see bikes on pavement follow traffic laws.

Some cities, like Minneapolis, prohibit bikes from being on sidewalks.

I don't have a problem with the rolling "Idaho stop" in low traffic areas in residential neighborhoods.

How about traffic laws for skateboarders?

What does law enforcement think?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FL retirement community to evict grandchild in custody of resident

A six year old girl living in the custody of her grandparents faces eviction from her home in a Florida retirement community, because the community bylaws require all residents be over 55. The grandparents cannot sell the house to move because of the depressed housing market, and Child Services might seize the child and put her into foster care until the house sells. The grandparents had to take over raising the daughter from the daughter.
MSNBC has a video on the incident.


Outside of retirement communities, “adults only” communities have often become illegal, and considered discriminatory and against public policy (by penalizing having and raising children). For example, North Carolina’s rules are explained here. “Adult living” apartment complexes were common thirty years ago, however.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama DOJ will not pursue medical use of marijuana in states where legal by state law


The Obama Justice Department has issued a directive that users of medical marijuana in the fourteen states where it is legal by state law, or their state-sanctioned suppliers, will not be prosecuted under federal law, reversing a policy of the Bush administration. The MSNBC and AP story is here.

Allowing medical marijuana certainly moves in a libertarian direction. The federal law, which would still in theory override state laws, remains on the books unless Congress removes it.

Cancer and HIV patients still often maintain that marijuana controls nausea associated with chemotherapy better than any legally prescribed prescription drug. Anti-nausea drugs are available however, and even these tend to act like sedatives and can become addictive. It’s never been clear to me why a prescription form of THC as a pill could not be designed, manufactured, and made legal under normal prescription rules.

Wikipedia link, in p.d., of physiological effects of cannibas.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome appears to be associated with a retrovirus


Various media outlets report that a novel retrovirus, XMRV, seems statistically associated with symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, previously thought to be an auto-immune disease. XMRV, possibly associated with prostate cancer, would belong to the same class of viruses as HIV, and probably be spread only by blood or intimate contact. It might have some relation to leukemia viruses, like Feline leukemia, or HTLV-1, a cancer virus from Japan that surfaced early in AIDS research before HTLV-III=HIV was identified.

WebMD has a story by Daniel J. DeNoon, here.

There are many RNA viruses (the common cold, flu, H1N1, etc.) that are not retroviruses, that is, do not use reverse transcriptase and do not “reproduce backwards”. Generally retroviral infections are hard to transmit and do not spread by casual contact.

Wikimedia attribution link for the phylogeny of retroviruses, here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Does pricing health insurance for wellness invade privacy, impose pre-existing conditions?


Employers are starting toughen wellness incentives for lower premiums, a trend that could run counter to the concept that people should not be penalized by a probably mandatory health insurance market for pre-existing conditions.

The Washington Post has a front page story by David S. Hilzenrath on Friday, Oct. 16, “Wellness incentives could create health-care loophole: workers who fail medical tests could pay more”, link here. The online version has a different title, “Get physically fit or pay up.”

In general, workers who did not maintain an acceptable body mass index, cholesterol numbers, or who smoked, could be charged higher premiums. Hilzenrath writes “Should health insurance be like auto insurance, where good drivers earn discounts and reckless ones pay a price, thereby encouraging better habit?” Well, driving is a privilege, living is a right! But go on. “Or should it be a safety net in which the young and healthy support the old and sick with the understanding that youth and good health are transitory?” Well, good health doesn’t have to be transitory.

It’s brutal, thinking about the health Gestapo, going around with blood vials or skinfold measurement tools. It even feeds fantasies.

Extend the thinking further. Would gay men pay higher rates because of a greater risk of HIV (which has, relatively speaking, gone down a in the past decade)? Would married men pay less than single men because married men are thought to be healthier, and because they usually have more mouths to feed? (George Gilder, author of “Men and Marriage”, would like that; so would Phillip Longman and Allan Carlson.)

But turn it around 180 degrees (or pi radians) again! Would women pay more because they are more likely to get pregnant? Just yesterday, this column reported that an insurance company was telling at least one female customer to get sterilized.

I am a believer in “personal responsibility”, but just look where all this ideological banter can take us! Perhaps into the territory of your old friend from high school English literature, Jonathan Swift.

Here’s one other story from the AP and MSNBC, a bit off track at first, but not really, that a biracial couple was denied a marriage license in Hammond, Louisiana by a justice of the peace who was concerned about the possibility of mix-race children, link here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An insurance company wants female applicant to be sterilized; homeowners victimized by shoddy construction can lose insurance


ABC World News Tonight reported two stories tonight that were particularly galling from the viewpoint of fairness.

A health insurance company named “Golden Rule” actually tries to deny women policies if they have had Caesarean sections. “Get sterilized and we’ll cover you,” the company says. The report, by Tom Shine, was here. http://blogs.abcnews.com/theworldnewser/2009/10/insurance-company-get-sterilized-and-well-cover-you.html I guess Phillip Longman is right: we really do penalize women and families for the risks they take by having children. It sounds like “personal responsibility” taken to a warped degree.

Or consider the case of homeowners in Florida saddled with defective drywall from China. Some have health problems and find the homes unliveable. Of course, they will sue the builders. But their homeowner’s insurance will not cover defective homes (anymore than auto insurance could cover a defective car); worse, insurers who find out that their customers have a defective home might cancel the policies.

There was also a report of how a teacher’s life was saved by an autistic boy who executed the Heimlich Maneuver.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Military meets recruiting goals; what about DADT, draft?


The Armed Services of the United States are meeting all their targets for the first time in years, according to a front page story by Ann Scott Tyson. The title is “Military sees historic recruiting success: in the midst of downturn, all targets are met,” link here.

Enlistment bonuses and less violence in Iraq are helping, but the main engine has been the recession. Presumably an increase in recruitment will less the “stop-loss” problem or “backdoor draft.”

Recruits, however, face high probability of deployment to combat areas.

The story indirectly brings to mind the question of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military; on the other hand, it could revive debates on the draft or on “practically” mandatory national service. A few years ago, Rangel and others tried to reintroduce the military draft on the theory that the government would be less likely to get involved in wars if everyone (especially the children of Congress members) was subject to the same risk of combat.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Delaware school district suspends 6 year old for lunch utensil under "zero tolerance"


Zero-tolerance policies in school districts are back in the news. In Delaware, a six year old who carried his cut scout kit including lunch untensils, including a knife, was suspended for 45 days under a “zero tolerance” policy. These policies have been introduced since tragedies at Columbine and Virginia Tech. In the case of the Christina, DE situation, the situation is aggravated by the fact that Delaware law only allows some wiggle room even for toddlers in expulsions, not just suspensions. As a result, suspended kids could wind up on the streets and get in more trouble. In this case, the kid will be home schooled (but might have to go to reform school). It sounds as though some common sense was missing here.

The New York Times Story "It's a fork, It's a spoon, it's a weapon") is by Ian Urbina, link here.

By the way, I have to make a comment about Delaware. Sure, I like Reboboth, but the state is known, despite the outlet malls on Route 9 and the lack of sales tax, for gouging visitors on I-95. I once paid a $27 fine because I didn't get in the right tool lane without an E-pass. The Workd Book Encylopedia explains why Delaware is called the Blue Hen State (from Revolutionary War days), and it's people "are sometimes called Blue Hen's Chickens."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Solar Decathlon in Washington draws long lines


The Department of Energy Solar Decathlon on the Mall in Washington DC drew large crowds, with long lines at each home.

Many universities, including Cornell, Virginia Tech, Minnesota and California, entered homes, as did countries (Spain) and Canadian provinces (Alberta). A few of the homes (Va Tech) had open areas large enough for residential areas to be seen without going through the line.

The most attractive and modern looking home seem to be Spain’s, with its facades of black and gold.

Apparently Louisiana won interim first place for a hurricane-proof house.

Later, the official winners were announced: Germany, Illinois, California; for example, in this DOE press release, here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mercury risk from H1N1 vaccine should be neglible (unless you have kids)


The New York Times has a FAQ column Oct. 9 on H1N1 swine flu and the two vaccines, with link here.

Some major points:
(1) The standard injectible vaccine is a dead virus, suitable for pregnant women. However multiple does vials have the preservative thimerosal, a mercury compound. The amount of mercury in a does is less than that in a tuna sandwich. But parents or individuals can request single doses without the mercury. I’ve reported on my blogs before concerns about vaccine mercury and autism, even though serious studies don’t seem to confirm that concern.
(2) The nasal spray is a live virus, which should not be used with pregnant women or the elderly.
(3) The number of deaths and hospitalizations in young people, even in those without known health problems, now seems to be significantly higher than for seasonal flu.
(4) Young people and pregnant women will be vaccinated first (with kids getting the nasal vaccine in schools with parental consent), but there should be enough for everyone well before the end of 2009.
(5) The Swine flu H1N1 in the new shot covers only the novel Mexican virus. Seasonal flu contains some older H1N1 strains, as well as H3N2 and B strains. In older people, the seasonal flu antigens for the older strains seems to give some protection against the new strain.
(6) Dogs should also get shots for H3NA. Sorry, no equal time for cats!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Is H1N1 "changing society"?


I like this piece on Dell-MSN today, “8 Ways Swine Flu Is Changing Society”, link here.

Cultural intimate greetings and religious celebrations are affected, and employers (and employees) are challenged to change their attitudes about “presenteeism”, a difficult adjustment when people believe that absence for flu could add the risk of layoff.

And public health is just that: it’s about “herd immunity” (vaccination of more people reduces the risk to others, even if there is a minute risk associated with vaccination). And suddenly people are sensitive about sneezing in public (by humans, not cats).

But most people as individuals are in very little danger of serious medical injury or death from the current H1N1. Ironically, people over 60 may be at the least risk because of prior exposure early in life, and the same population seems to get some protection from H1N1 itself from the regular seasonal vaccine! (So older people should get the regular vaccine now.) But a few people are, pregnant women especially, may be, when “exposed” by “careless” others. So we have the classic moral problem of “we” vs. “I” (or Rick Warren’s “It isn’t about you!”)

The other question is, what happens if H5N1 suddenly explodes, and is deadly?

Attribution link for Wikimedia photo of Red Cross treatment for 1918 flu.

ABC News has an important story by Steve Osunsami and Sadie Bass, "Unpaid Sick Days Leave Parents With Tough Choices During Flu Season: Parents Without Paid Time Off Scramble to Care for Sick Children, Risk Exposing Co-Workers to Disease", link here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Autism Spectrum Disorders now affect over 1% of children: is this just increased awareness?



A National Children’s Health Survey Report finds that 1 in 91 minors under 18 have an austism spectrum disorder, according to a report in Pediatrics. A typical story is on the Autism Society website, here. (The Journal of Petriatrics article was not yet available online today.) This is a major increase from earlier reports of 1 in 150. Boys are four times as likely as girls to express autism, so mathematically that could mean that something like 1 in 35 boys expresses some degree of autism (including Asperger syndrome, as discussed here). The link describes Asperger partly as inability to grasp the “hidden curriculum.”

There is some controversy as to whether these numbers simply result from increased reporting. The CDC has a statement on it, here. There has been controversy as to whether vaccinations could be linked to autism, and the topic comes up in connection with the new H1N1 vaccines, which authorities insist is safe (because of the need for herd immunity as a public health measure). There could also be a question of culture: an individualistic society gives people less personal attention, and in some cases that could lead to children, especially boys, not picking up on the “hidden curriculum.” The nature of today’s technology seems to require intense concentration and focus for innovation; some younger people who have contributed to the innovations may be so focused that they are relatively uninterested in relatively conventional family interactions and some might be borderline Asperger’s. Some people with mild Asperger syndrome do quite well in school (if somewhat “selectively”) and adjust well in college, if in the “right” kind of campus environment.

Here is the report from Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News Oct. 5.

Monday, October 05, 2009

School systems make teachers own up on classroom management, handling disruptive students on their own



At a time when the District of Columbia is cutting teachers, rather publicly, all school systems are also making teachers work harder at classroom management and at handling disruptive, often disadvantage students themselves. The Washington Examiner story (Sunday October 4) is by Leah Fabel, “Teachers struggle with ‘keep ‘em in class’ directive” (directed first at Montgomery County, MD), link here.

Sometimes teachers schedule Saturday detention or supervised community service after school. When I was a sub, I was asked to get involved with detention once, and there were cleaning supplies deployed for the exercise!

Discipline is a real issue for subs. School systems encourage continuous engagement, eye contact, and greeting of students when they enter class in order to establish a sense of “control”. It seems artificial to me.

In Michelle Rhee's reign in DC Schools, the ability of teachers to maintain good classroom control was one of the most important criteria for job retention, and poor classroom management often led to being selected for layoff Oct. 2.

There was one teacher who told NBC4 that she was planning a kindergarten lesson Monday on fruits and "purple pears". Now some kids will have strangers in front of the class Monday morning.



On the other hand, check out Emma Brown's "A Chance To Teach Beyond the Classroom: Fellowship Offers Federal Experience", in the Metro Section of the Oct. 5 Washington Post, link here.

On NBC Nightly News Monday, Brian Williams reported on the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power) Program, particularly with its technique of teaching through song and chant, because when people sing lyrics, they are much more likely to remember them perfectly, and permanently. I guess any opera diva knows that.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Insurers would still continue to find ways to cherry pick under Obama; how about the "fat tax"?


The Washington Post is reporting Sunday Oct. 4 that insurance companies will find tricky ways to discriminate and cherry pick even when they are prohibited from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The story is by David S. Hizenrath, on p A4, “Discrimination by Insurers Likely Even With Reform, Experts Say; Economic Pressure Could Give Rise to New Biases Against Prior Conditions”, link here.

Health insurers could offer perks like health club memberships that only healthier people could use, or they could slow or bog down processing in such a way that is injurious to sicker patients.

Then, Daniel Engbar on Slate offers an article ("Let Them Drink Water") on the hypothetical “fat tax”, which is not the same as Steve Forbes’s “flat tax”. Back during WWII, there were proposals to tax overweight people to feed soldiers, but now the tax would be more likely to consist of extending cigarette-style taxes to sodapop and various fast foods.

Picture: NIH van related to new HIV vaccine trials, at AIDSWalk Oct. 3 in Washington DC.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Michigan mom threatend with prosecution for watching kids as a good deed ("illegal day care"?)


A young mother in Michigan was threatened with criminal prosecution for operating an “illegal day care center” in her home for agreeing to watch neighbor’s kids for less than an hour as they wait for a school bus. A neighbor complained, and the mother received a letter from the State on Sept. 11, 2009, saying she was violating statute 116, law Michigan passed in 1973.

There was an issue as to whether it was legal if the kids stayed outside on the porch.

Attorneys said that the law was overbroad and that its constitutionality might be challenged. The state is very unlikely to prosecute, however, given the furor, and the legislature will probably rewrite the law in the next session.



The conservative newspapers like The Washington Times will no doubt weigh in on this one. The law would make a lot of ordinary baby sitting illegal, like I received as a kid. This is government run amok.

Wikipedia attribution link for 18th Century map of Michigan in public domain now.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Supreme Court will test incorporation doctrine for 2nd Amendment


The Supreme Court will take a case in Chicago as to whether state and local handgun laws contradict the Second Amendment right of an individual to bear arms.

The Court ruled that the Second Amendment was a right protecting citizens from the federal government restricting the right to bear arms (in federal enclaves like the District of Columbia); the Incorporation Doctrine has not yet been applied to the states.

The Court will decide whether the same reasoning that self-defense throgh bearing arms is an individual right applies to state and local governments.