Wednesday, December 30, 2009

H1N1 now available at retail outlets in northern VA; website offers map and participating businesses


Virginia has been a little slow with H1N1 vaccine availability, but I got my shot today at a Safeway in Arlington. I called yesterday and made the appointment for today.

If you are on Medicare, you should take your Medicare card. Medicare pays the admin fee ($15). The nurse did not ask for the supplementary insurance card. And for most people the social security number alone is not the full Medicare number. I was offered only the injection, not the nasal spray; and it was a little more painful than usual.

A general practitioner in Arlington said that he had a supply for a while in mid December but ran out quickly.

The website with information on what businesses (largely pharmacies, grocery stores with pharmacies, and Targets) have both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine in the DC area can be navigated from this website (link). I believe that the site knows what states to show you from the IP address that you log on from, if you have broadband or wireless.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HIV treatments are allowing expectancies to approach normal


ABC “Good Morning America” today reported the enormous increase in life expectancy in young men infected with HIV. Back in 1996, the report said, the life expectancy of someone in his 20s infected was still in the fifties. Now, at the end of 2009, it is to almost age 70, approaching normalcy, because of the effectiveness of combination antiviral drug therapy, where the use of several drugs in combination reduces side effects and reduces viral resistance.

A 2008 report in Health Daily News maintains that life expectancy still trails the general population by about 20 years. But HIV is very much becoming a manageable, treatable disease, perhaps with a longer expectancy than some other diseases like juvenile diabetes.

Steven Reinberg’s report had been run in the Washington Post on July 25, 2008, URL link here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Abstinence-only education is a minor "hostage" of the health care debate


Rob Stein has an article on p A3 of the Washington Post Sunday Dec. 27, “Abstinence programs seen as at risk”, link here. There are vague provisions in both the Senate and House health care reform bills to let states continue some sex education in health and physical education classes.

I might as well give the link for the National abstinence Education Association as another example of a pressure group with a single issue, with a focus that may distort the bigger problems.

Abstinence education cuts both ways. Yes, you want to tell teenagers not to make babies before they are old enough and ready to earn a living and support a family. But saying that marriage should monopolize sexuality implies that having a family eventually is essentially a moral obligation of life.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Senate passes health care bill 60-39 Christmas Eve



The Senate passed its health care bill early Christmas Eve morning (maybe with Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve Suite" playing in the background), 60-39 (yes, it sounds like a high-scoring football game). But many of the provisions, such as protecting consumers from discrimination over pre-existing conditions and rescissions , don’t go into effect until 2014.

Congress can work hard during the Christmas holidays, it seems.

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The differences with the House bill have to be worked out in committee. They are considerable.

I’ve wondered how the bill would affect people who hire people, such as caregivers, in their homes.

Update: Dec. 25

The Washington Post has a comparison chart of the Senate v. House bills, link here.

A few provisions would be available quickly, such as state high-risk pools to provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and tax credits for small businesses to purchase coverage for workers. In six months, deductibles for many coverages would be dropped, and insurance companies could no longer cancel policies with rescissions. Some of the mandatory provisions with exchanges would not go into effect until 2014, however.

Update: Dec. 27


The New York Times has a major editorial "The Next Step on Health Reform" with big dot-point comparisons of House and Senate versions, here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

General issues order banning pregnancy in his command in Iraq


A commanding general in Iraq, of the northern command, has stirred up controversy by issuing a general order banning pregnancy within his ranks, including impregnation by male soldiers, even among married servicemembers (married to one another). The commanding general is Anthony Cucolo. He has backed off, saying that no solider will be jailed, although it sounds like Article 15’s or non-judicial punishments would happen. (No, I never bought those threats during my own Army Basic in 1968 than an Article 15 would “ruin my life” but I never got one.)

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I could laugh and say, well, the Army doesn’t want gays, but now it doesn’t want straights. That leaves only the priests. Back in 1993, the Marine Corps proposed not allowing married men to enlist.

Update: Dec. 28, 2009

The New York Times has a front page story "Another Peril in the War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.'s", link here. Again, the abuse problems seem to occur with heterosexuals in the military!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Senate votes cloture in health care, 60-40


In a cloture vote almost strictly along party lines, the Senate passed the motion to move forward on health care around 1 AM Monday morning. No, I did not stay up to watch it. Something like Kevin Jonas’s getting married in the middle of a blizzard sounds more entertaining.

Seriously, the Senate had dropped the public option (about which the President had become lukewarm) and Medicare expansion before age 65, but would give 30 million uninsured the opportunity to buy in through exchanges.

The Senate may take a final vote Christmas Eve. Then the House and Senate must reconcile, just as you learned in civics class, or in Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.

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The Senate version does take care of the pre-existing conditions problem and benefits cap problem, but contains a lot of corrupt pork (for Nebraska and Vermont) and imposes some new taxes (like tanning salons and hugh earners) to increase coverage. It is a bit of a hodgepodge. Politics as usual.

ABC GMA raises issue of "dissolving" adoptions


Good Morning America, on Dec. 21, ran a story about an little discussed topic: dissolving adoptions. The specific story is about an Oklahoma couple that adopted a troubled child that they now are afraid to allow to return to their home after the boy is released from psychiatric care. The news story, “Oklahoma Couple Wants to Return Troubled Adopted Son to State”, is by Ryan Owens and Suzan Clarke, with link here.

There is an expensive process called “dissolution” which is rarely used in Oklahoma. The couple wants the law changed to make the process simpler when the child came from the state.

However, child advocates insist that the bond with an adoptive parent should be as legally and morally compelling as with a biological parent. On the other hand, a situation like this might make future adoptive parents less willing to take on the responsibility of adopting troubled children, sometimes born to alcohol or drug abusing mothers. It might also make adoption placement less effective as a “right to life” strategy.

Some time in 2008, Nebraska overturned a law that allowed any parents, even from out of state, to dump their kids, even biological, with amnesty.

On Dec. 22, GMA followed up and discussed "reactive attachment disorder", common in children abuse before adoption, at one time discussed on Dr. Phil.

Apparently 20/20 will cover this soon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Newsweek reviews the decade in 7 minutes; unemployment remains high as long as banks do not lend


Newsweek offers its readers a “Decade in 7 Minutes” video here:



It may be an unintentional coincidence that one of Irving Wallace’s novels back in the 1970s was “The Seven Minutes” with a specific innuendo.

Newsweek also offers a discouraging article by Rana Faroohar, “Joblessness is Here to Stay: Short-term prospects may be brightening, but high unemployment will be a fixture for the foreseeable future”, link here.

The biggest reason for the poor job market is that banks are not lending money. The president is already trying to jawbone the banks on this one. The article notes also that in a more individualistic society, when unemployment increases, people just become disconnected from the community as a whole.

One curious feature of the employment market is that it is becoming more people-centered, and probably more female. It simply is too easy to export individual contributor jobs with little social manipulation overseas. All of this is happening after an era where self-sufficiency had been promoted as a virtue in so much of the culture.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Donald Trump warns of another stock market bubble, if banks don't start lending again


Tonight, on Larry King Live, Donald Trump warned that the current minor resurgence in the stock market (the Dow closed at 10328 Friday) may turn out to be another phantom bubble, particularly if the banks don’t start lending again. Does Wall Street really like unemployment?

Trump said that “something is wrong with the system.” Rates are low but banks refuse to lend. Purchasers of Trump’s condos can’t get “end loans” to close. Trump says he would start several projects and could hire more people if banks would lend.

On Sunday Dec. 20, the NBC "Meet the Press" interview emphasized that stock in health insurance companies has risen recently in expectation that Obama will get a health reform bill through that requires mandatory insurance (in exchange for dropping pre-existing condition exlucsion), probaby without a Public Option to compete with the companies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhagen talks on climate change are underwhelming, to say the least


The New York Times has an important editorial on climate change, “Two Days and Counting”, link here. The Times says that the scuttlebutt from the talks is grim, a kind of quiet Medium Cool, with a comprehensive treaty not in the cards. As we remember from ABC’s grim docudrama last June (“Earth 2100”), the planet may not be able to afford stalled negotiations now.

Nevertheless, the Times discusses the morality of richer countries buying their way out of immediate emissions control obligations (sort of like buying your way out of the draft in New York during the Civil War) and of paying poorer countries not to cut down their rain forests. Hint: Brazil is not a poor country.

The Washington Post has a similar editorial, “World leaders remain far from a deal in Copenhagen”, link here.

Hugo Chavez, socialist leader of Venezuela known to brandish the oil weapon, accused the rich countries of plundering the planet, as if preparing to move to Mars anyway. All of this on a day when astronomers found a “water world” just 40 light years from Earth. Good luck with the moving expenses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ExxonMobil adopts the Pickens Plan with purchase of XTO


Perhaps ExxonMobil is implementing its own form of the Pickens Plan in announcing the stock purchase of XTO, as on this announcement page yesterday. XTO is said to excel in “unconventional” sources of natural gas. XTO’s own home page features an interesting picture of the Australian outback.

"I've got a PL-AN!" -- remember?

Fox News provided an embeddable video.



The purchase seems to represent a belief that ordinary American fuel production and consumption, including personal automobile fuel, will soon have to result in much less carbon emissions. The United States is also much better poised in terms of natural gas than oil in reducing dependence on imports as peak oil production occurs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Zakaria GPS discusses concept of global warming "insurance"


Today, as Copenhagen winds down, Fareed Zakaria GPS hosted a debate between Bjorn Lomborg and Paul Krugman.

The overall idea was that we need a small “insurance premium” to invest in at least making sure that a catastrophic warming (10 degrees Fahrenheit in the next ten years) is not possible. Presumably that in some way invokes some kind of tax on every American for the carbon they emit. There is still the idea that green, not-outsourcable jobs will be created.

Al Gore has recently warned “nature does not give bailouts.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Special education programs do help boys with "mild" autisim; biological neurological timing issue thought to be involved


Emma Brown had an article a while back in the Washington Post, Dec. 3, “Teaching the ABC's of crucial social skills: As number of autistic kids rises, schools and programs are being created to aid those with mild form”, link here. The article seems to focus mainly on Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly in middle school settings where teasing and outright physical hostility from some students occurs in some environments.

Often, students with mild autism are mainstreamed as special education students, but instructional assistants accompany them. It takes a special kind of person to work as an assistant. But often substitutes work as assistants, and may simply accompany them to class and not want to or know how to interact with them.

I believe that I had Aspergers myself in “junior high school” in the 1950s. But then, it was seen as a “moral” problem. I showed signs of developmental issues suddenly in third grade, when I started interrupting in class and falling behind in physical activities on recess (“No bunts except for Boushka”). But, as I explained recently on the drama blog, I started piano in third grade and was good at it and gradually outgrew many of the problems. I got so I could hit a moderately pitched softball and play ping pong, but I could not swim, do tumbling, or endure contact sports (football).

Neurologists say that boys with autistic symptoms have biological neurological responses that are just too “slow”, much the way a computer can become too "slow". Therefore they can focus on individual activities and interests as long as they are not distracted and don’t have to “shift gears” at the demands of others. The slow neurological response accounts for falling behind in athletic abilities. The developmental "disability" relates to interpersonal connection speed and social spontaniety, not to congnition itself.

I can recall the experience of being disrupted just to be made to do “unnecessary” things just to please the social needs of others. It was their needs, not mine. So it seems that some of our genetically determined neurological response is related to fitting into a social structure (lions' pride) determined by others, not simply to performing tasks on our own terms. Mildly autistic people often become successful in computer-related occupations where they can work and think alone. Some have become millionaires.

Today (Saturday Dec. 12), the Post printed a letter on p A13 from parents who at one time had a son at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. I substitute-taught at Kenmore in early 2005 and was banned with a “do not use” request after I had too many problems with classroom discipline (“poor classroom management”). The issue is discussed in more detail on my main blog July 25, 2007. On one occasion, in a special ed class, some bullies turned on a particular student suddenly, and I could not stop it. I had to call security immediately. But I was considered ineffective as a male “authority figure.” It seems from this letter that Kenmore Middle School, despite its wonderful new building, still has serious problems with discipline, which must stem from practices of the administration. The best middle school now in Arlington is Swanson. That’s where I went in the 1950s, and I had no problems subbing there.

Also, when I subbed, a couple of times supposedly "autistic" students were able to carry on perfectly appropriate classroom-subject-related discussions with me (with the Aspergers as I have said above) alone, to the point of not seeming "impaired" and said that I understood them better than most "real" teachers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Suze Orman recommends credit unions for credit cards


Suze Orman gave some good advice to consumers last night (Dec 10) on Larry King Live, the most important being that consumers should look to credit unions for credit cards. She recommended the following site "Card Analysis Solutions" (link) to track the behavior of various institutions with respect to their treatment of credit card customers. Suze said, the people who run this site know what they are doing!

There was an article about this site in Credit Union Times, here.

A Bank of America employee (first party collector) fired for not being tough enough with consumers gives a YouTube interview, in a Daily Finance story by Bruce Watson, here.




The picture presented is that banks are for profit, to make money any way they can, so it is easier to gouge people who are down already.

Suze Orman also suggested that interest rates need to go higher so that banks can find it profitable to make small business loans to entrepreneurs, and to strengthen the dollar and make more goods in the US.

She suggested that in a low interest environment seniors could look at fully insured general obligation bonds, or even carefully chosen conservative stocks paying dividends, like utilities.

She said that a person’s priorities should be “you as a person, your money, and only then our fame.”

She said that the recession has taught our culture a bitter lesson in living beyond its means, but that individually people were not at fault (does that make sense?)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama's remarks on the Nobel Prize; On to Copenhagen


Here is the link to the president’s speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm (URL address here).

While this does not have the mystery of the hit movie “The Prize”, the president arguably is making the only stable move toward peace by facing a real enemy in Afghanistan (we could add many portions of Pakistan, and the concern over the security of Pakistan’s small nuclear weapons to the list of concerns). The president insisted that absolute evil, whether in Europe in the 1930s or in some areas of the Muslim world today, must be met with force, sometimes.

Of course, we can say that the former administration faced absolute evil with the Iraqi dictator.

The president moves on to Copenhagen, where he will have to look at the real science, and not the hit-and-run naysayers. It is true, however, as Ben Stein points out, there have been warmer periods in the past, and concerns about cooling as recently as 1978.

Wikipedia attribution link for Stockholm Concert Hall. My only visit to the city was in August 1972.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

EPA takes the law into its own hand on GHG's


The Environmental Protection Agency has acted on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving it authority to treat greenhouse gasses (GHG’s) as pollutants and issued a report Monday saying that it will act, even without Congress, to impose some standards.

Here is the main link to the report.

The link as a video with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

Sarah Palin's article ("Copenhagen's Political Science") this morning in the Post on those East Anglican emails is here.

Here's Gore's take on Palin, Beck, etc. It's a "moral issue."

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Monday, December 07, 2009

We simply spend too much on health care


Take a look at this op-ed by Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post, Monday Dec, 7, “Health care nation: Medical spending threatens everything else,” link here. He says that almost everything else in society is essentially “rationed” either by price or politics, but that health care spending is out of control.

It is the obligation to revere life that drives a lot of spending. It isn’t just the cost of care, it is the need for support from others, that grows when medicine is able to prolong life but not necessarily prolong independence. The whole concept of family responsibility and how that relates to voluntary choices (like having children) is up for change.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advice to public school systems: do more with less


The DC Examiner on Sunday, Dec. 6 has a stern article on the school systems, “Do more with less in lean times, education experts say,” in a story by Leah Fabel, based on interviews with DC area school systems. The web link URL is here.

There is an impression that schools really can do with fewer teachers and larger classes, and can let less energetic teachers go. Michelle Rhee has pretty much proven that with the DC school system. Ditto for adminisrative staff, which could afford cuts. It’s not clear how all this would affect Career Switcher programs. It also says that businesses should encourage employees to volunteer to mentor students.

Remember the call for much teachers for public schools did not really get going until about 2003. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s teaching was not seen by the larger public and the media as a particularly attractice calling; and many poorer school districts struggled with budgets and layoffs.

The Cato Institute still favors vouchers for private schools, and can point to the Kipp Program as an example of what entrepreneurs can do in education .

Nevertheless, local school systems say they have openings for subs. Here is the Fairfax County link.

Annie Gowen in the Dec. 6 Sunday Washington Post reports "Lack of computer access hampers some students: Even wealthy Fairfax is forced to contend with a digital divide", link here. While Internet safety consultants tell parents to put family computers in public areas, kids really need considerable private access for legitimate homework. Kids without Internet access at home are at a serious academic disadvantage. On the other hand, teachers sometimes fear that overuse of the Internet leads to plagiarism, or imporperly researched papers (like the issue over citing Wikipedia). When I subbed, many lesson plans were on printed handouts that could have been supplemented by Internet research.

Also, the New York Times on Sunday has an article by Bernie Becker, "Troops Finding New Service as Teachers," link here.

Picture: (math quiz question): how many complete closed railroad circuits are on this Brio layout?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Washington Times still plays denial on global warming


Look at this Washington Times lead editorial Friday, “Global Warming Theology: The end is nigh; their god is dead”, link here (two days after the paper announced its downsizing).

Okay, they accuse Al Gore of the same circular reasoning that Gore’s book criticizes the detractors from the global warming debate for (in his second book, “Our Choice”).

But it’s funny how conservatives who push “family values” and bigger families with more children also say that the world is one of plenty. If life were easy, why do we have to think so hard about moral values? Oh, I know, they’re in the Bible or Koran; you don’t think, you obey.

Here is the NBC Nightly News Report on the "East Anglia Email Controversy".

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009


On Monday November 30 The Washington Post offered a special insert “HIV (not)= AIDS” from Media Planet (link) and Poz Magazine. An important recent story in the latter concerns PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, link here. This points to an AMFAR report that shows significant decline in AIDS mortality (link).

And in observance of World AIDS Day, Google and Twitter both spiffed up their sites today, according to a story in CNET here.

WJLA says that Washington DC has a higher HIV infection rate than any state. And the infection rate is growing more rapidly in African American women than any other group. WJLA also reports that there a lot more signs and advertisements for anti-retroviral drugs than there are for safer sexual practices. Of course, that leads to the debate about "abstinence".