Is the anti-vaccine movement dangerous?

April 24, 2012

I get e-mail from Bob Park, the physicist curmudgeon/philosopher at the University of Maryland (I’ve added links):

Robert L. Park

Robert L. Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


There was never a time before people knew that falling trees and large animals with teeth can kill.  Microbes are another matter. They had been killing us for perhaps 200,000 years before Antonie van Leeuwenhoek showed them to us. Paul Offit and two colleagues worked for 25 years to develop a vaccine for the rotavirus, a cause of gastroenteritis that kills as many as 600,000 children a year worldwide, mostly in underdeveloped countries.  The vaccine is credited with saving hundreds of lives a day.  Offit wrote “Autism’s False Prophets” in 2008 exposing British physician Andrew Wakefield for falsely claiming the MMR vaccineis linked to autism.

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of...

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vaccination prevents more suffering than any other branch of medicine, but is still opposed by the scientifically ignorant who accept the upside-down logic of the alternative medicine movement.  Because vaccination of schoolchildren against virulent childhood infections is ubiquitous, crackpots, scoundrels and gullible reporters get away with linking it to unrelated health problems as they did in the 1980s with the ubiquitous power lines.  We still hear echoes of the power-line scare in the cell phone/cancer panic. Paul Offit has just written “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.”  We need to do everything we can to stop it.

You don’t subscribe to Bob Park’s “What’s New?”  You should.

Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the
University of Maryland, but they should be.

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You’ll be smarter for reading his little missiles missives missiles.


Measles cases reported in the United States be...

Earth Day honors Earth, our majestic home — not Lenin (2012 version)

April 22, 2012

This is mostly an encore post — sad that it needs repeating.

You could write it off to pareidolia, once. Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday. Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22 (new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — but that’s a digression for another day).

It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image

Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources, not conservation.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?”  Can you say “political smear?”

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Warn people not to be sucked in by the hoax:

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Paying homage to civil rights pioneers: Remembering Rosa Parks’ courage

April 20, 2012

President Obama, sitting on the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 - White House photo by Pete Souza

President Obama, sitting on the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 - White House photo by Pete Souza.

In USA Today (via The Detroit Free Press), reporter David Jackson described the event:

When President Barack Obama went to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn on Wednesday, he got to visit one of the shrines of the civil rights movement that helped lead to the nation’s first African-American president.

Rosa Parks’ bus.

Obama described a moving scene to supporters later that morning.

“I actually had the chance to sit in Rosa Parks’ bus,” Obama said. “I just sat there for a moment and pondered the courage and tenacity that is part of our very recent history, but is also a part of that long line of folks — sometimes nameless, oftentimes didn’t make the history books — but who constantly insisted on their dignity, their stake in the American Dream.”

Parks’ refusal to move to the back of that bus on Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., led to her arrest, which led to a bus boycott by African Americans, which led to the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which led to the elevation of a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr.

Eventually came the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and an ongoing sea change in American race relations that includes the 2008 election of Barack Obama.

Said Obama at another stop: “It takes ordinary citizens to bring about change, who are committed to keep fighting and keep pushing, and keep inching this country closer to our highest ideals.”

More, and Resources:

Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month

April 18, 2012

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month


April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, it is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies, or can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seemingly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm; but certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poems slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.

And that is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes next April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oldest Scout in Las Vegas welcomes newest Scout

April 18, 2012

Yeah, this was last January, but it’s still a little Scout bon mot.  The oldest alumnus of Scouting in the Las Vegas Area Council welcomes the newest recruit in the Council — the montage of their repeating the oath is worth the viewing.  Nice shots of Vegas, too.

The ceremony occurred when Adventure Base 100 visited the area.

Thank you, Federal District Judge Lloyd George.

Good things boys learn in Scouting in Las Vegas don’t stay in Vegas — they spread across the globe, instead.

ObamaCare: Making stuff up to complain about

April 17, 2012

Collected on Facebook, April 16, 2012:

Van painted with hoax claim that Obama and Congress exempt from ObamaCare, Page 114 Line 22. Not so.

It even offers a page and a line — page 114, line 22.  But that page has nothing to do with what the caption on the truck says.  Congress, the President and their families, are not exempt from the Affordable Care Act. The Grassley Amendment expressly puts them in the plan, though they would have been left with their employer-provided plans without that special inclusion clause.

Here’s the text from H.R. 3200, the Affordable Care Act, on page 114.  Where’s the language this guy complains about?

17 ‘‘(b) LIMITATIONS ON USE OF DATA.—Nothing in this
18 section shall be construed to permit the use of information
19 collected under this section in a manner that would ad
20 versely affect any individual.
21 ‘‘(c) PROTECTION OF DATA.—The Secretary shall en
22 sure (through the promulgation of regulations or otherwise)
23 that all data collected pursuant to subsection (a) are—
24 ‘‘(1) used and disclosed in a manner that meets
25 the HIPAA* privacy and security law (as defined in

[continuing to page 115]

1 section 3009(a)(2) of the Public Health Service Act),
2 including any privacy or security standard adopted
3 under section 3004 of such Act; and
4 ‘‘(2) protected from all inappropriate internal
5 use by any entity that collects, stores, or receives the
6 data, including use of such data in determinations of
7 eligibility (or continued eligibility) in health plans,
8 and from other inappropriate uses, as defined by the
9 Secretary.

That GPO version of the bill is searchable in .pdf form — searching for “Congress” I find no reference to any part that exempts Congress.  Searching for “exemption,” I find no mention of any exemption from any provision that applies to Congress or the President.

So, what are the anti-ObamaCare fanatics really concerned about?  Is there language in the bill that exempts either Congress or the President, from any provision?

Some guy is so obsessed with hatred for President Obama and health care reform that he paints the offending part on his truck.  But he gets the law wrong.

Nothing in the Affordable Care Act exempts Congress, nor the President, from its terms.

Dear Reader, what am I missing?  Can you explain?

I wonder if the guy is into tattoos.


*  HIPAA is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA; Pub.L. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936, enacted August 21, 1996)


PPS:  Here’s the text of H. R. 3590, the number of the bill that finally passed.  I can’t find any more light there, either.


Update: In comments, blueollie refers us to a Forbes blog article that both reveals the truth of the matter — Congress and the President get no special treatment — and the origins of the hoax.

So, here’s the real deal –As things currently stand, Members of Congress and their staff, until 2014, will continue to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). This program, considered among the best in the nation, allows federal employees- including Members of Congress and their staff- to choose from a wide range of health plans and select the one that best suits their needs. Note that the current plan is neither ‘government’ insurance, ‘free’ insurance nor any other sort of sweet deal that the public has been led to believe is the case. The federal employee’s program involves private insurance policies with premiums, deductibles, co-pays, etc.

Here’s the surprise – come 2014, when the lion’s share of the ACA provisions come on line, Members of Congress and their staff will be required to buy their health insurance on an exchange. In fact, their choices will be even more limited than our own. While it is expected that some 24 million people will elect to purchase their health care policy on a state run exchange, we are not required by law to do so. Members of Congress and their staff, however, must buy their insurance in this way.

There you have it.  That guy, whoever he is, had his truck painted erroneously.  We hope he doesn’t have a close relationship with the tattoo parlor.


So many hoaxes relating to Barack Obama; do you think there’s a shop somewhere with a dozen people sitting around dreaming up these hoaxes?  What else explains the sheer number of Obama-related hoaxes?


Welcome to readers of The LOLBRARY.  What do you think?  (Tip of the old scrub brush to CapnUnderpants, who must be a great guy.)


Dear Readers, in 2013 – how about leaving a note in comments to tell me from where you’re coming?  Who referred you to this set of facts?

Rep. Allen West: Santayana’s Ghost claims another victim

April 16, 2012

It’s right there in the right ear of this weblog for all to see; George Santayana said,Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Rep. Allen West, from Florida’s newly created 18th Congressional District, is old enough to know better, but doesn’t:

The question was, how many American legislators does Rep. West think might be “card-carrying” communists.  He answered that 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party are communists.

Okay, kids, what’s wrong with Rep. West’s claim?


Santayana's aphorism about those ignorant of history, on a plaque in a German subway

Wikimedia photo by Andy82: Caption: Citation of George Santayana at the U-Bahn (subway) Station Gesundbrunnen (Berlin). Translation: "Who does not know the past is condemned to repeat it". The poster above the citation advertises video surveillance. Translation: "Attention. video surveillance". The sign below the citation shows that the U-Bahn Station is a building of historic importance which stands under preservation order. Denkmal means literally memorial or monument

The only way Rep. West could know if anyone in any Democratic caucus is a communist is if Rep. West runs the membership office for the American Communist Party.

That’s probably true, Raoul.  I hadn’t thought about that — but it certainly calls into question just how Rep. West could know what he claims, doesn’t it?  What else is wrong with the claim?  Yes, Anna:

Wouldn’t a member of a third party caucus with their own party, and not with the Democrats?  I mean, even though he voted for the Democratic leadership, Bernie Sanders always let it be known that he was independent, and not a Democrat.  If there were 80 of them in Congress, wouldn’t they get special breaks on committee assignments as Communists?

Oh, Anna, all that time you spent reading the House Rules has made you the Master of Arcana, hasn’t it?  You’re probably right, though we can’t be sure — a third party with that many seats could almost swing a vote in the House — and so, as in Europe, they’d probably want to caucus together, so they could bargain for power with the other two larger parties, at least.  Good catch.  Not quite what I was looking for.  But it’s one more way that Rep. West looks a little silly, isn’t it?

Santayana on ignorance of history, at Auschwitz - Wikipedia image


Mr. Begay?  Did you have your hand up?

How do you know Rep. West was talking about the House of Representatives?  He could have been talking about the Senate, couldn’t he?

Yes, and you’re getting closer to the the issue I’m thinking of.  If we just take his statement at face value, he could be including the Senate — does that suggest another line of analysis you should be thinking of, Davey?

What do you mean?  I don’t get it.

Did Rep. West limit his analysis to federal legislators?  Did he exclude state legislators?  The questioner just asked about how many “card-carrying” communists there are among legislators in the U.S.  There are 538 Members of Congress (100 senators, plus 435 representatives from the states, plus three delegates from D.C. and Guam and Puerto Rico). Plus, there are another 7,382 people in the state legislatures.  The questioner didn’t limit his question to Congress; did Rep. West limit his answer to Congress?  I doubt it.

Yes, Kwame?

Isn’t this claim dangerously close to that other dude . . . McCartney, or something?  McCarthy!  Joe McCarthy.  Isn’t this almost exactly what Joe McCarthy said?

Very similar — maybe it’s a long standing problem, do you think, Kwame?

No, no.  McCarthy falsely accused people.  Turned out the list he waved in West Virginia kept changing — how many communists there were, who was on the list. He was just grandstanding.  He didn’t really know what he was talking about.

And Rep. West?

Well, don’t we have better information now?

How is our information better today?

You know, with the NSA bugging everybody’s phone and reading everybody’s e-mails.  Don’t you think they’d know who is a communist and who is not?

What do you think?  Do the federal agencies have better tools today?  And if they did, does that make it a crime to yearn for a different political system?  Do communists have rights, like Republicans and Democrats do, to push for change through their preferred political party?  Does Rep. West have access to the NSA’s work?  Billy?

Rep. West knows what happened to Sen. McCarthy, right?  This looks like exactly the same sort of stuff McCarthy did, but surely he wouldn’t make false charges like McCarthy did, would he?

So you think that there are, secretly, 70 or 80 Members of Congress who are communists, working to overthrow the government of the U.S.?

Tell you what:  Let’s look at Sen. McCarthy’s original complaint, as he telegraphed it to President Truman from Nevada; and let’s look at Truman’s response [both courtesy of the Truman Library, “Telegram, Joseph McCarthy to Harry S. Truman, February 11, 1950, with Truman’s draft reply; McCarthy, Joseph; General File; PSF; Truman Papers”].

Six pages from Sen. McCarthy:

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

And here is President Truman’s response, in draft form, before being sent as a telegram in reply:

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

So, knowing what you know about Sen. McCarthy, the Red Scare, the Cold War, and President Truman, what to you think of the accuracy of the claims McCarthy made?  Are the claims of Rep. West any better documented?

Santayana’s Ghost wonders whether you and I remember history correctly.


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