Silent majority comes out for book on vaccines

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

When the letters and e-mails started to pour in, Dr. Paul Offit braced himself. The pediatrician and vaccine inventor is a prominent defender of childhood vaccines, tackling those who have argued that immunizations can cause autism.

His book, “Autism’s False Prophets,” takes on British researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose now-debunked 1998 study in the prestigious Lancet medical journal linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. It also criticizes organized groups that advise parents to avoid vaccinating their children for fear the vaccines may cause autism.

The issue is at the center of a vociferous and often vicious debate, despite the preponderance of scientific opinion in favor of vaccination.

Offit has endured hate-filled letters, death threats and even a phone call that menaced his children. However, his book was greeted with an outpouring of support from parents of children with autism who had previously remained silent.

It’s actually been exactly the opposite of what I would have guessed,” Offit said in an interview…

Last week a special U.S. federal vaccine court ruled against three families who claimed vaccines caused autism in their children. Offit hopes the ruling, on top of dozens of scientific reports, may reassure parents whose fears about vaccines have caused a plunge in vaccination rates in developed countries.

As a result, childhood illnesses like measles are making a comeback. More than 1,300 measles cases were reported in England and Wales in 2008, and 197,000 people died globally from measles in 2007.

These numbers frustrate public health officials, who cite study after study showing no link between vaccination and autism.

Every decade there is a new rationalization against vaccination. I don’t know what possesses this particular tinfoil hat crowd other than the anti-intellectual, anti-science propaganda of fundamentalist religions.

When I was a kid, we waited through every winter’s illness season to see who died from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough or diphtheria – just as we feared polio in the summertime. Vaccinations allow generations since to live without that fear.

Rote memorization of facts adds to collective cluelessness

As fans of talk-show host Jay Leno’s man-on-the-street interviews know, Americans suffer from a national epidemic of historical and civic ignorance. But just because most Americans know more about “American Idol” than they do about American government doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely their fault.

Americans’ historical apathy is also an indictment of the way history is taught in grades K-12, according to a University of Illinois professor who studies and teaches historical instruction.

Brenda M. Trofanenko, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, says that teaching history by rote – that is, by having students memorize historical dates and then testing them on how well they can regurgitate that data on a test – is a pedagogical method guaranteed to get students to tune out and add to our collective civic and historical cluelessness…

“I agree that there should be a base knowledge that students need to know about their country and their community affiliations,” she said. “But its relevance lies not just in knowing historical fact but being able to see what can be gleaned from historical inquiry, including cause and effect, progress and decline, and historical significance. You still have to know what happened, but you also have to be able to put it into a larger context of what was happening at the time, why it was happening, and what relevance it has to the current day.”

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What the economic stimulus bill does for me

Cripes. Here I am acting like a regular blogger. Usually the focus of these posts is a news article written by one of the very few journalistic sources I have any respect for. Followed by a few or not-so-few lines of comment. Not this time.

I watched President Obama sign the ARRA – the economic stimulus bill – on TV up the road in Denver, this afternoon, and thought I might respond in a couple of stream of consciousness paragraphs about what it means to me and my family. Strictly subjective. Strictly personal.


I turned 72 this past weekend. This is the year I had to cut back on the supplemental insurance I buy to back up what I get from Medicare. Doesn’t matter to the insurance companies that I’ve been paying for this all the years I worked for a living. It’s not adequate. But, the cost of living in America increases faster than I can afford it.

Health insurance actually was the 2nd cut. The first was maintaining a physical presence in my community. I love Santa Fe. I love a lot of its history and architecture. I love the adventurous bits – which are as likely to stem from incomers as True Locals. But, I can’t afford the gasoline for my 15-year-old pickup truck. So, now, I’m more of a True Hermit – going in to town once a week with my wife for grocery shopping. That’s it.

Maybe I’m too old to benefit from buying a new fuel-efficient pickup. And what I’d like to buy – ain’t available in the United States, anyway. I’d love to have something the size of a Dodge Dakota or a little smaller with a small torquey turbo-diesel. Dodge has no clue about building one. Toyota does – but, they haven’t the balls to bring it to the States. Hermit it is.

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Green burial – A dying wish to be a home for fish

Carole Dunham, 69, loved the ocean. Last July, she was diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. Dunham knew her last footprint had to be a green one, and she started looking into eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial. Carole Dunham, 69, had her remains memorialized on an offshore reef.

The concept of “going green” has taken new life in the death care industry as eco-minded companies tap into the needs of those like Dunham.

From biodegradable caskets to natural burial sites, death is becoming less of a dark matter than a green one.

Dunham, an avid scuba diver, chose an eco-friendly company that would combine her cremated remains to form an artificial memorial reef.

“She loved the idea of always being in the water as an alternative to being cremated and scattered,” said her daughter Nina Dunham.

Along with its dead, the United States buries 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 827,060 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel (from caskets), and 30 million tons of hardwood board each year, according to the Green Burial Council, an independent nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“We can rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge with that amount of metal,” said Joe Sehee, the council’s executive director. “The amount of concrete is enough to build a two-line highway from New York to Detroit.”

RTFA. Plenty of interesting anecdotal detail.

Must admit my first response was that the average American couldn’t deal with this. But, then, that’s what I said about cremation decades ago. There are some ideas – like electing a Liberal Black Democrat as president or saving money while building a healthier environment for future generations – that finally do sink into our collective consciousness.

Maybe we’re getting educated?

The Donald’s casino biz files for Chapter 11

Daylife/AP Photo by Peter Kramer

Trump Entertainment Resorts, the casino group founded by Donald Trump, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multi-billion dollar debts. Trump Entertainment missed a $53m interest payment due on 1 December.

Donald Trump announced his resignation from the firm’s board last week, due to disagreement with bondholders. Mr Trump said in a statement that he was leaving amid “internal turmoil” that was being “compounded by dramatically deteriorating revenues”.

According to reports, Mr Trump had resisted bondholders’ plans to force the firm into Chapter 11.

In 1992, Trump’s Atlantic City casinos filed for Chapter 11 after buckling under the weight of $1bn in debt. He later regained control of those properties.

He has a hell of a track record, doesn’t he?

Mobile phone industry will offer universal charger. Duh!

The world’s biggest mobile phone makers and network operators have backed plans to create a universal phone recharger. Most manufacturers now produce chargers which work only with their own devices.

The re-charger will consume 50% less stand-by energy than today’s cables, the GSM Association (GSMA), an umbrella group for the industry, said. The majority of new handsets will support the re-charger by 2012.

The mini-USB connector will be used as the common charging interface.

The kind of egregious arrogance that produced the multiplicity of chargers and connectors was resolved over a century ago for home appliances. Every one of these companies must think they are Sony.

Predator B Drones to patrol U.S-Canadian border

Stop any moose in its tracks!

The first unmanned surveillance aircraft started patrolling the Manitoba portion of Canada’s border with the U.S. after a launch ceremony was held on Monday. Based at a military facility in Grand Forks, N.D., the $10-million Predator B drone aircraft are equipped with sensors capable of detecting a moving person from 10 kilometres away.

They will gather information as they fly along the 400-kilometre border and transmit it to operators who will in turn contact border agents. The drones will not carry weapons, such as missiles or laser-guided bombs, and the U.S. will need permission to send them into in Canadian airspace…

U.S. border protection official Michael Kostelnik said that in these “dangerous times,” it’s more important than ever for both countries to know who and what is crossing the border.

“There are vast parts of the border where, on any given day, we’re not sure what’s going on, so part of this is to try to deal with the unknown and not be surprised,” Kostelnik said.

Unarmed, eh?

Casinos are watching for Blackjack card-counting iPhone app

Las Vegas casino operators are on the lookout for blackjack cheaters using a card-counting iPhone application designed to help players win.

Nevada State gaming control officials have sent warnings to casinos about card-counting software that turns iPhone smart mobile telephones or iPod Touch MP3 players into illegal tools for beating the odds at blackjack tables.

“Once this program is installed on the phone through the iTunes website it can make counting cards easy. When the program is used in the ‘Stealth Mode’ the screen of the phone will remain shut off, and as long as the user knows where the keys are located the program can be run effortlessly without detection.”

Nevada officials said they were tipped that players in American Indian-run casinos in Northern California have been using the card-counting software on the popular Apple devices.

You still have to look pretty silly – and stupid – peeking at your iPhone before betting.