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No one wants children to die. That’s a bit of a sweeping statement, but, I think, a safe one. You can always find someone who’ll take any improbable position, if only to be an asshole, but I don’t think we’re losing anything important if we ignore the pro-dead-children perspective.

So I’m going to assume that people who go around saying that vaccines cause autism actually believe it, and aren’t striving to expose as many chidren as possible to potentially fatal illnesses.

This is a scientific claim; only one study has shown any such link (contrasted with many studies that have shown no link) and there is some evidence—in fact, quite a bit of evidence—that the data was faked.

Naturally, the antivaccination movement has disbanded and de facto spokespeople such as model Jenny McCarthy have issued public retractions.

HA! Antivax is a religion, and no amount of evidence will shake it in the minds of the faithful. One approach taken by antivax propagandists is to frame this as a debate on academic freedom. Now, academic freedom is a wonderful thing. No researcher should have to fear the consequences of coming to the “wrong” results. That doesn’t mean, however, that all results are equally valid. That’s what peer review is for, and peer review doesn’t support the vaccination-autism link.


“The residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who are helping rebuild are heroes who believe in their communities and they are succeeding despite the fact that they have not always received the support they deserve from the federal government.”

That’s what Barack Obama said in a statement Friday. However, his stimulus package includes nothing for fixing the remaining damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The national economy is in the toilet, to be sure, but New Orleans, thanks to Katrina, has had it especially rough; the hurricane killed more than 1,600 people and caused $41 billion in property damage. This bill was a chance to provide some of the necessary funds to continue rebuilding the city and repairing the levees.

As Harry Shearer put it at HuffPost, “the chief failure of the past was the failure to adequately fund flood-prevention projects. . . . We appear well on the way to repeating those failures, words to the contrary notwithstanding.”

There are many reasons people get overlooked when the census is taken, every ten years.

Some believe anything the Federal government does is against their interests. Some believe that anything the Federal government does is illegal. Some, following 2 Samuel 24:2-15, believe participating in the census is a sin; there’s no law requiring people to be counted, only a clause in the Constitution requiring the government to count.

However, the Americans most likely to be counted are native-born wealthy white citizens. That means native-born wealthy white citizens have an influence on policy out of proportion to their already substantial numbers.

Some people object to this (few of them native-born wealthy white citizens, obviously). They would like to see sampling techniques incorporated into the census, which would counterintuitively result in far more accurate numbers than a simple head count. A 2002 Supreme Court case, Utah v. Evans, ruled unconstitutional the use of census figures arrived at by sampling techniques in determining Congressional districts, but there are many other things census data is used for.

That’s why the Obama White House intends to work closely with the Commerce Department (while not taking direct control of the Census Bureau). With White House supervision, they can count everyone accurately (as well as tabulating all married couples, not just most) inteads of skipping some people.

If no one knew there was an undercount, it would be unavoidable. Since we do know, however it’s unconscionable to allow it to go unremedied.

Peanut Corporation of America may have poisoned over 630 Americans before going bankrupt this past weekend—because no one was paying attention. Last fall melamine got into baby formula because no one was watching; now salmonella-tainted peanuts reached shelves because no one was watching

The devil is in the details, of course, as he so often is. While there is strong evidence that the Chinese inspection system was hamstrung by corruption, the inspection system here that missed tainted peanuts simply collapsed under its own weight. As part of the government’s duty to protect its people, there needs to be a better system in place for food safety oversight. Split among the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and about ten other agencies, American food inspections are an illogical mess that provides no accountability—a problem that was recognized a decade ago (PDF).

Now The New York Times is holding the administration’s feet to the fire on this, calling for President Obama to fulfill his promise “to create a government that does a better job of protecting the American consumer.” New technology, both of government and of food production, makes it possible and necessary to coordinate and consolidate inspection dutiesin a way that we could not have dreamed of a generation ago. This is an important step to secure the safety of all Americans when we’re universally vulnerable.

Today is the 71st birthday of Judy Blume. It’s the 86th birthday of Franco Zeffirelli, And it’s the 200th birthday (or would be) of Charles Darwin.

Which is interesting, and happy birthday, but let’s not get carried away.

Darwinolatry, in addition to being a mite hypocritical for professed atheists, misses the point in the same way the so-callled “Lady Hope legend” misses the pont. Nothing called “evolution” sprung fully formed from Charles Darwin’s brow. Other people had the same idea, or a similar one, before and simultaneously with him. He formalized it and made it clear (well, by Victorian standards), but he certainly didn’t invent it.

Fanboying Darwin undermines the idea that ideas are tested by experiment and their worth hinges entirely on their truth while lending credence to the creationist idea that if they can just show that Darwin himself had doubts about the theory, they can get the whole thing to come crashing down. He probably did have doubts, initially, as scientists tend to, and he was flat-out wrong about some things (he had no notion of genetics or of particulate inheritance in general). Conversely, the “deathbed conversion” story, though arrant nonsense, is not actually relevant to whether or not one should accept evolution (not that evolution really cares what you think).

Darwin is certainly worthy of celebration. However, he should be remembered as a sepaprate entity from the theory of evolution he popularized and disseminated, and it should be remembered that theory doesn’t depend on him.

Yesterday the President went on television to discuss the stimulus package (which is now highly likely to pass in spite of Republican claims that it will put people to work without creating jobs), and show off his newly grown balls.

Even his tone was a parental “I’m very disapointed in you.” It’s the first time I’ve ever—even before he announced—heard him speak when he didn’t sound actively friendly.

I was happy to see that he seems to have embraced the idea of “bipartisanshp on my terms“:

And I’m happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans. What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that’s part of what the election in November was all about.

The first question he was asked (complete with a dig at Bush) allowed him to address head-on the idea that a smaller government is a better government, and therefore government’s role is to do as little as possible. Government’s role is to keep up our quality of life. If that means simply stepping back, so be it, but if that means supporting the arts, education, welfare, or public works projects that provide employment (hat tip Amanda), that is what government needs to do.

When the stimulus package is passed, it will be the first step in pulling the economy out of the hole it’s now in. It has to be followed by action on the part of the government, which has the resources available to make significant changes and the mandate to do so in the public interest.

A former senator from Illinois—now president—has an op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post sellng the stimulus package to the citizenry.

In it, the man who ran on a platform of change and was elected on a platform of change begs the electorate to support change. Even he noticed this shouldn’t be necessary:

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of [the recovery] plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change.

As I said Tuesday, Barack Obama should be taking charge. The next election is in 2012. He has plenty of time to get over a few missteps with advisors-designate—or even the waffling and fumfering on the economic recovery plan. He can’t yet be punished for the plan’s failure. It hasn’t failed; indeed, it hasn’t even been tried.

The nature of time means this is the longest Obama will have before an election during his first term. It is the perfect time to get things done. But if he doesn’t govern—perhaps for fear of seeming arrogant, perhaps lest his popularity drop—he may not have a second term.

I don’t suppose I’m big enough to link to this post at Shakes’s Sis and simply say “what she said.” I don’t agree with her examples—Clinton strikes me as too conservative to be that thoroughly at odds with Republicans—but I certainly agree with the thrust of her argument.

I almost cheered inside when I heard about the “I won” thing, but didn’t: I got the sense that he was, metaphorically, winking, saying “ha ha, of dourse I’d never really say something like that,” like a stand-up comic who’s taken up vulgarity. If so, it’s not working: “The laughter that followed was doubtless a mixture of disbelief at Obama’s arrogance in speaking that way to Congressional leaders.”

The fact is, Obama did win (and by more than Bush even in 2004). And that means he has no obligations to the other party. A majority of people voted for his ideas, not the alternative, and he should be applying his ideas, not the alternative. There is a continuum from appointing his former opponents to the cabinet and bending, for all the good it did, on family planning services in the stimulus package. Clearly the stimulus package passed with no GOP suppport, but now they know he’ll back down.

He shouldn’t be trying to surround himself wth the best and brightest, but the best and brightest liberals. The hyothetical question “what if the most qualified expert is a conservative Republican?” is based on a flawed premise. The most qualified expert to advise the president to move the country in the direction the people have said they want it to go is a liberal one. The minority party is in the mnority for a reason.

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February 2009
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