Category Archives: Science

Malaka Of The Week: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

There’s a lot of malakatude to choose from this week: even more than usual. I decided it was time to be bipartisan and select a Democrat with nutty ideas who is trying to sell-out to the Trumpers.  And that is why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is malaka of the week.

It’s hard to live up to a famous father, especially one whose candidacy remains one of the great ifs of American history. That’s the burden RFK Jr. carries and I don’t envy him. For years, he seemed to be fighting the good fight as an environmental lawyer until he got hooked up with the anti-vaxxers. I’ll let Slate’s Susan Matthews explain the connection between his thinking and that of the Insult Comedian with whom he met this week:

This mistrust of expertise fits right in with RFK Jr.’s vaccination theories, which are built around the blatantly false idea that vaccines are unsafe, and the more paranoid idea that there is a conspiracy to cover this up extends from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to elected officials to journalists. My Slate predecessor Laura Helmuth got a full rundown of RFK Jr.’s vaccine theory when he called her to complain about our coverage of his views in 2013, which Slate referred to as “anti-vax,” a label that Kennedy rejected, saying he was “very much pro-vaccine.” Kennedy wrote a book that attempts to connect a component of vaccines to neurodevelopment disorders including autism, called Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak, and regularly attempts to meet with elected officials regarding his concerns.

In Helmuth’s piece, journalist Seth Mnookin succinctly describes Kennedy’s problematic assessment of the CDC: “What he has done is taken concern that there could be a problem as evidence that there was a problem.” This, coincidentally, is why putting Kennedy in charge of a commission on vaccine safety would be so frightening.

That’s right, Kennedy left his meeting with Trump claiming that he would be appointed to some role in investigating the vaccines that he claims not to oppose. Not so fast said Team Trump:

“The President-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement obtained by CNN. “The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals.”

Kennedy and Trump have both pushed the discredited theory that vaccinating children can cause autism, even though the notion of a link between vaccines and autism has been thoroughly discredited by the medical community. Trump has said that he has personally witnessed children who received “massive injections” of vaccines at once develop “horrible autism” as a result, while Kennedy continues to promote the myth that thimerosal, a mercury-based compound once contained in many childhood vaccines, causes autism.

The Kennedy-Trump confab could be called When Fabulists (Fantasists?) Collide. I don’t know who to believe since neither of them is credible. That tends to be the case with zealots and conspiracy buffs. As for Hope Hicks, I’d like to paraphrase something  the late writer Mary McCarthy said during her epic feud with Lillian Hellman: Every word she says [writes] is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’. That goes double for Hicks’ boss and his henchmen and henchwomen. I have a hench y’all agree with me…

Kennedy has gone from denouncing Trump to cozying up to him since they agree about a long discredited study. It’s what zealots and malakas do. And that is why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is malaka of the week.

 

Malaka Of The Week: John Milkovich (Not Malkovich)

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They say that great minds think alike, so do twisted minds. Michael F and I came up with similar ideas yesterday: to mock the same Gret Stet legislator today. When I first saw his piece I thought I’d *accidentally* posted but then I noticed the title: Being John Milkovich. I considering scrapping this malaka of the week post but since it was 75% complete, I decided to issue whatever the hell this is: an introduction or disclaimer? Beats the hell outta me. Let’s get on with it:

Many state legislatures have been bringing the big stupid of late; come on down, North Carolina. I guess the Gret Stet lege got so jealous that they just had to join in on the fun. And that is why Louisiana State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich) of Shreveport is malaka of the week.

I must confess that the similarity between the State Senator’s name and that of actor John Malkovich is one reason Milkovich is this week’s “honoree.” The other is that Milkovich (Not Malkovich) said something really stupid. I’ll let my pal Lamar White explain what happened when one of Milkovich’s colleagues proposed a bill to repeal a 1987 creationism  bill that was ruled unconstitutional years ago:

Newly-elected State Sen. John Milkovich, like Sen. Claitor, is also an attorney, except that, as he revealed today, he lacks a basic understanding of the law and science education, the only two things he should have familiarized himself with before debating a law about science education. Curiously, he seemed completely unfamiliar with the Louisiana Science Education Act.

<SNIP>

Sen. Milkovich wasn’t done yet, though. He wanted Sen. Claitor to know that science actually agreed with new earth creationism, and he rattled off a list of talking points that seemed memorized from Discovery Institute flash cards. Hadn’t Sen. Claitor heard about the discovery of Noah’s Ark? Apparently, they’re not receiving the same chain e-mails. And what about all of the “new scientific discoveries” that proved the Genesis account of new earth creationism? Sen. Milkovich asked.

“In fact, scientific research and developments and advances in the last 100 years, particularly in the last fifty, twenty, ten years have validated the Biblical story of creation by archeological discoveries of civilizations in the Mideast that secularists said did not exist and further archeological research determines are true. There’s some published research that an ark or large boat was found on the top of Mount Ararat and then in addition the point of the notion of instantaneous creation has been validated by the scientific study of heliocentric circles in rocks, which is consistent with an instantaneous…. I’m guess I’m asking this,” Sen. Milkovich concludes, “are you aware that there is an abundance of recent science that actually confirms the Genesis account of creation?”

I wonder which movie Noah Sen. Milkovich (Not Malkovich) prefers: John Huston or Russell Crowe? As a classic film buff, I’d go with Walter’s son/Anjelica’s daddy-o:

Huston-Bible

We in the Gret Stet of Louisiana have been laboring for many years under a variety of moronic laws that purport to protect us from heathen science and the Darwinian anti-Christ. It has been the source of considerable embarrassment and, more importantly, costly litigation. I wish these bible-thumping bozos would come up with a pie-in-the-sky-god fundamentalist explanation of climate change since they refuse to believe that it’s man-made. Now *that* would be constructive.

Back to State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich.) I’d never heard of him until this week and hope NOT to hear much more of him in the future, especially since he’s a Democrat. As the kids say I’m SMH. I mostly followed in Michael F’s wake to milk the whole Milkovich (Not Malkovich) joke within an inch of its life. I guess you could call it flogging a dead milk cow as opposed to a beating a dead horse, either qualifies as malakatude. I, for one, would rather not be inside the head of a guy who believes in the Noah’s Ark fairy tale.

The Zombie-Picayune has video of Malaka Milkovich’s (Not Malkovich) remarkable exchange with State Senator Dan Claitor:

The worst thing about people like Malaka Milkovich (Not Malkovich) is their need to paint a scientific gloss on their religious beliefs. It’s a cynical way of skirting Supreme Court establishment clause cases in order to teach children this hokum or is that harum scarum? There’s so much of this nonsense out there that I’m proud to be an agnostic, atheist, or whatever the hell I am. This rank hypocrisy is why Louisiana State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich) is malaka of the week.

I’ll give Nick Lowe and his Jumbo Ark the last word:

Studying the Universe from the Outside

Boss lady: 

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime—almost a century ago. But until recently there was no way to observe them. But thanks to the work of Dr. Nergis Mavalvala and her colleagues at MIT, Einstein’s theory is now a proven phenomenon.

Last week, the ultrasensitive telescope her team built detected gravitational waves for the first time, created from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion years ago.

[snip]

“Theoretically a consequence of violent cosmic events—the collisions of black holes, the explosive deaths of stars, or even the big bang—gravitational waves could provide a brand new lens for studying the universe,” writes Science magazine.

Women are a rarity in the sciences—LGBT Pakistani women exceedingly so. But Mavalvala, 47, told Science magazine, “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group.”

The self-described “out queer person of color” and mom to a 8-year-old says being an outsider, “you are less constrained by the rules.”

A.

We Don’t Believe Women Get Sick, Not Really

There’s pretty much nothing that can’t be solved by the hysterical bitches just calming down a little and maybe admitting it’s all in their heads: 

“That to me felt like this deeply personal and deeply upsetting embodiment of what was at stake,” she said. “Not just on the side of the medical establishment—where female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated—but on the side of the woman herself: My friend has been reckoning in a sustained way about her own fears about coming across as melodramatic.”

“Female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated”: We saw this from the moment we entered the hospital, as the staff downplayed Rachel’s pain, even plain ignored it. In her essay, Jamison refers back to “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” a study identifying ways gender bias tends to play out in clinical pain management. Women are  “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients,’” the study concludes—a phenomenon referred to in the medical community as “Yentl Syndrome.”

We are so, so, so afraid of making noise.

Girls. Women. We are so scared of the sound of our own voices that we will lie in pain in a hospital hallway without making a peep because we can’t, like, get in anyone’s way.

We are taught from the day we are born to take up as little space as possible in the world and then, when we are hurt or overlooked, we are asked why we didn’t speak up.

I was lucky, when my ovarian cyst burst more than 10 years ago now, that the EMTs and ER doctors we called on took it seriously. I had surgery, good medication, follow-up care. But that’s all it was, luck, luck that we found someone to listen. That’s what our lives hinge on, the blind stupid chance that the person we are calling out to won’t assume we don’t know what we’re talking about, and ignore us.

I’ve been ignored in doctors’ offices, though, before and since. My first infertility doctor refused to listen to any of my concerns before putting me on medication that I didn’t need, that made me sicker than I’ve ever been. I had a GP once tell me that I should stop taking anti-depressants because, “What, do you want to be on pills for the rest of your life?” I had a therapist cancel an appointment, not tell me, and then later kick me off her service because I didn’t keep the appointment. Some of this is just run-of-the-mill pain in the ass stuff that could have happened if I was a dude, sure, but all along the way I’ve been made to feel exceptionally bad about myself for getting upset about it. Shh, there are other patients. Sit down. Don’t make a fuss.

This is a time in our society when you have to be a fierce advocate for your own medical care, for your rights as a patient, and of course when you most need those rights you are least physically and emotionally capable of defending them. I’m not surprised women’s pain is ignored until they make themselves un-ignorable. Why should our pain be different from any other aspect of our existence?

A.

 

Knee Jerk Nuke Jerks

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Ernest Moniz and John Kerry have negotiated a deal that’s as good as their hair.

The Republican freak out over the Obama-Kerry-Moniz nuclear agreement with Iran is in full fury. They don’t know what they’re for but they’re against anything proposed by this administration.  It’s called a knee jerk reaction hence the post title. The knee jerk nuke jerks have a beef with the proposal. They are convinced that doing what we’ve been doing for years will suddenly work as if by magic. It’s very much like their reaction to recent changes in Cuba policy. Give the sanctions a chance to work say Marco Rubio, man of the future, and his ilk. And they call President Obama naive…

The alternative to this agreement is the status quo and eventual war with Iran.  That would grant Little Lindsey and Senator Walnuts’ wish:

I’m also not crazy about continuing to sub-contract our foreign policy to the Saudis and Bibi. The Israeli’s are, in part, seeking to maintain their nuclear monopoly in the region.  Slate’s Fred Kaplan nails the real reason the Saudi Arabian and Israeli governments oppose the deal:

The most diehard opponents—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi King Salman, and a boatload of neocons led by the perennial naysayer John Bolton—issued their fusillades against the accord (“an historic mistake,” “diplomatic Waterloo,” to say nothing of the standard charges of “appeasement” from those with no understanding of history) long before they could possibly have browsed its 159 pages of legalese and technical annexes.

What worries these critics most is not that Iran might enrich its uranium into an A-bomb. (If that were the case, why would they so virulently oppose a deal that put off this prospect by more than a decade?) No, what worries them much more deeply is that Iran might rejoin the community of nations, possibly even as a diplomatic (and eventually trading) partner of the United States and Europe.

<SNIP>

What Netanyahu and King Salman want Obama to do is to wage war against Iran—or, more to the point, to fight their wars against Iran for them. That is why they so virulently oppose U.S. diplomacy with Iran—because the more we talk with Iran’s leaders, the less likely we are to go to war with them. Their view is the opposite of Winston Churchill’s: They believe to war-war is better than to jaw-jaw.

Bingo. This nails the reason for King Salman’s Rushdie to judgment. Bibi, of course, has been blatantly and defiantly wrong about Iran for 25 years. As to the so-called GOP tough guys aka the knee jerk nuke jerks, when they came into office in 2001, the Bushies reversed President Clinton’s policy of engagement with North Korea. They hit that member of the “axis of evil” with more sanctions and empty threats of violence. The result was that North Korea now has nuclear weapons. Way to go, Bush-Cheney gang. The GOP’s manly men have also conveniently forgotten that the Beavis-Duce administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Libya before Gadhaffi’s sand nap. I guess the knee jerk nuke jerks mistrust Obama because he knows how to pronounce nuclear or some such shit…

The nuttiest thing about the knee jerk nuke jerk’s response is its premise. They believe that the Iranians are suicidal and would go out of their way to violate the agreement thereby triggering the chance of war. That’s as wackadoodle as past malaka of the week Tom Cotton’s letter to the Ayatollahs a while back. They somehow think all the US has to do is to dictate conditions and Iran will surrender. In short, they’re out of their frickin’ cotton pickin’ minds. The Obama-Kerry policy of engagement with Iran *could* result in the sort of country that most Persians want. If nothing else, it deters them from getting nukes for at least 10-15 years.

There’s a lot of instant expertise on nuclear matters flying around the internet. I may be married to a scientist but, in the great tradition of Speaker Boner, I’m not one myself. Unlike most deal opponents, I don’t pretend to understand the details. The reaction from nuclear experts and the scientific  community seems to be positive thus far:

Jeffrey Lewis was so eager to read the Iran nuclear deal that he woke up at 3:30 am California time to pore through all 150-plus pages of the text. Lewis is a nukes super nerd: He’s the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and also runs an excellent arms control blog networkand arms control podcast and has a regular arms control column in Foreign Policy. He is the person to talk to on this.

When Lewis and I first spoke, in early 2015, he was skeptical, as a lot of arms control analysts were. He was skeptical that the US, world powers, and Iran would ever reach a nuclear deal. And he was skeptical that if they did reach a deal, it would be good enough. But when the negotiators released the “framework” in April, describing the broad strokes, Lewis came away impressed and happily surprised — but with some caveats and some unanswered questions.

I called up Lewis to see what he thought of the final deal. His assessment was very positive: Asked to grade the deal, he said, “I would give it an A.”

The knee jerk nuke jerk response is obvious: what the hell do they know? Many of them are scientists like that damn hippie Moniz. We don’t trust them because they’re on university faculties and read books without pictures in them. I suspect at least a few of the knee jerk nuke jerks wouldn’t trust Jeffrey Lewis, who was quoted above, because he has the same name as the Bravolebrity and star of Flipping OutI wonder if he has a sassy, mouthy equivalent to Zoila in his lab?

Zoila & Jeff

Now that I’ve gone off on another digressive tangent, back to the knee jerk nuke jerks. Their opposition to the pact is based on fear. The irony is that they’re more afraid of giving peace a chance than of going to war including brogressive hero, Senator Aqua Buddha. This is insanity. It’s time to stop the madness and give peace a chance:

Headline Of The Day: Space Edition

I just spent way too much time trying to embed the image the WaPo has on this blog post by Rachel Feltman but it was not to be. It’s still a great headline and I’m pretty sure that it’s intentionally humorous. Ms. Feltman is a funny science chick.

Uranus might be full of surprises

Guess I should have said that it was tongue in cheek.

I finally figured it out via the strange magic of the Tweeter Tube.

My life is  complete. I’ll just bugger off now.

Saturday Odd & Sods: Let’s See Action

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It’s been a turbulent week. The South Carolina lege passed the “take the damn flag down bill” thereby proving me wrong. I thought it wouldn’t happen but I don’t mind being wrong on this one. In New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu threw deep on Confederate symbols asking for even more sweeping changes than I’ve advocated in this space. I hope the Council takes its time on some of these proposals so we get it right.

It looks as if Greece, the EU, and its creditors have reached a tentative deal that isn’t much better than the one rejected by the voters last Sunday. In this instance, I’m not glad to be right. I thought the Syriza government was staging a drama and would cave and that’s what appears to have occurred. Expect more turbulence in the streets of Athens: the Greek Left knows how to throw a demonstration. If I were a cabbie, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Syntagma Square if you catch my drift.

This week’s theme song takes this feature back to its Whovian roots. No, not this Dr. Who:

Peter Capaldi as Dr. Who

I’m talking about THE WHO. And, yeah, I know it’s not on Odds & Sods but Let’s See Action fits the moment, especially since it was first recorded by Pete Townshend as Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action.) We begin with Pete’s version from his homespun and charming first solo album, Who Came First, followed by the Who playing it live, which is always action packed:

After the break, I will prove that nothing *is* everything.

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The Search for ‘Balance’

The NYT asks, on the vaccine question:  

How did we get to a point where personal beliefs can triumph over science?

Well goddamn, New York Times, I don’t know. Maybe something about a decade and a half of “it would be irresponsible not to speculate” and “both sides do it” and “if everybody’s mad at us we’re doing something right” and “hey, we don’t tell you the truth, we tell you what six competing people each say is the truth, individually, despite that one of those people is having paranoid delusions, and one of them can’t find a sentence with a torch and a posse. and one of them thinks vaccines not only cause autism but also that Jonas Salk faked the moon landing, and one of them is a pet therapist, and one of them has a degree from the American College of Sexologists and only plays a doctor on the radio, and the last person runs the fucking CDC, but hey, who are we to judge?”

We have spent the past 20 years at least pretending that the most anti-science, anti-progress, anti-goddamn-reality people in the world have a right to have their absurd bullshit repeated without challenge or inquiry. We have put these people in Congress, in positions of immense influence in media, with the ability to make pronouncements that are repeated ad nauseum at volumes unthinkable to, say, anti-war protesters or those who want to raise the minimum wage. We have told ourselves this is not only necessary, to listen to people like this, but it is unavoidable. This is just the way the world works now, we have said, so that we do not have to take any responsibility at all for the institutions we run.

And then we ask ourselves, from our lofty perch atop the New York Times building, we ask ourselves how on earth we wound up here.

A.

Odds & Sods: Shirtstorm Edition

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I’ve been dialing back my Twitter use of late. I go through stages of frenetic activity and times of relative quiet on the Tweeter Tube. The instant outrage machine gets to me at times:  two of the items in this week’s omnibus post address viral malakatude as well as malaktude that went viral.

Shirtstorm or Shitstorm? One thing I missed this week was the ludicrous outrage over this shirt worn on teevee by Rosetta project scientist Dr. Matt Taylor:

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Here’s the deal. I’m a loud shirt guy. I even have a few Hawaiian shirts with hula girls on them, one of which was bought for me by Dr. A. I don’t like Taylor’s shirt, it’s a bit too headbangy for my taste. In short, it’s an ugly loud shirt but what it’s not is a political statement. The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman saw through the outrage machine:

What should a scientist wear during a comet landing?

Eve Rybody, Everywhere, World

Well, Ms Rybody, it’s funny that you should ask this for, truly, this has become the biggest fashion question – possibly even the only fashion question – in not just the world, but the entire cosmos. For anyone who might have missed it, last week there was some dinky story about a probe landing on a comet for the first time ever. I know what you’re thinking: “Probe, schmobe, get to the real issue here – what was one of the scientists wearing?!?!?!?” Glad to be of service! The project scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, appeared on TV wearing a shirt patterned with images of semi-clothed women that I assume (not being an expert in either of these fields) reference video games and heavy metal albums. Cue internet rage! Everything that followed was utterly predictable, but not especially edifying. The story went through the five cycles of internet rage: initial amusement; astonishment; outrage; backlash to the outrage; humiliated apology. First, our attention was drawn to the shirt via some sniggering tweets; this was swiftly followed by shock and its usual accompaniment, outrage, with some women suggesting the shirt reflected a sexism at the heart of the science community. As generally happens when a subject takes a feminist turn on the internet, the idiots then turned up, with various lowlifes telling the women who expressed displeasure at the shirt to go kill themselves. (This is not an exaggeration, and there is no need to give these toerags further attention in today’s discussion.)

And you thought I wrote longass paragraphs. The whole process described by Hadley is increasingly tiresome. It’s a shirt, not a statement, people. I know all about science being an old boys club but sometimes a shirt is just a shirt just as a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply:

One last thing about the shirtstorm: when did we start expecting scientists to dress stylishly? This ugly bowling shirt is the 21st Century equivalent of the short sleeve white shirt, clip-on bow tie, and pocket  protector look worn by nerdy science types since time immemorial.

I’m no rocket scientist but one thing I know for sure is that geeks gotta geek.

The NOLA Football Thief: Another example of a tempest in a Tweeter Tube is the story of Tony Williams, Saints fan, former Zulu King, and football thief. You’ve probably heard about it and even watched the video but what a bit of overkill among friends?

Speaking of overkill, the reaction on Twitter was OTT. I *never* approve of trolls issuing death threats and the like but I also strongly disapprove of the sort of selfishness and rudeness displayed by Williams. Instead of admitting that he threw an elbow, he justified the scrum by telling the Vestigial-Picayune that “his Mardi Gras instincts kicked in.”

Shoving people out the way for a throw on the parade route is just as rude as what Williams did at the Dome. It’s piss poor Carnival etiquette. It would be better if he could just admit a mistake and move on instead of babbling about how he wanted the ball for his grandson. Nice lesson you taught the kid there, dude.

More life lessons after the break.

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Climate Change? What Climate Change?

The President pulled a climate change agreement with China out of his hat whilst summiteering. Cue the GOP noise machine: blah, blah, blah. Fuck it and fuck them. This is the first time the Chicom guvmint has acknowledged it needs to kick its coal addiction. (Did you notice the #tbh moment with the whole Chinese Communist acronym thing? I felt like Henry Luce or Tricky Dick for a second there.) It’s quite an accomplishment whatever Mitch (I am not a Scientist) McConnell and the incoming environment committee chaircreep and past malaka of the week, Jim Fucking Inhofe say. Fuck it and fuck them.

In addition to the overwhelming scientific evidence, I’m feeling as anecdotal as hell.  It’s fucking cold by our standards here in New Orleans. It’s drizzly, dark, and nasty as I write this. There’s a freeze warning tonight, so I broke down and turned on the heater. (Cue the local news stories about the citrus crop in Plaquemines Parish.) We rarely run the heater until *after* Turkey Day, but it’s Dr. A’s birthday and one shouldn’t freeze one’s ass off on one’s birthday, should one? One is apparently no longer the loneliest number.

I believe in climate change even though I am not a scientist. I am, however, married to one. I’ll give the good old Grateful Dead the last word:

 

Headline Of The Day: Diseased Minds Edition

It comes from a piece at Salon by Gabriel Arana:

GOP’s public health hypocrisy: If Obama were Reagan, he wouldn’t mention Ebola until 2017

The drums are beating on the right for action now on the so called Ebola crisis. First, any crisis is in Western African, not here. Second, the methods proposed by them: travel bans, automatic quarantines are, in a word stupid, and the latter are already being crawfished on by Cuomo and Christie.

The fantasy that the Obama administration is lollygagging is once again being driven by historical amnesia and the current fixation on instant action. In the public health sphere, instant action will rarely be the right thing to do and can cause all sorts of problems. Besides, actions involving science and medicine should not be driven by people who say, “I’m not a scientist” when asked about climate change.

The point of Arana’s piece is that the slow federal response to AIDS was driven by prejudice and stigmatization of its victims. St Ronnie could not bring himself to mention AIDS until 3 years after it exploded, and only then because a fellow old time movie star, Rock Hudson, was afflicted.

It’s time for everyone to take a chill pill and stop hyperventilating over this so called crisis. It’s only a crisis in West African and a travel ban would destroy attempts to smother the Ebola baby in the crib as it were. I’ll give Dr. Anthony Fauci the last word. The good doctor uttered them in the McCain zone in response to a question from Charlie Rose:

ROSE: Do these quarantines go against science? Because you have always insisted we should start with the science.

FAUCI: Well, first of all, the most important thing is to protect the American people. And, as you said, you got to base your decision and your policy on scientific evidence and scientific principles. What we are taking about health care workers coming back, they are at different levels of risk depending on their experience. And you tailor the kinds of monitoring, passively, actively, direct, according to that kind of risk. The idea of a blanket quarantine for people who come back could possibly have a negative consequence of essentially disincentivizing people from wanting to go there. The reason that’s important, Charlie, is because the best way to protect Americans is to stop the epidemic in Africa. And we need those health care workers to do that. To put them in position when they come back that, no matter what, automatically, they’re under quarantine can actually have unintended consequences. And that’s reason why we’re concerned about that.

Malakas Of The Week: Ebola Scaremongers

I may come off as a deeply cynical person and to some extent I am. BUT I also try  to think the best of people and hope that they’ll eventually do the right thing. It’s getting harder and harder to believe that given the fact that an entire political party and its cable news mouthpiece have gone stark, raving mad. The GOP response to Ebola is one of the worst things I’ve seen in my lifetime and that is why Ebola scaremongers are the malakas of the week.

Where do I begin? The same people who believed Bush and Chaney that Iraq had WMDs are convinced that President Obama and the evil “liberal virologists” are lying about how Ebola is transmitted. People like Mike Huckabee and Rushbo don’t explain why they’d do such a thing, they just scream: BENGHAZI; IRS;  BEGHAZI;  FAST & FURIOUS; OBAMACARE; SECRET SERVICE; BENGHAZI.  (I nearly used an exclamation point, which shows you how bad things are.) All they know how to do is mash down on hot buttons and never let up. This involves public health and people in public life should be calming folks down, not lighting their hair on fire. I know that’s too much to hope for from the arsonists on the right.

The right’s anti-science agenda is coming home to roost. They’ve spent years promulgating crazy notions about vaccines, evolution, climate change and on and on and on. They seem to be incapable of accepting *any* medical or scientific facts whatsoever. They mutter darkly about liberal scientists. Here’s the deal. I’m married to a scientist and have spent a lot of time around PHDs and MDs over the last 25 years. Scientists *used* to be largely apolitical and only became “liberals” because of right wing attacks on research funding and the scientific method.

There are still quite a few conservative physicians but they tend to be older, white males. Sound familiar? In fact, there’s a doctor who’s waving the banner for malakatude:

A doctor in Atlanta who dressed up in a containment suit that said “CDC Is Lying!” on the back got write-ups in conservative conspiracy havens like The Blaze and World Net Daily (as well as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

“Once this disease consumes every third world country, as surely it will, because they lack the same basic infrastructure as Sierra Leone and Liberia, at that point, we will be importing clusters of Ebola on a daily basis,” the doctor, Gil Mobley, said. “That will overwhelm any advanced country’s ability to contain the clusters in isolation and quarantine. That spells bad news.”

Dr. Mobley Dick should STFU, read some Ayn Rand and go Galt so he won’t cause any more harm. I understand he’s a libertarian and an advocate for medical marijuana so he should roll a big fat doobie and smoke his brains out. If the weed is strong enough, he’ll forget his crack pot theory for awhile and leave the rest of us alone.

The news that Thomas Eric Duncan has died will only inflame the wingnut malakas,so all we can do is batten down the hatches and hope that someone on the right will denounce these idiots. I am not holding my breath. The Republican base is throwing a collective tantrum and holding their breaths until they turn blue. They should be put in the corner for an epic time-out but I have no illusions that it will work. Their brains (if you want to call them that) are highly susceptible to conspiracy theories and the spectre of a deadly virus only whips them up into a fever.

There are times when I wish we could quarantine certain wingnuts but we can’t. All we can do is call a malaka a malaka. And that is why Ebola scaremongers are the malakas of the week.

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Malpractice

Georgia wingnut Phil Gingrey is leaving Congress after a failed attempt to secure the GOP nomination for the Senate. He was too extreme even for Georgia Republicans. I am scared shitless that this mook will continue to be licensed to practice medicine. He's an anti-choice Oby-Gyn, put that in your pipe and smoke it, y'all

Gingrey pulled a  classic wingnut stunt this week, but it's one that should be beneath contempt for a physician. He wrote a letter to the CDC about the looming humanitarian crisis on the border. Here's how Charlie Pierce described this despicable letter:

The other day—Congressman Phil Gingrey who, with Paul Broun, makes up half of the Georgia-based legislative vaudeville act, Two Docs And A Crock—sent a letter to the Centers For Disease Control, which happen to be in the general area of his district, warning that the children who have been coming through eight kinds of hell to get to this country might be little walking petri dishes, and that we better should watch out for that.

As such, reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.

Wait. Whoa there, dear and glorious physician. How did we manage to crowbar Ebola onto that list? Unless some of these kids are swimming here from Sierra Leone, that's one problem about which we don't have to worry, since there never has been a case of Ebola's breaking out anywhere but in Africa. But you can see what Gingrey's doing here. He shoehorning Ebola onto his list of concerns about the Little Brown Ones (tm GHW Bush Enterprises, LLC) because a) he knows Americans are more aware of it than they are of, say, dengue fever, and b) because, alas, Ebola's in the news because it's running wild at the moment in west Africa, where it's never broken out before. So congratulations to Phil Gingrey—excuse me. DOCTOR Phil Gingrey—has decided to use a medical crisis overseas to gin up politically expedient xenophobia over here. Extremely well-played, sir.

Even for a right winger, this is appalling. He's ginning up hysteria with his dubious "diagnosis" and using his medical degree to give this claim credibility. It's totally reprehensible. I'm not sure if this is something that could cause him to lose his license to practice medicine in the state of Georgia, but I hope someone reports this cretin to the appropriate regulatory body.

The worst thing about an episode like this is that other extremists will use it and, thanks to the interweb, this story will live forever. I called Gingrey a Doctor earlier when, in fact, he's a quack. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but teabaggers are shameless and believe that one can lie in service of a "just cause." There's a special place in hell for quacks like this and before going there, he should stick his stethoscope up his ass.

Send that SOB $5

Pat Robertson explains the fossils to you: 

I have heard fossils explained by Pat Robertson in a TV interview. His answer was that all of the fossilized animals we have found all existed at the same time. Everything from the simple life forms of the Cambrian through the dinosaurs of the Jurassic to modern animals we see today, lived together at the very same time. When the great flood came (the one with Noah and his boat), all of those animals drowned. The interviewer asked why they are found in distinct layers, and not all mixed together. His answer was that the most ancient species were less developed, and could not swim as well, so they drowned first, followed by the species that were more developed, with the Jurassic dinosaurs drowning last, then the lesser developed mammals. All that was left were the ones Noah had collected, which were the smartest of Gods creatures, and the ones destined to be saved.

He said all of this with a straight face. I was watching with my dad, who was a chemist/metallurgist by trade, and a devout Christian. His work was all about science and technology. I looked at him, and he was shaking his head. He looked over at me and said "Get my checkbook. I feel like I should send that SOB $5 just for the creativity of that bullshit story."

A. 

Malaka Of The Week: Lenar Whitney

I must admit to not having paid too much attention to the race for Dr. Empty Suit's open Congressional seat. (That's Bill Cassidy, maybe I should call him Dr. Empty Scrubs.) The most noteworthy things about the race are that Edwin Edwards is mounting a comeback and that there are several Jindalistas in the race. (His candidates usually lose.) This week State Rep. Lenar Whitney, a dance teachin' wingnut from Houma, got oodles of national publicity. All of it bad and that is why she is malaka of the week. Btw, it seems to be a bad week for folks whose surnames begin with W. Hmm, I wonder what Mr. Woodger thinks of Witless Whitney, and I wonder if she, too, thinks using the word homophone advances the gay agenda? 

Lenar Whitney is extreme even by Gret Stet standards. She's a climate change denier in a state that has been dealing with coastal erosion for many years. Here's a video she made stating her views, which apparently she doesn't understand and cannot explain:

 

Continue reading

Genetic Code, and What’s Cool About It

My father recently brought to my attention an article about a “second DNA code” discovered hiding within DNA:

DNA contains about 3 billion bases, more than 99 percent of which are the same in all human beings. “The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

For instance, the genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The team found that some codons, which they refer to as duons, can have two meanings. One of the meanings relates to protein sequence, while the other relates to gene control.

Forbes and Geek.com both have good “easy there big fella” articles if you’re interested in why this isn’t necessarily news, but this is a great opportunity to talk about what we do know about DNA and what you as a probably-not-genetics-researcher should know. I’m going to assume you’ve at least heard of DNA, but not much more.

Every cell in your body typically has 23chromosomes. Each of these chromosomes is made of a lot of DNA (each strand is between 2 and 3 meters long), coiled up in some pretty crazy ways, but at the most basic level, you’re looking at that classic “double helix” coil. Each strand of DNA has a bunch of genes on it with a bunch of stuff in between – think of it like a really long book with some chapters in English and some in Finnish. You page through it looking for English words; when you see some, you start reading, and you get some ideas out of it.

The English chapters are the protein-coding genes, which use the 64-codon alphabet the quote above is talking about. Some of the Finnish chapters, on the other hand, are actually functioning to determine how frequently you read a particular English chapter. These are transcription factors.

Here, of course, is where my analogy breaks down; a protein binds to the transcription factor site and says HEY RNA POLYMERASE COME READ THIS ONE, and the RNA polymerase comes over and makes a protein out of the gene the protein was yelling about. If the protein made is another one that can bind to another transcription factor site, you can get positive feedback loops, and you get more and more of a certain kind of protein (until there’s “enough”, and you start getting other proteins that bind and say NOPE NO GENE HERE I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, and then that protein’s levels go down for a while).

So: chromosomes are made of DNA, DNA has genes and other stuff, that other stuff can be used, among other things, to tell the cell which genes to read and how often. DNA isn’t just a recipe book, it’s a meal plan and timer.

The research I’m doing, which is related, has to do with the fact that sometimes the same gene can make a bunch of different proteins, because sometimes the cell decides it doesn’t really like a particular part of a gene today, so it throws part of it away. That means you’re missing some codons (that 64-letter alphabet again), and so the resulting protein is actually measurably different. Which is AWESOME.

Genetic Code, and What’s Cool About It

My father recently brought to my attention an article abouta “second DNA code” discovered hiding within DNA:

DNA contains about 3 billion bases, more than 99 percent of which are the same in all human beings. “The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

For instance, the genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The team found that some codons, which they refer to as duons, can have two meanings. One of the meanings relates to protein sequence, while the other relates to gene control.

Forbes andGeek.com both have good “easy there big fella” articles if you’re interested in why this isn’t necessarily news, but this is a great opportunity to talk about what wedo know about DNA and what you as a probably-not-genetics-researcher should know. I’m going to assume you’ve at least heard of DNA, but not much more.

Every cell in your body typically has 23chromosomes. Each of these chromosomes is made of a lot of DNA (each strand is between 2 and 3 meters long), coiled up in some pretty crazy ways, but at the most basic level, you’re looking at that classic “double helix” coil. Each strand of DNA has a bunch of genes on it with a bunch of stuff in between – think of it like a really long book with some chapters in English and some in Finnish. You page through it looking for English words; when you see some, you start reading, and you get some ideas out of it.

The English chapters are the protein-coding genes, which use the 64-codon alphabet the quote above is talking about. Some of the Finnish chapters, on the other hand, are actually functioning to determine howfrequently you read a particular English chapter. These are transcription factors.

Here, of course, is where my analogy breaks down; a protein binds to the transcription factor site and says HEY RNA POLYMERASE COME READ THIS ONE, and the RNA polymerase comes over and makes a protein out of the gene the protein was yelling about. If the protein made is another one that can bind toanother transcription factor site, you can get positive feedback loops, and you get more and more of a certain kind of protein (until there’s “enough”, and you start getting other proteins that bind and say NOPE NO GENE HERE I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, and then that protein’s levels go down for a while).

So: chromosomes are made of DNA, DNA has genes and other stuff, that other stuff can be used, among other things, to tell the cell which genes to read and how often. DNA isn’t just a recipe book, it’s a meal plan and timer.

The researchI’m doing, which is related, has to do with the fact that sometimes thesame gene can make a bunch ofdifferent proteins, because sometimes the cell decides it doesn’t really like a particular part of a gene today, so it throws part of it away. That means you’re missing some codons (that 64-letter alphabet again), and so the resulting protein is actually measurably different. Which is AWESOME.

Megyn Kelly Is Dreaming Of A White Christmas

Fox host Megyn Kelly doesn’t know a lot but what she knows she knows. You know what I’m saying?

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”

Ms. Kelly was replying to a piece by Aisha Harris at Slate and just couldn’t resist stating what to her was obvious.Along with Ms. Harris, I beg to differ:

Santa is loosely based on Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop known for secret gift-giving. But while the names “St. Nicholas” and “Santa Claus” are often used interchangeably, modern-day Santa hardly resembles his supposed inspiration, who was depicted as tall and thin and, you know, Greek.

As a Greek-American, I can testify that Greeks tend to be swarthy. The original Saint Nick was probably a brunette with cafe au lait skin and a very hairy back. My mother’s Nordic genes are the only reason I escaped the hairy back thing but I do tan nicely. Trust me, I have many relatives who could pass for black if they wanted to. Of course, then they’d have to present their birth certificates to placate the birthers…

It got worse for Megyn with a Y. (Btw, does anyone know anyone who spells that name with a Y? I know only Megan’s or Meghan’s. Nary a Y or even YMCA in sight.) She elaborated on her, uh, historical knowledge:

Kelly, a Fox franchise player, dug herself in further by saying that Santa couldn’t be anything but Caucasian because he’s like Jesus. “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Kelly said. “You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too.”

We’ve established that Saint Nick was a swarthy Greek and many experts think that Jesus was a swarthy Jew:

Face-of-jesus-01-0312-mdn

All this latest flap really illustrates is the abject stupidity of racial classifications. Only elderly white Republicans care if Jesus looked like a blond surfer dude from Orange County. Cowabunga. Of course, those are the people who watch Fox News. It’s kind of a pity that Megyn Kelly is the one spouting this nonsense. I’ve had a soft spot for her ever since her epic smackdown of Karl Rove on election night. I guess it’s time for her to enlist in Bill-O’s war against the war on Christmas. That would be mighty white of her…

I’ll let a certain Irish Catholic crooner have the last word with his legendary rendition of a Christmas classic that was written by a non-swarthy and possibly Republican Jew. Is that diverse enough for y’all?

Megyn Kelly Is Dreaming Of A White Christmas

Fox host Megyn Kelly doesn’t know a lot but what she knows she knows. You know what I’m saying?

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa justis white.”

Ms. Kelly was replying to a piece by Aisha Harris at Slate and just couldn’t resist stating what to her was obvious.Along with Ms. Harris, I beg to differ:

Santa is loosely based onSaint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop known for secret gift-giving. But while the names “St. Nicholas” and “Santa Claus” are often used interchangeably, modern-day Santa hardly resembles his supposed inspiration, who was depicted as tall and thin and, you know, Greek.

As a Greek-American, I can testify that Greeks tend to be swarthy. The original Saint Nick was probably a brunette with cafe au lait skin and a very hairy back. My mother’s Nordic genes are the only reason I escaped the hairy back thing but I do tan nicely. Trust me, I have many relatives who could pass for black if they wanted to. Of course, then they’d have to present their birth certificates to placate the birthers…

It got worse for Megyn with a Y. (Btw, does anyone know anyone who spells that name with a Y? I know only Megan’s or Meghan’s. Nary a Y or even YMCA in sight.) She elaborated on her, uh, historical knowledge:

Kelly, a Fox franchise player, dug herself in further by saying that Santa couldn’t be anything but Caucasian because he’s like Jesus. “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Kelly said. “You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too.”

We’ve established that Saint Nick was a swarthy Greek and many experts think that Jesus was a swarthy Jew:

Face-of-jesus-01-0312-mdn

All this latest flap really illustrates is the abject stupidity of racial classifications. Only elderly white Republicans care if Jesus looked like a blond surfer dude from Orange County. Cowabunga. Of course, those are the people who watch Fox News. It’s kind of a pity that Megyn Kelly is the one spouting this nonsense. I’ve had a soft spot for her ever since her epic smackdown of Karl Rove on election night. I guess it’s time for her to enlist in Bill-O’s war against the war on Christmas. That would be mighty white of her…

I’ll let a certain Irish Catholic crooner have the last word with his legendary rendition of a Christmas classic that was written by a non-swarthy and possibly Republican Jew. Is that diverse enough for y’all?

Sunday Morning Video: Nova- Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?

And now for something completely different on the SMV. I’ve been interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping for as long as I can remember. This NOVA documentary takes a look at the case and concludes that while the man who was convicted of the crime, Richard Hauptmann, was guilty, he did not act alone.