Don’t buckle-up, don’t wear your helmet, don’t vaccinate

The partisan hack who keeps getting elected for the House of Representatives from my district posted on Facebook about the summer road season. Interestingly enough, some of his most ardent supporters starting criticizing laws in Pennsylvania that mandate seat belt and helmet use. They seemed to be upset that they’re not allowed the “freedom” to not wear seat belts, and they were also upset that bills are being proposed to mandate helmets for motorcycle riders. Just like anti-vaxxers, they don’t like ounces of prevention and apparently prefer pounds of cure.

Seriously, anti-vaxxers must be in league with Big Pharma, because vaccines cost way less than the hospitalizations and drugs required to treat the diseases they prevent. How else can you explain that they are so anti-vaccine? Anti-vaxxers trigger outbreaks, children end up going to the doctor or in hospitals, and the pharmaceutical companies compensate them handsomely. Right?

Back to the helmets and seat belts.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were about 35 thousand traffic deaths in the United States in 2015 (the year for which the latest data are available). About 6,000 of those were pedestrians and bicyclists. (For a discussion on bicycle safety, click here.) That leaves about 29,000 deaths in motor vehicles. From the best data we have, via CDC, about half of those people would not have died if they were wearing their seat belts. The other half… Well, stuff happens.

Similar protective effects can be seen with motorcycle helmets and motorcycle accidents. And don’t even get me started on the death and injuries prevented by vaccines. More than any other intervention in public health, vaccines have prevented millions of deaths and injuries from serious infectious diseases. Don’t let anyone try and convince you otherwise.

But where is the line with regards to freedom? If you’re an adult, should you be allowed to take your life into your own hands — literally — and not wear a seatbelt or helmet? This would be okay, I guess, if you lived in an absolute bubble. You don’t. Think of what happens when a car accident happens. It usually involves more than one vehicle. Even if it wasn’t your fault, you not being restrained puts the other people around you in danger from you being ejected, from you dying in front of their eyes, and from them being charged with a more serious crime because you decided to exercise your freedom that day.

And what about the first responders that have to go deal with your mangled body? What about the time and effort spent trying to save your life? Chances are that you wouldn’t have a sign on you that stated that it was okay to let you die if you were not wearing your seat belt… And passing any kind of law or regulation saying that it’s okay to let you die would be utterly unethical.

Then there’s the fact that the rest of us would pick up the bill for your death in one way or another. Someone has to replace your loss of productivity. Another person would have to look after your family since you’re gone. And so on and so forth. Let me write it again: You don’t live in a bubble.

This whole misunderstanding of Libertarianism is a thorn on the side of public health people the world over. “We don’t want the government to tell us what to do,” they proclaim.
“Then do the right thing to keep yourself safe, because you don’t live in a goddamned bubble,” we tell them.
“Freedom!” Yeah, their conversations are full of nuance and self-introspection.

Left to their own devices, these people would kill us.

But, okay, let’s say that you don’t want to wear a seat belt or a helmet on your motorcycle. Then I propose the following… You don’t drive on public roads. See, in the real world, we took a vote, and we elected people to make laws and enforce them for us. Those laws set standards for what is safe and what is not safe on public roads. Don’t want to wear a seat belt? Don’t be on the roads that the rest of us adults living in reality paid for with our taxes. It’s that simple.

The same principle has been adopted with immunizations. Don’t want to get vaccinated because you’re afraid of something some celebrity — or fraudster of a physician — told you? Then you don’t get to go to our public schools and endanger the rest of us. You don’t get to ride on planes or trains with the rest of us.

Oh, yes, you keep your freedom, but you don’t risk our freedom to be safe from danger because of it. In other words, grow the hell up, put on the belt or helmet, get your vaccine, and stop being a petulant child. There’s work to be done and we cannot possibly be arguing this right now, in 2017.

That pesky English language

My grandmother told me a story about her and my grandfather that made me laugh. There is a word in Spanish that used to be a slur but has changed a bit. The word is “güey“, a derivation of the word “buey” (bull). It used to be used to call someone stupid or a dimwit. However, it has become more accepted in Mexico to the point that it is not censored in media anymore.

Anyway, my grandmother said that my grandfather bought her a chocolate bar in the US and brought it back to her. She looked at the wrapper and threw it back at him. Why? The wrapper read “Milky Way”, so my grandmother read “Way” and thought it was “güey”. She thought the name of the candy bar was offensive. Of course, my grandfather explained to her that it was the name of our galaxy in English, and she happily ate the candy. From then on, it was her favorite, and he would bring her one from the US whenever he could.

When I was growing up and learning English, there were a lot of words that I didn’t understand. I had to hear them and read them in context a few times before I understood. I remember watching an episode of “The Flintstones” and not knowing what Fred meant by “grab the pumpernickel.” I recognized “nickel,” so I thought that he meant some kind of metal, or something valuable. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I understood that he meant a type of bread.

Before we go any further, go read this post by Dorit Reiss on then come back.

Did you read the comments? In one of them, Skeptical Raptor comments:

I just got reported for using the word “niggardly.” Those of you who read this blog who think that “niggardly” means anything racist, you ought to just go away. You’re third grade education is probably going to be overwhelmed by other words such as “evidence, pseudoscience, and utter bullshit.”

Facebook is uses an automated system to see if something is offensive or not. If enough people complain, Facebook just deletes the content. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, Facebook will ban you from the site for a number of days. The system is utterly incompetent. For example, I reported a post for promoting violence. This is what Facebook replied with:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.50.15 PM

What was the post? This:

“I would prefer to train 20 Syrian refugees to kill every member of the Baltimore city government who was in contact with the Baltimore city council prior to the april 15 Kwazy Frizzell Freddie Gray psyop called their insurance companies and made sure that the 68-riot insurance covered their properties.
Make no mistake, i have a recording of all the phone calls, every member of the city government who called their insurance companies before april 12.
They are going to be shot, stabbed and strangled to death.
I will train the refugees to get the job done.”

Here’s a screen shot of it:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.52.40 PM
Tim needs help.

According to Facebook, there’s nothing wrong with that post. Nothing wrong at all.

Ah, but woe be upon you if you use the word “niggardly.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.13.14 PM
It’s not what you thought it was, is it?

The anti-vaccine idiots who claim to be well-educated were going on and on about Skeptical Raptor using the word “niggardly” in one of his online discussions. They almost dance in celebration that they had something on him. They thought they had him for being a racist. Because “niggardly” is a racist term in their minds.

Because English can be complicated even to native speakers? No. It’s because there are words — in any language — that can be tricky to those who are frothing at the mouth to find “dirt” on someone. The anti-vaxxer in question is getting a lot of accolades from her friends for finding this word on Raptor’s personal Facebook page. As much research as they do, they don’t seem to have bothered to look up the damn word.

The person in question keeps reporting people, and her reports keep getting upheld by Facebook while my reports of Tim are not. This leads me to believe that something fishy is going on… The game is afoot.

The people who just want to be adversarial

As I was growing up, I had a cousin who was born a couple of weeks after I was. Our relationship was a good one growing up, but I noticed something about him early on. He was always being adversarial towards me, and the worst example came at the most inopportune time. We were at a military checkpoint in Mexico when a soldier asked me what I did for a living. I told the soldier that I was a medical technologist. “Nah-ah,” my cousin countered, “you’re not.” The soldier looked at me in confusion. I had to explain to him that I had just graduated from school. As we drove away, my cousin said to me that I couldn’t say I was a medical technologist until I worked as one.

That was the worst example, but there are plenty of others that are not as dangerous but hundreds of times more annoying. That’s the reason why I blocked him on social media. It didn’t matter what I posted, he would find a way to comment something in opposition to what I wrote. He’d always chalk it up to “just kidding,” but it was annoying, and I put a stop to it.

Now, my wife is the one dealing with an adversarial relative. She has a cousin who is of the more “conservative” persuasion. My wife is more “liberal.” And they’ve been butting heads over political and non-political things on Facebook for a while now. But the latest round of disagreement made me want to do a face-palm.

Sometimes two palms are not enough.

Yes, yes… I’m biased. In 99% of arguments, I’m going to side with my wife. Heck, I might even side with her that extra 1% of the time she’s not exactly correct. But hear me out…

As it turns out, the Pennsylvania legislature is looking at a bill that would require people to be “eligible” to buy a handgun. My wife posted the link to a news story about it on Facebook and her cousin was, as usual, quick to be adversarial:


“That’s bullshit,” he wrote. “Better not go anywhere. A right does not need a license.”

Out of all the comments he’s made recently — some of which Professor Reuben Gaines has engaged him on — this one was the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it). I know her cousin. I’ve met him at family gatherings. He’s not really as dumb as some of his comments make him out to be. Like my cousin, this cousin just wants to be adversarial, in my opinion.

The truth is that all of the rights given to us by the Constitution have limits. Local, state and federal laws can and have been passed in order to limit our rights. As a constitutional expert explains:

“In only one place in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is there a provision that flatly bars the government from regulating one of the protected rights. That is in the First Amendment, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting” the rights listed in that Amendment. The “right to keep and bear arms” is not one of those rights; it is contained in the Second Amendment.

Over the time since 1791, when the Bill if Rights was ratified, the Supreme Court has given its blessing to an entire governing edifice that regulates First Amendment rights: the laws of libel and defamation, limits on publishing secret military strategy, regulation of “obscene” and “indecent” expression, and limits on “hate speech.” Famously, the court has said that one has no right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Even the right to worship freely sometimes is curbed by laws that regulate conduct that has religious meaning.”

So that’s the best answer that I have for “Mike,” but I’m not going to get into it. He and my wife are adults, and I’ve seen her play mind games enough to know that she will deal with him nicely, as she has dealt with other adversaries.

As much as I love to play mind games with the most dangerous of prey — humans — there are times when you just have to recognize that someone is being adversarial because that’s all they have to provide to a conversation. It’s either their way of gaining attention that they don’t get in other ways, or their way to show you that they are smarter than you… Because the best way to say show intelligence is to say “nah-ah” and kick you in the shin.

It’s not even fair sometimes how easily one can dispatch with birdbrains.

So consider the source when someone tries to bait you into an argument, or when someone feels that uncontrollable urge to just oppose you at every opportunity. If they do it out of habit, ignore them and move on to the discussions that will enrich your life, or will help enrich the lives of others. It’s something that has taken me a lot of time to learn, but I am happier and less stressed now that I’ve learned it.

On the other hand, if you’re bored and feel like playing a mind game, go ahead and friend my wife on Facebook so you can get to meet “Mike.”

Quarantine Shmarantine! Part 2: Let us not forget John Early of North Carolina

NOTE: Before you read any further, please consider bidding on an 8×10 print of a palace building in Korea. All proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders. Click here to check it out. Thank you.

A few weeks ago, I told you the different reasons why I believe that quarantine doesn’t work. My main argument boils down to the fact that human beings can think and plan and act when they feel that they are in danger. Being placed in an isolated area (e.g. a tent outside a hospital) and not allowed to see friends and family makes us feel in danger. Being told by the governor of a state in the United States that you are “obviously ill” makes you feel in danger. Seeing incompetence and panic over Ebola everywhere around you makes you feel in danger.

So you try to run.

Nurse Kaci Hickox was taken from the airport in Newark, NJ, to a tent outside a hospital and placed there until further notice because an elected politician said so. She didn’t have a fever. She wasn’t feeling ill. She would test negative for Ebola infection. Yet the government of that state saw it necessary to throw her in a tent with no running toilet. The only thing that saved the day, in my opinion, is that she had a cellphone with her, and she was able to text-message out an exposé of her situation. In that essay, she writes this:

“I arrived at the Newark Liberty International Airport around 1 p.m. on Friday, after a grueling two-day journey from Sierra Leone. I walked up to the immigration official at the airport and was greeted with a big smile and a “hello.”

I told him that I have traveled from Sierra Leone and he replied, a little less enthusiastically: “No problem. They are probably going to ask you a few questions.”

He put on gloves and a mask and called someone. Then he escorted me to the quarantine office a few yards away. I was told to sit down. Everyone that came out of the offices was hurrying from room to room in white protective coveralls, gloves, masks, and a disposable face shield.

One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn’t. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.

Two other officials asked about my work in Sierra Leone. One of them was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They scribbled notes in the margins of their form, a form that appeared to be inadequate for the many details they are collecting.

I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm. My temperature was taken using a forehead scanner and it read a temperature of 98. I was feeling physically healthy but emotionally exhausted.

Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.”

Continue reading

Forget about Ebola in the United States. Focus on Africa.

NOTE: Before you read any further, please consider bidding on an 8×10 print of a palace building in Korea. All proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders. Click here to check it out. Thank you.

I called it. I told you all that fear was spreading faster than Ebola, and now it has. A physician in New York City has come down with it after working with Ebola patients in Africa. With fear comes all sorts of stupidity. According to Reuters, this is what people are going through:

“When Zuru Pewu picked up her 4-year-old son, Micah, from kindergarten at a Staten Island, New York, public school recently, a woman pointed at her in front of about 30 parents and their children, and started shouting.

“She kept screaming, ‘These African bitches brought Ebola into our country and are making everybody sick!'” said Pewu, 29, who emigrated from Liberia in 2005. “Then she told her son, ‘You know the country that’s called Liberia that they show on the TV? That’s where these bitches are from.'””

Because all people from Liberia have Ebola, don’t you know?

I think you know. You’re a smart, thoughtful person. That’s why you read this blog. Unfortunately for all of us, way too many people are reacting stupidly to the Ebola situation, and way too many of them are in positions of power and authority.

Just last week, Senator John McCain called for an “Ebola Czar” while being completely oblivious (or just plain ignoring) the fact that we have been without a Surgeon General for a while now. Then there is Senator Rand Paul telling people that Ebola is so infectious that you can catch it at a cocktail party. And, not to be outdone, Representative Peter King tells us that the virus has mutated and that doctors are wrong.

And that’s just the politicians. Plenty of people on the street seem to be convinced that Ebola is more than we know it is. They read things online and believe them to be true. They read things like “Ebola has been manufactured” or “the CDC has a patent on Ebola” and think the worst. You just can’t preach rationality to those people. Worse yet, a lot of what they think about Ebola comes from a movie… A goddamned movie!

Sorry. I lost my cool.

No. You know what? I have a right to lose my cool. We all should lose our cool with idiots who promote ridiculous things about Ebola — and other diseases — like the religious zealots in Liberia who are blaming Ebola on homosexuality and getting people hurt. We should not stand for all this bullshit and fight it with facts, with reason, with science, evidence and all those things.

When some jerk like Donald Trump loses his mind and blames the President of the United States, we need to fire back and remind him of a simple fact:

Hat-tip to Tara C. Smith.
Hat-tip to Tara C. Smith.

When Governor Rick Perry of Texas shouts that we need to shut flights from West Africa — which would essentially kill their economy and infrastructure — we need to remind him that more people have died from West Nile Virus in Texas than from Ebola in Texas. So what is he going to do about West Nile Virus? Surely not panic.

Look, there are a ton of different things more likely to kill you in the United States than Ebola. We are blessed/lucky/fortunate to have a robust healthcare system. If you get sick in just about any county in the country, you can call on an ambulance to take you to a hospital. By law, that hospital must treat you until you’re stable. If you happen to get Ebola, you are much more likely to survive here than you would in West Africa.

Which leads me to my next point. You would think that the outbreak in West Africa is over from the news coverage that it has not been getting and by the slowness in reacting from all the governments and people in the world. Why is it that humanitarian organizations have to go begging for donations to fight Ebola in Africa while anti-vaccine organizations waste money buying themselves congressmen? And how the heck is Cuba — with all the things we’re told about it — doing a better job responding than America?

When people ask me about their risk of this disease or that, I take into consideration the population-level things that determine that risk. People like my wife who are healthcare providers need to determine both population-level factors as well as individual factors in telling someone their risk. When it comes to Ebola, the whole of the population is at lesser risk of contracting it than getting hit by lightning or dying in a crashing plane. The risk is only slightly higher for healthcare workers taking care of a person with Ebola here in the US, or for a person living with an Ebola patient.

All this paranoia and idiocy in reacting to Ebola is not going to help the people who really need to be helped: the people in West Africa. They don’t have the luxury of calling for an ambulance or going to a good hospital. Heck, they barely have doctors. No, not “enough doctors.” They barely have doctors, period. They don’t get to go to an urgent care center or an emergency department and whine over not getting their percocet or other painkillers.

So let’s fight for those people and stop the spread of misinformation. Spread the right information. Listen to the science.

For God’s sakes, get a grip!

You need to know your Chavezes

March 31, 2013, was Easter in the United States. For quite a while now, March 31 has been Cesar Chavez day in some States in the country. Also for some time, Google has been displaying “doodles” on their homepage. These doodles are images or even small computer games to celebrate the date. On March 31, 2013, Google posted a doodle about Cesar Chavez in celebration of his 86th birthday:


This didn’t sit well with conservative pundits because it was Easter, and Jesus doesn’t get any other day of the year should have been celebrated instead, in their view. To make a mountain out of a mole hill, one blogger kicked things off by saying that Google was celebrating Hugo Chavez, the recently deceased (and quite controversial, maybe even tyrannical) President of Venezuela. That blogger posted this on Twitter:

Hugo, Cesar, same difference, right?
Hugo, Cesar, same difference, right?

They’ve since deleted the tweet and corrected the story they posted, but they were not the only ones making this mistake. Here is a collection of screen captures of other people saying similar things on twitter, and some even being outright racists about it. If you don’t want to click on that link and get your blood pressure to an all-time high, here are three of the “milder” comments where people can’t tell one Chavez from another:

screenshot.105I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you adhere to. I really don’t. But you need to know the difference between two Brown men named Chavez. You also need to know that not everyone celebrated Easter yesterday. There are those who are not Christian, and there are Christians who will celebrate Easter later this year.

So chill out. It’s just a doodle. Go read a book. Go open a newspaper. Go learn the difference between Hugo and Cesar Chavez, besides their first names.

One last thing…



Maybe because they don’t have to? And because they live in a country where they are free not to? Just thinking out loud…