Thursday, March 30, 2006

Truth About Vaccines Essay

Today my son has delivered an English essay to his class as a junior in high school. It is titled The Truth About Vaccines and you can read it on the blog of that name. It is well-researched and includes personal interviews with several leaders in the vaccine-safety field: world-reknowned autism expert Bernard Rimland, PhD and Washington-based vaccine issue leader, Barbara Loe Fisher.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Us Immigrants

All of the irony of the racists claiming that immigrants wreck our country and ruin our economy, despite the statistics that show exactly the opposite, is only part of the whole incredible picture:

LOS ANGELES - They surprised the police, and maybe themselves, their T-shirts turning block after block of downtown Los Angeles streets white in a demonstration so massive that few causes in recent U.S. history have matched it.

Police said more than 500,000 people marched Saturday to protest a proposed federal crackdown on illegal immigration. Wearing white as a sign of peace, and waving flags from the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala and other countries, they came to show that illegal immigrants already are part of the American fabric, and want the chance to be legal, law-abiding citizens.—AP 3/25/06

The huge number of marchers is, again ironically, only a drop in the bucket compared to the 12 million estimated undocumented immigrants in the US (also called “illegal” by the legal citizens who don’t want them around.) The anti-immigration hounds are racist simply because they have no facts on which to base their annoyance of the influx of all of these foreigners. The immigrants are mostly Latino and mostly want to work in the US because they get paid the equivalent of nothing back home in their native countries where they generally live in squalor, and they heard there was a land of promise north of the Mexican/US border. So the racist citizens just don’t want anyone “strange” in their midst, and make up any of a number of excuses to prove they have a legitimate point.

The 12 million undocumented aliens will never be rounded up and sent home. There is not enough law enforcement and, frankly, zeal, to get that job done. The minority of aliens who are trouble-makers—criminals, drug runners, opportunists without scruples—probably runs the same percentage as in the general citizenship population, and that’s where the government and legislation needs to focus. There are many democrats, and some republicans, who are working along these lines to engineer laws to make the borders safer, for both those of us who live here, and those who are trying to get here from abroad. These congress people and senators are the unsung heroes, not the wild-eyed wolf-pack who would lead the ignorant sheep in their xenophobic rush to oppression and tyranny.

What were the marches around the country about?

The demonstrators oppose legislation passed by the U.S. House that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. It also would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of parishioners before helping them and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.-- AP 3/25/06

The Civil Rights Movement brought about riots due to a group of people whose recent ancestors had been taken against their will from their homeland, Africa, and brought to this country as slaves. Those rioters were the downtrodden, persecuted by white racist Americans because of the color of their skin. Are riots going to re-emerge because a huge plurality of people, Latinos, living in this country feels threatened after they came here on their own to make a better life and are persecuted by racists because of their national origin? Is this the beginning of a new violent revolution? Will republicans in congress give up their fearful notion of constructing an actual barrier to a perceived “Trojan Horse,” as Jim Gilchrist, leader of the inappropriately-named “minuteman” vigilante group, has called the influx of immigrants?

These questions have suddenly and realistically come to the forefront of American politics and society, and cooler heads better not just prevail, but they better also set an obvious example and proclaim to their fellow hot-headed racist citizens that there is not a place for a modern-day Nazi mentality in these United States of ours.

Those of us who see the melting pot of this country as the land of immigrants it always was better let all of our family and friends know how we view the future of the greatest society in the world—as one of mutual benefit and prosperity for any and all who want to make a positive contribution, excluding none.

And in case you harbor a doubt that there is "enough to go around" for everyone, I haven’t got the time or patience to explain why, but you need to know you’re wrong and not to worry. As soon as people stop fearing and start planning, everyone will benefit.

Immigration Petition PFAW
Common Sense on Immigration (From this blog Nov 2005)

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Nightmare My Family Will Never Know

I’ll make this perfectly clear: I’m not a draft dodger, I was never called to military service, and I view serving in the US military as an honorable and heroic duty. If I had been drafted during the Vietnam War, I would have become a draft-dodger, but I wasn’t drafted. I see no contradiction in these declarations since refusal to follow immoral orders is acceptable since the Nuremburg trials, and the Vietnam War was immoral.

When I see ribbons on cars that say “support our troops,” I wonder who doesn’t, or who wouldn’t, support our troops. The ribbons should declare “I support our troops,” because the command asking for support assumes that someone doesn’t, or wouldn’t. The further assumption is that if you don’t support the Bush administration policies with regards to the occupation of Iraq, then you don’t support our troops in that country. In fact, I support our troops, I send a little money to various charity groups now and then which in turn send the troops supplies or send their families left behind some food or clothing. Yet I am dead set against US presence in Iraq, and favor a pullout along the lines of Congressman John Murtha, as soon as possible.

My late father-in-law was stuffing bodies into bags at age 17 as a Marine in Korea. My stepfather spent 6 months in the infantry in the Battle of the Bulge when he was 18. Both mens’ experience in war shaped the rest of their lives, for better or, more probably, for worse. I respected and admired their military background, and based on the war stories I was told, I was glad I never had to take part in any of it. So far, with the volunteer army set-up, neither will my son.

I watched my tall, husky, handsome 17 year old high-schooler walk out the door this morning. It actually crossed my mind how lucky we are that he is not in the military in Iraq, as are so many thousands of young Americans his age. Then I read a piece from an old friend, Gerald Rellick, who writes opinions on line, in which he made this statement:

Our servicemen are no longer there to fight, but simply to survive.

Rellick quotes an infantryman’s typical day:

“Mostly we drive around Iraq, often we walk and always we wait. Waiting to blow up.... Everywhere you look, there’s a possibility of being blown up. Bombs are hidden in dead dogs and dead donkeys, trash piles, fruit stands and cars. Any place is a good place to hide a bomb... I may still have a young man’s body, but now I have an old man’s heart, and I know when I’m back home it will quiver from loud noises and strain in the night, while I sleep and I dream.”

Rellick’s intelligent commentary goes on to bash several politicians, the Bush people, and most importantly, us—yes, we the people—in our gross negligence failing to make it totally clear that we’ve had enough. Polls, anti-war marches, and complaining aside, there are constitutional remedies for abuse of power in these United States, and it is time by now that they are put into effect. With some patience and some prodding, in a few months the ballot should ring in the cure.

[Gerald S. Rellick, Ph.D., worked in the aerospace industry for 22 years. He now teaches in the California Community College system. He can be reached at]

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Unknown Knowns and Other Rumsfeldians

Cluster ACO 3341 at 300 million light years

“…the night sky is like a time machine. Because light travels at a finite speed, the stars we see at night are seen as they once were, not as they are today...Light from the distant galaxies may be hundreds of millions to billions of light years away. As a result, they represent “fossil” light, some emitted even before the rise of the dinosaurs.” --Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos

President Bush is a pretty upbeat guy: he jogs and keeps in shape, parties with the best of them, flies on that big airplane to give speeches all over the country about how we’re winning the war in Iraq, all the time smiling and winking and waving as if the world were his oyster. At this point, as it is in the second term of any presidency, the world very well could be his oyster.

The big political topic these days is whether Bush is a lame-duck president—yet. The general talk is that this president has done what he’s going to do, and what’s left is to keep the party and its power from imploding completely. Today’s latest survey results confirm this:

President Bush is once again facing the lowest job approval rating of his presidency, the lowest percentage of Americans who believe the country is headed in the right direction, and an electorate that greatly prefers a Democratic-controlled Congress over a Republican-controlled one.

Yet the poll also shows something else that goes beyond the November midterm elections: A strong majority believes Bush is experiencing a long-term setback from which he’s unlikely to recover. “He’s losing his grip on governance,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff. “It’s now a sense that we’ve seen the best that he’s going to produce as president of the United States.”
--NBC/WSJ poll, 3/15/06

So what’s this upbeat happy guy up to? He’s putting out a strategy document designed to conform with the going policies of the Bush doctrine, but like the ancient light from distant stars, it doesn’t have anything to do with today’s reality.

President Bush plans to issue a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq…

"...we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

Such language could be seen as provocative at a time when the United States and its European allies have brought Iran before the U.N. Security Council to answer allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons. At a news conference in January, Bush described an Iran with nuclear arms as a "grave threat to the security of the world."--Washington Post 3/15/06

As my mother used to say when the kids would stay up too late and eat too much sugar-filled cookies and ice cream, bouncing off the walls, “I can see where this is headed.” Bush may not be an over-energized toddler getting punchy as the night wears long, but he sure acts out of touch with what is happening all around him. His Iraq venture is a proven disaster, his domestic programs are nonexistent, save for a few bones tossed to his ultra-rich friends with the tax cuts, and his ability to dredge up support for the big congressional race about to take place is shaky at best.

If presidents didn’t worry about their “place in history,” this guy would be one happy feller—he’s accomplished the political ultimate, two terms as number one in the free world, and he’s young enough to bask for years in the glory that ex-presidents bask in. Plus he’s way up there among the super rich of whom he’s helped to continue to line the pockets. The thing is, presidents invariably worry about their “place in history,” and that is why I wonder why this guy seems so upbeat all the time.

The answer may be that Bush lives in a state of denial. As Molly Ivins points out in her column on whether Bush is an isolationist or an internationalist (neither of which she thinks he’s any good at):

The senior Bush adviser famously quoted by Ron Suskind explained, "We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." --Molly Ivins, 3/14/06

Ivins makes it clear that the harebrained unthoughtful approach to foreign policy headed by George W is only leading us all closer to a huge calamity:

Having offended Pakistan, our critical ally, Bush then returned triumphantly to -- ta-da! -- send exactly the wrong message to Iran. Just in time, showing the Iranians that if they persist in developing nuclear weapons, they, too, will eventually be rewarded like India. Naturally, this in turn strengthens the hard-liners in Tehran and undercuts the pro-Western reformers. What were they thinking? Does anybody here know how to play this game?--Molly Ivins, 3/14/06

I’ve been looking for a good quote on games to sum up the extremely precarious situation in which our happy-go-lucky Chief Executive has put us. But Ivins is using the word "game" as a euphemism for what’s really happening due to George W’s disconnect: as the starlight from time gone by hits us in our reality on earth, we humans could be in real trouble any minute, unless someone, or many, in charge, see the light, and get a grip.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Patriot Act Redux

Hard to believe but Fox News Judge Andrew P. Napolitano today said that the renewal of the Patriot Act brought the United States justice system back to "square one," meaning prior to the Bill of Rights. There is no transcript available yet, and you can check for yourself on Fox News Shepard Smith today, March 8, 2004, when the good judge was asked about the meaning of the controversy over renewing the Patriot Act particulars, and why would anyone object if it meant an increase of each individual's safety due to national security issues?

Napolitano simply explained that the same usurpation of rights under the "Patriot Act" provisos was what the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution was created for--to protect against the exact infractions that the British were doing against the American citizens of the 18th century.

4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The argument is that if you're not doing anything wrong, don't worry. That same imbecillic argument is what law-abiding citizens have told their neighbors throughout history--including the Jews in Berlin in the 1930's and any innumerable writers, actors, directors and producers in Hollywood in the late forties, "It can't happen here--it can't happen to us, we've done nothing wrong!"

My nephew wrote an award-winning essay in high school four years ago about the gestation and rationale for the Patriot Act following the events of 9/11. It's worth reading if just to find out how frightening it is, what is happening to our rights in these United States of ours.

Good Night and indeed, Good Luck!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Son Got it Right

In a perverse way, I'm hoping that "Crash" sweeps the field at the Academy Awards ceremony. Not because it's good — quite the contrary. But I figure that turning up the spotlight on the movie's vision of Los Angeles as a simmering, racist hellbroth might finally stem the flood of Canadians and New Yorkers who keep driving up local real estate prices.—LA Times OP-Ed 2/26/06 Matt Welch

The section of a multi-segmented op-ed piece, of several movies nominated for the Academy Award this year, which points out the discrepancies between reality and Hollywood’s take, was way off the mark, if not entirely annoying in tone. Welch is L.A. Times assistant editorial page editor, which used to include in its op-ed section such a luminary as Robert Scheer, until he was fired, so maybe that says something for the angle.

But really, as a proponent of tolerance and trying to appeal to our “higher selves,” I was appalled at this particular reaction to the movie, Crash, a multi-leveled story of peoples’ foibles, prejudices, and their ultimate potential for redemption.

Instead, Welch panders to the “Bill O’Reilly” knee jerk tendencies of our base natures by swinging with flailing left-and-right punditry jabs:

Haggis wrote "Crash" after his Porsche was carjacked. A rich Hollywood progressive, he wanted to understand his attackers (in a similar act of condescension, he cast rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as one of the movie's articulate black thugs because Bridges brought "authenticity, the street").

It's hard to observe street-level race relations from an opulent perch (Haggis' house was used as the district attorney's mansion in the film).

Oh come on, Welch, are you 12 years old? In this vein we would assume that Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee would have no identification with the shepherding gay men of Wisconsin in Brokeback Mountain, despite the possibility that Lee may have seen the same kind of repression and prejudice growing up in his culture in Nationalist China. Not to mention the more obvious reference of mega-multi-millionaire Steven Spielberg and his depiction of the Holocaust of Schindler’s List.

But my goal is not to tear apart Welch’s attempt at some vague humor just to fulfill his assignment as one of five elements of an op-ed Academy Award piece. Rather, I aim to shine the light on the prescience of a fine young man, a teenager with a vision of the world in its reality, and of his view of a moment of cinema as an example of high art.

That high-schooler is my son. As he and an actor-friend of ours were both enthusing about the greatness of Crash several months ago, our friend said it was too bad it won’t win the award for best picture. My son simply said, “You’ll be surprised, it will win.” And so it did.

That’s how sure he was about the meaning behind this film, because he has learned the lesson of appealing to our best natures, and of tolerance, and of not needing to be cynical to be cool.

My son’s favorite car is not a Porsche, either—it’s a Lamborghini.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blockbuster Vaccine RotaTeq

Kids Die and people lie,
and vaccines'll really hurt'cha

All the news about the six-month anniversary of Katrina, and the lack of progress towards rebuilding, the lives ruined and resources lost, reminds us of how little our government really can do in the face of calamity. A lot of the little that is done is a willing oversight by the powers that be, who have more concern for their own continuation in power, than what that power can provide for the common good.

The approval of a new vaccine for children by a federal advisory committe is a case in point of unbridled power used to line the pockets of the mega-rich:

Every healthy newborn in the United States should receive a new vaccine designed to protect against an intestinal germ called rotavirus, a federal advisory panel decided yesterday as it set aside theoretical concerns about the vaccine's safety.

The decision means that pediatricians are likely to recommend three doses of the oral vaccine for nearly every child at age 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, beginning almost immediately. The vaccine won approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 3, and some doctors have received supplies of it.

The recommendation for universal use of the vaccine was approved at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the federal panel that sets vaccination policy in the United States. It comes nearly seven years after an earlier rotavirus vaccine was withdrawn from the market for causing a potentially life-threatening form of intestinal blockage in some babies.

Vaccine-safety advocates are urging parents to be wary of the new vaccine because of that history. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the manufacturer, Merck & Co. Inc. of Whitehouse Station, N.J., have promised elaborate studies to catch any safety problems. Merck is selling the vaccine under the brand name RotaTeq.--
Washington Post 2/22/06

Our friend and watchperson at the Nationa Vaccine Information Center (, Barbara Loe Fisher, has a very different take on the rotavirus vaccine and its concurrent dangers and cost:

Infant diarrhea, properly managed, rarely fatal in the US and children whorecover from rotavirus infection have immunity.

Merck's live rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq) contains five human-bovine (cow)reassortment rotaviruses. Stanley Plotkin, M.D., Fred Clark, D.V.M., Ph.D.,and Paul Offit, M.D.are U.S. and international patent holders of thevaccine. Offit and Clark are on the faculty of the Children's Hospital ofPhiladelphia. Plotkin is also a patent holder of the rubella vaccine and isassociated with the Wistar Institute.

By adding a diarrhea (rotavirus) vaccine to the routine childhood vaccineschedule, American children will now be subjected to 57 doses of 15 vaccinesby age 12. By 8 weeks old, an infant will have received 9 doses of 8 vaccines and 8 of those doses can be given on a single day.

Were there long term studies of RotaTeq in combination with 7 othervaccines? Was there an evaluation of antibody response and adverse eventsrelative to genetic or other biological differences between children? Wasthere any long term follow up to determine whether there are long termnegative effects on the developing immune system and brain of infants whenthey are given RotaTeq along with 7 other vaccines on a single day twice inthe first four months of life and once with 8 other vaccines on a single dayat age 6 months - compared to infants who receive no vaccines at all?

The answer is no.

Whether or not people have received the flu vaccine, they get the flu in the same numbers more or less every year. The year there was a huge flu vaccine shortage two years ago saw a smaller amount of flu cases than normal. Kids get pertussis--whooping cough--whether of not they received the vaccine. Some vaccines, like measles, do give short-term immunity, unlike the disease which confers lifelong immunity in most cases.

There are doubts and controversies surrounding the vaccine program in this country. There is no doubt about the money to be made from vaccines for their manufacturers, and that's the emmes.

RotaTeq is expected to be one of the most expensive vaccines ever marketed, with Merck listing it at $187.50 wholesale for the three-dose series. That means many doctors are likely to charge more than $300 retail, putting the Merck product in league with Prevnar, an expensive Wyeth vaccine that has been widely used in the United States for five years.

Prevnar, which protects children against certain types of pneumonia, became the first vaccine to meet the pharmaceutical industry's standard for a blockbuster product, with sales exceeding $1 billion a year.--Washington Post 2/22/06