Sturdley's Magical Mystical Blog

Musings on life, liberty, and the pursuit of derpiness.

February 11

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A Listicle!

Or is it a linkticle? Whatever it is, it’s a clear sign of laziness on the part of the author. Happy holidays!

1). This Year in Bad Cops, Lucy Steigerwald. It doesn’t include all of my “favorites” from this year, but an excellent read nonetheless.

2) Perverse Incentives: Sex Work and the Law, Maggie McNeill, Ronald Weitzer, Dianne Post, Steven Wagner. An intelligent and civil discussion of differing sex work positions (I should feel ashamed of such a terrible pun, but I really don’t).

3) Vaccines and the Responsibility To Not Put Others at Risk, Ronald Bailey responds to Dr. Jeffrey Singer’s “Vaccination and Free Choice”. A discussion about the implications of mandatory vaccination.

Anti-vax Idiocy

In my very first substantive post I discussed how stories about some “thing” with extraordinarily improbable but very dire personal consequences will spread hysteria like wildfire, especially on social media sites. Today’s post is dedicated the sheer idiocy and scientific illiteracy of the anti-vaccine movement. Before proceeding further I must make a quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not have any formal medical training, so before making any decisions regarding vaccination you should discuss both the risks and benefits with your doctor as well as doing some independent research through reputable institutions.

One motivation for this post is the Facebook post my wife encountered recently about the link between vaccines and autism. The participants of that discussion exhibited textbook examples of logical fallacies (post hoc ergo procter hoc and confirmation bias among the more prevalent) and active rejection in considering evidence that contradicted their views (a phenomena blogger David McRaney calls The Backfire Effect). I initially intended to write something right away, but other things distracted me.

Then a new study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine over Thanksgiving weekend and I saw a number of stories and twitter links about it. Orac, over at his blog, Respectful Insolence, wrote a most excellent post about the findings as well as a general discussion about the misinformation being peddled by the anti-vax movement, and evidence to rebut their claims. Go read it now, I will wait. Seriously, I’m not kidding, go read it. It puts a staggering perspective on the overwhelmingly positive impact vaccines have had in improving human health: Smallpox eradicated, polio on the verge if the remaining few troubled regions can be dealt with, and millions of lives either saved or improved by disease prevention among other points.

The basis of most anti-vax arguments is that some compound(s) within certain vaccines are a causal factor in autism and sometimes other conditions. Other dubious claims about vaccine effectiveness and the rarity of many diseases in modernized areas are also made. These claims often rely on pseudoscientific analysis, anecdotal evidence, and other abnormal argumentative techniques. Another “proof” often bandied about is the now thoroughly-debunked Andrew Wakefield study that attempted to link autism with the MMR vaccine. The problem with all of these methods is the rejection of rational analysis, because for something to be proven* there must be both an abundance of evidence directly supporting it and a dearth of evidence opposing it. None of the anti-vax assertions I have ever encountered have met both criteria.

Consider these two claims:

  • My daughter was diagnosed with autism thirteen days after receiving her MMR vaccine.
  • My son was diagnosed with autism thirteen days after eating a DiGiorno stuffed crust pizza.

The anti-vaxxers will swear by the first claim, but I’d hazard a guess that even they would be skeptical of the second. Upon critical examination, both claims are equally (un)convincing. Neither demonstrates any form of causation, only the correlation of two events close together in time (there’s that pesky post hoc ergo procter hoc again). Does going to the restroom cause autism? Does riding in a car? What about decorating a Christmas tree? Or getting stitches for that gash on your forehead? Or taking Tylenol for a fever? Did you feed your baby formula? Maybe that’s the cause. Did you breastfeed? Maybe that’s the cause. I could go on ad infinitum, but I expect by now you get my point: one can choose any number of events within a short window of time and form an irrational causal linkage between them.

The anti-vaccine movement has gained momentum with celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Robert F Kennedy Jr. (and apparently now Katie Couric) taking more activist roles in the movement. There are people who actively push this snake oil on the public, and then there are folks that accept this garbage as truth without knowing better because it is being delivered by sources they trust. I am far more infuriated by the former than the latter for it is one thing to actively reject overwhelming evidence, but quite another to be ignorant of its existence. Ignorance is far more easily cured than stupidity.

Anti-vaxxers pose a threat to themselves and to others. Not everyone can be vaccinated due to medical conditions like allergies or compromised immune systems. Vaccines are also not 100% effective, meaning that even when vaccinated, you still have some chance of being susceptible to some diseases. When these factors are combined with a sufficiently large number of people voluntarily declining vaccination, the effectiveness of the whole system tips on its side and these previously rare diseases resurge.

Eradicating infectious disease through vaccination frees money, resources, and manpower to pursue other health issues like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Resisting vaccination based on unfounded fears not only puts those resisting at risk, it sets back the progress of eradication and future research into other problems. I suppose I should not be entirely surprised given the human predilection to act in ways contrary to our best interests, safety, and health.

I vaccinate myself and my children. I do so because I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. I do so because I believe I have a moral responsibility to avoid spreading debilitating diseases to those that due to allergies or other complications cannot be vaccinated. I do so because I know that no vaccine is 100% effective and believe I have a moral responsibility to avoid spreading debilitating diseases to those people for whom a vaccine is not effective. Finally, I do so because I believe I have a moral responsibility to avoid spreading debilitating diseases to the children of idiots who refuse to vaccinate based on erroneous beliefs or irrational fears. After all, I would be completely devastated if the choice to not vaccinate my child resulted in the infection and subsequent death of the little girl down the street with a compromised immune system or the boy who is allergic to most vaccine compounds. Only a monster would believe otherwise.

*A technicality: nothing can be 100% “proven” in the scientific sense, only disproven. Once sufficient evidence is accumulated to support an assertion, we generally accept it as “proven” for all practical purposes, at least until evidence is uncovered that alters or confounds our understanding.

Turkey Time

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Being an American, I am bound by solemn duty to observe the event in the manner of the fabled pilgrims. As the story goes, they invited a friendly group of natives to a party, slaughtered Ben Franklin’s favorite bird, stuffed it with bread and veggies, and then gorged themselves silly while singing Kumbaya. I’m not sure what sides they served. More recently, I’ve heard some folks try to dismiss this story as historical revisionism run amok. Pfft, I just think these people haven’t found enough to be thankful for and are taking their rage out on some poor defenseless puritans.

My extended family has been doing Thanksgiving dinner together for decades. Before I had so many cousins, it used to be a small gathering, but now it is usually twenty people or more. The food, though, is almost always the same. Turkey and ham are the proteins of choice. There are always mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole. My grandmother makes her own cranberry sauce recipe, which only about half the family eats, the rest opting for “the real stuff” straight from a can. She also makes the best dinner rolls. The less standard fare varies from year to year, usually depending on who is hosting the meal. For dessert, we normally have at least four different kinds of pie, and often several other options. And, of course, there are always spirits: this is the secret to a truly entertaining meal.

Because my wife and I both enjoy cooking so much, we will usually make our own Thanksgiving dinner the weekend afterward. This satisfies our cooking itch while also giving us the leftovers necessary to make sandwiches and thanksgiving leftover hash. We started out doing the traditional turkey cooking method: thaw it, stuff it, and roast it while basting every hour or so. Then my wife read an article by Alton Brown in Bon Appetit magazine.

This article advocated a few drastic changes to our process: brining the bird, using aromatics in the cavity instead of stuffing, and NO basting. When we finally sat down to eat, I was blown away. We’ve been cooking our birds this way ever since, and have even converted a few others into believers.

That’s really it for today, a few random paragraph-shaped ramblings about Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, and here’s a really simple recipe for leftover hash, which makes for a really good breakfast.

Thanksgiving leftover hash
• Turkey meat, chopped up
• Stuffing
• Mashed potatoes
• 1-2 tbsp butter
Heat the butter in a non-stick skillet.
Mix the meat, stuffing, and potatoes together, then add to the skillet, flattening the mixture into a single layer.
Fry it up until everything is nice and golden around the edges, stirring occasionally.

It’s great just as it is, but consider putting a bit of your leftover cranberry sauce on top before eating.

Who is Fifty

As a life-long Sci-Fi fan, I came to the Doctor Who party quite late. A friend had been watching the new series for a while and repeatedly tried to get me interested. I did try watching at one point, but the Slitheen family stopped me in my tracks. My wife took to watching episodes during my WoW raids and I found myself having difficulty paying attention to the game. That was in 2012; now I am not only fully hooked, I am caught up on the new series and have been watching the old series (almost to the end of the Pertwee years).

Just in time, too. The 50th anniversary year is shaping up to be quite a thing. Series 7 included quite a few little reminders from the old series, whether it was returning monsters or just something mentioned in the dialogue. The season ender came with a surprise lead-in for the 50th anniversary special episode: John Hurt as The Doctor. Trailers came out last week and pretty much confirmed that the Time War is part of the story. We also got a special treat with a mini-episode showing the last minutes of the 8th doctor and his regeneration into Hurt’s Doctor.

With all the rumors, secrets, deceptions and denials about who is involved and what will happen, I am still not sure what to expect come Saturday except that it will be new and exciting.

Two X-rays, Three Enemas, and Some Fingers, Oh My!

Read this and watch the video.

At first, I had to check that this wasn’t an Onion article.  It is inconceivable to me that anyone involved in this travesty could think this is acceptable or even defensible.  But, this is America, where drugs are bad, mmkay.  Drugs are apparently so bad that anal rape by police and doctors is now being prescribed as a tool for fighting the drug war.

So just why did a routine traffic stop lead to this?  1) Mr. Eckert  was apparently clenching his buttocks excessively, and 2) a drug-sniffing dog alerted police to possible narcotics on his torso.  Interestingly, the Deming and Hidalgo County police officers seem to have a certain amount of excitement regarding clenched buttocks; I suppose everyone has peculiar peccadilloes.  Drug sniffing dogs, however, have a rather questionable level of effectiveness.

Even giving these suspicions the benefit of the doubt, I cannot conceive of a drug mule being so effective as to endure the number and variety of procedures Mr. Eckert was subjected to without being detected.  I can think of only two possible reasons this played out the way it did: 1) these police officers have a scat fetish, or 2) these police officers were “offended” by Mr. Eckert’s objections to complying with the search and decided to teach him a lesson, as in “bend over, serf, and submit to my authoritah!”  I am leaning heavily toward #2, a frightening and increasing trend in our over-policed society, though I have not dismissed the possibility that both are a factor.

Reasonableness appears to be a moot point, however, as the search itself appears to have been illegal on a few levels.  You see, the warrant was valid only for Luna county, but the Gila facility where the procedures were performed is in a different county.  Then there is the matter of the colonoscopy portion of the exam which was performed after the warrant expired.  Of course, “We follow the law in every aspect and we follow policies and protocols that we have in place,” according to Chief Gigante.  I suppose when you are the police state, the law is whatever you say it is.

I should say bravo to the one party involved this debacle who acted appropriately: the doctor at the E.R. in Deming who refused to perform these procedures on the grounds that they were unethical.  You are a decent and honorable human being, one of the few in Luna County, it would seem.

The police officers involved here, however, deserve eternal scorn and condemnation for their behavior: Deming Police Officers Bobby Orosco, Robert Chavez and Officer Hernandez along with Hidalgo County Deputies David Arredondo, Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Green.  May their names be forever associated with anal rape in google searches for as long as they shall live.  I would like to see them all fired for this, but sadly, as Radley Balko noted on twitter, one of them was promoted just four months after the incident and police unions have a terribly effective track record of protecting abusive cowards such as these.

The Gila Regional Medical Center (Robert Wilcox, M.D and Okay Odocha, M.D.) deserves all the publicity possible for this as well.  Not only did they force medically unnecessary procedures on an unwilling patient, but they had the audacity to bill him for thousands of dollars afterward.  I suggest you leave some comments here.  I also suggest you never walk through their doors for any sort of medical procedure.  A medical facility that employs doctors with nonexistent ethical standards is not a safe place for you or your family.

Damage control is well underway.  The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office Community Outreach Unit Facebook page has been deleting comment after comment left on their page.  The Gila Regional Medical Center took down their facebook page shortly after the story went viral.  Of course, you saw how Deming Police Chief Brandon Gigante responded to the reporter at the end of the KOB 4 video.

I for one intend to stay as far away from southern New Mexico as I possibly can.  I suggest you do the same.

Edited to add: This appears to not be an isolated incident with Hidalgo County and Deming.

Edited again to add: More additional info and kudos to KOB 4 for keeping on top of this story.

A New Addition

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Sturdleysblogistan has a new citizen! Eleanor joined the world outside four days ago. I have to say, though, dictatorship isn’t quite the same when mixing formula and changing diapers…

“I won dungeons and dragons… and it was advanced!”

chevy_dnd

I got to play (er, DM) some Dungeons and Dragons this past weekend.  I really don’t get to play that often, this was my second game session this year.  When I do play, I always thoroughly enjoy it.  I also tend to go a little crazy in the days and weeks following.  Out comes the big file box and the computer to organize things or come up with the next adventure.  This time, it was my quick reference materials that snagged my attention.  My current setup consists of hand-written 3×5 index cards to keep track of initiative and conditions, half-sheet cards for monster stats, odd-shaped cards with basic PC stats, and the adventure.  My solution was to combine the first three on 4×6 single index cards.  Here is the near-final design of the front side:

dnd_card_monster

 

The opposite side contains the remaining abilities, skills, and equipment.  I can arrange the cards overlapping each other with the left-column visible on each card and have the most critical numbers visible and in order of initiative.  There is space to keep note of initiative, hp, and conditions.  Monster cards are green, PC cards are blue, and trap cards are red.

Now I need another session to figure out how this system will fail.

Intolerance for Zero Tolerance

We have a problem, a problem of stupid people using stupid laws to punish children and teenagers for normal, sometimes even desirable behavior.  What follows is but a small sample of the derpitude infecting our schools and communities.

 

North Andover, MA:

High school senior and volleyball team captain Erin Cox stops at a party give her too-drunk-to-drive friend a ride home.  Police, who have also just arrived, briefly question her about her presence at the party but allow her leave after determining she has not been drinking.  North Andover High School administrators (Principal Carla Scuzzarella & Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson) learn of this and punish Erin for violating a zero tolerance drug & alcohol policy by removing her as volleyball team captain and suspending her for five games.

See also: further developments.  Double derp!

 

Lassiter High School, Marietta, GA:

High school senior, avid fisherman, and hopeful Air Force recruit Cody Chitwood leaves his tackle box containing fishing knives in his vehicle and drives to school.  During a police sweep of the school parking lot, drug-sniffing dogs detect black powder from a firecracker left in his trunk, search the vehicle, and find the knives.  Cody is suspended by school administrators (Principal Chris Richie & Superintendent Michael Hinojosa) for 10 days and charged (District Attorney Vic Reynolds) with a felony for bringing weapons into a school zone.  On October 16, it was reported the felony charges were dropped, and Cody will be entering the Cobb County pre-trial diversion program.  This possibly means community service and random drug tests, which makes total sense considering the original “infraction.”

 

Allatoona High School, Acworth, GA:

High school student Andrew Williams leaves a pocket knife in the center console of his car.  Following accusations of drug use in his vehicle an assistant principal searched the car, finding the knife but no drugs.  Andrew was charged with a felony for bringing a weapon into a school zone.

 

Park Elementary School, Brooklyn Park, MD:

7-year old Joshua, while eating a pastry for his snack, nibbled it into a shape he described as a mountain.  His unnamed teacher determined it was in fact in the shape of a gun and sent him to the unnamed Principal’s office where he was given a 2-day suspension.

 

Lake Region High School, Naples, ME:

Ninth-grader Tracy Jannicelli was experiencing a headache and asked some fellow students if they had any Tylenol; one of them did and gave it to her.  Assistant Principal Guy Stickney later questioned her about the “incident” then suspended her for 5 days.  Not to be outdone, school Superintendent Candace Brown extended the suspension to 10 days and requested the school board consider if expulsion was warranted.  On the recommendation of Stickney, the board expelled her for violation of zero tolerance drug policy.

 

Hodges Bend Middle School, Houston, TX:

Eighth-grader and Jonae Devlin was suspended for wearing a rosary bead necklace in violation of the school’s anti-gang dress code.  The unnamed Principal gave her the choice to remove the religiously-themed neckwear or be expelled.  She chose to stand by her principles.

Additional rosary bead incidents:

  • 13-year-old Raymon Hosier of Schenectady, New York
  • A 14-year old boy of Haverstraw, New York

 

Grand Island, NE:

Three-year old Hunter Spanjer, a deaf child, was asked to change how he signs his name using Signing Exact English (the sign language he is learning) because the extended index fingers apparently resemble a gun and was in violation of the school’s weapons policy.  “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child.” said Jack Sheard, Grand Island Public Schools spokesperson.  Four days and several hundred angry phone calls and email later, the district decided to waddle back on the request while making a passive-aggressive swipe at the choice of sign language Hunter’s parents chose to use.

 

Harmony Community School, Harmony, FL:

Eight-year old Jordan was suspended for using his index finger and thumb as a play gun.  School officials were conveniently unnamed in the article.

 

Virginia Beach, VA:

13-year old Khalid Caraballo and Aidan Clark as well as two other students were given long-term suspensions (read: until the end of the school year) for playing with an airsoft gun in their front yards.  A neighbor reported the activity to 911, and things naturally snowballed from there.

 

Glendale Unified School District, CA:

The Glendale Unified School District has hired the firm Geo Listening to monitor social media accounts of its middle and high school students in an effort to, well, snoop.

 

The common thread in throughout these stories is the so-called “zero tolerance” policy related to real or imagined weapons, violence, drugs, alcohol, or various other scourges afflicting the children.  The supposed feature is that punishment is inflicted automatically without regard to the circumstances of the “offense” and without the use of simple logic or common sense in determining whether the punishment is truly warranted, the intent being to use fear of draconian punishment to keep the little bastards in line.  Some of these policies have spilled over the boundaries of school property and are being enforced 24/7 wherever the student may be.  Private schools are more insulated, but are not completely immune to this madness.  It is probably only a matter of time before even home-schooled children are affected.

Some cases receive widespread media attention which serves to shame the bureaucrats into backing down, but this is often the exception.  In any event, it should not require such attention for these people to behave as reasonable and rational adults.  Some families can afford to hire an attorney to fight the charges or sue the school district, but those on the poorer end of the economic spectrum have far more limited options.

There is evidence that these policies are not only ineffective, but may be harmful.

 

A secondary, but equally troubling theme in many of these stories are excuses of the variety, “my hands are tied, this is the policy/law/whatever.”  I don’t doubt some of these individuals would dole out the same punishment regardless, but hiding behind a bureaucracy is no excuse for participation in morally repugnant behavior.  Subjugating your integrity for job security is most assuredly not a quality we should be teaching our kids.

 

You may have noticed I have linked to contact information of the various authority figures involved in the above stories wherever possible.  Interestingly, many of the news stories include the names of the students, but omit the names of the so-called adults doling out the punishment.  I simply do not understand why these public officials should enjoy being shielded from accountability by the press in light of such odious behavior.  I believe they should hear loudly, clearly, and frequently (but with a modicum of civility) that enough is enough.  Your state and federal representatives should also be given an earful about the ridiculous and counterproductive laws supporting and mandating these policies.  This stuff will not go away all by itself.

 

A Final Note:

I believe these zero tolerance policies are merely a symptom of a larger problem in our country, a confluence of tough-on-crime, lock them up and throw away the key attitudes and the belief that the law is always the best vehicle for addressing any undesired behavior.  We are wasting our time, money, and labor on practices that are not only ineffective, but inefficient.  We are damaging and destroying lives by attempting to control rather than addressing the more fundamental problems.  These, however, are topics for another day.