Friday, October 31, 2014

At the SHAKA revival

I went to the SHAKA revival at Pukalani last night. I heard many dubious and some disgusting things, but RtO will report only 3 of them.

1. Some Filipino-Americans I know have mentioned strong anti-Filipino bias (some have used the word racism) from SHAKA. I had not encountered any of that myself. Now I have.

2. Again, the allegation -- made without any evidence -- that "every" journalist and public relations person speaking against the initiative has been paid by Monsanto. This seems to be a universal belief at SHAKA. I have heard it many times and, although at least one person (me) has said it isn't true (of me, that I'm sure of), none of the vilifiers has backed down.

This is not the only reason that I have classed SHAKA as the group with the least aloha of anybody on Maui exept meth cooks, but it contributes.

3. I had wondered (in a Facebook comment) whether Lorrin Pang would repeat his claim that the seed companies use "untested" chemicals if he knew I was in the room. He did and stared at me as he said it. Small island.

He elaborated (I won't go into details, he'll be happy to do that if you ask him), and his position boils down to -- no ag chemicals allowed, because of the impossibility of testing them as he believes they should be tested. Odd, coming from a man who used them, successfully, to eliminate dengue on Maui.

I thought I had heard him say, last week in a radio sound bite, that he thought eating GMO food was a threat. I could hardly believe it, and it was only a sound bite, so I filed that away. Turns out, he does believe that.

He then went into a longish discussion of regulation, and I will present a longish report of it. Bear with me (he jumped around a lot at this point and introduced several concepts that I am going to skip over).

He was (I did not at first know where he was going) developing a point that a man can do what he wants on his own property but once it goes outside, especially if he sells it, it comes under regulatory scrutiny. This applies, he said, to "everything" in the way of food or medicine.

Pang must be suffering from irony deficiency anemia, because (to judge by their dress and demeanor) at least a majority of his audience (of something over 100) are the people you see in the "health" store buying untested, unregulated supplements, and using untested quack cures and untested patent medicines. The kind of people who believe the energies in their bodies can become unbalanced and that this is a condition requiring medical treatment. (I kid you not; find the magazine with Pang on the cover and read the ads.)

All this (and more) was leading up to a grand challenge to introducing food altered by recombinent gene methods into the consumption arena, because it has not been -- and according to Pang, cannot be -- tested. His example was the Rainbow papaya.

(Here I must digress. Pang did not explain Rainbow papaya and it was obvious most or all of his audience knew nothing specific about it [or he would not have gotten away with the slick trick I will describe later], but you have to understand the fruit to understand the trick.

(Papaya can be infected by a virus -- ringspot -- that does not make it inedible but does make it so unsightly that it is unsaleable. In a nifty piece of work, a gene that codes for a protein in the coat of the virus is inserted into the papaya itself, which sets up an immune reaction.

(This method does not work for every disease-causing virus, unfortunately, but it does work in papaya. It is as if a gene for part of the AIDS organism were inserted into the mitochondria of human mothers, and their babies were born immune to AIDS, without any side effects. How cool would that be?)

Pang said that eating Rainbow papaya with its built-in ringspot vaccine is the same as getting the vaccine, like getting a flu vaccine shot. He held up a Hawaiian Airlines magazine that happened to have a laudatory article about Rainbow papaya next to an ad for flu vaccine.

The ad, he noted, mentioned signing a waiver and consent form for your flu shot. Do papaya eaters sign a consent form to get the ringspot virus? No, he said.

It was slick, I'll give him that, and the applause indicated it was effective. He had failed to make clear -- and his listeners were too ignorant to spot -- the gaps in his little immorality tale.

The recipient of the ringspot vaccine is not the human but the papaya tree and, yes, it's true, the tree did not sign a consent form. People don't get ringspot disease. In the course of the disease in the fruit, the virus replicates itself millions (perhaps billions) of times before the rings appear, and people eat the virus without effect.

We are not plants.

The Rainbow papaya does contain a virus protein that does not occur in other papayas -- unless they are infected with ringspot, in which case it includes not only that virus protein but all the others and the viral DNA, too.

I may be wrong in thinking that nobody but me saw Pang slide the pea out from under the walnut. During the applause, I noticed a couple of people sitting on their hands and in particular one woman whose face registered what I took to be disgust. If I had had a mirror, I expect mine would have, too. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stop the Ebola, er, malaria carriers!

First, all the people who have died of Ebola fever in history do not equal the number of Africans who die of malaria every 3 days or so.

Second, a friend of mine who worked in Africa on AIDS control directed me to this commentary by someone who really does know what he's talking about. Worth reading, and then, for pete's sake, stop with the Ebola reports already. Nut grafs:

Doctors Without Borders combined the experience of earlier outbreaks with the treatment of thousands of cases during this outbreak.  They have done this under such difficult field conditions that it was assumed that most large hospitals in the United States could have done the same thing safely.  That turned out not to be true and protocols quickly reflected this new information.
While the autonomy of state and local jurisdictions is a given in this country, the federal government has responded with assistance and personnel exceeding any previous investigation and control effort.  Human evolution and response to unexpected problems will contain the virus in this country.
UPDATE: Not since Bitter Bierce amused the rowdy San Franciscans has an American journalist reached the levels of invective of Gary Legum. And maybe not even then. Legum is not as general a scold as Bierce, since he has only a single target. But it's a fat one and his latest volley is relevant to the topic of this post.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spina bifida and GMOs

One of the claims made by SHAKA is that rates of spina bifida on Maui and Kauai are double the national average, and they suspect GMOs as the cause. This suspicion is entirely imaginary, as no one knows what causes this neural tube deformation; and no mechanism between GMO farming and the disease is proposed.

But is it even true that rates of spina bifida are double the national average? Let’s see.

Spina bifida is a reportable disease, so we know that there are about 8 cases a year in Hawaii, and perhaps others that are not reported because the fetus is aborted. The defect ranges from mild to severe and sometimes takes some time after birth to be noticed.

A known risk factor is insufficient folic acid in the mother’s diet during pregnancy, and about 3 in 5 Maui mothers do not get enough. However, there are 1,800 births a year on Maui and there are not 1,100 cases of spina bifida -- as we will see, the incidence is around 1 or less -- so rather than thinking of folic acid as a preventive, perhaps it would be better to think of it as something that interferes with the developmental failure in the rare cases when that is imminent.

Spina bifida has been around since long before gene splicing, so -- even if there is  a new cause at work today -- there must also be a background rate. Let us assign that as 1 per county per year. We will disregard the fact that 3 in 4 births are on Oahu, and treat each county as equal.

That leaves 4 cases a year that might be outside the base rate. Since SHAKA claims both Maui and Kauai are implicated, then the maximum number of anomalous cases is 2 on Maui and 2 on Kauai.

By making the unrealistic assumption that most cases of spina bifida occur outside Oahu, it is just barely arithmetically possible to claim that rates on Maui and Kauai could   be double the national average. But If the base rate for the Neighbor Islands is 1 per county per year, and if three-quarters of base cases occur on Oahu, there are not any available Neighbor Islands cases to be anomalous. We would need more than 8 total cases to make the sums work. (We require 12 cases to reach baseline.)

So, whatever the base rate is on Maui, it must be less than 1 per year.

Now we run into what might be called the Tyranny of Small Numbers. Let’s say you have 4 instances -- it might be 4 cases of spina bifida on Maui and Kauai attributable to GMOs. They can divide (between counties) as 4/0, 3/1, 2/2, 1/3 or 0/4.

And like every other natural phenomenon, they will. Think of hurricanes in Florida. Over a long period, the number coming ashore is about 1 per year. But there have been years with 4, and for the last 8 years or so, not any. Not just not any per year; not any over that longish period.

So let’s say you know (although you don’t) what the base or natural rate of spina bifida is on Maui. Let’s say it is 1. Let’s say in a year you have 4 total cases.

You cannot call these anomalous, because if the natural average rate is 1, then in some years you will have 4 natural cases, and in other years 0.

You would need a long series of years to know if you had a trend.

So, like all the other SHAKA claims I have checked, this one is bogus. (The only way to make it not bogus would be to claim a huge spike in cases; claiming a mere doubling won’t do it, it just shows they are making things up -- and don’t understand evidentiary rules.)

All politics in 140 characters

Over at Wonkette, commenter GayerThanThou sums up the 2014 (and all recent) elections in 2 lines. He is reacting to a post about nepotism, which rightwing nepot columnist Bill Kristol (son of Irving) thinks is a besetting sin of Democrats:

I haz a confused: I thought the whole point of abolishing the Death Tax was so that Junior wouldn't have to make it "on his and/or her own."
He could have fitted it into a tweet. Who says lefties are spendthrifts?

Child sacrifice, again

The Marysville murder demonstrates -- what needs no demonstration any more -- that an armed society is a society that sacrifices its children, and it gets nothing in return, not even good crops or good hunting.

It also demonstrates that the gun control moderates, who are fighting an initiative struggle in Washington state over background checks, are also wrong.

1. The gunman was not stopped by a good man with a gun. Even if a good man with a gun had been present, it appears the four students who were shot would still have been shot.

2. The killer was rushed by an unarmed teacher, and what happened is yet unclear. Did the killer shoot himself trying to shoot the teacher, or by accident while trying to pull loose, or was he finished shooting all the children he wanted to shoot and was in the act of shooting himself? Had he stopped to reload?

So all the lying crap that the NRA feeds America is crap.

3. However, claims that the killer had stopped to reload, giving the teacher a moment to rush him, and thus showing the utility of regulations against high-capacity magazines, are, so far, speculative. It is not certain that the killer was trying to reload.

4. The initiative to require background checks, if in effect, would have been pointless. It looks as if the pistol was a family item, purchased and registered according to form and owned by someone who is not suspected of murder.

So, why does a family man in Marysville, Washington, who owns several rifles for hunting, also require a .40-caliber automatic pistol? Are home invasion robberies common in Marysville? Had he been threatened by a violent neighbor? Or was he just the victim of relentless, lying, fatal gun nut propaganda?

An armed society does not care anything about its children.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Seeing the light

On my birthday a couple weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend whose birthday is one day later, and she quizzed me about why I am not a Catholic any more. She is a Catholic, but let's say her outlook has evolved since her daughter turned out to be gay and got married and had kids.

In fact, I'd say she's evolved waaaay past what we Catholics (back when I was one) would have called a liberal Catholic. We don't agree on very much theologically, but we did agree that the recent Synod devoted to issues like divorce, gayness and stuff being held by a bunch of unmarried, straight (we presume) men only was "tone deaf."

I proposed that and she said, "That's a good word for it."

I haven't talked with her since the Synod broke up but I know she was disappointed that the bishops didn't show more kindness to divorced straight Catholics or married gay Catholics. But on the bright side, they at least talked about it. There are other religions that only lecture. And in that other United States too.

I don't think I have ever said so at RtO (although I have done so elsewhere) but it is only stating the obvious that the worst idea humans have ever had was universalizing salvationist monotheism.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why do the rightwngers quiver?

It isn't a rhetorical question. They do. But why, I'd like to know? Examples:

* They are afraid to go into a pizza parlor without carrying an assault rifle.

And, no, don't give me that shinola about how libtards don't even know what's an assault rifle. If the M1 Garands carried by their grandfathers onto Omaha Beach were not assault rifles, then the words have no meaning.

* They are quivering with fear about the Ebola fever -- and before that about Guatemalans bringing in scabies over the Rio Grande.

Y'know, if your mother started babbling the way U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman does, you'd worry she'd had a stroke and put her in a hospital:

It’s just bizarre there’s not enough action up front and I’m wondering if that’s — I’m not saying this — but I’m wondering if that’s intentional in order to create a greater crisis to use it as a blunt force to say, well in order to solve this crisis we’re going to have to take control of the economy and individuals and so forth. I don’t know. It’s just a strange non-response, a strange way of handling it and I think that if it does go forward and we do not control it, there may be an overreaction where the government starts taking away the rights of those that aren’t that necessarily involved or need that to happen. I hope that’s not that case but as you know this current government uses crisis to advance their philosophy and their agenda. - See more at:
 It’s just bizarre there’s not enough action up front and I’m wondering if that’s — I’m not saying this — but I’m wondering if that’s intentional in order to create a greater crisis to use it as a blunt force to say, well in order to solve this crisis we’re going to have to take control of the economy and individuals and so forth. I don’t know. It’s just a strange non-response, a strange way of handling it and I think that if it does go forward and we do not control it, there may be an overreaction where the government starts taking away the rights of those that aren’t that necessarily involved or need that to happen. I hope that’s not that case but as you know this current government uses crisis to advance their philosophy and their agenda.
Madwoman on the loose

And if your grandma started raving like Phyllis Schlafly, you'd call for the men in white coats to keep her from hurting herself:

“There are all kinds of diseases in the rest of the world, and we don’t want them in this country,” Schlafly told WND, adding that “of all the things [Obama has] done, I think this thing of letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people is just the most outrageous of all.”
She went on to imply that President Obama is intentionally allowing people infected with Ebola into the United States because he wants America to be “just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.”

But the rightwingers don't want it to

 * And they are full of indignation that our precious electoral system might be harmed if someone claimed to be someone else in order to cast a fraudulent vote; although the only person known to have done this recently was a white, rightwing Republican, Robert Monroe. But can you name one rightwinger, ever, who said he worried that out precious electoral system would be damaged by systematic laws designed to keep poor people from voting? No you cannot.

Except maybe this one. Except that I've read some of Judge Posner's many books, and while he easily qualifies as a conservative and a Republican, he is doubtfully a rightwinger. He did a lot of damage, though, to our precious voting system:

His dissent includes a devastating response to virtually every false and/or disingenuous rightwing argument/talking point ever put forth in support of Photo ID voting restrictions, describing them as “a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government.”
As we leftwingers have been saying from the get-go. Some people are just slow learners.