Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two Very Current Stories

I have two topics to touch upon, both with links.

First, remember Prop 8 in California, the "anti-gay-marriage" bill, which has stumbled through the courts since passage? The Atlantic magazine has a fascinating story about the most recent court fight. Apparently a federal appeals court decided against enforcing the bill in August, but now the pro-Prop 8 side has filed and received a hearing on whether the judge in August should have recused himself because he's gay. The federal judge hearing the appeal has promised a decision in 24 hours! What's interesting is how badly the lawyers arguing the case-- on both sides-- performed. The anti gay side brought few witnesses, because no one wanted their testimony to be recorded. The pro-gay side brought no facts to defend their contention that anti-gay discrimination harmed society or individuals. Neither side, obviously, has much invested in the outcome. This is bad Kabuki theatre, noise and hand gestures, but no commitment.

The second topic, and I hate to bring it up, is Michele Bachmann. She was impressive at the debate, apparently (no, no, no I didn't watch it!). I heard some of what she said this morning on the radio news. What I heard were sales slogans, product placements. She has no interest in educating her constituency about the real issues-- she doesn't want to "dilute" her "message" with any confusing "facts." OK, but here's what bothers me-- she's not spewing her own stuff, she's got writers and trainers and staff experts and spokespersons and advisers to tell her what to say, where to say it, to whom, and what to wear while she does it. She's kind of a brand more than an actual, breathing moral agent. So are all the other candidates, on both sides of the aisle. Apparently the two photogenic GOP candidates are ahead, Romney and Bachmann. I heard some journalist on the radio at noontime, trying to draw out not the ideas of the candidates, but whether they knew (and liked) his newly-minted term Obamney Care. Nothing about the issues, no facts, just a plug for the political sales jingle he'd coined. And no voters are any more informed. I wish I thought no voters were entertained. So we've got a 30-40-something up-and-comer class of political operatives and journalist wannabe's who are running the election, directing it, scripting it, and reporting it. The 2012 election is going to generate billions of dollars in demand for a big ol' dog and pony show.And maybe no one cares about the fact, because they're not interested in the facts, but only in winning.

If you want to shut up a conservative trying to get you worked up, tell them, a propos of nothing, that in your studied opinion the only electable conservative Republican in the upcoming presidential race is named Obama. I've found that shuts them up-- because it's true, and very deflating.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Headline on Google News, Cook Your Sprouts!

Today the news headlines feature government and corporate types telling the public, in both Europe and the US, that sprouts are probably safe to eat, as long as they're cooked. I guess there are some Chinese recipes for cooked mung bean sprouts, but basically I think sprouts are best raw. But there's a nasty case of E. Coli going around, mostly in Europe and centered in Germany. Apparently it's a highly virulent and sickening strain.

And for the record, E. Coli is a bacteria that resides in the lining of a mammal's digestive tract. Meaning basically that there's shit on the vegetables. From my cursory reading of headlines, I surmise it's believed to be human doo-doo and not from a farm animal, though like most details, we really have no way of knowing, and rely on educated guesses by experts and spokespersons, which often conflict, and which are often paid for by interested parties.

I have a couple of observations about this. First (and no one seems to be saying this clearly), cooking kills it completely, and vigorous cleaning of vegetables is a very good idea, is easy, and will remove a significant amount of germs and chemical contaminants. I use soap and a brush and lots of cold water to clean most vegetables and fruits with skins. I'm even rough on lettuce. It's a good habit even when there's no major outbreak. Of course you can't scrub sprouts.

As with every food-borne illness outbreak,  we've been exposed to politicians who look totally ineffective and badly informed, mostly because farming is still pretty ad-hoc and non-automated. Food regulations are inadequate, and difficult to enforce. The specialists are limited to doing statistical analyses on what the sickened people ate, and restaurants where they ate out, and where their groceries came from. While the patients are puking their guts out, they're asked to fill out questionnaires. Someone supposedly had infected cucumber refuse in their trash-- that was the source of the rumors about Spanish cucumbers-- but later it was determined they had a different strain. And besides, washing a cucumber in its skin with a brush and a drop of detergent, then peeling if desired, will render just about any cucumber safe, no matter where it's been.

The other observation is that we probably shouldn't purchase industrially grown sprouts! I've always thought of them as a delicious, nutritious, crispy green vegetable to eat when other vegetables are scarce, like in the winter and early spring.. It's pretty easy to raise sprouts in your own kitchen. Most beans will sprout, as will alfalfa. Years ago I used to buy the seeds in a plastic container that you just got wet and the alfalfa would sprout. The inconvenient thing about industrially produced sprouts is producers have to work harder and pay more to keep them fresh, and run risks like this E. Coli infection. No vegetable grown in my kitchen will ever come into contact with the lining of a mammal's digestive system, at least until after they're eaten. Locally grown-- home grown-- sprouts are cheaper, fresher, and safer than the industrial ones we can buy at the supermarket in clear plastic boxes.

So there's my libertarian rant... a request: wash your vegetables, grow sprouts at home, help right-size the food supply chain, and don't let anyone shit on your food. Happy Spring.

Friday, June 03, 2011

This is the worst medical idea ever!

I found this article linked on Google News, published on MSNBC, suggesting that because of the recently published finding that some AIDS medication is 96% effective in keeping the HIV virus from spreading, we should start shifting funds from AIDS prevention to AIDS treatment instead. "The treatment is the prevention," according to some big-pharma shill. What a seemingly great idea! Totally out of the box! Completely disruptive!

Now it's important to remember that AIDS treatment costs tens of thousands of dollars per year for each patient. It's less in other countries because of some unexplained economic voodoo, but it's still a lot of money. Abstinence (still 100% effective at preventing HIV/AIDS), on the other hand is and always will be free. Condoms and other barrier methods are functionally free, because of subsidies from all sorts of sources. Education (the only realistic long-term prevention) is inexpensive, and has the added benefits of creating jobs (teachers are needed), and empowering women.

And then there's this glorious thought that we could just fund big pharma, to the tune of $8,500 per patient per year, because then the patients will be 96% less likely to infect others. Hello? MSNBC? Corporate, capital-driven media? Hello, publisher of pharmaceutical company press releases and trial balloons? I don't know whether this came from a marketing stooge or a reporter who's starved for material, or some G8 uber-capitalist. This is a very, very stupid idea! Stunning! Imbecilic!

That's all I have to say on this.