Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Benilda "Benny" Caixeta remembered

This is, of course, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. It was later in the day a year ago when the levees around New Orleans failed and the city was flooded. There has been a tendency to think of this as a large natural disaster, but in reality it was a massive engineering failure — the levees were designed to withstand a category 3 storm, but Katrina was a category 3 when it finally made landfall.

No one has really been held accountable for the disaster, which is what usually happens when the problem was a massive systemic collapse. Probably no one will be. Instead of dwelling on blame, I want to talk about one of Katrina's victims, one of about 1,600 Louisianians who died in the flooding.

Her name was Benilda Caixeta, known as Benny by her friends. Alana knew Benny. They were acquaintances. Benny and Alana were both involved in the Medicaid Purchase Plan program and attended many of the same meetings. MPP allows people with disabilities to purchase Medicaid even though they are working and would otherwise not qualify. Alana was once photographed at an MPP function standing beside Benny.

Benny had muscular dystrophy. She was confined to a motorized wheelchair. She could not drive, and she could not easily travel very far without special vehicular assistance. In short, she was one of the people who stayed behind in New Orleans when the hurricane hit because she had no other option.

She drowned in her apartment when she couldn't escape the rising flood water.

It's hard for me to recount the story of her death. Instead, I will simply cut and paste a portion of a story about her. The story says much about what she was like as a person. It was Eileen Kelley of the Cincinnati Enquirer.


"Save yourself and tell them I'm dead," Benilda "Benny" Caixeta pleaded with her caretaker, Rita Bailey.

Bailey grabbed the cell phone and a small pocket calendar filled with the names and telephone numbers of many of Caixeta's closet friends. Included in that group was Pam Sattari, 45, of Anderson Township.

"Please help us," Bailey implored from New Orleans.

Sattari couldn't believe it.

If anyone would be rescued in New Orleans, surely it would have to be the elderly or those not able to take care of themselves — like her friend, confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy.

Caixeta and Sattari spoke in the days leading up to the storm. They spoke again the day Katrina hit.

"Oh my God, water is coming in," Caixeta told Sattari, a New Orleans native and close friend for 24 years, during their last conversation. "Water."

And that was it.

The line went dead.

Four days after the levees broke, Bailey was rescued from the top floor of the apartment building.

A crew of Brazilian filmmakers found Caixeta's body in her first-floor apartment.

They were not allowed to remove it.

On Oct. 8, Caixeta's body was taken to a makeshift morgue, where it stayed until late December, when it was released to friends.

"I never dreamed in all my life that this would happen. There is always the threat of hurricanes down there. But Benny had a lot of good friends down there and you would have thought that if anyone could have got out of it, it was her," Sattari said.

Caixeta would have been 52 in July.

Sattari has gone home twice to honor her friend. She cries easily when she thinks of how Caixeta died and how her friend begged her caretaker, a woman deathly afraid of water, to save herself.

She still cries when she talks about how a storm so far away could have such an impact here. "I never dreamed I would be part of something like this," she said.

Many others didn't either.

I've been reading about Katrina recently. No one has yet been truly held accountable for what happened in New Orleans. Michael Brown was fired as FEMA director, but he managed to rehabilitate his reputation somewhat by showing that he had informed his superiors of what was happening. Go back and read the timeline, though, and you'll see that Brown was still incompetent. He just wasn't as incompetent as we first thought. Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, hasn't been held accountable. Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans, was re-elected. Governor Kathleen Blanco and President George Bush are still serving out their terms.

No one will really be held accountable for Katrina. That's not what's important, though. What is important is that something like Katrina doesn't happen again. We must remember Benny and the almost 2,000 other people who perished in a disaster that could have, should have, been a lot less disastrous.

For a timeline of events a year ago, see the Hurricane Katrina Timeline article on the Shreveport Times web site and Salon's Katrina Timeline article.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Louisiana in the news

Usually when Louisiana is in the news it's because of something bad. Katrina was an obvious example last year, but it's usually something smaller than that. Back on the 25th a man shot a woman to death in a mall in Lafayette. The shooting was apparently the result of a domestic dispute. The gunman was shot to death by an off-duty police officer working mall security (it tells you a lot about what they pay police in this state that several mall security workers present were off-duty police).

Here's the story:

The other story that broke this week was that of a bus driver in Coushatta who allegedly told nine black kids to sit at the back of the bus while allowing white students to have seats at the front. Some of the white kids were allowed to sit by themselves while the younger black kids had to sit on the laps of the older kids.

The story is here: http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/08/24/

Black folk interviewed by CNN said they couldn't believe that this sort of thing could happen in the 21st century. Unfortunately, I found it believable. The smaller rural areas of Louisiana (and surrounding states, for that matter; Jason and Jimmy relate similar stories from Arkansas) are still very racist. Most of the racism is covert. They'll be friendly enough to black people, but the racism comes out in private. I know for a fact that there are white employers who will not employ blacks (even when they might employ other minorities). Racist jokes abound in the workplace.

The strangest part of the story is that the bus driver was so overtly racist. The driver couldn't have been too bright (yeah, I know that pretty much goes without saying). Most racism that I've seen isn't so "in your face".

Of course racism down here cuts both ways. Alana sees more of that side than I do, seeing as how there are no black folk in my office. Still, when you hear of things like this bus incident it puts into perspective why blacks feel downtrodden.

A lot of the stories about Louisiana these days have to do with FEMA trailers.

There are 18,000 trailers in Louisiana available to hold Katrina victims. Unfortunately most of them can't be placed anywhere because half of Louisiana's parishes don't want them in their neighbourhoods.

Here's the story at CBS's web site:

Some of the new trailer parks are virtually empty. Back in July, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that a FEMA trailer park has 198 trailers but only 15 families live there. It was hard for the paper to talk to the people living there because until July 20, FEMA prevented people living in FEMA trailers from talking to the press unless a FEMA official was present! This blatantly unconstitutional requirement was rescinded after The Advocate complained.

Story: http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/3360021.html?showAll=y

Maybe one of the reasons they can't get people to live in the trailers is because some fo them are considered toxic. The Sierra Club tested the air quality in 44 trailers and found high levels of formaldehyde.

This story is from Mississippi, but the same trailers are being used in Louisiana: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14011193/

On a less serious note, it seems that one trailer manufacturer cut only 50 different keys for the trailers they sold to FEMA. On average one key could open 10 trailers in a park of 500. This isn't much different from car manufacturers. Every now and again you hear stories of someone opening someone else's car. It once happened to my brother. Car manufacturers don't usually have to worry about hundreds of the same model car parked side-by-side for months on end in the same parking lot. FEMA says they will replace the locks on 118,000 trailers.


I couldn't find the story online, but one city in Louisiana (Red River?) have pulled a bunch of trailers from a dealer's lot in order to get them to people who need them. They had the dealer's permission, who even helped tow the trailers. FEMA is not amused, as they say they need to take down bar codes of the trailers while they are in the lot, otherwise they won't pay for them. The issue seems to be red tape. FEMA pays for the trailers directly from the manufacturer, and they pay $10,000 per trailer. The dealer wants $16,000, which might be his cost. I don't know. At any rate, for whatever reason FEMA was not getting their stash of trailers to the people who needed them a year after the hurricane.

Finally, not everyone is negative toward the government. Rockey Vacarella of Chalmette towed a trailer (not an official FEMA trailer, as that's illegal) to Washington. He was not protesting any of the myriad issues with the trailers, such as those mentioned above. No, he wanted to thank President Bush personally for the job he and the government had done in Louisiana. Bush met with Vacarella personally the other day. As everyone knows, Bush doesn't meet with people who disagree with him if he can help it. His people stack "town halls" with sycophants, and Bush rarely makes himeself available for press conferences. Sure enough, Vacarella said he wished Bush could run for a third term.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show covers this quite well. The segment can be found at YouTube.com: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKsZ7STGWZg

(Hopefully that link will work. I'm not sure if you can pull up direct links to YouTube.)

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day Alana and I realized Katrina was definitely going to hit New Orleans. Tuesday is the anniversary of the hurricane striking the city. I'm sure Louisiana will be featured in the news throughout the week. Hopefully we'll actually see some positive Louisiana stories...

New Delta Green write-ups on HyperBear

It's been a while since I posted an update to my web site. I did update the site over a month ago with the April 29 session of our modern day Delta Green roleplaying game write-ups. However, I was rushed getting that write-up posted and I didn't have a chance to do a good edit pass on it. That's why I didn't mention it here on Designated Import.

The Delta Green write-ups are now caught up, even if it did take me most of the weekend to do it. Along with an edited version of the April 29 session, the site now has the May 28 and 29 session and the July 22 session. These write-ups continue the campaign set in hurricane ravaged New Orleans. I wanted to get the most recent write-up posted before the one year anniversary of the date when the scenario is set. Looks like I beat that target by a couple of days.

You can find these and other write-ups on the Modern Day Delta Green write-ups page. Our next game session is tentatively scheduled for September 3, 2006.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Power's back!

How about that, the power came back on five minutes after I said it wasn't looking good for it coming back up any time soon! My hat's off to Entergy's fine line workers! I have to give them credit, the guys working the lines around here seem to be pretty good. I wouldn't want to be working up a power pole with rain and lightning crashing around even if it was cool outside.

I'm now on our security enabled home wireless network. Within range of the new laptop (not the old one; the new one has a better wireless card) are five wifi networks. Only ours and one other are secure. Of the remaining three, two had default names, suggesting that the people running them have no idea how their network functions.

Just in case the owners of the AmberMobleyNetwork stumble across this blog entry, you really ought to encrypt your network!

(P.S. we didn't piggyback on that network; we "borrowed" one labelled Wireless. Good thing for them all I did was write up a blog entry and check Weather.com while the power was out. It's not the first cracker that's used someone else's unsecure network to download child porn, or large downloads, or to break into sites.)

Gotta love Louisiana's infrastructure

Right now, the power is out in our apartment. The temperature has risen above 83°F. Fortunately the sun has gone down (it was 104° today) and there is a slight breeze. Entergy's help line estimates the power will be restored by 9:20 p.m., though I have my doubts.

Oh, how are am I able to blog while the power is out? Well, funny thing about that. The street behind us has power. This is the second time I've noticed the power on the street behind us while our power was off. Anyway, I started up the laptop. It couldn't find our little wireless LAN, but it did find three other nearby networks. Two of those networks are unencrypted. So, yeah, I'm piggy backing on someone else's connection. Is that ethical? Eh, probably not. But they have power and air conditioning and we don't. And they are stupid enough not to encyrpt their connection, so they deserve a little slowdown. (Besides, I'm blogging, I'm not going nuts downloading stuff. The fact that someone could download stuff through someone else's connection is a really good reason to encrypt your wireless network! Be smart, kids, and encrypt!

You have to love Louisiana's lousy infrastructure. I have lived through more power outages here in Monroe in less than five years than in all the rest of my adult years combined. (I did miss the big power outage that hit Toronto a couple of years ago, though, so if I'd stayed up there I would have logged more "outage" hours.)

I suspect the trouble tonight is tree limb related. They don't do a very good job of trimming trees here. I remember in East York (an area of Toronto) that at least once a year the city sent a crew around to cut suspect tree limbs. High wind isn't so much the issue as freezing rain up there. Regardless, there is little care shown to infrastructure down here.

This problem extends beyond power lines. When we had dial up Internet access, we barely got better than a 24K connection. The trunk speed on the phone lines couldn't handle beyond 28.8K, though we never got that. I had a 56K modem. This isn't a fault of the government so much as a fault with the telecoms. The government doesn't give them any incentives to spend on infrastructure, and high speed internet gives telecoms plenty of incentive not to spend money fixing rural copper connections. You can see why I don't trust the telecoms to "do the right thing" with regard to net neutrality...

The roads in Louisiana are notoriously poor. There are precious few sidewalks in this city (everyone drives everywhere, so they figured they weren't needed). Then there's the mess left by Katrina, a mess largely resulting from years of levee neglect.

It's ridiculous that the world's richest country spends so little money in infrastructure. Or, rather, that the world's richest country has areas that spend so little money on infrastructure. Perhaps instead of giving away tax money to the rich the feds could give some money to the poorer states, so that they can improve roads, power lines, etc. <sarcasm>Nah... we all know that it's more efficient to give money to the rich and let it filter down to the poor folk. </sarcasm>

The rain just picked up. It's now poring. It's not looking good for our power coming on by the 9:30 deadline. Better post this before the people whose connection I'm borrowing loser their power.

Britain to pardon men executed in World War I

British media outlets announced Wednesday that British soldiers executed during the Great War (World War I) were about to be pardoned.

The worst war the world has ever seen was the Second World War. It could be argued, though, that from the standpoint of the common soldier — particularly with regard to British commonwealth soldiers, and definitely for French soldiers — that the First World War was worse.

It's hard for present day Westerners to understand the horror that was the Great War. We see casualties on television from Iraq and Afghanistan and shake our heads at the loss, and wonder when the killing will end. And yet on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, the British Commonwealth forces suffered 57,470 casualties, 19,240 of whom were killed. By the time the battle ended, four and a half months later on November 18, 1916, the British and French had 623,907 casualties (slightly less than a third were French casualties), of which 146,431 were killed or missing. The Germans suffered an estimated 465,000 to 600,000 casualties, of which 164,055 killed or missing. That's more than a million men hurt in a single (albeit large and lengthy) battle, of which 300,000 were killed or missing. Missing usually meant they were blown up and couldn't be identified; 90 years later, they are still regularly unearthing human remains from farm fields in the region.

The worst part of the war was the way it was fought. World War I was one of those confluences in history where tactics were horribly behind the technology. Now, it's fair to say that every war has this to some extent. Technological change requires tactical and strategic change. Often the tactics developed in training and in theory do not match those needed on the battlefield. Sometimes the change is small, like integrating flying drones into modern combat techniques. Sometimes it is great. It was perhaps never greater than in World War I, and no better example is the Battle of the Somme.

The battle opened with a British artillery barrage that lasted seven days. The intention was to destroy the German positions, wreck their barbed wire entanglements, disorient what men remained, and allow the British a fairly easy advance from their trenches to the German trench line. It did not work out that way. The Germans dug deep "bomb proofs", where they stayed underground, mostly unharmed. The artillery did nothing to destroy barbed wire, and served only to rip apart the ground. Once the barrage was over, British Commonwealth soldiers were ordered "over the top" of their trenches. They climbed out. Most aligned in orderly formations, and proceeded to walk across the battlefield at an orderly pace carrying 70 pounds of equipment. The Germans, once they'd recovered from the end of the bombardment, rushed for their machine guns. They mowed down the Commonwealth soldiers. High command had soldiers wear metal plates on their back, so they could see the progress of the advance from a distance, which gave German snipers an excellent target when the soldiers did go to ground. (Some in fact did crawl out of their trenches early on, in an attempt to sneak up on the lines just as the barrage lifted. They usually faired better than the regiments conducting more "traditional" tactics.) The 1st Newfoundland Regiment couldn't make it to the forward trenches, so they started their advance far back from the reserve trenches. They suffered a 91% casualty rate.

The problem was mainly one of outdated tactics versus modern technology. Machine guns made slow, orderly marches across "no man's land" suicidal. I saw a program about this on TV, using modern British soldiers to simulate the Somme attack. They set up a "machine gun" (with a laser firing system) and gave the soldiers the special laser sensitive vests they use while training; it's essentially high tech paintball. They had the soldiers march across a field at World War I rates. Ninety percent of the soldiers were hit. Then they had them do it at a run with their equipment. The rate dropped to something like 50%. Finally, they had them drop all but the essentials and take the field at a run. The rate dropped to around 30%. It's quite clear that the tactics used were wholly inadequate. It was more than just tactics, though. The artillery barrage was relied upon too much, in spite of earlier evidence suggesting it would not cut the wire. Due to inaccuracies in firing artillery, the shelling had to end before the men started their movement (something that was changed later in the war with a "walking barrage"). Communications were inadequate to the task of moving that many men in anything resembling a cohesive force. The secret was autonomous units without direct control from the higher ups, and communication tools to get the right information to the correct officers. The Germans began to develop this sort of thing late in the war, but it wasn't until World War II that it saw mass implementation.

As I mentioned above, there were more than 57,000 Commonwealth casualties on the first day of the battle. German losses are harder to estimate, as they only submitted casualty reports every 10 days. It is estimated that they lost 8,000 men, 2,200 of whom were prisoners.

It's not surprising that, with the large number of men in the theatre of operation and the meat grinder the war had become, that there would be a lot of cases of what was then called "shell shock" but which is now known as post traumatic stress disorder. Doctors at the time recognized that prolonged warfare could tear a person's mind apart, making them unfit to fight. They did not know how to adequately treat the condition. The high command capable of fighting a war that minimized it, nor did they particularly care for the plight of the soldier. Cowardice, in their mind, was the result of weak character or lack of morality. What the high command was capable of doing was trying to stop cowardice through coercion. The form of coercion chosen by British commander Field Marshal Douglas Haig was the firing squad.

During the war, 306 British troops were shot for "military offences". Of the 306, 266 were shot for desertion, 37 for murder, 18 for cowardice, seven for leaving their posts, six for striking an officer, five for disobedience, three for mutiny, two for sleeping on post, and two for casting away arms. This is out of about 20,000 soldiers convicted of a crime for which death was one of the potential punishments, and from over 3,000 soldiers who were sentenced to death, but had their punishments commuted.

Canada sentenced more than 700 men to death during the Great War, and carried out the execution of 25 (though some sources I found said 23). Interestingly, only one Canadian was executed in the Second World War, and he was found guilty of murder and was involved in the black market in Italy.

It seems that a lot of emphasis is being placed on a very small percentage of men actually convicted of cowardice. This is because of the nature of the executions. The "poster boy" for the Shot At Dawn (SAD) movement is Private Harry Farr. He fought on the Western Front for two years before being pulled off due to shell shock. He spent five months in hospital, at the end of which he was ordered back to his unit. His nerves gone, he refused. Farr was court martialed and executed soon after, shot by fire squad on the dawn of the day after his death warrant was signed, per British Army custom. What makes Farr an important case is that it is readily obvious that he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Farr's wife was not told right away that her husband was shot. After she was informed, her war widow's pension was stopped. Farr's children suffered at the hands of school mates as the children of a coward.

There are other tragic cases. A pair of 16 year olds, who had lied about their age to volunteer for the army, were shot as cowards. There is written evidence of men who were executed as an example, in spite of the fact that there was not enough evidence to properly convict them. One man, Private Robert Barker, may have been executed in part to hide the incompetence of a brigadier general.

It should be noted that regular soldiers were far more likely to be shot than officers. Only three officers were executed, one for murder. One of the remaining two was a naval officer, Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett, fighting as part of the British Army. Dyett was innocent of his crime, but was killed in part because his lawyer acted incompetently, in part because the court acted incompetently, and in part due to bad luck. He is the rare executed officer who showed the problems facing most men convicted of cowardice.

Back in 1998 the British government declared that it would not pardon any of the soldiers shot for cowardice. More pressure was exerted, and last Wednesday the British government declared that it would pardon all 306 executed men. This follows similar pardons by New Zealand and Canada. Australia did not have any men executed, as the Australian government refused to authorize any executions during the Great War (where, like Canada, Australians operated under British high command).

Controversy surrounds the pardons. The 306 include men convicted of murder and mutiny, although the SAD organization did not seek pardons for murderers or mutineers. Some have suggested that the pardons are just political correctness, placing modern morality on a conflict 90 years old. Others point out that it makes the government susceptible to wrongful death law suits.

Those in favour of the pardons point to the fact that most "cowards" were afflicted with shell shock, that innocent men were killed in what they call state-sanctioned murder, and that boys — who shouldn't have been in the army in the first place — were also killed for cowardice. They argue that the punishment did not fit the crime, and that justice was not served. They are seeking to give peace to the families of these men, most of whom were wrongfully killed.

Personally, I'm against giving blanket pardons. I think those convicted of murder, and probably mutiny, should not be pardoned. Of the others, I could live with a pardon for them. I've heard conflicting testimony as to whether or not all the paperwork still exists to check into each conviction on a case-by-case basis. Even if you could check each case, we now see that most cases of "cowardice" or "loss of nerve" are not due to some character flaw, but due to the very nature of the human brain when put under stress. Undoubtedly there were those who shirked their duties while others performed there's. It's likely that some such "cowards" were shot and would thus be pardoned in this blanket decree. It's equally obvious that most "cowardice" was the result of stress brought on by combat conditions far more brutal than had ever been witnessed prior to the Great War, and which were matched in brutality only by the Second World War. Even then, combat soldiers in World War II (particularly for Westerners) were never as helpless and rarely as expendable as their counterparts from a generation before. Regardless of whether or not a "true coward" is pardoned, it is best to let all of the remaining "cowards" go. At best, they were victims of stress, at worst they were innocent men wrongly convicted.

For some more information about this, see the following sites:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ever want your own dungeon?

I tried to post this last night, really I did, but I had problems getting into Blogger. They now let you log in to Blogger with your Blogger ID or your Google ID. I have both, as I needed a Google ID for Gmail. Both my IDs are the same, it's just the password that's different. Last night I kept signing on with my ID, awgoodall, but I kept typing the Google password. Google ID awgoodall does not have a blog, but Blogger ID awgoodall does.

If this sounds confusing, it was...

Anyway, this is really cool. A guy by the name of Dr. H. G. Dyer (or Dyar) used to "relieve stress" by digging. He dug an entire network of passageways beneath his house until a truck fell through the weakened ground, displaying why building permits are a "good idea".

Here's a link to an image of his passage ways, from the August 1932 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine:

Someone posting to that site did some digging of their own, trying to find Harrison Gray Dyer, the entomologist. He found a link that suggests the guy had an... interesting life. Apparently while married to his first wife he up and married a second woman under an assumed name. He eventually divorced the first woman (before she could divorce him) and officially married the second woman! Kind of makes you wonder why he spent all that time in his underground layer digging...

Anyway, the second article, about his supposed history, is here:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Vaccinations and autism? My analysis.

Alana sent me an e-mail today. At a meeting recently they discussed the potential link between autism and vaccines. I hadn't heard about this link, but apparently this link has been around for a few years.

Vaccines, up until 1999, regularly included thimerosal. This is a chemical that is similar in composition to ethyl mercury. You know, mercury, that really nasty heavy metal that causes neurological disorders. It was included in vaccines in trace amounts in the 1930s because it breaks down cell walls in bacteria. This was in response to some nasty outbreaks where bottles of multiple doses of vaccine were contaminated with bacteria, resulting in the illness — even death — of many children. The solution, of course, is to bottle the vaccine in single dose bottles. This was either a) too expensive, or b) ate into profits too much, depending on who you talk to.

In the 1990s the number of people diagnosed with autism increased significantly. Some have suggested that this is at least in part due to a change in diagnosis such that there are more, younger children diagnosed as autistic. On the flip side, others have suggested that there are environmental factors involved.

A theory emerged that thimerosal is responsible. The number of vaccinations given to children went up in the 1970s and 1980s. More vaccinations were given more quickly. At the same time the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine was given more regularly, and this is essentially three vaccines in one. The theory points to the increased use of vaccines, particularly MMR, giving larger doses of thimerosal to children, resulting in increased numbers of children becoming autistic.

The fear of thimerosal resulted in the substance from being removed from vaccinations in the U.S. in 1999, though stockpiles were not destroyed so it was still in vaccinations as late as 2003. The only vaccines that regularly includes thimerosal are influenza vaccines. The proper, safe method of vaccinating people is by using single dose vials, which is just a good idea for several reasons.

The theory that thimerosal causes autism has grabbed a number of people, to the point where many people believe it is true. Here is a link to OpEdNews.com and an article that declares that the U.S. government has announced thimerosal is linked to autism. The article is written by Evelyn Pringle, who looks for corruption in government. The article is found at:

The government report is not a scientific report, but a paper released by the House Committee on Government Reform.

After I read the article, my BS detector went off. It's not written in neutral tones, it's obviously an opinion piece (and described as such). There were some things that didn't sit right. So, in an entirely scientific study (*chuckle*) I used my Google-fu to search the net for more information.

I found out from the CDC that the only pre-school vaccines with thimerosal are some influenza vaccines. According to the FDA, thimerosal free flu vaccines are available, but in limited quantities.

The CDC web page is here:

The FDA commissioned a study on thimerosal and autism. They determined that a link between thimerosal and autism was biologically plausible. However, their 2004 report suggested that the link was unlikely.

The FDA site, with the information about their report, is here:

The CDC information on the report is here:

Pringle's article implied that the CDC and the FDA were wrong because of a conflict of interest. Whether or not that was the case, surely I'd find some information on the studies they cited. Well, I did. One study is from Denmark. Here is the Denmark study's results, which strongly suggest there is _no_ link between autism and thimerosal.


I read on Wikipedia (stop snickering! It has some good information!) that there was a Japanese study done in the 1990s when they discontinued MMR vaccines. They found that the incidence of autism went up, not down, after stopping the vaccines. The Bandolier site also has this information:


Finally, here's a report from a Canadian study that found that once MMR with thimerosal was stopped in Canada the rate of autism did not decline (and actually increased):


Pringle's site allows people to leave comments. An engineer left a good comment with an opposing view to Pringle's story. All other comments posted shot down this engineer's post, suggesting that the belief in a vaccine/autism link has reached religious proportions with some people. One poster pointed out that the Canadian study was biased because the researcher involved in the study has also been a featured "expert" on the lack of a link between autism and thimerosal. The poster thought that this was a conflict of interest. Of course it could be that he did the research, believes there is no link, and now goes around talking about the lack of a link because he finds the talk about a link disturbing.

I mentioned above that I had some problems with Pringle's story. She says that thimerosal was found in four samples taken to a lab, proving that the big drug companies are using the stuff when they said they didn't. No mention was made of the actual vaccine tested, or of the date the vaccine was produced. We don't know if the tested vaccines were old, or if they were flu vaccines. This makes it extremely hard to do the kind of searching I was able to do from the FDA and CDC information.

I did discover comments about Doctor's Data, the lab cited in the op ed piece. The lab makes a living from finding heavy metals in samples. In other words, they aren't exactly neutral and the testing was not done as a double-blind test. Doctor's Data is also advertised as doing hair sample analysis. Several sites mentioned that hair sample analysis has been essentially discredited. This makes you wonder about the veracity of a lab that uses such tests.

This is information about hair samples from Quackwatch:

I wonder how the poster to Pringle's site feels about Doctor's Data's conflict of interest, given the poster's belief that the Canadian study was biased.

The test was commissioned by Health Advocacy in the Public Interest, a "watchdog" group whose web site says, "Health Advocacy in the Public Interest (HAPI) wishes to serve as a public forum, fund scientific research, and serve as an educational resource of scientific evidence that supports informed medical decisions for children." From another part of their site, "Sarnoff began working with Dawn Winkler, co-founder and Executive Director, in 2001 when Winkler's group, California Vaccine Awareness, was fighting legislation that would have mandated hepatitis A and Prevnar vaccines for entry to kindergarten. They were successful and decided to join forces and become HAPI."

It is quite clear from the web site that HAPI believes that vaccinations have increased the rate of autism. They want to fund a study of vaccinated children versus unvaccinated children to determine the health risks. This isn't a bad thing. More research is important. What is troubling is that this organization is preaching scientific research on one hand while denouncing the FDA's and the CDC's research on the other due to "bias". They seem to be equally biased on the opposite side of the argument.

There web site is found here:

There long term goals can be found here:

Interestingly, I found The Millenium Project, a skeptic site that is out to expose charlatans, frauds, etc. whether it be from pseudoscience, quackery, or multi-level marketing schemes. The author — Peter Bowditch, a computer consultant — got into an e-mail battle with Dawn Winkler of HAPI, and his exchanges are on the site. Apparently Winkler lost a child. She believes it was from a vaccine.

He... doesn't suffer fools gladly. The messages back and forth between him and Winkler are fascinating, even if he does bait her more than I thought he should. He's got a grievance against the anti-vaccination crowd (whom I didn't even realize existed!), and he's not afraid to fight them.

The exchange is here:

The Millenium Project's home page is here:

Doctor's Data is a questionable lab. I'd want to see the samples taken to a neutral lab, like at a university, before I'd trust them. Of course Pringle has to "prove" that drug companies still use thimerosal, otherwise if it was the main cause of autism you'd have seen a drop in autism since the use of thimerosal was stopped. There has been no drop. One of the problems with autism diagnosis is that the guidelines have changed over the years, including the age at which autism is detected. Here's a link with a study that showed the rate of autism leveled off in the 1990s:


They list in that article a rate of 19 per 10,000. That seems low compared to other estimates. I did find this article that said rates were 16.8 per 10,000 for classic autism and 62.6 per 10,000 for autism spectrum disorder in Britain:


What's interesting about those numbers is that they were published in 2002. This site, about autism in the U.S., has the rate at 1 in 175, or 57 per 10,000. That's close to 62.6 per 10,000, but this study was published this year, back in May. If autism is, indeed, spiraling upwards you'd expect a dramatic increase in four years. All the sites I found quote pretty much the same numbers for the past six to eight years in spite of many of them talking about the "drastic rise" in autism rates.


Someone in the chain of e-mails Alana sent said that there was talk of a study on Amish people in Pennsylvania. Apparently there is no autism among the Amish (though I'd have to see a citation on that before I believed it). I suspect that the Amish population study will prove inconclusive. The big problem is that the Amish are a small subculture who marry within their own group. They don't get a huge influx of people. Genetic issues could make autism less prone in the Amish regardless of whether drugs or the environment are being tested. This is why the Danish test is more statistically significant. It covers a large heterogeneous population. This long, technical paper suggests that there is a link between autism and genes:


It sounds like it's a good idea to stay away from thimerosal, seeing as how it's closely linked to ethyl mercury (even though methyl mercury, an entirely different molecule, is the really dangerous molecule) just to be on the safe side, particularly since single doses are available. I personally don't think there is a connection between vaccines and autism. There's no way you can prove that there is _no_ connection, since you logically can't prove a negative. You can only prove that there is a connection, and so far the evidence isn't supporting it.

In her e-mail, Alana mentioned the risk of not giving a child a vaccination and the serious illnesses that result. And, of course, she hit the nail on the head. Children have far more to fear from the measles or mumps than from autism. In countries where measles is not vaccinated against, for instance, the death rate due to measles complications is between 1% and 5%, with it going up as high as 25% when malnutrition is involved. Sixty per 10,000 is 0.6%, so measles alone could be 2 to 10 times as bad as autism. That's comparing the death rate of a single childhood disease to the rate of autism.


Friday, August 11, 2006

I've been writing an essay

I promised that I'd do more blogging... then I did not! This is because I've been busy writing an essay.

If you've visited my web site (www.hyperbear.com) you might have noticed my writing section. I have written a number of essays, including several with respect to the American Civil War.

Years ago I decided I needed battle descriptions to go along with my battlefield photographs. When I started researching them I discovered that there were few sources for the level of detail I wanted. There are plenty of books with lots of detail, and plenty of overviews with little detail, but almost nothing at the brigade level. I set out to correct this. Unfortunately, it means that it takes a stink of a lot of time to write my essays.

By popular demand I'd been working on a Gettysburg essay. However, earlier this year I got side tracked. It occurred to me that I really didn't fully understand what actually caused the American Civil War. I'd read a lot of the standard stuff, but I'd never put it all together in a logical fashion. So, I began what I thought would be a fairly straightforward, single web page essay. I figured I could throw it together in a week or two and go back to Gettysburg.

I was wrong, of course. Part of it is my obsession with giving enough detail to be worthwhile. Part of it is because the subject just isn't that simple. This latter comment may surprise those who were taught that the war was "about slavery". This, as it turns out, is both true and overly simplified. It's like the police finding a drowning victim and declaring the reason he died was because he couldn't breathe water. Sure, that's what caused his death, but why was he in the water in the first place? Slavery was the root cause of the American Civil War, but why did it suddenly result in armed conflict?

I won't go into that now. If you're really interested, you can read the essay when I finish it. Most of it is done. I'm up to March, 1861, and the essay ends in April, 1861. I will say that I did discover a couple of surprises. I hadn't expected the argument that the South fought for "states rights" to be so easily shown as not true. I also didn't expect the level of racism in the North. Oh, I knew the North was just as racist as the South in the 19th century. I knew that the main reason the Republicans didn't want slavery in the newly formed states was because they didn't want slave owners competing against white farmers and craftsmen in the market place. I did know that the Northern states didn't want free blacks competing against whites any more than they wanted slave owners competing with whites. I did not know that Lincoln and many other prominent Republicans were prepared to add a permanent amendment to the Constitution preventing slavery from being abolished, so long as it kept it in the South and the South remained in the Union.

So, that's my excuse for not writing blog entries recently. I don't know if I'll have the essay done this weekend or not. I have Delta Green write-ups to finish, too, so I may have to shelve the essay temporarily in order to do the write-ups.

I will post here when the essay is complete.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Offbeat news

In case you were wondering, yes we're alive!

Two weeks ago the hard drive on the laptop started to act flaky again. I suspected it might when I reformatted it. Alana decided that I couldn't be without a laptop, so we went and ordered a new one. She got a great deal through an e-mail from Dell, because she works for the State of Louisiana. We bought a 1.6 GHz Duo Core Celeron, with a 100 GB hard drive, dual layer DVD writer, 1440 x 900 resolution screen, multi card reader, four USB ports, built in wireless networking and Bluetooth, and (most important!) a three year warranty. It also came with 90 days of training. The package came with a $100 rebate and an 8% discount for Alana working for the State.

I know I said I wouldn't buy another Dell, but as I mentioned some time ago there isn't much to choose between any of the big laptop manufacturers. They all have crappy support and are just about as reliable. So, we chose on the basis of cost. Plus this one came with a three year warranty. I'll never buy another laptop without at least a three year warranty.

The laptop arrived Monday. It took the better part of two days to reinstall all my applications. It took a third night to install all my old files, including stuff I had backed up to disk. This morning I installed a few games (though now I can't find the Diplomacy game I got at Christmas...).

So far I'm pretty happy about the computer. The only thing I don't like is that about 20 GB of the hard drive is in a hidden partitions. This is for some Dell diagnostic utilities, and for something called "Media Direct", which allows the computer to play DVDs and such at a touch of a button. I'd rather have the hard drive space; I haven't tried Media Direct yet to see if it's worth having. I could have removed it by reformating the hard drive, but I didn't want to risk invalidating the warranty.

So, now you know why it's taken me until the 6th to post something to the blog.

As for actually content on this post, here are some offbeat news items. I have a few other things I've been saving in the last few days, which I'll post later this week.

Today, though, these items come courtesy of Alana:

A Dutch designer has developed a levitating bed. He does this with magnets, powerful magnets in the floor and the bed which repel each other. He's asking 1.2 million euros for it. He warns that people with metal piercings should not get between the bed and the floor...

You can find the bed story here.

A 17 year old girl in Indiana lost control of her car and crashed into a hollow tree, breaking her legs. Unfortunately the tree was home to tens of thousands of bees! Firefighters, the police officer, and the girl had to be treated for multiple bee stings. As a bee expert said, they don't like to be jostled.

The bee story is here.

In Montana, a police officer saw a driver heading in the opposite lanes doing about 95 miles an hour. He crossed over the median and gave pursuit. He was just about to call off the chase when his rear tire blew and the car went out of control. The next thing he new, the speeder was at his side trying to help him. Apparently the speeder didn't know he was being pursued, and he stopped to help out. As of Thursday, the speeder had not been cited, probably due to a grateful officer.

The speeding story is here.

Finally, if you have a dog you know that sometimes they'll get into things they shouldn't. When puppies are teething they'll chew anything. Sabine, our dog, has grown out of this stage. Midget, the dog we had when I was in high school, liked to chew paper. She once tore apart a "Cyclopedia" from the 19th century that someone gave me, and which was stored in my parent's closet.

That's nothing compared to this last story. A guard dog in a London, England children's museum went on a rampage Thursday and tore into a teddy bear collection valued at $900,000. One of the bears used to belong to Elvis Presley, and had been purchased at an auction for $75,000 (it was on loan to the museum). Suddenly Midget's paper rampages and Sabine's puppy chewing don't seem so bad.

The dog versus fuzzy story is here.