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Whenever the subject of GMOs or vaccines come up, there's always a small cadre that urges us "not to fear science" and not-so-subtly sneers at those with concerns about either or both for "fearing science".

But we should fear science.  Science is dangerous.

Many would like to believe that science is merely a benign, if not benevolent, pursuit of knowledge, and a tool to test hypotheses.  Science is that, but science has also given us:
- the hydrogen bomb
- the atomic bomb
- nuclear reactors that leak radiation into the Pacific when damaged
- the propellants in bullet cartridges that cops use to kill unarmed teens, and kids use to accidentally shoot their parents
- drones, and the explosives they deliver
- cruise missiles, and the explosives they deliver
- the ability to make depleted uranium ordinance
- internal combustion engines and jet engines that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, bringing about climate change and global warming
- the ability to factory farm chickens, turkeys and hogs, which turns the surrounding countryside into a shithole
- an IL-4 - expressing mousepox which is astoundingly lethal (courtesy of Australian scientists who debated whether or not to publish this finding, then decided it wasn't a problem), which can be used as a model for a similar smallpox bioweapon
- the plastics that go into the billions of disposable water bottles that now pollute practically every corner of the country, and a large area in the central Pacific
- oil drilling rigs that explode and dump millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the toxic dispersants used to try to hide the extend of the spill
- sarin gas
- DDT
- bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides

I could go on, but I'll stop there.  Science has given us plenty of the worst our current world has to offer us, as well as some of the best.  My point is that, like fire or a loaded gun, science can be used for great harm as well as great benefit, and it therefore should be feared.

The worst, though, in my mind, are those who blindly stumble forward using science as if it could never be of harm to anyone.  All of you who support GMOs - and you are apparently legion - how are you so sure GMOs are absolutely safe? As far as I've seen, you have none, except to sneer at those of us who have concerns.  The most basic rule is, if something is working - don't fuck it up!  No one has convinced me that GMOs wouldn't end up fucking things in the surrounding ecosystem up because, frankly, science hasn't asked the right questions.  And now there is a diary in the Recommended section that basically says GMO trees are OK, what's the big deal (as far as the diarist knows, that's it, which he's indicated is not much) - how the hell do we know that?  As it stands, it seems that question will be left up to companies that will profit from those trees; they sure as hell won't ask the right questions.  Just enough science to cause trouble, not enough to know what the hell they're doing.

On the anti-vax front, science still hasn't asked the right questions there, either.  Sure, there's no demonstrated connection between vaccinations and autism, but has there ever been a search for potentially susceptible subpopulations of kids who might be more susceptible to a (hypothetical) vaccine-caused autism than the remainder of the population?  As far as I know, no such question has been asked, let alone answered.  What we have are only correlation studies that look at an entire population, not the susceptibilities of subpopulations.  In such studies, if there is a real effect on such a subpopulation, we'd never know because data from that subpopulation would be confounded by data from the general population.

My basic point is this:  Don't tell me not to fear science, because science (1) frequently provides incomplete answers, so its practitioners (and business) don't have a full appreciation of what the hell they're doing, and (2) has given us some truly fearsome things.

UPDATE:  First, thanks to all who approached this diary in the spirit of legitimate debate.  I appreciate it.

At least one commenter has referred to this diary as "anti-vax apologia".  This statement is garbage.  What I said is that science hasn't yet asked the right questions.

For the record (and please pay attention):  Parents who don't vaccinate their kids are idiots.  The benefits clearly outweigh the (known) risks.

However, science has not asked the question as to whether there might be one or more discrete subpopulations that might be more susceptible than the general population, with respect to the development of autism.  What autism is, and what causes it, are still being parsed out, and it makes no sense to discount any potential cause at this time.  If there is such a subpopulation, wouldn't you want to know?  Wouldn't members of that subpopulation be entitled to know? It's a question--a hypothesis--worth digging more deeply into.  In the meantime, however, since the consensus is that there is no correlation between vaccination and autism, vaccination is the way to go.

Oh, and also for the record, no, I didn't add a "Recommended" tag.

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Thu Dec 18, 2014 at 03:47 PM PST

by TheOrchid

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Mon Nov 10, 2014 at 08:10 AM PST

Lead, damn you.

by TheOrchid

A recent diary about an open letter sent by U.S. Uncut to Democrats touched off, entirely predictably, a bitch-fest between those that think Democrats ought to work to attract voters, and those who think that voters ought to show up, regardless, to show support.

The former group is correct, of course, and the latter, wrong.

First, we live in a representative democracy, meaning that our Democratic representatives are supposed to represent us.  That is, it is their job to vote for Democratic principles and policies, and to clearly articulate arguments for those principles and policies.  Again, that's their job.

Second, never forget that a campaign isn't just a series of advertisements and interviews leading to an election - it's a job interview.  Those Democratic candidates are out there giving reasons why the rest of us should be giving them a job for the next two or six years.  Any job candidate that can't clearly articulate why they should be hired, and how they would bring value to their constituents doesn't deserve to be hired.  I've been on both sides of that equation, and the truth is compelling:  job candidates, including for political office have to make the case themselves why they should be hired.  

In short, Democrats looking for jobs can't sit on their asses expecting voters to come out and vote for them just because they have a "D" after their name.  They have to actually find out their potential constituents' needs, and make a great case how they're going to meet those needs.  No one should expect to get hired, and none of us should expect anyone to get hired, just because the other guy is worse.  Democratic candidates have to actually lead.  

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A grand jury in Xenia, Ohio has returned a finding that the officers who shot John Crawford III in a Wal-Mart store, for allegedly carrying a weapon, were justified.  We still don't have access to the video of the incident:

Crawford's supporters say the public has a right to know what happened. The president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and the Rev. Al Sharpton's civil rights group National Action Network are among those who have called for the tape's release.

But state Attorney General Mike DeWine refused to release the video, saying it could compromise the investigation and taint a potential jury pool.

This finding isn't surprising, and it's really disturbing that it's not surprising - it points out how far down the rabbit hole this country has gone on race, and on the ability of the police to get away with what, if I had committed the same act, would have been deemed murder.
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In the midst of a severe-to-exceptional drought, researchers at the University of California at Davis have found that California has allocated five times more surface water than the State has available.

The state has allocated a total maximum allowable use of 370 million acre-feet of surface water — more than five times the 70 million acre-feet available in a year of good precipitation, according to the researchers’ review of active water rights on record. The analysis was published today (Aug. 19) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The scientists said the California’s water-rights allocation system is complicated and backlogged, which contributes to the mismatched accounting. For example, people sometimes take water, apply retroactively for the right to use the water and continue taking it — sometimes for up to a decade — while their applications are pending.
. . .
Inaccurate reporting by water-rights holders worsens the problem. Some may even deliberately overestimate so they do not lose as much if cutbacks occur. The result is that in most water basins and in most years, far more people hold water rights than there is water. In the San Joaquin River basin, for example, water-rights allocations exceed the river’s average annual flow by eightfold.

“All those allocations mean that in times of drought, it’s hard to tell who should have to reduce water use, causing delays in issuing curtailments,“ said Viers, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Merced.

Needless to say, this lack of acccountability makes it virtually impossible for the State to regulate water usage, exacerbating an already serious water shortage.
Continue Reading

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 08:40 AM PDT

Ferguson and Gaza

by TheOrchid

So now things in Ferguson, MO have gotten "so out of hand" that Governor (to use the term loosely) Nixon has called in the National Guard.  My first thought:  At least he didn't decide to shell neighborhoods in that town, or send in drone attacks!

It never ceases to amaze me that cops in this country--and government in general--respond to the civil unrest caused by a cop shooting an unarmed African-American teenager with more cops (or soldiers) who can kill unarmed African-American teenagers even more efficiently.  It's like looking at a fire and deciding you need to put it out with gasoline.  It's a lot easier, certainly, to point an assault rifle at someone who can't shoot back than it is to actually listen to them and understand their needs, but that's a lousy way to govern.

The only time--the ONLY time--things looked under control in Ferguson was when the local cops were ditched for State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who at least made a show of being one with the protesters and hearing their concerns.  That relative control was short-lived, however, and after a few looting incidents, MO local and state governments responded, again, with a massive show of force that, predictably, failed, again, to calm the situation.

And through it all, no one is listening to the community's concerns.

Differing only in degree, the situation is largely the same in Gaza.  A large group of disaffected people with real concerns about how an outside power is controlling their lives, and making it clear that their lives are cheap.  No attention is given to the Gazans' real concerns about HOW their lives have been so cheapened, and no attention given to how the situation could be resolved - except by more, and more massive, shows of deadly force.

Look - When a group of people has spent their entire lives living as second-class citizens, and have been reminded repeatedly that their lives are less imortant than others', you can't expect them to be rational, or react rationally, because the entire situation is not rational.  And a society that governs to give such people violence as the easiest way to express their disaffection is not rational, either.

Discuss

At this point in the Israeli-Gazan War, about 1865 Gazans have died in the current conflict, with 9,400 wounded, and as many as 150 Israeli soldiers.

Now there is an adversitement quoting Elie Wiesel placing the blame for Gazan civilian childrens' deaths squarely on Hamas.  Wiesel writes:

Moderate men and women of faith, whether that faith is in God or man, must shift their criticism from the Israeli soldiers – whose terrible choice is to fire and risk harming human shields, or hold their fire and risk the death of their loved ones – to the terrorists who have taken away all choice from the Palestinian children of Gaza.
"They made us do it".  That's the argument for the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF's) continuing the shelling of a trapped civilian population, up to the cease-fire that started today.  At its heart, however, this is a morally empty argument.

Leave aside for a moment that this is the argument of the abuser ("If she hadn't acted that way, I wouldn't have had to hit her!").  I'm going to focus on culpability, and ask:  So what if Hamas moved its forces amongst civilians?  So what if Israel announced it would shell or bomb a building, giving occupants "time to leave"?  So what if, despite the mounting, glaringly uneven civilian death toll, Israelis still feel afraid, as Wiesel states?  All that matters is this:  The IDF decided to bomb those buildings, and to target those targets - and ultimately, to accept that they would kill civilians.

Look, it's widely known that Hamas will place itself in a civilian population.  It's also widely known that, despite Israeli "warnings," some - many - civilians choose to stay where they are.  And yet, the IDF continues to bomb those targets.

Hypothetically, suppose I saw someone I thought was threatening me, and they were surrounded by civilians.  And suppose I pulled out a fully-automatic AK-47 and told them "get out of the way because I'm going to shoot this guy, you have 10 seconds".  And suppose they didn't move, and I fired anyway, killing the guy, plus 9 civilians.  10 deaths because I was afraid of one guy.  Even if i were justified in killing the one guy, how would a jury of my peers NOT convict me of murdering the 9 others?  They would, and rightly so, because I. Chose. To. Pull. The. Trigger.

Same for the IDF.  They chose to pull the trigger.  Whether it's murder or not is too big a question for a court of law to decide.  But I bloody well want the IDF to understand that they are not innocents in this matter, nor are they heroes.  Am I arguing Hamas is innocent?  Hardly.  They are a cancer that Gaza would better be rid of.  But at this point, the IDF's actions prove them to be little better, and hollow, morally bankrupt protestations of innocence won't elevate them one bit.

Discuss

Over a decade ago, Republicans invented the use of the word "Democrat" as an adjective, as in "Democrat Senator" or "Democrat bill".  They did this because it rhymed with "bureaucrat", and I'm sure they liked the fact that it ended in "rat".  All of which means that thinking progressives and liberals should never use this construction, but instead should use correct English and use "Democrat" only as a noun.  If you catch yourself using "Democrat" like a Republican, you're only making them happy.

To sum up:
"Democrat" is a noun.
"Democratic" is an adjective.
"Republican" is an idiot.

Discuss

Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 05:58 PM PST

The Latest in GOP Dirtbaggery is...

by TheOrchid

...fake Democratic campaign websites.

At least 15 websites that appear to be official campaign sites for Democratic candidates, are actually the handiwork of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In an effort to improve their online efforts this election season, the NRCC’s digital team came up with what the group believes is a great idea: get out the Republican message through fake Democrat sites.

“The idea is people who are looking for information on the candidate, one of the places we all go now is online and so this is a way for folks to find out more about the candidates and information they may not find on the candidate’s own site,” said Daniel Scarpinato, the NRCC's press secretary.

The NRCC bought up hundreds of URLs on potential weak Democratic candidates and created sites that mimic the real ones.

Such as the one at www.johnlewis4congress.com.  John Lewis is running for Montana's at-large House seat in 2014.

Just when I think the GOP has gotten about as big a pack of dirtbags as one can get, they push the envelope of dirtbaggery.

Discuss

Sat Oct 26, 2013 at 12:09 AM PDT

Love

by TheOrchid

That's what it's all about.

Peace.

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Air travel is hard enough these days, what with the invasive TSA, cramped seats, less-than stellar service in the air, and surprise charges everywhere.  But my fellow travelers, sometimes all that pales in comparison to you.  Please, please don't do these things when you travel by air!

1. Act dicombobulated in the screening line.  Please have your stuff ready so you don't have to futz with it before it goes into the machine!  It happens fast, but it's pretty simple.  First, you show your driver's license and ticket to the TSA guy, who puts it under the special light, checks your license to se if you still look like you, and marks your ticket as having been checked.  Then you follow a line to the plastic bins and take your shoes off.  I dump everything into my sport jacket, put that in the bin, and put my shoes upside-down on top of it.  Laptop goes in a separate bin next.  Laptop bag after that.  Grab the shoes on the other side of the scanner, toss them on, toss on the jacket, put the laptop back, voila, I'm done.

Of course, I do this often.  If I'm behind you and I can see you're elderly or not used to flying, I take it in stride.  I always leave myself enough time to catch my plane.

2. Lose track of where your bags are going.  I'm not fond of getting bumped by your rollaway or backpack while I'm standing waiting to board the plane, or while you're passing by me when I'm sitting on the plane's aisle.  Situational awareness, folks!  This is common curtesy.

3. Pack so much into your carry-on you can't get it into the overhead bin.  Look, I know airlines make it a habit to screw passengers over by charging $20 or more for each checked bag, and who wants to run the risk of losing bags in transit?  But don't pack so much into that bag it weighs as much as you do, or, god help us all, falls out of your grip onto us.  If I see you, Ms. My-Bag's-Too-Big, I'll do my best to help you out, but only if I see it coming.

4. Dither while you're standing in the aisle.  This goes with #3, above, but some folks just take their damned time doing this and that while blocking everyone else getting onto the plane.  Don't.  Sit down, now.

5. Yak at full volume.  Look, I'm sure where you went shopping yesterday, which beach you swam at and who you drank too much with last night is very interesting.  Just not to me.  Have a drink, take a pill, go to sleep.

6. Let your kid kick my seat from behind.  Particularly after I ask you, politely, three times not to let him do it.  I like kids but hate parents who can't handle 'em.  I might get nasty and yell at you.

I don't include screaming babies in this category, though they can be a nuisance.  Babies are like wild animals; they have a mind of their own and can't be reasoned with.  Some babies can really cut through my headphones with athe Charges and Colts at near-full volume, but that's life, I guess.

7. Fart in your seat.  Really, nothing is nastier than taking a nice-full deep breath of your darker side.  You might think no one notices, especially if you have your tiny little personal air vent going on you at full blast, but trust me - everyone does.  Not to mention that that stuff is flammable.  Do us all a favor - hold it until you leave thei plane, or go into the lavatory and let fly.  Or better yet, don't eat the cheese, beans and raw vegetables before you fly.

8.  Play your personal stereo so loud everyone can hear that tinny little squeak your earphones make.  We're all happy you like Depeche Mode and Katy Perry, but the rest of us mostly find you annoying.

9. Argue with the flight crew.  Trust me, you won't win.  And you just make them surlier when they get to me.

10. Lean your head against me when you fall asleep.  I can't sleep on a plane, so I'm not entirely happy you can.  My deal, I know, but there it is.  Plus, I'm not really enjoying the contact.  Well, maybe if you were a supermodel.  But you know what?  Not even then, because if I'm flying away from home on business, I'm thinking about having to leave my wife, and if I'm flying back home from business, I'm thinking about seeing her again.  And if we're on vacation, well hey, she's right there.  So we're back to not letting your head rest against me when you fall asleep.

11.  Finally, strike up a conversation with me while I have my headphones on.  I'm into something else already, OK?  Except maybe if I'm stuck between you and your husband, and he looks to be in a foul mood, and you look like you need someone to talk to.  But that doesn't happen very often.  If you're that person, no worries; everyone else, no.

Thanks for doing your part to make my flight more enjoyable.  I'll do everything I can to return the favor.

Discuss

Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 09:08 AM PDT

Negotiating The Shutdown

by TheOrchid

Republicans these days only seem to respond to negotiation that consists of giving them exactly what they want (and even that doesn't work sometimes).  But this author has some pretty good ideas about how President Obama could negotiate out of the shutdown:

I’ve managed to make a rather nice living swimming with the big sharks in the grown-up pool, taking on “billions-with-a-b” cases. I pulled A’s in a lot of law school classes, but the class in which I did my absolute best was Negotiations 101.
. . .
If I were sitting today where you sit, Mr. Obama, almost at the confluence of the Anacostia River, the Washington Chanel, and the Potomac River, here’s what I’d do:

I’d announce that, now that the government’s been closed for two days, I’m unwilling to sign anything but a clean bill to fund the government, except that now I also want the Rapeublicans to approve all of my judicial nominees who have been languishing in Congress lo these many years.

Tomorrow morning, I’d eat breakfast, put on my nice suit, walk out into the Rose Garden (it’s gorgeous in DC this week) and announce that now that I’ve slept on it, I won’t sign anything except a clean bill with approval of all of my judicial nominees and statehood for DC. I’d wave to the reporters, go play golf (include a woman this time, Mr. President), review their homework with my daughters, and get a massage.

On Friday, after I had lunch at the Palm with my wife (have the crabmeat cocktail and the steak salad, rare), I’d walk up to Dupont Circle and say that I’d been discussing it with Ms. Obama and, now, I’m unwilling to sign anything except a clean bill with approval of all of my judicial appointees, statehood for DC, and a new bill of Elizabeth Warren’s choosing.

. . .

You get the picture.

The whole thing is worth a good read.  Mr. Obama has a lot of things going for him: Public opinion is against the shutdown, people are starting to realize they can save a ton of money using the new Exchanges, and Mr. Obama's approval ratings are up.  Meanwhile, the Republicans are running their ship of fools against the rocks. Paticularly in this, the baseball playoff season, it's time to play a little hardball.  And following the author's specific suggestions, Mr. Obama could have a fun time doing it, too.
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