boutell: (shave)
Vaccines are not 100% effective. But if everyone gets them then the odds of the disease propagating go down. Eventually to the point where a case of measles can't replace itself, on average, with more than one case of measles and the disease is no longer epidemic.

Stick to your guns long enough, as we did with smallpox, and the disease may become extinct - no more dead children from that cause, ever again ever. This is good.

But if enough people become overconfident and stop immunizing their kids, that ratio of new cases to old cases creeps above 1.0 again, and the disease starts to spread and may become epidemic once more. This is bad.

The good news is that the measles vaccine is highly effective after the second dose. The bad news is that the second dose is given at age four. The dose at age one is only 95% effective.

So even kids whose parents are doing their best to protect them are needlessly at risk of something that could lead to deafness, or even death (roughly 3 out of every 1000 cases). And decisions not to vaccinate, made by other parents, are directly responsible for this.

I would have to think twice about taking a baby on a New York City bus this month. And people who live there don't get a choice.
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I've been thinking about death. And, on the opposite extreme, about downloading.

Death isn't normally something I spend much time thinking about, except in the aftermath of someone else's passing. I am in good health and leading a vital life, physically and intellectually and emotionally. As a general rule, it doesn't come up.

This Christmas, though, I got well and truly sick. And while I was in no real danger of dying thanks to modern medicine, I was a great deal sicker than I realized at the time.

That's because my illness didn't hurt, much, and didn't pass my "time to go to the hospital now" litmus test. It was bad enough that I saw the doctor, partly hoping to save my family holiday plans (no such luck), and he gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a choice whether to fill it or not, because it was anybody's guess whether I had "just a virus." Like, say, the influenza virus.

I did fill that prescription. Then, having seen the doctor like a good boy, I stopped worrying.

My rule of thumb is pretty simple: if I'm eating and drinking and I can keep my fever below 102F or so without doing anything stupid and dangerous, I should just chill out and get better. Actually, my usual habit is to just keep trucking, and this winter that got me in trouble, as the moment my fever broke and I felt a little better I tried to jump up and have a normal day. Which was a big mistake and led straight to a relapse of the flu.

So anyway, there I am with a moderately impressive fever and, as it turned out later, a lovely bout of asthma developing. So I'm short of oxygen and I'm hallucinating a bit. In low light, every corner of the room is inhabited by fairies and all manner of creatures. I am a community, not a person. It's all very interesting but I have no energy to do more than gabble at Roberta about it. Time is passing quickly and I am well out of it.

Eventually my fever breaks again and I still feel lousy. Walking up the stairs is a serious challenge; I'm short of breath. I remember reading somewhere that shortness of breath turns out to be the most important telltale that you should go to the damn hospital, or at least the doctor.

So I go back to my painstakingly noninvasive doc, an osteopath. I like osteopaths because they don't think medical technology is the solution to everything but they still have to pass their damn boards and recognize the symptoms of gonnakillyouifwedon'ttreatititis, which I feel is quite important.

He listens to my lungs and surprises me by saying that no, they don't sound good at all. I have asthma. With one possible exception, I haven't experienced asthma since I was about ten years old.

He gives me prescriptions for two different inhalers, one chronic, the other acute. I stick to the chronic inhaler, and also go back on claritin. After a few weeks I feel much better and taper off and start spending serious time jogging and cycling. Before long I'm back in rude health. Downright inconsiderate health, even. But something about the experience stays with me.

Here is that thing: death doesn't suck. But don't get me wrong: many significant things closely associated with death suck a whole lot.

Selfish things: you will never see Thailand, you will never dance again, you will never marry the lady or see your child graduate. Unselfish things: you will not be there for your child! You will not be there for your family and your community! Spiritual things: you're worried sick about what comes next. These are big problems and they are no good at all.

Pain, also, sucks really quite a lot, and is unfortunately often riding shotgun with death, making the whole thing especially terrifying and unpleasant and hard to disentangle from its circumstances.

But death itself is not so bad. When you start dying, just a little bit– and I am talking about the really important bit, where your brain begins to shut down, not the painful and undignified business of the body falling apart– when you start to die a little, this is what happens: things get a little surreal, and your thoughts slow down, and your personality starts to unravel a little. None of these things are terrible. People often risk arrest to experience them.

And if I had been much, much sicker– if instead of a wee problem with my oxygen supply, my lungs had stopped filling altogether– what would that have been like? It doesn't feel like a big existential mystery anymore. It frankly seems pretty obvious. It would be more, or rather less, of the same. My thoughts would slow down more. Things would get weirder. And I would thoroughly unravel, like a man giving in to sleep.

None of that is so terrible. As long as you're not consumed with regret, or pain, or guilt, all of which are commonplace but not intrinsic to death. Not if you've lived a long and full life.

Being a lot sicker than I realized at the time (*) gave me a chance to experience what the end of life might feel like, if I weren't consumed with worry and regret and pain and fear. It was just another new experience, welcome in its own way. Had I really been dying, or thought myself in any serious danger of dying, I would have been deeply concerned about my family and a hundred other things for excellent reasons. But as it was, I just got a tiny peek through the fence without paying admission. And having watched someone close to me die, it's a comfort to have a better idea what they experienced.

On the opposite extreme, I never used to think about the notion of "downloading" into an artificial intelligence. Not from a personal standpoint. When I was young I secretly assumed I would simply live forever, as most people do. Later I figured I was going to die in a birthday dance circle surrounded by distraught salseras at the age of 97 (which is still fairly likely). Giving up my body never seemed even remotely appealing.

But let's say I've lived that long and full life, and pretty much experienced what homo sapiens sapiens has to offer, body-wise. By then there are nine, maybe ten billion people clamoring for their turn on this planet. And there are other kinds of experience.

Let's say there are three or four billion of us by then in the over-ninety crowd, and the planet doesn't have room for us all to run around in vat-grown 18 year old bodies (if it had the technology, which I suspect it won't for quite a while longer, assuming things go well enough that such things happen at all). Well, what might the alternative be? How about downloading your personality into the cloud?

We might have to timeshare limited resources; we might have to slow our perceptions quite a bit. Okay.

This is subjective time we're talking about; experiencing entire art movements in a week from my perspective might be nice for a change. To say nothing of getting to see the planets of Alpha Centauri.

It doesn't make sense to send pretty bags of mostly water through a death-dealing sea of cosmic radiation for thousands of years. So send me. I don't mind; I can pace myself. (**)

(*) I should reassure you: I am one seriously healthy 41-year-old. It was just a seriously shitty case of the flu with a perfectly timed bout of asthma attached. Which is to say, pretty darn bad, but when you're over it you're over it.

(**) Mark-Jason Dominus points out that downloading doesn't save you, it copies you, and then your copy has more fun than you. More charitably put, it's a form of reproduction. But downloading at the end of human life feels like something closer to a transition, if you feel (as I do) that the death of the brain and body is final. Knowing that "I" will pass on momentarily but that "I" am also continuing in a very real sense is not much different from knowing that "I" feel like pure bloody hell today because I'm having my appendix out, but "I" will feel ever so much better in a week. It's not like I get to be me-next-week right this instant; I still have to believe in continuity with that later self to overcome my present pain. Still, I might feel differently about this if the downloading were performed early enough to be socially awkward in the way MJD describes.
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Apparently over the counter pain medications at the time of vaccination make the vaccine less effective.

"Many of the pain relievers in question are classified as NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which act in part by blocking the cyclooxygenase-2 (cox-2) enzyme. Blocking the cox-2 enzyme is not a good idea in the context of vaccination, however, because the cox-2 enzyme is necessary for the optimal production of B-lymphocytes."

So while there can be discomfort with certain vaccines apparently it's best for you and/or your kid to tough it out. Well, it sure beats contracting the disease.
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I don't get sick much. Obviously, this is a blessing. Still, I wish my immune system wouldn't play with its food.

I haven't had a proper cold in the past couple years. Instead I sniffle just a little for a couple days... and then Everything Is Awesome.

I think of what goes on in my body like this:

DAY ONE

Virus: "ABWAGGGHHAHH! ENNNURRR! HUOOORRRRRGGGAAH! PHEAR"

Immune System: "oh aren't you cute. [Bops virus in the nose, goes back to reading Twitter feed]"

DAY TWO

Virus: "KEEEEL! I KEEEL KEEL KEEL KEEEL"

Immune System: "uh-huh." [Casually pins down toe of virus with left front paw, bites off left ear]

DAY THREE

Virus: "DAAAAAA HUMMINA BWAM KAPOW SLAUGHTER ABUSE DESTROY YARRRRRR!"

Immune System: "MAKING GOR-GAR INCREASES KICKER VALUE. Yeah, yeah, I get it." [Bites off nose of virus, casually shreds tail]

DAY FOUR

Virus: "NNNNNGGGH HARRR BWOOOO KILLELAGH FO' SHIZZLE"

Immune System: "this grows tiresome." [BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA of machine gun fire ensues]

Things were not always thus. When my daughter was small, she brought home every cold in the universe on her grubby unwashed snotty hands, and I got all of them. But after a while there were no new bugs to shoot at.

Unfortunately my immune system has become jaded, and it takes out its boredom on any available target. All my life, I have been allergic to oranges. But now the list has been expanded to include all citrus. And pineapples. And possibly mangoes.

Mango-Tofu Curry: "Mmmm, mm! Scrum dilly umptious and full of vitamin C!"

Immune System: BETTER DEAD THAN ORANGE! DEFCON 5 ACTIVATE OPERATION SPOILSPORT SCRAMBLE ALL STEALTH BOMBERS! BYE-BYE MOSCOW BYE-BYE CLEVELAND NNNNGURK

... At which point the benadryl kicks in. Or I die. I hate it when I die. Makes me late for salsa.

I'm planning to see an allergist soon for a proper battery of tests to figure out exactly which of nature's friends I currently need to avoid to remain living. This is a pain in the ass, but all things considered, it beats leaving a trail of mucous from December through March.
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Carrie Fisher on exactly how little she gives a shit that you are offended by her failure to remain forever 29.

That is a kickass rant. Seriously, if seeing the idols of your youth choose not to work like slaves every day just to maintain the body you wish you had (in either sense) causes you pain... if you have a problem with being reminded of the grim spectre of D-E-E-E-E-A-T-H (to quote Grandpa Simpson)... try taking your own damn health and fitness in hand instead of giving them unearned shit for no longer being the person you wish you were.

You know what upsets me? Patrick Swayze dying in his fifties of pancreatic cancer. My first thought was "shit, we have some of the same healthy habits, sometimes it doesn't matter..." OK, yes, I admit it: I just googled to find out what his vices were and I'm relieved to find that I don't share them.

But still. That's some scary shit, makes me want to live my life like I mean it while I have it. Oh wait I am. (I've had reminders far closer to home...)

Listen to me and my high-minded preachin'. Here, have a tasteless gag to wash it down:



(Thanks to Nat Torkington for the Carrie Fisher link)
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Maybe the votes just aren't there for the "public plan." Set aside the frustration of that for a moment. What might be doable and worthwhile?

I think the following would be a huge improvement on where we are now:

1. Health insurance plans should be purchased directly by individuals, not employers, and should be valid across state lines as long as the insurer operates there. Health insurance payments should be tax-deductible. Your employer can just pay you more instead of offering that benefit. More importantly, your insurer shouldn't know, care, or be permitted to care when you change employers.

2. Any rules that make it harder for insurers to operate in multiple states need to go away.

3. All insurers should cover all of their customers as a single pool, and shouldn't be allowed to refuse customers, drop coverage or change rates due to preexisting conditions. This is the big one. Without it any individual insurer who offers a single pool will have all of their healthy customers cherrypicked by those who do not. This is what happened to the nonprofits that tried to hold out and make a stand on that principle. I still have the letter from Blue Cross explaining why they had to switch to the cherry-picking, sick-people-pay-more policy. The letter pointed out that they were the last insurer in the tri-state region not to do so.

"Will this encourage people to engage in high-risk behavior?" You mean like getting old?

Seriously, people have other motives to limit high-risk behavior. Like seeing their grandchildren graduate. Or being able to enjoy sex again ever. And if insurers have to cover these people, then insurers will be motivated to help them get healthy.

4. Insurers should be required to cover a certain list of treatments for certain conditions. Yes, they should be able to refuse million-dollar unproven treatments, and there's room for agreeing to cover more for a price. But without a fundamental "must cover" list like this, insurers can avoid the old and the ill simply by not covering their conditions.

5. Yes, damage awards in malpractice suits should be limited. No, this won't solve the problem all by itself, but it'll help, and conservatives will vote for it. By "limited" I don't mean "limited to five bucks and a playful swat on the ass."

6. Doctor visit copays are good. They shouldn't be unaffordable but it's good to give people a reason to stay out of their doctor's office unless they are sick. $25 is a good number.

Under the above conditions, nonprofits (including "co-ops") would have a better shot at actually operating in the public interest because they wouldn't be "competed" into the ground by companies whose competitive advantage is refusing to insure sick people. This is the problem with "nonprofit" insurers today. If #3 and #4 are implemented, the environment will be very different, so it's not really fair to compare the behavior of Blue Cross today to what health insurance co-ops might look like after reform.

Now, back to the public plan option:

With the above in place, a public plan could be more easily created, either now or later— because the cost of insurance would be lower. The government (or a state government) could simply choose to purchase health insurance plans from companies operating under the above rules.

Thoughts? Tomatoes? Campaign contributions?
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I bought some vanilla roiboos tea. I bought it from House of Tea. They know their shit, the woman I bought it from has been there for fifteen years. I had wanted nothing but roiboos, but vanilla was the closest thing available, and it had exactly two ingredients: roiboos, and bits of vanilla bean. I asked her specifically about citrus. Definitely none. And it doesn't taste citrusy at all.

Boom, same symptoms as citrus (so far anyway). Nothing serious, just itchy as hell.

I recall having a suspicion it might be problematic for me once in the past. Now I'd have to call it a certainty.

Goddam. I like roiboos.

And freakin' nobody is allergic to roiboos. It's used to treat allergies, supposedly. I'm still wondering if I got exposed to something else.
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A study in Africa has found that circumcised men are less likely to contract HPV or herpes.

Stupid question:

Did they control for sexual frequency? What if women prefer the uncircumcised guys so they just have more partners? Hey, it's entirely possible.

Not so stupid question:

Isn't this darn near irrelevant for people who use condoms regularly? I suppose oral sex complicates the answer to that for herpes.
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I'm allergic to citrus, full stop. Even lime juice in salsa is now a no-no. I was confident that it wasn't; I found out otherwise.

Aw man! This sucks.

The good news is that "allergic to citrus" does not mean "allergic to citric acid," which is in everything.

I do need to try having roiboos tea on a day when I don't come anywhere near citrus, as I'm pretty sure I've had it on the mornings of my recent misadventures, but that's a very long shot as roiboos is frequently recommended to soothe allergic reactions.

While we're looking for long-shot explanations, it could also be... oh I don't know... my relatively-new laundry detergent bothering me only on the days when I've had citrus for some reason. Yeah I don't think so either.

Could be worse, could be allergic to latex! Could be raining.

GRRRR!

Nov. 24th, 2008 10:12 am
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Last night, 1130pm: OMG starving. Want coconut lime scones. Really badly.

11:35pm: zest an entire lime rind into the mix.

11:50pm: MMMMMFFFFRARGMUNCH.

12:30pm: ITCHY ITCHY ITCHY ARGH! Tongue swollen, totally have that "you screwed up and drank orange juice, which you have always been allergic to" feeling. Scary, for anyone who knows how serious allergies can potentially be. Take a claritin and two ibuprofen, for lack of anything more apropos. Finally get to sleep an hour later.

Apparently I am allergic to lime zest, especially in substantial quantities. I have suspected this before but this was sort of a perfect test and hard to ignore. The only other interesting incredient was coconut milk, and I've eaten a whole lot of Thai food in my life without falling down.

Lime zest shows up in other things I eat; the reason why it has only been a mild irritant in the past is probably that there wasn't such an epic amount of it, plus it was often cooked longer (these were just baked for ten minutes).

I hate being a freak who's not allowed to eat stuff (as opposed to choosing to be a vegetarian of my own free will), but I think I have to put lime zest on the no-fly list. Phooey. The good news is that lime juice has never given me any troubles. It stands to reason that there are compounds in the skin of a fruit that aren't necessarily inside it.
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Poll time: rate the over-the-counter allopathic pain remedies! Pick your fave.

[Poll #1294823]
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To the parties who have expressed their concern (including but not limited to salsa friends, my daughter, and random kindly strangers in K-Mart),

I am not a zombie. I'm just decaffeinating. I am ultimately at my best without BRAINS caffeine. And while it is unlikely I'll remain caffeine-free indefinitely, I am in desperate need of a detox after pulling out all the stops for BRAINS Obama.

Also the clips on the bridge of my BRAINS glasses fell apart this morning so I've been stuck in BRAINS contacts all day, making my glassy-eyed, brain-eating appearance all the more BRAINS apparent.

Please do not be afraid. I'm not going to eat your BRAINS brains. I'd have to stand up to do that.

, Tom
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Reality-checking Joe the Plumber. Sure enough, Joe nets a whole lot less than $250,000 and he admits that "if you believe him," Obama would cut his taxes.

As for the matter of fining companies that don't provide health insurance to employees, Obama says he won't do that for "small businesses." The article dings Obama for not being specific about what a small business is. Sure, but he's not the only one being vague— nobody seems to know how big that business Joe wants to buy is. Tough to tell, I imagine, when it doesn't even belong to Joe and the current owner probably has no interest in this circus.
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Robot developed to destroy breast cancer cells.

The weirdest thing about this robot is that it can operate inside an MRI machine. Whaaa? Won't it get sucked into the magnetic field? Nope: it's made of titanium and stainless steel.

Whaaaaa? Isn't stainless steel magnetic? It's got, like, oodles of iron in it!

Apparently not— stainless steel is a general category but many stainless steel alloys are not magnetic, specifically those that contain a lot of nickel. Crazy!
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People who live where walking and biking are normal, sane, and safe tend to weigh less. Yes, this is one of those studies that confirms common sense (and does so with a million provisos and quid-pro-quos). But hey, as a diehard urbanist, I'll take it.
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Photos of everyday folks, categorized as underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese according to BMI (Body Mass Index). Verrry interesting stuff.

For reference, see the CDC's BMI page, which includes BMI calculators.

I get the impression most experts will admit that using the BMI all by itself is a mistake. The BMI classifies much of the NBA as obese.

My humble suggestion for a new metric: if you can dance salsa for three hours without falling over or wishing you were someplace else... call me. Oh, and you're probably in good health. That too.

Ganked from [livejournal.com profile] glaucon.
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How walkable is your neighborhood?

My house scores a 92. It's not perfect (it doesn't notice the full-size grocery stores within a quarter mile of my house) but it's pretty amazing given the ambitious goal of rating arbitrary addresses for their viability as a place to live without a car, or at least get some freekin' exercise as a normal part of your life OMG.

South Philly is insanely walkable and real estate here is holding and even gaining value in an otherwise crappy market. It's a cool place yo.

Ganked from Atrios, via [livejournal.com profile] opadit.
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At 94, Jack LaLanne can still kick your ass. Though Jimmy Kimmel got in a few good digs. Ganked from [livejournal.com profile] spiritualmonkey.
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So I was reading the Wikipedia article on marathons this morning, to get my facts straight before blatantly comparing my weekend's exertions to same (*), and paid close attention to the section on glycogen and "hitting the wall." They mention that some marathoners eat things that would normally be considered unhealthy during the marathon in order to give their muscles a rapidly available source of energy: "... solid candy, cookies, other forms of concentrated sugars, or any food high in simple carbohydrates which can be digested easily by the individual runner." I said uh-huh whatever, what I need is a proper lunch.

About an hour after lunch I served my daughter a big scoop of ice cream and the desire to eat half a box myself was almost overwhelming. Almost, because I know all that dairy would not be my friend.

Then I realized I had leftover homemade peanut butter choco soy ice cream in the freezer.

[Scene of frightful devouration elided for the sake of the children]

Ghods I feel better. You have no idea.

Now my daughter is at a friend's for dinner and I am supposed to be practicing with the video cameras and I will. But I need to physically stop moving for a while first. Which would be more appealing if I could find my copy of Freedom and Necessity.

(*) 1.5 mile ride to train station + 1 mile walk to play + 1 mile walk back from play + 2 hours salsa + 1.5 mile ride home + 1.5 mile walk to ceramics class + 1 hour salsa + 1 mile walk across Media + 1 mile walk back across Media + 1 mile walk across Media AGAIN + unpack kitchen for three hours + 1 mile walk across Media YET again + 2 hours salsa + 2 hours salsa = whoah there slowdowncowboy
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I'm feeling a bit run down thanks to a week of social drinking. I like a drink or two and most of the time that's no trouble. But sometimes the invitations come thick and fast and I forget that the "a drink a day is fine or even beneficial" principle just doesn't apply to me. My body needs recovery time. Daily drinking— however moderate— disagrees with me physically and also screws up my capacity to learn new and awesome stuff. Which leads to suckage and frustration.

Basically: I am a skinny-ass dancer boy and I have the metabolism and tolerances that go with that. And this is, on the whole, NOT something to complain about.

So instead I should read the freekin' owner's manual and put the appropriate grade of gasoline in the tank.

Also? Less caffeine and sugar. Not none. None sucks. But, y'know, less. And this is another area where I have to ignore what the average person can cheerfully ingest and pay attention to what messes with my sleep patterns.

I need to eat and drink what's right for me, and not what's right for the average American at standard temperature and pressure.

My body can do a lot of cool shit, and all it really asks is that I take it out for a spin every day and avoid topping off the tank with low-octane garbage.

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