Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vaccination and Autism

You know what gets me about the whole antivaccine/vaccines cause autism bullshit?

Well, first of all, obviously vaccines don't cause autism, all the evidence has proved this over and over again. Besides, if it was caused by vaccines it couldn't be heritable, and it is (though not entirely). And kids still get autism even now that there's no mercury in the vaccines. Sorry, find a new scapegoat.

But even beyond that-- let's assume the autism really was caused by vaccines. Autism is a) non-contagious, b) non-deadly, and c) present in a spectrum, with most people within that spectrum perfectly capable of living a reasonably successful or normal life, although they're not really socially adept (neither am I, and I survive). Full blown autism is only about one in 1000 people. So in our hypothetical scenario, there is only a 0.001% chance that getting a vaccine will result in an autistic child.

Compare to the alternative, not getting the vaccine. Let's look at the DTP vaccine. Diphtheria has a 5-10% fatality rate in children under 5 years and a 20% fatality rate in adults over 40. Before the vaccine was invented, a person had a 0.002% chance of getting diphtheria. Also, diphtheria is a heck of a lot worse than autism (not that autism isn't horrible, but at least it doesn't involve open sores). And that is a single disease; things like pertussis, measles, and whooping cough add to the chance that an unvaccinated person will get SOME horrible illness. I mean, unvaccinated children living in our modern, vaccinated society manage to get polio, despite the fact that the virus can't easily perpetuate in a population that is immune to it.

So even using the false hypothesis that vaccines cause autism, it's STILL better to vaccinate, because an unvaccinated child has a greater chance of getting an illness that can be prevented by vaccines than a vaccinated child would have of getting autism. Also, most illnesses that vaccines prevent are far, far more painful, dangerous, and deadly than autism is, even at it's absolute worst.


I'm not a huge fan of over-vaccination, which I define as vaccinating against things that aren't actually going to hurt you too much in the long run, like chickenpox (well, unless you're in your teens or older and never had it as a child), or things that could hurt you, but your lifestyle, age, and/or health make catching a bad case unlikely (like influenza for me, but not for my best friend, who often works with individuals who are high-risk for catching it).

But to prevent polio, diphtheria, rubella... there is no excuse for not vaccinating children against those illnesses. Not even religious objections (will God really stop a person from entering Heaven just because they got a shot? Wouldn't it be a worse sin to not get a shot, and catch and spread the illness, killing yourself and another? And can't you atone and describe yourself as some kind of martyr who was forced into it, anyway?).

Certain vaccines are a public health concern, they should NOT be optional. Even if it meant I had to take a flu shot every year, I'd support legislation that would force all parents to vaccinate their children without exception. If they object, force them to watch a movie about Typhoid Mary. When it comes to serious infectious disease, the government has a duty to restrict the rights of it's citizens enough to protect other citizens, and the more people we vaccinate against a disease, the more likely that disease will go the way of smallpox, no one will ever be at risk again, and we won't need the vaccine any more.

The only reasonable and safe way to stop the widespread vaccination of children is to continue it, even increase it, until it is no longer needed at all. Period.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Guns in our schools-- legally

Apparently Arizona is debating allowing concealed carry rights in school zones, in the wake of all the recent school shootings (and there has been a LOT lately, hasn't there?).

Honestly, this... kind of makes sense. It's really sad that we have to deal with this at all, but you know, we live in a country where it's so easy to get a gun without a permit, we kind of need people who are armed as defense.

I'm not so sure about how young this goes, though. I can see letting high school teachers and staff, even middle school teachers and staff, who have permits and are trained in gun use and safety carry weapons, but honestly, when was the last time a first grader shot up a school? They bring weapons in at that young, but they can usually be restrained/disarmed easily. I guess you could make exceptions if there was a particular danger for an individual, like the case in Oregon where a teacher sued the school district because they refused to allow her to carry a gun when she was worried about her ex husband attacking her (he had threatened to kill her).

Maybe tighten up the standards as to who can get a special permit to carry a weapon at a school? I would say that the standards there should be a little stricter, ie, psych evaluation, take classes on gun safety, and prove that you can effectively use the gun to prevent an attacker from continuing (preferably without killing them, but preventing them from using their weapon or moving). And repeat the entire process every 5 years. At the same time, they could teach potential applicants the procedure should police arrive (basically it would have to be that unless doing so would mean serious injury or death, drop to the floor, take your hand off the trigger or slide the gun over to the cops, and keep your hands where the police can see them-- aka, give them all the signs that you are completely on their side).

I doubt I could ever kill or injure something alive with a gun, but I still support gun rights-- partially because it's in the Constitution, clear and apparent, and partially because I think people should have the right to do whatever they want as long as it's not hurting anyone else. Of course, people need permits and training in use beforehand, because guns are a lot more complex with much more variety than when the Constitution was written, plus people are living closer together and we medicate the mentally unstable people instead of locking them up or trying to exorcise them (this is a VERY good thing, don't get me wrong, but it does mean that a random, dangerous person can stop their treatment and wind up on national television). So yeah, there needs to be regulation. Also, because our culture is very different and kids are less mature at the same ages, obviously kids need to be even more regulated in gun ownership than adults, and no kid should ever be allowed to have a gun in school.

As for college students, I'd say you should keep kids from having them in the dorms or bringing them on campus. If they hunt, they can buy a storage locker somewhere. It's not that I don't think college students should defend themselves against attackers, it's just that I am a college student, and I know college classes, and honestly, I'd feel safer if one loner comes to campus and I can't be defended from them than by allowing your average college student to have a gun...

On second though, better ban it for middle school teachers too. I always was amazed that my middle school teachers didn't try the "going postal" route. Clearly, destined for sainthood.

Sorry if that was rambling, what are your thoughts on gun control?

Friday, February 8, 2008

This concept of "wuv" confuses and enrages us

I know this is in Italy and I'm not supposed to be reading the news anyway, but this is ridiculous. A court in Italy decided to severely reduce a 34-year-old man's sentence for having sex with an underage (13 year old) girl because they decided there was "real love" between the pair.

First of all:

In Italy, the age of consent is 14, so this is like the equivalent of in the average US state (where consent is usually about 16) a 36 year old and a 15 year old. So sketchy, illegal technically, but don't think of it as quite the same thing legally as a 30 year old and a 13 year old in this country.

HOWEVER, the reason behind the sentence reduction was not "she was only a year away from being able to consent, so we'll reduce it on those grounds" but it was "they loved each other."

Here's the thing. The law says a 13 year old can't consent to sex, she can't consent to sex. Period. Well, she can, but it's invalid consent-- like if a completely plastered girl consents to sex, that's invalid (of course in that case, she may have had a standing consent with a guy that it was okay for him to have sex with her while she was drunk, like if they were dating. Someone who is underage could not have done that, since they have never previously been able to give valid consent). According to the laws of consent, when a person who is underage consents to sex, their words are essentially meaningless, and only affect whether or not the crime is "statutory rape" or just "rape."

And yet according to this Italian court, if the girl "loves" the man (maybe she did, doesn't matter) and he loves her, then her consent becomes valid. Despite the fact that nothing in her brain changes when she thinks she loves the man that makes her judgment better and makes her older.

Ultimately, though, what really bothers me is that this is a moral decision on the part of the judge. According to this judge, sex + love = okay, sex + no love = bad. And even though I personally agree, I don't think that that is a decision the courts should make. This is saying that a teenage girl who has sex with an older man because she thought he was hot and wanted to have sex was somehow coerced and unable to consent, but one who wanted to have sex with an older man because she felt she truly loved him was NOT coerced.

It's saying that women/girls would NEVER have sex willingly unless they loved the man and the man loved them (could also be saying the same for young men, but I doubt it; anyway, that's irrelevant). Which is not true and a moral judgment of women who have sex with people they do not love. If the judge feels that that is immoral, fine, but it shouldn't come into the courtroom. Judges should go by the law, not their own moral codes, if they live under a truly secular government, which Italy claims to have.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Technically I'm not supposed to think about this stuff, but...

I've been thinking about Israel a lot lately.

I used to think that while the Palestinians shouldn't be bombing Israel, it was wrong of the UN to give Palestine to the Jews in the first place, because someone already lived there, and that it was also wrong of the Israeli law to treat the Arabs differently than they treated Jews.

I still think that Israel needs to provide non-Jews with more rights and equality. I abhor a religious state, and while Israel is not at the level of the surrounding nations, not by a long shot, they clearly value the Jewish religion above all else. I would feel differently if, say, the Law of Return applied only to ethnic Jews, as in, people who are actually of Jewish ancestry by blood, instead of this business of "if your mother was a Jew or you converted to Judaism," which is a religious definition, not an ethnic one. I understand that Jews are persecuted worldwide and I understand the value of a homeland. I want Tibet to be returned to the Tibetans, too. But a Jewish state should be a state of ethnic Jews, not a state of Jewish religion. A blonde, white, Caucasian Jewish convert with the last name Smith is not really going to be persecuted on the same level as a dark-haired, olive skinned ethnic Jew with the last name Goldstein. What's more, the Law of Return completely ignores ethnic Jews who are not practicing, or whose mothers were not Jewish.

They also have a tendency to deny residency and immigration rights to Israeli Arabs under the pretext of preventing terrorism, and they tend to place predominantly Jewish towns before Arab towns. Not to mention the whole Dome of the Rock issue. There's a lot of racism and religious persecution, which happens every time a bunch of people who were once a persecuted minority become the majority. So I still think their laws need to change, same as I feel for most countries.

However, I've been looking at their history, and I've changed my mind about whether they should have been given the nation. Was there racism involved? Yeah, I mean, Britain didn't give up their colony in Palestine for years when the native Arabs wanted it, and then as soon as there was a Jewish majority, they gave it up. I have no doubt but that there was prejudice involved on the part of the UN. That said, even though Jews had not particular right to the land simply because their ancestors lived there, there WAS a Jewish majority when Israel was founded. They got their autonomy fairly. The expansion of the state to gain control of water sources was also reasonable. Doing it to gain Jerusalem for religious reasons or to get more land, not so much.

At this point I've basically decided that I don't support either side, but if I had to choose, I'd support Israel. They have less to do before I would consider them to be a reasonable and just nation; Palestine is basically under Shari'ah law. I think they should pull back, stop occupying surrounding territories and focus on defensive methods, and make their nation more secular. I also think that Egypt and Jordan need to open their borders to Palestinian immigration, since many Palestinians are actually Jordians and Egyptians who came to Israel when the Israelis began to develop the land and provide jobs.

But I don't think it's that easy. I think the entire region is very complicated, and both sides are at fault. And that the next time a nuclear weapon is used in war, it's gonna be on Israel.