Thursday 31 December 2009

Obama's numbers go UP after Detroit bomb scare

More GOP smear attacks fail.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Obama still most popular despite a year of smear attacks

A solid year of unprecedented smear attacks against Obama, and he is still, by a mile, the most popular man in America. All the crap about birth certificates, death panels, government takeovers, improper choice of mustard...All ignored by the 80 percent of the country that is not insane.

And Hillary, not Sarah Palin, is the most popular woman.

All that GOP effort bashing Team Blue, to no avail.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Guest contributor reports on health reform opponents who fudge the figures on cancer

Cancer Treatment and Health Care Reform

One argument you may hear against health care reform concerns cancer survival rates. The United States has higher cancer survivor rates than countries with national health care systems, we’re told. Doesn’t this mean we should keep what we’ve got and not change it?

Certainly cancer survival rates are a critical issue for people suffering from the deadly lung mesothelioma cancer. So let’s look at this claim and see if there is any substance to it.

First, it’s important to understand that “cancer survival rate” doesn’t mean the rate of people who are cured of a cancer. The cancer survival rate is the percentage of people who survive a certain type of cancer for a specific amount of time, usually five years after diagnosis.

For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, the survivor rate of prostate cancer in the United States is 98 percent. This means that 98 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive five years later. However, this statistic does not tell us whether the men who have survived for five years still have cancer or what number of them may die from it eventually.

Misunderstanding of the term “survivor rate” sometimes is exploited to make misleading claims. For example, in 2007 a pharmaceutical company promoting a drug used to treat colon cancer released statistics showing superior survival rates for its drug over other treatments. Some journalists who used this data in their reporting assumed it meant that the people who survived were cured of cancer, and they wrote that the drug “saved lives.” The drug did extend the lives of of patients, on average by a few months. However, the mortality rate for people who used this drug — meaning the rate of patients who died of the disease — was not improved.

But bloggers and editorial writers who oppose health care reform seized these stories about “saving lives,” noting that this wondrous drug was available in the United States for at least a year before it was in use in Great Britain. Further, Britain has lower cancer survival rates than the U.S. This proved, they said, the superiority of U.S. health care over “socialist” countries.

This is one way propagandists use data to argue that health care in the United States is superior to countries with government-funded health care systems. They selectively compare the most favorable data from the United States with data from the nations least successful at treating cancer. A favorite “comparison” country is Great Britain, whose underfunded National Health Service is struggling.

It is true that the United States compares very well in the area of cancer survival rates, but other countries with national health care systems have similar results.
For example, in 2008 the British medical journal Lancet Oncology published a widely hailed study comparing cancer survival rates in 31 countries. Called the CONCORD study, the researchers found that United States has the highest survival rates for breast and prostate cancer. However, Japan has the highest survival for colon and rectal cancers in men, and France has the highest survival for colon and rectal cancers in women. Canada and Australia also ranked relatively high for most cancers. The differences in the survival data for these “best” countries is very small, and is possibly caused by discrepancies in reporting of data and not the treatment result itself.

And it should be noted that Japan, France, Canada and Australia all have government-funded national health care systems. So, there is no reason to assume that changing the way health care is funded in the U.S. would reduce the quality of cancer care.

— Barbara O’Brien

Monday 28 December 2009

GOP blocking choice for TSA chief -- the airport security guy...?

Months ago, the GOP was screeching about Obama's handling of the swine flu crisis -- neatly ignoring the fact that they were holding up the nominations of the top Health and Human Services officials who would have handled the mess.

Now they're hollering about Obama's handling of the Detroit airplane scare -- all while they're blocking the appointment of the TSA chief. They have also been blocking the approval for TSA money.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Birth of the women's movement, 463 BC

The great causes in the progress of mankind – freedom, justice, democracy, the abolition of slavery -- often have deep roots, lost in the mists of the ancient world. But the cause of female empowerment, I think, can be given a pretty firm birth-date: 463 BC.

The ancient world was an inhospitable place for women. For more than a thousand years, the lives of women in ancient China were described as “unbearable”, and they were likely to have, not names, but numbers, i.e. “Daughter Number Two”. In theory women of ancient Egypt had legal rights but in practice they were seen as second-class citizens and child-bearers only. Greek women had little control over their own lives, virtually no property of their own, and virtually no rights.

Misogyny in Greece extended to the arts. The Greeks didn’t want women writing plays, performing plays, or even seeing plays in the audience – according to some accounts, “proper” women would never dare see a show, and only the prostitutes and female slaves would show up.

Enter Aeschylus. In 463 BC, women suddenly had a new voice, or at least an advocate. Aeschylus’s play The Suppliants told of the daughters of Danaus, who were fleeing for their lives to avoid arranged marriages. Five years later he told the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra: Agamemnon agreed to slaughter his own daughter in order to appease the gods and win favour on the battlefield, whereupon his wife (the girl’s mother) killed him and was killed in turn by her son and daughter.

A few years later, Sophocles followed with Antigone, about a woman who defies the death penalty in order to give her dead brother a decent burial.

And then the big one, Euripedes.

Euripedes was a trailblazer, a destroyer of conventions, and like most such men he paid a price for it. In an age in which playwrights were creating characters, kings and gods, who were impossibly grand and noble, Euripedes was truly the first realistic artist, showing humanity in all its folly, warts and all. Sophocles admitted that he portrayed characters as they ought to be, whereas Euripedes portrayed people as they really are.

In a civilization which treated women with contempt, Euripedes put women downstage center to tell the story of life and war from their point of view. To Euripedes, women mattered.

Euripides, starting in 438 BC, gave us plays which said a lot about female sacrifice. First, the play Alcestis, about a wife who agrees to die in place of her husband; Medea, about the Mother Of All Nasty Divorces; Hippolytus, about a woman who dies for love; Heracles’ Children, about a girl agreeing to be sacrificed to appease the gods.

Euripedes’ women, on stage, began to grow in power. Next he wrote Andromache, a woman who saves herself and her child from death; Hecuba, who avenges her child’s murder; Ion, about rape and infanticide; The Trojan Women, about war’s impact on women; Electra and Orestes, retelling the Agamemnon story; the Iphigenia plays, about a woman who agrees to die for her country and is later rescued; Helen, who finds and reconciles with her husband and escapes a horny king who wants to marry her; and The Phoenician Woman, about women trapped in the middle of a war.

Even more striking for a man of the ancient world, Euripedes despised war and said so in his plays: he wrote “Trojan Women” just as the Athenians were mulling over the prospect of invading Sicily, a notion which repelled Euripides. But speaking out for women and against war, of course, cost Euripedes a lot: in the annual drama contests Euripedes was regularly defeated by lesser men, partly because he refused to kowtow to the judges, and he was constantly ridiculed by the more successful Aristophanes. In the end, of course, Euripedes was proved right: just after “Trojan Women” was staged, Athens invaded Sicily despite the objections of wiser men, the operation was a disaster, Athens’ enemies in Sparta and Persia formed an alliance, and within eleven years Athens itself was destroyed. Euripedes may have been comparatively lucky, however: a few years after the fall of Athens another iconoclast, Socrates, was executed.

Neatly enough, though, Euripedes seems to have shaken the will of his opponents. After Euripedes condemned war in script after script, his enemy Aristophanes wrote his own anti-war story, Lysistrata, about women forcing their men to end an endless war, by denying them sex. And like Euripedes, Aristophanes shows kings and generals as realistic, all too human, and he focuses on the women. Of course, Aristophanes being Aristophanes, his version is a lot funnier. But once again, women were downstage center, taking charge of the story.

Euripedes and Aristophanes both endure to this day because they appeal to all audiences: whether you favor or oppose the war of your own age, everyone can agree about the terrible toll which war takes not only on the men who fight but also their families. Homer endures for the same reason: his first book, “The Iliad”, tells us a lot about the folly of both men and gods, but his sequel, “The Odyssey”, shows vividly how even the victors suffered terribly.

Oh, and a footnote about Berthe Morisot. She was a painter of a century ago, who not only managed to shove her way into the ultra-male Paris art world, but also defied the existing traditions of all the male artists painting Hercules and Napoleon killing people. Instead she focused on depicting women and girls simply living their lives: reading a book, picking cherries, playing with their children. Women and girls mattered to Morisot, as they did to Euripedes. Of course by painting women and children she also made life easier for her husband, who was worried about her spending long hours painting male models. So, as often in the world of women, multiple motives were at work.

And she also painted a portrait that is a dead ringer for my two daughters.

Sunday 13 December 2009

a party for dead people

Tonight was a meeting of people who shouldn't be alive.

My youngest daughter was abandoned to die, at birth, in the woods; she has overcome almost total blindness, allergy to sunlight, and infectious disease that drove her temperature to 106. My wife was so sickly at birth that her family was told she would never be born alive, and she has a long laundry list of medical conditions. I was born under similar circumstances, and I’ve come within inches of death several times, in addition to foreign folks having a price on my head years ago (plus cancer). My oldest daughter was born in a Siberian prison, abused, and abandoned; along the way she survived a head injury and two bouts of pneumonia.

By all the laws of probability, there is no way the four of us should all be alive, and together this Christmas.

Tonight I learned that the four of us are a bunch of sissies.

Tonight the four of us met another member of the club. This was a friend of a friend, a woman from Tanzania, an albino like my daughter. She spent most of her time being fed soup by our friends, because she has no arms. Hired thugs working for African witch doctors hacked off her arms and left her to die of blood loss or infection – the body parts of albinos are believed to have magical powers in eastern Africa. She miraculously survived, and managed to get all the way to America to get prosthetics, which she hasn’t received yet. When she was done eating, she sat, serene, and sang quite happy African songs. If you had to pick the trauma victim out of all the people in that room, you never would have guessed it was her – she had the kind of calm that Buddha would envy. She didn’t even flinch at coming from a boiling equatorial country to below-freezing weather. The women who had hosted the party were crying like babies, but this woman never even blinked.

For a minute I thought the five us should go to the 711 and buy a lottery ticket for Christmas, because clearly the laws of probability don’t apply to us. On the other hand, maybe we’ve used up all our good luck.

But we’re all having a merrier Christmas than we really should be having.

Incidentally, my blind daughter. While we were with the woman from Tanzania, she was in the other room with the other children. First she destroyed all of them at chess, even though she could hardly see the chess pieces. Then she destroyed all of them at air hockey, even though she could hardly see the puck.

Air hockey.

The season of miracles indeed.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Wednesday 2 December 2009