Friday, December 08, 2006

The Limits of Medicine

That's the book I'm currently reading (ISBN 0-226-30207-5). It's about "how science shapes our hope for the cure." Dr. Ed Golub, a well know immunologist, tells us how we have given credit to medicine in improving our lives when the credit really belongs to other factors. Our lives have been extended, not primarily due to medical discoveries, but to public health. We live longer today because of sanitation, access to clean water, personal hygiene and a higher standard of living. I've only just gotten into the first few chapters. Dr. Golub does a really good job pointing out how until recently disease and early death were so pervasive that there was very little comment on it. It's just the way things were. In 17th century France one person in four died before his first birthday. Another one in four died before their 20th birthday and another quarter never reached the age of 45. Dr. Golub quotes Voltaire concerning Rousseau first visit to Paris in 1742.
"The strong smell of excrement pervaded the environment, and the stench of public places was both terrible and ceaselessly condemned. The vile smelling effluvia of the faubourg St.-Marcel de Justice, in the Louvre, in the Tuileries, at the Museum, even at the Opera...the quays revolted the sense of smell." Excrement was everywhere: in alleys; at the foot of milestones; in cabs; in the gutters into which the cesspools were emptied; on the urine-stained walls of houses.
Things weren't much better in this country. NYC in 1865:
Domestic garbage and filth of every kind is thrown into the streets, covering their surface, filling the gutters, obstructing the sewer culverts, and sending forth perennial emanations which must generate pestiferous disease.
Is there any wonder that there was pestiferous disease? People died from infections due to their living conditions. But survival rates increased long before the discoveries of antibiotics and most vaccines. Remember, in 1865, the germ theory of disease was not commonly accepted in the medical community. Especially in the USA at that time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dec 7th

Dec. 7, 1941 7:55 AM Pear Harbor was attacked. It's also the anniversary of my PhD thesis defense. A date I specifically chose because of its significance.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Do Only Conservatives Have Common Sense?

What is common sense? I like the idea that it is what people would “sense in common” as their natural understanding. What “common people” would agree upon (Both from Wikipedia)? Albert Einstein said “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18.” I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a “common sense” conservative. According to “Source Watch” A common sense conservative is an often-radical advocate of right-wing politics who adopts the rhetoric of so-called "common sense" (a concept much debated in philosophy) and outward aspects of "conservatism" (a resentment of social welfare systems and usually also immigration) in order to advance this radical agenda. I even found a “common sense” Bill of Rights which all begin with “you do not have a right”. Even “compassionate conservatives” have their common sense rules. For example:

Well, I think that when you receive something for free, there should be some common sense restrictions on how you live. When I was growing up, if I borrowed my parents' car, there were things I could and couldn't do. If I broke their rules: no car.

Similarly, those who receive government help should be held to certain basic requirements. They should have a real job, for example, or be out every day actively looking for one. McDonalds is always hiring — just look at their signs on any street corner. Minimum wage sure beats no wage.

After that, those living on the public dole should be held to standards of personal pride and respectability. Their yards shouldn't be unsightly and all grown up with weeds. Their houses shouldn't be peeling paint, or their windows unwashed. Assuming they aren't just wandering around the streets, these people should also have to take a bath every few days, put on clean clothes, and even keep their hair trimmed neatly. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness, as the old folks used to say back before the Federal government took over being our savior.
If you want a “common sense” President you should vote for John McCain.

“Common sense conservatives believe in a short list of self-evident truths: love of country; respect for our unique influence on history; a strong defense and strong alliances based on mutual respect and mutual responsibility; steadfast opposition to threats to our security and values that matches resources to ends wisely; and confident, reliable, consistent leadership to advance human rights, democracy, peace and security.
Of course I’m pretty sure that does not include “mutual respect” for progressives and the “far left radicals”. It is a conservative doctrine that liberals do not have common sense.

Americans are rightly proud of their tradition of common sense. They are gratefully aware that it has saved them time and again from various kinds of ideological irrationality and extremism, and, to a lessening extent, still does so today. But what is this common sense? It is nothing other than the non-conceptual application of conservative, or at least non-liberal, principles. Americans inchoately recognize that the only way to forestall liberalism’s inherent tendency to extremism is to abandon liberalism on those occasions when it threatens to “go too far.”
So I’m turning to Professor George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Lakoff’s book talks about “frames” and how conservatives use frames (liberals do too, but they aren’t as good at it). Think about the term “tax relief” or “death tax”…taxation is a burden and unfair punishment on the little guy. You can find an interview with George Lakoff at (commie website).

Lakoff describes liberal common sense like this:
It is natural for liberals to see the federal government as a strong, nurturant parent, responsible for making sure that the basic needs of its citizens are met: food, shelter, education, health care, and opportunities for self-development. A government that lets many of its citizens go hungry, homeless, uneducated, or sick while the majority of its citizens have more, often much more ... is an immoral, irresponsible government.
And conservative common sense like this:
To them, social programs amount to coddling people – spoiling them. Instead of having to fend for themselves, people can depend on the public dole. This makes them morally weak, removing the need for self-discipline and will-power. ... A morally justifiable social program might be something like disaster relief to help self-disciplined and generally self-reliant people get back on their feet after a flood or fire or earthquake. ... If people were not rewarded for being self-disciplined and punished for being slothful, there would be no self-discipline, and society would break down. Therefore, any social or political system in which people get things they don’t earn, or are rewarded for lack of self-discipline or for immoral behavior, is simply an immoral system.
Clearly, conservatives use their version of common sense to “appeal to the masses” (a logical fallacy). Whatever it is that most people believe, then that is the correct answer. If a belief is widely held it must be correct.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fiji Coup

There was another military coup in Fiji recently. What kind of military does Fiji have you ask? Well, about 3000 members in their army and 300 in their navy. Fiji actually sends about 1/3 of their troops overseas under UN auspices. More about the Fiji military here at the Republic of Fiji Military Forces webpage.