My empathy meter went so high it shattered

If you suffer from migraines, read this from a fellow sufferer.  You may well see yourself in the opinion piece, although I’m grateful that I never suffered migraines as severe as those that affected Ms. Hustvedt.  Certainly, though, I suffered from the enough to make parts of my life really hellish, and had headaches with greater frequency than the author did, but I avoided the seizures!  Migraines are a curse and sometimes the only relief is to know that you’re not alone.

The risk of gay sex

AIDS is a disease that does not distinguish between race, religion, sex, or national origin. Like all diseases, it is opportunistic, and thrives when behaviors provide perfect incubation and vector situations. The promiscuity that characterized gay sex in the late 1970s and 1980s was the perfect petri dish for the disease to transition from obscure illness to world epidemic. It was never a “gay disease” — ’cause diseases do not indulge in identity politics — nor was it a “punishment from God” — which implies an intelligence directing the disease towards people of a certain identity. It was simply a disease that benefited from behaviors most common to gay men. And once it got its start, of course, it was able to find other niches — drug users, hemophiliacs, prostitutes, etc.

This little AIDS lecture is not just about history. Sadly, it’s also about the present, since gay sexual practices again seem to be strengthening for release on the general population another disease that, while not deliberately selecting people based on their sexual identity, nevertheless thrives when opportunity presents:

A new variety of staph bacteria, highly resistant to antibiotics and possibly transmitted by sexual contact, is spreading among gay men in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles, researchers reported Monday.

The study released online by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found the highest concentrations of infection by the drug-resistant bug in and around San Francisco’s Castro district and among patients who visit health clinics that treat HIV infections in gay men in San Francisco and Boston.

The culprit is a form of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bug that was once confined to hospitalized patients but, since the late 1990s, has been circulating outside medical settings, afflicting anyone from injection-drug users to elementary school students. A strain called USA300 has been a leading cause of MRSA infection in this decade, and an exceptionally drug-resistant variant of it is now on the loose, researchers say.

The study estimated that 1 in 588 residents living within the Castro neighborhood 94114 ZIP code area is infected with that variant, which is resistant to six types of commonly used antibiotics. The risk of contracting this difficult-to-treat bug is 13 times greater for gay men than for the rest of the city’s population, researchers found.

“We probably had it here first, and now it is spreading elsewhere,” said Binh An Diep, a researcher at San Francisco General Hospital and lead author of the report. “This is a national problem, and San Francisco is at the epicenter.”

The germ typically causes boils and other skin and soft-tissue infections and, despite its resistance to some drugs, is still treatable by surgical drainage and several classes of antibiotics. What is unusual in this case is the high percentage of infections – up to 40 percent – occurring in the buttocks and genitalia.

Although researchers have stopped short of declaring this form of staph a sexually transmitted disease, the infections are found where skin-to-skin contact occurs during sexual activity.

I would urge gay men to remember the hard-learned lessons of the AIDS era. Then, flush with their new political identity, they rebuffed any attacks to restrain their sexual practices on the ground that those efforts were homophobic and that the only thing to be done was for the government to throw money at the disease in the hopes of a quick remedy. Sadly, AIDS was resistant to any quick remedies and the time wasted on those political battles — even as epic sexual practices flourished unchecked — meant the difference between a possibly controllable endemic disease and a worldwide epidemic disease. It also meant the deaths of tens of thousands of gay men because, politics notwithstanding, in America they were always the most likely to be the disease’s victims.

With that history in mind, the first thing for gay men to do now is to resurrect the safe sex practices that they put into place when they realized the government couldn’t save them, practices that seem to have fallen by the wayside as the AIDS specter retreated before useful, life-prolonging symptomatic treatments. Otherwise, we may find that an endemic disease that could have been fairly easily squashed will become an epidemic disease that places us back in the bad old days before antibiotics. And if you need a reminder of what those bad old days were, remember that the British poet Rupert Brookes died during WWI, not from a war injury, but from an infected mosquito bite.

Quick picks *UPDATED*

The kids are back in school and I thought the house would fall silent and I would blog again. However, it turns out — and this is very flattering — that there were a lot of people who wanted to talk to me but felt they couldn’t while the kids were around. I’ve spent the last two hours on the phone with people who really, really needed to have my ear. So, blogging this morning will be somewhat abbreviated, and will boil down to my sharing with you somethings I found interesting.

The first thing I found interesting was the fact that both the WaPo and the WSJ expressed real dismay at the fact that the Dem candidates are engaging in truly unseemly contortions in their efforts to deny the Surge’s success. If this is just political expediency, it reflects poorly on their character. If it’s a genuine psychological inability to recognize the situation on the ground, its very scary that people who propose themselves as our Commander in Chief are laboring under that kind of mental handicap. At minimum, I’d like the person with his (or her) finger on the button to exist in the real world, and not suffer from monomaniacal delusions.

Speaking of delusions, Dennis Prager challenges the claim that Barack Obama is a “uniter.” This claim is, of course, ridiculous on its face. Obama is bound and determined to withdraw troops from Iraq instanter, if not sooner, as a colleague of mine used to say, while I’m an equally firm believer in staying in Iraq until the situation is completely stabilized for the US’s benefit. Where’s the middle road on that one? How in the heck is he going to “unite” his and my entirely disparate views? Here’s Dennis’ take on the real meaning behind the “unity” claim:

If those who call for unity told the whole truth, this is what they would say: “I want everyone to unite — behind my values. I want everyone who disagrees with me to change the way they think so that we can all be united. I myself have no plans to change my positions on any important issues in order to achieve this unity. So in order to achieve it, I assume that all of you who differ with me will change your views and values and embrace mine.”

If people from opposing viewpoints listening to Barack actually think he stands for their position, it’s because Barack is prevaricating and obfuscating. If he were clear and honest about his positions (and he is clear and honest about the War), approximately half the electorate would not view him as a uniter, but would view him as someone who could not possibly represent their interests.

Incidentally, Fred Siegel addresses much the same issue — Barack’s alleged universality — when he points out that those he knows who like Obama are completely unable to articulate what it is they like about him beyond a pretty face and nice voice. Many are also impressed by his Ivy League credentials, something that utterly fails to impress me. As I’ve mentioned before, while I’m sure there have been lots of good lawyers who emerged from Harvard Law in the last 20 years, I haven’t met them. Without exception, the Harvard lawyers I have met, have been almost stunningly inept. Many have been smart and nice, but all of them have ranked in the bottom 5th of lawyers I’ve worked with or appeared against. For me, a Harvard Law degree is like a big red warning sign. And if you are a wonderful, intelligent, incredibly competent Harvard lawyer reading this, my apologies. Clearly, I just haven’t met you, so you haven’t been able to un-skew my view.

On a completely different subject, let’s talk about vaccination. I’m a huge proponent of vaccination, something I think results both from the fact that I’m a history lover and I have older parents. The history part means that I’ve read about all the horrible epidemics that decimated childhood populations. Even in the 20th Century, although the US was able to reduce the 50% child mortality that existed in all prior eras and other places, polio was still a nightmare disease that hung over childhood until the Salk vaccine came along. My parents had measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria. I carry a discrete chicken pox scar on my face. The diseases are real and the consequences can be significant. As the diseases receded, though, people started fearing the vaccines’ side effects, even though those side effects, in all cases, have been minute compared to the disease risks. The latest fear was the fear that the preservative in many childhood vaccines caused autism. Yet another study has dis-proven this fear. I hope that finding encourages parents who were holding off on vaccines to give the subject another thought.

Here’s another wild jump in topic. The New York Times has a moderately interesting article about gephyrophobia — the fear of bridges. I’ve always found bridges concerning, perhaps because I grew up in earthquake country. My vague fear solidified completely when I saw the first Superman movie, back in 1978. (PLOT SPOILER HERE FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE.) As you may recall, Lex Luthor’s nefarious plot involved creating a massive earthquake to get rid of California entirety, so that the Nevada property he’d purchased cheap would become valuable beach front property. When he successfully gets an earthquake going, the Golden Gate Bridge collapses. (SPOILER OVER.) As a kid in San Francisco, that image stuck with me — and was reinforced during 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake, when a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, killing one woman. I never got to the point where I avoided bridges, but I can’t say that I enjoy them.

Another topical leap: Your child and mine can now get college credit — at a taxpayer funded college — learning how to be gay. Yup, it’s truly no child left behind, or no child’s behind left alone, I’m not sure which. The famous university-level Mickey Mouse classes have just risen (or sunk) to a whole new level.

Whenever honor killings occur, whether in Canada or Texas, the usual suspects emerge to explain that honor killings and other acts of abuse against women have nothing to do with Islam, and that it’s just a bizarre coincidence that they keep cropping up in the Islamic community. Robert Spencer, however, got wind of a Yemeni columnist who wants nothing to do with this politically correct horse pucky. He’s quite clear on the fact that Islam demands the physical abuse of women — for their own good, of course.

And for now, th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

UPDATE: Whoops! I missed it. Fred Barnes also tackled the Dems’ peculiar aversion to the truth about the Surge.

UPDATE II: I like Bret Stephens’ take on the silliness of Obama’s constant promise to end American division in future:

Barack Obama, still fresh from his victory in Iowa last week and confident of another in New Hampshire tonight, has as his signature campaign theme the promise to “end the division” in America. Notice the irony: The scale of his Iowa victory, in a state that’s 94% white, is perhaps the clearest indication so far that the division Mr. Obama promises to end has largely been put to rest.

Of course, Barack’s Iowa victory may also cast into the light something I’ve already noted: Barack’s not really black. Sure, he’s got a genetic black inheretence, and he likes obsessing about his blackness, but his youthful influences and his education were mainstream white — something American blacks might notice.

UPDATE IIIChristopher Hitchens also examines the icky obsession with Obama’s race and suggests that, if you have questions about his racial views, you might want to check out the website for the Church with which Obama is publicly affiliated.  (Hat tip:  The Anchoress.)

Brits suffering from self inflicted yorking and just plain bad luck

Yesterday, I read that the British health care and ambulance services had been devastated by New Year’s drunkenness, a self-inflicted illness for which I, as a tee-totaller, have little sympathy. If you vomit because you got blitzed, serves you right.

Today, however, I read something that caused me to feel serious sympathy for the beleaguered, vomiting Brits. Apparently norovirus has hit England’s shores in a big way:

Calls to NHS Direct soared over the extended Christmas break as hundreds of thousands of people fell ill with a violent stomach bug.

More than 1.2m people logged on to the NHS Direct website or called for advice over the 11-day period, more than two thirds higher than the same time last year. Dental pain was the most common complaint followed by vomiting and abdominal pain.

The NHS advises patients affected to stay at home for 48 hours after they last suffered the symptoms

The figures confirm warnings from doctors and Government scientists that cases of the winter vomiting bug, called norovirus, have reached the highest level for five years.

Almost two million people are thought to have suffered with the two-day vomiting and diarrhoea bug between the beginning of September and the first week in December.

New cases will peak in the next month and doctors warned up to 200,000 a week could fall ill as schools and offices return after the Christmas break.

A staggering 1,122,874 people contacted NHS Direct during the extended 11-day Christmas and New Year break.

As someone who used to be vulnerable to stomach flu; who suffered from severe morning sickness 24/7 for the entirety of both her pregnancies; and who has been hospitalized twice with severe food poisoning, there are few things that elicit more sympathy from me then stomach flu.  I wish the Brits the best of luck in combating this problem.  I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the norovirus, which always crops up here occasionally, doesn’t become epidemic.

Britain begins outsourcing health care — to the patients

Britain’s ailing national health care system continues to try to heal itself, usually at patient’s expense. I don’t know about you, but this proposal doesn’t strike me as something that’s going to result in improved health care:

Millions of people with arthritis, asthma and even heart failure will be urged to treat themselves as part of a Government plan to save billions of pounds from the NHS budget.

Instead of going to hospital or consulting a doctor, patients will be encouraged to carry out “self care” as the Department of Health (DoH) tries to meet Treasury targets to curb spending.

The guidelines could mean people with chronic conditions:

• Monitoring their own heart activity, blood pressure and lung capacity using equipment installed in the home

• Reporting medical information to doctors remotely by telephone or computer

• Administering their own drugs and other treatment to “manage pain” and assessing the significance of changes in their condition

• Using relaxation techniques to relieve stress and avoid “panic” visits to emergency wards.

Gordon Brown hinted at the new policy in a message to NHS staff yesterday, promising a service that “gives all of those with long-term or chronic conditions the choice of greater support, information and advice, allowing them to play a far more active role in managing their own condition”.

The Prime Minister claimed the self-care agenda was about increasing patient choice and “personalised” services.

Government happy talk notwithstanding, a lot of Brits are also suspicion that this is an Orwellian plan where all patients are equal, but some are less equal than others:

But an internal Government document seen by The Daily Telegraph makes clear that the policy is a money-saving measure, a key plank of DoH plans to cut costs.

Critics claimed the plan would provide doctors with an excuse for ignoring the elderly or those with debilitating, but not life-threatening long-term conditions, and would not work without significant investment in community health services.

The Arthritis Research Campaign said it risked providing health managers with “an excuse for neglecting elderly patients”.

Jane Tadman, a spokesman for the charity, said: “Arthritis is already too low down the priority list and the fact that this is being mooted as a money-saving measure is very worrying.

“Some GPs don’t take arthritis seriously enough, and the result of this could be to give them another excuse to tell arthritis patients just to go away and take their tablets.”

The Patients’ Association welcomed more moves to empower patients, but warned against using self-care systems to save money.

“We are all for better-informed patients,” said Katherine Murphy, a spokesman. “But it is a concern that financial pressures will take precedence over clinical needs.”

Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “People affected by heart disease need specialist care. Whilst we support changes that empower people to look after their own health, we would be very concerned if they led to any reduction in the availability or quality of expert care for those who need it.”

You really can’t blame the government, though, for this somewhat inane proposal. What we’re seeing is the inevitably of nationalized health care.  For a long time, Europeans enjoyed a strong economy (in England, aided by Thatcher’s reforms), and mainland Europe especially benefited, for many years, from the American military presence that removed Europe’s obligation to put money into its own defense infrastructure. A failing health care service is also probably inevitable when you have a declining (that is, shrinking and aging) native work population, and an influx of immigrants who rely on the system but either don’t work or work in such low paying jobs that they can contribute little to the system on which they rely. In other words, the government is doing its best to deal with a whole bunch of economic chickens coming home to roost.

Another tale of a failed government initiative regarding health care

I won’t quibble with the need to distribute health care more evenly across America.  I will fight, though, against putting health care in the government’s hands.  Think of the DMV, think of airport security, think of the IRS, think of any interaction you’ve had with a government entity that has no competition, and tell me if that’s how you want your health care run.  And if you need a reminder, read this tragic story out of England:

Scores of premature babies may be dying unnecessarily across England because the NHS mismanaged a reform of neonatal units in 2003, parliament’s spending watchdog reveals today.

Health ministers provided £73m over three years to link up hospital neonatal units in 23 regional networks that could provide specialist services to save premature and low birth weight babies.

But the National Audit Office finds that the Department of Health did not issue instructions for the units to be adequately staffed. As a result the service was overstretched. Its specialist nursing workforce was nearly 10% below strength. There were not enough cots to respond to every emergency and there was a lack of specialist 24-hour transport to move babies and mothers to other hospitals.

Jacqui Smith, when health minister in 2003, said she agreed with recommendations from the British Association for Perinatal Medicine for minimum staffing ratios. But the government did not order NHS trusts to implement them.

The NAO says there was “confusion” over whether staffing ratios were mandatory, making it difficult for unit managers to convince NHS trusts they needed more staff.

Half the 180 units providing neonatal services did not meet the approved ratio for high dependency care of one nurse to two babies. And only 24% met the intensive care ratio of one nurse to one baby.

That is the kind of often well-intentioned inefficiency that characterizes government bureaucracies, and that is how people — especially the most helpless people — die.

Prediction: Small businesses flee California; economy craters

On what do I base the prediction in the title of this post?  On this story:

California’s Assembly on Monday approved Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan for universal health insurance, as overhauling health care grows as a prominent issue in the 2008 presidential election.

The compromise legislation, which passed by a vote of 46 to 31, was hammered out by the Republican governor and Fabian Nunez, speaker of California’s Democrat-led Assembly.

While a handful of other states have revamped their systems, California’s plan for its 36 million people is seen as a potential model for a national reform.

The $14 billion plan must also win approval from the state Senate and voters even as the most populous U.S. state faces an expected $14 billion gap in its budget.

Under the plan, insurers could not deny coverage regardless of age or medical history and must spend at least 85 cents of every premium dollar on patient care.

Everyone in California would be required to buy health insurance, which would be more affordable for the low-income individuals who are among the state’s 6.5 million uninsured.

The bill would provide funding for community clinics in a bid to save money and ease stress on overcrowded emergency rooms, which provide the most expensive health care and act as a safety net for the uninsured.

Revenue to pay for the new plan would come from taxes on hospitals, cigarettes and employers who do not provide health insurance.  (Emphasis mine.)

California is already a hellish business environment for small businesses.  Now, it will be worse.

You also appreciate the nice little circular logic that shifts the costs from insurance to hospitals, that will in turn shift the cost back to insurance, with all the costs inevitably ending up on the backs of the small employers who couldn’t afford to provide health insurance in the first place.  This isn’t affordable health care.  It’s health care aimed at destroying innovation, initiative and all the other virtues one associates with small business.