16 November, 2009

You Know Who You Are...

In July of 2007 I was diagnosed with relatively severe prostate cancer. From mid-September of that year, for nine weeks, I underwent proton radiation therapy at Loma Linda Medical Center in CA.

The chart above shows my PSA levels 1) At the time of diagnosis, and 2) intervals since. So far so good.

I post this for o
nly one reason. There are those of you who are of such maturity that you should be having your PSA levels checked annually, but for various reasons you're not. Please, even if you aren't concerned for yourself, think of those others who are concerned about you.

28 October, 2009

25 October, 2009

Living in Pre-Rational America

When speaking and writing, I often refer to the place and time in which I find myself as "Pre-Rational America". In as much as I have been both queried and challenged as to my use of that term, allow me to offer the following evidence for my assertion:

According to a Harris poll:

82 percent of adult Americans believe in God,

79% believe heaven is a real place,

75% believe in angels,

Not only do 74% believe that Jesus is God or the son of God, but 72% accept the resurrection as fact and 60% that he was born of a virgin,

69% believe the soul survives death and 62% think both hell and Satan are real,

41% believe in ghosts,

35% in UFOs,

31% in witches,

29% in Astrology, and

21% in reincarnation.

Contrast all this to the fact that only 42% of Americans accept Evolution by Natural Selection as fact, and you are well on your way to understanding why I hold today's Americans in such disdain.

15 October, 2009

Damn. Just Damn

I lost my best and most loyal friend this morning, and there is a hole in my life that will take a long while to fill.

Nellie died at about 9:50 am, on her favorite bed in my office.

It was a good thing, really. I had scheduled to have her put down a mere thirty minutes later, as it had become obvious her organs were shutting down due to end-stage liver disease. It was good, I think, that she died in familiar surroundings, with familiar sounds and smells until the last.

She had been diagnosed just three weeks ago, put on a course of “supportive” meds, and given three to six months to live. The end was sudden and unexpected. Until she stopped eating barely thirty-six hours earlier, there had been no sign that the end was so near. Just yesterday she eagerly joined me for a ride in the car as I ran some errands. When the sun rose this morning however,she was unable to even stand, and so I had called the vet and made arrangements. Thankfully they were not necessary.

Nellie was good to and for me. Unwilling to endure separations of more than a few minutes she followed me from room to room and dashed to the door at the slightest sign I was preparing to leave. A couple of times a day, indoors or out, she would assume a play bow, tail wagging, and commence to chase me until, generally after only a dozen steps or so she caught me; then rolled over on her back in anticipation of her celebratory belly rub.

On the one occasion a few years ago that the flu laid me up for a few days, the only times she left her station on the floor beside my bed was to join me on it. When I was away undergoing cancer treatment in California, she became depressed and sullen during the week, only to erupt in joy and play when I came home on the weekends.

I’ve had a half-dozen dogs in my lifetime, but Nellie was special beyond words. Feisty and tough, it took months to earn her trust but, once earned, no amount of gruffness on my part could stop her tail from wagging or dissuade her from being near.

Goodbye faithful old friend. I will grieve for you until the day that I die.

12 October, 2009

Dismissing Karen Armstrong

The "Christian Science Monitor" had an effervescent book review this morning of Karen Armstrong's latest attempt to devolve the debate over gods and religions into her own personal Neverland of transcendent gobblygook. Mindful of Christopher Hitchens' comment, "That which can be asserted with no evidence can be dismissed with no evidence, I responded with the following:

So Ms Armstrong thinks atheists have a shallow understanding of theology. Exactly how, I beg to ask, does one acquire a deep understanding of the invisible and the non-existent?

What Ms Armstrong is really doing, although she will be the first to deny it, is inventing her own peculiar god, one that is less likely to set off the alarm bells of cognitive dissonance that apparently haunt her understanding of the traditional god of the Abrahamic faiths.

While she may be correct is in identifying within the human spirit a desire for "the transcendent"; where she errs is in assuming that it takes a god or religion to fulfill that desire.

The wonders opened up to us by science, from the cosmic to the sub-atomic, can be just as satisfactory a source of the awe she seeks as the invisible nothing she worships. The love of family and friends, the beauty of nature, and the joy of fine wine or good poetry are far more real examples of a transcendence we can experience than any of the pap she serves up. The fact that we are all made of stardust, along with the knowledge that we are the only life forms on earth capable of that understanding, is transcendent experience enough to last a lifetime. Indeed, that we were so lucky to have been born at all, considering the incredible odds, is enough to set spirits soaring as no phony, contrived belief system can ever do.

Sorry, but Ms Armstrong's latest swipe at the rational is no more compelling than her previous attempts to justify mythology at the expense of reality.

08 October, 2009

Why the Left is as Wrong as the Right on Healthcare

I am not a conservative, at least not in the contemporary meaning of that word. At worst, I am a classical liberal – see Jefferson, Madison, Locke, Mills, et al.

That said, let me be perfectly clear: I not only do not want to pay for someone else’s healthcare – or rent, groceries, or anything else – I feel absolutely no moral obligation to do so. (That said, our family voluntarily gives an above-average proportion of our annual income to charity.)

You see, I stayed in high school rather than dropping out for a job in the local shoe factory. I struggled through college, with a combination of (non-government) loans and part-time jobs.

When I began my career, I went to work every day – never skipping a day because I stayed up late watching Johnny Carson, or because I was too hung-over from a night of partying.

So that I could save my money, what little I made early on, I drove a used car and watched a black and white TV when everyone else had the newest color set.

I never smoked cigarettes, nor did I ever “do” dope.

I only had children after I was 1) gainfully employed, 2) married, and 3) could afford them.

As much as I could have used and highly desired more pay and better benefits, I was also keenly aware that if my employer was unable to make a profit he would be equally unable to provide me with a job.

I was just about the last person I know to have a home computer or a cell phone, and my cell today is, well, a phone – it doesn’t play movies or songs, or surf the internet.

When friends and relatives were taking nice vacations to Mexico or Europe, my family was spending a weekend in a rustic cabin in the woods a short drive from where I lived.

Now I’m not saying I lived a perfect life. I made mistakes, spent some money I should have saved, and screwed up an investment or three.

But my lower-middle class, factory worker family raised me to be self-sufficient, not to expect nor look for a hand-out from government nor anyone else. The point being I got to where I am today trying to do things the right way, and succeeding at same a bit more often than not.

Today some folks, including “friends” on Facebook and elsewhere, are telling me how selfish and unreasonable I am for not wanting to pay higher taxes and/or burden my children and grandchildren with high inflation and lower economic growth so that people who spent their entire lives making poor decisions and being selfish and irresponsible can enjoy the same benefits that I have earned.

What the Marxist Left is really doing is not only rewarding, but encouraging even more, indolence and irresponsibility and, in the process, undermining both the proud heritage and the future of our nation.

I not only oppose such an approach, I consider it to be immoral as well as depraved indifference to reality.

Thanks, but no thanks.

24 September, 2009

The Crux of the Issue

In spite of the feigned emergency on the part of PBO and the Marxist left, there are only about 10 million Americans who need and want health insurance (as opposed to healthcare, which is available all the time), about 3.3% of our population. The rest of the “uninsured” are composed of about 26 million (mostly young) who can afford health insurance but have chosen to not purchase it and 12 million illegal immigrants.

The real issue therefore becomes whether we create another huge entitlement program, raise taxes, and run ever larger deficits in order to give the Federal government control of the 74% of the healthcare industry it still does not dominate, or whether we limit our focus to those 10 million who really need help and at the same time institute market reforms to improve the affordability of insurance and healthcare for everyone else without bankrupting our nation and burdening future generations.

23 September, 2009

Important! From e-SKEPTIC

Swine Flu Vaccine Fearmongering

by Dr Harriet Hall, MD

Fear is a curious thing. It often bears no relation to the actual risk of what we fear. When swine flu first broke out in Mexico, people were understandably afraid. Travel was restricted, schools were closed, and so many people stayed home that the streets of Mexico City were empty. As the disease spread around the world, Egypt developed a paranoid fear of pigs and committed national pigicide. They ordered the slaughter of all 300,000 of their country’s innocent little porkers, ignoring the fact that the flu is spread person-to-person, not pig-to-person. Now that the disease has officially been labeled a pandemic, fears have switched from the real threat of the disease to an imagined danger from the vaccine.

Some people just plain hate the idea of vaccines — to the point that they are willing to spread old falsehoods, make up new lies, distort the results of studies, misrepresent statistics, and endanger our public health. There are websites like “Operation Fax to Stop the Vax” and even anti-swine-flu-vaccine rap videos. Press releases, e-mail campaigns, talk shows, and blogs are being used to stir up irrational fears. These people are irresponsible fearmongers. They are wrong, and they are dangerous.


The 1918 flu. The flu epidemic of 1918 started as a mild disease in the spring, called the “3-day fever.” Most victims recovered in a few days; there were few deaths. Then in the fall, it turned into something far more severe. It was the same flu strain, but it had become more virulent. Some victims died within hours. Healthy young adults were as susceptible as children and the elderly. It affected remote villages as well as urban areas. It attacked 1/5 of the world’s population and killed 50 million people.

Wartime conditions may have favored the evolution of a more virulent strain. In peacetime, the sicker stay put and the mildly affected move around. In the trenches, the mildly affected stayed on duty and the sicker were sent on crowded trains to crowded field hospitals. Today, places with social upheaval might have similar effects favoring a virulent strain.

The 1976 swine flu. In February, 1976 a strain of H1N1 influenza similar to the 1918 strain killed a soldier at Fort Dix. Officials feared a pandemic and over-reacted. In actuality, the H1N1 strain was limited to the Fort Dix area and quickly died out, and another related strain only persisted until March. Nevertheless, a swine flu vaccine was developed and was given to 48,000,000 Americans, 22 percent of the population. The vaccination program was stopped in December after 532 cases of paralysis from Guillain-Barré syndrome were linked to the vaccine and 25 people died. It had been a false alarm, and more people died of the vaccine than of the disease. The risk of getting Guillain-Barré from the vaccine was approximately 1 in 100,000.

The 2009 swine flu. Between April 15 and July 24, 2009, there were 43,771 confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”) in the U.S. There were 5,011 hospitalizations and 302 deaths, 39 percent among those aged 25 to 49, in contrast to the usual flu where 90 percent of the deaths are in people over age 65. For comparison, the more common strains of flu have been killing around 36,000 people a year in the U.S. Swine flu has been declared a phase 6 pandemic by the World Health Organization: that is a measure of its spread, not of its severity.

What are the chances that the new swine flu will follow the course of the 1918 flu? We have no way of knowing. All we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In addition to the annual flu vaccine for the usual common strains, a specific vaccine for the H1N1 strain is being prepared and tested to see whether one or two shots will be needed to produce a satisfactory immune response. So we may be offered as many as three shots this year. Supplies will be limited, at least in the short run, so the CDC has announced these priorities:

  • Pregnant women
  • Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
  • All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
  • Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

What if it fizzles out like the swine flu of 1976? That’s already ruled out: the 1976 flu had fizzled by March; the new swine flu hasn’t shown any signs of fizzling yet. We will be monitoring numbers of cases and vaccine complications very carefully, assessing the risk/benefit ratio, and we’re not likely to repeat the mistakes of 1976.

The Lies and Distortions vs. the Facts

I can’t hope to address all the misinformation that is circulating, and even if I could, more new lies would come out by the time I finished writing. Here are some of the ones I have heard. A correspondent in the Netherlands forwarded me an alarmist e-mail that is circulating in Europe.

Claim: It alleges that only one person has died of swine flu in the UK, and it questions whether he really had flu. It tells us “you are slated for vaccination against a disease which poses no credible threat whatsoever.”

Fact: As of August 27, the death toll in the UK was 66. As of Sept. 1, 2009, 2184 deaths had been reported worldwide. Most rational people would call that a credible threat.

Claim: Guillian-Barré Syndrome is a newly concocted name for a much more familiar condition: Polio.

Fact: Ridiculous! Polio is a distinct disease and its symptoms are very different from those of Guillain-Barré syndrome. A diagnosis of polio can be confirmed by finding the actual poliovirus particles in body secretions or cerebrospinal fluid. The last case of “wild polio” in the U.S. occurred in 1979. Polio has been eradicated in most countries; Guillain-Barré still occurs regularly in every country.

Claim: Guillain-Barré is still being caused by flu vaccines. A study based on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) found 54 cases of GBS reported after vaccination in the U.S. in 2004; 57 percent of these followed flu vaccines and the rest followed other vaccines.

Fact: The VAERS is a voluntary reporting system that accepts all reports of symptoms or illnesses that occurred after vaccination. It even accepted a fraudulent report claiming that a man had been turned into The Hulk by his influenza vaccine. To find out whether the VAERS reports mean anything, it is necessary to compare the incidence of the condition in those vaccinated to the incidence in the unvaccinated. Guillain-Barré syndrome affects 1 to 4 of every 100,000 people around the world every year, and the increased risk from vaccines is currently estimated at no more than one in a million.

Claim: It usually takes several years to test a drug and show that it is safe, but the swine flu vaccine is going to be fast-tracked for quick approval.

Fact: A new flu vaccine has to be developed every year to respond to the new strains that are constantly evolving. Time does not allow for the same kind of testing we require for approval of a new pharmaceutical. Time is even shorter for the swine flu this year. We have a lot of experience in producing new flu vaccines every year, and there is no reason to suspect that this year’s batches will be any more dangerous than usual. Because of fast-tracking, we will be monitoring very closely for side effects. We have a choice between fast-tracking and being prepared for a serious outbreak, or being slow and cautious and totally unprepared.

Claim: 4,000 people were afflicted with Guillain-Barré Syndrome in 1976.

Fact: At least 1 in 100,000 people would have gotten Guillain-Barré syndrome anyway. The excess cases attributed to the vaccine were estimated at 532 (some sources say half of that number), and most of them recovered fully; 25 deaths were attributed to the vaccine.

There are several websites where writers with a bad track record for scientific credibility (like Joseph Mercola and Gary Null) advocate vaccine refusal. The Health Freedom movement wants the government to forget about trying to protect the public and give us the freedom to harm ourselves by using untested, disproven, useless, or even dangerous treatments.

Claim: Legislation allows for you to be isolated or quarantined or “incarcerated in relocation centers” if you refuse vaccination during a declared Pandemic Emergency. This is a violation of human rights and of the Constitution.

Fact: If you have active TB, the government has not only the power but the responsibility to require treatment or quarantine so you don’t sit next to me on the bus and cough in my face. If you contract Ebola virus, I sure hope you will be quarantined to reduce the death toll. Quarantine is legal, is mandated by legislation, and is accepted by international law. Sometimes the duty to protect most of the people in a society temporarily trumps a few individual human rights. The government is not going to require quarantine unless there is a serious threat that demands action.

Claim: People should be allowed to “self-shield.” For self-shielding you go home lock the doors and stay there. Then you can try to further protect yourself with nano-silver, homeopathic remedies, cold packs, vitamins, flavonoids, zinc, astaxanthin, magnesium, and other stuff.

Fact: A self-imposed quarantine is better than nothing, but I question whether it would be effective in practice. The suggested (untested) remedies might conceivably keep people entertained so they are more willing to stay home.

Claim: The CDC and the American Academy of Neurologists have asked neurologists to be vigilant in looking for cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome in people who have been vaccinated. This is an admission that they know the vaccine will be dangerous.

Fact: They clearly said1 “they do not expect the 2009 H1N1 vaccine to increase the risk for the autoimmune disease” but since this is a concern with any pandemic vaccine, they will be on the alert. This is a good thing. If the incidence starts rising, they will know it earlier and be able to react more quickly than they did in 1976.

Claim: The threat of Guillain-Barré is a reason to reject vaccines.

Fact: No one understands what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome, but it can develop after an infection, surgery or vaccination. It is possible that people who develop GBS after vaccination might also have developed GBS after natural exposure to the disease. One expert said2,

From both the societal and individual perspectives, the risk of GBS after a flu shot pales in comparison to the risk of serious adverse events if infected with the influenza virus: 60 to 70 cases of GBS vs. 20,000 deaths from influenza. Keeping things on the same scale, people over 65 years of age can choose from a risk of one case of GBS per million people or 10,000 cases of hospitalization and 1500 deaths due to influenza.

Claim: Joseph Mercola writes about “Squalene: The Swine Flu Vaccine’s Dirty Little Secret.” He has claimed that the vaccine adjuvant squalene is dangerous, that the Gulf War Syndrome was caused by the squalene in anthrax vaccines, that squalene is “good” or “bad depending on how it gets into your body: “Injection is an abnormal route of entry which incites your immune system to attack all the squalene in your body, not just the vaccine adjuvant.” And the only reason they put adjuvants in vaccines is to save money.

Fact: Squalene is found naturally in the human body. It is a precursor of cholesterol and other compounds necessary to human health. Squalene antibodies were found in Gulf War veterans; but the rate turned out to be no higher in those who had Gulf War Syndrome than in those who didn’t. Squalene antibodies were found at similar rates in people who had never been exposed to squalene in vaccines. The anthrax vaccine has been ruled out as a possible cause of Gulf War Syndrome. Anyway, it turns out there was no squalene in the anthrax vaccine!

American flu vaccines do not contain adjuvants, but maybe they should. Adjuvants enhance the body’s innate immune response to the antigens in vaccines, making vaccines more effective. And they allow for broader cross-reactivity against viral strains not included in the vaccine3. Mercola says adjuvants are added just to increase profits, but the pharmaceutical and health industries could make far more money treating patients in an epidemic than they could ever make trying to prevent one.

There is a large body of data demonstrating the safety of squalene. Flu vaccines containing MF59, a squalene-based adjuvant, have been used in Europe for 10 years, with 22,000,000 doses given; and no serious adverse events have occurred, only mild local reactions. The vaccine does not raise the incidence or titers of anti-squalene antibodies. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers it safe4.

Claim: Flu vaccines are not very effective and don’t protect everyone. The effectiveness is particularly low in the elderly.

Fact: This claim is true, but… In recent years, flu vaccines have been 75 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations for flu, and 75 percent is way better than nothing. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. Flu vaccine is particularly problematic because of the constantly mutating strains of the virus. Nevertheless, the benefits of vaccines are clear. It is true that the elderly are not as well protected by the vaccine (efficacy rates have been estimated at 50 percent or less): that’s why it’s so important for younger people to be vaccinated, reducing the prevalence of the disease in the population and thereby reducing the likelihood of the elderly being exposed. In other words, don’t just get the flu shot for yourself, get it for Grandma.

Claim: Mercola says “Injecting organisms into your body to provoke immunity is contrary to nature.”

Fact: Nature kills people. Doing something contrary to nature is what medicine is all about. It’s a good thing.

Claim: “The potential for a weaponized vaccine to be the vector for a weaponized flu cannot be discounted.”

Fact: Most far-fetched conspiracy theories are wrong. I have no trouble discounting this one. The potential may be there, but the likelihood is homeopathic.

Claim: People should make their own decisions about their health care.

Fact: One of the basic principles of medical ethics is autonomy: patients have the right to accept or reject any treatment. Modern doctors try to involve the patient in the decision-making process, but most people are ill-equipped to make health decisions on their own without getting information and guidance from a health care professional. In a recent survey5, 30 percent of Americans believed that there had been a case of smallpox in the United States in the past five years, and 63 percent thought there had been a case somewhere in the world in the past five years. They didn’t know that the last case in the U.S. occurred in 1949 and the last case in the world occurred in 1977 in Somalia; 25 percent thought it was likely that they would die if they got the smallpox vaccine (the actual risk of death from the vaccine is one per million). People who are uninformed and scientifically illiterate are not capable of making rational decisions about health matters.

Mercola’s advice for preventing flu: Eliminate sugar and processed foods from your diet, take a high quality source of animal-based omega 3 fats like Krill Oil, exercise, optimize your vitamin D levels, get plenty of sleep, deal with stress, and wash your hands.

Fact: Washing your hands is a good idea.

Mercola claims: “Vitamin D deficiency is the likely cause of seasonal flu viruses.”

Fact: Now really! Vitamin D deficiency in a human body can no more “cause a virus” than it could “cause a cat.” Perhaps he meant vitamin D deficiency could predispose a body to infection, and there is some research to suggest that it might. Some have claimed that taking vitamin D supplements will prevent the flu, but there is no evidence to support that.

Mercola’s claims and arguments were decisively eviscerated on Science-Based Medicine by Dr. Joseph Albietz6. Not only are Mercola’s assertions demonstrably false, but they reveal a profound misunderstanding of immunology. Unfortunately, he reaches a large audience of scientifically naïve people who believe his every word.

In response to Dr. Albietz’s article, there were some interesting comments from readers that further demonstrate the anti-vaccine mindset and the ability to distort information to promote a cause.

Claim: The government is going to mandate that everyone get the swine flu vaccine.

Fact: No such proposal has been made. The government couldn’t do it even if it tried, because there won’t be enough doses to go around. That’s why they’ve issued recommendations prioritizing who should get the vaccine first.

Claim: George Bush signed an agreement that if a pandemic emergency arose and the President declared a national state of emergency, control of the government would be passed to the United Nations. Blue-helmeted UN soldiers would run our country and the Constitution would be suspended.

Fact: It was simply an agreement to facilitate international cooperation, to share information and enhance collaboration in the event of an emergency. It says nothing about the UN at all, much less about relinquishing sovereignty to the UN or any other organization. The actual agreement can be read online at www.spp.gov/pdf/nap_flu07.pdf

The same person pointed out that shots hurt and that alone should tell you something. “Yet you are willing to trust these people with your lives to make a vaccine that the Creator never intended the human body should need, and let them inject it into your body? You people are scary or insane!”

No, it is the anti-vaccine zealots who are scary. They are not insane, just self-deluded and misguided. I hope the swine flu won’t develop into a reprise of 1918; but if it does, the false information these people are spreading could be responsible for a great deal of death and suffering. Freedom of speech is a good thing, but this kind of fear-mongering is almost as bad as shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.


  1. ^ Press release from the American Academy of Neurology, August 31, 2009. Available online at: www.aan.com/press/?fuseaction=release.view&release=757
  2. ^ Grabenstein, J.D. 2000. “Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Vaccination: Usually Unrelated.” Hospital Pharmacy 36:2, 199–207. Available online at: www.factsandcomparisons.com/assets/hospitalpharm/IMM1.pdf
  3. ^ O’Hagan D.T. 2007. “MF59 is a Safe and Potent Vaccine Adjuvant that Enhances Protection Against Influenza Virus Infection.” Expert Rev Vaccines 6(5):699–710.
  4. ^ Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, World Health Organization. 2006. http://tinyurl.com/squalene-adjuvant
  5. ^ Blendon, R.J., et al. “The Public and the Smallpox Threat,” NEJM 348(5):p. 426–432. 2003. http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/348/5/426
  6. ^ Albietz, J. 2009. “A Defense of Childhood Influenza Vaccination and Squalene-Containing Adjuvants: Joseph Mercola’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’ Science-Based Medicine,” Aug 21. www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=851

11 September, 2009

Is it just me, or...?

Alright… No one else has mentioned it so I will.

In his speech the other night the President said, “Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.”

Think about that. First off he was claiming that there was 100 billion dollars a year of fraud and waste in Medicare and Medicaid, which liberals proudly point to as a shining example of how well government healthcare works. I’m sorry, but that gives me no reason to trust those same folks to run our healthcare system well at all. Extrapolating, we can expect to be losing three hundred billion dollars a year soon instead of “only” one-third that amount. Yippee.

However there is an even worse angle to all of this. Faced with a trillion dollar deficit in his budget without the healthcare initiative, why isn’t he feverishly attacking that problem now, recouping precious tax dollars and fixing an admittedly broken system? Is he saying it’s only worth ending the fraud and waste in those two programs if he gets his gargantuan grab, but not otherwise?

Some leader.

Some plan.

15 August, 2009

The ongoing kerfluffle over healthcare got me to thinking of Ben Franklin.

As he was leaving the final session of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked him, "What government have you given us, Mr. Franklin?"

"A Republic," he replied, "if you can keep it."

For more than a century
the Democratic party has intentionally and with malice whittled away at that Republic, being joined in that effort over the past couple of decades by the GOP.

Today we are at a precipice, where-upon 51% of the electorate can demand, and in many cases is demanding, that the other 49% pony up for the majority's every need and want. Healthcare is just another in a long line of such demands.

Our Founders would be mortified. Our Republic and its Constitution lie shredded on the floor of political greed and expediency.

09 August, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, & Statistics

In the ongoing debate on ObamaCare, many of my friends, and even more of my enemies, have been using their perception of the quality of U.S. healthcare as an argument for adopting Socialized Medicine. Two (to their minds) damaging statistics are the U.S. ranking in total life expectancy and also in infant mortality. A closer look at the stats however reveals a very different story. Following is an excerpt from a Reason Magazine article that addressed these misconceptions, with excellent source citations:

According to the World Health Organization, average life expectancy in Japan is 83 years; Australia, 82; Switzerland, 82; Canada, 81; Sweden, 81; Spain, 81; Italy, 81; France, 81; Germany, 80; and the United Kingdom, 79. In all, there are 29 countries whose citizens have longer life expectancies than Americans.

So why do Americans die younger than people living in most other developed democracies? Well, there is the Michael Moore answer delivered in his "documentary" Sicko—it's because we lack a benevolent government funded health care system. But life expectancy is not dependent on just medical care. For example, Texas A&M health economist Robert Ohsfeldt and health economics consultant John Schneider point out that deaths from accidents and homicides in America are much higher than in any other of the developed countries. Taking accidental deaths and homicides between 1980 and 1999 into account, they calculate that instead of being at near the bottom of the list of developed countries, U.S. life expectancy would actually rank at the top.

University of Iowa researchers, Robert L. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider, reviewed the data for the nations of the OECD to statistically account for the incidence of fatal injuries for the member countries. The dynamic table below presents their findings, showing both the average life expectancy from birth over the years 1980 to 1999 without any adjustment (the actual "raw" mean), and again after accounting for the effects of premature death resulting from a non-health-related fatal injury (the standardized mean). You may sort the data in the dynamic table from low to high value by clicking on the column headings, or from high to low value by clicking a second time.

OECD Nation

Actual (Raw) Mean

(Does Not Account for Fatal Injuries)

Standardized Mean

(Accounts for Fatal Injuries)











































U. K.



U. S. A.



America's relatively high infant mortality rate also lowers our life expectancy ranking. A 2007 study done by Baruch College economists June and David O"Neill sheds some light on why U.S. infant mortality rates are higher—more low weight births. In their study, U.S. infant mortality was 6.8 per 1,000 live births, and Canada's was 5.3. Low birth weight significantly increases an infant's chance of dying. Teen mothers are much more likely to bear low birth weight babies and teen motherhood is almost three times higher in the U.S. than it is in Canada. The authors calculate that if Canada had the same the distribution of low-weight births as the U.S., its infant mortality rate would rise above the U.S. rate of 6.8 per 1,000 live births to 7.06. On the other hand, if the U.S. had Canada's distribution of low-weight births, its infant mortality rate would fall to 5.4. In other words, the American health care system is much better than Canada's at saving low birth weight babies —we just have more babies who are likely to die before their first birthdays.

The fact that Americans tend to be a lot fatter than the citizens of other rich developed countriesincreases their risks of heart disease and diabetes. A recent international survey reported that31 percent of Americans are obese (body mass index over 30), whereas only 23 percent of Britons, 21 percent of Australians and New Zealanders, 14 percent of Canadians, 13 percent of Germans, 9 percent of the French, and 3 percent of Japanese have body mass index measurements over 30.

Taking all these unhealthy proclivities into consideration, the American health care system is most likely not to blame for our lower life expectancies. Instead, American health care is rescuing enough of us from the consequences of our bad health habits to keep our ranking from being even lower.