Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Penn State: Owned

For some reason, I love stories like this. Illinois' basketball team has been struggling all year and are currently on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid. We've had some heartbreak in the NCAA last year when all the planets were aligned to run the table.

Last year, Penn State came to Champaign to upset the Illini and spoil their 33-game home winning streak. This year it was payback. Eric Benz, An Illinois junior biology major from Chicago, and a member of the Orange Krush posed as a Penn State alumnus to buy 100 tickets behind the basket in Happy Valley for the recent game. Benz and 100 members of Orange Krush student section, the oldest in college basketball, traveled by 12-hour bus ride and they kept up the ruse of PSU alumni throughout the pre-game.

Once the game started, however, the Nittany blue came off to uncover the proud Illini orange. Justin Weyman, the PennState ticket rep who made the errant sale put it this way:

"I was walking along the concourse and looked down through one of the portals, and I saw them strip off to their orange and start screaming. My stomach just dropped. I knew it was going to be something we would hear about."

The best part of the story is how Eric Benz, the Illinois junior, planned the scheme months in advance by chatting up Weyman last October with Penn State trivia in order to prevent suspicion:

"I'm just a sports nut, especially a college basketball junkie -- which isn't good for my major... And [Weyman] mentioned something about organizing the White Out they were having for the Michigan football game. And I knew about that because I watched the Ohio State-Penn State game two years ago on TV. I was just trying to be friendly." Weyman needed little prompting to sell a block of tickets to 100 fans...

The Illini won handily, buoyed by the presence of the cheering section:

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber recalled an immediate energy boost from his players when they saw the orange block emerge behind the backboard opposite the Penn State Blue Band. [Illinois player Brian] Randle had never seen the Krush so close to the floor.

Now if we can just get a berth to The Show.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vaccinate the Boys!!!

My modest proposal is to make the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine mandatory for boys and optional for girls. Frankly, I'm hesitant to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for anyone, especially for the first five years of use until unforeseen problems can be studied. My bias is to keep such things optional for all, but if mandatory vaccination is to be instituted, I would argue that boys should be required before girls.

The purpose of any vaccine is multi-fold: 1) it should protect the individual from getting the disease, 2) the vaccine should protect other contacts from potentially getting infected and 3) a vaccine program can serve to completely eliminate a disease from a population, called “herd immunity”. This has been successfully achieved with small pox, a disease not seen in over 30 years.

Most infectious diseases that are managed with vaccines are transmitted from an infected individual to an unsuspecting host through airborne transmission (influenza, measles, chicken pox, etc), or by exchange of bodily fluids directly (hepatitis, HPV, etc).

Of these, HPV is the only one that is solely transmitted through intercourse and has an effective vaccine. Girls and boys can get this with either voluntary or involuntary (in the case of rape) contact. I would argue that since the boys are the population reservoir for the disease, and are the transmitters to girls or other boys, then only boys should be required to get the vaccine. If a girl transmits the virus to a boy or other girl, the receiver would very likely be a willful participant.

I think that the latest plea for girls to be required to get vaccinated is misguided. From a purely epidemiological standpoint, if anyone is required to get the vaccine, it should be the boys since only they transmit the virus onto others unwillingly (#2 above). Girls should be given the option to be vaccinated for their own protection (#1 above) as well as the protection of their partner (#2). Herd immunity (#3) is not an issue so far with HPV since th virus is endemic.

I know someone will broach the idea of a girl seducing a boy or other girl and therefore transmitting the virus to an unsuspecting host. This argument can be made, but it's very weak. There are many more rapists than seductresses.

ADDENDUM: This has been cross-posted over at dailykos, and as expected, the discussion became quite animated. A few clarifications to the above post came up:

1)The main point is that vaccines serve multiple purposes from a public health standpoint, but compulsory vaccination serves only one purpose, namely, to protect unsuspecting and unwilling others from getting infected from the host. Texas, Michigan, Florida, Maryland and other states are considering making the vaccine mandatory for pre-teen girls, and this makes no sense to me when balancing civil liberties with public health.

2) Should girls get vaccinated? Absolutely, if they and their parents choose. Females are unlikely to pass the virus onto an unsuspecting or unwilling person. Unlike diseases transmitted thru airborne droplet nuclei in public places, HPV is transmitted through genital contact in (presumably) private circumstances. The only times HPV would be transmitted unwillingly would be in the case of rape, which almost always is from male to female or male to male. Therefore, if anybody should undergo compulsory vaccination, it should be males.

3) This sounds counter-intuitive and many at dkos had a problem with the concept of vaccinating the population in order to protect a subgroup of the population. The example of German Measles (Rubella) came up. Rubella is a viral illness that is self-limited and very mild or even asymptomatic in adults and kids. Infection in pregnancy, however, can cause birth defects to the developing fetus in utero, and this will often go undetected until birth. Therefore, from a public health standpoint, we try to vaccinate not only all reproductive age women, but also anybody who may come in contact with susceptible pregnant women. That way, even though some pregnant women may be susceptible, their chances of getting Rubella while pregnant becomes vanishing small because everyone else is vaccinated.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Requiem for Chief Illiniwek

After 80 years, the University of Illinois is forcing Chief Illiniwek into retirement. A vocal minority have successfully made the case that the athletic mascot is an insult to the heritage of Native Americans.

Truly, I have no strong opinion on this issue and this blog entry is intended only as a farewell for the memories I had as an undergraduate in Champaign-Urbana. Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall were at their quietest during the National Anthem and also when the Chief was preparing to enter with his dance at half-time.

I remember nothing but reverence for the Chief during those years, and never considered the mascot anything but a gracious representation of the indigenous heritage of the Prairie State. Personally, I believe the contingent of Native Americans are misguided in their mission of expunging our culture of all such mascots, but that's not for me to decide. Certainly some mascots are disingenuous and disrespectful, with the Washington Redskins nom de sport and the Atlanta Braves' “Tomahawk Chop” coming to mind, but Chief Illiniwek was of a completely different tradition.

“The Chief” has always been revered by Illinois fans and attempts were always made to add authenticity to Native American traditions in a respectful way. The student who portrayed Chief Illiniwek was a talented campus celebrity on the level of the football quarterback or basketball center. His athletic dance routine was sincere, with fans showing affection not derision, and usually clapping along with the music. The dance always ended with a recitation of the Alma Mater.

Maugham said “tradition is a guide and not a jailer” and, for good or naught, the great tradition of Chief Illiniwek has ended. I know I can't begin to understand the misgivings of Native Americans with the display of their culture for our entertainment, no matter how well intended the traditions may be.

But I also know that I'll miss Chief Illiniwek.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blaming the hammer instead of the carpenter for a bent nail

Douglas Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense and former head of the Operation of Special Plans (aka: Ministry of Propaganda), is being raked over the coals by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Carl Levin (D-MI), for manufacturing "intelligence" to support the rationale for going to war in Iraq.

At this point most Americans are suffering Iraq fatigue and we may feel that the last thing we need is another re-hash of the ill-fated run up to the war. But in reality, these questions have never been asked until now. Why was a policy wonk, a pencil neck think-tanker like Feith, making up "facts" that linked Al-Qaeda to Saddam, thus whipping us all up into a battle frenzy?

The reason is simple: because the Bush/Cheney administration wanted him to. The OSP was formed for the express purpose of spewing out unadulterated propaganda to support the pre-conceived notion of taking out Saddam. We have a plan, now give us a reason to use it.

These are horrific allegations, but the outcome has been even worse. The bigger question is why this inquiry has taken so long to pursue, and only Bill Frist (R-TN), former Senate majority leader and Pat Roberts (R-KS), former Senate Intelligence Chair, can answer that question.

Friday, February 09, 2007


In pure Christ-like fashion, members of His Coalition continue to bear false witness for apparently political reasons--- and in a polished form of snark, I might add. Roberta Combs, President of CCA, pictured at right, is "condemning" Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “demanding” a military jet to fly her from DC to her district in California.

Too bad Pelosi has done no such thing.

The non-partisan sergent at arms of the House has said that he requested the jet on Pelosi's behalf for security reasons, much the same as had been done for the previous Speaker, Dennis Hastert. The information was “leaked” from the Pentagon and twisted around by a plethora of right-wing nutzoids.

Remarkably, the Christian Coalition of America has continued the canard even after Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary, has called the flap “silly.”


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Filibusters and Failure

This isn't going to end well. In case anyone had any doubts about the FUBAR status of the US intervention in Iraq, this week should have put all questions to rest.

The Democratically-controlled Senate set out a few weeks ago to put its members to a vote on the Iraq war, with a non-binding resolution pointed at the issue of the president's proposed "surge” of 21,500 soldiers into Iraq. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV, shown at left), the majority leader, spear-headed the toothless legislation presumably to rub President Bush's nose in the stink of his unpopular surge because it is in direct contradiction to the Iraq Study Group's recommendation as well as the requests of many recently fired military commanders.

The problem was that the resolution had strong language stating that Bush's plan went against “the national interest”, and many Republicans, although they are on record as opposing the troop surge, followed Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment that one should not speak ill of a fellow Republican, and were unwilling to sign such a strong condemnation of the president.

Which brings us to Senators Warner (R-VA) and Hagel (R-NE), who along with more moderate Democrats, crafted a watered down resolution which left out the nasty words about “national interest.” Unfortunately, when the bill came up for debate these same Republicans joined their colleagues and voted inexplicably to filibuster their own resolution. Odd? Perhaps, but you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

The Democrats are barely hanging onto the Senate majority, with their 51st Senator still in rehab from his cerebral hemorrhage several weeks ago, so apparently only meaningless debates will ever take place. This slim margin is hardly wide enough to fend off any filibuster by even the most conciliatory Republican minority on even the most noncontroversial bill. The Senate is functionally deadlocked.

Every bipartisan group opposes any escalation of the Iraq war, the US public bends 70% against sending more troops into the grinder--- yet the Democratically controlled Senate cannot even pass a simple non-binding resolution stating as much.

And to think that Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) wants to go even further and actually end the war! Good luck with that, sir.

We are getting a clearer picture of the (lack of) outcome every day. The president has dithered for 46 months on securing the occupation of Iraq. His administration has consistently presented a pollyannish appraisal at every juncture: in regards to the level of violence, the costs of war, the political fortitude of the Iraqis and now the ability of a troop surge to solve the problems. Bush's surge ain't gonna work and we all know it, but we have to let it play out anyway.

The added problem is that the Senate dithers as much as the president. Bush's stated goal is to kick this can down the road to let the next president solve Iraq; he's said as much. Troop surges are designed to prolong the military phase of the war because Bush has been incapable and unwilling to pursue the political, diplomatic and economic aspects of the war. That heavy lifting is just too hard for our tyro leader.

Bush has pissed off every diplomatic ally we have, with even Great Britain pulling out of Iraq. NATO has been asking for more troops and materiel for Afghanistan, but the US has none to spare. The sectarian political landscape in Iraq looks grimmer every day with violence and heartache passing the break point of any potential conciliation between the factions. And economically Iraq is in shambles with their most highly educated folks refugeed in Jordan and Syria and the infrastructure destroyed.

The President can't run the war and the Democrats are unable to stop it. As the region spirals into chaos nobody can stop the bleeding.