Adventures of Captain FishsticksPosted by Craig Westover | 7:55 AM |
Mrs. Paul and I are heading down river this week end. No posting until early next week. Thanks for stopping by.
Until I return.
Mrs. Paul and I are heading down river this week end. No posting until early next week. Thanks for stopping by.
A post on the “neurodiversity weblog” stemming from Lisa Randall’s letter to the editor responding to my June 22 column chronicles some activities on the Evidence of Harm discussion list, of which like the author of the post I disapprove. Randall’s personal information was posted on the list, which is maintained by parents that believe their children were damaged by vaccines containing thimerosal. As a result, Randall received a number of angry calls from parents, which I agree she should not have had to deal with.
Last week, in Censorship, Incivility & Chronic Suspicion, I offered an account of two particularly nasty episodes on the Evidence of Harm discussion list, in which private citizens were targeted for ridicule, harassment and investigation by anti-thimerosal campaigners, in retaliation for expressing their dissenting opinions about the controversy over vaccines and autism. Today I provide an expansion and update on the first episode, the tale of Lisa Randall of St. Paul, Minnesota.
I had originally become familiar with Ms. Randall’s name when her letter to the editor of Salon in response to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s article, Deadly Immunity, was published on the same page as mine. Now, Ms. Randall was fortunate enough to see her letter to the editors of the St. Paul Pioneer Press published in their July 3 edition:
Craig Westover is wrong
In his June 22 column, Craig Westover writes, “The thimerosal connection to autism is first about science.” Actually, it’s about hysteria and money.
Hysteria distilled in the groupthink of autism advocacy groups that insist thimerosal causes autism—contrary to all reputable science—and cast anyone who says otherwise as a member of a global conspiracy to poison children.
Money for shady personal injury lawyers who lick their chops at the prospect of presenting a jury with a disabled child, some sophisticated-sounding pseudoscience, and the ominous fact that certain states have banned thimerosal.
Westover’s attempt to elevate this controversy to something more than a sociopolitical phenomenon crashes like a lead—or should I say mercury?—balloon.
Craig Westover promptly prepared a new blog entry, Calm down and explain my hysteria, commenting, “Ms. Randall, should be thanked for providing some balance to my column by sharing a firsthand example of a considerable amount of hysteria and paranoia on the part of one who denies there is any connection”—a surprising response, given the fact that her letter could fairly be called “sharp,” “sassy,” and “well-written,” but hardly “hysterical” or “paranoid.”
That evening, a call to action was sounded:
Date: Sun, 3 Jul 2005 23:38:20 -0500
From: “Tim Ziegeweid”
Subject: CALL LISA RANDALL AT X-XXX-XXX-XXXX TO EXPRESS YOUR OPINIONS TO HER.
Dear EOH Listmates. The following letter to the editor appeared in the 07-03-05 Saint Paul Pioneer Press. It is written by Mrs Lisa Randall who lives at (deleted). Her telephone number is (deleted) should you wish to call her and express your opinions on her thoughts… If any listmates would like to call Lisa Randall to express their thoughts you may call this bitch at (deleted). Or you can write to her at (deleted). .... Apparently Lisa Randall is some type of lawyer… I would assume that she is probably working for Big Pharma in some capacity. I called Lisa this morning to get her side of the story but her husband would not put her on the phone for some reason. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO POST THIS ON ANY AND ALL MERCURY-AUTISM LISTS! I HOPE THAT SOMEBODY GETS LISA ON THE PHONE AND FINDS OUT WHAT JUST WHAT SHE KNOWS ABOUT THIMEROSAL AND AUTISM! Tim Ziegeweid.
The list moderator, Lenny Schafer, promptly gave Tim the boot. Investigation of Ms. Randall’s genealogy and presumed ties to Big Pharma continued through the day and night, with No Mercury co-founder Lujene Clark at the lead. On the Fourth of July, after learning that Mr. Ziegeweid had sought to initiate a telephone harassment campaign, Craig Westover urged list members not to call Ms. Randall, but rather to “send an email to Letters to the Editor at the Pioneer Press.” He then went on to “plead (for) a little understanding for Tim. I think a reprimand is sufficient, and I’d urge you to, with a warning, return his group privileges.”
In the meantime, I phoned Lisa to let her know that her personal information had been broadcast by Mr. Ziegeweid on Yahoo. This was not news to her, for in fact, he had called her home seven times on Sunday and once on Monday, to “find out just what she knows about thimerosal and autism.”
Ms. Randall wrote to Mr. Schafer, requesting that the posts containing personal information about her and her family be deleted, but he did not respond. Ultimately, Yahoo’s abuse department stepped in and took care of the job for him. She also contacted the editors of the St. Paul Pioneer Press to let them know what had happened, and was assured that they “never publish letters generated by this kind of online campaign.”
Nonetheless, two weeks later, the St. Paul Pioneer Press generously and inexplicably provided the very instigator of such a campaign 174 words’ worth of space on the July 20 Letters page:
Glutathione causes problems
Because my daughter suffers from thimerosal-induced autism, I was offended by Lisa Randall’s July 3 letter, “Craig Westover is wrong.” She stated that the thimerosal-autism connection is “about hysteria and money.” She also said the thimerosal-autism connection was based on “money for shady personal injury lawyers who lick their chops at the prospect of presenting a jury with a disabled child, some sophisticated sounding pseudoscience and the ominous fact that certain states have banned thimerosal.” Thimerosal-induced autism has nothing to do with desperate parents or shady trial lawyers and has everything to do with a mercury detoxifier called glutathione. Dr. Jill James of the University of Arkansas found that autistic children have a severe deficiency in glutathione, the body’s most important detoxifier of mercury. Children who suffer from a glutathione deficiency cannot detoxify mercury from their bodies.
My daughter received all of her required vaccinations. In her first six months she received 112.5 micrograms of mercury. With each shot her mercury exposure exceeded the EPA-recommended safety guidelines 40- to 50-fold. Sheryl has thimerosal-induced autism.
Ms. Randall promptly submitted a reply:
Timothy Ziegeweid would like us to believe that his daughter’s autism was brought on by thimerosal in her childhood vaccines. He cites a single small study for the proposition that autistics lack the antioxidant glutathione and concludes – with no information about his daughter’s glutathione level – that she must have a deficiency which led to her inability to process mercury and thence to autism. In fact, even if the results of this study can be replicated, they would not imply that glutathione deficiency causes autism any more than they would imply the exact reverse; the only finding of the study is that the two tend to co-exist.
Standing against the theory of thimerosal-induced autism, meanwhile, are five large, rigorously peer-reviewed epidemiological studies using multiple statistical techniques on diverse populations and concluding unanimously that there is no evidence to link thimerosal-containing vaccines with autism. There is also increasing uncertainty about the common belief that autism has become dramatically more prevalent in recent years.
My letter doubting a role for thimerosal in autism, which prompted Mr. Ziegeweid’s response, appeared in the Pioneer Press more than two weeks ago. Maybe he didn’t have time to reply sooner than he did because he was too busy trying to organize a stalking campaign. He posted my letter, along with my name, address, and phone number, to an 800-member anti-vaccine online message board with an exhortation to “call this bitch.” Other members of the group responded by searching public records for personal information about me and my family, and speculating about my motivations for debunking the alleged vaccine-autism connection.
I am happy to clear up the speculation. I am a stay-at-home mom who is concerned that the thimerosal scare may convince parents not to immunize their children. I’ve learned that we need community immunity to protect children who are too young or too sick to safely receive vaccines, and that it doesn’t take a very large share of the population going unimmunized to break down the protection that these children need. In fact, about 1% of children who receive a vaccine do not develop antibodies to the disease it aims to prevent, so even fully vaccinated children like mine are endangered by anti-vaccine campaigns. That’s why I want to see parents getting reliable information on the safety of vaccines.
I cannot help but wonder why the editors of the St. Paul Pioneer Press would publish Mr. Ziegeweid’s letter when they knew that he had published Ms. Randall’s personal information on Yahoo, urged his colleagues to call her and to sound the alarm far and wide, and had phoned her home numerous times over the July 4 weekend. I also cannot help but wonder why they have not published Ms. Randall’s reply. Their columnist, Mr. Westover, seemed to take quite personally Ms. Randall’s comments about the anti-thimerosal campaign, going so far as to state that she was “hysterical” and “paranoid.” In a June 2 post to his blog remarking on my letter to David Kirby, Mr. Westover lamented that I had “gone astray by focusing on militant comments, as unfortunate as they are,” and made the inaccurate suggestion that I disapproved of journalists discussing the thimerosal issue. It seems that many of Mr. Westover’s listmates are far more “militant” than he would prefer to admit. Or perhaps he is well aware of their militancy, but feels that parental tsuris gives them license to engage in abusive behavior. In his post requesting that Mr. Ziegeweid’s list membership privileges be reinstated after he violated both Ms. Randall’s privacy and Yahoo’s terms of service, Mr. Westover stated,
“I know that people are at all different levels of rage and reason on this issue. Getting a piece of hate email pales in comparison to what many parents have gone or are going through with their children.”
Considering that Mr. Ziegeweid had already revealed that he had crossed over the line from impulse to action by phoning Ms. Randall at home, I cannot help but wonder whether Mr. Westover feels that “getting a piece of hate mail”—or in this case, eight angry phone calls made to one’s home by an outraged stranger—should not only be considered par for the course for journalists who publish articles on controversial topics, but also for private citizens who express their opinions in the paper for which he writes—just as long as that hate mail comes from people for whom he already feels some sympathy.
King Banaian responds to my question about the existence of “public goods” with a brilliant economic analysis -- it contains Latin and a graph. And -- ceteris paribus -- King is as I usually find him to be, more right than wrong: “The decision to provide some goods collectively because ‘market failure’ would lead to non-optimal provision of the goods cannot be decided a priori.” Unfortunately, I do not think we are dealing with a situation where “all things are equal.”
We do so because the optimal amount [of a good] is closer met (at lower cost) by private market decision making than collective decision making. . . .Wouldn't that be the right way to handle the question of what is a "public health" problem, rather than the list of problem characteristics Craig offers? [Bracket added for clarity.]There is a old joke about a physicist, a chemist and an economist stranded on the deserted island with no supplies except a carton of canned beans. The physicist and the chemist develop a plan for using the sun’s rays to heat a can of beans to a temperature such that the structure of the can is weakened to a point where the top will loosen and can be pried off. The economist also puts together a plan. His plan begins “Assume that we have a can opener….”
Now let me start off by saying I have a soft spot for Robin, the Power Liberal. I see a little bird with a broken right wing that only needs to be made strong so she can fly straight, instead of flying in circles. Case in point, the Drinking Liberally crisis.
As you all know, Drinking Liberally has been meeting at Liquor Lyle's for the last few months, through good time and more often than not, through bad. Last night we lost our backroom to a new Texas Hold'Em promotion, and it appears it may become ongoing.So what was the liberal response to finding a new place to have a beer with friends? A plan. No, not quite a plan -- a strategy. A strategy that would become a plan -- or a preliminary plan until a final plan that included St. Paul can evolve. Of course, everybody’s input was solicited.
So, now is the time for your voice to be heard. I'm looking for suggestions of better places to hold DL- Minneapolis. We had a few brainstorms last night, and I'm posting a few finalists. We are looking for location (preferably easy access for the most Minnesotans, at least until we can decide how to get St. Paul running as a stand alone), price (no more 17 dollar pitchers, please), room for a band of merry misfits, and parking and bus access.It’s a perfect metaphor for liberalism -- a top down organization and centralized planning is required just to have a beer with the gang -- with a price cap on the beer.
We may have doubts about the country, but in Drinking Liberally land, we are still a democracy.
King Banaian responds to my question about the existence of “public goods” with a brilliant economic analysis -- it contains Latin and a graph. And -- ceteris paribus -- King is as I usually find him, right: “The decision to provide some goods collectively because ‘market failure’ would lead to non-optimal provision of the goods cannot be decided a priori.” Unfortunately, I do not think we are dealing with a situation where “all things are equal.”
On Taxpayer’s League Live this past Saturday (AM 1280), David and Margaret had great discussion about the legislative session and the state budget with King Banaian, of the Department of Economics at St. Cloud State University (SCSU Scholars). I find it interesting when King talks economics because he has the ability to talk about macro economic issues, like the state budget, and bring it down to the level of individual incentives; in other words, why are programs in the budget going to achieve, or fail to achieve, their objectives.
(Funny hat tip to the KAR)
He [Dean] also said the president was partly responsible for a recent Supreme Court decision involving eminent domain.Dean’s comment, no matter how you slice it, is just plain inexcusable. Best case, the head of the DNC doesn’t know which judges on the Supreme Court are considered conservative and liberal; worst case, he doesn’t care and he’s going to blame anything perceived as bad on George Bush even if it’s blatantly false. I put these comments right up there on the list of crimes with sitting across from a little old lady and conning her out of her life savings.
"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is," Dean said, not mentioning that until he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court this week, Bush had not appointed anyone to the high court.
Dean's reference to the "right-wing" court was also erroneous. The four justices who dissented in the Kelo vs. New London case included the three most conservative members of the court - Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the fourth dissenter.
The court's liberal coalition of Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer combined with Justice Anthony Kennedy to form the majority opinion, allowing the city of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize private properties for commercial development.
"We think that eminent domain does not belong in the private sector. It is for public use only," Dean said.
A political debate about reality is more than a little oxymoronic, but seizing on a line in the opinion piece critical of Governor Tim Pawlenty by David Strom and Mike Wigley in Sunday‘s Star Tribune, that’s the tack taken for refutation by former Republican Chair Ron Eibensteiner and John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog.
Mike Wigley and David Strom of the Taxpayers League wrote in last Sunday's Op Ed section about the "bubble of unreality that is the governor's office." On the contrary, they need to be reminded of reality. We believe that the narrow view they expressed is not good for conservatives, the Republican Party, or Minnesota.What is the “narrow view” of Strom and Wiggly? Is it so narrow that it is not good for conservatives, the Rpubl;ican Party, or Minnesota?
Nobody expects a politician to be absolutely rigid and never change his mind, no matter what the circumstances. But how many flip-flops does it take to make you wonder whether the Governor is merely flexible, or is perhaps losing touch with his core principles?Strom and Wigley note for three years Pawlenty has insisted that “Minnesota doesn’t have a tax problem, it has a spending problem.” Yet in a reversal of his position as a state legislator Pawlenty has spent enormous political capital to advance state-run/state partnership casino gambling as a source of additional state revenue. As Rep. Phil Krinkie noted, it’s one thing to change positions when circumstances dictate, but on the casino issue and on the “health impact fee” on cigarettes, Pawlenty made no such explanation. Nor did he offer an explanation of changed circumstances for his support of expanded light rail, use of automobile tax revenue for public transit, or support for publicly financed stadiums.
. . . That’s why it is so important that campaign promises mean something. The Governor asked us to vote for him based upon what he said and promised during the campaign. Is it too much to ask that his promises mean something?
[Conservatism] by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of it’s own choosing.Now I disagree that Hayek’s description is a necessity, but it is a pretty fair description of the Pawlenty administration. All of the session compromise moved Minnesota further to the left. The one area where Pawlenty showed signs of a real agenda -- education reform -- he showed little support for and less leadership.
Is government too big, or not? Does it tax too much, or not? Is gambling a good way to fund government, or not? Should people be forced out of their cars into government-run transportation, or not? Are baseball and football teams private businesses that don’t need government money, or not? These are not complex questions, and most of us vote at least partly based upon how the candidates answer them.Eibensteiner and Hinderacker close their paean to Pawlenty with this note --
We have fought in the trenches for a long time for conservative values and Republican candidates. So has the Taxpayers League, which performed a great service for Minnesotans. But it is no service to divide the Republican Party, in search of an unattainable purity, at a time when Minnesota has the best governor within memory, Tim Pawlenty.But dividing Republicans is not the intent of the Strom Wigley piece. It is not disloyal to remind one‘s party that it is moving away from its principles. Nor will division come to pass unless the reaction to criticism leveled by concerned conservatives is met by placing party loyalty above advancing conservative principles and bettering Minnesota. As Strom and Wigley note --
Pawlenty still has some time to recover, but the first thing he needs to do is recognize he has a problem, and one made a lot worse by the bad decisions he made during this legislative session.Let me add -- he needs to put forth an agenda that has positive goals (let‘s start with “meaningful school choice“). He must recognize that not giving Democrats as much as they want is not a victory. Victory for conservatives, for Republicans and most importantly for Minnesotans is when the state moves to the right, however slightly. And therein is where Pawlenty failed this session, and failed miserably. That’s the reality that Eibensteiner and Hinderacker miss.
Doug at Bogus Gold issues a public memo to me regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada.
Now that Canada has volunteered to be a laboratory for this social experiment, I contend that the conservative position is to wait on this issue in the U. S. We should study the state of marriage in Canada in the next decade or so (I'd prefer something a bit more generational, but can live with a decade) to determine whether legalized same-sex marriage provides Canada the social benefits you have asserted it will, or the social damage I have contended it will. I see no conservative reason to rush ahead changing this institution in the United States before we can take advantage of this new information.It’s not a binary question, but to answer directly, I agree that we should not rush ahead, we should watch Canada and learn from what happens there. I do not agree that “not rush” means make no progress toward same-sex marriage while we window peek at the Canadians. The United States, especially conservatives, ought to pursue our own policy. I maintain that same-sex marriage is a "deeply conservative" issue.
Do you disagree? If so I would be curious to know your reasoning.
I am not holding out much hope that the political battle shaping up over John G. Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court will yield any brilliant bits of judicial insight, and that will not be the fault of Judge Roberts. Politicians don't get it; neither does the press. Case in point, the lead two paragraphs from a Knight Ridder Washington Bureau story in today’s Pioneer Press.
WASHINGTON — As one of Washington's top appellate lawyers, Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. represented big business against employee claims, coal companies against polluted communities, and contractors seeking an end to government race preference programs.Okay, what does a reader take away from those paragraphs?
But Roberts also defended a town's right to prevent development on private property, fought for indigenous people's rights to self-determination and helped welfare recipients who feared losing their benefits.
WASHINGTON — As one of Washington's top appellate lawyers, Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. defended a town's right to prevent development on private property, fought for indigenous people's rights to self-determination and helped welfare recipients who feared losing their benefits.And even that positioning doesn’t eliminate loaded verbs like “defended,” “fought for,” and “helped” in the first paragraph and loaded adjectives like “big business” and “polluted communities” in the second paragraph (of the rewrite). Roberts “good” cases are still pretty much delineated from his “bad” cases.
But Roberts also represented big business against employee claims, coal companies against polluted communities, and contractors seeking an end to government race preference programs.
tell us how you really feel about the governor.
King Banaian has a couple of excellent posts that comment on my Q-Comp teacher pay for performance post and column. King’s economic perspective provides some valuable insights.
Teaching is a calling, not a job. Great teachers are born, not made and economic incentives don’t work for teachers.King notes that the writer is missing the point --
There is only one incentive that works on teachers. FREEDOM!Freedom to explore and create is the only thing that will excite good teachers. It is the only thing that will turn children into students.
Soooo, if you want great teachers, offer them an economic incentive program and fire all the ones that accept it. Give all the ones who don’t 20 kids in a class and let them go to college in the summer for free to learn more about anything they want. Pay them a middle class wage and ask them occasionally what they are up to. That is how you will get the best teaching force.
… which is this: How do you find more Michaels [great teachers] when you have more students? There is not an infinite supply of Michaels in the world; there are competing claims for their time and talent outside of teaching.In an earlier post, King notes --
We don't pay finance professors double what we pay history professors because the finance professors are any better; we pay them that way because there are more competing claims willing to pay more for a talented PhD in finance than for a the talented PhD in history. Michael may not see this because he assumes everyone is like his circle of friends. And he may wish that others acted like that circle. But it cannot. The market operates on teachers whether or not Michael likes it. If he wants more talented people teaching around him, he should support economic incentives.
Teachers need to buy into the fact that they are going to be rewarded for something that is objectively measured and something that their efforts can in fact control. That is important: The problem teachers have, from the ones I speak with, is that the accountability tests on which the performance is based measures something over which the teacher has little influence. I don't see that as being an unreasonable position to take; proponents of more accountability need to show the connection between teacher effort, teacher reward and student achievement. If it's just more achievement-->more reward, reward might simply go to teachers who luck into better students.This point was also made in an e-mail comment I received.
Point taken, and in many ways, I agree with King and the reader. In general, I'm not a fan of standardized tests and have written about problems I have with such tests and consequently with the NCLB Act. Nonetheless, if you're not going to operate in a choice system where education consumers ultimately make the decision on what is "good" teaching, that is a parental school choice system, then what are you left with? Subjective criteria, I believe, don't cut it.
Teachers need to teach well, and students need to learn well. Those are not the same thing. Holding a teacher responsible for a student's learning performance is akin to holding you responsible for your reader's unanimously agreeing with you. It isn't going to happen.It's not that teaching isn't correlated with satisfactory performance from learners. It's just that the major part of the performance variance must be attributed to the learner. The parents also play a big role. The teacher is an important, but distant third.
Make no mistake, though. There are many behaviors teachers must perform well for their students to do well. Those can be measured. But measuring the students' performance on a standardized test to see how well the teacher is doing makes as much sense as polling your readers to see how well you are writing. Correlation is not causation. Drinking and being led to the water are not the same.
When I was working in the St. Paul schools some years ago, one of our elementary schools serving a poorer east-side neighborhood had a typical 35 students in the classroom when we did the fall enrollment count. It also had 35 students when we did the spring count. The problem for the teacher was that none of the 35 students was the same. How could you hold the teacher accountable for student performance when the students had moved to another school, or on any given day a third or more of them are absent, or over half of them did not speak English?
You are right. Teachers need to teach better. More importantly, however, students need to learn better, value it higher, try harder, seek mentors and learning buddies. Parents need to care about their child's learning, work more closely with the school, check to see that kids do their homework. The list goes on.
But tying teacher performance to their student's standardized tests makes no sense. We need better solutions than that.
The political battle shaping up over whether or not the mercury preservative Thimerosal used in childhood vaccines is a cause of autism heated up today as the CDC held a press conference in Washington DC to tout vaccine safety just one day before a capitol rally -- “Power of Truth” -- intended to draw national attention to the theory that mercury in childhood vaccines can and has caused autism in thousands of children.
Thanks for the mention. I think you did a real service by summarizing the event and offering comment where you felt it was needed. You were right on the mark. I have to say, I've never been to a press conference, or whatever it was, where the press was made to feel like such an imposition. Interesting, eh? Also, I've never seen a situation where those on the conference call weren't allowed to ask questions.Olmstead's comments on the press conference can be found here.
Doug at Bogus Gold posts on “Pawlenty Stumbles,” which triggered this thought -- conservatives might be spending a little too much time lamenting Pawlenty actions during this legislative session as a betrayal of his base.
It is true the DFL sometimes goes too far to help the less fortunate, while Republicans sometimes go too far to defend the interests of the extremely fortunate. Both views are necessary for a balanced state government reflective of a diverse constituency.That’s a bad position for conservatives to face, but fortunately one they don’t have to -- if they move away from the base-betrayal message exclusively. There’s plenty of constituency betrayal on the DFL side, which Pawlenty did little or nothing to take advantage of but which conservatives who opposed the cigarette tax can still grab.
Conservatives shouldn't be just be angry about all the bad things he [Pawlenty] did do (gambling, transit, the "fee", canadian drugs) but because of all the reform opportunities missed: controlling spending for the future and reforming education. He punted in the first biennium and got sacked behind the line of scrimage in the second. The ball still isn't moving forward.