Thursday, January 29, 2009

Post Script on Sicko Class

I mentioned last week that our Medical Billing class instructor had us start watching Michael Moore's movie, Sicko. I. Was. Not. Pleased.

Monday night, she had us finish watching the movie, which went to the medical utopias of Canada, the UK, Cuba, and France, all places where medical care is "free." As opposed to America, where the insurance and pharmaceutical companies will suck your savings dry and force you in your not-quite-old age to move into the spare bedroom of one of your children.

To prove how wonderful these places are, in Canada Moore emphasized the freeness of their medical system and how kind the country is to take care of each other. He failed to mention how, in 2003, Toronto (thanks to their free healthcare) had an outbreak of SARS, followed by a second outbreak, due to unrecognized cases of SARS the first time around. No other non-Asian parts of the world had this level of outbreak, and I remember reading articles (that I can't find now) at the time that criticized Toronto's sub-par level of medical care and blamed it for the spread of the disease there.

Moore asked Canadians about their wait time at the medical clinic, and they said it was never more than 20 minutes to an hour. They must live in an unusual part of Canada, because this 2004 column by Walter Williams cites reports showing increasing wait times in Canada for procedures, up from 16.5 weeks in 2001 -2002 to 17.7 weeks in 2003. Somehow, Michael Moore didn't find any of those people to talk to.

The one that really got to me, though, was France. He talked about the "free" healthcare and interviewed a "typical" French couple who lived well, just to prove that they aren't taxed to death to pay for their healthcare system and how they get up to a year of maternity leave, half of it paid, and 5 weeks of paid vacation (plus an extra week for a honeymoon if they get married that year) and how that's mandated by the national French government.

He also talked to American ex-pats about the "free" college education they could get in France, and it made it sound like France is the best place on earth.

But he didn't discuss the "disaffected youths" who can't get a job, because employers are hesitant to hire anyone without experience. If they hire someone who turns out not to want to do the work he was hired to do, they can't fire the deadbeats. It's all mandated by law.

And he didn't discuss the educational system that decides whether or not you're allowed to go to college. I described that this way in one of my posts from 2005:

The school system in France (and presumably most of Western Europe) is rigidly structured. At a certain point in the educational process--about the equivalent of late grade school/early middle school here--students are evaluated and assigned to an educational path. One path leads to working class jobs, and the other path leads to college and professional jobs. Once you're placed on your path (you and your family have NO input on the decision), you are stuck there forever. Working class students cannot go to college.

Ever. Even if you were a late bloomer or a closet smart-kid.

It's really nice that America's young people can go to college in France on the French companies' franc (I guess it's a Euro now), which I presume is where the funding for all the free stuff is coming from. But there's no telling how long all the government largesse will continue, with the economy in France on the skids like everywhere else.

Michael Moore had a comment about how powerful the people of France are, compared to America. In France, when the people protest, the government is afraid, and they give the people what they want. In America, according to Moore, it's the people who are afraid of the government. He wants us to be more like France. Mob rule... Yeah, that sounds appealing....

I told my instructor, after class, about the French school system, and she agreed that maybe, just maybe, Michael Moore did a bit of picking and choosing to present a slanted view of things, both here and abroad.

It's a shame, really, that she had us watch that movie, because yesterday morning in class, one of the other students made some comments that sounded discouraged about trying to learn a career that will help the despicable insurance companies. It's counterproductive for our instructor fill us with that kind of despair without offering another perspective.

Good thing I didn't take that stupid movie to heart.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fish Poop News

Townhall reported January 15, 2009, on a fish poop study.

The ocean's delicate acid balance may be getting help from an unexpected source, fish poop. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere not only drives global warming, but also raises the amount of CO2 dissolved in ocean water, tending to make it more acid, potentially a threat to sea life.

Alkaline chemicals like calcium carbonate can help balance this acid. Scientists had thought the main source for this balancing chemical was the shells of marine plankton, but they were puzzled by the higher-than-expected amounts of carbonate in the top levels of the water.

Now researchers led by Rod W. Wilson of the University of Exeter in England report in the journal Science that marine fish contribute between 3 percent and 15 percent of total carbonate.

It's not fecal material, though, that fish contribute to the ocean's health.

They report that bony fish, a group that includes 90 percent of marine species, produce carbonate to dispose of the excess calcium they ingest in seawater. This forms into calcium carbonate crystals in the gut and the fish then simply excrete these "gut rocks."

The process is separate from digestion and production of feces, according to the researchers.

The carbonate produced by fish is soluble and dissolves in the upper sea water, while that from the plankton sinks to the bottom, the team noted.

I've known people who refuse to swim in the ocean or lakes because the thought of fish poop in the water freaks them out. What if they swallow some?

That doesn't ever bother me, although sometimes when I'm swimming in deep ocean water, the thought of shark teeth (attached to a hungry shark) in the water freaks me out, and I cut my swimming adventure a little short.

So it's good to know that ocean water (and maybe even lake water) has plenty of healthy calcium near the surface that I might accidentally swallow and improve the density of my bones.

Let's go swimming! (When the water warms up.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Locking Keys in the Car

Be careful where you park your car.

The Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday on the misfortunes of a Michigan man.

Photo credit: Melissa Wawzysko/Port Huron Times Herald

A dive team in Port Huron is fishing a car out of the Black River today after a man who drove onto the ice accidentally locked his keys in the car, and the running engine melted ice beneath it.

“It happens a lot more downriver, in Anchor Bay,” St. Clair County Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Paulus said about fishing vehicles out of the river. The river freezes solid and is often used by snowmobiles and cars during winter months, he added. “We usually get a couple a year. We already had two snowmobiles go in last week.”

The man told police he was looking for his dog when he drove out onto the frozen river from Strawberry Lane in Port Huron Township on Tuesday afternoon, Port Huron City Police Lt. Thom Case said.

Just in case that's not enough trouble for the guy, here's the final sentence in the article:

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office dive team planned today to help fish out the 1994 Buick, a loaner from a local collision shop while his car was being repaired.


Yesterday was the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal in all 50 states and taking the decision-making power away from the states. This ad makes the abortion issue very clear:

Fifty million children have died because of abortion. How much potential have we as a nation lost?

And now, as the AP reported today, President Obama signed an executive order that will allow our country to export and fund (with your tax dollars) abortions abroad. Imagine!

Why You Should Wash Your Hands

Photo credit: New England Journal of Medicine

Wired reported Wednesday on a case of bad hygiene at a VA hospital.

A simple petri dish test revealed that by overlooking basic hygiene, a healthcare worker infected a quadriplegic Iraq war veteran with MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plagues hospitals.

The Cleveland VA medical center has an aggressive program to protect its patients from germs, and part of that effort includes regularly swabbing their noses to check for staph. In this case, the quadriplegic man had never tested positive before, so clearly something had gone wrong.

"All patients admitted to VA hospitals are screened to determine if they carry MRSA," says Curtis Donskey, the doctor in charge of infection control. "When carriers are identified, extra precautions are taken to decrease the likelihood that MRSA will be spread to other patients."

Donskey figured out who had been in contact with the patient. He asked a medical student to give the patient an exam, touch an agar plate, use some hand sanitizer, and then make another imprint on an identical dish.

Each batch of agar contained a little bit of cefoxitin, an antibiotic that should prevent any ordinary bacteria from growing on the plates.

After a little bit of incubation, the first plate (left) was covered in bright red colonies. It provided damming evidence that the infection can easily be spread by hand.

The second plate (right) was completely free of bacteria. It showed that disaster can be averted very easily. By taking just a minute to lather up, anyone who works with patients can fight the spread of antibiotic-resistant bugs.

"Healthcare workers usually clean their hands with alcohol because it is very effective at killing most of the bacteria that cause hospital infections," says Donskey. "The exception is
Clostridium difficile which is not killed by alcohol; for patients with C. difficile infection it is recommended that healthcare workers wear gloves and wash their hands with soap and water.

Your mom knew what she was talking about when you were a kid. And you hope all your healthcare workers listened to their moms and their medical instructors. Just to be on the safe side, you might want to ask your doctors and nurses to wash up where you can see them before you let them touch you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back to School

It's a new semester, and I still don't have a job yet (besides the shoe store). I spent most of the day applying for jobs again, and the last one (a hospital) had an online application process that seemed like it would never end.

I hadn't applied there before, so I had to fill out a profile, then upload my resume, which it tried to import into all the appropriate application form boxes. Unfortunately, it messed up some of my job experience, so I had to straighten that out and look up street addresses (which are meaningless for the businesses that don't exist anymore). After I entered my business references, it felt like I was on the home stretch.

The next page was the demographic questions. I rushed through this, because it was time to leave for the first night of my Medical Billing class. I clicked "Decline to state" for Sex, Race, and Military, then I "signed" my name. Only to learn that there was a survey to fill out, which was required, or your application wouldn't count.

The survey was 6 pages long, with questions that you had to Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with. Questions like, "I'm hard to get along with," and "I'm easy to get along with." When I finally finished it, they followed it with another attempt at getting me to tell them I'm a white girl who hasn't been in the military and hasn't been in jail. Then they made me promise to let them do a background check and credit check on me. And somewhere along the way, I realized I was applying for a job at the hospital that's farther away from me than I wanted to go (I thought it was at the closer one--the names are similar). But I'd come too far to just cancel at that point.

The application process finally let me go at 5:55pm. So I was 20 minutes late for my 6:00 class.

My class is free (paid for by the State of California, which is now about bankrupt, so there's no telling how long these classes will continue to be available), but the textbook costs $115. Swell!

Since nobody had the textbook yet, we had an assignment to work on in class, and then or instructor showed us the first part of Michael Moore's movie Sicko. She introduced the movie in glowing terms, and a lot of the women in class cried where Moore intended them to. Not me, though. My ire at being forced to watch something I'd determined NOT to watch kept me from feeling bad enough for those poor people to even sniffle. We're going to finish the movie on Monday. Snarl!

I was ticked off the whole way home, and only a cup of tea calmed me down. Yes, our healthcare system can be pretty lousy, but healthcare systems in Canada and the UK and Cuba suck donkeys!

I'll be glad when the Sicko section of class is over and I can get down to the work of learning how to mistreat sick people by billing the evil insurance companies on behalf of the wicked physicians I hope to work for.

I think that's her point...

Stumbling Over the Oath

Fox News reported yesterday on the way Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled over the presidential oath of office.

Is anybody taking bets on how soon the far, far right-wing conspiracy folks start using this as another reason to disqualify Obama from the presidency?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stupid al Qaeda Tricks

UPI reported yesterday that al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) has suffered the unfortunate loss of at least 40 members to the plague (aka "Black Death"). This prompted me to search the article for mention of AQIM's pestilent living conditions, since everyone knows bubonic plague is spread by fleas jumping from infected rats and biting the sorry victims. But I didn't find any reference to AQIM living with rats or other vermin.

Instead, it turns out that the vermin were AQIM themselves. The Washington Times reported yesterday that al Qaeda was up to no good.

An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday.

The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda's leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.

"We don't know if this is biological or chemical," the official said.

Does it matter? Al Qaeda is trying to weaponize the plague so they can kill their enemies (for the reality-challenged, "their enemies" means "you and me"). The fact that they've got doofus bioengineers working for them doesn't change the fact that they'll keep trying until they get it right.

I hope their best and brightest are among the dead.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

If I could choose any superpower, it would be that I wouldn't ever have to poop.

--- Engineering-student friend of SkyePuppy's daughter

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Google Cleared of Tea Kettle Charges

Photo source: Joyerikson's Weblog

I reported Saturday that the Times Online reported Sunday that two Google searches release as much CO2 as it takes to boil water for tea. This is apparently not true.

Tech News World reported Monday that the usually reliable Times of London... um... embellished the research to include both the Google and the tea kettle references.

A Harvard researcher spent much of Monday setting the record straight about his research and how it relates to Google's energy consumption.

A story in the Sunday Times of London sent Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) public relations machine into an advanced search for answers. The Times reporters wrote about a new Harvard study that examines the energy impact of Web searches. The story's lead paragraph: "Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research."

One problem: the study's author, Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, says he never mentions Google in the study. "For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google," Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld. "Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site."

And the example involving tea kettles? "They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said.

Shame on the Times for their "literary license" with Wissner-Gross's research. Technical studies are not literature, and the Times of London is not some sensationalist news rag. People have been fired for playing fast and loose with facts in otherwise reputable newspapers.

Jonathan Leake and Richard Woods had better keep their peepers peeled for pink pieces of paper coming their way...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Waistline Police in Action

Two stories in less than a week about waistline police.

First, the Christian Science Monitor reported on the WP on January 7, 2009.

Imagine a country where the government regularly checks the waistlines of citizens over age 40. Anyone deemed too fat would be required to undergo diet counseling. Those who fail to lose sufficient weight could face further "reeducation" and their communities subject to stiff fines.

Is this some nightmarish dystopia?

No, this is contemporary Japan.

The Japanese government argues that it must regulate citizens' lifestyles because it is paying their health costs. This highlights one of the greatly underappreciated dangers of "universal healthcare." Any government that attempts to guarantee healthcare must also control its costs. The inevitable next step will be to seek to control citizens' health and their behavior. Hence, Americans should beware that if we adopt universal healthcare, we also risk creating a "nanny state on steroids" antithetical to core American principles.

So all you fatties, just remember that when soon-to-be President Obama starts his call for universal healthcare. And all you smokers and alcohol drinkers and candy-eaters had better be careful too. You may just find yourselves left out in cold without medical care too.

The second WP story takes place in the UK. The Times Online (UK) reported today about the woes of a fat couple in Leeds.

A married couple have spoken of their shock after being turned down to adopt on the grounds that one of them is too fat.

Damien and Charlotte Hall approached Leeds City Council about adoption after discovering that they were unable to have children of their own.

They were told that Mr Hall’s size, at six foot one and a weight of 24-and-a-half stone (156kg [or 343 lbs.]), made him morbidly obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 42.

In a letter, the council told them his BMI must be below 40 before the couple could be considered as potential parents because of a risk he could become ill or even die.

“The bottom line is I’m too fat. I just feel as though we were only judged on my weight and not all the other good things about us," said Mr Hall, 37, who works in a call centre.

“We don’t drink or smoke and we could give a child a happy and safe home.”

“You’ve got a child in care who’s going to get up tomorrow morning not knowing where it’s going, and we’re here ready to take a child on. They seem to be saying it’s better for them to be in care and being shoved from pillar to post just in case Damien dies.”

The council said that it would only relent if Mr Hall demonstrated that he had taken off and could keep off the weight.


Fat is now the new Smoking. Heaven help the chubby people, because more and more bureaucracies won't be helping them at all.

Acts 20:35b

"It is more blessed to give than to receive."

This is usually one of those Christmastime verses, but it works for today too.

I crochet. I don't knit. Knitting is hard, because I drop stitches or pick up stitches and leave holes where they don't belong. But for some reason, crocheting works for me.

I've been working on an afghan for me since before my mom and I left on our trip. I brought it along and worked on it when it was cold, but summer is the time of year for leaving large quantities of yarn in the cupboard and not on your lap. So when the weather turned cold (which was until yesterday and today, when we had a Santa Ana and it got up to 90 degrees), I pulled it back out again. This is what it looks like so far (the threads on the arms of the chair are for my daughter's cross-stitch project--we're very crafty these days):

I started making it because I loved the yarn's color and softness so much. I had made several lap blankets using the same pattern for a lady at my church, who took them to nursing homes, and I wanted one for myself. This one, though, will be bigger than lap-sized. I'll keep going until I run out of yarn.

But that's not what Acts 20:35b is about. It's about the red yarn in this picture:

At the shoe store last week, some of us were talking, and it turns out that one of the girls is underage. She doesn't drive, so she has to wait for her ride, and sometimes they're unreliable. She's had to wait as long as an hour and a half in temperatures that dip down into the 40's after work. So I told her I'd make her a scarf to help keep her warm.

The fabric store was having a yarn sale, so I picked up a couple skeins of Candyapple Red, Lion Brand, Homespun yarn (see the red yarn above). I figured out how to calculate the number of starting chains to make: the number of bumps wide you want (each bump is about 2 in.) x 3 plus 4 more chains. So my 5-bump-wide scarf started with 19 chains, and I kept adding rows until it looked long enough.

One thing about working with the Homespun yarn is that it's chunky, so it doesn't make a nice fringe. So I looked through the Afghan book and found a border I could use for the ends. With the size Q crochet hook, it only took an evening to make the scarf, and it came out beautiful. My daughter's friend who lives with us was jealous, so I told her that if the girl at work didn't like the scarf, she could have it. Otherwise I'll make a skinnier scarf for her with the rest of the red yarn. (starting: 13 chains).

Tonight was the underage girl's first day back at work since I made the scarf, so I took it in. Our friend had already spilled the beans to her before I got there (too funny!).

She loved the color and how soft it is, and she doesn't want to part with it, so my daughter's friend will get another one.

And I can't believe how good it feels to make something for someone and have her love it. It really is more blessed to give...

Saturday, January 10, 2009


My family knows now what I got them for Christmas. I had calendars made for them with some of my pictures from our trip (plus an extra or two). I also made a calendar for me with my favorite pictures of patterns (plus an extra or two).

As a public service, I'll post each month's picture here, one from each calendar. Some of these were originally posted during the trip with my mom.

First, here's the family calendar cover:

And here is January:

I love that "Parking" sign!

And here's the cover for my calendar:

And January's picture:

I haven't put my calendar on the wall, though, because my mom sent me a really nice calendar that has a nail hole in it (mine doesn't have one), so my mom's is up on the wall.

Stay tuned next month for February's pictures...

Google Destroying the Planet

The Times Online (UK) reported tomorrow that Google searches are bad for the environment.

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”


I'll just do a couple Google searches now while I'm boiling water for my cup of tea...

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I haven't seen the movie yet, but before I even go there, I have to ask if anybody really knows the proper way to pronounce that word. It's one of those words, like the name Dierdre, that no two people pronounce the same way. I've heard Dierdre as "DEE-druh" and "DEER-dree" and "DEER-druh." And I've heard Valkyries as "VAL-kires" and "VAL-kuh-ree" and Val-KIGH-ree," and the uncertainty makes me hesitant to even try saying the movie name out loud for fear of sounding like a maroon.


Back in 2006, when a couple ladies from my church and I went to Poland for the 60th anniversary celebration of the church we support there (here, here, here, here), one of the places we visited was Hitler's Bunker. It's somewhere between Reszel and the lake district of northeast Poland, because we saw all three places in one day in that order.

When I saw the movie preview of "Valkyrie," I told my friend, "I was there," because just inside the entrance to Hitler's Bunker complex is the place where somebody tried to assassinate Hitler but failed (that's how I remember it two years later). My friend pointed out that there were multiple attempts at Hitler's life, all of which failed, so the place I saw might not have been the same event.

John Rosenthal's column at Pajamas Media today looks at the movie and the historical revisionism it engages in. He tries to correct the mis-impressions the movie leaves with the viewer.

“Many Saw Evil,” the posters for the new Tom Cruise film Valkyrie proclaim, “But They Dared to Stop It.” Or tried, at any rate. The members of what is known in Germany as the “July 20th” plot failed, of course, to kill Hitler and were unable to seize power. If this slight exaggeration amounts to wishful thinking, however, the suggestion that the would-be assassin, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, and his co-conspirators “saw evil” in the Nazi regime amounts to an outright distortion of the historical record.

In fact, Stauffenberg served the Nazi regime loyally almost to the very end and continued to share its most fundamental ideas and “values” even when he finally turned against it. What Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters “saw” was not evil. What they saw — undoubtedly with increasing clarity following the German defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943, and with near certainty following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 — was that Germany was going to lose the war and that the reckoning would be severe when it did. The need to prevent this impending “catastrophe” for the “fatherland” is the common thread running through all their known statements. Once Hitler was out of the way, the plotters hoped to avoid the worst by proactively seeking peace with the western Allies before Germany was forced into an unconditional surrender. They, above all, feared the consequences of a foreign occupation of Germany.

Contrary to what the film repeatedly suggests, the fate of the Jews appears to have played little role in their considerations and it was certainly not the trigger that finally moved them to action.

This is good to know, because my friend saw the movie (I had to work), and she loved it, and I've been afraid it might have been Hollywoodized, which it looks like it has been somewhat. But not badly enough to make corporate America and President Bush into the bad guys.

Having read Rosenthal's column, I started looking to see if it was the same place as Poland's "Hitler's Bunker." Wikipedia's entry on the July 20th plot was unhelpful in that respect, because it pinpointed the location as a German place name in East Prussia, which doesn't exist anymore. The East Prussia entry showed a map from 1871 with all the names in German, only one of which I recognized (Konigsberg), and that's currently in the detatched chunk of Russia that borders the northern part of Poland.

So I started looking from another angle, and when the July 20th entry mentioned the Wolf's Lair and Col. von Stauffenberg, I looked at the Wolf's Lair entry and found photos like mine and mention of von Stauffenberg and his plot. Bingo!

I was there. This is what's left of the location of the assassination attempt:

It's not very impressive, except that you can see how well-hidden the place was in the woods of Poland. It's why the Nazis got away with so much of the Holocaust for so long.

Most of the bunkers were made of concrete, like this one, which was Hitler's.

But the unfortunate ladies of the secretarial pool had to work and risk their lives in a big brick building. Yeah, Hitler was a real gentleman.

The intervening 60+ years have taken their toll. Many of the bunkers are broken, and trees grow throughout the debris.

The forests of Poland are reclaiming their land, making historical revisions of their own.

Maybe I'll see the movie when it comes out on DVD.

Oops. Those copyrights on the photos should say 2006, but I'm too lazy to go back and fix them now.

What Birds Do When You're In the Mall

They hang out on your car.

These were taken after I scared some away while I was trying to get a picture.

They seem to prefer the luggage racks, but they're happy with a regular car in a pinch.

Just thought you should know...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Four Years

Happy Blogiversary to me!

My first post, four years ago.

It's been great getting to know those of you in my Sporting Group (and in the Herding Group--sorry, Jan and Charlie for leaving you out at first!) through our blogs, and especially meeting many of you in person.

To my faithful readers who are too shy to leave comments, thank you for stopping by to see what I might have to say.

It's been fun, and I'm looking forward to much more fun in the future.

Islam's Best and Brightest

They hate O.J., A.J., P.J., and C.J. in New York City.

I got this photo from Janice, who got it from Debbie Schlussel, who got it from Atlas Shrugs. Priceless!