Archive for March, 2009

It’s Nice to Be Right

Posted in Science! on March, 2009 by melendwyr

I have been reading the works of Euell Gibbons lately. One of the most interesting herbalist anecdotes he relates is a story that certain Native American tribes possessed a means of rendering themselves immune to the effects of poison ivy.

The method is as follows: very early in the year, when the first tiny leaves begin to form on the poison ivy vines, a leaf would be plucked and eaten each morning. As time passed, the ingested leaves would naturally be larger. After several months, entire sprigs would be safely consumed without any ill effects.

This sounds crazy, given that ingesting that much urushiol (the irritant substance in poison ivy, poison oak, and various other plants) is normally a quick route to misery or even death. But modern science has known for many years that our immune responses to substances are damped if they’re introduced to our bodies through the digestive system. The nasty effects of poison ivy come not from any special property of the chemical itself, but from our immune system reacting to it.

Eating the leaves, rather than rubbing against them, means that the oil is absorbed primarily once it’s in the stomach. Starting with new leaves means that initial contact is a microdose, causing little if any effect. Slowly increasing that dose means that eventually the immune system will treat even large amounts of urushiol as normal and harmless.

I’ve heard before that certain allergies can be conquered by slowing exposing the sufferers to initially small, then greater and greater amounts of the key allergen, but with most food allergies I figured it would probably be too risky to attempt. This anecdote made me wonder whether it could actually be viable after all.

This Saturday, I came across a news item which discussed how a team of medical researchers believed they’ve found a way to eliminate peanut allergies by having the sufferers – you guessed it – ingest very, very tiny amounts of peanut. (Even less than the traces that can be left in foods through contact exposure, which can themselves be deadly.) The method hasn’t been perfected yet, and several years of testing remain before it can be used on patients, but there’s good reason to believe it will eventually become an accepted treatment.

It’s nice to be right.



Posted in Uncategorized on March, 2009 by melendwyr

Things will be slow around here for a while. I’m trying to subvert and transform several Internet fora, and the process is absorbing most of my energies.

Expect me when you see me.

Back to Back to Back

Posted in Uncategorized on March, 2009 by melendwyr

Friday the 13th, 2009
Pi Day, 2009
The Ides of March, 2009

Interesting. Presented without further comment.

That’s Not Insurance

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society on March, 2009 by melendwyr

I caught part of an “Alternative Radio” broadcast a few days ago as well.

In it, the speakers complained about insurance companies not wanting to provide coverage for people’s already-existing health problems and asserted that corporations wanted to create a world in which there were two people: healthy people with insurance and sick people unable to pay for their care.

Um, no. Look, people, ‘insurance’ means more than just “the thing that pays for my healthcare”. It’s a method of hedging against unforeseeable disasters.

Imagine a world in which people run the risk of their house burning down with all their stuff. That’s pretty devastating. The cost of replacing all that stuff, or even just the stuff that’s necessary for residence, can be prohibitive. Unless you’re very wealthy, the expense can be prohibitive.

So a group decides to offer people a deal: if the people pay the group a small amount, the group will pay them if their houses ever burn down by accident or someone else’s malice. (For obvious reasons, they don’t want to encourage people to burn down their own houses.)

That way, people who tragically lose their homes don’t experience complete catastrophe. Most people don’t get anything concrete out of the deal – what they get is a safety net. If you never fall, you never really use it, but it’s good to have one there and ready for the unexpected.

Assuming the group was completely efficient and had no overhead, the amount they’d charge would be equal to the total amount they paid out (or the amount they expected to pay) divided by the number of people participating.

If some people were at greater risk of fire accidents – they smoke, or they like lots of candles, or they’re circus performers who use a lot of flaming hoops, etc. – the group could reasonably expect them to pay more to cover the statistically-greater payoffs they’d get. Likewise, people at a lower risk could be offered a lower required payment.

In reality, there is overhead. Also, most of us want to do more than merely break even. We have things we want to pay for, and we need money to pay for it. Result: we desire profit. So the group would have to charge more than the absolute minimum, but only enough that people would be willing to accept.

What if someone’s house were already burning down? Why would the group take them on? To be fair, they’d have to charge the owners of the burning house the exact amount they’d have to pay out – plus overhead – and what use would that be?

We’ve gotten used to thinking of health insurance, not as a safety net, but as the means of paying for medical treatment. But insurance by its nature can’t pay for basic services everyone is expected to use! If everyone who purchases the insurance uses it to pay for regular scheduled checkups, the cost of having the insurance has to go up by precisely the amount of a checkup. If you know you’re going to have to have expensive procedures or treatments, you’d have to pay for them fully, because insurance only mitigates potential risk, not certain cost.

Part of the problem is that we’ve permitted ‘insurance’ to be a middleman that takes payments from employers and gives them to healthcare providers. But more than that, we’ve embraced the idea that healthcare is some kind of natural right or interest that society is obligated to provide.


Posted in Politics and Society on March, 2009 by melendwyr

People rarely praise my content, so when they do, I like to remember it. (Flattery works on me as long as you’re not trying to convince me of anything in the process.)

Thus, I preserve here my comment from here (note that some typos are corrected):

“Why don’t these people just start their own church?”

They don’t want a new church. They certainly don’t want a non-authoritarian one. They simply want to be the authorities, themselves. So they’re trying to force out the leaders and substitute their own judgment for that of their nominal leaders.

“open the door to the very thing religious people claim NOT to want”

Reality check: people only want the state to stay out of things when the state disagrees with the way they want to do things. When the state agrees with them, they’re all for the idea of it running everything, because then they’re in charge, if only by proxy.

Unpleasant Surprises

Posted in Uncategorized on March, 2009 by melendwyr

I was watching the DVD extras for the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” recently. Activating the “Special Report: We Interrupt This Program!” feature, I was surprised to see Richard Biggs playing the role of a television newscaster.

Mr. Biggs died suddenly in 2004 of an aortic dissection.

I’d never looked up his article on Wikipedia – if I had, I would have expected his appearance. As it was, I was saddened by the melancholy realization that this was probably the last work of his I would ever see.

Bruce Boxleitner played the voice of the POTUS in that feature, which is ironic because he was President of the Alliance in Babylon 5, the show in which Mr. Biggs played the part of Dr. Stephen Franklin. I didn’t expect that, either.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Posted in Favorite Words, GIGO on March, 2009 by melendwyr

Today’s word is neurosis. What does it mean? It’s defined as “a term used to refer to any mental imbalance that causes distress, but, unlike a psychosis or some personality disorders, does not prevent or affect rational thought”.

Got that?

Okay, so: why is it used interchangeably with the behaviors and responses that are supposedly the result of a neurosis?

Note that there is no point where the supposed neurological problem is defined operationally. It is instead presumed to exist because of the symptoms, because the neurosis is what the thing supposedly responsible for those symptoms is called. Where’s the demonstration that there is a glitch in the neurology that constitutes an illness? There isn’t one.