Tree Sitters’ Final Hours in Berkeley

Berkeley’s latest political battle may be coming to an end: the UC has won a series of decisions in cases brought by local activist groups seeking to prevent the destruction of grove of trees right next to the law school. UC wants to build a sports facility there for our athletes.

The battle over this grove of trees has created a real circus on campus. At one point, perhaps two dozen people were living in the trees. Some came down voluntarily, and when the UC started plucking them from the trees, one protester known as Dumpster Muffin climbed to the highest tree and shook the platform. She was fearless! That platform is 9 or 10 stories high.

Despite these individuals sacrifices and the underlying cause, I’ve found myself cheering the UC on this issue. Why? It all started when I visited the grove, and found a huge sign hanging from the trees that read “end global capitalism.” Ah. Okay. So, is this about the environment, or it is some larger, hugely naive proxy battle against all development? As this event has unfolded over the past almost two years, it appears to be to be the latter.

Their PR machine quickly started spinning. A tree sitter fell from a tree, and as if it were scripted in advance, they promptly blamed it on the UC! Any action that UC takes to remove the protesters results in invocations of the term “hate crime.” I visited the tree grove a few weeks ago and people were shouting “Guantanamo Berkeley.” There are videos of the police trying to stop food supplies to the tree sitters, and protesters are yelling “fuck you” to the officers’ faces. It’s all a little unreasonable.

Berkeley is different than most campuses, in that we leave large areas of the property unmanicured. We have very limited space at here, and if you look at a map, it becomes clear that the only place we can expand campus is along our eastern border, most of which is covered in trees. In light of the protest, UC has promised to plant three trees (one mature and two saplings) for each of the 45 removed. After that concession was made, I thought it would be reasonable to end the protest. UC is under incredible political pressure to serve more students in more ways, and we need to expand. Planting new trees is an excellent compromise.

But the protest continues, at the cost of $40,000 a day of taxpayers’ money. A huge amount of police resources are diverted to keeping new sitters out of the trees. Earlier this year, the UC’s chief of police wrote an email to Berkeley students (many of whom oppose “hippies in trees”) about the conflict. It’s a thoughtful letter, and I wish all police chiefs were capable of writing such a thing. I was particularly swayed by this passage:

At this point we are all waiting for the court’s ruling on the lawsuits filed against the plans to build a new Student Athlete High Performance Center, a decision that is now expected no later than June. Until then the trees, by court order, cannot be touched. It’s also worth mentioning that if, at the end of the legal process, we are not cleared to begin construction, the University will have to live with the final ruling. Meanwhile, the tree-sitters vow to abide by only those court decisions they agree with.

These people will not compromise. While they invoke “rule of law” when it suits them, they themselves have lost all their lawsuits. This is exactly the type of “mob rule” that critics of democracy warns us of. It’s the same mentality that drives attacks on UC scientists. Once removed from the trees, I wonder what they’ll do next.

Stossel gets it right

John Stossel of ABC’s 20/20 has never been one of my favorites. He’s one of those folks who often poses as a skeptic by using doubt and mockery indiscriminately. Tonight, though, he got it right. He discusses food obsessions and fads, pointing out the contradictions inherent in food cultists.

One of the worst of the food cult leaders is Viktoras Kulvinskas, a leader of the raw food movement. Stossel’s interview with this wacko is great…he actually calls him out on his bullshit.

Raw foodists believe cooking vegetables even a little destroys their nutritional value. And eating meat is even worse, Kulvinskas said, because you eat the animal’s fear.
“When they go through slaughter, they go through a lot of fear, and that fear is taken into the dietary habits of America.”

[Stossel calls that ridiculous and ask him how he knows. Kulvinskas says he just knows.]

Everyone knows that eating too much meat can be a problem. But does Kulvinskas even make sense? All over the world, as people have gotten wealthier, they are eating more cooked food, more meat and life spans keep increasing.

“That’s correct,” Kulvinskas said, adding that people are “sicker than ever. Living longer doesn’t mean quality of life. It only says that you’re living longer under medical intervention. These are not natural, whole people.”

So living longer isn’t good if you’re not “natural and whole”. WTF does that mean? But maybe he really values quality of life over quantity and is filled with compassion for his fellow humans? Nope.

When questioned about a raw foodie who died from her obsession, he responded, “at least she got detoxified and clean and moved on to another incarnation.”

Do you get why I liken altmed gurus to cult leaders? This guy prefers that his followers die pure and organic than live against his rules. This is typical of cult and other alternative medicine. Irrational ideology trumps logic every time.

Kudos to Stossel for calling out the purveyors of food woo and their manipulation of their victims’ psychopathology (and thanks to Mrs. Pal for making me watch the show).

I don’t have cancer

Last week I went to the dermatologist. I have a few moles, and some of them were looking a little funny. The dermatologist did a full skin exam, and agreed that some of my moles looked funny, and she removed them. About a week later a pathology report confirmed that I have dysplastic nevi, and not melanoma. Yay! Sort of. The literature isn’t entirely clear what to make of patients with small numbers of dysplastic nevi—are they at increased risk of melanoma? What is the proper follow up interval? Dermatologists keep a close eye on these buggers, so I’ll be visiting her again in the fall.

But I was curious what would happen if I weren’t a doctor but simply a “regular patient” armed only with google. I was not pleased with the result of my little experiment.
Continue reading “I don’t have cancer”

Million comment party

We’re still working on a Michigan meetup to celebrate our millionth comment. Ed Brayton, who has to trek over from the west side of the state, has suggested a more central location (not unlike early Michiganders). Rather than SE Mich, there is some interest in Lansing or East Lansing. If forced to trek up there, I’d certainly vote for El Azteco, but if Ed’s willing to plan it, I’m fine with it. If there is considerably more interest for SE Mich rather than EL, please let me or Ed know.

I’m also going to see if I can round up any bloggers who have michigan roots or may be in the area—sort of a mystery guest, as it were.

Keep the email/comments coming.

People are inconsistent and crazy

So the alties hate real medicine. They come over here and bemoan modern medicine’s failure to address behavioral changes that affect health, such as diet and exercise.

Then I write a long post about internists’ duties viz public health and health behaviors, and the gun nuts think I want to disarm them and PRY TEH WEAPON OF GUNZ OUT OF OUR COLD DED HANDZ!!111!222!!!11!

I think of my writing as “reality-based”. I have opinions, and where my opinions intersect with real-world activities, I try to back up my opinions with facts. I don’t (usually) resort to wishful thinking, religion, conspiracy theories, or any deus ex machina to support my assertions.

Am I ever wrong? Frequently—but I think I’m more often right, and I’ve got the facts to prove it. I love the back-and-forth that blogs allow, and dissenting ideas help hone my arguments (and occasionally change my mind).

One pattern I’ve noticed seems to apply to everyone around here—scientists, alties, liberals, conservatives—if I touch on someone’s pet issue, all rationality goes out the window. If a commenter is too emotionally invested in an opinion, well, they’re right and I’m wrong, evidence be damned.

I presume that I’m just as susceptible as anyone to this, which is why I value dissenting comments so much—they keep me honest.

But please people, keep that mind open just enough to consider dissenting ideas (but not enough to let your brains fall out). If you just don’t buy it, fine, but c’mon, at least be introspective.


Science is politics

No, this isn’t some post-modernist rant on the inherent non-objectivity of science. On the contrary—this is a much simpler, grittier point, that science actually is the most accurate way of describing reality, and because of this, politics (the job of manipulating and controlling group’s social reality) and science will always be roommates.

This comes up because we get complaints—regular complaints about science blogging failing to stick to “science”. I gotta say that this complaint always seems to come from those who find reality to be a bit too liberal, but maybe that’s just my bias showing.

This intersection (if you’ll excuse the expression) is crudely obvious to working scientists writing grants—if you write the “wrong” thing (e.g. studying HIV in sex workers, stem cell research, etc.), your grant is history.

Less crudely, science informs political positions, such as how to deal with global warming (or whether or not it’s even a problem).

One such question came up in a comment recently. The question revolved around whether doctors should ask patients about firearms.
Continue reading “Science is politics”

Skymall Catalog: Innovative Health Bracelet from Vitalzon

Regular readers of Denialism Blog are familiar with my love for the skymall catalog. I just love all the pictures of the kittens and the babes in their homes with gadgets that make their lives better.

i-1feab4979cafad7be6e788fd7bc5e59c-mustache.jpgAnd the quality of marketing, wow! You’d think that the makers of the SkyRest® Travel Pillow could hire a real model and do a professional shoot to advertise their highly efficacious and most excellent product! This picture looks like it was shot in-flight and they didn’t even have time to find a model without a mustache!

i-ccc1b29f88b66ebb07230d05a94c2175-scam.jpgToday I write to share with you the Innovative Health Bracelet. This thing increases your protection against harmful waves! Yes, harmful waves are out to get you, and you might experience them near a microwave, your office, when you use a cell phone, and when you golf and run. The nice thing about this bracelet is that you can have it inscribed with a diamond-encrusted cross, as an offering to Christ. And it includes medical magnets! Only $79.95. Call now!


My favorite part of this ad is the “MEASUREMENT OF BODY HEAT TEST.” What, exactly, is meant by the results of this “test?” From a lawyer’s perspective, it appears that your head becomes frozen during the use of a mobile phone. No worries with the Innovative Health Bracelet, because “with product” your face becomes red and healthy again!

Creationism—GOPs arugmentum ad populum

(HT to Nisbet…really)

With the “choice” of Governor Palin as the vice presidential candidate, the GOP must now face up to questions about the teaching of creation myths is public school science classes. The new talking point? “It’s a local issue.” Science is local?

Lucky for the GOP, Governor Pawlenty wasn’t chosen for veep, given his responses to Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press. Pawlenty apparently missed the whole Dover thing, wherein ID was shown to be Creationism, and Creationism was found to be “teaching religion” and not appropriate for public school science classes.

Pawlenty brought up the “competing theories” argument, and also managed to contradict himself by saying that evolution and Creationism are “competing theories” and that “intelligent design is dismissed [in the scientific community]”.

My wife is a teacher. She’s taught elementary school at both public and parochial schools. She’s a very talented teacher, and has taught science to hundreds of kids. You know what? She doesn’t know enough about creation myths to teach them in a science class. She does, however, know enough biology. In the parochial school, creation myths were always dealt with in religion classes. Even some religious schools seem to understand the difference between myth and science.

If we can turn away from Palin and her kid’s wombs for a while, we can take the governor to task for her statements about mixing religion and politics and make her clarify her stance. A candidate’s uterus may be off limits, but not her politics.

Sometimes there is justice for alties

Yes, there is. This time for maker of an “all natural” penis enhancer Steve Warshak (and some family members as well) who was sentenced for 25 years!

Steve Warshak, 42, founder of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, also was ordered to pay $93,000 in fines. He was convicted in February on 93 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.

Federal prosecutors accused the company of bilking customers out of $100 million through a series of deceptive ads, manipulated credit card transactions and refusal to accept returns or cancel orders.

U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel ordered the company, along with other defendants, to forfeit more than $500 million. He said it was impossible to calculate exactly how much money was lost by customers, so he accepted a figure based on how much Warshak and the company took in.

Berkeley distributes various products alleged to boost energy, manage weight, reduce memory loss and aid sleep. The company’s main product, Enzyte, which promises sexual enhancement, has ads featuring “Smiling Bob,” a happy man with an exaggerated smile.

“This is a case about greed,” Spiegel said as he reviewed the case. “Steven Warshak preyed on perceived sexual inadequacies of customers.”

With any luck I’ll never have to see another one of those goddamn ads again. But really, 500 million? It’s sad to think of how many people are (1) feel so inadequate they would feel the need to buy the product (2) be so foolish as to think that magic penis pills work, (3) think the ad featuring “Enzyte Bob” was anything but an outrageous scam. It is sad to see the power wishful thinking has over basic rationality, and sadder still that there is scum like Warshak who will exploit such feelings to steal money from people.

Thanks Ed