Saturday, 20 February 2016

The full SCOTUS, ctd.

Oh, this is rich! In a Washington Post op-ed Thursday, “Democrats shouldn’t rob voters of chance to replace Scalia” (18 February 2016), Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley were so solicitous of the voting rights of the American people as it regards the replacement for the late Antonin Scalia. “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Okay, I’m not a senator, let alone the majority leader or the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, but I’ve known for years that my vote for a president included, among many other things, my choice of who would nominate a new Supreme Court justice if a vacancy arose, and that, barring his own death, resignation, or conviction following impeachment, that the president I was helping elect that day would serve a term starting at noon on the 20th day of January of the following year, and would continue for four years.

If I Were King, I think I’d see what could be done about teaching the basics of our governmental system in the schools. All of them. Just to make sure that future political leaders would have a basic understanding of how things worked, instead of understanding nothing while developing rare expertise in defeating or sidestepping the laws. It’s worth a shot, even if too late for those that are already in office.

Friday, 19 February 2016

The full SCOTUS

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr – 1841 – 1935

When Antonin Scalia left us last weekend, I had mixed thoughts. I rarely, if ever, agreed with his opinions, but I did enjoy reading them. Perhaps not on the level of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr or Robert H. Jackson, but the man could argue well. But he won’t be writing any more opinions, and though I understand that some decisions that have not been announced have been decided based on his participation, there are a lot of cases to decide between now and the end of June that will be decided by eight justices. It’s important that his seat not remain empty for too long.

Even if a new justice were to be nominated and confirmed in the next 100 days, which is not far from the historical norm, the replacement wouldn’t be sworn in until the last week of May and I don’t think a new justice would actually be voting on cases that had already been heard before he joined the court. Best case, we’re looking for a new justice to be ready for the next term in October.

Robert H. Jackson, 1892 – 1954

The witlings in charge of the Senate have announced that they won’t even consider a nomination until after the next president is sworn in. Now whoever is elected in November will certainly have a candidate in mind by the inauguration, so it’s quite possible that the next justice would be nominated on 20 January 2017, at which point the Senate Judiciary Committee would start hearings and all the fun would begin. A hundred days later would be the end of April, by which point the bulk of the cases in the next term would have been argued. In effect, the court would be operating with an empty seat for very nearly two terms.

The old white men in charge of the Senate don’t want no black man choosing the next justice, they’ve dissed him every way they could think of and they’re just loving the chance to do it again. They have no logic behind their arguments, there never has been any “unwritten law” about not making judicial nominations during election years. But then nobody thought their arguments had anything to do with their decision. If anything, they should be worried about the lifestyles and the coronary fitness of Alito, Roberts, and Thomas. (It certainly was inconsiderate of Justice Scalia to die at this particular moment, don’t you think? Of course, even Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz are bright enough not to actually say that!) They don’t like Obama, they can’t wait for him to go away, and they’re going to ramp up their already-legendary obstructionist tactics.

If I Were King, of course the parliament would be involved, that “advise and consent” process in our constitution is a fine and valuable thing. But I’m not, and all thinking persons are going to need to put the heat on their senators this spring, because a big bunch of them want to take their ball and go home, a sorry bunch of spoiled children.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Discredited?

Note: Delays continued, apparently. This post was drafted in March of 2015, it’s now mid-February of 2016 before something else came along to inspire me to get back to work.

Last September I called my doctor’s office to ask about getting a flu shot. I was told that they no longer gave them, that I should just go to the pharmacy instead, but that I should wait because a reformulated vaccine would be available in October. But that was a time during which radiation had sent my brain somewhere else, and I thought no more about it until this past Sunday when a scratchy throat and sore eyes suggested that perhaps I should have been paying more attention last fall.

I think I have a good excuse. The national news tells me, however, that there are a great many people who skip vaccinations for their children without having any such excuse. I can think of numerous words to describe these people, moronic and selfish come to mind.

It seems that in 1998 one Andrew Wakefield wrote a story in the Lancet, a British medical Journal, in which he discussed several cases of children in whom autism first became apparent immediately after receiving the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine. Many of the recent news stories have mentioned this article, calling it either “discredited” or “debunked” – which I consider appalling.

In science, and we certainly hope that medicine is a subset thereof, an investigator or experimenter observes physical events, conjures up a hypothesis to explain those events, and then devises an experiment or plan of research that will prove or disprove his hypothesis. It has long been noted that it is easy for the experimenter to see the results he seeks even when no clear indication actually exists in the data. This was demonstrated last March by the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) project, a group of astronomers seeking signs of the gravity waves left echoing through the universe from the first microseconds following the big bang. They may have, in fact, seen some such result, but it’s also quite possible that what they saw was the result of cosmic dust and this has been modeled by others and additional work is planned. That’s what “discredited” means. The case of the Wakefield article is nothing like this at all.

Wakefield had a history of attacking vaccination programs, he had a business plan laid out to take it advantage of public fears about the MMR vaccine,and his work was funded by private tort lawyers who would have been able to generate significant fees as a result of any public concern generated. The article suggested that the 12 cases he found were the random result of vaccination, when in fact they had been very carefully chosen. In short, the article was not discredited, it was fraudulent from the start. Wakefield lied. Most of Wakefield’s co-authors asked that their names be removed from the article almost immediately, and after a distressingly long interval, the Lancet formally retracted the entire article. On top of that, the British medical establishment withdrew Wakefield’s credentials as a physician.

Wakefield has subsequently moved to the US where he can stir the pot as the head of his own foundation, and seems to have found favor with some idiots who are willing to help spread his bogus word. I’m sure he continues to present himself as a doctor, but he has never had the privilege of practicing medicine in the US. His history of prevarication probably means that he never will, but the nonsense he has spewed about vaccinations continues to damage the public.

If I were King, journalists who insisted on referring to his articles as discredited rather than fraudulent would be called to the throne room for a good talking to, and “Dr” Wakefield would be banished.